Lords amendments considered.
That the Lords Amendments to the Broadcasting Bill be considered in the following order, namely, Nos. 22, 35, 46 to 48, 111, 399 to 406, 466 to 499, 1 to 21, 23 to 34, 36 to 45, 49 to 110, 112 to 398, 407 to 465 and 500 to 676.—[Mr. Chapman.]
General Requirements As To Licensed Services
Lords amendment: No. 22, in page 6, line 38, at end insert—
("(4A) The rules specified in the code referred to in subsection (3) shall, in particular, take account of the following matters—
(a) that due impartiality should be preserved on the part of the person providing a licensed service as respects major matters falling within subsection (1)(c) as well as matters falling within that provision taken as a whole; and (b) the need to determine what constitutes a series of programmes for the purposes of subsection (2).
(4B) The rules so specified shall, in addition, indicate to such extent as the Commission consider appropriate—
and those rules shall, in particular, indicate that due impartiality does not require absolute neutrality on every issue or detachment from fundamental democratic principles.")
I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following Lords amendments: Nos. 15, 17 to 20, 135, 136, 170, 172, 174, 175, 252, 253, 255 and 257 to 260.
I should like to begin by saying that it is with a very real sense of loss that I record my deep regret at the passing of our late colleague Norman Buchan. I had a lot to do with Norman during my 10 years in the House. On some occasions we agreed; on others we did not. However, I was never in any doubt about the calibre of the man and his commitment to a whole range of issues that were well worth being committed to—not least the arts. Even if one disagreed with him, one did so cordially and with humour, as was so evident in Committee. One could always have a chat outside the Committee Room with him in the utmost amity.I respected and liked Norman. I am deeply distressed that he is not with us today. Our debates will not be the same without him. It came as a shock to me yesterday to read of his passing. I am sure that the whole House joins me when I say that we feel a real sense of loss at his passing. If I may refer to another preliminary matter, this is the first group of amendments to be dealt with after the Bill's return to us from another place. About 700 amendments were made in the other place. l should like to express my gratitude to the Opposition for their co-operation in ensuring that we can manage the debates in a way that will allow any remaining controversial issues to be dealt with early. I am also grateful for the assistance given by all parties in the House, but particularly by the official Opposition, which has led to a grouping of the amendments that will, I hope, enable us to have sensible debates. I make no apology for the fact that there is a large number of amendments. We shall almost immediately discover that some are a little controversial, but most represent the Government giving effect to agreements reached in the Commons as a result of the open debate that we had. They also reflect our continuing commitment to listen to points made in debate. When, after debate, a point appears to have such force that it should not he impeded by Government obstruction, we have been only too willing to concede it. Lord Ferrers, the Minister of State, was particularly effective in conducting the Bill through the other place. He gave way gracefully and without ill will. I refer in particular to the moratorium on takeovers. We were able to meet what seemed to be the unanimous view on Second Reading in the other place that something ought to be done. A document extending to four and a half pages includes the changes that were made in the other place. Some of them reflect our willingness to recognise the strength of feeling in the Lords—for example, in relation to the disabled and the indexation of cash bids. All those changes make it a better Bill, as do a large number—I am sorry that it is such a large number—of technical amendments that reflect the continued combing through of the Bill by the draftsmen to ensure that any minor problems were ironed out. As we know, the odd injudicious comma or the wrong word, even if it does not amount to a matter of policy, can sometimes skew meaning in a way that raises problems later. Therefore, I apologise for burdening the House with so many amendments, but I believe that for the most part they are in a good cause. I shall deal immediately with a group of amendments that I suspect some will not think are in such a good cause. That controversial set of amendments relates to impartiality and it is right that they should be dealt with first. I shall set out my stall on the matter and then listen with care to what is said on both sides of the House and, I hope, respond later. Since the Bill left the House, not as much has changed as some contributors to the debate in the other place suggested—and I suspect from the look of jovial good humour on the face of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) he might also want to suggest that there have been many changes. As a result of a small wobble over the word "current", the substantive law on impartiality in the Bill is precisely the same as it has been since 1954. That is important. We made one addition in the House in recognition of the fact that the Independent Broadcasting Authority is the broadcaster and the Independent Television Commission is the regulator. We added to the Bill a requirement for a code, making clear that the code was not one approved by Parliament because that would blur the arm's length relationship in regulations to which I and many others attach importance. The code will deal with what we know to be some of the problems. It is recognised that there were problems about what constitutes a series of programmes and about other aspects of the regulations. That will always be a difficult and sensitive area. That is why, to general acclamation—no one dissented—we made provision for a code. It will enable broadcasters to know where they stand because, if the regulators are to have the right to intervene, the broadcasters should know on what basis they may do so. Also, the public should know where they stand. All manner of folk, from time to time, take issue with what is contained in television programmes and it would probably assist if one had clear guidance as to what the ground rules were. 4.30 pm I want to restate the principle with as much clarity as I can muster that it is the right of Parliament—it has been so for four decades—to insist that there is due impartiality on matters of current political or industrial controversy and so on. However, it is not for us to usurp the function of the regulators and state exactly what the detailed rules should be. We are not doing that in the amendments. I say that with sincerity amidst the mutterings of scepticism from the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), who has lifted his head from correcting the proofs of "War and Peace" or whatever he is doing. I had not expected that to be a universally acclaimed sentiment, although it is a true one. It was necessary—and it was welcomed—for the Government to take account of the strong expressions of view in the House during the passage of the Bill. It also seemed to be eminently right that we should take account of the strong expressions of view in the other place, although not to the extent—I make no apologies for this—of accepting the precise amendments tabled by the noble Lord Wyatt and others, but to recognise their concern. That concern has been reflected in an early-day motion in the House. There was concern that the rules would need to be clear after the Bill had finished in the House. However, insights come to people at many different times. St. Paul gained his insight rather late, so I dare say that everyone else is entitled to gain theirs rather late as well. But there was still time, and we considered it right to add to the Bill a series of points that the code should cover—points that I believe to be a matter of common sense. It is crucial for hon. Members to understand that we did not specify what the code should say about those points; we merely provided for the ITC, in drawing up its code, to take account of them. I still believe that that was a legitimate way of dealing with the sentiments that were expressed so strongly in the other place, and that it does not blur the crucial matter of principle to which I have adhered throughout. I shall reserve my more detailed comments until later. Let me say now, however, that I was intrigued by the allegation made persistently in the other place and elsewhere that this would be a lawyers' picnic. As I have said before, I am well aware of—and subscribe to—Ogden Nash's view of professional men:
I am certainly not anxious that my former profession should benefit unduly from any act of generosity performed late in the day. Everyone can come to this party, with their lawyers; it is not only those who take exception to some of the legislation who will have the benefit of legal advice. We have the benefit of that advice, and so has the ITC. The Bill will not open the way for any legal challenge that is not in any case inherent in the concept of due impartiality, and the need for the regulatory body to flesh out a bare rule and make its own judgment about how that rule should be applied in complex and difficult circumstances. Provided that the ITC draws up its code in a reasonable manner, there will be no scope for judicial intervention or extensive litigation, because the normal rules of scrutiny will apply: a decision made by a public body cannot be overturned in the courts unless that body has acted unreasonably. It is no more likely that the ITC would act unreasonably when faced with a limited or skeleton framework for its code than that it would err in drawing up a code seeking to give effect to a basic principle that Parliament has set out for nearly 40 years. I place some reliance on that. In the other place, as one or two speakers in that debate pointed out, there was a tendency for arguments about the legalities of the matter to apply not so much to the limited amendments that the Government were seeking to make as to the whole principle of the due impartiality provision itself—which, as I said, has been part of our law for nearly 40 years. Someone who had arrived the previous day from Mars—or, in the case of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett), from Australia or some equally far-flung place—would assume that the argument did not concern some minor adjustments to the code proposals; he would assume that exception was being taken to the very idea of a due impartiality provision. That was where many of the more telling—or, depending on one's view, not particularly telling—legal points took us. Let me state categorically that, if I thought for a moment that they would result in a legal picnic, I should not commend the amendments to the House; nor should I do so if I thought for a moment that they blurred the key distinction that strikes me as fundamental. Parliament has a right and a duty to prescribe due impartiality in what is still a relatively scarce service, in television. The concept of due impartiality does not exist in the written word, but I still believe that it is necessary to retain it in respect of the principal television services. It is right for us to tell those responsible that they should regulate that rule and, so that everyone knows where they stand, for there to be a code dealing with certain issues rather than avoiding them. However, it would be wrong to dictate the way in which those issues should be dealt with, and none of the amendments does so. That is the bedrock of principle on which they are founded."Professional people have no cares, Whatever happens, they get theirs."
I was about to subside into my seat for good, but I shall do so only temporarily instead.
I understand why the Minister prefers to reserve his detailed responses until a subsequent intervention. However, as he is advocating a change of considerable controversy and of great importance to broadcasters, as he admits, his initial speech should discharge the onus of proof for change—particularly as the Minister himself earlier made it abundantly clear that the thought that the language in use since 1954 is still adequate.What is the mischief? Are we speaking only of the views of Lord Wyatt and of one or two other rare birds in another place, or is there a more general problem? The number of complaints made about impartiality has been minuscule.
The Television Act 1954 prescribed the basic law, which will remain unchanged by the Bill, but instead of there being a bare requirement for a code—with which I should have been perfectly content, if it had been left to me—the question arose, as expressed in the concerns of their Lordships and in an early-day motion of this House, as to whether that bare requirement would of itself be adequate, and of whether we should perform the additional task of making it clear that the code dealt also with controversial areas.The amendment sets out several areas which some would argue any self-respecting code would anyway be bound to cover, and which the ITC of its own volition would have chosen to cover. I should have rested perfectly content with such a provision, but as their Lordships took the view that it would be possible to achieve a broader consensus, it seemed perfectly proper to flesh out the requirements for a code by setting out certain heads that it should cover. Such a provision could only distort the intentions of the 1954 Act if it added to the requirement for due impartiality that has always been part of the law since the creation of the independent television system. I can state categorically—and this is the belief also of the ITC—that it will not do so but will merely set out points that the ITC should take into account when drawing up its code. The amendment will not alter the substantive law but will introduce only an element of consolation for those concerned that the code might fall short in certain respects, that it will cover certain key areas. Nevertheless, the amendment does not dictate how the ITC should discharge that function. Despite some of the huff and puff that we have heard, a much more minor amendment would make people think. Just as I have given considerable thought to whether to advance the amendments—all of which passed through my office in their drafting—and to making sure that we did not blur the principle to which I attach importance, others should be certain that they are not—as appeared to be the case from one or two speeches in another place—arguing against the principle of due impartiality, or merely wanting a good old ding-dong about what is admittedly a highly attractive subject for a good old ding-dong, without relating it to the substance of the debate. The Government showed their good faith by reflecting on all those matters and tabling a draft amendment, albeit that it was found wanting in certain respects.
And sometimes described as defeated in Committee.
No, it was not defeated. The right hon. Gentleman could not have been following the Bill's progress with his customary attention. The water was tested, and certain views were ex pressed that seemed to me appropriate to take into account. That was done, and a new draft emerged that was entirely satisfactory to the ITC. After all, it is that organisation that will have to perform the duty of regulation. The ITC would not have given its approval to the amendment if it achieved only one half or one quarter of the things that those who cannot reconcile themselves to the amendment say that it will. That is the case for the amendment, and I shall let it rest at that.
I begin by thanking the Minister for the tribute that he paid to my late hon. Friend and colleague, Mr. Norman Buchan. Had he been with us today, Norman Buchan would have contributed to this debate with great passion and authority. We shall miss him for more than this afternoon, because he was a genuinely interesting man who took a real interest in a variety of matters in the House and outside it. I am grateful for the Minister's remarks. I know that my right hon. and hon. Friends would want me to emphasise the great loss which we feel and which the Minister was kind enough to mention.It is difficult to follow the passion with which the Minister defended the proposed new clause. He proceeded with what is, in his new mood, his usual emollience, saying that he will listen with care and interest to all that is said. That would be enormously comforting if only we could believe that, having listened to all that we say, the Minister is likely to take any notice of it. We know very well that the clause will be added to the Bill, although, judging from the right and hon. Gentleman's closing remarks, that will happen without the slightest enthusiasm from the Minister who pilots the Bill. He said that, to his mind, the Bill was perfectly satisfactory when it left the House and that he would have been perfectly content if it had remained as it was. He spoke of others taking a different view without identifying them.
I made it clear that the others to whom I was referring were certain of their Lordships and hon. Members who had expressed a view in an early-day motion in this House. It is perfectly proper that I should listen to them, as I do to Opposition Members. I did so many times, and then changed the Bill as a result.
I do not want to argue that point at great length, but if the Minister had simply been willing to listen to their Lordships' views, he would have abandoned his attempt to introduce such a clause when it became clear from the outset that their Lordships did not want it to proceed. The Minister tells the House that the clause is of no consequence, and no doubt he would like the country to hear that remark—yet it is of such importance to someone that three attempts were made to devise a draft acceptable to another place, and enormous pressure was placed on the stalwarts who support the Government there to turn up and ensure that it was passed.Somebody liked the clause and regarded it as important. I accept that that somebody is not the Minister, because his reply to the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) gave every impression of a man swimming in treacle. He was making the heaviest possible weather of defending what he had to defend. I at least propose to set out in the clearest terms within my capability why we are wholly opposed to it and to make it absolutely clear that when the Labour Government are elected we shall repeal this clause, which we regard as intimidatory and inconsistent with broadcasting in a free society. There is general agreement among the parties, broadcasters and, I believe, the viewing public about the importance of impartiality in television. It is essential to a democracy, particularly in a society that increasingly obtains its information from television. For that reason, successive Broadcasting Acts have charged the ITA, the IBA and, soon, the Independent Broadcasting Commission with the duty of ensuring that proper impartiality and balance are preserved. From the inception of independent broadcasting to the passage of the Bill through all its stages in the House, it has been generally agreed that the judgment on how impartiality was to be maintained should be left to the body that was required to regulate independent television. It should be left to its judgment alone. That was the view because there was a general wish, which I hope and believe is shared on both sides of the House, that the preservation of impartiality and balance should be carried out in a way that is not oppressive and is not likely to result in a deterioration of programme standards. The Government's proposal has both those disadvantages. It is oppressive in effect and will lead to reductions in the standards of certain programmes. I have no doubt that the proposal will intimidate some programme makers, and I go further: I believe that it is intended to do so. Anyone who doubts that intention should read the speech by Lord Wyatt of Weeford, the only true begetter of the new clause in the House of Lords last Monday. He proposed that, before beginning their work, programme makers should be required to sign a declaration saying that they understand, respect and will observe the code of impartiality. The idea that programme makers should be required to sign a document accepting anything except the law of the land as it stands—the Minister was careful to tell us this is not the law of the land—is not consistent with a free society. Before I describe the consequences of the clause, I want, partly as a result of the extraordinary activities of Lord Wyatt, to remind the House of its origins. By understanding its origins, we understand its purpose. When the Government drafted the Bill, no such clause was thought necessary. All who heard the Minister's speech will agree that it was clear that he does not regard it as necessary even today. No such clause was added or even contemplated by the Government in Committee. The idea is the product of the paranoia about broadcasting which Lord Wyatt has deployed time after time in the articles that he writes inThe Times and in the articles, if that is the right description of them, that he writes in theNews of the World. We all know—it is almost a matter of public record—that Lord Wyatt, who has a special entrée to No. 10 Downing street, convinced the Prime Minister that to expose the independent television companies to the threat of continual litigation would severely restrict their willingness to make the controversial programmes that many of us regard as the life-blood of broadcasting in a free society. I doubt that the Prime Minister needed much convincing, but we know that she insisted on the inclusion of the clause. I doubt that the Home Secretary has read it. It is clear from last Monday's debate in the other place that the Minister of State did not understand and, as we knew before today but which was confirmed a moment ago, the Minister for the Arts certainly does not agree with it. The Minister for the Arts told the Royal Television Society, as late as 4 September:
On 4 September he was against a mechanistic statutory requirement. Let us examine what he advocates today. I describe it in the words of the Minister of State, as he spelt out the clause in the House of Lords last Monday:"Due impartiality is not a matter which can be reduced to some simple mathematical formula, nor can its achievement be guaranteed through any mechanistic statutory requirement."
That is being advocated by a Minister who is, root and branch, against mechanistic statutory requirements. I hope that the Minister will not suggest that what his colleague in the House of Lords said cannot be described as "mechanistic or statutory", for were he to attempt to do so I should be grieved to discover that, even in this Government, the least literate this century, the Minister for the Arts has only a passing acquaintance with the English language. It is clear that what he has developed and is now advocating imposes statutory duties on the new commission to define in some particulars what objectivity and impartiality is, and is wholly mechanistic in its application. The real question is not whether the Minister changed his position but why he has appeared to change his mind. I have no doubt that it is because pressure was put on him to produce and to create a new chain, a new limitation and a new burden on the independent television companies in the hope and intention that they will reduce the number of controversial documentary programmes that they produce. The Minister said again today that the new Independent Television Commission is to draw up a code to ensure impartiality. He repeats time after time that the commission is responsible for the code. I shall read, at perhaps intelligible speed, what the Minister of State described as the new obligations in the House of Lords, from which the House will realise that, although it is the duty of the ITC to draw up the code, the Government are telling it what the code must contain. They are telling it the nature of the code, its provisions, its scope and in some particulars its contents. The contents are to be specified in law and, by specifying its contents, the House, if it supports the clause, will be imposing on the television industry a series of adverse consequences."Paragraph (a) of new subsection (4A) relates to due impartiality being achieved for each major matter of political or industrial controversy … Paragraph (b) of subsection (4A) requires the code to take account of the need to define what is meant by a series of programmes. Paragraph (a) of subsection (4B) requires the code to indicate what due impartiality requires in particular circumstances. Paragraph (b) of subsection (4B) sets out that the code should indicate the manner in which impartiality is to be achieved for different programme types. Paragraph (c) of subsection (4B) requires the code to indicate the timescale within which programmes must be included if impartiality is to be achieved over a series. Paragraph (d) of subsection 4(B) requires the code to indicate the means by which the audience is informed that impartiality".—[Official Report, House of Lords, 22 October 1990; Vol. 522, c. 1144.]
If the right hon. Gentleman were the ITC and were faced with a bald requirement from Parliament to have a code, I do not see how he would find it possible to discharge that duty without setting out in the code—I quote from paragraph (a) of the amendment—
What is the point of having a code if it does not deal with those matters, and what is the harm in setting out clearly what a code should deal with?"what due impartiality does and does not require, either generally or in relation to particular circumstances; (b) the ways in which due impartiality may be achieved in connection with programmes of particular descriptions".
The Minister for the Arts was perfectly happy to proceed in the way that he now derides throughout the passage of the Bill.
He does not deride it; he seemed to be doing so. He seemed happy not to have these specifications in the code until they were imposed by the Prime Minister. There was no mention of them when we debated the code before, no suggestion of them in Committee and no inclusion of them in the original draft. Since 1954, the concept of objectivity and impartiality has been left entirely to the Independent Broadcasting Authority or its successors.
The right hon. Gentleman has said a couple of times that these measures were imposed on my right hon. and learned Friend by the Prime Minister, but they were brought before the House by the other place. If the Opposition in the other place were so passionately opposed to them, why did they manage to muster only a fraction of their strength to vote against them? Could it be that their Lordships, in their wisdom, realised public concern in this matter?
The hon. Gentleman talks about public concern. He can talk about it, but he cannot demonstrate it because there is virtually no public concern on record. The Government have added to the number of institutions that exist to encourage, monitor and publish details on the amount of public concern, but the number of complaints received is minuscule. I propose to deal with the large number of complaints from Conservative Members, but they must not think that they speak for the British public—a fact that they will discover to their discomfort over the next 18 months.I wish to go through, one by one, the detriments that will be the inevitable result of the clause being passed into law. They show why I was astonished at the words of the Minister of State in another place and even more astonished by the support given to this notion by the Minister for the Arts. They are why almost everyone who has judged these matters with authority believes that the clause will result in constant litigation. 5 pm The chairman of the Bar Council and the professor of law at the University of Oxford predict constant litigation. That is certainly the fear of the television companies, which naturally are apprehensive about it. They fear, and we believe that they are right to fear, that every group of right-wing loonies will take them to court—perhaps frivolously, perhaps contentiously, perhaps with the intention of making a point rather than with winning a case—by arguing that a programme should be covered by the impartiality guidelines, as covered by subsection (4B)(a); by arguing that a programme should have carried a warning that it was controversial, as covered by subsection (4B)(d); or by arguing that balance has not been achieved by an alternative programme putting a different point of view and being broadcast in the required period, as required by subsection (4B)(c).
I shall give way first to the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley), who was bobbing up and down earlier, and then gave way to the Minister.
The best speech in the other place, for brevity and content, was by Lord Peyton of Yeovil. I have a philosophical question for the right hon. Gentleman—perhaps I should be careful about asking it and he should be careful about answering it. He referred to right-wing loonies. Does he agree that political proselytes can often be dangerous people?
Of course they can. It is rather like loving one's mother and not kicking dogs. We can all agree with that. The brave and interesting point comes when we start defining who those people are, and I propose to do so. First, I shall give way to the Minister for the Arts.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. It is good of him to give way to me again, and I shall try not to make a habit of intervening. The right hon. Gentleman is making some important technical points, and I believe that it would be useful to all of us if we had a chance to explore one of his contentions.The nub of the point seems to be that the provision will lead to constant litigation because it is an intimidatory device to be used by the Government to compel the ITC to do something for which various loonies can then hold it to account. On the right hon. Gentleman's partial reading of the clause, that does not strike me as being exactly what the clause will permit. The right hon. Gentleman read us chunks from Lords amendment No. 22, but he did riot quote these words from subsection (4B):
here are the crucial words—"The rules so specified shall in addition"—
In other words, it is for the commission to judge whether it considers that it is appropriate to do the things set out therein. It would be extremely difficult for a judge—although not impossible, and it would not be impossible to have masses of litigation about other matters—to say that it was wholly unreasonable for the ITC to have determined whether it was appropriate to do certain things, when the statute indicates that that was left to its discretion."indicate to such extent as the Commission consider appropriate".
That point was made not by the Minister of State in another place but by one of his supporters—I took specific advice on that. The answer relates to the words that the right hon. Gentleman used in his intervention and several times in his speech—"as long as the ITC behaves reasonably". I have no doubt that the ITC will behave reasonably, but the television companies are afraid that the group to which I referred will insist on testing the nature of reason in court and that it will say, "In this particular, the ITC did not behave reasonably. In allocating this programme under one heading while not considering it under another, impartial or not impartial, the ITC behaved not reasonably but unreasonably." The television companies are particularly concerned about the concept of "reasonable".
Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that the ITC should be totally unaccountable and that no group of citizens should be entitled to challenge whether it has acted reasonably?
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was here at the beginning of my speech, but if he was, he was not listening. I made it clear that I want impartiality to be preserved and that the ITC should have an unfettered right to make sure that that happens. I want the ITC to have the right that it has enjoyed since 1954, not least because, on the general judgment of the British public—who do not complain about partiality—the present system operates perfectly successfully. We have not heard a word today from the Minister about why a change is necessary because, despite all his debating skills, he cannot produce such an argument.
If the right hon. Gentleman is right in assuming that the ITC will behave reasonably—which is what my right hon. Friend the Minister and I think—why do we need the amendment?
The right hon. Gentleman must not ask me. I shall not answer Home Office questions for another year or so, so the right hon. Gentleman must put his point to the Minister. I agree 100 per cent. with him—there is no justification for this change. The Minister has not even attempted to justify it. We have not yet heard any reason for making the change.The fear of litigation is very much related to those groups that the broadcasters rightly suspect will take contentious actions, testing the concept of reasonableness with the intention of intimidating. The hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth) almost challenged me to suggest who those people might be. Everyone knows that the Freedom Association takes such cases to make a point rather than to win a legal battle. Everyone has heard of Lord Chalfont's media monitoring unit. The television companies are rightly apprehensive about how such groups will behave. Let us have no doubt about the outcome of that apprehension. Programme makers will choose the bland and the anodyne because they believe that the bland and the anodyne are safe, yet the bland and the anodyne are the last things that should characterise some programmes—in particular, the documentary programmes against which the clause is directed. The amendment will result in, and is intended to result in, a reduction in controversy, yet controversy is often the life-blood of good broadcasting. Let me put it in simple terms. Throughout the debate in the other place, several programmes were cited as the new target for these impartiality rules—for example, "Death on the Rock", "Who Bombed Birmingham?" and Harold Pinter's programme on Nicaragua. We were repeatedly told that, because of these new rules, after such a programme was broadcast there would be a Government health warning saying that that programme was not impartial and that, within a specified period, a programme would appear putting the contrary argument. I do not believe for a moment that that would be the outcome. The outcome will be that programmes such as "Who Bombed Birmingham?" and "Death on the Rock" will not be produced at all. I have no doubt that that is the intention of many of the proponents of the clause. That is what they want and I fear that that is what they will get if the clause is passed. For that reason, the clause is repressive, and that is why I repeat that the next Labour Government will repeal it. We shall expect impartiality, but we shall have the sense to know that impartiality cannot be precisely defined and that the commission—and the commission alone—acting under the general law, has the duty to see that balance is preserved, not in relation to any one programme but over time. The idea that a programme's imbalance and impartiality are put right over time is wholly consistent not simply with the free society in which we live, but with the idea of plurality of broadcasting on which the Broadcasting Bill is supposed to be based. When we heard the talk of the brave new world of new broadcasting with multiple channels, the argument was always that different opinions would cancel each other out. That argument was put before Lord Wyatt thought that he could do his worst with some programmes of which he disapproved, before he approached the Prime Minister and before the Prime Minister instructed the Minister for the Arts on what he had to do. It was put when the Broadcasting Bill was in the hands of the Home Office, not in the hands of No. 10 Downing street.
Is not my right hon. Friend being unduly unkind to the Minister for the Arts? After all, since he has rewritten two thirds of the Bill, is not it understandable that the Prime Minister would like to have the odd bit that relates to the original legislation?
I take my hon. Friend's point. However, I understand that most of the rewriting was done by the Home Office. The fact that this proposal was imposed on the Home Office illustrates its basic purpose—to intimidate broadcasters. The result will be a reduction in high-quality broadcasting, a reduction in tolerance and a reduction in freedom—a reduction of the values that we want to see in our society. I repeat, for the third time, that we will repeal the clause at the first opportunity and, for that reason, we shall tonight vote against its incorporation in the Bill.
What on earth is all the fuss about? We left for our summer hols in July happy in the knowledge that we had persuaded the Minister of State that, at long last, he was on the right lines, only to find in October that he has been shunted into a siding. That is due to an unholy alliance between Lord Wyatt and an early-day motion signed by 100 Conservative Back Benchers—one sage and a hundred onions.[Laughter.] I am not getting paid for this.Some of us remember Lord Wyatt—Mr. Woodrow Wyatt as he then was—when he was a Member of the House of Commons. Once heard, never forgotten. The most accurate description of him then would probably have been "crypto-socialist". In more recent and happier times, he is the author of a column in theNews of the World entitled, believe it or not, "The Voice of Reason". He is even better known as a man of views; he has more views than a dog has fleas. How suitable it is that he should have devoted his remaining energies to emasculating his media rivals elsewhere. Why is it that many hon. Members—I was going to say "of my great party", but that would be presumptuous—of our great party believe that we have the best newspapers in the world and the worst broadcasting, when all the evidence suggests that it is the other way round? Could it be because youthful left wingers are persuaded to join the media, while youthful right wingers go into the City, become estate agents or manage, for a time, the Scottish Conservative party? 5.15 pm Perhaps, in the dog days of summer, I should have tabled an amendment that would have put the BBC and ITV firmly under the control of Conservative central office. Let us suppose that we had passed such an amendment. I should like to offer an example of some of the programmes that we might have been enjoying this winter. We might have had "Thought for the Day" by Mr. J. Archer and "Listen with Mother" with Mrs. Angela Rumbold. "The Weather" would be the province of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) with "England fog-bound; the continent isolated." There would have been a new series of "Dr. Finlay's Casebook" in which those two loveable Scots, Dr. Finlay and Dr. Cameron, would be played by Messrs. Forth and Forsyth. We might have had "Last of the Summer Wine" starring Sir Marcus Fox and "The Money Programme" fronted by a series of "friends of the family". I can assure the House that no old films would be shown over bank holidays and the Christmas period. We should no longer have to watch "The Guns of Navarone" for the umpteenth time. Bank holidays would be filled by extracts from the Prime Minister's speeches at party conferences ranging over the past nine or 10 years. Such a regime would not be without its entertainment and its quiz shows. There would be a quiz show entitled "Standing Ovation" in which Young Conservatives were encouraged to make speeches and in which the one who got the longest applause would be awarded shares in the electricity industry. Would not my clause have solved, once and for all, the problem of bias? Many of my hon. Friends on the Back Benches would have been able to boast of Britain's good fortune in possessing not only newspapers such as theSun, theNews of the World, theSunday Sport andThe People, but the fairest, cleanest and best broadcasting in the world. Sadly, we have missed yet another opportunity.
The late Norman Buchan would have enjoyed that speech. His presence in this debate is felt by all of us; that is why we thank the Minister for paying a well-deserved tribute to him. He inspired not only the interest of which the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) properly spoke, but something pretty close to affection among hon. Members of all parties. He would have cared about this debate.In all fairness to him, I must say that the Minister did not attempt to discharge the onus of proof which I suggested, in the concluding moments of his speech, that he might do, because it is not possible to demonstrate widespread public dissatisfaction about impartiality in broadcasting. Tens of millions of viewers watch controversial and less controversial current affairs, news and documentary programmes, but the number of complaints on the ground of partiality is very small. In the year ending March 1990, there were only 245 complaints from the public to the Independent Broadcasting Authority about impartiality. The IBA's own annual survey in 1990 on public opinion showed a pattern similar to previous years. Between 76 per cent. and 78 per cent. of the public thought that no favouritism towards any party was shown either by ITV or Channel 4. In 1988–89 the Broadcasting Complaints Commission adjudicated on only 19 complaints relating to unfairness or unjustified invasions of privacy. Six complaints were upheld wholly, five were upheld in part and eight were not upheld. In the light of those figures, it is hard to see why we should weigh in the balance Lord Wyatt and the 100 onions and allow the Government to amend the Bill in such a significant fashion at this last gasp. In my intervention I reminded the Minister that he made his views clear not only in his speech to the Royal Television Society, to which the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) referred, but rather more fully in Committee on 30 January when he said:
I understand the ways of politics and the pressures that Ministers can be put under by other Ministers, sometimes senior ones. I do not find it in any way disreputable that the Minister should have deployed the argument that he has deployed this afternoon with his customary skill. His position today is in stark contrast to what he has said publicly and in the House on a number of occasions."When I was presented with the opportunity to reflect on whether we should make changes to the impartiality requirement it occurred to me that a Government of any stripe are always the last group to be credited with impartiality. I decided that it was better to leave well alone. That is what I have done. We have not fiddled around with the impartiality arrangements. We felt that it was better to leave goalposts where they were."—[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 30 January 1990; c. 411.]
I reject that imputation, however courteously put, because it is not so. The burden of what I was trying to say to the House earlier is that the law on impartiality, the requirement that there should be due impartiality on matters of current industrial and political controversy and so on, is precisely the law as it was in 1954. I was not prepared to make that change. What I said in January stands and what I said in September was said in the clear knowledge that we were going to do what we have subsequently done.
Oh yes, absolutely.In September I dealt with some of the solutions put forward by Lord Wyatt which I thought, and have successfully been able to persuade others, were not workable. We have not moved the goalposts. Everyone agreed that the referee should have a proper rule book so that the players knew what rules they were playing to. We are simply saying that that rule book should contain rules to be determined as to those particular aspects of the game and not by us. I am prepared to be criticised for making a change that some people see as purely cosmetic, but that change does not go to the root of the impartiality law, which is exactly as it was.
The Minister says that in his speech to the Royal Television Society he knew exactly what was going to happen, but the proposals have changed three or four times since then and we are now dealing with a proposition that is quite different from that first put forward in the other place.I admire the Minister's dexterity in a purely rhetorical sense as he has tried to reconcile the irreconcilable. Neither he nor I, nor the public, are interested in the thought processes that led him to arrive at his stand—we are more interested in the effect of what has been done.
I respect the hon. Gentleman's contribution to the Bill and I want to pose to him this question: what will be the difference that television companies will face today, as against what they have faced for nearly 40 years, apart from the fact that there will be a code about which everyone agreed anyway? What substantive change wreaks the mischief complained of?
As I said in my earlier intervention, I believe that the onus of proof on the mischief lies with the Minister. I do not believe that he has discharged it. As to what will be the consequence of this, who am I to put myself in the shoes of many broadcasters who have cast doubts upon the appropriateness of the clause as amended? There is not one broadcasting company that has not expressed its grave reservations about this change. They have all taken endless legal advice. Some of us have received the authorative opinion of Mr. Anthony Scrivener, chairman of the Bar Council. He has spoken of continuing litigation that will be necessary to sort out the consequences of the amended clause.It is plainly not possible for me to answer the question posed by the Minister, any more than it is for the broadcasters to answer it. That is the nub of the problem. The clause will leave us with a vast uncertainty that cannot be resolved by debate across the Floor, but by a whole series of cases in the courts. It will not be solved by one case as the judges themselves may disagree. Those cases will be pursued by people who have a desire to obstruct the freedom of expression that the Minister and I are at one in seeking to preserve.
The requirement on broadcasters today is that they should adhere to due impartiality on matters of current industrial and political controversy. That is almost exactly the same as the rule that they will face under the Bill. As far as I am aware, that requirement has not been the subject of frequent legal challenges in the past 40 years, and I doubt that it will be during the next 40. The substantive law, the requirement to observe due impartiality, is precisely the same in the Bill as it is in today's law.
If we were debating precisely the same provisions as the substantive law set out in the 1954 Act I do not imagine that we would have had a long debate or any debate. The Minister knows that the Government are imposing upon the ITC an obligation to prepare a code with specific, new, substantive requirements. That code will create uncertainty and that uncertainty will cause problems for broadcasters and make the mischief of which I complain.We are fortunate to have television and radio stations that are not afraid to make controversial programmes. Broadcasters are entitled to put out such programmes. Hon. Members have already mentioned Harold Pinter's programme on Nicaragua, and what about Norman Stone on Poland? Those programmes contain different views held by very different individuals on important current events. No one believes that the views expressed are those of the broadcaster—clearly they are the views of those participating in the programme. That very independence is at risk. Companies competing in an ever-hostile commercial climate will be frightened of making such programmes if there is a risk of organisations such as the Freedom Association—there are plenty of such well-heeled organisations—taking those companies to court. I do not regard the opinion of any single lawyer on this matter as conclusive. It is the multiplicity of views that have been expressed by lawyers that could be regarded as giving rise to concern. There is no doubt that the balance of legal opinion on this is in line with that expressed by Lord Goodman, to which the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook referred. He believes that it will create a legal picnic. We managed at an earlier stage of the Bill to persuade the Minister of the undesirability of that in the context of the quality threshold. He showed himself then to be sensitive to the undesirability of dragging these matters, which should be handled by the regulators, to the regulation of the courts, or to the establishment of precedents with one test case after another. They will not all follow in line, for the sort of subject matter that could be challenged, particularly in considering whether a matter is major, as required by the measure, will be extremely difficult. 5.30 pm The Minister has won his spurs in the House. Indeed, he has won recognition in the Government, in view of his elevation to his important post, as a result of the manner in which he handled the Bill, listened to opinion and weighed it up. He did not favour a particular view but weighed the argument. The argument deployed in the other place in favour of the clause as drafted was of the strength of gossamer. If the Minister has any scope for manoeuvre, I urge him to drop this worthless and dangerous clause. The previous three chairmen of the IBA wrote a powerful letter toThe Times warning of the dangers of what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has in mind. I read with interest what Mr. Glyn Mathias, an experienced programme maker and broadcaster for ITN, and a man known to most of us, said on the subject. He commented:
Coming from a man such as Glyn Mathias, that is serious, for he weighs his words with care. I have also paid attention to what has been said by the IBA and the shadow ITC. They were not persuaded of the need for what is proposed by anything the Minister or anyone else said. On 3 July they issued a briefing on the question of impartiality in which they said:"The application of due impartiality can vary depending on the number of differing views on any one issue. It is rarely just a question of a right-wing view versus a left-wing view. The result of the amendment will be to neuter the news and to impede our ability to cover events as we have in the past."
That is why there was no debate on the issue on Report and why there was no serious lengthy debate about impartiality in Committee, for we are united in recognising that impartiality is the bedrock of television and we are satisfied that it has been adequately secured in the past. I conclude with an appeal not in my words but in the words of a leader writer inThe Daily Telegraph. Perhaps it was written by Mr. Max Hastings, who in matters of freedom is a voice to be listened to. I should not attribute it to him because I cannot be certain that he wrote it, but the writer stated:"In our view, the Bill as drafted offers appropriate safeguards for impartiality."
I hope that Conservative Members will heed that and will vote tonight with my hon. Friends and Her Majesty's Opposition."A classic test of any government is how far it seeks superintendence over matters left to good sense. The amendment … takes intervention well beyond what should be acceptable to Conservatives."
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) on a highly entertaining speech. I hope that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) will forgive me if I do not express the same congratulations on his remarks. My hon. Friend achieved his laughs, not for the first time, at the expense of some of his colleagues. He complained that he was not paid for his performance here this afternoon. Perhaps he should look for a forum where he will be suitably rewarded, because he is assuredly good enough to be paid. I fear that he will never need to worry about the ITC getting at him about being partial or biased over a major matter.I strongly support the amendments on impartiality, particularly No. 22. The broadcasters have only themselves to blame for the amendments. I suggest that the original amendments in the other place were introduced in frustration at the arrogance of a minority of broadcasters, in the ITV companies and in the BBC, who have abused their positions of influence by producing programmes that peddle their political viewpoints——
If the hon. Gentleman will be patient, I shall refer to a few programmes.The hysterical response to the impartiality amendments has brought no credit to some of the broadcasters concerned. Many of their claims have been highly misleading, while some have been merely abusive. Michael Grade, chief executive of Channel 4, said that Tory Members of Parliament were employing "McCarthyite tactics" and claimed that
Was he referring to Lord Wyatt, to the Media Monitoring Unit, to the Freedom Association or to the 113 hon. Members who signed the early-day motion? I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot that they are not all Conservative Members. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland will be pleased to hear that they include a Liberal, and there are a few Ulster Unionists. At any rate, the 113 hon. Members who signed the early-day motion represent not a small but a substantial lobby that is not without influence. The most misleading claim that broadcasters have made is that the amendments introduce a new concept into broadcasting law. That is not true, and I was pleased that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) did not try to put forward that argument. Due impartiality has been a requirement since the 1950s, and the requirement in the Bill referring to due impartiality is word for word the same as the requirement for due impartiality in the Broadcasting Act 1981. In other words, due impartiality is not a new concept. The wording is specific, saying that due impartiality must be achieved on matters of industrial and political concern and that that balance should be achieved within a series. Indeed, the IBA has incorporated the requirement to balance over a series in its guidelines. The trouble is that the broadcasters have been ignoring those requirements and the IBA has proved itself unable or unwilling to enforce its own rules. That is why the amendments are necessary and why it is important that the basic outlines of what is meant by due impartiality, how it is to be achieved and the time limits within which balancing programmes are to be shown should be clearly spelt out in the Bill. That way, there can be no misunderstanding or ignoring of the impartiality rules by broadcasters and the ITC will not simply be able to turn a blind eye to abuses. The forces of law will he solidly behind the new ITC code. There is no doubt that there has been a clear flouting of existing impartiality rules. In some cases that can be put down to sheer ignorance on the part of the broadcasters. I talked to some broadcasters who did not realise that they had a responsibility to be impartial in the way that they presented things. They simply were not aware of the current state of the law."this campaigning has been orchestrated by a small right-wing lobby."
I have talked to individual broadcasters—for example, people who have interviewed me have been unaware of such matters. However, the majority of cases in which the impartiality rules have been flouted have been deliberate.Recently, there was a highly revealing article inThe Guardian. It was written by Paul Bonner, the founder programme controller at Channel 4 and now the director of programme planning at the ITV Association. He wrote quite openly:
He says that balance can be achieved over two or three years, which may be all very well for him. But the law says that balance should be achieved over a series. He is clearly flouting that and seems to be doing so with impunity. In a radio discussion with my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Sir P. Hordern), Mr. Michael Grade, to whom I have already referred, actually admitted that "Oh Superman", a highly partisan and one-sided programme attacking American foreign policy and presented by Harold Pinter, was not balanced or impartial. He said that a balance to the programme was provided in a "Right to Reply" programme by an unknown individual, who was given two or three minutes to put the counter argument. One might say, "So what—it does not matter." But the current law—the Broadcasting Act 1981—states that impartiality must be achieved. There is proof elsewhere that some television series are one-sided and unbalanced. I make no apology for referring to the Media Monitoring Unit, which has shown that some television series, notably "World in Action" and "Open Space", are consistently biased to the left."to do justice to difficult and unpopular arguments has meant that balance might only be reached in terms of two or three years, rather than within any series."
Give an example.
The hon. Gentleman asks me to give an example. I have mentioned "World in Action" and "Open Space". I do not suppose that the hon. Gentleman has actually taken the trouble to read any of the material produced by the Media Monitoring Unit. Were he to have done so, he would have seen clearly to which specific programmes the unit was referring.Some people might say that Tories and right-wing people would have a go at "Panorama". It is interesting that the last report by the Media Monitoring Unit found that the "Panorama" programme's output during the series in question was extremely balanced and there was little bias towards either left or right.
Does my hon. Friend think that the reason why the "Panorama" programme was found to be balanced was that it had faced a couple of libel actions successfully brought by hon. Members?
My hon. Friend makes a telling point, but there is another issue. My hon. Friend knows only too well the difficulties of taking legal action against broadcasters. We have heard that it will be a lawyers' paradise, that they will have a field day and will be taking the television companies to court every five minutes. That is absolute nonsense. For a start, the amendments will not result in that, but even if they were to make litigation easier, the cost of taking such legal action is prohibitive. Therefore, to suggest that the amendments will produce much more litigation is absolute nonsense.I am not just concerned about party political bias: I am equally worried about a more general anti-free market., anti-big business, anti-capitalism and pro-Government: intervention approach that seems to pervade so much of British broadcasting.
Will the hon. Gentleman give an example? I hate to interrupt this tide of nonsense. Will he give us examples of producers, directors and programmes that have shown the malevolence, bias and lack of impartiality of which he accuses them all?
I have no intention of starting to name. lots of names.I have been involved in a television programme made by one of the respectable current affairs teams, which was quite clearly biased. When I met the programme's producer and presenter it was interesting to find that they quite clearly had a specific view about the programme that they were making.
Like the hon. Gentleman.
Yes, of course it was like me. The reason why I was being interviewed was that I had a certain view. I should have thought that producers and presenters would be interested in presenting programmes that were balanced and impartial.
I would hardly believe that the hon. Gentleman said it, but he did so twice, so I must ask him the question again. His complaint is that producers have a specific view. Does he believe that television programmes should or could possibly be made without the producers having a specific view or did he just make a couple of slips of the tongue?
I know that the right hon. Gentleman is trying to be clever, but the producers' and presenters' views should not be peddled in the programmes that they make. Of course, everyone has a perfect right to a view, but they should attempt to present a balanced approach in the programmes that they make.One radio programme that I regularly listen to is a classic example of the sort of thing that we get. It is "Start the Week" on Radio 4 on Monday mornings, presented by Melvyn Bragg—[Interruption.] That programme is one of the more notable but subtle exponents of the sort of thing about which I have been talking—[Laughter.]
Order. Barracking from sedentary positions does nothing to improve the quality of debate in the House.
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Opposition Members have been talking about intolerance. They are demonstrating enormous intolerance simply because I am putting a counter view.One of the interesting comments made in the debate in the Lords on Monday was made by Lord Annan, a respected commentator on broadcasting matters who chaired the Committee on the future of broadcasting 13 years ago. In Monday's debate he said:
I fear that that strain has not entirely disappeared. The other day, Barbara Amiel, writing inThe Times under the rather extraordinary headline"Two distinguished broadcasters in current affairs on television told us that there ran through the output a strain that was anti-establishment, anti-institution, anti-free enterprise and anti-American."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 22 October 1990; Vol. 522, c. 1160.]
said:"Bias makes for better television",
That does not prove anything, but it suggests that a large number of people working in the media have a left-wing perspective on life. I do not object to that, but I object when they peddle their left-wing views in the programmes that they make. Most hon. Members will have heard of Christopher Dunkley, the respected television reporter of theFinancial Times. Back in July he questioned why the BBC was so enthusiastically preaching one point of view on environmental matters. He went on to ask:"Good documentary makers almost always have a point of view, and in my 20 years of working in the medium I found few who could be said to have sound Tory views."
So, several people are worried about what is going on in television. There is clear evidence of bias in certain radio programmes on the BBC——"When does the BBC intend to give equal time to other political attitudes on the environment?"
Would it be possible to give a specific example from "Start the Week", because I understand that it is enjoyed by a large audience of all sorts of people, including large numbers of bourgeois ladies whose favourite subversive habit is flower arranging?
As it happens, it is my misfortune to listen to "Start the Week" most mornings on my way to the station. The other day my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) was on the programme talking about bias on television. It was interesting to hear how Mr. Bragg interrupted my hon. Friend far more than his other guests—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend is perfectly capable of looking after herself, but it was clear that Mr. Bragg thoroughly disapproved of what she was saying and made sure that the other point of view was put—and that is not always his practice.For as long as broadcasting plays such a vital and integral role in the British way of life, due impartiality will be a key component of it. I congratulate all who are responsible for these amendments, in this House, the other House and outside Parliament, and I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister on coming forward with the amendments. I look forward to the day when similar impartiality requirements apply to the BBC, but in the meantime I am happy to support the Lords amendments.
I thoroughly enjoyed the speech by the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley), but I am a bit worried because he was not nearly as funny as the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick).When I became a young councillor, I joined a local authority in Devon, which was wholly controlled by so-called independents. One of the first things that I was told was that they had no politics there: they were all above that sort of thing. I discovered that that meant, "We do not have any Labour party politics." All the councillors were happily Conservative and had always voted for and propagated Conservative ideas on the council. Listening to the hon. Member for Colne Valley I had a tremendous sensation of deja vu. Here is a party which happily and consistently supports newspapers which quite a few people would think had about as much independence of view and lack of bias as Mrs. Whitehouse; yet that party claims that the journalists who work in broadcasting are not to be trusted to be independent. But the Lords amendment is rather different. Those of us who sat through the Committee and watched the Minister for the Arts reshaping the legislation, so that it became by the end completely different from what had been intended by the people who wrote the line on the back of the envelope on which it was based, know that the fact that he has now had to give way at this very late stage to an amendment as bigoted, unimaginative and stupid as this one must show that he is acting on the instructions of his mistress. The House should realise that the amendment encapsulates a dangerous attack on freedom of speech. I am a very partial person, so I believe strongly in impartiality. All my life, I have had a definite view on a number of subjects about which I have not hesitated to express my opinions, but I accept the right of others to disagree with me, publicly and in writing. I expect people to have a contrary point of view and to express it, and I believe that our broadcasting would assume a much sadder and more dangerous form if we changed this set of values. Democracy depends on the ability of people who have a vote to listen to differing points of view. Why do we offer ourselves for election if we do not believe in the right of every person in the country to listen to differing points of view? Why do we protect so strongly the privileges of the House of Commons which allow us openly to attack other institutions and ideas? It is because we believe in the right of free speech——
I want to develop my idea a little further. I heard the hon. Gentleman express his views at considerable length in Committee, and learned there of his expertise in "Blue Peter".It is vital that we understand that there must be diversity and the expression of a wide variety of views in broadcasting. We need to maintain codes of control, in the sense that we expect people to present balanced views. All of us, having seen programmes with which we disagree, demand some sort of balance for the other point of view; but we who are not involved in broadcasting must not sit down and draw up rigid rules which appear to tell the broadcasters they are not to be trusted to do their own jobs responsibly. It is noticeable that we do not do this with newspapers. We allow journalists who work on newspapers to be as bigoted, ignorant and lazy about doing their research as they want to be—and from time to time they are helped by people who are as bigoted as they are——
(Derbyshire, South: As a totally bigoted journalist in my other life, I put it to the hon. Lady that there are nevertheless hon. Members who think that the Lords amendment as it stands is worth having; that there are problems; and that it is appropriate and right that broadcasters be reminded of their duties.
I have no objection to broadcasters being reminded of their duties. That is the responsibility of those to whom we have given powers under the Bill to do precisely that. Why did the Government come here with a Bill that gave them those powers? Why do we have codes of conduct in existing broadcasting legislation? The Government gave those powers not because they thought it amusing to do so but because they expect those charged with them to carry out their duties. Those who have any doubt about the reasoning behind the amendment should listen carefully to the hon. Member for Colne Valley. The hon. Gentleman's one distinction is that he actually says what many Conservatives believe but are much too tactful and clever to put into words.I think that only a small number of Conservative Members will vote against the amendment, although the commitment of Conservatives to freedom of speech is no less than the commitment of some Opposition Members. If the amendment is accepted, we shall be underlining not the need for impartiality but a call for bigotry, for political control by a Government who feel themselves under attack and who want to restrict the opportunities for broadcasters to put different points of view before the public. That is a dangerous form of paranoia and in the final analysis it is extremely restrictive. 6 pm I frequently argue with the broadcasting authorities and often wish that they would show greater impartiality in their handling of some subjects. But I reserve my right to go on protesting to them through their existing machinery, raising points on which I think they are wrong and winning or losing my case on the basis of my evidence. I do not accept and hon. Members should never accept a deliberate, bigoted, small-minded and unacceptable attempt to restrict the freedom of broadcasters to produce open debate. Such debate is the life-blood of democracy, and for 10 years the Government have sought to restrict it. They must not be allowed to get away with it.
I was always schooled to believe not to add to a construction anything that would not improve it. That has legislative wisdom, which is why I am slightly puzzled because the burden of the argument advanced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State was that the Lords amendments add nothing to the Bill. Under questioning, that was expressed once or twice. Why are we adding something that is unnecessary? I wish that my right hon. and learned Friend would look more carefully at that proposition, because some people suspect that the amendments add something that the Minister does not want. My right hon. and learned Friend would have been better advised to stand by his original position that the Bill had integrity as it was and that any additional information added by the clause was superfluous. That suspicion, that contesting of the proposition, means that he may find that he has agreed to something that he does not want.The Minister was right to say that some of us do not like the impartiality rules. That is an important element in the argument. It is wholly appropriate that there should be an impartiality rule when the public fund, effectively through taxation, the licence fee, a public service broadcasting system. I had hoped that, in the advancement of broadcasting, we were moving to sufficient diversity so that competing views and ideas in the system were such that we did not have to worry about each jot and particular of everyone's view. The past 11 years have unhappily concentrated our minds on the history of broadcasting. At one time, presses were licensed because we feared that their contrary views might undermine good government. We used to license the theatre and some productions there, because we feared that they might be insidious and seditious. The remarkable stability of this country over three centuries does not, by and large, bear that out by contrast with the experience of other countries. I thought that, by getting rid of the Lord Chamberlain, we had made a great leap forward. As a Conservative, I do not like the concept that one man's views on a programme or what I should read or see are better than my own ability to judge. In amendments such as the one we are discussing, the detailing is a manifestation of the old-fashioned nanny state, which says that my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister and I and other hon. Members are not able as free citizens to say, "This is nonsense." It is like saying that we cannot judge, and that, because we are unable to make a judgment ourselves, specious bodies of the great and good have to be set up to do it for us. As I say, I thought that we had got rid of the Lord Chamberlain and his remit for the theatre. However, we now have Lord Rees-Mogg who has a better view on these matters than we because he is judged by the Government somehow to sum up the nation's propriety in these affairs. My hon. Friends have expressed agitation about how awful and frightful some programmes are. I agree that some are motivated and some are particular, but the smashing thing about this country is that this clash of ideas is what we have always been about. We have advanced, and the freedom of speech and expression, which mean that I and my hon. Friends may be particular, are vital. There is a fear of broadcasting through television. We are going back to the old licensing of the presses. It is said that there are too few of them and that, if they fall into the wrong hands, our dull electorate—Mrs. Smith of Aldridge or Mrs. Brown from somewhere else—will be incapable of recognising a prejudiced programme. Wise dissertations in the newspapers argue that visual images are somehow so captivating to our intelligence that they render us incapable of saying that something is wrong. I advance my next argument because it is relevant. We banned the direct broadcasting of members of certain organisations in Northern Ireland. Among other things, that was a denial of people's right to hear even the unacceptable and it is therefore a denial of our freedoms. I have been trying to say for a couple of years that my party above all ought to be mindful of the fact that we are strong and free. I said that in the debate on the IRA. As free citizens in a free country, we are the final arbiters. That may be seen as a slight digression, so I shall return to the proposition advanced by the Minister. The amendment adds nothing and should therefore be dropped. The Minister has secured that which he and other hon. Members think appropriate. It is over the top, and the Bill as it was before it went to the House of Lords should be allowed to stand. We should say that the amendment is unnecessary and drop it.
The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) is a remarkable Member of Parliament. On many issues, bucking the party system—which also happens on our side—enlightens a subject. The benefit of this place is not the two sides of the House, although that is necessary to get business through. It is that there are hon. Members in all parts of the House who buck the system and put forward their own ideas. I should like to see that inside and outside the House. I have not participated in debates on the Bill but, like the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills and my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), I should like to ask what the amendments are about. I have read reports of the debates and read about proceedings in the Lords.The Minister has told us that the amendment will not make a big change. A problem arose from an early-day motion signed by 100 people and by some people in the other place with ideas about the problems, especially with independent companies. It was therefore thought that a little should be done to make those people feel that the subject was important when in fact it is not. However "better" it is than the original idea, there are some problems that I should like to investigate. I shall discuss partiality and impartiality and the legal challenge. It is a long time since I was Home Secretary but I should like to look at the problems that a Home Secretary might face if a legal challenge, or judicial review, were taken out. Judicial review seems to be becoming more common. I shall look first at impartiality. People think that the Home Office runs broadcasting—which was certainly not the case when I was Home Secretary and I hope that it is not the case now—and on a controversial subject half the letters that used to pour in were in favour and half were against. On another subject, a different half might be in favour and another half against. It is surprising how subjective are the views of those who want particular programmes. What is impartial? There is a newspaper in Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, calledThe Impartial Reporter. That is a curious use of the word "impartial", but perhaps it is the typical use of the word. People believe that they are impartial even when they are partial. For example, I shall be watching the televisoion on Saturday when the British rugby league team are playing the Australians. Unfortunately, I cannot go to the game. I hope that the commentators will be very partial because that is what I want. It does not matter because the Australian commentators will also be partial. I am only sad that I shall not be there. Of course, I am not saying that all is well with British broadcasting. The way in which the Home Office used to run it—I hope that it still is running it—was correct. I remember a member of the Cabinet berating the BBC and threatening it with a reduction in its licence if it continued to behave in a certain way. I wrote to all my colleagues saying that it was neither their business nor mine. I said that if any individual member of the Cabinet felt strongly about any matter, he should write and complain as an individual, as large numbers of people used to do. Broadcasting is not under the control of the Government, the Cabinet or the House of Commons, and nor should it be. That does not mean that I do not have complaints about the BBC, but there is a code of practice for the BBC as well as for the IBA. Of course, the BBC makes mistakes. I wrote to Sir Ian Trethowan at the time of Airey Neave's death. In the interests of impartiality, the BBC interviewed someone who said that his organisation had killed Airey Neave. In my letter—which appears in print in my book—I said:
But I argued that it was a grave error of judgment to interview that man at that time. I was entitled to my view, but it did not mean that I wanted to control what the BBC was doing. At the time of the Ulster workers' strike—this is an important point that should have been picked up before—Lord Fitt, then a Northern Ireland politician, came to me in high dudgeon and said that the BBC was the voice of the loyalist paramilitaries. He called the BBC "Radio Free Belfast", and said that it was the mouthpiece of the organisers of the Ulster workers' strike. The BBC argued that it required the declaration of an emergency to make it act in a different way. It does not worry me that the existing system does not mean impartiality in the true sense because it entitles me to complain if I wish to do so. Despite all the weaknesses of the BBC and the IBA, I believe in the present system and in the distancing of Ministers and the House of Commons from the running of broadcasting. It is vital that that should be so. That is why I am against a Ministry of Broadcasting. Broadcasting is better off under the Home Office because it pays so little attention to it. Indeed, it is vital that it does not. Imagine a Minister of Broadcasting going to his office every day, taking his coat off and saying, "I run broadcasting; it is my fiefdom." That would be wrong. Just imagine what would happen if broadcasting was put under the control of the Department of Trade and Industry because it controls the spectrum, or something like that. Please let us not do that. Currently, it is left to the Home Secretary, through the Queen and others, to appoint the governor and the members of the board of the BBC. It should be possible not to appoint supporters of the Government in power. The only time that I was in a position to appoint a chairman of the BBC, I rang Edward Boyle and offered him the post. He had been a Conservative Minister, but I had the highest admiration for him. He declined, and one reason that he gave was that he loved his job at the University of Leeds. What I did not know was that he was dying. The appointment of chairmen or governors should be done out of respect for their intelligence and ability, not because of party support. That might not be perfect, but it is important to keep a distance. The code of practice in the Bill is an interference in freedom. 6.15 pm How will the legal aspects affect the Government? I recognise the Minister's experience as a lawyer; he said that there would be no problem and that the Government would not end up in the courts. However, Lord Boston—who is the chairman of Television South, a former Minister with responsibility for broadcasting when I was Home Secretary, and a Queen's counsel—in another place called in aid legal opinion. Indeed, he dismissed legal opinion that I would not have lightly dismissed when I was Home Secretary. For example, he called in aid Mr. Anthony Scrivener, an eminent silk, who questioned the replacement of the words "make provision" by "take account of". He said that it was an improvement, but not a matter of great significance. He also referred to the words "major matters" replacing "individual issues". One person's major matter is another's minor matter. Lord Boston also quoted Lord Goodman, another eminent lawyer, who took a different view from that of the Minister."As a minister, I never attempted to dictate or interfere in BBC programmes. Indeed, it is my view that the BBC has a duty to allow a wide spectrum of political opinions to be voiced. Ideas and opinions will never subvert our society."
If the right hon. Gentleman had been advised by his lawyers and by the lawyers to the regulatory body that this was not a lawyer's picnic, he might have felt the same degree of fortitude that I feel when facing such comments. The right hon. Gentleman may not have been present when I said earlier that, although it has been suggested that the term "major matters" would lead to difficulty, in fact for 40 years the law has contained the word "matters", which would be just as likely to lead to difficulties. If someone wished to make a fuss about "major matters", he would be as likely to make a fuss about "matters". However, there has been no litigation in that respect during those 40 years. Many of the lawyers' arguments appear to be arguments against the original proposition, not the amendment.
Why put it in the Bill? The BBC and the IBA have had codes of practice for many years, but they are not in the Bill. Eminent lawyers take a different view from the Minister. He argues that there have been no court cases, but I warrant that there will be—especially in view of the strong views expressed by the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) and others. Those who wanted change have been conned. The Government believe that they are adopting a policy of damage limitation, but they are wrong.There should not be the slightest question of broadcasting being under the control of the Government or Parliament. Let us have a statute for the ITC and a charter for the BBC and appoint the right sort of people as governors. Of course, mistakes are made, but I am proud of the BBC and the IBA none the less. We have the best broadcasting system in the world. It is not often that we praise anything in this country. In this place, we are here to run things down; to us, everything is wrong.
Speak for yourselves.
The hon. Gentleman has not been here long enough. When he comes to sit on the Opposition Benches, he will say that whatever the Labour Government do is wrong.
He will not be here.
My hon. Friend says that the hon. Gentleman will not be here. If that is the case, we shall all be happy.
The right hon. Gentleman should not confuse criticism of a Labour Government with criticism of the country. We do not run this country down. That is the prerogative of Labour Members.
The hon. Gentleman will never be a Minister at the Home Office and he will never have anything to do with broadcasting. He is typical of the sort of man who wants thought control and who believes thatThe Sun is the best newspaper in the world. I get angry about this talk of the country and political parties. It explains why politicians are held in such low esteem.Do not put politicians in charge of broadcasting because that is wrong. The Government have made a mistake. The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills has it right. This country must be free, even if that involves making mistakes from time to time. This is a silly Bill. We shall lose tonight, because that is the way things are, but it will be a sad day for broadcasting when we do.
In introducing the amendment, my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for the Arts said that the 1954 Act makes provision for due impartiality. He told the House that those of us who served on the Committee felt that that provision was probably adequate and that he would probably have settled for that.Those in the other place felt otherwise and they chose to table an amendment that would place greater emphasis on impartiality. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said that those in the other place did not want the amendment. If they had not wanted it, presumably they would not have voted it through by a two to one majority. If they had chosen to seek to defeat it, presumably there would have been more than 100 or so Labour peers present. Sometimes this House and the other place are not entirely in touch with public opinion. It is interesting to note that, when the Lords defeat a Government measure, the Opposition say how wise they are.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to finish, I shall, of course, give way. As he knows, I have a high regard for the comments that he has made throughout our proceedings on the Bill. When the Lords introduce an amendment that none of us has discussed in Committee or on Report, it is suddenly wrong.
I always listen to the hon. Gentleman with interest because of his knowledge of broadcasting. He did not see fit to represent the so-called views of the public, as embodied in the amendment, at any stage in the Bill's proceedings. I imagine that, as a man interested in broadcasting, he is usually very much in touch with public opinion. Why was he not on this occasion?
I am perfectly prepared to concede that, on occasion, other people have better ideas than me. My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister conceded exactly that this evening. I think that it has been generally accepted that, since the Bill entered its Committee stage, it has been improved considerably following non-partisan discussion. The hon. Gentleman contributed a considerable amount to that process, as did many other Opposition Members. Indeed, I meant to start my speech by saying how very much those of us on the Back Benches who served on the Committee will miss the amusing wisdom of Norman Buchan, who played such an important part in our proceedings. Opposition Members contributed a great deal, but none of us in the House has a monopoly of wisdom, and I genuinely believe that, in this case, their Lordships have brought to our attention a matter that we should have considered earlier.The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook said that the amendment represented an effort to intimidate and that, if it reached the statute book, the programmes that would result would be bland and anodyne. I do not believe that. The general public want, and generally believe that they get, and generally do get, impartial programming. The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) said that she wanted to see and hear both sides of the argument. That is what impartiality is about and the amendment has been drafted precisely to achieve that end: it represents a genuine and fair attempt to write impartiality into the Bill in terms that most reasonable people will be able to understand. I am, by trade, a journalist and a broadcaster, and I find nothing frightening about the amendment. As the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich said, I used to make "Blue Peter," and I find no shame in that. But I spent two thirds of my career with the BBC making current affairs programmes. People of all political views were involved in making the programmes, but it was our proud boast then that our personal political opinions did not interfere in our programme making.
What, even on "Blue Peter"?
People say that the old jokes are the best, but although I am in favour of the environment and recycling, I think that it would be nice to hear a new joke from time to time.The amendment is being treated by some as an attack on freedom of information. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), who has been a staunch defender of freedom of information, introduced the IRA argument. As a current affairs producer and director, I shared with my colleagues of whatever political persuasion the clear understanding that we should never give air time to terrorists or convicted criminals. It was only as a result of the breakdown of that understanding among broadcasters that the Government found it necessary to impose that regulation. Undoubtedly, the best form of regulation is self-regulation. I see no cause for fear in the amendment. My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) will be seeking to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I know that he will put another point of view. My hon. Friend and I do not always agree. Sometimes my post is misdirected to him and he courteously forwards it, and sometimes it is the other way round, so we know each other's constituents' views. We know that, out there, there are a lot of people who are genuinely concerned about the standards of broadcasting and about impartiality. They are not only Conservative supporters; there are most certainly Labour supporters among them. The public want security. They want to feel that, broadly speaking, what they see on the screen—over a reasonable period—is balanced. That is what their Lordships have sought to write into the Bill. They had three attempts at it before getting it right. That, in itself, says a lot for the way in which that House works. The amendment was not forced through the other place in an imperfect form. Their Lordships considered it as they often consider matters—perhaps with greater wisdom and depth than we do in this place. I think that they got it right and I see nothing whatever to fear from the amendment. I hope and believe that the House will accept that, in this instance, the other place has made a significant contribution to freedom and democracy in broadcasting. One side will never be impartial, fair and democratic. The public want the opportunity generally, consistently and all the time to hear both sides of the argument. That is what the amendment would ensure and I hope that, on consideration, hon. Members on both sides of the House will feel able to support it.
I also pay tribute to our dear, late colleague, Norman Buchan; one of the few poet politicians that we have—or had—in this country. Opposition Members will miss him greatly, and I know that he will be missed by many Conservative Members who criticised him in the past, but who always recognised the sincerity of his views.I congratulate the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) on his skilfully crafted vignette. I know that we shall be reading about it for the next six months in the various publications that he writes for. He was able to speak with all the freedom of a man never likely to be tempted by political office. 6.30 pm The code of practice for broadcasting put before us by the Lords has all the hallmarks of the Prime Minister's paranoia—she who actually believes that any form of opposition or criticism of her or her Government's policies is tantamount to treason. I am afraid that she is supported by many intolerant people on the Conservative Benches. The code would have been unacceptable to me wherever it had originated, and whoever initiated it. Even if it had come from the Minister for the Arts—the most acceptable face of Tory extremism on the Front Bench today—-I should have opposed it. The fact that its genesis was in the vile and bilious views of that odious bigot Lord Wyatt makes it doubly repellant. As far as I can tell, he wants the unrestricted freedom to write what he wants in a newspaper such as theNews of the World, and to restrict broadcasters from making programmes with which he happens to disagree. What hypocrisy that amounts to. What double standards.
The hon. Gentleman is not being altogether fair to Lord Wyatt because 40 years ago he was on the extreme left and now he is on the extreme right. Surely that demonstrates due impartiality.
Order. Before the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) deals with that, I am sure that he will recognise, on reflection, that we should refer to members of the other place with some respect.
It is very difficult to have any respect for Lord Wyatt, to be perfectly honest, and I am not prepared to accord him any. I shall not mention him again—that is the easiest way in which to pay him any respect. Anyone who can write the sort of article that he writes in theNews of the World does not deserve serious consideration when he expresses views about impartiality in broadcasting, and it is as simple as that. He wants to turn broadcasters and broadcasting into as unbiased a medium as theNews of the World or The Sun.When the Minister for the Arts was speaking about the code of practice, he said that there was no impartiality in the written word. That is certainly true of the extreme right-wing bias of our great national newspapers. Surely, if the written word is central to and underpins the democratic process, as so many journalists constantly tell us, we should require balance from the written word, from journalists and from newspapers. We already require balance from broadcasters, through the IBA and the charter. Balance is written into that, and there are statutory rights and requirements with regard to it. What is so unsatisfactory about the present situation? We should like to see a statutory right of reply as regards the written word, but when that case has been argued, the Government and journalists have always rebutted it. We are asking broadcasters to go much further than journalists. As I have said, broadcasters already impose upon themselves, and adhere to, an acceptable balance. The public do not require us to change the rules as they currently apply to broadcasting.
I am happy to give way to the hon. Lady so that she can get a story to use in her next newspaper article.
Where, in the hon. Gentleman's paeori of praise for balance and in his attitude to newspapers, lies the refusal by the Leader of the Opposition to talk toThe Times, or the refusal by Derbyshire county council and other council leaders to put advertisements inThe Times Educational Supplement because of articles that appear inThe Sunday Times? What about the views of a headmaster—who happens to be a Labour councillor in east Staffordshire—who believes that all satellite television dishes should be banned, along withThe Sun?
I certainly do not think that the anecdotal approach to politics, which the hon. Lady specialises in, is the way to treat the matter at a serious level, which is how one would expect it to be treated.Any hon. Member is entitled to say that he or she does not wish to speak to a particular newspaper. Even if an Opposition Member told some newspapers everything—the whole truth—they would never print it, because it is the function of a number of newspapers to do the dirt on the Labour party. I remember talking to a journalist from theDaily Mail whose specific instructions had been to do the dirt on the Labour party. If an Opposition Member does not want to talk to a newspaper, surely that is his or her right. I do not agree with banning newspapers from libraries, which means that I do not agree with some of the decisions taken in local government, by councils controlled by the Labour party. The hon. Lady knows that because of our exchanges in Committee. There is no way in which she can catch me out in such an obvious and predictable fashion. I am worried that, when the justification for the code was advanced in another place, it was said that broadcasting existed as a protective monopoly. Up to 30 channels can be obtained by people with cable television. That does not seem to me to be a definition of a monopoly. If a programme on one channel puts a view that another one disagrees with, or if it has its facts wrong, there is ample opportunity for another television station to put it right. Newspapers do that from time to time when they attack each other. If the code is passed, it will be largely unenforceable, but that is not its real danger, and we should not reject it merely because of that. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) got it right: the code is there to intimidate broadcasters. It will result in self-censorship, because broadcasters will be so worried about what might happen that they simply will not make certain programmes, on the ground that it could get them into difficulties with the authorities. It is the self-censorship element of the code that worries me most. To so many Tory politicians, impartiality merely means agreeing with their views. In recent months and years broadcasters have embarrassed the Government. That is one of their prime functions. The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) knows about the broadcasters' ability to criticise Government and call Ministers to account. It might detract from Ministers' dignity of office, but, frankly, that is what the public expect broadcasters and journalists to do. Unfortunately, it is a lamentable fact that few journalists and broadcasters are prepared to do that today. There is far too much deference given to Ministers by the broadcasters whom I listen to on the radio or the journalists whose articles I read in the newspapers. The code is part of a long-running campaign by Conservative Members against broadcasters and against the BBC in particular. The people have made no demands for such a code to be imposed upon broadcasters. When it is only the politicians who are complaining, I am convinced that they have got it totally wrong. If I had received a large number of letters telling me that there is bias in broadcasting and giving me details, I might be more concerned. I have received no letters to argue that case. I have received dozens of complaints in letters—I am sure that many other hon. Members have, too—from people with the opposite point of view. They are worried about the implications of the code and of the Bill in general. The code and the proposals in the Bill come from a dangerously authoritarian Government, led by an intolerant Prime Minister, who uses the language of freedom while always acting to limit it. I greatly welcome the assurance given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook that when he is Home Secretary the code will be repealed. I am sorry that the Minister for the Arts supports it.
Although I do not necessarily share some of the darker insinuations about repression that have been made by some Opposition Members, it is legitimate for certain Conservative Members to be tentatively puzzled, to put it mildly, about why we have got to where we are tonight. In the past few months, we have moved from the position where we did not feel it necessary to legislate further on these matters to the position where we were going to legislate on individual issues, and then to the position where we would legislate on major matters. In a short time we have moved from the non-defined to the over-defined and then to the ill-defined. We have moved from arm's length to hands on and then to one hand on. At the very least, that suggests uncertainty of intent.When Members on both sides of the House mention the possibility of litigation, it reminds me of a phrase that featured in the Lords debate. A legal expert from Oxford was quoted as having said that the phrase "major matters" was
That sounds like the House debating earlier this week economic and monetary union. Leaving that aside, that seems to me, as a non-lawyer listening to lawyers—my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) and lawyers in another place—to be a worrying prospect. I believe that, on television, there is bias of four kinds. The first sort, which occasionally I think that I see with my slightly biased eye, is blatant anti-Tory bias. But what do I say to myself? I say, "I can rely, above all else, on my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) to act not only as a bias detector but also as a bias corrector in his own right." I have to remind myself also that I read studies which show that large numbers of people in the country believe that much of the television output is biased in favour of the Tory party. I need also to take note of the stark, simple fact that, although this medium is caricatured as a thoroughgoing anti-Tory medium, and although it is alleged to have enormous influence over people's opinions, the Conservative party keeps winning elections. Although, therefore, I see aspects of anti-Tory bias, and sometimes what seem to be blatant examples of anti-Tory bias, on television, I try to put them into a common-sense context. The second sort of bias that we see on television is anti-Government bias—indeed, anti-any-old-Government bias. What that means is simple: that when my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health hands out another few million or billion pounds, television will show a picture of someone on a long waiting list who needs an operation. I can guarantee that, if ever the Opposition come to power, they will not solve the waiting list problem in a hurry and that television will do a programme saying, "You said six months ago that you were going to solve the problem, but here is the same person in the same queue." There is nothing that one can do about that second form of bias. Moreover, if one thinks about it, it is a healthy form of bias. The third form of bias that I see, according to my own eye, is cultural bias. There is not a great deal that we can do about it, but I believe that it is a damaging bias. I am political about it. As a whole, the BBC is a little too anti-enterprise for my taste. It is a little too conservative. It has not caught up with some of the new thinking that I personally and some of my colleagues wish to see disseminated. I sympathise with the description about a year ago at the Edinburgh television festival by Mr. Rupert Murdoch of that sort of cultural bias by the BBC, but then I say to myself, "What can we do about it? What we see on the box is a reflection of the state of our society." In my view, it is an inert and over-conservative society that does not respond as quickly as I personally would like to some of the policies that the Government want to pursue. We have to remember, however, that Mr. Rupert Murdoch's cure for that form of bias would be far worse than the disease. We should be screaming for a return of the bias after we had had a dose of Mr. Rupert Murdoch on the BBC. 6.45 pm The fourth form of bias is the most difficult of all. It is ontological bias. I know that that is an awful word, but I think that it is the one that I mean, if I have got it right. It means that bias is built into the nature of the medium. It means that, if there is a spectacular picture, no matter who is at the controls behind the machine there will be an enormous compulsion to show it. Nine times out of 10, that picture will be damaging to authority, order and reasoned assumptions. However, there is nothing that we can do about it. That is the nature of television film. One could write philosophical treatises about it, but there is nothing that we can do about it. That reinforces the other form of bias, the inbuilt anti-Government bias of the medium. There is nothing that can or should be done about it. Moreover, we should be grown up about it. What concerns me about the Bill has nothing to do with oppression and some of the other exaggerated words that have been used by the Opposition. My belief is that the amendment, even in its watered-down form, springs more from instinct than from intelligence. If a little more thought had been given to the nature of the broadcasting medium in general, and television in particular, I should not have been put in this sad and silly position of having to vote, as I shall do tonight, against something, not because I think that it will do immense damage to the country, or that it will seriously curtail freedom of speech, but because I believe that it is a sad and silly amendment."elusive of meaning and pregnant with ambiguity."
I have to declare an interest as the presenter of a political programme for Sky Television. It might be seen as an attenuated interest, given what I read inPrivate Eye, but it is there, none the less.I congratulate the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) on his speech. He suffers in his party from an unfortunate handicap—that he can think. If more Conservative Members suffered from it, we should not be debating the amendment. I do not intend to follow the attempt by the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) to be humorous about this sad and sorry affair, but he could have devised something worse than putting Central Office in charge of television. It would almost certainly do for the viewing figures what it did for the vote in Eastbourne. However, that could do radio, for which both the hon. Member for Aldershot and I have made programmes, a great deal of good. It could, by contrast with some regimes, be enlightened. I think of the news coming from a lectern in Downing street and of a nice little programme about Downing street called "Neighbours", with the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) playing Kylie Minogue's role and the Minister for the Arts playing the Jason Donovan of the series. It could be an interesting programme. What is even more important, if television were put under the control of Central Office we should not have the saturation bombing of the BBC by the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) from which we have suffered in the past. It could be more enlightened than the regime under which the Lords amendment would put it. That would lead to much influence in television being given to a body that would be less enlightened, more partisan, prejudiced and ideological than even Central Office. It would pass it to the judges and the courts. If such a requirement, framed in that way, is written into the law, we shall turn the whole matter over to the courts. It is a sensitive question. Moreover, it is a question on which a large collection of people, with strong prejudices and large amounts of money, are prepared to go to law. We have many wealthy lunatics in this country who will almost certainly want to take up the opportunity that is offered to them to wreak a sort of indirect revenge on the broadcasting system for all the prejudices that we have heard about today. It creates an opening for any lunatic with any prejudice and enough money to push the issue into the courts. The debate is a sad reflection of the way in which the Government function and how decisions are taken. The Bill's progress has been a steady dilution of the Prime Minister's very real prejudices. She wants to bring a touch of discipline into television. She does not like it, is prejudiced against it and wants to put the frighteners on it by legislation. Throughout the months in Committee and in the House, we have seen a steady dilution of that impact. The Minister has done the job, on which we have all congratulated him, of diluting those prejudices. He will earn plaudits from the media, the Opposition and the House. Yet now, after the Bill has been to the House of Lords, the Prime Minister is wreaking her revenge through her representatives in the geriatric ward up there. Lord Wyatt proposed this amendment, which is known to echo her instincts, attitudes and views. We now have the spectacle of that nice Minister who has told us one thing being forced to say something else because of the process in the House of Lords.
What I find most distressing about the debate—perhaps my hon. Friend will agree—is that the majority of hon. Members on both sides who have spoken have disagreed with the code. What is acutely depressing is that we can win the debate and then lose the vote. That is a very sad mark of our parliamentary democracy.
Yes, it is a sad mark. In fact, the Minister's own words go against the proposal. lin Committee, the Minister said:
He went on to enlarge on that and said:"When I was presented with the opportunity to reflect: on whether we should make changes to the impartiality requirement, it occurred to me that a Government of any stripe are almost the last group to be credited with impartiality. I decided that it was better to leave well alone. That is what I have done … The Government deserve some credit in this matter. We have not fiddled around with impartiality arrangements. We felt that it was better to leave the goalposts where they were. Grief has not been turned away entirely, but may be more difficult to detect among the clouds of suspicion inevitably generated—rightly or wrongly—about these matters."
That was in January and now, in October, all those words have to be eaten. It is like running against one's own video tape in an election campaign. The Minister's case then was strong and telling and he should be putting it now."I am indebted to the hon. Member for Erdington, as he has put his finger on an issue that has caused me concern. My inclination was to leave the impartiality provisions as they were on the basis that our impartiality would not be readily accepted by some, and thus it would be better to leave matters well alone unless there was a compelling reason for changing them … The problem with removing it is that, as with many of these matters, it is easy to have a well intentioned stab at an alternative, and easy to find a reason why that well intentioned stab is not as good as what one has."—[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 30 January 1990; c. 411–17.]
I am sorry to intervene because I know that there are some who want to draw the debate to a close. If what I am doing today required me to eat those words, I should not be here doing it. I want to make that clear. I have stood up for what I believe about the Bill on several occasions. The fact that I am commending the amendment is not in any sense a violation of what I said in January. What I said then related to the basic law on impartiality. We are talking about subsidiary matters to the code. The law is precisely as it was. When I spoke those words in January, there was a provision for a code. What has happened in the House of Lords is not that what Lord Wyatt said should be in the Bill has been put in the Bill, but certain matters were added to the requirement for a code to assert that the ITC should have regard to certain areas which, if it saw fit, a code should cover. That is different from changing the law on impartiality which, I shall say with the same force as I did in January, we are advised to leave well alone. My advice has been taken on that point.
The Minister doth protest too much. I am happy to allow him a long intervention but his position must be ambiguous if the intervention had to be that long to explain it. In January, he was arguing about leaving the requirement as it is. He is now arguing in favour of writing something into the Bill in the terms suggested by the House of Lords. That is an entirely different position. I accept what he said about the other changes to the Bill, but he cannot have it both ways on this matter. That is the problem.To enlarge the field of attack, the fact that the ITC has tacitly sanctioned the provision—albeit under duress—is a betrayal of its responsibilty. It has let down the television industry. The television industry feels that the ITC caved in far too easily. We are left with a folly. The legal opinions gathered by the various television organisations make a telling case against the amendment, which throws everything into the courts. That is the wrong forum for airing such issues. Professor J. M. Finnis for the Independent Television Association said:
Christopher Beaumont, the Queen's counsel for ITN, said:"There can be no doubt that the phrase 'take account of has an unsatisfactory elusiveness. It could be interpreted by a court as requiring that the ITC's rule conform to some judicially conceived standard about what matters are and are not major, and/or about what is and is not a due standard of impartiality … Such an interpretation … might be supported by pointing to the fact that whereas (4B) expressly provides that the rules need comply with the requirements of (4B) only 'to such extent as the Commission consider appropriate', there is no such leeway expressed in the face of (4A)".
That is a further argument against the amendment. Anthony Scrivener, Queen's counsel for Channel 4, said:"If the word 'major' is used it would raise formidable problems of drafing and definition. There would probably have to be a catch-all provision … I think that as the latest Third reading amendments stand there could be a risk of the Courts being asked to rule on the criteria used by editors in compiling their programmes."
Lord Goodman said that the amendment proposed is "virtually legally unworkable." He went on to say:"The words 'major matters' involve making a judgemental decision in a context where there is and can be no guidance as to how the words should be defined. It is obvious that what one person may consider to be a 'major matter' would be considered by another to be a matter of little importance."
He goes on to put the point that I have already made about defining the words "major matters". That is the mess in which we are left. This is a sensitive area and people have strong feelings. People with money have prejudices that they want to pursue and the issue will be pushed into the courts. This matter is central to the regulation and self-discipline of broadcasting and we are taking it out of the hands of the regulators, saying, "We have no confidence in you because we are going to throw it into the courts." That is a failure of the principle of regulation that has been the essence of our system until now. The matter is one for doubt, hesitation and pain. We cannot compromise with this amendment. There is no way of taking out its teeth, diluting it or modifying it. It has to go. If it does not, we shall be in uncharted waters and enormous difficulties will be caused."Quite apart from the legal difficulties (including applications for injunctions before transmission, applications to the Divisional Court, and post transmission complaints and litigation) the practical difficulties are insuperable."
We have, effectively, been reviewing the question of impartiality since 1954—in the Broadcasting Act 1981, for instance.The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) kept circumventing the main point. His objection to the amendment concerns the use of the code. An impartiality code relating to the BBC and the IBA has operated for many years, and, as far as we can establish, has prompted no litigation in the past 36 years. Why should it suddenly start now? The right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) made a good point: he said that we should allow the regulators to operate at arm's length from the Government, who, he said, should not be involved. Careful scrutiny of the amendment, however, reveals that that is precisely what the Government have set out to achieve. They do not suggest that the code that will govern future broadcasting is written in the Bill; the code will be written and implemented by the ITC. The amendment lays down what the code should include to ensure impartiality, but it does not say how that should be done. 7 pm No Conservative Member is setting out to censor, say, a series of television programmes. The director, or producer, must have the right to present his argument. The code is intended to ensure a proper balance: the aim is to prevent a director from presenting a series of programmes—the amendment refers specifically to a series—in which only one party or point of view is represented, and no attempt is made to balance that with opposing views. Since the introduction of the Television Act 1954, the power of the media has vastly increased. How many of us receive letters from constituents who have been moved to write to their Member of Parliament about a television programme? Surely we should be trying to ensure that, when an argument is presented to the public by such a powerful medium, the opposing argument is presented as well. We are not trying to tell broadcasters what they should be doing; we are asking them to do what they have been required to do since 1954. Let me deal—as a former practising barrister—with the question of litigation. We are being asked to judge whether the code will prompt extensive litigation before it has even been written, which is nonsense. Lawyers in the other place have passed judgment on something that is not yet in existence, adducing the few scintillas of evidence available to them in relation to the ITC's guidelines. Should we not pay more attention to the experience of the past 36 years than to a few lawyers in the other place and outside the House who are gazing into their crystal balls? The ITC will view the code in a common-sense way, remaining at arm's length from the Government, political parties and specific points of view. The ITC will be the regulator. As a member of the governing party of this country—the Conservative party—I do not wish to be involved in broadcasting; I merely want the regulators to ensure that impartiality is exercised. I am sure that the ITC will not produce a code that obliges the Leader of the Opposition, for instance, to follow any speech by the Prime Minister about a news item with his own comments. Surely everyone recognises that that would be absurd. Given the current power of the media, we must provide guidelines, and give the authority to implement them to people who operate at arm's length from the House of Commons.
What about the press?
I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but it is possible to buy a whole range of newspapers and to choose which political point of view to absorb. That choice is not possible when one particular point of view is being expressed on one particular television channel.Some may consider that this proposal is going in the wrong direction, but it is based on 36 years' experience, and—in view of the growing power of the broadcasting media—makes good sense. Those who say that it will change the face of broadcasting are living in cloud cuckoo land. It will not do that; what it will do is provide a sensible framework for the future.
I am prompted to speak by something that was said by the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd). He based part of this argument against the amendment on the fact that the IRA and its supporters were not allowed to broadcast freely.I am afraid that, as a Northern Ireland Member, I cannot accept that the sickening spectacle of supporters of terrorism—and, on occasion, the terrorists themselves—should appear in people's living rooms after the atrocities such as have been perpetrated this week and in the past. That cannot be used as an argument for freedom.
I think that the hon. Gentleman misunderstood me. We were talking about proscribed organisations and the form that they take. I said that we were being denied the freedom to judge such organisations for what they are. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that their members are evil and godless people, I entirely agree, but I believe that, as an honourable citizen, I am able to judge their evil and godlessness for myself.
If someone who had just killed a child in a forest was interviewed by the BBC or Ulster Television, I do not think that any hon. Member would wish to take part, believing that that constituted freedom. We in Northern Ireland, who suffer such terrorist incidents daily—who witness them from our living rooms—support freedom as much as anyone in the United Kingdom. We are in favour of democratic freedom and freedom of expression. Sometimes, however, we are not given the freedom to live. I hope that the House will not accept the argument of the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills in deciding whether or not to support the amendment.I accept the argument that television should be impartial, and in Northern Ireland, Ulster Television is very good in that respect. Unfortunately, the BBC—although it will not be affected by the Bill—cannot be said to show the same impartiality.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, in respect of both Ulster Television and BBC Northern Ireland, the local broadcasters in Belfast behave responsibly, and that irresponsible behaviour is usually associated with broadcasters based in London—whose conduct in the past makes a strong case for the proposed new clause?
My hon. Friend makes the point very well.Years ago, I was a professional footballer. We all knew the rules—including the referee—and did not try to change them while we were on the pitch. Even the professional footballers of today who are paid enormous sums of money do not attempt to change the rules of the game. I do not understand why there should be any objection to guidelines that could easily be observed, or why there is such fear of them among the television companies. Is it their intention to broadcast programmes that would break those rules? It occurs to me that we are anticipating a situation that may never arise, but certainly my hon. Friends and I support the amendment.
The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) is right to say that there is nothing in the Lords amendments to which anyone could take serious exception. The interesting question is whether the amendments are necessary, but to debate that would require passing judgment on the proceedings in another place.I pay tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister and to my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden), who was the first to be alert to some of the dangers in the original Bill. He has not been sufficiently credited with helping to make possible the return of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) to the Home Office to get a grip on the Bill and to put it in such a form that allows all right hon. and hon. Members to support its provisions. The broader issue is that television must be interesting, and that producers and editors should be allowed to choose the subjects that they cover. By all means argue, but they should choose—and the BBC and independent companies should devise their own codes and guidelines by which their programmes are made. I hope that other organisations will spend £5 on buying "BBC Guidelines for factual programmes," which on pages 21 and 21—which shows how numerate is the BBC—presents the corporation's code. Given the length of this debate already, I shall not quote even the extracts in bold type. Nevertheless, those who have grounds to complain—given the vast range of programmes produced, there should be scope to make complaints, and whether or not they are upheld by the BBC itself or others does not matter—ought to be able to do so, when the programmes that are the subject of such complaints can be judged against the broadcasters' own criteria. Past controversies proved that broadcasters have not lived up to their own codes, which is only natural. There must be scope for human error and for differences of judgment. However, I follow the analysis of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham in saying that much of what is newsworthy and broadcast is anti-Government. It is not anti-Government in the sense thatThe Guardian is—and which, because it thinks that the Opposition are so feeble, regards itself as a one-newspaper opposition to the Government, and always tests the Government rather better than the Labour party.The Guardian is anti-Government in terms of challenging the Government and providing a forum for debate of a kind that cannot always fully take place in this House. The House should support the Government in their reluctance to say that nothing can be done if it might be the subject of a genuine complaint. That is a potential danger in journalism in respect of press freedom, and Calcutt arid the new criminal law affecting journalists begs full debate and preferably delay. One thinks also of the privacy Bill. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Knight) and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton), who together managed to stop it making too much progress last Session. There is also the question of the statutory right of reply. We must be big enough to say that we will not stop being broadcast anything against which a complaint might be lodged. My recommendation is that people should take the bigger attitude, and recognise that one can sometimes succeed with a complaint, as one should—but that on other occasions simply a row can help. Most of the time, it is worth considering the variety of programmes and ways in which people can put across their views, and accept that broadcasting and the press are a bit like this House, in that they can say what they think, but must accept the consequences.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister is a parliamentarian with a deft sense of humour, and he will need it when he comes to winding up this debate on the so-called impartiality amendments. I liked his style when he opened the debate. To my satisfaction, it lacked the messianic fervour exhibited by Lord Wyatt or even by my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick). My right hon. and learned Friend affected instead the manner of a cynical head waiter who finds himself serving a dish when he does not really like the chef's cooking.I did not find my right hon. and learned Friend totally convincing, but he was more convincing than the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) who over-egged his pudding. He seemed to be using a sledgehammer rather than a stiletto, and made our flesh creep not only with talk of lawyers' picnics—although I did not infer that he was all that averse to them—but with words such as "intimidatory" and "offensiveness". He conjured up a vision of a new Woodrow Wyatt wing being built on to Brixton prison to accommodate erring broadcasters. Let us return to the point at which the Bill left this House in July. What happened since serves as a cautionary tale of a lordly rake's progress. The Bill was in good shape when it left this House. There was no discontent about its provisions and no amendments concerning impartiality or the lack of it had been tabled at any stage. As my right hon. and learned Friend honestly admitted, the Government felt no concern about the lack of impartiality clauses. When the Bill reached the other place, enter the voice of the people in the rather surprising shape of the patrician Lord Wyatt of Weeford, who claimed to speak for an army of discontented listeners and viewers who complained of major bias. There is no use pretending that constituency does not exist. It was echoed in our own debates, particularly in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley. What response should one make to that angry if sometimes contradictory discontent? My hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley directed most of his fire at a programme entitled "Start the Week". Apart from the fact that it is not covered by the Bill, it is one seen by many listeners who genuinely enjoy it and cannot find anything to be cross about. That shows that one man's negative bias is very often another man's positive political enjoyment or prejudice. Such contradictions did not deter Lord Wyatt, who, like Prince Rupert of the Rhine, went riding off on a charger in all directions. He did not mind where he went, and he probably would not have achieved anything, except the decent obscurity of a Division defeat, if the principal opposition had not come from Lord Thomson of Monifieth, formerly head of the IBA. I watched those two ancient gladiators clash over programme after programme, and found it difficult to decide which of them was talking greater nonsense. Lord Wyatt seemed to believe that civilisation was under threat because of terrible bias and lack of impartiality, whereas Lord Thomson appeared to be arguing that under the IBA, all British broadcasting was pure, holy and impartial, for ever and ever, amen—and that all broadcasters abided by the spirit of the Television Act 1954 and the code that goes with it. The truth of the matter is that only a minority of British broadcasters have even heard of that code, let alone abided by it. Above all, Lord Thomson seemed to be saying that Lord Wyatt's suggestions were a terrible threat to free speech. I simply could not swallow either proposition, but then Lord Whitelaw got in on the act, firing his blunderbuss in the air in confusing directions. One week he was opposed to Lord Wyatt's amendments, but then, for no discernible reason, he was in favour of them. I was not surprised that the Bill was passed by the House of Lords. I do not pretend to understand the proceedings of the other place, but after much confusing debate the Wyatt amendments were made. What difference have the amendments made to the Bill? It is not massively different from before. There always was a code on impartiality for broadcasters, with statutory backing under the 1954 Act. It is perhaps regrettable that so few broadcasters have heard of the code or of the statuory backing, but having been in television in various guises from reporter to, rather briefly, chief executive, may I say that I had not heard of it until Lord Wyatt mentioned it. I am not surprised that the old code was more honoured in the breach than in the observance. Perhaps it is no bad thing that broadcasters should be aware of the code. Declaratory legislation shows that concepts such as fairness and impartiality cannot be effectively codified because they are matters of editorial judgment. Good broadcasting and good journalism will come not from codes or laws but from the morality, ethics and good judgment of editors, producers and senior managers. Against that background, does it matter whether the amendment is made or not? I heard the voices of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden), who will vote against the Bill because he thinks that the amendments are too silly, and of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), who thinks that they offend the libertarian spirit of this country. I hold a different view from the two extremes that have been taken—that the amendments are a denial of free speech and that they will cause a new era in the impartiality of our broadcasting systems. The amendment will make a marginal difference. It is a matter of judgment whether it will make a positive or negative difference. I do not think that the existence of the signposts or headings will make any difference because the code has the kind of headlines that any sensible code would have. British broadcasting needs not more impartiality but more professionalism. To illustrate that point, one need only go back to the Alasdair Milne era of the BBC, when things were going wrong not because of wild bias and lack of impartiality but because of a sheer lack of professionalism. That changed under the new editor-in-chief. We want not so much less bias as more freedom of choice. We want more peer pressure, not necessarily more pressure from peers, but these are matters of editorial judgment. By a tiny margin, the judgment of editors will be positively strengthened by the code—and by drawing attention to it rather than diminishing it and making it negative. It is not a big deal either way. It is a little bit silly, but I shall vote in favour of the amendments.
Were Conservative Members a television company, we would have fully met all the requirements on impartiality. My hon. Friends have admirably represented both sides of the case—my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), with his typically robust and vigorous defence of freedom, my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden), with his great insight, and my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick), who put a more robust point of view in defence of the amendments. I cannot say the same for the Opposition, who were rather biased and who encompassed only one view. At least Conservative Members encompassed several views.We were all particularly delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) managed to drag himself away from the garrison town to share with us, in the intimacy of the House, his next newspaper article, for which undoubtedly he will be paid. He was the light entertainment for the House. It is perfectly clear that due impartiality is what the public expect from their television broadcasting. It was universally agreed that, when there was a duopoly, it was absolutely vital. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills asked whether, as we have a multiplicity of television channels, there is a need for the same requirements of impartiality to be imposed. I believe that it still needs to be imposed. Although the parallel has been drawn with newspapers, we all recognise that the power of newspapers is not as great as that of television. My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister rightly said that this is still a scarce resource, and it is therefore right and proper that this most powerful medium should continue to be governed by the impartiality rules. I want to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley in giving a couple of examples. Opposition Members find it difficult to understand why we feel exercised about these matters, so I shall cite two examples. The first is the broadcast by the BBC in May 1988 of the television drama "Tumbledown", the dramatised account of events at the battle on Mount Tumbledown during the Falklands war. The BBC argued that the film was non-political, but in a widely publicised account of the preview of it, its director, Richard Eyre, was reported as having said:
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) is nodding. He agrees with that, and so would I if another side of the Falklands campaign had been shown. There was another side—"The Falklands Play", which was commissioned by Alasdair Milne, the former director-general of the BBC, and written by a celebrated playwright, Ian Curteis. Alasdair Milne described it as a terrific story and a play that had enriched the BBC. Unfortunately, he felt that he could not screen it because we were in the run-up to a general election. That is why, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) said, Conservative Members believe that there has been a lack of professionalism. That was acknowledged by Michael Checkland, the new director-general of the BBC, last year. He said:"I would feel the film a failure if it's not deeply political … I don't think the film is balanced, and I hope that's considered one of its advantages, its virtues."
and that there had been a Conservative Government for 11 years. Opposition Members attacked my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley for not producing examples, but it is important for the House to have examples. Clearly the director-general's prescriptions had not extended to Scotland, where there is a new twist in the concept of balance. Radio Scotland's editor of news and current affairs said in a letter in August last year to my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth):"I think there was a point in the BBC when we kind of missed what was going on, the fact that the country had moved over in the last decade to the right"
If that were the rule on impartiality in television, there would be no case for Labour representation in the south of England, and clearly Labour Members would not believe that to be right. I hope that, in clarifying those arguments and giving those examples, I have been able to show the Opposition that there are justifications for the provision."I do not believe you are right when you accuse us of lack of balance. The Scottish body politic is out of kilter, and that will inevitably be reflected in our programmes."
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman had a good shout, and I recognise that the House wants to move on.The argument is not about impartiality—that is set out clearly in clause 6(1)(b). The minds of many people have been exercised by the imprecise nature of that provision. That is why my noble Friends felt that they had to pursue this matter and why they fought vigorously to incorporate the amendment in the Bill. I salute their endeavours. My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South said that there are plenty of guidelines, and my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) gave some examples. In the case of my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) and myself, it was not that the guidelines did not exist, but that they were flagrantly breached. There was a lack of professionalism. Clearly we cannot legislate for professionalism in broadcasting. This is not a draconian amendment. It will spell out to the ITC firmly and clearly Parliament's intention in seeking to ensure that there is proper impartiality. The amendment is not prescriptive. It creates a framework, and Parliament is entitled to draw up that framework. I will conclude—[Hots. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—for my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot has probably cast me in the role of the epilogue. I warmly welcome the Government's stand on this matter. It is up to the ITC to continue a long-established tradition of political impartiality. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) is on dangerous ground when he would deny the public the right to challenge the ITC's decisions. I am sure that he does not believe that members of the public should not have that right, and that the commissioners should have the last word. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is not that much of a dirigiste that he would deny members of the public that right. It is extraordinary to suggest that there will be a plethora of legal actions. Some of us know how costly they are—one cannot mount a legal action unless one has the necessary resources. The only people with anything to fear from the amendment are those broadcasters who are contemptuous of the traditional concerns for impartiality which have long been regarded as worth while in this country. I commend the amendment to the House.
I simply want to ask the Minister two specific questions and make one point before the right hon. and learned Gentleman takes, I hope, a good deal of time describing why the clause is necessary. He normally addresses the House with great courtesy and often with great persuasiveness. He owes the House something that we have not yet had—a description of why he believes the clause is necessary. In the hope that I can provoke him into doing that, I want to ask him two questions.The hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth) seemed to be labouring under the illusion that the clause applied to the BBC.
It appears that he is not under that illusion, but all his examples of partiality were taken from the BBC. The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) did the same. The Minister for the Arts should put those hon. Gentlemen and us out our misery by telling us why, if it is imperative to have such a code with legal backing and all that that implies for independent television, it is not necessary to have such a code for the BBC. Why is this necessity so great for the independent channels and not for the public corporation? I should be grateful for an explicit answer on why this decision has been taken.I return to a crucial question. I hope that the Minister will tell us exactly why he regards the clause as necessary—not why he regards it as trivial, superficial, or cosmetic, not why he thinks that it will do less damage than we fear, not why he thinks that it will do more good than others suspect, but why he regards it as necessary in the first place. As I believe that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will answer that question, I shall give one specific, brief example of why I regard the clause as dangerous. Were it the clause of the emollient Minister for the Arts, we would regard it as a little triviality that added to the gaiety of parliamentary life, but the real motive behind the clause was expressed in specific terms by the hon. Member for Colne Valley. The hon. Gentleman was very close to saying that programmes that do not accept the established view of the Government of the day have to be treated as suspect and probably suppressed. The hon. Gentleman made a speech which was wholly ridiculous and which will be regarded with complete derision by sensible people, but the fact that his speech was ridiculous does not mean that there is not, underneath the absurdity, a vein of deeply disturbing and sinister attitudes towards a free society. That is the real motive behind the clause.
That is not what I said. Broadcasters have every right to have whatever political view they wish; I am saying that they should not reflect their personal political viewpoint in their programmes. What is wrong with that? Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree?
I shall tell the hon. Gentleman what is wrong with that. I do not want to offend the hon. Gentleman's neighbours by overstating my criticism, but it is wrong because, first, it is not consistent with free broadcasting and, secondly, it is not consistent with good broadcasts. I shall give an example. Professor Minogue of the London School of Economics produced a series, which looked like a factual description of history, which was devoted to the concept that socialism was a disaster and had failed wherever it had been tried. The hon. Member for Colne Valley may be surprised to hear that I do not share that view. But the idea that Professor Minogue should have been prevented from making his series is preposterous.I want to see a diversity of programmes. I do not want broadcasters to be bullied, forcing them to look over their shoulders in case Members like the hon. Member for Colne Valley are doing through the clause what they want to do, even though that may not be the intention of the Minister for the Arts. But we are to hear what the Minister's intentions are. We shall hear for the first time in the debate why he thinks that the amendment is necessary and why he has commended it to the House.
The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) was less than fair to my previous effusion, which I thought set out matters with great clarity. I shall give a shortened version, so that those who wish to proceed to a vote may do so. I sensed during the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth) that there were those who wished to do so, so I shall not run the risk of wearying people too much.I am genuinely sorry that, a number of controversial matters having been resolved during the Bill's passage, we have not succeeded in moving much closer together on this issue. I should like briefly to restate the purpose of the amendment and to set it in its context. The first point to make absolutely clear, following a series of speeches—most recently that of the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell)—is that, when I said in January that I did not think that there was a case for any substantive change in the law on impartiality, I meant every word, and I have stuck by every word. The fruits of that are to be seen in clause 6(1)(c), dealing with requirements placed on the commission:
That is precisely the formulation that has appeared in every broadcasting statute pertaining to independent television since 1954—not a word of it has changed. That is a commendation of the Bill, not a criticism of it. One thing has changed, for good reason. There is now a statutory requirement for a code instead of guidelines. My hon. Friends the Members for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) and for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) made speeches that expressed my views on many of these matters.[Interruption.] I am glad that my commendation of my hon. Friends has gone down so well. Perhaps I will commend a few more, in the hope that mass popularity will follow. The IBA had guidelines and associated powers of pre-vetting and so on. As the ITC is a regulator, but not the broadcaster, it seemed appropriate that the guidance that it should give should be formalised into a code so that both the broadcasters and the public knew where they stood. The debate has grown like Topsy. People have begun, in their enthusiasm for the fight, to take issue with points that were perfectly accepted all along. I do not mean it cynically when I say that I always enjoy the contributions of the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), who speaks with great authority. It may have been a slip of the tongue, but he seemed in the end to take issue with the very idea of a code. When the Bill was last debated in this House, everyone was happy about having a code; it was not a controversial element."due impartiality is preserved on the part of the person providing the service as respects matters of current political or industrial controversy or relating to current public policy".
Not a statutory code.
It was a statutory code. For the first time, the code was provided for in statute. The Bill then went to the House of Lords, where, perfectly properly, their Lordships debated the Bill vigorously. Lord Wyatt put forward various amendments, such as the proposal that, when a biased programme was shown, a balancing programme had to be shown within one month and he wanted that provision to be on the face of the statute. That drew forth my remark in September to the Royal Television Society that I thought such an approach was unwarrantedly mechanistic and would not be successful. The original proposal was rejected and we ended up with an element of reassurance.[Interruption.]I know that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook can hardly contain himself. However, I am now coming to the point that he wanted me to address. Although the Labour party is terribly relaxed about all this impartiality stuff at the moment, it was not very relaxed about it when it was last in office. I dare swear that, if Labour were ever to regain office, the state of relaxation would soon change into a nastier turn of mind. We hope that this legislation will last a long time, so it has to encompass all manner of possible responses.
You had better not do it then.
That is the best argument against that I have heard all evening. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be as persuasive for the rest of the night so that we can have an earlier bath than most of us expect.Some people were concerned that the code should address issues, and they wanted the answer to those matters contained in the statute. We rejected that for the reasons of principle that I have explained. However, in the interests as it then seemed—unwarrantedly, as it now appears—of spreading a bit of sweetness and light on the matter, there seemed no harm in deciding that, even if we could not give people the resolution of the problems on the face of the Bill because it would be wrong in principle, we could offer the reassurance that the code would address certain key elements. Once again, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) that no self-respecting code could fail to address such matters. However, not everyone is as trusting as I am. It may be felt that it is better and makes reassurance doubly sure that we should put on the face of the Bill areas that the code should cover. There is nothing wrong with that in principle, as long as we do not say how the code should say it. I cannot bring myself to say that this is the most fundamentally significant reform that has ever been brought before the House or even that it is the most fundamentally significant reform that I have embraced this week, today, or even in the past 25 minutes. However, it is one of 700 Lords amendments which has been plucked out of its obscurity because other people have chosen to get excited about it. I can say only that it is of benefit that the code, which we have all decided is useful, should cover issues that will properly go to the heart of the matter. The ITC believes that the proposal is helpful and workable, and that it does not infringe any of the broadcaster's prerogatives. I am sorry that that is not as enthusiastic an endorsement as I could muster for other issues, but it is an endorsement with which I hope to carry my hon. Friends into the Lobby with me tonight.
Question put, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment:—
The House divided: Ayes 268, Noes 181.
Division No. 342]
|Aitken, Jonathan||Coombs, Simon(Swindon)|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Currie, Mrs Edwina|
|Amess, David||Curry, David|
|Arbuthnot, James||Davies, Q.(Stamf'd & Spald'g)|
|Arnold, Jacques(Gravesham)||Davis, David(Boothferry)|
|Ashby, David||Day, Stephen|
|Atkinson, David||Devlin, Tim|
|Baker, Nicholas(Dorset N)||Dickens, Geoffrey|
|Baldry, Tony||Dicks, Terry|
|Banks, Robert(Harrogate)||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Bellingham, Henry||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James|
|Bendall, Vivian||Dover, Den|
|Bennett, Nicholas(Pembroke)||Dunn, Bob|
|Benyon, W.||Durant, Tony|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Eggar, Tim|
|Blackburn, Dr John G.||Emery, Sir Peter|
|Body, Sir Richard||Evans, David(Welwyn Hatf'd)|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Evennett, David|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas|
|Boswell, Tim||Fallon, Michael|
|Bottomley, Peter||Favell, Tony|
|Bottomley, Mrs Virginia||Fenner, Dame Peggy|
|Bowden, A(Brighton K'pto'n)||Field, Barry(Isle of Wight)|
|Bowden, Gerald(Dulwich)||Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey|
|Bowis, John||Fishburn, John Dudley|
|Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes||Fookes, Dame Janet|
|Bright, Graham||Forman, Nigel|
|Brown, Michael(Brigg & Cl't's)||Forsyth, Michael(Stirling)|
|Browne, John(Winchester)||Forsythe, Clifford(Antrim S)|
|Bruce, Ian(Dorset South)||Forth, Eric|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Fox, Sir Marcus|
|Budgen, Nicholas||Freeman, Roger|
|Burns, Simon||French, Douglas|
|Burt, Alistair||Fry, Peter|
|Butcher, John||Gale, Roger|
|Butler, Chris||Glyn, Dr Sir Alan|
|Butterfill, John||Goodlad, Alastair|
|Carlisle, John,(Luton N)||Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles|
|Carlisle, Kenneth(Lincoln)||Gorman, Mrs Teresa|
|Carrington, Matthew||Gorst, John|
|Carttiss, Michael||Grant, Sir Anthony(CambsSW)|
|Cash, William||Greenway, Harry(Ealing N)|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Greenway, John(Ryedale)|
|Churchill, Mr||Griffiths, Peter(Portsmouth N)|
|Clark, Dr Michael(Rochford)||Grist, Ian|
|Clark, Sir W.(Croydon S)||Hague, William|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K.(Rushcliffe)||Hamilton, Neil(Tatton)|
|Colvin, Michael||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Conway, Derek||Hannam, John|
|Coombs, Anthony(Wyre F'rest)||Hargreaves, A.(B'ham H'll Gr')|
|Hargreaves, Ken(Hyndburn)||Needham, Richard|
|Harris, David||Nelson, Anthony|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Neubert, Michael|
|Hawkins, Christopher||Newton, Rt Hon Tony|
|Hayes, Jerry||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney||Nicholson, David(Taunton)|
|Hayward, Robert||Nicholson, Emma(Devon West)|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Norris, Steve|
|Hicks, Mrs Maureen(Wolv' NE)||Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley|
|Hicks, Robert(Cornwall SE)||Oppenheim, Phillip|
|Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.||Page, Richard|
|Hill, James||Paice, James|
|Hind, Kenneth||Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil|
|Howard, Rt Hon Michael||Patnick, Irvine|
|Howarth, G.(Cannock & B'wd)||Patten, Rt Hon John|
|Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Pawsey, James|
|Howell, Rt Hon David(G'dford)||Porter, David(Waveney)|
|Howell, Ralph(North Norfolk)||Powell, William(Corby)|
|Hughes, Robert G.(Harrow W)||Price, Sir David|
|Hunt, David(Wirral W)||Raffan, Keith|
|Hunt, Sir John(Ravensbourne)||Rathbone, Tim|
|Hunter, Andrew||Redwood, John|
|Irvine, Michael||Renton, Rt Hon Tim|
|Irving, Sir Charles||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Jack, Michael||Riddick, Graham|
|Jackson, Robert||Roberts, Sir Wyn(Conwy)|
|Janman, Tim||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Jessel, Toby||Rost, Peter|
|Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Rowe, Andrew|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Ryder, Richard|
|Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine||Sackville, Hon Tom|
|Key, Robert||Sainsbury, Hon Tim|
|Kilfedder, James||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|King, Roger(B'ham N'thfield)||Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Kirkhope, Timothy||Shaw, David(Dover)|
|Knapman, Roger||Shaw, Sir Giles(Pudsey)|
|Knight, Greg(Derby North)||Shelton, Sir William|
|Knight, Dame Jill(Edgbaston)||Shephard, Mrs G.(Norfolk SW)|
|Knowles, Michael||Shepherd, Colin(Hereford)|
|Lamont, Rt Hon Norman||Shersby, Michael|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|Lee, John(Pendle)||Smith, Tim(Beaconsfield)|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|Lightbown, David||Speed, Keith|
|Lloyd, Sir Ian(Havant)||Speller, Tony|
|Lloyd, Peter(Fareham)||Spicer, Sir Jim(Dorset W)|
|Lord, Michael||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Luce, Rt Hon Richard||Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Macfarlane, Sir Neil||Steen, Anthony|
|MacKay, Andrew(E Berkshire)||Stevens, Lewis|
|Maclean, David||Stewart, Allan(Eastwood)|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Stewart, Andy(Sherwood)|
|McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick||Stewart, Rt Hon Ian(Herts N)|
|Madel, David||Stokes, Sir John|
|Major, Rt Hon John||Sumberg, David|
|Malins, Humfrey||Summerson, Hugo|
|Mans, Keith||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Maples, John||Taylor, Ian(Esher)|
|Marland, Paul||Taylor, John M(Solihull)|
|Marlow, Tony||Taylor, Teddy(S'end E)|
|Marshall, John(Hendon S)||Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman|
|Martin, David(Portsmouth S)||Thompson, D.(Calder Valley)|
|Mates, Michael||Thompson, Patrick(Norwich N)|
|Maude, Hon Francis||Thornton, Malcolm|
|Mawhinney, Dr Brian||Thurnham, Peter|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Townsend, Cyril D.(B'heath)|
|Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick||Tracey, Richard|
|Mellor, David||Tredinnick, David|
|Mills, Iain||Trimble, David|
|Miscampbell, Norman||Trippier, David|
|Mitchell, Andrew(Gedling)||Trotter, Neville|
|Moate, Roger||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Molyneaux, Rt Hon James||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Monro, Sir Hector||Viggers, Peter|
|Montgomery, Sir Fergus||Waldegrave, Rt Hon William|
|Morris, M(N'hampton S)||Walker, Bill(T'side North)|
|Morrison, Rt Hon P(Chester)||Wardle, Charles(Bexhill)|
|Moss, Malcolm||Watts, John|
|Mudd, David||Wells, Bowen|
|Neale, Gerrard||Wheeler, Sir John|
|Whitney, Ray||Woodcock, Dr. Mike.|
|Widdecombe, Ann||Yeo, Tim|
Tellers for the Ayes:
Sir George Young and
Mr. Sydney Chapman.
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Griffiths, Win(Bridgend)|
|Allen, Graham||Harman, Ms Harriet|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy|
|Armstrong, Hilary||Heal, Mrs Sylvia|
|Ashley, Rt Hon Jack||Hinchliffe, David|
|Barnes, Harry(Derbyshire NE)||Hoey, Ms Kate(Vauxhall)|
|Barnes, Mrs Rosie(Greenwich)||Hogg, N.(C'nauld & Kilsyth)|
|Barron, Kevin||Home Robertson, John|
|Battle, John||Hood, Jimmy|
|Beckett, Margaret||Howell, Rt Hon D.(S'heath)|
|Beith, A. J.||Howells, Geraint|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Hughes, John(Coventry NE)|
|Bidwell, Sydney||lllsley, Eric|
|Boateng, Paul||Ingram, Adam|
|Boyes, Roland||Jones, Barry(Alyn & Deeside)|
|Bradley, Keith||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Leighton, Ron|
|Brown, Gordon(D'mline E)||Lestor, Joan(Eccles)|
|Brown, Nicholas(Newcastle E)||Lewis, Terry|
|Bruce, Malcolm(Gordon)||Litherland, Robert|
|Buckley, George J.||Livingstone, Ken|
|Caborn, Richard||Livsey, Richard|
|Callaghan, Jim||Lloyd, Tony(Stretford)|
|Campbell, Ron(Blyth Valley)||Lofthouse, Geoffrey|
|Campbell-Savours, D. N.||McAllion, John|
|Canavan, Dennis||McAvoy, Thomas|
|Carlile, Alex(Mont'g)||McCartney, Ian|
|Clark, Dr David(S Shields)||McFall, John|
|Clarke, Tom(Monklands W)||McKay, Allen(Barnsley West)|
|Clay, Bob||McKelvey, William|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||McLeish, Henry|
|Cook, Robin(Livingston)||Maclennan, Robert|
|Corbett, Robin||McNamara, Kevin|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||McWilliam, John|
|Cousins, Jim||Madden, Max|
|Critchley, Julian||Mahon, Mrs Alice|
|Crowther, Stan||Marek, Dr John|
|Cryer, Bob||Marshall, David(Shettleston)|
|Cummings, John||Marshall, Jim(Leicester S)|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Martin, Michael J.(Springburn)|
|Darling, Alistair||Meacher, Michael|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil(Llanelli)||Meale, Alan|
|Davis, Terry(B'ham Hodge H'l)||Michael, Alun|
|Dewar, Donald||Michie, Bill(Sheffield Heeley)|
|Dixon, Don||Michie, Mrs Ray(Arg'l & Bute)|
|Dobson, Frank||Mitchell, Austin(G't Grimsby)|
|Doran, Frank||Moonie, Dr Lewis|
|Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth||Morgan, Rhodri|
|Eastham, Ken||Morley, Elliot|
|Evans, John(St Helens N)||Morris, Rt Hon J.(Aberavon)|
|Faulds, Andrew||Morrison, Sir Charles|
|Fearn, Ronald||Mowlam, Marjorie|
|Field, Frank(Birkenhead)||Mullin, Chris|
|Fields, Terry(L'pool B G'n)||Murphy, Paul|
|Fisher, Mark||Nellist, Dave|
|Flannery, Martin||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|Flynn, Paul||O'Hara, Edward|
|Foster, Derek||O'Neill, Martin|
|Fraser, John||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Fyfe, Maria||Parry, Robert|
|Garrett, John(Norwich South)||Patchett, Terry|
|Garrett, Ted(Wallsend)||Pendry, Tom|
|George, Bruce||Pike, Peter L.|
|Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian||Primarolo, Dawn|
|Godman, Dr Norman A.||Quin, Ms Joyce|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||Radice, Giles|
|Gordon, Mildred||Randall, Stuart|
|Gould, Bryan||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn|
|Graham, Thomas||Richardson, Jo|
|Grant, Bernie(Tottenham)||Robertson, George|
|Griffiths, Nigel(Edinburgh S)||Robinson, Geoffrey|
|Rogers, Allan||Taylor, Mrs Ann(Dewsbury)|
|Rooker, Jeff||Thompson, Jack(Wansbeck)|
|Ross, Ernie(Dundee W)||Turner, Dennis|
|Rowlands, Ted||Vaz, Keith|
|Ruddock, Joan||Walden, George|
|Sedgemore, Brian||Waller, Gary|
|Sheerman, Barry||Walley, Joan|
|Shepherd, Richard(Aldridge)||Wareing, Robert N.|
|Shore, Rt Hon Peter||Watson, Mike(Glasgow, C)|
|Short, Clare||Welsh, Michael(Doncaster N)|
|Sillars, Jim||Williams, Rt Hon Alan|
|Skinner, Dennis||Winnick, David|
|Smith, Andrew(Oxford E)||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Smith, Rt Hon J.(Monk'ds E)||Worthington, Tony|
|Smith, J. P.(Vale of Glam)||Wray, Jimmy|
|Snape, Peter||Young, David(Bolton SE)|
Tellers for the Noes:
Mr. Tony Banks and Mr. Ray Powell.
Question accordingly agreed to.
Applications For Channel 3 Licences
Lords amendment: No. 35, in page 13, line 2, after ("the") insert ("programming and other").
I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following Lords amendments: No. 46 and the Government motion to disagree; No. 47 and amendments (a) and (b) and the Government motion to disagree; and amendment No. 48 and the Government motion to disagree.
I am considerably reluctant to seek to disagree with the Lords amendments. The amendments are significant because they refer to the only defeat that the Government suffered in either House during the passage of the Bill. The fact that we did not suffer any other defeat was not because the Government were able, automatically, to rely on a majority to steamroller the Bill through, but because——
Pull the other one.
Please do not put me off, or I shall just take longer. The hon. Lady will be proud to testify that during our discussions on important issues in Committee it was often possible to reach understandings that mitigated, in some cases removed, some of the concerns felt.I do not want to take up a great deal of time, nor to prevent the miniature meeting of the shadow Cabinet which appears to be taking place on the Opposition Front Bench. There is a collection of excited bearded people having a conversation——
I am not a member of the shadow Cabinet.
Well, the time may come—it will be the shadow Cabinet, not the real thing.I invite the House to take the serious step of rejecting the Lords amendment, not because I take issue with the intention behind it, but because I do not believe that the amendment represents the right way ahead. I pray in aid the debates in the House before the Bill went to another place. Those debates led us to put the Bill into better shape than it was when it started and certainly into better shape than it is now with the addition of the three elements that I invite the House to reject. The key element of our deliberations is to ensure that we preserve on Channel 3 a diverse service catering for a wide range of tastes and interests. That is the statutory requirement. We acepted the case for including in the Bill specific references to religion and to children's programmes. I accept that there was quite a strong lobby for another item, education, but——
A huge lobby.
Only huge in terms of the girth of some of those advocating it. Let us say that substantial arguments were put forward by weighty figures on the subject of education.But, generally speaking, it was accepted that the laundry list, as it came to be known, held no great attraction for most hon. Members and that it was better to place our faith in the diversity requirements, substantially buttressed, as it was, by the ITC being given a statutory power, which we gave it during the passage of the Bill, to send out, in effect, a prospectus to applicants making it clear how it thought applicants should begin. With the range of programmes currently available, applicants should not assume that they could cross the quality threshold, which we made more substantial during the passage of the Bill, without accepting that diversity meant using the existing range of programmes as a starting point. 8 pm I lay great stress on that because I do not believe that, if any half dozen of us gathered tonight and constituted ourselves as applicants for a franchise and talked about what we should put in, any of us could confidently say, "We can leave out documentaries", or, "We can leave out educational programmes," or, "We can leave out social action programmes." It is clear from everything that has been said, from what people will have heard from the ITC and from what we now know to be the balance in the Bill between quality and price that nobody could be sure that if they left out such programme types, they would be able to surmount the quality hurdle. I say with sincerity that I do not doubt the good intentions of those who inflicted this one painful defeat on the Government in the other place. Plainly, they wished to ensure that independent television continues to cover certain categories of programmes. We approach these issues as experienced legislators, now that we have got down to the hard core of what might be called activists. Most of the people in the House now sat through the various stages of the Bill and know what we are talking about, and the more populist figures have gone for their supper. Most of those present now would not want to call themselves populist figures—[interruption.]—or would not have the capability to do so, having columns in the daily newspapers and so on. We are left with something of a difficulty because, added to children and religion, we have documentaries, social action and education programmes. We must consider what is left out. We do not have drama, sport or—I must say this in my present role—arts programmes.
That is the right hon. and learned Gentleman's fault.
Let us not forget entertainment programmes. We are, after all, talking about a popular channel which must contain entertainment and all the programmes that some people do not like to acknowledge—[Interruption.] Some people do not want to acknowledge that millions of our citizens watch television for entertainment purposes. They do not always want to look at educational programmes.Nobody is ever anxious, particularly at this stage of a parliamentary Session, to have, in effect, another parliamentary stage of a Bill, asking the Lords to accept our reversal of what they have done. Had it been possible honourably to accept the amendment, there would have been a compelling case, at least on business management grounds, for doing so. I urge hon. Members who might be minded to object to what we are doing tonight to consider whether we could prefer another three subjects. Although I appreciate that there is no Rubicon of principle—we crossed that when we inserted children's programmes and religion—it is a bit perverse to say that we should have documentaries but not drama, social action but not sport, education but not arts programmes. It reflects value judgments that are understandable but are not objectively valid. Because of that, the only alternative would be to add even more items to the now quite long list contained in the Bill as it has returned from the other place. The danger then would be that one would be purporting to define what a diverse service should be. I recall, with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett), the time when we were jointly dismissing the idea of a laundry list in relation to changes in the obscenity legislation.
I recall that well.
The hon. Gentleman is on good form tonight and I look forward to his speech.A list of programme types runs the risk of narrowing the range of options that would be available on Channel 3. I do not want to speak at greater length, but that is the only reason why I am inviting the House to disagree with the amendment. We are entitled to take some pride in what we achieved in our debates. If there had been a glaring omission of the type that we are discussing, we might ourselves have spotted it—[Interruption.] I appreciate that some hon. Members were unhappy about some of what we did, but I doubt whether many would have chosen the list that is before us or whether they did not, by the end of our debates, feel that the quality threshold had been thickened up and that the pressure on applicants was such that we could start with the range of programmes. Whatever hon. Members may feel about protecting certain types of programmes, I hope that they would not wish to commend the other limb of the amendment, which is about the time they should be shown. We had to be realistic during the passage of the Bill. We had to recognise that in the more competitive situation of the 1990s, it was right, with other channels coming on stream, that broadcasters should have the flexibility to schedule. If we have confidence in some of our fellow men, then many of the programmes in the lists that are before us are popular enough to be shown at peak times. But we must allow the schedulers the opportunity to schedule in what will be a competitive market and in a situation where they must be commercial. Although it is not my main reason for wishing to delete the amendment, its policy intention was that programmes that might attract smaller audiences should have the opportunity to secure a place in peak viewing time. But the amendment, because of the way it is drafted, suggests that programmes should be shown at appropriate times having regard to the potential viewers of programmes of that type, and that might mean that a high audience programme would be scheduled at peak time and a lower audience programme scheduled at off-peak hours. That is probably the opposite to what those who proposed the amendment intended. I do not give that as a central reason for objecting to the amendment. If it had not been otherwise flawed, we could have further amended it. But it is another good reason why I can suggest that we are not in any sense diminishing what I believe to be the clear remit for Channel 3—for the new companies to pick up where the others left off and to have a wide range of programmings. The effect of keeping the amendment would be, for no good or proper grounds, to appear to be preferring certain programme types to others. I have given six examples, three in and three out, and I defy anyone to say that there is any logical distinction in preferring the three that have been preferred to the other three—when the danger of even adding the other three would be a list that purports to define diversity in a way that narrows, rather than broadens, the programme types that are likely to be found. On that limited but persuasive ground, I invite the House to disagree to the amendment.
We were saddened to read inThe Times this morning that the Minister for the Arts, so lately in office, is anxious to demonstrate that there is life outside politics. I hope that he will stay with us at least until the Bill has completed this stage of its passage.If I should ever write about my time in this place—or, in the context of this debate, should I ever fund a very low-budget video—I shall call it, "It's a funny way to earn a living." I say that because not many minutes ago the hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) and others said that, on occasions, members of another place knew more than we did about public opinion and matters concerning the populace. Coincidentally, it suited the hon. Gentleman's argument to say that. I shall be surprised to get it, but I am expecting some consistency on the amendments because it can be said that the House of Lords, in respect of the further must-carry obligations, reflects a central matter of concern that lies at the heart of the Bill—the quality threshold. The Government set enormous store by the quality threshold when we had the trailer for the Bill as long ago as November 1988 and have done so ever since. I remember the Minister telling us on several occasions that it was precisely that quality threshold that would ensure that what had happened to Australian television would not and could not happen here. In Australia, as we discuss the amendments, two out of three of the national channels are in the hands of receivers. Channel 10 will tomorrow sack 500 staff at all levels and switch to greater use of imported American material, precisely because those to whom that licence was sold funded their bids with funny money and junk bonds, and got into enormous debt. As a consequence, that channel and Channel 9 are both wrecks. Down the road a little in New Zealand, the only commercial channel is in the hands of receivers. Ministers have said that the new ITV network regime on Channel 3 will be a notch below what we now have. That nice George Russell, the chairman designate of the ITC, asserts that it will be 80 per cent. of what we have now. There is no argument between us that some types of programming that viewers have become used to seeing, especially those at peak times, will no longer be there to choose from. What matters and lies behind the all-party concerns reflected in the Lords amendments is which type of programmes are likely to be more at risk. The fact that the Government want to remove the additions to the so-called quality threshold gives the game away. It is precisely programmes in the sectors specified by the amendments—documentaries, programmes with an educational purpose and social action programmes—that the accountants and advertisers who will control the Channel 3 licences will put most at risk. Documentaries will be put more at risk because they are often more expensive to make in terms of research, travel and production costs, and because things do not always work out as planned in the course of making them. Shows that are tightly scripted and shot in studios are much more controllable in terms of costs and their outcome is certainly more predictable. Education and social action programmes are at risk for another reason. Shown in peak time slots, the better to attract large audiences, they may well not produce the type of audience that advertisers want at those times. Those are the hard-nosed commercial judgments that will be made by the schedulers. As I think the House understands, programme timing is critical to audience size, as is the channel on which a programme is shown. For example, programmes of an educational nature on the environment and third-world issues, screened at peak hours on BBC 1 or networked on ITV, command audiences of between 2 million and 5 million. Exactly the same programme shown on BBC 2 or Channel 4 at similar times attracts a much lower audience of about I million. Therefore, unless it is specified that such programmes must be shown and at appropriate times of the day and week, they will be unprotected in an increasingly competitive television world and much more at risk than now. The Minister repeated tonight that he does not want any sort of laundry list. I must remind him that it was he who started to write it.
I accept that.
I know that he accepts that. He started to write it when he was persuaded, against a background of all-party pressure, to retain the must-carry obligations in respect of children's programmes and later religious programmes. I remember the night when we debated that because there was a bad storm and thunderbolts were bouncing off the roof above the room in which we were meeting. We are talking not about laundry lists, but simply about their length.The Minister said again tonight that there is no need to put such matters in the Bill because the ITC will issue illustrative guidelines on the programme range and type that it expects bidders to provide. With respect, illustrative guidelines do not have the same force as quality threshold requirements, as he and the House well know. In this context, the important point is that if it is not in the Bill, accountants will be able to say, "Yes, we understand, Mr. or Mrs. Programme Maker, what you are saying, but we simply cannot afford them," or, "We want that slot for a different type of programme because it will deliver a different kind of audience at that time, and one that the advertiser wants."
The hon. Gentleman twitted me a moment ago about consistency. In the previous debate the Opposition said that nothing was needed in the Bill because guidelines would be sufficient. Now they are apparently standing that on its head and saying that the guidelines are not sufficient, we cannot trust the broadcasters, so the matter must be specified in the Bill.
We are all sharp tonight. I generously acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's point, but we cannot treat all fish in the sea as being of exactly the same kind, weight and importance.The Minister said earlier, although he did not use these exact words tonight, that if there is public demand for such programmes, they will have to be provided. There is no evidence for that assertion. On the basis of experience elsewhere, all the evidence points exactly the other way. There is evidence from France, what was lately West Germany, and Italy, which all started on this three or four years before we did, that in a deregulated climate exactly the opposite happens. The effect of deregulation in those countries has been a dramatic fall in the number of factually based programmes and a rise in those that are primarily entertainment led to meet commercial needs and advertisers' demands. I shall quickly tell the House that in terms of viewer demand—what viewers want—the IBA attitudes to television survey in 1989 showed that an astonishing 66 people out of every 100 wanted more nature and wildlife programmes, 55 out of every 100 wanted more educational programmes for adults and 55 per cent. wanted more plays and dramas. Some 42 out of every 100 viewers wanted fewer quiz shows and panel games, 43 per cent. wanted fewer chat shows and an astounding one viewer in two wanted fewer soap operas. That is exactly the opposite of what we suspect is likely to happen. I am trying not to make judgments because such programmes have a place on the menu, but I am trying to make the point to the Minister that so do other programmes, especially those specified in the Lords amendments. One of the saddest aspects of Australian television—I probably watch more of it there than I do here—is that it is the only publicly funded, multi-cultural, special broadcasting service channel that provides anything like a decent, nightly, international and national news programme, and very well done it is too, and documentaries. That is the reality of what can happen in such a climate. The Minister may recall that he described the quality threshold—I think that there was some dispute as to whether it was the Minister or that nice George Russell who used the phrase initially—as a "Becher's Brook". That Grand National jump got its name because Captain Becher dashed into the lead at the start on his horse Conrad, charged at the first brook, was dumped on the ground and hence gave his name to that jump. That is what we fear about the quality threshold. We want it to be high, wide and firm, with every intending rider forced to jump well clear. The Government—and we agree with them—say that we want an active democracy and an informed electorate. If they are serious about wanting more citizens to be active citizens, they must realise that that will not happen unless television plays its part in helping it to happen. That is what makes this type of programme so important. Our former colleague, Mr. Alf Dubs, the distinguished director of the Refugee Council, puts it this way:
The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education tells us:"television has a vital role to play in raising people's awareness of the particular problems facing developing countries. It can also make people think more about situations nearer home, and can highlight social issues."
I hope that no hon. Member would disagree. Age Concern tells us:"The Government recognises that Britain needs a much greater commitment to re-skilling its workforce, and ITV has shown an ability to persuade people who have had no contact with education and training since school to follow up programmes with active study. This is a resource too precious to jeopardise."
That is profoundly important."Television and radio play an important part in enabling organisations such as Age Concern England to maintain and develop communication with older people."
I hope that no hon. Member would condemn housebound and often lonely people to a diet of wall-to-wall game shows and chat shows such as the Bill threatens."In our ageing society, communication through the media is likely to become even more important, especially for those older people who are isolated and housebound."
I do not want to prolong this debate but, by reading out those submissions, the hon. Gentleman is proceeding as if we were dealing here with the only television channel. My primary point is that I believe that no one will cross the quality threshold who does not have a full range of programmes. In public service television we have BBC 1 and BBC 2, and Channel 4 with its specific remit, so I wonder whether some of those points are not seriously overstated.
I understand that, but the Minister seems to overlook the fact that the must-carry obligations were imposed first on the BBC and then on the new independent television stations, and that is what enables us to stand up and assert that our television system is, if not the best in the world, certainly among the best in the world. That did not happen by accident. It happened because we required those responsible for running the commercial television network to carry out some of those basic functions.
I think that the Minister is trying to say that he does not want competition on quality. He wants a channel that might be regarded by, say, the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) as a trash channel.
My hon. Friend makes the point well.I shall finish by explaining what puzzles me about the Government's attitude. We have laws and speed limits to try to reduce accidents on our roads. We insist that every child goes to school for 11 years from the age of five. We say who can and who cannot drink alcohol and what can and what cannot be done with our processed food. Yet when it comes to television it seems that the Government say that there is no need for any guidance to those responsible for our television on what viewers should be able to see, for our national well-being and advancement. I find it unacceptable to claim that providing a lead in television is less important than it is in other areas in which the law touches on the lives of every citizen.
I support the case made by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) in favour of the Lords amendment, and wish to speak to my two modest amendments to it. The Minister will not be surprised by them; they are consistent with everything that I said in Committe and are designed to remind everyone that when we speak of regional television on Channel 3, in the Principality and in Scotland we are also talking about nationhood and the national culture. I wish to remind everyone that the term "regional" is not a wholly accurate description of the role of Channel 3 in the Principality. It will have a responsibility to reflect a national culture as well as regional interests.My amendments will be irrelevant if we lose the Lords amendment. In the past the Minister has been the flexible friend of the House during the passage of this Bill, so I do not understand why he is being so stiff-necked about these propositions. After all, as my hon. Friend the Member for Erdington reminded him, we have added to the list. I supported the inclusion of children's and religious programmes, but I had little doubt that the Channel 3 producers would broadcast children's programmes—they are popular and would therefore be a normal part of any programme diet. But we still felt the need to reinforce their inclusion. I think it even more important to give statutory buttressing to the inclusion of education. The Minister intervened earlier to say that we have BBC 1, BBC 2 and Channel 4; and, in the Principality, S4C. But for many groups of people in the communities that I represent the commercial Channel 3 is the major television station; indeed, it is watched by the overwhelming majority. So the claim that because we have those other channels we do not need to impose an educational responsibility on Channel 3 is an invalid argument. A mainstream commercial channel should have a statutory responsibility to provide education. When speaking about how strong the diversity test will be and how the ITC will apply it, the Minister fallaciously argued that if we include education we should also have to include sport and drama. No one believes that sport will not be included in Channel 3 programming. We all know that there will be a lot of sport—too much in the view of many people. No one is worried that a commercial television station will not carry sport. However, under the pressures of costs and savings there may be genuine doubts whether, unless there is a clear obligation on commercial television to continue to run educational programmes, it will do so. Wherever we stand in the great education and training debate there is a consensus among all parties that education and training arrangements in this country are appallingly poor. We should not turn our backs on one significant means of communicating important educational and training messages to large groups of people, particularly younger people. There is another reason why we must impose statutory obligations in respect of education. There are already tell-tale signs that, in view of projected declining advertising revenues in the 1990s, accountants, not programme makers, will start to rule our commercial television programmes. Any doubts that I had about that being a strong possibility have been dispelled because even since the Bill was last debated there is manifest evidence of it occurring on the Welsh television scene. I hope that the Minister will be alarmed to hear about what has happened in the last week or two. All of us, including the Minister, paid tribute to Welsh television and worked together to try to make sure that S4C'c role and remit in the Bill was assured and buttressed. Its revenues depend entirely on advertising and, as it foresees a future decline in those, it has dropped a bombshell on the Welsh television scene. Last week it announced that in the first six months of 1991 it will commission only £13 million worth of programmes. It commissions programmes from HTV and the Welsh independent sector, and the cut means that they will get just £6·5 million each. 8.30 pm The independent sector has flourished as a result of the development of S4C, and HTV has had a significant and important programme-making capacity to meet its demands and needs. Last year S4C commissioned about £40-million worth of programmes. The reduction in demand from S4C will have a dramatic effect. In February or March, S4C may feel capable of commissioning more programmes, but the shape of things to come can be seen in the effect that that announcement has had on the development of programme making in the Principality. It is not alarmist or fanciful to express concern about the growing pressures of the 1990s. Financial pressures may develop in commercial television and we are worried about the amount of advertising revenue that will be available to Channel 3. There will also be takeover pressure in line with the new competitive spirit. As a consequence, accountants will tell the programme makers to cut everything except that for which they are statutorily responsible. The way in which S4C is revealing its problems to HTV and the independent sector about the commissioning of programmes next year because of worries about falling advertising revenue shows the shape of things to come in commercial television. There is a powerful case for including in the Bill a statutory obligation requiring commercial television to provide education programmes. The Minister's arguments in that respect are not valid. We added children's programmes and we rightly added religious programmes and, given the climate in which commercial television will operate, it is important to send from the House the loud and clear message that Channel 3 has an educational role. The best and simplest way to do that is to support the amendments.
I sense that our deliberations are rather like old times, but one element is missing. It is sad that Norman Buchan is not with us, because he would certainly have taken part in the debate, as he took part in many of our debates in Committee.As always, I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett), who developed compelling arguments about the situation in France and Australia. I entirely agree that that should give us great cause for concern about the future of our commercial television channels. However, I am not sure that he drew the right conclusions. Arguments about what is happening in France and Australia go to the heart of why it was right to put in the Bill a proper bidding process which not only strengthens quality but discourages overbidding. It also ensures that business plans must be realistic if they are to have any chance of passing the ITC quality test and the business plan test, because within the Bill the two tests are quite separate. My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister knows that in Committee I argued vigorously for a strengthening of the quality threshold. We should remind ourselves of three areas in which the Minister agreed to make some important changes to the tendering process. First, we should not forget the strengthening of regionality and of regional programming, which I know the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) also holds dear. Secondly, we must not forget about the strengthening of quality news and current affairs requirements in the bidding process. Thirdly, we added children's and religious programmes, which we felt had an overriding argument in their favour. We knew that by doing that we would encourage other special interest groups. Equally, we agreed that it was entirely unsatisfactory to provide a statutory requirement to broadcast a long and exhaustive list of programme types. To do so would completely undermine the objectives of deregulation, which in turn are based on a recognition of the commercial realities of the increased competition that Channel 3 and ITV will face over the next decade and into the next century. Already in the past six months we have seen a reduction in advertising revenue, giving rise to the concern expressed by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney. I have heard no new arguments in this debate or read about any in reports of the deliberations in the other place about why we should change our position on this. The Bill already requires diverse programmes. Equally, the programme types included in the amendments draw attention to the importance of such programmes. The Minister has drawn attention to that and, like him, I can think of other programmes that I should like to see on Channel 3. I should like to see not just sport, which is commercial, but arts programmes, which are often riot commercial. I should like to believe that, from time to time in the years ahead, I shall still be able to see opera on Channel 3. However, it is not right to insist upon a statutory requirement that Channel 3 should broadcast opera.
I am enjoying my hon. Friend's speech. People will be set into a framework of existing provisions. Therefore, I am not relying purely on market forces for Channel 3. It is not without significance that BSB has already pinned much of its faith on opera for key viewing times, such as Saturday evenings. It is significant and rather encouraging that, since we last discussed these matters, Sky Television has announced quite serious plans for a dedicated arts channel. That suggests that the idea that the lowest common denominator of programming will rule is not necessarily correct.
I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend. I was about to make a different point—that, although companies must make a commercial judgment about what they show, it does not necessarily follow that their support for, for example, the arts or opera need be through televising those events. They may well prefer to support them through sponsorship. Yorkshire Television has sponsored two productions by Opera North. I am only sorry that my right hon. and learned Friend could not come to see the recent revival of La Traviata. Yorkshire Television provides sponsorship for the commercial reason that it promotes the company in the region. However, it also does it to support the region. The regional structure, especially with Channel 3, should not be overlooked. If we place too many obligations on Channel 3 franchisees, we may put in their path requirements that, over time, they cannot match. Sponsorship could be one way to ensure that the sort of social action programmes to which the hon. Member for Erdington referred, and about which we all have strong views, continue.The House should recognise that programming obligations must be matched by commercial reality. If we cannot—and we cannot—guarantee Channel 3's income or its financial future, we must be careful not to saddle ITV with statutory obligations that it cannot realistically underwrite over the next 10 to 20 years—which is the timescale legislated for in the Bill. As my right hon. and learned Friend said, it does not mean the end of programmes. The market place can provide quality and diversity. ITV needs flexibility, and the Bill, as drafted when it left this place, provided that. We would be wrong to over-egg the pudding. We have provided for the essential ingredients; we should trust independent television to add the relish. I know that it can.
I think that the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), in the last moments of his speech, underlined our concerns that lead us to think that their Lordships made a wise move. He spoke of the difficulty for companies, in years to come, in meeting the requirement of diversity in the way that the Minister assured us he was confident they could. I suspect that none of us could predict with great accuracy what will be the financial position of those companies in three years, let alone 10 to 20 years.I take issue with the Minister who, in an intervention in the speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett), said that we should not overlook other matters, such as the special remit of Channel 4, the BBC's role and so on. We must be wary of that argument, because it is clear that that cornerstone of broadcasting, the BBC, is increasingly under attack, as it was attacked in our earlier debate. One of the sticks that will be used to beat the BBC is ratings. If it broadcasts programmes to satisfy the diversity requirement—for example, educational, social action, and expensive documentary programmes—which may be of high quality but directed at a specialist audience, and therefore not attracting substantial ratings, that will be taken as a sign of weakness, and the BBC may feel that it must respond to the ratings criticism. I fear that the whole atmosphere in which programme making, even by the BBC, is developing may be changed if the ITV channels move down market. We spent a great deal of time discussing these issues at earlier stages of the Bill. I think that the hon. Member for Ryedale was right to say that there are few new arguments to be deployed at this stage. However, the Minister cannot complain about our taking issue with him when the other place thought it right to change the balance of the Bill and the balance of the protections. We listen to its arguments, we weigh them and then we decide whether we think that it is right. I was one of those least attracted to the original concept of specification. If we specify programme content to ensure diversity, the question will arise whether that is a requirement. If it is, other programmes that are not specified will be dropped. 8.45 pm The Minister earlier admitted that it was he who accepted the view that religious broadcasting and children's programmes should be specified. Once that happened, I took the view that certain other matters also had to be specified because they were vulnerable to the sort of arguments that I have already made. They are also vulnerable because they are distinguishable from other programmes in that they are expensive, and quite properly directed to small audiences. The Minister talked about excluding the arts. I advocated special treatment for the arts and the creation of an arts fund. However, I recognise that, even if we specified the arts, only a small audience would be interested in a particular art form. We cannot specify all the arts, so it is difficult to argue for arts specification. The three matters highlighted for specification by another place are important and beyond argument. Social action programmes have been one of the great innovations in television broadcasting and have achieved something that could not be achieved by other means. They would be difficult to justify in commercial terms, so without some sort of obligation they might be the most vulnerable. Educational programmes are enormously important, and would probably be the last to disappear. They can attract substantial audiences, and there is a great and growing public demand for them. Documentaries are another matter because they can be exceedingly expensive to make, especially if they are shot abroad. It would be a great misfortune if they were to disappear from our screens. I throw my weight behind the arguments deployed in another place. I have highlighted the dangers that might arise if we rejected the amendment, which I believe improves the Bill.
I want to make an intervention of nauseating piety but merciful brevity. Much of what I wanted to say has been said by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), with his Celtic fluency.It is ironic that this country is going through a crisis in educational quality, while knowingly passing legislation that will, in all probability, lead to a decline in the educative aspect of parts of television. If we are being honest, we all agree with that. There was a flagrant contradiction in the argument made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) and by my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister. My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale said that, in all commercial realism, it could be difficult to pay for quality programmes if one did not have enough popular programmes. My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister appeared to agree with him, even though he had said two minutes earlier that things were not as bad as they looked and that we would be seeing a lot of opera. It is permissible to have some intellectual doubt about the possibility of reconciling those two views. I repeat that it seems to me perfectly possible to suspect that we are in the process of passing legislation that will not only run down the quality, such as it is, of our commercial television but—as the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) pointed out—will probably, in time, affect the quality, such as it is, of the BBC. I am not being a Jeremiah; those effects may take time and they may be difficult to pin down. Nevertheless, it is possible to take that view, and a lot of extremely intelligent and thoughtful people outside the House do, indeed, take that view. In terms of education, there is an increasingly close relationship between what is broadcast and what is taught in the classroom. Let me give my right hon. and learned Friend an example. I should be interested to know whether he has been in touch with the Department of Education and Science about the amendment. If he, like me, had had the misfortune to read some of the new GCSE examinations in English literature, he would know that, to a certain extent, they are based on piddling and banal television film scripts. That is the nature of the new world in which we live, and it is the subject of another debate. But given that those film scripts are used in our examinations, and used in our schools, as texts to be "studied", it will be a sad day for education if we do anything in the Bill to make them more piddling and banal than they are already. Perhaps my right hon. and learned Friend can assure me that he has been in touch with the Department of Education and Science and that these matters have been given the thought that they deserve. But I beg leave to express some doubts about whether that is so, and to be not pessimistic but absolutely realistic about the risks that we shall be running in the Bill if we do not do whatever we can to use the sticking plaster—that is all it is—that the amendments represent. We shall not save the day, after all, by naming three subjects. The only case for naming them is that we may thus do something to head off what I regard as an inevitable decline in quality, which will have repercussions for the BBC and, indirectly, for our education system.
With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) knows that I am enormously fond of him and that I agree with his views on almost everything. I even partially agree with some of the views that he has expressed from time to time on this issue, as I hope has been evidenced by what has happened during our proceedings on the Bill. Nevertheless, I think that he is over-pessimistic.I know that, in the end, it comes down to a matter of judgment. Honourable people of insight will come down on one side or the other of the argument. There are no absolutes in the matter, and I do not think that there is much room for further persuasion. But the new television channels that are completely free of any statutory intervention in terms of what they show have not proved the pessimists right. It is true that one of Sky's channels shows quite a lot of repeats, but that is also true of the BBC. Sky News is a quality product, however, and it is interesting to note that Sky is also contemplating a dedicated arts channel. I profoundly hope that BSB will be a success. So much of its programming is based on quality. It shows many arts programmes. It has recognised that a large proportion of the public have told the pollsters that there is nothing on telly when they want to watch it, and on Saturday nights—a bit of a desert for quite a lot of us—it will be showing opera. I hope that that is a bold venture. On Saturday and Sunday afternoons, BSB wants to show children's programmes—proper programmes that it has commissioned itself. In other words, the truly commercial sector is not looking merely for re-runs of aged American soaps to pull in the viewers. It recognises that the viewers are a bit more discriminating than that. With ITV, I believe that there is something worth preserving, although one must not join the broadcasters in total self-congratulatory complacency about the quality of British television. One hears enough of that when one goes to the awards ceremonies. I shall miss them, of course, even if I noticed that there was a bit of self-congratulation around. Nevertheless, ITV gives us some television that is well worth preserving, and I believe that the Bill will preserve it. It is a matter of argument whether it would be better preserved if we added the list in the amendment. I hope that the House will accept that I have no ulterior motive for rejecting the list beyond believing that the diversity test, the quality threshold and the pretty clear steer that the ITV will get from the ITC will be sufficient. I hope that they will be enough to see the ITV network through the next 10 years and beyond. I must accept the argument advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), that the commercial element of commercial television is not an optional extra. We said that time without number during the Committee stage. Commercial television is a commercial venture or it is nothing. The programming arrangements will only be threatened if the bottom drops out of the commercial market for commercial television. If that happens, no power on earth will save the programmes—whether or not they are enshrined in statute. Perhaps if we accepted all the Lords amendments—including the programming amendment—we should make it more difficult for Channel 3 to flourish because we might tie it down to a scheduling remit that it could not fulfil. One is entitled to ask, "Why have a public service broadcaster if that public service broadcaster is not there to produce programmes of a very different kind from those which are available elsewhere?" I think that we can go further and that we can have a viable Channel 4—indeed, we have one now—and a Channel 3 that is properly diverse. There is every chance of keeping all those balls in the air, but I do not think that the Lords amendment would help us to achieve that aim. For that reason—I am sorry that it will also have the unintended consequence of destroying the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands)—I hope that the House will agree that it is perfectly proper, and probably in the long-term best interests of quality television, that we should reject the amendments.
Question put, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment:—
The House divided: Ayes 252, Noes 92.
Division No. 343]
[8. 57 pm
|Aitken, Jonathan||Amess, David|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Arbuthnot, James|
|Arnold, Jacques(Gravesham)||Gorst, John|
|Ashby, David||Grant, Sir Anthony(CambsSW)|
|Atkinson, David||Greenway, John(Ryedale)|
|Baker, Nicholas(Dorset N)||Gregory, Conal|
|Banks, Robert(Harrogate)||Griffiths, Peter(Portsmouth N)|
|Bendall, Vivian||Grist, Ian|
|Bennett, Nicholas(Pembroke)||Hague, William|
|Benyon, W.||Hamilton, Hon Archie(Epsom)|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Hamilton, Neil(Tatton)|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Hannam, John|
|Blackburn, Dr John G.||Hargreaves, A.(B'ham H'll Gr')|
|Body, Sir Richard||Hargreaves, Ken(Hyndburn)|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Harris, David|
|Boswell, Tim||Haselhurst, Alan|
|Bottomley, Peter||Hawkins, Christopher|
|Bowden, A(Brighton K'pto'n)||Hayes, Jerry|
|Bowden, Gerald(Dulwich)||Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney|
|Bowis, John||Hayward, Robert|
|Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes||Heathcoat-Amory, David|
|Brazier, Julian||Hicks, Mrs Maureen(Wolv' NE)|
|Bright, Graham||Hicks, Robert(Cornwall SE)|
|Brown, Michael(Brigg & Cl't's)||Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.|
|Browne, John(Winchester)||Hill, James|
|Bruce, Ian(Dorset South)||Hind, Kenneth|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Howard, Rt Hon Michael|
|Budgen, Nicholas||Howarth, Alan(Strat'd-on-A)|
|Burns, Simon||Howarth, G.(Cannock & B'wd)|
|Burt, Alistair||Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey|
|Butcher, John||Howell, Ralph(North Norfolk)|
|Butler, Chris||Hunt, David(Wirral W)|
|Butterfill, John||Hunt, Sir John(Ravensbourne)|
|Carlisle, John,(Luton N)||Hunter, Andrew|
|Carlisle, Kenneth(Lincoln)||Irvine, Michael|
|Carr, Michael||Irving, Sir Charles|
|Carrington, Matthew||Jack, Michael|
|Carttiss, Michael||Jackson, Robert|
|Cash, William||Janman, Tim|
|Chapman, Sydney||Jessel, Toby|
|Clark, Dr Michael(Rochford)||Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey|
|Clark, Sir W.(Croydon S)||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K.(Rushcliffe)||Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine|
|Colvin, Michael||Key, Robert|
|Conway, Derek||Kilfedder, James|
|Coombs, Anthony(Wyre F'rest)||King, Roger(B'ham N'thfield)|
|Coombs, Simon(Swindon)||Kirkhope, Timothy|
|Critchley, Julian||Knapman, Roger|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Knight, Greg(Derby North)|
|Curry, David||Knight, Dame Jill(Edgbaston)|
|Davies, Q.(Stamf'd & Spald'g)||Knowles, Michael|
|Davis, David(Boothferry)||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Day, Stephen||Lee, John(Pendle)|
|Devlin, Tim||Leigh, Edward(Gainsbor'gh)|
|Dicks, Terry||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Lester, Jim(Broxtowe)|
|Dover, Den||Lightbown, David|
|Dunn, Bob||Lloyd, Sir Ian(Havant)|
|Durant, Tony||Lloyd, Peter(Fareham)|
|Eggar, Tim||Lord, Michael|
|Evans, David(Welwyn Hatf'd)||Luce, Rt Hon Richard|
|Evennett, David||Macfarlane, Sir Neil|
|Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas||Maclean, David|
|Fallon, Michael||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Favell, Tony||Madel, David|
|Fenner, Dame Peggy||Major, Rt Hon John|
|Field, Barry(Isle of Wight)||Malins, Humfrey|
|Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey||Mans, Keith|
|Fishburn, John Dudley||Maples, John|
|Fookes, Dame Janet||Marland, Paul|
|Forman, Nigel||Marlow, Tony|
|Forsyth, Michael(Stirling)||Marshall, John(Hendon S)|
|Forsythe, Clifford(Antrim S)||Martin, David(Portsmouth S)|
|Forth, Eric||Mates, Michael|
|Freeman, Roger||Mawhinney, Dr Brian|
|French, Douglas||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Fry, Peter||Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick|
|Gale, Roger||Mellor, David|
|Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian||Mills, Iain|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles||Mitchell, Andrew(Gedling)|
|Gorman, Mrs Teresa||Moate, Roger|
|Molyneaux, Rt Hon James||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|Monro, Sir Hector||Smith, Tim(Beaconsfield)|
|Montgomery, Sir Fergus||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|Morris, M(N'hampton S)||Speed, Keith|
|Morrison, Sir Charles||Spicer, Sir Jim(Dorset W)|
|Morrison, Rt Hon P(Chester)||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Moss, Malcolm||Steen, Anthony|
|Mudd, David||Stern, Michael|
|Neale, Gerrard||Stevens, Lewis|
|Nelson, Anthony||Stewart, Allan(Eastwood)|
|Neubert, Michael||Stewart, Andy(Sherwood)|
|Newton, Rt Hon Tony||Stokes, Sir John|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Sumberg, David|
|Nicholson, David(Taunton)||Summerson, Hugo|
|Nicholson, Emma(Devon West)||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Norris, Steve||Taylor, Ian(Esher)|
|Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley||Taylor, John M(Solihull)|
|Oppenheim, Phillip||Taylor, Teddy(S'end E)|
|Page, Richard||Thompson, D.(Calder Valley)|
|Paice, James||Thompson, Patrick(Norwich N)|
|Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil||Thurnham, Peter|
|Patten, Rt Hon John||Townsend, Cyril D.(B'heath)|
|Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Tracey, Richard|
|Porter, David(Waveney)||Trimble, David|
|Powell, William(Corby)||Trippier, David|
|Raffan, Keith||Trotter, Neville|
|Raison, Rt Hon Timothy||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Rathbone, Tim||Viggers, Peter|
|Redwood, John||Waldegrave, Rt Hon William|
|Renton, Rt Hon Tim||Waller, Gary|
|Rhodes James, Robert||Wardle, Charles(Bexhill)|
|Riddick, Graham||Watts, John|
|Roberts, Sir Wyn(Conwy)||Wells, Bowen|
|Roe, Mrs Marion s'||Wheeler, Sir John|
|Rost, Peter||Whitney, Ray|
|Ryder, Richard||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Sackville, Hon Tom||Wilkinson, John|
|Sayeed, Jonathan||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas||Wolfson, Mark|
|Shaw, David(Dover)||Wood, Timothy|
|Shaw, Sir Giles(Pudsey)||Woodcock, Dr. Mike|
|Shelton, Sir William||Yeo, Tim|
|Shephard, Mrs G.(Norfolk SW)|
Tellers for the Ayes:
Sir George Young and Mr. Irvine Patrick.
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Fisher, Mark|
|Allen, Graham||Foster, Derek|
|Armstrong, Hilary||Fraser, John|
|Banks, Tony(Newham NW)||Fyfe, Maria|
|Barnes, Harry(Derbyshire NE)||Garrett, Ted(Wallsend)|
|Battle, John||George, Bruce|
|Beckett, Margaret||Godman, Dr Norman A.|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Griffiths, Nigel(Edinburgh S)|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Hardy, Peter|
|Boyes, Roland||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy|
|Bradley, Keith||Hinchliffe, David|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Hoey, Ms Kate(Vauxhall)|
|Bruce, Malcolm(Gordon)||Hogg, N.(C'nauld & Kilsyth)|
|Caborn, Richard||Home Robertson, John|
|Campbell, Ron(Blyth Valley)||Howells, Geraint|
|Campbell-Savours, D. N.||Hughes, John(Coventry NE)|
|Carlile, Alex(Mont'g)||Ingram, Adam|
|Clark, Dr David(S Shields)||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Leighton, Ron|
|Corbett, Robin||Livingstone, Ken|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Livsey, Richard|
|Crowther, Stan||Lloyd, Tony(Stretford)|
|Cryer, Bob||McAllion, John|
|Cummings, John||McAvoy, Thomas|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||McCartney, Ian|
|Darling, Alistair||McLeish, Henry|
|Davis, Terry(B'ham Hodge H'l)||Maclennan, Robert|
|Dewar, Donald||McNamara, Kevin|
|Dixon, Don||McWilliam, John|
|Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth||Madden, Max|
|Evans, John(St Helens N)||Marshall, David(Shettleston)|
|Faulds, Andrew||Meale, Alan|
|Michie, Bill(Sheffield Heeley)||Smith, Andrew(Oxford E)|
|Michie, Mrs Ray(Arg'l & Bute)||Smith, Rt Hon J.(Monk'ds E)|
|Moonie, Dr Lewis||Smith, J. P.(Vale of Glam)|
|Morgan, Rhodri||Spearing, Nigel|
|Morley, Elliot||Steinberg, Gerry|
|Mullin, Chris||Strang, Gavin|
|Nellist, Dave||Thompson, Jack(Wansbeck)|
|Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon||Walden, George|
|Pike, Peter L.||Winnick, David|
|Powell, Ray(Ogmore)||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Radice, Giles||Worthington, Tony|
|Richardson, Jo||Young, David(Bolton SE)|
Tellers for the Noes:
Mrs. Llin Golding and Mr. Allen McKay.
Question accordingly agreed to.
Lords amendments Nos. 46 to 48 disagreed to.
Networking Arrangements Between Holders Of Regional Channel 3 Licences
Lords amendment: No. 111, after clause 34, insert the following new clause—
(".—(1) This section has effect with respect to the making of arrangements which—
being arrangements made for the purpose of enabling regional Channel 3 services (taken as a whole) to be a nationwide system of such services which is able to compete effectively with other television programme services provided in the United Kingdom; and any such arrangements are referred to in this section as "networking arrangements".
(2) Any application for a regional Channel 3 licence shall, in addition to being accompanied by any such proposals as are mentioned in section 15(3)(b) to (d), be accompanied by the applicant's proposals for participating in networking arrangements made under this section; and—
(3) The Commission may publish, in such manner as they consider appropriate, general guidance to applicants for a regional Channel 3 licence as to the kinds of proposals which they would consider satisfactory for the purposes of subsection (2)(a); but before doing so the Commission—
(4) Each regional Channel 3 licence shall include conditions requiring the licence holder to do all that he can to secure—
the Commission may themselves draw up such networking arrangements as they consider appropriate; and, if they do so—
and each regional Channel 3 licence shall include conditions requiring the licence holder to give effect to any arrangements made by the Commission under this subsection as for the time being in force.
(6) No arrangements made by the Commission under subsection (5) shall come into force at any time after 31st December 1994.
the arrangements referred to in paragraph (a) shall cease to have effect on the coming into force of the arrangements referred to in paragraph (b).
(8) Where any arrangements have been approved by the Commission under subsection (4) or (7)(b), no modification of those arrangements shall be made by the holders of regional Channel 3 licences unless it too has been so approved.
(9) Where any arrangements have been made by the Commission under subsection (5), they may (whether before or after the date specified in subsection (6)) make such modification of those arrangements as they consider appropriate; and, if they do so—
(10) Without prejudice to the generality of their power to refuse to approve any arrangements or modification under subsection (4), (7)(b) or (8), the Commission shall refuse to do so if they are not satisfied that the arrangements in question, or (as the case may be) those arrangements as proposed to be modified, would be appropriate for the purpose mentioned in subsection (1).
(11) Where the Commission have—
they shall, as soon as reasonably practicable after giving their approval or (as the case may be) that notification—
(12) The appropriate requirement referred to in paragraph (ii) of subsection (11) is—
and Schedule (References with respect to networking arrangements) to this Act shall have effect with respect to any reference made under paragraph (a) above and matters arising out of any such reference, including the subsequent modification of the arrangements to which it relates.
(13) In this section "the relevant date" means the date which the Commission determine to be that by which any such arrangements as are mentioned in subsection (4) would need to have been made by the holders of regional Channel 3 licences in order for the arrangements to be fully in operation at the time when those persons begin to provide their licensed services.")
Read a Second time.
I beg to move, as an amendment to the Lords amendment, amendment (a), in subsection (5)(b) of the new clause, to leave out 'before 1st January 1995'.
With this it will be convenient to take the following:Amendment (b) to the proposed amendment, to leave out subsection (6). Lords amendments Nos. 440, 441 and 501. I have to inform the House that Lords amendment No. 111 involves privilege.
I express my appreciation to the Minister for the amendment, which reflects decisions taken earlier in the light of the view expressed strongly in Committee that there should be a networking arrangement reinforced by statute so as to avoid the possibility of complete chaos when the franchises are awarded. There should be additional safeguards when new companies come in. I must express regret that the Government have not thought fit to make that a continuing obligation on the ITC. The purpose of my amendments is to ensure that the obligation to have in place a networking arrangement is a continuing one.I take this opportunity of raising with the Minister points that have been put to me by the Campaign for Quality Television about the role of the Office of Fair Trading in the underpinning of the networking arrangement provided for by the Bill. That arrangement is set out in the schedule and referred to in the new clause. It has been expressed strongly, most notably in a speech by Mr. Richard Dunn of the Independent Television Companies Association at aFinancial Times conference, that there would be serious risks if the Office of Fair Trading were to be involved in the networking. The sort of competition criteria that might appeal to the Office of Fair Trading would not necessarily be the same criteria as would be in the mind of the ITC in putting forward its proposals. The purpose of the networking arrangements is to ensure that quality broadcasting is available across the board. My noble Friend Lord Thomson of Monifieth said in another place that the difficulty with network arrangements in television is that
I am sure that the Minister has read Richard Dunn's speech and I hope that he will address the arguments that he made. They are serious arguments. We had some debate earlier about the appropriateness of bringing the Office of Fair Trading into the regulatory process. Some of us, particularly myself, moved amendments to seek to remove the Office of Fair Trading from the oversight because that seemed to double the regulatory role. It would have taken away from the governors of the BBC their responsibility and, in this respect, would have reduced the role of the ITC. It is clear that the ITC can be overruled by the Office of Fair Trading according to the terms of the new clause. The House is entitled to an assurance that the carefully balanced quality provisions to which the Minister has devoted so much attention will not be damaged."while there is not a conflict, there are often tensions pulling different ways between the most competitive system in the terms in which the OFT is bound to look at the matter and the system that provides the viewer with the best possibility of a rich variety of programming."— [Official Report, House of Lords, 11 October 1990; Vol. 522, c. 493.]
I have given notice to my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of my intention to raise a matter that was raised in the other place by Lord Boston of Faversham. It relates to the matter just mentioned by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan)—the involvement of the Office of Fair Trading. Lord Boston asked Lord Ferrers three questions; I should be grateful if my right hon. and learned Friend would put on record the substance of Lord Ferrers's reply, which was given in a letter to Lord Boston on 18 October.First, Lord Boston asked whether the OFT would play any role in the process of selecting applicants for ITV franchises. If it did, that would clearly undermine much of the work that we did in Committee to strengthen the tender procedure and to make it rather more transparent than it has been in the past. Secondly, would any unhelpful delay result from the OFT's involvement which might prove commercially damaging to ITV companies? Thirdly, what does my right hon. and learned Friend intend to do to ensure that, should the Director General of Fair Trading feel that the agreed network arrangement is uncompetitive, exemption from the Restrictive Trade Practices Act 1976 will be provided? I think that the answers given in Lord Ferrers's letter are satisfactory, but it would be helpful if the House could be told—on the record—exactly what they are.
Opposition Members are glad that the Government have honoured the earlier undertakings to give the ITC powers to establish a networking system. I do not think that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) required anything more than a slightly more detailed explanation from the Minister.There is no argument about the fact that those who will be bidding for licences will need to know what kind of networking arrangement is in operation before they can make their bids. Will the Minister confirm that, at present, 10 of the 15 existing ITV companies have set up a body called Netco to make network programmes, and that five have said that they do not wish to make them—although one is in a bit of a dither whether to make them or not? I understand that a safeguard exists in that, as at present, the tariff for network programmes will relate to ability to pay, measured by advertising take. I also understand—perhaps the Minister knows more about this than I do—that Netco has yet to agree on the volume of network programme hours, and on how they will be allocated. That brings us to the question of the involvement of the Office of Fair Trading. One suggestion is that it should be based on what has happened over the past three years. That may be the point at which the OFT will start to take an immediate interest in the matter. Its job is to ensure that arrangements do not restrict, distort or prevent competition. If it concluded—which it might do—that the formula of basing arrangements on the practice of the past three years breached some or all of its conditions, it could have a considerable impact on the arrangements. It could impose extra costs on network programmes and in turn cut the cash available for regional programmes. That could subsequently have an impact on the ability of regional Channel 3 licence holders to meet the so-called quality thresholds, by which the Minister sets so much store, as he reminded us again tonight. People are puzzled as to why there is a need for two referees, who could find themselves using different sets of rules on the same pitch. The hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) questioned the involvement of the Office of Fair Trading. After all, the Government appoint the members of the ITC, and to that extent are right to trust its judgment. In another place, the Minister of State described the rules specified for the OFT as a mere formality. If it will simply be a matter of sending the OFT a letter and receiving one in return, there does not seem much point to it. If it is a formality, the OFT does not seem to have got the message because it has, I understand, already set up a special unit to deal with that aspect. I am unclear also about the OFT's powers. If it does not like a proposal, will it write to that nice George Russell saying, "We don't like this proposal. Yours sincerely, OFT", or will it be able to prevent the proposed networking arrangement on the grounds specified? Like any other business persons, ITC members must have regard to the competition rules, and in that sense they do not need a second reminder—a watchdog or a nanny peering over their shoulders, prompting them that in making commercial arrangements they must take competition law into account. I hope that the Minister understands that competition must relate directly to the circumstances of a particular industry or trade, and that one concept cannot be wheeled round from shop to shop and be made to apply to all situations. That point is made by the Centre for Communication and Information Studies at the polytechnic of central London, which says:
Perhaps we can learn something from the methods used in Germany, even at the risk of upsetting the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley). Currently, in the independent television network system cost-effective, studio-made programmes such as "Coronation Street" and "Blind Date" subsidise more expensive programmes such as "World in Action", "First Tuesday" and "The South Bank Show". I mentioned "Blind Date" because in a media survey of Back-Bench Members, it came out as top of the pops. I share the fear that the OFT might prevent such a sensible arrangement which, although it may not fit any other industry, has served independent television well. Nevertheless, it may attract criticism from the OFT, which could weaken the Bill's quality provisions. I hope that the Minister can assure the House that none of the fears that I have expressed is well-founded."In Germany, the Federal Cartel Office has a different regulatory policy towards broadcasting from that of the Federal Constitutional Court".
Mellor, Mr. Speaker. I was about to say that I had forgotten the name of the chap sitting opposite me when I discovered that you, Mr. Speaker, had forgotten my name—but never mind. That serves me right for being cheeky.
Order. It was a temporary lapse
We all grow older, Mr. Speaker. It is happening to me as well. At your age, Mr. Speaker, these things happen.The House welcomed the Government's decision, announced during the passage of the Bill, that we should not rely purely on the commonsense position of there being a network, although obviously the ITV system could not operate without a network. However, because of continuing concern about the previous network and the cartel thereby created, because of what some regarded as the unconscionable amount of time that was being taken to get another network and because of dark suspicions that one or two people were delaying settling on the basis that the Bill would not address those issues, it seemed of the essence that the Bill should address those issues. They were discussed between Departments and we achieved an acceptable proposition, whereby for a transitional period there is a back-stop provision to allow a network arrangement to be imposed. With respect to the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), this is essentially a short-term problem and I do not think that we should be justified in giving the ITC the power to impose networking arrangements in the longer term. Although I have made it clear that, where it has a right to impose, it should do so with a firm hand, it would not be right for it to impose networking arrangements over a long period without going back to what I regard as a previous generation of regulation. It needs to regulate where it is necessary to do so, and where it is not necessary we should accept that the aim of the Bill is to remove restrictions. I have always been concerned about the transitional period. Having decided that there should be intervention, the question arises of who should do it. I noticed a certain strand to the debate—I do not say this critically, but it is an observation worth making—of hon. Members regarding the OFT as rather a boring body and asking, "What has it got to do with this?" I see the OFT as a vital public watchdog. Whatever our political differences, we surely agree that the competition policy must be enforced by a strong independent body. If a body is given an overview on competition, although one wants to give primary responsibilities to the specific specialist regulator, one cannot push the OFT to one side. Much thought, which is reflected in the schedule that their Lordships were kind enough to accept, has gone into giving the OFT a role while not usurping the function of the ITC. Paragraph 2 of Lords amendment No. 501 sets out the competition test. It makes it clear that the OFT's role is not a formality. If the circumstances arise, it must apply the competition test, which is based on the Competition Act 1980 and on paragraph 3 of article 85 of the EEC treaty. Arrangements satisfy the test if they do not have, or are not intended or likely to have
If they do have such an effect, however, they can still satisfy the test if they"the effect of restricting, distorting or preventing competition in connection with any business activity in the United Kingdom."
That is inevitably complicated because EC law is involved, but that is the test that must be applied. If the OFT finds that the networking arrangements fall foul of the test, paragraph 5 says that it must publish the report and send a copy to the director and to the nice Mr. Russell. He is not so described in the schedule; he is merely described as the ITC, but we know that that means the nice Mr. Russell. Paragraph 6 requires the nice Mr. Russell to ensure that, under licensed conditions, the licensees modify the arrangements in accordance with the report of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. Before giving way to the chap whose name I forgot, I should say that the nice Mr. Russell is 55 years old today, so perhaps somewhat belatedly we should send him happy birthday wishes."satisfy the criteria set out in paragraph 3 of Article 85 of the E.E.C. Treaty."
I willingly join the Minister in extending happy birthday wishes to that nice Mr. Russell.Can the Minister give the House an assurance that, in looking at the proposed networking arrangements, he will look at the specific needs and requirements of the industry against the general background of the OFT's requirements rather than use a blanket approach? That is the point in a nutshell.
The OFT has to apply a competition test that relates to the industry under consideration. That may be why it is necessary for someone to have some specialist awareness within the OFT. I appreciate that it is possible to criticize those arrangements. Obviously, it is possible to criticize any arrangement. If we isolated the OFT, people would ask, "What is the point of having a competition body such as the OFT and pushing it to one side, not giving it a role even though specialist competition issues are involved?"Our starting point is the fact that, had we not made any of those provisions, the networking arrangements would have been caught by the restrictive trade practices legislation, under which the Director General of Fair Trading and the restrictive trade practices court have a role. The Bill is permissive because it exempts approved networking arrangements from those provisions to ensure that they do not unnecessarily constrain the development of a network. We thought that it would be unjustifiable if, at the same time as removing the provisions of the restrictive trade practices legislation from this area, we also removed the role of the DGFT, particularly bearing in mind his wider competition responsibilities, which I mentioned. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) mentioned the Netcom proposals. I understand that they are still under discussion by the ITV companies. As far as I am aware, they have not yet been agreed or approved by the IBA. I understand that the chairman of the ITV association may be having informal discussions with the OFT. That is the process that would have to be followed through. My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) mentioned some comments that Lord Boston made in another place, which were the subject of a letter from my esteemed colleague, Lord Ferrers. I shall deal briefly with that matter, but I shall happily let my hon. Friend have a copy of the letter. Three points were raised, the first of which concerned applicants' proposals for participating in networking being sent to the Director General of Fair Trading. He certainly will not play any part in the selection process for applicants for a Channel 3 licence, which I think was Lord Boston's concern. Lord Boston was concerned also about delay because of OFT approval. I repeat Lord Ferrers' assurance that there is no need for any delay. The ITC will have to refer networking arrangements to the OFT, but they can be implemented pending OFT consideration, so there should not be any delay. There was concern that the competition test went a bit too wide. I set out what the test is. Lord Boston suggested that this should be restricted to the provision of licensed services and services connected with them. Lord Ferrers' view was that, in practice, that is probably how it will work out. That was his judgment on advice. It is unlikely that any networking arrangements will have any outside effects. In so far as they do, it is probably right that the OFT should be able to take them into consideration, but that is an unlikely proposition. I have done my best to respond positively. I feel that in agreeing with the Lords amendments—as I hope we shall—we are closing what some people at the beginning thought was a major gap in the Bill because no provision was made for imposing a networking arrangement. I am glad to have played a part in ensuring that that should happen. What we have done is in accordance with the spirit of the Bill, doing what is necessary, but not doing more than is necessary.
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment to the Lords amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Main Question put and agreed to.
Duty To Provide Advance Information About Programmes
Lords amendment: No. 399, in page 127, line 43, leave out ("schedules of and other")
I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.
With this we may take Lords amendments Nos. 400 to 406, 641 to 649 and 675.
The substantive amendments relate to the extent of the information that broadcasters will have to make available and to the timing of the release of that information. Lords amendment No. 401, in most people's view, is the lead amendment in the group. It requires broadcasters to make information available at such a time as a publisher "reasonably requires it" and to make it available to all publishers simultaneously. However, broadcasters will not be required to make available a complete schedule for any one-week period more than 14 days before the first day of that week. The 14-day limit can be varied by order.Concern was expressed in Committee that some organisations with both television and newspaper interests might want to take some competitive advantage by getting hold of somebody else's schedule and then rescheduling their own programmes to meet it. The 14-day period is the lowest possible lead time for a weekly magazine for the public dealing with listings on a week-long basis. It is a tight but fair target, which will protect the broadcasters' interests and, at the same time, allow a long overdue reform—the opportunity for freely available information about programme listings subject, of course, to proper negotiations about a payment for copyrighted material.
I am sure that the Minister will be able to clear up a couple of small points, especially as the letter of which I have a copy was sent from his office. Will he confirm that there is no obligation on broadcasters to supply television listings information about programmes that are scheduled to be broadcast before 1 March 1991?
I am glad that the Minister is able to do that.The second point has also been raised with the Minister's office. Negotiations between the copyright holders of the listings can open from 1 January, although the listings cannot be published until after the first programme is running after 1 March. There are fears that not only rogue publishers, but French, Italian and German publishers with a big interest in this market may be tempted to jump the gun in the initial two months. If that happened, and in the absence of an agreement, what would be the position of the holders of the copyright? Those of us who were members of the Committee will remember that there was great excitement about the next point. During the last sitting, the Minister found a relevant piece of paper in his red Dispatch Box to enable him to make some moves on listings. The House will he interested to know that Independent Television Publications Limited, which bought and holds the copyright to the ITV programmes, has made it clear that the proposal meets an expressed wish of Mr. Tony Elliott ofTime Out. ITP has decided to make the information available to publishers free of charge once an initial licence fee has been established and the publisher has been registered as a licensed user. That is a bold and sensible move. I hope that the Minister can clarify the points that I have raised.
My right hon. and learned Friend is aware of my appreciation of the way in which he has carried out the negotiations on this difficult matter and balanced the interests of publishers and copyright owners.I believe that the House has now got it about right, but there are still some lingering fears among copyright owners, such as IPC Magazines, that the negotiations between themselves and publishers might be protracted and difficult. They believe that there might be a temptation on behalf of would-be publishers to try to delay settlement of the negotiations so as to obtain an unfair advantage from them. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend has been in receipt of correspondence on this matter this week from IPC Magazines. It would be helpful if he could reassure those who have written to him to express their concern. Once a copyright tribunal is established, such negotiations between copyright owners and publishers will be settled. It is inevitable that that tribunal would make a judgment on the responsible handling of the negotiations by the interested parties. The negotiations, however, might be protracted and it is possible that the copyright owners will suffer a considerable commercial disadvantage. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will be able to reassure them.
The Minister will be aware that I share the concern that has already been expressed. I took an initiative on this matter earlier in our proceedings, and I am grateful to the Minister for his response then.
I agree with the first proposition advanced by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett). The hon. Gentleman also expressed concern about people jumping the gun, but the situation is exactly the same as it would be if somebody purported to publish a rival magazine now. A copyright owner has a legal remedy, which includes an injunction against publishers, distributors and so on, to protect his interests. I cannot precisely anticipate the relief the courts would give, but protection does not run out until the statutory arrangements come into force. Until that time, copyright owners are protected.I am grateful that my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs) recognises that I have gone to some trouble to try to resolve differences with copyright owners. We do not want litigation to arise from this. We want to move into another era, amicably if possible. I am glad to say that, by and large, that has been achieved. I am grateful to John Mellon of IPC Magazines for his positive approach to the negotiations. We are keen to respond to the issues he raised. On unnecessarily protracted proceedings, it is true that we decided, on Report, to delete the provision in what was schedule 15 that would have allowed the copyright tribunal to award costs against any publisher who, in exercising his statutory right to publish, fixed the fee at less than a reasonable cost. We thought that a provision to this effect in the Bill was unnecessary, since the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 already contained such a provision. We therefore decided that that in the Bill did not have any practical significance. My noble Friend the Earl Ferrers made some other remarks about timing, which are reported in theOfficial Report of the other place. Although I believe that the timing is tight, there will be enough time for the necessary negotiating procedures because there will be an incentive for everyone to make the negotiations effective. Although I appreciate that there is two months between the negotiations and their implementation, the only alternative would have been to delay the start of the statutory arrangements until after 1 March. That would not have been justified, having regard to the pressure that has existed for a long time to remedy the situation.
Question put and agreed to.
Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to.
Restrictions On The Holding Of Licences
Lords amendment: No. 466, in page 146, line 21, leave out from ("corporate,") to ("and") in line 27 and insert
("shall be construed in accordance with sub-paragraph (2A)")
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.— [Mr. Mellor.]
With this it will be convenient to take amendments Nos. 467 to 477 and 483 to 499.
At an earlier stage my hon. Friends and I sought to reduce the number of local radio stations that a company could own from six to four. The Minister will not be surprised to hear that I oppose a system that would allow as many as 20 stations to be owned. It runs a risk of creating something like a game of monopoly, with the companies racing about bidding for the plums. It poses the possibility of large private monopolies being created to the detriment of small local stations and it could make a mockery of the bidding process. Why have the Government agreed to amendment No. 484, to leave out ("six") and insert ("twenty")?
The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) gives me an opportunity to deal with a point that was not always clear from the debates in the other place. Indeed, it was not always clear to me until it was spelt out to me, so I am not assertin great superior insight into the subject.There is a crucial distinction here. We have changed the rules in a more significant way than just numbers. In the early stages, we were referring to stations. We are now referring to channels. Some independent radio stations in rural areas operate now on up to six channels, because different channels may be required to reach the whole area. A metropolitan example of that is LBC, which has one station with two channels. We are not talking about 20 stations. At present, there are already over 130 channels in the system, so the limit of 20 gives nobody, on the face of it, more than 15 per cent. It is less than that. But the number of channels is set to expand rapidly, so we shall not be creating a monopoly. We came up with an ownership system that people thought was crude and not convincing. The Radio Authority came up with another system that we felt needed modification to be acceptable. We suggested, in the spirit of open government which the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland would commend, that the AIRC and the Radio Authority, in the light of certain guidance that we sent to them about our response to the Radio Authority's original proposals, should examine our guidance together and come back to us, when we would try to agree to their proposal. There are undercurrents here. While we do not want monopolies—the Bill is strong on control; it is only in relation to the non-DBS satellites that we have been remotely criticised for not being rigorous—we must remember that we are dealing with small battalions, so there is every advantage in allowing some element of multiple holding. What is left is still small in the context of enterprises outside of television companies. I hope that, in moving from stations to channels, and in due course promulgating—as we shall do by laying an order—the full details of the ownership arrangements, we shall have an arrangement with which the industry feels happy. I want the industry to be confident about the future and believe that it will be much more confident about it if it believes that it has shaped a crucial sector—the ownership requirements. In further proving that there is life after death in this instance, I gather that I shall have the privilege of dealing with the order when it comes forward. I look forward to then being able to justify what has been done.
I am grateful to the Minister, who made an extremely helpful intervention.
Question put and agreed to.
Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to.
Lords amendment: No. 478, in page 148, line 43, at end insert ("or the Authority")
I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.
With this we may take Lords amendments Nos. 479 to 482, 16, 21, 134, 171, 173, 254 and 256.
Both Houses have made a great effort to try to ensure that a rigorous but fresh climate for religious broadcasting is established under the Bill. I gather that there may be one or two residual problems, so I may intervene later if there are points that I need to pick up.
As the Minister says, many of these matters are technical and, although there are about 700 amendments to come, we are content to accept most of them as technical and will not delay the House. However, I should like the Minister to explain one or two more aspects of this group of amendments, particularly amendment No. 482, which requires the ITC and the Radio Authority to bring into force guidelines.The Minister will know that hon. Members have received a great deal of correspondence on that matter. The constituency of the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs) includes Vision Broadcasting and my constituency contains UCB. Both of us have been exercised by the representations of those two organisations on the guidelines, which are currently drawn up by the Radio Authority. The ITC is beginning work on its guidelines. Both sides of the House are at one in their general aim to prevent American-style, charismatic, evangelistic broadcasting in this country. We do not want the sort of broadcasting where the power of the medium is used to extract a great deal of money with emotional force and all the other sordid elements that have crept in in the United States. However, many people are, with some justification, concerned that the draft guidelines on which the Radio Authority is working at present may, in one or two particulars, be going too far, especially in relation to restrictions on appeals and donations and exactly what is meant by proselytising. The religious churches that might apply for the licences are perfectly happy to accept the restriction not to appeal on the air for money, but the guidelines on which the Radio Authority is presently working state that no other literature can be produced in support of their activities. That seems to put the churches at a disadvantage in relation to other charitable organisations. It is one thing not to use the power of radio or television to ask for money, but if organisations such as Vision Broadcasting or UCB cannot put out leaflets in support of their activities or ask people to support them in door-to-door campaigns, that seems to be going extremely far, and I am not sure that that is the intention. I should be grateful if the Minister would give his views on that and some guidance, both to the Radio Authority and the ITC, which are currently drafting their guidelines. It is difficult to define proselytising—[Interruption.] The Minister has a definition to offer from a sedentary position and I look forward to hearing it later, but hon. Members who do not consider themselves a walking thesaurus would say that it meant to propound and propagate religious beliefs, which is explicitly allowed under this set of guidelines. However, the next sentence in the guidelines says that companies may not use any material
Once again, this is a matter of using written material which companies may want to circulate to members of the public in support of their claims. There seems to be some confusion here and it would be helpful if the Minister gave some guidance to the Radio Authority and the ITC to clarify the matter. We are content with all other aspects of the amendments."to proselytise or recruit members."
I should like to carry forward the expressions of anxiety by the shadow Minister for the Arts about the draft codes of conduct and of programme content that are beginning to appear.I had occasion to write to my right hon. and learned Friend about this a few days ago, so he is well apprised of the situation. There is no doubt that the new regulatory bodies, the ITC and the Radio Authority, which are the very creatures of this Bill, are arrogating to themselves powers of interpretation and discretion which are all weighted in the direction of restrictions that are the very reverse of the Minister's own liberalising and expansionist philosophy on religious broadcasting. So much is certainly beginning to come through in the draft to which the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) referred. I want to give the Minister the flavour of what I am complaining about. On 18 October last the new draft broadcasting, advertising and sponsorship codes on religious broadcasting were made available for comment. In a letter accompanying the draft codes the controller of advertising at the IBA wrote:
But my right hon. and learned Friend will recall that as long ago as April he wrote to parliamentary colleagues as follows:"After very careful consideration both the shadow ITC and Radio Authority have concluded that there is not a sufficiently persuasive case to prohibit programme sponsorship by religious organisations".
So who is running the country, to ask a rhetorical question? I hope that the Minister will confirm that the controller of advertising at the IBA had no discretion or any option other than to reflect the Minister's decision as conveyed to colleagues in the House on this matter. This is not a nit-picking point. As my right hon. and learned Friend will know from the letter that I sent him on 24 October and from representations that he has received from other colleagues, the two broadcasting organisations already mentioned by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central, United Christian Broadcasters—the Stoke-on-Trent radio station—and Vision Broadcasting cable television from Swindon, both approved and authorised to operate by the present Cable Authority, would be threatened with closure and extinction if the draft programme code circulated by the new Radio Authority were to be implemented, and if it were to be echoed, copied and reflected in the parallel television code, which would affect Vision television. My right hon. and learned Friend will have noted from the material that I sent him that the UCB station at Stoke-on-Trent falls foul of the new draft code in at least eight identifiable and separate particulars. Yet that very station is warmly commended and authorised by the present Cable Authority. I remind the Minister that, judging from references that he and the Prime Minister have made in correspondence with me and Lord Halsbury, Vision television and UCB are regarded in Downing street and in the Home Office as acceptable and desirable bodies whose future is to be safeguarded and enhanced. The liberalising regime that my right hon. and learned Friend has sponsored and provided for in the Bill is designed not to mutilate but to multiply groups such as United Christian Broadcasters and Vision Broadcasting. We look to my right hon. and learned Friend for arm assurances that no code will be acceptable to the Government that cannot accommodate and secure the future of UCB and Vision Television. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central mentioned the difficulty that we have already encountered in paragraph 7.7 of the draft code——"Religious organisations will be allowed to sponsor programmes and to advertise on both TV and radio".
It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
That, at this day's sitting, the Ways and Means Motion and the Lords Amendments to the Broadcasting Bill may be proceeded with, thought opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Kirkhope.]
Lords amendments again considered.
Question again proposed, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.
The draft paragraph is headed "Proselytising" and it seems quite extraordinary that the draft Radio Authority should seek to ban and bar what it calls proselytising, which means exactly the same as evangelism. One has only to read the gospel of St. John the evangelist on television or radio and one is evangelising. However, proselytising, which means making converts to a religion, is apparently to be proscribed. I cannot believe that such nonsensical random drafting by a body that is itself a creature of the Bill can be allowed to continue unchecked. My right hon. and learned Friend must intervene and put a sharper definition, regulation and control on such drafts. Above all, he must provide that bodies such as UCB and Vision will be able to survive, persist, multiply and flourish under the new regime that he has pioneered. We are profoundly grateful to him for the imaginative, outward-looking and constructive way in which he has approached the whole question of religious broadcasting. We look to him to persist with that matter in the oversight that he exercises on the new codes of practice.
I shall start by assuming that the Government and my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for the Arts are fully committed to the continuance in operation of the two organisations to which reference has been made in the debate—United Christian Broadcasters, which in Stoke has the advantage of a Dispatch Box speaker, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), on its side, and Vision Broadcasting in Swindon, for which I should like to speak.The Minister has made it clear in previous debates and in Committee that he agrees that these bodies are doing a good and useful job and that their future should not be threatened by any legislation, or codes or guidelines drawn up under the legislation. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend will tell the House that it is too early to assume the worst. I would be happy to feel that I need not assume the worst in these matters. The problem is that, on 1 January, the new ITC and Radio Authority will be in office. They will then have, as it were, the power of life and death over organisations such as those that I have mentioned. It is important for those of us who wish those organisations to continue to operate after 1 January to be reassured that that will be possible and that nothing will happen to prejudice their chances of survival. The Radio Authority's draft programme code and the shadow ITC's draft code on sponsorship and advertising contain indications that cause considerable concern. As has been said, in its draft code, the Radio Authority has produced suggestions that would simply close down UCB in Stoke. There can be little doubt about that. Of course there will be consultations about those draft guidelines and objections will be raised. What happens if those objections are overruled and the guidelines are the same on 1 January? We want to know. What happens if the shadow ITC's draft guidelines on sponsorship and advertising are adopted? To be fair, it does say:
What if, at the end of the consultation exercise, it decides that those rules should apply? As I understand it, on 1 January, Vision Broadcasting, for example, would be taken out of action. We do not want that to happen. I believe that the Government do not want that to happen, and I have been assured by my right hon. and learned Friend that he does not want it to happen—but the signs are that it could and probably will happen. In another place, the noble Lord Viscount Buckmaster called me to order and said that he hoped that"The shadow ITC would welcome views on how far the draft rules should apply to advertising on specialised religious channels."
in his constituency. He also said:"the Conservative Member of Parliament for Swindon will pursue vigorously the cause of the broadcasting installation"
The problem is that those individuals have, for whatever reason, previously demonstrated a dislike of or a hostility towards the sort of programmes being transmitted. We have reason to be concerned about what may happen on 1 January—and on that date it will be too late, unless matters have been clarified and the Government have made it clear to the shadow Radio Authority and the shadow ITC that they will not tolerate the sort of codes and guidelines that are beginning to appear, and which may multiply and take force on 1 January. My usual feeling is that codes and guidelines should be kept well away from Government and Parliament. We set up bodies and expect them to act reasonably on our behalf. What happens if one or two bodies act in a way that has an effect diametrically opposite to that which has clearly been stated as desirable by my right hon. and learned Friend and by Parliament? I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will give us the answer to that. I hope that, before 1 January, he will ensure that any threat to religious broadcasting organisations is well and truly removed for good."I hope that your Lordships can appreciate the nervousness, especially at Vision Cable, because in recent years the IBA religious broadcasting department has blocked the broadcasting of a number of Christian programmes, as was mentioned on earlier stages of the Bill in your Lordships' House. It blocked them for a number of reasons … Virtually all of those programmes have in the end been broadcast, with some editing or modification … but from 1st January 1991 Vision Cable will be subject to the ITC and the authority of members of the same IBA religious department as originally refused broadcasting permission for those programmes."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 22 October 1990; Vol 522, c. 1221.]
I join in this part of the debate with some humility because I wanted, like my right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, to be a member of the General Synod—but unfortunately, as a Conservative standing in Southwark, I failed to be elected. I regard myself as a member of the Synod, failed.I stand firmly on the ground advocated by David Sheppard, Bishop of Liverpool. I recommend an article that he wrote in one of today's newspapers, in which he said indirectly that the most important part of religious broadcasting was the broadcasting and not the narrow casting that will come on cable. Millions of people watch "Highway", "Songs of Praise", and the BBC's "Everyman". Such programmes reach far greater audiences than any of the specific religious Christian broadcasting channels are ever likely to reach. If the promotion of opportunities for radio broadcasting on specific religious channels and cable television lead to the major broadcasters—independent television and the BBC—dropping their God slots and goodness corners, the loss to the people will be great. We may not be faced with that choice—I do not have sufficient knowledge of the matter—but I do know that the fight for Radio 3 and the broadcasting elements for Christian and other great faiths has meant that people do not watch or listen only to the listings of their choice, but can come across elements of broadcasting almost as a surprise—and faith may do the same, not as the result of evangelism, but as a part of our national life. Large-scale national religious broadcasting is vital. I cannot speak for the organisations in Stoke or Swindon. I have not listened to their output and I am not sure that I have read what they have sent to me—if, indeed, they have sent me anything. I respect my right hon. and learned Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs) because they know what they are talking about in speaking up for the modification of the draft code, but I do not want the code to be modified so that, although we may gain a spread of local religious channels and stations, the national radio and television broadcasters will drop what is important to those of us who have or seek faith and who want religion to be reflected in national broadcasting. Let us look at the United States and its three major national networks. There is an absence of what we in this country take for granted.