§ Motion made, and Question proposed,
§ "That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £295,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1927, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Post Office, including Telegraphs and Telephones."
§ The POSTMASTER - GENERAL (Sir William Mitchell-Thomson)
In submitting this Estimate for £295,000 for the expenses of the broadcasting service the Government not only ask the Committee to be good enough, if they are so minded, to grant the money, but also ask the Committee to express their opinion on the policy of the Government in regard to broadcasting taken as a whole. The details which are comprehended in the Papers laid before the Committee represent conclusions arrived at after deliberations winch have extended over a long period of time and the Government, although they hope to secure a general measure of agreement in all quarters of the Committee—perhaps it would be too much to expect complete unanimity—recognise that this is an administrative act for which they must take responsibility and for which they do take responsibility. In these circumstances, I think the Committee will feel it necessary that I should say a little more—in fact a great deal more—in explanation of this Estimate than is customary in the case of Supplementary' Estimates. I will try to be as concise as I can, but I am afraid I may have to ask for the indulgence of the Committee and I hope they will be good enough to grant it.
I begin by saying a word or two with regard to some of the more general aspects of the broadcasting question. I have said something on this subject on previous occasions, and I think it is just as well that the Committee should have 1564 in their minds in this discussion some of the leading factors in this question. The growth of broadcasting has been one of the great romances of scientific invention. Four years ago it was a toy; to-day it is a power, and how great a power is, as yet, I think, not fully apprehended. It is a power not only nationally but internationally. I have said before in the House of Commons, and I repeat it now, that the power of international publicity which is afforded by the science of broadcasting is going to he one of the greatest weapons which, in times of international emergency, the League of Nations will have at its disposal. The growth of the art of broadcasting is something which no State has ever been able to, or ever desired to, ignore. Indeed, some measure of State or even of international regulation has been inherent in this service from its beginning, so that, if for no other reason, due order may he preserved and the various users of the wave band in the ether may be mutually protected from overlapping and from interference with each other. Accordingly, on the Postmaster-General has always fallen this task of the control of the wireless wave band, and on him or on some other officer of the State will always have to fall the duty of regulating this service, at least in this part of the wireless wave band, having due regard to the interests of the State as a whole.
So in this sense State regulation has always been inherent in wireless policy, but it was not until broadcasting became something more then a scientific joke that States began fully to realise the importance of regulating its future conduct. Different States have pursued different methods. Here, we began—I think wisely—on the lines that in its infancy the earliest steps of this undertaking should he guided and developed by those who had a direct interest in the successful development of the service. Accordingly, the British Broadcasting Company was formed which, in its origin was an association of manufacturers of wireless apparatus operating under licence from the Postmaster-General and limited as to profits. If it had remained merely on that footing; if the British Broadcasting Company had limited their consideration merely to the trade aspect of this question, broad- 1565 casting would never have had the great, development which it has had in this country. There were, however, at the head of the British Broadcasting Company men not merely of great organising and technical ability but men with vision, men with high purpose, men with wide outlook, men who looked at the problem not from the trade angle but from the national angle. It is to that happy circumstance we owe the great development which has attended broadcasting here. They set broadcasting upon a plane of high ideals, and they based it on a broad conception of their duty to the public and to public morality. It will be well for the service if—as I hope will be the case—it is maintained on that high plane in the future.
I have duly recorded my appreciation of the efforts of the British Broadcasting Company before now, and I am very glad to pay this sincere tribute by way of valediction to the British Broadcasting Company. But we must all appreciate that this system, however admirable in the infancy of the art, was not designed to meet the requirements of its maturity. The system has experienced various modifications at various times. It was considerably modified in consequence of the Report of the Committee which was presided over by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hallam (Sir F. Sykes), and last year, in view of the termination of the licence of the British Broadcasting Company on 31st December next, the Government decided to appoint a Committee to decide what ought to take place after the expiration of the licence period. A Committee was appointed under the chairmanship of my Noble Friend the Earl of Crawford which went fully and carefully into the whole question. They had the widest possible reference, the terms beingto advise as to the proper scope of the broadcasting service and as to the management, control, and finance thereof after the expiry of the existing licence on 31st December, 1926.That Committee duly reported in the Spring of this year. The Report was signed by all the members except two who, unfortunately, through illness were not able to complete their deliberations, namely, Mr. Rudyard Kipling and my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson). Otherwise the Report bore the following 1566 signatures and it is well for the Committee to have these names in mind:
I am free to say that is one of the strongest Committees I have ever known to be appointed for the consideration of any subject. I told the House of Commons some months ago that the Government had decided, in general, to accept the recommendations of that Committee and on that Report and on the recommendations of that Committee our present proposals are based. The Committee recommended, generally speaking, that while the Postmaster-General must, of course, always remain with the ultimate responsibility, the conduct, the general control, the day-to-day administration of the service should be Entrusted to a semi-public body, operating as trustees in the national interest. The relevant paragraph of their Report, which is paragraph (5), is as follows:
- The Earl of Crawford;
- Lord Blanesburgh;
- Captain Ian Fraser, M.P.;
- The Right Hon. William Graham, M. P.;
- Sir William Henry Hadow;
- Lord Rayleigh;
- Sir Thomas Royden; and
- Dame Meriel Talbot.We do not recommend a prolongation of the licence of the British Broadcasting Company, or the establishment of any similar body composed of persons who represent particular interests. We think a public corporation the most appropriate organisation. Such an authority would enjoy a freedom and flexibility which a Minister of State himself could scarcely exercise in arranging for performers and programmes, and in studying the variable demands of public taste and necessity.Later, in the same paragraph, they say:The proposed corporation should be invested with full authority. Its status and duties should correspond with those of a public service, and its directorate should be appointed with the sole object of promoting the utmost utility and development of the enterprise.It is in pursuance of that leading recommendation that we are proceeding to ask the House now to enable us to go on with the arrangements for setting up a body of that character. We are making this variation, as I told the House some months ago we proposed to do, from the recommendations of the Committee, that 1567 whereas the Committee recommended that this body might be set up either by Statute or by incorporation under the Public Companies Act, that is to say, as I understand, that it should register as a public Company and acquire the shares and business of the British Broadcasting Company, for reasons which I explained to the House last July, we decided that the best method of procedure was by petitioning that this body should be set up by the grant of a Royal Charter, and so I have laid on the Table the draft of the Charter for which we propose to petition. I have also laid, bound up in the same Paper, a copy of the Licence and Agreement which the Governors-designate of the Corporation and myself have mutually agreed that we will abide by after the grant of a Charter if and when a Charter be granted. I have also, as a separate Paper, laid a copy of an Agreement which has been made with the existing British Broadcasting Company, about which I think I ought to say a word or two.
This Agreement with the existing Company was a corollary which was rendered necessary by the decision to transfer the business to the Corporation. Perhaps it may be convenient here if I say that when I say "the Company" I mean the existing British Broadcasting Company, and when I say "the Corporation" I mean the British Broadcasting Corporation as it is proposed to be set up, so that for the rest of my observations I will talk about "the Company" and "the Corporation." The Agreement provides' that the Company shall liquidate itself and transfer its assets on the 1st January to me. In the Estimate, the Committee will see that part of the money for which I am asking is to go to the Company in pursuance of this Agreement. Part of it. is for repayment of the existing subscribed share capital of the Company at par. That amounts to £71,526. The rest of the money is for the balance required to make up the a greed revenue of the Company for the nine months up to the end of December next, and that totals £548,464. If the Committee will add the £71,536 to the £548,464, they will arrive at £620,000, which appears on page 4 of the Agreement. I may be asked: "But you have taken provision already for £560,000, and you want £620,000 under the Agreement; 1568 how is it, that the Supplementary Estimate is for £112,000, and not for £60,000?
Supplementary Estimates are always full of pitfalls, and I have known Ministers in charge to get in difficulties before now, but in this case I think it is quite simple. The Committee must remember that under our present system of national accounting money has been paid into the Exchequer very often before it has been voted out by this House, and the Votes of this House provide cash which is placed at the disposal of the Department. This year we started with a cash credit of £560,000, but the system of payment which has obtained hitherto in the case of the Company, and still obtains, is to pay the Company monthly in arrears. Therefore, at the start of this year, there still fell a certain number of weeks of arrears to be paid to the Company, payments which really belonged to the previous financial year, but which have actually been made as cash transfers in this financial year. These arrears amount to £52,000, so that from the cash credit of £560,000 you have to deduct £52,000. That leaves us with an available cash credit of £508,000. We have got to meet, in the first place, the agreed revenue of £548,464, and in consequence of that we have a deficiency of a little over £40,000, and we have to provide for the repayment of capital, which I mentioned a moment ago, and that £40,000 odd and the £71,000 odd, added together, make the £112,000 which appears on the face of the Estimate. I hope I have succeeded in making that clear. On their part, the Company undertake to liquidate all their liabilities and to transfer their assets, plant, and copyrights to me on the 1st January, free of charge and free of all encumbrances, and if the 'Committee and the House agree to this Vote, and if the Charter is granted, then I shall forthwith, after the 1st January, proceed to transfer from myself all the assets, plant, and copyrights, and everything else transferred to me by the Company, and they will be transferred to the Corporation erected under the Charter. Now let me say something about the Charter itself, and if the Committee will he good enough to took at the Charter they will be able to follow me more easily. Clause 1 of the Charter names 1569 the Governors, and on that I will only say that, in our judgment, they amply fulfil all the requirements which were laid down by the Crawford Committee as the desiderata which ought to be possessed by the Governors of the new Corporation. They are persons of wide and varied interests and with a broad knowledge of affairs, and the Prime Minister and I are confident that in recommending them we shall be inviting the Crown to entrust this Charter and the great objects which it is intended to serve to entirely worthy hands. The Charter itself is in form for a period of 10 years, and the tenure of office of the Governors is for five years. It is necessary, of course, in any documents of this kind to provide for their due termination, but I should like to say it is our confident belief that the Corporation will so discharge its duties that at the end of 10 years no other form of organisation will be thought desirable, and we also hope and believe that the Governors will individually acquit themselves so well that at the end of five years those who wish to continue in office may be re-appointed.
As regards the objects and powers which follow in the Charter, they are drawn in the widest possible terms, and I do not think they call for any special comment except perhaps on three points—copyright, news, and committees. I have noticed criticisms of the fact that the Corporation is to be given power to acquire copyrights. I should have thought that an extremely necessary power for anyone in charge of this business. It is a power that has always been enjoyed by the Company, and I cannot conceivably imagine it can be contended that it ought to be withheld from the Corporation. Then, as regards news. Objection, I see, is taken to the suggestion that the Corporation should be given powers to collect news by any means, and from any sources which it may find necessary. The Committee must remember, and I have no doubt they do remember, that under the present arrangement the Company is held by an agreement, which, I think, dates from September, 1924, with representatives of the Press, the Newspaper Proprietors' Association, the Newspaper Society, and four agencies—the Press Association, Reuter's, the Exchange Telegraph Com- 1570 pany, and Central News. Their powers of collecting and distributing news are narrowly circumscribed.
The Governors tell me that they propose, as a matter of convenience, to arrange with the other parties to the agreement that it shall continue in operation for some few months after they take office, in order to afford time for the discussions to proceed between the members of the new Corporation with a view to negotiating a more widely extended agreement. I think that is a very reasonable suggestion to make, and I hope an agreement will be reached, because it is much better, in the interests of all parties, that this should be settled by agreement, if possible. But I am not prepared to say that the great service of broadcasting can permanently be held down to any hard-and-fast restriction, so narrowly drawn as this which obtained in the earlier agreement, and that, in the last resort I am hound to defend their possessing the most ample and full powers, not to put them in a position of privilege, but to put them in a position of equality.
That was the point which was most stressed by the Crawford Committee; it is much too long to read here, but. I do invite Members of this Committee who take a lively interest in this aspect of the question to read most carefully paragraph 12, a very long paragraph in the Report, where they will find the conclusions come to very clearly and very fully set out. On this point the Government are in entire agreement. We propose, therefore, to equip the Corporation with these powers. Further, the Corporation has power to appoint committees and sub-committees for the purpose of advising on various matters connected with the service. I mention this, because in the powers of these committees there lies the answer to some of the complaints I have seen, that education, the entertainment industry, music, literature and science are not sufficiently represented on the governing Board. It was never intended or wished that they should be represented. They will he represented through the advisory committees and through the sub-committees. I am quite sure that the Crawford Committee were perfectly right when they recommended most clearly and most specifically that care should be taken to see that the 1571 governing body itself was not composed of persons who represented any special interest. In paragraph 8 of their Report they state:It has been suggested in evidence that the Board should be composed of persons representing various interests such as music, science, drama, education, finance, manufacturing, and so forth. We cannot accept this view, since compromise and even conflict might ensue owing to division of allegiance. On the contrary, we hold that the actual Commissioners should be persons of judgment and independence, free of commitments, and that they will inspire confidence by having no other interests to promote than those of the public service.That is a result which we believe we shall achieve in the selection of the Governors it is proposed to recommend As regards the actual organisation of the service, they will be given under the Charter an absolutely free hand, but I am sure the Committee and the public will he glad to see that the Chief Executive Officer of that service is to continue to be Mr. J. C. Reith, and I may add that it is the general intention of the Commissioners that the existing staff of the British Broadcasting Company shall be transferred on the 1st January. The Charter provides that the Commissioners may be remunerated from the funds of the Corporation to the extent of £3,000 for the Chairman, £1,000 for the Vice-Chairman, and £700 for the Governors, and this is in accordance, I may again say, with the spirit of the Crawford Report. I have seen the usual sort of criticism, which one sees in certain quarters, about inflated salaries. All I have to say to that is, considering the extent of responsibility which is going to devolve upon the Governors of this great body, I do not think the salaries err on the side of generosity. Indeed, I may observe that all together they come to something like three-quarters of one per cent. of the revenue of the Corporation, and I am certain if you apply that test they are not what one might call excessive.
The financial Clauses in the Charter are designed for the due and satisfactory control of its financial powers, and I do not think they call for any particular comment. They provide for the establishment of a reserve and a sinking fund, and give the Governors borrowing powers up to £500,000. The Charter pro- 1572 vides for the establishment of the Corporation, and equips it with powers. The manner in which powers are to be exercised and the financial provisions for the exercise of the powers are contained in the licence and agreement, which is bound up with the Charter, and I would like for a moment to refer to that. There are two chief points—the powers and the finance. I will take the finance first, because without this the powers cannot be exercised. The financial relations between the State and the operating authorities have varied from time to time. At one time they were dependent for their income upon the number of licences issued. Then it was left to the Postmaster-General to determine what was in his opinion a reasonable expenditure. It was a very difficult and very invidious task which could not possibly endure. Now we have sought by agreement with the new authority to lay down the broad lines upon which their finance can safely be regulated, at all events for the present. I say "for the present," because the growth in the number of licences, the growth in the demand for the service, and the development of scientific means for meeting that demand are all really very largely conjectural. That is why we have provided for a possible revision of the financial arrangements in two years' time. I think, perhaps, it may be, convenient if I give at this point the figures that are material as regards the number of licences. On the 31st March last—I give round figures—there were 1,964,000 licences; on the 31st October, a fortnight ago, there were 2,097,000; and our estimate is that if trade revives, as we hope it will, the number of licenses will reach, on 31st March next, 2,200,000.
In considering finance, there are two factors that I would like the Committee to bear in mind. The first is that the costs of operating a broadcasting service do not vary directly with an increase in the number of listeners' licences. Until you reach the point at which you have to make some large capital expenditure for development, it costs you practically no more with 2,200,000 to listen in than with 2,000,000 to listen in. The operating costs do not rise directly in proportion to the number of listeners' licences. The second point is that the cost of collec- 1573 tion remains fairly constant, because, while it is true that the overhead costs for issuing licences diminish proportionately with the increase in the number of licences, the costs of enforcement, on the other hand, rise, and so an equipoise more or less is maintained. I am prepared to say that collection—and we have now had a good deal of experience which enables us pretty accurately to assess the cost—can be done in the long run, although it is costing a little more than that at the present time, for 12½ per cent. on the gross revenue, and so from the gross revenue there is deducted 12½ per cent. in order to reach the net figure to be apportioned between the Exchequer and the operating authority.
Here we have, I know, arrived at a clear-cut division of opinion. There are some people who maintain the view that the State has no right to appropriate any part of this balance of net revenue. As they put it, it all belongs to the listeners-in. That is a contention that I cannot admit for one moment, and I will give two or three reasons. Look at it, first, from the point of view of the State. The State proposes to confer upon this body alone a valuable privilege, a privilege which not all the citizens of the State will choose to enjoy. The State undertakes to support that privilege with all its resources, to restrict competition, tread down infringements, and keep portions of the wave-band clear for it. Is it seriously argued that in return for that the State has no right to a consideration which does not pretend to be a measure of the monopoly value? Look at it, secondly, from the point of view of the listener-in. The listener-in is receiving instruction and entertainment. Other forms of entertainment have to make their contribution to the general revenue of the country. Is this form of entertainment alone to be immune? Remember there never was in the history of entertainment so cheap a form of entertainment as this. It costs only something like one penny for every three days. Can it be said that the listener-in cannot afford to contribute something towards the general finances of the country?
There remains this further point. Are we satisfied that an adequate revenue will be forthcoming to enable the Corporation properly to discharge its task and to fulfil 1574 its duties? Are we satisfied on that point, firstly, as regards the present day, and, secondly, as regards the future, because, let the Committee observe, in a sense it is the common interest of all—the State, the Corporation, and the listener-in—that the service should not be starved, because if it fails to receive an adequate revenue and suffers in quality, then sooner or later the result will be a drop in the number of licences taken out, and the State itself will suffer. But far more important than that, from the point of view of the State, we should fail to achieve all that we hope and want to achieve in making this great service efficient. As far as the immediate financial position is concerned, I tell the Committee that I am satisfied that the revenue will be adequate, and I think they will he satisfied also when I give them the figures. In the first 18 months of the operations of the Company, to 31st March, 1924, the Company received £170,000; in the year ending 31st March, 1925, it received £489,000; in the year ending 31st March, 1928,. received £500,000; in the current financial year the Company for nine months and the Corporation for three will receive £732,000, and if the licences reach, as we think they will, 2,200,000 on 31st March next, the Company will receive in its first full financial year £805,000, and, if the licences again increase by 200,000, they will receive in the next year £866,000.
§ Sir W. MITCHELL - THOMSON
I will read the figures. £315,000, 109,000, £359,000, £159,000, next year £245,000, and the year alter £271,000. I am satisfied on those figures that the revenue for the present is adequately secured and safeguarded. But, while that revenue may suffice for the present moment, its adequacy or inadequacy in the future depends, as I have said, upon the demands which are made upon the service, upon the means for meeting those demands, and upon the cost of providing such means. I believe that the scale which is contained in this Agreement will enable those demands to be met, but I am not positive, and no man can be positive. On the technical side, broadcasting, I believe, is on the eve of very considerable development. I am not going to pretend 1575 to foresee what form these developments may take, but I can imagine, for instance, that somebody may invent a cheap and infinitely more sensitive form of receiving apparatus than the crystal set, and, if that happens, the whole of your development programme will be bound instantly to be affected. On the other hand, when I look at the development which has taken place within the last year or l8 months in the transmission of wireless telegraph waves I ask myself: is it not conceivable that something of the same sort may take place in connection with broadcasting? I do not know how that may come—whether it will be with a low wave rotating beam or something of the kind—but something may come, and, if it does, again the whole of your development programme may be affected. I cannot prophesy, and he would be a bold and rash man who attempted to say that he was positive as to the future. Still less do I expect those who, after all, are going to have the responsibility and who are going to take the blame if the service is not efficient to be positive. The Governors have felt, and felt very rightly, that until they have taken control themselves, until they have had experience in the working of the service, until they have had the means of seeing for themselves what are the requirements, what is the growth in the demand, what are the means available for meeting the demand, and what is the cost of providing those means, they cannot be positive about finance.
I think that was a very natural and perfectly reasonable attitude for them to take up, arid so we have agreed upon the insertion of a Clause which provides that au the end of two years the financial provision shall be open to revision, and that the Governors shall have an opportunity then, after this full experience and this full knowledge of which I have spoken, of corning forward and stating their case. I think it is only right and fair that should make the position of the Governors perfectly clear in this respect, because I am bound to see that I do not let them get into the position of being compelled to shoulder blame without having beforehand made their position quite clear. So I propose, if the Committee will allow me, to read a letter which has been addressed to me on behalf of the 1576 Governors and Corporation. I apologise for reading the first paragraph, but, according to an old rule, if I read at all I must either quote the document in full or lay it on the Table of the House, and it is much simpler to read it in full. It is from Lord Clarendon to myself, and it is dated 4th November, 1926. He says:SIR,I am writing on behalf of myself and the other Governors-Designate of the British Broadcasting Corporation.We desire to express our appreciation of the time and consideration which you have given to the terms of the Charter and the conditions of the Licence to be granted to the Corporation.We understand that the various points which have been raised in connection with the Charter and the Licence must now be regarded as agreed, subject to the settlement of wording between our respective solicitors. There is one point, however, on which, in order to avoid possible misunderstanding in future, we should like to record our opinion.In expressing our willingness to accept office as Governors of the new Corporation, acting as trustees for the national interest, we fully realise that we cannot speak definitely without experience and without that careful investigation into future development of policy which we can only make after assuming control. We have before us the figures furnished by the Executive of the British Broadcasting Company, and presumably these figures are accurate and the policy upon which they are founded sound and desirable. On this basis, we have considerable anxiety as to whether the funds at the disposal of the Corporation under the agreement will prove during our tenure of office to be sufficient for the proper development of the Service on progressive lines. This is our own desire, and we understand that it is also the wish of His Majesty's Government. Important issues of policy will arise within the next two years which will probably entail a considerable increase in the expenditure on the Broadcasting Service.While, therefore, we accept the revenue provided for the maintenance of the Service, we anticipate that its rapid and progressive expansion will, at the end of two years, necessitate our taking advantage of the revision clause.In this connection we may point out that development of Broadcasting will inevitably lead directly and indirectly to an increase of revenue to His Majesty's Government.We hope you will understand that this letter is written as a measure of self-protection, and we will ask you to be so good as to forward a copy to His Majesty's Treasury for submission to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.As I say, I think that is perfectly reasonable.
§ Captain FRASER
I hesitate to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman in his long explanation, but it is on a point of substance. In the second paragraph there is a sentence, which it was a little difficult to hear, relating to the agreement with the Governors. Would it be possible for him to tell the Committee what were those words?
§ Sir W. MITCHELL-THOMSON
I apologise if I did not make it clear, and I will read the second paragraph again:We understand that the various points which have been raised in connection with the Charter and the Licence must now be regarded as agreed subject to the settlement of wording between our respective solicitors. There is one point, however, on which, to avoid possible misunderstanding in future, we should like to record our opinion.As I said, I think that is a perfectly natural view for the Governors to take. Had I been in their place, I should have taken that view, and, on this basis, we have agreed the provision for the next two years.
I will now say a word as to how that provision is fixed. The Committee will see that it is done by means of a sliding scale. Why a sliding scale and not a fixed percentage? The answer lies in the factor which I mentioned to the Committee a short time ago, that is, that the operating costs do not rise directly in proportion to the increase in the number of licences. For the first million licences, where the cost are relatively high, the figure which accrues to the Corporation is 90 per cent., for the second million 80 per cent., for the third million 70 per cent., and thereafter 60 per cent. It is on that basis that the Corporation's revenue will be paid. For the first three months, to March, 1927, the sum will be £183,000, for the year 1928 (estimated) £805,000, and for the year 1929, if 200,000 licences are added that year, £866,000. The basic date for each financial year, as the Committee will see, is the 31st March in the immediately preceding financial year. That date was quite deliberately chosen in order that the Corporation should know, as soon as possible after the start of the financial year, exactly what their income was going to be during the next financial year. By the middle of April at latest, probably, the number of licences up to the 31st March will be accurately known, and, if it is not, the figure can be 1578 adjusted in the next month; but by the end of April, certainly, and probably a little earlier than that, the Corporation will know exactly what their revenue is going to be for the next 12 months, and it will be paid in equal monthly instalments. Therefore they will be able to regulate their expenditure accordingly.
It is one of the defects of the old system that payments to the Company were made monthly in arrear, and were subject to a somewhat complicated adjustment in respect of the reserve value of unexpired licences; for the Committee must remember that broadcasting licences, unlike some other licences—dog licences, for instance—are not taken out on a fixed date, but may be taken out on any date and are valid for 12 months. Even halfway through the financial year the Company never knew exactly what their income was going to be for the whole of that year. That was all very well so long as the number of licences was rising by leaps and bounds, but sooner or later there must come a time when that state of things will not go on. I cannot say when saturation point will be reached, because I do not know; but some time or other it will be reached, and there may even come a time when for some unforeseen cause the number of licences may even begin to decline. At all events, it is very much better, as a matter of business, that the Corporation should know absolutely accurately, as the Company were never able to know, what their income is likely to be in the ensuing 12 months. If this Estimate is voted, arrangements will be made, on the 1st January, to put the Corporation in possession of a sufficient portion of the £183,000 to keep them in ample funds for their work immediately on taking over.
I must say one word about the exercise of powers under the licence. Much of the licence and Agreement refers to technical provisions, which present little, if any variation—practically no variation—from the existing licence under which the Company works. These are all designed for the same object—of making sure, in the interests of other users of the wave band, and of the State, that facilities and powers given to the Corporation for the use of that wave band for the purpose of broadcasting are not misused. It is clearly necessary that there should be those powers of control, but that is not to say we are ever likely to require 1579 seriously to exercise them. I do not regard it as much more likely that they will be exercised more in the case of the Corporation than they have been in the case of the Company, but that they must exist is perfectly clear, in the interests both of the State and of other users of the wave band.
But there are two special provisions upon which I had better say a word or two. One is the provision which existed, and exists to-day, in the licence of the Company and is re-embodied in the licence of the Corporation, and that is that the Corporation are to broadcast matter if requested to do so by a Government Department. I have seen it suggested that this may be some scheme to evolve a system of tendencious propaganda on behalf of Government Departments. I can assure the Committee that nothing is further from the fact. This is a means of getting publicity for important objects which arise suddenly, of which some Government Departments have in the past availed themselves, as undoubtedly they will desire to do in the future. If any Government oversteps the line and goes beyond this, I have no doubt they will be brought to book, and properly brought to book, in the House of Commons. I assure my right hon. Friend opposite that if at the time I am sitting on those Benches, and he is sitting on these Benches, and anything of that sort occurs, I shall not be behind-hand in bringing the matter forward. Hon. Members who listen-in know the sort of cases that occur from day to day and from week to week. The police ask that a notice should be broadcast concerning the disappearance of a man or a woman, or they appeal for witnesses of a motor car accident to come forward. The Air Ministry sometimes desire to broadcast warnings of the sudden approach of a depression and consequent gales. The Ministry of Agriculture might desire to broadcast information of an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, and the consequent closing of markets next day. Those are the sorts of things for which this service is used by Government Departments on the rare occasions when it is used. The other provision is one for the resumption of full control over the service by the Government in a ease of national emergency, and that is a pro- 1580 vision which, speaking in my other capacity as Chief Civil Commissioner, I have no hesitation in saying it is absolutely vital for the Government to have, and I do not believe there will be any dissent from that view in any quarter.
Subject to those limitations, I propose to give the Governors the greatest possible liberty, within the terms of the Charter, to do anything that comes within its terms that they may think desirable in the best interests of the service as a whole. I notice the critics of our proposals appear to be divided on this point. Half of them think the Postmaster-General is retaining too much power, and the other half think the Corporation are getting too much power. I am on the side of the latter half, in as much as I desire that the Corporation should in every respect be given the greatest possible latitude in regard to the conduct of their own affairs. Two restrictions, and two restrictions only, that really matter, are imposed, and they are imposed in Clauses 3 and 4 of the licence. Clause 3 prohibits the Corporation, with certain exceptions which are in their own discretion, from making use of the service for the purpose of broadcasting advertisements. I do not know that it was really necessary to put that in, but with the awful warning before us of what has happened in some other countries I thought it was just as well that it should appear in the licence. The other provision, which is contained in Clause 4, Sub-section (3), raises a very different question. The Committee will see that general powers are retained by the Postmaster-General to give notice to the Corporation from time to time to refrain from sending out broadcast matter, either particular or general, and: that these notices may vary from time to time.
§ Sir W. MITCHELL-THOMSON
It is an overriding discretion, resting with the Postmaster-General, to prohibit altogether matter either particular or general. I do not think the Committee will dissent from the general proposition that the State ought to reserve this power. I cannot tell, and I am not going to pretend to begin to tell, how that power may be exercised by my suc- 1581 cessors. All I can say is that if there is any variation in the instructions which we shall give to the Corporation, and I am going to tell the Committee what they are later, it will become instantly known, will instantly become a matter of public comment and controversy, not only in this House but outside. What can do is to tell the Committee what are the instructions which we have decided to give the Corporation. Those instructions will be two-fold. They will comprise but two prohibitions. The first, as to which I do not think there will be any controversy at all in any quarter of the House, will prohibit the Corporation from expressing as their own opinion views on matters of public policy; that is to say, it will prohibit the broadcasting of what one may call editorial articles by the Corporation. We feel that the power of moulding public opinion which is inherent in broadcasting is so great that its exercise ought not to be at the sole discretion of five individuals, however eminent, however distinguished, and however impartial. I do not believe there will be any dissent from that view.
As regards the other prohibition, what we propose to do is to maintain the existing restriction upon the broadcast, by speech or lecture, of matter on topics of political, religious or industrial controversy. That I am well aware will provoke discussion and criticism, and that is precisely the object which the Government are anxious to achieve, because our view is that this subject as yet has received quite imperfect consideration at the hands of the public in general, and I do not think has even received a very great deal of consideration in this House. The Crawford Committee recommended that, there should be an extension in the power of the Corporation in regard to this, and that what they call a moderate amount of political controversy should be admitted, with a direction to the Corporation that they were to preserve strict impartiality. The Government are anxious, indeed very anxious, that this subject should be ventilated and discussed, and we shall take full note of any opinions that may be expressed on this question. I wish to express my own opinion upon this question of partiality, which I think I am entitled to do as an individual. My own view is that, if the Corporation are to be told 1582 that they may broadcast political controversy, then the responsibility for keeping within the canons of impartiality must fall upon the Corporation and not upon the Postmaster-General.
There is a kindred subject which has emerged from time to time on which I may perhaps be allowed to say a word, and it is the question of broadcasting the Debates and proceedings of this House. That is a matter for the House to settle for itself, and no one else can settle it for the House. I would like to observe, in the first place, that there are at least two practical difficulties in carrying out that idea. It is all right for those on the Front Bench, because this solid article of furniture in front of us affords a convenient opportunity for the bestowal of suitable apparatus, but that would not be an easy matter in other quarters of the House. The second practical difficulty, which I think is a greater one, is that the one essential thing for success is that you should keep strictly to your programme time, and it is extraordinarily difficult to see how we could carry that out in this House. I can hardly imagine the House suspending its proceedings because the programme hour had not quite arrived.
Then there is the question of impartiality. I do not know upon what basis the time of the House would be distributed, but I suppose the Liberal party would wish to take an equal share of representation with any other Party, and I suppose the hon. Member for North Battersea (Mr. Saklatvala) would claim to be represented as well, and I know the business of dividing the time is certainly not going to be done by the present Postmaster-General. Then there is the question of the allocation of time between this Chamber and another place With those observations, which indicate the difficulties of those who urge broadcasting in that direction, I would merely say that we are maintaining the existing restrictions because we do not want to start introducing political controversy into this new service without very careful consideration and the fullest discussion in the House and in public; and we do not want to do anything which might let politics into broadcasting to a greater extent than is desirable, because if you once let politics into broadcasting you will never be able to keep broadcast- 1583 ing out of politics. That is the one thing I have striven to do, and whether I have achieved that object or not I do not know. I have endeavoured to see that broadcasting shall be a public service and not a party service. The Crawford Committee, in one of their concluding paragraphs, says:That the prestige and status of the Commission should be freely acknowledged and their sense of responsibility emphasised; that, although Parliament must retain the right of ultimate control and the Postmaster-General must be the Parliamentary spokesman on broad questions of policy, the Commissioners should be invested with the maximum of freedom which Parliament is prepared to concede;That is what I have tried to do and I hope the Committee will support me. While I am prepared to take the responsibility for broad issues of policy, on minor issues and measures of domestic policy, and matters of day to day control, I want to leave things to the free judgment of the Corporation. I want to make this service not a Department of the State, and still less a creature of the Executive, but so far as is consistent with Ministerial responsibility, I wish to create an independent body of trustees operating the service in the interest of the public as a whole. It is a novel experiment, but it is quite a new problem. It may fail, but I believe it will succeed, and in that confident hope and belief I present this Estimate to the Committee and ask for the approval of the Government's policy in regard to it.
§ Mr. WILLIAM GRAHAM
The problem before the House this afternoon may be divided into the immediate proposals put forward for the broadcasting service and certain deeper principles contained in the scheme now submitted for our approval. I think it would be impossible for anyone on this side of the House to begin without paying a tribute to the very able exposition of the whole case by the Postmaster-General, and the lucid way in which he has recalled to the House the fact that broadcasting practically, on a large scale, is a growth of five or six years in Great Britain. During that time this subject has been subjected to various Committees of Inquiry and towards the end of last year and in the beginning of this year the whole subject was considered by Lord Crawford's Com- 1584 mittee for the express purpose of outlining the future of broadcasting and deciding what form the new organisation should take.
May I recall this afternoon that one of the immediate problems which confronted that Committee was the decision as to whether the licence accorded to the British Broadcasting Company should be continued, or whether some new organisation, either the State or a public corporation, or some other device, should be adopted. After a good deal of discussion in Committee, and after a full review of important evidence submitted, that body unanimously came to the conclusion that what they should recommend was the method of public corporation. I pause at this stage to join in the tribute which the Postmaster-General has paid to the British Broadcasting Company, and I do so, not because many of us agree with all the steps that the Company has taken, hut because it is plain to every student of the problem that the Company under-Company took a good deal of risk in the initiation of a service of this kind. On this side of the House we are hound to the principles of public ownership, but we do not forget that from the start the British Broadcasting Company operated as a public utility society and on the £70.000 subscribed capital they were entitled to a fixed return of 7½ per cent. and nothing more, and under the agreement they obtain the repayment of that sum at par, the remaining sums in this Estimate being necessary for the process of liquidation and discharging their duties until December, and making provisions for the first three months of the new organisation and afterwards. I pass immediately to discussion of the new structure which is to be introduced. No one will dispute, and the speech of the Postmaster-General has made it perfectly clear, that this is an important departure in a large and important industry or service in the State. Some questions have been raised as to the exact powers of the new Corporation, and the real difficulty which confronts many critics outside and inside this House is whether under this agreement we are putting the Corporation under too complete a form of control, and whether in point of fact it will be a mere creature of the Postmaster-General. Inside and outside this House there is doubt whether we have given this new 1585 organisation the freedom and elasticity which the Crawford Committee certainly had in mind.
Many of us took the view that it might be better, in view of the undeniable importance of broadcasting, to establish the new order by Act of Parliament for the purpose of giving it wide and general recognition, but I do not attach any importance to the precise method adopted this afternoon, and I am inclined to agree that if by proceeding under Charter in terms of a public Corporation you can get freedom and elasticity, especially in the development of a service of this kind, which is not possible under Statute, then the device of the Postmaster-General is by far the better one in the public interest. Of course there are many other problems connected with the new service, such as the remuneration of artistes, the broadcasting of controversial material, and other issues, but many of the problems of that character are determined largely by the terms of the financial arrangements which we make, because in the last resort everything comes hack to the money of the scheme.
What is the exact proposal which the Postmaster-General makes? This estimate provides for the repayment of the capital and for the liquidation of other charges and for the first three months' working of the new Corporation. The Postmaster-General goes on to suggest that out of the revenue accruing from rather more than 2,000,000 licences at the present time, and what we shall call the growing produce thereof in years to come, 90 per cent, of the first million licences goes to the new Corporation, 80 per cent. of the second million, 70 per cent, of the third million, and 60 per cent. on the yield above that point subject to the underlying condition that per cent. should be allowed to the Postmaster-General for the expenses of administration and collection. That figure has been criticised by some students of the finance of the scheme, but if on the figures before the Department 12½ per cent. is believed to be necessary for the cost of collection and administration, I think it will be difficult for any hon. Member to dispute that statement.
A far larger problem arises when we come to the allocation of the proceeds of 1586 the licence duties. Fundamentally, that is very nearly settled, for the purposes of immediate discussion, by the recommendation of the Crawford Committee that the licence fee should remain at 10s. per annum. They used the illustration which was quoted this afternoon, that that provides, at the rate of 1d. for three days, a long and varied programme. We take the view that that is certainly, in many ways, a cheap service, but the underlying principle for which our movement stands is to try to give the service—consistently, of course, with the discharge of all our duties in regard to development, research and the rest—at the lowest possible price to the consumer; and we do not exclude the possibility of the time coming in the near future—if broadcasting makes progress, probably at the end of the two years' review which is now under discussion—when it may be possible, after every conceivable duty has been discharged to broadcasting in Great Britain, to make a reduction of the kind I have mentioned. At all events, that was my view in the Crawford Committee —that for the time being the licence fee should remain at 10s. per annum, and that we should concede freedom for the adjustment of the finance to the new Corporation on that basis. That, undeniably, gives a very large revenue per annum.
The Postmaster-General raised an important question when he referred to saturation point in broadcasting in this country. He estimates, in the immediate period ahead, for additions of 200,000 licences or thereby, and, of course, we do not forget that the percentage diminishes as you pass the limit of 3,000,000 licences; but I should think the saturation point for broadcasting in Great Britain would be reached, or very nearly reached, when we ascertain the total number of houses in the country, and make provision for. the exclusion of certain establishments and, perhaps, duplication of apparatus in others. Difficult as that may be, we get a kind of broad idea of what is likely to be the aggregate field of broadcasting, and from that the aggregate number of licences that are likely to be taken out. These percentages provide—and here the real issue enters the field—for a sum which will soon amount to £860,000 by way of revenue to the new Corporation. One can only assume that, in framing a 1587 revenue of that kind, all the needs in regard to development, research, payment of staff, and everything else in the service, have been kept in view. At the same time, the Postmaster-General makes it plain that sums which cannot be regarded as inconsiderable are to flow to the Treasury year by year. These sums are defended in Debate on the ground that the State or the community is performing a certain duty in the environment of all the work of the Corporation, and I have no doubt that what this Committee would like to know, and what might be made a little clearer later in the Debate, is the basis on which that kind of measurement has taken place. Is there any basis or any method of measuring a service of that kind, and are the critics justified in taking the view that, if sums running into some hundreds of thousands of pounds go to the Treasury annually, those sums are in excess of reasonable payment for what the Postmaster-General and the State are doing, and that they constitute, in fact, a kind of indirect taxation on, in this case, the consumers of broadcasting for the benefit of the Treasury; whereas the theory is, of course, that the consumers should get the full benefit of any reduction in price that is possible. That, it seems to me, is the problem which we have to solve in this connection.
Many of my colleagues on these benches are anxious regarding that aspect of the case. They are anxious, first of all, as to whether full provision has been made for the progress of the broadcasting service. Much of our doubt must be removed by the fact that an increasing sum is placed at the disposal of that service, and, secondly, by the fact that at the end of two years, apparently, there is a very wide power of review. But I should like this afternoon to emphasise this thought, and I trust that the Government of the day will be able to make it plain at this stage that, when all these duties have been fulfilled, if in fact the revenue increases, we should urge that at the earliest possible moment an appropriate portion of it, after the services of the State have been met, should go to the consumers by some form of price reduction. Ten shillings, on paper, seems very cheap to the average Member of the House of Commons, and very cheap, 1588 perhaps, to large numbers of the community at the present time, but there are, of course, in the agricultural districts and in the poorer areas of our cities, large numbers of people to whom even 10s. is a consideration, and, moreover, we must keep in view the fact that the whole object of this is to be genuinely a public service, freely and easily at the disposal of all the masses of the people, with the enormous powers in regard to education and other subjects which appear to be well within its scope. I cannot, therefore, too plainly and clearly try to emphasise that principle this afternoon.
The next question which arises is the question of the exact powers of this Corporation. We take the view, of course, that there must be some relationship to the State. After all, the licence really originates with the masses of the British people; they are giving it to this new body, and they must have a representative and spokesman in the House of Commons. That representative and spokesman, quite clearly, must be the Postmaster-General of the day. Some have thought that there is grave danger of highly controversial matters coming into daily question in the House of Commons. That was, of course, considered by the Crawford Committee, and we came unanimously to the conclusion, almost without, I think, any debate at all, that a state of affairs like that was not. only impossible but intolerable, and that it would never be feasible to have questions or discussions here upon every phase—very often minor phases—of the work in which the Broadcasting Corporation was engaged. Some of the leading questions turn upon programmes, news distribution, and problems of that kind.
Let me say this, that, while the Crawford Committee recommended the inclusion of a rather larger amount of controversial matter, I think that was mainly with the consideration in mind that there has been a criticism of programmes on the ground that they are somewhat wooden in character. That is no reflection upon the existing company; it is part of the inevitable price which we pay when we try to avoid all controversy in the discussion of what are, in reality, public affairs. When controversy is wholly removed—and I am very much worried about the statement of the Postmaster-General with regard to "religious, 1589 political and other controversy"—you get an inanity or rule of platitude which I am afraid may not encourage a large number of listeners who look for rather stronger meat, even under the broadcasting system. I am satisfied that none of us can discharge our duty, in the public progress of the time, if we are denied the right, or are limited in any way in regard to the right, of making fair and considered statements even of a highly controversial character: The outside world seems to me to resemble very much the British House of Commons, where we meet for the express purpose of differing from one another, in order, as we think, that the truth may emerge; and I believe that what the Crawford Committee had in mind was some kind of considered controversy, representative in character, which would enable the Postmaster-General or this new Corporation to say that they had discharged their duty to the public by putting certain points of view, however violently sections of listeners might differ from the precise statements which were made. All these efforts, therefore, in order to get rid of this everlasting devastation of platitude, appear to me to be well worth consideration at the present time.
Other problems arise about the remuneration of artists and the collection of news, but many of us are perfectly satisfied that these matters, to a very large extent, can only be left to the Corporation, subject to this underlying principle. The newspapers have driven what is undoubtedly a very hard bargain, and have tied broadcasting down to the publication of news not before seven o'clock at night, through certain recognised agencies, and often, as we are bound to agree, somewhat limited in character and scope. Apparently many of them take the view that broadcasting of news is hostile to the material interests of the Press, but, surely, the proper way to view a question of that kind is to regard the one service of the State is complementary to the other. Certain features of American experience in broadcasting have shown that there is actually an increased demand for newspapers as a result of statements which were broadcast in very compact form, and, for my own part, if I may venture a personal word in passing, as one who has spent all his working life in journalism, I cannot take 1590 any other view than that there will always be a demand for the printed page, and that, in point of fact, that demand can be stimulated by the use of the broadcasting service if it is viewed aright. Accordingly, if we regard these things as complementary, and not hostile to one another, it should be possible to drive, as I hope the new Corporation will, a very much better bargain with the newspaper world; but all these matters must be left very largely to the new organisation.
The other and very large principle which remains is one on which I am delighted to dwell this afternoon, embarrassing as it may be to the Postmaster-General and to members of the present Government. On Friday of last week the House of Commons was engaged in anxious Debate on an Electricity Bill, which was roundly criticised because it was Socialistic in character. I dare not refer to that now, save to say that it did introduce certain forms of public control; but I beg the Committee this afternoon, from the point of view of our movement, to have regard to the exact nature of the scheme which the Postmaster-General now recommends. We began by admitting that this was bound to be of the nature of a monopoly. We recognised that it was entrusted to a company which was very largely on public utility lines; but, when all these concessions had been made, the strict individualists in Parliament might well have urged that it should continue or remain subject to the same kind of direction and control. Here, however, is the Postmaster-General, an individualist and an anti-Socialist, and a member of a Government which professes such a faith, coming with what I call definitely and clearly the Socialism of public corporation.
What he does is this: he thanks the British Broadcasting Company, as we generally do; he repays the £70,000 of subscribed capital at par; and he then sets up a purely public body for the express purpose of acting as steward and trustee in the development of British broadcasting in time to come. He gives them resources from the produce of these licence fees; he tells them they have the right to borrow up to £500,000 of capital, subject to certain restrictions or arrangements regarding sinking fund, repayment, depreciation and other features. He then takes his place in the House of Commons 1591 as the representative of a great public Department, and this body is responsible to him and to us; but from it every element of private interest, private return or private profit has been clearly eliminated. Our case is that there are other industries in this country, which I. am not in order in discussing, but can only mention in passing, which, by trust organisation and by a monopoly not substantially different from the broadcasting which is now under review, are rapidly becoming ripe for the same kind of treatment. But what I do say is this, that, having made a speech at that Box of the most democratic and businesslike Socialist character this afternoon, he at all events cannot, at the next Election, join with hon. Members on that side in an attack on what they will call the Socialist menace. We have only to pick up the Charter and Agreement now before us and say to members of the audience: "There you have a working case at the hands of an individualist Government of the precise principle which we recommend, not only for broadcasting, but in other spheres of public life and public effort, in the interests of the peace and the prosperity of the nation."
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Major - General Sir FREDERICK SYKES
As Chairman of the Broadcasting Committee of 1923 I would like to congratulate the Postmaster-General on his statement this afternoon. I should also like to follow the last speaker with one word regarding the British Broad-casting Company. I think they deserve an immense amount of credit for all the work they have put in during the past few years, certainly a word of credit for the tactful way they have handled a very difficult task. I shall only touch on two aspects of the questions raised by this chapter. I think the two main problems are those of control and finance. The question of control, as I see it, could be handled in two ways other than it has been handled in the past by the British Broadcasting Company; that is, either on the lines the Postmaster-General has taken of an independent body of Governors, or else by direct representation on the board of the various interests most directly concerned. The representation principle has often worked out very well on advisory committees. But I 1592 think the Postmaster General's attitude is right, that control should now be absolutely independent of direct interests, and can be brought into touch with those interests best by means of committees advising the governing body. The possibilities of broadcasting are so immense that I think the governing body must be independent in order to deal with questions of progress and expansion, and if it is constantly to weigh one interest against another, its hands must necessarily he very much tied. Post Office powers also require careful handling. On one Clause I must say I am a little at variance with the license agreement. It is that I should have hoped that it might have been possible for the Postmaster-General to act as the channel of communication for all Government Departments who wish to issue broadcasting notices. I know the Post Office does this work now and it seems to me it would simplify matters if the Post Office continued to act as the direct channel for these communications, and it would save possible misunderstandings and abuse of this clause.
With regard to finance, I have set out a few figures to see how this question seems to trend. As we have heard, the Post Office, first of all, is to take 12½ per cent. for administration. Taking 2,000,000 licences as a basis—there are just over that number, as we have heard—£125,000 is taken for administration. This is at the rate of is. 3d. per licence. Dividing the balance the Government takes £131,250 and the British Broadcasting Company £743,750, and is in a ratio of 13 for the Government and 74 for the British Broadcasting Company. Taking 3,000,000 licences, it is £187,500 for administration, £262,500 for the Government, and the British Broadcasting Company gets £1,050,000. That is at the rate of 17 per cent. and 70 per cent. If von go on to 4,000,000 licences. the administration is £250,000, still at the ls. 3d. per licence, and the Government get £437,500, which is 22 per cent. of the whole, and the British Broadcasting Company gets £1,312,500, which is 66 per cent.. of the whole or 6s. 6d. per licence. There are a number of things which come out if you examine these figures. The first thing which has struck most Members is the question of the 10s. 1593 licence. The second whether the l2½ per cent., taken by the Post Office to meet the cost of administration, could not be reduced with each million licences issued; and the third is that very large sums go to the Exchequer and very large sums have also to be handled by the Corporation.
Another point that has not been mentioned is that the future Charter allows the capital expenditure to be met in the orthodox way, and releases income for current operational and experimental services. In my Report of 1923 we recommended that no part of broadcasting should fall on the taxpayer, but that the Government should not endeavour to make a profit on the administration of the service; and that the bulk of the revenue required for the service should be obtained from the receiving licence fee which should be retained at 10s. a year, subject to consideration of a reduction in the event of more revenue being received than is sufficient to carry on an adequate service; that instead of 5s. as much as 7s. 6d. out of the 10s. fee might he allocated under any new scheme to meet the cost of broadcasting, subject to a sliding scale under which the payment per licence would increase as the number of licences decreased. The Crawford Committee says, on page 15, that the provision for experiment and research should be generous; that the Commission should be empowered to raise capital, and that the fee of 10s. for a receiver's licence should be maintained. I mention all these points to show how the whole question is still in a very fluid state, and for this reason I welcome what the Postmaster said, that in view of the complexity of the question, in view of the fact that we must watch the side of development and research and at the same time balance our finance as between the State and the listener-in, that the whole question is so complicated that there can be no hard-and-fast basis on which it can be fixed at the present moment, and I think his suggestion or that of the new Government Board, that there should be reconsideration in two years' time, is the most sound one we can adopt. There must be elasticity. Finally I think we ought to congratulate the Postmaster-General and the Crawford Committee upon the work they have done, in making 1594 at all events an advanced step in this new problem. I with the Postmaster-General, and the new Corporation, the Director-General and the British Broadcasting Company staff, the greatest possible success.
§ Mr. ELLIS DAVIES
In the course of the Postmaster-General's speech, I asked him a question with regard to copyright, and I do not think he actually dealt with it. Clause 3 (f), on page 4, reads as follows:(f) To acquire by registration, purchase or otherwise, copyrights in any literary, musical and artistic works, plays, songs, gramophone records, news and other matter and any trade-marks and track names and to use, exercise, develop, grant licences in respect of, or otherwise turn to account the same with a. view to the furtherance of any of the objects of the Corporation.It has been said in the Press that the Corporation will have the first right of acquiring any copyright. I confess in reading the paragraph it does not seem to me to convey that meaning, but there is certainly considerable doubt in the public mind as to the exact power to be given the Corporation, and I hope the Postmaster-General will deal with that question. On the general issue, I agree with the proposed plan of the right hon. Gentleman. I am quite at a loss to understand why the right hon. Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. W. Graham) should twit the Postmaster-General with Socialism unless he thinks all forms of Government, including this House, are in themselves Socialistic. That is a theory which has been advanced with considerable force. I should like to draw attention to this fact that I feel for my own part that he is keeping all control in his own hands. In the first place he gives, instruction both as to the conditions on which a licence is to be granted and conditions on which a licence is to be withdrawn. After giving a definition of broadcasting, he retains for himself and his successors the right of giving very definite instructions as to the matter that can be broadcast in those circumstances. He is really maintaining full control over broadcasting in this country. In regard to broadcasting political and controversial subjects, I am in favour, and I believe there is at least one party in this House which has a great deal to thank itself for, in that one speech was broadcast at the last General Election. 1595 For myself, I think we may in time find it very difficult to get people to attend our political meetings. In one constituency recently there was actually a Punch and Judy show ventriloquist to provide an audience for speakers brought down from London. If that becomes general, I suggest that the Postmaster-General should consider, if we cannot get our audiences to meet us, whether we should be able by broadcasting to get at them. As to whether time and opportunity could be distributed impartially, he has appointed people of ability who, like the Judges, can be depended on to be impartial. I see no difficulty at all in allowing the Corporation, through the Government, to decide what proportion of time and what particular speakers may broadcast. In any event I am sure sooner or later we must allow political, and controversial matters to be broadcast throughout the country.
Leaving the general question, I would call attention to the question of broadcasting as it affects us particularly in Wales. We have two stations, one at Swansea and one at Cardiff. Unfortunately, Cardiff is I am told it cannot be heard. I am also told we have an Irish grievance and that -the station at Dublin interferes very considerably with broadcasting in North Wales, particularly from Manchester and Bournemouth, on which we depend. I would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to establish in North Wales either a broadcasting or a relaying station in -which the Welsh language could be used very much more widely than it is at present. [Laughter.] I do not quite understand Irby the hon. Member behind me laughs. I hope the next time he does not agree with me he will express his views rather differently. Let me put the position in North Wales particularly. There has been a large influx of people from the South of England into. South Wales, but I am concerned with the peasantry in North Wales. The Welsh language is used in religion, in the school, in the chapels and in political meetings. My constituency extends right across Wales from Colwyn Bay to Oswestry. Within the last 12 months I have addressed a meeting three 1596 miles from Oswestry where all the notices convening the meeting were printed in Welsh and the political addresses were delivered in Welsh. I suggest, for the benefit of people whose knowledge of the English language is really very limited, but who are still cultured and desirous of extending their knowledge, that the right hon. Gentleman should consider the question of establishing a station, say at Colwyn Bay, the largest and most populous town in North Wales, where provision should be made for broadcasting or relaying Welsh addresses and lectures, and religious services. It is not merely a. question of enjoyment; it is a question of education. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not turn a deaf ear to the appeal 1 have made on behalf of Wales.
§ Captain FRASER
On the question of finance, might I be permitted to refer the Committee to the Crawford Report, in which, under Section 9 (a), some words like the following occur: "We understand that the overhead charges and administrative expenses of the Commission, which is now called the Corporation, will increase, for their continuing responsibility and the control of programmes is bound to become more expensive." A little later the Report urges the necessity of increased expenditure upon research. Then occurs a reference to the advisability that the licence should, for the present, at any rate, stay at 10s. and the statement that the Postmaster-General must be indemnified against any charges that fall upon his Department. Then it says that, subject thereto, it will be the duty of the Postmaster-General to pay to the Corporation an income adequate to enable it to provide a full and efficient service for the full and efficient maintenance and development of the service, and then, and not till then, is it expedient that the surplus should be retained by the State. It is, I think, important that the emphasis which has been laid upon the need for the most adequate finance to be provided for the Corporation should be pointed out. In the light of what the Crawford Report said on this subject, having regard to the fact that the Government accepted it in general and stated that they are seeking to carry it out, may I examine the papers which have been circulated, especially the draft constitution and the 1597 agreement which it is said is going to be made between the present Company and the Postmaster-General for the transfer of the service to the Corporation. In the introduction to the paper it is stated that a sum of £620,000 has been agreed to be paid by the Postmaster-General to the Company, as to £548,000 in respect of maintenance of service during the nine months to the end of December, 1921, and as to £71,000 in respect of repayment of capital. £548,000 for the period of nine months is at the rate, for the period of 12 months, of £685,000. The figure given by the Postmaster-General for the 12 months to the end of March, 1931, is £730,000 and that is the rate at which broadcasting is now being conducted.
For the last year or fifteen months we have been aware that while the Broadcasting Company have maintained the service and have proceeded with such smaller current technical developments as have been necessary for the maintenance of the service, and while they have on the whole given good and improving programmes, it is certainly the case that they have not made any very large development and have not spent any of that money upon anything which would go outside the word "maintenance" used in the widest sense, so that that amount of money, £730,000, is and has been agreed to be necessary for maintenance in the widest sense of the word during the last nine months and at present. I calculate that the sliding scale will provide during the first year of the Corporation's activities £800,000, and it will be seen that that is a considerable increase upon the money that is available now or was available during the last nine months. I would refer again to the extract from the Report where it is urged that the responsibilities of the Corporation will be continuing responsibilities, that they must continue adequate research, an expression of opinion not only in the Crawford Report but which has been frequently made elsewhere, that the fees paid to artists and copyright holders and others by the Company have not always been as generous as they might have been, and that there is need for actual progressive development as the taste of two or three million listeners gradually becomes more cultured and demands higher and better things. All 1598 those circumstances make me think that the sum of £800,000, great as it may appear to be, will not be found to be more than adequate, if, indeed, it is adequate, to meet these increasing charges, and under those circumstances I want to express the hope that something more may be possible to be said by the Government as to this question of finance in the immediate future to the advantage of the Corporation.
I have only dealt with one-half of the financial question. The other half causes me even greater anxiety. Throughout its course, the British Broadcasting Company has been able to finance its development from revenue. The last speaker hardly emphasised this, but he just mentioned the fact that he was glad to see that capital was going to be provided for in the orthodox way. The orthodox way he meant presumably was by borrowing, but it is scarcely orthodox to borrow when there is money to which you think you have a claim to be had from revenue. That is unorthodox. I have tried to show that the income proposed to be given to the Corporation for its first year will be scarcely adequate to meet the maintenance in the widest sense of the word. We know that during the next twelve months great developments are looked for by listeners all over the land in the matter of alternative programmes. We know that plans have long been made and are being experimented upon with the object of trying to secure not only that every house in the land can receive broadcasting on simple apparatus, but that as large as possible a number of houses may get a choice between two programmes with a simple apparatus. This is an ideal which is not attainable immediately over the whole land, but a very definite start must be made during the next twelve months, I would say precisely before next September, if we are to satisfy listeners that all is being done that they are beginning to know is possible to be done. As I understand it, such a development, involving new stations, higher power and much experimental work, cannot cost less than £250,000 in the first twelve months of the new Corporation's right. The whole of that £250,000 must be found by this new Corporation borrowing. It is orthodox to borrow when we have not the revenue, but it is most unorthodox and unhappy that this 1599 Corporation, starting its new life, should be compelled to borrow when there is money available to which I feel it should, if the spirit of the Crawford Report is to be carried out, have the first claim
With regard to the principle behind this financial question, no one I think can substantiate an argument against the absolute right of the State, whose machinery is being used to demand absolute compensation for every service it renders, whether that service is mere collection of income or whether it lies in the general control of all wireless, without which there would be chaos. No one can raise an argument against the owners of a monopoly exploiting a monopoly, and the Post Office should and may charge royalties or rents for the use of this monopoly. I am surprised to hear that in the 12½ per cent. there is not any allowance for monopoly value, for I should have thought frankly 12½ per cent. was a high figure for the collection of so large an amount of money with the power of the State to aid the collector. Particularly, I should have thought that it was capable of reduction after the first 2,000,000 had been passed. I accept the statement that that has been carefully gone into, but if there is no relief to be sought by a reduction of that 121 per cent. as the millions go on, I, at least, hope that it may be possible for something to be done to prevent the new Corporation in its very early stages from being handicapped by the necessity to borrow, especially when one considers that during the last three or four years the State has benefited to the extent of something like £900,000 from the surplus of licence fees.
With respect to the constitution of the Corporation a great deal of criticism has arisen in certain quarters, notably among manufacturers in the wireless trade and representatives of the theatre interests. They ask why should not they be represented. I have great sympathy with the wireless trade who, as the Postmaster-General has stated, started this enterprise and risked their money in it, and who now have no place upon the governing body. I have some sympathy also for the theatre interests, because they sincerely think—I think quite wrongly—that broadcasting is a dangerous rival, and they naturally desire to do what they can 1600 to protect their interests. The very fact that the manufacturers know that there are many matters affecting their interests which they would be able to promote, were they on the Board, and the very fact that the theatre interests feel, as I think wrongly, that this rival must be watched, make me emphasise how desirable it is that the Board should not be representative except of the nation as a whole, as far as that may be possible. I hope that the question of securing representation of different interests upon that body will not be pressed, as I am certain that it is undesirable that such a request should be acceded to.
With respect to meeting the legitimate desires and needs of various trading interests, I hope that the Corporation may itself voluntarily offer to discuss with them and to create advisory or consultative machinery of a character which will appeal to the persons interested, and that they will not wait until it becomes necessary for those interests to press the Board to meet them. They have always been ready to meet people in the past, and I have no doubt good may be done if they show themselves thoroughly ready to meet the interests affected, especially the wireless trade, which has special claims. With respect to the subject of news agencies, I am extremely glad that the recommendation of the Crawford Committee that the new Corporation should be given full powers to secure its own news if necessary, has been boldly and properly faced, and put into the Constitution. My own view is that it would be a most uneconomic proposition for the Corporation to set about establishing news agencies. This country and the world is served by news agencies with most valuable universal links, with wide experience, great power and prestige, and it would require large capital and enormous ability and the passage of much time before anything of a competitive nature could possibly be set up. Unlikely as it is that a rival news organisation will emerge and cause trouble in the land, it is plain that the Corporation must have power to go on its own, if need be, else its power of making adequate bargains for providing listeners with reasonable news will be strictly limited.
On the subject of controversial matter, I would ask the Government earnestly whether it is not possible to reconsider 1601 the tentative decision which the Postmaster-General outlined to-day. In my view, controversy is the breath of life. No newspaper would survive if it were not controversial. I do not see how large numbers of listeners throughout the land can be expected to have their interest in wireless retained at the highest possible point unless controversy is introduced. I make a strong plea for reconsideration of the absolute ban upon controversy. There, surely, is a happy mean somewhere between the negative policy that is now being put forward, and the plea that the hon. Member for North Battersea (Mr. Saklatvala) should speak. Surely, there is some happy mean between the extremes. I might mention, haphazard, a subject which has never been heard on the wireless, but might well have been. There was much discussion in this House and a very keen and interesting Debate on the question whether Waterloo Bridge should or should not be pulled down. Would it hurt to have a controversy on that subject over the wireless? The hon. Member for the English Universities (Sir M. Conway) made a most brilliant speech on the subject, and the hon. Member for Wandsworth (Sir H. Jackson) put the other case, which I will not go into now. Such a subject is controversial but is not damaging to the country. I am certain that the Crawford Committee had in mind that a beginning should be made by the Corporation experimenting with such inoffensive matters, to see what happened and whether the people liked it. I believe the Government will be making a mistake in the interests of listeners if they do not admit some controversy on the wireless and watch it carefully and see what happens. I regret that the Government are taking that responsibility themselves. I would have preferred to have seen that matter left to the Corporation composed of people who are capable of carrying that admittedly grave responsibility.
On the question of the general control of the Corporation, there was some uneasiness in certain quarters when the Crawford Committee's Report was published as to whether or not we were going to have a bureaucratic Government Corporation which would lose much of the elasticity of the Broadcasting Company. I will not worry the Committee by referring to that kind of criticism, which was very general. In his admirable exposition on the whole subject, the Postmaster- 1602 General to-day has done much to dispel the illusion under which many listeners, unfortunately, suffer, that we are going to be worse off as the result of this change from the Broadcasting Company to the Corporation. The right hon. Gentleman has made it clear, and I am glad he emphasised it, that a practice will grow up and a tradition will be established under which the utmost possible freedom will be given to the Corporation. I should like to emphasise. how very important I regard it that that should be done, and I would like to ask the Postmaster-General, who in his remarks used the words "great freedom" two or three times, to look again at the Charter and see whether the many restrictions, some of which are inevitable, restrictions technical and as to administration, as to matter to be broadcast and as to finance, could not in any way he relieved. If they cannot, may we ask that whenever opportunity arises the Government will show that they are determined to give the Corporation an immensely large measure of freedom and autonomy, because I believe in that way alone is success to be found.
A few words with reference to the speech of the right hon. Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. W. Graham). I appreciate how much it must please him to jeer at the Postmaster-General for introducing a Socialistic scheme. The only reason, or, at any rate, the most important reason why those of us who do not tend in the direction of believing in State management, Government management or municipal management of industry, have come to the conclusion that the scheme now before the House is the only one suitable in the circumstances, is that this particular service differs fundamentally and essentially from almost any other enterprise that can be imagined. The only analogy, I think, is the race-course, and that is a bad analogy. It is possible for people who do not pay anything to see a race by going up to the top of a hill by the side of the course. Although the race-course authorities try to grow trees there to prevent people getting something for nothing, they do not entirely succeed. In wireless you can grow nothing to stop diffusion and reception by unauthorised listeners.
When once anyone chooses to place wireless into the ether, the world must 1603 hear it, and private enterprise there, although on the whole it seldom fails, cannot deal adequately with it. Those who believe in private enterprise should not be chary about private enterprise being an absolute failure in this respect. Without the admittedly bad system of procuring revenue by advertisement, which is used in America, with results which our Committee did not find satisfactory, there is no method whereby private enterprise without invoking the aid of Parliament can secure money from those who listen to wireless. Consequently, we who are not wedded to theories, but believe in practical business, come to the State and say: "Without the aid of the State and the Post Office machinery, this vast business cannot go on. We will use it on a rational and sensible basis." When we go so far as to propose a scheme such as this, it is misrepresented. I do not suggest that the right hon. Member for Central Edinburgh misrepresented it; anyone in this House who knows his speeches would never accuse him of that, but it has been misrepresented in the country, and it will continue to be misrepresented. That our action in pursuing the scheme, which is the only feasible one, and it is a businesslike one, can be misrepresented and made a subject of political propaganda, is deplorable. I hope that some responsible Member of His Majesty's Opposition will see to it that such arguments, which are certainly not relevant and cannot be brought into the ordinary arguments for Socialism, are not used, at any rate, in this House.
§ Mr. AMMON
Perhaps a word of criticism arising out of the Postmaster-General's speech might well be interpolated at this juncture. Like the right hon. Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. W. Graham) I agree that the Postmaster-General has delivered a lucid speech, but with all his outspokenness, he is obviously not giving us information on some points upon which we would like information. The Postmaster-General reminded us that this is an administrative act. It would not have been brought before the House had not the Postmaster-General's hands been forced by various questions put in the House, in response to which he promised that he would bring the matter before 1604 the House before it was finally ratified. That promise has been rathered watered down by the text of the letter from the Governors which he has read this afternoon, from which we understand that the matter is already a fait accompli,and that the only thing waiting now is the agreement between the solicitors on either side. That really means that this House can do nothing in this matter whatever, except we put down a Motion to reduce the Postmaster-General's salary and go through all that procedure. We might just as well know that, and the House would do well to remember that although the Postmaster-General has been so lucid, we had not everything put definitely before us that we might have had.
I am reinforced in my remarks on the next point, by the very elaborate apology made by the last speaker with respect to the position in which the Government find themselves. I want to say a word as to the position of the Government. We have listened with a good deal of gratified amusement to the discussion last week and also to-day because a Conservative Government, willy-nilly, is forced to go some way along the line of Socialism when dealing with a new and vital service. Of course, they will only take the labels and deliver as little of the goods as they can, but it would have been much better if they had gone the whole road and handed the administration over entirely to the Post Office as a national concern. But because it is a monopoly undertaking of vital necessity to the community as a whole this Conservative Government has seen fit to step in and take control in the interests of the State, and we have had the joyous spectacle of seeing the President of the Anti-Socialist Union last week fathering the Electricity Bill, and a strong individualist like the Postmaster-General this week, fathering this Bill. We shall join most heartily in helping the Postmaster-General on with the good work, and we hope his education as a Socialist will proceed more rapidly than hitherto.
This question would never have come before Parliament at all but for the pressure exercised by Members; it would have been regarded purely as an administrative question. But now that it has come before Parliament we have a right to ask one or two questions. I desire to 1605 ask upon what grounds the proposed Governors were appointed. It is a little difficult to see what qualifications the Chairman has beyond the fact that he has evidently filled some important office in the Primrose League. It is a little clearer so far as the Vice-President is concerned, as he is one of the coalowners and undoubtedly it is a reward from friends for services rendered. We have also a right to know the qualifications of the persons who are entrusted with carrying out this undertaking and why the Corporation has not been made more representative of the whole community. I am sceptical of one line of criticism which has been adopted by some people towards this scheme. I am sceptical of those people who say that nothing should go to the exchequer. That criticism comes from people who have been opposed to the Government undertaking this duty and they would rather like the Corporation to show a cash deficit in order that they may say that the Government have made a mess of it. I agree that there must be: the maximum possible service given, the best possible programmes, but after these things have been. accomplished I have no objection to as large a surplus as is possible flowing into the coffers of the national Exchequer.
The Postmaster-General has told us today that it would be very difficult to broadcast questions of controversy. I think he used the term "editorials." What does that mean? You can do much in this way by suppression. The power of veto was exercised by the Postmaster-General a little while ago in the case of the birthday celebrations of George Bernard Shaw; and by the Order Paper to-day see it is suggested that the manuscript of a speech to be delivered by an eminent German on the question of Germany's entrance to the League of Nations was approved by the Executive of the Broadcasting Company. That would seem to be a question of importance and one which makes for real inter-national good will. The speech was approved for broadcasting, but if the question to-day is accurately framed then the Postmaster-General has come in with his veto. This raises considerable doubt as to what amount of veto the Postmaster-General is going to exercise, and how he is going to use it. We are told that the Government may use it in 1606 certain exceptional circumstances, but that it must not be used in other circumstances. We have vivid recollections of the way it was used during the general strike. Indeed, it was actually abused during that period and deliberately false information was sent over the wires during that time. Is that going to continue?
Then with regard to the question of education. The Crawford Committee had much to say on this subject, and it has been consistently pressed on the Corporation and on the Government that greater attention should be paid to this side of broadcasting. Everyone will agree that this is a very necessary development, but I cannot agree with the hon. and gallant Member who spoke last that it would be a wise thing to have a Board composed of vested interests of the various professions, newspapers, and so on.
I should like to point out that I said precisely what the hon. Member is saying. I deliberately opposed setting up a Board composed of various interests.
I apologise to the hon. and gallant Member. We are in agreement. We are in agreement also that experts should not be on the Committee. No Board is more likely to give worse results than a committee of experts. They would be at daggers drawn. I want to emphasise the appeal which was made by the hon. and gallant Member with reference to controversial subjects. For example, would it not be possible to broadcast the Budget speech, and also the main reply? I feel sure that the Postmaster-General has only to suggest it for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to jump at the suggestion as giving him the widest possible advertisement.
§ Mr. AMMON
Most of us get a good deal of entertainment from the speeches of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and there is no reason why we should be selfish and deny the entertainment to the public, and also the entertainment which is afforded when the right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) replies. I suggest that the main speeches on certain subjects should be considered from the point of view of broadcasting. 1607 Then I hope the Postmaster-General will make quite clear exactly what his position is going to be in relation to this House. Will he be in the position to answer questions corcerning the Corporation and broadcasting? Will there he an opportunity in this House for criticism? I see that the annual Report and statement of accounts of the Corporation have to be presented and to be approved by the Postmaster-General for the time being. Will that statement and annual Report come before this House in any form for discussion, or will it be a body like the Forestry Commission, which seems to go on as they like spending public money and Parliament having no voice or control in regard to it? I gather from the Report that it is to be within the province of the Corporation to advertise under certain conditions. If that be correct, then there is a possible danger here, because they may be led to reproduce the work of the highest bidder rather than the worthiest work. When a certain work is going to be broadcasted, the name of the publisher will be advertised, and there is a possible temptation that the work which is accompanied by some big offer may gain precedence over work much more worthy from the artistic point of view. These are the main points I wish to raise. I hope the Postmaster-General will make quite clear exactly what his own position is, and the position of the Post Office; what measure of control this House will have, and what opportunities there will be for consideration and discussion of the annual Reports and finances of the Corporation.
§ 6.0 P.M
The hon. Member who has just spoken announced that his intention was to make the passage of the Postmaster-General rougher, but he can hardly be satisfied with his performance. If I may say so, he combined all the unpleasantness of boreas with the undulating efficiency of the very lightest zephyr. In the course of his speech, he touched on one point which has not been sufficiently dealt with this afternoon, and it is the only point on which I wish to detain the Committee—the question of education. No one can deny that the educational possibilities of broadcasting, granted certain technical developments which I believe can be looked for in the immediate future, are enormous. Mr. Wells, in the 1608 three volumes in which he has lately brought the history of the world up to date, painted a gloomy picture of a schoolteacher who in the future would have nothing more to do. than to stand by the side of the loud speaker and twiddle those round things which in some mysterious way make the voice come louder or softer. That is a pessimistic picture. Broadcasting can never be substituted for the present means of adult education. It can only be complementary. You can never dispense with the personal touch, question and answer, and discussion which has built up the educational system of to-day. But in one important particular, the most pressing problem of adult education—namely, the maintenance of a high standard—broadcasting can play an important part.. If the policy of the future is to deliver a university education as a whole then the difficulty of maintaining a really high standard of education is going to be very great. It is obvious to everyone that the mere fact that it will he possible for the student to listen to a set of talks on the wireless from the acknowledged masters of the particular branch of science or mathematics or history which he is studying will enable the student himself to maintain a standing. He will have something with which to compare his own tutor, and he will be able to see if his tutor is of the requisite standing. The British Broadcasting Company, as the Report of the Commission shows, have recognised the importance of this, and they have already set up an education committee to go into the whole question. But there are certain ways in which the whole purpose of that committee and of the British Broadcasting Corporation can be defeated by the Government., and it is on those two points, on the two ways in which that purpose can be defeated, that I want to ask for some reassurance from the Noble Lord, the Assistant Postmaster-General.
The first question, of course, is with regard to the Government's veto. I was horrified to hear that the Regulation to be laid down for the vetoing of broadcasting was to maintain the present restrictions on topics of political, religious, or industrial controversy. think it would be agreed, by all who take 1609 an interest in adult education, that the approach of the majority of people to education is through controversial subjects. It may be that afterwards they go off to something else; they may take up art or literature or science, or whatever it may be; but in the great majority of cases they start by attending a class in political science, political economics, in industrial history, in something which has a connection with their ordinary everyday life and the industry with which they are concerned. It is that very kind of subject which is now to be banned by the Postmaster-General as being a topic of political or industrial controversy. Everyone must realise the difficulties under which the Postmaster-General will be working. It is obvious that the British Broadcasting Corporation cannot be allowed to ram any particular opinion in politics or on industrial affairs down the ears of its listeners. But in adopting this particular form of restriction the Postmaster-General is going on the wrong lines. I am sure that he ought not to adopt, as the basis for restrictions, any particular topic. It is not the topics that matter, but the way in which they are treated. It is perfectly easy for a really first-class tutor, even one with very pronounced opinions of his own, to deal with highly controversial matter in an irreproachable way.
I had an instance brought to my notice not long ago. A class of the Workers' Educational Association was started, I think in industrial history or some kindred subject, and for the first year's class the great majority of the students were of the political opinion of hon. Gentlemen of the Labour party, and the tutor of the class was of the same opinion and did not hesitate to express the opinions he held. But he was a tutor with a real talent for teaching and a real desire to teach well. He took no pleasure in merely ramming his own opinions down the throats of the class. His object was to provoke a certain intellectual contest, and the result was that the few Conservatives in the class emerged in the end with their convictions so strengthened and their argumentative armour so reinforced that, when the next year's class came to be started, nearly all of those who presented themselves as students to the same tutor for the same 1610 subject, were Conservatives. So I ask the Noble Lord to endeavour to induce the Postmaster-General to temper his non-controversial rectitude with a certain intellectual mercy, and to judge the innocuous or harmful character of the various lectures proposed, not by the mere fact of the topics they deal with, nor even on the particular opinion of the man who delivers them, but purely on the question of the way in which they are treated.
The other question is the question of finance. I do not pretend to be an expert on broadcasting finance, but a great many hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed considerable doubt as to whether the financial provisions are sufficient for the need of the broadcasting service. If one were to divide the expenditure under three heads, the technical, the popular and the educational branches, I do not think there could be any doubt, if there were not enough money to go round, which branch would suffer. I do not blame the future Governors, because it is a sad thing to say from the educationists' point of view, but there are going to be something like 1,500,000 listeners-in who, if it is not the education branch that suffers, will want to know the reason why. So one has to make up one's mind that, if there is a shortage of money, it, will fall most heavily on the educational side. I hope that the Government will give us some guarantee that this will" not be so. It is, after all, the concern most largely of the Government. The other forms of broadcasting may amuse. Football news and the Savoy band may bring gaiety into millions of homes, but it is only the educational side of broadcasting which is going to help the purpose of Government and help to develop healthy citizens. Therefore, I think we are entitled to ask from the Government some assurance that, through their financial provisions, the educational activities of the British Broadcasting Corporation are not to suffer.
§ Mr. HARNEY
I noticed that the Postmaster-General, rather boldly, invited us to express our views on this subject. It is one which, as he quite rightly said, has never been properly ventilated. Adopting that spirit, I propose to throw out a few thoughts that are 1611 in direct conflict with the whole policy underlying the present Charter and licence. The Charter and licence effect this: That a public Corporation is brought into being, and is to be run by nine Governors. It is to have vested in it the goodwill of the Broadcasting Company as a going concern, and it is to be in existence for 10 years. That is, of course, a State monopoly of the most pronounced character. There is not the slightest use in denying that the observation made by the right hon. Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. W. Graham), that this is Socialism pure and simple, was justified. We are told that it is justified on certain grounds. Let us see what are the grounds. The first thing that is impressed upon us is this: Here is a new device with untold power for good or for evil, and it would be a serious thing to leave it in the hands of private enterprise. That is, in effect, the first part of the speech of the Postmaster-General today. Another hon. Member, the hon. and gallant Member for North St. Pancras (Captain Fraser) says that it is so novel that you can find no analogy. Yet broadcasting is doing for the spoken word only what the printing press for four centuries has been doing for the written word, and no more. There is not a single argument that can be used in favour of the liberty of the Press that is not equally applicable to the liberty of wireless. There is not a single objection to censorship and interference with the dissemination of written words that is not equally applicable to the dissemination of spoken words.
It is a curious thing that at the inception of the printing press we were met with exactly the same kind of objections that are rampant to-day about wireless. The special interests came forward then, the persons who lived by selling manuscripts. They said: "This new device will take the bread out of our mouths." You have the same thing to-day. Then you had the Governments of Europe saying: "Here is an extraordinary instrument for doing mischief or great good. We dare not leave it in private hands." There were monopolies in every country in Europe. In France a penalty of death was annexed to the crime of anyone daring to diffuse information through the printed press. Our own Stationers' Hall is a survival to-day of the monopoly. Are we now, at the inception of a scheme 1612 which is doing for the oral word only what the printing press did for the written word, to take no instruction from the lessons that have been given to us, of how, through this interference, through censorship, through monopoly, the Press evolved gradually and gradually and gradually, until to-clay we are all one in proclaiming the freedom of the Press Not one voice would be heard to-day to say, "Oh, it is a dangerous thing; we must be sure that controversial matter does not get in. We must be sure that this and that is done—"
Would the hon. and learned Member still say that, if the Government granted a monopoly for printing newspapers to the "Daily Mail "?
§ Mr. HARNEY
I would still say that the only justification for interference with the spread of whatever the public seek is public safety. Now I come to what really strikes me as to the real and practical difficulties. How can they be overcome I take no account at all of the question of national safety and national good and the education of the people, and all that sort of stuff. I say it should be exactly the same as the Press. But can it be done? We are told, "It is impracticable here, because there are certain wave lengths, a limited range, and some of that range has to be given to the air service or the naval service or the military service, and what is left is really the property of the nation, and it must be very carefully conserved." It is said, "If you have half-a-dozen companies all broadcasting, there will be jamming of waves and the whole thing will be chaos." Probably there is some truth in it; but we find that in America, in Australia, and in the last two years in Canada, they do not find the clash of wave lengths to be an insuperable difficulty. There are competitive companies in all these countries struggling hard against each other. The managers of those companies sit up of nights with wet towels round their heads thinking out what the public want; and it is only in that way that you will ever get an effective demand for the news that is spread. What would one think of a newspaper proprietor who assembled a staff and said, "Tell me, gentlemen, what you think is good for the public and I will supply it." 1613 Why, his paper would be bankrupt in a week. What he does say is, "It is not for me to say that salmon is better than red herring; if the people want red herring let them have it."
There is, of course, this difference. The cost of the services which fill a paper with news, of the articles by bright writers and of the collection of items from all parts of the world represents a great deal of money. The newspaper proprietor sells his news for one penny or twopence, but that is only a small item. His reward is that, if he fills part of his paper with readable matter, he can fill another part of it with paying matter in the form of advertisements. Broad-casting at the moment cannot do so. If a person has an apparatus he need not pay one penny or twopence for what is broadcast; he can have it for nothing. Advertising is impracticable because, as an hon. Member remarked earlier, in a newspaper you can publish 100 advertisements, but in the case of broadcasting this would involve a sequence of announcements, and who would listen to advertising announcements for three or four hours. The result is that only two or three big firms, paying enormous prices, would be likely to advertise in this way. I agree, therefore, that it is necessary that you must, at all events at the beginning, have a licence.
My real objection, however, is this. Here is an industry, not only in its infancy but in its swaddling clothes—barely born—developing in unseen and unsuspected directions so rapidly that even within the last two years the arrangements by which it was worked have had to be changed two or three times. Yet the present scheme sticks in the monopolistic mud, for 10 years, this rapidly-developing discovery which is showing new facets of light and suggestion at every moment. While that is the case here, all the rest of the world is striving in competitive effort. What will be the result? In 10 years' time they will have advanced in a thousand ways, while we shall be held rigidly fast under this 10 years' system, handicapped commercially and otherwise in regard to this service. Therefore, I suggest that before we rush blindly into this State monopoly we ought to have something of a temporary nature, to cover, say, another 12 months. It is likely that before 1614 another 12 months have passed new suggestions and new commercial methods will have made themselves known and will be so operating that it will be possible for us to set up in this country --as has been done in America, Australia and Canada—competitive broadcasting institutions. When we have done that we shall be on the road of real progress, and not until then.
To my mind, it is absolute nonsense for those who made this Report to say complacently "We expect that this body of governors will exercise discretion; will turn out high-class programmes; will have a little controversial matter, but not much, and will not be sparing of funds." It is nonsense to say that any body of people, however good they are, whose duty it is merely to come to an office at 9 o'clock in the morning and leave again at 5 o'clock in the evening, and who receive a regular salary, are going to do anything more than routine work. To start a scheme like this, with its infinite possibilities, under the leisurely methods of routine is to place it in a very backward position indeed in relation to countries where they are adopting other methods, and where they are saying: "Away with the question of what is good for the people, or what is bad for the people. What we want to do, is to get listeners-in; otherwise the thing will not pay." The way to get listeners-in is to find out what they want and to give them what they want. The way to find out what they want is not by sitting comfortably in an office from 9 o'clock to 5—however honest and conscientious you may be—but by thinking and working at all hours of the day, by struggling hard with every possible form of new invention, by doing what the newspapers do. That is the only way to discover what the people want. If for 10 years we are going to tie ourselves to giving listeners what we think they ought to have, while the rest of the world is giving listeners what the listeners want, then at the end of the 10 years our broadcasting will appear a very sorry thing in comparison with broadcasting over the rest of the world.
§ Sir WILLIAM BULL
Owing to my peculiar position as one of the directors of the old company, I did not intend to intervene in this Debate, but inasmuch as nothing has been said up to the present 1615 with regard to those persons who found the money for this concern, I should like to enlighten the Committee on one or two points. I do not know whether it will interest the Committee or not to hear something about the beginnings of this enterprise. When broadcasting first became practicable Mr. Kellaway was Postmaster-General. He, with his political views, was naturally rather in favour of keeping it in the hands of the Post Office, and he issued a sort of ultimatum or decree that broadcasting was a monopoly of the State. I think he said that all transmission of messages between His Majesty's lieges was a monopoly of the State; that this rule had applied to letters, then to telegrams and later to telephones, and he declared wireless to be in the same category. I think in those early days the then Postmaster-General attempted to keep the matter in his own hands, and to have the Postmaster-General as the supreme arbiter, with perhaps an advisory Committee. But when he was faced with the fact that he would have to be a concert manager, a literary agent, a lecturer, and would have to undertake various other trades and businesses, he decided that the monopoly would have to be given to some other body.
After careful thought he came to the conclusion that the people engaged in manufacturing wireless inventions were the best people to have control. He called a meeting of manufacturers, put the facts before them and said, in effect, that in that early stage of the invention it would be impossible for the State to risk money. He therefore suggested that they should put up the money, and, he said: "I do not intend that you should have all the benefits of a monopoly. Therefore I propose strictly to limit you as to your profits. But if you put up the money between you you will be certain of a percentage of not more than 71 per cent." Most of the manufacturers were small people, and the response was not large until, finally, certain large companies known as "the big six," guaranteed £20,000 apiece, or £120,000 to run these inventions. They were promised in return that they should have a strict, protected monopoly in all these inventions, and that all machines should he marked "B.B.C." and that no other 1616 patent or invention should be sold except through the British Broadcasting Company which was set up. They were not only asked to find all the money, but to pool their patents. The larger and more valuable part of wireless inventions are contained in patents privately owned by these various companies. They very patriotically joined together, pooled all their inventions and did not charge any royalties. Some of the larger companies gave rather more than the lesser ones, but they put all their patents in, and the result was the Broadcasting Company.
In this enterprise invention has continually outrun all our plans and forecasts.
I should like here to pay a tribute to Mr. J. C. W. Reith, the general manager, for the splendid service he has rendered the State in managing this difficult business, I wish here also to say, with regard to myself, that I have no pecuniary interest in any of these companies. I have not a single share in any of them. I did not seek the position, but I was asked to represent the small makers because I happened to be a director of Messrs. Siemens, that firm not being one of the "big six." I was very much interested in the matter, and, except when I was in India, I do not think I missed a single Board meeting. As I have said, invention continually outran our plans. It had been settled that every instrument should bear the mark "B.B.C.," but it was discovered that, by a very simple process, with a few wires, a glass bulb, and one or two other things, anybody could make a set. Thus it became impossible to restrict the sale of the invention to particular apparatus, and therefore that arrangement fell to the ground and the matter had to be reconsidered from a fresh point of view. An enormous number of smaller parts were rapidly brought in from Germany, Czechoslovakia, and other parts of the Continent.
Having said so much about the origin of this matter, my question to the Postmaster-General is: Has he considered in his figures what he is going to pay to the owners of these patents for the continued use of their inventions? Has he allowed for it in the figure he has given the Committee? Has any arrangement 1617 been come to with these inventors; and what is the scheme whereby the co-operation of these big concerns is still to be obtained? I have followed the development of this invention with the greatest interest, and while, of course, this new Corporation is now a foregone conclusion, I cannot help thinking—and I am sure the Committee will not accuse me of saying it from self-interest—that it would have been better had the old Broadcasting Company been allowed another five years' lease of life. I think, in the present state of the invention, it might have been better to have given them another five years' period of office. However, all that I want to ask is as to what. arrangements have been made with the patentees. I have not been asked by any of the six companies to put this question, but I put it merely to elucidate the facts. I have expected someone in the House would have asked the question from day to day, and it is very important, considering the largest part of broadcasting is in private hands, how that matter is going to be dealt with.
§ Mr. W. BAKER
I am very glad indeed to hear the right hon. Member for South Hammersmith (Sir W. Bull) agree that the proposed development which has been placed before the House is an inevitable sequence of what has gone before, and I am glad that he put his question. 1 should like to add a further inquiry, and that is as to what, if any, compensation is being given to those Directors who have not been selected to represent the British Broadcasting Company on the Board of Governors of the new Corporation. It strikes me as being particularly interesting to find the entire House in agreement on general principles with regard to the birth of this Corporation, with the one exception of the hon. and learned Member for South Shields (Mr. Harney). I think we may rejoice that the Liberal party still has a mission, and that the hon. and learned Member for South Shields, and perhaps one or two more, may form a party which shall be a stronghold and a bulwark against this agreement between the Government and the Opposition. It may not be a Socialist Measure which the Postmaster-General is proposing, but I think the right hon. Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. W. Graham) was absolutely correct in the point of view he placed before the House, and, as I see it, 1618 the Government, with all their strong attitude towards private enterprise, have come to see that there are certain services, such as electricity and broadcasting, which must not be left to the tender mercies of private enterprise.
There has been very little criticism to-day, but I want to say one or two words following some remarks which were made by the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon), and I hope that I shall be able to say what I have to say without being in any sense offensive. I believe that criticism is necessary, but that if it be offered in the right spirit, it will not be objectionable to anybody. As I understand it, the existing staff and management of the British Broadcasting Company are being taken over by the new Corporation, so that we may be assured that the management will be as efficient as it has been in the past, and in those circumstances I am somewhat surprised to find that the Corporation, limited, as I think, in its scope, should require a Board of Governors costing more than £6,000, when we have an enormous organisation like the postal, telegraph, and telephone services controlled by the right hon. Gentleman and his assistants at a very much reduced cost. I understood the Postmaster-General to suggest that criticism with regard to these salaries was factious and should not be indulged in. He said that the total cost was no more than three-quarters of one per cent. of the total income of this particular service, but if we are paying an adequate figure for the control of the complex organisation which we know as the Post Office, then almost to double that figure in the case of a much less complex organisation appears to me to be excessive. Not only are the proposed Governors costly, but I doubt very much whether they can be held to comply with the recommendations of the Crawford Committee, which laid it down that the governing body should consist ofpersons of judgment and independence, free of commitments, and that they will inspire confidence by having no other interests to promote than those of the public service.I have no personal acquaintance with any of the proposed Governors, but I gather that the chairman was a very valuable servant of the Conservative party and was a Conservative Whip in the House of Lords. I do not want to make too much of the point, but I 1619 sincerely hope that whoever is to reply to the Debate will give us a very definite statement with regard to the qualifications and the ways in which the chairman of the Governors complies with the recommendations of the Crawford Committee. The vice-chairman, I find, is vice-chairman of Pease and Partners, colliery and quarry owners, and was also chairman of the London Electric Supply Company, Limited.
§ Mr. BAKER
Quite so, but at the time he was appointed to the British Broadcasting Company the Crawford Committee had made no such recommendation with regard to the impartiality and standing of the proposed Governors, and I submit that that quite alters the position. I assume that the vice-chairman has been chosen under paragraph (7) of the Report of the Broadcasting Committee, because they consider that a member of the British Broadcasting Company should be taken on to the Board of Governors, but I am not by any means satisfied that the Report of the Crawford Committee has been satisfied in those respects. The Attorney-General on Friday last said,. in relation to the Electricity Bill:When it is suggested that there is a danger that the Board may be filled by politicians, may I remind the House that they would have to be very unsuccessful politicians, because the Committee provided that no Member of the House of Commons should sit on the Board."—[OFFICIAL REPOIT, 12th November, 1926; col. 1505, Vol. 199.]Apparently, the Attorney-General was unaware that the House of Lords as well as the House of Commons contains politicians, and judging by the chairman and the vice-chairman of this Corporation, it is possible to be a successful politician and yet sit on the board of one of these disinterested companies. We then come to the question of the fees and the proportion which the Post Office should pay over to the Governors of the Broadcasting Corporation, and here I find myself very largely in agreement with the hon. and gallant Member for North St. Pancras (Captain Fraser). The Broadcasting Committee's Report, page 8, paragraph (9, c), lays it down:It is, of course, essential that the Postmaster-General should be completely in 1620 demnified against the cost of collecting these fees and against all other expenditure incurred by him in relation to the broadcasting service. … It will be the duty of the Postmaster-General to pay to the Commissioners from the licence fees an income thoroughly adequate to enable them to ensure the full and efficient maintenance and development of the service. … When the adequate service has been assured, but not until then, it is expedient that the surplus should be retained by the State.I did not hear the Postmaster-General refer to that particular recommendation of the Committee, and I believe he would agree that that recommendation has not been accepted or complied with. An interesting comment on the adequacy of the proportion to be paid to the Corporation is to be found in the provision contained in the Charter whereby the Corporation may borrow up to a total of £500,000. I do not want to weary the Committee with detailed figures, but, if my calculations are correct, I find that, including the 12½ per cent., the 10 per cent., the 20 per cent., and the 30 per cent. on the first, second and third million subscribers, the Post Office on 3,000,000 listeners-in would retain £450,000. I have checked those figures, and I believe they are correct, but without standing absolutely rigidly on their accuracy, I submit that it is too large a proportion for the Post Office to transfer to the Exchequer. The Postmaster-General said that he would not like to be definite as to the future of this particular service and that it would be a bold man who would say exactly what the future would contain. If the Post Office are to claim £256,000 out of the first 2,000,000 licences, and if they are to retain £450,000 out of the first 3,000,000 licences, I would earnestly ask that that money should not be paid into the national Exchequer, but should be set aside in order that it may be available for future development.
It has been quite unsatisfactory, in my view, that the Road Fund should have been raided, but in that case we were dealing in the main with comfortably placed persons. Whatever may be said about listeners-in, I think it will be agreed that the vast majority of them must be persons of a very modest status, and in these circumstances it is unsatisfactory that they should be taxed even to the extent of half-a-crown a year, if the payment of a fee of 10s. per annum enables the Post Office to secure 25 per cent. of this 10s. without rendering an essential 1621 service in return. Had the Postmaster-General taken up the position that this was a national service, to be retained in the hands of the Post Office and to be controlled by him, he would have been perfectly entitled to take this money as being the surplus on the service which he had rendered. I understand the position to be that the Postmaster-General says: "We will hand this thing over to disinterested management, and, having done that., we will proceed to take 25 per cent. of the proceeds of the licences," 12½ per cent. being said to be in respect of the cost of collection and the balance being pure, unearned profit. The question of advertising has been briefly mentioned, and I want to say no more than that I imagine the Postmaster-General has heard quite enough with regard to advertising recently in connection with the endeavour of the Treasury to force him to raise revenue by defacing envelopes. I sincerely hope that he will be extremely careful not to introduce the thin end of the wedge with regard to advertising in relation to the broadcasting service. There is a very considerable danger in that "respect, and, having mentioned the matter, I will leave it there.
My final point is with regard to the Corporation and its relation to this House. I am particularly anxious that. on broad questions of policy this House should retain the right to interrogate the Postmaster-General, and to express an opinion, not on tiny details, but on essentials of that policy, and when he replies I should be extremely grateful if he would say what opportunities will occur for questions of that character, and whether the annual Report to be presented by the Corporation will be open to review, either when the Post Office Vote is before the Committee, or on what other occasion?
In conclusion, I would like to say, as was said by the hon. Member for Central Edinburgh, that I think the Postmaster-General placed this matter before the Committee in a very clear and in a very pleasing way, and I hope that he will understand, that while on certain points I have felt that another point of view is necessary to a full discussion of this subject, I feel that this is a matter of great importance to the community. It represents a considerable and, I hope, a wise step forward, and I am very glad 1622 indeed to find that on this matter the Government and the Opposition are so largely in agreement.
§ Sir H. BRITTAIN
As was, I think, the case with all who heard it, I enjoyed to the full the speech of the Postmaster-General. It was, if I may say so, so ably and so genially delivered that I almost forgot for the moment that he was representing what is not always a popular Department., but I did manage to put down a point or two. I should like him, if he would, to answer shortly the points I am about to put when he gets up to reply. With regard to the expression on the cover of the Charter, in which it says that the terms have been mutually agreed upon between the Postmaster-General and the Governors, would he say whether that is a correct interpretation, and has the new Corporation got as free a hand as had the old Company?
There have been various points raised this afternoon with regard to subjects of controversy, with the idea that the public, as is no doubt perfectly correct, would like to listen occasionally to controversial subjects over the wireless. If they do, there must be a right of veto given either to the Postmaster-General or to the governing body. I should, personally, like to see more power and authority given to the governing body, and for this reason. At the present moment, we have a most excellent Postmaster-General, and a first-rate Government, but Heaven knows what sort of Government we may have in a few years to come! We also know that the governing body has been formed, and I hope always will be continued, on an absolutely impartial basis. It would be a great deal better, in my opinion, if controversy be allowed or if political subjects are to be introduced, for this governing body to be the body which should have, not only to say what should be allowed, but the right of appeal, for eventually the House of Commons has control over the Governors in that, I presume, it has a say, if not every year, at any rate every five years, with regard to their salaries and reappoinment.
The next question I will put is on the subject of monopoly. There were provisions in the formation of the Company with regard to monopoly, but there are none in this present Charter. I take it—and, no doubt, the Postmaster-General 1623 will endorse the fact—that, of course, it is a monopoly given to the governing body. There is also no provision in the Charter with regard to dealing, or possible dealing, with new inventions. It is quite likely, and it is more than possible, as time goes on, that new inventions will crop up which deal with the subject of wireless, and can be dealt with by experts in that direction. It may be possible that some evil genius in the future will invent some method of television. I hope not; but if he does, it is a subject which should be inquired into by the governing body.
Lastly, on the subject of committees, we find here for the first time these suggested committees put forward in the Charter, but it does not say whether public money is to be expended in the setting up of these committees, and I would like to throw out a suggestion to the Postmaster-General that, at any rate, for the present, in the case of any committees which may be set up, no public funds should be expended until permission is given in the House of Commons. I think we may take it, from what the Postmaster-General said, that there will be a continuance—and I am sure a continuance with which all who know about the excellent work done by the British Broadcasting Company will agree—of the machinery under the new scheme. That is as, I think, it should be, and I should like to hear that finally endorsed. Lastly, I should like to support the right hon. Member for South Hammersmith (Sir W. Bull) with regard to the excellence of the work of the passing regime. I can speak for a good many tens of thousands of listeners-in, and it has fallen to my lot on many occasions to get in touch with the passing regime, and particularly Mr. Reith, and I should like to take this opportunity of expressing all the gratitude I can for the delightful manner I have always been received, and the ready help he has always given.
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
The House of Commons ought not lightly to establish a censorship over the free expression of opinion and the dissemination of knowledge. We have always in the past jealously guarded our liberties in these particulars, and yet this afternoon we are invited to part with them. What is the justification on which we are to take, not this Socialistic but this reactionary step?
1624 At the end of December, the British Broadcasting Company comes to an end. The Government wait until six weeks of the prospective demise of that company, and then throw at our heads this Estimate and a Charter and a licence which, I say, will profoundly affect the liberties of the British subject. Even supposing this great change were justified, one would have thought that a greater and more spacious opportunity would have been given to the House of Commons to discuss it.
We have no material whatever on which to reach a sound conclusion. We are invited to peruse the Report of the Broadcasting Committee. Some tribute has been paid to the personnel of that Committee, and to the thoroughness with which it performed its duties. I do not wish to withhold any meed of praise where it is due, but I say that, having regard to the great potentialities of broadcasting, the magnitude of the subject and the momentousness of the issues involved, it would not have been possible to produce a report more lacking in ideas, and so absolutely devoid of imagination when confronted with the great vistas which open to the mind when thinking of this subject. None of the difficulties are confronted in this Report. We are told by the Committee that there are four alternatives open to the House of Commons—either the State could make itself responsible for broadcasting, or the licence of the British Broadcasting Company could be renewer, or a new Company could be formed on the analogy of the British Broadcasting Company, or else a public Corporation should be set up to act as a trustee for the national interest in broadcasting. Not one of these alternatives is adequately argued. We are not given the reasons why they are produced as alternatives, nor are we adequately given the reasons why the last alternative is adopted. We are told in one paragraph:It is agreed that the United States system of free and uncontrolled transmission and reception is unsuited to this country, and that broadcasting must accordingly remain a monopoly.It is not explained to us why the United States system of free and uncontrolled transmission, which I should have thought was more in accordance with the genius and spirit of the English people, is impracticable or impossible. 1625 It may be that it is. I have no pre- tensions to being a scientist or to any technical knowledge of this important subject. But I must say, that before consenting to establish a censorship in this country over the diffusion of know- ledge and the expression of opinion, I should like to know why the free and uncontrolled system, which is in force in America, is impracticable in this country? None of these questions, as I say, is argued.
We are told that we have to accept a body of Commissioners. I, of course, have no criticism to make of the integrity or worth of any member of that Com- mission, but on what principle has it been selected? It has been selected on the principle that it should be unconnected with any other interest, that it should be a perfectly innocuous body, knowing nothing about anything and, certainly, nothing about the subject which it is called upon to administer—a perfectly colourless body. Anybody can administer broadcasting, provided he is not, according to this Report, a manufacturer, a doctor, or an educationist. He must be a person who has no other interest, and, forthwith andipso facto,he becomes qualified to foster and to conduct this great invention.
If this method which the Government are adopting is to be a precedent in semi nationalisation, then think what it means, supposing we are to take over the coal mines by a. corporation of this kind, which is not outside the bounds of possibility, would we entrust the management and administration of the coal mines to a body of portrait painters or doctors? We would seek qualifications of knowledge in the persons who administered the coal mines. If we were to take over the rail- ways of the country, and administer them in the national interest by a national body, we would not make it a. qualification for being on that Commission that the persons had no other interests, and no knowledge of the subject they were called upon to perform. Broadcasting should be given the dignity of a profession, because it is as important as any of the other professions. No newspaper can be run by a body of amateurs such as this, and you require more knowledge to run broadcasting than you require to run a newspaper. It is ludicrous to hamper the full development of this invention at 1626 its very outset by not giving it the individual dignity of a profession, and by not demanding from those who are going to run it the characteristics which a profession alone can foster. What are the powers which you are vesting in this Committee?—and here I want to utter my protest. If this Charter and licence had been introduced in the House of Commons as a Bill we should have had some opportunity of making Amendments and of erasing from it some of the more injurious clauses which are contained in it. We are invited to accept this proposition:The Corporation shall whenever so requested by any Department of His Majesty's Government at the Corporation's own expense send from all or any of the said stations any matter which such Department may require to be broadcast.What did the Postmaster-General say? He said that was very useful in case there should be an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease or a great storm should be brewing, or we should desire to chase a criminal. I agree. Those provisions are entirely desirable in so far as they can help the State or particular authorities to take whatever measures may be necessary, but if this were introduced into the House of Commons by way of a Bill we could at any rate insert some safeguard against the use of propaganda. What is to prevent the Home Secretary in an excess of zeal, advertising the activities of his own Department, or to prevent the Postmaster-General himself or the Minister of Pensions doing it? Again, in the following Clause:The Postmaster-General may from time to time by Notice in writing to the Corporation require the Corporation to refrain from sending any broadcast matter (either particular or general) specified in such Notice.That is a very dangerous provision, and really means you are establishing a board of puppets. They are simply to mask your activities and to stand between the Postmaster-General and his questioners in the House of Commons. How are we to get hold of this body? Are we going to have a, separate vote for it? No. Are we going to have an Act of Parliament to establish it? No. What does it stand for? It stands for the Postmaster-General under another name. It is a long firm fraud. I think it is a very grave omission that this should not have 1627 been introduced into the House of Commons in the shape of a Bill.
I want to call the attention of the House to another Clause, which is thoroughly undesirable. It is that which says that if and whenever, in the opinion of the Postmaster-General, an emergency shall have arisen in which it is expedient for the Public Service that His Majesty's Government shall have control over the transmission of messages, they shall take possession of the station—not that in the opinion of the Government there is an emergency, but that in the opinion of an enthusiastic Postmaster-General there is an emergency. Why did the Government take possession, and quite rightly so, of the wireless during the general strike? It was because the newspapers were held up by the action of the strikers. The strikers endeavoured to deprive us of access to news, and in these circumstances the Government, quite rightly, took possession of the wireless. But if you can imagine an emergency which does not deprive us of news, I think it is an entirely different matter to invest, not the Government, but the Postmaster-General, with this far-reaching power.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman's competent assistant will, in his reply, notify us that he intends to make some amendment to the actual wording of these Regulations in order to safeguard us from abuse. It is not satisfactory that the Solicitors of the Postmaster-General should meet the Solicitors of the would-be Commissioners and fix matters up behind the backs of Parliament, without giving the representatives of the people an opportunity to have them amended in the proper way. When we come to the financial basis, we find that the Government are following the evil precedent set up in regard to the Road Fund and are using broadcasters as an avenue through which indirect taxation may be obtained. I think that is an entirely evil precedent. If you wish to tax broadcasters, tax them in the Budget in the ordinary way and let us discuss the matter as a measure of taxation. Here we are discussing an entirely different question, and it confuses the issue if we are, under the guise of broadcasting, to discuss a measure which is merely a means of filling the Exchequer, and to what extent? To the extent of a very paltry £125,000 or £250,000. I should have 1628 thought that if the Government were hard up for a paltry amount like that it would have been better to take it in a perfectly straightforward manner, without confusing it with the general issue and placing us in the position where we cannot adequately discuss it, as we can the licences for dogs, for instance, which are only licenced for the purposes of providing general revenue. You are not licensing broadcasters for the purpose of obtaining revenue, but in order that they may have services, and, if the Postmaster-General says it is only right that the Government should be paid for those services and rewarded for the monopoly it secures, I say he is getting more than ample return by getting access to this broadcasting in order to propagate whatever any particular Minister may wish to have sent out. He is getting ample return by the powers he takes in the event of a general strike to take over broadcasting.
I heard with great forboding what the Postmaster-General said in his speech regarding broadcasting controversial matter. He said never while he was Postmaster-General would politics be broadcast or the proceedings of this House be broadcast.
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
I gather, in spite of his contradiction, that he looks with disfavour on broadcasting of our proceedings.
§ Sir W. MITCHELL-THOMSON
No; all I pointed out was that there are certain practical difficulties and certain administrative difficulties in the way.
§ Mr. H0RE-BELISHA
Yes, he pointed out those difficulties, and several speakers who have spoken since have done so on the basis that controversial matter is to be discouraged. I think that is a very great pity for the reason that controversy, as has already been said, is the bread of life. You do not want an emasculated thing with merely colourless broadcasting. There are three by-elections in progress at the present moment. Is it to be contended that the constituencies are entirely indifferent as to the results, and 1629 that those who cannot get to the meetings have no desire to go? I think with very great advantage a statement by each of the candidates might be broadcast in by-elections, and I go further and say that it is absolutely essential in the public interest that the proceedings of this House should be broadcast—not selections. The Postmaster-General dealt with the objection on the ground that we did not work according to programme in this House. I say that, not selections, but, on its own separate wave length, Parliament should be broadcast.
I do not know if the House of Commons realises what injury is going to be done to political life if, while you are to have the dissemination of medical knowledge and you are to help people to improve their knowledge of music and singing, and every other branch of human activity is going to have access to the broadcast, politics alone are to be barred and people are to be discouraged from thinking about politics or hearing about it. I say a very grave injury is going to be wrought on the. Constitution of this country if politics alone, of all the branches of human activity, are to be excluded.
I would like to point out that the science of broadcasting makes real democracy possible for the first time in this country. The representative system is a makeshift system and is not the system which we intended to have. It is the system we have because we cannot get real democracy, for real democracy presupposes all the citizens meeting together as they did in Athens and hearing speeches. Now for the first time by means of broadcasting you can get the whole community associated with your Parliament and give it the power to hear speeches, just as in Athens of old they heard the views of their representative citizens. I say that if you are going, while encouraging every other branch of human activity, to exclude politics alone you are going to inflict an irreparable injury on the possibilities of this great invention.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I should like heartily to agree with the remarks of the last speaker as to the advisability of broadcasting the proceedings of this House. It is difficult to know what the effect would be—not only on the individual Members who would broadcast. 1630 One has always to recognise that speeches can very often lose seats as well as win them. I remember in my own division hearing a criticism made by an old gentleman who had followed me round a lot of meetings. He said after one of them that I was a satisfactory candidate because he had heard my speeches at several meetings and I had not lost any votes. That was the limit of his approval. He did not say I had won any. It is perfectly possible that broadcasting these proceedings might purge the House of a good many Members and that others would take their place, but that would be highly desirable, because then democracy would be represented and would really be getting its views expressed. I cannot understand why it should not be allowed, and it should be, for Parliamentary purposes.
I think that if the Postmaster-General represented a county like the one I do instead of compact Croydon—for only a week ago I incurred a motor car fare of very nearly £20 to get to a meeting because there were no steamers—he would realise that broadcasting would be an enormous benefit. To one who represents a Division, the coastline of which is longer than from hero to America, the idea of this apparatus and the possibility of addressing all your people from one centre appears extraordinarily attractive. It would be an immense advantage to everyone, and the point made by the Crawford Committee was that a moderate amount of controversial matter should be broadcast, provided the material was of high quality. That might affect a good many Members who might be broadcast in the opinion of the Committee and would be a certain limitation on the amount sent out. I do think that the emasculated suggestions made are really taking away the benefit of this great discovery. I was struck with the statement of the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Harney) that in other countries they have liberty of broadcast. I thought you could have only one machine broadcasting at a time within reasonable limits.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
That was why I thought, when I heard a Welsh Member suggest that they should give more broadcast in the Welsh language, that 1631 the ether might be very disturbed and it might make difficulties for many listeners. I would demand from the right hon. Gentleman the corresponding privilege of broadcasting Gaelic, for then you would not have any disadvantageous effect on the ether. I hope that the Government will see their way not to extract so much from this broadcasting. I notice the amount is to be 12½ per cent. which is going to the Exchequer. It is curiously reminiscent of the very undesirable 12½ per cent. granted in the War in the case of one of our industries, which created confusion in that industry This sum is far, far too much for administration. One might almost have thought it was a trade union. He should be content with what the Lord Advocate is content to give the factors under the Scottish housing scheme—2½ per cent. That ought to provide sufficient funds for the purpose. The only cost is the assistance of the police to find out who has evaded payment of fees. It is simply making a mulch, cow of the public. One hon. Member suggested that the funds should be accumulated. We know what comes of accumulation. We saw that in the case of the Road Fund. The people who manage the Road Fund are singularly unintelligent. They should never have had any surplus. It would have been a mere matter of bookkeeping to. show a deficit, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not have been a bit the wiser, and then there would have been money to spend on the roads in Scotland. It should have been like a church, always in debt. It was an extraordinary piece of short-sightedness to suggest that these people should accumulate any funds, because we may be certain that some Chancellor of the Exchequer would not have the slightest hesitation in robbing such a henroost at the earliest opportunity.
I listened to the speech of the Postmaster-General with great pleasure, and I should have enjoyed it much more thoroughly had I not known, from my study of the two booklets which have been presented to us, that it really did not quite fulfil what he said on 14th July:When the Parliamentary discussion conies, I will undertake that in good time 1632 before that, the draft of the petition and all other relevant papers will be laid as Parliamentary papers so that everyone interested will have an opportunity in good time of seeing all the details of the proposed constitution and everything else."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th July, 1926; col. 450, Vol. 198.]I think the majority of people have not grasped it. As I say, I should have enjoyed his speech very much more had I not studied these matters closely, and I have come to the conclusion that his speech, which was so pleasant and, if I may say so, so saponaceous—it slipped out so easily—really does not represent the true position of this Corporation at all.
An hon. Member opposite said it was a puppet Corporation, that is, what we used to call "tulchan" in Scotland. A tulchan is what they call it when there is an orphan animal and they put another skin on it and pass it on to another mother. She smells the hide and it deceives her. This is a tulchan Corporation. I would ask the Postmaster-General to withdraw the Vote and give the House more time to consider the subject. What we are asked to do here ought to have been done through the medium of a Bill. It is far too serious a matter to be dealt with as a piece of departmental business. Although the Postmaster-General has said that it is proposed to accept the recommendations of the Crawford Commission in setting up this new body, he does not accept them at all in any serious form. He states that the prestige and status of the Corporation are to be freely acknowledged, and their sense of responsibility emphasised within well-defined limits. The Commission also said:We assume that the Postmaster-General would be the Parliamentary spokesman on broad questions of policy, though we think it essential that the Commission should not be subject to the continuing Ministerial guidance and direction which apply to Government offices.The gist of their statement is that the Corporation should be invested with the maximum of freedom. I propose to examine the Charter and the licence, and it will be seen that instead of that being the fact precisely the contrary is the case. As regards the kind of matter that is to he broadcast the Corporation is tied completely and is in every respect Post-Office controlled. In Clause 4, Subsection (1) of the licence it says that the 1633 hours are to be prescribed by the Postmaster-General—Send… during such hours as may from time to time he prescribed in writing by the Postmaster-General programmes of broadcast matter.These people are not to he allowed to fix their own hours. It surpasses the Miners' Federation. Surely the Corporation should have been left to decide their own hours. I do not think the old British Broadcasting Company were subject to that restriction.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
Well, if it was so it was a mistake, and at any rate we ought to give the new Corporation liberty. Next I would ask the Committee to look at paragraphs 20 (o) and (q) of the Crawford Report. Paragraph (o) deals with controversial matter and recommends that a moderate amount should be broadcast. The Postmaster-General turns that down, saying he does not want any controversial matter. Paragraph (q) says:The prestige and status of the Commission should be freely acknowledged and their sense of responsibility emphasised; although Parliament must retain the right of ultimate control and the Postmaster-General must be the Parliamentary spokesman on broad questions of policy, the Commissioners should be invested with the maximum of freedom which Parliament is prepared to concede.Let hon. Members mark that it says "Parliament" and not the Post Office, but it is the Postmaster-General who keeps the Corporation in tether all the time. It is like the trick that cruel boys play sometimes when they tie a thread to a bit of food and let a fowl swallow it and then lead it about. On the question of liberty of experimentation, either in technical matters or with regard to the programme, it is the Postmaster-General who is to authorise the experimentation. In Clause 3 (a) of the Charter it states that one of the objects of the Corporation is to beTo develop and exploit the said broadcasting service and any such licence as aforesaid in any such other directions and by any such other means and methods as may for the time being he permitted by our Postmaster-General for the time being and from time to time to obtain or agree to a renewal or extension of or any modifications of the terms and conditions.1634 Nothing can be done unless the Postmaster-General consents. He comes in at all times. One would think he was a Provost Marshal. Then listen to this about