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Viscount Astor: My Lords, the Broadcasting Act 1990 requires broadcasters to reflect the council's code in their programme guidelines. With regard to the BBC, I should point out that the BSC is the only independent complaints body on standards to which the BBC must have regard.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, as a recent deputy chairman of the BBC, is the Minister aware that I accept that from time to time all broadcasting institutions will get it wrong? But is he also aware, and does he agree, that from time to time the BSC gets it wrong? The danger of that is that many excellent, challenging programmes may just not be made. In those circumstances, does he believe that there is at least the need for a review of the BSC's role?

Viscount Astor: My Lords, the Government believe that the approach adopted in this country of self-regulation by broadcasters, within the framework of guidelines and a code of practice, is right, and represents the best way to balance the right of freedom of expression with considerations of taste, decency, privacy and fair representation. The BSC's code of practice must be taken into account by programme makers.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, does the Minister agree that at the moment broadcasting may be a little over-regulated? Will he confirm that involved in the regulation of broadcasting at the moment we have the BBC Board of Governors, the Independent Television Commission, the Radio Authority, the Broadcasting Complaints Commission and the Broadcasting Standards Council? That is when the Office of Fair Trading and the Monopolies and Mergers Commission are not interfering in the business of broadcasting companies. Does he think that with some profit we might reduce the number of regulatory authorities in broadcasting?

Viscount Astor: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, makes an important point. That is why the merger of the Broadcasting Standards Council with the

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Broadcasting Complaints Commission was proposed in the Government's White Paper last July. We intend to go ahead with that merger in the future.

The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, is my noble friend satisfied that the Broadcasting Standards Council has been effective in the monitoring, let alone curbing, of what is known as "adult entertainment" on Channel 4 in programmes that are advertised reasonably as being devoted to erotica, the sex industry, pornography and adult entertainment? What about public service broadcasting and standards of decency?

Viscount Astor: My Lords, in 1993-94, the Broadcasting Standards Council received 2,390 complaints, of which 1,711 were within its remit. Of those complaints, 78 were upheld. It acts on the complaints made to it and we believe that it does a good job.

The Viscount of Falkland: My Lords, has the Minister watched breakfast television? If so, has he noticed the irritating and puerile sexual innuendo which seems to form part of almost every interview or chat between the presenters? Is that not more pernicious than the straightforward portrayal of sex and violence?

Viscount Astor: My Lords, I understand that the Broadcasting Standards Council's survey shows that public attitudes are becoming more tolerant of the portrayal of sexual conduct on television. That is reflected in the council's findings in respect of particular complaints. However, the council is mindful of the offence that such a portrayal can give to some individuals. It is the council's experience that, in general, violence and bad language in broadcasting are matters of much greater concern to the general public.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, what does the Broadcasting Standards Council do that cannot be done by the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, the governors of the BBC, the members of the ITC and the directors of independent television companies?

Viscount Astor: My Lords, it does a very different job. The Broadcasting Complaints Commission deals with individual complaints relating to a particular person as regards what has been broadcast about them; the Broadcasting Standards Council oversees standards on television.

Viscount Tenby: My Lords, bearing in mind the views of some that the BSC is a worthy but toothless tiger, and also bearing in mind that the voluntarily agreed television watershed of 9 p.m. is one of the few curbs against the excesses of publicity-seeking programme makers, will the Minister explain why a similar voluntary undertaking is not in place in respect of radio broadcasting, as evidenced by the many complaints received on "Feedback", a radio programme on Saturdays?

Viscount Astor: My Lords, we are concerned about violence shown on television but radio is a slightly different matter. However, the Secretary of State at the Department of National Heritage will meet the chairman of the regulators to discuss action on levels of violence

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shown on television, including satellite channels. I shall draw to his attention the noble Viscount's remarks about radio.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the broadcasting media have great influence? Therefore, should not the relatively toothless Broadcasting Standards Council have more power on the lines of the Press Council?

Viscount Astor: My Lords, I do not believe that the Broadcasting Standards Council is toothless. After all, under the 1990 Act broadcasters must take account of its views.

Earl Russell: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, in a society where standards and tastes are diverging rapidly, it is increasingly difficult for the broadcasting authorities to transmit material which does not offend anyone? Does he further agree that, if the wicket-keeper of the Broadcasting Standards Council should be ineffective, there remains a longstop in the power to switch off?

Viscount Astor: My Lords, the noble Earl makes an important point. The Broadcasting Standards Council has carried out a number of consultative exercises in the regions. Those have enabled the council to learn more about the expectations and concerns of ordinary viewers of terrestrial television and satellite services.

Sir John Banham

2.55 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What were the circumstances under which Sir John Banham resigned as chairman of the Local Government Commission for England.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Viscount Ullswater): My Lords, the structural review of counties has been completed but we want to ask the commission to look at a shortlist of individual districts. The Government believe that these new reviews should be carried out by a reconstituted commission which can look at the cases afresh.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. Under what terms of reference was Sir John Banham appointed? In view of the mess in which the commission has been left—it will be very expensive to clear up—will the Minister tell the House whether Sir John carried out those terms of reference? If he did not carry them out correctly, is that not because, talented though he is and a specialist in his own field, the Government would have done better to appoint someone with a knowledge of local government? We might then have got the right answers.

Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, as I indicated, we believe that there should be a newly constituted commission with a new chairman because of the move to a completely new approach. We are grateful to Sir

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John for his significant contribution as chairman in the establishment of the commission and in carrying through the accelerated review programme to the tight timescale that was set.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Question refers to Sir John Banham and his chairmanship of the Local Government Commission for England, as it was originally set up, and not to any future plans which the Government may have and about which we may hear this afternoon? Will the Minister answer my noble friend's Question and give the House an indication of how much the Banham Commission has cost council tax payers and taxpayers?

Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, I am unable to give the noble Lord a figure of the cost of the commission. As he will know, some £50 million has been set aside this year for local government reorganisation. The answer to the first part of the noble Lord's question is that Sir John Banham undertook his work on an accelerated timescale and that the Government have broadly accepted the commission's recommendations for the status quo in many shire counties. Later today my right honourable friend will make a Statement on the remaining counties and I shall repeat that Statement in your Lordships' House.

Lord Rochester: My Lords, why then did Sir John Banham feel it necessary to resign? Was not his main offence in the eyes of the Government that he preferred to consult the people rather than to do the bidding of the Government?

Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, Sir John did indeed consult the people and made a good job of it. The Government have accepted many recommendations of the Local Government Commission, certainly those already announced by my right honourable friend.

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