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The composition of your Lordships' House may once more be on the political agenda, but what is not and never has been at issue is the breadth and range of view that it can bring to bear on a matter of significant public consequence. The debate this evening is an excellent example of how this House brings expertise to a national debate: not merely have we heard from ex-governors of the BBC, members of the ITC and Radio Authority and other experts in the field of broadcasting, we have also had most useful comments and contributions from those whose experience and high achievement have been in different areas, none of which can escape the influence of the BBC, and from others who bring a more private perspective which is normally lost for ever once one steps out upon the hustings.
There has been disagreement and differences of view and emphasis. That is the basis of democracy. But there is agreement that the BBC is important and that it matters to everyone that we get its future structure right.
The present Charter and Agreement were debated in Parliament some 15 years ago. Since then cable and satellite television have become much more widely available. Channel 4 has come on air and flourished. Channel 5 is due to start in 1997. We have a new national BBC station in Radio 5, three new independent national radio stations and over 150 new independent local radio services. These changes are dramatic and revolutionary enough; but the pace of change is set to increase still more over the next decade with the advent of digital technology. We shall debate the issues arising from this in the Broadcasting Bill in the next few days and weeks.
Through all these changes--indeed since its inception--the BBC has been a fixed point of reference at the heart of broadcasting both in this country and around the globe. The BBC is one of the most highly regarded broadcasters in the world. It is one of the glories of contemporary Britain. Its purpose and indeed its achievement have been to aspire to and to succeed in attaining the highest standards of excellence, and I very much hope that your Lordships, and in particular my noble friend Lord Caldecote, will all agree that the new arrangements in the Charter are the right ones for the chairman and the governors to take the corporation forward, carrying its high aspirations and achievements onwards into the rapidly changing world of the next millennium.
Lord Elton: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, will he take this opportunity to tell your Lordships what would be his reaction if the other place were to concur with your Lordships in their interpretation of the document and the suggested changes which might be made?
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I believe that we are jumping the gun to the extent that the view of your Lordships' House is far from clear as regards the detail of some of the nuances that we are debating. If this House and the other place clearly indicated that what was being proposed was unacceptable, we would have to consider very seriously what steps to take next. I believe that I made that point clear in my winding-up speech and for that matter in my opening speech some hours ago.
Viscount Caldecote: My Lords, I too am most grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this long debate, in particular to the many who supported the amendment in various ways. By way of clarification, perhaps I may comment briefly on three speeches. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, that I had no intention of suggesting mistrust as regards all programme makers in the BBC. I meant only to criticise a few programme makers who bring disrepute on the BBC by lowering its standards.
Secondly, naturally the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, as a former vice-chairman of the BBC, believes that there is nothing much wrong with the BBC either in its standards or organisation. If there is, he clearly believes that the new Charter and Agreement will put all things right in the best of all possible worlds. Fortunately, my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth took a very different view and was a good antidote to the complacency of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett.
We all agree that the BBC is a jewel in the crown of our national life. But the jewel has lost some of its sparkle. Some believe that it needs only a little polishing through the new Charter and Agreement. Others, myself included, believe that more extensive repairs are needed lest we risk losing the sparkling jewel altogether.
In this wide-ranging and well-informed debate my noble friend Lord Inglewood dealt with many of the criticisms that were raised. I believe that he has gone as far as we can reasonably expect in the assurances that he has given, in particular as we in this House have had the first bite of the cherry. No doubt important issues will be raised in debate in another place and in our forthcoming debate on the Broadcasting Bill.
In all the circumstances, we should have confidence that my noble friend and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will do their utmost to implement all the changes to the draft Charter and Agreement which have been supported widely today and of which we hope at least some will be supported in another place.
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