Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I expect that it will come as no surprise to the noble Baroness, Lady David, when I say at the outset that this is a matter for the Governors of the BBC and not for the BSC. The BBC's obligations in respect of the provision of educational programming are contained in its Charter and Agreement and it is for the Governors to ensure that those obligations are met. Similar obligations are placed on independent broadcasters under the 1990 Act. I do not believe that this is an area in which the BSC can usefully, or indeed appropriately, play a part, nor do I believe that it is desirable to single out the BBC or any other broadcaster for special treatment by the BSC, however important the sector may be, as is clear in this instance.

The BBC's record of providing educational programming is impressive. This year, BBC Education will broadcast over 4,200 hours of programmes. Nearly 80 per cent. of primary schools use BBC broadcasts. The BBC has operated in partnership with the Open University since 1970 and broadcasts over 2,000 Open University programmes on television and radio each year.

The BBC's new Charter and Agreement includes a new requirement in Clause 32(e) of the Agreement that home services:

We have discussed the matter in a different context and on a number of occasions during debates on the Bill. There are a variety of ways in which those who believe that the BBC may not be honouring its obligations can take that matter forward. As I intimated earlier, I do not believe that what the noble Baroness proposes is an appropriate extension of those means. The BBC has also set out its aim to develop and strengthen educational programming over the coming years. It is increasing

19 Mar 1996 : Column 1219

funding to the tune of an additional £1.5 million for the Education Directorate for the next year and is increasing broadcast hours of educational programmes.

The noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, painted a bleak and I believe unfair picture of the future of educational broadcasting. In the digital world the existing public service broadcasters will still be subject to the existing criteria in respect of educational matters. In addition, looking at the way in which the multiplex licences are to be allocated one sees that the core criterion as regards the services is that there should be variety. Within that variety there is great potential for educational services. Those who want to achieve multiplex licences must look to a wide range of programmes, which includes possible educational programmes.

I believe that a fair picture of the future is not emerging in front of us; it is said that there will be a desert for education. The Government see the amendment as unnecessary and an entirely unjustified expansion of the BSC's remit into a new area. For those reasons we would resist it.

Baroness David: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his careful answer. As he said, it was not altogether unexpected, particularly his comments about attaching the amendment to the BSC. I hope that his predictions will prove to be correct: we shall be watching most carefully. I am most anxious about those adults who have not had a good education and about young people who have missed out and at 16, 17 or 18 are not sure what they want to do. They may happen to see such programmes quite by accident and may be taken with them. They may then decide that they want to go on to further education or to obtain some qualifications. I am afraid that such people may miss out.

We shall be watching the situation carefully and I hope that provisions for education can be put on the face of the Bill and pursued a little further in another place. Clearly, at this time the only suitable thing for me to do is to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7 p.m.

Clause 79 [Power to publish guidance relating to avoidance of unjust or unfair treatment or interference with privacy]:

Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 30:

Page 68, line 8, leave out ("guidance relating") and insert ("a code giving guidance as").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No. 31.

Your Lordships will recall the debates which we had during Committee and Report stages where the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and others proposed a number of amendments intended to change the wording used in the Bill to describe the BSC's "guidance" on fairness. The Government have listened carefully to the concerns of those noble Lords, and have, after careful consideration, decided that the existing wording is, indeed, anomalous.

19 Mar 1996 : Column 1220

The Government's Amendment No. 30 is therefore intended to rename the existing "guidance" as "a code giving guidance". That will have the effect of standardising the form of words used across the broadcasting spectrum: in the Bill, in the 1990 Act, and in the BBC's new Charter and Agreement.

I am aware that some noble Lords would prefer the Government to go further. However, the Government remain satisfied that the form of words used here is sufficiently clear and has been effective in the past.

The Government have also reconsidered the role of the BSC's fairness code, and the Government's Amendment No. 31 would require broadcasting and regulatory bodies to reflect that code in drawing up or revising their own guidance, just as they are at present required to do in respect of the BSC's standards code. I beg to move.

Viscount Caldecote: My Lords, in Committee I moved a similar amendment designed to strengthen the clause. Amendment No. 30 accepts very largely the principle which I tried to put forward. Therefore, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend on the Front Bench for accepting in principle what we were trying to achieve. That is another example of his listening carefully to what was said and being ready to try to accommodate us whenever he can. I am extremely grateful to my noble friend.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 31:

Page 68, line 13, at end insert--
("( ) It shall be the duty of each broadcasting or regulatory body, when drawing up or revising any code relating to principles and practice in connection with programmes, or in connection with the obtaining of material to be included in programmes, to reflect the general effect of so much of the code referred to in subsection (1) (as for the time being in force) as is relevant to the programmes in question.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 83 [Complaints of unfair treatment etc.]:

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde moved Amendment No. 32:

Page 71, leave out lines 2 to 7.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 34 and 35, all of which deal with the issue of direct interest. It is not a new subject. It was discussed in some depth in Committee. Indeed, at the invitation of the Minister we withdrew an amendment because the Minister suggested that both the Government and I should reconsider the matter.

He suggested to me also that perhaps a lawyer should look at the amendments because I drafted the amendments for Committee stage and, of course, I am not a lawyer. We have done that, and the amendments before the House this evening have been drafted by a lawyer. However, I gather that the department may have a different view about their legal status and, indeed, the breadth of the amendments.

19 Mar 1996 : Column 1221

From some points of view, although certainly not from mine, direct interest is a potentially controversial area. Therefore, it may help the House if I say what the amendments are not about before I go on to describe what they are intended to achieve.

The amendments are not about the whole area of impartiality or incorporating that aspect into the Bill. That has been discussed previously. If that were the intention, neither the Broadcasting Standards Commission nor any other public commission would have the resources to deal with issues about which any member of the public or group, whether or not incorporated, could make a complaint. Nor are the amendments about party political broadcasts and impartiality in that respect. Indeed, that is covered by Clause 107 of the 1990 Act.

So what are the amendments about? They aim to deal with the situation in which a programme is unfair. It may not be unfair to one individual but, rather, unfair in relation to a group of people or perhaps in relation to a very narrow subject area.

Both the 1990 Act and this Bill leave open to judicial review the question of redress. When I was a member of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission--and I declare an interest in that I was a member of that commission until about 15 months ago--complaints were often received in which we felt that there was a sufficient direct interest. That was then challenged by the broadcasters who indicated that they would take the matter to judicial review. Sometimes they did and sometimes they did not carry out that threat. Of course, although individuals may have such a legal right, they do not have that right in practice because of the cost involved. When the commission is taken to judicial review, the cost is on the public purse.

These amendments intend to avoid that situation. I approach the amendments from the point of view that I assume that when the Secretary of State appoints members to the Broadcasting Standards Commission the individuals appointed will be responsible; they will consider all the aspects of the case before accepting it and accept accountability and responsibility for that. Therefore, the Secretary of State should be prepared to give credit to and trust to the commission.

In the past 18 months, there have been two judicial reviews in relation to the issue of direct interest. One case was in relation to a village called Elmton. In that case, the judge accepted that there was a direct interest as a broad concept. In that case the parish council felt that it had a defined interest in a programme which alleged that that small Derbyshire village harboured racists. Therefore, as a consequence, the complaint was covered by the provisions of the 1990 Act.

In that same period of 18 months, a complaint was made in relation to the National Council for One Parent Families. That was referred to in Committee and the Minister has written to me about that. In that case, the judge cast doubt on the Elmton judgment but he did not give the reasons behind those doubts or how he had reached his conclusions. Did the National Council for One Parent Families fail the direct interest test because it was a national body representing hundreds and

19 Mar 1996 : Column 1222

perhaps hundreds of thousands of unidentifiable people--lone parents in that case--or did the judgment in that case mean that no representative body may complain unless it can point to named individuals? Does the size of the organisation matter? Is the membership of the organisation crucial in judging direct interest? Should a body which represents members of our community who, by the very nature of their disability--for example, people with mental disabilities--are unable to become members or indeed to complain, be prevented from representing that particular group in relation to direct interest?

I mentioned the case of the National Council for One Parent Families, and that is a good example of the direct interest issue. In that programme, a young woman by the name of Michelle Ellis was treated unfairly. The complaint was dealt with and the commission found unfairness. But under that very narrow definition of direct interest, the Broadcasting Complaints Commission could not deal with the programme as a whole. Indeed, there were sections within that programme which were judged to be unfair in their treatment of the issue but they did not relate directly to Michelle Ellis who made the complaint.

I suggest to the House that the amendments before us this evening relate to the raison d'etre of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission. For example, what would happen in relation to a programme which unfairly treated people who are blind? Could the RNIB make a complaint? Could SANE make a complaint on behalf of people with mental disabilities? Could trade unions make a complaint on behalf of their members?

If the Broadcasting Standards Commission is not given jurisdiction in such cases as having sufficient direct interest, I believe that many will go without redress. Without the new body there is no redress except through the courts. We are dealing with groups of people who do not have the resources--either financially or otherwise--to take such issues through the courts. The amendment would not open the floodgates as has been suggested by some people. Left as it is, judicial review is something which in my view will happen increasingly as the new commission tries to carry out its responsibility to viewers and listeners. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page