Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, the Labour government.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Thank you, my Lords. I rely on a trade unionist to correct me on these matters.

Amendment No. 131, the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, also relates to programming for children and young people. It would specify that a significant proportion of such programming should be intended for audiences in the United Kingdom. In Committee we were of the view that the amendment was not necessary, and we are still of that view. The obligations for broadcasters to provide programmes for children and young people which are both high quality and original will in themselves be sufficient to ensure that such programmes appeal to the tastes and interests of the relevant audiences within the UK.

We acknowledge the unique importance of programmes for children and young people. That is why we tabled Amendment No. 130, which requires broadcasters to provide a suitable quantity and range of high quality and original children's programmes. In those circumstances, we believe that there is no case for Amendment No. 131. I hope that the noble Baroness agrees that it has been overtaken by the government amendment.

Amendment No. 133E is interesting. I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, explained it. The answer was given by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey. Clearly, not all broadcasters will be financially healthy and there may be circumstances in which, if they are on the point of going bust, one relaxes the rules for a short while until they can recover afterwards. That is rather like the difficulty that the Strategic Rail Authority has with certain train operating companies. It may be desirable

1 Jul 2003 : Column 792

to close them down, as happened recently, or to bail them out. One cannot lay down cases in advance. In the Bill we have allowed the option for Ofcom to temper the wind to the shorn lamb under certain circumstances. However, the circumstances will be determined by Ofcom. I am sure that Ofcom will not wish to see that as a general let-out from the obligations on broadcasters.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, does the Minister believe that lawyers and some television companies will see this as a marvellous weapon with which to bash Ofcom if it tries to exercise any of its disciplinary powers? That is my fear.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not see how they can when it is specifically stated that Ofcom is of the opinion; it is its judgment that is provided for in the Bill. Lawyers would have to prove that it was not of the opinion, which I believe would be rather difficult.

On the noble Lord's point about waiting for a five-year review before taking action, I can assure him on that. Where a report has been made under Clause 260, that will help Ofcom to formulate its views on enforcement under Clause 266. However, there is nothing to require such a report before action is taken. In other words, the enforcement procedure laid down in Clause 266 relating to the obligations under Clause 260 is pretty fierce. I hope that I have responded to the non-government amendments.

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, I thank all the distinguished contributors who commented on Amendment No. 124A. The noble Lords, Lord Holme of Cheltenham and Lord Bragg, the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh of Hudnall, Lady Whitaker and Lady Buscombe, and the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, were all in support. I thank the Minister for his ready agreement to the fact that there could be some issues to tease out at a meeting to see whether we can make progress.

I cannot resist the temptation to respond very quickly to the intriguing point made by the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham. He asked what the issues were in, for example, Brideshead Revisited. I was trying to work that out. What are the issues in Hamlet? Well, existentialism, obviously. What are the issues in Waiting for Godot? I believe that the play begins with the line, "Nothing to be done". Is not the answer to what the issues are that we do not know what they are, and that that is the nature of the drama? I do not know whether the noble Lord asked a rhetorical question and whether I am doing OK in trying to respond, or whether another sort of question was involved. In that spirit of pedantry, I believe that there may be a question about how we address this conundrum of words.

My noble friend Lord Bragg put his finger on another important question. We should avoid going into a great litany—we did that earlier in the Bill—and stating that broadcasting must cover everything in Roget's Thesaurus. We want somehow to give a very

1 Jul 2003 : Column 793

strong message, which Ofcom somehow cannot ignore. As the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, said, that is the point.

In conclusion, I welcome the Minister's response to Amendment No. 130 and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham moved Amendment No. 125:


    Page 231, line 20, after "facilitating" insert "civic understanding and"

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in Committee I moved an amendment with a similar intention to that in this amendment and Amendment No. 126. The intention was and is that whatever else public service broadcasting is or is not taken to mean, it includes beyond peradventure proper coverage of Parliament. On that occasion, despite support from every quarter of the Chamber, and with no one dissenting—I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, for confirming that she then supported and still supports the spirit of the amendments—I regret to say that I received a rather dusty answer from the then Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. To some extent, that was probably my fault for having put the amendment in the wrong place. I am sorry about that but I have now remedied the matter and the amendments are now in the right place.

It is essential to a healthy democracy that citizens understand their institutions. Repeated opinion polls in this country, on which the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is deeply expert, show that they do not understand their public institutions. Despite good work by many individual editors and reporters at the BBC and other public service broadcasters, there is a deep deficit in understanding of Parliament in particular. That is no doubt partly our own fault and we should see what we can do to make ourselves more understandable. However, it is also due in no small measure to a culture of entertainment and sensationalism in relation to public life—tabloid values, if you will—which pervades too much of news and current affairs, which are referred to in these provisions. There is what sometimes seems to be a fairground mentality which takes our shared democratic decision-making in Parliament and reflects it through distorting mirrors to play to that showbiz culture. I am afraid that that tone is often set from the top of the broadcasting organisations.

I am well aware of the need not to overload Ofcom but my aim in this regard is much humbler. I seek a definitive recognition in the Bill that Her Majesty's Government believe that the proper reporting of Parliament and other elected bodies is part of the news and current affairs coverage referred to in Clause 261(3)(c). It is important for our civic understanding and democratic future that that should be so. I beg to move.

1 Jul 2003 : Column 794

7 p.m.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I should like to express my warm agreement with what the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, said. This is not a disguised plea for kinder or fairer treatment of individual politicians. They, for better or worse, will remain fair game, whatever we say. It is a plea on behalf of the manmade institution of Parliament. If people are not told about it, have no information about it or only minimal information, accompanied by generous doses of derision, Parliament will not survive. Unhappily for the media, if they are to remain free, the only certainty they have is that there is a free Parliament in existence.

I would be in favour of keeping this Bill within manageable proportions, even though it started fairly gross. However, the noble Lord, Lord Holme, was absolutely right in requiring some acknowledgement by the Government that it is important that the media should understand and recognise that, without fair ventilation, the institutions which are important to civilised life will have little chance of survival.

There is no need for me to prolong these remarks, but I share the hope of the noble Lord, Lord Holme, that the same representations, which received a rather abrupt dismissal by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, at an earlier stage, will be treated more kindly, more understandingly, more generously and more wisely by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, who is more than capable of doing so.

Lord Fowler: My Lords, I should like to support what the noble Lords, Lord Holme of Cheltenham and Lord Peyton of Yeovil, have said. What the noble Lord, Lord Holme, said—that citizens should understand their institutions—goes to the heart of this amendment.

What has not been mentioned in quite such detail, however, is that there is absolutely no question but that the reporting of Parliament has steadily, year by year, gone down the scale of media priorities. When I joined The Times in the 1960s, we had a trained staff of seven or eight trained shorthand writers, all of whom could do incredible shorthand speeds of over 200 words per minute. We had two pages devoted to Parliament and were reporting Parliament absolutely straight—reporting what Members of Parliament or noble Lords had actually said. The same kinds of standards were also applied by the broadcasting organisations. Issues were reported fully and the reporting of the proceedings of Parliament was heard in programmes at peak times or in adjoining programmes to which people would listen.

We have therefore come a long way down the scale over the past years. The sketch writers now seem to reign supreme. If there is a Budget Statement or a debate on fox-hunting or something of that kind, then there is straight reporting. Often, however, it is to try to get some amusement out of the proceedings of Parliament. Straight reporting of what is taking place in Parliament is a very low priority, and that is a very great pity.

1 Jul 2003 : Column 795

This is an amendment to a clause on public service broadcasting. The clause itself requires a comprehensive and authoritative coverage of news and current affairs. I think that is right. One of the great things about organisations like the BBC is that that can be provided. What these amendments also require, however, is that the coverage and the reporting of Parliament and other legislatures should be on the face of the Bill. That would be a very sensible step forward and I therefore totally support what the noble Lord, Lord Holme, has said.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page