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Lord Avebury: As the noble Lord knows, the Human Rights Commission has, among its instruments, a rapporteur on religious freedom, Mr Abdelfattah Amor. Is the noble Lord aware of any representations by Mr Abdelfattah Amor to the British Government on the subject? If so, does he not think that, with all the furore that the United Nations Association and others have raised, Mr Abdelfattah Amor would have noticed and would have done something about it, if he thought that the representations were valid?
Lord Archer of Sandwell: Sometimes, those who are on the side of the angels miss a trick. Even if someone has written to Mr Abdelfattah AmorI agree that it would be a good idea, and I am glad that the noble Lord has suggested itwe do not know at the moment what his response will be. No doubt, we can all wait, and, in due course, we will see.
There is another aspect that raises another issue of justice and human rights. The exclusion is to apply not only to a body whose objects are of a religious nature but to an individual who is an officer of such a body. So far as I am aware, nowhere is the term "officer" defined. Is a layperson with a career independent of the Church or of his or her religious beliefs excluded because he or she is a Sunday school teacher on a Sunday afternoon? If the Broadcasting Act 1990 means what it says, that Sunday school teacher is disqualified from applying for a licence to broadcast on Wednesday evenings in order to talk about football. Such people are blanked out from all broadcasting for all purposes. What about the choirmaster or the caretaker? Who is in the net of people who will be silenced? It would be helpful if my noble friend could offer us some guidance as to the construction that has been placed on the term "officer".
There are further questions relating not only to freedom of speech or discrimination. There are people who have invested years of their life in this area of broadcasting. Are they to be deprived of the opportunity to deploy those talents? Are their potential listeners to be deprived of the opportunity of listening to them? It is almost as though the Government have said, "How many different human rights can we infringe with one provision?"
I know that my noble friend is capable of recognising the anomalies to which the provision gives rise. She and I have fought many human rights battles together, shoulder-to-shoulder. Now is the time to listen and to earn the credit for listening. She may even find it an enjoyable experience.
Baroness Whitaker: Does the noble Lord accept that to link Mr Desmond the porn king with the humanists and atheists of the western world is to make one of the more invidious comparisons that we have heard?
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I do not know whether he is or is not. He could be a good practising Christian for all I know. The only point that I make is that my noble friend Lord Avebury got it precisely back-to-front. Anybody who is not of a religion can own one of the media outlets. It is only religious folk who cannot be owners. That must be discriminatory.
It is also like something from Alice in Wonderland that, as the House of Lords, we start with Prayers every day. What is the logic of us then writing into a Bill that the ethics by which we conduct our affairs are somehow inimical to the public interest? Why should the right reverend Prelate be prejudiced in ownership of a television channel? If there was a public interest that gave any credence to this provision, then many of us would be sympathetic to it. Is religion, as practised in modern-day Britain, whether Muslim, Christian or anything else, dangerous to the public peace or subversive of morality? Are we at risk of being drowned in the clash and clamour of religious fervour? The right reverend Prelate might wish that it were so. It is religious apathy that we are in danger of drowning in.
I suggest that we use common sense in considering this amendment. The Government should take the same constructive view that they did of the amendment in the name of the right reverend Prelate, the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote and myself earlier in the debate. We sought a higher profile for religions, spirituality and faith, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, in Section 260 of the Bill which is the public service remit.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I am corrected. I meant to represent the noble Baroness correctly. Our amendment refers to religion and spirituality. The noble Baroness referred to the possible addition of belief as the third limb. We are wholly sympathetic to that. I hope that the Government will be as sympathetic to this amendment as they were to that.
Lord Elton: Having been for three years the Minister responsible for the radio regulatory service at the Home Office, I am intrigued by the arguments about frequency and spectrum scarcity. I found the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, extremely persuasive. It surprised me when my noble friend Lord Crickhowell made it clear that the government case hitherto has rested entirely on the argument of spectrum scarcity. I rise to ask the Minister to explain the extraordinary juxtaposition in those circumstances of subsection (1)(b) which provides freedom of application to advertising agencies. According to the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, they do not want it. We are now considering paragraphs which exclude the small number of religious bodies who do want it. This seems to me totally crazy.
Lord McNally: It falls to me to indicate to the House how these Benches would vote if these amendments were put to the test. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said that old Liberals would be spinning in their graves at some of the things they heard. If Lloyd George and Asquith are looking down from that great National Liberal Club in the sky and heard my noble friends, Lord Avebury and Lord Phillips of Sudbury, they would probably think that nothing much has changed in the old party. I should indicate that we would support the amendments if they were pressed to a vote on Report. Lord Crickhowell pointed to the discussions we had in the Joint Committee. I draw the attention of the Committee to a second part of our recommendation where:
What has not been mentioned yet but which is one of the reasons for concern, is that so much of our broadcasting is influenced by the United States. That country has experienced so much disreputable and corrupt religious broadcasting that this should be a matter for concern. If noble Lords are convinced that Ofcom has all the powers to protect us from that kind of broadcasting, perhaps it is safe to let this go through. However, there is that underlying concern. Religious broadcasting has not always been as benign as has been suggested from some speeches of support. We do not want to creep into Britain the kind of Elmer Gantry broadcasting that has caused such disrepute in the United States. I hope that religious broadcastingI was just about to say something nice about the right reverend Prelate.
The Lord Bishop of Manchester: I am in eager anticipation. I share with the noble Lord, Lord McNally, concerns about certain types of broadcasting, not least Christian broadcasting. The truth is that it is possible to do that outside this country and for it to be beamed in now. If we were able to bring this within the constraints
Lord McNally: I take that point although there are protections, as was seen in pirate radio, to make it non-profitable. I do not wish to see religion and religious broadcasting placed in a ghetto. I was going to return the compliment when the right reverend Prelate supported me earlier in the Committee on political broadcasting. I hope that our public service broadcasters see it as part of their public service remit to continue to reflect what is still a country that considers itself overwhelmingly Christian. That belongs in public service broadcasting, as well as the reflection of other faiths and beliefs.
I also take the point that was graphically pointed out that the publisher of Asian Babes can apply for a licence but the Archbishop of Canterbury cannot. It is that kind of absurdity that jars against the defenders of individual rights. But I return to an underlying concern: the qualitative nature of some religious broadcasting. I draw the attention of the Committee to that other recommendation that Ofcom might be empowered to ask for clearer and further assurances of religious broadcasters, if this amendment were carried.
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