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The Earl of Arran: My Lords, I, too, wish to join the gang of supporters who have praised the way the Minister has conducted the Bill through the House. I particularly praise the courtesy he has shown to noble Lords in all parts of the House. However, I can give only three-quarter-hearted support to the Motion that this Bill do now pass. It might have been full support if I was quite sure that the Bill would properly protect the small ITV regional companies. From the outset I have maintained a consistent theme to try to preserve the very best of regional television from the ravages of a rapidly changing industry.
I tabled--and indeed we debated--at Committee stage an amendment designed to involve the Secretary of State in any future attempt to undermine the network pricing system; the industry device that allows small ITV companies to buy mainstream ITV programmes at a fair rate. My noble friend assured me of a compromise proposal to be introduced at Third Reading. Here we are, but here it is not. Although my noble friend very helpfully wrote to say that it will be introduced in another place it seems that the pressure of bigger amendments has squeezed me out. I am afraid that it is a familiar story. The big issue today is to save our big sporting fixtures for viewers of terrestrial television. The big idea in this very big Bill is digital television--another provision presumably framed for the big companies--not to mention the change in the ownership rules which have already sparked mergers and takeovers. The "big" will be allowed to grow into giants. But what happens to the "small"--those who serve their regions with loyalty, commitment and dedication to local affairs?
It is now widely accepted that the Broadcasting Act 1990 contained, if I may put it politely, a succession of flaws. Perhaps it tried to do too much too soon. I should not like your Lordships' House to be responsible for making the same mistake. I am greatly in favour of the principle of the Bill, but the detail requires much more work yet. So today we are sending a half-finished garment with its trailing loose ends--the small bits--to another place. We must rely on its reputation as guardian of the "small" to complete the tailoring and to avoid a stitch-up.
Lord Prys-Davies: My Lords, the purpose of my involvement with the Bill, with other Members of your Lordships' House, has been to seek to safeguard the quality, range and time given to regional broadcasting, in the event of a bid, and to ensure the quality of broadcasting through the medium of the Welsh language.
It is satisfying and pleasant to be able to express my appreciation of the Government's response to the anxieties expressed about the future of English language broadcasting in the event of a bid. However, I note the caveat raised by the noble Earl, Lord Arran. I look forward very much to seeing the amendments which the Government have promised to bring forward in another place. I trust that they will be satisfying to the producers and the viewers of regional programmes in England, Scotland and Wales.
As we bid farewell to the Bill, I have a deep sense of frustration about Clause 69. I very much hope that it is not the case that the Government have decided, "This is how it is and this is how it will be". It is still my hope that the Government will come to see as part of the public expenditure on S4C the support of the Welsh language and that they will bring forward amendments to Clause 69. However, I cannot leave the clause without expressing my appreciation of the contribution of all those Members of your Lordships' House who have participated in the debates on it. I refer to my noble friend Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, who intervened this evening, the noble Lords, Lord Aberdare--he has been steadfast in his support--Lord Thomson of Monifieth, Lord Elis-Thomas, Lord Geraint and my noble friend Lady Dean from the Labour Front Bench. I am sure that Wales and S4C are very much in their debt.
Finally, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, for the sensitive--that is the word which comes to my mind--manner in which he has handled the Bill and the attention he has given to our amendments. If the rules of the House allow me to say so, I would say: "Diolch yn fawr iawn".
Lord Orr-Ewing: My Lords, like others, I feel that it is sad that we have spent one day on the Second Reading, four days on the Committee stage, two days on the Report stage and one on the Third Reading. The common factor is that the important amendments all came after 11 o'clock at night. That was to ensure that no one could divide the House. It was purely accidental, of course, because the Chief Whip has been trying to ensure that we make progress with the Bill. However, it has not worked out and we have not had a genuine opportunity to put forward our points. We could well have done so. There is good information and experience in all parts of the House and we could have had a good debate and possibly persuaded the Minister of our case. He has been wonderful throughout, patient and considerate, but he does not seem to have been allowed to persuade people higher in the hierarchy or in the department to accept our views.
It is strange that the Government insist that the utilities like gas, electricity and water have a regulatory authority. However, the one organisation for which there is no regulatory authority except itself, and which is both judge and jury in its own case, is the BBC. It has more influence on every home in the land than any other element of our civilisation. This must be given proper
We had hoped that the BSC would be provided with some bite and that was even echoed at one stage by the Benches opposite. There was a general feeling that the time had come to say: "Enough is enough in the last 10 years of the Charter", before we go to other facilities. Many of my friends and I believe that it is right not to go to a Royal Charter. There are 443 other Royal Charters, the idea that it is exceptional and we cannot debate anything that is in the Royal Charter is for the birds. It is not for the Houses of Parliament.
If we have legislation in another place and debate it up here, I and many others will welcome it. How can we have the ITC regulating one half and the other half regulating itself, especially if it receives £1.8 billion of taxpayers' money to operate? I hope that taste, decency and impartiality will all be covered by the BSC.
We discovered last April that the producer guidelines were voluntary. We had all praised the 250 pages of the document on producer guidelines and said that it was good, beautifully worded. The only trouble was that no one ever read it, or if they did, they never took any action on it. All kinds of problems filtered into public service broadcasting.
I wish to give two examples of that. Today I received a letter from Duke Hussey which was sensible and encouraging. I hoped that he would ensure that the governors--responsible, respectable people--would take action. The two examples I take occurred during the last year. One was a programme called "Good Fellows" which was shown last April and repeated in June. The programme occupied 145 minutes in the evening with 212 occurrences of the "f" word. "We uphold taste and decency", we are told, but no one seems to have been ticked off or penalised in any way.
There were other examples, but no action was taken--particularly in relation to the programme on the Japanese nuclear bomb. Previously, six years before, it had shown a Marxist from the United States saying that the dropping of the nuclear bomb on Japan led to the Cold War, which endured for 25 to 30 years or more. An apology was received the first time round. There was no apology the second time, and no rectification of history. Fortunately, six renowned British history professors came forward and said that it was totally untrue. We squeezed an apology out of the organisation the first time round, but not the second time. So this is continuing, even though there are codes of conduct. All of us who are sitting here now sincerely hope that the new governors will be able to take action.
There is another awful example. Alas, the day after the shooting of the children in Dunblane, the amazing last line of a comedy programme was: "Why don't you go out and machine-gun some children?". The Secretary of the BBC apologised when the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, got in touch with him. Apparently, the complaints commission would not take the matter seriously. He admitted that he had made an apology.
Most of what the BBC does is very good. But certain opportunities seem to filter through to lesser people who totally disobey the rules. Incidentally, I hope that the new code of conduct now being written will be firmer. I also hope, as we once suggested in an amendment, that those people who hold producer or editorial responsibilities, read the code, sign it and activate it, as you have to sign the Official Secrets Act on entering the Ministry of Defence. (And, by the way, when you leave you have to sign it again.) The same should apply to people who have these huge responsibilities for the well-being of the mental state of our nation.
I return to congratulating Duke Hussey on what he has done. He has achieved a considerable amount. He got rid of 5,000 people, and the organisation goes on very well without them. That must have saved quite a lot of money. I believe he now has 20,000 people. The huge list of those taking part in drama of any sort goes on forever. The credit titles seem to pour forth from the screen. I hope that he will make further economies.
Finally, as I ought to have said in my speech last time, some of the young people are responsible for the irresponsibility shown in certain selected items. Many of them enter the BBC when they are quite young and make their mark. After they have been there only a year or two, with no loyalty either to the BBC which they serve or to the nation which they also serve, they go off to Hollywood and get jobs at four times what they can raise in this country. Such people should be disciplined, and perhaps penalised, as a result. I hope that before the Bill leaves both Houses, we shall give some penalising powers to the new BSC.
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