HC Deb 09 April 1946 vol 421 cc1868-96

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain Michael Stewart.]

6.41 p.m.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan (Perth and Kinross, Perth)

I have this brief opportunity of bringing forward the question of Scottish broadcasting. I do not want it to be thought for a moment that this constitutes an attack on the B.B.C. as such. The B.B.C., we must all recognise, has, during the past years, worked up what is unquestionably the most widely spread and best known, and, above all, the most trusted radio system in the world. We cannot get away from that. Neither do I wish it to be thought that this is an attack on the Director in Scotland. He has an extremely difficult task, which he fulfils with enthusiasm and cultural ability, which I think will be generally recognised.

Having said that I am neither attacking the B.B.C. as such, nor the Director in Scotland, I must say quite firmly that there is widespread dissatisfaction in Scotland today with the B.B.C. programmes provided for Scotland. The B.B.C., of course, do not admit this, and they have their methods of finding out what the attitude of the nation is, which I have no doubt are very effective methods. At the same time I have rarely met, in Scotland, anybody of any grade of society, or in any walk of life, who has expressed himself as satisfied with the B.B.C. programmes in Scotland. It would be asking too much perfection to expect everyone to agree with every programme; one must be more reasonable than that. But a very wide cross section of opinion has been examined on this subject and there are various points which we feel should be put right.

What are the proper functions of a broadcasting service? I do not think I can do better than repeat the very brief headings given in an extremely good pamphlet produced by the Saltire Society, a society which deals with every form of Scottish culture. The five headings of what is required of a good broadcasting service are, first, that it must reflect and interpret the life and background of its listeners: it must inspire and entertain, and act as an enlightened patron of the arts and sciences in Scotland; it must provide a. means for discussion, and a means of education; it must conduct an efficient and objective news service, holding a wholesome news balance between Scottish and world news: it must maintain a close relationship, by means of relay broadcasts, particularly for cultural and technical purposes, between Scotland and other countries both within and outwith the British Commonwealth.

These arc brief and clear objectives at which we ought to aim in a good broadcasting service. If they are to be achieved for Scotland, I maintain very strongly that there must be far greater scope, there must be much greater opportunities for enterprise in Scotland for broadcasting, and I do not think that the present regional system, as devised by the B.B.C., can be said to provide for all these very necessary things. At present the system, broadly speaking, limits Scot- tish broadcasting to purely Scottish subjects, and frequently matters which we should like to discuss in Scotland from a purely Scottish point of view must be ruled out, because they have already been dealt with by the B.B.C. at headquarters. This is quite unsound, and tends to create a sort of parochial outlook. or at least an appearance of parochialism, to the rest of the world.

I do not think that so far as Scotland is concerned the fees paid to Scottish artists are sufficient to get the very best talent. That is an important point, because obviously the artist will go where the good fees are. The present layout of the B.B.C. so far as Scotland is concerned consists first of all of a Board of Governors in London, and a Director-General, also in London. There is a Scottish Director who is responsible to the Board of Governors and to the Director-General for the programmes, etc., in Scotland. As I have already said, he has shown enthusiasm and keenness to the very utmost of his ability, but it is inevitable, with such a set up, that the background must be mainly that of London, not of Scotland. This cannot satisfy Scotland's cultural needs. Also it cannot adequately give Scotland's contribution which she has to make to the thought and art and culture of the world.

I do not wish it to be thought that I am being anti-English in this respect. Nothing is further from my mind. We wish for cooperation with England, Wales and Ireland and all countries in the world in broadcasting, and we do not want to be narrow about this. But there is no doubt that the Scottish outlook, make-up, history, religion, law, culture, are very different from those of the other countries in the United Kingdom. There is no reason, to my mind, why Scotland should not have its proper representation to produce for the world its own ideas and its own opinion on the various things going on in the world, not only in its own country. We are entitled at least to our cultural independence.

I maintain that the reason for all this dissatisfaction lies in the fact that the main control is centred in London. But it is of no use criticising without making some contribution towards a remedy. I would like to suggest that this year, the B.B.C. Charter having to be reconsidered at the end of the year, is the ideal time to go into this question thoroughly. What I should like to see, and what I think would be generally acceptable at this stage to Scottish opinion, would be a small, very active and thoroughly qualified Board of Governors sitting in Edinburgh, not out with the B.B.C. organisation but within it. I have no doubt that there are big financial considerations that must be taken into account before any question of separate systems could be thought of. I am not suggesting that. I am saying that within the B.B.C. organisation we should have a board of governors in Edinburgh completely responsible for the broadcasting programmes in Scotland, and not subject to the overruling of the Director-General or a board in London, but working in complete harmony with them. That would give us very largely what we want, because we should feel that the approach to broadcasting was being made by Scotsmen in Scotland, with full powers, and adequately reflecting Scottish opinion.

I urge upon the Government most strongly that a full public and impartial inquiry should be set up before the Charter is renewed so that we in Scotland, or in Wales or Ireland, can fully give of our opinions and let them be properly weighed up. The Government have refused so far and they have given no satisfactory reason why. There cannot be anything to hide either on the part of the B.B.C. or of the Government. I ask the Minister at least to give us adequate reasons if he is going to turn down that proposal again. I do not want to exaggerate the case, but I ask most strongly that proper consideration of these proposals may be given in the interests of Scotland.

Captain Marsden (Chertsey)

Do I understand that the hon. and gallant Gentleman wants Scottish broadcasting under the B.B.C. or would he prefer it as free enterprise?

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

At the present stage I would not advance the proposal more than that we should have complete control in Scotland within the present B.B.C. layout.

6.52 p.m.

Mr. Willis (Edinburgh, North)

I am very glad to have the opportunity of supporting the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and Kinross (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) in his plea for a Scottish Board of Governors to govern to Scottish B.B.C. There is no doubt that, listening to the Scottish Regional Programme, one cannot help feeling that it is very pedestrian with possibly a few sparkles. Why is that? Why does one have that feeling? It is because, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman said, the present Director is limited to Scottish affairs only. He can interpret Scottish life. He can take certain aspects but he is not free to interpret the world outside Scotland to the Scotsman. I think that is a very difficult limitation There is no doubt that in the past 20 years we have seen in Scotland a renaissance of cultural life. We have seen great literary activity and activity in the realms of art and music, but when we listen to the B.B.C. we find very little reflection of that renewed cultural activity. I cannot help feeling that what Scotland needs is a greater power to govern the programmes placed before it. This sense of frustration from which Scotland is suffering today is not yet fully appreciated in London

I am convinced that much Scottish activity is suffering simply as the result of frustration because of a feeling—I think a correct feeling—that the affairs of Scotland are being governed from 400 miles away, and that the powers given to Scotsmen are too small. They are not being given the power to regulate, frame, or direct their own activities and life This is one sphere in which it is rather urgent. I would ask the Minister very seriously to consider the proposals that have been made. I ask him to go into this question properly and to see whether it is possible within the framework of the B.B C itself to give to Scotland the power to run its own broadcasting services.

6.55 p.m.

Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)

I rather agree in general with the proposal put forward by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) and with the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Willis), but I feel that within the scope which is allowed to those who select the Scottish programmes a great deal of improvement could be made. I want to say, as a Highlander and a Gaelic speaker who does listen carefully to the Scottish Highland and Gaelic programmes, when I get the opportunity to do so, that the quality of these is by no means a compliment to the Gaelic listener. For one thing, we cannot altogether blame the staff of the B.B.C., because there is very little talent from which to select items for broadcasting. For example, I think that there is far too narrow a circle of contributors and artists and very little effort is being made to train younger artists to take their place and, I hope, to supersede them in some cases.

Gaelic listeners feel very often that they get much better value if they turn across to Athlone and listen to the Irish Gaelic programme, if I may call it that. One finds that that programme is extremely popular among those who want a good Gaelic concert. Very often we have the criticism that we get a very narrow selection of music from the Highland areas. On the other hand, one has to be careful not to over criticise those who make the selection because they have to choose within a very limited amount of popular material. The difficulty is that very little original musical and dramatic Gaelic material are coming forward. That, in its turn, becomes a criticism of our Scottish educational system to the extent that it is not developing, or attempting to develop, that particular faculty among the Highland Gaelic speaking children and older students. On the other hand, I think that, even within the material which is at the disposal of those who arrange the Highland and Gaelic programmes, a great deal better could be done than is being done at the present.

I want to turn to another aspect and that is the Scottish political reporting on the B.B.C in both the Gaelic and English languages. It is a matter which has caused a good deal of thought and has disturbed not only myself but quite a number of my colleagues. I say this in the full consciousness that it is putting a charge at the door of the B.B.C. and those who select the political news for Scotland. There has been a preponderance of representation of the activities of a Conservative Member of this House both in the Gaelic and English broadcasts in Scotland. I wish at this moment to draw the attention of the Minister concerned to a very serious charge which many of us have mentioned outside and in this. House obliquely at different times and which should be quite frankly stated. Repeatedly— last night was the latest example—week after week, night after night on which this Scottish programme of political news is broadcast, the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) has the good fortune to catch the eye, or the ear, of the person who reads, or at least arranges, the Scottish political news. It is a very serious thing that any one Member should have at his disposal for private political propaganda a publicly subsidised and financed Corporation of this kind. I am sure that hon. Members on the opposite side of the House as well as on this side must agree that it is a most unfair and unrepresentative thing. I am quite certain, as a neighbour of the hon. and gallant Member on perfectly good terms with him personally if not politically, that I am not being unjust to him.

There are only two ways in which this type of information of the hon. Member's political activities—the Argyll political saga—could go to the B.B.C. These methods are either by direct supply from himself or his private secretary of Ministers' replies to his various letters and interviews as well as his representations in this House, or else—which would he a worse thing—by a direct selection or request from the Scottish B.B.C. to hint for material concerning his own political activities in his constituency. The result is, though I am an offender myself in these local matters at times—by the indulgence of Mr. Speaker—that we do get over the Scottish broadcasts many statements about a pier in Mull or a piece of road somewhere else in another part of Argyllshire which—while very important locally— cannot be of general political interest to the people of Scotland. At the same time, almost all the rest of the Scottish Members' activities are left completely out of that broadcast. This is a fairly serious allegation to make about those who select the news and those who collect the news, and I would draw the Minister's attention to this matter, because hon. Members on this side are very much perturbed about what appears to be, at all events, perhaps accidentally and perhaps by a succession of coincidences, a certain indulgence which has been given to the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll. I do not want to make this a personal attack upon him; it is an attack on the method of presentation of Parliamentary news to the people of Scotland.

7.2 p.m.

Sir William Darlinģ (Edinburgh, South)

I am glad to have the opportunity of speaking on this very important matter, because you must be aware, Mr. Speaker, that, in Scotland, we think far more of broadcasting than they do in England and Wales The Scotsman is a man of economical tendencies, and, when he spends 10s. on a licence, he is not content merely with turning on the wireless at 9 o'clock and hearing the news. His ear is attuned almost continually to his machine, and he gets a greater degree of value from the Corporation's appliances than those careless, indulgent and wealthy English. This is a very proper and fitting subject for discussion

As was elicited from the Minister a few weeks ago by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir B. Neven-Spence), in Scotland they collect from the people £ 900,000 in a year. That was the answer given to a Parliamentary Question some weeks ago, and I want to know, and it is relevant to this discussion, how much of that money is spent in Scotland, how much is spent on engineering and how much upon entertainment services and the other facilities which the Corporation supply. I do not conceal from the House the fact that I do not believe in State monopoly of public opinion or public entertainment. I think the B.B C. is the unfortunate forerunner or forefather of many even less successful children. We have not only the British Broadcasting Corporation, but another grandchild or stepchild in Scotland in the form of control of aircraft. I think it very fortunate that we have seen the disadvantages of the British Broadcasting Corporation as applied to Scotland, so that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite will not be tempted to apply that form of administrative machinery to other devices which they are contemplating at the moment.

We have a great appreciation of broadcasting in Scotland, but we suffer in these days from the fact that the first, and perhaps the greatest, of the Directors of the B.B.C. was a Scotsman. I refer to Lord Reith. Since then, it would appear that the directorate of the Corporation seem to he satisfied that they want no further Scotsmen in important directorate appointments. It frequently happens that, when a Scotsman makes such a success of the enterprise upon which he embarks, his successors always have to be English. I remember that the Bank of England was started by a Scotsman, has greatly deteriorated since then, and has now passed into the hands of the Government. Similarly there seems to be an idea that, because we had Sir John Heidi, a great pioneer, one Scotsman will do for a very long time. It is an impertinent assumption anti I would like to rebut it. I am glad to see that one of the Under-Secretaries for Scotland is here tonight. I can rely upon him upholding the Scottish point of view with his right hon. Friend.

I deplore the fact that the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) should be so peevish about the publicity enjoyed by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Argyll (Major McCallum). I am never jealous of a Scotsman, because there is sufficient greatness to go round the whole lot, but I rather deplore the tact that the hon. Member for the Western Isles should be so peevish. It is unworthy of his normally generous character to cavil at the fact that one of the hon. Members on this side has been selected to broadcast about political affairs. Let me console him by saying that his turn, as well as mine, may come, and probably all the more quickly for the excellent speech he made this evening.

This matter of Scottish broadcasting has been very much in the mind of the people of Scotland, more so than in the minds of the people of England and Wales. We have in Scotland a very vital and original cultural society known as the Saltire Society—a sort of busybodyish organisation which has sometimes afflicted me in that sense—but there is no doubt that it is deeply and profoundly interested in the cultural development of Scotland and that it applies its mind to these very considerable questions. It has formulated a series of propositions which have been mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and Kinross (Colonel Gomme-Duncan), who said that broadcasting is of far more vital importance to the people of Scotland than to the people of England. No such society exists in England. No such society represents to the Minister the dissatisfaction of the people. The English are a tolerant and indulgent people, who will put up with almost anything, and the Minister must not suppose, in his innocence in regard to the Scottish character, that we are prepared to put up with broadcasts of a low and indifferent character such as are tolerated in parts of England.

If it is, in the opinion of Parliament, desirable that we should have an Under-Secretary charged with the important business of agriculture, another one charged with the important business of housing, and another charged with the important business of Scottish education, of which broadcasting is an aspect, are we not entitled to have similar representation on the Board of the B.B.C.? If it applies in the field of education, it is irresistible in the field of broadcasting; and to suppose that Scotland will tolerate a heterogeneous collection of people whose names are hardly familiar to us, and that we would tolerate that indefinitely, is an illusion which I hope the Minister does not cherish. We intend to have an increasing measure of independence in Scotland, though we have had very little of it so far from this Government. I am not surprised at that, because I carry in my pocket a very important statement made by this Government, through the Lord Privy Seal, who said: Scotland cannot always continue"— I want the Committee to mark those words, "always continue "— to have special advantages. [Interruption.] Why not? I think we have been excessively generous to Scotland.''—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 17th August, 1945; Vol. 413, c. 256.] That statement was made during the Debate on the Address. I thought it was a light and 'irresponsible statement for a Minister with new-found responsibilities and was somewhat evasive. It is not so. It is the deliberate policy of the Government towards Scotland, whether it 's broadcasting, or the development of the Highlands or Prestwick. I see the mark of that policy in all that they do, and hon. Members on both sides of the House who represent Scottish constituencies are deeply grieved, and public opinion deeply alarmed, about this attitude, of which this matter of the B.B.C. is only the latest illustration. Where Englishmen come to Scotland and are familiar with Scottish habits of thought, and learn to admire and like them, as has happened with the hon. Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Willis), an Englishman from Norwich who has lived in Edinburgh for some years, they are struck by the indifference, ignorance and stupidity of the attitude of the Government towards Scotland generally. I am therefore very glad that this subject, which is only one of many on which Scottish Members are much concerned, has been brought before the House tonight.

I would ask the Minister to make up his mind, before the Charter comes up for consideration, to carry out such radical changes in the management of the B.B.C. as to ensure that there is a Scottish Board. I do not say that a Scottish Board would do better, but we in Scotland want the control over our national character, our national destiny, our national education and our national entertainment. If that is denied by His Majesty's Government, we will know how real are the pretentions which they have put forward for many years for Home Rule for Scotland. The Minister must press forward with the setting up of a Scottish Board charged with the direction of this essential and important method of Scottish culture. I feel that I am making a case of which he is already convinced and that he cannot see any reason why we should not have control of this important matter. I beg him to give effect to the views which have been expressed, not only from this side of the House, but also from his supporters behind him.

7.11 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Roberts (Merioneth)

I do not know whether it is an impertinence for a Welshman to intervene in a Scottish matter, but I should like to support the request made by the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and Kinross (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) for an independent and open inquiry before the B.B.C. Charter is renewed. I have very great sympathy with the demands of Scottish hon. Members in this respect, because our problems in Wales are very much the same. We must accept the great importance of the B.B.C. in the realm of culture and the fact that it has a cardinal part to play in that respect. At the moment, the hon. and gallant Gentleman finds the same difficulty as I have found in obtaining from the Minister the cost, for example, of running Scottish and Welsh organisations The figures we need can only come to light after an inquiry. The so-called Scottish and Welsh Regional stations are not really regional; they are national, with their own traditions and their own way of looking at things and, in the case of Wales, with their own language. I must emphatically deny the allegation made by the hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling) that there was more interest being taken in Scotland than in Wales. At the present time one local authority after another is passing resolution after resolution—

Sir W. Darlinģ

I said England; I did not include Wales.

Mr. Roberts

I gladly accept the remark made by the hon. Member. One local authority after another are passing resolutions asking for a separate Charter to be accorded to Wales, and for a separate Welsh Broadcasting Corporation to he established. The request made tonight by the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and Kinross that an inquiry he made before the Charter is renewed, at which these things can be investigated and ventilated, is a very modest one. Therefore, I as a Welshman, accord him the fullest support in his request.

7.15 p.m.

Mr. Cook (Dundee)

I do not wish to follow the line of argument taken by the hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W Darling), but I was glad to see he took off his hat when he rose to speak. I wish to, support the hon. and gallant Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan). There are one or two points which must be brought out here and a great deal of the frustration, so far as Scottish broadcasting is concerned, is the result of mismanagement in Scotland itself. There is a tremendous lack of imagination in the direction of Scottish broadcasts. Indeed, some of our better known Scottish playwrights have never had an opportunity of having their plays broadcast because they have Labour sympathies. James Barke has so often submitted manuscripts that his wastepaper basket is being filled with rejections.

Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge)

Could I ask the hon. Member whether James Barke has Labour sympathies? I have never noticed that he has.

Mr. Cook

I said there have been playwrights with Labour sympathies and, as far as I am aware, James Barke has Labour sympathies.

Sir W. Darlinģ

What about Joe Corrie?

Mr. Cook

There are others. There is one other point I want to raise on the technical side of the B.B.C.—the setting up of regional studios. There are areas in the East of Scotland which are almost blind spots, and we are being pestered by the radio diffusion service to sponsor certain types of programmes which would be doing the work that the B.B.C. ought to be doing as far as Scotland is concerned. Certain statements have been made with regard to the development of television and so far no announcement has been made as to what part Scotland is to play in this, or whether it is to have television at all. These things are not being said from any parochial point of view. Like the hon. arid gallant Member for Perth and Kinross, I want to see the B.B.C. being one central unit, but with Scotland having a much bigger share in developing her own programme. I must say that if there were a full Scottish programme I, for one, would not listen to it. We would find it very difficult to find the necessary talent to fill in the time. I want to see more and more evolution, and I cannot agree with the hon. Member for South Edinburgh that we should not be jealous of a programme from Argyll; he said it was selection. We can have a much better standard of Scottish broadcasting by having a Board of Governors set up, as has been suggested, dealing with Scottish broadcasting within the B.B.C.

7.18 p.m.

Mr. Maclay (Montrose Burghs)

I do not intend to follow the many speakers who have gone before into the very interesting realm of organisation. I find myself agreeing with almost everything that has been said so far, but I want to come to something more fundamental. I am not an expert on wireless, and I must apologise to the House if I get my technical terms wrong. All of us in Scotland are anxious for the best possible programmes and to have arrangements made to enable us to get those programmes, but it is not much use if we cannot use them. I believe there are a good many places in Scotland where reception is shockingly bad, particularly in Angus and Perth. I understand that the same trouble is experienced in some parts of Wales. I hope the House will agree that this point is fundamental to our discussion, and that the Minister will say what consideration he has given to requests for improvement throughout the country. Positive proposals have been made for changing the wavelengths of the Scottish programmes. I am not certain what these things mean, but I think the Minister has heard enough to say whether he has found it possible to do anything about these representations. I hope that if he receives further representations he will give further consideration to improving reception in Scotland, Wales and elsewhere.

7.20 p.m.

Mr. McAllister (Rutherglen)

I would like to support my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. Cook) in his plea for the allocation of wavelengths to Scotland of such a character as will enable listeners in every part of Scotland to hear the Scottish programme, because I understand that in some parts of North-East Scotland people have to tune into the Norwegian programmes in order to get decent reception. It is not only a question of hearing the Scottish programmes in Scotland. We want the Scottish programmes to be heard in other parts of the British Isles. It is very difficult to hear the Scottish programmes in London, and I think that is entirely wrong.

I do not wish to follow the hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling) in raising the whole question of Scottish Home Rule on this issue, although I am sure we are grateful to him for his assurance that he was not jealous of any other Scotsman. I do not know if all of us can subscribe to that y generous view, but at least we can assure him that no Scotsman is jealous of him. If one considers the history of Scottish broadcasting, one appreciates that it has had a very fine record. It is true that Lord Keith deserves an enormous amount of credit, not only for broadcasting in Scotland but for broadcasting in the United Kingdom and for having raised it to a level such as no other country in the world has provided. Lord Reith's principle of giving the people a little better than they wanted seemed to me to be an excellent principle, and one which could be carried out by the B.B.C. in general and in the Scottish Regional programmes in particular with very good effect

One director of the B.B.C. in Scotland, Mr. Cleghorn-Thompson, has used the B.B.C. in a very efficient and satisfactory way. He used it as an instrument to stimulate Scottish culture in every direction. I do not wish in any way to imply that I am criticising the present director, Mr. Melville-Dinwiddie, or the programme director, Mr. Andrew Stewart. They have done magnificent work, but now that we have come to the end of the second world war, we are looking forward to the reconstruction of Scottish broadcasting as part of the programme of Scottish reconstruction. I think its main purpose should be to reflect Scottish culture in every aspect —music, literature and drama. We are producing very great playwrights in Scotland such as Bridie, who have a national and an international reputation, novelists such as Neil Gunn, and poets such as Hugh MacDiarmid. Our Scottish orchestra will rank with most of the great orchestras, and the Glasgow Orpheus Choir stands incomparable in its own field. We want to see the Scottish B.B.C. reflecting all these aspects of Scottish life so that the Scottish programme is the voice of Scotland, not only to the people at Scotland but to the people of other countries. I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee raised the question of Scottish television because we in Scotland have a special right to some kind of priority in that matter. It must be remembered that Baird was the pioneer in television, and although it is true that the B.B.C. decided to employ the Marconi system instead of the Baird system, it still remained to the Scotsman to make the greatest contribution to television on the technical side.

Every hon. Member who has spoken in this Debate, including the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Emrys Roberts), whom we were very glad to hear, has put forward a plea for autonomy for Scotland in this matter. From the point of view of Scotland as a nation and as a cultural entity, I am fervently in favour of Scottish autonomy. I think in this connection there can be no argument against granting Scotland the things she desires. Fletcher of Saltoun in his famous phrase said: Let me make the songs of a nation, and let who will make its laws. We are not discussing the making of laws, but we are discussing the songs and the culture of Scotland, and I appeal to the Government to give Scotland the opportunity to use this great instrument in the best interest of Scottish culture.

7.25 p.m.

Mr. Alex. Anderson (Motherwell)

The House tonight owes a debt of grati- tude to the hon. and gallant Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) for bringing up the question of Scottish broad-coasting, and if there are directors of the B.B.C. listening or taking an interest in this Debate, I am certain they will obtain renewed hope. They have surely discovered in the hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling) a person who could fill gaps in their programmes—

Sir W. Darlinģ

if the hon. Member will allow me, I am frequently in demand by the Scottish programme—very frequently indeed.

Mr. Anderson

If there should come a time when the attractions of ''Itma" pall, or when people should tire of the trans-Atlantic idiom of Vic Oliver, I am certain that in the hon. Member for South Edinburgh they will find a worthy substitute. If television should be developed I can imagine no sight more entertaining to the Scottish people than a vision of the hon. Member for South Edinburgh on this very occasion It is true that there are faults in Scottish broadcasting, but it is neither true nor fair to a very excellent Corporation to have nothing but criticism in this House and not a word of commendation. We have heard something of the service rendered to Scottish and British broadcasting by Lord Reith; also worthy of commendation are the services of Ogilvie, who succeeded him, and a long succession of distinguished Governors, who have all given their quota to the development of a broadcasting system which, without advertisement and without vulgarity, is hard to beat in any country in the world. Scottish self-government is an excellent thing, but Scottish broadcasting—I refer to the purely Scottish programmes without any of that exaggerated sentimentality which causes Scottish Members often to talk about Scottish self-government—provides departments which are unbeaten. I have had experience as a teacher, and I am confident that there is no department in broadcasting in any country in the world that is better than the department responsible for the Scottish educational programme. I have still to listen to features—and outside features particularly —that are more effective and more interesting than many of our Scottish features World news is another matter, and I would not like to be a B.B.C. announcer who had to try to fill in the time by giving purely Scottish news.

I suspect that many of the matters of which the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) complained—for instance, we heard that the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) had gone to visit Colonsay— are simply due to the fact that there are not in Scotland sufficient items of general interest. With regard to the other features of the programme, hon. Members are inclined to forget that the B.B.C. is catering for a whole people and not for a few individuals, and what pleases one person displeases another who may want a jazz band. I think, on the whole, the B.B.C. deserves commendation. I feel, however, that in Scotland we have some reason to ask that a little more money should be spent on the service, partly to give us the first essential, namely, good reception, and, secondly, in order that we may develop the traditional Scottish culture. I do not mean by that, that we should get an extension of the Gaelic items, although they appeal to many Scotsmen. In Scotland we have a traditional culture and a background, both humorous and sentimental, which can add greatly to the enjoyment of broadcasting by our people. There is no cheaper and no better entertainment that the people of Scotland get for their money, which they spend reluctantly, than that which they get from the British Broadcasting Corporation.

7.31 p.m.

Mr. Hurd (Newbury)

It a mere English Member may intervene for a few minutes, I should like to remind the House that in the Southern counties of England when we twiddle our knobs it often happens that we get not only the best reception, but the best quality when we strike the Scottish Regional. I may be biased, because I am half Scots by blood. I would remind the House that Scotland has her own advisory broadcasting committees. I happen to have worked closely with the Scottish Agricultural Broadcasting Committee, and—and I hope this will be borne in mind when any changes affecting the control of Scottish broadcasting are being considered —we found that the Scots put on a better programme, of greater interest to the whole farming community, when they were given their head and not held on leading strings by a central advisory committee in London. I am sure they make a better job of it when left to them- selves. As a mere Englishman, who often listens to the Scottish programme—and I know others in Berkshire do the same—I would like to add my word to support the plea to let Scotland have her own organisation in large measure. Let Scotland arrange her own programmes so that she may give something that is satisfactory to Scotland, and give English listeners something that we shall enjoy listening to occasionally, when we want to break away from the more generalised programme that must serve the whole country.

7.33 p.rn.

Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)

I am of opinion that Scotland should have its own system of radio. I say that because it is necessary to draw attention to the fact that Scotland had a system of broadcasting entertainment before there was any radio or any B.B.C. It had such a system to a greater extent than any other country, including Wales I do not believe any country anywhere developed such a widespread and cheap entertainment. They had choirs going round singing here and singing there, always with soloists of one kind or another accompanying them; there was not a part of Scotland, even in the remote areas, where there was not this broadcasting of Scottish songs week after week, month after month and year after year. When talking of choirs of Scotland we do not have to talk only of the Glasgow Orpheous Choir. There is an amazing amount of talent in the Scottish choirs. In my own home town, which is not one of the most important, although it is fairly important, for the last three Saturday nights there has been a cooperative festival of choir and solo singing. That is only one town. In all other towns these festivals are going on, with competitions of all kinds.

When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) was Prime Minister, to whom did he turn for inspiration in one of his most difficult periods? He turned to what he called "that grand old minstrel," one of our Scottish entertainers, Sir Harry Lauder. A very important development in entertainment is the Citizens' Theatre; in addition to which we have the very powerful and growing Unity Theatre. Here let me say a word about James Barke, whose name has been mentioned. He is one of Scotland's greatest novelists and playwrights. If anybody doubts that, let him read "The Land of the Leal "—apart from the concluding pages where he goes in for a bit of propaganda by dragging me into it, quite unnecessarily. Apart from that, there is no greater Scottish classic than "The Land of the Leal." He is not a strong party man; his last play was criticised for being anti-Communist. But his plays are all working class plays. James Barke is a splendid playwright, and he is a great novelist.

An effort is now being made in Scotland to develop a Scottish film organisation. We have in Scotland beautiful scenery, entertainers, music—everything that is needed to lay the foundation for a magnificent broadcasting system. That does not mean to say that everything we do has to be Scottish, but the basis of the programmes would be Scottish. As has been said here tonight on two or three occasions, we have in Scotland a music, an appeal and a culture of our own. Under the control and direction of the B.B.C., however anxious they are to get a good Scottish programme, it is not possible to give those talents the fullest and essential development. If we had a board of our own in Scotland— and there is no reason why we should not—working in cooperation with the Board here in London rather than working under its control and direction, I am quite certain that the values and advantages of Scottish broadcasting, as has been pointed out tonight, would be increased a thousandfold in a very short time. I think we should ask the Minister, in preparing the Charter, to consider very seriously Scotland's long history and tradition in music and entertainment—a very widespread entertainment in music, which has always been supplied in Scotland. Taking that into account, it would be of value to broadcasting as a whole in this country that, when preparing the charter, he should consider the question of a Scottish board to control and direct Scottish broadcasting. That would be to the advantage not only of Scotland but to broadcasting throughout the country as a whole.

7.39 P.m.

Mr. Emrys Huģhes (South Ayrshire)

I not only agree with what has been said about the necessity of having greater control over broadcasting in Scotland, but I think there is an element of danger that, under cover of arguing that, there may be a rather specious attempt to advocate that broadcasting in Scotland should be transferred to private enterprise. I am rather afraid that if that happened Scottish broadcasting would be turned into a glorified advertising campaign, with Johnnie Walker and other Scottish concerns getting advertisements over the ether in a way they would not do if State control or public control were retained. I suggest there is a very great danger from private capitalism in Scotland trying to attain control of vested interests over various parts of Scottish life under the specious plea of claiming that it represents something individually Scottish.

I think the Scottish news service could be far better, and greater detail could be given about the news of Scottish affairs. I will refer to one instance, namely, the way in which the Scottish Hews service broadcast the news of the last municipal elections. It did not broadcast the news in the morning at all, and, innumerable people all over Scotland were waiting to hear the results of the elections, but there was not one word about what had happened in the Scottish towns That applies to the county council and the district council elections. I believe there could be great improvement in the news service and that that would come if there were a greater Scottish control under a Scottish board of governors, or a greater measure of advice from some Scottish advisory authority. We should press for greater control of Scottish news. It could he developed, and we would get a more efficient and detailed news service, if more advice were taken in Edinburgh or Glasgow.

Could not a greater number of discussions on politics and social problems take place over the B.B.C.? Why cannot we have heated discussions on politics, such as are characteristic of every place in Scotland where people meet together—discussions on politics, sociology or religion? Why cannot we have "The Communist Party versus the Labour Party" or the L L.P. versus some other party? These are live political subjects in which the people are interested. The people of Scotland are naturally argumentative. I believe we could increase the interest in our Scottish programmes if we had a greater measure of political discussion, and we would get that if we had a greater measure of Scottish influence in Scottish broadcasting. Under cover of this appeal for greater control in Scotland, do not let us hand over the concern to vested interests who will be only too ready to exploit the growing nationalism, which is now expressing itself in so many ways throughout Scotland.

7.44 P.m.

Mr. Hector Huģhes (Aberdeen, North)

I would like to support the argument propounded by the hon. and gallant Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan). He has done a great service in bringing this before the House. It is a timely service at a time when the B.B.C. Charter is coming up for revision. I support him on two grounds: first, the ground of principle; second, the ground of utility. It seems to me an anomaly that Scotland should not have complete control of its own broadcasting. I do not think I am exaggerating in saying that in this Scotland is treated as a backward Colony with no culture of her own, no background and nothing of an individual character to contribute. That is not so. Scotland is far from being that. Scotland has a history, a record, and a reputation which justifies it having home rule in this, if it has home rule in nothing else. This is not a political question, and when I use the expression "home rule" I will not be misunderstood as suggesting that it is a political question. There is every reason why Scotland should, in principle, control her own broadcasting.

Perhaps I may be able to peak with some little objectivity upon this, seeing that I was born in Ireland, live in London, and sit for a Scottish constituency. Even a Sassenach would admit that Scotland has great cultural claims to control her own broadcasting. Her history, genius and character are distinctive; partly indigenous, partly developed by her association with other nations other countries, other cultures, and other literatures all over the world, perhaps of closer character than that to which English people can well lay claim; partly developed in that way and partly from her own cultural heritage. It has been said already in this Debate that Scotland has made great contributions to world thought, in science, literature and art, from Burns the poet to Bridie the playwright, and to Baird who is so closely associated with television. They are all Scotsmen. Scotland has her own special intellectual, cultural and spiritual influence. It is not denied that Scotland has a wit and humour peculiar to herself, and which are characteristic I suggest it is wrong that she should not have a completely free and untrammelled opportunity for expressing that genius in her own way. to do that she should have control of her own broadcasting programmes in order to draw not only from her own peculiar genius, but also from a Scottish angle, what is best and roost suitable from the genius, history and literature of other countries.

I have one or two criticisms to make about the present Scottish programmes. First, the news service. I am not exaggerating, I am sure the House will agree, when I say that the news service is a mere appendage of the English 6 o'clock news. It is an incidental turn. It has been said, and I quote: Scots listeners are subtly trained to assume that the concerns of their country are subordinate to British concerns, and not part of the normal structure of life.'' It has also been said that Scottish programmes frequently make Scotsmen feel like member, of some backward African tribe. There should be, in my submission, a complete reorganisation of the Scottish news service, and home and foreign news could be broadcast to Scottish listeners from a Scottish angle. As far as the musical programmes arc concerned, they are not characteristic, and by the broadcasting of characteristic Scottish musical programmes the world would be enriched. It is right that the Scottish music and the Scottish genius should he presented to the world by Scotsmen. It has been well said that when Scottish songs are sung upon the radio they are not sung intelligently: they are not sung in the Scottish fashion: they arc not presented to the world as they should be presented. Drama has already been dealt with. Education and religion are not presented from the Scottish angle, and I appreciate and support what fell from the lips of the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) when he spoke of the way in which the Gaelic programmes are presented.

There is another aspect of this. It is that the fees which arc paid to artists who contribute to the Scottish programmes are not adequate. It seems to me that a Scottish Board of Control would deal with this question of fees more generously than the existing Control does. To sum up, a Scottish broadcasting system, being the broadcasting system of an ancient nation, should not be merely a regional system. It should be a home controlled national system. Therefore, I have very great pleasure in supporting the argument which has been so ably propounded by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Perth.

7.52 p.m.

Mr. Hoy (Leith)

I just want to detain the House for two minutes. I should not have done so if it were not for the fact that the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling: seemed to think this was an occasion for making a tremendous attack upon the Government. He went further, and said that there was a great furore existing in Scotland with regard to the way in which Scottish matters were being handled Has he reflected that, on the Benches opposite, there are only two Scottish Members of the Scottish Conservative Party who have deigned to come to listen to this Debate on Scottish broadcasting? Surely if there were this great furore it would have been reflected in the attendance, and I am afraid that the statement of the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Edinburgh is riot borne out in fact.

There arc two small items with which I should like to deal. One is the reception of the Scottish programme. I do think, with some little knowledge I have of wireless, that it could be improved fairly easily. There are certain areas, even in Edinburgh itself, where the reception is of the poorest, and I hope that when the Minister replies he will deal with this The other point is with regard to the programmes themselves. I am not such a fervid Scot that I think that every minute should he occupied with Scottish news, Scottish plays and Scottish songs. I think that many nations of the world can teach us many things. I do think, however, that by interchange of culture a nation does improve its own culture. I certainly cannot support the view suggested from the Benches opposite that the whole of the English listeners are ignorant and pay no attention to what is coming over on the air. I would hasten to deny it. I remember that when it was suggested that licences be increased to £1 from 10s. they outnumbered the Scottish protests by 100 to one. That proves they are taking an interest in affairs. I seriously add my voice to the plea for a greater devolution in Scottish affairs. I think Scotland has a contribution to make to broadcasting, as has any other part of the British Empire. I am only requesting that when Scotland is asked to make that contribution, it shall be given with every consideration for the people in Scotland.

7.55 p.m.

Captain MacLeod (Ross and Cromarty)

I should like to support an argument put forward by the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy) about having a greater interchange of cultural viewpoints. I should like to support this plea, particularly for a reason not yet put forward. I think Scotland has a part to play in the international field. We all know the B.B.C. transmits programmes in foreign languages. There ought to be an international broadcasting company spreading the cultural traditions of different countries to the world. One of the soundest methods, surely, of ensuring world peace is to have countries understand each other better. How could they understand each other better than by having their viewpoints and their cultural traditions put forward on the wireless? That Scotland has a point of view to express, the speeches of hon. Members on all sides of the House tonight has shown. Scotland has a cultural tradition behind it, and Scotland can contribute to world peace by being able to contribute really cultural programmes now and again to the world. I consider that Scotland, by having more control over its programmes, will be able to play a greater part in the international field.

7.57 p.m.

The Assistant Postmaster-General (Mr. Burke)

I think we have had a very interesting Debate tonight, and I am certain that those people who attempt to understand the Scottish viewpoint on this subject will have gathered from the various speeches we have heard a good deal that will help them in formulating their programmes in the future. Hon. Members know that Ministers in this House have always declined to accept responsibility for particular items in the broadcasting programmes. It is perfectly obvious from what has gone on here tonight that there are different opinions even among hon. Members about the Scottish programmes. That is not peculiar to Scotland. The same is true with regard to Wales and the same is true with regard to England. One has only to discuss the previous night's wireless programmes with our fellow passengers in the train in the morning to find all the elements of an immediate row, whether one happens to be in a third-class or a first-class carriage.

There is, at least, one strain running through all the arguments that have been put here tonight, and that is that Scotland has a contribution of her own to make, and that she would like the greatest facilities for making it. That is something with which the Government, and certainly I, should not like to quarrel. As an internationalist, I object to nationalism only when it is competitive. I am in favour of nationalism when it has a contribution to make to culture, and the contribution Scotland can make, I am certain, is a good contribution, and one which this country and the world will want to hear. Whether it is necessary to alter the Charter in order that Scotland can make that contribution is a point on which there are differences of opinion, but, in any case, if it is a question of a different set-up for Scotland from the present one, then that is a matter which must be debated when we come to review the Charter as a whole. In the meantime, I can only try to deal with some of the points that have been raised in the Debate.

The hon. Member for Montrose Burghs (Mr. Maclay) was concerned about reception in Scotland. There are, of course, the same difficulties in certain parts of England and in Wales, but those difficulties are due, in the main, to the configuration, to the mountains and to the peculiar geographical situation of certain parts of the country. I am surprised to hear that there are difficulties in reception in Edinburgh; I should have thought that was one of the places in Scotland where there was good reception. That matter can certainly be looked into. Scotland has two stations, both of them as powerful as the London Regional station, and I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that they could not have been put there if the amount of money allocated to Scotland was confined merely to the amount of fees raised in Scotland.

Sir W. Darling


Mr. Burke

Half of that amount— £496,000. The hon. Member is thinking about the amount when the licences will cost twice as much as they do at present. The hon. and gallant Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan), who initiated this Debate, presented very forcefully the case for a change in Scottish broadcasting. It was contended by him and by some other hon. Members—though other people have a different view—that there is need for a change in order to give a more adequate presentation of the Scottish way of life, Scottish traditions and Scottish sentiment. I know that the hon. Gentleman feels keenly about this matter, which he has raised at Question time, once with the Minister of Information and once with me. I take this opportunity at saying that when I told him that certain figures about the cost of Scottish broadcasting were not available, I had no idea of trying to keep the information from him. The simple fact is that we do not know exactly how much is spent on Scottish broadcasting. I gave the amount which we allocated for the premises, the payment of salaries and the payment of artistes in Scotland, which was roughly £ 246,000, but the Performing Right Society, the royalties on news, the cost of engineering and a host of other things which make up the purely Scottish programme are, of course, paid for outside Scotland, and one cannot allocate them with any degree of accuracy.

It has been said that there is much dissatisfaction with the Scottish regional broadcasts, but the B.B.C. in Scotland have been collecting information. They are very sensitive on this matter. I am certain that all that has been said tonight will be noted very carefully by the Director in Scotland. They have ways and means of discovering the reaction of the people of Scotland to their programmes and the appeal which the programmes have. They take very careful notice of correspondence that comes to them. It may be argued that the whole of the money raised in Scotland from licences— £ 496,000—should be spent in Scotland.

Sir W. Darling

Why not?

Mr. Burke

The reply is that a good deal more than that is spent on Scottish broadcasting, because it has the benefit now not only of the Scottish Regional programme, which absorbs about half the money, but of the very expensive and varied programmes that come from other regions and from the country as a whole in the national programme. In a very short time, Scotland will have the benefit also of another programme which, for want of a better term, we call the Cultural Programme. I hope I shall not he asked to define what is meant by "Cultural Programme" as compared with the Light Programme, but hon. Members will know what the idea is. Scotland will get that extra programme as well. Extra services in regard to great public events, sporting events and such items as "The Week in Westminster," and" Today in Parliament "all come to Scotland free of charge, and they could not be provided if Scotland attempted to he self-supporting from the financial point of view. The problem seems to me to be very largely an economic one. I suggest that Scotland does very much better when she is regarded as' part of a larger economic unit.

Soon after the restoration of the Regional programmes at the end of July, the Scottish Region put over a series of broadcasts in the Scottish Home Service, and listeners were invited to write to the B.B.C. and give their views on the Scottish Regional programme as it was then and as it is now. Of the letters that were received, 62 per cent. were, without qualification, in favour of the Scottish Home Service as at present in operation. I know there are societies who disagree with that. We all have our views about the kind of things we like. But from as wide a sphere as possible, from a section of Scottish people generally and not of people who believe in one narrow type of culture, 62 per cent. of the people said that they were satisfied with the service.

Mr. McGovern (Glasgow, Shettleston)

How did they get 62 per cent.?

Mr. Burke

They invited people to write to them. They did not take a particular section, as was done by the society to which reference has been made. There is the testimony of those people that they were satisfied.

Sir W. Darlinģ

Sixty-two per cent. of how many?

Mr. Burke

Sixty-two per cent. of all the letters; I do not know how many they had. It was a wide selection, and the correspondence was carried on over a period of weeks. The question of a separate Corporation for Scotland is, of course, a matter which must be bound up with the general discussion of the Charter. It is a matter which may be raised when the general question of the B.B.C. Charter is raised. A similar suggestion was made arid examined by the Ullswater Committee in 1935 with regard to Wales. It was the considered view of the Committee which had that matter before them that such a proposal would be contrary to the best interests of Wales and would not help to meet the wishes of Welsh listeners.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

I hope the hon. Gentleman realises that I was not seeking to get a separate Corporation, but a Board of Governors in Edinburgh under the B.B.C.

Mr. Burke

The present Governors are set up under the Charter, and to alter the arrangement in such a way that extra Governors are given to one particular rejon—if I may call Scotland a region for the moment—would mean a change in the general set-up of the B.B.C. organisation. Hon. Members have said that the Scottish B.B.C. is unrepresentative of Scottish life and tradition. It is the particular concern of the regional director—and great tributes have rightly been paid to him tonight by Scottish Members—to see that Scottish life, tradition and sentiment are adequately expressed. He has a number of advisers to help him in that matter. I am certain that if, with the extra finance that comes under a regional scheme, Scottish tradition, sentiment and culture do not find adequate expression, it would find less expression, generally speaking, and be less satisfactory to the whole of the people, it Scotland were to attempt to be self-supporting in this matter.

It might pay to have a purely Scottish programme for a limited time, but it would be wrong to expect to receive, without payment, the programmes from other parts of the country which are so generally accepted and widely enjoyed by Scottish people. I do riot think I can go any further now into the matter of the Charter. I know that the remarks and the views which have been put forward by Scottish Members here tonight, and by Welsh Members as well, will be looked at very carefully. As far as reception is concerned, I hope that we may be able to give as wide a coverage at the highest possible level of efficiency in Scotland, as we try to do in all parts of the United Kingdom.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Eleven Minutes past Eight o'clock.