HL Deb 26 February 1988 vol 493 cc1420-3

11.15 a.m.

Lord Gainford

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 what measures are being taken, following the BBC's television programme on 15th February 1988 about violence, to give further warnings to viewers about violent programmes.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, responsibility for the content of programmes, and for possible warnings to viewers about the content of programmes, rests with the broadcasting authorities. However, the Government recognise the need for stronger and more effective oversight of standards relating to the portrayal of violence and sex on television. The Home Secretary has announced his intention to set up the Broadcasting Standards Council.

Lord Gainford

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Has he any information as to a definite link between the unfortunate crimes of violence about which we hear so much and violence on television?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, the question of a link between television and behaviour has been the subject of extensive research, though the results can he read in different ways. The nature of any casual link, if it can be firmly established, may be complex. However, our broadcasting arrangements are based on the view that it would be wrong to ignore the possible dangers and the public concern about them. The broadcasting authorities readily acknowledge their responsibility for care in deciding what should be screened.

Lord Wigoder

My Lords, will the noble Earl accept that the question of a link may be a matter of acute controversy, but that the question of the distastefulness of programmes of this kind to many people is not a matter of controversy and that there is a strong case for suitable warnings being given from that point of view?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I am aware of the public distaste such as the noble Lord has mentioned. I believe that he understands that there exists a longstanding principle that the Government do not intervene in programme matters which are properly the responsibility of the BBC or the IBA. The Home Secretary could not issue directions about the provision of suitable warnings without breaching that principle.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for the care that he has taken in answering these Questions. Is he aware that there have been occasions on which the Government have intervened, causing great public disquiet? In view of the general feeling about the programmes which have been described, can he say what will be the nature of the council to which he has referred and which his right honourable friend is setting up? When is it being set up? Will the right honourable gentleman appoint members to the council? Will it be a council for the whole of the United Kingdom? Will there be Scottish and Welsh councils? What will be its nature and powers?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, in answering the question posed by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, I shall be as brief but as succinct as possible. As regards composition, the council will consist of a chairman and six members. The Home Secretary hopes to announce the appointment of a chairman in the near future. As regards the date, the council will be put on a statutory basis but it will be established initially in advance of legislation. I understand that good progress is being made on the administrative arrangements and we hope to make a further announcement about the BSC shortly.

As regards the council's remit, it will provide a focus for public concern about the portrayal of violence and sex on television, radio and video and it will selectively monitor relevant programme standards.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Earl on the way he has answered the three Questions. Is that to be a precedent?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I am extremely grateful for the generosity of the noble and learned Lord. I am equally grateful to my noble friend on the Front Bench for fielding the fourth Question.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, will my noble friend answer the question put by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition as to the powers of the Council?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, it is as yet too early to know what will be the precise powers of the BSC.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, does the noble Earl recognise, as I am sure he does, the widespread concern about this matter in all parts of the House? Will he agree that there is also a great deal of public anxiety about the way in which sex and violence are dealt with by some tabloid newspapers? At a time when he is trying to persuade the BBC and the IBA about this matter, will it be possible for Ministers to discuss the subject with the proprietors of some national newspapers?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I repeat that I am well aware of the feelings not only in this House but outside it concerning the public distaste for many programmes which appear on radio and television. A debate was recently initiated in your Lordships' House about the possibility of setting some form of statutory control on the press but it was thought that, for the time being, that would be most unwise.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that it has been the common experience of those who complain to either the BBC or ITV about programmes which have violence and excessive sex in them that their complaints are usually brushed off and that the setting up of this independent council by the Home Secretary will he widely welcomed throughout the country, especially by parents when they see programmes which are unsuitable? Will my noble friend convey to the Home Secretary my warmest congratulations?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his generosity.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, when the powers of the council have been finalised by the Home Secretary and those advising him, will there be some opportunity for us to examine the important powers which this urgently-needed council will then possess?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, perhaps I may advise the noble Lord that the BSC will not be a regulatory body and will reinforce, not hijack, the responsibilities of the broadcasting authorities. However, it will be influential and will be able to consider and analyse complaints, initiate discussion and research and, where necessary, express and publicise views on individual programmes without waiting for its annual report.

Lord Ferrier

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware how welcome his replies are to a number of people and how wise my noble friend Lord Nugent was in saying exactly what we feel? Can the noble Earl say to what extent Scotland will be represented on the proposed committee?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I cannot give my noble friend an answer, but I shall write to him.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, can we seek to get beyond always speaking of violence and sex and sex and violence as though they belonged together, since violence is always a bad thing and sex is not always a bad thing?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, there are other matters of considerable distaste besides violence and sex.

Viscount Mersey

My Lords, if my noble friend believes that there may be no link between what is broadcast on television and the way people behave, does he not also agree that those who advertise on television are wasting their money?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I believe my noble friend is rather wide of the Question.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, if I may refer to the supplementaries by my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition and the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, though I recognise that the Minister may not be able to give actual details of the powers given to this council, perhaps I may ask the noble Earl whether he recognises that there is much criticism about the inadequate powers of the Press Council and that something much stronger than that is required for this broadcasting council.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I believe that the question posed by the noble Lord is wide of the Question on the Order Paper.

Lord Annan

My Lords, with reference to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, about the unwillingness of the authorities, particularly of the BBC, to acknowledge shortcomings in the past, did he take note of a speech by the chairman of the governors of the BBC to the Institute of Directors in which he acknowledged the faults of the BBC in a way which has never been done before? Is the noble Earl aware that the chairman, Mr. Hussey, is taking account of the very strong feelings on this matter, and does he agree that that is an extremely good thing?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I believe that demonstrates the wisdom and independence of the chairman of the BBC.

Lord Sefton of Garston

My Lords, can the noble Earl tell us whether the remit of the new body will cover two grown men trying to bash each other's brains out, even though it is in a boxing ring?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I believe I have said quite enough about what we hope the BSC will do. I hope the noble Lord will understand my point.