HC Deb 05 August 1943 vol 391 cc2582-5
Major Petherick (Penryn and Falmouth)

I intervene at this moment, because the matter which I wish to raise is connected with the British Broadcasting Corporation, and as I understand that the Minister is going to reply to the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg), I do not intend to delay the House for more than about five minutes. I certainly do not wish to go into the details of the policy of the B.B.C. or whether Priestley is or is not a good man to have about the place. Personally, I think Priestley is enough to bore you into Blimpery. The point upon which I wish to concentrate is that of the present constitution of the B.B.C., and I wish to suggest a way in which it might be changed for the better. Not only many Members of this House but a large section of the public, and indeed, many members of the B.B.C. itself, are worried about its present constitution. It is not a question of whether the general tinge of the B.B.C. is blue, as some hon. Members think, or whether it is too pink, as some hon. Members on this side of the House are inclined to believe. It is clearly a question of the constitution itself.

The present Council of the B.B.C. have, over a period of time, deserved very well of the country. They do their best against most appalling difficulties but I believe their troubles are partly due to the constitution itself which, in my opinion, is unsound. This is a corporation set up by an Act of Parliament and its activities cannot really be effectively challenged in this House; there is, in fact, no control whatever over the general organisation. It is true that by means of Questions and occasionally on Supply Days, if sufficient latitude is allowed, it is possible to discuss the B.B.C. in a general way but the Minister of Information has said time after time in this House—quite rightly, I think—that he has no control over the B.B.C., except in respect of foreign news. In general, I do not think that is right. I do not believe there ought to be corporations in this country over which Parliament, practically speaking, has no control. It is true that it is possible, by means of the Press and in other ways, to bring a certain amount of influence to bear on the B.B.C., but that is not enough. Parliament itself ought to have some say in the general control of policy. What are the alternatives suggested for the present situation? Broadly, they are two. First, to nationalise the B.B.C. completely which I firmly believe would be disastrous.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Charles Williams)

That Question would be out of Order now.

Major Petheriek

I am sorry. The second alternative is to hand it over to private enterprise which, for other reasons, would also be unsatisfactory. Who are, in fact, the ultimate owners and beneficiaries of the B.B.C.? They are, obviously, the British public. How are the British public to make their voice effectively heard in regard to the general conduct of that organisation, which is carried on for their sole benefit? Under the present constitution of the B.B.C., I understand that it has a council of seven members who are appointed for five years. They can be re-appointed and not infrequently have been in the past. I maintain that the constitution might very well be altered. I am not suggesting legislation but I am suggesting the possibility of a change which might be made in the future. The real beneficiaries, as I have said, are the British public. Would it not be possible to adopt a change in this direction, that the B.B.C. should present an annual report to Parliament, and that for two days in every year Parliament should be obliged to discuss the general conduct of the B.B.C.? Then in addition to that, instead of the council consisting of seven members, it should consist of nine, of whom three would retire each year. During the two days' Debate on the general conduct of the B.B.C., the question of the new directors should be considered. I believe if that suggested constitution were adopted—I am not advocating any legislation—it would—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I must remind the hon. and gallant Gentleman that we cannot change a constitution of this sort without legislation.

Major Petherick

I understand the difficulty in which I am placed. I am only asking for consideration of the present constitution of the B.B.C. and, in doing so, I am trying to suggest one respect in which it is rather unsatisfactory and possibilities that may occur to the Minister's mind on how the position might be remedied. But I have nothing more to say now. I could probably put it more elaborately and be much more in Order, in conversation with my right hon. Friend later. Perhaps he will allow me to talk to him for a few minutes. I do not ask for a reply now, but I should be glad if my right hon. Friend would consider what I have tried, with some difficulty, to put before him.

Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)

If we are not allowed to ask Questions about the internal management of the B.B.C., and cannot throw out suggestions for altering its status, would you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, tell us under what conditions it is possible to discuss the B.B.C. at all?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I allowed an illustration but when hon. Members go into details such as changing the number of directors, then that is a matter for legislation. I think the original Ruling I gave was quite enough, because anything dealing with legislation is out of Order on the Adjournment. Further Questions, as to when legislation can be raised, raise a matter with which I cannot deal now.