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The Earl of Halsbury: My Lords, those responsible have concentrated ex-governors of the BBC into the middle of the list of speakers. I have to confess that I, too, am an ex-governor of the BBC--of 1960s vintage. I expect that the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, and my noble friend Lord Greenhill probably have justifiable complaints that they wasted a lot of time correcting mistakes for which in my day I was responsible.
A great deal of what is at stake depends to a certain extent upon the meaning of words. I should like to express my thanks to the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, for the temperate way in which he has addressed these problems in the correspondence that we have had from him in the unofficial all-party working group. By way of illustration, perhaps I may consider the word
What that presupposes, of course, is some kind of hierarchical structure with a top and a bottom. Between the top and the bottom there is a process of delegation, including, possibly, the authority to delegate further. Somewhere down the lower regions of the organisation there is accountability, answerability, responsibility, and so on, to the source of authority. But when I read a combination such as "delegated responsibility" I wonder whether whoever penned those terms could possibly have been aware of what he was doing.
You can delegate authority; you cannot delegate responsibility. You cannot make someone else answerable for what you are answering for. That is the basis upon which I have been searching for the proper attitude to be taken towards the subject matter of our discussion. If one goes to any manufacturer of a product, whether it is a sewing machine or motor car, and ask him, "What do you make?", he will be able to show you a sewing machine, a motor car, a bottle of coca cola, or whatever it may be, but the product of the BBC, and all the programme companies, is variable. First, it is not the same from channel to channel; secondly, it is not the same from hour to hour; and thirdly, it is not the same from day to day of the week or from week to week of the year. It is an utter impossibility for any one person to monitor in real time the whole output of the BBC, either in advance or in retrospect. What can be done is to set up a system of monitoring. That is done for the BBC partly by the Government and partly by the BBC itself.
The answer to what should be done to those who violate the code has been much advocated by myself and the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, and has been discussed in philosophical terms by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. For someone who disobeys a clear directive there should be a warning, followed by a final warning, followed by dismissal. That should be understood clearly, and somehow or other written into the person's contract of employment.
If we compare the structure of the BBC with the structure of an ordinary public limited company there are certain differences which are worth noting. We should ask ourselves whether they are intentional differences or whether we have merely introduced them by inattention. Of course, the establishment document of a public limited company is its memorandum and articles of association, but the shareholders elect the directors to direct the company, to settle its policies and
Furthermore, the directors regard their position as more or less a marriage rather than a job to be initiated at one point and dropped at another. If one joins the board of a public company it is with the belief that one is going on with it until retiring age. Of course one has to suspend one's directorship and be re-elected every three years, or whenever the company articles prescribe, but one is not put on the board for a few years with someone else put on the board to replace one. It is not like that. There is a continuing team.
The board of directors appoints its own chairman as the board's spokesman. It has complete authority from the shareholders to make that appointment. The shareholders do not appoint someone to be chairman over the heads of the other directors. In the case of the BBC, we have an appointed chairman, and that immediately derogates from the authority and responsibility of his colleagues. He becomes thereby, through the exercise of ministerial authority, or whatever it may be, primus inter pares. However, even he is not a permanent appointment in the sense that the chairman of a public limited company is, of course, like the other directors, subject to re-election every so often. Normally the expectation is that he will go on as chairman until he reaches retiring age, whatever the retiring age for the company may be. He then retires and takes his place at the old boys' lunch with the other former directors.
None of that applies to public corporations such as the BBC or other quangos: the chairman is appointed over the heads of his colleagues, and that puts him in an unusual position. We must ask ourselves whether that is really what we want. I go back to the analogy. The directors of a public company appoint the managers. They may recommend one or two of the senior managers to be executive directors as appointed by the shareholders. They too must come up for re-election from time to time, and if they were not re-elected by the shareholders, they would probably lose their jobs as managers.
The directors do not get down to the work of managing themselves. They see that the company has the right managerial structure. When it comes to the relationship between the governors of the BBC and the management board, they appoint the director-general, and they and the director-general may choose certain selected managers to be members of the management board. But of course they do not, and should not, interfere with the day-to-day management. They should do that through the director-general and their executive colleagues. While they cannot inspect the BBC's output on a day-to-day basis or an hour to hour basis, they can monitor it.
I remember a conversation between my father and Andre Citroen. My father asked him, "To what do you attribute the success of your enterprise?" Andre Citroen's answer was, "I have a complaints department that reports direct to me. All complaints go ultimately through my hands, after being sieved out for me". It was
Whether those analogies between a public limited company and the BBC should be followed exactly and precisely, I do not know; but those are the things we should be debating. Parliament must then monitor the monitors, as it were. We are responsible for everything. So I come to the vexed question of the Charter, on the one hand, versus Act of Parliament, on the other; in other words, do the memorandum and articles of association of the BBC come from the Queen in Council, the Queen in Parliament, or from both, or from one of them?
With our usual preference for compromise, the establishment document is issued by the Queen in Council, and the Agreement is subject to approval by the Secretary of State in Parliament--the Queen in Parliament, the final authority. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing, I do not know, but with my general distrust of words and draftsmanship and our ability to put what we mean in unambiguous writing, I am in favour of having one document issued from one ministry approved by one Parliament, as opposed to two documents where it is not necessarily obvious that words in one mean the same as words in the other and one can go on playing hide and seek indefinitely with terms of reference.
I suspect strongly that game of hide and seek with the Charter, the Licence and the Agreement is something that went on in my day and that it still goes on. That is why the board of management can do exactly as it pleases, and treat the governors, very politely, as more or less nonentities.
I want to say one thing about the corruption in the world in which we live. I received a document--I expect that the noble Viscount has it--from the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association which contained a potted version of all the pornography and violence that there has been in the broadcast media for the past six months. I was unable to circulate the document because it was embargoed until one minute past midnight this morning. However, I have placed a copy in the Library and it is available for everyone to read.
The document is absolutely shocking. The language is shocking and in that connection I must enter a disclaimer. Bad language is sometimes excused on the ground that for reasons of artistic integrity and so forth corrupt people must use corrupt language. Artistic integrity does not excuse the public display of corrupt documents. However, your Lordships should have no illusions as to where the corruption lies; it lies with us not as Members of Parliament but as human beings. The public are corrupt, we are corrupt and human beings are corrupt. We indulge our corruption at third hand, as it
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