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Lord Renton: My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Viscount on the Woolsack can give us some guidance. I hope this will not be regarded by your Lordships as my speech but I think we need guidance. If Amendment No. 181 is accepted by the House, does that mean that Amendment No. 182 may still be called or cannot be called?
The Deputy Speaker: My Lords, perhaps I may apologise. It is my mistake. If Amendment No. 181 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 182. I thank noble Lords for calling my attention to that point.
Lord Chalfont: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for meeting at least one of the concerns which were expressed in the course of the Committee stage; that is, to make the mandatory "shall" or "has a duty to" take the place of the more permissive sense of "may" in the context of asking the BSC to draw up codes of behaviour--in other words, to make this an obligation on the BSC and not simply an option. I am grateful to the noble Lord for that.
But there was a second element to our concern. It was the anxiety about the somewhat woolly concept of guidelines. We hoped that the Government would agree to substitute for guidelines and guidance a clear requirement for a code, a code which would have to be observed on pain of punitive sanctions if it were broken. It may be worth reminding your Lordships that in the Scott Report we had a prime example of the dangers of giving people guidelines rather than clear and unambiguous rules or codes.
I am aware that the Government take the view that the present wording will achieve the required purpose. I am not convinced. I would have said this in speaking to my amendment, but, in the light of the advice that it cannot be called if Amendment No. 181 is accepted, I must say that we are still not requiring with enough clarity and lack of ambiguity the BSC to draft a code of practice and not just guidelines or guidance. I appreciate that the words in the Bill follow closely the words of the 1990 Act and therefore might be thought to be to some extent engraved in stone. But there is one important difference which may be more important than seems to be the case at first glance.
The 1990 Act requires the Independent Television Commission and the Radio Authority to draw up a code giving guidance as to the rules to be observed. That might be behind the Government's case that it will achieve what it is we want to achieve. But the present Bill does something different. It provides that the BSC may draw up guidance relating to principles to be observed. Principles are a very different thing from practice. I am not quite sure that the 1990 Act wording, if it were in place, would not meet our concern. But I think that the wording in the present Bill does not.
Although my amendment would have gone further than the wording of the 1990 Act I concede that the wording in the 1990 Act has resulted in the establishment in the long run of mandatory codes drawn up by the Independent Television Commission and the Radio Authority. If the Government would undertake to repeat that wording, that would go some way to meeting our concerns.
In the light of the fact that Amendment No. 181 has been called before my amendment--and to that extent the noble Lord the Minister has shot my fox, or at least severely wounded it--I would need to consider what it is that the new wording implies. It may be necessary to return to this subject at Third Reading unless the Minister can assure me that at least the wording of the 1990 Act will be repeated in this Bill so that we have some chance of a mandatory code being drawn up. Having said that, I am grateful to the noble Lord for meeting our requirements. But whatever code is drawn up should be obligatory on the BSC and not optional.
Lord Renton: My Lords, when my noble friend Lord Caldecote, who cannot be with us tonight, moved the amendments which now stand in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont--Amendment No. 182 and others grouped with it--my noble friend Lord Inglewood replied in this way. Before I quote what he said perhaps I may say how greatly I admire his handling of the Bill and everything else he has ever done since he reached the Front Bench. He is such a close friend that I am very reluctant indeed to express disagreement with him. But I have to point out that on 15th February he said:
Therefore, it is somewhat regrettable for us that we have to consider the government amendment first and independently and that, if that is carried, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, cannot be moved. I hope that the noble Lord will come back to it at Third Reading, because it is a vital matter of principle. Although we are already at a late hour, I regard this as one of the most important matters raised in this long Bill.
Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. When I was Chief Whip of a minority government in another place, I was pressed very hard by one of my Whips to introduce a set of rules which could be applied in deciding whether someone should be granted a pair or leave of absence. I said, "You can't have this because you are trying to impose an absolutely rigid structure on a situation where there are a number of variables, including human variables. It is not possible to do this sort of thing". It may seem to be the counsel of perfection, but one is imposing a straitjacket which would stifle all enterprise and produce a worse result than what the Government are now suggesting.
Lord McNally: My Lords, at Committee stage I was reproved by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, for being illogical in my opposition to some of the ideas that he and the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, were putting forward. As noble Lords can imagine, for a Liberal Democrat to be called illogical is almost as big an insult as saying that to Mr. Spock in "Star Trek". So, I had a sleepless night until I was able to get to Hansard and check the things that I had said, though the result may be more of a tribute to the skills of Hansard than anything else.
What I was trying to say at various stages in Committee is still what I and my party believe at this stage of the Bill; namely, that the Government's approach to matters of regulation has been broadly correct. The Minister has said on a number of occasions that he wants a light rein on regulation. Although I understand his reasons for listening to the experience and wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and his colleagues, I still believe that he is right to resist the
As the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, has just said, this is not the way things work in the real world and it is not the way they will work if we want to get the best out of our broadcasters and broadcasting systems. It seems to me that we have given rights and responsibilities to the governors, the broadcasting authority and to the ITC, which, if they were allowed to operate in a rational way, would give all the protection that any reasonable society would want. What I hear from some of the proponents who urge the Minister further and further on these matters is counsel which would over-regulate. They would not just protect the citizen, but stifle the cultural, artistic and other aspects of broadcasting.
At Committee I felt at some stages like the boy on the burning deck pointing out that there was another point of view. But, to mix my metaphors, the Minister in his summing up, came like Blucher at Waterloo with what I thought was a very rational approach to these matters. I urge him and the Government to resist temptation to proceed more strongly in these matters. We should keep the light regulation and we shall get the best from our broadcasters.
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