§ 2 Clause 16, page 14, line 11, after ("programmes") insert ("and documentaries")
§ The Commons disagreed to the above amendment for the following reason—
§ 2A because it is undesirable to confer a special status on documentaries.
3 Clause 16, page 14, line 15, at end insert:
("(aa) that a sufficient amount of time is given in the programmes included in the service to programmes with an educational purpose;
(ab) that a sufficient amount of time is given in the programmes included in the service to social action programmes.")
§ The Commons disagreed to the above amendment for the following reason—
§ 3A because it is undesirable to confer a special status on programmes with an educational purpose and social action programmes.
4 Clause 16, page 14, line 42, at end insert:
("(fa) that programmes of each type are shown at appropriate times of the day and week, having regard to the potential viewers of programmes of that type;")
§ The Commons disagreed to the above amendment for the following reason—
§ 4A because it is undesirable for the Independent Television Commission to be concerned with the scheduling of programmes.
§ Baroness David rose to move, That this House do not insist on their Amendments Nos. 2–4 to which the Commons have disagreed for the reasons numbered 2A–4A but do propose the following amendments in lieu thereof—
§ 4C Page 14, line 11, after ("programmes") insert ("and documentaries (except that section 27(2) (b) shall apply to this paragraph with the exception of such documentaries)")
4D Page 14, line 32, at end insert:
("(iii) to programmes with an educational purpose and social action programmes;")
§ 4E Page 14, line 34, after ("(ii)"), insert ("or (iii)")
4F Page 14, line 34, at end insert (";
and that any programmes so included in accordance with this subsection are shown at appropriate times of the day and week, having regard to the potential viewers of programmes of that type.")
4G Page 14, line 48, at end insert:
("(2A) For the avoidance of doubt, it is hereby declared that the requirement imposed by subsection (2) (c) (iii) above applies only to regional Channel 3 services.")
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I rise to move the Motion standing in my name which is supported by the noble Lords, Lord Norrie, Lord Allen of Abbeydale and Lord Plowden who, with me, were the sponsors of the amendment that another place seeks 1778 to overturn. Their names would have been on the Motion if more than one name were allowed. We are pursuing this matter because of the strength of feeling about it and the support that our proposal had and still has. In this House we had the large majority of 27 in favour of our amendments. There was support from all parties and not one noble Lord spoke against them in Committee except the Minister.
Outside the House 39 major voluntary agencies got together to send a letter to 10 Downing Street on the day of the Third Reading here. They asked the Prime Minister to leave documentaries, educational programmes and social action programmes in the Bill. I quote from their letter. It stated:
We are major voluntary agencies concerned with domestic and international issues. We represent a large number of ordinary men and women across the country for whom TV acts as both a major source of information and a catalyst for their participation in and understanding of national, local and world events".
Among those agencies were the United Nations Association, the National Council of Voluntary Organisations, Voluntary Service Overseas, the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux, the Save the Children Fund, Community Service Volunteers and the World Wildlife Fund. Their pleas were ignored.
§ In another place last Thursday the Minister produced a string of reasons showing why the amendments accepted by your Lordships' House were unnecessary or undesirable. That so many arguments were apparently required may suggest that none was very strong. Indeed, some contradict each other, while others are based on a misunderstanding of the Bill. Mr. Mellor claimed that extending the list of protected categories has the effect of narrowing and not broadening the requirement of diversity. That is a misinterpretation of the Bill. The diversity requirement stands independently of the list of protected programme categories and is not limited by it. The quality threshold sets out items for specific protection where they are threatened. It does not restrict programmes to those items only.
§ The Minister further suggested that the amendments were unnecessary but there is a general requirement for diversity; the ITC will issue illustrative guidelines which will include such programmes, and therefore the programmes are not threatened. But illustrative guidelines are merely that; they have no power to require, as would be necessary when there is pressure to cut costs on expensive programmes. Only such categories of programme as are listed in the statute will be allocated minimum amounts of time in the guidelines; others will not be.
§ Mr. Mellor said that he did not want to extend what he called the laundry list, although he had the grace to admit that he had started it and added to it. "If documentaries, education and social action programmes, why not arts, sport and drama?", he asked. Because of its popularity sport is certainly not under threat. Many arts programmes will be documentaries or have an educational purpose. The 1779 Minister admitted that arts programmes will be shown on some commercial services and therefore do not need more specific protection by statute.
§ The argument that the kind of programme that we seek to safeguard will be provided by BBC 2 and Channel 4 does not meet the situation. Those services do not have the audiences of Channel 3. It is precisely because Channel 3 has large audiences that we want such programmes to be shown on it—to catch those who might not switch on BBC2 and Channel 4. As my honourable friend Mr. Robin Corbett pointed out last week, programmes of an educational nature on the environment and third world issues screened at peak hours on BBC 1 or networked on ITV have audiences of between 2 million and 5 million. The same programmes on BBC 2 and Channel 4 attract only about 1 million. ITV is a crucial mass channel. That it is so cannot be made an excuse for pushing its content down to the lowest common denominator.
§ It was suggested that social action programmes should seek sponsorship. A few programmes might be able to attract commercial sponsorship but they would be on only a limited set of safe issues. Voluntary organisations cannot hope to sponsor such programmes out of their own resources. At great cost they already provide an enormous amount of back-up support such as staffing telephone help lines, dealing with an increased number of clients after a programme and drafting information packs.
§ Mr. Mellor went on to say that a requirement that programmes be shown at times appropriate to their potential audience would restrict the flexibility of licence holders to compete against satellite and cable services. Here he is admitting that such programmes are at risk. Either they are not at risk, as he asserts when he speaks of the power of the guidelines, or they are at risk, as he says when he speaks of flexibility. His flexibility means the flexibility not to make and to show documentaries, educational and social action programmes because they are expensive and unattractive to advertisers and sponsors.
§ When education is to be at the top of the political agenda, as was said at the Conservative Party Conference, and when on all sides it is admitted that in education and training we fall far behind our competitors, it is ironic that educational programmes are not on the list of protected categories in the Bill. At the end of the day the argument is about quality and finance. The Government say that they want quality but they are not prepared to take the necessary action to ensure it. Finance, the size of the bids that they will receive from the TV companies, matters more. Admittedly the bids may be smaller if certain obligations for the quality threshold are insisted upon. Competition for advertising and sponsorship among ITV, satellite, cable, the new radio services and the press will intensify, although the amount fought for may not increase.
However, we all want a broadcasting service that performs a public service of which the nation can be
proud. It was in order to ensure that the service would be of that kind that the 1981 Act imposed on the IBA an obligation:
to provide the television and local sound broadcasting services as a public service for disseminating information, education and entertainment".
§ No such obligation is included in the present Bill. It is that omission that we seek to remedy.
§ I turn to our new amendments tabled in lieu. As redrafted they apply only to Channel 3 and no longer to Channel 5. Hence the references to Clause 27. The Government have argued that flexibility not to offer documentaries, education and social action programmes for reason of cost is necessary to enable new services to get started. Channel 5 is not yet established and has no tradition of offering such programmes. Therefore, it is accepted that it may be fairer not to require the channel to show them. The case for those requirements on Channel 3 is not disturbed. It is a mass channel covering the whole country, whereas Channel 5 will cover only 70 per cent. of the nation. Channel 3 has a tradition of offering documentaries, education and social action programmes. They are the programmes that are under threat.
§ I ask noble Lords to accept our amendments in lieu and support the many organisations that make up the broadcasting consortium and the third world and environment broadcasting project. If one counts the larger and smaller organisations, there are between 50 and 100. We want to avoid what has happened in other countries where in a deregulated climate the service has markedly deteriorated. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the House do not insist on their Amendments Nos. 2 to 4 to which the Commons have disagreed for the reasons numbered 2A to 4A but do propose Amendments Nos. 4C to 4G in lieu thereof. —(Baroness David.)
§ Lord Norrie
My Lords, I support the amendments. I believe that Members of this House still have a rare opportunity to secure the future of much of the best and most valuable in British broadcasting. I last spoke on this aspect of the Bill on 18th July, and since then I have joined the noble Baroness, Lady David, and the noble Lords, Lord Allen of Abbeydale and Lord Plowden, for a meeting with my noble friend Lord Ferrers to press the Government on these issues. I followed closely the arguments put against our amendments by my right honourable friend Mr. Mellor, the Minister in another place. Far from being persuaded by the Government's arguments, I am now even more convinced that the amendments are essential for the protection of documentaries, social action and education programmes. They are all seriously endangered species.
As the noble Baroness, Lady David, said, the Government are trying to make their case using quite contradictory arguments. On the one hand, they are saying that the quality threshold, taken together with the illustrative guidelines, protect those programmes. On the other, they are saying that when the competition from satellite and cable services pushes the licence holders to cut costs and deliver the largest 1781 possible audience to their advertisers, the licence holders have the flexibility to abandon quality standards.
They cannot have it both ways. Either the Government want to give real protection to those programmes or they do not. As I set out in my speech on 18th July, it is my fear that the flexibility which the Government wish will have an adverse effect on these programmes because of production commitment and cost.
Perhaps I may clarify that with two examples. In the "Viewpoint 89" series made for Central Television and transmitted across the ITV network last year one programme was called "Can Polar Bears Tread Water?" That was filmed on location in India and Bangladesh. It was not about polar bears but looked at the causes and consequences of the greenhouse effect. Its costs were great but its value was far higher. In the "Viewpoint '90" series there was a one-hour programme entitled "When the Bough Breaks—Our Children, Our Environment". That was shown on 25th May and looked at the effects on children of global warming, toxic waste and the population explosion. I cannot believe that in a climate of intense commercial pressure, such vital, brilliant and informative but costly and time-consuming work will continue to be produced on Channel 3 without the specific protection afforded by our amendments.
The Government have said that the illustrative guidelines will ensure that continuation. However, an illustration is what it says. It is not a requirement and therefore will not be effective. As the noble Baroness, Lady David, said, in practice those categories of programmes which appear on the face of the Bill will be given a minimum output time in the administrative guidelines. If documentaries, educational and social action programmes are not statutory requirements, it will be left to the commercial discretion of the licence holders and their assessment of the market.
I accept that flexibility is necessary to get a new service off the ground. That is why, in response to the Government's case, we emphasise that our proposed amendments would not extend to Channel 5. However, Channel 3 is a different matter. It is an established and major avenue for information and education for a mass audience. It has a tradition of documentary, educational and social action programming which has made an invaluable contribution to the growing awareness and positive response to the problems of the world about us. That is why I support these amendments and commend them to your Lordships.
§ Lord Birkett
My Lords, I was very struck that in another place it was urged that these amendments amounted to a laundry list. I can see nothing wrong with a laundry list. Any parent who has ever sent a child off to school will know that without such a list you would be lost. The whole point of a laundry list is to make sure that nothing gets left out. The fact that your Lordships agreed to the original amendments meant that your Lordships were urging that documentary, educational and social action programmes were not left out. Fairly broadly, these 1782 amendments do what the original amendments did; namely, they ensure that those programmes are not left out. I hope that noble Lords will see no reason to change their minds.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, I am sure that we all enjoy documentary programmes. I should have thought that there is no difference between any of us on that. The question is whether the two words "and documentaries" must be written into the Bill, having been deleted by Members of another place.
I suggest that we do not insist on those words being restored. I suggest that it is quite unnecessary for us to do so because if we look at Clause 16(2) (d) to which the noble Baroness, Lady David, has already referred, we find that there is an obligation to produce high quality programmes. In a sense the matter is taken care of there by the words:(other than news and current affairs programmes)which are referred to in the previous paragraph.
Also, the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, was quite right to draw our attention to the fact that Channel 3 is to have some particular responsibilities which include the provision of public information and education; that is fair enough. However, we need not write those words back in.
In passing, perhaps I may say that we are inclined to try to stuff far too much detail into legislation when there is no real need to do so if we have made clear the general intention of Parliament which, as I say, is achieved partly by the choice of Channel 3 for its particular purposes and partly by Clause 16(2) (d).
I need not emphasise—but greatly daring I shall do so—that our job is to give another place a chance to think again on any matter which goes from here to there. On this matter they have done that. Surely it is not our function as a revising Chamber—a job which we do not only thoroughly but well—to bang on endlessly and send unnecessary matters of detail back to another place.
As I say, this is unnecessary for the reasons I have given. It is undesirable because it is not within the true interpretation of our constitutional position. Surely enough is enough and on this Bill we have done more than enough. Therefore, I hope that we shall agree with another place and not insist that those words "and documentaries" be put back into the Bill.
§ Lord Wyatt of Weeford
My Lords, I find it extremely odd that at the last minute we are offered this amendment which aims to particularise certain programmes which must be made and which says that some of the programmes must be shown at peak viewing time and others must be shown at other times. As the noble Baroness, Lady David, said, they are all to be enumerated.
However, when we debated the government amendment on 22nd October, which was merely an instruction to the ITC to take account o certain items when it drew up its code on impartiality, there were great protests from the Opposition Benches and sometimes from the Government Benches that we 1783 were trying to tell the ITC, which had been appointed by the Government, how to do its job. It was said that that was a monstrous infringement of its authority. That was not a monstrous infringement of its authority. It merely said, "In drawing up your code, which is similar to the one you already have, please take account of certain items".
The same people who protested about that are now telling the ITC exactly what programmes must be shown. Our amendment and the government amendment never said that about due impartiality. It never said at what time programmes must be shown. And yet we are now faced with a proposition in which the ITV companies must put out particular programmes of particular kinds at particular times. That is entirely without any regard to what the viewers want. How do we know that they want to have a lot of so-called social action programmes? Goodness knows what those are. I imagine that they are nice, jolly old left-of-centre programmes and no doubt they would come under the rules of impartiality as provided by the ITC code.
However, I believe that it is utterly absurd at this stage to be trying to bounce an amendment which gives detailed instructions to the ITC as to what the television companies should be showing and at what times.
I also believe that it may be an attempt to sabotage the entire Bill. If your Lordships were to carry the amendment it would need to go back to another place. There is little time before Prorogation, and there may not be time for the other place to insist on the amendment being moved again. I do not know the exact constitutional position, but noble Lords may be pushing their luck a little too far if we again send back a contradiction of an amendment from another place, the other place having considered the original amendment we tabled. I therefore hope that the House will reject the amendment and support the Government.
§ Lord Colnbrook
My Lords, I intervened briefly in the early stages of the Bill, not so much on this part but on the part connected with radio. I remind your Lordships that I have a personal interest in the radio side. The amendment relates to television. I believe that the House should reject the proposal of the noble Baroness, Lady David, not because I can argue the detail with her—I cannot—but for a different reason.
The Bill came before the House many weeks ago. We considered it at great length and often late into the night with tremendous care. I am sure everyone will agree that it is a much better Bill now than when it first arrived here. I believe I am right in saying that we made over 600 amendments to the Bill as it came to us from the other place. According to the Marshalled List today the other place disagreed on only four. That is a score of well over 99 per cent., which is not bad. I do not know what other noble Lords feel, but often one does not achieve 100 per cent. of what one wants and if one achieves 99 per cent. that is not doing badly.
1784 Another more serious point arises. The other place substantially disagreed with us. I do not have the voting figures, but it is clear that the other place considered the question twice, and twice said that it did not like the idea. The second time it said that by a substantial majority. The proposal of the noble Baroness—she argues quite rightly—is marginally different to the original proposal. However, I am sure that she would agree that the difference is only marginal.
I wonder whether it is the business of this House to say to the Commons, "Once again go back and think". As my noble friend Lord Renton said a few moments ago, our business—I am a newer Member of your Lordships' House than many other noble Lords—is to ask the other place to think again. We did so. The other place thought again and did not agree with us. Perhaps we should now rest upon our laurels. We improved the Bill, not beyond all recognition but enormously. We achieved 99 per cent. of what we asked for. That should be enough. I believe the House should not agree with the noble Baroness but agree with the Commons in its disagreement to the amendment.
§ Lord Willis
My Lords, I support the amendment for a very simple reason. The Bill is predicated on a premise that is fundamentally flawed. It is that there will be sufficient advertising to go around. That is not so. Not only is there BSB and Sky but we are now talking of Channel 5. The great big cake of advertising is supposed to go all around those various companies. The inevitable pressure in the future will be to reduce the value and the cost of programmes; to cut down. That is absolutely inevitable. The pressure therefore will be to get rid of documentaries and other programmes that have been the prize and treasure of British television.
I beg noble Lords to support the Motion in spite of the dreadful warnings we heard from other noble Lords about what will happen if we reject a Commons amendment. I value more than I can say the great prize of British television. Whatever anyone may say, it is not the worst television in the world but the best. We have obtained enormous pleasure from television over the years. If we do not lay down the right guidelines there will not be sufficient money to go round and there will be pressure to reduce quality. I heartily support the Motion.
Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)
My Lords, I too strongly support the amendment. Like my noble friend Lord Birkett, I cannot see what is wrong with the laundry list. If the Government were prepared to give a legislative guarantee to children's and religious programmes I do not see why they cannot extend it to documentaries, educational and social action programmes. They are just as essential in the diverse quality broadcasting system and just as potentially vulnerable in the future if finances are uncertain.
I should like to hone in briefly on why the amendments are important for people with disabilities and why organisations and individuals in the field see them as essential. It is important that disabled people and their interests are catered for and involved in 1785 mainstream programmes. They can form the basis of compelling documentaries and educational programmes—for instance, "Citizen 2000" on ITV. At the moment that happens very little. Therefore the specialist interest programmes play a crucial role.
It is important that those programmes are shown not only on Channel 4 but also on Channel 3, like the "Link" programme which reaches a wide audience. As the noble Baroness, Lady David, said, Channel 3 for the foreseeable future is the mass audience channel. At present there are half-a-dozen good quality specialist disabled programmes scattered throughout the week; unfortunately most are at off-peak times. The section of the amendment which refers to scheduling is therefore important.
There is also the question of what happens in ITV, and what will eventually happen in the BBC programmes. Programmes such as Thames "Help" and Granada's "This is Your Right" have done a great deal to help people with disabilities. For those specific reasons, as well as on the broader educational front, I strongly support the amendments.
§ Lord Orr-Ewing
My Lords, I should like to oppose the amendment. In the public service field we have a strong organisation in BBC 1, BBC 2 and to some extent Channel 4. They will continue to cater for certain kinds of programme. As the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth) said, if there is a need, "World in Action" will continue to provide for it. That will not be interfered with in any way. Why therefore is it necessary to write these provisions on the face of the Bill.
I find the situation strange because throughout its passage we tried to put more provisions on the face of the Bill than the Government wished to accept. They always said, "Trust the ITC". They had the support of many people on the Opposition Benches who opposed our adding more provisions. Now at this very late stage we suddenly decide to add three new conditions regarding documentaries, social action and educational programmes. We tried that once before and it was turned down, and we brought it back again in different words.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, if the noble Lord does not mind my interrupting, these amendments were carried for Channel 3 and Channel 5 at Committee stage. They have not been turned down by this House at any time.
§ Lord Orr-Ewing
My Lords, I meant to say that we discussed them here; we passed the amendment by a 28 majority at 7.30 p.m. on 18th July. I read that debate. The amendment then went to the other place, which in its judgment reversed the decision. What I am saying is that all the way through my noble friends and I sought to include more provisions on the face of the Bill. I am right in saying that that was opposed by the Opposition, who said that we should not interfere and that we should trust the ITC.
We believed that the ITC needed to be strengthened, if anything, because we felt that most of the people who serve on the IBA would be re-employed by the ITC. We thought it difficult to 1786 believe that, being poachers for a long time, they would make good policemen at the drop of a hat from 1st January. We therefore felt that the Bill would strengthen their hand and the hands of management in the programme companies. It was not to be, and the proposal was turned down.
There is a good case. Surely in Channel 3, and eventually in Channel 5, the regional news is a "must carry"; children's programmes and religious programmes are a "must carry". The 25 per cent. of programmes from independent producers for minority and other programmes is also compulsory, having been written into the Bill. Therefore, I hope that we do not press this amendment. If we feel that the organisation is not likely to keep in touch with the demands of the people surely we should have written into the Bill—I do not think this was discussed at any time—a strong requirement for the ITC to carry out research into viewers' and listeners' views. The BBC has, I believe, 50 full-time and 30 casual workers dealing with the 200,000 letters and telephone calls received every year. The IBA, because it was not a programme producer, received only 2,000 letters a year. Therefore, the ITC needs to keep in touch by having a comparable arrangement to that of the BBC.
Incidentally, although the IBA had only 2,000 letters they were broken down into types of complaint: that there were insufficient programmes of one sort or another; that the timing of programmes was wrong; that the schedules were wrong or there was a lack of impartiality. I am sure the BBC will consider whether there is some merit in breaking down into subjects the 200,000 complaints they receive. That is surely the way it should be done, leaving the ITC to monitor reaction and to keep in touch with the needs of the people. Therefore, for the reasons given in all parts of the House I sincerely hope that at this late stage in a long, complicated and wearying Bill we shall not demand that this further provision now be added to the Bill.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, is he really suggesting that my noble friend Lord Thomson of Monifieth, who for eight years was chairman of the IBA, is a poacher?
§ Lord Orr-Ewing
My Lords, I am sorry, I did not hear the noble Lord. If the sound on his microphone is turned up perhaps I shall be able to hear him.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
My Lords, I shall repeat my question. Is the noble Lord suggesting that my noble friend Lord Thomson of Monifieth, who for eight years was chairman of the IBA, was for all those years a poacher? That is what the noble Lord is suggesting.
§ Lord Orr-Ewing
My Lords, I do not intend to start an argument with the noble Lord. He is a friendly character. I am sure that if the noble Lord was starting his nine years' service again he would do even better.
§ Lord Willis
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down for the second time, while I welcome what he said about the BBC being responsible for documentary programmes, and so on, may we therefore count on his support when there is an attack on the licensing fee?
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
My Lords, gamekeeper or poacher, I do not wish to go over the ground that has been so ably covered by the noble Baroness, Lady David. It is difficult to say anything new on the substance of these important amendments.
However, I shall take up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Colnbrook, and echoed, I believe, by one or two other noble Lords. I refer to the proposals in terms of our relationship with the other place. The noble Lord, Lord Colnbrook, gave a misleading impression of the excellent work done by this House in Committee and on Report. He is absolutely right that the Bill is a much improved Bill. However, he paints an unfair picture when speaking about 600 or 700 amendments having been made to the Bill during that process and chiding this side of the House for grumbling because half of 1 per cent. is being lost, as he put it.
The proposal under discussion was one of the many proposals that your Lordships put to the Government and which were rejected by them during our proceedings. I do not know the exact number but there must have been scores of amendments moved from this side of the House which were not accepted by the Government. The present proposal was the only one that the House carried against the Government. That is what gives it such immense significance. When the matter was taken up in another place the Minister was very fair—as he has been throughout the Bill—and indicated that he was considerably reluctant to seek to disagree with the Lords' amendments in this area. Later he went on to concede that there was no rubicon of principle—to use his own phrase —on which the Government could stand in declining to accept the amendments because they have already accepted specified obligations in the fields of religious and children's programming. Therefore, we are on a very narrow point of difference between your Lordships' House and another place.
The proposal from your Lordships' House was of a very special nature. It was not, strictly speaking, a party proposal but very much an all-party feeling in this House. It was the kind of proposal that is expected to come from this House and expected to be taken seriously by another place. As Government Ministers in another place were reluctant to oppose it and did not feel that there was any rubicon of principle that had to be crossed, we are absolutely entitled to press the Government today to agree that this House is within its rights, and indeed is wise in its judgment, in seeking to insist on this matter.
There is no great constitutional crisis, as I understand the position. If your Lordships' House decides to vote today in the same sense as it voted some time ago the matter will then return to another place. Because of the strength of feeling expressed in all parts of this House in asserting our opinion for a second time on this important issue and the reluctance expressed by the Minister in another place to oppose our amendment, one would then hope that the balance would be tilted in our favour.
§ Lord Allen of Abbeydale
My Lords, I rise briefly to support this amendment. I do not want to go over the 1788 whole ground again but I remind the House of two basic facts. First, there is already in the clause a list of subjects which are to be covered, including religious programmes and programmes for children. Therefore, there can be no question of principle involved in a proposal to add to that existing list.
The noble Lord, Lord Renton, said that we should not go in for too much detail, but the detail is already there. We are not changing the format of the clause in any way. Come to think of it, I may have missed it but I do not recall the noble Lord addressing us with similar eloquence about the detail in the amendments on impartiality!
Secondly, there is nothing in the new legislation corresponding to the present obligation on the IBA to see that programmes inform and educate as well as entertain. I noted during the Recess a report in the newspapers that the Minister had announced at some dinner or other that the amendment carried in this House by a large majority was to be overturned. I recognise that when the Lords amendments were considered in the other place last Thursday the Minister made a reasoned speech and advanced a whole cluster of arguments on why our views should not prevail. Perhaps he advanced too many arguments, as the noble Baroness, Lady David, suggested when opening this debate.
The trouble is that these arguments, to my mind, do not come anywhere near justifying the reversal of a decision taken in this House, supported by all sides of the House, and on that occasion with not a single dissentient voice with the exception of that of the Minister. The wide range of arguments that have been advanced simply fail to conceal a fundamental inconsistency in the Government's case. On the one hand, it was urged that there will be illustrative guidelines and that no applicant for a franchise could safely assume that he would cross the quality threshold if he left out programmes of the type covered by this amendment. In other words, there is no need for concern as provisions elsewhere in the Bill and the requirement for diversity will ensure that everything will be all right on the night. That seems to be an argument which appeals to the noble Lords, Lord Renton and Lord Orr-Ewing.
On the other hand, it was urged that to tie commercial television down too much could mean that it would not be flexible enough to be competitive against the satellite and cable services. In other words, in the competitive world to come there would be a good chance that programmes of the type covered by this Motion would never appear. The Government simply cannot have it both ways. Given that there may well be a knock-on effect on the BBC, these amendments are of great importance to the future of British television and to the question whether we really want to go down the rather dismal road down which other countries have gone. There is very wide concern indeed. We have every right to ask the other place to consider whether it is quite sure where we want to go.
There has been complaint that we are taking this step at the last minute of this Bill. That is the 1789 procedure. Criticisms to that effect come very ill from the side of the House which is responsible for a weightier amendment about impartiality which was introduced at the very last stage in the progress of this Bill through both Houses. I believe that it managed to contravene our standing orders about not introducing new business at Third Reading. This proposal is a modified version of the original amendment. There is no need for concern at all about the procedure.
The suggestions made by the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, are quite misconceived. If this measure is passed there is no question of it putting the whole Bill at risk. Its construction is such as to avoid any such danger. The proposal simply amounts to an invitation to the other place to have another careful look at a matter which could profoundly affect the quality of British television in the years to come. I hope that the House will agree to it.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, in view of what the noble Lord has said, although four specific subjects are mentioned in the clause, I ask him to bear in mind that there is nothing in the clause which precludes other matters in broadcasting being dealt with.
§ Lord Allen of Abbeydale
My Lords, I shall certainly bear that in mind, although it seems to have nothing to do with the point I made; namely, that there is much detail in the Bill and this proposal merely adds a little more.
§ Baroness Ewart-Biggs
My Lords, I wish briefly to say a few words in support of these amendments, having spoken in their favour at Committee stage. I shall certainly not repeat any of the more specific arguments that were put forward at that time. I strongly support these amendments because it is vital that the media play a part in providing public education. It is for that reason that documentaries, education and social action programmes should be given some protection. The noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, said that the public did not want social action programmes. He rather doubted that they would know what they meant. I assure him that there are small and very vulnerable groups of people who know exactly what they will receive from such programmes.
They have been described in part this afternoon by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy. I mention the work of the voluntary agencies which use the media very much in order to explain their work on the screen. It is true that people prefer to watch work being done rather than to read about it in order to believe in its value. Television is also used in order to recruit more volunteers. The social action programmes are the most vulnerable of this grouping of three fields of activity. It is true that advertisers will be less interested in programmes that contain such information. They will be the programmes that will be immediately lost. However, these programmes are wanted by the public. They should be available on Channel 3 as well as on the BBC and Channel 4. A suitable proportion should be shown at peak viewing times. I strongly support these amendments.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Lord Plowden
My Lords, not enough attention has been paid to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Willis. A limited amount of money is available from advertisers. We want to ensure that it is devoted to issues in which we believe. We accept that Channel 3 will be much less a public channel than it is now. The real point is how much less that will be and what will be endangered by the change. As the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, said, the ITV programmes, which the noble Lord suggested are unduly restrictive, have met a demand by thousands of people for more information on educational and social matters. It is quite possible to quote a great many instances, but I shall not do so.
I return to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Willis. If there is—and I believe it to be so—a limited amount of money available from advertising, unless something like the clause we have suggested is accepted, inevitably the people managing the channels will be forced by advertisers to go for programmes that attract the largest number of people. ITV provides similar programmes for a large number of people. That will not happen if this clause is not added to the laundry list. The question is whether we are to modify what happens now. No one has suggested that we want to lower the standard of ITV now. Therefore, we should accept the amendments.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, I shall not detain the House for more than a couple of minutes because I know that we want to get on. Sometimes when we are asked to vote we are divided in our minds as to how to proceed on certain questions. I must point out to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that such a situation is not a constitutional matter. As the second Chamber we have an absolute right to send back an issue to the other place. We are not doing anything unconstitutional at all. We shall be exercising our right in an absolutely proper way.
In the present case it seems that the proper way is to support the amendments. That is extremely important today because of what has happened to broadcasting and what has occurred during the passage of this Bill. I shall not go over what the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, and other noble Lords have said. They have all built up a very strong case in favour of the amendments. The House should consider the points made by those one or two noble Lords who spoke against the amendment. It should note also that there was an ill-balance between the two groups.
My noble friends and I have pointed out throughout our proceedings that the Bill seeks to decimate the whole concept of public service broadcasting. To weaken it even further would do a great disservice to the broadcasters and to the viewing public, particularly in educational work and programme production. Whereas at one time many noble Lords may have considered this provision to be an unnecessary frill, we believe it is important and should be spelt out on the face of the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, said, it is not a matter of principle. The famous laundry list has been breached many 1791 times, and quite rightly so. I hope that noble Lords, regardless of their political allegiance, will support the amendment.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, said that there has been an ill-balance between the number of noble Lords speaking for and against the amendment. If that is so, I shall do my best to right the ill-balance and to redirect it.
The noble Baroness, Lady David, agreed not to insist on the amendments which another place has rejected but she has suggested some other amendments in lieu. I should like to put the Government's case as to why we think the amendments should be rejected. Before I do so perhaps I may reply briefly to the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, who needled me—I am quite certain intentionally, but nevertheless unfairly—by saying that the Government had contravened the procedures of your Lordships' House by introducing matters at Third Reading. Third Reading is the opportunity to clarify uncertainties which have appeared before and to clarify matters which have not been decided upon before by your Lordships. In the case to which the noble Lord was referring, the Government were wholly within the procedures of the House. Having said that, perhaps I may now turn my mind and the noble Lord's mind—because I see he is becoming agitated—to the amendments.
Throughout the passage of the Bill we have made it clear that it would be unsatisfactory for Channel 3 licensees to be required by statute to show a long and detailed list of individual programme types which they propose to transmit. When the Bill was first introduced, it specified a very few programme types —news, current affairs, regional programmes and schools programmes—and it was agreed in Committee in another place that there was an overwhelming case for adding two further categories of programme—children's programmes and religious programmes. Those categories were added. When they were included in the Bill we said that we thought that it would undesirable if more and more programme types were to be added since that would simply defeat the object of the whole exercise, which is to let regional Channel 3 licensees themselves determine how best to meet the requirements which are set out in Clause 16(2) (f) to produce programmes calculated to appeal to a wide variety of tastes and interests.
In Committee your Lordships decided after a Division to accept an amendment which added further to the list of programme types which a prospective licensee must include in his range of programmes. Your Lordships did so despite the Government's advice to the contrary. But your Lordships were perfectly entitled, as your Lordships periodically do, to reject the Government's advice. That happens on certain occasions but not on every occasion; and I hope not on this occasion. The amendment added to the list of programme types education, social action 1792 and documentaries. Another place, however, also after a vote, decided to disagree with your Lordships' amendment.
In moving her amendments today the noble Baroness has adjusted the effect of the original amendment which another place has rejected by excluding Channel 5 and restricting it only to regional Channel 3 licensees. Nevertheless, it retains in tow the very points to which another place took exception. My noble friend Lord Norrie suggested that there is a contradiction in the Government's position. I do not think there is any contradiction between saying that we believe that Channel 3 licence applicants will continue to offer documentaries and educational programmes and saying that there ought to be flexibility over the period of the licence as to what the programming mix should be. None of us knows what the effect of greatly increased competition will be in five or 10 years' time. It is only sensible for the Independent Television Commission to be enabled to adjust licence conditions where necessary in order to ensure that Channel 3 companies can remain viable. That is best achieved by not piling up statutory obligations.
The case for not adding these additional programmes is not that they should not be included or should not be seen. The Bill has always included the requirement that programmes which are to be included in Channel 3 services should be calculated to appeal to a wide variety of tastes and interests. It also includes a requirement for the Independent Television Commission to publish guidelines spelling out in detail the types of programmes which it would expect Channel 3 applicants to include in their services. The shadow ITC has already indicated that its guidelines would contain all the programme types which at present are shown on independent television. These would include in the future, as they do now, educational, documentary and social action programmes—all the programme types which the noble Baroness wishes to see on the face of the Bill. The guidelines will also include a number of categories which the noble Baroness has in her wisdom seen fit not to include in her amendment, such as sports, arts or drama.
It would be a brave applicant who was so confident of his ability to pass the quality threshold test that he chose to offer something which was appreciably less than that which the ITC in its guidelines indicates. The chairman designate of the ITC, Mr. Russell, has made it clear that he shares that view. He believes that the power which is given to the Independent Television Commission to set out in an illustrative guide the programme types which the ITC would expect to see included in a programme service is much the best way of achieving the requirement for a diverse programme service.
But commercial television must be commercial. We cannot so tie the hands of the licensee that he is incapable of competing effectively with other independent television services because he may be required to show programmes which, however valuable and good they may he, may nevertheless be 1793 commercially unattractive. Some people argue that it is precisely for this reason that we should put these programme types in the Bill; otherwise, they argue, they will disappear. My fear is that we might so overload the Channel 3 licensees with statutory constraints and obligations that they disappear.
If the licensees are to be successful, they have to compete in a competitive market. They do so by putting on programmes which their viewers wish to see and which in turn thereby produce advertising revenue. I thought that the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Willis, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, was an odd one. The noble Lord, Lord Willis, said that because advertising revenue will be difficult to obtain, we should by statute insist on the ITC companies putting on programmes which will attract even less advertising revenue. If that were to happen Channel 3 licensees would find it even more difficult to survive.
It would be wrong and inadvisable to tie the hands of licensees by immutable statutory constraints which are far better produced by the more flexible and detailed procedure of ITC guidelines. It is also, I suggest, undesirable for the Bill to impose scheduling requirements on Channel 3 licensees, as Amendment No. 4F seeks to do. The 1990s will see Channel 3 exposed to greater competition from new satellite and terrestrial services. Licensees must be able to schedule their programmes so as best to meet this competition.
The amendment, which was made by your Lordships and rejected by another place, would introduce a scheduling requirement into the Bill. Amendment No. 4F does the same thing. I believe that it is intended to give the ITC a role in determining the times at which particular programmes should be shown. I do not think that that sits happily with the new light-touch regulatory style of the Independent Television Commission.
Further, I suggest that the amendment would achieve the opposite purpose to that intended. Presumably the intention is that programmes which might attract smaller audiences should, nevertheless, have the opportunity of securing a place in peak viewing time. However, with the greatest respect to the noble Baroness, that is precisely what her amendment does not do; instead, it suggests that programmes should be shown at appropriate times,having regard to the potential viewers of programmes of that type".In other words, a high audience programme should be scheduled at peak time and a lower audience programme should be scheduled in off peak hours. I doubt that that is really what the noble Baroness intended.
As my noble friend Lord Colnbrook said, your Lordships have made a magnificent contribution to the Bill. Indeed some 650 amendments were made in your Lordships' House all of which, except for four —as he pointed out—were accepted by another place. I know that many noble Lords feel strongly about these amendments which were passed by your Lordships but which were rejected by another place.
1794 The elected Chamber has had the opportunity to consider these amendments, and it has taken a contrary view to that expressed by your Lordships. The majority against including these amendments— namely, 252 to 92—was substantial and it is one which I am sure your Lordships would not wish to disregard.
I hope that your Lordships will agree that we have made a decision and that we have made our views known. Those views were transferred to another place and the opportunity to discuss the matter again was given to another place; but it decided to reject those amendments. I believe that we should not insist on these amendments, which found no favour in another place.
On the basis of the assurances which I have given, the fact that this is not a matter on which any issue of principle divides us, and having regard to the views of another place, I very much hope that the noble Baroness will not think it appropriate to press these amendments. However, if she does, I hope that your Lordships will see fit not to support her.
§ 4 p.m.
§ Lord Annan
My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, I wonder whether he could assist some of us on these Benches—at any rate, myself—who do not have the text of Erskine May at the forefront of our minds. Can he say what would happen if the amendment were to be agreed? On the last occasion I voted with the noble Baroness, and I shall do so again if it is merely a question of telling another place how strongly we feel. However, if the noble Earl tells me that the schedule for legislation is such that it would mean the loss of the whole Bill, then I should think again. Can he help me in this matter?
My Lords, I shall do my best to help the noble Lord, Lord Annan. If your Lordships were to decide—in my view, misguidedly—to vote for the amendments, they would be returned to another place. It would have to decide whether to accept or reject your Lordships' advice. If it were a case of rejection, the issue would be returned to this Chamber and we would have to conduct the exercise which is rather inelegantly called "ping pong". One of two processes would take place: either both Houses would agree, in which case the Bill would go forward in its agreed form (whatever that form may be); or your Lordships and another place would disagree, in which case the whole Bill would be lost.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, I should like to express my thanks to all those who have spoken in the debate; indeed many more have spoken in favour of my Motion than against it. We heard very much the same old arguments. I believe that I rebutted them in my original speech. The arguments put forward in the course of the debate were very well rebutted by the noble Lord, Lord Allen. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, made the very important point that the other place is not very firm in its dislike of these amendments. After all, our intention was just to add to a list which had already been started, and added to, by the Minister.
1795 We are totally within our constitutional rights in asking that the other place should think yet again in this respect. We are not putting the Bill at risk. Therefore, I ask that the House supports my Motion.
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ The Chairman of Committees
My Lords, the Question is that the House do not insist on their Amendments Nos. 2 to 4 to which the Commons have disagreed for the reasons numbered 2A to 4A, but propose Amendments Nos. 4C to 4G in lieu thereof?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 135; Not-Contents, 148.1797
|Addington, L.||Howie of Troon, L.|
|Adrian, L.||Hunter of Newington, L.|
|Allen of Abbeydale, L. [Teller.]||Hutchinson of Lullington, L.|
|Allenby of Megiddo, V.||Ilchester, E.|
|Alport, .||Irvine of Lairg, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Jeger, B.|
|Annan, L.||Jenkins of Hillhead, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Jenkins of Putney, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Kilmarnock, L.|
|Birk, B.||Kings Norton, L.|
|Birkett, L.||Kinloss, Ly.|
|Blackstone, B.||Kirkhill, L.|
|Blease, L.||Kissin, L.|
|Bonham-Carter, L.||Lawrence, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Leatherland, L.|
|Bottomley, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.|
|Bridges, L.||Lloyd of Hampstead, L.|
|Briginshaw, L.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.|
|Broadbridge, L.||Lloyd-George of Dwyfor, E.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Lockwood, B.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Longford, E.|
|Buckmaster, V.||Lovell-Davis, L.|
|Campbell of Eskan, L.||McCarthy, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||McGregor of Durris, L.|
|Carter, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Mackie of Benshie, L.|
|Clinton-Davis, L.||McNair, L.|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||Manchester, Bp.|
|Crooks, L.||Masham of Ilton, B.|
|Cudlipp, L.||Mason of Barnsley, L.|
|Darcy (de Knayth), B.||Morris of Castle Morris, L.|
|David, B. [Teller.]||Mulley, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Murray of Epping Forest, L.|
|Donaldson, of Kingsbridge, L.||Newall, L.|
|Donoughue, L.||Nicol, B.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Norrie, L.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Northfield, L.|
|Ezra, L.||Ogmore, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Oram, L.|
|Feversham, L.||Perry of Walton, L.|
|Flowers, L.||Peston, L.|
|Foot, L.||Phillips, B.|
|Forbes, L.||Plowden, L.|
|Gallacher, L.||Porritt, L.|
|Galpern, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Goodman, L.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Seear, B.|
|Grey, E.||Seebohm, L.|
|Haden-Guest, L.||Serota, B.|
|Hampton, L.||Shackleton, L.|
|Hanworth, V.||Shepherd, L.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Soper, L.|
|Hatch of Lusby, L.||Stallard, L.|
|Hayter, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Henderson of Brompton, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Hirshfield, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Hollis of Heigham, B.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Tenby, V.||Wharton, B.|
|Thomson of Monifieth, L.||Wilberforce, L.|
|Tordoff, L.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Underhill, L.||Willis, L.|
|Varley, L.||Wilson of Langside, L.|
|Wallace of Coslany, L.||Wilson of Rievaulx, L.|
|Walston, L.||Winstanley, L.|
|Warnock, B.||Zuckerman, L.|
|Aldington, L.||Hooper, B.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Hylton-Foster, B.|
|Allerton, L.||Jenkin of Roding, L.|
|Arran, E.||Kinnaird, L.|
|Astor, V.||Kinnoull, E.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Knights, L.|
|Beloff, L.||Lauderdale, E.|
|Belstead, L.||Layton, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Long, V.|
|Blake, L.||Lyell L.|
|Blatch. B.||McColl of Dulwich, L.|
|Blyth, L.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.|
|Borthwick, L.||MacLehose of Beoch, L.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Mancroft L.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Merrivale, L.|
|Brigstocke, B.||Mersey V.|
|Brookeborough, V.||Milverton, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Monk Bretton L.|
|Butterworth, L.||Monson, L.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Montagu of Beaulieu, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Montgomery of Alamein, V.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Morris, L.|
|Carnock, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Carr of Hadley, L.||Mountevans, L.|
|Cavendish of Furness, L.||Mowbray and Stourton L.|
|Cayzer, L.||Munster, E.|
|Clanwilliam, E.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Cochrane of Cults, L.||Napier and Ettrick, L.|
|Cockfield, L.||Nelson, E.|
|Coleraine, L.||Norfolk, D.|
|Colnbrook, L.||Northbourne, L.|
|Constantine of Stanmore, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Orkney, E.|
|Crickhowell, L.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Cross, V.||Oxfuird, V.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Pearson of Rannoch, L.|
|Cumberlege, B.||Pender, L.|
|Daventry, V.||Pym, L.|
|Davidson, V. [Teller.]||Radnor, E.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Reay, L.|
|Derwent, L.||Renton, L.|
|Digby, L.||Renwick, L.|
|Eccles, V.||Rippon of Hexham, L.|
|Effingham, E.||Rodney, L.|
|Elibank, L.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Ellenborough, L.||St. John of Bletso, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Salisbury, M.|
|Elliott of Morpeth, L.||Sanderson of Bowden, L.|
|Erroll of Hale, L.||Selkirk, E.|
|Fairhaven, L.||Shannon, E.|
|Fanshawe of Richmond, L.||Sharpies, B.|
|Ferrers, E.||Sherfield, L.|
|Flather, B.||Shrewsbury, E.|
|Foley, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Slim, V.|
|Gainford, L.||Somerset, D.|
|Gisborough, L.||Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.|
|Gormanston, V.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Grimston of Westbury, L.||Stockton, E.|
|Haddington, E.||Strange, B.|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.||Strathclyde L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.|
|Hankey, L.||Strathspey, L.|
|Hanson, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Havers, L.||Suffield, L.|
|Henley, L.||Terrington, L.|
|Hesketh, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Holderness, L.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Thorneycroft, L.||Wade of Chorlton, L.|
|Trefgarne, L.||Westbury, L.|
|Trumpington, B.||Wigram, L|
|Tryon, L.||Wyatt of Weeford, L.|
|Vaux of Harrowden, L.||Yarborough, E.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and Motion disagreed to accordingly.
§ 4.15 p.m.