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Lord Avebury: The noble Lord, Lord Brennan, is not giving the full picture when he mentioned a couple a programmes that are on the BBC. The level and quality of religious broadcasting is infinitely greater than the few that have been mentioned. They include the "Moral Maze", "Beyond Belief", "Good Morning Sunday" and many other programmes that could be cited. I want to ask the noble Lord and the Committee whether they have considered the implications of opening up that field to people who want to broadcast their particular brand of religion in this country? Do noble Lords really think that the matter is confined to a few Christians, or do they think that, once the opportunity was there, the floodgates would open and one would have every religious denomination under the sun, provided that they could rake the money together, and apply to Ofcom for a licence?
The noble Lord, Lord Brennan, is shaking his head. He does not believe that that would happen. I am sure that there is a strong likelihood of that happening. Why should Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims and the many different varieties of those religionsbecause there is not just one denominationnot want their own point of view on the air? The noble Lord is asking us to open up Pandora's Box. That is not a job that I would be happy to undertake if I was in the seat at Ofcom. If there was a competing series of demands for religious broadcasting from all of the various denominations in this country, I do not see how a fair and equal choice could be made between them. How would Ofcom take into account the human rights implicationsto follow the noble Lord's train of thinkingof choosing one religion rather than another as having the right to broadcast to the people of the United Kingdom?
Lord Crickhowell: I thought that the closing remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, were astonishing coming from the Liberal Democrat benches. There must be many Liberals of the old tradition who must be turning in their graves to hear such strikingly illiberal views. I was not planning to comment on his speech until he made those closing remarks.
I wanted to comment on the remarkable and extraordinarily well researched speech of the noble Lord, Lord Brennan. He repeatedly asked for an explanation of the extraordinary attitude of the Government. It so happens that we have had the explanation spelt out in short, sharp terms by the Secretary of State, the right honourable Tessa Jowell, when she was questioned on the subject before the Joint Committee. I shall quote the explanation and then I shall ask the Committee to judge whether that was adequate in the light of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Brennan. She said:
That was the explanation. I suggest that in the light of the comprehensive analysis by the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, about spectrum availability and about the general principles involved, it is an extraordinarily inadequate explanation by the Government. For that reason I am happy on this occasion to support the amendment of my noble friend on the Front Bench.
Lord Brennan: Was the noble Lord here the other day when we were arguing about whether there was space for two local television stations? We were told that we could not have that because there was not enough spectrum. If there are not enough for two local television stations, how can there be enough for the multitude of religions which now wish to broadcast?
Lord Archer of Sandwell: I did not intervene at Second Reading and I have spared your Lordships any previous intervention in the course of your Lordships' debates on the Bill. Noble Lords may find that to be a matter of relief rather than blame. The matter is not a subject on which I pretend to have any expertise, nor even any familiarity with the vocabulary that is used.
I begin with a declaration of interest. I am a practising Christian, but I became involved in the issue when it was pointed out to me that the Bill contains what appears to be a startling denial of human rights. The Bill deprives someone of a licence, not because he lacks merit, but because he does not have the opportunity to have the merits even considered. The merits are not even relevant. I appreciate that the Bill represents a commendable improvement on the position under the 1990 Act. However, it is not clear, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, said, why the Government felt it necessary to stop half way. They seem to be saying "we will rectify half of the injustice, but the other half we will leave unjust". I can never quite understand why governments of all complexions, when they occasionally appear on the side of the angels, always give the impression that they wish that they were somewhere else.
As I understand the matter, some propositions are common ground. Of course there should be a structure for regulating broadcasting. There is such a structure. As many noble Lords have said, there is ample machinery to ensure that a licence is granted only to a fit and proper person. If a licensee ceases to be a fit and proper person the licence may be revoked. In addition there are the specific requirements under Sections 6 and 90 of the 1990 Act to ensure that the licensee observes the proper standards. There is also regulation under the published programme code. As the right reverend Prelate pointed out, the effect of the provision that the amendment would seek to rectify is that we would drive potential programme owners abroad to broadcast into the United Kingdom and they would not be part of the structure at all.
If the applicant does not comply with the requirements, the licence should be refused. That is common ground. If the holder of a licence ceases to comply with the requirements, the licence should be revoked. That is common ground. That cannot justify taking a whole category of applicants and saying that their applications should not even be considered. The question whether they comply with the requirements does not even arise.
I am already on ground on which I am not competent to speak, but it appears that the real thing is to do with the limited spectrum. We just heard that from the noble Lord who has a place on the Human Rights Committee. I do not claim the expertise to comment on that, and, in any event, I would not attempt to improve on the demolition job that my noble friend Lord Brennan has just carried out. However, even if it is true that there is very limited spectrum accommodation, the answer is to examine the various applications according to whatever criteria are deemed appropriate and allocate the available space to applicants who most nearly comply with the criteria. We cannot justify picking on one categoryapparently arbitrarilyand excluding it from the race before it even begins.
Usually, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and I are on the same side, but obviously there will be moments when we disagree. A few moments ago he said that there were likely to be applicants for religious programmes from different traditions and that granting the facility to one would, in some way, give it an unfair advantage over the others. I follow the logic, and it might be persuasive, if it applied to the real world. However, history suggests that neither within the Christian faith nor between it and other faiths is there any such conflict. To my knowledge, there have been no such problems in the past. If there is only one channel available, it would be relatively easy to construct a consortium that would allocate time among the various members. The noble Lord must agree that, judged purely as a question of human rights, it would be grossly unjust to say to one group of applicants that they will not be entitled even to have their applications considered.
The question provoked an intervention from the United Nations Association, not a notoriously hymn-singing body. It is true that it was dealt with by the UNA's religious advisory committee. It was moved to write to the Secretary of State citing a list of the international human rights that were in danger of being infringed. It dealt with the European convention. It talked about Article 2no distinction; about Article 18freedom of thought; Article 19freedom of opinion and expression; and Article 27the right to participate in the cultural life of the community. It went on to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It referred to the right to hold opinions and the right to freedom of expression and the need for respect for the rights and reputations of others. That was all set out in some detail. Then it turned its attention to the United Nations convention on discrimination. I shall not go through all of it, but it was a long, complicated and well constructed letter.
In reply, the UNA committee received a letter of three paragraphs. The first thanked it for its letter. The last said that a list of present provisions was attached showing which could be applied for and which could not. The paragraph in between set out, in eight and a half lines, what is said to be the present policy of the Government, which it knew already. Not surprisingly, it was so incensed that the chairman wrote to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human
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