HL Deb 31 October 1984 vol 456 cc513-4

2.31 p.m.

Lord Chalfont

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 are aware of the circumstances in which the BBC decided to dispense with the services of Mr. David Dimbleby as a reporter at this year's party conferences; and whether these circumstances cause the Government any concern.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Elton)

My Lords, it is not for the Government to comment on the contractual relationship between the BBC and a particular individual.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer, but only moderately. Is it not ironic that the Government should say that they cannot intervene in the relations between the BBC and its employees, whereas the case of Mr. David Dimbleby indicates very clearly that there are other people who can interfere in this way? Is it not outrageous that the BBC should have been dictated to on the question of which reporters it should send to cover party conferences? Would it not have been proper for the Director General of the BBC to tell those who said that Mr. Dimbleby was not acceptable that in that case they would not report the conferences at all? Is this not an outrageous case of interference with the freedom of the press?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the Government's employment Acts provide civil remedies in a case such as this, but it is for those whose businesses are affected to decide when it would be appropriate to invoke them, and not for the Government to direct them. The only other reply I would make to the noble Lord is to remind him that the BBC was prepared to go to the High Court to get an injunction against the disruption of the Budget programmes, which is a related issue.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, can the Minister say whether the person mentioned in the Question has had anything taken up with the BBC on his behalf by a trade union or professional organisation apropos his complaint as voiced by the noble Lord?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am in a difficult position in that it is not the Government's responsibility to conduct the relations of the BBC with somebody with whom it has a contractual relationship.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, will my noble friend bear in mind that when trade unions interfere with editorial freedom in the printing of a newspaper there is generally an announcement of that fact? Fortunately, it has been drawn attention to in this House. I wonder whether some publicity ought not be given by the BBC when its editorial freedom is challenged by what amounts to secondary blacking.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am sure that that is a view of which the BBC will take note when it is published.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that he has not really answered my Question? My Question was: are the Government aware of the circumstances, and, if so, do they cause the Government any concern? I am not suggesting that the Government should have intervened or directed in any way. My question is: does the fact that a journalist has been deprived of the right to pursue his profession because of the pressure of a political organisation cause the Government any concern? Will the noble Lord please answer that question?

Lord Elton

My Lords, specifically, the Government are aware of the circumstances. As to the way in which the corporation handled those circumstances, I have to repeat that that is a matter for the corporation.