§ 3.7 p.m.
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee. —(Earl Ferrers.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1 [The Independent Television Commission]:
Baroness Birk moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 1, line 10, after first ("be") insert ("established for the purpose of carrying out the functions outlined in section 2(2) (c) below").
§ The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 1 is a paving amendment and has been grouped with Amendments Nos. 16 and 19. The Bill has turned into a kind of television series shown at infrequent intervals, one episode not regularly following another. There was a long interval between the Bill passing through its stages in the other place and its Second Reading in this Chamber. There has since been a further interval. The amendment which I move is extremely important and goes to the root of the Bill; it is concerned with public service broadcasting.
Despite the various interpretations that have been put on the term, public service broadcasting is in general recognised as being the mainstay of quality which has earned British broadcasting such a high reputation at home and abroad. That was indicated in
many of the speeches made on Second Reading. Indeed, the Third Report of the Home Affairs Select Committee 1988 on the future of broadcasting states:
In particular, we are convinced, as is the Home Office, that the principles of public service broadcasting should be an integral part of the new broadcasting environment".
That was backed up by what might thought to be an even more respectable source. The Home Office memorandum to the Home Affairs committee 1987–8 stated:
In the United Kingdom, following the recommendation of the Crawford Committee of 1926, a system of public service broadcasting was established, the central principles of which continue to apply to services regulated by the BBC and Independent Broadcasting Authority. These are that: (a) broadcasting is a national asset which should be used for the national good rather than for the benefit of particular interest groups; (b) responsibility for broadcasting should therefore lie with one or more broadcasting authorities, appointed as the 'trustees for the national interest' in broadcasting; (c) viewers (or listeners) in all parts of the country who pay the same licence fee should be able to receive all public service channels: the concept of universality; (d) the broadcasting authorities should be free of Government intervention in their day to day affairs and in the contents of their programmes".
§ It appears that the government intention behind the lighter touch in independent television is not just to increase competition and open up the market but also to distinguish between the public service channels—the BBC and Channel 4—and the rest of independent television.
§ The BBC will not just be the cornerstone of public service broadcasting. It may become a public service ghetto, with independent television freed from most of its public service obligations. The Bill is committed to competition, but objectors seem to assume that there is an incompatibility between public service broadcasting and competition. That is not necessarily true and it certainly does not have to be inevitable, as the Bill seems to assume.
§ Let us look at other analogies. I do not like to refer to the results of broadcasting as a product. However, standards are set for a number of projects. Quality, safety and many other features are insisted upon; that is in a market economy where there is great competition. They are not incompatible.
§ Previous legislation, Conservative as well as Labour, has increased competition but has also set careful public service broadcasting standards. Quality, range, diversity and universality of access are key elements of public service broadcasting, plus a properly balanced schedule. That is covered by Amendment No. 16 to which my noble friend Lord Ardwick will speak. Although Amendment No. 16 is tied up with this amendment, it covers a somewhat different point and needs separate explanation.
§ The sum of those parts is relatively high production costs. Good quality TV is costly, as Members of the Committee will be aware. To make the BBC and Channel 4 the repository of PSB is to put them at a distinct disadvantage in the market place.
§ Evidence was commissioned by the Peacock Committee in 1985–86 from Professor Jay Blumler of America and Professor Tom Nossiter in this country. 12 It showed that if there were systems of mixed funding—that is, licence fees on the one hand and advertising, subscription and sponsorship on the other—unless there is adequate regulation, the public body financed by licence fees is driven downwards. That study was carried out again and what was discovered in 1985–86 was confirmed for 1989. It will be published in a large volume next year. They looked at Sweden, France, Italy, Germany and the United States, as well as this and other countries. Where little or no regulation drove down standards, there was a great surfeit of game shows, soaps and old films. The important point is that it cost 10 times as much to put on a good drama as it did to put on any of those other cheaper television products. Whatever is said in the original bid, when things go wrong economically the contractors will be forced to go down market still further because of the cost of producing quality television and radio.
The Channel 3 companies will go down market, as will the BBC. However, if PSB is built in, they may slip but not so badly. The principal amendment, No. 19, states:
To discharge their functions under this Part as respects the licensing of television programme services in a manner in which they consider best calculated to ensure the dissemination of information, education and entertainment".
§ It seems to me extraordinary that there should be resistance to that when the Government have said on so many occasions that that is what they wish to see. One is merely spelling out the parameters of what should be in place. It should be shown and ensured that those matters are kept in place and do not disappear.
§ If the quality of mass audience programmes descends too far, the BBC and Channel 4 will be left as a quality ghetto. That is not what is wanted in this country. It is rather extraordinary that up to this point—and I hope that there will be a change in this respect—the Government have resisted (or they did in the other place) placing those words on the face of the Bill when their inclusion would act as an important guide when we are going into the unknown. There will be so many more regulations and methods of dealing with independent television in the future than there have been in the past. It seems to me and to my noble friends on these Benches and, indeed, to other Members of the Committee, that it is very important that that matter should be written onto the face of the Bill.
§ We ask why, if the Government still believe, as they do—I take their word for it—in the importance of public service broadcasting, that should not be made clear so that it is recognised and seen by both the audience and the contractors. The contractors will be applying for the new licences both for television and radio. This amendment applies to both. The fact that it is implicit is not good enough. It was spelt out most recently in the 1981 Act, which was an extremely good piece of legislation. It was clear; it has worked well all this time. To wash this out would be a tremendous mistake when we are entering a new era.
§ The technological changes have meant that we are not only dealing with terrestrial television but also 13 with cable and satellite. These are both new and novel methods in this country and it is therefore even more import ant that we keep our hand on the old definition of public service broadcasting to make quite clear what we want and what we stand for.
§ Serious people, whether they are practitioners or form part of the audiences, in countries which have either got rid of public service broadcasting or have never had it are amazed that we should be allowing it to slip out of our legislation when it is so important. It is not a party political matter. It is a question of doing the best we can to obtain the highest quality television and radio in this country; the amendment is to ensure that we do not throw the baby out with the bath water. I beg to move.
On behalf of and at the request of my noble friend Lord Bonham-Carter, who is unavoidably absent and in whose name the amendment also stands, I wish to support this amendment. As the noble Baroness explained, it is purely a paving amendment for Amendment No. 19, which is the amendment of substance concerning public service broadcasting.
The aim of disseminating information, education and entertainment, which was included in previous broadcasting Bills and in the BBC's charter, is noticeably absent from this Bill. This amendment attempts to put it into the Bill. The Government's line has been to stress the need to respond to technological developments in broadcasting. As the noble Baroness rightly said, a response to those technological developments is absolutely right and necessary. The Government have responded in such a way as to affirm Their overriding belief, as the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said, that,the viewer and the listener are the ones who matter. In short, it is that people should have a wider choice and a greater say over what they watch and what they listen to. There are other matters of great importance, but they are secondary to that overriding philosophy".—[Official Report, 13/12/88; col. 838.]We would be the first to welcome increased choice if it was real choice. By real choice I mean increased diversity; that is the only way one has real choice. In New York at any one time on 13 different channels one has the choice between 13 different old films. I do not believe that is real choice. We want diversity.
In paragraph 91 of the Home Affairs Select Committee report, The Future of Broadcasting, dated June 1988, it is said:Market led programming will not maintain diversity, information and education".When the Government are making broadcasting more competitive and market-led it is absurd for them to remove the public service principle from the face of the Bill as it was included on the face of all previous broadcasting Bills. That is the reason it must be included in Independent Television's remit on the face of the Bill. Television can all too easily become dominated by the need to deliver audiences to advertisers rather than programmes to viewers.
We must not regard public service broadcasting as something which is boring and which must be imposed 14 on viewers. It is something for which there is a high demand from viewers. That is shown by the JICTAR ratings. I have taken part in some of those broadcasts. I presented a public service broadcast which went out four times a week for 19 years and w as repeated on Sundays. I did not do that because it bored everybody stiff but because people wanted it.
Television is now the ordinary person's major source of information. It provides information on all topics—politics, current affairs, sport and the weather. People do not obtain information to the same extent from the press, from schools or from ordinary conversation. They obtain it from television. The recognition of that and of the fact that one of the major purposes of television broadcasting is to be a source of information—reliable information of the kind the public are seeking—should not be overlooked. But it has been overlooked because it is not included on the face of the Bill. These amendments would so include it and therefore we support them.
§ Lord Ardwick
I wish to speak in support of Amendment No. 16, which reintroduces the precise wording of the 1981 Act relating to the high quality and scheduling of programmes. It requires the companies to offer a wide range of programmes in their subject matter having regard to the programmes as a whole and also to the days of the week on which and the times of the day at which the programmes are broadcast.
A children's programme is not much use if it is scheduled at a time when most children are unlikely to see it. Similarly, documentaries and current affairs programmes have less impact if they are not broadcast at or near peak viewing hours. In terms of choice viewers are placed at a disadvantage if there is no overall shape to programme schedules as between channels. Programme makers and advertisers face problems if they cannot be sure that some regard will be had to scheduling.
One Minister in Committee seemed to think that widespread possession of video recorders solved the problem of uncoordinated scheduling. Of course it does not. Only 70 per cent. of the population have them and in my experience less than 70 per cent. of the owners of them are able to work them properly. Amendment No. 16 does not impose a duty on ITC to vet schedules in advance; it imposes only a general responsibility to have regard to them in allocating licences.
I should like to say a few words in support of what my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, said about "information, education and entertainment". Those are the words used to define public service broadcasting in a concrete way; otherwise it becomes a rather vague phrase. They enable us to give an agreed answer to the question, "What do we mean by public service broadcasting?" The authority for those words again comes from the 1981 Act.
As my noble friend said, Channel 3 cannot leave it to Channel 4 and the BBC to take the major nominal responsibility for public service broadcasting. Channel 3, broadcasting to mass audiences, cannot be 15 sheltered from public service principles simply in the interests of its profits. The Minister said that it might only be a notch or two down from public service broadcasting. That is acceptable provided the notches are not too far apart. Mr. Russell gave us an assurance that the level may be as much as 80 per cent. of the current level of public service broadcasting on ITV. Therefore, why keep the public service element in Channel 3 under wraps? Why not define it?
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Lord Quinton
As a veteran of the Peacock Committee it seems to me right that someone should oppose the amendment. I have three reasons for doing so although in the manner of issues of this nature they tend to run into one another.
The first is the desirability of calling things by their right names. Even in the speeches so far made on this group of amendments the term "public service" has been applied in two different ways. In one way it has been applied comprehensively to cover information, education and entertainment; in the other, less comprehensively, to cover information and education only. There really is a distinction—even if not a very sharp one, a real one—between the programmes which people in general broadly want and which persons commercially interested in providing them will provide, and programmes which enlightened persons believe viewers at large ought to have.
As a moderately enlightened person I agree that there are programmes which people ought to have, or be offered, whether or not they want them. However, I want that called by its right name—namely, public service broadcasting—and provided for directly. That is reason number one. It seems to me inefficient to oscillate or, if you like, to pretend that entertainment is part of public service broadcasting. Certainly, programmes that are public service broadcasting pure and simple may contingently entertain and, in a way, they have failed if they do not. But that is not what makes such programmes public service broadcasting. It is inevitably a Reithian improving notion. I do not object to it on that account; I just want it recognised for what it is.
My second point is that in legislation of this nature negative requirements are easier to operate than positive requirements; that is, it is absolutely right that legislation of this kind should rule out obscene, offensive, politically biased or in some other way objectionable material, the identification of which is not likely to be too controversial. It is much easier to make those negative arrangements than to lay down positive requirements of quality which are intrinsically highly controversial and exceedingly difficult to police. After all, the weapons at the disposal of the authority are of a somewhat blunt character, such as the withdrawal of a franchise, and it will require outrages of a substantial kind to bring that about. Only in that way can you enforce the positive requirements embodied in these amendments.
It is much more efficient to identify clearly public service broadcasting in the narrower and, as I see it, 16 more candid form as broadcasting the primary intention of which is to inform and educate and then to take rational steps to bring it about. There are, of course, two ways of doing that. The first is to make it the prime responsibility of one specific channel funded, for example, by the licence fee. However, that is not the only way. A second method is what one might call the Arts Council model; that is, to institute a public service broadcasting council, perhaps financed from the franchise payments of the commercial broadcasters, which will devote itself primarily to subsidising those improving programmes which I, as much as anybody on the other side of the Committee, agree should be done by broadcasting.
It seems to me better not to arrange this in the style of an American serviceman's meal, with the nourishing part and the pudding all mushed together in a confused way. We must separate the pure entertainment element which, after all, is essential. As Dr. Johnson said about literature, it enables us to enjoy life and to endure it. The endurance of life is sustained, to some extent, by entertainment. But there is also the role of improving people, if they choose to accept it. It is part of the, so to speak, delegated responsibility of a representative system of government to make provision for that. Just as people are compelled to go to school whether or not they like it, so people should be compelled to contribute by some means or other to their own improvement through public service broadcasting.
Calling things by their right name is much more efficient and a much more easily managed and clearly perceived satisfaction of the public service broadcasting requirement than trying to lay down, in rather edifying but indefinite terms, certain high purposes that ought to be served. If, as was said on the other side of the Committee, audience research shows that people are actively interested in, and demand, edifying programmes, then we can leave it to the simple commercial motivations of the commercial broadcasters to ensure that people are provided with what they want.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
As the amendment has been opposed from the Government Benches perhaps I may support it from these Benches. From what the noble Lord said I did not detect an objection of substance but what seemed to me to be an objection to the nomenclature. The words are in the amendment and if, by chance, one of my noble friends on the Opposition Front Bench mentioned two of the qualifications instead of all three, to take that up is being pernickety and neither here nor there. We are supporting proposals in the amendment which have stood the test of time over the whole of this period. Therefore, from this side of the Committee, we are seeking to maintain what has worked well over the years. I hope that the Committee will support the amendment.
§ Lord Renton
It is a matter of opinion, of course, as to whether everything has worked well over the years. I wish to raise a narrow but important point. I do so 17 without committing myself to the support of these amendments because I agree to a great extent with what my noble friend Lord Quinton said.
In line 27 on page 2 of the Bill we find that it is the duty of the commission,to discharge their functions under this Part … in the manner in which they consider is best calculated to ensureand so on. In other words, instead of an objective test, as there has been until now, the BBC, the commission, is to be made judge in its own cause as to whether it is fulfilling the intentions of Parliament. I should have thought that the proposals in the amendment have at least put us on inquiry by leaving out those words. That is done in Amendment No. 16 by leaving out from "which" to the end of line 30 including the words "they consider best". I hope that when my noble friend replies he will tell the Committee whether he considers that the words "which they consider best" should remain in the Bill and whether it would not be better to replace them with the simple word "on" so that we then have an objective test.
The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, said that there was nothing party political in the amendment. I agree. We are all striving for good, high standards in a changing era—changing in technological terms, the number of channels, and so forth.
I first deal with the point raised by my noble friend Lord Renton. I believe he referred to the BBC; I assume he meant the ITC.
I thought that it must have been a slip of the tongue. If not, the emphasis of what I intend to say would have been slightly different. It is right that the words,which they consider is bestshould remain in the Bill because they put a duty on the commission. The only duty one can put on the commission is that it should discharge its functions under this part of the Bill in respect to the licensing of television programmes in the manner which it considers is appropriate. One likes to get the Government out of it and give responsibility to the Independent Television Commission to set the standards as far as possible. That is the whole purpose of this Bill.
The three amendments referred to at the beginning are Amendments Nos. 1, 16 and 19. Taken together they would apply the public service obligation to all the services which are regulated by the Independent Television Commission. I hope I shall be able to persuade the Committee that this is neither necessary nor desirable. I was glad that my noble friend Lord Quinton made the point that he did. He made it very clearly. The reason why we believe that that measure is not right is not because we or the Government have any antipathy to the notion of public service broadcasting. Far from it. The public service principle is that broadcasting should inform and educate as well as entertain, and that it should cater for a wide range of tastes and interests. That is what one means by the 18 public service principle. That has produced television and radio services in this country which are, and have been, admired throughout the world.
However, that principle was devised in a different era when the number of services was, for technical reasons, very limited. In preparing the Bill the Government had to consider how best to apply that principle which, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, said, has stood the test of time. The question is how to apply that principle to the new period that we are now entering in which television services are proliferating.
The first decision that we took—and it is an important one—was that the public service remit of the BBC (that means BBC 1 and BBC 2;1 and Channel 4, should be maintained. So the public service remit is maintained there. That will guarantee the continuation of three high-quality television channels which will set a standard of excellence. It is important to remember that a standard of excellence will be set against which other channels will have to compete.
The noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, said that he wanted good choice. I suggest that is the way to get it. If the standard is high in the main channels and the others compete, they will have to compete against that standard. I agree with my noble friend Lord Quinton when he says that that was the best way to achieve it. I sometimes think that when one considers the ITC one tends to think about ITV, and that when one thinks about ITV one automatically thinks of the independent television channel.
The ITC will be a very different body. It will cover not only Channels 3, 4 and 5, but all the satellite and cable services besides additional services such as Teletext. We have concluded—and we hope that the Committee will agree—that it would not be sensible to apply these same regulatory obligations to all television services. Such an idea is not new because it was the conclusion that Parliament reached in 1984 when it passed the Cable and Broadcasting Act.
There is here a basic point of principle. When there were very few channels it was only reasonable to ensure, through fairly detailed and intrusive regulation, that each one catered for a wide range of interests. However, now that the number of channels is to proliferate we believe that viewer choice, rather than the strict regulatory imposition, can be increasingly relied on to ensure a di verse range of attractive and high-quality programming, which is exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, wants.
The development of specialised cable and satellite channels which serve particular interests is beginning to bear that out. For instance, there will be no need—as the amendments suggest will be necessary—for the ITC to stipulate that satellite channels should include news when there are already two satellite channels, namely, Sky News and CNN, which are devoted to news. In the same way, regulation will not be needed in order to ensure that those with an interest in sport can find something to watch. There are already three satellite channels. (Eurosport, Screensport and the Sports Channel) all of which are competing for the viewers' attention.
19 I do not think that regulatory imposition will be needed to ensure that satellite channels cover the performing arts. The "Now" channel of British Satellite Broadcasting does so in its weekend schedule. Those are a few examples; I could give others. The general point is that the market is now beginning to deliver the diversity of programming for which, until recently, we had to rely on regulation.
It will be unnecessary to apply public service obligations right across the board. It would also be impractical. Public service broadcasting has required detailed regulation. In particular, in the past it has required the approval of programming scheduling by the regulatory body. That is a point touched on by Amendment No. 16. It is one thing for the IBA to have to approve the schedules of its current limited number of services. I suggest that it would be quite another for the Independent Television Commission to have to approve the schedules of dozens of services. Quite simply, I believe that would make a bureaucratic nightmare.
Therefore, we have concluded that, in general, services other than the BBC and Channel 4 should not be subject to positive obligations. There are two important exceptions to that principle; namely, Channels 3 and 5. We recognise that there is a strong tradition of high-quality programming on ITV. We are acting to ensure that this tradition shall continue. That is why we have proposed the extensive quality threshold in Clause 16. This threshold has become higher as the Bill has made its way through Parliament. The noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, said that he hoped that it would not drop too many notches. If he considers its progress through Parliament he will find that the Bill has gone up several notches.
It has been described as a Becher's Brook. I do not know whether these similes are very good though that is how it has been described in the past. I doubt whether that awesome fence is any longer an adequate description for Clause 16 as it is now framed. We now have something that is more akin to the fences that make spectators fear for the horses' safety at the conclusion of the puissance.
There is no question of simply letting the standards of ITV fall away. At the same time we have to recognise that Channel 3 will be operating in a more competitive world than ITV has done. Therefore, we must be careful not to load it down with so much regulation that it cannot survive. Positive programming obligations are of no value unless there are flourishing broadcasters who are in a position to fulfil them. That is why the regulatory regime for Channels 3 and 5 will be—to use the phrase employed by the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, but more accurately—just a notch lower than the public service broadcasting.
I have tried to give the Committee a full account of the way in which the Government consider public service broadcasting. It is important. I hope that the Committee will realise that the public service remit standards will continue on the BBC and on Channel 4. Let us not forget that the other services include the satellite and cable services. They will all have a 20 standard to live up to. With that in mind I hope that the noble Baroness will agree that the Bill would be better left as it is.
§ 3.45 p.m.
I wish to be absolutely clear about what the noble Earl has said to us. Am I right in thinking that he has said that, under the legislation as it now stands, the Channel 3 station will have no public service obligations? If that is correct, does the noble Earl not agree that that is in conflict with the present position in which the IBA, as it now is, has a positive responsibility to ensure that the independent television companies do in fact fulfil certain public service obligations? Can the noble Earl clarify that point?
The noble Lord is perfectly correct. The present public service broadcasting remit falls upon the independent television operators. They have that public service remit. What we have now is not that same remit but a substantially strengthened Clause 16 which gives all the hurdles that will have to be negotiated before they can receive the licence to operate. With that system one will have not the force of regulation which ITV has at the moment but the enhanced standard which the television company has to achieve before it is given its licence: and thereafter there is the competitive element.
§ Lord Tordoff
The noble Lord, Lord Quinton, said that the removal of the licence was a blunt instrument. I should have thought that once the licence had been granted there would be opportunity for considerable dilution of the public service element in Channel 3. I am only quoting what the noble Lord said.
I do not want to answer for my noble friend, but I should not have thought that the removal of the licence was a blunt instrument. If the chairman of a television company was asked what he would think if he had his licence removed, he would not think very much of it.
§ Lord Tordoff
As I understood the noble Lord, he was saying that this instrument could be used only very rarely indeed and therefore might not be as effective on a day-to-day monitoring basis as the present system.
Other sanctions such as fines and so on could be applied at an increasing rate, but the final sanction would be the removal of the licence altogether, which would be punitive.
§ Baroness Blackstone
As a former member of the IBA Educational Advisory Council I should like to comment on something said by the noble Lord, Lord Quinton. It is highly undesirable that educational programmes in particular should be ghettoised and separated from the normal output on independent television. What the Government are proposing, and what emerges from the noble Earl's response to the amendment, is that education and information can go out on Channel 4 and BBC and that it does not matter if they do not appear as good programmes on independent television. To go down that route would be a disastrous mistake.
I do not want to hog the debate but that is part of the licensing operation when any company puts forward its proposals for obtaining a licence. What it intends to portray will determine whether it gets a licence.
§ Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran
Perhaps I may ask a question in order to disclose my ignorance in the matter. The noble Earl emphasised diversity. Is he now saying that the quality of broadcasting of ITV and BBC which is renowned internationally can be protected adequately by reference to Clause 16? Are the Government relying on Clause 16, coupled with diversity, to protect the quality of broadcasting in the United Kingdom? If the noble Earl cannot answer now perhaps he will answer later.
The answer to the noble Lord is, yes. Clause 16(2) (0 states:that (taken as a whole) the programmes so included are calculated to appeal to a wide variety of tastes and interests".They will have to pass the threshold of being good programmes and of being programmes of a high standard before they are even considered for a licence. If they do not reach that standard they will not even he in the running for the licence. It is only after that point that the bidding comes in.
What I have tried to suggest is that when there were only three or four television channels the standards had to be applied by regulation in order to ensure that standards were high. We are now talking not only about Channel 3 and Channel 5, but about a whole variety of satellite and cable channels all of which the ITC has to cover, and all of which would be covered under the amendments. When one considers that point r believe that it would be asking too much to have a whole series of regulations for each company to deal with. Once a company has secured its licence, which it will secure only if it is good and effective, it will have the standards of the BBC and other channels to compete against.
§ Baroness Birk
I cannot say that the noble Earl's answer is satisfactory. I was not quite sure to whom the noble Lord, Lord Quinton, was referring. He seemed to be exercised by the fact that someone had referred to information and education and not entertainment or vice versa. If it was me I do not remember it, and it would have been a slip of the tongue.
The noble Lord reminded us that he was a member of the Peacock Committee. The Peacock Committee was established to look into the financing of the BBC but it cast its net very much wider and to great effect. However, I do not remember the committee casting it in the direction of doing away with public service broadcasting criteria on independent television. That was not within its remit.
With respect, I believe that the noble Earl is wrong. Negative requirements are easier to operate than positive ones. He made it sound as though a very much more onerous duty is being imposed than is so. If he reads the terms of the amendment again he will 22 see that it is something that we have lived with since before 1954. This has been going all the way through British broadcasting and has been envied by people all over the world. It is wrong to think that this situation will throw the independence of companies. All it does is set a skeleton framework within which companies are asked to operate. That is not asking too much.
The noble Earl said that the old system was devised in a different era. He is quite right, but I see it the other way round. Because we are moving ahead so rapidly in the technological field it is even more necessary to have a skeleton structure within which people can operate and which they can understand, which is certainly not onerous and under which entertainment as well is of good quality and is properly scheduled. There is good quality entertainment and bad quality entertainment. Children are the greatest watchers of television; they spend more time watching television than they spend at school. They should not be watching bad quality television, whether for entertainment, for information or for education. The point about pushing the matter on to the BBC and Channel 4 was so well expressed by my noble friend Lady Blackstone that I shall not go over it again.
The Minister said that the Government have no intention of,letting the standards of ITV fall away".I am sure that that is not his intention. I do not believe that the Government intend it either. The danger is that by their actions, or by what they are refusing to be active about at the moment, we shall see the very thing which they have said they do not want. No argument has been put up against retaining a system which I believe we throw away at our peril. This matter is so fundamental to the Bill that I should like to take the opinion of the Committee.
I realise that the noble Baroness is concerned about the matter. Perhaps I may point out one thing to her. She said that she does not want bad programmes. None of us does. The whole point is that before a licence is issued the programme maker will have to go through the hoop of Clause 16. If she looks at that clause she will see that a sufficient amount of time is given, in the programmes included in the service, to news programmes and current affairs with both national and international matters, and that a sufficient amount of time is given in the programmes to ones which are of high quality. All those points have to be gone through by the programme maker before he is even considered for a licence. That is the strength.
§ 4 p.m.
The noble Earl must surely realise and understand—I am sure he does—that the existing programme companies, Anglia, Border and so on, all had to go through such a hoop. Having done so, and obtained the franchise, they had an obligation placed upon them with regard to public service broadcasting. The Minister said that these companies will have to go through a hoop—and we accept that fact—but, having gone through the hoop, it would seem that that obligation has been removed.
At present the broadcasting company—that is, ITV—is the actual broadcaster. However, it will now be the individual companies which will be the broadcasters; the ITC will only be the regulatory body. I see the noble Lord shaking his head: I can assure him that that is the true position.
As I understand it, Clause 16 compels the ITC to adopt a procedure, referred to by many noble Lords as a "hoop", prior to issuing licences. I should have thought that it was unthinkable for the ITC to issue licences which did not contain conditions along the lines of those set out in Clause 16. If that was not the case, there would be no reason for having this clause. There is absolutely no point in prescribing a Bill in the way noble Lords opposite suggest.
§ Baroness Birk
All that has been said is true. The noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, is quite right: we are talking about two different concepts. When the words that I wish to insert in the Bill were included in the broadcasting conditions—they appeared in the Broadcasting Act 1981—companies still had to go through a so-called "hoop". However, changes are now taking place. If the auction procedure remains, that would present an entirely different case over which the ITC would certainly not have anything like the control that the IBA had.
It is because the ITC would have a much lighter touch in controlling such matters and because it is not a broadcaster, as the Minister rightly pointed out, that, in my opinion and that of others who think along the same lines, it is even more necessary that we should insert these words in the Bill.
It seems extraordinary that the Minister has chosen to explain at some length, correctly and courteously, that this provision is not necessary when it already exists. As so many of us feel that it is not sufficiently emphasised, why cannot the Government accept what is proposed? That is all we want. We do not seem to be arguing in the main about the principle of the matter; we are arguing about whether these words should be included. In my view, they would impose a very light obligation upon the commission.
Amendment No. 16 which deals with scheduling, is also a matter of great importance. It is not covered elsewhere in the Bill. As the Bill stands, programmes could be scheduled but broadcast at a very inconvenient hour. Educational programmes could be broadcast at a time of night which was not convenient. This is a fundamental matter of principle. Unless the Minister wishes to intervene again—and I would be happy for him to do so—I feel that I must take the opinion of the Committee.
§ 4.4 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 90; Not-Contents, 117.25
|Division No. 1|
|Ampthill, L.||Blackstone, B.|
|Ardwick, L.||Boston of Faversham, L.|
|Birk, B.||Bottomley, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Lloyd of Hampstead, L.|
|Carter, L.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||London, Bp.|
|Clinton-Davis, L.||Longford, E.|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||Mackie of Benshie, L.|
|Darcy (de Knayth), B.||McNair, L.|
|David, B.||Masham of Ilton, B.|
|Davies of Penrhys, L.||Mason of Barnsley, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Mayhew, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Mellish, L.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Merrivale, L.|
|Ennals, L.||Molloy, L.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Morris of Castle Morris, L.|
|Exeter, Bp.||Mulley, L.|
|Ezra, L.||Nicol, B.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Peston, L.|
|Fitt, L.||Phillips, B.|
|Gallacher, L.||Plowden, L.|
|Galpern, L.||Richard, L.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Glasgow, E.||Rochester, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.]||Seear, B.|
|Gregson, L.||Shackleton, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Shaughnessy, L.|
|Hanworth, V.||Soper, L.|
|Hayter, L.||Stallard, L.|
|Henderson of Brompton, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Hollis of Heigham, B.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Holme of Cheltenham, L.||Tenby, V.|
|Hunt, L.||Thomas of Swynnerton, L.|
|Hylton, L.||Tordoff, L. [Teller.]|
|Jeger, B.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Jenkins of Hillhead, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L.||Walston, L.|
|Kearton, L.||Warnock, B.|
|Kennet, L.||Wedderburn of Charlton, L.|
|Kilbracken, L.||White, B.|
|Kinloss, Ly.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Leatherland, L.||Willis, L.|
|Listowel, E.||Winstanley, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Ellenborough, L.|
|Allerton, L.||Elles, B.|
|Arran, E.||Elliot of Harwood, B.|
|Ashbourne, L.||Elton, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Erroll of Hale, L.|
|Balfour, E.||Ferrers, E.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Fraser of Kilmorack, L.|
|Beloff, L.||Gainford, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Gardner of Parkes, B.|
|Bessborough, E.||Gibson-Watt, L.|
|Blatch, B.||Granville of Eye, L.|
|Blyth, L.||Gridley, L.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Hailsham of|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Saint Marylebone, L.|
|Brigstocke, B.||Halsbury, E.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Henley, L.|
|Butterworth, L.||Hesketh, L.|
|Buxton of Alsa, L.||Hives, L.|
|Caithness, E.||Home of the Hirsel, L.|
|Caldecote, V.||Hylton-Foster, B.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Joseph, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Lauderdale, E.|
|Carnock, L.||Liverpool, E.|
|Colnbrook, L.||Long, V.|
|Colwyn, L.||Luke, L.|
|Constantine of Stanmore, L.||Lyell, L.|
|Cottesloe, L.||McColl of Dulwich, L.|
|Cox, B.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.|
|Crickhowell, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Davidson, V. [Teller.]||Margadale, L.|
|De Freyne, L.||Marsh, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Eccles, V.||Mersey, V.|
|Eccles of Moulton, B.||Middleton, L.|
|Effingham, E.||Morris, L.|
|Mountevans, L.||St. John of Bletso, L.|
|Mowbray and Stourton, L.||Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.|
|Munster, E.||Sanderson of Bowden, L.|
|Nelson, E.||Selborne, E.|
|Newall, L.||Selkirk, E.|
|Norfolk, D.||Sharpies, B.|
|Nugent of Guildford, L.||Slim, V.|
|Orkney, E.||Stockton, E.|
|Orr-Ewing, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Oxfuird, V.||Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.|
|Pearson of Rannoch, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Pender, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Peterborough, Bp.||Swinfen, L.|
|Peyton of Yeovil, L.||Swinton, E.|
|Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.||Taylor of Hadfield, L.|
|Quinton, L.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Rankeillour, L.||Thorneycroft, L.|
|Reay, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Rees, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Rees-Mogg, L.||Ullswater, V.|
|Renton, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Rodney, L.||Whitelaw, V.|
|Romney, E.||Wise, L.|
|St. Davids, V.||Wyatt of Weeford, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ Schedule 1 [The Independent Television Commission: Supplementary Provisions]:
The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sanderson of Bowden) moved Amendment No. 2:
Page 142, line 11, after ("including") insert ("(subject to sub-paragraph (4))").
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 2 and to speak to Amendments Nos. 3, 224 and 225. These amendments will make the borrowing powers of the ITC and the radio authority under paragraph 1(3) of Schedules 1 and 6 subject to approval by the Secretary of State. Once the commission and authority are up and running, we expect that they will finance their expenditure in full from licence fee income. Should they face a shortfall in working capital, paragraph 13 enables advances to be made from the Exchequer. It is not the intention that the commission or authority should finance capital spending from commercial sources, but they may from time to time need to run a limited commercial overdraft. The amendment will enable the Secretary of State to issue a formal approval for the purpose, once the detailed financial needs of the commission and authority become clear. The new sub-paragraph (4) provides for a general authority in order to avoid the need to approve each and every act of borrowing. I commend the amendment to the Committee.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendment No. 3:
Page 142, line 12, at end insert:
("(4) The power of the Commission to borrow money (otherwise than under paragraph 13) shall not be exercised by them except with the consent of, or in accordance with a general authority given by, the Secretary of State.").
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 4 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
Lord Winstanley moved Amendment No. 5:
Page 142, line 37, at end insert:
("( ) In appointing members to the Commission the Secretary of State shall seek to ensure that the Commission is representative of a wide range of consumer and broadcasting interests and opinions and that no appointment gives undue prominence to any political party or opinion.").
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 5 standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Bonham-Carter. He regrets his absence and he will be here as soon as he can. The amendment is supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and is self-explanatory. It lays certain requirements on the Secretary of State with regard to his appointments to the commission. The matter has arisen in a number of contexts. There is nothing improper about appointments being made by the Secretary of State or the Government. However, where government appointments are made, there comes a time—particularly when a certain government remain in power for a long time—when they have made almost all the appointments. Therefore, whatever the body, be it the Independent Television Commission, the Court of Appeal or any public body, after a time it tends to begin to reflect the views of the government that appointed it. This is particularly so if the government remain in power for a long time, and it has happened with a number of organisations. It has possibly happened with regard to the governors of the BBC.
I do not wish to make too much of the last sentence in the amendment,
that no appointment gives undue prominence to any political party or opinion".
The first part of the amendment requires that,
the Secretary of State shall seek to ensure that the Commission is representative of a wide range of consumer and broadcasting interests and opinions".
§ Surely that is what we want. We do not specify everybody who has an interest in broadcasting. Every person has an interest in broadcasting but this means anybody who has an active interest. It might mean people from the various associations concerned, even trade unions which are intimately involved. It is important and right that in making these appointments to a body which will be of immense importance to broadcasting, under the Bill, considerable powers are left in the hands of the commission. It is not merely the original power to select the successful applicant for the franchise for an area. That is no small power; it is immense. The commission awards power and influence to a particular company.
§ If a statutory body such as this is appointed by the Secretary of State, it is essential that we should carefully scrutinise in advance, or lay down so far as we can, the way in which appointments to that body are made.
§ I do not wish to elaborate because the amendment is self-evident. We wish to ensure that when the commission comes into being—the members having been appointed by the Secretary of State—the origins, the nature and the qualifications as well as the interests of its members are such that we feel happy that we have a body which represents all the different 27 interests in broadcasting. We wish also to feel that the members will have no particular political flavour. I beg to move.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
I hope that my noble friend will not accept the amendment, particularly the concluding words. The noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, seemed to have little enthusiasm for them. They seem to suggest that only nonentities should be appointed to the commission. It is quite obvious that we want a balance of political, social and other opinions among those appointed to this extremely important body. The amendment seems to rule out any individual whose appointment would give undue prominence to any political party or opinion.
Any person of standing or calibre has opinions which are often known. His appointment would give prominence—I do not know what "undue prominence" means—to those views. If we are to have a strong body of high standing in which the public will have confidence, the last thing we wish to do is to inhibit the Secretary of State in appointing people of character and calibre to it. I hope therefore that the amendment will be either withdrawn or negatived.
§ Baroness Phillips
Perhaps the noble Lord has misread the amendment. It states:no appointment gives undue prominence".That is rather different from saying that people should have no views. The noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, was more tactful than I should have been. The Government have made an abnormal number of appointments to various bodies which directly reflect their political point of view. That emphasis is a serious matter.
The description in the Bill is negative: it states what the member should not be. Curiously, it makes reference to:Three of the members of the Commission other than the chairman and deputy chairman shall be persons who appear to the Secretary of State to be suited to make the interests of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, respectively, their special care".Are we to assume that if the word "consumer" were to appear, it would not then include people who have an interest in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland? They view in the same way as everybody else.
The words in the amendment are a distinct improvement because all too often the consumer is not represented on enough bodies or has no direct representation. Therefore, it is important to appoint people who view. I have sat on commissions where people, in a superior way, have stated that they do not look at television. Therefore they are not in an expert position to tell other people what they should view on television. Consumers' views are very important. There is no suggestion that appointees should not have political views, but there should not be a political emphasis. If the Government change, as we are quite sure they will, the noble Lord might like to be considered for the appointment, but if the matter is left as it stands, he may not be.
§ Lord Peyton of Yeovil
I should like to support my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter and at the same 28 time express a fear that by the time we reach the end of Committee stage, the Bill, which is already quite substantial, may have reached gigantic proportions. By the time we have finished dealing with everybody's intentions and how they should be carried out and detailing the functions of every single person who is appointed and the people who appoint them, we shall have a very long Bill. I hope that for those general reasons the Committee will reject the amendment.
I should like to ask one simple question. Suppose that there were to be a Home Secretary—and we do not have such a one—who was an ardent political partisan and saw no view but his own; to what extent would he feel inhibited from making an appointment by the wordsthat no appointment gives undue prominence to any political party or opinion"?He may think that the green light was sufficient and that he need not be inconvenienced in any way by words that I can only describe as padding.
§ Lord Marsh
My objection to the amendment is that it assumes, as political parties do, that people's political views are in neat little packages and that there is a Labour Party view, a Conservative Party view or a Liberal Party view. We all know that that is not the case. Anyone who has been in this building for very long knows that behind the facade views are held which would be complete anathema to other party supporters. That situation applies to all sides of the House, and it is particularly true in relation to these Benches, where there are 250 noble Lords who hold very strong political views on different issues. Those views are not Right-wing or Left-wing; they vary.
The amendment is unattractive in that the only way that the provision could be properly discharged would be to carry out an investigation into the opinions of potential candidates. Anyone who has been a Minister in any Cabinet charged with the task of making appointments to various bodies knows full well that his party supporters will not expect him to be obsessed by objectivity; they will want to see friends and fellow party members appointed to those posts. Everybody knows perfectly well that someone can get round that situation quite easily because he knows people well enough to know that, whatever their party label, their views are sound, sensible and reasonable.
I do not think that the amendment could be practically absorbed. If one sought to do so one could only do it properly by trying to ascertain the political views of individuals; and in most cases whoever tried to do so would probably be wrong on many issues.
§ Lord Willis
I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Marsh. However, one question arises. I should like to take the example of the National Health Service. I do not have the figures but I have some experience of the South-East region. Approximately 80 per cent. of the appointments that have been made in the last eight or nine years have been from Conservative Party ranks. How does one avoid that situation?
§ Lord Marsh
The noble Lord asks a direct question. The situation evens itself out in our system. If one goes 29 back to the post-war years, parties in this House have changed sides in terms of government at fairly regular intervals. When a Conservative Government have been in office for a period of 10 years, not surprisingly many appointments will have been of Conservative sympathisers because they are the people that are well-known. When a Labour Government are eventually elected, that situation will change because the La hour Party will then appoint its friends. On the whole, the system works out quite well.
§ Baroness Birk
The noble Lord, Lord Marsh, is wrong because the last Labour Government appointed more Conservatives than many supporters were happy about.
I should like to look at the other aspects of the amendment, which are very important. I shall leave the political aspect aside except to say that my noble friend Lady Phillips was quite right when she stated that the objection is not to a prominent political personage but to too many people of a political party being represented on the commission.
The other part of the amendment, which is even more important, considers the wide range of consumer and broadcasting interests. Therefore, those who have knowledge of certain aspects of television and radio would represent different kinds of consumers. That is how I read the amendment and in that event I think that it is a harmless one.
§ Viscount Whitelaw
I have a small amount of experience of appointing people to exactly the bodies that we are discussing. I have always been told that Acts of Parliament should not contain words that are unnecessary. I cannot believe that the words in the amendment are necessary.
I can assure your Lordships that in my time I desperately tried to get the right balance on those bodies and to appoint as many people from as wide a circle as I could. I did not require an Act of Parliament to do so. I tried desperately hard. The only reason that I sometimes failed was that I could not persuade some people to serve on those bodies; but that is another matter.
Any Secretary of State who is worth anything would surely conduct himself in the spirit of those words, whether or not they are in the Bill. I do not think that the words are necessary and they should not be there.
The Earl of Halsbury
I do not know whether I can be of assistance. As an ex-governor of the BBC I had two colleagues, Dame Anne Godwin, president of the Office 'Workers' Union, who was Labour, and Thelma Cazlet-Keir, MP, who represented Conservative interests in the other place. We were far too interested in the affairs of the BBC to have any time for politics.
§ Lord Sanderson of Bowden
We have had an interesting, although short, debate. I have no quarrel with the thought behind the first part of the amendment down to the words "interests and opinions". It states a principle from which we would not dissent. I can assure the Committee that the Government will take that principle into account in making appointments to the ITC. We have already 30 made some appointments to the shadow ITC. I am sure that noble Lords who know the personalities involved will realise that they represent a very broad spectrum of opinion and have very wide interests. That picture will further be borne out by the remainder of the appointments which we hope to be able to announce before very long.
I am sure that my noble friends will be pleased to hear that I do not think that it is necessary to place the Secretary of State under a statutory duty of the kind proposed in the amendment.
I do not wish to become involved in the politics of the matter, but I should like to point out to the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, that we have a very good member of the board of the BBC governors in the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. I reject the amendment.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord for what he has said. I am considering that carefully at the moment. I hope the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, will not be too distressed if I say that I very much agree with some of the things he said about this amendment. I also agree that the amendment is in two parts, as has been pointed out. If I may say so, the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, had obviously misread one part. He asked whether we wanted a whole set of nonentities. The amendment says nothing like that at all. It says:In appointing members to the Commission the Secretary of State shall seek to ensure that the Commission is representative of a wide range of consumer and broadcasting interests …".The people can be very eminent indeed. I do not mean to refer to nonentities there—
They could be very distinguished people; and the amendment continues:and that no appointment gives undue prominence to any political party or opinion.I am bound to say that I am not entirely happy with those words because they seem to deal with one particular appointment. What I would not be happy about is the situation in which, if appointments were made in general, over a period those appointments in general would accumulate, as it were, and could come to represent a particular political flavour. That would be rather different.
I am grateful for the assurances the noble Lord has given us. He has more or less said that the things we would like to see done will be done. As regards the last part, I think we must wait and see. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 4.30 p.m.
Lord Morris moved Amendment No. 5A:
Page 143, line 23, after ("7") insert ("and 7A").
§ The noble Lord said: At the outset I should like to apologise to my noble friend for the lateness of my tabling of these amendments. I hope this has not caused him or his officials undue inconvenience.
It will be clear to your Lordships that this amendment requires all ITC meetings, with specific
exceptions, to be held in public. Under paragraph 6(2) of Schedule 1, the Secretary of State may approve the carrying out of any of the ITC's functions by committee and this amendment would extend to meetings of any such committee. Your Lordships will recall that the government White Paper, Broadcasting in the '90s: Competition, Choice and Quality, states at paragraph 6.5 that,
the ITC would apply lighter, more objective programme requirements. The way in which the Commission enforced them could be tested in the courts.
The amendment seeks to pose the question: how can this answerability to the courts, a vital element in ensuring that the ITC's approach is a
less heavy handed and discretionary approach than the IBA",
be expected if the public, including journalists and anyone affected by the ITC's decisions, cannot gain admittance to the ITC's meetings?
§ It is worth recalling the range of responsibilities of the ITC. They will be taking decisions, inter alia, on Channel 3, Channel 5, direct broadcasting by satellite, cable licence awards by competitive tender, Channel 3 regulation, Channel 4 regulation, Channel 5 regulation, non-domestic satellite licensing and regulation, supervision of transmission arrangements, the collection of revenue for the Exchequer, codes on programme and advertising content and the imposition of sanctions. All these issues are of real public interest and the interested public should be allowed to hear how the decisions are made.
§ My noble friend may, as a criticism of this amendment, suggest that many of the matters considered by the Independent Television Commission are likely to include commercially sensitive and therefore confidential material submitted by such persons as the future licensees. However, I think that the exception which has been written into the amendment is capable of being expanded should that be requested.
§ Another criticism might be that the admission of the public would inhibit the ITC in its discussions. That is a fear which is a luxury of bodies which know nothing of public accountability. My noble friend will know that in the United States of America there is a long tradition of open decision making, with public access being guaranteed to meetings of public bodies. It seems to work extremely well there, and I suggest that it could work to the great benefit of the public in this country if the meetings were held in public and not taken in the way they have been taken in the past. I beg to move.
§ Lord Sanderson of Bowden
The amendments would require the ITC, as I understand it, to admit members of the public to its meetings, except where it was considering matters relating to its staff. I share my noble friend's view that business affecting the public should be conducted in public wherever possible, and I shall attempt to draw to my noble friend's attention some of the points of difficulty about this aspect.
I am afraid that this requirement would be impractical in the case of the ITC. The reason is 32 simply that a large proportion of the commission's time will be taken up with the discussion of commercially confidential matters, as my noble friend has indicated might be the case. For instance, it will have to consider competing applications for licences and that will often involve considering the realism and soundness of the applicant's business plans. That would not be possible if their commercial rivals were sitting in the public gallery. It is pretty obvious that they would not submit candid applications if they knew that was likely to happen.
All that means that the ITC would be quite unlike a local authority, which is perhaps the model that my noble friend may be considering. The fact that its meetings will not be public, however, does not mean that the ITC will be a remote body, impervious to the views of the public. The shadow ITC under Mr. George Russell has already indicated that it plans to set up viewer consultative committees in different parts of the country and this will give viewer representatives an opportunity to tell the ITC what they think of programmes. The Bill also lays down specific procedures for public consultation by the ITC on the award of the important Channel 3 and Channel 5 franchises. It will he required to publish the names of all applicants, together with programme plans.
The ITC will be obliged to take into account any comments made by members of the public before deciding whether the applicant has passed the quality threshold. Public accountability is more effectively secured through specific procedures of this kind rather than through a general right of public access to meetings, which few ordinary members of the public would probably exercise.
My noble friend suggested that the difficulty about commercial confidentiality might be overcome—I think this was behind his thinking—by having open and closed agendas, in the same way as his amendment would allow for personal matters to be dealt with in the absence of the public. I am afraid that I do not think this would be practicable. So much of the ITC's business will be commercially confidential that the public would have to be excluded for a very great deal of the time from the workings of the ITC.
My noble friend asked how the ITC could be accountable to the courts if the public did not have access to meetings. If the ITC's decisions were to be tested in court—for instance by judicial review—the court could demand the production of the relevant documents. I know this will come as some disappointment to my noble friend, but I hope that when he has considered what I have said—and not everything that comes from the other side of the Atlantic is necessarily something that we should go along with—he will realise that there are difficulties in accepting his amendment.
I am not in the least disappointed by that answer. On the contrary, I am grateful to my noble friend for his very full reply to the amendments. He has certainly given me an appetite for expanding the exception but I shall consider very carefully before coming to a final decision. I thank my noble friend. I beg to leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 5B not moved.]
Baroness Ewart-Biggs moved Amendment No. 6:
Page 144, line 19, at end insert:
("( ) The Commission shall undertake to ensure that appointments are made in line with good practice for equal opportunities employment policies.").
The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 6 requires the implementation of equal opportunities employment policies for ITC staff. We are asking for this rather specific commitment to equal opportunities both because we think it important and right but also in anticipation of the wider measure which the Minister in another place undertook to put forward. The Minister, Mr. David Mellor, in responding to amendments put forward by my honourable friend Mr. Mark Fisher which required applicants for a licence and independent producers used by them to provide an undertaking of their commitment to an equal Opportunities policy, said:
It is appropriate that we should put in a statutory arrangement for an equal opportunities policy. I envisage that the ITC will be placed under a duty to attach conditions to the relevant licences, requiring the licensees to pursue an equal opportunities policy in matters of employment and promotion and to review it from time to time. That would enable the ITC to ask applicants how they would propose to fulfil that condition … I hereby undertake to bring forward in the other place a new clause in the terms that I have described".—[Official Report, Commons, 8/5/90; cols. 93–94.]
§ We look forward to seeing the new clause which the Government have in mind.
§ There is ample evidence of the need for the amendment. I pointed out on Second Reading some of the very large imbalances between the numbers of men and women in the industry and some of the adverse conditions affecting women. For example, only 21 of the 220 top jobs in the BBC are held by women. In ITV women occupy only between 5 per cent. and 6 per cent. of the technical posts available. On the other hand there is ample evidence that women enter the industry. At the bottom of the scale, as many as 93 per cent. of studio production assistants are women. It is further up the ladder that one recognises the sad fact that many of those women have been pushed aside or have left because they were discouraged. At director level 81 per cent. of the posts are held by men. Only 19 per cent. of high ranking jobs are held by women.
§ The availability of good employment conditions for women in the industry is also disappointing. There is patchy provision of child-care facilities. Some television companies do well in the provision of maternity leave, but all are well behind the police who offer very good conditions—three months maternity leave on full pay with no qualifying period. That makes a great difference regarding retention of staff.
§ All in all, the statistics show that there is an overwhelming need for an equal opportunities commitment in the Bill. It is important that ethnic minorities and the disabled should be included in equal opportunities policies, although I have focused my few remarks in this instance on women.
§ We look forward to hearing what the Government have to offer and reserve the right to comment on their 34 provisions. In the meantime we believe that the amendment, requiring the ITC to demonstrate its commitment to equal opportunities, is appropriate and gives a good lead to the industry. I believe that there should be a balance of men and women in the commission. Television and the media are crucial to education, culture and politics in our society. If the ITC has a proper balance of women and good equal opportunities policies, it will set a very good example to the industry. I believe that providing such a model at the very hub of the broadcasting environment would give a great deal of encouragement to emulation throughout the industry. The amendment seeks to achieve improvement through example. I very much hope that it will find favour with the Minister. I beg to move.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Lord Sanderson of Bowden
I believe that we are at one on the thought underlying Amendment No. 6. We should all agree that the ITC makes appointments in line with good equal opportunities practice, whether on racial or sexual grounds, and adopts the same policy in matters such as promotion and training. Where I differ from the noble Baroness is that I do not agree that it would be appropriate to place the commission under a statutory duty to that effect. The ITC, like any other employer, will be subject to the Race Relations Act and the Sex Discrimination Act. It will also inherit from the IBA a strong commitment to equal opportunities. Perhaps I should state what that strong commitment is, as set out in a letter from the IBA:The IBA has an equal opportunities policy which is reviewed from time to time in consultation with the recognised trade union. The operation of the policy involves the monitoring of the ethnic origin of the IBA's staff and applicants for posts in the IBA. Contacts are maintained with the Commission for Racial Equality and with organisations such as Project Fullemploy and the Windsor Fellowship".Nothing that we intend for the ITC will detract from that policy. With that background we are confident, that the ITC will be a good employer in these matters.
The amendment could also have unintended implications. If the ITC were to be placed under a statutory duty, doubt might be cast on the commitment to equal opportunities of other statutory bodies without such a duty. Any legislative initiative in this area inevitably could have wide-ranging implications.
The noble Baroness used the critical words "in the industry". I should like to comment on those words and advise her what the Government intend to do to fulfil the commitment given in another place. The noble Baroness pointed out that the Government gave a commitment in another place and that the main ITC and radio authority licensees would be placed under a duty in relation to equal opportunities. We hope to bring forward amendments later in he Committee stage to fulfil that commitment. But the position of the licensees is different from that of the ITC. We decided to introduce a provision in relation to the licensees because of the particular ability of broadcasters to affect public attitudes. It is important that they should pursue equal opportunities policies for all the 35 standard reasons. But there is a further reason. The people whom they employ influence the portrayal on the screen of women and ethnic minorities. What appears on the screen helps to shape public attitudes. That specific consideration does not apply in anything like the same degree to the regulatory bodies to which the noble Baroness referred.
I hope that the noble Baroness will see, by my having drawn the distinction between the two areas, why we resist the amendment. I give her the assurance that we shall come forward at a later stage with the amendment proposed in another place.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
I hope that we shall not have this approach too often. I am not in great disagreement with the words of the noble Baroness's amendment but I had little sympathy with her speech and the way she approached the matter. If that was the intention behind the words, I shall have to look at them again. What does the emotive phrase "the women are pushed on one side" mean to those who have to interview people before making a decision to employ them? It appears that if one makes a decision which does not happen to mean the employment of a woman, she is "pushed on one side". But people, whatever their sex, are not pushed on one side if, at an interview, they do not come up to the level that the interviewer wanted to find.
The provision of crèches has nothing to do with the amendment. We should all like them. I was delighted to hear my noble friend give the kind of assurance that satisfies us. When interviewing people for a job, one should concentrate on whether they are capable of doing the job and choose, from all the applicants, the best and most likely to make a success of it. So the words are all right: I am glad that the spirit of the amendment is accepted by my noble friend. But the introduction at a very early stage of emotive sex discrimination, which is often too exaggerated to allow the people who have to do the job to carry it out properly, is rather disturbing.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
My noble friend Lord Bonham-Carter put his name to this amendment. Speaking in his absence, I am sure that he would take the view that the Minister has repeated the concession which was made by his honourable friend in the other place. Speaking for myself, I take the view that the position of the licensee is even more important than the position of the commission itself. Therefore, I welcome what the Minister said and look forward to seeing the amendment when he tables it.
§ Baroness Ewart-Biggs
The noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, becomes disturbed rather easily. My point was that an enormous number of women enter the industry. I did not mean that direct discrimination made them leave; I meant that they were unable to stay because of lack of facilities for child care, bad maternity leave arrangements and a whole variety of reasons. The point I made was that there was no lack of a wish to go into the industry. Many women go into it but very few of them end up 36 at the top. No doubt sometimes it is because they are not as appropriate as male candidates but in many cases they have been unable to stay in the industry.
Nevertheless, I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, agrees with the spirit of the amendment. I am also grateful to the Minister for having reiterated the Government's commitment to bring forward amendments on a more wide-ranging basis. I agree with him that it is most important for the licensees to have to abide by an equal opportunities policy. We shall look forward to the further stages of the Bill in order to see the proposals that the Government will bring forward. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Baroness Birk moved Amendment No. 7:
Page 144, line 19, at end insert:
("( ) The Commission shall, in pursuit of its obligations as an employer, seek to reach agreement on wages and conditions with those registered bodies established to represent the interests of its staff").
§ The noble Baroness said: This amendment deals with collective bargaining procedures between the ITC and its staff. Section 25 of the Broadcasting Act 1981 provides for collective agreements and protective measures for employees and the use of ACAS to resolve disputes. At present the Bill acknowledges no role at all for collective bargaining or trade unions.
§ The investigation of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission into alleged restrictive practices in the film and television industries completely exonerated the staff unions. So there is no question of a sanction being needed. Most broadcasting organisations have recently negotiated new flexible contracts and working conditions. Indeed, in a letter to the broadcasting unions and in meetings with their general secretaries, the Minister and the chairmen designate of the ITC and of the RA have acknowledged that existing negotiated terms of employment will be honoured in the transfer of engagements of IBA staff and that the Federation of Broadcasting Unions will continue to be recognised for negotiating purposes.
§ The main point is that it is felt that that should be acknowledged on the face of the Bill in the same way as it is included in the 1981 Act. I beg to move.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
This is a very one-sided amendment. It proposes to impose on the commission a duty to,seek to reach agreement on wages and conditionsbut does not impose a comparable duty on organisations representing the staff to seek to reach agreement with the employers. Therefore, it is quite plainly one sided and for that reason, I hope, will be rejected.
§ Lord Sanderson of Bowden
Like my noble friend I am not attracted by the amendment. It would require the ITC to reach agreement on wages and conditions with a registered trade union. The IBA has always had a good relationship with those who represent its staff, as demonstrated by the responsible and, I believe, sensitive way in which it has handled the consequences for its staff of the privatisation of transmission. I have 37 no doubt that the ITC will continue to behave in the same way. However, I also believe that a statutory requirement would be heavy handed and indeed unnecessary. I do not think I need say any more. I note what the noble Baroness said, but I am afraid that I wish to resist the amendment.
§ Baroness Birk
I do not believe that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, is right. We are talking about collective bargaining and agreements and when these matters will be discussed. That is not to say that they should be one sided and that the ITC should immediately agree with everything put forward by the unions. That is not how I understand the matter. If collective bargaining and negotiations feature in the 1981 Act, I cannot understand why they should not appear in this Bill. It is not some great draconian measure.
§ Lord. Boyd-Carpenter
Perhaps the noble Baroness will look at her own amendment. It proposes to impose a statutory duty on the commission to seek to reach an agreement. It imposes no comparable duty on the unions to seek to reach agreement. Therefore it is one sided.
§ Lord Marsh
I do not have a great deal of concern about the amendment as worded. Any intelligent employers, faced with organised labour—which is going to be the case in the television industry for the foreseeable future—would be extremely stupid if they did not seek to reach agreement in the beginning. If that is what the amendment means, it does not mean anything because that is what people will do in any case. As I think the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, was possibly hinting, it will not be seen in that way at all.
I should declare an interest at the beginning of these discussions. I am a founder shareholder of TV-am and, by my standards anyhow, I still have a significant holding in that company.
This proposal will be interpreted as meaning that pressure should be put upon employers to continue negotiations after a point at which they have decided that there is no purpose in continuing those negotiations. There is no point in beating about the bush. The Committee may agree or disagree but that is the only value of the amendment. It is a very significant amendment if seen in those terms.
The fact is that in recent years, in a number of areas—for example, the miners' dispute—when it was decided that there was no longer any purpose in continuing the negotiations, the employers have broken them off and have sought to impose a settlement. That happened in the long saga of News International at Wapping. Indeed if the employers, in the shape of Rupert Murdoch, had not stood firm at that tine, it is my view that a number of national newspapers would have gone out of business. One thing is absolutely plain. There was no point in continuing negotiations any further because the stand of the trade union in that case was clear. And it was perfectly legitimate; this is a free country. Very understandably the unions wished to retain conditions of service which were attractive to them. However, it 38 was the employers' view—and I think that they were right—that had they been successful in so doing they would have put the company out of business, with a threat to jobs.
Let us consider the case of TV-am. The noble Baroness said that many conditions in the television industry have changed over the past couple of years. That is undoubtedly true. Many people in the television industry must be concerned at what happened in the print industry. The print industry stood in defence of the indefensible for so long that it suffered deterioration in its conditions of service as a direct result. However, if TV-am had not stood firm on at least two occasions and had not imposed conditions because it could not negotiate those it thought right, that company would have gone out of business on each of those occasions with a consequential loss of jobs.
My anxiety is that the amendment simply pays tribute to a stand which any sensible employer in such an industry would take. The amendment is intended to provide that pressure can be applied to an employer to force or seek to coerce him into continuing negotiations beyond the time when he believes there is any point in so doing. If that had happened in the case of News International and Fleet Street generally, there would have been thousands more jobs lost than resulted through imposing conditions which the unions could not have accepted voluntarily. If that had happened in some sections of the television industry, the same situation would have resulted. For reasons which are perfectly understandable, it would have been impossible for the trade unions freely to accept conditions which were eventually imposed on them to the benefit of the industry and employees.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Lord Howie of Troon
I have much sympathy with what has been said on both sides. However, I cannot help feeling that we have been making heavy weather of this issue. The amendment is perfectly reasonable. It is not draconian in any way. It merely asks the commission to seek to reach agreement. As the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, said, sensible employers would do that anyway. That is no reason why they should cavil about having the provision written in the Bill. However, the amendment does not suggest that there is an obligation to reach any agreement which might be on the table. The commission is merely asked to negotiate—to attempt to reach agreement. If it does not reach agreement, something else will happen. The argument that the amendment is one-sided is surely false or mistaken and misguided. I dare say that it is a good debating point.
However, one cannot possibly reach agreement by oneself. One must have somebody else to agree with. The amendment cannot therefore possibly be one-sided in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, tried to suggest. It is a fairly innocuous amendment. I am not wholly convinced that it is totally necessary but it cannot possibly be harmful. I was a little disappointed with the Minister's 39 reply. He said nothing except that he did not much like the amendment, and sat down. I believe that he should have given his answer a little more beef.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
The noble Lord is very interesting. It is pleasant to try to put oneself in a position where one can appear so reasonable. He began by saying that he agreed with both sides. One cannot agree with both sides on the amendment. My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter and the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, put two aspects of the argument which I believe are unanswerable. One aspect is that the amendment is one-sided. If the amendment stated, "The Commission and all unions concerned shall pursue and will endeavour", that would be fair enough. But there is no need for those words because the fact that they are meeting to talk means that that is what they will try to do. From that point of view the amendment is therefore unnecessary.
However, the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, is true and unanswerable. If the provision were in the Bill, Parliament in its legislation would be putting an obligation on one side of the argument to arrive at a decision, and the other side is not mentioned. It is an encouragement for people who may have lost an argument on merit to say, "But Parliament laid it down that they wanted you to reach an agreement. It is there in the Act. The amendment was accepted". I do not believe that that is fair. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Marsh; I do not think that it is practicable either.
If the employing side—the commission in this case—wishes to keep a successful organisation, the financing is most important. To be under an obligation to have to carry on beyond the point where one's experience and knowledge indicate that one is wasting time would be wrong. On the one hand, it is an unnecessary amendment. On the other hand, I agree that in practical terms it can only do damage with regard to reaching agreement at the end of the day.
§ Baroness Phillips
It is a little unfortunate that the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, seems to have used this very innocuous amendment to launch what I would call an attack on employees. I hate to repeat this argument. I sat through the discussions relating to lawyers and solicitors. I talked to the journalists and printers in other disputes and to those involved in the TV-am dispute. Men and women do not strike or demonstrate on the streets unless they have a very good cause. They have to be driven to it. In the present climate it is essential to have everything underlined and written into legislation. What is the first thing that employers do when they wish to save money and protect their profits? They cut back on manpower. That happens all the time. This very simple amendment seems to me to be unnecessarily harshly taken up by the noble Lord, Lord Marsh.
§ Lord Aylestone
It is perhaps worth remembering that the Committee is discussing the commission and not the IBA. The IBA employs many thousands. The commission at best will employ a couple of hundred.
§ Lord Willis
With respect to the noble Lords, Lord Boyd-Carpenter and Lord Harmar-Nicholls, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howie, that one-sidedness may be a good debating point but it is totally illogical in the context of this Bill.
The clause seeks to define some duties of the commission. It cannot possibly define the duties of the trade unions. One cannot have that in the Bill because that has nothing to do with broadcasting. All that one can say is that attempts should be made to reach an agreement on wages, conditions, and so forth. But one cannot write all the unions concerned into the Bill and send them such instructions. The Bill has nothing to do with trade unions. If another Bill were introduced which instructed trade unions by law to negotiate with the commission, that would be fair enough. But such provision has no place in this Bill.
§ Baroness Birk
There is very little left for me to say. My noble friends Lord Willis, Lord Howie and Lady Phillips have said it all. The response was unfortunate. Perhaps when Members of the Committee read the amendment more carefully in conjunction with the Bill they will understand that it is intended to make provision for collective bargaining and for negotiation and collective agreement. In the meantime, it is quite clear that I shall not get far with it this afternoon. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Ardwick moved Amendment No. 8:
Page 145, line 40, at end insert:
("(3) The report shall include an assessment of the programme service provided by each person holding a licence to provide a Channel 3 or Channel 5 service, and in particular such assessment shall compare the service provided with the proposals submitted by the licence holder under section 15(3) (b), (c) and (d)").
§ The noble Lord said: Under Schedule 1 the commission is obliged to give a general report of its proceedings to the Secretary of State at the end of each financial year. He is obliged to lay copies before Parliament. Only one proviso is made—that the report shall have attached to it the statement of accounts and the auditors' report.
§ That proviso appears to be rather casual. It is consistent with the commission exerting not merely a light touch but a gossamer touch. The Minister has accepted the proposal that the report should be comprehensive but has opposed the proposal for a list of the issues with which it should deal. Why has he done so? The 1981 Act gave tougher directions. There was no lighthearted approach to a general report but there was a stern demand for the IBA to produce a detailed account of the quality and diversity of the programmes provided by ITV. There is no doubt that Mr. Russell, the excellent director of the commission, will provide a report of that kind. However, who can be sure about his successor?
§ It appears to Members on this side of the Committee that the commission must deliver an assessment of how consistently and well the licensees are delivering the goods that they promised when they made their plea for a licence. That assessment must be made available to the public. We wish to add the 41 provision that the report shall assess the programme services of each licensee in relation to the promises made by him in his application.
§ I hope that I am not pushing at a closed door. The government amendment, Amendment No. 177, appears to be in accord with the spirit of this amendment. I beg to move.
§ Lord Sanderson of Bowden
We certainly envisage that the ITC's annual report will be both comprehensive and pertinent and may include the areas set out in the proposed amendment. The noble Lord missed paragraph 15(1) in which the commission is asked to prepare a general report of the proceedings during the year. However, we believe that the ITC should essentially decide for itself the form and content of its own report. We therefore consider that it is inappropriate for the Bill to lay down specifically what should be included in the ITC's annual report.
The important point is that the proposals submitted by successful applicants under Clause 15(3) (b) (c) and (d) will become licence conditions. If licensees do not fulfil those conditions one will expect the ITC to impose appropriate sanctions. The imposition of such sanctions is likely itself to be a feature of the ITC's annual report. They will be important parts of the proceedings of that body during the course of the year. I believe that it would be wrong to lay down every requirement of the ITC in regard to the report. However, in relation to some of the problem areas I am sure that they will appear in the report naturally.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
I apologise for my absence at the start of the Committee stage. I had a long-standing and unavoidable commitment in Scotland, from which I have just returned.
I hope that the Government will give further consideration to the amendment because a great deal of importance is attached to it on this side of the Committee. The fundamental change in principle that the Government are introducing in the Broadcasting Bill is in converting the Independent Broadcasting Authority, which is a regulatory authority, into the Independent Television Commission, which is a licensing authority. That basic change has important consequences. Therefore it is important not only that the ITC should set out careful and detailed conditions for licences but that the implementation of them should be monitored closely in a public way. That should be reported regularly to Parliament and to the public.
The basic change that is being made in converting to a licensing authority means that we must reinforce the machinery whereby the public is reassured every year that the conditions in the licences of each licensee are being adequately fulfilled. Therefore the new licensees should be under a statutory obligation to show that they are fulfilling the conditions. The ITC should have a rigorous monitoring operation and should annually lay before Parliament and the public the results of that monitoring.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Warnock
I strongly support the amendment. Clause 16 deals with quality conditions, which have been variously described as Becher's Brook or the last part of the puissance. If they are properly and heavily relied upon it is important that every year an assessment should be made showing whether the conditions have been satisfied, and the public should be informed. However, it is not easy to say whether the conditions have or have not been met because they are conditions of quality. Assessment therefore involves an element of judgment. It is easy to say that a promised programme was broadcast under the agreed name but it may be evident that the quality of the programme has degenerated. It is important to remember that the companies providing the programmes will be under constant pressure from advertisers to increase the programme ratings. Not enough is made of that fact. It is easy to promise quality but it is less easy for companies to uphold that quality when the advertisers are continually breathing down their necks.
Although in the old days the companies often complained about the IBA and the conditions that were laid down they often used its requirements to enable them to maintain the quality of their programmes. They could use those requirements in negotiations with advertisers, saying that the IBA would insist that they do this and that. That element is in danger of being lost. All kinds of promises may be made which satisfy the provisions of Clause 16. However, they may be forgotten unless each year there is a detailed comparison between the service provided and the proposals submitted by the licence holder and that is made public. The amendment is important in reinforcing the proper insistence on the provisions in Clause 16.
§ The Earl of Lauderdale
I believe that the effect of the amendment is to strengthen the hands of the commission, and as such it should be welcomed.
§ Lord Colwyn
Can my noble friend say whether his earlier remarks show that the intention behind the amendment is covered elsewhere in the Bill or in future amendments? The Government have stressed the importance of quality threshold and positive programming requirements. They have also declared their intention of allowing exceptional quality to take preference over the highest cash bid. T he intention is that the ITC will judge the programme and business plans to determine whether they can, in reality, be delivered. In the uncertain competitive market that will greet the franchise winners the ITC has been given power to ensure that licence conditions are met and maintained. That power must surely include an assessment of each Channel 3 company's performance against its promises. The amendment makes that possible through the ITC annual report and seems to me worthy of support.
§ Lord Willis
History shows us that the amendment is necessary. If we go back in history to the IBA, we can see that on two or three occasions franchises were awarded to certain companies on the basis that those companies would deliver quality. Unfortunately, they 43 fell into financial and other difficulties and they had to water down the programmes in order to survive. The IBA gave its blessing and permission to alter those programmes.
In the very early days—and I am going back to 1956—at least half a dozen companies started off with very high ambitions. They nearly went broke and the 'planes to America were crowded with English television producers travelling to buy cheap television programmes with which to fill our airways. The IBA had to lower its standards tremendously.
The same thing happened as regards London Weekend. When that company was awarded the franchise, it made all kinds of wonderful promises, and it had a very glamorous board. Very rapidly it ran into difficulties, and again standards were lowered and changed—so much so that the board which eventually took over bore no relationship to the board which had been awarded the franchise. These matters are very important and should not be ignored. The amendment should be supported.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
One accepts the noble Lord's arguments. One listens with care to the noble Lord, Lord Willis, because he has day-to-day contact with these matters and he knows the abstract and concrete consequences which are likely to flow.
However, I believe that his argument is supporting Clause 15. It has not much to do with this amendment. Clause 15 imposes an obligation to provide a very detailed report. I do not know what my noble friend's reaction will be to this amendment. However, I believe that the amendment is stating how the report should be written. I would expect that any report would include the matters which are mentioned in the amendment. I do not see that it could be a full report without that.
In any case, if by inadvertence or for some reason there are omissions, then the report will come before Parliament and those omissions can be rectified at that stage. I agree with the message which the noble Lord, Lord Willis, is trying to give to us. I believe that is an argument in support of this amendment; it is in support of the Bill and Clause 15 in particular.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
The noble Lord said that this amendment seeks to tell the authority what should be included in the report. It seeks to place a requirement upon the authority. That requirement will be welcomed because it will publicly strengthen the authority, and all concerned, including advertisers, will know that it is there. That is the important point. As Members of the Committee opposite have said, the amendment strengthens the position of the authority. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, said, that this is no longer a regulating authority but is a licensing body. Anybody who knows anything about the business will know that such a body needs all the strength it can be given from a legislative point of view. I hope that the Government will see that there is force in this argument, and that they may be prepared to consider the amendment.
§ Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran
With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, when he referred to Clause 15 not being relevant to this argument it does not appear to me—and I may be mistaken—that he has listened carefully to what the Minister has said. One argument which the Minister put forward against the amendment was his suggestion that the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and my noble friend Lord Thomson had not read adequately Clause 15(1). That clause is not relevant as an answer to this amendment. The amendment states that:such assessment shall compare the service provided with the proposals submitted by the licence holder under Section 15(3) (b),(c) and (d).As my noble friend Lord Thomson said, that seems to be relevant in order to ensure that there is a regulatory machinery which is so essential in these circumstances.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Willis, said. The position is that in the past some applications have been little more than essays in imaginative journalism. The position as regards this amendment is that it would impose a clear duty upon the commission to compare what the licence holder said in his application with what he has done. That seems to me wholly desirable. I can see no serious argument against it. In my view it would be highly advantageous to the boards of many of the companies because they would be aware that their record would be examined on an annual basis. Having had some past involvement with independent television, I can say that the effect of such an amendment would undoubtedly increase the likelihood that companies would live up to the terms of their application.
§ Lord Sanderson of Bowden
Before the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, decides what to do with this amendment, perhaps I may comment again. First, I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, to these discussions, and I am grateful for his intervention because I take careful note of what he says.
Perhaps I can go back to an amendment which was discussed before the noble Lord arrived. That dealt with applications. Some of the discussion on this amendment has verged on a discussion of what happens at the application stage rather than what will happen as regards the report. I want to make it clear that the Bill lays down specific procedures for public consultation by the ITC on the award of the important Channels 3 and 5 franchises. It will be required to publish the names of all applicants together with programme plans, and the ITC will be obliged to take into account any comments made by members of the public before deciding whether the applicant has passed the quality threshold.
We now come to the question of the report to which my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls attempted to draw to the attention again of the Committee. I have listened to what was said. Without any commitment, I should like to look carefully to see whether anything can be done which would not tie the hands of the ITC as to what should be written; in other words, we should avoid having the Government's hand at the elbow of the ITC as the report is being written. That 45 would be wrong. However, I should like to look at the wording of the Bill to see whether enough is written onto the statute. As all Members of the Committee have said, the ITC should be given a clear indication that we need to be sure that the monitoring process which should appear on the face of the annual report will do so. I hope that with that assurance, the noble Lord might consider withdrawing his amendment.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
I am grateful for the noble Lord's intervention, and for the fact that he is ready to look further at this amendment. I appreciate his anxiety that the hands of the ITC should not be tied. The ITC appreciate that particular argument.
Perhaps I can put another argument to him which might persuade him to look as thoroughly as possible at a further amendment. I take to heart the words of my noble friend Lord Willis about what has happened in the past and the old arrangements with the IBA. They were not wholly satisfactory. We can consider the whole question in more recent times of bringing up to scratch the new breakfast franchises of commercial television.
Perhaps the Government would be prepared to strengthen Clause 15 to ensure that there was careful and consistent public monitoring of the fulfilment of the licence conditions and to issue public statements regarding how far those who obtained these valuable licences were fulfilling their obligations. Although I have been a critic of the Bill, as noble Lords are aware, I suspect, that the new Broadcasting Act might then be a better Act than the previous one. I hope that I can tempt the Minister with that proposition.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord Sanderson of Bowden
The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, is going fairly wide and perhaps attributing to me more than I have offered; that is, to look at the terms under which the report is presented. That is crucial to the ongoing monitoring of the performance of the various licensees. With that assurance, I hope the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Ardwick
We want to ensure not just the provision of a detailed report but that the report explains how the companies have performed during the previous year in relation to the promises that they have made. If the Minister can assure me that that is the Government's intention, I shall be glad to withdraw the amendment.
§ Lord Sanderson of Bowden
I assure the noble Lord that I shall certainly look at that point to see whether we can do anything to meet some of the aspirations expressed all around the Chamber.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
The Earl of Halsbury moved Amendment No. 9:
Page 145, line 42, leave out paragraph 16.
§ The noble Earl said: In rising to move Amendment No. 9 I invite the noble Earl in charge of the Bill to tell us a little about the arrangements he proposes in relation to the groupings. This is a massive Bill for which seven days in Committee are provided. It 46 follows, in terms of the advice that we have received, that we shall be speaking to amendments on one day and perhaps voting on them on another. I ask him whether he has anything to say regarding the groupings.
It is entirely up to the Committee how we take these amendments. It seemed to me that there was something to be said for speaking to all of the religious amendments together, even though they will be moved separately. If we did that, all the religious concerns would appear together as opposed to appearing in a number of different, separate debates, a number of them overlapping.
If that met with the general approval of the Committee it would mean that we would speak together to Amendment No. 9 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, Amendments Nos. 10 and 13 in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool, Amendments Nos. 43 to 47, 82 and 88, all of which are in my name, Amendment No. 96 in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool, Amendment No. 127 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Willis, Amendments Nos. 130, 195, 208, 209, 247, 250, 253 and 255, all of which are in my name and some of which have the privilege of having the name of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, attached as well, plus Amendment No. 227 in the name of the noble Earl. That would encompass all the religious amendments, which we could take, with the consent of the Committee, in one general debate.
§ Baroness Birk
Before we continue perhaps I may say that Amendment No. 9, which removes the general duty of the Radio Authority to appoint advisory committees, does not give any indication of having any connection with religion. We have tabled amendments after that setting up other advisory bodies. I could not find out clearly enough when negotiations were going on this morning whether the noble Earl's amendment was in the religious field or the general field.
The Earl of Halsbury
Perhaps I may help the noble Baroness. Amendments Nos. 9 and 227 were intended to be probing amendments in order to introduce a discussion on CRAC. They are not amendments that I shall press to Division and the noble Baroness need therefore have no anxieties on that score. It will become more apparent when I move Amendment No. 9.
§ The Lord Bishop of London
I should like to say something regarding Amendment No. 9 on the role and place of advisory committees without involving the religious element contained in the later amendments. Perhaps I may be allowed to say a few words on Amendment No. 9. I am aware that it is a probing amendment.
Perhaps I could ask that we organise ourselves as to the format of the debate. When the noble Earl has completed moving his amendment, which he has not yet done, the right reverend Prelate can speak to it. I understand that the right reverend Prelate would prefer Amendment No. 9 not to be taken with the remainder.
The Earl of Halsbury
I beg to move Amendment No. 9 and to speak to its associated Amendment No. 227, which is identical in content but refers to the Radio Authority rather than to the ITC. I should also like to speak to Amendments Nos. 10 and 13 and reserve my position on Amendments Nos. 96, 127 and 130 and speak to them when they are moved.
Amendment No. 9, as I explained to the noble Baroness, was intended to lure the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool into a discussion on CRAC. Since then he has tabled his own Amendment No. 13 on CRAC, and I therefore only need to move Amendment No. 9 in terms of its own merits. The paragraphs it deletes are otiose. I remember what was said a little while ago by the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, regarding not writing into statutes anything that is strictly unnecessary. One does not need statutory provision to seek advice. The seeking of advice is a common law right intrinsic in the subject. Anybody can seek advice on any subject. I am glad to see that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, nods in agreement.
Seeking advice and taking advice are two different things. You are not bound by any advice you seek. But if you decide to take it, the responsibility for doing so is your own, and you are answerable to the source of your authority. There are many subject matter advisory committees both in the BBC and the IBA (the ITC as it will be). They are not statutory committees; they are appointed by the BBC and the IBA. They can be dissolved by the BBC or the IBA. It is therefore unnecessary to write into the statute the ability to set up an advisory committee.
I have nothing further to say on Amendment No. 9, but in terms of the grouping it is now my prerogative to say something about the substantive amendment which stands in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool. It deals with CRAC.
The history of CRAC is as follows. In the days when there was only sound broadcasting, when there was only the BBC with a monopoly over it and when the BBC was under the direction of a director general who was a profoundly devout Christian—the late Lord Reith—it sought such advice as it felt it needed from a domestic committee of the type I have described called the Sunday Committee. At some time before 1948, which is the first reference I can find to it, it changed its name to the Central Religious Advisory Council, of which CRAC is the acronym and which I shall use henceforth.
The 1981 Act which set up the IBA required the IBA to form a statutory advisory body in the field of religion. In order to simplify matters the IBA appointed the BBC's domestic advisory council, CRAC, to be the statutory authority for the IBA. Section 8 of the 1946 charter of the BBC requires the BBC to set up a general advisory council but without any explicit reference to religion. There are no other provisions on that subject for the BBC. If the Bill becomes law the IBA will be abolished. It will disappear into thin air and the ITC will inherit the position it once occupied. However, with the abolition of the IBA goes the statutory provision in the 1981 Act 48 to set up CRAC, or a CRAC-like body. Unless some other body is brought into existence CRAC will revert simply to being a domestic advisory body of the BBC.
The amendment tabled by the right reverend Prelate would reintroduce a CRAC-like body into the system. That leads me to take a look at CRAC. It is nominally a representative body consisting of the main religious Christian denominations in this country with a sprinkling of Hindus, Moslems and, at one time, a Buddhist. It meets but twice a year and is therefore ineffective in the executive sense. It does nothing. It exerts no authority. It does not sanction anything to be broadcast or ban anything from being broadcast. The directors of religious broadcasting at the BBC and the IBA do that. CRAC merely comments after the event.
Whether or not that is a satisfactory situation, I do not know, but I want to make clear that if I criticise CRAC I am not pursuing the argument ad hominem. It does not apply in any personal sense to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London who preceded the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool as chairman of CRAC. I have not the slightest doubt they have both made the best of the position to which they were appointed. I am sure their colleagues are honourable and devout men doing their best in circumstances into which they have been lured.
To describe the attitude of other people towards this situation, correspondents of mine write as follows:In the background lies our deep disenchantment with and suspicion of the shadowy religious controllers and bureaucratic theologians who have virtually acted hitherto as a censorship over religious programmes in relation to both the IBA and the BBC. They are a small elitist and unrepresentative group of people appointed from within the Broadcasting hierarchy".
§ 5.45 p.m.
The Earl of Halsbury
I am simply quoting from a couple of correspondents. I take responsibility for doing that. Let us now consider the results. Results speak for themselves. The early directors of religious broadcasting at the BBC were of the opinion that, and I now quote,the true task of religious broadcasting was missionary and evangelistic".That is quoted from Asa Briggs' monumental History of Broadcasting in Britain. From the same work I learn that the BBC made much of the task of making Britain a more Christian country. I can trace that to 1948.
Twelve years later, in 1960, the Pilkington Committee said that the objective of religious broadcasting was to reflect the worship, thought and action of those Churches that represented the mainstream of Christian tradition in Britain, to stress what is most relevant in the Christian faith for the modern world and to try to reach those outside the Churches. A further 17 years later, in 1977—I am still referring to the Asa Briggs' book—CRAC recommended to the Annan Committee that these should be amended to the following objectives: first, to seek to 49 reflect the worship, thought and action of the principal religious traditions represented in Britain, recognising that these traditions are not exclusively Christian. That is nonsense from beginning to end. The traditions of this country from legendary times have been exclusively Christian. We must not confuse tradition with what may have been imported into this country with the many different peoples who came to this country as refugees, or whatever, since the war. That is nothing to do with tradition. Tradition is not of a post-war character.
Secondly—this is CRAC again—to seek to present to the viewer and listener those beliefs, ideas, issues and experiences in the contemporary world which are related to a religious interpretation of life. Thirdly, to seek and to meet the religious interests, concerns and needs on the fringe of or outside the organised life of the Churches. Thus, the main thrust of religious broadcasting changed from reflecting the maintenance of Christian tradition to reflecting principal religious themes. The Committee will see that it was getting progressively softer. Is it therefore any surprise that when I drafted something like Amendment No. 130, reciting that the tradition of this country was Christian from time immemorial, I was told that it was much too aggressive for a statute. To quote from Hamlei,O … what a falling off was there".I now take another Act of Parliament and another body. The Cable and Broadcasting Act 1984 made no provision whatever for a CRAC-like body to advise the authority. It went ahead on its own, guided by the common sense of those who were running it. It has run happily without anything like CRAC for six years now. From time to time it has broadcast what the IBA and the BBC have banned; but the heavens have not fallen and nobody has taken exception. Of course, CRAC has banned nothing. It did not ban anything to which I referred on Second Reading or anything that may be referred to again this afternoon. The IBA did the banning.
§ The Lord Bishop of London
Under what power does the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, suppose that CRAC could have banned items had it wanted to?
The Earl of Halsbury
I have said that CRAC cannot and that it does not. There is no question about that. The IBA did the banning; but CRAC, the IBA and the BBC between them exercise a monopoly censorship which plays hide and seek when one tries to pin them down. That is why my argument is that a CRAC-like body is unnecessary. This has been proved by the 1948 Act incorporating the cable body which has run happily for years without any trouble or criticism. That is why I also speak to Amendment No. 13. If necessary I shall divide the Committee against that amendment but I understand that the convention on grouping is that in so far as Amendment No. 10 is a paving amendment the voting will be against the paving amendment and then the substantive amendment will not be called. I checked that with our noble Leader and I believe that to be correct. I beg to move.
§ The Lord Bishop of London
The noble Earl said that I was lured into being chairman of CRAC for five 50 years. I am not going to be lured now into saying anything about CRAC or into trying to deal with the rather strange picture he has given the Committee of that body and its activities over the years.
I wish to speak specifically to Amendment No. 9 as it stands. It may be only a probing amendment but it proposes the abolition of advisory bodies. I know that the commission will be free to advise but it is a very different matter to have no reference to it whatever. Advisory committees exercise a very important role in the community generally and in particular in relation to broadcasting. Broadcasting must not be allowed to operate as a kind of closed system independently of society and merely affected by market forces, audience research and the responses of the very few people who choose to write in, all of whom are self-selected.
It is very important that the broadcasters and, therefore, the commission which is responsible for them, should be structured so that there is a system for receiving advice about the various aspects of life in our society. I personally would have wished that the clause stated that there shall be advisory committees and not that there may be. To remove those words is doing something that we should not.
There is all the difference between never having had something and abolishing it. We have a clause in the Bill saying that there may be advisory committees. It would be very foolish to remove that provision. It is recognition of the fact that the commission itself has a responsibility not merely to take account of market forces and things of that nature, but also to relate to all the different aspects of life in our society irrespective of the religious issue that will be debated shortly.
Therefore, I resist this amendment very strongly on the ground that I believe the provision of an advisory committee on the face of the Bill represents a fundamental principle about the relationship of broadcasting to society within which it operates and which it seeks to serve.
The Lord Bishop of Liverpool
Before I speak to my Amendments Nos. 10 and 13, I wish to say a little about the structure of the debate. I am anxious that we do not get in a muddle. There is an issue here, which is worth talking about, concerning the religious advisory committee. Later, there are the Minister's Amendments Nos. 82 and 88 which are withdrawing the no undue prominence clause that was previously in the Bill. They refer to new requirements for the owner of a cable station. I wish to comment briefly on those matters. I also wish to reserve my position to speak to some of the amendments which have been tabled in connection with religious advertising. That matter received no debate in another place. It is a matter of sufficient importance for there to be a proper debate in this Chamber.
Therefore, I come back to the matter of advice. Amendments Nos. 10 and 13 are probing amendments. We hope that the Government will say something to us which will allow us to withdraw them. The Broadcasting Bill will lead us into a new era and, in some respects, into unknown territory. As regards 51 religious broadcasting, on the one hand there is the wish to allow a wide range of freedom to religious bodies—I share in that wish—and, on the other hand, as with other areas of broadcasting, there is concern for quality programmes. There is a balance to be struck here.
I hope that those who have put great emphasis on freedom to broadcast for all kinds of religious bodies share the concern that I have, that what is broadcast shall be honouring to God's name. We have reason to be concerned because of experience in other parts of the world. I say that the Bill is taking us into unknown territory. It will lead to the Independent Television Commission and the Radio Authority having much discretion. For example, there may be areas of discretion and doubt concerning the interpretation of words that we shall consider in the amendments. They are words such as "improper exploitation", "responsible and appropriate persons".
It is not possible to lay down rigid codes. I am not certain that I understand the thrust of Amendment No. 92 in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, and others. If the intention there is to write down a rigid code, that does not appear to be handling the matter with a light touch. Issues will arise that cannot be foreseen. There is bound to be the development of running case law.
It seems good sense that the commission and the authority wish to have an advisory body with whom they can consult. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, has added his name to this amendment. He has had experience of the value of an advisory body. Both the chairman designate of the ITC and the chairman designate of the Radio Authority have told me that they anticipate that they will need to look to us for advice more than they have ever done in the past.
I have obviously failed badly in regard to persuading the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, about CRAC, although at Second Reading he was telling the House that it was a very powerful body that censored people and blocked them. Today he has told us that the body is not powerful enough and that it is vague and ineffective. Because of what he has said it is right to say a little to the Committee about the Central Religious Advisory Committee, of which I have been chairman for the past year.
I remind the Chamber of some of the words used at Second Reading and today. It was stated that advisory bodies were in danger of becoming religious censors. If it was not the advisory body itself that was so threatening, it was run by powerful managers and officers. Those words come from the Official Report.
Perhaps I may tell the Committee a little about this body with the remarkable name CRAC so that it may know what lies behind the words. It has no managers or officers or officials of any kind. Its meetings are serviced by the staff of the BBC and/or the IBA. The noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, has told us about its origins. We were a Reithian-improving notion. CRAC serves both the BBC and the IBA. I mentioned the 52 membership in rough terms at Second Reading, but it is worth reminding the Committee of how the body is made up.
It is drawn from the whole of the United Kingdom; from the Anglican Church and the Roman Catholic Church in all four countries; the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church, the Baptist Church, the black-led churches, the Orthodox Church, as well as Jewish, Moslem and Hindu representation. It is quite a mix. It is an elite body. There are representatives of the black-led churches; one of the Anglican representatives is a black deacon from inner city London. They would not recognise the description of the body that was given just now.
It is true that the way of working which I have inherited is that the Committee has two meetings for two full days each year. There is a BBC part of the meeting and also an IBA part. There is also a joint meeting. Senior members of staff of the BBC, of programme companies and the IBA, attend our meetings. Producers come to discuss television and radio programmes which we have all watched previously or to which we have listened. Members are at liberty to raise whatever questions or make whatever suggestions, positive or negative, that they wish.
From time to time between meetings we appoint smaller groups to attend to particular tasks. If matters are raised with me as chairman, as they are several times between each meeting, I take them up with the BBC or the IBA. I did so last Friday. I believe that I have access at every level within these organisations. What has been misunderstood, according to some of the documents which Members of the Committee have been lobbied with, is the suggestion that in some way CRAC vets or censors programmes before they go out. That does not happen. What we are able to offer is a considered view representing all the mainline Churches and other faiths. I believe that our voices are listened to with seriousness. Of course the BBC and the IBA and the programme companies can and do take other advice. They are open to lobbying and submissions from other bodies. That is going on all the time.
The members are invited to join the committee jointly by the BBC and the IBA. I insist that we consult very carefully with the Church or faith concerned to establish that they are happy when such people are approached. I myself was approached by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, who had consulted with leaders of other Churches before he put my name forward to the chairman of the BBC and the chairman of the IBA. I believe that there is here a body of real substance, made up of people of independence of thought and integrity. Our powers are limited but we are able to put forward honest opinions, comments and criticisms. There are a number of examples of times when CRAC has objected to policies and has brought about a change in them.
The noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, correctly noted a change of purpose as our nation has changed. It is 53 right that we should try to see that programmes reflect worship, thought and action of faiths present in this country. The overwhelming majority of those programmes reflect the Christian faith. They do so because of history and because of the numbers of people who subscribe to the Christian faith. I want hotly to defend the quality of a great deal of religious broadcasting. It is frequently adventurous. It tries to throw the light of the gospel on the common ground on which viewers and listeners stand. It does not always get it right, but there is none of the blocking which has been alleged.
I think of the last time I appeared on television. It was on Easter Day. It was a service a year on from the disaster at Hillsborough. It was held at Anfield football ground. No script was required. Anyone hearing the address that I gave at the service with all the Church leaders together would have heard me speak in quite unequivocal terms of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and my faith in it. I have frequently appeared on television and radio without any kind of vetting or blocking of wholehearted Christian testimony. Since I became chairman of CRAC I have asked for videos and tapes weekly. I am aware that a great many objections come, I am sorry to say, from the evangelical side of the Churches. I see and hear a great deal of what is authentic full-blooded evangelical faith being proclaimed through the mainline channels. I want to defend the producers and the people who promote those programmes.
I come back to the matter of advisory committees. We are entering unknown territory in religious broadcasting. I hope the Government will agree that there needs to be an advisory body to represent the Churches and the faiths.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Baroness Birk
Before Amendment No. 9 is lost in this sea of amendments I want to say that I feel most unhappy about the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury. Although he said that it is a probing amendment, it seems to be a little heavy handed to get rid of all advisory committees when, in the vernacular, he appears to be gunning at a particular one.
The Earl of Halsbury
I am not proposing to get rid of all advisory committees. I am seeking to leave it to the individuals to appoint any advisory committees they want to, but not in a statutory sense.
§ Baroness Birk
It is a permissive power, so they do not have to if they do not want to and if nobody wants them. I am concerned because my noble friend Lord Thomson and I have a later amendment. I do not know what time of night or early morning it will be called so I think that I had better say something now. Otherwise, Members of the Committee will have gone home or, worse still, we might still be talking about the different religious aspects. I think it is quite wrong to do it in this way when some of us want to talk about advisory committees for entirely different reasons. The religious advisory committee is one kind; and as there are advisory committees I do not see any reason why I should not have one as well.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
The noble Baroness said that the amendment is permissive. That is perfectly true under her amendment, but in Amendment No. 13 the word used is "shall". Is she distancing herself from Amendment No. 13 while supporting her own amendment?
§ Baroness Birk
Amendment No. 13 does not stand in my name. I do not go along with it. I am talking about Amendment No. 11. If the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, succeeded in his amendment, Amendment No. 11 could not be accepted.
§ Lord Orr-Ewing
Before I approach the issue of CRAC I hope the Committee will excuse me if I quote the Coronation Oath embodied by Act of Parliament. It requires the Sovereign,to uphold to the utmost of my power, the Laws of God in the Realm; and the true profession of the Christian gospel".Then Parliament pledges itself in the Coronation service, through its senior Peers—one of each rank—to support him or her. If the freedom to preach or profess the gospel is being eroded in an area of public life—namely, religious broadcasting—a previous generation appears to have given Parliament, and this House in particular, special responsibility for looking after our interests and religion. It is not inappropriate at the start of the Committee stage of the Bill to remind ourselves of almost the only constitutional obligation that we have.
Like my noble friend Lord Halsbury, I would not wish in any way to attack either the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, who led CRAC for many years with great conscientiousness, or the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool, who spoke so movingly today. I do not in any way blame them. I just think that the organisation has grown not too cumbersome but too archaic in a way and too arthritic. It has been there for too long. We have to start again. The organisation is not necessary.
The BBC religious policy seems to have strayed a long way from Lord Reith's intentions. This was exemplified only too clearly by Radio 4's Lenten Talks given by atheists, including Dr. Marietta Higgs. That seemed to me to be rather far outside the normal arrangements.
On 19th March a letter from Lambeth Palace commented:The documentary output of the BBC's religious television department is all too often unadulterated humanism and therefore a misuse of a budget allocated for religious programmes".The end of the letter stated that the Archbishop—the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, of course—supported that view.
I give these examples to show that something is wrong. It is no good leaving matters as they are now. CRAC has not proved to be imaginative or conscientious. Too much power has fallen into the hands of the officials but the leaders are obviously above criticism.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough told the Church of England General Synod in February of last year that we do not get 55 Christian broadcasting today because we have not stood up in the past for what we believe in. Now, because of the good work done down the corridor in another place, there will be much greater freedom for religious broadcasting. I hope that when the Bill becomes law that criticism will be a good deal less justified.
Surely one of the most powerful reasons for avoiding—
§ Lord Willis
I trust that the noble Lord will forgive my intervention, but I should like to ask him a question. I am an unadulterated humanist but, strangely, I watch a great many religious programmes. I was brought up as a primitive Methodist and I like to sing all the old hymns which I remember from my childhood. However, I have never yet seen an unadulterated humanist on a religious programme. Can the noble Lord tell me where he has seen one?
§ Lord Orr-Ewing
I often hear a humanist on the morning radio programme "Today", in the religious spot just before the 8 o'clock news broadcast. However, it may be that the noble Lord does not listen to that programme. I do not wish to go into great detail as regards examples, but, as I said, Christianity is the adopted, traditional and mainline religion of this country. I was simply underlining the reasons.
Surely one of the most powerful reasons for avoiding statutory religious advisory committees is that CRAC, and both heads of religious broadcasting at the IBA and the BBC, have consistently campaigned against freedom for independent Christian broadcasting now provided for in this Bill. The head of religious broadcasting at the IBA wrote in the Sunday Telegraph of 26th November last year:the Central Religious Advisory Committee for the BBC and IBA was unanimous in its view that religious bodies should not be permitted to hold a television or Radio Authority licence".The BBC's head of religious broadcasting, writing in the June 1990 edition of the Christian Third Way magazine, commented:the argument centres on whether religious groups should be allowed free access to the new radio and television services".He described the campaign for this freedom as misguided. One example of this problem was reported in The Times of 22nd April this year concerning the banning of the television series "Jesus Then and Now" by the Channel 4 religious editor who was previously in charge of the IBA religious broadcasting policy. The film was produced with the late Reverend David Watson, who was a very highly respected Anglican clergyman. However, it was banned and turned down.
On 16th February 1990 in the Church Times the IBA's head of religious broadcasting wrote:CRAC … will continue to advise the BBC, and when the ITC is constituted and considers the arrangements I would be surprised if it did not avail itself of CRAC's services".CRAC says that it is representative of virtually all the main religious groups in the United Kingdom, but Appendix E of A Matter of Respect, a paper prepared by the Church of England's communications committee, admits that, 56Members of the CRAC committee come from the churches and other faiths but are appointed by the BBC/IBA rather than by the bodies which they 'represent—"'.Here we have the establishment itself criticising the present set-up. Of course, we have examples where it is not a censorship but where it is very difficult, as my noble friend said, to grasp where the responsibility lies. If we say, "The head of this department seems to have banned the programme", you are told that CRAC did it. However, if you go to CRAC it will say, "No, we do not ban anything". It is very difficult to find out exactly what has happened. Nevertheless, it all operates through programme initiation, with certain ideas being adopted and others rejected. There will be invitations for some people to take part in the proceedings with certain people being selected and, again, others being rejected.
Last December's opinion poll, commissioned by the National Council for Christian Standards, showed that 71 per cent. of those questioned agreed with allowing British Christian broadcasting stations to operate. Eleven per cent. disagreed with the idea and 18 per cent. did not mind. If there is a demand, we can justify the need for a religious advisory committee to censor positive Christian broadcasting. I advocate the Cable Authority system which has been in operation since the authority was set up. It applies good sense interpretation of the general restrictions and rules to all channels, including religious outlets.
We do not need a firm statutory successor to CRAC. I am sure that the BBC will set up its own arrangements, as will the ITC when it comes into being. We do not need this to be cast in tablets of stone so that it can never be changed. Of course there must be changes, and people will be consulted—that is, people who are representative of the main religious stream in this country.
It is not very often that we have four right reverend Prelates on parade, especially as a synod is being held at present. However, despite their very persuasive arguments, I believe that they are mistaken in this case. I think that we should give more liberty and freedom to those who are not strictly in line with the present established Church. I believe that we should not seek to reform CRAC.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ The Earl of Longford
I heard the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, say that he was going to vote against Amendment No. 13, which is tabled in the names of the right reverend Prelates the Bishops of Liverpool and Winchester. I shall support it. On the last occasion I paid tribute to the Evangelical Alliance which gave me a great deal. It has also given me much advice on this occasion. However, I shall neglect part of it but not all.
When I seek evangelical advice, I am inclined to look in the direction of the noble Lord, Lord Soper. However, he is unfortunately not present in the Chamber. In his absence, I turn my attention to the right reverend Prelate. There was a fine statement of his in today's edition of The Times in which he said that this was the beginning of an evangelical campaign. But are these evangelical friends going to 57 sabotage the evangelical campaign at the very beginning? I am horrified by that attitude. If I may say so with the greatest respect, my evangelical friends are not the only people who read the gospel every day. I do not think for a moment that you must have a particular form of words put into the arrangements for CRAC.
However, if the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, produces an amendment at the next stage of the Bill's proceedings suggesting a firmer statement of Christianity on the part of CRAC, I may support it. In my view, getting rid of CRAC and throwing away the only religious committee that we have would be a most un-Christian act.
§ Baroness Cox
In speaking to this group of amendments, perhaps I may begin by saying how much I appreciate the Government's concessions, improvements and proposed amendments to the Bill, especially in this most crucial area of religious broadcasting. I speak in terms of my personal position as a Christian and also as a Christian who has a deep respect for the rights of other faith communities. I share the concerns that the faiths other than Christian should be represented in religious broadcasting. That point was emphasised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool. I wish to see that right enshrined in principle and in practice, as was achieved in initiatives with which I was associated in the Education Reform Act, where the rights of faith communities other than Christian to request religious education and worship according to their own faiths were recognised in historic amendments.
However, I argue against the right reverend Prelate's amendment (Amendment No. 13) on several grounds. First, and briefly, I do so because of the track record of the body which is the precedent for that proposed in this amendment—namely, CRAC—with its increasing commitment to a multi-faith approach which may diminish the specifically Christian input of broadcasting. Many points have been made in that respect by other noble Lords and therefore I shall not repeat them. However, I suggest that not only would this development be theologically dubious but it would also run counter to the sociological realities of contemporary Britain in terms of the number of people who claim to be Christians, and in terms of viewer or listener appeal.
Many recent surveys show that a high proportion of the population call themselves Christians and see themselves as such. Therefore it is not unreasonable that their commitment should be reflected in a strong commitment to specifically Christian programmes. For example, the MORI survey reported in The Times on 4th July found that nine out of 10 people in this country claim to be Christians. The fact that so many of these people do not go to church possibly has more to do with their church than their Christianity. I must admit that many of my friends, especially Anglicans, I am sorry to say, find it increasingly difficult to attend a church which they see as becoming increasingly secular and politicised.
Despite falling church attendances in certain major denominations, there is a real interest in Christian 58 broadcasting. The television programme "Songs of Praise" has a bigger audience than "Match of the Day"—that is, except on Cup Final days—and there are bigger audiences for religious broadcasts than there are for any news, current affairs or documentary strands of programming. Moreover, on Radio 4 the daily service now has a higher audience than at any time since television began to make inroads on radio audiences.
Therefore I believe that the influence which CRAC has had against specific Christian broadcasting and in favour of a more multi-faith approach has not only been unpopular with many Christians but is also not justified in terms of public accountability. I also argue that it is anomalous in the extreme to advocate such a body, with potential for direct or indirect censorship, at a time when other parts of Europe are gloriously freeing themselves from censorship.
Although the committee proposed in the amendment is defined as advisory, in reality it could develop and maintain effective monopoly control over religious broadcasting similar to that which has already been exerted, directly or indirectly, by CRAC through its influence on the IBA and the BBC.
Regarding ownership, I seek from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool an assurance. I understand that at the con Terence of the Churches Advisory Council on Local Broadcasting on 22nd May this year, the chief executive designate of the Radio Authority stated that the authority would assess the suitability of religious groups For ownership and that they would consult CRAC. I hope that I am wrong, but I also understand that CRAC has expressed its opposition to any independent Christian broadcasting stations. Does that mean that these will be disallowed or discouraged, despite the intentions of the Bill?
I hope that my noble friend the Minister will confirm that there is no need for any central religious advisory committee for independent religious broadcasting. It is much better to expect that the Radio Authority and the ITC will apply "good sense" interpretations of the rules within the Bill for religious broadcasting, as with every other type of broadcasting. Why does religious broadcasting have to be singled out for special treatment? There is a good precedent already set by the Cable Authority which allowed the licensing of responsible and legitimate Christian broadcasters such as the Vision TV channel and the United Christian Broadcasters Radio Station.
I hope that the Committee will oppose this unnecessary and potentially undesirable amendment. It is unnecessary because all necessary safeguards are to be enshrined in the Bill. It is potentially undesirable because if it were to operate on the lines of CRAC as a precedent—and even if it did not operate on those lines—it is undesirable per se as an extra bureaucratic body intervening in matters of ownership and in issues of content.
It is sad when Christians feel obliged to diverge from, or to oppose, right reverend Prelates. However, I speak as a Christian, and I have been approached by 59 many other Christians of different parts of the household of faith who share profound concern and who oppose the amendment.
For the record, I wish to point out that many well known and well established intercessory and prayer groups are praying today because they are so concerned about the amendment, its implications and the possible extension of the influence of CRAC that would follow from Amendment No. 13. At least six major prayer groups—Intercessors for Britain, the Lydia Prayer Fellowship, Women's World Day of Prayer and three Scottish prayer networks—are all praying that the influence of CRAC will not be extended in this way.
Perhaps I may make one other point in order to avoid rising again on a separate issue. I wish to ask my noble friend the Minister two questions with regard to the ownership amendments in his name. I welcome the government amendments and the way in which the Government have proved themselves a listening government responding sensitively to the concerns expressed during the passage of the Bill through Parliament. It would be reassuring if my noble friend could provide the clarification I seek.
First, I understand that it has been the promise of the Government that positive and specifically Christian television channels and radio stations will be permitted. Can my noble friend say whether the Government are able to guarantee that the ITC and the Radio Authority will not put some of the deemed undesirable multi-faith components into their general guidance or guidelines? Secondly, there is perceived to be real danger that the publication of guidelines may slow down the process whereby religious groups can apply for licences on the same footing as secular groups. There is concern, for example, that religious groups should not be so disadvantaged and should be able to be at the starting line when new broadcasting licences are being offered and not still awaiting guidelines. Can my noble friend reassure us on the timing of the guidelines so that no religious groups will be disadvantaged as a result of non-availability of the guidelines?
In conclusion, I welcome once again the Government's amendments and hope very much that the Committee will not support the amendments in the names of the right reverend Prelates, which are deemed by many people, including Christians, to be unnecessary and essentially undesirable.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
The debate has been monopolised by those who take the oath rather than by those of us who affirm. Perhaps it is time that the voice of one who does not take the oath was heard. I share the view put forward by a number of noble Lords and by my noble friend Lady Birk, as well as the right reverend Prelate, that we are in danger of getting into a mess. We are discussing whether or not there should be a committee and at the same time considering a number of amendments describing advisory committees of various kinds. Since, whether we like it or not, we may be committed to this, it is necessary to say what we are talking about.
60 I believe that Amendment No. 9 should be defeated. It is desirable to have a statutory obligation for committees to be in existence. I know that they can exist without a statutory obligation, but it is much better to have the provision in the Act so that everyone knows that the committee exists by right. Although there is no obligation, there is the power and the power needs to be in the Act. That is obvious.
One of the problems we face is that we are discussing religion primarily on the basis—as my noble friend Lady Birk pointed out—of amendments which have nothing to do with religion. My position is somewhat similar to hers. For example, I take the view that Amendment No. 11 should be supported but I do not support Amendment No. 13. The reason is that the latter amendment seems to create a situation in which religion and Christianity are defined as virtually synonymous. They are no longer synonymous. If this amendment is agreed, it seems to me that in order to provide for other religions or non-religions we must provide for a series of alternative advisory committees: a Moslem committee; a Hindu committee; a non-religious committee; an atheist committee; an agnostic committee. It seems to me therefore that the amendment should be much more widely drawn so as to admit the possibility—if the right reverend Prelate believes in it—of laying down or describing the historical, traditional pre-eminence of the Christian religion, though not necessarily of the Established Church. If one were not careful, one might get into the situation in which one brand of religion was in competition with another. We could be in grave difficulty if Amendment No. 13 were carried in its present form. Therefore, that resolution should not be supported.
I take the view that we should proceed on the basis of whether we can deal with the matter on a rather wider foundation. There are people who are religious without being Christian.
§ The Earl of Longford
Perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord. I wish to point out that Christianity is not mentioned in the amendment.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
Amendment No. 13 says that persons appearing to represent mainstream religious thought in England, Scotland, and so on, should advise on,matters of a religious nature and in particular on religious programmes included in licensed programme services".The definition is insufficiently wide. Perhaps I may explain. George Bernard Shaw was a religious man. He was not an atheist; rather he was in the position which I try to follow—an agnostic. He thought that the human brain had certain limitations. If it tried to go beyond those limitations, it was prone to fall into error. Therefore, he did not subscribe to any particular religion. Anyone who stated that the play St. Joan was written by an irreligious man would be entirely mistaken. He was a man who was concerned with religion without being religious.
An amendment of this kind is desirable, but I think that it should be wider in its terms.
§ Lord Ashbourne
With the leave of the Committee I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 9, 10 and 13 and then say a brief word about Amendments Nos. 43 to 47. I shall try to spell out clearly what I am speaking to when dealing with this huge gaggle of amendments. I am confused, as many other noble Lords may be.
Amendments Nos. 9, 10 and 13 concern the formation of committees. The right reverend Prelates and noble Lords who are moving the amendments are trying to ensure statutory status for CRAC. I have misgivings about that situation.
On 28th April the Daily Mail printed a discerning article by Paul Johnson which was entitled:Why we're really no longer a Christian nation".In the article he arguesThe clerical bosses hang on tightly to their privileges and maintain the carve-up of religious television and radio they operate among themselves. They are determined to stop outsiders homing in on their joint monopoly".The key to the amendments is the fact that Christians in their various churches fear that the religious broadcasting controllers and CRAC will extend their control to decide who is appropriate to broadcast. The danger is that they may try to exclude various strains of Christianity. For example, the Evangelical Alliance represents approximately 1 million people and the less well known British Evangelical Council represents a further 1,200 churches. When one adds together the independent churches, the house church movements, the Afro-Caribbean churches, the pentecostals and the evangelical streams of our main denominations, one is talking of a sizeable percentage of the population.
When religious broadcasting began, the situation was different. In the Reith diaries Charles Stuart said of Lord Reith:His own religious standpoint was simple and evangelical; he enjoyed complete faith in Christianity and wanted others to share in it".That positive attitude to religion was reflected at the BBC where both of the renowned directors of religious broadcasting, Dr. J.W. Welsh and the Reverend F.H. House, are recorded as agreeing that the true task of religious broadcasting was both missionary and evangelistic. The noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, has already made that point.
However, today's BBC producers' guidelines for religious broadcasting state:Guests invited to take part in religious programmes may not use the opportunity to evangelise on their behalf".One has the situation that presenters of religious programmes are not allowed to evangelise; and if their guests are not allowed to do so either, it would appear that the. BBC religious department, directly under CRAC, has started down the road of restricting our traditional evangelical Christianity.
Over 50 per cent. of those being ordained in the Church of England now come from evangelical college. They are the younger men and neither the church leadership nor its broadcasting establishment 62 yet represents that strength. We can no longer pretend that those people do not exist. Surely they must not be excluded from the broadcasting media.
The religious controllers in the CRAC system monopolise control of religious broadcasting in Britain. In another place during Report stage it was stated that religious broadcasting has been sanitized by the present regime. I do not want to see history repeat itself. I strongly oppose any attempt to re-establish a religious advisory committee such as CRAC. I urge noble Lords not to accept Amendments Nos. 10 and 13.
Amendments Nos. 43 to 47 concern a different subject. I am happy to commend them to your Lordships. I welcome the Government's press announcement that:The Independent Television Commission and Radio Authority would not normally regard religious groups as disqualified unless they did not comply with viewer and listener protection safeguards".That situation should allow broadcasting freedom for both the liberals and the evangelicals from the churches.
I should like to ask a question of the Minister. How will the Government ensure that the general guidance that is to be published by the Independent Television Commission and the Radio Authority concerning the appropriateness for holding licences is in line with the Government's intentions and wishes? If the Minister can enlighten the Committee, I am sure that we would all be greatly in his debt.
§ Baroness Blackstone
The noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, referred to the General Advisory Council of the BBC, and I am its chairman. That body has within it the chairmen of all the other advisory councils, of which CRAC is one. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool is a member of the GAC. A number of other people are appointed to the GAC who are representative of a variety of different interests.
I should like to say a few words in defence of CRAC. Both the right reverend Prelates the Bishop of Liverpool and the Bishop of London can no doubt defend themselves but they may appreciate it if I refute some of the quite extraordinary statements that have been made by the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing.
I have no religious axe to grind, unlike those noble Lords. However, I can say that the programme makers who are responsible for religious broadcasting in the BBC and in the independent television companies enormously appreciate and value the advice that CRAC provides. That is the purpose of such advisory committees. The purpose is not to represent a range of religious opinions; it is to help create good quality religious programmes, in the same way as other advisory committees exist to advise programme makers on how to make good quality programmes on science, education and agriculture or for schools.
63 I hope that Amendment No. 9 will be dismissed because it is the view of those who are responsible for producing television programmes that to be able to rely on a group of well informed experts, on whom they can try out new ideas and from whom they can get some feedback, is enormously useful. I hope that the Bill will contain a requirement that advisory bodies should be set up under the new arrangements.
In regard to Amendment No. 13, a body such as CRAC ought to be reinvented under the new arrangements for the reasons that I have given and because those who serve on advisory bodies of that kind, contrary to what was stated by the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing—I regret that he is not in his place—are extremely conscientious and hardworking. They are concerned to represent a variety of different views.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool will perhaps clarify what is meant by mainstream religious thought, but I assume that it does not mean Christianity alone but all major religions that are represented in our multi-faced society. If that assumption is correct, I have no difficulty in supporting the amendment. If, however, the term refers only to Christianity, I shall withdraw my support.
The main point that I should like to make is that advisory committees are extremely helpful to those who are responsible for running the BBC and the independent companies and to those who make programmes.
The Earl of Halsbury
Before the noble Baroness sits down, could she tell me whether the chairmen of these advisory bodies who join her on the Advisory Council of the BBC are specified as such in the 1986 Charter of the BBC so that they are the equivalent of statutory bodies?
§ Baroness Blackstone
I do not know the answer to that question, but I do not believe they are. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, who is a governor of the BBC, can help on that.
§ Lord Thorneycroft
If I may intervene for just a moment in this complicated debate, I would say that this is not an easy subject because the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, interprets Amendment No. 13 as being "multifaith" and the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, thinks it is so totally Christian as to be unacceptable on that score. If you can get those views honestly and sincerely held by intelligent people on both sides of the Committee, I think the right reverend Prelate would agree with me that we have to think carefully about the wording that we use.
I should like to say, even if I may be quite alone, that I am wholeheartedly in support of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool. I do not know about CRAC; I am not sufficiently important for people to write letters to me about that body. I have in my time listened to some brilliant and moving religious broadcasts and have very much valued them. I do not attribute them all to CRAC, but they 64 certainly do not seem to have prevented some discussions on this subject which are of great value and influence for at least one Member of your Lordships' Committee.
There are many amendments on religion here but most of them are negative. They deal with what we should avoid, how we must not offend anybody, how we must be careful about this and be cautious about that. I feel that if the right reverend Prelate is allowed a committee which is broadly representative of the mainstream of religious thought in this country we are more likely to get a positive approach on religious issues.
At this moment in our time the world is changing very fast indeed. Many things are happening and we attach enormous importance to them. For example, we have the reunion of Germany and monetary union in Europe. We debate these things by the hour; but I cannot help feeling that perhaps the most important thing that is happening in the world at the moment is a new opening of the doors to Christianity. The old obstacles that existed are disappearing and there is a change in the attitude of communism. We have the opening of the possibility of religious teaching in the new free states which are emerging, and all these things are important. I may be alone in this, but it seems to me that perhaps the most important opportunity we have now is a widening of the Christian religion, in this country and outside it.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool—and one can criticise all bishops as I often do—has a remarkable record, if I may be permitted to say so. The relationships between the Anglican and Catholic Churches and the work he has done in a part of this country which is more difficult, politically and in most other ways, than perhaps any other I would think peculiarly fit him to give advice on how religion should be dealt with in television and broadcasting generally. If we are going to get any large impetus behind religion, it is certainly going to depend on broadcasting to a great extent. I think it would be very odd for your Lordships to refuse him that committee at a time when his work is so great and the needs of this country are so important.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
I rise very briefly to support the amendment moved by the right reverend Prelate, for two reasons. First, I should like to say something about the work that has gone on over the years in the Central Religious Advisory Committee from my own experience when I was chairman of the IBA. More importantly, I should like to apply my mind to the problems that will face the successor organisation, the ITC, in the field of religious broadcasting.
I am bound to say this afternoon that I have hardly recognised the caricature of CRAC we have had from some noble Lords during this discussion. It is rather hard luck that in an age of acronyms the Central Religious Advisory Committee should be called CRAC. I am bound to say that during my time with the IBA it did its work most conscientiously and was 65 of immense help to the board of the IBA, as I am sure it was to the board of governors of the BBC. It was an evolving organisation, as indeed it ought to be.
I yield to no one in my admiration to Lord Reith as the founder of the basic standards for public service broadcasting in this country. I am not entirely sure that some of the things the Government are doing in the broadcasting field would have commanded total support from Lord Reith. However, the world changes around us and, in my experience, CRAC performed its role in representing the mainstream of religious thought in this country, and in doing so in a humane and tolerant way which is increasingly important in a world where there is too much fanaticism in terms of religious and theological argument. The work CRAC has done in the past will need to be carried on in the new circumstances of the future.
The noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, if I may have his attention for one moment, in his enthusiasm, with which I fully sympathise, for seeing a proper role for religious broadcasting under the new legislation perhaps forgot that this Bill, as originally introduced, contained no provision for religious broadcasting. The Government very wisely introduced in another place the amendments which have now found their place in Clause 16(2) (e).
The Government and indeed this Chamber are bound to pay close attention to the fact that the ITC, the successor body to the IBA, feels, in welcoming these amendments introduced by the Government, that there is a very great need, as the right reverend Prelate said, for the continuation of a body like the Central Religious Advisory Committee. That view was echoed by the new chairman of the Radio Authority, the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. It is a fact that important duties are now going to be placed on the Independent Television Commission and the Radio Authority to ensure that the opportunities afforded by the new amendments to the Bill are used responsibly by everybody concerned. Both regulatory bodies will have to draw up acceptable, workable codes and guidelines in respect of ownership, programme content and advertising. In doing this they will need to consider a wide range of advice from authoritative sources. It is surely better that that advice should be provided by an advisory body with the traditions that have been built up over the years by the Central Religious Advisory Committee.
Noble Lords have praised—from their point of view, quite rightly—the way in which the Cable Authority has broken new ground in that respect. The Cable Authority is to be merged in the new Independent Television Commission and that provision will continue. The Bill permitted such ownership of local radio stations from the outset.
There has to be regulation of these matters, and we ought to seek to ensure that it is the wisest possible regulation. Advice will be needed. There will be no great free market in religious ownership of broadcasting in this country under the Bill. There has 66 to be proper guidance, and wise guidance. For my part, I trust the traditions of the Central Religious Advisory Committee.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
There is nothing like religion for arousing interest and suspicion. There are some noble Lords who are afraid of something. There are other noble Lords who are afraid of other noble Lords who are afraid of something. It is extremely difficult to get to the bottom of the debate without taking one's cue from the voices that we hear that are so reminiscent of the debates on the Education Bill two years ago. One has only to close one's eyes and listen to know that one is in the middle of the same controversy as two years ago. I deplore that.
Even on the simple, semi-routine course of appointing or not appointing advisory committees we immediately wander almost knee deep into a debate on religion. Unless we are careful all the other aspects of the Bill will take second place to who is going to have what in terms of the use of the media for religious purposes.
I take the view that since we are dealing with the Independent Television Commission and not with the BBC we are entitled to look at that side of the broadcasting empire from a more secular point of view than the other. It is not part of the Establishment. It does not represent all that is noble and worthy in our philosophical and religious life. It represents the moguls of the media. It represents the advertising profession, the hidden persuaders, those who in a moving moment in a broadcast when we are almost reduced to tears intrude into our drawing rooms with an advertisement telling us that it is time that we used a different deodorant or installed a new bathroom. We are dealing with the commercial broadcasting empire; it is no good trying to turn it into the Church of England.
I believe that there is no such thing as a religious broadcast. There is no divine ordination of religious broadcasting. It is the broadcasting of religion. That is not quite so saintly as religious broadcasting. We should keep those differences in mind.
The noble Lord, Lord Thorneycroft, who made a speech a moment ago, bless him, very much like the one that he made on the Education Bill, thinks that we ought to pour the milk of human kindness and religious belief over the whole of the community in order that it can face the future. Some of us take a somewhat different view. I do not believe that the broadcasting services should be used by evangelists, extremists, crackpots and those who might otherwise intrude on our listening time.
I shall vote against Amendment No. 13. I see no reason at all for an advisory committee as recommended by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool. I shall vote against Amendment No. 9 because I see no reason why the broadcasting authority should not appoint advisory committees if it wants. Those who have had experience of advisory committees, as I have, know that one appoints them in order to listen to them and then take no notice of what they say. That satisfies the advisory committee 67 because it has made its point. It satisfies the public because they believe that someone who might exercise power wantonly and mischievously has listened to the better advice of those around them. It is all a charade.
What is at the bottom of this debate is that certain religions want to get their hands on this method of communication and of proselytising their religion. We are overlooking the fact that there are a great many churches up and down the country which could hold a lot of people if they would only go. Why do they expect to have religious broadcasts in their homes? To stop them going out on a rainy night to the church. We do not allow them to vote at home; they have to go out and go to the polling booth. Why should they not go to church? I believe that it is a great conspiracy by the religious authorities and influences in this country to get hold of this mechanism of dissemination of belief.
If religious broadcasting was concerned with behaviour instead of belief there might be more justification for it. However, apparently, we cannot teach people good behaviour without telling them to believe in something of which there is no evidence that can be produced for their consideration. That is what we are putting across to everyone—in the schools and everywhere. They have to believe in something that they cannot see. They have to believe in something they have never heard. They have to believe that goodness is gained from a source that they cannot imagine. They are utterly bewildered. Yet parents, who would themselves have great difficulty in putting that across to their children, believe that teachers can do it, or that if the teachers cannot do it the parsons should, and if their children listen to the religious broadcasts all will be well.
I believe that somebody ought to bring a blockbuster into this debate, blow it up and let us see what lies underneath. Underneath are some not very worthy sentiments. They are concerned with the power of religious influence among the people. I believe that that should be diminished rather than increased. Leave the broadcasters alone. Give those who are entrusted with the responsibility the authority to exercise it. If they fall down on the job and upset the public then there is a means of letting them know. But why erect all this apparatus of advisory committees, religious authorities, independent authorities and other authorities? It is a network of religious bureaucracy. I do not believe that we ought to have any truck with it. Let the commission appoint its advisory committees and listen or not as it chooses. Let it get on with it. That is the most sensible answer on which to close the debate.
It may help the Committee if I intervene at this point. I do not wish to truncate the debate and Members of the Committee may speak after me, but I thought that it might be of some help if I put the Government view.
I do so with a certain amount of trepidation. I thought that, as I usually do, I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby; but there 68 was only one fleeting moment in which I could do so. That was when he said that if the ITC wants an advisory body let it have one.
That is precisely what the Bill says. The noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, wants it to have an advisory body. He tabled an amendment seeking to remove it and at the beginning said he had no intention at all of moving it but just wanted to have a debate to let light into CRAC.
I felt rather sorry for the right reverend Prelates, for so they were. The bullets were flying past me across the Floor toward the right reverend Prelates because of what CRAC does or does not do. I thought it would probably be better for the Government to keep their head below the parapet and not become involved, although I do not think that one can do that. I only hope that the right reverend Prelates had on their bullet-proof surplices. The fact is that under the Broadcasting Act 1981 the IBA was not only enabled to take advice from appropriate bodies but was obliged to do so. It had to do so; it had to set up a number of advisory committees. They looked at such matters as religion, advertising, education and medical matters, and the IBA found its committees of great assistance.
Under the new arrangements we do not wish to impose too many administrative and, in some circumstances, as in the case of radio, expensive, tasks on the commission and authority because they will not have the resources to cope. Nor, I think, will the licensees necessarily be able to meet the expenses. It should be open to the commission and the authority to appoint committees and take advice as they see fit of their own volition. The Bill provides for that. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, will be pleased about that.
Religious broadcasting is an area where the regulatory bodies are likely to seek expert advice. I cannot imagine them not doing so. But I understand from the IBA that the ITC and the Radio Authority have yet to consider in detail the advisory structure which may be needed to help with their responsibilities toward religious broadcasting in the Broadcasting Bill. I do not have any direct knowledge of that, for fairly obvious reasons. I understand that CRAC has been a useful sounding board primarily for the broadcaster and I have no doubt that it will continue in that capacity for the BBC. Although they will no longer be broadcasters, the ITC and the Radio Authority are still likely to wish to consult CRAC in the immediate future on draft proposals for the coverage of religious matters in programme codes, guidelines and the code on advertising.
I understand that CRAC's role in the past has been centred on advice about programming rather than ownership matters. It will be for the new regulatory bodies to reach a view on whether that should continue to be the case. However, I should like to make clear that the Government see the discretion which is to be vested in the ITC and the Radio Authority as to whether religious groups should be disqualified from holding certain types of licences a 69 having nothing whatsoever to do with what one might call church politics and whether CRAC is a good or bad thing.
Incidentally, although we have discussed CRAC for the past one and a half hours, CRAC is not mentioned at all in the Bill. It is, I suppose, merely brought in by insinuation. The Government see the discretion as entirely grounded on the need to safeguard the viewers and listeners against the exploitation or abuse of the right to broadcast. It is an advisory body and, as the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, said, its advice is not always followed. That is probably quite right.
The Bill would not prohibit the ITC or the Radio Authority from obtaining advice from any other group or individuals. They can get their advice from where they like. Indeed, we should expect them to take account of all serious expressions of view which are made in drawing up the proposals for religious broadcasting, and indeed the wider broadcasting issues.
Perhaps I may take this opportunity to mention the other amendments tabled in my name because they are grouped together and are very much attached to the religious emphasis which the Government are trying to incorporate in the Bill. The Bill has been amended a great deal in another place to require Channel 3 and Channel 5 licensees to give a sufficient amount of time to religious programmes and to give the Independent Television Commission discretion to allow religious groups to own cable and non-domestic satellite channels. The amendments in my name seek to give effect to four further changes.
First, we propose the deletion of the "no editorialising" and "no undue prominence" rules in relation to all religious broadcasting. I know that a number of the amendments of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, have the same aim. There was a good deal of anxiety about the effect of those rules on religious groups which had won licences to run satellite or cable channels or radio stations.
I am bound to say that the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, and my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing have been extremely helpful in channelling those representations to us. Some groups feared, for instance, that the, broadcasts of church services would have been prevented. Certainly we did not think that the rules would have that effect or that they would be that restrictive. But we do not want there to be any unnecessary anxiety or uncertainty about the effects of the law and that is why we propose the deletions in Clauses 6, 42, 54 and 85.
Secondly, as we undertook to do, we are replacing these rules with what we believe to be a safeguard for religious broadcasting. That will require all religious programmes to avoid any improper exploitation of the susceptibilities of the audience and any abusive treatment of the religious beliefs of others. I hope that the Committee will agree that this is a much clearer safeguard against the abuse of religious broadcasting. It will operate alongside the other viewer and listener protection safeguards which are in the Bill. The new 70 requirement is to be found in Amendment No. 82 to Clause 6, and is repeated in Amendments Nos. 208 to Clause 54 and 255 to Clause 85.
The third point relates to the test of "appropriateness" in paragraph 2(2) of Part II of Schedule 2. This is the test that the Independent Television Commission is required to operate in considering whether a religious group should be disqualified from holding a non-domestic satellite service or cable channel licence. It has been strongly argued to us that the test should not be left unqualified but that it should be spelt out.
It is certainly no part of the Government's intention that religious groups should be prevented from owning satellite and cable channels merely because they are insufficiently establishment or mainstream. The Government however have reservations about limiting the discretion exclusively to the fit and proper person safeguards and the other provisions which are designed to protect the viewers. I know that some Members of the Committee would like us to do that. The main problem that we see is that if we do so, we might leave loopholes. For instance—this was a problem that concerned my noble friend Lady Cox—suppose that the ITC received an application from a new religious cult or an extremist group to own a satellite channel. There might be no concrete evidence that the group did not intend to comply with the consumer protection safeguards and there might be no provable record of wrongdoing or irresponsible behaviour on which the ITC could invoke the fit and proper persons provision. I question whether it would be right if the regulatory body had no power to regard such a group as disqualified in such circumstances.
In answer to my noble friend Lady Cox, our policy is to enable the ITC to disqualify cults and extremist groups which might exploit the audience. There is no intention to force channels to be multi-faith channels and there is no intention to disadvantage religious groups on timing. The ITC and the Radio Authority—this was a point about which the noble Baroness was concerned—will have to have guidelines in place in time for the commencement of the issuing of licences by the ITC and the Radio Authority.
My noble friend Lord Ashbourne asked how the Government will ensure that the guidance is in line with the Government's intentions. I can tell him that the IBA has already said in one of its briefing papers:We would not expect either the ITC or the Radio Authority to be unreasonably restrictive. We agree with Mr. Mellor's statement of the 2nd July in which he envisages that the ITC would not normally regard people as disqualified unless they were thought unlikely to comply with the viewer and listener protection safeguards or to be unfit persons to hold broadcasting licences".The Government have already discussed these matters with the IBA and no doubt will discuss them further with the ITC and the Radio Authority. We have tried to meet these points by the alternative means of requiring the regulatory bodies to publish general guidance to applicants as to the principles which will be applied by them in determining whether it is appropriate for religious groups to hold the relevant licences. That is the concern of Amendment 71 No. 47 to Schedule 2. That amendment provides a vehicle for making clear that consumer protection considerations should normally be the basis upon which the discretion would operate. Religious groups could be precluded from holding a licence only for reasons which are associated with safeguarding viewers and listeners. I hope that the Committee will find that is satisfactory.
The government amendments bring radio into line with television for the purposes of religious ownership. The effect of that is that the Radio Authority would have discretion to allow religious groups to own local restricted and satellite radio licences and licences for licensable sound services.
I believe that the Bill gives far greater freedom to religious broadcasters than has any other previous broadcasting legislation. At the same time it contains pretty clear safeguards against abuse. It is these safeguards which we have tried to refine and to improve in these amendments. The balance which will now be struck between freedom and responsibility and religious broadcasting I hope will be welcomed by everyone who takes an interest in the subject.
It has been made perfectly clear this evening that Members of the Committee are concerned about the issue. One can never have a guarantee. One can only set up the right structures. I believe that by allowing the Independent Television Commission to set up such committees as it thinks fit is the right way. Whether or not it chooses that that should be CRAC is a matter for the commission and not for us.
The Earl of Halsbury
I think that it would be proper for me at this stage to wind up on Amendment No. 9 which is before the Committee.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
Before the noble Earl does so, I should like to put before the Committee one point which may help. My interpretation of the debate that we have had so far—which has been informative and helpful—boils down to one aspect. Do we wish to leave the provision that the commission shall appoint, or that it may appoint? That is the only decision that this Committee ought to make. The data that will flow from it will come later in our debate. Is there no way of clarifying that point?
I agree with my noble friend Lord Thorneycroft that we ought to decide that it shall appoint an advisory committee. Who is on the committee will be its decision. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, said that he has worked with CRAC, and found that it worked. Although I am three-quarters of the way along the road in agreement with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool, I should like to know a little more about how CRAC works. If an advisory committee will replace CRAC, I should like to know. The right reverend Prelate is chairman, as indeed was the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. He sits on the committee with the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. When on that committee did he put his point of view or that of CRAC?
I should like a decision on this issue. I believe that it is the only decision that the Committee ought to 72 make. Do we provide that the commission shall appoint an advisory committee; or that it may appoint an advisory committee? Like the noble Lord, Lord Thorneycroft, I believe that we ought to be definite on that issue. I prefer Amendment No. 13 which provides that the commission shall appoint an advisory committee. The other amendments leave matters in the air. It is a matter on which I should like to know the view of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury.
The Earl of Halsbury
I spoke to Amendment No. 13. I did not move it. It is up to the right reverend Prelate to move Amendments Nos. 10 and 13. I moved Amendment No. 9. I now seek to wind up on Amendment No. 9. That has no inhibitory effect on the right reverend Prelate moving Amendments Nos. 10 and 13. The debate can continue. However, if I wind up on this amendment, it might give Members of the Committee an opportunity to adjourn for supper since the hour is a little late.
Amendment No. 9 is not one on which I could justify dividing the Committee. Apart from the lure to persuade the right reverend Prelate to come into action, the true nature of the amendment is otiose. It is not necessary to appoint sub-committees without saying what they are for. To make a statutory sub-committee for a particular purpose would have meaning; but merely to say that an organisation may appoint sub-committees achieves nothing because it can do so in any case. Whoever one is, a private or a corporate person, to take advice from whom one pleases is a common law intrinsic right. One cannot add to it. As the noble Viscount said, do not write things into Acts of Parliament that are unnecessary. Members of the Committee must not confuse removing the permissive setting up of unspecified advisory councils with an embargo on doing the same thing. I am not embargoing anything. I merely say that the provision for setting up advisory councils is useless. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 7.15 p.m.
The Lord Bishop of Liverpool had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 10:
Page 145, line 42, at beginning insert ("(1)").
§ The right reverend Prelate said: I hope that it will be helpful to the Committee if I state that it is a probing amendment. In due course I shall not move the amendment. I am grateful to the Minister for the response that he has already given and what he has said about the value of advice. I believe that I owe some answers. I shall try to be as brisk as I possibly can.
§ The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, raised some points. I am grateful that prayer groups are praying for us. I wonder what they were told that made them think that such a dire threat was being put to the Christian religion. The noble Baroness asked about a meeting in May—I forget the title of it—at which it was quoted that CRAC had expressed opposition to the ownership of cable stations. I believe that that was in CRAC's submission in response to the White Paper. I 73 hope that it will be well understood that there is a distinction between arguing a case for what may be conceived to be best and then accepting the Bill that is being passed. From the heart, I accept with much gladness that religious bodies are allowed to own cable stations. There is no possibility that CRAC would be seeking to block such ownership in any dogmatic way.
§ I was grateful for the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth's phrase. I hope that we can deal with any advice that we were asked to give in a humane and tolerant way. That is our style. At Second Reading I said that it would not be possible in my opinion to produce a proscribed list. Some have argued hotly for freedom. The noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, pressed me to look at the Official Report of what the Minister said at Second Reading in another place. The noble Viscount built a great deal on the Minister having said that Christian bodies would be allowed to own such stations. I wrote to the Minister. He wrote back to say that that statement was not meant to be exclusive, that it referred to religious bodies. It is very important for us to understand that it refers to any religious body. What is a religious body? There begins to be some fuzzy areas. Clearly some methods of promoting religion are used in a good many other parts of the world. The Minister and others who have argued for freedom have said, "We don't want such expressions here". I therefore welcome the phrases about ownership that the Government have brought forward in the amendment, at the same time that they have withdrawn the reference to no undue prominence.
§ The noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, spoke repeatedly about the place of evangelicals. Does he know that a third of the members of CRAC call themselves evangelical Christians? A great many evangelical Christians—including a number of broadcasters—are indignant at the campaign that has been carried on, supposedly in their name. They are extremely angry that it has been supposed that without question a full-blooded evangelical faith is blocked from the airways. I do not believe that to be true. Unless people have watched and listened to a good deal they should take care in repeating that concept.
§ The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, asked that CRAC should set out to ensure that there is a fair balance. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, asked whether it represented only Christianity. The answer is, no, there are representatives from the Jewish, Moslem and Hindu faiths. For reasons that have been expressed in the debate, the majority are from the Churches on the wide front that I named.
§ The noble Lord, Lord Thorneycroft, rightly reminded us of the opportunity for spreading religion in its best sense through television and radio. Here is a tremendous opportunity. Surely it is important that it is done in a quality way and that we should not say that the quality does not matter. It has been said that sometimes programmes are banned. However, I am sure that Members of the Committee will know that quality decisions are made by a producer who should properly make such decisions.74
§ The noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, asked whether I expressed my opinion or that of CRAC when I attend the general advisory council. I express my opinion with all the freedom that I wish. Sometimes I might tell the council what CRAC thinks about certain issues and I feel free to do so. I am grateful to the Minister for the safeguards which have been given while at the same time removing the "no undue prominence" aspect.
§ I wonder about the picture that Members of the Committee have of the future. We shall move away from a principle which has existed since the days of Lord Reith; that a fair balance representing religious bodies throughout the country should be carefully kept and monitored. That will no longer be the case because money will be able to buy air time. We have come from York, from the General Synod and from Budget time. The Church of England is committed to maintaining a ministry in every part of the land, like all the other mainline Churches. The notion that it can find substantial amounts of money for doing so is totally unrealistic. I do not believe that the mainline Churches here, any more than those in the United States, are likely to take up the opportunities presented by cable stations, advertising and so forth. We need to ensure that the Churches are likely to be those of more marginal groups which will not be equally represented because only some will have access to wealthy people. For that reason it is right that safeguards are brought into place in the Minister's amendment. I welcome the response that he has given and shall not move Amendments Nos. 10 and 13.
§ [Amendment No. 10 not moved.]
§ Viscount Ullswater
I beg to move that the House do now resume. I suggest that the Committee stage begin again at 25 minutes past eight o'clock.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.