HL Deb 30 March 1994 vol 553 cc1069-71

Lord Orr-Ewing asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will initiate discussion with the TV broadcasting authorities with a view to ensuring a voluntary postponement of the nine o'clock watershed.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the nature and the timing of the watershed are among the matters which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage proposes to discuss with the chairman of the regulatory authorities for broadcasting.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that helpful reply. We debated this matter on 12th January and noble Lords on all sides of the House implored the Government to put back the nine o'clock watershed. It is unrealistic to think that little children are in bed and asleep at nine o'clock these days. Some shocking programmes are being broadcast on our terrestrial channels; for example, the programmes about the Kray brothers and the Richardson gang. Those programmes went far beyond the standards of taste and decency which are demanded of all channels by the 1990 Broadcasting Act. What can we do about the situation?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I understand my noble friend's sense of disgust and he is not alone in that. However, in a free society it is up to broadcasters to show a sense of responsibility.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the nine o'clock watershed has long been established and is well known to parents, who have a responsibility in this matter? Is the noble Minister further aware that two-thirds of homes in this country contain no children, and that grown-ups have rights too as regards viewing television?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I know that this is a matter on which noble Lords hold strong opinions. However, I stress that parents must take primary responsibility for their children's viewing and the watershed helps parents to exercise their responsibilities. I appreciate that there are many other people other than children watching television, but I still think that care must be taken as regards setting standards for broadcasting companies.

Lord Barnett

My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that the real issue here is not about the watershed? The majority of complaints received by the BBC do not concern excessive sex and violence in programmes but rather the excessive use of boring and repetitive programmes. Does not the noble Baroness agree that the big issue here is the growth of videos? I have a three year-old granddaughter who I hasten to add watches videos such as "Beauty and the Beast" rather than videos which contain sex and violence, but older children can obtain videos which most of us would deplore. As has been said, that is a matter for parental control. Is not the real problem that raising the time when the watershed starts results in a disservice to others in the community in the sense that serious news and drama programmes would have to be broadcast much later in the evening? That would constitute a serious disservice both to democracy and to culture.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I shall certainly pass on the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, to my right honourable friend.

Viscount Tenby

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the ultimate deterrent is the parental finger on the off button of the television set? Does she also agree that to move the watershed back to 10 p.m. or possibly even to 10.30 p.m. would indicate to the producers of programmes the Government's anxiety about this particular problem?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I hope I can wrap up this matter. The idea of having a watershed is not to guarantee that children never see unacceptable material or to mirror precisely the times at which children throughout the country go to bed but rather to guarantee a menu of family viewing until nine o'clock and to alert parents and guardians to the need to supervise more closely children's viewing after that time.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, is it not a matter of congratulation that 30 years after the "toddlers' truce" the nine o'clock watershed should be so widely accepted? Would it not be totally counter-productive to change it, because if children are not disciplined to go to bed by nine o'clock or are otherwise prevented from watching television at nine o'clock, there is little chance that that will be any different at ten o'clock?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I repeat that it is a matter for parents.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is not the noble Baroness aware that if the watershed were moved back much later than nine o'clock it would gravely disadvantage those of us who are approaching our second childhood?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I do not know what to say to that except that the noble Lord does not look as if he is in his second childhood and I would hesitate to hazard a guess at his age.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that my noble friend's Question merely suggests that discussions should take place? In the light of all that is happening today in relation to young people in this country such discussions would show that the Government are aware of the problems. What harm can come from emphasising the importance of looking into the matter when good may result from it?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State wants to make sure that all is being done that can be done and that the regulators have the means to carry out their roles effectively. That is why he has instigated conversations in the near future.

Baroness Wharton

My Lords, is the Minister aware that many productions are not necessarily seen by those in charge? Surely that is a good reason for moving the watershed to a later time rather than leaving companies to regulate themselves.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, as I said before, this is a matter for the broadcasters.

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, most noble Lords would sympathise with anything that can be done to reduce gratuitous violence on television. However, does the Minister agree that the main problems lie, as my noble friend Lord Barnett said, in video and computer software? Does she also agree that even in relation to television it is not our terrestrial television services which present a problem—they are strongly regulated, although mistakes are made—but the satellite television channels; Sky television, and Sky movies in particular? Since those are the expanding areas and the four or five terrestrial channels will contract, do the Government have any views on how in the future we can regulate the portrayal of violence in growing areas of unregulated media communications?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the ITC's programme code, which includes provisions on violent programmes and taste and decency, applies equally to satellite television services licensed by the ITC. As regards the second part of the noble Lord's question, that would be a matter for the ITC in the first instance. The ITC has asked BSkyB—and BSkyB has agreed—to look carefully at its evening scheduling on its film channels.

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