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Lord Chalfont: My Lords, with the leave of the House, may I ask the noble Lord whether he is not being extremely illogical in what he has just said? He said that one cannot have codes, punishments or sanctions because they stifle the creative instinct. The Independent Television Commission and the Radio Authority both have such codes, which are in operation and which work. If they are broken by a broadcasting company, sanctions and punishments are available and are used.
If the noble Lord is saying that that is at variance with the creative instincts of broadcasters, then I wonder how the independent television companies and radio stations are doing so well and have been so creative and successful. I believe that we are back to where we were at Committee stage. The noble Lord is going much too far in his clear and perhaps admirable dislike of sanctions, punishment and obligations.
Lord McNally: My Lords, just very briefly, with the leave of the House--I thank the noble Baroness for keeping me on track--I suppose the bottom line is that I would rather be logically liberal than authoritarian right. That is a matter of choice. There is some contradiction in what the noble Lord has just said. If the regulators are doing so well and producing such good results, why do they go on this endless quest for yet another body with more sanctions in order to get the perfect system that they are constantly seeking?
Lord Beloff: My Lords, I do not know what the noble Lord was last time, but he is now totally illogical. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, was referring to the success of the regulating bodies with independent television and radio. We are discussing whether the current system, as regards the BBC, is adequate. That is quite a different issue. Many people believe that the governors, who occupy the post of regulating themselves, have not been efficient. When we come, as I hope we shall, at Third
Viscount Astor: My Lords, perhaps I may make one small comment on my noble friend's amendment. The advantage of the debate that we are having this evening is that it has shown to me with absolute clarity the disadvantages of having a Charter and Agreement for the BBC. When we had the debate in this House we were able to discuss these issues, but we were unable to amend the Charter and Agreement.
I am as guilty as anybody of being a supporter of the BBC having a Charter and Agreement, so I accept any criticism that anyone may make. This debate has shown the weakness of that, because we cannot amend the provisions. My noble friend has listened very carefully to the anxieties of your Lordships expressed at Committee stage and he has come forward with his Amendment No. 181. I accept that my noble friend Lord Renton believes that it may not go as far as he would like but I believe that it goes a very long way, because it ensures that a code, not may, but will, be drawn up, and that is a very important point.
Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, if we have a problem with the BBC's Charter and its codes, we should consider what the position is, because they are new. While the House may not have had the opportunity to amend these documents, their content is fairly specific. The Charter states at paragraph 7(f), among other things, that the governors are to:
When one considers the Agreement between the Secretary of State for National Heritage and the BBC, there are further paragraphs which are relevant. I quote from paragraph 5.1(c), which states that the corporation shall:
Those are very strict instructions and they form part of the BBC's Charter and Agreement with the Government. That happens to be a new Agreement. We may not have been able to amend the provisions--I accept that may have been a weakness--but I am not sure that I understand how those words could have been reinforced. However, there is a case at the very least for saying that the codes should be allowed to work before we try to impose something further upon the situation.
The Earl of Halsbury: My Lords, I tend to approach this as a student of organisational pathology. Last week, in the course of a very long and, for my part, amusing and entertaining debate, we examined the life-cycle of a cock-up from conception through gestation to birth, from childhood through infancy to adolescence, and from maturity through senility and finally to a post-mortem at the hands of the coroner, Sir Richard Scott. At the heart of all that lay the weasel word, "guidelines".
I suppose we are all agreed that you can delegate authority but not responsibility. You cannot make somebody else answerable for that for which you are answerable. However, we live in a hierarchy of delegated responsibility from the nation to its Parliament, from the Parliament to its Government, from the Government to their Civil Service and to such quangos as its buds off from time to time. In the middle level of that hierarchy, people at one level tend to accept as excuses from the lower level the reasons that they hope to employ themselves when excusing themselves to a still higher level. That connivance with one another's shortcomings is what characterises a hierarchical organisation.
I suggest that your Lordships accept the principle that the Ten Commandments are not guidelines to a relation with the Almighty to be interpreted as occasion requires in the light of the circumstances prevailing but are in some sense absolute. We want some kind of absolute direction that there is going to be right trouble if this is breached.
Lord Annan: My Lords, I rise on two points. The first is procedural. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, referred to his fox having been shot. I think a better metaphor came from the noble Lord, Lord McNally, when he referred to Blucher at Waterloo. What the Minister has done is to outflank and envelop the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, so that he is totally encircled and unable to move anything.
Secondly, when I come to address the terribly difficult problem of impartiality and all that it concerns, my mind goes back to the 1970s and the many discussions we had in the Committee on the Future of Broadcasting. Having re-read the committee's report, I find myself much nearer the noble Lord, Lord McNally, than others in the sense that, as with the Scott Report, one can deduce almost anything from it both in favour of impartiality and in favour of really good, sound rules.
In the past 20 years things have moved somewhat further away from impartiality and consideration for the guidelines laid down. How many times have we heard the excuse given, "We have done nothing contrary to the guidelines; they are just guidelines"--in other words, they can be flouted just as much as is liked. That is a common thing for broadcasters to say. And they are bound to say it, because over the past 50 years there has been a great change in the nature of what is said and shown on television and in broadcasting generally. It is almost inconceivable to us now that the rigid rules which Lord Reith--Sir John Reith, as he was then--laid
At the same time, a great change came in the late 1950s and early 1960s when Mr. Greene was the director general. Younger broadcasters argued that the BBC in particular had a duty to represent the whole nation and not merely the governing part of the nation and to represent what younger people were feeling. That greatly changed notions of impartiality. It was no longer necessary for one programme in itself to be impartial. It could be as partial as it liked so long as there was at some time a programme of approximately the same nature which would state, as it were, the other side of the case, not necessarily on that issue but on general political problems. It is the failure--or the perceived failure--of the BBC sometimes to honour that obligation that has led to impasse. As I said, in the end I shall probably abstain from voting on the issue. I believe that it can be solved only by good will between the chairman of the governors and the director general. It is really the director general who is responsible for what goes on at the BBC. The governors have a limited role in their regulatory function.
It has been said that the governors took the extreme sanction of sacking the director general of the BBC some years ago, but they cannot go on doing that and they certainly cannot do it on every occasion a producer undoubtedly infringes the guidelines. What, then, is to be done? It depends on the hierarchy of the BBC--the director general at the top and the leaders of the various divisions in that heavily over-bureaucratised organisation. It depends on them. That alone is the way in which some change of heart can come about.
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