§ 8 p.m.
§ House again in Committee.
§ Schedule 11 [The Broadcasting Complaints Commission: Supplementary Provisions]:
§ [Amendment No. 311ZA not moved.]
Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 311ZB:
Page 197, line 11, after ("made") insert:
§ The noble Earl said: The following amendments are mainly technical. They are intended to bring the provisions regarding the interests of members of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission and the Broadcasting Standards Council into line with the schedules for other public bodies contained in the Bill. That would enable the Broadcasting Complaints Commission and the Broadcasting Standards Council to have the discretion to resolve that a member's interest may be disregarded to enable a member to take part in the work of the bodies. Other public bodies have this same discretion in their schedules. I refer not only to Amendment No. 311ZB, but also to Amendments Nos. 311A, 311ZC, 311ZD, 311CA, 311CB, and 311CC. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Earl Ferrers moved Amendment Nos. 311ZC to 311A:
Page 197, line 12, after ("and") insert:
("(b) (subject to sub-paragraph (1A))").
Page 197, line 14, at end insert:
("(1A) Sub-paragraph (1)(b) shall not apply in relation to any meeting of the BCC at which all of the other members present resolve that the member's interest should be disregarded for the purposes of that provision.").
Page 197, leave out lines 24 to 37.
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
§ On Question, Schedule 11, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 131 [Function of BCC]:
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 311AA:
Page 103, line 6, leave out ("actually").
§ The noble Viscount said: While speaking to Amendment No. 311AA, for the convenience of the Committee, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 311AB and 311AC. These are purely drafting amendments. The reference to "actually" is superfluous. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendments Nos. 311AB and 311AC:
Page 103, line 9, leave out ("actually").
Page 103, line 11, leave out ("actually").
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
§ Clause 131, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 132 agreed to.
§ Clause 133 [Consideration of complaints]:
Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendment No. 311B:
Page 105, line 22, leave out ("body corporate") and insert ("broadcasting body").
§ The noble Lord said: While speaking to Amendment No. 311B, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 311C. These are primarily technical amendments to ensure that the Broadcasting Complaints Commission is able to receive assistance when considering a complaint from either a broadcasting body, a body other than a broadcasting body or an individual. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.1549
Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendment No. 311C:
Page 105, line 25, at end insert:
("(aa) where the relevant person is a body other than a broadcasting body, to arrange for one or more of the following, namely—
to attend the BCC and assist them in their consideration of the complaint, or").
- (i) the persons who take part in the management or control of the body, or
- (ii) the employees of the body,
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 133, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clauses 134 to 138 agreed to.
§ Clause 139 [The Broadcasting Standards Council]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 139 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
Clause 139 is the first of the clauses dealing with the Broadcasting Standards Council. We have given notice of our intention to oppose the Question that Clause 139 shall stand part of the Bill. This may be a convenient moment, at the beginning of this group of clauses, to state our anxieties regarding the Broadcasting Standards Council.
In moving that the clause should not stand part of the Bill, we are stating that the Broadcasting Standards Council should not continue with the statutory basis provided for it by the Bill. In opposing the clause, I wish to make clear that it is in no way a reflection on those who serve on the Broadcasting Standards Council—the noble Lord, Lord William Rees-Mogg, who is with us in Committee this evening, or his colleagues. Our case, which I hope to develop, is that the council is unnecessary in terms of the regulatory arrangements for broadcasting standards inside British broadcasting.
Proceeding on a personal note for a moment, perhaps I may say that the Broadcasting Standards Council is served by Mr. Colin Shaw, who is one of the most experienced professional people in the regulating of broadcasting standards in this country. He recently wrote to me putting forward the position of the Broadcasting Standards Council and very properly saying that we should be aware that its members are no less committed to the public interest than the governors of the BBC or the members of the IBA.
I totally accept that, as all members of the Committee will. Colin Shaw went on to indicate some of the very useful work that the council has done since its inception; for instance, breaking new ground with small scale public meetings, and in particular seeking to deal with anxieties about violence on television and the treatment by the broadcasting media of disaster victims. That I totally accept. That is good work. Indeed, if the Broadcasting Standards Council were to be limited in its operations to what I would call background work in relation to the maintenance of broadcasting standards in this country, that might be useful. There is certainly a need for independent 1550 bodies doing serious research work about the general impact of television on behaviour and the general climate of our society.
However, the reason why we believe that the Broadcasting Standards Council in its statutory form is unnecessary is that, in an unacceptable way, it duplicates the responsibilities already laid on the shoulders of the members of the IBA—soon to become the ITC—and on the governors of the BBC and members of the Radio Authority. I think it is a general principle of good public administration that when one lays responsibilities on people one makes those responsibilities clear-cut and does not confuse people by having them overlapping and shared with other groups.
It is true that there are differences in the structures of the BBC and independent broadcasting as it exists at present. There will be further differences when the new ITC structure is established. Nevertheless, the fact is that the governors of the BBC, although they head what is perhaps one of the world's greatest broadcasting organisations and feel a sense of loyalty and pride in the work that the professional broadcasters do, are there as the trustees of the public interest. I know that they take that trusteeship extremely seriously. They have the responsibility under the BBC's royal charter for exactly the same programme standards which are now being made part of the terms of reference of the BSC.
In the case of the IBA the structure was again different. Members of the IBA stood at arm's length from those who made the programmes and the companies that held contracts under the IBA. They will be even more at arm's length under the new arrangements where they will become more of a licensing body, though still with a heavy responsibility not only for setting the standards in the first place but ensuring that those standards are fulfilled once the licences are issued.
To seek to duplicate that responsibility for broadcasting standards in the areas that are referred to the BSC is a recipe for confusion. It is a fifth wheel to a British broadcasting coach that has worked well in the past, and there is no reason to believe that it will not work equally well in the future.
There are some other matters of concern about the way that the BSC is approaching its duties under this Bill. I am bound to say that one has caused particular concern. I quote from the brief kindly supplied to Members of the Committee by the council:The Council believes it to be essential to its task of monitoring and reporting on programmes to be able to initiate complaints with the broadcasters on its own account".That is a very dangerous position with great risks involved for the way in which the Broadcasting Standards Council will find itself fulfilling its responsibilities.
Another matter of interest—again I refer to the briefing we have received—is that the council is seeking to regard itself as apparently the proper voice of British broadcasting on these matters of programme standards in regard to our relations with Europe. I cannot speak definitely on this matter but I 1551 think the Broadcasting Standards Council is a unique body within the European broadcasting scene. Generally speaking, the familiar pattern is to lay the responsibility for standards on the broadcasting authorities themselves. Again, I believe there will be confusion if we have both the BBC and, presumably, the ITC represented on the European Broadcasting Union and taking the normal path in the development of European broadcasting affairs, and a separate body also engaged in work on that territory. I know that there is a certain amount of confusion on the mainland of Europe in that respect.
Those are some of the reasons why we are opposed in principle to the setting up of the Broadcasting Standards Council on a statutory basis. We oppose the clause.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Birk
The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, referred to the council as being unnecessary and said that its functions would be carried out by other people. It is extremely important to get this matter straight before we go into some of the other reasons why the council should not be given statutory status. In the first place, it is responsible for drawing up a code in consultation with the broadcasting authorities and others. That is on page seven of the latest annual report. The duty to do that is found in Clauses 6, 7 and 9. That duplicates the responsibilities of the ITC.
The report also refers to the monitoring of programmes and the subsequent reporting of standards in domestic services or services reaching this country from elsewhere. That can be found in Clauses 11 and 12, which cover research into such matters as nature and the effects on attitudes and behaviour, the portrayal of sex and violence in programmes, and on commercials. Therefore, those subjects are already handled sufficiently and, we are sure, efficiently by the bodies already existing. Again, the handling of complaints is a function of the ITC and the BBC. Liaising with Europe—the fifth of the functions described in the report—can be found in Clause 65, where the ITC has the power to do that.
In regard to research, I note that the Broadcasting Standards Council is anxious to fulfil that function. We already have an excellent broadcasting research unit which for many years has produced invaluable independent research, much of which has found its way into academic circles. It covers the whole spectrum of the popular press as well, and it is highly respected. It has produced useful background material for members of all parties concerned with the Broadcasting Bill and other broadcasting matters. I understand that it is likely to continue with that function on behalf of the ITC.
It is only fair to say that the Broadcasting Standards Council has become something of a joke. It is an unnecessary carbuncle on the face of a Bill which is packed with regulatory bodies whose functions more than adequately cover its role. The Government have created a great new quango. Its preoccupation partly with sex has already given rise to some polite amusement at the findings of one of its earlier studies 1552 that the great British public are far less concerned than some would have us believe about nudity or the depiction of sexual images.
In the report commissioned by the Government on the financing of broadcasting by the BBC, Professor Peacock recommended the phasing out of all these regulations for broadcasting other than the normal laws of the land. The Broadcasting Standards Council is a waste of time and money. Over £1 million a year is spent on what many of us feel may be a well meaning but futile exercise. Its function is best described as that of a gloomy gremlin crouched in the corner of every television screen in the land waiting to cast a shadow of doubt over the creative activities of the broadcasting industry.
On the face of it, the BSC is not a censorship body with previewing powers. In effect, it certainly has the capacity to inhibit unduly broadcasters and programme makers who know that even the most mischievous complaint could result in the publication of a ruling that some small part of a television schedule has upset a vociferous minority. Let us look for one moment at what the Bill already requires of broadcasters in terms of taste and decency. We now trot out phrases such as taste and decency in the same way as cream and coffee or sugar and honey. They are words that run together. They are not always so meaningful in our society as the right reverend Prelate would like them to be. That is because we are using old-fashioned phrases and not bringing them up to date in ways in which they can be communicated, particularly to young people.
Both the ITC and the Radio Authority are required to ensure that high standards are maintained not only by means of the judgment made in awarding licences but also by means of the old codes of practice. They are extremely thorough and lengthy enough to cover all the matters that the Broadcasting Standards Council is attempting to deal with. The BBC's royal charter ensures that the corporation operates on precisely similar lines. Yet the BSC must take the BBC under its own censorious wing. It makes no sense. The Obscene Publications Act has been extended to cover broadcasting as a backstop, according to the Minister.
In Committee in another place the Minister said that there should be no need for it ever to be applied to broadcast programmes since there are sufficient safeguards on the face of the Bill to ensure that no programme maker ever falls foul of its provisions. Mr. Mellor said in Committee that the Obscene Publications Act will be used because the mechanisms that control the acceptability of materials have been deliberately drawn much more closely than the Obscene Publications Act by successive governments. Clause 6 sets far more rigorous standards than anything in the Obscene Publications Act, which therefore takes up its position as the backstop in matters relating to the mainstream licensed broadcasters in this country. He went on to say that the Act is a rusty blunderbuss that goes off in the face of the person trying to fire it. I do not think that the Opposition could have put it any better than that, or more forcefully.
1553 The ITC and the Radio Authority are required to ensure that nothing is broadcast that is likely to offend against taste and decency. They have brought in these words which are recognisable by most people. Whether one likes them or not, they are there and to be obeyed. They have also to ensure that nothing is broadcast that is likely to encourage or incite to crime. There are specific clauses referring to programmes broadcast at a time when children are likely to be watching; there are powers to influence the issue of scheduling; and there are codes relating to the content of advertising which mirror those given to the BSC. In addition, there is the Advertising Standards Authority. So where is the real need for the Broadcasting Standards Council? Complainants can go direct to the broadcasters, the regulatory bodies and the Broadcasting Complaints Commission. They may even have recourse to law if they feel that the law has been breached.
Despite public protestations that there has been an increase in the number of complaints from members of the public about offensive items on television, the IBA research shows that there has been no increase in complaints since 1983. Of those complaints, bad language seems to upset people far more than sexual matters. IBA research suggests that the large majority of ITV and Channel 4 viewers feel that standards have improved over recent years.
The BSC exists at present simply because the Government thought it was a good idea at the time and was rather pushed into creating it because of a wave of panic on the part of a very vociferous minority of people. The Government were forced to set up a body that was completely unnecessary though the people concerned with it, like the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, and the director, Mr. Colin Shaw, believe in it deeply. However, that is not enough to justify its creation or to pacify the most vociferous critics of broadcasting.
As I have said, it is costing £1 million a year to convince people that standards will not fall as a result of the changes being introduced in this Bill. We have good reason to believe that standards will fall where profits are the consuming interest of broadcasters in a free market environment. If there are concerns about the standard of the material pumped into the living rooms of the nation—that is one of the justifications which the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, gave for the existence of the BSC at last year's Edinburgh television festival—then such concerns can and should be dealt with by the ITC. The Bill allows that that should be so.
The BSC is not the way to halt plummeting standards. It is the function of such bodies to create unnecessary anxiety among broadcasters—in other words, to act as discreet censors. To be fair, they are put in that position where, in order to justify themselves, they have to stir up complaints themselves. As the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, pointed out, the right that they have to 1554 initiate complaints is a very dangerous power. It is an example of Parkinson's Law with moral overtones which we certainly do not need.
We would much rather that the Government had the courage of their convictions and relied on the considerable apparatus of regulations that has been built into the Bill. The Broadcasting Standards Council does not provide the way forward but the way backward. This Bill is supposed to be about the future. Perhaps the most serious consequence of the creation of the BSC will be when—not if—conflicts of judgment arise between the BBC, the ITC and even the Advertising Standards Authority. Disagreement between the BSC and other regulatory bodies will serve only to undermine its authority and cause confusion among viewers, complainants, programme makers and broadcasting companies. This body is a silly whim and it should be recognised for what it is. It should be consigned to the dustbin of expediency from which it was so hastily plucked.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Lord Annan
Much of what has been said in the last two speeches is familiar to me. We had this kind of debate in the committee on the future of broadcasting when it sat between 1974 and 1977. In those days we were adamant against any broadcasting council being set up. We said that the authorities and the governors of the BBC and the IBA were there to safeguard all standards and to deal with the problems in regard to impartiality. They were the people who were given that duty. To put any kind of council above them was a great mistake.
We had in mind something rather different from the Broadcasting Standards Council. We were being urged at that time to set up a broadcasting council which would have, in the great phrase of the people who advocated it, an overarching responsibility for the whole of broadcasting. We said that there was a great danger of this council developing its own programmes. At best we thought it would be a perpetual fidget; and at worst, an incubus hovering over the broadcasters. We then said that what mattered was to get the public to express views. That was why we recommended public discussions and hearings by the authorities about whether the public was satisfied with the services it was receiving.
What has changed? Our report fell into two parts. There were the recommendations about the structure of broadcasting, which were voluminous and, many people thought, enormously over-bureaucratic. Those were severely criticised. On the other hand, Chapter 16, on standards in broadcasting relating to violence, sex, bad language and other matters, and Chapter 17, on news and current affairs and the responsibility of broadcasters to be impartial in this field, were widely praised. The noble Lord, Lord Swann, who was then chairman of the governors of the BBC, told me that he sent photostats of those chapters to every single producer in the BBC. The irony was that practically all the recommendations about structure have over the years been accepted by different governments, including even the recommendation that there should be an authority for local radio broadcasting, whereas 1555 the chapters which were so widely praised were neglected by the broadcasters themselves. That is why the Government have set up this body.
There is a lack of confidence in the ability certainly of the governors of the BBC to do two tasks. We spent much time worrying about this as we saw the governors as a kind of Janus figure—it faced both ways. Part of the duties of the governors of the BBC is to govern the corporation, to appoint the senior people in the corporation and to be a real board of the corporation. The other part of the governors' duties is to act in the public's interest and to interpret whether the BBC is giving the public the service that it should have. It has proved very difficult ever since the 1960s for these two sets of duties to be reconciled. The IBA has done a better job over the years than the governors of the BBC in this respect. There is no doubt that one of the reasons that we have the Broadcasting Standards Council is the lack of confidence in these matters
I very much agreed with the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, that there is packed into the Bill an over-kill in these matters. There is reference to the Obscene Publications Act operating upon the broadcasters. In this respect I commend to the Government a report which came out some years ago on the whole question of obscenity. The body which produced the report was chaired by Professor Bernard Williams. I well remember the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, making one of the most self-confident remarks I have ever heard in this Chamber. He awarded Professor Williams, who was Knightbridge professor of moral philosophy at Cambridge, a double alpha for casuistry and a double delta minus for the conclusions in his report.
The conclusions in the report were very interesting. The report concluded that while it was no use trying any longer to operate laws on obscenity on the written word—in a books—a very different standard should obtain in broadcasting. In that respect things are beamed into family living rooms in a way in which they are certainly not in terms of books. I remember Professor Williams saying that acts such as sexual intercourse between a husband and wife, while undoubtedly legal and highly admirable, would be intolerable if they were shown on the screen regularly, night after night. Those are the matters which the Broadcasting Standards Council is bound to have to take into account. I believe that some of its pronouncements on this matter have been wise.
I rather agree with the noble Baroness that obscenity is not one of the matters about which the great British public is particularly worried. However, it has bean very much worried about violence. It has also been worried about a kind of violence which expresses itself in language and which produces simply by virtue of the language used—I do not necessarily mean four-letter words—a coarse and intolerable standard of behaviour which can have, and I think does have, an effect on viewers.
We are bound to have this council. It is going to come. What worries me is that one matter has not been part of the remit of the Broadcasting Standards 1556 Council. I refer to the whole question of impartiality in news, current affairs and documentary programmes. I have listened time and again to people like the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, who some may think eccentric but who I believe represent a very strong body of opinion. If we do not look out, what will come into the remit of the council—this is the danger of the council—is the oversight of impartiality in news and current affairs.
I will end by quoting from a Session in 1601 of another place. The other place was debating the monopolies and patents which had been granted in great numbers to various individuals in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The Commons were extremely angry about this. In the buzz of debate Mr. Hakewill rose and said, "Is not bread there amongst them?" "Bread'?", quoth one, "Bread?", quoth another, "This voice seems strange", quoth a third. "Nay", said Mr. Hakewill, "if order be not taken in this matter, bread will be there before the next Session". I say this to the broadcasters. If order be not taken, impartiality in news and current affairs will be within the remit of the Broadcasting Standards Council within the next decade.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Annan, for what he said. I do not agree with his last sentence although I understand why he said it. I thought that the noble Lord breathed a sense of fresh air and realism into this debate on the Broadcasting Standards Council.
The speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, left me breathless. If I may say so within the bounds of courtesy, her speech consisted of appalling humbug. All the way through our debates on the Bill the Opposition have asked for quality. All the way through the proceedings on the Bill they have accused the Government of lowering standards. One of the things we do here is to set up a Broadcasting Standards Council to look into and determine the standards which ought to be reasonable for violence and sex and standards of taste and decency.
If the noble Baroness does not realise that the council was set up because of a genuine public concern about the standards of such programmes, I honestly wonder where she has been for the past five or 10 years. I say that because, without question, there has been general concern about sex and violence in television programmes. The reason for the concern, as the noble Lord, Lord Annan, correctly said, is that programmes are beamed directly into the family living room. People are worried about sex, violence and bad language because they can and do inculcate coarse and intolerable standards of behaviour.
§ Baroness Birk
I did not for one moment expect the Minister to agree with me. If he had, I should have been absolutely shell-shocked. However, he must not spread what is merely a subjective view on quality. I do not know how he can say that quality is measured by the Broadcasting Standards Council. Of course, he believes in it; I do not. Moreover, I have a right not to do so.
1557 Perhaps I may also put the noble Earl right on a question of fact. It is not true to say that sex and violence are the concerns of most people. Responsible research into the subject shows that that is not the case. The biggest concern of many people is first bad language, followed by violence and then sex. The concern to which he referred involves a small number of people. With respect, I believe that the Minister is quite wrong to give the impression that hordes of people were demanding a Broadcasting Standards Council.
The noble Baroness is entitled to her opinion. It is all very well for her and her colleagues throughout the proceedings on the Bill to say that the legislation will result in the lowering of standards and quality. When the Government introduce an organisation which will home in on standards but not set them—it will advise upon them—the noble Baroness says that it is a waste of time and money; that the members of the council are gloomy gremlins; and that it is a carbuncle on the broadcasting system. In my view, that is really going over the top. However, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, said that that view is no criticism of those who serve on the Broadcasting Standards Council. The body has existed in a brief statutory form for over two years. During that period its record justifies its establishment on a statutory basis. I do not believe, as the noble Baroness said, that it has shown itself to be a joke.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, suggested that the council might try to override the responsibilities of the broadcasters. He said that it would add to the confusion. It was never the intention to override the duties of the broadcasters. The council deserves credit for the way in which it has responded sensibly to concerns. I accept that they are serious concerns. The BBC and its governors have a remit as regards the quality of the programmes which are broadcast, as indeed have the other broadcasting authorities. However, through effective and patient communication, the Broadcasting Standards Council has assured both the public and the broadcasters that it is there to assist in the development of what should be acceptable standards and that it is not there to dictate terms. Similarly, the constitutional independence of the broadcasters will not he disturbed.
It would be wrong to pretend that the broadcasters' record on standards of taste and decency is entirely without blemish. The public interest in this area needs to be defended. We cannot always rely upon the broadcasters to ensure that this is so. It is essential that we look after the interests of the young. We need to consider the effect which too heavy an emphasis on violence in some programmes might have on impressionable young minds. There may be no conclusive evidence of a direct link between violence in broadcasting and violence in society. However, there is no doubt that the depiction of violence can have a deep and lasting impression on those who are most vulnerable.
It is not intended that the Broadcasting Standards Council will take over the role of the ITC and that of 1558 the BBC. It will reinforce the work which has been carried out in the past. In particular, it will take a lead in the establishment of standards on issues which have been of concern to many people and in relation to issues upon which it is difficult to pontificate and draw a line. In short, it is there to help. The BBC and the ITC will be required to reflect the general effect of the Broadcasting Standards Council's code. That will leave room for the corporations to do their jobs.
It would be wrong to think of the Broadcasting Standards Council as in any way a censor; it will have no power. It will have no power to preview nor any right to remove offending material from television screens or radio sets. However, it will be able to provide advice and reflect public opinion in what is a very difficult and elusive task of deciding what should or should not be shown on our broadcasting services. Moreover, as soon as it has carried out its investigations, it will be able to publish its findings in the annual report—and there is not much wrong with that. It will also be able to require those findings to be broadcast by the broadcasters.
If I may say so, I think that it is a pity that the noble Baroness weighed in so heftily against the Broadcasting Standards Council. It does not override the duties of the governors of the BBC or those of the broadcasters; indeed, it tries with them to set standards.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
I must apologise to Members of the Committee for having arrived a little late, thereby missing the beginning of the debate. However, I arrived in time to hear the admirable words of my noble friend Lord Thomson of Monifieth and also one of the most effective speeches of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, to which I have ever listened. In my view, she made a devastating case. To pretend that it was purely as described by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, seems to me a travesty; it was in fact an expression of opinion that many of us share.
I listened to the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, with my usual sense of surprise. He seems to have a kind of schizoid relationship towards the BBC: it is not exactly as he would have it be. However, to raise the Janus figure argument once more is a mistake. He said that the BBC cannot carry out its duties both as regards the running of the corporation and as guardians of the public interest. He said that those two functions are in contradiction to each other. However, those functions are carried out by every Minister of the Crown every day of the week. Indeed, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, is the protector of public interest and, at the same time, he runs the Home Office. He also runs the police. This division between administration and the representation of public interest lies at the heart of British constitutional arrangements. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Annan, knows that to be true in his heart of hearts.
The noble Lord, Lord Annan, also said that there is a great lack of confidence in the governor of the BBC and in the IBA. I do not know upon what 1559 evidence he bases that conclusion. Of course, it may be the evidence of Mrs. Whitehouse, but that is not evidence which entirely convinces me. He also said that the public are deeply disturbed or shocked by programmes which are screened in terms of sex and violence. I do not know which of the programmes portraying sex screened by the BBC and the IBA he finds to be totally unacceptable.
Anyone who has looked into the nature of complaints against television or broadcasting will know that the main complaint—I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, will agree with me—is bad language. That is what the public really object to. You cannot switch off bad language, because you do not know when it will occur. Indeed, it comes into the home in odd ways. People who use bad language outside the home do not necessarily use it inside the home. It is for this reason that people object to it so strongly. I simply do not know why he reaches the conclusion that the Broadcasting Standards Council was bound to come about or why he is so worried about impartiality.
§ Lord Annan
One of the reasons is that the governors of the BBC were for many years hardly ever known to accept any complaint that was made. They always justified it through thick and thin and never gave an inch.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
If I were a Minister I would say, "I shall write to the noble Lord about that". The number of complaints that I have known the BBC to accept and to apologise for is substantial. The noble Lord is simply repeating the tittle-tattle of the campaign against the BBC which, we know, has been mounted over the past five years by a number of people who could be said to be interested in the result.
As for impartiality, I honestly think that the noble Lord should have listened to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, on that subject earlier in the debate. If he was here, he did not listen to it; if he was not here he could not have listened to it. He should accept that the basis of the cases for impartiality produced by the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, who I am sorry is not here, is the Media Monitoring Unit. That consisted of one man with a tape recorder—a man whose application to join the BBC had been turned down. His findings have been agreed by almost everyone to be extremely dubious and bad evidence. That is the basis of many of the accusations against impartiality.
However, let that be. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said that we on these Benches had throughout the debate complained that the Government would jeopardise the quality of broadcasting in this country. That is profoundly true. It was admitted by his honourable friend, Mr. David Mellor, in the other place. It was admitted that that was likely to lead to a lower quality. There is no doubt about that. Why should there be if our criterion is financial reward and if we abandon public service? He has told us again and again that that was the criterion and we shall see the result.
1560 However, the noble Earl also said that we cannot define quality. He spent a great deal of time last night telling me that we could not define quality, but are standards easier to define than quality? Is the portrayal of good taste and decency easier to define than quality? Is the acceptable portrayal of sex and violence easy to define? That matter will be left in the hands of the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, who knows my opinion on the subject, and of an absolutely classic quango composed of the statutory bishop, the statutory Scot, the statutory woman, the statutory black and the statutory ex-Labour MP. Those people will decide those matters. I ask you!
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
I should be delighted to see an ex-statutory Liberal. Is he ex-statutory or ex-Liberal? In any case, I find the idea that those people will reflect public opinion—
§ Lord Annan
Is the noble Lord not prejudging a little what the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, may or may not do? It may well be that the Broadcasting Standards Council will hold public hearings in order to achieve a cross-section of what the public hears. The idea that the body will simply sit and brood by itself is surely a little far-fetched.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
The noble Lord does not appear to have read the council's annual report. I happen to have read it. It tells me exactly how it tests public opinion with 750 people, 35 monitors and expeditions all over the country asking people questions which were vividly described to us by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St. Albans who is on the council. We know how it does that. On the whole, I am sceptical—that may be a mistake—of its ability to reflect public opinion.
Finally, the noble Earl said that the public interest cannot be left to broadcasters, but no one ever supposed that it was to be left to broadcasters. There are two bodies called the IBA and the governors of the BBC who are strictly enjoined to protect the public interest. Perhaps it was a Freudian slip. Was the noble Earl really saying that he did not trust the governors of the BBC and the IBA to look after the public interest? That is the implication of the arrangement.
I and my noble friends have felt quite unable to table an amendment to the clause because nothing in the world can rescue it from its own folly. The Government are setting up an organisation—a classic quango—which will simply take in its own washing and which is perfectly clearly in search of a role. Whether it will succeed in finding one is another matter, but in so doing it will no doubt tread on the toes of my noble friend and of the Advertising Standards Authority.
I was trying to follow the noble Lord down his path. He said that the Broadcasting Standards. Council would simply take in its own washing. How do you take in washing that you have not produced?
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
You have to produce washing to take it in. That is just the trouble. The 1561 council is in search of a role and it will try to find grounds for work. It will try to build an empire. That is exactly what happens. How else can it justify its existence? That seems perfectly clear to me from what it is doing.
The council's conduct of research is a classic example. The amount of research that has been undertaken into sex and violence would fill the whole of that wall. The Broadcasting Standards Council not only undertakes research; it undertakes research into research. The first research that it undertook into research stated that the research had found out nothing.
I argue that the council is unnecessary. In addition to being unnecessary, it is confusing. It is confusing because, as I have said before, it is necessary to assign responsibility unambiguously if that responsibility is to be fulfilled. If, as the noble Baroness pointed out in her admirable speech, there are, as there now are, in the broadcasting world the governors of the BBC and of the IBA, the Broadcasting Standards Council, the Home Secretary, the ITC, the Broadcasting Complaints Commission and the Advertising Standards Authority—an array of regulatory institutions—it will produce confusion. It will lead the broadcasters to say, "How far can we push them?" That would be an administrative mistake.
The noble Earl has revealed the two faces of Thatcherism. There is greedy Thatcherism, which is the face that we have been attacking most of the time and which relies on the market in all respects. Then, suddenly, there is Granny Thatcherism, which is the one that interferes with our behaviour and starts telling us what to do. That one frightens me because it is deeply anti-libertarian.
The latest example of that is the Broadcasting Standards Council which has still to make up its mind about those difficult matters. In a famous interview, the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, indicated the difficulties when he was asked what he thought was sexually acceptable and okay to put on television. He said—and it shows the extreme complexity of the problem facing us—that there were three kinds of sex in his view. There was romantic sex which he described as Romeo and Juliet sex, neglecting the fact that Juliet was under age. In Romeo and Juliet, sex and violence are more intimately interlocked than in any other of Shakespeare's plays. He then said that there was pornographic sex which he rightly did not define; that was unacceptable. Finally, he said that there was a grey area which he described in memorable terms as "groping sex". That is the problem that has faced the council. It has to decide whether this is groping sex, Romeo and Juliet sex, or pornographic sex. It should be left in the hands of those who to date have handled it perfectly well. This provision has undermined their authority; it undermines their authority now; it produces confusion, it is an invasion of liberty. Say what the noble Earl may, it is a form of censorship, hence we oppose this clause.
§ 9 p.m.
§ Lord Ardwick
I cannot possibly follow that degree of passion and eloquence from the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter. I rise to make one or two simple points. When all this BSC business began, I said a kind word about it because I wanted to express my confidence in the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, who was then Sir William Rees-Mogg. I had known him for many years as a splendid, liberally minded editor of great quality. However, the Broadcasting Standards Council has turned out to have a very narrow brief. I quote from its annual report:The Council's remit concerns the portrayal in television and radio programmes and advertisements of violence, sexual conduct and matters of taste and decency".This is not looking at the changing standards of a society in transition, a society searching for a new set of values which it can accept. The council has a special role: to consider violence, sexual conduct and matters of taste and decency. After all the publicity it has been given, it is natural that the council should have received complaints from members of the public over the past nine months. I regret that the brief prescribes that it is to deal with complaints. Perhaps the noble Earl or a spokesman on the Government Front Bench could tell us more about the way in which it will deal with complaints.
We are told in the annual report that the initial framework for handling complaints will continue to be modified and to reflect parliamentary decisions on the Bill. How is it being modified? The report says that in the meantime complaints should be made in writing or by telephone with a written confirmation to follow; and all complaints will be considered initially by a complaints committee.
If a body set up to deal with sex, violence and so forth issues a public invitation to people to complain to it, it will be overwhelmed with complaints. Every Mrs Grundy in Britain will write to the council once the invitation has been publicised. The noble Lord, Lord Annan, suggested that we might even find it being concerned with the terrible subject of impartiality. I do not wish to re-open the debate we had the other day. It is a debate that I have been hearing for the past 20 or 25 years with exactly the same evidence and exactly the same lack of evidence. For example, there was a complaint about a broadcast in which a comment was made about defence. An outrageous opinion about defence had been expressed on television or radio. It was one little broadcast, out of all the thousands of orthodox broadcasts on NATO and Britain's defence policy. Yet one little breach on the other side is regarded as a flight from impartiality. That is the kind of situation we might easily get into. I hope that impartiality is dead, at least until the Report stage.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 139 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 58; Not-Contents, 29,1563
|Division No. 2|
|Arran E.||Fraser of Carmyllie, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Gisborough, L.|
|Balfour, E.||Glenarthur, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Greenway, L.|
|Blatch, B.||Havers, L.|
|Blyth, L.||Hives, L.|
|Boardman, L.||Joseph, L.|
|Borthwick, L.||Killearn, L.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Long, V. [Teller.]|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||McColl of Dulwich, L.|
|Brightman, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Broadbridge, L.||Merrivale, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Morris, L.|
|Butterworth, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Caithness, E.||Moyne, L.|
|Caldecote, V.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Pearson of Rannoch, L.|
|Colnbrook, L.||Reay, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Renton, L.|
|Crathorne, L.||Robertson of Oakridge, L.|
|Crickhowell, L.||Sanderson of Bowden, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Stockton, E.|
|Davidson, V. [Teller.]||Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.|
|Downshire, M.||Swinton, E.|
|Eccles, V.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Trumpington, B.|
|Elliott of Morpeth, L.||Ullswater, V.|
|Faithfull, B.||Wade of Chorlton, L.|
|Ferrers, E.||Winchester, Bp.|
|Addington, L.||Hollis of Heigham, B.|
|Airedale, L.||Jenkins of Hillhead, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Lockwood, B.|
|Birk, B.||McGregor of Durris, L.|
|Blease, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Bonham-Carter, L.||McNair, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Mason of Barnsley, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Monson, L.|
|Carter, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Darcy (de Knayth), B.||Seear, B.|
|David, B.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Thomson of Monifieth, L.|
|Glasgow, E.||White, B.|
|Glenamara, L.||Winstanley, L. [Teller.]|
|Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.]|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Clause 139 agreed to accordingly.
§ 9.14 p.m.
§ Schedule 12 [The Broadcasting Standards Council: Supplementary Provisions]:
Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendments Nos. 311CA to 311CC:
Page 200, line 33, after ("made") insert:
Page 200, line 33, after ("and") insert:
("(b) (subject to sub-paragraph (1A)").
Page 200, line 35, at end insert:
("(1A) Sub-paragraph (1)(b) shall not apply in relation to any meeting of the Council at which all of the other members present resolve that the member's interest should be disregarded for the purposes of that provision.").
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendments Nos. 311CA, 311CB and 311CC en bloc. They were spoken to with Amendment No. 311ZB.
§ On Quostion, amendments agreed to.
§ The noble Earl said: The amendment was spoken to with Amendment No. 311ZB. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Schedule 12, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 140 [Preparation by Council of code relating to broadcasting standards]:
§ [Amendment No. 312 not moved.]
§ Clause 140 agreed to.
§ Clause 141 agreed to.
§ Clause 142 [Consideration by council of complaints relating to broadcasting standards]:
§ [Amendment No. 313 not moved.]
§ Clause 142 agreed to.
§ Clauses 143 and 144 agreed to.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Clause 145 [Power of Council to commission research]:
The Lord Bishop of Winchester moved Amendment No. 314:
Page 112, line 31, after ("research") insert ("and consultations with the public and others").
§ The right reverend Prelate said: The purpose of Amendments Nos. 314 and 315 is to widen the terms of reference of the Broadcasting Standards Council. We have just debated very fully the role of the council. The purpose of the amendment is to accept the work of the council and to give it greater significance. I believe that it could prove to have a more valuable role.
§ I am one of those who welcomed the Government's initiative in establishing the council and I want to applaud the work of the council in the last two years since it came into being. It has already published a code of practice covering the portrayal of violence, sex, sexuality, taste and decency after a full process of consultation with those in broadcasting, with numerous public organisations which have been listed in one of its annual reports and also with the general public, through the means of its road show, in different parts of the United Kingdom. I believe that the fact that the code, after going through two drafts and being so fully discussed, has been so well received is in large measure due to the quality and thoroughness with which the council has conducted its consultations as well as owing a great deal to the discrimination and wise judgment of its authors. It is also significant that the code has aroused considerable interest in European countries where the BSC is involved in discussion of standards of trans-frontier broadcasting.
§ Secondly, the council has undertaken what I believe, despite some of the critical comments made earlier this evening, has been a significant piece of research work which is described in its two annual reports. Recently we received Dr. David Docherty's study on violence in television fiction. That is the first in a series of publications on public opinion and 1565 broadcasting standards. I look forward to receiving the subsequent issues in the series. Further research projects are in hand.
§ The Committee will remember that when the White Paper was published two years ago it cited the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee's welcome to the inclusion of research in the BSC's remit. The committee recommended that the council should base its role in a changing broadcasting environment on properly researched findings.
§ We all know that we are on the threshold of enormous changes in the broadcasting environment. The number of companies and service providers in this country and in Europe will increase immensely as the new technologies become available. There will be a great proliferation of radio services and television channels. Those changes will properly be the subject of public discussion and debate.
§ The purpose of Amendment No. 315 is to broaden the council's brief so that its concerns will extend beyond the portrayal of sex and violence and matters of taste and decency, important and sensitive though those are, to the wider issue of standards and quality in programmes generally. At the moment we simply do not know what the effect will be of the many new television and radio services as they come into operation. They may, as the Government hope, extend the range and quality of programmes for the benefit of the listener and viewer. Alternatively, the effects of increased competition could well make quality programme-making more difficult to sustain and the costs prohibitive, and we could possibly see and hear an immense amount of trivialisation. We simply do not know what will happen.
§ But with an extended research remit, the evidence for the new developments as they take place can be properly obtained by the BSC and made available to the public to show what is happening as the changes take place. The BSC is well placed to undertake that responsibility. It seems likely that neither the ITC nor the Radio Authority will have such a significant research organisation as the IBA currently possesses.
§ In any case, with the greatly increased number of radio and television outlets, it is clear that the BBC, the ITC and the Radio Authority could not possibly research into the services laid on by other radio and television providers, of which there will be an enormous number. They would only be able to research into the effects of their own output. But the BSC, with complete neutrality and dispassionately, could mount research into different aspects of the output of the whole range of the new services and what they provide. That could be very valuable.
§ Good research can provide a basis for a continuing and well-informed debate as the broadcasting scene in our country changes very considerably. It would be a debate between the broadcasters, the interested public and many cultural bodies and institutions on the standards and quality of broadcasting and the social and cultural needs of the system.1566
§ The BSC has already had experience of mounting public forums for discussion. One recalls the lively debate a year ago at the National Film Theatre on whether there should be different standards operating in subscription and non-subscription television services. This year the council is collaborating with British Action for Children's Television in mounting a conference on the needs of children between the ages of 7 and 14. It will shortly be joining the Scottish Film Council in hosting a conference on the responsibility for children's viewing.
§ As programmes multiply, and in a much less tightly regulated broadcasting industry, the need for a general public discussion about choices, trends and developments in viewing and listening will become more important. The BSC not only has the experience and competence to mount such consultations but also is uniquely placed to do so. It enjoys a statutory basis; it is not self-appointed; it is involved with the broadcasting organisations but is independent from them; it has no particular bias or animus to conduct research or mount conferences, which are essentially in-house conferences. In fact, it can provide a much more objective kind of public forum.
§ We know that there are pressures in this debate to curtail the work of the BSC. One proposal has been to merge its functions with the Broadcasting Complaints Council. Another set of amendments has the intention of eliminating the BSC altogether. A further amendment would cut out advertisements from the council's terms of reference.
§ I should like to see the council not only remain intact but have its role enhanced. I believe in the Government's action in establishing the council. The council does valuable work and I applaud what the Government have done. I hope that the Government will take the opportunity to widen the council's remit in the way suggested by my amendment.
§ By definition, broadcasting is the most public of all human activities. The way in which the system in this country alters and develops and the kinds of programme provided by the multiplying number of new suppliers and companies are of legitimate public interest. Broadcasting is a proper subject for public debate. The BSC is strategically placed to provide both the necessary research and the right kind of forum for an informed yet vital kind of discussion.
§ I very much hope that the Government will not only have the conviction to keep the council in its proper, present role but will also have the imagination to see that with an enlarged remit as the broadcasting scene in this country changes and develops it could provide research and a forum for a vigorous public debate. Public bodies and the general public could take part in that debate to ensure that we as viewers, listeners and citizens can have a share in responding to what is happening and help to determine the shape of the future.
I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for having been kind enough to welcome the Government's initiative in setting up the Broadcasting Standards Council and for having applauded its work. 1567 He was quite justified in applauding the work because it has done a considerable amount in a relatively short period of time. The right reverend Prelate hoped that the Government would hold to their conviction to keep the council in its present role. I can assure him that that is our intention.
His amendments would, as he wished, add to and broaden the research function of the Broadcasting Standards Council. Amendment No. 314 would require the council, in addition to commissioning research, to undertake consultation exercises with the public and interested bodies. I doubt the need for a statutory obligation in that context.
As a matter of good practice, the council will want to consult the public about their views on the portrayal of violence and sex, and standards of taste and decency in programmes. The reason for establishing the council was to act as a focus for public concern on these issues. That is reflected in some of its statutory functions. In drawing up or revising its code of practice the council is already under a statutory obligation to consult the broadcasting and regulatory bodies and such other persons as appear to the council to be appropriate. The council is also under a statutory obligation to monitor and make reports on the attitudes of the public at large towards the portrayal of violence or sex or standards of taste and decency in programmes. We therefore doubt the need for an additional statutory obligation to consult the public and others in connection with this clause.
The right reverend Prelate hoped that the Government would have the imagination to increase the remit of the council. Amendment No. 315 seeks to do exactly that. However, I am bound to tell the right reverend Prelate that that would be highly controversial. In the Government's view it would be unacceptable, although I understand the desire of the right reverend Prelate. It never was the intention that the Broadcasting Standards Council should concern itself with the quality of broadcasting generally. The council was established specifically as a response to, and to act as a focus for, the public concern about the portrayal of sex and violence in all forms of broadcasting. Its effectiveness would inevitably be diminished if its remit were widened into more general areas.
It is the role of the Independent Television Commission and the governors of the BBC—as some noble Lords were only too keen to point out fairly vociferously on the discussion on clause stand part—to set and monitor acceptable standards of quality broadcasting. In establishing the Independent Television Commission we have sought to introduce a light-touch regulatory regime. A Broadcasting Standards Council which researched into, and consulted the public about, broadcasting quality generally would undermine both the role of the Independent Television Commission and the Government's purpose in establishing it. We should be going down a very slippery and controversial slope if we were to accept that idea, and I think that it would be undesirable.
1568 Clause 16(2) sets out the criteria for the quality threshold. It will be for the Independent Television Commission to determine whether applicants for licences meet those criteria and whether, thereafter, the standards are met. The Independent Television Commission will also have a statutory duty to make arrangements for ascertaining the state of public opinion as regards programmes included in licensed services.
In those circumstances it is difficult to see what purpose will be served by the Broadcasting Standards Council conducting research into broadcasting quality. While I understand the reasons the right reverend Prelate wishes to extend the remit of the council, I hope that in the light of my explanation he will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
§ Viscount Caldecote
Has my noble friend observed that Clause 145(1) provides that the council "may"? He spoke about statutory requirements, but the clause is only permissive. I thought that there was a lot to be said for the argument put forward by the right reverend Prelate. The provision is only "may"; it is not "must".
It is true that the council may make arrangements and it has a statutory responsibility in that respect. However, if it wished not to do so I suppose that it could not be made to do so. As the provision is written into the statute, the chances are that the Broadcasting Standards Council would do so.
§ The Lord Bishop of Winchester
I thank the Minister for his reply. While I am disappointed that the Government do not see the possibility of using the Broadcasting Standards Council to provide a forum for a general and ongoing debate about the way the system develops and the quality of programmes in the coming year, I realise that they have taken that view. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 315 not moved.]
§ Clause 145 agreed to.
§ Clause 146 agreed to.
§ Clause 147 [Duty to publicise Council]:
Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 315A:
Page 113, line 6, leave out ("publish (by means of broadcasts or otherwise)") and insert ("arrange for the publication (by means of broadcasts or otherwise) of").
§ The noble Earl said: This is a drafting amendment. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 147, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 148 agreed to.
§ Clause 149 [Interpretation of Part VI]:
Lord McGregor of Durris moved Amendment No. 316:
Page 113, line 43, at end insert (""programme" does not include an advertisement;".).
§ The noble Lord said: The purpose of the amendment is to redefine the word "programme" as used in the Bill in such a way that it will no longer include advertisements. Therefore, the power of the 1569 Broadcasting Standards Council to intervene in television and radio advertisements would be removed. The noble Lord, Lord Plowden, has asked me to say that illness prevents his being present to support the amendment.
§ The present system of regulating advertisements will not be altered substantially by the Bill. In Clauses 8 and 9 it provides for effective control by the ITC and in Clauses 87 and 88 by the Radio Authority. As drafted, the established arrangements work admirably. They will be deranged by the addition of the Broadcasting Standards Council to the bodies responsible for regulating advertisements. Last year the IBA employed some 40 people to pre-vet around 15,000 scripts and 5,000 completed commercials, thus providing advertisers with security for expenditures ranging from £40,000 to £1 million for each commercial. They provided viewers with the assurance that advertisements conform to a code far stricter than that applying to programmes.
§ There are hardly any complaints about sex or violence in television advertisements and there are no complaints about bad language because that has never been permitted. Unless the Bill is amended the Broadcasting Standards Council is required by Clause 142 to consider complaints about advertising and could not decide whether such complaints are inappropriate without examining the advertisements complained about.
§ Moreover, in practice, a regulatory body cannot tell a complainant that it would be inappropriate to deal with his complaint without giving a good reason. Accordingly, if the Broadcasting Standards Council possesses the power, it will be compelled to use it.
§ Therefore, we shall have an extra regulatory body either with its own code, although I have not yet seen one, or it must apply the ITC's code. The Broadcasting Standards Council has neither the personnel nor the machinery for pre-vetting advertisements and the advertiser will be exposed to the risk of considerable commercial loss because advertisements are often part of wider promotional strategies for mass consumption products. Unlike most other programmes on television, advertisements are repeated many times.
§ Under the Bill the unlimited authority of the council to require broadcast publication of its opinion about advertisements could certainly result in the disruption of marketing arrangements at great cost to advertisers. That is not a power which, in my view, can or should be entrusted to a body which lacks the means to give advance clearance to advertisements.
§ Nothing is contained in the Bill, nor has anything been said during its passage, to give any reassurance about that confusion of authorities and muddle of procedures which will mystify the public and harass advertisers and licensees. The existing and excellent regulatory system will be weakened to the disadvantage of consumers and advertisers. The result will be a general weakening of our present system of 1570 advertising control, not only over television but also over print advertising which works very closely with the IBA in that field.
§ What makes the situation so ridiculous is that there is no need whatever for it. The ability to intervene in advertisements adds nothing to the power of the Broadcasting Standards Council to discharge the duties for which it was set up and which we have just debated. There are no complaints that television advertising contains violence, sex or obscenities or needs additional control.
§ Unhappily, one manifestation of sex in advertisements has attracted the attention of the Broadcasting Standards Council. It observed in its annual report for 1988–89 that broadcasting still reflects the unthinking stereotypes of both male and female behaviour, and this is particularly true of many commercials.
§ I have searched without success in the council's publications for the evidence on which the latter generalisation rests. I note in the current annual report a list of research projects that the council initiated. These include "Women's perception of domestic and sexual violence on television"; "Children: television and moral development"; "Teenagers' perception of media stereotypes and morality"; "Media-based fantasy", though that was only a preliminary study. Another project was: "Advertising: sex role stereotyping".
§ I tried to conduct social research over an academic lifetime, and developed a prejudice that worthwhile work begins only by asking clearly defined and answerable questions. That has not been the habit of those engaged in what is portentously described as the sociology of mass communications.
§ Ten years ago I was a member of a panel set up by the former Social Science Research Council to report on the desirability of large investment in research on mass communications in British universities. The panel was under the chairmanship of Professor Aubrey Diamond, the then director of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies in the University of London. It had among its members Sir Edmund Leach and Professor Hilde Himmelweit, who published one of the few superb studies on the effects of television written in this country since the war. She was a member of the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Annan.
§ The SSRC panel reported its principal conclusion which reflects an opinion widely voiced to the panel that what is being done includes some work of high quality, but in general is fragmented, conceptually weak and often of no great disciplinary weight. The panel declined to recommend special funds for such research.
§ In my opinion, nothing has changed in the past 10 years. I am sad that the Broadcasting Standards Council is funding such trivial work rather than devoting its resources to proper basic research. I take fright when I read of the Broadcasting Standards Council's interest in what it calls the unthinking stereotypes of male and female behaviour which it finds in many television commercials.1571
§ Stereotyping is a fashionable concept of a not very reputable pop sociology. I am horrified that it may be used by the council in the exercise of its powers over television commercials. It is precisely in that sort of area, and as a result of reading the research projects which are under way, that I am sceptical when I am told that the council will rarely if ever intervene in advertisements. I can see only too clearly the lines of intervention which will stem from research projects of the order that I have described.
§ I hope very much that the Government and the council will give further thought to the difficulties which will stem from this wholly unnecessary power of the council to intervene in advertisements. I beg to move.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Lord Boston of Faversham
I support the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord McGregor of Durris. The noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, also wanted to be here tonight and to speak in support of the amendment. He told me that he has no objection to that being mentioned. Indeed, he intended to have his name added to the amendment but for some unknown reason that did not happen. As we know, the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, has been playing a thorough part in the Committee's proceedings, including earlier today.
It seems almost an impertinence to speak in support of the amendment instead of simply silently supporting it because the noble Lord, Lord McGregor of Durris, tonight and in his Second Reading speech has spoken so fully, persuasively and authoritatively. He speaks also with the background of being chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority. However, I want to add to what he said, if only to put forward some additional thoughts from someone who is in a different part of the industry from himself.
I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord McGregor, that adequate machinery already exists. Indeed, it has shown itself over the years to be very much more than adequate in the regulation and control of advertisements on television. The system has proved itself to be effective over the years. As a corollary to the basic proposition put forward by the noble Lord, Lord McGregor, he makes the point that it would be confusing for all concerned—the viewer, the public generally, the complainant, the advertiser and the broadcasting industry—to add another body to which complaints can be made. One had hoped that we were now in an age where we were moving away from excessive bureaucracy, but this adds another quite unnecessary layer.
I emphasise that this is not to say anything against the members and staff of the Broadcasting Standards Council, and certainly not against its chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, who can always be relied upon, if I may say so with respect, to handle any responsibility laid upon him with competence, skill and judgment. It is the principle and practicality with which we are concerned. Not only would there be an extra layer of bureaucracy but it would also be a costly layer.
1572 The noble Lord, Lord McGregor, has already pointed out, tonight and on Second Reading, that the system for examining complaints, including the pre-vetting procedures which are so essential—the procedures for examining advertisements for television before they get anywhere near to being shown on the screen—is handled, and needs to be handled, by a sizeable number of people.
There is the staff at the IBA. The ITC will need a similar team. There is also the team employed by the ITVA—the Independent Television Association. These teams of people include the copy-clearance secretariat who help to scrutinise the material. In addition to those staffs there are also people within the programme companies themselves who are part of their sales and marketing departments. They scrutinise proposed advertisements. Thus they are also part of the process seeking to ensure that advertisements comply with the proper requirements.
The ITVA team is in frequent touch with the IBA and refers cases to the authority. I understand the intention is that the essence of that relationship and those contacts between the two bodies will continue when the ITC replaces the IBA. I also gather that the ITC is likely to make it a licence condition that licensees will need pre-vetting facilities so that the careful pre-vetting procedures that go on now will be continued when it takes over.
To do its job as effectively, no doubt the Broadcasting Standards Council will need to build up its own team. It could hardly use the same teams for that would surely concede the case against its own involvement in these matters. We do not know because we have not been told about the precise details of the procedures that it is intended should be followed, but it might well be that the Broadcasting Standards Council will not undertake any pre-vetting of advertisements. However, it would still need significantly more staff than it has at present to deal with complaints effectively.
At Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, indicated that his council would not take a dominant role in the matter. As the noble Lord, Lord McGregor of Durris, has, I believe, pointed out, under Clause 142 the council will have a duty to consider all complaints made to it on matters within its remit. There is no escape from that. I understand that the number of complaints about advertisements considered by the IBA amounts to about 3,000 a year. Those are generally within the two categories of advertisements that are alleged to give offence and those which are claimed to be misleading.
I support what the noble Lord, Lord McGregor, said. I understand that virtually no complaints are alleged that relate to offence given on grounds of sex or violence. I gather that well over half of all the complaints about advertisements—that is to say, about 3,000 per year received by the IBA—are quite capable of reaching the Broadcasting Standards Council. Of that category alone, we are talking about 1,500 complaints a year.
1573 The Broadcasting Standards Council might have imagined that this aspect of its proposed work would be small involving very little intervention. That is likely to be a forlorn hope, not only for the reasons already given, but also because some people might see it as an easier channel through which to make complaints. In addition, once the council is in the business, as it were, of dealing with complaints, that is likely to generate them still further whether they are justified or not.
The amendment proposed would not in any way threaten or jeopardise the basic role planned for the Broadcasting Standards Council. Indeed, it is fair to point out that an active role in relation to advertising was never part of the original design for the council. The Government may feel that advertising slipped into the council's remit more on grounds of drafting for tidiness than for any clear reasons of need. Perhaps they will welcome the chance to reconsider the matter. I very much hope that the noble Earl the Minister will be prepared to do so. I join my noble friend Lord McGregor of Durris in supporting the amendment.
§ Lord Annan
I support the amendment. It is in a different category from those we have discussed before. We already have a very effective regulatory body. It was set up by the advertisers themselves and is under the auspices of the IBA. I know it is often said that we have the best broadcasting in the world. I am quite sure that we have the best advertising among television companies all over the world. Advertisements are nearly always in good taste and are clever and amusing. Indeed so clever and amusing are they that I sometimes do not know what the devil is the product being advertised.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
I support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord McGregor. I have had considerable experience over a number of years of the workings of advertising control in this country. I deliberately did not raise this matter when I spoke earlier on the general role of the BSC. That has been determined by the Committee. I echo the words of my noble friend Lord Boston of Faversham. With the BSC now in the Bill, to accept the arguments put so persuasively by my noble friends would be a practical improvement to the Bill.
I understand the desire of the Broadcasting Standards Council to get into these wider issues relating to advertising matters. However, I agree with what has been said. If it sets its foot on that road there will be no stopping it getting into the business of dealing elaborately with complaints and duplicating the work already done so effectively by the various advertising control mechanisms. The kind of duplication that would then take place would be financially and bureaucratically very wasteful. It would be infinitely confusing and a thoroughly good system would be undermined. I hope that the Government will feel disposed to accepting the amendment.
§ 10 p.m.
Members of the Committee have been very persuasive about their concerns on this matter. Perhaps I may try to allay the Committee's fears about the role of the Broadcasting Standards Council. The noble Lords, Lord McGregor and Lord Boston, and to a certain extent the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, portrayed anxieties about the role of the Broadcasting Standards Council which are out of proportion to what I think will be the fact. The noble Lord, Lord Annan, said that this is a different point from what we were discussing earlier. I do not think that it is. The Broadcasting Standards Council was set up specifically to act as a focus for concern about the portrayal of sex and violence and standards of taste and decency in all forms of broadcasting. It stands to reason that this necessarily and obviously includes advertisements, which are just as much a part of broadcasting and just as much a potential cause of offence as ordinary programmes.
The noble Lords, Lord McGregor and Lord Thomson, were concerned that, if the council's remit continues to cover advertisements, this will conflict with the role of the Independent Television Commission as the regulator of television advertising. I do not think that that is so.
I want to make it quite clear that there is no question of the council taking over the responsibility of the Independent Television Commission in this area. During the various debates which have taken place on the Broadcasting Standards Council since its establishment in May 1988, we have always sought to emphasise that its function is not to dictate terms to the broadcasters or to the regulatory bodies, or to cut across their regulatory responsibilities. It is there to assist them in determining what are, and what are not, acceptable standards in what everyone recognises is a sensitive and important area.
The main basis for the regulation of television advertising will be the ITC and its code of practice. In drawing up the code the ITC will have a duty to consult, among others, such bodies or persons who are concerned with standards of conduct in advertising, as it sees fit. We assume that this will include the BSC. We hope this will enable taste and decency standards on television advertising to be agreed upon, taking into account the advertisers' point of view. As a result, the code will make it clear to advertisers and to broadcasters what is expected of them. The code will act as a filter, which should ensure that very few advertisements are likely to slip through and cause such a degree of offence that they would be brought to the attention of the BSC.
It is not the intention of the BSC to work in isolation from the regulatory bodies, nor in contradiction to them. The council has already consulted those bodies on the practices and procedures which it plans to follow in handling complaints. If it receives complaints, we understand it envisages regular exchanges with the regulatory bodies and other interested parties so that its procedures may be modified in the light of experience.
1575 If the Broadcasting Standards Council entertains a complaint or complaints about programmes or advertisements, it will be required to send a copy of each complaint to the broadcaster and to the broadcasting regulatory body. This means that the regulatory bodies, as well as the licensees, will therefore have an opportunity to comment on a complaint. I also understand from the BSC that any action which the regulatory body or the licensee had taken, or proposed to take, over the matter would be taken carefully into account by the council in determining its findings, should that be necessary.
The noble Lord, Lord McGregor, was worried about advance clearance for advertisements. The noble Lord, Lord Boston, said he hoped we were moving away from excessive bureaucracy. I believe that is the case. The Independent Television Commission, unlike the Independent Broadcasting Authority, will not preview advertisements. The only previewing to take place will be carried out by the broadcasters themselves under a system of self-regulation. It is not right to argue that previewing is a necessary condition for adequate regulation.
Some concern has been expressed that the publication of an unfavourable BSC finding could lead to the abandonment of an expensive advertising campaign. The council has made it clear that it does not believe it will be necessary to investigate and publish a finding on every complaint made to it. In any event, the publication of findings will take different forms. The council envisages publishing its own regular summaries of findings. It may require publication of its findings in the press, or it may proceed by way of a broadcast announcement of its finding. The council has made it quite clear that it will use broadcast announcements only for the most serious of complaints—that is those invoking major principles about which there has been great public controversy. It seems unlikely, therefore, in the light of information that a licensee or regulatory body is publicly taking action about an advertisement which has been the subject of a complaint, that the council would wish to exercise this particular option for publicising its own findings.
I hope that these comments will reassure the Committee that there should be no overlap or conflict of duties between the BSC and the broadcasting regulatory bodies. I only wish to re-emphasise the point which I stated at the beginning. The noble Lord, Lord Annan, who has now regrettably left his place, referred to this point. If you were to set up a broadcasting standards council—as the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, said, the committee has agreed to that—in order to try to find appropriate standards for broadcasting, those standards should apply equally to advertisements as to programmes.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
Before the noble Earl sits down, has he considered Clause 142, which statesit shall be the duty of the Council to consider complaints which are made to them … and to make findings on such complaints"?1576 Once it is involved in advertising and members of the public complain, it will have that duty and it will be in it up to its neck.
Perhaps it will, but that should come about only if the advertisements are of such a nature as to cause complaint. If there are to be complaints and they are sent to the Broadcasting Standards Council, it must investigate them.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
With respect, that is exactly the point that we are seeking to make to the noble Earl. He knows as well as anyone else in public life knows that, once you provide a facility for making complaints, people make complaints. They are often not very wise or well-founded complaints, but the people do not believe that. Under Clause 142, however ill-founded a complaint may be, it shall be the statutory duty of the Broadcasting Standards Council to investigate it and to make findings. That will cut right across the work of the well-established, extremely efficient advertising control in this country.
We are almost coming back to basic principles here. If there is to be a broadcasting standards council, it should have the right and option to criticise programmes. The whole philosophy behind that is that, if programmes are of a sufficiently controversial nature as to require the matter to be drawn to the public's attention, that can be done either, as I have said, by press release or press comment or eventually, if necessary, by asking the broadcasters to make it clear by broadcasting the findings of the Broadcasting Standards Council. That is inevitably part of the council's philosophy. However, if the council is to do that, I do not understand how it can do so if it cannot receive complaints from people. The right reverend Prelate said earlier that he wanted there to be discussion to enable people to give their views. That is the only basis on which the Broadcasting Standards Council is enabled to come to a conclusion.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
I am sorry to persist, but until now there has always been an easy distinction drawn in commercial television between programmes and broadcasting. I am not arguing against the Broadcasting Standards Council dealing with complaints against programmes. It is totally unnecessary for it to get into the business of dealing with complaints about advertising. It is an easy matter to set clear in the statute. I do not understand the Government's stubbornness on the matter.
I am not trying to be stubborn. Clause 142(5)(c) provides that the Broadcasting Standards Council is not obliged to pursue frivolous complaints. However, if the complaint is not frivolous and if there is some fearful programme that apparently contravenes various standards, it is inevitably right that people should be able to write to the council and that it should look into the matter.
§ Lord Boston of Faversham
I should like to support the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth. There should be no question of his feeling a need to apologise to the Committee for intervening several times on this vital matter.
1577 The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, has done his best to utter reassuring words. However, those reassuring words are not compatible with the terms of Clause 142 which will become a statutory requirement and duty if that part of the Bill becomes law. One appreciates the Minister's attempt to reassure us with the words that he used. But they are simply not compatible with the terms of Clause 142. That duty will inevitably require the council to act in the way which has been suggested by all those Members of the Committee who have spoken in support of the amendment. If the noble Earl were to adhere to his reassuring words, then the clause could not continue in the Bill because of that incompatibility. For that reason alone, I submit to the noble Earl that there is a very good case indeed for the noble Earl and his fellow Ministers to have a further look at the matter at the very least, if he cannot accept the amendment tonight.
§ Lord Rees-Mogg
I had not intended to intervene in the debate for obvious reasons. I believe that there is a misapprehension here. Clause 142(5)(d) could give considerable comfort to those Members of the Committee who are anxious. Subsection (5) states:The Council shall not entertain, or proceed with … a complaint … if … (c) the complaint is frivolous"—that is obviously right; not all complaints would be frivolous, or—(d) that for any other reason it is inappropriate for them to entertain, or proceed with the consideration of, the complaint".If we accept Clause 142(5)(d), we are not laying a statutory burden on the council which would be incompatible with the reasonable treatment of these advertising matters.
§ Lord McGregor of Durris
The difficulty with what the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, has just said is that the council will certainly be able to say that that is inappropriate for it. However no regulatory body can face complainants with the mere statement that the complaint is inappropriate. Reasons will have to be given. Reasons cannot be given unless an inquiry is made into the complaint.
§ Lord Boston of Faversham
To add to that, the basic point which the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, makes is a fair point. But the difficulty is that the Committee has no idea whatever what will be considered to be appropriate. Therefore that particular ground, I am afraid, falls on that basis.
I wonder whether we are making unduly heavy weather of this. So far as I can see—noble Lords shake their heads, but I have not even been able to get out what I was going to say. If Members of the Committee would be good enough to postpone the shaking of their heads a little longer, I should be grateful.
The amendment which the noble Lord, Lord McGregor of Durris, has put down makes only one proposal. It says that the Broadcasting Standards Council should apply to all programmes but not to advertisements. For the past quarter of an hour we have been arguing about how terrible it will be when 1578 all the complaints flood in to the Broadcasting Standards Council which has to deal with them. That is an argument for not allowing complaints about anything, whether programmes or advertisements, to come to the Broadcasting Standards Council. It is not an argument on this amendment. Even if the amendment were accepted, the Broadcasting Standards Council would still be able to receive complaints about programmes. Therefore the argument would go that it would have so many complaints that it would not be able to deal with them.
If the Broadcasting Standards Council is set up for a purpose, the point is should it apply to advertisements as well as to programmes? I honestly think that if the purpose of the Broadcasting Standards Council is to help to set levels of acceptability for those matters, if that is necessary and appropriate, that must surely apply to advertisements as well as to programmes. Advertisements are just as much part of what comes into the viewer's sitting room. Therefore I cannot see that we can say with any logic that it is right for one but not the other.
§ Lord McGregor of Durris
In my search for reassurance, I have listened with great care to what the Minister said. However, surely there is a fundamental difference between programmes and advertisements. It is that before the advertisements appear on the screen they have been subjected to precisely those standards, although not only those standards, which it is the purpose of the council to apply to ordinary programmes. The standards to which the existing regulatory machinery applies are also so tight that there are and have been no complaints about advertisements on the grounds of their sexual, violent or obscene content or their use of bad language. Therefore, there surely is a fundamental difference. I cannot see that it is part of the same concept.
I do not fear that the council will take over all the regulatory functions that are already discharged. My point is that it is not equipped in its personnel, in its machinery or, for that matter, in its finance to discharge any of those functions. What was missing from the noble Earl's reply was a recognition of the fact that a body like this council could cause considerable expense to advertisers—in some cases formidable expense—by commenting upon advertisements. It ought not to do so in justice to an advertiser, unless it has the means to prevent the screening of the advertisement. It ought not to expose an advertiser to such financial risks through its intervention. It seems to me to be a fundamental point.
§ 10.15 p.m.
Perhaps I may help the noble Lord, Lord McGregor of Durris, on this point. I think that he may be under a slight misapprehension, if I may put it that way. I agree with him that at present advertisers have to put their proposed advertisements before the IBA, which determines whether or not they will be acceptable. That is what happens now. However, that will not happen in the future. Advertisers will not have to put their advertisements to the ITC. Moreover, they will not be previewed. The only previewing will be 1579 carried out by the broadcasters. When the advertisements are screened, it will be the broadcasters who will be responsible for what goes out. The way in which they will be responsible for this will be outlined in the guidelines which the ITC will set up in conjunction with the Broadcasting Standards Council. That is the only previewing which will take place and those will be the standards to which the advertisers will be expected to keep.
§ Lord Boston of Faversham
There is a further point in this connection—one which has not as yet been mentioned. I refer Members of the Committee to Clause 142(7), which reads:If it appears to the Council to be appropriate to do so, they may of their own motion issue complaints relating to matters falling within subsection (1)(a) or (b)".Therefore we have the additional difficulty that the council may initiate complaints on such matters, as it may on programme matters. One would also look for some reassurance in this respect. In my view, it is a further complication.
If I may say so, that is a different matter. However, it still comes under the same consideration; namely, that if the Broadcasting Standards Council is to have the right to initiate its own findings on programmes it is not unreasonable that it should initiate its own findings on the advertising which is shown between the programmes. I do not wish to be obstinate on the matter. Members of the Committee have expressed much concern. I should like to consider what has been said, without commitment.
My fundamental feeling is that if the Broadcasting Standards Council is to operate it must be responsible both for the programmes and the advertisements that slot between the programmes. I can understand that some noble Lords do not like the Broadcasting Standard s Council. That is a tenable argument. However, my view is that logically if the council exists it should cover advertisements as well as programmes. However, I shall consider what Members of the Committee have said, without commitment.
§ Lord McGregor of Durris
I am grateful to the noble Earl for saying that he will consider what has been said. On that basis I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 149 agreed to.
§ Clause 150 agreed to.
§ Schedule 13 agreed to.
§ Clause 151 agreed to.
§ Clause 152 [Inclusion in programme services in Great Britain of racially inflammatory material]:
Lord Havers moved Amendment No. 316AZA:
Page 115, line 22, at end insert:
("(b) after "thereby" in subsection (1) insert, "provided that no person shall be guilty of an offence if the programme deals in good faith with public affairs or other matters of general public concern and the risk of stirring up racial hatred is merely incidental to the purpose of the programme".").1580
§ The noble and learned Lord said: I can get through my speech on this amendment and those being discussed with it, Amendments Nos. 316BZA, 316CZA and 316DZA without once mentioning the Broadcasting Standards Council. That will be a relief at least to the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg.
§ This series of amendments deals with two separate but related issues concerning the application of the Public Order Act 1986 to broadcasting. I say at the outset that as I understand it the broadcasters do not object to their programmes being subject to the provisions of that Act. However, the way it is applied by Clauses 152 and 153 fails in my view to recognise the practicalities of broadcasting.
§ The first amendment deals with broadcasting programmes which address racially inflammatory issues in a responsible way. Serious programmes should be able to tackle sensitive subjects because public understanding and awareness depend on them. As it stands, Clause 152 could well prevent sensible and responsible programmes from being made. Broadcasters need a defence to permit programmes which discuss public affairs.
§ There is a well-established precedent in Section 5 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981. I know that well because as Attorney-General I took the Bill through the other place. Section 5 of that Act provides that a publication made as or as part of a discussion in good faith in public affairs or other matters of general public interest is not to be treated as a contempt of court under the strict liability rule if the risk of impediment or prejudice to particular legal proceedings is merely incidental to the discussion. The first amendment, which is modelled closely on that section, will enable sensible programmes to be made without the people responsible running the risk of committing criminal offences.
§ The second amendment concerns the possession of racially inflammatory material. My concern is that the Bill has created a new strict liability offence for broadcasters. Section 23(1) of the Public Order Act, which is applied by Clause 152 to broadcasters, makes it an offence to hold racially inflammatory material with a view to its being included in a broadcast programme. Broadcasters obviously hold a large amount of material for programme-making purposes. All their material is held with a view to its being included in broadcasts. That is why they hold it. However, not all such material is used in programmes. If it is used it might well be edited to avoid inflammatory effect. If it is recorded at a time of racial tension it may be used in a calmer period.
§ As the Bill stands a person is guilty of an offence for holding material which may not be used and which if it is used may not be inflammatory because of the way it is treated and edited. That is the creation of a brand new criminal offence against responsible broadcasting authorities. Even if used in a raw form, it might well be justified because the material informs people on an important matter.
§ I am sure that we are all against the creation of new strict liability offences. That is something at which we 1581 ought to look very carefully indeed. The second amendment will ensure that individuals are not punished for possessing material which might never get into the public domain or which ought not to be exposed to public gaze.
§ Let us go back for a while to Glasgow. A raid by the police on a broadcasting studio might disclose video tapes taken by a reporter employed by that company who had been operating with various tapes perhaps over the whole day. Included somewhere in that material might be something which could be inflammatory and which then makes the broadcasters guilty under strict liability of a criminal offence. So although it is rather technical, this is in fact a very serious amendment. They are both very serious amendments.
§ The two remaining amendments, amendments to Clause 153, are designed to ensure that there is consistency between the Public Order Act and the equivalent Northern Ireland provisions. I ask the Minister to look very seriously indeed at these amendments which sound so technical. This concerns the creation of new criminal offences, one of them by means of strict liability, which not only lawyers but practically every Member of this House will find he is very much against and very distasteful. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Birk
I support the amendments tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Havers, who explained them clearly for the non-lawyers in the House. It is interesting that in the Standing Committee in the other place the Minister agreed that the defence should be amended to take account of the particular needs and duties of broadcasting. It is that point to which the noble and learned Lord addressed himself in his amendments.
In this context to leave the question of public good, as the Minister suggested earlier this year, to be covered by the Attorney General's discretion in assisting the attention of the broadcasters is—I believe this to be shared legal opinion—not sufficient.
I recognise the existence of a need for legal decisions. But this approach fails to provide the Attorney General with a basis on which to make such decisions. I believe, like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Havers, that in this case damaging uncertainty will result. With his amendments the noble and learned Lord has attempted to remove that danger.
§ Lord Havers
Perhaps the noble Baroness will give way for one moment. That was the alternative method of proceeding: the public good. But the position with the Attorney General was such that it convinced me that it was a way which was not satisfactory. That is why I used Section 5 of the Criminal Contempt Act.
§ Baroness Birk
I thank the noble and learned Lord. I was trying to explain that that was the alternative and why the noble and learned Lord found that not satisfactory and therefore tabled the amendments that he has just moved. The examples he gave explained very clearly—the amendments themselves are selfexplanatory—the position in which a person quite innocently could find himself. It is a great risk. It 1582 seems a pity and quite wrong in a new piece of legislation that this matter should not be put right at this stage.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Lord Monson
The noble and learned Lord made a very convincing case for these amendments. There is practically no element of news or current affairs which is not capable of stirring up a certain amount of hatred of one group by another group or an individual. If one were to to repeat the showing of the well-known film on Belsen in 1945, showing piles of emaciated corpses, it would be bound to start hatred of Germans among part of the population in this country. If one were to show the aftermath of a massacre of Singhalese and Moslem villagers by Tamil Tigers, that might well start hatred against Tamils. If one were to show in detail the bloody aftermath of an IRA car bomb, it is bound to stir up a certain amount of hatred of the Republican Irish among a segment of the population of this country. But that is a risk that one has to run if one is not to emasculate totally news, current affairs and history programmes.
My noble and learned friend has introduced an important subject. He said that it sounds technical. Indeed it is fairly technical, but it is nevertheless important for that.
Perhaps I may reassure my noble and learned friend that it is no part of the Government's intention that a responsible programme which tackles or refers to racially sensitive matters should be adversely affected by the Bill. Racial issues are certainly a legitimate and important area for public debate. However, I am bound to tell him that I consider that these amendments would cause us a number of difficulties. I shall explain why.
The Government's intention is to bring the broadcasters within the scope of the legislation covering incitement to racial hatred. I am sure that all noble Lords would agree that this is essential. We have always said that in doing so we do not intend to disturb any of the substance of that legislation. There is no public good defence in the legislation at the moment. We question whether one is needed and we do not think we could justify introducing such a defence in respect of broadcasting alone in this Bill. We fully recognise that the BBC and IBA have always accepted higher programme standards than those required under the criminal law, making it unlikely that the broadcasters would fall foul of the legislation. But that is no justification for not bringing them within its scope.
But perhaps I may reassure my noble and learned friend about the effect of Clause 152. First, as he is no doubt aware, newspapers and cable programmes are caught by the legislation, and there has been no suggestion that this additional defence is needed. Responsible reporting of racially sensitive issues has not diminished as a result of this legislation.
Furthermore, it is important to remember that under the 1986 Act, an offence is committed under Section 22 of the Public Order Act 1986 only if there is intent to stir up racial hatred or if, given all the 1583 circumstances, racial hatred is likely to be stirred up. Under Section 23, an offence is committed only if racially inflammatory material is held with a view to broadcasting it and with the intention thereby of stirring up racial hatred, or in the likelihood that racial hatred will be stirred up having regard to all the circumstances.
In other words, I believe that I can comfort my noble and learned friend that considerably more than the mere gathering of material for possible inclusion in a programme is needed. Any question of an offence will arise not by holding the material, which might or might not be used in a programme, but when the first edited version has emerged. I hope that my noble and learned friend will feel content with that.
My noble and learned friend mentioned Section 5 of the Contempt of Court Act. I question whether that is a close parallel. As he said, the context is that of strict liability which does not apply in the case of the relevant offences of incitement to racial hatred. I have outlined the intent requirement in relation to incitement offences. These do not apply under the Contempt of Court Act.
Furthermore, the statutory defences in Sections 22 and 23 would be retained. These would provide a range of safeguards against the possibility of broadcasters falling foul of the legislation. For instance, in the case of live programmes it is a defence if it is not reasonably practical to secure the removal of the material. It is also a defence if a producer or director has no reason to suspect that the circumstances in which the programme will be broadcast will be such that racial hatred is likely to be stirred up.
There is of course one other major safeguard. My noble and learned friend Lord Havers does not need me to remind him that prosecutions under the Public Order Act 1986 for incitement to racial hatred can be instituted only by, or with the consent of, the Attorney-General. Consequently, personal consideration of the case by the Attorney-General, or, in circumstances covered by the Law Officers' Act 1944, the Solicitor-General is a prerequisite to any proceedings. My noble and learned friend will correct me if I am wrong, but I am advised that the Attorney-General does not give his consent unless he is satisfied that the evidence is such as to afford a realistic prospect of convictions. Furthermore, he would want to be satisfied that the circumstances of the particular case are such as to require the institution of criminal proceedings in the public interest. I suggest that if the programme's general approach is responsible there should be no reason to suppose any offence ad been committed. As my noble and learned friend will appreciate, this is subject to the inevitable caveat that no one could commit the Attorney-General of the day as to how his powers would be used in a particular case.
My noble and learned friend's amendment covers the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987. This order covers incitement to hatred generally to cover the special circumstances in Northern Ireland. The specific defences that I have mentioned in respect of 1584 the mainland apply equally to Northern Ireland. hope this provides some reassurance about the intended effect of the proposals.
§ Lord Havers
I am grateful to the Minister. I am disappointed that he has not accepted either of the amendments. I should like time to consider his reply and to discuss it with members of the BBC whom I have consulted. I may wish to return to the matter, but meanwhile I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 316BZA not moved.]
§ Clause 152 agreed to.
§ Clause 153 [Inclusion in programme services in Northern Ireland of material likely to stir up hatred etc.]:
§ [Amendments Nos. 316CZA and 316DZA not moved.]
§ Clause 153 agreed to.
§ Clause 154 [Defamatory material]:
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 316ZA:
Page 117, line 11, leave out from ("service") to end of line 12.
§ The noble Viscount said: This is a drafting amendment. As programme service is defined in Clause 180 it is not necessary to define it again in this clause. The amendment removes the unnecessary words. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 154, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clauses 155 to 158 agreed to.
§ Clause 159 [Amendments of the Marine, &c., Broadcasting (Offences) Act 1967]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 159 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Lord Monson
Clause 159 and its associated schedule, Schedule 14, were introduced into the Bill at a late stage in the other place. Honourable Members had little time to absorb or debate its full and alarming implications. It is an open secret that the purpose of Clause 159 is to smash Radio Caroline. This is a so-called pirate radio station which has been harmlessly operating for 26 years. The material it broadcasts may not be my cup of tea nor that of most Members of the Committee. However, it is perfectly innocuous and gives enormous pleasure to a large number of people in London and south-east England. They are mainly respectable, middle-aged people who tend to have listened to the station since it opened in the mid 1960s.
Clause 159 has alarming implications both for international law—in particular, maritime law—and for civil liberties. The powers which Her Majesty's Government are seeking against Radio Caroline, astonishingly, are very much greater than the powers which they have, in the past, sought and obtained against hijackers, smugglers and drug traffickers. I am not qualified to talk about the implications for maritime law or the extra-territorial implications. However, my noble and learned friend Lord 1585 Wilberforce, with his enormous legal experience, is extremely unhappy about the clause and about Schedule 14. He would have been here this evening to support a number of these amendments were it not for a long-standing prior engagement.
Apart from the legal international implications, the practical international implications are also extremely alarming. For example, let us suppose that an Albanian ship were to be boarded by elements of our armed forces or police. Albania has ruined already the medium-wave reception of what I still think of as the Third Programme, but that is perhaps incidental. More realistically, let us suppose that a Chinese, Iranian or Iraqi ship were to be boarded. The consequences do not bear thinking about.
Therefore, this is a worrying clause and the implications of the schedule are equally worrying when examined in detail. I look forward to hearing the comments of other Members of the Committee on this clause.
§ Lord Annan
These proposals which are brought forward for deliberation are so extraordinary that learned counsel said about them:the proposed new powers are draconian and unprecedented in their extra-territorial effect … they offend against international comity in particular by their generalised assault on the principle of territoriality and create a most dangerous precedent for interference by foreign states with the legitimate rights of British shipping".The conventional way of dealing with an unauthorised broadcast from a foreign registered ship on the high seas would be for the British Government to make the appropriate representation through diplomatic channels to the flag state of the vessel. In the past it is noteworthy that Parliament has stopped short of giving extra-territorial effect to statutes designed to prevent offences committed on foreign flag ships and which must, on any view, be categorised as far more serious; for example, smuggling or drug trafficking.
Section 7A goes far beyond any other statute such as the Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1986 in infringing the principle of extra-territoriality. However, there is much more to it than that. Section 7A empowers servants of the Crown to seize property and detain persons, to require the crew to produce documents and—this is most extraordinary and reprehensible—to grant officials immunity who are engaged in search and seizure.
What is so surprising about the proposed powers of search and seizure is that in contrast to other statutes conferring similar powers, they are given to such a wide category of persons. There must be some question as to whether it is necessary to extend the powers beyond police and customs officers. It is certainly unclear why there is any necessity for the catch-all Section 7A(1)(a) which states:persons authorised by the Secretary of State to exercise the powers conferredby subsection (5). That could mean anyone at all. It could mean the enforcement agencies of other foreign states being pressed into service.
1586 The immunity clause is iniquitous. If I come home, find a burglar in the house, pick up a poker and bash his brains in, I shall be guilty of manslaughter. The noble Earl will remember the recent case of an assault on the Tube in London, where a wretched victim who was assaulted by a gang of thugs was badly beaten about the head and body; nevertheless, in self-defence he drew a swordstick and managed to pink one of the thugs. He was arrested for carrying a weapon illegally, although that weapon may have saved his life. He was found guilty of a criminal offence. I do not know what happened to the thugs and perhaps the noble Earl can tell us.
I want to apply that case to what could happen on a vessel boarded in the way now to be permitted under this section. A member of the crew resists and is knocked overboard into the water and drowns. His family will have no case in damages; there will be no case of manslaughter brought against the officer who did this. It is a licence for official thuggery.
The noble Earl will be aware that I am not soft on terrorism. I applauded the storming of the Iranian Embassy by the SAS and what the SAS did to those terrorists who occupied that Embassy. I rejoiced when I heard that the terrorists in Gibraltar were shot dead like rats. But broadcasters are not terrorists. What is Radio Caroline but a lot of crickets chirping in the grate?
I do not pretend to be an expert on international law. However I did look up O'Connell, Vol. I, page 654. There it states:No State may assume, without the consent of the offender's State or the flag state, jurisdiction over aliens with respect to criminal acts on board foreign ships on the high seas".As I understand it, the 1958 Geneva Convention is still in force. It gives no legal justification for boarding private radio ships and arresting their crews.
When I raised this point at Second Reading the noble Earl said:The provisions in the Bill are in accordance with international law. The United Nations Law of the Sea Convention allows states to act against ships on the high seas of any nationality, or none, if broadcasts from them can be received on their territory or cause interference".—[Official Report, 5/6/90; col. 1355.]I wonder whether the noble Lord was then referring to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. He may have had in mind Articles 109 and 110 of that convention, but those provisions are not yet law. Indeed the United Kingdom is not one of the 41 states which have ratified that convention. On what grounds therefore do the Government assert that this schedule is already in accordance with international law?
I shall not bore the Committee with the five cases since the Geneva convention on boarding illegal broadcasting ships. I shall certainly spare the Committee those details. But it is clear that nowhere in the 1958 Geneva convention, on which international law is based, is the power given or measures included which would entitle states to board such vessels on the high seas.
1587 The noble Lord, Lord Monson, referred to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce. In Germany in 1945 General Horrocks, who was commanding 30 Corps, gave an order, which appeared in corps orders, that if any German youths were found mocking, interfering or sneering at any members of the British Army, they were to be taken summarily to the guard room and there given six of the best. Mr. Wilberforce, as he then was, and who was head of the legal division in Berlin in the British Control Commission, thereupon sent a rasping order down to 30 Corps, instructing the corps commander to withdraw the order at once. We had come to Germany to imbue that country with respect for the rule of law and that was no way to do it.
The noble Earl knows well that I am not much given to indignation or impassioned denunciations of Government policy. "Mr. Milquetoast" is really my middle name! I know that Radio Caroline is an irritant. I know that it is illegal; but is it not beneath the dignity of Her Majesty's Government to make such a proposal? That is high-handed and bullying. It reminds one of other instances in which the Government use power when those it is used against have no power to resist it. Homosexuals and disc jockeys are not likely to make much of a comeback.
What was the result of Clause 28, which was a totally unnecessary and ham-handed measure? I well remember the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, in his most assured manner telling the Chamber that, of course, it would never be employed against genuine artistic products such as "The Importance of Being Earnest". What happened? Kent County Council banned Benjamin Brittan's opera "Death in Venice".
I have a feeling that the Government will regret passing a measure of this kind. They are trying to bring down a mosquito with artillery fire. I know also that they are trying to bring it down by illegal means. There is no point in asking the noble Earl to reconsider this matter but I ask him to believe that I am not pleading for an illegal radio station. Like the noble Lord, Lord Monson, from the voluminous mail I receive I am in no doubt that there are many people who listen to and enjoy that radio station. No doubt it is popular, but that is not my purpose. My purpose is to bring home to the Government and to the public that the Government are about to pass a clause which is illegal in international law and an affront to those who care about the principles of justice.
I only hope that if this clause becomes law the crew of Radio Caroline will seek to obtain a craft under the flag of the United States. If they do that and the Government board and sequester that vessel, the Government will find themselves faced with the prospect of war, as in 1812, and later having to pay an indemnity, just as they did in the case of the "Alabama" in the American civil war.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
The noble Lord, Lord Monson, is right to raise this serious question by seeking to cast in doubt the whole of Clause 159; not that Clause 159 says anything; it is all said in Schedule 14.
1588 The law about the control of radio stations of this kind is already comprehensive. The 1967 Act, which is to be amended by Schedule 14, prohibits any unauthorised broadcasts in UK external waters. It prohibits broadcasts by UK registered ships. It prohibits broadcasts by UK nationals. It prohibits acts facilitating broadcasts. It prohibits advertising or the supply of records for the purpose of broadcasting. It provides penalties against anybody who infringes any of those provisions. Indeed, it provides for search by police officers, although certainly not with the use of force or the use of officers authorised by the Secretary of State. That Act is perfectly in accordance with international convention.
The European convention on broadcasts of this kind is satisfied by the 1967 Act. In order to fulfil our international obligations there is no need for us to go any further. What is now proposed goes very much further, as Members of the Committee have already said. It breaches the fundamental principle of territoriality. It breaches the principle that no state can pass a law which creates an offence carried on outside its own jurisdiction—in other words, on the high seas and even outside its external waters—by citizens other than its own.
There are exceptions to the principle of territoriality. The Hijacking Act 1971 and the Suppression of Terrorism Act 1978 both provide for breaches of the rule on territoriality. There have been international agreements that have recognised that, in certain extreme circumstances such as hijacking and the prevention of terrorism, it is necessary to breach the rule of territoriality. With other offences such as drug trafficking where we have the Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1986, we have not thought to breach territoriality. Why are we seeking to breach it now in the case of Radio Caroline?
We are proposing that not just our police but any person authorised by the Secretary of State shall have the right to go outside our own territory, board, and if necessary, use force against the crew of a vessel flying a foreign flag in order to prevent not merely interference by a broadcasting station but the reception of that station by the citizens of this country. I suggest to the Minister that if he insists on keeping Clause 159 in the Bill—I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Monson, would be wise to pursue his Motion against clause stand part—at the very least he should pay serious attention to the first amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, and replace it with one which provides that an offence shall only be created if there is interference with airwaves rather than simply with reception. The arguments have been very well put and we are coming close to the time when we should not be considering these matters any further. However, it is necessary to complete the argument and to give the Minister a chance to reply.
§ Viscount Caldecote
I have no wish to discomfit my noble friend on the Front Bench, but this is really taking a steam-hammer to crack a nut. Radio Caroline may be annoying, but this issue is not of such moment as to require the draconian measures that are being proposed. When a steam-hammer is used 1589 irresponsibly it can do a lot of damage by mistake. This is a very good example. This clause sets a very bad example to others on the high seas. For example, someone like Colonel Gadaffi might well find passing near but outside his territorial waters a ship which he does not approve of for some reason. He could use this as an excuse to board it and commit piracy on the high seas, which this measure is legalising.
In the past, piracy on the high seas has always been a heinous crime against which the masters of ships have been protected by the strongest laws. It is very bad to give this example which others might take advantage of for piracy on the high seas. Other reasons have been given, such as the view that broadcasting from Radio Caroline interferes with distress signals on the high seas. The fact is that the frequency used is well away from any of the distress frequencies used on the high seas and that argument cannot be sustained.
I understand that Spectrum Radio in the United Kingdom was allocated the same frequency as Radio Caroline. There was interference and very soon another frequency was found. The fact that there are not enough frequencies available appears to be a somewhat spurious argument. That is not to say that we condone illegal broadcasting and pirate broadcasting of this kind. Therefore, I shall not support the Motion put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, to delete Clause 159. That would indicate that we do not want to take any action against pirate radio. I urge and implore Her Majesty's Government to withdraw this clause and to look at it again very carefully. I hope that they will give an undertaking to look at it and to bring back some better way of dealing with Radio Caroline than this draconian measure.
§ 11 p.m.
We are talking here about pirate radio stations. Offshore broadcasters have a colourful and romantic image. They are popularly known as pirates, conjuring up images of swashbuckling characters wearing black hats and scarves, out to tweak the tail of the authorities. They are seen by their supporters, as we have heard this evening, as harmless providers of a type of broadcasting which is not available elsewhere. On that view, the authorities who try to enforce the law against them are seen, as my noble friend Lord Caldecote said, as the sledgehammer to crack a nut, or, as the noble Lord, Lord Annan, said earlier on, bureaucratic killjoys out to break butterflies on wheels.
The noble Lord, Lord Monson, said that what pirate stations do is innocuous. I totally disagree. I do not think that it is innocuous. The reality is quite different. The radio spectrum is a valuable natural resource. Its use has to be carefully planned and regulated, especially with the explosive growth in the use of radio for communications and for broadcasting. The noble Lord, Lord Annan, said that this provision will offend against international comity. I say to the noble Lord that pirate radio stations offend against and infringe the law of the country. Why do 1590 they position themselves just outside territorial waters and use British frequencies if it is not to avoid British law?
Unauthorised transmissions, because of their unplanned nature, are damaging to authorised broadcasters and other radio users. Even the safety-of-life services can be affected. That is not fanciful. Offshore broadcasters have used a frequency very close to, and capable of interfering with, a channel used for ship-to-shore communications and have threatened aeronautical radio navigation beacons upon which helicopters rely. The consequences in such cases are potentially extremely serious. Interference in a complicated phenomenon and radio use needs careful planning in order to minimise the risks while making maximum effective use of the spectrum available. For example, two transmissions can combine to interfere with a third even though neither of the first two individually causes interference.
There is no longer any justification for the pirates to claim that they have been driven offshore because they are being excluded by the "establishment" and have no alternative. Our policy is to cater for the widest possible range of tastes, and this is already being put into effect through the licensing of the first batch of community radio stations. It is open to anyone to apply for a broadcasting franchise and licence under the new system; and, as long as he has not been convicted of an unauthorised broadcasting offence since 1st January 1989, he stands an excellent chance. Some erstwhile pirates have taken this path. The circumstances that gave rise to pirate radio in the 1960s no longer exist.
I am not too good at remembering songs, stories and sea shanties but I do remember one. It was about Captain Kidd. It went something like this:My name is Captain Kidd, as I sail, as I sail".It ended:To the execution block, I must go, I must go".I wonder whether pirate radio stations might not feel the same. By grabbing frequencies and interfering with legitimate broadcasts, pirate stations restrict choice. They do not extend it. They also have an unfair commercial advantage since they do not pay licence or performance fees. I find it astonishing that a good many Members of the Committee seek to defend the operation of some broadcasters who, however popular they may be, are broadcasting against the law, against the interests of other broadcasters and sometimes at the risk of safety-of-life services.
The noble Lord, Lord Annan, and others complained about Schedule 14 being incompatible with the law and being excessive. All states have a duty to co-operate in the suppression of unauthorised broadcasting from the high seas. Such broadcasting contravenes worldwide independent telecommunication union radio regulations. The Government are satisfied that the exercise of the powers provided for in the Bill relating to ships on the high seas will be in accordance with international law.
1591 As the noble Lord, Lord Annan, rightly said, the powers we are taking are modelled on Articles 109 and 110 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea. These provide for a state to take action against broadcasters on ships of any nationality or of none which are on the high seas, if their broadcasts, which are contrary to international regulations, can either be received in that state's territory or cause interference there. We do not anticipate objection from other states, although we will normally consult the flag state.
The noble Lord, Lord Annan, said that that convention had not been ratified. It is true that Her Majesty's Government have not yet acceded to the Convention on the Law of the Sea. I have explained the justification for the schedule in international law. Our view is that the exercise of the powers will be in accordance with international law. That is not dependent on the convention. The convention is a model for the provision. This is the basis in international law for paragraph 2 of the schedule. Paragraph 1, which deals with broadcasts from structures on the UK's area of the continental shelf, is based on states' well-established jurisdiction over their adjacent continental shelf.
The noble Lord, Lord Monson, said that the powers were excessive in comparison with those used against drug smuggling and other serious crimes. This is an important matter. Comparisons with the enforcement powers used against drug smuggling and other serious offences are oversimplified. The powers given to fight an offence are not a good reflection of its seriousness. The severity of the sentence is a far better indicator of the view taken by society of a crime. The penalties for drug smuggling far outweigh those for offshore broadcasting, and rightly so.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I hesitate to interrupt at this hour. Surely the point about drug smuggling is that greater powers are needed in order to catch drug smugglers, whereas pirate radio ships are just sitting there waiting to be caught if the law is extended to penalise them.
The noble Lord is always a little hasty in getting to his feet. If he had waited a little longer, I could have told him that the powers against drug traffickers onshore are far greater than those which we propose to use against pirate stations outside territorial waters. Enforcement powers have to reflect other factors. They have to be sufficient to enable the authorities to prevent the criminal activity in question, to obtain the evidence for a conviction and to bring offenders to book. A law which cannot be enforced will not be effective. The powers against offshore broadcasting reflect these practical points. It will be necessary to board vessels, search them and to bring them into port and arrest persons from time to time.
§ Viscount Caldecote
Before the noble Earl sits down, will he comment on the point I made about the bad example that this provision will set to governments who are less responsible than Her Majesty's Government?
I do not see that there is any connection. This measure permits a state to take action against people on the high seas whose frequencies affect the frequencies of that state, when an action is being taken against the international convention.
§ Lord Annan
Before the noble Earl sits down, I hope that he will deal with one further point which concerns immunity. I referred to immunity, but I do not think that the noble Earl has dealt with it. I wish to emphasise that I am not holding a brief for Radio Caroline.
I am conscious of the fact that it is after the witching hour of 11 o'clock. I hope that I may write to the noble Lord on that point.
§ Lord Monson
I wish to reply, if I may. I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, for his powerful support and to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Annan, for his powerful and detailed support. He made only one error, but it was a significant one. Radio Caroline is not illegal, because it is operated from a foreign vessel with a foreign crew in international waters. Her Majesty's Government have at present no jurisdiction over it. It would take more time than we are allowed to reply in detail to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, but he mentioned that the penalties against drug smugglers are greater than the penalties that are likely to be imposed on radio disc jockeys. I suppose that we must be thankful for small mercies. We are talking about overkill and about a wholly disproportionate reaction to a minor irritance, rather like sentencing someone to 14 years' imprisonment for parking on a double yellow line.
I suspect that, if I were to persist in my original intention of opposing the inclusion of Clause 159 in the Bill, I would inconvenience the Committee and, furthermore, would be accused of jumping the gun and not giving the Committee a chance to examine the full implications of Schedule 14, some of which have been touched upon by my noble friend in all their alarming detail. I do not intend to divide the Committee on whether the clause should stand part of the Bill, but my noble friend and I will reserve all our fire for Schedule 14 which, I trust, will be dealt with tomorrow. I withdraw my opposition.
§ Clause 159 agreed to.
Perhaps I may interrupt to help the Committee. On these occasions we stop at 11 o'clock. It is already 10 minutes past. If the noble Lord wishes to move his amendments quickly, that might be acceptable. On the other hand, if he wishes to have a more lengthy debate, we should have to take them tomorrow.
§ Lord Monson
I am afraid that it will have to be a more lengthy debate because these matters cannot be rushed.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.