HL Deb 14 December 1983 vol 446 cc262-83

4.27 p.m.

Debate resumed.

Baroness Lane-Fox

My Lords, as a relatively new "gel", though not quite so new as I was before the Statement and the ensuing debate, may I say that this is far from the first time—even in my time—that this House has had reason to be grateful to my noble friend Lord Nugent. In initiating this debate, he has told us all to sit up and take notice of the publication of the BBC's annual report, and if there is anything that niggles us now is the moment to speak up.

Like all people who are not agile enough to fight their way to places of entertainment, information and education, on most counts I am deeply grateful for the services of the BBC. It was their radio programmes that stimulated my interest in current affairs way back in 1930, when polio had wreaked its vengeance on me as a child, and it was invaluable, through the wireless, to be interested in wider events than just the dreariest prospect of splints, pain and endless exercises.

With television, these horizons have grown almost beyond comprehension. Even in the field of disability, there have been so many helpful items. Just two of these that are really of specially active use are the appeals for charities and the Ceefax sub-titling for the deaf and hard of hearing. These are tiny illustrations of how the BBC plays its part within the disability area. There are the superb productions of the classic works of Jane Austen, the Brontes and Dickens, and most documentaries, plus excellent sports programmes for us to enjoy.

But despite all these huge points in favour, even captivated television fanatics like myself are worried—dead worried—today. For long, we have tried to stand up for the BBC, saying that we like to be in with the new thinkers and writers. But—alas!—now we find that these grounds are eroded by unsavoury scenes and incidents that reach the screen. Sometimes they are just piffle and boring, and that really does not matter. But when there is an underlying message which condones and accepts episodes of violence, cruelty and sacrilege, denigrates the value of family life and makes over-explicit bedroom scenes, then it is a question of evil influence on the minds of youngsters. The news reports too often highlight the worst aspects of life, as though to add to everybody's burdens, and throw cold water, by giving them scant coverage, on the more praiseworthy episodes. I believe that a large part of the blame for this lowering of standards lies with the scriptwriters and playwrights.

I am probably not alone among your Lordships in having at one time fancied scriptwriting as a career. I enrolled with a school for such aspiring scribblers and was increasingly amazed to find that the use of four letter words was advised. It seemed as though they felt this would make the script more natural. This was surely a very sad reflection on society and an ugly reminder of unfortunate lapses into the use of unattractive language. I was wrong not to question this at the time but I was so blinded then by ambition that I swallowed the lot. Other instructions were that situations should be kept simple and plain, if possible of the kitchen sink variety.

The reason given for this advice was that it would make the stuff more saleable. Would not the model of an arresting, intriguing and enduring story such as "The 39 Steps" have been much better for tomorrow's scriptwriters? They would have had much more hope of sustaining interest and empathy without appealing to the lowest instincts. It cannot be right to discourage attempts to write amusing, interesting situations, even if they do happen to be set higher up the ladder. This method discriminated against any wish to portray the middle and professional classes, if you like to say the word, and instead forced us to search for some contrived piece, heavy with unfamiliar dialect. Needless to say, it was soon clear that I had not got the required talent. The more successful students of those days are probably the scriptwriters of today. My hope is that both the scripwriters and the buyers of scripts are going to find themselves outdated in their beliefs. The many viewers who write to local radio and complain and who ring in about BBC programmes make it clear that there is a crisper, less grubby appetite. I wonder how detailed is the attention given by the BBC to the complaints made to them.

It is because I have such a high regard and affection for the BBC and the invaluable part it plays for those who are immobilised, whether in hospitals or at home, and who are often lonely and dependent upon this link with the outside world, that I adjure all in authority not to burke the issue of trying to dismiss from the screen second rate and lower quality material. The BBC is a most powerful means of disseminating information and of raising our sights. It belongs to us all, so it is right that we should be deeply concerned with its performance. I support the campaign of my noble friend Lord Nugent.

4.34 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, like other noble Lords who have spoken, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, upon introducing this short debate. However, in contradistinction to the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, who has just spoken, I find myself not in total disagreement, but in substantial disagreement, with the noble Lord. Lord Nugent. I believe that at present the standards of the BBC, in respect, for example, of the depiction of sexual relationships, are about right. I should be horrified at further Government-imposed restriction. The corporation—indeed, all television authorities and all playwrights—must be allowed to hold up a mirror to reality, even when that reality may be distasteful to some viewers. On another point, I believe that there is no justification at all for Lord Nugent's fears about the theatre. The abolition of the censorship powers of the Lord Chamberlain has been beneficial and has removed what had become a total absurdity.

I am, on the other hand, rather concerned about two other points. First, the casual depiction of violence—violence of language and violence of action—is becoming altogether too customary. I do not regard it as the depiction of reality. I do not believe that it is customary and general in any stratum of society for violence of language and action to reach the degree which is quite wrongly displayed in some programmes, both on the BBC and on ITV. The corporation needs to keep its eye on that aspect of its activities. There may be some truth in the fears of those who believe that the decline in the standards of the police which has been reported widely recently, particularly in the case of the metropolitan police, has been modelled on television examples. There is some evidence to this effect. I believe this to be unfortunate. The BBC ought to keep its eye on all such points as this.

The second point which concerns me is the probable impact of cable television. I shall have more to say about it next week; for now, I shall content myself by saying that it is vital that a legislative maximum of 14 per cent. of foreign imports be imposed. I hope that the noble Lord. Lord Nugent of Guildford, and I will be in the same Lobby if it should prove to be necessary to vote on this issue.

Finally. I have noted recently—and I am not alone—an increase in what I would describe as the pro-Government slant of the BBC. I know that there have been some complaints to the contrary. It seems to me, however, that in recent weeks and months the BBC has been over-correcting (if, indeed, it was ever necessary; I myself did not perceive it) the slant in the other direction. However, noble Lords on the Government side thought it was necessary to correct this slant. If it was ever there, it seems to me to have been grossly over-corrected.

I fully understand that the "Beeb" is an establishment body. One expects it to reflect the accepted mores of society, but its subservience towards Ministers has reached a somewhat embarrassing point. In contrast, the hectoring of shadow ministers has become quite noticeable. Employers are buttered-up while trade unionists are insulted. I feel that the BBC has gone too far in that direction, and the attitude of some interviewers towards those who advocate the cause of peace sometimes leaves something to be desired.

Having said that, I would add that my own verdict on the BBC generally is nevertheless good to excellent, with some lapses. The BBC should watch out on one or two points and could do better here and there. I believe that in particular the BBC must join others in a fight to prevent a decline in their present standards which is likely to be brought about by the impact of cable television and satellite broadcasting. In that struggle it could well be that some of us who see differently on certain points may find ourselves in alliance.

4.40 p.m.

Lady Saltoun

My Lords, first, I must apologise to the noble Lords, Lord Nugent and Lord Elton, that due to the lengthy debate on the Ministerial Statement, I may have to leave for a previous engage- ment before the winding-up speeches. I shall, of course, read them with great care in Hansard.

Both the BBC and ITV produce some wonderful programmes, and I should like to add my congratulations on them to those expressed by other noble Lords. But I am concerned at the content of some of the programmes. As the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, has indicated, television has now replaced books, games, conversation, newspapers, and the cinema as the principal source of entertainment for the vast majority of families in this country. If a child reads something or hears something, he has to provide the picture from his own imagination, and this is limited by his experience. So when, regrettably, he gets hold of an unsuitable book or newspaper article, or hears something undesirable on the radio, it may not—I say only "may", as of course much depends on his age and how adults handle the questions that he may ask—do much harm because it may mean very little to him. But where he sees these things in pictures on the screen, his own experience is being widened, and in a most undesirable way. There is another point. When one first sees or hears something which shocks one very much, one can be greatly affected and one may feel sick or have nightmares, but if one suffers the experience repeatedly, one tends to become immune; one is no longer shocked by what ought to shock one. That is a defence mechanism to keep one sane. Perhaps I may give your Lordships an illustration. Many years ago, when I was very young, I read in a newspaper that some boys had poured petrol over a cat and set it on fire. I felt sick with horror. Now I read of similar or worse horrors and I just think "Oh dear, how dreadful", and turn the page. It is rather awful to think that children should be developing that kind of callousness.

Now, on top of everything else, we have video, and the programmes shown late at night can be taped and watched at any time of day. Far too many young children stay up well after nine o'clock at night and many parents exercise no control over their children's viewing. In view of all that there is only one answer, which is to get the sex, the violence, the tortures and the horrors off the screen, out of the home, and back into cinemas from which under-eighteens are rigorously excluded by law. Only the Government can do that. In conclusion, I should like to remind your Lordships that one of the worst crimes in the Christian calendar is the corruption of innocent children.

4.44 p.m.

Lord Auckland

My Lords, I join with those noble Lords who have thanked my noble friend Lord Nugent for enabling us to debate this very important report. I should like, as I know all your Lordships will, especially to thank those responsible for producing the report. As has already been said, it is readable, it is well illustrated, and it covers a very wide field of activities. Compared to some of the previous reports, I think that it is an admirable document.

I should like to pay a tribute to a group of people who have not yet been mentioned in this debate, but who are referred to in the report. These are the BBC correspondents, in particular those who went out to the Falkland Islands, and those in the Lebanon, and elsewhere. I have in mind people such as Brian Hanrahan and others, who daily, hourly, are risking their lives to bring, I believe, very factual, and very calm reports of what is happening in the dreadful conditions of those unhappy countries.

In that connection I should like to pay a particular tribute to the Overseas Service of the BBC. Many admirable programmes which I think must give a great deal of pleasure, but which one is not able to hear on Radio 3 or Radio 4, are repeated on the Overseas Service, sometimes at an early hour of the morning. I should in particular like to pay tribute to Margaret Howard's "Pick of the Week". I believe that this is a particularly outstanding programme. It is an example of really good editing. I try to listen to this programme every Saturday morning and I really get the gist of a great deal of news, some of it serious, some of it humorous; and it is always beautifully and charmingly presented.

Talking about presentation, I think that as an object lesson in brevity and absolute professionalism Alastair Cooke's "Letter from America" really takes the cake. It is an absolutely first-class programme. It has wit, no word is ever wasted, and so far as I am aware, offence is never given. It is a programme which I for one wish would last more than 15 minutes; I sometimes think that 30 minutes would be better, though that would probably detract from its value.

We also have the series of nature programmes, "The World About Us". We have, quite rightly, heard much about the nasty programmes, the unpleasant programmes, the programmes with sexual and violent content, and it is quite fitting that we should discuss them in a debate of this kind. But in items such as David Attenborough's nature programmes we really have television at its best. It is educational, it is immediately fascinating. I would agree with those noble Lords who have said that there are occasions when children watch too much television. I think that that is absolutely true. In fact there have been reports from various parts of the country of children falling asleep over their desks through having watched television too late the previous night. Nevertheless, these nature programmes are basically exceptionally valuable. They are also exceptionally valuable in another sense, in that they teach the young to have respect for animals.

I conclude by paying a tribute to the BBC announcers. I listened this morning to the radio tribute to the late, lamented Stuart Hibberd. What a marvellous voice, what an intensely moving voice, and how beautifully John Snagge read the lesson! Here were two great personalities of the BBC. I think that while one might make criticisms of the British Broadcasting Corporation—and there are many which can be made, but in a short debate of this kind it would be counter-productive to mention them—when one has gentlemen of that calibre, who made the news readily understandable and who caught the feel of any incident that they were describing, the BBC has much to commend it.

4.50 p.m.

Lord Howard of Henderskelfe

My Lords, I sail tonight in what I believe are largely uncharted waters. I first heard of the dreaded Addison Rules when I was serving under the chairmanship of a Member of your Lordships' House—the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger. It was a chairmanship which I found at all times enjoyable and highly instructive. As it happened, she had herself previously been a governor of the BBC. However, it was not in relation to the BBC that I served with her, nor, indeed, that she felt the compulsion to speak in this House. It was in connection with what was then known as the National Parks Commission and which later became known as the Countryside Commission.

I give this preamble only because I am fully aware that there are these conventions, and last night I took the trouble to look up the rules relating to what might or might not be done by members of boards. The rules themselves are silent as to what happens when you cease to be a member of a board, as I have ceased to be of the BBC Board of Governors. I do not, however, regard this as giving me any licence to behave in a way which I would not have been able to do if I had still been a governor or chairman of the BBC, as I was, cumulatively, for 11½ years. So I will not usurp the noble Lord's privilege of replying to any of the questions raised in this debate as to the standards of the BBC. I shall confine myself strictly to the report itself. This relates to that to which I attach, and have always attached throughout my governorship and chairmanship, the most immense importance: the accountability of the BBC.

First, in its charter the BBC is accountable to Parliament and not to individual Ministers. This is an accountability which it does not share with many other organisations. The nationalised industries have a different form of accountability. They report to Ministers. We do not preface our annual report with the kind of statement which I have seen on other documents, beginning, "Sir, We have the honour" to do this, that and the other. We are reporting to Parliament as a whole, and it is, therefore, entirely appropriate that we should have a debate about this annual report to Parliament. So we fulfil our duty in this way. In the past we have been conscious that the structure, the format and the appearance of the report has not always found favour. Every year since I have been a governor we have striven to improve it. We have endeavoured, against all the odds, to compile some of the statistics about which the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, was speaking. I hope the noble Lord is now more satisfied as to the way in which those statistics are presented in the reports.

But we have another form of accountability. It is an accountability to the public at large; to our viewers and listeners, to our licence payers. That includes viewers and listeners, licence payers, everywhere. There are not many licence payers in Northern Ireland, but there are large numbers elsewhere in this country, in Scotland and in Wales, where we have an equal duty which we recognise especially by the constitutional arrangements which apply in those countries. During the time I was on the board we endeavoured—I say "we", but I should not say that because I no longer have anything to do with the BBC: I should say the BBC endeavoured while I was connected with it—to improve that accountability. In the limited time that is available to me perhaps I can speak of some of the ways in which the BBC try to exercise that accountability.

First, let me refer to the letters. We receive a vast number of unsolicited letters. I cannot remember how many came in to what is called the programme correspondence section addressed to, "The BBC". I believe there were about 150,000 a year. These were not solicited letters and postcards of the kind which disc jockeys invite, asking for requests for records to be played. I do not include those. In addition, there are letters, probably equal in number, addressed to the producers, directors, presenters, actors and the many other people connected with programmes which the writers of the letters watch or to which they have listened. All these are answered so far as is possible. Probably the letters which it is most difficult to answer are those in the programme areas, because the producers, and so on, are all very busy making new programmes. In fact, sometimes it is so long before a programme is broadcast after it has been made that the producer has forgotten what happened in a programme which was made a year or two beforehand.

Then there are the letters to the centralised staff, if I may call them that: the director-general, the secretariat and the chairman. When I was chairman I read every single letter addressed to me—including some 3,000 letters during the Falklands affair. It is true that I did not myself dictate an answer to every single one of those letters, and your Lordships would hardly have expected me to have done so. Many answers needed information from elsewhere, and many replies were prepared in the secretariat. But all the answers were presented to me in draft form so that I could, if necessary, correct them or send them back if I thought that they did not represent a true view of what had happened.

I think it is true that during the past 10 years—I do not take any particular credit for this other than as a member of a board of 12 governors—the BBC has been more willing than previously to admit to error. Nobody can pretend that the BBC does not commit errors from time to time. It would be quite ridiculous to make any such pretence. So I hope that we have accepted more often that we make errors, and that, in future, when the BBC makes an error it will admit it.

There are various other methods by which the BBC can be accountable to the public. Public meetings are not unimportant. It is true that one cannot see a great many people during the course of a year, but many of them are influential. But, above all, holding these meetings, as the BBC does, all round the country, gives people the opportunity to air their grievances to quite high-up people among the programme staff—directors of programmes, and so on.

There are advisory councils on which some of your Lordships will have served. There are general advisory councils and about 60 other advisory bodies. If anything, the BBC has far too many, but there it is. The BBC does pay considerable regard to what they have to say. So the BBC takes its responsibility for accountability extremely seriously, and is constantly thinking about how that accountability and its relationships with its listeners, its viewers and with Parliament can be improved.

May I conclude by saying that I believe that that includes its relationship with ITV. The great and accidental merit of television, and the reason why we have the least worst television in the world, is that there is a different financial basis for ITV from that for the BBC. We are in competition at the sharp end in respect of the programmes, but not for the money to make them, although that will of course change when cable television comes about.

I have lost no opportunity, in almost every speech I have made, to say that there is more that unites than divides broadcasters. I shall continue to maintain that to my dying day. We have good television and radio. Let us try to keep it.

5 p.m.

Lord Morris

My Lords, like other noble Lords who have spoken today, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford for initiating this debate. I sincerely hope that it becomes an annual event for the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Henderskelfe, explained. I was grateful also to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, for raising the very important question of parliamentary broadcasting and the policy surrounding the decisions as to what to broadcast and what not to broadcast. At the time I could not help wondering what the odds were of the BBC remaining silent in this debate when the heady subject of itself was being debated.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich watched the bridge programme in which a lady was frustrated into using a short sharp prayer. I, too, watched the programme. I think that the right reverend Prelate was extremely lucky. In the heyday of contract bridge, when it was accelerating in popularity, one man in America got so angry with his partner, who also happened to be his wife, that he stood up at the table and shot her. Bridge players among your Lordships will have a great deal of sympathy with what happened and may believe that that is perhaps the best possible example of justifiable homicide that one could have.

I wish to speak only on the External Services. It is worth recalling that it was in this House in July 1981 that your Lordships voted against the proposed swingeing cuts in the External Services of the BBC. It was owing in part to that decision that almost half those services were restored. I believe that half a loaf is better than no bread at all, but the decision still meant that much nourishing protein has been denied to many people who had hitherto looked to the BBC, and the BBC alone, for cultural and intellectual sustenance. I am talking about the services in the vernacular in particular. I find it astonishing—and it still to this very day hurts terribly—that, although the Government have increased the services to Latin America, the BBC still does not broadcast in the vernacular to Spain. We should consider the considerable influence that Spain has on its partners in Latin America. As in other walks of life, if one man wants to influence another, he should speak to that man's wife. It is that sort of relationship which Spain has with Latin America.

In that debate in July 1981 my noble friend Lord Carrington—poor man—had to answer for the Government. It is typical of the man—he is a man of immense courage—that on 11th August of this year, on Channel 4 News, he said that he regretted making those savings in the BBC External Services, that they were counter-productive and that, the money saved was trivial compared to the damage done". That is precisely the point that the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Henderskelfe, made in his admirable foreword to the report, when he wrote: I cannot refrain from adding that the Falklands War demonstrated the folly of cutting our External Services, for the sake of minuscule savings". The importance of the External Services cannot be overestimated. That importance is particularly apparent when one travels abroad. Not so long ago I was in Peking. In a factory I watched a very young man filing a piece of metal set in a vice. He turned to me and said in perfect English, "Where are you from?". I replied, "London", and he said, "Excellent". That idiom made it clear that he certainly did not learn his English from "Voice of America". I asked him where he had learned it and his reply was, "The BBC of course". In particular, he referred to the brilliantly successful programme in China, "Follow Me".

With your deep knowledge of history, your Lordships will know that the very first thing that a successful conqueror will do is to impinge on the conquered his language. I have always believed that far and away our most important export is our language. Those who follow the work of the External Services, and indeed of the World Service, will know that the language programmes are a vital and highly successful part of the endeavour.

I do not think that we should look so much to the past but to the future. I apologise for not giving my noble friend the Minister notice of this question, but bearing in mind the 50 years' experience of broadcasting to countries abroad of the External Services, I ask him whether Her Majesty's Government will consider consultations with the External Services on the subject of direct broadcasting by satellite. As your Lordships are aware, the concept that the heard word can also be seen through satellite broadcasting in those countries that are closed societies is startling and an exciting opportunity for the future.

I do not wish to quote extensively from what the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Henderskelfe, said in the foreword to the report, but the closing sentence states: Britain should be proud of a public service broadcasting system which is the envy of the rest of the world". Your Lordships will recall that, year in and year out, Time magazine invariably comes out with the phrase, "Britain rules the air waves". It is not talking only of the domestic services but also the External Services—the Overseas Service and the World Service.

5.8 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, it may reasonably be asked whether it was necessary for me to inflict myself on the House at this stage of the afternoon. For various reasons it is impossible for me not to speak in the next debate being initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, and I have an Unstarred Question on parole following that. However, it is impossible for me to draw back from saying a few words in support of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, who in the eyes of many of us supplies a moral leadership of a Christian character in your Lordships' House.

The last words of the noble Lord, Lord Morris, send me back to the last words of the foreword to the report by the former chairman of the BBC. Lord Howard Henderskelfe, who has addressed us in a most interesting way. The words were: Britain should be proud of a public service broadcasting system which is the envy of the rest of the world". It is questionable how much good it does beating our breasts and saying that we are the envy of the rest of the world. I do not say that it does any particular harm, although it may be a little dangerous if it is overdone. But this spirit of complacency must not be allowed unduly to affect us.

Your Lordships may recall that in a recent debate the Lord Chief Justice and other speakers laid great stress on the moral decline of this country, which has led to an increase in violent crime. One is hound to say that those who occupy high places in politics, the BBC or even in the arts have a considerable responsibility for what happens in our country, for good or for ill. It is not an isolated responsibility. The BBC—and I echo the words about their being the envy of the world—are far from perfect, and I think it is highly desirable on these occasions to point the way to improvement on the part of the BBC. It may be asked, "In what connection is this improvement to lie?" I would say that it lies in directions which have been indicated quite often by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, and others in this House.

Some years ago, Mary Whitehouse, who was treated with great contempt by a former director-general of the BBC, was described by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, as "speaking for millions", and though the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, is perhaps not so well known to the general public, I should think that he speaks for millions in the general line that he has taken today and on other occasions.

The question I put—and I put it in the most respectful way to the noble Lord, Lord Howard, and other high people in the BBC—is: are we going to accept any responsibility for the moral decline in the country, if that decline is accepted as a fact? They may say: "We just reflect opinion. We are just there to please the public, and we seem to be pleasing them quite sufficiently". On the other hand, it might be thought that they are also there to improve the moral standards of the country and to give some kind of moral leadership.

With two other speeches to come, I assure your Lordships that I shall not detain the House for more than another moment, but I think that we must look for progress along the lines suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent. I think it is impossible to expect any chairman of the governors, however distinguished and admirable he may be. to set out on his own to introduce or impose his own moral standards on a reluctant nation. More has to he done on various levels and of course I am not exempting the politicians.

I am sure that we must look in the direction indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent. We must look for changes in the laws in the way that he suggests. I hope that I shall be forgiven for using up four minutes to back up the noble Lord, Lord Nugent.

5.12 p.m.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, like other speakers, I am greateful to the noble Lord. Lord Nugent, for giving us the opportunity to debate this report. It is now nearly a quarter of a century since I put in a two-year stint as a governor of the BBC, and it may be that my knowledge of its affairs is a little rusty by this time. But there are one or two peculiarities about it which have to be noted.

The director-general is a long-term career appointment which is made by the board of governors. He is not appointed by a Minister—or he was not in my time. He is selected by the governors. His salary is paid by them, his terms of appointment are fixed, and he is their creature. The members of the boards are themselves short-term appointments, made by a Minister. The consequence of that is that the director-general only has to wait for a few years before the composition of the board has so changed that collectively it has quite forgotten that he is its creature, and increasingly he becomes an institution, and the board members become birds of passage. In my day there were enough hawks on the board to reinforce good taste. That was not difficult because the BBC and its director-general were on their best behaviour. The Pilkington Committee was sitting, and it was extremely important for the future of the corporation that Pilkington should come up with a good report—and he did, in most glowing terms. As soon as it was published, the director-general immediately took the bit between his teeth and launched the BBC into its permissive age, starting with "That Was The Week That Was".

There are one or two points which need to be understood here. The BBC is incorporated by a succession of nominally Royal Charters which are, in fact, parliamentary charters beginning with the charter in 1926, which gave it its terms of reference; namely, to be a means of education and entertainment". Subsequent charters from 1936 onwards added information to education and entertainment.

On the whole, I think it is true that the public prefers entertainment to education and information, and as a result, education and information tend to be distorted by imposing on them a flavour of entertainment. Of course, information and education can be naturally entertaining on occasions. We have all listened to coronations, state occasions and papal visits, and the BBC are nonpareil in this respect; they do it very well. But without natural entertainment, its artificial imposition as a flavour on information and education distorts them and plays down to the audience, which as a result can be relatively misinformed.

Like every bureaucracy—and the BBC is a bureaucracy—whose members are concerned with their self-perpetuation, programme directors and their subordinates, of course, want to give the public what it likes. Where naturally entertaining spectacles are available, they do very well; but remembering that within every 24 hours there are roughly 34 hours of television time and some 48 hours of radio time, the really are almost perpetually short of naturally occurring spectaculars. After they have scraped the bottom of the barrel for the genuine article, they have to make up the deficiency with low-grade entertainment, and with the exploitation of sex, violence, and what appeals to the worst rather than the best in human nature. What has failed us—and I must be frank about this—is leadership at the top.

I recall Reith, a friend of mine: a tough, driving, chief executive if ever there was one. He was a man of conviction rather than of doubt; of principle rather than of expediency; and a servant of the light as he had been brought up to worship it. The type of complaint that Mary Whitehouse and the National VALA continuously address to the BBC would have been unthinkable in Reith's day. In contrast to Reith, Carleton Greene, who initiated the permissive age, liked bawdy jokes, made no secret of it and did not see what was wrong with it. He used to say, "Why not?" Why not, my Lords? Simply because bawdiness predictably always degenerates, as of course it has.

Pursuing the argument of the right reverend Prelate, which was to some extent reinforced by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, I do not believe that bad language is ubiquitous. I do not encounter it in your Lordships' House or in the bar; I do not encounter it on the way here or on the way back; I do not encounter it when I go shopping or go about any other business on which I am engaged. I only get it on "the box", which is quite unrepresentative of the cross-section of the way that people behave. In fact, it is right that nearly everyone does not use bad language nearly all the time: it is a relief to feelings from time to time if you hit your thumb, instead of the nail, with the hammer. You may say a bad word, and that is better than throwing the hammer through the window, breaking the glass and letting it all fall on to the head of some innocent passer-by. So swearing does have a social function, hut it can be overdone.

It is claimed, of course, that the permissive revolution exorcised the public image of "Auntie BBC". It did nothing of the kind. Reith, as the architect of "Auntie BBC", had left donkey's years before then. "Auntie BBC" was merely a complacent bureaucracy: bureaucracies always are. The BBC still is, as witness the remarkable self-confidence in the noble Lord, Lord Howard, that he has improved on the number of mistakes to which the BBC admits publicly compared to when he took over 11½ years ago. I am not concerned with whether they admit mistakes but with whether they correct mistakes. Going back to Reith's time, they did not make mistakes; but one looks now to see that they correct them.

The report which is the subject of the debate, in so far as it deals with complaints, is not nearly as good as the IBA report; but we are not debating the IBA report, so I will make only a brief reference to it. Forget, as the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, invited your Lordships to, the relatively small number of people who, it is claimed, complain: concentrate instead on the number of programmes complained of. People do not complain as frequently as they might because experience has told them that it gets them nowhere. Mrs. Whitehouse tells me that in the period covered by this report there were complaints about some 80 programmes. That is a much more significant figure. It means that between one and two programmes a week are the subject of complaints, and I can only say to the successor of the noble Lord, Lord Howard, that the sooner they get on with correcting those mistakes the better. If there was a Reith there, we know quite well that he would do it immediately. There would be a tough, driving chief executive's directive forthwith, and anyone who did not comply with it would be out on his ear. So let the governing body remember that, and see to it accordingly.

Earl de la Warr

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, can he help the House by telling us how much he personally watches television in view of the devastating comments that he has just been making?

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, I am not quite sure that I understood the noble Earl's question. Did he ask how much I wanted television?

Noble Lords

Watched television.

Earl de la Warr

My Lords, I asked the noble Earl how much he watched television, in view of the impression he had given that he did not watch it very much.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, I watch it regularly.

5.20 p.m.

Lord Gridley

My Lords, I must apologise to your Lordships for the fact that I have only just arrived from the Crown Court at Taunton where I was giving character evidence in respect of an individual suffering a charge of shoplifting. My remarks must therefore he tempered and made short because I have not heard the tenor of the arguments. I shall therefore develop only the points that I wish to make myself. I hope that they have not already been made.

I have the greatest admiration for the BBC and a certain amount of sympathy for the noble Lord, Lord Howard, the former chairman of the BBC, who is present to hear the comments made in this debate. I hope that anything that I say will not be taken too much to heart. The points that I intend to put before your Lordships are made in all sincerity. I should like to deal with two issues: first, hostile questioning; and the other is the investigative television that goes out sometimes from the BBC. The hostile question, I notice, is often used against someone possibly holding high office under the Crown and who has a great deal of responsibility for the office that he holds. It is an office that should have a certain amount of respect.

We are at present suffering, I feel, from a certain amount of indiscipline and a lack of respect for authority. I feel sometimes in my bones—I say this in all sincerity to the noble Lord, LordHoward—that this is not a good example to set to our young who are sometimes difficult to discipline and who are encouraged, as I know only too well, to challenge authority in some of our schools. This is an accepted fact. It has gone on for some years.

When remarks of this kind have been made previously in your Lordships' House, the answer generally coming from the Minister who replies is that the BBC will no doubt note carefully what has been stated in your Lordships' House but that the Government see no reason why they should interfere in any circumstances.

My second point deals with the investigative type of television that goes out sometimes from the BBC. At the end of the programme, following this investigative form of television, the announcer invites the public in general to write, if they have any complaints, to the BBC, who will investigate. I do not know on what grounds the BBC justifies making such a statement or how it justifies saying that it is capable of making an investigation. Often, when that happens, people seeing themselves on television will find that much of what they said has been cut out of the tape and that the programme transmitted to the public was what the BBC decided should go out.

I know that when letters have sometimes been sent to the BBC requiring a fuller transcript of the questioning of the individual in this investigative form of television, such access has been denied. I hope that my remarks will be regarded as a constructive contribution. I believe that the hostile questioning and the investigative type of television on our screens does harm to the BBC. I have a great affection personally for the BBC. I hope that their programme directors will perhaps examine the two points that I have made. I make them in all sincerity and I hope in a constructive sense.

5.26 p.m.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, I share the general gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, for introducing this important debate. I would not venture to dissent on the main thrust of his remarks if only because the time of screening of the programmes about which he complains is a time when, unless I am detained in the House by the Whips' Office, I am normally in bed. My only regret is that the noble Lord did not perhaps focus and nor, I think have other noble Lords focused, on another aspect of the problem of children or young people and television. That is the general effect of a largely passive hobby replacing activity. This is something that educationists are worried about: and, although it is hardly the fault of the BBC if mothers prefer to keep their children quiet in this way, it is something that we should always bear in mind.

In rising to make one particular criticism of the BBC, I am conscious of my own tremendous debt to that institution. Music on sound radio has been one of the great sustaining forces in my life. I would almost be prepared to say that I would not have minded if television had never been invented were it not for the fact, as the late Lord Clark and others have shown, some aspects of the visual arts and of archaeology can derive presentation from television that is very difficult in any other way.

I should perhaps add that I owe a different debt of gratitude to the BBC. In my younger days, when I had more acceptable opinions, I was a fairly frequent broadcaster and the money that this brought in was a valuable addition to the exiguous income of a don. I want however to expand briefly on a remark that I made in the course of the debate last week on the televising of your Lordships' debates when I suggested that, although there was confidence in the BBC and the IBA as institutions, there was not general and universal confidence in all aspects of their operations or in all members of their staff. I was referring of course to political broadcasting, partly of the kind to which the noble Lord, Lord Gridley, and also the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, referred. I note that this is a consideration in the minds of the authors of the report because the new chairman says that "the maintenance of editorial freedom" is one of his first priorities.

The maintenance of editorial freedom means something quite different in the case of the BBC to what it means in the case of a newspaper. In a newspaper, the scope is usually limited enough for an editor to be responsible for what appears in its columns. The director-general of the BBC cannot possibly be responsible for the hours of broadcasting that go out. Indeed, he could only himself sample the tiniest portion of it.

I find myself in a curious mirror alliance with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, in saying that one gets a feeling that political programmes are to some extent biased. The noble Lord believes that they are biased in one direction. I believe that they are biased in another, and this is something that ought to concern the BBC.

When one talks of striking a balance people tend to get the image of a pendulum. We take the pendulum at dead centre and we say, "We will allow it to go so much in one direction and so much in another, and as long as those two swings are roughly proportional we are covering the spectrum fairly". The point is, of course, that it depends at what point the pendulum is resting.

Let me give a concrete example. One might say that one general attitude to social and political problems in this country is represented by the writers in, and particularly the letter writers to, the Guardian newspaper. Another general attitude is represented by the writers in, and the letter writers to, the Daily Telegraph. If we say that we will regard the Guardian as the central position around which we will build a balance, we will get one type of political and social balance. If we took the Daily Telegraph as our example we would, with the same degree of fairness, have quite a different coverage in our choice of speakers, choice of topics and the way in which they are treated.

My impression—and I do not think that it is surprising—is that the young people who now make up a large proportion of those who are responsible for interviewing and presenting programmes on topical issues, are closer to the Guardian than to the Daily Telegraph. As a result, there is an inevitable pull in that direction to which, perhaps, the BBC might be alert. After all, many of them are of the same generation and, indeed, come from the same academic setting and educational setting, as the students in the National Union of Students who are on record as favouring the PLO, the IRA, the NGA and various other causes. It is not surprising that they favour the causes that their contemporaries favour.

Therefore, I am bound to say that even if the balance were to be corrected in my direction as perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, would say, and the Daily Telegraph were regarded as the central point, I would still be unhappy. I am not certain that it is for a public corporation, responsible to Parliament, to be itself responsible for a large amount of what is done in the field of public discussion. I personally think that the BBC deal with many things admirably—not only those that I have mentioned, but also news and various other matters, including of course the overseas services. But one ought to try to find a different framework for the discussion of contemporary events either by having newspapers, magazines or other bodies responsible for such programmes or by finding some mechanism by which the BBC could say, "We provide the time; we do not provide the service". Otherwise there will be criticism of the BBC.

In spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Henderskelfe, has said—and I listened to him with great attention—I must say that many people feel that in these respects and in relation to the matters raised by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, there is, as the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, said, a degree of complacency which is inevitable in a bureaucracy.

One must not forget that Reith and the other originators of broadcasting came inevitably from another world, because broadcasting had only just been invented. But now there is a ladder of promotion. The people who rise to the high positions have worked their way up, often from early youth, within this single institution. All bureaucracies breed complacency and the BBC should not regard itself as an exception.

5.35 p.m.

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

My Lords, I am grateful to your Lordships for making such good time and to my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford for giving us this opportunity to debate once again matters arising from a BBC annual report. As the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, rightly reminded us, in the year under review the British Broadcasting Corporation celebrated the 60th anniversary of broadcasting in the United Kingdom and the 50th anniversary of the BBC External Services. It marked them with a service of thanksgiving in St. Paul's Cathedral and a jubilee concert in the Royal Albert Hall. It also gave a deep and detailed account of the first ever visit by a Pope to the United Kingdom and had the technically daunting task of covering a war fought by British troops on the other side of the world. In the same year roughly 100,000 BBC computers were sold in the United Kingdom and plans were laid to start selling them abroad. Breakfast-time television was successfully launched. Five new local radio stations were opened. The Ceefax service was expanded to transmit computer programmes in a form intelligible to human beings but intended primarily to be passed straight into listening computers and an architect was selected by competition to design a new building for the headquarters from which all this activity is directed. Those are just a few items culled from a report of which the table of contents alone contains roughly 45 subject headings and 13 appendices.

I must say that it was a year of formidable activity, a year in which the corporation continued, as my noble friend Lady Lane-Fox reminded us, to provide enormous solace for those who are disabled or who are in pain. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Henderskelfe, and his erstwhile colleagues did quite a remarkable job in it. Moreover, the reputation of the corporation overseas—where people are generally less well served in these matters—remains a credit to them and continues to reflect credit on our country. I am sure that your Lordships will not wish to lose sight of these achievements whatever your views of, or anxieties about, particular areas of activity may be.

I should like to pass to a particular point that was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, and I go straight into the future from the technical achievements of the present. I have, indeed, seen the press reports concerning the re-examination by the corporation of its plans for the direct broadcasting by satellite. I have to stress that decisions whether to undertake DBS services are for the BBC to take. The Government's role is to create opportunities rather than to press anyone to take risks against their better judgment.

I can, however, confirm that the chairman and director-general of the BBC have been to see my right honourable and learned friend this week to tell him of the current state of their thinking on DBS. They are pursuing various possibilities which would enable the direct broadcasting by satellite project to come to fruition, although perhaps not on the timetable that had originally been planned. This would involve discussions with UNISAT and with other interested parties. I am sure that the House will understand that there is little more that I can properly say while those discussions are in progress.

One area of particular anxiety that has been expressed is over the question of violence in broadcast programmes. My noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford believes it to be objectionable in itself and a possible source of positive harm to some children and other impressionable viewers and he is by no means on his own in taking that view. He believes that extra safeguards are needed in order to protect the public.

Your Lordships will know what the existing arrangements are. They have been upheld by successive Governments and place full responsibility for maintaining programme standards on the broadcasting authorities. The 1BA's obligations are imposed by Act of Parliament; but those of the corporation are a product of its charter and licence and agreement. They have a general obligation to provide programmes which inform, educate and entertain and to maintain in them a high general standard and a wide range and balance. In that context, I refer your Lordships to the list of awards won by BBC programmes which appears in condensed form on page 2 of the report.

Under the charter the corporation is to exclude so far as possible anything which offends against good taste and decency, which is likely to encourage or incite to crime or lead to disorder, or which is likely to be offensive to public feeling. It is bound by a general obligation to avoid putting out unsuitable material when children are likely to be in the audience, although the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, who I am glad to see has been able to stay for the end of the debate, reminded us that children do not always go to bed when they are expected to do so. Indeed. I think it was my noble friend Lord Auckland who pointed out that as a result they sometimes fall asleep in front of the blackboard, whereas their parents, who work rather harder, tend to go to sleep in front of the screen, and this perhaps means that the wrong audience is present on both occasions. The corporation also maintains a code giving guidance on the rules to be observed in regard to the presentation of violence in sound and television programmes.

Like the other mass media, broadcasting is subject to the general law on such matters as defamation and contempt of court. But the view has consistently—and in our view rightly—been held that it would not be sufficient for programme standards to be left to the law of the land. A more stringent regulation is called for because broadcasting goes straight into the family living room and is a uniquely powerful medium. At the same time, however, successive Governments have taken the view that broadcasting should not be subject to political control. I do not need to spell out to your Lordships—indeed. I hope that I do not need to spell out to my noble friend Lord Gridley—the dangers of a system under which the Government took decisions on what should or should not be broadcast or in which some other system of censorship was imposed.

We avoid these dangers by placing responsibility for broadcasting standards in the hands of broadcasting authorities which are independent of Government and are appointed to act in the general public interest. They handle very sensitive matters on which strong and conflicting views are held by members of the public—your Lordships have proved both how strong and how conflicting this very afternoon. I look at my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford and the noble Lord. Lord Jenkins of Putney, as examplars of that opposition.

On issues such as the coverage of sex and violence, the authorities have to make judgments themselves on what will be acceptable to most members of the public taking account of such things as the time when programmes are shown, the way in which subjects are treated and ever-changing public attitudes and tastes. These are difficult matters and their judgments will always be challenged. The preservation of standards is a very proper matter for public concern and debate, and I think we all agree that the broadcasting authorities should be fully responsive to public reactions to their programmes: reaction that may be expressed directly to them by individual viewers and listeners and more publicly, as in your Lordships' House today. In this debate I have heard very clear echoes of the late Lord Reith's dictum that the corporation should give the public something a little better than it wants. I ought to add an acknowledgment of the work of voluntary regional advisory councils and also of some members of the public, such as Mrs. Mary Whitehouse, who are as persistent in their critical and improving analysis of what is broadcast as is my noble friend himself.

It was good and appropriate of my noble friend to welcome the corporation's decision to include in its report the section dealing with public reactions to its programmes, both critical and favourable. It states that of 148,385 letters dealt with centrally by the BBC, only 402 related to such things as sex, violence and bad language. I hope that one of the more trenchant ones came from the right reverend Prelate. So far as specific complaints about violence are concerned, the corporation says that most of them related to feature films. They accounted for 235 letters received centrally: 20 were received about violence in the BBC's own television productions and three in radio programmes. The treatment of sex in the BBC's productions led to a total of 145 complaints for television and radio combined. The number of complaints made to the authority is an indicator of the public's view of the programmes they see and hear. Judged on that basis, the relatively small number of complaints made to the BBC and the IBA about violence in their programmes does not suggest a high level of audience dissatisfaction on that count. Even if people are dissuaded from complaining by the thought that complaints make no difference, that dissuasion presumably acts equally on all correspondents and not merely on some of them. Therefore, the small proportion of complaints of that sort seems to be surprising but nonetheless revealing.

However, complaints are not a measure of the possible harmful effects which the showing of violence in programmes may have. It is this question which has most concerned speakers in our debate today. This is an important and a serious question. For a number of years it has been the subject of a good deal of research in both this country and the United States. Much of this research has been inconclusive and even contradictory. There is, at least as yet, no clearly demonstrated link between violence in the media and violence in society, whatever our subjective views may be. But this is an area where we need not wait for scientific proof before we insist on the greatest caution being exercised in the portrayal of violence on television. Just as it has not been proved that media violence exercises a socially harmful effect, it has not been shown that it does not. The possible consequences, let alone the need to avoid giving offence to viewers, justify a very careful approach.

It is, therefore, important that the BBC and the IBA maintain guidelines on the portrayal of violence in television programmes. The BBC has recently devoted much effort to reviewing its guidelines, last published jointly with those of the IBA in February 1980. Its new version was published in September this year, and my noble friend was kind enough to welcome it. I understand that the IBA is also undertaking a review of its present guidelines. The corporation's guidelines are little changed. but in the foreword to them the revision committee which undertook the review surveyed the general climate in which programme decisions are taken and the factors which should influence decisions on the showing of violent items. It draws attention to the possible dangers of the cumulative effects of violence spread over a single day or period—and, again, the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, referred to the influence this can have—and maintains as a guiding principle that gratuitous violence should be avoided. It recommends that an internal check should continue to be kept on public reaction to perceived amounts of violence in programmes. It also recommends, as a new initiative, that the television service should keep a weekly tally of moments of violence in its programmes and report them to the Board of Governors on a half-yearly basis.

I hope that it is not incongruous if I interject here a note on the reporting of parliamentary proceedings, which was first alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. The BBC has a duty, under Clause 13(2) of its licence and agreement, to broadcast an impartial account day-by-day, prepared by professional reporters, of the proceedings of both Houses of Parliament. However, it has the same editorial responsibility for its programmes covering parliamentary proceedings as it has for all its other programmes. Its introduction of the new style "Yesterday in Parliament" last year was, therefore, a matter within its discretion. I have to say—and it may vex my noble friend—that the corporation will no doubt take note of the views expressed in this debate in any future decisions concerning its reporting of parliamentary proceedings; it would be beyond my brief to express a view on what that should be.

To return to the subject of violence, pornography and obscenity, and particularly to an interest of my noble friend Lord Nugent on the subject of the Obscene Publications Act, we accept that the existing Act may not be entirely satisfactory and may give rise to certain difficulties of interpretation. But this is an extremely complex area in which there is room for views which are deeply held but which, as I have already said, are diametrically opposed. We cannot, therefore, proceed as if there were sufficient agreement to make wholesale reform of the law in this area a practicable proposition. Therefore, while not standing still we prefer to make progress on those more limited fronts where there is a clearly defined problem which can sensibly be tackled in advance of such agreement as the opportunities occur. That is why provisions were included in the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982 dealing with sex shops and why we have supported measures introduced in another place by private Members dealing with indecent displays and the licensing of bogus cinema clubs. We can make useful progress in this way, and this is relevant to this debate because the latest example is the help we are giving to my honourable friend Mr. Graham Bright in dealing with the problem of objectionable video recordings. I should add that my right honourable and learned friend is keeping the legislation on obscenity under very close review.

No one can read the BBC's new guidelines without realising the great care and concern which has gone into drawing them up and keeping them under regular review, and without appreciating the complexity and sensitivity of the issues which have to be addressed. That is encouraging and it justifies our confidence in the ability of the corporation to exercise this kind of control over broadcast programmes responsibly. The Government believe that the corporation must continue to have full responsibility for its programme decisions and that it should not be subject to any form of external control. It is for them to respond to public sentiment, but I am sure they will, as I have said before, give careful attention to all that has been said by noble Lords today. In passing, I would add that I very much hope that anyone concerned with training scriptwriters will also note this debate, and particularly the trenchant comments of my noble friend Lady Lane-Fox.

There is another area of considerable concern which your Lordships have visited before, and that is the question of the BBC external services. The external services are a comparatively small part of the corporation. Their staff makes up only 8 per cent. of the total and they account for a small proportion of total BBC spending, but they are an important part. Their world-wide reputation for fast, honest news and balanced commentary is unmatched. Their estimated audience is more than 100 million listeners worldwide. I hope that your Lordships will take particular interest, therefore, in what I have to say about this. The BBC are required to have regard to the national interest in planning external broadcasts, and the Government have a right to proscribe services, but it is not always easy to get the balance right. The pattern of external broadcasting in terms of languages and regional effort must reflect our foreign policy objectives and priorities. For 24 hours a day the BBC world service is broadcast to the world in English, and has attracted many listeners in this country. It is perhaps unfortunate that audibility should have been reduced here, but the new medium wave transmitters at Orford Ness have done much to improve its audibility in Europe.

Perhaps the most important single development in recent years has been the commencement of work to improve the audibility of the BBC around the world. This is on the basis of a programme drawn up between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the corporation and approved by the Government in 1981. It provides for a substantial investment in new and replacement equipment during the 1980s, and many of the projects are now well advanced and we are already seeing the benefits. New medium wave transmitters at Orford Ness, in Suffolk, I have already mentioned. New transmitters at Rampisham in Dorset should greatly strengthen the signal to the countries of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. We hope that, as a result, listeners to the BBC's Russian service will suffer less from the effects of Soviet jamming.

New satellite links have been introduced between Britain and the BBC's overseas relay station. These have much improved the quality of the relay signal, and I do not doubt that my noble friend Lord Morris's Chinese friend benefits from that. New aerials are being erected in Cyprus which should enhance the BBC's audibility in the Middle East and in the southern part of the Soviet Union. We are also taking positive steps by the provision of brand new relay stations to remedy the situation in the Far East and East and Southern Africa where reception is particularly poor. The Hong Kong Government has agreed to a relay station being built there which will serve China, Korea, and Japan, and negotiations are well advanced for a similar facility for East Africa. Financial provision has been made for both projects, and we expect the construction work to begin in 1985.

On the subject of external services, one other important facet is the BBC monitoring service, which provides an important service to businesses and Government users both in the United Kingdom and abroad in monitoring the output of international broadcasters and media organisations, and this is to modernise and upgrade its facilities at a cost of some £12½ million, starting in 1985. This new capital programme will enable the BBC to keep pace with the rapid changes in communication technology, particularly the trend towards satellite broadcasting, and would enable the monitoring service to handle much more material.

I cannot handle much more material because I am under constraint of time. I can, therefore, only apologise for leaving so many major themes untouched: for instance, the theme of balance introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe. His balance was between commercial and public broadcasting. The right reverend Prelate was concerned about the balance between central and regional inputs. These are proper matters for concern. I can only acknowledge them. In conclusion, therefore, if it is not improper so to do I should like to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Howard, to your Lordships' House and wish success to those who follow him. I should like once more to thank my noble friend for providing the opportunity for what has been for me an instructive and interesting debate, which I hope tomorrow will prove to be an interesting and instructive debate for the corporation.

5.55 p.m.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, it only remains for me to thank my noble friend for his comprehensive answer, in which he picked up pretty well every point that was mentioned. With regard to the major points which I made to him about the defects, as I see them, in the Obscene Publications Act, I should like to read his passages rather carefully tomorrow in Hansard. I am certainly happy to know that the problem, which I recognise is an extremely difficult one politically, is being thought about at the highest level. May I also thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate and helped us to make an interesting debate on one of the most important subjects in the life of the nation. My thanks to the BBC are not less because I am critical. I enjoy so much so many of their programmes that I am permanently in their debt. I just want to make sure that the defects are removed. With those words, my Lords, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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