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The Deputy Speaker (Lord Burnham): My Lords, if Amendment No. 183 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 184.

Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 183:

Page 61, leave out line 21.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 184 not moved.]

The Deputy Speaker: My Lords, if Amendment No. 185 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 186.

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Lord Chalfont had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 185:

Page 61, line 22, leave out subsection (2) and insert--
("(2) The BSC shall publish the codes currently in force, monitor their implementation and report annually on their findings in their report made under section 84.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I could say that it is now my turn to do a bit of outflanking and encircling but I do not propose to do anything of the kind. I believe that the whole subject is so interlocked that I would prefer to bring the whole matter back on Third Reading. Obviously, it must be done in a certain form, recognising the fact that the Minister's amendment has been carried. I do not wish to move my amendment.

[Amendment No. 185 not moved.]

Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 186:

Page 61, line 22, leave out from beginning to ("the").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 187:

Page 61, line 23, at end insert--
("( ) Before drawing up or revising the guidance, the BSC shall consult--
(a) each broadcasting or regulatory body, and
(b) such other persons as appear to the BSC to be appropriate.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 73 [Preparation by BSC of code relating to broadcasting standards generally]:

[Amendments Nos. 188 and 189 not moved.]

Clause 75 [General functions of BSC in relation to complaints]:

Lord Chalfont moved Amendment No. 190:

Page 63, line 5, after ("treatment") insert ("of individuals, of bodies of individuals or of matters of political or industrial controversy or relating to current public policy").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, as the intervention from the flanks prevented me from speaking to my earlier amendments, I hope that the House will bear with me if I develop the arguments for this amendment at some length. They are connected with the amendments that I would have moved, although not relying upon them.

It is a matter of regret that, once again, one is rising to move substantial amendments at this hour of night on what is usually the last sitting day of the week. However, I must do my best. In moving the amendment I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 192 and 195, which are closely connected. By implication, I shall speak to a number of consequential amendments, which are Nos. 196, 198, 199, 200, 201, 202, 203 and 204.

When I withdrew the amendments at the end of the Committee stage, I did so, as I said at the time, on the understanding that the Government would look at the problem again and, if they did not like the amendments, try to find some way of meeting my anxieties and those of my colleagues. I am reintroducing the amendments at this stage because that has not happened.

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Experience of both the BBC Charter and Agreement passing through this House on a Take Note Motion, and experience of this Bill, has made it clear that in this particular respect the Government are determined to get this legislation through Parliament as far as possible unchanged. One cannot blame them for that but I hope that they will not blame me and my colleagues for returning repeatedly to the charge.

This Bill and the Charter and Agreement of the BBC will set the agenda well into the next century. Therefore, in my view it is important that the regulating broadcasting regime is, as far as possible, robust and effective. In Committee I explained the purpose of the amendments at some length but at this time of night I shall not weary the House by repeating them in full. I simply remind your Lordships that they are designed to correct a clear and persistent anomaly in the regulatory arrangements.

Perhaps I may begin by going back to the Broadcasting Act 1990. That recognised the important principle that broadcasters in both television and radio should be independently regulated in the public interest. In pursuit of that, it replaced the old Independent Broadcasting Authority, which was both a broadcaster and a regulator--I am speaking of the commercial broadcasting sector--with the Independent Television Commission and the Radio Authority, thus clearly and unequivocally separating the functions of the broadcaster and the regulator. However, the Government have not pursued the clear logic of that position in the case of the BBC.

The BBC's new Charter and its accompanying Agreement, which recently passed unchanged through this House and which the Minister has now told us is a closed chapter--in other words, we can do nothing about it until there is a new Charter and Agreement and even then we shall not be able to do much about it--perpetuate the system in which the governors of the BBC, who run the corporation and therefore are the broadcasters, are also supposed to be the regulators. In the country as a whole among viewers and listeners there is a widespread belief that that is an impossible situation. It creates a built-in conflict of interest and in the event of complaints from the public about programmes it makes the governors of the BBC judge and jury in their own case, to use the usual convenient cliche.

Perhaps I may quote from the Voice of the Listener and Viewer, which is an important pressure group. In a communication to me, it stated:

    "The Governors will be required to oversee both the BBC's public service activities and its growing range of commercial ventures, an impossible situation which will inevitably lead to conflicts of interest and is likely to penalise both areas".

It may be interesting to note that the patrons of the Voice of the Listener and Viewer include the noble Lords, Lord Eames and Lord Thomson of Monifieth, and the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, which is a powerful and one might also say ecumenical group.

We are now faced with two options. The first is that we can live with that regime in which the BBC governors are both broadcasters and regulators, or are supposed to be. It may be that we shall have to live with

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that for 10 years or more. Certainly on present thinking it will be well into the next millennium. The Government are asking us to give them a chance and to live with it. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, has just asked us to do it: "Give them a chance". Yes, but for how long? We can either do that or we can ensure that the Bill gives us a last chance to establish a consistent regulatory regime in which the BBC, like every commercial broadcasting organisation, is independently regulated.

So far throughout the debates both on the Bill and on the Motion concerning the BBC Charter I have not heard a single convincing argument against the option of an independent regulator for the BBC. It might be appropriate to mention that last week I received a letter from the Consumers Association, which represents a substantial body of public opinion. I will read one brief passage:

    "We are aware of your support for the BBC to fall under the remit of an independent regulator, and hope that you will continue to argue the case. There are wide-ranging consumer concerns and it is important that these are dealt with now to ensure that the Bill looks to the future rather than requiring legislation at a later stage".

That represents a fairly broad spectrum of opinion. I repeat that I have heard no convincing argument against the concept.

However, perhaps we may consider the objections put forward by the Government and others to what I regard as a logical and practical proposal. One is that it increases the number of regulatory bodies. That buzz has been going round the Chamber for the past few weeks. But it is not so. The Bill wisely reduces the number of regulators by amalgamating the BCC with the BSC to make the new Broadcasting Standards Commission. As I have made clear on a number of occasions, and I shall bore the House with it again, my preferred solution would be a single regulatory authority to cover the entire broadcasting scene. Clearly, that is outside the scope of the Bill.

All my amendments do is to give the new regulatory body, the Broadcasting Standards Commission, teeth to do no more than the Secretary of State for National Heritage is already on record as wishing to do. She has said that she wishes to strengthen the role of the BSC. That is precisely what my amendments seek to do. On the other hand, as the "Today" programme on the BBC sometimes says, there has come into my possession a letter from the Secretary of State for National Heritage, addressing a Member of your Lordships' House. She states:

    "As you know, I do not believe that the new BSC should take on a regulatory function".

What is it then? What is the BSC for if it is not to consider complaints, adjudicate on them and ensure that if the complaint is upheld the cause of it is not repeated? What is that if it is not regulation? That is precisely what a regulator does. It is what the ITC does among other things. It is what the Radio Authority does.

Another objection is that the new strengthened role for the BSC implied by the amendments would require substantial extra resources and extra financial investment in the Broadcasting Standards Commission. To that I make three brief observations. First, I do not

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believe that the cost needs to be prohibitive. The ITC and the Radio Authority already carry out the full panoply of regulatory duties with relatively small resources and in the case of the Radio Authority--of which I speak with personal experience--with a staff of 30 people who conduct the whole business of regulating the commercial radio broadcasting scene. Secondly, some of the extra cost might be met from savings in the BBC's internal complaints procedure. It must cost a little money and would not be necessary if we had effective independent regulation. Thirdly, a modest increase--and that is all it would be--in the resources required would be a small price to pay for a sensible, effective and independent regulatory system. I have already mentioned the other argument advanced by the Government that we ought to give them a chance.

I wish to clarify one point in case there should be doubt in the minds of any of my noble colleagues. My quarrel is not with the Chairman of the Governors of the BBC, nor his successor. Both I know as men of ability and integrity. My quarrel is not with the Governors themselves and not even with the powers they have been given in the Charter. My quarrel is with an inherently flawed system which has not worked in the past and is unlikely to work in the future.

In a recent speech to the Television Society, the Secretary of State for National Heritage acknowledged that and said that it is time for the Governors of the BBC to step back from the management of the corporation and act more as regulators in the public interest. If, as that seems to suggest, it is the Government's policy to separate the broadcaster from the regulator in the BBC, as they have rightly done in the commercial sector, why are they so opposed to the amendments which seek to do precisely that? Since the Charter and the Agreement of the BBC are now to be considered a closed chapter, I can only identify the Broadcasting Standards Commission as the available instrument for doing so.

I conclude by reminding the House that the three amendments are interdependent. They are designed to empower the Broadcasting Standards Commission to adjudicate not only on complaints about standards of taste and decency, but also on complaints about fairness, objectivity and impartiality, including complaints on such matters in BBC programmes. I also seek to remove the curious provision which seems to me to be totally lacking in logic that, while complaints about taste and decency may be made by any listener or viewer, complaints about fairness and objectivity may be made only by people who are directly affected. I totally fail to see the logic of that position. I have been infinitely more offended, and I know others who have felt the same, by a programme which has been inaccurate and biased on a historical or political subject than by all the taste and decency arguments that one can advance.

In that context, noble Lords may have seen an excellent and very persuasive brief recently circulated by the BBC entitled, The BBC: A Responsible Broadcaster, which sets out a summary of the corporation's approach. In a covering note--much to my gratification--the corporation expresses the view that its producers' guidelines would make Lord Chalfont's amendments

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unnecessary. However, I am afraid that that begs the whole central question. The concern of those who think as I do is not with the "Producers' Guidelines for Factual Programmes", to give it its full title. The guidelines are clear; they are comprehensive; and they are unambiguous on subjects of impartiality and taste and decency. They are models of precision, clarity and force. The problem is that no one who studies the guidelines, as I have with great care, could possibly argue that they have been consistently observed; on the contrary, they have been consistently ignored and flouted. If the governors have been unable or unwilling to enforce them in the past, what confidence can we have that they will do so in the future?

Will the Government at least concede that there is a real problem here? That would, I believe, be a start towards finding a solution. Do the Government agree that we have a real problem and one to which they are prepared to give serious attention? It may well be--and I have no pride of authorship--that my proposed solution is not the ideal one. There may be other ways to deal with the problem. The noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, has considered the matter and I believe that he may move an amendment proposing an ombudsman.

Another possibility is one that seems to me to be eminently practical; namely, the establishment of some kind of independent panel separate from and outside the BBC bureaucracy to advise the governors on viewers' and listeners' complaints. At present, part of the problem is that, when a complaint comes to the BBC, the panel which has the remit to consider it and advise the governors consists of BBC officials. That seems to me to be a recipe for the kind of regime that we have now.

If the Minister cannot or does not wish to respond positively tonight to the amendments, I hope that he will undertake to examine the position between now and Third Reading and come back with some serious ideas for dealing with a problem which is--and I ask him to accept this--causing serious concern not only in your Lordships' House but in the broader constituency of the country as a whole.

Before I conclude, perhaps I may first echo what has been said in the House during the whole proceedings on the Bill. I congratulate the Minister on the style with which he has conducted the legislation. My admiration is not simply for the courtesy and the consideration which he has shown to everyone involved, but also for the extraordinary mastery that he has shown with what is an extremely complicated and difficult subject.

Finally, I should like to deal with the objection that the changes which I propose would have two undesirable consequences. The first is that I would be placing programme-makers in some form of double jeopardy; in other words, they would have two regulatory bodies over them. But that already happens in the commercial sector and, indeed, has been so since 1990. I do not see why the BBC should be uniquely protected from it. The second objection is that what I propose would open the floodgates to a torrent of

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frivolous complaints. That has not happened in the commercial sector and, again, I see no reason why it should happen in this case. I beg to move.

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