HL Deb 09 November 1992 vol 540 cc50-80

5.35 p.m.

Lord Renton rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what action they will take to ensure that the provisions of the Broadcasting Act 1990 and codes made thereunder in relation to religious broadcasting are observed.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to ask the Unstarred Question standing in my name. I say straight away that my Question is not as well phrased as it might be because the relevant part of one of the codes is so confusing that it would be difficult to observe it.

The 1990 Act refers only to independent broadcasting. It does not apply to the BBC, which is advised on religious broadcasting by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool, whom I am so very glad to see in his place and who is to speak later in the debate. I assure him that I am not tonight going to quarrel with the BBC. I have admired and often watched "Songs of Praise" and have listened to the short morning service on the radio which I generally hear when motoring on Monday morning in my car. I only wish that "Songs of Praise" on Sunday evening were broadcast more often and at greater length. I think there is scope for more religious broadcasting by the BBC but I shall leave it at that, except just to say that I found the Festival of Remembrance on Saturday evening as moving as ever. It was beautifully done.

Before I go any further I should make my own confession. I am a middle of the road Anglican but I believe in a broader and more united Christian Church and I am very glad that Christians and Jews are getting closer together. I am deeply grateful to the Jewish community in this country for personal reasons, some of which may be known to some of your Lordships. The Jewish community has given wonderful financial and other support to MENCAP and my own severely handicapped daughter has been cared for by a Jewish foundation for over 20 years. I am deeply grateful for that.

In my opinion—which is shared by many others —there is a great need for religious revival in this country. It is mainly because I believe that broadcasting, which now plays such an important part in the lives of our people, has a part to play in such a revival that I have tabled this Unstarred Question this evening. Broadcasters should do nothing to impede, but do all that they can to encourage such a religious revival, not only of the Christian faith although this is a traditionally Christian country. Of course, other noble Lords may have other reasons for speaking in the debate.

Section 6(1) (d) of the 1990 Act lays the foundations. It states that the Independent Television Commission: shall do all that they can to secure that every licensed service complies with the requirements … that due responsibility is exercised with respect to the content of any of its programmes which are religious programmes, and that in particular any such programmes do not involve—

  1. (i) any improper exploitation of any susceptibilities of those watching the programmes, or
  2. (ii) any abusive treatment of religious views and beliefs of those belonging to a particular religion or religious denomination".

That is what Parliament said, and none of us would disagree with it.

The ITC is required by Section 6(1) of the Act to publish codes for broadcasters to observe. One of those is the Programmes Code, Section 10 of which deals at length with religion. It is not enforceable against the two main independent television com-panies—Channel 3 and Channel 4 —until 1st January. Meanwhile, it is merely a guideline. However, if it needs amendment—and I hope that your Lordships may feel that it does—there is time for it to be amended before it comes into force on 1st January. Today is only 9th November.

The relevant paragraphs of Section 10 are paragraphs 10.2, 10.5 and 10.7. They are quite brief and I shall inflict them upon your Lordships. Paragraph 10.2 reads: Religious belief and practice is central to many people's lives and is capable of evoking strong passions and emotions".

So far so good. Paragraph 10.5 reads:

"In general, religious programmes on Channel 3 and Channel 4 should reflect the worship, thought and action of the mainstream religious traditions present in the United Kingdom, recognising that these are mainly, though not exclusively, Christian. Religious programmes provided for a particular region or locality should take account of the religious make-up of the area served".

That is fair enough. However, the crucial part of the code is paragraph 10.7, which reads:

"Although religious programmes may quite properly be used to propound, propagate and proclaim religious belief, religious programmes on non-specialist channels may not be designed for the purpose of recruiting viewers to any particular religious faith or denomination".

I suggest that it would be difficult to propagate and proclaim religious belief without suggesting religious revival, even among non-practising Christians who have let their religion lapse. However, that may not be recruiting and there may be no difficulty there. But what about such an appeal to agnostics and atheists? It would be recruiting if there were an appeal to such people; but why should it be forbidden if all the other excellent practices which are to be allowed take place?

It seems to me that if St. Paul had appeared on television he would have been allowed to propagate and proclaim his religious belief, and in doing so he could describe his conversion. But he would not have been allowed to appeal for converts because that would have been recruiting. To me that does not seem to make sense.

It so happens that paragraph 10.7 is not only self-contradictory, as I tried to explain, but it does not fit in with what Sir George Russell, the chairman of the ITC, wrote in a letter to Mr. David Porter, Member of Parliament, on 8th October. I shall quote from that letter. It is not a long quotation, but it is relevant and encouraging:

"Although the Code does not become binding on Channel 3 (ITV) and Channel 4 until the beginning of next year, we are confident that it will, in fact, permit a far wider range of religious expression than some have feared. For example, it would allow: … appeals for recruits or for funds within material offered as follow-up to programmes; … programmes about or interviews with those who proclaim a particular faith or belief, including those who believe that they or their church/faith has a mission to convert".

Splendid! Lastly, the chairman says that it would allow:

"programmes or items which report recruitment campaigns".

I find it strange that that letter should give so much encouragement and be in contrast with what is written in paragraph 10.7 of the Programme Code.

The inconsistency goes further, because the ITC has also published a Code on Advertising Standards and Practice, appendix 5 of which deals with religious advertising. In paragraph 5 of that appendix, under the heading "Acceptable Categories" (of religious advertising), it is stated:

"Advertising is acceptable for any of the following purposes: (i) publicising events such as services, meetings or religious festivals, and for describing an organisation's activities and how to contact it".

My Lords, that comes awfully close to recruitment.

On 28th September my right honourable friend Mr. Alastair Goodlad wrote to the new Secretary of State for National Heritage about the problems I have mentioned to which the code gives rise. Perhaps I may say in passing how delighted I am at the appointment of Mr. Peter Brooke. It gives one great confidence because he has all the qualities needed for the wide responsibilities of that new department. I am sure that your Lordships will agree with me.

In his reply of 23rd October the Secretary of State said—and he was right to say it this: The codes are … the responsibility of the ITC. The Government does not have the power to alter [them]".

He adds that only the courts can decide whether a code complies with the Act. Perhaps noble Lords will take it from a rusty old lawyer like me that we could not get this matter into court, dealt with and an order made for amendment of the code before 1st January —not a hope! Indeed, it would be a long and costly business to get the matter reviewed by the courts. Surely it is better that this problem should be raised in Parliament and that the ITC, the broadcasting bodies and individual broadcasters should take note of views expressed in Parliament, especially if there is any doubt of the Act of Parliament not being observed by all concerned.

In that letter Mr. Brooke also said: There has never been any restriction on broadcasting evangelistic sermons"—

I wish we heard more of them incidentally— in the context of an act of worship".

He said something else which I must briefly read out. Your Lordships will be glad to know that this will be my last quotation. He said:

"Editorial responsibility for coverage of those events lies with the licensee who broadcasts the programme".

He added—I wonder whether he had been quite well advised —this:

"No new restrictions have been added by the new codes".

I should love to think that they had not. But if there is a contradiction and part of the material which gives rise to the contradiction is restrictive, as the expression of "no recruitment" must be regarded, I fear that we have to accept that a new restriction which was not there before has been added to the new codes.

Let me summarise. Section 10.7 of the programme code is not only self-contradictory but does not fit in with the letter from the ITC chairman, does not fit in with the Advertising Code and does not fit in with the letter from the Secretary of State. Section 10.7 should be amended so that it dovetails with the other provisions of both the Programme Code and the Advertising Code.

What can we do about this? The Government cannot compel the ITC. That is clear from the statute. Going to court could not get the matter resolved in time. I suggest that the Government could at least send to the ITC a copy of the Hansard report of your Lordships' debate this evening, in the hope that the inconsistencies can be resolved in time and perhaps with the expression of such a hope by the Secretary of State himself, although that would be for him to decide.

This is a big subject. Other noble Lords will be taking part in the debate and some of them know a great deal more about the matter than I do. I see in his place the noble Lord, Lord Annan, who has great experience as a broadcaster and great interest in this subject. I shall be interested to hear what he has to say as well as the contributions of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, and other noble Lords. I have merely tried to give chapter and verse of the relevant documents in order to lay the foundations of the debate.

In our mainly Christian country we have a tradition of religious freedom, a tradition of religious tolerance, a tradition of freedom of speech and a tradition of the rule of law as amended from time to time by Parliament. I hope that each of those great principles will in future be applied to religious broadcasting.

5.55 p.m.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, for raising this very interesting but extremely difficult subject tonight by way of an Unstarred Question.

What immediately emerges is that the 1990 Broadcasting Act is different from all previous Acts and it changed the whole structure of the authority which is responsible. Until then, the IBA and before that the ITA were broadcasters. What that Act did was to turn the ITC, which succeeded the ITA as the Independent Television Commission, into a regulat-ory and licensing body, not a broadcasting body. But the Broadcasting Act lays certain requirements on the ITC, as the noble Lord pointed out, with regard to religious broadcasting. The ITC is required to do all it can to ensure that those requirements are met by its licensees.

Section 10.2 of the ITC code states that: Religious belief and practice is central to many people's lives and is capable of evoking strong passions and emotions". Possibly that is not only true but almost an understatement, especially if one considers what history demonstrates. Many wonderful things have been done in the name of religion but so have many evil things, however sincerely based they have been.

The responsibility for compliance with the ITC code is on licensees, not individual religious groups. It is for the licensees that the various ITC codes, including the programme code, have been written. Moreover, Section 10 of the code, which was quoted by the noble Lord and which deals with religion, has been drawn up to attempt to ensure that licensees treat all religious groups fairly and to ensure that, as the Broadcasting Act requires, the audience is protected from the irresponsible exploitative or abusive treatment of religion, whatever its source.

I have a great deal of sympathy with the noble Lord when he refers to Section 10.7. I found myself puzzling over it. The fine line between propagation of ideas and recruiting is very difficult to draw, to define legally or even to put in legislation. It seems to me that that paragraph is something which the noble Lord might feel should be discussed at a meeting with the chairman of the ITC. I do not think it is quite clear. I am not at all sure whether it can be made any clearer. Nevertheless, I see the problem and had already queried it myself before I heard what the noble Lord had to say. I remind your Lordships that the audience for religious programmes may consist of those of all religious beliefs and none. Being Jewish, I was delighted to hear what the noble Lord said about the Jewish religion and how an organisation (which I think I know) helped his daughter.

A great deal of discussion took place on this subject —I am speaking of the part concerning religion in the Broadcasting Act—during the passage of the Broadcasting Bill through this House. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool is also the Chairman of CRAC. That body received a great deal of flak during the Bill. I was quite amazed at the strength of feeling. I may be wrong, but I believe that a certain amount of intolerance was shown.

Religious programmes should have a wide reach. As the right reverend Prelate pointed out, there should be broad-based representation of religious beliefs within religious broadcasting. The term "Christian" should not always replace "religious". It is important to stress that aspect. Although I did not participate to a great extent in the debate on that aspect of the Bill in this House, the legitimate and proper discussion about the nature of religious broadcasting in our society appeared in danger of being hijacked by a small group of Christians who believed that it was being discriminated against. If I am right, no doubt we shall hear more about that today. If that belief is not right, I shall be pleased to hear it.

The ITC has been at great pains to make sure that the rules of its codes are generally applicable. The only point in the code at which a particular group is singled out for special mention is Section 10.5 which requires religious programmes on the main channels to recognise that Christianity is the major religious tradition in this country; and that will continue while the state and Christianity are intertwined in our constitution.

My colleagues in the Labour Party support religious broadcasting but are also in favour of other cultures having the right to air time, as is provided for in the ITC code. In addition to the 200-plus hours per annum of religious broadcasting available on ITV and Channel 4, viewers of cable and satellite channels now have access to an increasing number of sponsored Christian programmes including Robert Schuller's "Hour of Power" on Sky and "Victory" with Morris Cerullo. The ITC has also licensed two specialist Christian channels: "Vision" in Swindon, and "The European Christian Family Network". That suggests an expansion of opportunity for Christian broad-casters rather than the reverse. At this point, however, I ask the Minister when he replies to assure the House that the Broadcasting Act will not be amended to allow tele-evangalists to fund-raise on screen on any channel. At present they cannot do so, but it is possible that under pressure the Bill might be amended. I believe that it would be a great relief to many of us to know that that will not occur.

Finally, the Broadcasting Act 1990 provides ample opportunity for the expansion of religious broadcast-ing. Indeed, that is already taking place. However, increased freedom brings with it the challenge of ensuring that sensitive topics—what could be more sensitive than some of the topics that are dealt with under the heading of religion?—are handled respon-sibly, so far as possible without prejudice and always with great tolerance.

6.6 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Renton, for the kind remarks that he made personally to me in the speech with which he introduced the debate. When we put our names down on a list and then find what the order of events will be it is difficult to know what later speeches will include. Since I am the only speaker from this Bench, I believe that I am right to expect that other noble Lords who took part in debates on the Broadcasting Bill—I refer in particular to the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, and the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing—will raise matters which underlie what the noble Lord, Lord Renton, said. But it may be right for me to say a little on some of those points. The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, referred to a feeling that a group is being discriminated against. It was a point raised during the passage of the Bill. I believe it right for me to speak on that subject.

The noble Lord, Lord Renton, stated that it is difficult to make a distinction between the words "proclaim" and "recruit". During consultations I was told by the lobby that the key word that was wanted was "proclaim". I believe that everyone should be content that that is the word in the programme code. Noble Lords should have a great deal of sensitivity about the difficult course for the ITC to steer between a proper freedom for full-blooded proclamation of different faiths, as well as by different Christian Churches, and recruitment, which invites and presses people to come and join a particular body.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the right reverend Prelate. Surely one of the objectives of proclaiming the truth of something in which one believes is that one tries to persuade a person to join one's religion, group or whatever it is.

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool

My Lords, that is quite true. I doubt whether noble Lords would be eager for a Moslem to try to recruit viewers in a full-blooded and careful way. There is a complete distinction, as I shall try to indicate later, between the dedicated religious channel in which people know what they are buying into and understand that they may hear such a challenge (as it is open for viewers to hear) and a broadcast channel which millions of people may have been watching for other reasons but a religious programme may then be broadcast. I believe that all responsible noble Lords will wish to say, "Of course we must draw a careful line and distinction". It is easy to show that things are not totally logical in every way. However, many Members of Parliament, noble Lords and many others have told me how grateful they are that a stand has been made to try to prevent the high-pressure broadcasting with which the United States is familiar.

Underlying some of the arguments is a book called Hidden Agendas. It is based on a conspiracy theory. As always when conspiracies are believed, it is almost impossible to persuade people that they do not exist. The book puts forward the concept that the religious advisers, through the IBA and the ITC, conspired to keep full-blooded, evangelical Christianity from television and radio. I was chairman of the Central Religious Advisory Committee (CRAC) three-and-a-half years ago. I knew that some people believed that concept at the time. I believed that I was well placed to estimate the truth of such an allegation. The word "evangelical" means a great deal in positive and important ways to me. It is part of my roots. I do not believe that there is any such conspiracy, but all programmes which are submitted to mainline channels are subject to the judgment of programme controllers. Those controllers have built up large viewing audiences and believe that programmes must begin where that audience is and not where a church audience might be. But I am quite clear—I have watched an enormous amount of television during my years as chairman of CRAC—that I have seen a great deal of full-blooded evangelical Christianity. for example, in the last two or three weeks I watched the Wirral Christian Fellowship and the Elim church being given absolutely full and unfettered freedom to proclaim the gospel.

I should say a word about CRAC. In your Lordships' House it was greatly misunderstood at Second Reading. We were accused of being a censor that stopped things from going on the air. I explained that we never discussed programmes before they went on the air. In the Committee stage we were accused of being a toothless tiger that had no power to influence matters. People really cannot have it both ways. It is a vigorous body. Members are invited by the BBC and the ITC. We advise the BBC. We also advise the IBA, the ITC and the Radio Authority, and CRAC has now been invited after 1st January to continue to be an adviser to the ITC. Members are invited by the BBC and the ITC jointly, after careful consultation with the churches and the other faiths that they represent, for we represent all the mainline churches in the four countries of the United Kingdom and other faiths. We have Jewish, Moslem and Hindu membership.

I want to say firmly on the public record that at our meeting in September, when our committee had carefully considered the book Hidden Agendas with its allegations, it unanimously passed a vote of confidence in our religious advisers and in their integrity. I would want that to be heard and firmly held on the record.

The book purports to show that Section 10 of the ITC programme code was written by the then religious adviser to the IBA, the Reverend Eric Shegog, before the Broadcasting Bill had completed its passage. But the initial draft was quite properly made when the outline of the proposed new clauses on the content of religious programmes was known in June 1990. The programme code could not be finalised until the legislation had received Royal Assent in November 1990, and the draft code was sent out for wide consultation on 12th November 1990, some three months after Eric Shegog had left the IBA.

Among those consulted were members of the evangelical and traditionalist lobby, who are identified in the book. A number of changes were made to the code as a result of the consultation: for example, to allow recruitment on specialist channels and appeals for funds and for members within follow-up materials to programmes. Hidden Agendas makes no reference to the consultation process, stating only that the original draft ITC programme codes were issued on 12th November. Nor is there any reference to the important changes made to Section 10 following the consultation process.

Indeed, the book claims that when the code was finally published "there were no concessions". That is quite untrue. I am not sure what the noble Lord, Lord Renton, means when he says that a restriction was included which was not there before. The ITC drew up the codes following this wide and careful process of consultation.

I hope that noble Lords may understand the present situation. Specialist religious channels licensed under paragraph 2 of Schedule 2, Part II of the Act may recruit members by way of programmes designed for this purpose. They have won their own audience. Whatever channel they may be watching the audience knows what to expect. So far as mainline channels reaching very broad audiences is concerned, the ITC takes into account the need to ensure that the code can apply to all religious groups, all faiths.

The noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, was a governor of the BBC in Lord Reith's day. In the debates on the Broadcasting Bill I believe that he was trying to call us back to the Christian broadcasting heritage which Lord Reith gave us, and I have a warm sympathy for all that was positive that he wanted to say about that. It is certainly the case that Reith was moved by Christian conviction and made an important place for religious broadcasting within the BBC, which lasts to this day. But he wanted the broadcaster to hold the ring and to ensure fair representation of all the different Christian traditions. Reith never confused the BBC either with a church or with the Church. The BBC has never agreed to he a recruiting station for a particular tradition but a place where all voices can be heard.

I share with the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, the firm wish that robust expressions of Christian life and preaching should be broadcast. I have watched and listened to a great amount of broadcasting in these last three-and-a-half years. I believe that much is sensitively done, beginning where people are and not where the church people might like them to be—audiences that channels have built up over years. Religious broadcasting rightly takes note of our living in a multi-faith society. Within that society I believe that religious broadcasting in Britain does a fine job, reaching far higher proportions of audiences than religious programmes in the United States.

I am informed that the "Everyman" programme on Sunday nights, for example, an extremely thoughtful programme, obtains 3½ million viewers if it comes on at the earlier time that it should and has in fact more listeners and viewers than all the tele-evangelists put together. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, hoped for a more united church. I indeed agree on that. I hope that we may meet gladly in saluting the best of religious broadcasting and leave aside unworthy attacks on religious advisers, who serve us very well. I believe that the provisions of the Act are being observed.

What do the churches think about it? Recently the Baptist Church, the Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church, the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England have reaffirmed their support for the programme code as it stands. I firmly hope that the Minister will make it plain that Her Majesty's Government do too.

Lord Renton

My Lords, before the right reverend Prelate sits down could he help us on one point? We have all been very interested in what he has had to say. But the right reverend Prelate referred to the discussions and the codes that had gone before the one we are discussing. Can he point to any previous code or any previous Act of Parliament in which there has been an expressed prohibition on what is described as recruiting?

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool

My Lords, I am not sure that I can find the right references. I can say that the body that I chair has for many years—I think I am right in saying since 1975—said that religious broadcasting should reflect the composition and the membership of religious bodies in this country. Because of the guidance that CRAC had observed I was strongly pressed that the word "proclaim" should be included, as it was not. It seems to me that the movement is in that direction and not in the direction that the noble Lord suggested.

6.18 p.m.

Lord Annan

My Lords, as we can see this evening, religious broadcasting is a sensitive issue. The broadcasting authorities know that programmes can give offence to the faithful and indeed to those of no denomination at all. That is why they set up advisory bodies such as CRAC to draw up codes of practice which lay down what those who make, and take part in, religious programmes may or may not do. The trouble is that, when some issue arises, the authorities quickly pass the poisoned chalice on to their advisory boards. They then accept their advice, and if they are challenged reply that the Churches have always endorsed the composition and the rulings of the advisory board. The authorities take a similar line about the codes of practice. That is reasonable because why keep a dog and bark yourself? The result is that the advisory board comes to regard itself as all powerful and the Churches hesitate to challenge its rulings.

There can be no doubt that, as the Authority, the ITC is responsible for the content of religious programmes presented by the companies. If it accepts the codes drafted by the advisory boards they become official ITC practice½

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. If by "the advisory board" the noble Lord means CRAC, the body which I chair, I must point out that it did not draft any codes. The employees of the ITC drafted the code after careful and wide consultation, which included consultation with our body. I do not believe that our body has felt all powerful. I made the point that it never considers programmes before they are screened or broadcast.

Lord Annan

My Lords, I meant all powerful in presenting the codes, which the ITC is then of course at liberty to refuse. However, it is understandable that normally the ITC will accept the view of its advisory board. That does not mean that the Government can never express a view contrary to that of the authority. Indeed, governments do that all the time. The "Real Lives" controversy, which was handled so badly by the then Home Secretary and the Director-General of the BBC, is an example of how governments will raise an issue with an authority. However, no one denies that in the past Home Secretaries have, or today the Secretary of State for National Heritage has, every right to make their views known to the relevant authority and to ask for its comments.

I understand that both Mr. Mellor and Mr. Brooke told the ITC and the radio authority that it is legitimate for a broadcaster specifically to recruit believers provided that it is done in an act of worship. Indeed, Mr. Mellor inserted a section in the Act which states that that may be done provided that it is responsible and not an exploitative programme. That was done to ensure that the Moonies could not recruit but that the door was left open to the Evangelicals. In other words, when in a studio in 1950 Dr. Billy Graham appealed direct to viewers to change their lives, he was entitled to do so.

Do the new codes prohibit such an appeal to listeners? On that point, which is the real point at issue, the ITC speaks with two voices. The ITV religious broadcasting officer, Ms. Rachel Viney, said: If Billy Graham addressed the viewers direct to camera that would contravene the programme code as drafted because the programme code says that religious programmes on non-specialist channels may not be designed for the purpose of recruiting viewers to any particular religious faith or denomination". Even more to the point was the evidence of Mr. Shegog, who was the author of the draft of the ITC codes. In a taped interview he explained that the "no recruitment" restriction in the ITC codes would stop Dr. Graham making the kind of personal appeal to viewers and to listeners that he has made in the past. Again, in March 1991 Ms. Clare Mulholland said that if the speaker on camera did make a direct appeal to millions of viewers the ITC would intervene. Nor have those officials left the broadcasting companies in any doubt about what would happen if such an appeal were made. They have told the companies that they would be liable to be fined and their licence re-examined and perhaps not renewed. I am told that they have threatened sanctions on a number of occasions.

But now ITV has sent to noble Lords taking part in tonight's debate a brief dated 5th November. At first sight the brief appears to endorse the attitude of those officials. Paragraph 10 states: The ITC does not believe that general audience channels should broadcast religious programmes made with the express purpose of recruiting viewers to a particular faith or denomination". Such a programme could be broadcast only on a specialised service under an ITV licence. But in paragraph 13 ITV appears to run counter to its officers. It states that paragraph 10.7 of the code would permit Dr. Graham seeking to convert viewers, in the context of a rally, church service or other religious event". It then adds: This already happens". What the code would not permit would be: a change of emphasis from an event taking place in its own right … to a coverage aimed specifically at recruiting viewers". Alas, my mind has not had the legal training which the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, has had. As I am not a lawyer I have difficulty in understanding the fine distinctions which are being made tonight. I am not at all sure where we are being led. I can imagine Mr. Graham saying that if his act of worship is not aimed specifically at recruiting viewers it is nothing. Indeed, I am reminded of a story about the visit to a seminary of a Cardinal. He said to one of the young seminarists, "M. l'Abbé, your superiors praise you for the great acuteness of the theological distinctions which you draw. Tell me, is it canonical to baptise an infant on point of death in soup?". The reply, which came back quick as a flash, was, "In your Eminence's soup, no; in the seminary's soup, yes".

The distinctions being drawn in this document are very fine indeed and they are extremely difficult to follow. I am worried further by the conclusion of the ITV briefing document. It stated that people imagined that the 1990 Act was deregulatory and that broadcasters would have greater freedom. With great satisfaction the document states that that view is mistaken and that the 1990 Act made changes which were re-regulatory and: necessitate a variety of rules and guidelines which were not required under the old system". The ITV document added that: religious broadcasting will suffer as the result of too little regulation rather than too much". There speaks the bureaucrat—we might be in Brussels!

I have often warned broadcasters about flouting the codes which prohibit excessive violence and ensure political impartiality. But I have always been in favour of giving broadcasters freedom unless it can be shown that grave damage will be done if some contentious programme is shown. Other speakers tonight have spoken, and will speak, from deep religious conviction. I speak in the cause of freedom. I have seen and still see the danger that what once was permitted will now be prohibited by the zealous efforts of officers whose sincerity and the difficulty of whose problems no one doubts. But a freedom is now being threatened with abolition and the ITC appears to be refusing to state its reasons for refusing to comply with what the Government were asking it to do. I hope that in reply the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, will give the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and his friends the unequivocal assurance that their fears are groundless.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, first, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Annan, on his masterly speech. He always entertains us, whether or not we agree with him. On this occasion he was at his fizzing best.

The noble Lord mentioned Billy Graham. When I was looking through the records I was surprised to see that Billy Graham was allowed, generally in football grounds and other large stadia, to broadcast in 1950, 1960, 1970 and 1980. When he went on a mission to Scotland there was a hitch. I am not sure whether or not that was because of the new regulations. We always throw mud at tele-evangelists. Surely it would be wrong to include Billy Graham in that, and I am sure that the right reverend Prelate would not do so. Billy Graham may be a tele-evangelist but no one could say that he was anything other than extremely sincere and successful in his message.

I wish to speak on another subject. I welcome the publication of the book Hidden Agendas—much work has been done on it in the past three years by two professors—which is about religious bureaucracy trying, it seems, to outwit Parliament as regards the regulation of religious broadcasting.

I welcome the introduction by the Government of a due responsibility and improper exploitation section —Section 6(1) (d), in the Broadcasting Act—to allow responsible evangelism, but not by the militant extremists or cults. I oppose the proposed restrictions in the ITC codes on recruitment and donations in order to make programmes. That represents a severe and unnecessarily restrictive interpretation of the Act.

I remind your Lordships of the argument that I used during our debates on that legislation. The spread of religious broadcasting in the United States did not really take off until it was permitted to raise money by sponsorship or advertising. It is very expensive to make television programmes. Without proper funding programmes must be televised at unsocial hours when nobody sees them. I believe that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool tabled an amendment, which was turned down by this House, to oppose advertising.

I oppose the proposed restrictions on recruitment and donations to make programmes in the ITC codes which represented, I thought, a severe and unneces-sary restriction. Such over-regulation kills creativity and innovation. Although ITC officials consulted some parliamentarians, I believe that the interview took only just over half an hour. The code was modified in some respects but it was felt necessary to reject other suggestions that we made.

I am informed by the National Council for Christian Standards in Society that last week a large number of Church denominations sent out letters asking to be consulted about the ITC codes. They include churches in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, independent free churches, pentecostal, congregational and house churches, Afro-Caribbean churches, presbyterian churches, free methodist and baptist churches and the Salvation Army. They join dissent from the recruitment wings of the more traditional established Church. I should describe myself as a traditional established churchman. Those churches have all now said that they wish to be consulted. Therefore, the consultations which took place up to two years ago do not seem to have been thorough and perhaps it was not realised what was happening. The established Church has been caught out because those churches have not been invited to the recent cosy meetings held here in London by the advisory committees. The members of those different churches watch the same television as the rest of us and have every right to demand to be consulted as regards the ITC religious restrictions.

The ITC claimed that it consulted the churches before finalising its code at the beginning of 1991. Why is it that dozens of church denominations representing thousands of congregations and hun-dreds of thousands of people are asking to be consulted about the ITC religious codes?

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool

My Lords, is the noble Lord suggesting that none of those churches was consulted in that extremely wide consultation procedure? My understanding—because some of them have written to me—is that they objected because they were not invited to a private meeting with a private minute. I had nothing whatever to do with that but I am aware that there was a meeting to which they were not invited. Is the noble Lord suggesting that those churches were not consulted in those earlier wide-ranging consultations?

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, I suggest that some of them were not consulted in the earlier consultation when their views should have been sought. As regards what happened at a meeting recently, it was a very small, unofficial committee and perhaps the people present were not representative of those churches.

The ITC claims to have consulted the churches. If that is so, why has it now finished consulting? I believe that something is wrong here and Her Majesty's Government cannot ignore it. The ITC—a public regulatory body and a creature of the Broadcasting Act—has slightly overplayed its hand at Church politics.

The book Hidden Agendas quotes from the November 1987 affidavit by the ITC controller of advertising. He won a judicial review in the High Court, which, as my noble friend said, was an extremely long and drawn out business. That was against advertising the children's Bible stories: Noah's Ark, Moses, David and Goliath and Daniel in the lion's den. That ITC controller of advertising then expressed his disapproval of religious advertising in his published article of spring 1990 entitled: Hell-fire and Credit Cards—Is religious advertising coming to British Television; Frank Willis anticipates the worst". That controller was then made responsible in 1990 for the ITC's impartial consultations about their religious advertising and sponsorship codes. When the codes were published it was no surprise that they were bursting with restrictions. I believe that it was unwise and unfair to put that referee in charge of those subjects.

Like many other noble Lords, I sat through debate after debate on the Broadcasting Act. We persisted in trying to build more into the Bill because we could not help but feel that when the codes were published, they would raise issues which we thought Parliament had decided against. I came across one small but strange example. In the early days of the draft Bill, after taking a great deal of legal advice, the Minister took out the word "denigrate" and instead inserted the words "abusive treatment". Your Lordships will see from the much-quoted wording of the present code that the words "abusive treatment" have been taken out and in their place is the word "denigrate". That shows what a strange way the ITC has of irritating Parliament by sweeping away the decisions of the democrats and instead putting in its own version. Bureaucrats should not always be allowed to get the better of democrats.

Section 6(1) (d) (ii) states: any abusive treatment of the religious views and beliefs of those belonging to a particular religion or religious denomination", should not be allowed. I am sure that we all say "hear, hear!" to that. However, only this month I came across the proposal to use a puppet of Jesus Christ in the "Spitting Image" programme. Those responsible had read neither the code nor the Act. I know that the ITC could argue that it has no responsibility until 1st January. However, along with some other parliamen-tarians I sent a letter to The Times. That raised an issue from a person much beloved and respected in this House, the Bishop of London, Graham Leonard. He said: I understand that the Church of England made no effective public protest following the guying of Christ in 'Spitting Image'. It was left to the Muslim community to do so, which it did with effect. Do we now have to depend upon it rather than the Established Church to stand up for our Blessed Lord?

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool

My Lords, would the noble Lord give way? He has taken the opportunity of attacking what he calls Church bureaucrats. Was the noble Lord not aware that the Reverend Eric Shegog, who is the communications officer for the Church of England, made a statement that was broadcast on the Sunday programme the morning before that programme came out and that it was in all the major newspapers that day? There could be no clearer comment from the Church of England.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, if I was unaware of it, so was the former Bishop of London. He stated that no one else had spoken up.

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool

My Lords, I was hoping that the noble Lord would withdraw the point. I am stating what the communications officer of the Church of England did on that day.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, I was quoting the former Bishop of London, who I knew quite well. It was a very high Church view and if he had not heard of the statement of the Reverend Shegog, who was appointed as chief communicator for the Church of England, I had not either. I apologise from that point of view. Others are equally ignorant.

My noble friend started the debate very effectively and suggested a solution. We cannot wait for a judicial review. We know that they take up to two years to complete and that they cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. If the Act that was passed after a year and a half of consideration is not matched by the codes, some solution should be found. Is Parliament incapable of finding a solution to the problem and making minor corrections that will be widely supported in most parts of this House and in another place?

6.40 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, the last speaker has contributed an enormous amount of devoted work on this subject over the years, as have other speakers. I cannot lay claim to such a distinction. I speak simply as a man in the pew—a man who was in the pew yesterday. I said my prayers yesterday, as usual; and today.

I rise therefore with a certain diffidence, real or assumed. I ask three questions. First, have I complete confidence in Christian leaders, who negotiate arrangements with the broadcasting authorities on our behalf? Secondly, are those arrangements, humanly speaking, perfect? Thirdly, does the man in the pew who is greatly privileged to be a Member of this House have a right and duty to offer a few humble suggestions of his own?

I can answer the first question easily. I have complete personal confidence in all of those who act for us in this matter—and most of all, because I know him best, in the right reverend Prelate, although later I may criticise one of his statements.

I remember fielding at long leg to the fast bowling of a previous cricket captain of England, the late G. O. Allen. He showed extraordinary tolerance when the ball trickled through my feet to the boundary, spoiling his average. I hope for a similar tolerance from the right reverend Prelate today.

In asking whether the arrangements are perfect, I do not begin with the spirit of someone who wants to disparage the statements in a general sense. I rang up my admired friend, Mary Whitehouse, last week and I received an answer which I did not expect. I asked about religious broadcasting and whether it was satisfactory. She said "It is a good deal better than it was". That was an answer that I should like to record. I did not say that the situation is all quite lamentable —not at all—but I do not think that it is perfect.

I am not sure whether Cardinal Newman had become a Roman Catholic when he stated: To live is to change and perfect is to have changed often I hope that the noble Lord will accept the possibility that change or improvement is necessary in the present arrangements.

What kind of general guidance do I offer today in my humble role? I begin by rejecting all the talk about a multi-faith society. I hope that it was my failing ears that told me that the noble Lord had used that expression. I know that in this House only parliamentary language is permitted; otherwise, I could say something which would certainly not be permitted here.

When noble Lords discussed the Education Bill in 1988, the heroic noble Baroness, Lady Cox, stated that 85 per cent. of the people of this country call themselves Christians, and only 5 per cent. owned up to, or took pride in, allegiance to some other religion. The figures do not appear to be very different today. With great respect to the noble Lord, it is my opinion that talk about a multi-faith society is fantastic. When other faiths represent between 3 per cent. and 5 per cent. of Christians, to say that it is a multi-faith society is misleading. I reject with equal disdain the same talk of pluralist society. That might be true of Bradford or one or two other places; but it is certainly not true of Britain as a whole.

If I am allowed to make a general remark, the trouble with Christians is that, collectively speaking, they suffer—if they suffer at all—from an excess of humility. I wrote myself a little book on humility; but I suppose that if I mention that it will be a sin against the virtue in question. It is something that can be overdone. Christians are leaders speaking collectively more than other denominations. They have a duty to speak up for themselves and not to be misled by our humanist friends into the idea that we are all a lot of different religions, as in the old days, and Christians might have a majority but only a bare majority.

I hope that I do not appear to be a bigot. When I entered this House one of my sponsors was Jewish. I have introduced more than one Jewish friend. I have helped to introduce that tremendous rationalist, the late Baroness Wootton. I remember standing there while the alternative form of words was searched for, which was not so popular in those days.

I cannot accept the idea that I am ignoring the tremendous contribution made by Jewish friends, humanists and various religious minorities. Nevertheless, noble Lords surely have to take pleasure in the fact that we took the initiative in introducing the word "Christianity" into the Education Act. After almost half a century of religious education in the modern sense, it was finally included. It was not introduced through the initiative of the Churches, although I believe that they all welcomed it. The former Bishop of London welcomed it. It was introduced on the initiative of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. She waited for other people to join and then it was introduced. The phrase in the Act states that religious education has to be wholly or mainly Christian. That does not sound like a multi-faith society. I view with horror the idea that all the religions, whatever their spiritual value in England, be treated as though they were on an equal footing.

I find some discussion among Christians—and here I shall place a strain on the almost infinite patience of the right reverend Prelate—on whether religious broadcasting, so far as it lies in the power of the Christian leaders, should reflect a state of opinion or should give a lead for that opinion. If it reflected opinion, then it would figure much more strongly in Christian education than it does now. Even so, how does one work out that equation? That is a very inadequate ambition.

It is up to the Christian leaders, in whom we have such great personal confidence, to give a lead and to do everything in their power (they are not dictators) to try to persuade other authorities. They should try to persuade and give a lead to Christians. If anyone says that that is proselytisation, then what is wrong with that? It is a Christian trying to persuade other people to become Christians. If Jesus Christ had not gone in for proselytisation, there would not be much Christianity. I do not shrink from these bad words. I testify in that sense in favour of the Motion. I do not want to seem to be crabbing the efforts which are being made by Christian leaders. I return to what I said. In the words of the schoolmaster, one is to be congratulated, but encouraged to do still better in future.

6.51 p.m.

Viscount Buckmaster

My Lords, I speak as a vice-president of the Christian Broadcasting Council. I welcome the opportunity for as many Christian Churches as possible to be consulted over the ITC restrictions. I support freedom for clergymen to express their views and directly to challenge television viewers about their spiritual needs in programmes recorded in the studios or on location.

If they are fit and proper persons and what they say is responsible but not exploitative, they fulfil the requirements of the Broadcasting Act 1990. These provisions, coupled with discretion for the regulators, were put there to allow people like Billy Graham and his evangelism, while keeping out groups publicly regarded as unacceptable and offensive.

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool

My Lords, will the noble Lord give way? Will he suggest to your Lordships how, without a code, we might find a way of describing who was not acceptable?

Viscount Buckmaster

My Lords, I agree that it is very difficult to see how any such way could be achieved. But that has always been an aim on the part of the people responsible for these regulations. During the passage of the Broadcasting Bill in 1990, the opposition of ITC officials and their advisers to the new opportunities in religious broadcasting was well known. But the Bill was changed by Parliament and those changes for removing the preponderance of religious restrictions are now law. This is an important point.

The regulatory codes are not the place to exact retaliation or punishment for those who lobby for greater freedom. The Government announced that the new Act would allow religious advertising and sponsorship. The ITC code distorts that to ban religious advertising and sponsorship directly towards people under 18 years of age. Surely that is totally unacceptable. Indeed, one might call it, in Shakespeare's words, the most unkindest cut of all". The ITC advertising code also bans advertising of spiritual, moral or emotional counselling services, exhortations to change religious behaviour and any references to the benefits of religion for personal well being. I congratulate HMG for honouring their commitment to remove restrictions on religion in the Broadcasting Act, but, as it were, they have appointed vegetarians to run the meat counter.

This is an important point. The codes also ban appeals for donations to make programmes. That means that British Christian programmers are hamstrung if they try to compete with American groups which already have ample financial backing.

This issue is not a fitting matter for judicial review. Members of the public cannot be expected to fight court battles with public regulatory bodies to try to reinstate parliamentary authority. What is Her Majesty's Government going to do about all these unnecessary ITC code restrictions, which, taken together, are designed to throttle new and creative programmes coming from the evangelical and traditional heart of the Christian Church in our country?

6.58 p.m.

Viscount Brentford

My Lords, if this debate has done nothing else it has shown up the need for Section 10.7 to be clarified. I am not going to say what I originally intended to say because a great deal of clarification has already emerged in that direction. I should like to talk along the lines of what my noble friends were saying about that section.

It seems that the ITC is saying loud and clear at the moment that matters like Billy Graham missions may be broadcast on independent television. The letter from Mr. David Glencross, the Chief Executive of the ITC, in reply to the letter from my noble friends Lord Orr-Ewing, Lord Ashbourne and others, has not yet been mentioned in this debate. In it, incidentally, Mr. Glencross made clear that he appears to have rebuked Central Television for using a "Spitting Image" illustration of our Saviour.

I was very glad to read in the letter to The Times that he states very categorically, As to religious broadcasting, the ITC's code does not, as the letter suggests"— that is the letter of my noble friends Lord Ashbourne and others— prevent the televising of a church service, rally or meeting at which Dr Billy Graham or any other Christian preaches the Gospel". That is excellent. The letter continues: The code's provisions are designed to implement the requirements of the Broadcasting Act 1990". Section 6(1) (d) is then referred to.

What is written in that letter is perfectly clear and good. What he does not do in that letter is refer to Section 10.7, which is what my noble friend Lord Ashbourne had raised in the letter to which several Members of your Lordships' House contributed. They talk quite clearly about a code, which effectively prohibits an evangelist such as Billy Graham inviting viewers to make a commitment to Jesus Christ". That has been denied in Mr. Glencross's letter and I believe it was also denied in the letter which my noble friend Lord Renton quoted from originally. Let us therefore look at Section 10.7. I was helped by what the noble Lord, Lord Annan, said. As I see it, he is saying that the section is dealing with a limited range of activities. It states, Although religious programmes may quite properly be used to propound, propagate and proclaim religious belief, religious programmes on non-specialist channels may not be designed for the purpose of recruiting viewers to any particular religious faith or denomination". I had always read that as being what is commonly called a "no recruitment" policy and intended to prohibit the sort of appeal that Dr. Graham, whom I have had the privilege of knowing for some 35 years, normally makes in his evangelistic missions. This is backed by what Mr. Shegog has said—that the code was intended to prohibit that. Mr. Shegog has gone on record as saying that very clearly. I appreciate that he claimed to have drafted the code, but this has been denied by Mr. Glencross.

If I understood correctly what the noble Lord, Lord Annan, was saying, this does not refer to a public mission where the principal aim is to speak to those who are attending the mission, but exclusively to that sort of occasion which is geared only to recruiting on television. I am not clear whether that is what this means. Like my noble friend Lord Renton, I am a lawyer by training, and I consider that its wording is unsatisfactory in either of two sets of circumstances: either Mr. Shegog is right and it is intended to prohibit that sort of mission appeal or, if Mr. Glencross is right in saying that it does not prohibit that sort of appeal, the wording should be clarified in order to meet that. I submit that this position is totally unsatisfactory.

Historically, appeals by Dr. Graham have frequently been broadcast on the television by both the BBC and ITV. He has clearly been photographed while at Roker Park in the course of a local mission. He has been photographed (and that has been put out over television), making an appeal to both those who are sitting in their homes watching television and those in the football ground, urging them to commit themselves to Jesus Christ and become his disciples. That has always happened in the past. The question that we are asking now is: will that happen in the future? I submit that the wording of Section 10.7 is unsatisfactory and I should like my noble friend Lord Astor, who is to reply to the debate, to agree to write to the chairman of the ITC and to say that that section needs amending. If it is correct that it is not intended to prohibit a mission, I hope that that will be clarified and made crystal clear.

7.2 p.m.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, in addressing your Lordships' House this evening, I must ask the Minister who is to reply to the Unstarred Question to accept that there is a syndrome of mistrust between what I may call the religious lobby in your Lordships' House and the ITC as established by the Broadcasting Act 1990. As to the religious lobby, it is in part represented by those who have put their names down to speak this evening; and as to the ITC, it is not represented here, so the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, must do his best with whatever brief it has presumed to provide him so that he can answer some 64,000 dollar questions. In pausing at this point, I appeal to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool to help me to resolve this spirit of distrust rather than taking sides and defending one party or another too exclusively.

Perhaps I may make it clear that there is no question in my mind of any sort of disingenuous behaviour by Ministers in this House or in another place. They and the religious lobby—and possibly the higher echelons of the ITC itself —have in my view been double-crossed by officials of what was once the IBA, and now the ITC. Let me also assure your Lordships that nothing I shall say in any way implicates the sound-broadcasting world.

Your Lordships may recall that when the printing press was first invented there was an immediate attempt by the religious authorities of the day to embargo the printing of canonical works—the Old and the New Testaments, the writings of the fathers of the Church and so on. That was futile as is every attempt to strangle and to stamp on something that is new and acceptable at large when people at large have got used to the idea. One might quote the advice that Gamaliel gave to the Sanhendrin over what was new in those days, "If this thing be of men it will fail, but if it is of God you cannot withstand it".

I want to be as clear as possible about why officials treat this whole matter as a hot potato. But my noble friend Lord Annan has done it so well that I shall not take up your Lordships' time in saying less effectively what he has already said so well. I can only speak with whatever residue of authority vests in me as an ex-governor of the BBC—albeit 30 years ago—and, as the right reverend Prelate remarked, as a friend of Lord Reith, a son of the manse, who had high hopes of the part that religious broadcasting could play in the life of the nation.

I know a lot about quangos, boards of governors and officials. I know that part-time governors, meeting for only half a day and only once a month, can only too easily have the wool pulled over their eyes by officials whose main concern is to combine doing the things that they want and keeping out of trouble. Ministers of the Crown are from time to time at hazard in this respect. This is what has led to the present syndrome of distrust—and only the ITC can resolve it. It must either live with mistrust or modify its code before 1st January. The onus is on that body to take action, as I was telling its chairman only last week.

I have in my hand and in particular a tape dated 29th March 1991. It is not my property and belongs to the author of the book which has been named, Hidden Agendas. I cannot therefore surrender it for inspection because it does not belong to me, but I spent an hour this morning making a faithful transcript in my own hand of some of the questions and answers at interviews with the ex-head of religious broadcasting of the former IBA, and in the interview with the current religious broadcasting officer of the ITC. I could name them, but I prefer to give them their official titles in order not to make it a personal matter.

I shall deal first with the ex-head of religious broadcasting at the former IBA. He left its employment in September 1990—that is to say, before the Broadcasting Bill came before your Lordships' House; before your Lordships amended it; before your Lordships' amendments were referred to the Commons; before the Commons returned them to your Lordships and before the Bill passed. He left as a legacy the draft of the code—the code as it now is —and recorded his reminiscences in March 1991. He had previously contributed to a book in which he expressed the view that evangelism had its place in church, at the street corner, in meetings or in schools, but no place in broadcasting. In the unpublished tape recording that I have just transcribed, he asserts: The grammar and syntax of Broadcasting does not lend itself to that sort of thing". The phrase "that sort of thing" was a reference to Billy Graham. So here we have a code drafted by someone who, not being in any way hostile to religion, is apparently hostile to religious broadcasting.

There then follow questions and answers about the codes. Q. I wonder how you got them out so quickly. A. I wrote them. Then, in a later comment: I started my new job in September". So they must have been written before they ever came to your Lordships' House. Asked why, he stated: There was nobody else to do it. There was nobody else with the requisite experience of legislation". One wonders what experience of legislation he may have had. Q. Watching the legislation you sat down and wrote the code. Was it modified? His answer was in the affirmative. Q. But its fundamentals are your code? A. Yes, its fundamentals are the one I drafted. So the fundamentals of this code were drafted in June 1990 —in the summer of 1990—by someone who left the employment of the IBA in September and was giving this interview in March of the following year. Is it any wonder that on finding this out a syndrome of mistrust arises?

Later on the tape he spoke of challenging the IBA for its implementation, if you please, of the spirit of the Act in its own code and he appeared disappointed when the IBA took legal advice as to whether its implementation was in conformity with the spirit of the Act. This disappointed him. I have also checked with the tape the comment of the ITC religious broadcasting officer quoted by my noble friend Lord Annan.

So we have a situation in which those basically hostile to religious broadcasting as such have drafted a code to make life as difficult as possible for those who wish to promote it, a code very far from expressing the views of this House or another place.

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool

My Lords, I apologise for rising to speak again, but no one else is here to speak for people who in my view are being denigrated in a disgraceful way. The noble Earl has said that those officers are opposed to religious broadcasting. Their whole life work is to promote religious broadcasting and they do it with great sensitivity. I remind your Lordships' House that the committee which I chair—noble Lords may see that its published membership is from all the major Churches in the four countries and from other religious bodies —passed a unanimous vote of confidence in their integrity. The committee has had a lot of time to debate and consider all the matters which your Lordships are asserting.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, the committee would pass comment on the integrity of a colleague. One always would if challenged.

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool

My Lords, that is passing comment on a colleague. I am not a colleague. I am an independent member of a Church, as is every other member of CRAC. None of us is paid; none of us is an employee of the BBC or the ITC. We are members of an objective body who have had plenty of time to take the most careful look at these matters. On the basis of a full and thorough investigation—we have heard all the things that have been asserted today —we passed a unanimous vote of confidence in their integrity.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, I regret to say it to the right reverend Prelate, but CRAC is another body which is subject to mistrust.

The ITC has asserted that the code in its final form results from widespread consultation. This is not accepted by those whose attitudes object to it most and who feel less than consulted. The National Council for Christian Standards in Society, of which I have the honour to be president, does not feel that it has been consulted. There has been selective consultation, or, if you like, bogus consultation. Write round and ask for everyone's views, acknowledge their reply, tick off their name as having been consulted on the consultation list—and lo! and behold they have been consulted.

What is to be done? First, the Government must recognise that this syndrome of distrust exists. It is no use trying to talk it away. It is there. Secondly, the ITC must recognise it and come under pressure from the Ministry, as has been recommended, to put it right before 1st January. As I told its chairman, only the ITC can do it, and only the Government can kick the ITC into doing it following the representations in your Lordships' House.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, first, I should say that I shall not detain your Lordships for very long on this subject and, secondly, I should apologise that my noble friend Lord Thomson of Monifieth is not speaking in my place as he planned to do. Unfortunately, he was called away on an unavoidable engagement.

I must confess, as one who is not as expert in these matters as almost all the other noble Lords who spoke on the subject are, that I feel strong sympathy with the right reverend Prelate who has alone expressed the view in the exceedingly unbalanced debate that we have had today—in which the large majority of those who participated come from one particular branch of the Christian faith and have expressed one particular view. I find it especially unattractive when people focus their attack on officials—officials who cannot speak for themselves, officials whose job is not to pervert the course of justice or destroy religious broadcasting, which is their livelihood if nothing else.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, I attacked offices, not officers.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, I stand corrected. Their job is first to carry out and interpret the wish of Parliament as expressed in legislation; and secondly, to carry out the instructions of boards of governors and advisory bodies which they serve. It is unwarranted to treat them as though they were the source of our problems in this matter. If there is a problem in dealing with religious broadcasting—it appears to be a specific one the responsibility must fall on boards of governors and senior officers in broadcasting bodies.

I have listened with great interest to what has been said. I take up the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, that the Broadcasting Act 1990 was a bid to change the broadcasting system in this country. It has done so and I believe that it will do so for the worse. But that is another matter. It has also changed the nature of religious broadcasting because it has changed the position of the ITC vis-à-vis broadcasters in a way which is fundamental and leads to the necessity of drawing up elaborate codes of practice as guidance to broadcasters who will be fined or punished if they disobey the spirit of the Act.

What has not been emphasised in the course of the debate is the fact that very shortly in this country we shall have broadcasting by satellite and cable on a large scale. The noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, with anticipation and pleasure, never ceases to remind us of the fact that the whole of this country will be "Murdochised". But when that happens we shall have religious broadcasting of precisely the kind that the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, and others who have spoken appear to look forward to. We shall have religious broadcasting which is allowed to recruit. We shall have religious broadcasting which is allowed to appeal for funds. I only hope that it will not imitate, as I suspect it may, the American type of TV evangelism the so-called electronic church.

Perhaps I may describe to the House what it is like or what it is thought to be like by one who has read the book Hidden Agendas and found it a somewhat suspect volume. The reviewer of the Catholic Herald writes: The writers are unduly scathing in their criticism of British religious programme makers, but do not apply their critical faculties with the same rigour to the American-style 'evangelists', and the so-called electronic Church they would advocate for Britain … They have failed to appreciate that the ethos of the electronic Church as developed in America is a distorted vision of the Christian faith, individualistic, cosy, comforting and unchallenging". I hope we avoid that fate. But on the day when we are bombarded from satellite and cable and elsewhere with religious messages in that style, I suspect that we may look back with nostalgia and, perhaps, some gratitude to the era of self-restraint when religious broadcasting was conducted by the IBA and the BBC.

As many speakers have said, there is a central problem in the IBA code of practice. It is a verbal problem. It is the problem of how one distinguishes between proclaiming and recruiting. I think it should be admitted that it is a fudge. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Annan, was right to ask what it is intended to do. It is intended to keep the Moonies off. That is an act of censorship and we must face that fact. But that is what Parliament suggested. Parliament cannot avoid responsibility: it willed the end and now it cannot deny the means. I do not think that it is particularly respectable and I have no solution to the problem. Nevertheless, I do not look forward to the day when the contrary takes place.

Those who have objected have not suggested anything very concrete as to what we should do. No one in this evening's debate has solved the verbal conundrum. They have said that the Government must do something about it. In point of fact, the people who are doing something about it are those who are in charge of broadcasting and those, like the right reverend Prelate, who deal with CRAC. The only suggestion I have heard as to how the matter should be dealt with is that the Government should say what must be done.

If there is one rule that I learnt in my experience as vice-chairman of the BBC it is that whenever the Government tell broadcasters to do something they get themselves into trouble and the advice is nearly always wrong. The noble Lord, Lord Annan, referred to the fiasco of "Real Lives". The only people he did not blame who should have been blamed in addition to the Director-General and the Home Secretary were the governors of the BBC for taking any notice of what the Government said. They should have said "Yes, we take your message; we will look at it". They should then have said, as they did after a fortnight's delay, "We will broadcast the programme". It was just a rather boring programme in point of fact. It did no harm, except to politicians, the Director-General and to the reputation of the governors of the BBC.

In the same connection, as regards the present issue, the last thing I would advocate is that the Government should ring up broadcasting authorities and tell them what to do about religious broadcasting. That would make me believe even more firmly than I do today in the necessity for separating Church from state. If there is one thing that governments in this country should not talk about, or try to organise, it is religion. I therefore believe that our present situation is infinitely preferable to one in which the Government intervened and told the broadcasting authorities what to do about—of all the things in the world—religious broadcasting.

Lord Annan

My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will clarify a point before he sits down. Does he agree that it is perfectly all right for the Government to say, "We have heard this debate and are alarmed that something which has been allowed in the past may be in danger of being prohibited in the future"?

Lord Renton

My Lords, that is the whole point.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, I have not gained the impression that that will be the effect of the code. Of course, I may be wrong and such fears may be justified. However, I am prepared to take a big bet that the poor officials concerned will have enough sense to see that the code is interpreted sensibly.

7.24 p.m.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, we are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Renton for initiating tonight's debate on a subject which is clearly of considerable concern to your Lordships. I know that there were lengthy and thought-provoking debates on religious broadcasting when the Broadcasting Bill passed through the House. Of course, your Lordships have an advantage of me, as I did not take part in the proceedings on that legislation. There remains a feeling of unease among some noble Lords that the intentions of Parliament on religious broadcasting will not be achieved in practice; and that, in some way, the development of responsible religious broadcasting will be inhibited.

I hope to assure your Lordships this evening that that will not be the position. I therefore welcome the opportunity to restate the Government's intentions and commitment to the development of religious broadcasting and to explain the roles and responsibili-ties of the Independent Television Commission and the Radio Authority in licensing and regulating religious programming and advertising.

We are all mindful of the powerful influence that television can have on the hearts and minds of its audiences, particularly, perhaps, on those who look to television for companionship and support. We therefore need to balance carefully the desire to allow greater freedom in religious broadcasting against the need to safeguard viewers' susceptibilities. We need also to give due consideration to the diversity of people living in this country. We have always applied the concept of religious broadcasting in a way which reflects the range of religious views in the United Kingdom. We intend to maintain that concept while giving proper weight to the traditions of Christian belief in our society.

Perhaps I may remind your Lordships of what we want to achieve. With the Broadcasting Act 1990, we set out to introduce a number of measures to liberalise the regulation of broadcasting. Moreover, the regulation would be achieved in a different way; namely, through licences and codes, rather than through previewing programmes or approving schedules. That type of regulation is no longer sensible when the number and choice of broadcasting services has increased so rapidly and will continue to do so in the future.

Under earlier legislation, the IBA had to give prior approval for the broadcast of any religious service or propaganda relating to matters of a religious nature. Under the 1990 Act, licensees will no longer be required to obtain approval from the ITC. The automatic ban on religious advertising has been removed. Religious groups will be allowed to own radio stations and some have already taken advantage of the new regime to operate stations. That never happened under the 1981 Act, when the expectation was that the IBA would not allow it. Most importantly, the 1990 Act opened up the possibility of new channels and stations, so allowing many new outlets for religious programmes.

I know that some noble Lords were concerned that those provisions did not go far enough and were still unduly restrictive. We were willing to listen and to think again. As a result, the Broadcasting Bill was amended in two important ways. First, Channel 3 and Channel 5 licensees will be required to give a sufficient amount of time to religious programmes. That guarantees that religious programmes will continue to be shown on the main independent terrestrial services, as they will be by the BBC. Secondly, the ITC was given discretion to allow religious groups to own cable and non-domestic satellite services, if it is satisfied that that is appropriate. One licence has already been issued for a non-domestic satellite service. Other religious groups are also showing interest in operating religious services on satellite or cable television channels.

Much has been achieved. But I return to my point about the influence of television on its audience. I am sure that your Lordships would agree that safeguards are necessary to avoid abuse of broadcasting by religious cults, extremists, fanatics or people who might be described as the wrong sort of "telly evangelists". The Act therefore requires that any treatment of religious matters must be responsible and not exploitative.

We expect the ITC and the Radio Authority to spell out that requirement in their codes on programming standards. Further, as with all broadcasting licensees, religious broadcasters have to be fit and proper persons and must abide by the codes covering advertising sponsorship and appeals for donations, comply with consumer protection requirements on taste, decency, offensiveness and on not encouraging crime or disorder, and avoid editorialising on religious as well as political matters.

The Act, therefore, allows responsible religious broadcasting to develop, but with safeguards. The ITC codes on programming and advertising are one such safeguard. I know that there is concern over their content and that some noble Lords fear that they are unduly restrictive. It has been suggested that Ministers should intervene. Indeed, during the Broadcasting Bill's passage through Parliament it was suggested that the religious programme code should be made subject to parliamentary approval.

This would not be right. The Act specifically established the ITC and the Radio Authority as the public bodies responsible for licensing and regulating all commercial radio and television services. They have a statutory responsibility to publish various codes relating to the standards and content of licensed services. The purpose of these published codes is to enable them to set out detailed rules for their licensees on aspects of broadcasting which Parliament wants to be regulated. Members of the commission and authority are advised on the content of the codes by a permanent staff, including specialists in programming and advertising regulation.

Parliamentary approval of the codes or government intervention of any kind is not only unnecessary but it has potential dangers. It would undermine the authority of the ITC and the Radio Authority. Moreover, if government or parliamentary approval were needed to some aspects of the codes, why not to others? The risks of political interference are obvious. The Government therefore have no power to alter the contents of the codes. It is finally for the courts to determine whether the codes comply with the Act. Having said that, I give my noble friend Lord Renton an assurance that I shall certainly draw to the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and the ITC what has been said this evening by your Lordships, including of course the view on the code, particularly paragraph 10.7, of my noble friend Lord Brentford.

However, the ITC and the Radio Authority did not formulate and publish the codes without consultation with CRAC and also many other religious bodies. The programme and advertising codes were published in draft form after the Act came into force. The ITC and Radio Authority consulted widely on their contents. Broadcasters, religious groups and individuals were invited to comment. As a result of the consultations the programme codes were amended.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool, chairman of the Central Religious Advisory Committee, mentioned the book Hidden Agendas. It is a book written and published in support of a particular view; it marshals its arguments towards that end. I do not propose to answer the individual allegations which its authors make, but one of the themes in the book is that the Government in some way misled the House during the passage of the Bill and have not honoured undertakings that were given by them.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, if the noble Viscount will give way, I specifically dissociated myself from that point. I said that I had no feeling whatever of disingenuousness by the Government.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, what I described was not what the noble Earl said this evening. It was one of the themes in the book. I do not associate the remark with the noble Earl.

I do not believe that a thorough analysis of the record would support that conclusion. As your Lordships know, there were many meetings in the course of the passage of the Broadcasting Bill and long debates. We have carefully examined our records of what was said and done. The allegation of misleading the House is not one which we took lightly.

From this assessment we take the view that three assurances were given by my noble friend Lord Ferrers and that all three were fulfilled. They were: that the ITC would in practice implement the policy described in the amendment to the Bill proposed by the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, that religious programmes maintain the centrality of the Christian faith while still allowing opportunities for the views of other religious groups to be expressed; that the ITC draft guidelines would be subject to full and wide consultation; and that they would seek to reflect the words in the noble Earl's proposed amendment.

Paragraph 10.5 of the ITC's programme code reflects and gives effect to the assurance which my noble friend Lord Ferrers made without using the precise wording in the withdrawn amendment. It requires the ITV companies to recognise that the mainstream religious traditions in this country are mainly but not exclusively Christian.

As I have said, the ITC consulted widely about the programme code. I must tell my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing that it consulted a wide range of religious bodies. The drafts were publicly available and discussed in the press. Everyone who took an interest could have commented if they chose and it was not empty consultation.

The ITC amended the programme code to allow specialist religious channels to recruit to a faith and to permit follow-up literature to include fund-raising provided that the tone and content of the literature was responsible; and lifted the prohibition on the proclamation of faith in programmes to allow religious groups to advocate their views provided the programmes do not prey on people's fears and susceptibilities. These are not the actions of a body trying to restrict or marginalise religious broadcast-ing. It is not the act of bogus consultation.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool explained this to your Lordships, I thought, in the most useful, thoughtful and illuminating speech and his explanation of the use of the word "proclaim" as opposed to "recruit" was extremely useful for us all.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, may I raise a question? I thought that no light at all was thrown on that distinction today. How the noble Viscount, whom I respect so highly, could possibly say that it was useful to us all passes belief.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Earl did not find it interesting. I thought that the word "proclaim" was interesting. My noble friend Lord Renton asked whether St. Paul would be able to preach. The answer is of course that St. Paul could recruit on a specialist religious channel and he could also recruit if it was within an act of worship that was being broadcast. The key is that it should be within that act of worship.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has agreed to meet the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool before the end of the year to discuss the scheduling of religious programmes, the future of the BBC and some of the evangelical Christian groups' concerns. We look forward to that meeting.

My noble friend Lord Renton and the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, said that paragraphs 10.5 and 10.7 of the code are self-contradictory and inconsis-tent with Section 6(1) (d) of the 1990 Act. They said that the distinction in paragraph 10.7 of the code between "propounding", "propagating" and "pro-claiming" religious beliefs which allows recruitment and therefore is not allowed, is meaningless. It is not the Government's role to be drawn into this kind of detailed textual criticism. It is for the ITC to interpret the words of the Act and for the courts to test that interpretation if necessary. In its foreword to the code the ITC says that the code is subject to interpretation in the light of changing circumstances. No doubt the ITC will wait to see what happens in practice before considering changes.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, will the noble Viscount give way? I am afraid that all my notes are with Hansard, but I remember quite clearly raising the matter of paragraph 10.7 and the difficulties that could arise. I do not believe that I personally raised the question of Section 6 of the Act and said that it was contradictory to Section 10 of the code. However, I may be proved wrong.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the noble Baroness raised the question on the two sections and I believe that my noble friend Lord Renton and another noble Lord compared the provision with Section 6. I apologise to the noble Baroness. I was answering more than one question at a time but on the same subject.

My noble friend Lord Renton asked about religious advertising. It is not permitted on ITV or Channel 4 until 1993. It has been permitted on the radio since 1991. The dioceses of Lichfield and Oxford have run generic campaigns at Christmas and Easter on behalf of all local churches and denominations to encourage people to go to church. St. Martin-in-the-Fields recently advertised some of its services on LBC.

My noble friend Lord Renton and the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, asked me about the code for advertising. As I have said, the former IBA prohibition continues; but from 1st January 1993 advertising and sponsorship by religious bodies will be broadcast on ITV and Channel 4 subject to the requirements of the ITC code on advertising and sponsorship. I understand that the ITC is considering some revisions to the sponsorship code for the future.

The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, talked about the religious stations currently running. I believe the noble Baroness referred to the cable only Christian TV channel in Swindon called "Vision". There are Christian radio stations. There is "Radio Cracker". United Christian Broadcasters has a temporary station in Stoke and has had one in Great Malvern. Several other Christian groups have been awarded temporary restrictive licences. Some of those groups have now applied for permanent local radio licences.

The noble Baroness also asked me about fund-raising. We have no plans to amend the Act. The provisions of the Act, which were discussed at great length and with much care during its passage, have not yet fully come into effect. We must give the new framework the opportunity to be tested before turning our minds to thinking of how to change it.

The noble Lord, Lord Annan, was the chairman of the committee on the future of broadcasting which reported to the Government in 1987. He gave us his views and, as usual, he entertained your Lordships. I notice that in a personal postscript to the book Hidden Agendas the noble Lord comments on CRAC's evidence to the committee and on the book's allegation of dissension within it. However, I noted he concluded that the broadcasters alone have the right to decide on programming and the ITC exists to ensure that what is broadcast in accordance with legislation is approved by Parliament. I do not think there is an inconsistency between that view and the view of other noble Lords. The ITC must, after due consultation, draw up its code under the Act.

My noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing talked about "Spitting Image". I realise I must tread very carefully here. Perhaps this is a personal view, but I believe the Church and our Christian faith have the strength to ignore, be amused or be horrified by "Spitting Image" without considering that it damages either our faith or our Church. However, that is my personal view. Having said that, I appreciate my noble friend's concern but I must repeat that the code is the responsibility of the regulatory body and that editorial decisions are ones which broadcasters must first make for themselves.

In conclusion, the provisions of the 1990 Act will result in a liberalisation of broadcasting which will create, not restrict, opportunities. There are no new restrictions on religious broadcasting. Broadcasters are able to continue to show acts of worship and to report on religious recruitment crusades. As I am sure noble Lords will realise, television is a constantly evolving medium. People's views and standards also change, perhaps more slowly than technology and the means to express them. The ITC has said it intends to wait to see how the codes operate in practice. It would consider amending the codes if, for example, there were examples of perfectly acceptable religious programmes which could not be shown. It is open to any religious group to make its view known to the ITC on any subject at any time.

This has been a debate of the highest quality and I can assure your Lordships that the Government will keep the effect of the religious broadcasting provisions under review.