HL Deb 19 January 1993 vol 541 cc814-6

3.2 p.m.

Lord Orr-Ewing asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether all the members of the BBC Board of Governors were fully consulted about the recent appointment of two senior executives of the corporation.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, senior executive appointments are matters for the BBC.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, did the four governors present, out of a total of 12, ask Liz Forgan, who as programme controller of Channel 4 never hid the fact that she rejected the impartiality needs and even the codes of conduct ordained by the ITC, whether henceforward she would in her new appointment accept the rules laid down in the 1981 and 1990 Acts and also in the BBC Codes of Conduct?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, that is a question that really ought to he addressed to the chairman of the BBC and not to the Government. I understand that all appointments to the management board are approved by the board of governors of the BBC.

Lord Barnett

My Lords, I declare an interest as vice-chairman of the BBC, and I welcome the Minister's reply. Does he agree that it would be utterly ridiculous to have all 12 governors interviewing for appointments to senior executive positions? It has normally been the position in the BBC—and this was followed in this case—that the four governors concerned (including myself) are deputed by the board as a whole to do the interview. They did so in this case and made a formal recommendation to the full board, who endorsed it wholeheartedly.

May I also ask the noble Viscount whether he would condemn some of the more extravagant personal attacks on Liz Forgan which are utterly to be deplored? She was appointed because she is, as is recognised throughout the broadcasting industry, a first-class professional broadcaster. I hope that the noble Viscount will join me in condemning these attacks, particularly on the matter of impartiality, especially when they come from sources which, to put it mildly, are far from impartial themselves.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I am sure that all your Lordships are grateful for the clear way that the noble Lord has explained the procedures that the BBC went through and that his explanation will help my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing in understanding how the appointment was made. Of course these appointments are a matter for the BBC. They are not a matter for the Government.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn

My Lords, while there may be dissatisfaction at times at individual programmes, would my noble friend agree that there is a great deal to be said for the view that the less Parliament interferes with the BBC the better? Does he also agree that it would be an unfortunate precedent if a member of the board of governors of the BBC were expected to be answerable in matters of appointment before this House? It would be a precedent which I personally would greatly deplore.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, was being helpful to your Lordships and not, as it were, formally answering for the BBC. My noble friend knows that we have published a Green Paper on the BBC which contains a number of possible options for the future. We look forward to receiving in due course all the comments from the viewers and the people involved in broadcasting on the future of the BBC.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that during the period that I was chairman of the IBA the two individuals concerned were highly regarded for their professionalism and integrity as broadcasters? The BBC is lucky to have persuaded them to join the corporation. Is it not time to end this witch-hunting?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, many people who have been trained and have worked in the BBC now work in commercial broadcasting; it is also important that people from the world of commercial broadcasting are able to join the BBC. We welcome these exchanges between both sectors of the broadcasting world.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether it is in the interests of this House to refer to a legitimate Question on a matter such as this as being an attack on somebody? Can we not as Members of this House probe such matters for fear that somebody may feel that they are being attacked? Could my noble friend put that right?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, in a debate in this House on 2nd December various noble Lords were somewhat critical of Miss Forgan. The only thing that has happened so far as I can see is that it has been a dramatic boost to her career. Therefore, I would welcome criticisms that any noble Lord might make about myself.

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, bearing in mind what has been made clear in the House this afternoon, that the proper appointment procedures were followed and that the two appointees are among the most experienced and distinguished in British broadcasting, would the Minister agree that this personal attack—the word "witch-hunting" has been used—is unworthy of this House and should stop? Would the Minister congratulate the BBC on continuing to attract the best people to the best broadcasting service in the world?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I am delighted to say that we have confidence in the BBC, its chairman and its board of governors to fulfil their responsibilities.

Baroness Elles

My Lords, would my noble friend agree—

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, we have been over 30 minutes and I think that we ought to move on.