HL Deb 03 May 1983 vol 442 cc8-10

2.57 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will invite the BBC to explain why a "Panorama" programme critical of the Arts Council which was completed last year has never been transmitted.

Lord Elton

My Lords, under the broadcasting arrangements which have been endorsed by successive Governments, the British Broadcasting Corporation is entirely responsible for deciding what programmes to broadcast, subject to the law and to its obligations on programme standards. The Government do not answer for the corporation's programme decisions; nor would it be appropriate for us to intervene with it in respect of particular decisions, such as its decision not to transmit the programme about the Arts Council to which the Question relates. In other words, my Lords, No.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, the noble Lord may perhaps be surprised to hear that in general I entirely agree with the tenor of his Answer. Is he aware that I believe that it is appropriate that such an arrangement should be made in general terms? But is he also aware that it is to be hoped that the Arts Council will take some note of these exchanges in this Chamber and will recognise that, during the course of the time while this programme was being made, the then Vice-Chairman of the BBC became Chairman of the Arts Council? The coincidence that, after that, the programme was never broadcast has caused some comment.

May I also ask the noble Lord whether he is further aware that, contrary to Arts Council statements, a higher proportion of its funds was spent in London, as distinct from other parts of the country, in 1981 than was the case in 1976, when, by another coincidence, I had some responsibility in the matter? In view of this, is it not to be hoped that the BBC will take note of these exchanges and may feel moved to make its own statement on the matter?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the noble Lord began his supplementary question by hoping that the Arts Council would consider the exchanges in the Chamber this afternoon, and he concluded by hoping that the British Broadcasting Corporation would so do. I am sure that Hansard is freely available to them. I cannot comment further.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in his original reply he said that there were placed on the BBC two obligations: to keep programmes within the law, and to maintain programme standards? Is there not a third obligation: to keep a balance in programmes? Is it not notorious that the "Panorama" team has singularly failed to keep a balance, their programmes usually being Left-wing and highly anti-American in concept?

Lord Elton

My Lords, balance is one of the standards which we expect to be kept. If, at the inducement of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, the BBC reads Hansard, it will also read my noble friend's forthright, and not groundless, remarks, and perhaps consider whether a balance was kept in the case of the programmes to which he refers.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, would it not be judicious to compliment the BBC on not inflicting upon viewers, and those associated with entertainment, another commentary of the type which, when one has to listen to it, one discovers is nothing in particular?

Lord Elton

My Lords, since in this case the programme was not broadcast, I cannot say whether or not the content was nothing in particular.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, following on what my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Putney has said about the Arts Council, may I ask the noble Lord whether he is aware that we warmly welcome the appointment of the young, new director general, and that we hope he will do much to revitalise that body?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the occasions on which I can welcome a noble Lord going beyond the Question on the Order Paper are rare, but this is one of them.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, if I may make a final point on this matter, may I ask the noble Lord whether he is aware that balance is something which is often in the eye of the beholder?

Lord Elton

My Lords, so are motes and beams.

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