HL Deb 29 November 1982 vol 436 cc1060-3

2.44 p.m.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will initiate early action to instruct the BBC to revert to the broadcasting of "Yesterday in Parliament" separately from the "Today" programme on weekday mornings.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Elton)

My Lords, the BBC has editorial responsibility for all its programmes, including its programmes covering parliamentary proceedings. The recent change in the format of "Yesterday in Parliament" and its inclusion as an item in the "Today" programme is, therefore, a matter within its discretion. I understand that the BBC has announced that it intends the new arrangements to run as an experiment for six months, after which they will be reviewed. The corporation will, no doubt, take the views of the noble Lords into consideration in its review of the matter.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, would my noble friend agree that the "Today" programme on the whole has a reputation quite as much for entertaining as for informing? Would he agree that there have been cases where, on the whole, frivolous aspects of the affairs of Parliament have been conveyed to a rather greater extent than one would hope? As Clause 13(2) of the Charter says: The Corporation shall broadcast an impartial account day to day prepared by professional reporters", would he agree that professional reporters are associated with "Today in Parliament" and were associated with "Yesterday in Parliament", while the preparers of the "Today" programme are not quite in the same category?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I think it is not incumbent on Ministers at the Home Office to pronounce their personal views on the content or standards of work of individual people working within the BBC. I would accept that the extract which my noble friend gave from Clause 13(2) of the Licence is correct, and I would add that that undertaking is currently fulfilled by the corporation by broadcasting the programme "Today in Parliament" each night at 11.30.

Lord Byers

My Lords, when broadcasting was first introduced into the House, it is my recollection that there was a great deal of consultation between the broadcasting authorities and Members of this House and another place. Is it not right that there should be the same sort of consultation before the whole format is changed, and could we not have consultations at least at the end of the experiment?

Lord Elton

As to the existing machinery, my Lords, I understand that the Sound Broadcasting Committee of your Lordships' House exists solely to consider questions arising out of the resolution of the House of 28th July 1977. That resolution was concerned only with the provision and use of a sound signal and the resultant archive tapes. I believe that consideration of such matters as "Yesterday in Parliament" are, therefore, strictly beyond the terms of reference of that committee, but it is, of course, a matter for that committee to interpret its own terms of reference.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that now that the "Today in Parliament" programme is so late it has a listening public of only 100,000, whereas the "Yesterday in Parliament" programme in the morning had 1 million listeners? It is therefore particularly sad that that programme should have been cut by 40 per cent. If cuts have to be made, it is understandable that priority is given to major items in the House of Commons, and very little said by Back-Benchers in another place or said in this House is given any space at all. Does my noble friend consider that that is a proper and balanced view of the work of Parliament as a whole?

Lord Elton

As I said earlier, my Lords, this is a policy which the corporation is running experimentally for six months. They will doubtless have regard both to the numbers of the audience and to the views of the audience when they come to review their policy; and the trenchant things which my noble friends and others have said will doubtless form part of the material they consider.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, is it not the case that, in the view of most Members of both Houses who have heard the new programme in the mornings, six months is a quite unnecessarily long experimental period in that it is already clear, after the first two or three weeks, that it is not as good as what went before it?

Lord Elton

My Lords, it really is not for me to answer to the brief of the corporation, but I should think that their assessment of whether or not the noble Lord's view was correct would, in some measure, be guided by the listening figures which result from the change in policy.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, to whom will representations be made, either at the end of six months or sooner, in view of the feeling on this matter? Is there any machinery of communication? In this matter the BBC works, or should be working, harmoniously with Parliament; it benefits Parliament in the broadcast of our actual voices, I suppose, but there is a give and take element, is there not? May I ask the Minister to say what the machinery is, and, if none exists, should not some such machinery of consultation be created?

Lord Elton

My Lords, as to the point about the existing machinery, the noble and learned Lord has just been using it. I do not not doubt that everything that he says will be listened to by the editor of the programme and drawn to the attention of the policy formulators in the corporation. As to the question of a more elaborate form of consultation, I should think that I ought to take notice of that and consider it further.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, could it be arranged for some of the officials responsible for the programmes of the BBC to be made Members of your Lordships' House? Then there would be a possibility, even a probability, that our recordings and deliberations would receive some publicity.

Lord Elton

My Lords, it is within my own experience of watching the process of ennoblement that it rarely makes people more biddable.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, would not my noble friend the Minister agree that this subject is really a matter for joint consultation between your Lordships' House and the other place, and that, in view of the form of observation made just now by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, a question of urgency is involved?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I shall take careful note of everything that is said in these exchanges and bring them to the notice of my right honourable friend.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, will my noble friend bear in mind that, in view of the disquiet there, the Speaker in another place has referred the whole of the question to the broadcasting committee of another place? If the terms of reference of our Broadcasting Committee are too narrow for representations to be accepted, what is the right procedure in order to change the terms of reference, so that we can first consider the matter in this House, and then consult another place, in order to form a joint view about it?

Lord Elton

My Lords, as to what goes on in another place, I cannot have a view on that. As to what goes on in this place, I say to my noble friend what I have said to others of your Lordships—that I shall take careful note of the views here expressed and, if it appears appropriate, I shall then write to my noble friend.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, will not the noble Lord agree that the whole point is simply that when the programme was established it was the result of consultation and co-operation between both Houses of Parliament and the BBC? The BBC has decided unilaterally to make a dramatic change. Ought it not to be pointed out to the BBC that when it is making a change of this character it should adhere to the principle on which the programme was established?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I think the noble Lord is asking me whether we cannot impose editorial policy upon the BBC—

Several noble Lords

Oh, oh!

Lord Elton

If I am wrong I shall apologise-but the answer to what I understand to be the noble Lord's question would obviously be, No. If the noble Lord is anxious that his remarks should be taken elsewhere, in another sense, I can only say that not only shall I bring the content of these exchanges to the notice of my right honourable friend, but I shall see that they are asterisked, as it were, in the programme of consultation involving the corporation.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is not the problem that in another place there is a procedure that can be followed and a reference can be made by the Speaker, whereas, judging from what the noble Lord has said, there is no clear comparable procedure in this House? Therefore, will the noble Lord, in consultation with the noble Baroness, consider referring this matter to the appropriate committee of this House so that, if necessary. we can evolve our own procedure?

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Young)

My Lords, we have had a long run around this Question. Of course, I have listened with great care to all the points that have been raised. Before the Question I took advice as to what is the correct procedure in this House, and my noble friend gave the answer in reply to another noble Lord who asked a question. However, in view of what has been said, I should like to take further advice on the matter and see what would be the correct way to proceed.