§ 4.10 p.m.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrets)
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Earl Ferrers.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]
§ Clause 5 [Restrictions on the holding of licences]:
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth moved Amendment No. 32A:
Page 5, line 4, after ("Act;") insert:
("(aa) that a person does not become or remain the holder of, or have control over more than one licence;").
The noble Lord said: When the Bill was before another place, the Government said that they were firmly and irrevocably committed to a regional Channel 3 system. The purpose of this amendment and those associated with it is to argue that the best way for the Government to fulfil that commitment is to maintain the insistence in our commercial television system that there should be one company, one television contract. There should be no dual ownership of television contracts.
I believe that there is general agreement in the Committee that the smaller regional television companies have served their regions extremely well. They have shown themselves over many years to be viable propositions. They believe that they can continue to be viable under the new regime that the Bill brings in. To the best of my belief, the Independent Broadcasting Authority is also of the view that the present pattern of 15 television regions is viable.
It is therefore of great importance that the quality of the regional programming should he buttressed in every way possible. We do not believe that there is any economic necessity for what the Government propose in the Bill and what has become known as the penny-farthing proposition, which is that it should be 299 open to groups not only to go in for multiple bidding but to bid for the common ownership of a major area together with a smaller area. This would mean that in the bidding process the bigger and financially better organised groups from the major regions, especially the London area and perhaps central England, would enjoy an unfair advantage. They would have access to funds unlikely to be available to the smaller regional groups bidding for the smaller regional contracts. The big boys would be able to make a higher bid for the smaller area than would otherwise be sustainable for that area on its own.
If the big companies were then to gain the double franchise on that basis, there would be a grave danger that they would seek to recoup their outlay for having overbid for the smaller region by imposing various economies of scale. Inevitably, the regional head office would become a branch office. There might be cosmetic attempts to conceal the fact, but that would be the reality. There would be a serious risk of strong pressure to save money by more centralisation of programme services. If it came to surplus capacity, it would be likely to be the capacity in the smaller region, where employment provided by these television companies is often of critical importance, that would suffer.
The two regions would be marketed by the sales organisation of the company concerned. The smaller region would be marketed as a satellite of the larger region. The practical result might well be to reduce opportunities for local advertisers, who would simply be priced out of that marketplace.
The Government have gone to some pains in the Bill to seek to prevent over-concentration of ownership. We shall come to another aspect of that shortly. But already in the Bill there is the provision that there should not be more than a 20 per cent. cross-ownership. It seems to us both odd and wrong that in this case the Government should be prepared to allow 100 per cent. ownership of a smaller regional television contract by a major television contractor. For these reasons I beg to move the amendment.
§ Baroness Birk
I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth. Amendment No. 32A is grouped with Amendments Nos. 49 and 72. As the noble Lord said, the object of the amendments is to try to stop any possibility of monopolies arising with a concentration of ownership, so that we achieve the greater diversity of ownership that I have always understood that the Government desire.
By allowing a company to own two Channel 3 licences, the Bill contradicts the Government's rhetoric on the need to break down monopoly and increase competition. As the noble Lord pointed out, the amendment has the added effect of encouraging regional identity in Channel 3 licence-holders. Owning more than one licence completely dilutes the concept of Channel 3 as a regionally based system, with each company having its roots in its own region.
300 Although it is not stated in the Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, stated that the Government have said that a company would not be allowed to own two large or contiguous regional Channel 3 licences. The penny-farthing pattern with which it appears the Government are prepared to proceed would, we feel, be a great mistake.
Amendment No. 72 is to insert,or may hold more than a 20 per cent. interest in another Channel 3 licensee".That would restrict the holder of a Channel 3, Channel 5 or national radio licence to no more than a 20 per cent. interest in a further licence for a Channel 3 service. At present the Bill permits one company to own two regional Channel 3 licences, one Channel 5 and one national radio licence. The amendment seeks to restrict ownership between these licensed services and a further Channel 3 licence to the 20 per cent. interest trigger point.
If Amendment No. 49—which again seeks to restrict Channel 3 licence-holders to one licence—does not succeed, this amendment provides a fall-back position. However, if Channel 3 licence-holders must be able to own more than one licence, that interest must be restricted. I hope that the Government will look favourably on the amendments. I commend them to the Committee.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, knows the area in which I live as well as I do. He spoke of the penny-farthing principle or pattern as the inevitable result of allowing a company to have two licences as opposed to one. One might equally find that one company had two licences. There could be two small areas owned by one licence holder. I believe there are some areas in the country that are so small that it is difficult for the company concerned to devote enough resources to such areas to obtain the quality that it would wish. We need flexibility here, particularly in the smaller areas which do not have large populations and therefore cannot earn a great deal of advertising revenue.
I believe that a maximum of two licences allows for flexibility, particularly if they are not allowed to be contiguous and turn into one bigger concern. The size of the two companies concerned may not be known. It is possible that a southern based company could own a small company in Scotland and therefore the penny-farthing effect would be achieved. Two small companies may have one owner and they would obtain benefits of scale without one swamping the other. I believe the amendment would reduce flexibility, and that would be a great pity.
I understand the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, which always has been that licensees should own only one franchise. The noble Lord, like the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, is worried about the concentration of ownership. I can see that Amendment No. 49 has a certain attraction. As has been pointed out, we are considering Amendments Nos. 32A, 49 and 72.
In our view Amendment No. 49 goes too far. Ever since the announcement of the former Home 301 to temper the rule that one person could hold two regional Channel 3 franchises. We accept that no one should be allowed to hold even two such franchises, if both are large. We accept that that has to be the case to meet the anxiety about concentration of ownership. We also accept that no one should be allowed to control two viable contiguous Channel 3 franchises. This could dilute the regionality of the Channel 3 map as drawn up by the Independent Television Commission and could detract from the regionality which the noble Baroness was concerned about.
We attach considerable importance to this principle. The only two departures from it which would be permitted under the Bill as it now stands are, first, where a licence area had become unviable and no other company except an adjacent one was interested in owning the licence, either through takeover or competitive tender; and, secondly, a departure would be permitted where the ITC was satisfied that the separate regional identity of the two licences would be maintained, notwithstanding the fact that they were under the same ownership.
The words "large" and "contiguous" would be defined in the secondary legislation to be made under paragraph 2(3)(b) in Part III of Schedule 2. The Government would naturally want to consult the ITC first. Our provisional view is that all Channel 3 licences with significant overlapping land coverage would be regarded as contiguous. We also think that the word "large" should pick out the top third or so regional Channel 3 franchises with the highest expected qualifying revenue. But the detailed formulation must await the ITC's decisions on the division of the Channel 3 map.
The Government believe that it would be undesirable to go further in the way envisaged in this amendment by providing that no one may own more than one regional Channel 3 service. If a single person or group satisfies the ITC that they are a fully qualified person to run two Channel 3 franchises, and have made the highest bid in both cases, and there are no overriding reasons of public policy (such as the "large or "contiguous" criteria) for preventing this, why should the viewer be denied what may be the best service on offer in each case?
I turn now to Amendment No. 72. As I have already explained, the Government accept that no person should be allowed to own two regional Channel 3 franchises which are contiguous or where both are large. I have also explained that we believe it would be undesirable to go further by providing that no one may own more than one regional Channel 3 service. In particular, we do not see any sufficient reason of public policy why the viewer should be denied in this way what may be the best service on offer in each case.
Nevertheless, the Government believe that certain supplementary limits are needed in addition to those already set out in Schedule 2 to deal with undue concentrations of interest within Channel 3 and Channel 5. In the interests of securing diversity of involvement in Channel 3, the Government accordingly propose that no regional Channel 3 licensee 302 should be permitted to have more than a 5 per cent. interest in any one or more regional Channel 3 licences which he would not under the rules be permitted to own or control. For example, a large regional Channel 3 licensee could control a second regional Channel 3 franchise which was not contiguous with it or large, but could not have more than a 5 per cent. interest in any other Channel 3 franchise.
Similarly, in the interests of securing diversity of involvement in terrestrial television, the Government propose that, while a regional Channel 3, national Channel 3 or Channel 5 licensee would be permitted to have up to a 20 per cent. interest in any one licensee in either of the other two categories, he would not be permitted to have more than a 5 per cent. interest in any further such licensees.
The Government propose to implement these supplementary rules in subordinate legislation at the same time as implementing the "no contiguity" and "no two large regional Channel 3 franchise" rules. I hope that this clear statement of the Government's intentions will reassure the noble Lord and the noble Baroness that the Government have no desire to see undue concentrations of interest within the Channel 3 and Channel 5 system.
We understand the anxieties which both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness have mentioned. However, I believe that if we were to adopt their amendments we would deny viewers the possibility of better television in those places where it may be required, and where the ITC considers that those who have applied to provide a service are those who can best do so.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
It is on the final point that the Minister makes that the dispute between us lies. We are grateful to him for setting out the rather complex set of arrangements which the Government propose, both in the Bill and in subordinate legislation, to seek to prevent an undue concentration of ownership. So far, so good. However, we strongly dissent from the Minister's claim that if a major television contractor owns a minor regional contractor better regional television will result.
The difficulty lies in the fact that the Government in their wisdom are proposing a new system for the allocation of television contracts. Although there are now very welcome and much strengthened quality provisions as regards companies getting on short lists for the final allocation of a contract, at the end of the day money will play a much bigger part in winning a contract than was previously the case under the former system. Our fear is that the kind of extra money that a major grouping bidding for one of the major populated areas in the South can offer will put the genuinely regional grouping at a major disadvantage right at the start of this whole process. I do not wish to repeat the arguments that I used earlier, but we also fear that once the bigger group has acquired the smaller region as well as its own the pressures for profitability will lead to a reduction in the quality of the regional programming.
303 It is for those reasons that we believe that maintaining the principle that there should be one contractor only for each region is of very great importance in the interests of the viewers. I am therefore disappointed that the Government, having gone to some considerable trouble to try to secure against over-concentration of ownership, at the end allowed this proposition to come through. I do not know even now where the demand for it comes from. So far as I am aware it has not come from any of those who are concerned about regional contracts. Those who hold contracts for the smaller regions at present will no doubt bid to retain them, and they must take their chance in that respect. All of them believe that they are viable regions.
The effective regional identity in commercial television is one of the rich aspects of British television and ought to be maintained. The idea that some great London grouping should also own and have responsibility for the quality of regional television—for example, in the Borders of Scotland and England or the North East of Scotland—seems to me to be very undesirable and unnecessary. It is for those reasons that we feel bound to press the amendment.
Before the noble Lord does so perhaps I may make one point clear. He said that there was no demand for licensees to be allowed to hold more than one franchise. The Bill as it stands is not intended to supply a demand but to set out the parameters. We do not say that there is any such demand, but if there should be a demand it seems reasonable to allow for that to happen.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, is concerned that we are trying to encourage such ownership. That is not so. We are trying to produce a framework which will last for 10 or 20 years. If people are able to go through the hoops they ought to be able to hold the licence.
I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, is aware that his amendment, Amendment No. 32A, is very restrictive because it includes no mechanism for amending the limit if that should prove necessary. It bites on all ITC licensees, including non-domestic satellite licensees. It would mean that it would be possible to hold only one satellite licence and no more. It would also make it impossible to hold a large and a small Channel 3 licence. The noble Lord's amendment will also bite on satellite licences.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
In this amendment I concentrate on the principle of single ownership for regional contracts within the terrestrial commercial television system. I confess that I had not taken on board the point that the Minister made. If he would concede the main point that I am seeking with the amendment, we should be only too happy to have the Government draft it in such a way that it does not spill over into other areas in which we would want to make a separate judgment.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 32A) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 101; Not-Contents, 135.305
|Division No. 1|
|Addington, L.||Hylton, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Jay, L.|
|Alport, L.||Jeger, B.|
|Ampthill, L.||Jenkins of Putney, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Kagan, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Kearton, L.|
|Banks, L.||Kennet, L.|
|Birk, B.||Kilbracken, L.|
|Blackstone, B.||Kirkhill, L.|
|Blease, L.||Lawrence, L.|
|Bonham-Carter, L.||Leatherland, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B|
|Bottomley, L.||Lloyd of Hampstead, L.|
|Briginshaw, L.||Lockwood, B.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Longford, E.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||McGregor of Durris, L.|
|Carter, L. [Teller.]||Mason of Barnsley, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Milner of Leeds, L.|
|Clinton-Davis, L.||Molloy, L.|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||Oram, L.|
|Darcy (de Knayth), B.||Peston, L.|
|David, B.||Phillips, B.|
|Davies of Penrhys, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Plowden, L.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Raglan, L.|
|Ezra, L.||Richard, L.|
|Falkender, B.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Rochester, L.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Ross of Newport, L.|
|Fitt, L.||Russell, E.|
|Foot, L.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Gallacher, L.||Seear, B.|
|Galpern, L.||Seebohm, L.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Serota, B.|
|Glasgow, E.||Sherfield, L.|
|Glenamara, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Gregson, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Grey, E.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Hanworth, V.||Thomson of Monifieth, L.|
|Henderson of Brompton, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|Hirshfield, L.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Hollis of Heigham, B.||Varley, L.|
|Holme of Cheltenham, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Hooson, L.||Walston, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Hughes, L.||Willis, L.|
|Hunt, L.||Winstanley, L.|
|Hunter of Newington, L.|
|Aldington, L.||Butterworth, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Buxton of Alsa, L.|
|Annaly, L.||Caccia, L.|
|Arran, E.||Campbell of Alloway, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Carlisle of Bucklow, L.|
|Balfour, E.||Carnegy of Lour, B.|
|Barber, L.||Cavendish of Furness, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Colnbrook, L.|
|Beloff, L.||Colwyn, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Cork and Orrery, E.|
|Bessborough, E.||Cottesloe, L.|
|Birdwood, L.||Cox, B.|
|Blake, L.||Craigton, L.|
|Blatch, B.||Cullen of Ashbourne, L.|
|Blyth, L.||Cumberlege, B.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Davidson, V.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Denham, L. [Teller.]|
|Dormer, L.||Nelson, E.|
|Downshire, M.||Newall, L.|
|Eccles, V.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Eccles of Moulton, B.||Orkney, E.|
|Elles, B.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Oxfuird, V.|
|Elliott of Morpeth, L.||Pearson of Rannoch, L.|
|Erne, E.||Pender, L.|
|Erroll of Hale, L.||Peyton of Yeovil, L.|
|Ferrers, E||Plummer of St. Marylebone, L|
|Fortescue, E.||Porritt, L.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Prior, L.|
|Gainsborough, E.||Quinton, L.|
|Gardner of Parkes, B.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Gray of Contin, L.||Reay, L.|
|Gridley, L.||Rees, L.|
|Grimston of Westbury, L.||Renton, L.|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.||Renwick, L.|
|Rippon of Hexham, L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Rodney, L.|
|Harmar-Nicholls, L.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Henley, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Hesketh, L.||St. John of Bletso, L.|
|Hives, L.||Salisbury, M.|
|Holderness, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Home of the Hirsel, L.||Savile, L.|
|Hooper, B.||Sharples, B.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Shaughnessy, L.|
|Ingrow, L||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Johnston of Rockport, L.||Somerset, D.|
|Killearn, L.||Stevens of Ludgate, L.|
|Kimball, L.||Stockton, E.|
|Kinnaird, L.||Strathcarron, L.|
|Lloyd-George of Dwyfor, E.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Long, V. [Teller.]||Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.|
|Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Strathspey, L.|
|Lurgan, L||Suffield, L.|
|McColl of Dulwich, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Swinton, E.|
|Macleod of Borve, B.||Teviot, L.|
|Mancroft, L.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Margadale, L.||Thorneycroft, L.|
|Marshall of Leeds, L.||Tranmire, L.|
|Massereens and Ferrard, V.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Merrivale, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Morris, L.||Ullswater, V.|
|Mottistone, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, [...].|
|Mowbray and Stourton, L.||Wade of Chorlton, L.|
|Moyne, L.||Wedgwood, L.|
|Munster, E.||Wise, L.|
|Murton of Lindisfarne, L.||Wyatt of Weeford, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 4.42 p.m.
Baroness Birk moved Amendment No. 32B:
Page 5 line 5, leave out ("Parts III to V") and insert ("Part III or IV or V").
The noble Baroness said: This amendment is a paving amendment for the amendments on cross-media ownership. The amendments in my name are Amendments Nos. 66 and 70. They seek to insert:
a domestic or non-domestic satellite television service".
§ It is the same in the clause as in the schedule.
§ These amendments seek to establish the principle of what is happening today and what should be altered in the field of cross-media ownership. I am concerned to establish the principle. I am not concerned immediately to divest a proprietor of holdings. If it were to take 18 months or two years to implement I should be content with that timescale. It is important first to establish the principle and see how the situation works out.306
§ A number of other amendments on the Marshalled List deal with the same area but in rather different ways. I shall come back to them later. In our view this is the clearest amendment and one which gets right down to the root of the matter. I hope that it will be supported.
§ The current situation is wrong. Democracy is, among other things, about diversity of opinions. In a free society it is the duty of the media to reflect and enhance that diversity. Sometimes technology can run so fast that legislation is left behind. The principle of media diversity can become overrun almost by default. Surely now is the time by means of this Bill to establish in law the principle in which we all believe; namely, plurality in the media.
§ The principle can be simply stated. In a genuine democracy it cannot be right for the same individual to own both a substantial number of national newspapers and national television channels which can influence the same people. It is a principle that has been rigorously implemented in the United States, where the same person is barred from owning both a national television station and newspapers in the same city. Despite several attempts to fight the American regulatory authorities, News International was forced to sell off its newspapers in Chicago and New York where it had just bought television stations. It is a principle which the Government recognised and confirmed in the White Paper which preceded this Bill.
§ It is stated very clearly on page 31, paragraph 6.48 of the White Paper, in the passage dealing with the
Government and ownership in the independent sector, existing controls on takeovers and several other matters that enter into this area, that:
clear rules will also be needed which impose limits on concentration of ownership and on excessive cross-media ownership, in order to keep the market open for newcomers and to prevent any tendency towards editorial uniformity or domination by a few groups".
§ Despite such a clear statement, in which there is no ambiguity at all, the Government chose to leave a loophole which relieved from those obligations any channel transmitted from a private or non-UK satellite operation. That means that a proprietor who owns 35 per cent. of the national press can broadcast to the whole nation from the Astra satellite, which includes four Sky channels. That is the position of Rupert Murdoch's News International.
§ What are the justifications put forward for allowing that position to remain and be sustained. The first is that it is not physically possible to act because the service lies outside Britain in non-domestic British jurisdiction. It is not true that we can do nothing about the situation because it lies outside Britain. In Clauses 165 and 166 the Government propose to give the Secretary of State power to proscribe any foreign satellite service which broadcasts offensive materials. Therefore, it is possible to control foreign satellite services. The Government appear to be prepared to do that where pornography is involved but not where cross-media ownership is concerned. Clause 166 307 makes it illegal for any programme makers, advertisers or services to have any contact with a proscribed satellite service.
§ It is often said in reply that by putting money into new ventures, existing media owners are creating opportunities and choices which would otherwise not exist. Those are essentially economic arguments which may be true in some cases but are not so universally. However, they ignore cultural, social and other considerations.
§ Research by the Broadcast Research Unit indicates that public opinion can be manipulated. For example, it shows that those people who read newspapers owned by News International are more strongly against the BBC continuing to have a licence fee than another body of readers who read other newspapers. The effect of that concentration of ownership filters through to the readers and the viewers. I submit that it is extremely dangerous.
§ The argument has been put forward that if one adds together local and regional newspapers, the figure does not add up to 35 per cent. We are concerned with the impact that national newspapers make. They make a major impact in this country because they are the norm and other papers are an addition.
§ The figures with regard to holdings in satellites, newspapers and publishing, are 100 per cent. of Collins, 18 per cent. of Pearson and 3.6 per cent. of Reed. With regard to television the figures are 24 per cent. of London Weekend Television and for radio, 3 per cent. of Radio Clyde. Their links with other interests are very widespread and large.
§ Those holdings are even more concentrated in the hands of the proprietor whose family owns 43 per cent. of News International. I am not interested in any vendetta against any individual. It is certainly not an exercise in Murdoch bashing. Rupert Murdoch is a very old friend of both my husband and myself although I had not seen him for some years until this issue arose recently. There is nothing personal in this approach. It is absolutely essential that in a Bill which will set the pattern for broadcasting in this country for many years to come we at least get the matter right.
§ It may be said that if Rupert Murdoch moves his operation about 1,000 people will be unemployed. We have no reason to believe that he will move his operation; he himself has not said so. He could move it at any time either for personal reasons or because he felt that it was not financially and commercially successful enough to warrant continuing. He could also move part of the operation outside this country and still legitimately operate in Britain. I do not think that those arguments hold water.
§ In a free society it is up to Parliament to ensure that no individual or organisation should be allowed to dominate our sources of information. There are no more powerful means of communication today than national newspapers and national television stations. Whatever their source or means of transmission, they are the biggest influence on people today. In this Chamber we are engaged in introducing new 308 legislation. We have a great responsibility and duty to deal with such matters. This is a revising Chamber. We have the second word after a decision has been taken in the Commons. It is our duty to ensure that when we refer to democracy and plurality of choice they mean what they say and are not simply a cover-up for something entirely different.
§ I believe that the amendment should commend itself to the Government because it reflects the terms of their own rhetoric. It encourages new entrants rather than media conglomerates. It also encourages competition.
§ I turn to the other amendments in the grouping list. The amendment in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, sets a 5 per cent. audience figure as a trigger to ownership restriction. There is a problem about whether 5 per cent. will work; and, secondly, whether an audience figure can be worked out which is precise enough to make the measure stick. No doubt the noble Earl will explain the amendment when he moves it.
§ Amendment No. 75, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, establishes the principle that once a licensed service reaches a specified target audience the owner of a national newspaper may not own more than 20 per cent. of the service and vice versa. The measure leaves it to the Secretary of State, in consultation with the commission, to decide when the agreed percentage has been reached.
§ Although in many ways the amendment has certain advantages over that in the name of the noble Earl, we are nevertheless faced again with the situation where a Secretary of State and the commission could set the figure at 100 per cent. There does not seem to be enough protection on the face of the Bill if either of those amendments are agreed to rather than the amendment which I move.
§ My amendment is short, simple and lays down the main principle about which I am concerned. We are perfectly happy if the implementation of the measure takes 18 months or two years, or has to be worked out. We wish to have the principle laid down in the Bill so that we do away with such a dangerous factor in our society. I beg to move.
§ 5 p.m.
The Earl of Stockton
For the convenience of the Committee, I propose to speak to Amendments Nos. 65A, 66A, 66B, 69A, 69B, 70A, 72A and 74A which stand in my name and Amendment No. 75 which stands in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter.
I cannot support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk. It addresses the problem but does not propose an acceptable or equitable solution. I stated quite clearly in my speech at Second Reading that it was my intention to table amendments in Committee to address the question of cross-media control. I introduced the amendment to Schedule 2 knowing that a similarly worded amendment was tabled and moved unsuccessfully by the honourable Member for Slough in another place. However, that 309 does not deter me because I consider the matter to be in the public interest; and I know that I have some support.
In reaching that conclusion I have taken advice from a wide variety of independent and interested parties. I have made visits to Sky Television in West London and to British Satellite Broadcasting south of the river. While I acknowledge that the structure of the amendment standing in my name was suggested to me by those advising BSB—as it was to the honourable Member for Slough—I believe that it offers a sensible solution to an otherwise totally illogical, unnecessary and potentially very damaging anomaly in the Bill.
I also wish to stress from the outset that it is primarily because of the Bill's illogicality and its lack of any clear and cogent attitude towards cross-media control that I originally became interested. I do not consider it appropriate for us to concern ourselves with the commercial motives which, beyond the Palace of Westminster, have fuelled the public debate. It has focused for the most part on the position of News International on the one hand and BSB on the other. Like the honourable Member for Slough in another place I have no wish to be involved in any partisan campaign against a particular newspaper group; and in particular not a group which for the past 10 years has been the prime mover in the modernisation of the newspaper and broadcasting industries. Mr. Rupert Murdoch has taken enormous risks and has shown unmatched entrepreneurial spirit in launching this country into the satellite television age. He has earned the admiration and respect of many of us.
The loophole in the Bill is quickly identified and, as the noble Baroness said, comment was made in the Government's 1988 White Paper on broadcasting. Early last year my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, when Home Secretary, said in another place that the Government will propose extensive and effective rules to prevent concentration of broadcasting ownership and unhealthy cross-media ownership. It is crucially important that we should have such rules. Real choice could be undermined if British broadcasting were allowed to be dominated by a handful of tycoons or international conglomerates.
Extending back to the Pilkington Report of 1962, it has for 30 years been the cardinal principle of broadcasting legislation in Britain that national newspaper owners may not hold a stake of more than 20 per cent. in a commercial television station and vice versa. That principle is reflected in the Television Acts of 1963 and 1964 and endorsed by successive governments in the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act 1973, the Broadcasting Act 1981 and the Cable and Broadcasting Act 1984.
The Bill as it stands endorses that same 20 per cent. principle in all respects bar one. It is applied to Channel 3, to Channel 5 and to the BSB channels but it is not applied to non-domestic satellite services. In practice it means that the Bill is upholding the 310 principle for some British broadcasters and abandoning it for others; it is consciously creating a loophole for itself. In plain terms the Bill is a muddle and, even worse, it is an unnecessary muddle.
In an article printed in the Daily Telegraph on Monday, 9th July, Mr. Andrew Knight, chairman of News International, pleaded for uniformity. He put forward what one might call the flip-side of the coin by suggesting that the way to achieve that was to remove all restrictions on cross-media ownership. On the face of it the argument has some attractions. As Mr. Knight puts it:today, pluralism is the key multi-channel ownership".He argues most cogently that if the 20 per cent. principle were to be abandoned, the public would have access to the widest possible number of channels; up to 108 channels off a single satellite using the techniques of digital compression. That is not only pie in the sky; it is pie from Sky. With energy costs running into hundreds of millions of pounds for TV services there will not be that number of players.
I suggest that the argument is better viewed the other way round. Mr. Michael Grade, chairman of Channel 4, put the point in his article printed in the Daily Telegraph on 5th June. He stated:If there are going to be more opportunities to provide satellite television channels, then we should be keener than ever to prevent concentration of ownership. The maintenance of cross-ownership rules will make for more not less diversity of new entrants. The Government expects a queue of non-newspaper bidders for Channel 3 and Channel 5 franchises. Surely that shows we do not need to rely on existing newspaper interests to exploit new television opportunities".I know that that view is not shared by Mr. Grade's uncle, the noble Lord, Lord Grade, who I am sorry to say is not in his place this afternoon.
I am anxious to achieve consistency at the very least so that broadcasting companies producing television for the British audience continue to be treated equally. There are those who, like Mr. Knight, argue for scrapping the 20 per cent. principle. However, there are others, and I am one, who argue that a healthy democracy is best served by encouraging plurality of ownership by maintaining the 20 per cent. rule. Whichever way one looks at the situation, surely it is indefensible to hedge one's bets by legislating one set of principles for one group and a different set for another. That was openly admitted by my noble friend Lord Ferrers in the debate on Monday when he said:The ITC will be a very different body. It will cover not only Channels 3, 4 and 5, but all the satellite arid cable services besides additional services such as Teletext".—[Official Report, 9/7/90; col. 18.]I fail to see why this principle, so clearly stated in our earlier debate by my noble friend, does not apply across the Bill.
To add to the muddle, the Bill clearly provides the Home Secretary with powers to prescribe restrictions on users of foreign satellites by order. While I welcome the principle that underlies the Government's proposals, surely it must be acknowledged that by refusing to extend the ownership safeguards in the Bill to non-domestic satellite users—whose channels may 311 be exclusively produced for and directed at the British audience—the provision's integrity is seriously undermined. With that in mind I shall be moving a further amendment to Clause 165.
That is the unhealthy mess in which we find the Bill in its present form. As the Government are so stern in their support for maintaining the 20 per cent. principle for the majority of current broadcasts received by British audiences, I am resolved to see that the principle applies across the whole spectrum of broadcasts received in this country by whatever means. That appears to be a better option than advocating the abolition of the rule.
My amendment provides that, if a domestic or foreign satellite service that was intended primarily for reception in the United Kingdom attracts an average of not less than 5 per cent. of the audience for television in the United Kingdom during any period of not fewer than 30 days, it would be made subject to the cross-media ownership rules. Those rules would apply to BSB as much as to any other satellite broadcaster and would mean that all satellite operators would be working on equal terms. I have been advised by Citicorp Scrimgeour Vickers that 5 per cent. represents the level of market penetration at which a satellite service will have made a profitable return on its investment. I remind Members of the Committee that that trigger point is equivalent to the level of penetration of the largest terrestrial ITV franchise company.
According to its most recent figures issued last month, Sky Television is at present being received by 1.2 million households, excluding the 300,000 in the Republic of Ireland, out of a total of 21 million television households in the country. According to BARB, the independent satellite television meter, Sky is achieving 30.8 per cent. of all viewing in those homes. Therefore, that represents a market penetration of 1.75 per cent. That is a fraction over one-third of the way to the trigger point that I am suggesting.
In a recent report from Sky it is suggested that by February 1991 its service will be available in 2.5 million homes, giving it a potential audience of 8 million. That means that it would have plenty of time to continue to develop and expand the service and to plan for the point at which the Minister of State would make an order to provide the opportunity for a wide range of outside investors, and additional investors if necessary, to become involved in the satellite market. Thinking ahead there should be no shortage of such investors as there will inevitably be a number of unsuccessful bidders for terrestrial Channel 3 and Channel 5 franchises which will already have their money up front, whether it be their own or the bank's. Since Sky Television will not only have had plenty of notice of the approach of the trigger point but will also have had a further year in which to put their refinancing and restructuring plans in place, that cannot be seen as a forced sale. Indeed, it may well be the sale of the century as regards News International, allowing it to make a very handsome realisation of its 312 investment. Uniquely, at this point it will have the opportunity to attract unlimited finance from outside the EC.
I commend my amendments to the Committee not in the spirit of trying to force News International off the playing field but in order to ensure that all the players are on the same field playing to the same rules and playing under the supervision of the same referee.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
The amendment in my name is along similar lines to that of the noble Earl, Lord Stockton. The burden of this debate is very simple. All Members of the Committee who have spoken so far support the principle announced by the Government in their White Paper and in the rest of the Bill that the concentration of media ownership is dangerous for democracy and is bad for programmes. Therefore, it is bad in principle and in practice.
That principle is rigorously enunciated in the Bill with one sole and obvious exception. We are merely asking the Government to explain why that extraordinary exception applies to a single owner who has a massive press empire and who has now been excluded from the proposals which limit ownership of terrestrial and domestic satellite television. The Government must justify that. I do not believe that we must make the case. They have made the case repeatedly in the White Paper, in the Bill and in speaking to the Bill generally.
The first argument put forward in defence of this exception was that of Mr. Andrew Knight, summarised by the noble Earl, Lord Stockton. It was that there will be such a proliferation of channels in the near future that there is no danger of a concentration of ownership. Unfortunately, that is not the case. As was pointed out in a letter in the Independent which was signed by a distinguished group of people, a proliferation of channels is not in itself a guarantee against concentration of ownership. The newspaper market already illustrates that point. Some 60 per cent. of our national press is controlled by just two people. Therefore, even if the Andrew Knight scenario existed—that is, that 57 or 157 channels were available to the consumer—60 per cent. or more of those channels might be controlled by very few owners.
Therefore, the Government must explain why they believe that a concentration of ownership in this area is not a danger to democracy and will not endanger the standards of broadcasting in this country. Why should there be this one exception? The Government must justify that.
The Government's second defence was that it was impossible to enforce rules which apply to domestic channels on a television channel based outside this country. That defence has now been abandoned and the Government admit that it is possible to do so. Therefore, the two arguments deployed to defend the sole exception have both been shown to be empty and of no consequence.
The case has been made for the amendment standing in my name and for the very similar amendment standing in the name of the noble Earl, 313 Lord Stockton. My reservation about the noble Earl's amendment is that I am not sure that his figure of 5 per cent. is sufficient, although I do not pretend to be an expert in the economics of satellite television. I have been advised that a figure of rather more than 5 per cent. is required. My amendment is deliberately vague because we wanted to leave an opportunity for consultation and discussion with interested parties when they have obtained the kind of audience which would repay the investment which has been made.
We do not wish to expropriate the owner, in this case Mr. Murdoch, who we know has invested millions of pounds in his channel. We merely wish to see that he obeys the same rules as other people and that when he has recovered his basic investment, he should be made to divest.
That is also my reservation about the amendment standing in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk. It seemed to me that when she was speaking, she was moving a considerable way towards my amendment and that of the noble Earl, Lord Stockton. However, that is not what her amendment says and we must accept her words. Although I know that if it were in her power, she would do exactly what she has stated, she may not be in a position to follow through her amendment.
I reserve the right to move my amendment. I feel that in answering the case which has been made, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, has a good deal of explaining to do as to why the single exception has been made which drives such a coach and horses through the theory that the Government are opposed to concentrated ownership in the media. They have encouraged it.
§ 5.15 p.m.
The Earl of Bessborough
I am speaking to Amendment No. 32B and the other amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Stockton and the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter.
The proposition that a newspaper publisher should be permitted to own only 20 per cent. of a satellite television service is justified by reference to the tradition in this country of separating the ownership of television broadcasting and newspaper publishing. As my noble friend said, in 1962 the Pilkington Committee proposed that such a separation be imposed and I believe it was then right so to recommend. At that time there was only one commercial channel and one BBC channel. In other words, anyone receiving a commercial television licence was receiving a monopoly franchise. Today, that monopoly position no longer pertains.
Members of the Committee are aware that in this country we currently enjoy the possibility of access to no fewer than 17 television channels with perhaps many more to come. Nobody can possibly have a monopoly in today's circumstances; nor is it credible that a monopoly could obtain in the future.
Members of the Committee who have urged the application of the 1962 doctrine on today's circumstances have from time to time made reference to the situation in the United States where there are 314 rules which prohibit newspapers from owning television services. I fear that those American rules have been misconstrued in the debate on this side of the Atlantic. The rules in the United States relate solely to the cross-ownership of local newspapers and local television stations. They address a situation in which a newspaper publisher of a small American town, who is often the only newspaper publisher in that town, may seek to own a television station which is often the only television station in that town. It is reasonable that those possibilities should be limited. However, the Americans have never prevented newspaper publishers from owning satellite television services. That is because the new technology of satellite television broadcasting, offering as it does a wide diversity of channels, is a trigger to wholly different considerations.
New technologies expand choice and create diversity, and diversity is best served by ensuring their rapid and widespread development. It is also the case in the United States that when divestiture, as the Americans describe it, or, as we describe it, divestment is under consideration, the economic dislocation of such a remedy can be justified only in the extreme case of an actual monopoly.
There can be no case for applying the traditional cross-ownership rule in Britain to the new satellite technology. Sky Television uses a satellite system that offers the option for many new entries into the television market place and cannot be said to have reduced diversity of broadcasting.
Instead, Sky and British Satellite Broadcasting have increased the number of available channels and increased dramatically the diversity of the television media. These amendments ask us retrospectively to legislate against Mr. Murdoch. I do not see that this case has been proven. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, I have met Mr. Murdoch briefly. But I have no interest in any television company; I am interested only in choice and diversity.
Mr. Murdoch has invested in satellite television in Britain since 1982, when the original Sky channel was established to offer its services to cable television viewers in Britain and across Europe. Last year Mr. Murdoch switched his service to a new, more powerful satellite that offered the possibility of direct home reception with compact dish aerials.
I cannot recall during the first eight years of Sky that any great movement was made to dispossess him. It has only been in the past 12 months or so, a period in which Mr. Murdoch's venture has achieved a considerably higher profile and shown the first tentative signs of success, that serious efforts have been made to force him to sell.
There is no doubt that all the satellite services remain fragile. I have heard that Mr. Murdoch's share price has been dramatically reduced as a result of the risk that he has taken throughout the expansion of Sky.
It is clear that Mr. Murdoch is a rare entrepreneur. He is a businessman who has shouldered large risks, unlike many businessmen who avoid taking risks if at 315 all possible. It cannot be reasonable that the Committee should recognise Mr. Murdoch's entrepreneurial daring by penalising him in the manner proposed by these amendments.
We know that Mr. Murdoch has no monopoly in print or television. We have seen that his endeavours in media have produced more competition, more diversity and greater plurality. To agree these amendments would be an interference in a brave entrepreneurial effort. It would be a kick in the teeth not only for Mr. Murdoch but for the 1,000 employees of Sky who have worked so hard to establish this new service. As the Committee will be aware, I have considerable admiration for Sky news.
Finally, acceptance of the amendment would lead to an unhealthy concentration in media. Let there be no mistake about this. It would allow British Satellite Broadcasting, with its monopoly of the five high-powered direct broadcasting satellite channels, to dominate the market through the removal of its most courageous competitor. I regret that I oppose all these amendments.
§ Lord Wyatt of Weeford
I support the general burden of what the noble Earl has just said and should like to add a few points of my own. I have been amazed by these amendments. They are the brainchild of BSB, the embittered, soured, disappointed and unsuccessful rival of Sky. They bear the hallmark of that bitterness and disappointment.
Sky did not have the privilege of direct access to cable services, whether the owners wanted it or not. The noble Earl, Lord Stockton, did not refer to the special privilege that BSB had in that regard. It was not a level playing field. Every cable service has to take what it offers whether it wants it or not. That did not apply to Sky. The noble Earl spoke of a level playing field; he missed out rather a bumpy pitch.
The burden of the complaint is that Sky has been more enterprising than BSB. It has got its act together much quicker—got its satellite working, got the dishes into the homes and been able to supply some cable services as well, not by right but by negotiation with those who own the cabling system. BSB is spending four or five times as much as Sky invested and is disappointed with its performance. It has made a great mess so far and has required enormous extra quantities of money to make progress.
Let us consider the nonsense of saying that, should an entity hold a 5 per cent. or 20 per cent. share, it should get rid of its newspapers. Let us take the 20 per cent. rule. Pearsons owns 21.75 per cent. of the BSB shareholding today; it is out already. It owns the Financial Times, masses of regional newspapers and so forth. Reed is the largest publisher of magazines in the country. It holds 20.94 per cent. If there are any views held on monopoly, it should be considered that those two together are able to monopolise the whole of BSB, yet they have the cheek to back amendments saying that if Mr. Rupert Murdoch achieves a profit he must sell out.
316 They are looking at profit. The noble Earl, Lord Stockton, said that they worked out that if Mr. Murdoch achieved 5 per cent. he would be making a profit; he must be stopped and be made to sell everything off. That is ridiculous. The rewards for making a profit in the noble Earl's free enterprise society are to be robbed of all you have as soon as you make it. I did not know that that was part of the philosophy of the Conservative Party.
We all know that the fairest news comes from Sky Television. It is a great deal more impartial and accurate than ever the news of ITN, Channel 4 or BBC. There is therefore no question of a failing in impartiality. I have the assurance of Sky Television that it is prepared to observe any rules of impartiality passed in this Bill. It will be subject to exactly the same rules as the ITC companies or the BBC. Incidentally, the BBC is not subject to anybody's ruling on impartiality. Therefore it is absolutely free to peddle its opinion.
The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, said that Mr. Murdoch's newspapers should be censored, that a lot of Sun readers apparently think the BBC licence is too expensive and that they would not be able to say that if Mr. Murdoch did not own the Sun newspaper. What utter twaddle!
§ Baroness Birk
When did I say that newspapers should be censored? I did not say anything about newspapers being censored.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord Wyatt of Weeford
I understood the noble Baroness to say that an objection to Mr. Murdoch having more than 20 per cent. of Sky Television was that in the Sun and The Times there have been editorials urging people not to support the BBC licence fee and that a survey had shown that more people who read his newspapers were against the BBC licence fee, in proportion, than those who did not read his newspapers. If that was not a plea for censoring Mr Murdoch's newspapers, I do not know what is.
§ Baroness Birk
The noble Lord has let his own columns go to his head. He is beginning to fantasise. I did not mention the Sun or The Times. I did not mention editorials. I said that a survey had found that the people who read newspapers published by News International were more against the continuation of licensed television in this country, or the BBC licence, than people who read other newspapers. I do not know how anything can be inferred from that. I did not comment on The Times or the Sun. I merely commented on a piece of research, a copy of which I shall be happy to send to the noble Lord.
§ Lord Wyatt of Weeford
The only purpose that the noble Baroness could have had in saying that was to 317 suggest that Mr. Murdoch ought not to be allowed to own a television station because the readers of his newspapers believe that they should not pay the BBC licence fee.
§ Baroness Birk
The noble Lord must not keep on misrepresenting me. I said nothing of the sort. My argument was that no one should own more than 20 per cent., whether satellite or whatever. I thought I had put my argument clearly and carefully. In no circumstances did I say that Mr. Murdoch should not have a television station any more than I spoke about censorship or what editorials in The Times and the Sun had said.
§ Lord Wyatt of Weeford
Perhaps I may proceed with my speech after those massive interruptions. The basic point is that the movers of the amendment want Mr. Murdoch's television station destroyed as soon as it makes a profit, for it to lose its investment and leave the way clear for BSB. That is quite unnecessary because there are already about 14 channels with plenty of variety available. As I have already said, Sky is willing to be subjected to all the impartiality rules that apply to others.
Finally, it has been suggested that the ownership of newspapers and a television station or satellite will give rise to certain bad practices in business such as conditional selling, as it is called. In other words, if you want to put an advertisement into the newspapers owned by Mr. Murdoch, you must put an advertisement on Sky Television or you will not be allowed to have the same discount as Sky if you do not fulfil certain conditions.
I have inquired with Sky and with Mr. Murdoch's organisation about that suggestion and it is totally untrue. First, no newspaper in its right senses would refuse an advertisement from, say, BSB. Such advertisements are scattered all over the Murdoch newspapers. To refuse them would be to lose revenue to other newspapers. Secondly, Sky Television and BSB pay exactly the same for advertisements in newspapers. There is no question of a quid pro quo and saying, "You must advertise on our television station if you want to advertise in our newspapers". The Murdoch papers publish all the listings of programmes on BSB, including the pornographic programmes shown after 10 p.m., which, incidentally, are not shown on Sky. They are freely listed and are given as much space as is given by any other newspaper.
For those reasons I believe that these tainted amendments should be withdrawn or at any rate rejected by the Committee.
§ Viscount Blakenham
I had not intended to speak in this debate for two reasons. First, I have a massive axe to grind as chairman of Pearsons, which owns not only the Financial Times but, as the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, correctly said, currently 21 per cent. of BSB. I declare that interest but I am not sure that the noble Lord declared an interest himself.
§ Lord Wyatt of Weeford
I clearly stated my interests during the Second Reading debate. If I am required to state my interests every time I speak I shall take much longer.
§ Lord Wyatt of Weeford
I declare my interest, therefore. I write for the Murdoch newspapers. I do not appear on Sky but I have appeared on BSB.
§ Viscount Blakenham
I hope the noble Lord appears again.
My second reason for not speaking was that I did not think it would be fair as Mr. Rupert Murdoch is not yet a Member of this Chamber. However, I must take up some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt. I am not party to any of the amendments. The essence of the situation is that it is not logical to have two different sets of rules. Speaking as a shareholder I would not mind if Pearsons and the Financial Times were allowed to hold 100 per cent. of BSB, but the present situation is totally illogical and should be put right. That is what the amendments seek to do and I strongly support them.
§ Lord Willis
I regret that on this issue I must disagree with my noble friends on the Opposition Front Bench. It is not often that I rise to my feet to defend a millionaire or a media mogul but on this occasion even millionaires and media moguls are entitled to justice.
The noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, did not really help the case, but he was right in one respect. There appears to be a sordid commercial campaign by BSB directed against Sky. It is difficult to understand the reason for that because they are both interested in satellite television and should therefore be interested in its success. Personally I welcome the arrival of BSB. It has made a good start but it should concentrate on improving it rather than diverting its attention into attacks on Sky Television and Mr. Murdoch.
I repeat what I said on Second Reading. I have no interest whatever in Sky Television. I have only met Mr. Murdoch on one occasion, and that was very briefly. My only interest in television as a whole is as a writer. I hold no shares in television. However, I was struck by the injustice of the attacks made and therefore I should like to make one or two points.
First, 5 per cent. is mentioned in the amendments; the power to force Sky Television and Mr. Murdoch to divest themselves of interest once they reach 5 per cent. of the audience. Let us examine this 5 per cent. formula. According to the most recent audience research—bearing in mind that audience measurement is as much an art as a science—in those homes that have access to Sky some 30 per cent. of viewing is with the four Sky channels. In those homes with access to Sky the people watch 30 per cent. of the Sky channels.
Of that 30 per cent. by far the bulk of viewing is directed at Sky's film and entertainment channels, with the sports channel coming third and the news in fourth place. The share of viewing of Sky's news service is a mere 2 per cent. At present Sky is available to about 1 million homes in Britain—5 per cent. of the 319 total. Therefore, it has an overall share of total television viewing of about 30 per cent. of 5 per cent.—that is, about 1.7 per cent. of the total viewing audience in this country.
To achieve a share of 5 per cent., which is what the amendment aims at, Sky needs to be in about 3 million homes. So what have we discovered? That is precisely the number specified in the Watts' amendment proposed in the other place. This amendment says that divestment shall not occur when Sky is overwhelmingly influential but on the verge of breaking through and being successful. After all, 5 per cent. of viewing hardly represents a clear and present danger to the plurality of opinion in this country. However, 5 per cent. of viewing may just threaten ever so slightly the commercial interests of BSB. It should be borne in mind that this amendment places no similar ceiling on the ability of BSB to grow. If the amendment is passed, all it can do is destabilise the market and offer BSB the prospect of gaining a nice little satellite monopoly for itself.
I now turn to the second part of these amendments, which is about Sky decamping to Luxembourg or elsewhere if forced from Britain. It is probable that the amendments suffer from fatal technical deficiencies. In fact, no licence would be held by the provider of a foreign satellite service; therefore the amendments are defective. But let us assume that they actually work. What can be said about them? The first thing that can be said is that they are quite extreme in that they enable a satellite service to be proscribed merely because restrictions which do not apply to the service are not complied with.
Are the noble Earl and his supporters seriously suggesting that the UK Government should attempt to exercise repressive powers against a company which is not a UK-registered company, which does not reside or carry on business here but merely happens to own a UK-registered subsidiary? After all, this is not a case where there will have been investigation into the competition aspects of the situation or where a merger has been proposed which can be investigated before any shares change hands. Such an approach seems to contravene the aims of the recent directive and convention on transfrontier television to foster the growth and exchange of broadcasting throughout the Community.
What I have said so far really quibbles with the amendments, and though these quibbles are persuasive in their own right the principles are always more interesting. We have heard the case for retrospectively forcing newspaper publishers, who have patiently invested in the new television channels, to withdraw from the market. I have never heard anything so preposterous in all my life. A man starts a business, risks millions and millions of pounds on it, begins to succeed and just as he is about to do so it is taken away from him. Is that the kind of reward for initiative that we want in this country?
It is not enough to take this position while ignoring the likely effect of such a step. Are we now to say that newspaper companies may not be direct players in the 320 medium of television with all the plurality which is now developing? To force newspaper proprietors to withdraw to a laager of newsprint would only be repressive and an extraordinary inhibition of freedom of expression and investment. It would certainly result in less diversity and choice. In fact, it would lead to increased concentration of ownership in television and not less.
Retrospective formulae that would require News International and others to divest themselves of interests in satellite television services and prevent others from offering services in the future would discourage investment, penalise success, undermine initiative and destabilise the market-place; and all on a false premise that that will somehow prevent the control of opinion. Pluralism will not be served by forbidding viewers from watching a film channel, a sports channel or an entertainments channel simply because these channels are offered by a media company operating in both print and broadcasting. Neither will it be served by punishing the investor who has, without a penny of subsidy or any privileges, created a fantastic third force in British television.
In any case, there are many safeguards against overbearing behaviour by media barons. Like other industries, the media is subject to monopoly laws to ensure competition. But there are no monopolies so far and there are unlikely to be any. There are no barriers to entry into the non-domestic satellite sector. No operator has the power to impose his services on unwilling recipients or to dictate prices.
Is anyone in this Committee seriously able to say with a straight face that Mr. Murdoch is in a position to control opinion in this country or that he can so influence viewers with his sports channel, his entertainments channel and his drama and film channel that people watching them are going to be subverted? Is it seriously to be suggested that he has this enormous influence over people's minds through those kinds of channels? Of course, it is a total nonsense. Would anyone in this Committee state that the consumer should be prevented from choosing to read a particular newspaper or receive a particular television channel just because too many choose to do so?
I believe that there is something very unpleasant about these amendments. I do not suggest that with reference to my noble friends—on the contrary. I believe that many people have been misled by what has been a very subtle commercial campaign. I hope that the amendments will be rejected. When I declared my interest earlier I should have declared a different kind of interest. The noble Earl, Lord Stockton, is my publisher and I hope that he will not sack me after this.
§ 5.45 p.m.
The Earl of Stockton
The noble Lord said that there was no question of monopoly. A study was carried out by the Office of Fair Trading. It was believed that there were grounds for referring this question to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. Sir Gordon Borrie wanted to make a 321 fast-track investigation which would have reported on this point in time for the report to be before the Committee prior to this debate. However, it was the decision of the Government to delay the report until January 1991 by greatly extending the terms of the Sadler inquiry. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Willis, is incorrect on that point.
§ Lord Harris of High Cross
Concerning that last observation, the powers of the Office of Fair Trading and of the Secretary of State and other Ministers will remain in position after the passage of this Bill. The concentration that is so much objected to will still come under that kind of surveillance and public attention. The amendments that we are dealing with here purport to be concerned with the prevention of monopoly. In the long run I believe that they may have precisely the opposite tendency.
One of the favoured methods is to specify a supposed market share which will then expose the owner of a foreign satellite to the penalty of divestment or proscription which, like outlawing, would put Sky beyond the protection of the ordinary law. I was surprised at the savage punishments proposed by the normally amiable noble Earl, Lord Stockton, and that they should be advanced in this way. They are rather like a Bill of Attainder directed against an unnamed but easily identifiable victim who was revealed by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, as her friend Mr. Rupert Murdoch. It is Mr. Murdoch's combined press and satellite interests which make him an easy target for what I believe is widely agreed as the prejudiced assault of BSB in order to deflect attention from its own actual monopoly of all five domestic satellite channels.
The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, expressed genuine puzzlement about the distinction in the matter of divestment between BSB and Sky Television. In BSB's tirade, which reincarnates the ghost of Citizen Kane, it is argued that cross-media controls are well established in Australia and the United States. The noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, mentioned that point. According to Sky's response, which stands unless it is specifically challenged, in neither country are there restrictions on newspaper groups controlling satellite channels.
In the United States, regulation has always allowed and has indeed encouraged existing media companies to develop new technologies. Far from the picture painted by BSB, in 1982 the Federal Communications Commission stated that such restrictions were neither necessary nor appropriate. The restrictions that are reasonably applied to BSB follow from the fact that it is vested with exclusive use of five DBS channels allocated to Channel 3 which can reach 99 per cent. of all households. Sky has no such exclusive franchise. Indeed it has been instrumental in adding to television channels available to the viewing public.
The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, denied any personal antipathy to Mr. Murdoch, which I perfectly well accept. However, it would be surprising if there were not some political antipathy. That would be quite understandable from the Labour Benches both because of past battles with their friends in the print 322 unions and because their recent conversion to competitive markets is still somewhat fragile and is heavily qualified by emotional distaste for real life entrepreneurs. I find antipathy to Sky from the Tory Benches rather more puzzling. After all, the best indication of monopoly power is not the number of channels under one ownership or even the purported market share of the viewing public at a particular moment. The crucial test must be the extent to which the market is open to new entrants. If we consider the publishing market in its widest sense to include print and broadcasting media, no one has done more than Mr. Murdoch to facilitate wider competition from new entrants and thereby bring readers and viewers more choice, which apparently is the ultimate purpose of the Bill.
The supporters of the amendments take too static and too backward looking a view of the competitive market, which has greatly expanded, is expanding and will continue to expand. To support the amendments would be to punish success, to discourage new enterprise, new entrants and investment, to weaken true competition and to narrow the choice and quality of programmes. In my view choice and quality are most surely provided by strong, well-financed companies that can look confidently to the future without fear of this kind of penal sanction. I urge the Government to resist the amendment and noble Lords to support me.
§ Lord Jay
The noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, spoke today with all the balance, impartiality and objectivity that we would expect from our television channels, but he did not wholly convince me.
Perhaps I should declare an interest. I have spent even more years as a journalist than the noble Lord without ever in the end owning a newspaper. As a result of those years and many other things I long ago came to the conclusion that the weakest point in the democratic theory, a theory which we are teaching to the rest of the world at the present time, is that in a free society—if we mean by free society a combination of free market industry and freedom of the press—a high proportion of the press falls into the hands of one man or two or three men.
The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, said earlier that something like 60 per cent. of our press today is owned by two men. Even 30 per cent. in the hands of one man seems to me a quite large enough share. In the days when people like John Stuart Mill and Matthew Arnold were declaring their faith in the freedom of the press and freedom of voting they never conceived that one man or two men would own a very large proportion of the press. Yet that is what apparently has happened.
It does not matter who the men are because the issues are much more important than what the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, thinks of Mr. Murdoch or Mr. Maxwell. Even though they may not control opinion the whole political history of this country in the past 50 years shows that they certainly influence opinion to a high degree. Indeed, my considered guess would be that both the two gentlemen named have much more influence on the result of general elections in this 323 country than any of us in this Chamber or any of those in another place. That may be a matter of opinion but the question whether the influence is not very great is not a serious matter of opinion.
Therefore, though there may be technical defects in the amendments—I do not argue that—it cannot be seriously questioned that 30 per cent. or 60 per cent. ownership of the press is quite enough. That is without adding the influence through television companies as well, however many channels there may or may not be, which does not seem to make any difference. That level of press ownership is quite enough in itself.
It is always a great privilege to follow, if not immediately, the noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, who made such a telling speech. I was not surprised that my noble friend Lord Stockton, who supported so vigorously in recent years the maintenance of resale book pricing, publishing and distribution, should be so fond of restrictions and should agree with the disgracefully illiberal attitude taken by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter.
However, much of the case has been put by earlier speakers. The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Jay, reminded me of the most interesting contribution of the honourable Member for Thanet, South, at the Report stage of the Bill's consideration in another place. He said (at col. 245 of the Official Report of 9th May 1990):There is a myth about proprietorial control in television. I have some experience of television and I do not believe that the proprietor of a television station will be able to sit in his castle, counting his doubloons, with his fingertips on the levers of power and get results. In reality, a modern television station is a honeycomb of power cells that one cannot control. When I was briefly a chief executive with power over a television station in this country I found that it was absolutely impossible"—
Perhaps I may suggest to the noble Lord that he puts what the honourable Member said into his own words.
I am grateful to the noble Viscount for that advice. The trouble is that I am convinced that my words would be nothing like as telling as those of the honourable Member. The point he was making is that it is an old-fashioned, 19th century idea that bears no examination in modern practice. It is a fear without foundation.
Perhaps I may give the Committee an example. When this House threw out the War Crimes Bill the leading article in the Sun suggested none too politely that Members of this House were a bunch of ludicrous old fogeys and that the whole place should be abolished, or words to that effect. The leading article in The Times, which is also owned by News International, came out with an extremely learned and sensible article which suggested, "Thank God for the House of Lords. They have got it absolutely right". If that is evidence of proprietorial control over editorial decisions, I would be astonished.
324 As the noble Baroness who spoke for the Opposition suggested, there is a thinly veiled personal attack on one of the most successful and brilliant entrepreneurs in the publishing field this century. It is essential that the noble Viscount, Lord Blakenham, should remember that the word "publish" means to make public. The distinction between the printed word and the broadcast word, by whatever means, is becoming totally and utterly artificial.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Viscount Blakenham
Then perhaps I may ask my noble friend why he is not tabling an amendment allowing national newspapers to own more than 20 per cent. of a television station.
For the simple reason that I happen to think that the Government have got the Bill fundamentally correct. It is not for me to suggest anything which may be an improvement unless I am totally convinced that they have it wrong.
§ Baroness Blackstone
I regret to say that I think this debate is deteriorating in that it is becoming much too personalised. I must defend my noble friend Lady Birk against some of the accusations that have been made by the noble Lords, Lord Morris and Lord Wyatt, among others. At no point in her speech did she make any personal attack upon Mr. Rupert Murdoch. I hope that the noble Lords who oppose the amendments will withdraw these very unfair comments.
In my view we should be discussing an issue of principle and not the issue of Sky, BSB, Mr. Robert Maxwell or Mr. Rupert Murdoch. I very much hope that we can return to the issue of principle. The question for those who oppose these amendments is why there should be a different approach to satellite broadcasting—that is, to non-domestic broadcasting—to that agreed for domestic broadcasting. We are concerned with concentration of ownership, not with individual institutions. Therefore, perhaps we can return to that issue.
As regards the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Willis, I do not think that anyone proposing these amendments on either side of the Committee is saying that newspaper companies should have to withdraw into a laager of newsprint over concerns about over-concentration which may lead to too much power in too few hands.
Finally, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Harris, that the concern that has been expressed on all sides of the Committee has nothing to do with political antipathy and certainly nothing to do with political antipathy towards Mr. Rupert Murdoch from the Labour Benches. We are concerned about the long-term public interest. I make a plea that we should get away from personalised attacks and return to considering issues of principle and the long-term public interest, which is what we should be discussing.
§ Lord St. John of Bletso
There have been few more emotive subjects raised during the debate on the Broadcasting Bill than cross-media ownership. After so many speakers and after 80 minutes of discussions have elapsed, it is difficult to say something original. I 325 listened carefully to the arguments from all sides of the Committee and I well understand the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, and the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter. I agree that plurality of opinion is important and that no individual should be in a position to dominate public discussion.
However, I do not accept the logic of the proposed amendments. I do not believe them to be necessary. The Bill before us already contains provisions to prevent the domination of the media by any individual. Clause 6(1) (b) requires the due accuracy and impartiality of all programmes which should be enough to prevent any media owner from abusing his ownership in order to propagate biased news and views to the public. The Independent Television Commission will have strong powers to deal with transgressions.
A second important tier of protection in the Bill is in Schedule 2, Part IV, paragraph 2(5) (e), which provides that in the future the Secretary of State may, without the need for primary legislation, bring before Parliament a new formula to control the ownership of a non-domestic satellite service. That means that should any owner begin to achieve an unwelcome position, a remedy is provided. However, what the Bill need not do is to prescribe in advance unnecessary inhibitions that would have the effect of limiting entry into the high risk business of satellite television. We have recently seen the development of new channels by newspaper owners—not only by Mr. Murdoch but also by Mr. Maxwell—which have genuinely extended the viewing choice of the British public. How can it be right to penalise these innovations?
In considering the question of cross-media ownership we need to consider the European dimension. In the single market of 1992 and beyond there is no questioning the fact that European media groups will target the United Kingdom with their services, just as British groups may look to Europe. We must think in a European context. Were these amendments to be accepted, we could be handicapping British media companies, thus making it much more difficult for them to enter Europe successfully. We should be restricting their ability to grow by artificially limiting their entrepreneurial activities.
To force the divestment of Sky Television by News International would do more than penalise Mr. Murdoch. It would at the very least have the following further effects. First, it would prevent other media owners who happen to own national newspapers from offering, innovative services to the public. Let us not be under any misapprehensions; Mr. Murdoch is not being singled out here for special treatment. The Bill as it stands will accommodate initiatives not only from Mr. Murdoch but also from Mr. Maxwell, Mr. Black, Mr. Rowland, Mr. Whittam-Smith, the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, the noble Viscounts, Lord Rothermere and Lord Blakenham, and anyone else who wishes to launch a satellite channel.
Secondly, it would give an unfair advantage to Mr. Murdoch's competitors. While I wish British Satellite Broadcasting well, we cannot ignore the truth that 326 with Mr. Murdoch removed from the playing field—a point well made by the noble Earl, Lord Stockton—our friends at BSB could well achieve a monopoly position in satellite television.
Thirdly, by severely restricting Mr. Murdoch we could be dealing a mortal blow to the cable television industry. Cable television depends upon a wide diversity of channels for its services to be accepted by the public. It would indeed be an own goal were we to damage the prospects for cable at the very time that it is showing new vitality.
Finally, we would be doing damage to Britain. The United Kingdom is already a centre for satellite broadcasting in Europe. Were we to make Britain less hospitable to satellite television services, they would surely move elsewhere. It is of no benefit to Britain to force the transfer of innovative channels and thousands of jobs to other countries. I shall, accordingly, vote against these amendments should they be pressed to a Division.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
During the course of this debate we have been listening probably for the first time in any Chamber to a passionate defence of monopoly and of the idea of a free approach to monopoly. We have listened to the "Murdoch Magnificat" and the Hallelujah chorus. Why do those noble Lords who are normally believers in freedom seek to establish a situation in which, as has quite rightly been said, not only Mr. Murdoch but a number of other very powerful figures would be permitted to become even more powerful? That is what we are discussing.
We are not saying that plenty of people should be allowed to come along and participate; we are saying that we should let a few very powerful people come into a new area and become even more powerful. In other words, we are saying, "Let them become more monopolistic". We are discussing a new set-up in television whereby there will ultimately be the one or two men in charge, as is now the case in the press, and this has aroused passionate enthusiasm from all sides of the Committee. I find that astonishing. Moreover, I believe that anyone coming in to the debate without full knowledge of the present situation in British television and in the British newspaper industry would completely fail to understand the discussions. They would be totally surprised by what has been happening in the Chamber.
I remain convinced that there must be noble Lords on the other side of the Committee who realise that it is totally wrong-headed that we should say that this should be allowed because a man has done well and because he is perhaps a nice chap. I remember when I was staying with the noble Lord, Lord Grade, many years ago. He is a good friend of mine, although perhaps it is rather dangerous to say so. It was said that he was becoming too powerful in the theatre. However, people said to me that he was a very nice chap and I had to agree with them. But the point was not whether he was or was not a nice chap.
Let us suppose, for example, that he was not a nice chap. In such circumstances the situation would be 327 very grave. Therefore, the fact that Mr. Murdoch is a nice chap does not alter the situation; he would be too powerful however nice he was. He would be too powerful in the situation that certain people would like to see him in. The noble Lords who wish to let him in believe that he is God himself. It has been an extraordinary debate, and I hope that when it comes to taking the matter to a vote some of your Lordships who have not spoken will revert to the principle of the matter and will say, "We are not in the business of making the powerful more powerful".
§ Lord Willis
Before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may ask him a question. Let us suppose that Mr. Murdoch were to retire from Sky Television tomorrow and say, "I don't want it any more". Does the noble Lord think anyone could be found to come along to take his place running Sky Television on the basis that once he was successful, having invested millions, he would have to retire when he had 5 per cent. of the audience? That is not talking about monopolies; it is talking about common sense and giving more choice to the viewers.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
Perhaps I may reply to that question since it was addressed to me. My noble friend puts a much cleverer defence of monopoly than has any other noble Lords, but that does not make him right.
It may be helpful if I put the Government's view at this juncture. We have had an interesting debate and the Committee has, understandably, been concerned about the principle of cross-media ownership. The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, said—if I may have her attention for half a moment even though she is engaged in a more impressive debate than I am at the moment—that this is not an exercise in Murdoch-bashing. I agree with her, and we should remember that. She said that this is a matter of principle. It so happens that he is the most obvious present example, and so when he is referred to I believe that that is just because he is an example. As my noble friend Lord Bessborough sat down, he regretted the fact that he opposed all the amendments. I do not know why he regretted it; I thought that he was right to do so. The noble Lord, Lord Willis, and a number of other noble Lords also oppose them.
Perhaps I may deal with the general principle of the amendments before coming to the detail. The Government made it clear throughout—this goes back to Mr. Hurd's announcement of 19th May 1989 and paragraph 6.53 of the White Paper—that they proposed to provide in secondary legislation under Schedule 2 that no newspaper proprietor should be allowed to have more than a 20 per cent. interest in a licence to provide domestic satellite services using allocated broadcasting frequencies, and that that rule should apply reciprocally.
That 20 per cent. limit on newspaper interests would not apply to satellite services receivable in the United Kingdom which are not using broadcasting frequencies internationally allocated to the United Kingdom. That is not an oversight or a mistake about 328 the powers which the United Kingdom could take in legislation. It is a decision of principle for reasons which I shall make clear and which are wholly sustainable.
It is important to bear in mind that the 20 per cent. limit is different from the separate rule proposed in Part 3, paragraph 5(2). That rule would limit to 20 per cent. the interest which satellite services not using UK frequencies could have in, say, Channel 5 or a regional Channel 3 franchise. The argument does not turn on technological differences between different kinds of satellite services. As your Lordships have rightly observed, that matters little to the majority of viewers; but that is not the point at issue. Spectrum scarcity is the important point.
My noble friend Lord Stockton said that the Bill is in a muddle. I do not believe that he is right, but he is entitled to that view. The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, said that the Government have a great deal of explaining to do. I shall do my best to explain the position.
For the foreseeable future the United Kingdom is restricted by international agreement to a maximum of five direct broadcasting-by-satellite channels (commonly known as DBS). They have all been allocated by the IBA to one body—BSB. It therefore gives it a monopoly. The UK has recently made an application to the International Frequencies of Registration Board for five further channels, but that is all a long way down the track and the purpose of that application is merely to keep open the UK's options. The position of DBS is therefore much closer than that of non-DBS services to the terrestrial channels, the development of which is also restricted by spectrum scarcity. We have consistently proposed similar restrictions on newspaper ownership of terrestrial TV licences.
If we look at the history of non-DBS channels such as Sky we see that they have developed largely outside direct UK broadcasting regulation. At present they are regulated only to the extent that they are carried by cable systems. What is significant is that there are potentially many outlets. Sixteen channels are already available on Astra. Astra II is promised. There is talk of eventually 48 or more channels from Astra. One estimate is that by 1992—that is not a long way off—there will be at least 160 transponders capable of carrying satellite TV channels in Europe.
It follows that there is potentially almost open-ended scope for non-DBS TV channels under diverse ownership. That is not so with DBS (BSB) whose numbers are limited and is therefore a monopoly. Significant investors in non-DBS channels, receivable in the UK, include not just News International, but Maxwell Communications, BT (Vision), W. H. Smith, D. C. Thomson, United Cable and others. The case for restricting entry to the market is not remotely the same as it is for the five DBS channels which are all under one owner.
We must also remember that DBS and non-DBS services have developed thus far under different ground rules. Paragraph 6.31 of the White Paper 329 clearly signalled our intention to put in place consumer protection regulation of the content of non-DBS services, but otherwise to leave their further development to the market. In the Government's view it would be wrong to jeopardise the major potential increase in viewer choice offered by channels such as Sky by moving the goalposts in such a way as to force Mr. Murdoch, for instance, to choose between his newspaper and his satellite ownership.
I agreed with my noble friend Lord Stockton when he said that News International had taken immense risks and had put a great deal of money into a new, speculative venture. So it has. To suggest that when a level of success is achieved—a success which is not guaranteed—the licence owner should then divest himself of his success is an odd proposition. It discourages enterprise. I find it hard to understand my noble friend's logic. The noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, let light into my noble friend. He said that it is an odd philosophy to rob someone of what he has as soon as he has obtained it. He said that he did not think that was the Government's policy. I do not like to see my noble friend having light let into him by the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, unless the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, is right, and I thought that he was.
The noble Lord, Lord Willis, said that the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, had not advanced his case. His style may not have done so, but his logic did. It is also important to remember that services such as Sky will be quite separately required under the Bill. They will not be required to exercise editorial control over political and other controversial matters but to preserve due impartiality in dealing with such matters and to present news accurately and impartially. They will also be subject to advertising regulation and regulation on matters of taste and decency.
It is not a question of taking sides between BSB and Sky. Experience shows that it is a great mistake for governments to try to back winners. That is not what we are trying to do. Our proposal simply recognises the genuine differences in development and the differences in the number of outlets of DBS and non-DBS satellite services. It makes a principled proposal as to how the ownership rules should take the services into account.
The fundamental flaw in saying that all the ownership rules should be the same is that, for the reasons I have given, we are not comparing like with like. For these purposes the spectrum scarcity factor in the case of BSB makes it much more analogous to Channel 3 than to Sky. The 20 per cent. limit on newspaper interests will also apply to Channel 3.
The point about not comparing like with like is also the kernel of the Government's objection to Amendment No. 75 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter. Presumably he envisages that any order made under it should apply to domestic and non-domestic satellite services alike. I should point out to him that the Government have power under Part III to prescribe, in an order subject to affirmative resolution, the maximum number of non-domestic satellite service licences which any group may hold. We see no case for exercising that power at present.
330 For similar reasons, I should not advise Members of the Committee to accept Amendment No. 67 in the name of the noble Baroness. For the reasons which I have given we do not think it would be right to apply the 20 per cent. limit to non-domestic satellite services, whether they are licensed before or after 1st January 1991. I repeat the point that spectrum scarcity does not apply to such services, whereas it does to both DBS services such as BSB's and to Channels 3 and 5.
The amendments of my noble friend Lord Stockton are ingenious. However, I find it difficult to accept the premise upon which they are based. The Government remain of the view that there is no case for limiting newspaper interests in non-domestic satellite services comparable to that for limiting such interests in DBS services, since only the latter are subject to spectrum scarcity and under single ownership. The Government retain reserve powers to limit the number of non-domestic satellite services which any one person may own if their position becomes too dominant. For this reason I suggest that the changes proposed to Schedule 2 are unnecessary.
Perhaps I may refer briefly to Amendment No. 32B in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk. I was slightly surprised by it because, so far as I can see, it adds nothing. Clause 5 as drafted already provides that the ITC shall take account of the provisions in Parts III, IV and V of Schedule 2. In that respect the amendment adds nothing.
For all the reasons that I have given, I hope the Committee will agree that it would be wrong to restrict ownership of non-domestic satellite services, as necessarily applies to domestic satellite services which operate under totally different circumstances. Therefore I hope the Committee will agree that it is best to leave the Bill as it is.
§ Baroness Birk
Before the noble Earl sits down, perhaps I may put a question. Mine was a paving amendment to the main amendment. Am I right in understanding that, as matters stand at the moment, if other people come forward and wish to own non-domestic satellites, there will be no holds barred at all; that there will be no resistance from the Government for the time being or in the future? Other newspaper and television magnates could also find themselves in the same league as News International. Is the noble Earl saying—as it seemed to me he was—that there would be no government control over them?
The noble Baroness is largely correct. There will be no government control over the services because the Government are divesting control to the ITC. It would not be part of the philosophy to prevent any other body or company from owning a non-DBS satellite station.
The noble Baroness said that there would be no holds barred, but it is important to remember that under the Bill services such as Sky or any other non-DBS service will be quite separately required not to exercise editorial control over political and other controversial matters; they will be expected to preserve due impartiality in dealing with such matters 331 and to present news accurately and impartially. In that respect, they come totally within the Bill. But ownership of non-DBS satellite services is open to anyone.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
Before we come to a conclusion on the matter, perhaps I may make two comments on what the noble Earl has just said. He made a noble attempt to provide a logical basis for the Government's policy. However, it seemed to me that there was a fundamental flaw in his logic. He argued that there could be one rule for non-domestic satellite services and another for domestic satellite services on the basis that they were not comparable. We were wrong on our side; we were trying to compare like with like when they are not alike.
With respect, the noble Earl is mistaken. There is no more spectrum scarcity with direct broadcasting by satellite than with non-domestic broadcasting by satellite. Once the satellites are up in the air, the problems of spectrum scarcity that affect terrestrial broadcasting disappear. Where there is a difference, it is administrative. The noble Earl was right in explaining that in order for the United Kingdom to have more wavelengths and frequencies for DBS, one set of international arrangements is necessary. However, it is perfectly open to people through the International Telecommunications Union to go ahead and send up one satellite after another, as SES in Luxembourg proposes to do. The distinction on which the noble Earl rested his case does not exist.
We are concerned here about the viewer and his interests. He sees no difference between DBS and non-domestic satellites or between DBS, non-domestic satellites and terrestrial broadcasting. It is the programmes that arrive on his screen that matter to him.
After listening carefully to the debate, I still fail to see on what basis the Government can consistently and logically argue that there should be—I put it in personal terms but it is the principle that matters—one law for Mr. Murdoch and quite a different law for the noble Viscount, Lord Blakenham; one law for Mr. Murdoch and a different law for the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, if he wishes to bid for the terrestrial contracts coming up. I cannot see the consistency in that position.
Further, it was suggested by my noble friend Lord Willis—in what I found to be a most astonishing speech—that in some way those who criticise what we regard as the inequity of the proposals wish to close down the Sky operation. That is not so. I agree that these are matters for judgment and they are difficult. We have sought as conscientiously as we can a formula that seeks to bring the non-domestic satellite into line with the terrestrial arrangements and the DBS arrangements. However, we have sought to do it in a way which, at the end of the day, does not unfairly force a sale on the owner who has shown enterprise in creating the Sky channel in the first place. Of course it is hard for him but he took a risk. He took the risk—a political risk—that in the new Broadcasting Bill these matters might be put on an inequitable basis. I 332 still believe that the Government's argument is fundamentally flawed and that what they propose is extremely inequitable between one group of newspaper interests in this country and another.
Perhaps I may answer the point of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth. I realise that he is concerned about it. He does not think that there should be one law for Mr. Murdoch and other laws for other people. There may be 160 channels under the non-DBS satellite scheme. However, the same law that applies to Mr. Murdoch will apply to all those others on the 160 non-DBS satellites. It is not a question of one law for Mr. Murdoch and another for others. The important point is that the DBS system operates with only five channels. Those five channels have all been given to the British Satellite Broadcasting company. In that respect there is a monopoly, and therefore it is necessary to ensure that that body abides by similar rules to those that other services on terrestrial television have to abide by. However, I believe that different circumstances apply in the case of those services which operate on frequencies that are totally outside the control of the United Kingdom. After all, we are only referring to ownership here and not other conditions.
§ Baroness Birk
It seems quite a long time ago that I moved this amendment. We seem to have gone round and round in circles. However, I have just two points to make before I put this amendment to the vote. I believe the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, and someone else mentioned the absence of newspaper satellite ownership cartels in both America and Australia. In both cases that is because the satellite television industry is virtually non-existent. There are sufficient terrestrial channels to satisfy consumer demand. It is unlikely that satellite television will become established in either country, certainly not in the foreseeable future.
The central problem is that a household with an Astra dish may conceivably contain a family which buys the Sun, Today the News of the World, and even The Times. That family may also watch Sky Television in the evenings. Therefore all the communication that such a family has with the outside world will be derived from sources that are controlled by one corporation or one private individual who is unaccountable to anyone else. The fact that such a family has chosen to read those newspapers and chosen to watch that television channel is not relevant to our argument. We are saying that it is wrong, in a democratic society, to allow one individual such a degree of influence over other people. That was the basis for the quite simple amendment that I moved. I made it quite clear that adequate time should be allowed for the provisions of the amendment to be properly implemented.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 32B) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 83; Not-Contents, 101.334
|Division No. 2|
|Addington, L.||Jay, L.|
|Ailesbury, M.||Jeger, B.|
|Airedale, L.||Jenkins of Putney, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Kennet, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Kilbracken, L.|
|Attlee, E.||Kilmarnock, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Kirkhill, L.|
|Birk, B.||Liverpool, Bp.|
|Birkett, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Blackstone, B.||Masham of Ilton, B.|
|Blake, L.||Mason of Barnsley, L.|
|Blakenham, V.||Molloy, L.|
|Blease, L||Oram, L.|
|Bonham-Carter, L.||Perry of Walton, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Peston, L.|
|Bottomley, L.||Phillips, B.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Buxton of Alsa, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Carter, L.||Raglan, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Rea, L.|
|Clinton-Davis, L.||Richard, L.|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Darcy (de Knayth), B.||Rochester, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Ross of Newport, L.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Russell, E.|
|Ennals, L.||St. Albans, Bp.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Shackleton, L.|
|Exeter, Bp.||Stedman, B.|
|Falkender, B.||Stockton, E.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Gallacher, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Galpern, L.||Thomas of Swynnerton, L.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Thomson of Monifieth, L. [Teller.]|
|Glenamara, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.[Teller.]||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Grey, E.||Walston, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Henderson of Brompton, L.||Winstanley, L.|
|Hollis of Heigham, B.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.|
|Abercorn, D.||Ferrers, E.|
|Abinger, L.||Fortescue, E.|
|Arran, E.||Gainsborough, E.|
|Auckland, L.||Glenarthur, L.|
|Balfour, E.||Gray of Contin, L.|
|Barber, L.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Halsbury, E.|
|Blatch, B||Harris of High Cross, L.|
|Blyth, L.||Henley, L.|
|Boardman, L.||Hesketh, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Hives, L.|
|Buckmaster, V.||Hooper, B.|
|Caithness, E.||Hylton-Foster, B.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Kimball, L.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Kinloss, Ly.|
|Cavendish of Furness, L.||Lindsey and Abingdon, E.|
|Colnbrook, L.||Long, V.|
|Colwyn, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||McColl of Dulwich, L.|
|Cox, B.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Craigavon, V.||Mancroft, L.|
|Craigton, L.||Margadale, L.|
|Cross, V.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Cumberlege, B.||Mersey, V.|
|Davidson, V. [Teller.]||Morris, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller]||Mottistone, L.|
|Dilhorne, V.||Moyne, L.|
|Eccles of Moulton, B.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Elles, B.||Norrie, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Elliott of Morpeth, L.||Orkney, E.|
|Orr-Ewing, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Oxfuid, V.||Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.|
|Pearson of Rannoch, L.||Suffield, L.|
|Pender, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Peyton of Yeovil, L.||Swinton, E.|
|Rankeillour, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Reay, L.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Rees, L.||Tonypandy, V.|
|Renton, L.||Torphichen, L.|
|Renwick, L.||Tranmire, L.|
|Rodney, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Russell of Liverpool, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|St. John of Bletso, L.||Ullswater, V.|
|St. John of Fawsley, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Salisbury, M.||Wade of Chorlton, L.|
|Sandys, L.||Wigram, L.|
|Savile, L.||Wilberforce, L.|
|Shannon, E.||Wise, L.|
|Skelmersdale, L.||Wyatt of Weeford, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ Lord Ardwick moved Amendment No. 33:
Page 5, line 7, at end insert:
("(c) that, subject to Part II of that Schedule requirements relating to non-EEC nationals holding licences are complied with").
§ The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 33 is a paving amendment for Amendment No. 42. Schedule 2 on page 148 defines the persons who are to be disqualified from holding a licence from the ITC or the Radio Authority. The disqualified include political bodies, those affiliated with them, local authorities and one other category, which is the one with which we are concerned in the amendment, namely, persons who are not EC nationals and non-EC corporate bodies. At the foot of paragraph 1 of the schedule there is an important exemption. Whatever their nationality, a person or company would not be prohibited from holding a licence for a local delivery service (which means cable), a non-domestic satellite service or a licensable programme service, including a sound programme service. The amendment is aimed at removing that exemption and bringing the cable and non-domestic satellite holders into line with all the other ITC licence holders of C3, C4 and C5.
§ The intended effect of the amendment is to resist the colonisation of those sectors of the British media by American media conglomerates. That would be undesirable, first, on economic grounds because strategic decisions on investment would be out of UK or EC control and profits could be remitted to the United States. It would also be undesirable on cultural grounds. We believe that decisions on programme origin and content should be within UK and European control.
§ The situation regarding cable is already worrying. More than 70 per cent. of homes covered fall in areas where the franchise is held by a US-Canadian investor. Some 95 per cent. of the estimated investment in cable of £4 billion is North American. It appears that the situation has been allowed to develop by the Cable Authority's permissive attitude. The story is—true or false—that the authority has allowed US companies to register nominally in the Channel Islands.335
§ Rather than explicitly removing all controls, as proposed in the Bill, a clear requirement for UK-EC origin should be written into the legislation. What is good enough for C3, C4 and C5 should apply equally to cable and non-domestic satellite services.
§ Perhaps the Minister could clarify the position with regard to the non-satellite services. Are they to have a licence? What do they require a licence for? What advantage does a licence give them? What disadvantage would they labour under without a licence? I beg to move.
The Earl of Bessborough
I should like to speak briefly to Amendment No. 42 which is grouped with Amendment No. 33. Amendment No. 42 would prohibit the continued operation from the United Kingdom, for example, of the music station MTV Europe. The channel is owned jointly by an American entertainment company and a well-known British newspaper proprietor. It is one of the most successful pan-European satellite channels, offering a specialised service for young people. Amendment No. 42 would force MTV to leave Britain, taking with it many jobs.
In the future, the effect of such an amendment would be to prevent the establishment in Britain of many other proposed satellite channels. I understand from the trade papers that Mr. Ted Turner is interested in establishing a new service in Britain, a European version of his Cable News Network, which many of us who visit America praise, as we do Sky. Are we to tell Mr. Turner that he is not welcome here?
I also understand that no less a person than Mickey Mouse himself is interested in establishing a satellite service in Britain. That Disney channel would be the electronic equivalent of the European Disneyland now being constructed in France. Are we to tell the Disney channel to go elsewhere? What is to be gained from such a policy?
Amendment No. 42 goes further even than preventing the establishment of satellite television services. It would also prevent Americans from investing in our cable television industry. How will Britain become the broadcasting capital of Europe with such regressive measures on our statute book? The answer is that it could not. I find it most unattractive that we should consider such measures. They are tantamount to censorship.
If the Committee were to accept the proposal, what next? Shall we be asked to ban Time magazine, the Wall Street Journal, books by American authors and other American publications? Surely we must accept that with communications as they are, and especially satellite communications, we have now become what Professor Marshall McLuhan used to describe as a global village one world. Many of our distinguished leaders now believe not merely in European free trade but in world free trade. I trust that the Committee will reject Amendment No. 42.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
I follow the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, for the second time today. We normally find common ground between us. However, I believe that he has misunderstood the nature of the 336 amendment. He asked what we would do with the Disney channel. There is nothing to stop us buying Disney programmes; all we are talking about is the ownership of television or radio. He says that it would be selfish and churlish, as it were, to turn down Mr. Ted Turner. But he must recognise that in the United States one has to be an American citizen in order to have a television station. It is the same in Australia and, I understand, in Canada. This is in no sense a unique restrictive clause. It simply affirms that we want the media in this country to be controlled by citizens of this country. I think that that is not in any way an unreasonable demand to make.
It is often said by those who are opposed to the integration of this country within the Community that by so integrating our society within the Community we jeopardise our cultural identity. That has always seemed to me to be an absolutely nonsensical statement. Much the greatest threat to our cultural identity comes from being absolutely deluged with American chat shows, American soaps, American games and American films.
If any of the noble Lords opposite are worried about our cultural identity, I suggest that they vote for this amendment. It is a simple proposal which will help to maintain among citizens of this country control of the media.
§ Lord Colwyn
I should like briefly to support my noble friend Lord Bessborough. If accepted, this amendment will seriously damage Britain's position as Europe's leading centre for satellite broadcasting. I understand that it would also drive satellite television services to other European countries such as Luxembourg, where no such inhibitions exist. Were that to occur, the services could still be received in the United Kingdom under the terms of the European broadcasting directive but jobs would be lost to the British economy.
The substance of what the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, would like is included in Amendment No. 42. It is quite true that the general approach of Schedule 2 is to prevent control of ITC and Radio Authority licensees by non-European Community individuals and companies. That is done by paragraphs 1(1) (a) and (b) in Part II of Schedule 2. That provision continues the present rule which is contained in the Broadcasting Act 1981 and the Cable and Broadcasting Act 1984. So there is continuity.
However, we believe that there are sound reasons for making an exception in the case of the types of licences listed in paragraph 1(2) of Part II. The services which are listed there are local delivery services, non-domestic satellite services, licensable programme services and licensable sound programme services.
Perhaps I could take first the case of non-domestic satellite services. The Committee will recall that in this context we are talking not of DBS services, such as BSB, but of UK-based satellite services which are not using allocated frequencies. The Sky channels are just one among a number of examples. The Government 337 believe that it would be undesirable to prevent non-EC control of non-domestic satellite services for a number of reasons.
Such services are not directly licensable at present. Paragraph 6.31 of the White Paper made clear that the purpose of directly licensing those services was simply in order to subject them to consumer protection regulation of programme content, and that otherwise their further development would be left to the market.
The important thing is to prevent the owners of non-domestic satellite services from having excessive interests in other United Kingdom broadcasting channels. Paragraph 5(2) in Part III limits those interests to 20 per cent.
I think that if we have heavy ownership regulation of United Kingdom based non-DBS satellite services, we should simply induce the operators to arrange for their services to be uplinked from outside the United Kingdom. In the Government's judgment it would be quite wrong to force services such as the four Sky channels to be uplinked abroad when they are offering a major extension of United Kingdom viewing choice. They are also providing many jobs in the United Kingdom. Sky has directly created more than 1,000 jobs, including 250 at Livingston near Edinburgh and 650 at the Sky Television Centre in West London, and is indirectly creating several thousand more.
Perhaps I may turn to the local delivery operators. The Government also consider that it would be undesirable to prevent non-European Community control of local delivery operators. First, such licensees will not normally be exercising any editorial control over the content of the channels which they relay. So there is much less need in that context to be concerned that foreign ownership could lead to undesirable cultural influence being exercised over British broadcasting. Secondly, there is substantial non-European Community investment interest in cable franchises in the United Kingdom. Much of the recent interest in cable franchises has come from North American cable and telecommunications operators. We believe that there are no sufficient reasons of public policy for inhibiting the expansion which that kind of investment is likely to bring about.
With regard to licensable programme services and licensable sound programme services, those two categories were included in paragraph 1(2) of Part II as a result of the government amendment during Report stage in another place. I think that it would be anomalous to recognise the non-European Community investment interest in cable and microwave by allowing those people to own local delivery franchises, but not allowing them to insert their own advertising or continuity links for which they would need a licensable programme service licence. In many cases with more than 30-plus channels on offer, there may be less concern about the cultural influence of non-European Community ownership of services such as licensable programme services.
In my view it follows that there is nothing to fear from non-European Community ownership of the 338 categories of services set out in paragraph 1(2). Non-European Community control of other kinds of services, such as Channel 3, Channel 5, DBS or national or local radio, would be prohibited. For the reasons that I have given, we believe that paragraph 1(2) draws the line in the right place and should not be deleted.
The noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, was concerned about what advantage having a licence would give to non-DBS satellites. If such services did not need a licence, the ITC could not supervise their programme content, for example, on matters of taste and decency. Under the Bill, if United Kingdom licensed satellite services broadcast without a licence they would be committing a criminal offence. We should also be in breach of our European obligations if the ITC did not license United Kingdom based non-DBS satellite services.
§ Lord Ardwick
The noble Earl's answer was a very full one but a very complex one. I do not think that I understood all of it. I shall study it in Hansard. At this moment I wish to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 34:
Page 5, line 19, at end insert:
("(aa) revoke the award of a licence to a body where a relevant change takes place after the award, but before the grant, of the licence;").
§ The noble Earl said: This amendment was debated when we discussed Amendment No. 21. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
moved Amendments Nos. 35 to 38:Page 5, line 33, at end insert:("(2A) Where the Commission—
any provisions of this Part relating to the awarding of licences of the kind in question shall have effect as if the person to whom the licence was awarded or granted had not made an application for it.").
- (a) revoke the award of any licence in pursuance of subsection (2) (aa), or
- (b) determine that any condition imposed by them in relation to any licence in pursuance of subsection (2) (b) has not been satisfied,Page 5, line 36, leave out ("corporate").Page 5, leave out lines 37 to 43 and insert:("(b) a relevant change takes place after the grant of the licence,").Page 6, leave out line 1 and insert:("(5) In this section "relevant change", in relation to a body to which a licence has been awarded or granted, means—
being (in either case) a change which is such that, if it fell to the Commission to determine whether to award the licence to the body in the new circumstances of the case, they would be induced by the change to refrain from so awarding it.").
- (a) any change affecting the nature or characteristics of the body, or
- (b) any change in the persons having control over or interests in the body,
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
§ Clause 5, as amended, agreed to.
§ Schedule 2 [Restrictions on the Holding of Licences]:
Baroness Birk moved Amendment No. 39:
Page 146, line 31, at end insert:
(" "controlling interest" shall mean an interest of less than 20 per cent in a body corporate where that interest allows the holder thereof to conduct the affairs of that body corporate in accordance with the wishes of the holder;").
§ The noble Baroness said: This amendment seeks to show that it is possible to have a controlling interest of less than 20 per cent. in relation to ownership across newspapers and licensed services. It is quite a complicated and legalistic amendment but it has merit and application in some cases, even though they may be rare. A 20 per cent. holding in a company is adequate to control that company when the remaining 80 per cent. is dispersed among several owners who do not work as a restraining majority. The same result can be achieved with considerably smaller levels of ownership. Effective minority control is rare below a 30 per cent. shareholding, but even so the ITC should be able to scrutinise ownership below the 20 per cent. trigger set by the Government to reduce the risk of concentration of ownership. Under the Bill a handful of people could control all the Channel 3 licences on the basis of 20 per cent. holdings.
§ The Bill is not clear as drafted. The 20 per cent. trigger in Part III of Schedule 2 seems to be simply about ownership, whereas Part IV is specifically about control. The amendment clarifies the position by adding a definition of "controlling interest" to Part I of Schedule 2, which concentrates on the ability of an interest holder to conduct the affairs of the body corporate to his wishes.
§ Amendments Nos. 52, 53, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 65, 69, 71 and 74 are consequential amendments to add "controlling interest" after each reference to "20 per cent. interest" in Schedule 2.
§ I gave notice to the Minister and the Home Office that I should move the amendment. I appreciate that the situation would arise only very rarely but, as there is a possibility that it could happen, it should be noted and dealt with in this way. I beg to move.
The noble Baroness said that, although the amendments look simple, they are complicated and legalistic. They are interesting amendments. We have no difficulty with the general proposition, in the rare event that somebody with less than a 20 per cent. interest in a licensee is nevertheless in effective control of it, that the relevant rule should catch him too. I agree with the general principle.
I should like to consider the matter further and see how that proposition could or should be put into the Bill.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Viscount Ullswater
This may be a suitable time to adjourn for dinner. I suggest that the Committee stage should be adjourned and begin again at 7.35.
§ [The Sitting was suspended from 7.4 to 7.35 p.m.]
§ [Amendment No. 40 not moved.]
§ The noble Earl said: I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 51, 54, 55, 61, 62, 64, 68 and 73, all of which are technical amendments that we wish to make to Schedule 2, which is the part of the Bill that sets out the rules against the excessive concentration of broadcasting ownership and unhealthy cross-media ownership. The amendments are largely technical but perhaps I may draw attention to one or two points of more than purely formal significance.
§ Amendment No. 41 implements more accurately the principle that the officer of, for instance, a trade union may not control a broadcasting licensee but is not restricted to a 5 per cent. interest in one. Otherwise, the unintended consequence might be, for instance, to preclude all trade union officers from being on the boards of community radio stations.
§ Amendment No. 51 provides that for certain purposes in Schedule 2 the number of programme channels should count rather than the number of licences. Under the Bill it would be open to the Independent Television Commission to award a single licence to cover, for instance, the five BSB channels or the four Sky channels or the two Capital Radio services, Capital Gold and Capital FM. But for ownership purposes it is clearly right that each programme stream should count separately. That is the purpose of the amendment.
§ Amendments Nos. 54, 55 and 61 are purely technical. Amendment No. 64 enables the regulatory bodies to regard as a relevant national or local newspaper any newspaper with a significant circulation or influence in the UK or a relevant part of it. That would leave open the possibility that the Independent Television Commission and the Radio Authority could have regard to the ownership of, say, an English language edition of Le Monde, the European or the Irish Times if there appeared to be significant circulation or influence in the United Kingdom.
§ Amendments Nos. 68 and 73 are merely drafting amendments. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 42 not moved.]
§ Earl Ferrers moved Amendments Nos. 43 to 47:
§ Page 148, line 43, at end insert ("or the Authority").
Page 149, line 9, after ("If") insert ("on an application made to them under this sub-paragraph—
Page 149, line 11, at end insert (", or
(bb) the Authority are satisfied that it is appropriate for a person to hold a particular kind of licence that may be granted by them under Part III of this Act other than a national licence,").
§ Page 149, line 14, leave out ("that effect") and insert ("the effect that they are so satisfied").
Page 149, line 16, at end insert:
("(3) The Commission and the Authority shall each publish, in such manner as they consider appropriate, general guidance to persons making applications to them under sub-paragraph (1) as to the principles to be applied by them
in determining whether it is appropriate for such persons to hold licences falling within paragraph (aa) or (as the case may be) par agraph (bb) of that sub-paragraph.").
§ The noble Earl said: Amendments Nos. 43 to 47 were considered on the first day of the Committee stage with Amendment No. 9. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
§ [Amendments Nos. 48 and 49 not moved.]
§ Lord Winstanley moved Amendment No. 50:
Page 151, leave out line 14 and insert:
("(e) one in the case of local radio services in any area and four nationally; and").
§ The noble Lord said: I move this amendment standing in my name and the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk.
The amendment relates to the allocation of licences to people providing national and local independent radio services. It deals with numbers and is rather complex. The formula is contained in Schedule 2(1) (e). It states:
six in the case of local radio services".
§ That relates to the maximum number of licences which may at any time be held by any one person to provide relevant services, and so on. This is a very similar matter to that which we discussed on Amendment No. 32A. However, that related to other services and not to local radio. This amendment arises at a very appropriate time as I am given to understand that the Government have accepted in principle the Independent Broadcasting Authority's recommendation that ownership of radio stations should be regulated by means of a points system.
§ In reality, this is a probing amendment to discuss the Government's and the IBA's proposals for preventing the concentration of ownership in radio. The system is very complicated and I must confess that I do not fully understand it. In part, that is why I tabled the amendment in order to have a full explanation on the present state of play from the noble Earl. I understand that a points system is at present being discussed by the IBA and the Government. I am not quite sure about the views of AIRC—the Association of Independent Radio Contractors—but I have no doubt that it has views on this matter.
§ Under this system national radio would have 25 points. For local radio there would be a sliding scale of 15 points for stations with 4.5 million listeners, one point for stations with down to 400,000 listeners or fewer. Any company could earn 15 per cent. of the total points available. If one makes the necessary calculation one finds that there is a total of 417 points. I calculate that 15 per cent. of that would amount to a permitted 62.5 points.
§ There are further restrictions in addition to the points system. I shall not elaborate on those because I do not understand them. There was a time when I knew a great deal about this subject. I was an original founder director of one of the independent local radio companies—Radio Piccadilly, which was the independent local radio station for Greater Manchester. That was a very good and profitable station. Believe it or not, at one time it had more listeners than BBC Radios 342 1, 2, 3 and 4 and BBC local radio combined. It was very profitable. No doubt partly as a result of that it was later taken over by another company. I no longer have any connection with it but at that time I had some knowledge of this industry.
§ I believe that it would be dangerous and damaging if too many local radio stations were concentrated in too few hands. I accept that from time to time it is necessary. Certain stations have been set up and licensed by the Government which have not proved to be viable and their continued existence is dependent on assistance from a more soundly based station which can give assistance, and perhaps at a later stage the two stations can merge. However, there comes a time when one must look at this matter very carefully.
§ My anxieties are twofold. Many new local radio stations have already been licensed. I am not quite sure of the exact number. I am personally rather uneasy about whether the amount of advertising revenue exists in order to maintain all those stations in a state of commercial viability. Some will only achieve commercial viability at the expense of others which already exist because they will take away advertising revenue from those stations. That is one point on which I have some anxiety.
§ I also have some anxiety as to whether or not sufficient talent is available in order to support the number of stations which will ultimately exist. I am all for diversity and for more and more stations but I do not want so many stations that they all become bad because they do not have the talent or the creative or professional ability to maintain high standards.
§ In addition, there is the question of local involvement in a station. In this Bill we are seeking to strengthen the conditions relating to local investment and involvement in the community which must be satisfied before a licence is won. A system of ownership which makes no restrictions on who owns what in terms of service rather than just competition will be failing the listening public. Indeed, it could be argued that a too generous points system merely encourages empire building with the wealthy cartels outbuilding each other to build up a portfolio of stations and forcing local owners out of business.
§ I referred to the fact that Radio Piccadilly—with which I was proud to have connections—was very successful. In the main that was because it was locally based. It was Greater Manchester's independent local radio station. Its directors were all people from that area who had a deep interest in the area. It became identified with a region which had a very large population. As a result it was extremely successful. I am inclined to believe that when stations slip into the hands of people who are remote from the areas in which the stations are operating, those stations may run into grave difficulties. I am not entirely sure how one prevents that. My amendment proposes to impose a limit and in due course I shall be interested to hear the noble Earl's response.
§ We must somehow make sure that new stations are commercially viable and have the talent available to make high quality programmes. I know that a lot is 343 going on behind the scenes. I should like to know more about that. As I said, the points system about which I have heard rumours seems to be very difficult to understand and, quite frankly, I do not understand it. I shall be very grateful if the noble Earl can explain what is the present state of negotiations. This is a probing amendment to find out the present state of play in regard to the concentration of ownership of local radio stations. There will be opportunities at later stages of the Bill to raise matters again if we find that what we are told by the noble Earl is not entirely satisfactory. I beg to move.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Lord Ardwick
Perhaps I may insert the probing needle a little further in support of the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley. This is the first opportunity which we have had to discuss radio. We are entering a new radio world—a hopeful world but still a dark and mysterious world. I read that the Radio Authority has already handed out 35 new franchises during the past year. I wonder how many of those will flourish and how many will founder.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, I wonder where the revenue needed to sustain them will come from. The great national advertisers have not so far fallen in love with radio, and radio advertising has not developed the acceptable forms which television advertising has created over many years. Still, we live in hope.
Those of us who are very ancient remember the early days of Radio Luxembourg, "the Ovaltinies" and "Silvikrin for lovely hair". The tunes still run in our memory. I read today that the new Melody Radio station, which hopes to have an audience beyond teenagers, has been presenting a jolly commercial for cod liver oil as a remedy for aching limbs. It consists of a pair of ballroom dancers whose arthritic joints click to the beat of the music. I could not help but think that that was the kind of accompaniment that we might expect if ever this Chamber were to give a ball.
The Bill as it stands would allow a person to own six local radio stations in the same area. That kind of concentration is not good for local radio. It would change it into something else. The amendment is general. An entrepreneur can own one local radio station in any area and may own four over the length and breadth of the nation. That should have the healthy effect of limiting the concentration of ownership but make predatory bids less likely. It would also encourage diversity.
The Government have seen the dangers of allowing people to own six local radio stations anywhere and suggested that subordinate legislation may restrict the Radio Authority licensee from controlling other stations in the areas contiguous to it. That was in the mind of the Government, but using subordinate legislation. The amendment saves them that trouble; it avoids the necessity for subordinate legislation.
§ Lord Colnbrook
Before I turn to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, I must 344 declare an interest. I am a director of a company which owns a number of local radio stations, including Piccadilly Radio. The noble Lord will be glad to hear that it is still profitable and flourishing, largely because I am not on the board of Piccadilly Radio; I am only a director of the holding company. The board consists of local people and it is still flourishing.
Having said that, I cannot support the amendment moved by the noble Lord and supported by the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick. It is even more restrictive than what the Government provide. The Government's Bill provides for a company to own one national and six local radio stations. The noble Lord seeks to restrict the number even further. Clearly I cannot support that. Equally, I do not support what is written in the Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, quite rightly referred to the Government's discussions with the industry regarding a points system. He went into some little detail—not much but a little—regarding the points system, which I do not propose to do. My understanding is that this is just a starter. The Government are proposing to discuss with the industry precisely how the system should be worked. Clearly a system of that kind is preferable to the flat statement that one cannot own more than six radio stations. Radio stations vary enormously in size. If one were to own six radio stations which covered 20 million people one would not mind; if one owned six smaller stations covering only 200,000 people one would still be restricted, and that would be extremely unfair.
The Government's willingness to discuss with the industry a points system—which I strongly suspect will not end up precisely as it has been set out today—is to be welcomed. I hope that the Minister will confirm that it is the Government's intention to take carefully into account everything that the industry says about the points system. If we can convince the Government on certain points, they can then amend the provison.
I go further. When the final stages of the Bill arrive I hope that the words currently appearing in Schedule 2, Part III, paragraphs 2 (1) (d) and (e) of the Bill, which is the one plus six ratio, will not be there. If this is written on the face of the Bill, that is what will happen, unless the Government take advantage of paragraph 2 (3) (a), which says,The Secretary of State may by order … amend".He may or he may not. I hope that before the Bill has passed through this Chamber the one plus six ratio on the face of it is taken out. If it is not possible by the time we come to Report or Third Reading to replace those limits by a precise points system, I nevertheless hope that the Government will knock those words out. We all know what can happen—I do not say that it will—when the words "The Secretary of State may" appear. It can also mean that the Secretary of State may not. One is then stuck with one plus six.
345 With those words I must oppose the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, but I hope that the Government will be able to give us some reassurance on those points.
§ Lord Willis
I believe that the Government have the position just about right with the points system. One of the problems with commercial radio in this country has been—thank God!—the enormous strength and tradition of BBC radio. That is the reason why commercial radio in this country did not take off with the same velocity as it did in America and Australia.
However things are changing. We must accept that. I would oppose any measure that did anything to take away from the BBC. The services of BBC 3, 4 and 2—I am not a pop fan so do not say the same for BBC 1—are the most marvellous radio programmes in the world. We must do everything that we possibly can to defend them.
However, things are changing. Two kinds of radio are developing. There is what I call stream radio—not steam—which is a radio station that adopts a particular theme like jazz, middle of the road music, all news or whatever. There is also the local radio station which concentrates entirely on reflecting the interests of the local community. There will be more of both kinds of station. In a small way, without making enormous profits, the local stations and the stream stations can give a service which will be useful and offer the listener an alternative.
On the other hand, I do not want to see too much of a concentration of local radio or stream radio in the hands of one or two companies. I believe therefore that with the points system the Government have got it just about right. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say in this regard.
§ 8 p.m.
§ Viscount Ullswater
I have some sympathy with this amendment but it is too restrictive. Up to 300 local and community radio stations are in prospect during the course of the 1990s. The noble Lords, Lord Winstanley and Lord Ardwick, expressed anxiety about that number. It is therefore unnecessary to restrict a person to ownership of only four of them. The Bill proposes a limit of six licences. Many in the radio industry, including the Association of Independent Radio Contractors, have argued that with the expansion of independent local radio in prospect the Bill should provide a more generous limit. The numerical limits in Part III, paragraph 2(1) are capable of variation in subordinate legislation. It may well be that a higher limit would be appropriate in due course. We have to strike a balance between safeguarding diversity of local radio ownership and not unduly limiting investment opportunities in the local radio industry. If we want to see a full-blooded expansion of independent local radio, as the Bill makes possible, we must be careful not to stifle this with unnecessarily tight ownership limits.
I accept that this argument cannot be divorced from the question whether it is right that there should be local radio monopolies. This amendment quite properly links the two issues. It seeks to prescribe that 346 no one may own more than one local radio service in any given area. The Government agree that it should not be possible for one person to monopolise the local radio services in an area such as London, Birmingham or Glasgow. We intend to deal with this matter in the context of the supplementary radio ownership rules which we have already recognised will be necessary. To illustrate this, the Government have already accepted that it would be wrong for one person to own even six local radio stations if these happened to be the six largest stations. In that way an individual could get a quasi-national network without having to go through the competitive tender procedure.
As is well known in the radio industry, the shadow Radio Authority has been working on an ownership points scheme which would supplement the limits already contained in the Bill in respect of local radio. One of its proposals is that no person should be allowed to have more than a 20 per cent. interest in a second station operating in substantially the same area, or within the same area, as the station whose licence he holds. This proposed restriction does not extend to services on different wavebands since the consequence would be to preclude frequency splitting. Frequency splitting is what Capital Radio does when it broadcasts "Capital Gold" on medium wave and a different set of programmes—"Capital FM"—on FM. Frequency splitting can valuably extend listener choice and should not be precluded. But under the Radio Authority's proposals, Capital Radio, or its successors under the new regime, would not be able to have more than a 20 per cent. interest in any other independent local radio station in the London area. This would hold good equally in the case of another big station with a coverage area similar to Capital's, such as LBC, or in the case of a much smaller community station wholly within Capital's coverage area. That seems to us to be the right policy.
I hope that the Committee will be reassured by this indication that we intend to bring forward supplementary ownership rules for independent local radio. The shadow Radio Authority will be consulting local and community radio interests shortly with its detailed proposals as to what the supplementary rule should look like. I can give my noble friend Lord Colnbrook that assurance and the Government will take very careful account of comments made to the shadow Radio Authority before drafting any subordinate legislation.
I hope that, in the light of that explanation, I have been able to provide some reassurance that the Government have no wish to see undue concentrations of local radio ownership or the development of local independent radio monopolies. With my explanation of our plans to make supplementary rules in subordinate legislation, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, for those words and I shall return to them in a moment. He has made clear that we are at present in a very uncertain situation. Much 347 will be dealt with in secondary legislation and perhaps we shall be better informed when we reach later stages of the Bill or before we finish with it altogether.
I thank all noble Lords who have spoken on this amendment from both sides of the Committee. I say immediately to the noble Lord, Lord Willis, that I share his admiration for the BBC and BBC radio. I am absolutely sure that he will agree with me that BBC local radio has always been desperately underfunded. It was introduced originally by the BBC in the hope that it would pre-empt independent commercial radio. The BBC was wrong: it did not, and the BBC was left with it. Consequently, local radio was never properly funded. Therefore, one is certainly not comparing like with like in comparing BBC local radio with independent radio. Nevertheless, I place on record that there are some splendid people in BBC local radio. They are doing excellent work within the confines of extremely limited resources.
I am delighted to hear that it was the noble Lord, Lord Colnbrook, who took over the company of which I was a director. I am also delighted to hear that he has left local people in charge of that splendid company and that they are still working successfully. I no longer live in the area in question so I do not listen to the station but I am glad to have that assurance. I note that the noble Lord would like to see specific words removed from the Bill before we finally say goodbye to it. We shall have an opportunity of looking at that matter at a later date.
I return now to the reply from the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater. I was not, of course, for one moment referring to community radio, which he will accept is a totally different subject and one which must be dealt with in a very different way. We may need to have further thoughts on that at a later stage. This is not the time to add new thoughts but, as we are to have three new national independent radio stations, I hope that at least one will be based in the regions—perhaps in the north of England and that we shall not have all three based in London. That is perhaps a new thought.
The noble Viscount referred to the shadow Radio Authority. In that respect, I have one question. When this Bill is finally enacted, who will look after radio? Will it be the commission? Will it be the successor to the IBA—the ITC? The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said earlier that it is a licensing authority and not a regulating authority. Is there to be a regulating authority in the future which will exercise overall control over local radio? Perhaps the Minister can give me an answer before I finally decide on what to do with the amendment.
§ Viscount Ullswater
Yes, the shadow Radio Authority shadows the Radio Authority, which will be in position when the Bill is completed.
It will be a regulating body and not just a licensing authority—my noble friend has just indicated that it will be purely a licensing authority; well, that is another matter that we may have to consider at a later stage.
§ Lord Orr-Ewing
Would it not save the time of the Committee if the chairman designate of the Radio Authority spoke to the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, and we could then continue with our business?
That would certainly be a pleasure but I do not know whether it would save time overall. It would surely save my time, however. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 51:
Page 151, line 29, at end insert:
("(3A) Where a person holds a licence to provide a local radio service which, in accordance with section 81(2), authorises the provision of a multichannel service, he shall be treated for the purposes of sub-paragraph (1) as holding such number of licences to provide local radio services as corresponds to the number of channels on which the service may be provided.
(3B) Where a person holds—
(3C) In this paragraph—
§ The noble Earl said: I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 41. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendments Nos. 52 and 53 not moved.]
Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 54:
Page 152, line 24, after ("for") insert ("general").
§ The noble Earl said: I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 41. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 55:
Page 152, line 25, after ("for") insert ("such").
§ The noble Earl said: I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 41. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendments Nos. 56 to 60 not moved.]
§ Earl Ferrers moved Amendments Nos. 61 and 62:
§ Page 154, line 35, after ("persons") insert (", or persons connected with them,").
Page 154, line 35, at end insert:
("(2) For the purposes of this paragraph the following persons shall be treated as connected with a particular person, namely—
§ The noble Earl said: I spoke to these amendments with Amendment No. 41. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
§ Lord Willis moved Amendment No. 63:
Page 154, line 35, at end insert:
("10 In the performance of its duty under section 80(3) (b) the Authority shall do all they can to secure that the holder of a licence granted by the Authority to provide a relevant service is not a person or a body corporate or an associate of either such person or body corporate which is—
§ The noble Lord said: This amendment is directed against a gap in the Bill. The Bill does everything possible to encourage independence and independent production in television. But it actively discourages and disadvantages composers. Perhaps I may give some examples. For many years composers who are commissioned to write music for television programmes produced by the ITV companies have complained that they are frequently coerced into granting rights in the music that they write for such programmes to publishing companies which are owned by the television production companies.
§ That can happen even if the composer is already under exclusive contract to an independent publisher. The result is this. When the programme is broadcast the ITV company recoups up to 50 per cent. of the royalties to the composer. It pays the money to the Performing Right Society Ltd. and half goes to it and the other half goes to the composer. Thus independent music publishers are unfairly disadvantaged.
Until recently the ITV companies had given undertakings to the IBA not to make that a condition for commissioning music. Nevertheless, this practice of blackmail has been going on for some time. Composers have been making regular complaints to the Office of Fair Trading for the past 10 years. It has been aware of the problem but so far it has been unable to take action.
Composers are naturally reticent to be named as they fear retribution from the broadcasters. You have to be a pretty big fish as a composer to be able to stand up against the commercial pressures of the big companies. I can give one or two examples of what has happened. One composer has written to me as follows:
In January 1989 I had a phone call from my agent … to say that a producer at Thames TV—for whom I had written the music for two previous television series—had rung to offer me a new series for Thames TV. He had said in the course of the conversation, however, that he thought it unlikely I would want to do it, owing to the fact that Thames had recently set up their own publishing company: my receiving the commission would be conditional upon signing all publishing rights to Thames".
Another letter was from Denis King, a very successful writer of incidental music for television and films. He wrote as follows:
Earlier this year, around the beginning of March, I received a call from a TV producer with whom I have worked on several previous occasions, Robert Banks Stewart. He asked if I would be interested in composing the music for a Thames TV production … 'Snakes and Ladders'—.
Mr. King agreed to do it and it was discussed.
He went on to say, however, that the head of music at Thames TV called him and said that,
Thames TV had started its own music publishing company, Euston Music, and that I would he expected to place my publishing with them. I told her I had no intention of doing that, since I had my own company … the next day the following conversation took place: 'I have been asked to tell you' she said, 'that if you are not prepared to agree to assign your publishing rights to Euston Music, then I am not in a position to commission you to write the music for this production—.
Mr. King replied:
This would appear to be blackmail, and I have no intention of changing my position".
The Government's answer to that is that the fees paid to the composer by these publishing companies which are subordinates of the main television companies—and this applies also to radio—would take into account the loss of income. That of course is a nonsense. A powerful and very successful composer can argue his corner and there is no problem. But a small composer, anxious to get in, will forfeit rights that are really his. We have to give such people some kind of protection. We cannot allow the expanding television and radio world to set up this kind of monopoly and thus block off the little man who is trying to make a living in one way or another. That is what the television and radio companies are trying to do and in a rather greedy manner. I hope that this amendment will commend itself to the Committee in the interests of justice. I beg to move.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Lord Birkett
I wish to amplify some of the things that the noble Lord, Lord Willis, has said. The Committee will understand that the procedure of taking the PRS fee, or a share of it, is one that is generally understood in music publishing to be the standard practice. In the ordinary sense of the term publishers often take not 50 per cent. but usually in the region of 33.3 per cent. for services rendered to the composer over a whole range of musical activities.
The curious anomaly is that in television that procedure often does not apply at all because there are two kinds of television music. One kind is infinitely exploitable. A composer who writes a very popular hit tune as the signature tune for a famous drama series, or even a soap, may expect considerable exploitation of it. That may occur not only in repeats of the programme and in sales overseas but in records, performances on the radio, in sheet music and arrangements in sheet music. Very big money may be involved.
Perhaps I may take an absurdly different example. In a little television documentary about fish a composer may be asked to write evocative, submarine gurglings to go with the film. Everyone will realise that those noises, however talented and evocative they may be, are of no use whatever once the programme has gone. In other words, no exploitation is possible for 351 that music because it has a life which is attached only to the programme. Yet ITV companies often insist on publishing rights and therefore take the 50 per cent. from the PRS fee, well knowing that publishing is not in question at all. There is no explanation.
Having explained that much to amplify what the noble Lord, Lord Willis, said, perhaps I may say that if the Committee accepts that as being standard practice now, it needs curing. There are two ways of doing so. Amendments Nos. 63 and 113 have been grouped together. There is a big distinction between those two amendments. Amendment No. 63, which the noble Lord, Lord Willis, will move, will make it impossible for television companies to be publishers. They will not be allowed to be music publishing companies or to own or control one, as I understand the amendment. However, Amendment No. 113 merely says that if they do publish and are publishers, they should not abuse that right by insisting on a composer always having his work published by their own house. There should be a fair degree of competition. I have to say, with all loyalty to the noble Lord, Lord Willis, that there is a world of difference in the method suggested in the draconian way provided in Amendment No. 63 and what is put forward in Amendment No. 113. That amendment suggests that the companies do not insist on their own methods.
That is why I urgently recommend to the noble Lord, Lord Willis, and the Committee that we take Amendment No. 113, to which I and the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, have added our names, in its normal place in the Marshalled List and debate Amendment No. 63 now. If that is procedurally impossible I am sure that I shall be told immediately.
Not all Members of the Committee have heard a case so well stated as this one has been by the noble Lord, Lord Willis. I have the greatest sympathy for the point underlying this amendment. I cannot help but feel that to restrict ownership is too heavy-handed a way to deal with this problem. The reality of the problem was perfectly expressed. I cannot suggest what the perfect answer is, but some form of self-regulation is the answer. That is quite well illustrated by the fact that only last week at the annual general meeting of the Performing Right Society Ltd. it was resolved and agreed that the split between the publisher and the author or composer be changed from the sixth-twelfths, six-twelfths ratio to two-twelfths to the publisher and ten-twelfths to the composer unless they agree to further exploitation. I believe that is a very good change. My only concern is that the amendment is not the right answer to the problem. In all other respects the Committee should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Willis, for drawing this important point to its attention.
I have some sympathy with the anxieties which lie behind the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Willis. The noble Lord, Lord Birkett, said that his Amendment No. 113 is different and wondered whether it was procedurally possible to take it at a different time. Amendments are grouped for the convenience of the Committee. If the noble 352 Lord wishes to move his amendment later he is perfectly entitled to do so. I am bound to tell him that the answers which I shall give to the noble Lord, Lord Willis, will apply to his amendment also.
I question whether it is right to remedy the problem by including the provision in the Bill. Remedies already exist under the fair trading and competition legislation. Competition legislation provides a remedy against the abuse of a monopoly position which distorts, restricts or eliminates competition. The Director General of Fair Trading is making further inquiries into the practice of television broadcasters of acquiring the rights in the programmes which they commission from independent producers. He is also at present looking to see whether the complaints of the music publishing companies raise similar issues which may justify investigation under competition legislation.
If the Director General of Fair Trading's inquiries substantiate the competition anxieties, he can refer the issue for investigation to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. There are order-making powers under the Fair Trading Act in the event of any commission findings that particular practices have operated against the public interest. This is essentially a matter of competition policy rather than of broadcasting policy.
Perhaps I may add two points. First, the ownership rules in the Bill generally bear on who owns broadcasting licences rather than on what other non-media interests licensees may have. Diversification by broadcasting licensees into non-media areas is left to competition and fair trading legislation. Secondly, we need to bear in mind that the general effect of the Broadcasting Bill is to permit an increase in the number of broadcasting outlets, to promote competition between them and to promote independent producers. These forces should all operate in a healthy direction as concerns the relationship between broadcasting and music publishing.
Amendment No. 63 deals with the present restriction on music publishers having an interest in local radio contractors and suggests that this should not be lifted in the Bill. We expect that up to 300 local and community radio stations will be authorised during the coming decade. That is a large number. With such an expansion in the market we could no longer justify a ban on investment by music publishers. I ask the noble Lord to bear in mind that should any investment by music publishers in radio lead to abuses—for instance, in a station's output—it will be possible for these matters to be looked at under existing competition legislation. The Radio Authority will also have enforcement sanctions ranging from warnings to fines and eventually to licence revocation.
There are already procedures in place to deal with these matters. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Willis, will consider that it is best to let those regulations deal with the problem rather than attempt to do so in the Bill.
§ Lord Willis
I thank the noble Earl for that reply. I am a little concerned. I should prefer to support Amendment No. 113, because what is left out is the human factor which I tried to stress in my remarks on the amendment. A small composer is at the mercy of powerful forces. He is frightened. When I was a young writer I took on commissions at disgusting prices simply because I could not afford to offend the film or television companies. There were many people in that position. They need a defence of some kind. I am concerned about it.
I should like to know whether we shall come back to this matter on Amendment No. 113 and debate it all again. Can the noble Earl enlighten me on that point?
The purpose of grouping the amendments was to avoid precisely that. I can see the noble Lord's point and I can see the point of the noble Lord, Lord Birkett. They want something to be put into the Bill. I must tell them with the greatest respect that there is in place at the moment a system by which these injustices, if they are injustices, can be remedied. Indeed the Director General of Fair Trading is looking into the matter at the moment. If he finds that there is an injustice, he can take the matter to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission and have it sorted out in that way.
That machinery exists. That is why I feel that to amend the Bill as proposed would not be helpful. If the noble Lord, Lord Willis, withdraws his amendment and if in due course the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, moves his amendment and asks me my opinion, I shall give him the same speech as I have given just now. The principle is the same.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
If the noble Earl were to make the same speech in relation to Amendment No. 113 he would not be dealing with the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Birkett, made clear the difference between his amendment and the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Willis. I have not heard an argument against the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Birkett. If I were in the noble Earl's position I might be prepared to consider the noble Lord's argument. I can understand how the noble Earl feels about the matter. However, I should have thought that he might be prepared to look at the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Birkett.
§ Lord Birkett
I do not know if it will help if I suggest that the problem in relation to what the noble Earl has suggested is already a solution to these difficulties—the Office of Fair Trading—is that touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Willis, of providing that body with the information and evidence required. The noble Lord, Lord Willis, hinted that it requires a great deal of courage for a young, unknown composer to provide that evidence. That is why I feel it would not be amiss to include something in the Bill.
I am in two minds about it. I accept that there ought to be a way to cure the problem now but I am not sure that there is. Perhaps it would be useful to the noble Earl and to the Committee if I said that I would consider carefully with the noble Lords, Lord Willis 354 and Lord Colwyn, whether to move Amendment No. 113 when it is reached on the Marshalled List. As regards the present amendment, I leave it to the noble Lord, Lord Willis.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 64:
Page 154, line 39, at end insert:
("1.—(1A) In this Part of this Schedule references to a national or local newspaper are (subject to sub-paragraph (1B)) references to a national or local newspaper circulating wholly or mainly in the United Kingdom or in a part of the United Kingdom.
(1B) The relevant authority may determine that a newspaper which would not otherwise be a national or local newspaper for the purposes of this Part of this Schedule shall be treated as a national or (as the case may be) a local newspaper for the purposes of any particular restriction imposed by or under this Part of this Schedule if it appears to them to be appropriate for the newspaper to be so treated having regard to its circulation or influence in the United Kingdom or (as the case may be) in a part of the United Kingdom; and in this sub-paragraph "the relevant authority"
§ The noble Earl said: This amendment was spoken to with Amendment No. 41. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 65 not moved.]
The Earl of Stockton had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 65A:
Page 155, line 11, leave out second ("or").
§ The noble Earl said: We have debated this matter fully. With the agreement of the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, I shall not move my amendment but he will move his.
§ [Amendment No. 65A not moved.]
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ [Amendments Nos. 66 to 67 not moved.]
§ Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 68:
Page 155, leave out lines 20 and 21 and insert:
("(b) is a participant with more than a 5 per cent. interest in a body corporate falling within sub-paragraph (1) (but, in accordance with that sub-paragraph, is not a participant with more than a 20 per cent. interest in it),").
§ The noble Earl said: This amendment was spoken to in connection with Amendment No. 41. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendments Nos. 69 to 72A not moved.]
§ Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 73:
Page 156, leave out lines 19 and 20 and insert:
("(b) is a participant with more than a 5 per cent. interest in a body corporate which runs a national newspaper (but, in accordance with that sub-paragraph, is not a participant with more than a 20 per cent. interest in it),").
§ The noble Earl said: This amendment was also spoken to with Amendment No. 41. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendments Nos. 74 to 75 not moved.]
§ Schedule 2, as amended, agreed to.
Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 76:
Before Clause 6, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Meaning of "Licensed Services"
§ . For the purposes of sections 6, 7, 8 and 9 of this Act a licensed service shall include a teletext service within the meaning of section 44(2) of this Act, and programmes shall include pages of text shown as part of that teletext service.").
§ The noble Lord said: The purpose of this amendment is to extend Clauses 6, 7, 8 and 9 to cover teletext services. I had originally tabled the amendment in conjunction with Amendments Nos. 197 and 206 so as to protect the interests of deaf and deaf-blind people. However, since the amendments were tabled, it is quite obvious that Amendment No. 76 covers a much wider area than purely the question of disability. Therefore, I shall deal only with Amendment No. 76 this evening.
Under the Bill as presently drafted it is unclear as to whether Clauses 6 to 9 apply to teletext services. All four clauses use the term "licensed services". As teletext services are licensed services, one might conclude that they are covered by the legislation. However, when this matter was discussed in another place in Committee my right honourable friend Mr. Mellor said:
As the Government understand it, Clause 6 does not apply to the services in the Bill as drafted".
When replying to Mr. Rowlands, who said that it was the view of the IBA that Clause 6 did apply, my right honourable friend said:
Our advice is that the intention of the Bill was not to include them. I note that the IBA says that they are included. I do not know which set of advisors is right … The intention of the Government was to disapply Clause 6".
It is obvious to my mind that all four clauses should be properly applied. I am afraid that I must take up the time of the Committee to mention briefly each clause. Clause 6 sets out the programmes' standard requirements which licensed services must observe. Clause 6(1) (a) provides:
that nothing is included in its programmes which offends against good taste or decency".
Without that provision there is nothing to stop teletext services offering soft porn programmes.
During the debate in another place my right honourable friend Mr. Mellor expressed the view that:
The written word in teletext services should be subject to no further restrictions than the written word in a book or magazine".
Of course, the public has a range of books and magazines from which to choose; however, that is not the case with teletext. The difference is that teletext pages are accessible to anyone with a teletext television. For example, they can be browsed through by children when their parents are not at home.
Clause 6(1) (a) also provides that nothing is included which:
is likely to encourage or incite crime or to lead to disorder or to be offensive to public feeling".
Again, such safeguards on material which is going into so many homes would seem to be a very reasonable measure. At present, teletext is not included in the provision. It also states in paragraph (b) that any news given:
is presented with due accuracy and impartiality".
There are many who rely upon teletext services for access to up-to-date news which they expect to be accurate and without bias. For many deaf, and deaf-blind people, it is their main way of finding out what is happening in the world. It is, therefore, essential that the news should be both impartial and of a high standard.
§ Clause 7 requires the commission to draw up a code of practice. At present the IBA has such a code for teletext services which defines a minimum standard; it has had to use this code on occasions when it received complaints about the screening of unsuitable material. If the commission is to have responsibility for the content of teletext services, it would be logical that the code which it draws up for television programmes should also cover teletext.
§ I turn finally to deal with Clauses 8 and 9. These clauses enable the commission to control the amount and content of advertising and sponsorship. If these clauses did not apply to teletext services, there could be an increase in the amount of advertising and a consequent decrease of information. Various aspects of advertising need to be regulated; for example, so as to prevent certain types of advertisements appearing on pages of interest to children. I beg to move.
Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)
As my name is attached to this amendment, I should like to express my support briefly but nonetheless enthusiastically. The noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, has put forward his arguments so clearly and compellingly and has presented us with a good picture of the situation. Therefore, I shall not take up too much of the Committee's time with what I have to say. It is most important to preserve standards and to control advertising and sponsorship. It is also most important that the news coverage for everyone is presented with accuracy and impartiality. This is important for the disabled people, elderly people, for the deaf and for the deaf-blind. That matter was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen.
I did not realise until today that there are about 11,000 people in Britain who are deaf and blind. As Members of the Committee can imagine, their disability is a great handicap to them. For example, they cannot listen to the radio, look at the television or read conventional newspapers. Therefore, the teletext service is their only source of news. A growing number of these people are able to gain access to teletext services by using a microcomputer-controlled tuning device which then processes the material through a special Braille computer called a Versabraille thus enabling them to read the information. Therefore, for 11,000 people this is a very important service.
357 However, as the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, said, this is a much wider area. I strongly support the amendment and I very much hope that the Minister will look kindly upon the amendment. On Second Reading when he introduced the Bill on 5th June 1990 at col. 1222 he referred to:the preservation of a public teletext service similar to the present Oracle service".In my view, without this amendment we shall not have the advantage of such a service.
§ Viscount Ullswater
I am pleased to be able to tell my noble friend and the noble Baroness that the Government accept the amendment in principle. We consider that the generality of text services should be subject only to the general law on matters such as obscenity and incitement to racial hatred, in the same way as the printed word. However, we accept that the teletext service to be provided under Clause 44(2), which will essentially be the successor to the IBA's Oracle service, should be subject to the consumer protection requirements set out in Clauses 6 to 9.
We shall bring forward the necessary amendments on Report, and in the light of that undertaking I hope that my noble friend will be able to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Swinfen
I thank my noble friend Lord Ullswater for his undertaking which I gladly accept. Accordingly, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Bonham-Carter moved Amendment No. 77:
Page 6, leave out line 7.
The noble Lord said: The amendment deletes:
or to lead to disorder or to be offensive to public feeling
from Clause 6(1) (a). I am aware that those words are drawn from a previous statute. Nonetheless, I cannot understand why they were included because they seem to be redundant. A criminal disorder would already be caught by that provision. If a disorder is not criminal, why is the provision needed? That is a question to which I should like an answer from the noble Earl. The subsection is too wide. It strikes me that it is more inspired by people who want to stop programmes they do not like from appearing on the air rather than by those who are genuinely interested in protecting public susceptibilities. We want to know what counts as a disorder which is not a criminal disorder. That point requires some clarification.
§ Furthermore, "offensive to public feeling" is a wide phrase. What is offensive to public feeling? Is that to be interpreted by the Government? Are they to tell us what we find offensive and protect us from what they think we would find offensive? We cannot forget that one of the grounds upon which the notorious Sinn Fein ban was introduced was that it was offensive to public feeling. Many important programmes which have great influence have, initially and for some people permanently, been offensive. That does not mean to say that the broadcasting of those programmes has not been in the public interest.
§ One sometimes wonders whether what the Government mean by offensive to public feeling is 358 something that is offensive to the Government. Surely the phrase "good taste or decency" is broad enough to cover all that is required. My other concern, which covers many aspects of the Bill, is that far from being regulation with a lighter touch, the Government have set up an endless series of regulatory agencies, and have included in the Bill many regulatory provisions. They have the ITC, the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, the Office of Fair Trading, the Broadcasting Standards Council, the Home Office, the Board of Governors of the BBC in the case of the BBC, and over and above all that is the law.
§ As I said on Second Reading, my main criticism of the Bill is not that it is regulation with too light a touch; there is much too much regulation and much too little support for freedom. It is for those reasons that I beg to move the amendment.
§ 8.45 p.m.
I do not know whether it is convenient to the Committee for me to speak also to Amendments Nos. 78 and 246 which seem to cover similar matters. Clause 6(1) (a) is a reproduction of Section 4(1) (a) of the Broadcasting Act 1981. Clause 6(1) (a), like its predecessor, is designed to give viewers a minimum level of protection in terms of taste, decency and public acceptability of programme content.
I find the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, remarkable because it would weaken that protection by removing two essential elements in the wording of subsection (1) (a) which have stood the test of time. The amendment would remove any reference to excluding items in a programme which are likely to be offensive to public feeling or that might lead to disorder. If the amendment were to be accepted, licensees would be permitted to inflame public feeling with impunity, even to the extent of causing public disorder, provided that they kept technically within the impartiality rules. I find the noble Lord's suggestion astonishing. The noble Lord is keen on liberalism, but I suggest that the proposal is liberalism gone mad.
The noble Lord asked whether, if the programme sought to inflame public opinion or caused disorder, it would be caught by the criminal provisions of another Act. Perhaps it would, but the purpose of the subsection is to catch those matters which might not be caught under the criminal law.
The noble Lord asked what is offensive to public feeling and whether the Government would be the arbiters of what is offensive to public feeling. Perhaps the noble Lord would be good enough to address his mind to Clause 6 which provides:The Commission shall do all that they can to secure that every licensed service complies with the following requirements".It is nothing to do with the Government. It is the commission that sets the standards and ensures that nothing in the programmes will offend good taste and decency and so forth, lead to disorder or he offensive to public feeling.
The whole point of the provision is that there should be standards to prevent programmes from 359 leading to disorder and bad public feeling. The noble Lord is concerned as to whether the behaviour will be caught by an existing Act. It would be caught by an existing Act only after the offence had been committed. The object of the clause is to draw up standards which would prevent that from happening. I hope that the noble Lord will realise that his amendment is not suitable.
§ Baroness Birk
I have my name to the amendment. I was anxious to hear what the Minister had to say as I thought that it might not be necessary for me to speak. What he said has made me rather more worried about the provision. I understood him to say that the provision would operate before the programme went on the air or on view. Who will decide that the programme will incite public disorder? I leave for a moment the point put by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, with which I have some sympathy, that a number of matters mentioned will be caught by other more specific provisions.
The power that is now being given seems to be large and vague. I thought that I heard the Minister say that the provision in the clause would operate before the programme was viewed. In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, the Minister said that such other provisions would apply only after the programme had been viewed. Will the Minister clear up that point which is rather worrying?
I shall do my best to clarify the point. I do not believe that it is worrying. In Clause 6 we are setting requirements for the commission:The Commission shall do all that they can to secure that every licensed service complies with the following requirements".If the licensee breaks those requirements, it is up to the commission to take such steps as it can. First, it can issue a fine; then a larger fine. The final sanction is that it can remove the licence.
I am trying to explain to the noble Baroness that if those words were removed, there would be no requirement for the commission to ensure that these offensive programmes were not shown. It is only if they were that they would be caught as a criminal act. That was what the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, was concerned about. The whole point is to set up certain standards which would prevent that from happening. If, having set up those standards and obtained the licence under those requirements, the licensee breaks the rules, it is up to the commission to take such steps as it thinks fit against the licence holder.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
It is notoriously difficult to draft wording that would deal with this problem. If one gives any body—the judiciary or whatever other body—a power of this kind to exercise a degree of censorship, the wording provides debate over the years. Whenever one tries to introduce censorship there is always a great deal of argument about whether the wording is right. One usually ends up with ridiculous wording and the courts subsequently have difficulty in knowing whether an offence has been committed.
360 In principle I am not happy about this duty. Nevertheless I recognise that it will be put in and there must be some wording. We are reduced to asking whether it is right. I agree with the general view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, and my noble friend Lady Birk that this wording is not satisfactory. However, I am equally dissatisfied that the proposal in the amendment simply to remove line 7 is the right change. If the noble Earl had accepted the amendment I should have said, "Fine". However he will not and perhaps it might be appropriate to ask him to re-examine the wording to see whether a more satisfactory form can be found.
I have great difficulty in defining "good taste". It seems to me that good taste is my taste. Other people's taste may be different. It may be right or wrong, but whether it is good or bad is difficult to say. I find difficulty with giving the commission the duty to decide what is good taste. Bad taste in one generation becomes in 10 years' time good or acceptable taste. Therefore there is a problem.
I have no difficulty about the rest of the wording. It is all right. I am concerned about "good taste" and then "public feeling". What is public feeling? It is what one feels oneself. We know that the public feel the same as we do when we dislike something. Somebody else's notion of public feeling could be quite different. To one mind some wording is entirely acceptable but to another it may be entirely unacceptable.
I feel that we have not got the wording right in the amendment. The noble Earl ought to be asked to take the phrase back and return with one that would not fall foul of the problem. Let us have a sentence which contains the rest of the wording that upholds decency and does not encourage or incite crime or lead to disorder but does not mess about trying to dictate good taste or estimate public feeling.
§ Lord Hooson
Perhaps I also may express disquiet about the words,to be offensive to public feeling".In the light of the Maguire case, to take an immediate example, if a programme challenges the verdict of a court after a particularly offensive crime—
§ Lord Renton
Perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to intervene. This case is to go before the Court of Appeal shortly.
§ Lord Hooson
I shall change the analogy although I do not think it is necessary. Let us take a programme about the Guildford Four. At the time when the programme was made, it could have been deeply offensive to public feeling for the verdict of a court in this country to be challenged. However, because the challenge was persisted with and there were grounds for it, it would have been in the public interest for the programme to be put forward. Yet the duty of the commission would have been to consider whether the proposed programme was offensive to public feeling. Does the commission consider public feeling at the time or in retrospect? Public feeling in retrospect might have been quite different. I suggest that this form of words is too wide.
I wonder whether I can help the Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, said that we ought to take the wording back and look at it again. The words go back as far as the 1950s and the creation of the independent television system. The Bill does not alter that situation at all. The whole subject is bound to be complicated because once we start talking about taste and decency, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, said, everyone has a different idea. Ideas and standards change. That is the whole point of putting the responsibility onto the Independent Television Commission, which is the body to decide whether something has gone over the top and offended against the criteria.
When the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, refers to certain cases, he deals with a point which we shall discuss later under Amendment No. 81 in the name of my noble friend Lady Cox. That amendment deals with "current" matters and what "current" is. Is "current" a matter of current interest now or what happened some years earlier which is nevertheless of current interest? The noble Lord should bring up his point later.
We are trying to set standards which the Independent Television Commission can lay down for licensees to operate. If licensees do not comply with those requirements, it is for the Independent Television Commission to take such action as necessary by way of fines, larger fines or at the worst revocation of the licence.
§ Baroness Birk
The Minister said that the words go back over 35 years. He also said that fashions change. Is it not time that the words were looked at again?
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
I rather agree with the noble Barones, Lady Birk. The fact that these words are 35 years old does not give them any authority. I genuinely believe that the authority has been diminished because a recent act of unwarranted censorship, the Sinn Fein ban, was introduced by the Government on the ground, among others, that interviews with members who supported the IRA were offensive to the public. That was the ground on which that retrograde step was taken. Therefore, words which had been absolutely neutral in their effect for 33 years now carry import, not because of the way in which the. ITC interprets them but the way in which the Government interpret them. That is why the noble Earl should look at the words in the light of what has been said tonight. I see that he wishes to intervene.
The noble Lord seems uncharacteristically to have blinkers on. I was just trying to persuade him that this has nothing to do with what the Government think. He keeps saying that the Government decided that such and such offended against decency. What the Government think has nothing to do with it. The whole purpose is to put the responsibility on to the commission, which keeps the Government out of it.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
I am delighted if that is so but I remain to be convinced. I suggest that I look 362 carefully at what the noble Earl has said in Hansard in the hope that I find it reassuring. I must confess that so far I have not found his comments at all reassuring. It does not seem to me that he has taken the point that I and others have been trying to make. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 9 p.m.
§ Baroness Birk moved Amendment No. 78:
Page 6, line 8, leave out paragraph (b) and insert:
("(b) that a reasonable amount of time is given to news and current affairs programmes, and that all news in the programmes (in whatever form) is presented with due accuracy and impartiality;").
§ The noble Baroness said: This amendment expands the requirement on all licensed television services to provide news and current affairs programmes that are reasonable in quantity. The 1981 Act provided for a sufficient amount of news and news features in programmes. The Bill does not make a general requirement for all licensed services but in Clause 16(2) (a) places an obligation on Channel 3 licensees to broadcast a sufficient amount of news and current affairs. It extends this obligation to Channel 5 but not to cable and satellite services. This is more the practical expression of a new television system than one of public service broadcasting.
§ The rather legalistic term "reasonable" is preferable to vague terms such as "sufficient" or "proper" and the more prescriptive term "significant" as regards the amount of time devoted to news and current affairs. The term "reasonable" seems to be a good compromise among all the various alternatives available, none of which is perfect. I beg to move.
This amendment and Amendment No. 246 would impose a requirement to provide a reasonable amount of news and current affairs programmes on all ITC and Radio Authority licensees, including all cable and satellite channels and local community and commercial radio stations.
Such an all-embracing requirement for news is unnecessary. We have set out detailed news and current affairs requirements for Channels 3, 4 and 5 in later clauses in the Bill. I see no need for every single cable programme service or satellite channel or every local radio station to devote time to news and current affairs. This would run counter to our desire to see expansion and diversity in these areas.
The principal commercial television channels will be required to show news and current affairs programmes. A number of cable and satellite and radio services will almost certainly continue to do so. But where one person, for example, held a licence to provide several non-domestic satellite channels and devoted one such channel exclusively to the provision of news it would seem unnecessary to require also that all his other channels should also contain a reasonable amount of news and current affairs. I hope the noble Baroness will realise that this amendment would constitute too onerous a requirement.
§ Baroness Birk
I shall want to read what the Minister has said and, if necessary, return to the matter on Report. In the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Renton moved Amendment No. 79:
Page 6, line 10, leave out ("due") and insert ("true").
§ The noble Lord said: This amendment concerns impartiality where there is a matter of controversy or current public policy. It is rather different from the two previous amendments which concerned impartiality in relation to news. This is a probing amendment on a simple matter of drafting. But rather curiously, I suggest, it has been grouped with nearly 20 other amendments, all of which are of real substance. I wonder if it might be convenient if we disposed of this simple amendment of mine first before getting on to the rest of the group. I think that might save time. I see nods of agreement on both sides of the Committee. I shall deal with this amendment briefly.
§ The word "due" in the context of various matters has, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, at least half a dozen meanings. Some interesting historical references are given; for example, the expression "with due respect" is often used when we are merely being polite. However, in our own minds we do not convey any respect at all by it.
§ The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary gives one meaning as adequate, "due" being synonymous with adequate. That may well be the vague interpretation which has sometimes been applied since 1950. I suggest that the word "due" in relation to impartiality as regards programmes on matters of political controversy is too vague, too flexible and too doubtful. We need something more positive and precise. Therefore, I suggest that the term to be used should be "true impartiality". That word also has several meanings, according to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. The word "true" means steadfast or honest in relation to people, but in relation to a statement or a belief—that is what we are dealing with here—it is described as being consistent with fact.
§ Other meanings given are exact, accurate, precise, proper, rightful, legitimate, real, genuine, not counterfeit, spurious or imaginary. We do not want impartiality to be spurious or imaginary. Surely what the commission should seek to achieve is true impartiality. I hope that I shall obtain a favourable reply from my noble friend on this amendment, which is purely probing at this stage. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Cox
I wish to say a few words in support of the amendment. I speak tentatively as a layman on these matters, but I believe that the word "true" implies certain objective criteria whereas the word "due" seems more negotiable and therefore possibly conveys a more arbitrary concept. As this amendment and all the subsequent amendments that we are about to discuss concern impartiality, we are ultimately concerned with matters of truth. We are also concerned that all the available relevant evidence should be presented in the best possible way so that people can make up their own minds on complex and 364 controversial issues. It is important and appropriate to do everything possible to underline the concept of truth. I wish to support this probing amendment of my noble friend.
§ Lord Hooson
Can the noble Lord, Lord Renton, tell me what either the word "true" or the word "due" adds to the concept of impartiality? If the amendment merely stated "impartiality is preserved" would that not cover the case adequately?
§ Lord Renton
No, because that would lend itself to flexible interpretation. We want to reach a more truthful interpretation.
The Earl of Halsbury
Is this not much ado about nothing? "Due" is the past participle of the French word devoir, which is derived from the Latin debere, to owe; the Spanish is deber, and so on. "True" is a Germanic word, treu. They are used interchangeably in various contexts. I do not feel that we need to spend very much time on whether it should be "due" impartiality or "true" impartiality because one is merely shuttling to and fro between a Latin and Germanic root. I do not think that we would ever come to the end of it.
§ Earl Russell
When the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said that this may offer an objective test she expressed my misgivings about the amendment. I can understand the desire for such an objective test but I cannot see an objective tester. Until I can I believe that the amendment savours of the Utopian.
The noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, has hit my comprehension of the matter for six. I thought that I understood it entirely.
My noble friend Lord Renton has characteristically picked up a little point and, like a terrier with a rat, shakes it about. He is concerned about "due" and "true". There is a certain amount of initial attraction in putting in the word "true" so that one has true impartiality. What better could there be than true impartiality? We can understand everyone wanting true impartiality, but the more one thinks about the matter it is not as simple as that.
The wording of Clause 6(1), including as it does the phrase "due impartiality", is an almost exact reproduction of wording in successive Broadcasting Acts. Due impartiality means that there may be higher considerations which need occasionally to override the requirement for absolute impartiality. Broadcasters should not be expected to be impartial between truth and untruth, justice and injustice, compassion and cruelty, tolerance and intolerance, or even right and wrong. How can one be impartial on such matters? Broadcasters should not be obliged to be morally neutral as well as politically neutral. Unfortunately, that is the effect of my noble friend's amendment, although I am not sure that that is his intention. It would make programmes appallingly anodyne and boring.
I hope that my noble friend will realise that "due" is better than "true", whether it is of Greek, Latin or Germanic origin.
§ Lord Renton
In my reply I must be as true as I can. I must confess that I am puzzled and disappointed by 365 some of the arguments which we have heard against my simple amendment. I should have thought that it would have strengthened the law, would not fetter anybody but would put everybody on their guard that the public expect the truth to be found in their programmes. Truth is sometimes said to be more than one-sided. If it is more than one-sided let both sides be truthfully shown.
However, I take on board what has been said. I may or may not return to the subject at a later stage. I am grateful to the Committee for having given consideration to the matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 9.15 p.m.
Lord Orr-Ewing moved Amendment No. 80:
Page 6, line 10, leave out ("person providing the service") and insert ("persons providing the service and programmes").
§ The noble Lord said: In opening the debate on Amendment No. 80 I should also like to speak to Amendments Nos. 86 and 252. I cannot help reflecting that we have been considering the Bill in Parliament since last November, and after 9 o'clock in the evening is not the best time to reach an important amendment in this Chamber. However, we tend to get into these tangles by the second half of July.
§ This series of amendments deals mainly with loopholes which have been proven or which have developed in the 1981 Act regarding due impartiality. I hope that we may reach agreement on simple matters at this stage. There is no point in putting everything off until the Report stage, which I understand cannot begin before 8th October.
§ The amendments are the same and relate to a phrase which arises twice in Clause 6 and in Clause 85, which applies to radio. The 1981 Act required the IBA to do its best to see that due impartiality is preserved by the persons providing the programmes. However, Clause 6 of the present Bill requires the ITC to do so only with regard to the person providing the service. That is a narrower requirement. The same applies in the clause covering radio services.
§ It is unduly weak for the new regulatory authority only to require the providers of broadcasting services to preserve impartiality rather than also requiring the programme makers to do so. No one is suggesting that the new regulatory authority should directly pursue numerous individual programme makers, but it is important that the Bill should make it clear that there is a duty on individual programme makers as well as on the persons providing each radio and television service to observe political impartiality. That is especially important because within the Bill it is laid down that 25 per cent. of the programmes should be put out to independent production companies. Incidentally, that applies not only to the independent sector but the BBC as well. Therefore it is important that it should bite with the programme makers but that the licensee should still have the overall responsibility of due impartiality.
§ I cannot find a recent example in the IBA sector. However, on BBC 2 on Monday, 2nd July at 8 p.m. I 366 watched an "Open Space" programme. It was narrated by the parliamentary candidate Glenda Jackson. It was made by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade. It was very professionally and well made. I noticed that they were operating from the same building that the CND used to occupy. There may be some liaison there but perhaps it is just a coincidence. The whole programme was a criticism of the free world. It argued that if we ceased to make or sell any arms at all there would be no poverty, no malnutrition, no disease and no young deaths anywhere in the world and particularly throughout the third world. I recognise that the programme was extremely effectively produced.
§ I telephoned the BBC to ask when the other side of that viewpoint would be shown, one which would point out that if places such as Afghanistan had had no arms they would now be occupied by the Soviet Union and if we had not had Spitfires or radar in 1940 we would have been occupied by Hitler. There is the other side to the story—that one cannot totally abandon all arms and think everything will be all right.
§ I was told that the series had now come to an end for the summer break and that there would not be another programme in the series. Then it was said that of course it was for the arms trade—manufacturers of aeronautical equipment, arms, ships and other armaments—to come forward with a rival film to show how important it is that defensive arms should be produced. That idea had never struck me.
§ It seems to me that that is shelving the responsibility. Surely it is the licensee who has to keep due impartiality, whether it is the BBC or the independent service. Here we are opening up a rather loose term. This is a quite simple amendment. I am sure it was omitted by accident and I hope that my noble friend will now find it possible to accept it.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
On this point it may save time and assist the noble Lord to note, as I am sure he is aware, that this programme is one of a series called "Open Space", which gives the opportunity to give different points of view. I have seen in that series highly Right-wing programmes which I found very offensive. However, I put up with them because I know that the other point of view will be given subsequently.
§ Lord Orr-Ewing
I know about the programme "Open Space". But if one says that all arms should be destroyed and if that were to happen every maltreated child would be all right, there has to be some rival point of view from the other side. One has to match one side with the other. We shall be discussing amendments on this issue. I mention the matter because I believe that programme makers ought to be included in this definition. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Elles
On Monday there was a very important contribution to our debate by the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, speaking on Amendment No. 1. He said: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 367 information to the same extent from the press, from schools or from ordinary conversation. They obtain it from television".—[Official Report, 9/7/90; col. 14.]Surely that reinforces the need to have very clearly on the face of the Bill that the provider of services and indeed of programmes has a duty at least to attempt to provide accurate, correct information with due impartiality.
We can understand that everyone has a certain degree of subjectivity of approach on the presentation of a programme or its ideas. But over the past few years there has no longer been an attempt to be objective. That is the difference. We are all subjective in our approach but some radio programmes and some radio services at least try to have a certain objectivity with which they present their thoughts and ideas so as to give an alternative point of view which is acceptable to others.
In a recent article in the Financial Times, Christopher Dunkley writes in what he calls "Opinion pieces" that in this case the BBC,is beginning to broadcast various sorts of one-sided journalism".I shall not go into the details he gave but they were published and his reasoning was very cogent.
That example supports the view of my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing in proposing the amendment that is before the Committee tonight. Surely the duty rests on those who think that the current wording can explain how one measures impartiality in a service. But how is that done? How can one tell over a year on a radio service whether or not it has been impartial? Surely one has to look at the fruit of that service; namely, programmes. The programmes must be the method by which one judges whether or not the service itself has been impartial over a period. It is understandable that every single minute will not be objective. It is clear that that cannot be so, otherwise, as the Minister said, the service would probably be extremely boring. But at least at the end of the day one wants an average, if nothing else. It is up to those who consider that the Bill could produce impartiality for radio or television services to show how it can be measured and proved to the public.
My second worry is this. If one discovers that a programme has not shown due impartiality, there seems to be no follow-up procedure. How does one complain, and to whom? Who supports one's case? The ITC will be defender, judge and jury, with no remedy and no publicity. One can write and ring up, and do as much as one likes—and many people do so—but what is the outcome? It is precisely zero and the programme continues along the same line of thought.
I very much hope that the Minister will consider the amendment very seriously. To say that the provision will be included in a code is totally inadequate. A code is not justiciable. The matter will fall back into the hands of the ITC. Many of us in professional life have been concerned with bodies which are self-regulatory. There is always a block at the top—one can never get any further. The rights of the individual are totally 368 neglected and denied. I press the Government to consider the amendment very seriously to see whether they can accept it.
§ The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Strabolgi)
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. He can speak to the amendment but not move it at this stage. There can be only one Motion before the Committee at any one time.
§ Lord Wyatt of Weeford
I apologise. Perhaps it will be convenient to the Committee if I now speak to Amendment No. 83 and those amendments grouped with it. If that is the case, I shall proceed to do so. I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 83, 248, 251, 256 to 259, 312 and 313, which stand in my name and those of other noble Lords.
These amendments are not intended to protect the interest of any particular political party or individual but to strengthen the Bill so that due impartiality is observed. They also bring radio broadly within the same impartiality rule as television.
The Labour Party, whether or not in office, has understandably made numerous protests about lack of impartiality. There was a famous BBC programme in 1971 called "Yesterday's Men" which depicted Labour's leaders as forlorn relics out of touch and out of date. It rightly raised bitter complaints from the Labour Party. Recently the Labour Party complained about ITN's misrepresentation of what Mr. Kinnock said in his "Panorama" interview with David Dimbleby about who might or might not be asked to pay more income tax. Labour Ministers and Shadow Ministers are as liable to suffer from lack of impartiality as anyone else.
When he was Secretary of State for Energy in 1978, Mr. Tony Benn complained fiercely about what he called the few hundred privileged executive producers and broadcasters at the BBC who were shaping public opinion. One of his targets was BBC's "Panorama". He also complained that no one was ever allowed to say all that he wanted to say in the way that he wanted to say it. All were subject to the editorial control of the BBC. I disagreed with Mr. Benn at the time, but in view of what has happened since I am now converted to his opinion.
Dick Crossman, then a Labour Cabinet Minister, complained about both the BBC and ITV. He remarked:The viewer will conclude that politicians who constantly have to be cross-examined like criminals in the dock really must be criminals in the dock".By the beginning of 1969 the then Prime Minister, the now noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, felt obliged to refuse to appear on the BBC for 14 months. I recommend a book called Live from Number Ten by Michael Cockerel] for those who are interested in reading more about programmes slanted against Labour. I hope that Members of the Opposition will realise that if there were a Labour Government that situation could recur. The rules must be fair between all, whether people are politicians or not connected 369 with politics. If there were another Labour Government an anti-Labour group among broadcasters might obtain the upper hand. The supporters of these amendments do not want any unchallenged slanted programmes from any source. At present a Left-wing establishment dominates broadcasting. It has made clear not merely its dislike of these amendments but its objections even to those provisions for due impartiality which already exist.
Miss Liz Forgan is director of programmes at Channel 4. In The Times on 28th June she wrote of due impartiality;Some of us would argue that in a new age of broadcasting pluralism, even this is unduly restrictive. Now that there are more television channels than national newspapers, why should the same freedoms not extend to both?".Mr. Ray Fitzwalter is executive producer of Granada's "World in Action" and head of current affairs. He has been guilty of broadcasting many politically biased programmes. In the UK Press Gazette on 25th June he was quoted as saying that these amendments would be "breathtakingly unfair" to television as compared with the press.
Mr. Paul Bonner was founder programme controller of Channel 4. He is now director of programme planning at ITA. In the Guardian on 9th July he gave his idea of due impartiality as regards a series of programmes. He stated:Channel 4 has developed the process further. Its determination to do justice to difficult and unpopular arguments has meant that balance might only be reached in terms of two or three years, rather than within any series".That is a clear breach of the existing law but Mr. Bonner takes no notice of the law. Both the BBC and the IBA have proved incapable of administering the law. That is why Amendments Nos. 312 and 313 are so important. They would put the duty of drawing up a code of practice on due impartiality and ensuring that it is enforced on the Broadcasting Standards Council.
Mr. David Graham is chairman of Diverse Production Limited. That organisation has peppered television with biased programmes. In a letter to The Times on 2nd July Mr. Graham stated:That many television programmes demonstrate the Liberal/Left bias that has pervaded the intelligentsia for the last 30 years is probably true".He also said:It is impossible to be impartial".That is manifestly untrue.
Mr. John Cole is a Labour supporter and political editor of the BBC. I have heard many of his broadcasts and they are impeccably impartial and balanced, whatever his sympathies may be. The same is true of Labour supporter, Peter Kellner, long associated with the New Statesman. On television or radio he never unfairly slants his interesting material with political bias. Nor do presenters such as Sir Robin Day or Sir Alastair Burnet.
Whatever the opponents of due impartiality in broadcasting may argue, terrestrial broadcasting stations are state licensed monopolies. Until now it has always been agreed that in their privileged 370 position of selecting which programmes should be broadcast and who will present and produce them, they must be subject to due impartiality rules.
Newspapers can be started by anyone. New newspapers with differing views are now a frequent occurrence since Mr. Rupert Murdoch broke the print unions' power at Wapping. Newspapers are entitled to promote any views they like because they can be challenged by other newspapers and in their own columns. That is called freedom of the press.
It would be ridiculous to say that the press should be subject to the same rules of due impartiality as privileged licensed state monopolies. That applies equally to satellite stations, which may fall into the hands of unscrupulous owners peddling their own political beliefs. It is true that there are numerous satellite stations and that there will be many more. However it is nowhere near as easy or cheap to start a satellite station as it is to start a newspaper. I have the assurance of Sky Television that it has no objection to being governed by the same rules of due impartiality as the terrestrial stations.
§ Lord Wyatt of Weeford
Mr. Roger Bolton is ITV's controller of factual programmes. He produced the questionable documentary "Death on the Rock". In Journalist's Week on 29th June he attacked these amendments. He said that the requirement to have a programme without due impartiality answered by one of an opposite view within a month was "physically impossible". That is very odd. He clearly had not read the IBA's guidelines. Section 6(3)(1) of those guidelines states:The Broadcasting Act's requirement about impartiality allows a series of programmes to be considered as a whole. This presupposes that the presentation, over a series, of different points of view, is planned in advance, and with the intention to achieve impartiality in this way made clear so that the viewer of one programme is not misled into thinking he has seen the whole story".No doubt Mr. Bolton has been encouraged in his disregard of the IBA guidelines by the behaviour of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, when he was chairman of the IBA. There was a Left-wing biased two-part programme called "The Cold War Game". The first part was screened on 25th April and the second part on 28th April 1988. The first part, which attacked the West, included successive British governments, whether Labour or Conservative, and was presented by Jonathan Steel of the Guardian. The second, even more extreme, part was presented by the American Trotskyist, Noam Chomsky. I do not know why Members of the Committee are laughing. That programme was put out on Channel 4 with the authority of the noble Lord. Perhaps Members of the Committee are laughing at the Jewish name but I hope not. When challenged for his lack of impartiality, the noble Lord replied on 5th September that the Broadcasting Act does not require impartiality to be observed in a single programme. He then dodged the issue by referring to a series called "Reagan on Reagan" and another series called "Right Talk" early in 1979. He defended Channel 4's disregard of the Act 371 although "The Cold War Game" was a series and the programmes to which the noble Lord referred in defence were not in any way related to it.
That illustrates why it is so necessary not to allow the BBC and the ITC, which are heavily involved with programme makers, to be the final judges of whether the law has been breached. The IBA notoriously did not. Many of its staff are now moving to the ITC and are deeply opposed to these amendments and the present law on impartiality. The BBC has never been a trustworthy judge and jury over the programmes which it has broadcast, as numerous instances show.
Part of Amendment No. 83 refers to the need for a brief discussion containing opposing views to follow any biased programme lasting more than 15 minutes. That would make such slanted programmes more lively and less boring. It is necessary whether the programme is a single one or forms part of a series. The single outrageously one-sided half-hour programme by Harold Pinter on 31st May will never be offset by a programme with an alternative view.
Surveys show that only 45 per cent. of viewers see the second programme in a series. The remaining 55 per cent. are left with the impression that nobody challenged the slant in the first programme. The requirement of an announcement at the end of a slanted programme in a series giving the date of an alternative programme on the same subject to be screened within one month is also essential. It would alert those who had seen the first programme to the fact that there was something different in the offing. In view of the IBA's rules that alternative programmes should be planned before any biased programme is put out, one month should be enough. If it is not, noble Lords who are my friends on these amendments would be willing to consider a gap of up to two months before an alternative programme is shown.
It is quite clear that there has been a steady and systematic attempt to undermine what impartiality rules and laws there are. If the Government do not accept the amendment, breaches of due impartiality—frequent enough already will become the norm with neither the BBC nor the ITC willing or able to do anything about it. They are all pals together—the programme makers, the BBC and the ITC. My noble friend Lord Chalfont may try to prevent that, but he will not be there for ever. The public would be helpless without the amendments. The due impartiality rules need strengthening by law, and not watering down or eliminating.
§ Lord Barnett
I hope the Committee will not mind if I say a word at this point. I have restrained myself throughout the debates on this Broadcasting Bill. Noble Lords will be aware that as vice-chairman of the BBC I have to declare an interest. I shall not vote, but I hope that the Committee will not mind if I say a word on the subject, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, said, is very important.
The noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, is an old friend. He was a member of the same political party at one time. At the beginning he was far to the Left of me; 372 subsequently he moved quite a bit. I am not sure that even the noble Lord would describe himself as the greatest living expert on due impartiality. I agree with him that impartiality in broadcasting is vital. I do not disagree with that at all. That concern for due impartiality is shared within the BBC. Others will no doubt speak for the ITV companies. The chairman of the BBC and I have tried, since taking office, to initiate changes to ensure that that impartiality is made to stick. I should like to refer to some of those points in a moment.
I concede immediately to the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, that we occasionally get it wrong. However, I do not concede the specific cases that he referred to or those to which the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, referred. I concede that we get it wrong occasionally, but that is not surprising. We transmit almost 200,000 hours of radio and television each year. A few cases are then reported to us by noble Lords in this Chamber as, in their view, lacking due impartiality.
I can only say that impartiality is in the eye of the beholder. I recall when I was in the Cabinet waking up in the morning and listening to the "Today" programme. I constantly used to think, "How on earth can they put that on this morning as the first item?" I did not complain about it, I am happy to say, either to ITV or to the BBC. I recognised that that was my view of that programme—my biased view at that time. That is why I say that bias and impartiality are in the eye of the beholder. Indeed, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, that what he would consider balanced in a programme would be considered by millions of people elsewhere as unbalanced. That happens to be the case. The noble Lord may not like it but it is true.
I and everyone in the BBC—certainly those at the top whom the noble Lord described as Left-wing; I assume he meant the chairman and myself—care passionately about impartiality. That is shared among all members of the board of governors, the board of management and, indeed, the staff. The staff at the BBC are highly professional. They care about professional standards for which they are responsible. Therefore, I took the greatest possible umbrage when the noble Lord referred in the terms he did to the staff of the BBC.
The guidelines that we have in the BBC spell out clearly what is expected of broadcasters at all times. I refer only to the introduction to the guidelines. I quote briefly:The notion of impartiality lies at the very heart of the BBC. No area of programming is exempt from it.The BBC serves the nation as a whole recognising the differing tastes, views and perspectives in the millions of households which pay a licence fee. Programme-makers aim to reflect, inform and stimulate this multiplicity of interests with programmes of range, quality and diversity—programmes which will cater to people of any age, belief, race or gender".That is the introduction and I go on to spell out that we seek to ensure that those guidelines are respected and adhered to.
I make it quite clear that the guidelines are not laid down in tablets of stone. They are reviewed, and will 373 be reviewed, constantly. However, occasionally we get it wrong. Sometimes we are informed that we have got it wrong and therefore there is a case for action, as we are told by the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt. He has proposed in his amendments a solution which will ensure due impartiality. First, at the end of a programme that lacked due impartiality he would have the BBC put on a discussion. One is bound to ask: who will decide that a programme lacks impartiality? Will it be the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt? What great person is to say in advance that a programme lacks impartiality? The programme would have to be previewed. How would a live programme be previewed? How would a balance be achieved?
If we are looking for balance within a programme and deciding whether it lacks due impartiality let me give one or two examples. The noble Lord referred to a recent programme on "Panorama" where Mr. Kinnock was described in the Conservative press as having done very, very badly. Presumably, therefore, it was not a balanced programme. As one Conservative MP said to me recently, "If you accept this amendment you would need to have another 'Panorama' programme with John Smith". Is that what the noble Lord is suggesting the BBC should do?
Let us suppose we have a BBC programme on the horrific, murderous regime of Pol Pot which is not balanced but wholly condemnatory of that regime, as it should be. Are we expected under the terms of this rigid formula to put out another programme?
The second part of the amendment is even more ridiculous. Someone having decided that the programme lacked due impartiality, within a month the BBC would then have to put out a programme that presumably lacked impartiality in the other direction. That is what we would have to do. That is what the noble Lord is suggesting in his amendment. In other words, the amendment is entirely contrary to the Royal Charter under which we are appointed as governors. We would be positively instructing the BBC to broadcast a programme that was lacking due impartiality.
If I seem to be describing these amendments as nonsense it is for the simple reason that they are.
§ Lord Orr-Ewing
Before the noble Lord concludes, I hope that he will come forward with some constructive suggestions. He is very knowledgeable and has great experience of the BBC. Can he therefore put forward some ideas instead of being purely destructive and distorting the truth?
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Lord Barnett
I certainly do not concede that we have ever distorted the truth in the way that the noble Lord suggests. I was about to spell out how we try to ensure that the guidelines are adhered to. We are debating the amendment that the noble Lord has just moved and why I believe that in no way can it be an answer. The reason is very simple. Anyone who knows anything about broadcasting knows that you cannot legislate in detail for impartiality. It is quite 374 impossible. A rigid formula not only cannot work; it would do the reverse. It would solidify programmes and make it impossible to create them.
It is quite clear that the amendments are unworkable. Is there an alternative? I now come to the question which the noble Lord put to me. Under the Royal Charter and licence, the BBC and its governors are given the responsibility of ensuring impartiality. Anything that is proposed here overrides that, but I am not resting on a constitutional argument. I wish to explain briefly how we, the governors, ensure so far as we can that the guidelines are adhered to. The responsibility is given to us as governors of the BBC because we are not managing the day-to-day programme making. Those powers are delegated to the board of management.
The guidelines that we set out meet virtually all the requirements that anyone could want. I am glad to see the noble Lord and the noble Baroness nodding. It is not enough just to lay down guidelines, because if we simply did that and forgot about them that would be hopeless. We do not do that. I have never known an organisation that so studies what it is doing, how it is doing it, every day of the week and all the time. There are seminars, assessments and reviews which take place daily, weekly, and at many levels within the BBC. These activities are constantly taking place.
There is no need for another outside body to review the BBC because it is reviewed daily, as I have said, and all the time. The job is being done. I assure the Committee that the chairman, myself and the board of governors are very conscious of the duty that has been laid upon us under the charter. We share the concern of all Members of the Committee, including the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt. As I have said, the amendments are wholly impracticable. The underlying problem of impartiality involves a very serious principle which we all care about. I believe it is vital to the democratic society that we all care for. However, it would be wrong and dangerous to put at risk all that has been achieved by the ITV companies and the BBC because, just occasionally, in the view of one or two people, we get it wrong.
The Earl of Halsbury
A perfect example of bureaucratic complacency! The noble Lord wants us to bow down and worship because he is a governor of the BBC. I was a governor of the BBC too and I have no illusions whatever about it. It is a bureaucratic organisation.
I want to say something about the demonstration that the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, gave me this morning. I wish to begin with a little history. When I was a youngster like the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, the great enemy of society was the armaments manufacturer. It did not matter whether it was Sir Basil Zaharoff of Vickers or Andrew Undershaft of Undershaft and Lazarus, who were death and destruction merchants in Bernard Shaw's "Major Barbara".
They were the enemies of society. I have said over and over again to my friends since the war that it is the most extraordinary thing that, as the enemy of society, 375 the armaments manufacturer has disappeared into limbo. Nobody mutters about him at all. I had heard nothing about armaments manufacturers for years and years until the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, showed me the demonstration model that had been made by a programme manufacturer. For the first time for I do not know how many years I heard of an armaments manufacturer featuring as the villain of the piece. Of course, in a sense we are corporately the villains of the piece because we are giving the third world masses of credit in order to help it grow potatoes, but instead of doing that those countries declare war on one another and buy our armaments. We buy their oil and everything is hunky-dory in a closed loop of social misunderstanding.
I am entirely with my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing that the enemy is always complacency: and there it stands or sits as the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. It is high time that we had independent programme vendors who could persuade broadcasters to produce their programmes. That would be contra-complacency. I support every word that my noble friend has said.
§ Baroness Cox
In speaking briefly in support of some of the amendments in the grouping I shall concentrate on Amendment No. 81 and the other amendments referring to the word "current" and also say a few words on Amendment No. 256 concerning impartiality over a service.
Perhaps I may begin with Amendment No. 81 and the other amendments which are designed to remove that word "current", which has slipped into the Bill at whose instigation we know not. We believe that it is unacceptable. As I raised this issue at Second Reading, I shall speak only briefly and in general terms. I shall set the scene for the amendments.
In the Broadcasting Act 1981 and its predecessors, due impartiality was required in matters of political or industrial controversy or matters relating to current public policy. Thus the story of past events which are still controversial had to be recounted as fairly and accurately as possible. Examples now could include the Falklands War or the origins of the Cold War. But if the wording of the Bill before us is allowed to stand unamended, the requirement of impartiality in these instances will no longer be enshrined in law. That is because the insertion of this one word "current" means that all that is now required is "due impartiality" on matters of current political or industrial controversy or matters relating to current public policy.
I cannot conceive of any purpose behind the insertion of that word "current" other than the rather insidious intention to reduce drastically the size and the scope of the arena in which the concept of fairness is to apply. I also suggest that this wording is not only undesirable for those reasons but is also totally unnecessary. There have been few, if any, frivolous complaints about biased treatment of ancient 376 historical events, but there have been well-documented cases of biased treatment of recent historical events which are still of contemporary relevance.
Perhaps I may be allowed to give three examples which serve to support the case. I refer to the programme "Greece: The Hidden War", which was subsequently disclosed as a communist version of civil war in the 1940s; "The Summer of the Bomb", a contentious revisionist historian account of the inception of the Cold War; and the pro-Stalinist programme "Arm in Arm Together". I am sorry that noble Lords who are academic historians whose names are associated with the amendments are not able to be here to spell out, if necessary, their historical criticisms of the programmes. However, the criticisms have been well-documented.
Unless that word "current" is deleted, the Bill may become a charter for revisionist historical programmes like those. I do not accept the argument that has been put forward by some that as soon as a programme about an historical event is claimed to be contentious it then becomes a matter of current concern and so then falls into the category of "current" covered by the Bill. I suggest that that is sophistry and nonsensical.
Unless we wish to open the floodgates to revisionist historians and to political bias in the presentation of recent events which still have current relevance, it is essential that the apparently innocuous-sounding little word "current" be removed from the Bill.
I want to say a few words on Amendment No. 256 and other related amendments concerning impartiality in radio broadcasting. Our concern here is that in the Bill the concept of impartiality for radio has been diluted from impartiality over a series of programmes to impartiality over a whole service. As my noble friend Lady Elles said, that is again nonsensical and also unenforceable. Who can possibly listen to or monitor the entire output of a whole broadcasting service? It is a charter for unmitigated bias.
In another place my right honourable friend the Minister rightly rejected a suggestion from the IBA that the requirement for impartiality over a service be extended to cover television. He rejected it on the grounds that the proposal would be too wide and that it would be meaningless. Surely the same argument must apply to radio. Therefore, I very much hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to respond sympathetically and positively to these concerns.
§ Lord Chalfont
Given my interest as the deputy chairman of the Independent Broadcasting Authority and my future position in the ITC and the Radio Authority, I am, like the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, reluctant to intervene in a Committee stage of a Bill. I shall not venture to express any opinion on these amendments, nor shall I vote upon them should a vote be required.
Before I begin to make a few brief comments, perhaps I may in parenthesis—if it will be of interest to the Committee—clear up a question put by the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, about what the 377 functions of the Radio Authority will be. They are in fact quite simple. The authority will be both a licensing authority and a regulatory body. It will regulate the activities of all forms of independent radio, whether national, local or community. I hope I have made that small point adequately clear.
Having listened with great care to the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Wyatt of Weeford, the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and, with perhaps even more interest than usual, to those made the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, perhaps I may offer a few thoughts on why I think that the Bill in its present form makes it possible for the ITC and, where it is relevant, the Radio Authority to deal effectively with the issue of impartiality and at the same time allow for lively and challenging but responsible journalism to be presented on our television screens and our radios.
I should stress at once that I am in broad sympathy with many of the views expressed by my noble friend Lord Wyatt and his friends. My views on these matters may be familiar to some Members of the Committee and they have not undergone any fundamental change. I believe that television and radio have been in the past, and to some extent they still are, disfigured by the activities of a relatively small number of programme makers who seem determined to use these powerful media to advance and disseminate their political views. I believe, as does the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, and my noble friend Lord Wyatt, that due impartiality or true impartiality lie at the heart of responsible broadcast journalism. However, I must tell my noble friend that I believe that this can best be achieved by giving effective powers to the regulatory authorities and leaving them to exercise those powers rather than by attempting to prescribe these extremely complicated matters on the face of a Bill.
It is for that reason that I welcome the powers which have been given to the ITC under Clause 6 to draw up a code of rules on how due impartiality is to be observed. The code will lay down objectives for licensees of the Independent Television Commission which are both measurable and enforceable. These requirements will be on the public record and available to all broadcasting organisations, producers, participants in programmes and of course to the most important constituency of all, the viewers.
Those broadcasting organisations which are licensees of the ITC or the Radio Authority will be responsible for ensuring that the conditions of the licence are observed by their staff and by independent producers. Therefore, they will need to be clearly aware of the standards which are expected of them and of the extremely serious consequences which may follow any breaches.
It is the intention of the ITC, which of course is still in shadow form until this legislation is on the statute book, to publish a draft version of this code of conduct regarding due impartiality later this year and to invite comments from all interested parties.
378 Let me, if I may, briefly lift a corner of the curtain on the code and give some impression of what we hope and intend it to be like. First, the code will be rooted in fairness and respect for the truth. It will require programmes to distinguish fact from opinion. It will aim to ensure that a proper range of views and perspectives is aired over a reasonable period of time in all matters of public controversy. The code will define the meaning of a series of programmes which, under the clause, may be considered as a whole.
The aim will be, first, to ensure that the news programmes—I emphasise news programmes—in whatever form should always be impartial in themselves. Current affairs and documentary programmes should always be presented with due impartiality. They should normally contain an appropriate range of views on any controversial subject within themselves or within two or more programmes within the same series. That presentation of a range of views over more than one programme must be planned in advance and the intention to achieve impartiality in that way made clear so that the viewer of one programme is not misled into believing that he or she has been given the whole story.
The code will deal with a number of the issues that have been raised in the debate. It will cover how impartiality is to be achieved and the timescale over which it is to be achieved. It will cover the ways in which subsequent programmes will have to be signalled at the beginning of the first programme. It will lay down what is to happen if it is impracticable to achieve impartiality within one programme. Finally, it will make clear that those requirements apply to what are called personal view programmes as well as to any others.
My aim in this brief intervention has been merely to point out that even if the amendments—I make no comment upon them—are not subsequently embodied in the Bill, the ITC and the Radio Authority will have the power to achieve the principal aims which my noble friend Lord Wyatt and I share; namely, that due impartiality should be an essential element of responsible broadcasting in television and in radio.
As I said on Second Reading, as a consequence of the Bill the ITC and the Radio Authority will have strong, sharp teeth, and they will not hesitate to use them if standards of impartiality fall below those expected under the new regime. I reassure my noble friend Lord Wyatt once again that the ITC and the Radio Authority will not be, as he put it, all pals together with the broadcasting companies. Far from it! We are not contemplating a broadcasting authority with the ITC or the Radio Authority. They are regulatory authorities and they will not be all pals together with the broadcasting companies.
My noble friend Lord Wyatt referred, with his customary delicacy, to the fact that members of the regulatory authorities are not immortal. He is right. Nothing is immutable. Even governments have been known to change, although only older Members of the Committee will remember such events. All that can be safely said today is that the Bill confers upon the 379 regulatory authorities (the ITC and the Radio Authority) the power to do all that my noble friend wants them to do.
§ 10 p.m.
§ Lord Ardwick
Before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may ask him whether he is speaking on behalf of the commission as well as the authority. Is he describing an almost finalised plan which has been worked out by the two bodies?
§ Lord Chalfont
I am speaking as a Member of the Committee and in no other capacity. I declared my interest at the beginning, as I am required to do. I said that I would not comment upon the amendment or vote on it. I sought to give the Committee what I believed would be some valuable information about matters which are under discussion. What I said about the code of practice outlines what we in the IBA—there is no such thing as the ITC or Radio Authority at the moment—propose in due course to circulate and publish. We shall consult all those interested before the code and the guidelines are formalised and finalised.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
Since the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, mentioned me by name, perhaps I may take this opportunity to comment on his amendments. Like the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, I have known, enjoyed and endured the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, over nearly 40 years. Again like the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, I pay tribute to him as the ideal apostle in your Lordships' House of the doctrine of due impartiality.
Serious issues are at stake here. The starting point which was missing from the thrust of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt—distinguished journalist though he has been over many years—is the role of journalism in a free society. It is one of the hallmarks of a free society that the press and the media generally are the fourth estate. It is their responsibility and duty to act as an independent critic of whatever authority happens to be in power at any time.
The noble Lord started his speech fairly by referring to the troubles that Labour Governments with which he and I were involved felt they had suffered at the hands of the broadcasting media in those days. He warned absolutely correctly that if a new Labour Government came into office they would no doubt make the same complaints.
However, it is the essence of free journalism that everyone in authority should feel at times that he has been unfairly criticised. The very fact that the complaints have come to the BBC or the IBA from both sides over the years is an assurance about the balanced approach of the broadcasting authorities.
Having said that about the general duty of journalism in a free society—and there was, if I may say so, an extremely illiberal tone about the utterances of the noble Lord today—special responsibilities apply to broadcasters because of the limitations of the frequency spectrum. That is why there is laid on broadcasting journalists, as distinct from print journalists, a legal duty of due impartiality. I endorse 380 every word of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, about the attention that the governors of the BBC pay to this. The same attention has always been given by members of the board of the IBA to these matters. I was glad to hear the present deputy chairman of the Independent Broadcasting Authority spell out in a way that will be reproduced in the code exactly the approach of the Independent Broadcasting Authority before my time, when my noble friend Lord Aylestone was chairman of the authority, during my time and now during the time of my successor. He described the way in which we have approached these matters.
I regard the duty of due impartiality placed on broadcast journalists as the most fundamental duty that they have. During the period when I was chairman of the Independent Broadcasting Authority, I acquired a reputation for being a constant nagger about the obligations of due impartiality and for reminding journalists that it is a more difficult task for professional journalists to show due impartiality than to go crusading. It is more difficult and demanding. There is no other way of making progress than for those in responsible positions—whether they are governors of the BBC, members of the IBA or members of the future ITC—to press all the time, seeking to maintain these standards. In doing so, it is important to keep these matters in perspective. As one goes round the world one finds that British broadcasting standards are generally regarded as among the best in the world. It is certainly true that the standards of fair reporting and fair commentary on current affairs in British broadcasting, whether in the independent sector or in the BBC, are infinitely higher than those that are to be found in the printed press these days, especially in some of the so-called quality newspapers. This matter should be kept in a proper perspective.
I now turn to the proposals contained in these amendments. They are impractical, extremely reactionary and thoroughly illiberal proposals. They would have a deadening effect on the vitality and the dynamism of the programmes that are transmitted. If they are pressed to a Division, I hope the Committee will decisively reject them. If one is looking for a particular formula to follow in this regard—I do not suggest this should be written into the Bill, but I put it forward as a way of dealing with these matters—I suggest that other channels should follow the example which I believe has been followed since the beginning of the establishment of Channel 4, which is to have a weekly "right to reply" programme. Such a programme should be run vigorously, fairly and pungently in order to give those who feel that their views are different to those which have emerged in current affairs programmes shown during the week, a right to reply. Every decent newspaper has a section devoted to letters to the editor. Therefore I do not see why each television channel should not have a "right to reply" programme as part of its normal planning.
I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, spell out what I repeat is the way in which the IBA has throughout its history approached its duties on impartiality. I wish him and his colleagues well in 381 tackling their responsibilities once this Bill becomes an Act. I remind the Committee of one of the basic changes that the Bill will bring about, which will make the task of the chairman and the members of the ITC board even more difficult than sometimes was the case with the IBA. The ITC will have an opportunity to take action where there is cause for concern in this regard only after the event and after the programme concerned has already been broadcast, whereas it has been part of the IBA's obligations and duties to seek to deal with such matters before programmes are transmitted. I wish my noble friend Lord Chalfont well in his task of ensuring that due impartiality is maintained in 300 or 400 local radio stations, some of which will transmit current affairs programmes in languages that may be rather difficult to monitor.
On a more serious note, I should say that, if one wishes to maintain the high standards of British broadcasting, one must have on the board of governors of the BBC and of the new ITC strong and independent-minded people who will seek to maintain the quality of programmes. I end on a totally frivolous note concerning the problem of defining impartiality. There is said to have been a famous Lord Provost of Dundee who was a controversial figure. However, on taking up his high office, he gave an assurance to everyone that he would constantly endeavour to steer a middle course between partiality and impartiality.
§ 10.15 p.m.
The Lord Bishop of Liverpool
I am glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, and I am glad that he referred to the printed press. I was surprised and confused when the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, first of all drew some parallels with newspapers and then said it was ridiculous to suggest that newspapers should be subject to the same obligations of impartiality as are laid on broadcasters. I find it very hard to see why. Millions are fed bias through newspapers, very powerful bias. I believe that impartiality is enormously important. I also believe that it is indivisible in public media.
How does one get it? Like other noble Lords I believe that I have been misrepresented on occasions, both on television and in newspapers. I also believe that the Church of England has been misrepresented. I also believe that the English cricket team has been misrepresented. I have been very annoyed, I have complained and very occasionally my complaint has been acknowledged.
The misrepresentation that I have known about has been far more frequent in newspapers than on television or radio. I find it very hard to hear arguments that suggest that it is important for one part of the media and not for another. Newspapers which have millions of readers can, the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, said, be challenged in their own columns. He knows and I know that that is not true. There are many newspapers, including quality newspapers, which offer no right of reply and provide no way of challenging them in their columns.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, that there is no 382 alternative to tackling this enormously important issue of impartiality except from within the organisations which have to deal with some subtle lines and the day-to-day running of those organisations.
The last thing that I have to say is that no communicator around the world has a reputation for impartiality and commitment to truth equal to that of the BBC. British television, I believe deservedly, has a great name in this field.
§ Baroness Birk
I have listened to the debate with great care—it is an extremely important one—but with increasing amazement. It is extraordinary that so many intelligent, well-meaning men and women can produce arguments which are completely out of touch with reality. They talk as though people were sealed in a vacuum and did not know what is going on. They treat people as though they were all completely illiterate or children who do not understand what they see and what is discussed.
The promoters of the amendments have given the impression that people are raging to have impartiality and are furious because somebody has not replied, and so on. That is not true. Since 1972 the IBA has carried out regular research. People have been asked whether there is anything on TV that they object to. A sample of about 1,400 people has been taken. In 1989 a third of those questioned mentioned bad language as what concerned them most. Slightly less than a third mentioned violence. About a quarter said that there was too much sex. Fewer than one in 10 mentioned misrepresentation or bias. Therefore, the situation appears to be very different from the one that has been put to us.
In addition, one of the amendments refers to bringing in the Broadcasting Standards Council. I received a letter about a week ago from the secretary to the council—and no doubt other noble Lords have received similar letters—saying that before the Committee stage he wanted to make it clear that the council was very reluctant to take on any work in this area. The council believed that impartiality was the responsibility of the broadcasters and not of the council.
So it seems quite extraordinary. I hope that we shall all behave as adults and sensible people and put this matter in some perspective. It is not something that worries many people. It is not a matter to which great prominence should be given. At this time of night I shall not rehearse the arguments that have already been made. We heard from both the present deputy chairman of the BBC and the recent chairman of the IBA about all the efforts which their organisations make. Most importantly we have heard that the responsibility for each service rests on the one hand with the governors of the BBC and on the other hand with the members of the board. If there is dissatisfaction, the one to whom people should turn is the person who appoints governors to the BBC or members to the board of the IBA. That probably means that they should write letters to the Prime Minister if they feel strongly about it.
383 Finally, while I was listening to the arguments and scribbling odd notes I could not help but feel that in future Amendment No. 83, and indeed the whole issue, will probably come to be known as the soap opera clause. At the end of a programme lacking due impartiality the question must be: Who is the judge? Who is going to decide? We do not know. Nothing has been said about that. The opposing view must be given. So within a month in the next episode the opposite view must be put. Subsequent programmes must offer a range of opinion. That is turning current affairs and historical affairs into a soap opera. Perhaps it ought to be called "The Orr-Ewings of Dallas".
§ Lord Monson
The Committee may wonder why someone who is known to look askance at restrictive legislation and the excessive use of rules and regulations nevertheless has added his name to Amendment No. 83. In an ideal world where perfect competition prevails I should prefer not to have to regulate the broadcasting media any more than newspapers, books or magazines are regulated. But this is not an ideal world. We do not have perfect competition, as might be the case if there were more than 100 equally well financed radio and television companies covering the whole country, each of them producing news and current affairs programmes of high quality.
So because listeners and viewers have so little to choose from compared with the enormous choice where the printed word is concerned—I think that answers the right reverend Prelate—a very large proportion of the population can be misled by distortions, exaggerations and omissions. Therefore the balance is important.
May I say straight away that I make no complaint at all about existing radio and television news bulletins, which in recent years, with very few random exceptions, have not only been extremely good, but very well balanced. Indeed, in that respect they put to shame much of what we still think of as Fleet Street. I do not refer only to the tabloids but in many respects to the quality broadsheets, in particular as regards terrorism in Northern Ireland, to which the latter normally allocate no more than two column inches, in contrast to the properly very thorough coverage given by radio and television.
Having said that, current affairs programmes, as opposed to news bulletins, are by no means invariably so well balanced. Hence there is a need for something on the lines of Amendment No. 83.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
I decided to spare the Committee the speech that I had intended to make at this time and make merely one or two remarks. I find myself in more agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, this evening than has been the case for many years. In particular I thought that one remark he made was very wise. That was his recommendation that this matter should not be the subject of legislation but of a type of code explained to us by my noble friend and by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, himself.
384 I therefore hope—and it will come more strongly from the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, than from me—that the proposer of these amendments will decide that the right policy is to leave these questions to regulations put by the authority—which has been placed in charge by the Act—rather than seek to spell them out in legislation. As has been demonstrated this evening, that would certainly not be satisfactory and might even be dangerous.
§ Earl Russell
I am not one of those to whom the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, referred who considers impartiality impossible. However, I beg the supporters of these amendments to consider this. The issue is more difficult than they imagine. The key question was put by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett: who will be the judge of impartiality?
I ask the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt of Weeford, only one question. Let us suppose that Amendment No. 83 were carried. Would he be content to have me as the sole judge of impartiality within the terms of his amendment?
§ Lord Wyatt of Weeford
Perhaps the noble Earl would like me to answer his question. No, I certainly would not. That is why Amendments Nos. 312 and 313 include a provision to add to the remit of the Broadcasting Standards Council—which already supervises the BBC on matters of taste, decency, violence and sexual conduct—the drawing up of a code of practice on due impartiality with an appeals procedure for complaints of alleged failure to observe it. That is all I ask.
The BBC is happy to submit to the Broadcasting Standards Council on that matter. I therefore cannot understand why it cannot do so on the subject of due impartiality.
§ Earl Russell
As I understand it, the noble Lord proposes that appeals should go to a collective body. In some sense that must be a representative body. The question then arises: representative of what? I hope that I do not need to continue. The possible complexities are endless.
Amendment No. 81 was moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. I am sorry to see that she is not in her place. I am also sorry that the academic historians who put their names to her amendment are not in their places. However, as another academic historian, I view that amendment with grave misgivings. Let us take a single example. Would an impartial account of the Suez expedition be required to state that there was or was not collusion with Israel? Clearly it poses the urgent question of who is to be the judge of impartiality.
If one takes the matter further back in time, let us suppose that one applies a requirement of impartiality to a debate on the causes of the civil war. That is such a multi-faceted debate that one cannot even specify the disputed causes between which impartiality must be observed.
Although I feel great respect for many of my colleagues, I would not be prepared to trust any of them with the enforcement of such a requirement. I recall listening to the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, 385 assuring this Chamber that under no circumstances would he be prepared to vote to put others on a body on which in principle he would be absolutely unwilling to serve. I say that about the proposals in these amendments.
§ Lord Chalfont
Perhaps I may make one brief point with the indulgence of the Committee. There seems to be a new mantra in the debate: who is to be the judge of impartiality? It is absolutely clear in the Bill who is to be the judge of impartiality. Clause 6 states that the Independent Television Commission shall do all it can to ensure impartiality; it shall draw up a code of conduct governing impartiality; and it shall punish those who fall below those standards. This curious rhetorical question of who is to be the judge of impartiality is answered in the Bill.
§ 10.30 p m.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, is correct in what he has said but that is not what is in the amendment. It is the amendment which we are discussing and which I and my noble friends on this side of the Committee are opposing. The important question is: how does one set up an organisation which can best—not perfectly—achieve impartiality?
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. It is a well-known administrative law that if responsibility is properly to be fulfilled it must be clearly defined. If responsibility is dispersed between a series of bodies it will not be properly fulfilled. For that reason the Bill is right in assigning responsibility for impartiality to the commission. It would be wrong to disperse that responsibility between a series of other regulatory bodies. That is where one starts.
In the light of the attitudes and views expressed by the noble Lords, Lord Wyatt of Weeford and Lord Orr-Ewing, one must reiterate the fact that it is perfectly clear that they are not impartial as regards the BBC or the IBA. It is also perfectly clear that they do not recognise what almost everyone else recognises: that as broadcasters of news and current affairs the BBC and the IBA have a record which is difficult to equal.
I wish to give one example within my experience of the problems which arise in carrying out the task of ensuring impartiality. I suppose that the most prestigious arm of the BBC is the World Service. I suppose that in the World Service the most important single item is the news. I was vice-chairman of the BBC just prior to the revolt in Iran. For about a year before that occurred we received weekly protests from our ambassador in Iran to the effect that the BBC's external service programmes were grossly unbalanced and unfair because they stressed the growing opposition to the Shah. The ambassador was a distinguished man—Sir Anthony Parsons. He was so distinguished that when he returned after the revolution he had the good grace to say that the BBC had been right and he had been wrong.
That is often how the situation works out; it is in the eye of the observer. Naturally, that observer at the court of the Shah had a distorted view. Professional 386 journalists were reporting the events and they were better at reporting than a diplomat. People who attack the BBC and the IBA news should bear in mind their records and the problems which confront them. I suggest that those who attack the BBC and the IBA on impartiality do not properly understand the way in which it can best be achieved. I confess that I found the sponsors of these amendments hardly to be paragons of impartiality.
I shall end by giving an example of the difficulty of giving an impartial account of an event. On Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, made an attack on the "Today" programme based, I suspect, on evidence produced by the media monitoring unit. The attack consisted of a question asked in the programme by Brian Redhead, who was acting as chairman. The question was, "Would a PR man have the courage to go to the Prime Minister and say, 'Prime Minister, the best thing you can do for your party is to stand down'?". The noble Lord went on to say:That punchline, issued less than 24 hours before the polls opened, hardly seems to me to be in keeping with any of the established traditions laid down for … our broadcasting media".—[Official Report, 5/6/90; col. 1283.]In fact the punchline was the young man's answer. The answer was that the Prime Minister was the best thing that the Conservative Party had and that she should not be moved. Therefore, the punchline was not the question, as the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, said. The punchline was the answer that the chairman had given that young man, the candidate, the opportunity to give.
Earlier in the programme that same chairman had put to the young man: "So you think that the Labour Party's policies failed at the last election?" He was given the opportunity to say why the Labour Party's policies failed at the last election. I cannot see that those two questions as they were told were biased, but the way in which the last question was put to us by the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, was highly biased.
§ Lord McColl of Dulwich
Having worked for the BBC for about 10 years in an advisory capacity on medical programmes, I must say that I have been enormously impressed by the high standard of the programmes and the great care that is taken to get them right.
I should like to say also that I have had some difficulty with news and current affairs programmes, but over the past three or four years there has been a definite change. I believe that credit should go to the chairman, Duke Hussey, and the vice-chairman the noble Lord, Lord Barnett.
As long as human beings are running any institution, mistakes will be made. That reminds me that even in this Chamber sitting through long hours of debate I have been quite impressed by the number of ex cathedra statements which have been made with enormous passion, conviction and, I am sure, sincerity. However, the facts have not been facts and inaccuracies have occurred from time to time. Therefore, if we can make those mistakes, we should not be quite so critical of the BBC.
Impartiality is very important. It is a matter which constantly exercises your Lordships and others. We have had some very distinguished contributions this evening from Members of the Committee who have wrestled and who have had to wrestle with the problem.
We are now dealing with a large group of amendments. Perhaps I could deal first with the amendments of my noble friend Lady Cox, Amendments Nos. 81, 87, 249 and 254. They seek to remove the word "current" in Clauses 6 and 85 from the phrase:current political or industrial controversy".The insertion of the word "current" in order to qualify matters of political and industrial controversy is intended to make clear that matters of historical controversy need not be treated impartially. I should stress that it is the question of whether the controversy itself is current which is important and not whether the event is current. A historical event could be a source of current controversy, such as, for example, the Falklands conflict. On the other hand, the treatment of long-dead historical political controversies, such as the repeal of the corn laws, should not reasonably be subject to the impartiality rules.
However, we recognise the anxiety of my noble friend and other Members of the Committee that the wording could give rise to a grey area in which it would be debatable as to whether a particular controversy was or was not current. Upon reflection we do not believe that the retention of the word "current" in the phrase:current political or industrial controversy",in Clause 6 is crucial to the application of the impartiality rule and in view of that I should be quite happy to accept my noble friend's amendments.
I now turn to the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, and my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing, Amendments Nos. 83, 248, 251, 256, 257 and 259. These seek to lay down procedures where impartiality has been lacking. But they are too detailed. Amendment No. 83 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, requires that where a programme does not achieve impartiality in its own right, another programme should be shown within one month. I am sure that the Committee will agree that there might be circumstances where due impartiality should be achieved much sooner than that. On other occasions a longer delay may not be serious.
That is why such matters should be left to a code, rather than have an absolute statutory requirement written—to use the phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett—in tablets of stone. In the event that licensees were to breach the code, Clauses 35 and 37 of the Bill give the Independent Television Commission a range of sanctions. Nevertheless, the Government share a number of the concerns of noble Lords regarding the operation of the impartiality rules. That is why in Clause 6(3) we require the Independent Television Commission to draw up and publish a code on the rules relating to impartiality.
388 The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, lifted the curtain a little on the kind of things being considered for that code. The code will enable interested organisations or individuals to understand and, if necessary, to challenge the specific criteria to be used by the Independent Television Commission to determine how impartiality is to be achieved. It will provide a means of establishing whether the Independent Television Commission is properly enforcing the statutory requirements on impartiality contained in Clause 6(1) (b) and (c). It will make it more difficult for programme makers to circumvent the rules.
We believe that that is a more positive and productive approach to impartiality than that adopted in the amendments. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, agrees. We all want impartiality. But it is difficult enough to achieve in fact, and even more difficult to describe in words. It is frantically difficult for primary legislation to set out exactly how impartiality is to be achieved in every set of circumstances. Indeed I would say that it is impossible for it to do so. Then, having written it into the legislation, one cannot change it and one is hidebound by it.
We are well aware of the doubts of some noble Lords regarding whether the impartiality code will deal effectively and clearly with the areas in contention. Therefore there is a strong case for amending Clause 6 to indicate on the face of the Bill some of the matters which must be covered in the code. Those areas may include the ways in which impartiality could be achieved in a specific context, having regard to the subject matter, the nature of the programmes and the circumstances in which broadcasting takes place; the timescales within which the requirements of balance should be met; the circumstances in which licensees should announce, at the time of the first programme in a series, the dates and times of the broadcasting of subsequent balancing programmes; where specification of individual programmes is impracticable, what alternative strategies for achieving balance would be acceptable, and also applying impartiality to personal view programmes.
The Government will consider those possibilities carefully between now and the Report stage of the Bill. We shall particularly take note of and consider what has been said by noble Lords this evening.
Amendments Nos. 80 and 86, tabled by my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing and the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, seek to apply the impartiality requirements direct to the programme makers as well as to the licensees. They are based on a misapprehension of the ITC's powers. The provision in Clause 6(4) is intended to ensure that there is no scope for licensees to offer the equivalent of what one might call an editorial column, such as appears in a newspaper. The principle is that no view may be expressed which gives the impression that it is the view of the licensee. It is not necessary to place such restrictions on individual producers, who are subject to the impartiality rules. If the producer breaks the rules the licensee for whom the producer works will be in breach of Clause 6.
389 Those amendments which seek to impose on radio the impartiality requirements applied to television services are undesirable and impractical for these reasons. Local radio stations will include those who cater for ethnic or religious groups. We cannot expect the same levels of even-handedness to apply as should be the case with television services which reach large sections of the population. However, the undue prominence provision in Clause 85 will prevent such stations being used for political propaganda purposes.
I turn to Amendments Nos. 312 and 313 proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt. These would extend the remit of the Broadcasting Standards Council to cover the subject of impartiality - a matter on which the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, felt fairly strongly. We do not believe that this would be of benefit to broadcasters. Nor would it be of benefit to the public or the council. The subject of impartiality is quite properly a responsibility of the broadcasting regulatory bodies who can hold the licensees to the provisions of the code and who can exercise firm sanctions if they do not comply with them. The Broadcasting Standards Council is not a regulatory body and it would not have those powers. The council was set up primarily to provide broadcasters with advice on taste and decency matters and to publish its findings on those programmes which are clearly unacceptable in this area. It would be a much more difficult proposition for the council to adjudicate on the sensitive and far more subjective area of impartiality where it often has to decide the precise boundaries between what is and what is not acceptable. It would also divert the council from its main work and could reduce its effectiveness in setting standards for taste and decency.
I can well understand why noble Lords are concerned about impartiality. It is an important subject and it is important that the broadcasters get it right. They have not always done so in the past and that is why we shall be considering amending Clause 6 in the way that I have already indicated in order to set out the sort of matters which ought to be dealt with in the code before coming forward with further proposals on Report. As I said, the views expressed by the Committee this evening will be carefully taken into account.
Impartiality is a sensitive and important subject. All broadcasters have vital duties and responsibilities in regard to impartiality. This part of the Bill, of course, only applies to independent broadcasting. Some noble Lords referred to the BBC but this does not and should not apply to the BBC, which is governed by its own royal charter. The BBC is, however, under similar obligations in relation to impartiality and I have no doubt that it will wish to consider in due course whether it is right to reflect in its own code the matters which I have indicated Parliament may regard as appropriate for the Independent Television Commission's code.
In view of what I have said and the undertaking that the Government will consider the possible strengthening of the provisions on impartiality in Clause 6 I hope that noble Lords will be prepared to 390 withdraw their amendments and that the Committee will feel it preferable not to pursue these issues through amendments tabled this evening, other than those of my noble friend Lady Cox.
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Lord Wyatt of Weeford
I am much encouraged by much of what the noble Earl said, particularly with regard to having a form of code of practice on due impartiality partly on the face of the Bill. However, when the Government publish this code will it be published openly, well before Report stage, so that we may examine it and see whether we are satisfied that the objective has been achieved?
I do not see how the Independent Television Commission can publish a code before it is brought into existence. Nor do I see how, even if the ITC were in existence, it could publish a code the directions to which are themselves a matter of content at Report stage. Therefore, I regret that I have to advise the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, that he will not be able to see the code published in advance of Report stage.
§ Lord Wyatt of Weeford
I understood the noble Earl to say concerning the amendments to Clause 6 that it was the Government's intention to put on the face of the Bill a code or guidelines as to what due impartiality meant.
I believe that the noble Lord misunderstood me. I said that we would amend Clause 6 so as to provide on the face of the Bill the kinds of requirements that should be in the code when it is published.
§ Lord Orr-Ewing
Can my noble friend table those amendments in reasonable time? This time we received the Government's amendments at a very late stage before the debate started. We now have coming two months of Recess. It would be nice to have the amendments in September and not have to wait until the beginning of October. Then both sides of the House could see what the Government plan to put into the Bill. Many of my noble friends and myself would prefer to have these amendments on the face of the Bill rather than in a code. Until now the code has not proved to be effective. I know that the ITC is a stronger body than its predecessor.
In Amendment No. 92 we suggested that, as the code is so important—it may be even more important as a result of what the Minister has said—it should be laid before the House so that we all have an opportunity to see it wherever we sit in both Houses of Parliament. I know that consultations are taking place now, but when the ITC code is drawn up it should be laid before the House. Perhaps my noble friend can deal with that point or let me know in writing later.
I can let my noble friend know now. I take the point about wanting to see the amendments tabled as soon as possible. Now we are coming towards the Recess, it seems a good opportunity to get everything done. Your Lordships will go away, but the 391 trouble is that other people go away too. I shall do my best to see that the amendments are put down as soon as possible.
Concerning the laying of the code before Parliament, I make it quite clear to my noble friend that it will be the code of the Independent Television Commission. It is for that organisation to make the code. It is not subject to parliamentary approval for the simple reason that it will be Parliament that approves, adjusts, alters or disapproves of the code. The whole point of the arrangement at the moment is that Parliament should tell the ITC the kinds of things that are wanted in the code. It is up to the ITC to put those matters in its own way.
The Earl of Halsbury
The noble Earl appears to be speaking to my Amendment No. 92. I shall move it when it is called in due course.
§ Lord Wyatt of Weeford
In view of what the noble Earl has said in going some way to meet the substance of our amendment, we await with interest the product of the Government's labours. In the meantime we shall be happy to withdraw the amendment.
§ The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe)
Is it your Lordships' pleasure that the amendment be withdrawn?
Baroness Cox moved Amendment No. 81:
Page 6, line 11, leave out ("current").
§ The noble Baroness said: With gratitude to my noble friend the Minister, I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 82:
Page 6, line 12, leave out ("and") and insert:
("(cc) that due responsibility is exercised with respect to the content of any of its programmes which are religious programmes, and that in particular any such programmes do not involve—
§ The noble Earl said: I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 9. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendments Nos. 83 and 84 not moved.]
§ The noble Lord said: I need not take up the Committee's time with what is a simple proposition. We are anxious to ensure that consultation at this stage should be not only with licence holders but with other interested parties. With "other interested parties" we are drawing attention to the need to consult consumer groups and specialist bodies in particular areas. For example, I think of the need to consult the Charity Commission and other charity bodies where charity issues are involved. We want to ensure that the fullest possible consultation takes place. I beg to move.
We expect that the ITC may wish to consult licensees about impartiality in the general programme codes as they will be subject to it. But we do not see a need to create a formal statutory requirement for them to do so, which we think would be impractical and unnecessary. The Independent Television Commission is obliged to publish the impartiality and the general code for programmes. Licensees or indeed any other interested parties will certainly be able to comment on them.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth In the light of the Minister's reply, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 86 not moved.]
Baroness Cox moved Amendment No. 87:
Page 6, line 34, leave out ("current").
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 88:
Page 6, line 35, leave out from ("policy") to end of line 38.
§ The noble Earl said: I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 9. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 6, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 7 [General code for programmes]:
§ 11 p.m.
§ [Amendment No. 89 not moved.]
Lord Renton moved Amendment No. 90:
Page 6, line 46, leave out ("large numbers of—) and insert ("many").
§ The noble Lord said: Two points arise on this amendment. Why use three words when one word would do? If my noble friend thinks that there is a subtle difference in meaning between "large numbers or and "many", I would still say that "many" is the more appropriate word in the context of Clause 7. The same point arises, as Members of the Committee will have seen from the Marshalled List, on page 7, line 11. I beg to move.
I see that my noble friend is in his penetrating questing mood. Clause 7(1) (a) follows almost exactly the wording of Section 5(1) (a) of the Broadcasting Act 1981 and Section 11(1) (a) of the Cable and Broadcasting Act in requiring a general code for programmes showing scenes of violence, 393 particularly when large numbers of children and young persons may be expected to be watching. The term "large numbers of children" is, in our view, more precise and preferable to the term "many children". The latter could be interpreted as meaning only a few dozen children in the country. As a result, the generally recognised and accepted 9 p.m. watershed for the point at which programmes unsuitable for children may begin would have to be moved much later, perhaps even to midnight. That might seriously affect adult viewing patterns and choice. I doubt whether that is the noble Lord's intention.
Our view is that, while the broadcasters have a responsibility to take account of the impact of their programmes on children, parents also have a responsibility to circumscribe their children's viewing within reasonable hours. We believe that the watershed which has arisen from similar provisions to those in Clause 7 has worked well in the past. I hope that my noble friend will agree that it would be best to let the situation continue as it is at present.
§ Lord Renton
I am grateful to my noble friend for his explanation, but I do not accept it. The fact that words have been used in the past does not necessarily mean that they should be used forever. As regards the illustration which he gave about the difference between "large numbers of" and "many"—namely, that "many" might include only a couple of dozen children—I should have thought that in a population where there are millions of children no one could possibly say that a couple of dozen of children is many.
I ask my noble friend to think again about this matter. Of course, it is purely a drafting point. In order to give him the opportunity to reconsider the matter I was about to withdraw the amendment but I see that he wishes to speak again.
My noble friend tempts me to rise again and refer to the fact that he mentioned that two dozen children may not be "many". If my noble friend had two dozen children, I should think that he had many, many children. He also said that the fact that the words had been used in the past does not necessarily provide a good argument for them being used in the future. Of course that is a perfectly reasonable argument, except if we turn the argument the other way around and say that if we use different words in the future from those which were used in the past there must be some difference. The danger of such a difference is that we might move the watershed.
§ Lord Renton
As my amendment does not seem to appeal to my noble friend at present, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment on the understanding that I may try to convince him in another way.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 91 not moved.]
The Earl of Halsbury moved Amendment No. 92:
Page 7, line 17, leave out subsection (4) and insert:
("(4) A code drawn up under this section, and every revision of it, shall not have effect unless a draft of it has been laid before Parliament by the Secretary of State and has been approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.").
§ The noble Earl said: I move this amendment on behalf of my noble friend Lord Caldecote who is unable to attend the Chamber this evening. This is a very far-reaching amendment but one which is not without precedent. I have consulted the precedents on the matter and I am assured that this has been done on many previous occasions. It alters nothing whatever so far as concerns the Bill's provisions, save in one respect; namely, that the code drawn up by the commission shall in due course be laid before Parliament by the Secretary of State. The effect of this would be that if at any time in the future the commission fell into breach of its own code, parliamentary Questions could be asked about it. It would give Parliament locus standi in the matter of the commission's respect for its own code.
§ I am sure that those noble Lords who regularly attend Question Time in this Chamber will know the sense of dissatisfaction which descends upon the House when a government spokesman replies to a Question by saying, "Oh, that is a matter for the Post Office", or something of that nature—the Post Office being an independente state of the realm from the standpoint of parliamentary Questions. Therefore, I and my noble friends have tabled this amendment. However, as the hour is late and attendance in this Chamber is somewhat sparse, I shall not press the amendment. I shall listen with attention to whatever the Minister and my noble friends have to say about the amendment, and then probably reserve my position for Report stage and beg leave to withdraw the amendment. I beg to move.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
On the basis of what the Minister has said in the past, I assume that he will resist the amendment, and I hope that he does. It would be deeply objectionable were it to be passed. The noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, said that one of the least satisfactory features in the past has been that Ministers, when asked Questions in this place, say that the matter is not for them. The noble Earl regards the virtue of the amendment as being the fact that Ministers would have to accept some responsibility for a code which had been passed by Parliament. Is the Committee aware of what it is being asked to do? Ministers would be invited to make a judgment on virtually every programme to which any Member of the other place, or for that matter this place, took exception. It is a preposterous proposal and I hope that it will be resisted.
I am happy to go along with the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, but not for the reasons that he has given. He said that Members of Parliament would be able to criticise anything they wished, but that is not the point. The amendment would require the ITC's general programme code to be subject to approval by both Houses of Parliament before it could take effect. That does not mean to say that, it having taken effect, Members of Parliament could complain about individual programmes.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
The Minister is mistaken. If a code has been passed by both Houses of Parliament, it may then be said by a Member of the other place or this place that there has been a breach of the code in respect of a programme. A Minister would then have to make a judgment as to whether that was so or not. I speak as someone who had constantly to speak from the Government Front Bench in this place having been invited to make a judgment on a television programme. My answer was always, as the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, said, that the Government did not take responsibility for such matters.
If a code had been passed by both Houses of Parliament, and it was suggested that a programme had breached the code, I find it difficult to see how a Minister could avoid making a judgment on that programme.
We are getting closer together, and as we started close together when I said that I agreed with the noble Lord that we should resist the amendment, we need not pursue that point. No other ITC or Radio Authority code in the Bill is subject to detailed parliamentary scrutiny, and like the noble Lord, Lord Harris, we see the amendment as undesirable and impractical. The purpose of the published codes is to enable the relevant regulatory bodies to set out detailed rules for their licensees on aspects of broadcasting which Parliament wants to be regulated. The codes cover areas where the expertise of the ITC and the Radio Authority will be crucial. Parliamentary approval would therefore, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, be unnecessary and might hinder the practical effectiveness of the codes. Therefore I hope that the noble Earl will not pursue the matter.
The Earl of Halsbury
Subject to the consent of my noble friends who are associated with me in the amendment, I follow what I predicted: I shall not pursue the matter further in Committee. I should like to reserve my position and bring it forward again at a time when I am in a position to quote to the noble Lord, Lord Harris, the precedents where this point has been followed. We might then have a constructive debate. While reserving my position, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 7 agreed to.
§ Clause 8 [General provisions as to advertisements]:
Baroness Birk moved Amendment No. 93:
Page 7, line 31, leave out from ("dispute") to end of line 33.
The noble Baroness said: The amendment concerns a new power that has been given to the Government in the Bill. It is a dubious extension of the Government's right to use the air waves to present their view of industrial disputes. It comes in Clause 8(2) (a) (i), which states:
a licensed service must not include … any advertisement which is inserted by or on behalf of any body whose objects are wholly or mainly of a political nature … any advertisement which is directed towards any political end, or … any
advertisement which has any relation to any industrial dispute (other than an advertisement of a public service nature inserted by, or on behalf of, a government department)".
I raise the point because it is worrying. No such proviso appears in the 1981 Broadcasting Act.
§ Under Clause 10 the Government have the power to instruct the broadcasters to issue public notices. This should be sufficient to deal with the type of circumstances when such notices may be necessary in the course of an industrial dispute: for example, to ensure proper sanitary precautions in the event of a dispute involving rubbish disposal. Specifically to exclude the Government from a ban on advertisements about industrial disputes would open up the possibility of undue government interference in the negotiations which would characterise the resolution of such disputes and place the ITC and broadcasters in an invidious position in relation to other parties to the dispute.
§ The Government have frequently stressed that they are not a party to disputes in the public sector, even when they have manifestly sought to determine the position taken by senior management in education, health, emergency services and the prison service. Should there be occasions when the Government believe that public services notices are warranted, they should rely on their powers under Clause 10. I beg to move.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
I support the noble Baroness on this amendment. It seems to be of significance and it is a pity that because of the hour at which it is discussed we should neglect that fact. To me it represents an extremely dubious extension of the Government's right to use the air to present their view of an industrial dispute. No such provision has appeared previously. It was not in the 1981 Act. It is most undesirable and I hope that the noble Earl will accept the amendment.
§ Viscount Ullswater
The amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, Amendment No. 93, seeks to remove the words in brackets in Clause 8(2)(a)(iii). They were inserted in order to exempt public service advertisements from the general ban on advertisements relating to an industrial dispute. For example, the Department of Social Services has in the past sponsored a television advertisement indicating how social services claimants could receive payment during a postal strike. The words which this amendment seeks to delete were added to the wording in the 1981 Broadcasting Act because of concern that the IBA might technically be in breach of the Act in allowing such public service advertisements because of the comprehensive nature of the wording,any relation to any industrial dispute".However, this limited exemption does not mean that the Government can broadcast advertisements giving their own side of an industrial dispute. For example, in the event of a rail strike, the Government quite properly would be prevented from putting out any advertisement setting out their version of the dispute; but they would be allowed to place a public 397 service announcement giving details of any additional car parking or alternative travel arrangements which were to be put into operation.
We believe that public service advertisements were never intended to be caught by the original ban and that the present wording of Clause 8(2)(a)(iii) simply makes that position clear. We do not believe that noble Lords would want essential public service announcements to be prevented, but this could be the effect of the amendment, which is therefore unacceptable.
§ Baroness Birk
That was not a satisfactory reply. I realise it is late at night and there are few Members of the Committee present. However, this matter has worried many people. They are concerned that so much advertising time has been utilised by the Government. It is impossible for a government to extend the provision of public service material in that way without that becoming a political act. That is a fact. I n the circumstances I shall withdraw the amendment, but I reserve the right to bring it back on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 11.15 p.m.
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 94:
Page 7, line 37, after ("not") insert (", without the previous approval of the Commission,").
§ The noble Viscount said: In moving Amendment No. 94, I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 261. Clauses 8(2) (c) and 87(2) (c) are designed to ensure that where there is a ban on the advertising of certain products, the manufacturers or suppliers of these products are not able to circumvent the ban by sponsoring programmes. This imposes an automatic and absolute ban on sponsorship by manufacturers or suppliers of products banned from being advertised. The amendments give the ITC and Radio Authority some discretion to allow sponsorship where they consider the product ban need not be extended to a sponsorship ban on the company making or supplying the product. I beg to move.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I had understood that we were considering with Amendment No. 94 Amendments Nos. 95, 97, 98, 101, 261 and 262. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, will want to comment on those amendments, but I believe it will be appropriate for me to say something on behalf of my noble friend Lady Birk in whose name Amendments Nos. 97 and 98 stand.
I can deal fairly rapidly with Amendment No. 97 which simply asks for a better definition of the term "political" and for a code of guidance on the interpretation of that term. The importance of that request goes wider than the inherent desirability of codes of guidance. It is important that those codes should apply on equal terms to government departments as to other advertisers. In recent years there have been strong suspicions that because legislation has been passed by a majority in both Chambers, government departments have decided that such legislation has become non-political. They consider that once a privatisation measure or a 398 National Health Service and Community Care Bill has been passed it is all right to produce totally partisan advertising at enormous public expense to justify and to promote government policy. A matter is no less political just because it has become government policy unless a code of guidance exists which restricts advertising of such a matter purely to the provision of necessary information rather than to an attempt at persuasion, as has happened in the past. The word "political" does not apply on an equal basis to both outside advertisers and government departments. Restrictions which are imposed on outside advertisers are not being imposed on government departments.
Amendment No. 98 returns to the issue of Amendment No. 94 on sponsorship. The noble Viscount, in introducing Amendment No. 94, rather made light of its implications. I do not take the matter as lightly as that. He is saying that under the terms of Clause 8(2) (c) there is the possibility that the commission may give permission for outside sponsorship of programmes. However Clause 8(2) (c) is not just about programmes or sponsorship. It is about sponsorship by any person whose:business consists, wholly or mainly, in the manufacture or supply of a product, or in the provision of a service, which the licence holder is prohibited from advertising by virtue of any provision of this Act".In other words, Clause 8(2) (c) says that one cannot get round a ban on advertising by allowing sponsorship. In introducing his amendment the noble Viscount did not make that clear. He is now saying that the commission may give permission to get round a ban on advertising by allowing sponsorship. The Committee should be aware of that and that it is a thoroughly undesirable extension of the sponsorship principle.
Amendment No. 98, on the other hand, is a constructive and modest amendment. It gives statutory justification to the user's guide on television sponsorship which the IBA published on 20th March. The amendment states that it is vital that the content of sponsors' programmes should remain under the control of the broadcaster and that advertising in and around the programmes should not batten on to the content of the programme. There should be no opportunity for sponsors to get two bites of the cherry and not only get the credit for sponsoring a programme but also obtain advertising advantage and control of the programme content.
Some people think of sponsorship as being wicked. I believe that that is the implication of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter—Amendment No. 95. I do not share that view. I have strong reservations about certain kinds of sponsorship and I do not believe that it works very well. There has not been a great deal of sponsorship, not because it is banned but because it is not a very efficient way of spending the money of a corporation.
It is true that the rules that have been established for sponsorship do not make very good sense. To give a recent example from Channel 4, a contest had been won by an employee of the Ministry of Defence. The rules of sponsorship said that the Ministry of Defence 399 could not put money into that programme, which it thought could have done it some good, because the Ministry's young man had won a competition and was praised in the programme. I do not believe that it would have been terribly wicked if the Ministry of Defence had been allowed to put some money into the programme. It would certainly not have influenced the content of the programme.
The other worry about sponsorship is that it is very erratic. It does not provide consistency of funding for programmes. Sponsorship tends to be offered when it appears to be convenient and then it is withdrawn. That means that continuous funding for good programming, like continuous funding for arts activity outside the broadcasting sphere, is no longer possible. People make excessive claims for what is possible for business sponsorship in the arts and what is possible in broadcasting. It is not wicked, but it ought to be controlled in the way proposed in my noble friend's amendments.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
I should like to speak to Amendment No. 95, to which the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred. I do not believe that sponsorship is intrinsically wicked but sponsorship is bad where it removes control of the programme from the broadcaster or programme maker and allows the sponsor to influence the content of the programme. That is the simple and straightforward point which my amendment is intended to make and which it is intended to ensure against. It was in that spirit that I put down the amendment.
§ Viscount Ullswater
Clause 8 is concerned with the rules governing advertisements on all ITC licensed services—cable and satellite as well as the terrestrial broadcaster. Amendment No. 95, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, would confine sponsors to programmes which are wholly unrelated to their business concerns. Thus a pet food company could sponsor a programme on opera, but not one on animal welfare; a building firm could sponsor a programme on comparative religion, but not one on architecture. This would be far more restrictive than the present code on sponsorship imposed by the Cable Authority on cable programming services.
The Government's view is that the rules governing sponsorship of programmes on commercial television should be liberalised, provided that there is transparency for the viewers—that is, the viewers are made clearly aware that a programme is sponsored and by whom it is sponsored—and that editorial control remains with the programme maker. In other words, the sponsored programme should not become an extended advertisement.
That is why we have laid down in Clause 9 a requirement for an ITC code on advertising and sponsorship. But we have made clear that the ITC can draw up different provisions for different kinds of licensed services. Thus, we would expect the code for Channels 3, 4 and 5 to be tighter than that for cable and satellite services. But we cannot accept the kind of blanket restriction on sponsorship in all services as is set out in this amendment.
400 Perhaps I may now turn to Amendment No. 97 which was spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. I can assure the Committee that Clauses 8 and 9 already apply to all advertisements shown on commercial television and hence to all advertisers, including government departments. We appreciate that there has been controversy over whether certain advertisements should or should not be regarded as political. In any area touching on politics such controversies are inevitable from time to time and will no doubt occur in the future.
We believe that it is unnecessary to require the ITC to draw up an entirely separate code on the way in which the provisions relating to political advertising will be implemented. This will almost certainly be a feature of the general code on advertising and sponsorship which the ITC will be required to draw up, after appropriate consultation, under Clause 9. Decisions on political advertisements should be left to the good sense and expertise of the regulatory bodies. We therefore find the amendment unnecessary and unacceptable.
Turning to Amendment No. 98, Clause 9 lays down a requirement on the ITC to draw up a code on advertising and sponsorship for its licensed services but enables it to make different provision for different types of services. We believe that the detailed controls applying to the sponsorship are more suited to a code than to primary legislation. But we should certainly expect the ITC, in drawing up a code on sponsorship for Channels 3 and 5, to ensure that there is clear separation of sponsored programmes and advertisements and that editorial control of such programmes is retained by the broadcasters.
Clause 9(8) requires the commission, in drawing up the code, to take account of international obligations of the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom is a signatory to the Council of Europe convention on transfrontier television with a view to its ratification, and we are subject to the EC directive on broadcasting. The ITC will therefore have to take into account the issues relating to sponsorship which feature in those international instruments. Both instruments contain similar provisions on sponsorship which, among other things, require that the editorial independence of the broadcasters should not be compromised by the sponsors.
Perhaps I may return to Amendment No. 94, which the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, criticised. I should go on to say that the amendments give the ITC and the Radio Authority some discretion to allow sponsorship where they consider the product ban need not be extended to a sponsorship ban on the company making or supplying a product. Where a whole class of products is banned from advertising by international convention, such as cigarette advertising, the consequential sponsorship ban will remain in force. But where the ITC or the Radio Authority themselves have placed a ban on a particular product, it would be for the regulatory bodies to determine whether the presumption of a consequential ban on sponsorship by the manufacturer or suppliers of those products should be followed through. For example, one of a 401 number of medicines supplied by a particular pharmaceutical company might be subject to an advertising ban. The ITC or the Radio Authority might consider in those circumstances that a sponsorship ban on the company would not be justified. These amendments would enable the regulatory bodies to waive the ban. Its absence would force them to impose the sponsorship ban against their own judgment of the situation.
In the grouping, the remaining amendments, Amendments Nos. 101 and 261, are simply minor drafting improvements to Clauses 9 and 88 respectively.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 95 not moved.]
§ 11.30 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Liverpool moved Amendment No. 96:
Page 7, line 42, at end insert ("; and
(cA) where a licensed service includes any advertisements inserted by or on behalf of any body whose objects are wholly or mainly of a religious nature, that advertisement must not—
§ (2B) In relation to a licensed service awarded for Channel 3 or 5, an advertisement to which subsection 2(cA) above applies—
- (i) may only call attention to the holding of lectures, meetings or services involving religious worship, and,
- (ii) in particular may not present any matter of faith, belief, doctrine or dogma, may not use any music and may not contain any request or appeal for the donation of any monies to any body.").
§ The right reverend Prelate said: The amendment refers to religious advertising. The Bill was in Committee for a long time in another place. There was no discussion of what seems to me a somewhat significant part of it—the allowing of religious advertising. Although it is late I hope that Members of the Committee will allow a brief debate on the matter.
§ I should like to explain the wording of what is a deliberate probing amendment to produce some debate. The words in paragraph (cA) are largely those of the Minister contained in Amendment No. 82 for a regulation for those who will own cable stations. They are slightly altered in ways which the Minister might find helpful. Paragraph (2B) omits one word but otherwise they are the words relating to the ABC Television network in the United States of America. The three television networks have 57 per cent. of the viewing in the United States. There are very tight controls on such religious advertising.
We have deliberately proposed a two-tier control to stimulate a debate. The IBA wishes to keep options open pending the completion of a very wide consultation process that is taking place. I note 402 comments that the IBA has made about the challenge to the ITC and the Radio Authority of drawing up workable codes and guidelines and enforcing the Bill's requirements. They comment that that challenge should not be underestimated. There are some quite difficult lines to be drawn.
To allow religious advertising would bring a very striking change to the face of television. The reality will be that mainline Churches—which are, and are likely to be, stretched to the limit to maintain a ministry throughout the country are most unlikely to have substantial money to put into religious advertising. More marginal groups, which do not have such a network of ministry throughout the country, are more likely to have some wealthy supporters who would be willing to put money into advertising. I underline that the point relates to all faiths.
Some have dismissed as altogether unlikely the possibility of American-style religious advertising which many have disliked and have felt was extremely damaging to the cause of true religion and unworthy of it. I am not so optimistic that it is such a simple matter. I know that Members of the Committee on all sides of the Chamber are very concerned at the idea of a free-for-all. What about Northern Ireland if Ian Paisley and his Church wish to make religious advertisements? What about a wealthy Shi'ite Moslem? What about other extreme groups in an era when religious fanaticism is growing? We can have but a small list of religious bodies of which we disapprove. If the ITC tried to have a substantial list I fear that it would find itself being taken to court. It needs to be armed with some protection.
I wish to make one broad point which makes me lean towards allowing only spot-announcement advertisements. It concerns truth. Advertising is about reducing things to a product. For several years one of my sharpest criticisms of certain religious broadcasting has been that truth is sometimes reduced to a two-minute comment. I think of being one of two principal speakers in a debate to which 26 people had been invited and were expecting to speak. Afterwards we tackled the producer and said, "You are reducing all truth to a very thin layer". That programme was about expressing opinions. In one minute advertisements try to persuade people to change their practice in a significant way and therefore something important is at stake. There is a genuine danger of trivialising and misrepresenting truth. I like the phrase of Monica Furlong that simplifying can sometimes become simply lying. If the restriction on religious advertising is to be withdrawn we must take seriously the need to put some safeguards in place. I beg to move.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
I support what the right reverend Prelate has said. I prefer the second alternative amendment. The clause contains an important provision prohibiting any advertisement which is wholly or mainly of a political nature. I have always regarded the prohibition on political advertising in this country as one of the great safeguards of democracy. Political advocacy must be carried out by way of programmes and not by raising funds for the 403 highly expensive business of television advertising. That has been a deeply corrupting process in the United States.
Some of the same considerations apply as regards religious advertising. I deeply regret that we have reached the stage where it appears inevitable that religious advertising on television should be allowed. It is better that the great religious issues should be expounded in programmes and not through advertising. The great Churches in this country serve the people day in and day out and they have many financial problems. It puts them at a huge disadvantage in the face of what may often be well-to-do charlatans. Great risks are involved and, therefore, there must be strong safeguards. I welcome the amendments tabled by the right reverend Prelate.
§ Lord Mottistone
I too welcome the amendment and strongly support it. I hope that my noble friend will be able to accept its principle if not the detailed wording.
The Lord Bishop of St. Albans
I wish to add a few words to those of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool. The Church has appreciated the way in which the Government have moved in the direction of religious programming. However, it expresses anxiety about the way in which religious advertising has been brought in by a side wind so that hardly anyone has noticed it. The matter was not debated in another place and it is not being debated adequately in this Chamber at this hour of night. Even though the IBA have consulted all kinds of people in preparation for a code it is strange that Parliamentarians are not having a proper opportunity to discuss this important matter.
We have grown accustomed to thinking that the incorporation of religious advertising is never part of the British scene or the television scene. Deep down I am not happy about religious advertising. I believe that the best religious advertisement is a good man or a good woman. I am glad to say that those figures are frequently portrayed on television programmes to the benefit of the cause that they represent.
Religious advertising means spending money to produce or sell some product. In general the mainline Churches are not interested in spending money to produce a religious product. Those who will make use of this need to have some kind of restraint placed upon them. This amendment is designed to show some of those restraints; for example, prohibiting appeals for money combined with religious messages; a demand that the advertiser should be named in the advertisement, which is quite an important feature. The vulnerable, especially the bereaved and the depressed, should be protected from organisations which trade on their condition. A code of practice would need to introduce that and I would hope that the Government would feel some responsibility for that.
There should be protection against guilt-inducing messages. Some time ago the magazine Campaign ran a competition among advertising agencies on how 404 they would advertise religion and the Church. There were all kinds of responses, mainly in poster form. One stated, "Come to church for song, wine and virgins". That kind of advertising seemed to me execrable. Yet another poster had on it a picture of Terry Waite and the words, "He will not be in church on Sunday. What is your excuse?" That spoke to me although it may be viewed by another person as a guilt-inducing advertisement. Nevertheless, it is a matter for careful consideration as to whether that sort of message should be used.
Not long ago there was a programme on Thames Television which dealt with the subject of how religion could be advertised. A full five minutes was given to it—generous time for a television programme. An advertising agency was visited and asked how it would advertise the Church of England in a 45-second slot. The agency produced a very good little advertisement. The first shot was not too bad—a vicar conducting a baptism, and then there was a blank; the second shot was a vicar conducting a marriage, and then there was a blank; the third shot was of a vicar putting away the body in the churchyard. The final caption came up, "The Church of England: it fills the gaps in your life". I was allowed a full 45 seconds to comment comprehensively on that in typical television style. I rather liked the advertisement. It illustrated the difficulty in producing a good advertisement, but it illustrated also one way in which that could be done. However, even if it was done well, I do not believe that the Church of England would find more than a few pounds in order to pay for that kind of advertisement—and so the matter is rather academic.
Nevertheless, this issue needs to be debated and I am glad to have the opportunity of commending the amendment and the subject for debate.
The Earl of Halsbury
I do not wish to introduce a discordant note about this amendment but I am rather dubious about it from many points of view. As regards advertising, there is a general code of advertising ethics in the Bill or distributed between the Bill and the code to be laid down. I do not see that we need a different code because the advertisement is paying for a religious programme rather than a classical music concert. Why do we need to add to the existing code in the Bill in a context of something put on by a religious body?
As regards subsection (cA) (i), I do not know what is meant by "any improper manipulation". If it means subliminal advertising, that is already ruled out in another part of the Bill. What else is there in contemplation which needs banning?
As regards subsection (cA) (ii), abuse is already ruled out by the government amendment. I am making the point which I have made so often before that we should not put something into a Bill twice and that we should not put what is in common law into the Bill and so on.
As regards subsection (2B), that is too governessy for my liking. Why should we ban music? Music is sometimes used as an introduction to an advertisement, sometimes there is background music and music 405 is sometimes used to wind up the advertisement. Why is that wrong because something of a religious nature is being paid for? The whole concept is too crackish and schoolmistressy, without in any way wishing to use the word in a derogatory sense. However, as we grow up we grow out of the need for schoolmistresses. We must grow out of the kind of governessy attitude that has been represented by right reverend Prelates this evening.
I cannot help asking myself whether the right reverend Prelate is by any chance inspired by a misunderstanding of the ABC which he mentioned. Since I am not myself a shorthand writer, I cannot repeat exactly what he said this evening. However, I have a copy of what he said on Second Reading:The ABC, for example, may sell time to religious organisations for spot announcements to call attention to occasional lectures, meetings or crusades. These announcements may in no way present religious doctrine, utilise religious music, sell publications or solicit funds".—[Official Report 5/6/90; col. 1320.]I believe that in good faith the right reverend Prelate has not understood the rules of the ABC. They are not incorporated in law. They are merely the domestic rules and regulations of a broadcasting authority for its own internal programmes. They do not apply to the time it leases out to others. It is quite wrong to take part of the rules and regulations that a domestic body in the USA has made for part only of its programmes and then turn them into law binding for everybody in the United Kingdom.
For that reason I do not support the amendment. If the right reverend Prelate wants to press it, I shall have to express myself as Not-Content. I hope that he will not do that because the hour is late; I know he wants to get home and has a train to catch. The attendance in the Chamber this evening is sparce, so it would be satisfactory if he could withdraw the amendment, but I am afraid I cannot withdraw my criticisms.
§ 11.45 p.m.
§ Lord Orr-Ewing
I too must add my criticism. There is an Advertising Standards Authority; there are many laws controlling advertising. I do not understand how advertisements attached to a religious programme could be in any way offensive. The person who produces the programme would not allow it.
We are told that there has been wide consultation. I looked at the list and was extremely alarmed not only to see the people who were consulted as to whether advertising attached to religious programmes was desirable but also those who were left off the list, which is even more significant. The Moonies, the Scientologists and the cults were all asked, but no questions were put to most of the Bishops' offices—I believe two were included but the rest were not—and a lot of strong religious movements were not consulted. Some friends of mine sent in a list of an extra 100 very strong religious movements which had not been consulted. I hope that a snap decision will not be made on the findings of that rather unrepresentative Gallup poll.
It was interesting also to see the programme I mentioned earlier involving the campaign against the 406 arms trade; at the end of the campaign there appeared an advertisement saying, "If you want to join us in this great campaign following the CND, please telephone". I shall not spread the telephone number around for obvious reasons. That advertisement was allowed even on BBC 2, which does not accept advertisements. Are we really to find that we cannot advertise the Bible and books containing children's bible stories? Are advertisements of that kind not to be allowed? Is the Church Times or The Tablet not to be allowed advertisements?
Here is an opportunity for the Church to put itself across in the best possible way. My fear is that if we do not allow any advertising to be attached to religious programmes, the cost of the programmes will be such that they will be pushed into what might be called not unsavoury but inhuman hours at around one or two o'clock in the morning.
§ Lord Orr-Ewing
Thank you—unsocial hours, which are cheap hours. My fear is that if no advertisements are allowed, that is what will happen. We want these religious programmes; we want the Church to grasp these marvellous opportunities which have been opened up, supported, as in every other nation, by religious advertisements on the lines I suggested.
It is right to discuss this matter because it was not discussed in another place, but I hope we can rely on the good sense of the Church and the good sense of those who produce these programmes. The Swindon Vision chain has been highly successful. It has been carrying advertisements for four years and nobody has objected. Therefore, I hope that the amendment will not be pressed to a Division. I am sure that would not be desirable at this hour.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
I find it odd that noble Lords who an hour or so ago were most enthusiastic about imposing every conceivable form of control on current affairs programmes and insisting that it must appear on the face of the Bill are now making the speeches that they are delivering. That is very strange indeed.
I deal with the noble Earl's point first. Of course the ABC rules in the United States are not part of the law, for a very obvious reason. It would be a breach of the first amendment to the constitution. Nevertheless, the ABC rules are of some significance and it is right that we should discuss them. I am bound to say that I do not like the idea of religious advertising, but, having said that, if we are to have such advertising it is appropriate to have some reasonable form of control. It may well be that the amendment moved by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool is not worded in the best possible terms but I hope that we will have a constructive reply from the Government; all the more so as this is the first time that the matter has been discussed.
I hope that the Government will consider this matter. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool and his colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St. Albans said, there is absolutely no 407 question of the Church of England having the resources to mount a massive advertising campaign. Of course the Church does not have the resources. Who would have the resources? It would be every form of fringe cult supported by some man or woman with substantial resources. I refer to the sort of people who raise vast sums of money in the southern states of the United States. They raise those large sums of money before, in some cases at least, going to a federal penitentiary because they have not lived up to the high standards they have asked others to adopt.
I very much hope that in the light of the persuasive speeches that have been delivered from the Bishops' Bench the Government will give a positive response.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
May I put a naive question to the right reverend Prelates from someone who is not religious? Would the phrase "improper manipulation of susceptibilities" include the promise of eternal salvation or the threat of eternal hellfire?
§ Baroness Cox
I intervene briefly. I am puzzled by the amendment. It seems at worst some kind of censorship. As others have said, safeguards already exist. It also appears to be patronising—I am sure unintentionally—and to suggest that people are excessively gullible. I ask the right reverend Prelate a question. Does subsection (2B) (ii) imply, for example, that an organisation could not ask for money save for bibles to send to countries where bibles do not exist? It would appear that the wording could be interpreted in that way, and that would be most unfortunate. If there is that kind of ambiguity I hope that it is not intended and that it will be corrected. However, I am basically against the amendment in regard to the principle of censorship which I think is quite unnecessary in this kind of advertisement.
I speak as patron of the Christian Broadcasting Corporation and in that capacity I strongly oppose the amendment. I support the views of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox.
I welcome the Government's relaxation of the ban. After all, it has long been recognised that the present ban on religious advertising on radio and television is unreasonable. As the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, said, one can advertise a lurid novel but not a children's book of bible stories. That is ridiculous. One can advertise beer but not communion wine; the Ideal Home Exhibition but not an exhibition of Christian resources; the News of the World but not the Church Times. Largely in response to the present unsatisfactory situation the Goverment promised that the Broadcasting Bill would allow religious advertising on both radio and television.
I raised this issue in a Starred Question almost exactly two years ago in July 1988. I was told that the ban was absolute and that it would remain. So we have certainly made progress. Nevertheless, I very strongly object to the proposed subsection (2B) of this amendment. As the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, has 408 said, this is a piece of unacceptable censorship which will seriously emasculate freedom of religious advertising.
I raised that very important point two years ago. No such restriction exists throughout the rest of Europe—not even in Eastern Europe—or throughout most of the Commonwealth. As far as I am aware, no great harm has come from that. There is another point that is well worth emphasising. If one deletes all reference to faith, belief, doctrine and dogma, as subsection (2B) of the amendment proposes, what is one left with? There is nothing of any substance.
Having been brought up from childhood to appreciate the beauty of English church music, it is the gravest insult to me to be told that no music of any kind may be used in connection with Christian broadcasting. I shall be most interested to hear the right reverend Prelate justify the inclusion of that provision.
I am sure that the Committee will be grateful to the right reverend Prelate for having initiated this discussion on religious advertising. He has obviously discovered that not everyone is entirely happy with the amendment that he has proposed. It is an important area. The removal of the ban on religious advertising in the 1981 Act is a further significant liberalisation of the regulation of religious broadcasting. I entirely agree with the right reverend Prelate that there need to be clear standards and safeguards against the abuse of religious advertising.
It is rather like the debate that we had earlier on impartiality. Our preference would be that the codes on advertising which the Independent Television Commission and the Radio Authority will be required to issue should provide the vehicle for those safeguards. That is the way in which the Cable Authority successfully regulates religious advertising at present. As the Committee will be aware, the IBA is in the middle of a wide-ranging consultation exercise on religious advertising. One of the areas on which the IBA has quite properly invited views, as part of the exercise, is the possibility of having different sets of rules for different types of service.
Our view is that it would be a pity to try to pre-empt the outcome of this exercise. The Government remain of the view that the independent television code will be a better and more flexible means of promulgating whatever safeguards are needed. That flexibility, which would not be possible if restrictions were included in the body of Clause 8, would allow the ITC to adapt its rules to changing circumstances should it prove necessary. That seems to be fairly prudent. I also question whether it would be right, as in the debate on impartiality, to try to spell out in primary legislation the inevitably intricate safeguards that are likely to be needed in order to deal comprehensively and sensitively with a very important and difficult topic.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool referred to Amendment No. 82. That has now been accepted by the Committee and, when it is accepted by another place, it will become part of the Bill. The 409 amendment includes advertisements. Religious programmes must not involve any improper exploitation of the audience or any abusive treatment of the religious views of others. That is in the Bill and the code must reflect it. Subsection (1) (a) of the right reverend Prelate's amendment uses almost identical words.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St. Albans said that he hoped that the Government would feel responsible for drawing up rules for religious advertisements. That is a very tempting suggestion but I can assure him that the Government would run a mile rather than try to become involved as a Government in drawing up lines for advertisers to follow. That is not the job of government. It is the job of the Independent Television Commission.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St. Albans was also concerned about appeals. Appeals for money are dealt with separately under Clause 7 (1) (b), which requires the Independent Television Commission to draw up a code giving guidance on the rules to be observed in this connection. It is better to try to meet the concerns of the right reverend Prelate and others by doing that with the codes of practice which the ITC will have to produce than by trying to write it into the Bill, which will be there for all time, immovable.
§ 12 midnight
The Lord Bishop of Liverpool
I am grateful to the noble Earl. I am well satisfied with his answer. He said that we need to have clear standards and safeguards and that we shall be looking to see codes from the ETC and the Radio Authority. On Monday I said that I was pleased that Amendment No. 82 on religious programmes had been brought forward at the same time as the no undue prominence part of the Bill had been withdrawn.
I shall be brief. My train leaves in 10 minutes so I have given that one away. I am glad that we have had this short debate. I believe that it will be of some help to the IBA in trying to put forward advice. I listened carefully to those who emphasised freedom. The Minister has spoken constantly about freedom and responsibility. It seemed to me that some Members of the Committee were not concerned about responsibility. No one mentioned the danger of bad religion being promoted. They even asked whether harm had ever been done. I must tell the Committee that massive harm has been done to God's cause by cheap, shoddy and exploitative religious advertising and programmes in different parts of the world. A distinguished Member in another place who is a devout Christian was speaking to me only this morning about his total distaste for the kind of religious advertising that he sees in the United States. I hear that over and over again. We are told that we must trust to good sense, but we should remember that people in the United States have good sense too. We have no right to suggest that they are gullible in a way that we in Britain would not be.
I said on Monday that I was glad for the greater freedom for religions to speak but that balance with responsibility is a proper concern. It did not seem to 410 me that any Member of the Committee took seriously what several of us have said about trivialisation and the very short attempts to state something that is a profound truth.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, asked about manipulation of susceptibilities. He asked about the promise of heaven and the threat of hell. Those subjects would be entirely inappropriate for an advertisement. I do not know whether he saw in the past month or two "A Short History of Hell" in the "Heart of the Matter" series. It was an extremely serious programme which took enough time to study the history of how something had been looked at and to hear people say what that might mean today, but not in the quick-fire way of advertising.
The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, asked about donations. I talked at length with the director of advertising in the IBA about the whole question of charities. This is one of the places where we are trying to steer a line through the process. I shall simply express a view which I put forward during that debate. I hope that religious bodies will never be allowed to solicit funds for themselves. However, they may well be allowed to do so for charitable work for someone else. That may be the kind of line that it would be appropriate to attempt to draw in this connection.
§ Lord Renton
I trust that the right reverend Prelate will allow me to intervene for a moment. Let us suppose, for example, that a cathedral spire is in need of funds for repairs, or that there is a desire to send more bibles to Eastern Europe. Should there not be some opportunity for an appeal to be made even within the context of a religious programme?
The Lord Bishop of Liverpool
We are trying to tease out some of the real issues in this matter. I should be much keener on the second example. However, the noble Lord has spelt out some of the difficulties involved when one is trying to draw lines: if this could be done in respect of a cathedral spire, then why not for a religious movement of the kind which has brought disrepute to the gospel in the United States?
There is a great deal of argument to be teased out in this matter. I am grateful to the noble Lords who have been willing to stay a little longer in order to achieve that aim. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 97 not moved.]
§ Clause 8, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 9 [Control of advertisements]:
§ [Amendment No. 98 not moved.]
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton moved Amendment No. 99:
Page 8, line 35, at end insert:
("( ) The code drawn up under this section shall provide in particular that no advertisements for alcohol shall be permitted before 9 p.m.").
§ The noble Baroness said: Amendments Nos. 99 and 100 are grouped together because they concern alcohol advertising on television. I shall speak first to 411 Amendment No. 99 and then move on to deal with Amendment No. 100, as the latter is more of a probing amendment.
§ As regards Amendment No. 99, I should be grateful if Members of the Committee would consider children in particular. I want to to ask this question: is society pushing alcohol at children and young people in many different ways? In 1987 I chaired a working group for the Home Office Standing Conference on Crime Prevention. The committee consisted of a wide selection of people representing the drink industry, the retailers association, medicine—that is, both psychiatry and paediatrics—the probation service, the social service, the police, the youth service, the ethnic counselling network, and a headmaster and others.
§ The committee considered whether advertising alcohol was wise. Advertising must attempt to make its product look attractive; and anything that makes alcohol attractive is open to the criticism that it is encouraging a habit which has harmful effects. The problem reflects society's ambivalent attitude towards alcohol and alcohol abuse.
§ This is not an easy matter. There are many young children under the age of 12 being brought into casualty departments in a serious condition, suffering from alcohol poisoning. Alcohol is everywhere. It is in many homes; it is available in off-licences; and it is easily obtainable by the young. However, to children, the power of advertisements can be magical. Television is available to children in most homes. Many children witness violence in the home. They see their mothers being beaten up when the drunken father or brother returns home from the public house. Some children experience the problems involved in having an alcoholic mother. Many of those problems affecting children are hidden in the home and yet television tells them what a jolly good thing an alcoholic drink is, with no warning of what happens if too much is drunk.
§ A survey of 480 children between the ages of 9 and 15 was done in North London. Many of them were drinking. Nearly all were familiar with the lager advertisements. They liked the funny ones the best. The two most popular were Heineken and Carling Black Label.
§ Our committee received representations from the Brewers' Society suggesting that there is no evidence that alcohol advertising increases the consumption of alcohol. Given the prevalence of alcohol advertising, proof either way is probably impossible. We believe that the huge sums spent on alcohol advertising and the nature of the advertisements help to create the climate in which alcohol is seen as an indispensable adjunct to almost all social occasions.
§ The existing voluntary ban on spirit advertising on television appears to acknowledge the potentially harmful effect of the television advertising of alcohol. It is illogical to single out one category of alcoholic drinks when all forms of such drinks may lead to problems associated with abuse. On balance, given the 412 scale of the problems caused by alcohol abuse, the group concluded that television and cinema advertising of all alcoholic drinks should be banned.
§ The amendment does not go as far as that It is a gesture to young children. It tries to limit the brainwashing effects of television advertisements on the young. I have been to many meetings in various parts of the country, including Wales. Some of the meetings were organised by magistrates, some by councils and some by the police. All were concerned with the problem of alcohol abuse.
§ Last year I attended a head teachers' conference on the subject in Birmingham. They told me that children often return drunk to school after the lunch break. They asked: "Where do we go from here?" I humbly suggest that curbing advertisements on television might help.
§ Central TV in Birmingham had a programme some time ago on the subject: to advertise or not advertise? It brought in some heavy drinkers, who said that they drank the staggering amount of 20 to 25 pints of beer a night. That was the "macho" image. Research has found that if people start drinking when they are young they are more likely to be heavy drinkers in later life. The debate on Central TV ended with a vote, with the voters telephoning in. The result was a clear and resounding majority for the banning of advertising on television. France has restricted advertising, as have several other European countries. I hope that we shall realise that something needs to be done.
§ I shall now speak to Amendment No. 100. I tabled the amendment in memory of a 19 year-old girl who had a tragic accident. She broke her neck and was paralysed from the neck down. As a result she had strong spasms. When she was discharged from hospital she continued with doses of valium to help to control the spasms. Her parents ran a public house in Yorkshire. No one told her that it was dangerous to drink alcohol while taking the drug. She developed fits and died.
§ With the increase in prescription charges, many people are buying pharmaceutical products over the counter in increasing amounts. This is International Literacy Year. Many people cannot or do not read what is on the packets but most people watch television. For these people who cannot read or may have little English, a quick warning of any potentially harmful effect could be helpful. It could also be helpful to the blind. Some products make people sleepy and therefore they should not drive.
§ As this is International Literacy Year, I wonder whether the Government know approximately how many people do not read. I know from a debate in your Lordships' House earlier in the year that the Government have provided extra money to help towards the problem of illiteracy. Many people living in the community have learning difficulties and special needs, and that includes people with a mental handicap. Some may have reading difficulties.
§ In a young offenders' institution, several young people, some of whom are only 15, have said to me, "I 413 would not be in here if it was not for alcohol". If the message came across with TV advertising that too much alcohol could be harmful, they would at least be warned and would be able to make a judgment. The advertising agencies are effective and good at their job. Surely we should look at the health and stability of our nation. We should find a balance and aim to promote a healthy lifestyle with people drinking wisely and in moderation. I beg to move.
§ 12.15 a.m.
The Earl of Stockton
I support the thinking behind the amendment of the noble Baroness. However, I believe that the face of the Broadcasting Bill is not the place for a detailed provision of this kind. It is really up to the ITC to explore these subjects in detail. As Members of the Committee will know, the Government did not accept the noble Baroness's proposal two years ago for a ban or heavy restrictions on television advertising of alcoholic drinks. The Leader of the House in another place is on a co-ordinating committee which has been keeping a close eye on the subject and he has not made that proposal.
If the noble Baroness's amendments were to go through they could do considerable damage to the competitiveness of the industry. I do not believe it would do anything to help young people or the television companies. Advertising between brands is part of the competitive structure of any industry and it seems to me inappropriate to include such a restrictive measure in a Bill whose overall objective is to open up competition.
The Lord Bishop of Liverpool
I hope that the Government will think carefully about the thrust of these amendments. I am sure that advertisements create a climate in which young people feel that it is acceptable and manly to drink. In our country we have become shocked at drug abuse and we know that alcoholism is a huge issue. It seems to me that this suggestion is a sensible, modest limitation.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
I share the views expressed by the noble Earl. The noble Baroness has given a great deal of study to the matter and her report a year or two ago was notable. Undoubtedly there is a real social problem of alcoholism in our society. However, the best way to deal with it in terms of television advertising is through the advertising codes. They are already carefully drawn up for newspaper advertising and especially for television advertising, with a great many restrictions. The noble Baroness drew attention to one: that through voluntary arrangements spirits are not advertised.
One must strike a balance between the normal rights of legitimate business interests and the social problems that undoubtedly exist. The right way to strike that balance is through the advertising codes.
§ Viscount Ullswater
I am aware of the expertise of the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, in the field of young persons and alcohol and in particular of her chairmanship of the Home Office Standing Conference on the Crime Prevention Working Group on Young People and Alcohol.
414 I do not intend to enter into the merits or demerits of the particular proposals to ban alcohol advertisements before 9 p.m. and to place a health warning on alcohol and drug advertisements. But, as the amendments themselves acknowledge, these are matters for the ITC's code on advertising and hence for the ITC to determine after consultation with the wide variety of interested parties set out in Clause 9.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Stockton that the purpose of the code is to enable the ITC to use its expertise to lay down a set of rules about advertising and sponsorship for its licensees following the widest possible consultation. But it is not in a position to do this if the elements of the code are effectively written for it by Parliament. I appreciate the genuine concerns of the noble Baroness and would suggest that she puts these proposals direct to the IBA, or to the ITC as it will become, for consideration. However, at the moment we are unable to accept the amendments for the reasons I have given.
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton
I thank those Members of the Committee who have spoken on the amendment. However, as it is late I think it is best not to try to do too much at this moment, although many people outside this Chamber are concerned about the growing effects of alcohol on children and young people. This matter constitutes a far bigger problem in the North than in the South. In the South drug abuse is a bigger problem.
I feel that the Government have been rather quiet lately as regards what they have done or what their committee is doing on this matter. It is about time that they considered the generation that is growing up now and did a little more to help that generation. I know that the Government receive great support from the drink industry. The drink industry is interested in this issue and is perhaps one of the most powerful lobbies in the land. At this stage I shall withdraw my amendments and possibly bring them back in the autumn. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 100 not moved.]
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 101:
Page 8, line 42, leave out ("that connection") and insert ("respect of such matters").
§ The noble Viscount said: I have already spoken to this amendment with Amendment No. 94. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 9, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 10 [Government control over licensed services]:
Baroness Birk moved Amendment No. 102:
Page 9, line 42, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall").
§ The noble Baroness said: This amendment requires broadcasters to tell viewers when the Government have instructed them to publish an announcement under the powers given to the Secretary of State by this part of the Bill. As it stands at present, the Bill merely offers broadcasters the option to explain that 415 they have been instructed to publish an announcement by the Government. However, this amendment would make such an instruction much firmer.
§ I see the amendment as a form of consumer protection. Just as we would wish viewers to know the extent to which a sponsor advertiser has influenced a programme to enable them to form their own judgments about its content, so we would also wish viewers to know when the Government have ordered broadcasters to make a particular announcement. Therefore we propose to delete the word "may" and insert the word "shall" in line 42 on page 9. I beg to move.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
I should like to say a word in support of the amendment. It is very important in my view. It serves two crucial purposes. First, in the past when the Government have tried to bring pressure to bear on the broadcasting authorities it has been very useful to be able to say "If you really want us to do this you can tell us to and we shall say that you told us to do so". In almost all cases the Government have backed off. It is therefore a protection against undue government censorship.
Secondly, it is important because if the Government insist on a programme being withdrawn, people should know that they have done so. It should not be done in secret or covertly. There is far too much secrecy in this country, and unless the amendment is passed there is a danger that there will be more. It is for those reasons that I support the amendment.
§ Viscount Ullswater
Amendment No. 102, and Amendment No. 264 which is grouped with it, would place a statutory requirement on the ITC and Radio Authority licensee, when broadcasting a government announcement, to state that he is doing so in pursuance of a direction from the Government. He would have to make such a statement on each and every occasion the announcement was broadcast, which could take place regularly in some civil emergencies. We do not believe that to be either necessary or desirable. The broadcaster should have the discretion to decide whether, and when, he wishes to state that the announcement derives from a government direction. That is what we have provided for in the Bill, in respect of both ITC and the Radio Authority licensees. The broadcaster can make such a statement every time the announcement is broadcast, if that is his wish, but he should not be forced to do so. I ask that the amendments be withdrawn.
§ Baroness Birk
I do not find that reply very satisfactory, even at this time of night. However, it is a matter that I shall have to leave for the time being and return to. Although it appears to be a minor amendment, as the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, pointed out, it is a very important one. It will not wreck the Bill. Perhaps after a good night's sleep the Government might change their minds. In the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Bonham-Carter moved Amendment No. 103:
Page 9, line 44, leave out ("by notice require the Commission") and insert ("after consulting with the Commission, require them by notice, if it is in the interests of national security or safety,").
§ The noble Lord said: The amendment is fairly straightforward. I should like to know from the Minister whether I am right in thinking that this provision appears in the 1981 Act and in the BBC's licence and if so how often, if ever, it has been used. I wonder whether the clause is really necessary, and it is for that reason that I put down the amendment, which is purely a probing amendment. I beg to move.
§ Viscount Ullswater
Yes, it is in the 1981 Act. It is also in the licence and agreement of the BBC. Since 1927 it has been used on five occasions to my knowledge.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
That is a very good answer. It does not sound to me as though it is a very vital regulation. I should very much like to know—although it is probably too much to ask at this time of night and perhaps the noble Viscount will let me know on what occasions it was used. If he would like to do that in writing I shall be happy to wait for the answer rather than have it now if that would be easier.
§ Viscount Ullswater
At this time of night it would perhaps be for the convenience of the Committee if I undertook to write to the noble Lord. I ask him therefore to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 10 agreed to.
§ Clause 11 agreed to.
§ Clause 12 [Audience research]:
§ 12.30 a.m.
Lord Renton moved Amendment No. 104:
Page 10, line 38, after ("like") insert ("or not like").
The noble Lord said: This is a probing amendment. I think that we should try to find out what the Government have in mind, especially in view of the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Ferrers, Amendment No. 105, which is not grouped with my amendment but which might well have been. The matter needs to be considered in the light of his amendment because it contains words of limitation which would restrict the application of subsection (1) (c) to services to which Chapter II applies. Those services are the services to be provided by Channels 3, 4 and 5, and in making provision in Chapter II in Clauses 14 onwards the matter is dealt with very broadly indeed. I should draw attention to the fact that under the heading,
Miscellaneous provisions relating to Channels 3, 4 and 5",
we find references to "Schools programmes", "Party political broadcasts" and "Announcements of programme schedules".
Clause 12(1) states that:
The Commission shall make arrangements for ascertaining -
which can be important. Then there are:
(c) the types of programme that members of the public would like to be included in licensed services".
In making arrangements for ascertaining those almost unascertainable things, those who have to make the inquiries will very rarely find unanimity among the public. There will be divisions of opinion. Sometimes the minority opinions will be substantial and ought to be respected.
§ First, when they say "members of the public" do the Government have in mind a bare majority of members of the public? What if in the course of those inquiries they find that a substantial minority, which should be respected, for example, dislikes blood curdling horror programmes which somehow or other the majority are persuaded are amusing or entertaining for them to see? Then there is the problem of programmes with a sexual content. There is a substantial number of people—sometimes a majority and sometimes a minority—which objects to certain types of such programmes.
§ It seemed to me that if we were to add the words "or not like" after the word "like", we should enable a broader view to be taken by those who are trying to ascertain these matters. As I said, this is a probing amendment. I should be grateful to know what the Government envisage. I beg to move.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
In intervening on this matter I declare a professional interest and not a direct financial interest. All my working life I have been in the survey research business. Let me immediately set at rest the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Renton. It would be totally impossible to carry out research on what members of the public would like without also discovering what they would not like. The two go inextricably together, unless you are asking totally loaded questions.
I am very glad to see a clause about audience research in the Bill. I wish that it went further and referred, for example, to whether a contractor is fulfilling his obligation under the terms of his licence and whether therefore the penalties which would apply to him if he did not fulfil his obligations ought to be assessed in an objective way by research rather than simply by the view of the commission.
I should like to have seen in the Bill—perhaps I am at fault for not having proposed appropriate amendments—proposals for some objective measurement of public views on whether contractors are achieving what they set out to do when they applied for the licence. It is perfectly possible in research terms to undertake an appraisal of what we call "good of its kind" (goik). One takes a class of programmes and asks whether the programmes produced by contractors A or B are good of their kind. Do they conform to the promises that were made when the licence was applied for? Such an extension of audience research would be very valuable not only for the purposes set out in Clause 12 but for the more general and perhaps more important purpose of ascertaining whether the contractors are fulfilling their requirements.
418 Let me immediately agree with the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that the effect of the words "or not like" should be included in the Bill, but it probably does not require the amendment to achieve that. Any competent audience researcher would make sure that that was achieved in the way that he asked the questions.
The noble Lord is also right that we should discuss Amendment No. 105 at the same time. It is very peculiar. It is not just that it restricts subsection (1) (c) to Chapter II of the Bill and therefore includes only Channels 3, 4 and 5 but excludes cable and satellite services; it also excludes Sianel Pedwar Cymru. It is peculiar that it should be excluded by this amendment from subsections (1), and (3). It is also peculiar that this restriction to Chapter II should apply only to subsection (1) (c) and not also to subsection (1) (a) and (b). It is a very strange little amendment that the Government are putting forward late at night. It will be useful to have an explanation.
§ Viscount Ullswater
I am very grateful for the professional advice offered to the Committee by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. I understand the thought behind the amendment, but it is unnecessary. In addition to its specific duty under subsection (1) (c), subsection (1) (a) already places a general obligation on the commission to make arrangements for audience research.
We expect that this research will be arranged both in respect of programmes which the public favour and those which they do not. It is a standard feature of audience research. In the light of the explanation, I hope my noble friend will be able to withdraw his amendment.
Amendment No. 105 has been spoken to by the noble Lords, Lord Renton and Lord McIntosh. It reflects an undertaking given by my honourable friend the Minister in another place and defines the boundaries of the ITC power to conduct audience research. But this power is applicable only to Channels 3, 4 and 5 since these are the only channels where the ITC will have any regulatory influence over programme mix. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw Amendment No. 104.
§ Lord Renton
I might do so when my noble friend has answered the question that both the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and I have asked. Why is the reference to Chapter II confined to subsection (1) (c)? Why does it not apply to the whole of subsection (1)? It is very important.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My objection to Amendment No. 105 is more fundamental. The noble Viscount is implying that the only purpose of audience research is regulatory—that is when the commission has a regulatory function—and that justifies it being confined to Chapter II. I suggest that if audience research is to be effective it must be comparative and about the whole range of broadcasting. I should be surprised if it were possible to carry out the kind of audience research provided for in the clause unless it covered not only cable, satellite and S4C but also programming from the BBC. That is the way in which 419 people think about their television and they will want to answer in those terms when being questioned by audience researchers.
§ Viscount Ullswater
I do not believe that the words which are inserted reflect only at Clause 12(1) (c); they reflect at the end of the whole of the clause. The Welsh Fourth Channel is excluded from the scope of the government amendment because Clause 59 enables the Welsh authority to conduct its research. Therefore, there is no reason for ITC to cover that area.
The amendment is tabled as a result of an undertaking given in another place. As regards the relevance to the ITC's functions in relation to Channels 3, 4 and 5, they are the only channels where it will have any regulatory influence over the programme mix.
§ Lord Renton
The intention of the Government is clear but their amendment does not fulfil it. I suggest that they do not move Amendment No. 105 because it would be misleading to have the provision written in the Bill in that way. I suggest that they leave the matter until Report and table an amendment covering the whole of subsection (1). Certainly Amendment No. 105 does not do so.
While my noble friend is thinking about the suggestion I wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, for the enlightenment he has given as a result of his experience. Although neither intended to do so, he and my noble friend have convinced me that in order to be sure that the expression "members of the public" is properly understood and given proper weight, those members of the public who would not like the programmes should have this reference in the Bill. Therefore, I shall return to the matter on Report when I hope to have convinced my noble friends on the Front Bench that it would be the best way to proceed. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Viscount Ullswater had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 105:
Page 10, line 39, at end insert ("to which Chapter II of this Part applies").
§ The noble Viscount said: I listened carefully to my noble friend and to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. I should like to investigate exactly where the words fall and therefore I do not propose to move the amendment at this time.
§ [Amendment No. 105 not moved.]
§ Clause 12 agreed to.
§ Clause 13 agreed to.
§ 12.45 a.m.
§ Clause 14 [Establishment of Channel 3]:
Lord Prys-Davies moved Amendment No. 106:
Page 11, line 32, at end insert ("save that Wales shall not be divided between any two or more areas").
§ The noble Lord said: This amendment relates to Clause 14(2). That subsection provides that a franchise area is not to include an area which comprises the whole of England or the whole of 420 Scotland. Accordingly, the whole of Wales may be included in a franchise area. The object of this amendment is to ensure that the whole of Wales will be included in a franchise area.
§ It is generally accepted that parts of Wales on their own would not constitute a viable franchise area. Therefore, the risk is that South Wales might be attached to a contractor in the Midlands or in the South West and North Wales might be attached to a contractor in the North West or the Midlands. That would increase the difficulties of television playing a constructive role in the life of the Principality.
§ Therefore, we are seeking either a Wales-only franchise or the inclusion of the whole of Wales within a franchise area which itself extends beyond Wales. My own preference would be for a Wales-only franchise. I believe that there will be considerable support for that proposition from the general public in Bristol or the South West or the Midlands or the North West.
§ There are three strong reasons that it is important that Wales should not be split up between two or more areas. The first is that it has been the official policy of successive governments for decades to recognise Wales as a single unit. In addition, we have the University of Wales, the Welsh Arts Council, the National Library of Wales and the National Museum of Wales, to name but a few relevant institutions. In terms of Welsh cultural, intellectual and social life, it makes sense to treat Wales as a single unit for Channel 3 purposes.
§ Secondly, to divide Wales between two or more franchise areas would make it that much more difficult to ensure that the franchise holders produce the programmes about Wales and about Welsh life and interests which are being demanded by more and more non-Welsh-speaking viewers in Wales. In fairness to the Government, they are accommodating the requirements of Welsh-speaking viewers very well indeed. However, on the whole, the interests of non-Welsh-speaking viewers have been neglected.
§ If Wales is carved up between two or more franchise areas, the scope of the programme contractor to produce the programmes required is that much more restricted because of the smaller Welsh audience within the franchise area. In turn, that leads to a weaker demand for such programmes.
§ Thirdly, it should be borne in mind that since the setting up of Sianel Pedwar Cymru, the Welsh language fourth channel, the Welsh television production and support industry has grown considerably and has by now, in Wales, the capacity to produce the range and quality of English programmes about Wales which, as I said, more and more non Welsh speaking viewers are demanding. I do not wish to anticipate this evening the discussion which we shall have next week on Amendment No. 133. However, a single franchise area would make it much easier to achieve the objectives described in Amendment No. 133 if Wales were to be treated as a single unit for Channel 3 purposes.421
§ I should mention that this amendment is supported by the Campaign for Quality Television in Wales. It is also supported by members of the Institute of Welsh Affairs. I believe that there is considerable support for the amendment among the general public in the South West, the Midlands and the North West. For those reasons I hope that the Minister will reward my patience and see his way clear either to accepting the amendment or at least giving it further consideration.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
Perhaps an Englishman may say a word in support of the proposal put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies. The amendment which he has moved is one which the Committee should support.
Wales is a country and therefore should be treated as a country. It has also suffered from a certain geographical disadvantage in that the easiest way to get from North Wales to South Wales is via England. In that respect a common single television service can be a uniting factor in the culture of the whole country. As the noble Lord said, Welsh television in the past 15 to 20 years has proved to be an extremely successful venture.
For all those reasons it is desirable that Wales should be treated as a unit, as a country. It should not be divided in the fashion that the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies mentioned. It is therefore an amendment which we are happy to support.
§ Baroness Birk
I also support the amendment moved by my noble friend. I believe that the Government indicated that the existing structure of HTV would probably be maintained as it has two main bases in Cardiff and Bristol. Therefore Wales would probably not be divided between two Channel 3 areas and split north to south. The amendment, as the Minister will appreciate, seeks to guarantee that and give confidence to the people of Wales that it will not be split up. It is not just a regional matter; it is also a Welsh national matter. Wales is a country and not just a region.
§ Viscount Ullswater
I appreciate the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, that Wales should remain a single entity with regard to Channel 3 but I believe that his fears are misplaced. George Russell, in his capacity as chairman-designate of the ITC, has indicated his preference for retaining the existing ITV regions for Channel 3.
HTV currently serves not only the whole of Wales but also the Bristol area. It is most unlikely that the ITC would want to create a Channel 3 region smaller than the whole of Wales because it would almost certainly not be economically viable, and it is most improbable that the ITC would wish to split Wales between two larger regions unless it considered that such an approach would be likely to be the only way to provide a viable service for Wales. In practice, as was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, the regional ethos of the Channel 3 service will almost certainly mean that Wales will form part of a complete regional service.
In the light of those remarks I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Birk and to the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, for their unqualified support for the amendment. I am also grateful for the sympathy shown towards it by the Minister.
I accept that the commission as it will be constituted is considering that the identity and unity of Wales should be properly safeguarded. However, in legislation we are looking to the future. I should like to see the Government accept the principle and embody it in the Bill. We shall have to consider what the Minister said and decide whether at a later stage we should seek to build a principle into the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 107:
Page 12, line 8, at end insert:
("(8) In this section and section 15 "programme" does not include an advertisement.").
§ The noble Viscount said: This amendment simply makes clear that references in Clauses 14 and 15 to "programmes" do not include advertisements. Clause 180 provides that the term "programmes" includes advertisements unless the context requires otherwise; but the references to programmes in Clauses 14 and 15, which anticipate the quality threshold requirements, are clearly intended to refer to programmes other than advertisements. Clause 16(8) performs the same task in relation to Clause 16. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 14, as amended, agreed to.
§ Viscount Ullswater
I beg to move that the House do now resume.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.