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Power of Radio Authority to suspend licence to provide satellite service

'. After section 111A of the 1990 Act there is inserted--
"Power to suspend licence to provide satellite service.

111B.--(1) If the Authority are satisfied--
(a) that the holder of a licence to provide a satellite service has included in the service one or more programmes containing material likely to encourage or incite to crime or to lead to disorder,
(b) that he has thereby failed to comply with the condition included in the licence in pursuance of section 90(1)(a), and
(c) that the failure is such as to justify the revocation of the licence,

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they shall serve on the holder of the licence a notice under subsection (2).
(2) A notice under this subsection is a notice--
(a) stating that the Authority are satisfied as mentioned in subsection (1),
(b) specifying the respects in which, in their opinion, the licence holder has failed to comply with the condition mentioned in paragraph (b) of that subsection,
(c) stating that the Authority may revoke his licence after the end of the period of twenty-one days beginning with the date on which the notice is served on the licence holder,
(d) informing the licence holder of his right to make representations to the Authority within that period about the matters complained of, and
(e) suspending the licence as from the time when the notice is served on the licence holder until the revocation takes effect or the Authority decide not to revoke the licence.
(3) If the Authority, having considered any representations about the matters complained of made to them within the period referred to in subsection (2)(c) by the licence holder, are satisfied that it is necessary in the public interest to revoke the licence in question, they shall serve on the licence holder a notice revoking the licence.
(4) A notice under subsection (3) shall not take effect until the end of the period of twenty-eight days beginning with the day on which that notice was served on the licence holder.
(5) Section 111 shall not have effect in relation to the revocation of a licence in pursuance of a notice under subsection (1)."'.

Clause 87, page 73, line 23, leave out '57(1A)' and insert '57(1A)(a)'.


Clause 88, page 74, line 2, leave out '57(1A)' and insert '57(1A)(a)'.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 135 to 140. I have already spoken to these amendments.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 135 to 140.--(Lord Inglewood.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.



Clause 99, page 81, leave out lines 21 to 23.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 141. In speaking to this amendment, I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 142. Your Lordships may recall the debate at Report stage during the previous passage of this Bill through this House, at which time my noble friend Lord Astor moved amendments designed to replace the provision of absolute privilege for the BSC with one of qualified privilege. I said at that time that the Government proposed to remove the existing reference to privilege in its entirety. On further reflection, however, we did not feel that this alone was entirely satisfactory. Thus, while Amendment No. 141 deletes the existing provision, Amendment No. 142 attaches privilege to statements, directions and reports issued by the

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commission in so far as they relate to fairness complaints, provided that it cannot be shown that the commission has acted with malice. We would not wish to imply that this provision in any way limited privilege for any other element of the commission's work where it would normally apply, and subsection (2) of the new clause makes this clear.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 141 and 142.--(Lord Inglewood.)

Lord Renton: My Lords, I wish that subsection (1) would make the matter clear. The original subsection (11), which it is proposed to omit, was perfectly clear from the legal point of view. Your Lordships are aware that there are two kinds of privilege: absolute privilege and qualified privilege. Qualified privilege arises in various circumstances. It is not merely a question of whether there is malice; it is a question of whether a person has either a duty or right to communicate. In Amendment No. 142 subsection (1) of the new clause merely refers to privilege. It does not say whether it is absolute or qualified privilege. But it provides that, whether the privilege is absolute or qualified, if malice arises privilege does not exist.

One wonders what the courts will make of that. They will try to interpret the will of Parliament as best they can, and I hope that they do not find it too difficult. I am a little worried about it. Although this change may be desirable in view of what my noble friend Lord Astor said at an earlier stage of the Bill, I wonder whether the solution of the Government is the right way to do it. Frankly, I would have preferred to leave the Bill as it was.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for giving the House the benefit of his very considerable experience in these matters. As those involved in the history of this matter know only too well, this has proved to be a difficult issue. We believe that the effect of what we have done will be appropriately to circumscribe the circumstances in which the commission could be attacked. I accept that the state of affairs to which the noble Lord has referred could give rise to problems. One of the difficulties that we faced in this area, bearing in mind recent history, was that the position had become very unclear. We felt that this was probably the best way forward in all the circumstances.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Lord whether the concluding words of subsection (1) provide the usual formula; in other words, whether it may be simpler to say that there is qualified privilege.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I am advised that this is the usual formula in these kinds of circumstance.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Amendment No. 142 omitted.

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Clause 112, page 87, line 12, at end insert 'or the issue of shares or securities'.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I beg to move that this House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 143. I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 144, 144A, 145, 259, 261-265, 264A, 265 and 265A. I shall refer to a number of amendments which were introduced in another place which relate to the sale by the BBC of its transmission services. The bulk of the amendments is of a technical nature and relates to various accounting and taxation matters which arise when an entity moves from the public to the private sector.

In selling its transmission assets, the BBC is likely to proceed either by a trade sale of the assets direct, or through the creation of a wholly owned subsidiary and then sale of that subsidiary. A flotation is unlikely but not impossible. The provisions now incorporated in the Bill are designed to ensure that that process can take place without accounting and taxation distortions or unnecessary constraints. I hope that that comprehensively describes the thinking behind the amendments.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 143.--(Lord Inglewood.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.



After Clause 112, insert the following new clause--

Transfer schemes: successor companies

'. Schedule (Transfer schemes relating to the BBC transmission network: successor companies) (which makes provision about the accounts etc. of wholly-owned subsidiaries of the BBC to which any property, rights or liabilities are transferred in accordance with a transfer scheme) shall have effect.'.


144A That the House do disagree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 144.

The Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, for the convenience of your Lordships this Motion is grouped with Motions 145A, 264A and 265A. I move the Motion because it was the best way that I could find to give your Lordships' House the chance, before the House rises for the Summer Recess, to express a concern which I know is widely shared about the future of the World Service of the BBC in the face of the radical re-organisation that is presently being undertaken by the BBC. In doing so, I declare an interest in the sense that a member of my family works for the World Service.

These new clauses and new schedules are before your Lordships for the first time. As the Minister said, they carry forward the privatisation of the BBC transmitter system. The World Service's overseas transmitters are an important part of that system. Like the World Service

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as a whole, they are funded by the Government. There are at present 11 World Service transmitter sites: four in the UK, and seven overseas, with an annual operating budget of £23 million. There is a twelfth transmitter in Thailand which will come on stream later this year. A vital new transmitter is being planned for Oman, but the finance is still to be found.

The political and regulatory arrangements for privatisation of the overseas sites are particularly complicated, and I do not wish to go into that today. In the past, transmitters have been much at risk at times of international tension. We are entitled, just on the transmitter front, to have an assurance from the Minister that if the Government persist in that aspect of the privatisation the capacity remains to look after the interests of those who are working at those transmitters, and to ensure that the capacity to continue operating will be properly protected.

Those overseas transmitters--privatised or not--will be greatly reduced in value if the quality and distinctive character of the World Service are undermined by the radical reorganisation of the BBC as a whole, which has now been launched, and in which the English language news and current affairs are to be commissioned from a new central news organisation, serving both radio and television for all domestic services as well as for the World Service.

The editorial integrity and independence of the World Service from any sort of political interference are of course vital, but the Government have a special responsibility for the World Service, which is different from their responsibilities towards the rest of the BBC. They have a responsibility, first, to ensure that it is funded adequately--that is a subject for another debate, not for tonight--and, equally, they have a responsibility to both its listeners overseas and to British taxpayers at home to ensure that the Government obtain value for money.

All the evidence is that the FCO, which is the responsible department for the grant for the World Service, was treated in the same cavalier way as were the senior management of the World Service and the BBC more generally, and in the same cavalier way, as far as I can gather, as the general body of governors was treated, and informed after the decisions had been taken and the new appointments determined.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor, the Minister in another place, claimed the other day that these are only proposals from the BBC and not a fait accompli. I hope that the Minister can give us some clarity on this matter. The Guardian newspaper today carries a report that the Foreign Secretary, Mr. Malcolm Rifkind, has asked the BBC to come and see him about the matter because he is angry that his department:

    "was only informed of Mr. Birt's plans less than 24 hours before they were published".
If in replying the Minister could tell us whether or not that is true, and what steps are being taken if it is true, it would be helpful to those noble Lords who are concerned about these matters.

Along with others, I was glad to hear from Mr. Sam Younger, the managing director of the World Service, in a briefing meeting that he held here yesterday that the

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original plan is in the process of some modification, at least until April 1998. What he called a "dedicated World Service news team" would continue to operate from inside Bush House, with its own responsible people with experience of the special needs and nature of the BBC World Service news activities. We were told that that would exist until at least April 1998 when the BBC has longer term building plans to bring all its activities under one roof. In any case, I understand that the Bush House lease comes to an end at the beginning of the next century.

I regard that as a welcome move and a welcome breathing space--I regard it as only a breathing space--for working out in a calmer, more considered and more consultative way how the benefits claimed for the wider BBC in the digital age out of the reorganisation may be achieved without damaging the special quality of the World Service.

That brings me up against the way in which the director-general, Mr. John Birt, has conducted this matter. I do not for a moment argue that the World Service should be immune from change in a world whose broadcasting technology, as we recognise in the Bill, is changing fast, but I question the method of almost total non-consultation adopted. I hope that the new BBC chairman, Sir Christopher Bland, whom I know personally, and who has great experience of broadcasting and business, will feel that there is a lesson to be learned here and will not allow that arrogant exercise to be repeated.

The only defence that I have been able to extract for the way in which the reorganisation has been done is that if there had been consultation, there would have had to be negotiation and that would have been an abdication of leadership. If that is modern McKinsey management philosophy, I hope that it will be abandoned by the BBC in the future.

Of course, the BBC is a peculiarly difficult organisation to manage. When it faces change it is full of leaky prima donnas who reach for a telephone to their favourite journalist every time they have a grievance. But that is the heat of the kind of kitchen in which the BBC's Director-General has to work. If you do not consult and do not try to carry people with you--good, loyal people who are proud of the BBC World Service--you get the present result. Whatever the pros and cons of the wider reorganisation which the BBC is undertaking--and I am sure that there are both pros and cons--it now faces the separate, self-created issue of a widespread crisis of morale.

The culture and ethos of an organisation--especially one as separated from the mainstream BBC as is Bush House--is the delicate achievement of years of people working together. It can be deeply damaged at an administrative stroke. In a situation such as this, what I might call the general body of governors of the BBC have a heavy responsibility. I should like to feel sure that they were ready to carry that out in the present circumstances.

The other day I came across something said by Lord Reith. I once even met John Reith before he died. Noble Lords will know that as Director-General of the BBC he

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was not noted for treating governors gladly. He did not defer very much to governors as members of the BBC institution, according to all the biographies we read. But on one occasion a governor had the temerity to ask him for advice on the role of the BBC governors. He said:

    "Whatever governors may be prepared to leave to the executive, they must decide and direct policy, and they must have a lively, comprehensive and continuing care for the product of the organisation they are appointed to govern".
I hope that the governors of the BBC will have a continuing care for the very special product that is the BBC World Service. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House do disagree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 144.--(Lord Thomson of Monifieth.)

5.45 p.m.

Baroness James of Holland Park: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for tabling the Motion and for giving your Lordships' House a chance to discuss this very important matter. The major restructuring of the World Service and the BBC is as ill-conceived in principle as it was deplorable in the way in which it was promulgated. The senior staff most concerned were not consulted, including the deputy director-general, who is accounting officer for the World Service. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office was given very little notice of what was virtually a fait accompli. The requirement under the BBC Agreement that changes to the home services should not take place without consultation was ignored--and that was a change to home radio as well as to the World Service. The governors, so reliable sources inform me, considered those fundamental and far-reaching proposals in 45 minutes, without all the governors being present.

Who is running the BBC? It would appear to be a triumvirate consisting of a chairman, the Director-General and McKinsey's! This is not what many of your Lordships had in mind when it vigorously championed the role of the governors during debates on the Charter and the new Agreement.

The nature of the fiction that I write may have given me an unduly sceptical and suspicious cast of mind, but I cannot help wondering what is behind the reorganisation which was carried out in such deep secrecy. Can it really be to save money? World Service programmes already cost 36 per cent. less than those made by the home services. Is it perhaps a ploy to bring the World Service to heel, as it were, to bring it more in line with current preoccupations and ideologies more popular with the young, more relevant, more accessible? Those fashionable words are usually shorthand for bringing it down market. Or is the reorganisation primarily intended to release resources to enable the BBC to compete world-wide in the brave new multi-channel, multi-media digital age? We are apparently to have as many as 100 TV channels. This prospect brings little joy to those of us who feel that there is insufficient creative talent to provide for the channels which we already have.

But should the BBC be using its resources to compete in this overcrowded, overheated arena? Should it not concentrate on doing superbly well what it does at

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present and on consolidating its position as the world's most distinguished and admired provider of public service broadcasting? And who is to make that decision? What voice, what influence are Parliament and the licence payers to have? We return to the question so often asked in recent days: whose BBC is it?

There are many questions to which I should like an answer. How many redundancies are expected as a result of the restructuring and what will be the cost? Managerial revolutions do not come cheaply, particularly when outside management consultants have a hand in them. The BBC accounts for 1995-96 show restructuring costs of £31.3 million in 1994-95 and £35.2 million in 1995-96. What is the expected cost of this new upheaval?

Another consideration arises from the restructuring. The World Service is paid for by Foreign and Commonwealth Office grants in aid and its accounts are subject to regular scrutiny by the National Audit Office. Now that the World Service and the domestic services are to become so closely related, would it not be proper for the BBC accounts also to be subject to National Audit Office scrutiny? I believe that there are many who would welcome this reform and some who feel that it is overdue.

I think that I know what will happen. Senior staff will be propitiated, small concessions will be made and assurances will be given. Parliament will go into Recess and the fuss will die down. Staff who are devoted to the World Service will somehow resolve to try and make the new arrangements work. The restructuring will go ahead. I hope that I am wrong but I am not sanguine. We have seen it all before. But harm will have been done--and not only to the World Service.

To speak today of the ethos of the BBC is to risk being called sentimental, naive or wilfully ignorant of the imperatives of the modern broadcasting age. But the affection, respect and admiration in which the BBC is held both at home and abroad rest on more than the number of listeners and viewers--on more, even, than the quality of its programmes. It rests on trust.

I conclude as I began. This restructuring was not well done. The fact that those responsible are apparently unable or unwilling to recognise that fact is one of the most depressing aspects of a deeply depressing episode in the history of the BBC.

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