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The Lord Bishop of Manchester: I rise to speak to Amendments Nos. 182B and 183A, which stand in my name. I am most grateful for the wide support of noble Lords who put their names to them.

I emphasise that the amendments are intended not only for Christians, but for all faiths and those of no faith who value the beauty of much religious worship and expression and who see the importance of spirituality and religion although they do not themselves believe.

Clause 260(6) provides the first mention—a very long way into the Bill—about religion in the context of defining a public space in broadcasting. The political philosopher John Gray has been cited in other debates and his comparison is apt in this regard. He said:

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The provision of television services that explicitly reflect, support and stimulate cultural activity properly forms part of that public space in broadcasting. However, as the clause stands, we can fall into the trap of thinking that public service broadcasting is about promoting culture alone rather than also about reflecting all human experience. Within human experience, religion and spirituality have a unique and important place. In order to reflect that, there must be stronger acknowledgement in the clause of the place of religion and spirituality in public service broadcasting. That is what my amendments seek to address.

Reflecting, supporting and stimulating are key aspects of public service broadcasting but they go beyond cultural activity and include reflecting the life of our faith communities in their worship and in their serving of the wider community. That is not adequately provided for at present in the clause. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, for her comments on the inadequacy of dealing with religion from only a sociological or historical perspective.

Religion and spirituality are an important part of our national identity. Dunblane, September 11th and the Golden Jubilee are just a few of the many occasions in recent years at which public space—both in places of worship and through broadcasting—has provided vast numbers of our population with the opportunity to share the religious and spiritual dimensions of experiences of great joy and deep sorrow.

Similarly, in my former diocese of Wakefield, when eight members of one Muslim family were killed in an arson attack, the public space was provided by the local Church of England parish church, into which, later that same day, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Christians and people of no faith at all packed together in a poignant mix for a moving community memorial service, which I helped to lead. It was also given space on regional and local broadcasting services, as was the subsequent funeral, which was attended by some 8,000 Muslims, at which I was invited to speak from a Christian perspective and was honoured to do so.

I mention those matters because this religious and spiritual use of public space helped to do something very important. It released emotion and contained anger to the benefit of the whole community. The public space provided by television for worship and reflecting on the tragedy in a moral context enhanced the capacity of religion and spirituality to be cohesive forces. That is one of the reasons for wanting to strengthen the place of religion and spirituality within the clause, as parts of our national life requiring reflection, support and stimulation by their representation in public service television.

The importance of religion and spirituality was, as noble Lords well know, illustrated by the national census, for which religion was deemed sufficiently important by the Government to have its own section. It was helpful to have the full details of that census made available to noble Lords in published form last week.

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I remind Members of the Committee that the census showed that 71 per cent of the population marked themselves as Christians; 3 per cent as Muslims; and 3 per cent as other faiths. In other words, nearly 80 per cent of the nation in the Government's census, and from the privacy of their own homes, deliberately chose to associate themselves with religion and spirituality. And as the newly published report shows, the largest age group responding to the religion question was aged 25 to 49. Niche times and niche broadcasting alone cannot provide for the appetite of this age group and that of the general population for spiritual content in broadcasting. The regulator must support broadcasters who are seeking peak time for high-quality religious and spiritual content.

Of course we know that only 12 per cent attend regularly a place of worship, but the 80 per cent who chose to see themselves as religious or spiritual are people who wander in and out of places of worship—shrines, grave yards—loitering and sauntering in the byways and who connect with religion from time to time. And that is the reality of our nation's life and experience. It must be reflected in the public space in broadcasting. The "Today" programme, in its albeit unscientific survey about who should be England's patron saint, hardly displayed a country indifferent to religion. Listeners voted for St Alban, our first Christian martyr.

I believe that the Government are sincere in their often expressed view that our faith communities have a significant part to play in promoting social inclusion and racial harmony. I very much hope they will also recognise the significant part that religion and spirituality have in this nation's life and that they will give religion and spirituality the prominence in this Bill they objectively and popularly deserve and which my amendments seek.

Baroness Whitaker: I declare an interest as the deputy chair of the Independent Television Commission. I should like to support Amendment No. 179 but, speaking in a personal capacity, to address Amendment No. 184.

The amendment simply brings the Bill in line with the Human Rights Act 1998 and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, to which the UK is, of course, a signatory. The Human Rights Act, incorporating Article 9 of the European Convention, deals with the right to freedom of religion or belief, and so does Article 18 of the international convention, in almost identical wording. The words "or belief" have been glossed by the authoritative United Nations Human Rights Committee as protecting,

    "theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief".

Case law has confirmed this interpretation. In that spirit, the EU directive on religious discrimination in employment, which the UK had adopted, says "religion or belief" and the UK's own implementing regulations repeat it in their very title—the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003.

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So perhaps it is an oversight which left out "or belief" among the subjects for programmes which Ofcom needs to check are included in the public service broadcasters' remit, along with religion, science, social issues and international specialist matters, all of which it seems to me to be proper to specify. If it is an oversight, it ought to be put right as it sends out the message that the only context for belief, moral principles or ethical systems is religion.

I am grateful to my noble friend for her letter to me of 16th April on the subject. I understand its view, no doubt close to that of the parliamentary draftsmen, that "religion" is understood to mean the whole range of belief; that is, including non-religious belief. But law is used by other than lawyers. It is read and used by all sorts of non-legal people. I cherish the high ambition that law should be understood by ordinary people, by whom "religion" will be construed as religion and not as non-religion. To make it clear to regulators, to broadcasters and to those who call them to account, that our society recognises that there are other bases for morality than revealed religion, the Bill needs those two extra words.

Unless "or belief" is explicit, Ofcom has little encouragement, and broadcasters even less, to respect the perspective of that 15 per cent of people—nearly 1 million—who said in the 2001 census that they had no religion; and even that is a much smaller figure than the British Social Attitudes' 39.5 per cent "with no religion", or than the much larger proportion of young people. So I fully understand the views of the right reverend Prelate. If we leave it out, there is no status given to the longstanding western agnostic tradition. I shall not weary noble Lords by giving the famous names, but they will know that from Democritus to David Hume to many of our most distinguished contemporary scientists and philosophers we have a culture which ought not to be ignored. It would be simple to put this right—two words.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: If the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, is correct in her definition that agnosticism is not within the scope of the word "spirituality", then I accept entirely her amendment. It is certainly not the intention of those who have tabled the amendment—of whom I am one—for this to become some kind of evangelical Trojan horse, let alone an evangelical provision for Christians.

Clause 260, which deals with the public service remit of Ofcom and broadcasters, is not judgmental; nor is the amendment. Clause 260 deals with the world as it is. Perhaps I could draw the Committee's attention to Clause 260(4)(c) which describes the purposes of public service broadcasting as,

    "meeting the needs and satisfying the interests of the available audiences".

That is a pragmatic and not an ideological test. It is no more relevant to look at the deeds and misdeeds of those who have acted in the name of religion with regard to this clause or the amendment than it would be vis-a-vis culture or science, which are the two other matters dealt with by the clause.

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Perhaps I may say, en passant, that it is more than a pity that the White Paper, which was a prelude to the Bill, referred to the potential of religion for stirring up hatred. The potential of politics is no less vitriolic. It is quite improper for that to be in the White Paper. I emphasise that it is not the intention of those who have tabled the amendment to ask for the Committee's views on whether Christianity is the true faith or something less.

As clarified by the right reverend Prelate, there is probably no single interest group in this country as large as those of spiritual and faith communities. I still find it astonishing that 80 per cent should in the latest census have described themselves thus. Therefore, if the Bill is indeed to reflect "needs and interests", in this subsection in particular, we believe that the amendment is necessary.

Some may think it understandable that 80 per cent of the population describe themselves as the right reverend Prelate stated, given the values and ideals at the heart of the great religions, which undoubtedly foster and project values that are common to our culture and are traditional to all faiths—the values of truth, generosity, public service, human dignity and love—and that the present age may be thought to be saturated if not dominated by commercialism and materialism. The Bill is a deeply commercial Bill. That is why it is important that in the hierarchy of significance of the clause, religion should have a place alongside culture. We have couched the amendment in the same sort of language used to describe Ofcom's duties in respect of culture.

On a matter of drafting, the amendment means that the reference to religion in the subsection would not be subject to the qualifying phrase that currently applies to it and several subsidiary subsections: "as appears to Ofcom". It places it a step higher in the hierarchy of the clause.

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