§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Viscount Ullswater
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.—(Viscount Ullswater.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
House in Committee accordingly.
(LORD MURTON OF LINDISFARNE in the Chair.)
[Amendment No. 108 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
Clause 15 [Application for Channel 3 licences]:
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 109:
Page 12, line 33, leave out from beginning to ("and") in line 35.
§ The noble Viscount said: It may be for the convenience of the Committee if in moving this amendment I speak also to Amendments Nos. 121, 124, 134, 137, 141, 143, 153, 158, 160, 162, 184, 191, 204, 211, 268, 272, 273, 275, 276, 279, 282, 283, 293, 303, 304 and 306, all of which are tabled in the name of my noble friend Lord Ferrers.
§ These amendments remove the concept of performance bonds, or a security requirement, from the Bill and replace it with a termination penalty. The purpose of the performance bond was to provide a strong financial incentive on licensees not to renege on their programme promises or to walk away from their commitments. However, from discussions with the IBA and financial institutions it became clear that the performance bonds would be unnecessarily complicated to administer; and, more importantly, that they could prove to be an unnecessary financial burden to licensees, particularly new entrants, and might therefore be counter-productive to their original purpose.
§ Consequently, we have concluded that the performance bond or security requirement on Channels 3 and 5 and national radio licensees should be removed from the Bill. We still feel, however, that it is necessary for there to be a strong disincentive to prevent licensees from walking away from their commitments. Therefore, we have made provision for a termination penalty, which has the function of penalising licensees who fail to provide a service or provide a wholly inadequate service and have their licence revoked. The penalty will, like the bond, apply to Channels 3 and 5 national radio licensees, and will amount to 7 per cent. of the qualifying revenue of a licensee for its actual or estimated last complete accounting period. That was the amount at which the performance bond would have been set. It represents a substantial penalty, but we consider it necessary to act as a sufficient disincentive.
§ The performance bond was also to be used to ensure that licensees kept to their programme promises. Failure to do so could have resulted in the loss of part of the performance bond. However, we have now amended the Bill in such a way that any 895 failure in connection with programme promises attracts the full range of sanctions listed in Clauses 35 to 37, including the possibility of imposing financial penalties of up to 3 per cent. of qualifying revenue for the first offence and 5 per cent. of revenue for a second or subsequent similar offence.
§ In essence, these amendments act as the necessary sword of Damocles to ensure that a licensee sticks to its programme promises, without the adverse effects which might have resulted from the concept of performance bonds. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Birk
It has been clear for some time that both the City and the broadcasting industry were very unhappy about what I can only call a rather ill thought out proposal for an up-front performance bond and the suggestions that companies should insure against the confiscation of all or part of the bond. I believe that it is a heavy-handed measure calculated to dissuade all but the very rich companies from applying for a licence. We have already seen falling standards and large-scale redundancies in the commercial television sector since the publication of the White Paper where it was first proposed. It displays a lack of trust in the ITC, the broadcasting industry and the Government's other regulatory arrangements. Further, it risks weakening the position of a company which is already in financial difficulties.
If a licensee is having problems meeting its contract terms, the main reason is likely to be lack of funds. The performance bond would have required any potential contingency funds to be tied up. Moreover, at the precise time at which the company might need to call on its reserves it would be at risk of losing them. I do not believe that that is a recipe for stability or confidence. It is more a guarantee of disaster.
A retrospective financial penalty would be easier to finance. The performance bond would have deterred some applicants from making a bid. The amount of money put into the security payment would have diverted even more funds from programming. That would have been an extremely bad result of this legislation and would have made the situation even worse. For those reasons, we on these Benches believe that the proposed financial penalty appears to be a better alternative.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
We on these Benches agree both with the Minister and with the noble Baroness, Lady Birk. We believe that the proposals for this termination fine are altogether better than the original proposal for a performance bond. Therefore, I shall not waste the time of the Committee by delving into the details of the matter. I have one question to ask. Where will the money from the fines go? I believe that it was originally proposed in relation to the performance bonds that such money ought to go into the Consolidated Fund.
In my view, there would be great merit if, in what I hope is the unlikely event that these terminal fines have to be imposed in terms of the revocation of a licence, the money received were to go to the ITC. If a licence has to be revoked, there will be a period of time, or a vacuum, during which the ITC will need to 896 take some steps to ensure the continuation of some kind of Channel 3 broadcast services in the region concerned. Therefore, it would be appropriate if the resources from the fines which arose from such revocation were available to the ITC so as to help it make the necessary arrangements.
§ Viscount Ullswater
I should like to express my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, for her welcome for these new proposals. However, I must repeat that they were introduced as a result of ongoing discussions with the IBA. This is the situation at which we have arrived.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, asked where the funds would go if the penalty was imposed. I understand his concern that the money could be used by the ITC. However, I must tell him that such fines would go into the Consolidated Fund.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
I am disappointed by the Minister's last response though I am not surprised by it. Perhaps I may give notice that we may wish to return to this point on Report.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Baroness Birk moved Amendment No. 110:
Page 12, line 37, leave out ("in pursuance of section 19(1) (b)").
§ The noble Baroness said: The amendment sets out to replace the cash-bid system with a three-stage process involving public consultation designed to ensure that the ITC selects the company which it believes will offer the highest quality product. The amendment is crucial because it addresses the core of the Bill; that is to say, the auction system which—even with the improvements made by the Government in another place—will still outweigh quality and public service considerations and still rest on the cash-bid basis.
§ The amendment proposes that licences should be awarded more openly without the risk of manipulation that the auction system involves. It also seeks to ensure accountability and flexibility in the award of licences in relation to viewers' needs and interests, as the White Paper lays down, by insisting, first, that quality, commercial competence and viability are the criteria for the shortlisting of applications; secondly, that there is a period for public consultation to assess local response to applications (applicants should be allowed to modify their proposals in the light of the consultations); and, thirdly, that the ITC will then award licences to the company that has put forward the best proposals in terms of quality, commercial viability and responsiveness to consumer demand in the local area.
§ The financial elements of the bids will include a fee as set out in Clause 4(1)(b); a set annual charge based on an appropriate proportion of ITC administrative costs; and a levy, as set out in Clause 19, based on a percentage of net advertising revenue, which will go to the Treasury. The levy system could operate on the market forces formula where the Treasury sets the level and accepts a variable amount according to the vagaries of the market or be negotiable annually to ensure a bedrock income for the Treasury and obviate 897 the risk of reduced quality standards if advertising revenue falls. We must be prepared for a situation where advertising revenue may fall from time to time.
§ As I understand it, the Minister in another place was attracted to an associated amendment instructing the ITC to conduct public consultation exercises about the new licences and to publish details of how it intended to carry them out. I hope that we shall discuss that point later.
§ At present, the existing range and quality of the independent sector identifies individual examples of first-rate ITV programmes. We have been aware of that, and we believe that the amendment deals with the Bill's central problem far better than the Bill does at present. The existing range and quality of ITV programmes has been a direct result of the regulatory structure imposed through Parliament and the IBA. Private sector enterprise in any industry normally puts profits above any or most other considerations. Privately owned television stations could vastly increase their profitability by putting less money into original programmes and sticking to known formulae (imported programmes) and concentrating on majority audiences, and by avoiding the commercially contentious and experimental. By paring budgets to produce programmes of the minimum quality acceptable, a comparatively small outlay could return a healthy profit. That that has not happened is a tribute not just to the commitment of the ITV companies to pursue diversity and quality objectives but to the legislative framework which obliges them to put profit back into programmes.
§ Those obligations will have little justification if they do not help to fulfil audience demand. The idea has been that until now viewers and radio listeners have not been receiving what they want—hence the need for the changes—but that is not borne out by any contemporary research. A study in 1985 by the London Business School showed that despite substantially more entertainment programming it occupied only 55 per cent. of viewing time compared with 43 per cent. for more demanding programmes. That is a good average. Under the present regulatory system there is a demand for a variety of programmes: education and information as well as entertainment.
§ The virtual disappearance of more serious programming from commercial networks not subject to regulation has also been shown in research commissioned by the Peacock Committee and carried out by the American professor, Jay Blumler, and the Leeds Centre for Broadcasting. That showed over three or four days the virtual disappearance of more serious broadcasting. Current affairs and documentary programmes were absent from Italy's Channel 5, Australia's Channel 10 and most of the American commercial networks. News was shown but otherwise the programmes comprised adventure series, soaps, advertisements and repeat old films.
§ The ITV companies in the United Kingdom had a markedly similar diversity of programmes to those of the BBC, despite the fact that they derive all their revenue from advertising. The regulatory structure in 898 which our present system is set has been proved to be what viewers and listeners want. Our proposal ensures that Channel 3 licences are allocated on a quality rather than a purely financial basis. It includes a new element of openness and public consultation which reflects some criticisms that were made of the old IBA system of franchise allocation as being too closed and secretive. It ensures a proper financial contribution to the Exchequer, based on advertising revenue, while avoiding large cash bids which merely divert scarce resources away from investment in programming. In short, it shows that if we put quality first we can still have commercially viable stations and programmes. It is amazing, and a comment on what is thought of the Bill, that nearly 50 organisations of all types—religious, voluntary and professional, including the Voice of the Listener, which really reflects the voice of the listener—have joined together to protest about so many aspects of the Bill. The organisations have done so from the point of view of TV viewers and listeners to radio.
Paragraph 1.2 of the White Paper states:
The Government places the viewer and listener at the centre of broadcasting policy".
Later in the paragraph we read that government changes mean that the
single biggest advantage will be to give the viewer and listener a greater choice and greater say".
§ My friends and I feel that with the present auction system, in spite of the changes to the quality threshold, it is still not good enough that the centre core of the Bill is that money will be the most important feature, at the cost of the quality of our television for the future. Only the people will suffer in what they see and hear. I beg to move.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
I join the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, in supporting the amendment, and I shall speak to the associated amendments. The new Clause 119 stands in our names, Amendment No. 144 deals with the levy. I ought to give notice, even though it is on the Marshalled List, that to be consistent with the proposals we put forward, we have in mind speaking against Clause 17 standing part of the Bill. We shall reach that stage later tonight.
As the noble Baroness said, in some ways these amendments are at the heart of the Bill. This is one of the most important discussions that we shall have during the Committee stage. The amendments go right to the core of what the Government propose, they have in mind what remains an auction system in which a cash bid for a regional commercial television licence will in most cases outweigh quality and public service considerations associated with the licence.
For our part, as the noble Baroness said, we seek to persuade the Government even at this late stage of the merits of an alternative system that is not directly opposed in principle to what the Government propose. We believe that it would offer better safeguards of the public interest.
For nine years I was at the IBA and in the chair for eight. The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, and I went 899 through the last franchise round and I recognise that I am regarded here as a bit of a dinosaur, defending the status quo of the dear old IBA. I know that I am getting into my political anecdotage, but I do not believe that in this case the charge is fair. The Committee will excuse me if I defend myself against it because it is relevant to the arguments associated with the amendment.
After the last franchise round during which I took the chair and took the consequences, I had squeezed out of me at one of these endless broadcasting conferences a cri de coeur that there must be a better way of looking after the allocation of important commercial television franchises. That has hung round my neck ever since. The Government have come up with a different way in the Bill; but in my view it is not better. The better way that I had in mind—which was rather overtaken by the debate that arose following the Government's appointment of the Peacock Committee—started, as the noble Baroness said, where broadcasting policy should start. That is with a judgment as to where lie the best interests of serving the viewer and listener rather than starting—as the Government do in the Bill—with the marketplace. Then one has to have a structure to ensure that commercial television companies put quality and service to the viewer first.
In my view, if a company served the public in its region well then I saw no reason why its contract should not be rolled on after rigorous scrutiny. I thought that the interests of the viewer would be better served by a company with a known good track record than a series of hopeful promises from an untried competitor. Equally, it goes without saying that if a company did not come up to the standard, the contract should be exposed to public bidding and competition when it came to an end. A company whose programme makers served the viewers well should not necessarily have shareholders who enjoyed the tenancy of a scarce national resource in perpetuity. I go over that old ground because I hope that it indicates a certain degree of overlap between the views I sought to carry forward at the IBA during my period of office and the views now expressed by the Government, even though we started from exactly opposite ends. That has produced some adverse consequences to which I wish to return.
The Committee should be aware that the debate on the Broadcasting Bill has gone on for a long time. The Government have been extremely accommodating; we all appreciate that. However, there is a danger of the Government's reasonableness blinding us to the fact that, with their preoccupation with competition, they are changing the culture of commercial television in this country in a way that is contrary to the interests of viewers and listeners.
I notice that Mr. Anthony Smith, now President of Magdalen College, Oxford, and a former director of the British Film Institute, said the other day in a pamphlet he produced in regard to the commercial television world:Energy is now devoted not to … new [ideas] of programme-making but to deal-making.900 I am conscious that the independent producers were one of the exciting new developments in the British broadcasting scene brought forward under the auspices of the IBA through Channel 4. When they started they were bubbling over with creative energy, and many exciting activities were going on. However, those producers are now struggling with the financial and management problems of the average small and medium sized business.
The other day, the Royal Television Society held its annual Fleming lecture to which it invites a distinguished speaker. This year it invited the President of CBS Broadcasting from the United States, Mr. Howard Springer. In his lecture he talked of the "free market Utopians" in the Government with what he called their "freedom fantasy". From his experience of the American tradition in commercial television and broadcasting he made the point that the Government seemed determined to push us down the American road. He said:Market forces do not necessarily produce quality".For these reasons, we press the amendment and the associated ideas. I recognise that the Government have tried to modify the market purity of their original ideas. We have had a welcome example of that in the retreat from the performance bond. They have strengthened the concept of a quality hurdle that all applicants will have to pass before they can get on to the final shortlist to bid for the contract.
Perhaps even more important, they have inserted provisions into the Bill to which we shall come later about the ITC having the right in exceptional circumstances to accept any other than the original highest bid. However, the difficulty is that if in politics one starts with a strong, radical principle, however wrong-headed, then the search for a compromise can become embarrassing. Perhaps I may say to the Government that it is revealing. The proposals in this part of the Bill go right to the heart of what is wrong and remains wrong despite all the improvements that have been made. Tory philosophy, if I may put it that way, reveals itself in broadcasting in the following way. In the eyes of the Government, it is only in exceptional circumstances, which are well hedged round in the Bill, that quality should be given priority over price. That is our persisting reason for opposing this central theme of the Bill.
If the noble Lord is correct when he suggests that the market place does not contribute to and may even detract from quality, who is to pay for quality?
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
Even under the Government's system, quality will continue to be paid for in the way in which commercial television has always been sustained in this country; namely, through selling advertising time. I do not believe that will change under the Bill. However, what will change are the grounds on which the commission which is chosen by the Government will select licensees. If one selects licensees on the basis of the highest monetary bid, with the best will in the world and with the greatest good faith in the world, people who bid for a 901 television contract for the first time will always be tempted to overbid. I can state that to be a fact from my own personal experience.
If such bids are accepted—under the rules they can only not be accepted in a small minority of exceptional circumstances—they will result in a deterioration in programme quality. That is the point that my noble friend Lady Birk made. That is our argument.
The Lord Bishop of Manchester
I wish to support this amendment and those that follow it which are in the same tone. I do that with some hesitation when there are so many Members of the Committee around me who are experts in this field. However, I feel that it should be appreciated right across the Committee that there is a deep concern among many thoughtful people in this country of all political parties and persuasions that the best in British broadcasting should be preserved as we move into the new era. I believe that the amendments that we are discussing, and particularly Amendment No. 119, help to achieve that. Subsection (4) of the proposed new clause in Amendment No. 119 states:The primary considerations when awarding licences shall be the provision of a diverse range of quality programmes appropriate to the area to be served, and the extent to which the applicant has shown himself willing to respond to public comment on his original application".I feel that that matter is critical.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, talked about Tory philosophy. The feeling which I get from people who would claim to be in the great traditional mould of Conservatism is, in some cases, grave doubt as regards applying financial considerations and market forces to the granting of licences in this way. They are anxious that the best in British television should be preserved. Therefore, I should have thought support for these amendments would be felt right across the Committee.
I agree with those who have said that we should be grateful because in this Bill the Government have listened to many of the representations which have been made. I think back to the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, on Second Reading when he introduced the Bill to us. I agree that concessions have been made which have been a great relief to many people who care about the quality of broadcasting in Britain in the years ahead. However, I am bound also to agree with those people who say that the Government have not gone far enough because the market and financial considerations are still too dominant. What should concern us most profoundly is that we do not go down the slippery slope towards the American broadcasting system. Many of us who have experienced that system are appalled at what market considerations can do to broadcasting. Is that what we want to see in this country? If there is any way in which these considerations can be strengthened so that quality broadcasting can be maintained in the years ahead, I for one would vote strongly in favour of it.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Warnock
I wish to speak briefly in favour of the amendment. There are two points which are sometimes confused. One is the point about overbidding. If companies have overbid, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, said, they will have to make up their money by cheap programming. That programming will be of a low quality. However, there is a further point. It may be said that if viewers and listeners are as keen on quality programmes as the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, has said, the market will look after them. They will demand quality programmes and such programmes will be made. However, one must remember that advertisers generally assume that people's taste is low. They will on the whole take up advertising space only where they believe that the great British public will watch it.
Earlier, in the course of this long debate we heard the noble Lord, Lord Quinton, distinguish between what he regarded as solid and virtuous programmes, such as educational programmes, and the programmes that he regarded as agreeable and which he believed people really wanted to watch. That distinction goes right to the heart of this amendment. We should think in terms of programmes that are of high quality, not because they are educational programmes but because they have a new and imaginative content. People undoubtedly want those programmes, even if advertisers do not believe that is the case. As we have heard, there is an enormous demand for programmes that are educational in this very wide sense. They open people's eyes, for example, to environmental issues all over the world and to a number of other social issues that people are genuinely interested in. People learn as they watch or as they listen. The trouble is partly that these programmes are expensive so overbidding will cut down on their numbers, and partly that advertisers may be unwilling to believe that people want such programmes. I know that it is difficult for the Government to change course at this point, but I also feel that we in this Committee should make it clear how uneasy we are as regards market forces being given full power over our future television.
§ Lord Ardwick
Perhaps it may be convenient if I say a few brief words about Amendment No. 278 which contains a new clause which constitutes an adaptation to national radio. I shall also speak on the principles of Amendment No. 119 which is included in the group of amendments we are discussing and which seeks to replace the cash bid system with a three-stage process involving public consultation. I hope the Committee will forgive the repetition. We also want radio licences to be awarded in an open manner, free from any charge of manipulation. We are thinking of the listeners' needs and interests by making it essential for a company that gets on a short list to show that it can provide quality, viability and competence. There should also be tests to show what people think about an applicant's proposals. Time must be given to companies to change their proposals in response to that. The number one consideration in awarding a licence should be an applicant's ability to provide a 903 diverse range of quality programmes and in particular to respond well to the public comment on his application.
I should say to get the record straight that with Amendment No. 110 we are also speaking to Amendments Nos. 118, 119, 120, 123, 138, 139, 142, 144, 157, 159, 161, 269 to 271, 278, 280 and 284. That helps to get rid of quite a lot of the amendments on the Marshalled List. They all refer to the same principle.
The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, carefully explained her system for granting licences. It is an alternative to what the Government propose in the Bill. She said that it would remove the manipulation that the auction system involved. I was not quite certain what she meant by that because I do not believe that there will be any manipulation. I understand her reasons for putting forward the suggestion, and she will not mind if I say that I do not agree with them.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, recognised—and I am grateful to him for doing so—that the Government had, as he put it, modified market purity. That is because we are anxious to get the system right.
The right reverend Prelate said that we do not want our television to become like television in the United States. I do not see that there is anything in the proposals that we have put forward or in the proposals of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, that would encourage our television system to become like that of the United States. They concern merely a system of allocating licences.
The amendments are designed to remove the concept of competitive tender from the Bill and replace it with a Government-determined price for Channels 3 and 5 and national commercial radio licences. In other words, the Government have to determine the price. We find the amendments contrary to what we believe would be the best way to proceed, for three principal reasons.
First, the absence of any cash bid for licences removes any market test of its true value. Secondly, it would recreate the existing unsatisfactory system for determining the allocation of licences by requiring the ITC or the Radio Authority to make fine judgements on the quality of programming offered by applicants who were prepared to pay the fixed licence price. Thirdly, we do not believe that the Government should determine the price of licences. The combination of market-based cash bids and ITC or Radio Authority-determined percentages of revenue will be more sensitive in arriving at the true value of licences than simply imposing a revenue levy.
I could not advise the Committee to accept the key proposals in the new clauses proposed in Amendments Nos. 119 and 278 that applicants should be allowed, and indeed encouraged, to modify their original applications in the light of public comment. We do not believe that such a process could establish the truly representative public perception of the programme promises. In any event, it is most unlikely that any public reaction of that nature would produce a clear consensus. We believe that applicants should stand or fall by their original intentions and plans. Cosmetic 904 modifications in order possibly to curry favour with the ITC or Radio Authority and thereby alter their bids would further delay and complicate an already complex and lengthy process. It would also almost certainly mean that their financial bids would have to be adjusted.
We see the role of public consultation as assisting the Independent Television Commission to determine whether an applicant had crossed the quality threshold but not as a means of influencing the applicant's proposals. Here I turn to the right reverend Prelate and say that anyone who bids for a licence first has to cross the quality threshold. Therefore the quality deterioration that the right reverend Prelate fears need not come about because all applicants would have had to pass that quality threshold.
We believe that competitive tender is the fairest and most transparent way of allocating licences for commercial television, licences which after all are in relatively short supply and for which there will be several contenders. We accept that licences for Channels 3 and 5 should be awarded not just on the basis of the money bid in the tender but also on the basis of the quality of the service being offered. Hence our proposal that applicants for those licences must first pass a substantial quality threshold before being eligible to bid.
The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, referred to cash bids altering the quality of programmes. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, said that only rarely is quality given precedence over market forces. That is an exaggeration because they all have to pass the quality threshold and it is only then that market forces come into play. The quality threshold sets out a requirement for news, high-quality programmes, regional programmes, children's and religious programmes and programmes catering for a wide variety of different interests. That is a pretty formidable hurdle and is designed to ensure that only those applicants who can surmount it will have their bids considered.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, said that they would overbid, and the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, said that if they overbid quality would suffer. If quality suffers applicants would infringe the terms of their licences. Clause 16(1) (b) requires the ITC to ensure that the applicant can maintain the promised quality of service throughout the licence period. If an applicant were seriously to overbid, his business plan put forward under Clause 15 would be unlikely to be regarded by the ITC as demonstrating his ability to sustain that service. The ITC could therefore conclude that the applicant had not passed the quality threshold.
The alternative approach, which requires the ITC to select the best applicant in terms of the range and quality of his programming, has a number of drawbacks. That is the system that the noble Baroness suggested. It would require the Independent Television Commission objectively to rank the quality of applicants' bids, taking into account a whole range of considerations, in order to determine which was best. That would be the responsibility of the ITC. It is 905 one thing for the ITC to judge whether applicants have crossed the quality threshold but it is quite another for it to decide which is the best. That would involve fine judgments about relative quality differences, which might be quite small, in various applicants' proposals. It would place great responsibility on the ITC and it would not differ significantly from the system which has operated hitherto and which has been widely criticised as arbitrary and opaque.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, said that he did not want to seem like a dinosaur, defending the existing practices of the IBA. In referring to the fact that when the IBA had to operate precisely that system he said that there must be a better way. He also said that that had hung round his neck. If the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, had not mentioned it I was going to tug the necklace to remind him of it. There is a different way and we believe that our proposal achieves it. The amendments which the noble Baroness put forward would take us back to the old process, which the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, admits is not the best.
I doubt whether any universally accepted definition of quality could be determined. People's tastes and interests differ and they are likely therefore to perceive differently various programme promises made by applicants.
The approach that we have adopted, which involves the quality threshold, is designed to ensure that only those applicants who are capable of providing a high-quality service are eligible to bid for a licence. Thereafter there is no need to make further fine distinctions on the relative quality of the applicants' proposals. The successful applicants should be, as they say, on a level playing field for bidding purposes. In the normal course of events the highest bidder should win. However, we accept—again market purity has been adjusted, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, will be glad about that—that there may be exceptional circumstances, which could include circumstances in which the quality of programming offered by one applicant was exceptionally higher than the quality offered by the applicant who offered the highest cash bid, in which it would be justifiable for the ITC to award the licence to a lower bidder. Our proposal to give the ITC discretion in exceptional circumstances to accept a lower bid is now a fact.
Perhaps I may say a few words specifically on Amendment No. 278, with which the Government have a number of difficulties. The Government have already questioned the desirability of writing in a quality threshold for national radio which could have the effect of preventing it from developing at all. The requirement for a diverse range of quality programmes could also operate against the degree of audience targeting likely to be necessary if the three new services are to be viable.
The power to allow applicants to modify their applications would slow down the licensing procedure and would be hard to square with the competitive 906 tendering procedure to which the Government attach great importance. That does not mean that the Government are hostile to the principle of public consultation. Indeed, under Clause 93(6) the authority is required to publish the name and proposals of each applicant as soon as practicable after the closing date for applications.
I tried to explain this matter in some detail because it is of considerable importance. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, was quite correct to say that it goes to the heart of the Bill. I simply re-emphasise that it is a method of allocating the licences. I do not believe that the anxieties about quality of programmes are relevant here. All those applicants would have passed the quality threshold. Having passed the quality threshold, one then asks whether it is for the ITC to say which of the four, five, six or seven successful applicants is to be given the cherry; or is to to go to those who give the highest bid? We think that it should be the latter.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Baroness Birk
Perhaps I may first apologise to the Committee because I did not explain that I was speaking to numerous amendments. I thank the Minister for having put that right and for putting them in context.
I find it difficult to square the Minister's remarks with what I believe will be the result of the Government's plans. I also cannot agree with what he said about the objective and the way in which our amendment would work. First, the ITC would have to work to specific criteria, which would include matters not only of quality but also of commercial viability. There would also have to be consultation. I pointed out when I moved the amendment that the issue of consultation was strongly supported (so I thought) by the Minister in another place. The criteria that we propose are specific. They also deal with the issue of "more openness".
I do not understand the Minister when he says that our proposal would be a much more complicated—I think that he meant less efficient—way of proceeding than are the Government's plans. In fact what the ITC is to do is carefully laid out and it is so much better than having just the "exceptional circumstances" concept. It will be far more difficult to carry out if there are exceptional circumstances than if there were the straightforward proposition which we put before the Committee this afternoon.
Whatever the Minister said, the fundamental proposition of the Bill as it stands at the moment is entirely money oriented. It is no good trying to pretend that that is not so. The Government have put forward what I would call a rather crude quality threshold. The threshold in the amendment is much more sophisticated.
We should not leave this matter and accept what the Government have proposed without considering all the evidence. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, who has tremendous experience in this area—his recent experience on the ground in running the IBA—gave the example of someone who came over 907 from America to lecture. There is a mass of evidence of that kind. The evidence which I put before the Committee in a very shortened form consists of totally responsible research. It has shown that when regulation goes out of the window, quality too goes out. There is no structure to retain it. That is why, as the research to which I pointed showed, the inclination of audiences and the way in which they were satisfied by ITV reflected the type of programmes which were in quality very similar to those of the BBC. Once all that slips and goes, programmes will go downhill in quality.
I know that the Minister meant what he said. He was very sincere when he said that he did not believe that that need happen. The trouble is that all the evidence shows that it has happened, does happen and will happen. It seems to me that this is our last opportunity to try to produce a workable, sensible and very much better plan for dealing with the future of our broadcasting industry. We must do our job as a revising Chamber. This amendment will not rock the Government's plan completely. The Minister pointed to the different alternatives and said that it was another way to try to bring about a change in the broadcasting industry for the future without losing—what in the Bill as it stands is lost—all the benefit that we have had in the past.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
I do not want to prolong this debate unnecessarily but I wish to follow up one or two points from the noble Earl's speech and endorse what the noble Baroness just said. There is evidence of the risks when one allows money rather than judgment about quality to determine decisions on the shape of broadcasting. Australia is a prime illustration. It is true that the situation in Australia is different in a number of ways from that in this country. Nevertheless, Australia let money have its head and paid a bitter price in terms of the quality of Australian broadcasting.
Two points to which I wish to draw attention arise from the noble Earl's remarks. I do not want to appear grudging about the significant amendments in the direction of quality, exceptional circumstances and other provisions that the Government have inserted into the Bill. They are genuinely welcome. The Bill is very different from when it started its course in another place. But certain problems arise from the Government's very willingness to make concessions.
The fact is that the ITC—the successor body to the IBA—will have a very difficult and delicate task on its hands. The Government's original intention was, if I may put it in my original phrase, to have a market pure arrangement; namely, by allowing the highest bid to reign supreme one had a clear system compared with what was called the opaqueness of the former system.
However, one is now in a situation in which the ITC will have to make a judgment about the initial quality of all the applicants which will not be very dissimilar from the judgment that the IBA made in the past. It will have one difficult additional element of quality to judge which will be new: it will have to judge the quality of money as well as the quality of the 908 programme ideas. That will be some safeguard against the fear of allowing over-bidding to undermine the subsequent programme operation. Having done that, in a minority of cases (but they will be very important cases) it will need to decide whether it wishes to apply the provisions for exceptional circumstances. That will involve exactly the kind of subjective judgment—that is the way in which it has always been put—about the best company to which to give the licence.
Perhaps I may say that I have every confidence in what will be the new ITC and its members. The chairman, George Russell, is an extremely able chairman. But the Committee should ponder on some of the difficulties. I cannot help a certain wry feeling about the matter raised in the amendment, which I support, with regard to making more public consultation arrangements.
It has been a complaint over recent years that the IBA made all its critical decisions behind closed doors. That was true. It was also true that the decision was not justiciable in any serious way once it had been taken. I believe that the criticism that the system was arbitrary has force. However, the new proposals will not deal with that criticism.
With regard to general public consultation, in the last round the IBA went to tremendous trouble to engage in very wide-ranging consultation. My noble friend may not be fully aware exactly how far it went on the previous occasion. It held hundreds of public meetings. The larger meetings at the end of the process were chaired and supervised by members of the board of the IBA. It conducted extremely careful opinion research in various areas. It went into wide-ranging consultation with local authorities and others. That aspect was totally open.
However, the final decisions were very private indeed. As I understand it, the final decisions under these proposals will be private. The decision on who passes the Becher's Brook of the quality hurdle will be taken behind closed doors. The even more sensitive decision as to which of the minority of applicants might qualify for the exceptional circumstances decision will be taken behind closed doors.
At the end of the day the decisions of the ITC may be more open to judicial review than was the case under the previous Broadcasting Act; I am not sure. But I cannot resist pointing out that the proposed process will still give undue dominance to the money element. Much of the remainder will involve the judgmental decision-making that the Government so much objected to when they started the Bill on its original course.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 110) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 102; Not-Contents, 119.910
|Division No. 1|
|Airedale, L.||Kagan, L.|
|Allen of Abbeydale, L.||Kearton, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Kilbracken, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Kirkhill, L.|
|Attlee, E.||Lawrence, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Lindsay of Birker, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Listowel, E.|
|Birk, B.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.|
|Blackstone, B.||Lloyd of Hampstead, L.|
|Blease, L.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L. [Teller.]|
|Bonham-Carter, L.||Longford, E.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.|
|Bottomley, L.||Macaulay of Bragar, L.|
|Broadbridge, L.||McGregor of Durris, L.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Mackie of Benshie, L.|
|Carter, L.||McNair, L.|
|Chorley, L.||Manchester, Bp.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Mason of Barnsley, L.|
|Clinton-Davis, L.||Meston, L.|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||Morris of Castle Morris, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Nicol, B.|
|Darcy (de Knayth), B.||Ogmore, L.|
|David, B.||Oram, L.|
|Davies of Penrhys, L.||Parry, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Peston, L.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Ennals, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Richard, L.|
|Falkender, B.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Rochester, L.|
|Foot, L.||Russell, E.|
|Gallacher, L.||Serota, B.|
|Galpern, L.||Southwark, Bp.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Glenamara, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|[Teller.]||Thomson of Monifieth, L.|
|Gregson, L.||Tonypandy, V.|
|Grey, E.||Tordoff, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Hanworth, V.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Hatch of Lusby, L.||Walpole, L.|
|Holme of Cheltenham, L.||Walston, L.|
|Hooson, L.||Warnock, B.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Hughes, L.||White, B.|
|Jay, L.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Jeger, B.||Willis, L.|
|Jenkins of Hillhead, L.||Wilson of Rievaulx, L.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L.||Winstanley, L.|
|Aldington, L.||Cavendish of Furness, L.|
|Alexander of Weedon, L.||Clanwilliam, E.|
|Allenby of Megiddo, V.||Coleraine, L.|
|Allerton, L.||Colnbrook, L.|
|Annan, L.||Colwyn, L.|
|Arran, E.||Cork and Orrery, E.|
|Ashbourne, L.||Cox, B.|
|Balfour, E.||Craigmyle, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Cranbrook, E.|
|Beloff, L.||Crickhowell, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Cullen of Ashbourne, L.|
|Blatch, B.||Davidson, V. [Teller.]|
|Borthwick, L.||Denham, L. [Teller]|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Elles, B.|
|Brentford, V.||Elliot of Harwood, B.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Elton, L.|
|Brigstocke, B.||Erroll, E.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Ferrers, E.|
|Buxton of Alsa, L.||Fortescue E.|
|Caithness, E.||Fraser of Carmyllie, L.|
|Caldecote, V.||Fraser of Kilmorack, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Gray of Contin, L.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Greenway, L.|
|Grimthorpe, L.||Orkney, E.|
|Halsbury, E.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Hardinge of Penshurst, L.||Pearson of Rannoch, L.|
|Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Pender, L.|
|Hemphill, L.||Platt of Writtle, B.|
|Henderson of Brompton, L.||Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.|
|Henley, L.||Quinton, L.|
|Hesketh, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Hives, L.||Reay, L.|
|Holderness, L.||Rees, L.|
|Home of the Hirsel, L.||Rochdale, V.|
|Hooper, B.||Sanderson of Bowden, L.|
|Howe, E.||Seebohm, L.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Selkirk, E.|
|Joseph, L.||Shannon, E.|
|Killearn, L.||Stockton, E.|
|Kimball, L.||Stodart of Leaston, L.|
|Kinnoull, E.||Strange, B.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Strathcarron, L.|
|Long, V.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Manton, L.||Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.|
|Margadale, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Marsh, L.||Suffield, L.|
|Massereene and Ferrard, V.||Swinfen, L.|
|Merrivale, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Mersey, V.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Milverton, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Monteagle of Brandon, L.||Trevethin and Oaksey, L.|
|Montgomery of Alamein, V.||Trumpington, B.|
|Morris, L.||Tryon, L.|
|Mottistone, L.||Ullswater, V.|
|Munster, E.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Murton of Lindisfarne, L.||Wade of Chorlton, L.|
|Nelson, E.||Wyatt of Weeford, L.|
|Norrie, L.||Zouche of Haryngworth, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 6.20 p.m.
Baroness David moved Amendment No. 110A:
Page 13, line 2, after ("the") insert ("programming and other").
§ The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 110A is a paving amendment for Amendments Nos. 125, 126 and 131. I wish to speak to the group of amendments tabled in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, Lord Plowden and Lord Norrie, the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), and myself. The amendments have the support of more than 90 national voluntary organisations which have come together to campaign for the interests of people with whom they work for the future of broadcasting.
§ Amendments Nos. 125 and 126 will guarantee that viewers are offered a more diverse range of programmes. They make it an obligation for Channel 3 companies to include in their schedules documentaries on national and international issues, programmes with an educational purpose and social action programmes. Despite changes made to the Bill in another place when the quality threshold was raised—and we welcome that—the current wording still does not ensure that viewers will in future be offered a diversity of programmes designed to meet a wide range of interests. The ITC may well put such a diverse range in its illustrative guidelines but it will have little power to ensure that Channel 3 companies include a full and balanced range. It will have even less power to 911 ensure that the range is maintained over what could be the next 20 years during which a company holds the franchise.
§ People use television not only for entertainment but as an important source of information. As London Business School research has shown, UK viewers watch factual programmes for one-third of their viewing time. In particular, television plays a key role in enabling people to inform themselves on environmental issues and the problems facing those people in other parts of the world. Among recent notable examples on ITV have been Adrian Cowell's coverage of the fate of the Amazon rain forests and Charles Stewart's study of life in an Ethiopian village during the famine. There is no doubt that the growing awareness of, interest in and concern for environmental problems worldwide among all ages and classes of people during the past few years have been due to the excellent television programmes made available.
§ The Minister may well say that the existing obligations include news and current affairs on national and international issues. But broadcasters define current affairs programming as covering issues of current concern. On the other hand, documentaries deal with issues not so prominently before the public and in greater depth. They occupy a less fixed place in the schedules and involve much longer production times—typically, four months in the case of international filming.
§ On all channels, including ITV, more time is given to documentaries than to current affairs. They cover substantially different issues and a wide range of topics; for example, wildlife, arts and culture, adventure, development in human rights, science and history. They cover substantially different parts of the world from news and current affairs. The view of the world provided by documentaries is essential for a more rounded understanding, allowing greater empathy with the people portrayed. Documentaries are an essential complement to the picture given by news and current affairs, which, as new research published this week shows, are dominated by reports on conflict situations, disasters and terrorism.
§ ITV makes an important contribution to the coverage of international issues. It reaches large audiences and for many people television is the only source of information on such matters. ITV's coverage is greater than that of BBC 1. It reaches large audiences, different from Channel 4 and also somewhat different from the BBC. For that reason it is important to have those programmes on Channel 3, which is likely to remain the most popular channel for some time to come.
§ The Minister may well say that BBC and Channel 4 have that remit. But we wish to enable people who do not usually tune in to BBC and Channel 4 and who happen on such programmes, as it were, by accident to become interested and involved. Amendment No. 131 is proposed to ensure that such programmes are not broadcast late at night or early in the morning. It ensures diversity during the main viewing times and is a crucial complement to programme specifications in Clause 16.912
§ I turn to the educational purpose. At a time when, compared with West Germany, France, Japan and Korea, our backwardness in educational training is being widely recognised, it is essential that educational programmes should be disseminated to a wide audience through television. Sadly the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, is ill and unable to be present. He was to have spoken on adult education and literacy programmes. Lady Plowden is actively involved in ALBSU, the Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Unit, which has used TV as a highly successful means of introducing the illiterate and the innumerate to courses which have transformed their lives. Commercial TV, regionally organised, has a decade of experience of collaboration with adult and continuing education.
§ This year a depressing survey carried out by the National Institute of Adult and Continuing Education showed that, while 41 per cent. of social classes A and B had studied during the past three years, only 16 per cent. of the unskilled and semi-skilled had done so. Of course, there is the increasing number of elderly people needing stimulus to develop new interests. Many of them are isolated or housebound.
§ I wish to mention a programme produced last autumn for Granada's "This Morning" by Thames TV. It aimed to encourage women to return to work by presenting a series of optimistic portraits of women who had taken up work, education or training after a career break, usually to raise a family. After each programme the presenters offered viewers a free copy of the New Start pack. A total of 3,250 copies were requested and dispatched. With the existing demographic trend we shall desperately need women in the workplace, and we can see how invaluable such a programme is for both individuals and the country.
§ As regards social action—I am not enamoured of the phrase but it appears to be generally used and understood so I shall use it—in my Second Reading speech I mentioned the "Somewhere to Run" programme about runaway children, watched last year by 9 million people. Thousands rang the help line provided and watched the associated documentaries during the following weeks. Yorkshire TV makes available short slots and helps 80 voluntary organisations with programming expertise and resources to produce community service announcements either publicising their services or asking for volunteers. A twice weekly programme entitled "Help Yourself" offers help and advice on health and welfare benefits and practical advice for the unemployed, the elderly and the disabled. The successful health campaign was that concerned with AIDS.
§ Community education officers, appointed for the first time in 1980 when the IBA included them as a requirement, have an obligation to make and encourage arrangements for publications and/or telephone help lines to answer local needs. Age Concern has written in strong support of Amendment No. 126, as has Community Service Volunteers. It states that since the mid-1970s social action broadcasting has enabled ordinary people to act from 913 the awareness that they have gained of social issues from programmes such as "Cathy Come Home", "Find a Family" and the 1987 AIDS Campaign.
§ For all those reasons I hope that Members of the Committee will support the amendments. I have received a massive amount of correspondence—and I am sure that that applies to most Members of the Committee—and it appears that there is great anxiety and enormously strong feeling that these words must be written into the Bill ensuring that there is no deterioration under the new lighter-touch regime. Having stressed active citizenship, it is an irony that the Government are prepared to jeopardise the most powerful way in which people can be made aware and, thus, practically follow up their anxiety. I beg to move.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Lord Norrie
In supporting Amendments Nos. 125 and 126 and 131, which also stand in my name, I should like to voice my anxiety about the future of documentary and social action programmes, particularly those relating to environmental issues. I am anxious also that the full range of programming is to be shown at reasonable times.
Documentaries on environmental issues have been crucial in making the public aware of the need for action. Anglia's "Survival" series has focused powerfully our attention on endangered species. Granada's "Disappearing World" has underlined the threat faced by many tribal peoples in remote locations. Central's award-winning "Viewpoint" series has played a key role in alerting us to the urgent problems of global warming. Programmes of that kind will be vulnerable not just on ITV but also on BBC, which will be forced to compete.
Members of the Committee will recall from our debates on Wednesday 9th July that the duty placed on independent television companies in the 1981 Act to educate, inform and entertain, is not to be reproduced here. Therefore, it is even more important that the quality threshold which we are debating in this clause should reflect the range of programmes which the market may not of itself have any incentive to provide but which are vital to maintain the standard of broadcasting.
ITV documentaries can attract audiences of up to 8 million, but even that is not enough to guarantee their inclusion in the future Channel 3 schedules throughout the 1990s. ITV documentaries also receive very high audience appreciation ratings. We should not ignore those important facts if we are serious about developing a system which truly gives viewers the programmes which they want to watch.
Those programmes are vulnerable. Television documentaries such as those on species facing extinction are expensive to make. They need to be filmed on location. Prior research has to be undertaken over considerable periods of time. The programmes do not necessarily attract the same audience ratings as cheaper quiz or chat shows.
The Government recognise that news and current affairs programmes are in exactly that position. That 914 is why this clause provides a quality threshold requirement so that that kind of programme can be shown. Surely documentaries should be treated in the same way.
My real anxiety is that Channel 3 will be forced to cut costs in order to compete for audiences—not just with the BBC but also with Channels 4 and 5, satellite stations and cable services. Documentaries on social action programmes could be among the first casualties.
Turning to social action programmes on environmental issues, I can offer the Committee first-hand experience. I speak as the president of the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, a voluntary organisation which recruits thousands of volunteers for environmental projects of every kind. Like many other voluntary organisations, BTCV uses the broadcast media to recruit volunteers, to raise public awareness of the environmental problems which they seek to tackle and to make sure that environmental issues are a central part of our educational curricula. It is the need for those three kinds of programme which these amendments address.
Perhaps I may give one of countless examples of programmes, so vital to the work of BTCV, which have come to be called "social action broadcasting". During the past two years, in the run up to National Tree Week and in the aftermath of the tragic 1987 storms, BTCV ran the Million Tree Campaign. To recruit volunteers, make appeals for donations and to seek the assistance of the business community it used the Thames television "Help" programme, a bulletin board for charities and voluntary organisations seeking help and offering services. Also, it was able to use many national and community radio stations.
Social action broadcasting and educational programmes are often expensive. Written materials are often produced in association with such programmes to be sent to viewers who order them. Telephone services are provided through which requests for written materials, donations or offers of help are received. The costs of such ancillary services—so vital for voluntary organisations—are met for the most part by the broadcasters.
Therefore, I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench will be able to look favourably on these amendments. I hope that he will not simply say that we are trying to put into the Bill matters which the Government envisage would be in the explanatory guidelines. My fear is that guidelines will have no more power to stem the commercial tide than King Canute.
The Government have already seen that children's and religious programmes need to be protected against the commercial pressures which could squeeze them from our screens, and they are in the quality threshold in this clause. These amendments seek to preserve ITV's important range of factual programming which, together with the BBC's coverage, contributes to the high reputation of British television.
In supporting Amendment No. 131, perhaps I may emphasise that the time of day and the day of the week 915 on which programmes are shown is important. The legislation should direct licence holders to ensure that programmes are shown at appropriate times.
In commenting on Amendments Nos. 125 and 126, I stress the need for programmes which seek to stimulate public awareness, to assist in education and which will offer people the chance through voluntary work or donations, to be involved in their community and in protecting the environment. Clearly, programmes which seek to do that are useless if shown at the hours when those who might wish to benefit from them will be at work or asleep. Again, children's programmes are of no value if shown at 10 o'clock in the morning. Without the amendment, an applicant might well fulfil the letter of the quality threshold by showing current affairs, children's and religious programmes at inappropriate hours of the day in order to allow more commercially lucrative programmes to be shown during peak time. My honourable friend in another place, Mr David Mellor, promised that the quality threshold was to be a "Becher's Brook'. Unless something like this amendment is passed, I believe that this promise cannot be honoured. I commend these important amendments to the Committee.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
I speak to Amendment No. 128 which is grouped with the amendments to which the noble Baroness, Lady David, and the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, have spoken. I regard this amendment as necessary if we are to get the system in the words of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, "as right as we can". That is the objective of all Members of the Committee speaking in and attending this debate.
The amendment is necessary because—and the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, referred to this important fact—the Bill removes by omission the public service obligation on the IBA and which no longer applies to the ITC, and because it removes also, in large measure, the monitoring and scheduling role which the old IBA shouldered.
Secondly, it is necessary because the emphasis on commercial pressure which the Bill embodies, and to which my noble friend Lord Thomson referred when speaking earlier, will mean that companies will be expected to subject large, valuable audiences to advertising. Those two elements of this Bill must be countered.
Thirdly, they are made more apparent because, as has been said by the noble Baroness, Lady David, and the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, programmes of this kind are extremely expensive. In France deregulation was followed by an almost complete obliteration of all documentary programmes from the screen and the screen was filled with soaps and quiz shows. We should not regard this country as somehow immune from the effects of deregulation. We have seen that, almost everywhere, it produces the same consequences. I cannot understand why people believe that this country alone is immune to those effects. I suggest that it is not, and that deregulation will be followed in this country by the consequences which have followed deregulation elsewhere. We must guard against that; and that is one of the purposes of these amendments.
916 I shall not go over ground that has already been covered. We do not want social action and access programmes such as "Open Door" and "Comment", documentaries on famine in Africa, deforestation and its consequences, or programmes on alcoholism and AIDS swept from our screen. Nor do we want those programmes made subject to subscription television, which is the worst kind of way to deliver public service programmes to the people to whom they should be delivered.
The arts are in danger under the system. They are very expensive and often extremely risky. You try to widen people's horizons and to give people opportunities to see, appreciate and enjoy things that they have not enjoyed before. You try to increase their range of appreciation and their critical awareness.
I have referred before to one of the most remarkable changes which has occurred in this country since the war and which has been described as the musical revolution. This country had been almost a desert with regard to music for many centuries, but, since the 1930s, it has suddenly become a highly musical country. More classical music is available in London than in any other capital city in the world. One of the reasons for that has been the Third Programme which opened up classical music to people who had never thought they liked it and who thought that it was simply for old highbrows and intellectuals. They suddenly found that they loved and enjoyed it. That is something that public service broadcasting has done which I doubt whether deregulated broadcasting would have done. This we must protect.
That situation applies not only to music, but to programmes on the Trollope books, I Claudius or Brideshead. The effect of those programmes is not only that people enjoy them, but that they are introduced to and go and read the books of Trollope, Waugh and Robert Graves. That is a positive and important educational, entertainment and informational function which we must protect. We should remember that everyone is a minority in some aspect. There is not a great majority. Almost everyone has a minority taste. We should bear that point in mind.
I have no doubt that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, has been told to say, or really believes, that it is safe to leave matters to the BBC or Channel 4. I do not believe that that is true. Channel 4 now has to earn its own advertising and the advertising pressures on it will be fairly substantial. The BBC's licence fee is eroded every year by inflation and by 1996, when the charter comes up for renewal, the BBC will be sorely strapped for money. Whereas in the past the BBC set standards to which commercial television conformed, the Government have changed the rules of the game and made money the criterion. I suspect that the standards will be set by people pursuing advertisers and that, to retain its audience, the BBC may have to conform. That is what I fear.
It is for those reasons that I think the amendment to which I speak is important. The ground covered by my amendment and that of the noble Baroness, Lady 917 David, is similar. I shall not press my amendment to the vote, but I shall certainly support the noble Baroness if she wishes to press her amendment.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Lord Allen of Abbeydale
This is not a subject in which I move with any expertise or familiarity, but I am glad to support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady David. I put my name down to a selection of the amendments. Like her, I have some qualms about the phrase "social action programmes", but it is not easy to think of an alternative and it seems to be well understood. I have received a number of representations about their value, including those from Age Concern and the Spastics Society.
The case for the amendments has been so well put that there is clearly no need for me to go over it again. Instead, while I have been sitting here, I have been thinking of the arguments that might be advanced against a case which seems so strong. It might be said that Channel 3 would have to function in a much tighter financial environment with increased competition, as the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, said, and that it would be unfair to burden it with yet more obligations extending to programme categories which are not all that attractive commercially.
However, if the obligations are clear from the beginning of the bidding process, that will be reflected in the percentage of advertising revenue set by the ITC and in the bidding companies' cash bid. All the companies will be in exactly the same position. I decline to use the phrase "level playing field". It could have the effect of slightly reducing the amount that the Treasury will receive from the franchise auction, but I hope that it will not be suggested that it is essential to wring out the last penny if it might be to the detriment of quality and diversity to do so. I do not believe that things have yet come to that pass and, so far as I can make out, the Government have not so far suggested that they have.
Again, if it is argued that the BBC channels could carry the factual programmes, I share the view that there is a risk that, if Channel 3 starts to drop certain types of programme, that could well have a knock-on effect on the BBC. As we are constantly reminded, experience in some other countries is not all that encouraging.
If it is argued that too long a list of obligations would reduce flexibility and make even more vulnerable those categories that are left out, I should answer that there is already in the Bill a list of obligatory categories and that the addition of the types and categories provided for in the amendments of the noble Baroness would cover the main forms of factual viewing and avoid giving the regrettable impression that those programmes might be dispensable.
The amendments do not suggest that there should be any quota or strict definition and the ITV companies would still have a great deal of flexibility. However, I agree that the future profile of Channel 3, with its broad programme obligations, must be spelt 918 out in the legislation. It is then—but only then—right to leave the detail of programming within those broad categories to the ITC and the system of illustrative guidelines.
In that context, the record of the ITV companies hitherto has been good, but, as has been pointed out, with the disappearance of the duty of the IBA to provide television which informs and educates, I support the view that it is right to have in the Bill that further strengthening of the quality threshold to be passed by those applying for a Channel 3 licence.
§ Lord Richard
I rise to support the amendment moved by my noble friend. I have listened to this part of the debate and apologise for not having been here since the start this afternoon.
The point that strikes me overwhelmingly is how one can provide diversity of television programming within the existing structure. The structure proposed by the Government is not one that I particularly like; indeed, I have strong views against it. However, accepting the values of the structure that we shall have, the issue is, how can we make the best of it?
I wish to make only three main points. First, it is undoubtedly true that most British people derive their knowledge of foreign affairs and international issues from television. They do not get it from the newspapers but tend to get it from the box. Television has enormous power to raise people's awareness. It influences attitudes and, indeed, can move people to the most extraordinary heights of action on international issues in which, at first sight, one would have thought the British people would not be too interested.
It is worth pondering for a moment that with the present system there is, after all, an overall obligation on all the terrestrial channels that television should inform and educate. Over the past decade, in particular, the British public have enjoyed in-depth coverage of global issues through current affairs reports and documentaries on both ITV and BBC, as well as the specialist coverages on BBC 2 and Channel 4. Can anyone doubt that that coverage and those programmes have dramatically heightened British awareness of international issues? Can anyone doubt that they have led to greater popular involvement in environmental and green issues and, indeed, with overseas development work?
The second point that I make is that programmes on international affairs are relatively expensive to produce. I am told by those who know more about these matters than I do that they cost approximately twice the domestic equivalent as soon as overseas filming is involved. Such programmes generally attract large but not massive audiences. If they are shown by ITV at peak times there are around 4 million to 8 million viewers.
The danger, unless these amendments are carried, is that in the new competitive environment laid out in the Bill programme costs and audience sizes—after all, for the man with the money those figures determine the advertising revenue that programmes attract—will become the prime factors in Channel 3 scheduling. 919 Inevitably, that means that much factual programming on international issues will be under threat unless there are clear obligations on the new franchises written into this legislation.
As I see it, the dangers are threefold. First, news and current affairs on domestic and international issues are protected, but it is only news that is stipulated to be scheduled at peak times. The strong possibility is that other factual programming will be "ghetto-ised" into late night slots with greatly reduced audience reach. Secondly, there is no requirement at all for documentaries. In the past decade they have probably played the most important single role in helping the public to understand global issues. However, documentaries involve lengthy research. They allow a more detailed and in depth examination of the issues. They cover different topics to those covered by news and current affairs programmes. It is often the documentaries that have set the agenda on crucial global issues in the past few years. The two programmes mentioned by my noble friend when she moved the amendment come to my mind also—the Ethiopian famine and the Amazon rain forests.
Thirdly, in the present structure proposed by the Government there is no requirement for programming with an educational purpose. Many existing international documentaries are clearly educational not only in their purpose but in their effect. They are made with clearly defined educational objectives, and pre-showing promotion and off-air educational support is often provided.
My final point is this. The ITC's ability to set illustrative guidelines is an important step forward to ensure a degree of diversity of programme content on Channel 3. Of course I accept that. However, the inclusion of documentaries in guidelines is clearly much weaker than inclusion on the face of the Bill. There is already debate about the ITC having little power in practice to arrest the slippage and even the dropping of less profitable programme categories. My fear is that unless the Bill is amended as proposed by my noble friend, Channel 3's peak coverage of international issues will be more limited and much less effective. I cannot believe that even the Government would claim that that is increasing diversity of television viewing.
§ Lord Buxton of Alsa
May I add a few brief words in support of Amendment No. 125 and the word "documentaries". I hope that I can persuade my noble friend Lord Ferrers to give the amendment his most careful consideration. What I have to say is based on personal experience and fact.
I have mentioned on previous occasions that I retired as chairman of Anglia Television two years ago, but I take a keen interest in its "Survival" wildlife and environment programmes, to which previous speakers have kindly referred. I started the programme 30 years ago and natural history programmes on television have now become enormously popular. The last programme to be shown, about one month ago at 9 o'clock in the evening, was about crocodiles. I believe that it had over 12 million viewers and almost won its time slot 920 for that evening. The programme was seventh in the top 100 programmes for that week, along with "Coronation Street", and so on, at the top, and beating by a long way the World Cup coverage, game shows, and the rest.
That was not always the case. When "Survival" started it had to fight its way onto the network. It then had a great struggle for years to stay on the network. The point I make to my noble friend Lord Ferrers is that the support of the IBA during the first decade was absolutely crucial. The IBA referred constantly to "this gem" or "jewel in the crown" of ITV because it was a special and specialised programme. It was mentioned so frequently by the IBA and in its reports that no network company would have dared to refuse to take it.
However, it was not popular majority programming in those early days before the new generation of schoolchildren who join natural history clubs, learn biology, and so on, became the majority. Of course, natural history and environment programmes are now well established.
The importance of the reference to documentaries is that other minority subjects, not yet popularly appreciated and understood, will be coming along in exactly the same way as "Survival" did on ITV in its early days. Such new programmes will not have the IBA support. It is absolutely vital to have a commitment to take documentaries of that nature. I feel confident, based on my 30 years' experience in ITV, that such programmes will not find a place at reasonable broadcasting times, or even find a place on the network, but will simply be squeezed out unless there is a requirement in the Bill.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
Before my noble friend sits down, perhaps I may put this question to him. "Survival" was outstanding and deserved to get to the top of the pops—as indeed it did—but did that programme need legislation? Was it by statute?
§ Lord Buxton of Alsa
I think I gave the answer that the IBA had the power, the muscle and the authority to force the programme on and to keep it on. My noble friend is right to recall that, I believe about 20 years ago, the world was stunned when "Survival" beat "Top of the Pops", and that was in the days when we had only two channels. With my accustomed modesty I remember saying at the time that it only proved that over half the population would rather watch anything than "Top of the Pops".
The Lord Bishop of Manchester
I may be naive but I should have thought that the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady David, and those grouped with it, would find an echo in the breast of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, when he replies. After all, the proposals are a modest extension of what is already written into the Bill, as can be seen in subsection (2)(a), on page 14, where protection is given to news and current affairs programmes of high quality dealing with both national and international matters. These amendments propose that the protection should be extended to documentaries and social action programmes.
921 The point I make is wide, in a sense. As we know, immense changes are taking place on the European scene at present. The media has a vital role to play in every European country on the shape of our societies in the years ahead. That is particularly so whether Europe becomes a kind of rich man's club, fenced around and ignoring the problems of the third world, which, as we all know, are immense, or whether Europe in the years ahead, reinforced by public opinion, has an outward-looking aspect. In the request for some protection to be given to documentaries and encouragement for the making of expensive documentaries—and they are expensive as has been so expertly explained—the various aid charities which are in the field such as Christian Aid, the Catholic charity, CAFOD, Oxfam, the Save the Children Fund and others, are deeply concerned that we should have the kind of documentary programmes which are presenting to the British public in the years ahead true facts about the situation of the world in which we live.
As we all know, it is a uncomfortable situation. There are certain events such as the Ethiopian earthquake and the famine or other such disasters which will encourage great public generosity. It is very much more difficult to achieve the level of public education to explain what has created the lopsided world in which we live. It is much more difficult to get the level of public education that will influence public policy. It is vital that the media plays its part in that and that documentaries and social action programmes are given some protection.
I believe that this measure is supported on all sides of the Committee from the echoes that I have heard and particularly from the comments of the last speaker. I hope that the Minister will respond appropriately.
§ 7 p.m.
§ Baroness Ewart-Biggs
I wish to make a few remarks from the Front Bench on this side of the Committee in support of these amendments. I am sure that the Minister recognises that there have been overwhelmingly strong arguments coming from all parts of the Chamber in favour of these amendments. The warning that came from the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, was a serious one concerning the future of the programmes that are covered by these amendments. What he said about the part played by the IBA in the promotion of such programmes was also of great significance.
Perhaps I may now turn to the coverage of global issues. The third world and environment broadcasting project speaks on behalf of 50 agencies that are working in the field of development and education. It has repeatedly pointed out and underlined that most British people derive their knowledge of environmental and global issues from television. That has been said on many occasions during this debate.
I wish to give a specific example. In about 1987 a seven-part series called "A Battle for the Planet" was made by the International Broadcasting Trust and it 922 was shown on Channel 4. One of the episodes dealt with reafforestation. It covered the work of a development agency which I founded and of which I am the president. It is called SOS SAHEL-UK. We know from our experience how very interested the British people are in trees. We know that from the support that we receive and the highly knowledgeable letters that we continue to receive from members of the public.
The first three programmes in the series were shown at the high peak time of 7.30 on Sunday evening. There was a great response; many letters and telephone calls were received by Channel 4 referring to the interest shown in the series. However, the time for the second part of the series was changed to 4.30 p.m. on Sunday. The response fell quite dramatically. There were few letters and fewer telephone calls. That shows that the amendment, which refers to documentaries of this kind being shown at a time when people are most likely to watch the programmes, is of great importance.
The most recent film "The March" came as a result of a steady stream of documentaries produced on environmental and third world issues. It may not have been made had it not been for all the documentaries. In Europe the number of people viewing "The March" was as high as for any film made in recent times.
My second point concerns social action broadcasting. As the broadcasting consortium has explained, the voluntary organisations use television for all kinds of purposes. They use them to raise all kinds of social issues. The noble Baroness, Lady Ryder, telephoned me this morning to say how much she supported these amendments and how sorry she was not to be able to be here this afternoon to speak in their favour.
As my noble friend Lord Richard said, in a competitive, commercial environment, documentaries, continuing education and social action programmes may be lost because they are seen to be costly to produce and unattractive to advertisers. These programmes are wanted by the public. They should be available on mainstream terrestrial channels, including Channel 3. A suitable proportion should be shown at peak viewing times. I strongly support these amendments.
Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)
I add my wholehearted support to Amendments Nos. 125, 126 and 131. Only the latter amendment bears my name. I tried to put my name to all three but the list of supporters was already full. The case has already been made compellingly and comprehensively by the noble Baroness, Lady David, and others. I wish to narrow things down from worldwide environmental issues to the specific field of disability. It is important to safeguard the quality and diversity of programmes for people with disabilities. It is essential that their interests are still catered for in mainstream programmes, including current affairs programmes, and documentaries. In addition, programmes that specialise in disability issues should not be relegated solely to off-peak times.
923 We seem to be stuck with the terrible phrase, "social action programming". That is a good example of how people who have disabilities can be helped. TVS's programme "Action" played a large part in the launch of "Face to Face", which is a counselling service in Surrey run by parents of disabled children for parents of disabled children. It is a valuable counselling and support service for the early days when one first discovers that one's child is disabled. Because the programme was on television it reached a much wider audience and helped many more people than just parents living in Surrey.
I wish to expand for a moment on what the noble Baroness, Lady David, said about programmes on AIDS. The scheduling of these programmes is very important for the impact that they may have. In 1987–88 there was a major health education campaign which focused on HIV and AIDS. I believe that the noble Baroness mentioned it. In order to offer immediate information and support after these programmes a help line was set up which answered thousands of calls from those with little knowledge of AIDS and its implications. That developed into the national AIDS help line, which still operates. It takes calls 24 hours a day. It is necessary to include documentary programmes for educational purposes and social action programmes in the positive program me requirements. I support the amendments most warmly and they need to be on the face of the Bill.
§ Lord Willis
I warmly support these amendments for several reasons. I began my career as a writer of documentaries. I cannot claim that the first documentary I wrote was a social action programme because it was called "How to Look After Your Bren Gun". That was when I was with the army's bureau of current affairs. I had my first experience of how powerful television can be in the early 1950s. I wrote a documentary programme called "The Pattern of Marriage". It dealt with how young people meet, get on, get married, the problems they meet, why they separate and why they divorce. I based it on a considerable amount of research in the divorce courts and elsewhere. We made six programmes. It was my first experience of the power of television. We received hundreds of letters from people all over the country. The Marriage Guidance Council experienced an increase in its customers of around 300 per cent. The whole thing was a marvellous social exercise.
During the debate a great deal of emphasis has been put on educating people about global problems. In the years since I wrote "The Pattern of Marriage" there has been a tremendous response in television to domestic problems and to the problems of living in this country. I hope that I do not sound too much like a proud father when I say that for many years my son produced the programme "First Tuesday" which pioneered many issues concerning Britain.
The weakness at the heart of the Bill is that at the end of the day everything comes down to money. One can set up all the hurdles one likes in terms of quality and say that companies will not get the franchise unless they can satisfy the quality hurdles, but there 924 will be so much pressure from satellite, cable and everything else for the available advertising that, as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, standards will fall. They must, because there is not enough advertising to go round. We already have cable and we have satellite coming from the sky with dozens of channels. The Government are blithely saying that we shall have a Channel 5 too and that it should have a piece of the cake. There is not enough cake. That is why it is so important that these amendments should be supported. We should have safeguards in the Bill so that the quality that has distinguished British television for so long is not lost. One of the great jewels in our crown has been our documentaries. I warmly support the amendment.
§ Lord Annan
At this stage in our proceedings we should be trying to achieve balance between two ways of looking at broadcasting. I voted with the Government on the previous amendment because it seemed to me that the movers of the amendment had not really tried to face up to the problem to which the Government have been facing up.
The problem expresses itself in the enormous disparity between the salaries and wages that the BBC can afford to pay and those which Independent Television can afford to pay. Why can the commercial companies afford to pay so much more under the present IBA system? It is of course because they can tolerate any amount of Spanish practices by the ACTT and they can afford to pay to their staff all kinds of differentials which the BBC cannot afford to pay. They can do so because they can pass on the cost to the advertisers by keeping the advertising rates as high as they possibly can be kept.
§ Earl Russell
May I ask the noble Lord to withdraw the phrase "Spanish practices"? It is an unfriendly phrase to a friendly nation; and moreover I believe it is incorrect.
§ Lord Annan
If the noble Earl prefers, let me describe it in this way—chicanery of the most arrogant and intolerable kind, in which crews which went abroad would immediately stop work and demand higher wages in order that they should be able to have a meal at the rate which Michelin showed that a one-star restaurant could have. On Friday evening all work would stop until it had been agreed that not merely time and a half should be paid but two and a half times the rate should be paid for work on Saturday and three and a half times the rate for work on Sunday.
§ Lord Annan
I am sorry but I must tell the noble Lord that he cannot just take that line. The Government were faced with this situation. They knew perfectly well that the only way they could ameliorate it was by introducing competition into the whole business of the way in which the commercial companies work.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
Can the noble Lord make it clear that he is not talking about the amendment?
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lord Annan
If I were not interrupted so often by Members of the Committee, I would be able to address myself to the amendment. The Government have tried to take a stand on the matter in order to reduce advertising costs. Those costs have hitherto been passed on to British business.
Having sacrificed in the Temples of Beelzebub and Mammon, I shall now turn and be willing to burn incense at the Temple of the Muses, of which the high priestess is the noble Baroness, Lady David. I support the amendments because we need this kind of balance in broadcasting. We need the kind of competitive initiatives which the Government are trying to introduce. But we also need the safeguards which have been addressed with such eloquence by Members of the Committee this evening. It could not have been better expressed than by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, why the arts and an intellectual content in broadcasting were so essential. As for the question of documentaries, the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, is a great expert in this area. The noble Lord, Lord Willis, has his own experience.
I shall not argue that case further. I shall merely say that we need to preserve balance in the Bill. This is the way in which one can balance what so many Members of the Committee on this side of the Chamber thought were the deplorable effects of the amendment passed some half an hour or so ago.
§ Baroness Blackstone
Like the right reverend Prelate, I very much hope that the Minister will respond positively to the amendments as no new issue of principle is entailed. I fear that he may respond by saying that there will be illustrative guidelines. An unfortunate aspect of the Bill is that the ITC will not have the powers that the IBA had to ensure the broad range of high quality programmes that we have become used to. Illustrative guidelines are simply not enough.
As many Members of the Committee have already said, television is an enormously important source of information. Many people rely on it as their main source of information about social, environmental and economic conditions in different countries of the world as well as in our own. They are a way of helping people who cannot afford to travel or who read relatively little to have a much better informed and less parochial view of the world. Many people watch these programmes and enjoy them as well as learn from them, because they are scheduled to follow popular programmes. That is why it is so important that they should be part of the mainstream programming on independent television.
It is especially important with regard to young people. We know that children watch a great deal of television. It is essential that they do not have a diet of soaps, of game shows and of sport, with a little news thrown in. They should be able to watch programmes which broaden their understanding of the world and increase their knowledge of important issues. Documentaries can give a longer-term perspective which is vital to the understanding of such issues.
926 These programmes ought not to be confined to BBC and Channel 4. There are people who do not turn very much to those channels but largely confine their watching to independent channels. Both the BBC and Channel 4 want competition in relation to educational programmes and documentaries. The Government claim that they are in favour of competition. Perhaps the noble Earl will say whether he favours competition in this respect; and if not, why not?
The commercial pressures will be very great with respect to the increased numbers of channels. The longer lead times and high costs of these programmes make it most important to write on the face of the Bill a requirement to cover them. As many noble Lords said, that principle has been accepted in regard to news, current affairs, children's and religious programmes. Therefore, there should be no objection to having an obligation to provide documentary and educational programmes. Teachers in schools and in post-school institutions will be bitterly disappointed if that does not happen. They make much use of such programmes in their work with children, with young people and, indeed, with students. Many of them fear that the effects of deregulation which have been seen in other countries will take place here in respect of our young people.
These amendments will allow plenty of flexibility for the television companies. I hope that they will be accepted in the interests of maximising the educational value of television.
We have had a most interesting debate on this subject and one in which noble Lords have clearly shown their concern about what should be done to preserve the programmes which we all know and like. I was especially grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Annan, for saying that he understood the Government's philosophy on the matter and for the fact that he voted for us on the last occasion. I am most appreciative of that. However, when he said that he had been supping with Beelzebub and Mammon I was not quite so sure that that was particularly complimentary. I thought that Beelzebub was a devil. He then went on to say that he was going to sup with the Muses and support this amendment. I should point out to him that he would have been supping a good deal sooner with his noble friends, other than the Muses, had Members of the Committee not been so interested in this particular amendment.
Perhaps I may refer first to the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady David. I should like to start with a point of detail in order to get it, if I may say so, out of the spotlight. The amendment is unnecessary. As it stands, the Bill makes clear that the applicants' proposals for providing the service specified in Clause 16(2) or (3) must comply with all the requirements; that is, both programming and other requirements. Therefore, as I said, the amendment is not necessary.
I shall turn now to deal with the main substance of the debate. Members of the Committee put forward very strong arguments, all of which were concerned with standards, the maintenance of quality and the desire for us not to lose the programmes which we like, 927 know and respect. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, referred to the need for educational programmes.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester hoped that this concern would receive an echo in my breast. Of course it does. Indeed, there is nothing between us on these matters. We all want to see standards kept up. We all want to keep the variety of programmes which has been so successful, and we all want these programmes to continue. I refer to programmes which feature art, culture and natural history. My noble friend Lord Buxton referred to that aspect and outlined the programmes produced by Anglia Television. We know only too well the great success that Anglia has had with its natural history programmes.
However, we are considering what should be in the Bill. So far as concerns the programming requirements, the general pattern of broadcasting legislation since the inception of Independent Television has been to lay down in primary legislation very broad statements about the programme range, the quality and the standards and to allow the broadcasting authorities or the regulatory bodies to interpret and define them in practical terms. The Bill as it stands, and which noble Lords seek to amend, is drafted in the same tradition as in the past. The amendments would, therefore, reverse the tradition by specifying a variety of types of programme which would have to be shown on Channels 3 and 5.
The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, in a characteristically ungenerous and, I thought, niggardly way, said that I would say what I was told to say, as if I were a puppet on a string. I should point out to him that I do not normally say what I am told to say. However, I am the very lucky recipient of advice which I try to transmit to noble Lords in the best way I can if I think that it is good. One thing that I was told not to say is something which I shall say to the noble Lord. As usual, he is misconceived over the amendment. He said that he does not want the social action, the arts and all other such programmes to be swept away. As regards the very programmes he does not want to be swept away, there is in fact no obligation under the present law for these to be transmitted.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
The noble Earl must recognise that omitting the public service phrase,to inform, educate and entertain",from the Bill means that the programmes to which I and the noble Baroness, Lady David, referred may well not appear.
Let us just consider the matter for a moment. There is no specific statutory obligation on ITV companies at present to include any social action programmes, although it is likely that the IBA encourages the ITV companies to do so in order to fulfil the public service remit. We see no reason why Channels 3 and 5 should positively be required to provide educational progammes when these must be provided on the other three terrestrial channels; namely, BBC 1, BBC 2 and Channel 4. However, the 928 general diversity and high quality requirements, together with the requirement for news and current affairs programmes, should ensure an educational element in some Channel 3 and Channel 5 programmes.
Perhaps we should recall just what are the requirements which have to be met. Those wishing to be Channel 3 or 5 licence holders will have to satisfy the Independent Television Commission on many points. They will have to satisfy the commission that they will give a sufficient amount of time in their services to news and current affairs programmes of high quality and that they will give a sufficient amount of time to other programmes of high quality. In the case of Channel 3, they will have to satisfy the commission that there will be a sufficient range of regional programmes, including high quality regional news, a suitable proportion of which will be made in the licence area; that they will give a sufficient amount of time in their services to children's and religious programmes; that their planned programmes, when taken as a whole, are calculated to appeal to a wide variety of tastes and interests; that a proper proportion of the matter included in the programmes will be of European origin; and that for each year not less than 25 per cent. of the total amount of time is allocated to the broadcasting of independent productions. Those are the kind of quality standards which the proposed licence holder will have to meet before he is in a position to be considered as a contender.
The requirement for high quality current affairs programmes in Clause 16(2) (a) is bound to mean that some documentaries will be broadcast. In addition, arts and science programmes will almost certainly continue to be broadcast as part of the general diversity requirement. Moreover, there is nothing to prevent those social action programmes—I agree with the noble Baroness that that is a terrible expression—continuing on Channel 3 and the licensees building up or maintaining the kinds of link with local organisations which the ITV companies have established.
There does not seem to be much between us on the basic philosophy of the matter. However, we see no need for a statutory requirement for those programmes where there has been no such requirement in the past. Social action broadcasting should not disappear; indeed, there will be many more outlets and opportunities for such programmes.
There will be no specific requirement for social action broadcasting in the Bill. However, there is no specific requirement for such programming under the current legislation. There will be nothing to stop ITC licensees or the BBC from undertaking social action broadcasting or from maintaining the kind of partnership with voluntary bodies which has been built up over the years. The extent to which they put on such programmes will reflect audience demand and other factors.
Noble Lords have said that there is a great demand for such programmes. The noble Lord, Lord Willis, said that he had never received so many letters saying 929 that the proposal was a good one. Where there is that demand, it will be met. In a multi-channel environment it no longer makes sense to have a regulatory body laying down who shall be required to show such programmes, and when. Last year, for instance, commercial radio raised over £3 million for charity. It mounted a range of local initiatives covering areas such as drugs and AIDS prevention, helping the elderly and promoting training in the local arts. That is all highly commendable.
Our legislative proposals will not preclude public authority funding for such ventures under the new regime. The IBA is already preparing to give radio a start under existing legislation and it is set for major expansion during the 1990s.
The noble Lord, Lord Richard, agreed that it will be a great improvement that the ITC will be required under Clause 15(2) to issue an illustrative guide setting out the broad range of programme types which it would expect to see included in the Channel 3 service in order for the proposed service to satisfy the quality threshold set out in Clause 16(2) or (3). The IBA has indicated that the ITC will be likely to include in that illustrative guide the full range of programme streams which are currently available. In practice, I have no doubt that a Channel 3 licensee would choose to offer that full range of programming. We believe that it should be for the licensee, not the legislator, to determine the precise programme mix on Channel 3.
My noble friend Lord Norrie was worried about scheduling, as were some other noble Lords. We do not believe that the ITC, as a regulatory body, should be required to adopt a programme scheduling role in respect of any of its licensees. Neither should the licensee himself be under a statutory duty concerning the scheduling of his programmes. We consider the Channel 3 licensees themselves should be responsible for scheduling their own programmes. We have made an exception in the case of news because a comprehensive high quality news service requires bulletins throughout the day and in peak periods; but in general we see no reason why the programme pattern on Channel 3 should be significantly different from that on ITV at present.
The presumption behind the moves for ITC scheduling is that quality programmes will be shunted into the early hours of the morning. That does not stand up. I do not believe that that will happen. Quality and popularity are not mutually exclusive. Channel 3 licensees will want to recoup their investment in expensive quality programmes by showing them at times when most viewers are likely to watch them.
I return to the point that I made at the beginning: there is nothing between any of us in our desire to maintain standards and have such programmes. The only question is whether we put the requirement onto the face of the Bill. I suggest that it is for the regulatory body rather than the legislators to decide what should be in the licence. I hope therefore, for those reasons, that the noble Baroness will think that the position as it is in the Bill is the better one.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Baroness David
I am unconvinced by what the Minister has said. I am amazed that he has made the speech that he has. Many of the arguments that he advanced have been rebutted. Not one soul has spoken against the amendment. I have had support from all sides of the Committee. I am surprised at the Minister's reply because the Government have already added religious and children's broadcasting to the list. The Minister said repeatedly that we shall have the same sort of programmes as before. As the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, said, the 1981 Act provides for television and local sound broadcasting services as a public service for disseminating information, education and entertainment.
I am afraid that I despair of educating the Minister. I thought that the case had been made clear, and that he would take the proposal away and look at it. After the answer I have received I can do nothing but divide the Committee. I should add that the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, said that he would not move his amendment. It is my amendment upon which we are dividing.
Perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness one question. I pointed out to her that the first amendment in her name is unnecessary. Is that the one upon which she wishes to divide?
§ Baroness David
I am dividing on the group of amendments. If the Minister does not care for Amendment No.110A, if it is carried, he can change it at the next stage of the Bill.
With the greatest respect to the noble Baroness, she cannot divide on a group of amendments. She can divide on each amendment as we go through them.
§ Baroness David
I understood—it happened previously when I moved a group of amendments—that if the amendment upon which we are voting is carried, I move the other amendments when we come to them and they are carried automatically. I am glad that the Minister agrees with that.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No.110A) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 91; Not-Contents, 64.931
|Division No. 2|
|Addington, L.||Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Carter, L.|
|Allen of Abbeydale, L. [Teller.]||Charteris of Amisfield, L.|
|Allenby of Megiddo, V.||Chorley, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.|
|Annan, L.||Clinton-Davis, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Craigavon, V.|
|Birk, B.||Darcy (de Knayth), B.|
|Birkett, L.||David, B.|
|Blackstone, B.||Dean of Beswick, L.|
|Blease, L.||Dormand of Easington, L.|
|Bonham-Carter, L.||Ennals, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Ewart-Biggs, B.|
|Bottomley, L.||Falkender, B.|
|Buckmaster, V.||Falkland. V.|
|Foot, L.||Mackie of Benshie, L.|
|Gallacher, L.||Manchester, Bp.|
|Galpern, L.||Monteagle of Brandon, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Morris of Castle Morris, L.|
|[Teller.]||Murray of Epping Forest, L.|
|Greenway, L.||Nicol, B.|
|Gregson, L.||Norrie, L.|
|Grey, E.||Ogmore, L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Oram, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Parry, L.|
|Hatch of Lusby, L.||Peston, L.|
|Henderson of Brompton, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Richard, L.|
|Hughes, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Russell, E.|
|Jay, L.||St. John of Bletso, L.|
|Jeger, B.||Seebohm, L.|
|Jenkins of Hillhead, L.||Serota, B.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L.||Southwark, Bp.|
|John-Mackie, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Kilbracken, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Kirkhill, L.||Thomson of Monifieth, L.|
|Lindsay of Birker, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Lloyd of Hampstead, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.||Warnock, B.|
|Longford, E.||White, B.|
|Lovell-Davis, L.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Macaulay of Bragar, L.||Willis, L.|
|McGregor of Durris, L.||Winstanley, L.|
|Alexander of Weedon, L.||Home of the Hirsel, L.|
|Arran, E.||Hooper, B.|
|Ashbourne, L.||Kimball, L.|
|Balfour, E.||Kinnoull, E.|
|Belstead, L.||Long, V.|
|Bethell, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Blakenham, V.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Blatch, B.||Margadale, L.|
|Borthwick, L.||Milverton, L.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Morris, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||O'Hagan, L.|
|Caithness, E.||Pearson of Rannoch, L.|
|Carlisle of Bucklow, L.||Pender, L.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Cavendish of Furness, L.||Reay, L.|
|Coleraine, L.||Rochdale, V.|
|Colwyn, L.||Sanderson of Bowden, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Stockton, E.|
|Craigmyle, L.||Strange, B.|
|Crickhowell, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Davidson, V. [Teller.]||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Denham. L. [Teller.]|
|Elles, B.||Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Suffield, L.|
|Elton, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Ferrers, E.||Teviot, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Hemphill, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Henley, L.||Ullswater, V.|
|Hesketh, L.||Wise, L.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ Viscount Ullswater
I think that this might be a convenient moment for the Committee to adjourn. I suggest that the Committee stage begin again at half past eight.
[The Sitting was suspended from 7.42 to 8.30 p.m.]
Baroness Ewart-Biggs moved Amendment No. 111:
Page 13, line 5, leave out ("employed or to be employed by him") and insert ("including those employed or to be employed by him and freelances employed by independent producers").
§ The noble Baroness said: I wish to move Amendment No. 111 on behalf of my noble friend Lady Birk. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that applicants for Channel 3 licences state their training and retraining proposals in relation not just to their own staff but also to those engaged by independent production companies. That is a critical part of the requirement. Before I continue, I should say that I shall also speak to Amendment No. 112 which is grouped with this amendment. However, I shall not speak to Amendment No. 112A.
§ As the Committee will know, the Bill currently requires applicants for Channel 3 and Channel 5 licences to state their training and retraining proposals. However, we feel that this would probably not extend to the large and growing number of freelancers working on independent productions, which is a sector that is positively encouraged to expand by the Bill.
§ It is true to say, and has been repeated many times during the course of the Bill, that training in broadcasting is widely regarded within the industry as insufficient. Such training as has been provided has largely been provided by the BBC, and more recently by ITV. However, there is a significant shortfall in training provision, especially in the independent and freelance sector. The likely growth in this area and the urgent need for training were highlighted in the recent Institute of Manpower Studies report. That has made a significant impact.
§ It is again true to say that without some kind of requirement to provide training there is unlikely to be sufficient provision for it in the independent sector which is mainly composed of small and medium sized companies which are unable to carry large overheads and do not have any incentive to provide training for staff who may stay with them for perhaps only one production. Many members of staff in the industry will move around and will not stay in any one area for any great length of time.
§ The amendment goes some way to providing this training requirement and opens up the possibility of contract compliance provisions on training to he imposed by Channel 3 companies. Only if all independent companies are forced to have regard to training in this way is there likely to be a serious response. Underlying all of this is the need for trained and retrained personnel to produce programmes of sufficient quality both to satisfy viewers and to allow the United Kingdom to compete in the increasingly international programme production market. That is the purpose of this amendment. However, we look with great interest at Amendment No. 112 which stands in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. The key distinction between our Amendment No. 111 and Amendment No. 112 is that in Amendment No. 112 Channel 3 and Channel 5 applicants must indicate their proposals for encouraging the training of staff employed by independent companies, whereas our Amendment No. 111 seeks a stronger requirement. Therefore the government amendment merely encourages training of such staff while our Amendment No. 111 requires it.933
§ Although Amendment No. 112 achieves the same broad effect as our Amendment No. 111, it does not commit licence holders to train freelancers and others employed by independent companies. It merely obliges them to encourage training for such people. The recent announcement by the ITVA that it is setting up a freelance training fund is to be welcomed as the practical application of this kind of encouragement. However, it is clear that the ITVA initiative is dependent upon other organisations such as the BBC and the independent producers putting in matching funds. This form of industry co-operation is still at an early phase in its development.
§ We feel that industry-wide action to prevent the growing skills shortage in the freelance market within the next few years must be bolstered by the kind of industry training fund which I proposed at an earlier stage in our Committee proceedings. It may be unrealistic to expect the ITV companies directly to train for the independent sector but they should be obliged to co-operate. While we welcome the Government's move in recognising that Channel 3 companies have a responsibility towards the staff employed by independent companies who provide them with programmes, our amendment is a little stronger and requires them to have a responsibility towards such staff. I beg to move.
§ Lord Sanderson of Bowden
I wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 112 and 112A and reply to Amendment No. 111. We certainly share the views of the noble Baroness on training and accept that the maintenance of high technical and production standards on Channels 3 and 5 will require a correspondingly high level of training and retraining not only of programme production staff directly employed by the licensees but also of those employed by independent producers contracted to provide programmes for those channels. The noble Baroness made that point clearly.
However, we are unable to accept the amendment in the form it is drafted because it implies that the Channel 3 and 5 licensees should have a direct responsibility for the training of employees of independent producers. Primary responsibility for such training must rest with the independent producers themselves as employers. However, we accept that the licensees have a role to play in encouraging the independent producers under contract to them to train their staff to the appropriate level. Hence, we have put forward Amendment No. 112 to this effect, while Amendment No. 112A simply tidies up the wording of Clause 15(3)(d).
We do not envisage that such encouragement will simply consist of pious exhortation. This comes to the point that the noble Baroness made a moment ago. Channel 3 licensees will be in a position to use the contract conditions laid down with their independent producers to set out standards of training which such producers would be unlikely in their own interests to resist or evade.
I hope that that double-pronged attack, if I may call it that, which can be implemented will satisfy the 934 noble Baroness that while the Government accept what she is saying we are trying to achieve the same ends but in a different way.
§ Lord Ardwick
I want to speak simply to Amendment No. 112A. I may be obtuse but I do not see any tight connection between Amendment No. 112A and training. I am encouraged by Amendment No. 112A, which seems to provide the kind of physical presence in Channel 3 regional areas for which I asked the other day. Am I right to be encouraged?
In the Bill as we have received it Clause 15(3) (d) states:if the application is for a licence to provide a regional Channel 3 service, a statement by the applicant as to whether, and (if so) to what extent, he proposes that any offices, studios or staff to be used or employed by him in connection with his proposed service should be located within the area to which that service would be provided".That seems to ask the applicant, "Are you going to have a physical presence in the region or not?" and to leave him free to say, "No". If my interpretation is correct he is now asked a much sterner question about his proposals as to the use in connection with his proposed service of offices and studios situated within the area for which that service would be provided and about the services of persons employed (whether by him or any other person) within that area.
If the words bear the meaning that I take them to have that is a source of considerable gratification. We are deeply concerned not only about the general quality of the output of the regional stations on Channel 3 but also about the strength of the commitment to the region of those operating a regional channel. That commitment is strengthened if one has a number of employees living locally and serving on the in-house staff. It is also strengthened by the physical presence of studios and offices. The would-be licensee is required to extend his statement of extent to cover freelances and other staff employed by his independent contributors. It all helps, it seems to me, to ensure that programmes are made, not exclusively but as to a lot of programmes, in the region, for the region, by a regionally-based staff. If that is so, I welcome the amendment.
It would be of especial importance if the licence was granted as a publishing contract. We believe that Channel 3 licences should not be awarded as publishers' franchises but for making integrated programmes, and a decent proportion of those programmes should be produced in-house. I am told that there is already a sad tendency for some ITV executives to move in the direction of publishing instead of producing.
§ Lord Sanderson of Bowden
The noble Lord is quite right; there is no connection between Amendments Nos. 112 and 112A. It was a question of grouping the amendment with the other two which were germane to each other. Amendment No. 112A is a technical amendment and is in line with what the noble Lord said. It asks the applicants to indicate the regional facilities they will use. That must include—and the 935 word "must" is important—sufficient offices for carrying out what they are required to do under Clause 16(2) (d):that a suitable proportion of the regional programmes included in the service in accordance with paragraph (c) are made within the area".That is the whole purpose of Amendment No. 112A. It is stronger than the wording in the original draft of the Bill. Clause 15(3)(d) currently invites applicants to indicate whether they intend to use regional accommodation; Amendment No. 112A specifies that they must use regional accommodation and invites applicants to say how much.
Perhaps I may turn to the amendment which has been moved, Amendment No. 111. The debate on the three amendments—Amendments Nos. 111, 112 and 112A—illustrates yet again the nonsense of the informal groupings. The mere fact that a subject is related does not necessarily add to the quality of the debate on the issues.
The other point that I wish to make concerns Amendment No. 111. I beseech the movers of the amendment to look very carefully at the phrase "freelances employed" because it is a serious contradiction in terms in law and not capable of being recognised.
§ Baroness Ewart-Biggs
I am most grateful to the noble Lord, both for his explanation of Amendment No. 112 and also for speaking to our Amendment No. 111. I agree with the noble Lord that the wording in the amendment is somewhat mixed up.
It is very gratifying to see that the Government have shown great concern about training within the industry. They have listened to the arguments that were put forward by the Labour Party at an early stage in another place for a requirement for training to be included in the Bill, arguments which we have continued here. I am very happy to see that the Government have put forward an amendment which shows the industry our concern about the need for high grade training to keep the industry buoyant and competitive. On that basis I am happy to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 8.45 p.m.
Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendments Nos. 112 and 112A:
Page 13, line 7, at end insert (", together with his proposals for encouraging the training or retraining of persons employed or to be employed by persons providing programmes for inclusion in that service;").
Page 13, line 9, leave out from ("service,") to end of line 13 and insert ("the applicant's proposals as to the use, in connection with his proposed service—
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Lord Willis moved Amendment No. 113:
Page 13, line 20, at end insert ("and
(h) a statement by the applicant that when proposing an original literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work be
created for inclusion in a broadcast the applicant will not require the creator to enter into a contract with a publisher nominated by the applicant.").
§ The noble Lord said: To some extent we have already debated the amendment. Perhaps I may remind the Committee of the background. The issue is that the television and radio companies have enormous power over music. They use a great deal of it, particularly the radio companies. In the past the commercial radio companies have been forbidden under the regulations to set up their own music publishing houses because it would give them a monopoly and a power that would not be tolerable. None of that is mentioned in the present Bill. There are already circumstances which lead us to believe that intolerable pressure is being put on composers and small publishing houses to allow the television and radio companies to publish their music and take a share of the product.
§ I have no objection to a composer going to an independent publishing company and making the best deal that he possibly can. However, if the muscle of a great radio or television company is put up against him he finds his position almost impossible. Perhaps I may give one example which, in graphic dialogue, will illustrate the problem.
§ Here is one man who had the courage to stand up against a television company and lose in the process a great deal of money. He was asked by Thames Television to provide some music. The man's name is Denis King. He does not mind my mentioning it, and he is quite famous in the world of music. Within a week he had agreed and Joy Sharpen, the Head of Music at Thames Television, telephoned him. The following dialogue took place. She said, "I have been asked to tell you that if you are not prepared to agree to assign your publishing rights to Euston Music, which is a subsidiary of Thames Television, then I am not in a position to commission you to write the music for this production". He replied, "That would appear to be blackmail and I have no intention of changing my position". She said, "Well, I'm sorry". That was the end of the conversation.
§ If such a conversation can take place with a well known and very successful composer such as Denis King, I ask the Committee to imagine a situation in which there is a young, thrusting, new composer who is trying to get into the business and is prepared to sell his mother-in-law—or even his mother—in order to get the commission. What is the only way to stop such a thing happening? The only way is to say to the television and radio companies, "You have such power as it is in this sphere of music that we cannot allow you to set up independent publishing companies under your name in this field".
§ This is a very simple amendment. It would bring justice. Above all, it would fulfil the Government's aim to protect small independent producers. Most of those who write such songs and supply the music are small independent composers and publishing houses. If the Bill goes through as it stands without this amendment, I can assure the Committee that the television and radio companies will raid the market 937 place in such a way that the small independents will be destroyed. For that reason, I beg to move this amendment.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
I must first declare an interest. For the past 25 years I have been chairman of Radio Luxembourg London Ltd. That comes within the category of interest although it has nothing whatever to do with the point put by the noble Lord, Lord Willis. I am sure that he would not expect my noble friend to accept the amendment with the words on the Marshalled List, but I hope that he will give him the satisfaction of saying that even at this late hour in the Bill's journey to the statute book he will see whether he can find words that would meet his point.
It creates unfairness and is wrong when a composer or inventor, full of enthusiasm for his new baby, finds that the only outlet for him is one or other of the media and that the only way to launch his production at all is by taking a certain path which in money terms is not fair to him. I do not want to argue that a separate agreement cannot be made. There are publishers in the Committee and there is a parallel. If someone wants an advance because it suits him to use the money to exercise his talents, that is fair enough. But it would not be good if by the sheer power of the media (in this case) someone is forced to make an arrangement which is unfair to him. It would discourage composers and inventors of the future, who are the people in very short supply.
I think I am right in saying that the composer of "It's a long way to Tipperary" was a Staffordshire man—always a good thing. I believe that he sold the song for something in the region of 7s. 6d. Apparently he wanted a night out and in those days 7s. 6d. would have given him a good night out in the local pub. We know what happened to that song and the profit and advantage which came over the years to those who benefited from the royalties. It was stupid but the composer did it. It was the wrong thing to do but there it is.
I should like to feel that my noble friend is listening to my plea and if possible will recognise that behind this amendment is no great principle in relation to the Bill. It is a matter of finding some way to protect the little man who as an inventor has something new to offer. I repeat that such people are in short supply.
I do not know whether the noble Lords, Lord Willis and Lord Birkett, will want to insist on their wording. I myself would not push it because I think that it is unlikely to be workable. But if one can give words to the spirit behind the amendment even at this late hour I am certain that justice will be done to a very important and inventive section of the people of this country.
§ Lord Ardwick
I notice that the lights in the Chamber have dimmed. Perhaps I could ask for more candle power. The lights have gone down and although we do not want to have the fierce glare of the television lights, surely we can have something better than we have now when half the lights are out.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
Perhaps I may say to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, that when the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, and I agree, he should pay very serious attention to what we say. On this occasion we are absolutely at one. The case that he has made for this amendment is overwhelming. I hope that the noble Earl will pay attention to it.
I speak as one who has been associated with publishing in one way or another since about 1947. If book publishers were to behave in that way, then in the colloquial phrase they would be taken to the cleaners and quite rightly so. I hesitate to put words into the mouth of the noble Earl by saying tactfully that he should say "It has been suggested" in reply to this amendment; but I suggest that it has been suggested to him that he should say that this matter should be left to the Office of Fair Trading or the DTI and that it is unnecessary to put it on the face of the Bill.
This situation has been going on for some time. The DTI (whose Ministers change with extreme regularity every six months) has done nothing about it and the Office of Fair Trading has been unable to grapple with the problem. Therefore we have a strong negative argument in favour of putting this provision on the face of the Bill. I urge the noble Earl to listen to the wise words of his noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls, even if in some sense they have been diluted by my equally wise but less acceptable words.
§ Lord Renton
I would go even further than my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls. If it is considered unusual that the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, and I should be in agreement, I hope that that would be considered as strengthening the argument. For an applicant for a broadcasting licence to be able to compel an author to enter into a contract with a third party seems to me to have nothing to do with the application. Therefore I too hope that the amendment will be considered sympathetically.
§ Lord Birkett
I rise to support the noble Lord, Lord Willis. He has outlined the abuse that we are all determined to get rid of. At least, I am sure that no Member of the Committee considers such abuse worthy of support.
The noble Lord outlined the monopolistic dangers in the situation. The situation is rather more complicated even than he expressed. In requiring composers to publish their music or have it published through the ITV publishing companies, the ITV publishing companies require the return of 50 per cent. of the PRS (Performing Rights Society) fees. Those are the fees for having the music performed on television or indeed in any other form. Those are the residuals of the composer's life.
Since composers have very little going for them except music of this kind, it is pretty important to them. Fifty per cent. is a pretty steep fee when one considers that the great music publishers of the land—Boosey and Hawkes, Universal Edition and all those famous names—for the most part never take more than 33⅓per cent. They are publishing houses which work very hard for their composers. Effectively 939 they are their agents. They publicise and promote them to the world at large as well as publishing them. For that service, in general they take 33⅓ per cent.
The ITV publishing companies take 50 per cent. Very often there is no publishing involved because the music never will be published. They are therefore taking 50 per cent. for no service. They are not being cynical. They are not neglecting a publishing opportunity. Let me make that quite plain. They and the composer know that there will be no publishing. Therefore the 50 per cent. removal is a wicked imposition. In old-fashioned terms, it is bullying because they are in a position to bully.
The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, has already suggested that it is right that the DTI and the Office of Fair Trading are not dealing with the problem. They may well be the right bodies to cope with the problem. There is no suggestion that they have been in any way lax or failing in their duty. The truth of the matter is that the system has not worked. The abuse continues. They have not cured it.
On the advisability of putting these mere 42 words into the Bill, surely prevention is better than cure not only in medicine but also in legislation. If this small clause appears in the Bill those obtaining the licences for the great world of independent television will know that it is an abuse which Members of this Chamber will not stand for. If those words do not appear in the Bill, I fear that they will not know that and the abuse will continue. I therefore urge the Committee to agree to the amendment.
§ 9 p.m.
§ Lord Colwyn
I am aware that the Minister has already spoken to the amendment on a previous occasion. However, as my name is connected with it I should like to say a few words of support from these Benches. There is no doubt—I have many letters as examples—that many composers who are commissioned to write music for television programmes are being coerced into granting rights in the music that they write to publishing companies owned by the television production companies even if the composer is already under exclusive contract to an independent publisher.
The ITV companies had given an undertaking to the IBA that it would not be a condition of commissioning contracts that publishing rights were assigned to them. However, the many letters that I have received from composers show that that is indeed happening. I am informed that composers have been making regular complaints to the Office of Fair Trading but that action has been impossible because of lack of evidence.
Composers are naturally reluctant to be named for they fear retribution from the broadcasters and the possibility of losing work. The IBA gave guidelines which attempted to protect composers from pressure to sign over their rights. But the ITV companies were released from the undertaking in December 1989. Local radio programme contractors are not allowed to be music publishers. It seems clear to me that 940 similar safeguards should be written into the Bill. I support the amendment, which reinstates the undertaking that existed before December 1989.
I rise to support the noble Lords, Lord Willis and Lord Birkett, and my noble friend Lord Colwyn on the amendment. To put it bluntly, we are talking of the theft of intellectual property. One could call it the appropriation flowing as a result of undue influence, if one wished to. It is nothing else. With respect, it is not right for the Minister to suggest that it is not appropriate to the Bill. I sincerely urge that for musicians in particular the air time involved in radio and television broadcasting is absolutely essential.
The regulatory authority—namely, the Department of Trade and Industry—is obviously the right department. Many consider that it is not a Home Office matter with regard to regulation. That factor in no way affects the relevance of the amendment within the context of the Bill. I most strongly support the amendment. I urge my noble friend to use his best endeavours to support the amendment in some way or another.
§ Viscount Brentford
I too should like briefly to support the amendment. I wish to emphasise one point. The ITV companies do not promote music in the same way that an ordinary music publishing company would. In this way the composer again loses out very heavily. I would have said much of what my noble friend Lord Colwyn said about the IBA undertaking. However, I do not need to do so. But I should like to urge the Minister to agree to the amendment in principle.
My noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls said that the principle of the Bill was not involved in the amendment, and that it was an amendment to protect the little man. I agree with him. We debated the concerns about the amendment last week when the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, quite properly reserved the right to return to the matter now.
I readily recognise that this is a less draconian amendment than previous amendments on this topic, which sought to limit cross-holdings between broadcasting licensees and music publishers. The amendment in effect seeks to write into the statute an equivalent of the former undertakings by the ITV companies to the IBA that they would not make it a condition that composers should enter into contracts with particular music publishers. It is worth noting that when the IBA recently released the companies from these undertakings—not to make it a condition that people would have to be under contract to them—they did not do so because of any view of the merits of the issue. They did so simply because they did not want to perpetuate unenforceable undertakings entered into in 1968 before the present competition and fair trading legislation was in force. That legislation ought now to provide the proper remedy.
This amendment suffers from a similar problem. The ITC would not be able to enforce the statement by the applicant which is envisaged in the amendment 941 since it would have no power to make it a licence condition that the ITC should not require the creator of an original work to enter into a contract with a nominated publisher.
That problem could be cured by legislating to make the statement an enforceable licence condition. But we question whether it would be right as a matter of principle to do that. It is not necessarily unreasonable for a commissioner to seek to acquire rights in the work for which he is paying. In principle, the price paid for the work should reflect whether or not the rights are being acquired or assigned.
I recognise that it does not follow that there is no scope for abuse—of course there is. The argument that much of the music commissioned by ITV companies is then published by a subsidiary could reflect no more than that these subsidiaries are major publishers which offer good possibilities for further exploitation of the music and thus benefit the composer. That would not be the view taken by the various groups, such as the Music Copyright Reform Group, which have lobbied on this subject. I know that it is sometimes argued that those who have been subject to alleged abuses in this area are reluctant to come forward for fear of reprisals. That is understandable, but both the Government and the Office of Fair Trading have received a number of detailed representations on these matters.
It is not for government to reach a view on whether there have been abuses in this area. But we have listened to the representations which have been made. In particular, my honourable friend Mr. Mellor met a delegation from the Music Copyright Reform Group on 18th April. In the light of that meeting the Government invited the Director General of Fair Trading to consider extending some related investigations which he was then undertaking to include in this area.
That is now in hand. I understand that the director's inquiries will cover the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Willis, which has had support from Members, that a composer might not want his work published at all. I am advised that the director hopes to conclude his initial investigations during the course of the summer. The noble Lord may be aware that if in due course any practices by the ITV companies are found to be in contravention of competition or fair trading legislation there are order-making powers which can be used to enforce compliance with any such findings.
In the light of this explanation I hope the noble Lord, Lord Willis, will understand the Government's view that, even if the case for legislation in this area were more clear-cut than it is, it would be wrong to seek to write a new provision into the Broadcasting Bill when there is recourse under competition legislation and when investigations by the Director General of Fair Trading are currently in train.
I realise that the issue has concerned many Members of the Committee who may wish to return to it on Report in the light of the director's initial views. 942 I should like to consider the remarks that have been made, the views that have been expressed and the position of the Director General of Fair Trading to see what, if anything, can be done. The basic trouble is that if what is suggested as being wrong is being done it should be covered under the fair trading legislation. Therefore, it may be unnecessary to cover the situation under this Bill. However, I accept that there is a real point at issue.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
Do I understand that orders could flow from the investigation? Is there any way of giving an undertaking between now and Third Reading that orders will be laid?
The Director General of Fair Trading must first make his report and then my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry must consider it. If the report states that certain actions are being taken which are contrary to the spirit of the legislation it will then be possible to lay orders to cover that so-called offence. However, that cannot be done during the Recess and I doubt whether it can be done before Report; but the vehicle exists.
§ Lord Willis
I thank the noble Earl for that reply, which presents a chicken and egg situation. The subject is important enough to be pressed and to be incorporated in the Bill. On the other hand, I should like to wait and hope that the Office of Fair Trading will report before we meet again in October. When the Office of Fair Trading says that it will report in two months, that is sometimes not the case. I hope that we shall not have to wait until next February, when it will be too late to act.
The Minister must understand my position. I desperately wish to protect the interests of composers against such a monopoly and I believe that that is the view of the Committee. I do not wish to press the amendment tonight. However, if by 8th October when we meet again we have nothing satisfactory from the Office of Fair Trading the matter should be pressed.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Willis, for that. I understand his anxiety. It is an anxiety which I share. Perhaps I may suggest to the noble Lord that he does not press his amendment this evening. Let us wait to see what happens as regards the Director General of Fair Trading. If the noble Lord, or any other noble Lord who is anxious about this matter, would like to discuss it with me before Report stage, then I shall be happy to do so. I want to be as helpful as I can. At the moment it seems that if this is written into the Bill, we may be covering twice the same fault—if fault there is—which would be a pity. If the noble Lord is good enough not to press his amendment this evening, then I shall be happy to discuss the matter with him or any other noble Lord who wishes to do so.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 114 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 116 and 132. I understand that this grouping includes Opposition Amendments Nos. 115 and 117.
§ We want to encourage the maximum openness in the application process for Channels 3 and 5 licences and to allow for public participation. In Clause 15(6) we have already required the ITC to publish the names and programme proposals of all applicants for these licences. Government Amendments Nos. 114, 116 and 132 will now enable the ITC to take account of representations from the public about the nature of the sere ice proposed in the applications. We see this as particularly relevant in helping the ITC to judge whether the regional programme requirements have been met.
§ We believe that these amendments fully meet the intention of Amendment No. 117. We would also expect the ITC, where possible, to publish the information on training, regional employment and facilities given by applicants, under the provision in Clause 15(6)(c). Amendment No. 115 gives us more difficulty because some of this information may be given on a commercial-in-confidence basis, which would rule out ITC publication. Therefore, we must leave the ITC to decide what can and cannot be published. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Birk
Amendment No. 114 strikes me as being a matter of syntax. Amendment No. 115 is the one which the noble Lord said was more difficult. We are trying to achieve a means of enforcement of the regulations and also a form of accountability so that the public knows what to expect and can form its own opinions as to how successful companies are in complying with their original proposals.
In the light of what the noble Lord said, I do not see in this instance that the ITC should be in a different situation from any other public company. I am not convinced that it is so commercially sensitive that it cannot be written into the Bill. Perhaps the noble Lord can think again about that, and I shall be interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, says about the amendment in the light of his experience.
Amendment No. 117 appears to be met by the Government's Amendment No. 116. I feel particularly pleased about that because it was prompted by Opposition amendments in another place. The Minister there indicated on Report that he may bring forward an amendment. Therefore, we are grateful for Amendment No. 117.
Amendment No. 132 seems to me to be a different type of amendment and one with which we are not happy. It removes the description of what representations can be made to the ITC when deciding whether an applicant's proposals match the quality requirements in Clause 16(2) and (3). That would still allow the ITC to consider representations made to it when deciding whether an applicant's proposals comply with the requirements in Clause 16(2) and (3). However, Clause 16(4) would no longer specify that 944 representations can be made about the nature of the service which should be provided. On balance, as we see it, it would appear to weaken the Bill as other parties may not be certain as to what form or content representations should take.
Amendment No. 116 gives the ITC the power to invite representations, but only in relation to the published proposals, not in relation to what the service should be. We are not very happy about that. The amendment should be taken back or looked at again. Perhaps the Government will see it the way I see it.
§ Lord Sanderson of Bowden
The information sought by Amendment No. 115 will be published. The ITC cannot be compelled to publish everything. It may publish some things, but it must have discretion as to what it should publish as some of it may be commercial-in-confidence. I imagine that we are on the same wavelength on what can and cannot be published with regard to commercial-in-confidence matters.
I shall consider the point raised by the noble Baroness about Amendment No. 132 to expand what consultation can be considered. I can do no better than that. I should prefer that the amendment be moved, and if there is anything substantive in what she has said which makes the position weaker rather than stronger, I shall not only write to her but ensure that something is done at the next stage of the Bill.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
I thank the Minister for those comments. He is right in thinking that the major amendment is Amendment No. 116. We on this side of the Committee welcome the amendment and appreciate that the undertaking given originally in another place has been fulfilled. The noble Baroness and I are content with that and agree that it covers the matters set out in Amendment No. 117. That is the major matter.
With regard to Amendment No. 115, with respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, there is a need for some discretion on the part of the ITC. Where people bid for those licences, a certain amount of musical chairs goes on with regard to some of the names. Confidentiality is a proper requirement, provided that there is openness as far as possible. There is a feeling that there should be more openness this time round than there was last time round and I go along with that.
We listened to what the Minister said on Amendment No. 132. If he would be kind enough to copy his letter to the noble Baroness to me, we shall see what he has said.
§ Lord Sanderson of Bowden
I shall of course do that. I am most grateful to the noble Lord for his support on the difficulties with Amendment No. 115 which are very genuine, although we want the ITC to publish, if at all possible.
§ Baroness Birk
Perhaps the Minister will also write to me about that. Although I am always impressed by what the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, says, all we are requesting, as I understand it, are proposals for staff training and facilities. The 945 amendment does not cover the bidding process or any other commercial secrets. I should like the position spelt out a little more.
I shall leave Amendment No. 132 for the moment, but perhaps the Minister will write to me about it and the other amendment.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[Amendment No. 115 not moved.]
Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendment No. 116:
Page 13, line 35, at end insert ("; and
(bb) a notice—
On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendments Nos. 117 and 118 not moved.]
The Earl of Stockton moved Amendment No. 118A:
Page 13, line 37, leave out from ("licence") to end of line 39 and insert ("—
(8) In this Part—
indexed equivalent "means, in relation to each anniversary of the grant or (as the case may be) renewal of the licence, the amount arrived at by increasing (or, as the may be, decreasing) the specified amount by the same percentage as the percentage by which the retail prices index for the calendar month last but one before that anniversary is higher (or, as the case may be, lower) than the retail prices index for the base month;
retail prices index" has the same meaning as in the Taxes Acts;
base month" means the calendar month last but one before the month in which the relevant licence is granted or (as the case may be) renewed.").
The noble Earl said: For the convenience of the Committee I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 144A, 157A and 161A, standing in my name. I apologise for raising a somewhat technical matter at this late stage. Clause 15(7) of the Bill defines the cash bid in relation to a licence as,
an offer to pay to the Commission, in respect of the grant of the licence, a specified amount which has to be so payable by equal annual instalments throughout the period for which the licence is in force".
§ The implication from that definition is that the bid is to be framed in money terms and not in terms of constant prices. If constant prices were to be used the 946 annual instalment should be increased each year by the index of retail prices to maintain its value in real terms and it would not, therefore, be constant.
§ The calculation of the cash bid in money terms raises a number of problems. First, in order to prepare a bid in money terms applicants must forecast the rate of inflation over the next 10 years. I defy anyone to do that accurately. As the amount allocated to the cash bid in each year will be a function of post-tax profits, the applicant who assumes the highest rate of inflation, if all the other assumptions are the same for all applicants, will submit the highest cash bid. The ITC will be faced with the task of deciding which applicant's estimation of inflation is the most accurate.
§ Secondly, as the trend of profits in money terms will be increasing not only by real growth but also by inflation, the surplus post-tax profits used to calculate the bid will also show an increasing upward trend. Adding up these surpluses will produce the absolute value of the bid which will then be payable in 10 equal parts. However, the amount payable in year one will be substantially higher than the year one surplus profit used to calculate the bid and applicants will show losses in the early years of the licence.
§ For example, if you assume in the first year that the surplus profits of the company are £1 million, that inflation is 10 per cent. and real growth is nil, the cash bid would be nearly £16 million, In equal instalments it would be £1.6 million, That is a deficit of £600,000 for the first year. You can extrapolate those figures across the next 10 years and it is only after 1997, assuming that the figures remain constant, that the company is not paying out more in its contribution in instalments than its surplus profit. Thus, in the early years when the new licensees are attempting to consolidate their businesses they will show losses as the real cost of their bid is greater in those years.
§ A further consequence of the existing proposals implied by the examples I have given is that successful applicants will in the early years not generate sufficient cash from current trading to pay the annual instalments. The new licence holders will either have to use previously accumulated cash resources or borrow to fund the payments. Companies will probably run up large overdrafts in the early years incurring significant account and interest charges. In view of the length of time over which the borrowings would be repaid—that is, the same 10-year period—banks and other institutions would require significant comfort that their exposure was covered. If, however, the amount of the cash bid were to be expressed in real terms, a critical but incalculable variable would be removed from the business plans and profit flows would more accurately reflect actual performance at current prices. In order to preserve the value of the annual instalments in real terms, the annual sum should be increased by the RPI or perhaps some other relevant index. Using the same example that I used before, the cash bid would be £1 million, the annual instalment would be added up by RPI and the reported profits would come back in 1996 instead of in 1998.947
§ Thus, reported profits would be zero each year, which is what one would expect given that the surplus profits were assumed to fund the bid. As the instalments would all be paid out of current profits the large cash resources required under the existing proposals would not be needed. I believe that a change in this area would remove one of the fundamental uncertainties that exists in framing a bid. I believe that such a change is closer to the spirit of government policy in this area. If fewer applicants can bid the Government's aim of widening ownership of ITV companies will be frustrated. If there are fewer applicants the bids will be less high, thus frustrating another government objective of maximising revenue.
§ If the risk of over-bidding is significantly heightened the Treasury runs the risk of getting nothing at all if the applicant goes bust. Even if the few applicants are large corporations their agendas may change. They may dislike funding the front loading of nominal bid payments. Indeed, if a Channel 3 licence is a small part of a conglomerate's business, it may be that it is more likely to drop out when the going gets tough. The auction system per se involves a high degree of risk of over-bidding with attendant consequences in relation to production and financial commitments.
§ For instance, it is possible for an applicant to put forward the highest bid and win by making optimistic assumptions about Channel 4's future needs for a financial safety net from Channel 3. Such assumptions may be proved quite wrong by the passage of time. One can then theorise that Channel 3 licensees would have to transfer some resources from their own programme production in order to prop up Channel 4. There are other issues of this kind.
§ My point simply is that it is crucial for the risk to be reduced in order to safeguard the operation of the system. Without the significant risk of forecasting inflation, let alone the business risk of front loading the payments, the system has that much greater chance of providing the kind of broad-based commercially viable service that we are looking for. I apologise for having delayed the Committee overlong on this matter. I beg to move.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Lord Boston of Faversham
As indicated at Second Reading, I declare an interest as chairman of TVS Entertainment plc. and of its subsidiary TVS Television Ltd. which holds the independent television franchise for the South East and South of England. I support the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, in the amendment that he has moved and in the way in which he has spoken to the other amendments that he has mentioned. He has argued the case most ably. If I speak comparatively briefly it is because he has put the case so comprehensively. Therefore, I do not need to make a lengthy speech.
I mention that because I would not wish the noble Earl the Minister to feel that brevity indicates that one attaches less importance to this matter. On the contrary, these amendments are of considerable significance and they are greatly needed. The noble 948 Earl offered what I thought was something of an apology to the Committee by raising what are technical amendments. He is right in that they are technical amendments, but they have very considerable implications, not least for the possible range of programmes which the viewer would see and which would be under threat with the proposals as they stand.
Before turning to one or two of the conclusions that the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, came to, I add this to what he said. I rather suspect that when the Bill was drafted the Government did not perhaps completely appreciate that the problems outlined by the noble Earl would arise. Having listened to the arguments, it may well be that the Government will wish to seek a solution along the lines proposed. In that way some of the Government's major objectives will be secured.
It may also be helpful to the Committee to know that among the companies—the independent television programme contractors—no voices are speaking out against these proposals. In fact, the proposals meet with the approval of the existing licensees. In view of the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, I need to go into no great detail. He has already referred to the definition of the cash bid and to the two interpretations which may be placed upon that. I agree with his deduction concerning the interpretation. It is the correct one and is the one which the Government regard as correct.
In addition, I do not need to go into detail about the various problems which would arise for existing and new contractors once the franchises have been allocated if the interpretation which has been given were allowed to run. Therefore the only thing that I should like to do is to underline the conclusions reached by the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, as to the effects of these proposals upon companies from the point of one who is involved in the industry itself.
One of the major problems is that in the initial years of the new franchises successful applicants will not be able to generate enough money from their current trading to pay the yearly instalments. As the noble Earl rightly said, they will either have to use cash resources which they have built up previously or they will have to borrow to meet those needs. It does not need much imagination to realise that banks or other institutions which might be asked to provide that support would insist on very significant comfort indeed to safeguard their position and to see that their exposure was covered.
Many ITV companies do not, as things stand at the moment, have resources to cover the shortfall which would be expected and which the noble Earl mentioned. Only applicants with substantial backing would be able to apply, which would probably rule out most of the independent production companies from applying. That would thwart one of the Government's principal objectives, which is to open up the franchises to a wider circle of applicants. If fewer applicants could afford to bid, the Government's aim to widen the ownership of ITV would be frustrated.
949 With fewer applicants, bids would not be so high as they would be with a greater number of competitors. Again, that would have the effect of frustrating the Government's objectives. If on the other hand—I did not make a note during his speech but I think that this was another of the points to which the noble Earl alluded—the risk of over-bidding were increased through inflation estimates, the Treasury itself would run the risk of getting nothing if the successful applicant failed and became bankrupt. One suspects that that would not appeal very much to HM Treasury. Quite apart from the damage that that would do to commitments by successful applicants to produce programmes for the network, there is the damage which might be done as regards regional programme commitments.
The regional programme commitment is one of the highest priorities set by the Government in the Bill. It also happens to be one of the considerations which my company counts as being most important, as I am sure do other existing programme contractors. They give high priority to the special service which they provide for their regions.
The noble Earl made several points in his speech. He referred to the danger of having a small number of applicants who are large players; that is, sizeable corporations. It is indeed the case with large corporations, as one has seen, that their priorities tend to change over the years and their inclinations are also apt to change. They may not be too keen on concentrating on the high payments of the nominal bid in the initial years. Moreover, an ITV Channel 3 franchise is, after all, not likely to be the core business of such a major corporation. It may well simply be a small part of the overall undertaking. Therefore, when times become rather thin, as they inevitably do from time to time, it is the large corporations which are more likely to withdraw from this particular part of their business; that is, a licence to transmit a terrestrial service in a region.
For all those reasons I agree with the argument put forward by the noble Earl in the amendment which he proposed and in the others to which he spoke. I very much hope that, if he cannot give us an indication of the Government's direct response, the Minister will at least agree to look at the proposals seriously and have them examined so that we may perhaps see further steps being taken at a later stage if the amendments cannot be accepted tonight.
§ Lord Crickhowell
I apologise to my noble friend for missing the first few moments of his speech. I should at once declare an interest as I am a director of HTV. I shall be brief in what I have to say. I almost entirely agree with everything that my noble friend said and also with the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham.
I must confess that the point at issue is one which escaped me until recently. I had not understood the possible implications of the clause as drafted by the Government. Indeed, I am not sure that the hazards were generally appreciated by the industry. One has only to consider the extraordinary situation which 950 arises if the value of the bid is almost totally dominated by the guess made about the inflation figure over a 10-year period. It would mean a total distortion of justice and common sense if the selection was made on that basis. There are serious potential hazards in view if this clause is not amended or if the Government do no bring forward a more satisfactory solution.
I do not necessarily stand by every letter in my noble friend's amendment. Indeed, there may be technical faults in it and there may also be another solution to the problem. However, I ask my noble friend in his reply to say that he will look at the matter sympathetically and, if that is not the ideal solution, undertake to come back with the Government's alternative at a later stage.
§ 9.45 p.m.
My noble friend Lord Stockton and the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, said that the amendments were technical but important. They are. They would enable the cash bid part of the competitive tender revenue to be paid in 10 equal instalments, but in each case the instalments would be increased or decreased in line with inflation. I understand the reasoning behind the amendments. Applicants who wished to make cash bids would have to make some kind of projection of their income and expenditure for the 10-year licence period. Part of that process would probably require them to estimate the inflation rate for that period. My noble friend Lord Stockton said that that would be difficult to do. I dare say that it might be, but it was also said that by automatically taking inflation into account there would be one less element for applicants to have to estimate and, accordingly, such a change would introduce greater certainty into the bidding process.
I understand that reasoning, but I am not certain that it is as simple as that. It is not at all clear that a licensee's income, which is principally from advertising revenue, or his costs, principally on programme acquisition, necessarily bear any simple relationship to inflation. Indeed, the evidence tends to suggest that advertising revenue more closely follows total domestic growth rather than the inflation rate. For that reason, I am not fully persuaded that such a change would introduce greater certainty.
My noble friends and the noble Lord, Lord Boston, asked me to reconsider the matter. The amendments are technical and complicated. I am open to reason. I can give my noble friend Lord Stockton an undertaking that I will, without commitment, consider his amendment. I should find it of enormous help if those in the Chamber who are arguing for change, and those who advise them, could produce a more detailed analysis of the reasons for it, demonstrating why the change would introduce greater certainty. I do not rule out a change, but I do not want to introduce one which adds another layer of complexity without any compensating advantage. If my noble friend is content on that basis, I shall do my best to see what can be done.
The Earl of Stockton
I thank my noble friend for his assurance. We shall provide him with the material that he requests. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 15, as amended, agreed to.
[Amendment No. 119 not moved.]
Clause 16 [Procedure to be followed by Commission in connection with consideration of applications for licences]:
[Amendment No. 120 not moved.]
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 121:
Page 13, line 49, leave out from ("force") to end of line 2 on page 14.
§ The noble Viscount said: I spoke to the amendment with Amendment No. 109. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 122 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
§ [Amendment No. 123 not moved.]
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 124:
Page 14, line 7, leave out ("to (c)") and insert ("and (b)").
§ The noble Viscount said: I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 109. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 124A:
Page 14, line 7, leave out ("proposed service") and insert ("service to be provided under the licence").
§ The noble Viscount said: This amendment was spoken to with Amendment No. 110A. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Baroness David moved Amendment No. 125:
Page 14, line 11, after ("programmes") insert ("and documentaries").
§ The noble Baroness said: I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 110A. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Baroness David moved Amendment No. 126:
Page 14, line 15, at end insert:
("(aa) that a sufficient amount of time is given in the programmes included in the service to programmes with an educational purpose;
(ab) that a sufficient amount of time is given in the programmes included in the service to social action programmes.").
§ The noble Baroness said: I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 110A. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Baroness Warnock moved Amendment No. 126A:
Page 14, line 35, after ("that") insert ("(i)").
§ The noble Baroness said: I apologise to the Committee for introducing this amendment so late. I wish to move Amendment No. 126A and speak to Amendment No. 126B. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that the proper concern with broadcasting from the regions should be met, under the Bill, as I believe is the intention. There is no doubt 952 that with the drawing up of the map of the regions, some regions will have to be dual, two conjoined small regions will count as one. Each of the individual parts would be too small and not rich enough to support an applicant company of its own. An analogy at present is with the company HTV which looks after Wales and the West, two regions conjoined under one company.
§ As the Bill stands it will be possible for all the regional programmes to be made in one of those two conjoined parts. The Committee will realise that regional programmes are not necessarily to be provided by the applicant company, but are to be commissioned by that company and made in the regions. However, as the Bill stands it will be possible, for example, in the Wales and the West regions for all programmes to come either from Bristol, for example, or from Cardiff. Then there would he no proper representation of the other part of the conjoined region. The purpose of the amendment is to stop that gap and ensure that the regional content must derive from each of the two parts of a dual region if it is set up. I beg to move.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
I wish strongly to support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock. This situation could apply to a number of different regions in the system, apart from Wales and the West. For example, I live in a dual region where the present contractor is TVS, of which the chairman is the noble Lord, Lord Boston. The service provided in that dual region is extremely important for the eastern part of Kent. It would be important in the public interest that with such a dual region the regional service is sustained, programmes are made and studio facilities and other facilities are kept within the region. As one of the main thrusts of the Bill, which the Government have accepted throughout, is to try to reinforce the regional identity and the characteristics of the system, I hope the Government will look sympathetically at this amendment.
§ Baroness Ewart-Biggs
I also wish to support this amendment, which has been clearly explained both by the noble Baroness and by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson. It seems proper that the ITC will be able, if it wishes, to continue the practice which has been followed by the IBA of specifying dual ITV regions. For all the reasons that have been put, we wish to support this amendment.
I know that my noble friend Lord Thomson has already supported this amendment so it is clear that it has the full support of noble Lords on these Benches. However, I should say with regard to the significance of the amendment that it is extremely important that the large regions should be encouraged to break themselves up into smaller regions. That is important from the point of view of investment in regional areas. I remember the days when Granada Television was awarded the franchise for the part of England in which I lived. Initially, I feared that we would get a train load of peasants from the Home Counties coming up to Manchester, being disgorged from the train, making programmes about the cotton trade and then going back to the Home Counties.
953 Fortunately, that was not the case. On the whole, the people who worked for that company all belonged and lived in the North. However, they all lived in one part of the North—the Manchester area.
In the early days when I took part in programmes for Granada I was discouraged from referring to Manchester because Granada was aware of the fact that Liverpool was also in that region. Therefore if I had to talk about a university, for example, I referred to Liverpool University—I was not allowed to mention Manchester—to make it clear that there were other parts of the region apart from Manchester. I mention that to show what has happened since those days. Granada Television now has its main studios in Manchester. However, it also has quite extensive studios in Liverpool and studios in Chester and Lancaster. That means, from the point of view of wealth and investment, that a considerable amount of money goes into those different parts of the region. That is immensely important.
I referred to the matter of talent at an earlier stage of our debates. Do we have sufficient talent to maintain all these different stations? I believe that we have if we tap the sources of talent which are at the moment unexploited in the regions. The only way that that will happen is if individual companies have a presence in different parts of their own regions so that they can recruit people of ability. It is extremely important that the individual regional companies should be encouraged, when they are established and have their franchises, to broadcast not just in one part of the region concerned but to have studios and centres in different parts of the region. The noble Baroness and others referred to HTV, but there are many other examples. There is a point of principle involved here. I wish to support the amendments.
§ Lord Crickhowell
I am broadly sympathetic to the argument put forward by the noble Baroness, but I cannot resist rising to my feet when the company of which I am a director has been so freely referred to. I am quite confident that if we are fortunate enough to regain our franchise—I hope we shall be fortunate in that bidding exercise, although some of us have anxieties on that score—we shall continue to provide material from both Cardiff and Bristol. I wish to inquire about a point of definition. I must confess that I have not gone through the rest of the Bill with great care to see whether there is some other part of it which answers the question I am about to raise.
I am concerned about the definition of each part of a region. If we are talking about a dual region and two major production units in different parts of it, that is one thing. However, as a director of a company that has been struggling in the public eye in recent months with the problem of cutting costs and therefore closing some of our outlying stations in Wales, I would not like a position where one was committed to production in all parts of the Principality, or, for that matter, in all parts of another region. It is by no means clear to me that the amendment as drafted would not lead people to suppose that studios have to be set up 954 in all parts of the region. It is important that we should be clear as to exactly what the amendment proposes before we accept it.
I repeat that in the example that has been quoted, in which there are two areas with totally different characteristics and an obvious need to provide a different programme, it is wholly appropriate that the company should split its facilities. However, I am anxious that we should not find ourselves caught by a whole range of commitments that we shall afterwards regret.
§ 10 p.m.
§ Lord Sanderson of Bowden
The Bill provides that each regional Channel 3 licensee must provide a suitable range of regional programmes. It further gives to the ITC the power to require that in some licence areas separate regional programmes should be provided for different parts of that area, or different communities living within it. The Bill also provides that a suitable proportion of regional programmes should be made within the overall licence area. This amendment would give the ITC power to require that a suitable proportion of programmes intended for the different parts of the licensed area were made with in the sub-region for which programmes were intended.
We see that as somewhat unnecessary. I note what my noble friend Lord Crickhowell said on the matter of the definition of the word "part". So long as the licensee is providing regional programmes for various parts of the region, and those programmes are made within the region itself, we do not see that it is necessary to require that the programmes be made within an even more localised area. Such a provision could mean that licensees would be unable to effect sensible economies of scale. It seems likely that where licensees are required to provide sub-regional programming they will wish to make their regional news programmes within each respective sub-region; but that should really be a matter for their commercial judgment. They could either set up separate news organisations in the two sub-regions, or they could try to provide separate news programmes for the two sub-regions from a single base. That should be a matter for them. So long as they fulfil the requirement for providing regional programmes, some of which will have to be made within the overall licence area, we do not need to specify precisely where those programmes should be made.
The Bill is intended to provide an enabling framework to enable British broadcasters to enter the more competitive 1990s. It will not help if we impose unnecessary obligations on them. The fact that I am unable to accept this amendment does not mean that the Government have reneged on the regional commitment, about which we are as firm as ever. A suitable proportion of regional programmes will still have to be made in the region.
As a mere Scot, perhaps I may venture into the area of the Principality. With my noble friend Lord Crickhowell here, I hope that what I say will not be presuming on what HTV may or may not do at the time of the licences becoming available.
955 On the assumption that the ITC retained the existing map, Wales would be covered by the licence area at present served by HTV. That includes the whole of the Principality of Wales and the Bristol area. It seems likely that the ITC would require the licensee for that area to provide separate regional programming for Wales and Bristol respectively. I think it highly unlikely that such a licensee would seek to make all regional programmes, including regional news, from one place. It seems almost certain that he would, without compulsion, seek to set up two separate news operations in the respective sub-regions.
The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, raised a most important point about the future map. I should like to answer that point as well. I am aware that the IBA, in its financial modelling, concluded that some existing licence areas will be only marginally viable in the 1990s, and is considering whether it might not be a better approach to amalgamate two of the existing franchise areas to form one larger and more viable licence area. The Bill would already give it the power to require the licensee for that large licence area to provide separate regional programmes for the two smaller regions which it encompassed, and this amendment would also enable the ITC to require the licensee to keep some form of production base in each area. I see the attraction of that. But we must be realistic. If the ITC creates a larger licence area because one or both of the smaller existing areas will be only marginally viable, we ought not then to add further unnecessary requirements which could threaten the viability of the larger licence area.
A requirement for a licensee to retain production capacity in each sub-region of his licence area where without such a requirement he could have achieved economies of scale could threaten the viability of the larger licence area. I repeat, provided that the licensee fulfils his regional obligations by providing some of his regional programmes from within his own regional area, it should be a matter for him how he then arranges for the production of those programmes.
I know that there are many Members of the Committee who have experience as directors of these companies or otherwise. I hope that the commercial realities in what I have said will become clear. Nevertheless, we feel that there is a strong regional content in the Bill which I hope will satisfy the Committee and in particular the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, whose views I respect in this matter.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
The Minister has made a most important announcement for the first time; namely to tell the Chamber that the IBA may now be considering redrawing the map on the grounds that perhaps one or two of the areas, as the Minister put it, might be marginally viable. I think I am right in saying that last week in Committee the view from this Bench was that on the whole the IBA considered the existing map likely to be one which they wished to stand by.
I accept that this is properly a matter for the IBA and the ITC. Nevertheless, the present map has existed for a long time. Any changes to it would be of great interest to Members of this Chamber and indeed 956 to the general public and others. I hope that by the time we come back in October to the Report stage we shall be able to have from the IBA some reasonable clarity as to its thinking on this matter so that we may make whatever comments we feel are appropriate.
§ Lord Parry
Perhaps I too may intervene at this stage in the Committee. One talks of HTV. There is probably no company in Britain more closely in touch with the area in which it is based than that company. It is sensitive to the nuances of both the Welsh nation and the area which it covers around Bristol. However if a different company were to come in one's attitude would clearly be affected. One would be worried as to whether such a company would carry out its obligations in quite as rich a way.
§ Lord Sanderson of Bowden
I fully understand the noble Lord, Lord Parry. The fact is that HTV in its area is not alone. There are some companies in other parts of Great Britain where a similar position applies.
In regard to the map, which is the prerogative of the IBA, it is important that this matter has been raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, and I think it only right that we should consider something with which the IBA may come forward. George Russell, the chairman designate of ITC, has already said that he would see merit in retaining the existing map. That is absolutely clear.
But the ITC must consider the map in the light of the Bill's provisions. However, nothing I said should be misconstrued. Nothing I said goes against what Mr. George Russell has indicated. As we are debating such an important part of the Bill covering the regional aspects, I think it only right that we should consider all the possible eventualities. In answer to the noble Baroness, that is why I brought forward this point which relates to the size of the areas.
§ Baroness Warnock
I am far from reassured although I hear what is said and am grateful for it. I am not so reassured by the supposition that it is possible that in future the map may be differently drawn and perhaps with more dual regions than before because of the non-viability of the constituent parts. That seems to make it all the more important that some of the programmes should emanate from each of the constituent regions. I can understand that there could be difficulties about what counts as a constituent region. However, I believe that those might be more easily dispelled than the fear raised in my mind by a failure to distinguish between a programme that is made for a particular region and one that comes from that region. There is a very important distinction. I hope that at Report stage we may learn more about the plans for the map. However, I shall not undertake not to raise the matter again at that stage. At the moment I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 126B not moved.]
§ 10.15 p.m.
Lord Willis moved Amendment No. 127:
Page 14, line 40, at end insert:
("In addition to Christianity, the religious programmes shall, from time to time, cover the other great religions of the world and include, in a balanced way, the viewpoint of agnosticism and humanism.").
§ The noble Lord said: I hope that my amendment will appeal to a broad tranche of the Committee. It is in no way an attack on Christianity or anything else. I totally approve of the fact that we have now decided that there should be measures for religious programming in the Bill. I simply want that programming to represent the broad universe of opinion in this country on religious matters.
§ Let me be quite honest with the Committee. I happen to be an atheist. I am not an agnostic. An agnostic is simply a shame-faced atheist. I am a total non-believer. I do not apologise to the Committee for that. I was brought up as a primitive Methodist. I do not think that they exist any more. If one sat in chapel on a cushion that was a great sin. I lost my faith when I was about 14. I went to the bottom of the garden and said, "If there is a God, please lift that dustbin lid. Let that dustbin lid rise and that will prove him to me". I am sure that we have all done that at some time or another. Of course God ignored me and the dustbin lid did not rise.
§ More seriously, my faith was lost in the Holocaust during the Second World War. I could not believe that a God could exist who would allow such things to happen or who would allow man to allow such things to happen. Later in Cambodia I could not believe that a God could exist who could allow those things to happen. How could one square the idea of God with that horrible slaughter?
§ Neither could I believe in a selective God. When my father was dying of cancer, a neighbour of mine also had a relative who was dying of cancer. She said, "We prayed and prayed to God to save our father", and in fact he survived. My father died. I did not pray; perhaps that was my sin. But I could not believe that God could be so selective. Why should he pick one person out and say, "You will be saved", and pick another out and say, "You will be saved"? I am simply indicating my position to the Committee.
§ It does not mean that I do not have moral standards or do not live by moral standards. It does not mean that I have not brought my children up by moral standards. I believe deeply in the Ten Commandments and what they preach. Above all, I believe in the first draft of the American declaration of independence, which states that all men are created equal, and by virtue of that all men are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I believe in all those things.
§ I am trying to make the point that there are hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions, who believe exactly as I do. They would not call themselves Christians—some of them might but they do not go to church—but they have the same moral standards that I have. I would not steal my neighbour's wife or his ox 958 or anything else and there are millions of people the same as me. I want their views to be represented on television.
§ Yes, let us have the Christian religion because it contains a great deal that will stiffen the moral fibre of this nation. But let our people also be exposed to the other points of view. There are good aspects in all the other religions which are important. In other words, I am asking that on television there should be moral education, that people's minds should be exposed to all the great philosophies and religions of the world and all the great teachings that can result.
§ I do not believe that anybody can lose by that. If the Christian religion says, "No, we want dominance and to be alone", that is a sign of fear. The Christian religion should be strong enough to be able to say, "Fine, we want you agnostics, humanists and Moslems to express your point of view. But we believe that in the end people will come round to the Christian point of view". In other words, you have to have faith in your faith. It is wrong to demand or to provide by statute a dominance, and I believe that most true Christians will accept that.
§ I have a strong faith and I love mankind. I do not believe in God but I believe in good. I believe in God with a double "o". Therefore, I believe that it would be wrong narrowly to limit television to the Christian religion. There are millions of people in this country who have different views. Even if they have no views they should be exposed to all the great philosophies and the great thinking that goes back for thousands of years. For that reason I beg in all humility to move.
The Earl of Halsbury
In listening to the noble Lord, Lord Willis, I was reminded of some mini-circulational pamphlets published by the rationalist Press Association. My Amendment No. 130 is grouped with this amendment standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Willis. I shall oppose this amendment and move my Amendment No. 130. If in consequence I make two speeches in succession—one against the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Willis, and one in favour of my amendment—I hope that I can rely on the indulgence of the Committee.
I turn to the wording of the noble Lord's amendment. Agnosticism is not a viewpoint; it is a lack of viewpoint and was coined by Thomas Henry Huxley in order to avoid answering the question, "Do you believe in God?". Apparently the noble Lord, Lord Willis, agrees with me about the status of agnosticism. Humanism means all things to all men. I suppose that I should begin with Protagoras in ancient Greece. He said, "Man is the measure of all things". I have never been entirely sure of the meaning of the phrase and I cannot believe that anything as variegated as man can be the measure of anything as though he were the standard yard or the standard metre.
Having passed from ancient Greece, let me refer to the Christian humanism of the Renaissance. I should love to repeat to the Committee Pico de la Mirandola's suppositious sermon that God addressed to Adam on the day of Creation, when he explained to 959 him that he had created him somewhat incomplete but endowed him with free will so that he could complete his own creation according to his own designs. As fascinating as it would be to read this sermon to the Committee of Christian humanist Renaissance, I must be economical with the Committee's time. I should be only too happy to give any Member of the Committee a copy of the sermon or to place a copy in the Library.
I come to our own Cambridge Platonists of the 17th century, another group of Christian humanists. I can only suppose that the noble Lord, Lord Willis, refers not to Christian but to secular humanists; and so, for convenience and brevity, I shall lump them altogether as secularists. Their weak standpoint is that they never have crossed, and never will cross, the pons asinorum of moral philosophy which is represented by the simple concept of cheating: why shall I stop my neighbour cheating me? The answer is too obvious to need any further reference. Interchange the subject and the object: why shall I stop myself cheating him? The answer is mysterious. The secularist donkey is ever left behind on the hump-back bridge which he cannot cross. He faces in the opposite direction towards an endless regress.
Those are philosophical themes. For nigh on 30 years I have been president of the Royal Institute of Philosophy. I welcome philosophical programmes whenever they appear on television. I delight in hearing Brian Magee quizzing various eminent philosophers on their beliefs. However, I do not believe that it is necessary to write that into the Bill, any mere than it is necessary to write snooker or the World Cup into the Bill. We can simply leave it to things as they are.
As regards the other world religions, let them run their own stations if they want to. There is nothing in the Bill to stop them. Otherwise, let them be content with the status of comparative studies, as the noble Lord, Lord Willis, recommended. I do not believe that they need any special attention or selection in the Bill. Therefore, I shall oppose the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Willis.
I turn to my own amendment. In moving my amendment I must tell the Committee that I have put much thought into the wording. It requires religious programmes to have respect to our tradition. By that I mean that it should be borne in mind always and not trivialised or treated as of no account. Alternatively, I could have included the words "have regard to". That would have meant much the same as would "pay attention to". However, the word "respect" has connotations with "respect for", as opposed to "respect to", which I wanted to overflow into the amendment.
What is it that I ask that there should be respect to? It is the immemorial Christian tradition in this country. "Immemorial" means that it runs from a time to which the memory of man runneth not to the contrary and terminates in what we must accept as legend. There is a very old legend that Joseph of Arimathea was the uncle of the Virgin Mary, the great uncle of Our Lord and a rich man's merchant in the tin 960 trade with Cornwall, and that on a time he took with him Our Lord as a young man, on what we would now call a business trip.
Lost in legend, how can we possibly know that that is true?—until we suddenly find it returning to us in the poetry of William Blake and in the music of Hubert Parry which have given us what the Oxford Companion to Music calls our second national anthem:And did those feet in ancient times, Walk upon England's mountains green, And was the Holy Lamb of God on England's pleasant pastures seen, And did the countenance Divine shine forth upon our clouded hills …I do not need to go on because the Committee will know it by heart. If any noble Lords have been to the last night of the Proms, they will have heard the youth of the nation singing it as our second national anthem.
That is pure legend. But skip a little further and legend begins to coalesce with history. At the beginning of the 5th century of our era, the Roman garrison which protected this country left to cope with a crisis on the continent and never returned. It left behind it a Welsh-speaking Christian community unable to defend itself against the invasions of pagan Anglo-Saxons, from the continent of Europe. To that period belongs another of our legends—King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table—beginning to coalesce with history, but still very much in a Celtic context.
Then, 150 years or so later, Saint Augustine of Canterbury arrived in this country and proceeded to convert the pagan Anglo-Saxons to the Christian religion. From that time on—some 1,400 years—this has been a Christian country; and that is the immemorial tradition which I believe should be preserved.
Post-war emigration has given rise to hospitality and to tolerance for the faiths of others, but do not let us call ourselves a multi-faith culture. We are a Christian culture and, on any assessment of it by pollster methods, anything from 75 to 85 per cent. of this country confesses the Christian religion. If we are to establish anything immemorially, that is what we should establish.
I have argued earlier against writing into the Bill what is unnecessary because it is either provided elsewhere in the Bill or it is part of common law, but the sentiment in my Amendment No. 130 does not appear anywhere else in the Bill, nor can you trace it to common law. We live in an age in which secularist Quislings, if I may call them such, will burrow like maggots into the faith of our fathers if we let them. We do not need to let them.
§ Viscount Caldecote
We have heard two most sincere speeches from different points of view. I fully understand the sincerity and reasons behind the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Willis, proposing Amendment No. 127, although I do not go along with what I might call his un-theology.
I do not believe that a convincing case has been made out for Amendment No. 127 and I do not support it on balance. It is not appropriate, first, 961 because it is not appropriate or necessary to make such detailed rules for the content of programmes. Secondly, as the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, said, this is still basically a Christian country. We have a Christian constitution with our Sovereign as the head of the Established Christian Church. Our business each day starts in this House and in the other place with Christian prayer. The accepted principles of conduct in commerce, government service and family life are largely based on Christian ethics and, as the noble Earl said, a substantial majority of parents want their children brought up and educated on Christian principles.
In such circumstances, it is not appropriate to equate Christian influence in broadcasting with other faiths. I have no wish—and I am sure that none of us in the Committee have any wish—to exclude other faiths in any way. I include agnosticism and humanism in those words. Nothing in the Bill excludes those other faiths in any way. We extend the hand of friendship to our friends in other faiths, but we do not gain their respect—I believe that it is quite the reverse—by not standing up for our own faith and by failing to stand up for the traditional Christian faith of this country. To the noble Lord, Lord Willis, I have to say that I have faith in my faith. That is why I am making these comments.
Some 40 years ago, when Sir William Haley was Director-General of the BBC, he said:The BBC bases its policy upon a positive attitude towards Christian values—it seeks to safeguard these values and to foster acceptance of them".Those values are still of great significance in this country and we continue to safeguard them. It cannot be gainsaid that if those principles of the Christian faith were more widely followed this country would be a better and happier place in which to live.
For those reasons I oppose Amendment No. 127 and I support Amendment No. 130 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Southwark
The hour is late and I realise that noble Lords wish to go home but I think that the Committee would like a short contribution from these Benches.
During the 19th century there were many fierce arguments about the admission to Parliament and other great national institutions of those who were not members of the Church of England, either because they were members of other Churches or of no faith at all. I sympathise with what the noble Lord, Lord Willis, said. The arguments were both arrogant and fearful. It took many years to reach the position which we now take completely for granted, and we should be aware of it tonight. We do not regard members of other Churches as our enemies to be excluded in all sorts of ways from all the principal ways in which the life of the nation is conducted and organised. We have a common conviction about our humanity and our citizenship; and we are able to welcome this without denying our own faith, or whatever our position may 962 be, without denying our history and certainly without denying the very real spiritual roots of this country in the Christian faith.
These two amendments seem to me to raise precisely the same sort of issue, except of course that we are usually now speaking about members of other faiths rather than members of other Churches. But the principle surely remains valid: we should not shut out members of minority groups, whatever they may be, from participation in the central organs of government or, indeed, from national institutions of which broadcasting must surely be a major and extremely influential one. That is what we are discussing tonight.
If that is the thrust of Amendment No. 127—and I gather from the noble Lord, Lord Willis, that it is—I do not have difficulty with it. However, the words do not appear to say that and I must explain why. To start with, the amendment refers to other faiths. That reference is unnecessary because Clause 16(2) (e) states,that a sufficient amount of time is given in the programmes … to religious programmes".The word "religious" presumably covers other faiths. I have to agree with the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, that humanism and agnosticism are not religions. It has to be said, and it would be unkind not to say this, that considerable irritation is sometimes caused by using religious slots in programming for programmes which appear to have no religious content whatever in the usual sense of the word.
I do not mean that a programme, a play or whatever it is has to use traditional religious language in order to appear to cover what may be deeply religious issues. For example, some of the best religious drama is not overtly apologetic. Nor do I mean that religious beliefs or statements should never be question or challenged. I certainly do not want the noble Lord, Lord Willis, to feel that I am frightened of him. I am not. I do not want him to be frightened of me, either. That is very different from suggesting that agnosticism and humanism are in some way religions. After all, the primary purpose of religious broadcasting must be to explore and sustain faith in various ways and not to destroy it. I believe that Clause 16(2) (f) covers what is wanted because it speaks of ensuring,that (taken as a whole) the programmes so included are calculated to appeal to a wide variety of tastes and interests".I see no reason why one should not be quite explicit about the fact that that should include consideration of the kind of issues raised under the broad headings of humanism and agnosticism. I find the wording of the amendment difficult and impossible to vote for as it stands. I do not want the mover of the amendment to think that I am being very fearful, or that I think that he has not got a valid case to make about our common humanity and the importance of minority groups being able to have a say within the context of this major national influence that we call broadcasting.
Perhaps I may conclude by referring briefly to Amendment No. 13O. It is right to remind ourselves and all our citizens of our own very strong Christian 963 history. I have just returned from the North East of England. I went to Tynemouth Abbey in particular. I can vouch for the value of signs and reminders of our Christian roots. I think that it is very important that each generation is encouraged by an awareness and knowledge of them. I am not so sure that putting on the face of the Bill the requirement that someone "shall have respect" to something will make much difference. I hope that others may persuade me that it will. Clearly, to that I would not wish to object at all in principle.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
Sometimes I think that on matters of this kind we go into far too much detail in trying to guide a great institution along the path of duty. When we look at page 14 of the Bill and Clause 16(2) we see a whole string of attempts to apportion time to various aspects of the affairs of Channel 3. Subsection (2) (a) refers to,a sufficient amount of time".Paragraph (b) of that subsection uses a similar phrase, as does paragraph (c). Paragraph (d) refers to,a suitable proportion of the regional programmes".We are talking about paragraph (e) and that refers to,a sufficient amount of time is given in the programmes included in the service to religious programmes and programmes intended for children".I shall not comment on the juxtaposition of religious broadcasting with programmes suitable for children. Paragraph (f) says,that (taken as a whole) the programmes so included are calculated to appeal to a wide variety of tastes and interests".The next paragraph refers to "a proper proportion". The last reference on that page is to specific proportions concerning programmes of independent origin. There is then mention of 25 per cent. There is talk about leading the broadcasting authorities along gently as to what they should do. That can be overdone.
There is one matter about which we can be sure. If religion is left out someone will want to put it in. When it is included it seems to me that we are entitled to look at other aspects of spirituality and other religions in order to consider what the conspectus should be in religious programmes. I wish that we could leave religion alone. The trouble is that it comes into so many aspects of our affairs. So many of the Members of the Committee are so unabashed in declaring their innermost thoughts and convictions, their belief in God and the respect that they command for religious institutions. It is absolutely blatant at times.
The House of Commons is much more reticent on these personal, private matters than is your Lordships' House. I sometimes think that we should merge the Synod of the Church of England and your Lordships' House, do this philosophical religious job between us and see whether we can sort it out once and for all. I am encouraged to be a little provocative because the Bishops' Bench is manned only by token forces at the present time. The formidable string of right reverend Prelates filing into their seats with their laundered overalls is a forbidding sight to an agnostic like myself.
964 Turning to the proposition moved by my noble friend Lord Willis, I want to see an acknowledgement of the wider aspects of spiritual life. It is assumed that religion is sufficiently clearly defined, historically and conventionally, to mean something that we all understand. It may contain a belief—it is intended so to do. It may be a way of life. It may be a code of conduct. If one calls it religion then it is assumed that it is a good thing. When we come to examine charity law we shall find that a charity can be any body which exists for the advancement of religion. One assumes that to talk of the advancement of religion is by itself completely expressive and close enough in definition. But to have religious education, religious broadcasting and religious slaughter is another matter. Last week we had religious broadcasting on Monday and religious slaughter on Friday; and so it goes on.
Religion is brought into every aspect of life. One can be sure of one thing. Any great institution, however historic, worthy and desirable, will create its bureaucracy and vested interests and will want to defend itself. One must bear in mind that all religions—most religions, at any rate—have a paid vocational priesthood. We pay parsons and clergymen to explain to us the spirituality of God, to tell us what to believe and to interpret what is understood to he the wishes of this supreme being. When we talk about religion we understand that noble Lords, especially those on the Bishops' Bench, will get up and say, "This should be preserved".
The noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, is more of a historian than a clergyman. He told us very little about the content of religion. He told us a great deal about various aspects of our past history. But when I am referred to the immemorial tradition of the Christian faith of the British people, I ask whether that goes back to Henry VIII, to Adam Bede or to the time when Saint Augustine came over and found the natives of this country lovely people but all heathens. Where is this immemorial tradition of Christian faith? If that is to be the content of religious broadcasting, some of us are entitled to say that there are other aspects of this matter to be borne in mind.
In my view we in this country are too stuffy about religion; we are not innovative enough. The only joy in my early days of religion was the creation of the Salvation Army. At least it had some of the good tunes. It had bands and drums upon which to throw pennies. The men and women wore uniforms. They sang and they seemed to be happy. We went to something called a citadel which was very different from a church. It really was a happy community.
However, I am sure that the Salvation Army was frowned upon—it surely was—by orthodox religious institutions in Britain at the time. They all thought that General William Booth was a crackpot, an eccentric or a dissident. I say "a dissident", but surely the Christian religion was founded by a dissident. Do we not realise that Jesus Christ was a dissident from the Jewish religion? He broke away from it, became a dangerous man and so they executed him. They thought that he would be too dangerous if he were 965 allowed to stay alive. Therefore, they killed him. That is the great event in religious history which is the foundation of the Christian religion.
We should bear in mind the fact that we were all Papists before Henry VIII. His quarrel with the Pope was not about religious doctrine; it was about the woman he wanted to marry. A papal bull was put in his way. However, Members of the Committee know the history of this better than I do, so I shall not continue. In the United States they are innovative. It is a much more lively Christian country than this one. The people are not steeped in the conventions of religion. Almost within the lifetime of people like myself, and certainly in that of my father and grandfather, they have invented Mormonism, Seventh Day Adventists, Spiritualism and Scientology. That is a fair collection of new religions for one country to have created. They all have a certain appeal to people in America. They all appear on television on their various programmes, and some of them even have their own television stations.
You may call such religions cults, but you must bear in mind that the origins of more modern inventions in religious creation are much better known to us, and sometimes more easily criticised by us, than are the origins of the more ancient religious creeds which go back to the obscurity of early times. Indeed, we have no idea how and under what conditions they began. We cannot be sure whether they were started by holy men or men who were not quite so holy. But, at any rate, they have emerged as a result of some kind of struggle.
Why can we not have the opportunity of a wider religious perspective in this country? We are supposed to be a multi-racial society. Before very long Islam will be the second religious force in this country. We have Hindus in this country and I have become much enchanted by representations made to me by representatives of Buddhism in Britain. They claim to be the most rapidly expanding spiritual force in the world today. That is a claim to be reckoned with.
I suggest that programmes of a religious nature should be divided into two parts. The first part is what I would call participatory; that is, those which when broadcast create a congregation. They are for people who want to share the experience of what they see on the television. I would not go so far as to say that we want a television hymnal, but these people certainly know what the hymns are and they very often join in. There are smaller groups which I think may justify participatory programmes. I refer to Buddhists and Quakers. I also think that the humanists are entitled to some part of this provision by way of programmes which represent the spirituality of human beings.
Other programmes are informative. Those that do not qualify by numbers or through communication problems do not justify being called religious broadcasts. However, we are entitled to have information about them. There are various societies, associations, sects and gatherings of a devotional nature. We are entitled to know much more about them. Why cannot we have a broader view? I do not 966 care what the definitions are. We need not call them religious broadcasts, but let us have some space for them. If religion is to establish a claim upon all forms of such communication then the other groups should also have a claim so that we learn about the broader aspects of life.
Young people want something new. They want something contemporary. They do not want an immemorial faith. They want something that is related to their lives and the society in which they live. The voice of those young people is still not heard in this place. Somehow or other it should be. We should have a choir up against the Throne to give us the impression that we have a youthful congregation to whom we can talk.
I sometimes feel great despair as to whether we shall get out of the cloying attachment to that concept of faith and belief which needs to be re-examined in the light of the condition of humanity in today's world. The noble Earl said that he need not go on, and I shall say the same myself. I put my opposing view to him.
If we are to have freedom of discussion about religion and broadcasting of that wider kind, we must get rid of the law of blasphemy. Religious discussion cannot continue much longer in this country with the law of blasphemy in its present unsuitable state. We must get rid of it so that we can be free to talk. There is an article in the current edition of Encounter on "Religion after Rushdie" which is well worth reading. That is one of the biggest issues of all and it will be interesting to see how our television authorities cope with it in the future.
I must congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, because he has reduced the Bishops' Bench by 50 per cent. I listened, as the Committee listened, almost with relish to the noble Lord. For nigh on 40 years in another place or in this place it has been my privilege to listen to him. He knows my views and by this time I know his. He is a preacher manqué. What a mighty preacher he would have made if he had been a believer! He speaks with confidence.
I listened to my noble friend Lord Willis, if I may call him that, and was deeply moved because he reminded us of his Sunday School days with the Primitive Methodists. They were always close to the Salvation Army and they are now part of this country's great Methodist Church. Somebody went wrong to cause us to lose the noble Lord, Lord Willis.
We are concerned tonight about one of the most powerful weapons for communication in our land. We are dealing with what influence shall be brought to bear upon succeeding generations. The society we enjoy today is not an accident. It has been built upon a faith which people may laugh at, but it has endured, with intellectual giants as well as people like me. The truth is that ours is a Christian heritage. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, may well be right about a future clash with another faith within our own shores because we have been a tolerant and broad-minded 967 people in opening our doors. However, our heritage is Christian and our conduct is decided by the things that we believe.
If I believe I have every right to do what I like with my own life, I can be indifferent to the well-being of my neighbours. I can adopt a selfish attitude and go to the gutter or try to rise to the stars, it is true. But our faith fashions our conduct. We have a right in the high court of Parliament, which is here to protect the land, the land that every one of us loves, regardless of our attitude on this question, to say that the most powerful media of all shall respect—the word includes in my mind honour—and pay tribute to the Christian convictions which inspired our fathers here and in other places. A country without religion is a country without yardsticks for conduct—to know the difference between right and wrong.
I believe that the Christian conscience leads us to the brotherhood of man, the very thing that brought the noble Lords, Lord Houghton and Lord Willis, and myself together when I used to be free to take part in party political issues. I pay the price today of having held that high and honourable office in another place. There is a long tradition for that. Selwyn Lloyd sat here, on these Benches. Horace King sat here. The Committee will recall that the price is paid to the end of our days for having been dragged out of party politics and put in the Chair. I have tried to honour that tradition, and many of my noble friends must have been annoyed more than once when they saw that I really tried to do so.
I hope that tonight the Committee will reflect what I believe is the will of this country—that the media of radio and television shall give due and proper place to the faith that gave us our parliamentary democracy, to the faith that guided our fathers in dark days and good. I support the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury. I know that were the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Willis, to be carried ours could not come before the Committee. In this country, while we respect minority views, we cannot yet put Christianity as a minority view for—and I return to my seat on this—I know and this Committee knows that every Sunday still in these islands more people are found in our churches, be it with the Salvation Army, the Roman Catholic Church or any of the Protestant Churches. There is a solid core of which the other place is well aware. I hope and pray that the Committee will tonight support the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury.
§ 11 p.m.
§ Lord Ashbourne
I rise to urge the Committee to oppose Amendment No. 127 because too much emphasis is already given to religions other than Christianity. The whole basis of most broadcasting is agnostic and founded on secular humanism. No special place needs to be created in law for these viewpoints because they already flood through our broadcasting system.
Amendment No. 130, on the other hand, reflects concern about the abandoning of much of our traditional Christian religious broadcasting. In this 968 regard I am particularly interested in focusing on problems faced by families today. This is an issue which Christian broadcasting can contribute to significantly. The common denominator of symptoms such as loneliness, homelessness, child abuse, alcoholism, drug abuse and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS is the inadequacy or breakdown of family care and relationships. As a society, we seem to be able to teach people how to make a living but not how to live.
The Christian gospel and basic biblical principles have historically provided mechanisms and structures for the transmission of love, mutual care and the sensitive nurture of children. Faith coupled with deep moral and social concern is the driving force behind many British Christians who wish to rebuild this aspect of the broadcasting media.
In January 1989 Dr. James Dobson's family television programme "Focus on the Family" captured the highest audience rating in the United States. The British broadcasting system imports from the United States "Dallas", "Dynasty" and "Miami Vice" but not its most popular programme dealing with marital problems, discipline of children and coping with teenage drug and sex pressures from a Christian perspective.
Only this year the IBA blocked the broadcasting of a 1990 radio documentary by the Care organisation about family needs purely on the ground that Care is a religious organisation. That decision had nothing whatever to do with the content of the programme. I regard that as intolerable discrimination and urge the Committee strongly to support Amendment No. 130.
§ The Earl of Longford
Perhaps a Roman Catholic, in spite of Henry VIII, should be allowed to intervene. I support the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury. I shall not dwell unnecessarily on what he said because I agree with a point that was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, on a previous occasion when she said that a recent poll showed that 90 per cent. of the country considered themselves to be Christian. I accept the argument of the noble Earl that that view should be represented in a predominant way.
I hope I may dwell for a moment on the point of view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Willis, and on that expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton. They are good friends who believe in the brotherhood of man, like the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy. They were all Methodists, of course. It can be argued that the best humanists have always been Methodists, but that does not mean that all Methodists become humanists. There is no doubt that a strong Christian foundation produces the best kind of humanist.
In the evening paper today I read that the Prime Minister made a passionate speech in defence of the family. Although I do not agree with her on many points, I agree with her, as reported today, that the state of the family in this country is worse than almost anywhere else in Europe. What is that due to? It is due to the fact that Christian values are not pursued in the family. We know that many humanists are ready to propound Christian values with regard to the family. 969 That may be true of the noble Lord, Lord Willis, and the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, and it was certainly true of the late Lord Attlee. When he was asked: "Are you a Christian?" he said, "No. While I accept Christian ethics I can't stand the mumbo jumbo". When he was asked, "Are you an agnostic?" he said, "I don't know". He was not therefore really a member of that fraternity. Many humanists have not been ready to propound Christian values.
The trouble with our humanist friends is that they have no sacred books. There is no agreement on anything. Some of them might go back to Socrates, if they know what he said. Some of them may even import Karl Marx. More recently we have been instructed by the father of one of our most valued Members, the noble Earl, Lord Russell. No one would pretend that he was a champion of the family, except that he produced the most wonderful son—but that was incidental, one might say. I had better not dwell on that theme. There is no doubt that the values of the family were not propounded by the late Lord Russell, nor by Sir Alfred Ayer, another distinguished humanist.
I submit to the Committee that unless we return to Christian ideas of fidelity in marriage we shall never restore the family, and all talk about it is balderdash. We must insist on Christian values as applied to the family or this country will go down the drain. I believe that this country should return to those values, and I hope that the Committee will indicate that tonight.
§ Baroness Strange
In supporting the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, I should like to comment briefly on what the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, so pertinently pointed out—the close juxtaposition in paragraph (e) of religion and children. He clearly has in mind Wordsworth's statement that,Trailing clouds of glory do they come from God, who is their home".Indeed, we have a higher authority yet who assures us, of children, that,Of such is the kingdom of Heaven".As one goes down streets and looks in windows one may see a sinister, flickering blue light. It is the television. May it shine clearer and brighter, as in the hymn:Jesus bids us shine with a pure, clear light, Like a little candle shining in the night. The world is full of darkness, so let us shine, You in your small corner, and I in mine".
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
No one who had listened to the debate in this Chamber over the last 56 minutes would believe that we had been discussing a Bill which might become the law. We have heard a great deal about people's beliefs. I am convinced that one thing for which one cannot legislate is respect. One can legislate for behaviour, but I have never known how one could legislate for respect. It is for that reason, and that reason alone, that I would oppose the amendment moved by the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury.
Secondly, I found the words in which he expressed the amendment, over which he told us that he took such trouble, rather strange. The United Kingdom has 970 been in existence only since 1707, and the traditions of Christianity in the United Kingdom since 1707 are by no means immemorial. Therefore I do not know to what he is referring. If he is referring to other Christian traditions, which I suppose started when St. Augustine landed here, that is a very different matter, but it is certainly not related to the United Kingdom as we know it today.
My real objection to the amendment is that I do not believe that a law saying that people should respect something has any validity, meaning or effect. Since we are discussing an enabling Bill, and have been told again and again that we should not lay down criteria which cannot be enforced but should set the paradigms within which the broadcasting authorities should operate, it seems contrary to those directions - which I believe are correct - that we should insert an amendment which directs the broadcasting authorities to respect:the immemorial Christian traditions of the United Kingdom".
§ Lord Dormand of Easington
I strongly support Amendment No. 127. The right reverend Prelate referred to my part of the country and mentioned Tynemouth Priory and the significance of that building. He will know that not too many miles away from that building is another magnificent building on a magnificent site; namely, Durham Cathedral. I have a reason for mentioning it. I am sure that the right reverend Prelate will be interested and maybe the Committee also.
When a very close friend of mine retired from work last year he immediately applied to become what I think is designated as a warden of Durham Cathedral. He goes there two or three times a week to show people around and tell them about the building. The point of the story is that he is a convinced atheist. That happens to be my attitude. I go to Durham Cathedral for the sheer beauty of the place, the building, the site and so on.
I was interested in the figures which the noble Earl gave. He said that 70 to 75 per cent. of the population of this country were Christian. I am sure that that is somewhere near correct. But on that figure rests the whole burden of my case and, I think, the case of my two noble friends; namely, that 25 or 30 per cent. of the population are not Christians.
In the amendment we simply ask whether we cannot have time—if it is in those terms, about one-third, one-quarter or even less time—to say why we do not accept the Christian faith. Those of us without religious faith recognise the strength of feeling shown not only in this Chamber but by anyone who accepts that faith. Indeed, we fully recognise that many people derive great comfort from their religious belief. But we too obtain great satisfaction from what we consider to be a rational conclusion arrived at after considerable experience and deep thought.
On a personal note perhaps I may say that I started life as a Christian and remained so as a young man and for some years after that. I attended church regularly. I was a member of the parochial church 971 council and helped with all the church functions and so on. But after some years of very considerable thought, I came to the decision which I mentioned.
Despite what has been said, in particular by my noble friend Lord Tonypandy, there can surely be little doubt that there has been a great decline in religious belief and faith in this country. In my part of the world, and I am sure in other parts of the country, the churches are seldom full and quite often nearly empty. Again in my part of the world many of the churches and chapels are now factories or warehouses, their original use long forgotten. So I believe that, even if I take the noble Earl's figures of 25 or 30 per cent., there is a small percentage of people who do not profess the Christian faith.
§ The Earl of Longford
Perhaps I may interrupt for a moment. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, in a recent debate pointed out that in a poll taken in July 90 per cent. of the population said that they were Christian.
§ Lord Dormand of Easington
I heard that observation from the noble Baroness. I suppose that I am like many noble Lords and a little dubious about some of the polls which are taken. Indeed I have heard my noble friend say so on more than one occasion. I had not intended to quote, but I shall do so now. The British Humanist Association recently had a poll—I got word of it yesterday—from which it states that 35 per cent. of the population are not Christians.
§ Lord Dormand of Easington
Yes, I do believe it. My noble friend said that surely I did not believe it, but I do. In any case you pays your money and you takes your choice. There are certain sections of the population who are not Christians and their voice should be heard. We are talking in the context of broadcasting. Therefore by any standards, there must be a case for allowing that section of society to put its viewpoint. I am at a loss to understand why there is such a strong feeling against non-believers having broadcasts. Is it because some are afraid? I can hardly believe that that is so.
One could refer to the intolerance of many religions, including Christianity, over the years. There are some horrific stories to tell. However, the theme of my remarks is the need for tolerance. There is nothing negative about being non-religious. The word "atheist" has been used. I am an atheist. However, I call myself a humanist. Perhaps I may say to noble Lords who referred to this issue, yes, we are secular humanists. We are not pretending to be partly Christian and partly non-believer. A humanist is a non-believer. But the significance is that we try to be positive and constructive.
Like my noble friend Lord Willis, I attempt to obey the Ten Commandments. I certainly attempt—although I fail regularly—to live by the Christian ethic. That seems to me to be the general position of some of those who hold such views. I admit that we fail.
Although some of us are not very enthusiastic about being members of the European Community, 972 we are Europeans. I understand that most, if not all, members of the EC allow broadcasting time for non-believers. I do not have the figures. Perhaps the Minister can confirm in general terms that what I have said is correct.
The humanist attitude is not new. Many Christians believe that it has sprung from the changing and rather easy-going society of recent years. That is not so. It has developed from the philosophy of ancient Greece and Rome, from the modern renaissance and the enlightenment. It therefore has roots, like Christianity, which are centuries old. I am bound to say that in those circumstances I find it quite astonishing that such a narrow view is taken of present day disbelief.
I believe that the Bill provides a golden opportunity to demonstrate the tolerance for which Parliament, and in particular Members of this Chamber, are so widely respected. I fail to understand what harm such provision can do to those who are so intent on having religious broadcasts. If it reduces the time for religious broadcasts—which it may not do—it need not reduce the effectiveness of those broadcasts. However, above all the provision means that that large section of society which does not subscribe to any religious belief will receive its fair allocation of time. That surely must be simple justice.
§ 11.15 p.m.
I shall make a two-minute contribution as patron of the Christian Broadcasting Council. I wish to make one point which has not been made before. I do not wish to repeat what has been said. If we were to allow the mixture of religions and cults envisaged in Amendment No. 127, we should be putting forward a mixture that would be gravely disturbing to young people. That is the point. Members of the Committee can take any amount of broadcasting on Islam, Judaism and so on, and if we are sincere Christians it is like water off a duck's back. But we have to consider young people. They are put at grave risk if we allow the implications of Amendment No. 127.
Perhaps I may say a brief word about Moslems. I have spent 35 years of my life in the Arab world. I greatly admire Islam. I greatly admire Judaism, as I do Christianity. Those are the three monotheistic religions. We must draw the line between those religions on the one hand and Buddhism and other non-monotheistic religions. As the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, and others pointed out, they have their own channels for disseminating their religions. The provision was incorporated in the Education Reform Bill. We went to a great deal of trouble to ensure that Islam could be taught in schools and so forth. What we want and surely must have is Christianity preached in the British way. That does not mean, as has been implied, a US-style evangelism. We want Christianity preached on the air in the British way. It must be preached as it was by St. Alban and St. Anselm, by Wycliffe and Wesley and many others.
§ Lord Parry
This is a fascinating Chamber. Shortly after midday we were protesting that we were working 973 too hard; shortly before midnight we are debating this basic question at great length and with great interest. The Chamber comes alive at such times and no Member need apologise for speaking in the debate. Many of the speeches were powerful and moving. If ever there was a good reason for keeping one voice intact, we have heard it tonight.
The dilemma of the Committee is the dilemma of the nation at this time. Despite some of the claims that have been made, no one knows how many people now in this country are practising Christians. Perhaps many profess much more than they possess in the reality of the Christian faith.
When I joined the Neyland Urban District Council in 1948 it was impossible to hold a council meeting on Tuesday evening because there were prayer meetings in the chapels of the town. A sufficient number of people attended the prayer meetings to make certain that no other meeting could take place. There is a danger that each of these two amendments is seeking to do what the institutions that have been created at great sacrifice are failing to do at this time. There is little point in those who profess the Christian faith, but do not belong to institutions strong enough to insist in Christian values being maintained in this second half of the 20th century, trying to harness the media to do a job that they are failing to do.
I am encouraged, as are many Members, by the fact that there are some signs of a resurgence of interest in the Christian religion at a time when, for instance, young parents are at their wits end about how to control and lead their children in a difficult time in human society. It is a curious fact that the effect on me of each amendment moved by noble friends and Members on the other side of the Committee has convinced me that the best thing that we can do is to leave the Bill as it stands. I am not convinced that either amendment advances the cause that their movers wish to advance.
As one may have expected on such an issue, we have had a debate full of interest and strongly-held views which go to the heart of people's fundamental beliefs. This is a most important subject and one which Members of the Committee have treated with the care required of it. The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, said that we have heard a great deal about what people feel. However, he brought us back to the reality that we must deal with what is actually put in the Bill.
The Government accepted arguments put forward in another place that Channels 3 and 5 would, at least for some time, have such a significant place in the independent television sector that they should be required to devote a sufficient amount of time to religious programmes. Those words are now incorporated in Clause 16(2) (e) of the Bill. In other words, the ITC must be satisfied that an applicant's plans to provide religious programmes are adequate before it can even go on to consider a financial bid. That being so, all those who are going to make a financial bid must have in their proposals adequate time for religious broadcasting.
974 On Amendment No. 82, which was accepted, we agreed that due responsibility must be exercised in respect of the content of any of its religious programmes and that in particular any such programmes must not involve any improper exploitation of any susceptibilities or any abusive treatment of others. Those are considerable and positive markers in the Bill as regards religion.
The Government see considerable force in some of the arguments advanced. They are very powerful. However, I have no doubt whatever that the religious programming which is shown on Channels 3 and 5 should both respect and reflect the Christian traditions in this country, which as the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, reminds us, go back to the Venerable Bede and beyond. I have no doubt that the ITC and the Radio Authority will see to it that their licensees respect those traditions.
It is a long-standing regulatory tradition that religious broadcasting should take account of the wide range of religious views in the United Kingdom while giving proper weight to the traditions of Christian belief in our society. That is a clear balance. Account must be taken of the long-standing tradition of Christian belief while, at the same time, recognising the wide range of other beliefs. Therefore, that gives a fair balance.
Clause 16(2) (e) ensures that a sufficient amount of time is given to religious programming. I should like to draw attention also to the IBA's background paper No. 5 on religious broadcasting. That says of religious programmes on Channels 3 and 5:These programmes would be required to maintain the centrality of the Christian faith, while still allowing opportunities for the views of other religious groups to be expressed".To go further and to attempt to write a formula into the Bill would be fraught with difficulties.
The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Willis, refers to humanism and agnosticism and suggests that time should be given to them. However, as the right reverend Prelate said, humanism and agnosticism are not religions. They may be a way of life and may be attitudes but they are not religions. Once you start writing such matters into the Bill, that creates confusion and life is made very difficult for those who have to put into reality what Parliament has written on to the face of the Bill.
The right reverend Prelate referred also to Clause 16(2)(f), which obliges licensees to put out programmes to cater for a wide variety of tastes and interests. That is perfectly true. He said also that we must be careful not to put on the face of the Bill words suggesting what you should have respect to. He said that that was unclear as to its effect.
I am glad to see that the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, is back in his place because he was out when I said that I agreed with him earlier. Even though he does not always agree with me, it is nice for him to be here when I agree with him. The noble Lord asked: what is immemorial? That is a very important question. I looked in the dictionary to find out what immemorial means. It is an expression which the noble 975 Earl, Lord Halsbury, put into his amendment to imply the depth of feeling of Christianity which goes back to most people's feelings throughout the country as a tradition. I question whether it is sensible to write that into the Bill.
How then do you write into a Bill upon which people will have to act within the law that they must have respect for something? If you say that you are to transmit so many hours of programming on the Church of England or the Roman Catholic Church, that is understandable. However, to write into a Bill that you must have respect for something that is immemorial will give those who have to translate into practice what Parliament writes into the Bill a great deal of difficulty.
There is a practical point about definitions and categories. Religious programmes will probably make up only a fairly small proportion of Channel 3 and Channel 5 output. The current figure for ITV is about 2 per cent. I do not know what the figure will go up to, but we must remember that in future there will be many more channels offering potential outlets for religious programmes; so whatever happens the percentage for Channels 3 and 5 is unlikely to be large.
The logical extension of Amendments Nos. 127 and 130 would be a highly complicated form of words giving the ITC a legal obligation to cater, perhaps proportionately, for Christianity, ethnic minority religions and all the religious beliefs and traditions which deserve to be accorded respect in our society.
§ 11.30 p.m.
§ The Earl of Lauderdale
Perhaps I may make a point about having respect. Have not so-called or apparently religious programmes sometimes carried a hostile and snide undercurrent? The requirement of respect would rule that out.
If my noble friend looks at the Bill, he will see that it already contains a provision whereby you may not be abusive to sensibilities and other religions. If a programme were to carry that kind of inference, it would be caught by the provisions introduced into the Bill as a result of its having passed through another place and as a result of the Government having tried to meet the concerns expressed there.
The noble Lord, Lord Willis, said that it would be for the ITC to decide whether in any circumstances programmes about agnosticism and humanism would count as religious programmes. In some cases it would be arguable whether they should, but if the audience demand is there such programmes will not go unrepresented.
Clause 16(2) (e) states that a sufficient amount of time must be given to religious programmes. The IBA's background paper says that programmes are required to maintain the centrality of the Christian faith while still allowing the views of other religious groups to be expressed. It says that due responsibility must be exercised with respect to the content of any of the programmes of a religious nature against exploitation of susceptibilities and abusive treatment.
976 Those are all staunch points in the Bill to protect the religious views of people and to ensure that they are expressed carefully.
I return to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, and by the right reverend Prelate. It would be dangerous to write into the Bill words which must be translated into fact and which are of themselves difficult to translate into fact and are mostly expressions of opinion.
§ Lord Elton
Before my noble friend sits down, perhaps he will help the Committee, at least those of us less familiar with the existing framework than he is. He has lent great weight to a statement by the IBA as to what must be the attitude of the Christian religion. What is the status of that undertaking? Is it a legal undertaking? Is it subject to change without the authority of Parliament?
It is an IBA background paper. It is an indication of what it expects the present licensees to adhere to and it is what it anticipates the Independent Television Commission, when it is set up, will also expect.
§ Lord Willis
Perhaps I may first apologise to the Committee. When I put down my modest little amendment, I had no idea that I was taking the cork out of such a bottle. I should like to thank noble Lords not only for staying up so late but for the valuable contributions that they have made. I noticed—I hope that no one will be offended by this—a certain amount of fear among the Christians present. They were all very anxious to defend their position.
I have the greatest respect and affection for the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, as he well knows, but I thought it was a little offensive to refer to humanism in the same terms as snooker. As my noble friend Lord Houghton said, humanism goes back to ancient Greece. It is a great and honourable tradition and philosophical attitude. It is on those lines that I introduced my amendment.
I do not think that we shall get very far, not only on this amendment but in any other respect, by being intolerant. One of the problems of speaking about Christianity in this country is that nobody knows what a Christian is. People in some parts of the world kill each other in the name of the gentle Jesus. Are they Christians? That is the problem faced by our young people.
However, it is too late to go into such a discussion tonight. I accept what the Minister said and thank him for his courtesy. I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate and I ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 128 not moved.]
[Amendment No. 129 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
The Earl of Halsbury moved Amendment No. 130:
Page 14, line 40, insert:
("( ) that religious programmes shall have respect to the immemorial Christian traditions of the United Kingdom;").
§ The noble Earl said: I have spoken to this amendment and I do not need to add anything to what I said beyond the fact that I think it necessary to test the opinion of the Committee, even though it means a Division at a late hour. I beg to move.
§ 11.36 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 130) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 24; Not-Contents, 34.
|Division No. 3|
|Ashbourne, L.||Lauderdale, E.|
|Brentford, V.||Longford, E.|
|Buckmaster, V.||Norrie, L.|
|Caldecote, V.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Cavendish of Furness, L.||Perth, E.|
|Craigmyle, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Crickhowell, L.||Renton, L.|
|Elles, B.||Southwark, Bp.|
|Elton, L.||Stockton, E.|
|Glenarthur, L.||Strange, B.|
|Halsbury, E. [Teller.]||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Tonypandy, V. [Teller.]|
|Arran, E.||Hives, L.|
|Balfour, E.||Hooper, B.|
|Belstead, L.||Houghton of Sowerby, L.|
|Birk, B.||Long, V. [Teller.]|
|Bonham-Carter, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Borthwick, L.||Monkswell, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Sanderson of Bowden, L.|
|Darcy (de Knayth), B.||Strathclyde, L.|
|David, B.||Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.|
|Davidson, V. [Teller.]||Thomson of Monifieth, L.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Ferrers, E.||Trumpington, B.|
|Fraser of Carmyllie, L.||Ullswater, V.|
|Hacking, L.||Wade of Chorlton, L.|
|Hemphill, L.||Willis, L.|
|Henley, L.||Winstanley, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 11.45 p.m.
Baroness David moved Amendment No. 131:
Page 14, line 42, at end insert:
("(fa) that programmes of each type are shown at appropriate times of the day and week, having regard to the potential viewers of programmes of that type;").
§ The noble Baroness said: I have spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Lord Ardwick moved Amendment No. 131ZA:
Page 14, line 48, at end insert:
("(i) that a reasonable amount of time is given to the broadcast of Parliamentary proceedings").
§ The noble Lord said: This is another "reasonable amount of time" amendment. The suggestion is made that a reasonable amount of time should be given to the broadcast of parliamentary proceedings. This is an important amendment. The reporting of Parliament has very much fallen away in the British press. In the tabloids, Parliament hardly appears at all. The serious 978 newspapers are highly politicised today but they too have never given smaller reports of Parliament than they do today. Even in the war years, when there were four and six-page papers, they gave a better show to Parliament than they do today.
§ The interesting point about Parliament and broadcasting is that Parliament is essentially an aural process. It is much more attractive to hear on radio or to see on television than it is to read in print. In suggesting that a reasonable amount of time should be given to the broadcast of parliamentary proceedings, I do not believe that we are handing a lulu to the Channel 3 companies. We are careful to say "a reasonable amount of time". That can depend on what the commission thinks is reasonable in certain circumstances.
§ I hope that this requirement can be added to the rather long list of subjects which have to be given sufficient time. I beg to move.
It is perfectly possible, as the noble Lord said, for this requirement to be added to the long list of subjects that have to be televised and broadcast. The amendment would add to the quality threshold for Channel 3 and Channel 5 licensees a requirement that a reasonable amount of time should be given to the broadcast of parliamentary proceedings. Many of the arguments which I listed in my response to the debate on Amendment No. 110A apply here as well. There will be nothing to prevent licensees from showing parliamentary proceedings. But we see no need for a statutory requirement on licensees to show them. The public service channels—BBC1, BBC2 and Channel 4—will continue to broadcast parliamentary proceedings. I have no doubt that Channel 3 and Channel 5 licensees will wish to include broadcasts of parliamentary proceedings in their programmes, not least because of the requirement on them to broadcast high quality news programmes. However, I suggest that we should not add a statutory requirement for them to broadcast parliamentary proceedings. It is not a suitable requirement to include in the Bill and I hope that the noble Lord will agree.
Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 131A:
Page 15, line 1, leave out ("proposed service") and insert ("service to be provided under the licence").
§ The noble Earl said: This amendment was spoken to in connection with Amendment No. 110A. It is basically a drafting amendment. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendment No. 132:
Page 15, line 8, leave out from ("them") to ("and") in line 9 and insert ("in pursuance of section 15(6) (bb) with respect to that service;").
§ The noble Lord said: I spoke to this amendment when moving Amendment No. 114. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Lord Prys-Davies moved Amendment No. 133:
Page 15, line 9, after ("for") insert ("and in the case of Regional Channel 3 services in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland the Commission shall have regard to the national needs of Scotland and Wales and the special needs of Northern Ireland").
§ The noble Lord said: The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that full regard is paid by the franchise-holders in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to the distinctive cultural identities, traditions and interests of those countries. While I readily accept that the wording of the amendment could be improved, I believe that its message is clear.
§ Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are different from the regions of England. Indeed, they are more than regions. That is the starting-point of the discussion on the amendment. Together with England, they constitute the countries of the United Kingdom. They have their distinctive cultural identities and interests. They have their own national institutions, and Scotland and Wales are separate nations.
§ I understand that in broadcasting terms generally, although not in this Bill, the three countries are often referred to as "national regions". Therefore, we submit that this background points to the need for the broadcasting legislation to take a distinctive approach towards television services for those three countries and not merely to treat them as three other regions.
§ Perhaps I may say a few words about Wales which, obviously, I know best. It is true to say that Welsh culture expressed in both languages in prose, in poetry, in drama and in music is now in as fine a flower as at any time in our history. But sadly it is inadequately reflected and projected in the great mass of English-language television programmes which are seen in Wales. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Morris of Castle Morris will develop that theme.
§ I should point out that the range of English-language television programmes which are devoted to Welsh interests is very limited. It usually consists of a nightly half-hour news programme, a weekly current affairs programme, a weekly Wales and Westminster programme and a weekly programme for farmers. However, that is it. That menu may be adequate to satisfy regional requirements under Clause 16(2)(c)(i). However, we think that the English-speaking Welshman deserves a fuller range and diversity of programmes.
§ I should perhaps mention that a debate is underway in Wales about the need for an English-language television channel for Wales alongside Sianel Pedwar Cymru, the Welsh-language fourth channel. I note that the case for such a channel has recently been developed in an article published in the April-May edition of Planet. The Institute of Welsh Affairs has studied the issue and is generally supportive of the case.
A poll in the Western Mail last February showed that there was a 73 per cent. positive response to the following question:
Would you be in favour of Wales having its own television channel to serve English speakers in Wales as S4C serves Welsh speakers?
The point was made last week when the following question was put to me:
In the future there will be no shortage of television in English, but what of television in English for the people of Wales?
Those in Wales who are conscious of the need for a greater English language television outlet for Wales as a cultural necessity consider that Clause 16(2)(c)(i) does not constitute an adequate defence of the interests of Wales.
§ My noble friend Lord Blease is in his place. He has served the people of Northern Ireland well throughout his life. We know that his judgment on Northern Ireland matters is highly respected in this place. He supports the amendment in so far as it relates to Northern Ireland. Surely Northern Ireland cannot be treated adequately as just another region under subsection (2)(c)(i). Television has a key role to play in Northern Ireland in encouraging greater mutual understanding across the community, including respect for the cultural heritage of both communities.
§ I shall not attempt to do justice to Scotland's claim, but my noble friend Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, who speaks from these Benches on Scottish matters, has authorised me to say that he fully supports the principle of the amendment and regrets that he cannot be here this evening.
As we see it, the amendment would reinforce the safeguard which is to be found in Clause 16(2)(c)(i) and would strengthen and foster the cultural identities of the three countries. On the question of the authority for the amendment, I can offer some assistance to the Minister. I can assure him that it does not embody a novel principle. The principle is already contained in the BBC charter. Article 10(1) of the charter requires the corporation to establish three national broadcasting councils: one for Scotland, one for Wales and one for Northern Ireland. Article 10(4) requires that each of the councils in discharging its function is to have,
full regard to the distinctive culture, language, interests and tastes of Our People in the country for which the Council is established".
The BBC's duty, as laid down in the charter, is clear and specific. On reflection, I believe that it is an improvement on the wording of the amendment. What is now required is for a similar duty to be placed on the Channel 3 franchise-holder in the three countries. I know of no reason why that requirement, which is binding on the BBC, should not be equally binding on the Channel 3 franchise-holder.
§ If the Government do not consider that the principle is relevant to Channel 3, would they not be establishing a precedent for agreeing at a later stage that the principle is no longer important when the BBC charter comes to be reviewed in 1996? If that were to happen, it would be apparent that the status of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland was being reduced. I have outlined the main arguments in support of the amendment. I very much hope that the Government will give the arguments their fullest consideration between now and Report stage in October. I beg to move.981
§ 12 midnight.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
If this amendment is accepted, it would give instructions to the commission by statute. If we are to move along that road, why can we not instruct the commission by statue to allow for the special needs of England? The wording looks a little racist to me. I do not think that this is a helpful amendment to the Bill. Clause 16 covers what is necessary for the United Kingdom and I do not think we ought to start, even by casual inference, to deal with the special needs of Wales and Scotland and omit the special needs of England. I hope that we do not do so; there is no need for it.
I admire the nationalism of the noble Lord and his supporters but the English feel a little nationalistic too occasionally. I should not like them to be left out. This should not be pursued; it does not look good and is not necessary.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
I rise to support my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies in his proposal which I do not consider to be racist or nationalist in any offensive sense. It is a modest little proposal intended simply to require the commission to remember the special or national needs of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales because these are not regions in the English sense. Two of them are nations and Northern Ireland is surely a uniquely sensitive area.
In Wales, where there is the language to consider, it might be thought by the Committee that when the needs of the Welsh language have been met, the commission has done its duty by the Broadcasting Bill. However, I point out that there are more parts to Welsh national culture than are represented by the single language alone. I suspect that many Members of the Committee would not be unduly familiar with the works of Dafydd ap-Gwilym or Euros Bowen because they were composed in the Welsh language. However there will be few in this Chamber who do not recognise the name of Dylan Thomas and consider that he is a Welsh poet. He has made a vast cultural contribution, but through the medium entirely of the English language. I doubt whether he could have put 20 words together in Welsh if he had been required to do so on pain of death.
The same might be said for other poets in our tradition like Dannie Abse and Vernon Watkins or great writers and artists like David Jones, himself an artist, poet and prose writer. It is complicated by the fact that one of the greatest poets writing in Wales at present, a kingpin of the Welsh cultural establishment, R.S. Thomas, is himself a fervent and fluent Welsh speaker who refuses to write his poems in any language other than English.
There is a Welsh national culture in the English language which has a symbiotic relationship with the Welsh culture in the Welsh language. Similarly there is a Welsh musical culture which is national. There is a fine stereotype of the Welsh devotion to music well described by Flanders and Swann. They talk of the Welshman:He works underground with a light in his hat, And he sings far too loud far too often and flat".982 That stereotype has long since gone. Few Welshmen work underground, with or without lights in their hats. The male voice choirs and the chapel choirs are far fewer than they were, but there is a great, flourishing musical tradition represented by the BBC Welsh Orchestra, currently performing an oratorio by Arwel Hughes, conducted by his son, on the subject of St David.
There is the Welsh Youth Orchestra, which has an international reputation, as does the Welsh National Opera. There is also that unique and marvellous thing, the Llangollen Festival, which is a multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-media event. It is a great celebration in the Welsh countryside of something which is uniquely part of the Welsh musical tradition. My noble friend said that the principle behind this amendment is already present in the charter of the BBC. Surely the independent television and radio companies should have those same privileges and should be in the same position. I hope that this modest proposal will commend itself to the Committee.
§ Lord Blease
I first wish to reply to the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls. I have never considered that the recognition in the charter of the BBC of the three national areas of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland constitutes a racist phenomenon. I do not think that charge has ever been levelled at the BBC, although the charter existed for many years before the arrival of the independent television authority. I want to take a broader approach to regionalism. We should pay particular regard to the needs of the three national regions.
Since the establishment in the United Kingdom some 30 years ago of independent broadcasting there is little doubt that the strength and the public importance of the independent television system lies in the standards, quality, production, management and presentation of its regional programmes. It is at the regional level that the commercial competence, programme standards and quality that the audience demand are put to the test and have to be met.
The regional companies are tested and tried in a judgmental sense not only by local communities but also particularly by local politicians, clerics and advertisers. During the passage of this Bill I believe I have detected a move towards regional amalgamations-I hope I am wrong about that—and some form of joint licensing under a common ownership. I believe that this would erode the vitality and dynamism of regionalism. The federal system, in my view, is drifting towards centralism.
The Committee will not be surprised that I wish to deal with this matter in the context of Northern Ireland. The population of Northern Ireland accounts for only 2.6 per cent. of the population of the United Kingdom. The advertising potential and the revenue of any commercial television company in Northern Ireland is therefore curtailed. Despite the intense efforts of Ulster Television to promote developments in its revenue uptake, it still accounts for only 1.5 per cent of ITV's total revenue. Northern Ireland is also unique as a national area with deep rooted political, economic and religious problems as well as distinct 983 cultural characteristics which have been mentioned by both my noble friends. These require delicate handling in television terms. Special care and energy are needed to ensure that the high quality of local services is maintained and made available in this small region.
Apart from the special features of Northern Ireland, I believe that all regions of the United Kingdom have special regional needs and interests. The critical issues of regional broadcasting concern questions of equality and fairness within the federal network system of programme production, scheduling, financing and transmission. Some of those issues have been ably dealt with by noble Lords who have considerable experience in the broadcasting profession, in production skills and in finance management.
The point that I wish to make specifically relating to the amendment of my noble friends Lord Prys-Davies and Lord Morris of Castle Morris concerns the principle of quality threshold, which has been mentioned over and over again in the debate today. How is that quality threshold to be considered objectively, measured, adjusted and used in the judgmental sense of deciding who is to have the franchise? In the federal network system presented in the Bill, and to meet the distinctive programme needs of the various regions, can there be one uniform quality threshold? It will have to be adjusted to meet the particular needs of the individual areas.
In the Northern Ireland region Ulster Television has been judged by the provincial flavour and the good quality material which it has presented on television screens in Northern Ireland. I have a list of 12 programmes that have been presented this year by Ulster Television dealing with the culture and needs of Northern Ireland and developments in the region. They are not only of interest to Northern Ireland but also to people in the United Kingdom as a whole. Perhaps I may mention a few of those programmes.
"William's War", which was presented a few weeks ago, was a one-hour dramatised documentary produced by Ulster Television. It dealt with the interaction between William III of Orange, King James of England and King Louis XIV of France. That was well-received in Northern Ireland and has been networked in some of the other regions of the United Kingdom. "God's Frontiersmen" was a dramatised documentary in four one-hour episodes which traced the story of the Scots-Irish from the Lowlands of Scotland and the farmlands of Ulster through to their pioneering settlements in North America. "December Bride" was a prestigious Ulster Television film shot at Strangford Lough and based on a book by a Northern Irish author. It had its premiere at this year's Cannes film festival.
I am not speaking only of Irish language programmes but about programmes filmed to convey not only to the people of Northern Ireland but to a wider audience the culture, needs and identity of Northern Ireland. A further example is a programme called "A Grief Observed", which was a half-hour, award-winning documentary which followed the pregnancy of a young farmer's wife carrying a child with brain damage in the knowledge that it will be 984 born dead. That was a film which had particular significance in Northern Ireland but also had International relevance.
There are other programmes that I could mention in this connection. I have attempted to convey the imaginative and challenging programmes that have been screened in Northern Ireland and have been proven to pass the quality threshold test. I hope that that quality will be suitably weighed against any mere untested paper presentation and oral submission to an ITC panel and the films judged as reasonable programmes. I support the amendment tabled by my noble friends.
§ Lord Parry
Dylan Thomas has been mentioned. He said on one occasion that had he been born an Eskimo rather than a Welshman and lived on whales instead of in Wales things might have been different for him. So I understand the dilemma of the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, at this late hour in seeking to grasp what we are trying to say. We are saying that the Welsh people, the Northern Irish people and the Scottish people have a particular identity. One of our professors, Professor Gwyn, Alf Williams, has said that although we Welsh lack almost every characteristic of a nation, we have a stubborn belief that we are one. It is in that sense that we put forward this amendment. Our country is a country in its own right, as other noble Lords have said.
The essential point that I want to make is that over the years that the BBC has existed the regions of England have contributed substantially to the growth and development of the television and radio industry. The nation of Wales has contributed out of all proportion to the national development of those media, and so indeed have Scotland and Northern Ireland.
At this late stage I shall only say that we have separate pools of talent in this nation. I believe that England is moving into closer identification with its regional areas. The day might well come when claims which can be substantiated are put forward on behalf of those regional areas. Just at the moment the richness of the culture in these nation states, and the contribution that it makes to the development of broadcasting within Britain and internationally, is so great that provision must be made within the Act for the Independent Broadcasting Authority just as it is for the BBC.
§ 12.15 a.m.
§ Baroness Birk
I think it is time that somebody from England got a word in. I shall make it short. Not very long ago, although it seems years ago now, on 11th July in Committee there was a reassurance given from the Government that it was unlikely that Wales would be split between two licence areas. That was the subject of an amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies on that occasion. The noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, the Minister who spoke for the Government, restated the view of the chairman designate of the ITC, George Russell, that the existing 985 15 ITV areas would remain; but he went on to say that the viability of a licence area would determine whether or not it would remain.
It seems to me, as it did to my noble friend Lord Thomson of Monifieth, when he spoke on an earlier amendment, that things have moved on and have changed a little since then. In an article in the Independent of Wednesday, 11th July, George Russell was quoted as saying:I wanted there to be 15"—those are the areas—I haven't changed my mind. The 15 regionals are greatly desired by the public, but we know there is a slow drain of advertising revenue from the North and outlying areas to the centre and the South. Is this the proper shape [of ITV] for the 1990s? It is better [to redraw] than to have companies collapsing".In my view the statement signals that the redrawing of the ITV map will be based on strict economic viability criteria and perhaps will not give due weight to the geographical, cultural or national coherence of the areas covered by the licences. Indeed, I understand that he has already commenced an analysis to see whether the five smallest regions of Grampian, Border, TSW, Ulster and Channel are viable. In these circumstances, it is important that this amendment should be supported and accepted. As has been clearly put before the Committee, what it seeks to do is to guarantee the special and national needs of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
It is possible, as the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, pointed out, that the amendment should have gone further and sought to guarantee the identity of the English regions in the regional Channel 3 system, as all the English regions have their own special identity and characteristics. But that could be done in a different way or be added to later. In the meantime I believe that it is important that this amendment should be accepted. I hope that the Government will find it possible to accept it.
§ Lord Sanderson of Bowden
Amendment No. 133—which at one stage looked like a Welsh symphony with an English drum and an Irish pipe thrown in—would require the ITC to have regard to the national needs of Scotland and Wales and the special needs of Northern Ireland when assessing applicants' proposed regional services in these areas. But Clause 16(2) requires all regional Channel 3 licensees to provide a suitable range of regional programmes which are of particular interest to those people living within the relevant area. Therefore a Channel 3 licensee for Wales, for example, would have to provide programmes which were of particular interest to the people of Wales. That is clearly spelt out in the wording in Clause 16(2) (c).
I am surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, considers that the regional requirements in Clause 16(2) (c) and (d) are rather weak. This is the first time that a statutory requirement has been put into a Bill on this subject. It reflects the Government's desire that Channel 3 should continue as a regional service. Those requirements are designed to ensure 986 that all regions—and that includes the regions of England—receive a service which satisfies the respective regional interests.
The noble Lord, Lord Blease, asked about the situation in Ulster and the difficulties that arise when dealing with the media in the Province. That will be a matter for the ITC. Special care and sensitivity will be needed in that regard. As a Scot, I am rather surprised that no mention was made of the Gaelic language as the Welsh language was referred to. I am delighted that the Government have seen fit to do something about the Gaelic language to bring it perhaps more into line with the way in which the Welsh language has been dealt with in the past.
The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, mentioned Article 10(4) of the BBC's charter which lays down the responsibilities of the national broadcasting councils which exist for the BBC in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The present Bill does not require the establishment of similar national councils, although the ITC, following the good example which the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, will know, could, if it wished, establish advisory committees for those areas, and I imagine it will do so. Consequently such a provision would not be appropriate here.
It seems to me that we differ on the strength of the commitment in Clause 16(2) (c). I shall look most carefully to see whether the clause is strong enough in the light of what has been said. This will be done on a UK basis covering the regions of England as well as Scotland (and I speak as a Scot), Wales and Northern Ireland. I do not believe that we should single out the nations concerned, although of course the cultural differences have to be respected by the ITC. Of course the licensees would be very wrong if they did not have due regard to those cultural differences when they put in their bids to have a franchise.
I shall study the position in the light of what has been said. I am not persuaded that much needs to be done to what is on the face of the Bill at the moment. However, if the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, withdraws his amendment, I shall consider again the wording in the Bill as it stands. If it needs to be strengthened in any way, I should like to consider that before the next stage of the Bill.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
I thank the Minister for the tenor of his response. He quite rightly identified the critical question: whether Clause 16(2) (c) provides an adequate defence for the national identity and culture of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I am content that the Government should consider the application of Clause 16 (2)(c)(i) to the traditional regions of England. Obviously one must study carefully the Minister's reply; but as he has undertaken to review the clause, I am pleased to withdraw the amendment. However, I reserve the right to come back on Report if by then we are not satisfied with the response of the Government. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 16, as amended, agreed to.
987 Clause 17 [Award of licence to person submitting highest cash bid]:
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 134:
Page 17, line 6, leave out ("(subject to section 18)").
§ The noble Viscount said: I spoke to this amendment when speaking to Amendment No. 109. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 135:
Page 17, line 18, at end insert:
("(13) In a case where the licence has been awarded to any person by virtue of the operation of this section, in accordance with any provision of this Part, on the revocation of an earlier grant of the licence, subsection (12) shall have effect as if—
§ The noble Viscount said: In moving this amendment, perhaps I may say that it may be convenient for the Committee to speak also to Amendments Nos. 140, 185 to 187, 194, 196, 205, 218, 219, 221, 277, 281, 297, 300 to 302 and 305 standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Ferrers. These are essentially drafting improvements and consequential amendments related to the revocation of licences and other penalty clauses in various parts of the Bill.
§ However, there are two changes of some substance. The first refers to Amendments Nos. 135, 219 and 277 dealing with Clauses 17, 71 and 95 which relate to Channels 3 and 5, local delivery and national radio licences respectively. These amendments are intended to clarify what information is to be published where a licence has been revoked and subsequently granted to another applicant in the original competitive tender process. In such circumstances there is no point in publishing again the names of those applicants who passed the quality threshold in the original process. But there is a need to set out why the licence has been revoked and granted to another particular company. This is the purpose of these amendments.
§ The second refers to Amendments Nos. 185 and 301 dealing with Clauses 37 and 104 which relate to ITC arid Radio Authority licences generally. These amendments provide that where licensees have simply ceased to provide any service before the expiry of the licence—possibly following a refusal to renew a licence—then the regulatory body can immediately revoke the licence. I beg to move.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
We are grateful to the Minister for the explanation of this series of amendments dealing with revocation. At this time of night I have little to say about them. It is clear and fair, as the Minister has proposed, that if there is a revocation between the grant and award of the licence one should carry on and offer it to the next highest bidder and not go through the whole auction process again. However, if the revocation occurs after the award or the start of the service, do the Government intend that the auction procedure should be repeated?
§ Viscount Ullswater
No, I understand that the auction is not to be carried out again.
988 On Question, amendment agreed to.
On Question, Whether Clause 17, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?
§ 12.30 a.m.
§ Baroness Birk
I wish to oppose the Motion that Clause 17 shall stand part of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, associates himself with the Motion. As we know, Clause 17 lies at the heart of the Bill and expresses in the clearest possible language the Government's guiding principle; namely, that the largest amount of money and not the highest quality is the fundamental arbiter of the licence allocation. Despite the admirable work in the other place by the Opposition and the flexibility of the Minister in defining exceptional circumstances in subsection (4), nevertheless the primary and overriding part of the clause states quite clearly:the Commission shall, after considering all the cash bids submitted by the applicants for a Channel 3 licence, award the licence to the applicant who submitted the highest bid".Therefore, in those particulars the Bill remains exactly the same as when it first arrived. It does not say that the ITC may award the licence to the highest cash bid subject to qualification. It unequivocally states that the ITC shall award the licence to the one person who puts up the most money.
The Government will claim that Clause 16 provides a quality hurdle of substance to ensure that applicants can deliver a minimum set of programme requirements. Nonetheless, once an applicant has surmounted or somersaulted the hurdle, quality is irrelevant in the process and the highest cash bid alone determines who will win the licence.
We welcome ministerial attempts to address the anxieties of the industry and those outside it; namely, that quality is subordinate to money. However, the exceptional circumstances in subsection (4) in which a lower cash bid can be accepted have been redrafted twice but there is still just that one word "exceptional". In normal or unexceptional circumstances, which will obviously be the majority of cases by virtue of this definition, the provisions of subsection (1) will apply without qualification; that is, the highest bid will win all.
Unfortunately, Clause 17 reflects the Government's philosophy from which it is very hard to move them. We were within 17 votes of achieving that this afternoon but that is not quite enough. However, we shall continue to try but without any assured feeling of success.
The quality of broadcasting, like the quality of life, suffers enormously when it is subjected to the primacy of the highest cash bid - the quickest profit, the fastest buck. The Exchequer does not need the relatively small sum which the cash bid system will produce but broadcasting does. The quality of the programmes must depend to some extent on the money which is invested in them. The key purpose of the highest cash bid system is not to allocate licences in an objective fashion nor is it to secure a fair return for the taxpayers on the sale of a valuable asset. A fair return to the taxpayers, who are also the viewers of television 989 and listeners to radio, would be to give them value for money and not just what they pay by virtue of a licence, by subscription or by owning a dish but what they receive by way of programme quality, diversity and range. It is a pure free market ideology - I am not sure that "pure" is the right word - set loose with the most powerful medium of communication in this country.
Clause 17 is the root and branch of the Bill. That is why we believe that this clause, above all, should be ripped out and replaced by something better which will stand the test of time. No doubt the next Labour Government will repeal this Bill and bring forward legislation to give quality and not cash its rightful place at the centre of broadcasting. However, we will have to wait for that. It is unpleasant to contemplate having this Bill on the statute book in its present form. That is why we are opposed to Clause 17 remaining part of the Bill.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
At an early stage in our discussions today I gave notice that in due course we would oppose this clause in principle. Even as a natural pessimist I did not foresee that it would be quite as late as it is now. Therefore, I shall not weary the Committee by going over the arguments put by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, so thoroughly and so necessarily, but it is important even at this hour to put on record our fundamental objections to the methods used in the Bill.
This is the heart of the Bill, as we keep saying. The bidding process, even with all the welcome modifications that the Government have produced, still seems to us to be wrong in principle. I am bound to say that my worries about the way it might work were considerably underlined and enhanced by the amendment moved by the noble Earl, Lord Stockton. He put forward a different formula for calculating the way in which the bids should be paid. I confess that I did not wholly follow the technicalities of his argument but it seemed to me that on the basis of his calculations the bid system has grave dangers for the quality of commercial television in this country. It is for those reasons that I am happy to join the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, in opposing the clause.
I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, will not oppose the clause too hard. I can appreciate that they have a different view of the working of the Bill than the Government. We believe that the competitive tender is the fairest and the most transparent way of allocating licences for commercial television.
Clearly there will be a number of people who will compete for licences. I have always believed that the quality threshold is essential, and in order to keep up quality contenders must show that, to compete for this prize, they can provide a suitable service of adequate standard and of quality. It is only then that the bids will come into operation.
The noble Baroness said that decisions will be made on the largest amount of money and not on the highest 990 quality. However, once applicants have got over the quality barrier their applications will all be of high quality. The noble Baroness would prefer, once we have selected those who have achieved the quality threshold, to let someone decide that one is better than the other in terms of what she considers is quality. I can only assume that she would prefer the system which operates now. But the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, said there must be a better system. He does not like the present system. He thinks that there should be a change. Therefore, it is pointless to suggest that we should keep to the old system and we believe that the Bill proposes a better way forward.
§ Baroness Birk
It is not the same thing. It does not mean that we go back to the old system entirely, nor does it mean that, because there is a quality hurdle, money is not the arbiter. It is. We have shown in detail that it is. Obviously the Government think that they have a better system but it is not right for them to say that money is not the final arbiter, because it is.
There are differences. An amendment we put forward earlier today proposed a tailored, three-stage system which is very different from the way in which the IBA has been operating. So it is not a question of either having the new system that the Government have in the Bill or going back to an old system. I assure the Minister that it is something different.
It may be that it is something different. However, once the various applicants have gone through the quality threshold, either it is the highest bidder who wins the prize, as it were, or someone chooses. That is a subjective judgment about which people might have different views. The whole point of the quality threshold is that it is designed to ensure that only those applicants who are capable of providing a high quality service are eligible to bid for licences in the first place. Thereafter, I do not believe that there is a need to make fine distinctions on the relative quality of the applicants' proposals. That does not mean that all the proposals will be exactly the same. If each applicant were given the right to broadcast it may be that the results would be different but the quality would be up to the proper standard.
We accept that there may be exceptional circumstances which may include a situation where the quality of the programmes offered by one applicant was exceptionally higher than that of the applicant putting forward the highest cash bid. If that were so, it would be justifiable for the ITC to award the licence to a lower bidder. I do not think that I can say more as I know that the noble Baroness will not be persuaded. I hope that she will think that the provision is not quite as bad as she makes it out to be.
Clause 17, as amended, agreed to.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth moved Amendment No. 136:
§ After Clause 17, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Report on implementation
§ .—(1) The Commission shall, three years after the implementation of this Act, prepare a report to Parliament on the implementation of the Act.
- (a) the general quality of programmes included in the services;
- (b) the diversity of programmes included in the services and their appeal to specialist audiences; and
- (c) the strength of regional programming in the services.").
§ The noble Lord said: This new clause follows a discussion that we had at an earlier stage of our debate It reflects the fact that there is a fundamental difference of character between the future ITC and the present IBA. Unlike the IBA, the future ITC is to be primarily a licensing organisation. It will certainly not have the day-to-day, week-to-week regulatory responsibilities of the present IBA. It is charged with having a lighter touch altogether in terms of progamme matters. It will deal with any problems that arise about the way in which the licensees are fulfilling the conditions of their licences after the event rather than before, as happens at present.
§ In the light of this major change in the character of the commission that will be responsible for the new system and in view of the fact that it is a radically new system, we feel that it is very important that after a reasonable period of time there should be a thorough appraisal of how well the new system is working. Three years appears to be a reasonable period. In effect the clause proposes a kind of triennial report on the way the new broadcasting system has operated. The commission is asked to report to Parliament on the general quality of programmes included in the services; on the degree to which diversity has been fulfilled, which is one of the principal demands made on the new licensees; on the degree to which they have fulfilled their commitment to appeal to specialist audiences; and on the strength of the regional programming in the services.
§ I hope that in this case the Government will feel that this is a constructive and sensible proposal and that it will be of general service to Parliament as a whole. I also hope that after an appropriate time it will give us the chance of seeing how the new system is working. Perhaps the noble Earl is right and that the fears we have expressed about various aspects of the Bill will prove to be unfounded. Let us see. It is very important that Parliament should have the opportunity to take a measure of how the new system is working. I hope that even at this time of night we might have a positive response from the Government. I beg to move.
§ 12.45 a.m.
§ Baroness Birk
The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, has set out the case very well. If the Bill goes through in its present form, and after three years the report shows that our worst fears have not been realised, I too shall be happy.
The Earl of Stockton
Before the Minister replies I should like to add my voice to those of the noble Lord and the noble Baroness. It would be an extremely good idea to have these reports laid before Parliament as indicated in the amendment.
§ Lord Sanderson of Bowden
The first new clause seeks to impose an additional duty on the ITC to prepare a report to Parliament on the operation of the 992 new legislation three years after its implementation, and would require the report to make particular reference to general quality and other considerations. The second new clause requires them to assess the programme service provided by local delivery operators. We think that this is both wrong in principle and unnecessary in practice. The Bill already requires the ITC to prepare an annual report on its proceedings for the Secretary of State who must lay copies of the report before Parliament.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, is quite right. We have been here before on this matter. When we debated Amendment No. 8 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, which would have required the ITC's report to include an assessment of the programme service provided by Channel 3 and Channel 5 licensees, I undertook to consider whether enough had been written into the statute. I can now announce that the Government will bring forward an amendment on Report to require the ITC to comment in its annual report on the extent to which licensees had fulfilled the undertakings given during the application process and which would have been written as licence conditions.
We do not feel it necessary for the ITC to comment on each licence condition of each licensee where licence conditions have been fulfilled. Instead, it is intended that this provision will give the ITC scope to make a general comment and to make reference to specific licensees when it feels it appropriate so to do. We certainly envisage that the ITC's annual report will be both comprehensive and pertinent, and we expect it to include many of the areas set out in the proposed clause. But we believe that the ITC should essentially decide for itself both the form and the content of the report it makes. The general duties in respect of the ITC's report match those for the other regulatory bodies in the Bill and we do not think it would be right to multiply these statutory obligations. Parliament will have the opportunity to examine the reports of all these broadcasting bodies in full, well before three years are up.
Turning to the second new clause, the Bill deliberately distinguishes between the local delivery operator who runs the system and the service provider. An example would be the distinction between, say, Westminster Cable on the one hand, and Sky on the other. Cable and MVDS provide a convenient means by which a number of channels can be received by the viewer. In general, with the possible exception of some local channel, all local delivery operators are likely to offer a similar package of programming. I doubt, therefore, whether it would be very illuminating for the ITC to publish an assessment of their services on an individual basis. It is, however, quite likely that the ITC's annual report will give details of the type and range of programming carried by local delivery operators. The Cable Authority has always included such an account in its annual reports. I think that this will meet the point behind the noble Lord's second new clause.
I hope the noble Lord will understand from my response that we regard the annual reports of the ITC 993 as extremely important. I trust that this will be the basis on which we and he will be able to judge the performance.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
Before the Minister sits down, will he be kind enough to tell me to what he is referring when he says the "second new clause"? It may be that I am beginning to flag a little, but can be clarify that he is referring to Amendment No. 167?
§ Lord Sanderson of Bowden
I am referring to both parts of the proposed new clause in Amendment No. 136. The first section refers to the three-year implementation requirement and the second section refers to the "particular reference" which the commission shall make in the report to Parliament. We take it that that is what the noble Lord is aiming to achieve by way of the amendment. However, if that was not his objective, then I apologise. It may be that I have gone rather wider in my reply than the noble Lord expected.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
I confess that I did not know that that was what I was aiming for. I must catch up on the detail. I shall therefore concentrate on the Minister's reply as regards Amendment No. 136. As this appears to be a Bill in which bidding is very much at the heart of the matter, I am bound to concede that in this case he has out-bid me. I asked for a three-year report, but he has offered me an annual report. I can only express my thanks to him and add the cautionary note that I shall wait to study the amendment which he brings forward to see how far it satisfies us.
I do not dispute the assertion that one should not need to go into great detail as regards every single licensee. If there is a licensee who is causing anxiety to the ITC, it is important that the report should mention the fact to Parliament. However, we shall have to wait and see what form it takes. In my view, an annual report is a good deal better than a triennial report. I am most grateful to the Minister.
§ Baroness Birk
Before we conclude the matter, can the Minister assure us that the new amendment will be prepared in time for the Report stage, and that we shall have time to study it before it is discussed in this Chamber?
§ Lord Sanderson of Bowden
I can assure Members of the Committee that it will be prepared in time for the Report stage. We have, at least, some considerable time to prepare the amendment. I hope that it will be tabled in good time.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 18 [Holder of Channel 3 licence to give security against failure to maintain proposed service]:
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 137:
Page 17, line 19, leave out subsections (1) to (3).
§ The noble Viscount said: This amendment was spoken to with Amendment No. 109. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.994
§ The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe)
Amendments Nos. 138 and 139 are pre-empted by the Committee's agreement to Amendment No. 137.
[Amendments Nos. 138 and 139 not moved.]
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 140:
Page 17, line 46, leave out ("revoke the licence,") and insert ("serve on him a notice revoking the licence as from the time the notice is served on him,").
§ The noble Viscount said: This amendment was spoken to with Amendment No. 135. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 141:
Page 18, line 1, leave out from beginning to ("and") in line 3.
§ The noble Viscount said: This amendment was spoken to with Amendment No. 105. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 142 not moved.]
§ Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 143:
§ Page 18, line 21, leave out subsections (7) to (11) and insert:
§ ("(7) Where the Commission revoke a Channel 3 licence under this section or under section 37, they shall serve on the licence holder a notice requiring him to pay to them, within a specified period, a financial penalty of the prescribed amount.
§ (8) In subsection (7) "the prescribed amount" means—
- (a) 7 per cent. of the qualifying revenue for the last complete accounting period of the licence holder (as determined in accordance with section 19(2) to (6)); or
- (b) where his first complete accounting period has not yet ended, 7 per cent. of the amount which the Commission estimate would have been the qualifying revenue for that accounting period (as so determined).
§ (9) Any financial penalty payable by any body by virtue of subsection (7) shall, in addition to being recoverable from that body as provided by section 63(5), be recoverable by the Commission as a debt due to them from any person who controls that body.").
§ The noble Viscount said: This amendment was spoken to with Amendment No. 109. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 18, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 19 [Additional payments to he made in respect of Channel 3 licences]:
§ [Amendments Nos. 144 and 144A not moved.]
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 145:
Page 19, line 13, after ("him") insert ("or by any connected person").
§ The noble Viscount said: I think that it would be convenient if in moving this amendment I were to speak also to Amendments Nos. 146 to 152 to Clause 19 and similar amendments, Amendments Nos. 285 to 292, to Clause 97 tabled in the name of my noble friend Lord Ferrers.
§ These amendments make clear that the qualifying revenue of a licensee includes the revenue of any person connected to that licensee. The amendments are simply designed to ensure that a licensee could not reduce his qualifying revenue by arranging for all or part of it to be paid to an associated company. I beg to move.995
§ Baroness Birk
As I understand it, this amendment introduces a potential loophole in the Bill that licence holders may be able to use to exploit and reduce any fees or fines payable to the ITC. I take it that that is its objective?
§ Viscount Ullswater moved Amendments Nos. 146–152:
§ Page 19, line 16, leave out ("by him").
§ Page 19, line 20, after ("holder") insert ("or any connected person").
§ Page 19, line 21, leave out ("him") and insert ("the licence holder').
§ Page 19, line 25, leave out ("the licence holder and") and insert:
§ ("(a) the licence holder or any connected person, and (b) ").
§ Page 19, line 26, after ("holder") insert ("or any connected person").
§ Page 19, line 35, leave out ("the licence holder, in any accounting period of his,") and insert (", in any accounting period of the licence holder, the licence holder or any connected person").
§ Page 19, line 42, leave out ("him") and insert ("the licence holder or the connected person, as the case may be").
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 153:
Page 20, line 19, leave out subsection (10).
§ The noble Viscount said: I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 109. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 19, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 20 [Duration and renewal of Channel 3 licences]:
Baroness Birk moved Amendment No. 154:
Page 20, line 28, leave out ("four") and insert ("two").
§ The noble Baroness said: The amendment is designed to stop licence-holders taking unfair advantage of their position in the market by bidding too soon for renewal. There should be a standard point at which applications for renewal of a licence can be received. Two years should be sufficient for the presentation and adjudication of applications. Four years may be too long and yet too short to assess the work and the progress of the company.
§ Each company granted a licence should plan for its initial licence period only. If it is successful by all the criteria set by the ITC it should feel confident that it will win renewal in the face of competition. The ITC should set aside the final two years of the licence period to re-assess the shape and needs of the area to be served; to access the performance of the current holder and to examine the alternatives and potential competitors. I beg to move.
There is a balance to be struck in determining the point at which Channel 3 and 5 licensees should be able to apply to have their licences renewed. Clearly, licensees will need to have operated satisfactorily for an adequate period in order to demonstrate to the ITC their fitness to carry on with 996 the licence. On the other hand, the application cannot sensibly be delayed beyond the point at which the ITC would have to begin the new licensing round if it were minded not to renew a licence. We believe that six years strikes a sensible balance. It is long enough to judge whether a licensee has performed satisfactorily and should have his licence renewed; but it is short enough to effect adjustments in the licence price, which changes in economic conditions may require.
Amendment No. 154 would not permit licensees to apply for renewal until two years before the end of the licence period. The noble Baroness feels that the final two years should be spent in reviewing the licensee to see whether he has kept up to the mark, but it takes about two years to undertake a new round of licensing, and that would not give time to negotiate renewal terms with existing licensees. We therefore consider the amendment to be impractical.
Our general view on renewal of licences is that there should be a presumption in favour of renewal, providing the licensee has sustained the high quality service required under the licence, and providing the ITC does not intend to change the licence area. That is the purpose of Clause 20(5). Its removal would give the ITC total discretion about whether to renew a Channel 3 or Channel 5 licence. It would enable the ITC to refuse a licence for any reason, however arbitrary, without needing to explain its decision. Amendment No. 155 is therefore unacceptable.
Government Amendments Nos. 163, 207, and 220 are merely drafting improvements to the renewal Clauses 20, 48 and 73. Amendment No. 163, for example, makes it clear that in relation to a renewed licence, the end of the licence period means the end of the period for which the licence has been renewed.
§ 1 a.m.
§ Baroness Birk
I do not know whether it is a drafting error or the Minister has misunderstood. Amendment No. 155, which deletes subsection (5), removes the right to automatic renewal. It does not remove the presumption which remains that an incumbent who genuinely provides a good service will surely be in a favoured position to retain the licence anyway. There is no desire either on my part or under the amendment to cause unnecessary disruption to the services and uncertainty for the staff employed by licence holders.
However, we feel it is wrong that there should be a presumption of almost automatic renewal of a licence, provided only that the licence holder has not manifestly failed to provide the promised service. It must be wrong that a licence holder seems potentially to hold a licence in perpetuity. There must be something to prevent that extreme on the one hand. On the other hand, what we propose would not remove the presumption that the licence would continue but also it would at least give the ITC some flexibility.
There is plenty of flexibility. It is true that the presumption is that there should be a renewal, provided the licensee has maintained a high quality and the ITC does not intend to change the licence 997 area. Without that, if the noble Baroness's intention were to come about, there would be a renewed round of bidding every 10 years. We feel that that would be unfair to the existing companies and that they ought to be presumed to have a chance to renew their licence unless they fall down on their performance. There is a flexibility: the ITC is not obliged to renew the licence. If it does not wish to do so, it may embark on a new round of bids.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
The four-year proposal is generous. There is a 10-year contract and after six years the company can apply to have it renewed. That seems to me to be an extraordinarily short time to put the licence holder to the test. Therefore I strongly support the idea of two years as proposed by my noble friend.
The noble Earl is inclined to poke a little fun at my better way of the past. One of the better ways in which the whole system can be organised is open to the Government under the Bill. It is to enable some kind of staggering to deal with the problem of whether a licence should be renewed. For the whole country all at once to be subject to all contracts being up for bidding is a cumbersome process. It seems to me that the rolling proposal, provided there was a longer initial period and a period nearer the final termination of the contract, offers an opportunity for flexibility.
There is an attraction in the idea of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth. However, there are practical difficulties. When I first addressed my mind to this, I thought the same as the noble Lord, Lord Thomson—four years seemed a long time and two years would be better. However, if we are to have a renewal of the licensing system, the process takes two years. We must then be able to evaluate it before the two years. Therefore we need to evaluate the licence possibly three years before the end of the licence period. So we have said in the Bill that four years before the end a licensee may apply for a new licence. That gives time for the ITC to consider how the applicant has done and evaluate it. Then if the commission thinks it necessary for the licence to undergo a new set of negotiations, that can be done. But that in itself would take two years.
If a licensee applies after six years for a new licence and is given it, that licence may last for 10 years. However, it does not run contiguously from the end of the first 10 years of the first licence. In other words, it would not be 20 years. If after six years the licensee applied for a new licence and was given a 10-year licence, it would run from the end of, it may be, the seventh year. There would not be a 20-year run.
§ Baroness Birk
It is too late to continue with this amendment. I believe we have reached the end of the road for the moment. I reserve the right to bring the amendment back at a later stage. In the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 155 not moved.]
Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 156:
Page 20, line 43, leave out ("any such conditions as arc mentioned in section 18(1)") and insert ("the conditions included in the licence in pursuance of subsection (1) of section (Conditions requiring holder of Channel 3 or 5 licence to deliver promised service) (whether as originally imposed or as varied under subsection (2) of that section)").
§ The noble Earl said: In moving Amendment No. 156, it may be convenient if I speak also to Amendments Nos. 177 and 190, all of which stand in my name. The substantive amendment, No. 177, creates a new clause, which will require the ITC to lay down conditions in Channel 3 and 5 licences to ensure that the service provided accords with the licensees' programme proposals and that the licensees will implement their proposals on training and on regional employment and facilities where appropriate. The clause, therefore, ensures that applicants will not be able to give undertakings which they do not intend to keep. There is, however, a provision for the ITC to vary such conditions, with the consent of the licensee, where this is necessary in the light of changing circumstances.
§ It was always intended that a licensee's programme promises could be included as licence conditions by virtue of the provision in Clause 18(1). However, this provision has been deleted as part of the amendment associated with performance bonds. The new clause therefore replaces this provision. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Lord Thomson of Monifieth moved Amendment No. 157:
Page 21, line 5, leave out subsection (6).
§ The noble Lord said: This amendment was tabled as a probing amendment to find out basically what the terms of the subsection mean. Looking back at the relevant subsection of Clause 17, I understand that it deals with applicants who may be using sources of funds which are inappropriate, unacceptable or illegal. I am not clear what is involved here. A few brief words of explanation would be helpful. I beg to move.
I am quite sure that a few brief words of explanation would be most helpful. However, I am not so sure that I can provide them at the moment. I thought we had discussed this amendment with Amendment No. 110.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
I am sorry. That is correct. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 157A not moved.]
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 158:
Page 21, line 15, at end insert ("and").
§ The noble Viscount said: I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 109. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 159 not moved.]
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 160:
Page 21, line 20, leave out from ("renewed") to end of line 22.
§ The noble Viscount said: I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 109. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.999
§ [Amendments Nos. 161 and 161A not moved.]
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 162:
Page 21, line 36, leave out from ("terms") to end of line 40.
§ The noble Viscount said: This was spoken to with Amendment No. 109. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 163:
Page 21, line 47, leave out from beginning to first ("the") in line 6 on page 22 and insert ("and
(b) the reference in section 37(3A) to the end of the period for which a Channel 3 licence is to continue in force shall,
in relation to the licence, be construed as a reference to").
§ The noble Earl said: This amendment was spoken to with Amendment No. 154. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 20, 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 adjourned at nine minutes past one o'clock.