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Lord Chalfont: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for so courteously giving way. I am sure he knows that that is the position at the moment: the BCC and the BSC are in a position to second-guess, to make a different adjudication on the same complaint from that of the two regulatory bodies. It exists at the moment. There is second-guessing, as the cliche has it, in existence now. What is new?
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, as I understand the proposal made by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, on occasions it can undoubtedly be an unsatisfactory state of affairs for the regulator if the regulator's decision is attacked via the mechanism of judicial review under the circumstances he described. That has occurred. That will be compounded in two regards. First, the scope of the new BSC will be widened, thereby increasing this problem; and, secondly, as I understand it, the aspiration is that the BSC will itself become some kind of regulatory body in respect of the broadcasters. If I have misunderstood him, I crave his forgiveness. But we cannot have two regulators in respect of one broadcaster.
I should like, if I may, to move on. As I said, as I understand it, and as I am sure the House understands it, the noble Lord's case is that the BBC governors have not properly carried out their regulatory job. As I have
I appreciate that the noble Lord disagrees with the conclusions that the Government and Parliament have so recently reached, but against that background he must explain, by reference to the arrangements in the new Charter and Agreement, why those substantial changes will fail. Much of the evidence that has been brought forward this evening is old. Indeed, it is inevitable. As I have explained on this and other occasions, we accept that in the past things have not gone right, but we have taken steps. We believe that those steps will help put matters right. The Secretary of State, the new Chairman of the BBC and the Government are all emphatic that those abuses of the past shall not continue.
The tools have been given to the chairman and governors to do that in the new Charter and Agreement which, I believe, will come into effect on 1st May this year. If I understand him correctly, the noble Lord says that he doubts their ability to deliver, which of course is a perfectly fair point to make. He points to past events to support that view, but we have made significant changes to deal with the deficiencies of the past. If the noble Lord can convince me that the new arrangements will fail, he makes the case for doing something beyond that which we have done already; but, equally, if he does not, surely he makes my case for me.
I apologise for making a rather lengthy speech at this late hour, but I am sure that your Lordships will agree that these are important issues which deserve close consideration. I hope that I have explained the Government's position as clearly as possible.
Lord Chalfont: My Lords, I suppose that I should follow the Minister in apologising for speaking again at this late hour. I shall not, however, do so because it is not by my choice that the debate is taking place at this time. I therefore beg the indulgence of the House to make one or two points on what has been a most interesting and to me enlightening exchange. I thank everyone who has spoken, not just those who spoke in support of my amendment but those who have shown a certain amount of doubt about it.
I shall make just one or two brief comments. The point has come up again and again--the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, made it first, but it has constantly come up--and it came up again in the Minister's remarks a moment ago: there seems to be--I am repeating myself, but it seems necessary to do so--that there already exists a situation in which two regulatory bodies (the ITC and the Radio Authority) have over them two other regulatory bodies (the BCC and the BSC). The Minister may say that those are not regulatory bodies, in which case I repeat my rhetorical question: what on earth are they? We ought to have it clear that, when people say that the new BSC would be a second-guessing organisation over and above the existing regulatory authorities, such an institution exists already but not in respect of the BBC. The BBC is the only body that it cannot second-guess and I have been trying in part to put that right.
The noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, brought out the floodgates argument again, saying that if we did this at election time there would be thousands of frivolous complaints. That has not happened in the past so why should it happen in the future? I do not understand that argument.
There are many other issues that I should like to mention but it is late at night. However, I wish to make a point in reply to the noble Viscount, Lord Astor. He said that he had some doubts about the word "political" appearing in my amendment. My amendment is a direct quotation from the Broadcasting Act 1990, which lays that duty upon the ITC and the Radio Authority. Therefore, why not upon the BSC?
It has been a most interesting and enlightening experience to listen to some of the arguments that have been put forward. I return to what the Minister said. At the beginning of his remarks he said something which appeared to me to go right to the heart of the matter. He said that the Charter means that the governors may do this, may do that and may require this. "May" is the key word. It places no obligation, duty or responsibility, legal or otherwise, upon the governors. It simply means that they may do it. What if they do not choose to do so? That is at the heart of my question.
The Minister spoke about the powers of the ITC and the Radio Authority not being as draconian as those of the governors under the Charter. Perhaps I may remind him that the ITC and the Radio Authority may not be able to sack the chief executive of a radio station but they can close down a station. That is somewhat more drastic than sacking the chief executive.
I was most interested to hear the Minister mention judicial review. It has clarified in my mind an issue that has been puzzling me for some time. I wondered whether the BBC could be taken to judicial review by viewers or listeners, as in the case of the independent authorities, which are subject to statute law and not to a Charter. I was interested to hear him say that that is the case. I suspect that tonight a number of people will be thinking very hard about the exciting possibilities of taking the BBC to judicial review.
I return to a comment that I made in my original remarks. I asked the Government to appreciate that there is a very real problem. It is not an imagined problem nor is it the figment of one person's fevered imagination. It exists and it is shared by a great number of people. I am sorry that the Government apparently do not entirely share that view. I wish they would. I hope that between now and Third Reading they will think of a better way of solving the problem if they do not like my way. This problem will not go away, whether there is judicial review or further legislation. I hope that between now and Third Reading the Government will come forward with a proposal that they believe to be practicable and will meet the anxieties of a great number of people; people who, as the Minister said tonight, are not of the same political persuasion. It is an anxiety that pervades the entire political spectrum and is widespread throughout the country.
I have a hope, perhaps not a strongly held hope but a faint hope, that the Government will come back with a suggestion as to how to solve the problem. I state my possible intention of returning to the matter on Third Reading if nothing happens. In the meantime, it may be, from what the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, said, that I need to remind the House that at the moment we are discussing one amendment, Amendment No. 190. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Page 63, line 17, leave out second ("any") and insert ("the").
Page 64, line 23, after second ("to") insert ("the consideration of").
Page 64, line 25, leave out subsections (2) and (3).
Page 65, line 4, leave out ("and") and insert ("or in such other form as the BSC may allow and must").