At a second level there is UKIP, which currently has 15% in the opinion polls and two Members of Parliament. It used to have no Members of Parliament, but two got in recently in by-elections. There are also

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the Liberal Democrats, who are part of the coalition, and have 56 seats. They now rate about 7% to 8% in current opinion polls. And there are the Greens, who have one seat, and 11% in the opinion polls. In terms of activists, the two major parties have about 170,000, in the case of the Labour Party, and about 150,000, in the case of the Conservative Party. The Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the Greens have between 40,000 and 50,000 activists and members. So there is clearly a second tier of parties, which are there and should therefore be considered.

The obvious conclusion is that we need two debates. All five parties—the two major parties, the Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the Greens—should take part in the first debate. Then there should be a second debate in which Ed Miliband and David Cameron take part, as the only two people who are likely to become Prime Minister. If you want a third debate—I recognise that there are several elements among the broadcasters: Sky and Channel 4 as well as ITV and BBC—you could certainly have a debate between the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his shadow opponent, Ed Balls.

It seems to me that the situation is utterly clear. You must have two or three debates. Five parties have to contribute and, in the final analysis, you must have a debate between the two people one of whom will become Prime Minister after the next general election.

As I said, I thought that the committee’s report was rational and logical. Raising the debate to an even higher level—I hope—I remind the House that Plato said that we reach correct decisions if we allow reason to triumph over emotion. I hope that reason will prevail in this context.

5.55 pm

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston (Lab): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, for this opportunity to discuss the informative and well judged report of your Lordships’ Communications Committee, which he summarised so well in introducing the debate. I declare a past interest in election broadcasting, having been in or around the ITV side of negotiations in eight general elections from 1970, when Harold Wilson lost to Ted Heath, through to 1997, when John Major lost to Tony Blair. Alas, there were no leadership debates in all that time and no agreement either in 2001 or 2005.

In my view, the explanation for the lack of agreement has never really changed. No party ahead in the opinion polls would risk its leader saying the wrong thing or performing poorly before polling day. The risk always outweighed the possible reward. Westminster veterans also recalled the alarming precedent of the 1960 televised debate in America, of which the noble Lord, Lord Grade, reminded us: Richard Nixon looking shifty and sweaty on screen and John F Kennedy going on to be elected President by the narrowest of margins. Television, with its close-up intimacy, was seen to encourage emotional responses that campaign managers could not predict or control.

Party managers here in Britain also argued that we do not elect presidents. We vote for MPs whose parties

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appoint their leaders, who may then become Prime Minister. Broadcasters should note the Communications Committee’s recommendation that in the context of televised leaders’ debates, they have a role to play in helping the British public to understand that they are not electing a president.

Today, the concern of established political parties might be the fear that charismatic celebrities with sweeping assertions and simple solutions will have a popular appeal that cannot easily be countered in the soundbite format of a multiparty debate on prime time television. Of course, that impact can now be amplified online by the explosion of social media.

The counterargument is that millions of citizens no longer register to vote and, with turnout in long-term decline, leaders must make better use of television and new media to reconnect with voters—as the leaders’ debates did in 2010, with good audiences and a pretty positive response.

I welcome the recommendation of the Communications Committee that stated:

“We encourage the broadcasters, in particular the PSBs”—

public sector broadcasters—

“mindful of their obligations and public purposes, to take very seriously the opportunities to develop activities around the debates to provide voter information and stimulate the public to be interested in the electoral process more generally”.

On traditional television channels—even ratings-conscious commercial channels such as ITV—general election programming frequently took priority over selling airtime to advertisers. Indeed, public service broadcasters have never given up on their efforts to make election coverage both serious and popular.

Finally, after a very long wait, we got a televised leaders’ debate in the general election of 2010, thanks to Prime Minister Gordon Brown breaking with precedent and agreeing to participate. The 2010 negotiations with broadcasters were still sensitive, and the agreement on the format was very detailed, with no fewer than 76 rules. These rules are still useful for 2015. The Communications Committee recommends that broadcasters should continue to oversee and produce the election debates, and I agree.

The regulator, Ofcom, is also clear that, although it gives guidance on which parties it judges are best qualified for inclusion in debates, the final decision on structure and participants remains with the broadcasters. As noble Lords will be aware, on recent electoral results and polling figures Ofcom judged that UKIP was now a major party but did not accept that the Green Party was yet a major player.

The broadcasters—BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and, this time, Sky—have proposed three general election debates. The first is to be between Conservative and Labour; the second will include the Liberal Democrats; and the third will also include UKIP. However, as we have heard, the Prime Minister has said that he will not participate in any debates if the Green Party is excluded. The political rationale seems quite clear. Including right-wing UKIP in the third debate would allow Nigel Farage to attract votes from the Conservatives, so also including the left-wing Greens would balance things up, since they are more likely to attract votes from Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

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Back in 2010, it was David Cameron who was demanding a leaders’ debate and accusing Prime Minister Brown of dithering and being a bottler. Now, as Prime Minister, it is Mr Cameron who is being accused of being the bottler—but it seems unlikely that broadcasters will press on without the Prime Minister, or replace him with a chair or even a long statement. So what happens now? I read that ITV is open to including the Greens. With the proposed exclusion of the Green Party having boosted its opinion poll ratings, other broadcasters might also come to see its inclusion as fair play.

For the broadcasters, the change in format could be pretty minor. Instead of having first two, then three and then four leaders answering questions, there would by the end be five. If that leaves too little time per leader, running times can simply be extended for the last debate. That seems the easiest option for the broadcasters; the format is, after all, for them to decide. They could reasonably assume that giving the Green leader Natalie Bennett her 15 minutes of fame is unlikely to lead to a walkout by Messrs Miliband, Clegg and Farage. On the other hand, if these leaders agree to debates that include the Greens but Mr Cameron finds another reason to refuse to debate, he risks being seen as the dithering bottler of the 2015 general election. That will not go down too well with an already pretty cynical electorate. I therefore think and hope that the debates will happen.

6.02 pm

Lord Finkelstein (Con): My Lords, I thank my noble friend for holding this debate on this important topic. I wish to detain the House only briefly, with just a few direct points.

When I was 23 years old, I was selected to run for Parliament for the first time. I was not remotely ready to be a Member of Parliament. I seemed to my prospective constituents to be what I undoubtedly was: preposterously young and immature. I still have a letter from the citizens advice bureau after one of my campaign visits. It said:

“Dear Mr Finkelstein. It was very nice to meet you. And your mother”.

This much I did know, however. If you want to make yourself look good, you should challenge your opponent to a debate so it was the first thing I did. He either agreed to it and awarded you a status as his equal or avoided it, so you could accuse him of running scared. This much I knew, but Ken Livingstone knew more. He accepted my invitation but held the debate at the Kilburn Irish Centre. I was not elected Member of Parliament for Brent East. I therefore come to this debate as a pragmatist, aware of why people call for debates and of what makes them turn out well or badly. The thinking of my old as well as noble friend Lady Grender is entirely clear to me.

With this in mind, here is my attitude. First, on the whole and taking one thing with another, I would rather have an election debate between the leaders than not. Should anyone question their value, the report to which the noble Lord directs our attention makes the case admirably. Secondly, while I realise that the House of Lords is often a machine for the

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discovery of hitherto unknown constitutional principles, the holding of leadership debates is not such a principle. We had almost a century of elections since the universal franchise without television debates. The party that believes they are in its interest suddenly discovers that they are vital to democracy then forgets this point again, or the other way round.

I notice, for instance, that my friend Alastair Campbell has been attacking the Prime Minister over what he wrongly asserts is a refusal to debate. He says that if Mr Cameron was confident then he would debate, and the principle involved means that the broadcasters should go ahead with an empty chair. Yet here is Alastair’s diary from 3 March 1997:

“We went back to Islington and on the way TB suddenly said he didn’t think it was really in our interests to have a television debate. Bizarrely Gordon, Peter and I had all come to pretty much the same conclusion over the weekend. GB felt Major was now seen as the underdog and therefore a TV debate was likely to help them. Our general view was that whilst we could see it would be good for TV, we were not convinced it would be good for politics. TB said can you imagine how ghastly the build up would be? It’s really all balls that it would improve democratic debate”.

I gently note the contrast between this and Alastair’s position now. I gently view many remarks about the imperative of the debate in the same way.

Thirdly, there is a way of reconciling the desirability of debates with inevitable and necessary political pragmatism, which everyone in this House shares when it suits them—a way of doing it sensibly and doing it right. That is to hold the debates on a fair basis that does not obviously favour any one party. There should be at least two debates: the first between the two serious candidates for Prime Minister, and the second between all the parties with a serious chance of securing seats at the election. This is an arrangement that all the party leaders would agree to and that would not favour any one of them. There would be no cause for an empty chair because a fair offer to debate had been made on a basis that everyone could agree to. It could allow the debates to go ahead—which, on the whole, I am mildly in favour of—but if not, then not.

6.06 pm

Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, for introducing this timely debate, and all the noble Lords on the Select Committee for producing this excellent report. As Harold Wilson was fond of saying, a week is a long time in politics, and to some the events of five years ago will seem like an age. In the light of recent events, I am sure I am not alone in being grateful to the committee for casting some light on this topic.

This report, particularly the evidence scrutinised by the committee, provides an excellent description of both the regulatory environment and the political background to the negotiations that led to the 2010 leader debates. I hope that understanding better how we got the debates agreed in 2010 will help the process this year. The thrust of the committee’s recommendations reflect, as we have heard in this debate, the public’s view that broadcast general election debates should take place during future campaigns. From the evidence to the committee, the format by which these debates were negotiated before the last general election was

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thorough and businesslike, and delivered an outcome that was beneficial to our democracy. If we could do it then, I see no need to change the process now. Then, as now, the broadcasters’ approach to negotiation and production displayed great professionalism and impartiality.

As the committee rightly says, the negotiators should ensure that the format evolves to maintain or increase the levels of voter engagement. However, this must be balanced against such changes jeopardising the debates’ taking place. The 2010 debates provided an unprecedented opportunity for voters to see the party leaders debate the critical issues facing our country, and were watched by more than 20 million people. As the report highlights, they were not without their critics, but there is no doubt that they had an impact on the public engaging more with the electoral process and, as we have heard, it is possible that they contributed to a higher voter turnout. As my noble friend Lord Dubs illustrated, turnout was noticeably higher than in 2001 and 2005; in 2005, the turnout was 61.4% and in 2010 it had risen to 65.4%.

What the debates did was generate debate. They generated debate in homes and offices throughout the country. For people like me, who were knocking on the doors in key seats after each debate, the impact was obvious. People wanted to talk, and it was about what they had seen and heard the leaders say rather than about what they had read in the newspaper.

It is interesting that this debate is talking about impartiality. In the past 100 years, most general elections have been reported in newspapers that have displayed very little impartiality and have taken a very partisan approach to politics. Fortunately, most people who read newspapers do not necessarily follow the editorial tone of the owners.

My noble friend Lord Dubs referred to political meetings and canvassing. We have heard this in the debate. I strongly believe—this is perhaps something else we should consider in terms of political engagement—that knocking on people’s doors and having a conversation is not an activity we should restrict to elections. Engaging with the electorate is something political parties and political activists should be doing outside general elections. That may also need to be reflected in what the broadcasters consider.

As we have heard, the debates also generated large audiences, which have not been seen for an election in modern times. They had not only noticeably higher average ratings than programmes such as “Question Time” and “Newsnight”, but unlike those programmes, people stayed watching. They saw the whole programme. They did not turn the TV off.

Another small point put in evidence to the committee was that the debates took place across the country, and I think this created real local pride. This should continue. We should avoid our politics being seen as simply focused on London SW1.

Coming together in 2010, the political parties may have had different motives for agreeing to the debates, but one thing was clear: they were enthusiastically endorsed by all those who took part, including David Cameron. As general secretary of the Labour Party at

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the time, I was very conscious that we could not afford to run campaigns in the way that we had done in the past. Resources were tight, and in quite a few elections we faced a press that was uniformly hostile to the party. It therefore made sense to make our case directly to the British people. We did that on the doorstep, but it was really important that we used the debates in that way to put the case. Like the committee, I recognise that the way in which the debates are currently set up provides important safeguards which ensure that all political parties are given due weight in broadcast election coverage.

The foresight of this House’s committee is to recognise that we cannot take for granted that debates will take place in future. A whole range of obstacles could stand in their way. As we know from recent events, chief among them is, of course, the risk that one of the political parties decides to withdraw. For all the reasons set out in the committee’s report, I believe it would be a major setback to our democratic processes if these debates were not repeated in 2015 because of one politician’s unwillingness to participate. The decision as to who should take part in the televised debates should not be in the hands of any party leader, each of whom inevitably has their own political interests to defend. As my noble friend Lady Healy said, it must be a decision independently and objectively arrived at. The broadcasters, who have strict obligations of political impartiality under the BBC charter and their Ofcom licences, have together made such an objective determination. As the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, highlighted in his introduction, this clear requirement on broadcasters to report elections with due impartiality also requires them to give “due weight” to the coverage of the “major parties” during election periods.

It is up to the broadcasters who to invite and they have decided to invite only the major parties as defined by Ofcom.

Lord Grade of Yarmouth: We have heard in the course of this debate that ITV might be reconsidering its position in respect of the Greens. Given the noble Lord’s principled stand that it is for the broadcasters to invite parties to participate, if the broadcasters came to the Opposition and said that the Greens were going to take part, is that something that he could accept?

Lord Collins of Highbury: Ed Miliband has made it absolutely clear that if the broadcasters decide to invite the Greens, that is up to them, but he will participate in the debate. The principle that we are trying to establish is that it is not for Ed Miliband or for David Cameron to say, “This is how it must be”. If we are going to defend the broadcasters’ right to produce their own TV programmes independently, and do it in a way that is impartial in respect of their obligations, then it is not for Ed Miliband or David Cameron to say that they must have this and they must not have that.

I want to be clear that it is not for Ofcom either to decide who to invite, but I can understand why the broadcasters would want to adopt an objective procedure, such as that used for setting the minimum number of party election broadcasts. It is a recognised process

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and it ensures objectivity. However, I, too, agree with the committee’s view that we should not adopt the suggestion that eligibility to participate in televised debates should be based on an established vote share threshold or solely on opinion polling. The process that Ofcom has adopted and that it is now consulting on is a very good one and takes into account a range of factors.

I do not see, either, the need for the creation of a debates commission, which, if it does not have the buy-in of the parties or the broadcasters, will make it more likely that debates will not happen. Instead, it is better if the decision about who is invited to participate in television programmes continues to be one for the broadcasters, consistent with their legal and regulatory framework.

As we heard in the debate, and from members of the committee, there is uncertainty about whether a decision by one of the political parties to withdraw would necessarily mean that the debates could not proceed and still remain compliant with the broadcasters’ respective obligations. My party’s view is that if the broadcasters choose to invite major leaders such as Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg, Nigel Farage and David Cameron to a debate and one of them decides not to show up, they can decide to go ahead without that leader. They can empty-chair him. We have heard arguments in this debate about impartiality and due weight. Every day on the “Today” programme I hear somebody say, “We did invite this person, but they decided not to participate”. It is common in broadcasting.

I end with the point that, as Ed Miliband has made clear, if the broadcasters want to invite someone else, that is up to them. All Ed Miliband wants is to get these debates on and, like the committee, so do I.

6.19 pm

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth (Con): My Lords, I am pleased to wind up for the Government in this debate and very much welcome the opportunity for this House to discuss the Communications Committee’s detailed consideration of the broadcast general election debates. The Government are grateful for the committee’s report and its clearly thought-out findings. I thank the committee and its members, including my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, the noble Baroness, Lady Healy, and, in particular, my noble friend Lord Inglewood for bringing the committee’s good work to the attention of the House in this debate.

The reports of the committee, and our consideration of them, are becoming a staple of House of Lords business, with one report last week and another this—and quite right, too. This report, published in May 2014, almost a year before the forthcoming election, gives consideration to the growing prominence of televised election debates by reviewing the impact of the broadcast debates in 2010; examining the regulatory context for these and future debates; and looking at proposals for change. I should say in passing that the debates also went out on the radio. I remember listening to the first one in 2010 on the radio, travelling through mid-Wales, and enjoying it—intermittently, as noble Lords will appreciate, because of the nature of the terrain heading back to Cardiff.

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The report does not contain recommendations to government, since its subject is not the Government’s direct responsibility, but it provides the House with a valuable reference document, setting out the legal and regulatory framework around broadcast general election debates, with key contributions and evidence from broadcasters including the BBC, Channel 4, ITV and Sky. As my noble friend Lord Finkelstein rightly said, there is no constitutional principle that the debates should take place. If I may say so in the context of his contribution, Brent East’s loss is certainly the gain of your Lordships’ House—as I am sure noble Lords would join his mother in saying.

My noble friend Lord Grade and the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, referred to the earlier experience in the United States of the first presidential debate in 1960. My noble friend Lord Grade referred to the fact that it did not happen at every presidential election thereafter, which is quite true. Other countries that have had broadcast debates, such as Canada, Australia and Germany, have also not had them for every election; it has been somewhat intermittent, differing from country to country. So experience is clearly built upon.

The first ever broadcast general election debates in the United Kingdom took place in April 2010 and were televised in successive weeks by broadcasters ITV, Sky News and the BBC, as well as being broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio 5 Live. The first ever debate, on ITV1, attracted an audience of 9.4 million viewers between 8.30 pm 10 pm—a 37% share of the total TV audience over that period, beating Coronation Street and EastEnders to become the most watched programme of that day. The average viewing figures for successive debates were 4 million for Sky and 8.1 million for the BBC, meaning that the total of the three audiences was above 22 million. In the case of the BBC and ITV, these impressive viewing figures achieved much higher audience figures than typical BBC current affairs programmes.

The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, referred to the importance of the debates, given the changing nature of election campaigns and contests and the relative death of the public meeting over a period of time—although my noble friend Lord Horam rightly referred to the experience in Scotland, which shows that that is not necessarily the case. Clearly, you only have to look across the Atlantic to the 2008 presidential campaign and the number of people that President Obama could pack into an arena to see that there is nothing inevitable about the death of the public meeting, although admittedly the election background there is somewhat different from our own.

Perhaps most significantly, evidence referenced in the report illustrates that the broadcast debates served to increase engagement with young people—many noble Lords referred to that point—with many first-time voters energised by the debates. For example, as many as 55% of the 18 to 24 year-olds said that, as a result of having seen the first debate, they had become more interested in the campaign; 74% of them considered that they had learnt something about the parties’ policies from the debates; 50% of this demographic, along with 51% of 25 to 39 year-olds, said that the debates had helped them to make up their minds how

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to vote; and 92% of younger voters said that they had talked about the debates with others. The committee also received evidence from Channel 4 that among 18 to 24 year-olds, television still remained more popular than newspapers and online for the consumption of news.

These figures provide clear evidence that there is a public appetite for the broadcast general election debates and, as highlighted in the report, there is a high level of public perception that broadcast debates will happen again in 2015. These points were referred to by my noble friend Lady Grender among others. The committee was persuaded by this evidence that the broadcast general election debates served the public interest by increasing public engagement with the electoral process, and recommended that they should take place during future campaigns.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, referred to the relative ease of the agreement in 2010. I think that it was relative; certainly concerns were expressed by some political parties. I think I am right in saying that Plaid Cymru, the SNP and the Greens all raised concerns. The relative fragmentation of the party system since will make agreement more difficult, as I think noble Lords would accept.

However, an important area of consideration for this report is the regulatory context of the broadcast debates and how this could come to have an impact on participation. Due accuracy and impartiality remain at the heart of licensed broadcasting services and under the Communications Act 2003, Ofcom—the United Kingdom’s independent communications regulator and competition authority—is required to set standards for programmes on television and radio that exist in the form of the broadcasting code.

The broadcasting code applies to all broadcasters licensed by Ofcom but not to the BBC, where oversight of the output falls to the BBC Trust as the sole regulator for impartiality and accuracy. However, both regulators apply broadly similar standards. In the case of the BBC there is a set of editorial guidelines and election guidelines to ensure impartiality and accuracy, while under the broadcasting code there are specific rules that apply during election periods and which include the requirement for broadcasters to ensure that their coverage is duly impartial and gives due weight to major parties.

Ofcom also sets rules to require the allocation of party election broadcasts through its list of major parties. The list reflects the fact that some political parties have a significant level of electoral support, and a number of elected representatives, across a range of elections within the United Kingdom or the devolved nations. Reading the report, I was reminded that I had taken part in a general election debate in Wales, although I was not a candidate for the election. In fact, three of the four people participating in the debate were not candidates. So clearly there is a different position for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in relation to their general elections—and quite right, too.

The Ofcom list of major parties is important because rules on party political and referendum broadcasts, and certain parts of the broadcasting code, impose

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obligations on licensed broadcasters by reference to the major parties on the list. In determining the composition of the list, Ofcom looks at evidence of past electoral support and evidence of current support as demonstrated by opinion poll data—although there is nothing scientific, I think, in this process. More information on the analytical framework that Ofcom uses to assess the evidence of past electoral and current support can be found in its consultation regarding the composition of the list of major parties that was published on 8 January this year.

Designation of a party as major political party does not of itself—this point was made by many noble Lords—entitle that party to a right to participate in an election debate or limit the debate to the major parties that are set out on the list. That is a matter for the broadcasters, although no doubt they will pay due attention to the list. This consultation is published in advance of the general election taking place in May 2015 and the English local and mayoral elections taking place on the same day, and it closes on Thursday, 5 February 2015.

Following the consultation, Ofcom will obviously consider carefully any comments and views received before publishing a statement by, as I understand it, early March 2015, and, if appropriate, any revised list of major parties. This will permit the broadcasters and political parties to plan ahead, aware of Ofcom’s decision on the list of major parties, for the May 2015 elections.

It is important to note that, while Ofcom has an important role in the regulatory framework under which broadcasters must produce television programmes during election periods, it does not determine the structure, format and style of any possible TV leaders’ election debates. The decision on which leaders are represented in any broadcast debate is an editorial matter for broadcasters in agreement with the political parties taking part.

The requirement of “due impartiality” means that broadcasters must always strive to achieve a balanced presentation of a range of points of view on matters of political or industrial controversy and relating to current public policy. However, within the statutory framework set up by Parliament, it is the responsibility of the broadcasters to make judgments about individual programme content. This is also recognised within the committee’s report, which highlights that the decision on who is invited to participate in televised debates will continue to be one that is consistent with the legal and regulatory framework around broadcasting.

Having set out the regulatory context, the report looks at proposals for changes to the debates, including the case for a body to oversee and produce broadcast election debates independently of the broadcasters. However, it determines that there are no compelling arguments for the introduction of such a body. This is a view that is widely held.

The report concludes by making a number of informative recommendations for reforms if the debates are to take place in 2015 and beyond. These recommendations, aimed largely at the broadcasters, include the proposal to establish a single online portal or hub for the debates to ensure their easy discoverability

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alongside other election resources, as well as a recommendation to ensure that the format evolves as necessary to maintain or increase voter engagement. This, too, seems popular.

A significant observation by the committee, and an important recommendation from the report, was that the broadcasters should exercise their editorial judgment to reflect the committee’s concern about the lack of diversity, in both gender and ethnicity, in relation to the debate moderators in the 2010 debates, a point referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. The Government encourage the media and creative industries to continue to take proactive steps to change and improve diversity right across their sectors. In broadcasting, BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and BSkyB have all set out a number of actions and some challenging targets for increasing ethnicity on and off screen. While the Government believe that it is for the media industry itself, including broadcasters, producers, media organisations and others, to take the lead and promote equality among its employees, we ensure that broadcasters in particular are subject to a strong legal framework designed to promote gender balance. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is also playing a part in raising the profile of the issue. Ministers have chaired a series of round-table discussions with leaders in the broadcast, film and performing arts industries to discuss what more they can do to tackle it.

The committee’s report serves as an important and valuable document, setting out the legal and regulatory framework around broadcast general election debates and making a number of very useful recommendations to broadcasters ahead of future potential debates. Once again, I thank the committee for its good work and contributions and for producing this insightful report into an important part of our political life.

Lord Berkeley of Knighton (CB): Before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may point out that he touched, almost inadvertently, on a rather important point. In mid-Wales, it is quite hard to catch political broadcasts or, indeed, anything else on the radio because of the terrain. The Minister cannot do much about that this evening, but I thought he might like to reassure your Lordships’ House that the sheer beauty of the terrain in mid-Wales more than made up for the damage it inflicted on his listening on his car journey.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth: My Lords, it was not at all inadvertent. I had the great privilege of representing Mid and West Wales for 12 years in the National Assembly for Wales and I was unable then to do a great deal to improve reception. I can probably do even less now. However, the point is extremely well

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made about what a beautiful area it is, as the noble Lord knows very well. I hope that something can be done to improve reception for people in that area on all sorts of radio.

6.35 pm

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I would like to thank all those who have taken part in the debate, both those who have been members of the Communications Committee and those who have not, for the general reception which they have accorded to it. I add as a proviso that this is the last time that I will speak in my capacity as the “ancien chairman” of the Communications Committee.

I was particularly pleased that a number of the illustrations used came from outside the M25. It is important that, in considering these topics, we think of the country as a whole, by which I mean the United Kingdom as a whole. I was especially glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, refer to the Keswick Words by the Water Literary Festival. My natural modesty almost forbids me, but the rules of procedure mean that I should declare an interest. I am speaking on a panel there at the next festival quite soon.

If you think about it in military terms, we are in a period in which the political parties are now engaged in a war in order to win the democratic mandate to run this country for the next five years. The battle that is decisive is to be fought on 7 May. We are now in a period of skirmishing where the various parties are—if I can change the analogy—like dogs before a dog fight, looking at each other, growling, snarling and seeing what they think is going to be the best move for them. Of course, that is where we are in the context of the general election debates.

I was talking to our excellent special adviser quite recently, who said that he thought that one of the important consequences of the report—this point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and my noble friend Lord Bourne—was that the discussion of this topic in the media by the commentariat is a great deal better informed and more precise and accurate than it has been on previous occasions. I would like to think that this report may have contributed to that. He also made a telling comment, which was that no one has yet walked away. We are at the period where the dogs are looking at each and circling around each other. The important point to remember about this topic is that, while it may be only a short time until the formal general election campaign gets under way, there is still a long way to go.

Motion agreed.

House adjourned at 6.38 pm.