Skip to main content

Lords Chamber

Volume 413: debated on Wednesday 15 October 1980

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

House Of Lords

Wednesday, 15th October, 1980.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Salisbury.

Lord Weinstock

Sir Arnold Weinstock, Knight, having been created Baron Weinstock, of Bowden in the County of Wiltshire, for life—Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Aldington and the Lord Zuckerman.

The Lord Zouche of Haryngworth— Took the Oath.

The Lord Leconfield and Egremont— Took the Oath.

Sickness Benefit: Cost

2.47 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their estimate of the extra cost to the private sector of paying eight weeks' sick pay at a minimum of £30 a week instead of the £18·50 previously paid from national insurance funds.

My Lords, sickness benefit is payable at a rate of £18·50 a week to people without dependants. Additions for dependants are payable on top of this. Paragraph 29 of the Green Paper Income During Initial Sickness: A New Strategy, states that, on the basis of the proposals put forward, employers' wage bills would rise by about £415 million, upon which they would have to pay national insurance contributions and national insurance surcharge. It is the Government's intention that employers, as a group, should be compensated for these extra wage costs by an appropriate reduction in their national insurance contribution. I would stress that the Government have not come to any firm conclusion on the shape of the scheme and that therefore any costings must be provisional and subject to a wide margin of error.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that he probably will have public support for a measure which seeks to bring about a state of affairs where people are not better off when drawing untaxed benefits than they are when working? Is this not a bad time to add an extra financial burden to British industry and, more especially, to small firms who are already very seriously strapped for cash?

My Lords, we are talking about a Green Paper and we have had consultations with many organisations and individuals over the past six months. All representations had to come in by 30th September. The great majority of people approve what my noble friend referred to, the taxation of sick pay, so that people are not better off when sick than when they are at work. There were many criticisms in detail of the Green Paper proposals. All these proposals are now being carefully examined. There were many representations about small businesses and I know that my right honourable friend is very sympathetic to small businesses and will want to do all he can to help them.

My Lords, it is all very well for the noble Lord to say that the Government are sympathetic to small businesses. The record shows that they are lacking in compassion. So far as this scheme is concerned, why do not the Government drop it? It is stupid. It affects businesses; it affects the recipients of pensions. The whole idea is crazy. Drop it and forget it!

My Lords, the noble Lord is of course fully entitled to his views, but they do not happen to be shared by the very large number of people who have been giving their representations. I agree that they do not like many of the details, but in principle they agree.

My Lords, will the noble Lord say what the position will be regarding payments in respect of part-time workers?

My Lords, the scheme will only apply to those people who are paying national insurance contributions; that is, people earning over £23 a week. Those who are getting a small amount over £23 a week will not, of course, get the minimum of £30. There is a scheme being worked out by which small earners will get a proportion of their earnings. This might be 75 per cent. It would be absurd, for instance, if somebody earning £24 a week was paid £30 a week when sick.

My Lords, could the noble Lord say what is the estimated gain either to the Treasury or to the national insurance fund as a result of the scheme?

My Lords, the cost to the employers will be compensated by the Government. The total cost to the employers will be £415 million, and they will have an appropriate deduction from their national insurance contributions to cover that as a group. There may be some companies which will be better off and some which will be worse off; but as a group they will be covered by compensation. The present cost to the national insurance fund is £375 million. The reason why the cost goes up from £375 million to £415 million is because of the additional national insurance and national insurance surcharge payable by employers on paying wages when the employees were otherwise covered by sickness benefit.

My Lords, when the cost is criticised, could the Minister say how the sick pay compares with what is paid in Western Germany, Scandinavia and other Western European countries?

My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that under the proposed scheme the single man will be very much better off, whereas the married man with children will be worse off? Does he feel that such arrangements could be justified?

It is perfectly true that the single man will benefit on this basis. It is a complicated business because one of the proposals in the Green Paper was that there should be a premium payable to those with dependent children. This was not well received by employers because it complicates the position, in that they are not now paying wages to people on the basis of whether or not they have children. This way they would be paying differently to different people when they were away sick—people who were getting the same salary in the firm.

My Lords, would the Minister consider that the scheming suggestion is absolutely a breach of contract in respect of the people who pay their national insurance stamp and expect to get their benefits from the state? If any insurance company did this, there would be trouble.

My Lords, I do not think there is a breach of contract. This is sick pay for the first eight weeks, and the recipient will get his money in that way rather than from the national insurance scheme. After that he will be on the national insurance scheme in the ordinary way.

My Lords, would my noble friend consider whether, if the Government come forward with a White Paper or a draft scheme, they ought not to exempt entirely firms with 20 or fewer employees? If they cannot be exempted, could the Government consider whether such firms might be entitled to deduct payments made under this scheme from their monthly PAYE and national insurance payments?

My Lords, a great many suggestions have come with the representations that we have received, but whether the particular suggestion put forward by my noble friend was included in them, I do not know. However, I will certainly see that his ideas are put forward.

Government Stock: Bank Of England Practice

2.56 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the first Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have approved the recent practice of the Bank of England of buying Government stock from and reselling it to those financial institutions who have over-extended their lending facilities.

My Lords, this was essentially a technical measure related to the structure of bank balance sheets. A bank which is short of reserve assets would normally acquire them by bidding for them in the market place. This would have driven up interest rates in the money market above the level thought to be appropriate to control the money supply.

My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for that very helpful and tutorial Answer, may I ask whether he can help the House a little more? Is it not the case that the Government are attempting to restrict the supply of money? Is it not also the case that excessive bank lending frustrates that policy? Why, then, if some banks have been over-greedy does the Bank of England step in to help them?

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his appreciation of the reply that I gave. So far as his supplementary Question is concerned, the money supply is controlled through the rate of interest. The Government do not seek to control the money supply through the reserve asset holdings of the banks, and it would not in fact be possible to do so because the banks could so easily circumvent any such control.

My Lords, the noble Lord says that, but is he not also aware, as I have reason to believe he is, that there are more sensible and direct ways of controlling the money base than by the damaging procedure of high interest rates?

My Lords, the noble Lord is now opening up a wide area of discussion. The Government published in March a Green Paper on methods of controlling the money supply. That Green Paper has been the subject of extensive consultations since then. We are not entirely satisfied with the present methods of control and we are anxious to improve them where possible. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his support in that direction.

My Lords, am I right in interpreting the noble Lord's first Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, as saying that the Government, or the Bank of England or the Treasury were confronted with the choice either of allowing the minimum lending rate to rise further or supplying the additional resources necessary to prevent it from rising further and thereby adding to the money supply?—in other words, that they subordinate their money supply target to their idea of what is a desired interest rate?

My Lords, no; this is not a complete or accurate assessment of the situation. Indeed, had these reserve assets not been made available to the banks, the banks would have bid for them in the marketplace and in effect they would have obtained the assets by making deposits available to other people. This in fact, far from restricting the money supply, would have increased it still further.

My Lords, it would have raised the rate of interest in the very short term—not necessarily the minimum lending rate. Once a Government decide what is the appropriate minimum lending rate in order to control the money supply, short-term fluctuations of this kind are undesirable, and the action taken was designed, and properly designed, to avoid such short-term fluctuations.

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend the Minister what he would say to those who believe that a degree of reliance on the minimum lending rate as a tool for controlling the money supply is somewhat out of kilter?

My Lords, I am not entirely certain what point my noble friend is trying to make, but the primary method of controlling the money supply must always be the rate of interest.

My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that his statements today have been the best justification for strict Government control of the banking system?

No, my Lords. I do not think that that follows at all. Indeed, the unhappy experience of the "corset" indicates how difficult it is to impose direct controls and what undesirable effects they tend to have.

My Lords, if I may speak again on this matter, the noble Lord is saying that minimum lending rate must always be the main control of the money supply. Is he not aware of the fact that for 30 years in this country, and still in the majority of European countries, the money supply has been controlled not by the short-term rate of interest but by quantitative controls on bank lending?

My Lords, I do not accept the noble Lord's analysis of the situation. But, in any event, I would think it more appropriate to try to tackle the problems with which we are now faced, rather than engage in a historical dissertation extending over the last 30 years.

Government Stocks And Capital Gains

3.2 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the second Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what special steps they have considered to recoup capital gains expected to be made by recent buyers, including foreign buyers, of Government stocks when the MLR is eventually reduced.

My Lords, no such steps have been considered, nor do Her Majesty's Government consider them appropriate. In general, in the case of persons who are resident in this country, capital gains tax is already chargeable in respect of sales within 12 months.

My Lords, while again thanking the noble Lord for that Answer, may I ask him this? If the industrial losses that we all know about, the redundancies and the unemployment are justified by the noble Lord and the Government, in order to create the conditions under which the MLR can be reduced, can he really at the same time justify a situation which brings windfall profits to the money speculators?

My Lords, it is quite wrong to describe the people who subscribe to Government debt, and who, of course, include pension funds and insurance companies, as money speculators. We have to face the facts of the world as they are. We have a public sector borrowing requirement which is very high. It is essential, in the interests of abating and, ultimately, eliminating inflation, that that public sector borrowing requirement should be met by raising Government debt. This can be done only on terms which are acceptable to the people who lend the money.

My Lords, while I join in the sympathy for the pension funds, may I ask whether the noble Lord really believes that the £300 million which we understand was contributed during the past week from overseas for Government stocks, was made available for any other reason than the expectation of a capital gain?

My Lords, the prospect of making a capital gain, particularly on long-dated stocks, is one of the factors taken into account by the people who subscribe for those stocks. If such an expectation did not exist, the Government would need to pay an even higher rate of interest than they do at present.

My Lords, is it not in any case the fact that when the MLR rose suddenly by such a lot, the holders of gilt-edged—pension funds, trade unions and everybody else—had to suffer an enormous reduction in the capital value of their holdings?

Yes, my Lords. It is a very valid point that the prospect of making losses, as well as the prospect of making gains, is one which always exists.

Motor-Cycles: Noise And Pollution

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will bring forward implementation of announced intended legislation to mitigate the noise and environmental pollution currently generated by exhausts from unwisely permitted excessively powered motor-cycles.

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport made regulations on 6th August which reduce the maximum noise levels permitted for new motor-cycles from 1982. He is considering still more stringent limits for longer term.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that his Answer is disappointing? May I ask him to consider a review of what he said in his Answer, as regards the time when further action will be taken? In view of the monstrous power of these large motor-cycles, which is inimical to public safety, can he amplify his reply by saying how many prosecutions of motor-cyclists have occurred in the last period for which statistics are available? Can he also say how many motor-cyclists have been killed and how many members of the public also have been killed in motor-cycle accidents?

My Lords, in amplification of my first point, it is hard to make regulations to be enforced any earlier than 1982, because manufacturers themselves have to plan how to make motor-cycles in the future. So far as statistics are concerned, in recent years there have been 11,000 successful prosecutions a year for all types of vehicles for offences concerning noise. During the year 1978, which is the last year for which we have figures available, 1,006 motor-cyclists were killed; in 1977,223 pedestrians were killed in motor-cycle accidents and 2,122 were killed by all types of vehicles.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that a loud noise from a motor-cycle does not always mean that that motor-cycle is travelling at an excessive speed?

Yes, my Lords; indeed, that is true. Perhaps here one can voice concern about the fact that one of the major difficulties about noise from motor-cycles concerns those who tamper with their silencers.

My Lords, is the noble Earl able to say whether there is a survey which shows whether or not this nuisance is due to the power of the vehicle? Also, is it not true that there are many high-powered machines which do not cause nuisance, because they are owned by experienced riders who do not tamper with their machines? Is not the problem in many residential areas due to the lesser-powered machines, whose exhaust systems have been deliberately tampered with and which create a considerable nuisance, in the belief by youthful people that more noise is exciting?

My Lords, I can only agree with the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. As I said in my previous reply, it is the tampering with silencers that really causes concern.


3.9 p.m.

My Lords, it might be for the convenience of your Lordships if I repeat the contents of the Statement that I made to the House yesterday evening. The Committee stage of the Local Government, Planning and Land (No. 2) Bill will be continued at approximately 7 p.m. and completed tonight. I am sure the House would agree that it is desirable that we should be able to complete the Committee stage of the Broadcasting Bill by this time, or as soon after it as is possible. If, however, it should not prove possible to complete the Committee stage of the Broadcasting Bill by soon after 7 p.m., it is proposed to continue it tomorrow and, if this should be necessary, I will, of course, inform the House this evening.

As I said yesterday, it has not, I am afraid, been possible to make dinner available tonight, but the Grill Room will be open and refreshments in the form of snacks and sandwiches et cetera will also be available in the two bars. There will be no adjournment for dinner this evening.

My Lords, may I say from this side of the House that we think it is quite possible that if Members will confine themselves to the amendments and not make long Second Reading speeches we can get through in time for us to have our dinner in a reasonable place at a reasonable hour.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, for this great co-operation.

Broadcasting Bill

3.11 p.m.

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—{ Lord Belstead.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]

Clause 10 [ Making and entertainment of complaints]:

moved Amendment No. 33:

Page 9, line 18, leave out from ("individual") to end of line 22.

The noble Lord said: If it meets the convenience of the Committee I could move both amendments to Clause 10 standing in my name and Amendments Nos. 33 and 34 together. The effect of the first amendment is to leave out all the words after "individual". We are I dealing here with a Broadcasting Complaints Commission and considering what is the right procedure for it.

The purpose of this amendment is to allow individuals, and only individuals, to initiate what would be the expensive and time-consuming process of what may be called a BCC investigation. Individuals deserve that right because it is individuals who are mostly affected by unethical broadcasting practices, and it is individuals who for the most part cannot afford the crippling cost of bringing a libel action.

If this amendment were to be accepted, then the Government would have to look again at subsection (4)( b) of this provision. Corporations can generally look after themselves. They have the power to protest and the resources to sue. Therefore the effect of that amendment would be to confine the complaints procedure or the initiation of that procedure to individuals.

The effect of Amendment No. 34 would be to delete subsection (3) altogether. Possibly this is the most unsatisfactory provision in the entire Bill. It is very widely drawn. As I look at it I am bound to say that it seems to me to give the right to complain to representatives of the dead, however long dead they may have been—the descendants of Oliver Cromwell or Charles I would have the right to complain—to foreign countries, to criminals who have absconded, to dictators who dare not show their faces in England upon whom perhaps a camera crew and an interviewer have reported, and so on. It would have the most extraordinary consequences.

Let me give one example. If there was a programme on imperialism in Southern Africa, the BBC might find themselves subject to complaints from, say, the Rhodes Trust about the unfair treatment of its founder. One can think of Prime Ministers long dead whose families may make complaints. There was the recent programme on Edward and Mrs. Simpson. Was that unfair in the way it was depicted, or an invasion of privacy? One can imagine endless arguments, with lawyers—doing rather well out of it, I am bound to say—appearing for both sides and poring over the history books for weeks on end.

So far as the clause is drawn, it seems to me that foreign countries can make complaints to the BCC. Why should we establish hostages to fortune in this way? In the end it comes before a complaints commission who have to make a political judgment. Let us take the example of an Arabian country which makes a complaint about a programme such as "Death of a Princess". Does it not involve political value judgments in the end? Why should we give this right of complaint in this way? It seems to me that this subsection is unnecessary and that if the right of complaint is confined to individuals it will be dealing with the evil at which the provision of this commission is aimed. I beg to move.

As I have put down an amendment, No. 35, which is closely linked to these two amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, I should like, with your Lordships' permission, to speak to that now and also to Amendments Nos. 37 and 38 and then to move Amendment No. 35 formally after Amendments Nos. 33 and 34 have been disposed of.

The purpose of these three amendments standing in my name is to remove the right for complaints to be made on behalf of the dead and to bring the subsection into line with the present law on defamation. I realise that we are dealing here with a complaints commission and not of course with a criminal prosecution. Nevertheless, the clause as at present drafted is in my humble view far too sweeping. It goes much further than the present law and even further than the proposals of the Faulks Committee on Defamation. The previous Porter Committee on the Law of Defamation did not recommend any change to the law. As they pointed out—and here I quote—
"Historians and biographers should be free to set out facts as they see them and to make their comment and criticism upon the events which they have chronicled".
Porter goes on to say:
"If those engaged in writing history were compelled, for fear of proceedings for libel, to limit themselves to events of which they could provide proof acceptable to a court of law, records of the past would, we think, be unduly and undesirably curtailed".
The Faulks Committee—or, rather, a majority of them—thought that there was a case for giving limited protection to near relatives for a period of five years beginning with the date of death. We are here dealing with a complaints commission, as I have said, and the powers to be given under the Bill go much further even than this. Not only may a member of the family make a complaint; it need not be just a near relative; the power is given to some other person or body closely connected with the deceased— even to an employer, or to a clerk, or to a society of which he was a member. Here I stress the last words of the subsection: "in any other way".

There is also no time limit at all. Faulks recommended five years. Some legal authorities who take this point of view would like to see a 10-year period. This is not long enough for others who would like 30 years. I remember that in 1955, some 20 years after the death of T. E. Lawrence—Lawrence of Arabia—a biographer for the first time set out publicly the full facts about his parentage and revealed the real name and identity of his father. At the time there were strong complaints that this information was uncalled for and would cause embarrassment to the family. But surely this is vital information and necessary for any full understanding of Lawrence, his outlook on life and many of his actions. And he surely was, without argument, one of the important figures in the history of the first half of this century. Indeed, recent encyclopaedias are now frank about his parentage, whereas the old editions were evasive.

This matter was also an important part of the study of Lawrence's character in the excellent film which I am sure many of your Lordships will have seen, entitled "Lawrence of Arabia". Under the Bill as at present drafted, there could be complaints 45 years after Lawrence's death about this film if it is shown on television, although not, of course, if it is shown in a cinema. It will be possible to bring complaints about the television portrayal of Lord Byron some 150 years after his death, although not, of course, in a printed biography; and one could even go right back 500 years and complain about what one considers to be the unfair television treatment of Richard III, if he happens to be your favourite king, as be is for some people, as my noble friend Lord Ponsonby pointed out so aptly on Second Reading. As for modern history, as the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, said, it will make the work of historians and biographers (and we now have on television biographies of leading figures) that much more difficult. The same will apply to the making of historical programmes if relatives are still alive.

The very wide provisions of the subsection will also allow foreign Governments—and here I support what the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, said—and societies to complain about what they consider to be unfair treatment of deceased historical figures, and representations could be made by the Foreign Office to the commission supporting these, sometimes for mainly diplomatic reasons. It will be increasingly difficult and inhibiting for writers and producers to adopt their own viewpoint if they fear that any interpretation other than a stricly hagiographical one, will result in their being hauled up before the commission.

It may be argued that the need to protect the susceptibilities of relatives is paramount. In reply to that I should like to quote briefly from the minority report to the Faulks Committee's recommendation—the minority report by Mr. William Kimber and Mr. Michael Rubenstein, with which I heartily agree:
"Public men and women excite hostility as well as admiration and after their death their detractors and enemies may make false allegations. This, however, is a part of the price of fame and their surviving family should, we believe, be prepared to take the rough with the smooth. An unwarranted attack is sure to provoke refutation from the dead person's supporters and in the course of time a framework of truth should emerge from controversy".
I do not think that I can put it any better than that. I hope your Lordships and the Government will be sympathetic to this amendment when we come to discuss it after I have moved it formally.

3.33 p.m.

As I have an amendment within this area it might be for the convenience of the Committee if I were to speak to it now. I should like to begin by agreeing with the first amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson. To go beyond the individual I think is going further than we need and would create enormous difficulties, because after all somebody in Soviet Russia and somebody in Chile is attacked every day of the week by somebody and we do not want to open up a whole series of political things of this kind; so I think that the limitation to "individual" is satisfactory.

I do not agree with either the noble Lord's Amendment No. 34 or my noble friend's amendment to which he has just spoken. If we cut out subsection (3) we then cut out the element of death. I think there are difficulties here. It is perfectly clear that if you are going to allow any restrictions on talking about the dead there must be a time limit and I have suggested "recently". If people do not like "recently" I would accept the words "of this generation" or "within ten years", or anything of that kind. There has to be a limit. It is quite ridiculous to suggest that historians should be prevented from doing what I disliked very much and which produced a really horrid picture of the greatest musician who ever lived, as a sort of crawling scatological ninny, as we saw done of Mozart in the play Amadeus; but certainly I am the last person to suggest that such things should be in any way forbidden or that there should be any comeback to this at all, except not going to the play, which one is easily able to do. I came out of the theatre.

There is a great difference in television. What we are asking is not that uncomfortable truths should be forbidden but that perfectly obvious lies with no evidence behind them at all should be forbidden, and I would accept any form of words which has that effect. It is really disgraceful that a situation like the absolute allegation that Winston Churchill murdered General Sikorski should be made into a play on television and one should be able to complain about it. I do not think one should be able to complain about Lawrence's parenthood if someone suddenly says something which is true which was not formerly known. I want to stop people from telling lies. One must not forget that on the television screen it goes to millions of people, that a lot of people are unsuspecting and are apt to think that what is on television is absolutely true. Many of us, of course, are more sophisticated than that, but a lot of people are not. The situation is quite different from writing a book or even an article in a newspaper. So while I hope that we do not cut out subsection (3), I think we should insert the word "recently" after the word "died".

I believe that many of the problems which we have seen arise as a result of the inclusion of Clause 10 in the Bill, arise because I do not believe that the Government have thought out very carefully the result of entrenching in a statute the terms of reference of the complaints commission. If they were to consider some other vehicle whereby they could entrench the terms of reference this might help to solve some of the many problems which we have already heard will arise as a result of this clause.

Nevertheless, I must disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, because I believe, first, in the necessity for the commission and, secondly, that there should be a cause of complaint for the near relatives of a deceased person. Perhaps I may give what I think is a very good example of where people have been seriously damaged, by quoting the case of the late chairman of the Labour Party, Mr. Morgan Phillips. The press had a field day, as indeed did television, some time after he died, to the considerable distress of his widow, the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, and his family. It was extremely distressing but nothing could be done about it, and I am quite sure that there are many who agree with this view. I would regret any attempt such as is reflected in the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, to remove from the Bill the spirit of the Faulks Report, which is reflected in the Bill.

I should like to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Morris. No doubt not long ago many of your Lordships saw on television the film about the late Duke of Windsor. It was a good film and it was well done, but I could not help feeling slightly uncomfortable during the whole of it because of what I imagined would be the feelings of those surviving members of the Royal Family who knew him, if they happened to see the film. That can happen in many cases. There will be survivors who will perhaps feel hurt, or, even if the facts are false, annoyed by what is being done. We should not need to worry about restrictions on the BBC for their various productions if one could feel quite certain that they would use a very good sense of discretion as to what they produced and what they did not. But unfortunately, as we have seen on so many occasions, they do not use that sense of discretion. Therefore I think that this restriction and ability to complain about what they have done is a good thing.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hooson, mentioned the film, "Death of a Princess". It was a most unwise thing to have done. Perhaps it did not annoy its English viewers, but on the other hand there are, even in our country, those of the Moslem faith who may have found it very insulting. The fact that it estranged us from Saudi Arabia for a considerable time was an extremely bad thing. Therefore I think that some form of complaints procedure against the BBC as regards what they are doing is essential.

As to the question of being only an individual, what about a group such as the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association, who are trying their best to make television everything that it should be? I do not think it is right that it should be limited to an individual. On the whole, I am against all these amendments as they stand at the moment.

lam very conscious of the warning we had that a protracted debate might endanger our dinner, though noble Lords will probably agree that I am the person who has least to fear from that situation! This is a matter of great constitutional importance. We are tampering and threatening to tamper with something that is one of the prizes of our life in this country—that is, the right to say what one wants to say when one wants to say it, subject to the limitations of the law. This is a most dangerous matter and one that we must view as having very great importance.

May I make a small technical point? I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, and one or two others who have put on this clause the interpretation that it will enable someone to seek to rehabilitate Titus Oates or Henry VIII. I believe the interpretation that will be put on this by the courts is that the person who has died must be someone who would have had a complaint had he been alive and who has died prematurely. That is what I believe is the appropriate interpretation of this clause and I imagine that was the intention; perhaps the Government will tell us whether or not that is so.

However, I think there are more important considerations. On the question of libelling the dead, one has to remember that, the man being dead, he cannot give evidence. There is no power in this clause, which I must regrettably say appears to me to be rather carelessly drafted, to subpoena any witness. The only remedy available is the issue of a statement, no doubt rebuking the person who made the false statement and asserting that it is false. That is a very limited power indeed. As a lawyer dealing with libel over many years, I have known occasions when questions of libelling the dead arose, and in almost every case the most savage libels of the dead that I have encountered have been perpetrated by their relatives. It seems to me that, when one is deciding to bestow this remedy, it is very important to remember who it is who is entitled to make the complaint. There are no means at all of establishing the very complex facts that might arise—except by pure guesswork and conjecture—unless the case is quite self-evident.

From what has already been said we have had an indication of the type of difficulty that could arise. Clearly it would have been nicer, if I may use that very mild word, if a television programme about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor had been deferred at least until the lady had died. But the fact remains that remedies are available if people wish to seek them. My feeling is that this debate is of value as indicating the profound danger in the whole of this section. Through preoccupation with other matters, I have not been able previously to engage in debates on the matter, but I should like to give notice that, if I receive sufficient support for my view, it may well be my intention to move on the Report stage to strike out the whole of this provision for the creation of this quite unnecessary commission.

I believe we have not thought the matter out enough. The proposal is obviously inspired by the kindest and most considerate of motives. It is quite horrible to think that a dead person should be reviled, but, carried away by that emotion, we have introduced a piece of legislation which we shall certainly rue. The most complex disputes about fact may well arise here, with the tribunal having absolutely no powers or means to resolve them. For instance, as I understand it, the commission is asked to check any complaint that is preferred and to consider it. It does not appear to have a right summarily to reject a complaint because it is manifestly exotic at a first view. They have no power to subpoena anyone and they have no power to call for documents. They have no power which would enable a court in similar circumstances to arrive at any conclusion, and, in those circumstances, I believe a court would decide that they could not arrive at a conclusion.

I do not intend to prolong this discussion, if only for the reason that the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, may become apprehensive, but I would urge the Committee to consider whether a piece of legislation like this, which, if I may say so, is so ill-considered, ought really to be introduced. I have no doubt there is a lot in the Bill that is good, but this appears to me to be one area which wants very careful revision and thought.

The only remedy available under this section is that the tribunal, if I may call it that, can issue a statement of a corrective nature. We are dealing with television and it is well-known that the characters producing television programmes are extremely independent and determined people. I do not applaud this in the slightest degree, but is it not very likely that after the issue of a statement correcting the thing the people who have been responsible for it will issue a counter-statement? There is no power here to commit for contempt; there is no power to prevent this happening. In many cases the upshot may well be that the person who has been reviled will be very much worse off. He will be subject to further insults from people who are not totally disciplined. This is no reflection on an industry, but it is one of the sad facts of life. I strongly support all these amendments in so far as I regard as meritorious any amendment that removes any portion of this section. I strongly urge that the Government should reconsider, certainly on the question of Section 3 and this entire complaints procedure. I hope we may have an opportunity of debating that more fully at Report stage.

May I address myself to the first amendment? It seems to me that the point made is a good one. Apparently what these amendments are trying to do—I commend it—is to give an opportunity for a falsehood or a false impression to be corrected. It does not matter whether the falsehood or the false impression is made deliberately or inadvertently. What is required is that it should be corrected. No doubt the correction will be taken up not only on the radio and television but in the press as well. It is almost certain to be given pretty wide coverage.

It is important to see that there is no question of any money-grubbing court proceedings here. It is only a question of establishing the truth and vindicating the truth where something has gone wrong. I think it is particularly important, because this is one of the great causes of complaint, that separate statements made in television, true by themselves, are sometimes so linked as to create a totally false impression. That is also something that should be corrected, and I do not see why it should not be corrected for corporations and institutions, and all the rest as well as individuals. Could my noble friend consider the following; a mental hospital, a tourist agency, a school, a football team. In those cases why should not an individual and also a team, or whatever the group might be, bring a complaint and have the truth established.

May I make one observation? In the course of considering subsections (2) and (3) of Clause 10 we are perhaps to some extent overlooking subsection (4), which appears to me specifically to give the commission power not to entertain any complaint if they think it is frivolous, and an even greater absolute discretion, under the last three lines of the subsection at the top of page 10, not to entertain a complaint

"if it appears to them for any … reason inappropriate for them to entertain … the complaint".
I think it might be that, if the commission were to act with robust commonsense, many of the difficulties foreseen in all parts of your Lordships' House would simply not arise.

I venture to take the view that it is right to be able to discourage people from telling defamatory lies about somebody who has just died. It does not seem to me to be a very dangerously unconstitutional principle to say so. I am bound to say that I am in favour of the position taken by my noble friend. The Faulks Report considered this matter very effectively, in my submission, and they say, first of all as to the time factor:

"Records of his past will not be unduly and undesirably curtailed if for a few years after a man's death historians and biographers are limited to saying what they can prove to be true".
A phrase instead of "recently" might be introduced in the Bill, to substitute "within a short time" or some similar expression, if there is anxiety that the word "recently" is capable of too wide definition, or alternatively the Faulks suggestion of five or three years. So my noble friend who was worried about the reputation of, Richard II was it…?

I am sorry; I erred in my recollection of the two kings. My noble friend need not be unduly worried if that kind of language is introduced into the Bill. I really do submit that, as indeed the Faulks Report says, under the law as it now stands you cannot prevent any malignant or malicious person from publishing a quite atrocious libel upon possibly a very distinguished man who has just died. I think this is a serious fault and flaw in our law, and I hope in due course when we get down to dealing with the Faulks Report we shall remedy the position. As the Faulks Report says:

"Where publications contain false accusations against dead men they constitute a highly objectionable method of profiteering out of his death…".
It is only adverse and defamatory comments upon the dead that seem to sell or receive publicity. The good about men may well in some minds live after them, but not in the minds of contributors to publications. As the report says:
"Where publications contain false accusations against dead men they constitute a highly objectionable method of profiteering out of his death, and in our opinion while grief is fresh and for rather longer such accusations should be actionable ".
This procedure which is proposed in the Bill is not a procedure which would start with a series of money seeking activities like, alas, some libel actions have the quality of being. There is no remedy in grabbing money or hoping to gain money from the procedure. The publicity and effect of libel on the dead on television is very great, possibly wider than that of even the most widely read newspaper. A sensible body of the kind which I assume would be set up would be able to form a judgment on the kind of issues which the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, did mention, and could be relied upon to give a fair adjudication. In my submission, this proposed discipline that would be imposed would be a healthy discipline and would indeed be helpful to our public life.

Before the noble and learned Lord sits down, I wonder whether I might ask him, as one of our greatest living judges, to explain how it is going to be possible to resolve a disputed issue of fact. Most libel actions are in connection with a highly disputed issue of fact. How would this commission be able to deal with it with the powers which it now has?

I would hope that when the issue arose the parties and witnesses interested would be willing to come forward. That is how the matter would have to be dealt with; to call such evidence as would become available. I cannot imagine that there will be a great flood of complaints under this head, but I should have thought an experienced tribunal ought to be able to cope, even within the limits the noble Lord has mentioned.

May I just ask the noble and learned Lord this? Would he not agree that the broadcasting authorities are always anxious to have the truth established? It is not the authorities who are guilty of any shortcomings, if I may put it in that way, in this connection; it is the authors of the programmes themselves who have had the opportunity to prepare the programmes and ought to have checked all the facts. Would the noble and learned Lord not agree, therefore, that when a complaint is made the authorities themselves are only too anxious to rectify them, but they will not be so willing to do so unless a complaint is made and unless they themselves think the matter of considerable importance.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for his intervention, which seems to support the position of my noble friends and myself.

I hesitate, and I know it is at my peril, to go against the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, but I think he ought to be a little consistent in his attitude. I remember when the noble and learned Lord sat on the Woolsack and once or twice we raised questions of amending the law because there was some fault in it. He said, "We must wait for a proper review of the entire law and then it will all be put right". Now he is standing up and proposing that we should take one small area and impose upon it a commission. This would create, as he well knows, dual or even treble standards, because books and theatre and films are not included in this. So he is proposing to amend the law, which he admits has a great flaw in it, before there has been a proper review and proper discussion. That seems to me to be a very illogical and rather bad way to approach the question. If, as the noble and learned Lord says, the law is at fault, it ought to be discussed and amended properly and we ought not to take just television and take this opportunity to single out television as being something different.

Nor can I accept the rather patrician and élitist view taken by my noble friend Lord Donaldson, who says it is all right for the intelligent reader of books, it is all right for the marvellous intelligent people who go to movies, it is all right for everything else, but not for the rag-tag and bobtail, the ad-mass who watch television. I happen to have a higher opinion of people who watch television than apparently does my noble friend.

I support very strongly the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, and my noble friend Lord Strabolgi for several reasons. I have mentioned dual standards. It seems to me absolute nonsense that we should single out television. Can I also speak as a practitioner in what I am proud to say has become the art of television?

What noble Lords ought to remember—and you have no way of knowing this because most of the people in this House are not writers for television or producers for television—is that what you are proposing with this particular clause and this subsection is what I can only describe as a kind of prenatal censorship, because I can tell you exactly what will happen. You will never have programmes like "Suez" again. You will never have programmes like "Churchill and the Generals" again, because the broadcasting authorities will be terrified of what will happen as a result of this complaints commission. You will never be able to have some of the most distinguished writers in the business writing biographical plays about recently dead people, or people who have died in the last 50 years, because the broadcasting authorities will not be prepared to spend the hundreds of thousands of pounds that it is necessary to spend on these prestige projects. They will not do it. They will not take that risk. So you are imposing from the very beginning a kind of prenatal censorship. These things will not come to fruition.

This is a most dangerous and bad subsection of this Bill. I entirely support what the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, said about the entire setting up of the complaints commission, but that is another matter. Certainly on this particular clause I beg the Committee—for the sake of the art of television, for the sake of having an intelligent and probing television and not just the kind of "watermelon" television that you would have if some people had their way—to support these amendments.

I entirely disagree with my noble friend. Television is not the same as literature. It is not the same as history. It is a different medium and it really has a very free hand. My noble friend said the "Suez" film was very good. Was it so good throughout? Was it so accurate? Did it really give an absolutely accurate historical picture of what went on? It did not.

Of course it did not. Of course it was the view of a writer and a group of producers who put forward a view. Had the noble Baroness done it, would it have been any better? Would it not have been biased? But at least we have to have programmes of this kind. If we do not, we shall have "jellyfish" television, which is worth nothing.

We do not have just that kind of picture. We have to have something that is more accurate, more true. We do not have it because the people who take part in television sometimes are not so good, not so accurate, not so truthful; they are in many respects very superficial when they do a programme. The recent programme about my own husband which was put on television could have been torn to pieces, not because it was beastly, not because it was unpleasant particularly. It was just not accurate enough, it was not historical enough. It was somebody's view. And one could do nothing about it. I am not bitter about it. I simply said it was not historical. I was told, "Oh, that is due to some other person; it had nothing to do with the man who produced the programme." Well, is that right? I do not think it is. I do not agree with my noble friend Lord Strabolgi, either; but I do agree with my noble friend Lord Donaldson, who spoke from the Front Bench.

I wonder whether I might intervene at this moment to give the view of the Government. I was a little disturbed when the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, said that he felt that the whole of Part III—because it was to the whole of Part III that the noble Lord was directing his remarks—was misconceived and he would seek to extract the whole of Part III when we came to the Report stage of the Bill. The noble Lord in his interesting remarks did not refer to the fact that to have a complaints commission of this kind was a recommendation from the Annan Committee and, of course, a recommendation from the previous Government, which would in certain respects have gone possibly a little further than Part III goes at the moment. But without seeking unduly to widen the debate, I was intrigued that the noble Lord, if he will allow me to say so in his absence, was under the impression that in some way Part III would not allow witnesses to appear or evidence to be given. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, dealt very well with the question of the appearance of personages.

So far as the appearance of actual broadcast material goes, which is what we are talking about, I would simply say that the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, for all his great gifts, has simply not read Clause 11 and I would, in his absence, invite him to do that before we reach the report stage of the Bill.

My noble friend Lord Morris, if I may pick up one other disparate point, gave it as his view that it was not right to entrench in statute a commission of this kind. All I can say is that, if my memory serves me aright, the parliamentary commissioner for administration is entrenched in statute. He operates in an administrative way. I think the PCA is a personage which Parliament believes it is right to have operating in this country. The first—

I ask the noble Lord to accept my apologies for intervening, but the Press Council is a voluntary body which, I think, was formed in the mid-forties and, so far as I know, it is almost a direct parallel to this particular complaints commission. I am led to believe that it does a very good job indeed.

I do not disagree with my noble friend in any way in what he says there, but I think it is reasonable to say that in tandem with the Press Council we also have other bodies entrenched in statute. I gave an example of the PCA, and I believe that works well also.

I merely seek to indicate that the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, is back now.

I am delighted to see that the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, has rejoined us. I hope he will not think me discourteous if I delivered myself of a remark or two in general disagreement with the noble Lord, and it will be possible for us to return to the more general disagreement on the whole of Part III on the Report stage of the Bill.

I am grateful to the noble Lord. Going to the first of the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, which refers to the removal of organisations from the complaints procedure, I think I would simply reiterate what my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn said. Consider a mental hospital, or a tourist agency, a school, or a football team. Why should they not be able to make a complaint if they felt that they came within the scope of this part of the Bill? The Bill was purposely drawn to provide that a complaint should lie where a programme might be held to have treated an individual or an organisation unfairly.

Having said that, may I deal with the effect of the noble Lord's first amendment—and I am not trying simply to nit-pick by saying this, because there is really something fairly fundamental which is wrong with the amendment. Amendment No. 33, by removing references to bodies of persons, whether incorporated or not, simply means that an individual or individuals could make the complaint. They could, of course, do so on behalf of bodies corporate or unincorporate, or in their own right as being members of those bodies and hence having a direct interest in the way in which the body was treated in a particular programme; and for that reason I do not think that the amendment really achieves the purpose for which it sets out.

The amendment also removes the requirement in the remainder of Clause 10(2) that the commission should only entertain complaints by a person affected or someone authorised by him. This would widen the remit of the commission so that it could, in theory, entertain complaints about the way in which a person was treated in a programme, the complaint being made by someone wholly unconnected with him. Admittedly, Clause 10(6) would give the commission discretion not to entertain such complaints, but it is surely better to have it on the face of the Bill that only the person affected or someone authorised by him or, where he has died, somebody on his behalf, can have a complaint entertained by the commission. I put it to the Committee that surely we must preserve the individual's or the company's right not only to make a complaint, but also not to make a complaint. I fear that one of the effects of the noble Lord's amendment would be to remove the latter right.

The noble Lord in his Amendment No. 34, to which, of course, the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, was also speaking so far as his Amendment No. 35 was concerned, would exclude complaints on behalf of dead or incapacitated people. We have heard some very interesting speeches about that this afternoon, not least from the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell. Such a complaint might be made by the widow of a man whose reputation had suffered as a result of alleged unfair treatment in a programme and who has strong interest in seeing that the record is put straight. The man concerned might have taken part in a programme and then died since the programme was broadcast, or it might have been made after his death. If Amendment No. 34 by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, were accepted, the commission would be unable to entertain any of those complaints and I must say that I do not think that that would be right. I do not think that it would be right to prevent a complaint being made on behalf of a living person who has, for some reason, been unable to put forward his own case, for instance, because of an incapacitating illness.

The noble Lord's Amendment No. 34 would also have that effect by cutting out at page 9, line 24, the words:
"or is for any other reason".
I do not think that that would be fair. I do not see how one could defend the case for withholding the right to remedies offered by the commission from those who are simply unable, for some reason, to speak for themselves. I do not think that that would be a tenable policy.

The noble Lord and others of your Lordships referred to the problem, as it was seen, of making complaints on behalf of people who have been dead for centuries, and mention was made particularly of Oliver Cromwell and Richard III. But, of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, said, the commission can refuse to consider frivolous complaints. There is also the provision—and it is in subsection (3), which the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, would cut out of the Bill—that a person must be closely connected with the complainant.

Finally I come to the other amendment which was spoken to, that of the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, in which he would insert the word "recently" after "died". Here my difference of opinion—and I am sorry to say that I do have one with the amendment— is of degree and not as regards its merits. I think that what the noble Lord said was cogent, but the questions which one needs to consider are whether it is necessary to spell out what the noble Lord is seeking to spell out in the Bill, and, more important, whether it is desirable to do so in order to achieve an effect which I think we all regard as sensible.

The provisions of the Bill not only give the commission considerable discretion as to the complaints which it entertains, but they place upon the commission a duty, as I have said, not to consider frivolous complaints. Bearing in mind that I think that the whole Committee hopes that there will be distinguished and, incidentally, people knowledgeable about the media on the complaints commission, it seems to me reasonable that we should be able to rely on them to carry out their duties in a sensible manner; and that applies to complaints where the persons affected have died, as it does to other complainants.

When, in addition to that, one bears in mind what I sought to say just now; namely, that the person making the complaint must have a reasonably close connection with the person about whom they are making the complaint—I think that this will cut out the need to insert the word "recently". On those grounds I would prefer not to accept the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson.

There is one further reason which I find even more persuasive, and that is that I really do not know how one would define "recently". Why, for example, should the widow or widower of someone who died, say, just over a year before a broadcast, be precluded from having his or her complaint about the treatment of his or her husband or wife considered, whereas the widow or widower of someone who had died just under a year before the broadcast, would be permitted to complain? I venture to suggest that these amendments, even including the final one, raise more problems than they would solve and, on those grounds, I would ask your Lordships not to agree to the amendment which is being moved or the amendments which have been spoken to.

I should like to correct perhaps a misconception that might have arisen from my intervention. I did not mean that the programme on my husband was defamatory, libellous, or any such thing. The reason why I do not agree with either my noble friend Lord Willis or my noble friend Lord Strabolgi is simply that television, as a medium, is so free that one does not have to libel; one does not have even to tell lies. One can do it without any of those things because we have absolutely no control, once a programme is on the air, over what it will be like.

Before the noble Lord sits down could he deal with one matter raised by the noble Lord, Lord Willis? How would he justify providing a remedy for one medium alone, when there is no remedy as regards literature, films, the theatre or any other medium? How would he justify that?

I think that the answer is quite easy. We are, of course, talking, if I may remind the Committee— and I almost forget myself, so wide have we ranged—about Clause 10 and, therefore, we have already passed Clause 9. Thus, it is not unreasonable for me to say to the Committee that in Clause 9, to which the Committee has already agreed, there are the terms of reference which give the scope of the functions of the commission. Those are more or less exactly in line with the terms of reference of the scope of the function of the BBC's Complaints Commission. We felt that it was right to make this statutory and that, I believe, is the right road to go down.

We are dealing with the question of the right to protect the reputation of the dead—no such right exists in any other medium. That is the matter that we are discussing at this moment. It does not concern the previous discussions: it is the question of whether a right should be given to relatives and other people to seek to vindicate the reputation of a dead man. Why should that exist in relation to television and to nothing else?

For the reason which I have given. I think that these rights are self-evident and if there are loopholes in other parts of the law I hope that they will be rectified as a result of this Bill.

Perhaps the Minister will say how the truth of these complaints will be established if the person complained about is not there, but is dead?

That also, even for me, is quite an easy question to answer because the whole function of the commission was to do with what is broadcast. If I may venture to look forward in the Bill, which I am not supposed to do but which, in his absence, I asked the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, to do, the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, will find that there are ample powers for the commission to require that it can see what was actually broadcast. As a result of that, and as a result of evidence which will be given by people who come to the hearings of the commission, it will finally make up its mind.

As a journalist I am as concerned to defend the freedom of broadcasting as I am the freedom of the press. Nevertheless, I sympathise a great deal with my noble friends on the Front Bench. Surely there is no problem when the commission is dealing with an inadvertent error; there should be no problem when it is merely a controversial view of recent historical facts. A real problem arises when you have malice, malicious invention and malicious distortion; when you have novels purporting to be biographies and which present a malicious view of the anti-hero; where you have fiction posing as documentaries. These are the new problems and they are problems which affect the novel. But they also very much affect television.

Of course, in a way it is wrong to impose a discipline upon one medium only. Nevertheless, one must have regard to the fact—without any view of the viewers—that television is the most powerful medium and has a colossal effect. Therefore, perhaps special protection should be given against this.

As I said when I introduced my first amendment to Part III of the Bill, I consider that this part of the Bill has been ill-considered by the Government, by the other place and by this House. I said when I introduced my first amendment that my series of amendments was calculated to show and to demonstrate to the Committee how little considered this part of the Bill had been.

I do not intend to press these two amendments standing in my name to a Division, but the reply made by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has in no way alleviated my fears about this part of the Bill. I very much agree with the noble Lords, Lord Goodman and Lord Willis, that the whole of this part of the Bill needs much more mature consideration than it has so far been given.

I should like to illustrate the point to the noble Lord, Lord Belstead. The reason that I wish to limit the complaint to individuals is that, if a football team or a mental hospital is unjustly treated in a programme, any individual within the football team or within the hospital can bring a complaint and, therefore, the whole matter can be considered. But, if the noble Lord looks at Part III of the Bill as a whole and at how widely some of these subsections are drawn, does he not appreciate that there may be permanent pressure groups and embassies financing perpetual complaints to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission? Unless the Government very carefully reconsider the whole of this part of the Bill, it is possible that the Government could have created a monster which will not be a part-time commission, but a full-time commission, with all kinds of pressure groups financing complaints, and with expensive leading council appearing before it with incessant complaints. Just imagine what this would do to the whole of the television industry.

Perhaps I may just make one remark. Obviously, what has been said today will be looked at extremely carefully in the department of my right honourable friend because it is quite right that this Committee should look very carefully at Part III of the Bill. As a non-lawyer, I would not in any way want the impression to be gained that I have not tried to listen very carefully to what has been said. But I would add that I find myself in a slightly difficult position.

In winding up the debate on these amendments, the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, has said that he can see a flood of complaints, incessant complaints—almost an industry of complaint-making. Yet at the beginning of the debate, it was the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, who told us that it would be almost impossible to make a complaint because you would not be able to get a witness to appear before the complaints commission.

I said no such thing. I said that if many complaints are made it would create a situation of enormous difficulty to adjudicate on them, which is quite different.

I apologise if I misheard; I shall re-read what the noble Lord said. Perhaps I can take it that I misdirected myself in that end, therefore, I must think only of the apprehensions of the noble Lord, Lord Hooson. Therefore, in looking again to the noble Lord, Lord Hooson and without trying to call the noble Lord, Lord Goodman to my aid, may I say that one must look at the text of the Bill? I believe that the noble Lord is mistaken in his apprehensions, because there is a provision firmly in the Bill—the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, has drawn our attention to it—that the complaints commission can decide that complaints are frivolous or that those making the complaints are not closely connected with those about whose treatment they are complaining.

Perhaps I may deal with the last point with which the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, did not deal. Let us suppose that a foreign Government complains about a programme. It is not libellous, otherwise it would be excluded by subsection (4)(d). Let us suppose that they complain that it is generally unfair and unjust to their ruler, their country, or an individual in it, and that the embassy finances the complaint. The complaints commission would be faced with a tremenously difficult political judgment as to what to do about it. The noble Lord has not even answered that point.

I think that it would be very strange on the face of it if a body which had a function of the kind that the Annan Commission, the previous Government and the present Government think in general terms is the right way to go, turned away well-founded complaints simply on the grounds of nationality. It is perfectly true that complaints could be made across national boundaries, but there will still be the rules which are to be found in Part III to ensure that those complaints are not frivolous and that the people making the complaint fall within the scope to which I referred earlier, which is to be found in Clause 10(3).

I do not know whether I should or need not declare my interest in television, but the noble Lord, Lord Willis, said something which is very important. Nothing is worse for creative people—and we need creative people of a high order in television in this country—than censorship over their shoulders. They will think that this is some kind of censorship. One can ridicule the different arguments that have been put forward. If I wanted to make a programme about Asquith and Lloyd George and about how they were going to fill this House with Peers, I would have leading the Liberals the Lord Carrington of the day, because he was a Liberal Leader in this House. He was a third j or fourth cousin or uncle of our present Lord. What would the present Lord Carrington do? Would he have a right to go forward and say that I made his uncle, or great-uncle, or whoever it was, look rather ridiculous?

A man is a rounded person; a woman is a rounded person. The noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, did not like what she saw of her husband when he was put on the fiat screen in black and white or colour, and that I can understand. One only has to read our history by Trevor-Roper to realise how people have different views about others, whether it is about the "donkeys" or about what happened at Suez.

This is hopeless. We are making ourselves seem extremely old-fashioned by having this clause in the Bill. Noble Lords perhaps already know that there are some thousands of tape recording sets, and soon programmes and discs will be available for anything one wants to see, whether it be "Richard III", the story about Suez, or what is happening in the Gulf war. Under the Bill we cannot stop those being distributed, nor can we stop people buying or renting these sets up and down the country. Much of this is completely out of date. I shall support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, and I hope that it goes to a Division. In the light of what has been said today, I hope that the Government will consider taking subsection (3) out of the Bill, and rewriting it.

I support the clause as it stands, and I think it is right that there should be a complaints procedure. It is extremely desirable that television companies and authorities should be made responsible. "Death of a Princess" should be a lesson to all of us. It was a disgraceful distortion; it gave enormous offence. Can noble Lords be surprised that the Saudi Arabians have given contracts for building all sorts of things that we would dearly have loved to supply to another power? I think that there are great dangers in this.

Please do not forget that we are entering a period which is likely to be one of considerable international tension. For instance, the Franco-Prussian War developed as the result of a fake telegram arranged by Bismarck to be sent to Louis Napoleon, who virtually began the war on that account. There could be occasions in the future when a television programme, which can carry an enormous emotive effect—I agree with what many noble Lords have said today, on that— could be very dangerous to the national interest.

As regards "Death of a Princess", I am sorry the Foreign Office did not stop it. The Government have to stand up for the public interest—

Not for the moment. I will let the noble Lord talk when I finish, if I may. The Foreign Office ought to have stopped it. The Government ought to stand up for the public interest and, if they do not, I do not know who can. I am not in favour of censorship. I know the difficulty of what I have said, but I think that it is desirable to make these authorities and these producers responsible. They ought to know better than to act as some of them have done.

Before the noble Lord sits down, may I thank him for his courtesy in giving way? He mentioned the "Death of a Princess" and he stated—I hope he meant it—that it was his view that it was a gross distortion. Dull it may have been, but you cannot say it was a distortion without consulting the writer, who I think tried to do a very honest job. Had you had a similar film about the Soviet Union, or about China, or about some country that we were not heavily dependent upon for oil, there would not have been the same outcry.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[ Amendment No. 34 not moved.]

4.22 p.m.

The noble Lord said: I now beg to move Amendment No. 35 standing in my name. I have not very much more to say, except that I am very grateful for the support that I have received from all sides of the Committee. I have the highest respect for the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, but I think that the defence that he has made of this very sweeping clause has not convinced me. My noble friend Lord Donaldson proposed that we should insert the word, "recently". What is recently? It is difficult to prove. My noble and learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones favoured five years as Faulks did; other authorities would like longer, but the clause has no time limit at all. It is difficult to establish truth once the person complained about has died, so surely death should be the point to which complaints can be made. Once you start getting away from this you run into great difficulties.

Then there is the question of the susceptibilities of close relatives. As the dissenting report on the Faulks Commission said so eloquently, there are advantages and disadvantages in being a close relative to a well-known person—and here I speak from personal experience— and really one has to take the rough with the smooth. The most important reason why we must take out these words is that the clause as at present drafted goes far beyond the present law on defamation. It is a further inroad on the freedom of writers and other producers to produce programmes in an objective and sincere way. It is something that we must preserve, and we must keep television and the complaints commission in line with the courts and with the present law of defamation. Any further step away from that is a step away from freedom. I would ask your Lordships to come to a decision on this, and I beg to move.

I have to point out that if this amendment is agreed to I cannot call Amendment No. 36.

I think that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has treated somewhat cavalierly the objections which have been made by the noble Lord, Lord Goodman. For hundreds of years we have had a law of defamation which, very properly, has been changed from time to time to meet objections or changing circumstances. It applies to all literature, art, the drama, and so on. We have never yet thought it right to extend this to the relatives of somebody who is dead, but only to the person himself.

To say rather airily, "Oh, well, if it is right in this Bill the other things could be changed too" is to treat our existing law in a somewhat cavalier fashion. What does "if a man is unable to bring an action himself" mean? If he is alive, anybody can get a solicitor to act for him. I cannot call to mind the circumstances in which somebody has a right of action but is unable to bring it, unless there is some statutory period of limitation, or something of that sort. He can always act by other people.

To substitute for it a provision regarding relatives, if the death has been recent, will simply invite a collection of dissenting opinions. "Recent" is as vague a word as one can imagine. With great respect to Lord Donaldson's form of words does not "recently" inevitably mean that one judge will think that that means up to three months, another may think it means up to a year, and there will be differences of opinion, which cannot be right. My feeling at the end of this debate is that this part of the Bill has not been properly thought through yet by either House of Parliament.

I would not like the Committee to think that I had been cavalier in the way I had listened to the quite lengthy debate we have had so far. Indeed, I was at pains a little earlier to say that if I was giving that impression that that was indeed not the case. I think that the advice of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, to me is good and that the Government should look very carefully at what has been said today without any commitment.

Speaking as a layman and not a lawyer, I find myself a little perplexed by one of the arguments which has been put to me. That is that because the law of defamation stops with death therefore the proceedings of the Commission should do so too. If one looks at Clause 10 one finds that the statute in draft, as it is at the moment for your Lordships' House to consider whether we are going to agree to it or not, is at great pains to show that if someone either has, or had, a remedy by way of proceeding in the courts of law in the United Kingdom they shall not appear before the complaints commission. By extension of that argument I am saying that the commission is not supposed to be a court of law. It is not supposed to be a court of law in the way it conducts its proceedings and in the way it appears at all to the world in general.

Speaking, I admit, as a non-lawyer— and I take the noble Lord's chiding that obviously I do not understand as well as I should do the effects that maybe this will have on the rest of the law, and this is perhaps what we ought to look at carefully—I must say that with that proviso I do not see why the ability of the commission to consider complaints of people who have died should therefore cause the trouble which is being suggested.

Would my noble friend consider one point in this context? He quite rightly says that the complaints commission should in no way be seen to be a court of law. However, within the Bill as it is now drafted—and this is yet another example of the uncareful thinking in the whole of this part of the Bill in my view—the commission will have a sanction publicly to pillory a programmer—forgive the alliteration—and also the satisfaction for the complainant will most probably be an apology and a handshake. Notwithstanding that, there is a sanction there, there is a power to bring pressure to bear. This is a point that has been made by various noble Lords all around the Committee. We are hitting on something of great importance. I must come back to the point that there should be careful consideration as to whether the terms of reference of this complaints commission should be dignified in a statute or whether you should go outside a statute and handle it in another way. I am afraid that I am not competent to suggest what other way that should be.

As I indicated to your Lordships I should like to press this amendment.

The Question is that Amendment No. 35 be agreed to. As many as are of that opinion will say Content, to the Contrary, Not-Content. (Pause.) The Not-Contents have it.

With respect, you must put the Question again, Lord Chairman. I am trying to be a Teller as well.

Would it not be better if, when the Question is put, the Committee were rather more seemly than it was on that occasion?

Is it not the convention that somebody is always supposed to say "Content" or "Not-Content"? I do not have any particular part to play in this, but I should have thought that the Lord Chairman put the Question and nobody in fact said "Content" where as some noble Lords said "Not-Content".

Certainly it was the case that the noble Lord Chairman put the Question, but nobody could hear, such was the row in the Chamber, and I am suggestion that the behaviour is rather better in future.

I must apologise to the Committee. I did not hear the Lord Chairman put the Question and I think that as so many noble Lords have come in for a Division, we should perhaps come to a decision and I should be grateful, if your Lordships agree, if the Lord Chairman would put the Question again.

I should have thought it was entirely a matter for the Committee. The Lord Chairman was doing his best to put the Question and if people answer or do not answer that is of course up to the Committee. Having said that, I should have thought that as noble Lords are here, and if it were the view of the Committee that the Question be put again, that would meet with the approval of your Lordships.

I am entirely in the hands of the Committee, naturally.

Several noble Lords: Put the Question again.

4.30 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 35) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 54; Not-Contents, 106.


Aylestone, L.Goodman, L.Paget of Northampton, L.
Balogh, L.Gordon-Walker, L.Pargiter, L.
Banks, L.Granville of Eve, L.Porritt, L.
Bernstein, L.Hale, L.Rhodes, L.
Beswick, L.Henderson, L.Ritchie-Calder, L.
Blyton, L.Heycock, L.Sainsbury, L.
Boston of Faversham, L.Hill of Luton, L.Salisbury, Bp.
Broadbridge, L.Hooson, L.Segal, L.
Brockway, L.Houghton of Sowerby, L.Strabolgi, L. [Teller.]
Caccia, L.Jeger, B.Strauss, L.
Chitnis, L.Kilbracken, L.Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.Kilmarnock, L.Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.Leatherland, L.Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Davies of Leek, L.Listowel, E.Wall, L.
Evans of Hungershall, L.Lovell-Davis, L.Whaddon, L.
Galpern, L.Maelor, L.Willis, L. [Teller.]
Gardiner, L.Noel-Baker, L.Winstanley, L.
Glenamara, L.Northfield, L.Wynne-Jones, L.


Adeane, L.Fraser of Kilmorack, L.Middleton, L.
Adrian, L.Freyberg, L.Mills, V.
Ailesbury, M.Gage, V.Morris, L.
Airey of Abingdon, B.Gisborough, L.Moyne, L.
Alport, L.Gray, L.Northchurch, B.
Ampthill, L.Greenwood of Rossendale, L.Nugent of Guildford, L.
Auckland, L.Gridley, L.Orkney, E.
Avon, E.Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.)Perth, E.
Balerno, L.Radnor, E.
Belslead, L.Halifax, E.Reigate, L.
Berkeley, B.Halsbury, E.Renton, L.
Bessborough, E.Hankey, L.Rochdale, V.
Bolton, L.Hatherton, L.St. Aldwyn, E.
Cathcart, E.Hillingdon, L.Saint Oswald, L.
Chesham, L.Holderness, L.Sandys, L. [Teller.]
Clancarty, E.Home of the Hirsel, L.Selkirk, E.
Clwyd, L.Hornsby-Smith, B.Selsdon, L.
Cockfield, L.Hunt, L.Sempill, Ly.
Cork and Orrery, E.Hylton-Foster, B.Shepherd, L.
Cottesloe, L.Ilchester, F.Somers, L.
Craigavon, V.Kinloss, Ly.Spens, L.
Crathorne, L.Kinnaird, L.Strathclyde, L.
Croft, L.Lauderdale, E.Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L.Long, V.Strathspey, L.
David, B.Lothian, M.Swansea, L.
De Freyne, L.Loudoun, C.Swinfen, L.
De La Warr, E.Luke, L.Teviot, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.]Lyell, L.Trenchard, V.
Derwent, L.McAlpine of Moffat, L.Underhill, L.
Digby, L.Mackay of Clashfern, L.Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.Macleod of Borve, B.Vernon, L.
Drumalbyn, L.Malmesbury, E.Vickers, B.
Effingham, E.Mancroft, L.Vivian, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B.Margadale, L.Wakefield of Kendal, L.
Ferrers, E.Marley, L.Willoughby de Broke, L.
Fortescue, E.Melville, V.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

4.40 p.m.

had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 36:

Page 9, line 23, after ("died") insert ("recently").

The noble Lord said: I do not propose to move this amendment, although I was not entirely satisfied with what the noble Lord had to say earlier. Since, whatever else one may think, it is perfectly obvious that it is quite wrong that the right of complaint should apply to people who have been dead for a long time, something further should be put in. The noble Lord said that he did not like the word "recently" in this regard, but I would ask that on Report he inserts some qualification. On the understanding that he will look at this, without of course making an absolute promise, I shall not move the amendment.

Page 9, line 30, at end insert—

(" ( ) The Commission shall not entertain a complaint unless it has first been raised in writing with the responsible broadcasting authority within 30 days of the transmission to which the complaint refers, and unless it is accompanied by a copy of the authority's response (or a sworn statement that the authority has made no response within 21 days of the lodging of the complaint) and by a statement of the grounds upon which the complainant is satisfied with the authority's explanation.").

The noble Lord said: In reply to the previous debate the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said that the Annan Committee had recommended the complaints commission. The committee recommended a complaints commission but, with respect, not this one. The first matter to which I want to draw attention concerns a typographical error in the amendment as printed. In the last line the word should be "dissatisfied", not "satisfied".

The purpose of the amendment is to restore to the BCC the role that the Annan Committee conceived for it; that is, a court of last resort, which would sit only on cases which have been mishandled by the broadcasters themselves. Here I should like to quote the Annan Report:

"A complainant should first put his complaint to the broadcasting authority responsible. Only if he is dissatisfied with the results could the complaint be referred to the commission ",

Therefore the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, will appreciate that the commission as conceived by the Government is different from that recommended by the Annan Report.

My amendment seeks to give effect to the Annan Committee's view. Complaints in the first instance are for the broadcasting authorities to investigate and answer, and to do so promptly. My amendment would require them to give an answer within 21 days of receiving the complaint, and it would have to be a satisfactory response. If the complainant is still dissatisfied, then he or she would be able to enlist the heavy artillery (if I may use the term) of the BCC. That would make the BCC a real watchdog for public accountability, a tribunal that really says to the authorities, "Deal promptly and properly with justified complaints, or face our wrath".

As the Bill is at present drafted the Broadcasting Complaints Commission becomes the first stop for any complainant, not the last one. There is no provision at all in the Bill for any sort of conciliation or negotiation between the parties before a full investigation is mounted. Of course the complaints commission has a discretion to refuse the complaint, but otherwise the proper procedure has to be followed.

Those of your Lordships who are lawyers will know the value of the cooling-off period—much debated in recent years in regard to different legislation—the value of allowing parties the opportunity for negotiation, conciliation, explaining one another's position, and taking such action as is thought to be desirable, to take the steam out of the complaint. Surely that is what we should be encouraging for responsible broadcasting authorities. Yet the Bill gives the broadcasting authorities no role, except that of the defendants. Complaints are taken direct to the BCC, with its staff and investigators and officials, its cumbersome machinery calling for transcripts, correspondence, written statements, its procedure of secret hearings, and so forth. How much better that the parties should be encouraged to reach an agreement before this brand new Quango steps in and raises the temperature.

I want to make my position clear. In my view the victims of those broadcasters who are grossly unfair, or who unjustifiably invade personal privacy, should complain to the authority responsible, and the authority should heed justified complaints and provide appropriate redress. If the broadcasting authority does not, and only if it does not, then the victim must be able to call in the BCC for help, for a second opinion.

Therefore the role of the complaints commission as I see it would be to judge, not the television and radio programmes, but the sufficiency of the broadcasting authority's response to complaints about television and radio programmes. Let it be a watchdog for the public, barking at arrogant executives, but not frightening away creative programme makers. I am not an authority on television—on Second Reading I declared a potential interest, in that I have been invited to be the chairman of a company contending for one of the franchises—but I greatly heeded the words of someone who is an expert in television, the noble Lord, Lord Willis, when he referred to the procedures, which seem to accord with the information that I have received from other sources. What actually would happen is that the broadcasting company, or the BBC, would have, as it were, pre-natal censorship, and that is what is likely to happen under the present procedure.

If this amendment, or something like it, is not accepted, then in reality complainants will receive a very much worse deal, and the procedure will be much more cumbersome. I consider that the whole concept of the complaints commission as laid out in the Bill is wrong. The Government would be very wise to study again the Annan Report and to go back to what it recommended, and this is what the amendment suggests. I beg to move.

As with most things that the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, says, I believe that his amendment and his argument supporting it is nothing other than eminently sensible, and I hope that my noble friend will give it the attention that it deserves.

In our last discussion I asked the noble Lord whether in fact the existing complaints commissions were to be maintained. I warned him that this amendment was coming up and that an answer would be required by then; no doubt we shall have it from him. I wish in one sentence to say that I agree with every word that the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, said, and fully support the amendment.

Did the noble Lord not hear what I said? In our last discussion I said that the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, was going to move this amendment and that before that happened we should like to know what was the policy of the Government about keeping, or allowing to be kept, the complaints commissions which exist at the moment.

In replying to the last debate the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said that this complaints commission was broadly on the lines of the existing non-statutory complaints commission, which was founded by the BBC; indeed it was during my chairmanship that that was done. The point I want to make is that what the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, proposes, is precisely the existing situation. It works well. It has the effect—if I may be careful in my choice of words—of stimulating the BBC promptly and satisfactorily to reply, bearing in mind the possibility of the case going to the complaints commission.

Secondly, I wish to refer to a practical point. There is no experience to go on, but my guess is that if in fact a potential complainant can go direct to the commission, without seeking an explanation or a reply from the corporation, a massive amount of work will go in the way of the commission, much of it trivial and time-wasting.

I think that, as was the case under the voluntary scheme, the corporation has the right to know of the complaint and to be given the opportunity of settling and satisfying it without the commission being involved at all.

I should like to support the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, without, if I may say with great respect to the noble Lord, having a particular brief for the amendment as it is drafted. The only point that I rise to make is that I think that the analogy of the Press Council is most relevant here. The Press Council, having taken account of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Press, which reported two years ago, has built into it conciliation, cooling-off machinery, which makes the formal proceedings of the Press Council a procedure of last resort. I totally agree with what has been said about the danger of the BCC being the immediate recipient directly of every complaint that comes in.

May I add one word? On this occasion I find myself very much in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Hooson. If I may say so, based on my experience of having been chairman of a non-statutory authority, to the Advertising Standards Authority it has always seemed right to refer the complaint in the first place to the person against whom the complaint is alleged, and to get their statement before taking further action. This seems to me entirely proper. I do not know about the exact drafting of this amendment, but I would certainly support this in principle.

4.51 p.m.

I was interested in the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton. My information is that the original constitution of the BBC's programmes complaints commission stipulated that complaints had first to be raised in writing with the broadcasting authority, the BBC. Public comment at the time suggests that this provision was unduly restrictive, and the report of the Younger Committee on Privacy in 1972 proposed that the BBC should amend the procedure for the submission of complaints to the programmes commission by allowing the commission additionally to accept a complaint if it had been raised directly with the commission within 30 days of the date of the programme or at the end of the series of programmes concerned.

That is exactly what has happened. The BBC's complaints commission can now take a complaint direct, and my advice is that they find it causes them no problem. I put that to your Lordships as a piece of evidence which runs contrary to what has been said in this brief debate. Incidentally, the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, asked me what was now to be the position of the BBC's and IBA's complaints bodies. Of course, this will be a matter both for the corporation and for the authority, because, as the noble Lord knows, they appoint the members of those two bodies.

Yes, but if the noble Lord accepts Lord Hooson's amendment they will not be able to disband them.

Absolutely, but I am about now to resist the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, on these brief grounds. The first one is of degree only, and that is this. I think that the drafting of this part of the Bill will achieve very much what the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, wishes to achieve. I think a person who considers that he has been treated unfairly in a programme will complain in the first instance to the broadcasting authority, and will complain to the commission only if the authority either fails to respond in good time or responds in a way which the complainant thinks is unsatisfactory. If your Lordships care to glance at Clause 11(4)(c), there I think the Bill envisages the possibility of such an exchange of correspondence before the complaint reaches the commission. Moreover, Clause 11(3) requires the commission to send a copy of any complaint it receives to the responsible broadcasting authority before it proceeds to consider the complaint. This allows for the possibility that the authority may respond to the satisfaction of the complainant, and it would then be open to the commission, under Clause 10(4), to exercise its discretion not to proceed with a consideration of the complaint. Although that is not exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, is saying in his amendment, I think it shows that the intentions of the Bill and the intentions of the amendment are not so far apart.

The difficulty with the amendment, it seems to me, is that, having established a commission, I do not think it would be right to place (as it would appear to many people to be) any procedural obstacle in the way of people making a complaint. In this connection, I think it is important to bear in mind that the commission will have the power to give them a kind of remedy, in the form of a finding and a direction to the broadcasting authority concerned to publish that finding in such manner as the commission considers appropriate, which a potential complainant could not get from the broadcasting authority. There is a difference between making your complaint to the commission and making it to the broadcasting authority, and some people may say, "I want to go to the commission because I know I can get a form of sanction under Clause 12". Some of the potential complainants may simply be people who know about the commission and say, "Look here. I know about the commission; I know I can go to it; I know it is easy to go, and that is where I want to go first of all". Therefore, we want to keep this provision in the Bill, if we can, in the way that it is, and not prevent such people from going to the commission in the first instance.

There is another ground on which I must say I rather shrink from the amendment, and that is that the noble Lord's machinery would mean that there would be a delay of as much as 51 days between the broadcast which gives rise to a complaint and the reference of that complaint to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission. But I really come back to my basic point, which is that the idea of the Bill is to try to make the commission an independent body hearing complaints as quickly and as informally as possible. I believe that in trying to do that it is right not to prevent people from going to the commission if they wish to do so in the first instance.

Before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him one question arising from what he has said to us? The noble Lord, in resisting this amendment, has prayed in aid the report of the Younger Committee on Privacy. May I ask him whether, from that, I am entitled to assume that he or the Home Office now accepts the report of the Younger Committee on Privacy as a whole, or is it merely that it is convenient to clutch at this particular aspect of the report at this particular moment?

The noble Lord can make no such assumption with regard to the reactions of the Home Office to the Younger Committee on Privacy. Indeed, it was to the Younger Committee on Privacy that I referred only in passing, as it were. What I was really referring to was the fact that the BBC had decided, as a result of the Younger Committee— it was for the BBC to decide it, not for the Home Office—that they would change their system. The system they have now runs counter to the effect of this amendment, and I was reporting to the Committee that it is my understanding that the BBC finds that, so far as the system is concerned, it does not give the sort of problems which have been raised in the debate this evening.

I wonder whether I could come back on what my noble friend has just said. Again, I have to refer to my experience as far as it is relevant. That is that of course there were occasions when complaints were received and the complaint was obviously ill-founded or frivolous and could be dismissed right away—and this was done. The complaint went directly to the commission, to the authority; and I really do not see why it should not go direct to the commission and then the commission should not refer it to the broadcasting authority for their comments in a kind of interlocutory way. That is the way it is described in Scotland, at any rate. This, in practice, does not hold things up; it tends to make them be dealt with more quickly and more satisfactorily, and be given better consideration all round. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, takes a view of this and thinks it might be better than his suggestion, but I should have thought that at any rate it was worth considering.

The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, will forgive me for saying that I again found his reply unsatisfactory, because he did not explain to the Committee why the Government have not followed the recommendations of the Annan Report. He prayed in aid the Younger Report, but the Younger Report was published eight years ago, and was followed later by the Annan Report. Yet he gave no reasons at all for the Government's departure from the recommendations of Annan. Nor did he deal in any way, it seemed to me, with the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hill, who brings to the debate a vast experience of these matters.

Lord Hill made the point, which I am I absolutely certain is right, that this I commission will be flooded with complaints, many of them of a trivial nature and many of which could be sorted out by insisting that, first of all, or indeed following the other procedure recommended, they be referred initially to the broadcasting authority. That would relieve this commission, so that it would deal only with serious matters of complaint. That is what it is intended to do. It is better for the complainant and the body of whom complaint is made to sort out their differences before the necessity of calling in the whole cumbersome machinery of the complaints commission. I do not intend to press this amendment, but I hope the noble Lord will take this matter back to his advisers in the light of what has been said, and in particular in the light of the experience and the views of the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, and consider with them whether they will not go back to the simple recommendations of the Annan Report.

The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, may be right in saying that since my day the system has been changed. I described it as it was founded in my day. I have not heard of the change and I doubt whether the British public knows anything about the change. Therefore, when we are told that there has been no rush to the commission, all that I can assume is that the vast British public has no idea that there has been a change to direct access. It might be true that the BBC has given no publicity to the change to direct access; but I suggest that when this is embodied in legislation it will become widely known—and why should not the co-plainant, particularly the complainant with a poor complaint—go direct to the commission instead of going to the BBC?

It seems to me that when this becomes law it makes sense that the BBC and the other body should have the right to answer the complainant and, then if the complainant is dissatisfied, he has the right to go to the external body, the commission. It makes sense, when you consider the vast number of complaints, valid or not, that are made about broadcasting, that the BBC should be given the opportunity of answering and settling if possible without going through the formal procedure of the commission.

As the noble Lord has said that he will not press this amendment, may I press the noble Lord who is to reply to look at this matter carefully. It would be possible to improve it by altering the time scale. The 51 days period seems something which could be easily altered. I believe this to be very important and I hope the noble Lord will look at it and come back.

If I may make a point on the 51 days, I do not regard 51 days as a long period. You are obliged to bring an action in the courts within three years. That is the limitation period for personal injuries, for example, and for defamation; and 51 days is a remarkably short time in the lawyers' timetable. This is being put forward as an alternative means to the actions that can be taken in the courts. If there is action available in the courts under subsection (4)(b) there cannot be resort to the commission. Therefore, 51 days is a false point.

Reference has been made to the activities of the Press Council as a precedent in this connection. I wondered whether there was a pattern in other nationalised industries which might guide us. I recall that the Transport Users' Consultative Committee (which looks after railways and complaints in connection with the operation of the railways) provides that the complainant writes, first of all, to the railway board and gives them the opportunity of replying to the person who is complaining and, only thereafter, if he is dissatisfied is it taken to the Transport Users' Consultative Committee. I wonder whether the same pattern might not be acceptable in this case.

The noble Lord has raised an important point. The Annan Committee sat for a long time and did a very good job. They visited every television studio in the country and the BBC and came to the conclusion that the number of complaints was so small that the way that they were being dealt with was as good a way as possible. The BBC was the first organisation in the world to have television—at Alexandra Palace before the war. They closed down during the war and have been going now since 1945 on Channel 1, and since 1960 on Channel 2. Independent television has been going 26 years.

The number of complaints are negligible. I received three cables the week before last from the Russian Government complaining about a programme that we had put on; and six or eight weeks ago we got one from the Chinese through their embassy here. There will always be complaints because people look at things differently; but the number is very small considering the number of hours of television from the BBC and the ITA. I regret very much the objections—and I will not say "with malice"—against the BBC which seem to be unwarranted. They are no worse and no better than the ITA.

I ought to say in response that the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, may say that 51 days is like the twinkling of an eye to the law, but the whole idea behind setting up the Broadcasting Complaints Commission is to try to give the advantage of informal and speedy hearings to those who are making complaints. As I understood it, my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn favoured a procedure whereby the commission could at least forward the complaints to the broadcasting authorities in the first instance. I was at pains in replying to the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, to try to show that the effect of Clause 11(4)(c) and Clause 11(3), taken together, is that this is very much what will happen. If one looks at the Bill in that part one sees that this is very much the effect of what will happen to complaints. I would go so far as to say that undoubtedly the broadcasting authorities will know about the complaint and that, under Clause 10(4), it will be open to the commission to exercise its discretion not to proceed with the consideration of a complaint if it becomes clear that, knowing about the complaint, the broadcasting authorities will be able to meet the complainant in some way or another.

Having said that I must not mislead the Committee, I am not suggesting for a moment that we have got these provisions perfect. Clearly we have not. But I do not think it will be possible to meet the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, on the main effect of the amendment that he has put forward. I say that because the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, has asked me to look at it again. I think that, so far as the Government's thinking is concerned, we have got it as nearly right as we want it. Of course, we will look at it again; but I must emphasise to the Committee that I give no undertaking at all. I think that this is an occasion where, if your Lordships felt at the next stage of the Bill that they ought to vote on it, then that will have to be the way we decide it.

I shall ask for leave to withdraw the amendment, but I give notice that if a satisfactory solution is not found then, on Report stage, we will press it to a Division.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.9 p.m.

The noble Lord said: I find myself in the same position as my noble friend Lord Belstead in that, not being a lawyer, I am not really competent to speak on this. I do so because, in a sense, this is a probing amendment and I wish to probe the erudition

and knowledge of noble Lords learned in the law and particularly Lord Hooson. One of the most interesting aspects of the whole of Clause 10—and I am referring particularly to subsection (3)—is that, should this Bill become law, the United Kingdom will be the only jurisdiction whereby a complainant can grumble from the grave. I stress this because, as this clause is drafted, this is precisely what is going to happen because the complaint lies in the person who dies. It is quite clear from Clause 10(3) where it states:

"where the person affected is an individual who has died".

In fact, I cannot see that that person who has ceased to exist could have a complaint. He will be perfectly happy sitting on his cloud or wherever; but the people who are harmed are those who are left behind. I ask my noble friend to consider this point because it is important.

Moving closer to the amendment, I believe it is important that these words should be deleted. One must take Clause 10 as a whole. As it is drafted at the moment, a person who has died and has reason to make a complaint to the commission, his personal representative or close members of the family will have a cause to the commission to move this complaint, and the complaint will be about unjust or unfair treatment.

Bearing that in mind, and considering subsection (4)( b), if the matter complained of was not just unfair treatment but a whopping great defamation, a real "Lulu" of a libel, then he will not have any cause of action against the board whatsoever. He is disbarred by subsection (4)( b) which provides:

"…the unjust or unfair treatment or unwarranted infringement of privacy complained of is a matter in respect of which the person affected has or had a remedy by way of proceedings in a court of law. …".

It seems rather strange that those who can have recourse to the complaints commission for the comparatively mild complaint of unjust or unfair treatment will have no recourse to the commission for, as I put it before, a real "Lulu" of a libel. By deleting these two words that anomaly would be solved.

I believe it to be important that the bereaved have a cause for satisfying complaints in this area. In my suggestion about the right to grumble from the grave I in no way mean to disparage the intention behind the clause.

I did not intend to speak on this amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Morris, having mentioned me in his remarks, may I say that I voted for the amendment which deleted, as it were, a remedy to the bereaved and the dead. But, having said that, if the bereaved and the dead are to have a remedy by way of complaint to this commission, it is better that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Morris, is accepted.

I am delighted to say I can accept not only the amendment but also the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Hooson. He has given me a good deal of advice on this Bill and I am genuinely delighted to be able to take his advice. 1 ought to give our thinking behind this.

The point as the Government see it, of giving the commission a right to refuse a complaint in a situation where the person affected has an existing legal remedy, is to enable them, for instance, to turn away a complaint which appears, to the commission to be in the nature of a "fishing expedition" designed to exploit the commission's mechanism for the purpose of obtaining material for use in subsequent civil proceedings, for instance. That is why we believe that the word "has" should be in the Bill. The point which my noble friend has raised is to take out the words "or had". My noble friend asked why a complaint on behalf of a person who has died should be precluded simply because that person had a remedy under the law of defamation— a remedy which would have expired on his death. One might also ask why the fact that a living person affected by the treatment complained of had at some time a legal remedy in respect of the treatment should also prevent his complaint from being considered by the commission.

We have come to the conclusion, as I have said, that we ought to accept the amendment. In saying that, I should point out that the amendment would not alter the fact that by virtue of the concluding words of subsection (4) the commission will always have a general discretion not to consider complaints if they consider it inappropriate to do so. We consider with my noble friend that this amendment should now be made.

I am very grateful to my noble friend for accepting this amendment. May I ask him whether he will consider—and, if necessary, write to me— the point regarding complaint vesting in the dead person rather than the people who have actually suffered or potential sufferers?

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 10, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 11 [ Provision relating to the consideration of complaints]:

5.17 p.m.

moved Amendment No. 40:

Page 10, line 26, leave out ("in private") and insert ("in public, but the Commission may direct that the names of persons involved in dealing or answering the complaint shall not be published if it is of the opinion that such a course is in the public interest.").

The noble Lord said: This is the last amendment that I intend to move in this part of the Bill. Unless I get a satisfactory reply, I intend to press this amendment to a Division. It may be symbolic for the other amendments. The effect of my amendment would be to replace the words "in private" by "in public", but that the commission would suppress names in appropriate cases. The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that the Broadcasting Complaints Commission really works to public satisfaction. That can only happen if it works in public. Our law courts have the reputation that they do because they work in public. Otherwise the case in defence, for example, of the programme maker will not be heard except in the official version of the facts which the BCC publishes in its judgment.

When the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said that this is not going to be a court of law, his friend Mr. Leon Brittan, the Minister of State in another place, said that it would build its own body of jurisprudence. It would create its own decisions and create over a period of time its own body of jurisprudence. If that is not in effect creating a court of law, as he envisages it, I do not know what those words mean.

The judgment of the BCC is a judgment which may cast a severe shadow on the reputation of an individual writer, researcher, producer or the group. It is a judgment that they cannot appeal. There is no appeal. This underlines the importance of the point that the noble Lord, Lord Hill, made of allowing an informal procedure first But if the Government embarked on this course then this is what follows. The lack of any right of appeal makes it absolutely necessary that the public should be permitted to appreciate the competing interests at stake when claims of fairness and infringement of privacy are weighed against a claim for media freedom.

There are two conflicting interests here. How can the commission's decisions be respected? How can it create its corpus of jurisprudence—to quote Mr. Brittan—if the arguments and the evidence are heard behind closed doors? I will not take up the time of the Committee by rehearsing the advantages of public hearings. It seems to me to be an absolutely fundamental characteristic of every statutory tribunal in the country. What irony if we set up a tribunal to decide—what? Looking at the provisions of the Bill, it is issues of unjust or unfair treatment. Those are the issues that this commission are going to decide. Yet they will not give it the most basic characteristic of justice and fairness; that is, the duty to sit in public. Justice must not only be done but manifestly be seen to be done. On this amendment, which I intend to press to a Division, I expect the support of the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, and his cohorts because this was the only amendment that the Labour Party in the other place pressed to a Division in the Committee hearings and I should be astonished to learn that the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, and his supporters in this House take a contrary view.

It seems to me that this is fundamental, bearing in mind the role that the Government have ascribed to this commission. They have refused to accept the other view that this could be, as it were, a commission of last resort and that other considerations might apply. It seems to me that if you are going to have cases concerned with complaints of justified breaches of privacy or giving further undeniable publicity to such breaches and in effect compounding the offence and discouraging complaints—if that is the argument that is going to be advanced against having public as opposed to private hearings—that can be dealt with by the remainder of my amendment, which gives the BCC power to direct in appropriate cases that the names of individuals should not be published. I take the point that there may be an invasion of privacy, I but to repeat the allegation in public and I to publish the names would simply be, as it were, to compound the felony; but I my amendment allows for this. There fore, in the light of their attitude towards I previous amendments, I hope that the Government will accept this one.

Lord DONALDSON of KINGS; BRIDGE: I was extremely unhappy when I read the discussions in another place about this aspect, not because we have a party line on it—we have not; it is a free vote on our side—but I like to agree with; my colleagues as far as I can. What I am unhappy about is that I think the noble Lord. Lord Hooson, has got the matter the wrong way round. It seems to me that if I complaints were heard informally in private it would be better for the winning j side. In most cases it is the programme-makers who will be complained about— I not always, but to a very large extent. I do not want to see a series of accusations in public against them which, though they may not be frivolous, may be easily dismissed. I think it might do them more harm that way than if the hearing was in private.

Clearly, any complaint which is upheld should have publicity, but I must say that I could not vote, without a good deal more explanation, for making public every complaint that the commission is prepared to hear against a programme-maker. It seems to me it must be very bad for them. Surely they do not wish to be complained about in public the whole time. It must be far better to have private discussions of these matters until the complaint is made good. I should like to hear what other noble Lords have to say about this. I may be wrong, but that is my view.

With great respect, I must disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, and in so doing would seek I the immense authority of the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, and hope that he will give us his views. As I see it, the complaints commission will be handling only a very small number of complaints indeed: those which have not been satisfactorily dealt with by the broadcasting authorities themselves. There will be very few, and again I would refer to subsection (4)(c). This is very wide indeed. They are going to be entertaining very few complaints, but those which they do think it is appropriate to entertain will be serious ones. I believe it to be in the utmost interests of justice that hearings should be heard not in camera but in open session.

I confess that I am worried about this one because of the experience that a proportion—possibly a substantial proportion—of the letters in which complaints are embedded are written in such scurrilous terms, making personal attacks on people. Indeed, it has always proved a matter of wonder to me that those who complain of, say, indecency on television can express their complaints in language that would do justice to—but 1 had better not describe the occupation in which such language is customary. It worries me, lest the free press has too good a time in the description of the allegations and so makes matters worse rather than better.

If the noble Lord will give way for a moment, I do not think he has properly appreciated the effect of the amendment. It does not require the complaint to be published; that is dealt with by Clause 11(1). This amendment is concerned with Clause 11(2), which deals specifically with hearings and it is concerned that hearings should be in public. Clause 11(1) allows the commission to deal with a complaint, if they think fit, without a hearing. It is not required to be in public. The effect of the amendment is simply that, if the commission decides there should be a hearing, the hearing should be in public.

Lawyers always did puzzle me. As I understand it, the hearing is going to be in public but there is to be no publication of the allegation upon which the hearing is based. I do not understand this. I can understand the whole business of the allegation, the reply, the discussion and the decision being published, but I do not see how you can sensibly publish the proceedings without exposing the allegations. I am bound to say I think that publicity would have the reverse effect to the one which the noble Lord intends, when I recall, dear me! some of the letters I received during my years at the BBC and also Independent Television—though in that case they go almost entirely to the companies. The publication of such lurid words would lead to such an expression of widespread disapproval that even Mrs. Whitehouse would be pleased.

I do not think the position of the Government in this Bill goes quite to the position which the noble Lord, Lord Hill, has taken in his very interesting intervention, and certainly the position is not that taken by the amendment. I think the Government position falls somewhere in between and, in the time-honoured way, that possibly means we have almost got it right. The point I should like to stress is that it really would be a mistake to attempt to turn the commission into a court. My noble friend Lord Morris almost made a slip of the tongue: he almost called it a court and then remembered that it was not.

What the Bill seeks to do, which is in line both with Annan and with the previous Government's White Paper, is to try to provide a way of enabling people— many of them ordinary people with no particular interest in the media—who suddenly feel themselves aggrieved within the terms of Part III of the Bill, to go to the commission and have their complaints considered by an independent body. The commission can adjudicate on that complaint and direct that its findings should be published, but it should not attract all the trappings of legal proceedings.

The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, mentioned my honourable friend Mr. Brittan, the Minister of State, who spoke in another place. Mr. Brittan made the point during the debate on this particular issue in Committee that an amendment of this nature would change the characteristics of the commission quite dramatically. My honourable friend in another place said that that was the purpose of the amendment. I am constrained to say that I think very similar remarks should be aimed at this amendment. After all, the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, was wanting to write into the Bill all the panoply of sworn statements, and there is no question that, if this Committee were to accept this amendment, we should have hearings of a kind which are I more akin to a court case.

Having said that, I take with the very greatest seriousness what the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, said about justice not only being done but being seen to be done, and I should like to make it clear that there is no question of the commission operating under a kind of veil of secrecy. The commission will have power under Clause 12 to require their findings to be published. These could indicate the nature of the proceedings and the people who attend them, and there is nothing to prevent a complainant or a broadcasting authority from publicising what happened at a hearing, or the nature of a complaint.

It is because of that last point that I say that the position of the Government on this comes somewhere between the stance which the noble Lord, Lord Hill, took up, and the effects of this amendment. I can only express the hope that the Committee may feel that on this occasion the Government have got it about right.

I should like to ask the Minister whether he can explain a little further the benefits of being private. Is there any reason why the complainants should not tell their stories to English newspapers and get a full page about what they will say in private? On the other side, the television company, the producer or the ITV or BBC director will not be able to answer in the same scurrilous way as the complainant. If this is public and if there is the right kind of commission and the right chairman, with the usual methods of a tribunal, they will be able to answer the complaint. Otherwise, I am afraid that Private Eye will have a better story before he starts.

Before my noble friend says what he will do, may I say that I have listened to this discussion and I find myself in two minds about it? There are, obviously, a lot of arguments on both sides, but I fear that my noble friend's amendment is defective in one particular. The amendment provides that the commission may, if it thinks fit, direct that the names of the parties shall not be publicised. This is not a court of law. When a court of law, in its discretion, says that the name of the victim of a blackmailer is not to be published and then someone disobeys that—as a nephew of mine did some years ago—he can be brought up for contempt of court, but I know of no authority by which this commission could direct that the name should not be mentioned, and the press would, I fear, be entirely free to mention the name if they wished. If there is to be any further discussion about public against private, that is a consideration which ought to be borne in mind and ought to be resolved.

I wonder whether the Committee would forgive me for a moment. Would my noble friend Lord Belstead, and the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, consider wording the amendment the other way round, giving the commissioners discretion to hold a hearing in public, if they deem it to be a matter of such public importance, that it should be held in that way?

I must say that I am not convinced by the reply of the noble Lord, Lord Belstead. He has not given any reason why these hearings should be held in private. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, I am not one of my noble friend Lord Donaldson's cohorts. He and I have hardly agreed at all about any amendment on this Bill, and I do not agree with the line that he is taking on this one. As the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, has said so eloquently, the courts of law sit in public, Parliament sits in public and the Committees of both Houses sit in public. Will the commision publish a précis of their findings and of the complaints? Will they be allowed to publish a printed typescript of the whole evidence in the proceedings? Why are these proceedings to be in private? What possible advantage will there be?

The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, has given the loophole that if the commission so direct—it may be for reasons of defence or for some other reason—a hearing can be heard in private. But is there any earthly reason why other hearings should not receive the full glare of public gaze, just as the original programme did, and, no doubt, much press comment following it?

With his great experience of broadcasting, the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, has answered for me the question of the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi. The noble Lord, Lord Hill, made a most persuasive speech as to why he would hesitate about having hearings in public and, in essence, his reasons were very much the same as those of the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson—

I must interrupt the noble Lord. If I heard him aright, the noble Lord, Lord Hill, was talking about the initial complaint, which he thought should be considered in private, and rightly so. Here I agree with him. As the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, pointed out when the noble Lord, Lord Hill, was speaking, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, deals with the hearing.

Subject to correction by the noble Lord, Lord Hill, may I say that you cannot distinguish between the initial complaint and the hearing—

I shall be extremely interested to know how the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, would distinguish between the initial complaint and the hearing. Perhaps we shall be favoured with an explanation of that. But I am telling the Committee that you cannot distinguish between the two, and that you either decide to have both the making of the complaint and the hearing in private, or you decide to have it in public.

May I put the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, right on one or two points? He asked me what would be the situation, broadly speaking, about publication. At the risk of repeating what I have said, may I make it crystal clear that there is no question of the commission operating under a veil of secrecy. The reason for that is that they have power under Clause 12 to require their findings to be published, and there is nothing to prevent a complainant or a broadcasting authority from publicising what has happened.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Hill, I find this a rather difficult decision to make. But, on balance, and in the light of my own personal experience in independent television, I am inclined to support the noble Lord, Lord Belstead. I think that the complaints commission is designed to give a reasoned judgment on a matter of complaint. If it is held in the full glare of publicity, there is the danger of the complaining party exploiting the further opportunities for publicity that might emerge in the public hearing. I do not think that that provides the basis for a reasoned and objective understanding of the complaint.

What we are seeking to establish is whether the complaint is reasonable, whereas the opportunity provided by widespread publicity about the hearing is an invitation to some people to exploit that. I believe that holding it in private provides a basis for reasonable consideration that is not always provided by a public hearing on some very sensitive matters. There are very sensitive programmes being produced on television, and some which I know are to be produced or are already in the can, which could create tremendous publicity if complaints were to be received and debated in the public forum. I would prefer to see reasoned judgment on these programmes, and that might be afforded by a private rather than a public hearing.

It makes a tremendous difference, whether you have the hearing in public or in private, how the case is to be heard. I have been looking at the Bill while this discussion has taken place and I do not see that there is any right for a complainant to be represented. If a complainant was represented and if everybody was watching very carefully what was said, as lawyers do, or are supposed to do, no doubt there would be something to be said for the hearing to be in public. But if the complainant himself were stating his case and the broadcasting organisation were stating theirs in reply, there would be a very great deal to be said for a private hearing in the calmest possible atmosphere. I imagine that most of the complaints will be from not very high-powered people, from people not experienced in public speaking.

If I am right in thinking that there is no provision for a complainant to be represented and he is going to put his own case, there is a very strong case indeed for the complaint being heard in private. I know that the procedure for complaints to be dealt with, for a summary of the complaint to be given and for there to be a conclusion works perfectly well. In the light of that, the press are going to exercise their own judgment about important cases which catch the public eye. I should have thought it would be better, in the circumstances that I am here presupposing, for complaints to be heard in private, but whether or not I am right about that I do not know.

I am very worried about this. It is a difficult problem. I should like to ask the noble Lord who moved the amendment to withdraw it and to bring it back on Report, after further discussion. My approach is absolutely one-sided. I am for protecting the programme-maker against unnecessary, vulgar and offensive complaints. If what I am suggesting is going to have the opposite effect I shall not push it, but I have not been convinced. The noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, convinced me still more that anything of this kind which, as an absolute rule, was held in public would be more damaging to the programme-makers than the other way. If that is not the case, I certainly do not want to support the Government. I find it very difficult, however, to make up my mind on what we have heard. I should like to talk to a lot of friends who are in television and ask them what they think. My noble friend Lord Bernstein said that the newspapers would take it up. They would take up some of it, but I should have thought that they would take up less if the hearing were in private, with the parties being allowed to make a report, than if it were in public. This is the whole point at issue and I do not think that we ought to decide it until we have got clearer views. I hope that the noble Lord will consider doing that.

I think that this is a very, very important issue. First may I deal with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, about who can bring a complaint. If he will look at Clause 10(2), he will see that the complaint can be made by

"the person affected or by a person authorised by him to make the complaint for him".
Having read that, I should have thought that at a hearing under Clause 11 a person would almost certainly be entitled to be represented. It would be very difficult to refuse representation to someone who said, "I have a legitimate complaint, but I myself am not articulate enough to put it over". The argument would be irresistible that in those circumstances a complainant could, if he or she chose, be represented by somebody. It therefore follows that there is going to be something akin to a public hearing.

Turning to the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, I have had time to reflect on his contribution. If he is right—and I accept that he is—that many of the complaints made about the BBC regarding the obscenity of programmes were themselves couched in obscene and sometimes difficult language, why should not the public know the quality of those complaints? The complaints may directly affect the career of a writer, producer, actor, or whoever it may be. Why should not the public know that that is the quality of the persons making those complaints?

Although I do not resile at all from the fact that under my amendment there is no reason to publish the complainant's original letter, although its terms may come out in a public hearing, the more I reflect upon it the more I think to myself: Why should not the public have the right to know? The BBC received 2,000 complaints about this programme. The public might take a very different view if they knew that 1,250 of those complaints were couched in obscene language. Anyway, why should not we know it?

The noble Lord has said that he is anxious to protect the writer and the producer, the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge. But the writer and the producer are more likely to be protected in a private hearing than in the full glare of publicity. The whole of his future career might be affected if he were subjected to a public inquiry and public exposure.

I disagree with the noble Lord for this reason. If a serious complaint is made of a writer and the complaints commission decide to have a full hearing, the writer's, or the producer's, or the interviewer's activities are investigated in detail and he gives his justification. If the commission find against him, the public have had access to the justification. Even though the commission find against him, the public know what he said. If the commission find for him and against the complainant, nothing is lost by the hearing having been in public.

In an article this commission has been likened to a potential Star Chamber. One of the characteristics of the Star Chamber was that it met in private. The one thing which can really guarantee that it will not develop into a private broadcasting Star Chamber will be that its hearings are open and in public. The Government have themselves selected the role that this commission is to play. They have rejected the sound advice in that instance given by the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, from his experience.

Let us look at the powers that this commission are going to have in relation to the producers and the programme makers. They have the power to summon the broadcasting executives before it. They have the power to cross-examine them and question them. They can call for their correspondence. They can call for inter-departmental correspondence. All these things would be done behind closed doors. They can publish a report of their finding and give their reasons for it but they may or may not deal adequately with the justification, or the defence made by the programme-makers. Why is it better for the public that these things should be heard in private? What have the public to fear from it? This deals with the noble Lord's point. If a producer has confidence in his judgment and in his programme, and also the interviewer in his, why should they not justify it publicly? Is not that better protection for the public?

My last point is that raised by my noble friend Lord Foot on the absence of a sanction for the discretion granted in my amendment to the commission. This point is of very considerable substance and will have to be more carefully considered. If I couple this with the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Morris, it may be that at a later stage I would go along with an amendment which would allow a discretion, in rare cases, for the hearing to be held in private, provided the general rule was that the hearing should be in public. But if all parties perhaps consider that it should be in private, that might be a reason.

But, having said that, I think this is an amendment which I am bound to press to a Division because it goes to a fundamental of justice—and after all this commission is going to be investigating what is unjust and unfair and it has always been held in this country that things concerning justice and fairness should be heard in the open. Justice must not only be done but manifestly be seen to be done, and that is why I press this amendment.

It is abundantly clear that the Committee is not in a position to come to a decision on this proposal. I know that it is extremely unpopular for the discussion to be pursued at this moment, for many reasons, but the discussion has shown that noble Lords have been saying one after another that they are not quite sure about the preliminary hearing or how it starts or whether information is tabled and supplied so that all persons concerned get it. For the moment my own mind would run rather to the hope that there would be some preliminary inquiry—a gradual acquaintance with the nature of it and before a decision was taken that a full inquiry was justified or necessitated. In that circumstance, I would certainly be more impressed by the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, that this, if it is to be a full hearing, must take place in private, and, frankly, the original notification of the parties and the steps that are taken and the question of whether this is going to be an inquiry with counsel or not, are all matters in our minds; and if the discussion could be postponed for a further amendment to be tabled and the existing amendment withdrawn, so much the better. If not, I shall have to vote for the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, on this occasion.

May I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, whom I found dangerously persuasive, that the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, is the right one, that there should be discussion—Yes, discussion—between those who have shown an interest. Discussion indeed with the Minister to try to get this right, for one has the feeling that in the details of this proposal we are coming up against some very important principles, and I think it would not be wise for the noble Lord to lose his amendment here. It is far better that we should think about it, get together and seek to resolve the matter at the Report stage.

I, too, found the noble Lord's arguments dangerously persuasive and, given time, I think I might be convinced, but I do not see how I can be convinced this evening.

There is no use going through the argument all over again, but perhaps we might take a practical case. If somebody complains about a programme, the parish which the authority and commission operate is limited to television. It can be shown, subject to censorship, in cinemas. This has happened many times in the past, as the noble Lord, Lord Hill, knows. We have had many a battle at one time on the question of somebody attacking a programme, unwarranted and damaging, or attempting to damage, the reputations of the writers, the actors and directors involved. So there can be all this about "private", but if there is a complaint made about BBC or ITV programmes they can be shown in the cinema and there is nothing one can do about it.

I am sorry that I have been found "dangerously persuasive"; I hoped that I should be found persuasive. I have listened to what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Hill, and I myself had a reservation about the point made by my noble friend Lord Foot. In the circumstances, what I intend to do is to consult with those who are with me in spirit on this very important point and, if the Government do not meet us on this point, to table an appropriate amendment at Report stage. Therefore I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 11 agreed to.

Clause 12 [ Publication of Commission's findings]:

5.55 p.m.

had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 41:

Page 12, line 25, at end insert—
(" ( ) Directions given under this section may, if the Commission think fit, include a requirement that the broadcasting body shall pay to the person making the complaint the whole or part of the costs or expenses incurred by him in connection therewith.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment was suggested by the Law Society but I was never very sure that I wanted to see it carried. I thought it ought to be open for discussion, but as the hour is late and in view of what has been said about the dangers of money coming into the problems of complaints I feel inclined not to move it. If anybody thinks it ought to be moved we can discuss it on Report.

Clause 12 agreed to.

Clauses 13 to 15 agreed to.

(" Power to modify Part III in relation to programmes broadcast on the Fourth Channel in Wales

.—(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations made by statutory instrument subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament provide for all or any of the provisions of this Part (except section 8, this section and Schedule 1) to apply, with such exceptions, additions or other modifications as may be specified in the regulations, in relation to complaints in cases where the relevant programme was broadcast by the IBA on the Fourth Channel in Wales (and was therefore provided by the Welsh Authority and not by the IBA).

(2) Regulations under this section may make different provision for different circumstances.

(3) In this section "the Fourth Channel in Wales" has the same meaning as in Part IIA.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment is consequential on Amendment No. 2, which I would just remind the Committee was the first of the amendments which I moved on the first day of Committee to set up the Welsh Fourth Channel Authority. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 16 agreed to.

[ Amendment No. 43 not moved.]

Clause 17 agreed to.

5.58 p.m.

moved Amendment No. 44:

After Clause 17, insert the following new clause:

(" Rentals

. In accordance with the provisions of Clause 31(5)( b) of the Main Act the Authority will supply to the Secretary of State and make public at six monthly intervals with a summary in each Annual Report, full details of secondary rentals retained by, and of grants given to, Independent Local Radio contractors for special programme projects together with detailed information, including cost, of these programme projects.").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of this amendment is to oblige the IBA to show on what its grants to radio contractors are spent. These grants are sums of money which the authority collects by way of secondary rental which the authority charges profitable stations. I understand that not all stations are sufficiently profitable to become liable to pay this rental although I understand from a recent IBA statement that all contractors are in receipt of some form of grant or other. I am sure that the Minister will know that the sums involved are not insignificant. In the financial year to 30th September 1980 some £2·7 million are due to go from the authority to radio contractors, of which about £1·4 million will go back to the contractors, either by way of improvements for which the authority will undertake to pay on the contractor's behalf or by a process which allows the contractor to retain a proportion of the rental due. At the moment—and this may come as some surprise to noble Lords—the authority is not able to provide a detailed description of how these sums of money are employed.

In addition, it is necessary to point out that the authority cannot provide any useful description of the criteria it uses to calculate the level of secondary rental or the basis on which the contractors can calculate the cost of projects which can be funded from the secondary rental pool. I made mention of these matters at Second Reading and I am sure the Minister will accept that a straightforward reading of the authority's existing obligations under Section 31 of the 1973 Act, to keep proper accounts and proper records in relation to accounts, would lead one to think that this information with regard to rental matters should readily be provided. This is not the case, and this amendment seeks to remedy that.

Unfortunately, in order to impress the Committee with the full importance of this matter, it is necessary to go into some more detail of the present system of rental charged by the authority on radio contractors. There are two levels— primary and secondary. The authority has said that primary rental is assessed for each contractor—and here I quote:

"on a wide range of factors including size, profitability, revenue costs, return on capital, the economic background of the area and its potential for growth ".

I hope noble Lords have taken careful note of each word in that definition. It is so comprehensive and detailed that one wonders exactly why the authority finds it necessary to construct a second tier to its rental system. However, the authority does. Even the primary rental charge varies, and recently the authority adjusted the primary rental for all its contractors. Some of the rentals were increased; some went down. One wonders why. An article in the New Statesman in June, by Jonathon Coe and Peter Edmunds, inquired further into these matters. Their view was that even the contractors themselves were unsure as to how the authority calculates primary rentals. The contractors were told by the IBA that the system was based on an infinite wisdom.

The picture becomes even more complicated when consideration is given to secondary rental. The rental is payable, says the IBA, when a company's annual pre-tax profits exceed 5 per cent, of its net advertising revenue. It is charged at the rate of 25 per cent, of that excess, or 55 per cent, when profits exceed 10 per cent, of advertising revenue. To quote the New Statesman article:

"The IBA's apparent intention is to take the funds away from stations with very high levels of advertising revenue and either spend the money themselves on engineering improvements or redistribute it to contractors for special projects to enhance the quality of independent local radio".

Here we come to the heart of the matter. The authority allows the contractors to keep, or, using the authority's own words, retain a proportion of the secondary rental due. In fact, one contractor told the New Statesman investigators that they expected, as a matter of course, to receive about one-third of their secondary rental as a refund. In other words, the authority redistributes this rental, which in some ways is a form of taxation, in the form of grants or a permission to retain proportions of the rental due. In the latter case the most profitable companies receive the largest refunds.

All we are saying in this amendment is that the authority should indicate exactly how much money is being granted to or retained by the companies and on what the money is being spent. This surely must be a provision with which a Government so sensitive to the feather-bedding of commerce must have some sympathy. After all, this money is being generated by the use of a contractor of public property—the airways—and is being collected by an authority charged by Parliament with responsibilities. In this way these are public funds which are being handed back to private and commercial interests. As I have said, the sum of money involved is not insignificant. I have a press notice from the IBA which shows that of the £2·7 million in secondary rentals due in the year ending last September, £1·3 million was being used by the IBA for expanding, maintaining and controlling services. I thought it was interesting that the IBA should have issued this press notice at all, and I have some feeling that maybe it was issued after I had criticised at Second Reading its reluctance to provide any information of this sort.

This press notice shows that one-third of a million pounds is being spent on general projects to enhance the independent local radio system. No detailed break-down of any of these sums is given in this notice and it is worrying that the authority uses such vague and general terms. However, it does list one or two items of interest. For example, the authority is willing to provide grants to contractors to enable them to provide technical facilities for coverage from local soccer grounds. Surely all contractors, when applying for a radio franchise, must have given some indication to the authority that they would provide sports broadcasts. Surely this is a cost which should be borne by the contractor out of ordinary programme budgets and not a matter for subsidy?

If I may, I shall return to the press notice, which shows that £1.1 million is provided by the authority to share amongst 10 contractors. The break-down of this money raises important issues. The largest proportion of the £1.1 million —£725,000—goes to the most profitable radio station in the country—Capital Radio, a contractor responsible for providing what the IBA describes as the London General Entertainment Service. Just over £500,000 of this goes to the music services provided by Capital; £75,000 goes on training; £65,000 goes under the heading of community broadcast service; £55,000 is provided on educative items and £20,000 on speech programming.

Here I must say that I owe the Committee an apology, because on Second Reading I stated that the Capital "Help Line" project was financed out of secondary rental. I have since been advised by Capital Radio that the Capital "Help Line" project was orignally funded from a grant by the Manpower Services Commission, and once it had been deemed to be a success by Capital, Capital took the cost of this service into its own budget. These figures are interesting to read; but on what is this money actually spent? The press notice from the IBA does not say.

Here I should like to compare these costs with BBC costs. We have had many debates about BBC finances and rarely have we been in a position to compare BBC costs with those of commercial radio. But this statement which I have before me is most instructive. It shows that the total cost of output for a BBC local radio station in the period 1978–79 was £98 an hour. As we know, BBC local radio stations produce many hours of speech programming, research, news and current affairs, and we can take it that this is a relatively expensive radio programming. Therefore, it is not unfair to compare these costs with the costs of the London general entertainment station. When we do that we see that Capital Radio is in receipt of sufficient funds to make 200 hours of speech programming, 550 hours of educative items and 650 hours of community broadcast services. It would be interesting to know the details of how those moneys were spent.

This amendment does not seek to end, in any shape or form, the provision of grants to contractors. Indeed, we feel it is quite right that the IBA should possess the power to make such grants as they could make a substantial contribution—and, indeed, have made a substantial contribution—to improving commercial radio as a quality service. However, I think we must remember that the authority as a public body derives its powers from Acts enacted in Parliament. It receives funds from commercial contractors which Parliament places in the care and trust of the authority. Surely this process confers an obligation upon the authority to say what the money is being spent on. I urge the Minister to accept the amendment in the terms in which I have tabled it. I beg to move.

I was most interested to listen to the Lord Ponsonby's tour d'horizon of the grant-making powers of the Independent Broadcasting Authority, but I think, if I may say so, he is being a little hard on the authority. Hard, first of all, because of the suggestion in the noble Lord's speech that insufficient information is given by the authority as to the uses to which grants are put. Clause 17(5) of the Bill already requires the authority to include in its annual report an account of the way in which the power to make grants under this section has been exercised during that year. We are, therefore, not talking about a state of affairs where the authority is free to do exactly as it wishes with the power given to it by Clause 17(5) without giving any account of how it has chosen to use that power.

Some of your Lordships may, all the same, feel that there may be advantage in tightening up the statutory obligation on the authority to give precise details of exactly how much it has paid out in grants and for what purposes. As regards that criticism, I would only say this: we have every reason to believe that in the context of its annual report this is precisely the kind of information which will be provided by the authority. But if that were not the case, the Home Secretary already has the power under Section 31(5)(b) of the 1973 Act to require the authority to furnish him with all forecasts, estimates, information and documents which he or it may require with respect to the financial transactions and engagements of the authority. That is to say, if in the event we consider that the IBA should include more facts and figures in its annual report about grants given to ILR contractors, the power already exists to require it to provide the facts and figures.

The IBA has recently published details, to which Lord Ponsonby referred, in their news release of 30th September, about the uses to which secondary rental payable in the financial year ending on that date has been put, and that is, I believe, the reason why the IBA chose that particular date to make its publication. In particular the IBA has given details of the amounts which each of the 10 companies liable for secondary rental contribution has contributed to the total, and of the way in which those sums which were retained by the companies, as opposed to being paid over to the IBA for it to deploy, were spent. The noble Lord quoted the figures: in all the companies were liable for £2·71 million and they retained £1·115 million for expenditure on approved projects. Therefore, I think the noble Lord was also being a little hard so far as the actual details of the grants are concerned. I do think that that news release gives almost all the detail that the reader could reasonably want. Finally, I should like to add one thing, about the amendment itself. It would lay upon the Independent Broadcasting Authority the requirement that it should make a report every six months. I think that is a little excessive. But it is not on those grounds that I am saying that I feel I would not want to accept the amendment. It is on the grounds that I do not think the amendment is necessary. I think that, if one looks at the Bill, particularly Clause 17(5), there is power enough to do exactly what the noble Lord's amendment is seeking to do.

I shall study the noble Lord's reply with interest. The particular point of his reply is that the powers are there and in fact the Home Secretary can demand any additional details, or the authority can demand any additional details, which are felt to be necessary. My view of that would be that these are details which should be made available publicly. I hope the noble Lord is right that there is a sufficiency of detail which will become available. My feeling is that the details which have so far been made available are not sufficient. Having considered the terms of his reply, I shall probably come back to this at Report stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 18 agreed to.

Clause 19 agreed to.

(" Power of Secretary of Stale to repeal Part IIA and modify Parts JI and IV by order

.—(1) The Secretary of State may by order—

  • (a) repeal Part IIA (including Schedules (Provisions as to Welsh Fourth Channel Authority) and (Modifications of main Act etc, in relation to the Fourth Channel in Wales')) as from a specified date; and
  • (b) make such modifications of Parts II and IV as he thinks appropriate for securing that as from that date there are suitable arrangements for the broadcasting of television programmes for reception in Wales, and in particular of television programmes in Welsh.
  • (2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) (b), an order under this section may modify Part II or IV by the addition of provisions whose purpose is—

  • (a) to require the Authority to ensure that the programmes broadcast on the Fourth Channel for reception in Wales contain a suitable proportion of matter in Welsh;
  • (b) to make provision corresponding to that made by section 7F(3);
  • (c) to provide for consultation between the BBC and the Authority with a view to ensuring that their respective arrangements for broadcasting television programmes in Welsh for reception in Wales are such as will together best serve the interests of persons residing in Wales;
  • (d) to provide for the appointment of a person to advise the BBC and the Authority on matters of programme scheduling arising out of such consultation as is mentioned in paragraph (c);
  • (e) to secure that, so far as is practicable, the television programmes in Welsh broadcast by the BBC and the Authority for reception in Wales, taken together, maintain a proper balance and wide range in their subject-matter and that, as between the television programmes in Welsh so broadcast by them respectively, a proper balance of subject-matter is maintained, having regard as mentioned in main section 2(2)(b);
  • (f) to establish a committee to keep under review, and report to the Secretary of State on, the extent to which the arrangements for the broadcasting by the BBC and the Authority respectively of television programmes in Welsh for reception in Wales are serving the interests of persons residing in Wales.
  • (3) An order under this section may include such incidental, supplemental and transitional provisions as the Secretary of State thinks fit (including provisions involving the payment by the Secretary of State out of money provided by Parliament of such fees and allowances as he may, with the approval of the Minister for the Civil Service, determine), and in particular may make provision for keeping the Welsh Authority temporarily in existence for purposes connected with their activities and finances prior to the repeal of Part IIA and for winding up the affairs of, and dissolving, that Authority.

    (4) The power to make an order under this section shall be exercisable by statutory instrument.

    (5) No order shall be made under this section unless a draft of it has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House.

    (6) In this section "modifications" includes additions, omissions and alterations, and related expressions shall be construed accordingly.").

    The noble Lord said: This amendment is consequential on Amendment No. 2. I beg to move.

    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    On Question, Whether Clause 20 shall stand part of the Bill?

    Consequent upon moving on the first day of Committee Amendment No. 2, which set up the Welsh Fourth Channel Authority, Clause 20 is no longer necessary in the Bill, and therefore I beg to move that Clause 20 be omitted from the Bill.

    I shall put the Question, Whether the clause shall stand part of the Bill, and the noble-Lords can vote against it.

    Clause 20 disagreed to.

    (" Fourth Channel in Wales

    . The Secretary of State shall have powers to make grants to the Fourth Channel subsidiary of the Authority as is considered necessary to allow the subsidiary to fulfil its obligations to provide a Welsh language service on the Fourth Channel in Wales and such moneys as are required will be obtained by the Secretary of State, with the consent of the Treasury, in accordance with the provisions governing additional payments in section 27B of the main Act.").

    The noble Lord said: This is the only one of the series of amendments put down by my Welsh colleagues to which I think I must refer. I hope the noble Lord will say it is unnecessary, and, if it is, I shall be happy to withdraw it. I can deal with it quite quickly. We want to know who is going to pay for the extra expenses which the new arrangements for the Welsh fourth channel are bound to involve. We have, therefore, put down an amendment. We had originally put down an amendment that the Secretary of State should be able to make grants to the fourth channel, if it were necessary, to provide a Welsh language service, et cetera, and that this money should be obtained in accordance with the provisions

    governing additional payments under Section 27(1)( b) of the main Act. That section says, as I interpret it, that the IBA can find this money and use it as an expense before the levy figure is struck. If that is correct then it means that in the end that is money which does not go to the Government and therefore the Government find it.

    I am not saying that the fourth, Welsh, channel should be financed in this way. I am anxious to be sure that it can be. This amendment would make certain that if there were a shortfall it would not necessarily fall on the IBA, who would inevitably have to take it out of their other programme funds. I hope I make myself clear. If the noble Lord can tell me that this is already the case, I will be very happy to withdraw the amendment. If it is not the case, I think we ought to discuss it further. I beg to move.

    I do not wish to appear unhelpful, but I really do not think that I can add very much to what I said when moving the Welsh amendments on the first day in Committee and in answer to a question which was put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, and then I repeated the words to the noble friend of the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, Lord Taylor of Gryfe. I made the point that the financing of the fourth channel in Wales is a matter which must be subject to discussion between my right honourable friend the Home Secretary together with my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Of course, there will be discussions also with the Independent Broadcasting Authority, and I really cannot go further than what I said on that occasion.

    So far as this amendment is concerned, there is a particular problem which the noble Lord will be familiar with and which would involve this amendment. It involves hypothecating monies raised for a particular effect and this is something which, or course, is not done so far as the raising of taxation is concerned. It is for that a reason partly, but of course mainly because of the general reply which I gave when moving the Welsh amendments, that I hope the noble Lord will not press this amendment.

    I do not press the amendment, first, because we shall lose it and, secondly, because it would not get us very much further anyway, but I am not happy about this. What we are afraid of is that the reason the Government in the first place reneged on the Welsh channel was because of cost, and they are now putting it back and are going to take the money which it is going to cost off other ITV programmes through deducting it from the IBA's existing income. The IBA's income for the fourth channel comes from the contractors, and it will be £70 or £80 million. If the IBA have to find another £10 or £12 million, whatever the figure may be, to have a better Welsh channel, where is it to come from? From the IBA's funds. This is not hypothecating anything. The money is there and goes to the IBA. If the IBA spend more of it legitimately, then less goes to the Government; but it is a very twisted view to suggest that this is hypothecation. I submit that it is not.

    I do not want to make too much trouble about this, but I wish to make it quite clear to this Committee and to people who read these reports that we believe the Government are planning to finance the new Welsh channel out of old money already given to the IBA. We believe that if this is so they ought to say so. We believe it is being concealed, and we are trying to expose it.

    I do not know whether the noble Lord would like to speak again. I am not going to press the amendment but I shall probably come back to it on Report, because it is a quite fundamental point. My noble friend Lord Taylor of Gryfe said: "You mean we are going to have to pay it off the Scottish figures?" That could be true, but if so it would be totally unsatisfactory. I am making a rather serious point. I know it is difficult for the noble Lord to give me satisfaction. I have been in the same position more than once, of failing to give him satisfaction. I am not satisfied, and although I beg leave to withdraw the amendment I shall want to come back to this.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    On Question, Whether Clause 21 shall stand part of the Bill?

    gave notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 47:

    After Clause 21, insert the following new clause:

    (" Provision as to advertisements by Order of Secretary of State

    . After section 8 of the main Act (Advertisements) there shall be inserted the following section:—

    " 8A.—(1) The Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument and after consulting the Authority make such provision as appears to him necessary or expedient (including provision of a financial nature) as to facilitate the provision of advertisements included in television programmes broadcast in the area of any TV programme contractor by the Authority on the Fourth Channel by persons suitable for the purpose not being programme contractors or connected with programme contractors.

    (2) No order shall be made under this section unless a draft of it has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House." ").

    The noble Lord said: This was an amendment that was discussed along with amendments to Clause 5, and I do not propose to pursue it further now but will bring it back on Report.

    Clause 22 [ Advisory committees for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland]:

    6.25 p.m.

    moved Amendment No. 48:

    Page 18, line 20, at end insert ("Home Secretary after consultation with the Secretary of State for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as appropriate, and with the Chairman of the")

    The noble Lord said: These amendments were put down for discussion in another place by my right honourable friend Mr. Merlyn Rees but, owing to the lateness of the hour, they were never moved. We are luckier that the hour tonight is not very late, therefore I can move.

    The importance of advisory committees for Scotland, Wales and Ireland is great enough to justify appointment by the Secretary of State after consultation with his colleagues who have the local responsibility. The IBA should, of course, be consulted too, and my amendment allows for that. But I should like to see these committees gaining in stature; in particular, they could be very useful in meeting complaints and worries from the staff. There is a strong feeling among programme makers that under this Bill the audience has ample avenues for complaint but the broadcaster has no linking contact with a complaints body where disagreements with the box over programme content, censorship and the like can be heard. This view was very strongly expressed in discussions in Edinburgh and represents a real feeling of frustration which should have some outlet.

    I wonder whether these advisory committees might not also be used for a further, very important function. I shall on Report, move an amendment, as yet unformed, that there should be some J monitoring of the fourth channel's performance in relation to demands of Clause 3 which, I have said repeatedly, are general and unambiguous but easily eroded. I think that this ought to be independent of the IBA. If these committees were appointed by the Home Secretary they would have that degree of independence and might prove suitable bodies to do this very job. As their establishment is already part of the Bill, the hackneyed complaint that we are asking for a new Quango would not apply.

    What I shall be asking is that they should be critical advisory committees to the IBA, that they should be appointed independently of the IBA, and that they should in addition have the function not only of advising but of monitoring and criticising. I shall elaborate on this on Report, but for the moment I want to ensure that they are independently appointed so that if, by the time we get to Report, we wish to give them a function of this kind, we can do so. The main purpose of the amendment is to make them stronger and more important bodies, and I think my amendments here would have that effect. I beg to move.

    I am bound to take exception to the form in which this is done. If an advisory committee for Scotland is to be appointed, it must be by the Secretary of State for Scotland. In any case—

    "After consultation with the Secretary of State for Scotland" is in the amendment.

    I see, "after consultation ", but I do not quite see the point of having this clause in that form. If you want to say "the Secretary of State", that is all that is required. The Secretary of State in Scotland is the Secretary of State for Scotland; the Secretary of State in Wales is the Secretary of State for Wales. I think on a point of principle it would be quite wrong to put it in this form. Secondly, I am not sure I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, about the propriety—the advisability, I had better say, rather the propriety—of having these committees appointed by the Secretary of State.

    It is not a control body in any form that it is proposed to appoint; it is an advisory committee. The general principle of the device is that the people who are to receive the advice appoint the advisers. In my view, it is better that the authority should appoint its own advisers. That has worked perfectly well with the BBC and I do not see why it should not work equally well with the authority.

    I think that it should be borne in mind when considering this amendment, or rather the amendments to which the noble Lord has spoken, that the IBA, as a matter of practice, has always maintained national advisory committees under the discretionary powers conferred on it by Section 10 of the 1973 Act and that the new Section 10A will do no more than put the arrangements on a formal footing.

    Under existing arrangements appointments to the national committees, as to all other advisory committees set up under Section 10 of that Act, would be made by the authority. I say that because it seems to me anomalous if appointments of members to national advisory committees were to be made on a different basis from that to the other advisory committees, which are important bodies and which have existed for some years advising the IBA on different matters connected with broadcasting.

    I should like to interject just one proviso to what I am saying. Of course, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, will have noticed that the only exception to this is that under subsection (2) of the new Section 10A the chairman of each national advisory committee will be the member of the authority appointed by the Home Secretary to make the interests of the country concerned his special care. The particular advantage of this is that the chairman of each national committee, as a member of the IBA, will form a link between the national committee and the authority.

    But, with that exception, it certainly seems anomalous to me if one says that the national advisory committees, as my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn said, to be advisory and acting therefore in exactly the same way as the other advisory committees to the IBA, were to be appointed in a different way from the other IBA advisory committees. It is on those grounds that I confess doubt and not much support for the noble Lord's amendment.

    I must go on trying. I want to get something critical into the Bill. It lacks any criticism by any body except the IBA who are doing the job themselves. Although I have the highest possible opinion of the IBA as it is—and as, for the rest of my life, I think it will be—I still think that it is an absolutely false principle. If we had these advisory committees appointed by the Secretary of State (and, of course, I accept Lord Drumalbyn's suggestion)—whether they be appointed by the Home Secretary after talking to his colleagues or by each Secretary of State—I should be very happy. But what I want these bodies to do is not just to be advisory, but to have a duty of criticism and that is what I cannot get into the Bill. I keep on trying to do so and I fall a cropper every time. I shall try again on Report, but I do not think at this time of night that it is much good pushing it. But, I hope noble Lords will understand that at present there is no monitoring of the very, very broad instructions contained in Clause 3 and without some body looking at this over a period we will get, inevitable erosion. But, I shall not press the amendment tonight. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    [ Amendments Nos. 49, 50 and 51 not moved.]

    Clause 22 agreed to.

    6.35 p.m.

    moved Amendment No. 51 A:

    After Clause 22, insert the following new clause:

    (" Local Radio Advisory Committees.

    After main section 11(5) (which indicates the functions of Local Radio Advisory Committees) there shall be inserted—

    " (5A)( a) In discharging their functions under subsection (5) above the advisory

    committees shall be guided by the following principles, namely,

  • (i) the need for them to publicise their existence, functions and deliberations as widely as possible, by means of notices, minutes and annual reports, and
  • (ii) the need for them to act in all respects independently of the Authority:
  • Provided that nothing in this section shall prohibit an advisory committee from refusing to discuss in a public meeting or, as the case may be, in minutes of a meeting or an annual report, any matter which, in its opinion, raises issues of commercial confidentiality."").

    The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 51A. This amendment concerns the activities of local advisory committees. Those committees generally meet quarterly. One of their most important functions is to report each year to the IBA on the activities of the local stations involved within their area. It is on that the IBA will decide whether to roll a particular independent local radio contract or not.

    The authority has described these advisory committees as being the ears of the authority. However, severe constraints are placed upon the independence and freedom of action of these advisory committees: the authority appoints the members of the committee; a proportion of the membership comes from nominations provided by local authorities; the IBA decides which of those nominees, in fact, will sit on the advisory committee; the advisory committees generally only meet on IBA premises in the presence of officials of the IBA; the meetings are confidential; the reports of the advisory committee and its minutes are confidential as well as the annual report on the performance of the contractors. Not surprisingly few people know about the work of the local advisory committees. Yet they could be performing potentially a very important role.

    Having said that, I should like to add that there have been some occasions when, in fact, the advisory committees have held public meetings and one would wish that that sort of activity of a local advisory committee would become more frequent. Their links with the public are fairly minimal at present and the amendment seeks to provide a more important role for them, particularly by getting them to publicise their activities.

    The amendment deals with various matters which in our view would have the effect of their activities becoming more well known, people taking an interest in what they do and people feeling that this was a vehicle to which they could talk. It seems to me that this would be a useful addition to the Bill. I beg to move.

    I welcome the fact that we have now moved on to discussing local radio, because I think that this is a very important part of the Bill. I am grateful to the noble Lord for the speech which he has made in which I was very interested. As regards his amendment, if he will forgive me for saying so, I differ from the amendment in the view that it takes of the need—which the amendment, by implication, says has not yet been met—for these local radio advisory committees to publicise themselves further. Indeed, the noble Lord in his speech said that the local radio advisory committees do not have very strong contracts with the local communities.

    On those two points I would say that I think there is no facet of public service broadcasting more open to public opinion and scrutiny than the independent local radio. Public consultation goes on at all stages of the development of ILR, right from the time that new areas are being selected by means of public meetings and the regular use of audience research. These direct methods of consultation between the authority and members of the public are supplemented by these local advisory committees appointed under Section 11 of the 1973 Act which, I think contrary to what the noble Lord was saying, provide an informed local view of the local radio services provided in their area and thus help the authority to identify local needs and interests.

    The Committee might just be interested to be reminded that a third of the members of a local advisory committee are chosen from people nominated by appropriate local authorities, and the remainder are carefully chosen by the authority itself to reflect, so far as possible, the range of tastes and interests of persons residing in the area for which the committee is appointed. Methods of obtaining people to serve on the committee include the placing of advertisements in the local press. I say—as I have said before on the Bill—that nothing is perfect. I would not claim that for one moment. But, all in all, I really do believe that as much has been done as reasonably can be done to ensure that the existance and functions of local radio advisory committees are widely publicised.

    The IBA's annual report lists the membership of each committee. Any changes in membership are advised by press notices. The members of local advisory committees are ordinary members of the public with an interest in the contribution which their local station can make to local life, and they are always pleased to receive comments on ILR programming from listeners. In my submission, it would be inequitable to apply provisions to one group of the authority's statutory advisory committees in isolation, and that is another reason why I should not like to see this written into the Bill.

    I should like to make one last point, if I may. I am a little puzzled about the requirement in the amendment that the local advisory committees should:
    "act in all respects independently of the Authority".
    A local advisory committee is appointed by the IBA to give advice to it in respect of services of local radio provided in an area. That is its role and it cannot perform that role independently of the authority. But, that aside, I hope that I may have persuaded the Committee that there is not the need to set aside in statute these local radio advisory committees and treat them in a way entirely different from that in which the other committees which are advisory to the IBA on other broadcasting functions are treated. However, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for giving us the opportunity to discuss this.

    I should like to thank the noble Lord for his response to this amendment, which I shall read with great interest in Hansard. I shall consider whether some other form of amendment concerning the activities of the local advisory committees might or might not be advisable at Report stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause 23 [ Duties of Authority with respect to programme contracts]:

    6.43 p.m.

    moved Amendment No. 52:

    Page 19, line 32, leave out ("of more than eight years") and insert ("exceeding the relevant maximum period").

    The noble Lord said: If your Lordships agree, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 53 and 55. These apparently rather complicated amendments have a simple effect. They are designed to provide that in certain instances the maximum duration of a programme contract shall be 10 rather than eight years.

    The need for this amendment arises from an undertaking which was given in another place that the Bill should place an obligation on the IBA to readvertise contracts when they come to an end. That obligation is to be included—if your Lordships agree—in Clause 23 by other amendments which I shall move in a little while. To establish an independent local radio station is an expensive business, and, now that the ILR network is extended to some of the less populated areas, intrinsically less profitable, so that the time it takes the new contractors serving these localities to cover their initial capital and to repay their losses is likely to be rather longer than has been the case with the stations already in existence. I shall try to explain any details if your Lordships wish, but that, basically, is the reason for these amendments. I beg to move.

    I hope that the Government have got it right. Ten years seems an appropriate period of time for a local radio station in, say, Truro or one of the less populated areas of the country. It might be too long a period for some of the urban areas. On the whole, my view is that 10 years is the right period for a radio station which is on its first contract, but that if one had a situation where a station was a reapplicant, there would be a case for a shorter contract. The problem here of course, as we know, is that the initial costs of setting up a station are considerable, and it should be a sufficient period of time to enable a station, with all the different circumstances which may take place in different areas, to know that it has a period of tenure in which it can recoup those initial costs and move into a profitable state. That will be a shorter or a longer period of time according, very largely, to the franchise which the particular contractors have obtained.

    I think that different criteria ought to apply to a reapplicant who will already have written off his initial costs in his first contract, and in his second contract a period of 10 years is perhaps too long a time. However, I accept that there would be difficulty in writing that sort of condition into the Bill.

    In moving this amendment, the noble Lord also spoke to Amendments Nos. 53 and 55. I have a specific question to ask the noble Lord relating to Amendment No. 55. Is there anything in Amendment No. 55 which would prevent the IBA from saying that it wished to have an additional number of franchises in a particular area? For example, if the IBA decided that in London it was right to have not two franchises but three, four or five, is there anything in this particular amendment which would restrict the IBA from taking that decision? Indeed, I know that the Director of Radio of the IBA has already said that the authority has it in mind to look again at the nature of "conurban franchises"—which is not a very nice expression, but I understand that that is what he said and what, in fact, was given in evidence to the Annan Commission by the IBA. I should be pleased if the noble Lord could answer that specific question.

    The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, said that he hoped the Government had got it right. Perhaps it is only fair that I should warn the noble Lord that I, personally, take the view at present that it is possible that on certain aspects the Government have got it wrong. However, perhaps I may assure the noble Lord that I shall not weary your Lordships' Committee at length, particularly at a time when your Lordships' time is under very severe constraints. However, I think that I should put up a marker with regard to certain of my doubts.

    It seems to me that collectively these amendments deal with what has come to be known as mandatory reselection. I listened to a number of arguments regarding mandatory reselection which emanated from Blackpool quite recently, and I think that I should tell the noble Lord that I was not entirely persuaded by them.

    The point I want to make is that as regards local radio in particular—and here I should declare an interest, as a director of an independent local radio company—I believe that this mandatory requirement for reselection could lead to certain difficulties. If we look at the total number of independent local radio companies and the requirements under the revised dates which the noble Lord gave us, the authority would have a mandatory requirement to re-advertise the contracts for, what?—six stations in a year. That would be a considerable burden on the authority's resources—resources which are necessarily limited. It could possibly have another rather dangerous effect. By monopolising and over-stretching those particular resources, it might have the effect of slowing up the authority's work in bringing forward new stations in areas which at present cannot receive independent local radio and which perhaps are hoping for it.

    There is another point which ought to be borne in mind and perhaps will be at a later stage when we will be dealing with this Bill. If the authority is finally and totally prohibited from ever allowing an existing contract to continue, despite the fact that it is satisfied with its work at that particular time, and therefore the authority knows or feels in its heart that it is going to renew the contract which at present exists, the mandatory requirement to re-advertise at that particular time could place a heavy burden on local investors who would be induced to get together in groups, go to an enormous amount of work and trouble in order to put forward what in the event are really fruitless bids.

    I know that the noble Lord, Lord Hill, on the first day of Committee said that, in so far as television contracts were concerned, the mandatory date of reselection was quite important. He told us that the way in which programmes started to improve as one came within two years of the deadline was quite remarkable. So far as television is concerned, it is also true that when one comes within two days of the reallocation of the franchises one will find a remarkable reluctance of television companies to invest major amounts of money in programme planning and making for a time. Sometimes this takes a very long time, and for a time which may be beyond the date on which they will be operating the franchise.

    In so far as local radio is concerned, the authority at the moment exercises a close scrutiny over the independent local radio stations, and undoubtedly has the power to withdraw franchises and contracts at any time if it so wishes. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Hill, on his argument that really programmes should be improving all the time, there should not be suddenly a period like the period before a general election, which also has certain effects on people. There should not be a kind of blank period like that. There should be a continuing scrutiny. I hope that continuing scrutiny will go on.

    I question for the moment this requirement to forbid the IBA ever to renew a contract without competition after the statutory period. I think that might possibly make the authority do its work less well than it now does. At the moment in this field I think we can trust the authority with its existing powers without hedging it in with specific dates and deadlines on a matter about which its resources are fairly limited and which causes a great deal of work. I merely make the point at the moment. Perhaps we shall return to it later.

    May I intervene for a moment? In moving the amendment I said that the need for the amendment arose from an undertaking which was given in another place that the Bill should place an obligation on the IBA to re-advertise contracts when they come to an end. I think I perhaps misled the Committee in a way, in that although that statement is true, of course the substance of the amendments I am moving, of which Amendment No. 55 is the really substantial one, refers to the consequences of that, which is that in Amendment No. 55 we are providing, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, I think will approve, that first contracts in new independent local radio areas, and only new contracts, shall be given a 10-year period to run, and it is for contracts which start operating after 1st January 1980.

    From what I understood of what the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, said, he will approve of that because he expressed doubt about other than new contracts being given this extra period to run. What it has meant is that the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, has spoken perhaps on what is a later amendment, No. 60, which we shall come to in a moment or two. It is when we come to Amendment No. 60 that I ought to try to reply to the points he made.

    I think I should also like to wait until we come to that amendment, in that case.

    The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, asked me a direct question, whether there was anything in Amendment No. 55 which would prevent the Independent Broadcasting Authority from having new stations within the area of existing stations. Although I am not going to say that I necessarily think that that would be desirable, there is nothing in Amendment No. 55 which would prevent that procedure from coming about. As the noble Lord is, I am sure, aware, recommendations for new local radio stations are in the first instance always put up by the Home Office Local Radio Working Party, which consists of representatives of the BBC, the IBA and the Home Office, with the final decision as to their licensing resting with the Home Secretary

    Is there not a quite different question involved here? If you are setting up a local radio station in an area which is not touched at the moment by a local radio station, then that is quite all right because you have no interests which are being adversely affected thereby. But if you are dividing up an area which is already covered, as I imagine you would be doing if it was all "conurban", there are aspects where you would almost think that questions of compensation might arise.

    It was really for this reason that I said I would not make any comment on the merits of such a move, but I added that the recommendations for all establishment of local radio stations have to come from a working party on which the IBA, the BBC, and the Home Office are represented. Therefore, it is not for representatives of the Government to say whether they think that such a move would be desirable. Such recommendations come from the Home Office Local Radio Working Party.

    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    moved Amendment No. 53:

    Page 19, line 35, leave out ("is longer than eight years") and insert ("exceeds the relevant maximum period").

    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    6.58 p.m.

    had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 54:

    Page 19, line 35, at end insert—
    ("(c) to enable members of the public in the contract area concerned to question any applicant or re-applicant for a contract for that area.").

    The noble Lord said: In this amendment there is, unfortunately, a printing error because it is in fact to amend page 20, line 6, to insert the word "there" and not on page 19, line 35. The numbers seem to have crept down from the noble Lord's earlier Amendment No. 53. In speaking to this amendment I should also like to speak—

    Would the noble Lord give way? If that is so, ought we not to take page 19, line 38 first?

    If that is your Lordships' wish, I call Amendment No. 55.