HL Deb 30 November 1982 vol 436 cc1198-230

6.59 p.m.

Lord Nugent of Guildford rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make a statement on the annual reports of the BBC and the IBA with specific reference to the undertaking on viewers' complaints of sex and violence, given by the Home Office Minister in a debate in this House on the Broadcasting Act on 3rd November 1980.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to ask the Unstarred Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. It refers back to the debate we had in your Lordships' House two years ago on the Broadcasting Bill, now the Broadcasting Act 1980. Noble Lords will remember that my noble friends and I then moved an amendment which would have required the new Broadcasting Complaints Commission to consider, as well as the material in the Bill, unwarranted infringement of the integrity of family life in connection with the material broadcast as regards violence, indecency or profanity, irrespective of subject matter.

After considerable debate on Report stage my noble friend Lord Belstead, who was then the Home Office Minister, made this suggestion to the House. He said (at col. 586 of Hansard for 3rd November 1980) in the light of the debate: 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.

We have now had complete annual reports, both from the BBC and the IBA, and so we are able to judge how that undertaking has been fulfilled. The BBC, in its annual report, which was up to the end of last year, gives two paragraphs (on pages 39 and 40) dealing in very general terms with complaints on violence and obscenity. That is totally inadequate in the terms of the undertaking to enable Parliament and the public to take stock each year of the exact position regarding complaints. The IBA report for the year ending last March gives a half page—page 21—and does marginally better by giving at least the numbers of complaints and an analysis of their nature. But there is still no account of the action taken. Thus both reports make no more than a perfunctory gesture towards fulfilling the obligation undertaken two years ago.

Regarding the BBC report, which was published, as noble Lords will remember, last July, I wrote to the chairman, George Howard, to ask why the undertaking of November 1980 had not been fulfilled. His replies skilfully defended his report and maintained that his undertaking to the Home Secretary was fulfilled. All I can say about his letters to me is that they were a masterly defence of the indefensible. The IBA report was published last month. Except for a personal note to the noble Lord, Lord Thomson (who incidentally wrote to regret that he could not be with us tonight) to advise him of this debate, for obvious reasons I have not proceeded to a similar correspondence with him. The conclusion is that this innovation of a detailed report of complaints of violence and obscenity as a means of keeping Parliament and public informed on the trend of moral standards in broadcasting and the efforts of the BBC and the IBA to live up to their obligations has been a failure.

To complete the picture, I should like to repeat what those obligations are. The IBA, under Section 4 of the 1973 Act, has this obligation: That nothing is included in the programme which offends against good taste or decency, or is likely to encourage or incite crime, or to lead to disorder, or to be offensive to public feeling".

The BBC chairman of that day, Lord Normanbrooke, wrote an official letter confirming the corporation's acceptance of the same standards.

Arising out of this unhappy story the question that I have to ask my noble friend is: Why have the corporation and the authority not lived up to their obligations, and what is the Home Secretary going to do about it? There is a secondary and related question that I have to ask: Why is the trend of violence and obscenity in television consistently downwards, and what action will the Home Secretary take on that?

This second question is of course the main issue for this debate and why we raised the point as cogently as we did two years ago. The admirable organisation, the National Viewers and Listeners Association, has published a report covering approximately the same period as the two broadcasting reports. This association reviewed 131 complaints to the BBC and the replies. One of their many interesting conclusions is that, when many such letters are looked at together, it becomes apparent that they have been dealt with in a routine manner and based on a model letter.

We all know this kind of treatment. There is the famous occasion of years ago when there was a complaint to the Canadian Pacific Railway that a passenger sleeping overnight had been bitten by a bed bug. The passenger wrote to the management complaining. He received a very good, apologetic letter telling him that no such thing had ever happened before and it was a terrible thing to have happened. They said they had dismantled the whole coach and had made absolutely sure that it could never happen again. They hoped that the passenger would accept their urgent apologies. The passenger was so pleased that he wrote back to the manager and said, "Thank you very much, I appreciate all that you have done". The manager sent for the employee who had written the letter to the passenger. He said, "You must have written a very good letter. What did you send him?" The reply was, "Oh, I sent him the bug letter, sir".

That is the truth of it. We all have a bug letter when we are dealing with complaints about this, that and the other, and it is quite obvious that the BBC and the IBA send out a bug letter in different forms, always very courteous, but the broad effect is that the complainant is brushed off as being out of touch with modern trends. I have received a number of letters privately. There are a number of people who have complained to me in private messages that the corporation and the authority treat their complaints in such a way that it is really a waste of time to write to them so they have stopped doing it. This is the reason why the number of complaints has to some extent diminished.

In the meantime, standards continue to fall. The Sunday Times, two or three weeks ago, had a cartoon and a large article on the matter of bad language in television. This cartoon was in the Bateman style and it showed a BBC director's office. Everybody there was astonished, falling over backwards in a state of amazement. The caption underneath read: The man who presented a script without a four-letter word in it".

My Lords, it says it all. The introduction of four-letter words has come in apace in the past year or two, and the situation really goes from bad to worse. I have not personally seen Channel 4. The reports I have on that show that a whole new perspective of obscenity and bad language has been introduced. I had a reliable report that in a recent programme, "A Star is Born", there were no fewer than 36 occasions when a four-letter word beginning with "f" was used. Really, my Lords, can you beat it! How can any responsible person put out such programmes which are going into the homes of our people?

There were also trenchant complaints about the Channel 4 "Brookside" series which occurs once a week, with a repeat, I believe, when excessive violence and sex occurred. Unhappily, the corporation is following this downward trend. On the BBC, on 23rd October, at 10 o'clock, there was a programme called "Something else—intimate confessions". It was a sordid little programme about heterosexual and homosexual relationships, with a good deal of explicit play acting. I shall not trouble your Lordships with further examples—there are all too many. I have given enough to make my point that standards have continued to deteriorate in the past couple of years since we last discussed this subject.

Noble Lords, I dare say, to some extent have had personal experiences in this matter. This is to be seen against a broad background of the many excellent programmes which are produced by the corporation and by ITV. Evidently, many officials and creative artists in these organisations understand their great responsibility in operating this major influence in our national life.

Therefore I say: why cannot they check these excesses? I believe they do try, and I have heard of specific instances. I heard that Alastair Milne did in fact reject a programme when it had been completely produced and was ready for broadcasting. Good luck to him! I congratulate him. But why does that not happen more often? I believe that the basic weakness of the statute law, that is the 1959 Act we have so often complained about, deprives those who would take a stand of any firm ground upon which to do so. Even in the most outrageous cases conviction under the Act is unlikely. We could not have a more glaring example than the National Theatre play, "The Romans in Britain", where naked players on the stage simulated an anal rape. Even then the DPP refused to prosecute because he did not think he would get a conviction. It follows that, if the live theatre can show explicit obscenity with impunity, some producers and authors see no reason why they should not do the same in TV productions. I imagine that the pressure to extend the licence of the live theatre to television is always present, and evidently the responsible authorities simply lack the strength to stand up to it.

Nor can the younger generation be protected by setting the rougher programmes at a late hour when the viewing of school children, as we all know, goes on until the programmes finish. I received an interesting report from a West Country headmaster who had carried out a survey of the viewing habits of over 300 of his pupils. He found that no fewer than one-half of them had television sets in their own bedrooms, so that when they went to bed they continued viewing. This much-troubled headmaster concluded that many boys see more of their television screens than their school teachers, and different values are portrayed there from those which teachers are trying to foster.

His fears are confirmed in the adult world we live in by behaviour on the terraces in the football stadium, both at home and, worse still, abroad. They are also confirmed by the accelerating rate of marriage failure and divorce and the alarming rate of violent crime. That television is the strongest influence in the life of the nation is a matter of fact. It follows that programmes of excessive violence and sex will progressively erode the moral standards of contemporary life. I was sent an interesting report from the United States Department of Health and Human Services. This comes out under the heading of Television Behaviour: Ten years of scientific progress and implications for the 1980s. That fully confirms this relationship of cause and effect.

So the existing broadcasting scene gives rise to anxiety enough; but when cable television is added in the near future, propelled by the attractions of technological and economic benefit, the prospect of permanent damage to the moral standards and social fabric of our nation is really alarming. In my belief, the single legislative measure which would reverse the trend and provide the necessary safeguards would be a strong, clear Bill on obscene publications which would apply to everything, including the media. When Parliament had so legislated everyone would have clear guidance as to what was acceptable; and responsible people in all forms of media would have the strength to restrain creative artists who wished to go too far.

Noble Lords may remember that last spring I introduced a Private Member's Bill, to which this House was good enough to give a Second Reading. This is an example of the sort of legislation which I suggest might be considered and which my noble friend might care to look at again. It was rejected at the time because my right honourable friend the Home Secretary thought it would be unmanageable in the Commons. I suspect they may be looking at these things a little differently: they certainly did with sex shops. However, now that the prospect of cable TV is with us, the need is greatly magnified and is indeed imminent. In reply to the debate on cable television last week, my noble friend indicated that existing legislation may not be adequate to control the situation. I hope he can tell us tonight that he and his noble friends may be considering a solution on the legislative lines I have indicated.

7.15 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford

My Lords, it is all too easy to criticise an organisation which has to accept the role of providing information, or giving news and education as well as entertaining. As has already been said by the noble Lord, we are very lucky in this country that the television we view is generally speaking of a high standard, particularly in the education and information field. But there are these two aspects in entertainment which cause very great concern, particularly in the serials and the films, which attract a far larger viewing audience than any other programmes. These audiences may be composed of at least three generations sitting in the room at the same time. The most important group is the group under 16, whose experience of life is limited and who learn from television, which becomes their main source of deriving what they are supposed to believe about adult behaviour and its views and attitudes.

The Annan Report mentioned only those who are disadvantaged as being the most likely to be influenced by what they saw on television, but I would suggest that this is true of all those under 16, and indeed far older than that who are still at an age when they are impressionable and unable through experience—and many people have very limited experience—to form their own attitudes and values when they have no basis from which to work.

As has already been said by the noble Lord, the viewing time, the watershed, which was fixed at 9 o'clock really has broken down. Children no longer stick to 9 o'clock and then go to bed: many of them go far beyond that, especially at weekends. It is a matter of great concern for the entire teaching profession.

Sexuality, of course, is an important part of human life and experience. It is bound to be an integral part of any presentation of films, drama or theatre which is a reflection of our society and our human relationships. But so often its reference is trivial. It is introduced as a kind of spice to give interest to a particular programme which may or may not have very much to be said for it. Such a use of sex does in fact desensitise the individual and it reduces the whole area to one of triviality, when in fact it is one of the most important parts of human experience and life.

It also produces a cynicism about human relationships which I think many of us are noticing in the younger generation and in those who are in higher education, the younger university students. It does seem that their attitudes have been and are being continually influenced by what they see and what is presented to them on television. It is very often said that television cannot really have very great influence and it is compared with live theatre. In fact, I think it has already become apparent that entertainment in the theatre does in fact create an illusion and for some is a suspension of reality, whereas the impact of what is seen in one's own house on television has a very much greater effect.

But when we turn to violence we have to remember that we are living in a violent age, whether we like it or not. It is therefore absolutely necessary that some violence is reported, and indeed it is reflected in some of the entertainment. News programmes are bound to report violence when it is seen in Ireland or in the Middle East, as it has been recently. Again, however, this can be overdone so that the individual who is viewing it becomes desensitised, has no reaction to what is being viewed and shrugs off all responsibility for any involvement in what he has seen, saying to himself that it is beyond him to do anything about it or to have any control.

I hope very much that this Question and debate will encourage people to write far more complaints, because, as has already been said by the noble Lord, they are declining since people think that nothing will be done nor will any notice be taken. Sex and television go together and the normal programme which anyone sees brings these two aspects of human life at the present time very much into focus, so that if those who are representing the characters are not already having some kind of sexual relationship, they always end up by having it. It is for this reason that so many of the attitudes of our young people towards personal and human relationships are being influenced by a kind of value which says that this is normal, natural behaviour.

Today in the press, it has been stated that 16 per cent. of our population are still church-going. I do not know how true that is, but, if that is so, a far greater percentage is still influenced by Christian values and Christian principles and they must be, and are, offended by what they see. Parents are bewildered, as they often are not able to express in an articulate manner what they feel about what is being seen, and, in any case, the young are very often in conflict or in revolt against their parents' standards and values, as is natural at that time of life.

We are exposing our younger generation to an influence which can be pernicious and which needs to be controlled. It is very difficult to control values and people's behaviour by legislation in these areas, but it can be done, because people have to be protected. I hope very much that this debate will encourage those who feel strongly, and those who are worried about the way in which the whole entertainment to which we are subjected is shown day-by-day and night in and night out, to write expressing their concern, and that the formal letter, which seems to be the one that is returned, changes to a personal reply which is noted by those who control the entertainment on television.

7.23 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, relates particularly to the undertaking given by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, when this matter was being debated in your Lordships' House on 3rd November, 1980. He has made that clear. What is it that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said? He said that the Home Secretary had decided that it was 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."—[Official Report, 3/11/80; col. 856.] The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, condemned the reports made by the two broadcasting authorities, in response to that undertaking, as being quite inadequate. I do not agree with his judgment on the reports that have been made, and I suggest that noble Lords who want to satisfy themselves as to the adequacy of the fulfilment of the undertaking by the authorities concerned should look at their reports. I studied them pretty closely yesterday and I thought, in all the circumstances, that they had dealt with the matter adequately. Indeed, the Independent Broadcasting Authority explained the complexity of the task of identifying, out of millions of letters a year, all those items and expressions of opinion which might be brought together in some composite form of complaint.

Administratively, they are up against a very formidable task. I thought that the treatment of this matter kept it in proportion to the enormous responsibilities of the broadcasting authorities towards the wide public which they have to serve. It is easy for a minority of critics and complainants to distort the general response of the public to programmes that go out. It will go on and on and on, because matters of taste and decency are always matters of opinion, of personal feelings and, in many cases, of changes in individual and public attitudes.

Surely, we are all old enough to remember some of the restraints, suppressions and censorships which were applied in years past to public discussion and public entertainment. We abolished the Lord Chamberlain years ago. He was a censor of stage plays. Public expressions of their attitude towards life have been permitted freer range under the greater media of television and the press in recent years.

The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, gave us a trailer of this debate when he spoke in the cable television debate on 23rd November. Quoting from col. 834 of the Official Report, I would refer to just some of the terms that he used, because they are words in common usage on this subject which are extremely difficult to define or to evaluate, in meaningful terms, in other ways. He referred to the maintenance of moral standards with regard to taste and decency; and then, a little lower down, he said "to preserve the moral standards of the nation".

He then made a statement which I would certainly question. He said: …the medium of television which, after all, is the greatest influence in our lives. Do we all accept that it is the greatest influence in our lives? I do not. Not for a moment would I accept that television is the greatest influence in my life. If we were to examine ourselves candidly and closely, we would probably come to the conclusion: how little influence on our lives, or in our lives, television has. The noble Lord went on to say: Increasingly we are getting material in the form of violence and pornography which is depraving and corrupting and is really upsetting to the young. They are very strong words to use, but they are very general statements to make.

I was very interested when the noble Lord suggested, as the remedy for the complaint that he has made and for the long catalogue of criticisms that we have heard, a comprehensive, all-embracing statute law to regulate, or to provide for the regulation of, obscenity, indecency and the like. The noble Lord is using the same words as have been used in this context over the years and have failed in application. They have broken down in the courts many times, simply because it has been impossible for courts to decide when something is corrupting or not, or depraving or not. This is the mischief of the whole problem. How does one legislate for good taste and decency? These are matters of individual responsibility. Collectively, they probably form public attitudes. They influence television. Instead of television influencing our lives, in many cases public taste is influencing television. To some extent they are mutual responses.

Therefore, I must warn your Lordships that the remedy which the noble Lord is proposing would be futile. Although this House gave that Bill a Second Reading, the noble Lord did not press it any further. If his Bill had undergone the close examination given to Bills during their various stages in this House, it would have been torn to ribbons. The noble Lord referred at the beginning of his speech to the amendment which he and other noble Lords moved in the debate a few years ago on the Television Bill. I recall that he referred to "unwarranted infringement" of standards of decency and to the protection of family life. The noble Lord will remember that the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, severely criticised that amendent as being virtually meaningless in terms of statute law. The noble Lord, as I have said, referred to "unwarranted infringement". What is "unwarranted"? And, sometimes, what is "infringement" of those intangible qualities of human relations which can scarcely be defined?

My conclusion on this part of the noble Lord's speech to the House is that he is beating the same old drum. I doubt whether any useful purpose is being served either by doing it or by replying to it. The television authorities will be governed by a wider response and a close connection with the public at large than is at the disposal of such noble Lords as the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, and myself. Probably few Members of your Lordships' House have the wide contacts with the public at large which are needed to give us any authority to speak as we do about the influence of programmes upon people with whom we are not closely associated. It is a matter of opinion as to whether or not the broadcasting authorities have fulfilled their obligations to our satisfaction. I am satisfied that they have.

If noble Lords read the reports of the two authorities they will be quite surprised at the kind of complaint which is made. One complaint related to the undue coverage of the attack on the Iranian Embassy—not because it was obscene, not because it was pornographic, nor, indeed, because it was violent, but because it stood in the way of the snooker programme which was waiting to come on. That was the basis of the complaint in that particular case. Another complaint was that the broadcasting authorities devoted a whole hour to the life and work of the Yorkshire Ripper. Whether one wants a whole hour of the life of the Yorkshire Ripper is a matter of taste or interest. That would not, I suggest, be classified material from the point of view of the noble Lord, but it was a matter of considerable topical interest. I shall say no more about this, because I do not think I am using your Lordships' time to the best advantage.

The noble Lord did not say very much this time about violence. A book has been written by Mrs. Enid Wistrich, who was for some time on the appropriate committee of the Greater London Council. Her book entitled It's not the Sex, it's the Violence, was regarded as much more offensive than such presentation of sex as is given in public showings on television. So far as television is concerned, I react much more vigorously to violence than I do to sex. I have recently experienced a new kind of grievance regarding cuts made to a film. My complaint is not that they showed too much violence but that they did not show enough. In an animal film, shown recently on Channel Four, there were two hours of the most gruesome exploitation and ill-treatment of, and cruelty to, animals. It was difficult to stick it. The evidence is that many viewers could not stick it; they had to switch off. It was more than they could stand.

This is what is being done to animals in the name of the British people—and we talk about the moral standards of the nation! On another occasion I should like to examine what are the moral standards of the nation. Are morals merely sex, a bit of pornography, a bit of violence? Or do they go deeper into the dark shadows of human nature? The Independent Broadcasting Authority instructed Channel Four that 12½ minutes of that animal film which had been shown in cinemas throughout the country were to be cut. What was to be cut was not the torture of animals but young people wearing hooded helmets who were filmed in real life actually raiding an animal establishment.

After taking legal advice, the IBA decided that that infringed the Television Act, which forbad the showing by the Independent Television Authority of programmes which are likely to encourage or incite to crime or to lead to disorder or to be offensive to public feeling". The lawyers advised the IBA that under that clause they were fully justified in insisting—that, indeed, it was their duty to insist—upon the deletion of 12½ minutes of live presentation of violence. Call it what you like, at least it was a breach of the law, and so forth. But this was part of the composite picture of animal welfare and campaigning movements which are denouncing cruelty to animals throughout the country at the present time and whose members are so frustrated and exasperated by what they know that their feelings about the unwillingness of Parliament to deal with the matter adequately lead them to take the law into their own hands. This was regarded as an incitement to crime or disorder.

Therefore, in a matter of this kind I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, distinguishes between violence which is real and violence which is staged or simulated. Does the incitement come from real life violence? If so, what are we doing showing all the films on Northern Ireland? What were we doing showing films of the Grunwick picket line? What are we doing showing the violence on the football terraces? But all this is regarded as news, as an essential part of the life of society. Therefore, it must be presented fairly, albeit reluctantly, to the public. There we have an instance of how violence in one context is regarded as unacceptable while violence in the Westerns, in "Starsky and Hutch" and, indeed, in almost any American film you like to look at, is regarded as acceptable.

American films contain a great deal of violence because their culture confers on the individual the right to defend himself. The consequence is that almost all Americans are entitled to carry guns, and do so. Our culture is different from theirs, and that indicates the difference in violence between the two.

However, I have occupied too much of your Lordships' time. In excusing myself I would suggest that probably those noble Lords who are to follow me will all be supporters of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, and that probably I am the odd man out, as usual, on this issue. Therefore, I claim to bat my innings just a little longer than other noble Lords.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, sits down, will he explain something to me? I believe that earlier in his speech he said that children were not affected by television and radio, but in the latter part of the noble Lord's speech I believe he insinuated that people were influenced by television. Does the noble Lord really believe that children are not affected by television or that they are affected by television?

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, if the noble Baroness looks at the record tomorrow she will find that I did not use those words. I did not say that in my opinion children were not affected by television. I was referring in general to the statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, that television is the biggest influence in all our lives, but I did not refer to children in particular. However, if that question was asked of me I franky confess that I would not know what influence television does have on children. It would be interesting to know whether anyone can be quite certain what that influence might be.

7.42 p.m.

Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, I would like to speak briefly in support of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford. I am afraid I must say that I disagree with almost everything that has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, in the past 17 minutes. I cannot help wondering, although it is no business of mine, why it is that the noble Lord takes the view he does, because it is never quite apparent from his speeches. Sufficient of that—I should move on, but I might say that I hardly enjoyed 17 minutes of his speech, which I thought added nothing to this debate.

I am not going to criticise BBC1 or BBC2 or ITV, except to say that there seems to be a continuing erosion of standards. This is most certainly exemplified by Channel 4. It is quite clear that with the possibility of cable and satellite television the present safeguards and those proposed are quite inadequate to ensure that reasonable standards are maintained. I was particularly concerned today to learn that one of the proposals for satellite television, in using the two channels then available, is to take every single film in English which those channels can get hold of and broadcast them. My God!—some films are hardly worthy of anything except the rubbish bin.

It is argued by the BBC that warnings are given for programmes which may be offensive to some people and unsuitable for children. Such warnings are often confined to the Radio Times, which has a limited circulation. It is also said that such programmes are put on late in the evening when, hopefully, children will have gone to bed; but the time is being brought forward. I believe it is now accepted that violence on the screen does have an undesirable effect on younger people watching. I believe the same applies to some aspects of sex and crudity in general. Surely such adverse effects are not confined to the very young. Teenagers are even more at risk because undesirable behaviour shown on the screen becomes tolerated and accepted as a norm. It is idle to suppose that teenagers can in general be prevented from watching such programmes. Curiosity alone will make them do so, and parental disapproval is a strong incentive.

It seems that the BBC regard a low level of complaints received as reliably indicating acceptability of dubious programmes. But complaints are a very uncertain guide, not only in this field but when applied as an indication of satisfaction with the suitability and quality of manufactured goods. It must be realised that most people do not complain except in extremis; many who might do so are deterred by the small effect any complaint to the BBC is likely to produce. One tends, of course, to have professional complainers—and those who really ought to complain do not do so.

Another sort of justification is that of artistic liberty and of giving a realistic presentation of life. Yes, there is some validity in this argument; but it can be used to justify almost anything. I seem to remember that it was said of Petronius that he made an art of all the vices. Finally, it must be accepted that producers try to attract attention by going just a little further. Shocking can be very good publicity, and in fact this is what Channel 4 has been doing. Considering the viewers themselves, there is always a curiosity incentive; a desire not to be thought squeamish or prudish in the company of others—which includes the family. These factors, coupled with a small minority of extremists, mean that we are moving further than the vast majority of us would wish to go. I suggest, as the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, said, that we need a charter saying in some detail what should not be permissible on the screen, coupled with some general terms, and that that should be a Bill. Otherwise, I am afraid that with pressures as they are, we shall see the situation deteriorate still further.

7.48 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I have respect for the noble Viscount who has just spoken and I agree strongly with his conclusions. I differ from him in respect of something he said, because I do not agree that my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby in effect wasted the time of the House and might just as well have not spoken. I believe my noble friend raised some very interesting questions, to which I want to attend in the few minutes—I suppose it will not be 17 minutes—which I shall use up.

First, I must congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, once again for giving us this moral leadership. On party matters I am closer to my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby, but on these matters I am like Pavlov's dogs when the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, speaks. Whenever the noble Lord speaks, I speak later if I am allowed to do so—but this time I shall be a rather rebellious Pavlovian dog and will break out of the official enclosure. I want to speak about violence in particular and to raise some questions rather than supply any answers. My noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby rightly brought up the ambiguities which exist in our discussion of this question of violence.

It is somewhat easier to talk about violence than about sex because sex, more often than not, is a beneficent force which keeps the human race going. We have sex education, but we do not have violence education. There is a distinct difference there. So it is somewhat easier to discuss violence, or to begin with, it seems that way because we have this so-called permissive society. I disagree with a lot of the trends in the permissive society, but other people welcome it and talk with joy of the sexual revolution. So that some of us are not at one with others on this when it comes to talking about the two elements in that field. I am horrified to hear how many times the four-letter word beginning with an "f" came into a single programme; that is absolutely horrible.

The right reverend Prelate made an interesting speech. We all have to speak rather in shorthand on these matters, but he rather suggested that the two, violence and sex, went very closely together. No doubt that is very often so in the extreme cases. In nearly all hard pornography, I suppose, there is a sadistic element, so in that sense they overlap. The older ones of us here will remember Oh! Calcutta!; well, you could not have called that a demonstration of violence, and that sparked off the interest of many of us in this whole horrible subject. So I do not think one can say that all pornography is violent; equally you cannot say that all violence has a sexual content. There is overlapping.

But I would like to say a few words about violence. What do we object to in violence? I think the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, raised the question of war or civil war on the screen when it is called news. Is this violence? Is any assault on ones's fellow human beings to be regarded as violence? Take the Falkland Islands, that heroic exploit. Is this to be regarded as violence? I think one could fairly say that there is altogether too much war on the screen, but most people would hardly say that a few minutes of the Falklands conflict was violent. If you had it hour after hour I think you could well say that you were inculcating violence. That is one sort of violence.

Of course, sport comes under the same heading. I will not become involved in the question of boxing; but to take rugger, which I do watch religiously and used to enjoy very much playing. In rugby people who tackle one another, even in a lawful manner—and there is quite a lot of the other sort of tackling nowadays—obviously commit a violent physical assault on somebody else. That is one aspect of violence which most of us feel could be overdone but is not in itself evil.

Then there is the kind of violence where what is involved is often really suffering. I have not seen this programme where the animals suffered, but there, I imagine, it was the horrible suffering that was so unpleasant. The same programme in relation to human beings would be at least equally horrible; some may think even more so. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, might put them on a footing. But at any rate there is the element of suffering. To see a number of people suffering in a hospital would be shocking. It is an element in the violence that we dislike. I would submit that the cruelty element is essential; the deliberate infliction of violence for a cruel purpose; the appeal to the sadism which I am afraid lurks perhaps in most human beings somewhere or other. This is the real element in violence that we want to eliminate as far as possible.

Of course, I agree with Lord Houghton that it is very difficult to make any decisions. That applies to any legislation which interferes with anybody doing anything. Certainly in regard to race relations, for example, in the end you have to get a jury to decide. They may be right or wrong. Or you may get judges deciding and they will overturn each other. Clearly you cannot have any law unless some difference of opinion is present, and in the end there has to be some way of settling the argument.

One might suggest something that might even come under the eye of the High Panjandrums who run the BBC and the IBA. I wonder whether they think they are reflecting public opinion; or do they think they are trying to improve public opinion? I think they ought to be trying to improve it, certainly to prevent it deteriorating. Certainly I think it is deteriorating when it comes to sex and violence. Are these eminent persons at the head of these organisations going to say, "Well, that is the way it is, with very few complaints now; public opinion is changing"?

Well, that is why it is easier to discuss violence than sex, because although I myself deplore the loosening of sexual morals, there are people who absolutely welcome it. But in regard to violence no one can think that the increase in violence in this country is welcome. We must all deplore it no matter how liberal we are. The more liberal we are the more we deplore it. So are the people running the BBC and the independent organisations to be asked to find out what public opinion is, what the public wants, and then do it; or are we going to ask them, as people placed in these high positions whose opinions we respect, to try to correct the dangers and avert the evils that we see overtaking us? It is equally true with sex and violence where everyone agrees that there is a thoroughly horrible trend in this country at the present time. I say that anybody in such a position ought to be ashamed of themselves if they do not make a real effort to correct it.

7.56 p.m.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, may I start by apologising both to the House and to my noble friend Lord Nugent that I was not here when he put his Question, and, if I mention any aspects on the Question that other noble Lords have already raised, please forgive me.

I have recently been given by a senior master at a West Country comprehensive school for boys a survey of television viewing, and it is rather surprising what an amount of television some of his pupils, who are in the 11–15 age group, appear to be watching. And a great deal of it, I gather, is unsupervised, either generally or totally, with no supervision at all by the parents, either because they do not care or because they are not even in the house. This individual, whose observations are, I gather, supported by staff from other schools not only in the West Country but in other parts of the nation as well, has found that television is a major factor, a major influence in children's lives, and that it virtually rules their waking and sleeping hours. It is particularly important in deciding what time they go to bed at night. Of course, if they are continuously going to bed late it has a bad effect on their school work, apart from the influence of television on them.

I understand that in the survey no less than 62⅓ per cent. have television on all evening in their homes—that is, from the time when they return home from school until they go to bed, or, in a number of instances, until the television closes down. Of one group, 94 per cent. admitted this, and one boy went to bed regularly after midnight. In the 11–15 age group that is not particularly good. What is interesting about this is that the broadcasting authorities set nine o'clock in the evening as the watershed after which they can put on their more violent or sexually explicit features. It is quite obvious that a very large number of young people are up and watching television long after the 9 p.m. watershed.

Of the boys questioned, over 50 per cent. had a portable television in their own bedroom, so their parents could not even see what they were watching unless they were sitting in the bedroom with them. So, when the BBC and the IBA say that it is the parents' responsibility to supervise viewing, they are not taking into account the social trend and the number of televisions now being brought into a large number of houses.

Another point that I bring to your Lordships' attention is, as I am sure other Members have noticed, the change in the way in which the subject of sex is portrayed and acted. When I was a boy one did not actually see on the television screen a couple climb into bed and make love. Neither was that seen in films. Today it is quite common. I have a feeling that the directors of television programmes and, in some respects, of films—although I rarely go to the cinema, so I cannot speak for that industry—have very little faith in the actors' and actresses' ability to indicate and portray what is going on. It is for sensationalism and, perhaps, shock, as other noble Lords have said, that they actually have to show what is done rather than giving an indication and fading out or going on to a totally different scene. The standards of acting may be good, but the direction given on television programmes is certainly not helping.

8 p.m.

Lord Beswick

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, not only on raising the matter but on doing so at this time. The questions he put before us can be considered especially usefully against the background of the interesting debate we had last week on cable television. There were two propositions advanced during that debate which carried wide agreement and which seemed to have particular relevance to the Question now raised by the noble Lord.

The first was that our broadcasting institutions compare favourably with any other broadcasting service in the world. That was said and, I think, generally agreed. Secondly, any extension of broadcasting made possible by these new technologies should be expected to observe what the Hunt Report called the traditional standards of taste and decency set by the established authorities. It follows from that, that we all, including my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby, have an interest and, indeed, a duty to ensure that these standards are maintained at as high a level as possible. I thought it was significant in that debate that, faced with this prospect of a new flood of televised entertainment in our homes, no one was disposed to argue the case for what is called permissiveness. Indeed, there appeared to be a general approval for the concept of some public control and accountability in these matters. The Hunt Report stated: A high standard will not be maintained of its own accord". It seems absolutely right, therefore, that we should take this opportunity to examine more closely than was possible last week whether the standards have been fully maintained and whether the monitoring and control mechanism is adequate.

In that same debate much was made of the fact that standards had not fallen as was predicted when commercial television was introduced. I think that is true. They have not fallen as lamentably as was predicted. But the reason why they have not fallen is because there has been some public vigilance and there have been interested individuals such as the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, and the Viewers Association, who have maintained a close interest and have helped to ensure that the fears then expressed have not been fully realised.

Having said that, I think it still remains true that since those days there has been a fall. The incidence of bad language, explicit sex scenes and detailed violence can be checked, recorded and compared with 20 or 30 years ago. The facts are there. They do not support the contention that there has been no retreat from the standards that were then set. The only answer given to those who say that there have been these changes is that public opinion is now different. Of course it is. But what has helped to create that difference? A fall in standards which is not reversed sets a new standard. The difference is not simply in great dramatic occasions but in the general run-of-the-mill programmes. I had a foreign guest in my car some months ago. I turned on the car radio at about six or seven in the evening, which is family listening time. What one would have thought was an innocent quiz programme was being broadcast. A member of the panel on that programme, at that time, used a coarse four-letter expression. There were giggles in the studio. My friend, who had come to this country for the first time since the 1950s, asked me what had happened in Britain since he was last here. He would have been astounded had I told him that the person concerned, the member of that panel, was a Liberal Member of Parliament. It would have been inconceivable 30 years ago that such a broadcaster, guilty of a lapse of taste of that kind, would have been invited to take part in another programme, but the person concerned has helped to establish a new standard and helped to mould public opinion afresh.

I am not asking for some prissy, puritan control of programmes. I suppose I can boast, or confess, that I have seen much earthy human behaviour in all six continents on this globe. I am not asking for some highfalutin', puritanical standard to be set. However, I think that it is possible to have honest, healthy, robust and entertaining programmes without some of the current crudities and without curbing genuine creativity.

The BBC says in its report—which I say to my noble friend I have, in fact, read—that some viewers are attracted by some violence. Of course that is true. They are. But does it follow that we should pander to that taste? Some people would still go to see a public hanging, but it does not follow that we should set up the gallows again at Hyde Park Corner, or was it Marble Arch?

Steering a course between newfangled permissiveness on the one hand and old-fashioned censorship on the other ought to be possible in a mature society such as exists in Britain. Of course I agree with my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby that it would be difficult, but that does not mean to say that we should not try. We should apply the same persistence in this as my noble friend applies in his concern for the welfare of animals. No one until tonight in my hearing has denied that the televised programmes which go to the majority of homes in this country are an immensely powerful force in determining the trend of public opinion.

I take seriously the claim that political activity should lead to a compassionate, tolerant and truly civilised society. To adopt the words of the Hunt Report, I do not think that that will emerge of its own accord. There has to be a positive, conscientious and sensible policy, as my noble friend Lord Longford appeared to be indicating, which will help forge society towards that standard which I think we all hope to see achieved. We are deceiving ourselves today if we take the view that, even if the direction is right, the pace is satisfactory.

Let me turn for a moment to a matter which the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, mentioned. The point I was making was that we should be considering not simply the question of spectacular lapses from taste but the general tone and temper of current productions. If I compare contemporary work with earlier work I can explain better what I mean.

I enjoyed recently a television showing of an old Charles Laughton film. There were, I believe, two murders in that film but in neither case did we see any close-up of the victims. There were no grisly details, but the story was there: it was tight, it was gripping, it was enjoyable, and there was genuine creativity. I think it proved the point that genuine creativity does not require a close-up of cruelty. Similarly, some may recall the television showing of "Goodbye Mr. Chips". There was the scene when the old schoolmaster finds it necessary to give a pupil six of the best. We see the cane in that film falling on to the pupil by a shadow on the wall. We do not see the actual victim. A production of today would require a close-up not only of the affected part of the anatomy, but of the anguish on the pupil's face. Yet that modern production would not tell the story any more clearly, and certainly not as enjoyably, as did that story of "Goodbye Mr. Chips".

I shall give one other example of what I consider to be a deterioration of taste, a worsening of the tone and temper resulting from the attitude which permits, and has permitted, the type of lapses to which the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, has referred. I give this example because I have a rather exaggerated affection for football. Years ago when we watched "Match of the Day" it was always prefaced by a picture of Danny Blanchflower receiving the FA Cup—a happy pleasing picture. My family always used to cheer when that scene came on. But if we look this next weekend at "Match of the Day" it will be prefaced by some quite feverish snippets of fearsome play, mostly ill-tempered. The genuine fun has gone out of it.

In the compassionate, tolerant, genuinely civilised society of the future which I think we all want, we should go back to that cheerful picture of Danny Blanchflower and we should have a society in which it would be quite impossible to have the type of things of which the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, has spoken this evening.

8.14 p.m.

Lady Saltoun

My Lords, last week, in his maiden speech, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield said that he welcomed the assurance that the Hunt Committee had given that cable operators would be bound by existing standards of good taste and decency. I cannot take a very complacent view of existing standards, which have been falling for the last 30 years. I support all that has been said this evening by the noble Lords, Lord Nugent and Lord Swinfen; the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth; the noble Earl, Lord Longford; and the noble Lord, Lord Beswick. I would particularly like to add something to what the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, has just said. He gave us two examples, the last of which was "Goodbye Mr. Chips", where a great deal was left to the imagination.

One of the results of leaving things to the imagination is that people's imaginations develop. If we do not leave anything to the imagination, then the imagination ends up dying.

In an age where watching television has ousted all other occupations as the principal recreation of the vast majority, broadcasting organisations have enormous responsibility because behaviour seen on the screen comes to be regarded as normal and acceptable. Television is now the principal teacher and mentor of many people, and television personalities are their idols. This is especially the case with young people, whose views and standards are still being formed. People think that it must be all right because they saw it on the television, just as they say, "It must be true because I read it in the paper".

Another point which I have noticed during my life and which is very sad is that the more you rub your nose unnecessarily in unpleasant things, such as, rape, torture, cruelty and so forth, the less you are shocked and revolted by them. You grow a protective skin, and with the diminution of horror the urge to fight them diminishes, too. It is sad, but I am afraid it is true.

I cannot see that the argument used by BBC personnel that: The 1980s are an especially difficult time to judge a moral consensus, since it is not clear there is one", is a valid excuse. The complaints that the BBC receives and does nothing about are only the tip of an iceberg, since many people are too busy, lazy, shy or illiterate to write and complain, or they do not know where to write or do not have any writing paper. Many do not have a telephone, or know where to ring. Moreover, even if they did, we all know perfectly well how tough and self-assured one has to be not to be fobbed off by some minion who is protecting the boss.

I should like to give an example. Earlier this year a very nasty rape case was tried in Edinburgh. The trial was reported in considerable, sordid detail on "Reporting Scotland" at 6 p.m.—a time when even quite young children are watching. This cannot be necessary, and I thought with horror of them hearing the grisly details. But I am ashamed to say that I was too lazy to write or ring up and complain.

I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield, who both said last week that they did not think that electronic locks to prevent children watching undesirable programmes would be much use. I agree with them for the additional reason that in many cases I do not see the parents managing to keep the key secure or the combination secret. I cannot help wondering why television should be allowed to bring into people's homes language and scenes which are offensive to many. Violence, indecency and blasphemy are not necessary ingredients of good entertainment. Most of the best playwrights and scriptwriters of the past entertained with wit. Think of Shakespeare, Sheridan, Wilde, Shaw, Gilbert, Anouilh and Rattigan.

Finally, it seems to me that it is seldom that standards are so high that they are not capable of being raised. Surely none but the highest and best is good enough for this country.

8.20 p.m.

Viscount Buckmaster

My Lords, like most of your Lordships, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, for having raised this very important matter. I should also like to endorse very warmly what has been said by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford. May I also add my appreciation of the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, because I wish to speak this evening about the effect of these harmful television programmes on the ethnic minorities, some of them, in Britain.

Perhaps I could remind your Lordships that, according to the latest figures produced by the Home Office—and, of course, these figures are not absolutely reliable and, as your Lordships will probably realise, they relate to 1981—there are 53,697,000 inhabitants of these islands, of whom 3,375,000 are aliens. The largest of these ethnic groups—and I wish to speak briefly about the Pakistanis, the Indians and the West Indians—is the Indians. But, as some of your Lordships will probably agree, as you have friends among them, perhaps the ethnic group which is most affected by pornography is the Pakistanis who number 283,000. Indeed, when dealing with Pakistanis one must also include other Moslems, the grand total of which comes to just about 1¼ million.

I am quite convinced that the vast majority of Pakistanis in this country are deeply disturbed by many of these programmes. Indeed, I know that there are Moslems who find pornography in any form absolutely abhorrent. The complaints stem mainly from the influence of these programmes on children, a point which has been made by several speakers in the debate this evening. Here I would remind your Lordships that Moslems object not only to pornography in all forms, but also to the permissive attitude in many of our schools and the ultra-explicit forms of sex education, again found in many schools. As your Lordships will remember, this subject was discussed both in your Lordships' House and in another place.

On another occasion I wearied your Lordships with an exposition of Moslem theology in the context of pornography, and I have no intention of doing the same again. But perhaps I could remind your Lordships that Moslems—even those who do not practise their religion—believe that the Koran is the word of God as revealed to the Prophet Mohammed and, therefore, the teachings of Mohammed are unassailable and immutable. Immutable is the essential word, because I fear that all too often we have been somewhat flexible in our interpretation of Holy Scriptures. I hope that the right reverend Prelate will forgive me for saying this because I am not undermining Christianity. But this idea of the inflexibility of the Scriptures is surely very well expressed in that wonderful hymn which contains the words: Laws which never shall be broken, For our guidance He hath made". The teachings of Mohammed, like those of Christ, emphasise that decency and self-discipline should rule our lives.

Let me turn now to the Indians, who number 719,000—a very large figure indeed. Most of them of course are Buddhists and Hindus. I cannot claim to have studied either the Buddhist or the Hindu Scriptures, but even a very superficial acquaintanceship with these Scriptures—and, of course, there are big differences between them—will reveal that they emphasise basically the spiritual rather than the carnal nature of man. I note that some noble Lords will immediately say, "What about the erotic sculptures which one sees in so many Hindu temples?" To that I would reply that the films which are now produced in India and, indeed, those produced throughout the Moslem world, are noticeable for their remarkable restraint—some of us might even say puritanical restraint—which confine amorous advances to the most decorous and chaste kiss.

I will now turn to the West Indians, most of whom, as your Lordships are aware, are very devout practising Christians. Their number in Britain—and, again, I speak very broadly—is 519,000. I think that many of your Lordships will agree that the breakdown in moral standards so noticeable in West Indian families contrasts sharply with the very strict moral code still enforced by most Pakistanis. Most West Indian parents would blame this breakdown on the media. Here I would most strongly endorse what the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, has said; that a great many of these people—and this applies to all the ethnic groups—would complain if they knew how to do so. But, of course, they do not. In many cases their knowledge of English is embryonic, if not almost nonexistent.

This brings me to a general point which I think must be made. It is this. However harmful pornography may be in all its forms—and I am thinking of the discussion on pornography when the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, moved his earlier Bill, but tonight we are thinking particularly of the media, television and so on—I would put it to your Lordships that it is doubly harmful to people with an inadequate comprehension of English. They tend to see a programme to which the more sophisticated of us would pay no attention at all, but these people with a very limited comprehension of English are very often gravely disturbed because they cannot fully comprehend what they see. I shall not labour this point.

However, some noble Lords—and probably most noble Lords would take this view—will say: "The ethnic minorities have their own standards; they have their own cultures and their own way of life. Let them go their own way. They come to Britain; they must accept our way of life; they must accept our pattern of culture; they must acccept what they see and hear on the media. Certainly we cannot restructure our programmes to take account of all their susceptibilities". Of course we cannot, but I would say that we are making some progress in this direction. There is an early morning programme in Urdu on Sunday morning, which I think is a splendid development. The producers of distasteful programmes will, one hopes, bear in mind how much many of such programmes tarnish the image of Britain in the eyes of many of our foreign residents as well as foreign visitors. There are surely still some foreigners, here and abroad, who remember the days when British standards of morality shone like a lantern throughout most of the world.

8.30 p.m.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, as your Lordships are probably well aware, my noble friend Lord Nugent and I have hunted in couples in this jungle for quite a long time, and I am sure it would be his wish that I should start my remarks by thanking all those who have taken part in the debate on his Question. It would be invideous to select anyone for special mention, except that I think he would agree with me in acknowledging what pleasure it gives us both to listen to the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, and the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, who belong to the generation of our children, here backing us up; it disposes of the charge that we are just a pair of old squares who have got left behind by the times.

My noble friend complains of the disregard in spirit of a Ministerial directive in the annual report of the BBC and, to a lesser extent, that of the IBA. That disregard amounts, in my view, to a piece of effrontery which should carry its consequences, though it probably will not. I speak as an ex-governor of the BBC and it is a grief to me that an organisation to which I was once proud to belong has disgraced itself with such frequency in the context of what we are describing.

The original function of the BBC was to educate, inform and entertain the public, and the entertainment lobby of the BBC has always managed somehow or other to erode the other two functions. Where they have managed to resist it, there the standard of the BBC is higher than any other public broadcasting corporation in the world. It is because its entertainment standards have sunk below what I expect that I want to wind up by saying something of law and leadership, because the situation in which we find ourselves results from a collapse of both.

The law on obscenity is in a right mess. We once had a law which conformed to the standards of what people were accustomed to and was respected accordingly. There was little problem of enforcement. There were some great areas which barrack-room lawyers briefed for the defence could infiltrate, and so its uncertainties were a potential embarrassment to some, not all, of those who were engaged in literature, the stage and, of course, the much more powerful advertising interests on which they depended. Their lobbies proceeded to widen the scope of legal tolerance by rendering the law totally ineffective.

The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, insists that it could not be otherwise. He accuses my noble friend of banging the same old drum, in witness whereof he rattles around on top of it like the same old pea—and he and I have been sparring partners for far too long for him to take any offence at that, which was by way of a jest. I think it possible to create difficulties in this subject by confusion—confusing energy with violence—confusing violent activities with energetic activities; boxing and all-in wrestling. They are energetic activities, but they are ritualised. They take place in the presence of a ringmaster under rules, Queensberry rules and so on. Inflicting pain is not the object of the exercise. It is only a side effect which may happen from time to time and, if it is excessive, the bout is stopped. A match can be won by neat footwork just as much as by raw beef, and in this context I am reminded of an old directive of Churchill's during the war, which went: The difficulties speak for themselves. Tell me how it may be done". That is what we are concerned with. In the absence of law you open the field to the anarchy of the spirit whose vanity flattered itself as enlightment in the 18th century, as rationalism in the 19th and as liberal humanism in the mid and late 20th century, though its humanism has nothing whatever in common with the Christian humanism of the Renaissance or the Cambridge Platonists of our own 17th century. Anarchy is never enlightened, never rational, never liberal and never humane. Only vanity can make it appear so. Its most penetrating critic, who punctured its vanity, was of course G. K. Chesterton in an elder generation, with C. S. Lewis a good follow-up in the generation that followed.

Currently, what is the nonsense that we are asked to believe? It is that literature, the stage and the entertainment industry generally are plants of such tender growth that they will wilt unless allowed to express themselves by violating millennial taboos. The restrictions that were observed, either consciously or unconsciously, by Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Pope and the whole gamut of our literary giants until about 10 years ago are now alleged to be intolerable shackles. Whoever heard such rubbish?

Of course, our classical authors had occasional lapses into coarseness. They lived in rougher times. But though they were sometimes coarse, they did not revel in it; they did not dive into it and swim round. Their works did not teem with it. What our permissive literature and stage reflect is simply the poverty of wit—with which the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, dealt so well—in relation to the soaring demands for scripts. So, because they cannot write Hamlets or Lears in response, they fall back on the presentation of guttersnipes in the language of the gutter.

The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, argues thus: "We mark bereavement in Europe by wearing black. They mark bereavement in China by wearing white. Therefore, there is no absolute meaning to the word 'bereavement' ". That is simply the semantic anarchy of the liberal humanist. I see no originality or merit whatever in standing on one's head or doing the opposite of what comes naturally or traditionally. You can programme a computer into doing that. Clowns in a circus stand on their heads because they are paid to. Children in playground stand on their heads out of joie de vivre. I am told that to attempt to drink water when standing on one's head can be a cure for hiccoughs, but I have never heard any other commendation for it. Any third-rate speaker knows that, if he has lost the attention of his audience, he can recapture it by telling a dirty joke. The experienced know very well that this only entails the standards getting dirtier and dirtier, until there is a row about it, and the experienced avoid that accordingly.

What is the basis for our taboos on this subject? They are not just arbitrary. Animal species differ according to whether they have a sense of privacy with repect to their sexual and excretory functions. Cats have a profound sense of privacy. They are clean about the house and cover up their droppings, given an earth box in which to do so. Dogs are quite different; they treat them as matters of social interest. Men resemble cats rather than dogs in this respect. The olfactory aspects of sex and excretion arouse aversion, and activities connected with them are conducted in private and tabooed in public. That is the basis for all our taboos in this field.

But, since these matters cannot be ignored, we have a double vocabulary for dealing with them when it is necessary; a clinical vocabulary for serious usage when occasion calls for it, and an aggressive, taboo-breaking, violent vocabulary for violent contexts. Swear words are verbal violence. They are nearly all dialect words which have gradually changed in pronunciation with the years, but I will not go into the etymology of the four-letter word here. Packing a script with four-letter words accordingly heightens the violent element in whatever is broadcast. Is there not enough violence in the world without the humanist vanity defending its enhancement?

The law being a dead letter, I turn to leadership. What was the use of my noble friend and me producing a Private Member's Bill to repair the damage? Your Lordships very kindly gave it a Second Reading. You responded to our lead when given. But the Government would neither respond to our lead nor give a lead themselves. They could not control the other place in this matter, so we were told, and our Bill, mutilated in Committee, might make matters even worse. My Lords, could it make matters even worse?—I rather doubt it. But what kind of leadership is that? What kind of quality does it attribute to the other place?

Therefore I turn in imagination—because he is not there—to the noble and learned Lord who usually sits on the Woolsack, an old and much admired friend, a Christian, and a man of principle. I cannot believe him to be undisturbed by the sorry mess that we are in. What can he do? Well, I suppose that he could mobilise the Law Commission into giving us a draft Bill that would put matters back to where they were. But what use would that be if the Government would not defend it in the other place against mutilation in Committee? For myself, I do not believe this tale of governmental impotence. They are not impotent when they want not to be and "I can't" is what everybody says when they do not want to be bothered. They pretend that they cannot when in truth they will not try for lack of the will to do so.

But law is only a minor, an exceptional, force in society's leadership. Leadership does not dominate writ in hand. Do you suppose, my Lords, that if we could bring back Lord Reith from the Elysian Fields to be governor-general of the BBC, he would ask for the law to be changed? No; he would make people behave themselves merely through force of character. If you do not believe me, my Lords, go to Monkey Hill in the Zoo. So long as the dominant baboon plays his role as such, the colony is at peace, and, if he weakens, all is anarchy and confusion.

Government is an art so old that many of its principles are clothed in a dead language. "Oderint dum metuant", said Tiberius Caesar, who governed Rome by no means ineptly. "Let them hate so long as they fear". It was a principle in the Roman legions that soldiers must fear their officers more than the enemy. In a somewhat more modern idiom, and in the context of the BBC, the director-general must be more afraid of the chairman of the board than he is of his own director of programmes. If so, we shall have institutional government to our liking. Central Government cannot manage everything, and must delegate; but they cannot shirk responsibility for doing so effectively. If it is the other way round, if the chairman of the board does not exert his authority, we shall have anarchy, with subordinate levels doing exactly as they please.

Once upon a time, in mid-career, I was asked to fill in a questionnaire which asked me to state the single most frustrating factor in my professional life. After some thought, I answered as follows: Obstruction by subordinates who think I exist for their purposes instead of they for mine. But though it takes time, which I grudge, to disillusion them, they have to be told, and if necessary shown, that theirs is the way to anarchy, up with which I will not put". Leadership is the missing factor. We do not need new law to force public corporations to be staffed at the top with men of principle and force of character. All they need is backing when those principals refuse to let their subordinates follow bad examples set by the stage, the "porno" shops, the sex shops, or wherever else the infiltration comes from. Here the Government can act without having their purposes mutilated in the other place. They can get rid of the bureaucratic milksops who are currently answerable as governors for the executive behaviour of the BBC and the IBA—men who allowed a quite clear ministerial directive to be bypassed by the "smoothies" who drafted their report or complaints, as my noble friend has complained. He has said everything that needs saying on that score, and I shall leave him with the last word on it. I have also nothing to add to what I have said, except to summarise it by way of emphasis.

When the chief executive, director-general, or whatever title he goes by in any organisation—it does not matter—finds the chairman of his board a more intimidating personality than he does the director of programmes, you will have government. If it is the other way round, you will have anarchy, as you have today. When that happens, sack the chairman of the board and replace him with someone not afraid to sack the chief executive in order to replace him with another chief executive not afraid to sack the director of programmes. You will then have government, and the governors will be doing what they have currently forgotten they are there for: leading by force of character, and leading from in front. Confucius said it all in 500 BC. Let the emperor be an emperor, the father a father, and the son a son. Let everybody play their proper part, including the chairman of the board.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, for giving us the opportunity to reopen the debate of 3rd November 1980. In opening this evening's debate he said that standards had continued to deteriorate since that time, and he gave your Lordships various examples. Indeed, he quoted the number of four-letter words used in a certain programme—

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me, I should like to say for the record that I did not quote them. I quoted the number, but not the words.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, I accept the correction. I think we must accept that although the previous debate was only two years ago, there have been considerable changes since that time. There have of course been changes in public values, but there have also been changes in technology. This was a point that we discussed at some length last week, when we debated the Hunt Report on cable television. I think that what your Lordships found most hilarious on that occasion was the suggestion in the Hunt Report that there could be attached to a cable television set a special security device which would prevent children having access to the indecent channel. Each noble Lord who mentioned that point in the debate was absolutely convinced that in the twinkling of an eye an intelligent 13-year-old could have worked out the solution to the particular unlocking device.

The mushrooming of the home entertainment market now and in the immediate future will mean that it will be increasingly difficult for any form of effective central control to be exercised, even if we feel that that is the right thing to do. The advent and growing popularity of the video machine means that any programme can be seen at any time of the day, and video tapes containing material of a violent, indecent of profane nature can be fairly readily hired by anybody. So when we talk about what people actually see, we should be aware of the technological changes that have taken place and that are now much more freely available than they were when we discussed this matter two years ago. It is against that particular background that we are debating this Unstarred Question this evening.

Thus I am bound to ask: What role can Parliament in fact perform in setting standards? Effectively, it can set standards only for the public service channels. The standards that we have tried to ensure are that programmes are of a high quality, are innovative, do not offend, and so on. By and large we have been successful in that, and, indeed, it is generally accepted that the standards of television programmes in Britain are much higher than those in America.

The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, referred in particular to the IBA annual report for 1981–82, which dealt with the number of complaints. The report showed that, of a total of 1,375 complaints received by the authority during 1981, 296 (or 21.6 per cent.) were concerned with taste and decency, and that 69 complaints (or 5 per cent.) were concerned with violence. Therefore, slightly more than 25 per cent. of the complaints were concerned with taste, decency or violence.

The other areas of major concern were the question of impartiality, on which there were 220 complaints, or 16 per cent.; and the odd item (at the end, necessarily) was general, 25 per cent. There were 19.6 per cent. on scheduling. It is interesting to note that the number of complaints in 1981 was almost half the number of complaints received by the Authority in 1980.

The right reverend Prelate felt that it would be a very good idea if there were a few more complaints. I should certainly welcome that so long as they were genuine complaints, written spontaneously by individuals because they wanted to complain; but when complaints are orchestrated and people are moved by one organisation or another to complain, one then begins to get rather a cloudy view as to what is the real public reaction to a particular programme. My noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby thought that the IBA had dealt well with complaints, although the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, felt it had dealt with them in a perfunctory manner.

I feel that the section on complaints in the report could be expanded and dealt with in more detail than it is, in fact. I am sure that, in view of the undertaking given by the noble Lord's predecessor in 1980, that is something which would be generally welcomed. I feel that these annual reports are a mine of information, that it should be accepted that they are a matter of public record and that more detail in this particular area, as in other areas, is something which would be welcomed. Also, I am always very much aware—and I think the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, mentioned this—of the fact that for every complaint received by the Authority there are probably 10 complainants who had intended to write but who did not get round to it. In the heat of the moment they had intended to write, but by next morning their ardour had flagged.

My noble friend Lord Beswick pointed to the importance of public vigilance. I am sure that this is right; because it is by public vigilance that those who are in command—and there was a lot of talk about command relationships by the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury—will know how they should be reacting. In some ways, I think that the governors of the BBC and those responsible in the IBA have to take public opinion into account and have to be reactive to public opinion.

The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, referred to his Bill, his charter for moral standards. I am always very wary of such Bills, because I feel that they could develop into something rather like censorship. Indeed, one finds it very difficult to define these matters. My noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby expressed the view that, if the Bill had gone to Committee stage, the Committee would have found that it was riddled with difficulties. I think we have to accept that this is so. It is difficult to set absolute standards.

There was a point which the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, made about people having a curiosity to see a particular programme, and he said that once they have expressed that curiosity they may go on to look at the programme and then become addicted. I do not see that there is anything wrong in that. If a particular programme is not good in entertainment, there is always the possibility of switching off and moving to another channel.

A number of noble Lords have complained about the amount of television viewing by adolescents after nine o'clock. I think it has been said that this is something which cannot be dictated about, and that parents bear a responsibility in the matter. I think that, with this sort of comment being made, we should realise what I was saying earlier: that, with the vast growth of the home entertainment industry, whether the programme is on before or after nine o'clock and whether somebody watches it before or after nine o'clock is increasingly becoming irrelevant; because the facilities available to people to record programmes and to watch other channels, and so on, mean that we come back to the point about the parental role being much more important than any particular standards which are laid down.

My Lords, I finish by saying that I think the question of standards is something which is very important and that public attitudes to programmes will largely determine them. On the other hand, we must guard against the danger of over-reacting to changes in standards. We must recognise that society as a whole is continually changing and that what we thought was a high standard in our childhood, and what was the standard of our childhood, is not the standard of today.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord a question? What he says may be true about sex—or, at any rate, some people would think it is true. Is he going to say that our attitudes to violence are changing? Are we moving in the right direction?

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, I think that the question here really is not what is the public attitude to violence but whether it is right; and to what extent violence should be shown on the television screen. I think that the showing or viewing of violent episodes which have happened in Northern Ireland and in the Lebanon in recent times brings home to people the full horror of these particular actions. I also feel that make-believe violence is created and that many adolescents—and one listens to some of these phone-in programmes—regard violent programmes with a certain amount of hilarity because they realise that it is not "for real".

If I may return finally to the Unstarred Question itself, it is: To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make a statement on the Annual Reports of the BBC and the IBA with specific reference to the undertaking on viewers' complaints of sex and violence… I look forward to hearing the noble Lord's reply.

8.58 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford has drawn your Lordships' attention tonight to a most important aspect of our national life. The society of this country is made up of an enormous range of different sorts of people who live their lives upon widely differing sets of principles arising from diverse cultural backgrounds and completely dissimilar sets of experience. One of the principal concerns of our present generation rests upon that very diversity. If so much is different, what is there that is the same throughout? Are we one nation, as the founder of the Conservative Party was determined that we should be and should remain; or are we a centrifugal collection of different groups, each at odds with the other, without any unifying principle other than geography? Beyond saying it again—and your Lordships have heard it from me often before—the determination that we shall be one nation is as strongly held within my party today as ever it was in the days of Disraeli.

I do not propose to follow that theme any further; but the fact that it is still an issue makes it a matter of very great importance that one of the principal common factors in the life of almost every family in the United Kingdom is provided by television. Our experience of real life on one side of the television screen is hugely diverse. But our experience of life on the other side of the screen is for a great many people scarcely less real; and of course, within a band of choices that is at present still relatively narrow, it is almost totally uniform. The question to which the noble Lord addresses our attention is therefore one of very considerable interest and importance. Television programmes are not only a powerful influence for unity; they also form an important part of the cultural and—as noble Lords have emphasised—the moral experience of their viewers. Moreover, they are projected right into the family home.

I agree with the right reverend Prelate that the influence which television programmes exert certainly extends beyond children and teenagers. I believe that it affects many more people than that; although my noble friend Lord Swinfen is right to remind us, as did my noble friend Lord Nugent, that young people tend to watch television without either supervision or even subsequent comment from adults. Also, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, reminded us, they often do so far into the night. The Government therefore recognise, as have their predecessors, that the preservation of standards in broadcasting is a matter of considerable public importance and a proper matter for public concern and control.

Your Lordships' House in particular has a right to take an interest in the way our broadcasting arrangements work, because it is by Act of Parliament that the Independent Broadcasting Authority is established and charged with the specific responsibilities towards which my noble friend's Question is directed. Moreover, the BBC is subject to the same obligations, even though they flow from its charter and its licence and agreement rather than from statute.

The obligations require the authorities to provide programmes of a high general standard and a wide range and balance. So far as possible, they are to include nothing which offends against good taste or decency, nothing which is likely to encourage or incite to crime or to lead to disorder, and nothing which is likely to be offensive to public feeling. They are also to pay special regard to the need to avoid showing unsuitable material at times when children are likely to be watching. Those times sometimes change.

The responsibility for broadcast programmes should properly rest with the broadcasting authorities appointed to act as trustees of the public interest. These comprise the British Broadcasting Corporation, the Independent BroadcastingAuthority and now also the Welsh Fourth Channel Authority. There are considerable difficulties facing those charged with this role in deciding where the lines should be drawn between acceptable programmes and those which may cause offence. There are many differing views on this both in the country and, as we have heard again today, in your Lordships' House. These judgments must necessarily be largely subjective and rarely, if ever, therefore, are they likely to satisfy everybody entirely.

It is therefore, as the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, rightly said, almost certain that what we are engaged upon tonight is a debate without end. And so it must be, since public taste and public morals have been in constant movement throughout history, and the point of balance between extreme positions has been—and indeed always will be—in motion as well. Its exact position can only be established by debate, and it can only be moved by debate as well. Therefore this occasion is one of importance.

The principal means by which the BBC and IBA account for their trusteeship is through their annual reports. They are required to submit these each year to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. He in turn, is required to lay them before Parliament. The reports contain a wide survey of the authorities' main areas of activity and make interesting reading. They also provide an opportunity for Parliament and the public to learn more about how the broadcasting services have been conducted and how the broadcasting authorities have discharged their responsibilities.

The IBA's report for the financial year 1981–1982 was presented to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary on 27th September. It was laid before Parliament on 20th October. The latest published report of the BBC covers the financial year 1980–81. The corporation's report for 1981–1982 is expected shortly and arrangements have been made for it to be laid before Parliament early next month. But for the purposes of this debate we have to look back to the BBC's report covering the period ending on 31st March 1981.

My noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford has reminded your Lordships—as have others—of what was said in this House on 3rd November 1980 by my noble friend Lord Belstead, and the circumstances in which he said it. It was in the course of the Committee stage proceedings on the provisions in the Broadcasting Bill—which became the Broadcasting Act 1980—to set up the Broadcasting Complaints Commission that your Lordships considered on 3rd November an amendment put down by my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford. The intention of his amendment was to extend the commission's terms of reference. It would have enabled the commission to consider not only complaints of unfair and unjust treatment in broadcasts but also complaints about broadcasting standards generally and, in particular, about the portrayal of sex and violence.

The amendment was resisted by the Government because it would have struck at the heart of our traditional broadcasting arrangements, under which the broadcasting authorities alone are responsible for deciding what should and what should not be broadcast. However, the Government recognised the concern about programme standards which was expressed in the debate, and in his response to it my noble friend Lord Belstead told your Lordships that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary had asked the chairmen of the BBC and the IBA to include in their annual reports: an account of the volume and nature of the complaints they received each year and of any action taken in consequence. This the chairmen had agreed to do. My noble friend Lord Nugent's Question refers to this undertaking, an undertaking given not by the Government but by the two broadcasting authorities.

How have the BBC and the IBA carried their undertakings into effect in their most recent reports? The IBA's report for 1981–1982 classifies the complaints about television programmes received during the year and explains the procedures followed in dealing with them. It shows that they received 1,375 complaints compared with 2,515 in the previous year. The IBA comment that, this is the first time in many years that the figure has fallen dramatically although there appears to be no simple explanation for this. Both my noble friend and the right reverend Prelate have suggested that the explanation might be the result of disenchantment with the process of complaint rather than growing satisfaction with the product of the companies. Be that as it may, in the breakdown of the total, 296 complaints are listed as being concerned with taste and decency, 108 with bad language and 69 with violence.

Lord Beswick

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord one question? He gives the figures of the number of complaints that have gone to the national broadcasting authority at their head office. Has he made any inquiries as to the numbers of complaints which went to the constituent regional companies?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I cannot answer that off the cuff. If I can do so before the end of this debate, I will; if not, I will write to the noble Lord. The report goes on to remark that complaints about taste and decency often express viewers' concern about the general moral standards reflected in the programmes rather than objection to a specific incident. They also say that during the year only nine programmes attracted more than 10 complaints on any grounds whatsoever.

As I have already mentioned, the BBC's report for 1981–82 is currently awaited. Their most recent report is for the year ended 31st March 1981. It contains a lengthy narrative section about public reaction to their programmes, including complaints about them. It does not provide a numerical or systematic breakdown of complaints, and I appreciate that some of your Lordships may regard it as giving an inadequate report of the complaints which the BBC receive and of the action which the corporation have taken as a result. The view that it is inadequate must relate not merely to its nature as it stands but, in particular, to the undertaking given to the Home Secretary by the BBC in 1980, as reported to the House by my noble friend Lord Belstead. I understand the feeling that the BBC's undertaking in this matter, given as it was in response to views expressed in this House, carries with it a special obligation to ensure that it is honoured.

As to the content of the annual report, I also understand the feeling that it would be more helpful if the BBC gave information in a more quantified way. That is now a matter of record, endorsed by many of your Lordships and particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, speaking with the authority of his position on the Opposition Front Bench. Of course, the strictures which have been made relate to last year's report, and we must see whether, in the report which we now await, these matters have been dealt with in a way which avoids some of the criticisms voiced in today's debate. Nevertheless, I must make it clear that the content of the report, like the content of the programmes themselves, is the corporation's responsibility. I have no doubt that those who are responsible for producing it will take careful account of the views expressed in the course of this debate. But among other things, it states that complaints about excessive violence in programmes were relatively few. The section also contains references to complimentary letters about the programmes received by the corporation, and I think it is only right that praise as well as criticism should be recorded.

It is also right that, as trustees of the public interest in broadcasting, the broadcasting authorities should take account of general public reaction to their programmes. That, as the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, very properly reminded us, may well vary markedly between the different communities which compose this nation. Catering for minority communities is not only a question of producing special programmes for special slots; it must also have at least some influence on what I call "mainstream programmes" as well. Some of those audiences, as well as many of the majority audiences, may not be at their best on paper or in making formal approaches to public bodies; but complaints are only one of the ways through which people's views are made known to those bodies. There are others.

Both authorities take a good deal of trouble to discover what the public wants to see, through audience research and public meetings, and the broadcasting authorities' advisory councils play a valuable part in bringing to the attention of the authorities what representatives of the general public upon those councils think. I would also expect that a debate of this kind in your Lordships' House will be listened to with respect as well as with interest by those on whom we have placed the responsibility for programmes.

This House is a place of interesting contrasts. In your Lordships' debate last Tuesday on the prospect of cable television, many speakers went out of their way, as the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, remarked, to extol the excellence of our present broadcasting service and the necessity of protecting it from erosion by proliferating competition. It is the standards of that same service that many of your Lordships are now describing as unsatisfactory and as calling for urgent attention. We have, of course, a different list of speakers, and in any case the area of concern to which my noble friend has directed our attention tonight is a much narrower one than that which we considered last week. It is no less important for that, my Lords, and I do not seek to draw material from the speeches of other noble Lords last week to thicken up my own text tonight, or the debate might indeed become an endless one. I only thought it worthwhile to remind your Lordships of the many strands of excellence that there are in the tapestries which the corporation and the authority weave and place before us every day and every night.

Many though they may be, however, it is clear that there is in this House grave disquiet about other strands which are also of profound importance to viewers of all ages, and particularly, I believe, to the young. Some noble Lords have felt so strongly about this that they have said that the personnel of the authorities should be changed or, indeed, that the whole constitutional structure within which they operate should be swept away and replaced. I really cannot commend that course to your Lordships. The Government accept that the arrangements that we have ought to be made to work. They take note, with a due and real concern, of the view of many of your Lordships that the way in which they are now working is, in this respect, less than satisfactory. But it is the corporation and the authority that will be taking the most particular note of this debate, and it is upon them, of course, that the duty to meet their obligations must specifically and inescapably repose.

When my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, ask me what Her Majesty's Government are going to do about their standards, the answer must be that they will draw to their attention the opinions which your Lordships have so forcefully expressed. It is not—and, in my view, it should not be—the duty of Government, which is a political institution, to censor the content of programmes on television, which is a universal medium. The right reverend Prelate has, with respect, got it right. Complaining is not only something in which this country is expert; it is a most important means of influencing the media. I commend that view to the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, and I encourage him to be, perhaps, a little more awkward and a little more vocal than is his custom—not, I hasten to add in this Chamber, but by post. To the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, I would add that the addresses are "Chairman of the IBA, 70 Brompton Road, London, SW3" and "Chairman of the BBC, Broadcasting House, London, Wl." I am almost trapped into a broadcasting mannerism to repeat that.

The price of acceptability, to paraphrase the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, in part, is public vigilance. I listened with very great interest indeed to the moderate and constructive speech which he made. In the end, the decisions are, and must be, those of the broadcasting authorities alone. They will, no doubt, continue to strive to strike the balance which meets with general public approval. The success which the public believe they have achieved in this will be shown by the level of complaints—and, of course, the level of commendations—which they receive, and which I trust will be published in their future reports in a form which can be analysed fairly readily.

The noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, introduced a speech of fascinating vigour by saying that he hunted in couples through the jungle with my noble friend. He will not mind if I congratulate him on avoiding one of the principal dangers of hunting in couples anywhere, particularly in a place with a lot of trees; so far, he and my noble friend have managed always to pass on the same side of every tree. I shall read the report of his speech with keen enjoyment, not least to see whether the purity he claimed for the language and content of the classics is entirely applicable to, for example, Chaucer or Rabelais.

In his concluding passage, my noble friend addressed himself to a wider context than broadcasting legislation—a position in which the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, notably reinforced him. He suggested that the decline in television standards was consequent on a decline in the standards of published material generally, which provides the context within which broadcasting takes place. He asked me to look again at his Bill. I shall not take up a position on that tonight, but I must take up one point which he prayed in aid of this part of his argument.

My remarks in last week's debate, about the adequacy of existing legislation to control cable television, were related to a specific question which was posed by the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, as to whether or not the Obscene Publications Act 1959 applied to programmes distributed by cable. I agreed with the noble Lord that the legal position was doubtful, and said that the Government would give further attention to the question. There are, in the Government's view, much stronger grounds for applying the criminal law to cable television programmes than there are in relation to those of broadcasters, because there will not be the same obligations placed on a public authority in relation to those programmes. My remarks were, therefore, related only to cable and not to broadcasting.

I am tempted to follow up other more general themes, to which your Lordships have addressed yourselves. I can, I think, now respond to the question which the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, asked me earlier, by saying that the IBA does not deal at all with complaints made direct to the independent television companies. The undertaking given in 1980 relates only to complaints direct to the authority. The Home Office has no information about the complaints received by the individual companies.

I would hesitate to pursue—indeed, I think I should not—the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, who in particular raised the question of whether public taste controls standards on television or whether standards on television establish new levels of public taste. But it is an important question. They are interactive, as it happens. Hence the great relevance of the question raised by the noble Earl, Lord Longford: whether the authorities seek to reflect public taste or to lead it. Doubtless he had in mind the aim which I believe the late Lord Reith avowed for the BBC: always to give the public something a little better than what they wanted. That is a question to which I am certain the BBC and the IBA will pay very careful attention tomorrow, as they will to all that has been said by all noble Lords.

Once more I should like to thank my noble friend for providing the opportunity for what has been for me, and I think for the authorities, a most instructive occasion.