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Scotland Bill

9.3 p.m.

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed on Schedule 5.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 221:

Page 85, line 5, at end insert--
("Exception from reservation
The Parliament may require the annual reports of the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Independent Television Commission to be laid before it.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 221, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 222 and 223.

Those noble Lords who were involved in the Committee stage of this Bill will observe that these amendments are similar to ones we discussed and developed at that time, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth. He withdrew them after an interesting debate. I retabled them because, despite the clear assurances from the Government in relation to their intentions, when I read the Minister's response in col. 1317 of Hansard I wondered why none of these items was to be placed on the face of the Bill. In each case the Minister said that the intention was to make provision through an executive devolution order under Clause 59. The question that kept coming to me was: if the Government intended to use the executive devolution order under Clause 59 to deal with these issues, why did we have so much other detail in the Bill when many of the other issues could have been dealt with in exactly the same way?

I return to these issues therefore to ask why they should not be put on the face of the Bill. Issues have moved on, as they often do, since we discussed this matter on 27th July. And I should like to take the amendments one at a time because the one in relation to which issues have moved on is the last one I should like to discuss.

In relation to Amendment No. 222, in Committee I noticed that funding direct broadcasting is currently the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Scotland and therefore it will naturally fall to the new Scottish executive to do the same. Why will not the Government put that on the face of the Bill rather than using Section 59 proceedings? It seems to me to be a bit illogical when I look at some of the other matters that have been placed on the face of the Bill.

Amendments Nos. 221 and 223 relate to the laying of reports and appointments. The Minister took those on board and said that they would be dealt with under Clause 59. But why cannot they be placed on the face of the Bill? In relation to the reports, the BBC indicated that it will lay the report before the parliament.

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But I am interested in Amendment No. 223. At the risk of offending the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, I am less concerned with the Scottish membership of the Independent Television Commission; it has a different role from that of the BBC. The ITC does not deliver anything at its own hand.

We already have the devolution of independent broadcasting, both radio and television, in Scotland. The bodies which operate independent television for Scotland are bodies which are owned--probably by the various city funds--and managed from Scotland. They deal with Scottish issues and decide whether they will take part in any national programmes. They are very much on their own. That is true of what was Grampian Television and Scottish Television--I cannot remember what Scottish Television now calls itself, but perhaps that is what it calls itself now, although it used to be called STV. Both of those organisations are owned by the increasingly powerful Scottish Media Group, in which the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, was a principal player for some time. They are Scottish bodies and they make decisions in Scotland.

There was a similar situation with independent radio. Independent radio was very much the brainchild of the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane. In Scotland, it was built up very successfully and it was locally based. I am less worried about that than I am about the BBC. I believe that there will be a huge dilemma and potentially a huge difference of opinion between the BBC in Scotland and the BBC nationally. There are signs already that there will be considerable tensions. I doubt whether the British Broadcasting Corporation believes for one minute in devolution, despite the fact that its Scottish headquarters at Queen Margaret Drive in Scotland has for decades been the source of a lot of the propaganda in favour of devolution. The BBC in Scotland does not find much comfort when it discusses matters of devolution with its bosses in London.

I am concerned about the appointment of a national governor. I can foresee a situation where the BBC down here might say to the Government here, "To be honest, we do not much like the person suggested from Scotland; he will come down here and attempt to get far too much independence from the BBC; Culture Minister, would you not prefer to have a safer pair of hands?" I can assure your Lordships that such conversations do take place. A "safer pair of hands" is always an invitation from officials to Ministers that it would be dangerous to do the other thing. There is a danger that that could happen. I believe that putting this provision on the face of the Bill would strengthen the Scottish executive.

A recent press report will bring to your Lordships' attention the reason why I am concerned about that. Essentially, the BBC in Scotland has expressed a wish to opt out of the six o'clock news once devolution comes along and to have a news programme presented from Scotland, giving the Scottish parliamentary position, Scottish views, UK views and world views. The current situation is that at six o'clock we have the national news and at 6.30 we have the Scottish news. The position after devolution will be that a lot of things

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in the national news will not be in the least bit relevant to Scotland. Who in Scotland will be bothered about what Mr. Frank Dobson thinks about health? That will have nothing to do with health in Scotland as he will not be part of the same government.

Lord Gordon of Strathblane: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Presumably he is aware that that is true at present. A lot of views generated from London are irrelevant in Scotland because the subject is already devolved administratively.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I think that I acknowledged that, but at least that was within one United Kingdom Government, whereas, after devolution, it will not be like that. Very often decisions made on health are made jointly by Ministers in the UK Government and therefore the same initiative--if it is an initiative--is developed by the UK Minister on behalf of the English health service in parallel with the Scottish health Minister. That will not necessarily happen in future because there will be two quite separate governments.

The point is that the BBC in Scotland would like to go its own way, but it is not being allowed to do so. The BBC nationally will not allow the BBC in Scotland to do that. The interesting thing is that BBC Radio has already gone its own way. In the mornings in Scotland I listen to "Good Morning Scotland" and I do not listen to "Today". "Good Morning Scotland" encompasses events happening in Scotland and around the world. It is a perfectly good programme. In fact, I think it is an excellent programme. In the evening, a programme called "News Drive" takes the place of "PM". Major world events are reported on it.

There does not seem to be a problem in radio, but there is a problem in television. One understands from a report in the Herald on Friday 16th October that there is considerable difficulty. It states:

    "BBC governors are due to meet the Broadcasting Council for Scotland on Wednesday amid rising talk of resignation among its 12 members if London keeps control against the wishes of BBC Scotland, its controller, Mr John McCormick, and senior staff. Last night it emerged that Scottish Secretary Donald Dewar has given his conditional blessing to BBC Scotland's ambitions"--
that is to have a fully Scottish-based six o'clock news--

    "One BBC insider said: 'Donald is a reasonable man'"--
we all say "hear, hear" to that--

    "who accepts the editorial logic but his one worry is that there would be a lapse into the kaleyard".
I can almost hear Donald Dewar saying that. The report continues:

    "other Ministers are not convinced ... Mrs. Helen Liddell, and Defence Secretary George Robertson. Both are noted for their strong anti-SNP stance and take the view that devolved Scottish broadcasting would give succour to the Nationalists, the strongest supporters of the proposed change, at a sensitive period in Scottish politics".
I am amused to think that they do not think that devolution will give succour to the Nationalists but that devolving the BBC will.

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I read from that article because I believe that it illustrates the point. Here we already have, before devolution has come along, a severe difference of opinion within the BBC between London and Scotland. In those circumstances, my concerns about the appointment of the national governor for Scotland are well justified. Despite the Minister's assurance, I can see that there may be pressure not to use the executive devolution order under Clause 59 on the issue. In fact, as far as concerns the appointment, it will just be a matter of the Scottish executive being "consulted".

On the last occasion, the Minister said:

    "I hope that that goes most of the way to meeting the intentions of the noble Lord".--[Official Report, 27/7/98; col. 1317.]
That is probably true; indeed, it goes most of the way. However, it is the little bit further that it does not go that bothers me. It means that if the Government down here do not like, or are persuaded by the BBC that they should not like, the suggested name from Scotland, they will look for someone else and will not appoint that person. There is no point in the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, looking puzzled because that is the reality of what happens inside government: powerful departments try to have their way.

Although I suspect that there may be a huge argument going on--and there is currently according to press reports--I believe that a bigger argument may arise in the future. If that is the case, the danger will be that, if the Scottish executive puts forward someone who is very sympathetic to this idea and wants to see BBC Scotland having some devolved powers and allowed to opt-out as I mentioned, the Culture Secretary-- I presume--will bend to pressure from the BBC and decide to look for someone else in Scotland. That is why I should like to see the appointment being an exemption from reservation so that the appointment to the BBC and the ITC will be made entirely at the behest of the Scottish executive. In that way, the Government of the United Kingdom would have no way in which they could decide not to accept the proposal. I beg to move.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, on these Benches we are immensely flattered that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, has decided on Report to adopt for his side the amendments which we moved in Committee. For our part, we felt that we had a pretty good debate at that time when we went into such matters. I wait with interest to hear the Minister's response as regards current amendments.

As someone who has been playing a sort of Back-Bench spectator role for the most part in the proceedings on the Bill, I should tell the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, that his brilliance in debating is one of the things that made some of the longueurs of this affair tolerable. Indeed, it is interesting to note that we should be discussing this subject at the end of the Report stage.

I believe that it comes down to whether such matters--these which were thoroughly debated in Committee--those dealing with on the face of the Bill, or whether they can be dealt with more adequately without accepting the amendments which, for our part,

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we were ready not to press on the last occasion. On the three matters which are mentioned in the current amendments, I shall turn, first, to the annual reports of the BBC and the ITC. As we were reassured in Committee, there is no doubt that when the parliament is established and the executive is working such reports will be laid before the Scottish parliament. We do not need material on the face of the Bill at this late stage to bring that about. I cannot imagine that the Scottish parliament, in which I have very great confidence, will be slow in wishing to debate the important issues raised by the noble Lord. Indeed, I agree with very much of what he said on some of the issues regarding broadcasting in Scotland, especially BBC broadcasting.

Again, having regard to the stage that we have now reached with the Bill, the question of the promotion and funding of Gaelic broadcasting in Scotland comes to my mind. I wait to hear with interest what assurances the Minister can give us in that respect. On the face of it, it seems rather dotty that Gaelic broadcasting could be a reserved matter to be dealt with by those people knowledgable about Gaelic broadcasting in the various recesses of Whitehall. But that is not the reality of the matter, and I hope to be reassured.

However, I turn now to one of the most important matters. It was recognised by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, as being one of the most important aspects of his amendments; namely, the appointment of the national governor for Scotland and the appointment of a Scottish member of the Independent Television Commission.

I cannot speak with any knowledge of the BBC's procedures but it was certainly always my understanding as an interested party that the national governor for Scotland at the BBC--the polite phrase is, "after consultation with the Secretary of State for Scotland"--was someone whom the Secretary of State for Scotland was ready to approve as a member of that governing body. That situation, which has existed for many years, will now, of course, be transferred to the First Minister for Scotland. I have no doubt that that will be the underlying reality.

I did not quite understand something that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, said. I think he may have misunderstood the position as regards the Independent Television Commission. I cannot speak with total accuracy about the latest situation but in my time the Independent Broadcasting Authority, which was the predecessor, had an important Scottish member. To my knowledge that appointment had to be approved by the Secretary of State for Scotland and will undoubtedly require the approval of the First Minister for Scotland. That does not require a provision on the face of the Bill, although I should be happy to have it if one wants additional reassurance. However, it is not necessary of itself.

I think the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, is probably mistaken about the situation with regard to commercial radio in Scotland. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, will correct me if I am wrong. I believe there is still a United Kingdom Radio Authority and I am happy to say it has not inhibited the Scottishness

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of Scottish independent radio. Therefore it does not seem to me at this stage that the case is made out--in terms of draftsmanship of the Bill--for putting all these matters on the face of the Bill. However, I shall await to hear whether we shall be totally reassured by what the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, has to tell us on the substance of the matter that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, raised.

I wish to make two general comments. My starting point is that I agree and sympathise with what the noble Lord said although I am bound to say--I hope that he will not take this amiss as it is intended to be a compliment--that the Conservative Opposition's approach to this Bill began with a negative attitude towards devolution. Much of the proceedings on this Bill in Committee--led with brilliant debating skill by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish--have outflanked all of us in enthusiasm for Scottish devolution. I can see no case for Scottish BBC television not having its main news bulletins as Scottish news bulletins dealing with the United Kingdom, the news from Scotland as a nation, the news from the United Kingdom, as a state of which we are all members, and the international news, but viewed through Scottish eyes. I think there is a battle to be won on this matter within the bureaucracy of the BBC. I sympathise totally with what the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, had to say about this.

However, I utter a cautionary note although I am not sure I shall carry all my colleagues with me on this. I regard the degree to which the United Kingdom broadcasting system--that is, the BBC, ITV, and the other new developments including Sky News and so on--has a United Kingdom dimension to be one of the vital cements that holds the United Kingdom together and creates a climate of opinion that there is a United Kingdom climate of opinion.

Therefore a tricky professional balance has to be struck between having a United Kingdom broadcasting system that makes us all feel members of the United Kingdom and at the same time has the vitality in Scotland to make us all feel proud of Scotland and Scottish broadcasting. That is the professional challenge ahead of us.

Subject to what has been said, I do not feel that this matter requires a lot of new wording at this late stage in the Bill. What is needed is to follow through the realities of the matters raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.

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