Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Baroness Smith of Gilmorehill: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister, but am a little disappointed by his reply. There is a strong feeling in the House that quality cannot be left to the market. Nor should it be sacrificed in the interests of giving an artificial stimulus to digital broadcasting. The existing national commercial radio operators raise no objection to the idea of a performance threshold and there is widespread support among listener groups as well as in this House. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Dormand will wish to consider further the Minister's reaction to our

7 Mar 1996 : Column 476

amendment. We wish to return to the subject at Third Reading. At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.45 p.m.

Clause 71 [The Broadcasting Standards Commission]:

Baroness Jay of Paddington moved Amendment No. 178:


Page 61, line 12, at end insert--
("(4) In appointing members of the BSC, the Secretary of State shall so far as is practicable, ensure--
(a) that the members of the BSC include members who, by reason of their familiarity with the special requirements and circumstances of different groups of viewers and listeners and of the different areas of the United Kingdom, are able to represent the interests of viewers of and listeners to television and sound programme services;
(b) that the membership takes into account the diverse interest of society, including women, different racial groups and disabled people,".).

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 178 and speak to Amendment No. 179 at the same time. The purpose of the amendments is to ensure that the new Broadcasting Standards Commission includes members who will specifically represent the geographical and cultural diversity of the United Kingdom and the diversity of groups with special interests who are viewers and listeners. The amendments will also give statutory force to the proposals of the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, on Standards in Public Life about appointments to public bodies as they would apply to the new Broadcasting Standards Commission.

The two amendments are amalgamations and syntheses of the issues that we raised and the concerns which we expressed at greater length and greater depth at Committee stage. They are particularly important because at the Committee stage the Government rejected our attempts to extend the broader remit of the Broadcasting Standards Commission in which we had intended to create a more widely based consumer organisation with what one might call a general population base and a general policy mission.

We hope now that by specifying the characteristics of the membership of the new BSC (which is included in Amendment No. 178) and by creating a more open framework for their appointment (in Amendment No. 179) the listening and viewing public will be reassured that the new Broadcasting Standards Commission will be a body which can truly reflect their concerns and interests and not just become another cosy and closed quango.

At Committee stage, I drew your Lordships' attention to the recommendations of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, on the subject. In his report he said:


    "The basis on which members are appointed (to public bodies) 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".

7 Mar 1996 : Column 477

That is the purpose of our Amendment No. 178. Yet, although the Government say that they have accepted the recommendations of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, they seem content to allow the Secretary of State total discretion about who is to be appointed to the BSC.

At the Committee stage, the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, spoke of the need for "flexibility" and not,


    "fettering the discretion of the Secretary of State".

On Tuesday of this week, in early deliberations at Report stage on the Bill, the Minister gave the same type of response to my noble friend Lady Dean in reply to her Amendment No. 50. In regard to equal opportunities employment in the broadcasting industry he said


    "As a matter of course, the Secretary of State already ensures that the best possible appointments are made from the pool of talent available at any one time".--[Official Report, 5/3/96; col. 245.]

It may seem a matter of course to the Minister, and naturally we on these Benches entirely accept the bona fides of the intentions of the present Secretary of State. But would it not be preferable if some of those aims were guaranteed in the future and made statutory and placed on the face of the Bill?

The same applies to Amendment No. 179 on the methods of appointment. The words of the amendment are taken directly from the Nolan recommendations. I remind noble Lords that it was precisely because there was public and parliamentary disquiet about patronage and political "cronyism" in public appointments that Nolan was asked to conduct part of his inquiry. The Government accepted his recommendations on appointments. In other important areas--for example, in the National Health Service--the appointments to the new unitary health authorities which take up office next month, in April, have been made on the basis of the Nolan recommendations.

In Committee, the Minister said that the Government had no need to amend the legislation relating to each public body in order to incorporate their commitment to the Nolan recommendations. But we are not asking the Government to amend existing legislation; we are asking them to demonstrate their explicit commitment to Nolan and all that it means by accepting these proposals in new legislation about the Broadcasting Standards Commission which is, after all, a new and important public body. I beg to move.

Lord Annan: My Lords, I support the remarks made by the noble Baroness. I do not know that the wording of the amendment satisfies me, or, indeed, the Minister. But greater openness in appointments to such bodies is much to be welcomed and is very much in line with what has happened in the honours list where the public is now invited to suggest names of those who deserve recognition for the public service they have given. The spirit of the amendment is not only in line with the Nolan report; it is also in line with something that is happening in public life. I hope that the Minister will be able to give some encouragement along those lines to the noble Baroness.

7 Mar 1996 : Column 478

Lord Burnham: My Lords, I am ashamed to say that I was not listening to the words spoken by the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, because I was sitting here on the Back Benches contemplating, with a certain amount of horror, the constitution of the BSC under this immaculately worded and politically correct amendment. The amendment states that the membership should be representative of,


    "the special requirements and circumstances of different groups ... of the United Kingdom",

and that it should take,


    "into account the diverse interest of society, including women, different racial groups and disabled people".

The Bill says that the BSC will consist of 15 people, including the chairman and two deputy chairmen. If we are to have a representative body which will include all those groups--and indeed every other group that anyone can think of as being suitable at present--it will not be a body of 15: it will be a body of 1,500. We all know that the best committee is the committee of two of which one person is absent. Surely 15 members will be enough.

Amendment No. 179 states that such appointments should be,


    "made after advice of a panel or committee which includes an independent element".

But who will appoint that independent element? Will we have to start all over again and include all those people to whom I referred? It seems totally impracticable and unnecessary. It is also unnecessary from the point of view of Nolan. If the Government have accepted the recommendations of the Nolan Report, surely the Secretary of State will take them into account when making the appointments. There is absolutely no need to complicate matters by stating such requirements in the Bill.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, I should, first, declare an interest as a member of the Nolan Committee. I hope that the Minister will respond sympathetically to the remarks made by the noble Baroness rather than listen to the words just spoken by the noble Lord. I am not sure that the noble Lord has really studied the recommendations made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan. I do not believe that what he said was wholly consistent with them.

I hope that the Government will look positively at Amendment No. 179. The truth is that getting together some kind of representative group of the consumers of broadcasting is a difficult task. No easy solution has been found. In years gone by when I had some part in such matters I am bound to confess that, although we conscientiously tried to recommend appointments reflecting a wider basis as set out in Amendment No. 178, in reality it very easily becomes a rather cosy organisation and one tends to recommend the appointment of the kind of people who one feels might be congenial to one's self. As the noble Lord, Lord Annan, said, a much more open system in which there are outside people--although they may be

7 Mar 1996 : Column 479

uncomfortable people for those who are running broadcasting organisations--would be a thoroughly healthy development.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page