Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Madam Speaker: I am grateful, Mr. Anderson. Thank you.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will recall that I was in the Chamber at 2.30 this afternoon. I was hoping to catch your eye to come in on the back of Question 1 in the name of the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice), who was not in his place. I am told that he was in his office throughout Transport questions. Is it not a grotesque discourtesy to the House that a Member should not be in the Chamber after he has tabled a question--

Madam Speaker: Order. It is not a matter for me whether Members are in the Chamber. I call their names if they are on the Order Paper, and that is the end of it.

13 Jul 1999 : Column 166

Broadcasting (Religious Programming)

3.32 pm

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): I beg to move,

I suppose that the first issue that must be addressed in such a debate is whether we are still a Christian society. Much has been made in recent years of the decline of religious faith and of attendance, and it is true that that has happened to some extent. However, if we stop people in the street, seven out of 10 will say that they consider themselves to be Christians. If we conduct a similar survey--this would be a national survey--we will find that only 22 per cent. of people say that they have no religious belief. About 4 per cent. will say that they have a religious belief apart from that of Christianity. I contend that we are a Christian society to that extent.

The Christianity of our society is embedded in our traditions, our history and, of course, our laws. We still have a law that requests and requires schools to have a daily act of religious worship. That Act may not be carried out in every instance in secondary schools, but our laws state that that is required. To that extent, we are a Christian society.

One would expect that to be reflected in our laws relating to broadcasting, but in fact religious broadcasters are put in a uniquely disadvantageous position. As more and more franchises become available, as more and more people are given the freedom to broadcast on cooking, travel or any other subject, and as the digital revolution progresses, one aspect of our society--religious broadcasting--is uniquely discriminated against and constrained.

The relevant statute that my Bill would amend is the Broadcasting Act 1990, which states in schedule 2 that no religious broadcaster may own a national radio licence or an ITV franchise, and, more importantly as the digital revolution unfolds, that no religious broadcaster may own a digital franchise. That places religious broadcasters in a uniquely disadvantaged position.

One can promote anything one likes. One can get a national radio licence to promote atheism, but one is prevented by law from promoting Christianity. The law is so draconian that, if a local vicar were asked to join the board of a television franchisee, that company would immediately lose its franchise. My Bill would repeal paragraph 2 of schedule 2 to the 1990 Act.

Under the law, United Christian Broadcasters, a small broadcaster in the constituency of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), can broadcast gospel music, which is hardly alarming and is unlikely to undermine society, only to people who have a special decoder on their television set, which receives only the music, with no picture.

The situation is absurd and anomalous. That view is shared by 170 hon. Members from all parties who have signed a motion tabled by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central to try to put matters right.

13 Jul 1999 : Column 167

There is only one Christian local radio station in London, Premier Radio. Why are there 50 religious radio stations in France, but only one in the United Kingdom? The reason is that the codes are so tight that, whereas politicians or anyone else can go on television or the radio to raise funds for charity, to make exclusive claims or to recruit, religious broadcasters are not allowed to do so. If a religious broadcaster manages to get round all the difficulties of the law, the codes are so tight that it is virtually impossible to produce an interesting programme.

What happens abroad? I have already described France. In no other country in the western world is religious broadcasting as tightly constrained as in this country. In America, there are 1,600 Christian radio stations. People say that we need stringent laws because of all the abuses that have occurred in America. However, in recent years, there have been only two cases of fraud by Christian broadcasters, who were rightly convicted of misleading the public. In any system, there will be a couple of bad apples. Why should all religious broadcasting--Christian, Jewish or Muslim--be banned, because of the fear that religious broadcasters, uniquely, will somehow bamboozle the public?

It could be argued that religious broadcasting is available on BBC 1 and other existing channels, but that is true only to a limited extent. For instance, people who are elderly or disabled or who live in remote part of the countryside may want a Sunday morning act of worship on television, but it is not available except on high days and holy days. It was not available even on Christmas day. The service is very limited. People must tune in to radio at 8.7 am; there is no televised morning service. Out of all the countless hours of game shows, chat shows, trivia, consumerism, violence and materialism, surely 40 minutes on Sundays for morning worship is not too much to ask of the BBC. It simply does not provide that.

Those people say, "We simply cannot rely on the existing channels. Give us the right to broadcast on our own." The 22 per cent. of people who have no religious faith will not be forced to listen to United Christian Broadcasters or watch Christian television, but surely those people have rights, as does anybody else, and they should be allowed to exercise them. I believe that we are still a Christian society. Many people are denied any kind of effective religious broadcasting and they look to the House for a simple change of the law to allow them to have the same rights as everybody else.

3.40 pm

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): The existing law is anomalous, but we must address the question whether that anomaly gives rise to a particular benefit. There are Members present who would argue from different ends of the spectrum that there is a benefit--because Britain is either a secular or a multi-faith society--and that religious broadcasting is inappropriate. It is right, therefore, that those Members should express that view by voting to deny my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) leave to bring in his Bill.

13 Jul 1999 : Column 168

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 23 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):--

The House divided: Ayes 138, Noes 9.

Division No. 233
[3.41 pm


Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James
Atkins, Charlotte
Baldry, Tony
Beggs, Roy
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)
Body, Sir Richard
Boswell, Tim
Brake, Tom
Breed, Colin
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Burstow, Paul
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies
(NE Fife)
Casale, Roger
Cawsey, Ian
Chapman, Sir Sydney
(Chipping Barnet)
Chope, Christopher
Clappison, James
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Collins, Tim
Colvin, Michael
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Cotter, Brian
Cran, James
Crausby, David
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Dalyell, Tam
Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Day, Stephen
Donaldson, Jeffrey
Donohoe, Brian H
Evans, Nigel
Faber, David
Field, Rt Hon Frank
Fisher, Mark
Flight, Howard
Flynn, Paul
Forsythe, Clifford
Foster, Don (Bath)
Fraser, Christopher
George, Andrew (St Ives)
Gibson, Dr Ian
Gill, Christopher
Gorrie, Donald
Grieve, Dominic
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Hammond, Philip
Harris, Dr Evan
Harvey, Nick
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Home Robertson, John
Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Hume, John
Hunter, Andrew
Jenkin, Bernard
Johnson Smith,
Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Kemp, Fraser
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Laxton, Bob
Leigh, Edward
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Lidington, David
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Llwyd, Elfyn
McCabe, Steve
McCafferty, Ms Chris
McCartney, Robert (N Down)
McGrady, Eddie
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Mackinlay, Andrew
Maclean, Rt Hon David
McLoughlin, Patrick
McNamara, Kevin
McNulty, Tony
Madel, Sir David
Malins, Humfrey
Mallon, Seamus
Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway)
Oaten, Mark
Öpik, Lembit
Organ, Mrs Diana
Osborne, Ms Sandra
Paisley, Rev Ian
Plaskitt, James
Rapson, Syd
Robathan, Andrew
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Rowlands, Ted
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
St Aubyn, Nick
Salter, Martin
Sanders, Adrian
Sarwar, Mohammad
Sayeed, Jonathan
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Singh, Marsha
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Streeter, Gary
Syms, Robert
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Taylor, Sir Teddy
Thompson, William
Townend, John
Trimble, Rt Hon David
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Tyler, Paul
Tyrie, Andrew
Waterson, Nigel
Webb, Steve
Whitney, Sir Raymond
Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Wilkinson, John
Willetts, David
Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Willis, Phil
Wilshire, David
Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. James Gray and
Mr. John Bercow.


Ashton, Joe
Barnes, Harry
Bell, Martin (Tatton)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Harris, Dr Evan
Illsley, Eric
Levitt, Tom
Maxton, John
Whitehead, Dr Alan

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Desmond Swayne and
Mr. Tim Loughton.

Question accordingly agreed to.

13 Jul 1999 : Column 169

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Edward Leigh, Mr. Mark Fisher, Mr. Donald Anderson, Mr. Frank Cook, Mr. Steve Webb, Mr. Colin Breed, Mr. Jeffrey Donaldson, Rev. Martin Smyth, Mr. Gary Streeter, Mr. Laurence Robertson, Mr. Gerald Howarth and Mr. Christopher Chope.

Next Section

IndexHome Page