Column 426efforts in the peace process, but on the economic and social issues we are as divided from them in Northern Ireland as elsewhere. The debate, which unfortunately has been short, has highlighted several such issues. Indeed, when I was listening to the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) talking about objectionable neighbours, drug addicts, giro drops and travellers, I thought that he could have been any Member of Parliament from the midlands conurbation, all of whom are facing similar problems to an equal or even a greater degree.
All of us, especially in urban areas, face such problems, which are common throughout western society. We need to try to achieve practical and realistic solutions to them all and to ensure that, especially in cases such as those that the hon. Gentleman described, the broad majority of the population are protected from an offensive and objectionable minority.
The hon. Member for Antrim, South would be well served if he considered the action taken by several midlands councils on precisely the sort of common nuisances that he described--action which has often been tough and effective. He may have read reports in the papers recently about Coventry council taking to court some individuals who were causing havoc on council estates and getting them barred from those estates.
The hon. Gentleman may also have read that, when individuals who have been using their premises for drug dealing are convicted, that is treated as a breach of their tenancy agreement and eviction proceedings are taken against them. That is greatly welcomed by the vast majority of residents on an estate, and especially by parents who are concerned that their children may be dragged into a life of drug use, which we know leads quickly to a life of crime. Lessons learned in other areas could well be applied throughout the country to reduce such problems and keep them in hand before they move way out of control.
The hon. Gentleman also expressed surprise that people over 75 are being referred to geriatric hospitals rather than ordinary hospitals. That causes concern and fear in my constituency, too. I have had correspondence from pensioners who are approaching the age of 75 but who are in full possession of their mental and physical faculties and who are terrified at the prospect that, if they have an accident or fall prey to an illness, they may be shunted off to a geriatric hospital and, as they would see it, written off, as people who have finished their useful life. That fills them with fear and trepidation, and the hon. Gentleman was right to raise the matter. Health boards and health authorities should be alert to the problem and should take account of the fears and wishes of the people concerned.
The hon. Gentleman also spoke about water privatisation, and I hope that the Minister took note of the general opposition to that idea. Indeed, opposition to it is all that we hear, not only from politicians representing constituencies in Northern Ireland but from the community in Northern Ireland and, as I said earlier, from the people who represent the work force in the water industry. The Government have said that they will not introduce water privatisation this side of a general election, but the people of Northern Ireland fear that creeping privatisation is taking place. They have seen the Capita report on attempts to hive off a series of functions
Column 427of the water industry, and they are also concerned that the change in the charging regime for water will be a prelude to privatisation. A common issue across the country--it is not just a matter related to Stansted airport--is the question of air traffic control. The Select Committee on Transport has stated that the privatisation of air traffic control would not be in the interests of air travellers, or in the interests of Britain's reputation as a safe and secure air traffic centre. The Minister ought to take note of those concerns within Northern Ireland and elsewhere.
I shall move to some of the issues raised by hon. Members. I am sorry to have concentrated on the remarks of the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe), but he raised a considerable number of relevant and widely applicable issues.
The hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) raised the issues of Larne harbour and the road transport system. I said in my opening remarks that the need for quick and effective communications to attract industry into Northern Ireland is paramount. The road system is important because many companies use containers to move goods to ports and then into the European transport system. That is a vital part of their economic success. The hon. Member for Antrim, East rightly identified the problems facing his constituency in respect of the variability of European Community grants, and all Members will have faced such difficulties.
The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) drew attention to a problem that is forgotten by many of us who represent substantially urban constituencies. I have one small farm with about two fields in the whole of my constituency. The hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out that unemployment and poverty--even if they are widely spread in a rural area--still cause great feelings of hopelessness. We should not forget the poverty of people in rural and semi-rural areas. The hon. Gentleman also identified problems with roads in his constituency. The effect of the peace dividend on those areas which have managed to avoid violence was a strong point very well made by the hon. Gentleman, and it should give us all pause for thought. Finally, the hon. Gentleman talked about the problems in his constituency associated with the decommissioning of the fishing fleets, and that point was also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy). Fishing communities around the country are concerned about the loss of employment which is a result of the unsatisfactory deal arrived at with regard to the Irish box. That obviously has implications for employment and, frankly, additional funds will not solve the problem. At the very least, however, an increase in the money available to assist the process of decommissioning is not only desirable but extremely necessary. A further aspect of European Community policy was raised by the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea), who talked about the vagaries of the common agricultural policy and how it affects livestock producers who are faced with one regime when selling their produce and another regime when buying their raw materials. We need to ensure that the Government are representing the interests of farmers in all parts of the United Kingdom as
Column 428effectively as some other European Governments represent their farmers. I am sure that he found much common ground in the Chamber with his comments on the common agricultural policy.
The hon. Member for Rutherglen mentioned co-operative ventures in farming-- that is not surprising, given his strong links with the co-operative movement and his history--and the inadequate amounts of money available for that, especially as the agricultural community moves into difficult times.
We are also considering the significant importance of agriculture to the Northern Ireland economy, in terms not only of primary production but of manufacturing and production based on agriculture. That is extremely important throughout the community, especially when we take in the argument of the hon. Member for South Down about the need to maintain employment and activity in rural areas. I am sure that the Minister took on board those arguments in relation to the need for assistance to the co-operative sector of agriculture. The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) referred to the problem of children under five who cannot get mobility allowance. That is a nationwide problem, which has been raised by a number of Members of Parliament, and we have found the responses to be fairly unsatisfactory, especially when one takes into account the difficulties facing parents if their children are not only unable to walk but genuinely immobile and also becoming larger and heavier--for example, when trying to get them from the clinic to the car. The authorities should be more flexible and understanding. I hope that the Minister has taken those arguments on board.
The hon. Member for Belfast, South rightly stressed the fact that, while applications for grants have to be properly checked and assessed, unnecessary delay can cause considerable hardship. I am sure that we have all had people in our surgeries and advice bureaux who have got themselves into fearful difficulties as a result of gaps in income. While expenditure continues, they get into debt and incur the charges of those who are trying to recover the debt, whether it be the local council, the electricity board or some other organisation. They get into a spiral of debt and difficulty. I hope that the Minister recognises that problem and will convey to the proper authorities the need to ensure proper speed when processing claims.
I shall conclude shortly so as to allow the Minister time to answer the many questions raised in the debate, which is a welcome return to discussing the main, normal issues which face people day in and day out-- the ordinary problems of getting by in life, earning a living, bringing up children and ensuring that they have a decent life with some hope for the future. The peace process has given some hope for the future. We need to ensure that people are able to fulfil those hopes and aspirations in their economic and social life. This debate will be part of a long series as we press the Government to ensure that the people of Northern Ireland have the future and the prosperity that they deserve.
Sir John Wheeler: This has been a detailed debate on the "Northern Ireland Spring Supplementary Estimates 1994-95". It reminds me somewhat of autumn, in as much as I am obliged to deliver at the outset a rather tedious speech, in which I announce the spending estimates and
Column 429priorities for the coming period. That enables many hon. Members to raise very detailed matters, and I am placed in the position of responding to the autumn leaves falling--they are so many, varied and numerous--but, during the time allowed to me, I shall endeavour to reply to as many of them as I am able.
All the points made by hon. Members from Northern Ireland who contributed to the debate will be carefully considered by Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office and, where possible or appropriate, if I cannot refer to any of the issues that they raised this evening, they will receive a reply. Five hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies have been able to speak during the course of this debate: the hon. Members for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs); for South Down (Mr. McGrady); for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea); for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe); and for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth). I am particularly anxious to put their constituencies on record because they are all, in various ways, doughty champions of their constituents' interests. They have endeavoured to speak for others who could not participate in tonight's debate in so many of the important issues that concern the people of Northern Ireland. In his opening remarks, the hon. Member for Warley, West (Mr. Spellar) mentioned expenditure in Northern Ireland. May I tell him about the positive developments that have taken place and the substantial resources that are available? During 1994-95, the Government will make available no less than £7.5 billion to maintain the services at a high level and promote a range of developments and activities.
Those include--some of these points were touched on by hon. Members-- expenditure on education services this year, which will be £1,301 million, an increase of 4 per cent. over 1993-94; and expenditure on health and personal social services, which will be £1,433 million, an increase of 7.3 per cent. over 1993-94. Over the past 15 years, spending on education rose by 35 per cent. in real terms and on health and personal social services by 52 per cent. Those impressive achievements illustrate the impact of the Government's policies on matters that are important to everyone in Northern Ireland. In his opening remarks, the hon. Member for Warley, West, suggested that, were he in government, there would be substantial additional expenditure over and above that which I have just described to the House. What he did not say, however, is whether that additional expenditure would be found from increased taxation on the citizens of the United Kingdom as a whole, or whether other Government services and activities would be reduced. He owes an explanation to the public in due course about that.
The hon. Member for Warley, West said in his closing remarks that the Government had failed in their negotiations over the fishing issue. I strongly refute that. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food fought vigorously for British interests and produced the best deal for the UK fishermen. Had he not succeeded, fishermen would have been worse off and would not have had the arrangements in respect of the Irish box.
Rev. Martin Smyth: During the debate it was suggested that more funds should have been made available for decommissioning. Was not that the position taken by the Government of the Republic of Ireland,
Column 430giving fishermen in the Republic more money for decommissioning, which is why they were reasonably satisfied?
Sir John Wheeler: Yes, I take the hon. Gentleman's point. Northern Ireland fishermen have benefited from the decommissioning schemes, with the removal of 43 vessels under the 1993 and 1994 schemes. The additional £28 million earmarked for decommissioning over the next three years highlights the Government's commitment to giving assistance to rationalise the capacity of the UK fleet towards a level which fish stocks can sustain. I hope that the hon. Gentleman found that helpful.
Mr. McGrady: A matter requiring clarification has just arisen regarding the deal that was done at the Essen conference. As the Minister has now said, 43 boats are bound to be decommissioned, but 40 boats from the Spanish fleet will be permitted to enter the Irish box. Can the Minister explain whether that refers to 40 specific vessels or 40 vessels at any one time--in other words, the entire Spanish fleet by rotation?
Sir John Wheeler: The hon. Gentleman will understand that that goes somewhat outwith the Northern Ireland supplementary spring estimates and outside my jurisdiction as a Minister for Northern Ireland, but I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food considers the hon. Gentleman's question and gives him as much help as he can by way of explanation. I wish to respond to the brief intervention by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay), who is in his place, about Belfast international airport. The hon. Gentleman asked about the possible clawback of EC funds for Belfast international airport. On 16 August 1994, the Commission requested information about the terms and conditions relating to the sale of Belfast international airport and details of all the European regional development fund aid paid to the airport. That was to enable the Commission to consider whether clawback of ERDF aid would be appropriate. That information was sent to the Commission by the Government on 26 September 1994, but to date nothing has been heard from the Commission. I hope that the hon. Gentleman found that helpful.
The hon. Member for Warley, West was very selective in his references to surveys of the Northern Ireland economy. Almost without exception, those have been reported as showing growing confidence and success, and were a theme of the debate this afternoon. The Northern Ireland economy has grown faster than the national economy. Seasonally adjusted unemployment has decreased in 10 of the past 12 months. Put another way, in the year to September 1994, the number of employees in employment in Northern Ireland increased by 6,300, to reach 553,720. That represents an all-time high for employees in employment in Northern Ireland as a whole.
Sir John Wheeler: The hon. Gentleman may know the answer, but I would say that jobs in Northern Ireland are welcome, whether they are called full-time or part-time, and the Government are in the business of encouraging the economy of Northern Ireland to find more jobs. I shall now press on. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for
Column 431Warley, West may care to ignore the facts, but the fact is that the Government's policies are strengthening the Northern Ireland economy and targeting social need, and are making significant improvements for all sections of the Northern Ireland community.
The hon. Member for Warley, West mentioned several other matters. I can confirm that the routine metering of purely domestic water supplies is not under consideration. Expenditure on roads maintenance, which has been referred to by several hon. Members from Northern Ireland, will be £41 million in 1995-96--evidence of the priority that the Government give the roads programme.
I know, as a result of travelling throughout Northern Ireland and meeting councils and others, that everyone wants his specific road priority scheme to be dealt with this year, if not sooner. I understand the enthusiasm of the councils, the hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies and others to see the road system improved as often as possible.
The hon. Member for Warley, West also referred to assistance for the long- term unemployed. The Government recognise fully the problems faced by the long-term unemployed, who are unlikely to gain employment unless their skills are updated and their motivation is improved. The Government have a radical new approach, which aims to put a large percentage of the long-term unemployed back to work. We propose to introduce a pilot scheme which we shall call the community work programme. It aims to provide the long-term unemployed with opportunities to obtain useful work to allow them to rebuild their skills and regain their confidence. The pilot scheme will provide for at least 1,000 places in 1995-96 and, if it is successful, it will eventually provide up to 2,000 places. I am sure that hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies will be particularly glad to hear that.
Mr. Beggs: I assure the Minister that we all welcome the prospect of the creation of additional jobs. However, will he assure the House that areas beyond Belfast and Londonderry will benefit from those jobs?
Sir John Wheeler: A theme of tonight's debate has been the determination and enthusiasm of the five hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies in championing the causes of their constituents. I understand, and sympathise with, their aims. Of course, serious pockets of unemployment--often long-term unemployment--can be found all over Northern Ireland. They occur for different reasons. The Government's new scheme is intended to benefit, and to provide hope and opportunities to, people throughout Northern Ireland. I assure the hon. Gentleman that, when the scheme is applied, the responsible Minister will ensure that the hon. Gentleman's concerns and interests are taken into account.
One way of helping the unemployed is by sustaining and encouraging small businesses. The Government's programme of support for the small business community is provided mainly through the Local Enterprise Development Unit- -LEDU--which operates either directly or through an extensive network of some 40 local enterprise agencies. That organisation has an annual budget of more than £30 million. It seeks to assist small
Column 432manufacturing businesses through a wide range of schemes and initiatives which aim to improve competitiveness and to stimulate increased sales, particularly export sales. LEDU, in liaison with the local enterprise agency network, provides support to individuals who wish to become self-employed and start up new businesses. The hon. Member for Warley, West and others also referred to housing expenditure. The Government's public expenditure contribution to housing is some £224 million in 1994-95. When supplemented by rental income and capital receipts, gross resources for housing should amount to £564 million. Those substantial resources will enable the Housing Executive to spend £33 million on building new houses.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the difficulties experienced by some of those in the contracting industry. They will welcome that additional expenditure because it means an opportunity for jobs for their employees. In addition, £96 million will be spent on repairs and maintenance, which will offer further work opportunities to building contractors. Some £73 million will be spent the rehabilitation and improvement of the existing housing stock. Expenditure on grants to private house owners is likely to be some £33 million and gross expenditure by the housing associations will amount to £45 million. All that expenditure is designed not only to improve the housing stock, but to feed back into the opportunities for employment.
Contrary to the claim by the hon. Member for Warley, West, the Government have a clear energy policy, which was set out in the Department of the Environment document, "Energy for the nineties and beyond". It includes energy efficiency, the clean provision and use of energies, lower cost and the provision of consumer interests, diversion of energy supply and security of supply.
The hon. Member for Antrim, East raised a large number of points and I shall endeavour to deal with as many as I can. I fully appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern about the relocation of the Stena Sealink from Larne harbour to Belfast. It is, of course, solely a matter for the commercial judgment of Stena Sealink what services it operates and on what routes. The Government are not in any way involved in that process. No European Union assistance will be available for any move of Stena Sealink's conventional ferries from Larne to Belfast. I understand that Stena Sealink will announce next month that it is relocating its Stranraer service from Larne to Belfast.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to roads serving Larne port, particularly the Belfast to Larne road, in which I know that he has a great deal of interest. About one third of the Belfast to Larne road is of motorway or dual-carriageway standard. As he says, the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland plans to bring forward a scheme to dual the remaining single-carriageway section. The first stage is scheduled to start in 1997- 98. The remaining stages will be taken forward as funding permits and I know his desire to see that process speeded up will be well understood by my hon. Friend the Minister responsible for these matters.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to capital spending on schools. Capital provision for education and library boards in 1994-95 is some £47 million, of which almost
Column 433£15 million will be spent on major building works and some £17 million on minor capital works, school buses, site purchases and equipment. The remainder of the budget is for earmarked provision and includes £11 million for capital projects associated with education reform. I note the hon. Gentleman's point about thecapital moratorium, and will draw it to the attention of my hon. Friend who is responsible for these matters so that he may give it further consideration.
Reference was also made to nursery education. I recognise, and am an enthusiast for, the value of nursery education in the development of pre- school age children, particularly in areas of social need, so I noted the hon. Gentleman's point with much interest and support. The policy statement on early years provision for Northern Ireland, which was published jointly by the Departments of Education, of Health and of Social Services in September 1994, affirms the Government's long-term commitment to providing one full year's nursery education for all children, while focusing initially on areas of greatest need. It also provides a framework within which future services for young children will be developed.
The statement raises a number of issues which the Department wishes to take forward. Initial discussions with education and library boards and the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools have already taken place, and it is intended to have further discussions shortly and I shall respond to the hon. Member's other points on education by way of correspondence.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned electricity prices. I note his concern, but as I believe he knows, it is more expensive to produce and distribute electricity in Northern Ireland than in Great Britain because power stations are smaller, the reserve margin is higher and customers, on
Column 434average, are more dispersed. He also referred to the possible extension of the transitional relief fund scheme. That scheme was introduced to give industry time to adjust to the application of cost-reflected pricing following privatisation. It will have served that purpose by the time it ends, on 31 March 1996.
It being Ten o'clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker-- proceeded to put forthwith the Question necessary to dispose of proceedings on the motion, pursuant to Order [3 March].
Question agreed to.
That the draft Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1995, which was laid before this House on 14th February, be approved.
The Petition of Residents of Heywood
Declares that the plans for land at Gort Sandpit and Wilderness Quarry are premature to the UDP Inquiry to be held by the inspector in May 1995. They are contrary to the current Heywood Local Plan and the residents are concerned that all the strategic issues were not fully considered by the Local Planning Authority when they reached this decision.
Therefore the Petitioners request that the House of Commons urge the Secretary of State to call in the planning application for consideration at a Planning Inquiry.
And the Petitioners remain
Colin Thompson, 41 Vicarage Road, North Rochdale.
To lie upon the Table.
Column 435Television (Invasion of Privacy)
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Andrew Mitchell.]
Sir Michael Marshall (Arundel): My reason for raising the invasion of privacy by television programmes stems directly from the experience of my constituents, Mr. and Mrs. Desmond Squire. I am authorised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham) to say that it also stems from the experience of his constituents, Mr. and Mrs. David McAllister, and that of their son Duncan. My right hon. Friend is present; let me take this opportunity of expressing my gratitude for all he has done in pursuing the interests of both families, despite ministerial constraints. I believe that his presence tonight speaks for itself, as does the work that he has done in his constituency capacity.
I am also grateful for the interest of other hon. Members. The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady), who is also present, will know that in many senses the matter to which I refer results from the tragedy affecting the Province of Northern Ireland.
The complaints and remedies that I wish to advance in the short time available to me stem from the commissioning, production and screening of a film entitled "Beyond Reason" by Carlton (UK) Television Ltd. and Kensington Films and Television in prime time on 20 February 1995. The film related to the killing of my constituents' daughter--Penny McAllister, a young army officer's wife--by a woman soldier in Northern Ireland in 1991.
Let me say immediately that my concern--while inevitably concentrating on what I see as the invasion of the privacy of my constituents and those of my right hon. Friend--is not confined to that one film or to commercial television; similar concerns currently apply to the BBC. I shall point to other examples of objectionable television "faction", as it is described, and to documentaries in relation to which the relevant regulatory authorities have accepted complaints about invasion of privacy.
In assessing the extent of suffering that is caused to innocent victims of crime, particularly to families, I have been greatly assisted by a number of individual representations and, in particular, by the widespread evidence that was given to me by Victim Support. Its work shows many instances in which it has felt it right to question whether the retelling of sensational cases is in the public interest. Clearly, it feels that it is not. It sees cases where such retelling is deeply hurtful to the families and to friends of the parties involved, and where it delays the recovery from the ordeal from which many of them have already suffered.
At this stage, let me put the film "Beyond Reason" in the context of the 1994 report of the chairman of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission. He said:
"We continue to be concerned by crime reconstructions particularly when they are based on cases which have occurred in the recent past. We feel it is very important that in the making of such programmes consideration is given to the position of the relatives of the victim."
It is precisely that area--the position of the immediate families--that I wish to draw to the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister tonight. The detailed complaint that I have submitted on behalf of Mr. and Mrs. Squire, and that
Column 436which my right hon. Friend the Minister for Export Trade has submitted on behalf of Mr. Duncan McAllister, have gone directly to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, and we look to it to adjudicate.
I shall therefore endeavour tonight to avoid the detail of that particular complaint, and, indeed, much of the emotion that one feels about it, because I want to discuss some broad principles arising from such cases-- conscious that my hon. Friend cannot be held responsible for the actions of the programme makers, but conscious, too, of the concern that he and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage have expressed publicly on these issues. Above all, I want to take this opportunity to draw attention to the way in which the dice are loaded against families in such situations.
Let me first describe the situation that could apply to any family who becomes aware of a projected television programme, whether drama documentary or straight documentary, covering a crime reconstruction that involves a member of their family. If they object, what can they do?
There are, I believe, four relevant organisations with a regulatory role. First, there is the Independent Television Commission, which, under the Broadcasting Act 1990, operates general provisions which include the following terms:
"that nothing is included in its programmes which offends against good taste or decency or is likely to encourage or incite crime or lead to disorder or to be offensive to public feeling."
Secondly, in the case with which I am concerned in commercial television, there is the influence that is exercised by the ITV network, which effectively books programmes for prime time viewing. It is required by the Act to regulate in advance the content of programmes. It has confirmed to me, however, in the most straightforward way, that in practice that means reviewing a script, which is usually put to it some 18 months before transmission, and it has little or no say in what emerges in the final version. Thirdly, as regards complaints, there is the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, which can look at representations made either directly by those affected or by those acting with their authority in cases of unjust or unfair treatment and unwarranted invasion of privacy.
Finally, there is the Broadcasting Standards Council, which can look into complaints about excessive sex or violence and general matters of taste.
But the problem with all those organisations, so far as my constituents and others in their situation are concerned, is that they are all--they admit freely--powerless to exercise any real influence until the programme has been shown and, in many cases, the damage done. That was the position faced by the Squire and McAllister families, as well as my right hon. Friend the Minister and myself in acting on their behalf.
In seeking to prevent the broadcasting of a programme such as I have described, there seem to be only two remedies, one of which is to seek an injunction to prevent the programme from going ahead. My advice is that that would require a case to be made showing either libel or defamation. Quite apart from the cost implication and the fact that legal aid is not available in bringing actions of that kind, common sense says that it would be well nigh impossible to prove such a case without access to the script or to a preview of the film, both of which were denied to my constituents and the McAllisters.
Column 437There remains only the option of appealing to the film makers. The families affected by the making of "Beyond Reason" did so on many occasions. Their letters and the accounts of their meetings with the television executives concerned in the period from April 1994 to the eve of screening two and a half weeks ago, make heart-rending reading. They begged the film makers to cancel the project, and were fully supported by my right hon. Friend and by me.
What was the effect of all those representations? Obviously, the programme went ahead, and perhaps the best way for me to stand back from my feelings on the subject is to relate what some of those who were directly concerned in a professional capacity had to say. I turn to what can only be summarised as a barrage of criticism such as I have never seen before from those in the press who would be naturally inclined to support the argument for freedom of expression. The Guardian said that this was
"the latest dubious recreation of a real recent crime. There was no good reason to use real names or for us to repeat them." The Independent commented in an introductory disclaimer, adding:
"This is what passes for ethics in real life drama."
The Times stated:
"The real question is should this film have been made at all? I would say no, if only because of the objections of Penny McAllister's parents."
The Daily Telegraph said:
"We were in the ethically highly questionable world of `faction'".
The writer in The Daily Express said:
"Beyond Reason was heralded by its publicity as impressive, compelling and a real-life story of a tragic affair leading to a fatal attraction murder".
"Well how about these for a few meaty adjectives to beef up the credits: disgusting, cynical, repellent, obscene, nauseating, cruel, heartless and twisted. Oh I watched it all right with mounting anger at the pain it would have caused Penny McAllister's parents." Innocent victims of crimes, such as my constituents, were put through the whole process of aggravated suffering, with massive pre-television and press publicity, with the bringing back to life of their dead daughter, as well as the portrayal of themselves by look-alike actors. This offence is compounded by the re- creation of hairstyles, clothes and all the details that were required, whatever disclaimers are made, to give a calculated impression of total reality.
Again one asks, what can they and others in such situations do, and what remedies are open to them? As I have said, complaints have been submitted by my right hon. Friend and by me to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, the Independent Television Commission, the Independent Television network and the Broadcasting Standards Council. They have all been made aware of the terms of those complaints, but they are all severely hampered in any action that they can take.
I am not prejudging what may happen, but I am aware that the serious thought which went into the latest revision of the ITC programme code as recently as last month shows the concern within that organisation. Plainly, the revised code still allows the programme makers to proceed without taking a blind bit of notice of the families concerned.
Column 438On the positive side, I am aware from correspondence with the ITV network that its commissioning policy is moving away from crime reconstruction, and I understand that, in some instances, that has been supported by those who are responsible for making programmes applying a self-denying ordinance. There is also evidence of real concern by TV industry leaders such as Mr. Michael Grade, and we should open up this debate.
The Broadcasting Complaints Commission provides the immediate opportunity for complaints in this case. It has upheld a number of relevant complaints, including, for example, that made against Granada Television for the dramatic reconstruction of a murder case in Scotland which was broadcast in 1993. Significantly, when "Beyond Reason" was shown on 20 February, it was preceded by an announcement on the screen giving the terms of a commission finding on another programme, when it upheld a complaint of invasion of privacy against "World in Action" from the parents of a murdered child.
That points directly to the fundamental weakness and lack of sanctions that are open to regulatory authorities such as the Broadcasting Complaints Commission. All that happens after such criticisms have been upheld is that there is a requirement for the commission's announcement to be published in the "TV Times", and to be shown briefly on the television screen.
As a sanction, that can be seen only as the merest slap on the wrist. There is no obligation on the broadcaster to indicate whether the criticism has been accepted, or whether it will lead to a change in policy. Above all, there is no requirement to apologise to the aggrieved party.
Under those circumstances, what can Her Majesty's Government and the House do to right what is clearly the manifest weakness and injustice in our systems? First, my understanding is that the Broadcasting Act 1990 must be reviewed in 1997-98. Removal of the old independent broadcasting authorities' right to view programmes before transmission, and the reliance on self-regulation no longer seems appropriate.
I urge the Government, therefore, to consider providing the Independent Television Commission with the power--where it has good reason to suspect that an intended programme may be in breach of either the spirit or letter of the code--to call for a screening of that programme before transmission and, if necessary, to order its withdrawal. A similar power should be extended to the ITV network. Taken together, those proposals would provide the possible sanction and deterrent against sensationalism and the "ratings at all costs" approach, which underlies some of the problems that I have described. They would go a long way to ensuring that programmes were truly receptive to the views of families.
Secondly, I understand that Her Majesty's Government are considering the possible merger of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission with the Broadcasting Standards Council. I urge that that should take place in the near future. It is clear that problems exist for people who make complaints, because they are put from one organisation to the other. There is necessarily a close interrelationship between unfair and unjust treatment, invasions of privacy, and judgments of taste in relation to such matters as sex and violence.