§ 3.55 p.m.
§ The Assistant Postmaster-General (Mr. Burke)
I beg to move,That the Licence and Agreement, dated 29th November, 1946, between His Majesty's Postmaster-General and the British Broadcasting Corporation, a copy of which was presented on 3rd December, be approved.Hon. Members will be aware that when the copy of the Licence and Agreement was laid on the Table, copies of the new Charier were also made available at the Vote Office. The two run together, and the Corporation must obtain the Licence under the Wireless Telegraphy Acts in order to operate wireless stations and generally discharge their duties under the Royal Charter While the Charter outlines the organisation of the B.B.C. and sets forth its objects and powers, the Licence merely lays down the terms and conditions under which my noble Friend the Postmaster-General authorises the Corporation to operate.
The Charter is the more interesting document, but this afternoon I must confine myself to the dry bones of the Licence. The new document follows the, same lines as the one which will expire at the end of this year, with a few alterations, and I propose to indicate such changes as appear to be worthy of note. The changes are few, because it is the intention of His Majesty's Government to continue the B.B.C. in substantially its present form, and with substantially its present powers. There are good reasons for this decision, which has the support of the majority of the House. One reason lies in the fact that the major portion of the current licence period of ten years fell under the strain and stress of wartime conditions. It is, therefore, considered reasonable and fair to the Corporation that it should have a further term under stable conditions to carry out 1184 schemes of development which were laid aside in 1939, and to test the effectiveness of the wartime technical improvements as applied to broadcasting. As a matter of fact, the ten years since the Ullswater Report have been quite abnormal.
Hon. Members will recall that in the Debate on 16th July a good deal was said about the possibilities of frequency modulation, and there were those who suggested that it could solve at once our difficulties regarding the shortage of wave lengths for broadcasting. I should say at once that the B.B.C. were fully alive to the possibilities of frequency modulation, and that towards the end of the war—before the war finished, in fact, in March, 1945—they began experimental transmissions on very short waves. As far as the Post Office are concerned, they were using frequency modulation in 1942 on a radio link between Douglas and Holyhead. Special techniques applied to these very short wavelengths would in some respects be a means of broadcasting superior to the long and medium waves. One disadvantage, however, lies in the fact that new receiving sets, or adaptors for the present sets, would be required, but this has been foreseen, and discussions have been going on between the Post Office, the B.B.C, the Ministry of Supply, the radio industry and the manufacturers. I mention all these complications to bring out the point that it is obviously wise to give the Corporation an opportunity, without any undue disturbance, to get on with these developments, and plans have already been drawn up by the B.B.C. which may go a long way towards easing the wavelength shortage problem Our engineers are fully aware of the problems, and are energetic in their attempt to find a solution of them, though I must warn the House that it may take some time. I must also pay a tribute to the B.B.C. engineers, not in my own words, but by reminding hon. Members of the words of General David Sarnoff who, as President of the Radio Corporation of America, is not without knowledge of these things. He said that the performance of B.B.C. engineers in the war was remarkable, and he added:They are as good as any in the worldSimilarly with regard to television. Experiments which were closed down when the war began, were taken up immediately hostilities ceased, and today there is, in London, and nowhere else in 1185 the world, a regular, daily television service, available to the public seven days in the week.
The Government therefore desire not to do anything which might have the effect of holding up or retarding these developments. So it appears proper to regard this Licence as an interim extension of the existing Licence, and to restrict alterations as much as possible, except such as are necessary to give effect to the changes in the Government White Paper on broadcasting policy. On the other hand, balancing the need for a period of stability with the need for change which might arise out of any possible inquiry—to which the Government are not opposed in principle—it was considered that the previous term of 10 years was too long. Therefore, this Licence will run for five years only. That is the first change.
The next change to which I would direct the' attention of the House reveals the necessity for securing an affirmative Resolution for this Licence. The House will know that there are a number of general conditions to which the Corporation signifies its agreement in return for the Licence. Negatively, there is the condition prohibiting commercial and sponsored broadcasts, and, again, the condition requiring the Corporation to refrain from broadcasting any matter on a written notice from the Postmaster-General—a right which, by the way, has never been exercised. In the early days the B.B.C. were prohibited by the Postmaster-General from expressing their own opinions on matters of public policy, and that restriction still applies. There was also a restriction that they should not broadcast on matters of religious, political and industrial controversy. In 1928, that restriction was withdrawn, and the B.B.C. have continued to broadcast on controversial matters in those three categories with, I think, general approval. They have treated the matters impartially and most people, I think, would prefer to have more controversy rather than less.
Apart from those negative conditions there are positive conditions, one of which requires the Corporation to broadcast announcements from Government Departments, that is to say, such announcements as police notices and notices about foot-and-mouth disease and so on Then there is the general obligation to broadcast, dur- 1186 ing such hours of every day as the Postmaster-General, in consultation with the B.B.C, may prescribe, to home audiences and to listeners overseas. It is the final part of this last obligation to send programmes overseas that attract Standing Orders of this House Nos. 71 and 72, and that is the reason why this Licence must have an affirmative Resolution. In those Standing Orders it is laid down that all contracts for the purpose of telegraphic communication beyond the seas extending over a period of years and creating a public charge must be approved by Resolution of the House. The Government have decided that overseas broadcasts shall be a public charge, that is, a charge to the taxpayer and not to the holders of receiving licences. Clause 19 of the Licence and Agreement sets out the arrangement for overseas services, both Empire and foreign. Hon. Members will see that those services are to be met by a yearly grant-in-aid, authorised by the Treasury out of such aids and supplies as may be approved and appropriated by this House.
In respect of overseas services, the B.B.C. will accept the views of the Government Departments concerned about the times and languages, etc. According to the White Paper, it is the intention of the Government that the Corporation should remain independent in the preparation of programmes. No Government Department wishes to do the work of the broadcasters. Each Department will give information on Imperial and foreign affairs, and it is accepted that the B.B.C. will give due consideration to the information received. During the war, our overseas broadcasts won for us an international reputation for honest presentation of the facts. The House will, I think, agree that it is essential to continue those services as an objective presentation of the British way of life, and British thought and culture. In Europe alone, the B.B.C. are broadcasting 37 programme hours in the day in 22 languages. The Government are satisfied that overseas broadcasts are widely appreciated. Very large numbers of B.B.C. programmes are re-broadcast by stations all over Latin America. A recent Gallup poll in France, showed that 17 per cent., or six million people, listen to the B.B C. broadcasts. From such indications, we are convinced that money provided for these services will be well spent. The fruits of this expenditure will be, we hope, 1187 the promotion of better understanding between the peoples of the world—
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
Does the payment for services to Europe come out of the fund raised by the cost of licences?
§ Mr. Burke
I am coming to that. As regards the finances of the home services, both sound and television, my noble Friend has decided to revert to the prewar practice of payment by allocation of a fixed percentage of the net licence revenue. After consultation with the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury it has been decided that 85 per cent. of the proceeds from the sale of receiving licences to the public—that is, after deduction of the costs of collection and administration expenses—shall be paid to the Corporation during the first three and a quarter years of the next licence period. Six per cent. will be deducted in the first year as against 9 per cent in the prewar period, and 85 per cent. will go to the Corporation as against 75 per cent. of the net licence revenue before the war. This figure has been reached after a study of the expenditure which the Corporation propose to incur during the period in question in the operation and development of home services and from the consideration of the estimated revenue from the sale of receiving licences. The number of licences at the present time is in the neighbourhood of 10,700,000, and the number of television licences is in the neighbourhood of 4,450, a figure which does not include many people who have television licences under the old 10s. licence, and will therefore be getting the advantage of that figure until their licences expire. It is further provided that if the income proves insufficient for the conduct of the home services, the Corporation may apply for a sum equal to an additional percentage of the net licence revenue.
Article 22 of the Licence and Agreement sets out another variation of the Licence, bringing the B.B.C. into line with standard practice in regard to Government contracts by requiring the Corporation to see that the terms of the Fair Wages Clause, as passed in this House on 14th October, are observed Another new condition is one to which the House will attach considerable importance. That is the new obligation laid upon the Corporation to broadcast a daily report of the 1188 proceedings of both Houses of Parliament. This is an impartial broadcast by professional reporters. Under the title of "Today in Parliament" it has, I think, found general approval, but its timing— 10.45 to 11 p.m.—has been criticised. That is hardly the fault of the B.B.C. but is due to the bad hours that we keep here, and it would be very difficult to compile a full and balanced report earlier. If we could get a "closed shop" here at a more respectable time, I have no doubt that the B.B C. would consider re-timing that item. The remainder of the conditions are, in the main, of a technical character—conditions which must be observed for the maintenance and working of broadcasting stations such as the height of the aerials for each B.B.C station, frequencies and powers, right of inspection, etc., and I do not think the House need be detained with those. Any alterations made in the conditions of those technical terms are merely intended to bring the regulation into line with modern requirements.
I, therefore, assure the House that none of the conditions in this Licence impinge on the constitutional independence of the B.B.C. in its day to day management and its programme preparations. It is the earnest desire and intention of His Majesty's Government that the Corporation shall maintain its flexibility, that it shall be free, not only to give the public what it wants but to lead in matters of public taste, and that it shall maintain its reputation for integrity abroad and preserve its independence at home. I, therefore, ask the House to affirm the Motion.
§ 4.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Brendan Bracken (Bournemouth)
The Prime Minister's announcement of the retirement of Sir Allan Powell will be received with regret by all who have had the opportunity of working with him. The public owes a deep debt of gratitude to Sir Allan Powell. In the darkest days of the war he radiated confidence and cheerfulness, and was the sort of robust chairman that the B.B.C. then required. It was my good fortune, as Minister of Information, to see him almost every day. The Ministry of Information was not, perhaps, the most popular of all Ministries created by Parliament and we had many difficulties. Sir Allan Powell's arrival always meant that we had the most cheerful of visitors and one could always rely upon him to do everything in his power 1189 to give the Government the cooperation of the B.B.C. in the important war work that fell both to the Ministry of Information and the Political Warfare Executive. One of his greatest attributes was a lovely gift of courtesy, and a sweetness of nature that made him greatly beloved by all his staff. I am quite certain that if one has to run an institution of the size of the B.B.C. a reputation for kindness is aft advantage. Sir Allan Powell at no time tried—to use a metaphor of the Lord President's—to push anybody about. On the contrary, he was the embodiment of leadership through persuasion, and I am quite certain that he will be greatly missed by the B.B.C.
The Assistant Postmaster-General made a most agreeable and persuasive speech, and I hope to be almost equally uncontroversial. There are few more appetising subjects for Parliamentary debate than the B.B.C. It is a universal subject. I believe that most hon. Members on both sides of the House desire that the B.B.C. should be above the asperities and rancour of party politics. I know that some hon. Members opposite believe that the B.B.C. has a Tory bias, just as a few of my hon. Friends believe that the B.B.C. is run by Reds, or at any rate by the Left. Surely this is some evidence that the B.B.C. tries to be impartial? It is certainly condemned by all extremists, which is a testimony that moderation has always been the limit of the Governors of the B.B.C. If I find much to criticise in the Licence and Agreement which we are asked to approve, I am more than willing to admit that apart from a few and harmful changes made by this Government, the Licence and Agreement differ little from B.B.C. licences and agreements presented to this House by Conservative Governments. My criticisms, therefore, do not arise from any party bias, but from my conviction that Whitehall does not realise that the B.B.C. has grown up. When I say that Whitehall does not realise the B.B.C. has grown up, I mean that Conservative Governments before the war, and the present Government, have no awareness of the adult nature of the B. B.C., and that the Government are now very wrong to keep the B.B.C. in leading strings.
Let me begin by wading through some of the verb age of the Licence and Agreement. On page 5 there is a curious 1190 direction from the Postmaster-General to the B.B.C., which was referred to by the Assistant Postmaster-General. It runs:The Corporation shall broadcast an impartial account day by day by professional reporters of the proceedings in both Houses of the United Kingdom Parliament.What an unnecessary instruction. Surely, the Postmaster-General and his able staff occasionally listen to the B.B.C.? If they had done so, they would have discovered that the B.B.C. have been doing this for a very long time. One of the first acts of Sir William Haley, on assuming the Director-Generalship, was to lay down that in the B.B.C.'s postwar programmes, there should be a day-to-day report of our proceedings. This was instituted with the opening of the new Parliament in August, 1945, and to Sir William Haley is entirely due the credit for this long deferred improvement I think, with the Assistant Postmaster-General, that this Parliamentary report is very well done, but I do not agree with the suggestion that the report is given at a wrong hour. I entirely agree with the Assistant Postmaster-General, and I am sorry that I cannot agree with the opinions of a former Governor of the B.B.C. and one of the most distinguished editors of our time, Mr. Arthur Mann, who, in a long letter to "The Times" this morning, made out a very able argument for beginning the Parliamentary report at an earlier hour. But we all realise in this House, that most early speeches in Debates are set pieces; the real cut and thrust of Debate often comes when we get nearer winding-up speeches. If the House of Commons, as the Assistant Postmaster-General rightly says, insists on sitting until 10 o'clock, B.B.C. reporters cannot be expected to give a balanced account of Debates until 10.45. Indeed, I wonder they are able to do such excellent work in the short space of time allotted to them.
I feel there is a question that we who favour the B.B.C. reports being given at 10.45 should answer. Is there a good audience for the B.B.C.'s Parliamentary report at 10.45? I am assured that over two million people listen to this report, and that the audience is steadily growing. Well, that is very healthy, an excellent development. If we are self-sacrificing enough to stay here debating until 10 o'clock, surely the electors whom we serve so well, may also be willing to put up with a little inconvenience? I think it is 1191 not often realised how hard working a class politicians are—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—and if the electors want to listen to our Debates, let them share some of our self-sacrifice.
§ Mr. Bracken
When the B.B.C. was a baby—a small, squalling but useful instrument of publicity—the Government of the day, which I regret to say was a Tory Government—ordained:The Corporation shall whenever so requested by any Department of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland at the Corporation's own expense send from all or any of the Sound Broadcasting Stations any announcement or other matter which such Department may require to be broadcast provided that the Corporation when sending such matter may at its discretion announce that it is sent at the request of a named Department.Now I ask the Lord President of the Council to recognise that this direction is completely out of date. The B.B.C. is now the greatest publicity instrument on earth. No one agrees more than I do with the fine tribute paid to it by the Assistant Postmaster-General. He told us that a Gallup poll in France shows that 17 per cent. of the population listen to the B.B.C He has given us several indications to show that the B.B.C. is now a tremendous world force. So I say to the Lord President, that no Government Department should have the right to request and require the B.B.C. to broadcast its announcements. During the war, such announcements had to be made through the Ministry of Information, and I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, that they were made much too often and were generally turned down. The B.B.C. must not be looked upon as an appendage of Government Departments. It can be trusted to give publicity to departmental matters if they are really important, but Departments should not have the right to require the broadcasting of their announcements. I admit this right is not abused, even though the protecting hand of that loved and lamented Ministry of Information has been removed, but it might be abused and, in any event, it is completely out of date.
Of course, the B.B.C.'s only protection against departmental public relations officers is their right to add the signifi- 1192 cant sentence to any Government Department's announcement, that it is sent at the request of a named Department. Now a spate of named departmental announcements would certainly lead to a storm of public protest and I feel, therefore, that the Government are unlikely to allow Departments to have an opportunity of crowding the B.B.C. with instructions to broadcast their announcements. However, I suggest to the Lord President that this anachronism should be removed from the Licence. I believe the Lord President, who has very wide knowledge of administration, will accept my view that these instructions can be described as an anachronism, and I suggest to him, as a great reformer, that the sooner he gets rid of them, the better.
Now I want to deal with another instruction and, in some ways, a more objectionable one. On page 6 in paragraph (4) the Postmaster-General is given far too large powers to interfere in the management of the B.B.C. Let me read! the awful English of the Licence:The Postmaster-General may from time to time by Notice in writing to the Corporation require the Corporation to refrain from sending any broadcast matter (either particular or general) specified in such Notice and the definition of broadcast matter hereinbefore contained shall from time to time be read construed and take effect subject to the provisions of any such Notice or Notices which may have been given by the Postmaster-General. The Postmaster-General may at any time or times revoke or vary any such Notice as aforesaid. Any such Notice may specify whether or not the Corporation may at its discretion announce that the Notice has been given.I assert that the Postmaster-General should not be entitled to give such sweeping directions to the B.B.C. We have listened to a high tribute to the Governors from the Assistant Postmaster-General. He has told us that the Government have no intention of interfering in their affairs, and that they recognise the independence of the Governors. I must say that the maintenance of a restriction of the kind I have read out to the House, is a direct contradiction of what the Assistant Postmaster-General said to us today about the Government's firm belief in the liberty which should be given to the Governors. A Governorship of the B.B.C. is a very great public trust, and should only be given to men and women of great ability and of character who certainly ought not to be ordered around by the Postmaster-General. Here is one of the 1193 most remarkable cases I have come across after spending many years in this House. The Government set up the Governors of the B.B.C. as people of high distinction. They told us this afternoon that these Governors are persons in whom they put entire trust, and they say they have no intention of interfering with the liberty of the Governors of the B.B.C. Far from it, they wish to sustain their independence. But what do they do? A rather unimportant Minister, the Postmaster-General—let me repeat the words, the Postmaster-General—is entitled to give orders to this august body. I feel that the Government should take out these sentences to which I have objected.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
There is an ex-Post-master-General sitting next to the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Bracken
Yes. Sir, I am going to refer to that later on. The Lord President of the Council will agree with me that the independence of the B.B.C. is vital to the wellbeing of the nation, and must not be subjected to political, or other, pressures. The Postmaster-General is a politician upon whom senior Ministers may seek to thrust what I might charitably call advice. It may happen, for instance, that the present Postmaster-General gets a lot of unsought advice from the Lord President of the Council. I do not know anything about that. I have no criticism to make of Lord Listowel. I believe he is an able Minister, a worthy successor of the two ex-Postmaster-Generals who sit beside me. But I hold that no Minister in peacetime should have power to censor the B.B.C. programmes. Such powers of censorship usurp the responsibilities of the Governors. How can we hope to get first-rate Governors of the B.B.C, unless we trust their judgment? The argument may be put forward that some Minister should control B.B.C. Governors lest they take some rash action. The answer, of course, is that a Prime Minister does not appoint rash Governors of the B.B.C. He is the judge of their judgment. Alas, there has never been anything rash about the Governors of the B.B.C. Their board room has an atmosphere as encouraging to rashness as Frogmore. If the Lord President does not know what Frogmore is, I may tell him it is a royal mausoleum, and that it is no better than most 1194 mausoleums. By comparison with most of the Governors of the B.B.C, personages like the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lord Chancellor, the Governor of the Bunk of England, the Director of the British Museum, and even the Coroner for Westminster, are prancing playboys.
There is a nasty little sentence at the end of the censorship powers given to the Postmaster-General. As I am expecting the Lord President to do a real job of work in pruning the Licence, I hope he will listen to the few observations I am about to make. This nasty little sentence enables the Postmaster-General to prevent the Corporation from telling the public that he has censored their programmes. This is a repetition, I think, of a condition laid down by previous Governments, but apparently eagerly swallowed by the apostles of progress who now rule over us. Apart from the fact that the B.B.C. is no longer a small experiment sponsored by the Postmaster-General, and that it ought not, therefore, to be censored, the Governors should surely have the right to tell the public that they have been pre-vented by the Government from exercising their own judgment on the contents of their programmes. The Assistant Postmaster-General will not disagree with that. He has told us today that His Majesty's Government have every desire to maintain the independence of the B.B.C. To strengthen the statement made by the Assistant Postmaster-General, I suggest to the Lord President that he should delete all the censorship powers given by the Postmaster-General. Instead of approving censorship by the Postmaster-General, or anybody else, this House should heartily encourage the B.B.C. to give many more opportunities for controversy. The B.B.C. should be a lively forum, where protagonists of all sorts of ideas can fairly, and fiercely, argue.
§ Mr. Bracken
That indeed shows that the hon. Gentleman's memory is not as good as it should be. No Minister has ever done more than I have to push the B.B.C. Governors into controversy.
§ Mr. Bracken
True, too true. But let me go back to my point. As Minister, I was responsible for the doings of the B.B.C. and Questions were allowed in those days in this House about almost every programme that annoyed one side of the House or the other. I always gave the same answer, that I would not interfere with the Governors of the B.B.C. It is quite wrong for the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) to think that I have suddenly been converted to the merits of free and fair controversy in the B.B.C. programmes. I have always believed in it, and, in my small way, I have done everything I could to encourage the Governors to give ample opportunity for fair controversy on the radio.
§ Mr. Bracken
The Governors, in their anxiety not to wound anyone's feelings, and in their inexplicable terror of Questions in this House—a terror referred to this morning by the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Benn Levy) in an article with which I do not agree, but which certainly made one solid point, that timidity has been the ruling vice of Governors of the B.B.C.—the Governors, I say, in their anxiety not to wound anyone's feelings, are sometimes as prudish as the late Dr. Bowdler. They need constant reminding of Bishop Creighton's remark:No people do so much harm as those who go about doing good.I wish to say something about the financial provisions of the Licence and Agreement. If I were Chancellor of the Exchequer, I should be very grateful indeed to the Assistant Postmaster-General. For many years the hon. Gentleman and I were Private Members, and we sat together on Committees upstairs. I have always recognised his great tact, and his capacity for getting controversial Measures through without much debate, but the Treasury should be deeply grateful to him, both for the brevity and the content of his statement here today. I am quite certain that the Government were right in agreeing to the increase in the B.B.C.'s licence fee. It was an unpopular decision to take and I believe that arguments were used at by-elections against 1196 the Government for doing so. I wish to say that if the Conservative Government had not been so unwisely dismissed, I, as one of its minor Members, would have strongly supported an increase. The remarkable growth of the B.B.C.'s services to the public, the necessity for developing television—and television will soon call for further expenditure on the ground that the cover is inadequate—the general increase in costs caused by the war, made it necessary to increase the licence fee.
Furthermore, I hold that the B.B.C. should be enabled to offer more generous pay to all who work for it. And surely the public, or listeners, get their money's worth from the present B.B.C. charge of £1 per year. After all, it is only three farthings a day. But the B.B.C. does not get all the money provided by listeners, and here I want to remind you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, of the beautiful piece of glossing done by the Assistant Postmaster-General. When he came to finance he talked in statistics, but I shall go into the squalid details of the Treasury's arrangement with the B.B.C. What does the B.B.C. get from its £1 licence fee? In fact, it gets a fraction less than 16s. What becomes of the rest? The Treasury takes a rake-off on each pound "for services rendered." Services rendered? It renders no service of any kind—
§ Mr. Piratin (Mile End)
The right hon. Gentleman referred to a Treasury rake-off of one pound. Does he mean a pound of flesh, or of money?
§ Mr. Bracken
They certainly get their pound of flesh. They also get three shillings out of every £1.
§ Mr. Bracken
There is a shilling missing, as the Lord President says. I shall come to it in a moment. I think that the Assistant Postmaster-General has a guilty conscience about that shilling.
The Treasury, I say, rakes off three shillings from every £1. For what services? None. The Treasury renders no services of any kind to the B.B.C. This is by no means the whole of the story of Treasury rapacity. When I was at the Ministry of Information, we gave most careful consideration to the B.B.C. post- 1197 war estimates. It was made quite clear to us that, given a licence tee of £1 a year, the B.B.C. could build up reserves to cover the cost of television and other heavy development costs There is no justification for charging another £1 for a television licence. The money will merely go into the greedy maw of the Treasury. It may be argued that the Treasury should be entitled to tax the B.B.C. The answer is that the Treasury, now that grants-in-aid are ended, will collect, as it did before the war, full taxes on all money which the B.B.C. puts to reserve, or spends on capital development. Having forced the Postmaster-General to become the biggest profiteer this country has ever known by enormously increasing postal charges, the Treasury, with a song in its heart, is now making him fleece B.B.C. listeners, many of whom are poor people.
The only justification for increasing the licence fee was to make the B.B.C. self-supporting, to enable the Corporation to maintain a first-rate research department, a very important matter, to modernise old stations and build new ones. Some hon. Members who actually served in the B.B.C. in wartime will, I thank, agree with me when I say that there is a great deal of replacement to be done. B.B.C. machinery was used in the wildest fashion during the war; nobody bothered about maintenance; the machinery was given out to the service of our war cause. Therefore, it is necessary to instal new plant and equipment. It is also necessary, as the Assistant Postmaster-General has told us today, to give Britain plenty of frequency modulation stations I am glad he touched on that subject. I am quite certain that we need many frequency modulation stations in this country. And, of course, we want to push ahead fast with television.
Their Lordships of the Treasury, having grabbed 15 per cent. of the B.B.C.'s revenue, condescend to say, on page 8 of the Licence and Agreement, that they may be prepared to make some restitution if the B.B.C. has not enough money to finance its services. That assurance was given to us by the Assistant Postmaster-General. Just before, he told us that the Government regarded it as highly important to maintain the independence of the Governors. But can the Postmaster-General think of a better way of sapping the independence of the Corporation than 1198 for their Lordships of the Treasury to expect the Governors of the B.B.C. to come cap in hand to them, to ask for a little more of the revenues provided by the B.B.C.'s listeners? First Lords of the Treasury less scrupulous than, say, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) might ask too great a return for such cheap benevolence. The Treasury ought not to be allowed to get away with this impudent impost. I hope that hon. Members on all sides of the House will do their best to support me in making an appeal to the Lord President, to make quite certain that this Treasury rake off shall not be permitted. I do not think that any person with a sense of fairness believes that the Treasury is entitled to take three shillings out of every £1 provided by the licence holders of the B.B.C. Furthermore, to reinforce the point made by the Assistant Postmaster-General about the importance of the independence of the Governors of the B.B.C, I aver that it is a very bad thing that the Governors of the B.B.C. should become mendicants at Ministerial doors.
I turn for a moment to the financial arrangements made by the Post Office with the B.B.C. They were not touched upon by the Assistant Postmaster-General. Under the Licence and Agreement, which we are now asked to approve, the Postmaster-General, humbly following in the wake of their Lordships of the Treasury, helps himself to more than £600,000 a year to cover his Department's expenses in collecting licence fees. I ask the Assistant Postmaster-General: Is this the actual cost of collection? Perhaps he or the Lord President will tell the House later, whether it is the actual cost of collection. If so, it seems to me to be a very heavy charge—six per cent.—for collection. Or does the Post Office also batten on the B.B.C. Can the virtuous Assistant Postmaster-General be concealing from the House the secret that his Department has joined with the Treasury, in helping themselves to the money of the unfortunate licence holders of the B.B.C.
§ Mr. Bracken
That, first of all, is an inaccurate remark. The Government, having agreed to the doubling of the B.B.C. licence charge, having imposed an extra £1 for television, are, as I have said before, great profiteers.
§ Mr. Bracken
It certainly was not—but let me go on. I wish I could have the Lord President's attention, because he may be called upon to answer my next point.
§ Mr. Bracken
One may be forgiven for thinking that the Post Office has something to hide because of the arrogant ruling given in paragraph 5, page 9, of the Licence and Agreement, which declares that any account certified by the Comptroller and Auditor General of the Post Office, or his deputy, shall be final and conclusive for all purposes. Why?
§ Mr. Bracken
There is nothing in this Licence to prevent the Post Office from piling up excessive overhead charges which the B.B.C. must pay. Does the House approve of that? The Lord President appears to approve of it. I maintain that the B.B.C.'s accountants should have the right to check these charges. It is utterly unfair that they should take a certificate from the Postmaster-General that the Post Office have spent large sums of money in collection, and not be given an opportunity of looking into the details of the account. I am sorry to have taken up so much time in talking about the finances of the B.B.C. I had to do so in view of the instructions given to the Assistant Postmaster-General, by the Treasury, not to speak too long on financial matters, because they certainly do not bear examination. It is essential that the B.B.C. should have adequate revenues for developing the services which the public expect of it. I hold that it is absolutely important that the B.B.C. should be self-supporting. The independence of the B.B.C, the quality of its administration and its continuity are prejudiced, if it must rely on grants-in-aid to meet its needs.
1200 I will now say a word about the question of continuity. I can see no reason for halving the normal period of the Charter. A lame excuse was given by the Assistant Postmaster-General. He went into no details upon this important decision. I maintain that by halving the period of the Charter, this House discourages the staff of the B.B.C. The decision also discourages the Corporation from making long-term arrangements. In fact, it is a premium on short-sightedness.
Let me now make a short digression on Governors' pay. The Prime Minister today paid a copious tribute to the Governors of the B.B.C, particularly to Sir Allan Powell. He spoke about the B.B.C.'s great services in the war. When the Treasury is rolling out the pork barrel to the directors of every newly nationalised industry, why should they cut the pay of men and women bearing great responsibilities as Governors of the B.B.C, thus rating their services far below those of members of the Steel Board? The Lord President can contradict me if he thinks I am inaccurate. I think members of the Steel Board, who have very little to do at present, are paid £1,000 a year. If we could only discover what is paid to the chairmen and members of the regional coal boards, we would discover that it was a good deal more than £1,000 a year. I say, therefore, that it is very unfair of the Government to cut the pay of the Governors of the B.B.C. How odd it is that the Prime Minister should come to the Box today to read out a tribute to these Governors, and that at the same time the Treasury, probably aided by the Lord President of the Council, should cut their pay. Here perhaps I may address a few words to the Lord President. He is, I think, the field marshal of public relations officers in this new Government. He rules over them, and he makes quite certain that their numbers are always being increased. In fact, if the Lord President has his way, before this Government go out of office, there will be more public relations officers in Whitehall than there were members of the National Fire Service. [Interruption.] The Lord President says that they receive a quarter of the pay.
§ Mr. Bracken
During the war, the Governors of the B.B.C. gave up a great deal of their time to the affairs of the Corporation, and I think they should still do so. I think it is absolutely nonsensical to suggest that the Governors should only attend a monthly or weekly board meeting. I think the Governors should take a great interest in the affairs of the B.B.C., provided always they do not interfere in the details of management. I feel that the Lord President and his colleague have done an injury to the Governors by cutting their pay to a much lower level than that received by the Lord President's public relations officers who, after all, are only paper chasing in Fleet Street or in the B.B.C. office.
This Licence and Agreement is a niggling affair. Its authors look on the B.B.C. as if it were a mere distributor of electricity, rather than one of the great creative forces of our time. It is now 20 years since the B.B.C. was incorporated by Royal Charter. In that short time it has become the most powerful of broadcasting organisations in the world. What is more important, it is the most honoured of them all. How it is trusted everywhere: how large a part of the world is in its debt for manifold services to the cause of freedom during the worst of wars. The B.B.C. makes no claim to perfection. It is occasionally foolish and often boring, but, taking it all in all, we should be very proud of it. The B.B.C. has become one of the Estates of the Realm—an ever-growing spiritual and cultural influence and one of the most trusted news-givers of our time. Alas, it is still true to say that a joke in its mouth is often no laughing matter. But despite its defects, the B.B.C. is the best instrument we have to present our way of life to the world. It comes of age next year. How astonishing are its achievements. No other great British institution has risen to greatness with such swiftness. Let us give credit where credit is due—to the abilities, the resourcefulness and the abiding sense of fairness of the many men and women who have served the B.B.C. with rare devotion. They well deserve all the support this House can give them.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Mallalieu (Huddersfield)
I think hon. Members on this side of the House will find a surprising amount with which to agree in what the right hon. Gentleman 1202 the Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) has just said, and, perhaps, particularly in the earlier part of his speech. I agree that the B.B.C. should be above the asperities of party politics, and, too, beyond the restrictions of political pressure. I look upon it as being, among other things, a great medium for the dissemination of ideas, and, like the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, I would certainly like to see it used for that purpose as freely as possible. I am quite certain that all hon. Members on this side of the House will welcome the effort which the right hon. Gentleman did make, and which he proposes to go on making in the future, to secure more and more discussion of ideas and more and more controversial discussions from the B.B.C.
But the right hon. Gentleman himself agreed that his efforts towards that end in the past had not been very successful, and I am afraid that is true. The reason why his efforts were not successful, in my opinion, and the reason why, even today, we still do not get a great deal of controversy from the B.B.C. is not solely the reason—that of timidity—which the right hon. Gentleman gave. I think there is another reason—the way in which the B.B.C. uses the Licence and Charter granted to it in the past and which we are discussing at the present time. So far as controversy is concerned, the B.B.C. works on this principle. They set up a body of men who look reasonably at public affairs, and try to decide what is the fair way of representing the opinions of various groups on those affairs. They try to make a reasoned judgment. The difficulty of that procedure, as it is carried out at the present time, seems to me to be that any one group of men trying to form a judgment may be wrong, or may be subjected to pressure of one kind or another, and the only way in which we could get better judgments, or to avoid mistakes of judgment, is to have not one body of men trying to select the speakers who will take part in controversy, but to have several bodies of men, and that, in turn, comes down to the question of how this Licence, when it is given to the B.B.C, shall be operated.
In the White Paper, in paragraph (d) on page 4, it is stated that the B.B.C. shall—exercise such Licence or Licences as aforesaid in such manner, for such purposes and 1203 by such means and methods as may from time to time be agreed with Our Postmaster-General.I would like to see the Postmaster-General, with the B.B.C., coming to an agreement to use these Licences for operating stations in some such way as this. Instead of having one Corporation doing all the broadcasting, they should try to set up three or four sub-corporations, all acting independently of each other, providing entirely separate services, and in every way behaving as independent sub-corporations. I believe that, in that way, it would be possible to achieve the end which everyone desires—far greater freedom of ideas and far greater freedom of discussion of controversial issues—if we had, not one B.B.C., but four. It could be done without legislation, simply by a change in the way in which these Licences have been worked in the past. I think that the present broadcasting organisation is thoroughly unsatisfactory, and it is for that reason that, in contrast to the right hon. Gentleman opposite, I welcome the fact that the life of the Charter is to be reduced from ten to five years. The existing organisation is rotten, and the longer it lasts the worse it will be. Thus, cutting its life is, to that extent, an improvement. I hope that, by the time the five years have passed, we shall have reached a way of conducting our broadcasting which, in many respects, will be different from the one we have at the present time.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
Before my hon. Friend leaves that point, may I interrupt? He means, I presume, that these three or four independent sub-corporations would be independent of each other and free to settle their own broadcasting programmes?
§ Mr. Mallalieu
Yes. The only way in which they would be in any way dependent would be in the direction of finance, and I believe that the best method of finance, if I am in Order in discussing this, would be to make the fullest possible use of the Listener Research Organisation at the present time.
§ Mr. Baxter
I very much agree with what the hon. Gentleman says about breaking up the corporation into four sections, but does he visualise what I think would be a very difficult point? Would each broadcasting sub-corporation start to compete against the others, in the 1204 matter of wages and fees? How would that be arranged?
§ Mr. Mallalieu
I do not think it would be necessary to have that sort of competition, or that it would be desirable to have it; they would be competing more in the field of ideas. They would have entirely separate staffs, free to develop their own ideas separately in each corporation, subject only to the financial condition I was about to touch on. If one set of men proved particularly successful, they would begin to attract more and more listeners to that programme, and that brings me to the point which I was about to develop. If we made use of the Listener Research Organisation, we could find out how many listeners were listening to one programme and how few to another. We should then make the amount of money given to each corporation each year from licence fees dependent upon the number of listeners which each received, as disclosed through the Listener Research Bureau.
I want to cover another point about the restrictions to which the B.B.C. seems to me to be subject. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth mentioned one or two, as they appeared to him, and I must say that I agree with him about one of them, but there are other restrictions which have never been published, so far as I can find out, though they are restrictions that become pretty obvious from time to time. It seems to me that the entertainments industry and my own industry, that of newspapers, regard the British Broadcasting Corporation with the utmost hostility. It has very often happened that the entertainments industry has refused permission to the B.B.C. to broadcast, say, a Command Performance, and I suspect, though I do not know whether this is true, that the Football Association, or those who control football, discourage the B.B.C. from broadcasting football because it might interfere with the attendance at the games. I am certain, from my own knowledge, that the B.B.C. is prevented from giving certain items of news as soon as they are received. The football results on Saturday afternoons are known to the B.B.C. at 5 o'clock, but they are not put out until after the six o'clock news, which means an unnecessary strain on countless thousands like myself who are waiting for the results. I believe that the reason why the B.B.C. is put under that 1205 restriction, is in order to benefit the evening papers—to let them get out on to the streets. In my professional experience, and, I am sure, in that of the right hon. Gentleman as well, there have been countless occasions where releases by the B.B.C. have been deliberately delayed in order to help either the evening or the morning papers.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
Because, if the news is given out over the air, it hits the sale of the papers concerned. The point I want to make in that connection is that I think it is time that the Government and the Postmaster-General stopped looking on the B.B.C., the newspapers and the entertainments industry as being separate, competing and always conflicting organs for the entertainment and information of the public. Let us stop catering for particular interests in watertight compartments and concentrate on the public interest. Let us treat them for what they are—organs for the service of the public. I believe that, if we could do that, we should get a far more effective B.B.C. in the future than we have had in the past.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
I once read an article written by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mallalieu) in which he referred to me as a caveman. I believe that another hon. Member on this side was associated with me in that compliment. Therefore, I hope that the hon. Member will not be embarrassed by my saying how much I agree with all that he has said. We have obviously shared the same cave of thought, in many respects.
First, I want to say one or two things to the credit of the B.B.C. Recently I was in Hamburg and I was discussing with people there how something could be put over to the German people, so that they would accept it absolutely and without doubt. One of the Germans who was talking with me at the time said that the only way to do it was to broadcast it from the B B.C., London, and that the Germans had come to believe absolutely in the B.B.C. announcements from London. That is a great credit. In any criticism that we may have to offer about the B.B.C, I do not think that any one of us would give up his licence even if he had to pay two, three, four or five times 1206 as much for it as is paid at present. For music alone it is the most wonderful value. One can have first-class music, second-class music and lots of third-class music, almost at choice. These are great pleasures and delights. Nevertheless, I support the hon. Member for Huddersfield in his view that one of the worst features of the programme is its unadaptability, its averageness, and its bringing of everything down to a mediocre level.
We have already heard from the Assistant Postmaster-General and from my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken), that we want more controversies, that we want items, as it were, with more bite in them. I see that the junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert) is here. Is there any reason why there should not be a debate on the air about the Oxford Group, with my hon. Friend as one of the protagonists and, probably, the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg), and, on the other side, Dr. Buchman, or an Oxford grouper from this House? But let us have that issue brought to the point. We are told about describing events in Parliament. I think that the news is very well done, but look at the lack of enterprise which we now see on the part of the B.B.C. Why could we not have had, the day that the hon. Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. Mellish) took his seat, a broadcast by him saying what it is like to make a Tory lose his deposit at a by-election? Then, perhaps, we could, in turn, have the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who won the Scottish Universities by-election (Lieut-Colonel Elliot) to tell us what it is like to make four of your opponents lose their deposits. Why does the B.B.C. miss all topicality, and all vitality? Why does not Professor Laski go to the microphone and give us his views on the jury system of this country? I am handing out one idea after another, which, I can assure the House, if they were adopted by a rival corporation, would take away 80 per cent. of the listening public from the B.B.C. Something was said about the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Zilliacus) giving a discussion on the unimportance of being earnest, although I do not think that that was really a good idea. I see that half the Communist Party is present this afternoon. May I suggest to him that as next year will see the hundredth anniversary of Communism, as it will be 1207 exactly a century ago next year since Karl Marx—
§ Mr. Baxter
I am inclined to be ahead of things. But why should not the hon. Member go to the B.B.C. and give us a review of the great benefits of 100 years of Communism in the world? At any rate, it would wake things up, and give us some interest and the opportunity of listening to something vital. The point which the hon. Member for Huddersfield did not develop, but which, I think, is very important, is that in prolonging the life of this Corporation for five years—and I completely disagree with my right hon. Friend that it should be for 10 years—we are once more confirming that, in the matter of broadcasting, there shall be only one employer. That is really a very serious aspect. The whole story of success, wherever one hears it is that of overcoming discouragements, and seeking an alternative gate where one is closed. The hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Benn Levy) is a playwright of distinction, although I did not like his last play very much.
§ Mr. Baxter
I am perfectly certain that, in the beginning, he had enough plays returned to him with which to fill a trunk, until he found some management ready to give him a chance. As a writer, I may say that I have received enough rejection slips with which to paper a bedroom. But there are always alternatives. If I may be excused for making a very personal reference, I would like to say that, three years ago, I was invited by the B.B.C. to take part in the Brains Trust. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I do not know. The whole thing was so dull and boring that, towards the end of it, I made a little innocent fun, as best I could, of the right hon. Gentleman who is now Minister of Fuel [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] It may have been irreverent, but I did not anticipate his coming greatness. I have never since been asked to take part in the Brains Trust. No matter what brains may rush to my head, or what trust I may have in society, that Brains Trust has been closed to me for three years. However, I must 1208 say, in fairness to the B.B.C., that I was asked to take part in a debate with Sidney Carroll on whether or not there should be a national theatre for London. But that was broadcast in the Indian programme. I should have thought that India had enough problems on her hands without listening to that.
Here we have this "closed shop," which I think, is one of the most serious aspects of this matter. In preparing part of this speech, I intended to propose that the Corporation should be subdivided so that there would be some sort of internal competition whereby, if the responsible people at the B.B.C. did not like a play written by. a certain playwright—let us say, Mr. Val Gielgud—he could go to another broadcasting corporation. I do not want to labour the point because I know the difficulties of the Corporation, but most of us in this House are accustomed to speaking more or less constantly to the country; in the Conservative Central Office and, no doubt in the organisation of hon. Members opposite, Members are enticed by offers of audiences. I do not think the estimates are always accurate; sometimes I think they are optimistic, but one is told, "There will be an audience of 500 or 800 people," and occasionally we get an offer of an audience of 1,200. Think of the B.B.C.'s audience. Think not of a full Albert Hall or Queen's Hall, but of hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people. Think how often the programmes are simple, mediocre, undistinguished and tired. There was a feature on the B.B.C. programme in which they looked for talent. Do they look for a coming Gigli, Menuhin, or Laurence Olivier? Not at all. They bring to this audience of millions somebody who can nearly sing, or somebody who" ran play the violin a little, and they do it with such charm to the "stooge" audience that we feel kindly towards people who have no right to perform except at a Socialist Party rally.
I now come to a point at which I become curious to know how this speech is going to end. I see on my notes the words, "Competition; one director against another, one programme against another." I do not think that is bad. It is as good an ending as any, and it is short. I associate myself with the hon. Member for Huddersfield in asking that there should be competition. Let the 1209 B.B.C. realise what an audience it as addressing. Let us, at least, not associate it with that pale fog of mediocrity, which is the menace of the times in which we live.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Piratin (Mile End)
It is almost a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter). I say that because, on the one hand, he has made a number of observations with which I and, no doubt, many others will agree; and, on the other hand, he has suggested —and let us hope the Governors of the B.B.C. will hear it if they listen to the broadcast at 10.45 tonight—that in two years' time the hundredth anniversary of the introduction of Communism in 1848 should be marked by a series of programmes dealing with the benefits, or otherwise, of Communism. That suggestion may be worth listening to. I personally would have been too modest to put it forward on this occasion, and, therefore, I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's suggestion.
It is already becoming clear from the speeches which we have heard since this Debate was opened that there are some criticisms regarding the B.B.C. which are widely felt, with regard to both the present and the future. I believe it is felt that the B.B.C, in spite of its other merits, of which it has a number, has not satisfied the public who feel, as did the hon. Member for Wood Green, that the programmes require something new and lively. That is one reason why I had hoped there would have been a commission of inquiry into the functioning of the B.B.C. before an extension of the Charter was granted. We now find that there has been no inquiry, that there is just this Debate for a few hours, that the Charter is to be extended for another five years; and, no doubt, those on the Government Front Bench expect this Motion for the extension of the Charter will go through formally and without contention.
I do not think this occasions presents enough scope in which to discuss the merits and demerits of the B.B.C. I wish to address myself to a number of aspects of the question. In the first place—not the most important point, perhaps, and one usually left to the last—is the question of the accounts of the B.B.C. I do not wish to deal in detail with this aspect 1210 The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) dealt with that matter, and I do not think I am qualified to answer his points. In any case, I am sure my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council has already been furnished with some bright answers. However, I would like to reter to what was said in the concluding part of the Report of the Select Committee on Estimates, concerning the accounts of the B.B.C. Let me quote from the Report:Moreover, the accounts presented to Parliament by the Corporation … are not as informative as they might be. In the result, Parliament is deprived of the opportunity of obtaining sufficient details to satisfy itself that the Corporation are so conducting their affairs as to secure that due economy is observed and that the public gets value for money.''
§ Mr. Piratin
June. That was an observation of an impartial Committee of this House, furnished with reports far more extensive than we have of the B.B.C. I believe that a scrutiny of the accounts on the back of the White Paper is insufficient to enable us to discover how the money is being spent and whether it is being spent wisely.
With regard to the Governors, I listened with interest when the Prime Minister said that two of the leading members of the Corporation, the Chairman and the Vice-Chairman, had resigned in favour of two others. I am speaking now without any regard to their personal qualities, because I am not competent to discuss them, but I would doubt whether these gentlemen really represent the British people or a reasonable section of the British people. Sir Allan Powell, the Chairman, is also the chairman of Briggs Motor Bodies, Limited, one of the biggest engineering concerns in the country and part of the Ford combine. He may be a good chairman of Briggs Motor Bodies, but that does not qualify him to speak for the British people or for any reasonable section of them. Likewise, Captain Millis is the managing director of Baring Brothers, but that does not necessarily qualify him to speak for the British people.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)
The hon. Member cannot discuss the Charter, but just what is in the White Paper.
§ Mr. Piratin
I thought I could make these observations, in view of the fact that the Prime Minister referred to this matter this afternoon.
§ Mr. Piratin
Well, I have plenty more to say. The third point, which now becomes my second, concerns the question of responsibility for policy. There was an exchange of glances between you and me just now, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, because I was waiting to see whether or not I was in Order in referring to this matter. Let me give two examples. There is, first of all, the case of music. There are those who like so-called "highbrow" music, and those who like "lowbrow" music, but music is music all the world over and, in fact, we are told that it makes the world go round. Therefore, no one can suggest that this is a political or party issue. Yet friends of mine who are musicians, composers and so on, tell me that they cannot discover who is responsible for policy in deciding which music shall be played, how it shall be played, and so on. I am told there is a reading panel, but I also understand there is a musical director. The musical director will say that the reading panel is responsible; but, likewise, the reading panel will confer the responsibility on him. Those people who are attempting— as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wood Green said and as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Levy) wrote in his article this morning in the "Daily Herald"—to get some publicity for their efforts, in the musical world in this case, do not really know what happens, or the way in which their efforts are judged.
Early this year, a bright suggestion was made by a member of the staff of the B.B.C., who has now resigned, that there ought to be a debate on a subject which was topical at that time—it had been made topical by Debates in this House— Eastern versus Western democracy. An hon. Member sitting not far from me will remember to what I am referring, and I think he can confirm it. The suggestion 1212 was that a Communist and a Labour Member should be asked to debate the question, die Communist evidently supporting Eastern democracy—which he could not do without qualifying—and the Labour Member supporting Western democracy—which, as you know, Sir, is not always the case. As soon as he made this proposal, up jumped someone who evidently supported the Conservative Party and said, "Ah, but the Conservative Party also supports Western democracy." Hence, he wanted a Conservative speaker. Then up jumped someone with Liberal traditions and said, "What about a Liberal?" It then became, in essence, a debate with three people supporting Western democracy, and one person supporting Eastern democracy; this being unfair and impracticable, the debate was changed to, "What is Democracy?" That confirms what was said by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wood Green. What could have been at that time a debate on a topical subject, Eastern democracy versus Western democracy, with some very useful points emerging, became a rather tame debate on a very wide subject indeed, which could not adequately be covered.
I mention those two incidents because I think whoever is responsible for policy ought to resolve it in such a way that the public get something which is really stimulating. I agree entirely with the observation which has already been made by previous speakers this afternoon, namely, the need for more controversy. It is really a question of having more politics, put over along the lines, perhaps, of the pre-election speeches which we had in 1945. That of course, was the first such experiment in our time, the previous elections having been 10 years earlier At that time, every contesting party was given an opportunity of having its spokesmen broadcast. In my opinion some parties got more than their fair share, but that is only the way in which I look at it, of course. On that occasion it was said subsequently, by one or two commentators, that far more people were influenced, one way or the other, by those wireless speeches than were influenced by the newspapers. People had begun to doubt the merits and veracity of the newpapers. Getting the information straight from the horses' mouths, so to speak, they were influenced by it—though perhaps not always in the way the particular horse wanted them to be influenced.
1213 I think that in this respect we could perhaps copy what goes on in other countries. I could quote a number, but I want to pass on quickly. I had one particularly in mind, where once a month a spokesman for one of the political parties goes on the air and gives his observations on political affairs during the current period. We do have something of that kind, but it is very often done by people who are not really official spokesmen. I think it would do a lot of good if we could have something similar to that. I would certainly support any ideas for having controversial discussions. I appreciated the point made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wood Green, when he said that a debate on the question of a national theatre in London was broadcast to India. I likewise had a similar experience recently, when I had to debate, in a brief 18 minutes, with Dr. Joad—who, as hon. Members know, can even out-talk most hon. Members of this House—the question of Marxism, he saying it was wrong, and I saying it was right He ended up by saying that it was half right.
§ Mr. Piratin
Imagine my surprise when, after I had undertaken to do the broadcast, I discovered—though it would not have stopped me anyway—that it was to be broadcast to what was known as the Eastern Division, which really means Asia. Of course, Marxism is very important in India, in China and so on, but really we were discussing things at home, and in many cases it would not have had any immediate significance abroad. I then asked, in an informal conversation which we had with some of the staff there, why we could not have such a contentious kind of discussion—because neither of us ended by agreeing with the other—for the Home Service. I was then told by one of the staff, whose name need not be given, "The matter was raised on one occasion, but it was felt that such a democratic procedure was better understood abroad than at home."
I now wish to deal with some aspects of the proposal which we have before us this afternoon, to approve the Licence and Agreement of the B.B.C. There are a number of alterations, some of which are improvements, on the current arrangements, and there are several things on 1214 which I would like to speak. Firstly, the Regional Advisory Councils. In paragraph 10 (2) of the Charter it is suggested that the British Broadcasting Corporation should make their own nominations. I believe we require some improvement in that respect. The Regional Councils have already been recognised, but if we look at the "Radio Times" we find that the individuality of the different regions is very largely lost. In region after region there is often a duplication of the main Home Service. I believe that the personnel should not be nominated by the British Broadcasting Corporation, unless there is some guidance in the matter. There ought to be some influencing of the nominations for the Regional Councils, so that they do represent the people in whose area they function.
The second problem I wish to put forward is this. I do not think this House can be content with the arrangement in the past few months, since the Ministry of Information was disbanded, in regard to the responsibility to Parliament for the British Broadcasting Corporation. In another place there is the Postmaster-General, and here we have the Assistant Postmaster-General. We also have the Lord President of the Council, who has to answer in the House on matters of policy. In actual fact we cannot raise matters of policy; we can only ask certain limited and restricted questions, and very often the answers are likewise of a restricted character. We know that the Corporation is an autonomous body, but the fact is that it must be held responsible to the public in some degree for what it does. Yet we are told time and again that it is not. I wonder whether there could not be a Minister—the Assistant Postmaster-General in this House would satisfy me—responsible for all aspects so far as the B.B.C. is concerned?
I now wish to make a few observations on the question of salaries, to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth referred. The salaries have been decreased to £600 a year for the Governors, other than the Chairman and Vice-Chairman. There was some consternation about this in the ranks opposite. But the question is not whether it has been increased or decreased, but what do the Governors do for the money? As I understand it they are to meet once a fortnight to discuss major aspects of 1215 policy. They could not do more than that, anyway, by meeting once a fortnight. They get £600 a year. Recently, there were one or two slight differences of opinion about an increase in the salary of Members of Parliament from £600 to £1,000 a year. Whatever the merits of the output of our production, the fact remains that we do work very hard; and whatever the merits of the Opposition may be—for instance, in Committees, and in their weekly introduction of Prayers—the fact is that they do work very hard. From that point of view they deserve the money they get. I am not discussing the quality of the work; I am only discussing the quantity. I want to apply this principle to the B.B.C. Governors. I agree with the proposition which was made opposite, that they ought to be asked to do more than they do; and if they do it, by all means let them receive more. I do not think they can adequately carry out their job by meeting once a fortnight. We know what that means in actual fact. It means that the Chairman and the Vice-Chairman really carry out the duties, and that the Governors merely approve what is proposed by the Chairman. We should like a number of people really "doing their job, and really giving their attention to their responsibilities.
Now I come to the fourth improvement in the new Agreement, and that is in connection with the staff negotiations. In paragraph 22 there is reference to this, and it is to be commended. But I have some criticism to make, because this is a point on which I feel very strongly. I hope that the Minister, in asking us to approve all these arrangements, will at the same time give a guarantee that he will look into this matter again. We are told in paragraph 22 that the management will choose the organisations to be recognised I want hon. Members on this side to understand what is involved here, especially the trade unionists Not an organisation of the workers, not the workers, not the staff, but the management will decide which organisations they will recognise. They do not recognise the National Union of Journalists or the Electrical Trades Union. They are recognising the staff association with which they are closely bound I do believe that the Assistant Postmaster-General should scrutinise this very carefully If he gives us some guarantee that it will 1216 be reviewed there will be no necessity to press the matter further. Otherwise, I feel that Members on this side must insist that the workers there shall have the full right of organisation as they like.
My fifth observation is in connection with overseas services. The B.B.C. is given responsibility for overseas broadcasts. I want to draw the attention of the House to this: During the war, when the B.B.C. was under closer control of the Government—the Ministry of Information being responsible—people in all parts of the world listened to the B.B.C. as being the voice of the British Government, the British Government being the voice of the British people. Today, the fact is that people overseas still think along the same lines. People abroad think, when the B.B.C. announces a certain item of news, or a point of view on certain issues of the day, that it speaks on behalf of the Government. The niceties of the Corporation and the Charter are missed by millions of overseas listeners. Because of that, I think the Government must take some responsibility with regard to the nature of the overseas broadcasting. I believe that the principle of the Charter is mistaken. If we have made that mistake, the British people must suffer for the mistake their representatives, in their wisdom, have made; but why should overseas listeners suffer? I suggest the British Government have the right to concern themselves with the kind of broadcasting which is operated for listeners abroad.
I am unhappy about the five years' extension, not because I should like it to be 10 years, but because I believe that the Charter might have been withdrawn altogether. I believe that in this country we have to find our own way to a right kind of broadcasting system. We do not want a broadcasting system like that which operates in the United States of America. That broadcasting system operates to the advantage of the big corporations and capitalists, who can afford to buy the air and monopolise the ether We do not want to see that. But, on the other hand, we have to recognise that we, the Government, consisting of representatives duly elected by the British people, must have the responsibility for ensuring that the British people, in addition to entertainment—music, and so on—are well informed on the social, economic and political issues of the day I fully agree 1217 with hon. Members on both sides of the House who would like all points of view given ample scope on the air, but I say that this is the responsibility of the Government.
I believe it was a weakness in the Government not to take this responsibility, now that the 10-year Charter has lapsed, and to withdraw that Charter. I am sorry the Government did not take the opportunity of really taking the whole of the broadcasting system into their own hands, providing quality broadcasting along the lines suggested in the way of improvements in entertainment, improvements in the discussion of controversial matters, improvements in the dissemination of political news, and so on.
§ Mr. Piratin
Today we are discussing this matter, if I am under no illusion, in the British House of Commons. If the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth and I were members of the Soviet organisation, we would discuss the matter in relation to Moscow. Here we are discussing the matter in the British Parliament. On another occasion I will give him the privilege of debating with me the merits of the Moscow radio.
§ Mr. Piratin
On the B.B.C. It is rather too late to open that matter now. The Licence is before the House for approval, and I give it my approval, which I am sure the Assistant Postmaster-General will appreciate. But I do ask him to look into that particular point that I emphasised before, namely, the question of staff negotiations and the rights of the workers.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ Sir Jocelyn Lucas (Portsmouth, South)
The B.B.C. have a deservedly high reputation for the fairness and accuracy of their broadcasts, but I wish they would show more sense of fairness in other ways. I refer to the requisitioning of private houses for their own use. In 1940, I think it was, they requisitioned Aldenham House for foreign broadcasts. This had been used as a residential country club for several years before the war at a rent of approximately £800 a year—a low rent, because the tenant had to modernise 1218 and place and put in bathrooms, and had to keep up extensive grounds and gardens, and an elaborate collection of trees and rare shrubs, which were the subject of a special memorandum by the B.B.C. The tenant, Colonel Watkins, just before the Coronation, added a new wing of about a dozen bedrooms, and got his lease extended, at the same rental, for approximately an additional seven years; the idea being to give him a chance to get back his capital outlay during this tenancy by having this low rent. In early 1940 Colonel Watkins, who had joined up, closed the club, which was fully occupied as a residential club, and let it to the Every-Ready Company for £3,500 a year —furnished—for the duration. A few months after this the Ministry of Works, acting on behalf of the B.B.C, requisitioned the house, and the grounds of some 200 acres, for approximately £800 a year.
§ Mr. Bowles (Nuneaton)
On a point of Order. There is a very great and obviously growing tendency in this House for hon. Gentlemen to read their speeches; the hon. Gentleman opposite is reading every word of his speech. I do hope the debating quality that we used to enjoy in the past is not to be destroyed by this kind of thing. The hon. Gentleman is not debating, he is reading out a statement.
§ Mr. Speaker
It is not permissible for hon. Members to read their speeches, but I thought the hon. Member was refreshing his memory.
§ Sir J. Lucas
Not being a member of the legal profession, I have not perhaps the skill of the hon. Gentleman opposite, but I was trying to keep my figures accurate, and I thought that reading figures was allowed.
The house having been requisitioned, the tenant's wife, who was living in a cottage on the estate, was given a fortnight to clear out, take all her belongings away, and get another place in which to live. It was just before Christmas, and I went straight away to see the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks), who at that time was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works, and, with his help, it was stopped. The lady was allowed to stay there until the end of the war, and she is still there. He also got the rent stepped up to £1,500 a year, but the land—
§ Sir J. Lucas
I am sorry if I am out of Order here, but, at any rate, the B.B.C. got the benefit and, having taken the land, chopped down all the grapevines and the peach trees, and planted tomatoes instead for their own staff, although they had not bought the place but were merely tenants. About a year ago they handed back the woodlands and the kitchen garden to Colonel Watkins, and the tools, which I understand they had requisitioned at 1939 prices, they sold back at the higher price ruling at the time. The grounds have been completely let down and the tenant is liable for damages, and that matter, of course, is in dispute at the moment, so I will not go into it or other charges I could make. The main point is that until I put a Question down in the House the other day the tenant was entirely unable to find out when he would get his property back, if at all. He could not take another place as a country club, because if he did he might find Aldenham thrown back on to his hands, so that he would have two places with only furniture for one, and if that happened he would be sunk financially. If, on the other hand, he does not know if he will get it back, he is sunk again, because he cannot go on with his business. Now that the B.B.C. have announced that they will not give the place up for the present—more than that we cannot say—and as the lease does not go on for more than a few years, I wish to make this definite charge against the B.B.C. Out of their enormous income they are prepared to save a few thousand pounds in avoiding paying what they should pay in compensation, because if the property is not handed back they will be able to deal direct with the landlord to buy it. Will the Assistant Postmaster-General give this matter his personal attention and see that this private individual gets fair play? He is a private individual who told me that he was prepared to lose money during the war, because his country was in need; but now the war is over the case has altered. It seems to me that the Assistant Postmaster-General should see that he gets fair play, which is all he wants I think he really deserves not only fair, but generous treatment, and if he 1220 gets it we shall then know that this land is still the abode of freedom and justice.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Bowles (Nuneaton)
In the first place I should like to apologise to the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Portsmouth (Sir J. Lucas) and to explain to him my purpose in drawing the attention of the Chair to the fact that these Debates are really deteriorating into a collection of hon. Members coming here and making well-prepared speeches with hardly any relevance at all to what has gone before. I think this is a tendency that the House of Commons ought to look into. It may be perfectly true that there is a tendency on the part of right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench, on either side, to do a good deal more reading than they should do, and that therefore hon. Members who are less experienced feel themselves entitled to take advantage of what I think is a bad and growing habit which should be definitely discouraged.
§ Sir J. Lucas
This was the only opportunity I had to raise this very important question—whether it is relevant or not to what somebody has been talking about before—and it concerns this man's livelihood.
§ Mr. Bowles
I am not talking about the merits of the hon. Gentleman's speech, and that is why I am apologising to him personally, for having interrupted him to draw attention to what I regard as a growing malpractice in this House. From there I may perhaps go on to say, that one of the things I shall advocate in my few remarks does concern to some extent that same kind of thing. I shall advocate —it is not a new proposal at all—a Parliamentary wavelength. I want more and more Parliament to be put on the air. I want the dull speeches that have been made and read out, to be heard by such constituents of hon. Members as happen to be listening. I also want people to hear some of the flashes of wit, which we hear from time to time across the Floor of the House; I want these to be enjoyed by our constituents and others who are interested in Parliamentary government and its workings.
I dare say it will be said that there are objections. It may be suggested that if the proceedings in this House were put on the air all the whole time it is sitting, there might be difficulties because hon. Members would have a tendency to speak to 1221 their constituents. I really do not think there is much in that. Possibly new Members are slightly overawed to start with, by the fact that anything they say may be reported in the Press, but I doubt very much whether they really address the reporting or newspaper staffs. I do not think they are very much overawed by the fact that certain respectable members of the public are in the Gallery listening to our Debates. I think there is a genuine tendency on the part of hon. Members, new or old, to try to debate various subjects within the confines of this debating Chamber. Therefore I rather discount, to start with, any belief that it would interfere with our Debates if they were on the air the whole time. Quite obviously there would have to be some commentator who would give the name of the hon. Member speaking, as listeners might not have heard it. Big Debates in which Government and Opposition spokesmen are to take part would be likely to get a larger audience if it were known that, at half-past three tomorrow, say, a Debate was to start on India. There would be a bigger audience listening to that, than would be listening at a quarter to nine to some of the back benchers. I do not mind that.
§ Mr. Henry Strauss (Combined English Universities)
Would the hon. Member also take the risk of having the Debates televised, or would that be going too far?
§ Mr. Bowles
I, personally, think that it would be beneficial, but whether the hon. and learned Member would think it beneficial, I do not know—perhaps he might speak a little less if there was television. I dare say there might be a difficulty in getting a proper distribution of microphones throughout the Chamber. There might be difficulty, for example, in the case of interjections, in the same way that listeners cannot always hear everything that is said on the stage when a play is being broadcast. It is not a new idea; it has already been done in New Zealand for many years. I think that the value of broadcasting Parliament would be—and this is why I have paid a great deal of attention to this—that it would stimulate the Press to report our proceedings better. We know perfectly well that there have been a great many excuses during the war, that with shortage of newsprint Parliament could not be better reported On the other hand, it is quite clear that some very 1222 much more important matters could be reported, even in the penny Press, if there was less tendency to sensationalism.
It may be asked how this would work out. Suppose that a large number of people, who were listening-in, heard a speech which they thought worth while, and they wanted to see a report of it in the next day's paper. Suppose they found that the newspaper had not referred to the speaker at all. There would then be a tendency for people to look around and find a newspaper which was reporting Parliament more fully. I think it would have a salutary effect upon Parliamentary reporting in the daily Press. I do not suppose that the Lord President of the Council will be able to give me an answer tonight, but I put over this view in all seriousness. It would be sensible from the point of view of getting people interested in Parliament, and from the point of view of better Parliamentary reporting. Like many hon. Members, I think that the Parliamentary institution in this country is more important than anything in the world, and that same love for our Parliamentary institution could be engendered in others in this way. I agree that a very excellent Parliamentary report comes from the B.B.C. at 10.45 p.m., and then we have the report in "The Week in Westminster" by various hon. Members on Saturday evenings. The more Parliament can be publicised, with the voices of Members heard, and, perhaps, later on their faces seen and known to the public, the better. The people ought to see their Government, and not only read what is said. I do not see any objection to having Parliament on the air from 2.35 p.m. until we rise. We should require a separate and additional wavelength to the other three wavelengths for Parliamentary broadcasting. I think that everyone would benefit if this were done.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris (Carmarthen)
If I do not follow the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles), it is because I am not sure that I should be in Order in doing so, because I gather that the proceedings in the House of Commons are not broadcast by a decision of the House, and by a decision of the Government.
§ Mr. Bowles
I would point out that the White Paper says that it will be the duty of the B.B.C. to broadcast fully the proceedings in this House and another place, 1223 and have it done by responsible journalists.
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris
That is a different thing from broadcasting the proceedings of the House, which the House has decided against, and, therefore, I do not think we can pursue the matter any further. I should like to reinforce what was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken), and make a further appeal, concerning the finances of the B.B.C., to the Assistant Postmaster - General. The Treasury are not now handing back 75 per cent., but 85 per cent., and they are keeping 15 per cent. instead of 25 per cent., but there is nothing to indicate in the White Paper upon what principle the Treasury are taking 15 per cent., or any other percentage of the net revenue sum. There is no justification for it whatsoever, because if the B.B.C. can be run on a basis of 16s., then the difference between that and 19s. should be handed back to the listener. Regarding the 3s., assuming that the B.B.C. outrun the 16s., then the Treasury, acting upon some principle unknown, determine what portion, if any, of the 3s. shall be allotted to the B.B.C. It may be that the cost of collection has come down from 9 per cent. to 6 per cent., but how can the Postmaster-General justify a 6 per cent. cost of collection, or any cost at all? I do not see on what principle the Postmaster-General can defend that. This is not a revenue measure, and I do not see why it should be treated as such. It is a matter which I hope the Assistant Postmaster-General and the Lord President of the Council will take into consideration.
I agree with the comments which were made upon paragraphs 5 and 6 of the Agreement, but I would go further in regard to overseas broadcasts to foreign countries. As the right hon. Gentleman said, the B.B.C. have grown up within the last 20 years. It has now become one of the most responsible bodies of this country, and it is certainly one of the most important. One of the great services that Lord Reith and those associated with him rendered to this country was in building up the organisation of the B.B.C. to what it is today. I agree with the tributes which have been paid by the right hon. Gentleman to the present Director-General, Sir William Haley, and his colleagues. 1224 There is no doubt that during the war period, and before the war, the B.B.C. deserved well of the nation for the great task they had done. What is to happen in the future? I think that the Government have been right in the procedure they have adopted. It may be that, for future development, there should be an inquiry, but we could not have undertaken that inquiry within the last year, because it is too large a subject. Development may be as quick in the future as it has been in the past, and the lines of development which may be a possible subject of inquiry are not known. It will take some time to do it.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mallalieu) made the interesting suggestion that we should have four licences instead of one. That suggestion has appealed to hon. Members from Scotland, and I have no doubt that it will appeal to Members who sit for Welsh constituencies, and to all Members who represent national divisions. I agree that it has much support in Wales, and I daresay it will have much support in Northern Ireland.
That may be a proper subject for inquiry, but it is not one which is easily settled. If you are to direct that the broadcasting system shall be open for 11 or 12 hours a day you have to provide material for that time—not an easy thing to do. You must be able to command wide resources to do it, and if you establish different systems, each must be in competition with the other. Welsh broadcasting is not really competition with English broadcasting. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is much better."] That may be, but the point I want to make is that it is not competitive. It is said that music, of which I know nothing, is a universal language, but I scarcely believe that to be true. Some years ago, there was an interesting conference of musicians in Dublin, and one of the problems raised there was why the Greeks, who were so proficient in all the arts, had never seemed to master the art of music.
§ Mr. Baxter
One of the reasons could be the limited development of the musical instrument at that time.
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris
An additional reason might also be that no one should be proficient in the art of music, that it should be abolished, that only slaves should be musicians. When I was in 1225 India at the beginning of this year, I went to Broadcasting House there and found that the Director of Music did not listen to Western music at all, that he did not appreciate it. I wonder if musicians in this country appreciate, or listen to, Indian music. I do not believe that the universality of the language of music is true, any more than it is true of any other art. That establishes a case for an inquiry, but it is not clear to my mind whether you could sustain a 12 hours' a day broadcasting system, if you merely separated it into component parts.
As I listened to the first part of the speech of the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter), I thought it a pity that he does not resign his seat and become a programme director of the B.B.C. But as I listened to the second part of his speech, I hoped that he would remain where he is, because it reminded me of a saying of A. E. Houseman's, that a literary critic appears in this country once every 200 years. The B.B.C. is not yet 25 years old, so we had better not attach too great importance to the critic. One of the demands made here today is that there should be more and more controversy. Let there be controversy, but when it is said that censorship of controversy comes from the B.B.C, let it be remembered that it comes from the Homers. It is one of the things they cannot understand—
§ Mr. Bracken indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris
The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but I have some knowledge of this matter. I have seen the volume of correspondence when an unpopular talk or debate has taken place. The protests do not come from this House, but from listeners, and they are in goodly volume. One of the marks of an advancing or progressive civilisation is the degree of tolerance to be found in it. I have noticed it in this House, and we are not over-tolerant with one another. Both sides can shout, if unpopular views are expressed here, and the public outside do the same thing. One of the troubles of broadcasting is that an audience for which the programme was never intended listens to it. If you feel like going to the theatre, you first choose your play and go to it, instead of going to a music-hall. But if you press the button of your radio set, and listen to something you are not in the mood to 1226 listen to, you write to the B.B.C. or the newspapers, about it.
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris
The hon. Member for Huddersfield talked about using the Listener Research organisation for the purpose of determining the area of a programme and its popularity. That is one of the fallacies of this century. The importance attached to Gallup polls and Listener Research is a great fallacy. In a newspaper the other day there was a Gallup poll inquiry as to who was the most popular man in the country. The answers were that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Churchill) was the most popular, and that the fourth most popular was Mr. Bernard Shaw. Does that mean that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford is the most popular dramatist in the country, and Mr. Bernard Shaw the most popular statesman?
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris
It shows what nonsense that kind of inquiry is, unless you first determine the purpose for which your inquiry is held. Suppose you approach two men, one of whom has listened to classical music every night for the last month—
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris
Suppose you ask them what they thought of Sir Adrian Boult and his orchestra playing Brahms last night. Suppose one of the men has not heard classical music for six months. How are you to assess on the answers you get? It is difficult for the public and the B.B.C. to assess criticism. It was made a matter of criticism that members of the B.B.C. staff in Wales knew nothing whatever of what the public wanted or how they would react; that they were completely out of touch with people's views. I went to a newspaper editor and said, "I will go on a week's tour of North Wales. You can choose the places. Say nothing about who I am. You do the talking, and I will listen." The result was quite interesting. We went into a small country place into a shop and asked, "What do you think of the B.B.C. programmes?" We were told that they were enjoyed and listened to with great care. There was a middle-aged mother and her 1227 young daughter of about 20 in the shop. The mother was asked, "If you could change the programmes of the B.B.C. what would you do?" and she replied, "I would have more religious services and more hymn singing." The girl of 20 said, "I would abolish the whole of them, and have more jazz." That is the difference between the generations. How are we to assess it?
As I view the B.B.C. programme, it has two functions to perform and I would bring this to the attention of the hon. Member for Wood Green. He has mentioned the star programme. Clearly, broadcasting has the duty of bringing to the listener the star programme, but it has another duty. One of the dangers of the provision of universal amusement or enjoyment is that people sit back and enjoy it, without making themselves proficient in the art. Broadcasting then has a dual function. It has to give of the best and enable the public to hear the best; but it also has to encourage the people to appreciate the best. If we are to have regional broadcasting, national broadcasting, Scottish, Welsh and North Irish broadcasting, we must broadcast not necessarily the best programme, but the second best in order to encourage the other person to take a step up the ladder. The public must be told that, and know that it can be done. An hon. Member said that that was a ridiculous idea. I should like to take him out into his own Division, which I know quite well, and show him that when a broadcast is made in an industrial centre, the whole place is astir with it. There will be enough people wanting to attend to crowd the biggest hall in the county twice over. Is there any other amusement which could do that except broadcasting? That is part of its power and part of the encouragement it should give. We are not giving that encouragement merely by star programmes.
The Corporation no longer refers to Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland as regional; it refers to them as national. What we have to do is to increase that national consciousness and culture in such a way that they can find expression more freely and with greater self-control. The Governors, after all, are concerned first and foremost with policy, and with a policy which covers England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The best 1228 way to ensure that any policy fits them is to have some one conversant with each of those countries. The first step is to have some knowledge of them. There must be some one conversant with the actual conditions in Wales and similarly with regard to Scotland and Northern Ireland.
I hope that the Government will give further consideration to these very important matters and that broadcasting will be given full play without censorship, without control from the Postmaster-General, and without political control from this House. It is no good asking for more controversy upon the air, and then seeking to keep political control in this House or to add to the control that can be exercised by the Assistant Postmaster-General. The corollary of more controversy, is greater freedom, and without that greater freedom, there can be no national expression and no national development.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Benn Levy (Eton and Slough)
I am experiencing a strange and slightly uneasy sensation because I find that I am in complete agreement with no less than three things which the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter) has said or written during the course of seven days. During his speech this afternoon he made two important points. The first was that he did not like my last play. I can only reply to that in the words of another and older playwright to another and less acute critic, "I agree with you, sir, but what are we two against so many?" His other point was contained in the paragraph in which he referred to the Motion under discussion and revealed that he had grasped the essential necessity of some form of decentralisation. I cannot say the same thing about the right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken). At the outset of his speech he forswore any intention of being controversial and it is certainly true that he confined himself as a result to the shallows of debate. For example, he found time to cavil at the Lord President of the Council because the Charter included an instruction that the B.B.C. should include a report of Parliamentary proceedings and he objected to this because the B.B.C. had already started this system. But if it had started it, it could also stop it. If we agree that it is a desirable practice, it surely cannot be undesirable to safeguard its retention and inclusion. The right 1229 hon. Gentleman also objected mildly to the Government reserving to themselves the right to make important pronouncements over the B.B.C. and he feared that the time might come when a Government might abuse this right by flooding the B.B.C. with a plethora of such announcements and that they would not in fact be important. But if they are not important, who is to judge, the Government or the Governors of the B.B.C? Someone has to judge and I cannot for the life of me see why anyone should suppose that the Director-General should be either a better judge or a worse judge than the Government.
§ Mr. Bracken
I think that the hon. Gentleman has misconstrued my point. My point at the present moment is that no Department of the State has a right under the Licence to ask the B.B.C. to publish their announcements over the radio. I say that is quite intolerable and not at all a recognition of the B.B.C. status in the life of the community.
§ Mr. Levy
I understood the right hon. Gentleman perfectly well, and I think that if he looks at HANSARD in the morning, he will find I was not misrepresenting him, It was certainly not my intention to do so. But the corollary of the right hon. Gentleman's argument is either one of two things, either that no Government announcements are sufficiently important to be broadcast and to have the right to be broadcast by the B.B.C, or, alternatively, that their importance should be judged by the Governors. It must be one or the other, and the right hon. Gentleman has come down in favour of the Governors. I have to ask him on what conceivable ground the Governors are better judges than the Government. They have this quite obvious disadvantage as against the Government, that we do—perhaps this is optimistic— but theoretically we do have some control over the Government, but we have none over the Governors. That seems to me a very important point.
It is a point also which is relevant to another criticism made by the right hon. Gentleman, with which I find myself in much closer sympathy, and that was the criticism of the paragraph in the Charter which appears to provide the Government with censorship powers. My first instinct, like his, was to ask for the deletion of that paragraph; but let the right hon. Gentle- 1230 man make no mistake—we do not get rid of censorship by withdrawing that paragraph; all that we do, so long as the B.B.C. remains a monopoly, is to pass on the censorship from the Government to the Governors and the Director-General, and no one would be the least bit better off. Indeed we would be a degree worse off, because, as I said in the other connection, we have no control over the Governors.
That raises the whole question of the desirability or otherwise of the monopoly of the B.B.C. I have been among those who advocated that some inquiry should be made into the danger of an infringement of freedom inherent in the monopolistic tendencies of the Press. I have also taken a similar line, and helped to evolve a scheme designed to check a similar tendency, with regard to the cinema. And I am prepared to do a similar unwelcome service for the theatre when the opportunity arises. It would, therefore, be quite disingenuous and inconsistent of me to acquiesce in a monopoly of broadcasting. Let me make it quite clear, however, that I distinguish very sharply in general between a private monopoly and a public monopoly. If there must be a monopoly, I would much rather it were in public control than in private control, but I hold that in these fields, where self-expression is concerned, monopoly, whether it be private or public, is, both in morals and in practice, utterly indefensible.
§ Mr. Levy
Other measures of nationalisation do not affect fields of expression. I made that proviso very carefully. I gather that one or two hon. Members on the Conservative benches assent to that proposition, and I am very glad that they do. I do not recall, prior to the General Election, any Tory clamour against a B.B.C. monopoly.
§ Mr. Levy
I am delighted to hear it. It may be so. It may be, on the other hand, that certain Conservatives at least, at the time of Munich and the general strike, regarded the B.B.C. as a valuable party adjunct. It may be—I do not know —but whether it is or not, I certainly welcome them as recruits in the 1231 libertarian straggle. There may be others among them who are motivated—
§ Mr. Levy
I agree with the hon. and learned Gentlemen—who are moved by the hope that this may be an opportunity for introducing, perhaps, commercial radio, and furthering the cause of those interests of which they have been the traditional spokesmen; but I want the House to realise that commercial radio is by no means the only alternative to public monopoly. It is an alternative which does not endear itself at all to us on these benches; the more so when we remember—
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Gentleman is now talking about commercial radio, but we are discussing the Agreement between the Government and the British Broadcasting Corporation, and he must confine himself to that.
§ Mr. Levy
I am sorry, Sir. I agree that those remarks are not essential to my argument. Very briefly, my argument essentially is, that the essence of democracy is that we should pick our own words, and that nobody should pick our words for us, and yet that is precisely the function that we are asking the Director-General to fulfil. By being ultimately responsible for selecting or rejecting every word that is spoken on the B.B.C., he is, in effect, censoring everything that 47 million British people are or are not to hear. Whether he does it well, or whether he does it ill, is beside the point. Whether the Lord Chamberlain exercises his comparable functions well or ill is not really the point. The sole point is that in the Press, in radio, in the theatre, and in the cinema, are four infringements of and threats to democracy which we cannot possibly let go by.
The only safeguard for free expression is the multiplication of channels of expression. We can publish what we like simply because there are over 200 publishing houses, and we could not publish what we like if there were only one. Similarly, the only solution to this broadcasting problem is that there should be a multiplication of broadcasting corporations. I know there are certain difficulties —difficulties about finance and about 1232 wavelengths—but there are, after all, eight home wavelengths in operation at present, and it should be perfectly possible to carve out four independent stations. And as to finance, there are two points which it is worth bearing in mind. One is that four stations do not cost four times as much as one station, because there are many services, including technical research and some programmes or parts of programmes, which they can have in common; and the other point is one that was well emphasised by the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, who pointed out that the B.B.C. does not have under the present Charter, or has not hitherto had, full advantage out of its own income, but has been mulcted by the Treasury. If the sums mulcted in the past by the Treasury were restored to the B.B.C, it would be a very rich body indeed. These, I agree, are matters for the Commission of Inquiry which I am very glad the Government have decided to set up. [An HON. MEMBER: "When was that?"] In the last Debate on the White Paper I welcome that decision.
I am, however, sorry that this interim Charter does not go a little further in the direction of regional devolution. The White Paper describing it talks of "welcoming" devolution, "fostering" it and "encouraging" it, but regional devolution is not something that one can bring into being simply by beckoning to it. It needs certain concrete constitutional provisions. The point is, are regions to be given independence in the use of their income, in the planning of their programmes, and in the appointment of their staff, or are they not to be? It is no use "welcoming" these things and withholding the necessary powers. I think that it would have been useful if the next few years could have been utilised as I kind of rehearsal period for the thoroughgoing separatism which I myself have no doubt is bound to take place.
I want to say one brief word on the relationship of the B.B.C. to the Government. The B.B.C. is and is not Government controlled. In practice the Government do not interfere; in fact, as the White Paper says:the Government control over the Corporation is, in the last resort, absolute.On the other hand, Parliamentary control is nil, and I for one am glad it is, because nothing could be more sterilising and devitalising than day-to-day Parliamentary 1233 interference. But is the present nebulous and contradictory relationship with the Government satisfactory? We are accustomed to boast of our flair for being illogical and irrational, and I for one have often thought that half the trouble with the French, the Germans and many of our Continental friends is their inability to appreciate or operate a paradox. But we must really not go to the other extreme of assuming that every contradiction is in itself a thing of imperishable beauty. Here we have a compromise by which the B.B.C. has none of the advantages of independence and none of the advantages of Parliamentary control.
This is particularly true in the realm of the Overseas Service. We should merely be putting our heads into the sand if we assume that the Overseas Service is regarded by its recipients as independent broadcasting. It is regarded beyond any question as the voice of Britain. Indeed, it earned that title, and earned it fairly, during the war, and that is how it is regarded now. The result is that it is regarded as the voice of Britain, but Britain, like an adolescent schoolboy, has no control over the use of its own voice. I refuse to admit that Britain ought to abdicate the use of its own voice and entrust it to the hands of a group of civil servants or, more accurately, public servants, however well-intentioned. Foreign affairs have always tended to be the least democratically conducted department of politics. And here we have a further, new and powerful instrument of representation abroad which is completely immune from democratic correction and influence. I say that this is a department—and it is the only department—of broadcasting that should be frankly and openly a Government responsibility, because only thus can it be subject to a proper check by Parliament through the relevant Minister.
The most usual judgment on the B.B.C. is, as one hon. Member said, that it is not outstandingly good or outstandingly bad, but that it is mediocre. It is not mediocre through any shortcomings of personnel. Its personnel includes numbers of able, vigorous and enthusiastic people. The fault is in its anomalous constitutional position. Being responsible to no one it is not irresponsible, but it is over-responsible, it is over-cautious. It is frightened of its own 1234 shadow. It is stifled and strangled and muffled by the quite impossible task imposed upon it of trying to attain the unattainable ideal of impartiality. I am persuaded that the first thing and the greatest service we can do to the B.B.C. is to liberate it from these inhibitions by providing it with full decentralization, and thereby freedom.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Henry Strauss (Combined English Universities)
It is a long time since I have been in agreement with so much that has been said by hon. Members on the Benches opposite as well as on this side of the House. It is quite clear that in the very important topic with which we are dealing there are a great many points on which there is a considerable measure of agreement, however little that may affect the policy which is going to be in operation for many years. I share with the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Levy) his objection to this monopoly, but I do not think that it would be in order to develop that point at any length. I regret the fact that it is a monopoly. I think it would be much better if it were not, and I am very sorry indeed that the Government decided to renew this Charter without having an inquiry which would have enabled all these matters to be gone into.
May I say at the outset to the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) that my intervention on the subject of television was not intended to indicate any approval of his suggestion that our proceedings should be broadcast or televised? I think, in fact, that he was guilty of an error in logic. He wanted the public to be better acquainted with our affairs here, but he assumed, I think contrary to the fact, that making them acquainted in the way he suggested would not destroy the very thing he wanted to make known. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter) and others that the B.B.C, of course, gives us good value in the sense that each of us would take out a licence even if it cost more than it costs now. At last through the third programme we can get good music. I may say—and this concerns a point made by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin Morris)—I hope that the B.B.C. will not make a wrong use of what could be useful, namely, listener research. I remember 1235 advocating for a long time that they should give us more good music.
I found that the reason they did not give more good music was not because those in charge did not wish to give more, but because, through the returns from listener research, it was shown that much fewer listened to, say, Mozart than listened to some very inferior stuff. Then I found that the deductions made from this research involved an obvious fallacy, which I think the House will agree was a fallacy. They had the percentages of the total number of sets that were being used in the various programmes that were being broadcast. I remember asking "Is the percentage taken as proof that the programme is desirable or not, so that, if the percentage for each programme went up to 100, that would be ideal?" and they said "Yes." That would mean that every instrument in the country was continuously in action from the moment broadcasting started until it stopped which is, of course, ridiculous. The right way is to see that all parts of the community have sufficient notice taken of their wants, whether for good stuff, or for other stuff.
The B.B.C. has a vast influence on education and here again it has done both good work and bad work. I think it does bad work when it suggests that knowledge is easy to acquire by sitting in an armchair listening. I think that great injury is done in the case of the Brains Trust, which can be quite good entertainment, by calling it the Brains Trust. The suggestion that that is the way in which serious men either acquire or impart knowledge is a danger. Where it is merely regarded as entertainment it is all right. While I am on the subject of education I should like to say that in England we have the greatest lyrical poetry in the world. I do wish they could get some ordinary people to read this poetry decently, and not one of those awful readers of poetry, who do more to put people of taste off poetry than anything else.
I should like now to leave the subject of education and turn to the main point about which I wish to speak, which is controversy. Everybody is agreed that some controversy is desirable, and I think that it has also been stated from both Front Benches that they wish the B.B.C. 1236 to be fair. How are those two things to be reconciled? The attempt to reconcile them can be made only in one of three ways. All these ways have been attempted. The first, and, I think, the worst way of doing it, is to seek an impartial person to deal with a controversial subject. That is the worst of all methods because of the difficulty of impartiality which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Eton and Slough, and because, if it is desired that people should be educated in both sides of a controversy, the best method is not that an impartial person should give a sort of summary. The attempt breaks down, and, if I may, I will give an example.
Everybody in this House knows that the subject of the closed shop is controversial, but how did the B.B.C. treat it the first time they mentioned it? They had a gentleman who spoke on the closed shop after the 9 o'clock news one night, Mr. Raymond Postgate, who is well known to many hon. Members of this House. Let me say at once that I make no sort of complaint concerning the broadcast he gave, which was of the kind one would expect from a man of his known antecedents. He made a broadcast in general sympathy with the closed shop, which he was fully entitled to do. I inquired of the B.B.C. and said, "This is controversial. Is it proposed to allow an opponent of the closed shop to have the same facilities on another occasion?'' The answer was that they did not see the necessity. Mr. Postgate had given an objective account without coming down on either side—or words to that effect. Of course, the person who wrote the letter to me acted in perfect good faith, and did not realise that it was a controversial subject on which the opponents of the closed shop had not had their say at all.
The next possible method is to have an actual debate between two opponents. That, I think, can often be good. What I would suggest there is to let the two people hit at each other and to leave the public to judge. Do not let them have, say, some centenarian Liberal in the chair to say at the end of the proceedings, "I really think we are all in agreement.'' I hasten to add that nothing personal is meant, but that is the tendency. The B.B.C. seem to think that if we have two vigorous controversialists on foreign affairs—someone like the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Zilliacus), on the one 1237 side, and my hon. Friend the senior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn), on the other—it is necessary to put a Liberal in the chair to say that he thinks that everyone is in agreement. I think there should be nobody in the chair, or at least nobody in the chair taking part in the discussion or summing up.
The third method is very important and must be the one that is very often adopted. It is that people of quite extreme but differing views all get their chance, and I think that is right. I do not often agree with the Communist Party, but I would certainly give them their chance on the B.B.C. provided that the Tories were also given theirs. In fact, I would give everybody a chance. The great danger at the present moment will be seen from an example which I will give in a moment. I informed the right hon. Gentleman who is to reply to the Debate that I should mention this case, and my remarks are not in any sense an attack on the Government. I merely wish to demonstrate to the House what is happening because I think hon. Members should know.
The hon. Gentleman who opened this Debate from the Government Front Bench spoke about the power, under the Licence, to control broadcasts on foreign affairs to foreign countries. But, of course, foreigners can also listen to broadcasts on foreign affairs given in our home services. The broadcast I wish to mention was given last Friday by Mr. A. J. P. Taylor, described as a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, whose talk was one of a series. Let me make it quite clear that I am not suggesting for one moment that Mr. Taylor should not be allowed to broadcast on foreign affairs. What I am suggesting is that it will cause immense mischief if he is allowed, with his views, to give a series of broadcasts on foreign affairs while those who think his views intolerably mischievous are not allowed to give their views in reply. I am speaking not merely from the point of view of our own predilections in this House. There may be a few hon. Members on the other side, possibly the hon. Member for Gates-head, if he were present, who would think Mr. Taylor's views admirable, and many other hon. Members on both sides who would think them as deplorable as I do. The point is that if Mr. Taylor, with his known views, is selected by the B.B.C. to give a series of broadcasts, and no one 1238 with differing views is given a similar series in which to correct them, then it is not only some of us in this House who may think that a mischief has been done. It may have great repercussions upon our relations with foreign countries.
In this broadcast the speaker was introduced as Mr. A. J. P. Taylor, Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, who was giving a series of talks on British foreign policy—I repeat, "British foreign policy." He said at the beginning that he was going to talk about British relations with the United States. Because I know that many hon. Gentlemen want to speak I will not read nearly as many extracts as I should wish, but I emphasise, since I am anxious not to be unfair to Mr. Taylor, that hon. Members should obtain copies of the full text. After describing the great power of the United States and their great wealth, and the very high proportion of their expenditure which they are spending on armaments, Mr. Taylor dealt with American policy. May I read a short extract?… American economic policy assumes that a free world market conducted by private enterprise is 'normal ' and that ' equality of treatment ' is a fair system between nations. This is like saying that teeth may be freely used for biting both by wolves and sheep. And the Americans use their vast economic wealth to enforce this equality of treatment. For instance, only countries that allow unrestricted foreign trade, such as Italy and Greece, are going to receive help from America; in countries that are trying to plan their foreign trade—Czechoslovakia or Yugoslavia—the children must starve. When I say, ' the Americans ' I don't overlook the fact that there are many Americans who are as disgusted and ashamed of this policy as you or I would be. But they are the defeated of the recent Election and their influence is declining all the time. The American policy of the next few years will be increasingly selfish, harsh and self-centred; but it will not embark on aggressive war. That's why I think those are wrong who suggest that American aggression is likely to cause a new war. American policy will use every resource of economic blackmail and political threat to get its way; but, so long as America remains a democratic country, it won't start a war. That's an important proviso: the coming economic catastrophe in America may destroy the American democratic system and in that case—but what's the good of trying to cross bridges which haven't been built yet.I hope hon. Members will remember what I said at the beginning. I am not suggesting that this broadcast should not have been allowed. I am suggesting the great danger of allowing this view to be expressed if other views in contradiction are not expressed at all, preferably in the 1239 same week, and with at least as many broadcasts as are given to Mr. Taylor. Let me give another passage. Mr. Taylor, at a later stage, attacked our Middle East strategy. He said:In fact, our Middle East strategy is full of contradictions. We protect the American oil reserves in Arabia in order to earn American help: but if we didn't protect these reserves we shouldn't need this help. We maintain our strategic positions in the eastern Mediterranean and refuse to give Russia security at the Straits."—Mark that: We "refused to give Russia security at the Straits" because we thought our Ally, Turkey, had some right to its Treaty rights—a policy which would make sense only if we were projecting (and this idea is seriously canvassed publicly in the United States) an attack on Southern Russia through the Black Sea.I could read many other passages. I will content myself with one final passage:If the Americans want to cause economic chaos throughout the world (and that's the inevitable result of their present policy) or if they want to destroy the world with atomic bombs (and that might be the result of their policy too), we can't escape the consequences; but we can get away from their immediate wake. We can cast off the tow rope which binds us to America though we can't avoid being at sea in the same storm. But this involves having political leaders who understand the implications of Socialism in international trade; it involves having diplomats who are not gentlemen "—I do not know whether the broadcaster regards himself as a candidate—and military leaders who can forget the tradition of Russia as the ' secular enemy'; it involves most of all a public opinion which will recognise that the Balance of Power in Europe and British naval supremacy both have ceased to exist.And so on.
Nothing could be worse than that sort of thing broadcast upon foreign policy and unanswered. It is wild attack on the foreign policy of His Majesty's Government. That is allowed to be broadcast and heard in this country and abroad, and will be reported abroad. I do not know whether this broadcast will be printed in "The Listener." "The Listener" may be frightened, as a result of the speech I am making. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] I hope that it will be reported in full in "The Listener." I beg His Majesty's Government to say, not that such a broadcast should not be allowed but that such broadcasts should 1240 not be the only broadcasts. It is really outrageous that there should be somebody in the B.B.C. who can always pick just at the right moment the right kind of man to advance the policy which is being so clearly outlined in the "Daily Worker," and to give a defence of that policy. The Communist Party publish the "Daily Worker" and hon. Members will find some of the very passages there in almost the same words that I have read out or that are found in other parts of the broadcast.
Constantly there is somebody in the B.B.C. who can manage to get these particular people with these particular views and secure for them almost a monopoly of the serious broadcasts dealing with foreign policy. That is getting the worst of all possible worlds. Nothing can be worse than that. I offer a suggestion: Why is it that my hon. Friend the senior Burgess for Cambridge University is not invited to give some of those broadcasts? I hope the House will realise that I do not want to suppress any broadcasts. Nauseous and contemptible' though I thought this gentleman's broadcast, I do not want the matter suppressed one bit. By all means let Mr. Taylor have this series of talks, but, for the reputation of this country, for our reputation in foreign countries, for the reputation of the B.B.C, and in the interests of truth, I beg the Government to see that this sort of one-sided policy, in which only Communists and fellow travellers have their say, comes to an end.
§ 7.8 p.m
§ Mr. McAllister (Rutherglen)
Perhaps the most intriguing part of the speech by the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin Morris) was when he sought to answer the question whether the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter) would be a greater menace to the welfare of the country as a Governor of the B.B.C. than as a Member of this House. That is such a fine issue that I cannot hope to deal with it. I would like to say, however, that the hon. Gentleman has done a signal service by calling our attention to the fact that the B.B.C. is not simply a sounding-board for Parliament or for individual politicians, but is a vast organisation dealing with music, the arts, literature, the drama and variety, which is an art of a different kind. I do not think we can qualify these 1241 things by saying that the Third Programme is good and the Light Programme is bad. There may be first-rate variety, and there may be first-rate Bach. I want us to get first-rate quality all the time, in all the programmes and not second best.
I disagreed with both the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen and with the hon. and learned Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. H. Strauss) in some of their references to listener research by the B.B.C. The B.B.C. have been at enormous pains to tell the listening public exactly how the Listener Research Department works. I cannot think of any department of the B.B.C. to which more attention has been directed in this way. Every six months or so, I believe, there has been a special programme to tell the listeners exactly how listener research is conducted. The hon. and learned Member for the Combined English Universities was quite correct in saying that the first general test of the efficiency or otherwise of a particular programme was the amount of electricity consumed by the sets turned on. That gives a broad, general and fairly accurate picture of the number of listeners listening but the matter is not left there. Under the guidance of a brilliant statistician, Mr. R. J. Silvey, the Director of Listener Research, further checks are carried out. No fewer than 30,000 citizens of this country are interviewed every day by the B.B.C. in order to determine what things they listened to the day before, and what they thought of particular items in the programme. It seems to me that if that survey, by itself, is carried out in accordance with the well-established modern methods of survey, the information acquired is bound to be valuable and useful as a guide—
§ Mr. H. Strauss
I agree with what the hon. Member has said. My criticism was not of listener research but of the false deduction based upon it. There is an undue tendency, for example, in a case where it is found that the number listening to classical music is small, to come to the extremely illogical conclusion that that programme should be sacrificed, and replaced by something more popular.
§ Mr. McAllister
I accept that as a reasonable argument, but it is not entirely in accordance with the facts as they have 1242 been developed during the past year or more. During the war, the B.B.C. did adopt the policy suggested by the hon. and learned Member, but for the reasons that they had to be restricted to two main programmes and had to serve a public which was working enormously long hours, and was not really in a fit condition for heavier mental stimulation, the programmes were light and were not to the satisfaction of those members of the public who wanted something which was better or which required more concentration. I think it will be conceded that in the invention of the Third Programme the B.B.C. have done something quite remarkable and distinctive, and of most enormous value to the cultural life of the people of Britain. Perhaps I should qualify that. I said the cultural life of the people of Britain, but it is rather a sad thought that very few of the people of Britain can, in fact, hear the Third Programme.
Two issues arise out of that. One is the question of wavelengths and the other is the condition of wireless sets. Both these are intimately bound up. Most of us are working with prewar models with valves worn out, and under all sorts of difficulties, and it is therefore not right to criticisa the B.B.C. in every instance. The trouble may be a bad receiver in some cases. When the Governors of the B.B.C. come to consider future policy, and particularly the important matters of future wavelengths and the regionalisation of programmes, they ought to take some independent evidence from people in the wireless manufacturing trade and from technical engineers outside the B.B.C.'s own service. I say that with no disparagement to the B.B.C.'s engineers, who are obviously first-class of their kind, but there ought to be some independent survey of the question of wavelengths, efficient diffusion and efficient reception.
I would remind the Assistant Postmaster-General, if he were here, that the hon. and gallant Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) raised the question of a Scottish broadcasting service some six months ago. For once there was unanimity among Scottish Members. We had no doubt about it at all. It was not a question of political nationalism, but of cultural nationalism. We appealed to the Assistant Postmaster-General to give us some kind of autonomy in our Scottish broadcasts. It is a matter 1243 for regret that no provision of that kind is made in the interim proposals which the Government have put before us. I do not want to beat the nationalist drum, but if, anywhere, we are entitled to some expression of our national culture, tradition and outlook, it is in the field of broadcasting and in the arts generally. I agree with what was said by the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Levy) if we are to have internal competition by the setting up of different regions or programmes, under their own management so to speak, the best starting-off point then would probably be from the point of view of England, Scotland and Wales.
I would like, if I may, without infringing the rules of Order in any way, to make a short reference to the question of monopoly vis-à-vis commercial broadcasts. It is relevant, in that we are proposing to continue this Charter for five years. At the end of that five years, the Charter will be renewed, or a new Charter will have to be introduced. It would be well if the Government were to consider in the course of the inquiry which they are going to set up the question of whether it would not be possible to introduce commercial broadcasting into the country, not in the American or Radio Luxemburg sense but in the sense of the Government itself having a radio station, which would depend for its revenue on sponsored programmes and advertising programmes. That would have one excellent effect. It would prevent those people who now try to get at the B.B.C. to put across sponsored programmes going to the wrong place. Those who want sponsored programmes and who now go to the B.B.C. could be told, politely but very severely, where they ought to apply. We can shut our eyes to a great many things, but beyond all question we want the B.B.C. to remain of the highest integrity, and if we could have State-sponsored programmes and State commercial radio for sponsored programmes, it would get over one of the difficulties—
§ Mr. Baxter
Does the hon. Member visualise a Government-owned station with very great revenue coming in from the advertisers, being in open competition for the services of artists and others, with the half-child of the Government, the B.B.C?
§ Mr. McAllister
I think it would sort itself out. The B.B.C. has a vast revenue at the moment, and its revenues may become vaster still, and it would be quite possible, because the Government would receive the revenue from the sponsored programme station and it could, if necessary, allocate part of that revenue to the B.B.C. proper.
The main point raised today on all sides of the House is that we want a more vigorous and more imaginative B.B.C, less tied to the apron-strings of the Governors, or that if it must remain tied to the apron-strings of the Governors, the Governors should themselves become more imaginative and more willing to present all points of view. I think the hon. and learned Member for the Combined English Universities made a mountain out of a molehill, which if one comes to think of it, is quite a remarkable achievement, in raising the case of the particular broadcast last Friday. I am quite certain that the broadcast and the name of the gentleman who delivered it have received far more publicity as the result of his speech—
§ Mr. McAllister
—than it otherwise would have done. It seemed to me fairly innocuous. It is so easy to say of something which is being said by a member of an opposite party, who is taking a completely different line to the listener, that it is clearly prejudiced.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
It is next to impossible for a member of the Communist Party to get on to the B.B.C.
§ Mr. McAllister
I do know one or two who have been on the B.B.C, but they have not remained on the B.B.C. because they were very closely associated with the hon. Gentleman's party.
§ Dr. Morgan (Rochdale)
He was not an orthodox party member, but even an unorthodox member of a recognised party has no chance of getting in at all.
§ Mr. H. Strauss
May I put this to the hon. Gentleman? The gentleman is to give a series of broadcasts. As far as I know, no one else has been given a series of broadcasts. Does he think it proper that only a gentleman who attacks the 1245 policy of the Foreign Secretary should be allowed to broadcast, and that people who take a different view should not be allowed to do so?
§ Mr. McAllister
Certainly not, but I rather imagine that the hon. and learned Member—who, like most of us in this House, has all too few opportunities to listen to the radio—if he listened to that speech last Friday, has magnified the whole issue, and that if a little programme research were carried out in the matter—I speak without knowledge of the particular thing—he would find that the B.B.C. had made arrangements for other views to be given. I do not think there is any doubt that the views of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, of the Minister of State, and of other Ministers responsible, are well known to the people of Great Britain, and if somebody cares to put the opposite point of view for 15 or 18 minuter, no great harm is done. I think we are all agreed that at the moment it is rather a question of people saying in the most placid way, "Yes, I quite agree with you, old man, but don't you think—?" which does not really get us very far. I would like to see the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) debating some of the great issues of our time either with the hon. Member for West Fife or with his friend and colleague, Mr. Harry Pollitt. I do not think the slightest harm would be done to anybody, I think it would liven up broadcasting, and it would help the nation a great deal.
§ Mr. McAllister
Politics is not the only question which ought to be debated over the air. There is the great question of religion. It is rather a curious fact that here we are, the British nation, the British House of Commons, the British Broadcasting Corporation, and we say rightly, to some extent that we are a Christian nation. But we are addressing a world which is not exclusively Christian, and even when we are addressing our own Emipre, we are not addressing people who are exclusively. Christians. Yet if the records of the B.B.C. were searched from the days of 2 L.O. to the present day, one would find that to the Hindu religion, for example, the amount of time that has been given would not add up to 60 minutes all told. It is rather a pity that, 1246 when you have, as we had just before the war and at the beginning of the war, a Prime Minister of this country who was a Unitarian, under no circumstances would the B.B.C. have allowed him to speak for ten minutes on the views and philosophy and outlook of the Unitarians. I am not saying that the B.B.C. should lay itself open to every minute aspect of religious organisation and religious belief. Nevertheless, we are living in a world which, somehow or other, has to become a united world. The motto of the B.B.C. is "Let nation speak peace unto nation." Yet we shall never speak "nation unto nation" if we are speaking in an exclusive language of our own, which other nations do not understand, and if we are making no attempt whatever to understand their point of view.
We must have controversy, we must have deep and profound discussion of all these great questions. The B.B.C. must be given not a directive, as the hon. Member for West Fife might put it, but the idea that the people of this country and the Members of this House are waiting for something more exciting than we have ever had from them in the way of discussion of art, literature, religion and politics, and before the Charter becomes due for renewal or for complete revision, we on this side of the House, and hon. Gentlemen opposite, should have our minds made up as to how these great things can be achieved.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
Anyone who has listened to the whole of this Debate must, I think, have come to the conclusion that what we are all condemning—whether you call it that or not —is this single, all-powerful monopoly, and that what all of us really want is an opportunity for competition in thought, expression and speech. The speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Rutherglen (Mr. McAllister) was, in effect, an appeal for some other vehicle in competition with the present Broadcasting Corporation to offer facilities for all those other lines of thought to which he referred. The speech of the hon. and learned Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. H. Strauss) was equally an appeal. Clearly, had there been two, three, or four British Broadcasting Corporations, the speech to which my hon. and learned Friend quite rightly objected could have been answered by a 1247 speech from him or from somebody else on the other side. That, indeed, is the only true answer to all these objections. I speak, as does the hon. Member for Rutherglen, as a Scotsman, and we are absolutely at one in requiring a more satisfactory vehicle for the expression of national sentiment in Scotland. It is equally so in Wales, and I would have liked nothing better than to develop this theory of the evils of the present monopoly, but I dealt with it at some length in opening the Debate on this matter on 18th July, and, therefore, I will not trouble the House further on that point now, except to say that I stand by all I said in July.
Since the Lord President of the Council is here, this is an opportunity to put a few questions to the Government because, in a great many directions, the Government are directly responsible. Therefore, I think that now is the proper time to invite the right hon. Gentleman to give us some information on a good many important matters. Of all the important matters— I mean important in a national and international sense—there is none more important than the present overseas broadcasts, particularly to Europe. I asked the right hon. Gentleman a good many questions about that in the previous Debate, and I made some charges to which, unfortunately, the right hon. Gentleman gave me no reply, nor did any reply come from the Assistant Postmaster-General. I charged the European Broadcasting Section of the B.B.C. with having cut down its service at the behest of the Government in an economy drive. I charged the Section with inefficiency in its work, and I gave the House such evidence as I was able to acquire. As I say, no answer was given, but I was invited by the new director of the European Broadcasting Service—an exceedingly charming man—to visit the headquarters in Kingsway. I did so, and I confess to being greatly impressed with all that I saw. I thought the director was a man of very high intelligence and great capacity, and I have no doubt at all that he will make as much a success of that job as any man can do, but he is working, and must continue to work, under peculiar difficulties because the Government—in the words of the Assistant Postmaster-General to-day and of the Lord President two or three months 1248 ago—have made themselves responsible for overseas broadcasts. Therefore, the Government really must give us some information about that matter.
We see in the paper before us the setup of that overseas European service. It is exactly the set up that I described to the House two or three months ago. I have no doubt it is the best set-up they can get, but surely it is not perfect. We couple Russia with a whole lot of other countries in the same group responsible to the same man. We couple Austria and Germany under the same direction when clearly our policies towards Austria and Germany are as different as two things can possibly be. Since he is responsible, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what has been the effect of the broadcasts to Europe since the war ended? It is not necessary for me to emphasise to the House the supreme importance of the policy of those broadcasts at the present time. It is of overwhelming importance that our view should be understood by, and rightly expressed to, all European countries. To take the simple case of Russia, the reason for most of the unhappily increasing and continuing misunderstandings with Russia is that Russians do not know for what the British people stand. The right hon. Gentleman must take responsibility for putting that across to Russia. Has he done it? What have been the methods of testing, and what reports has he received? When I visited Kingsway House, I had some evidence, but the service was only beginning, and the director had only been appointed in August. Are relations improving? It is vital that we should know about these things.
We see in the White Paper that great strides were made in broadcasts to America during the war. I believe 72 American stations were linked up at odd times. There is another country with which we should have the closest and warmest relations. This is not a new suggestion, but I repeat it. Why cannot we have a British Raymond Gram Swing, to tell our story to America each Saturday night? The effect of Raymond Gram Swing's talks to us during the war was profound. I imagine that no greater broadcasting audience listened to anyone. It was fascinating; week by week we followed him to see how opinion in that great nation was developing. It is just as important for Americans to hear our 1249 opinions, and they are dying to get information from this country of events, movements and opinions.
§ Mr. Bracken
Mr. Raymond Gram Swing was employed by the B.B.C., and it shows the goodness of their judgment. But, if it is suggested for one moment that the many broadcasting chains in America would be willing to nominate a British Raymond Gram Swing to give the week's talk, then, although the hon. Member speaks from knowledge, he does not speak from knowledge of American broadcasting conditions, because no such person would be given facilities on the broadcasting chains of America.
§ Mr. Stewart
While I agree with that point of view, it does not alter the value of the suggestion. I know that a great many people here, and in America, would welcome such a weekly talk.
I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman about broadcasts to the Colonies. No doubt he is well informed about the matter and will be able to give an answer. One gathers from the Report that a Colonial director has been appointed and that considerable assistance was offered to the Caribbean area during the past year. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what is happening, and what precisely are the functions of that gentleman? I was in the Caribbeans two and a half years ago, and found the services of broadcasting between this country and there in those days were very poor. All complained about it. Is it better now? What is being done to improve it still further? It is of tremendous importance that we should keep our Colonial Empire in touch with them. Here is an opportunity for the Lord President to tell us where the nation's money is going, and what is being spent.
§ Dr. Morgan
Would it not be better, when considering Colonial broadcasting, to have a broadcasting station in the Caribbeans, rather than broadcasting from Great Britain?
§ Mr. Stewart
It may be, but I mention the fact because in the Report, in page 26, there are some interesting things and I invite the Lord President of the Council to tell us more about the matter. I think he should go further. On the first page of the White Paper dealing with the Licence and Agreement it is stated that overseas broadcasting services per- 1250 formed at the request of any Department on behalf of the Government must be carried through by the Broadcasting Corporation, and such sums will be spent upon it as the Lords of the Treasury authorise. This is the sentence to which I invite the attention of the right hon. Gentleman:The Corporation is to deliver to the Postmaster-General such account of its expenditure on the oversea services and other services performed at such request as he may prescribe.But ought not Parliament to be informed also of the way in which the money has been expended, and the results of that expenditure? I take it that this means a private report to the Postmaster-General? It does not say that the report will be published. I am interested in the Colonies, and I want to know, and think I ought to know as a Member of Parliament, exactly what is happening. If the right hon. Gentleman can tell us, I will be very glad to know. During the Debate on 16th July, the Lord President told us something about his strange operations with Radio Luxemburg. I invited him to explain to the House exactly what he was doing. It seemed to us that he was monkeying about with something rather tricky and difficult. He explained to us his policy—
§ Mr. Speaker
The Motion before the House is to approve the Licence and Agreement. It is not a Supply Day on the B.B.C. Subjects outside the Agreement seem to me to be going far too wide.
§ Mr. Stewart
I venture to point out to you, Sir, that the White Paper does deal with the question of the cost of overseas broadcasts.
§ Mr. Speaker
The White Paper can deal with what it likes, but that is not the Paper before the House.
§ Mr. Stewart
With respect, I mean the Paper before the House. I invite you to look at the cover page 2 of the Paper on "Broadcasting Copy of the Licence and Agreement." Is not that what we are discussing?
§ Mr. Stewart
In the sixth paragraph there is a reference to overseas broadcasts the cost of which is to be the responsibility of the Government. I was dealing with 1251 overseas broadcasts, when I asked about Radio Luxemburg, because the right hon. Gentleman told us on 16th July that he proposed to use that station for carrying the British message to Austria and Ger many. I suggest that this is precisely within the terms of the Paper we are discussing. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell us what was the result of the negotiations. Did they come off, and has he acquired the station? What was the cost of acquiring its time, and what was the result of acquiring its time? I invite him to give us the story.
My last point is with regard to the home broadcasting service. On the last occasion I referred to the view of Mr. Eckersley on the possibility of rapid development in re search and technical advance. He had written to "The Times" on the day of the Debate, stating that if the experts were given their heads they could make immediate progress. Every one knows that until we get a great development of frequency modulation, and particularly of wired wireless, we shall never make the progress here which everybody desires. There are not the wavelengths available. The demand for wavelengths is universal. I believe that Russia has not been very accommodating in the division of the world's wavelengths. Because of that we in Scotland cannot hear many of the English programmes we want to hear, and when I am in Surrey I cannot hear the programmes from Edinburgh. Frequency modulation and wired wireless are of enormous importance to our country. The Assistant Postmaster-General did not tell us much today on this aspect. He told us something about frequency modulation but he said nothing about wired wireless Yet the Government have a contract with wired wireless which expires in 1949 What is being done now to extend that service for the benefit of listeners in this country? I have put a number of questions to the Government on an occasion when I expect a reply. On the previous occasion I put a series of important questions, to not one of which did I receive any response whatever. Not only shall I be disappointed, but the whole House and many listeners outside will be disappointed if something like an adequate response is not given this evening.
§ 743 p. m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Cooper (Middlesbrough, West)
Almost every speaker has referred 1252 to the lack of imagination and the lack of vigour in many of the B.B.C. programmes. I wonder if hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House realise that something of that lack of fire, the fire of controversy, which many of us would like to hear on the B.B.C, is due to the very way in which the programmes themselves are organised. I believe it to be a fact that before a controversial broadcast is made it is necessary for it to be rehearsed. It is rehearsed several times, and very often as a result of that it lacks the spontaneity which is absolutely vital for a fiery, interesting Debate. I believe it was for that reason that it was necessary to submit a script to the B.B.C. before a broadcast, and for quite a number of years Mr. George Bernard Shaw, whom a large number of people would have liked to hear on the B.B.C., refused to broadcast since the B.B.C. demanded a script first.
The second matter, which has been mentioned by several speakers on both sides of the House, is that it might be a good thing if the B.B.C. had a certain amount of competition, perhaps by divisions sufficiently independent, or perhaps by there being several broadcasting corporations. I hope that the Government will pay special regard to this, because we have only to reflect that the Government themselves have proposed to institute an inquiry into the Press for reasons which include our dislike of some of the monopolistic tendencies on the part of some chains of newspapers owned by certain Press Lords. To be consistent with that, if they say that we want objective news to be spread around the country, it would be appropriate for them to apply the same principle to the B.B.C. to ensure-that there are a certain number of organisations which are sufficiently independent, so that we can have this vital, controversial, varied type of programme coming across.
I wish to address my remarks more particularly to that part of the White Paper, page 5, paragraph 4, which requires the Corporation to send out each day an efficient programme on both the Home and Overseas Services. I have certain complaints to make against what I think to be the Corporation's inefficiency in this respect. Lest it be thought that these are my own personal views, I wish to relate to the House, briefly, how these various sources of information came to my notice. 1253 I have been taking an interest in the reinstatement of ex-Service men and women into civilian life. I receive through the post a great number of letters from men and women complaining of their inability to get started again in the B.B.C. This is the sort of thing they say. First of all, here is a letter which came from somebody who is interested in the musical profession. As he is in the profession himself, I consider him to be something of a judge.
He related the case of a young man who, before entering one of the Services, had given some 1,500 broadcasts. When he came back from the Service he found it extremely difficult to get started again. He was given a chance in one programme entitled, "They are out." I do not know whether that was a programme which was sponsored specially as a swan song for the party opposite, because this programme appeared about the time of the General Election. Nevertheless, having had one chance to broadcast, he finds that he cannot now make any further progress. He is quite willing to go through auditions with the B.B.C. but though he has indicated his willingness to do this, he finds that the B.B.C. will not even give him the chance of an audition. They have not even invited him to attend one although this young fellow, in the opinion of this professional musician, has a magnificent voice. Indeed, my correspondent went further, and suggested that he would stake his professional reputation that this young fellow, aged about 23, was a star in the making.
That is not an isolated case. There is a flight-lieutenant in the R.A.F. whose case has come to my notice. He finds it quite impossible to break into the B.B.C. programmes. He has received letters from the Producer's Section, Administrative Division, which says that the performance was not regarded as suitable. Another letter he received from the B.B.C. said:This decision has been reached by the Director of Music after careful consideration, and must be regarded as final.This flight-lieutenant had taken the precaution of having some of his broadcasts in the overseas programme recorded, and he has these records, which anybody who wishes to pronounce judgment could hear, and people well known in the profession have been able to pronounce such judgment, which is of a very different 1254 order from that given by the people in the B.B.C.
It seems that if artistes feel that they are treated unfairly they have no chance of stating their case for some independent opinion to be given, and they may be permanently debarred from broadcasting. I can quote another case of an artist, who writes: "I am fighting for a chance to work." He says he does well in variety programmes on the music hall stage. He adds:To get a break on the air seems practically hopeless.There is the further case of a man, one of two brothers, on the variety stage. He finds that he cannot break into what he calls the "Music hall closed shop of the B.B.C." His brother has just returned from India, where he has been soldiering, and they are having a hard struggle to get started.
They find it impossible to get into the B.B.C. The further point of these complaints is that they, having written the usual letters to the B.B.C, find that the producer concerned has not even had the courtesy to reply. That is quite inexcusable. All Government Departments, sooner or later, reply to correspondence— at least to letters from hon. Members; but here we have the B.B.C. in a completely monopolistic position and the producers have not the courtesy of an ordinary business house, yet their behaviour should be exemplary
Another case brought to my notice was of a man who was broadcasting in 1923 and again in 1935. He gave a considerable number of broadcasts, continuing until 1938. This is the important point. He then queried the judgment of one of the so-called producers, and from then onwards he has not broadcast. I have two final cases complaining of people who are amateurs, people who do not have to earn their living by their musical or other talents and who have other good jobs, and yet they are given the chance to broadcast whilst those in the profession, some with very fine reputations, are kept from broadcasting and not given a chance. One of these amateurs admitted that, having reorganised his own industry, he was yielding to the temptation to do four half-hour programmes on records for the B.B.C.
Those are just a few of the many cases which have been reported to me by people 1255 who complain of the treatment accorded to them by those who make up the programmes. When hon. Members write an occasional article, it is realised that they are not following their regular profession. They may like to earn a certain amount of extra money, or kudos, by writing articles. Perhaps that is excusable. However, in the case of the B.B.C., which is a monopoly—there is only the one organ of the type from which people can broadcast—then, surely, we should open the programmes only to those who have proved their competence professionally and not just to any amateur who happens to know somebody in the B.B.C. As a result of these complaints, I took the opportunity of finding out what was the organisation. Very briefly, it is, that the programmes are made up some months in advance of the actual broadcast date by a board of programme planners. Under these planners come the executives, or the directors in charge of each section. There are six main sections and the executives compile the details of the various parts of the programme for which they are responsible. I make my complaints not with regard to all these departments. No doubt, some are doing their work very well. The six main sections deal with features and drama, schools, education, music, variety, and television. It is with particular regard to the variety section that the complaints have been made.
The complaints hinge upon the producers and centre on the fact that these producers are members of the staff of the B.B.C. who seem to have got there for every other reason than the fact that they are really knowledgeable professional individuals who have had proper training for the work for which they are responsible. In my view, that is a serious complaint which needs to be carefully looked into by those responsible, at the head of the B.B.C, for seeing that the organisation functions adequately. With reference to these producers, there was an article written in the "Musical Express" for Friday, 25th October. I do not know whether it is connected with any other organ with a somewhat similar name but I think we can take it to be reasonably accurate. The article analysed the sort of work done by the producers. It described the type of people who do the producing. It indicated, for example, the 1256 case of a well known dance band which had established its reputation and which, according to the "Radio Times," is produced by somebody who it is well known in the musical profession has never had the necessary training which would qualify her to produce a band. The work done by these so-called producers is to time the performance, to use a stop watch. In some cases they are simply the assistants of people who have been in the B.B.C. earlier and who had the necessary qualifications. When the qualified individual has left the staff, then automatically the assistant has taken his place, without, I suggest, having the necessary qualifications.
Complaint is also made of the way in which auditions are held. It appears that one person on the staff of the B.B.C. can listen to a prospective broadcaster, an artiste, and the opinion of that one individual may condemn the artiste, and prevent him from taking part in programmes. If there is this monopoly, and if one person can have that sort of influence on the career of a professional artiste, I think it is a very grave defect in the organisation of the Corporation. I referred this matter to the Director-General of the B.B.C. He wrote to me on 9th October with reference to one of these individuals, saying:On this occasion the verdict was not from one person only. Music auditions are never attended by fewer than four members of the music department's staff. Usually, more than this number is present.These auditions may be attended by more than one person, but the opinion of one member of the staff can debar a person from broadcasting: In a later letter from the Director-General, I was informed:I am satisfied that as far as the 14 identified artists are concerned…I had brought some of these cases to his notice—…there has been no discrimination by the B.B.C.'s staff against any of them, and, in general, it is fair to say that the decision as to their work has not rested on any one member of the staff here."In general"—that is not good enough. It is an admission that this defect is there, yet, so far as I can see, no steps have been taken to remedy the defect.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. I am not at all clear that he is in Order in giving this multitude of illustra- 1257 tions. The question before the House is as to whether the Licence and Agreement shall be approved. The hon. Gentleman appears to be going into a good deal of detail as to various complaints. I am not at all clear that he is in Order in doing that. If he can indicate any ground for assuming that he is in Order, particularly in giving an excess of illustrations, I will be glad to hear him.
§ Mr. Cooper
I appreciate the point you make, Sir. I would rest my argument on the fact that reference is made, in the Paper before us, to the efficiency with which broadcast programmes shall be carried out. I referred, in particular, to certain words in the paper in the earlier part of my remarks, and I used examples in order to refer to the defect which I claim is still there in the organisation.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Member may be in Order in giving an odd illusitration or two, but he seems to me to be indulging in excess of illustrations, which is not in Order.
§ Sir. Cooper
I appreciate that, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I will refrain from making voluminous references to examples. The point of my argument is that, if one individual on the staff of the B.B.C. has an opportunity of expressing an opinion on the artistic or professional merits of certain aspirants for inclusion in broadcast programmes, it raises a sufficiently serious defect as to require immediate attention. I brought this matter to the attention of the Director-General, and I did so because individuals on the staff are placed in the position of deciding on the possible careers of those who want to broadcast, and they can, therefore, very easily be placed in a position of influencing certain people. The temptation is there to influence those who have to make the decision, and it was because of that temptation that I was giving specific examples of cases where members of the staff of the B.B.C. had succumbed to that temptation.
For example, contracts for work with the B.B.C. were fixed up over the luncheon table at public houses in the vicinity of Oxford Circus, but it does not stop there. That may be quite in order and may not matter, but when it comes to questions of silk stockings being given to members of the staff of the B.B.C, or fur coats, as has been suggested—
§ Mr. Bracken
I do hope the hon. Gentleman will substantiate that statement. It has been stated in this House that B.B.C. contracts are fixed up in public houses and that fur coats and silk stockings are given to people, with corrupt motives. I feel that these statements should be substantiated, and I think it is distressing that accusations of this type should be made in the House of Commons against a body of people who have served their country with just as much distinction as the hon. Gentleman himself.
§ Mr. Cooper
I am very glad that interruption has been made, and to have the opportunity of substantiating the point I have made, and I made it advisedly. I have the evidence, and I have brought the matter to the attention of the Director-General, who has gone so far now as to appoint a K.C. to go into it. I mention this now in public for the reason that in so many cases in the past, there have been investigations made, and what has happened has been that the individuals concerned, or those who were implicated, have received the treatment that perhaps, was justified by whatever was discovered. This is the real point at issue. These people are made scapegoats for the misfortunes in which they find themselves through having to work under such conditions and under such an organisation which produce the very circumstances of their own downfall. Further, I make this point because I lay the responsibility for this defect, which is extremely serious, where it really belongs—in the management of the B.B.C. The particular case that I put forward is, at the moment, sub judice, but, if the result is merely to dismiss people and not to bring this defect out into the light so that it is remedied, the investigation will fail in its purpose.
§ Mr. Bracken
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again, but, if he says that the case is sub judice, why should he prejudice it by talking about it in this House?
§ Mr. Cooper
That, again, is a good point, but I made it for this reason. I brought this matter before the Director-General last August. It was only yesterday that the Postmaster-General informed me that this inquiry is going to be made. In other words, it has to wait until there 1259 is the possibility of a Debate in this House and the matter being brought forward before an attempt is made to have an inquiry. After all, if on an important matter of that type, on which a serious accusation is made, it takes all this time before the necessary machinery is put into effect for remedying this matter, I would ask, what will happen to all the suggestions that have been made in the House today? In my opinion, if any suggestions are made, as things are at present no notice will be taken of them.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Dower
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me? After all, this is a matter of very great importance. I would like to ask him whether he asked for a reply earlier or whether he merely relied on some pressure coming from this Debate.
§ Mr. Cooper
My correspondence has shown that I have had to follow up my letters on two or three occasions to the B.B.C. before I have had a reply, and it is because of that defect that I have no compunction—
§ Mr. Cooper
I realise that the Postmaster-General is having an investigation made, but the matter should not have had to go to this stage before it was looked into. I maintain that, if the Directors of the B.B.C. and their administration are really sound, this sort of situation should never arise. There is a defect there. The B.B.C. is not a new organisation, but it holds a national responsibility, and, therefore, I say that it should be pre-eminently fine in its organisation to ensure that this sort of thing could not happen and it is possible to prevent it.
§ Mr. Cooper
I will make one suggestion, therefore, before I conclude. At the time of the Debates on the Civil Aviation Bill—I use this as an illustration to support the suggestion—it was put forward by hon. Members on this side of the 1260 House that there should be a national consultative and advisory council for the civil aviation industry. We knew that, unless some influence could be brought to bear upon the boards of the corporations, there was the possibility of serious complaints being made going unheeded and we wished to ensure that democratic influences should be capable of being used, if necessary, against the controlling authority of these corporations. As a result of that particular proposal being turned down in the Debate on that Bill, there was considerable controversy in this Chamber. Now, however, the new Minister of Civil Aviation has seen fit to give effect to this suggestion, and I mention this only for the reason that, because the wisdom of that proposal has now been appreciated by the Minister for Civil Aviation, I would like to see some parallel appreciation of that point by the Director-General and the Board of Governors of the B.B.C. I suggest that they would be extremely wise if they appoint to such a body, people who are representative of the various interests in the industry.
The hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin) made the point of the proper representation of the trade unions, and it is that sort of thing that I have in mind, and I think that, if there is an advisory or consultative body representing such organisations as the dance band leaders' organisation, the Musicians' Union and the British Song-Writers' Protection Association, it would ensure that, as complaints do come along, and they do in any large undertaking, they will be aired and ventilated in some well-recognised and understood way. If that were done, I maintain that the sort of very serious situation which has now arisen in the B.B.C. would be prevented from arising, because the early indication of the defect would be seen, the matter would be reported upon and investigated by the organisation of the B.B.C. itself, plus this outside representation, and the defect would disappear.
As I see it, far too many of those people who, to some extent, depend on broadcasting for a living, find that Broadcasting House is too much of a "Heartbreak House." That sort of situation must be remedied, and, if the suggestion which has been put forward is followed, I maintain that the result will be that broadcasting in this country will go to greater heights than it has achieved so far.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Sir Waldron Smithers (Orpington)
Except for the very strong remarks made by the right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) about the powers to be given to the Postmaster-General, the speeches by the hon. and learned Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. H. Strauss), the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. H. Stewart) and the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. Cooper), this Debate has, in my opinion, been too complacent and too much on the lines of a mutual admiration society. I do not think the House realises what powers are being given to the Postmaster-General. I want to criticise the giving of this Licence on the ground of the Left Wing bias of the B.B.C. That bias has been strengthened today, because, after what has been said by the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough, what hope is there for Conservatives? We have now got a newly appointed Socialist chairman, a Socialist Postmaster-General and a Socialist Lord President of the Council—who has sufficient power already. I do not want to see any more power put into his hands.
I have received many complaints and criticisms from people similar to those mentioned by the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough. I have always said to them, "Bring the evidence, be prepared to go into the witness box and I will take the matter up." The reply I receive is always that they dare not, because they would get the sack. That is a very serious position. I do not say that it is the fault of Sir Allan Powell or of any of the chief Governors, but there are the smaller fry further down the scale who can give decisions and who, as the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough says, are in a position to destroy or give a start to broadcasters, whatever sphere of art they wish to take up.
The biggest trouble with the B.B.C. is that it is a monopoly. There is no competition to make it efficient and clean. If the Governors of the B.B.C. had to face a shareholders' meeting once or twice a year and had to answer questions such as Ministers have to answer at Question time in this House, I am sure that the whole organisation would be much more clean and efficient. We have no means of knowing whether these allegations and criticisms are true or false. I often go to the Clerks at the Table, who are always 1262 so helpful in these matters, and they advise me that no Minister is responsible for B.B.C. policy or programmes. I then write to the chairman. Here is a chairman of a company with an income of about £10 million a year who will not answer letters—he answered one or two of them. I write again and again, and all that I get back is a printed postcard. I have about ten such postcards, which I keep as evidence of the unwillingness of the Governors of the B.B.C. to reply to genuine questions to which I want a genuine answer. They retire behind the iron curtain of Broadcasting House.
§ Mr. Messer (Tottenham, South)
Would the hon. Member be surprised to know that I wrote to the B.B.C. on one day and received a reply two days later?
§ Sir W. Smithers
No, it would not surprise me, because the hon. Gentleman is on the Government side. Reference has been made to music. Today, there is a tendency to try to demoralise by playing down to the lower instincts of our people and having all this jazz music and crooning. No Debate in this House could pass without a word being said about ITMA, the most popular programme of the B.B.C. Before this licence is granted, I should like to draw attention to the number of foreigners employed by the B.B.C. Their employment might have been necessary during the war but many ex-Servicemen have now returned who are linguists, who have travelled and who are highly qualified to take on broadcasting and administrative posts. I think that they should be given the first chance. I am not a member of it, but there is a wonderful world organisation called the "British Israelites," who claim to have 3 or 4 million members all over the world. According to the last information I received, they cannot get permission to broadcast in this country, although I understand that permission is given to them to broadcast in America and in the Dominions. Here is some information about the Left Wing bias of the B.B.C, which I hope—
§ Sir W. Smithers
I have sat here for four hours and am getting a little weary. I should like to be allowed to continue. I do not know whether the following allegations are true. It is one of my chief 1263 criticisms of the present organisation that we cannot get these allegations denied or confirmed. I am told that the B.B.C. is riddled with Fabian high-ups and more high-ups of the Society of Cultural Relationship with Russia. It is impossible to get in unless your politics are very "red."
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South)
Will the hon. Gentleman say who told him that? What is he quoting from?
§ Sir W. Smithers
I am not going to give the name.
May I tell the House of my own experience of a broadcast which I once gave? We went to the studio to take part in a Brains Trust—Six autour du micro—a Brains Trust in French. There were six of us and we were offered a sumptuous meal, cocktails and drinks of which I did not partake because, in my opinion, the B.B.C. were breaking the Regulations of the Ministry of Food. I wrote to the Ministry of Food and told them. I believe that the Ministry made an inspection, but they made some excuse for what happened. What would have happened to a small shopkeeper or a small restaurant in similar circumstances? We sat there in the studio. On my left was the question master, a Frenchman; on my right was a man who said he was a "good Marxist," and facing me on the left was another French Socialist, while opposite me was a young lady who said she was a Socialist. She had red toe nails, anway.
§ Sir W. Smithers
I am trying to show why, in my opinion, the Licence should not be granted. One of the first things the question master said was, "I sympathise with Sir Waldron Smithers because he is in a minority of four to one," and I was. In one of my replies I said that was about the balance of the importance which the B.B.C. attached to the political parties. We did 50 minutes' broadcasting, which was recorded. We 1264 were then asked to go back and hear the recording so that we might make suggestions as to which pieces should be left out, so as to reduce it to 40 minutes. There was one silly little question asking why the pavements in Paris were broader than the pavements in London. I asked, "Could we not cut that out?" and a young man with corduroy trousers said, "No, we have decided to keep that in." I said, "Forgive me, but why the hell did you ask me to come, then?" [HON. MEMBERS: "Order."] We were asked to make suggestions, and when we did, some junior official who had the real power there did not listen to us, and the question about the pavements was kept in.
I do not want to transgress the rules of Order, but this is a forum where public opinion should be heard. After that broadcast, I wrote a letter to the papers and I received a mass of correspondence from all over the country. I have the originals in my bag in the Library. I have had extracts made, which I think Members ought to hear. Again I must say that I do not know how true they are; I do not know whether they are exaggerated views or not, but I do say there ought to be some method by which we can compel the B.B.C. to reply to our letters, or else there should be a Minister in the House to give answers. I will quote only a few of the extracts. Copies are available to any Member who would like to read them. Here is one:Thanking you and hoping that you will fight for a change in that decadent, highbrow lazy club at the B.B.C.Here is another one:Loud cheers! Someone has at last had the pluck to express publicly what many people have been thinking for some time. Thank you very much for writing your letter to the B.B.C. What you say wanted saying badly.Another quotation says:Most of the officials of the Corporation appear to be left wing intellectuals—a poisonous type. Because they have attended the 'London' School of Economics (by the way, why 'London'? What right have such people to use the word) and have learnt something of the school's particular brand of economics they think that they know everything, although they know practically nothing of actual industry and commerce. Who are the pets of these officials? Such men as Joad, Julian Huxley, Haldane, Bernal, Priestley, etc., all of them left wingers, and some of them avowed Communists.Here is another one:The Brains Trust is at times an absolute danger. The views of the ordinary decent 1265 person find little expression, and the listening public gets the impression that the opinions of these left wingers are the correct thing, and must be held by anyone claiming to have the slightest intelligence.In view of the enormous influence of the B.R.C., these expressions of opinion are well worth hearing. A mother writes:I have myself been disgusted at how everything almost that one hears on the wireless lately is expressed from the Labour point of view. … I am glad I have no little children to be taught by these men of hideous ideas. Thank you a thousand times for your plucky letters.Another writer says:You are right. There is an idea abroad that the B.B.C. seem to have a left hand bias.Yet another says:One hesitates to say it, but there also seems to be a degree of anti-religious propapanda introduced very carefully at times. The Methodist President has just protested and another example I considered was the repeat broadcast of the Battle of Sedgemoor aimed at reviving memories of old religious differences between Catholic and Protestant.Let me give another quotation:Permit me most cordially to agree with your remarks about the B.B.C. as reported in the 'Daily Telegraph' today. For years now one has been disgusted by the Red 'twist' which that institution gives to every announcement or other broadcast which is at all susceptible of such a thing, and it is just about time somebody in a public position like yourself said so. …What one would very much like to know is whether—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I indicated to the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. Cooper) that 'he was indulging in excessive quotations. I think the hon. Gentleman is now doing the same, and I hope he will not continue with these illustrations.
§ Sir W. Smithers
The B.B.C. are very subtle and clever. They used to broadcast in French in the European programme from 7.40 to 7.45 every morning—I do not know if they still do so—and there were five minutes' real Left Wing propaganda very subtly put across. It was put across in French. I now wish to give a very different quotation, Sir, which is very important. When Mr. H. G. Wells passed away—no doubt everybody is sorry when anybody passes away—the B.B.C. made it an occasion for a series of broadcasts with a Left Wing bias. This is a copy of a short note from America: 1266The astonishing suggestion of H. G. Wells recently given wide publicity on the radio and in newspapers here, that Royalty, the House of Hanover, should be abolished and the personages exiled to some districts in America where uniforms and pomp are admired, has, in my opinion, brought the wrath of both peoples down on him.I quote that because I think it is so important. That kind of broadcast should not be allowed, for the sake of offending the general feelings of the people of the world. I am glad to see the Lord President of the Council has just come into the Chamber, because I wish to say that I think he has enough power already. I do not want to put any more power in his hands. It may be said that the Postmaster-General will not use these powers which he is being given, but he has them. The fact remains, the Postmaster-General and Government Departments generally can order the B.B.C. to broadcast something, or not to broadcast something. I think that is wrong, and it was against that sort of thing that we fought for six years and now we are losing the battle for freedom on the home front.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Robens (Wansbeck)
If we want to appreciate the size of the task which the B.B.C. has in meeting the tastes of the people of this country, I think we should be able to do so from the speeches made in this Debate this afternoon. The hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers), who entertained us so well in his speech, made some very interesting points, inasmuch as he is convinced it is a Left Wing element which is running the B.B.C. If he would come with me to my constituency, and meet some of my Labour Party colleagues, he would hear from them that they are equally convinced the B.B.C is run by a Right Wing element. It is all a matter of approach, depending on the way in which people listen to what is said on the B.B.C. Nevertheless, it is perfectly clear that this question of taste is one which cannot be decided by individuals, such as hon. Members in this House. We are not the people who listen to the radio. The great mass of people who listen regularly, to perhaps all three programmes, are not, in my view, sufficiently tested in order to find out precisely what are their likes and dislikes, although the listeners research may do something towards it. I think something more might be done, along the lines of finding out from the listeners exactly what type of entertainment they appreciate.
1267 The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) made some comments in relation to fees, and the part of them which the Treasury were not handing over. He put that forward as some sort of objection to the granting of this Licence. It seems to me that that matter involves the whole question of the raising of revenue. I myself like the principle of licences taken for a specific purpose being used entirely for that specific purpose. I would prefer telephone rentals and telephone charges to be used for enlarging and improving the telephone service. Nevertheless, I think it was a Member of the right hon. Gentleman's own Government who first introduced the idea of robbing a fund. If he will cast his mind back to the fund raised, for example, for roads in this country, I think he will find it was a Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer who first robbed that fund for another purpose. There is nothing new in that. I do not think the problem is one which could be dealt with here on this particular issue, but it is one which will have to be dealt with very broadly.
The main point I wish to make is in relation to something said by the Assistant Postmaster-General, when he was dealing with technical advancement, and the carrying out of a scheme of development by the B.B.C. He referred to research on frequency modulation. I would like to hear something more about that from the Lord President of the Council. The Assistant Postmaster-General did indicate that the B.B.C. should be free to give the public what the public wants. In the Northern Region there are something like half a million licence holders who are confined to the transmitting station at Stag-shaw. In Northern Ireland, using the same wavelength, there are over 100,000, perhaps 150,000, licence holders. That means that under the present system, due no doubt to the fact that there are not sufficient alternative wavelengths available, Northern Ireland and the Northern Region share the same programme. On examination of the programme, I do not think it is in proportion to the licence holders. It may be difficult, however, to do that. But the programme is certainly not what the public wants. For example, when someone in the Northern Region is anxious to listen to "Those Were The Days," he is switched off suddenly and has to listen to the Ulster news. The 1268 people in Northern Ireland have the same grievance, that they are not very interested in what is happening in the North of England. We have also got the problem in relation to the Third Programme that it cannot be heard all over the country.
It is perfectly clear, therefore, that there is need, indeed, for greater technical development, and research. I hope that the Lord President will be able to say something about that and, also, to give us some hope that there will be, within a reasonable time, opportunity for development, so that there will be an additional wavelength, or the use of a wavelength for this new research, in order that we can break programmes up, and not have the position which exists in the north at the present time. The people feel very keenly about this in the Northern Region. Questions have been asked in this House; very reasonable answers have been given; but that does not satisfy the licence holders, numbering more than half a million, who are compelled to listen to a programme in which they have very little interest.
The last point I want to make is this. A great deal has been said in the House about competition, and the need for controversy, and so on. Something has been said, too, about listener research. It seems to me we have to get down to the consumer of this service—the listener. We have three programmes, the Home Service, the Light Programme, and the Third Programme, and each should work along the line of attracting more and more listeners, each in its own way, according to its particular policy. It would be a perfectly easy thing to find out from listeners, when the licences are issued, which of the three programmes is receiving the most support I would not mind if the Postmaster-General were to go into the question of finance some time, to find out whether a scheme could be operated whereby, when a listener was getting his licence, he would be enabled to earmark a portion of the licence fee for a particular programme. For example, if 10 per cent. of the licence fees could be allocated to a programme on the basis of the listeners' choice, we should have an indication of the listeners' likes. This would provide some incentive to the people responsible for all the programmes, an incentive to them to attract listeners' support.
1269 Throughout this Debate there has been, in the main, criticism of the B.B.C. I think it would be wrong if the general idea went abroad that we have nothing else but criticism for the B.B.C. Despite all their difficulties, in the great task of pleasing all people's tastes, they have done a first-class job. They are doing a first-class job of work, and I wish them well; and I hope the House will approve this, Motion, and that the B.B.C. will go on, with the good wishes of this House, to provide the entertainment the people of this country desire.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
My hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Robens) has very properly and reasonably raised the question of the service for the North of England, over part of which area there is a sharing between Northern England and Northern Ireland. We do quite appreciate the feeling about the matter, and we sympathise with it. As he has said, there is a corresponding feeling in Northern Ireland. There, they do not particularly want to listen to the Northern English Programme. We very much appreciate that, and accept the view that it is not satisfactory. We are sorry about it, because it does mean that listeners, either in the areas served by the Stagshaw transmitter, or in Northern Ireland, get a service which, to them, is not wholly acceptable or satisfactory. We made most careful investigations, and we considered all the alternatives; and we were driven to the conclusion that any of the available alternatives, would leave the situation less satisfactory than it is at present.
The fact is—and it affects my answer to my hon. Friend, and to a number of other hon. Members—that the number of wavelengths at the disposal of our country is strictly limited, and is inadequate to do all the things we should like to do. That is where we are in existing circumstances, and there is no possibility of allocating to the North of England region the sole use of a second medium wavelength in addition to that of the 449. I metres at present used by the Moorside Edge transmitter. The only courses open to the authorities were, therefore, either to synchronise Moorside Edge and Stagshaw on the same wavelength, or to continue the arrangement whereby Stagshaw shares its wavelength with the Northern 1270 Ireland station. If we had adopted the former course, it would have caused a very serious deterioration in the reception of programmes over a large part of the Northern counties, because the "mush" area which is the inevitable result of trying to synchronise two transmitters on the same wavelength, would have fallen on the land, whereas now it falls on the sea between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. That is the difficulty that we are in and I am very sorry about it; I can assure my hon. Friend that should circumstances change, should we get more elbow room, so that we can do anything for his part of the country, we shall give the matter the earliest and the most sympathetic attention if it becomes practicable to do something for the North of England and for Northern Ireland. He is quite justified in bringing the matter up, and we hope at some time to be able to meet the perfectly fair and legitimate points of criticism which my hon. Friend put before the House.
The Debate has been an interesting one, as all Debates on British broadcasting are. And, on the whole, the B.B.C. has not come out of it too badly. They have no need to weep too many tears, although of course they have been knocked about, and that they must expect. Parliament on these occasions is bound to have a number of criticisms to make of the programmes and the policy of the British Broadcasting Corporation, and it may well be that some of the criticisms are fair and legitimate, while others may reflect genuine differences of opinion, because undoubtedly opinion about what people want from the B.B.C. varies enormously. One person likes one thing, and another person likes another, and that is why I think it an exceedingly good thing that we now have three distinct programmes, the Home. Service, the Light Programme, and the Third Programme. I wish with others that we had the Third Programme made available all over the country, but unhappily we have not. However, we have these three distinct programmes, plus a number of regional programmes, and therefore there is a fairly wide public choice. Undoubtedly, there are sheer conflicts of opinion. That could be heard in the speeches today; it is perfectly clear that some hon. Members are favourable to one line of broadcasting while others favour another, and I dare say that even 1271 the opinions of each one of us, individually, at different parts of the day or year, according to what we have had for breakfast or with whom we have had a row, or how we are feeling in health, vary from time to time, about what we want out of the B.B.C.
Therefore I make no complaint about criticisms. Indeed, why should I? It is not my business, necessarily to champion or defend the British Broadcasting Corporation; they have no obligation to do what the Government want and I have no obligation to defend them, so it is a perfectly free situation on both sides. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) speaks with a good deal of experience of this matter, because he was Minister of Information during a considerable part of the war. Then, indeed, he had a responsibility for the British Broadcasting Corporation, because necessarily in time of war he had the fullest powers to give orders and to interfere as much as he liked. As a matter of fact, my recollection is that he interfered very little with the B.B.C., and, if I may say so, he was right. I think it was a good thing that even in the war this great weapon of broadcasting was interfered with very little by the Government of the day. I think it is greatly to the credit of the libertarian principles of this country.
I join with the right hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the Chairman and Vice-Chairman, who are to retire at the end of the year from the Corporation. I have known Sir Allan Powell for many years. I knew him first as Clerk to the Metropolitan Asylums Board, then as chief officer of the Public Assistance Department of the London County Council, where he had a great job to do in creating a county machine out of 28 boards of guardians. Later, he was on the Import Duties Advisory Committee; then he has been on the British Broadcasting Corporation, which he has served for about eight years, including the war years. I think the country is indebted to him for his services, and to Captain Millis, who has been Vice-Chairman for an even longer period of service, I think it is up to 10 years. He has specialised in the financial and accountancy work of the Corporation, without prejudice to his other responsibilities. To him also the country is indebted for the services he has 1272 rendered. I am sure that the House will join with me in wishing their successors happiness and success in their work.
The right hon. Gentleman said we must face the fact that the B.B.C. is now an adult institution—that it comes of age next year. He thought that the Government were keeping it in leading strings. I do not know that I agree with him. He was fair enough to say, with regard to the power to direct the B.B.C. to broadcast news or not to broadcast news, that we had lifted those provisions which, I think, have been in the Charter ever since it started under the Conservative Government, in 1926. There is no reason why a Socialist Government should do what a Conservative Government did, and we are obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for inciting us not to follow the steps of the Conservative Party too closely. I think it is right that those provisions should be there. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, those provisions, even in the war, were very little used, and I do not think it at all likely that they will be much used. I believe it is the custom, at the end of the news, to say, "Here are two police messages." So far as I know, the Commissioner of Police and the Home Secretary do not order the B.B.C, in writing, to disseminate these messages. They are sent along in the ordinary way, and quite often there is, unhappily, a note about foot-and-mouth disease, which I always find very depressing.
These things happen, but so far as I know, they are not directions from the Government. They are sent to the B.B.C. in the ordinary way. If the B.B.C. think the Government are sending too many, they send a representation to that effect, and sometimes suggest the form should be altered, and an amicable arrangement is made. The power is not used as a formal power. The power to direct that something shall be done, has not been formally used, and that is a very good thing, but you never know. We might have a critical situation, or an emergency might arise, and in that case it would be necessary to have the power to direct to broadcast or not to broadcast. In cases where they are directed to broadcast, the B.B.C. may say "The Government made us do this," which is an implication to the listeners that "We would not have inflicted this upon you, if we had not had to do it." If that direction is not to do something then the 1273 Government may decide, at their discretion, whether the B.B.C. are to be permitted to say that they are directed not to do it. If they propose a broadcast which, in an emergency, would be contrary to the national interest, it would be awkward if the B.B.C. were to say, "We were intending to broadcast so and so tonight, but His Majesty's Government have stopped us." Half the game would be up anyway if they mentioned what the broadcast was to be about. I can assure the House that this Government will be as sparing in the use of this power as their predecessors have been.
I hope I shall keep in Order in what I am about to say, but I must confess that the more I listened to the Debate, the more baffled I became about what is in Order and what is not. I shall do my best to keep within Order, but the line is exceedingly fine. I think everybody has been in this difficulty. However, I only wish to deal with the things which have been said. The right hon. Gentleman opposite said that we need not put in a direction as to Parliamentary proceedings. It is a fair point. We think it right that the B.B.C. have been doing Parliamentary broadcasts, and I think we all agree that, broadly speaking, they have been very fairly done. It is not an easy thing to pick up a summary of a Debate in this House, and deal with it impartially. I do not always listen, because I cannot, but I have listened often and I have always found these broadcasts fair, impartial, and competently done. But the Governors might change their mind. They might decide not to do it, and we thought it right to lay it down, in black and white, that it is the duty of the B.B.C. to keep the country informed of Parliament's affairs, that we should impose the obligation upon them, in the light of day to do these daily broadcasts. Of course, the Governors would probably go on doing it anyway, especially as it is a popular feature. We have put it there in order that the Governors shall not forget, even if they were so minded, that it is one of the duties of the B.B.C. to keep the country informed about Parliament.
While it would be nice if the broadcast were at 10.15 p.m. or earlier, instead of 10.45, it could not be done at the earlier hour unless the end of the Debate was left out. Often the winding up of a Debate is the most exciting feature of the 1274 day, especially when the House is full, the issue is contentious, and everybody has fed well. When we are about to divide, and the House is "hotted up," it can be an interesting time and it would be a pity if that part of the proceedings were left out. So I think the B.B.C. are driven to the 10.45 hour and, after all, it is not so late although I agree that some people go to bed earlier. Sometimes, on a Friday and Saturday, I go to bed earlier myself, because I have been up until two o'clock in the morning during the earlier days of the week, and I want a change. For most people this hour is all right, and I do not see how it could be earlier unless the House altered its hours of Sitting. I agree about controversy. There has been general agreement that the Corporation should not be afraid of controversy. We should let it be known that we applaud the B.B.C going in for controversy. But there are two limits to it. One is that it must be fair. If there is to be an attack one way, there should be a possibility of defence the other These things should be balanced. There must be thrust, as well as cut, in the argument, pro as well as con. But it must be remembered that the B.B.C. might sometimes be pushed into discussions of a controversial character, where real trouble would arise.
I personally am not afraid of any controversy on the B.B.C, and I am not afraid of any subject. I am not talking about my taking part in it, but as a controversy and as a subject. But the Governors are right on one aspect anyway. People like ourselves are used to the rough and tumble of public life and to all sorts of ideas, some of them quite shocking; it would be difficult to shock this House about anything; but you can get on to a subject of controversy where the conscience, the mind, and even the soul, if I may say so, of a substantial part of the community would be really shocked and outraged, and they would be worried about their children hearing it. It may be that we ourselves would not worry about it, but it is a fact of which the Corporation must take account. These are the two limits to controversy. Subject to them, let controversy proceed, and one hopes that we can make arrangements about controversial broadcasts of various sorts. Mind you, we shall all grumble now and then, because we are all very good and tolerant about listening to a controversial 1275 broadcast which is up our street, and we are not so tolerant in listening to a controversial broadcast which is up the other fellow's street; and so we must be ready for the occasional heat and feeling about these things. I hope that the Governors will not be too timid, and will take account of the spirit of the House and perhaps get a little more controversial that way.
The right hon. Gentleman was very cross about the Treasury getting a little surplus at the expense of the Corporation. I must say that he was a. great champion of the B.B.C., and I felt that I was almost listening to the B.B.C. itself when he was speaking with such authentic voice on its financial and other interests. It all confirms my experience of public life in national and local government. You put a conservative anti-socialist—the more anti-socialist he is the better—in charge of a socialised institution, and, so far as that particular socialised institution is concerned, he will be as good a socialist as any of us. That is what has happened to the right hon. Gentleman. I must be careful—I am only saying this by way of illustration. The Conservative Chairman of the Highways Committee of the London County Council some years ago, having fought an election on the municipal tramways, which were losing money, fought like the devil for the preservation of the municipal tramways when I took them over.
The right hon. Gentleman was surrounded by ex-Postmasters-General when he was making his speech. There was one on either side, and he talked about the Postmasters-General in a most condescending and contentious manner. I thought that they looked a bit embarrassed. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman was only getting at the present Postmaster-General, and had forgotten that he had one on either side. The Postmaster-General is an exceedingly important Minister, conducting a very great business undertaking. It is, of course, perfectly arguable, from the Socialist point of view in particular, as to whether economic undertakings publicly owned should make profits, and, if they do, whether the profits should go to the taxpayer or the ratepayer or be ploughed back into the business for the benefit of the consumer. That is a fair point to argue. If these 1276 profits were being made by a private commercial undertaking, the right hon. Gentleman would not be in any dilemma at all. He would know where they should go. There would be no query mark and no embarrassment.
§ Mr. Morrison
The right hon. Gentleman tempts me at this point, but I will not follow him. Some of the profit might be ploughed back into the business, and very sensible that would be. Some companies are very good at doing that. But a lot of it would be ploughed back into the pockets of the shareholders or the directors, as the case might be. Is there anything shocking in the idea that a socialised institution should make a surplus and that that surplus should go to benefit the taxpayer of the country? It is not very shocking.
§ Mr. Bracken
There was no question about profits going back to the Treasury. My point is that 10,500,000 people in this country pay a licence fee of £1 each to the B.B.C, but the Treasury and the Post Office between them take 4s. out of every £1, and I consider that to be very bad accounting. I very much hope the Lord President of the Council will use his influence to see that the people who pay £1 to listen to the B.B.C. get the full benefit of their expenditure, and that it does not go to the Treasury.
§ Mr. Morrison
I am bound to say that I wish I had analogous figures for electric lamp bulbs. I wish I knew how much each consumer is paying for them and where the money is going. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Find out."] I can easily find out; probably I will. Why should there be this shock when a surplus arises and goes to the relief of the general body of taxpayers?
§ Mr. Morrison
So does the electric lamp manufacturer take money away from the consumer. It is exactly the same procedure. You pay for an electric lamp when you get it, and you pay for the B.B.C. when you get a licence. It is money over the counter. In the case of the B.B.C, it is over the counter. There is nothing 1277 shocking about it. The fact is that we have to fix some figure for the licence fee. The right hon. Gentleman was good enough to say that he thought it was right to increase it to £1. I agree with him. It is about two-thirds of a penny per day, and it is amazing what we get for two-thirds of a penny. It is very good. The fee was fixed at £1. It is very difficult to fix an exact figure that will produce precisely the revenue we want the B.B.C. to have. It has to be a rough and ready affair. Moreover, as the years go on, the B.B.C. may want to spend more money, and, therefore, it is wise to have a fee which, on the whole, will produce a bit more than is needed at the moment. The licence fee of £1 results in our getting more revenue than the B.B.C. at this moment has reasonable cause to spend. I think it is spending up to its own estimates. I do not think we have played about with the estimates to any extent. There is, however, a surplus which has to go somewhere, and on the whole, it had better go into the public coffers. After all, the State has granted this great monopoly to a great institution. It is not too improper that the State should get a bit of a percentage of it. In the Post Office itself, letters, telephones, and that sort of thing, give a surplus of £36 million, which goes to the relief of the Exchequer. There is nothing shocking about it.
§ Mr. Bracken
The Lord President must realise that if the B.B.C. is to do what is expected of it by way of research and the development of television, it ought to build up reserves now. In my judgment, the B.B.C. should be allowed to use any surplus it receives from licence fees to build up reserves against development in the future.
§ Mr. Morrison
I do not think so. It is far better that the B.B.C. should agree about its research and what is wanted with the Treasury and the Post Office as it goes along, and we have said that as and when it justifies increased expenditure, we will be willing to give the matter sympathetic consideration. I do not think it would be a good thing if the B.B.C. were to build up reserves. It had better justify its expenditure as it goes along. The right hon. Gentleman said that it 1278 is a pity the B.B.C. has to negotiate with the Government about money. It is very good for expensive institutions to have negotiations from time to time with the Treasury otherwise there might be squandering of public money right and left. Some Members here today have been positively encouraging artistes and other people in this direction. The whole point of some people urging that more money should be available was that it might be available for artistes' fees and such like. Members of Parliament are most interesting, especially when they are keen on putting up other persons' incomes. I admit they do a bit in raising their own, but at the moment do hon. Members say that artistes are not properly paid? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am not sure, but I know that there are some people in this world, and they shall be nameless, who think that the B.B.C. is fair game for wringing money out of. I do not accept the view that merely because there is more money about we should hand it out to artistes and so on.
If the artistes have a case for more money, let it be represented and argued out. We ought not as Members of Parliament to be stimulating expenditure and inflation, like the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart), who positively incited money to be spent. Yet he would be one of the first, if financial difficulties met this country, to say this was the result of squandermania. Members of Parliament are most interesting on matters of public finance until they become Ministers, and then they get still more interesting. With regard to the 6 per cent. cost of collection, I am told by the Assistant Postmaster-General that this is most scientifically worked out. It is based upon the positive estimate of what it costs the Post Office to do this work for the British Broadcasting Corporation. Again, if it is found that 6 per cent is beyond what it costs the Post Office to fulfil this service there will be an adjustment. The Post Office is not trying to make large profits out of this sort of thing.
§ Mr. Morrison
On the contrary, they are brought in for consultation and they argue the case with the Post Office, at the 1279 end of which a decision is arrived at. I am sure it would cost the B.B.C. a great deal more to collect this money if it had to open offices all over the country. Certainly, it would be in a much worse position than a 6 per cent. cost. With regard to the Governors and their salary, it is true that at one time the salary was £750 a year, after which it went up to £1,000. Now we have reduced it to £600. It is a matter of estimate and consideration of what is a right reward for part-time services by the Governors or directors of public corporations. There may be a public corporation with a tricky, complicated, highly commercialised business to handle, in which it may be right to pay more than we would in the case of some other service. It must depend on the nature of the service, the number of meetings, the amount of travelling, the amount of effort required and so on.
I agree that the position of a Governor of the B.B.C. is a highly responsible office. I would not wish to interfere with its dignity and responsibility in any way. The kind of person we want as Governor of the B.B.C. is the kind of person who may be experienced in public affairs, who may have been knocking about in one way or the other, of good character, good sense, with his heart in the right place and a British citizen. One of them requires to be an accountant. I understand that their meetings used to be once a fortnight, but the Governors are now often meeting once a week. I admit they are meetings of substance. However, it is a matter of fairness and one would wish to be fair to the Governors and so attract the right kind of people. Even if the meetings are once a week and last for three or four hours, or may be only two, £12 a meeting is not bad going. We have to be very careful in the wide range of appointments to public corporations that are going to be made We have to balance up very carefully as we go along. We must not be finding soft places for people to fall on. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad that some hon. Members opposite agree with me because I remember something of that sort in the past before this Government came in. We have to be careful or something might easily go wrong about this sort of thing.
I agree that the Governors of the B.B.C. are important. I would do nothing to injure the dignity of their position; but 1280 the Government thought that £600 a year was not a bad reward for the amount of time the Governors give. In addition to the fortnightly or weekly meeting, there is an implied obligation that they should listen to broadcasting from time to time or even pretty regularly, and should even go and look at the regional offices. Nevertheless we did not think that it was bad. I will not go on to refer to the leg-pulling about public relations officers. I do not control them. Each of them is controlled by his own Minister, and believe me, I have quite enough to do without controlling those gentlemen.
My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mallalieu) and my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Benn Levy), and also the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter), all referred to the idea of a series, perhaps three or four, or more, independent broadcasting corporations, or sub-corporations, as one of my hon. Friends called them. They would be independent and would be competitive and each would frame its own programme. This may be a possible thing in a vast country like the United States of America. It would be a possible thing in the Soviet Union, a most interesting thing for them to do. No doubt the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin) and the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) will support me in that suggestion. I see they are not present in the Chamber. Probably they are broadcasting. The two great countries I have mentioned have a number of wavelengths, but we live in a little island. The number of wavelengths we have today is limited. One of the troubles in the Continental service is that we have precious few wavelengths to play about with. I do not see that we could have enough wavelengths to run independent national corporations—and if they were to be worthy they would have to be national. The wavelengths are not there. They are partly taken up with the three existing services, and partly with the separate regional services.
I say that we have not the wavelengths but let us suppose we had. The proposed Corporations are to be independent and are to be competitive. They will be competing for the same talent and for the same comic people in the variety talent— if you can find them. There are not enough funny men to go round as far as I can tell by listening to the B.B.C. It 1281 is much easier for a man with a red nose and a curious hat to go on to the stage. He need not do anything; he gets the laughs straight away. That is no good on the B.B.C., because nobody sees the red nose and the funny hat. It is very difficult. The corporations would all be scrambling for the comic people. As the competition went on, artists' fees would go up, which would please the hon. Member for Wood Green. In this respect he is an enthusiastic inflationist. The next point is that, being competitive, they would make their own programmes and order what they liked. The whole lot of them would have their comic turns, and there would be the menace of those comics all doing something similar at the same time. That is one of the inevitable consequences of complete, competitive freedom. Even if we said afterwards, "We did not quite mean that. These bodies had better get together and co-ordinate themselves," where should we be? We should be back to the position of bringing these regional offices and shows together into one corporation, so that it could be coordinated and unified.
What are the Corporation doing? Perfectly or imperfectly, the Corporation must, first stimulate healthy competition among the Home Service, the Light Service and the Third Programme. I am told that the competitive spirit among those three services has developed, particularly since the Third Programme has come along. It has put the others on their toes. That is a good thing. I believe in competition. I like to set the services of these public concerns competing with each other. It is very good for them. There is competition among the three national programmes. There is competition among the regional programmes. As a matter of fact the B.B.C. are now in process of inviting a lot of people to serve on advisory committees, for Wales, Scotland, and the English regions, and they will stimulate competition. I believe that if you get enough emulation and competition among the British main services and emulation among the regions with a good deal of autonomy, there will be more progress than would be achieved among separate competitive groups, which I believe to be technically impossible. I believe they would not work as things are.
§ Mr. Benn Levy
Does my right hon. Friend realise that his last arguments contradict each other? He first argued 1282 against a multiplicity of competing broadcasting stations on the ground that there was not sufficient available talent. He said therefore that competition among them would be impossible. Then he went on to say that there was already competition. If there is, then his first objection falls.
§ Mr. Morrison
I think that my hon. Friend fails to distinguish between independence, separation, doing what they like as independent units, and the competitive emulation of organisations under a common ownership, and a common supreme control in the last resort. I think that what I have said is logical. Perhaps my hon. Friend will change his views when he looks at HANSARD tomorrow. The hon. Member for Wood Green was critical and caustic at the expense of the B.B.C. I like his idea about topical controversy. There is something in it which may be worth white taking notice of. It might get the B.B.C. into trouble on the ground of its topicality or the personal element but it is an idea which is worth their consideration. I do not know so much about bad singing and bad violin playing. I have heard some very good work in both directions. What I like to hear are those choirs of the people from Wales, the North and from Scotland. I like to hear the native music of the people in the regions. They should be encouraged on account of the possibilities which exist in them. The hon. Member for Mile End wants the Minister to be accountable to Parliament and for the Minister to run the B.B.C. I do not want anything of the kind. It will be a bad thing when any Minister has complete responsibility for running the B.B.C. We must preserve the independent status of the B.B.C. and it must not be afraid of the Government on the one hand, or of the Opposition on the other. It must not be afraid of anybody. It must do its job and maintain its independence. If ever it takes liberties and betrays its public trust, which is its first consideration, Parliament can always jump in—and will jump in—but subject to that, I would say, let the Debate go on, and let the criticisms and arguments be heard, but let the Governors remain responsible for running it. It would be bad for the liberty of our country if the Government had the direct day-to-day management of the British Broadcasting Corporation. I hope it will not be necessary.
1283 The hon. Member for South Ports-mouth (Sir J. Lucas) raised a question about somebody's property which the B.B.C. had requisitioned, but I am not in a position to deal with that. If he will let my hon. Friend have particulars, it may well be that the matter will be looked into. The hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) raised the subject of the broadcasting of Parliament, and wanted a Parliamentary wavelength. Well, I nearly said, "Dear Sir and brother, there ain't no such wavelength available." We just have not got one to spare, unless the nation would like us to give up some big service of the B.B.C. in order that Parliament may be broadcast hour by hour and day by day, but my guess is that the country would not like that. On this matter of the live broadcasting of Parliament, I am a conservative. I do not believe in it. There is something subtle about this House of Commons. It is a great insister on publicity. It hates Secret Sessions. It never liked them during the war if it could possibly avoid them. It likes the right of the public to be here and of the newspapers to report and comment. Yet this Parliamentary institution has a private life of its own, and if anybody comes poking around and interfering with it, we really get very cross. This is another of the contradictory charms of this great Parliamentary institution, and I do not want hon. Members when they are addressing you, Mr. Speaker, to forget you and think of the microphone and those who are listening outside. It would spoil our Debates.
I shall never forget going to New York City once. It is a very poor comparison and it would be perhaps very rude to make it, and I do not make it. But New York city council decided to broadcast. I know the New York city council. The business men of New York City used to go to hear the council meeting broadcast at their "elevenses" once a week. Why? For fun. To enjoy themselves. It was a joke. We here have good fun among ourselves—and this is a well-behaved assembly, an amazingly well-behaved assembly. This body controls itself to a great extent, and we have a joke and can see the fun of it, and it is enjoyable. But one could not be sure that people hearing us on the wireless would follow the joke. They might think we were being silly, 1284 when we were nothing of the kind. No, Sir, let us preserve our own domestic life among ourselves and let us not talk to mechanical instruments suspended from the ceiling—
§ Mr. Morrison
I would not go as far as that. The hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin Morris) referred to the money and the Treasury "rake-off" though I do not think he called it that. Probably I have introduced that expression. He again would be one of the people who would condemn us if and when we squandered money and got into financial difficulties. I have explained to the House the principle upon which that matter is based. I have largely dealt with the principal points upon which the hon. Member for Eton and Slough spoke. He is afraid that a monopoly in opinion would be a threat to democracy. One of the safeguards is that the B.B.C. is not permitted to have any opinions of its own—
§ Mr. Morrison
Opinions come out during a broadcast, but they are not the opinions of the Corporation. The hon. Member wants to multiply the channels of expression. I do not disagree with him in principle, but there are practical difficulties on the lines which I have indicated. I am not unsympathetic about his appeal that the independence of the regions should develop and expand. I think it is happening. That would not be discouraged. The hon. and learned Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. H. Strauss) again urged controversy as long as it was fairly done, and made a considerable point about a broadcast by somebody—I do not know who he is; I have never heard of him before—associated with Oxford University. I have read the talk and the hon. and learned Gentleman is, I am told, wrong in thinking that this gentleman is himself doing a series. He is one of a series, so I am told—
§ Mr. H. Strauss
I think the right hon. Gentleman is wrong on that. This gentleman has given the second of his talks and at the end of the broadcast it was said that he would be giving another talk next 1285 Friday. It was a series of at least three. Of course he is a great favourite of the B.B.C.
§ Mr. Morrison
I am told that he is one of a series. There may be a misunderstanding. Perhaps I am not quite rightly informed, but I understand that there was a team consisting of Mr. E. H. Carr, Mr. Lionel Curtis, Mr. A. Toynbee, Mr. A. J. P. Taylor—the gentleman mentioned —Mr. R. C. K. Ensor, and one other to come. So it is a mixed bag. If that is so, I think part of the criticisms of the hon. and learned Member would recede. I am bound to say, and I say it without heat—it is the B.B.C.'s business—that I have read it and I think the broadcast was anti-British, anti-American, and not particularly competent. And that is all I can say about it.
§ Mr. Morrison
I do not defend the B.B.C.'s choice, but there it is. The hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. McAllister) praised the Third Programme and I agree with him. I think it is one of the most daring things anybody has ever done. There have been long things in it. Look at "Man and Superman," which lasted for over three hours and was given on three nights. Then somebody read about that Japanese place—[An HON. MEMBER: "Hiroshima."] I cannot pronounce it—where the atom bomb went off. He read the account, I am told, without drama, without music or anything, straight over a period. It was a most daring thing to do and it has come off. In the Third Programme they have really gone above the popular estimate of popular taste; nevertheless, they have hit it, and even if their listening public is only 30 per cent.—I do not know what it is—they are right. They have done a great thing. And what a lesson to popular journalism there is in all this. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] And, if I may say so, for Members of Parliament, too. The truth is that the public is never as bad as people think it is: it is better than in the judgment of even the experts. This public is coming up, it is going on, it is getting better educated, it is more intelligent. Watch it, politicians.
§ Mr. Morrison
If I may say so, the "News of the World" is a more intelligent paper than it was ten years ago—and the "Recorder" is better than it would have been ten years ago, though I must say that a gentleman called ''Brutus'' is a bit rough now and again.
§ Dr. Morgan
Would the right hon. Gentleman tell us that joke, because we did not hear it over here?
§ Mr. Morrison
My hon. Friend, being an Irishman, would not understand it. This is a Wood Green joke. I agree with the hon. Member for Rutherglen about taking account of Scotland, and I hope the Scottish Advisory Committee which is about to function will be helpful in that direction. I do not agree with him about sponsored programmes. I just do not want the business of commercial advertising in the B.B.C, and I hope that we shall not have it.
§ Mr. McAllister
What I was suggesting was that sponsored programmes should be considered at the inquiry.
§ Mr. Morrison
As far as that is concerned, it will be perfectly proper for that to come within the inquiry, and evidence on it can be given. The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Stewart) asked about overseas and colonial broadcasts. The situation of the overseas broadcasting to foreign countries is distinctly encouraging. Results, as far as we can test them, in Europe, are good. It is the case that staffs have diminished. There was the period of uncertainty at the end of the war, for one thing, and we could not go on spending money at the rate at which we were spending in the war. The money had to be cut down but now it is coming out of the Treasury. It did deteriorate, I admit, but we are trying to build it up again. The Colonial Empire is more difficult, because it is so far-flung. But the Colonial Office and the B.B.C. are giving the matter their closest attention, and doing their best about it. In regard to Radio Luxemburg, on which the hon. Member and I crossed swords some months ago, I am sorry to tell the House that the negotiations were not successful, and we have not got Radio Luxemburg. I wish we had.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
Does that mean that the right hon. Gentleman no longer desires to interfere with the liberty of Radio Luxemburg?
§ Mr. Morrison
I am not sure about that. Anyhow, he can be happy, as I have not the chance at the moment.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. Cooper) made some allegations, or raised some questions, about suspected—I do not know whether it was suspected or alleged, because I was out at dinner at the time—bribery in connection with the B.B.C. I am told that the B.B.C. have asked my hon. Friend twice to let them have the evidence on which the suspicions, or allegations, are based and that he has not yet let them have the evidence. I have heard these things elsewhere. If I may say so, I think that if hon. Members have reason to suspect irregular practices, no one would jump on them more willingly than I would, if evidence were produced. But it is not altogether fair within the protected privilege of this House for us to make allegations, unless we produce the evidence. I am sure if my hon. Friend will produce the evidence either to the B.B.C. directly, or to myself, the allegations will most certainly be investigated.
I am much obliged to the House for the friendly and sympathetic way in which it has received the Motion so ably moved by my hon. Friend the Assistant Postmaster-General and I hope very much it will now be passed.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That the Licence and Agreement, dated 29th November 1946, between His Majesty's Postmaster General and the British Broadcasting Corporation, a copy of which was presented on 3rd December, be approved.