Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Gordon of Strathblane: I should point out to the noble Viscount that no one has to come to London; indeed, the ITC has a Scottish office in Blythswood Street, Glasgow. There is no separate office for the Radio Authority. With the light touch regulation, which was introduced by the government of which the noble Viscount was a distinguished member, the idea was to avoid duplicating costs by setting up exactly the same organisation in Scotland as we had in England.

I should stress that there is very little difference in principle between my position and that of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson. I believe that broadcasters in Scotland would be off their heads not to volunteer to put their annual reports before the Scottish parliament and to allow discussion on content. However, there is a difference between doing so voluntarily and being required to do so. If they are required to do it, that presumes that the Scottish parliament actually has legislative power over broadcasting which I do not believe it has or should have. Moreover, in addition to the content of broadcasting, people in Scotland and the Scottish parliament will be concerned about the quality and content of the Scottish press. Indeed, there is no mention of that anywhere.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: With the greatest of respect to the noble Lord, and if he will forgive me, I should point out that I believe he has missed the point. My noble friend's amendments do not attempt to remove to the Scottish parliament control over the broadcasting Acts of 1990 and 1996, nor do they suggest

27 Jul 1998 : Column 1313

that there should be anything other than reservation in relation to the BBC. They are indeed modest. Amendment No. 218 requires the annual reports to be laid before the parliament. That is something the noble Lord himself said would be good to encourage discussion. It would be a poor parliament that was in any way inhibited from debating issues of broadcasting that were current in Scotland.

Amendment No. 220 concerns the appointment of the national governor for Scotland of the BBC,

    "and the appointment of a Scottish member of the Independent Television Commission".

That, again, does not involve interfering with the Broadcasting Acts. As regards Amendment No. 219 which concerns,

    "The promotion and funding of Gaelic broadcasting in Scotland",

I should have thought the noble Lord would be supportive of that. I declare an interest as chairman of an independent radio company, Marches Sound, which broadcasts half in Welsh and half in English, and which was also granted its licence by the IBA under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Thomson. I have seen the necessity for the support and promotion of Welsh language broadcasting in Wales not simply by local radio stations but also by television through S4C, BBC Cymru and similar organisations. It is important that there should be support from the Scottish parliament for the language and for Gaelic broadcasting in Scotland.

The Duke of Montrose: I offer my support to the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, on Amendment No. 219. At the age of four I was made a life member of An Comunn Gaidhealach. This reflected more the enthusiasm of my elders than any enthusiasm I had at that time. But it has been one life membership from which I have gained good value over the years. If I have understood correctly the findings of the researches of my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, Gaelic broadcasting is possibly the one subject on which a Minister of the Scottish parliament will be able to represent the UK in Europe. It might be useful for the Scottish parliament to discuss this subject beforehand.

Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: I add my voice to the chorus of support for my noble friend's amendment. It follows from the previous discussion we had. It seems to me that for an activity that is so absolutely central to Scottish life it is entirely illogical that the Scottish parliament should not have sight of the annual reports of the BBC and the ITC as a matter of course. The noble Lord, Lord Gordon, is quite right; this amendment does not seek simply that these documents should be made available as a matter of courtesy, but that they should be required to be laid before the Scottish parliament. That would give the process a kind of formality and would lock the parliament, the BBC and the ITC into a dialogue. I am not speaking of control but of making the parliament's voice heard and its influence felt. As I think the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, implied, and I know full well, both these bodies are well

27 Jul 1998 : Column 1314

prepared and ready to take such a step. Therefore I cannot for the life of me understand why the Government should resist this measure.

As regards the promotion and funding of Gaelic broadcasting, the Fraser Report was recently completed. It, too, would welcome such an amendment as this. It recommends that there should be,

    "A single Gaelic Broadcasting Authority".

At the moment the scheduling is sporadic and there is little co-ordination. There is often confusion and overlap. A far greater degree of coherence is needed. For such a specialist, small area of broadcasting, it is absolutely crazy or, as my noble friend said, daft, that this matter should not be dealt with by the Scottish parliament. It is a source of considerable amazement among broadcasters that it is proposed to reserve it. I hope that the Government will listen hard to the voice of the people on the ground who give us this service.

As for the appointment of the national governor for Scotland, that is only logical. There are many BBC executives who would find it much more comfortable and would be much happier to have their national governor for Scotland being appointed by the Scottish parliament. To many people in Scotland the national governor is like the chairman of the BBC. People have indicated to me in conversation that to have a national governor appointed in the way that we propose would make it easier for them to be more proactive, rather than reactive as they are at present. It might make it possible to enter the proceedings earlier. There have been disputes and difficulties. The "Panorama" programme is a case in point, where perhaps it would have been easier, and could be made easier in future, to enter the proceedings earlier. The provisions should be there for when difficulties occur. I repeat: I very much hope that the Government will listen hard to these arguments.

Baroness Young of Old Scone: I should perhaps declare an interest. I had not intended to speak; however, I feel that I must following the interjection by the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater. I hope that with this amendment we do not face any misapprehension about what the input to the process of governance of broadcasting should be from the Scottish parliament or indeed any political process. I was worried by the reference to the "Panorama" programme and am loath to hear any suggestion that programme content might be influenced by the political process. We have to respect the independence of broadcasting in this country and promote it wherever possible.

There are issues on which reassurance can be given. For example, the annual report of the BBC has already been willingly offered to the Scottish parliament. Although I am premature in saying so, because it is at least four days before I arrive at the BBC, I hope that we shall see an openness and accountability in regard to all aspects of governance in the UK from that institution.

In regard to the appointment of governors, again I should declare an interest, having recently been appointed. Politicising such appointments should be

27 Jul 1998 : Column 1315

avoided at all cost. Indeed, the new practice of advertising vacancies and appointing in terms of known procedures is absolutely vital.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth: The noble Baroness was not in her place when I ventured to congratulate her on her new appointment. Perhaps I may remind her, since she has not yet arrived at the BBC, that while broadcasting of course has to be kept at arm's length from politics in terms of interfering with programmes, it is governments who appoint governors. That is a political act. The Scottish executive and Scottish parliament are entitled to take a political interest in that, just as we do in this House and in the other place.

Baroness Strange: I merely wish to point out that Gaelic is not, and never has been, the national language of Scotland, although it has always been spoken by the people in the Highlands and Islands and in the north of Scotland. I believe that people in the Orkneys and Shetlands spoke Norse. The main part of Scotland has always spoken Scots, or Lallans. Perhaps we should make a plea for broadcasting in that language.

11 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: We have returned on a rather narrower set of amendments to the subject of broadcasting, which we discussed very late on what was the only full day we have had in Committee on this Bill. I shall be puzzled if the Government refuse to accept these three amendments--but I shall probably be puzzled.

As my noble friend Lord Astor said, the Independent Television Commission is the regulatory body. As such, it undertakes any regulation that is necessary, and not the Government. That is right and proper. The last thing I should want is for the Government to regulate television, radio or any other of the information media.

Independent television is quite different from the BBC. Under the ITC umbrella, the major companies in Scotland--Grampian and Scottish--are Scottish companies, part of the Scottish Media Group. In the parallel medium of radio, Scottish Radio Holdings is in a similar position of being an independent Scottish company. It broadcasts from that Scottish base. I therefore do not see any reason the parliament should not be allowed to have the Independent Television Commission's report laid before it. Nor do I see why it should not be allowed to take part in the appointment of a Scottish member of the Independent Television Commission. However, perhaps I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, that I suspect this will meet the same fate as a member of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England. In other words, Big Brother at Westminster will continue to think he or she knows best. In this case he knows best, as I imagine this will be a "FOTAC" appointment, a friend of Tony and Cherie.

The BBC is different. My noble friend Lord Astor thinks the BBC binds us together. He clearly listens to Radio Clyde and not BBC Scotland, because over the

27 Jul 1998 : Column 1316

past 20 years, as I said on Thursday evening, it has done its best to advocate devolution. Some broadcasters bring up the United Kingdom, but that is a different matter.

I do not see why we cannot have a separate public broadcasting authority in Scotland. It seems to me that the BBC in Scotland sails a narrow line between trying to be independent and trying to keep--I was going to say the "apron strings"--the purse strings that bind it to London. I see no reason why the BBC should not lay its annual report before the parliament. I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, that I suspect that whether or not it lays the report before parliament, if the parliament wants to discuss it, nothing will prevent it from doing so. Perhaps it would be better to say that parliament should require it.

On the appointment of a national governor for Scotland, my position is as it was for a Scottish member of an ITC. If the role of the Secretary of State for Scotland is to be as diminished as it will be after devolution, it should be a matter for the Scottish parliament and Scottish executive.

I am puzzled by Amendment No. 219. Currently it is the budget of the Secretary of State which promotes and funds Gaelic broadcasting in Scotland. Indeed, my right honourable friend Mr Michael Forsyth, when he was Secretary of State, and my noble friend Lord Lang both increased the amount of funding going from the Scottish Office budget to Gaelic broadcasting. There will not be a Scottish Office budget held by the Secretary of State for Scotland after devolution, it will all be devolved. So I would have thought that if the new parliament is to be able to fund Gaelic broadcasting as the Secretary of State has done to date, it will have to be devolved. Therefore, perhaps the Minister will accept Amendment No. 219.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page