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Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I do not feel wholly confident in rising to speak partly because, during the previous discussion, I was never quite sure with which amendments we were dealing and partly because I am aware of the conflict between my liberal instincts and the feeling, having listened to the noble Lords, Lord Chalfont, Lord Renton and Lord Orr-Ewing, that they had some valid points.
On the political side I support what was said about the difficulties by my noble friend Lord Dubs. We on this side of the House are worried ahead of a general election about temptations to intimidate the BBC and to make it a political football on impartiality. We would support the Minister in resisting any attempts to do that.
Having said that, I still have sympathy with one or two points made on the other side of the House. I am worried by the BBC being judge and jury, as I said on Second Reading when discussing the BBC Charter. I note what my noble friend Lord Cocks said, but I believe that there are problems if the regulators are confused with the managers. Nothing has been done on the BBC Charter despite our long and interesting debate. It should be obvious to the House that I am a great supporter of the BBC and of public service broadcasting, but I do not believe that the present situation regarding accountability is perfect.
An interesting letter from the Secretary of State was read out saying that the BSC is not a regulatory body. If it is not, I am puzzled as to what it is and whether there is any point in spending all this money. We believe that it is a regulatory body. I have always sympathised--this is not necessarily my party's position--with the idea of having a single regulatory body because, as the broadcasting media merge and as the BBC gets, as it will, pay television and so on in the digital age, there is a case for a single overarching body. That is my personal view. I accept all of what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, and also the nods of my noble friends, with their experience, about the present bodies not being set up to do what we require. But does that mean that no one should do it? As usual, the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, put his hammer on the nail, arguing that it is for us to say what they should do if they say they cannot do it now.
On the fairness and impartiality side, I sympathise with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, about complaints at the moment being made only by the people directly affected. That is quite unsatisfactory. I just do not understand it. That distinction as to who is affected in terms of the accountability of our broadcasting to the public is not adequate. I do not wish to get involved in the argument today about guidelines and codes. Anyone who has ever studied Marxist history will know that there are words where one cannot see the difference but one knows that it makes the difference between Stalin murdering people or bringing heaven on earth. However, I still do not see why we do not have codes. I just put it like that. It would certainly meet some of the concerns expressed.
The underlying problem is trust, and trust of journalists. There is a conflict between the managers and the regulators, whether they are judge and jury, the governors or some commission. In my experience the governors of the BBC agree with our concerns and understand them. The conflict is not between one kind and another or between them and us; it is between them and the modern, new model journalists. I speak as a former journalist. From my observation, not always but often, they have no concept of factuality, fairness or impartiality. That is the basic problem.
We are dealing with how we solve the problem, whether through codes or whatever. Somehow we have to strengthen the regulators--whether they are governors or old or new model broadcasting commissions of whatever name--to defend our standards. That is a very difficult problem and I sympathise with the Government. Perhaps the Government's proposals will achieve what is required by taking on board a number of very genuine people who are not totally convinced but who want the Government to get it right. I hope so.
Lord Orr-Ewing: My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to point out that there is a misprint on the Marshalled List. It is meant to be the BBC and not the BSC with which the ombudsman is concerned.
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. Having watched him over the past 50 years, I instinctively assumed that it was a misprint, so we were not misled. I conclude by saying that if the Government can find some way ahead of Third Reading of meeting these genuine concerns without abandoning the basic liberal principles that one cannot put journalists totally into a harness it would be extremely helpful.
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, we have had an interesting and varied debate following the moving of Amendment No. 190 by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. As he said, the remainder of the amendments to which he spoke are really consequential. Given the lateness of the hour, I shall focus on what I believe, from listening to the helpful and clear remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, to be the central issue he would like us to consider. It is--I hope I am being fair--that the governors of the BBC are insufficiently independent effectively to perform a regulatory function. The Government proposed in the White Paper, then in the draft Charter and Agreement, and Parliament concurred--albeit with some Members disagreeing--that the BBC should continue to be established along its traditional lines under Charter and Agreement. It follows that arrangements for the BBC cannot be exactly the same as those for independent broadcasters. They can, however, be equivalent. That is how we approached the new Charter and Agreement which are different in a number of important respects from the present ones.
The new Charter and Agreement set out how the BBC is to apply its obligations to observe impartiality in exactly the same terms as apply in the 1990 Act to the ITC, the Radio Authority and the Welsh Authority. Further, the governors are given a clear legal responsibility to ensure compliance with the impartiality code by all the BBC's employees and programme makers. All this is spelt out in the new Charter and Agreement which defines clear responsibilities for the governors.
Against such a background, it is obvious that sanctions cannot be exactly the same for the BBC as for the ITC. However, I believe that the sanctions available to the governors are sufficient for them to be able to meet their obligations. The governors may take disciplinary action against its employees, including severe reprimands, and ultimately dismissal if appropriate; they may issue new guidance to producers in the event of any failure to observe either the guidelines or the BBC's obligations under the Charter or Agreement; and they may terminate their relationship with presenters or freelance producers who have seriously breached the guidelines. The ITC cannot sack a broadcaster's chief executive as the BBC governors can. Those are all sanction which the governors have, I understand, applied in the past.
So we do not believe that the governors are inherently too close to the work of the BBC effectively to perform a regulatory role. They have established a programme complaints unit independent of their programme makers and with a route of appeal to the governors. They have already demonstrated a willingness to take strong action where it is required, and the new Charter and Agreement will, as I have explained, clarify their regulatory role and strengthen their authority to act.
We are most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, for his contribution. As a governor in the front line in dealing with complaints, he has explained how the board of governors will implement the new provisions of the Charter and Agreement as they relate to the governors' regulatory functions.
The noble Lord made the important point, to which I shall return, that the new Charter and Agreement have not yet come into effect. I am sure that what he said must offer reassurance to the House on this aspect of the governors' functions.
I would stress that these are real legal obligations placed on the governors. They are equivalent to those set out in the 1990 Act and placed on the ITC and the Radio Authority. If anyone felt that the governors, or indeed any other regulatory body, were failing to fulfil their obligations, it would be open to them to seek leave for judicial review.
In considering the role of those with regulatory responsibility, it is important to make a distinction between their ability to do the work and their proper performance of this duty. We believe that those charged with regulatory responsibility are properly capable of doing it, and that the ITC and the BBC governors, strengthened in substance and in resolve by the new Charter and Agreement, will have no difficulty in carrying out those tasks and applying sanctions as appropriate.
I turn briefly to the new BSC. It has been suggested that that body should be a regulator. As I have explained earlier this evening and on other occasions in your Lordships' House, the new BSC has a role which is a combination of the roles of its two component bodies. It has two functions. The first is as a standard-setting, bench-marking body in respect of the standards which pertain to broadcasting. The second, as I have already explained, is to have what I term in shorthand a
Reference has also been made to the remarks made by the Secretary of State and to her wish to strengthen that body. The Bill as submitted to Parliament contains a number of changes to the existing arrangements, perhaps the most significant of which comes in Clause 84(7)(c) which refers to the obligation newly placed on broadcasters to report to the BSC the actions taken by them in response to the BSC's findings, which in turn will be published in the bulletin. This very evening, for example, a number of changes have been introduced in respect of the BSC which have received general support around the House. We are strengthening the BSC both in form and by backing it by giving it increased political authority. It is not an unusual phenomenon in this country that much of the standing and effect which a body such as the BSC can exercise derives from the authority inherently within it.
Another point on which I should like your Lordships to focus is the consequence of the proposals which the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, has brought forward for the BSC. As I understand it, he is suggesting that the BSC should become a kind of parallel regulator. In particular what would be the relationship of the new BSC with the ITC were his proposals to become law? How will the two relate in respect of, for example, an adjudication on the same complaint? That was a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cocks. We shall find that the decisions of one body will be impugned by the decisions made by the other. We have here a recipe for regulatory anarchy, which is in no one's interests.
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