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Broadcasting Bill [H.L.]

8.37 p.m.

House again in Committee on Clause 67.

Baroness Jay of Paddington moved Amendment No. 195C:


Page 59, line 23, at end insert ("taking into account the diverse interests of society, including women, different racial groups and disabled people,").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 195C I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 195D, 195F and 195H. Those amendments were previously grouped with Amendment No. 195ZC but, with the permission of the Committee, they form this later group. All the amendments deal with membership of the new Complaints and Standards Commission and the methods of appointing its members. Amendments Nos. 195C, 195D and 195F seek to ensure that the membership of the commission is representative of all the regions of the United Kingdom and of those with special cultural or community interests such as ethnic minority populations.

15 Feb 1996 : Column 804

They also require the Secretary of State to include those with specific sensory disabilities whose particular needs have been so vigorously advocated by my noble friend Lord Ashley of Stoke throughout the deliberations on the Bill. There is also a requirement for the Secretary of State at least to listen to and take account of representations from general consumer organisations such as the National Consumer Council.

The Committee may fear that all that augurs for a hugely unwieldy body in which members may be interested only in being present to promote their individual cause. I do not think that need be so. With judicious selection and good management, an organisation can be broadly and fairly representative without every single concern being individually reflected in an individual member.

However, I am afraid, particularly in view of my past experience in the National Health Service, that unless some explicit directions are given about membership, the composition of influential statutory bodies such as this may be influenced by "cronyism" and political patronage. That possibility, that fear, lies behind Amendment No. 195H which simply requires the Secretary of State to implement the recommendations of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, in making appointments to public bodies.

The Committee will recall that in his first report on standards in public life the noble and learned Lord required the appointment of an independent commissioner for public appointments to oversee appointment procedures. Unfortunately, so far there has been no move by the Government to make such an appointment. But the noble and learned Lord recommended also that public appointments should be subject to the advice of a panel which should include a substantial independent element. He recommended further that candidates for appointment should declare any significant political activity which may have been undertaken in the previous five years. Those recommendations are the basis of Amendment No. 195H and the wording is taken directly from the report of the noble and learned Lord.

The spirit and, indeed, the practical implications of those amendments have already been accepted in other branches of public life. For example, I know that they are being implemented in making appointments to the new unitary health authorities which will take over the NHS on 1st April. I am sure that the Minister's right honourable friend the Secretary of State has been supportive of those changes in the health service.

It seems entirely appropriate, in the interests of accountability, high standards and, indeed, consistency throughout the public service, that the recommendations of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, should be adopted in this crucially important new body which the Broadcasting Standards Commission will be. I beg to move.

Lord Inglewood: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for comprehensively setting out the reasons behind this group of amendments. I shall deal first with Amendment No. 195C. I can well understand the noble Baroness's wish that the Secretary of State should take account of

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the full range of interests in society and the talent available to her in making appointments to the BSC. The amendment identifies some, but not all, important elements in that. Nonetheless, the Government do not believe it necessary or appropriate that the Secretary of State should be directed in this way: she would always as a matter of course wish to ensure the best possible appointments to an important body of this kind. It is also true to say that women, different racial groups and disabled people can advocate their own views and I am sure the BSC would receive and consider those views with care. Therefore, the Government would resist this amendment.

Amendment No. 195D would require the Secretary of State to appoint two members to the BSC who are sensorily impaired. The Government believe that it is undesirable to place such a requirement on the Secretary of State, as the Secretary of State gives the widest consideration to the qualities and experience required in appointees in order to achieve the right balance of quality and experience in the membership of the BSC. Placing a requirement in favour of only one particular group, however inherently attractive that may appear, raises the question as to whether other equally deserving groups should not be similarly favoured. We must not lose sight of the need to give the Secretary of State flexibility in arriving at the best possible combination of ability and experience, which in turn may change as membership changes. Therefore, the Government resist making explicit provision in the membership of the BSC for particular groups.

Amendment No. 195F is intended to require the Secretary of State to strive to ensure that appointees to the BSC are suitably qualified to represent the interests of a broad range of regional and social groups and, where appropriate, reflect the range of programmes on television and radio. As I explained a few moments ago, in any event the Secretary of State would wish to take into account the range of interests in society when making appointments to the BSC. However, such a requirement would fetter the discretion of the Secretary of State to ensure the best possible appointees to the commission.

Amendment No. 195H relates to the Nolan Committee. As the noble Baroness said, these are recommendations of the Nolan Committee on Standards in Public Life which the Government have already accepted in respect of all public appointees. The Government see no need to amend the legislation relating to each public body in order to incorporate that commitment. For that reason, the Government will resist this amendment as they did the others.

8.45 p.m.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: I am grateful to the Minister for that detailed reply. I am somewhat disappointed that, although, as the Minister says, the Government have accepted the principle of the recommendations made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, they are not prepared, in the spirit of those recommendations, to make them explicit, as they refer in particular to new bodies of this kind.

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I draw the Minister's attention to the other more general recommendation of the Nolan Committee in which it is said in general terms, not relating to the specific requirements about appointments:


    "The basis on which members are appointed and how they are expected to fulfil their role should be explicit. The range of skills and background which are sought should be clearly specified".

That seems to me to be much more precise than the rather more general understandings which the Minister and his Secretary of State seemed to be content to rely upon.

I find the Minister's reply very disappointing and I suspect that we shall need to return to this matter at a later stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 195D not moved.]

[Amendment No. 195E had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

[Amendment No. 195F not moved.]

[Amendment No. 195G had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

[Amendment No. 195H not moved.]

[Amendment No. 196 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

[Amendment No. 196A not moved.]

Schedule 3 [The Broadcasting Standards Commission: supplementary provisions]:

Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 196B:


Page 99, leave out lines 23 to 34 and insert--
("(2) The BSC shall send a copy of the statement of accounts to the Secretary of State and to the Comptroller and Auditor General within such period after the end of the financial year to which the statement relates as the Secretary of State may direct.
(3) The Comptroller and Auditor General shall--
(a) examine, certify and report on the statement of accounts, and
(b) lay a copy of the statement of accounts and of his report before each House of Parliament.").

The noble Lord said: As a result of brief discussions between the usual channels, it has been suggested that it may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak together to all the government amendments, but obviously I shall move them as we come to them.

As regards Amendment No. 196B, the Government consider that the accounts of the BSC should be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General and this amendment to Schedule 3 provides that the Comptroller and Auditor General be so empowered, in particular to examine the statement of accounts and to lay a copy of the statement and his report on the statement before your Lordships' House and in another place.

Amendment No. 200 is consequent upon a previous government amendment as a result of which the Welsh Authority will be able to provide a further service and arrange for that service to be broadcast in digital form. Therefore, the intention is that the BSC's duty shall extend to programmes included in that new digital service.

15 Feb 1996 : Column 807

Amendment No. 202 is also consequent upon that amendment and its intention is that the BSC's duty should extend to programmes included in the new digital service.

As regards Amendment No. 208B, in the handling of fairness complaints, it is of course important that the complainant is advised of the outcome of the complaint. This amendment requires the BSC to send a statement of its findings to the complainant.

I turn now to Amendment No. 220A. While it is proper that the BSC be required to publish reports on those complaints which it considers or entertains, it would clearly be unnecessary for it to do so where, for whatever reason, it has neither considered nor entertained a complaint. Therefore, this amendment removes that requirement.

I move on now to Amendment No. 220B. The Government's intention in this part of the clause is to enable the BSC, where necessary, to omit from its report of a fairness complaint any information which might identify any person connected with the complaint. The broadcasting and regulatory bodies and providers of licensed services would, however, still be identified. Amendment No. 221A is a proposed new clause which will complement paragraph (c) of Clause 80(7). It will require the ITC the Radio Authority, the Welsh Authority and the BBC to report back to the BSC on any additional action taken by the body in question, or by a licence holder, or by the maker or provider of the relevant programme. Thus, where the BSC has issued a direction to the effect that its findings on a particular complaint must be publicised, the broadcasters and regulators will now have to make inquiries to find out whether any steps have been taken in response to such findings, beyond mere publicity. That will have the effect of demonstrating the seriousness with which the BSC's decisions are taken by broadcasters. Conversely, where broadcasters choose to ignore the BSC's decisions, this will be displayed, in the BSC's published reports, to the public. Broadcasters will, therefore, wish to consider the potentially damaging effect on public perception of ignoring the BSC's findings.

I turn now to Amendment No. 222A. In view of the wide recognition of the valuable contribution of the Broadcasting Standards Council's research to the debate on broadcasting standards, it is the Government's view that the new BSC should perform a similar role in the debate surrounding unfair treatment and infringement of privacy in broadcasting. It is hoped that the amendment will enable the BSC to commission research which will be of value to individuals and broadcasters alike.

Amendments Nos. 223A and 223B would provide that a copy of the BSC's statement of accounts for each financial year and of the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General on that statement is to be sent to the broadcasting and regulatory bodies and, on request, to licence holders.

With regard to Amendment No. 223C, under the terms of its agreement, the BBC is required to contribute towards the costs of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission and will be similarly required to contribute towards the Broadcasting Standards Council, as determined by the Secretary of State.

15 Feb 1996 : Column 808

The clause as it stands effectively follows the wording of Section 149 of the Broadcasting Act 1990. However, because of the new formula for determining contributions, it would, as it is currently worded, require the broadcasting regulatory bodies, which do not technically include the BBC, and the Welsh Authority, to contribute 50 per cent. of the costs of the new BSC. The BBC's contribution would, therefore, be in addition to that 50 per cent.

Finally, I turn to Amendment No. 224. Members of the Committee may recall that a number of previous government amendments enable the Welsh Authority to provide a qualifying service in digital form and lay down certain content and scheduling requirements. The content and scheduling of qualifying services provided by the other terrestrial broadcasters are covered by the terms of their licences and are therefore defined here as a special kind of licensed service. In conclusion, I beg to move Amendment No. 196B.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 3, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 68 [Power to publish guidance relating to avoidance of unjust or unfair treatment or interference with privacy]:


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