§ 3 p.m.
§ Report received.
§ Clause 2 [Preliminary]:
Lord DRUMALBYN moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 2, line 40, at end insert—
("(f) for the purposes of this Act, a person engages in an anti-competitive practice if, in the course of business, that person pursues a course of conduct which, of itself or when taken together with a course of conduct pursued by persons associated with him, has or is intended to have or is likely to have the effect of restricting, distorting or preventing competition in connection with the production, supply or acquisition of goods in the United Kingdom or any part of it or the supply or securing of services in the United Kingdom or any part of it.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. I and, with your Lordships' consent, I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 23, 24, 25 and 29. These amendments deal with a not unimportant point in this Bill; that is, the question of the funding of the fourth programme and the manner in which those funds are raised. The object of this series of amendments is to secure that the Bill will provide some sanction for any abuse of the monopoly powers and dominant position of the ITV programme companies in the sale of air time to advertisers and advertising agents on the fourth programme.
§ These sales are commercial transactions. They have nothing to do with programme content, for the ITV programme contractors who are to make the sales have nothing to do with the programme content on the fourth channel. That is a matter for the IBA. Only the right to provide advertisements, not programmes, for inclusion in the fourth channel broadcasts is conferred by Clause 5(2) on the ITV programme contractors. The Bill requires that this right must be written into the contract which the authority is to make with each ITV programme contractor.
§ During the debate at Committee stage on the amendments which I put down, sought, among other things, to get such a sanction made explicit in the Bill. May I make it absolutely clear that the amendments on the Marshalled List have nothing 753 to do with my first amendment at Committee stage, which was about introducing a degree of competition in the sale of advertising time on the fourth channel. Regretfully, I withdrew that amendment and did not move any of the others. The amendments which I am now moving concentrate entirely on ensuring that there is fair trading as between the sellers and the buyers of advertising time on the fourth channel; that is, the ITV programme contractors on the one hand, and the advertisers and advertising agencies on the other. My contention is that it is not possible to ensure that, unless there is some explicit sanction to be applied if the sellers' monopoly is abused.
§ The buyers—that is, the customers of the ITV programme companies—strongly believe that there are now abuses which can scarcely be defended, as I explained in Committee. Indeed, such practices have been referred to in the House of Commons. One can hardly be surprised if they exist, as all monopolies are liable to be abused; that is why we have monopolies legislation. But it is not clear that it will apply to the ITV programme contractors' regional monopolies.
§ Sir Paul Bryan, a director of one of the larger TV companies and, at one time, a Front Bench spokesman on broadcasting in another place said, in the House of Commons debate on the Bill, that the advertisers' legitimate grievance was that not enough notice was taken of their position as customers of a monopoly supplier. More notice needs to be taken of that position in this Bill. Parliament has created these monopolies and it is surely for Parliament to ensure that appropriate safeguards exist.
§ My noble friend the Minister and f were in agreement at the Committee stage that there are two valuable arrangements, one voluntary and one contained in the Bill. These will enable advertisers and advertising agencies to state their own case when abuses of monopoly by the TV contractors are alleged. They do, however, fall short of being safeguards. They are, at best, facilities. First, a liaison committee, on which the buyers and the sellers of advertising time are represented, has been set up under the distinguished chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, who is shortly to become chairman of the authority, where 754 the terms of trade between them, as well as other matters, can be discussed.
§ Secondly, Clause 7(2)(d) provides for the authority to include in their annual general report a general account of any complaints received by the authority about the conduct of the television programme contractors, in connection with the sale of advertising time on ITV and the fourth channel respectively, and the action taken by the authority in relation to those complaints.
§ There are two snags about that provision. First, Section 31(3) of the main Act of 1973 requires the authority to prepare their general report as soon as maybe after the end of each financial year, and then to transmit it to the Secretary of State who will consider it and lay copies before each House of Parliament. That means that Members of this House and the other place will, with luck, have the report in their hands anything between six months and 18 months after a complaint has been made to the authority.
§ Secondly, it is not clear what the authority can do, in the event of failure to resolve a complaint satisfactorily to both seller and buyer. My noble friend Lord Belstead seemed to suggest that if the authority could not persuade the sellers to desist from a practice which the authority felt was an abuse of their monopoly, then the authority would or could refer it to the Director General of Fair Trading, or else the aggrieved party would do so. What would happen then? The Director General could then have it investigated. Indeed, he could investigate it on his own initiative or in response to a complaint.
§ Let us suppose that he finds that there has been, or still is, an abuse of monopoly or an uncompetitive practice taking place. Depending on the circumstances, it seems that he could either recommend that the Secretary of State should make an order under the Fair Trading Act, or else, after a short investigation and a report proposing undertakings to be entered into by the party found to be pursuing the practice in question, followed by an interval not exceeding eight weeks for discussion of the undertakings, he could refer the case to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission under the Competition Act.755
§ Alternatively, the Secretary of State could refer it to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. The commission would then investigate and report to the Secretary of State making recommendations, if they thought fit, as to remedial action to be taken by the Ministers. The Secretary of State would publish the report and, in turn, request the Director General of Fair Trading to obtain undertakings and might, subsequently, make an order prohibiting the television contractor from continuing the practice in question or any similar conduct.
§ However, it appears that the Home Secretary does not himself have power to make a monopoly reference. As the selling and buying of advertising space involves purely commercial transactions, that is rightly regarded as a matter for the Secretary of State for Trade. He, it appears, can make such a reference himself or in conjunction with another listed Minister. But the Home Secretary is not one of the Ministers listed in the Act. In the long run, the authority would, no doubt, take the conduct of the TV programme contractor into account when deciding whether to renew the contract and, no doubt, also, the programme contractor would have this possibility in mind. It bather looks as if the Government's intention is to leave it to the Director General of Fair Trading and to exclude the Competition Act procedures. It is not clear what action can be taken if the undertakings, for which the Director General asks, are not given or, if given, are not adhered to.
§ In these circumstances, I feel obliged to seek these assurances from my noble friend. First, will he give an assurance that these Competition Act procedures could be used in such a case and that there is nothing in existing legislation that prevents their being used? Second, will he further give an assurance that the relevant Secretaries of State have no intention of making an order excluding this particular kind of abuse from the purview of the Competition Act? I ask that because it seems that they could make such an exclusion under Section 2(3) of the Act. Third, will he give a further assurance that he is satisfied that the Fair Trading Act can cope with any unfair practices by television contractors in the sale of advertising time, that they 756 will be used if and when such practices occur and that, if and when used, they will produce or lead to the practical result of rectifying such practices? Are the necessary powers really there in the Fair Trading Act? Will the Government make orders, as and when necessary? If my noble friend cannot give me an assurance that an order can be made one way or the other, then I submit that the Bill most certainly needs amendment along the lines I am proposing.
§ The first amendment would provide a definition of anti-competitive practices for the purposes of this Bill. It is the same as the definition in Section 2 of the Competition Act, though the procedures to establish the existence of an anticompetitive practice would not necessarily be the same as under that Act. The second amendment, which is No. 23 on the Marshalled List, imposes on the IBA a duty equivalent to that which they already have under Section 12(3)(b) of the 1973 Act. In that case, the duty is to ensure that there is adequate competition in the supply of programmes. So it cannot be argued that this Bill, combined with the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act 1973, has nothing to do with commercial competition. In this case, as opposed to that case, the duty imposed is in respect of the provision of advertisements for inclusion in programmes broadcast in an area by the authority on the fourth channel or, for that matter, in more than one ITV programme area, or in all such areas. The duty laid upon the authority is to ensure that no television programme contractor engages in an anti-competitive practice.
The third, fourth and fifth amendments, Nos. 24, 25 and 29, relate to the requirement in Section 13—and I quote:
The contracts between the Authority and the various programme contractors shall contain all such provisions as the Authority think necessary or expedient to be inserted for complying and securing compliance with the provisions of this Act and any restrictions or requirements imposed thereunder in relation to the programmes provided by the programme contractors".
It may be thought that as a matter of course the authority would include a provision to ban anti-competitive practices and to secure methods of enforcement of the ban. However, to remove any doubt, the fifth amendment, Amendment No. 29, spells out the particular requirement relating to fourth channel advertisements;
namely, that television programme contractors shall not engage in any anticompetitive practice.
§ The third amendment, No. 24, requires the inclusion in the contract of a provision reserving to the authority an absolute right to determine the contract without compensation if an order has been made under Section 10 of the Competition Act in respect of anti-competitive practices in the course of selling advertising time on the fourth channel. My noble friend may consider that this provision goes rather too far, and that the termination should relate not to the authority's obligation to transmit programmes but to the obligation to accept advertisements for inclusion on the fourth channel. If it does seem severe, may I respectfully say to my noble friend that the severity is due to the way in which the Bill combines the fourth channel activities of the television contractors with their ITV-1 activities in the contract. On the other hand, it would be a very grave matter indeed if a television contractor had flouted the authority and refused to give or to keep undertakings given to the Director General of Fair Trading and so made it necessary for the Secretary of State to make the order.
§ However, the fourth amendment, which is Amendment No. 25, offers an alternative which is not dependent on the making of an order under the Competition Act. It would provide a speedier sanction by enabling the authority, after consulting the Director General of Fair Trading, to determine the contract if the authority had concluded that a television contractor had engaged in anti-competitive practices in the course of selling advertising time on the fourth channel.
§ This is a fall-back amendment in case my noble friend is unable to give the assurances which I have sought. This amendment differs from the previous one in the justification for terminating the contract. In the previous one, it would be the decision of the Secretary of State, expressed in an order. In this one it would be the decision of the authority. It would implicitly allow the decision to be enforced against the authority if the rule was not kept.
§ My noble friend may not like all the provisions of these amendments, but I suggest that they at least ensure that, 758 where unfair practices arise out of a monopoly which the Government themselves are creating, there is a real and practical means of dealing with the matter. Their main use, however, would be as a deterrent. Given the severe penalty to which the television contractors would be subject if they flouted this rule, it is unlikely that they would do so deliberately.
§ May I add one other thought? Not only is it wrong in principle to give television or any other companies a monopoly without some means of restraining abuse, but also the Government would not be fulfilling their duty under the Treaty of Rome, and in particular Article 86 of the Treaty of Rome, which prohibits the abuse of a dominant position by undertakings such as the ITV programme contractors. Indeed, this has already been enforced by the European Court in at least one case. It is a principle of EEC law that monopoly positions should not be abused and that the member states should provide in their legislation means to ensure that they are not abused.
§ I apologise for having spoken at length. I felt it necessary to do so because there is strong reason to doubt whether this Bill does contain any such provision. At least I am dealing with all five amendments at the same time in the one speech. My submission is that the simplest and best way to deter and correct the anti- competitive and unfair practices as regards the sale of advertising time under this Bill is to make such practices a breach of contract, containing recision of the contract if it is breached.
§ I conclude by repeating what I have already said. Parliament has created the area monopolies and is creating a new one in this Bill. It is for Parliament to ensure that appropriate sanctions exist. Unless my noble friend can demonstrate that there does exist in the Bill a sanction against abuse and monopoly in the sale of advertising time, in particular on the fourth channel, then I submit that one needs to be created. I beg to move.
§ 3.19 p.m.
Earl DE LA WARR
My Lords, my noble friend seems to be absolutely determined to stick to his presumption that the 13 contractors between them have an absolute monopoly. It is a presumption 759 which in my opinion is extremely difficult to sustain. They are fighting the other media very hard indeed and at this time they are having a some-what slim time of it. My noble friend goes on to presume that, as night follows day, this monopoly will apparently result in the misuse of their "powers" against the fourth channel. But my noble friend has not explained—if I may say so, he has not even attempted to explain—how they would do this. Furthermore, he has not attempted to explain why they would do it. So I submit that he has in no way proved the case upon which his further arguments rest.
§ Lord DRUMALBYN
My Lords, I am sure my noble friend wishes to be fair. He will recall that I explained this at the Committee stage.
Earl DE LA WARR
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reminder. I do recall that in answer to a question by me he did run off some of the practices, but I have to say—and I wish to be fair to him—that they were a number of technical terms run off very quickly and they did not strike me as amounting to an explanation that was in any way satisfactory.
Of course I do not know what under-takings my noble friend Lord Belstead is going to be able to give in this matter, but it seems to me in general terms that my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn is seeking to surround this new undertaking with a web of statutory protection, which is really quite extraordinary coming from somebody of his persuasion, and that he is taking no account of the way that the market works because this—is it not?—is a straight marketplace operation. We all know that the buying and selling of advertising time is a rough, tough sort of business but, believe me, the buyers are very professional men indeed. They are analysts and statisticians who work out and compare the rates, look at it in terms of "per thousand opportunities to view", which is their standard method of measurement and they will very soon be able to spot things with which they do not agree. The sanction of the market in this matter is capable of being, and is, very great indeed.
760 Furthermore, my noble friend is suggesting that the authority are given powers far and away greater than they have ever had before. He is suggesting that they be given extra powers to determine a contract at any time. In his Amendment No. 25 I would say that he casts them in the role of both judge and jury—and pretty summary ones at that. The authority were not set up to deal with these commercial matters. They were set up, as I said before, in order to advise on and to monitor programmes. That is what they are there for and at that they are extremely good. I very much hope that the Government will have nothing to do with any suggestions which seek to give them a completely different role. For those reasons, I hope that my noble friend will not see fit to press any of his amendments.
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGS-BRIDGE
My Lords, I am waiting anxiously to know what the Minister is going to say. I find myself in the unprecedented position of almost agreeing with the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr. I think it is most unlikely that we can support these amendments. I shall not say more than that we have the new advisory committee under my noble friend Lord Thomson, and this surely must go most of the way to deal with the kind of problem that the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, has raised.
Secondly, over the years, surely the IBA has intervened often enough about terms and conditions of advertising to show that they have both the power and the understanding to do so, and I must confess that I feel these amendments are virtually saying that the IBA are not to be trusted and must be required to terminate contracts under given circumstances. In my opinion, the authority already have quite enough power to terminate contracts if the performance of the contractors is judged to be unsatisfactory, as they nearly did the other day with a certain company that shall be nameless, and I do not think they would welcome the situation proposed in these amendments.
With that warning of my probable view I should like to end by saying, as believers in a mixed economy, that we on this side of the House do occasionally enjoy arguments from Members at one end of it between themselves.
§ 3.25 p.m.
§ Lord BELSTEAD
My Lords, I recognise from the speech which my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn has made on this amendment that this is an area of genuine concern on the part of advertisers and advertising agencies; and their two organisations, the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers and the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, in past months have clearly and forcefully been making their case. My noble friend has very clearly and thoroughly made the case again on these amendments today. Without saying that I accept the truth of the allegations that have been made, I should like to assure my noble friend that it is the Government's view that if bad practices of the kind to which my noble friend referred exist, they should be dealt with. Where we differ, however, is in our view of the means which should be used to tackle them.
In his speech my noble friend very fairly made the point that two safeguards have already been provided. The first is the setting up of the Television Advertising Liaison Committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, bringing together the contractors and the advertisers with the noble Lord in the chair; and also the requirement which is to be found in Clause 7 of this Bill, that Parliament should know what is going on in the advertising field under this Bill by a statutory duty being laid on the IBA to include reports on complaints about advertising and what action the authority have taken. But in essence my noble friend says that this is by no means enough and he wishes to be assured that the law is there to see that practices of which he would disapprove and, as indeed I made clear, the Government would disapprove, could be dealt with. I think and hope that in what I say now I can give my noble friend those assurances.
May I first look generally at my noble friend's amendments. He is moving Amendment No. 1 but he is speaking to five amendments in all, and they are all directed at the outlawing of anti-competitive practices as defined in Amendment No. 1. That definition is in the same terms as that which is to be found in Section 2(1) of the Competition Act 1980. I have consulted the Department of Trade 762 and I am assured that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade and the Director General of Fair Trading are satisfied that the provisions of the Competition Act are adequate to deal with allegations of anti-competitive practices, and that these requirements which my noble friend seeks to introduce are therefore not necessary.
I should like now to look specifically at the amendments to which my noble friend is speaking. If I take the individual requirements, I am advised that the first and the fourth of my noble friend's amendments, concerning the duty on the IBA to prevent anti-competitive practices and the duty on contractors to abstain from anti-competitive practices, are really impractical to write in this way into a statute because the definition of an anticompetitive practice is not sufficiently concrete for the IBA and the contractors to be able to say that a particular practice is or is not anti-competitive. This can only be established by an investigation of the effects of the practice in the relevant market. But this objection of lack of practicality in these two amendments does not apply quite so strongly to the provision which would allow the authority to terminate a contract after consultation with the Director General of Fair Trading.
However, this provision would, in effect, short-circuit the procedure which is laid down in the Competition Act for dealing with anti-competitive practices. As many of your Lordships will know very much better than I do, this procedure involves designedly a number of stages, including the publication of a notice of intention to inquire into a specified practice. Nor is it solely a matter for the Director General of Fair Trading to decide. As I understand it, he is not the final arbiter in these matters. In essence, his is only a preliminary inquiry which will determine whether a reference to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission is appropriate. I should also like to point out that the Competition Act does not contain any presumption that an anti-competitive practice is necessarily against the public interest. A practice may be anti-competitive, but an order will not be made prohibiting it unless it is found to be against the public interest; and I am advised that the Government would have serious reservations about the establishment in this Bill of a procedure 763 which avoided any assessment of the public interest.
Having spoken briefly about those amendments, I come last—because the arguments here are somewhat different—to the second of the requirements which is proposed by my noble friend; namely, to empower the IBA to terminate a contract where an ITV contractor has contravened an order under Section 10 of the Competition Act. This, I admit, is not open to the objections to which I have been referring previously. On the other hand, I think the provision is unnecessary as a means of enforcing an order under the Competition Act, for which the procedure would be by way of injunction and, if necessary, proceedings for contempt of court. I think it could reasonably be argued that to impose on an independent television contractor the penalty of loss of the whole contract, as well as that inherent in the order and any action to enforce it, could amount to double jeopardy.
My noble friend has asked for some specific assurances about the effectiveness of the Competition Act and kindred legislation to deal with alleged anti-competitive practices which could be envisaged under the Bill as drafted; and if I may I will end by trying to deal with those. I should like to say to my noble friend that I understand that the Government have already made an order under Section 2(3) of the Competition Act, which does not exempt television advertising services from investigation. The Government have no present intention of making any such exemption. Secondly, I understand that the view is taken that the Director General of Fair Trading could make a monopoly reference in relation to the supply of advertising services by the ITV contractors since it is only the supply of television programmes which is mentioned in Schedule 7 to the Fair Trading Act. Under Section 51(2) of the Fair Trading Act the Secretary of State for Trade and also the Home Secretary could make a monopoly reference of their own in this area.
Thirdly, on the assurances for which my noble friend asked me, we are satisfied that the order-making powers under the Competition Act are adequate. The main sanction is the power to prohibit a 764 practice, and the powers in Part I of Schedule 8 to the Fair Trading Act are supplementary to this. I apologise to your Lordships for the length of the reply, and I hope that I may have satisfied my noble friend that the Competition Act and related legislation are an adequate vehicle and also an appropriate vehicle to deal with anti-competitive practices in the sale of television advertising, as in other commercial activity. I accept that the IBA cannot be wholly unconcerned in such matters but—and I think this was very much in the mind of my noble friend Lord De La Warr—surely the prime interest of the authority is, and must continue to be, the ability of the contractors to provide a programme service which, as to standards and content, complies with the general obligations laid upon the IBA by the 1973 Act and by this Bill.
I felt I really had to return to the fact that this a Broadcasting Bill. But having said that, I can assure my noble friend that, so far as their powers allow, the IBA will concern themselves with the practices of the contractors and the sale of advertising and that the Home Secretary will expect the authority to do so. If I may return to a point which we have now both made, I think the setting up of the Television Advertising Liaison Committee is an earnest of our good intentions in that matter.
§ Lord DRUMALBYN
My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend. This has been a very useful exercise because it has brought out clearly, I believe for the first time, exactly what is involved, how far the Secretary of State is going to be active in this and what he expects of the authority. Certainly my misgivings are alleviated. He has said clearly that the main sanction is for the Secretary of State to prohibit a practice and that this can be done through the Monopolies and Mergers Commission at the instance of the Director General of Fair Trading. There seems to be an adequate means of enforcement. Certainly what is in doubt is whether it is a speedy means of enforcement. These procedures may take a very long time indeed and in the end we may fall back upon the non-renewal of the contract, so long do the procedures take sometimes.
I understand the reasons my noble friend gave for not accepting the fourth 765 amendment. It seems to me that he has made it clear that, if necessary, an order can be made under the Monopolies and Mergers Commission and that there is no intention whatsoever of excluding the sale of advertising time from the Competition Act. In these circumstances I do not think that I need to deal with the intervention of my noble friend Lord De La Warr. Of course, he has so much more experience of these matters, having been a director of a television company, but I do not think that he is in a position to judge by himself whether the practice is fair. It needs both sides to come together, or a third party to come along, and decide. From what my noble friend has said, there is a means of dealing with any possible abuse that may arise in future, and, indeed, with some of the abuses that are alleged to be arising at the present time. So in those circumstances I am sure it would be your Lordships' wish that, while thanking my noble friend, I should withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 3 [Nature of the Fourth Channel, and its relation to ITV]:
§ 3.40 p.m.
Lord HATCH of LUSBY moved Amendment No. 2:
Page 3, line 12, at end insert ("with due regard for their international content ").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to move the amendment standing in my name on the Marshalled List. In doing so, my noble friends and I who have put our names to this amendment want to make it perfectly clear that we consider this to be a non-party amendment, one which should appeal, and we believe will appeal, to all sides of the House. We are encouraged in that belief by the very lively, intelligent and thoughtful debate which took place during the Committee stage of this Bill. May I also say to the noble Lord the Minister who will reply that there is complete confidence among those of us who have been promoting this amendment that the kind of programmes that we have been discussing during the debates on this Bill would have the full support of the Government and that we believe that the Government 766 would like to see these programmes put to the people of this country.
§ The difference between us comes in this way. First of all, let me point out that when I withdrew the amendment that was tabled in the names of my noble friends and myself at Committee stage I did so with an appeal to the Minister and to other noble Lords to make suggestions as to how the wording could be varied so that it would be acceptable to the general view of this House. I am sorry to say that I have not had those suggestions, but during the interim period I have done what I could, as have other noble Lords and Members of the other place, to find a set of words which could be accepted by the Government but which would indicate at the same time the very great strength of opinion that was expressed during the Committee stage as to the necessity for introducing the international element into the programmes of the fourth channel.
§ As I see it, there are two objections that members of the Government have made to the proposals which we have put forward so far. The first is that if there is acceptance of one aspect of programme-making then there will be a whole spate of succeeding claims, and that once the Pandora's box is opened nobody knows how many butterflies will fly out of it. That objection can very quickly be cast aside this afternoon, because there are no other claims that have been put down in amendment form and urged in this House. What is more, this is the last stage, or virtually the last stage, of the Bill itself, so that the argument that if our amendment is accepted it will then open the door to many other claims has lost its force.
The second objection, I think, is much stronger; it is one which I appreciate and one which I know is felt on all sides of the House. It is that there should not be in statutory form, in the form of this Bill, any kind of direction of the content of programmes in the new fourth channel. That is an argument with which I am in full agreement, and I do not take issue with the Government on it, except in this respect. If your Lordships will be good enough to turn to the amendment which is down in the names of my noble friends and myself, you will see that the amendment would add to the definition which
is already included in the Bill by the Government draftsmen. If the amendment were accepted, then Clause 3(1)(b) would conclude in this way:
…to ensure that a suitable proportion of the programmes are of an educational nature ",
and then there would be added:
with due regard for their international content".
So what lies between the Government and ourselves, as I understand it, is simply a question of the definition of "educational". As I understand it, the Government are assuming that if it includes the phrase "programmes of an educational nature" that inevitably will presuppose that some of those programmes will have an international content.
§ I apologise for repeating the figure that I gave during the Committee stage, that during the survey of 1978–79 the educational programmes of the existing three channels in this country contained just 1.5 per cent. of content which could be described as of an international nature or a form of world development education. We are hoping, and I believe the Government are hoping, that this new channel will bring new initiatives, will innovate, will give a lead to the other three channels, and that that miserable figure of 1.5 per cent. today will be substantially increased on the other channels as well as on the fourth channel itself.
§ That is why we suggest that we have an opportunity of giving a lead to strengthen what the Government have already done. As I said, I agree that it is not our job, and should not be considered to be our job, to interfere in the content of the programmes, with this exception, that the Government have already included one provision for the content of the fourth channel programmes, which is the provision of programmes of an educational nature.
§ May I just say to the Minister, in order to save time this afternoon, that he misunderstood a good deal of what we were saying in his reply at the Committee stage. We are not talking here about news and current affairs. We are talking about education—educational programmes. All the existing three channels have made excellent educational programmes of an international nature, but very few 768 of them, and not very frequently, are put on at a time when there is a substantial watching public. I should like to know from the Minister what is the Government's interpretation of the phrase they have included in the Bill, "programmes of an educational nature". He said in his speech on Committee that charity begins at home, Again, we are not talking about charity, we are talking here about education for the real world in which our children and grandchildren are going to live and in which we are living today. That has nothing to do with charity. We are talking about the realities of the world and our position in the world itself.
§ I conclude on the following note. I make the following appeal, with all the sincerity that I can muster, to each side of the House. On the other side of the House, I know that there are a considerable number of noble Lords with close connections with the various Churches of this country, and I make this appeal particularly to them. Your Lordships will remember the speech which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle made in Committee in which he pointed out the virtually unanimous support which the Churches of this country, of all denominations, had shown in their reaction to the amendment which we had put down. However, I think that it goes wider than that.
§ I remember that the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, in his speech suggested that we should be perhaps more concerned about morality, or at least as concerned about morality as we are about international affairs. I humbly suggest to the noble Viscount that if he talks to the Churches here or anywhere else in the world he will find that their deepest concern as regards morality today is for the morality of the world, not just the morality of the parish—the morality of the world in which deep divisions between people are taking place. Moreover, the Churches consider it to be an essential part of their moral teaching to promote the educational work of bringing knowledge and understanding of other peoples and other societies.
§ But, if we think back over the past 20 years, would we not agree that there has been a change in the atmosphere of public opinion in this country? I believe 769 that the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, thinking back to the days when he was Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs, would agree with me as regards this matter. If I am wrong, I would invite him to contradict me. But I believe that he would agree that 20 years ago there was a great deal more consciousness in this country of our ties with peoples thousands of miles away; with the relationship between different societies; with our responsibility to assist other peoples; with our responsibility to bring overseas students to this country; with our responsibility to strengthen international organisatons, like the Commonwealth and the United Nations. That, I believe, has been declining during the past 20 years. It is not very surprising; this is the period of the end of our imperial era when there have not been as many British people living and working overseas as there were 20 years ago. But however understandable it may be, it is surely both dangerous and morally indefensible, because surely today the need for international understanding is just as great as, if not much greater than, it was 20 years ago?
I conclude with the words of the Brandt Commission report, which puts the whole situation of international education in much better language than I can command. In the chapter of the Brandt Report which deals with international development issues there is the following paragraph:
The Commission considers it essential that the educational aspects of improved North/South relations be given much more attention in the future. It is imperative that ordinary citizens understand the implications for themselves of global inter-dependence. It is no accident that those countries in the North which score high in official development assistance also provide an outward-looking education to their people and particularly to the younger generation".
With the great power that television has today, and the even greater power that it will have tomorrow in our educational system I believe that we have an opportunity and responsibility for bringing knowledge and understanding of other peoples and other societies to the minds of our own people in this country and this new channel gives us the opportunity to provide for the next generation that citizenship of the village of the world on which the survival of the human race may very well depend. I beg to move.
Lord HOME of the HIRSEL
My Lords, I must deny myself the pleasure of following the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, in his speculation, which I think is nice but novel, that there were butterflies in Pandora's box. I have never heard about that one before. But, during the Committee stage, I followed with great care the arguments of the noble Lord in support of his amendment at that time. I must tell him that at that time I would have voted against his amendment. I did not think that he made the case that the additional words to the Bill were necessary to encourage the Independent Broadcasting Authority to give coverage to international affairs on the new channel.
Let me say at once that I do not believe that we can detach the educational channel from all the rest of the channels. Education proceeds on all the channels of the BBC or the independent authority all the time. I follow the programmes on international affairs assiduously and I believe that the balance between home affairs and international affairs is about right and their content, with very few exceptions, adequate, objective and educational. Therefore, I am inclined still to believe, even after the persuasive oratory of the noble Lord, that these extra words, this exhortation, is superfluous.
If, for example, we look at the Brandt Report on development, in which the noble Lord and many other noble Lords are interested, we see a great deal of explanation on the various channels which fulfil the criteria which I have mentioned. They have been objective, educational and helpful. If we were to add the words which the noble Lord asks to be added to the Bill, I am afraid that we should be in danger of asking the authority to advocate certain causes. I do not believe that that is the function of the corporation.
The noble Lord and a number of his friends and many others are interested in the North/South problem and the noble Lord has spoken of that several times and with considerable feeling and passion. If that cause is to be advanced it should not be, in my opinion, advanced and advocated by a broadcasting authority; it should be advocated by the Government of the day or any other people who are interested in it. Therefore, I do not think that this job should be put on the broadcasting authority.
771 I have some regret in this matter that I cannot, even now, support the noble Lord. I am fully with him that we should use all our skills and advocacy to show other people abroad that we are interested in them and that their affairs interest us; but not in this way. Therefore, if the noble Lord presses this amendment to a Division—and I have not the least idea what my noble friend will say—I shall, with great regret, have to be in the opposite Lobby.
§ 4.1 p.m.
§ Lord KILMARNOCK
My Lords, it is a formidable task to follow the noble Lord, Lord Home, in opposition. I must confess at the outset that I am relieved that the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, dropped the wording, "development education" from the amendment to which I also have put my name. This seems to me, and always has seemed to me, to be an extremely abstract and anodine phrase for a very important issue, but it is of course what we are talking about. It is a label for issues of vast importance, and this amendment seeks a wider platform for these issues. It is on those grounds that I support it.
Before we dismiss this as a bit of rather airy-fairy window dressing, let us look for a minute at the average person's reaction to and knowledge about issues such as aid, procurement—which is attached and allied to aid—and trade, which is related to aid or stems from aid. These are all issues of great importance, and at the moment they are largely in the hands of a few experts who know how they work. How many people know, for example, of the United Nations' recommendation that 0.7 per cent. of GNP should be devoted by every advanced country to its aid programme? How many people know what our percentage is, or what that of our neighbours in Europe or Scandinavia is? What are the rights and wrongs of this United Nations' recommendation? Is it something that we should take seriously? Do we consider that it is exaggerated, or what?
The new world economic order also arises often enough in debate and in the press. It is normally attached to the non-aligned nations and it is seen as a claim by them for a redistribution of 772 world resources; in some ways it becomes a rather easy Aunt Sally. But what really lies behind it? What motivates it? What can be said in its favour against the status quo?
I was interested that even in your Lordships' House—I say "even", but I should say particularly in your Lordships' House—only the other day, on 16th October, a Starred Question, also asked by the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, gave rise to something like a mini debate. The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, answering for the Government, said that it was not necessarily the case that increased aid to third world countries would improve the industrial situation here at home. That was his case. Perhaps he is right, maybe he is wrong, but those are the sort of issues which must be much more frequently, openly and publicly aired than is the case at the moment. On that Starred Question we had a wide exchange of views, ranging between the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, and the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, to which Members of your Lordships' House were privileged to listen and to participate in if they wanted to.
But those are the sort of arguments that, on the whole, do not reach the general public. As the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, said, something like 1.5 per cent. of all educational broadcasting time has been devoted to these issues. Maybe it is not possible or desirable to try to achieve a fixed percentage of time on these matters, but the wording that the noble Lord wishes to include in the Bill seems to me to be a perfectly legitimate nudge in the right direction.
Some people—perhaps a number of people—have heard of Mr. Heath's crusade on behalf of the Brandt Report. I confess that I am not a 100 per cent. supporter of everthing the Brandt Report says. To begin with, I find it very difficult to think in North-South terms, having all my life thought in East-West terms. But Mr. Heath's advocacy for seeking a way of recycling petro-dollars back into the Western industrial world is obviously of great importance, as also is his advocacy of a changing role for the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which he sees as becoming the honest brokers for a recycling of money from the OPEC countries back into the Western economies.
773 All these issues are vital to our survival and are at present subsumed under the rather drab title, "development education", on which the Government are not particularly keen anyway. I pointed out during the Committee stage that the official Development Education Fund set up in 1976 has been wound up and so there is no official support for broadening our knowledge of these matters, which, personally, I found rather strange with a Government whose Foreign Secretary is so active and, I think, one can say, so imaginative in the international arena.
How can our young people grow up reasonably well-equipped for the very rapidly changing future if they know nothing about these things?—and the vast majority of them know nothing about them. It is on those grounds—and I shall not detain your Lordships any longer—that I consider that this amendment, however modest in its terminology, would contribute to redress the balance of ignorance and apathy which tends to shroud our thinking on these matters. Therefore, I, personally, think that it is worthy of support and I hope that if the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, decides to press it to a Division, there are other noble Lords on all sides of the House who would join us.
§ Lord PARRY
My Lords, this House occasionally breaks through the traditional lines on which it is drawn, and it often compliments itself on doing that. It would seem to me that the modesty of this amendment would have provided an occasion when it might have done so. It is always difficult to take up an argument when the protagonists against it are, in fact, so distinguished and when their record is one which is so much to be admired. Nevertheless, I think that it is important that we should not only examine the last 20 years, that we should not simply take into account the arguments that have been so well put about the failing influence of the old Imperial structures, but that at this point in our discussions we should also take into account the fact that institutions which informed, educated and even entertained within Great Britain itself have gone into decline.
For better or for worse, each one of us was influenced in our education by structures which were vastly important, 774 not least being, of course, family life. We are aware that at the present time those institutions—indeed, this one—are subject to change, and that the educating influences in British society have ceased to have a world outlook. It is bound to be important to state, even though we admire certain aspects of programmes that go out, that we cannot accept that the international content of our programmes—on the British Broadcasting Corporation, the Independent Authority network, or indeed on the local radio shows—are just about right.
I know the point that was made by the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, that they are just about right, has been received on this side of the House with some acclaim. I think that is being complacent in the extreme. I believe that there are extraordinarily good programmes of educational content in the medium, but it is not right to assume that the same sorts of influence are being brought to bear on the minds of British children now as in our childhood, whatever the age of the individual making the point.
When we consider this danger which the noble Lord, Lord Home, put clearly before us, that we might fall into the trap of advocacy of causes, we must remember that there is indeed already a great deal of cause advocacy in all the programmes on all the media. In fact this goes on despite the care of the various advisory committees set up within the various Acts in order to avoid too much overt advocacy of causes.
As one who served for at least seven years on various advisory committees of the Independent Broadcasting Authority and previously of the Independent Television Authority, I know the care that was always taken within the advisory bodies to ensure that, on the one hand, we did not transgress into the control of the producers and the makers of programmes and, on the other hand, to see that those programmes were themselves monitored very carefully by the people who had the statutory duty to see that they were carefully presented. Nevertheless, from time to time we had before us serious complaints, some emanating from this House and some from another place, that there was transgression, that there was open 775 advocacy, and that there were difficulties that followed through from that.
This modest little phrase asks only for "with due regard for their international content". It is a phrase that if we were for a moment to forget some of the associations that we have all taken in our lives we could agree on in a moment. It is only because at this moment it seems to experienced people in this House that there is something more behind it than in fact there is that we are not able to accept it. It seemed to me that this amendment was a real attempt to remove from the mind of the House the feeling that there was something more in it than it actually proposed.
I have, I think, committed myself to the idea that as British institutions show themselves to be not as efficient as they once were in communicating with people within Britain, and as the British structure itself breaks increasingly into independent nations seeking to express themselves, so it is increasingly important that international influences be expressed. It is simply in that sense, and for no other reason, that I commit myself wholly to the amendment and will vote for it.
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ Lord SOPER
My Lords, briefly I would seek to rebut the contention so persuasively made by the noble Lord, Lord Home, that this amendment is superfluous. May I recall from Clause 3 of the Bill that which first attracted my attention and support. Programmescalculated to appeal to tastes and interests not generally catered for … a suitable proportion of the programmes are of an educational nature … to give the Fourth Channel a distinctive character of its own".Had it not been for the fact that those who drafted this Bill and were responsible for it were aware of the need of something more than what is already being provided, surely Clause 3 could not have been included. It is included precisely because there is a need for a wider concept of the whole matter of education, which seems to me a fairly empty word unless it is radically associated in the widest sense with the whole world in which we live, which of course includes the moral as well as the intellectual aspects of our existence.
776 It is for that reason that I believe that were we to translate "with due regard for their international content" as the simple words "with regard to their widest content", we should in fact be expressing the germ and truth of this amendment. But only in so far as education now concerns itself both morally and intellectually with the widest concepts can it really be effective and practical in the kind of world in which we are increasingly finding ourselves. It is that which commends this amendment to me.
May I add just one other word. It appears from some of the daily press in the last few years that there has been an appreciation of this educational need. Quoting, as I would, one or two daily newspapers like the Guardian, which has given much more attention to the educational realities of the widest world in which we live, there is a conspicuous example across the Channel of Le Figaro which in recent years has, in my judgment, produced a magnificent educational programme almost daily in which these widest concerns are duly and properly ventilated.
I can see no sensible reason why this should not be added, not as a directive but as the natural consequence of endeavouring to provide in this channel a wider and a more concise programme of education than hitherto has been provided. For the life of me I cannot understand on what grounds a Government would wish to repudiate what, after all, is the natural consequence, as I see it, of an educational programme which has to be included, but would I think be hamstrung if it were limited, and I am sure would be encouraged by the addition of these words to be as comprehensive as is required.
§ Lord VERNON
My Lords, I should like to intervene briefly from these Benches in support of this amendment. I do so with great diffidence in the light of the remarks of my noble friend Lord Home. Had I been present in the Chamber at Committee stage I would have spoken in support of the amendment which was then put forward. I did, however, read the debate subsequently and the reply of my noble friend Lord Belstead, and I am bound to say that I was not persuaded by his arguments.
777 We must surely be one of the most insular races in the whole world. Whether this is because we have not been invaded since 1066 or because we have not yet got over the shock of losing a great empire I do not know, but the fact remains that television and the press devote a totally inadequate time to global issues and to events of importance in other countries. When it comes to international coverage even our quality press compares unfavourably with that of some other countries, and in the case of the popular press, which is read by the majority of people in this country, the rest of the world might hardly exist.
The effect is disastrous and the ignorance, as the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, has said, is profound. Many people in the country, encouraged by certain politicians, pretend that we can retreat behind tariff barriers and go it alone, but for a great trading nation such as ours, which depends so heavily on imports, that never has been an option for us and it never will be. We live in one world now, and the sooner we recognise it the better for all concerned. That is why in my view education, and especially education through television, is the key. The amendment is not as specific as I should like. On the other hand, the very fact that it is so generalised may mean that it is more acceptable to the Government, who I hope will accept it.
§ Lord HOUGHTON of SOWERBY
My Lords, I endorse the support of the amendment and at the outset wish to express my acute disappointment at the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel. I thought when he began that he was going to say that, while he could not support the amendment moved in Committee, he could support this one. Indeed, I thought he was going to forsake the economics of matchsticks and come on the side of the angels. If we were not discussing a clause dealing with the nature of the fourth channel, we might not be so keen on this amendment, but that is what we are discussing and some of us want to see that the nature of the fourth channel satisfies some quite cardinal requirements. They are already set out to some extent in the provisions of the clause but, as the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, said, we are now members of one world and this aspect of the fourth channel is of supreme importance.
778 The amendment is so innocuous in words that one might feel it is scarcely worth putting in the Bill, but it is an indication, a pointer—if it is no more than a gesture it is worthwhile inserting it—to indicate not only to the people at home but to those overseas that we are not quite so inward-looking as we appear to be now. I mentioned that point when I spoke on this subject on the last occasion; we are getting very insular and inward-looking, and that is a very undesirable trend in this country. We cannot solve our problems on our own. We are part of the wider fate of the world which, in economic and human terms, gives rise to grave anxiety.
The noble Lord, Lord Home, said that if these words were inserted it might look as if the authority had to advocate a cause. No; it would have to find room for a cause, the cause of international understanding. The direction would simply lay on the authority the duty to see that the balance and content of the fourth channel satisfied the hopes and aspirations of those creating it, which is Parliament. There are other causes for which they must make room; the cause of good taste, of higher education, of humour and of gravity. All those things come into the balance, and it may be argued that already the balance in the programmes of all the different channels is about right. I do not think there is anything seriously wrong there; there is a balance between vulgarity and good taste, just as there is a balance between secular and religious opinion. There are balances all the way along the line of human interest.
We have here an indication, however, of something which goes very deep into the obligations of mankind, not only in this country but elsewhere. I therefore hope the House will give very serious attention to this suggestion. We are seeking only to extend the words already in Schedule 3(1)(b) which require the authority to ensure that a suitable proportion of the programmes is of an educational nature. We seek to extend that merely by an indication that "educational nature" extends to international affairs. I think that is a proposition to which the whole House could subscribe. The only difference of opinion is whether we should say so. There are no political differences on the matter we have in mind. It is merely a question whether we should 779 indicate to the authority that this is what they should do, and I believe that on this matter it would be worthwhile and fully justified.
§ Lord ALEXANDER of POTTERHILL
I hesitate to intervene in this debate, my Lords, for while I find myself in great sympathy with the purpose of the amendment, I wonder whether it would be wise to write the proposed words into the Bill. My mind goes back to the preparation of the Education Act 1944 and the concern of the Churches which caused us to put into that Act a special emphasis on religious education and instruction. I am bound to day that in my opinion the standards in that area of education have not improved as a result of that provision. Indeed, I think on the contrary; they are not nearly as effective as they were 35 or 40 years ago.
§ Lord PARRY
Would the noble Lord also accept that that is true of the Churches themselves, my Lords?
§ Lord ALEXANDER of POTTERHILL
That may well be true, my Lords, but it does not alter the fact as to the effect of that provision being made in the Education Act, and I fear that could happen in relation to international affairs if these words were included in this measure. We are all agreed that education must be concerned with the affairs of the world, and we always have been so agreed, but to insert these words would not necessarily secure as effective a development of education for international understanding as to leave them out and allow education to be what education should be. We have had special provision bodies set up to improve educational standards relating to the United Nations, to this and to that, but none of them have been successful. On balance, I feel it would be better not to insert the proposed words, although I am in support of the intention of the amendment.
§ Lord STEWART of FULHAM
My Lords, I cannot accept the comparison which the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, draws with the reference to religious education in the 1944 Act. After all, the essence of that mention of religious education was to oblige schools to have religious education. It was 780 mandatory. Nothing could be further from the thought here. The amendment is simply a reminder. I agree that, if one started laying down mandatory instructions and led on possibly to the horror of a sort of agreed syllabus of international content, one would be heading for disaster, but we are not proposing anything of the kind.
I could not accept either the contention of the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, that an amendment of this kind would mean that the authority would be drawn into advocating causes or, to put it plainly, that it would become propagandist. It is true of course that when dealing with any subject on which anyone could conceivably have two opinions one might become propagandist, but that would be an objection not only to this amendment but to the reference to programmes of an educational nature at all in the Bill; they might become propagandist and might be used to advocate this, that or the other cause.
But there is not the slightest reason, given the good faith and expertise of the people who do this kind of work, to suppose that that is likely to follow. The amendment simply reminds the authority, when it is dealing with programmes of an educational nature—it is required to do that by the measure as it stands—of the international dimension in education. The question that we are arguing is whether it is necessary to give the authority that reminder. It has been very persuasively argued by some noble Lords that it is not really necessary to do so. I want to say a few words on the reasons why I think it would be desirable to remind the authority, when it is preparing programmes of an educational nature, that there is an international dimension.
The first reason is that that international dimension has grown so much in the last generation. To take the point at its most terrible: the nature of modern weapons has made the problem of getting the nations of the world to live at peace with one another a much more burning problem for mankind than it has ever been before, and the intellectual and emotional effort that is necessary to achieve peaceful co-existence is all the more mandatory for mankind. In a more cheerful field, in some respects 781 nations have learnt to co-operate more with one another; but in the kind of world in which they live that co-operation involves elaborate machinery, such as the European Economic Community, and the various other groups of nations cooperating over the world.
Therefore there is here a new dimension, something that it would be desirable for people to know more of. The discovery of the new world immensely enlarged the international dimension in men's consciousness. It led Bacon to write the New Atlantis, pointing out the effect that this was going to have on the way that men thought about almost everything. We have had a rather similar development in the last generation, and therefore I think that there is a case for reminding this authority, which is starting off on its way, of the importance of the international dimension in education.
I would make one other point. Education is not merely an intellectual process; it is a process of the imagination as well. That, I think above all, is what one wants—that among people at large there should be a more imaginative grasp of how the people of other nations feel, and how they are likely to think, particularly if they are of different colours and live in very different surroundings. I say this because statesmen in control of foreign affairs—I was going to say "trying to control foreign affairs "—cannot advocate wise policies with much hope of success if, in the population as a whole, there lacks an understanding of what is needed and a sympathetic grasp of how people in other countries and other continents are likely to feel. It is that imaginative element in education that is important, and it is for that imaginative element that television is exceptionally valuable.
Anyone who has been engaged in educational work will know how much more important in education is the eye, rather than the ear or any other medium. This is particularly true when one wants to persuade people to think of something that they have never before really thought of or imagined; and this is the problem in dealing with international issues. When there is a new authority wielding this powerful instrument of the visual image, in a world in which the international dimension is so greatly increased, it is worthwhile giving this moderate, un- 782 controversial, unpropagandist reminder that this is the kind of world in which the authority lives and this is the strength of the influence that it could wield.
§ Baroness GAITSKELL
My Lords, may I add three sentences to the debate. Of course one agrees with the proposed words; they are completely innocuous. But may I say that they will not achieve their purpose. I was on the board of Yorkshire Television for over four years and we had one programme after another relevant to what we are now discussing. I recall one programme in particular, "The Gold Run." which showed how gold is mined in South Africa. That programme contained much history, and showed the state of the country. The proposed words are sentimental. They will not have the effect on television or on education about international affairs that the people who put them forward think they will have.
§ Lord ARDWICK
My Lords, I agree with all the noble sentiments expressed on this side of the House, and I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, when he says that this amendment is superfluous. It is a harmless, indeed excellent amendment, but it is really unnecessary. The idea that in this day and age a new channel, the channel with the objectives of the fourth channel, should neglect international affairs is really quite absurd. I feel that some noble Lords who have taken part in the debate this afternoon have spoken as if in ignorance of what is being done today on radio and television about what is going on abroad. There are some absolutely splendid programmes, just as there are some splendid articles in our national press. I cannot agree with the view that our national press, the serious press, gives less attention or devotes less skill to foreign affairs than does the press of other countries. There is Le Monde, the New York Times, and so forth. Nevertheless our own London Times, financially threatened though it is, and our Guardian, and the Daily Telegraph, too, give excellent coverage. No, The Times has not gone. If it does go, it will not be for the reason that it does not give splendid coverage to foreign affairs and home affairs, too.
The noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, was trying to suggest that the amend- 783 ment is necessary because of a general ignorance in this country of foreign affairs. There is an equal ignorance of home affairs. Think of the amount of time devoted on television and radio to our economic plight; yet if you ask people how much they understand about the borrowing requirement or the money supply, you will find they are as ignorant of those matters as they are of the question of what amount of the gross national product should be devoted to foreign aid.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGS-BRIDGE
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Hatch of Lusby has found support in all parts of the Chamber, and he will be pleased, and I hope not surprised, to find that he is receiving support from his Front Bench. We have had some distinguished opposition, small, but heavyweight, and I should like to begin by saying that the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, was a little unfair. We all know that my noble friend Lord Hatch is a third world enthusiast. The amendment does not use any term other than "international", and it is quite wrong to suggest that because my noble friend Lord Hatch has certain enthusiasms, the amendment will carry them. It will not. "International" is a perfectly simple word which means international It has nothing whatever to do with one interpretation of international as against another.
This amendment is the equivalent of an amendment I put down on the first Committee day, and withdrew because it was pointed out to me that in the context of where it had been placed it suggested that ITN was unsatisfactory, which was not my intention. I said that I would put down the amendment again on Report, but my noble friend Lord Hatch has anticipated me, and unfortunately has left no room for me to put my name to the present amendment. Like several noble Lords I could not support his original amendment because it dictated procedure in too much detail to the fourth programme makers, but the present amendment is entirely acceptable to me.
In the course of one or two minutes I want to say what I think the amendment is about. It really is about the meaning 784 of the word "education". A number of noble Lords have said that the word "education" ought to imply much wider things. I think that to the ordinary man it does not. To the ordinary man "education" relates to scholastic matters. Therefore, as there is a doubt about this, it is entirely reasonable to remove that doubt and to say that one of the very important areas that education should include is the international stage.
Of course the noble Lord will say that he has been asked by all sorts of other people to do this—my noble friend Lord Hatch pointed this out—but my own view is that the only representations he has had, basically, are about how better to get across education itself. I know he has had applications from the Open University about religious education and things of that sort, but this does not affect that. Giving way on this will not put out of joint the nose of my noble friend Lord Perry of the Open University or the other people concerned. It is simply an extension of a word and a redefinition of a word to be sure that we all mean the same thing by it.
The other point which the noble Lord will probably make is that you have the news. As several speakers, particularly the opener, have made perfectly clear, the news is not the same as continuous and regular commentary on the news, and it is for this that we are asking. We are not saying how much we ought to have; we are not saying what type of thing it ought to be; we are saying that in the educational programmes there should be something along these lines. If my noble friend decides to divide, I shall certainly support him. I think it will be very odd if the Government are unable to accept this, but I always wait with the greatest interest to hear the reasons they give for their wrong actions.
§ Lord GOODMAN
My Lords, before my noble friend sits down may I ask him a question? What does he envisage would be the consequences of not fulfilling this requirement?
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGS-BRIDGE
My Lords, it is not customary to ask questions of speakers other than the Government spokesman, but I find it irresistible to say that I have not the slightest idea. A very large number of 785 things put in Bills have no effects at all. This may very likely be in that class, but it is worth trying.
§ Lord BELSTEAD
My Lords, I should like to make it clear that the Government would be very happy indeed to see programmes which include education with an international content on the fourth channel, and I think it could be wholly in keeping with the general character of the channel. I would add that no one who has listened to this debate, and indeed to the opening speech by the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, and the final speech by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, will fail to realise the importance which is attached in many quarters to the widening of understanding, in this and other countries of the developed world, of the problems of the developing world. Now, among those who will have read in the debate on the last occasion, if they had not heard the discussion today, the very cogent pleas which have come from many noble Lords are, of course, the Independent Broadcasting Authority and the chairman and members designate of the board of the fourth channel subsidiary, which is actually going to run the channel; and I do not think that the pleas which have been made are going to fall upon deaf ears. Indeed, I know that the IBA and the prospective chairman of the fourth channel board have already reacted favourably to approaches which they have had on this question.
My Lords, if I may say so, I had the impression that one of the factors which lay behind the brief intervention of my noble friend Lord Home was a recognition by my noble friend that the tradition of public service broadcasting in this country is that we do not lay down directions on specific subject matter to the broadcasting authorities, however we may couch those directions. We do not do that. We try to go about it, if we possibly can, in a rather different way. We have gone about it in a different way in this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Hatch, pointed out, as he had every right to do, that there is rather a small amount of international educational programmes on the three existing channels at the present time. But look at Clause 3(1)(a). There, one finds a specific requirement that the fourth channel programme should contain, 786a suitable proportion of matter calculated to appeal to tastes and interests not generally catered for by ITV".This is the way we have tried to go about it—more generally—in the Bill as it is drafted.
I accept that this amendment is less specific than the previous one which the noble Lord put down in Committee. Nevertheless, what it contains, even though it is obliquely expressed, still amounts to an obligation on the IBA, and, through them, on the fourth channel board, to cover a particular subject area—that is, international matters—in its schedules. I explained previously (and I shall not weary your Lordships again) that the Government's view is that it really is not right to specify in the Bill subject matter to be covered in this way.
In his speech the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, said that he was in full agreement with the intention that the Bill should not interfere specifically with the content of programmes. If the noble Lord will forgive me for saying so, you could have fooled me! We believe—and I do not think this is the belief of the noble Lord—that those who are going to run the fourth channel really should be left free to decide, within the guidelines in Clause 3 to which I have already referred, and taking account of the views expressed in your Lordships' House and another place, what particular areas they should cover.
The noble Lord, Lord Goodman, asked the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, what would be the effect if this was left out. Like the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, I am not entirely sure, but I should like to add this. To make an exception to the principle that the Bill does not impose obligations as to specific subject matter in favour of any particular interest I think really is bound to lead to arguments that other areas ought to have similar treatment. That is an argument which the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, swept aside on the grounds that there were not many more stages of the Bill left, and that that argument therefore did not matter.
The noble Lord claims that this amendment should be an exception to any other sort of educational programme. That is a claim which we could debate for even longer than we have been debating already this afternoon. I would merely observe 787 that I think it is a very large assumption to claim that international education should be written into a statute, while in some way religious education, technical education, vocational education, remedial education and education of the under-fives should receive no mention at all. If we specify that the fourth channel must have regard to programmes with an international content, does that mean that the fourth channel should not have regard to programmes with other sorts of educational content? Of course it does not; I realise it does not. But it really is leading us down a road which I think is going to end in some sort of an absurdity.
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGS-BRIDGE
My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to interrupt him for only one minute? He quoted a number of sorts of education—remedial, et cetera. Nobody disputes that those are forms of education. The dispute is whether international content is a form of education, and I maintain that in the eyes of most ordinary people it is not.
§ Lord BELSTEAD
My Lords, that, again, is an assertion which we could debate for a very long time. I would claim, and many other noble Lords in this House this afternoon would claim, that in fact it is. My noble friend Lord Home asserted in his speech that really you should not detach the educational content from the rest of the content of the new fourth channel; and despite the fact that some of your Lordships have parted company with the views of my noble friend, I was interested that the speech which supported my noble friend Lord Home came from one of the most distinguished educationists this country has had in recent years, Lord Alexander of Potterhill. As Lord Alexander was speaking I remembered an old saying that I seem to have in the back of my mind, that educationists refer sometimes to education as being a seamless robe—something which has got different sorts of education running imperceptibly one into another through it; just as, at best, education should imperceptibly form part of all our lives.
My Lords, let us leave it that way. Within the guidelines of Clause 3(1) there will be, I am confident, a place on 788 the fourth channel for educational programmes dealing with international relations; but I do not think it is right to put a specific subject obligation on the IBA, and I ask the House not to agree to this amendment.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Lord HATCH of LUSBY
My Lords, I should like to express my gratitude to everyone who has taken part in this very stimulating debate. Most of the points which have been raised have been answered by subsequent speakers, but there have been one or two addressed specifically to me that I feel obliged to take up. The noble Lord, Lord Home, suggested that the amendment we are supporting is superflous. May I relate that to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, of my noble friend on the Front Bench; the question of what would happen if this amendment were defeated. The answer is very simple, indeed: and if your Lordships will look at any of the surveys done on public opinion over the past five years you will find that answer. I would suggest that you look at the Schlackman Report published two years ago as a specifically Government-commissioned report on public opinion on international issues. There you will see, admittedly, over-simplifying the findings, that the general finding was that two-thirds of the people of this country were parochially minded and anti-international. And that is what you will find if you leave the situation as it is today, if you consider that this amendment is superfluous, if you consider (as the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, suggested) that there was no need to put support behind it.
I would also simply ask the noble Lord, Lord Home, that, when we are talking about the present balance of radio and television being about right, is that not a very static view of our society? Is that not a negative acceptance of the kind of public attitude which many noble Lords on either side of the House this afternoon have been deploring and have been constructively suggesting should be changed? Radio and television, we know, are the two major elements affecting public opinion today. I suggest that those who say that the present balance there is about right are accepting that the present balance of public opinion 789 is about right—and I do not believe that that is the general view of the House.
May I finally and with absolute sincerity assure the noble Lord, Lord Home, over his suspicions of the use of this amendment for the promotion of certain causes, that if I were in any way responsible for a radio or television programme on the Brandt Commission or anything of that kind, I should expect and hope that he would take part, and I should expect and hope that his right honourable friend who succeeded him as Prime Minister would also take part and that those with vastly different views would be enabled to put those views—because that is education. I spent my life in education. That is education, in stimulating the mind through the clash of different opinions. There is no hidden meaning behind this amendment. We want to extend the debate, the discussion and the knowledge of international affairs through the use of the new channel in giving a lead to the whole television business of this country.
May I thank the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, for what he said particularly about trade. As he rightly said, we are a trading nation. Let me appeal outside the moral ground, let me appeal on the practical ground, that if we are going to remain a major trading nation, if we are going to extend our overseas trade, if we are going to seek economic recovery through our trading relations with the overseas world, the foundations of that will be laid in the schools. They will be laid in the homes where families are watching television; they will be laid through knowledge and understanding of other people. As I tried to point out in my opening remarks, I believe that there is a much wider dimension than that of trade, aid, charity or morality. There is here the reputation of the United Kingdom. We are being watched. Those of us who have had anything to do with international education know that what is discussed here or in the other place, in the press, in radio or on television, is well known particularly on the Continent
§ of Europe. I might point out that there have been many important experiments carried out in this field on the Continent of Europe. Take the case in Holland where they were able to develop a commercially successful children's newspaper based on development. This is one, and only one, of many examples of the way in which countries throughout the world are looking to the future and bringing our societies together to greater mutual understanding. I suggest that we are at present lagging behind and that this is one way in which we can do something at least to catch up.
§ My last word is to the noble Lord the Minister. I think that he and I probably disagree fundamentally on this. So far as I am concerned, when you have introduced into this Bill the phrase, "programmes of an educational nature", you have given some direction, you have given some advice, some aspects of progression that you hope will be followed, that you have laid down in statutory form shall be followed. So far as I am concerned, the words "international" and "educational" are synonymous. One cannot divide the international content of education. One can have an educational institution which is based on technical training, one can have an educational institution purely confined to nursery children; but I do not believe that one can have a genuine educational institution of any kind that excludes the international dimension. That is why we feel that this amendment could have been accepted by the Government. We feel that there has been a very wide consensus of support for it during this afternoon. There have been a few exceptions, but there has been general sympathy for this amendment and we feel that it should be pressed to a Division.
§ 5 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 2) shall he agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 70; Not-Contents, 134.791
|Ardwick, L.||Boston of Faversham, L.||David, B.|
|Bacon, B.||Brockway, L.||Davies of Leek, L.|
|Balogh, L.||Byers, L.||Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.|
|Banks, L.||Chitnis, L.||Elwyn-Jones, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Collison, L.||Fisher of Rednal, B.|
|Blyton, L.||Crowther-Hunt, L.||Gaitskell, B.|
|Gardiner, L.||Lloyd of Hampstead, L.||Shinwell, L.|
|George-Brown, L.||Longford, E.||Soper, L.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Maelor, L.||Spens, L.|
|Gordon-Walker, L.||Meston, L.||Stamp, L.|
|Gore-Booth, L.||Morris of Grasmere, L.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Gosford, E.||Oram, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Hale, L.||Parry, L.||Stone, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Peart, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Hatch of Lusby, L. [Teller.]||Perry of Walton, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Henderson, L.||Phillips, B.||Underhill, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.||Vernon, L.|
|Jacques, L.||Robertson of Oakridge, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Janner, L.||Scanlon, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Kilbracken, L.||Seear, B.||Whaddon, L.|
|Kilmarnock, L. [Teller.]||Sefton of Garston, L.||White, B.|
|Leatherland, L.||Segal, L.||Winstanley, L.|
|Listowel, E.||Shackleton, L.||Wootton of Abinger, B.|
|Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.|
|Ailesbury, M.||Glendevon, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Glenkinglas, L.||Netherthorpe, L.|
|Alexander of Potterhill, L.||Goodman, L.||Newall, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Gormanston, V.||Norfolk, D.|
|Allerton, L.||Gowrie, E.||Northchurch, B.|
|Ampthill, L.||Greenway, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Gridley, L.||Nunburnholme, L.|
|Avon, E.||Grimston of Westbury, L.||Onslow, E.|
|Bellwin, L.||Halsbury, E.||Orkney, E.|
|Belstead, L.||Hanworth, V.||Pender, L.|
|Boothby, L.||Hawke, L.||Perth, E.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Hayter, L.||Porritt, L.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Henley, L.||Rawlinson of Ewell, L.|
|Buxton of Alsa, L.||Home of the Hirsel, L.||Redmayne, L.|
|Caccia, L.||Hornsby-Smith, B.||Reigate, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Hunt, L.||Roberthall, L.|
|Carrington, L. (A Principal Secretary of State.)||Hylton-Foster, B.||Romney, E.|
|Ilchester, E.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Chelwood, L.||Kemsley, V.||Saint Brides, L.|
|Clwyd, L.||Kilmany, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Cobbold, L.||Kinloss, Ly.||Salisbury, M.|
|Cockfield, L.||Kinnaird, L.||Saltoun, Ly.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Kissin, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Lauderdale, E.||Sandys, L. [Teller.]|
|Cottesloe, L.||Linlithgow, M.||Selkirk, E.|
|Craigavon, V.||London, Bp.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Long, V.||Sharples, B.|
|Davidson, V.||Loudoun, C.||Sherfield, L.|
|de Clifford, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Soames, L. (L. President.)|
|De La Warr, E.||Lyell, L.||Strathcarron, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||McFadzean, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Strathspey, L.|
|Dundee, E.||Macleod of Borve, B.||Swinfen, L.|
|Eccles, V.||Malmesbury, E.||Teviot, L.|
|Elibank, L.||Mancroft, L.||Thorneycroft, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Mansfield, E.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Elles, B.||Margadale, L.||Trenchard, V.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Marley, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Elphinstone, L.||Marshall of Leeds, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Evans of Hungershall, L.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.||Vickers, B.|
|Exeter, M.||Milverton, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Faithfull, B.||Monson, L.||Westbury, L.|
|Ferrier, L.||Morris, L.||Willoughby de Broke, L.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.||Windlesham, L.|
|Gainford, L.||Moyne, L.||Wise, L.|
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 5.10 p.m.
Lord FERRIER moved Amendment No. 3:
Page 3, line 2, at end insert—
(" ( ) to provide an impartial account day by day prepared by professional reporters of the proceedings in both Houses of the United Kingdom Parliament.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, as this amendment is identical with the one I 793 withdrew at Committee stage, there is no need to repeat any of the arguments which were fully deployed in Committee. However, I make no apology for moving it again at this stage because not only did it receive a wide measure of support from all sides of the House—it is not a party matter—but it was withdrawn by agreement with my noble friend the Minister so that it could be looked at again. The result is that a number of discussions have taken place and the Committee's debate has been carefully studied. It is fair to say that the broadcasting people themselves do not think much of the idea, to put it mildly. Indeed, one of the objections I met with was quite savage.
§ However, be that as it may, I believe that the outcome of the analysis which has taken place on all sides of the House can be summarised as follows: first, there is a fairly wide acceptance of the general principle with the exception that I have already made. Secondly, the fourth channel, with which the Bill is concerned, applying as it does to the evening hours, may well be the wrong vehicle for an up-to-the minute report of the nature contemplated. Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, said in Committee, this may not be the service ideal for the purpose. Thirdly, I again refer to the noble Lord, Lord Hill. He was obviously correct in contending, as he did at column 442 of Hansard for 8th October, that the starting point of this matter should be the floor of the House of Commons.
§ The whole proposal is to my mind—I may be wrong—a momentous one. Unfortunately, so far as this Bill is concerned, it is overshadowed by proceedings such as we have just gone through. It has been overshadowed by the Welsh language matter and the wide range of strictly technical problems, such as that raised by my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn under Amendment No. 1. Considerations of these complex subjects may conceal from the media and from the public that the principle at stake here is of considerable importance in the unfolding and the continuity of our democratic system. I therefore look forward to the Government's reply, in the hope that they may have some assurance for us that if I withdraw my amendment the matter may be raised in another place, in which 794 case I shall ask your Lordships for permission to withdraw the amendment.
However, leaving that aside for the moment, in conclusion it is proper that we should ponder what has happened since the Committee stage. The day before yesterday The Times published a letter from Sir Harold Wilson, recommending that State financial assistance should be made available to the ailing press in Fleet Street and presumably also in Grays Inn Road. Personally, I fail to appreciate this idea and I could put it more strongly than that. However, Sir Harold yesterday, in the programme "The World This Weekend", said that on the general principle—and I wrote down his views—
it is important that people be properly informed".
That has been the touchstone of my contention over the years. In The Times of 16th October, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, is quoted as saying:
Television reaches audiences wider than even the most widely-read newspapers".
Incontrovertible: but now The Times is under threat, the Evening News has disappeared and the New Standard is being threatened by the same malign influences. It is we, the consumers, who have to pay, whether by the high cost of newspapers or otherwise by state aid to the press, as has just been suggested. I feel like quoting Kipling:
The toad beneath the harrow knows
Exactly where each tooth-point goes;
The butterfly upon the road,
Preaches contentment to that toad".
I wonder whether it is one of the butterflies out of Lord Hatch's Pandora's box. Nevertheless, let us not seek contentment imagining that the television people know best what we shall or shall not learn about Parliament from the "box". The television authorities know their own business best but, as I see it, it is for Parliament to decide what is best for the people. This is not a question of censorship. It is not, to use the words just used by the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, a direction as to the content of programmes. That is a matter for the broadcasters.
§ As one Opposition Peer pointed out to me the other day, the people have the right to sit in the Public Gallery. In the world of today have they not a right to expect something of the sort on the 795 "box"? Serious mistakes of omission and commission can be made on television, as is only too clear from two of the "Beeb's" biggest blobs. I refer to the recent "Panorama" programme about surgical transplants and the outcome (to be studied in the Listener of 16th October) of the "Nationwide" programme on the Thames Water Authority.
§ The radio and the press can sometimes be just as silly. As to the radio, "The World This Weekend" disappeared during the time this House has been sitting this last month of October. As for the press, the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian cut Parliament from their indexes on page 1 until the other place reassembled last week.
§ Lord FERRIER
The only thing that seemed to interest the press about our proceedings over the last month was sodomy in Scotland! However, my Lords, that is enough: I must sit down but I may have said enough to show that it may well be that an element of statutory obligation is necessary if a fair report on Parliament is to appear on the "box". Let me turn to the example set by the BBC's radio programmes, "Today in Parliament" and "Yesterday in Parliament". For all their brevity, they deserve our thanks and our praise. They stuck it while we were sitting here because they had to, by reason of Clause 13(2) of their Articles of Agreement.
In conclusion, may I emphasise that the contentious subject of televising the proceedings of either House has little or no bearing upon the issue raised by my amendment. I look forward to the Minister's reply. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Lord MARSHALL of LEEDS
My Lords, may I ask my noble friend the last speaker whether what he proposes in his amendment is educational or entertaining?
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Lord LEATHERLAND
My Lords, I suppose that I am one of the very few Members of your Lordships' House who have served in the capacity of a professional newspaper reporter in the Press 796 Gallery of the House of Commons. But that was about 55 years ago, and I cannot claim to be in touch with the people who work there today. However, while I was there—and I think that the same applies today—I was impressed by the ability of the reporters in the House of Commons Press Gallery to be able to produce a concise, impartial summary of the proceedings, night by night. I remember frequently listening to an eight-hour debate, and then seeing that condensed into eight or 10 inches of a single column in the newspapers the following morning, and not one important point had been missed and not one piece of partiality had crept in. That does not mean to say that newspapers printed what we might call neutral versions of the debate, but there was always a mention of the varying points of view that had been expressed in the debate.
That is quite a separate matter from the custom, which has grown up, of interviewing Members of Parliament on television or on the radio, because each one of those Members who is interviewed is a member of a political party and, naturally, he stresses his utterances—I will not say that he twists his utterances—so that his party shall come out virtuous, and the other party shall come out with a touch of wickedness about it. Both of the media are desirable—that is to say, we should continue to have Members of Parliament being interviewed on television and radio—but we should also have this impartial report on the programme.
It is a fact that newspaper reports, while admirable in themselves, are usually compelled to reflect the attitude of the proprietor of that newspaper. That is why you usually find out from the newspapers that the Tory Party is right in everything that it does, whereas the Labour Party is wrong in everything that it does. That is an additional reason why we should have this independent, impartial radio and television report.
§ Lord HILL of LUTON
My Lords, at Committee stage I supported the noble Lord who moved an amendment, because it seemed to me that it was an opportunity to raise a basic issue which, put simply, is that the people of this country are entitled to know what happens in Parliament and they are also entitled to have 797 that conveyed to them by the medium which most of them use most of the time. The Hansard controversy is over. Parliament is said to be open. Then let it be open through the main medium of today, in some form or other—through television.
Although this may not be—and I am pretty certain that is it not—an appropriate amendment in the appropriate place, I hope that the noble Lord the Minister who is to reply will be able to say just this: that his right honourable friend will exercise his influence to see that the other place discusses this once more. It is not much to ask. On a previous occasion, the Motion that Parliament should be reported by television was defeated by one vote. It is time that that was looked at again.
If the Minister can say that such influence will be used to that end, then that seems to me to be as much as we can obtain on this occasion. For it is, to my mind, fully established by those who believe in open government that a greater knowledge of what happens in Parliament will increase confidence in parliamentary democracy; not least because, in some quarters, there is a disposition to dispose of this Chamber. That may or may not be wise, but, for Heaven's sake, let the people of this country know what this Chamber is and what this Chamber does, through the medium that they use most, before that controversy is in the public arena.
§ Baroness PHILLIPS
My Lords, I should like to follow the noble Lord who has just spoken, particularly in his last words. There is a great need for what one can only describe in industrial parlance as a good public relations exercise to be made on behalf of this Chamber; indeed, to be made on behalf of having a second Chamber at all. I was interested to hear one Peer's comment the other day, that if 1,000 new Peers were created perhaps they would then vote for the abolition of the other place, which is a possibility that Mr. Tony Benn has probably not thought about.
But, quite seriously, I suggest to your Lordships that the image of this House is certainly not put over at the moment in a fair and impartial way. Even the recordings that one hears in "Today in Parliament" and Yesterday in Parliament" 798 suggest that what goes on in the Commons is a howling mob of third form schoolboys, and they do nothing to enhance the reputation of democratic government. If we could have a much more professional record—and, as has been rightly said, on the medium that most people use—of what really goes on in both Chambers, it could only be for the better knowledge of the citizens and, certainly, it would be in the interests of this Chamber.
My Lords, I shall be very brief. As one of the signatories to this amendment, I should like to say that the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, has done us all a service by raising this matter three times—on Second Reading, at Committee stage and again now. No doubt, following the excellent advice of Lewis Carroll in the Hunting of the Snark, which your Lordships will remember, that "What I say three times is true", it will begin to be heeded as being true. I think that the noble Lord's intention—and I say this without criticism of the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, who is to reply—is to get a slightly more positive and forthcoming answer at the end of the day. That is my hope and, I think, the hope of the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, also.
I am not in favour of fencing an authority round with all kinds of instructions as to what it should or should not do. But it is, of course, right that here we are in an area where there is a precedent. There is already an instruction in the BBC's Charter requiring BBC radio to do what is instructed in this amendment, so there is a precedent. But I think that the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, would be satisfied if we had a positive answer and, now that he has made these points three times, perhaps they will sink into the place where something can be done. It is in that spirit that I added my name to this amendment, and I certainly support the spirit in which it has been moved.
§ 5.29 p.m.
§ Lord WILLIS
My Lords, I am very sorry that I have to oppose this amendment. I abstained from voting on the last amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, because I do not believe that one should impose obligations on the broadcasters, and I oppose this amendment for much the same reason. I was terribly shocked 799 to hear one or two noble Lords suggest that the job of television and of radio is to do a public relations exercise for Parliament. That is not the job of television or of any respectable newspaperman. If it be said that Parliament sometimes behaves like third form schoolboys, do you expect the media to clean them up and present a nicer image to the public? Not at all—
§ Baroness PHILLIPS
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord will forgive me for interrupting. I think I made the remark and, if I may say so, it is a little dangerous if the noble Lord does not listen carefully. What I said was that a public relations exercise is needed. I did not say that it had to be done by the BBC or by any other medium.
§ Lord WILLIS
My Lords, many noble Lords have said that television is the one media which most people watch—that it is their one channel of news. The implication—I listened very carefully—is that television should take on this onerous task. I never cease to be shocked by the immodesty of some people in Parliament. Can we not all be honest and say that sometimes our proceedings are so boringly dull as to send us all to sleep? When I think of Parliament in relation to broadcasting I have to tell your Lordships that to broadcast every single day some report of the proceedings of Parliament would do for television what the Boston Strangler did for door-to-door salesmanship.
I am sure that most noble Lords, on the other side at least, who are employed by or who are directors of great companies know that the basic principle which is followed is to appoint the best possible managing director to run the firm. Certain basic guidelines are laid down for the managing director and he is told to get on with the job, and if he does not do it he is fired. That is what we should do in television, and that is why I am opposed to this amendment. I do not want, though this seems to be the wish of many noble Lords, endless obligations to be placed upon this poor little fourth channel which will not have enough money to run itself—
§ Lord WILLIS
It is not going to have enough money. I can assure noble Lords that it is going to be begging for more money and that it will be coming back to Parliament for more money within 18 months to two years. When it comes to making international programmes I can tell noble Lords that they are made at enormous cost. If the fourth channel had to follow the guidelines laid down in, for example, the last amendment, the cost would be out of all proportion. Therefore, I beg Parliament and your Lordships: please stop trying to impose more obligations on broadcasters. This is a very good Bill which lays down the broad outlines for the fourth channel. Please let them get on with it.
§ Lord BELSTEAD
My Lords, this is the third time in the course of the debates on the Bill that the proposition of my noble friend Lord Ferrier, that there ought to be a regular television report of the proceedings both in this House and in another place, has been debated. I am most grateful to my noble friend, and to the two noble Lords out of the total of three who also put down their name to my noble friend's amendment, for having made it clear in their speeches that they appreciate that there are doubts, which I hold on behalf of the Government, as to whether such a programme would be a suitable addition to the daily radio reports which the BBC provides, given that our proceedings and the proceedings of another place are not actually televised at present. That is of course a different issue. The issue to which my noble friend Lord Hill of Luton attached the most importance in putting down his name to the amendment is one upon which members of another place, and maybe your Lordships, have strong and possibly conflicting views. None the less, it has been enormously valuable that we have had this continuing debate, for it has enabled many who are concerned in one way or another with broadcasting to focus upon this issue. However, I regret to say that I cannot recommend to the House that the amendment should be accepted.
In addition to what I have just said, the main reason is that it would impose a very specific obligation upon the IBA which could be held almost to be burdensome. By that I mean that I know that 801 the BBC has an obligation framed in very similar terms, but the BBC's obligation is much more general in that it leaves the corporation free to decide upon which of its two television channels and its four radio channels it shall broadcast the parliamentary report. This amendment specifically requires the IBA to broadcast a daily parliamentary report on the fourth channel. It leaves no choice in the matter—and this at a time when some of your Lordships at a previous stage of the Bill interestingly enough suggested that if the IBA were to decide to have breakfast time television it might possibly be that which was chosen by the broadcasters as the right vehicle for parliamentary reports. In addition—I hope my noble friend will forgive me for interjecting this—I have the same objection to this amendment as that expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Willis; namely, putting specific obligations into the schedules of the fourth channel. I think that it is the board of the channel which has to decide on the specific obligations so far as its programme schedules are concerned.
My noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, asked me for an assurance, and I am glad to give them the best assurance that I can muster. I assure both noble Lords and the House that I will bring the views which have been expressed most clearly to the attention of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. I cannot give any promise as to the outcome, but I think that this is a more proper way to proceed than to impose by statute a duty on the IBA to include these programmes on only one of its two television channels.
I should like again to thank my noble friend Lord Ferrier for the very close interest which he takes in these matters and for raising them in the way that he has done upon this Bill. I should also like to express the hope that the assurance which I have tried to give to my noble friend may be enough to enable him to withdraw the amendment.
§ Lord FERRIER
My Lords, I should say that the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, who also put down his name to this amendment has been detained by an obligation to speak in Edinburgh, other- 802 wise he would have been here and supported me—as have, I am glad to say, the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, and the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley. There is little more left for me to say, since my noble friend the Minister has given an assurance which fully satisfies me and, I think, my supporters.
Lord Willis was perfectly right in saying that the fourth channel is the wrong place for this particular type of bulletin. He made my point—that the public relations job is not the job of broadcasters. I could not agree more. The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, made the point, and at Second Reading Lord Brooks also drew attention to the fact that the ideal, theoretically, would be for the whole proceedings of both Houses of Parliament to be available throughout the day and night. But, as he knows, of course that would not make sense. It is quite impossible. When it was tried on radio in Australia it was found that people lost all interest.
When we speak about other channels, a matter which I hope will be discussed by my friends in the other place, I hope it will be remembered that alternatives are available. People are seriously talking about breakfast television, for which apparently there is a strong demand. It has been pointed out to me that we must remember that people in hospital are woken up early and long for something to think about and that breakfast time therefore would be a very popular time for a bulletin of this nature. It has also been pointed out to me that the new system of having words under the television pictures is extremely valuable for deaf people.
I do not want to take up any more of your Lordships' time. Therefore, I ask for permission to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 7 [Content of annual reports]:
Lord DONALDSON of KINGS-BRIDGE had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 4:
Page 6, line 39, at end insert ("or international").
§ [Amendment No. 4 not moved.]
§ 5.40 p.m.
Lord DONALDSON of KINGS-BRIDGE moved Amendment No. 5:
Page 6, line 43, at end insert ("in particular to include a report from the existing Educational Advisory Committee of the IBA commenting on the standard and quantity of educational and international programmes broadcast on the Fourth Channel.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is the important part of this group of amendments. It is an attempt to assert some assessment of the educational performance of Channel Four by people who are professionally engaged in education. In my opinion it is not enough to leave such assessments in the hands of the IBA itself, which is to make it judge in its own cause. I do not believe that my noble friend Lord Thomson will think that I am "getting at" the IBA when I say that the IBA is given a job to do, which is to set up Channel Four according to this Bill, and it is absurd to accept as final its own estimate of its own performance.
§ If we are going to have very general instructions, as we have in Clause 3, of a kind to which I do not think even my noble friend Lord Willis objects—though I see that he has gone, so I cannot tell—I think one must have some kind of checking that the intention of these very general orders is being carried out properly. At the Committee stage, I tried to produce an independent body which would do this, but the Committee did not agree, so I fall back on the insistence that the existing educational advisory body of IBA should have its annual report to IBA published for all to see. There is an existing advisory body to IBA which is not exactly the same as IBA—it is an advisory body and if the advisory body's advice has been ignored, it will say so and we shall know it.
§ My Lords, the Open University in particular supports these amendments. It has already expressed grave misgivings about the effect of ratings competition on BBC educational programmes and is insistent that the fourth channel should be protected and I hope my noble friend 804 Lord Perry will enlarge on this when he speaks. We are very glad to have him here. What I am asking for, in effect, is that we should receive in Parliament a professional assessment of the quality and quantity of educational—and I had said "and international", but I withdraw that—programmes produced under the very wide terms of Clause 3, and this should be given and freely commented on by a body chosen for its interest in and knowledge of the problems of education. Such a body is to hand. We want to know each year how well it thinks the new channel has performed.
§ When I tabled my original amendment, for a public inquiry board to sit permanently and watch the rapidly changing events in communications technology, I was shot down from all sides. The noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, said it would be a permanent Annan Committee; the noble Lord, Lord Annan, said that it was not what he had suggested, anyway; the noble Lord, Lord Morris, described it, if I remember aright, as "typical socialist arrogance" and the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, thought it was a direct attack on the liberty of the subject. We thrive on non sequiturs in our debates; they add spice to what could otherwise become dull, so I make no complaint; but I think it might be fair to characterise this amendment as a creeping socialist attempt to pay proper attention to education. I beg to move.
§ Lord PERRY of WALTON
My Lords, having battled for some 12 years with my friends at the BBC over the need of the Open University for decent air times, may I reinforce what has already been said by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson. The pressure on the university to release time for other programmes appealing to larger audiences than it can possibly muster is wholly understandable and eminently reasonable. It has also been continuous pressure. The advent of the fourth channel will quite inevitably intensify that pressure and I think it will deal a very heavy blow at the Open University. Competition for the ratings between the fourth channel and BBC2 is bound to occur. The one depends upon advertisers for its income and they demand an audience; the other exists upon licence fees and must justify its costs. The Open University will not 805 easily get any time on the fourth channel, but the advent of the fourth channel will mean that it is squeezed still further off BBC2. We are fast reaching the point where we shall be spending a very large amount of public money—some £7½ million last year—on making high quality television programmes that will be broadcast at times when most of our students cannot watch them.
The fourth channel is charged with broadcasting a suitable proportion of programmes of an educational nature. We have tried to define "educational programmes" and failed, but they can range from instructional programmes, a systematic series of a course aimed at a defined population of students, although they frequently attract other viewers. They can range from that to programmes of general interest which educate adults—and we have spoken at great length about educating them in international affairs—educating them, as it were, by stealth. There are many such programmes and they are absolutely admirable and it is extremely important that they should go out. But this does not mean that instructional programmes of the Open University type are not also important. Modern technology offers alternatives to open circuit broadcasting, but so far they are all far too expensive to be practicable. There is no way of reaching students with a moving video signal other than by open circuit broadcasting.
This amendment asks for no guarantees for education. It does not define what programmes of an educational nature are; it imposes no constraint whatsoever upon the freedom of the fourth channel authorities to programme as they think fit. It asks only that there should be a report to Parliament each year about the way in which the needs of education are being met. It will allow debate to occur here of such things as the impact of what I anticipate as being a heavy blow at the Open University as a result of the impact of the fourth channel.
There can be little reason for resisting this amendment and there is every reason to support it if noble Lords feel as I do; that education in its broadest sense is the most important single function that television can subserve and that continuing watchfulness is therefore worth while.
§ Baroness DAVID
My Lords, we have had support for this amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Perry, so far as the Open University is concerned, and I should like to tell the House of support for it from another educational body; the Advisory Council for Adult and Continuing Education, from whom I heard the other day, saying that they were sure that "everybody in the adult education world would approve of your amendments to Clause 7." They say:We are all conscious of the gap between expressed intention and actual achievement in adult education broadcasting on the part of the IBA television and local radio companies. It would be deplorable if this were to be repeated on the Fourth Channel. The statutory requirement of the IBA's educational advisory committee to report on the standard and quantity of Fourth Channel educational broadcasting would provide an excellent monitoring and encouragement device and I am sure it would be welcomed by the education staff at the IBA".I think that this support from a council which is set up by the DES and which has Dr. Richard Hoggart as its chairman should carry weight with the House.
I should also like to say a word about adult education broadcasting helping to make up for the reduction of local authority provision, which in my view is disastrous. The latest DES statistics for 1979–80 show a 10 per cent. decrease in enrolments at adult education centres—from just over 2 million to just under 1.8 million and that figure is bound to be worse for 1980–81. The sad tales keep on coming in. A number of residential colleges have already closed. I have heard that Gragham and Burwell House, in my own county, are at risk of closing, and Wedgwood College and Temple Hall are still under threat. Leicestershire is closing 10 community colleges and abolishing 20 full-time adult educational posts. These are only examples of what is happening all over the country. Where courses continue, fees rise steeply as the LEAs demand that centres should be self-financing. Many who in the past could afford to attend classes no longer can do so. The other day I saw in The Times Educational Supplement words from Mr. Jeremy Isaacs, the new network's chief executive, saying that he hopes to fill an unfilled gap in education for teenagers and school-leavers. It seems to me that that is extremely important. All this makes one even more keen that the media should produce high quality 807 and a good quantity of educational programmes, preferably at reasonable hours, as the noble Lord, Lord Perry, said, and that they should have to give an account of themselves. For these reasons I hope the House will support this amendment.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Lord GOODMAN
My Lords, I have a very special reason for wanting to intervene in this debate. Several years ago, before the Open University was established, I was charged with the interesting and important duty of preparing a one-man report about the Open University for the then Cabinet. In that connection, I paid a visit, first, to the BBC and received quite astonishing support and assistance, particularly from Sir Hugh Greene, to whom the existence of the Open University can largely be attributed. Then I paid a visit to the Independent Television Authority, and they told me with great regret that it was not possible for them to find any time at all for the Open University because of the demands already existing on their time. This is not a belated and posthumous criticism of the situation. But I think it emphasises the need for this amendment, which seems to me to be wholly innocuous and virtuous and one that will remove from the independent channels the stigma of being a philistine channel. It is of considerable importance that this amendment or something akin to it should be accepted, and I thought I was justified in intervening because of my own historical experience in the matter.
§ Lord BELSTEAD
My Lords, I am grateful to all your Lordships who have made speeches, but I am afraid that I do not agree with a single one. If I may be forgiven for saying so, I find this a very strange amendment. First, there is no such thing as the Educational Advisory Committee, which appears in the amendment. The IBA appointed an Educational Advisory Council, so the first item on the agenda is that the amendment is defective; let us be quite clear about that. Secondly, there are more educational advisory bodies than one for the IBA. There is the appointment by the IBA of what is called the Schools Committee, and the IBA also take the trouble to have an Adult 808 Education Committee to cover these specific areas of education. So when I heard an impassioned plea from the noble Baroness, Lady David, that there should be full coverage of adult education matters so far as the activities of the IBA are concerned, because of the erosion of adult education services in the country, I fell to thinking it was a funny thing that this amendment did not mention the Adult Education Committee of the IBA instead of inaccurately referring to the Educational Advisory Committee of the authority. I am sorry to sound rather tetchy, but this has been made to sound as though it is a very splendid amendment. With all friendliness to the noble Lord opposite, it is not.
I do not think it would be appropriate to require in statute a report from this one alone of the whole complex of advisory committees which the IBA have. Do not let us forget that later on in the Bill we are specifically taking the trouble to write in, if Parliament will agree, in Clause 32 that the IBA shall have advisory committees for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. These, of course, will take very seriously the provision of education, amongst other services, in those parts of the United Kingdom. Rightly or wrongly, Parliament is not requiring those national advisory committees to have to produce annual reports. As I understand the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, the noble Lord, Lord Perry, and the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, really the purpose of this amendment is in some way to inject the claims of the Open University into the annual reports of the IBA. I have the greatest sympathy and admiration for the Open University. Indeed, although I know that it did not come to the conclusion that the noble Lord, Lord Perry, would have wished, on the Home Secretary's behalf I had a long discussion with the Open University representatives, including the noble Lord, about the claims of the Open University to be written into statute in this particular Bill. With very great respect, I really do not think that this is the way to do it.
If your Lordships' House believes that in some way the very real claims of the Open University should be written in, and that the fears maybe of the Open University should be met in a statute, then we ought to do that absolutely openly, 809 deciding exactly what it is we are doing, and not in some way include the claims of the Open University by saying that we believe that the Education Advisory Council of the IBA shall have its particular views put into the annual report of the authority. If I may say so, I think that the inclusion of material about educational programmes on both channels and about the differences between them, which is already a requirement under Clause 7(2)(a) of the Bill, is absolutely bound to reflect the views of the Educational Advisory Council of the IBA. As I have sought to say, I hope not too combatively, I think that to write in this specific requirement, when one thinks of the whole spectrum of admirable advisory committees which the IBA have established, would be very much the wrong way to proceed.
§ Lord GOODMAN
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, can he answer one question? Is it the case that the independent channel does not broadcast any programmes by the Open University and has never done so?
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGS-BRIDGE
My Lords, uncharacteristically the noble Lord has been pretty disagreeable about this. He put extraordinary weight on the fact that, through my carelessness, we said "Committee" instead of "Council". I expect a better answer than that from the noble Lord. I was really shocked at his referring to it twice, and somewhat irritated. The second thing which I thought verging on the offensive was the suggestion that I and my colleagues were trying to do something for the Open University behind the back of the Bill. This is an absolutely unjustified suggestion and I am absolutely astonished that the noble Lord should make it. We have worked together for many years and he has never accused me before of going behind anybody's back; I hope he never will again. I should like to put on record that I think he should not have said it.
The Open University was brought in by me as evidence of the desire of people who are professionally concerned in education to make sure that the various pressures to which the various channels, 810 the fourth channel as well as others, are subject do not lead to a failure to deal with the high ideals put forward in Clause 3. I have said this not three times, but about eight times, and I should have thought that the noble Lord would have accepted that that was the object of this amendment.
It really makes one feel that it is hardly worth coming here and talking at all if one cannot get the point across. I have made the point again and again that I do not think it is satisfactory to have something which is seen already by some customers to be slipping. That is what the Open University have said already over the BBC, who are the only people who do the educational thing. They see it slipping as a result of the competition for ratings. Not only they, but as my noble friend said, Richard Hoggart and others in other areas of educational study; they are all worried about the pressures of broadcasting gradually letting down the high ideals which are in Clause 3. We have had absolutely no support from the Government over doing this. If the Government would say, at least, "We think it is desirable that some kind of comment from the professional body in education which is advising the IBA should be included in their report", I would accept that as a step in the right direction.
I am terribly set back by this, because this is really important. If the fourth channel is going to be any good at all somebody other than the IBA themselves has got to report on how well the IBA are doing this very difficult and very general thing. It simply is not good enough to make a number of rather awkward remarks, as the noble Lord has, and dismiss the thing in this way. I would like to divide the House on this, but as the noble Lord has revealed a foolish error in the amendment I think I must put it down again on Third Reading. But I would like to tell the noble Lord that when I do so I expect a very much better answer than the one I have had today. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord DONALDSON of KINGS-BRIDGE has given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 6:
Page 7, line 21, at end insert—
("(e) it shall be the duty of Parliament to
debate both the IBA and the BBC Reports each year.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I do not know whether it is worth moving this amendment at this stage. There is nothing in it which is inconsistent with the withdrawal of the previous amendment, but I think I would rather wait and put it with the other one on Third Reading.
§ [Amendment No. 6 not moved.]
Lord PONSONBY of SHULBREDE moved Amendment No. 7:
Page 7, line 21, at end insert—
("(e) a description of the arrangements made by the Authority for carrying out the powers given it by section 12(1A) of the main Act and a description of the methods used by the Authority to utilise such opinions, comments and suggestions by members of the public as it may receive in entering into contracts, or, as the case may be, extending contracts, with any programme contractor.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, let me say straight away that I fear that there is a small drafting mistake in this amendment. This amendment was originally drafted in reference to the Bill in its unamended state. In the third line of the amendment the reference should be to Section 12(1B) instead of Section 12(1A). This is an amendment in Clause 33 of the Bill in which we are amending the main Act and inserting new provisions in the main Act.
§ Clause 33 relates to the various duties placed on the ITA. The particular duty referred to here concerns the question of public meetings and gauging the opinion of the public with regard to the allocation of contracts. I do not want to enter into the question of public meetings, and so on, because we shall be dealing with that in later amendments. This amendment refers to the contents of the annual report. We already have the fact that the annual report shall contain a general description of the programmes broadcast on ITV and the fourth channel respectively, an account of the way in which the authority have discharged their duty as regards encouragement of innovation and experiment, a description of the sources from which programmes were obtained and a description of the arrangements made with respect to the broadcasting of advertisements812
§ This amendment places on them an additional requirement, that in the annual report the IBA shall include information about how they have undertaken their duties as laid down in Section 12(1B), which requires them to ascertain the opinions of the public in the area or the locality and to encourage the making of comments and suggestions about the service by members of the public in the area. It would seem only right, having required these other duties on the IBA to be included in their annual report, that this very important function with regard to consultation of the public also should be included. I beg to move.
§ Lord BELSTEAD
My Lords, the functions to which this amendment refers, as the noble Lord quite rightly said at the end of his remarks, are laid down in the Bill—as a matter of fact, in Clause 33. But I would like to put this point to the noble Lord. I wonder whether he would agree that it is more important, when one is talking about the annual report, that the authority's arrangements for consulting the public should be made known before and during the period of consultation which forms part of the process leading up to the award of contracts rather than putting a statutory duty on the authority to report on how this is done later on. In this regard the IBA cannot really be faulted.
As early as February last year they published a document entitled ITV Future Contracts and the Public, which set out the methods of seeking public opinion at various stages which the authority intended to employ, and indeed have employed. If I may for a moment quote from that document, the IBA said this:The Authority will use a variety of means to make this public consultation"—this is public consultation in the awarding of future contracts—as reliable and representative as possible. A series of public meetings is being held which will focus on the areas served by different centres of production as well as the quality of the ITV service. These will be completed early in 1930. Later in that year the Authority will arrange hearings at which the public may express views on the published sections of applications before interviews with applicants and the award of contracts take place. The Authority will not, however, rely solely on comments made at public meetings".813 Then in this document the authority went on to say that they would consider the findings of major research surveys and would take into account expert assessment of the programmes, and written comments, ratings, and appreciation indices and attitude surveys. This was really a wealth of information which was given right back in February about how the IBA intended to go about the business of showing the public that they really minded what members of the general public thought in the whole process of reaching conclusions about the new contracts.
I believe that the authority take consultation with the public very seriously, and, as I have tried to show in that quotation, they have gone to considerable lengths to ascertain public opinion without any statutory duty to do so being placed upon them. In Clause 33 we have placed some statutory duties on the authority. This amendment refers to how that would be dealt with in the annual report. If I may say so, I believe it is not necessary for this to be written into the Bill as a requirement in the annual report. If the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, says that he feels that this is arguable, may I say that if there were to be any question that the IBA might not wish to comment about these things in their annual report, there is a power which directs that the authority shall prepare a general report of their proceedings during the year, and should it seem desirable that a particular report be required on public consultation the Home Secretary is empowered by Section 31(4) in the 1973 Act to require the IBA to provide this.
Therefore, there is that fall-back power. It is for that final reason that I would ask the noble Lord not to press the amendment. I am saying in essence that it would be placing an extra layer in the sandwich. There is a power in the 1973 Act for the Home Secretary of the day to require the IBA, if necessary, to do what the noble Lord is after. But, if I may say so, I think that the IBA needs no urging.
Lord PONSON BY of SHULBREDE
My Lords, one entirely applauds the fact that the IBA, in advance, did announce how it was going to carry out its public consultation procedure. But, as the noble Lord realised towards the end of his 814 speech, my amendment is, in a sense, concerned not with what the IBA is going to do in advance, but with the fact that it should report, afterwards, as to how it has carried out that particular duty. I am sorry that he takes the view which he has taken today, because it seems to me that it would not seriously upset the requirements as to what should be contained in the annual report if we were to include this particular amendment in the Bill. However, having said that, I do not intend to press the amendment to a Division but may bring it back again on Third Reading when we have seen how the other amendments on consultation are received this evening. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 17 [The Broadcasting Complaints Commission]:
§ 6.12 p.m.
Lord HOOSON moved Amendment No. 8:
Page 11, line 42, at end insert ("a proportion of whom shall have substantial professional experience in making or preparing programmes for broadcast").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 8 and, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to deal also with Amendment No. 9, which is consequential upon it. The two amendments hang together. As I explained in Committee, I put down a series of amendments as regards what has now become Part IV of the Bill, which deals with the Broadcasting Complaints Commission.
§ That series of amendments was designed to show—and I believe did show—that the Government had ill considered this part of the Bill and that if this commission was to achieve the status and standing in this country in relation to broadcasting which the Government hopes that it will, then we should have to think seriously about some of its provisions.
§ Since that time I have slimmed down some of the amendments and tabled them, I am sorry to say, at a rather late stage. However, I am very happy to learn that I have attracted the support of noble Lords on both sides of the House. It is in no way a party amendment.815
§ It is important when dealing with the first amendment, No. 8, to remember the following. It is important for the future of our country and the future of the status of broadcasting in this country to appreciate that this commission must have the confidence of the public and the confidence of the profession. Therefore, let us look at the Government's present provisions in relation to it.
§ So far, as the Bill stands, it means that the complaints commission shall not have on it any professional, and anybody with the most tenuous connection with broadcasting is virtually excluded by subsection (2)(b). To quote, if not the exact words, the sense, of Mr. Leon Brittan, the Minister of State in another place, this commission will set up its own corpus of jurisprudence, it will lay down professional standards for the profession of broadcasting. How is it to do so without a single member of the commission having any experience of broadcasting? It would be my own view, as a member of one of the oldest professions in this country—the profession of the Bar—that the majority of the commission should have professional experience of broadcasting. However, my amendment does not say that: it says that a proportion of the commission should do so, and that surely must be right.
§ Let us consider what we are trying to do. We are trying to set up a body which will earn the respect of the broadcasting profession and the confidence of the country. How can we do that without insisting that there should be among the members of the commission at least one—or a proportion if there are to be more than three; there could be as many as five—who should actually have experience of producing or preparing a programme and who knows the pressures and what professional life is like? Is that not a basic requirement of justice? Indeed, not only that, but is it not also a matter of common sense? If the adjudications of this commission are to have the confidence of the broadcasting profession, surely their value will be enhanced by having on that body somebody at least who had professional know-how.
§ I should not like, as a member of the Bar, to be adjudicated upon by people who knew nothing or very little about my 816 profession. I do not suppose that any doctor would like it and I do not suppose that any of the professions in this country would welcome it. Nor would any trade unionist like his future to be decided by a body which contained no member of his union. It is very important that there should be a balance as regards this matter. We are trying here to achieve, what?—a balance between the interests of the public and the interests of the community without killing the creativity of the profession of broadcasters.
Therefore, in my view it is right that we should insist, as does my amendment, that a proportion of the people on this commission—and it is proposed that there will be at least three and perhaps there will be five or seven—
shall have substantial professional experience in making or preparing programmes for broadcast".
If the Government were wise I think that they would accept the amendment. It would enhance the value of the commission not only in the eyes of the public but in the eyes of the profession itself.
§ The second amendment, No. 9, is to leave out from line 4 to the end of line 10—that subsection which, in effect, provides that anyone at present with the most tenuous connection with broadcasting will be excluded from membership of this commission. I think that the provisions of this Bill, as at present drafted, show how little thought has been given to the matter. How on earth can we have a body which lays down professional standards for what is a very new profession in this country, without having a single professional member on it? I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, on the Liberal Benches, whom we all know is a most distinguished lawyer, because, among other reasons—and I shall not reiterate his own reasons—the complaints commission as I see it, and as I think most noble Lords must see it, is a body which has been set up very necessarily and as a direct parallel to the complaints committee of the Press Council.
Noble Lords will also know that the membership of the Press Council does not have a proportion of members learned in that particular profession—it is literally littered with them! The vast majority of 817 the Press Council is made up of professional members of that profession. All that this amendment asks is that there should be a proportion. One member of the commission is a proportion of that commission, and, if the commission comprised 20 members, then he would be a very small proportion. However, that is all that the amendment asks for. Therefore, for that reason, and for the reasons so eloquently put to your Lordships by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, I beg to ask for your Lordships' support for the amendment.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Lord GOODMAN
My Lords, I think that we are in something of a difficulty over this amendment because whether or not one supports it must depend on the fate of Amendment No. 10. Two quite distinct functions are at present envisaged. There is the function at present in the Bill which is that the commissioners have to determine whether a person has been unfairly or unjustly treated. There is the proposed new function, which heaven forbid we should pass, that the commission should enter into every kind of consideration relating to violence, indecency, morality and so forth.
On the first function, if I may venture to say so to a noble Lord with whom I nearly always find myself in agreement, this amendment is misconceived. I do not think that you need professional people engaged in broadcasting to know whether someone has been unfairly or unjustly treated. An ordinary civilised human being with a proper sense of values can discharge that duty. It seems to me that in fact anyone who is seized of a great knowledge of broadcasting on this kind of matter would be at something of a disadvantage. However, if we adopt Amendment No. 10, I think there is a very different kettle of fish to be considered. It is only to say that possibly it might be convenient—I do not know whether the procedure allows it—for this amendment to be considered after we have decided what the function of the commission ought to be.
My Lords, I intervene very briefly. Noble Lords will remember that I moved an amendment, substantially in this form, at the Committee stage, asking that at least one member should have substantial experience. 818 I am glad to see that the ante has now increased, and my noble friend has suggested a proportion and even said that perhaps a majority would be preferred. I do not wish to repeat the remarks I made before about how necessary it is that there should be people on the commission who have practical personal experience of what it means and what it involves to construct and present a programme. I think that that is absolutely essential. I have risen on this occasion because I am bound to disagree most strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, who said a moment ago that one did not need experience of broadcasting to adjudicate on matters such as fairness and so on. The whole business of the commission, which is referred to in the Bill, refers to fairness, but I must say to the noble Lord that there is no way that this Bill, or any other Bill, can make broadcasting fair. Broadcasting is very often unfair. By its very nature it is unfair, just as politics is sometimes unfair and, indeed, life is sometimes unfair.
What the commissioners have to decide from time to time at the end of the day is not the result, but whether proper broadcasting practices have been followed with regard to the way in which an interview has been cut, the way in which questions have perhaps been interpolated into an interview, the way in which a particular broadcast has been set and the context into which it has been put. In that connection it is utterly impossible for the commissioners to come to fair and sensible decisions, unless they have a personal understanding of the practical business of making programmes.
§ Baroness WOOTTON of ABINGER
My Lords, although I think it is important that there should be someone on the commission who has this kind of practical experience, I should like to point out that most of the complaints that one is disposed to make against the BBC and other broadcasting organisations are just the matters that the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, has mentioned. They concern the way in which interviews are cut, and the way in which one is misrepresented. If there is too high a proportion of professional broadcasting producers and such persons on the commission, they will come strongly prejudiced on one side. Of that there is no doubt.
819 Therefore, although they should, of course, be represented—as the unions should be represented when complaints are made against workers and, equally, as employers organisations should be represented when workers have complaints to make against their employers—the commission should not be very heavily loaded with the professionals; otherwise we shall certainly have a commission which does not start from an impartial base.
§ Lord ANNAN
My Lords, I have a good deal of sympathy with this amendment because I well know how much the Committee on the Future of Broadcasting owes to two people who had professional experience of broadcasting. By that I do not mean that they have been on the air, but that they had actually worked in the case of Mr. Tony Jay in the BBC and in the case of Mr. Phillip Whitehead in the BBC and in an independent television company. For the first time on, I think, any broadcasting committee of inquiry, they brought an expertise to bear which, as chairman, I found most valuable. It is, of course, precisely as the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton, said; it is when one comes to such questions of cutting that the unfairness or fairness of the treatment comes very much into question.
In a way I should like to support the amendment. My difficulty in supporting it as drafted is that I think an important small word has been omitted. As drafted, the amendment reads:… a proportion of whom shall have substantial professional experience …I wish that the noble Lord who moved the amendment had said:… a proportion of whom shall have had substantial professional experience …".I think that there is a distinction to be drawn here. If you take the amendment as drafted, you are asking people who are at the moment professionally engaged in broadcasting for their own benefit financially; whereas neither Mr. Phillip Whitehead nor Mr. Tony Jay at that time were actually engaged for gain in broadcasting. Since then, of course, Mr. Tony Jay has returned to making television programmes which reveal a certain acquaintance—I refer to his programme "Yes, Minister"—with the affairs of 820 Ministers of the Crown and of the Civil Service.
However, leaving that aside, I think that we must accept that people who are, in fact, engaged professionally by the BBC or by an independent television company should not be on this commission. On the other hand, someone who has retired from serving in broadcasting, who has experience of what it is like to have actually been in a production and to have been responsible for programmes, would, I think, be of value. Of course, I need hardly say that I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, that if there were any question of the next amendment being agreed by your Lordships' House, it would be absolutely essential for them to be on the commission.
I have sympathy with this amendment because—and this is my last reason—the scope of this Broadcasting Complaints Commission is very much larger than that which was envisaged, at any rate in the Committee on the Future of Broadcasting. There is now the question whether someone who is dead has been libelled, if one may use that expression, or at any rate grossly misrepresented. When one enters that kind of field, it seems to me that it is extremely important to have someone who has a knowledge of broadcasting on the commission. I find it difficult to vote for this amendment in the way it is drafted.
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGS-BRIDGE
My Lords, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Annan, is in semantic trouble. I could surely say without saying anything wrong, that Sir Hugh Greene has enormous experience of broadcasting; I do not have to say that he "has had". Both are true. Experience is something you have had; it is in the past. It is purely a semantic point and it should not stop the noble Lord supporting this amendment, which I think is very important.
I am always nervous in disagreeing with my noble friend Lord Goodman. Last time I did so, I had to change my mind, but this time I think I shall remain in disagreement with him because I cannot imagine any group of solicitors who would be prepared to put up a complaint against a solicitor to three 821 laymen. It is not the sort of thing they do at all, or any lawyer would do, as the noble Lord said. It is not the way in which people in closed shops, such as solicitors and lawyers, behave. I do not blame them, but to try to suggest that you could not have anyone who knew his subject when you are going to hear complaints about broadcasting is below the noble Lord's usual standard of illumination.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Lord BELSTEAD
My Lords, I have sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, and other noble Lords who have put their names to this amendment, in regard to the intention which the amendment has. Indeed, I endeavoured on the previous stage of the Bill to give an assurance on this matter. I also take to heart what the noble Lord, Lord Annan, has said so far as his support for the amendment is concerned. I have also taken on board what the noble Lord said about the somewhat wider remit which the complaints commission under Part IV will have compared with the complaints commission which was envisaged by the noble Lord, Lord Annan; although the two are similar creatures none the less there are differences and I have taken that on board.
However, I cannot but remember all the time that a fundamental reason for setting up a complaints commission as put forward by the Annan Committee, if I may call the noble Lord's committee that, was that there should be a body independent of the broadcasting authorities. The noble Lord moving the amendment I think speaks just a little as though this really is not self-evidently right. All I can say is that the Annan Committee had absolutely no doubt about this fundamental aspect. If I may quote from paragraph 6.16 of the noble Lord's report they found that:if the Broadcasting Authorities themselves each appoint such bodies, however impartial they may be, the public and the complainants will never be convinced that an independent judgment is being given".All I am trying to say at the moment is that it was fundamental to the concept of setting up a statutory complaints commission that it should be, and should be seen to be, independent of the broadcasting authorities.
822 Certainly the Annan Committee also recommended that those who hear the kind of complaints that there would be for a commission needed to be:those skilled in the assessment of evidence and knowledgeable about broadcasting".That comes in paragraph 6.16 as well. It would be quite dishonest of me if I had not ferreted that out too. I therefore repeat again an assurance I endeavoured to give on 8th October, in columns 519 and 520 of the Official Report of your Lordships' House, and I give it in my own words today, that the Home Secretary will certainly be looking for representation on the commission with substantial experience of broadcasting.
May I add a couple of things more? I was interested in the intervention of the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton, and the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Goodman. I am advised that the BBC's programme complaints commission consisted of Sir Edmund Compton, Professor Kathleen Bell, and until recently the late Mr. Andrew Rankin, QC, none of whom of course are broadcasters. No one has suggested that that commission was not competent, or not able, to do the particular job which it is designed to do, which of course is absolutely the job on which we have modelled the complaints commission in Part IV of this Bill. The problem was not its composition so far as the Annan Committee felt about the BBC's complaints commission, but about its independence and its status in that way. And again that is no reflection on those who sit on that commission.
The other thing I wanted to add is that one must bear in mind that there will be a fairly restricted field when it comes to finding candidates for appointments to the commission, which may be quite onerous so far as the man hours or lady hours are concerned. There may in any case be other people than, as the noble Lord's amendment says, makers and preparers of programmes, whose experience in the broadcasting field would be equally valid for the purpose of dealing with complaints about broadcast programmes. I hope therefore that the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, may accept my assurance, which I repeat yet again, that the Home Secretary will be looking hard for one or more people with relevant broadcasting experience to appoint to the commission; but for the 823 reasons I have attempted to deploy I would very much prefer that it was not written on the face of the Bill.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Lord HOOSON
My Lords, I differ in principle from the noble Lord, Lord Belstead. This is a very important provision in the Bill. What is said in this House or any other House about a Bill has no effect thereafter. Nobody is allowed to look at what was said here in the interpretation of any Act. It is important when you have a point of principle like this that the view of the House is taken. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Annan, for his general support. He has very substantial experience of Royal Commissions, but I am not aware that he is sitting on one at the present time, and I really think it is a matter of semantics to say that the amendment does not read "has had". I would have thought that experience lies entirely in the past, and that therefore the wording of the amendment covers the point that the noble Lord made.
With regard to the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton, I understand her point of view where she says that if too large a proportion of the complaints commission are professional broadcasters then the end that the Government have in mind may not be achieved. That is an understandable viewpoint, but my amendment is deliberately worded, "a proportion". One out of three is a proportion. If only three members are appointed then the proportion is met. This is the first of a series of amendments which I have put down because there is a basic difference of principle here, and I intend to press this to a Division.
§ ask him a question. I hope that this will not be dismissed as semantic. I gather that that is a bad word.
§ The Earl of LONGFORD
I gather it was used in a bad sense. We are told that these ladies or gentlemen have to have experience in the making or preparing of programmes. Would the Director General—I just take that as an example—who has not had that particular experience qualify under the noble Lord's heading? I am not trying to quibble. I really want to know.
§ Lord HOOSON
If the noble Earl will bear with me for a moment, that is a question of interpretation. I can say what I intend by it. That is all I can say. I intended that there should be a professional—a real professional—on the complaints commission. That is, one who knows the nuts and bolts of the preparing and making of programmes. However that experience has been gained, I think it important that in a body that is going, as the Government have said, to lay down professional standards one of the members of the commission at the very least should be a true professional. It is in that spirit and with that intention that I move this amendment.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 8) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 48: Not-Contents, 104.825
|Ardwick, L.||Elwyn-Jones, L.||Houghton of Sowerby, L.|
|Bacon, B.||Ferrier, L.||Jacques, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.[Teller.]||Gaitskell, B.||Kirkhill, L.|
|Gardiner, L.||Kissin, L.|
|Bernstein, L.||Gladwyn, L.||Maelor, L.|
|Beswick, L.||Gosford, E.||Mais, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Hale, L.||Mishcon, L.|
|Chitnis, L.||Hampton, L.||Monson, L.|
|Collison, L.||Hatch of Lusby, L.||Morris, L.|
|David, B.||Hill of Luton, L.||Noel-Baker, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Hooson, L.||Phillips, B.|
|Seear, B.[Teller.]||Strabolgi, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Shackleton, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Shannon, E.||Underhill, L.||White, B.|
|Shinwell, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.||Willis, L.|
|Stewart of Alvechurch, B.||Weidenfeld, L.||Winstanley, L.|
|Ailesbury, M.||Grimston of Westbury, L.||Onslow, E.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Halsbury, E.||Orkney, E.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Hanworth, V.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Allerton, L.||Hawke, L.||Pender, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Henley, L.||Perth, E.|
|Annan, L.||Home of the Hirsel, L.||Rawlinson of Ewell, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Hornsby-Smith, B.||Redmayne, L.|
|Avon, E.||Hylton-Foster, B.||Reigate, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Kilmarnock, L.||Roberthall, L.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Kimberley, E.||Robertson of Oakridge, L.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Kinloss, Ly.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Cathcart, E.||Kinnaird, L.||Saint Brides, L.|
|Chelwood, L.||Kinnoull, E.||Salisbury, M.|
|Cockfield, L.||Lauderdale, E.||Saltoun, Ly.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Long, V.||Sandys, L.[Teller.]|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Longford, E.||Selkirk, E.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Loudoun, C.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Lyell, L.||Sherfield, L.|
|Davidson, V.||McFadzean, L.||Soames, L. (L. President.)|
|de Clifford, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.||Stamp, L.|
|De La Warr, E.||Malmesbury, E.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Denham, L.[Teller.]||Mancroft, L.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Mansfield, E.||Swinfen, L.|
|Eccles, V.||Margadale, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Marley, L.||Trenchard, V.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Marshall of Leeds, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Ferrers, E.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Mottistone, L.||Vernon, L.|
|Gainford, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.||Vickers, B.|
|George-Brown, L.||Moyne, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Glenkinglas, L.||Newall, L.||Westbury, L.|
|Goodman, L.||Norfolk, D.||Wise, L.|
|Gowrie, E.||Northchurch, B.||Wootton of Abinger, B.|
|Greenway, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.||Yarborough, E.|
|Gridley, L.||Nunburnholme, L.|
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ [Amendment No. 9 not moved.]
§ Clause 18 [Function of the Commission]:
§ 6.47 p.m.
Lord NUGENT of GUILDFORD moved Amendment No. 10:
Page 12, line 24, at end insert—
(c) unwarranted infringement of the integrity of family life, in connection with the material broadcast as regards violence, indecency or profanity, irrespective of subject matter.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I wish at the outset to apologise on behalf of my noble friend Lord Bessborough who is unable to be here due to the change of date for this debate from last week. He would very much like to have supported the 826 amendment. I moved an amendment somewhat on these lines in Committee but it was very late at night and few noble Lords were present. I know there is a great deal of interest in the problem covered by the amendment and that is one of my justifications for moving it again. Furthermore, we have redrafted it to try to conform more with the drafting of the criteria already in Clause 18(1)(a) and (b) and in the amendment we have stated the main object of our concern, which is the integrity of family life, and in view of the references already made by several noble Lords, I accept that if the amendment were adopted the character of the commission would be considerably extended. However, the Bill gives the opportunity to raise this important point and that is my justification for doing so.
§ The dilemma is simply stated. It is that at this hour, nearly 7 o'clock in the evening, and every evening, millions of 827 families, mother, father and children, are sitting down watching television, and when programmes containing violence, indecency or profanity come on the screen the parents are defenceless against this invasion of their private family life. If they switch off the programme the children are disappointed and upset. If they leave it on the children are disturbed and upset by unsuitable material and language. The parents' efforts to bring up their children to be decent civilised human beings is undermined. The convention of the TV timetable, which is to show the rougher programmes after 9 o'clock, really is not sufficient protection for children. The surveys show that up until 10 o'clock some 42 per cent. of the viewers are aged between 11 and 14 years, and even up to 11 o'clock 42 per cent. of the viewers are between 15 and 17.
§ I listened to the Committee stage debates on the merits of setting up a complaints commission at all, and naturally I recognise the immense cogency of the arguments for the complete independence of the BBC and ITV. I have also read with interest the report of the noble Lord, Lord Annan (I hope that he is still present), which has made such a valuable contribution to this field. I recognise the importance of this.
Thus my noble friends and I are not concerned to set up a censorship on the corporation and the authority. We are concerned only to persuade them to measure up to their existing obligations. I shall take the liberty of reading a subsection of Section 4 of the 1973 Act which set up the IBA. The subsection states:
that nothing is included in the programmes which offends against good taste or decency or is likely to encourage or incite to crime or to lead to disorder or to be offensive to public feeling".
As noble Lords will know, the Lord Normanbrooke letter covers much the same field, with which I shall not trouble your Lordships now.
§ That the corporation and ITV are falling below these standards is evidenced by reports of the monitoring groups of the Viewers' and Listeners' Association, which many noble Lords have seen, and indeed by the evidence of our own eyes and ears when we see such programmes. The fact is that the television screen presents us today with violence, crudity and coarseness 828 of action and language of a kind never seen or heard 15 or 20 years ago. The progressive downward trend is now a matter of regrettable fact.
§ The evidence of violence in our national life must be a matter of concern to all noble Lords in all parts of the House. Violent crime is distressingly high, in particular among youngsters, and hooliganism in the football stadium has reached a point where withdrawal of adult supporters, and falling gates, really seriously threaten the very existence of many clubs. So violence is such a serious danger to our way of life that we must examine every factor contributing to it. The TV screen is the major factor in our lives today, and I believe that we must ensure that it ceases to glorify violence; because that is what it does.
§ I give credit to the BBC and to the IBA for studying this problem in recent times and for both issuing new guidelines in the last year or so. Well, perhaps it is too early to judge the result, but it seems to me that there is still too much of a tendency to strengthen weak drama with excessive violence.
§ Turning now to the other side of the question, the matters of indecency and profanity, in the short debate we had in Committee my noble friend Lord Hill of Luton made an admirable defence of the television interests and a very sophisticated defence of the downward trend of programmes, on the grounds that standards have changed since we were young, and with the implication that we elder ones ought to adjust ourselves to these new values. Well, my Lords, certainly customs and fashions change, but the ultimate standards are not relative. There are absolute values in life, values of love, truth and beauty, which are the foundation of our morals and our civilisation, and the defence of these values in our our national life is the common concern of all of us. There is some point of concern about the coarseness of a programme where it becomes a threat to these values, especially where a young mind is involved, by presenting brutal and licentious behaviour as if it was normal; and this is where the damage takes place—
§ Lord WILLIS
My Lords, will the noble Lord give way? Will he give me 829 one example of a programme in the last six months containing brutal and licentious behaviour?
§ Lord NUGENT of GUILDFORD
My Lords, I should be very pleased to give the noble Lord, Lord Willis, plenty of examples. I do not propose to list them now, but I should be very pleased to pass them over to the noble Lord, and I shall be very glad if he would have a good look at them and let me know what he thinks of them. Certainly that is how I see them. It is in these respects that I believe that the corporation and the authority have failed to meet their responsibilities and that therefore the strengthening of the viewers' complaint by reference to the independent complaints commission is justified.
I recognise that both the corporation and the authority already have their established complaints procedures. In the annual report of the corporation there is a brief account of the working of the complaints procedure and a very detailed account of the admirable range of machinery of consultation. The IBA annual report gives a fuller account, and reports a few individual complaints in some detail. I think that this is very much to be welcomed. My comment on this domestic complaints machinery is that it does not give confidence that this kind of complaint is treated seriously enough, nor does it check the progressive lowering of standards.
I recognise the great weight of the argument that the corporation and the IBA must ensure maximum freedom for creative artists to produce lively, interesting programmes. The noble Lord, Lord Willis, made this point particularly cogently in the debates in Committee. But I believe that there should be some restraint on the kind of material which they daily project into the family circle of every home in this country.
It would be less than fair to the corporation and the authority to end my speech on an entirely critical note, and I gladly acknowledge that between them they present the finest television and radio programmes in the world, which bring immense pleasure and enlightenment into the lives of everybody. My amendment is directed to one small area of blemish in this vast range of programmes. I beg to move.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Lord WILLIS
My Lords, I do not think that your Lordships will be surprised to hear me say that I rise to oppose the amendment. I have the greatest sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, and with the feelings behind the amendment, because I know that there are a number of people who are occasionally offended, and sometimes offended in depth, by some of the programmes that are presented on the BBC and the ITV companies' network. Personally I believe that some of those programmes are absolutely necessary. I speak as a small, creative worker in the vineyard of television when I say that sometimes we have to extend the confine of people's thinking to move them forward not a yard, but an inch.
Let me give your Lordships an example. Three or four months ago I was speaking to a marriage guidance counsellor, and he said to me that the whole situation has changed in the last 20 years. He put it down to television, since people came to him and talked about their sexual problems in a way that they would not have done 20 years ago. They have been conditioned or enlightened, or educated by television in such a way that they now know that there are certain problems that they can talk about freely. Since sex—or the lack of it; whichever way your Lordships look at the matter—is one of the major factors for the breakdown of marriage, the marriage guidance counsellor said that it is enormously important that people are able to talk freely about what are very intimate subjects. He put this down to television—and I think that he is quite right. It is not just television in the sense of educational programmes; it is the kind of television that one has seen in drama, which has moved forward just that tiny bit the frontiers of our understanding, and the understanding of the great mass of people who watch television.
What I am afraid of with the kind of amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, is moving is that you will impose yet another restriction on the creative people in television. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, would agree with me that the people who write for television, the people who produce for television and the people who direct for television are, in the main, family men. They are not 831 ogres, they are not villains, they are not people with horns; and certainly they have not sat down together at a private conclave to decide that what they want to do is to corrupt the nation. What they have decided is to do their best, as creative people, to provide the population of this country with the best television.
Occasionally—your Lordships must accept this, and it is an acceptable risk—creative workers(playwrights, and so on) will go beyond the bounds of what even the most liberal-minded person will think is permissible. This has happened throughout history. They have been decried and they have been knocked down by the press and the media of the day, but what has happened is that their work has been reproduced 20 or 30 years later, to acclaim. They were just a little ahead of their time. Sometimes, of course, you get just sheer bad work on television, and I cannot guarantee that you will not get that. You will, because television has an enormous output and it cannot always guarantee quality. But, by and large, what your Lordships have to remember is that the people who work in television are much the same as yourselves, with families. They are family men who want to do the best they possibly can for the audience out there.
Now the IBA and the BBC are already committed to observe the sort of standards that the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, was talking about, and in my view they have done that. How can we, on the one hand, say that we have the best television services in the world (which I fervently believe, because I have been all round the world and have watched other television services, and I can tell your Lordships that the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, would be in an absolute froth if he had seen some of the television that I have seen in other parts of the world) and, at the same time, try to impose yet one more restriction on them? We have the best television services precisely because we have given this degree of freedom to the creative workers.
Now let me tell your Lordships of one other thing that may well happen if we continue to screw the vice down, as the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, would like us to do. I can tell your Lordships that what will happen is that the creative 832 workers in television will go to video and will put everything on video tapes, and the video recorders will be sold in their thousands and their hundreds of thousands throughout the country. What you will be left with on ordinary television, on the IBA and the BBC, is marshmallow, cut television which will interest nobody, and everybody will be going out to hire or buy from Boots the chemists, from W. H. Smith or from any other firm, at a very cheap rate, the video discs or the video cassettes which they will be able to show in their private homes. So you will set up yet another network, and you will have to come back to this House and the other place and ask for yet another law to control video cassettes and video discs. My Lords, we have—we have all agreed this—the best television in the world. We already have sufficient safeguards laid down in the charters of the BBC and the IBA. Can we not leave well alone?
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ The Earl of ONSLOW
My Lords. I should like to suggest to your Lordships the following question. What is a "'warranted' infringement of the integrity of family life"; what is "warranted" violence, what is "warranted" indecency and what is "warranted" profanity? I suggest to your Lordships that this is a provision which, if added to this Bill, will be totally and utterly unenforceable, and it will mean nothing. We know already that in the 1967 Act (I think it is) the words "tend to deprave and corrupt" have been used, and they have now been found by the courts to be meaningless because what may tend to deprave one person will not deprave another. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, has spent his life looking at all these things, and he is neither depraved nor corrupt.
§ The Earl of ONSLOW
We know he is not. Mrs. Whitehouse represents the National Television Viewers' and Listeners' Association, whose numbers may be one, which is her; they may be two, which is her and Lord Longford; or, for all I know, they may be a hundred thousand. But nobody knows who or what they repesent. A week or two ago there was a programme on television which I found very disturbing and very distressing. It 833 was a programme, which was done with great seriousness and great skill, about a sex-change operation. I do not know whether your Lordships saw it, but I found it quite disgusting and 1 had to turn it off. But I would not have suggested that it should not be shown. It was a serious programme made about a serious subject, and the programme makers were correct in making it. As I say, I found it quite repellent, but that is another question and one of personal preference.
There is something else I should like to suggest. Twenty years ago Mrs. Whitehouse would not have used the word "masturbation". She has now been seen to use it on television. I am not suggesting that Mrs. Whitehouse is either depraving or corrupting anybody by using it. It is a word which is now used in serious conversation, not bar-room conversation, not sergeants' mess conversation. It is now used quite reasonably and quite seriously. I think I had better go no further, but people do use it; it is a serious topic of conversation. I think that this amendment, noble though it may be, is too woolly and too difficult; and, as I said when I started these few remarks, I should like to know what is "warranted" indecency.
§ Lord AYLESTONE
My Lords, a few weeks ago, when this Bill was first before this House, I received through the post (and I should think that perhaps a number of noble Lords did, also) a brochure with a light blue soft cover containing probably 15 or 20 pages of extracts from various BBC and IBA programmes. They were extracts taken, in the main, out of context. They were smutty; they were sexy; they were salacious. In fact, the whole publication was pornographic, and it came through the post. It came from the National Television Viewers' and Listeners' Association. The object, of course, was to point out to us before our Second Reading debate, and subsequently, what they regarded as the lowering of standards.
The point has already been made that both the BBC and the IBA are responsible (and the quotation has been given) for maintaining a standard of good taste and decency. The noble Earl who spoke before me hit the nail on the head. If we were to go to every Member of this noble House and pose a direct question about a particular programme, I doubt whether we 834 would get anything like a fair proportion of the answers all in one direction, because what I think is good taste is probably not what anybody else thinks; what I think is indecent someone else may think is quite decent. But that is by the way.
Let me say this from my own experience. I have sat in a room as chairman of the IBA with experienced programme makers and with members of the staff to decide whether or not a word or a number of words should be taken out of a drama in case they offended, as we were required to do. Usually it was found that some of these words at least were absolutely essential to the plot. If I may give an example from my own experience, there was a play, the title of which I know but cannot recall at the moment, since this was 12 years ago, which had in it the four-letter word that we all know but which few of us use, a sixteenth century word meaning to copulate. We considered whether to leave that word in or to take it out. It was essential to the plot but we decided to take it out. We put in a five-letter word, which I shall not repeat, but which made it much worse. But, at least, we tried. That is what I am sure both the BBC and the IBA continually do.
May I come to the amendment itself? With respect, the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, a very old friend, did not say much about the amendment; but what the amendment does is this. Take the hypothetical case of the three ladies or gentlemen, the commissioners, sitting down to consider a complaint from an individual and decide whether or not the integrity of his family has been disturbed by something that he has seen on the box. In the first place, he may not be speaking for his family. If he has adolescent children, they may not agree with him. But, assuming that he is speaking for his family, those three commissioners have themselves to decide whether his family—not theirs, but his family—has been affected by what it has seen on the box. The commissioners themselves may have seen it or they may not. They can get a replay of it if they wish. They may feel that they completely disagree with the complaint from their own point of view, but their decision is not a matter of what they think, but of what they believe the complainant's family think about what they have seen. This amendment is not 835 workable. I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw it, but if there is a Division I shall vote against it.
§ Viscount MASSEREENE and FERRARD
My Lords, I spoke on an amendment like this at Committee and I should like to do so now for two or three minutes. My noble friend behind me said that the noble Earl, Lord Longford, was not corrupt: of course I agree. He is not corrupt. But the reason is that when he was a boy, there was no television. It is amazing to think that, if you go naked in the streets or in a public place or if you use foul language in a public place, then you have committed an offence and you can be arrested. But you can see far worse scenes on television. It might be said that one can switch it off. Of course, one can do so and if one is a mature, sophisticated and educated person then one does that. It is complete rubbish; so one does turn it off. But as my noble friend Lord Nugent said, "How about the children?". The children see it. The majority of noble Lords have had children, I imagine. It is the matter of the children. You cannot control them today. There is very bad discipline in the state schools and you cannot control them.
I see the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, laughing; but how about the courts? I have seen in the newspapers several times that when a young offender, or one perhaps not so young, is had up, his defence for some crime of violence that he has committed is, "I saw it on television". How about that? The noble Lord, Lord Willis, said that there had not been any licentious plays on television in the last six months and he challenged my noble friend Lord Nugent to send him some examples—
§ Viscount MASSEREENE and FERRARD
No, my Lords, I will not give way. When the noble Lord sees these examples from my noble friend, he will be surprised; but of course the noble Lord must know them anyway. I will not speak any longer except to say that I do support this amendment. I may say 836 that as far as a great number of scriptwriters are concerned—well, you cannot write a script for television unless you belong to Equity. It is a closed shop. A great number of these plays are creating only filth. They are not creative. They are there to make money and they are in the ratings battle. That is all it is. They are filth. They cannot be called creative art.
§ Lord WILLIS
My Lords, would the noble Viscount give me the name of the producer and of the director of the play that he described earlier where there is a naked young lady running down the street?
§ Viscount MASSEREENE and FERRARD
My Lords, I did not say that. I said that if you go naked in the streets or in a public place you can be arrested. I do not think that the human form itself, if it is reasonably attractive, is at all obscene; but it is against the law—and you see worse things on television.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lord COBBOLD
My Lords, it may be appropriate for me to say a word or two about my experience in these matters as Lord Chamberlain, and to recall one or two of the points that I have made in speeches in this House as long ago as 1966 and 1968 on theatre censorship and on the Theatres Bill. As some noble Lords may remember, I was in favour at that time, for a number of reasons, of getting rid of the Lord Chamberlain's powers and duties. The late Lord Scarborough, my predecessor, also spoke in this House along the same lines. However, I expressed anxieties on certain subjects and suggested that some body might be appointed to work in close contact with the authorities in television and radio to exercise some form of supervision, probably in experimental form to be reviewed from time to time. I tried to inveigle the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, into taking an interest and playing some part in that; but I did not even get him to first base.
The points about which I expressed particular concern, first to the Select Committee and to your Lordships' House, were violence, representation of living persons and, more especially, recently deceased persons, and religious matters. 837 I was less concerned about obscenity. You do not have to go to the theatre; whereas radio and television are piped into your home. Government spokesmen expressed the view that the law was adequate to cover the matters about which I was concerned and Parliament accepted the Bill without amendment, I have had some doubts since whether the interpretation of the law has proved quite as straight-forward as was then expected by Government spokesman.
It follows that I have great sympathy with the objectives of this amendment, and I continue to be particularly concerned about the amount and degree of violence on television and radio, and especially on television, which seems to me to have increased to a most undesirable extent in the past few years.
However, having expressed sympathy with the objectives of this amendment, I am bound to add that, with five years of theatre censorship behind me when I was guided only by vague and outdated suggestions (which were never accepted by Parliament) by the 1909 Select Committee, I should have found it extraordinarily difficult to administer a statutory obligation on the lines of this amendment. I should have expected to see almost every decision challenged and argued about and very probably taken to the courts. For a variety of reasons, I feel that the difficulties in radio and television would be much greater than they would have been in the theatre. In these matters of taste, the opponents of any form of restriction tend to be more vocal than its supporters.
I doubt myself whether decisions of the commission, inevitably long after the event, together with the controversy which would be likely to follow them, would convey any clear view of public opinion. My preference—and I confess that I am much out of date—is to leave the full responsibility for implementing their rules and guidelines on these matters of taste firmly on the broadcasting authorities, just as the full responsibility formerly lay on the Lord Chamberlain in the theatre. I believe that the broadcasting authorities could well be encouraged to up-date their guidelines from time to time and to implement them more fully and effectively than has always been the case recently. I also believe it would be a good thing to give up-dated guidelines very wide publicity 838 so that everybody knows what are the rules that they ought to be observing.
Again, I believe that acceptance of this amendment might lessen, or at least appear to lessen, the responsibility of the broadcasting authorities themselves. But whether this amendment is accepted or not, I believe that debates in Parliament on the subject are very useful in underlining the great concern that is widely felt. In the end, it is only the pressure of public opinion which will achieve the results which many of us would like to see.
§ Lord SHACKLETON
My Lords, I intervene because I am probably the only member of your Lordships' House who was employed by the BBC as a professional broadcaster in the days of Lord Reith. I have never had a greater admiration for anyone for whom I have worked. Indeed, he set very high standards and the country as a whole has benefited greatly from them. But we simply cannot accept this amendment. We might as well accept an amendment that declares sin unlawful. The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, pointed out some of the objections to it and we have to leave some responsibility on the governors.
We can all point to objectionable broadcasts which have caused us personal offence. But there is something much greater at stake. We live I hope in a free country; public opinion does make itself felt. I remember that in one of the first debates in which I took part in your Lordships' House a noble Lord (whose son I am glad to see is here) tried to have all the works of D. H. Lawrence banned and, in particular, Lady Chatterley's Lover. I was one of those who spoke against it. The day was saved by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, who, in the process, re-wrote Lady Chatterley's Lover. Then we moved on to another subject.
However, we really cannot impose this type of responsibility on a body which is not itself executively responsible, which would spend its whole time arguing whether something was in good taste or had taste and an infringement of family life. My advice—with some regret at some lowering of standards—would be that this is an amendment which really we have to reject.
§ Baroness MACLEOD of BORVE
My Lords, may I very briefly say something about one word in this amendment, of which I approve? It is the word "violence". Some noble Lords have referred to it. From my experience as chairman of a very large and very difficult juvenile court, I can tell your Lordships that over the past few years the number of young people who have committed crimes of violence, and who have come before me and have admitted that they have been led on by what they have seen on television, has escalated.
I can look back over 24 years on the bench and at least 18 in the juvenile court, and this tendency has escalated within the past five to eight years. That is why I am drawing your Lordships' attention and, I hope, through this debate, the attention of all the media to the fact that standards have lowered, and that damage is being done to our children who see these things. Families unfortunately are not, so far as I can make out, telling their children that what they see is only a story, that it is not a fact that in real life people are stabbing each other. Everybody seems to have a gun and cars are crashed and turned over. I will not bore your Lordships, but I should like to use these few words to draw the attention of the powers-that-be to the fact that the standard has lowered. Can they possibly prevail upon those who write and produce for the media to understand that the standard of violence is now leading to a very, very great escalation of crime among juveniles in this country?
§ The Earl of LONGFORD
My Lords, I suppose that most Members of the House inevitably bring a kind of automatic reaction to this amendment. Some, like myself, will be supposed automatically to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford; and certainly I do. The noble Lord, Lord Willis, is an old champion of the creative arts and he is very much entitled to speak on their behalf. Let us if we can just for a moment look at this matter a little more closely and not treat it as the old straight issue between pornography and censorship which has been debated a thousand times, and no doubt will be debated another thousand times.
Already the BBC and the independent companies accept some measure of censorship—one may like to call it self- 840 censorship. They accept certain standards. They agree that some things are impermissible. They already apply certain standards which are not altogether clear but at any rate they apply them. This amendment is going a little further and saying that the commission should be allowed to apply additional standards or criteria. Those who say that we do not want any commission at all have a logical position of a sort. In fact, that is not the position of the Bill. The Bill sets up a commission which is still going to impose restrictions which would not be imposed by the companies or the BBC themselves.
It is really a question of whether in this particular area we are going to allow the commission to impose its own standards in addition to those already imposed. That is the issue. It is not the whole wide issue of pornography and censorship, although no doubt in many cases people will take up their positions in advance. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, that there is a great deal that is most unsatisfactory. Everybody seems to agree about this in regard to violence. Let us for the moment stick to that because as soon as sex is mentioned reason goes out of the window.
In the case of violence, everyone in theory is against violence, so there is no fundamental difference there. Most people—I think almost everybody—would agree that there is too much violence and a lot of unpleasant violence on television today. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Willis—an extreme champion of the permissive position—might even agree that there is too much violence. The noble Lord, Lord Willis, neatly picked up what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, that we have the best television service in the world. I should think that we have the best police force in the world. We may even have the best Civil Service in the world. We certainly have the best and perhaps the only House of Lords in the world. If we are going to base all our discussions about our institutions on that kind of attitude, then we would never improve them at all.
I am taking up my stand where your Lordships might expect, on the side of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford. But if there are such people as floating 841 voters in this matter, if there is such a person here who brings a neutral mind to this issue, just consider this argument. We agree that standards have to be imposed and that in other matters such a commission should be allowed to impose them, and it is at least a very reasonable suggestion that they should be imposed in this case.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ Lord WELLS-PESTELL
My Lords, may I crave the indulgence of the House and ask the Government whether they are going to give the House any indication as to how long this debate is going to continue before we adjourn for dinner? As I understand the situation, it was thought that the House might adjourn at 7 o'clock. I appreciate the difficulty, but I rise because it seems as if still quite a number of your Lordships want to speak. I can see this discussion going on for at least another hour and we ought to take into account the arrangements of the Refreshment Department.
§ Lord DENHAM
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell. We are, of course, in the hands of the House over this. The main difficulty was that the last amendment came to an end at about 20 minutes to seven and it would have been an inappropriate time to adjourn for 40 minutes at 20 minutes to seven. I think that if it looks as though this debate might be over in about 20 minutes' time we could probably wait for that. If it is going to be longer than that, perhaps it might be better for your Lordships to adjourn now and resume at about 10 minutes past eight. Obviously we must be in the hands of the House on this. I hope that we would have covered this subject fully. We started at 20 minutes to seven and we have been going at it for 50 minutes. I cannot conceive, as the subject has been debated before, that it could take much longer than another 20 minutes; but, of course, I am in the hands of the House on this.
§ Lord WELLS-PESTELL
My Lords, I think that, with very great respect. the Chief Whip could move, if he so desired, along the lines suggested, that we should now adjourn until 10 minutes past eight, and test the feeling of your Lordhsips' House.
§ Lord DENHAM
My Lords, of course the difficulty is that the actual active protagonists in this debate are those who have most interest (a) because they are tied here and cannot go out and get their dinner, and (b) because they are interested in the debate. I think I detect the feeling of the House that we should perhaps continue, and hope to finish before dinner.
§ Lord HILL of LUTON
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, in his opening statement, met an obvious criticism that the complaints commission, as now constructed or proposed to be constructed, was not a body that could properly be required to pronounce on matters of taste, so it is not necessary to repeat that point. However, I think that when an amendment is proposed to an Act of Parliament it is appropriate to criticise and to examine with some care the significance, as well as the words, of that amendment. Your Lordships will notice that the amendment deals with—… unwarranted infringement of the integrity of family life, in connection with the material broadcast as regards violence, indecency or profanity, irrespective of subject matter".I understand that to mean "irrespective of the way in which it is presented". We know from experience, particularly with entertainers, how important the mode of presentation is as well as the content of what they say. I would ask straight away: Is Dave Allen profane? He does not seem to be so regarded by his own Church, but is he profane? Think of the kinds of western that involve violence: Is that kind of violence to be regarded as "an infringement of family life", even though, as we have always known, cowboys do not bleed, and cowboys and Indians have always been regarded as harmless forms of human activity? Would it be wrong to depict on the screen the blinding of blustering King Lear?—
§ Lord HILL of LUTON
—and the killings of Hamlet? Surely the noble Lord cannot mean that there are no exceptions in relation to the mode of presentation. If there are to be no exceptions, the people who so advocate seem to me to live in a world which is quite different from that in which the rest of us lead our fallible lives.
843 Even the news is not exempt. Is it possible that it will be an offence to depict on television the cruelties of Vietnam or the shootings in Northern Ireland? Is the news then to be submitted to the same scrutiny, to see whether, in the way of its presentation or because of its violence, it infringes the "integrity of family life"? It really is a most extraordinary criterion to apply in any case. I was going—but we have had such a warning about the length of this debate that I hesitate to do so—to ask the question: which families? It is no good using the generality of "the integrity of family life" without making it clear which families. I do not suppose one means the families of the Borgias or the family life of the Brontes, with father firing a gun in the church belfry and a brother boozing away in the Black Bull from morning till night. Which kind of family life? Does it cover the kind of family life which is split by divorce, all too frequent today? Or one-parent families? Is it the family life of your Lordships which is being protected, or my own—in the fiftieth year of a supremely happy marriage with five children and 18 grandchildren—a family that does not need the nanny-like activities now proposed but which is sturdy enough to resist even the television which the noble Lord described in such terms that I hardly recognised it and I think he must be looking at a different station.
There really cannot be this sort of thing. Again, take an excellent programme called "Sailor" about life in the Navy: should that have been banned because sailors customarily use some naughty words and used them in that programme? What about "Pennies from Heaven", "I, Claudius"? It is no good mentioning "Till Death us do part", because it will not stand a chance in this argument. Really, to examine programmes in relation to violence, indecency and profanity, with-out considering them in their context, in their mode of presentation and in the plays in which they appear is, I think, the sheerest nonsense.
How can a committee judge issues of taste in this world of swiftly-changing taste? Of course, those of my generation strongly disapprove of some elements of that swiftly-changing taste; but what can we do about it? Our children and grandchildren seem to get on pretty well 844 despite the perils; but there is nothing we can do about it. I would ask your Lordships to think of the analogy of the theatre. When J. M. Synge's play, "The Playboy of the Western World" was produced in Dublin there were riots in the streets. Today it is a classic. When Ibsen's "Ghosts" was first produced the Daily Telegraph described it as "an open drain", "a loathsome sore unbandaged", and so on. Now it is a classic. But the classics so often began as condemned plays.
I could give one experience of my own: the noble Lord, Lord Bernstein, will remember it. When I was chairman of the ITA, as it then was, we asked him to take out a particular scene from a film he was presenting—I have forgotten why. Yes, it was because of an element of what we thought was sadism. But he refused and said he would not put the film on. A year later he approached me and asked whether we would now view the film again. We did, without any question, and we thought that it was admirable. It had not changed. We had changed in those 12 months. The film was in exactly the form in which we originally criticised it.
So I say to your Lordships that broadcasting must be relevant to the world as it is; otherwise, it loses credibility and it loses audiences. It has to describe the world with faithful accuracy, warts and all, and the world is not a very pleasant place. It cannot be denied—and I do not make the slightest attempt to deny it—that some people are often offended by what they see. I am the same as others. I usually switch it off, if I do not like it. I know that it is expecting too much, certainly in family surroundings. One has warning. I know, if I see a fellow going to bed without a pyjama jacket, that he is up to no good and I switch off. But let us ask ourselves: can we see a future in a Government appointing 12 men and women to assume responsibility for a broadcasting service, and then appointing another group of men and women, without such responsibility, to criticise them on issues of taste?
I should like to say a final personal word. I was criticised during both of my tenures at the ITA and the BBC for being an interventionist chairman. I suppose that I was, particularly if it 845 means that you sought to strengthen the role of the authority and of the governors in the fields that belonged to them. But one thing I must say, and I have no axe to grind. What I say is born of my own experience. I soon realised the immense importance of maintaining a climate conducive to creative work, conducive to creative people enjoying editorial freedom and responsibility—referring upwards when they needed so to do. This atmosphere of creative freedom is the most important single factor in the superiority of British broadcasting.
I know that we are apt to speak of the wonders of this country, although not so frequently as we did, but it is true that British broadcasting is far superior to broadcasting, even in our near neighbours on the Continent. I am convinced—and I speak not as an intellectual, but as one who has observed this situation—and I can say unhesitatingly that it is that intellectual freedom, that responsibility to get on with their work, referring to seniors only when it is necessary, that is the greatest single secret of the broadcasting success of this country. We should not put at the elbow of such people a committee—this or another—which is looking not for violence, profanity and indecency, but only for violence, profanity and indecency which affects the family—a curious limitation of the terms of reference. But I will not go back to that.
What I want to make absolutely plain is that this freedom, with all its dangers, with all its opportunities for error, is absolutely essential to a fine service. We cannot have it both ways. A service which fails to present the world as it really is loses credibility, and, if we want a first-class service, creative people must be given responsible freedom. Take it away, and I am convinced that broadcasting will slip to the drab, the unimaginative, the dull and the routine, and I would rather have a little danger, a little risk but a great deal of freedom, to the dull, drab routine that we so often see in the broadcasting systems of other countries.
§ 7.45 p.m.
The Earl of HALSBURY
My Lords, I really do not know where I stand in this matter of speaking to my own amendment. I am well aware that I seem to be under some limitation on this amend- 846 ment. Last time I spoke to your Lord-ships about it, the hour was late, the House was tired and I felt that the least I could do was to wind-up quickly and let your Lordships all go home. The only difference between Committee and Report stage is that the hour is late, your Lordships are hungry and far be it from me to stop you from going off and having your dinners. But since the Leader of the House, the Chief Whip and the Government Front Bench will not let us go and eat, I am afraid that I must try to inflict something on you as briefly as I can. However, I cannot guarantee that I shall be the last speaker. Many of my friends on both sides of the House will, I am sure, want to stand up and be counted on this issue, and it is a great pity that the debate is not adjourned and that we cannot have supper.
If I may come back to where I left off in Committee, when I was discussing the complaints procedures, there has been a tendency in the last 12 months to try to make people with complaints address themselves to the secretary, who will show them to the chairman, as necessary. This caused a collapse of confidence in the system by using the secretary as an apparent filter. I have, since Committee stage, had a letter from the chairman of the board of governors, saying that so far as he is concerned all letters addressed to him will be dealt with by him personally, and there the matter rests. I am very glad to have that assurance and, naturally, I accept it.
There were two arguments used by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, which have been repeated in the course of the debate and which I should like to deal with. The first was that the amendment would render the BBC and the IBA indifferent to complaints, because complaints would be dealt with elsewhere. I cannot accept that argument. Does the existence of the judiciary make them indifferent to law. Does the existence of subsection (1)(a) make them indifferent to unfair treatment, and does subsection (1)(b) make them indifferent to the violation of privacy.
In the context of subsection (1)(b), your Lordships will note that it uses the word "unwarranted". That was copied into the amendment of my noble friend and myself as subsection (1)(c), and that is the answer to the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, 847 who I do not see in his place, but who, I presume, will read the report in Hansard tomorrow. There is, of course, a warranty for entering in some circumstances. Why should subsection (1)(c), as proposed, make the BBC and the IBA any more indifferent to obscenity, than subsections (1)(a) or (1)(b) make them indifferent to unfair treatment or infringement of privacy? This seems to me to be an argument that does not lead anywhere at all.
The second of the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, in replying on behalf of the Government, was the alleged impossibility of making the requisite value judgments. This alleged impossibility is part of the humbug of the liberal humanist attitude to modern life, and I am sorry to see that the noble Lord accepted it in his brief. It was put forward by Protagoras some two-and-a-half millenia ago, in the dictum that man is the measure of all things. There are no absolute standards, save as we ourselves determine. There are, though the expression that we give to them is a local variable in time and geography.
We say that there is no accounting for tastes, and I agree. If this means that there is scope for personal preferences and priorities, within the general scope of what is felt acceptable, then there is, indeed, no accounting for tastes. One woman may prefer a light scent; another woman may prefer a heavy scent. You cannot rationalise the distinction between them. But neither will accept being sprayed by a skunk. If any noble Lords are in any doubt about that, I invite them to interfere with such a one on one of its lawful occasions, and 30 seconds later they will regret having done so.
Further, if I as a chemist synthesised a skunk substitute for stink bombs and started scattering them about the community to express my displeasure on this or that, the law would very rapidly catch up with me and put an end to the mischief I was making. And if I used obscenity or profanity in your Lordships' House, your Lordships would, like a stroke of lightning, come to a decision. I heard your Lord-shins do it when a noble Lord once went too far. "Order, order!" screamed every-body at once. He was so appalled that he rose to his feet and apologised abjectly. I have never heard anybody so ticked off 848 since, because the lesson went home. Your Lordships make these decisions instantly and demand compliance with them. Why cannot three wise men make the same sort of decisions as to what is obscene or profane?
It is not limited to your Lordships' House. If I were obscene or profane in one of the bars, the Whips, or someone representing the Leader of the House, or the convenor of the Cross-Benchers, would get hold of me and tell me exactly what he thought of me, and I should be subjected to private rebuke on behalf of those offended by a public outrage. That is the way that ordinary, common sense people conduct their affairs. There is no reason whatsoever to suppose that a commission of this nature could not exercise the same kind of common sense as your Lordships exercise on every occasion—spontaneously, intuitively. Do not confuse the concept of a censor on publications with censure for misbehaviour. That is all that this Bill can achieve. There is no censor saying what may be produced prospectively, but in retrospect the broadcasting bodies can be given, following a complaint, an official rebuke from a body that they cannot ignore. And that is what is so important.
Why have standards deteriorated in the way that my noble friend indicated to your Lordships? After the committee, Sir Hugh Carleton Greene went on TV with a kind of apologia pro vita sua. He explained that the Pilkington Report gave rave reviews to the BBC but that only 27 per cent. of the viewers appeared to agree with them, according to the ratings. So he decided to pep things up, and the "pep up" resulted in a programme which was later nicknamed "TW3". When we got to this stage of his apologia, some repeat performances of hits of "TW3" came over on the air. The replay was exactly what I remembered of it, the beginning of it all—rather sniggery, schoolboy smut, and a naive attempt at political satire, not half so funny as the current "Yes, Minister" which is much better informed. You cannot be funny about politics unless you know a minimum amount about them, and, of course, "Yes, Minister" does not spoil the cocktail with any kind of sniggery smut at all.
It was the first step downhill, but because we have two bodies in competition 849 the independents followed and now they openly compete in the Gadarene search for programme material. That is all they are interested in—programme material to fill in the spaces between the advertisements. It was a second-rate solution to the problem which faced the BBC in these days. I address your Lordships as fairly professional speakers. It is our profession here to talk. All of us know that any second-rate speaker who has lost the attention of his audience can get it back again by telling a dirty joke. We also know that if you take that path out of your difficulty, the jokes have to get progressively dirtier and dirtier to produce the same effect. So it was a second-rate solution.
Furthermore, it did not tackle what the independents were beating the BBC at. The BBC were not copying what they were doing. They were introducing something totally different all on their own. But of course competition now forces everybody into line. They apologise when they go too far, but it makes no difference. The noble Lord, Lord Willis, is no longer in his place but if he were—and he will read this in Hansard tomorrow—I would ask him, "What has happened since the days when he was scripting "Dixon of Dock Green", when nobody used profanity and obscenity? What has now made it necessary?" He was saying "We must have an inch". The trouble with his liberal-humanist friends is that, given an inch, they take an ell. When the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, who again is no longer in his place, was saying why it was necessary wanted to ask him: "How was it that Shakespeare got along without it?" I agree that there is an occasional line in Shakespeare which is rather more objective than one is accustomed to on the modern stage, but it does not depend upon it.
Only quite recently, profanity and obscenity were not indulged in in public. This is not some sort of strange battle like squaring the circle which philosophers have fought for years and years and years. It is something quite recent. I do not accept the arguments of my noble friend Lord Hill of Luton that you cannot put the clock back. You can always put the clock back a few minutes. You cannot put it back 100 years, I agree.
850 That brings me to the tactics of some of the opponents of this amendment: "Do not attack the amendment; set up an Aunt Sally and then be funny, or aggressive, at its expense", I am sure that your Lordships all thoroughly enjoyed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, which was entirely off the point—the same with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. He said that we were setting up a commission to decide what was in good taste. The words "good taste" do not appear anywhere in the amendment. It refers to such matters as profanity, violence, and so on, and it is up to the commission to decide that for themselves. I do not believe that historically condemned things like Ibsen's "Ghosts" were nearly so much in conflict with the standards of contemporary society as it is easy to make out.
I do not believe some of the things which the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, said about the BBC or the IBA: they have to do this; they have to do that; they have to represent the world, warts and all. They try to misrepresent the situation by pretending that when they are doing something that nobody wants they are responding to public demand. I do not believe that they are doing anything of the kind. I believe that those responsible for the current decline in our standards are a backward-looking lot of out-of-date old men.
The young undergraduates of today have absolutely no use whatsoever for permissiveness, licentiousness and the society that we have been building up in the post-war years. They have gone to the other extreme. It is the usual swing of the pendulum. It is the revolt of the younger generation against the older, and I am glad to be with the younger generation against the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, and others who have spoken this evening. I may be an old fuddy-duddy from some points of view, but at least I am in touch with the undergraduates of today. That is why I support this amendment and have joined myself with the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, in proposing it.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Viscount ECCLES
My Lords, I am quite willing not to speak if the Front Bench will adjourn, otherwise there are a 851 few things which I wish to say. My noble friend Lord Hill of Luton said that the world is a pretty unpleasant place. Well, why is it an unpleasant place? We see that there is a great deal more violence and more divorces. There are more acts considered as harmless which only a short time ago would have attracted public and private disapproval. We also see that on television and in the media there is much more licence of one kind and another. Is there any connection between the two? "No", says Lord Hill; "television is simply there to reflect society as it is". But of course no artists, no writers would agree about that. This is behind all which we have heard tonight.
Everyone is agreed that if the body is what we are thinking about, then the body can be poisoned by bad food, or such things as that. We are agreed about using the law to protect physical health, to exact penalties for pollution or dirty food. Is it not rather extraordinary that the same people are unwilling to use the law to protect the health of the mind? I say it is extraordinary because from my knowledge of the medical profession and scientists in the last 20 years, especially in America, they really have established a connection between mental and physical illness which is so close that one cannot divide the two. In fact we as individuals and our society become what we consume. That is what the doctors say today, and that brings me to the amendment.
I do not think much of the way in which the amendment is drafted. I think it would be very difficult to operate, but it is necessary to recognise that in 1980 the media—radio and television—are the most educational thing we have. They completely dominate the way that public opinion goes and they are not now working within that moral consensus which we used to have before the decline in religion. The real question is—and it cannot be done in this amendment—have we got to fill the vacuum that is left by the decline in that framework?—which is essential because otherwise we cannot govern ourselves in a free society. Those who control these media must have a view about human nature and the future of our society; if they did not, how would they select their material? There cannot be much argument about what their view 852 should be; it would have to be based on the brotherhood of free men and women, healthy in mind and body, reasonable, compassionate and courageous for the public good.
Can we leave it to those who control what is now the decisive battlefield for our culture? Can we leave it to them to fill the gap that is left by the weakening of the moral consensus which we have had in this country for hundreds of years? That is really the problem, and I do not exactly know the solution, but I salute my noble friend beside me for having raised it in this amendment, because if we do not tackle it we shall find that family life will go to pieces, and with it will go the stability of our society.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGS-BRIDGE
My Lords, I have prepared a long and closely reasoned speech, but I am far too hungry to make it. I think this debate has been extremely ill-handled. It is ridiculous because I think a lot of people still want to speak, but I suggest that if I forgo my right perhaps the noble Lord will forgo a great deal of his speech and we can deal with this fairly quickly. The answer is that the division between us is perfectly clear. I thought the speech made by my noble friend Lord Hill was brilliant, dead on the point and exactly what I think. The noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, an old schoolfriend of mine, thinks the exact opposite. That is roughly our position and there is not much more to be said.
I want to say only two things: one is bearing out what the noble Lord, Lord Willis, and other people have said; that one must not handicap the artist. It is a curious but unavoidable fact that some very distinguished artists and writers are fascinated by things which do not fascinate me or you and from time to time they go further than I should like or than you should like. I am not in charge, thank Heaven! but the question is, Do you want to be in charge yourselves as the Government? The answer is, No, so there should be no ukase in the Bill. It must be left as we suggested in our White Paper, for the broadcasting authorities to make the decision. That is all I need to say. People who agree with me will vote against this amendment; 853 people who do not will vote for it. I do not think that there is a great deal more that needs to be said.
§ Lord BELSTEAD
My Lords, the arguments about extending the terms of reference to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission were of course explored in some detail in Committee, but bearing in mind the adjurations of the noble Lord on the Front Bench opposite, none the less I must say that following the Committee debate and the speeches which have been made in your Lordships' House this evening I certainly regard this issue—and I am speaking on behalf of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in this—as being of such importance that I hope your Lordships will bear with me for just a few moments if I try to answer the debate.
Programme standards are matters in respect of which the broadcasting authorities already have specific obligations placed upon them. The 1973 Act laid the obligations upon the Independent Broadcasting Authority and what we call the "Norman-brooke letter" lays the obligations upon the BBC, which they accept through that letter. As my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford very fairly made clear in his speech, this amendment would have some major implications for our system of authority, responsibility and accountability in broadcasting. This is a system which has endured for 50 years in this country and if I were to say to your Lordships that it has produced, I think arguably, broadcasting services which at their best are better than others in the world I am not saying that broadcasters never make mistakes; of course they do, although I am not actually entirely sure that we would always agree on what those mistakes were. My point therefore is not that the broadcasters never make mistakes, but that we must think long and hard before we upset the arrangements which govern broadcasting in this country.
These arrangements are not just the sort of optional extra which are tacked on to the broadcasting system that we have. They are fundamental to the way we organise broadcasting and to the concept of what we call public service broadcasting. The obligations or the BBC and the IBA as regards programme standards include the matters mentioned in my noble friend's amendment, but that is not the whole 854 story. The obligations laid upon the BBC and the IBA, as many of your Lordships will know almost in your sleep, include such things as producing programmes of merit and ensuring accuracy and due impartiality and a proper balance in a wide range of subject-matter, and so on.
Given the amount of broadcasting for which the authorities are responsible and the breadth of the programme obligations and—this is most important—the problem of having to reconcile obligations which may sometimes conflict, they have quite a difficult task, and we must remember that the BBC and the IBA are appointed to carry out this job on behalf of the public. The point I am trying to make is not simply that the authorities have a variety of obligations, but that our broadcasting system depends upon these obligations being applied and administered as a unity by the bodies which have the responsibility for what is actually put out. If we try to separate some of the obligations, I think inevitably we shall erode the authority and responsibility and the accountability of the BBC and the IBA, and undermine our whole system of public broadcasting.
§ Lord BESWICK
My Lords, if the appointed boards are so superior, why does the Bill make provision for a complaints commission at all?
§ Lord BELSTEAD
My Lords, the answer to that is because the Annan Committee took the view, which the previous Government agreed with and so do the present Government, that the desirable objective was to have a complaints commission which should be seen to be independent of the two broadcasting authorities in certain selected areas, which did not include programme content and it is that path which the Bill is following.
If there is anything in what I am saying (other noble Lords have said the same) that by removing some of the responsibilities from the broadcasting authorities you erode their responsibility, I think you achieve a result which on reflection my noble friends would not wish to achieve, because one could easily have a situation where there was less rather than more regard for the standards to which the amendment refers. There could be a real risk that the programme-makers would 855 come to look upon the adjudication of the commission as the only guide to what was acceptable in the area of sex, violence and so forth, with all the difficulties of getting an adjudication which the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, with his first-hand experience of this, mentioned in his speech.
As the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, said, of course there must be standards of integrity which have got to be maintained. But the totality of the obligations which are placed on the broadcasting authorities do require a feel for public attitudes and also a recognition of the way that material which is broadcast is presented. In saying that, I am not saying that the broadcasting authorities should therefore bend to every wind that blows; what I am putting to your Lordships is that the broadcasting authorities ought to have the responsibility for what they put out and the responsibility for trying to ascertain what the public wishes. This the BBC and the ITA increasingly are taking a good deal of trouble to do through audience research and public meetings.
I should like to end by saying two things of a rather more definite nature. The first is that, as I understood the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Willis—if I may be allowed to refer to it in his absence—the noble Lord ascribed the fact that standards of broadcasting in this country are, as he puts it, the best in the world to the freedom which broadcasters have. I am sorry; I do not agree with that. I believe it is much more complicated than that and I believe that the real reason why, at the best, we have got such very good standards of broadcasting in this country is that we have a powerful concept of public service broadcasting and we have broadcasting authorities which are independent to provide those broadcasting services, subject to the obligations to which the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, has drawn attention.
The second and last thing I want to say is that none the less I realise that many of your Lordships are very concerned about the accountability of the broadcasting authorities. After the debate, in Committee, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary considered seriously how the Government could respond to your Lordships' debate but within the structure 856 of public service broadcasting as we have it. The principle method by which the BBC and the IBA account for their trusteeship of the public interest in broadcasting is through their annual reports, which my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has to lay before Parliament. In the light of the debate which the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, initiated in Committee, the Home Secretary considered that it would be desirable for the broadcasting authorities to include in their annual reports an account of the volume and nature of the complaints they receive each year and any action taken in consequence. This would enable Parliament and the public to take stock each year of the exact position regarding complaints. Accordingly, my right honourable friend has asked the chairmen of the BBC and the IBA to include this information in their annual reports, and they have indicated that they will do so. If I may say so, I think this is an important step, and I hope your Lordships will take the view that it is a practical response to the views which the House has expressed on two occasions.
§ Lord GOODMAN
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, can I ask him one question which I regard as being of great importance? If there are to be included in the annual reports the complaints that are received, will he also take steps to see that the approbation of those programmes about which there are complaints is somehow assessed?
§ Lord BELSTEAD
My Lords, this is a matter which I very much hope will also be included in the annual reports, which of course are pretty comprehensive.
§ Lord NUGENT of GUILDFORD
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for the lengths to which he has gone to try to meet our case. I must also thank my noble friends who have given such valuable support in what I consider was a very interesting debate. I should like also to thank other noble friends, who took an opposite view from me, for joining in the debate, which is very much the type of debate we can conduct in this House, I believe to the benefit of everybody. This is a very important subject. There is involved here an extremely important clash of principles where a very nice judgment is required to get the right 857 answer. I accept that if my amendment were put to the House and even if it were carried and put into the Bill and the complaints commission started to work on what would be an enormously difficult area of problems, after they had delivered their dicta on the complaints put before them it would still be a matter for the corporation and the authority to act. It would all have happened afterwards; the two authorities would then have to act.
My noble friend has just said that he and his right honourable friend the Home Secretary have asked the corporation and the authority if they will elaborate their reports to this very substantial extent of stating the number and the nature of the complaints they receive each year and, what is much more important, the action taken. That is going to give us exactly what I believe we want. I hope my noble friends who have supported me so well on this will feel, as I do, that this will give us an annual report which we can pick up. Those of us who are interested can raise a debate here and can conduct a debate perhaps not dissimilar to this. We shall have a chance because then we shall know exactly how public opinion is reacting. Perhaps we are overstating it; perhaps we are understating it; anyhow, we shall know. I should be disposed, in thanking my noble friend for the trouble that he and his right honourable friend have taken to advise those of us who have supported the amendment, to accept this very constructive suggestion from my noble friend Lord Belstead. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord DENHAM
My Lords, I must apologise to your Lordships for what was obviously a misjudgment on my part, in that I got into severe trouble at one moment for keeping your Lordships sitting until 7.15 p.m. when the adjournment had been announced for a convenient moment after 7 o'clock. I beg to move that this House do now adjourn during pleasure until five minutes to nine o'clock.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ [The Sitting was suspended from 8.17 to 8.55 p.m.]858
§ Bill further considered on Report, on Clause 18:
Lord HOOSON had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 11:
Page 12, line 24, at end insert—
(c) unjust or unfair treatment by a broad-casting body of programme-makers whose work has been rejected or edited or in any other way interfered with after the commencement of this section.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in the interests of time, and as I have already indicated I have down a series of amendments and I have my own priorities, I do not intend to move Nos. 11 and 12.
§ [Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 not moved.]
§ Clause 19 [Making and entertainment of complaints]:
Lord MORRIS moved Amendment No. 13:
Page 13, line 18, leave out sections (2) and (3) and insert—
("(2) A complaint may be entertained by the Commission only where the complainant is—
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment, as your Lordships are well aware, is solely a drafting amendment, and as such I suggest it is an impertinence, but I believe that this drafting is an improvement on the Bill. It serves three cardinal rules of drafting, namely, brevity, clarity and precision. The brevity point is easily handled; it is 14 words shorter than the combination of the original subsections (2) and (3). So far as clarity is concerned, subsections (2) and (3) deal with the rights, if I may put it that way, of complainants, live, dead and incapacitated. That is the order in which the amendment is drafted, and it serves those particular interests.859
What made me put this amendment down initially was a concern about the phrase in the Bill as drafted, in sub-section (3),
Where the person affected is an individual who has died".
In a sense one should rejoice in this phrase, because it is the first time I have ever seen in a piece of English legislation a phrase which gives legal and religious recognition to the state of immortality. Although some might accept that, I think it is a very difficult concept to accept from a juridical point of view. By drafting the provision in the way I have done I think one personalises the intention by restricting the complainants to the three individual categories and makes no substantive change to the Bill whatsoever.
However, in subsection (2)(c) in the amendment there is a change whereby I suggest that the commission appoint the complainant where the person affected—this is the wording in the original Bill—
is for any … reason both unable to make a complaint himself and unable to authorise another person to do so for him".
In replying to this amendment the noble Lord might consider asking himself the question, if a person neither makes a complaint nor authorises somebody else to make a complaint, how on earth will a complaint be received? And, if they do not receive a complaint, then the matter will not come into issue.
The other matter that this point raises is, of course, that the Bill says that the complaint
shall not be entertained by the Commission".
However, in order to appoint somebody, presumably they must entertain it. I take that point. If the consideration of a complaint initially is legally the entertainment of a complaint, then I can sec a defect in subsection (2)(c). However, my major reason for raising the amendment is to ask Her Majesty's Government and, indeed, anybody else learned in the law to consider the drafting of these two subsections—Clause 19(2) and (3)—together, because I am a little unhappy about the drafting. I beg to move.
§ The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Lord Alport)
My Lords, I must advise your 860 Lordships that, if this amendment is agreed to, I shall not be able to call Amendments Nos. 14, 15 or 16.
§ Lord BELSTEAD
My Lords, I am a little concerned about my noble friend's amendment, because, although my noble friend referred to it as a drafting amendment—a drafting amendment of substance—none the less there is a difference of substance which the amendment introduces in relation to complaints made in cases where an individual affected by alleged unfair treatment is unable to complain himself or to authorise another person to do so for him.
Such circumstances might exist where, for example, the subject of the treatment had died or had suffered a mental breakdown or a stroke which made him incapable of managing his own affairs. The amendment would, in place of the way in which Clause 19(3) deals with this situation, provide that, in a case where a person affected was for any reason unable to make a complaint himself—and this wording would extend to cases where the person affected had died as well as to a living person who could not act for himself—a complaint could be considered by the commission if made by any other person appointed by the commission. That would bring the commission into the whole business of vetting programmes to identify possible instances of unfair or unjust treatment and that changes the whole effect of Clause 19(3).
I wonder whether my noble friend would be agreeable to my taking this away and looking at it before Third Reading, when we can still amend the Bill? If we feel that we can meet my noble friend on this matter I would be the first to do so—there is no particular point of principle about it, I would be only too pleased to do so if I can. But if it means, as I believe it does and as I tried briefly to explain, that it changes the sense of the subsection in a way which would make it more difficult to operate, then I think that it will be difficult to meet my noble friend on this point.
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend and, of course, I shall readily withdraw the amendment in the light of his assurances. Briefly, the reason why we made the paragraph (c) point was that I felt it was very much in line with Clause 19(6)(b), whereby the 861 commission has considerable control over a complainant wherethe person affected is not sufficiently close to justify the making of the complaint by him".However, all these points come into the issue which I have tried to raise. I am most grateful to my noble friend for his suggestion that he will reconsider the draft of these two subsections before Third Reading. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 9.4 p.m.
Lord HOOSON moved Amendment No. 14:
Page 13, linel9, leave out ("subject to subsection (3)").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 14 and, with the permission of the House, I wonder whether we could also discuss Amendments Nos. 15 and 16 because clearly they very much hang together?
§ Lord STRABOLGI
My Lords, the noble Lord, of course, is perfectly entitled to suggest that, but I would prefer to move mine separately.
§ Lord HOOSON
My Lords, if that is the wish of the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, I would not cross him in any way, or suggest that one should. Clearly, the matters overlap, and as I put down and moved Amendment No. 16 during the Committee stage, I should have thought that it would have been for the convenience of the House if the amendments could have been dealt with together. If there was any question of a Division, that could have been on Amendment No. 16.
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGS-BRIDGE
My Lords, if I may interrupt, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hooson. He tabled this amendment and so did the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi. I suggested to the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, that he should put his name to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi. I think that it would be more satisfactory if we could discuss the problem as a whole and then move the amendments separately, and decide whether to divide on them as they come up.
§ Lord HOOSON
My Lords, it might assist if I give way to the noble Lord, 862 Lord Strabolgi, and suggest that he moves his amendment first, and I should then follow him.
§ Lord STRABOLGI
My Lords, I should be happy to comply with the noble Lord's suggestion, if that is the wish of the House.
§ Lord HOOSON
My Lords, as I understand the situation. I shall move Amendments Nos. 14 and 15, and refer briefly to Amendment No. 16, but leave the meat of that to be referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi. It is subsection (3) of Clause 19 that is at the heart of this clause. It involves the situation where the dead can complain through their personal representatives. I happen to believe that there is a case for amending, the laws of defamation so that, in fact, the personal representatives of a person recently deceased who is defamed might have a right of action. I am not alone in that belief and I think that there is a distinction to be drawn between those recently dead and those long dead. Where the line is to be drawn is a matter for argument.
However, if there is to be a major change in the law of this country, surely it should be carried out as a major change in the law and not by a side wind in a Bill of this kind. I know that this particular clause does not deal with defamation as such, but with something akin to it. It seems to me that changes of this kind in the law, which have far-reaching consequences, should be very carefully considered these days by the Law Commission and then fully discussed by this House as substantive changes in the law, rather than be dealt with in a Bill of this kind, where I do not think that the consequences have been properly considered.
I turn to my first amendment, Amendment No. 14. This would delete any reference to sub-section (3). Therefore, if sub-section (3) is deleted from the Bill, as I believe it should be in any event, subsection (2) would not be affected by it. Amendment No. 15 is to limit the complainants to those who are:… domiciled in the United Kingdom at the time of the broadcast which is the subject of the complaint".Quite apart from any other consideration of sub-section (3), it not only provides 863 that the dead, however long dead they may have been, and their representatives have a legitimate complaint, as the clause is at present worded; but also surely it allows foreign Governments or any pressure lobby from abroad to bring a complaint before the complaints commission. If, for example, there is a matter of high politics, such as the complaint of an arab country about such a programme as the "Death of a Princess", then the representation would properly be made between Governments rather than by way of a complaint by, say, an embassy to the complaints commission.
One can foresee endless argument, no doubt for the benefit of the Bar, because they would brief counsel in this kind of matter coming before the complaints commission. That is why I move Amendment No. 15 which would limit the complainants to people who are:domiciled in the United Kingdom at the time of the broadcast which is the subject of the complaint".Therefore, if my amendments are agreed, Clause 19(2) would read as follows:A complaint may be made by an individual or by a body of persons, whether incorporated or not, but shall not be entertained by the Commission unless made by the person affected or by a person authorised by him to make the complaint for him and unless the complainant is domiciled in the United Kingdom at the time of the broadcast which is the subject of the complaint".Subsection (3) will not be there at all if my noble friend Lord Strabolgi is successful in his amendment, in which I fully support him. I am sure that I shall be able to adopt the arguments which he will advance in support of his amendment.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Lord STRABOLGI
My Lords, perhaps it might be the wish of the House if we also discussed Amendment No. 16 standing in my name. We had a debate on subsection (3) in Committee. I have always felt that it is one of the least satisfactory parts of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said then that he would have another look at subsection (3), although I appreciate that he made no commitment. I think, however, that the Government will have to make a rather better case, if I may say so, than they did in Committee as to why this subsection, which is so widely and indeed loosely drawn and goes far beyond the present law of defamation, should remain in the Bill.
864 When the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, why the right to complain about the alleged treatment of dead people should exist in relation to television and to nothing else, the noble Lord the Minister in reply made the astonishing statement that if there are loopholes in other parts of the law he hoped they would be rectified as a result of the Bill.
I must, therefore, in view of this, ask whether the Government are contemplating changing the present law of defamation to allow legal actions to be brought on behalf of the dead. Certainly the present subsection goes much further than anything contemplated hitherto. The right to complain to the commission is not restricted to near relatives for a period of five years after death, as suggested by some of the Faulks Committee, but can include almost anyone, or indeed a number of people acting in a body, and for an unlimited period of time.
I must ask the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, to explain to the House the meaning of the words in line 30:or in any other way",as these seem to me to be extremely sweeping. The reason, presumably, why nothing has been done about Faulks must be because, as the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, and I pointed out in Committee, you cannot establish the truth if the person complained about, the chief witness, is dead. If you cannot establish the truth in a court of law how can a complaints commission hope to arrive at the truth?
The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said that the commission would look at the programme and make up its mind after hearing the evidence given. But the members of the commission, the "three wise men" as they have been called, will surely have to have the gift of clairvoyance if they are to arrive at the truth when the person concerned, the only one who knows the truth, has died. I think that this will put an unfair burden on them.
Of course, in actual fact the constant threat of being hauled up before the complaints commission—a body, I may say, which will be backed by statutory authority—will make it more and more difficult for producers to embark on costly historical programmes, particularly those to do 865 with our recent history, especially if the subject is a controversial one such as Suez. The British public will in future have to rely almost entirely on the printed word for an objective account of recent historical events and of prominent personalities, since writers and producers will be increasingly reluctant to embark on any programmes which deal with anything out of the ordinary. They will surely prefer to play safe and give the viewer something non-controversial and anodyne, like some old-fashioned Hollywood epic of a rather trivial kind.
In brief, the wording of this provision is much too sweeping. It goes far beyond the present law on defamation, it goes far beyond even what Faulks recommended, it is in my submission a dangerous inroad into freedom, it creates an alarming precedent and I hope the House will agree to take it out of the Bill.
§ Baroness GAITSKELL
My Lords, I have a few comments to make about the complaints commission, particularly from the point of view that the commission is no good in certain aspects. I have in mind not the question of defamation but simply criticisms that people may have of television or broadcasting. There was a programme about my late husband in Anthony Howard's series Reputations. Many of us have criticisms about incidents that are not necessarily slanderous. They may have a certain slant or they may be very boring, or the case may be made in an unfair way. Having thought about the subject, and in particular having thought about the programme that was done on Hugh Gaitskell, I would like a public right of reply, not the need to apply to a complaints commission.
As it happened, I had my right of reply by accident because Anthony Howard had written a review of The Life of Hugh Gaitskell by Philip Williams in which he let the cat out of the bag. He wrote that one thing my husband could never shake off was an imperial attitude to the leadership. His programme was shown entirely in that vein, with pictures of the Raj and lots of servants—because Hugh's father had been a distinguished civil servant in India—and most of the programme was spent in a most boring way showing little boys from Winchester and the Dragon School kicking footballs. That 866 is the sort of thing a right of reply can correct. I did not need a complaints commission to deal with it. I am thinking in particular of programmes slanted in such a way that make them unfair and about which the public should have a right of reply. That is all I seek.
§ Lord GARDINER
My Lords, my sole object in speaking is the hope that I may persuade the Government on Third Reading to withdraw from the Bill any reference to dead people or proceedings on behalf of dead people. My first difficulty has been to find out from where all this about dead people or actions on behalf of their relatives comes. What, as I understand it, we are supposed to be doing is taking the Annan Report—a massive report of a committee which sat for nearly three years—and then seeing which of the recommendations the Government think should be translated into legislation. I was convinced that I must, somehow or other, have missed all the references in the Annan Report to proceedings on behalf of relatives of dead people. I have now satisfied myself, long though the report is, that there is nothing whatever in it to suggest anything of the kind. Whether for the first time the relatives or others connected with dead people should have a right of complaint is not discussed in any way in the Annan Report.
Then I thought it may have come about in this way. The Annan Committee, after all, recommends that there should be a complaints commission like, or not unlike, the complaints commission of the BBC. I assumed that it had received a good many complaints on which it had adjudicated, by, or on behalf of, those connected with dead people. But, if my information is correct, that is completely wrong. I am informed that the complaints commission of the BBC has never passed judgment on any complaint made by any relative of anybody who is dead, and has never even decided whether it would have jurisdiction to do that if it wished. So the proposal has not come from that quarter.
I thought that it must have come from somewhere, and, judging from an observation made by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, I thought that it must have come from a sort of analogy with the law of defamation, because at one point 867 the noble Lord said that if there were loopholes in the law of defamation, they ought to be put right.
We have had two committees that have considered the question whether or not there should be some form of complaint made on behalf of dead people The first committee was the Porter Committee, which was a committee of great authority. Everybody who knew Lord Porter knew that he was not only a very fine academic lawyer, but also a man of great good sense. That committee considered the question at considerable length and reported entirely against it. That was fully considered by Parliament, which endorsed the recommendations of the Porter Committee and which resulted in the legislation of the Defamation Act 1952, which introduced no such right on behalf of dead people.
Then there was a subsequent committee, the Faulks Committee, which considered this question and which split into making a majority report and a minority report. So far as the Faulks Committee is concerned, this matter has not been considered by either House of Parliament, and, so far as I can make out, the whole question of whether it should be possible to make complaints on behalf of people who are dead arose solely in the Home Office. Somebody in the Home Office thought about this. To me that was, on the face of it, odd, because of course the Home Office has no remit in respect of the law of defamation, which has always been entirely a matter for the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. So the Home Office has no expertise in this field.
Two or three days ago, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked a Question for Written Answer about the Faulks Committee. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor—not the Home Secretary—who, naturally, answered the question said, as reported at column 396 of the Official Report:None of the recommendations of the Faulks Committee has been implemented and there have been no changes of substance in the law of defamation since 1975. While the Government is willing to consider proposals for change, there is no present intention of introducing legislation".I think that, when the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, replies, it might be that he 868 will not now wish to press any analogy with the law of defamation. However, this matter arises, solely as a result of this debate, out of the Bill prepared by the Home Office, and what I must most respectfully suggest to the noble Lord is that the Government have not sufficiently thought out the question of this ability of relatives of, or other persons closely or remotely connected with, dead persons to present a complaint.
As I understand it, faced with an idea of its own in a field in which it has no special expertise, the Home Office did not call for the Society of Authors, or the Writers' Guild, or the programme companies to come and discuss this entirely new suggestion, and it seems to me that even today the Home Office, perhaps quite naturally, does not really understand all the factors involved. For example, I do not think the Home Office understands that when an author sends a script to a programme company, he does not give the company the copyright, but merely a licence to present his script. They have not got the copyright, and they have no power to alter any of his script without his consent. Where the author comes into the Bill as drafted, and what right he has to defend what is his child. I have not yet discovered. On a complaint being made he may be in Australia engaged on another film from which he cannot return. He does not seem to have been thought of at all.
Nor do I think they appreciate the fact that these prestige films—films like Suez; the present one. Oppenheimer; Edward and Elizabeth, and so on, which have gained, so rightly, great prestige for the British film industry—take between a year and a half to five years to make and cost from half a million to two million pounds. The amount of finance required is so great that as often as not the British programme company has to get an American television company or some other foreign television company to share the immense risk with them, and, of course, it can pay only if it is sold to practically every country in the West.
I should like to ask the noble Lord. Lord Belstead, whether it is the fact that he has been informed by programme companies that if this clause about dead people is retained in the Bill it is unlikely that any such prestige films will be made 869 again because the risk would be too great for them. If the noble Lord cares to refer to tonight's Evening Standard, even, he will see that one programme company, for the first time in its history, is going to lose money this year while another programme company has today had to cut a million pounds out of its budget because the television programme companies are as much affected by the prevailing economic conditions as is everybody else, including advertisers. The money from advertising is falling and falling, and it is on that, of course, that they have to depend.
Therefore, I hope very much that the noble Lord might at least consider, before we come to Third Reading, whether the Government ought not to withdraw these references to dead people, some of which I must say I find quite incomprehensible. At the Committee stage of this Bill I asked who were the people who are said to be unable, though not dead, to make a complaint, but I was not told. I agree that if a man is deaf and dumb and blind he would be in difficulties, but as long as he is not all three—if he can see even though he cannot hear, or if he can write although he cannot speak—he can instruct solicitors; but I have asked in vain, and have never been told, who are the people who are unable to make complaints.
Of course, in view of the amendments now on the Marshalled List in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Morris, it will be a field day for lawyers in discussing who is somebody who is "closely connected with him". Lawyers will be arguing for years whether there is jurisdiction in that case. He has also to be—for any reason both unable to complain himself and unable to authorise another person to do so for him".While I am sure the Home Office have done their best, I do not think that this is one of their best ideas. It was, as I understand it, entirely their idea. As I understand it, they did not really consult with those who understood these matters. I would hope very much that the noble Lord might be willing to take away the matter of these references to the dead and, before Third Reading, see whether this had not better be left to some later occasion rather than this Bill.
§ Lord GOODMAN
My Lords, may I add my own hope that the invitation extended by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, that this provision should be reconsidered, will in fact be accepted? I can think of an instance of a person who is unable to make a complaint who is neither deaf and dumb nor blind, and that is someone who (shall we say?) has been kidnapped by cannibals. I think he might be in a position of great difficulty; but I cannot believe that in those circumstances his principal concern would be to have some observation made about him on television rectified by an apology. If I may say so, I think this is a case where the road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions and hard cases make bad law, because, clearly, the draftsmen have been carried away by a quite unreasonable enthusiasm for the sort of "perfectomania" that German jurists used to engage in when they wanted every detail tied up. It is perfectly clear, if I may say so, that a great number of absurdities are incorporated into this clause.
The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, made an attempt to rectify one of the obvious dangers, that complaints will be sped across the sea from every country in the world by post, by telegram and by radio, asking that a complaint should be heard from someone who is not here. I venture to say to a most distinguished lawyer that his suggestion creates an impossible situation. I do not have to tell him that domicile is one of the most difficult conceptions in the law. Many people do not know in fact where they are domiciled. Domicile entails, first, that you are settled somewhere and, secondly, if I may be didactic, that you have an animus manendi and intend to stay where you settle. Courts have argued for months about a particular individual's domicile. I cannot see how one can adopt this criterion to determine whether someone has the right to make a claim. It would involve probably an action over some weeks or months entailing thousands of pounds before establishing where a man is domiciled.
There are very grave objections to this on other grounds. When I spoke on Committee on these clauses, I ventured to suggest that the whole complaints procedure was unnecessary. I remain unrepentant on that. But, also, being 871 realistic, I realised there was a mood in the Committee which wanted the complaints procedure. There is a feeling that television companies have been free of restraint, that they are not sufficiently controlled and that there ought to be some means of rectifying an injustice. That being the mood, it would have been folly to move an amendment which would have been doomed to failure. But this particular amendment I think ought not to be doomed to failure.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, has said from his unrivalled knowledge that there have been two committees which reported on this matter. The Porter Committee, probably the more authoritative of the two, recommended that there should be no change and that no remedy should be given in respect of the dead. The Faulks Committee recommended that there should be a limited remedy, I think for a period of five years, and the remedy available should be only by way of declaration and injunction. I am not sure what good a declaration and injunction does to a gentleman who is dead. On the whole, it would be better to leave his reputation to be repaired by history. On the matter of the five years, one is driven to the view that that might have been a cynical assessment of the length of time during which a widow's solicitude will remain in existence. Whatever the explanation may be, it is patently absurd. Suppose that the book reviling the late husband (or the late wife) appears five years and one month after his death, why should she then be deprived of remedy?
When we analyse the situation, it is clear that there is no effective way by which to repair an injury to the dead except to leave it to the judgment of history. Looking at instances, let us take the case of that great and good man, Mr. Gladstone. There were many rumours put about, nasty, salacious rumours, about the character of his interest in the street walkers whom he counselled to turn to a better life. There was a libel action inspired by his dutiful and devoted son whereby he was sued by a Captain White, I think, who was provoked into doing so by the challenge that what he was saying was an untruth. Everyone has assumed up till now—and the jury went out of their 872 way to add a rider to the verdict—that they totally accepted the view that the reputation of the late William Ewart Gladstone was free from any sort of taint. I think it is free from taint; but if you look at the now-emerging diaries of Gladstone, you find he was tortured by all sorts of difficult emotions in relation to these particular activities. It would have been absolutely wrong if an instant correction had been sought by Mrs. Gladstone; yet, in decency and humanity, if she had gone before this complaints commission shortly after the death of her husband, could it be otherwise than that they would have declared that the story told was totally untrue? Must we not leave these things to history? Mr. Gladstone's reputation has not suffered on account of it. He remains one of the greatest of men; but it is clearly wrong.
If we go back hundreds of years, let us assume the complaints committee had been in existence shortly after the execution of Mary Queen of Scots and she was accused of having murdered Bothwell on the strength of the casket letters. To this day, nobody knows whether they are authentic or not, and despite the hundreds of years that have elapsed, there is no convincing tale of whether they were true or false. How could any commission adjudicate on that? When the principal character is dead, how can a commission, which has no power to subpoena witnesses or order discovery, resolve issues relating even to the living, and certainly not the dead?
I do not want to take up your Lordships' time except to make one further point. We often have the illusory belief that we are benefiting people by bestowing a complaint area which did not exist previously. My Lords, please remember this: if one has a complaints commission, every time something offensive is said about a dead man, someone will ask, "Why hasn't his wife complained? Why haven't his personal representatives complained?". Incidentally, this is a new and hideous duty devolving on executors which I do not think they will relish in the least. Why have not they carried out their obligations to the dead man by complaining? The answer is that they did not bother to; they took the sensible view that they would leave it to posterity. The fact remains that the very existence 873 of the commission creates a risk that people will say, "It must be true because they have not complained."
In my view, it would be a splendid thing and, if I may say so, a tremendous vindication of the function of this House if, at the end of this Broadcasting Bill, we saw this particular provision expunged. There is another part of the clause which does not relate to the dead but to the making of complaints by some proxy or delegate. If I may venture to say so, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, has indicated that he cannot think of circumstances in which a person could not make a complaint on his own behalf. I have thought of a circumstance where the person is lying bound hand and foot in front of a stake and is about to be boiled. That apart, it is very difficult to think of any instance that creates this sort of situation. That being so, I again most fervently invite the noble Lord to consider whether this clause should not be left out.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ Lord ELWYN-JONES
My Lords, I confess that I am still impenitently of the view that, as the Faulks Report says, a law under which you cannot prevent any malignant or malicious person from publishing a quite atrocious libel upon a possibly very distinguished man who has just died is not a satisfactory law. The Faulks Report further says:Where publications contain false accusations against dead men they constitute a highly objectionable method of profiteering out of his death. In our opinion, while grief is fresh—and for rather longer—such accusation should be actionable".What I have not noticed in the speeches of my noble friends who have spoken before me is in any indication of any feeling that the situation is not very satisfactory. The blissful, cheerful and humorous way in which they have dismissed this part of the law has surprised me a little.
However, I understand that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has indicated that it is not the Government's intention to introduce any legislation to give effect to the Faulks Committee recommendations. That was a hard-headed and distinguished com- 874 mittee, and a majority of nine to two came out in favour of what is proposed in the field of the law of libel. That is not a large majority; two took a different view. Nevertheless, as the law of libel itself is going to remain as it is, I see the force of the argument that one should not anticipate what may never happen, so to speak, in a side wind on a Bill dealing with a different situation.
While not in any way apologising for my strong view that the present law is very unsatisfactory, on the whole I have been impressed by what has been said by noble Lords that certainly subsection (3) as it stands has too many faults and leads us into fields which could present very grave difficulties. It is however worth saying that of course the dead man cannot be benefited or comforted; but his family could be. One of these days we must look at this again without the wry humour that we have enjoyed tonight from my noble friends.
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGS-BRIDGE
My Lords, one of the nice things about this House is that argument here, unlike argument in certain other places, is listened to carefully and can provide grounds for changing one's mind. The arguments that we had in Committee and the many discussions outside the Chamber with people concerned with the artistic side of the business, plus one or two new thoughts of my own, have convinced me that I should change my mind and support the exclusion of this subsection so that there will be no special reference in the Bill to complaints about the unfair treatment of the dead.
The reason I ever thought that unfair treatment of the dead should be available for complaint is simple. If I, for example, were to be portrayed as a character in a programme—played no doubt by a very charming actor—and it suited the storyteller to make out that I was a drug addict, I could complain to the complaints commission and, as I am not a drug addict, my complaint would certainly be upheld and a public denial would be broadcast.
The object of the subsection we are discussing—and I am talking to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi—is to ensure that if the same untruth was told about my father, who 875 died in 1915, and who was not a drug addict either, a complaint would stand equally well. The blatant lie that Sir Winston Churchill deliberately murdered Sikorski—and incidentally Victor Cazalet—is a case in point.
Here I must say this to my noble friend Lord Willis, who called me an élitist because I thought that people who read books were more able to sift truth from falsehood than the millions who see television: yes, of course I am an élitist in the sense that I think that the privileges of a better and more leisurely education enable an individual to distinguish the truth from imaginative libel more easily than the less elaborate education which ends at 16. I also think that no one buys or borrows a book unless he thinks it is going to interest him, whereas very many people switch on TV just because it is there. So I make no apology for my élitism: no one who loves the arts can be anything else but.
However, going back to lies about the dead, surely under the Bill as it stands, I, as my father's son—and equally Lady Soames as Sir Winston's daughter—can make a complaint that what is said is untrue and without foundation, and I should have thought, without the disputed subsection, the complaints commission would uphold that. Surely I would suffer if my father is described as something very disagreeable, and surely this is something which, under the Bill as it stands without this subsection, could be upheld.
The Bill says in Clause 18(3)(a)—and I quote:'the person affected'…in relation to any such unjust or unfair treatment as is mentioned in subsection (1), means a participant in the programme in question who was the subject of that treatment or a person who, whether such a participant or not, had a direct interest in the subject-matter of that treatment".Surely, if Lady Soames's father is called a murderer she has got a direct interest. If that is not the case and if for some reason the lawyers, who are always totally inexplicable to me, think that does not give her an interest, then I should like to suggest that on Third Reading we have an amendment, "direct or indirect". My worry about this is that I think it might 876 go too wide, but the strongest argument is really that of the artist. We have had this on the last amendment and it is a very important item indeed.
To make a good programme, you must find an artist who can create and write, and he must find a producer who can not only give him actors and scenery, but also find a backer who will put up, for a really good programme, anything up to £1 million of £2 million; and financial men are as nervous as kittens of seeing their money going down the drain, because of objections of this kind. The fewer chances there are of objections to the finished article, the more chances there are of finding a backer for a creative artist of interest or, perhaps, genius. The most important objective of channel four is to find such people and give them scope. We must be chary of restricting them.
I plead with the Government to take this away and think again. I believe that the remedy for the crudest slanders exists already, without this clause. I do not think that my noble friend Lady Gaitskell would think the kind of misrepresentation which we saw in the programme about Hugh is something which should at all be dealt with by law. It was a misrepresentation. I thought it was a most unfair programme, but I do not think that one should have the right to object to it, except in the sense that my noble friend has suggested, that she ought to have a right of reply. But that has nothing to do with this clause.
The clause may frighten our, perhaps, excessively nervous financiers and will hamper the finding and production of really good programmes, which is what channel four is about. Though the Broadcasting Complaints Commission applies to all channels, it is channel four that we specially want to see adventurous and innovative.
The noble Lord rejected my amendment of "died recently", and I was not sorry because I do not think that a time limit really meets the case. But I think that, without the disputed subsection, the Bill as it stands gives protection enough to very close relations against very crude and vicious libels on their dead, which, on the whole, is all I want to do. I hope that the 877 noble Lord, Lord Hooson, will withdraw his amendment and, if we are to divide the House, let us divide on Amendment No. 16 of my noble friend Lord Strabolgi, which seems to me the more important of the two.
§ 9.48 p.m.
§ Lord BELSTEAD
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kings-bridge, has just explained, very clearly and very persuasively, as part of his argument on this amendment that it is vitally necessary, if we are to expect the best, as we do, from our creative artists in radio and broadcasting in this country, that they have reasonable freedom in which to work. But, of course, broadcasters are not the only section of the community who deserve consideration, although I go along with the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, who has much greater experience of this subject than I have, and it is vital that we should pay heed to what he said.
None the less, in many ways, broadcasters have a special duty to the public. Broadcasting is not, and, as I understand it, never has been, the same as the other media. The other media—newspapers and magazines—are essentially private operations governed, as I understand it, by the general law of the land. Very often, there are organs of the press which take a very high-minded line on issues, but, even so, I think that what I have just said is essentially true. Whereas broadcasting services are conducted in this country only as public services in the trusteeship of public authorities, which have special obligations to the public they serve.
Freedom of the media is of vital importance in a democracy such as ours, and it must be appreciated that the freedom which broadcasters have is a freedom within the special obligations and responsibilities which broadcasting authorities have and exercise on our behalf. I see no reason why a person who has been treated unjustly, or who alleges that he or she has been treated unjustly or unfairly, or who has had his or her privacy infringed, should not be able to go to a body of some standing and ask them if they agree with him. This, and the need for that body to be independent of the broad- 878 casting authorities, is the basic justification for the setting up of a complaints commission in Part IV, with the added gloss on top of it, which I feel very deeply, that we are talking about a medium of communication which has got more power than any other medium.
Television in particular does literally come right into the living rooms of most of the people of this land. Therefore, I was grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, for reminding us this evening that whatever the difficulties which are being thrown up by this debate—and undoubtedly the difficulties are formidable—one must bear in mind that people feel very deeply when they believe that they have been aggrieved by an invasion of privacy, as they see it, or by unfair treatment, as they see it, either for themselves or for someone who, it may be, they have loved very much but who has died, through a medium of communication which has this tremendous power.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, asked me, none the less, where this particular provision has been dredged up from? The noble and learned Lord always puts it much more elegantly than that, of course, but in essence I think that is what the noble and learned Lord asked me. As usual, I am guilty perhaps not of having misled the noble and learned Lord but of not being as helpful as I might have been when I had the opportunity to discuss this matter last week with the noble and learned Lord.
I had not at that moment become fully aware that the drafting of subsection (3) of Clause 19 was more or less lifted direct not from the fertile imagination of those who work in my right honourable friend's department but from Section 6(2) of the Parliamentary Commissioner Act 1967, an Act which I have no doubt the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, piloted through your Lordships' House when he was Lord Chancellor. Therefore, this particular provision has, I think, quite a reasonable pedigree. It does not, if I may dare to say so as a non-lawyer, cut across the law of defamation. The Bill is not about defamation. It is about unjust or unfair treatment. We are not establishing in the Bill either an offence, or a civil wrong, or a court of law.
879 I should also say in this connection, with very many apologies to all your Lordships and not least to the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, who raised it, that I know I spoke out of turn in Committee when I suggested that the fact that the law of defamation did not extend beyond the grave was a loophole. I have, particularly as a result of that faux pas, tried as best I can to acquaint myself with the different arguments that there are about putting a provision concerning dead people into this part of the Bill. Indeed, I had the opportunity last week of meeting a deputation which consisted of members of the Writers' Guild, the Society of Authors and BAFTA, a deputation which was led by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner.
I am conscious, both as a result of that meeting, and of other discussions, that when we divided in Committee on this issue there was a substantial majority in favour of making no change at all to the Bill. But there is a case, obviously, as a result of what has been said today for saying that posthumous complaints might be removed from the Bill altogether—two extremes. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, put to your Lordships in his speech what might perhaps be a middle way.
As I understand it, in essence the noble Lord said that, if one looked at the Bill where it mentioned people having a direct interest in the subject-matter, someone who felt aggrieved because, as they saw it, there had been an invasion of privacy or unfair treatment of someone who had died could say, if they were a son or a daughter, that they had a direct interest and therefore they could bring the complaint. All I can say is that we in the Home Office would be by no means certain that the noble Lord's thesis is right in this matter.
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGS-BRIDGE
My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, what we are certain about is that the subsection is wrong, which is a different point.
§ Lord BELSTEAD
Just one moment, my Lords. Let us first clear the point made by the noble Lord. We are certainly 880 not sure that the noble Lord's thesis is right on that matter, and I do not think that he has thought, and I certainly know that we have not thought, what would be be effects—which might be quite considerable—if we were to add, as the noble Lord suggested, the word "indirect" to "direct". Therefore, bearing in mind that grave apprehensions have been voiced this evening in the House about the wording of this clause, in the Home Office we have looked to see what we ought to try to do.
There is something to be said from the point of view of creative people that the Bill should at least make it clear how far back in time the Commission's remit extends. We were impressed by the arguments deployed in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, for some such qualification as "recently", although I know that the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, has rethought that. As I understand it, those noble Lords accepted that "recently" would not do and I fear that the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, is not persuaded any longer by that argument.
Taking these thoughts into account, we feel that there is merit possibly in going down the "recently" road although not using that particular expression. If one went down that road, one would need a time limit, for reasons which I explained in Committee. We should have to accept that any time limit, if the House agreed that this was the right way to go, would be arbitrary. This, however, is the only way in which a compromise could be reached, and if it were the wish of your Lordships, I feel, having listened to the debate this evening, that I would be ready to introduce amendments on Third Reading which would impose a time limit on complaints on behalf of the dead. I realise that it is difficult to know what time limit one would choose, but my feeling is that five years could be said to be about right. I know that it happens to be the period of time which is recommended in the Faulks Report, although I do not rely on that, nor must I be taken to imply what conclusion the Government might reach on that Committee's report; and indeed the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has given his 881 reaction to Lord Gardiner's question on this matter.
I realise that by going in that direction there would be the disadvantage, which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, put quite clearly in his speech, of arbitrariness, but it would have the advantage of enabling those who feel aggrieved to seek to protect the reputation of someone recently dead who could possibly have been unfairly treated by a medium which I say—for the third time, I know—has more power than any other medium in the modern world today.
I am sorry that I have gone rather slowly through my argument. On behalf of my right honourable friend I have genuinely tried to listen to what has been said to the Home Office, both outside the House and on the Floor of your Lordships' House. I am certainly not coming back at Third Reading and moving amendments for a time limit, if the sense of the House is that it would be entirely wrong to do so and it is possible that outside your Lordships' House certain noble Lords may like to give us advice before we reach the final stage of the Bill. Recognising, none the less, that there will be disadvantages in choosing an arbitrary time limit, I put it to your Lordships that this would be one certain way of giving to creative people in the media some certainty when they are preparing their material, and some certainty to those who feel aggrieved that they can still protect the reputation of those who have died.
§ Lord DRUMALBYN
My Lords, may I make one or two observations on what my noble friend has said? I do not think he should be carried away with the glory of creation. To many senses, when one is writing about history one is not creating; one is reconstructing, and what those who are reconstructing in that way must recognise is that they have a duty to establish the facts so far as possible. Very often, if they create falsehoods, it is because they have not done their homework properly. I am not too certain that five years is sufficient. Those who are writing for television ought to exercise the very greatest care and consult all their sources. In the context of an ordinary report in a newspaper, editors are asking all the time, "Have you checked all your facts?" The same should apply to the 882 script reader or whoever it may be. He should check every single fact and satisfy himself that what is in the work is, so far as can be established from all living persons, the truth. The living persons may be the key—those within whose memory the facts are. I put up that thought, because I think it is worth bearing in mind.
§ Lord WILLIS
My Lords, I think this is a very reasonable compromise and, on behalf of creative writers, I welcome it very much and thank the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, for the care and attention he has given to this problem. I can only say to the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, that it is not just a question of verifying the facts. Of course, all responsible writers—in fact, all writers—when they are embarking on a major programme of this sort are conditioned to the maximum to researching and investigating the facts. There is no question at all about that. In fact, if they were not so conditioned the television companies or the BBC would intervene to see that they were. One then enters another area beyond the five years we were talking about, where one is discussing the motivations and where the writer's concept of history must intervene. It is a perfectly fair thing that this should happen. First, one establishes the facts—for example, that there was an invasion of Suez and that a certain number of countries were involved. But the argument about what was the motivation for the Suez episode can go on and will go on for the next hundred years. We do not know exactly what happened; there is a whole area that is under wraps. It may be disclosed in another 20 years when certain official secrets can be revealed.
But it is a legitimate area for the writer, provided he does not slander the principal people involved, to impute certain motivations, to draw his own conclusions and to do a drama out of that. Such a drama can be very valuable in the sense that often imagination can supply the answer to problems that logic cannot solve. So I can assure the noble Lord that he must not imagine that there is out there a whole host of writers who are ready, immediately this Bill is passed, to take every incident of history beyond the five years that we are talking about, lie about it and make great dramas which will be distortions. That just would not happen; it is not likely to happen. But 883 what we must allow, and what I think this very reasonable suggestion would allow, is that distinguished writers can make a view of history, a view that is not offensive, a view that some people may object to but a view that will add to our understanding. People may then come back and say, "That is wrong", or, "It is an absolute lie and we disagree with it", and you will stir up a bit of a hornet's nest. It does not matter; it helps history. But there are no writers out there, I can assure your Lordships, who are anxious to assassinate characters. What they do is to create characters on the basis of the facts and then their own imagination supplies the motivation. I welcome very much the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Belstead.
§ Lord GLENKINGLAS
My Lords, if I may just add one word to what Lord Willis has said, with which I very much agree, there is a different problem also which comes into this, and this is not responsible writers. My noble friend Lord Drumalbyn described how an editor might turn to his reporters and say, "Are you sure this is true, and have you checked your facts?" I know, having been in public life for a little while, that once or twice the editor has said, "Have you checked that the man is dead?", and having checked that the man was dead then produced stories which were really totally disreputable and absolutely untrue.
My Lords, there is one final question I would like to put to the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, before we come to a conclusion as to whether the proposal he has put forward is reasonable or not. It seems to me that what the noble Lord said in his reply related entirely to this complaints commission set up as an independent avenue to which people can complain, and frustrated people will wish to feel that there is an avenue of complaint to people other than those complained about, that the complaints procedure provides remedies. In suggesting that that remedy should now be opened up to the dead or recently dead, however recently, or for a limited period—and I am not at all sure that I regard that as acceptable—it seems to me the noble Lord overlooked the fact that there is an avenue of complaint at 884 the moment. It would appear from what has been said in this discussion that the broadcasting companies and the BBC are entirely oblivious to whether programmes are right or incorrect or whether they contain lies or otherwise. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, referred to outrageous libels on recently dead people in which lies are told.
Let us not delude ourselves into thinking that there is no avenue of complaint for that kind of conduct by professional broadcasters. This is precisely what the Independent Broadcasting Authority and the BBC governors are for and what the companies are for. It has always been my experience that if a complaint is made regarding something which has caused public outrage, with regard to lies told about recent events or people recently dead, there is already an avenue of complaint. My experience is that where a broadcasting company found that one of its employees had made that kind of an error that complaint would be dealt with very effectively, but there would be no remedy so far as the dead person is concerned. I think that in coming to a conclusion with regard to the compromise arrangement the noble Lord has suggested we should not forget that there are avenues of complaint at the moment and there are authorities charged with the statutory duty of controlling standards of broadcasting. The idea that without this clause there is no kind of protection for honesty, probity or factual correctness, really is not so.
§ 10.9 p.m.
§ Baroness TRUMPINGTON
My Lords, I am so sorry to prolong this debate when the noble Lord opposite has spoken about conclusion. I do very much welcome what the noble Lord the Minister has said, that he will consider this and consult, and this is not the end of the matter. If I may say so, the noble Lord, Lord Willis, talked about writers outside willing to write lies. This is not a question of writers, in my view; it is the slant which the spoken word takes on, as opposed to the written word read in private by probably far fewer individuals than hear it in one single evening, when a man or woman's reputation can be slaughtered simply by the way that the chosen word is spoken.
885 This is a very modern problem. It is not the type of thing that happened when Mr. Gladstone was alive because in those days there was only the written word. Nowadays there are many relations of ex-Prime Ministers still alive—indeed, my noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood is a relation of an ex-Prime Minister—and they are deeply hurt by various things that are said about their relations, not as regards the way in which they are written but as regards the way the listener hears them. It is not merely as regards Prime Ministers that I make these comments, because many subjects can be treated in such a way that the slant of expression in a man's voice can change the context of the written word. So, I very much welcome that my noble 886 friend the Minister is prepared to hear more about this matter.
§ Lord HOOSON
My Lords, speaking for myself, I think that the compromise suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, on this narrow point of the dead and subsection (3), is about the best that can be achieved in the circumstances. I should like to put on record my belief that there are other and much wider implications to subsection (3) than have been dealt with in this very short debate. Nevertheless, having regard to all the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 14.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 15 not moved.]
§ 10.12 p.m.
Lord STRABOLGI had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 16:
Page 13, line 23, leave out subsection (3).
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, for meeting us at least some of the way over this matter and I hope that he will come back to the House on Third Reading with a definite proposal. I do not, therefore, intend to press the amendment. On the other hand, I must say in the friendliest possible way to my noble and learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones—if he will give me his attention for a moment—that we who move these amendments, certainly speaking for myself, are not insensitive to the feelings of relatives, and certainly I did not approach this amendment in my speech in a mood of dry humour, which is what I thought my noble and learned friend said.
§ Lord STRABOLGI
My Lords, it means very much the same. I think that I know just as well as the noble Lord what it is to be related to well-known people. I was not the son of a Prime Minister, but my father was a well-known politician. I was born into the limelight at a fairly early age. I know very well what it is like and that there are advantages and disadvantages. But I think that relatives of well-known people should take the rough with the smooth. I am by no means insensitive to the situation. I am well aware of the feelings which can be aroused. Indeed, when my father died there were various obituaries—some were favourable and some were not. There was a particularly wounding one from Kingsley Martin whom we regarded as an old friend. But I did not rush into print or go to complain. I felt that prominent people should submit themselves to the bar of history. With that thought, I shall not move the amendment.
Lord HOOSON moved Amendment No. 17:
Page 13, line 30, at end insert—
(" ( ) The Commission shall not entertain a complaint unless it has first been raised in
writing with the responsible broadcasting authority within a reasonable time of the transmission to which the complaint refers, and unless it includes a statement of reasons why the complainant is dissatisfied with the authority's response.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 17. This is a short amendment and in moving it I would remind your Lordships once again of the recommendations of the Annan Report. It was recommended that there should be a complaints commission, but that it should only hear complaints after the initial complaint had been made to the broadcasting authority. It seems to me that that was a very sensible proposal and in line with the experience of the BBC to date; that is, if a complaint is to be made it should be made within reasonable time to the authority concerned, either the BBC in the one instance or the broadcasting company, the television company, in the other. If the complainant is then not satisfied with the response of the broadcasting authority concerned, then and only then can the complaint properly be brought to the complaints commission. It seems to me that this is a sensible course; otherwise the complaints commission could be inundated with complaints which it is not sensible to deal with in this way. Thus the complaints commission can be reserved for really serious complaints when the broadcasting authority has not responded properly to the initial complaint. I beg to move.
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGS-BRIDGE
My Lords, I agree with every word that the noble Lord has said, and I shall not add to them.
My Lords, I endorse everything that the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, has said. Bearing in mind what the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, said at an earlier stage in these proceedings, I should like to give one example of a complaint to an individual broadcasting company. In many cases the complaints are just not sufficient. Her Majesty's Government were quite right in setting up this commission to deal with instances such as that which occurred in the "Nationwide" programme about the Thames Water Authority, where there was a very serious complaint problem. The four main areas complained of were breach 889 of faith, untruth, triviality and partisan reporting, all of which were upheld in full by the BBC complaints commission. However, the BBC in no way apologised to the Thames Water Authority for what happened in the "Nationwide" programme. Indeed, the deputy Secretary to the BBC writing in the Radio Times said:In this case the complaint was fully upheld and as usual the BBC has paid very serious attention to the adjudication.But that just is not good enough. This is a classic example where the BBC even settled the legal costs involved, but there was no redress whatever within the ambit of the programme as regards, in effect, the sinner. Although this new clause is in a sense limiting the right of the complainant, I think that it is eminently sensible.
Earl DE LA WARR
My Lords, I should also like to say a few words in support of this amendment. It does two things. First, it creates a useful sieve to stop too many frivolous complaints coming before the commission. Secondly, it performs the very useful function of keeping the people who now deal with complaints in the two organisations on their toes. If we have this commission, there must be a danger that people will go straight to it, and that the existing mechanisms for dealing with complaints will wither.
Therefore, I should like to suggest that it is sensible to keep the existing mechanisms going and to go to the new complaints commission only when one's efforts have failed. I believe this to be a sensible idea and an idea that might cut down the work of the new commission and leave to it only the job of dealing with the really serious complaints.
§ Lord DRUMALBYN
My Lords, I wonder whether the amendment might not be improved by adding at the end something to the effect:…or a response has not been received from the authority."?
§ Baroness TRUMPINGTON
My Lords, as one who made a complaint against the BBC quite a long time ago, I should say that it is possible to get a complaint dealt with because I have done 890 so. All you have to do is to get a Question asked in Parliament, and it works. Two nights later, when equal time had been given to the opposite political party to express its views on the radio, I happened to dine with some television people who said that the most terrible things had been going on and that there was an awful old bag in Cambridge who had caused Questions to be asked in the Houses of Parliament. I said, "I am the old bag in Cambridge, but I got what I wanted." It is perfectly easy to get a complaint dealt with in that way.
§ 10.20 p.m.
§ Lord BELSTEAD
My Lords, I wonder whether it would be helpful to your Lordships if I reminded the House of the procedure under Part IV when a complaint is made to the commission. The first thing that the commission will do is to decide whether the complaint is one which it can entertain and which it is prepared in principle to consider. Next, and before the commission can proceed to consider the complaint, it must under Clause 23 send a copy to the appropriate broadcasting authority. In doing so the commission can ask the authority to do a number of things, including providing the commission and the complainant with a written response to the complaint.
This could result in three possible next steps. Either the complainant is satisfied and the matter is dropped, or the complainant is still not content, but the commission decides in its discretion not to proceed to consider the complaint—for instance, because it has been shown to be without any merit—or the complainant is not satisfied and the commission decides to proceed to consider the complaint. In other words, the Bill allows for what I might call a conciliation process, which in many ways is what the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, is after.
In reflecting on what was said in Committee when this was discussed on an amendment of the noble Lord, I took particular notice of what my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn said. My noble friend was chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority. Having initially expressed support on this amendment in Committee, my noble friend returned to the point and said that he did not see why a complaint 891 could not go to the commission and why the commission could not then refer it to the broadcasting authority. That is precisely what the Bill requires.
The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, in his speech made a certain amount of the Annan Committee's recommendation that a complainant should first put the complaint to the relevant broadcasting authority, and only if dissatisfied with the response refer it to the commission. It is on this that the amendment is based. The Annan Committee did not actually argue the merits of this particular procedure. I therefore looked at the previous Government's White Paper to see whether the previous Government had argued the matter. In paragraph 78 of the previous Government's White Paper I found this:The Committee will consider such complaints only if they have first been put to the appropriate broadcasting authority and the complainant is dissatisfied with the authority's response".I did not feel that I was doing very well, because this was not the way I wanted to see it drafted. Then I read on:The commission will therefore send any complaint of this kind which it receives direct from the complainant to the authority concerned, and it will receive a report from the authority on the action taken. If the complainant is dissatisfied with the reply he has received from the authority, the commission will proceed to consider the complaint".I would suggest that that procedure is rather closer to the Bill than it is to the noble Lord's amendment.
Moreover, I think that the Bill and the last Government's White Paper recognise that, once the commission has been set up and if Parliament agrees to Part IV of the Bill, members of the public will expect and want to be able to approach the commission direct. Indeed, some people who feel aggrieved will want to try to get publication of the direction of the finding of the commission if they feel that the case is going to go their way. In many cases individuals will approach the commission first whatever the Bill says.
The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, will obviously say in a moment that he does not think I am right and that people will not want to do that. Let me just read finally the words of the noble Lord's amendment. May I ask your Lordships to think of some 892 perhaps not very erudite or learned person living a long way away from London?— perhaps an elderly lady who has not got the advantage of her husband to give her advice, or maybe an old gentleman who is going blind and who has no longer his wife to tell him what things are about, but who wants to make a complaint. If the amendment is made, such a person will have to follow these words:The Commission shall not entertain a complaint unless it has first been raised in writing with the responsible broadcasting authority within a reasonable time of the transmission to which the complaint refers, and unless it includes a statement of reasons why the complainant is dissatisfied with the authority's response".Do noble Lords honestly think that any ordinary person who feels aggrieved will follow that? However reasonable it may seem to the noble Lord. Lord Hooson, who is eminently a reasonably man, I am afraid I do not. The reasonable thing to do is to say to people, "There is a complaints commission and if you really feel you want to make a complaint on invasion of privacy or unfair treatment, you may complain to that commission." That is a more reasonable way of trying to serve the interests of the general public than the more complicated wording of the amendment.
My Lords, on that specific point, may I ask the Minister if it is his belief that for claimants or aggrieved persons the first port of call should invariably be the complaints commissioners? Does he therefore believe that in no circumstances should an aggrieved person try to sort it out with the broadcasting company, the BBC or the producer by any other means?
§ Lord BELSTEAD
That intervention is not quite on, my Lords. I was at great pains when introducing my remarks in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, to explain that what will happen as the Bill is drafted is that very often—because of the interaction, which is written into the clause, between the complaints commission and the broadcasting authority when the complaint is first made to the commission—there will be satisfaction from the broadcasting authority. Having said that, I believe, for the reasons I have given, that the actual direct line of approach should be from the ordinary member of the public to the commission.
§ Lord ELWYN-JONES
I hope the Minister will think again about this, my Lords. Before I proceed, do I see the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, wishing to speak?
§ Lord GOODMAN
My Lords, I am obliged to the noble and learned Lord. The Minister has batted absolutely brilliantly throughout the afternoon but he how appears to be taking off into flights of fantasy. Where are these blind old ladies in obscure villages who will have complaints against the BBC, and what will they have to complain about? The suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, is sensible because if one receives a reply direct from the broadcasting authority, that has much more validity and credence than if one thinks the reply has been winkled out of them by an approach to the commission, and it may well be that a great many complaints will be aborted by skilful, polite, sensible explanations given by the broadcasting authority before the matter goes to the commission.
§ Lord ELWYN-JONES
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, has expressed in more elegant language than I would have used what I had in mind to say. I should have thought there was considerable advantage in a preliminary sieve in this matter. If the complainant can get satisfaction direct and immediately from the BBC, that would be the best thing for public relations, certainly from the BBC's point of view.
§ Lord HOOSON
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, is a kindly and persuasive man but I am not persuaded at all by him on this occasion. Let us take his imaginary old lady and/or old man who are nearly deaf or blind or both. They hear or see a matter on their television set about which they have a legitimate complaint. Is it not natural that they should complain to the BBC, if it is on a BBC programme, or to the programme company concerned, be it Granada, Harlech or Southern? They see the imprint of the programme and they know exactly what they want to complain about. The Bill requires the complaint to be made in writing and the complainant must specify exactly what it is the commission is to investigate. So 894 why is it simpler for the complaint to go to the complaints commission, probably a body of which the complainant has never heard? The normal procedure now is to complain to the BBC or the programme company; it is a normal, reactive procedure if you like, and the complaints commission should remain there for a complaint that is not satisfied.
I now wish to deal with the very helpful suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, about improving my amendment. I should have thought that if a broadcasting authority ignored the complaint, that is a response, and it is a response of which complaint can be made. So surely no amendment of my drafting is necessary to encompasss that situation.
However, in all the circumstances, I hope—and here I add to the plea of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones—that the Government will think again about this matter, and perhaps take advice of people such as the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, who has had so much experience and has found that the present procedure works so very well in the BBC.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 20 [Provisions relating to the consideration of complaints]:
§ 10.31 p.m.
Lord HOOSON moved Amendment No. 18:
Page 14, line 26, leave out ("in private") and insert ("in public, unless all parties agree that the hearing should be in private, and the Commission is satisfied that such a course is in the public interest").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I feel very strongly about this particular amendment, which in Committee I probably argued more strongly than I did any other amendment. I very much believe that if there is to be a complaints procedure of this kind, the hearing should be in public, 895 not in private. It seems to me that many bodies appear to be obsessed with the idea of privacy. I think that it was in an article in the Listener that the suggestion was first made that the complaints commission could possibly become a Star Chamber so far as the broadcasting world was concerned. The reason that there was a suspicion of that in particular was that it was thought that the whole of the procedure would be in private.
§ The noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, mentioned in Committee the fact that many of the complaints received by the BBC, and by the Independent Broadcasting Authority, about programmes were often couched in unfortunate language, very often obscene language, even though the complainants may have been complaining of the obscenity of a particular broadcast. The noble Lord asked, how could these complaints be published? At the time I pointed out that they need not be published, because they were the initial complaints.
§ But I thought that they should be published in any event, because the public have the right to know. For example, if there are 502 complaints about a particular broadcast and 250 of them are obscene, why should not the public know this? If there are 502 complaints and 499 of them are in exactly the same form, so that obviously they are inspired by one particular organisation, why should not the public know this? Why should not the hearing be in public, where in fact the complainant can be heard, and the broadcasting authority and the producer or the director of the particular programme can be called upon to justify himself in public?
§ That does not mean to say that the commission cannot deliberate in private. In this respect, it is exactly the same as a court. People tend to forget that though the hearings of a court are in public, the judge or the jury can consider the verdict in private. In the Court of Appeal the arguments between the judges take place privately, and that is understandable, because there must be no inhibition about the arguments when weighing up the evidence.
§ But why should one be so coy about having a complaint of this kind heard in public? The broadcasting services are 896 public services, if ever there were any. All noble Lords have constantly referred to the impact of programmes on the public. If there is a complaint about a programme, why should it not be heard in public? No adequate explanation has been given to me. After the last debate in Committee it was suggested to me privately by people well versed in television that on occasions there was a case for having the hearing in private, and my amendment has provided for that: where all the parties agree that the hearing should be in private, and the commission does not think that that is against the public interest, then the hearing can be in private. I can conceive of certain circumstances where that might be desirable, and I have allowed for it. But as a general rule I believe that these hearings should be in public. The public should know what is going on, should know what the complaint is—the quality of the complaint, the nature of the compliant—and should be entitled to hear a public justification from the broadcasting authorities.
§ I am a great believer in the fact that, if a producer or director of a broadcasting programme has gone wrong, has really crossed the line, he should be answerable for it. I am a great believer in giving people as much freedom as is compatible with their situation, and if they go wrong then they can be dismissed or they can have public odium poured upon them at such a hearing. But, equally, they must have a chance to justify themselves publicly, so that the public know what it is all about. Then, the adjudication of the commission can have so much more weight if it is delivered publicly after the complaint and the justification, equally, have been delivered publicly. I beg to move.
§ Lord GOODMAN
My Lords, I wonder whether I may suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, a reason why these hearings should not be held in public. If the broadcasting authority is proposing to vindicate what has been said, that must involve the bringing of evidence which, obviously, might entail some rather disagreeable suggestions against the complainant. It appears to me to be a rather terrible price to pay, where all you are seeking is the publication of an apology, that there should be ventilated in public an investigation as to your sexual morality, 897 as to your personal honesty, as to whether or not you murdered your grandmother, and so on.
I should have thought that there were very valid reasons why nobody should be inhibited from saying what they want to say or hearing what is being said by the unnecessary expedient of a public inquiry when the ultimate deliberation is to be made in public. This is not a court of law. The remedy is really a very inadequate remedy. In my view it is no remedy at all. I have already expressed my view that the publication of an apology by a broadcasting authority which can be instantly repudiated by the people who made the programme, who undoubtedly will instantly repudiate it in any forum to which they can find access, is not a remedy; and I should have thought it was a terrible price to pay that there was a public ventilation of their attempts to justify, and possibly successful attempts to justify, the subject of the complaint.
§ Lord DRUMALBYN
My Lords, there is also another consideration, of course, and that is that, as the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, said, this is not a court of law and it would seem that it is best in the interests of the fluency of the complainant, and also of time, to make the proceedings as informal as possible. What is going to emerge at the end of it is expressed in Clause 21(3):The Commission shall publish, at such intervals and in such manner as they think fit, reports each containing, as regards every complaint within this subsection dealt with by them in the period covered by the report, a summary of the complaint and of the action taken by them".Of course, there can be an analysis in the report that is made. I should have thought that the more informal this procedure could be kept the better.
My Lords, I very much support the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, in this amendment of his, and in so doing, if I may, with the greatest respect. I would point out to the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, in relation to his argument that there could be many factors against the interests of the complainant, who would have to justify his position, that this amendment refers only to cases where there is an actual hearing, and there are going to be very few complaints indeed which reach the hearing stage. If, prior 898 to that, the complainant learns from the commission that it might be extremely uncomfortable for him to take the matter as far as a hearing, then of course in his own interests he will not do so. But where he does, it is very much in the public interest that a hearing by any body, be it quasi-judicial, be it governmental or be it Civil Service, should be open. In fact, the more open it is the better.
I most strongly believe that the reason why we have the greatest judiciary in the world and the greatest practitioners in the courts in this country is the very simple reason that everything is open. I think it is venturing down a very dangerous path indeed if we have these private hearings. There is a very good example of this in your Lordships' own sub-committees. We choose whether they are in private or in public and we choose carefully on this. If we consider that it would harm the interests of veritas to do so, we do not have it in public. We bend over backwards for hearings to be in public.
§ Lord BELSTEAD
My Lords, with respect to my noble friend Lord Morris, I do not think it is quite as clear cut as that. Under the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, if the commission were to think it best to hold a hearing on a complaint of unjustified infringement of privacy but the complaintant, perhaps for understandable reasons of the sort mentioned by Lord Goodman, wishes the hearing to be in private and the broadcasting body does not agree, that is too bad for the complainant. He perhaps will withdraw his complaint. I am sure that is not what the noble Lord intends; but that could be one effect of the amendment. Possibly the commission in some cases may decide under the Bill, as they can, not to hold a hearing at all but to consider the complaint by interviewing the parties separately. I am surprised that Lord Hooson has not put down an amendment to that. I should have expected him not entirely to approve of that particular procedure; although I am not inviting the noble Lord to put down such an amendment. I am saying to my noble friend Lord Morris that I do not think these issues are as clear-cut and easy under the amendment. Another thing that is not clear cut, and I am not deliberately nit-picking, is 899 the wording of the amendment. I am not sure who all the parties to the complaint in the amendment are supposed to be. Are they all those who must under Clause 23 be given an opportunity to attend a hearing; or all those who may be given such an opportunity?—for instance, the writer of a play who may or may not have been responsible for the making or provision of the programme. It is not clear to me. I would suggest that the amendment may be defective on this point.
The reasons why the Bill provides only for private hearings at the discretion of the commission do not honestly derive from any wish on the part of those of us who had a hand in drafting the Bill to try to be secretive. None of the parties to a complaint will be prevented from speaking or writing about the consideration of the complaint or from commenting on an adjudication. As my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn has said, there is the provision of Clause 21(3) where the complaints commission will almost certainly make a summary of their findings. The important point is that we are trying to provide an informal and simple procedure for dealing with complaints about unjust or unfair treatment or unwarranted infringement of privacy. We are not dealing with offences or civil wrongs and the commission is not intended to be a court of law. In this connection I am a little surprised at son-le of the arguments for complicating the commission's procedure, seeking to make it more like a court of law; since these arguments in some cases seem to be based on a fear that the corn-mission will be a court of law.
We have honestly simply tried to model the commission on the BBC's programmes complaints commission which does not hold public hearings. I appreciate that a statutory commission will have a different status but I do not see why this points to public hearings. The effect of the noble Lord's amendment could be to make the commission that much less inclined to hold hearings at all, even when a frank discussion of the complaint between the parties may be useful not least for the parties themselves. For that reason, and for that alone, I am resisting the noble Lord's amendment.
§ Lord HOOSON
My Lords, I am bound to say that I find the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, very different from those that Mr. Leon Brittan, the Minister of State, used in another place. He has actually drawn the analogy between a court of law and this commission. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, knows that that is so. I know that here Lord Belstead has been backtracking on what has been said in another place. If I may deal with the points made, first the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, seemed to overlook the point that, if the complainant has a remedy at law where, for example, he has been defamed, as in the case of a man whose sexual morality has been impugned by a film or something of that kind, then he has no complaint because there is a specific provision in this Bill, that if he has a remedy at law, he has no complaint. So we are not dealing with that kind of complaint. That matter goes by the board.
Secondly, the parties to which I refer are the parties referred to in Clause 20 (2) (a) (b) and (c):
They are the people who can be heard and they are surely the parties to the complaint, so there is no ambiguity in the parties to whom I am referring in the amendment.
- "(a) the complainant;
- (b) the broadcasting body by whom the relevant programme was broadcast; and
- (c) any person not within paragraph (a) or (b) who appears to the Commission to have been responsible for the making or provision of that programme."
Thirdly, the point surely must be made that it is not often that a complaint will end up in a hearing. As often as not, it will be otherwise dealt with. If I may again advert to what the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, said, if in fact the complainant is to be embarrassed if he or she has brought a complaint which on the face of it, and from the information within the purview of the broadcasting authorities, is obviously not going to be justified because of the information they have, there is no reason at all why the complaints commission should not inform the plaintiff of that. How often in a libel has one heard: "If you proceed with this action, you know perfectly well what is going to happen; we can justify it"? Very often this brings the action for libel or slander, as it may be, to a sudden end. That is when your opponent tips you the wink and says 901 that this is what is going to happen. There is no reason why that informal procedure before the hearing—because I am only talking about the hearing—should not take place.
I perfectly well accept from the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, that there is no intention, as it were, to hide facts from the public. But the truth is that in our age we are for ever concerned with dealing with things privately in the belief that a private hearing is necessarily more simple and less complicated than a public one. Why should that be so? In the small claims courts, for example, where parties go in person to argue their cases, it is very simple and informal; but the whole procedure is nevertheless public. Why should a hearing be complicated because it is held in private?
Under the provisions of this Bill, I venture to think that what is going to happen very often is one is going to have complaints made by foreign countries, financed by embassies, with silks and juniors there to make the complaint. Whether it is going to be in public or private that is what is going to happen under this commission. I can well imagine that if this state of affairs had existed at the time of the showing of the television programme: "Death of a Princess", then the Saudi Arabian embassy could have made a complaint. They surely would not have gone to argue it themselves. They would brief solicitors and counsel and it would be very complicated.
I do not think that these arguments really hold water. There is a modern tendency to believe that things decided privately are more informal and less complicated than things heard publicly. The contrary is true. The experience of our country over centuries is when one compares courts like the Star Chamber with what succeeded them, it is better, despite all the disadvantages, for issues to be heard publicly. The public are educated by the process of knowing; they come to accept certain rules as they have done over the centuries in relation to the law. They will come to accept them in relation to broadcasting. It is very much better in the long run that these things should be done publicly rather than privately. Nevertheless, having said that, I hope that the Government will reconsider the matter. I beg 902 the leave of the House to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 27 [Grants by Authority to local sound programme contractors]:
§ 10.49 p.m.
Lord PONSONBY of SHULBREDE moved Amendment No. 19:
Page 19, line 34, at end insert—
("including details of secondary rentals retained by local sound programme contractors").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, we now move on to Part V of the Bill. The purpose of this amendment is to clarify the position of the IBA in relation to grants made to independent local radio contractors from money collected by way of secondary rental. Your Lordships will remember that in Committee I drew attention to the manner in which the authority collects from radio contractors a rental charge that is meant to be a levy on excess profits. I explained how much of that levy remains in the hands of the contractors and that no details of the amount of money collected by the authority, the specific amounts retained by the authority, the specific amounts retained by the contractors, and the details of the programmes and projects supported by this money was given in the authority's annual report.
At Committee stage I said I would study the noble Lords's remarks on this issue. This I have done, but I am bound to say I still finds his remarks ambiguous, and it is in order to clarify the ambiguity that this amendment is tabled this evening. The Minister said I was being a little hard on the IBA, because I suggested that,
insufficient information is given by the authority as to the uses to which grants are put".
§ The Minister then drew attention to Clause 27(5), which requires the authority to include in its annual report an account of the way in which the power to make grants has, under this section, been exercised during the year. Does this mean that Clause 27(5) requires the authority to provide details of grants made only by the exercise by the authority of the powers given to it under this clause? Or does the noble Lord believe that the grants I referred to as being either grants made from the secondary rental pool or by 903 allowing the contractors to retain a proportion of the secondary rental due are the very same grants as are defined by Clause 27? If the Minister is of the opinion that these are the very same grants, I need proceed no further with this amendment. However, if they are not, then the noble Lord will surely agree that we need an amendment to Clause 27 of the type that I have tabled here. Indeed, some have questioned under what section of the main Act the IBA possess the legal authority to make such refunds, grants and retentions. I hope that the passage of this clause will clarify that situation.
Another observation I should like to make is that in his reply to me the noble Lord said:
We have every reason to believe that in the context of its annual report this"—
that is the secondary rental grant information—
is precisely the kind of information that will be provided by the Authority
I wonder whether the Minister could say what precisely he means. Does he mean the total amount of secondary rental due to the authority in the relevant year, the total amount given in grants and details of the use to which those grants were put, the amount retained by each contractor and the use to which those retentions were put? If that is so, then, again, my amendment is not necessary. If not, then surely the Minister will accept that further specific guidance needs to be given to the authority. I beg to move.
§ Lord BELSTEAD
My Lords, I hope I was able to convince noble Lords at Committee stage that the Home Secretary has adequate powers under Section 31 (5)(b) of the IBA Act 1973 to require the IBA to provide such information in relation to their financial transactions and engagements as he may require, and that this can apply to the collection and distribution of monies raised through what is known as secondary rental as it can to any other of the authority's financial dealings. Nevertheless, I can understand that some doubts may still linger on the question of secondary rental retained by some of the larger ILR companies, and how this may be accounted for. This was really the final point which the noble Lord made.
904 I do not think I need go deeply into the meanings of "primary" and "secondary" rentals at this stage, as there was a very clear explanation by the noble Lord. Lord Ponsonby, at Committee stage. Suffice it to say that the authority sets a rental payable by each ILR company to cover the cost to the authority of running this particular branch of their services; for convenience, this is known as primary rental. In addition, the authority charge additional rentals, secondary rentals, on those companies whose profits are above a certain level, and the money raised is used to extend and improve the service of independent local radio. Part of this money is used, and will no doubt continue to be used by the authority for expanding, maintaining and controlling services, while part is paid out by the authority to individual companies to assist them in providing good quality programmes and services. It is by means of these payments out of secondary rental that the grants provided for in Clause 27 will, in practice, be made.
A grant may be made to any ILR company, but will be particularly important in the case of an intrinsically less profitable station in a less populous area, to enable it to provide kinds of programming which it could not otherwise afford. However, the fact that a company itself pays secondary rental does not make it ineligible for a grant under Clause 27. This is a point which is not always hoisted on board by people who discuss this subject. It is for the authority to assess whether any particular project or development would be eligible for a grant. In the case of those companies who pay secondary rental, the amount of such a grant is likely in practice to be deducted from that company's liability—hence "retained" secondary rental.
It is, perhaps, unfortunate that this term has crept into usage, but I hope that noble Lords will realise that under the provisions of Clause 27 it will, in law, be a grant made at the discretion of the authority, like any other. Hence, retained secondary rental will fall to be treated as grants under Clause 27(5) and he accounted for in the authority's annual report.
I would additionally be loath at this stage, to see the term "secondary rental" appear on the face of the Bill. Clause 905 26(1)(a) empowers the authority to raise payments from their contractors, but does not differentiate between primary and secondary rentals, and I do not think it should. The level of rental, be it primary or secondary, should be a matter for the authority, hearing in mind the general economic situation and the circumstances of the individual contractors.
I hope that I have answered the two specific questions which the noble Lord put to me. I have said hardly anything about the desirability of secondary rentals or about the way in which they are spent, because I think—and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, thinks—that within the general structure of the secondary rental system this is something which works fairly well.
§ Lord PONSONBY of SHULBREDE
My Lords, the point on which I was seeking assurance was that the word "grants" in this paragraph includes retained secondary rental. From his reply the noble Lord was clear that retained secondary rental will be regarded by the IBA as a grant and I am glad to have that assurance. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 10.59 p.m.
Lord PONSONBY of SHULBREDE moved Amendment No. 20:
After Clause 32 insert the following new clause:
§ ("Local Radio Advisory Committees.
§ .After main section 11(5) (which indicates the functions of Local Radio Advisory Committees) there shall be inserted—
§ "(5A) It shall be the duty of each local committee to publish an annual account of the way they have discharged their functions under section 5 above." ")
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, local advisory committees are another subject which we discussed in Committee. This amendment would require local advisory committees to produce an annual report of how they had gone about the duties which are placed upon them by the Act, reflecting, so far as is reasonable, the range of tastes and interests of people residing in their particular areas. The report would have to be published by a committee in the area which it served, and would considerably help the committee. It would provide the public with 906 an account of how their representatives had gone about their tasks and formed their opinions. It would also give the committee a chance to reflect publicly on how their advice to the IBA had been taken up and used. The publication of these reports would also serve as a reminder to the public that such committees are appointed, exist, meet, discuss broadcasting matters and inform the IBA that the IBA should take such matters seriously.
§ I mentioned during the Committee stage that these local advisory committees operate under great constraints. They meet in private, with IBA officers present. The IBA keeps the reports made by the committee secret. Members of these committees feel so constrained by the authority's stress on confidentiality that they are unable to discuss freely with members of the public what their committees do. This does not appear to be an entirely satisfactory way of conducting the business of a public committee advising a public authority on a matter of public interest.
§ Let me remind the Minister how the IBA regard the duties of the members of the local advisory committees. An internal IBA memorandum entitled LACs for Local Independent Radio, published in November 1978 on the subject, says that the role of the local advisory committee is essentially to help assess each station's progress and performance, to identify strengths and weaknesses and to suggest targets for future development. The authority has, in the local advisory committees, says this document, a valuable source of information and opinions. In this sense they are the IBA's ears in the localities. For local residents and listeners, the local advisory committee for each transmission area is a body to which views and comments can be addressed locally.
§ Of special importance, says this document, is the period immediately preceding the authority's annual decision whether or not and on what conditions to roll a station's contract. Then each committee is asked to take a wide-ranging look at its independent local radio service, compare it with the published application plans and identify its strengths and weaknesses.
§ These are important tasks and the 907 public has a right to know how this committee has gone about fulfilling these tasks. This is what the amendment seeks to do. To place the committees under the constraints of confidentiality is unnecessary. The authority and the contractors have nothing to fear from allowing the public this small glimpse into their decision-making. I should have thought that it was eminently sensible that the local advisory committees should publish an annual report. I beg to move.
§ 11.3 p.m.
§ Lord BELSTEAD
My Lords, there is a genuine problem about the amendment. Advice from local advisory committees as a matter of practice is generally on two levels. There is the on-going day-to-day advice—praise or criticism about the output of local radio stations. In addition—the noble Lord mentioned this himself in his speech—the authority may seek a comprehensive assessment of a contractor's performance before considering whether to extend a contract.
As the noble Lord said, there is this system in independent local radio of rolling contracts, and reports and comments of local advisory committees form an important part of the comprehensive report prepared by the authority's own officers on the performances of contractors, which in turn considerably influence the authority's decision whether or not to roll a contract.
I really must part company with the noble Lord in his assessment of what would be right. I think it would be damaging to the relationships that exist between the authority, their local radio contractors and the local radio advisory committees if the advisory committees were themselves to publish accounts of the advice they had given to the authority. It would be very difficult if everything that they had said about the performance of the contractor in assessing whether the contract should be rolled or finally renewed was made public. I hope the noble Lord will not mind my registering this disagreement with him, but I do not see eye to eye with the case he has made.
§ Lord PONSONBY of SHULBREDE
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. I think there is still some 908 merit in the publication of the annual report, but I note what the noble Lord said. I shall read his reply, and, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 33 [Duties of Authority respect to programme contracts]:
§ 11.5 p.m.
Lord PONSONBY of SHULBREDE moved Amendment No. 21;
Page 25, line 24, leave out ("if they think fit").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should like to speak to Amendment No. 22 while moving No. 21. They are actually essentially different amendments, but they both deal with the question of public consultation and the holding of public meetings. At Committee stage I dealt with this area of the Bill, but then I had a further amendment down, dealing with a code of practice, and I have not pressed forward with that amendment, accepting what the noble Lord said in response to that particular suggestion. However, I feel that these two amendments which remain on the Marshalled List, the one that the public meetings shall be held and the other that those attending the meetings shall have the opportunity to examine an applicant or a re-applicant for a contract in an area, are amendments to which the House should give further consideration on Report.
The Annan Committee's recommendation No. 53 was that:
The Authority should conduct public hearings in the locality in which a franchise would be held before awarding or renewing a programme contract
In paragraph 13.24 of their report they enlarged on this and said that the public hearing
would enable the people living in the area to express a view on the performance of the current programme contractor and on any applications from new groups. We would also expect there to be some sharp questioning, helpful to the IBA, at the public hearing if companies were suspected of making exaggerated claims in their written submissions".
The authority has already made a good move in this direction by making available summaries of the prospective contractors' applications in both radio and television,
but what is needed at the meeting is the means to enable the public to question the prospective contractors, and Annan said this would be beneficial to the authority.
The Minister cannot be unaware of the criticism of the present system of public meetings. This is common and widespread. This Bill extends the life of the IBA until 1996. Are we to assume that the criticism made at these meetings is to be ignored for the next 16 years? Let me remind the noble Lord the Minister of some of this criticism. Mr. Philip Kleinman, a widely respected commentator on media affairs, after attending the London public meeting, recently wrote in the trade paper Campaign an article. He said:
Having read the applications of all eight contenders for breakfast-time I travelled to Croydon full of curiosity about what they might, under cross-examination, show of their respective strengths and weaknesses. My first surprise was that the platform was occupied not by representatives of the eight consortia ready to answer questions from the IBA and from the audience but by members of the authority itself and their attendant staff. Most of them said nothing, or next to nothing.
The way the meeting proceeded was that, after the opening waffle session, Lady Plowden called up representatives of each of the eight consortia to address the meeting for no more than about five minutes each. They were free to reply, or not, to anything previously said.
The one injunction laid upon them by the chairman was that their remarks should be couched in general terms and that they should not put in a 'commercial' for their own company.
In the circumstances this seemed a curious restriction. It was indeed ignored by several speakers, notably Lady Trumpington, of the Daytime consortium.
But there was no opportunity to put questions direct to Lady Trumpington or to any of the other company representatives, who included Lord Lever, Christopher Chataway and Peter Jay, for after they had finished the meeting was dismissed. The real cross-examination will be conducted by the IBA itself behind closed doors. How detailed it will be I do not know, but I do know that the interviews with all eight consortia are to be squeezed into only two days. What I would like to suggest is that these interviews themselves should be conducted in public".
That is a comment on a public session held by the IBA. The National Consumer Council has stated that the National and Scottish Consumer Councils believe that the IBA should maximise the impact of consumer views in the bidding for broadcasting contractors. They say that to create a competitive, responsible and responsive broadcasting service in the United Kingdom public meetings could
in their opinion make a useful contribution to this end. The councils wanted a full examination and cross-examination of the applicants. This amendment goes some way to establishing this. Since the Committee stage I have received a letter from the Newcastle region of the National Union of Public Employees expressing their views on the IBA's public meeting held in that city. Their divisional officer, Mr. Sawyer, had this to say to me:
The Independent Broadcasting Authority, North East Region, organised the final public meeting before the award of television contracts to be made in December of this year at the Centre Hotel, Newcastle upon Tyne, on Thursday 16th October, 1980, and although my Union had always been interested in the issues of broadcasting, we did not as a formality receive an invitation to this meeting, despite the fact that we represent 50,000 members in the region. I made my own enquiries about the applications and the public meeting and in so doing found that a number of small organisations in the region, like the Kilmarnock Flower Circle had been invited, although as I say no approach had been made to our organisation. I was however able to obtain no more than six tickets for the meeting and on attending found that of the several hundred people present, a large number, obviously unquantifiable by me, either worked directly for the present franchise holder, Tyne Tees Television, were clearly associated with the new applicants, or were there as obvious plants for the companies; their regular sympathetic contributions and cries of 'Hear, hear' every time the company concerned was mentioned made this all too obvious".
§ These are just examples I wish to quote to your Lordships' House about the concern over the way the public meetings are held and the fact that there is no opportunity for the public to be able to examine the contractors. These two amendments deal with the questions that public meetings should be held and that the public should be able to ask questions of the potential programme contractors. I beg to move the first of the amendments.
§ Lord BELSTEAD
The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, who is always very fair in the way he presents the case for his amendment, none the less had made it sound not only as though the IBA do not conduct their public meetings very well but as though the system for taking public opinion, when contracts come to be re-negotiated, is deficient in some way. I wonder whether the noble Lord would like to consider with me for a moment the way in which schemes for secondary reorganisation of schools in this country are arranged statutorily; at least they have 911 been in the past. If I remember rightly, one finds under the Education Act that there is a responsibility to publish that a school is going to change its character—something which may be of the greatest moment to the people who live in the area. If we look at the Bill, we see that before entering into any new contract with a programme contractor the IBA shall publish, in such manner as they think fit, a notice saying this is what is going to happen. Under secondary reorganisation schemes for schools there is a statutory right, if I remember correctly, of objection for people who live in the area, something people set great store by.
What happens under this Bill? The authority are under a duty to ascertain the opinions of the public and to encourage the making of comments, to take into account these opinions and comments and suggestions which are received. The processes are almost on all fours, the new process under this new Bill and the old process which has been continuing with regard to schools since 1944. Nothing in the 1944 Act says you have to have public meetings, but of course any sensible local authority, as the noble Lord knows from his experience, would never indulge in any scheme of reorganisation of schools, which mean so much to parents, without holding public meetings; in fact, the local authority always tries to make its case as best it can at public meetings. This is exactly also what the IBA have been doing.
So we put into the Bill a provision about holding public meetings if they think fit", because arguably in addition to public meetings there are other ways of collecting the voices locally, public opinion surveys and of course talking to the statutory local advisory committees. Arguably those methods of collecting the force of public opinion can be as effective as holding public meetings, which can sometimes be dominated by interest groups unrepresentative of the locality as a whole. Moreover, the informality of the meetings which the IBA has been holding can result, of course, in insufficient protection for less vocal minorities; on the other hand, very great formality, as the noble Lord would write in under the next amendment, where it would be laid down statutorily that members of the 912 public should examine the contractors, can in its turn lead to difficulties.
For these reasons we have felt it was right, obviously, by mentioning them in the statute, to encourage public meetings, knowing the IBA normal procedure of having public meetings, but to sheer away from tying them down to how often and in what manner. I hope the noble Lord did not mind my going off on what seemed a tangent in comparing this Bill to education legislation which has been on the statute book since the end of the war, but I do not think the analogy is a bad one, and I think the process in the Bill is right.
§ Lord PONSONBY of SHULBREDE
My Lords, if the analogy about education public meetings is taken a stage further. I cannot envisage any proposal for reorganisation of a group of secondary schools with those attending not being able to ask questions of those involved in regard to what would happen to their own particular school. To take it further, there is considerable substance in the second of my two amendments, which I think underlies one of the major concerns about the public meetings, that the public involvement with the programme contractors is not there. I do not intend to divide the House on either of these two amendments at this time of night, but I warn the noble Lord that I may return to the second of the two amendments at Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 22 to 26 not moved.]
§ Clause 35 [Training of persons employed by programme contractors]:
Baroness SEEAR moved Amendments Nos. 27 and 28:
Page 27, line 20, at end insert ("and without discrimination on account of race, sex or ethnic origin").
line 25, at end insert ("and the report shall include the numbers employed in each area by race, sex and ethnic origin").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendments Nos. 27 and 28 together. This is a modified form of the amendments that I moved in Committee, but those amendments covered a wider field in that we were emphasising both the importance of the extended training 913 inside the industry as well as the need for no discrimination in the provision of training in the industry. These amendments are concerned only with the latter aspect—the question of discrimination on grounds of sex and racial and ethnic origin and the desire to get this emphasised in the Bill.
§ It will of course he said that, given the Sex Discrimination Act and the Race Relations Act, there is no need for such an inclusion in this Bill. On the other hand, this industry is no ordinary industry. The mere fact of the Bill before your Lordships' House is evidence of that. This industry is a public industry of very great importance to the public and of very high visibility. It is also an industry in which new skills and new knowledge are being developed all the time. It is, therefore, an area of great opportunity for people to learn new skills, at a time when the learning of new skills is of the greatest importance because of the decline of so many other occupations in which traditional skills are no longer required.
§ Therefore, this industry and the opportunities that it offers, is in many ways unique. We know from figures that I gave your Lordships' House in Committee that women are very much under-represented in management areas—only 1.3 per cent. of top management positions being held by women—and that women are concentrated in a very limited number of occupations inside the industry. That, of course, is typical of a great many other industries. But here is an opportunity to do something about it. We do not know the figures—they are not available so far as I am aware—in relation to race and ethnic origin, but it is highly probable that in this regard, as in relation to women, the employment of people of ethnic minorities is on a very small scale in the higher posts and in the more skilled occupations.
§ So what I am urging is first that a particular responsibility should be placed on the industry to emphasise the importance that there should be no discrimination in training; and, secondly, that in the annual report an account should be given, so that the public can see what is happening in relation to training for women and ethnic minorities in this new, very important, expanding industry in a modern sector. I beg to move.914
§ Baroness TRUMPINGTON
My Lords, I made clear my views on the question of training programmes during the Committee stage of the Bill. I have listened with great interest to Lady Seear's explanation of her amendments this evening and I still cannot go along with her. Briefly, to include Amendment No. 27 would indicate to me that if such an amendment is necessary then the Equal Opportunities Commission—whose views the noble Baroness quoted in Committee—is not doing its job properly; while to adopt Amendment No. 28 would be to imply to me a quota system and would add a sort of threat at the end of what seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable and adequately written paragraph which should stand as it is. I fear that these amendments will not bring about the changes which the noble Baroness and, indeed I, so earnestly wish for—they will not deliver the goods. I therefore hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendments.
Earl DE LA WARR
My Lords, I should like to add my support to what my noble friend Lady Trumpington has said. I find it very hard to accept the thesis of the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, that the television contractors should be treated differently, that they should be treated as golden calves. She has admitted very openly that there are many industries in which training is not adequately given to women and people of other ethnic origin, and there is much to commend in what she has said. But just because we happen to have an industry under scrutiny and under our control, it is a great pity to take advantage of it and to impose, by statute, something which would be much better done by exhortation.
I entirely agree with my noble friend Lady Trumpington that we should let the existing law work in the same way as it does for any other industry. As I said, I can see no real argument in this particular case of training for treating the broadcasting authority and its 13 contractors as though they were something special. I am sure that they will do all they can, just as other industries will do all they can. Whether or not it is with success is beside the point. But do not let us take advantage of this scrutiny to impose this sort of thing on the authority and its contractors.
§ Lord BELSTEAD
My Lords, I must say that I am a little perplexed by the first of the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Seear—Amendment No. 27. As the noble Baroness herself pointed out in her speech, and as both my noble friends Lady Trumpington and Lord De La Warr have also said, there is the effect of the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 firmly embedded in the law of the land, and I really would not have thought it was necessary to write the provisions of these Acts yet again into this Bill. Indeed, I am not quite sure what my noble friend Lord Renton would say—and he is by way of being a considerable expert on legislation—but I think he might have some well-chosen words to say about putting unnecessary provisions into legislation—unnecessary because they are already firmly embedded in the law of the land.
Amendment No.28 is rather different and says that the annual report shall include:the numbers employed in each area by race, sex and ethnic origin".My noble friend Lady Trumpington has criticised this provision on the ground that it would, in a sense, set up a sort of quota. I should like to make a rather different point. It would be a very unusual provision to write into legislation for this reason. As I see it, it would place an obligation on one sector only of the broadcasting industry that does not apply to the other sector—in other words, the BBC—or to industry generally.
I think that equality of opportunity is more likely to be achieved in partnership between employers and employees who can work together to devise mutually acceptable arrangements. Whatever arrangements may be devised, either within individual companies or within the industry generally, I do not think that the IBA should be called upon to monitor these arrangements or to comment on them statutorily in its annual report.
Nothing that I have said means in any way that I do not agree with the general thrust of the argument of the noble Baronesss, Lady Seear, but, if I may say so, I think that the first of the amendments is unnecessary and the second one is not entirely reasonable so far as the Independent Broadcasting Authority is concerned.
§ 11.30 p.m.
§ Baroness SEEAR
My Lords, I am not surprised, but I very much regret the reception which has been given by the Minister, and I shall reply briefly, despite the lateness of the hour, to one or two of the other remarks that have been made. Of course, if the Sex Discrimination Act and the Race Relations Act were working as intended there would be no need to do anything more about it, but they are not so working. We have already sufficient evidence from work that is going on in this field that it is far better that individual industries should really launch effective schemes for themselves. This is what this is intended to do. It is to give an impetus to the 1I3A to take the initiative using Section 47 of the Sex Discrimination Act, which allows discriminatory training, or preferential training. Unlike any other kind of preferential treatment, the training is permitted under Section 47 to groups which are under-represented in particular occupations.
There is no question but that there are many areas in this industry in which both women and ethnic minorities are underrepresented. What I ask here is that Section 47 should be invoked by the authority in order to work out their own scheme. Of course, there is no question of a quota. The word, "quota", is very much misused and has been misused this evening. This is only to show to the public and to the groups concerned who are deeply interested in this matter what progress is being made. That is why a monitoring system is required. A quota of course would mean that a particular percentage had been set. That is not the suggestion. It is to show the public and to the people interested what is required. I do not accept the argument that this industry should be treated just like all other industries. Throughout the debate this evening it has been emphasised again and again that this is a special industry of special public importance—and for an industry of this kind I submit that it is entirely reasonable that they should have such obligations put upon them. I would dearly like to divide the House, but since there is scarcely any House to divide I regretfully withdraw the amendments.
§ Amendments, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 29 not moved].