§ 8.31 p.m.
§ Proceedings after Third Reading resumed on Clause 101.
Lord Thomson of Monifieth moved Amendment No. 36:
Page 80, line 37, leave out from ("programme") to end of line 38 and insert ("does not include an advertisement but includes a teletext transmission (apart from any advertisement on such a transmission) and, in relation to a service, includes any item included in that service, except an advertisement;").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, your Lordships will notice that the amendment is accompanied by a star. It is in fact the only amendment on the Marshalled List that is accompanied by a star. The star indicates that it was tabled only yesterday. I apologise to the Minister and to the House that there has not been adequate notice but I was given notice of the matter only a few days ago. I thought it worth while to try to get some clarity on the issue the amendment raises. At this stage of our proceedings it should not take long.
§ The amendment deals with what I regard as an oddity of the 1990 Act. The Act included for the first time in the remit of what was then the newly-established Broadcasting Standards Council in terms of its statutory position advertisements as well as television programmes. The simple issue I am raising is that there are differences between television advertisements and television programmes and that they need to be dealt with in quite different ways.1244
§ Television advertisements are tightly regulated quite separately from the Broadcasting Standards Council. They are much more tightly regulated than programmes. Television advertisements are subject to a pre-vetting arrangement. They cannot go out on the screen unless they have first been approved by the machinery set up by the ITC and the Radio Authority, which both have statutory codes covering advertisement content. Both those bodies have substantial powers of sanction which the Broadcasting Standards Council does not have. They have the right to prevent an advertisement going out; they have the right to stop an advertisement continuing to go out once a complaint has been established; and their ultimate sanction is of much greater severity for those who hold broadcasting licences.
§ Against that background it seems totally anomalous and undesirable that the Broadcasting Standards Council, which does a relevant job in terms of programme standards in relation to violence, good taste and so on, should have its remit extended to include advertisements. That will produce a good deal of confusion. There have been recent cases where the Broadcasting Standards Council has dealt with a complaint about an advertisement in a way that was totally at odds with what I would call the more serious and substantial regulatory authorities which I have just described.
§ The way the Broadcasting Standards Council has been dealing with advertisement complaints is in some ways not a matter relating to advertising standards as such but to problems of political correctness. That is an odd thing coming as a form of regulation from this deregulatory government which the Minister quite often recommends to us. I shall not bore him with the details—he has perhaps had details of it—but the Automobile Association recently got into trouble for what was called a sexist advertisement because of the way the woman in an advertisement was portrayed. There are other issues of similar political correctness which seem to excite the Broadcasting Standards Council greatly. I think it is an inappropriate way to deal with this matter.
§ I am bound to say that if the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, were here, as a new and effective chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, and it was suggested to him that he was to have responsibility for the standard of advertisements as well as the standard of what goes into the press, he would think it a very curious concept indeed. It is such an odd concept that I hope the Government will consider whether they might use this Broadcasting Bill to remove it from the otherwise worthy work of the Broadcasting Standards Council. I beg to move.
§ Lord Inglewood
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for the way in which he has explained the amendment and I am pleased to provide some clarification. Even if it does not satisfy him I hope that it will explain the Government's position. We believe that it is natural and reasonable that the BSC considers advertisements as an aspect of broadcasting just as capable of causing offence as programmes and that it should therefore he able to entertain complaints on 1245 advertising, while it is equally appropriate that the commission's other functions—its code drawing, research and monitoring—should extend to advertising.
In 1994–95 the Broadcasting Standards Council received a total of 331 complaints which referred to specific advertisements as opposed to 225 in the previous year. In the context of what appears to be growing public concern at the content of television and radio advertising, we believe that it is right that there should be an independent body to which the public may complain about advertising standards just as they may about television and radio programmes. That is why we cannot support the proposed amendment.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
My Lords, I am conscious that the amendment was tabled only yesterday. With the greatest respect to the Minister, perhaps I may say that he is reading the standard brief that is somewhere in the files of the Department of National Heritage. I hope that when the matter is considered a little more thoroughly the Government may feel that the arguments I have put forward may have some substance.
Advertising control in particular is very rigorous. I speak with some personal authority in the matter because I was chairman of the Independent Broadcasting Authority in the days when it was in control of television advertising and I was previously chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority. These are important matters. I am totally in favour of a rigorous control of advertising standards, but they are well and properly controlled in a logical and consistent manner with proper sanctions. In this case the Broadcasting Standards Council is a fifth wheel to the coach. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde moved Amendment No. 37:
After Clause 102, insert the following new clause—
TRANSFER SCHEMES: BBC UNDERTAKINGS
(" . Where, in consequence of any transfer made in accordance with a transfer scheme, all the property, rights and liabilities comprised in a particular part of the BBC's undertaking are transferred to a relevant transferee—
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 38. Both relate to the BBC's transmission services. This is a new amendment but it is not the first time that this issue has been referred to in the course of proceedings on the Bill. It was referred to at Second Reading and at the very end of Report stage, late one evening, we discussed it briefly as well.
§ Under the Broadcasting Act 1990 IBA transmission services were privatised. At that time there were discussions about whether the BBC transmission 1246 services should also be privatised. It did not happen in the event but I am told that an indication was given that when the BBC Charter came up for review it would he looked at then.
§ In 1993 an independent report was commissioned from Coopers & Lybrand about the privatisation of BBC transmission services. The result of that review was that, first, privatisation would not really reduce costs and, secondly, it would not increase competition either. We agree with that view and would prefer to see the BBC transmission services remain within the control of the BBC, even if they were with a wholly separate company to the BBC structure itself.
§ These two amendments take on board the fact that there has been no indication that the Government wish to change their view that the BBC transmission services be privatised. First, in the event that they are, when this Bill has completed its passage through another place, we seek through these amendments to ensure that the approximately 750 employees of the BBC transmission services are treated in no less favourable a way than the IBA employees when its transmission services were privatised.
§ As regards the application of TUPE—here I must declare very strong reservations about its effect and what protection it gives to employees—at the time of the 1990 Act, it had not been established and accepted as it is today. We feel that because we do not know to whom these services will be sold off, this clause needs to be on the face of the Bill.
§ The second aspect of the amendments deals with the BBC staff pension scheme. It is a contributory scheme. I gather that employees pay 4.5 per cent. It is a defined benefit scheme with a proper trustee structure not only under the Pensions Act, but before that when there were employee representatives on the scheme. As we know from experience in the past few years, pensions are an absolutely crucial part of overall income.
§ Equally, one has to bear in mind that a number of employees work in far-flung places throughout the world—places with wonderful-sounding names such as the Ascension Island. I believe that there are also postings to Antigua. There are quite a number of exotic-sounding places. The problem is that the employees are out there and the employment contracts are based in the United Kingdom together with the pension rights. We believe it absolutely necessary for BBC employees, under the Bill, which will eventually become an Act, to have exactly the same kind of provision that exists in the 1990 Act for IBA employees.
§ I am told that when the 1990 Act saw its passage through this House the view of the employees of the IBA transmission services was, not to put too fine a point on it, that "the Lords did a good job for us". BBC employees are seeking the same kind of attention and concern, and hope that this House does a good job for them too. I beg to move.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Lord Inglewood
My Lords, the noble Baroness has raised important matters concerning the rights of the staff of the BBC's transmission services which need to 1247 be considered in the context of the transfer of those services to another body. BBC transmission staff have built up a successful and efficient organisation and one of the BBC's priorities in handling the sale will be to ensure that the interests of staff are properly reflected in the arrangements made.
Like Schedule 5 to the Bill as introduced, the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness are drawn from Schedule 9 to the 1990 Broadcasting Act which set out the scheme providing for the division of assets of the IBA including the transfer of its transmission services. That relating to the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981, known as TUPE, is based on paragraph 4(4) and that concerning pensions on paragraph 9 of Schedule 9.
We believe that the amendment applying TUPE provisions is unnecessary. At the time of the 1990 Act it was unclear whether a transfer of this nature was the transfer of a commercial undertaking and so the provision was taken for the avoidance of doubt. It is now clear that TUPE will apply to the transfer contemplated by the Bill and there is therefore no need for the provision.
The position in relation to pensions is more complex. The provisions in the 1990 Act were required because the whole of the IBA's business was to be divided between the ITC, the Radio Authority and the transmission business. The last formed a significant part of the IBA's work. But transmission is a small part of the BBC's overall activities and involves about 750 out of a total of some 22,000 staff. The BBC pension scheme will continue in existence and those staff transferring to the new transmission business will have the same options as other BBC employees moving employment; that is, to leave their accrued benefits in the BBC scheme where they will be guaranteed to increase each year in line with the retail price index up to 10 per cent., or to take a transfer value payment (TVP) to their new employer's scheme, or to take a TVP to a personal pension arrangement.
I understand that the BBC will be offering independent financial advice to all those affected and that the TVP will be a full and fair valuation of the employees' pension rights built up during their period of employment with the BBC.
I also understand that the BBC believes that the provisions of the Broadcasting Bill, as currently drafted, are sufficiently wide for the transfer scheme to include the transfer of pension commitments. But I recognise that this is a matter of critical concern to the staff of BBC transmission and the Government therefore agree to consider the issue further so that we can reach a definitive and satisfactory agreement with the BBC as to the position on pensions. If necessary, the Government will bring forward an amendment for the avoidance of doubt along the lines of what is provided for the BSC at paragraph 4 of Schedule 4 to the Bill. I hope that that gives the noble Baroness reassurance as to the position as regards the two amendments.
§ Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde
My Lords, that was a very detailed reply to an amendment tabled only a short while ago, so I am particularly appreciative of its content and look forward to the result of the considerations that the Minister kindly indicated the Government will apply.
Perhaps I may make one or two points. Although the IBA transmission services were privatised, the fact is that on the sites one finds former IBA staff as part of a company, which I believe is called NTL, and BBC staff working side by side. The IBA services were privatised and, I believe, purchased at something like £70 million; today, they are worth about £300 million. Given that background, their pension scheme, which is still a defined benefits scheme, has obviously been very successful. It has been honoured by the new company and works very well.
The understandable concern of BBC staff is that if the company is privatised to an unknown company, it may not end up as a defined benefits pension scheme but as a money purchase scheme, which would be inferior to the one that exists for the employees. I have heard figures of £100 million rising to £200 million as the possible value of the BBC transmission services. As regards TUPE I received the answer I expected, but it is nice to have it on the record. All that said, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 38 not moved.] Clause 106 [General Interpretation]:
Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 39:
Page 82, line 27, after ("III") insert (", IVA").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 40:
Page 88, leave out line 31.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 41 to 45. Those of your Lordships who were present at the time will recall that in Committee we discussed Amendments Nos. 153 and 154, tabled by my noble friend Lord Chelmsford, as a result of concerns expressed by the cable industry about the attribution of audience time against the 15 per cent. television audience share limit proposed in the Bill. It has not been our intention that programme services provided for local delivery service by another channel which holds a UK licence should count towards the cable services' share. We originally felt that the proposed amendments were unnecessary and this intention was reflected in the Bill as drafted. It is on that basis that the Government resisted my noble friend's amendments in Committee. However, once we had had the opportunity to consider with our legal advisers further representations from my noble friend, we concluded that the Bill was after all 1249 defective in that respect. I am sorry that we got it wrong, and must apologise for any confusion caused by my earlier response.
§ The amendments, taken together, will ensure that those services which are simply relayed by the cable operator are attributed not to the local delivery service provider but to the holder of the licence to provide the programme service in question. Audience share will be attributed, as intended, to the person having editorial control over the programme, regardless of the means of delivery.
§ I hope that the amendments will address satisfactorily the concerns raised by my noble friend. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Lord Inglewood moved Amendments Nos. 41 to 45:
Page 89, line 7, leave out (", (0").
Page 89, line 16, leave out from ("provides") to ("may") in line 20 and insert ("one or more satellite television services to which this sub-paragraph applies").
Page 89, line 23, leave out ("service") and insert ("services").
Page 89, line 26, at end insert—
("(3A) Sub-paragraph (3) applies to any satellite television service (other than a non-domestic satellite service) which is provided on a non-allocated frequency and either—
Page 89, line 27, leave out ("sub-paragraph (3)") and insert ("sub-paragraphs (3) and (3A)").
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
Lord Donoughue moved Amendment No. 46:
Page 99, line 16, leave out ("20") and insert ("25").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, we have visited this before. We are considering the question of the arbitrary decision to exclude the Mirror Group, basically, from the benefits of the new broadcasting world. The Minister has replied on this point previously, but perhaps I may raise one particular point now. I mentioned at an earlier stage that there was a legal question about the position with regard to the Government's policy before possible European Court action. Has the Minister had the time and opportunity to consider that? Can he give us a view on it? I beg to move.
§ Lord Inglewood
My Lords, in responding, the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, raised one point so I shall confine my remarks to that particular point. The noble Lord has once again suggested that the Mirror Group may have a case under the European Convention on Human Rights that our policy is in breach of the convention. I can confirm that, having taken legal advice on the application of Articles 10 and 14 of the convention, we are confident that our policy is within the terms and spirit of the convention, and for that reason we do not feel that this part of the noble Lord's arguments takes our debate any further forward.
§ Lord Donoughue
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. It is now on the record and will presumably need to be tested and considered in another place. Given that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
1250 Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 47 not moved.]
Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 48:
Page 102, line 54, at end insert—
("( ) For the purposes of this paragraph, a person shall be treated as holding a licence if the licence is held by a person connected with him and shall be treated as providing a service if the service is provided by a person who is connected with him in relation to the licence under which the service is provided.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a minor technical amendment which will prevent possible avoidance of the provisions in Paragraph 8 of Part IV to Schedule 2. That paragraph provides that: a person who runs a local newspaper with 20 per cent. or more of the local market may not control local radio or digital sound programme service licensees whose services account for more than 50 per cent. of the radio points attributable to the relevant area. It also sets a corresponding restriction preventing local radio or digital sound programme service licensees whose services account for more than 50 per cent. of the radio points from controlling a corporate body which runs a local newspaper with 20 per cent. or more of the market in the relevant area.
§ The amendment will ensure that, in calculating the percentage of radio points attributable to a particular local radio licence holder, proper account is taken of the points attributable to services provided by others with whom the licence holder has a close business or personal relationship. Such "connected persons" are defined in Paragraph 3 of Part I of Schedule 2 to the 1990 Act. With your Lordships' permission, unless pressed to do so, I shall not weary the House by repeating the definition here. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Schedule 8 [Repeals]:
Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No, 49:
Page 124, line 7, column 3, at end insert—
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ In the Title:
Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 50:
Line 4, after ("1990,") insert ("to make provision about rights to televise sporting or other events of national interest,").
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ An amendment (privilege) made.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Lord Inglewood
My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.
Moved, That the Bill do now pass—(Lord Inglewood.)
§ Lord Crickhowell
My Lords, I rise to make three points. First, I express my appreciation for the way in which my noble friend the Minister has handled the Bill. He has deservedly won widespread praise for the way in which he has listened and responded to points made in the House. We are extremely grateful to him for that.
1251 I understand that because of the pressures on officials and parliamentary draftsmen of producing the 2,500 words of the first set of amendments moved today, my noble friend has not been able to bring forward in this House amendments which he had hoped to table on the regional issues which have been extensively debated. I assume that he will tell the House that they will be tabled in another place. Again, I should like to thank my noble friend for the attention that he has given to that important issue. The clause as originally drafted was certainly helpful and it has been improved during the Bill's passage through this House. I believe that one of the great strengths of ITV has been its regional broadcasting. It is extremely important that so much has been done to safeguard that for the future.
I should like to refer to just one other subject. Again, it arises from an amendment which was promised and which will no doubt appear in another place. I was not able to be present on 7th March for our second day of Report stage when there was a curious love-in between all parts of the House in favour of monopoly, and particularly in favour of that monopoly represented by ITN. ITN has provided an admirable news service of which we can be proud. It has also provided good competition for the BBC. However, I am bound to say that the experience of some who have to pay the bills is that it has been quite extraordinarily expensive. It has not had any competitive pressures to bring down its prices, particularly because it is well understood that whatever warehousing arrangements there may be, Carlton and Granada control the company and it is desirable that they should be customers and not just suppliers.
We were told by my noble friend the Minister who responded to the debate that the Government had considered carefully the issue of having a monopoly and had concluded that they could respond to the particular situation by allowing ITN to bring forward other alternative suppliers which the industry could then select. However, that process will happen only once every 10 years. That is a pretty odd form of competition. It was suggested that at least all of the ITN companies are needed to sustain a successful news service. I do not find that a convincing argument.
During the debate there was great praise from a number of noble Lords about the quality of the news service provided by Sky Television. It is a myth to suggest that one must have all 15 of the present ITV customers in order to sustain the service. One of the things we should see is the costs fairly spread, in particular to Channel 4 which will be in a strong financial position after the changes that we debated extensively. At present it pays only prices which reflect marginal costs.
It is an odd arrangement under which the companies which pay the bills have no control over prices. I must say that some of those prices have been excessive and I am surprised that suddenly there appears to be such universal support in this House, in particular from the Government, for monopoly. I hope that the issue will be looked at again in another place and that it will be properly debated, because I fear that it was not in this 1252 House. Having made that one set of critical remarks, I am pleased to support the Bill and I thank my noble friend the Minister for the way in which he has presented it to the House.
§ 9 p.m.
§ Lord Chalfont
My Lords, tomorrow is the day of the vernal equinox but the real sign that night has fallen is the fact that the Broadcasting Bill is before your Lordships' House. There is something intriguing about the fact that every stage of the Bill has ended late at night before a dwindling band of what I can only call "broadcasting groupies".
With the support of numerous colleagues, I had intended to table on Third Reading certain amendments seeking to achieve the purpose of those which were withdrawn after government objection during the Committee and Report stages. The purpose of those amendments was to bring the BBC under the complaints procedures of the new Broadcasting Complaints Commission, specifically in relation to issues concerning impartiality and objectivity. In the event, I and my colleagues decided not to do so.
During the progress of the Bill it became increasingly clear that the Government, supported and not to say actively lobbied by the BBC and in consultation with the BSC and BCC, were determined not to accept the amendment nor to make any concessions on the issue. Their principle argument of substance was that the BBC Governors should be given the chance to implement effectively the new agreement that accompanied the Charter which passed through this House on a take-note Motion on 9th January. In support of that proposition they point to certain measures already embarked upon by the BBC.
It is said that the corporation has established a programme complaints unit to investigate and rule on serious complaints. There is a strong case to be made on the idea that any complaints unit of that kind should be an independent body not staffed by BBC officials. However, the Charter and Agreement make no provision for that. We are told that the BBC is also drawing up a new impartiality and accuracy code under the new Agreement, which incidentally incorporates the section in the Broadcasting Act 1990 on impartiality.
Like other Members of your Lordships' House, I received a letter in my morning mail today from Mr. Marmaduke Hussey, Chairman of the BBC, for whom I have the greatest affection, admiration and respect. He set out how the system is intended to work. It is clear, and one must accept, that the Governors of the BBC have acted and intend to act in good faith and in the public interest. However, as I have said on numerous occasions in this House and elsewhere, that is not the point. The problem is not the drafting of codes and guidelines, which is not a difficult matter because anyone can do it. I did it for the Radio Authority, and it has been done for the Independent Television Commission and even for the BBC. The point is the enforcement of those codes and guidelines. Unlike the commercial sector, the BBC has no independent regulator. The complaints process is entirely under BBC control.
1253 The complaints process runs as follows. The corporation establishes its own codes and guidelines. If they are ignored, as they frequently are, someone may complain. BBC officials are then asked to advise on the complaint. On that advice the Governors of the BBC make their judgment. There is of course a right of appeal open to the complainant, but your Lordships will not be surprised to know that that right of appeal is to the Governors of the BBC. We understand that there is ultimately the possibility of judicial review. It may well be that in future some person or organisation will have recourse to that in law. It is an unsatisfactory situation and we are stuck with it for the next 10 years. To use the more formal and resonant language of the BBC Charter:It shall continue in force until the 31st day of December 2006".The amendments in my name and those of my colleagues were withdrawn at earlier stages of the Bill in the hope that the Government would at least accept the force of the argument and offer some solution or compromise to deal with the problem. That has not happened. Their resistance to any substantial change in this context has been absolute and it does not appear to me to be based on any convincing argument of principle or of practice. Indeed, it seems to be based on the well-known rubric, "My mind is made up. Kindly do not confuse me with the facts".
The Minister was rightly congratulated on the flexibility which he displayed in listening to the arguments on the subject of televised sporting events, coming back to your Lordships' House with a government amendment designed to resolve the problem. I only wish that I were in a position to congratulate him on showing a similar flexibility with regard to independent regulation on matters of political objectivity and impartiality. I hope that I do not offend the House by saying that some of us regard that issue as marginally more important than sporting events.
This Bill will now go to another place where I hope that the issue reflected in my amendments will be subject to further debate and perhaps even to a change of approach by the Government. In the meantime, I hope that the Government will monitor carefully the implementation of the BBC's new Charter and Agreement.
Finally, I must state my view that the case for bringing the BBC out of the archaic concept of the Royal Charter into the real world of statutory regulation is as strong now as it has even been. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, said on more than one occasion, we must understand that that is a closed chapter. I find that difficult to accept.
My colleagues and I—and there are many of us who have not yet spoken—would be reassured, as I said before, if the Government would only agree that there is a real problem. I realise that the Government and their advisers, the officials in the department, may have thought that our amendments would have some unfortunate side effects of a commercial, financial and administrative nature in seeking to achieve their purpose. They may even have thought that our amendments were not the best way in which to achieve that purpose. But if they would only concede the validity 1254 of the purpose and the principle that it is right and proper to bring the BBC, like every other British broadcasting organisation, under independent regulation, it should not be impossible to devise a solution which would be acceptable to all concerned. I hope that we shall not have to wait until—in the words of the Charter—the 31st day of December, 2006.
§ Lord McNally
My Lords, I was introduced in this House on 9th January. Therefore, this Bill was my maiden Bill. It has been a great experience to follow it through all its stages, not least because I have had the opportunity to act as spear carrier during that time to my noble friend Lord Thomson. I have intervened slightly improperly ahead of him to say that although it is right to congratulate the Minister on his stamina and skill, my admiration for him is matched by my admiration for my noble friend, who has carried out a tour de force in his assiduousness during our considerations of the Bill. I can understand why many in broadcasting still look to him for advice and help.
It has been an interesting Bill. I have been worried occasionally by the way in which the BSC, in its new form, is seen as a solution to almost every problem and seems to have more and more suggestions of powers and responsibilities thrust upon it.
Indeed, to part from what has been in the main close collaboration with the official Opposition Front Bench, I sometimes worry that if places were changed at any time in the future, the new government of New Labour may be just as enthusiastic for a little "nannying" of the broadcasters as are their predecessors. That is where, on a number of occasions at the witching hour, I have come into conflict with, in truth, some old friends, the noble Lords, Lord Chalfont and Lord Orr-Ewing, because I accept, and on these Benches we have always accepted, the icy logic of what the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and his colleagues have been proposing. We have been rather happier that the Government have not followed that icy logic to the conclusion. We believe that the BBC, with its responsibilities under the Charter, is worthy of confidence.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, received the letter from Marmaduke Hussey. I remember—and it is somewhere in the archives of the Guardian—that when he was appointed, liberal consciences were aroused because they thought that he was a Thatcherite placeman there to do dirty deeds in the BBC. I actually wrote a letter to the Guardian saying that we should give him a chance and that quite often when people are given such responsibilities they accept them with gusto as a kind of Becket figure. I do not know whether Marmaduke Hussey has become such a figure, although he has certainly become so to Members in certain parts of the House. But I believe that he can leave at the end of his term of office feeling content that he has left the BBC intact and duly protected to enable it to carry out its role as the first bastion of quality television in the country. I believe that he should take great credit for that.
The problem that I have had with my old friends could probably best be summed up in the debate on Report where the noble Lord, Lord Renton, said that he found 85 per cent. of the BBC's output to he all right 1255 but not the sex and violence involved. Incidentally, the noble Lord then went on to criticise the broadcasting of a film which, when I later checked, turned out to be an Oscar-winning film of some social content; but of course it offended him. The noble Lord, Lord On-Ewing, has consistently criticised the BBC's news content, the noble Baroness, Lady Park, does not like the BBC's coverage of history and the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, wants uniformity in regulation. Indeed, if I have followed his remarks correctly, the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, would just like to horsewhip all the BBC Governors.
The point is that any public body such as the BBC will have a whole range of people who find fault with it. It is the 15 per cent. overlaps that cause the hostility. The truth is that the BBC and, from what I have seen, the Governors have carried out their duties with great assiduousness. Everyone has praised the work of Marmaduke Hussey and expressed confidence in his successor. The House has debated the BBC's Charter at great length. In contrast to the appeal just made by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, I advise the Minister to resist, stick by his guns and carry on. I say that because, in contrast to the 1990 legislation, a very practical Broadcasting Bill has been brought forward which is free from the ideological prejudices that warped and distorted its predecessor.
I have one final point to make to the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. We are not talking about monopoly so far as concerns ITN or, indeed, saying that it should have a lifelong right to provide news to the third channel. However, many of us are deeply concerned that if news providing to the third channel were fragmented it would not be competition in the way that the noble Lord expressed; it would be a deterioration of service to the viewers in the individual regions. Not only would that be a dis-service to viewers; it would also rob our system of the balance of a good quality news service on that third channel. If for cost cutting reasons—and the noble Lord mentioned costs—the third channel were to lose its high quality news service, the commercial channel would come to regret it. Those are the thoughts of a new boy going through his first Bill. I conclude by saying that the admiration that I have had for the Minister's stamina, patience and good humour leaves me with a great impression of the ministerial quality in this place.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Viscount Caldecote
My Lords, I fully agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said but with practically nothing said by the noble Lord, Lord McNally. However, I should like to make a few brief comments, especially on Part V of the Bill. Although I shall be critical of the Government's policy, I echo what other noble Lords have said. I should like to make it clear that I intend no criticism of my noble friend Lord Inglewood, who has piloted the Bill through the House with great skill and courtesy. It is a good principle not to shoot the messenger who brings bad tidings, as my noble friend has had to do on a number of occasions in relation to government policy.
1256 The trouble started with the presentation of the BBC's Charter and Agreement to the House in a form that could not be amended. In my view, that was a denial of the rights and duties of Parliament and, indeed, of democracy. I hope that no important issue of national importance will ever again be dealt with in such a way.
The shortcomings of the BBC's Charter and Agreement, especially those relating to the handling of complaints on impartiality, could have been rectified by amending Part V of the Bill so that the BSC could deal with such complaints. However, despite the many amendments proposed and apart from a few minor concessions, all the amendments have been turned down by the Government mainly on the ground that the BBC must be allowed to operate under the new charter and agreement on the principle of, "Let's see how it goes".
In my view that is wholly unsatisfactory. The logic of the Government's case for treating the BBC and commercial broadcasting differently is unsound, and the record of the BBC in self-regulation is not all that good. The most recent example indicating a failure by the BBC Governors to instil in their staff high principles and enforce them occurred on the very day after the Dunblane killings when the final line of the comedy "Waiting for God" was,Why don't you go out and machine gun some children?".That the BBC issued an apology through the press does nothing to allay the fears of many of us that all is not well with the direction of the BBC under the largely self-regulatory regime. I believe, sadly, that although we have done what we can to improve the Bill, it leaves this House in an unsatisfactory state. We must hope that its shortcomings will be corrected during its passage through another place.
§ Viscount Tenby
My Lords, I do not know whether to be relieved or angry that I am not on the hit list of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, although I must say that I agree with some of the things that he says. I wish briefly to associate myself with the words of my noble friend Lord Chalfont, who all through this Bill has presented his case on regulation with both skill and tenacity. To other noble colleagues I offer the same congratulations.
This is an important Bill and many important issues have been satisfactorily resolved thanks to the good will and expertise of noble Lords on all sides of this House, and thanks, too, to the understanding—save for one blind spot—and invariable courtesy of the Minister, to whom we are all grateful; though I for one could have wished that just on one occasion we might have been a little higher in the batting order. However, one major issue remains and it will not go away—that of the mechanics of regulation.
The Government have said that all will be well and that the additional safeguards built into the Bill and into the new BBC Charter and Agreement will stiffen the new BSC and the BBC Governors' sinews in this respect. I have, sadly, to say that there are those of us who do not agree with that view and who believe that fundamental weaknesses remain which it is all too likely will emerge during the next few years.
1257 At this late stage it would be counter-productive and entirely inappropriate to regurgitate old arguments. I believe we sang the best songs, but the Government, though perhaps half wanting to hum the tunes themselves, chose in the final event not to listen to them but to their various advisers instead. I hope they will not come to regret that decision. I can promise them that we who have certain views in this matter will continue to take an active and, dare I say, inquisitorial interest in this facet of the Bill. I wish the Bill success as it proceeds in a northerly direction.
§ The Earl of Arran
My Lords, I, too, wish to join the gang of supporters who have praised the way the Minister has conducted the Bill through the House. I particularly praise the courtesy he has shown to noble Lords in all parts of the House. However, I can give only three-quarter-hearted support to the Motion that this Bill do now pass. It might have been full support if I was quite sure that the Bill would properly protect the small ITV regional companies. From the outset I have maintained a consistent theme to try to preserve the very best of regional television from the ravages of a rapidly changing industry.
I tabled—and indeed we debated—at Committee stage an amendment designed to involve the Secretary of State in any future attempt to undermine the network pricing system; the industry device that allows small ITV companies to buy mainstream ITV programmes at a fair rate. My noble friend assured me of a compromise proposal to be introduced at Third Reading. Here we are, but here it is not. Although my noble friend very helpfully wrote to say that it will be introduced in another place it seems that the pressure of bigger amendments has squeezed me out. I am afraid that it is a familiar story. The big issue today is to save our big sporting fixtures for viewers of terrestrial television. The big idea in this very big Bill is digital television—another provision presumably framed for the big companies—not to mention the change in the ownership rules which have already sparked mergers and takeovers. The "big" will be allowed to grow into giants. But what happens to the "small"—those who serve their regions with loyalty, commitment and dedication to local affairs?
It is now widely accepted that the Broadcasting Act 1990 contained, if I may put it politely, a succession of flaws. Perhaps it tried to do too much too soon. I should not like your Lordships' House to be responsible for making the same mistake. I am greatly in favour of the principle of the Bill, but the detail requires much more work yet. So today we are sending a half-finished garment with its trailing loose ends—the small bits—to another place. We must rely on its reputation as guardian of the "small" to complete the tailoring and to avoid a stitch-up.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
My Lords, the purpose of my involvement with the Bill, with other Members of your Lordships' House, has been to seek to safeguard the quality, range and time given to regional broadcasting, in the event of a bid, and to ensure the quality of broadcasting through the medium of the Welsh language.
1258 It is satisfying and pleasant to be able to express my appreciation of the Government's response to the anxieties expressed about the future of English language broadcasting in the event of a bid. However, I note the caveat raised by the noble Earl, Lord Arran. I look forward very much to seeing the amendments which the Government have promised to bring forward in another place. I trust that they will be satisfying to the producers and the viewers of regional programmes in England, Scotland and Wales.
As we bid farewell to the Bill, I have a deep sense of frustration about Clause 69. I very much hope that it is not the case that the Government have decided, "This is how it is and this is how it will he". It is still my hope that the Government will come to see as part of the public expenditure on S4C the support of the Welsh language and that they will bring forward amendments to Clause 69. However, I cannot leave the clause without expressing my appreciation of the contribution of all those Members of your Lordships' House who have participated in the debates on it. I refer to my noble friend Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, who intervened this evening, the noble Lords, Lord Aberdare—he has been steadfast in his support—Lord Thomson of Monifieth, Lord Elis-Thomas, Lord Geraint and my noble friend Lady Dean from the Labour Front Bench. I am sure that Wales and S4C are very much in their debt.
Finally, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, for the sensitive—that is the word which comes to my mind—manner in which he has handled the Bill and the attention he has given to our amendments. If the rules of the House allow me to say so, I would say: "Diolch yn fawr iawn".
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Lord Orr-Ewing
My Lords, like others, I feel that it is sad that we have spent one day on the Second Reading, four days on the Committee stage, two days on the Report stage and one on the Third Reading. The common factor is that the important amendments all came after 11 o'clock at night. That was to ensure that no one could divide the House. It was purely accidental, of course, because the Chief Whip has been trying to ensure that we make progress with the Bill. However, it has not worked out and we have not had a genuine opportunity to put forward our points. We could well have done so. There is good information and experience in all parts of the House and we could have had a good debate and possibly persuaded the Minister of our case. He has been wonderful throughout, patient and considerate, but he does not seem to have been allowed to persuade people higher in the hierarchy or in the department to accept our views.
It is strange that the Government insist that the utilities like gas, electricity and water have a regulatory authority. However, the one organisation for which there is no regulatory authority except itself, arid which is both judge and jury in its own case, is the BBC. It has more influence on every home in the land than any other element of our civilisation. This must he given proper 1259 consideration in the other place and I hope that the points put forward by everyone in this House will be examined there.
We had hoped that the BSC would be provided with some bite and that was even echoed at one stage by the Benches opposite. There was a general feeling that the time had come to say: "Enough is enough in the last 10 years of the Charter", before we go to other facilities. Many of my friends and I believe that it is right not to go to a Royal Charter. There are 443 other Royal Charters, the idea that it is exceptional and we cannot debate anything that is in the Royal Charter is for the birds. It is not for the Houses of Parliament.
If we have legislation in another place and debate it up here, I and many others will welcome it. How can we have the ITC regulating one half and the other half regulating itself, especially if it receives £1.8 billion of taxpayers' money to operate? I hope that taste, decency and impartiality will all be covered by the BSC.
We discovered last April that the producer guidelines were voluntary. We had all praised the 250 pages of the document on producer guidelines and said that it was good, beautifully worded. The only trouble was that no one ever read it, or if they did, they never took any action on it. All kinds of problems filtered into public service broadcasting.
I wish to give two examples of that. Today I received a letter from Duke Hussey which was sensible and encouraging. I hoped that he would ensure that the governors—responsible, respectable people—would take action. The two examples I take occurred during the last year. One was a programme called "Good Fellows" which was shown last April and repeated in June. The programme occupied 145 minutes in the evening with 212 occurrences of the "f' word. "We uphold taste and decency", we are told, but no one seems to have been ticked off or penalised in any way.
There were other examples, but no action was taken—particularly in relation to the programme on the Japanese nuclear bomb. Previously, six years before, it had shown a Marxist from the United States saying that the dropping of the nuclear bomb on Japan led to the Cold War, which endured for 25 to 30 years or more. An apology was received the first time round. There was no apology the second time, and no rectification of history. Fortunately, six renowned British history professors came forward and said that it was totally untrue. We squeezed an apology out of the organisation the first time round, but not the second time. So this is continuing, even though there are codes of conduct. All of us who are sitting here now sincerely hope that the new governors will be able to take action.
There is another awful example. Alas, the day after the shooting of the children in Dunblane, the amazing last line of a comedy programme was: "Why don't you go out and machine-gun some children?". The Secretary of the BBC apologised when the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, got in touch with him. Apparently, the complaints commission would not take the matter seriously. He admitted that he had made an apology. 1260 However, it turned out that he thought it unnecessary to apologise on the TV channels but had apologised in a newspaper. That was the Secretary of the BBC.
Most of what the BBC does is very good. But certain opportunities seem to filter through to lesser people who totally disobey the rules. Incidentally, I hope that the new code of conduct now being written will be firmer. I also hope, as we once suggested in an amendment, that those people who hold producer or editorial responsibilities, read the code, sign it and activate it, as you have to sign the Official Secrets Act on entering the Ministry of Defence. (And, by the way, when you leave you have to sign it again.) The same should apply to people who have these huge responsibilities for the well-being of the mental state of our nation.
I return to congratulating Duke Hussey on what he has done. He has achieved a considerable amount. He got rid of 5,000 people, and the organisation goes on very well without them. That must have saved quite a lot of money. I believe he now has 20,000 people. The huge list of those taking part in drama of any sort goes on forever. The credit titles seem to pour forth from the screen. I hope that he will make further economies.
Finally, as I ought to have said in my speech last time, some of the young people are responsible for the irresponsibility shown in certain selected items. Many of them enter the BBC when they are quite young and make their mark. After they have been there only a year or two, with no loyalty either to the BBC which they serve or to the nation which they also serve, they go off to Hollywood and get jobs at four times what they can raise in this country. Such people should be disciplined, and perhaps penalised, as a result. I hope that before the Bill leaves both Houses, we shall give some penalising powers to the new BSC.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, first, I repeat the congratulations that have been offered to my noble friend Lord Inglewood. He has shown the most amazing grasp of the tremendous detail in this Bill and of the amendments moved in relation to it. He deserves congratulation.
I gladly support the Bill so far as it goes. But it does not go far enough in certain respects. I hope that the Government will keep an open mind over some outstanding matters as the Bill goes through another place.
The BBC has some great achievements to its credit. But there are other matters on which I have to say it fails badly to this day. I shall come to chapter and verse on this in a moment. My main concern relates to the amount of violence and sex on television. Up to now neither the broadcasters nor the staff of the BBC, nor always the staff of the independent companies, nor the British Standards Council between them have succeeded in reducing substantially the amount of violence or explicit sex on television, even though the governors and staff of the BBC all claim that they are dealing with the problem.
At about the time that the Bill was introduced, it produced for public circulation a most interesting document, headed: "The BBC, a responsible broadcaster". It deals with: 1261Taste and decency … the watershed … violence … the level of on-screen violence … producer guidelines published and strengthened by the BBC [and] the BBC's responsible approach to buying and classifying films".I only wish that they would practise what they preach there.
I shall give your Lordships a little of the chapter and verse. The first page is headed:The BBC seems to abide by high standards of taste and decency".It goes on to say that the BBC is:required to do all it can to ensure that its services 'do not include anything which offends against good taste or decency or is likely to encourage or incite to crime or lead to disorder or to be offensive w public feeling'".That is splendid, but it has not kept up to those standards.
Only the governors can intervene under the law as it stands and under the law as it will stand. They are to be the only regulators. But they are not independent. The independent television companies have an independent regulator. There is no reason why the BBC should not have one. Yes, the governors are splendid people. The vice-chairman is sitting opposite us and he is a man for whom we all have a high regard. But despite him and all the other governors, those defects have continued week after week. The Government must apply their mind to this matter. They must have a fresh mind on that point.
The next page of the document deals with the watershed. It says:The BBC is committed to maintaining the effectiveness of the watershed … The 9 pm watershed works well and is widely understood".That is not true. There are three reasons why the watershed fails to give the protection to young people that it should give. The first is that some violence is occasionally displayed before 9 p.m. I have seen it myself and been rather surprised. The second reason is that many children, as we all know, sit up much later than 9 p.m., especially if their parents are going out for the evening, and that can often happen. Thirdly, many households have videos. Whether turned on by the children or parents, videos can be used to record during the watershed period late programmes which can be seen by the children on another day or another evening. So what is claimed about the watershed cannot be sustained.
The next page deals with violence on television. It claims:Over recent years, the BBC has tackled the issue of violence on television".I shall not trouble your Lordships with the whole of the contents of that page, though one could pick it to pieces. At the bottom of the page it says:sufficient information [is] to be given to viewers to enable them to decide whether they want a particular programme to be watched in their households".That would be splendid. However, I must confess that, as a widower living alone I often turn on the television, especially at weekends, but I have never once heard that 1262 warning given. If such a warning is needed, I suggest that the programme is likely to be one that should not be shown at all.
The next page concerns the amount of on-screen violence that is shown. It suggests that it has fallen markedly in recent years. I wish that were true. When one studies the complaints bulletins, one knows that violence is still being shown. Many of the complaints are upheld, not only of the BBC but of independent companies also. A rather interesting sentence states,Most"—I emphasise that word—violence occurs after the watershed".That confirms the view I expressed earlier that some violence is shown before the watershed.
Under "guidelines for its producers", the document states:The BBC requires producers and directors to avoid sadistic violence".I do not know whether "Trip-Trap" was a programme referred to as being one that I ment:.oned, but on Saturday 9th March, after we had completed proceedings on Report stage, that film was shown from 9 until 10.30 in the evening. The film concerned prosperous people living in a large house and the husband cruelly assaulted his beautiful blonde wife. He pulled her by the hair when he knocked her to the ground and two quite young children were in the background. I felt so strongly that it should not have been shown, especially after the professions of innocence contained in this document, that I made a formal complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Council.
As has been said, unless something is done, we must suffer 10 more years of uncertainty. I say to my noble friend Lord Inglewood—and I hope he will tell his Secretary of State—that instead of waiting 10 more years, let us deal with the matter in the ways suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and others; that is, during the next 10 weeks when the Bill is passing through another place. If we do that, posterity may be grateful to us.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
My Lords, at this time of the evening I shall not follow the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and others who spoke like him. My noble friend Lord McNally gave his views, which follow the traditionally libertarian position of these Benches. When he spoke I thought I was hearing my former colleague, the late Lord Bonham-Carter, on the same subject in the 1990 Bill. However, I shall confine myself to what is the more traditional habit of Third Reading debates after a long Bill, especially since, when I was passing the office of the noble Lord, Lord Graham, on my way to Hansard a few moments ago, I happened to glimpse Nottingham Forest playing Bayern Munich. There is still apparently some good football on terrestrial television and it occurred to me that I could be home watching it instead of participating in the final stages of this Bill. Perhaps tomorrow night I shall have that good fortune.
1263 It is with some pleasure that I view the final passing of this Bill from your Lordships' House and an end to the long days and nights that we have experienced. It has been a long and complex Bill. I join with everybody else in paying tribute to the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, for his stamina, his patience, his good humour and the clarity with which he deployed the Government's case on the Bill. It is a major Bill introduced into your Lordships' House first rather than the other place, as so often happens, and it has been a heavy responsibility.
It is, as has been said, a much better Bill than its predecessor, the 1990 Bill, which was disastrous for independent television. I think we can all say with a modest glow that it is now an even better Bill than it was when it was introduced into your Lordships' House. It is now to be sent to another place, and the fact that it is a better Bill is, first of all—we might as well give ourselves a little pat on the back—due to the persuasiveness of your Lordships on all sides of the House in the arguments that you have put to the Minister. But it is also due to the willingness of the Minister to respond to the arguments and to propose quite a number of improvements to the Bill. However, as has been said in other quarters and from other points of view, there are still further improvements to be made to the Bill which we hope may be made in another place.
I echo the words of the noble Earl, Lord Arran, about the position of the smaller regional companies, about which I feel as strongly as he does. The original clause that the Government put in the Bill on these matters was a good clause and a reassuring clause. The Minister was willing to see it strengthened in various ways. I fully accept what he said in his correspondence—that the sheer pressure of the draftmanship of amendments has prevented the promises he made being fulfilled here on Third Reading. But we shall all of us watch carefully what happens in another place to make sure that the strengthening of the regional safeguards does take place. In particular, I echo what the noble Earl, Lord Arran, said about fulfilling the commitment on the network pricing system and giving the Independent Television Commission the necessary responsibilities and powers to safeguard that.
I am sorry that the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, is not still with us. I hope very much that the question of conditional access for analogue broadcasting, which we came very close to introducing in the Bill, will be followed through in another place. Then there is the matter of unbundling, where we became a little unbundled ourselves earlier this afternoon. I hope very much that it may also be pursued and brought to an effective conclusion when it goes to another place.
Finally, I know I carry the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, with me in the hope that another place will do better, not only on the Channel 4 funding system, but on the whole ITV funding system than we were able to with the Minister this evening.
I again thank the Minister for the way in which he has handled us. A great debt of gratitude is also due to those who have been behind him—to the staff in the 1264 department, the draftsmen and the others who have worked very hard on what has been a complicated Bill, dealing with many different aspects of future broadcasting policy.
§ Lord Donoughue
My Lords, I shall not conduct another Second Reading debate, although I am not happy with the broadcasting landscape described in this Bill, a landscape increasingly dominated by commercialism and the commercial giants, where quality values are bound to be diminished. However, I want to thank everyone involved in the conduct of the Bill. I join in the thanks to the Minister for the courtesy and positive way in which he has handled it and for the few concessions we have managed to wring out of him—not enough, but I thank him for what concessions there are. I thank the draftsmen who have drafted the Bill, and especially I would like to thank my own team who have done most of the work. Most of them are now, quite sensibly, in bed—
§ Lord Donoughue
They are watching television? Maybe—except my noble friend Lady Dean who, as always, is here to the sleepy end.
It made the Bill more interesting that it came here first and not to the Commons. Someone said to me that that was because it was non-controversial. I was intrigued by that. I have never before seen such a volume of briefing and lobbying. Technically the Bill was complex and involved much homework, which on this side is unpaid homework. It was in some ways a political minefield. The media pressure groups were remarkable to see because they care very much about what we do in their area. It was not possible to please all of them and I am delighted to say that we upset some of them. We had only two Divisions, which is not many for a large Bill. But they were good Divisions. There were 209 votes for the Government and 327 against. That seems to me to be about right, and long may it continue.
Our big vote was on sport, which ironically was not in the Bill at all. The other issue—the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, referred to it—was conditional access. It was painful that we did not pass the amendment, but I am sure that another place will return to the issue. If we can knock some sense into the Department of Trade and Industry—I know that is a thought of fantasy—we may get progress. There is work still to be done, but the House can be pleased and proud of itself that we have cleared the way. We have identified some of the landmines. There is still the unbundling of sporting highlights to be put right. But I should like to thank all concerned for their contributions to the Bill.
§ Lord Inglewood
My Lords, this Bill will provide a framework for the development of digital terrestrial broadcasting and provide new freedoms for media companies to grow and succeed in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
In introducing the Bill, I pointed out that it covers an enormously complex range of issues, and looked forward to listening to your Lordships speaking with the 1265 plurality of voices we in government are keen to encourage. Our debates have shown that this House fully reflects the range of views that have been aired in the wider world.
I also expressed the hope that our debates would proceed on a non-partisan basis. I believe that this wish has been realised, and I thank all your Lordships, but in particular, the noble Lords, Lord Donoughue and Lord Thomson of Monifieth, for that. While it may often seem that the apparatus of government is largely switched to "transmit", it can also be tuned to "receive". I hope I have shown the Government's willingness to listen and respond to well reasoned suggestions for improving our proposals, which we brought forward with some speed to enable digital terrestrial to get off to an early start in this country.
Time does not permit me to cover all the contributions that have been made to the debate. Although it may be thought invidious to single out particular individuals, it would be equally remiss of me if I failed to acknowledge the main protagonists and to put a number of points on the record. Perhaps pride of place should go to the movers of the first amendment at Committee stage, whose efforts on behalf of sport briefly secured them pole position in the Bill. They gave the Government a clear indication and they achieved a notable victory in the Division Lobbies which more or less coincided with the Leader of the Opposition drafting the death warrant of your Lordships' House in its present form—or so he hopes. It was an emphatic response which your Lordships gave to our consultation exercise and gave a very clear indication of which of the options in our consultation document your Lordships favour. I believe that the amendments which were agreed earlier today show that the Government have taken heed.
This is a Bill to take broadcasting into the next century. Digital technology will revolutionise broadcasting. There will be more channels and more choice. For the legislators, I fear, that could mean more opportunities for getting it wrong. Our debates on the provisions relating to digital terrestrial broadcasting have shown how difficult it is to legislate for technologies whose potential is as yet unrealised and sometimes unclear. But I believe that Parts II and III of the Bill have been improved in ways which will help give digital terrestrial broadcasting the best possible prospects when it is launched.
There was a danger that these debates might have allowed the technophile sheep to gambol in the glorious fields of digital multiplexing and non-switched broad-hand communication, leaving the technophobe goats to shake their heads and retreat elsewhere to more convivial pastures or even to watch television. I am pleased that that did not happen. Certainly, several of your Lordships have moved from analogue to digital, sometimes simulcasting and sometimes on new specialist channels. I would like to mention in particular my noble friend Lady O'Cathain, with her determination to understand the issues at the technical level in the interests of the lay audience, and on the Benches opposite, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Gilmorehill 1266 who displayed a comprehensive grasp of the complexities of digital audio broadcasting in her first contributions to your Lordships' House.
One of the most important things about our debates was that we did not allow ourselves to he seduced by the technology. Properly, we focused the interests of viewers and listeners, and the future prospects for the British broadcasting industry. The noble Lord, Lord Ashley, in his customary forthright and vigorous style, cogently argued the interests of those with disabilities, while many others, equally trenchantly drew attention to the proper interests of various categories of viewer and listener. There is a balance to be struck between their particular interests and the need to ensure that we create the right framework for investment in digital terrestrial broadcasting, without which nothing will happen. I believe that the Bill, as it leaves this House, has achieved that balance.
I am afraid that pressure on parliamentary counsel's time—not least in drafting the 5½-page sports rights amendment—has meant that it has proved impossible to table the proposed amendment dealing with analogue switch-off. I assure my noble friend Lord Stockton—and I have written to him to this effect—that the Government will bring forward the necessary changes in another place. Similar considerations apply to the proposed amendment allowing S4C to develop commercial services on digital. Again, that deficiency will be remedied there.
In Committee the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, introduced the debate on the media ownership provisions in the Bill by saying,we have now entered the Schedule 2 world of ceilings of 15 per cent., 20 per cent., 25 per cent. and 50 per cent. … and of point systems beyond my capacity to calculate".Having heard the quality of the debates, I do not believe that the necessary complexity of our proposals proved a barrier to constructive debate, although I suspect that the noble Lord's arithmetic is rather less modest than he may have tried to suggest.
My noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith and the noble Lord, Lord Desai, joined forces with my noble friend Lady O'Cathain to argue for a relaxation in the rule limiting local radio stations to one service on each waveband in areas of significant overlap. I hcpe that the assurances I have given them tonight will demonstrate that we have taken on board the points made in debate.
One of our main aims is to allow British media companies greater scope to respond to technological change while maintaining diversity and plurality at regional and local as well as national level. Some of your Lordships, most notably the noble Lord, Lord Harris, argued for a simpler and even more relaxed regulatory regime than we propose, while the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, invited us to reflect on whether the Mirror Group should benefit from higher thresholds. It will come as no surprise to hear that I believe that we have got the balance about right.
I should like in particular to thank the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, for so helpfully bringing his long experience of broadcasting into the debates, not only on digital issues, but also on amendments relating 1267 to particular arrangements in the 1990 Act. Similarly, my noble predecessor, my noble friend Lord Astor, repeatedly put forward helpful suggestions on a variety of topics.
A number of your Lordships—and here I mention the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, my noble friends Lord Kinnoull, Lord Crickhowell and Lord Arran, and the noble Lords, Lord Elis-Thomas and Lord Prys-Davies, rightly sought to protect the distinctive regional programming which has proved so successful in enriching the lives of viewers and of listeners.
Clause 68 has been widely welcomed for the protection it affords to regional programming and production where there is a change of ownership in a Channel 3 company. Noble Lords will recall that, rather rashly as it turned out, I promised to bring forward at Third Reading several amendments strengthening the clause in line with suggestions by my noble friend Lord Kinnoull and others. Again, regrettably, pressure on our legal draftsman have made this impossible. It remains our intention—I emphasise this to my noble friend Lord Arran and the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies—to bring forward these amendments at the earliest opportunity. I have written to noble Lords who have shown an interest in the clause to explain our proposals more fully.
I should also like to thank noble Lords from Wales for their contributions to our discussions on S4C, which for me, a non-Welsh speaker, were particularly helpful.
The question of Channel 4 funding has generated much discussion and numerous written representations from all sides. Without wishing to understate the importance of this issue, I pause only to acknowledge the powerful contribution to the debate made by my noble friend Lord Stockton.
I should offer a further apology to your Lordships that the clauses relating to independent local radio are not yet ready for consideration. However, as I have indicated previously during the passage of the Bill, we shall be making provision for renewal of ILR licences. In addition, we intend to bring forward an amendment to clarify the circumstances in which the Radio Authority need not re-advertise an expiring ILR licence under Section 104(5) of the 1990 Act. It will provide for the authority to invite expressions of interest in an expiring independent local radio licence and for such parties to demonstrate their firm interest with a financial bond. Those amendments will also be introduced in another place.
I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, for bringing to the House's attention the issue of the provision of news on Channel 3 which has in general been supported on all sides of the House. In the Report stage debate on his amendment, Amendment No. 165, on the provision of news on Channel 3, I said that the Government agreed with the purpose of the amendment and were persuaded that there were significant benefits in requiring Channel 3 to have a single news provider. I undertook to take away the noble Lord's amendment and to introduce a government amendment at Third Reading which would enable the ITC to nominate as 1268 many news providers for Channel 3 as it deems fit, but would require the ITV companies to choose a single provider from among those to meet their news requirements. Again, I apologise that the clause is not yet ready and I regret the inconvenience that that may have caused. The amendment will be introduced in another place.
The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, my noble friends Lord Caldecote and Lord Orr-Ewing and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, raised a number of important issues relating to the merger of the Broadcasting Standards Council and the Broadcasting Complaints Commission. I am grateful to them for their detailed, reasoned and tenacious contributions to the debate, where their views were equally tenaciously opposed by the noble Lord, Lord McNally. They raised matters of considerable importance relating to how broadcasters in general, and in particular the BBC, should be regulated. They focused particularly on the important matter of impartiality.
I very much hope that the clarification in the BBC's Charter and Agreement and the recent exposition of the way in which the BBC handles such matters now will provide reassurance that the method which the Government believe is right for the regulation of the BBC—that is to say, self-regulation by the governors—not only works but works properly. I should like to emphasise that these, and particularly impartiality, are matters about which the Government and the Secretary of State are very concerned and which they will not allow to pass out of their minds when this piece of legislation leaves Parliament for the statute book.
The noble Baroness, Lady Dean, played a significant role in our debates and in particular, on the basis of her experience as a member of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, has made a number of helpful suggestions which we have been pleased to take up.
I should like to give special thanks to my noble friend Lady Trumpington, who I am sorry is not with me on the Front Bench on the final leg of our journey. Without her indefatigable support and guidance my task of piloting the Bill through your Lordships' House would have been far more difficult.
Finally, I should like to record my thanks to the officials in the department who have done so much work, and to parliamentary counsel, whose life this Bill, and the changes that your Lordships' persuasive arguments encouraged me to accept, have made somewhat fraught over the past few weeks.
In conclusion, I am confident that the Bill has been improved and I thank your Lordships for that and for the constructive and helpful way in which it has been achieved. It remains to be seen what further amendments may flow from its consideration in another place, but we believe that the British viewer and listener, the broadcasters and the wider industry will benefit from what has been achieved in this House. I commend the Bill to the House.
On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.
House adjourned at ten minutes past ten o'clock.