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Equality Bill — Committee (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 19th January 2010.

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Photo of Lord Lester of Herne Hill Lord Lester of Herne Hill Spokesperson for Women and Equality 5:15 pm, 19th January 2010

This amendment needs to be considered together with Amendments 113 and 114, which were tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, and which are designed to have a similar effect.

Their origin is the concerns expressed by the BBC and Channel 4 that the Bill could result in inappropriate interference with the editorial independence of broadcasters and so have a negative effect on the range and depth of programming. This was forcefully expressed to the Government, and I agreed to table amendments, originally together with the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, with that in mind. The drafting was not ideal, and the drafting of my amendment reflects a great deal of assistance I received, if I am allowed to say so, from the Government and their advisers. It has been agreed with the broadcasters.

The problem refers back to the kinds of problems to which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred. For example, if broadcast content is caught by the provisions in the Bill, the broadcasters were concerned that complaints about programming could be brought that might create double jeopardy for broadcasters, since those issues are already dealt with by the designated broadcasting regulators: Ofcom and the BBC Trust.

The sorts of examples-I do not want to multiply any more stupid examples-that came to mind were a claim of race discrimination on the basis that the broadcaster's dramas over a period of time had featured too few non-white people; or because they had shown a film that was thought to be offensive to a particular ethnic group; or a claim of sex discrimination on the basis that a programme was degrading to women; or a claim of race or religious discrimination in relation to a decision to broadcast a film offensive white people or white Christians, in circumstances where it would not have broadcasted a film offensive to non-white people or to Muslims; or a complaint in relation to a scheduling decision over what was broadcast in Holy Week, or on the Sabbath, or during Ramadan.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, if he were here, would be glad to know that in the view of the broadcasters, those are not just theoretical threats. They have given as an example the West Midlands Police complaining to Ofcom that Channel 4's "Undercover Mosque" might have included material likely to constitute an incitement to racial hatred; or a group called the English group arguing that a programme called "The Seven Sins of England", which discussed anti-social behaviour from a current and historical perspective, was racist against the English. There was even a complaint, though it is not in the public domain, that "Carols from King's" included an incitement to racial hatred against Jews, because it included the Christmas gospel, John, chapter 1, verses 1 to 14, and the words:

"He came unto his own, and his own received him not."

It is good to have these examples, because it livens up Hansard a great deal. Those complaints are, as the broadcasters have pointed out, costly and vexatious, and they can have a chilling effect on programme makers. As the Bill allows for subjective tests about harassment to some extent, that again has caused some worry. I will not go on, but those are the kinds of concerns which gave rise to my amendment, which has an objective similar to those with which it is grouped. I beg to move.