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House of Lords

Wednesday, 30th October 1996.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Carlisle.

Lord Vincent of Coleshill

Field Marshal Sir Richard Frederick Vincent, GBE, KCB, DSO, having been created Baron Vincent of Coleshill, of Shrivenham in the County of Oxfordshire, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Bramall and the Lord Gillmore of Thamesfield.

Lord Taylor of Warwick

John David Beckett Taylor, Esquire, having been created Baron Taylor of Warwick, of Warwick in the County of Warwickshire, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord McColl of Dulwich and the Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach.

Violence on Television

2.50 p.m.

Lord Renton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in view of the need to improve standards of behaviour, they will ask television companies to reduce the amount of violence, crime, sex and aggressive behaviour shown on television.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of National Heritage (Lord Inglewood): My Lords, Her Majesty's Government believe that everyone has a role in helping to ensure civilised behaviour in Britain and they encourage each and every one to play their part. Parliament decided that the broadcasting Acts and the BBC Charter and Agreement provide the legal and regulatory framework within which UK broadcasters can exercise their editorial independence free from government direction.

Lord Renton: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that remarkably cautious reply. Does he accept the view of Edmund Burke that example is the school of mankind? Does he believe that the millions of children and young people who watch television are given a good example when they see so much violence and other bad behaviour on those programmes?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, Edmund Burke provided plenty of wisdom for us which is still relevant today. Example is one of the best ways of instruction. Of course, there are things on television which do not provide a good example to young people and citizens in general. Equally, we must not overlook instances where a good example is to be found in the broadcast.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe: My Lords, in the light of the noble Lord's statement that civilised behaviour should be

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encouraged and that nothing which glamorises violence should be shown on television, would he apply those words to sport such as boxing?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, boxing is an activity which is lawful in this country and which is thought by the broadcasters to be appropriate to be shown on television.

Lord Orr-Ewing: My Lords, I wonder whether anyone has drawn the attention of my noble friend to a feature article in the Telegraph on Saturday, which stated:

    "Finally, Wednesday night brought sudden subversion to BBC2's 'Newsnight'. Abandoning discussion, reporting, etc., the Duke of Norfolk was described as 'the top toff' and the Lord Great Chamberlain was generally mocked. Mr. Paxman was moved to say, 'Maybe one of these days Black Rod will be told what he can do with his Black Rod.' BBC2's current affairs flagship was now indistinguishable from a Sun editorial".
Will my noble friend accept that that is hardly in accord with the words which he deployed so well?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I am afraid that I am unable to respond in any detail to my noble friend's question, having seen neither the television programme concerned nor the editorial to which he referred.

Lord Merlyn-Rees: My Lords, I declare an interest as president of the Video Standards Council which puts me on rather a different tack from the last questioner. Our products are classified on the basis of sex, violence and so on by the British Board of Film Classification which monitors videos and films. How does the classification for television work? Who is responsible for it?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, as I described to your Lordships, material on television is regulated under the BBC Charter and Agreement and the broadcasting Acts. There is a clear duty on both the governors of the BBC and the Independent Television Commission to ensure programmes do not include anything,

    "which offends against good taste or decency or is likely to encourage or incite to crime or to lead to disorder or to be offensive to public feeling".
The broadcasters have an obligation to exercise those duties in a manner which takes into account the Broadcasting Standards Council's code relating to broadcasting standards and the terrestrial broadcasters are committed to ensuring that their programmes meet the requirements of the viewers.

Lord Gisborough: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the anxiety felt in relation to television is nothing compared to the anxiety felt in relation to videos? Videos contain far more violence; there are fewer controls over them and they can be watched at any time of the day or night by children.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, many of my noble friend's points are correct. However, it is important that we do not rank the potential dangers of one against the dangers of the other and thereby debase the one which comes second in the ranking.

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Lord Tebbit: My Lords, was my noble friend's original Answer a long way of saying "No"?

Lord Inglewood: No, my Lords.

Lord Elton: My Lords, does not my noble friend accept that violence has become the common currency on television as an alternative to the boredom which would otherwise be offered by the medium? It is difficult to turn on a programme and watch for more than half-an-hour without seeing several instances of people being beaten up or killed during hours when children may be able to see it and when parents may be shocked by it. Is it not the case that that indulgence in violence must escalate if it is to continue to excite the viewer? It is extremely damaging to the way in which we live in this country and should be halted.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, my noble friend's points are well taken. Clearly there are instances when programmes containing violence should not be shown. In all those instances it is difficult to know exactly where the line one may wish to draw is to be placed. It occurred to me in preparation for this Question that Shakespeare's "Macbeth" may well fall foul of a number of tests that certain noble Lords may initially wish to apply.

Lord Desai: My Lords, can the Minister assure us that, whatever laws are passed relating to violence, the news programmes, which have to depict violence, will not be banned?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, it is essential that there is proper treatment of news stories in a manner that is appropriate. However, it is important when defining "appropriateness" that any violence that could be shown is not shown gratuitously.

Baroness Strange: My Lords, does not my noble friend agree that a good example of courtesy and politeness is shown daily in your Lordships' Chamber? Would it not be a good idea therefore to have more broadcasting of your Lordships at work?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, it is important that the Government do not impinge on the editorial independence of the broadcasters. However, I am sure that they will have heard my noble friend's point and I hope that they will bear it in mind.

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I am sure the whole House regrets the decline in broadcasting standards and the growth, for instance, of tabloid television. Does not the Minister agree that the prospect in the future is more frightening with hundreds of digital channels about to be brought before us? In that context can the Minister recall that on this side of the House, during the Broadcasting Bill, we proposed amendments to introduce a quality test for digital channels and their multiplex operators? In the context of the Question, does not the Minister regret that the Government secured the

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defeat of what would have been a strengthening of the ITC's powers and some protection against the tide of television that lies ahead?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, the noble Lord is gamely trying to revive the dead hare that he ran before the summer. The way in which broadcasting is regulated in this country in respect of violence and pornography does not need the introduction of the quality test he describes in order to make it effective. In the Broadcasting Act we extended the scope of the regulatory regime seamlessly to include digital.

Lord Renton: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that it would be perfectly constitutional for the Government to draw the attention of the Broadcasting Standards Council to the need to insist upon higher standards? They can also draw the attention of producers to the anxiety among responsible members of the public regarding not only violence, but also bad language, shocking behaviour and unpleasant people being horrid to each that is shown on television. Can my noble friend seriously bear that in mind?

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