Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Gordon of Strathblane: Is the noble Lord suggesting that a Scottish parliament should legislate for the programme schedule of BBC Scotland? The degree of devolved programming at the moment is entirely within the gift of the BBC, unless the noble Lord wishes a Scottish parliament to insist that there should be more.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am not asking the Scottish parliament to control it, I am simply saying that the BBC should be a devolved matter and there should be a Scottish BBC, just as there will be a bit of the Forestry Commission which will be the Scottish forestry commission. I see no problem about that at all. If other things are to be devolved, like great departments of state such as health, education, and many others, it seems to me that there is a lot of sense in the BBC in Scotland cutting itself free of the shackles--those are the words used--of London, Whitehall and all the other places. It should be a Scottish organisation. I am amazed that those keen advocates of devolution in the Committee are not keen on this. I wonder why.

It is right and proper that the BBC should be devolved and I share the view of my noble friend Lord Astor. I look forward to the pro-devolution Front Bench opposite agreeing with the points made.

11 p.m.

Lord Hardie: I am conscious of the hour and that the House is sitting tomorrow morning, so I shall try to be brief. Amendment No. 134 would give the Scottish parliament power to summon witnesses in connection with matters involving the British Broadcasting Corporation and the ITC. Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, that the ITC includes cable and satellite broadcasting.

As the Committee will be aware, broadcasting is a matter which is reserved to the UK Parliament and Government. The Government believe that there should be clear lines of accountability. It is right and proper that it should be for Westminster to investigate matters which are reserved, such as broadcasting. The Bill therefore does not give the Scottish parliament a power to summon witnesses in connection with reserved matters, except with regard to matters in relation to which functions have been executively devolved to Scottish ministers. This amendment seeks to have broadcasting treated differently from all other reserved matters. We do not think that that would be right.

16 Jul 1998 : Column 492

The Government's policy about the power of the Scottish parliament to summon witnesses and documents from bodies operating in Scotland which have responsibilities only in reserved areas was clearly set out in paragraphs 2.10 and 2.11 of the White Paper. We recognise the importance of those bodies in the economic and social life of Scotland and for that reason the parliament will be able to invite such bodies to give evidence.

The Bill needs to make no provision to allow it to do that. We have no reason to believe that representatives of the BBC, ITC and other bodies concerned with broadcasting in Scotland will be reluctant to give evidence to the Scottish parliament. We do, of course, recognise that broadcasting will be of interest to the Scottish parliament. I hope that the Scottish parliament will stimulate an informed debate on broadcasting matters, and I anticipate that broadcasters in Scotland will be sensitive to the views of the members of the Scottish parliament.

The amendment in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, would remove broadcasting from the list of reserved matters altogether. I have already explained that our policy is and remains as set out in Schedule 5; that is, that broadcasting should be a reserved matter. The Government feel, first, as a matter of principle that the standards applied to broadcasting should be established at national level and that the proper independence of broadcasting should be established and maintained at that level. Secondly, we believe that it is in the interests of Scottish viewers and listeners and of the broadcasting organisations that broadcasting should be dealt with at a UK level. Indeed, the noble Viscount recognised that the BBC was a national institution.

The view of the Government is also the view of broadcasters in Scotland. Scottish production and broadcasting have made a substantial contribution to the quality of television and radio in the whole of the United Kingdom. Equally, we benefit from a free flow of broadcast material within the United Kingdom. It may be objective that devolving broadcasting would not necessarily detract from the unified regulatory framework for broadcasting in the UK. It would be possible, and in view of the technical complexity of broadcasting it might be sensible, for the Scottish parliament not to use the power to make laws if that power were devolved. But the assumption will be that if broadcasting were to be devolved, different laws could be made and different regulatory bodies could be set up. If there were different programme codes, there could be a situation in which a programme was permitted in Scotland but not allowed in England, or vice versa. In such circumstances, there would be a serious disincentive to companies investing in production in Scotland. The confidence of the industry is a factor which we take seriously and I am sure Members of the Committee share that concern.

The noble Viscount noted that the BBC is largely governed by its own charter. But that does not mean that parliament cannot provide in this Bill for the BBC to be reserved. Nor does it mean that the BBC will be caught by the reservation of the Crown. It would be within the competence of Westminster legislation to modify

16 Jul 1998 : Column 493

prerogative instruments. Indeed, the present Bill provides for ministerial functions conferred by such instruments and exercisable in relation to matters which are not reserved to be exercisable instead by Scottish Ministers. In other words, the Bill would modify certain Royal Charters. That would be the case for ministerial functions conferred, for example, by the Royal Charters of the Scottish Sports Council and the Scottish Arts Council.

Although broadcasting is to be reserved, it is intended that some changes will be made in relation to the various broadcasting authorities. For example, as the noble Viscount noted, my honourable friend the Minister in another place recognised that the national governor for Scotland of the BBC is appointed under the provisions of the Royal Charter. But it is intended that Scottish Ministers will be consulted by the Secretary of State for Media, Culture and Sport on future appointments.

Its own charter provides that an annual report of the BBC shall be sent to the Secretary of State and shall be laid before both Houses of Parliament. In future the report will also be sent to Scottish Ministers and presented to the Scottish parliament, and similar arrangements will be made for the other broadcasting authorities.

With those explanations, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Viscount Astor: The noble and learned Lord gave a clear explanation of the BBC and the Royal Charter and how that works under the Bill, for which I am extremely grateful.

Will the Government consider the ITC, which has not so far been mentioned? The ITC has a separate office in Scotland that largely deals with matters in Scotland. Will the Government look at whether that body should be responsible for cross-Border matters or be given some form of authority within Scotland so that it can make local decisions without always having to refer to Westminster when those matters did not affect, for example, broadcasting on a national basis?

Lord Hardie: The point raised by the noble Viscount is covered by the comments that I made in relation to the BBC. The ITC is also concerned with national broadcasting and the same considerations would apply.

Viscount Astor: Perhaps I may come back to the noble and learned Lord. The difference between the BBC and the ITC is that the ITC--this applies also to the Radio Authority--is responsible for local services.

16 Jul 1998 : Column 494

When digital comes in, the ITC will be responsible for local television services and local cable services. That is what makes the ITC different from the BBC.

Lord Hardie: I do not think that the position is essentially different for the ITC. The Government do not intend to distinguish between the BBC and the ITC.

Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: I thank the noble and learned Lord for his reply and his explanations, which I found very helpful. I must also say that the stories of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, about people who live in the hills having problems with television reminds me of my home in the hills of Perthshire. My father refused to pay his television licence because he could receive only one channel, and very badly at that. In the end, he was fined and he was all over the local papers as the "revolting colonel".

I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, and the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, for their support. I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, about radio. Although we are well aware that the BBC and ITC can be invited to appear before the Scottish parliament, as the Bill stands they may not be required to appear. That is only really relevant when there is an issue of some importance. I feel, as everyone in the Committee appears to feel, that this is a matter of great importance and one to which we shall probably wish to return at a later date. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page