|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I rise to speak to my Amendment No. 193, which relates to any failure to meet public service broadcasting obligations. The aim is to ensure that any exemptions are not too easily granted.
Unlike Amendment No. 192, whose subject matter is very interesting, the amendment does not add words to the Bill. Rather, it removes a few, because they do not seem to be necessary. As a result of their deletion, Ofcom would be able, still at its discretion, to take action if and when a channel failed to fulfil its public service broadcasting remit or to make an adequate contribution towards the purposes of public service broadcasting.
I have to admit that my intention is not just to save a few words in an over-heavy Bill. It is also to ensure that Ofcom is not encouraged to respond too easily to pleas of poverty without exploring other factors.
If we in Parliament do not show that we take the coverage of Parliament seriously, who on earth do we think will? The answer is "No one", and that is why the amendment deserves to be incorporated in the Bill.
We have heard in the debate so far that we now have a very clear set of definitions of the public service remit, and we have just heard suggestions for tightening things up still further. The public service remit is clearly of the greatest importance. It was the view of the Joint Scrutiny Committee that if the public service remits had to be changed that would call into question the entire framework of public service broadcasting established by the new legislation, and would surely justify Parliament's looking afresh at the entire issue by considering further primary legislation.
The suggestion that the order-making power should reside with Ofcom rather than the Secretary of State acting solely upon a recommendation by Ofcom would make the matter worse, not better, since it would entail one less safeguard for what could in effect be a very significant change. So the Joint Scrutiny Committee said in paragraph 346 of its report:
The trouble, of course, is that much of what goes on in Parliament is profoundly boring and terribly dull. The BBC criterion, in its modern populist mood, is never to show the public, or as far as possible to avoid showing the public, anything which is not entertaining, amusing or shocking. I know that it is a rather broad generalisation, but I still believe that television represents one of the greatest forces with which to influence public opinion. If public service broadcasters do nothing to sustain the importance of Parliament, then Parliament will decline in the public mind.
The amendment is very important. I cannot believe that the Government would allow their evident disrespect, at times, for Parliament to take over altogether. I hope very much that the noble Lord, Lord Holme, will press the amendment today or later. I can assure him of my very enthusiastic support for it.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: It is a faint irony that, two-and-a-quarter centuries ago, John Wilkes, who was not the Member of Parliament for my former constituency but Lord Mayor of London, sought to change the reporting of Parliament from oratio obliqua, which was carried out by people such as Doctor Johnson, who sat in the Gallery and tried to remember afterwards what had been said, to oratio
Lord McNally: One of the votes during my short-lived tenure at the other end of the corridor of which I am most proud was that I was the "one" in the majorityI always think sothat first carried a vote for the broadcasting of Parliament. The Motion was carried by one vote. There was much concern at that time about the effect on this House and another place of televising Parliament. I also had the leisure time inflicted by the voters of Stockport to watch the first televised broadcast from this House, when Lord Stockton made an electrifying speech about privatisation being akin to selling off the family silver. I remember the great enthusiasm of broadcasters at that time and how heavily we were lobbied to let the cameras in. Then, of course, like children with a toy, they all got bored with us and tried to think of different ways to provide coverage.
The amendment goes to the heart of the matter. When the process started, I told the BBC that it was a wonderful opportunity to win friends by initiating and innovating in its coverage of Parliament and politics. There has not been much fresh thinking on coverage in the past 20 years. Most of the standard flagship programmes are 20 years old or more. The BBC responded with a great internal think, which, so far as I can see, and as my noble friend said, has resulted in a camera in Central Lobby and presenters not wearing ties at weekends. Broadcasters' thinking seems to be overlaid by a great fear that if they try to show an intelligent, thoughtful political programme they will lose audiences, and that that is the be-all and end-all.
I have another fear that, unless we have a watchdog on such coverage, there will be a continuation of the already clear trend of forcing political coverage to the extremes of the schedule, or, even worse, with the new opportunities that digital provides, that political coverage will be ghettoised into a single channel. If that happened, statistics would show that a broadcaster had showed so many hours of political programmes and parliamentary coverage, but all the coverage would be shown on minority digital channels. I want the BBC, in particular, to return to the second and third part of the famous Reithian mantra "to educate and inform".
It cannot be purely accidental that the cynicism and apathy towards our political processes, which we all see as dangerous to our democracy, has coincided with a similar cynicism and apathy in coverage of the political process by all sections of the media. It was pointed out recently that, on reading souvenir editions of newspapers published to mark the Coronation, it is striking how much more adult the coverage of news events was 50 years ago, and how much more time was applied to it. Most of us grew up with the impact of flagship programmes such as "Newsweek" and "Panorama" being shown at peak time to large audiences. There is a grave danger of the ghettoisation
The Lord Bishop of Manchester: Many of the remarks made in this part of the debate echo those already voiced about religious broadcasting in the public service remit and the dangers of marginalisation and moving subjects into ghettos. I have much sympathy with the points being made, not least because I think that there are some allied interests. Like the noble Lord, Lord McNally, I hope that those aspects will be taken very seriously by the Government. I warm to what is being said.
Lord Puttnam: I wish to speak in favour of this group of amendments and to point out a paradox. During the Committee stage, it must have become evident to all of us how seriously we take the issue of broadcasting and the impact of broadcasters. I beg the Front Bench to look across the range of amendments that we have discussed today. Any one of them alone is not necessarily important. We are possibly urging the Government to be over-prescriptive. It may not be so necessary to push for changes by secondary legislation. Is that on its own a big issue? Is it a very big issue that an individual licensee can claim that its economic situation makes it impossible to conform with the obligations that it agreed to? But taking all the issues across the piecesecondary legislation, relaxation because of economic problems, a lack of prescription of obligationsare we really being serious enough about the medium that we are here to reinforce and, to a degree, to protect? I suggest that the Government look across the piece. Taken singly, the issues are not huge, but, taken together, they begin to look a little lackadaisical.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I echo the words of my noble friend Lord Holme of Cheltenham and other Members of the Committee who have spoken warmly in favour of Amendment No. 192. I declare an interest as president of the Citizenship Foundation, a charity that I set up 15 years ago precisely because it was quite clear thenas it is even clearer nowthat the civic understanding referred to in Amendment No. 192 was simply not present among the majority of young people.
As our deliberations in Parliament year by year grow evermore voluminous and complex, overlaid by a European system of institutions which adds geometrically to the distancing, impersonality and complication of political life generally, it seems as obvious as the nose on one's face that such a clause should be in the Bill. I take the point made by others that we could continue adding and adding to the Bill, but it is already 520 pages long, and the temptation to add a couple of lines is almost irresistible when dealing with a matter of such importance.
The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, referred to this issue. If we are honest, we do not do a very good job of making what we do available to the public. A tiny staff deals with public information and press relations. The greater part of what we do in this House is completely unheard and unknown by the wider public. If we intend to thrust upon broadcasters the duties outlined in Amendment No. 192 we should consider more seriously how we may bring home to the people of this country what we purport to do in their name.
I wholeheartedly support Amendment No. 193. We have spent much time and effort over the previous two days in Committee on this part of the Bill. Ultimately, it comes down to an enforcement clause. Clause 266 states in terms that there will be no enforcement unless, first, the failure is serious; and, secondly, it is not excused by economic or market conditions. That is bizarre. It is almost as though the law of theft states that only if the court were of the opinion that the failure of the shoplifter is not serious, and is not excused by hunger or hardship, shall there be a prosecution. It is about the most uncertain note which could be sounded in terms of Ofcom's duty to enforce. Many noble Lords believe that the market conditions, market forces and economic considerations already have too high a profile in this Bill and should not be reinforced in this enforcement provision.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page