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Power To Give Broadcasting Bodies Etc Directions Relating To International Obligations

Volume 178: debated on Friday 12 October 1990

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Lords amendment:No. 434, in page 136, line 39, after ("may") insert ("by order")

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 discuss Lords amendment No. 435.

I welcome the amendments because they fulfil another commitment made in Committee. They translate a direction by a Minister into a statutory instrument subject to annulment by either or both Houses of Parliament. That is a slight improvement in the accountability of Ministers because they have to present a statutory instrument that is subject to perusal by the House.

In case we are carried away by the work done by the people down the Corridor, I should point out that many of these proposals were made in Committee and the Minister found it convenient to introduce them in another place. It shows that there is nothing that a revising committee could not do if, on some happy future date, the House of Lords happened to be replaced.

I welcome the amendments. However, I should be grateful if the Minister could refresh failing memories on the implications of clause 173, if amended. For those hon. Members who are not closely following the Bill, the clause, as amended, would state that the Secretary of State may by order direct certain bodies to carry out functions

"for the purpose of enabling Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom to give effect to any international obligations of the United Kingdom."
The clause does not specify broadcasting obligations. It lists all the broadcasting authorities—the BBC, the ITC, the Welsh Authority, the Radio Authority and the Broadcasting Standards Council. I assume that
"any international obligations of the United Kingdom".
means, for example, that if we have international obligations under the resolution of the Security Council with regard to the presence in the Gulf, the Secretary of State might seek, by order approved in the House, to direct the broadcasting authorities to carry certain messages, or whatever he may determine.

I want the Minister to confirm whether that applies purely to broadcasting obligations under international agreements——

As my hon. Friend suggests, is it a blank cheque for the broadcasting authorities, by order, to carry out any obligations—military or whatever—that the Secretary of State of the day may determine? Will the Minister refresh our memories?

I am happy to confirm that it means only obligations relevant to the broadcasting authorities in question. We are not fundamentally changing their nature to get them to do other things. It is a tempting thought, but one that must be resisted.

Question put and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to. [Some with Special Entry.]

Committee appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to certain of their amendments to the Bill: Mr. Anthony Coombs, Mr. Alistair Darling, Mrs. Llin Golding, Mr. Greg Knight and Mr. David Mellor.

To withdraw immediately.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Before withdrawing immediately, I should like to express my appreciation to the whole House for the businesslike way in which we have been able to discuss the amendments tonight. I am most grateful to all concerned.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Had it been possible for the House to leave alone those who have lived with the Bill for nigh on a year, we should probably have made even better progress, and we should not, perhaps, have experienced some of the hiccups that I am told occurred last week. Happily, I was not concerned with those, because at the time I was standing on my head in Australia.

Although there were a large number of amendments, the overwhelming majority were technical. When they were not, they fulfilled pledges which had been given in the House or in the other place.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) takes a very great interest in matters of privilege. I am sure that the Committee, which seems to have been a fix-up between the usual channels, would benefit from his advice, because he takes a deep interest in such matters. If you would like me to, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should be quite happy to provide a manuscript amendment to whatever resolutions are passed.

Perhaps I can have the last word on this matter. It is always a great privilege to preside over the House, but it is especially so when the House is in such a constructive and happy mood.

Reasons for disagreeing to certain of the Lords amendments reported, and agreed to; to be communicated to the Lords.