asked Her Majesty's Government:
Whether they will make it compulsory for broadcasting organisations to state briefly, in their main news bulletins, the forthcoming days' debates in both Houses of Parliament to enable better connection of the public with Parliament.
My Lords, the answer is no. Under our current broadcasting arrangements, responsibility for what is broadcast on television and radio rests with the broadcasters and the organisations which regulate broadcasting; Ofcom, the BBC Trust and the Welsh Fourth Channel Authority. They are independent of the Government and are responsible for safeguarding the public interest in broadcasting.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that gracious reply. The object of this proposal is to try to raise the whole profile of Parliament, which many of us believe has slipped. There is the continuing disengagement between Parliament and the people, indicated not least by the ever-falling voting figures. This simple and relatively costless suggestion could be implemented by saying that a condition of a broadcasting licence would be that the main news bulletins should carry a brief summary of the work of Parliament on those days. At the moment—
My Lords, could the noble Lord move to his question?
My Lords, I think the noble Lord needs to move rather swiftly.
My Lords, the House will share the concern of the noble Lord. We would all like to see the broadcasting authorities guarantee that parliamentary proceedings are reported adequately. He will recognise that under the BBC charter the BBC is under an obligation with regard to the reporting of parliamentary proceedings.
On the more general issue, the noble Lord, in his initial Question, was requesting direct instruction from the Government, which would be entirely inappropriate. It is also up to Parliament to make sure that its work is better received elsewhere. That depends rather more on the activities in the other place and its relationship to the wider public. Of course, it will be recognised that this House and its authorities make strenuous efforts to broadcast to schools and to the wider public the contribution made by this House and the other place.
My Lords, I declare an interest as an associate of a television production company. Is not part of the solution to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Vinson, to give broadcasters, and through them the viewing and listening public, easier and greater access to all the different activities that are conducted in this building and that those in charge of such matters need to be a bit more flexible?
My Lords, I have no doubt that improvements can be effected. The noble Baroness will recognise the very considerable improvement in the opportunities for broadcasters to have access to the House. The work of the Select Committees and the fact that the BBC has a Parliament channel guarantees publicity of that kind. She is right that this is a two-way process. The broadcasters have got to want to achieve access, and we, for our part, have got to facilitate that access where we can see that it is to the benefit of the public to whom, at the end of the day, Parliament is answerable.
My Lords, while having some sympathy with the terms of the Question, the issue of compulsion strikes me as rather strange. If the Government are now being requested to compel the broadcasting authorities to take a certain action, where do we stop? Is it not true that if we went along this line we would end up with the broadcasting system that the Soviet Union once had?
My Lords, my noble friend has made the point, somewhat more dramatically, that I made earlier at rather greater length and rather less graphically.
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the House of Lords has a much-improved website? On the website, all the Questions, debates and other House of Lords matters are fully covered. Does my noble friend agree that is a big step towards involving the public more in our work?
It is, my Lords, and we should not underestimate the constructive work done in recent years by those with responsibility for publicising our operations and widening understanding of the role of the House. The work of the House is much more appreciated than it probably was a decade ago. Of course, we can always improve.
My Lords, the public do not necessarily turn to the website. Does the Minister agree that the idea that there should be a requirement in the charter is sound and simple? It is basic to the public's relationship with Parliament. Has not my noble friend made a rather good suggestion which the Government should not simply push away?
My Lords, the noble Baroness will recognise, as the House does, that the BBC has a specific responsibility in its charter regarding Parliament and its proceedings. All broadcasters are expected to provide news channels that are concerned with accuracy and relevance. The bodies which exist to oversee broadcasters would take action if they thought that there was conspicuous neglect of the salient work of Parliament which was making news that did not appear on the broadcasts.