§ 3.17 p.m.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill as it now stands has taken account of a wealth of consultation, comment and debate. It was preceded by the Peacock Report of July 1986, the radio Green Paper of February 1987, the Home Affairs Committee report of June 1988 and the Broadcasting White Paper of November 1988. Each of these publications was based on, and in turn prompted, a mass of evidence, advice and representations. These ranged from expert technical analysis to the comments of many individual viewers and listeners—and to the general concern of the public, who are, as we all are, apprehensive of any form of change and also of the unknown.
This process of trying to get it right has not stopped with the 3,000 or so responses which we received to the White Paper. During the spring and summer of 1989, before the Bill was produced, the Government made a string of important announcements proposing a number of major changes to the proposals which we have made in the White Paper in the light of consultations that we had on it. The 1221 topics which were covered in these announcements included cable, ownership, quality requirements, Channel 4, transmission and the BBC night hours. These announcement all showed the Government's readiness to develop and, where necessary, to change the White Paper proposals where the arguments were persuasive.
The readiness of the Government to listen and to respond to sound arguments has been, as I think your Lordships will agree, continued during the consideration of the Bill in another place. Over 70 amendments were made to the Bill in the course of a Standing Committee of no fewer than 38 sittings. Moreover, as if that were not enough, over 500 government amendments were considered during the 17 hours of debate during the Report stage and were included in the Bill. Many of those amendments resulted directly from undertakings which were given in Committee. So no one can say that the Government have not listened or taken note of the understandable concerns which were expressed, and I believe that most people would agree that the Bill is now much better and more generally acceptable than it was when it was first introduced, and that it is indeed considerably better than people feared it would be after publication of the White Paper. I hope that your Lordships will agree that the "peaks" of anxiety have been removed and that there is now just a "gentle rolling countryside".
There is now a much wider consensus on many of the issues which are covered in the Bill than there was at the time of the White Paper proposals. To pick just two examples, many observers are now much happier with the ways in which the Bill safeguards quality on Channels 3 and 5, and the funding and constitutional position of Channel 4 than they were with the paragraphs about them in the White Paper. That does not mean, though, that, by some magic waving of my right honourable friend's wand, the Bill has now suddenly become perfect and unchangeable, or that the Government will cease to listen. We are already aware of some areas of concern—for instance, on religious broadcasting and on the transitional arrangements for cable—where we think that changes are still needed to improve the Bill yet further.
To the layman, radio is radio and television is television, but broadcasting in whatever form is fast changing—technologically, economically and culturally—and we would be wrong to assume that that will suddenly cease. It is not a static scene. Like an ant hill, it is always on the move; and I am only too well aware—with a certain amount of personal trepidation—that your Lordships bring together an unrivalled body of experience and expertise in broadcasting matters. If I may say so, it is quite a formidable prospect.
For all those reasons I have no doubt that the Bill will be further improved and refined as a result of consideration by your Lordships; but I would not, by that, wish to incite your Lordships to any unbridled bouts of enthusiasm, nor suggest that your Lordships might be stimulated by the unusual experience of yesterday evening.
Some noble Lords may be tempted to ask two questions: first, why is the Bill so long? Secondly, 1222 why has it changed so much? That might be wrongly interpreted, if I may say so, as showing that the Government's plans were not properly thought out in the first place. Perhaps I could deal with both these matters before noble Lords opposite become too enthusiastic.
It is true that this is one of the longest Bills which has ever been prepared by the Home Office and, if I may say so, that is no mean feat; but there are good reasons for that. The Bill will replace, entirely, the two major preceding broadcasting statutes: the Broadcasting Act 1981 and the Cable and Broadcasting Act of 1984. What is more, the subjects with which it deals range far more widely than did both of those Acts taken together. The 1981 Act concentrated on independent terrestrial broadcasting. The 1984 Act focused on cable. The Bill reforms the legal framework for independent television and cable in Parts I and II, but it also deals with many other matters.
Parts I and II also cover both types of satellite broadcasting: direct broadcasting by satellite, which is commonly called DBS, and non-domestic satellite broadcasting, commonly called non-DBS. To those of your Lordships who are not wholly familiar with these terms I should explain that DBS refers to those services which operate on frequencies which are allocated to the United Kingdom for broadcasting. British satellite broadcasting, which is called BSB, falls into that category. Non-DBS refers to those broadcasting services such as Sky which use other types of frequency. Parts I and II also cover microwave transmission, and what the Bill calls "additional services"; in other words, text, data and other services which use the spare capacity of broadcasting signals. Part I also covers what are called "licensable programme services". An example would be a channel which is delivered in tape form to a cable system.
Part III provides for a much wider range of independent radio stations, including three new national services and many new small stations serving local communities.
Part VI puts the Broadcasting Standards Council on a statutory basis.
Part VII deals with the extension to broadcasting of the law of obscenity and incitement to racial hatred.
Part VIII contains measures against pirate broadcasting.
Part IX deals with copyright matters such as that lovely expression "needletime" and programme listings.
Part X ranges over unacceptable foreign satellite services, the implementation of the United Kingdom's international obligations, independent producers and other matters.
Other parts of the Bill provide for the privatisations of the Independent Broadcasting Authority's transmission system.
The Bill also covers a number of more specific, but nevertheless important, topics such as the funding of Gaelic television, listed sporting events, preservation of a public teletext service similar to the present 1223 Oracle service, and improved targets for subtitling for the deaf on independent terrestrial television. The breadth of these topics is, frankly, vast. We seek to put in place a comprehensive new system of independent broadcasting regulation. That is brought about, not because of some mischievous desire on the part of the Government to upset the existing broadcasting and television system, which most of us value, respect and cherish, but mainly because the changes which technology has produced, and the rapidity of those changes, have resulted in our existing laws being totally out of date and inadequate. New opportunities, methods and systems are not only open to us but are actually in use and the law has to be changed to accommodate them, to encourage them and, up to a point, to control them.
We have to look ahead to the remaining years of this century and on into the next. The pace of technological change and the range of developing or potential new services which have to be regulated mean that piecemeal tinkering with existing legislation simply would not do. As well as covering the new services which are not mentioned in previous legislation, such as the new Channel 5, the Bill at a number of points replaces discretionary regulation with a clearer, more objective set of rules. An example is the comprehensive ownership rules which are set out in Schedule 2. Our aim has been to give people, such as potential bidders for licences, the clearest possible indication of what the qualifying rules will be, rather than to leave them, as has happened in the past, to guess how regulatory discretion might be exercised. That, too, has sometimes necessitated fuller treatment than in previous legislation, although we have tried to build in mechanisms for taking account of future changes in the broadcasting system. For all those reasons, the Bill inevitably has to be wide-ranging if it is to do its job properly.
The second related question is whether the changes which have been made to the Bill imply that the Government's original plans were not properly thought out. I think not. The Bill continues to reflect the fundamental principles which underlaid the White Paper. Our chief aims were, and, indeed still are as follows. First, to allow viewers and listeners to be able to take advantage of the increased choice which is opening up. Secondly to provide clear and up-to-date safeguards for those things which cannot be left to the unpredictability of increased competition, such as programme quality, programme diversity, regional identity, different and widespread ownership of broadcasting companies, and proper geographical coverage. Thirdly, to ensure that there are programme standards which have to be achieved in matters of taste, decency, accuracy and balance—and to extend them to all UK-based broadcasters.
Those are the objectives which we have had, and they are all embodied in the Bill. We have endeavoured not to be dogmatic or intransigent about the means by which we achieve those ends. The Bill deals with an immensely complex subject and one which is subject to constant change. It would 1224 have been foolish to reject good arguments just through some kind of governmental intransigence, and we have not done so.
In the Government's view the Bill, as it now stands, gives effect to the underlying objectives, which I have mentioned, more accurately and more precisely than it did when it was first published; and for that we are grateful for the advice and suggestions which we have received from many quarters, especially from Members of another place.
Your Lordships may find it helpful if I briefly outline the main changes which were made in another place. First, we have further strengthened the quality requirements for Channels 3 and 5. Your Lordships may recall that the announcement of 13th June 1989 included an additional requirement that licensees must provide a reasonable proportion of programmes—in addition to news and current affairs—of high quality. In another place, still further requirements were added for children's and religious programming, and for high quality regional news.
The Independent Television Commission has also been empowered to publish a guide to the kind of elements which they would expect to see covered in a programme service in order that it can satisfy the need to cater for a wide range of tastes and interests. All these changes reinforce the intention that no applicant for a franchise shall get as far as the comparison of financial bids unless the range and quality of his programming proposals can satisfy really exacting tests.
Next, I draw attention to the strengthening of the regional requirements for Channel 3. The White Paper proposed that licensees should be required to show regional programming, including programmes which have been produced in the region. Changes which were made in another place include scope for companies whose areas cover distant and different identities, to transmit simultaneously programmes which can be aimed at the different areas within their region. They also gave power for the Independent Television Commission to require applicants to specify what regional resources and facilities they planned to use and the requirement that Scotland should not be a single franchise area. As well as demonstrating the Government's commitment to a genuinely regional Channel 3 system, these changes will also have the effect of making even more exacting the requirements which any bidders from European Community countries would have to satisfy.
Perhaps the most talked about amendments in another place were the additions to the "exceptional circumstances" provision, which were written into the Bill to make it clear, beyond peradventure, that exceptionally high quality can displace the highest money bid—even though the highest bidder has himself already passed the quality threshold. This means that, where an applicant is head and shoulders above the rest, the Independent Television Commission will be able to award the licence to him even though he may not be the highest bidder. The Independent Television Commission will be able to apply this test to each franchise separately.
The Bill also now explicitly recognises the importance of training. It has been amended to 1225 enable the Independent Television Commission to require applicants for Channel 3, Channel 5 and national commercial radio licences to state what provision for training they propose to make in order to back up their programming plans.
The main change on radio is that the Bill now includes an external diversity requirement for national commercial radio. This means that the three new stations must be different from each other. The Bill also now says that one of these stations must be a speech-based service and another must be devoted to music other than pop music—and I am sure that that will please some of your Lordships. It will not all be; "Thump, thump, thump"! These changes should ensure that listeners get genuine diversity of choice from the new national services, and they should also mean that the new stations will provide competition to BBC radio right across the board.
Some of the other significant changes which were made in another place include the amendment to preserve a public teletext service similar to the present Oracle service; the curtailing of police powers with regard to material which is suspected of being obscene or of being liable to promote racial hatred; targets for subtitling for the deaf on Channels 3 and 5 which will mean subtitling on half the programme output within five years.
As your Lordships will see, a great deal has already been done to improve the Bill and the Government have responded happily where a good case has been made. I think that these changes will result in there being increased choice while, at the same time, safegaurding quality and standards.
However, it is right that I should give your Lordships notice of a few other matters which are engaging our attention and where further changes may be needed. The first concerns religious broadcasting. We frankly doubt whether the "no undue prominence" and "no editorialising" rules are quite right for religious broadcasting. We intend to replace them with a requirement that religious broadcasting by any licensee should be responsible and that it should not be exploitative.
Secondly, we are proposing to make revised arrangements for the renewal of cable franchises. We also want to enable the Independent Television Commission to take account of coverage proposals in the award of local delivery licences. Thirdly, we want to tighten the laws on subscription piracy. Fourthly, there are a few additions which we would like to make to the transitional and technical provisions in the Bill. Fifthly, we would like to empower the Independent Television Commission to safeguard national television archiving arrangements. The cultural and social benefits which a television archive yields might otherwise be jeopardised.
There remain, from the discussions in another place, a few other outstanding matters on which the Government hope to reach a view shortly. These include transitional networking, the arrangements for performance bonds and needletime—which is an important, though technical, subject to do with copyright in records which are played on the radio.
1226 I have tried to give some indication of the breadth of the Bill, and of the reasons why a comprehensive reform of broadcasting is needed now and the means by which we hope to achieve it. I know that there are various matters in which a number of your Lordships have a keen interest and which I have not mentioned nor indeed even skated over. This was not a deliberate or crafty manoeuvre to avoid difficult subjects but simply a desire to limit the ordeal to which your Lordships have been subjected by having to listen to an even longer speech than that with which your Lordships have shown remarkable patience. I shall, nevertheless, look forward to hearing about these other issues either today or over the coming weeks.
I think that this Bill will lead to much wider choice, without sacrificing quality or standards—and that is very important. It will also result in a more competitive, diverse and creative broadcasting industry—and that is important. These outcomes, far from being incompatible, will in fact reinforce each other. The Bill still raises, I realise, deep issues on which many noble Lords will perfectly properly take differing philosophical positions. But I believe that its provisions now command a much wider consensus of approval than they did before. I have no doubt that the Bill will emerge further improved from your Lordships' House, to the benefit of viewers and listeners throughout the United Kingdom. I beg to move.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Earl Ferrers.)
§ 3.38 p.m.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, perhaps I may first thank the Minister for his usual concise and very good explanation of the Bill. Like many of us, he did not get to bed early last night and it looks like a late night tonight. I also look forward to hearing the four maiden speeches today from my noble friend Lord Morris of Castle Morris, the right reverend prelate, the Bishop of Peterborough, the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow and my very old friend, the noble Lord, Lord Grade.
As the Minister said, what started life as a document of 159 pages has turned into the hefty 217-page document which we have before us today. When it first emerged it cost £11.30. Now, so many months later, it has grown from 167 clauses and 12 schedules to 182 clauses and 17 schedules. It now costs £14.10; that is probably due to its weight, together with a spot of inflation.
Last year the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw—who unfortunately is not speaking in this debate—published his memoirs. His comments on broadcasting are still highly relevant today. He wrote:I am fearful of some of the ideas being put forward because I do not want to destroy a much-admired broadcasting system before we are quite certain of what we want to put in its place. I am also disturbed by talk of achieving higher standards in programmes at the same time as proposals are introduced leading to deregulation and greater financial competition … I cannot believe that they are basically compatible".That is a timely warning that broadcasting cannot safely be left to the mercies of profit maximising 1227 and market forces, nor indeed to the unregulated self-interest of broadcasters themselves.
As the noble Earl quite rightly pointed out, the Bill before us is a substantial improvement on the original. The Government should be congratulated on listening to and acting on the pressures from the Opposition and others. However, I must disabuse him if he believes that we shall enter an area of gentle rolling countryside. I believe that at times it will be a lot rougher than that.
The noble Earl also emphasised the "exceptional circumstances" concession made by the Government in another place. My noble friends and I will have points to raise on that very difficult definition of quality and the way in which the "exceptional circumstances" provision is applied.
I was very pleased to hear that among the items which the noble Earl said that the Government would bring forward will be amendments to protect archives. That pleases me and it will please the British Film Institute and a great many others.
Nevertheless, the main thrust of the Bill remains intact. Just as the White Paper emphasised competition over choice and quality, the Bill still bears all the hallmarks of an obsession with the market place. Despite the greater discretion allowed to the ITC to accept bids of exceptional quality, the essential ingredient remains money, not for better programmes but for the Treasury. That is a denial of the philosophy which has always underpinned British broadcasting in the commercial sector as well as in the BBC. It is the emphasis on range and quality which has given us our unique international reputation. So far this year the BBC has won 132 national and international awards, and it is still only June. ITV won the Golden Rose at Montreaux; Channel 4 the silver award; and Yorkshire Television won BAFTA and Emmy awards for a documentary. That is not a comprehensive list.
That has not happened by chance. From the break-up of the BBC monopoly Parliament has carefully responded to technological change, public demand and broadcaster initiative to create a differentiated television and radio system which provides information, education and entertainment in a framework of quality, choice and diversity.
The Government propose to replace that regulatory system with a free market. There will be regulation but as the Government themselves have emphasised, there will be a much lighter touch than in the past. There has not been a very heavy touch in the past, except on a few occasions.
We should ask ourselves what benefits the move to the free market will bring. It has brought American viewers a surfeit of game shows and soaps, with documentaries and drama virtually forgotten forms found only in the archives and museums of the creative arts or—and this is the important point for us—imported from this country. For the majority of Americans choice on the networks is an illusion. I received a letter at the weekend from a friend who has taken up an academic appointment in media and communications in America. The letter said:All that you said about American television is absolutely true. I am reading many more books these days".1228 That may be a good thing from one point of view—I see the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, smiling. However, it does not say much for the quality of television.
On this side of the House our worry is how the new set-up will enable broadcasters to spend the vast sums of money needed to make good documentaries and dramas, because they are not cheap, as we all know. Cable and satellite are no substitute for high quality terrestrial services. That is not to say that we do not have to take note of and go along with technological changes. However, neither service is yet universally available and the viewer has to pay extra for them. Therefore the four terrestrial channels will continue to constitute the core of most people's viewing opportunities.
Regarding Channel 3, Clause 16(2)(b) gives cause for anxiety in the subtle change in its requirements for programme range compared with the 1981 Act. The Bill fails to guarantee the diversity it freely promises. Though in news and current affairs there is to be a statutory guarantee that the public will be offered such output in peak viewing times, no such proviso exists for other programmes of high quality. Indeed, there is a repetition of the words "sufficient time" which I find very worrying. Perhaps the Minister will be able to define that better and tell us what constitutes sufficient time, what is insufficient, and where the line is to be drawn between them.
In contrast, the 1981 Act rightly imposed a duty on the IBA to ensure programmes of a high general standard in each area in all respects—range, content and quality. It also insisted that it had regard both to the programmes as a whole and also to the days of the week and the times of the day when programmes are to be broadcast. Noble Lords will agree that that makes all the difference in the world.
Education and educational programmes are incorporated in the 1981 statute, unlike this Bill. I shall say no more on education as my noble friend Baroness David will deal with that aspect.
The future of a quality news service is by no means as certain as the Government appeared to think during the passage of the Bill through the other place. The mix of news provision and the market is still uneasy. It would be a tragedy if the high quality of ITN news was to be lost through changes in ownership and share distribution. That is a point which we shall have to take up later, but I know that it is a matter on which my noble friend Lord Ardwick wishes to speak.
For all those reasons it is essential that we ensure that stability and adequate funding of our terrestrial sector continues. However, there are four major flaws that threaten that stability as the Bill now stands. First, there is the question of the moratorium. If, as the Government have argued, the new system needs some stability, what clearly needs to be written into the Bill is a moratorium on take-overs. It would start from the award of the licence and I believe that it should run until two years after the start of broadcasting in order to give contractors time to gear their broadcasting services to the new licensing regulations. Such a moratorium would offer stability to the system.
It is strange that although there seemed to be general support and approval in the other place for 1229 such a moratorium the Government would not move on the issue. At Report stage, of the 11 Members who spoke on the subject eight were Conservatives. All of them supported the moratorium, but the Government would not accept an amendment. The Bill remains as it is—I hope for us to alter. I believe that it is not a party matter but one of common sense and of stability.
It would enable companies to plan ahead. It would enable them to spend time on programme creativity rather than having to look over their shoulder in case someone is waiting to catch up with them and take them over, which creates financial uncertainty. Perhaps most important of all, it would encourage all would-be licensees to be out in the open. Without the protection of a moratorium, a company with a dislike of competitive tendering in all its dimensions could stay on the sidelines and then move in after other licences have been awarded to try to pick off a desirable licensee.
Secondly, there is the question of networking. The present ITV system is regionally based, but, especially at peak hours, programmes are usually networked throughout the UK. The uncertain status of networking is the second major flaw that we want to see amended. Again, that applies to noble Lords on all sides of the House. The IBA is surely right in pressing for clarification, but one point is in danger of being neglected. Under the existing network arrangements, smaller franchise holders have effectively been squeezed out of prime time by the big five ITV companies. It would be ironic and frustrating to choice and true regionalism if the smaller companies were virtually excluded.
However, legislation will be required, whatever is agreed between the companies. The ITC must be able to enforce the networking requirements and must have the necessary legislation in the Bill to enable it to do so. Clause 2 obligations are not enough as written into the Bill at present. The ITV companies do not disagree with that, although they are determined to establish a fair and effective network for the transitional period, assuming that they reach agreement before we reach the next stage of the Bill.
I shall mention the question of cross-media ownership only briefly as I know that a number of other noble Lords intend to speak on that subject at greater length. We on this side of the House have for a long time been concerned about the way in which newspapers, radio and television and cable and satellite companies are bought up by a relatively small number of media owners, which restricts the number who control the communications industry of this country. Restricting cross-ownership to 20 per cent. holdings appears in several parts of the Bill and we support that. However, the Bill should also face up to the special treatment accorded to non-domestic satellite broadcasting which to some of us smacks of political partisanship.
It is important that the ownership of non-domestic satellite services is kept under constant review, perhaps with an understanding that, when the audience reaches a certain level—for example, 3 million—the owner's combinations of media influence have become excessive and must be 1230 reduced. That should apply even if the 20 per cent. figure is adhered to, which is certainly not the case at present as regards Sky.
Another serious threat to the stability of Channel 3 is the Government's failure to limit the number of bids any one company can make to avoid a great deal of multiple bidding. Each company will be able to own two licences, which we on this side of the House think is wrong. I believe that one television licence is enough for anyone. As the Bill stands, there is nothing to prevent a company from entering bids—indeed, one for all of the 15 licences. How much better it would be if there were a one-licence-one-bid situation which would be both simple and more competitive.
It is clear that such multiple bidding will lead to unnecessary and unjustifiable chaos as it will set the ITV companies at each other's throats. There could be chaos at the ITC, which may well have to sift through 10 times the number of applications that it would otherwise receive. Indeed, the ITC could end up with a situation in which one company is found to offer the highest bid and the highest quality of progamming in five or six franchise areas. How, then, is the allocation of franchises to be decided? The House must certainly take a hard look at that matter.
Adding to the realm of uncertainty is the advent of the mysterious Channel 5 which at present exists in a legislative vacuum. I hope that the Minister will be able to enlighten us when he winds up. What is the channel's remit? How is it to be funded? What proportion of the country will be covered? How much will it cost franchise winners to set it up, including the cost of retuning every video in the country? There is then the danger that Channels 3 and 5 will drag each other down competing for the same slice of advertising cake as resources will be more thinly spread. That is almost a jump into the unknown as no one knows how the advertising side will work out.
The proposals for Channel 5, such as they are, are even less well worked out than the proposals for the three national radio services where there is more clarity and specificity than for Channel 5. As the Minister pointed out, one channel is intended mainly for speech, another for serious music and a third for pop, but the great feature that is missing is a quality threshold. Unlike the television licences, there is no quality threshold for the national radio services. Many of us believe that such a threshold should be included. There is also a great deal of concern about community radio, but I shall not deal with that issue now.
The Government want to preserve some regulation, but sometimes in rather unfortunate areas. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, as chairman of the Broadcasting Standards Council, will forgive me if I refer to the BSC as otiose. That is not a personal remark. I now realise that he left the Chamber a few moments ago. If one intends to criticise someone, it is always better to do so when the person concerned is there. It is rather annoying to criticise an empty seat, and one also feels that one is being rather unfair. The council has now been given statutory credibility and will be able to initiate 1231 complaints itself under Clause 142(7). That could create regulatory havoc by cutting across the responsibilities of the ITC and radio authorities.
My personal view is that they probably do not have enough to do so they have to work out jobs for themselves. Given that there is already the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, it seems wrong that we should need two bodies of that kind. We do not need an extra censor in this country when we are busy trying to get rid of the others. The Government also insist on retaining the right of veto over members of the Channel 4 Corporation, which seems to me to be quite wrong.
Perhaps I may now turn briefly to the BBC. Although it is hardly mentioned in the Bill and its mood is one of current optimism, the implications for the corporation when its Royal Charter comes up for review in 1996 are considerable. The Minister in another place has said that the new Channel 3 will be pitched,a notch below public service broadcasting".That would mean the BBC having to compete with a lower quality and agressively competitive mass audience commercial television. The Government have said that, against that, the BBC must stand as the cornerstone of public service broadcasting. However, if they carry out their threat to increase the licence fee in 1991 by less than the retail price index, the BBC could spiral into long-term decline.
There are many aspects of the Bill with which I have not dealt, but, given the number of speakers, I do not think that it would be welcome if I did so. I am sure that, in view of the number of speakers, almost every aspect of the Bill will be covered.
Finally, public service broadcasting may have an old fashioned ring to it but it is the structure which gives British broadcasting such prestige. Since children now spend more time watching television than at school it is essential that they receive a balanced diet of viewing which mixes fun with a wide education by stealth. However light or serious the programme, the quality factor distinguishes the good programme from the bad. If standards decline there is a great danger that future generations will grow up quite indifferent to the sort of quality that they watch. They will not ask for anything better because, unlike us, they will not have experienced anything better on television.
Despite the concessions and the promises to maintain the traditional objectives of public service broadcasting up to a point, the regulatory touch is, I fear, too light and the drafting of the Bill too loose, with grave omissions, for my noble friends and myself to have any confidence that the best broadcasting system in the western world will remain so. We intend to do what we can to improve the Bill and fulfil our responsibility to our children and grandchildren.
§ 4 p.m.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
My Lords, I join with the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, in paying tribute to the good humoured as well as very clear way in 1232 which the noble Earl, indefatigable after his ordeal last night, introduced this Bill. When I last spoke about the Government's broadcasting policy in the debate on the gracious Speech, I took a rather poor view of the Broadcasting Bill that was about to be introduced. I agree with the noble Earl. I am bound to say that the Bill which he has just described is a great deal better than the one that was originally introduced in another place. If politics is the art of the possible, the Minister in another place deserves a great deal of credit as a successful practitioner of what is possible with a Prime Minister who is well known to be somewhat prejudiced about broadcasters and with a Treasury that is anxious to squeeze the television contractors for cash until the pips squeak.
The noble Earl loyally did his best to explain the reasons for the substantial changes that have taken place in the Bill. In my parliamentary experience I cannot remember a Bill that was so changed between its introduction into another place and its emergence from it. It would be churlish for me to do other than congratulate the new team at the Home Office on having been able to bring about those changes. But changes, however welcome, cannot change a basically bad Bill into a good one.
There are good things in the Bill. With a Bill consisting of 182 clauses and 18 schedules—the noble Baroness underestimated the number of schedules—it would be strange if there were not a number of good things in it. The new national commercial radio channels, the spread of community radio and the opportunity for ethnic stations offer the chance of a much wider range of choice in sound broadcasting. The expansion of satellite and cable broadcasting offers the viewer the possibility—I emphasise the word "possibility"—of more up-to-date films, of a 24-hour news service (which Sky Channel is already doing well) and specialist theme channels for those who are enthusiasts for one form or another of sport or cultural pursuit.
Much will depend on how these new developments are shaped. But it seems certain that the new satellite and cable services will take time to grow. Therefore I believe that until the end of the century at least—I have always said it—the existing terrestrial channels of the BBC and independent television will remain the main popular viewing. It is important to the viewer and listener that they are allowed to retain that character and quality which are widely admired around the world.
I had the good luck to be at Montreux—the noble Baroness mentioned the Golden Rose Festival at Montreux—when a commercial company in this country, Thames Television, for the first time in the history of that award, won all the three major prizes for the quality of its light entertainment. I mention that because quality programmes are sometimes thought of as being highbrow programmes of one kind or another. Quality programmes are quality programmes right across the range. When we come to examine the Bill in detail at Committee stage we shall no doubt want to emphasise that point.
The trouble at the heart of this Bill is that it undermines and dilutes to a quite unnecessary degree 1233 the public service character of ITV and it will inevitably lower its overall quality. Beyond the Bill—I understand that my noble friend Lord Bonham-Carter will speak on this matter—looms the threat, so long as the present Conservative approach to broadcasting prevails, to the way in which the BBC is financed and its character as the foundation stone of British broadcasting.
In the euphoria caused by Mr. Mellor's sensible concessions in another place, it is well to remember his frank admission during the Committee stage of the Bill that the new Channel 3 will be—in his phrase—"a notch below public service broadcasting". George Russell, my successor as IBA chairman, for whose determination to defend quality I have a very great respect, also made the comment that Channel 3 would perhaps be about 80 per cent. of the quality of present ITV. Those are realistic remarks. In fact they may be optimistic remarks.
What is important to bear in mind is that the fundamental change which the Government are bringing about takes away the continuing duty and obligation of the regulatory body (the IBA in the past) to seek to maintain standards. The ITC will have a public duty to try to ensure quality at the moment that it gives the licences, but after that its obligations are very different from those that have existed until now in commercial broadcasting in this country. I believe that it will be important to seek to strengthen Clause 2 of the Bill to impose more clearly a public duty on the ITC and on the Radio Authority to maintain standards as time goes on and indeed 1o give Parliament regular reviews of the way in which the quality of the service is in fact being maintained.
I fully concede that the Government have strengthened the hand of the new ITC with the provisions spelt out in Clause 17(3) for awarding a contract in exceptional circumstances to an applicant who has not submitted the highest bid if the ITC judges that the quality of his proposal is substan;ially higher. So far so good, but I find it hard to believe that it is practical—I speak with some experience of being chairman of a public authority—for a public authority to give quality exceptional priority over price in more than a minority of the applications that will come before the ITC without destroying the credibility of the Government's own highest bid system. In the great majority of cases it is the largest sum of money and cash that will count. For my part I should much have preferred, if the Government wish to make a basic change in these procedures, to have had a situation in which they set a fair price for a television contract and then it was for the ITC to decide which bidder at that price would provide the best quality for the viewers.
As the noble Baroness said, the Government propose to make this situation worse by an extraordinarily stubborn refusal so far to meet the IBA's reasonable request for a moratorium on takeover bids for a limited period. I agree with the noble Baroness that it could be perhaps two years after the new contracts have been awarded. I shall not repeat her arguments but I am sure that the Government are in no doubt that this will be a 1234 matter for change which your Lordships will want to press on the Government when the Committee stage takes place.
There are two other areas in which the Government's obsession with the market place will do serious harm to the quality of independent television unless there are further amendments. The noble Baroness has mentioned both of them. Since I am aware of the number of other speakers, I shall try not to repeat in detail what she said.
I shall speak first of the need for a network provision to be written into the Bill for the new Channel 3. The present network arrangements for ITV mean that some smaller television companies take 90 per cent. of the programme from the national network and serve their own local areas well with regional programming. The Government, I think for perverse reasons, seem to prefer to leave it to the market place for the television contractors to make arrangements that will serve the viewer well. I do not believe that it can be left in that way. It is very important to have the word "network" in the statute; and to have proper provision laid down for maintaining it. The ITC are right to seek a transitional power in order to set up their own network arrangements and to set them out in the licence for those who wish to bid for the new contracts.
I support what the noble Baroness has said regarding news broadcasting. I understand the Government's concern to have as much competition as is proper in the provision of broadcast news. However, the provision of broadcast news is a very difficult, very expensive and very painstaking operation. One of the jewels in the British broadcasting crown is the competition for excellence between two marvellous television news services: the BBC and ITN. It takes a long time to build up an international and national news service of quality. One can destroy it at a statutory stroke very easily. It is similar to creating a great school or college. There is organic growth involved. If one alters the administrative and legislative structure one can do great damage.
ITN seeks a more commercial framework for its operation. That is in keeping with the times in which we live. I have no doubt that ITN would benefit from having outside commercial shareholders who would either stimulate or give it new horizons. But it is very important in principle that the majority ownership of the national news service remains with the contractors who under the Bill's proposals have the statutory obligation to maintain news of high quality.
The noble Baroness referred to the important issues of cross-media ownership. Those are issues of principle, not of personalities. The Bill repeats the long-established provision that newspaper proprietors in Britain should not own more than 20 per cent. of television companies serving British viewers. That is to ensure that broadcasting channels remain reasonably independent and free from domination by the print media where, at national level, there is too much concentration of ownership.
1235 I hope that the House will reassert this principle unequivocally during the Committee stage of the Bill while seeking to find a fair and equitable formula to deal with the special, and admittedly difficult, case of News International's ownership of Sky which has now been operating for some period. The phrase used is a non-domestic satellite service. It is important to recollect that Sky operates from Isleworth in London. It seeks to provide its entertainment and news services to the British audience. It happens to use a satellite that is based in Luxembourg but it is operating within the United Kingdom framework. The House needs to give serious consideration to that situation.
The ordinary viewer has a big interest in one aspect of the relationship between the new satellite broadcasters and the traditional terrestrial channels—that is the access to major sporting events. The noble Earl mentioned that point in his opening remarks. In the public interest, those whose main viewing for many years ahead will be from the BBC, and Channel 3, should continue to have the free access to the great sporting events that they have hitherto enjoyed. It would be totally wrong if such events were to be exclusively in the ownership of some subscription channel, as happened in West Germany last summer with the Wimbledon championships. It is perfectly true that there is a common commercial interest for the terrestrial broadcasters and the new broadcasters to do deals together. But the public interest needs the guarantee of a provision written into the Bill to ensure the principle that I have enunciated.
Finally, I refer to some substantial matters relating to radio. Radio so often tends to become overshadowed by the discussion about television. There is a need to strengthen the radio authority's duty to lay down a quality threshold for local services, as they are obliged to do for the new national services. Radio also deserves a special deal on transmission costs, as has been provided for television. Without some element of cross-subsidy—a word that is very offensive these days to the marketeers in the Conservative Party—the smaller rural radio services will be driven to the wall. From these Benches we propose the setting up of a rural radio fund. That will ensure that the cost of transmitters can be related to what the market can bear from advertising and other revenue. That is already conceded for television. Linked to that is the need for much sharper limitations on the ownership of radio stations than those specified in the Bill.
There are many other matters, but I shall not take time over them now. I remind the House that although we shall have immensely detailed discussions, behind the Bill lies perhaps the major influence on the daily lives of most people these days in terms of news, comments and entertainment. It is the single most important political and cultural influence on the life of the nation. There are big issues behind the detail of the Bill. I hope that the noble Earl will seek, as I am sure he will, to emulate his colleague in the Home Office and another place and emerge with a Bill at Third Reading that is even 1236 more greatly improved from the present one now before us on Second Reading.
I join with the noble Baroness in saying how much the House will look forward to the series of maiden speeches that we are about to hear. The noble Lord, Lord Grade, with his great experience in independent television, finally comes to the House to share his views with us. My noble friend Lord Glasgow will make his maiden speech. I look forward immediately to listening to the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Peterborough
My Lords, I begin by joining the other speakers in paying tribute to the Minister who with great concern and courtesy has dealt with all the matters that we brought to him at various times. We are thankful to him for that.
I wish to speak in general about the Bill. I am a member of the Broadcasting Standards Council. I shall not speak of the Broadcasting Standards Council although the noble Baroness has tempted me sorely. Instead, I shall speak of my particular experience. One of the requirements of the council is research. As a consequence, we have entertained a major Gallup poll type of work. We have set up a number of study groups. We toured the nation meeting with different groups of people. We met with young mothers in Aberdeen, students in Southampton, the religious in York (most appropriately), teachers in Liverpool, and, most interestingly, those involved with law and order in Glasgow. We asked those people what they looked for in television. We asked the viewer. In all the masses of paper that I have received, viewers seem to be regarded as either consumers or people who should be done good to. No one has spoken for the viewer himself or herself. We asked them what they liked. All of them liked soap operas. There was no question that "Neighbours" was riding high. It was followed by the interminable "Coronation Street", "East Enders" and "Emmerdale Farm" in the great tradition of story telling from the beginning of time. Plainly, people like stories. They like entertainment and amusement. They like sport rather less but, in view of the amount of air time it has, that is the most powerful lobby in the country. We know that more people go to church on Sundays than go to football matches on Saturdays, yet football receives more air time than us, and we should like to ask some questions about that aspect.
More importantly, we also asked people what they did not like. We discovered that the British people are extremely tolerant. There are few bigots among us, and there are few wild libertarians. I wish to comment on four issues which, as a result of our encounters, we discovered people found not only dislikable but caused them anxiety and offence. They raised those issues with us.
First is violence. Cowboys, Indians and cartoons are accepted in a cultural shape. They are part of the violence which has existed in literature from the beginning. Somehow it is acceptable. However, as we move to programmes which are based on situations more like those of the viewer—for example, cops and robbers and the news—people begin to change 1237 their views. They are concerned in measurable ways about violence against women, children and animals. The concept of respect for people appears to be large. In either news or entertainment programmes people do not care to see the respect of others violated.
In the same way such respect exists towards the handling of funerals. As a professional in that area, I object to the ballyhoo- type ritual which now exists whereby we photograph with loving care the coffin going into the church. If the vicar or bishop is foolish enough, we photograph inside the church where he will say his obligatory 15 words of banality and then we shall watch the mourners coming out. I am not alone in finding that deeply offensive. For a long time I have buried people, and I hope to continue to do so for a great deal longer. It is a matter for privacy, respect and care, and such handling to which people take objection is a form of violence.
However, there were exceptions to that view about the handling of violence. The police inspector in Glasgow said that he thought we should show violence in its totality. He said that he saw no reason why his young police men and women should have to wade through the blood and bones of a motor crash caused by someone's drunken foolishness while it was sanitised for us. He said that people ought to see what was there. Through the kindness of the BBC I have seen the unedited version of the Heysel stadium disaster. It was sanitised for our consumption. I well understand why people do not want the English in Europe. If I saw the unedited version on my screen, I should not want the English in Europe. Arguments and sub-arguments were put to us for there being a place for violence which has a message. However, for the most part people find it deeply offensive.
A similar attitude exists towards sex. The English are unworried by nudity; it is in the great English tradition of vulgarity and enjoyment. It does not appear to concern them. However, they are deeply worried about exploitation and titillation. They see the value of a film. If I may be specific, the "Singing Detective" had at its heart a powerful sexual scene. You did not understand the "Singing Detective" as a piece of work unless you realised the significance of that scene. By and large people would take it that way. However, there are other works (for example, the early James Bond films) where sexual scenes are introduced because the plot is lacking, the viewer is becoming bored and reaching for his popcorn or going out to make his tea. Therefore, one puts in a sexual scene to hold the viewer. There is a strong feeling that such titillation is inappropriate.
Times have changed. I could not have said that easily in the 1960s but I can say it now because the consideration of sex is now surrounded by the consideration of AIDS, child abuse and the realisation of the slavery of prostitution. People realise that in talking about films and in portraying sex they are selling short that which is significant. The objections are strong in that way.
Thirdly, people have a real concern for unsuitable language. We went to Newcastle and met 10 men from the shipyard who, in the course of their work, would use language of some richness. One returned home end discovered that his six year-old son had 1238 called his four year-old sister a word which suggested that she was not of proper parentage. I had intended to use the word that he used, but I have been advised by another right reverend Prelate that it would be inappropriate to do so in my maiden speech.
During the course of his work, the father uses that word 50 times a day because it is the way to handle things; that is vaguely like a bishops' meeting. But such words are not to be used at home. The home is sacred. It is not a two-standard business. The home is where you were nurtured and where your children are nurtured. The television set is the guest in the corner, and guests in your home behave in a certain way. They do not bring into the home words which you do not want to be brought into the home. Whereas in times past one had always felt vaguely embarrassed when protesting about bad language, we discovered as we travelled around the country that people are changing. They accept some words but believe that others should not be brought into their homes.
Fourthly, we came across a major anxiety concerning children. The vast majority of people in the country know of the watershed and of its timing and significance. The students to whom we talked are just as concerned to protect their younger brothers and sisters as I am to protect my granddaughter. They too are concerned about the children. However, we encountered a major problem; two out of three households in this country have no children. The vast number of children have television sets in their bedrooms. We know that a marginal proportion of them are watching television at 10 p.m., 11 p.m. and midnight. When we were asked to describe the closed period in the morning it had to be said that it should begin at 5.30 a.m. because that is the time when some children put on their television sets in their rooms. However, all round there is a feeling that the children should be cared for. They were the voices of the people to whom we spoke and who, in long meetings, spoke back to us not to please us but to speak their minds.
I wish to end with an expression of opinion. For 30 years I have been around broadcasting; that is for 15 years locally and for 15 years more centrally. I have been observed in broadcasting but have also observed upon it. I have one worry. It is that from the beginning broadcasting was seen as an unwritten contract between the provider and the viewer or listener. There was a two-way contract between them which was never written down but was known. It is summed up by the shipyard worker's picture of the guest in the corner. In that the viewer remains profoundly proud of British television. He believes that it is the best in the world and is glad when others say so.
But in my view the viewer is not totally respected by the provider. During the past few years I have noticed a change in the balance; that, in their desire for the fulfilment of their artistic abilities and creative longings and in their use of the massive freedom which they are granted in this country, the providers use those gifts sometimes carelessly. In the same way that much of the British press has moved away from the serious and best longings of the British people, I am anxious lest television especially moves 1239 away from those best hopes and longings of our nation. Travelling around the country and dealing with people face to face greatly reassured me about the solid health of our nation in all those areas. I hope that the Bill will ensure that the providers of television programmes especially will have that same respect that I learnt to have.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lord Aylestone
My Lords, I am sure that noble Lords will join me in extending to the right reverend Prelate the congratulations of the House on his maiden speech. As a member of the Broadcasting Standards Council, he spoke of the work that has already been done and of his great experience in travelling around the country interviewing various people who enjoy television.
If I had any regret in listening to his speech, it was that my noble friend Lady Stedman was not beside me. The right reverend Prelate will know that my leader is from Peterborough. She knows him well and is a great fan of his. I am afraid that she, like myself, would have been unaware that he was speaking today, but she may have found a British newspaper, in which case she will find that both of us are on the transfer list.
No one doubts that some changes are necessary in broadcasting. Technical changes have made that essential. But whether this Bill is the right vehicle for that change is anyone's guess. There will be various views on that. Nevertheless, a Bill that had 500 government amendments at Report stage in another place obviously needed altering. The alterations have now taken place.
In one respect I regret that the Bill winds up the Independent Broadcasting Authority after something like 40 years. The IBA, about to go out of existence, was a successful public body controlling a number of private television and radio companies. It may have been simpler if the Government had decided to keep the IBA but to alter its functions where they thought necessary or to add to them where they wished. Instead what will now be required is an additional number of people to man the new public bodies. I have not referred to them as quangos, but if we used that word these days it would apply. The IBA gained a great deal of knowledge over those years. It is our hope that now that it is to become the ITC that knowledge will not be lost.
One of the first tasks of the ITC will be to invite, interview and select successful licence holders for Channel 3, which is to be on the air by 1st January 1993. That is not a long way away. The original Bill, before its amendment, worried me considerably. Some of those worries have gone but now there is concern for the successful licence holders. To use the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, they will have to look over their shoulders waiting for takeover bids to arrive almost from the day that the licences are granted.
I feel that a moratorium of two or perhaps three years is needed. There is nothing new in the IBA looking at the financial position of a would-be licence 1240 holder. It happened in television, and in my experience that was the case too with radio, in which field I was experienced to a greater extent than in television. One had to see whether the money was available to enable the companies in their early years to manage all the financial problems that they were likely to face.
The Government's view is that the ITC should not be a broadcasting body. Nevertheless, they are already introducing into the Bill a number of regulatory provisions controlling programme schedules. Unless there is some form of agreed networking, 15 companies endeavouring to form a schedule of their own could lead to absolute chaos. There must be some sort of central body controlling networking, set up by either the licence holders or, as I would prefer, the IBA, which will continue to control the networking of programmes for some months. Unless there is a formula of that sort organised by either the licence holders or the ITC, we shall be in considerable difficulty.
The ITC should control the network because that would be fairer to the smaller licence holders. All of the 15 companies will not be large companies. Despite the financial strength of the larger franchise holders, the viewing public have a greater affinity with their local television companies, as they have with local radio companies. If people in the Ulster, Grampian, Border areas, or even in the Channel Islands, were asked which television companies they preferred, while they liked the programmes coming from the main five of six companies, they would favour their own small television companies. It is not sufficient for those smaller companies just to provide the occasional documentary and daily news. They could occasionally produce a play concerned with the local area. That has been done. I do not intend to waste time discussing it, but it is something the smaller companies could do.
I welcome the proposed Channel 5. I find it strange that only 70 per cent. of national coverage is mentioned in the Bill. I ask myself why. Is it for transmission reasons? Is it because it is more expensive to transmit the new Channel 5 in parts of Wales or in Scotland? Or is there another reason? Is the reason that the advertising revenue will be greater in the South and in the South East and that it will be easier to run Channel 5 from that area than to have complete coverage? I accept that Channel 5 could not have complete coverage at once but I hope that it eventually will have.
We now accept that Channel 4 is an extremely successful company. One must remember that at the moment it is fully financed by the existing 15 television companies. It will be on its own; it will be financed by revenue from direct advertising sales. Will that be enough? My view is that it will not; it will need assistance of some kind. It is certainly true of Channel S4C. My Welsh is not good enough to translate that, except that I know that pedwar means four. The Channel 3 licensees should have it made absolutely clear, when they are applying for the licence, that it will be necessary for them to provide some money not only for Channel 4 but for S4C.
Nothing is more difficult in my view than the work of the Broadcasting Standards Council—I say 1241 that because I have had some experience in that connection—and deciding whether or not advertisements should go out on the air. The right reverend Prelate referred to this aspect. It is even more true with plays. It is not easy for anyone to define what is good taste, or, for that matter, what is bad taste. I suppose that every Member of your Lordships' House feels able to define what is good and what is not. All I shall say in regard to the Broadcasting Standards Council is that I hope it will never at any time endeavour to tell people what to like or to dislike. That is not its function.
As soon as practical after Royal Assent the engineering and transmission side of the IBA, about which we have heard little as yet, is to be hived off into a separate and perhaps privately owned company. One assumes that Channels 3, 4 and 5 will pay the proposed company for the transmission of their programmes. However, I should personally prefer programme transmission to be left to the ITC. There are about 800 transmitters of varying sizes, with some of the sites being co-owned with the BBC. The transmission work of the IBA—its fate is the same; it is to be privatised at some time—and the BBC is outstanding. It is recognised throughout the world and forms the basis of many transmission systems. This particular department of the IBA is renowned for experimental and research activities. I ask your Lordships: will experimental and research work continue if that is to be a private company?
I welcome the proposal for a Radio Authority. One problem in this field is the existence of pirate radio. I have mentioned this matter on previous occasions and I am sure that the Government have been doing a great deal in closing down some of those stations, but they still function. They pop up overnight like mushrooms and quickly close down again. However, some are bigger than that and are making it difficult for the existing radio services. I hope that when the time comes the House will look at this matter very seriously to see whether amendments are necessary to the Bill to tighten the functions and the power of the Government to deal with pirate stations.
I should also like to have from the Government a clear definition of what is local radio and what is community radio. I should like to hear from the Government how they propose to protect the rights of composers and of artists in both radio and television. The whole question of needle time has been referred to by the noble Earl in introducing the Bill. It is not generally understood that the cost of needle time is an extremely heavy burden for small radio companies.
The BBC is not greatly affected by this Bill, as has already been said. Nevertheless, its charter comes to an end in 1996. What then? By then we shall have a BBC' with three or four good-size television stations, a number of radio stations and many small radio stations, all in one neat package. With television transmission gone will not this neat package be ripe for privatisation? I do not put that thought into the Government's mind and I hope that that is not their intention.
We are told that the BBC is to collect its own licence fees. It is right that it should do so. However, 1242 I hope that the BBC will not make heavy weather of that and set up another huge department because the BBC is known, in my view at any rate, to be prone to empire building.
We believe that the BBC and many local as well as national stations will be ready for privatisation in 1996, if that is the Government's wish. I have already said that I hope that will not happen. One might say that it could not possibly happen to the BBC. but in my view the BBC is no more sacrosanct than water, gas or electricity if that should be the Government's wish.
My time does not allow me to say very much about satellite broadcasting. I intend, however, to make one observation. I hope that the Government will treat domestic and non-domestic satellite television equally and fairly, with regulations that are applied to one applying to the other. That is all I ask.
The basis of all these current and new proposals in television and radio is the availability of sufficient advertising revenue plus subscription charges and sponsorship. Will there be enough? Will advertising sales bring in sufficient income to meet the need? We do not know. The overall result may well prove to be a general lowering of programme standards and the demise of many loved, small television companies.
§ 4.47 p.m.
The Earl of Stockton
My Lords, I regret that I shall be unable to stay until the conclusion of the debate. I apologise to the House for absenting myself, but I have an unavoidable engagement of long standing.
I congratulate the right reverend Prelate on a fine maiden speech. I am sure that I speak for all noble Lords in saying that I hope we shall hear from him frequently and soon.
The Bill that comes before us has been improved during its passage through another place—improved, but not perfected. Clearly there are many detailed matters that we shall come to in later stages of the Bill, and I shall be tabling amendments which I hope will assist your Lordships in fashioning a legislative jewel out of what is still a relatively rough-hewn gem. What I should like to deal with first is of a far more fundamental nature—perhaps too fundamental for your Lordships' consideration since it may be tantamount to trying to transmute that semi-precious gem into a pearl of, I hope, great price.
Is there not an absurdity inherent in keeping the control of broadcasting in all its proliferating and chameleon forms under the Home Office? The Home Office is the head prefect of government, the provost-marshal of the administration. It is in the business of saying no. It is in the business of restriction, of control, of denying the subject from indulging in what General de Gaulle described as the citizen's predeliction for les délices de l'anarchie. This is not the business of broadcasting, that most powerful, most insidious and most anti-authoritarian of the mass media.
Naturally, I do not suggest that broadcasters should give themselves wholeheartedly over to those 1243 anarchical delights, but the controls and limitations on the broadcasters that we in both Houses of Parliament seek to encompass the broadcasters and—I feel this strongly—not impose upon them are made all the more ponderous and over-shadowing by being executed by the department of my noble friend Lord Ferrers. I hasten to add that there is nothing ponderous or over-shadowing about my noble friend—well, not for those of us who are over six feet tall!
The historical background to placing broadcasting within the remit of the home department stems in part from the chronological coincidence of the development of mass broadcasting with the rise of the dictators in the 1930s and the subsequent Second World War. Understandably, the Home Office needed to have absolute control over what went out over the airways, and from whom, during such dark days especially when the totalitarian governments of the Left and Right used broadcasting to such malign effect.
But I ask your Lordships to question if today this country or any truly free nation needs to have such a prescriptive arm of government in charge of such an inquisitive, irreverent and imaginative industry. I am sure that there are many who would say that, because of those qualities that they may regard as defects, that is precisely why it needs to be kept under the thumb of the biggest brother of government departments.
However, I regard the proper mentor of broadcasters to be the Office of Arts and Libraries. Broadcasting is after all the most significant manifestation of popular national culture. I fear that there may be some on this side of the House and, I suspect, a few on the Benches opposite, who feel like that well-known connoisseur of European culture, Herman Goering, who said:When I hear the word culture I reach for my gun!It would be a braver man than I to call for the creation of a Ministry of Culture even though we are alone among our European partners in not having such a body. To transfer broadcasting and perhaps even the press to the portfolio of the OAL would at a stroke not only free broadcasting from having to battle with the Home Office, but would give real power and real financial resources to the Minister in charge of the arts.
However, I am not really tempted to introduce amendments to that effect. It is my intention during the later stages of the passage of the Bill through your Lordships' House to introduce amendments to limit the ability of direct broadcast satellite systems, with up-link ground stations outside the United Kingdom, to operate without the same restraints as are imposed on similar systems operated from this country in Clauses 39 and 40.
I am aware that in doing so I shall be moving into the somewhat delicate territory of cross-media ownership. Let me make my position clear from the outset? I am opposed to the concentration of significant portions of the print and broadcast media in the hands of any individual or company or group of companies. I cannot see why the regime imposed 1244 on broadcasters and newspaper proprietors in this country should, in the national interest, be any more laissez-faire than that imposed by the Government of the United States. Further, I do not believe that it is in the interests of journalists, programme makers, editors or the society they serve to concentrate excessive power or influence in any person's hands be he British, American, Italian or called Murdoch, Maxwell or even Macmillan.
I shall also introduce amendments to preserve the existence of the Cable Licensing Authority for I do not believe that the fledgling cable industry in which the long-term future of the country's interactive information and communications systems will depend, needs to have its supervisory authority subsumed into another authority whose overriding and preoccupying interest is in broadcast systems as outlined in Clause 121.
One of the principal tenets of the Bill is to try to ensure that there is the maximum participation and the fiercest competition for the Channel 3 licences. But there is a risk that, unless the Bill is amended to include the period of moratorium that has been referred to by the noble Lord and the noble Baroness opposite, then the successful winners of the Channel 3 franchises will be those who in the end take over the companies which have done all the hard work.
In all fairness they must be allowed a period for their setting up and for the first year or two years of operation, without constantly have to look over their shoulders to see if a corporate raider is stalking them. The business of the franchise holders must be the provision of good television. Nothing diverts a company from its proper functions more than trying to fight off a takeover.
Another area where I believe many of your Lordships may share my concern is in the provision of a national and international news service by the licence holders of Channels 3 and 5. I do not believe that the provisions in the Bill laid out in Clauses 29 and 30 will ensure that what I hope are the intentions of the Government in this respect will be fulfilled. Members of your Lordships' House on this side have had reason in the past few weeks to doubt whether it would be a desirable outcome of the Bill to allow the only truly national and international news service in this country to rest in the hands of the BBC in matters of news, current affairs and even of opinion polls. We have for many years enjoyed complementary and competitive news services from ITV and the BBC. It is part of the creed of every major television company in the world that it should have control of its own news gathering and dissemination services.
I also know that I am not alone in still having some misgivings about the definition of "exceptional circumstances" defined in Clause 17 in which it would be in the public interest for the commission not to award the licence to the highest qualifying bid. Parts VI and VII of the Bill will also require very close scrutiny by your Lordships' House at Committee stage. Once again, we are trying to define the indefinable; namely, the area of public taste. If I could claim to do that I would indeed be a happy man as I would almost certainly be the only book publisher in town.
1245 In a sense that brings me full circle. I do not believe that it is the business of Parliament to limit, more than it absolutely has to, what should be broadcast, what programmes should be made, how much or how little they should be bowdlerised and whether they are acceptable to the public or not any more than it is the business of parliament, within the basic laws of a civilised society, to tell the people what they should read, what they should think or what they should believe. So often the protagonists of the nanny state say that they know what is good for the people. What they mean is that they believe they know what is bad for them.
One of the glaring omissions in the Bill is the failure 1:0 ensure proper networking arrangements to which the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, has already referred. I hope that amendments will be introduced to Clause 16 along the lines of those introduced by my honourable friend the Member for Rydale in another place. I cannot believe that it is appropriate for the Office of Fair Trading to be the authority to make decisions on this subject. It is really a sledgehammer that the industry does not need to crack this particular nut. I believe that the OFT feels that it is not the appropriate organism to carry out this function.
In Part VII of the Bill Clause 153 amends the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 to extend the provisions of that order to include broadcasting in the widest definition. We all realise that there are very special reasons why broadcasting in the Province must be looked at most carefully. But I hope that the Government will, where it can, err on the side of freedom of expression and not towards the instinctive desire for secrecy that has in the past led to the clouding of real facts at best and cover-ups of major scandals at worst. There are other matters, including the publishing of programme listings and the protection of national events from outright purchase by a minority distribution system, that will also engage your Lordships' attention in the later stages of the Bill. However, I fear that I have already trespassed overlong on your Lordships' patience. I see that the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, is already champing at the bit.
I should not want noble Lords to think that I do not welcome this Bill or that my criticisms outweigh my support for the measures that have been introduced by Her Majesty's Government to create a framework for the regulation of broadcasting for the next decade. I must congratulate in particular my honourable friend the Member for Putney in another place for the way in which he has responded to the submissions from the industry and other groups. I am sure that my noble friend the Minister will show the same flexibility and common sense when the Bill reaches the Committee stage in your Lordships' House.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, I must apologise for the fact that owing to a long-standing prior commitment I shall be unable to be here for much of the rest of the debate.
The future of broadcasting is of great importance. It is important because the nature of broadcasting is 1246 central to the survival of a healthy democracy, and also because the quality of people's lives is greatly affected by the output of broadcasters. Television and radio are the most important sources of news and information for most people. Without question they are also the most important sources of entertainment. Taking TV alone, the average person in this country spends about 25 hours a week watching it; or, put another way, spends on average more than three and a half hours a day in front of the screen.
In many spheres of life regrettably Britain's record is inferior to that of comparable countries. In striking contrast, our record in broadcasting shines as a bright beacon of success amid a sea of many failures. The reputation of British radio and TV is still extraordinarily high. Both the BBC and the independent companies have contributed to that success story. It is essential that we do everything in our powers to protect that success and to avoid destroying it.
As many noble Lords have already said, the Bill before us today has been much improved during the course of its consideration in another place. It still leaves open the possibility that the high quality we have come to expect will be lost to future generations.
Before pointing out the crucial weaknesses in the Bill, I should like to make it clear that on this side of the House we welcome an expansion of broadcasting in the 1990s in the context of technological change, but expansion and greater choice must not be at the cost of quality. Being able to choose between a lot of bad programmes is a far less attractive proposition than being able to choose between a smaller number of good programmes. Expansion must mean adding new things which are distinctive and of distinction. While growth in the industry is to be welcomed, abandoning it to a free market approach, with the Government washing their hands of the need to maintain high quality and access to high quality for everyone, is surely wrong.
The first example of that approach by the Government concerns a moratorium on takeovers. Having made concesssions on the bidding process for the franchises, for which we must all be most grateful, they are digging in their heels against having a designated period after the franchises have been awarded when takeovers cannot take place. Why is that so? The Minister has said that the Government have not been intransigent, but their intransigence on this is totally incomprehensible. As my noble friend Lady Birk has said, it is not just the IBA and the experts but many of the Government's own supporters who believe that a moratorium is required as became clear in debates in another place.
Having gone through carefully regulated procedures in the competition for the franchise, having conceded that quality and not just cash must determine who wins, to allow some other groups with enough money to take over a successful bidder immediately afterwards is bizarre. What is the point of setting up a careful selection process if it can be jeopardised in that way? After the licences are granted, there should be a period of stability in which the new franchise holders can get on with the job of making programmes which people want to see and 1247 hear. They should not be distracted by hostile takeover bids, which are bound to be costly in terms of management time and energy. I am not suggesting that takeovers should be ruled out in the longer term, but only that there should be an initial period of stability for licensees rather than a market-based free-for-all dictated by the crude ideology of the Government.
The second serious omission in the Bill concerns the lack of a network on Channel 3, which other noble Lords have also mentioned. It is vital to have that if we are to preserve quality for all viewers and ensure that good documentaries, for example, are shown at peak times in the regions. It would be difficult for the Independent Television Commission to assess Channel 3 licence applications properly without it. Through spreading the costs of production, a network system makes it possible for all 15 ITV regional companies to provide a good range of high quality programmes, and to show them at peak hours. This applies to the smallest companies as well as the large ones, and it must be remembered that the small companies take up to 95 per cent of their programmes from the network. A new network system needs to be agreed before the licensing round. Without it, it would be hard to assess the applicant's programme proposals and business plans because they must depend on a known cost structure and agreed arrangements for the operation of the network.
As my noble friend Baroness Birk and the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, have already said, it is not good enough for the Government to say that they intend that a network shall be set up and to believe that the main ITV companies favour it. There must be statutory regulation for a transitional network.
I was glad to hear the Minister say that further consideration was being given to that. Without it, there is no guarantee of an agreed network which is fair and equitable with respect to the smaller companies. It may well be that the company would come up with proposals that are satisfactory to all. However, it would be most dangerous to rely on that happening without any safeguards in the Bill.
The Government are also guilty of a very strange inconsistency in relation to cross-ownership of newspapers and TV stations. They have rightly recognised the need to avoid undue concentration of media ownership. Such concentration means a small number of individuals may have huge power and influence over our media which, if used unscrupulously, could undermine our democratic institutions. The provisions in the Bill to limit ownership and cross-holdings in domestic broadcasting organisations and place restraints on newspaper interests are therefore welcome. What is bewildering is the Government's refusal to apply that important principle to non-domestic satellite services and newspaper interests. These services will be in direct competition with one another, and the same restrictions should apply. I was very glad to hear the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, express his anxiety on this matter, and I look forward to joining him in his amendment.
1248 The argument has nothing to do with hostility to Mr. Rupert Murdoch or to Sky Television. It is about the general principle that people should not be able to monopolise power and influence by being in both media. The fact that Sky may be only one of a number of satellite broadcasters is an insufficient safeguard. It could well be the biggest by a long way and dominate the market. In the USA it is not possible to own a TV station and a newspaper in the same city, and similar restrictions are applied in other countries.
Perhaps I may now turn to a matter which is of particular concern to the BBC, and perhaps at this point I should declare an interest as I am chairman of the General Advisory Council of the BBC. Currently, the Home Secretary designates certain sporting events of national importance. Up until now the I BBC and the ITV have been given priority over cable and satellite operations in acquiring the rights to televise such events. Under this Bill there is no safeguard against the rights being acquired by an excessively high cash offer made by a cable or satellite company which is far from universally available. As a tennis fanatic, I should deeply resent being deprived of the opportunity of watching Wimbledon because I had not subscribed to cable or bought a disc; nor do I wish to be virtually forced into doing so. As the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, mentioned, last year in Germany, when the Wimbledon singles finals were won by Steffi Graf and Boris Becker, only 3 per cent. of the German population were able to watch those finals.
I should also like to remind the House that the United Kingdom is a signatory to the European convention on trans-frontier TV, and that Article 9 of that convention requires measures to be taken to prevent exclusive rights undermining the wide availability of events of high public interest. If the Government intend to abide by that convention, they must legislate to ensure that major sporting events at present available to everyone should not be restricted just to a few.
So far I have concentrated on TV. We must not forget radio. Radio audiences deserve the best broadcasters just as much as TV audiences. It is not good enough merely to avoid nothing but thump, thump, thump; other changes are necessary. First, the same clauses in relation to quality thresholds that have been conceded in relation to TV should be included for radio. I hope that the Government will introduce amendments to achieve that end. Without them there is a danger that the richest rather than the best will win the franchises for national radio.
Secondly, a limited moratorium against takeovers should apply to radio as well as to television. Thirdly, there needs to be protection for local community radio. The Government claim that they want to see a strong network of community radio. But if they are serious about that, they cannot leave it to market forces. There is evidence from abroad that community radio cannot survive in a totally free market. If no distinction is made between local commercial and local community radio, when the going gets tough only the commercial, popular programmes with a large diet of pop music will 1249 survive. There needs to be a clear remit in the legislation for community programmes which inform, educate and help listeners to identify with the areas in which they live.
The final issues I want to address concern equal opportunities and training. Every broadcasting company should have a clearly publicly stated equal opportunities policy. The BBC now has such a policy, though it was long overdue as evidenced by the fact that only 20 of the top 200 jobs in the BBC are held by women. But progress is now being made through this new policy. The ITV companies, I regret to say, are still some way behind. But I must congratulate the Government on eventually accepting at Report stage in another place the desirability of an amendment to the Bill on this point so that positive steps can be taken to give women and ethnic minorities the opportunities they deserve in such an important and public industry. We look forward to seeing the Government's amendment. I assure the Minister that we shall press hard for it to have sufficient force to be effective.
We must also at all costs avoid ending up with an insufficiently skilled workforce. This is a high skills industry which must be staffed by highly trained people if quality is to be preserved. Lack of sufficient attention to training is just one manifestation of the Government's failure more generally in the discussions on the Bill so far to recognise the relationship between investment and quality. They simply assumed that advertising will expand though they have never been able to substantiate that belief They have done little to help create the necessary infrastructure for a vitally important industry.
One illustration of that is their attitude to Media 92 in Europe, which will open up huge possibilities for us of co-production in both film and television. Having contributed to the pilot, Mrs. Thatcher is now, as usual, dragging her feet about committing the United Kingdom to participating in the full scheme, whereas all the other countries in the pilot have made their commitment clear.
It would be reassuring if the Government were less obsessed with the free market and indicated some concern about the risk we face of spreading limited resources more and more thinly by expanding too fast at the expense of high standards. Of course we should try to expand, but it should not be faster than the increase in resources from advertising and other sources allows. As I said at the beginning, competition and choice without quality are meaningless. Although, as the Minister has said, the Bill is an improvement on the original White Paper on which it was based, much still needs to be done. I am glad that the Minister admitted that more improvements could be made before the Bill becomes law. That must happen if the British people are to get the high quality broadcasting that they have come to expect and which they deserve.
§ 5.14 p.m.
The Earl of Glasgow
My Lords, 20 years ago this House kindly gave me permission to make a film here. In fact it was the first television documentary ever filmed in the Palace of Westminster. It was about the House of Lords—how it was made up, 1250 what it did and whether it should be reformed or abolished. It was intended to be entertaining as well as informative, most of the entertainment being provided by the wit and personalities of some of the more colourful Peers. I particularly remember Lord Blyton, now sadly dead, singing a song in his working men's club in South Shields.
At that time I was not allowed to film while the House was in Session, so on a Friday in 1970 when the House was not sitting more than 50 noble Lords, most of whom are still with us today, agreed to perform as extras, populating the corridors, the Prince's Chamber, the Library and so on, to simulate a busy working day. All this they did for no more than a free lunch, which we also filmed incidentally. In those days, noble Lords may remember, lunch here was surprisingly cheap. I have always been extremely grateful to those noble Lords who took the trouble to come on that Friday. I feel that outsiders who like to portray the House of Lords as a fuddy-duddy or pompous body would have had some difficulty in sustaining that view if they had been there then.
The Lord Chancellor, who at that time was the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, even agreed to perform a mock procession for the benefit of the cameras. It is interesting to note that we were unable to film in the Chamber when it was in Session not because the Lords objected but because the Commons did. It thought that this would set a dangerous precedent. Even then this House was a more liberal assembly than the other place. Incidentally, the film was networked by Yorkshire Television and sold to more than 20 countries.
I wanted to make my maiden speech on the Broadcasting Bill because I know something about programme-making, particularly television documentaries, and also, like a good many other people, I feel quite strongly about many aspects of the Bill. I am particularly concerned still that the present high standard set by the best programmes on commercial television should not be put at risk.
It seems that two words are being bandied around very freely in the debates on the Broadcasting Bill. One word is "quality", referring of course to programmes, and the other is "choice", referring to the number of new channels. Everyone knows more or less what is meant by quality programmes but we all have subjective views when we get down to specifics.
Documentaries are usually recognised as one category of quality programme. To make one 50-minute documentary might take a producer four to six months from conception to the final print and will have involved a good deal of research and technical expertise from a number of talented and professional people. It does not follow that the result is necessarily good film but it means that a lot of work, care and inevitably money have gone into its making.
The opposite of a quality programme might be one that is routine, trivial or cheaply put together—again not necessarily bad at all but usually undemanding and intended as a popular time filler. In America they tend to divide programmes into two separate categories—entertainment and education. Most 1251 large cities in the United States have what is regarded as their educational channel—the public broadcasting channel—which is reliant on government grants and corporate sponsorship. It is the channel that shows many of the best British programmes but it is watched by only about 5 per cent. of the American public. In America, by definition, documentaries are educational. One of the strengths of our television is that we do not make that distinction. A good quality documentary here is expected to be both entertaining and educational at the same time. Perhaps better adjectives would be "informative" and "arresting".
When I was a producer at Yorkshire Television I was asked to make a programme about brass bands. I had spent most of my life in London and Scotland and so it was not the kind of subject I would ever have chosen on my own, nor one that I would have rushed to see if it were showing on television. But within a week I had become completely fascinated and involved in the brass band world. As anyone from the North of England already knows, brass banding is not about a bunch of Yorkshiremen in cloth caps going "Oompah-pah, oompah-pah", it is a total way of life to a large number of passionate and dedicated people. The brass band world is as full of drama and fierce rivalries as any soap opera.
The finished programme, which incidentally took quite a lot of money to make, was intended to introduce the public to a world about which they previously knew very little and, not least because it was a musical, it was also intended to entertain. Perhaps inevitably the programme received a huge audience in Yorkshire and in Lancashire because the subject was already part of their culture and a comparatively smaller audience south of Birmingham. But at least a few million people watched it in the South, if only because that was what was being shown on ITV on that particular night. However, I should like to think that some viewers, like me when I was first introduced to the subject, were happily surprised and enlightened by it.
This leads to the question of choice in the context of television programming. To some it seems that choice is self-evidently a good thing, like freedom or human rights; but to television producers, who like to think that they make quality programmes, choice in the form of extra channels is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, certainly more channels and more television companies should give producers more opportunities and more markets for their programmes, but, on the other hand, more choice and more channels will mean that fewer people will see the programmes that they make. Two showings is usually the most any one programme can expect on ITV.
The potential threat is particularly strong from new statellite channels concentrating on sport or recently released feature films, which are understandably hugely popular. Even without that specific competition great choice may mean that the available talent and ideas are spread more thinly. The audience that might otherwise have been persuaded to watch a film on brass bands will be 1252 tempted to watch something that they think will be less demanding. If fewer and fewer people are going to watch quality programmes, there comes less and less justification for spending available resources making them. There is a real danger that more choice could by default mean less quality programming.
That to some extent is what appears to have happened in America, where there appear to be very few quality programmes, despite a vast number of television channels. For quality programmes you must turn to public broadcasting. I remember over 10 years ago when I was in New York that Robert Morley, the actor, was being interviewed by Dick Cavert. He was asked, I thought rather patronisingly, whether it was true that we had only three channels in Britain. He answered that that was true, that there was about to be another one, Channel 4, and that he thought that that number was about right and about all that anyone could cope with without resorting to too much dross.
Of course we already have more channels and we are likely to get still more. It looks as if no one can do anything about it even if they wanted to. That is why I think it very important before the final drafting of the Broadcasting Bill that we take steps to protect quality programmes on commercial television.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ Lord Annan
My Lords, I am simply delighted that it has fallen to my lot to congratulate the noble Earl on his maiden speech, which was so well informed, so persuasive and one in which his modesty matched his knowledge. I very much hope that he will speak on other topics and I certainly hope that he will play a large part in the Committee stage of the Bill.
It is now some 13 years since the Committee on the Future of Broadcasting reported. That report marked the end of an era. The era began when commercial television came into being. Radio stations multiplied, but in television there were still at the end of that era only four channels. We reported at a time when the country was in a state of financial crisis and when cable and satellite broadcasting were barely above the horizon. But today they are both high in the sky and the number of channels grows potentially larger all the time.
The Government are quite right to legislate for this new age. To those who have their doubts about the Bill I would say this. Let us cast our minds back to 1955. Many people then, and some of them are sitting in the House today, doubted whether commercial television should be legalised. But after a few years of somewhat hectic broadcasting, there had developed a BBC and an ITV service to the public that was the envy of most civilised countries. This country had shown how it was possible to run commercial broadcasting which was highly profitable and at the same time produce high quality programmes on a regionally networked commercial channel. We also showed how competition could improve the service of the BBC.
Today we are being asked to make a major transition. Some of us may have doubts about this or that part of the Bill. It may well be that the ITC will have to make adjustments if it judges that the 1253 system which is set up does not work properly. But I believe that, once again, this country will show by a judicious blend of freedom and regulation that multiplicity of commercial channels and radio stations need not lead to a catastrophic fall in the quality of programmes over the country.
It seems to me that the main issue in the Bill is the Government's determination to auction the ITV franchises to the highest bidder. I hope that they have not forgotten what happened in Australia. At least three Australian commercial channels are now on the verge of bankruptcy. Mr. Bond bid 22 million dollars for his franchise. The underbid is said to have been 12 million dollars. In 1986 the three mainstream networks in Australia were sold for more than a billion dollars. In 1989 the value of the networks was placed at around three million dollars.
I can see such experienced broadcasters like Granada and Thames Television being displaced by consortia which do not have anyone with broadcasting experience on their boards, or, for that matter, with entertainment experience. Their directors may well be men who want power and who are suckers for hype. Of course they will outbid Granada and Thames Television who know very well, being shrewd operators, what their franchise is really worth.
What will happen then? In order to recoup the enormous capital outlay, banal and inexpensive programmes will be produced. Let us make no mistake: money will not buy good programmes. But as heroic impresarios in the shape of the noble Lord, Lord Grade, who I am glad to say will make his maiden speech this afternoon, know well, great programmes cost money. Great programmes in documentaries and in drama cost a great deal of money. That is why there are none on the networks in America.
Of course, there is another way open to the fly operator. Why join the auction at all? It is far easier and, perhaps, far more profitable to sit back and then mount a takeover. Here I must join those who have criticised the Government for being so reluctant to declare a moratorium on takeovers for a period of perhaps two years. It seems to me that either you auction franchise or you encourage takeovers of the present operators. But to do both you risk hiking up the capitalisation of companies and decreasing the quality of the product. There are plenty of predators around—some like Carlton or Mills & Allen in the media and some great industrial concerns like Racal, GEC or Hanson.
The Minister will know that predators may find the cost of a successful takeover enormous and that may well lower the quality of the programmes. Programme production and staff will have to be cut to recoup the large premium paid for acquiring that company. Some will ask, "What is to prevent Signer Bellusioni taking over Granada, or Havas taking over Thames although British companies are blocked from a majority ownership of European companies"? I should like to ask the Minister whether the Government are taking steps to end that discrimination.
The answer to that and many other questions lies with the ITC which is to come into being. The 1254 Government's view concerning the powers of that body have changed. Mr. Hurd wanted to draw a contrast between the light touch of the ITC and the heavy hand of the IBA which regulated not merely the network but the scheduling of programmes. Mr. Renton went further. He said that he wanted a light touch but strong teeth. Mr. Mellor now says that the ITC will not have a light touch; it will have a firm grip. I was sorry not to hear the Minister carry that dental metaphor a little further and describe what kind of grip he expects the ITC to operate. I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, did not refer to the fact that it might be the grip of false teeth.
I suspect that as the financial implications of their policy become clear, and especially as so many of their supporters are troubled by the issue of due impartiality, the Government will come to recognise that the ITC will have to make a number of qualitative changes. Adam Smith, being a Scot, understood that the market alone does not supply the answer to everything. Adam Smith was a moralist, and so I suspect will Mr. George Russell and his colleagues have to be. They will have to decide how may regions there should be. They will have to decide whether the companies which win the franchise offer diversity and a range of programmes similar to those that ITV now offers. They will have to do that knowing that regionalisation is uncommercial by the normal standards. Whether they can also continue to have responsibility for Channel 4 depends upon the buoyancy of advertising revenue. Again, that is one of the matters that the Australian experience has shown: advertising revenue is not something which expands for ever and ever. There is sometimes an end to it, and directly hard times strike it is cut in the most remarkably savage way.
The Minister, of course, spelt out many other powers that the ITC will have and the requirements that it can place on companies; but is it not a fact that once a franchise has been sold to the top bidder the ITC's powers are limited? In that case, can we be as confident as I was at the begining of my speech when I said that the ITC would be as effective in ensuring quality on television as the IBA was in the 1960s? Perhaps the Minister will comment on that point when he replies.
Another contentious issue in the Bill is cross-media ownership. In 1977 our committee thought that the risk of newspaper and television ownership should not be exaggerated. We found that there was no evidence that press interests had ever attempted to influence the politics or programming policy of the television and radio companies in which they had shares. Nevertheless, we believed that the IBA had probably been right to require the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, to divest himself of a large percentage of his holdings in Scottish TV. Indeed, the Government have endorsed that principle as the Bill prohibits a newspaper company from owning a television channel on air and off satellite.
BSB and the independent television companies which are governed by that principle are obviously concerned about the matter as there are still not all that many channels available for distribution. So no 1255 company that owns newspapers is allowed more than a small minority holding. Understandably those companies chatter with indignation at the fact that Mr. Murdoch can continue to own News International and to beam Sky's four channels to this country on the 16-channel Astra satellite. Smart operator that Mr. Murdoch is, he based his holding company in Luxembourg and Sky's production centres in England and Scotland.
I do not know Mr. Murdoch, and I do not imagine that he would want to know me. Even if I have only barely met him, I know that he is regarded as the bogey man of the media, often by the media themselves. By some he is regarded as an implacable political enemy; but I am bound to have to weigh what he has done for The Times and the Sun against what he did for London Weekend Television which he saved from bankruptcy in 1970. I also have to weigh the fact that by breaking the stranglehold of the print worker's unions on national newspapers he transformed journalism in this country. He can claim, with justice, that the conditions that obtained a decade ago, when the committee on the future of broadcasting reported, no longer exist. There is plenty of competition between newspapers and the 17 channels available on television, only four of which are owned by Sky.
ITV has a monopoly of Channel 3; BSB of British satellite facilities. I cannot see what the case is for dispossessing Mr. Murdoch. The noble Earl, Lord Stockton, will no doubt try to persuade me to the contrary during the Bill's passage, but at the moment I remain unconvinced by the campaign to force Mr. Murdoch to disinvest in Sky. The picture that has been drawn of one man being able to control the minds of the British public seems to me to be far from factual. It is absurd in these days to say that one newspaper proprietor, with however many channels he has, will be able to dominate British broadcasting opinion or the opinion of the press. I therefore ask that we consider that matter anew in the light of new conditions.
I do not of course base that contention on the fact that we should be grateful to Mr. Murdoch: gratitude is the last virtue he expects to receive after his move to Wapping, even though many should be grateful to him. I base my contention on the existence of the ITC. The commission is there to see that Mr. Murdoch observes due impartiality on news programmes—as he certainly has. He is governed by the same regulations as any other company, and Sky is liable in law for breach of those regulations. I do not believe that he will debauch his channels as Signor Bellusioni undoubtedly has in Italy. If he did so I believe the British public would show their lack of interest in his concerns.
Whether the standards on television are preserved depends more on the BBC than perhaps on anything else. The BBC is the pace-setter in quality. Until now commercial television has been needed to keep it up to the mark.
However, there is nothing about the BBC in the Bill, or very little. It faces a steadily declining revenue, now that the licence fee is linked to 1256 inflation. I implore the BBC to do what it has been urged to do time and time again—cut its staff and its mountainous bureaucracy. It is not right to expect the British public, through the licence fee, to finance overstaffing on this level.
It is not only the bureaucracy. The other day I was asked on the same afternoon to give an interview in my home to two television companies on the subject of the reunification of Germany. The German team, ZDF, the second channel in Germany, arrived and it consisted of three men. Two hours later, the BBC arrived and its team consisted of eight men and women. This is an example of how even in staffing programmes there is inflation. No doubt the BBC would say that that is why its quality of presentation is so good. However, I must say that this has gone on for too long unheeded. If the BBC refuses again to reduce its staff and stop the licence fee rising, then I have my fears that a future government may well break it up. On our committee in 1977 there was a strong party, led by broadcasters in commercial and BBC television, in favour of doing precisely that.
Another matter worries me and some of my friends in the House: impartiality. There is no question about the need to make the news impartial, but some people are worried—and I understand this well enough—about one-sided presentations in current affairs programmes and in phone-in documentaries. Where I part company with my friends is that they think that every programme must be balanced and impartial and, it goes without saying, every series such as "Panorama" or World in Action" should be equally impartial.
I believe that we should be the losers if an undoubtedly biased series such as "World in Action"—which is currently biased not so much against Labour or against Conservatives as against authority in all its forms—were emasculated. The Bill states that due impartiality should be observed only on current industrial and political controversy. It allows history therefore to be at the mercy of the producer.
Much as I dislike seeing Miss Glenda Jackson as Queen Elizabeth I speaking in the tones of a Rodean prefect of the 1920s, I disliked even more the Channel 4 programme on the resistance movement in Greece. In it, the communist partisans, ELAS, were portrayed as the sole liberators of their country who had been hampered at every step by the British liaison officers in Greece. This party, ELAS, was portrayed as representing the true desires of the Greek people, monstrously stopped from governing their country by the British army.
Worse still, the interviews of the British liaison officers such as Colonel Monty Woodhouse and Captain Nigel Clive, were so distorted by cutting that Mr. Jeremy Isaacs, head of Channel 4, was forced to apologise to them. That is bad for my blood pressure but I do not see how it can be avoided, particularly, I regret to say, as that programme was entirely faithful to the interpretation of history made by Mr. Papandreou, the prime minister of Greece, and his party, PASOK, then the government of the country. Their version of history was being taught 1257 in Greek schools. Even so, our belief in free speech demands that such programmes be made.
Is there no remedy then against prolonged and offensive bias? I am sure that no remedy should be written into the Bill. However, the director general of the BBC, his senior managers and the ITC would be wise to institute a practice whereby, after a programme, which they had been advised would raise hackles, a 10-minute discussion is tacked on at the end in which the producer could face his critics. Then another view of the matter could be expressed. If they do not do this, the blood be on the head of the broadcasters. They ignored public feeling on violence and standards and as a result they now have the British Standards Council set over them. What is more, the director general of the BBC was sacked. Something far worse could happen to the broadcasters, in my view, if they do not heed the continuous criticism of unmitigated bias in programmes.
There are many matters which ought to exercise us in Committee: listed events, TV listings, copyright for music publishers, the method of collecting the licence fee and monitoring by the ITC. I particularly dislike the extraordinary amendments to the marine broadcasting Act 1967 which are aimed at Radio Caroline. The amendments proposed will make it unlawful for any foreign ship on the high seas to broadcast to the United Kingdom. It will enable the police, the army, Customs officers and anyone who is authorised by the Secretary of State to board and search these foreign ships and to seize documents.
Is this not another example of the Government putting on their Clause 28 "bovver boots"? Exceptional cases such as highjacking or drugs could justify seizure or detention of a foreign vessel and confer immunity on the officers who boarded it. I realise that the Home Office regards Radio Caroline as a maddening wasp and is infuriated that its attempts over the years to swat it have failed. However, surely this station is not a wasp but a common or garden cabbage white. Why break a butterfly upon the wheel? Why run the risk of an embarrassing diplomatic confrontation? That could perfectly well happen if the vessel turned out to be under an American flag.
I wish to take issue with the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, on his contention that the Home Office is no longer the right department under which broadcasting should fall. He was wrong to suggest that it always had been under the Home Office since the days of totalitarian regimes. My memory is that I was asked in 1970 by Mr. Stonehouse to be chairman of a committee on the future of broadcasting. I am quite sure that Mr. Stonehouse was not the Home Secretary.
When we discuss which is the right Ministry, we shall find that all kinds of Ministries are available but none is quite right. I very much look forward to being able to participate in the Committee stage of the Bill
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Baroness Cox
My Lords, in my contribution I wish to touch on two aspects of the Bill. First, I shall 1258 say a few words on religious broadcasting but the main part of my contribution will concern the matter which the noble Lord, Lord Annan, has just mentioned—the concept of impartiality.
First, some serious concerns have been expressed by Christians and members of other faith communities about the effects of the Bill on religious broadcasting. I should like to emphasise how much I appreciate the position that the Government have taken on those very important issues—for example, the provision of safeguards for religious broadcasting and the measures which are proposed for the ownership of independent radio stations by religious organisations. I believe that those are essentially liberalising measures. They have been widely and warmly welcomed outside Parliament and I hope that they will receive a comparably warm welcome in your Lordships' House.
I should therefore like to ask my noble friend the Minister if I was correct in understanding from his encouraging opening speech that amendments that were promised in another place will definitely come before your Lordships' House at a later stage in the passage of this Bill through the House.
In my contribution I wish to concentrate primarily on the specific issue of what is described as "due impartiality" on matters of political controversy. That matter has just been touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Annan. I am a great admirer of the noble Lord and I almost invariably agree with all that he says. However, on this occasion my conclusions differ from his. I shall explain why.
Clauses 6 and 85 of the Bill as currently drafted will do nothing to prevent in future the debilitating series of arguments which has surrounded broadcasting in this area in recent years. Your Lordships will not need reminding of the numerous public disputes about political bias which have sapped public confidence, soured relations between broadcasters and politicians and demoralised commentators, many of whom to their great credit genuinely try to maintain political even-handedness. Indeed, there is reason to think that the Bill as drafted will make the present unsatisfactory situation even worse.
Such effects will not be confined to the independent sector. They may also damage the BBC, for the BBC's impartiality requirements are only very sketchily defined in the annexe to its licence and agreement with the Home Office. Therefore a great deal is left for BBC administrators to interpret. They will presumably take account of parallel procedures in this Bill laid down by Parliament for the independent sector.
In contemplating the need for due impartiality in the presentation of political issues I was reminded of the sinister Minstry of Truth in George Orwell's novel 1984. One of its chilling slogans was:Who controls the past controls the future".In other words, if you can rewrite history, if you can falsify the record, if you can destroy the past, then you can distort the present and manipulate what is yet to come.
There are a number of points in the impartiality clauses of the Bill which may at worst allow the 1259 corruption of recent history in broadcasting output or, at the very least, lead to bitter and damaging disputes between broadcasters and their critics. First, in the Broadcasting Act 1981 and its predecessors due impartiality was required on matters of political or industrial controversy or relating to current public policy. Thus the story of past events which are still controversial, such as the Falklands War, the 1984 miners' strike, or the origins of East-West confrontation had to be recounted fairly and accurately. Unless the Bill is amended that will no longer be the case. Why is this?—because all that is now demanded is "due impartiality" on matters of current political or industrial controversy or relating to current public policy.
I suggest that there can be no possible purpose in making that change other than to narrow down drastically the arena in which fairness will be required. I know of no anomalies which have arisen from the previous wording. There have been few, if any, frivolous complaints that ancient historical events have received biased treatment on Channel 4 or anywhere else. Yet there have been closely documented examples concerning recent history, history with an indirect bearing on present-day disputes, but not so recent as to deserve the description of being "current". Perhaps I may give three examples to illustrate my point.
First, the programme "Greece: The Hidden War" was disclosed as a communist distortion of the civil war in the 1940s and of Britain's role in those events. Secondly, "Summer of the Bomb" blamed the start of the Cold War on the Hiroshima attack and claimed that to be the consensus view of informed historians, which it certainly is not. That is a fact which is recognised in the belated apology given by the BBC to the Freedom Association, as reported in today's Daily Telegraph. Thirdly, "Arm in Arm Together" spent nearly an hour featuring unchallenged communist criticisms of wartime Britain for not trusting Stalin's Soviet Union enough without once mentioning the Nazi-Soviet pact.
I fear that the changes in the wording of the impartiality requirements will exempt such cases from future criticism. It could indeed open the floodgates to wholesale tendentious historical revisionism. I do not accept that as soon as a controversy begins about a non-current issue it will ipso facto become a current controversy in the sense of the Bill as presently drafted. Instead, one result could be the undermining of the existing obligation for fair coverage of contentious events in 20th century politics. I suggest that we must uphold that obligation by amending the Bill.
I found another of Orwell's novels, Animal Farm, coming to mind when considering the record of the Committee stage of the Bill in another place. Your Lordships will recall the constant motif of that novel: cast-iron guarantees of liberty are written upon the wall of the barn, but are then rendered worthless by the addition of a few extra words. That is precisely what has happened to the impartiality requirements for independent radio services set out in Clause 85 of the Bill. Let me explain.
1260 According to that clause radio services will be required to avoid giving what is termed "undue prominence" to one-sided views on controversial political matters. The extraordinary rider is then attached stating that in applying that principle all the programmes in a radio service "shall be taken as a whole". I suggest that such a provision is unenforceable. Who can possibly listen to or monitor the entire output of a whole broadcasting service? It is as good as saying that independent radio programmes may be as biased as they like.
Already the provision that an entire series of programmes may be considered as a whole has led to abuses. How often has a one-sided programme been properly offset by another on ITV's "World in Action" for example? That was an example given by the noble Lord, Lord Annan. At least one could monitor an entire series and point that out. Such monitoring has been undertaken, with some disturbing results. However, such monitoring would be impossible for independent radio unless the Bill is amended. We should therefore be passing a law which cannot be enforced in any meaningful way.
If that is our intention it would be more honest to say openly that there is to be no requirement for political impartiality on independent radio. It is absurd to say that impartiality must apply—but not to individual programmes, not to an identifiable series of programmes, but only to the entire output of a whole radio service. Over a week? Over a year? Over a lifetime of Parliament? The Bill does not say. Nor would that make any difference because I suggest that the requirement is so flabby as to be completely worthless. To take the dental analogy of the noble Lord, Lord Annan, a little further, it has no bite in it whatever.
In another place my honourable friend the Minister rejected a suggestion from the IBA that the requirement for impartiality over a service should be extended to television because it was seen to be too wide and therefore meaningless. However, if my honourable friend the Minister concedes that the impartiality requirement is rendered, in his own words, "meaningless" by being applied to the totality of a television service, why has he accepted what appears to be a last-minute change to permit it for independent radio services? It is surely no more practicable for the latter than for the former. His critique of the one must apply just as strongly to the other.
A senior political broadcaster recently tried to reassure a colleague of mine that the broadcasting authorities took biased programmes seriously once a row had broken out. He claimed that culprits had been censured and moved to less contentious projects, if not sacked. "All hell breaks loose behind the scenes", he said, "even though we have to stand up for the programmes in public".
I suggest that that approach simply will not do. We therefore need to achieve three things in this Bill in respect of political impartiality before it leaves this House. We must reject the new loopholes in Clauses 6 and 85; we must close the loopholes carried forward in the 1981 Act; and we must institute a system enabling proper consideration and independent adjudication of complaints about 1261 breaches of the rules on political impartiality. Only then will damaging disputes and repetitive feuds be minimised for the future benefit of broadcasters, politicians and the public, and only then can we provide statutory protection against political bias of any complexion.
In conclusion, I am sure that noble Lords agree with the principle of fair, unbiased and impartial broadcasting. It is essential that that principle be enshrined in the Bill if the best traditions of British broadcasting are to be preserved in the interests of the pursuit of truth and the defence of democratic freedoms.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
My Lords, I think that we would all agree that the passage of this Bill so far has been a Pilgrim's Progress. It began in a Slough of Despond and it has recently achieved a few fitful glimpses of the Delectable Mountains. I only hope that its scrutiny in this House will not prove to be its Giant Despair.
I hope too that I maintain a non-controversial stance if I say that the Bill is now much better than it was or, to put it another way, not so bad as it was. Nevertheless, there is much more to do than fine-tuning or putting finishing touches because many vital issues remain unresolved and many basic principles unagreed.
One central issue is the heavy weight of responsibility which will inevitably descend upon the Independent Television Commission and the powers it is given to discharge it. Not only will it be required to oversee the granting of a large number of licences according to new and untried rules, but it must monitor the performance and, if necessary, discipline the licence holder if it is not satisfied that he has complied with its conditions; yet it may do that only after the offence has been committed. It is like a policeman summoned to attend at an incident, but with a light touch, few teeth and no truncheon.
The IBA and its predecessor, the ITA, always had previewing powers as a form of crime prevention or trouble-shooting, and they have on occasions proved useful. But the commission's powers to impose penalties or revoke licences under Clauses 36 and 37 may take a long time to effect. Individual viewers and sensitive sections of our society are vulnerable and often swift and strong to react. I wonder what damage programmes once transmitted can wreak before the commission is able to impose the comparatively modest penalty of 3 per cent. of the qualifying revenue.
That problem will be nowhere more acute than in the area of religious broadcasting. Under the proposed provisions, or any others, the ITC and the Radio Authority will have to make difficult, delicate judgments, which will inevitably create controversy, about the suitability of groups of people to own television or radio services and the nature of certain broadcast material. Are Moonies, Scientologists or Spiritualists suitable or unsuitable? In creating its code, the commission will almost be required to create a workable definition of heresy—a task which might well dismay even a Bench of Bishops.
1262 The commission will also have to pick its way through the minefield of religious advertising appearing on our television and radio for the first time. It will need to be vigilant to ensure that religious programmes do not decline into vague exercises in social morality or disappear from prime time into the desolate and uninhabited margins of programme schedules. In that latter respect, the commission might glance at the fate of the Book of Common Prayer which until recently the Church of England held was "safe with us" and which is now rapidly approaching the point where Book of Common Prayer services are available only at St. Michael's-by-the-Bus-Stop and at 7.30 a.m. on the seventh Sunday after Pontefract. It has been wisely suggested that the ITC and the Radio Authority would benefit from sharing with the BBC the advice of the Central Religious Advisory Committee, which reflects virtually all aspects of mainstream religious belief in Britain. In its sensitive, potentially explosive task, the commission will need all the help that it can get.
The commission will have to consider the quality threshold in all applications for television licences, and we have perhaps heard almost as much as we need to hear on that topic. It will be a Becher's Brook.
Your Lordships may wish, however, that the same quality threshold test applied to applicants for radio licences. It is difficult to see why standards in radio should be any less stringent and demanding than those which apply to television. But the danger with the quality threshold, be it Becher's Brook or an eight-foot wall, is that it will exhaust the horse. The applicant, having staggered over the threshold, may well regard the minimum as his maximum and feel himself absolved from any further necessity to supply programmes of high quality in his schedules. That would inevitably work against the programmes of the very highest quality. There would be fewer operas, documentaries, costume dramas, plays and natural history programmes because those are the most expensive to make. Along with demands for minimum quality, there must surely be incentives and rewards for applicants who show a determination to produce a proportion of absolutely top-class programmes of the kind which have made British television recognised abroad as the best in the world.
However, perhaps the most singular shortcoming of the Bill as it stands at present is the absence of any statutory requirement for networking. My noble friend Lady Birk mentioned that point, as did the noble Lord, Lord Annan. Networking is vitally important. I say that for two reasons. First, applications for licences must be based on a clear understanding of the financial implications of the network when it presents its bids and financial proposals. Unless there is an agreed network, the stability of the entire system is threatened and smaller companies are at the mercy of the large. Secondly, I say that because it is a positive opportunity to encourage regional breadth, variety and excellence.
Perhaps I may illustrate that point from the case of Wales. In its present form, the Bill makes careful 1263 provision for S4C, Sianel Pedwar Cymru, strengthening its position in political terms and giving it a reasonable degree of financial security until 1997 by linking its income to a fixed percentage of net advertising revenue at 3,2 per cent. That is wholly to be welcomed. S4C plans to subtitle 75 per cent. of its Welsh language output by the mid-1990s. That will not only give non-Welsh speakers in Wales access to the Welsh language service, but it will make those excellent programmes available for export across Offa's Dyke.
It is obviously beneficial for quality programmes made in Wales to be seen by the rest of the United Kingdom. With the exception of Northern Ireland, Wales may be the only television region to be served on Channel 3 by a single company. It may be that further provision needs to be made in the Bill to ensure that the Channel 3 company in Wales has a duty to produce certain types of programming to project to the English-speaking people in Wales its present culture and to reflect the special interest in the Welsh community. It will need a clearly understood and agreed network in order to export its products.
There has been almost universal agreement among those who have been consulted and among those who have spoken in the House today that, once licences have been granted, there should be a moratorium on takeovers for at least two and preferably three years. Your Lordships may feel that you wish to add your voice to that chorus for without it quality will undoubtedly suffer as a result of prospective bidders sitting out an initial tender in favour of the easier and cheaper option of taking over a successful applicant.
So it is vital that the tender process is seen by prospective broadcasters as the only immediate means of obtaining a licence. The moratorium should be for a limited period but it should cover at the very least the period between the award of the licence and 1993 when licensees will be particularly and inescapably vulnerable to takeovers.
If these suggestions commend themselves to your Lordships—I think I have put forward nothing that has not commanded a very substantial measure of agreement when these issues have been discussed elsewhere—I believe that we shall significantly improve this mighty Bill before the pilgrim passes through his ultimate Jordan of final consideration and we may say that all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Lord McGregor of Durris
My Lords, it is my privilege to congratulate on behalf of the whole House the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, on his illuminating, elegant, witty and very informative speech and to say how we all look forward greatly to his future contributions to our debates.
I wish to draw attention to a little discussed but potentially far-reaching provision of the Bill which relates to the powers of the Broadcasting Standards Council over programmes. Throughout the Bill the 1264 word "programme" is defined so that it includes advertisements. The effect is to give the Broadcasting Standards Council a role for which it was originally neither intended nor designed; namely, to receive, investigate and rule on complaints about broadcast advertising.
My interest is as chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority, where my duty is to safeguard the high standards which have been achieved in advertising in the non-broadcast media. Television and radio advertising have always been regulated by the IBA and the Bill ensures that the Independent Television Commission and the Radio Authority will maintain that control system. The established division of responsibilities for the content of advertising in the broadcast and non-broadcast media stems from the history of independent television and, although confusing for the general public, close co-ordination between the ASA and the IBA ensures that the whole system works effectively and harmoniously.
But unless the Bill is amended, present arrangements will be deranged. As drafted the Bill will result in television advertising being supervised by several bodies: the ITC, the licensees, the Independent Television Association and the Broadcasting Standards Council. Some of those bodies will attract and rule upon complaints. This range of authorities will make for muddle for complainants and for the public as well as for those who prepare, produce and broadcast the advertisments which will finance the choices represented by Channels 3, 4 and 5.
That development has been deplored by all the broadcasting and advertising industry organisations as well as by the Advertising Standards Authority. Their anxiety arises not from a desire to relieve broadcastng advertising from control but from concern that the existing machinery of control will be weakened. Moreover, we shall soon have to face new complications in the form of interventions from Brussels. The brief sent by the Broadcasting Standards Council to many noble Lords states its belief that:the audience should have an equal right to complain about programmes and about advertisements, which occupy some 10 per cent. of commercial air timeAdvertising is not just one part of the broadcasting output which can be treated on the same footing as programmes. The Bill itself recognises that that is not the case by making special provisions in Clauses 8 and 9 and 87 and 88 for the control of advertising on radio and television. These include wide-reaching and exacting consultative obligations on the ITC and the Radio Authority together with a power to direct advertising to be withdrawn.
There are vital practical differences between complaints about programmes and complaints about advertising. A complaint about a programme is a post-mortem because most programmes are broadcast only once. Advertisements have long-running schedules and represent a considerable commercial investment. A television advertising campaign may cost anything between £40,000 and £1 million, although it is probable that the average cost of a campaign for a fast moving commercial 1265 consumer product will be of the order of £120,000 to £160,000.
Complainants about advertisements seek their removal from the screens. Although the Bill does not give that power directly to the Broadcasting Standards Council, its unlimited authority to require publication, including publication by broadcast of its findings on complaints, will certainly amount to the removal of advertisements for all practical purposes if the council objects to them. The publisher—that is, the licensee—must provide the air time to publicise the council's opinion, although the heavy cost of that will not fall upon the advertiser. What he will suffer is the disruption of his planned advertising campaign with the substantial losses that will be entailed. It will be enough for the council to threaten an advertiser for him to withdraw the advertisement. In this carefully planned commercial world of high expenditures the powers which the Bill confers upon the council in respect of advertising could enable it to dominate all television advertising.
Under the present system the IBA has not hesitated to bring advertising campaigns to a premature end when that has been justified. In matters of taste and decency the standards which the IBA has applied to advertisements have always been considerably more draconian than those applied to programmes. Indeed, of the 3,000 complaints which the IBA receives each year about advertisements, virtually none relates to the overemphasis upon sex or violence which is a main concern of the code of practice of the BSC.
The high cost of advertising on television requires the pre-vetting of all advertisements. Currently about 40 people are employed in pre-vetting 15,000 advertisements every year. After the pre-vetting, or rather through the pre-vetting procedures, there emerges something like 40 per cent. of the advertisements which entered them. Clearly, if advertisers are going to use television as a medium, the authorities possessing the power to prevent the screening of advertisements must provide a pre-vetting and guidance service. For that reason the present system will continue within the new organisational structure.
But where will the Broadcasting Standards Council fit in? Will it provide its own pre-vetting arrangements or will it use those already in existence? Will it offer detailed guidance to advertisers and to the makers of advertisements? I have found no answers in the latest edition of the Broadcasting Standards Council's code of practice, which contains only two references to advertisements. Neither of those is helpful in laying down what is essential in this area: clear criteria to guide advertisers. Nor do the council's public statements indicate the type of machinery that it envisages as the means of implementing its claimed powers over advertising. Has it in mind to ignore or to co-operate or to compete with the established regulatory system which has secured the confidence alike of viewers and advertisers through its success in balancing the commercial and public interests?
As I understand it, the council was established to articulate a national, moral conscience, in particular 1266 in respect of the deployment of sex and violence in programmes. Indeed that was explained to us by the right reverend Prelate in his impressive maiden speech. Naturally therefore the council was not constituted to secure experience of the market place or of the advertising business in its deliberations, which are now being extended to the regulation of advertising. I am sure that the intervention of the council in such regulatory work would be a very serious mistake and damaging to a controlled system about which there have been few complaints and much praise. In that way will lie uncertainty and the threat of declining standards of television advertisements.
I intend to put down an amendment at Committee stage to remove the power of the Broadcasting Standards Council to intervene in advertisements. I should like to ask the Minister whether the Government will consider again that worrying part of the Bill. Will they take counsel with those who run the existing machinery which safeguards the standards of television advertising? So far consultation has hardly taken place. It is not a trivial or marginal issue for it affects the approach to independent television of those whose advertisements finance the whole enterprise that we are discussing.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ Lord Grade
My Lords, I rise with a degree of diffidence to which I am unaccustomed to seek the indulgence of your Lordships' House as I make my maiden speech, in particular without a cigar. I am conscious that it is not usual to wait until the age of 83 to make a first speech in your Lordships' House. My only excuse is that I have been happier making television programmes and films than making speeches about them.
In 1978 I was approached by the wife of the then Prime Minister, the right honourable James Callaghan, now my noble friend Lord Callaghan, to produce a show at the London Palladium to commemorate the 50th anniversary of granting votes to women. The proceeds from this show were to go to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children and other charities. I readily agreed to do so.
Your Lordships can well imagine what it was like to cope with about 500 lovely and charming ladies in preparation for the performance. Eventually the great day arrived. In the foyer of the theatre I met the late and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, the then Lord Chancellor. He said to me, "Lew, we don't see much of you in the House". I said, "You're the Lord Chancellor and an eminent QC. You make the decision and I will accept it. Should I go to the House frequently, or shall I do what I am doing: building the relationship between Britain and all countries throughout the world through the medium of British quality television programming?" He hesitated for a moment or two and then said, "Carry on with what you're doing." And that is what I am still doing now.
However, I felt that as one who was involved in commercial television in this country from the beginning that I should try to contribute to your Lordships' discussion from my experience. This Broadcasting Bill makes the biggest changes in the 1267 ITV system since that was first started 35 years ago. No one could ever accuse me of being opposed to change. I welcomed the change that introduced commercial television into Britain in 1954. I was one of the few who was ready to take the big risks that were involved in going into it. Because ITV later became profitable people easily forgot how big the risks were for the pioneers. We went through a very worrying time until the industry became stabilised financially. However, I believe that the result has been an ITV system that has served Britain well. It matched, and sometimes outmatched, the high quality of the BBC on a basis of commercial enterprise. No other country has achieved that.
I am told that one of the Government's aims is to deregulate commercial television, to give it the lighter touch. I have never been greatly in favour of regulation, I have had my ups and downs over the years with the IBA. But someone has to choose the contractors and ensure that the good, popular network programmes continue, without ignoring the minority programme viewers. I therefore wish the new Independent Television Commission well.
I do not think that it will be assisted in its task by imposing on a contractor a performance bond that can be confiscated if the performance falls below par. It is more difficult to forecast advertising revenue than the weather. A poor performance is generally a sign of flagging advertising and financial problems. If a company gets into difficulties it will make a bad situation worse to deal with it by imposing a financial penalty. Nor do I understand why there should be any doubt about the substantial moratorium on takeover bids once new contracts have been awarded. That seems to make a mockery of the bidding and selection process. I have had experience of being at the receiving end of takeovers. Once a contractor has been chosen he deserves a decent breathing space in which to get his act together.
As I have said, I am a great believer in change but it must be balanced by a degree of common sense about stability and continuity. It would be folly to change on a scale that would deprive the British public of some of its most popular network programmes. In making television or films money is not everything, although you will not get very far without it. But talent is what matters together with the flair and insight to spot talent and to nurture it. Creating a television company that will serve the viewers and also make money depends in the end on making the right judgments about people and backing them to the hilt. The success of the British commercial television system has been founded on that.
Although I have no authority to speak for ITV and no longer have any connection with it I know that it is always ready to face change. But it should be sensible change. Everyone agrees that the Broadcasting Bill was greatly improved in the debates in another place but there is still considerable room for improvement. I hope that further sensible changes will be made during the discussions in your Lordships' House. I have been in the entertainment and broadcasting industry for 63 years and I shall 1268 follow carefully the progress of the Broadcasting Bill during its various stages.
Finally, I am considering retiring in the year 2000—I am simply considering it! I trust that in that year I shall have the privilege of seeing all noble Lords present in this House today.
§ 6.32 p.m.
The Earl of Bessborough
My Lords, I am happy to be the first to congratulate my old friend the noble Lord, Lord Grade, and I am glad that he has made his maiden speech. We worked hard together at the beginning of commercial television, which, as he said, has worked out not too badly at all. Neither of us now has any interest in ITV except to debate it. I am happy to see the noble Lord here today. I remember in particular flying with him to Rome so that he could receive a great honour from His Holiness the Pope. We were accompanied by three Anglican right reverend Prelates. I remember the Pope giving the noble Lord his decoration. I am happy to see him here today.
I wish to congratulate my noble friend Lord Ferrers on his admirable exposition of the Bill. I do not wish to repeat all that I said on 13th December 1988 when debating the White Paper Broadcasting in the '90s. However, I should like to believe that noble Lords who were not then in the Chamber read the debate because I had a great deal of respectable support, especially as regards the question of choice. I assure your Lordships that I shall not repeat that speech.
Those of us who, like the noble Lord, Lord Grade, recall the battles in this House some 35 years ago over the introduction of commercial broadcasting in Britain may be excused a feeling of déjà vu as we consider the Bill. As with the White Paper, I warmly support it in general, especially as regards choice and quality.
In 1954 there were many cries of alarm at the prospect of independent television and the introduction of advertising. However, as I said in 1988, commercial television appeared to bring increased economic growth and prosperity to this country. It also gave us limited choice, better programmes, especially news, and tens of thousands of new jobs. Two years ago when the Government published their White Paper some predicted that only bad could come from the expansion of broadcasting. On this occasion, even before the Bill forecast by the White Paper has become law, it is clear in my mind that the critics will once again be proved wrong.
Since the publication of the White Paper more than a dozen new television services have started broadcasting in Britain. Today British viewers have a choice of 17 television stations: four terrestrial channels; four from Sky; four others on the European Astra satellite; and, since last month, five new channels from the British Satellite Broadcasting company, which I also welcome.
In this country 10 years ago television was a scarce medium, with only a handful of channels, unlike the United States, Japan and Continental Europe. Now we can see the reality of considerable diversity, 1269 with television offering an unprecedented range of services covering news, public affairs, feature films, religion, sport, music, children's programmes and perhaps above all the arts.
I particularly welcome the Arts Council's plans, not yet mentioned, to set up an independent company with the help of Coopers and Lybrand. It hopes that eventually it will be self-supporting. The company will finance arts programmes and thus offer perhaps to millions more people a chance to enjoy the best of the work supported by the Arts Council. I believe that that will be a valuable source of quality programmes. I also read with great interest the publication of the Campaign for Quality Television. I am glad that the Government amended the Bill in another place in order to give more weight to such programmes.
I am glad too that the Bill recognises that the role of government is not to prescribe in detail how each of the channels should operate but rather to provide a framework in which television may develop to fulfil the needs of viewers just as in my view a library fulfils the needs of readers.
I believe that the Bill strikes a careful balance. It recognises the need for consumer protection. That is why we should welcome the provisions requiring impartiality in news, although I know that that is a controversial matter. There is also a requirement to observe taste and decency in programming and truthfulness in advertising. Equally, the Bill provides anyone with an idea and sufficient resources the opportunity of broadcasting to the public. It also recognises the need for non-domestic satellite services, such as Sky, which use international frequencies to transmit their programmes.
There are some who would like to see restrictions put on those seeking to use non-domestic satellite channels. I hope that your Lordships will reject those efforts and will instead support the Government in their desire to promote satellite development.
The argument for keeping some players out of the satellite arena is an old one. In 1962 the Pilkington Committee, to which I gave evidence, supported the proposition that newspaper publishers, for example, should not be permitted to control television services. At the time, when there was only one commercial television service, that may have made some sense. Today, with 17 channels already and probably more to come, the argument loses its validity.
I agree very much with what the noble Lord, Lord Annan, said on this matter in his fascinating and, as usual, highly entertaining speech. I cannot see a danger of undue influence over public opinion if a newspaper publisher owns or partly owns a television channel, always provided—as the Bill ensures—that there is a legally binding requirement of impartiality and a watchdog with, as I understand it, sharp teeth to deal with any transgressions.
It is interesting to examine the practical effect of excluding newspaper companies from offering non-domestic satellite services. In my view it would mean cutting off an important source of investment in the television industry. There can be no doubt that we should have less competition, fewer channels 1270 and increased concentration of ownership. Were those who have bravely invested in non-domestic satellite services to be told by your Lordships that they could not continue to invest, they would simply move elsewhere.
Britain is becoming the leading centre for satellite broadcasting in Europe. We shall be discussing the future of Europe in this House tomorrow. As democratic governments emerge in Eastern Europe, I look forward to those new democracies having access to programmes from Britain and the West generally offering them our ideals and values.
As I have often said, I have had no financial interest in commercial or independent television, or the electronic industry, since I joined the Government as Parliamentary Secretary for Science in 1963. However, in recent months I had the opportunity to watch satellite programmes and I consider that Sky and other European Astra channels are offering interesting services. One could almost learn German from watching the three or four German channels. There is also a Japanese channel. In particular I compliment Sky News, which I consider to be an impartial, reliable and attractively presented service available throughout the day and night—unlike other television news services—and in my view even more effective and useful than Cable News Network in the United States.
I also welcome the start of the British Satellite Broadcasting company, BSB, although I have not yet had a chance to see its programmes. I hope to do so soon. I think that it should be congratulated on being willing to invest some £1 billion in offering its satellite services to the public. BSB, it seems, has a monopoly of all the UK direct broadcasting channels, which have several technical and legal advantages, such as the right to compulsory carriage on cable TV and the right to protection from interference from other satellite systems, but are subject to cross-ownership restrictions. Sky and others use non-domestic satellites which do not have such commercial advantages but are not subject to cross-ownership rules. It would be wrong for us to advocate changing those conditions retrospectively.
There are many points made in the briefs that I have received from ITV and other organisations. I particularly recommend the brief from the Arts Council, which has not been mentioned so far in this debate. There are many other points which are of importance, but they can be dealt with in Committee and Report stage. In general, I strongly support the Bill in the form in which it has already been passed in another place.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Lord Boston of Faversham
My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of TVS Entertainment and of its subsidiary which holds the television franchise for the South and South-East of England, TVS Television Limited.
Until around three weeks ago I decided not to take part in the debate on this Bill, just as I had taken no part in the debate on the White Paper. I felt that my views would be seen as being too much affected by my pecuniary interest to be regarded as useful. After 1271 further thought I feel that that might be seen as being outweighed by views one can offer because of experience as a practitioner in the industry, and also because we face major changes in broadcasting in our country.
There is also this thought: until 1985 there were four ITV chairmen in your Lordships' House: my noble friend—apart from the strict requirement of party political nomenclature of this House, he is in all other respects my noble friend—Lord Thomson of Monifieth; my noble friend Lord Buxton of Alsa, to whom the same considerations apply and who was formerly of Anglia Television; our late and sadly lamented noble friend Lord Harlech, of HTV, and myself. Now there is only one and it would perhaps be odd if the one remaining chairman refrained from taking part in the debate.
However I must give a warning: I will not be acting as an ITV spokesman in the House. Quite apart from the fact that we speak only for ourselves I confess that I have not always been at one with all my ITV friends. I upset some of them, including some in my own company, by not being overwhelmingly enthusiastic with regard to televising Parliament, though I was in favour of an experiment. I admit that televising your Lordships' House seems to have produced quite a popular reaction outside; it has enhanced its reputation and made its work more widely appreciated. However, I recall being impressed by the most convincing argument I ever heard against the televising of Parliament. It came from the late Lord Harlech in a speech in the Cholmondeley Room at a dinner hosted by my noble friend, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, as chairman of the IBA. It was one of an annual series of those occasions which he initiated for all ITV chairmen and members of the IBA. Until he introduced that innovation there had never been a get-together of ITV chairmen, only of managing directors and other executives of ITV.
What Lord Harlech said in cautioning against televising Parliament was that there was a striking similarity between Parliament and sausages. Here I ask noble Lords to listen carefully for I will not repeat this. I promised my noble leader that this is one television occasion when there will be absolutely no repeats! Lord Harlech said:If you like sausages and respect the law, it's probably better not to see either of them being made".The Bill has emerged from another place in much better shape than when it arrived there. That is due in great measure to the flexibility and willingness to listen to argument shown by the Minister of State, Mr. David Mellor. I also pay tribute to his right honourable friend the Home Secretary, Mr. Waddington. He has overall responsibility for his department and has displayed one of the principal examples of strength in a Minister: the ability to delegate. I wish also to include our own Minister of State—if he will forgive me for embracing him in that rather possessive way from this side of the House—the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, who has played his part in his department and has always shown himself open to reason and realistic argument.
1272 The most significant improvement made to the Bill is, of course, as has been said, in the greatly increased discretion given to the ITC to grant a franchise to an applicant other than the highest bidder where programme proposals are substantially better than those of the highest bidder. That is a great improvement. It gives greater priority to programme quality and therefore serves the interests of viewers better, and it owes much to the efforts of the IBA chairman Mr. George Russell. However, there remain major parts of the Bill which need to be improved.
One part in particular which I wish to deal with now has been mentioned by a number of noble Lords in all parts of the House. I refer to takeovers of successful applicants for franchises and whether there should be a moratorium on takeovers for a limited period. That subject has been touched upon today but, if I may say so, the arguments have not yet been fully spelt out. As the Bill stands, successful applicants could be taken over from the moment the franchises are allocated. The most weighty point about that is that it would make nonsense of the whole election process—a lengthy, painstaking, careful process. Therefore, that would go against the Government's own purposes.
The Government have themselves devised the new system. The framework is in the Bill. The ITC will examine the applications, scrutinise written submissions and details of the teams concerned, and examine at first hand the applicants and their leading participants. It is the Government's own system which they strengthened greatly in another place. Why go to all the trouble of setting up that whole process, presumably designed to get the best possible television companies for this country and for viewers, if once the process is over and the best people are chosen someone else can come along and take over a successful group?
The company taking over need have made no written submission to the ITC. It will not have appeared before the ITC. Its proposals will not have been tested by the commission. It will not have given evidence before it. The sincerity, genuineness and the weaknesses of a person can be revealed when seen and examined in person, but the people concerned will not have been subjected to that test.
It is said that a company taking over a successful applicant will take on all the commitments and promises of the licence holder; that it will stand in the shoes of the successful applicant. I must confess that I should have thought it ought to be required to stand on its own feet rather than in someone else's shoes. The point has also been made that the ITC would have to approve the transfer of the licence to a company making a takeover bid. While I have every confidence in the chairman-designate of the commission—and I am sure I will in the commission as a whole when it is appointed—I do not find that reassuring. In any case, I doubt whether the ITC would relish that task in those circumstances. After all, what we would have is a company which has made no application for a franchise, which has waited in the wings, and has then pounced on a successful applicant. It is a clear sign of weakness and a lack of self-confidence in its own powers and 1273 ability if it does not come forward in the first place and make an application on its own account. Indeed, on that ground alone such a company could be regarded as not a fit and proper person to hold a franchise.
There is a related point. It has been suggested that the ITC would not agree a takeover by a company which had applied for a franchise and failed. At first sight that seems just. However, on reflection that might not be in the best interests of viewers. Indeed, there is a case for granting a franchise to a failed applicant while maintaining a moratorium on takeovers. We could have a successful applicant who, for some reason, withdraws after gaining a franchise. It could well be the case that in the contest for the franchise another applicant might have come a very close second. What better solution could there be than to transfer the franchise to the runner-up? Such a person could well be far more desirable than the waiting predator.
There are other substantial arguments for a moratorium. I should like to mention some of them but I emphasise that I am not arguing against takeovers altogether. It is undoubtedly the case that if immediate takeovers are allowed the management of a new contractor, threatened with a takeover, would have to spend immense amounts of time organising a defence or negotiating. That would distract the management from what should be the prime purpose of preparing for the start of broadcasting. That case was put powerfully by Members on all sides of another place. After it was acknowledged by the Minister, Mr. Mellor, he added that,in most sophisticated, well-structured companies, there are those who are charged with the responsibility of programme making and planning and there are those who are responsible for the overall management issues".— [Official Report. Commons, 8/5/90; Col. 110.]That is broadly correct. The Minister continued:That is a separate function".With respect, that is not correct. The management of a television company is not separate from the prime work of a television company. Fighting a takeover bid would be distracting and disruptive. That would permeate the entire company. Moreover, for many people in the company it would be demoralising, especially among those not, paradoxically, in the thick of the fight. That would be especially damaging to creative people—the programme makers.
It is not only management time and energy which will be taken up in fighting a takeover. Resources—money—will be diverted, too. That will mean that the new contractors—leaner than ever before with no surplus fat, by the way—will have to spend money on public relations, corporate advice and other defensive steps. Some resources allocated for programming might have to be used for those purposes. After all, the greatest costs of a television programme company are those associated with programmes. Therefore, savings would have to be found in that direction.
There is another threat to programmes. As one noble Lord has already said this afternoon, a predator would pay a premium in taking over a company. That premium would have to be earned 1274 back over the life of the franchise. Programming costs account for about 50 per cent. to 60 per cent. of the costs of the present ITV contractors. As further steps are made to produce leaner companies that percentage is likely to rise, so programming budgets are likely to be the only sources from which those premiums can be earned back.
There is a related economic argument. If predators can adopt a wait-and-see approach and then pick the lucky winners instead of running the risk of applying for a franchise that will reduce substantially the number of bids at the application stage.
Among the strongest arguments for a moratorium advanced on all sides in another place is the need for a period of stability and for the new programme companies to prepare for broadcasting in the new franchise period. A prime consideration in allocating the franchises is the need, as the Government have rightly said, to safeguard regional services. Member after Member of another place emphasised the importance of that and their fears that regional commitments would be among those in jeopardy if there were no moratorium and, therefore, no guaranteed period of stability.
The IBA favours a moratorium. After advancing the main arguments it adds another powerful one. It points out that the fact that the new licensees would be part of a federal, national, system is an added reason for maintaining a period of stability.
On the need for a moratorium, there is just one other aspect that I wish to deal with and that is the length of time needed. A popular period among Members on all sides who spoke in another place was for at least three years. The IBA has called for a moratorium to start on the award of the franchises until at least one year after the start of broadcasting. One notes the words "at least". However, nowhere have I seen a detailed, logical case for a particular length of time. Clearly it needs to last for some time after broadcasting begins so that the companies can establish themselves and a proper assessment of their broadcasts can be made.
Here I part company from the IBA when it says that the period should be at least one year. A year does not allow enough time for even the first year's broadcasting to be evaluated. I would argue for at least two-and-a-half years with, as an absolute but an unsatisfactory minimum, one-and-a-half years after broadcasting starts. I put forward those more precise periods of two-and-a-half years and one-and-a-half years, for this simple reason: if we said just one year it would be quite impossible to digest and assess the year's work on, say, 1st January 1994. Companies have been bringing their year ends into line at 31st December. Annual reports are not out until some months later so that it would be reasonable to go to the middle of the year for those to appear and for a proper annual assessment to be made.
Morever, after only one calendar year we would not even have seen a complete winter schedule of ITV or Channel 3 programmes. There is also a logical case for at least two-and-a-half years rather than one-and-a-half years. An assessment of two full years' broadcasting would allow a company and the federal 1275 system to show how it was building up its programmes. It would also demonstrate consistency or otherwise if it was not doing so.
In seeking at least two-and-a-half years I am strengthened by another argument of the IBA itself. In the context of its case for, initially at least, one news provider (ITN) for the ITV or Channel 3 network, it said that the first review of performance should be, say,at the end of 1994, by which time the new Channel 3 licensees will have established themselves".I hesitate to point out that even though that period is in the context of reviewing the news service, there is an apparent inconsistency in the IBA's statements in calling for a moratorium of "at least one year" after broadcasting starts and then saying that the companies will have established themselves by the end of 1994, which is after two years.
However, I comfort myself by noting that for the moratorium the words "at least" appeared and also by noting that the IBA attached a precise reason for putting in two years; namely, that by that time the ITV Channel 3 companies will have established themselves. I believe it is significant that all of the Members of another place on all sides who spoke at Report stage on takeovers and on a moratorium, spoke in favour of a moratorium save for the Minister himself, though even he left the door somewhat ajar.
I very much hope that the noble Earl will, at an early stage in our proceedings, feel able to indicate the Government's willingness to introduce or accept an amendment for a moratorium from the time that the contracts are awarded until at least two-and-a-half years after they start to run.
I should have liked to have dealt with two other matters; namely, networking, on which my own group has been campaigning for improvements for some time, and the ownership of ITN. However, in view of the time I shall simply say that other ways in which the Bill should be improved are by requiring the ITC to ensure that there is a satisfactory network arrangement for the ITV Channel 3 companies and also a change to allow the ITV companies to retain a majority shareholding in ITN as their news provider. After all, ITN has served the nation splendidly as a first-quality news service—it has proved itself too, in competition with the BBC—and it is itself putting forward useful restructuring proposals.
Although I cannot welcome the Bill itself—because while accepting the need for a new Act to deal with new developments I would have preferred something different—I welcome the Government's flexible and constructive approach to arguments about it. I hope that they will show commendable consistency by being flexible and constructive here too in enabling us to help the Government to make this an even better Bill.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Winchester
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool will be speaking later in this debate about the place of religious programmes so I do not want to dwell 1276 overmuch on that aspect of the Bill. However, I very much welcome the helpful and positive way in which the Minister in another place has responded to the fears expressed about the danger of religious, children's and arts programmes being marginalised as a consequence of deregulation and the increase in competition.
The Minister's assurances about the new requirements for children's and religious programmes on Channels 3 and 5 are indicative of a perceptible and very desirable shift in the Government's thinking. The Government have responded very wisely to the many voices raised over the past 18 months following the debate on the White Paper about the risks to standards of public service broadcasting. Some of those fears are still around, and understandably so.
Nevertheless, I join many other Peers in welcoming the strengthened safeguards in the Bill about the quality threshold. I enjoyed Mr. George Russell's description of it as being a kind of Becher's Brook. I welcome the provision in the Bill that guidelines should be issued by the ITC on the kind of programmes that a service should offer when applying for a licence.
I note that the Minister in another place expects that these will include documentaries, drama and programmes on education and the arts. I am sure that the discretion given to the commission to award a licence to an applicant offering a service of exceptionally high quality that is not necessarily the highest bidder is a very valuable improvement to the Bill.
The cumulative effect of these assurances, some statutory and others verbal, is that we are not facing that major deregulation which many of us feared 18 months ago. We are seeing a measure of re-regulation that is appropriate to the changed conditions in which independent broadcasting will be operating. Yet I believe that many of us still hope and think it vital that with increased competition money is always available for the quality drama and documentaries on which ITV's proud record has rested and that the climate and conditions for such programme-making must continue to exist.
Like other speakers, I believe that there are a number of places in which the Bill can be improved. There need to be arrangements for the networking of programmes which will be binding on the new licence holders. The ITC seems to be the appropriate body to regulate such arrangements. Many people have shared the anxieties raised about the threat of the takeover of a company before it has time to get its service well established. The arguments for a moratorium have been so persuasively expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Boston, that it would be foolish of me to comment further except to say that I hope that the Government will listen carefully to the case that he has put forward.
One also hopes that the Government might think again about the rules for cross-media ownership so that they can apply to the owners of non-domestic satellite services. There are fears that too much control may be concentrated in too few hands, which is undesirable in a democratic society. I am glad that 1277 the proposal in the White Paper to bring broadcasting within the scope of the Obscene Publications Act has been embodied in the Bill in Clauses 150 and 151 and that racially inflammatory material will also be prohibited.
I want to say a word of appreciation—I feel it is rather daring to do so—about the setting up of the Broadcasting Standards Council and to applaud its work in drawing up a code of practice giving guidance in the specific areas of the portrayal of violence and of sexual conduct in programmes. I also applaud its more general concern for standards of taste and decency. I find extremely encouraging the various research projects that it has put in hand and also the council's intention to continue to consult representative groups, as it did in preparing the code of practice, as well as its desire to stage further public forums. That will help to promote a continuing debate on broadcasting standards. My colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough shared with us in his splendid maiden speech some of the valuable experiences and lessons that the council experienced throughout that consultative process.
When the council was set up critical voices were raised because it was feared that, with its limited terms of reference, concentrating on violence and sexual conduct would make it into a kind of nanny, which most broadcasts could do without. However, in a recent very interesting paper Mr. Anthony Smith has suggested that the council might have considerable potential, that in embryo it already represents the public interest operating within the broadcasting system, and that if its terms of reference were enlarged its role could be developed for it to function as a public forum in which the broadcasting companies could be opened up to a continuing discussion on standards and quality of broadcasting and on the social and cultural needs of the system. A great many interested bodies could well contribute to that important debate. I am rather attracted by the suggestion of enlarging and enhancing the council's role in assisting the development of public debate, and I hope that thought might be given to how this could be achieved and what legislative provision might be necessary to bring it about.
This Bill is directed to the independent sector of television and radio. The debate on the future working of the sector has been going on for a very long time, and it will be a further two and a half years before the new licence holders on Channel 3 will be operating and possibly longer still before Channel 5 becomes a reality. Those involved in the independent companies have been and are still living through a prolonged period of uncertainty, as is the BBC, with the threat of the licence fee being phased out and subscription introduced.
The BBC remains the major force in British broadcasting, with a long and proud record of achievement. Of course we have heard the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Allen, delivered in his usual fascinating way, and of course there is scope for reform and pruning in the BBC; like the Church, semper reformanda. Nevertheless, the BBC is a great cultural centre and influence in this country and beyond, and as our ties with Europe become stronger 1278 it has a unique contribution to offer. I believe that to move away from the licence fee towards subscription could destroy the uniqueness of the BBC and reduce the access of the mass audience to quality programmes, making their availability no longer a right but dependent upon a person's ability to pay. Not only should we risk losing the distinctive character of a unique institution—and that would be an incalculable loss—but at the same time, by bringing the BBC more openly into the market place, we should impose a greater consequential strain on the independent sector, which already has great burdens to bear through increased commercial competition from terrestrial channels as well as satellite.
I very much hope that in our proper concern for the health of independent broadcasting in this country—and we are all very appreciative of its great achievements—we shall nevertheless always remain alive to the importance of the continued well-being of the BBC and its distinctive place in our society and in the developing of broadcasting.
I must apologise to the noble Earl because I shall not be in my place at the end of the debate. I notice that there are 28 speakers still to follow, and if it is any comfort to him I shall be remembering him at Matins when he rises to respond to the debate.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lord Orr-Ewing
My Lords, it is an honour to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester. I hope that the Church is going to grasp the opportunities which will exist of greater religious freedom in the whole broadcasting sphere. I hope that when we see the amendments which have now been promised we shall remember that the established Church in this country is the Church of England and also that our monarch is defender of the faith. I should not have to say this in front of bishops but we sometimes forget that that faith is Christianity. It is not a mish-mash of various faiths; it is Christianity of which the monarch bears the defence. We back her and the Church in their efforts.
Much has been said and therefore I must try to shorten my speech in order to avoid repetition. I think it was recognised from the very start, when I was concerned with breaking the BBC monopoly—tremendously opposed in those days by the Labour Party, which promised to abolish ITV if it continued—that broadcasting's potential placed an enormous propaganda weapon in the hands of the media élite. For that reason clauses have been inserted in successive Bills over the years to lay down that each channel, both public service and independent, should maintain due impartiality.
It could be that in five or 10 years there will be enough channels for us to get overall balance, but we must remember that in the interregnum of the next five or 10 years the main broadcasting system will be the BBC, underpinned by £1,200 million of licence money, and the ITV companies, which, incidentally, get £1-7 billion in advertising revenue to subsidise and help their programmes. Although there is going to be much competition it will be a long time before 50 per cent. of the market is not 1279 in existing hands; so we shall have to have some regulatory authority.
In recent broadcasting Acts the due impartiality clause has been added to the BBC's charter and licence as an agreement signed by the chairman of the BBC and the Home Secretary at that time. For some reason which I do not understand I believe it is not intended that that should be added to the 1990 Bill. However, there is bound to be a knock-on effect. This is recognised in the helpful BBC brief on the Bill which I received a few days ago, as I think others did, which states:although. these detailed provisions will not affect the BBC directly, they will have implications for the overall broadcasting environment and the BBC's place in it".Noble Lords will know that Clause 6 and Clause 85 for radio are the key clauses, which are largely based on a similar clause in previous Bills.
I should like to concentrate on three points: first, the present regulatory format and the methods used to flout it; secondly, to provide some examples where the IBA has been unwilling or unable to carry out its regulatory obligations, and where the IBA's admirable guidelines have been disregarded; and, thirdly, some examples where the BBC governors have been unable to keep the programme creators to the terms of their charter, licence and agreement and, above all, their own very carefully drawn up guidelines.
Since the days of Sir Hugh Carleton-Greene in the 1960s, various devious methods have been adopted to undermine the principle of due impartiality by means of practices calculated to render it worthless. The following set of loopholes has been used by broadcasters to by-pass the statutory impartiality requirements.
First, there is the provision which allows due impartiality to be abandoned in the case of individual programmes so long as it can be claimed to apply to an entire series of programmes "considered as a whole". It is virtually never found that one biased programme is properly offset by another biased programme, as I shall show later.
Secondly, a new artificial category has now been invented called personal view programmes. We saw one of these—Harold Pinter's—on Channel 4 last night. This is in no way sanctioned by the broadcasting Acts of 1981, 1984, or 1990; nor by the BBC charter, licence and agreement. There are no grounds for so-called personal view programmes being made an exception to the political impartiality requirements.
Thirdly, a word has been slipped into the Bill which makes nonsense of the regulations as applied to current affairs. It says that only "current" political matters are not subject to impartiality. I shall not enlarge on that point, because my noble friend Lady Cox covered it thoroughly.
Both the IBA and the BBC have produced admirable guidelines. I have brought the BBC's guidelines with me and there are guidelines just as thick from the IBA. They are carefully and thoroughly worded. They are laid down for all executive editors, producers and staff but sometimes 1280 they seem to be completely flouted. I wonder whether some producers have even read them; they have not marked, learnt and inwardly disgested them. The noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, has asked me to make a point that he was going to make: that perhaps the code of conduct which is now being discussed and drawn up between the ITC and the BBC—they are to have a common code of conduct, which is desirable—should become the equivalent of the documents which some businesses ask their employees to sign. Employees would sign that they had read the code, had understood it and would abide by it. That is a constructive suggestion. Perhaps the ITC will consider it when it gets going.
I want to give a few examples from the IBA of cases where impartiality has not been established. In the independent sector, Granada Television's flagship programme on Channel 3, "World in Action", is the most biased. From 1985 to 1988 the Media Monitoring Unit monitored 83 different programmes. Of those, 20 were non-political, 37 favoured the left, four favoured the right and 22 were impartial. That is not a good record. Nothing has been done by the IBA to reduce that imbalance. Alan Whicker, an established doyen of television documentary makers, has described these programmes as "a sort of Marxist party political". Therefore it is not only the MMU and noble Lords who complain that the problem continues without correction.
The noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, was approached to appear in one of the 1988 series, "The Taming of the Beeb". He is recorded as having said:Before I saw their researcher World in Action asked me whether I would be willing to appear on the programme. I said that I would. After they had discovered my views I was not invited".There must be many MPs and many Peers who have had exactly the same experience. The programme companies and the BBC sound you out on a subject on which they are constructing a programme. If your views do not fit in they find some excuse to cut them out and find instead someone who will confirm the views which they already have in their minds. We have all had that experience. I am glad to see nods from all around the House. If one has spent a good deal of time thinking about a subject it is discouraging to find that, having recorded the programme on videotape, it is then chucked away. Sometimes one is told that it has been put in the archive and that it may be useful to our successors. We shall be pushing up the daisies by that time.
Another programme in an unbalanced series was broadcast on 8th January 1990. "World in Action" purported to be a personal analysis of the extent to which apartheid had been eliminated from South African sport. The programme was sub-titled "Return of the Rebel". The rebel in this case was Peter Hain, who presented the programme from his own quite unchallenged viewpoint, explicitly timed to influence public opinion in the approach to Mike Gatting's so-called rebel tour. Although the IBA was alerted beforehand it expressed itself satisfied with the content of the broadcast.
If balance had been desired to honour the due impartiality commitment it could have been pointed 1281 out that 60,000 black South Africans had been coached every year by 70 English or English county players who went to South Africa to undertake coaching. It could also have been pointed out that an up-to-date gallup poll of the so-called rebel tour showed that 41 per cent. as against 24 per cent. of South African blacks considered that the tour would be of considerable benefit. The majority of blacks in that country favoured it. None of that was heard and none of it was put forward.
My last IBA example concerns Harold Pinter's programme on Channel 4 on Saturday 31st May. It was called "Opinions: Oh, Superman". In The Times it was described as a short series of personal arguments on the subjects of their choice and it was said to be:a blistering attack on United States policy towards Latin America".I watched it but it did not inspire me. It lasted 30 minutes and was a face-to-face programme. As forecast, it was a violent attack on United States policy. At one stage he stated that in Nicaragua, Salvador and Guatemala 300,000 people had been killed in the name of democracy. Whether that figure is right or wrong, I should like to have seen some intention to give the other side of the story. I have no doubt that an American company could have been contracted to provide it.
The programme was one of a series of three. The programmes seem totally unconnected, because the next in the series is called "Democracy in India". The last programme has to do with the ageing of the United Kingdom population. It is called a series. It starts off with a loaded programme—no one would expect Harold Pinter to take up a neutral or balanced view—but one never encounters any balance. It would be possible to make a balanced programme but that does not seem to be attempted.
I turn now to some BBC examples and to the BBC's flagship programme "Today". The stars are Brian Redhead, Sue McGregor and John Humphries. I normally listen, as I am sure do many Peers, from 7.30 a.m. in the approach to the 8 a.m. news. I paid particular attention in the run-up to the Mid-Staffordshire by-election on Thursday 22nd March and to the local elections which followed on 3rd May. I have already praised the BBC's code of conduct so I turn to Chapter 18.5. It starts by reminding the staff that all news and current affairs are subject to Section 93 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 as regards parliamentary elections, local elections and by-elections. The Act lays down the rules "pending such elections" and defines the "pending" period as five weeks before polling day. The "Today" programme is not known for keeping to the rules.
The Daily Express published on 3rd February an expose. During 14 days in January the MMU found on the newspaper's behalf that there were at least 12 significant lapses from the expected standards of impartiality. Eleven reports had one thing in common—they all attacked government policy without any pro-government arguments being adequately aired.
On 25th April at 7.40 a.m. on the "Today" programme, eight days before the local elections, 1282 there was a story about the resignation of 18 Tory members of the West Oxfordshire District Council. I heard it. This had happened eight weeks earlier but had been kept back to have the maximum impact. On that programme—I have obtained a copy of the transcript—Mr. Arkwright, the presenter, described how councillor Eric Abercrombie in Sandwell had made a difficult resignation speech to his local Conservative Association. The case was taken up by councillor Mrs. Vera Jones, secretary of the Sandwell Conservative Group. It is now admitted that the speech was not made to the Conservative Association: nor was it made, as Duke Hussey's reply letter to her states, to local councillors. It was written by the local Labour Party which he had joined and was recorded in the councillor's own home.
Mr. Hussey's reply said that the programme had got it wrong and that there was no intention to hoax the audience. He apologised; and apologies from the BBC are not very frequently forthcoming. He is big and able and he could take it, and I am delighted that he did. Sadly, that piece of deception was not known to the millions of people due to vote eight days later.
It would be nice to know what happened to the presenter in charge of that "Today" programme, as he had transgressed in three definite ways. First, he had deceived his audience and falsified a speech; and, secondly, he had disobeyed the BBC's guidelines which specifically state,local and regional coverage must be scrupulous in achieving balance over short periods of the campaign".Thirdly, he may have broken Section 93 of the Representation of the People Act 1983, which lays down rules which apply in the last five weeks before polling day. Normally any criticism by parliamentarians of BBC personnel earns the broadcaster an almost immediate award from the Royal Television Society, or something of that ilk. I have not heard whether this has yet happened to Mr. Arkwright.
During the run up to the local elections I watched the "Panorama" programmes on the two Mondays before polling day. One of them dealt with the poll tax—I am sure I do not need to tell noble Lords that—and every person who was interviewed in the street said more or less the same thing: "I have voted Tory all my life, but I shall never vote Tory again". The other programme featured the health service and was really very well balanced. Every effort was made to give the two sides of the picture.
I also have with me a transcript of the "Today" programme which was broadcast on the day before polling day, 2nd May 1990. Brian Redhead was interviewing Peter Mandelson, who many noble Lords will know is currently Director of Communications for the Labour Party. He is a formidable man, a Labour parliamentary candidate and is expected, the papers tell me, to get early ministerial responsibility should they be elected. He was matched by Charles Hendry, a young PR man and Tory candidate for the High Peak constituency.
This part of the "Today" programme contained a fierce attack by Mandelson on the Prime Minister. Brian Redhead, who was acting as chairman—and the chairman is supposed to be neutral—asked this 1283 young man finally, "Would a PR man have the courage to go to the Prime Minister and say, 'Prime Minister, the best thing you can do for your party is to stand down'?". That punchline, issued less than 24 hours before the polls opened, hardly seems to me to be in keeping with any of the established traditions laid down for the behaviour of a very important sector of our broadcasting media.
I regret to say that the BBC news is not immune. Referring to the 1 p.m. news on polling day, 22nd March, in the Mid-Staffordshire by-election, the Independent newspaper—which is not always on the Tory side—reported that,Labour Party workers could not contain their delight yesterday as they listened to the BBC lunchtime news at the House of Commons. It was like a party-political broadcast on behalf of the Labour Party. It is the first time we have actually applauded the news', said a Labour Official".Perhaps he was just confirming what so many other people have said over the years.
I am afraid that that anti-Thatcher viewpoint now creeps into many news programmes, such as current affairs programmes and even light comedy programmes. Little snide words—not, I am sure, in the script because no respectable editor would put them in—are slipped in by newsreaders, possibly to please their producer. I heard an example of this on the news on Friday 11th May on BBC Television's nine o'clock news programme, which has a very big audience. The declaration was made—quite rightly—that inflation had now reached 9-4 per cent. and that it was the highest for eight years. That was news and it was perfectly correct. The newscaster went on to say that in 1979 Mrs. Thatcher had said that it was her aim to reduce inflation to zero. A few sentences later in this news bulletin—and I have an accurate record of what was said—it was said:Mrs. Thatcher is now having difficulty in honouring the promise she made to reduce inflation to zero".That is the danger if you muddle news and current affairs together. Clearly that was a comment and had nothing to do with the news of the day. News is sacred and surely comment is free. But, unfortunately, the two have become confused. That situation was not helped by the fact that the BBC amalgamated those two huge departments into one, which now has 2,300 people in it. It must be very difficult for any editor in charge to manage to carry out the obligations of impartiality.
I find that Sky Television news succeeds much better in this respect. I now watch it regularly. It has the advantage of being worldwide, very much up to date and of course it is broadcast every hour on the hour. The ITN news is also admirable, in that it achieves a much better balance. I am sure that it is possible to do so and I hope that the BBC will work towards that aim.
We have had successive Acts of Parliament. We have had exemplorary guidelines laid down by the IBA and the BBC, but neither the Acts nor the guidelines have proved effective. Will the ITC, which this Bill sets up, be able to draw up a code of conduct which has teeth and sanctions that are effective? Certainly I think that this important code ought to be debated in Parliament and possibly be subjected to an affirmative resolution.
1284 All democratic governments in the free world have this problem about regulations and regulatory authorities. I wonder whether the Home Office has examined the pros and cons of the regulatory systems that they have in the Commonwealth, in the USA and in Western Europe. There must be some ideas which we could absorb from them. Let us make no mistake: the power wielded by the TV stars, the editors and the producers and the overweaning confidence that it gives them does, I am afraid, breed some arrogance. They now feel free to attack the fabric of our culture—Parliament, politicians, the monarchy, the police, the armed forces, the lawyers—and of South Africa and the USA.
Let no Labour or Liberal supporter believe that broadcasters' habits will change with the Government. There may be a short honeymoon period, but power once developed is not easily or lightly cast aside. I therefore earnestly hope that we can strengthen this Bill as it goes through the House.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Lord Willis
My Lords, I suppose that I should first declare an interest as I still earn part of my living from writing for television and I have done so for the past 40 years. In fact, it is 40 years ago since I had my first television series broadcast on the BBC, and last week I returned from Germany where my latest television series is being shown. I should point out that for 10 of those years I slaved in the galley for the noble Lord, Lord Grade, whose maiden speech proved to be so interesting to the House. I should also like to apologise to the noble Earl for the fact that I cannot stay late this evening. I am not taking a mass. But I am doing something related to the Bill; I am actually broadcasting. Therefore, I hope that he will excuse my absence.
We are facing a Bill which began as raw meat but several chefs have been at work on it. It is now at least edible, if not exactly haute cuisine. For this we have to thank first the Minister, Mr. David Mellor. He has shown a capacity to listen and has taken on board many changes. That quality in a Minister is quite remarkable and even dangerous. He has shown flexibility, tolerance and common sense—qualities which, if he is not careful, will ruin his political career and relegate him to the Back Benches.
We should also thank my honourable friend, Robin Corbett, MP, and his team for some good, lusty work on the Bill. And, to prove that I am not narrowly partisan, I should like to include George Walden, MP, and Roger Gale, MP, who played some excellent innings during the passage of the Bill in another place. Finally, I should like to thank my professional friends who formed the Campaign for Quality Television and achieved some notable successes by dint of skilful diplomatic lobbying.
I too shall try to avoid going over points that have already been made in the debate. However, I should like to stress first the point which was made so elegantly by my noble friend Lord Boston regarding the need for a moratorium. I do not believe that a year would be long enough; I think that we would need at least a minimum of two years. I hope that the Government will come around to recognising 1285 that point, because if we do not have this it makes the auctioning of the franchises a nonsense.
My second point is that we must do everything possible to retain the regional structure of ITV, which has proved its worth over 35 years. The smaller of these regional companies are in some danger in this new climate—and not simply from increased competition. For example, Ulster Television, which has carried out marvellous work in the most difficult of circumstances, does not have the financial resources of bigger companies. But whoever obtains the Ulster franchise will find themselves at least £2-5 million worse off because Channel 4 is now to handle its own advertising. Those are points which are relevant to all the other regional companies and ones which have not been taken on board by the Bill so far. Regional input into the system and regional quality are vital to air television and they have contributed a great deal to it.
I should now like to turn to a few personal matters. The Government made a concession to the Church lobby by including in the Bill a requirement that religious programmes should form part of each company's output. I find that approach excessively narrow. I have no objection to programmes on religion, but I do not see why the other side should not also have its say. So I should like to see the definition widened to cover general philosophical matters, the other great world religions, agnosticism and humanism. The minds of our people, young and old, should be open to all the great ideas of this world. It is wrong that we should submit them to one area only—the Christian religion. We need to give the viewers access to the whole spectrum of moral and spiritual ideas. I hope that we can return to that point later.
I must say that I do not share some of my noble friends' rears about what is called "cross-media" ownership. It seems to me that cross-media ownership is rapidly becoming a kind of shorthand for the anti-Rupert Murdoch club. I do not know Mr. Murdoch. I have met him only once, and that briefly. I have no connection with his business, financial or otherwise. I owe him nothing. What I find curious and alarming is that BSB should be running such an ill-tempered and intemperate campaign against Mr. Murdoch. BSB is hardly up and running yet. It has had to delay its own start time and time again. Yet what do I receive from BSB? A letter about its plans, its programmes, full of enthusiasm asking me to tune in to BSB? No, no. What I receive is an expensive brochure about cross-media ownership which is really a veiled attack upon Mr. Murdoch. That is absolute nonsense. BSB should be concentrating its finance and its resources on trying to be successful, not in attacking its rivals.
Could that be, I ask myself, because BSB is in the same satellite business as Sky and would like to see it weakened? Could it perhaps be because a number of powerful newspaper interests have large financial stakes in BSB? Of course not. I must dismiss such thoughts as unworthy of your Lordships' House.
For those who have that paranoid fear of Murdoch and his works, it might be relevant to point out three indisputable facts: by the mid-90s, when Britain will 1286 be blessed, or cursed, with a choice of at least 20 channels, Sky will have four of them. Of those, three are devoted to sport, films and entertainment. The fourth, the news channel, will be subject to the same regulations as everyone else in television. It could also be argued that News International, by pioneering the new technology, enabled more newspapers to be published and created more competition. Without its efforts, it is doubtful whether there would be an Independent or a Sunday Correspondent today. We have more voices, not fewer. Finally, who else would be prepared to lose £100 million a year to create a television network?
I wish BSB well. Television cannot afford failures; but please, BSB, concentrate on your own problems, concentrate on getting off the ground and wish Sky well in its own efforts.
The Bill, rightly, makes it a duty for the television companies to take at least 25 per cent. of their programmes from independent companies. But in another respect it strikes a body blow at another kind of independent—the small music publisher. Independent radio companies are prohibited from forming their own music publishing companies, but that prohibition apparently does not apply to the new Channel 3 companies. They are now demanding that the copyright of any music they commission should be vested in them. Perhaps I can explain. If one writes the theme music for a series such as "Crossroads", in the past one received one's royalties through the Performing Right Society every time that that piece of music was played. The companies are now demanding that they own the copyright of such pieces. They will buy them outright, and they will pay a fee which will be probably 50 per cent. of what one should receive.
It is sometimes difficult for small composers or music publishers to stand up against those people because they are not strong enough. They need the money. They need to be protected just as in the Bill we are protecting independent producers. That is an issue that has been overlooked by the Government. I hope the Minister will consider that point and give us an answer, because many small music publishers and composers have written to me. They are alarmed about their future livelihoods.
Another point at which I should like the Government to look, which has not been mentioned, is that television programme producers will be faced with a plethora of censorship. We have the Broadcasting Standards Council, the new controlling body, and the criminal law. Who will decide on anything? There is far too much of that and far too many bodies. That is again something at which we can perhaps look in Committee.
I have another point of concern that I should like to put to the Minister, which has not so far been raised in the debate. I shall not go into any great detail as it might be better to do that in Committee. I am aware that game shows and quiz games are not perceived as being high on the list when one thinks of quality television, but I speak of the entire output from "Mastermind", "My Word" and "Countdown" to the more inane programmes. I am referring to a point of principle.
1287 All those shows, which your Lordships may be surprised to hear cost many thousands of pounds to produce, are under threat because of a recent legal ruling that there can be no copyright in the format of a game show. The thieves have already broken in. "Opportunity Knocks", which was devised and developed over many years by Mr. Green and is plainly his property, has been openly stolen by New Zealand television which has produced the show for three years under its orginal name, using Mr. Green's format, without paying a penny in royalties. If that happened to a play, a piece of music or a book there would be an outcry. That is an issue that must be looked at.
In another place the Minister promised to consult the DTI on that issue to see what could be done. Will the Minister tell the House what progress has been made on the matter?
I should like to take some time to answer the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, but they should probably be debated in Committee. In his rather long speech he made many points about impartiality and individual programming. All I have to say at this stage is that if we want impartiality and balance in one programme, we shall castrate television. It is impossible to achieve. It is a subjective issue. The noble Lord may listen to a point of view on the radio and his Right-wing hairs rise on the back of his neck. I listen to it and I think, "God, how reactionary that is!". There are two different points of view. They are difficult to adjust. I agree with the noble Lord—I believe that he made some valid points—there must be balance; but we cannot achieve it in the framework of one programme. It we attempt to do that we place an impossible burden on broadcasters.
Finally, I should like to say two or three words about the BBC. Apart from an odd mention here and there, and the declaration that the BBC will remain as the,cornerstone of public service broadcasting",the Bill is practically silent on the subject of the corporation. The BBC may be happy about this, but I am not. I find it ominous.
Are the Government, having eaten ITV as their main course, saving the BBC for dessert? Their charter comes up for renewal in 1996. In the next six years the BBC will come under more pressure from greatly increased competition. I suspect that it may lose ratings because the ratings are with the many other channels. There will be a renewed demand therefore to curb the licence fee; for the BBC to earn its corn; perhaps to force the BBC to take advertising. All these possibilities are on the agenda for the next six years once this Broadcasting Bill is out of the way. I urge the BBC and all its friends in this House and elsewhere not to be complacent. They may well be walking into an ambush.
§ 7.50 p.m.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Willis, who has made a major contribution to broadcasting, only perhaps matched by that of his son. The noble Lord's words 1288 have been valuable and I congratulate him particularly because they all seem to be entirely related to the Bill. That is rather more than I can say for the speech that preceded his from the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing. Frankly, I was at a loss to discover to which part of the Bill his remarks were directed. But perhaps we should leave that matter and discuss it on another occasion.
I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, for his detailed and convincing explanation of the need for legislation. I was initially opposed to any change. Liberals are often opposed to change, even though they may recommend it. I felt that things were going splendidly. I was happy to leave them as they were. I would have left well alone. I mean "well" because the contribution made by independent television and independent broadcasting as a whole has been major and important. However, after the noble Earl's explanation, I recognise that we have been overtaken by new technology in so many ways that it is essential to have legislation. So we have it and we are discussing it.
We are all experts on this subject. I tend to take the view that television is not for watching but for being on. Anyone who has anything to do with television is an expert and that is why we have so many speakers tonight. Some speakers on the subject up and down the country have said the same things over and over again. Why not? Today one or two have said them here at slightly greater length.
In the discussion since the Bill first appeared we have had the growth of a new industry: the holding of and participation in symposia on the Bill. Symposia have been held all over the country. I have taken part with great pleasure in many of them and it has been interesting to hear other noble Lords who have also taken part saying the same things here. One or two have yet to speak and I look forward to hearing them again, even if they repeat their remarks, as I shall do. It is interesting that one's spontaneous witticisms have become more and more spontaneous with repetition and practice.
We have been privileged to hear four maiden speeches of high quality. My noble friend Lord Glasgow referred to a matter at the heart of our problems—the number of channels. On that, one immediately has to ask two questions: is there sufficient money to support that number of channels? The supply of advertising revenue is not inexhaustible. I believe it is questionable whether there will in the end be enough revenue from advertising to support what has to be supported with programme-making. Reading the financial memorandum to the Bill, we realise that the purpose of television now is to make a major contribution to public funds. I am not sure that there will be enough revenue to support all these channels. We shall have to wait and see. If there is not enough, as many noble Lords have explained, the first thing to suffer will be programme standards. Programme-making is costly and that is where savings would be made.
Secondly, is there enough creative talent to support this number of stations, even though some stations are duplicating and doing the same things? That is questionable. I believe that there is enough talent, provided that all the talent lying latent and 1289 unexploited in the regions of Britain is tapped and used. That is why I echo strongly what the noble Lord, Lord Willis, has just said about the importance of preserving the regional stations, particularly the small ones. I shall come to them later. I am quite sure that regionalism is at the heart of the matter.
Perhaps I may now list the points about which I still have anxieties. The idea of the auction of franchises seems to me quite extraordinary and unacceptable. It is the essence of vulgarity, displaying a callous disregard of culture and taste which I should not have expected of any government. I accept that it has been watered down a little. The pill has been sugared. I believe that I am right to pay tribute to Mr. Mellor for the way in which he has conducted negotiations and for the extent to which he has made modifications. However, I still have anxieties on that score. I believe that auctioning the franchises is offensive.
Next I turn to takeovers. Again, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Grade. He said that if takeovers are permitted, it makes a mockery of all the procedures which have been hammered out with Mr. Mellor and which will be further hammered out in this House at Committee stage. Something else must be done. I agree very much with what the noble Lord, Lord Boston, said—although at great length.
On cross-media ownership, I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, rather than the noble Lord, Lord Willis. He talked about the battle between BSB and Sky, but I ask him: who started it? Initially, the owners of Sky used the newspapers which they already owned in order to promote Sky in a way which demonstrated the need to do something about cross-media ownership. On that score I do not wholly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Willis.
I am a little worried about ITN. It is marvellous and has always had splendid standards which have never lapsed or wavered. I would leave it alone, without much competition. Why does it need it? I am extremely worried about listed events. If there is any threat to what is known at present as listed events we must battle hard in your Lordships' House when we come to the later stages of the Bill.
I now turn to a matter related to my main point of regionalism—networking. There must be proper networking arrangements. That leads me to talk a little more about regional broadcasting. When we discuss regional television there is a tendency for people—I am not saying noble Lords here—to think that we mean local television, parochial television. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said earlier that it would be possible for companies to broadcast different types of programmes for different parts of their regions. That is fine, but it is local broadcasting. Regional television and regional broadcasting are not local. They are a matter of looking at national and international events through regional eyes.
Regional broadcasting is also a matter, as regards cultural activities, of giving a regional flavour to universal themes. It may be music, drama, current affairs or anything else. That is why we need an extremely strong regional basis for our television—in order to recruit people to work, to provide the talent.
1290 They are not recruited very much in the regions by the BBC. It is the most over-metropolitanised outfit that I have heard of. If somebody works for the BBC in the regions the only badge of success is a season ticket to London. I was not all that keen on having two local radio stations in London—Capital and LBC. It seemed to me that London already had its local radio stations—BBC Radio 1, 2, 3 and 4. As I heard them up in Manchester they seemed to me to be London local radio. The regional question will not be solved by the BBC; it must be solved by the independent network, be it radio or television.
On the question of radio, I say in all earnestness that if there are to be three national, independent radio channels, one of them must be based in the regions. We do not want them all in London. I hope that in the course of the further stages of the Bill we shall do something about that. I hope that we shall come to understand what we mean by regional television.
The noble Lord, Lord Buxton, is to speak later. He knows as well as I what contribution has been made by small regional companies and how important it is that they should still have the ability to recruit talent locally and to make a regional contribution to the national network. They should not just be concerned with their own area. We do not want to find Lancashire people watching Manchester United all day. The regions should look at national and international events through regional eyes. It is not that they do it better in the regions, but they do it differently. They treat music differently. The composer may be the same but the broadcast is different if it comes from Glasgow, Liverpool or London. That is not a criticism of London; it is a commentary on the nature of our society, its variety and differences. Let us not forfeit those differences in setting up this new network of television stations.
We have also heard a great deal about independent production companies. The Government are to be commended on what they have done to encourage existing franchise holders to take so much of their programme material for independent programme makers. However, again I feel that if we are not very careful we shall find that nearly all of those independent programme makers will be based in London. They will stay in the regions provided there are strong regional stations which can employ them. That also is immensely important.
I should like to say a word about something which is not in the Bill but which I believe ought to be, namely, the question of ratings. A number of noble Lords have talked about the extent to which people and programme makers concentrate on ratings. I am concerned with the way in which ratings are calculated. It is based on an arrangement between the BBC and ITV which the BBC insists on retaining. The rating for a programme, whether it is a soap or some other programme, is based on the number of people who watch that programme throughout a week. Therefore it is no wonder that the BBC can get programmes into the top of the ratings if it imports Australian rubbish and broadcasts it five times a week. It will be watched by five times as many people as watch English rubbish which is broadcast one night a week. It is the BBC which 1291 insists on keeping that method of calculating the ratings. It is wrong.
The public have an interest in ratings. I should like to see some control over the way in which ratings are calculated and reported to the public. The public take note of how many millions of people watch a particular programme. They say to themselves "It must be very good, I'll watch it". They do not realise that that many people cannot help watching it because the programme is shown every day. We must return to a sensible way of calculating ratings.
We have this Bill. I hope that we shall improve it. When it is in force we shall have to wait to see whether television and radio in this country remain as good as they have always been or whether they change in any way. I believe that they will probably remain as good, because I believe that we have spent too much time in this debate talking about who owns a company rather than who does the work. It has been my experience in some 40 years of working in broadcasting that the more I move round the more I find the same people working for one company one year and another the next—the BBC, ITV, Ulster, Anglia and so on. Quality depends on the ability to recruit people with the creative talent to make and present programmes of high quality. So long as we have enough people of that kind, whether we have this Bill or no Bill, standards will remain high.
Finally, I should like to thank those many bodies which have sent us briefs. Not one has been mentioned in this debate because it is a Second Reading. The purpose of those briefs is to help us at Committee stage. We shall have to wait and see whether they help us to succeed in making changes at the Committee stage. I hope we make some changes, but in the end I believe that our television will continue to be of a high standard due to the people who do the work and not because of those who own it.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Lord Rees-Mogg
My Lords, I hesitated before deciding to join in this debate because I am the chairman of the Broadcasting Standards Council, which has been referred to in the course of the debate. However, the debate has been such an interesting one that I am very glad that I decided that it would be appropriate to do so.
I should like to refer briefly to three of the speeches which I thought were particularly significant. The first was made by my colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough, who is a member of the Broadcasting Standards Council, and who I thought made an excellent maiden speech. I was very glad that he emphasised that the approach of the council is to research into and seek out public opinion. I am perfectly clear that no standards can be maintained in broadcasting which are not firmly based on the standards that the public want, and that that ought to be the basis of any approach to the maintenance of standards.
The second speech to which I should like to refer is that of the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham. He raised the point of a possible moratorium and 1292 the question of takeover. I found what he had to say both informative and substantially persuasive. However, there is one further point to which I hope it will be possible to give further consideration.
There seems to me to be some mismatch between the category of people who are allowed under Schedule 2 to own licences and the area of the restrictions which are placed on them. The category of people includes all European citizens. That is quite right. Under the European Community rules it could not be otherwise. However, if I have understood Schedule 2 correctly, the restrictions only refer to holdings inside this country. That creates what appears to be an anomalous situation in which a British newspaper proprietor, if he owned a national newspaper, would only be allowed to own 5 per cent., or if he owned a local newspaper, 20 per cent. of a licence-holding company. However, the proprietor of a European newspaper or newspaper group, which might be much larger in size, would not be limited provided he owned no newspaper inside the United Kingdom.
That would mean, for example, that the Axel Springer Group would be totally unlimited in the amount of its holdings because it would qualify as a European group. It would not be disqualified because none of its newspapers, so far as I know, operates in the United Kingdom, although I believe that it publishes a magazine here. That would also apply in the case of the restrictions placed on people who are involved in the telecommunications business, purely in terms of their United Kingdom holdings. Therefore, Signor Bellusioni, who is plainly in a near monopoly position in Italy, would be in no way restricted because he has no present position in the United Kingdom. However, somebody with quite modest holdings compared with Signor Bellusioni's, but in the United Kingdom might be restricted.
It seems to me to be important to have a proper match between the area from which people who can hold licences can be drawn and the area in which their assets should be defined. We should look not only at any problems of monopoly which may arise inside the United Kingdom but should take a European view of the strength of holdings and the implications that that would have for possible future monopoly pressures inside the United Kingdom.
The third speech which I found extremely interesting was that of the noble Lord, Lord McGregor of Durris, who asked that we should exclude advertisers from the consideration of standards. That has been a substantial lobby. The advertisers are undoubtedly keen that they should be excluded. My own judgment is that that is not wise of them and that they are not in a position to come forward and say, "Look, we are people who should be let off, but ordinary broadcasters who appear in the time which occurs between our advertisements should be subject to the standards provisions". That seems to be a false position for the advertisers to take up.
However, I can give the noble Lord, Lord McGregor of Durris, some reassurance. The basis of the work of the Broadcasting Standards Council, as we approach it, is to try to establish and support the best existing practice. We are not in the business of 1293 trying to intervene for the sake of intervention where there is already good existing practice. Our purpose is to endeavour to maintain it. The noble Lord's fears that we should seek to dominate the advertising on television in this country are quite unfounded.
However, there is one point on advertising about which all of us should be concerned; namely, the substantial cultural gap which at present exists between advertising on the continent of Europe and advertising in the United Kingdom. I am sure that we shall need to ensure that, as a European broadcasting market develops, advertising does not divide up so that there are no provisions to limit the character and standards of the advertising from Europe.
I welome the Bill because I am sure that the great changes which have taken place in technology, competition and finance in television require a major Act of this kind. I suspect that, apart from the renewal of the BBC Charter, at some time in the course of this decade we shall require another Act dealing with broadcasting because the whole situation is changing so rapidly that further change will be almost inevitable.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord a question which he may find semantic, pedantic or otherwise unedifying. He has talked a great deal about maintaining existing standards. Many people believe that existing standards are not so hot. Is he concerned with improving existing standards?
§ Lord Rees-Mogg
My Lords, the standards which are sought by the BBC and the IBA are high standards. I do not say that the BBC or the IBA always live up to their intentions, nor do I think they would maintain that they did so. I do not say that there is no room for improving standards in almost all areas. There certainly is; but in general I regard professional British broadcasting as being conscientious, responsible and in need of defence rather than censure.
I should like to refer to one issue because there has been little reference to it and it lies at the heart of the matter with regard to broadcasting standards; namely, the European dimension. The European Commission has issued a directive which is concerned with the protection of minors. Article 22 states:Member states shall take appropriate measures to ensure that television broadcasts by broadcasters under their jurisdiction do not include programmes which might seriously impair the physical, mental or moral development of minors, in particular those that involve pornography or gratuitous violence. This provision shall extend to other programmes which are likely to impair the physical, mental or moral development of minors, except where it is ensured, by selecting the time of the broadcast or by any technical measure, that minors in the area of transmission will not normally hear or see such broadcasts.We should also bear in mind Article 7 which states:Member states shall also ensure that broadcasts do not contain any incitement to hatred on grounds of race, sex, religion or nationality.In considering the Bill, we are therefore considering something which is entirely in line with the European directive. Indeed, the British Government took part in the discussions that led to that directive being created.
1294 I have recently visited various European broadcasting centres. It is clear that the European nations are behind that directive, and that the principles, in terms of standards which the directive lays down, are widely acceptable. In some countries, the system of regulation is devolved to the regions, as it is in Germany. In some countries, such as France, it is highly centralised. In some countries, such as the Netherlands, it is a system of self-regulation. The systems of regulation are therefore very different, but the objectives are very much the same.
There is general concern about violence on television. The Bavarian Government recently issued a report on their concern about violence, but that concern is found in all countries. There is general agreement that what could be called hard pornography should not be shown in clear, although the French allow it where the television is coded on the Canal Plus and after midnight. There is general concern that the protection of youth should be at the centre of the maintenance of television standards, whether through regulatory bodies or through proposed bodies such as the Broadcasting Standards Council, or through self-regulation. There is a widespread use of the watershed—a time after which more adult material is allowed. In Germany the watershed is rather late: an 11 o'clock watershed is laid down by the Lander. In France and on Italian public broadcasting the watershed is 10.30 in the evening. Our watershed is surprisingly early at 9 o'clock although the Cable Authority had a double watershed at 8 o'clock and 10 o'clock which is rather closer to the European pattern.
Not only the Broadcasting Standards Council but the regulatory authorities, all bodies involved in broadcasting and all broadcasters, should be working in a European broadcasting market. That will include substantial trans-frontier broadcasting. It will be the responsibility of all nations to work out systems which maintain the standards that have been adopted by the European Community. Each country is trying to find—there is considerable interest in what we are doing—a mechanism or a mixture of regulation and persuasion—self-regulation—which will enable those standards and the protection of youth to be maintained. The Bill will prove to be a major step forward in that process.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Baroness Macleod of Borve
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, as he is chairman of the Broadcasting Standards Council. It has been interesting to hear all he has told us this evening. I wish the Bill well, having read the report that the noble Lord has kindly sent to most noble Lords taking part in the debate. The Bill has a large remit. I am interested to see that the codes of guidance are aimed at supporting the best of the existing practices rather than overturning some and putting others in their place. I was particularly interested to read that, as chairman, the noble Lord has a pane! of 35 monitors to report on the main terrestrial and satellite TV channels and a group of 750 people to whom it will look for spontaneous reactions to programmes. However, 1295 after reading the report, I was worried as to whether I should congratulate the noble Lord on his appointment or commiserate with him and his team. All I can say is that I wish them well.
I am not an expert. I am an interested party having for five years been a member of the Independent Broadcasting Authority under the expert chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone. For most of us the Bill is an interesting and new phenomenon. As I am not an expert, I shall tear up practically everything I have written. I welcome the Bill and congratulate the Government on it. As the noble Lord told us, the breadth of the task is vast and the existing laws must be revised.
I also welcome the considerable alterations to the Bill made by the Members of another place before the Bill came to your Lordships' House, mainly with regard to the children's programmes and religious broadcasting. However, there are one or two topics about which I wish to speak. There will not be more than one or two because I intend to sit down well within five minutes.
The public services broadcasting on Channel 3 apparently is to be discontinued. This is a very important part of the communications system both locally and nationally. It is used on this channel to educate and inform. However, unless the Bill is changed—which I hope it will be—it is to be deleted and replaced by an auction system. I do not think that that will work. It will certainly be to the detriment of voluntary organisations. I hope that the Government will think about it again. Voluntary organisations need a platform which they can approach in order to communicate with the public.
In his maiden speech the noble Lord, Lord Morris, spoke about the Welsh language. I shall put in a very quick plug for the Gaelic language in the Outer Hebrides because I want to ask noble Lords to look out for networking. As other noble Lords have said, it is very important that any programmes made in Scotland by television or radio should be networked. Those of us who are privileged to know Scotland understand that it is a different country from England. Scotland's productions need to be networked not only in these islands but abroad as well. Much expansion is needed. Currently programmes worth £13 million are sold but more is needed.
I shall touch briefly on radio stations. Two radio stations were allowed recently, within the past year; that is over and above Capital Radio and London Broadcasting. But quite suddenly we are told that there is to be a big increase in radio stations in London and elsewhere in the country. I am very worried about not only the amount of advertising necessary to keep those stations going but also the frequencies that are to be allowed. Perhaps at some time the Minister can tell me who allocates those frequencies. They are vitally important to those who run the companies or the stations. Obviously they have to make a profit, otherwise they will go bust. However, if the stations cannot be heard or if the frequencies overlap, people will not tune in to them. They will therefore not obtain the advertising. It 1296 becomes a vicious circle, It is very important that we should be told whose responsibility it is to allot the frequencies.
Advertising also is a very big subject. Tonight I feel that I am one of those who knows not nearly so much about the subject as do other noble Lords. I shall therefore now sit down.
§ 8.24 p.m.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, I am very glad to speak after the noble Baroness. In view of some of the things that she said I believe that she will support some of the points that I shall make.
In the United Kingdom the public service principle has underpinned broadcasting policy. Following the recommendations of the Crawford Committee in 1926, a system of public service broadcasting was established, the central principles of which continue to apply to services regulated by the BBC and the IBA, the most important being that broadcasting is a national asset which should be used for the national good rather than for the benefit of particular interest groups.
The current Broadcasting Act includes the following requirements: public service television providing:information, education and entertainment, a proper balance and wide range in subject matter and a wide showing for programmes of merit".Except for Channel 4, those requirements will not be met in the new Bill.
I want to speak about education and what is likely to happen to it under the arrangements proposed in the Bill. I am aware of Clause 31 which relates to schools programmes; but that is only one aspect of what television and radio now provide. Naturally, we are pleased to see Clause 31 in the Bill and I pay tribute to what has been done for schools and to expand the service.
It is sometimes forgotten that the ITV schools service preceded that of the BBC. In 1957 it broadcast 56 hours of programmes; today, that has expanded to 500 hours in the year. Viewing audiences have expanded too. In 1960 somewhat less than 60 per cent. of all schools used the independent service; today that has grown to well over 80 per cent. of primary schools and, even more striking, 94 per cent. of secondary schools. Let us hope—I quote from Clause 31(2)(d)—that theconditions specifying the minimum number of hoursthat the commission includes in the licence will mean that that proportion will still be possible.
With the introduction of the national curriculum (and the shortage of teachers), television has an important role to play. The existing franchise holders devote enormous sums of money to producing material. For example, I know that one company is currently putting £1 million into the production of a new series of "How we used to live", a televised drama of social and domestic life in the Victorian era.
But it is particularly about adult and community education that I want to speak. The key point is that Channel 3 (ITV) is at the heart of the new Bill 1297 because it will remain the major popular commercial channel for several more years at least and perhaps indefinitely. To divest Channel 3 of any requirement to show educational purpose in licensees' bids or ITC monitoring is a major change therefore and made at a time of acknowledged weakness in UK education and training and of radical changes. The persistent pretence by the Government that they have answered that point by providing for a service for schools; ignores the particular contribution made by ITV to the education and training of adults. Channel 3 reaches an audience that cannot be reached by BBC 1, BBC 2 or Channel 4. This is a function not only of the size and social mix of audiences but of the regionality of the 15 ITV companies, their programmes and staff.
The argument that the nice Mr. Russell of the ITV will provide illustrative guidelines to prospective licensees, and that those will include reference to education, ignores the point that successful bidders might be appointed with no educational purpose at all to their programmes and/or show a few programmes at 0200 hours each week on Thursdays. We have to put an obligation into the Bill.
My honourable friend Mr. Fisher tried in another place to introduce a new clause to ensure that a suitable proportion of the programmes of Channels 3 and 5 would be adult learning programmes supported by appropriate outreach arrangements. He failed, although Mr. Mellor made some fairly sympathetic noises. Why, if religious and children's programmes can be written into the Bill, educational programmes cannot, astonishes and shocks me. I hope that we can be more successful here.
People want to be entertained but they also want to be informed and to learn more about their world. For example, the educational drama about runaway children, "Somewhere to run" was watched by 9 million people last year. Thousands rang the Helpline that was provided or chose to watch the associated documentaries in the following weeks. That kind of exercise was British broadcasting at its best, working closely with the Children's Society and other bodies on a major issue that the public want to understand better. That is what the current Broadcasting Act has ensured.
As we enter the 1990s, changes in broadcasting should take account of the public need beyond entertainment. We all need to be informed and educated more. Educational output, backed by print and community activities, should continue to keep us all up to date with new ideas and with opportunities for volunteering—care for children, for the disadvantaged and for the elderly—as well as catering for environmental concerns (which is very well done) and educational aspirations that reflect the diversity of society.
Perhaps I may use Yorkshire Television as an example. I should like to show how commercial television can have a role in serving a community's needs. Each year a number of 30-second transmission slots and a considerable amount of programme-making expertise and resources are made available to allow 80 voluntary organisations to produce a community service announcement, either publicising the service that they offer or asking 1298 for volunteers. Those programmes are usually screened eight times a week between programmes often at peak viewing hours and often with great effect. More than 2,000 people got in touch with the Yorkshire Arthritis and Rheumatism Council after one announcement. In addition to community service announcements, the company produces a twice-weekly information programme "Help Yourself which offers help and advice on health and welfare benefits and practical advice for the unemployed, as well as information for the elderly and disabled. A successful health campaign was that on AIDS.
During last year more than 20,000 people got in touch with the unit for further information provided by the company in specially produced and free fact sheets. Some of those individual programmes have drawn an amazing response. More than 5,000 people called in after seeing "The Warmth in Winter" programme; 1,000 people requested a free leaflet on microwave cooking for the disabled; and 70,000 people wrote in for details of the adult education component of This Morning magazine. The future of such services is under threat.
The uniqueness of the ITV contribution has been shown in the policy of support and outreach. Community education officers have been appointed to make and encourage arrangements for publications and/or telephone helplines to answer local needs. The policy has worked, as I have shown from the examples that I have given. I believe that I heard the Minister in his opening speech admitting the need for some improvement in the Bill in that respect.
Unlike the BBC and Channel 4, ITV has been able to promote and support active citizenship. There is no provision in the Bill to ensure that such arrangements will continue and, despite popularity they are at risk in a commercially competitive system with no educational purpose. Community education officers should be written into the Bill. Education is not a minority interest or a lobby topic like, for instance, drama. It has an overarching purpose. It should be an aim of licensees' programming. Its enactment in people's lives is more important than the protection of religious or children's programmes. Perhaps I may remind noble Lords that in responding to an IBA/BBC commissioned attitude survey viewers said that adult education was the third most popular programme type for an increase in programmes.
Perhaps I may say a word on the BBC. It has been keeping very quiet. The net effect of the Bill is to marginalise its role, restricting its options and preparing it for futher limitation when its Royal Charter is renewed in 1996. It is a pity that it has kept so quiet. I agree with what my noble friend Lord Willis said on that issue. There are some worries. The Open University, for example, is concerned that the new Radio 5—which will be the BBC's channel for educational programmes—is less accessible to their adult learners in various parts of the UK than the existing services. Given that people are living longer and that they may find it less easy to have access to transport, libraries, the arts and public education, especially in rural areas, Open University courses 1299 and TV are even more of a lifeline and a means of encouraging people to take up new pursuits and interests in middle and later life.
If Channel 3 does not have an obligation to show programmes of an educational purpose, pressures will build on BBC 1 to push adult education to the margins of the system. The result will be that you will be able to find adult education programmes on BBC 2 or Channel 4, or late at night if you know that you wish to see a specific programme, but for those who do not actively seek to learn opportunities will disappear.
My last word is a plea for the splendid World Service: it should do even more, it should never be cut back and it should have more spent on it. It does wonderful work for the UK. One of my sons, an anthropologist who works in Francophone Africa, tells me that for many people there the BBC World Service is the service of record in preference even to Radio France International. However, it is still their constant complaint that the BBC signal is weak compared with Deutsche Welle, Radio Moscow and broadcasts from South Africa. Could that not be improved?
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Lord Wyatt of Weeford
My Lords, I shall try to be brief I have to apologise for not being able to be here later.
First, I must declare a personal interest. I write for News International which owns Sky television. I have never appeared on Sky. However, I appeared on the first excellent Robin Day discussion programme on BSB. There was no audience for it in the studio, and unfortunately precious little outside. But I hope that your Lordships, like the noble Lord, Lord Willis, will not fall for the massive propaganda by BSB against Sky. It proposes that should it prove profitable, News International must either get rid of Sky or its newspapers. That is sheer malice from a commercial group which started with numerous advantages from the Government towards a rival that has gone ahead rather faster.
As the noble Lord, Lord Willis, said, Mr. Murdoch revolutionised the newspaper industry by ending trade union domination of it. That has made it possible to start new newspapers such as the Independent, the Independent on Sunday, the Sunday Correspondent, and so forth. His guilt is of course that he started to do the same with television.
BSB aims to spend £1-3 billion on establishing itself That is three to four times as much as Sky intends to spend. Among the shareholders of BSB are Granada and Anglia. So is the Financial Times group which owns many regional newspapers. BSB is deep into media cross-ownership. It should not complain about that. Nor does media cross-ownership matter any more. The newspaper industry is no longer static. It has no monopoly which determined new groups are unable to breach. The same will now be true of television.
There are already 17 channels available to viewers, of which 13 are not owned by News International. Over the next few years the Astra satellite alone will 1300 have a 48-channel capacity. The greater the number of entrepreneurs running them, the greater will be the choice for viewers, just as there is with newspapers and magazines.
On political bias—about which BSB warned us with regard to Mr. Murdoch—satellite broadcasting will be regulated by exactly the same due impartiality rules of the new Independent Television Commission. No newspapers will be able—even if they were foolish enough to try—to tell readers how to vote without bumping up against the powers of the commission as described in Clause 6.
However, it is in this area that the Bill is deficient in ensuring that the rules relating to due impartiality are strong enough to compel the BBC or broadcasters under the aegis of the new ITC to obey them. That is not a party political matter. It affects all political parties whether they are in or out of government. It affects individuals.
An outstanding case was the BBC television programme "Yesterday's Men", in June 1971. It showed Labour's leaders after the defeat of the Wilson Government as the range of exhausted volcanoes which Disraeli once described the Government's Front Bench as being. The programme depicted them as forlorn relics, out of touch and out of date. True to form, the BBC did not admit that it had breached the due impartiality rule nor did it make redress. This Government have made complaints often strongly expressed by chairmen of the Conservative Party. But they are nothing compared with the vigorous and frequent protests made by the Labour Party whether in or out of office.
Nor is there any prevention of one-sided attacks on established national policies. Mr. Attlee, Mr. Ernest Bevin and other Labour leaders agreed with the wartime use of nuclear weapons. Moreover, Mr. Attlee went on to make them for this country without telling anyone at that time. However, their use brought the early surrender of the Japanese forces and saved the lives of millions of allied servicemen. Yet, last August BBC 2's programme "Summer of the Bomb" denounced the bombing of Hiroshima, as was pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. It claimed that it was the start of the Cold War, thus justifying Russia's massive post-war arms build up as understandable self-defence against the menacing West.
In a letter dated 12th February 1990 the BBC defended that strange claim as, "commanding general assent among informed historians". The programme was good propaganda for CND but it went right against the policies of all post-war Labour Governments including the last. Now the BBC has had wrung out of it an admission that the programme was a mistake and a year later there will be another programme rectifying it. The mistake would never have happened if the BBC had followed its own guidelines on due impartiality.
The Independent Broadcasting Authority has similar guidelines to the BBC on due impartiality. Yet it allows slanted programmes which ignore them. Only last Thursday night Channel 4 gave Mr. Harold Pinter half an hour at peak viewing time for "Oh, Superman". In that programme he made a vicious 1301 and unbalanced attack on the USA's policy in Nicaragua and upon Mrs. Thatcher for supporting it. He absurdly explained away the thumping election defeat of his friends, the Sandinistas, by saying that it happened only because the USA threatened to starve the voters if they did not throw out the Sandinistas.
When the production manager of that programme was challenged over the total disregard for impartiality she blandly replied, "I am sure it will be partly balanced by other programmes on all the four channels". That is one of many examples of the way in which ITV disregards the due impartiality rule and is allowed to do so by the IBA.
As was said by my noble friend Lord Annan, at the very least the Bill should be strengthened so that partisan programmes are not put out without including at their end differing viewpoints. There should be a discussion sufficiently long to show what the differing views are. The author of the programme should also participate. But the trouble with the BBC is that not only does it put out programmes but it is the sole regulator of them. When challenged it does not seek to find out what is right or wrong but how to defend those who have made the programme.
The new Independent Television Commission will not put out its own programmes so, superficially, it looks to be a better bet for regulating them. Alas, many of those who worked for the IBA will be working for the ITC. Their track record on due impartiality is extremely poor. They are involved and an; intimate with the programme makers. Their first thought is to defend them and to pretend that they have behaved properly when manifestly they have not. The ITC cannot be trusted any more than can the BBC to insist on and secure due impartiality.
There must be some body somewhere seen to be genuinely independent of the programme makers which can do that job properly. The Broadcasting Standards Council is the obvious candidate. It has a statutory duty to provide a code of guidance on the portrayal of violence and sexual conduct and on standards of taste and decency. The BBC, both sound and television broadcasts, comes under its supervision in addition to all the services under the aegis of the ITC. The council is obliged to hear complaints and issue findings on them. Clause 140 of the Bill could simply extend the duties of the standards council to include the provision of "standards to be observed and practices to be followed for the preservation of due impartiality in matters of political or industrial controversy or relating to current public policy". There would be the same system of complaints and findings as applies to its other duties.
Alternatively, those duties could be given to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission. However, if for any reason neither of those bodies were found suitable, then a new body must be set up to ensure that the rules of due impartiality are clear and will be enforced. Then governments, political parties and individuals could complain to that body and expect a genuinely impartial verdict. If the findings went against the complainant, he would know that he had had a fair hearing and he would have to shut up. But if it went the other way, all those associated 1302 with the offending programme would receive an unpleasant public condemnation from an independent statutory body.
If we do not have such a body then the rows over slanted, controversial programmes will grow worse. At present, whatever his political position, no plaintiff trusts a judge. At the Committee stage of the Bill we shall have an opportunity to produce a truly independent judge who can be trusted. If we fail to do that we shall be failing truth and justice.
§ Lord Ardwick
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, can he tell me when he became an enthusiast for impartiality? When I was editor of the Daily Herald and he was on television and associated with the Labour Party I recollect that he made a most critical and destructive attack upon me. So much so that when I took him back to the office I had to restrain people there from attacking him.
§ Lord Wyatt of Weeford
My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, had the kind of body about which I am talking he would have been able to have some redress.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Lord Buxton of Alsa
My Lords, before making two brief points, I must declare an interest as a small shareholder in Anglia Television. I helped to found it more than 30 years ago and I retired two years ago.
I wish to congratulate the Government, especially the Ministers involved and David Mellor in the other place, for what they have achieved. As has already been mentioned, the Bill is hardly the same animal. The reason why I was so explosive, eruptive and abrasive during our debate on the White Paper was the whole style and character of the paper. It appeared to imply that ITV was a kind of factory making nuts and bolts, or a sausage machine. I found that deeply offensive, having been in the business for 30 years as a founder, chief executive, chairman and a producer of nature conservation programmes.
I turn to the question of the moratorium. I remind the Government that television is an art. That is a comment with which noble Lords will agree. It is not a sausage machine or merely a factory. It depends entirely on creative people. One can have all the finance in the world, all the technical facilities, brilliant managers, but they will be of no avail without the creative people—the writers, producers, artists, composers, musicians and so forth. Such people will be badly needed in distant parts of the country away from the metropolis.
I am following the comprehensive remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Boston. He nearly covered the point I wish to make. It is absolutely vital for the ITV system to have good creative people dispersed in at least 10 provincial centres in England, Scotland and Wales. Without good creators, innovators, artists and others of that nature, a station cannot function and the whole system will decline.
Creative confidence depends not only on financial inducement, but on the fulfilment of creative 1303 ambition, the pursuit of cultural goals, and so on. Such careers and jobs can only be secured in a stable environment with long-term prospects. If there is the smell of a takeover in the air in the early days, there will be grave doubts and misgivings. It is obvious that the winners of the regional franchises will not be able to attract or secure good creative people in places like Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Carlisle, Newcastle, Leeds, Norwich, Cardiff, Plymouth and so forth if, almost before they are settled in and particularly during the first two or three years, there is a risk of the company being taken over. Nothing is more disturbing and distressing than the prospect of a new boss. Under takeover those cultured people may be gravely disturbed by the type of boss that they suddenly find has emerged in their midst.
Those vital television originators and creative teams are not sausage machine operators or bits of technology. They are cultured people with ideas and flair, like the noble Lord, Lord Willis; they are intellectuals with artistic talents, and they have wives and homes. They need to buy homes in the regions where they work. They need to bring up children locally and become part of the region. None of them with a grain of sense, therefore, would be likely to accept a job with a new licence holder in a provincial station if he knew that there was a risk of an early takeover.
It also seems to me not right that creative people should be told that things will be just the same after a takeover. We all know that that is not possible and quite unrealistic. Confronted by unanimous all-party feeling on the subject in the other place, the Minister, David Mellor—who, I interject, could hardly have achieved more than he did at that stage—was obliged to hold the line and say, as the noble Lord, Lord Boston, quoted, that the new purchaser of a franchise will stand in the shoes of his predecessor.
To programme people, particularly in the regional services away from the metropolis, that may be dangerously misleading. We must ask what is meant by "the predecessor's shoes". Does it mean that the board will stay? We know perfectly well that the directors will all be replaced; they will have probably resigned en bloc at the time of the takeover. Regional directors are among the most important element in the industry. Does it mean that the management will remain the same? Of course it does not. Will the programmes remain the same? Not with a new manager; he will probably appoint a new programme controller—someone he knows—and everything will be changed.
We cannot tell creative people that the predecessor's shoes can be guaranteed if it means that all existing series in the pipeline will be mandated, insisted on and imposed upon the takeover predator. It is quite unrealistic to think that all that will not change. Most things at the top will change and, if the boards of the regional companies change, that will deprive the regional licence holder of one of the most influential and effective elements in the entire industry. The local non-executive directors are the backers and supporters of all good regional output; the producers and creative people know that. They will not have the confidence to work and give their 1304 best if they suddenly find that they have a London boss, a city whizz kid or some perfectly respectable conglomerate whom they do not even know.
I hope that I have helped the Ministers and the Government to appreciate the dangers that the lack of a moratorium will bring about. It is almost certain that it will shake the morale in the provinces and the important regional companies—10 of them—dispersed around the country in England, Scotland and Wales will fail to obtain the people they need to carry on the job after the award of franchises.
The problem is that the Bill has now commendably moved on from the nuts and bolts syndrome, which we had in the White Paper, to genuine provisions for the continuance of good quality, reputable television. That is splendid. The early takeover syndrome belongs to the former crude sausage machine era, whereas the whole character of the Bill has been changed by the farsighted and determined efforts of the Ministers. That means that the Bill needs reform because the early takeover syndrome sticks out like a sore thumb.
I am not against takeovers. I am simply saying, as did other noble Lords and Members in the other place, that it cannot be permitted in the aftermath of the award of a franchise. For the new licence holders to have any chance of securing the necessary creativity for their regions, a moratorium on takeovers is paramount and inescapable. Otherwise the best improvements so painstakingly secured by Ministers could appear to be almost a hoax.
It is not entirely irrelevant to take examples, even if they seem somewhat remote. Yesterday I spoke to Sir Dennis Forman, the former executive and chairman of Granada. I asked him when "Coronation Street" had started. It was around two years after the station began. "Brideshead", that immortal and brilliant series, took longer, as did "Jewel in the Crown". He empowered me to give his answer to my simple question; would any of those things have occurred if there had been a takeover soon after Granada was awarded the television franchise? The answer was no. Every company has examples of that nature, and perhaps noble Lords will forgive me for mentioning my own.
After we won the franchise in 1958 and went on the air in 1959, I was able in 1960 to start the nature conservation series "Survival" on the network. Since then 650 programmes have been produced and they are still going strong. They have brought £20 million in overseas earnings to this country and the future prospect is bright. All I can say is that that would never have happened if there had been a takeover when we had just acquired the franchise and were getting down to programme production and to all the things we wanted to do.
Those are just examples and there are hundreds of others in every ITV company. The significance of the example is that if predators are allowed in, nothing will settle down; creative people will not be found in the provinces and in the distant studios. I therefore implore my noble friend Lord Ferrers to bear that aspect in mind. It is a vital point which has not yet been made in either House.
1305 Perhaps I may mention ITN. I was chairman of ITN for six years. It is one of the world's leaders as a news service. AH the six main network organisations in the world have their own news service, and ITN is ITV's. If ITN is taken away from the control of Independent Television it will be the only one of the six that has no news service of its own. The six are the BBC, ITV and the four American networks. They all control their own news.
During the Falklands conflict I was chairman, and ITN's strength and policy—which I believe are beyond criticism, although every organisation in the world can occasionally slip up—derived from the traditions set and sustained by the 15 proprietors. None of them is very big but they sit as a group because they represent the industry. They are non-interfering. As chairman, I always knew that I would have the support of the 100 or so regional directors in England, Scotland, Wales and Ulster if any problem ever arose; but it never did, thanks to the fine traditions of ITN for integrity, impartial reporting and the professionalism of its distinguished editor, David Nicholas, his news teams and the ITN network throughout the world.
The news appears on the regional screens of the local ITV stations, so they feel extremely responsible for what appears. The carefully selected directors on the ITV companies from each region have a direct concern and responsibility to the viewers in their regions for the integrity of national and international news.
If new control of ITN led to a new style of policy, or any element of partiality, bias, imbalance or politics, this would bring about a very serious crisis in the system Every major network has to have its own news Service and ITV is no exception. I do not see how ITV, one of the world's most respected services, can seriously be the only one not to have or need control of its own news services. I believe that it will have to have its own news services and if that is denied in this Bill the time will come when it will have to be changed and ITV will start its own services, come what may.
I add only two points, as I do not want to go further than necessary. The shares proposed under the Bill would be owned 49 per cent. by ITV companies and 51 per cent. by outside shareholders. David Mellor—who I must again say has done brilliantly and I have great faith in his open-mindedness and judgment; and I certainly include my noble friend Lord Ferrers in that tribute—said in the debate:A controlling interest will almost certainly still be held by the companies holding the Channel 3 franchise, as we know that 49 per cent. is an effective controlling interest in almost every company".With respect, that is a dangerous speculation. We do not know that somebody could not easily snap up 51 per cent. and start controlling the news.
The important point, however, is that the Minister, David Mellor, clearly indicates that the ITV companies ought to have control because he stated that 49 per cent. will probably provide them with control. I therefore have to remind my noble friend Lord Ferrers that it is only a flick of the pen to change 49 per cent. to 51 per cent. for ITV 1306 companies and for the 49 per cent. to be available for outside shareholders.
Finally, as regards ITN, the purpose of letting in outside shareholders is to broaden the base of its activities and to allow for diversification. That is not necessary. It started when I was chairman eight years ago. At that time we diversified into a new company called BASYS—a computerised news system and service which is now successfully available in the United States and is also used considerably by the BBC. In fact, I drafted the first paper, which is in the ITN files, suggesting that we should diversify and broaden the base. I also created non-ITV company directors and put one on the board. There is no problem. Diversification already exists. The freedom to pursue it exists and it is not necessary to restrain the companies and cause a crisis by causing them to lose control in this way. I therefore ask my noble friend the Minister to consider switching the 49 per cent. and the 51 per cent. round the other way.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, we can all agree that one of the difficulties in these debates is that those who are the most expert have often, though not always, a financial interest to declare. The previous speaker frankly declared an interest and he is obviously as much an expert as anyone in the House. That also applies to other speakers. It would seem to apply to the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, to whom I shall refer in a moment. However, it does not apply to all speakers. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Annan, is enormously expert but nobody can accuse him of having a financial interest.
I was shocked by the attitude adopted by the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt. I warned him that I intended to refer somewhat sharply to him but in spite of that he has fled the House. No doubt he has a pressing public engagement at five minutes past nine, though what that can be at this hour I cannot imagine. The noble Lord referred to my son-in-law. He happens to be my son-in-law but he is referred to in the Sunday Telegraph as the outstanding playwright of the time, Harold Pinter, launching a vicious attack on Mrs. Thatcher. The noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, has an interest in Mrs. Thatcher, though not, as far as I know, a financial one. In his memoirs, which I praised highly when they were published, he said that he was in love with her. Is this the man who has come before us to denounce someone for what he calls a vicious attack and who then flees from the House when he hears that he is to be replied to? I am afraid to say that is a long way below the high standard that we have usually encountered from the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, over the years during the course of a career which one could say has been as variegated as my own. At any rate, I hope that next time he will improve on that wretched performance.
However, we are discussing wider issues tonight. I offer a few thoughts which I should not think are distasteful to anyone, though they may not be exciting. In a general way I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, who played a wonderful part in securing the inclusion of the word "Christianity" in the recent Education Reform Bill. In general I 1307 agree with her attitude and it may be that other Christian speakers will take the same line in welcoming the Bill. On the whole it offers possibilities. I am perhaps not as optimistic or as friendly towards the intentions of the present Government as the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, might be, but the Bill undoubtedly offers possibilities and I welcome them.
In compiling my remarks I have had assistance from the Evangelical Alliance. There was a time when I was nervous of that body. I remember a time when I associated with my dear old friend and leader, the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, who was a devout baptist. He used to sit on the Front Bench when he was Leader of the Opposition and I used to sit beside him. He used to dish out copies of the epistles. He would point to Hebrews and say: "That is a sacrifice not to be repeated. How do you explain that?" There would be shouts of "Order! Order!"
That is what the Evangelical Alliance seemed to stand for in my mind at that time. At that time the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Fisher, went to Rome. There was a debate about Christian unity. The whole House welcomed the move to Rome by the Archbishop except my dear friend Lord Alexander. He interrogated the Archbishop of Canterbury in a most hostile way. He finally said to him. "Tell me now, Archbishop, is the Church of England protestant or catholic?" The Archbishop, Lord Fisher, giving that superior and kind of headmaster smile, said, "Both". That really did flummox my dear old friend.
Things have moved on and I have moved on. But we have now all come together. In the days when I was involved with pornography the Evangelical Alliance contained my best friends. Ever since then we have been on very good terms.
When we come to the Committee stage of this Bill, with their assistance I shall be initiating or supporting various amendments. I shall not detain the House now except to issue a kind of warning, speaking for myself as well as the Evangelical Alliance. We do not really know what this Bill implies and what will happen as a result of it. We know that in Christian terms there is more joy over one sinner who repents—and I am sure that the right reverend Prelate will agree with that—than over the 99 others, or whatever number there were. One wonders why the Government could not have thought of these amendments at the time the Bill was produced. However, they have come forward with various suggestions.
In the end everything will depend on the way in which the legislation is interpreted by whoever succeeds the IBA. No doubt at Committee stage all these matters will be gone into very thoroughly and I am not going to pursue them tonight. I know there is one issue to which the Evangelical Alliance and others attach a lot of importance. It concerns the question of religious advertising. There is a great deal of disquiet on that subject. I have not given the Minister notice of this matter and he may be unable to reply to it. However, it will be pursued at the next stage.
1308 Writing in the IBA's regular broadsheet, Airways, the controller of advertising for the IBA paints a horrific scenario of a possible religious advertising future. In other words, in the eyes of the Evangelical Alliance it is very uncertain whether the IBA or its successor body will use its powers in a sensible way on this matter.
It appears possible that the powers contained in the Bill can be used to ban religious advertising completely. I do not know whether the Minister will be able to say anything to allay the disquiet. Certainly, the issue of religious advertising will be raised strongly at Committee stage. At the moment it would be ungenerous and churlish not to welcome the possibilities inherent in the Bill. For once I have nothing nasty to say about the Government.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Lord Chalfont
My Lords, I must begin by declaring an obvious interest. As deputy chairman of the Independent Broadcasting Authority and chairman-designate of the Radio Authority which will be established when the Bill comes on to the statute book, I naturally reflect the collective views of both those bodies though I emphasise that the opinions I express in this debate today are my personal opinions and I alone am responsible for them.
Against that background I should like, first, to welcome the Bill as an important step in the process of establishing a new regime for the rapidly expanding television and radio industries in this country. It provides, as it set out to do, greater diversity and choice for the listener. It also provides a flexible regulatory system to ensure that this proliferation of outlets does not lay television and radio audiences open to the effects of abuse or irresponsibility on the part of broadcasters.
As many other noble Lords have said, the Bill has already been refined and improved during its passage through another place. I hope that it will do the right honourable gentleman the Minister of State at the Home Office no political harm if I add to the warm tributes paid to him for his skilful guidance of the Bill through its various stages.
There are a number of important amendments that are now incorporated into the Bill. As chairman-designate of the Radio Authority I especially welcome the amendment which requires the three new national commercial stations to provide three different kinds of programme. That demonstrates a reassuring commitment by the Government to the principles of enhanced diversity and choice.
Perhaps I may comment on something which the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, said, if I understood her correctly, that is, that there is not sufficient provision in the Bill for quality in radio as there is in television. Perhaps she is a little pessimistic in that regard. If she looks at Clause 80(2), which is the clause to which I refer now, together with Clause 95(3) which deals with exceptional circumstances, I think she will find that there is open to the Radio Authority sufficient leeway to ensure that applicants for franchises or licences on radio are subjected to 1309 quality tests as searching as those which will be applied to television. Certainly, as chairman designate of the Radio Authority I should not want to ask the Government for any further powers in that respect.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that, but is he saying that there is a quality threshold for radio in the same way as there is now supposed to be a quality threshold for television companies? I do not think so.
§ Lord Chalfont
My Lords, no. What I am saying is that in the case of the three national commercial radio channels—we are not talking about local radio now, which, as your Lordships know, has no quality threshold and it is simply a matter of selection among the various applicants—there are now two provisions. One is that the three channels must be different in their programme content. That already provides the Radio Authority with one instrument of ensuring a degree of quality. If one takes that together with the provision that in certain exceptional circumstances the Radio Authority is not required to award a franchise or licence to the highest bidder, one has a sufficient instrument in the hands of the Radio Authority to determine that the national commercial channels will be of a high quality.
There are a number of areas in which I believe the legislation can be substantially improved, and I hope that it will be during the passage of the Bill through this House. Most of them have been mentioned this evening by various noble Lords. Therefore, it is necessary for me to mention them but briefly.
In the specific field of radio we need somewhat more sophisticated means of preventing monopoly or near monopoly of radio outlets. In my view, the present provisions in Schedule 2, Part III of the Bill are not sufficiently precise or refined to ensure that one person or company cannot acquire a predominant market share or a near monopoly in radio outlets. These are not too difficult to devise. As the Minister will know, I have already discussed them with the Home Office. I hope that some formula will emerge during the passage of the Bill through the House.
There is a serious reservation in my mind about Clause 91(l)(b), if I may spell out the whole thing for ease of reference. This requires analysis of the effects of programmes on listeners. The kind of comprehensive audience research which that would require would place an enormous strain on the staff of the Radio Authority, which I am anxious to keep as small and as economical as possible. If it had to be expanded, as it would have to be to engage in that kind of audience research, the added financial burden would have to be met by the broadcasters themselves. There is no other source of finance. I suggest that that would be at odds with the requirement for a lighter touch in radio regulation.
Apart from those small points, I regard the radio section of the Bill as very balanced and constructive, and I have no further direct comment to make about it. However, there are a number of areas, mainly affecting television but sometimes common to radio 1310 as well, which I should like briefly to bring to the attention of your Lordships.
The first concerns the network. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, has dealt with this extremely comprehensively and lucidly. I need say no more than that if the ITC is to assess the credibility of an applicant for a Channel 3 licence we shall need to judge whether his or her business plan takes full account of the cost of networking. We cannot do that unless the network system is in place before the 1991 licensing round begins. It may well be that ITV companies themselves will agree on a network system which the ITC can then authorise, which I understand to be the Government's hope and wish at the moment. I am bound to say, however, that this is much too important a matter to be left outside the framework of the legislation. To guard against any failure by the ITV companies to agree on, or subsequently to maintain, a network system, there should be in the Act a statutory requirement for a transitional network to be in place before the 1991 licensing round, and for a period of up to two years from 1st January 1991.
Another important issue concerns takeovers, an issue which has been fully rehearsed in your Lordships' House. It does not seem sensible or even intelligent that a company should go to the immense trouble of submitting an application for a licence, passing the quality threshold and eventually succeeding, only to be taken over the next day by an unsuccessful candidate, or by someone who has not even bothered to make an application. It would be a wise course, as was suggested specifically by the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversharn, to place a statutory moratorium on takeovers of Channel 3 television licensees as well as local and national radio licensees. That should be effective, except in certain circumstances where the regulatory body might agree, for, as the IBA has already said, at least one year from the start of broadcasting. However, I noted what the noble Lord, Lord Boston, said about the need for at least one-and-a-half years in order to judge the full effect of a year's programming. I can only point out to him that "at least one year" does not rule out one-and-a-half years.
There is another issue on which your Lordships may wish to close what I believe to be a significant gap. Clauses 43 to 50 provide for a continuation of the immensely valuable teletext service. I do not know how many noble Lords are aware that a quarter of the homes in the United Kingdom have teletext sets at their disposal and that 5 million men, women and children use Oracle every day. There is nothing in the Bill at the moment to preserve the core elements or range of information of the current service or—and this is more important—to protect the viewer against abuse of the service by the inclusion of items which might offend against the required standards of taste, decency, accuracy and impartiality. Provisions are made in the case of programmes and advertisements but not in the case of teletext. The Bill should empower the Independent Television Commission to draw up and enforce a code of conduct in this respect as well as in others.
This leads me to a brief comment of a more general kind on the powers and responsibilities of the 1311 regulators. I subscribe—perhaps predictably—to the view that the ITC and the Radio Authority should be the ultimate regulatory bodies and that the legislation should leave little, if any, room for confusion or duplication between their responsibilities and those of bodies such as the Broadcasting Standards Council, the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, the Office of Fair Trading and Oftel.
Although most problems can be avoided or solved by intelligent co-operation and discussion between the bodies, there is one area where I believe the legislation as presently drafted is defective. The noble Lord, Lord McGregor of Durris, spent a great deal of time on this point during his speech. Clause 142 deals with the duty of the BSC to consider complaints about advertisements. As the noble Lord, Lord McGregor, pointed out, it is the ITC and the Radio Authority which will draw up and enforce codes on advertising. But what if they should investigate a complaint and decide that it did not contravene their codes, while the BSC upheld a similar complaint about the same advertisement? That is a contingency which could quite easily happen in the circumstances at present envisaged. The possibilities for confusion, contradiction and even litigation here are endless and, in my view, quite unacceptable. I hope that in Committee we shall pay some detailed attention to the matter.
Finally, those noble Lords who may be familiar with the views which I have expressed from time to time in the past would be surprised if I did not mention the issues of bias and impartiality which have been raised in cogent fashion by several Members of your Lordships' House this evening. I remain unrepentantly convinced that there is, in contemporary radio and television, altogether too much ideological bias. As I think the noble Lord, Lord Annan, pointed out, this is not a question of bias to the Left or to the Right or of party-political favouritism; it is a bias against authority, against the established order and against the things which most people in this country hold dear, if not sacred. That is the bias which I detect, reflecting what I regard as the conventional wisdom of a disproportionately influential group of producers, presenters and programme makers.
The importance of accuracy and impartiality in television and radio news is a long-established feature of broadcasting and broadcasting regulation in the United Kingdom. It is almost axiomatic that anyone to whom you speak would regard impartiality in the presentation of news as a vital part of the journalistic activities of broadcasters. Yet most of your Lordships will be familiar with news programmes which are disfigured by editorialising on the part of the presenters, by relentless trivialising of important issues and by the deliberate confusing of fact with opinion—one of the cardinal crimes of the news journalist. In my view—although others may disagree with me—independent broadcasting has succeeded, to a great extent, in avoiding the worst of those examples of unprofessional journalism. I am concerned that it should continue to do so.
1312 In current affairs, as opposed to news, the criteria are necessarily somewhat different, as the noble Lord, Lord Annan, pointed out. In a healthy democracy there is room for radio and television programmes advancing committed views. It would be a dull television or radio regime which forbade that. But the advancing of those committed views must carry with it the provision that they are clearly labelled so that people know that they are the views of someone. We should not have a situation in which political activists are allowed to present themselves as objective producers or presenters of programmes. Another requirement is that, if there is a programme advancing a committed view, within a suitable timescale the listener or the viewer must also be given the other side of the picture.
The question is: is it wise to have legislation to ensure that this provision is made and should it appear on the face of the Bill? Having studied the Bill as carefully as I have, my impression is that, as at present drafted, it provides the means for dealing effectively with these problems. The ITC and the Radio Authority, save for the presence or the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, are totally independent bodies. I shall not say that I resent his view on the matter because "resent" is too strong a word. However, I take exception to his view that in some way either the ITC or the Radio Authority will be in cahoots with the broadcasters. These bodies will not be. They are independent regulators and they will behave as such. They will be able to draw up rules about impartiality under the legislation. They will be able to draw up a code which sets out the timescales and the programme types over which that impartiality is to be achieved.
I know that there are still those who would like to see those matters prescribed on the face of the Bill; but no one should be under any illusion about this: regulation under the new regime may require what has been called a "light touch" but no one should assume that that means a "soft touch". The teeth of the ITC—I note that the dental analogy seemed to be very much in vogue in the debate—and the radio authority will be sharp and strong, and they will be used.
I conclude, as I began, by welcoming the Bill as a courageous step in the provision of a radio and television service for this country which takes account of the rapid development of information and communications technology, but in its present form, much improved since it first appeared, it avoids the worst excesses of deregulation.
The Bill does not herald the destruction of what has sometimes been called thebest broadcasting system in the world".It does not make way for wall-to-wall garbage of the kind often, and often wrongly, associated with American broadcasting; nor does it foreshadow the predominance of the fat bank balance and the end of what is called quality broadcasting. If the Bill is amended in your Lordships' House, then properly established, imaginatively constructed as a result of the legislation, and flexibly but effectively regulated, the regime envisaged in the Bill is capable of moving television and radio broadcasting in this country excitingly into the next century.
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ Baroness Elles
My Lords, about six-and-a-half hours ago when my noble friend the Minister opened the debate he skilfully set out the provisions of the Bill, which are designed to ensure prospects for a major new growth industry in this country. The Bill provides a flexible framework to meet both the spectacular technological developments in satellite and cable television of the recent past but also for the future. The Bill must now recognise that television programmes are no longer confined to national frontiers but that there is an international, and more specifically, a European dimension.
Having heard so many speakers with financial interests and great experience in television and general broadcasting, I should perhaps declare that I have no financial interest and no experience of running any broadcasting service. However, there are one or two aspects of the Bill which have not been touched upon and which should be raised on Second Reading so as to give notice to the Government that some amendments will be brought forward in Committee.
The United Kingdom has a record second to none in implementing European Community law into national law. It is in that regard that there is some concern as to the methods by which the Government intend to transpose the provisions of the EC directive Television without Frontiers into national law. Some are already included on the face of the Bill. Others will no doubt be implemented by secondary legislation by order of the Secretary of State before the directive comes into force in October 1991. However, there are others which are apparently being left to self-regulating bodies such as the ITC and BSC. In neither of those two last methods will there be a possibility for parliamentary scrutiny nor an assurance to other member states that United Kingdom broadcasters will observe the obligations agreed at European level and thus guarantee fair competition.
The agreement at European level of course includes the United Kingdom Government. The United Kingdom was one of the member states—10 out of 12—that voted by a qualified majority in favour of the directive. It is not yet possible to compare legislative methods in other member states as it appears that so far only Luxembourg has produced a draft Jaw. In this country it has been left to the ITC to draw up a code to act as a guide on programme standards requirements.
While it shall "take account" of notifications by the Secretary of State concerning international obligations, it must be asked what is the legal significance of the term "take account", and would broadcasters producing programmes which fall outside the code be justiciable? There are clear rules set out in the directive concerning, for example, watershed arrangements for children viewers for the protection in general of minors which will apply to all member states. Is a code such as is envisaged in the Bill a sufficient method of implementation and enforcement which would guarantee the United Kingdom the right to proscribe objectionable—for example, pornographic—material being transmitted 1314 by broadcasters from another member state and receivable in the United Kingdom?
Another area for which the directive has set out precise rules governs advertising. It is much to be welcomed in that the many restrictive barriers set up by national legislations have been a handicap to the transmission of British broadcasts to the Continent. Here again the ITC is to draw up a code and take account of the United Kingdom's international obligations. But there is no apparent method of scrutinising these provisions by Parliament and the publication of the code is left to the ITC by means that it considers appropriate.
This concern regarding implementation and application by codes is based on examples which we have had in the past from the BBC and the IBA which both relied upon guidelines drawn up by themselves, which in many instances have been ignored.
The 1981 Broadcasting Act which required "due impartiality" to be shown on politically controversial matters allows a "series of programmes" to be considered as a whole. Either a topic is dealt with fairly in one programme or it should be dealt with in a group of programmes covering between them the main aspects of the argument. Is the new ITC code to spell out exactly what is meant by a "series of programmes" in this connection so as to prevent future abuses of the type which have so often happened in the past where one-sided programmes are shown and no contrary view is subsequently screened? Even if it does, will we be any further forward? I think not.
Guideline 6.3(i) of the existing "Fairness and Impartiality" code of the IBA entitled "The Series Qualification" states:The Broadcasting Act's requirements about impartiality allow a series of programmes to be considered as a whole. This presupposes that the presentation over a series, of different points of view is planned in advance, and that the intention to achieve impartiality in this way is made clear so that the viewer of one programme is not misled into thinking that he has seen the whole story".These instructions seem crystal clear. They are, however, ignored.
I do not wish to go into the party political aspects of these programmes of which many examples have been given by my noble friends and other noble Lords. I merely point out that matters which are contained in a code are not necessarily able to be enforced or applied, nor can viewers make complaints which can be dealt with satisfactorily. That could also be reflected in the implementation of European Community law from the directive to which I referred which would be included in certain codes.
The supposedly stringent safeguards set out in the IBA's own guidelines have allowed blatant circumvention of Parliament's will that political impartiality must be preserved on controversial issues. Safeguards for the maintenance of political impartiality are needed on the face of the Bill and an independent body is needed to adjudicate on complaints that the requirements are not being met.
I contend that this is a ground to look closely at the way in which the codes of both the ITC and the 1315 BSC are meant to provide guidelines and guides to broadcasters. The codes should be available to those both in this country and other member states. They must ensure that both the will of Parliament and the intentions of European legislation can be guaranteed.
If these matters are looked into during the course of the passage of the Bill through the House, I believe that the Bill will provide an excellent basis for the new industry and we shall see an unprecedented growth in British broadcasters and producers. We hope that they will take the immense opportunities which are developing in increasing Continental markets. Already those markets are beginning to expand. The hours of both television and radio which will be available to British broadcasters will, I believe, bring great prosperity to those who move into this industry. The high standards of the British broadcasting programmes are very much admired on the Continent. Let us remember that English is the second language in nearly all the member states.
With those concluding remarks, I strongly support the Bill on the basis that it will provide a magnificent growth industry for our broadcasters and independent producers.
§ 9.40 p.m.
The Viscount of Falkland
My Lords, I should like to address a subject which is hardly touched on by the Bill and which, having heard a great many of the speeches in your Lordships' House, I do not believe has been the subject of any speech today. That is the amount of feature film which is shown on television and the growth of the demand for feature film. By feature film I mean expressly films which are stories told in visual terms, made initially for exhibition in cinemas, and which ultimately find their way on to our television screens.
Noble Lords who read their Sunday newspapers will see from the supplements the number of films to be shown on television in the coming week. For example, in the supplement of the newspaper which I take one finds that in the current seven days 32 feature films are programmed. Twenty of those are of United States origin, seven are British, one is a French-German co-production, one is Spanish, one is from New Zealand, one is Czech and one is Canadian. Looking through those magazines which I had not thrown away I found that that was quite normal. In a supplement from a few weeks ago I saw that during one week in April 28 films were shown on television: 14 American, six British, two Russian, one Canadian, one Italian, three Australian and one Greek.
It is clear that the main diet of film fans who watch films on television is American product, and I do not wish to criticise American product. Very few of the British films shown on television are recent films. Only two of those to be shown this week were made after 1961 and one goes back as far as 1931.
That development has taken place against the background of a decline in the British film industry, of which your Lordships are aware, which took place from the 1950s and which we have discussed on 1316 many occasions in your Lordships' House. So drastic was the decline in film audiences in this country that by the early 1980s it seemed as though the British film industry would disappear altogether. Indeed, it was hard to describe it as an industry because there was no such thing as a continuous product.
A strange thing happened in the 1980s. There was a curious upturn in cinema audiences. The age groups attending films changed. In 1984, 80 per cent. of the audience was under 24. The position has now changed, probably with demographic trends, to the extent that older people now go to the cinema more regularly. More people watch films on television, and that is reflected in the programmes which I mentioned.
The most curious trend in the 1980s was the investment by television companies in feature films. One might almost say that the film industry has been rescued by the interest and investment by television companies in feature film-making. One may well ask why the television companies, including the BBC, chose to go along that path. They identifed a demand for feature films. Production values are high in film-making—higher than they are generally in television—and there is a variety of product which appeals to television viewers.
With that growing demand for feature films, the television companies recognised that by investing in the production of feature films they would have continuing access to transmission rights of films from other sources. In commercial terms, it is a fairly doubtful proposition so far as concerns profit for the television companies to invest in feature film making. There is the ability to fill programming gaps with a variety of attractive material, but profit is never clear. Investing in feature films is expensive and often risky.
Channel 4 has been spectacularly successful in its investment in low-budget films, and has produced some of great quality which have been recognised internationally. It has done that quite expressly and has been widely quoted as having two reasons for so doing. First, it wishes to raise the international profile of Channel 4 and films on Channel 4; and, secondly, it has stated that it,understands the difficulties which the British film industry faces and is glad to play a role in sustaining and developing British film production".I consider that to be a laudable aim. It has been reflected in the attitudes of other television companies which have also invested, principally in Scotland, but also in Wales and Northern Ireland. There has been a genuine cultural commitment by Channel 4 and the others that I have mentioned to British film production.
Since the publication of the Government's Bill, there has been a drastic and perhaps understandable reduction in television investment in feature films. What are the inhibiting factors? The new competitive environment which one envisages and which noble Lords have outlined in today's debate has caused the companies to draw in their horns and to be extremely cautious. Changes in the levy have made them conscious of the need to reassess the economic value of film production, taken together with the risks and expense of making those films.
1317 There is now also the presence of satellite broadcasting. It will not have escaped noble Lords' attention that the film libraries of BSB and Sky have been an important part of their marketing and advertising arrangements. BSB has a formidable array of films in its library for which subscribers will pay. They will have access to films which have had a great impact in the United States and which have recently been shown on screen. It is extremely difficult for British television companies investing in films to compete.
Furthermore, the situation has been aggravated by the fact that the ITV tariff for a two-hour feature film., for example, has recently been reduced from £840,000 to £500,000. On the question of audience figures, those in the United States have remained steady over a number of years. According to the only audited figures available, total British audiences in 1988 amounted to 84 million. I understand that that figure has now risen to about 100 million, but that is not confirmed. Figures for theatre attendance in the United States are well over the billion mark. That sustains a home industry in the United States which is able to produce products, take risks with products and make a profit on products entirely within the United States. It gives them the ability to sell outside the United States and, with their economies of scale, completely to swamp the efforts of producers of modest productions such as are found in Britain today. I am quite sure that in producing their proposed legislation the Government did not intend at all to have that effect on a British cultural as well as economic endeavour and to risk swamping it in that way.
So why should we encourage television companies to invest in films, apart from sustaining the British cultural product? Co-productions by television can be made quite cheaply and produced economically compared with much television programming. With successful productions one can obtain world revenues which come back to a television company and help to finance its future programming. Surely against the competition of the new satellite companies, with their enormous array of attractive film entertainment if not ordinary television entertainment, the companies must be able to offer attractive film products and products of quality, even if not matching the cost. Since the Government have announced their aim that 25 per cent. of products for television should be made by independents, why cannot feature film production be included in the Bill in the same way?
Competition, choice and quality have been mentioned many times by noble Lords. I am sure that competition is not helped by completely eliminating the British film industry, which at the moment is at a very low ebb. Withdrawal of the TV companies has made the position critical. The huge home market of the Americans which I have described makes it possible that we shall see a monopoly situation of American products in this country. With the quotas of which the Europeans are talking, there is a slightly different situation in Europe. Each country in Europe with its own language will always have an element of home production because people will seek out films in 1318 their own language. In this country American films are readily understood and appreciated by an English-speaking audience.
In terms of choice, again any scenario that I have described would seriously eliminate choice. With regard to quality, as I have said, production values in feature films are high. Although modest and of small budget in recent times, British films have generally been recognised often to have been of high quality. It would be a pity if that element of film production were to disappear, probably inadvertently swamped by this new legislation.
Franchise holders, when seeking to obtain licences, should surely demonstrate that they have some knowledge of feature film production and show a commitment to British film production as part of their plan. The BBC, which is not affected by the financial implications of this Bill, has made a commitment to make about six films a year of about £½ million.
Finally, the British film industry has survived thus far thanks to the television industry. Television needs feature films and feature films need the television industry. There is a lot of creative and technical talent in this country. Much of it has already gone abroad. It would be a pity if it all disappeared. It is something that we need to treasure. The Government have not been very understanding about the film industry in recent years, which is an understatement. In this Bill we ought to find a way whereby we can rectify that situation and help the British film industry to survive.
§ 9.54 p.m.
The Lord Bishop of Liverpool
My Lords, the publication of the Broadcasting Bill raised considerable anxieties among religious people, not least among the members of the Central Religious Advisory Committee, of which I have been chairman for the past 12 months. That committee has become known by the now highly incongruous title of CRAC, which in the modern world means something different from what we set about. I should perhaps explain that CRAC includes strong representation from the whole of the United Kingdom from the Anglican Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church, the Baptist Church, black-led churches and the Orthodox Church as well as Jewish, Moslem and Hindu representation.
Our concerns with regard to the Bill have been about the quality of the output as well as about the place of religious programmes. I shall confine what I say to the place of religious programmes. Many of the anxieties have been allayed by the changes that have been made in another place. Like other noble Lords, I express my warm appreciation of the patience, readiness to listen and general engagement that the Minister has brought to those who have brought honest criticism.
The changes that he has made recognise that religious broadcasting rightly has a place in mainstream television: that religious broadcasting is 1319 not a minority interest. Recent IBA research has shown that 60 per cent. of all viewers of ITV watch at least one religious programme each month. The Minister has given notice that he will bring forward amendments that will allow religious bodies to own cable television stations as well as local radio stations. His intention at the same time is to fence off cheap exploitive trivialising forms of religion. For all that I am deeply grateful.
There has been some lobbying that the words "Christian" or "mainly Christian" should replace the word "religious" in the Bill. My committee does not agree and is glad that the Minister has resisted that suggestion. It is right that the history and convictions of the majority in this country should be reflected in the balance of programmes. That is how it is and how it will be. We want people of other faiths to come into the mainstream of the life of the nation, not to withdraw or be forced to withdraw into a ghetto. Other faiths should be well represented in religious broadcasting.
The Minister has said that he will remove the no undue prominence rule from religious bodies which will own cable and local radio stations. I accept the value of the principle of liberty which lies behind that change. We then need to ask how the ITC will be able to fence off cheap exploitive or trivialising forms of religion. I would hope that Christians of every tradition would be deeply concerned about the trivialising of religion.
The same principle of freedom will not allow us to draw up some list of cults or religious bodies of which we disapprove. I look forward to seeing the amendment that the Minister anticipates bringing forward at Committee stage. Perhaps it should include such phrases as "no denigration of our faiths" and "no enticing away other faiths or churches".
One area of interest concerning religion has received no attention so far as I can see in the debates in another place. That is the matter of religious advertising. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, raised it just now. The Bill at present places no restriction except by the rules which control all advertising. Those rules provide some firm fences which should be helpful in the religious field. For example, advertisments must not be inflammatory or offensive to public feeling. Yet my committee has some anxiety about religion again being trivialised by religious advertising.
We hope that careful thought will be given to what limits might be needed, for example, in Northern Ireland, Bradford or Southall. We had a presentation at our last meeting from Sunrise Radio. It required a six-page paper for all the religions of Asia which are present within that area of West London and where there can be some quite volatile feelings aroused by one kind of religious programme or another. It might be the case that the ITC should not allow religious advertising in areas where religious tension could easily be inflamed. If that is desirable, it suggests that it might be better to limit that to cable and local broadcasting rather than to show it on mainline, national channels.
1320 There is an interesting example in the United States. The three networks which provide 57 per cent. of the viewing in the States—that is ABC, CBS and NBC—carry very little religious advertising. The ABC, for example, may sell time to religious organisations for spot announcements to call attention to occasional lectures, meetings or crusades. These announcements may in no way present religious doctrine, utilise religious music, sell publications or solicit funds. I am wondering whether it might be helpful for me to table an amendment in Committee relating to religious advertising.
I understand why some Christian groups, especially those among the Evangelical Christians, want the freedom to own cable stations. They sometimes claim that their full-blooded expression of the Gospel does not receive a fair share of religious broadcasting time. As I have said, within the past 12 months I came to my post as chairman of CRAC and have done a great deal of listening and viewing. I believe that many Evangelical voices are heard and that the challenge of the Christian Gospel is often put in a full-blooded way. The issue about communicating the faith on mainline television or radio is about whether we take seriously where such large audiences are "at", as they say, or whether we switch on exactly the same message in exactly the same way whoever we are addressing.
I wish to finish by saying something as a Christian to Christians. Much of the debate has centred around the question of broadcasting or narrowcasting. It will be possible for those who own cable stations to use their religious networks to encourage their friends to watch their channel. That is fine, but I should be sorry if a significant part of the Christian body turned away as a regular practice from mainline channels which are part of the united life of our nation. That would follow the philosophy which sees the Church as a fortress of light, calling individuals to separate themselves from the darkness of the world around. In contrast, I believe that the Incarnation, by which I believe God in the person of Jesus Christ entered into the thick of life, calls us in the direction of broadcasting not narrowcasting.
I am very thankful that mainline channels will continue to carry religious programmes. The output of religious programmes on the BBC and ITV has been substantially or predominantly Christian, often of a high quality and a strongly Christian content. It will continue to be so. If religious producers have the opportunity to address these very wide audiences, they cannot assume the same starting place as they could with a church congregation which, these days, has generally chosen freely to attend. Religious broadcasters must take seriously the common ground of the world of television viewers by which religious programmes are surrounded. In showing how Christians work out their life on that common ground, it is proper religious broadcasting to hear expressed in a unhibited way what are the deep spiritual roots which give them life. A wide range of viewers would expect no less than that religious broadcasters should seek to throw the light of the Gospel on the common experiences of the life that they know.
§ 10.4 p.m.
§ Viscount Torrington
My Lords, the Bill, so ably introduced by my noble friend, covers the future of broadcasting. It is a little surprising that as yet there has been virtually no discussion of the cable industry. I wish to redress that balance, but in doing so I must declare an interest. I am a director of a cable franchise holding company. I believe that only my noble friend Lord Stockton has so far mentioned the Cable Authority. I should like to say that I have nothing but praise for the hard work of the staff and members of that body, whose existence will come to an end with the passing of the Bill. However, I do not entirely agree with some of its methods.
Perhaps I may digress for a moment. A few years ago there was a whole industry based on creating a series of perfectly legal but highly artificial transactions for the purpose of tax avoidance. A celebrated judgment in the case of Furniss v. Dawson put an end to that entire industry, essentially by saying that the Inland Revenue had the right to look through a whole series of transactions to see the true intent. If that intent was purely tax avoidance, the transactions could be disregarded.
The Cable and Broadcasting Act 1984 stated in Clause 8 that the Cable Authority should "do all in its power to ensure" that cable franchises remained under the control of British or EC nationals. With the active assistance of the Cable Authority and the use of a series of artificial transactions or arrangements, overseas—largely North American—investors have come to control 90 per cent. of the British cable industry. Clearly, on the Furniss v. Dawson principle, there has been a flagrant breach of the law to which the Government have been deliberately blind.
Why do I become so hot under the collar about something which the Broadcasting Bill in any case proposes to regularise upon the elimination of the restrictions on the ownership of local delivery services? The Cable Authority will say quite reasonably that it did all in its power in the early stages to encourage British and EC participation in the cable industry, and that its entreaties were met with deafening silence. Only by allowing in North American money, it would argue, has it been able to stimulate action.
It was not the arrival of American money in the cable industry that got it going. It was the arrival of alternative programming, stimulated in large part by the entrepreneurial flair of the much maligned Mr. Murdoch. Sky, BSB and the plethora of different equipment that the poor viewer needs to watch direct-to-home television have stimulated cable growth. The viewer will not want to invest £1,000 in equipment to sit beside his television set if cable will replace it.
Now that there is some body other than BBC and ITV to put down a cable, the UK financial community is beginning to wake up, but the Americans have already acquired all worthwhile properties on the Monopoly board. Again one might ask, why is that so disastrous? There are a number of reasons. First, when a government gives out 1322 franchises such as cable franchises it is handing out, effectively for free, something of considerable value. Some say that today a cable franchise is worth around £35 a home with no cable in the ground. If that is so, then the Government or the Cable Authority have given perhaps a £300 million hidden grant to North Americans which could have been used to stimulate the growth of domestic telecommunications talent. Charity should surely begin at home.
Secondly—I hope he will not mind my referring to it—my noble friend wrote to me the other day in response to an inquiry. I do not quote his letter exactly but the thrust of it was that, as cable companies do not in general produce a significant amount of programming themselves, the cultural considerations which have led us to maintain this prohibition—meaning the prohibition on foreign ownership—in the case of Channel 3, for instance, do not apply in the cable context.
That clearly shows that the Government have not fully comprehended the potential power of the cable companies or the power that they will have when the cable industry becomes mature. In the United States it is the cable operators who have the power to make or break programme providers—that is, television channels—and to control their revenues. If that is not an important cultural consideration, then I do not know what is. In 10 years' time the whole broadcasting map will look very different and the cable companies will be the big players. With cable TV in perhaps 10 million homes by the year 2000, a Channel 3 programme will be just one of 30 or so choices available to the viewer.
Thirdly, cable franchises are telecommunications franchises. At present, cable operators are permitted to carry telephony, but only in conjunction with BT or Mercury. As BT is already in every home, that effectively means only in conjunction with Mercury. However, if the duopoly is ended, the cable operators will be able to interconnect themselves and, lo and behold, the myriad offspring of Ma Bell who now control the United Kingdom cable industry will coalesce for all operational purposes and Ma Bell will be reborn in Britain, perhaps as the most significant telecommunications force.
Far from ending the restrictions on foreign control, I believe that the cable and local deli\ery networks should continue to be bound by the Cable and Broadcasting Act restrictions and that those restrictions should be made to bite. More importantly, powers should exist in the Broadcasting Bill to prevent too great a concentration of cable or local delivery operatorships in the hands of too few people; perhaps even to bring cable within the cross-media ownership rules.
In a recent letter to The Times I suggested that the creation of the British National Oil Company was the entirely predictable knee-jerk reaction of a Labour Government to the wholesale parcelling out of North Sea oil licences to North American companies. If I were sitting on the Benches opposite I should even now be considering or plotting the creation of a British National Cable Company to ensure that what 1323 we are able to watch on our televisions is not determined in New York, Atlanta or Los Angeles. With only some 100,000 cable viewers at present it may not seem a very live issue, but I can assure the House that it will grow in importance. This Bill is the ideal opportunity to ensure that in the future viewers, rather than a cable cartel, decide the fate of programme providers.
§ 10.11 p.m.
The Earl of Halsbury
My Lords, perhaps I may begin by expressing strong sympathy for the points of view put forward by my noble friends Lord Chalfont and Lord Wyatt of Weeford on the managerial front. In so far as they are not in entire agreement with one another I shall study their contributions in Hansard with interest. I am also in strong sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Buxton of Alsa, again on the managerial front, because I have seen the erosive effects on morale of take-over bids from the standpoint of the taken over company.
Now to the Bill. It is a wide-ranging Bill, covering a multiplicity of activities, interests and developments. The Government are to be congratulated on updating legislation in parallel with the headlong advance of modern technological progress. Astra 1A gave us another 16 channels in 1989. Astra 1B will give us another 16 channels in 1990. The situation is becoming increasingly like the world of publishing newspapers and books. I expect that it will ultimately break freer and freer of any kind of central control. Publishing will be just publishing.
Secondly, the Government are to be congratulated—here I am in agreement with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool—on the sensitivity with which they have received criticism and embodied it in their own thinking. That is very much a matter for congratulation.
Speaking late in the debate I cannot deal with more than one aspect of the Bill, but it is one that personally concerns me; namely, religious broadcasting. Here I must emphatically reject the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Willis, that agnosticism and secularism are alternatives to religion. In a religious context, by strength through grace we tap a source of spiritual force that enables us to do our duty to God and our neighbour in a way with which secularism and agnosticism cannot compete. They have no more in common with religion than they have with snooker. Anything else is just plain pretence.
If the Government deliver what they have promised I shall have received 90 per cent. of what we have asked for. In saying "we" I am speaking tonight as the president of one of the Christian pressure groups that have been working together on this Bill for some time. However, in case the Government do not exactly comply with what they have promised, I shall be doing a little drafting of my own to keep them up to scratch and I reserve the right to bring it forward in Committee when they 1324 have published their own proposed amendments; it is to be hoped exactly in line with what has been promised in the other place. Perhaps I shall be able to squeeze another 10 per cent. from the Government, in which case I shall be in a position to say that I support the Bill 100 per cent.
As the noble Earl recited in his opening speech, the Government promised the removal of the "no undue providence" and "no editorialising" provisions, substituting them with something on the lines of responsible but not exploitative. I do not know exactly what those two adjectives mean when coupled together. I shall have to wait with patience until I see the Government amendments. Assuming that they keep to what they promise, it will no longer sound the death knell of the very popular United Christian Broadcasting Radio Service operated from the Isle of Man.
I now come to CRAC. I hope that, in so far as I have criticisms to make, I shall not give offence to the right reverend Prelate. We all have to see ourselves in somebody else's mirror at some time or other and it is probably good for us. In effect it is a monopoly of advisory mechanisms. Like all monopolies it seems complacent and self-satisfied, but as the right reverend Prelate has only been in charge of it for 12 months, I cannot hold him responsible for that.
I understand that it meets but twice a year. In effect that means it is run by managers and officers who invariably go their own sweet way as they always do. To whom is it answerable and for what? Normally speaking, we are answerable to the source of our authority to do whatever it is. But the authority to do whatever it is in this context seems to be no more than advising the BBC and the IBA. Though they may seek advice—we can all seek advice from any source we please—the responsibility for taking one set of advice rather than another remains our own.By their deeds shall ye know themnot only with respect to what they permit but also with respect to what they ban or bin, as the phrase goes. For example, a programme on the work of the Salvation Army, paid for by that army and accepted for showing on a television programme with the title "For the love of God" was overruled by the IBA because it was too evangelistic. What do we mean by the evangel? What was it that St. Paul spread? What was it that St. Peter spread?
The Lord Bishop of Liverpool
My Lords, the noble Earl has raised the question of a programme that I understand was submitted towards the end of either 1987 or 1988. When I have asked noble Lords and Members of Parliament what blocks are alleged to have been put in the way, that is the one and only example that has been repeatedly given to me. I know that the film was not rejected because it was too evangelistic. No such words were ever used. It was not rejected by CRAC because it offers nothing before a programme. As the noble Earl said, CRAC is an advisory body after the event. It does not screen programmes.
The programme about the Salvation Army was rejected on the grounds that many other programmes 1325 would be; namely, that it was self-promoting and made by themselves. At the very same time the IBA agreed to five programmes about the Salvation Army which were made by Anglia Television at that time. I hope that that particular example will not be cited again.
The Earl of Halsbury
My Lords, I have a file of press cuttings on that matter. If that particular example does not satisfy the right reverend Prelate, I shall turn to two others. There was a pilot children's programme which was again binned or banned by the IBA. Its response was: "It is all right to talk about God, but you must not talk about Jesus". What kind of promotional effect will that have?
The third example was the rejection of a story where three people found that Christianity was the solution to their problems. John Reith was my friend, though a somewhat older friend and in a slightly different age group. He was a friend nonetheless. This was how he interpreted his position:Much of the seeming failure of Christianity is due to the weakness of its exponents and to their failure to show its absolute practicability to the problems of today and that it alone contains the solution. I believe a strong exposition of its wonderful principles would cause a profound impression".That is what John Reith said.
Allow me to skip a decade or so. Whereas John Reith was my friend the Director General of the BBC, Hugh Carlton-Greene, was my opponent in the days when I was a governor of the BBC along with another friend, Thelma Cazalet, from the other place. The two of us formed a quite clear opposition to the policies that we knew Carlton-Greene was going to implement as soon as the report of the Royal Commission, the Pilkington Report giving the BBC a wonderful write-up, was safely out of the way, at which point it was put into the wastepaper basket out of which was taken "That Was The Week That Was". [remember writing to the chairman of the BBC, Arthur Ford as he was in those days, saying, "Have you gone out of your minds?". I saw exactly what was going to follow: violence, smut, dirty stories, bad language and the rest. That is exactly what happened.
The right reverend Prelate touched on religious advertising. We have a very coherent set of rules and regulations on advertising in general. I do not see why religious advertising needs to be catered for specially. If one can advertise a packet of cigarettes I do not see why one cannot advertise a new edition of the Bible, possibly printed in some typographic design—the words of our Lord in Clarendon type or something like that—which would make it an attractive object for study purposes. Why does the state have to intervene on that over and above the restrictions it puts on the ethics of advertising in any case? What has CRAC to do with advertisements of that kind?
Starting with Clause 6, I want to de-couple references to politics and controversies from religion. They ought not to be in the same class for the convenience of draftsmen. Religion uplifts; politics degrades as the rag-bag of human quarrelsomeness.
1326 Lastly, I come to the ITC code or codes. I want to see them ultimately embodied in a statutory instrument, so that the ITC would have the locus standi of a parliamentary draftsman, which the Government could in due course incorporate in an affirmative instrument and lay before both Houses. That would be the place to incorporate a reference to the mainstream of Christian thinking in this country. I have sought advice as to whether that procedure is possible in Parliament. I am assured that there are many codes embodied in affirmative instruments, and that is what I should like to see in this case.
For the present, I can merely give the Government notice that I am trying my hand at a little draftsmanship and will come up with something in Committee in due course.
§ 10.23 p.m.
§ Viscount Caldecote
My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to all the noble Lords who have made such excellent maiden speeches in the debate tonight. In particular, I should like to congratulate my noble kinsman Lord Glasgow who made such an excellent and well-informed speech. I had the privilege to sit in your Lordships' House with both his grandfather and his father, and it is good to see the family tradition carried on. We hope that the noble Lord will speak many times in the future.
As my noble friend Lord Ferrers said when he introduced the debate, this is a very long and complex Bill but also a very constructive one. As such, it is to be widely welcomed. I also welcome—and I add my welcome to that of many other noble Lords—the flexibility that the Government have shown in another place enabling much good progress to be made in improving the Bill there. Of course much more needs to be done here. Indeed, I understand that the Government expect us to carry out that function and further improve the Bill. Many issues will have to be debated in detail at a later stage. I wish to deal very briefly with two tonight.
I should like to say a little more on the religious broadcasting aspect to complement what the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, said a few moments ago. Before doing so, I wish to say a few words about the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool. As always, I listened to him with great interest, but I think he made a slight slip in that he referred to assurances given by the Minister in another place that religious broadcasters will be permitted to own local radio stations, and so on.
What the Minister actually said (at col. 158 of Commons Hansard for 8th May) was that,responsible Christian broadcasters will be permitted to own local radio stations, local cable channels and non-DBS satellite channels—subject to the discretion of the ITC or the Radio Authority, as appropriate.That is just a little different and very important. The right reverend Prelate shakes his head.
During the Report stage in another place the Minister said that responsible Christian broadcasters will be permitted. That is in Hansard. That is an important distinction to which the House should have its attention drawn.
1327 As originally drafted, the Bill contained so many safeguards and restrictions to prevent the abuse by extremist religious groups that it seemed to some that the Government wished to create serious obstacles to any kind of religious, and particularly Christian, broadcasting. No doubt they were motivated by concern to avoid stirring up discord between different religions and minority ethnic groups. To those objectives we would all give full support. But the Bill in its early stages went much too far in that direction. It seemed to many to indicate an acceptance of the view that Britain is no longer a Christian country.
I shall not spend time on semantics, but I want to emphasise the comments made by my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing that the Church of England is established by law; that the principles of the Christian faith are still the basis of much of our law and the standards of behaviour in this country; that a substantial majority of people subscribe to all that is enshrined in the Christian duty to our neighbour, even though many do not attend church; and that a similar substantial majority want their children brought up on such principles of the Christian faith.
Views such as those were strongly represented to Members of Parliament and the Government as the Bill passed through another place; and greatly to the credit of the Government, they took full notice of those views. I especially welcome the Government's assurance that they will put forward amendments in your Lordships' House to remove the existing restrictions on religious broadcasting such as are contained in Clauses 6, 42, 54 and 85.
Although excellent progress was made there, much detailed work is needed during the Committee stage in your Lordships' House to give effect to those assurances. I look forward as does the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, to seeing the government amendments in due course. We also need to look carefully at some definitions. First, the word "appropriate" is used in the context of the holders of licences. Who will decide the appropriateness of a holder of a licence? We need to clarify the meaning of this new word "exploitative" which was introduced by the Minister in another place. I have no doubt that all the intentions are first class, but the law must be clear and should not be left excessively wide for interpretation by the ITC and the Radio Authority however responsible I am sure they will be.
The Minister also referred to a code on programme standards which is to be drawn up by the ITC and the Radio Authority. As the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, and the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, pointed out, that code of conduct is of fundamental importance to the successful operation of the Bill. I shall not go into detail because other noble Lords have already done so. But suffice to emphasise that that code must be laid before Parliament as a statutory instrument and approved by affirmative resolution of both Houses. That is essential so as to give clear guidelines to the ITC and the Radio Authority in exercising their discretion, which was referred to by the Minister in another place. Without those clear guidelines, the religious advisers to the 1328 BBC, to the IBA and others will become very close to being religious censors in their own right at a time when we are seeing such censorship all over Europe being disbanded.
I also welcome the consumer protection requirements, particularly the safeguards against disqualified persons holding licences as is provided by Clauses 5, 83 and 84. Other clauses regulate appeals for donations. In Clauses 150 to 154 there are important protections against inflammatory material, incitement to hatred and defamation. They are all very important points. Those and other provisions in the Bill should surely remove any lingering fears about opening doors to undesirable cults of any kind or the worst forms of extreme tele-evangelism.
In the light of those safeguards, the restriction of Christian ownership of national television and radio stations announced by the Minister in another place seem to be illogical and unnecessary. Surely, too, they offend against the principle of no discrimination on the grounds of religious belief. I suggest that there is no apparent logic in that statement. Will humanists, agnostics, and atheists be permitted to own such stations? Surely the answer to that question must be yes. If that is so, then why not Christians? Of course, that is provided that all comply with the general requirements of ownership contained in the Bill.
To sum up on the religious aspects of the Bill, we seek to ensure that responsible, British Christian broadcasters have freedom and full scope to participate in the opportunities well provided for in the Bill—to complement existing religious programmes. Surely that is a very worthwhile and reasonable objective. If our expanded broadcasting services are to portray the full range of our culture, it would be ludicrous, and also contrary to the principles of freedom of expression, to exclude religion, particularly Christianity which, as the Prime Minister has said, contributes so much to the British way of life.
I say in response to the noble Lord, Lord Willis, that we who support the Bill in no way seek to exclude other faiths. Christianity,Christ's Church militant here on earth",as the Prayer Book puts it, is well able to stand on its own feet and prosper on a level field. So much then for religious broadcasting.
I now turn briefly to deal with one other point; namely, the requirement for true unbiased presentation of news and current affairs, which has already been so fully dealt with by my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing. I should like to make one or two brief additional comments. Clause 6 raises four important issues. We need first a definition of the word "current" in subsection (l)(c). Surely there is no objection to a historical programme on events which occurred more than 100 years ago being put out without presenting conflicting views. However, that would not be acceptable for events which took place, say, in the 1920s. Therefore, we need a definition as to what "current" means in that context.
1329 Secondly, news may be gravely distorted by selective quoting from interviews or by editorialising. Such practices must somehow be prohibited. Thirdly, Clause 6(2) makes it possible for impartiality to be judged over a series. That aspect has already been fully dealt with by my noble friend Lady Elles. But how long is a series to be over which impartiality is to be judged? Finally, subsection (3) requires another code to be drawn up by the ITC and the Radio Authority. Again, parliamentary approval must be obtained for such a code.
That is more than enough for tonight. Many other issues will have to be dealt with in Committee when I hope and believe that the Government will continue to show the flexible response that they have shown up till now.
§ 10.35 p.m.
§ Lord Ardwick
My Lords, as one of the veterans of the historic vote last night, I must confess that I am tired, that I want to go home and I want to go to bed. I suspect that there are other people who share my views, including the Minister, whom we must describe as the marathon man of the Front Bench. Perhaps I may assure him that if he fails to answer in detail every one of the 40 speakers when he winds up we shall gladly forgive him.
Setting an example to everyone who follows me, I have thrown away two-thirds of my speech with all its most beautiful phrases. What concerns me most, as someone who has spent his life trading in news, is the future of ITN with which the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, dealt so vigorously earlier. All those years ago I was one of the first people to be approached to join the commercial television news service. I am not sure whether I turned it down or it turned me down, but I sometimes think that I might have been as famous as Sir Robin Day.
ITN began humbly with a low budget and high aspirations. Those aspirations have been fulfilled. Today ITN is in the joint ownership of all the companies. It has created a service which might have a capital value of £130 million. What is more important, it produces news programmes which rival and sometimes surpass those of the BBC. We are most fortunate in this country because for the vast majority of the public television is their main access to serious news, especially as it is so scantily given in the popular national newspapers.
Tonight, a summer night, ITN will be having something like 8 million or 9 million viewers. What we have had is a highly efficient and well motivated duopoly. It has paid off. Now ITN seems to be in some danger. The companies have made a big investment in it. C. P. Scott used to say:While comment is free, news is sacred",and so it must be; but news is not only sacred, it is damned expensive. ITN has been adequately funded and has become a great material and moral asset to independent television, so it must be kept.
Now the Government want the Channel 3 companies to have only a 49 per cent. share in ITN. The rest will go to God knows who, but perhaps someone more interested in profit than in the social 1330 product. It must be understood—I find it little understood—that ITN does not produce a mere news service by the yard; it is in effect an electronic newspaper with its own traditions, morale, high commitment and ability to get the nightly news right.
Now, to protect its shareholders, a proposal is being examined to create two companies: to put the assets, the building, the technical equipment and the library into a wholly owned company and then to sell 51 per cent. of the news service. I do not like that proposal. It is in the interests of the viewer and of the nation that ITN should run its electronic newspapers without being harassed by investors whose interest may be only in the profits that can be made and not in the service itself. If the Government believe in competition, let them ensure that the competition in excellence between ITN and the BBC continues and that ITN is not weakened, leaving the BBC as the unchallenged leader in the field.
Radio is pushed to the margin in these debates on the Bill. That is a pity. I am a dedicated listener and I should have liked radio to have had a Bill of its own and the concentrated attention of Parliament. There are important questions to be asked about community radio and the three national stations. We are told that they are to be diversified so that we get the spoken word on the first station and serious music on another or music that is not pop, with presumably pop on the third station. As the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said, every effort will be made to maintain the quality.
How are these stations to be financed'* That surely is the problem. Advertisements on television can be acceptable and even delightful. On radio they are often hell, with people shouting in funny voices in a desperate bid for our attention. Sustained listening is unendurable. It is a challenge to advertising, with its great resources of artistry, to produce advertisements that are audibly charming. I and perhaps others would welcome a brief on this subject. I have heard nothing.
I have also heard little from the BBC. Some people are worried that the BBC is not taking an aggressive public role in all this. I have confidence in its survival. In a few years the public service element in television, even under this improved Bill, will not have increased and may have decreased in quality and in volume. I believe that we shall come to value the BBC more than we do now and that many people who are not its strongest advocates, including the noble Lord, Lord Annan, will come strongly to the rescue of the public service television, the BBC. Over the years, however, BBC chiefs have shown a sustained capacity to guard their backs and to preserve our great asset. I do not think that they will fail now.
§ 10.42 p.m.
§ Lord Plowden
My Lords, I should declare an interest. From 1970 to 1975 my wife was the vice-chairman of the BBC and from 1975 to 1980 she was chairman of the IBA.
Like other speakers here today and in another place, it concerns me that the Broadcasting Bill does 1331 nothing to protect companies awarded Channel 3 licences from immediate takeover. Starting a new business, large or small, is a demanding and at time nerve-wracking task. Equally, embarking as an established company on a new challenge in a highly competitive environment requires maximum energy and concentration on planning the new business.
In reply to a question at a conference recently held, the Minister, Mr. Mellor, said, according to the official report of the conference:In most sophisticated companies there is a division of responsibility to the point that those who would be engaged in resisting a hostile takeover bid would not be those who were charged with the responsibility of making the programmes. There would be a proper organisational structure".I find it difficult to believe in such a Chinese wall within a company. All my business experience tells me that a threat, let alone the reality of a takeover bid, is extremely disruptive. Any established company, let alone a new one, preparing to broadcast would find it quite devastating. The instinct of the whole company would switch to survival rather than to forward planning. In such circumstances the impact and uncertainty would be felt throughout the organisation, not simply by the board or the higher reaches of management.
Once a company is established, and in this case once a new Channel 3 system is up and running, the discipline of knowing that one is not immune from takeovers could be beneficial in keeping management alert and efficient. However, I believe that it would be folly to risk the major upheaval of takeovers within weeks or months of companies having gone through stringent quality tests and competitive tendering. It would render the whole process meaningless. It might persuade some companies to become predators themselves rather than to participate in the application process. I hope therefore that a limited moratorium on takeovers, applying from the time the ITC awards the licences until at least the end of the first year of their operation—a minimum of two years—will be accepted.
Finally, I hope that the Independent Television Commission will attach the same importance to the specific inclusion of programmes of educational value to adults as has the IBA, guided by its Educational Advisory Committee. The effectiveness of many of those programmes has been enhanced by the follow-up provided off-air locally. I was encouraged by what the noble Baroness, Lady David, said—much more clearly than I can—about the importance of adult education. At a time when we are all living longer and the importance of adults continuing to learn has been so strongly emphasised, it would be a great loss to lose that stimulus.
I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Annan, who referred to the scepticism with which some people greeted the original legislation permitting commercial television. I confess that I was one of those. I hope that we shall be proved as wrong about this Bill. For that to happen I believe that a number of the amendments proposed today will have to be adopted.
§ 10.47 p.m.
§ Lord Colwyn
My Lords, the debate is continuing rather longer than I had anticipated. Although I cannot plead a previous engagement I can plead another dental analogy and the fact that I have to have a steady hand tomorrow morning. I apologise to my noble friend the Minister if I have to leave before his winding-up speech. However, I hope that I shall be able to stay, and we have speeded up in the last couple of hours. I have not thrown away any of my speech but I hope to get through it quickly.
The far-reaching and generally welcome provisions of the Bill as applied to the future of commercial television have tended to overshadow the implications for radio. Here I must declare what may very well become a financial interest, in that I am a director of London Jazz Radio, broadcasting as Jazz FM.
While ensuring the continuation of existing BBC national and local radio services funded by the licence fee, the Bill proposes the licensing of three national commercial radio stations and many local ones. That will all take place under the supervision of the new regulatory body, the Radio Authority.
Before the White Paper that free market expansion was expected to take place at the expense of the BBC, but it now seems likely that it will primarily affect existing commercial contractors. That new deregulated system will surely mean that many independent local radio stations will be pressurised by new national and local services. That threat to ILR is seemingly based on the belief that the existing commercial radio system, with regional stations having a local monopoly of radio advertising, has not worked. Despite recent dramatic growth, radio still takes a relatively low share of total advertising revenue.
The likely result of the introduction of new national commercial stations may well be similar to the situation in France where the commercial networks have attracted more listeners than the local stations and have cornered most of the national brand advertising. The Government's proposal to auction the national commercial radio licences, thus taking much of the profit, will provide a major obstacle for the potential new franchise holders, who will have difficulty in introducing the kind of programmes that might attract larger audiences, while at the same time keeping within the ill-defined quality threshold.
That growth of specialist radio stations targeting specific audiences, attracting advertising aimed at specific groups, relies on the new stations' ability to survive solely on advertising revenue and sponsorship. No discretion is made in the Bill between small-scale commercial stations and, for instance, community radio run by voluntary groups. Community radio has already shown that it has a great deal to offer and the Bill in its present form could result in the loss of many community stations. Without the encouragement for alternative organisation and funding, it is likely that the new Radio Authority may license scaled-down versions of the ILR stations rather than anything radically new. Already some of the new stations licensed by 1333 the IBA are in difficulty because they cannot attract enough advertising.
I should now like to make a few observations about Clause 163 which amends Clause 135 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act. The Broadcasting Bill provides us with an opportunity to establish a system that can enjoy the support of all interested parties. The copyright regime in this country in relation to the licensing of sound recordings has been a subject of grave concern to broadcasters and heated dispute with the PPL (Phonographic Performance Ltd.) for over a decade. An eight-year case before the Performing Rights Tribunal, a new copyright Act in 1988, an exhaustive Monopolies and Mergers Commission inquiry into the activities of PPL and now a chance to modify the copyright Act all seem to be in danger of leaving British broadcasters aggrieved at their treatment by a record industry largely dominated by foreign companies.
The Monopolies and Mergers Commission made several important recommendations which go some way to providing a measure of consensus. Some of its recommendations could be said to have benefited the record industry and some the broadcasters. One of the most important recommendations for the broadcasters and one enthusiastically accepted by the Government was that needletime restrictions should go. It is important that the clear intentions of that recommendation should find expression in the Bill. It is equally essential that the abolition of needletime does not come about with a hidden sting in its tail in the form of a consequential cost burden every bit as damaging as the original supply abuse.
I was encouraged by the remarks on this subject of my noble friend the Minister. I hope that the Government will look seriously at those matters and suggest amendments with particular regard to needletime restrictions that give true and fair effect to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission's recommendation.
I hope that it will be possible to come up with a form of words to deal effectively with that problem while still leaving the tribunal otherwise unhindered in the performance of its duty to arrive at decisions that are reasonable in the circumstances and therefore provide terms and conditions fair to a variety of broadcasting needs and the record industry.
Noble Lords would be most upset to find broadcasters—already denied relief from the burden of copyright by the Government's refusal to adopt first fixation—again left disadvantaged in the face of the PPL monopoly, if it were to be exposed to the danger of finding that the abolition of needletime restrictions led to even higher copyright royalties—royalties which are already among the highest in the world.
I hope also to support an amendment dealing with replication and viability. That issue goes right to the heart of the future of the commercial radio industry. Not only would it be a waste of valuable public resources, but a denial of true listener choice if there were to be a proliferation of competing stations replicating existing services, particularly in prime 1334 time. Such a system would fail to attract the new audiences to commercial radio so vital to the growth of its share of the advertising revenue.
The Government have already acknowledged the importance of that point in the current wording of the Bill, but only to a limited extent. In the absence of the current practice of diversity, it may be necessary to spell out licensing considerations that both avoid replication and take account of the stability of existing services and the effects upon them of new entrants to the market. I am aware that discussions are taking place between the broadcasters, the IBA and the Government. I hope that I shall be able to support an amendment that will result in the emergence of an effective regime that will ensure the future growth, profitability and diversity of the commercial sector.
I should also like to mention the proposal in the Bill that a maximum permissible radio holding could only be one national station plus six local services. Here I must respectfully disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. The one plus six policy takes no account of the growing numbers of stations planned in the future and seems to rely on the mistaken assumption that in regard to local radio eminence in a local or number of local markets is in some way equitable to national dominance verging on a monopoly concern or possibly a threat to public interest. I feel sure that this matter will be discussed further at Committee stage.
I must also welcome the new powers in the Bill to suppress radio piracy, but I am concerned that they may be ineffective unless accompanied by additional enforcement resources. The recent awarding of new incremental franchises and the stipulation that pirate radio broadcasters convicted of offences after 1st January 1989 would not be eligible to apply for those new franchises has not done anything to reduce the level of piracy, particularly in the London area.
The main concern to the legitimate broadcaster is not the loss of revenue or audiences to pirate stations but the overcrowding of the spectrum, causing extensive interference and making it difficult for audiences to tune to the licensed broadcaster of their choice. I am told that pirates make a point of broadcasting as near as possible to the frequency of a licensed broadcaster in the hope of attracting listeners who tune to them inadvertently.
The additional powers in the Bill may not resolve this problem without a strengthening of the radio investigation service. Unless piracy is eliminated the planned expansion in the number of licensed radio services could be seriously affected.
While on this subject I have to say that I have received a submission, as I am sure have many other noble Lords, from supporters of Radio Caroline, who are surprised that the additional powers proposed cover all vessels on the high seas whose broadcasts are capable of being received or causing interference in the United Kingdom. I am informed that the conventional way of dealing with an authorised broadcast from a foreign registered vessel on the high seas would be for the Government to make the appropriate representations through diplomatic channels to the flag state of the vessel.
1335 Although I would wish to see an end to radio piracy, it is not clear to me whether those powers may be used extra-territorially on the high seas against vessels flying a foreign flag.
I am also concerned about the right of news access. The British public has had the opportunity to see the action of great sporting events for many years: Wembley, the Grand National, test matches, Wimbledon and the like are part of our national heritage and the public expects to be able to see them as part of the service that broadcasting provides to the nation. News access in general, which British broadcasters have enjoyed for many years, is vital if the television news organisations are to be able to cover national events adequately.
However, under the Bill the right of news access might go and viewers could be deprived of choice. Clause 168 of the Bill allows sporting bodies to sell exclusive rights to coverage of events to satellite or cable television companies. In broad terms I see nothing wrong with that. Indeed, as the Minister in another place said, it will allow sporting bodies to get a more realistic commercial price for these events and this will put more funding into the sport.
However, there is a possible undesirable effect in that news organisations on TV, BBC, ITN and TV-am, as well as the new ones like Sky and BSB, would not automatically be allowed properly to cover such key events in their news bulletins because there is no provision in the Bill for them to obtain highlight pictures from those who have bought the exclusive rights. I think that that is wrong. Television news bulletins should be able to reflect and show highlights of all major events. Indeed, I think that there would be an outcry if on the day of the event only one company could show any pictures of the action.
My right honourable friend the Minister in another place said that he agreed with that but thought that it was not a subject for this Bill, as the broadcasters could agree news access between themselves. Evidence shows that that will not happen. Over many years BBC and ITV have jealously guarded their rights to key events, and I know that TV-am, a relative newcomer, has been denied access on many occasions. It happened, for example, last month when TV-am was refused permission to have extracts from the FA Cup Final.
The signs are that there will be no agreement, and that is why I feel the Bill should make sure that there is. The fair dealing provisions of the copyright legislation of 1988 go some way towards allowing a degree of news access and I know that the scope of that is being argued by the lawyers. But I do not feel that that is enough. The Bill should have a clause making it compulsory, where exclusive rights have been bought, for access of a fixed time (say two minutes) to be given to other news organisations which request coverage. In that way there would be a clear recognition that all TV news organisations would be able to cover key sporting events in the way viewers have the right to expect. This Bill has done an admirable job in creating choice. It would be a shame if in one vital area viewers were deprived of a key service. I hope to be able to support or move 1336 an amendment to that effect at the next stage of the Bill.
I have two further points to make. I share the concern of the IBA and the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising that there will be confusion among viewers, listeners, broadcasters and advertisers when complaints about individual advertisements are considered. This concern arises from the presence of different statutory authorities—the Independent Television Commission and the Radio Authority on the one hand and the Broadcasting Standards Council on the other.
The Bill gives the BSC the power to impose decisions about individual advertisements over the heads of regulatory bodies. That may well be confusing not only to advertisers but also for viewers whose complaints will be inefficiently monitored by the ITC and the Radio Authority if many complaints are diverted to the BSC. I hope to be able to support an amendment on Clause 140 to end this confusion.
Finally, I should like to comment on an aspect of the Bill that comes within Clause 16 which has already been covered by the noble Lord, Lord Willis. It concerns complaints by composers that they are being coerced by the television companies into granting rights in the music they write for television to publishing companies owned by the television company. Composers have found that if they refuse to grant their rights to the television companies they no longer receive commissions. The Office of Fair Trading has been aware of this problem for some years but only a very few composers have been willing to jeopardise their position with the television companies and make complaints.
Independent radio companies are prohibited from forming their own music publishing companies. I intend to move or support an amendment that will reinstate the undertaking of the ITV companies to the IBA that it will not be a condition of commissioning contracts that publishing rights should be assigned to them.
I am most grateful to the Minister for his explanation of the Bill, for the way that he has listened to most of the speeches today and for his obvious intentions to listen and act on the discussions that will take place during the next stages of the Bill.
§ 11.2 p.m.
§ Lord Donoughue
My Lords, once again we are involved in public discussion of broadcasting. In the past five years we have been presented with the Peacock Report, the Green Paper on radio, the White Paper on Broadcasting, and now the 182 clauses and 18 schedules of the Broadcasting Bill. For a Government who do not believe in government interference, that constitutes quite a record of involvement. However, we must not complain about that. Broadcasting is a very important public issue. It is quite right that Parliament should devote serious thought and time to it.
I also welcome the apparent deathbed conversion of the Government to maintaining many of the principles of public service broadcasting. If, as I suspect, the noble Earl—who so elegantly introduced 1337 the Bill—and Mr. David Mellor are responsible for reintroducing that dimension of civilisation into the otherwise brutal culture of deregulated free markets, they should be congratulated by all sides.
However, I am not sure that all of the tensions and contradictions between the urge to put in the boot of deregulation while holding out a friendly hand to public service principles have been resolved. The main thrust of the Bill is the reordering of commercial broadcasting in this country. It proposes quite a substantial regulatory framework. Time and experience will show how well that works. If it fails, I suspect that it will not be because of its legal architecture but because of doubts about the financial fundamentals of commercial broadcasting—its funding. I begin at the beginning with the franchise applications. The Government have decided to abandon their earlier insistence on a deposit payment. However, four other financial contributions are required: the basic cash bid; the application fee; the provision of security; and the percentage of revenue to be paid once the licence has been granted. There is considerable uncertainty about the levels of finance required for these, and it is difficult to see how existing franchise holders plan their future investments when such large but unquantifiable sums must be provided for.
In terms of programme quality, the requirement for children's programmes and religious programmes in Clause 16, together with the stipulations for regional programmes for news and current affairs, is an improvement that we welcome. Also welcome is the Clause 17 provision that under exceptional circumstances the ITC may allocate a franchise to a lower cash bid on grounds of programme quality. The problem there is that in practice it may mean something or it may mean nothing. It offers hope to those who believe that quality and not just money matter in broadcasting. But those hopes may be dashed; we have no guarantees. At the heart of the problem lies the fact that it is the Government and not the franchise holders who believe that money matters more than quality. As always, the Treasury sees commercial television as a convenient source of revenue. The instrument of the auction of franchises is there to provide Treasury revenues, regardless of its damaging impact on the industry. The main damage will arise because the premium price paid for the franchise will drain money which should be used for investment in programme quality.
One specific area of broadcasting about which I am particularly anxious, and where I believe that the Bill threatens great damage, is sport. Here the dogmatism of the free market is allowed to run virulently. Hitherto it has been one of the great joys of broadcasting in this country that the major sporting events such as the Grand National, the Derby, the Cup Final and the Test matches, have been deliberately organised so that they are viewable on television by everybody. This was achieved by guaranteeing to our terrestrial broadcasters—that is the ITV and the BBC—the opportunity to purchase the rights to them. It is deeply regrettable that those rights are being abolished in the Bill.
Giving to satellite broadcasters, with their huge money bags and tiny audiences, the right to purchase 1338 monopoly rights is an outrage. It means that for many years a significant number of the British sporting public will be deprived of the opportunity to watch the great sporting events which matter so much to them. The alternative, especially for millions of old-age pensioners, who love watching such events, will be to be compelled to spend money that they do not have on ugly equipment that they do not want. It is difficult to escape the suspicion that this is a form of reverse payola; a payment by the Government perhaps to a foreign media Baron for services rendered during election campaigns. I trust that at the Committee stage that blot will be removed. Clause 164 should be redrafted to guarantee that the largest possible audience has access to these premium events.
The final point relating to the BBC—and I am pleased to see that it appears so rarely in the Bill—is also very puzzling. The requirement that a minimum of 25 per cent. of programmes should be produced by independents is welcome. I believe that it is already being implemented through the supervision of the Home Office and the BBC Board of Governors. Why, as appears, is the process being put under the supervision of the Director of the Office of Fair Trading? Surely that is a superfluous double layer of bureaucracy and regulation. For a government who claim to dislike excessive bureaucracy—and I share that view—it is odd that they should be imposing double layers of it. It also seems to cast an unnecessary slur on the Home Office and the BBC governors, who are perfectly able to execute that task. The result will inevitably be divided responsibilities and confused accountability. Clause 171 should therefore be redrafted, confirming the 25 per cent. quota (which is excellent) but leaving the governors accountable to the Secretary of State.
The third edition of the Broadcasting Bill is a great improvement on earlier manifestations of government thinking. Obviously a more intelligent mind has been given freedom—if limited freedom—to modify the damage once threatened by the school of neo-brutalism which originally imposed its de-regulatory ideology on the world of broadcasting.
British broadcasting is the best in the world. It is one of the few areas where Britain is supreme. One should be very careful before changing it too much, because it works. Conservative values suggest that we should conserve what is good. In any case, more modifications are necessary, and I trust that this House will make those improvements at Committee stage.
§ 11.11 p.m.
§ Lord Forbes
My Lords, one aspect of the Bill which seems to have united every noble Lord who has spoken in the debate is that the Government's thoughts on the future of broadcasting have progressed a long way since the White Paper was issued. Upon that the Government are to be congratulated. However, many people, both inside and outside the House, are expressing concern over the future quality of television programmes. It is right that concern should be expressed. Television 1339 is one of the most powerful influences in the hands of mankind today.
Like several other noble Lords I have been a director of a regional television company; I am now only a shareholder. I was a director of Grampian Television for 27 years from its inception. Because of that and in the hope that the Government will consider making further improvements to the Bill during the remaining stages, I will confine my few remarks on the Bill to the attainment of high quality programmes by regional companies.
When we founded Grampian Television in 1961 it was one of the smallest television companies yet it covered the largest land mass of any regional television station in Britain. We made it our aim to provide a service for the community within our transmission area—something which is vital to the achievement of high quality programmes. Cash is also essential, and I shall come to that aspect in a moment.
The main aim of any regional company must be to provide a service to the community. That subject was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth. The thought of profit, though closely linked, should be secondary to providing a service to the community of the area. Undoubtedly the Government's idea of the free market principle when awarding licences puts a bottom line on the quality of programmes below which any company would risk losing its licence. That must considerably influence the quality of programmes. Nevertheless, the company, having complied with what has been laid down by regulation or code by the Independent Television Commission, would still have various options which could influence the quality of its programmes.
I shall consider religious programmes. A company may have the choice of televising a live Church service from, say, St. Magnus Cathedral in Orkney, or assembling a minister, a piano and a choir of three for a service in the studio. Both programmes might meet the laid down requirements but the difference between the two as regards the service to the viewer and the community would be vast. As a result, in the end the responsibility for high quality programmes rests on the shoulders of the regional company.
To achieve a high quality service for the community it is most important that each regional company should have a sense of identity with the area which it covers and, thereby, a feeling for its area. For this to happen, I believe that the directors and executives, except those concerned purely with sales, should live in the transmission area so that they are in touch at all time with people in all walks of life in the area. If that is done the company will have a genuine feeling for its locality when making decisions. A director who lives in the transmission area will soon hear from friends and neighbours if programmes are not good. However, if he lives in, say, London, all he may know from attending board meetings is that letters of complaint have been received about a certain programme. That is very different from being accosted in the street or 1340 lambasted at the dinner table about the poor programmes one's company is producing. Furthermore, I believe that it is important there should be a balance on regional company boards between executive and non-executive directors. In an industry like television, executives become so immersed in technicalities and techniques that, through no fault of their own, it is sometimes difficult for them to see the wood for the trees.
Of course, neither legislation nor market forces will guarantee good programmes. Much will depend on the regional company itself Here it is the chairman who ultimately bears the greatest responsibility.
I mentioned earlier the need to have cash to make good programmes. I doubt whether the cost of making high quality programmes, especially documentaries and wild-life programmes, is fully realised. A few years ago Grampian Television made a documentary series on oil. It cost £1-2 million—a substantial sum for a small regional company—yet that documentary showed the flag for Britain's North Sea oil exploration and production in no less than 40 different countries of the world.
The main point I make here is that the making of that documentary series was possible by receiving revenue from the sale of advertising time on Channel 4. However, in future that revenue will no longer be received by regional companies, as Channel 4 will be selling its own time. That loss of revenue will mean that in future it will be more difficult for the small regional companies to produce costly documentary or specialist programmes.
There is no doubt that regional companies benefit by direct and indirect employment in the area in which they are situated. Furthermore, if successful, they can give a very welcome boost to the local economy. For example, Grampian Television currently funnels the not inconsiderable sum of £17 million a year from advertisers south of the Border to the north of Scotland. That not only goes against the economic drift but is also extremely good for Scotland.
It cannot be too strongly stressed that in the final analysis the production of really good regional programmes will depend not only on the ownership of the regional company being rooted in the area and having a feeling for the area but also to a large extent on the quality of those owning as well as those operating each regional company. If the points that I have mentioned concerning regional companies can be met, the viewer, the advertiser, the community and the economy of the area will be well served and the future of television will be enhanced for the benefit of mankind.
§ 11.20 p.m.
§ Lord St. John of Bletso
My Lords, I speak on the Broadcasting Bill as someone who has lived in Africa for many years and was unable to enjoy the many benefits of the British system of television broadcasting. When I came to Britain the quality of British television was a revelation to me. As I have lived here I have found the scope and potential of the new developments in television just as exciting.
1341 I have no interest in any of the broadcasting companies or the satellite operators except as a viewer and an enthusiast for broadcasting. I was pleased to hear from many noble Lords who share my enthusiasm for the recent developments in television and in particular for the provision in the Bill that will foster future encouraging opportunities for broadcasting.
As Professor Sir Alan Peacock, chairman of the committee on the financing of the BBC, has made clear, we now have a splendid opportunity to combine the advantages of technological change with the development of a system of broadcasting which maximises the benefits of those for whom the system must be designed; namely, the viewer and the listener. While this is a very wide-ranging Bill concerning many important points, the subject I would like to focus on this evening is the growth of satellite communications.
As noble Lords will be aware, one of the most significant developments of recent months has been the commencement of satellite broadcasting services in Britain to send channels directly to homes or indirectly via cable networks. Britain is now Europe's most important centre for satellite broadcasting. Transmissions from the United Kingdom of news, sport and entertainment are being received from the Baltic to the Balkans and across Western Europe.
As the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, made reference in his lucid speech, as the totalitarian regimes crumble in Eastern Europe, at least some of the credit must go to the British-based satellite broadcasters who, for the first time, have been able to transmit their programmes across frontiers thanks to the miracle of satellite communications.
Among the positive developments that have come across as a result of this expansion of satellite broadcasting has been the introduction of the new technology of satellites into schools in Britain by Sky and Astra. I understand that already more than 70 schools have been equipped with satellite broadcasting receiving systems so that children taking foreign language courses can watch news in German, sports programmes in French and entertainment programmes in Italian.
I understand that by the autumn 1,000 or more schools may be using satellite systems in this way. I find that particularly exciting when I consider the opportunities for extending that type of facility to the third world. The innovative, low-cost satellite equipment that has been developed here in Britain could so readily be used in Africa to give young people there a window on the world and the opportunity to become full members of the global community.
I have heard the Bill referred to as a charter for open skies. The Bill puts out a welcome mat for broadcasters who will be free to set up shop in Britain and, with the minimum of restriction, offer services to viewers throughout Europe. In my view the Government have been wise to propose just a few basic consumer protection regulations on these new broadcasters. The restrictions are few in number but significant nonetheless. For example, I am 1342 pleased to see that the Bill requires that news be truthful and impartial, a point well illustrated by the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing.
I welcome the fact that the Bill requires that programmes meet a standard of taste and decency. That is proper. But what the Bill does not impose are arbitrary, unnecessary inhibitions on the basic freedoms to broadcast. Indeed, the Bill quite properly treats broadcasting as, if you like, a form of publishing. Anyone with the initiative, the ideas and the resources may participate in this new enterprise. This is crucial. It is an exciting prospect that the Astra satellite system can grow and offer at least 48 channels. So scarcity of channels is an issue of the past. Any number of players may soon be able to participate.
I have heard the argument that our tradition requires that newspaper publishers, for example, be prohibited from offering television services. When this prohibition was introduced some 30 years ago there was but one commercial television station in Britain. Perhaps at that time it was appropriate to insist on a separation of newspaper interests and broadcasting interests, but today we live in an age of media. The traditional division between publishing and broadcasting is crumbling. We see television becoming more akin to publishing with specialised channels offering services targeted at specific audiences. We see publishing becoming more akin to broadcasting, with colour printing making newspapers more attractive and entertaining, and with satellite technology making it possible for newspapers to publish simultaneously all over the world. I read with pleasure last week that the Financial Times will soon be publishing a satellite edition in Tokyo. I also welcome the development of the new European newspaper, printed simultaneously in three European centres.
With respect to the ownership question, I have taken note of the arrangements in Schedule 2 to the Bill. These represent a complex but in my opinion workable approach to the very difficult and controversial problems. The arrangements will prevent proprietors of national newspapers from controlling the important Channel 3 licensees, which we can expect to remain the cornerstone of our commercial broadcasting system for some time. At the same time, they are flexible, allowing the risk-taking media companies that are pioneering satellite developments the opportunity to operate under appropriately more flexible conditions.
As the Home Office Minister with responsibility for broadcasting pointed out in the other place during the Report stage of the Broadcasting Bill, where spectrum is allocated by United Kingdom regulators the Bill provides for the most rigorous cross-media control. Newspaper proprietors may not have a controlling interest in an ITV franchise or in BSB, which has been granted a monopoly on the five United Kingdom high power satellite frequencies that are available to us. But, as the Minister said, the non-domestic satellite services are different. They are not granted by United Kingdom regulators. They are carried on a satellite with seemingly endless potential for new channels, as I pointed out earlier. The channels used by the satellites are not in short 1343 supply. He said, and I agree, that there is no reason of principle why we should seek to control the ownership of a brave entrepreneurial effort.
Before concluding, and while we are on the subject of entrepreneurial effort, perhaps I may also welcome a very significant but often overlooked aspect of the Bill—as was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue—which relates to the award of 25 per cent. of the UK television airtime to independent producers. It is my belief that the full co-operation of the ITV companies and the BBC in delivering that 25 per cent. to the independents by 1992 and the equitable arrangements over programme rights would contribute greatly to the development of an invigorated independent media industry in this country.
It is particularly important that our independent producers be able to secure a proper stake in the ownership of the programmes they make for the established broadcasters so that they may share the profits to be realised by the subsequent sale of those programmes to overseas broadcasters and the new satellite and cable channels.
On a note of caution, though, care must be taken when contracts are awarded to independent producers that these contractors are genuinely independent and not subject to the so-called "sweetheart contracts" through the old boys' network. In today's world the United Kingdom has a tremendous opportunity to develop its traditional strengths in media, allowing an industry that has historically been national in character to evolve increasingly into both the pan-European and international arenas. That is good news for Britain, offering us increased employment, encouraging technological development and offering viewers an expanded range of choice.
In a Bill of this complexity and of such ambition there are bound to be a number of clauses that we shall wish to consider carefully during our Committee stage. We may wish to hear a little more from the Government on such issues as religious broadcasting, standards that will be applied to ensure the impartiality of news, and the details that relate to the possible takeovers of Channel 3 licences. But in my opinion we have received from the other place a Bill that gives us a great starting point for debate. As a viewer, I have found television in Britain to be both inspiring and impressive. We have already had a taste of what the future offers.
I welcome the Bill. I believe that it creates the conditions for broadcasting in Britain to build on its immensely strong foundations. In the coming years I would expect British television to develop into an ever more vital part of our national life and to play an increasingly important part in Britain's international role.
§ 11.32 p.m.
My Lords, we have witnessed in this debate four remarkable maiden speeches. I listened with great care to the impressive speech of the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris. As Lord Morris, of, apparently, no fixed abode, it is warming to 1344 me to know another man who has ennobled his patronym. I welcome him to the House from the bottom of my heart.
Like the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, I warmly welcome the Bill, in so far as it reflects the fundamental policy which was stated shortly and clearly in the title of the White Paper of November 1988. It is a Bill designed to set the right environment to increase competition, choice and quality for those people who have hardly been mentioned in the debate; namely, the public. I strongly believe that the Bill does precisely that.
I was particularly impressed by the position taken by the Government in two specific areas. The White Paper stated:There should be vigilance against uncompetitive practices and market distortions. Partly for this reason, and to limit barriers to the entry of new operators in the market, there should be a greater separation between the various functions which make up broadcasting and have in the past been carried out by one organisation. These include programme production, channel packaging and retailing, and transmission or delivery".In addition, another point made in the White Paper concerns the emergence of a production sector which is independent—a point made most beautifully, if I may say so, by the noble Lord, Lord Willis—in that it neither controls nor has guaranteed access to a delivery system, and which fits its objective. This should be further encouraged.
In my view that is an absolutely vital ingredient in the future of independent broadcasting in this country, especially when one bears in mind the fundamentals. For example, what is broadcasting? Broadcasting is very simply the delivery and the receipt of a service by whatever means, be it through the ether—to use the old-fashioned term—or be it through the ether and then through cable. It is of no relevance whatever, so far as concerns the viewer, whether it be received by satellite, through a cable or through the ether. For that reason I was astonished to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, stating that satellite is no substitute for good quality terrestrial channels.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, I said that neither cable nor satellite were yet substitutes for terrestrial channels because, as we all know very well—and I shall not repeat the argument—there are not at present sufficient programmes on them, not enough people have them and there are still the costs to be compared with terrestrial channels.
My Lords, they may not yet be a substitute, but they are certainly complementary—and so they should be because they provide the breadth of choice to the customer. I welcome that aspect. However, I certainly do not think that direct broadcasting by satellite is the long-term solution; I am convinced that the long-term solution is in cable and wireless. I strongly welcome the fact that the Bill encourages the development of cabling in this country for the delivery and receipt of broadcasting, which is only 1345 one of the alternatives from which the people in this country could benefit.
The cost of delivery of this service is coming down literally on a daily basis because of changes in technology. There is no doubting that fact. I implore Her Majesty's Government in the course of consideration of the Bill to do everything they possibly can to ensure that new entrants into the market are encouraged in every way. It is only in that way that the receipt of these broadcasting services will become cheaper to the end users, who, of course, are the people of this country.
I shall not speak any longer because of the lateness of the hour. However, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Ferrers for the clear way in which he presented the Bill to the House.
§ 11.38 p.m.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
My Lords, I should like to make a brief concluding contribution to this long debate and I shall try to exercise as much brevity as I can in the circumstances. I too should like to congratulate the maiden speakers, all of whom impressed us with their first addresses to your Lordships' House. We look forward to hearing from all of them again.
As I think every one of your Lordships who has engaged in this debate has said, the Bill is much improved from that which was first presented to us. It can be said that our worst fears have most certainly not been fulfilled. It must also be said, as many noble Lords have said, that improvements can still be made and that dangers inherent in the present Bill must still be avoided.
I do not propose to do more than briefly refer to many of the issues which have been covered very fully and repeatedly by Members of this House. We welcome from these Benches the changes in the system whereby franchises are granted and whereby exceptional quality is recognised as an element that is taken into account. I suppose I could express the difference between our attitude and that of Her Majesty's Government by saying that they regard quality as an exceptional element whereas we regard it as an essential element. That is about where the difference lies.
We agree on the need to have a moratorium on takeovers, a point which was so impressively explained by the noble Lords, Lord Boston of Faversham, Lord Buxton of Alsa and Lord Plowden. We agree with the noble Lords, Lord Buxton and Lord Ardwick, on the importance of keeping ITN under the control of ITV. I agree, and I think my colleagues agree, on the importance of listed events being available to the public as a whole. That is something that one would have thought the Conservative Party would appreciate: the party of one nation; the party which believes in holding the country together. Witnessing those events together as a nation has an important and binding influence. It is characteristic of one of the elements of the Bill which have been modified that the Government do not see that kind of issue as having any social importance. It is of social importance and we must try to see that it is improved in Committee.
1346 We also agree with the importance of network arrangements being made. The most controversial element in the debate has been that of cross-media ownership. It has been made more controversial by the fact that it has, in my view wrongly, been personalised. It has been treated as though it was a battle between BSB and Mr. Rupert Murdoch or that it was a campaign by people who regard Mr. Rupert Murdoch as an ogre. I must declare an interest. I am a consultant for one of Mr. Murdoch's publishing companies. I have been engaged in an unsuccessful battle not to be taken over by Mr. Murdoch, but I am still to some extent in his employment. It is not a question of his being an ogre. The issue is a simple one of principle. Is it right that so much power should be concentrated in the hands of one man, whether it be Mr. Murdoch, Mr. Maxwell or Mr. Bellusioni? That is the issue that the House must confront.
The noble Lords, Lord Annan and Lord Wyatt, in addressing that problem stressed how much we owed Mr. Murdoch for Wapping and the change in the way that our newspapers are produced. I should be the last to dissent from that feeling of gratitude, but I do not believe that Mr. Murdoch did it out of charity. I believe that he did it for other reasons. We do not owe him a special status in the television world for that reason.
I should also like to dwell longer in due course on what due impartiality means and how it should be interpreted in broadcasting. I am surprised at the fervour of the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, on impartiality. No one can say that the newspapers for which he works show that virtue in a notable degree. However, that is something that we can discuss in Committee. I hope that we shall be able to clarify the situation.
The Bill has two faces. One could be called the DTI face and the other could be called the Home Office face. That conflict appears throughout the Bill. The Home Office face recently, through Mr. Mellor's efforts, has come out on top; but elements of the old DTI face still appear here and there. The ideological element is that more means better, that more means more choice, that the market must be supreme and that the advertiser will be the final arbiter. It means that regulation will be with a lighter touch. But onto this scene of unregulated or lightly regulated competition marches Nanny Thatcher, proclaiming that the public must be protected from its own worst instincts. Hence we have the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, and his Broadcasting Standards Council, with a host of responsibilities set forth in Part VI of the Bill. He and his colleagues are enjoined to protect us from sex and violence.
Quite apart from whether this is necessary in the state in which broadcasting exists in this country, it seems to me that the creation of the Broadcasting Standards Council breaks an elementary rule of administration. The rule is that responsibility should be clearly and unambiguously assigned. The responsibility for the printed word, for example, lies with the publishers. In the past the responsibility for the broadcast word lay with the governors of the BBC and with the IBA. Now that responsibility is to be shared with the Broadcasting Standards 1347 Council, the Advertising Standards Authority, the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, the ITC and probably some other people.
This seems to me a formula for confusion and difficulty in knowing who is responsible for what. That difficulty has already emerged in the course of this debate as to the exact relationship between the Broadcasting Standards Council, the Broadcasting Complaints Commission and advertisers. If responsibility is dispersed in this fashion, there will be two temptations: for the regulatory bodies to expand their own empires, demanding to preview, or the Broadcasting Standards Council saying that it has authority over advertisements; and, perhaps more important, for the bodies which are regulated to see how far they can push these other bodies.
Not only do we have the Broadcasting Standards Council, but we have had in the past the Sinn Fein ban, which still exists, the Zircon affair, the Government's response to "Death on the Rock" and the "Real Lives" affair. There has thus been a succession of episodes, some of which are now incorporated in the Bill, which can only be seen as attempts to interfere with the broadcaster, to harass and stifle the broadcaster. I am sure that that is welcome to the noble Lords, Lord Wyatt and Lord Orr-Ewing, who appear to want to introduce even further regulations in a highly regulated field. What is needed in the Bill, in my opinion, is not more regulation but more protection of the broadcasting authorities from interference by governments.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord a question. While he may not call for new regulations, does he agree that the regulations there now ought to be adhered to? That is all that is asked for.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
My Lords, I accept the noble Lord's point. I argue that the regulations and guidelines which are laid down and have been laid down by the IBA and the BBC are adequate. They are more likely to be enforced if the responsibility for those guidelines being enforced lies with those bodies and is not dispersed among a number of other statutory bureaucracies set up by the present Government. That is my argument. The noble Lord may not agree.
One further form of interference which we cannot ignore and which has occurred not only in broadcasting but in other areas also is the politicisation of appointments to boards governing broadcasting. Hence the anxiety which has arisen over the provision in the Bill that appointments to the board of Channel 4 must have the approval of the Secretary of State.
As many noble Lords have mentioned, there is hardly any reference in the Bill to the BBC, except the responsibility—to which the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, drew attention—of the Office of Fair Trading to report on the BBC's compliance with the 25 per cent. independent production requirement. That is an otiose and unnecessary requirement in my view.
1348 I cannot regard that silence as golden. Neither the Government nor their supporters have in the past shown themselves well disposed to the BBC. It has appeared to them to be another of those independent institutions which they find so irksome. The universities, local government and the Church all fall within that category. The BBC and IBA are other elements in it. The Government have waged a consistent campaign against the BBC, starting with the Peacock Committee, continuing with the "Real Lives" affair and the campaign of Mr. Tebbit and the leaders in The Times.
The BBC is suffering death by a thousand cuts. If one regards the licence fee as a bad thing because it is a poll tax—despite having introduced another poll tax oneself—if one ties that to the RPI, if one recognises that the expenses of the BBC are 3 per cent. or 4 per cent. above the RPI, then one will see that the BBC's real revenue cut steadily by compound interest between now and 1996. It will be in a very weak position to compete with the commercial and satellite companies. That is a real danger.
There is a danger that public service broadcasting will hence be undermined and eroded. I ask myself whether the Government believe in public service broadcasting or whether they do not rather agree with that member of the advertising profession who said:If you give British advertisers what they want on ITV, you would rind it is what the viewers want too".The fact is that unless the BBC is adequately funded, unless it is seen to be an essential public service, unless it is accepted that it sets the standards for broadcasting generally, we shall have a lower standard of broadcasting in this country in the years to come. It is to prevent that, that we must examine the clauses of the Bill in Committee with the utmost care.
§ 11.53 p.m
§ Baroness Ewart-Biggs
My Lords, although it is a very long time ago since the Minister gave his very clear presentation of this Bill, it has nevertheless been a great pleasure to listen to this debate, both because it has been so well-informed and also because there has been so much agreement among speakers on all sides of the House.
There was agreement on the very high standard of the four maiden speeches. I should certainly like to associate myself with that. Secondly, there was agreement about the proud record of British broadcasting. That was strongly promoted by the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, and rightly so. Thirdly, there was agreement that this Bill, as it has emerged from another place, is a very different animal from the one reflected in the original White Paper, which contained proposals which were viewed with a great deal of concern by most people and with horror by some. There is therefore agreement that the Minister in another place must be congratulated on having listened so well to the propositions that were made to him from so many quarters, including the Opposition, the industry and pressure groups.
1349 There has also been unanimous agreement on two issues in the Bill. The first concerns the need for a moratorium on takeovers and the other the need for a network agreement. Starting with the moratorium, the only difference that was apparent in the speeches of noble Lords, concerned the periods that were proposed. The IBA wishes for a moratorium of one year after a company begins broadcasting. My noble friend Lord Boston, who argued the case for a moratorium most cogently, as did the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, said that one year is not sufficient and that he would like to see a longer period. I look forward to Committee stage when that will be decided.
I feel very strongly that after such a very long process and a lengthy Bill, and after all the wrangling, lobbying and negotiations have taken place, it is close to madness to allow a situation whereby on day two of broadcasting a company can be taken over. Moreover, as my noble friend Lord Boston of Faversham said, it is clear that many companies might well not even bother to bid for a franchise but sit back and wait until another company has gone through everything and then simply take it over. I look forward to hearing what the noble Earl has to say and to seeing that, like his right honourable friend in another place, he is a good listener.
The other aspect with which I wish to deal is the need for a transitional network agreement for Channel 3 to be in place before the licensing round. Again, the noble Earl said in his opening remarks that that issue was still being considered. The arguments put forward today have been strong, not only from the point of view of companies bidding for franchises, but from the point of view of the ITC itself which cannot make credible assessments of licence applications without a transitional network. Surely the time for the voluntary agreement desired by the Government must come later when the companies have been awarded their licences and have made their financial and schedule planning. I should like to ally myself with all noble Lords who have put forward those strong and well-informed arguments for those two requirements in the Bill.
With regard to another aspect of the auction system, we too are happy that the Government have accepted that a lower bid application could be preferred on quality grounds in exceptional circumstances. Although the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, and my noble friend Lord Donoughue have made the point that it will be difficult to measure quality in relation to cash and that it will be difficult for the ITC to make the decision, we are nevertheless happy that that change has been made. However, we are still worried that successful bidders in 1991 might well receive a licence to broadcast for ever. We should like to see explicit quality and public consultation requirements each time licences are due for renewal.
The quality threshold has been a central preoccupation in all of today's speeches. Strength and quality requirements have been woven into the Bill, but, after all, only in terms of requirements to provide a sufficiency of accurate and impartial news, current affairs, regional coverage, religious, children's and schools broadcasting. The Bill does 1350 not at present specify what should appear in the ITC's illustrative guidelines setting out a range of public service programmes which should be provided and which we should certainly like to see, including documentaries, adult education and social action programmes.
A further area of concern mentioned by many speakers is Clause 142 and the role of the Broadcasting Standards Council in relation to advertisements. The noble Lord, Lord McGregor, stressed the gravity of the position and pointed out that it would seem to involve unnecessary duplication as the ITC will also have responsibility for the control of advertisements. I look forward to hearing the noble Earl's response.
I was interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said about the Teletext service. I shall also be interested to hear what the Minister has to say with regard to the point made by the noble Lord; namely, that there was nothing to preserve the range of information in Teletext, and that there was nothing to protect the viewer in the same way as he is protected with regard to programmes. He believes that the ITC should have wider control over that matter. I think that that is a very interesting point. Like the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, I shall certainly not involve myself in the argument about impartiality. I hope that at Committee stage we might perhaps reconcile some of our difficulties.
The next major issue has been the cross-media ownership provisions. It is true that the Bill bars national newspapers from owning more than 20 per cent. of a Channel 3 licence or a Channel 5 or national radio licence, but is much less even-handed when it comes to cross-media ownership of newspapers and satellite channels. As noble Lords have said, it allows News International to maintain its considerable ownership of the daily and Sunday press alongside the majority ownership of Sky. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, who said that it is not a question of individuals but that one particular person is in a very strong position to influence public opinion and it happens, of course, to be Mr. Murdoch.
Perhaps I may just cover very briefly two areas which have not been covered extensively by other speakers. But first I should like to say a few words about children's programmes, which in some ways are rather vulnerable. Clause 7 deals with a general code for programmes with special reference to children and young people. But there is a worry among agencies concerned with children's television that the quality of children's programmes may deteriorate. That would be a very serious matter when one thinks of the number of children and the length of time that they watch television.
But the types of innovative and imaginative programme which stimulate children are expensive to make and there is a danger that popular programmes, or even those which would attract sponsors, might be placed higher in the list. I believe that in France there are imported Japanese cartoon films which are shown on commercial channels for children. They are particularly unpleasant and violent, but nevertheless are watched by a large number of children.
1351 So I believe that there is a risk. I do not think that many Members of either House of Parliament watch children's programmes very much. Perhaps we do not have any idea of the extent to which future generations will have used television as a basic means of access to informative and imaginative material. The Bill should include specific conditions that require licence holders to ensure children's programmes of high quality and also specify minimum hours and suitable times of transmission.
The other point that I wanted to make concerned the very important subject of training in the industry. Mr. Mellor said that the ITC and Radio Authority should require evidence of training policies from licence applicants. We should like to see that requirement strengthened. After all, the future of the industry depends very much on its skilled workforce. That was a point made very strongly by my noble friend Lady Blackstone. It is also a fact that prior to the 1980s the BBC and companies such as Granada and Thames were renowned for their training schemes but in the past few years, since freelancing has increased, the amount of training has decreased. It is true that freelances not only have to pay for their own training but often cannot get on to courses at all.
I think that it should be made clear that franchise applicants have a duty to train not only permanent employees but freelancers as well. After all, freelancers work for everyone and therefore affect the industry overall. I feel that it is rather a pity that the funds acquired through selling the franchises do not go into training schemes instead of to the Treasury. I believe that the money would be very well spent on such schemes.
When talking of training one has to make special reference to the needs of women. Again, Mr. Mellor in another place promised an amendment to the Bill along the lines proposed by the Opposition party. That required broadcasters and independent production companies to declare their equal opportunities policies. When one sees that three-quarters of all BBC and ITV employees are male and only one-quarter female, one feels that there should be extra training and monitoring provision to assist them.
My last point relates to the anxieties of organisations such as the Third World and Environment Broadcasting project, the Broadcasting Support Services, the Broadcasting Consortium and other voluntary organisations. They are all anxious about the broadcasting of documentaries, continuing education and social action programmes. As has been proved by a Harris poll, British viewers are very interested in information about developing countries and their problems. It is true that over the past decade specialist programmes of this nature have dramatically heightened British awareness of international issues and have led to greater popular involvement in green issues and overseas development work. But, as my noble friend Lord Morris and the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, said, such programmes, which in this case involve overseas filming, are extremely expensive. They cost twice the domestic equivalent. They attract large but not 1352 massive audiences. In the new competitive environment laid down in the Bill, programme costs and audience size determining the advertising revenue will become the prime factors in Channel 3 scheduling which leaves the factual programming under threat unless there are clear obligations on the new franchisees written into the Bill.
We are all happy that the Opposition and others have succeeded in keeping quality at the heart of the Bill in the other place. We welcome many of the changes made. However, we believe that there is still a need for improvement before it can be said that the best features of our much respected broadcasting system have been truly safeguarded. Although the Government deny it, the Bill is to a great extent about making money. It is for that reason that the consumer interests need to be protected. We know exactly what the viewer and listener wish to watch. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough and the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, made the point that it is the consumers—the viewer, the listener—who will decide what they want to see and hear. It will be a very great pity if their wishes are in any way disregarded. I very much look forward to the Committee stage.
§ 12.8 a.m.
My Lords, we have had an interesting debate. I knew that we would. I said in opening that your Lordships' knowledge and experience in broadcasting matters were unrivalled. I also said that I found that a formidable prospect; and so it has been.
I should like to congratulate your stalwart Lordships on having stayed to this late hour after last night. There has been a wide variety of opinion, as one would expect. I was grateful for the concluding remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs. She said that on the whole she found that many improvements have been made to the Bill and she looked forward to ensuring that quality remained high on the agenda. We agree that quality needs to remain high on the agenda.
I thought that her remarks contrasted slightly with those of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, who seemed to find nothing of which to approve in the Bill. She did not seem to have anything good to say about it. She said that the regulatory touch was too light and the drafting too loose. I thought "Oh dear, we don't seem to have a friend here". Then the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, said that the Bill was much better than when it was first introduced, and I was glad for that. Then he said that basically it was a bad Bill. I thought that that was a pity and that we had not made too much of a friend there either.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, I know that it is a long time ago, but I said that I was grateful for the improvements which have been made to the Bill. Of course I went on to say that a great deal more needed to be done. However, I acknowledged the improvements.
My Lords, I am sorry if I misrepresented what the noble Baroness said. That 1353 was the last thing I wished to do. I was merely reciting the impression that she left with me.
I was glad to hear the speech of the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, which was extremely good and interesting. He approved of the Bill. But that was not the reason why I thought that his speech was good; it just happened to be a good speech.
The change that we are seeing now is no less great than that which happened in the 1950s when independent television was first introduced. I remember how anxious people were then and how they took violently opposed views and thought that life would be awful. It did not work out like that. Everyone is apprehensive of change. They wonder whether the standards to which we have become used are going down the drain. The noble Baroness is right to want to retain the high standards and quality. We must all ensure that those apprehensions are not founded.
I appreciated the congratulations which came from many parts of the House to my honourable friend Mr. Mellor. The noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, was particularly generous to him. He enticingly and somewhat beguilingly said that he hoped I should be equally accommodating. He will know that if he sucks the cream off the top of a milk bottle and passes the bottle on to his next-door neighbour he cannot expect him to have quite the same experience as he had. I can say only that I shall do my best.
We have heard four remarkable maiden speeches. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough made a warm and lively speech. The four matters to which he referred as causing anxiety—namely, violence, sex, bad language and the need to care for children—go to the heart of what most of us feel about television. He said that television should be a guest in the home, and that was a good description.
The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, also made a most interesting speech. We look forward to hearing him in his many capacities, not least as chairman of the Museums and Galleries Commission, and as such I have had the privilege of knowing him on earlier occasions.
The noble Lord, Lord Grade, who is still present and I admire him for that, said that in making his speech he found a diffidence to which he was not accustomed. After 30 years he will find that that is no less strong. I was glad that he did not have his cigar. If he had we might not have heard so well the pertinent comments that he made. That he made his maiden speech today on this subject, after 14 years as a Member of your Lordships' House, is a privilege that we greatly enjoyed.
The noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, made a speech from the heart and from his personal knowledge as a television producer. We look forward to hearing those noble Lords on other occasions.
I should like to accept the invitation of the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, not to answer everyone. However, I fear that I must answer some noble Lords. Many noble Lords, such as the noble Baroness, have an encouraging way of saying, "We look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say on the matter". I know that most people do not look 1354 forward to hearing what the Minister has to say because they would prefer to go to bed, but I should be disrespectful if I took the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, too seriously.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, referred to Teletext. The amendments introduced by the Government in another place secured the future for a commercial Teletext service. We will listen very carefully at Committee stage to any argument that there should be a quality threshold for the Teletext service.
The point which seemed to agonise most people was the question of a moratorium on takeovers of ITV companies. On my reckoning, the noble Baronesses, Lady Birk, Lady Blackstone and Lady Ewart-Biggs, referred to that; also the noble Lords, Lord Thomson, Lord Annan, Lord Grade, Lord Willis, Lord Buxton, Lord Chalfont, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester.
The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, made an important point when he said that tendering should be the only form of obtaining a licence. I found that that was a penetrating way of putting the argument. The noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, also referred to moratoriums. He said that fighting takeovers was distracting, demoralising and it used up money, resources and people in resisting them; that is why a period of stability was necessary. I understand that point of view. I understand that when anyone has gone through the trauma of trying to obtain the licence, trying to work up a whole profile of arguments for obtaining the licence not knowing whether it will be won and then finding that it has been won, they like to sit down and say, "That is very convenient. Let us now get on with it". It is a bore if you feel that you have to be on the look-out for the troops of midian who may be prowling around possibly to eat up your licence.
I shall only say that any company taking over a licensee will be bound by the same conditions as the original licensee. Failure by the new company to live up to the original licence conditions could result in revocation of the licence. Takeovers are a normal part of commercial life. At the moment the Government do not see why broadcasting licensees should be protected from them. I can see why your Lordships—and almost every noble Lord who spoke on this topic felt the same—feel that it would be desirable and comfortable to have a period of moratorium, but that is not the way the market place works. At the moment that is the view which the Government hold.
The other matter of concern was networking. The noble Baronesses, Lady Birk, Lady Blackstone and Lady Ewart-Biggs, and the noble Lords, Lord Thomson, Lord Aylestone, Lord Morris of Castle Morris and Lord Winstanley and my noble friend Lady Macleod all referred to networking. We are considering what provisions for networking should be made in the Bill. We want to make sure that there is a workable system which ensures that networking arrangements are fair to all licensees, which has not been the case with networking arrangements hitherto. Existing network arrangements, for historical reasons, have given the big five ITV 1355 contractors a privileged position in supplying programmes for the network for which they have guaranteed quotas of programming time. That position has increasingly been resisted and challenged by the medium and smaller-sized companies.
The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, referred to multiple bidding. We see no reason to prevent multiple bidding. To do so would risk the good candidates who were unable to win the licence of their choice being lost to the system. Provided that there are suitable rules to determine the winners unambiguously—and the Bill provides for that—applicants should be free to apply for as many licences as they wish.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, was concerned that news ownership should be controlled. The Bill seeks to strike a balance between the legitimate interests of the Channel 3 licensees and having a say in the affairs of the news provider and the benefits of encouraging diversification on the part of the news provider into other news areas and interests. We believe that the Bill strikes the right sort of balance. Channel 3 licensees can own 49 per cent. of the news provider; that will give them a powerful voice in the affairs of the organisation. The non-Channel 3 owners of the remaining 51 per cent. will nevertheless be able to ensure that the news organisation does not become too narrow and too inward-looking.
The noble Lord, Lord Annan, and my noble friend Lord Colwyn referred to pirate radios. The noble Lord, Lord Annan, said that they were not wasps that should be swatted off but just harmless butterflies. He said that it was absurd to send the Army, the Navy, the Customs and Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all after these radio stations. The provisions on pirate radio are justified and necessary. The radio spectrum is a valuable resource and its use has to be carefully planned. Unauthorised transmissions have put the safety of life channels at risk and at times of emergency could cost lives. Moreover, by interfering with the wider variety of channels they also reduce listener choice.
The provisions in the Bill are in accordance with international law. The United Nations Law of the Sea Convention allows states to act against ships on the high seas of any nationality, or none, if broadcasts from them can be received on their territory or cause interference. Of course, the powers will be exercised with moderation and restraint in the case of foreign flag vessels to avoid the diplomatic controversy which the noble Lord feared.
The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, referred to the audience research requirements and said that they are too onerous. We agree that this provision should be deleted. The Government will bring forward an appropriate amendment. We agree that it would be too onerous to expect a small light touch radio authority to commission research on the effects of radio programmes.
The noble Lord, Lord Annan, also expressed anxiety about the power of the ITC to uphold quality. The ITC will be able to hold licensees throughout 1356 the whole period of their franchises to the promises they make on quality and other matters at the application stage. The ITC will convert those promises into enforceable licence conditions. A range of sanctions will be available in the event of a breach of those conditions. Those sanctions include the broadcasting of apologies, fines and, as a final resort, licence withdrawal.
We also had—and I am glad that we did—interventions from three right reverend Prelates on the matter of religion. Indeed, the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, spoke on the same subject. This is a sensitive and important part of the Bill. I explained to your Lordships earlier that we are not satisfied that we have the balance right and we hope to improve it during the various stages of the Bill.
A certain amount of anxiety has been expressed about ownership. The Government have made clear all along that they do not want to see excessive concentration of broadcasting ownership or unhealthy cross-media ownership. Several noble Lords have criticised our proposal to place a 20 per cent. limit on newspaper interests in BSB but not on the non-domestic satellite services such as Sky. The mere fact that BSB and Sky happen to use different technologies and wave lengths makes little difference for ownership purposes. What is important—the noble Lords, Lord Willis and Lord St. John of Bletso, referred to this—is that BSB operates all the five high-powered channels which have been allocated to the United Kingdom for DBS. It has a monopoly of those channels. By contrast, the Sky channels are not alone on the Astra satellite. There is also Mr. Maxwell's MTV, two W. H. Smith channels, the children's channel and channels originating from Luxembourg, Sweden and West Germany. There are predictions that there may even be 32 channels and that could increase to 48 channels later.
Therefore, the point is that there is scope for a large number of non-domestic satellite services not using UK broadcasting services. By contrast, all the United Kingdom's five DBS channels are owned by the same company. They are tightly limited by spectrum scarcity in a way Sky is not. Therefore, I suggest that it is no coincidence that we propose that the 20 per cent. limit on newspaper interests should apply to Channel 3 and Channel 5 as well as BSB.
Perhaps I may just refer to the question of impartiality. My noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing, my noble friend Lady Elles, the noble Lords, Lord Chalfont, Lord Wyatt and Lord Bonham-Carter were concerned about that matter. For national and regional television services the Bill requires due impartiality as regards matters of current political or industrial controversy or relating to current public policy. As in the 1981 Act, due impartiality may apply to a series of programmes taken as whole. Since the subject of impartiality involves complex issues, for the first time the Bill requires the ITC to produce and to enforce a code of practice indicating the ways in which impartiality should be achieved in different circumstances.
I know that there is concern in some quarters over the provision which enables the impartiality requirement to be achieved over a series of 1357 programmes. However, I do not think that it would be right to apply the requirement for impartiality to each individual programme. That kind of approach would often lead to serious practical difficulties. In any case, as the noble Lord, Lord Willis, said, it would tend to stifle effective presentation and examination of issues.
The time-scale over which a balanced presentation of arguments should occur will depend on the subject matter. The proposal in the Bill that the Independent Television Commission be required to produce and enforce a code of practice on this issue will ensure that the broadcasters and the public will know exactly what is expected of them in this area. The existing legislation requires impartiality as regards all matters of political or industrial controversy or current public policy.
The Bill slightly limits the requirement to matters of current political or industrial controversy as well as current public policy. That will allow historical programmes, for example, to be dealt with from a particular point of view while maintaining the need for balance whenever the controversy question is still active. It is important to appreciate that the qualification "current" relates not to the events themselves but to the controversy surrounding them. Where historical events continue to generate current controversy that due impartiality requirement will continue to operate.
There are many other points that your Lordships have made which, on the whole, I believe that your Lordships might prefer me not to pursue. I agree with my noble friend Lord Bessborough that the Government must not try to dictate the pace of change or draw up a prescriptive blueprint. What is important in what we are trying to do in this Bill in deciding the future of British broadcasting is the interplay of millions of decisions which are taken by individual artists, technicians, broadcasters, advertisers, investors, businessmen and, above all, by viewers and listeners. In all this we have to strike a balance. That is a balance that we seek to achieve.
As I have said, there are still some adjustments to be made. I gather that your Lordships think that there may be even more adjustments than the Government think need be made. We shall pay very great attention to all that your Lordships have said today about this Bill. I have no doubt that we shall return to many of the matters again at Committee stage. I am deeply grateful to your Lordships for the care and consideration which have been given to the Bill this afternoon. We shall consider all the matters and see where we go from there. I beg to move.
§ On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
§ House adjourned at twenty-nine minutes past midnight.