HL Deb 13 December 2001 vol 629 cc1413-4

3.9 p.m.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote asked the Leader of the House:

Whether he will propose the establishment of a Select Committee on broadcasting.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, it is the role of the Liaison Committee of this House to consider proposals for Select Committees. I would not propose the establishment of any Select Committee without first seeking the views of the Liaison Committee.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that Answer. I suggest that he asks the Liaison Committee to take soundings. I am sure that he is well aware of the cultural importance of broadcasting and communications generally to United Kingdom citizens and consumers and, equally, of the growing significance of this industry to the economy. I believe that it is rising faster than any other part of the economy—by some £61 million or 6 per cent per annum growth in GDP. I wonder also whether he is aware of the expertise and experience in your Lordships' House—far greater, I would argue, than in the other place—which could form the basis of a very knowledgeable Select Committee. In view of the number of times—some 21 occasions when your Lordships have met to discuss communications issues over the past five years, not counting the Ofcom Bill. I would ask for a reconsideration.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords. I share the noble Baroness's view about the public and economic interests relating to broadcasting. It is true that there is expertise in your Lordships' House on that subject: there is expertise in your Lordships' House on all conceivable topics known to the mind of man. That is why, rightly, a procedure is in place for an individual Peer to write, usually to the Chairman of Committees, the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, making a case and setting out the proposed terms of reference and the benefits that might inure.

Viscount Falkland

My Lords, does the Leader of the House agree that overshadowing all other aspects of broadcasting at present is the date of the switchover from analogue to digital? Before that date is known, or before anyone can hazard a guess as to a date that might be appropriate, any Select Committee which met to discuss broadcasting without that knowledge would be in a very weak position.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Viscount makes an important point, but I do not believe that it derogates from the observation that I have made. It is for an individual Peer to make his or her application and to justify it.

Lord Campbell-Savours

My Lords, would not such a Select Committee be able to address the issue of the broadcasting of Parliament? My noble and learned friend will know that channel 508 on satellite transmits a direct feed of actuality from the Floor of the House of Commons. Why cannot we take over channels 509 or 511? In my view, that would greatly enhance this House in the minds of the public outside and would lead to a far greater and better understanding of what we do in this Chamber.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I am sure that these are all excellent ideas. If your Lordships wanted a larger audience, 95.8 might be a better waveband. I believe that that is Capital Radio. These are all excellent ideas but, alas, they are not within my gift.