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Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, the Government are fully committed to the protection of fundamental rights as set out in the Human Rights Act. Since the Human Rights Act applies to the powers of both Ministers and Ofcom as they will be conferred on them by the Bill, there is no need to repeat those obligations on the face of the Bill.
The protection of privacy, human dignity and other fundamental rights is guaranteed by the Human Rights Act. It is true that freedom of expression is also guaranteed by that Act. Spelling out that right specifically on the face of the Bill reflects our commitment in the communications White Paper that the regulator's central objectives should reflect the balance between freedom of expression and the constraints on freedom of expression inherent in the regulation of broadcast content.
Clause 3(2) requires Ofcom to secure the application of standards that provide adequate protection to members of the public from the inclusion of offensive and harmful material in broadcast services and protection from unfair treatment and unwarranted infringements of privacy. In performing those duties, which, entirely legitimately and consistently with human rights legislation, require the interference with the right to freedom of expression, Ofcom is also required by Clause 3(3)(g), so far as is relevant, to have regard to doing so in the manner that best guarantees an appropriate level of freedom of expression.
We believe that this strikes the right balance. It in no way places freedom of expression above other rights, nor does it have any impact on the interpretation of the Human Rights Act as it applies to Ofcom, but it signals to Ofcom that the way in which it approaches its task in Clause 3(2)(e) and (f) should be the way that best guarantees the appropriate level of freedom of expression.
The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, mentioned the European Court decision in the Peck case. That case has been overtaken by events. The position has now been rectified by the incorporation of the Human Rights Act into our domestic law. Mr Peck would now have a claim under the Human Rights Act against the local authority in question that would offer him a route to an adequate remedy where none was available before. With those reassurances, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and the noble Lord, Lord McNally, for his support for the case I put forward. I am more than a little disappointed with the reply. The case I made underlined that the clause as it stands can be interpreted in a way that gives greater freedom to the broadcasters' approach than to
Amendment No. 10 was proposed to me by Women in Film and Television. While I strongly support their thinking and their overall case, when I first received it I was initially reluctant to table the amendment on the grounds that I believe strongly that the duties of Ofcom should extend to everyone on an equal and inclusive basis, and that no particular group or community should be singled out.
Your Lordships may say that people with disabilities, the elderly and those on low incomes are, for example, particular groups. However, in the context of Clause 3 that is not so since people with disabilities, those on low incomes and the elderly are present in all communities and live in all parts of the United Kingdom.
At Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Currie, said that some will find it tempting to shift metaphor, to see Ofcom as a Christmas tree on which to hang one's favourite decoration. He went on to plead:
I then saw the Government's Amendment No. 11. It responds to an amendment spoken to in Committee by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. It clearly singles out people from different ethnic communities. In essence, it makes a special case for people from different ethnic communities. Perhaps that does not sound politically correct. However, I believe it creates a situation of special pleading. It addresses a particular group that does not necessarily exist in all communities, in which case, given that the Government have chosen to promote the interests of different ethnic communities, they must also have regard for other particular groups and communities. I very much contend that that includes the interest of women. Indeed, their interests should take priority, since women are in all communities.
Many women, myself included, have become increasingly concerned that the powers that be and people in general feel that women now face no problems and that they have a level playing field with men, both as audiences and in broadcasting. They feel that the effort should therefore be put into securing equal opportunities for people and communities of ethnic origins. Cultural diversity is increasingly taken to mean ethnic diversity and does not include gender diversity, which seems to have dropped off the agenda.
All of these negative elements lead to a decline in standards. As budgets and schedules are squeezed, younger, untrained staff and freelancers are employed in place of more expensive but experienced staff. Those who have skills find themselves stretched because they not only have to work longer hours but spend more of their time informally training unskilled staff and/or correcting errors that have been made. So, while saving money in the short term, a strategy of employing untrained staff has a knock-on effect and results in a less skilled workforce overall, inevitably affecting standards in the long term.
There is also the question of long-term exhaustion of the workforce and unequal social representation. Long and irregular working hours combined with inadequate health and safety provisions mean that womenand men for that matter who are the primary carers for children and other dependents are more likely to leave the industry. This impacts not only on the representation of parents and carers; it also impacts on the representation of certain minorities who are more likely to have a higher number of dependents living at home.
In moving the amendment, particularly in the light of government Amendment No. 11, I seek a level playing field in terms of Ofcom's need to have regard to the different interests of different people, including women. I beg to move.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I support the amendment. When I first went to the Broadcasting Standards Commission, ahead of my arrival it had commissioned detailed research into the standing of women, both in the parts they played and in the management structures. It was pretty appalling. For example, there were very few news readersif anybecause that was not regarded by some in the broadcasting industry as a suitable role for women. There have been many improvements, both within the broadcasting workforce and on the management side, but, as with other areas, the nearer you get to the top the more the gender imbalance becomes obvious.
Every year the ITC produced an annual report in which every commercial broadcasting company was required to state how many women it had in management and what it was doing about the clear imbalance. The power to do that has been brought forward into the new Ofcom regulations and therefore Ofcom is capable of following through with that procedure. However, I should point out that it was the most ineffective method of discovering what was happening. Completely inadequate statements were given about the companies not having any women buttoughthey were looking for them. It was not a very satisfactory situation.
I shall not delay the House longer. I am grateful to the Minister for introducing the government amendment on ethnic diversity. It enabled me, on behalf of others, to withdraw my amendment on ethnic diversity. The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, has added the issue of gender diversity and I support her in that regard.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am grateful that the Government have conceded the arguments in Committee and have brought forward Amendment No. 11. It is a sign of the times, with DCMS over DTI, but the Government speak with one voice and I should not dwell on that.
Lord McNally: My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, we were approached by women in film and television, who provided an effective brief containing most of the telling points made by the noble Baroness. They note that there are no women in the main boardrooms of either Carlton or Granada, nor on Channel 4, which surprises me.
Amendment No. 10 covers better the thrust of government Amendment No. 11 in regard to the range of responsibilities. In making the concession on ethnicity, the Government have destroyed any argument for rejecting Amendment No. 10. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Currie, sits with sinking heart as he sees more glittering baubles being hung on his tree. But ethnic origins, communities and gender form a nice little trio. By hanging one of those baubles on the tree, the Government have conceded that the amendment would be no great breach of principle. I suggest that the best thing the Government and the Minister can do is withdraw Amendment No. 11 and accept Amendment No. 10, which I am sure he is about to do.
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