HC Deb 22 February 1933 vol 274 cc1811-70

7.40 p.m.


I beg leave to move, That this House, being satisfied that the British Broadcasting Corporation maintains in general a high standard of service, is of opinion that it would be contrary to the public interest to subject the Corporation to any control by Government or by Parliament other than the control already provided for in the charter and the licence of the Corporation; that controversial matter is rightly not excluded from broadcast programmes, but that the governors should ensure the effective expression of all important opinion relating thereto; and that only by the exercise of the greatest care in the selection of speakers and subjects- can the function of the Corporation be fulfilled and the high quality of the British broadcasting service be maintained. I am glad to have the opportunity of initiating a Debate in this House on this subject. It is one of general interest, because it affects the habits and the lives of millions of the people of this country. It may interest hon. Members to be reminded that during last year more than 5,250,000 wireless licences were issued. From time to time, for one reason or another, it becomes a topic of public discussion. It is therefore, I apprehend, a proper subject of debate by this honourable House. It will be observed that by a part of the Motion before it the House is invited to disapprove any change in the constitutional position of the British Broadcasting Corporation which would subject that Corporation to any control by Government or by Parliament other than the control already provided for in the charter and licence of the Corporation. Seeing that such change is deprecated it may be asked what is my purpose in moving this Resolution. My reply is that, in the first place, this Debate affords an occasion, which I believe I am correct in saying will be used by His Majesty's Postmaster-General, for an explanation of the constitutional position of the Corporation and of the relation in which it stands to the Postmaster-General—a matter which appears to be the subject of some misunderstanding. In the second place, this Debate provides an opportunity for appreciation and criticism of the whole work of the British Broadcasting Corporation, an opportunity which, I am assured, is no less welcome to the House than to the governors of the Corporation, and of which I anticipate hon. Members will take full advantage.

It would be possible, Sir, for me to devote myself to a detailed appreciation of the material which generally constitutes broadcast programmes. I might voice the views of particular individuals or groups of individuals. I might, for instance, express the opinion of those who hold strong views upon that hour which, like most things intended for children, is nominally addressed to the youngest members of the community, but fully appreciated only by the oldest members of it. I might express the opinion of those who hold still stronger views upon that kind of music, generically described as "jazz," which to some is perfect euphony and to others perfect cacophony. To this task I might address myself, but I fear it would occupy more of the time of the House than I am justified in taking; and for many reasons I think it will be more proper if I treat this subject generally, and develop in a general manner certain considerations suggested by the Resolution.

The House is invited to profess itself satisfied that the British Broadcasting Corporation maintains a high standard of service. That is the conclusion that I ask the House to come to. I, however, deliberately refrain from addressing to it any argument designed to induce it to come to that conclusion. My reason is that the question whether the Corporation maintains a high standard of service is one the answer to which depends upon the taste and judgment of individual persons. This is a matter upon which the proper appeal is to the taste of the individual, and not to general argument. I should therefore regard it as irrelevant and even impertinent if I were to set about giving hon. Members reasons why they should come to a conclusion favourable to the Corporation. I am content to leave the matter to the fair judgment of hon. Members. I ask them to appeal to their own experience of the work of the Corporation. I ask them to interpret the general sense of the community. I ask them to compare in their own minds the work of the Corporation with the work of foreign broadcasting stations. And with confidence I invite them to say, upon a fail-consideration of the whole work of the Corporation, that that work is done with honour to the Corporation, with credit and with success.

I do not suggest that mistakes have not been made. Of course, they have. Recently the Corporation incurred strong criticism on account of a broadcast which was done on New Year's Eve. This was in the form of a running commentary upon things in general by two unnamed persons. It was a tactless piece of work, and it contained much more or leas offensive innuendo. But surely we must see these things in proportion. Grant that this broadcast was a blunder; grant, if it can be established, that mistakes have been made on other occasions: what then? I imagine that the House will not be willing to set up the Select Committee that His Majesty's Opposition ask for, unless it is proved to the satisfaction of the House that the Corporation have committed errors so numerous and so serious as to demand immediate inquiry. To use the language of theology, proof merely of venial sin will not suffice. To obtain their Select Committee, the Opposition must convict the Corporation not of venial but of mortal sin. Now can it fairly be argued that whatever errors have been committed by the Corporation are to be regarded in so serious a light? To that question, I respectfully suggest, the only possible answer is a negative.

It is occasionally suggested, when the searchlight of public criticism is directed upon the British Broadcasting Corporation, that a Parliamentary body ought to be set up and charged with some kind of control over the Corporation. I think I ought to offer to the House one or two observations on this topic. Since the beginning of this year the Corporation has been the subject of many references in the newspapers of this country. I have examined this material with some care, and my research, together with conversations with many persons interested in the subject, has satisfied me that there is to-day no demand from any responsible person for the control of broadcasting by Government. I observe with interest that, in the Amendment which the Opposition have put down to my Resolution, they do not ask for anything in the nature of control of the Corporation by Government. Perhaps I may be allowed to make this comment, that that is either a curious exception to Socialism, or it is a high compliment to the Corporation. It is certainly the second, and it is possibly the first. Since there is no demand from any responsible person for control of the Corporation by Government, I need say no more upon that point. A word may, however, usefully be said upon the subject of control by Parliament, control, that is, beyond the control which is already provided by the charter and the licence of the Corporation. I am wholly opposed to any such project of Parliamentary control. It has sometimes been suggested that a Committee of Parliament should be invested with powers, of a nature not accurately specified, in relation to the Corporation. Whatever these powers might be, I believe that practical reasons alone would deprive any such committee of all utility. A mass of work would be thrown upon it which it would be quite unfitted to perform and, indeed, physically incapable of performing. I wonder if it is realised that, during the last year, the British Broadcasting Corporation received 90,000 letters upon the subject of programmes alone. If such a committee were to be established, a very considerable portion of those letters would be addressed to the members of the committee. Members of Parliament require no addition to their correspondence. I believe too—and this is a more important point—that such a committee would confuse the responsibility for the choice and determination of broadcast matter. That responsibility cannot be shared between the Corporation and any other body. If such a committee existed, inevitably there would be blurring of responsibility. Responsibility for the choice and determination of broadcast matter must rest ultimately upon the Governors of the Corporation, and upon them alone. I urge upon the House that the Governors of the Corporation, with the Director-General and his staff, are perfectly qualified and are alone qualified to discharge that responsibility. For these reasons, I ask the House to deprecate any change, in relation to Government or to Parliament, in the constitutional position of the British Broadcasting Corporation.

I turn to the question, which of all the questions connected with this subject is, I believe, the most important: the question of controversy in broadcasting. Those who are responsible for the selection of broadcast matter have an alternative: they may admit controversial matter, or, attempting to please everyone, they may exclude it. Now exclusion is impossible. By manner or by matter, anything can acquire the character of controversy. Even the inflection of the voice may be sufficient to give a provocative character to the barest statement of fact. I suppose that it is for this reason that some announcers adopt that voice so precise, so pruned, so prismatic, that arouses the most unchristian sentiments in the most christian listeners. When television is perfected—and I anticipate, with the due encouragement of the British Broadcasting Corporation, that that time is not far distant —and the man who speaks is seen as well as heard, he will indeed have the power to Convey a censure in a frown, And wink a reputation down. But it is a question of matter as well as of manner. Can you hope to avoid controversy by the elimination of everything but pure statement of fact? If your attempt is successful, you will have eliminated what to many is the best part of broadcast programmes. But unless you confine the broadcast to music and the weather, your attempt cannot be successful. I speak of the elimination of everything but pure statement of fact. But what fact? The man who swears to tell the truth, swears that be will tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The real objection to the objectionable parts of the New Year's Eve broadcast to which I have already referred was not that they were inaccurate statements of fact, because, for all I know, they were accurate enough, but that they were partial, incomplete statements of fact. If you state facts, you must state all relevant facts, and at once you find yourself upon the battle-ground of controversy.

From every point of view it is plain that avoidance of controversy is impossible. But, I go far further. Avoidance of controversy is not only impossible; it is wrong. I welcome controversy. It is the breath of life; it is certainly the breath of our life here. My fear is not lest there be too much, but lest there be too little, controversy. The peril which those who control broadcasting have vigilantly to guard against is not the obvious one that this or that person will, from time to time, make some unhappy or some foolish statement. The peril is far more subtle, far more insidious, far more real. It is the suppression of inconvenient opinion. They are not mistaken who perceive in this vehicle for the dissemination of ideas the most powerful instrument of education that has been placed at the service of man since printing was invented. When I speak of education, I do not mean the formal education of boy or girl; I mean that process which should cease only with life itself: the development of the powers of the mind. They that have the ear of a nation command the road to its mind.

Now what is this invention going to do to the mind of this nation? What form is the mind of our people going to take under this instrument so new, so beautiful, so full of power for good, and ill? I do not know. No one knows. But this I know, that the clear mind, the good mind, the mind that will seize truth and keep fast hold of it, the mind that every man must wish to have, can be formed and fashioned only by the impact of ideas most various and most diverse. The danger that I fear is a tendency to keep from the ear of the nation ideas the real objection to which is that they are inconvenient, it may be either to Government or to some other element in the State. An example of this tendency, in my view, is the denial to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), on two occasions during the year 1931, of opportunity to broadcast his views on India. It is unnecessary for the purpose of my argument to examine the question whether the views of the right hon. Gentleman on this topic are right or wrong; it is sufficient, and it is beyond dispute, that they are important. We must not open our ears only to comfortable doctrine. No guest should be unwelcome in the mansion of the mind. In the words of Dr. Johnson, "every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth, and every other man has a right to knock him down for it." I am not concerned to examine the propriety of the latter part of this sentiment. I am only concerned with the truth of the first part.

It may be asked: "Are, then, no limits to be placed upon the dissemination of ideas? I reply, certainly limits are to be laid down. Broadcasting should not be permitted to be used for the propagation of blasphemy or sedition. I would not permit the broadcast to be utilized for debate upon the Motion, "That a man should in no circumstances fight for his King and country." The interests of the State are paramount, and whatever comes in conflict with them, whatever undermines the foundations of the State, should be prohibited. But, within the limits defined by this prohibition, all opinion should, in my submission, have opportunity of expression. A careful and just observance of this principle will ensure the expression of a kind of opinion of which we hear all too little in these times. We all know now that 'tis a brave new world we live in; but some of us beg leave to doubt whether though brave and new, it is at all better than the old. Much is heard of the professors of new ideas in religion, in politics, in science, and in art. They are always eager to use any means made available by science for the propagation of their ideas. We desire to hear more often those who, being of conservative temperament, hold that the ideas of order and tradition contain no less of truth than the idea of change, and are no less necessary to the welfare and happiness of man.

A service conducted upon these principles will preserve that high tradition which the British Broadcasting Corporation has already established, and which, I am confident, it will maintain far into the future.

8.4 p.m.


I beg to second the Motion. My hon. Friend has surveyed the very wide field which is covered by his Motion in a manner which was at once concise and comprehensive, and which was both lucid and, if I may say so, charming. I do not possess the touch of my hon. Friend, and I am afraid that my own approach to this important subject must be very lowly and limited. I should like, with the permission of the House, to confine my remarks to a consideration of the functions of broadcasting, and of what should be the relationship, in the light of those functions, between the British Broadcasting Corporation and Parliament and the Government. Obviously, the first and more obvious function of broadcasting is to provide entertainment for the masses of the people of this country. Although, however, that is its more obvious function, I do not, myself, think that it is the more important. As my hon. Friend has said, it is very difficult to decide whether the quality of the entertainment provided by the British Broadcasting Corporation is good or bad, but I think the House will agree that, whether it be good or bad, and whether it might, perhaps, be a better form of entertainment if it were provided by an ordinary commercial organisation, at any rate it would not be better if it were provided by Parliament and the Government. Whatever the functions of Parliament and the Government may be, I do not think that the provision of cheap and innocent entertainment for the masses is one of them, although, of course, it is sometimes so merely incidentally.

The second and, for our purpose, the more important function of broadcasting is the provision of educational facilities for large numbers of people scattered over this country. I know that when wireless was first developed, and broadcasting was first started, there was an opinion that there was no need to provide education for the people—that what people wanted was entertainment, and that they did not want ideas stuffed down their throats. I think that that idea has now largely disappeared, because it has been disproved by the statistics themselves—not only by the fantastic increase in the number of licences, but also by the very considerable and steady increase in the circulation of the pamphlets of the British Broadcasting Corporation connected with their talks. I think that most people would admit now that it is a very important—probably the most important—function of the British Broadcasting Corporation to provide such educational facilities. This imposes, obviously, a tremendous responsibility upon the British Broadcasting Corporation, and it is the purpose of this Motion to ask the House to consider whether that responsibility is being fitly sustained by the British Broadcasting Corporation as it is at present organised.

Whatever difference of opinion there may be on that question, I think we shall all agree upon one thing, and that is that it is a responsibility of a peculiar kind, which could not be fitly left to ordinary private commercial enterprise. We have to consider whether it is a responsibility which would be more fitly exercised if the British Broadcasting Corporation were more strictly controlled by Parliament. If it were the purpose, or even the main purpose, of the British Broadcasting Corporation to provide elementary education on a large scale, there might be a case for further control by Parliament, but it is rather the purpose of the British Broadcasting Corporation to provide adult education. The British Broadcasting Corporation has become, in the few years of its existence, a kind of university—as it were, the university of the common man; and I think it must be admitted that it is an essential feature of university education, and, indeed, of adult education generally, that it should be absolutely free, that it should not be fettered by irksome and unnecessary restrictions—that it should be, in short, an adventure, with all the delights and all the risks which are implied in that word.

There is no doubt that any form of education is a risky business. The people who receive it may be unfitted to receive it, or may misunderstand it. But you cannot eliminate the risks which are a part of education without eliminating also the adventure which is at once the inspiration and the whole purpose of education. If you tried to rectify such errors as have been committed by the British Broadcasting Corporation, you would only succeed in killing or utterly stultifying the work that they are doing, which is of very great value to the country as a whole. As my hon. Friend has said, it is not the purpose of this Motion to whitewash the British Broadcasting Corporation; it is no purpose of the Motion to imply that they have never made any mistakes. A corporation, as we all know, never dies, but that is not to say that is never makes mistakes; the corporate immortality which it enjoys certainly does not imply any corporate infallibility. The British Broadcasting Corporation has made in its time quite a number of mistakes. It has made mistakes of direction, mistakes of tact, such as my hon. Friend indicated in his speech; and I have no doubt that in the course of the Debate other instances of, perhaps, carelessness, or, perhaps, accident, will be brought before the House by hon. Members. But, whatever sort of organisation you had like the British Broadcasting Corporation, and in whatever manner it was controlled, you could not possibly avoid its making some mistakes of that kind from time to time. What we have to consider is whether it has in fact exceeded its fair ration of mistakes, and I do not think that a fair-minded man would say that it had.

That is one kind of criticism which is directed against the British Broadcasting Corporation—that it has at times made certain, perhaps, rather curious and clumsy errors of judgment. But there is another class of criticism that is directed against it, and that comes from critics who are inclined to say that the whole angle from which the British Broadcasting Corporation regards life, its whole attitude towards learning and life, is in some ways a false one—that it is apt to be too theoretical, that it is apt to be divorced from reality, that it is apt to be sometimes too quick and sometimes too slow. I think that that is so; I think that it does suffer from all these defects; but I do not think that they are defects peculiar to the British Broadcasting Corporation; they are the defects of the academic mind. If you decide that you want an academic education of the kind provided by the British Broadcasting Corporation, you must put up with those defects in securing its advantages. All of us are prepared to expose our own children, by sending them either to school or to the university, to very much the same danger—the danger that, from too close contact with academic minds, they may get a false perspective of the world and of life. But we trust to the common sense of our children, and to the experience of life as they gain it, to correct any falsity that might otherwise occur through their academic education, and I think we may well trust to the common sense and experience of life of the common people of the country in just the same way.

The other main line of criticism to which the British Broadcasting Corporation is subjected is the criticism that it is biased politically, or, in an alternative form, that minorities are not fairly represented by it. That criticism is very widespread in certain quarters of the House. It is, in fact, disproved by the variety of the quarters in which it is felt. In a remarkable way they cancel one another out. But, even if it were not so, if the British Broadcasting Corporation were biased in politics, if it did not give a fair representation to minorities, I cannot see that the position would be improved by more direct Parliamentary control. So far as the representation of minorities is concerned, my own limited experience does not incline me to think that minority opinion, at any rate within parties, counts for a very great deal. The Whips account for a lot more. In the same way, I do not think you would get greater impartiality by subjecting the British Broadcasting Corporation to any control, however well-intentioned, of a Parliamentary majority. There is no doubt, from the point of view of those who think that the Broadcasting Corporation is biased, they are very much better to-day than they would be if there were stricter governmental or Parliamentary control.

I second the Motion with complete sincerity, because I believe the British Broadcasting Corporation has done and is doing work of the most tremendous importance to the country and to civilisation as a whole. If there were any risk of it setting itself up against Parliament as an expression of the will of the people of the country, it would be a different matter, but there is no sign of their doing that, and there is no prospect of their wanting to do it. If they did, there is no doubt that their fate would not be a very happy one. Talking of wireless is very difficult because there are few or no absolutely historical parallels to it. I suppose the nearest parallel to the Broadcasting Corporation is a man who is said to have lived some thousands of years ago whose name was Stentor. He had a very large voice and for some time he exercised it to the common enjoyment of himself and of his hearers, but the time came when he ventured to challenge Hermes, the messenger of the gods, and, when that happened, Stentor himself came to a bad end. In the same way, if the British Broadcasting Corporation were to challenge in any way the sovereignty of Parliament, it, too, would come to a bad end. But, because there is no chance that I can see of its doing so, I can with complete sincerity second this Motion and express the hope that it will reflect the sentiment of the House of Commons.

8.20 p.m.


I beg to move, in line 1, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to insert instead thereof the words: in view of the growing importance of broadcasting in the life of the community, particularly its actual and potential influence in the realm of political controversy, it is expedient that a Select Committee be appointed to review the work of recent years and make recommendations. The hon. Member who moved the Motion, in a most admirable speech, has, I think, entirely miconstrued the purpose of our Amendment. It raises no question as to any extension of control beyond that which is already exercised by this House and by the Government, of which this Debate is a good example. There is no suggestion that the Select Committee whose appointment we suggest should run the British Broadcasting Corporation. It is in order to assist in the solution of what we believe are certain real difficulties which have arisen and which have been very fully recognised by the Corporation itself. The hon. Member said that one of the most important and difficult matters was the matter of controversy. We agree entirely that it is vital that controversy should be pre- served, but the question is how best to preserve it in the interests of everyone who is concerned. He thinks there should be no limitation of what should be broadcast except that which undermines the State. The difficulty is that his view of what undermines the State and that of other people differ. For instance, he thinks that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) broadcasting on India does not undermine the State. He thinks, on the other hand, that the broadcast of a pacifist debate at Oxford would undermine the State. There are people, even in the House, who might take precisely the opposite view on those two problems, and I think that is a very good illustration of the sort of difficulty which arises and which we want to face.

Perhaps I may go back historically to consider the development of this great national service. It is now just over 10 years since the first licence was issued by the Postmaster-General for broadcasting, and since that date there has been an enormous technical development both in transmission and in reception. The broadcasting public has also very largely changed from what it was in the beginning, a select body of persons who could afford the apparatus which was then available, whereas there is now an enormous public of over 5,000,000 people in this country alone who can receive the broadcasts transmitted. Not only that, but, with the growth of high power transmission, the problem has become an international as well as a national one, so that the early considerations that were brought to bear on the problem have now become out of date in this very rapidly changing science. We agree that it was the most profound wisdom in the first instance to retain this great service in a single hand, the hand of a public corporation, so that we do not get the sort of advertising stuff that one gets in America or the competition of private broadcasting companies which has been so detrimental in other countries. The early years of broadcasting were frankly experimental in many ways. It was not until April, 1923, that the first committee was set up under Sir Frederick Sykes to make a report as regards a more permanent institution, and it was not until August, 1925, that Lord Crawford's Broadcasting Committee reported, which actually initiated the great public corpo- ration that is now responsible. In that exhaustive report there were laid down the principles which really have been followed up to the present day. I draw the attention of the House to one of the principles and to the paragraph in which it was elaborated. Dealing with controversial matter, which is the principal matter with which I wish to deal, they said that A moderate amount of controversial matter should be broadcast provided the material is of high quality and distributed with scrupulous fairness, and the discretion of the commissioners in this connection should be upheld. They then elaborated it in these words: We are unable to lay dawn a precise line of policy or to assess the degree to which argument could be allowed to be transmitted. In the absence of authoritative evidence that advice would be premature. That shows that this was an experimental recommendation of the Crawford Committee. They thought that the Commission would be able gradually to assess the nature and the extent of the demand for this class of broadcast. Under the Charter of the Corporation of 1927 the degree of Government control was laid down, as the House will remember, in this form. The Postmaster-General had power to require the Corporation to refrain from transmitting either any general matter or any particular matter, and, also, the Government had the power to have any matter they desired transmitted free of cost by the Corporation. Under an agreement, which was supplemental to the licence, there was one further check upon the activities of the Corporation. The news to be transmitted should be obtained from four named agencies, which one has often heard recited over the broadcast, and any other news agency approved of for that purpose by the Postmaster-General. So that this House has at the present time an active control, through the Postmaster-General, over the whole of the matter that may be transmitted, and, indeed, in the early days, prior to 1928, there were a number of occasions when the Postmaster-General exercised that power, and stopped the transmission of particular broadcasts. There was one famous occasion, I think it was on Mr. Bernard Shaw's 70th birthday, when he was speaking in the House and permission was refused because it was thought that he might be controversial.

The POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Sir Kingsley Wood)

In the House?


I think that the right hon. Gentleman will remember that at that time controversial matter was not allowed at all. Let me take the other instance of the speech of Dr. Deissmann, which was another case in which permission was refused after reference to the Postmaster-General. On 5th March, 1928, the Lord President of the Council, the Prime Minister as he then was, said that the position had been reviewed by the Government and that the prohibition against statements involving matters of political, religious or industrial controversy would be withdrawn, and then was laid down the principle which the Broadcasting Corporation was to adopt in its place: The Corporation has been informed that the Government expect them to use the discretionary power thus experimentally entrusted to them strictly in accordance with the spirit of the Crawford Committee's Report, and that it is their responsibility to see that this is done."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1928; col. 812, Vol. 214.] I draw the attention of the House to the very important word "experimentally" in order to show that the House which was responsible for the withdrawing of that restriction upon broadcasting contentious matter, was giving this permission experimentally. The object of our Amendment is to show that the time has now come when that experiment should be reviewed by the House by the only available means, and that is by a Select Committee. This release of the Broadcasting Corporation opened up the ether for three classes of political controversial matter: First of all, statements by Ministers which were supposed to be factual and non-controversial on current political matters; secondly, frankly party statements by speakers nominated by the parties, such as at election times; and, thirdly, educational discussions by people who very often moved in the political sphere upon current matters of political interest. It is those three classes with which we are most concerned as far as our Amendment goes to-night. There is no doubt that the British Broadcasting Corporation have had an enormously difficult task in dealing with the question of political broadcasting, and nobody can blame them if, as we believe, they have committed errors of judgment or errors of practice, because we believe that, anyway at present, there is no adequate machinery of any sort to assist them in carrying out those functions properly.

All through 1928 and 1929, after the release of this ban, attempts were made to get agreement among the parties as to how the matter should be arranged. The Conservative party, and, I think, the Labour party, more or less, came to an arrangement at one time, and the Liberal party found difficulty in coming in, and so on. The three parties could not be brought together for a very long time. It was not until April, 1929, that the Broadcasting Corporation arranged for eight political broadcasts before the election of 1929 against the protests of some of the parties as regards the allocation of time. There followed during the election, as hon. Members will remember, six other broadcasts. In October, 1929, after the election the Conservative party complained to the Broadcasting Corporation of the misuse of the microphone by the Government. An inspired statement was published in the "Times," which, no doubt, gave the reason for the action of the British Broadcasting Corporation, and which said that a distinction must be drawn between non-controversial subjects delivered by virtue of offices, that is, by Ministers, and those essentially of a party character. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, as he has done ever since, broadcast the Budget speech, and other Ministers made explanatory statements either after returning from conferences, or on large Bills which had passed through the House. At that time there was an arrangement with the political parties by which the Whips of the three parties were consulted, but that procedure was not a success. It was expressed in these terms by Lord Gainford in another place in a Debate on the 19th March, 1931. He said: We have an agreement with the three parties in the House of Commons as to what we may and may not broadcast of a political character. That is all drawn up, and they take no exception to what we broadcast of a political kind. We consult them as to all that we do with regard to political matters which may be thought to entrench upon the agreement arrived at between us. That agreement, which, as I have said, operated somewhat imperfectly, came to an end in September, 1931, at the time of the last General Election, and since that date there has been no effective machinery of any sort for dealing with the question of political broadcasts. The theory of the factual and non-controversial ministerial talks has been gradually extended, and, in our view, extended to cover some of the most controversial matter. For instance, there were the four broadcasts on the Ottawa resignations. All the right hon. Gentlemen who broadcast at least took the opportunity of attacking the Opposition either directly, or in that very ingenious way which the hon. Member who proposed the Motion mentioned by the inflection of the voice, and there was the Secretary of State for India's broadcasts which many people thought should have been answered. Then there was the Prime Minister's broadcast on unemployment. None of these, being dealt with as non-controversial, were answered. The Opposition was refused any facility what soever for reply. I agree that the difficulty is very great. There might be half-a-dozen people who would want to reply from different angles. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Epping would have liked to reply to the Indian broadcast.

The difficulty is that there is no machinery by which, at the present time, any satisfactory arrangement can be made. The answer of the British Broadcasting Corporation, so far as we understand it, was that after the sad experience of the other method which I have mentioned, described in Lord Gainford's speech, it took the matter into its own hands, subject to the advice of a Parliamentary Committee. The Parliamentary Committee was an informal, non-representative one and is not quite accurately described in the 1933 Year Book of the British Broadcasting Corporation, which says that it was set up with the support of all parties, and the National Government. So far as our party was concerned, I do not think there was any consultation with it as regards the setting up of the Committee. As to that I have no complaint to make, because that is the machinery which the British Broadcasting Corporation chose to set up. We do not think it is the proper machinery or the right machinery, but I am dealing with it at the moment historically as being the device which the British Broadcasting Corporation invented to supersede the earlier device of consultation with the Whips, which was the first formal method adopted to get some regulation as regards political broadcasting.

There are three great difficulties which, in our submission, the House should face and set up a Select Committee to consider. First, there is the question of the extension of factual Ministerial statements which, if it continues, will mean the continual outpouring of Ministerial statements over the ether, without any reply. Of course, that is a thing which the Government will not oppose very strongly, but it is something which obviously the Opposition will always oppose, whatever the complexion of that Opposition may be. Secondly, there is the selection of political issues by the British Broadcasting Corporation. It cannot be doubted that transmission by broadcast is now one of the most potent political forces in the world, and if political issues are to be selected for the country we believe they ought to be selected in the House of Commons and not at Broadcasting House. Obviously, if matters for debate over the broadcast are selected by the British Broadcasting Corporation there is a danger that they may create issues which, perfectly justly, they may think are the major political issues at the moment, but in regard to which Members of this House would not agree.

Thirdly, there is the selection of political personalities by the British Broadcasting Corporation. If they have the selection of the political persons who are to speak over the microphone it is very easy for them to make a politician overnight by giving him an audience of 5,000,000 or 6,000,000 people. It does not necessarily follow that because a politician has a good broadcasting voice he is the best person, either from the country's or the parties' point of view, to be selected and to be given that vast publicity. A party or anyone else might-well object to that being done. It is not easy to say what is the best solution of these problems in the public interest. That, we believe, can only be solved by bringing together the best information available and discussing the matter in a Select Committee, and trying to thresh out, somehow or other, what the joint and corporate views of the House are upon this important matter. One cannot debate that matter to-night, because it is far too complex and difficult a problem to deal with in a short time.

There are other matters which would naturally arise before such a committee. There is the question of industrial controversy. Industrial controversy raises the same necessity for scrupulous fairness which the Crawford Committee laid down as the criterion. As everybody knows, on more than one occasion the Trades Union Congress have been led to protest because of things which they believed were not done fairly. Whether their protest is justified or not is not the problem with which I am dealing at the moment. The problem with which I am dealing is the problem of the difficulty of ensuring scrupulous fairness and the necessity, after the experimental period of 4½ years, of having some revision in regard to the method of dealing with controversial matters.

Another point of difficulty arises out of the News Bulletin. There are four Press agencies which serve the British Broadcasting Corporation and all of them have Conservative newspapers as their main customers. We do not blame them for circulating Conservative news. That is obviously the right thing for them to do, but the point which arises is that the corporation, being tied to these four Press agencies, can only give out the news which they send. Anyone who has followed the Press reports from Broadcasting House, although they are extracted with scrupulous fairness from what they get, will find as a matter of fact that there is very seldom any news, other than extracts from Parliamentary Debates, concerning any other parties than the Conservative party, or the National Government at the present time.

That raises another difficult question. We believe that there is no way of solving these matters to the satisfaction of the people of the country unless there can be some inquiry. I have no doubt that the Postmaster-General will attempt to dismiss this matter with a few of his flippant witticisms and try to get a few party scores about our inability to broadcast, or something of that sort; but that has nothing to do with the issue. This question, in our view, is an extremely serious one and a matter about which millions of people in this country are acutely anxious. Whether they take one view or another, never mind, they are acutely anxious, and we believe that it may have a very important effect upon the political and industrial future of the country as to how this controversial matter is regulated in the future. I suppose that it is always the case in matters of this sort that minorities feel more acutely than majorities. It has always been the case in broadcasting matters that whichever party has been in Opposition, that party has always been the one to raise the difficulty and to complain. I dare say that that will always go on, however perfectly the thing is arranged.

No one would desire to minimise the very excellent work which the British Broadcasting Corporation have done in all sorts of ways. Its educational work has been excellent, as indeed have been its programmes in many other particulars. These are real difficulties. The British Broadcasting Corporation has attempted to solve them in two different ways, neither of which are satisfactory. I do not think that they are considered to be satisfactory by the corporation itself. We think that after this period of time, when this review can be carried out in the light of the experience gained, a great service will be done to the nation and we shall be able to attain what the Crawford Committee set out to attain when it launched the British Broadcasting Corporation on its career; that is, a fair amount of controversial broadcasting carried through with scrupulous fairness to all sides. At the moment that scrupulous fairness is not being given, perhaps because of the difficulties of the corporation, and we think that a Select Committee of this House will be able to solve them.

8.46 p.m.


I understand that it will be for the convenience of some hon. Members if I make a statement on this matter at this juncture in the Debate, and if there are any questions or points to which hon. Members think I should reply later on, I need hardly say that I shall be glad to do so. In the first place, let me say that the Government and the British Broadcasting Corporation welcome this Debate, and I think the public will welcome it also. Few domestic matters discussed in this House can be of such direct and personal interest as the subject of this Debate. Before coming to the House this afternoon I inquired the latest figures, and I understand that at the end of last month there were nearly 5,400,000 broadcasting licence holders. If you add to that number the great body of our fellow countrymen resident in foreign countries, who regularly listen to the British Broadcasts, and also the rapidly increasing number of our fellow subjects who, thanks to the splendid and latest project of the British Broadcasting Corporation, now hear the voice of London from all parts of the Empire, you have a listening constituency of many, many millions. I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Bristol East (Sir S. Cripps) and other hon. Members that broadcasting is indeed one of the greatest factors for good or evil in our national life to-day and that its world influence is tremendous and far-reaching. It is a good thing indeed that the House has been given the opportunity for this discussion. There has not been a full discussion of this great new medium of communication since the time the Charter was first granted seven years ago.


Whose fault is that?


I take it that the hon. and gallant Member has, on occasion, been successful in the ballot during the last seven years, and perhaps he might have taken the opportunity himself. It is certainly right and desirable and useful, from the point of view of the Government and myself, as the Minister concerned, that Parliament should have an opportunity of reviewing and constructively criticising the work and aims of the body to which it has entrusted so many responsibilities and so many important duties. The House is indebted to the hon. Member for Springburn (Mr. Emmott) for the opportunity he has afforded it by the Motion and for the able, constructive and timely contribution he has himself made, and also to the Seconder of the Motion. The Motion, and the opportunity for this discussion, is particularly welcome to myself, because it is apparent from recent public discussions and contributions in the Press that there are a number of misconceptions and some confusion as to the respective duties and responsibilities of the Min- ister concerned and the corporation itself.

Let me say at once that there ought to be, and should be, no mystery as to the character and responsibilities of the British Broadcasting Corporation. The original charter of the corporation was granted on the 20th, December, 1926, a draft was laid on the Table of this House, and it was fully debated after a careful statement had been made by the present Lord Selsdon. May I remind hon. Members of the principles generally which were followed, with the approval of Parliament, at that time. Parliament decided in 1926 that the broadcasting of this country was not to be run as a State institution. It decided that wireless should not be commercialised. It put broadcasting on a basis radically different from that of broadcasting in the United States and continental countries, and, finally, a bold and interesting experiment was made by the establishment of a corporation akin to and of the nature of a public utility corporation. Considerable freedom and discretion were designedly entrusted to the governors of the corporation. I suppose that the trust which has been given to the governors of the corporation can compare with no other duty that has been given to any similar body of men. At the same time, certain restrictions were made and certain powers given to the Postmaster-General.

The whole design, so far as I see it, was not to prohibit ultimate Parliamentary control, but to limit Parliamentary interference, and to accord to the corporation reasonable liberty of action as trustees of the service in the national interest. So far as the governors of the Corporation and their relationship with the Minister are concerned, the hon. and learned Member for Bristol East referred to the Report of Lord Crawford's Committee, which is well worth studying in connection with this matter. There it was distinctly laid down that the prestige and status of the governors of the corporation were to be freely acknowledged and their sense of responsibility emphasised. The governors of the corporation are not intended to be, nor do they claim to be, specialists or experts, but their responsibilities are certainly very important and considerable. It is their duty to see, subject to the provisions of the Charter and the licence, that the many purposes for which broadcasting was established are carried out with efficiency and impartiality, and one of their most important functions is to estimate, to weigh and to judge the general effect of the service so far as the public is concerned.

Allusion has been made to the power and the duties of the Postmaster-General, and they can be seen by any Member of the House in the charter and the licence. I want to refer to one of them, because there has been a considerable amount of discussion in relation to it. The Postmaster-General, as is provided by a clause in the licence, has power by notice in writing to require the corporation to refrain from sending any broadcast matter, either particular or general, specified in such notice. The only case in which the Postmaster-General has exercised that power was in informing the corporation on 11th January, 1927, that he required the corporation to refrain from broadcasting the following matters: (1) Statements expressing the opinion of the corporation on matters of public policy; that is the expression of the views of the corporation itself— (2) Speeches or lectures containing statements on topics of political, religious or industrial controversy. Representations were made from time to time to Parliament and in the Press in favour of the withdrawal of the ban on political and controversial broadcasting, and it was in consequence of these representations that in March, 1928, the Government of that day decided, with general approval, to withdraw the prohibition so far as controversial broadcasting was concerned. The announcement was made in the House of Commons by the Lord President of the Council who was then Prime Minister. He said that the Government had reviewed the decision taken at the time of the constitution of the British Broadcasting Corporation, under which the corporation was prohibited from broadcasting the two matters I have referred to. He added that the Government had decided that the first of these prohibitions, that is on the issue of editorial pronouncements, must be maintained, but that the second, that is as regards controversial matter, should be withdrawn forthwith. So far as the power of veto on individual items is concerned, it has never been used by any Postmaster-General, and I do not think that any Postmaster-General would desire to find any occasion to use it. It is sound policy that such a power should never be used lightly but only in a serious case and in the last resort.


Was not the case that I mentioned, that on 15th November, 1926, a speech delivered by Dr. Deissmann, of Berlin, on the entry of Germany into the League of Nations.


I am not aware of that case, but it may have been before the ban was raised. But certainly since this matter there has not been any interference of any kind. Therefore the position to-day is this: That the prohibition of statements expressing the opinion of the corporation on matters of public policy is maintained. Editorial wisdom is certainly undesirable on the broadcast. I am sure the governors of the corporation have no desire that that prohibition should be withdrawn. Indeed, unless this was maintained there might very well be serious confusion both at home and abroad as to whether statements of such a character were in fact the pronouncement and the opinions of the Government of the day. Therefore that provision is a very necessary one, and no one, neither the Corporation nor this House, desires that the prohibition should be withdrawn. So far as controversial broadcasts are concerned, including political broadcasts, there is to-day no ban or bar by the Government.

Broadcasts on the even of a General Election have been a matter, of course, of special arrangement between the parties, and so far as I have been able to gather it has been a most difficult and tiresome thing. But the general principle applied to-day, so far as controversial and political broadcasts are concerned, is that it is in the interest of the nation, following the traditions of this country, that there should be, not a licence for subversive doctrines or propaganda against the functions of good government, but reasonable liberty for the expression of free opinion and thought. I say deliberately that minorities should have their place—individuals perhaps not at the moment attached or perhaps only lightly attached to any particular party should be chosen, if they have a useful contribution to make.

As Lord Crawford's Committee stipulated, all such controversial matter should be of high quality and distributed with scrupulous fairness. Regard must be paid to the international situation when you come to consider what should or should not be broadcast in relation to controversial matter. The chief test that might well be applied in such a matter as admission to the microphone is whether it is a timely and useful contribution to the councils of the nation. It is obvious that there must be some limitation. I read to-day a leading article in one of the greatest newspapers in this country, which certainly cannot be said at any time to have been opposed to freedom of speech in this country. I refer to the "Manchester Guardian." The "Manchester Guardian" to-day in its leading article quite rightly sets out that there obviously must be limits to the latitude of debate. It says: At times the broadcasting authorities may unavoidably have to conclude that the ill-feeling a discussion of some issues might create would outweigh the good that discussion might do. They go on to discuss the experiment that is being made in this connection, and they say: Let us go slowly. The immediate lessons of the discussion are that the British Broadcasting Corporation should lead opinion rather than follow it; that in assessing the tolerance of listeners it has nothing to go on but its own judgment; and that this judgment—this discretion of the British Broadcasting Corporation—must be upheld, since the judgment of no outside person or group of persons is likely to be better, and might be a lot worse. That is a very fair statement of the position. I have emphasised the desire for a proper opportunity in regard to controversial matters because the days for instance when speeches of leaders of the nation were reported fully in the public Press have gone. The editorial pencil often works its own way for its own purposes and headlines and descriptive sketches are generally deemed a sufficient representation of our proceedings. I suggest to the House: Might not broadcasting meet the real needs of the vast electorate and supply from all points of view and angles that presentment of issues and of policies which will usefully mould public opinion and help us to determine wisely the issues of our time. If that is, on the whole, a fair summary of what we desire, how is this matter to be determined? We are bound to come to that question in the end. There have been criticisms to-night and the Mover of the Amendment based his criticism on the number of broadcasts given to the Government. I was very interested to hear him and, if he will forgive me for saying so, his remarks coming from one who is always such a serious speaker were rather amusing, because exactly the same kind of speech was made on a former occasion when a very short discussion took place on this subject, only in that case the criticism was made by a Conservative Opposition and the reply was made by my hon. Friend opposite who then occupied the position of Postmaster-General. He pointed out then that there were always people on the Opposition side of the House who said that the Government of the day enjoyed too many opportunities of Debate. In those days it was the Conservative opposition who were accusing the Labour Government of having too many opportunities of discussion. To-day it is the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite who is accusing the National Government of having too many opportunities on the wireless and I as Postmaster-General representing the National Government have to reply to that criticism.

I think it will be generally agreed that it is desirable, having regard to the statement which I have already made as to the position of minorities and the position of individuals who have something to contribute to our national councils—it is desirable, whatever Government may be in office, that the Prime Minister should speak when a great appeal is being made to the nation as for instance in respect of the conversion of War Loan, as happened on 20th July last year. Surely it is desirable when a Prime Minister makes a speech on foreign affairs, as Prime Ministers always do at the Lord Mayor's function in the City every year, that the nation should have an opportunity of hearing it. There are one or two other speeches of that kind like the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the National Budget. These are occasions of importance to the nation and these speeches should be heard. The hon. and learned Gentleman made a lot of to-do about the speeches which were made on the occasion of the resignation of the hon. Gentlemen who now sit below the Gangway on this side and who support—more or less—the Government of the day. The hon. and learned Member seemed to think that he ought to have had an opportunity of joining in that affair on the wireless or that somebody should have had the opportunity of reply. I must confess that from the point of view of interest and excitement I would have preferred that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) should have had an opportunity of joining in that discussion, but the British Broadcasting Corporation were quite right in the attitude which they took up. The chairman of the corporation, a former Speaker of this House whom we all respect, followed the ordinary Parliamentary practice—


No, no.


Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to proceed?


I merely said, "No, no."


Yes, but the right hon. Gentleman has such a powerful voice that it prevented me from proceeding. He knows that when an hon. or a right hon. Gentleman resigns from the Cabinet be makes a speech and under our procedure only the Prime Minister or someone acting on his behalf is allowed to follow on such an occasion. That is the point to which I was addressing myself. I will deal with the grievances of the Socialist party in a minute. The question to which I want to come now is: How is this matter of who is to take part in controversial broadcasts and the subjects of such broadcasts to be determined? I suggest that it is contrary to the public interest that the Postmaster-General should be the censor of British broadcasting or that a Minister of the Crown should have the responsibility of the day to day working of that service. He might very well abuse his position but what I think is much more likely is that he would play for safety, and this would ruin broadcasting and render it a dull and lifeless thing.

Hon. Members know that one of the duties of the Postmaster-General is to collect the fees for licences for British broadcasting. We have been very successful and have got in a very large sum. But one of my predecessors said that while he did not mind going round with the hat, he refused to turn the handle of the organ and there is a great deal of force in that statement. A singular feature of this discussion is that the hon. and learned Gentleman, with all his ability, which we know to be very considerable, has made no practical suggestion whatever of any alteration in or alternative to the present system.

What is the position? Is it altogether unnatural that there should be complaints and criticisms and charges of unfairness of exclusion or of favouritism. There are at least 22,000,000 listeners in this country and the British Broadcasting Corporation has to provide them with 60,000 hours of programme. Is it any wonder that there is some complaint? I suppose that every listener has his idea about the programme. Some people want the British Broadcasting Corporation to "go gay," others say, "Too much uplift," and the fact is that the British Broadcasting Corporation may be able to please all the listeners some of the time, and some of the listeners all the time, but it cannot hope or expect to please all the listeners all the time. Certain it is, in my judgment, that for every critic there are 10,000 satisfied but silent listeners. Mistakes may be made. Of course the British Broadcasting Corporation makes mistakes, as it would be the first to acknowledge, and a mistake made in a broadcasting studio is heard all over the country, but without initiative and without experiment on the part of the corporation broadcasting Indeed would be a weak and weary affair.

I want now to say a word or two about the Amendment which has been proposed by the hon. and learned Gentleman, who made a curious but not very candid speech so far as representing the views of the Socialist party was concerned. I heard nothing to-night, although I thought he would have taken the first opportunity of mentioning them, of the very extraordinary allegations with regard to the corporation that the Socialist party have been making quite freely up and down the country, in the public Press and in their resolutions, which are really the foundation of their party. To put it quite bluntly, they say that the news bulletins are prejudiced against them. I have seen some of their Labour organs, and they say that the very tones of the announcers on the microphone are Conservative. The right hon. Gentleman the late Minister of Health, in a statement only a few days ago in the public Press, of which we heard nothing to-night in the hon. and learned Gentleman's mild and beautifully tempered speech—I would like the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs to see some of the letters which the Leader of the Opposition has written—the late Minister of Health, in a public statement the other day, talked about "intense dissatisfaction among the members of the staff" of the British Broadcasting Corporation as a reason for this inquiry; and he actually said, in contradiction to what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said to-night, and what no other person has said in this House to-night: With regard to the general quality of the British Broadcasting Corporation programmes, there is room for vast improvement. The real reason behind this Amendment to-night, although it has not been stated in the very polite speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman, is that the Labour party want to have an opportunity of airing their particular grievances before a Select Committee of the House of Commons. I do not know what will satisfy them, because when this matter was referred to for a very short time in the House of Commons on the 11th, December, 1931, the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee), who was my predecessor in office, made the suggestion in regard to controversial broadcasting, not that there should be a general inquiry, as is proposed to-night, but that: there should be set up an advisory committee of Members of all parties to advise on the allocation of political speeches and so forth."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th December, 1931; col. 2312, Vol. 260.] That is the only practical suggestion that has been made by the Socialist Opposition, at any rate during the time I have held my present office, and what has happened? The British Broadcasting Corporation has followed out the suggestion which was made, the only practical suggestion that has come from the Socialist party, and has set up an Advisory Committee. What happened so far as the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition is concerned? Although his hon. Friend who is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition made this suggestion, he has been the only one of the representatives of the parties in the State who has refused to co-operate in the formation of that committee. They made the suggestion themselves.


The right hon. Gentleman had better, I think, read the correspondence to the House, and let the House decide who is right on this issue. Neither the Opposition nor the Government nor the Liberal party, as I understood the British Broadcasting Corporation, were to be consulted on the setting up of that committee at all.


Of course not. Neither did the Deputy Leader of the Opposition make any such suggestion.


What suggestion did he make, then?


That an advisory committee should be set up by the corporation. What it comes to is this, that because the British Broadcasting Corporation did not go to the Prime Minister, nor to the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) nor to the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, nor to the right Hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), to ask who should be chosen to sit on the advisory committee, therefore the party opposite will have nothing to do with it— an amazing attitude to take up. If this committee is to advise the corporation, it is for the corporation to set up its own committee—[HON. MEMBEKS: "Why?"]—Because it is its committee, and the committee is to advise the corporation. It is doing exactly what I should have thought the House would have desired it to do, and that is avoiding bringing the political leaders of the parties into consultation to nominate members of this advisory committee. The British Broadcasting Corporation appointed, as it has done in countless other cases, in connection with education and all sorts of activities, an advisory committee to advise it, and I know of no reason why it should not act in that way in this matter as in other matters. Only the other day the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley was asked, in order to get this matter fixed up, to send forward two or three names so that some Socialists should be able to serve on this particular committee, and the corporation is still waiting for the names.

I am glad to think that the views that have been expressed to-night by the hon. and learned Member do not represent many Labour views on this matter. I read only the other day the views of Mr. Herbert Morrison, a member of the late Labour Administration, who wrote an article in the "Star" newspaper which had a very interesting title, in view of the attitude of the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley—"Why bully the B.B.C.?" He stated: The substantial independence of the British Broadcasting Corporation as an institution must not only be maintained; it must be insisted upon. So far as controversial broadcasting is concerned, I suppose no one has had greater experience than the hon. Member for Limehouse, who has occupied my own position as Postmaster-General, and he said only a few months ago that in the matter of controversial broadcasts the corporation was steering a very careful course. He added: I have a very great admiration for the British Broadcasting Corporation and the work it is doing. … I found, when Postmaster-General, a few aggrieved individuals making much more noise than the many who are satisfied. He wound up his statement not by demanding a committee of inquiry, but by saying: The British Broadcasting Corporation has built up a wonderful service and, considering the difficulties of satisfying so many divergent views, has been marvellously successful. Those are the views of the two Labour Members who were chiefly concerned when this matter was before the House.

As to the Motion to-night—and I ask the House to pass it, and to reject the Amendment—it does not, of course, mean that every individual item in the number of programmes presented by the corporation necessarily receives the approval of every member, but it is a general verdict in favour of the system set up in 1926. The corporation is barely 6 years old. It is like broadcasting itself—it is still in its infancy. It is remarkable, on the whole, that so little exception has been taken to the presentation of the British broadcasts. It can be claimed without exaggeration that this country leads the world in broadcasting. Canada, Australia and New Zealand have adopted systems closely approximating to our own. Canada, for instance, with full knowledge and opportunity of forming an opinion of American broadcasting, has deliberately and almost with complete unanimity initiated a system similar to our own.

The policy of the corporation, very much to its credit, has been decisively and boldly not only to provide entertainment, but to contribute cumulatively to good citizenship by the broadcasting of fine music and of information over as wide a field as possible. It would have been very easy for the corporation to have played down. Everyone will have been glad to note the recent improvement in the cinema in this country, but the difference in the utilisation of these two great forces has been very marked. It would not have been difficult for the corporation to lower the standards of public and national life in this country. I say to the House to-night that the British Broadcasting Corporation has raised them, and has shown how the fullest advantage can be taken of the marvellous invention which science has brought to the service of mankind. So far as political controversial matters are concerned, it has acted to the best of its judgment impartially. Such critics as, there have been have come from opposing political forces, a tribute to, rather than a condemnation of, the freedom from political bias of the corporation.

I put this final question: Is there any more promising alternative to our present British methods as suitable and as advantageous to this country? There is the commercial system of America, do we desire that? There is direct Government control. Is that advisable? The British Broadcasting Corporation is held in high respect throughout the world. It has, and can have, no other motive or object than that of public service. It has taken its responsibilities seriously, and is it not the least we can do to-night to encourage and support it in its purpose and its work?

9.31 p.m.


I shall not detain the House more than two or three minutes as it is a private Members' Debate, but I must deal with one point which the right hon. Gentleman has not met at all— the question of political broadcasts. We raised in our letter to the corporation the discussion over the wireless that took place between Lord Snowden, the Lord President, the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), and the Foreign Secretary. The right hon. Gentleman says that the course that was taken then was the same as would be taken in this House. That is quite untrue and quite beside the point. Broadcasting is an entirely new method of conveying political propaganda and political views. It is totally unfair to allow statements to be made derogatory to the Opposition, whether that Opposition has 50 or 200 Members in this House, without giving an opportunity of replying. There has been no answer to that point. The right hon. Gentleman cannot answer it; neither can the chairman of the British Broadcasting Corporation. He has not met the case of the two Indian broadcasts, both of them highly controversial, and the fact that on neither occasion would the British Broadcasting Corporation allow an Opposition speaker to reply to them. Does anyone contend that the speech of the Prime Minister at Christmas was not highly contentious propaganda? If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that the people in the country will be satisfied with that reply, he must be a very gullible gentleman indeed. He charges me with taking action differing from that of my hon. Friend the Member for Lime-house (Mr. Attlee). He knows perfectly well that the question discussed then was not the question of the parties and political propaganda. Our case is not that the British Broadcasting Corporation do not allow discussions of a controversial character. They do, but, when it comes to the spokesman of the Government broadcasting highly controversial political matter, we say that the Opposition has a right to reply.

I am what is called a wireless fan, and I enjoy very much what comes over the wireless, but, in my judgment, the propaganda that comes over the wireless is always tendentious, as the pressmen say, when it is political, on one side or the other. It is utterly impossible for people holding strong views on important subjects to be other than dogmatic in the views they put across. I object to this elevating of the British Broadcasting Corporation into the position of a kind of god to choose who shall speak and who shall not speak. Somehow or other that has to be met. It will not be met by the House doing it as a House, but I think that the House might appoint the suggested committee in order to try and find some means of dealing with what everybody knows is a serious condition of affairs. To me there can be no question of a future, but British broadcasting does and can, with the aid of the Government of to-day, make the issues of a General Election; it can make or mar men who are going to fight that election by not allowing them to put their case. That is something entirely new, something that the House ought not to tolerate. This is the greatest power in the world. The right hon. Gentleman once said that the platform would always beat the Press, and it is proof of that that any of us are here at all. We are here in spite of the Press, Now you have taken the platform from us, and the microphone can destroy any new party in the State if it is in the hands and under the control of the Government. The Government get the power to broadcast whenever they want, and we are denied the same right. That is what we are protesting against to-night.

9.37 p.m.


My hon. and learned Friend who moved the Opposition Amendment desired an inquiry by a Select Committee. I agree with the Postmaster-General that such an inquiry would be unnecessary and premature, but I think that this most interesting Debate fulfils many of the functions of an inquiry and enables us to get our heads clear upon this most important matter. There has been a good deal of criticism in this Debate, and that is right, for the British Broadcasting Corporation is a servant of the public and a most important servant, far more powerful in many ways than the Press, and infinitely more powerful than the platform. It is right that the British public through its representatives should interest itself in this most masterful servant, and should want to know all about its work.

I am glad to see, however, that while there has been some criticism, there has also been a good deal of appreciation of the very remarkable work which the corporation has accomplished. We have not had many pieces of good fortune as a nation since the War, but I think that one of them has been the Broadcasting Corporation. It was very lucky for this country from the start that the Government took the matter seriously and put it under wise regulation. You have only to look at America to see the chaos which the lack of regulation brings about. You have only to look at the films and see the degradation and the confusion to which unrestrained commercial enterprise has brought a great instrument of public service. We may congratulate ourselves that from the first the Broadcasting Corporation has been wisely regulated and that from the start it has been under the direction of a man not only of great administrative ability, but of broad ideas and a high sense of public duty.

I find myself in complete agreement with my hon. Friend who moved the Motion. I do not think it possible to have Parliamentary supervision in matters of detail. For one thing it is impracticable; for another, the general principle is bad. The Broadcasting Corporation is a kind of public utility company, the type of corporation of which I hope we may see many more in future, and I do not want to see a wrong precedent set up. It would be fatal to the efficiency of the Broadcasting Corporation or any similar body to be put under any day to day detailed Parliamentary supervision. The Corporation has its charter and its principles. It has also, it must have, many unwritten principles which guide the policy of its governors and its Director General. In many respects it is exactly paralleled by a newspaper, with one conspicuous difference. As a Corporation, it can have no views. Like a newspaper, it must publish news. Like a newspaper, it will publish special features, and, like a newspaper, it will publish signed articles, But, unlike a newspaper, it can have no editorials. It must be an entirely colourless conduit pipe through which instruction and information flow to the British public. It has a duty not wantonly to offend its public. It has a duty to publish the most accurate news and to provide the best informed articles by the best writers; but these articles must be the articles of the writers and not its own. For them it can have no responsibility. Its only responsibility is to provide the best and the most competent broadcasters. I take it that that, roughly, is the policy and the constitution of the corporation.

I should like to be allowed to offer a few observations upon what in many ways is the most important branch of its duties—the discussion of opinion, and especially of controversial opinion. We have been told to-night that a certain amount of controversy is part of the policy of the corporation. That controversial matter takes three forms. I look upon them rather differently from the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps). In the first place, there are party views broadcast at an election by the leaders. The mechanism of that is comparatively simple, for it is merely an arrangement between the leaders and the Whips. Then we have at less feverish times than elections the broadcasting of different views on public policy by authoritative exponents. Finally, we have a number of talks upon matters which are not controversial in the ordinary sense, but which do involve differences of opinion and may be made the vehicle of highly tendentious matter. I should like to make a few observations on the two last classes and to take the latter class first.

With the approval of its subscribers the Broadcasting Corporation provides talks upon a variety of matters—literary, artistic, ethical, social, economic and religious, which have sometimes given rise to considerable discussion. It is a common criticism of Members of my own party that the bias in these talks is quite clearly towards the left wing. It is said, for example, that those who expound literary and artistic taste are the iconoclasts, the people to whom the last thing is always the best thing; that those who theorise upon social and economic matters are usually the restless progressives; and as for ethics and religion, the most delicate questions of all, it is alleged that the talks on these have a bias towards what is called modernism or heterodoxy. I do not deny that there may be some truth in that impression, but consider the difficulties. The people who have strong views on that kind of subject and who can expound them in an interesting way are usually of the radical and dynamic type. The Conservative mind, the conformist mind, is apt to be silent, it is so assured in its convictions. The nonconformist mind—and I would remark that I do not use that word in any ecclesiastical sense—not perhaps being quite so sure, is apt to dilate upon the differences. If I may quote the Prophet Isaiah it is the distinction between those who say: In returning and rest shall we be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength. and those whose cry is: We will flee upon horses. … We will ride upon the swift. If those talks are to be retained, and I think they are valuable, because they are provocative of thought, obviously it is far easier to get broadcasters from the one side than the other. There must always, then, be a slight left-wing bias. I do not see how that can be averted, unless the happy possessors of the conservative temperament can be induced to be more loquacious, and follow the example set in this House by certain ex-Ministers of the Crown. After all, the basis of the English temperament is conservative, and it is not a bad thing to have now and then a gadfly to sting it into thought. Even the sophist—he may prefer to be called a progressive thinker —may be of some value if he forces Conservatives to reflect upon the basis of their creed, and incidentally reveals the emptiness of his own.

I come now to the question of broadcasts on admittedly controversial topics by authoritative exponents. On that matter I have no doubt about my own opinion. I would allow every type of talk to be broadcast without any distinction whatsoever, always providing the talks were fairly rationed according to the public interest. Those last words are of importance, because obviously the corporation has to play the part of an editor and consider what matters are topical, what matters are at the moment in the public mind. Apart from that, I would make no distinction of kind whatsoever. I see no reason why a Communist should not be allowed to broadcast his beliefs and the reason for them. Incidentally, I cannot imagine anything more damaging to Communism. I see no reason why the most heterodox views on economics or religion or any other subject should not be broadcast by someone qualified to speak on them. I see no reason why a view on, say, India wholly different from that held by the Government of the day should not be broadcast by an authoritative exponent.

I would lay down only two conditions. The first is that a right occasion must be chosen, because I can imagine a situation of great delicacy in foreign or domestic affairs where a broadcast, perfectly harmless in normal times, might do an infinity of damage. That seems to me common sense. The second condition I lay down would be that in manner such broadcasts should not be unnecessarily provocative, should not needlessly offend those who may differ from the view expressed. That is not a question of policy or of morals, but is a question merely of good manners, and I believe the corporation may be trusted to see that that point is observed. After all, it is only the corporation which can see to that, because we cannot lay down rules about a thing which is so constantly changing as taste. What constitutes frankness? What constitutes good taste? Views on that may vary not alone from generation to generation but in every five years, and only a corporation like the British Broadcasting Corporation, which is in close touch with public opinion, can properly regulate it.

There is a great deal of nonsense talked about freedom. Liberty is not the same thing as license, and it may be necessary in the interests of the State now and then to make strict regulations. But I confess I am always very nervous about any attempt to restrict the free expression of opinion, for the simple reason that opinion, however dangerous it may be, is far safer in the open air than underground. Many people may think differently, but to those who do I would suggest that broadcasting is by far the safest way of ventilating possibly dangerous opinion, for the simple reason that it rules out the orator. All the adventitious tricks of the orator are of no avail. It is the great antidote to the demagogue. Broadcasting succeeds only through the cogency of its arguments, and it is very hard indeed to bring in much emotion or passion. There was a remarkable example of that in the last American Presidential election but one. There were two candidates: one Mr. Hoover, prosaic, pedestrian, cautious, practical, uninspiring; and the other a most brilliant and attractive platform orator, Mr. "Al" Smith; but when it come to the election and broadcasting— and the election was largely won by broadcasting—the pedestrian Mr. Hoover was far more effective than the brilliant Mr. Smith. I repeat that broadcasting is the great antiseptic to the feverish demagogue. If there are any who believe that our British people are so unstable and light-witted that any suggestion of subsersive doctrine coming through the ether will upset the foundations of Church and State, and turn our citizens into neurotic revolutionaries, I suggest they underrate the solid good sense of our countrymen. That seems to me an insult which in the immortal words of Mrs. Gamp: Lambs could not forgive nor worms forget. My plea, like the plea of the Mover of the Motion, would be not for less controversy but for more, provided it be wisely regulated. No man can be secure in his opinions unless he has faced their opposites. I know that many Members of my party are apprehensive of the future of broadcasting; so am I, but only on one point. If we do not have controversy, we may be in danger of seeing manufactured throughout the land the terrible product which has been called "the broadcast mind," a mind dominated by a shallow uplift and a thin, complacent scepticism; a mind surfeited with half-truths; a mind that is incapable of grappling seriously with any problem. We do not want that. I would far rather that we had a believing Christian honestly expounding his faith and being answered honestly by an unbeliever, than that broadcasting should be reduced to something where belief and unbelief are reduced to a trashy common denominator.

I do not want to see the British Broadcasting Corporation become what might be described as—if I may borrow a title of a type of publication seen rather frequently to-day—"The Congenital Idiot's Guide to World Knowledge." There is far too much half-educated opinion about to-day, and it is very dangerous. We shall never get rid of it if we increase its half-educated complacency. Truth, as the Mover of this Motion has truly said, comes from an honest clash of opinion and not from the suppression of it. Controversy, honest, straightforward, well-regulated controversy is the only salt which will save a most valuable side of broadcasting from, going rotten. After all, we can trust our people. The British Broadcasting Cor- poration, as it has grown up today, is a peculiarly British product, and, like all our true indigenous products, it is based upon a trust in the ordinary man.

9.59 p.m.


I intervene only for a very few minutes to say one word upon the subject of this Debate. I have spent the last 18 months in the country, and I say without any hesitation that the British Broadcasting Corporation has added a very substantial percentage to the amenities of country life. It has given me also an opportunity of comparing British broadcasting with that of practically every country in Europe, and I say, again, without any hesitation — although upon a given night you might have something better in one of the capitals of Europe— that for sustained excellence and quality our British broadcasting is infinitely superior to all of it. That is a very great achievement, and we owe a debt of gratitude to those who, by their organising genius, intelligence, initiative, imagination and—I agree with an hon. Member opposite— their taste, have produced this magnificent result. This generation owes a debt of gratitude to Sir John Reith.

I do not believe that there is any dispute with regard to that part of the matter. We all appreciate the very high quality of what is produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation, with respect to music and literature. So far as the talks are concerned, they are more of a popular educator. They stimulate interest in topics, and incite people to take a fresh interest in them and look into them for themselves. When you come to the question of political controversy, I think that there is something more to be said. It is generally accepted by all those who have spoken in this very remarkable Debate—one of the most interesting Debates to which I have ever listened, in the character and quality of its contributions— from both sides of the House, that we must admit political controversy on the broadcast. I do not believe that that is challenged by anyone. The only point is as to the conditions under which you are to permit it. I do not think that the present conditions are satisfactory. I am not blaming the British Broadcasting Corporation, because I know from the little experience that I had, more particularly before 1929, how difficult it is to adjust the rival claims of the parties.

The difficulty is not an insuperable one, given good will; not in the least. I forget which hon. Member it was that said that the Press had ceased to report political speeches. When I first started politics, newspapers reported fully a certain number of speakers. They gave a column to several more, and half a column or a quarter of a column to the rest, and the only difference between the Conservative and Liberal papers in those days was in the proportions. Both Conservative and Liberal papers gave a verbatim report of a certain number of speakers. The Conservative paper would give a verbatim to, say, four Conservatives and to two or three Liberals, whereas the Liberal paper would give a verbatim to four Liberals and to two or three Conservatives. That is how it was in the days when I started my political life. There was an opportunity of mastering the case of both sides. In the main, the type of man in the towns and villages who directed opinion—of course the vast mass of people bought the newspapers, but I am speaking of the people who directed opinion—were those who were well informed as to the merits of a controversy, having read the most able exponents of both points of view.

That is gone. Instead, you have a condition described by the hon. Member, in which very few Conservative speeches are reported fully even by Conservative newspapers, and the same thing applies to the other parties. You have a condition of things where headlines are creating opinion. There is another and new practice which has been introduced in the last 30 years. News was very fairly given, without reference to its effect upon opinion, in the old newspapers. I do not say that there is any suppression, but there is an emphasis of the particular kind of news which favors the opinion of a particular paper, and by that means, there is no doubt, opinion is created. It is done, not so much by the leading article, but by the way in which news is arranged and set out, and by the way certain news is elaborated, and other news put somewhere into the background. It is vital, in these circumstances, that there should be some other agency by which you can get at the 30,000,000 people upon whom the fate of this country, of the British Empire, and to a certain ex- tent of civilisation, depends—that you should be able to get into their minds what the issues are, and what are the arguments for and against them. Naturally, the hon. Gentleman thinks that the party to which he belongs is more intellectual and sounder in every respect than the others; but we all think that. That is not what matters; it is neither he nor I who decide, but those 30, 000,000 people, and it is vital that they should understand, first of all, what the issues really are— which they do not always do— and, in the second place, what are the arguments for and against those issues. I do not know of any other agency by which, under present conditions, the vast issues upon which the life of the country depends could be presented, except the British Broadcasting Corporation.

No policy of suppression will in the end achieve its purpose; you cannot have Hitlerism in this country, direct or indirect. You cannot have in this country the suppression of opinion, either through the Press or through the British Broadcasting Corporation. It is not their fault that the thing is not organised at the present time. It is no use having a few speeches during an election. Opinion will have accumulated, and grown, and swung in a certain direction by then. You must gradually educate the people, and give them an opportunity of knowing what the position is. I am sure it can be done. I am not against Parliamentary control altogether, but I am very glad that this is a corporation which is independent, and I have no reason to think that it does not preserve its independence. But it is perplexed and baffled; it wants direction, it wants encouragement, and it wants to know what Parliament is thinking. It is right that Parliament should exercise the sort of control which this Debate gives— that now and again there should be a review of the general situation. After all, it is the authentic exponent of the views of the nation.

My right hon. Friend thought that a committee should be set up. I am not against having a committee, but I was rather sorry that he ruled out altogether the idea of having some consultation beforehand as to the composition of that committee. As I understand it, the Chairman of the British Broadcasting Corporation set up a committee without previous consultation with anyone, but I cannot believe that there is not consultation in the other matters to which reference has been made—whether amusement, or education, or anything else—with those best entitled to give an opinion. Why should not they set up this committee? I forget the names of its members. I have heard them; I do not know that they impressed me very much when I heard them; I have forgotten them since. I think, however, that it would be desirable that there should be a committee of that kind. I do not mean that the members of the committee should be nominated. The moment a man is a nominee of a particular party, he is there to fight for that particular party. The members of this committee ought to be there to do what is right and fair, not merely as between parties, because, as was said by the hon. Member who has just sat down, there is a vast body of opinion which is not party in this country; there are heterodoxies which one day will become orthodoxies, and will become as reactionary as my hon. Friend. You must give them an opportunity of putting their case and their point of view. If you have a committee which is purely representative of parties, you will not get that. I am all in favour of having an independent committee which is not nominated by the parties, but I do not say that that is incompatible with prior consultation with those who, in the judgment of the Chairman of the British Broadcasting Corporation, are more or less entitled to be consulted upon matters of that kind. Undoubtedly, my right hon. Friend would be consulted on the subject.


There was a request to send in three names.


The right hon. Gentleman knows that that was months afterwards.


I would rather not be drawn into a discussion on that point. We want to get along. I am certain that the British Broadcasting Corporation want to be helpful in the matter, and that they would like to arrange it in such a way as to give satisfaction, not merely to the parties, but to the 20,000,000 people who are outside. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down said that there was one advantage in broadcasting over the platform— that it gave an advantage to the dull dogs over the more interesting speakers. If that be the case, by all manner of means give them that chance; it is time that they should have their turn. I was in entire agreement with the general principles laid down by the Postmaster-General— for instance that minorities should have their place. As far as his general principles were concerned, he was quite sound. But our principles are all sound. It is when we come to their application that the difficulty arises, and I am afraid the Postmaster-General was a little lame when he came to that. I would ask him to reconsider the question, and not even to be altogether bound by what he said an hour ago.

I would ask him to put before the British Broadcasting Corporation the question whether they could not get rid of whatever committee there is. I do not say that those gentlemen who are there might not take part in the new committee, but at any rate I would say, let the matter be reconsidered, and then see that you get real issues. I entirely agree that what matters is that you should have issues in which the general public are interested, but those issues ought not altogether to be denned by the British Broadcasting Corporation. When an issue is raised here in the House of Commons, it is raised in the form in which those interested in it wish to challenge it, and that is right, because the way in which you state a proposition has a good deal to do with directing the final verdict on the matter. Those who are interested in the issue ought to be allowed to state the form in which it is debated and discussed. I hope that there will be greater freedom in the discussion of these great issues, that there will be a committee which will command general confidence— not a committee composed of nominees of parties, but one that would command the confidence of the general public— and that that use which is made in every enlightened country of this great scientific discovery will also be made here. In the United States of America, and in the Dominions, elections are fought in this way. They were in Germany. Here it is not used in that way, and I beg the Postmaster-General to reconsider that point.

10.15 p.m.


I am so much in agreement with the speech that has just been delivered, and indeed with the speech that was delivered by my hon. Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Mr. Buchan), that I shall compress my remarks, I hope, into a very short compass so as to leave time for others who wish to speak. I am not going to discuss this question at all from the point of view of the personal feelings that I may have upon the manner, in which the British Broadcasting Corporation have administered their trust so far as I am concerned. I do not think the matter of individuals is at all important. There is far more of importance in this issue than that. It is one of the greatest issues that Parliament can possibly have to deal with.

We are in a period of full democracy—universal suffrage—and, as my right on. Friend has pointed out, not only has the electorate enormously increased but the means of coming in contact with it have actually diminished in the comparatively short time that I have been in public life. I remember, as he has reminded us, the days when all the affairs of Parliament and politics were accompanied by a running commentary by the half-dozen leading men on each side, which was reported verbatim in every newspaper and which was read by all the people who governed and guided and formed political opinion throughout the island. It has gone—absolutely vanished. No newspaper can bear a verbatim report of political speeches. Although the newspapers have multiplied their circulation ten, twenty and thirty-fold, they have reached a class of readers who are much too absorbed in the ordinary toil of getting their living to be concerned in following long speeches of politicians reported verbatim. After their day's toil is done, they wish to rest, or they wish for amusement, and in their newspapers crime, frivolity, and crossword competitions are quite sufficient for them. So this platform has gone.

Then there is the report of the House of Commons. Everyone who likes to look at the reports of our proceedings of 30 years ago published in the Press and compare them with what is given now can see how all that great forum of discussion has been cut out, as it were, from the programmed of national life. Lastly there is the size of the electorate in every constituency. When I was first a Member of Parliament 34 years ago, in a great constituency you could see three quarters of your supporters. You could perhaps see half of the whole constituency. What can you do now? In a fortnight you can only touch the fringe. All that has gone. So that at the moment when the greatest decisions in the world are confided to an electorate of 25,000,000 people, or whatever it is, you find that they are deprived even of the mechanism which has hitherto enabled political contact to be maintained. I think that is a most grievous and anxious fact to bring before the House for the attention not only of those who are interested in politics but for those who are thinking of the long future development of the country.

The world is losing faith in this democracy. It is losing faith in the methods by which it is manipulated. The stunt Press, the great caucus machinery, the stunt oratory—all these things are leading political thinkers who a hundred years ago were marching on hopefully to fuller democracy to recoil, and they have recoiled. Look at Europe. Much more than half of Europe has degenerated in this century from Parliaments so hopefully erected in the last into arbitrary or military Governments, and the movement is steady everywhere. Alone almost we here labor and strive to preserve the vitality, the authority and the glory of our Parliamentary institutions and of our free Government. I am sure that these processes which are at work nowadays have only to continue to destroy the Parliamentary institutions and the free political life under which, and with which and by which our country has grown, and grown great. At this very moment in our history the protecting genius of Britain comes forward with his marvelous new instrument, this wonderful apparatus, which enables a continuous association to be maintained between the voting millions and the guiding authority of the State. It is a tremendous, wonderful gift which has come to us. I am told—I must admit that it was my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General who told me, and he will not mind my betraying confidence at his expense—it may be in a few years' time that it will be possible to invite Members to address their constituencies on a special wave length adapted to the particular areas. What a wonderful thing! It will be one of those labor-saving devices to which no one who is in the middle of a long campaign could possibly object, and what an advantage to be able to speak to the men and women you represent, not in the excited, hectic, controversial atmosphere of a public meeting with all its rowdy-ness and interruptions, which have grown considerably, I am bound to say, as time has gone on, but in quiet surroundings after a long day's toil.

It is a great gift which has been given to us, and, like so many of the gifts of science, we have so far neglected and almost rejected it. Just as we are told that because mankind has become so wonderfully skilled in making all the things it wants there for we must enter upon a period of grim privation and tighten our belts, so in this field of broadcasting, when this gift has been given to us in the most critical period in our history, we find it neglected, laid aside and almost stifled. I am, of course, speaking of political controversy. I agree with all that the right hon. Gentleman said about the high quality of British broadcasting in the entertainment which is given to the public, but upon the question of political controversy, in which the House is interested tonight, turns the practical utility of this instrument for the future. Since when have the British Government shirked or been afraid of controversy? I have never heard of such a thing. Controversy has been the buoyancy of Government and the means by which they have kept themselves alive. Ministers are kept keen on the grindstone of criticism, and very often the process of framing the answer to an attack has been the spur which has discovered the remedy for an evil. I have sat long enough in Cabinets to know how refreshing it is when the atmosphere of smug complacency and mutual admiration is broken in upon by the window being flung open and a keen, even bitter gust of fresh air comes in.

Why should this Government be afraid of controversy? I could conceive that if you had a weak Government, a Government with a lot of second-rate men, a Government which was suffering from the new disease which the Prime Minister has discovered, this "Being below par" disease; I could quite conceive that such a Government might well wish to build up any little adventitious shield or protection to keep itself in security from outside shock. But when you have a National Administration of all the choicest spirits of the age, pulsating with energy, aglow with inspiration, with an appetite for activity, such a Government has certainly no need to shrink from the sharpest contact with criticism. Indeed, it is, of all Governments, the one Government that should take the plunge and open the broadcast freely to political controversy, from every quarter and of every kind. I must admit that there are limits. Sedition and obscenity are punished by law, and no one suggests that they should be admitted to the broadcast. The violation of official secrets is protected by legislation.

I do not attach any importance to the arguments which we hear, that you must not talk about Indian or foreign affairs. Let me take Indian affairs first. I am not going into detail, but I think it has been very wrong that there has been no permission given during the whole of these last two and a-half years for a statement of views which some of those who are not represented either by the official Government or the official Opposition are able to share. I think that has been very wrong and unfair. What harm could it do in India that is not capable of being done already by a speech or article that is telegraphed out to India? Obviously, the withholding from the broadcast of Indian matters is not because of any fear of influencing the Indians, who have not these facilities in their 750,000 villages, but who receive telegraph reports. The object is to prevent the formation of British opinion. That is what I thing is unfair and a fraud. It is an abuse of power and an abuse of this great institution to try to prevent our own fellow countrymen from forming an opinion.

Take foreign affairs. I remember, in bygone days, that the great men used to discuss foreign affairs with enormous latitude. I have heard them say things that, really, would make the hair of the modern, correct politician rise on end. Mr. Chamberlain, Mr. Gladstone and other statesmen habitually discussed foreign affairs with great vigor. The foreign nations did not take offence, because they said: "It is only Mr. So-and-So," or "Mr. So-and-So." Then, somebody else answered him, and one tale is good until another is told; very often only good until another is told. In the past there was a great deal of plain speaking about foreign affairs. But why was there irritation the other day in Poland? Because it was not a man's opinion that was being given, not the opinion of a public man, who could be corrected by other public men, but because it was this impersonal, subhuman or superhuman sham god that was speaking.

These well-meaning gentlemen of the British Broadcasting Corporation have absolutely no qualifications and no claim to represent British public opinion. They have no right to say that they voice the opinions of English or British people whatever. If anyone can do that it is His Majesty's Government; and there may be two opinions about that. It would be far better to have sharply contrasted views in succession, in alternation, than to have this copious stream of pontifical anonymous mugwumpery with which we have been dosed so long. I am very much encouraged by this Debate. I think there is a general feeling in the House, even among the Liberals, a minority, and it may be an increasing minority, that I am championing fair play and free speech. This Debate, if it is properly interpreted and enforced, may mean the opening of a new, wider and freer use of this great instrument, which if it is opened to the political life of the nation can only bring enhancement to the strength of the State, and set upon more permanent foundations the institutions which this small island has evolved.

10.33 p.m.


If the people of England will only read word for word what the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) has just said they will bear a good deal of resentment at the fact that they have been denied hearing him on the microphone. No one could have listened to a more amusing, constructive and instructive speech, and it is a thousand pities that his voice is not heard more often in homes up and down the country. I have a certain feeling of complaint tonight. This is a private Members' night, and so far we have had five Cabinet Ministers and Front Bench speakers. The last speaker made up for a lot, but there were others which were not so good. But when the Postmaster-General speaks -early in the evening—it is the first time I have heard the right hon. Gentleman as Postmaster-General—almost imitating broadcasting by reading his speech, and occupies no less than three-quarters of an hour with a promise that he would speak again later in the evening, it is really intolerable to call tonight a private Members' night. There are many, subjects of controversy upon which I should like to have said something, but having listened to so many long speeches I shall occupy only five minutes in making my own.

I want to draw the attention of the House to a particular feature which has been introduced today into our life. Hitherto it has been laid down that the British Broadcasting Corporation is not a party matter. The Postmaster-General has always looked upon it as something apart, something over which he has general control but not actual control. Will hon. Members notice what has occurred through the Whips today? There was a Motion put down by a right hon. Gentleman here, a Motion with which I do not agree and with which I do not think the House would have agreed. I do not think this is the light time to have an inquiry into broadcasting in its entirety, because the charter ceases in two years' time. But that is no reason why the hosts of the National Government should be rallied round by a Whip to defeat that Motion. This is the first time we have had the party machine behind the British Broadcasting Corporation. I sincerely hope it will not occur again. The British Broadcasting Corporation must be divorced from party. If this is the start, let the Chief Whip realize that when another party sits opposite we shall get worse things than this. If they are to carry on from a party point of view the independence of the British Broadcasting Corporation ceases from that moment.

This is the first Debate we have had on broadcasting for three years. I think the Postmaster-General said that. When I asked him, by way of interjection, whose fault it was, he endeavored to chaff me by saying, had I not drawn a Motion in the ballot and could not I have chosen this subject for discussion? As a matter of fact I have never had the luck to draw a Motion. But it is intolerable that a subject which interests the whole House and country can only be discussed upon a private Member's Motion. The main reason for my rising is to tell the House plainly that this is not to be so in future. When the British Broadcasting Company existed before the Corporation the money got from the licenses went to the Company. At present under the Charter it goes to the Government, and the Government give a grant to the Corporation. The moment it becomes a grant it is a debatable subject in this House, and I sincerely hope that on the Postmaster-General's Vote we shall get more discussions of this kind. Of course, it will devolve on the Opposition to choose the Vote that is to be discussed, but I hope it will be made perfectly clear that we shall have another opportunity later to speak on this subject, even if we have been jockeyed out of it before, as we have been jockeyed out by every trick of the trade in this House. The present Corporation have not got a monopoly; there is no monopoly contained in the Charter; and if we are not allowed to discuss the British Broadcasting Corporation we can discuss by the hour the possibility and desirability of installing another station which can compete with the British Broadcasting Corporation.

My right hon. Friend boasted that in this country we had not got the sponsored programmed and the terrible things happening in America. I do not think he listens very much to his programmed, or he has not got the right wavelength. You have advertisements now from Radio Normandie, which is flooding the whole of England. A foreign station is taking good English money, and when our own stations are not used as often on Sundays as at other times, it seems to me right that we might take a little of the money by using those stations for sponsored programmed instead of letting the money go abroad. As I always complain of long speeches I make only short ones. I hope that the Opposition will come to our rescue later in the Session on Votes in Supply, when they can choose what we shall discuss, and that they will give us another opportunity of letting the Postmaster-General think that perhaps we are not so satisfied with the child that he is going apparently to adopt — why, Heaven only knows— and that he thinks a so desirable child.

10.40 p.m.


The whole trend of the Debate this evening has been towards the political aspect of broadcasting. I wish to introduce some remarks upon the educational aspect. A letter appeared in the "Times" on 6th February signed by a number of educational experts and from that letter I quote the following sentence: There is a large body of silent opinion which is more interested in educational than in political programmes. It is forgotten, I think, that the Charter of the British Broadcasting Corporation was granted upon a very specific promise that there should be widely spread educational broadcasts. From the report upon which the Charter was founded, I quote the following sentences: We are much impressed by evidence reaching us from authoritative witnesses who advocate the vigorous and extended employment of broadcasting for education in its widest and most liberal sense. This has been achieved with notable success in the case of musical education and we doubt not that in many other directions similar advantages will accrue. Although the number of listeners may be relatively small compared with the total number of licenses they deserve special assistance. An examination of the current year book of the British Broadcasting Corporation shows under the heading "Events of the Year" that for 10 months, during which some 300 or 400 events are mentioned, only four of those can in any sense be described as promoting education in a wide and liberal sense. It is to that proportion in the programmed that I wish to draw the attention of the House, and I put in a plea for the wider use of educational opportunities. The disregard of educational opportunities is particularly absurd in London because in the administrative county of London there are 50 or more colleges of university rank contributing fresh knowledge and competing with each other in putting forward that knowledge. For instance, at one of these colleges a lecture was given 'a few weeks ago by Lord Rutherford, the first physicist of his generation, on "The Transmutation of Matter." That lecture was listened to by 300 persons, and ought to have been listened to by five million. I do not think that the British Broadcasting Corporation need have any fear that what are called "high-brow" discourses will not be acceptable. University members, I think, may point with pride to the growth of the number of students in the universities of the country, which demonstrates the fact that there is a large and increasing audience for serious material. The University of London, our Metropolitan University, according to the last figures, has 25,000 students, and that significant fact may give the British Broadcasting Corporation every confidence in providing us with more educational programmes.

10.44 p.m.


In the few moments which remain to me of what is supposed to be a Private Members' Debate, though it has been almost monopolized by Front Bench speakers, I would like to deal with an aspect of this question which has been so far neglected. I refer to the Empire Broadcasting station which was started a short time ago at Daventry, linking this country with every part of the Empire. I take the opportunity of congratulating the British Broadcasting Corporation upon their enterprise in pressing forward with this great experiment of Empire in the face of great difficulties, financial and otherwise. No one who had the privilege of listening to the "Round the Empire" programmed broadcast at Christmas time, when the voice, not only of Big Ben, but of our most Gracious Sovereign, was brought to the loneliest dweller in the most remote parts of the British Empire, can have anything but a feeling of pride, not only in the Empire itself, but in the British Broadcasting Corporation, for its sagacity, enterprise, and skill in bringing about this great link with the Empire.

This experiment is in its initial stages, and in order to make it a success, it is essential that it should have the wholehearted co-operation, not only of the Dominions, but of the Colonies as well. You can only have that co-operation if you give those Dominions and Colonies a programmed which they want, and at a time when they are best able to receive it, and in order to give them that programmed, you must have a knowledge of the Empire so as to know what their requirements are. If I have any criticism to offer, it is that there is no member of the board of governors of the British Broadcasting Corporation who can be said to have a special knowledge of Empire affairs. I think that there the Postmaster-General has an opportunity, as he has the power of nominating mem- bers to that board, to add to the board or replace some less suitable member by a member who really does represent Empire opinion and has a knowledge of the conditions in the different parts of the Empire.

In this experimental stage I would strongly urge that the corporation should maintain a very open mind as to what its future policy is to be, and when I say an open mind, I do not mean a vacant or an empty mind, but that it must concentrate on the problems which are confronting it in this great and wise experiment. There has been a certain amount of criticism of the programmed which have already been sent out, but that criticism is bound to come while the enterprise is in its experimental stages. The corporation has had great difficulty in getting its wavelength across so wide an area, because it should be remembered that there are 300 degrees of difference in longitude and some 40 hours of difference in time between the various parts of the Empire and Greenwich. These are only a few points which confront the British Broadcasting Corporation in carrying out this wise experiment. It is bound to meet with other difficulties, and it is bound to meet with opposition and criticism, but I would strongly urge it to press on with this great experiment, this great link of Empire, and I believe that it will reap benefits, not only for the Empire, but for civilisation, which will justify the confidence placed in the enterprise.

10.50 p.m.

Duchess of ATHOLL

The Postmaster-General congratulated himself upon having refuted the accusation of political bias because he was being attacked from both sides. He was taking it too easily, because, as I understand it, the criticism that comes from the Front Opposition Bench is in regard to talks in which a whole political party is represented but the complaint from the right hon. Gentleman's own supporters is more in regard to other talks, talks of the kind referred to by the hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Mr. Buchan). He was apparently quite ready to accept that in these there should be a Left bias. I do not agree with my hon. Friend. While, with him, I have no wish whatever to see controversy avoided in British Broadcasting Corporation talks, I think there is undeniable evidence that, in regard to some of those talks or series of talks, both sides are not being presented. In some cases the side which has not been represented is something much more than the minority point of view referred to by the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). An instance in point has been brought forward by Mr. J. O. P. Bland, who, in a recent book of his, has some very strong criticisms on the British Broadcasting Corporation, saying that all British Broadcasting Corporation talks on China give one point of view, upholding the Nan king Government and making no reference to the terrible atrocities which Communist armies have committed in China.

For some months past, or even for a year or two, I have been of opinion that the treatment of conditions in Russia is very one-sided. It is now three or four years since the professors of Russian in our various universities approached the British Broadcasting Corporation on this subject, saying that the talks that were given were too political in their nature and asking that some of them should give a more real idea of conditions in Russia. In the summer of 1931 there was a series of talks in which those who criticised the regime in Russia were allowed some hearing though more hearing was given to those who praised it. In view of the criticism of the professors of Russian, it is very strange that the reviewing of this series of talks was given to an assistant of one of these professors who had given one of these talks. The assistant was an admitted Communist and, in very bad taste, was very discourteous about his chief. It was a very unwise selection, both in itself, and, as it proved, especially in view of the warning which had been given by the professors of Russian that the British Broadcasting Corporation were not being sufficiently careful. Then as recently as last autumn Mrs. Sidney Webb gave a broadcast talk on Russia which was very uncontroversial and restrained in tone but had one or two very important omissions which made it very incomplete. It purported to be a picture of Soviet democracy and much emphasis was laid on the wide franchise in Russia. Nothing was said about the facts that after the revolution all election by ballot had been wiped out after having existed for years and that there was no free election as lists of candi- dates were sent down. The mere mention of those facts, if they had been brought out, would have shown how inappropriate was the word "democracy." She also spoke of the Federal Government of Russia being supreme in all national affairs, but omitted to mention that the Communist party controlled the Soviet Government. I submit that if the matter were to be fairly presented, that broadcast should have been followed by another which would have rectified some of these omissions, and thereby have enabled a more complete picture to be presented.

In another more recent series of talks by Professor Toynbee on Russia he states that the anti-God campaign is being given up. But admits that he had not been in Russia since 1930, and he seems to have failed to realise how much this campaign has progressed since then. The official organ of the movement on January 7th specifically foreshadowed redoubled activity in the anti-God campaign during the second Five-Year Plan. Therefore I say that these talks by Professor Toynbee are extremely misleading on a point of interest to people in this country and to whoever values religion, and this series of talks should be followed by others which could correct any inaccurate impression that might have been made. It seems to me that in this matter the British Broadcasting Corporation seem afraid of Russia. Let us recognise that what is taking place there is one of the most controversial subjects that can be touched upon, and do not let us be afraid to have it treated from both sides.

We look to the Broadcasting Corporation to give us, above all things, facts. We are never afraid to give our people facts, and let not the corporation be

afraid to give them facts. Only in that way can they avoid misleading many thousands of people. We have to remember that when speeches are made at political meetings there are interruptions and questions at the end, but anything that comes over the wireless is lapped up in a receptive spirit, and it may be very difficult for people to have the knowledge with which to discuss the questions broadcast. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities in the fear that our people should have the broadcast mind, that is the mind which freely receives and takes in what it hears without question. The exercise of mental franchise is one of the dearest of life's treasures, and unless people hear every point of view we cannot be sure that it will be retained by our people.


rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put the Question.


I only want to add one thing to what has already been said. The Postmaster-General in dealing with these complaints should take also into account the proper engagement of people who deal in non-Parliamentary controversy. At the present time, the corporation are only too ready to select haphazardly someone to represent a point of view when they are not really fitted to represent that point of view at all. I hope that the corporation will bear that in mind.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

The House divided: Ayes, 203; Noes, 27.

Division No. 52.] AYES. [11.0 p.m.
Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.) Boulton, W. W. Carver, Major William H.
Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G. Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W. Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)
Albery, Irving James Bracken, Brendan Christie, James Archibald
Anstruther-Gray, W. J. Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough) Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston Spencer
Aske, Sir Robert William Brass, Captain Sir William Conant, R. J, E.
Astor, Viscountess (Plymouth, Sutton) Briscoe, Capt. Richard George Cook, Thomas A.
Atholl, Duchess of Broadbent, Colonel John Crooke, J. Smedley
Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet) Brocklebank, C. E. R. Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gainsb'ro)
Beauchamp, Sir Brograve Campbell Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham) Cruddas, Lieut-Colonel Bernard
Beaumont, M. W. (Buck., Aylesbury) Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks., Newb'y) Culverwell, Cyril Tom
Bernays, Robert Buchan, John Curry, A. C.
Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T. Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. C. C.
Bird, Sir Robert B. (Wolverh'pton W.) Burnett, John George Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)
Blindell, James Cadogan, Hon. Edward Denman, Hon. R. D.
Boothby, Robert John Graham Campbell, Edward Taswell (Bromley) Denville, Alfred
Borodale, Viscount Campbell-Johnston, Malcolm Dickie, John P.
Bossom, A. C. Caporn, Arthur Cecil Donner, P. W.
Drawe, Cedric Leckie, J. A. Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)
Dugdale, Captain Thomas Lionel Leech, Dr. J. W. Reid, Capt. A. Cunningham
Duggan, Hubert John Leighton, Major B. E. P. Rentoul, Sir Gervais S.
Dunglass, Lord Lennox-Boyd, A. T. Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U.
Eales, John Frederick Levy, Thomas Roberts, Aled (Wrexham)
Edge, Sir William Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Cunliffe Roberts, Sir Samuel (Ecclesall)
Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey Little, Graham, Sir Ernest Rosbotham, Sir Samuel
Elmley, Viscount Locker-Lampson, Rt. Hn. G. (Wd. Gr'n) Runge, Norah Cecil
Emrys-Evans, P. V. Lockwood, John C. (Hackney, C.) Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)
Entwistle, Cyril Fullard Loder, Captain J. de Vere Rutherford, John (Edmonton)
Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare) MacAndrew, Lieut.-Col. C. G. (Partick) Rutherford, Sir John Hugo (Liverp'l)
Evans, R. T. (Carmarthen) MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr) Salt, Edward W.
Fleming, Edward Lascelles Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness) Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart
Ford, Sir Patrick J. McKeag, William Scone, Lord
Fraser, Captain Ian McKie, John Hamilton Selley, Harry R.
Fremantle, Sir Francis Maclay, Hon. Joseph Paton Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.
Ganzoni, Sir John McLean, Major Sir Alan Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)
George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke) McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston) Shaw, Captain William T. (Forfar)
Gluckstein, Louis Halle Magnay, Thomas Simmonds, Oliver Edwin
Goldie, Noel S. Maitland, Adam Smith, R. W. (Ab'rd'n & Kinc'dine, C>
Goodman, Colonel Albert W. Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest Somervell, Donald Bradley
Graham, Sir F. Fergus (C'mb'rl'd, N.) Mander, Geoffrey le M. Soper, Richard
Graves, Marjorie Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R. Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.
Greene, William P. C. Marsden, Commander Arthur Storey, Samuel
Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John Martin, Thomas B. Strickland, Captain W. F.
Grimston, R. V. Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John Stuart, Lord C. Crichton-
Gunston, Captain D. W. Merriman, Sir F. Boyd Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray F.
Hales, Harold K. Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest) Summersby, Charles H.
Hammersley, Samuel S. Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh) Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)
Hanley, Dennis A. Morrison, William Shephard Thompson, Luke
Harbord, Arthur Muirhead, Major A. J. Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles
Haslam, Sir John (Bolton) Munro, Patrick Titchfield, Major the Marquess of
Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P. Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H. Touche, Gordon Cosmo
Hepworth, Joseph Normand, Wilfrid Guild Vaughan-Morgan, Sir Kenyon
Holdsworth, Herbert Nunn, William Wallace, John (Dunfermline)
Hope, Sydney (Chester, Stalybridge) Owen, Major Goronwy Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Horsbrugh, Florence Palmer, Francis Noel Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)
Howitt, Dr. Alfred B. Patrick, Colin M. Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.
Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.) Pearson, William G. Waterhouse, Captain Charles
Hudson, Robert Spear (Southport) Peat, Charles U. Watt, Captain George Steven H.
Iveagh, Countess of Penny, Sir George Wedderburn, Henry James Scrymgeour-
Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.) Percy, Lord Eustace Weymouth, Viscount
Jackson, J. C. (Heywood & Radcliffe) Petherick, M. White, Henry Graham
Jamleson, Douglas Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple) Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)
Janner, Barnett Pickford, Hon. Mary Ada Wills, Wilfred D.
Jennings, Roland Procter, Major Henry Adam Wise, Alfred H.
Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth) Raikes, Henry V. A. M. Womersley, Walter James
Ker, J. Campbell Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M. (Midlothian) Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir H. Kingsley
Kerr, Lieut.-Col. Charles (Montrose) Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)
Kerr, Hamilton W. Ramsbotham, Herwald TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Kimball, Lawrence Ramsden, Sir Eugene Mr. Emmott and Captain P.
Law, Richard K. (Hull, S.W.) Rea, Walter Russell Macdonald.
Attlee, Clement Richard Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur McEntee, Valentine L.
Banfield, John William Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan) Milner, Major James
Batey, Joseph Hall, F. (York, W.R., Normanton) Parkinson, John Allen
Cape, Thomas Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Price, Gabriel
Cocks, Frederick Seymour Hirst, George Henry Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart
Cove, William G. Jenkins, Sir William Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)
Cripps, Sir Stafford Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Williams, Thomas (York, Don Valley)
Daggar, George Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George
Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) Lawson, John James TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Edwards, Charles Lunn, William Mr. Tinker and Mr. Groves.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House, being satisfied that the British Broadcasting Corporation maintains in general a high standard of service, is of opinion that it would be contrary to the public interest to subject the Corporation to any control by Government or by Parliament other than the control already provided for in the charter and the licence of the Corporation; that controversial matter is rightly not excluded from broadcast programmed, but that the governors should ensure the effective expression of all important opinion relating thereto; and that only by the exercise of the greatest care in the selection of speakers and subjects can the function of the Corporation be fulfilled and the high quality of the British broadcasting service be maintained.

The Orders of the Day were read, and postponed.

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