HL Deb 12 May 1998 vol 589 cc939-41

2.44 p.m.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

asked the Chairman of Committees:

How many passes are now issued to media representatives in the Palace of Westminster, and of the total how many are held by BBC staff.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham)

My Lords, a total of 514 media passes are on issue; 125 of these are held by the BBC.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

My Lords, will the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees accept my thanks for that reply? Is it not surprising that we are now moving rapidly towards a situation where there will be one media representative for each elected Member of the other House? Indeed, no other democratic institution in the free world has such a coverage as prevails here.

In relation to the number of passes held by the BBC, does the noble Lord recall that in the 1960s and the early 1970s, before either this House or the other place was televised, David Holmes and Hardiman Scott, assisted from time to time by none other than Angela Rippon, were able to report the proceedings in both Houses with great expertise? In view of the noble Lord's own excellent experience in the media, can he explain why on earth the BBC needs 125 people to cover the proceedings in both Houses of Parliament when we seldom, if ever, see any of them at this end of the Palace?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, with reference to the noble Lord's middle question, I do indeed recall those days. That is certainly so for the 1960s but less so for the 1970s in the case of the BBC. Perhaps I should declare an interest in that I worked for the BBC during the 1950s and the 1960s. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, is right about the numbers who managed to report the proceedings then. However, we are now in a different situation. Whether we are moving to the situation that the noble Lord described, as regards the proportion of media representatives to the number of elected Members in another place, I do not know.

Indeed, comparisons are awkward. I do not know what is a proper number of media representatives. All I can say is that this number seems to be needed. Perhaps I should, therefore, draw upon Mozart's riposte to his royal critic when the latter said that he had used too many notes. Mozart replied: No more and no fewer, your Majesty, than are necessary". The BBC does need quite a number of representatives. It should not be forgotten that, apart from its coverage of Parliament, which it is required by its Charter to provide on a daily basis—and we try to facilitate the BBC as far as we can—noble Lords will also be aware of the BBC's role in covering special events, such as the State Opening of Parliament, Addresses to Members of both Houses by foreign and Commonwealth leaders, and other such matters.

Lord Ironside

My Lords, in addition to the number of passes which have been issued to members of the Press Gallery, can the noble Lord now say whether there has been any change in the number of parking permits issued to named members of the Press Gallery, which stood at 18 in 1993?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive me, I shall resist the temptation to enter the quagmire of the subject of parking in the vicinity of the Palace of Westminster. I am briefed on the number of passes, but I regret to say that I am not briefed on the matter the noble Lord has raised. If I can help him, I shall do so in writing.

Lord Borrie

My Lords, does the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees agree that the number of passes issued for people to cover the two Houses of Parliament seems to be in inverse proportion to the coverage that is provided? Does he agree that there may be a price to be paid by the media representatives in respect of the number of passes that are issued in terms of longer and better coverage of the two Houses?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I am very much in favour of greater coverage of your Lordships' House, as it works hard. A great deal is done not only in your Lordships' Chamber but also in your Lordships' committees. That work is well worth publicising. I was heartened by the amount of coverage given recently in the press and by the broadcasting organisations to the report on antibiotics—that is not its full title—which was published fairly recently. The noble Lord is quite right about the difference between the number of passes issued by your Lordships' House and another place. Some 19 have been issued by your Lordships' House and 491 by another place.

Lord Elton

My Lords, given the large number of passes issued to reporters and the small amount of reporting that is carried out, and given the noble Lord's experience in the media, can he tell us what these people are doing?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I am tempted to follow the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, as I have a modicum of sympathy with his question. However, the media representatives are doing a great deal. One has to bear in mind the coverage not only of the national television stations but also of the regional television stations, the national radio stations and the local, sometimes quite small, radio stations, and the agencies. In addition there is complete national and regional press coverage. A considerable amount of media coverage is needed. Therefore I think it is right that a sizeable number of media passes should be issued to permit media representatives to enter the Palace of Westminster.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, does my noble friend have in his brief an estimated cost of this media coverage?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I regret to say that I do not. I doubt that I shall be able to assist on that matter, but if I can I shall do so.