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Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I understand the point that the noble Baroness makes. It is a perfectly fair one. She wants the lakes and ponds to continue to be monitored. I tried to explain that they would only be likely to be affected by pollution because of what comes down through the atmosphere. If one monitors what comes through the atmosphere and in the rain itself, that could provide a more accurate measure of pollution than what is found in water, which could also have come from other sources. However, it is a perfectly valid point, and I shall see that it is taken into account.

Employment Rights Bill [H.L.]

3.18 p.m.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern): My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to consolidate enactments relating to employment rights. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a first time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a first time.-- (The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Bill read a first time, and to be printed.

Industrial Tribunals Bill [H.L.]

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to consolidate enactments relating to industrial tribunals and the Employment Appeal Tribunal. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a first time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a first time.-- (The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Bill read a first time, and to be printed.

9 Jan 1996 : Column 12

Treaties (Parliamentary Approval) Bill [H.L.]

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to provide for parliamentary approval of treaties. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a first time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a first time.-- (Lord Lester of Herne Hill.)

On Question, Bill read a first time, and to be printed.

Humber Bridge (Debts) Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and to be printed.

Business of the House: Debates, 10th January

3.20 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

I wonder whether I can trespass on the good nature of the House, and use the opportunity to stretch the rules of order a little, in order to make a plea in regard to today's and tomorrow's business. This is, after all, the season of new year resolutions. I note--I have no doubt that a number of your Lordships have noted--that there are 35 names on the list of speakers in your Lordships' House this afternoon. I also note that on page 68 of the Companion it is set down that,

    "The House has resolved 'That speeches in this House should be shorter'. Long speeches engender tedium and tend to kill debate".

I would be the last to suggest that any speeches in your Lordships' House do either of those two things; and I am very pleased to note that your Lordships agree with me.

In wishing your Lordships the happiest and most prosperous of new years, I wonder whether we might be able to set a good example this afternoon and resolve, as one of our new year's resolutions, to obey the injunction in the Companion. If speeches were indeed limited to about 10 minutes, it would even so not be before quite a late hour that my noble friend Lord Inglewood were able to reply to the debate. However, as always, I am in your Lordships' hands and I must leave these matters ultimately to your Lordships' good judgment.

Moved, That the debate on the Motion in the name of the Earl Baldwin of Bewdley set down for tomorrow be limited to three-and-a-half hours and that the debate on the Motion in the name of the Lord Henderson of Brompton set down for the same day be limited to two-and-a-half hours.--(Viscount Cranborne.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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BBC Draft Charter and Agreement

3.21 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of National Heritage (Lord Inglewood) rose to move, That this House takes note of the drafts of the BBC's new Charter and the Agreement between the Secretary of State for National Heritage and the corporation.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move. The Royal Charter is the instrument which establishes and defines the BBC and regulates the way it functions. The BBC's first Royal Charter was issued in 1926 and the document which we are discussing this afternoon will supersede the current Charter which has been in effect since August 1981 and which would otherwise continue in force until the end of this year. As is customary, I have made available to your Lordships the draft of the proposed new Royal Charter for which the Secretary of State intends to make a representation to Her Majesty following debate here and in another place. Once it has come into effect it will extend the life of the BBC until 31st December 2006.

The Agreement between the BBC and the Secretary of State for National Heritage runs concurrently with the Royal Charter and complements it. It sets out how the corporation will meet its general objectives and describes in more detail inter alia the television and radio services to be financed from the licence fee and the World Service operations to be financed by grant in aid from the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs; the BBC's obligations in relation to programme standards; and the BBC's independence in matters of programme content, scheduling and management. The Agreement is required under Standing Order 55 to be approved by the House of Commons before it can take effect. As I have already pointed out, the Charter is granted under the Royal Prerogative and so is not subject to parliamentary approval. But this occasion provides an opportunity for your Lordships to debate the documents; and if it is clear that your Lordships' House finds either document unacceptable the Government will consider whether changes are necessary before proceeding.

As I shall explain, the Agreement that we are now considering is a largely new document. It will supersede the current combined Licence and Agreement. Licences under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949 are now the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and a further licence is to be issued to run concurrently with the new Charter and Agreement. However, that licence is a largely technical document dealing with the broadcast of wireless telegraphy signals on specified frequencies and from particular sites and will not come before either House.

The new Charter and Agreement give effect to the policies set out in our July 1994 White Paper entitled The Future of the BBC. In formulating these policies we were able to draw on some 6,500 responses to our Green Paper and the report of the National Heritage Select Committee of another place, and have subsequently benefited from a further 200 contributions responding to

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the White Paper, debates in your Lordships' House and another place and the work of a number of expert groups and individuals, including the painstaking and authoritative contribution of this House's informal Broadcasting Group chaired by my noble friend Lord Caldecote assisted by my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing. I very much hope that what I have to say today will reassure them and satisfy my noble friend Lord Caldecote as to the position of the governors of the BBC.

The overwhelming view was that the BBC should continue to be the United Kingdom's main public service broadcaster; that it should keep the licence fee as the main source of finance for its public services for at least five years while developing its commercial activities separately; that the BBC's independence was paramount and that it should therefore continue to be established by Royal Charter but with clearer responsibilities to its audiences. We have been most grateful for all the constructive contributions we have received and, as a result, I believe that the new Charter and Agreement provide both a strong and secure framework for the BBC's public service broadcasting activities and the flexibility necessary to enable it to develop commercial services to meet the challenges of the revolution now taking place in broadcasting which will continue into the next century.

I should now like to explain more fully some of the principles behind the new Charter and Agreement. First, we have defined the role of the board of governors, led by the chairman, more clearly. In the past it has been argued from time to time that the role of the BBC board of governors is not clear. To an extent this must be so with a body such as this established under charter with responsibilities both for broadcasting and for regulating the standards of the programmes broadcast. That is inherent in this way of organising the corporation, which, as I have already pointed out, commands such wide support. But in the new Charter and Agreement we have sought to build on the BBC's own work in defining its internal arrangements and to set out the functions and responsibilities of the governors more clearly. It is made quite clear in Article 7(1) of the draft Charter that the governors exercise the powers and discharge the duties of the corporation. This, by definition, gives them very wide scope. In particular, Article 7(1) contains in addition to this general responsibility a number of specific functions.

Against this general overriding role as the persona of the corporation itself, we believe that the governors' principal roles are to represent the public interest and to regulate the BBC. The governors make key appointments to the board of management, which is subordinate to them and which must, of course, work harmoniously in partnership with them and set the strategy for the organisation. They ensure that the BBC meets its obligations and commitments to its licence-fee payers. To do this effectively they set the appropriate framework and then stand aside from day-to-day managerial involvement in programme-making decisions while exercising rigorous oversight. Management is held accountable for implementation of

9 Jan 1996 : Column 15

the agreed strategy and for individual programming and editorial decisions. Indeed, the governors report on their compliance in the annual report.

As I have already mentioned, some of the key responsibilities of the governors are set out in Article 7(1) of the draft Charter. This establishes their responsibilities for setting the objectives of the corporation, for ensuring that the corporation, its employees and its staff comply with the BBC's obligations, including its obligations on programme standards and due impartiality, for overseeing strategy, for ensuring that the National Councils for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are consulted on matters of interest to them and for ensuring the proper handling of complaints and other correspondence.

Secondly, we have enhanced the BBC's accountability. Separately from the Agreement with the Secretary of State, which specifies more detailed obligations, the Charter provides in addition for a further strand of accountability in a statement of pledges produces by the BBC. In the White Paper we recognised that the BBC's accountability to its audiences would need to continue to develop. Its establishment under a Royal Charter rather than by statute and its funding by the licence fee place a special obligation on the BBC to maintain a close relationship with the public and to respond to the public's views on its services. The BBC already does much to ensure that it knows its audience's views through the national and regional councils, through is own research and through the public meetings which it organises. But the new statement of pledges, an outline of which has been made available to your Lordships, provides a means by which the BBC can improve its responsiveness to the public and demonstrate its accessibility.

Against this background, the BBC will be consulting widely on the statement of pledges so that a more comprehensive set of commitments can be made at the time of the publication of its annual report. That statement would then form the baseline known to the public against which the BBC would regularly assess whether it was fulfilling its promises to its audiences. An annual assessment could then be made publicly available at the time of the annual report. This assessment would be another of the governors' responsibilities, and your Lordships will perhaps have noted that the BBC has already drawn a clear distinction in the last annual report between, on the one hand, the annual assessment by the board of governors and its report on compliance and the director-general's review, on the other. The statement of pledges will increase significantly the BBC's transparency and accountability to its audiences.

A third major characteristic of the new Charter and Agreement is clarification of the BBC's responsibilities for impartiality and for taste and decency and programme standards generally, placing the BBC under obligations equivalent to those placed on other broadcasters by the Broadcasting Act 1990. I know the importance placed on these issues in this House, in the

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other place and in the country at large and I should therefore like to spend a little time explaining our approach.

It is axiomatic that our broadcasters must treat controversial subjects with due accuracy and impartiality and that they should abide by proper standards of taste and decency. On this latter point in particular I fully share the concern about the potential impact of unacceptable material on viewers, particularly the young. While portrayals of sex and violence may constitute only a small proportion of total output, they may equally well have a disproportionately greater capacity to influence impressionable minds. I know that the chairmen of both the BBC and ITC take these issues most seriously. Indeed, the BBC chairman last November convened a seminar which looked very frankly and critically at the difficult editorial decisions involved in this area.

Given the importance we place on the proper handling of these issues, we thought it right to clarify in the new Charter and Agreement the legal framework within which the BBC will act in the future and to spell out these obligations at the heart of the arrangements under which the corporation operates. We have done this by stipulating that the governors are under an obligation to ensure that the corporation, its employees and all programme makers engaged by them comply with certain codes and guidelines.

First, Article 7(1)(f) of the Charter provides that it shall be a function of the governors to ensure that the standards and practice of the corporation as applied to its programmes reflect the relevant parts of the Broadcasting Standards Council's code on the portrayal of sex and violence and standards of taste and decency for such programmes. The BSC code is drawn up under the provisions of Section 152 of the Broadcasting Act 1990 and applies similarly to the independent sector. It refers to practices to be followed in connection with the portrayal of violence in programmes; practices to be followed in connection with the portrayal of sexual conduct; and standards of taste and decency.

In conjunction with this express requirement, the provisions of paragraph 5 of the Agreement, which spells out that the corporation shall do all it can to ensure that the rules are obeyed, also apply. In relation to taste and decency, these follow the policy in the Broadcasting Act 1990 applying to other broadcasters, specifying that the BBC should not do anything which offends against good taste or decency or is likely to encourage or incite to crime or lead to disorder or be offensive to public feeling.

Secondly, under paragraph 5.3 of the Agreement the corporation is required to draw up a code covering accuracy and impartiality. The terms of the obligation are taken verbatim from the Broadcasting Act 1990, so that the BBC operates on the same formal basis as the independent sector. Paragraph 5.3(b) specifies that the corporation shall:

    "do all it can to ensure that the provisions of the Code are observed in the provision of services and programmes".

9 Jan 1996 : Column 17

But, as with the other codes and guidelines, the governors also have an obligation under Article 7 of the Charter to ensure compliance by its employees and programme makers.

Thirdly, the governors are to ensure that the corporation and its employees and all programme makers engaged by it comply with the provisions of any code or guidelines applicable to programme content. These reinforce paragraph 3 of the Agreement and echo Section 7 of the Broadcasting Act 1990. This is a wide-ranging provision which embraces compliance with the whole of the Producers' Guidelines, a document of over 250 pages giving detailed guidance to programme makers about the proper approach to the application of editorial and ethical principles. These guidelines (a copy of which is in the Library) deal with specific legal issues and obligations such as those relating to taste and decency. But they also require, for example, that warnings should be given about the dangers of imitating hazardous activities such as climbing in programmes children are likely to watch. There is discussion of the considerations programme makers must bear in mind when making editorial decisions and the requirement for upward referral to more senior members of staff in certain circumstances.

I know that in the past a number of your Lordships, Members of the other place and the public have stressed that there must be compliance with these guidelines, and that is exactly what we have provided for. This is a clear legal requirement on the corporation under the new Charter. The means by which the governors, led by the chairman, enforce these requirements are for them as those responsible. It has been suggested that such codes might be signed by programme makers to demonstrate that they had read them. Our view is that it must be for the governors to determine how they can most effectively carry out their responsibilities. They might well consider the suggestion, but it is a matter for them. The governors have no discretion as to whether or not they discharge duties placed on them. They do, however, have discretion as to how they fulfil their duties. We believe that that is how it should be.

We also recognise that the BBC's public service responsibilities extend not only to the content of programmes it broadcasts but also to their production. The BBC is a national organisation and we believe that the economic and cultural benefits of its activities should be shared across the United Kingdom. We have therefore provided at paragraph 3.2(h) of the new Agreement that the BBC must make a reasonable proportion and range of its network programmes in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and in the English regions outside London and the south east. Progress against production targets in each area is one of the key performance indicators noted in the outline statement of pledges.

In addition, we have set out in more detail the role of the National Councils for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The national councils have an important function in representing the interests of programme makers and audiences in each of the home countries. They report annually on how well the BBC is meeting the needs of the audiences in each country and

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contribute both directly and by way of audience research to the formulation of the BBC's objectives for its services. Article 7(1)(d) of the Charter places a requirement on the corporation to consult the national councils on a range of issues related to the interests of each country.

The new Charter and Agreement fulfil the commitment made in the White Paper that the BBC should be able to develop commercial services, but in ways which are separate and clearly and transparently distinct arrangements from licence fee funded services. Commercial services will continue to require the approval of the Secretary of State, but there are clear obligations placed on the BBC not to fund such services from the licence fee and to carry out its activities in accordance with the corporation's fair trading commitments.

The BBC is renowned throughout the world for the quality of its programmes and its independence of political control must not be jeopardised. The reputation of the BBC brand name is a valuable asset and we believe that there are enormous opportunities in the expanding international media market for the BBC to exploit commercial opportunities for the benefit of its own investment in programmes. Much of the money generated will be spent on UK productions and to support the BBC's public service activities, thus benefiting licence fee payers without risking licence fee funds.

We have a recent example in the success of "Pride and Prejudice", which was greatly enjoyed by audiences in the UK--myself included--and which has been sold very successfully internationally. Its popularity looks set to bring further opportunities for international co-production of quality drama, thus producing a spiral of benefits.

There are two further areas of the corporation's work I should touch on. The BBC is a major patron of the arts and is the UK's main provider of arts programming. Last year it spent some £43 million on music and arts programming for television and £70 million for radio (excluding Radio 1). The corporation supports five orchestras and is the largest employer of actors and musicians in the country. In Britain we are blessed with a marvellous range and quality of performers in all art forms and the BBC's support for the arts enriches all parts of our cultural life. We believe that the BBC has a key role as a cultural patron and as an engine for cultural activity and we have therefore introduced a requirement that it should stimulate, support and reflect in drama, comedy, music and the visual and performing arts the diversity of cultural activity in the United Kingdom.

In its educational activities too the BBC is committed to strengthening and developing its programming. As well as generally educational programmes such as Sir David Attenborough's fascinating series on "The Private Life of Plants", BBC education produces a range of specifically educational material and will be broadcasting 4,200 hours of programmes this year. Nearly 80 per cent. of primary schools use BBC schools broadcasts, and, of course, the BBC works to great effect in partnership with the Open University. The

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corporation therefore has an enormous influence on education in this country, not only at school age but for everyone the length and breadth of the land.

A recent NOP survey showed that 63 per cent. of those interviewed thought that the BBC had a good influence on life in Britain today, compared with only 11 per cent. who considered the influence bad. That is substantially higher than any of the other national institutions in the list and, since 95 per cent. of British households watch and listen to the BBC for at least two hours each week, it is something to be proud of. The BBC is a unique and hugely valuable national resource. Not all of its annual output of 13,000 hours of television programmes and 40,000 hours of national network radio is perfect, but it is good, and the BBC is getting better at accepting that things have gone awry when it falls below the high standards we all expect of it.

We intend in the new Charter and Agreement to move the BBC still further towards a responsive and accountable relationship with its audience. We have aimed to provide it with the flexibility to take new opportunities to develop and grow. We have balanced a firm commitment to its independence with clear obligations on programme standards. We believe that the new Charter and Agreement provide the right framework to secure the future of the BBC in a rapidly changing world.

Before sitting down, I should like to make a short statement for your Lordships' benefit which is very relevant to what we are discussing this afternoon. The Prime Minister's Office has just announced that Her Majesty has been pleased to approve the nomination of Sir Christopher Bland to succeed Marmaduke Hussey as the chairman of the BBC. It is intended that Sir Christopher will take up his post from 1st April, following formal approval of his appointment by the Queen in Council.

Marmaduke Hussey informed the Prime Minister early in 1994 of his intentions to stand aside before the end of his term of office to allow his successor to take up his post at the start of the new Charter period. I know that your Lordships will share with me our gratitude to Marmaduke Hussey for guiding the BBC through testing but necessary reform. He has ensured that the BBC's traditions will continue into the 21st century and that the BBC remains the world's leading broadcaster.

Noble Lords will also recognise that in Sir Christopher we have an outstanding successor. He has almost 25 years' experience as both a regulator and senior figure in the broadcasting industry. His experience and expertise will be invaluable in the development of the BBC. As a previous deputy chairman of the Independent Broadcasting Authority he has the regulatory experience in public service broadcasting which is central to the role of the board of governors as the public guardians of the BBC.

Moved, That this House takes note of the drafts of the BBC's new Charter and the Agreement between the Secretary of State for National Heritage and the corporation.--(Lord Inglewood.)

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