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Viscount Astor: I should like to express my support for the principle behind the noble Baroness's amendment. I notice that she also has three other amendments on broadcasting which will require annual reports of the BBC to be laid before the parliament, as well as the,
My criticism would be that the noble Baroness's amendment does not perhaps go far enough. It seems to me that broadcasting is very separate in Scotland. In effect, there is almost a separate BBC, there are separate ITV regions and there are separate radio stations. Of course, the BBC is national and Scotland is part of the national system. One must also recognise the fact that the BBC is, as it were, the cement which holds much of this country together. Indeed, it is a national institution and should remain so. I am not suggesting that it should not.
There was a debate on the subject in another place in Committee which seemed to focus on two issues. The first was whether broadcasting should be responsible to a Scottish parliament and whether that parliament should be able to call witnesses from broadcasting, and so on, and have reports laid before it. The other issue was whether broadcasting should be an entirely separate matter for Scotland and thereby devolved. That was very much the proposal put forward by the Scottish National Party.
The debate in another place got somewhat out of kilter because it was automatically assumed that any form of change would result in some form of hypothecation of revenue and that, therefore, the BBC in Scotland would only be able to survive with the licence fee raised there. I do not believe that to be the case. However, it is true to say that the Scottish parliament will be responsible for arts policy, museums and galleries and many other matters which all come under the Department of Culture, Media and (Mr. Bank's) Sport, but it will not be responsible for broadcasting. That seems to me to be odd. The Government did not really come clean in another place on why broadcasting should be left under the control of Westminster.
If you want to start a Gaelic radio station in Dundee, it seems to me to be odd that you will have to go to Westminster for permission. There ought to be a mechanism for the devolving of powers of the ITC and the Radio Authority to Scotland within a national framework. As Members of the Committee will be aware, the BBC was created by Royal Charter. Schedule 5 to the Bill says that the BBC is a "reserved matter". Can the Minister say whether that means that the Bill will, as it were, supersede the Royal Charter or whether that reference merely applies to the transmission part of the BBC which, of course, is covered by Act of Parliament?
It seems to me that the Government have not thought out their policy on broadcasting clearly. I am not saying in any way that broadcasting should be totally devolved to Scotland but it seems to me that the Government should consider making the institutions that are totally reserved cross-border bodies. After all, the ITC has a separate office in Scotland. I do not know about the Radio Authority, but I am sure it will have one. Digital broadcasting and digital radio will mean that more channels will appear. I believe that the Scottish parliament ought to be able to have a role in this and ought to be able to call to account those who are responsible for Scottish broadcasting. They ought to be accountable to the Scottish parliament, albeit within a national system.
It has been suggested that the BBC is rather against this proposal. The chairman of the BBC, Sir Christopher Bland, came to the all-party media committee recently. When I asked him about this matter he said the BBC did not have a view on it and that it was a matter for Parliament to decide. I hope that the Minister will explain why this policy exists and the reasons behind it. I do not think the reasons put forward in another place are good enough. The Government ought to consider how to bring broadcasting within the orbit of the Scottish parliament.
Lord Gordon of Strathblane: I speak briefly at this late hour. In the light of the heightened sensitivity on declarations of interest after the previous debate, I should immediately declare that I am chairman of Scottish Radio Holdings, which owns several radio stations in Scotland. The amendment, quite remarkably, mentions,
but makes no mention of the Radio Authority. One might perhaps assume that this is an oversight from people who do not realise that the Broadcasting Act 1990 is, unfortunately, on the statute book. Indeed one of the more attractive arguments that the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, advanced concerned that matter. If it were possible to turn the clock back on the 1990 Broadcasting Act throughout the UK, I think we would all be enthusiastic about that, but to do it uniquely in Scotland I do not believe to be practical.
I think the difference is that the content of broadcasting is vitally important to the people of Scotland, as is the content of the press. What we are talking about is not the content of broadcasting; for that you would hold to account people such as the chief executives of my company, Scottish Radio Holdings, the director of BBC Scotland, John McCormick, and people like that, not parliament and regulators. We have in this country a system under which Parliament has stood back from broadcasting and regulates it at arm's length through buffer bodies such as the Independent Television Commission, the BBC board of governors or the Radio Authority.
For that reason it is difficult to see Scotland having separate legislation for broadcasting. But that is what we are talking about, if we are talking about the Scottish parliament. What bit of legislation about broadcasting could conceivably be different in Scotland from the rest of the UK? If we take the example of the 1990 Act, if Scotland was not bound by that Act, radio in Scotland would still be under an independent broadcasting authority, while south of the Border it would have been moved to the Radio Authority. That would not make sense. The important point is that the broadcasting authorities will clearly want to co-operate with the Scottish parliament, and we shall discuss broadcasting.
If we examine the amendment, we see that it deliberately adds, uniquely, apart from the devolved subjects, the ITC and BBC. The amendment would seem to express the wish that broadcasting should be a devolved subject. I believe, however, that the Government are right to leave it as a reserved matter.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The Liberal Democrat amendment would allow the parliament to summon to its committees anyone involved in the BBC and ITC. The noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, rather beat me to it in wondering why radio was not included. I wondered why cable and satellite were not included. They are increasingly important in people's lives, in Scotland as elsewhere.
My noble friend Lord Astor wants to go slightly further and remove the reservation so that broadcasting matters are devolved. I can see the difficulties surrounding that approach. They were pointed to by both the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, and my noble friend. However, I cannot believe that it would be any less difficult to deal with devolving broadcasting and yet retaining some form of national overview than it is to devolve fishing and farming and yet keep the powers of negotiation with Europe in this place; or to break up the Forestry Commission into its component parts and yet try to think that one forestry commission can operate for the United Kingdom in the three different parts of the kingdom. So it is not so difficult as the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, suggested.
There are two aspects to this matter: the technical aspect and the question of who runs the show in relation to transmission and broadcasting. When I became a Member of the other place in 1979, one great problem at that stage was that many parts of my constituency, along with the rest of the Highlands, did not receive television pictures. An "active deflector" had been
Unfortunately for them, one of my constituents, the late Colonel Archie Fletcher, who had been a commanding officer in the Scots Guards, was not a man to take those kinds of decisions lying down. His Member of Parliament was marched on parade, and we both conducted a campaign. We should have had no trouble had the matter been decided in Scotland. People would have understood immediately. But we had an immense amount of trouble persuading the guardian angels of the airwaves that this was a real problem and that it could be solved only by the means that we proposed. So there is much to be said for matters surrounding the frequencies of services and so on being devolved to Scotland.
After all, it may be that in Scotland we do not want many of the radio programmes that are broadcast on a national basis, such as Talk Radio. In Scotland, we might prefer to use that slot, as my noble friend Lord Astor said, for Gaelic. I understand that the Radio Communications Agency could contemplate a degree of autonomy within its Scottish operation if it were not inhibited by legislation which applies throughout the United Kingdom. These are important matters.
There is the question of the digitising of TV and the use of multiplexes. The digital multiplexes will reach only between 66 and 90 per cent. of the population in the UK. It is not hard to see where most of the missing percentages will be. They will be in rural Scotland, to an extent in Wales, and maybe in Cumbria. So there is a problem which it might be better to devolve to Scotland.
Turning to those who provide the viewers with pictures and sound, as the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, indicated, we have very robust media groups in Scotland. There is the Scottish Media Group, which includes Grampian and STV. We have Radio Clyde, which the noble Lord mentioned. I do not know it by the grand title of Scottish Radio Holdings because the radio station I listen to is Radio Clyde. The noble Lord will be delighted to hear that I listen to it and I will give him my complaints about some of the programme changes later. Those are Scottish organisations.
Then we come to the BBC, which is not. Or is it? No organisation has done more to advocate and push devolution over the past 20 years than the BBC at Queen Margaret Drive. With a few honourable exceptions, its broadcasters have never disguised the desire for devolution. There were a few exceptions, whether it be "Good Morning Scotland", "Newsdrive", the lunchtime programme, "Headlines", or a whole host of other current affairs, the broadcasters have plugged the devolution line. One of the recent national governors tried to pretend to us that he was neutral. The moment he was released from the BBC he went off to a political post somewhere, propagating devolution, without any
It is the BBC I am looking at, like my noble friend Lord Astor. The BBC fought the campaign in favour of devolution. Many of the journalists and people who supposedly chaired discussions in which I have been involved made no attempt to disguise their bias. If the BBC had advocated devolution, should it not share in the devolution? Why should all the rest of us have it and not the BBC?
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