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Viscount Astor: My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister's reply. He has given me the assurance that Ofcom will have a role in the approval process and will be consulted. I am always attempting to move the BBC gently further away from the Secretary of State, because at the end of the day it will be in a safer place. Perhaps the relationship between the Government and the BBC in recent days has shown that more clearly.

We now have the rather bizarre prospect of the BBC possibly using licence fee money to take the Government to court, who will be using taxpayers' money to defend the action: a somewhat circular process that will benefit only lawyers. But I am grateful for the Minister's assurance. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 110 to 112 not moved.]

Lord Stoddart of Swindon moved Amendment No. 112A:

(1) All staff responsible for advising the Chairman and Governors of the BBC on their duty to ensure that political, news and news-related programmes are impartial, wide-ranging and fair shall be employed by trustees independent of the Governors.
(2) The trustees in subsection (1) shall be appointed by the Secretary of State."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is with some diffidence that I move this amendment tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. He has asked me to apologise to the House for his absence. He had hoped to move the amendment last Thursday,

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but today he has an important business engagement involving his company and has asked me to move the amendment in his absence.

The justification for my moving the amendment is that, together with the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, and the noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, I am a co-founder of the Global Britain research unit, which has commissioned deep and extensive research into the BBC's coverage of the United Kingdom's relationship with the European Union. The amendment would provide that all staff advising the chairman and governors on their duty of impartiality are employed by independent trustees appointed by the Secretary of State rather than the BBC operational staff who cannot be absolutely impartial since they have an interest.

The results of this research are published on Global Britain's website, The highlights have been revealed by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, in a debate in your Lordships' House on 11th March 2002, during the Second Reading of this Bill on 25th March this year, and in Committee on 20th May. So your Lordships will be glad to know that I do not need to repeat any of the detailed findings of the analysis now, which run into hundreds of pages, suffice to say that the BBC stands accused of consistent Europhile bias over several years.

Perhaps our most important complaint against the BBC over the handling of these reports is that the chairman always appears to give them to management for adjudication and not to the governors, who are responsible for ensuring that the corporation fulfils its fundamental duties to "educate, inform and entertain", and that its political coverage should be "impartial, wide-ranging and fair". The BBC has also refused our offer of independent arbitration.

Our contention is, therefore, that for whatever reason, the governors are not doing their job. Indeed, it is interesting to note that in the present drama between the Government and the BBC over its coverage of the Iraq war, the governors have yet to appear on stage. They have said nothing—we have heard nothing from them. Yet they alone are vested, under the Broadcasting Act, with the supreme responsibility to ensure that the BBC does not behave as No. 10 believes it did. In their defence, it may be that the Government's terms of reference are impossible—they are judge and jury in their own court.

The amendment is designed to alleviate that dilemma by creating new BBC trustees, perhaps three in number, who would in effect become the employers of all those in the BBC whose duty it is to advise the governors on whether the corporation has fulfilled its public service remit. This might solve the present difficulty, which is that those employees, in, for instance, the Governors' Programme Complaints Committee and the Governance and Accountability department, are most unlikely to advise the governors that Mr Dyke and the BBC's management, who control their careers, have got it wrong. Can we imagine their predicament if Mr Alastair Campbell complains to the programme complaints committee?

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Of course one would hope that in such a high-profile case the governors would get personally involved, but there is necessarily a large volume of complaints in the BBC where their predicament is less obvious but, cumulatively, perhaps just as great or even greater.

The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, moved an amendment in Committee designed to alleviate the problem, in which he suggested that a committee of the governors should have been formed to specialise in this public service remit and report annually to Parliament. Critics of the amendment felt that this was bringing the Government too much into the affairs of the corporation. This amendment would not have that effect.

This is still a probing amendment, and it will be most interesting to hear your Lordships' views. At the very least, I should have thought that the governors should be encouraged to form a sub-committee to concentrate on their public service remit even if reporting to Parliament or separate trustees are not thought to be appropriate.

If I may conclude on a more personal note, I have supported the BBC's licence fee in your Lordships' House as being a very good bargain. I support the BBC and hope it can survive by providing truly independent and wide-ranging political coverage. I opposed the war in Iraq, so I cannot be accused of wanting to get at the BBC in any way at all. I am just, as usual, trying to help the House and Ministers and, indeed, to help the BBC itself to become more respectable. I beg to move.

3.45 p.m.

Lord McNally: My Lords, I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, needs to apologise for the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson. I can think of no more perfect substitute for the noble Lord.

I intervene for two reasons—the remark of the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, about whether the recent events concerning Mr Alastair Campbell are a sign of things to come, and the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. It is a bit of a warning cloud that we must be quite sure that the independence and integrity of the BBC as a news organisation is protected and retained. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, to the extent that I am a little perplexed at the silence of the governors during the recent furore. There is a need for a clear statement on two sides. I am intrigued about whether the spat between Mr Campbell and the BBC is a personal vendetta or a statement of government policy. There needs to be clarification.

I think the governors should tell Mr Campbell and the Government, in no uncertain terms, to get their tanks off the BBC lawn. I do not think it is any accident that the personal standing of the Prime Minister has plummeted during a time when there has been a mudfight between the Government's spokesman and the BBC. The reason is very simple: the British public inherently understand that when politicians in government try to intimidate the BBC, the public interest is being threatened, along with the independence of the most trusted news organisation in

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the world. It is interesting that 93 per cent of the UK population used BBC television, radio, text or online services during the first two weeks of the war in Iraq, and that there were over 140 million hits on BBC News online in the first week, after which there were 3 million a day.

I have said before that we have a unique national asset in the BBC. The current structure, with the governors providing a cordon sanitaire between the BBC practitioners and the politicians, has stood the test of time. I am glad this is only a probing amendment, but if ever it came to the vote, I hope that the Government would resist it.

Baroness Cohen of Pimlico: My Lords, a nervous glance around the Chamber suggests that I am the only serving or former BBC governor present. I feel, therefore, that I should speak against the amendment and remind noble Lords of the existence of something called the Governors' Programme Complaints Committee. I was a member of the first one of these committees; anybody has the right to appeal to it, wherever their appeal first comes in. They will be informed that they have the right to go to the governors.

There were four of us then. We saw everything and read all the papers if the appeal came to us. It is not that governors do not see complaints about the news or fairness—they see them all right.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, for not rehearsing the long-standing complaint that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, has against the BBC about its attitude to Europe. We have had it not only in a debate but at two stages of the proceedings of the Bill. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, will convey the message that some of us think we have had enough of it.

Nor shall I follow the noble Lord, Lord McNally, who seems to want me to use the amendment as an opportunity to clarify the dispute between Alastair Campbell and the BBC. I shall certainly not do that. It is a matter for the governors of the BBC, Mr Campbell and his friends, which does not arise out of the wording of the amendment.

The amendment would require advisers to the chairman and governors of the BBC to be employed by independent trustees appointed by the Secretary of State, which is an interesting thought in itself—bringing the Secretary of State into the issue. I certainly agree, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cohen, has confirmed it, that the governors need access to independent and informed advice on which to make decisions. I am not sure whether it is well known that the governors already have access to independent advice through the governance and accountability department.

The BBC announced last year a number of significant reforms to its internal governance arrangements, which were to establish a clear delineation of the functions of the governors and the

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executive committee to enhance the role of the governors in monitoring performance and regulatory compliance, to provide the governors with independent advice and support on compliance, and to introduce objective setting and accountability through a new governance and accountability department.

The amendment would provide unnecessary and inappropriately intrusive government interference in the way in which the governors operate. It is clear that the governors have the power to ensure that they have suitable advice that is independent of the BBC executive. Again, the noble Baroness, Lady Cohen, confirmed that. If they become unhappy with the existing arrangements for obtaining independent advice they can change them. The governors themselves are independent and ought to be left to get on with their job, which includes ensuring that they have appropriate advice.

I stress that the Government have full confidence in the governors' ability, and it is offensive to suggest that they are incapable of doing so. The suggested role for trustees appointed by the Secretary of State would mean needless additional bureaucracy that could impede the governors' effectiveness. The governors who actually do the job of regulating the BBC are clearly the best people to decide how and by whom they should be advised in order to maximise their own effectiveness. Giving that role to trustees over whose decision the Government would have no control would undermine that. As the noble Lord, Lord McNally, asks, we resist the amendment.

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