Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Supplementary sum not exceeding 3,99,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in the course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of Match, 1947, for a grant to and grants in aid -)f the British Broadcasting Corporation.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ The Assistant Postmaster-General (Mr. Burke)
I have to present Supplementary Estimates for grants to the British Broadcasting Corporation for the year ending 31st March, consisting of a sum of £2,970,000 for home services and £1,024,000 for overseas services. This is not a Supplementary Estimate in the usual sense. The original Estimate of N million was for expenditure for nine months only; that is to say, from 1st April to 31st December last. But as the Charter was due to expire on 31st December, and as at the time of the original Estimate a decision on the future policy of the B.B.C had not been taken, the period from 1st January to 31st March of this year was not covered in the former Estimates. It is that uncovered period which is now being provided for in a total estimate of £3,994,000.
Of the original £7½ million, approximately 6o per cent. was for home services and 4o per cent. for overseas services, although, of course, they were not shown separately. The Estimates are now shown under two Subheads to correspond with the clauses in the new Licence giving payments for both services, home and over- 1239 seas, in the present form. In putting them in this way we are reverting to prewar practice. It will be remembered by the Committee that prior to the war the Corporation received 75 per cent. of the net licence revenue; that is to say, 75 per cent. of the full licence revenue after a deduction for services undertaken by the Post Office—that is, services in issuing licences, and inquiries and prosecutions with regard to unlicensed sets. The licence fee, of course, was 10s., and the 75 per cent. allowed was not sufficient. After representations by the Corporation it was raised to go per cent. of the net licence revenue.
During the war period the percentage basis was suspended, and the Corporation, which was undertaking a very great deal of overseas work at the time, received its finances from grants in aid. Now, we are back on the percentage basis for home services, and the position regarding the percentage to be paid has been reviewed. As is provided in Clause 18 (1) of the Licence and Agreement, the Postmaster-General will now pay to the B.B.C. 85 per cent. of the net licence revenue during the first three and a quarter years of the Charter's term. Following that period of three and a quarter years, the percentage basis will again be reviewed, and after consultation with the Treasury and the B.B.C. it may be carried on at the same rate or at a different rate. By a further sub-clause of the Licence, it is still open to the Corporation, as it always has been, for an additional percentage to be added if during any period the amount granted should prove insufficient. The sum of £12,970,000 in the Supplementary Estimate represents 85 per cent. of the net licence revenue for the period. It is more than one quarter of the yearly amount on the basis of 10,750,000 licence holders, but that is due to the unequal flow of licence revenue over the year.
The amount set down for the overseas services for the next three months is based or an estimate of the cost of maintaining the overseas services at approximately their present level, on the scale required by the various Government Departments—namely, the Foreign Office, the Colonial and Dominion Offices, and so on. This Estimate has been examined by the Post Office and approved by the Treasury. In 1240 accordance with clause 17 (1) of the Charter, the accounts of the Corporation shall be audited by chartered accountants approved by the Postmaster-General, and in addition expenditure on the overseas services is open to inspection by the Comptroller and Auditor General. The essential feature of the B.B.C. peacetime financial arrangements lies in the decision to grant the Corporation a lump sum to be spent according to its own judgment on its own objectives, namely, to be spent on the full and efficient maintenance and development of broadcasting and television services at home. The Corporation occupies a position of independence in the day-to-day management of its business, and remains generally responsible for the economy of its services.
Following the issue of a Report from the Select Committee on Estimates in June last, the method of controlling the B.B.C.'s expenditure has been carefully examined by the Treasury and the Post Office, in conjunction of course with the B.B.C. The prewar machinery is being adjusted with a view to providing a wider knowledge than formerly of the developing costs of the home services. Whereas formerly a percentage was fixed for the whole of the licence or charter period, it was then not closely related to the trends of expenditure within that period. The percentage now has been fixed for a limited period, three and a quarter years only, and it has been fixed in the light of analysed forecasts of expenditure by the Corporation. In addition, the Corporation will be asked to furnish the Postmaster-General each year estimates of expenditure covering the three subsequent years, with forecasts of capital expenditure for a longer period. As the actual expenditure becomes known, these estimates and forecasts will be under careful scrutiny, and the trends of expenditure will themselves afford a basis for the renewal of the grant. It will not be assessed on a yearly basis. This arrangement will not interfere, of course, with the day-to-day responsibility of the Corporation for its internal management, but will enable inquiries to be made on a broad basis if such inquiries are deemed desirable.
With regard to the overseas services, to which the Government attach very great importance, it has been decided that no part of these services shall be paid for out of the licence revenue. The Foreign 1241 Office and the other Government Departments concerned will, after consultation with the B.B.C., prescribe the scope of the services required and will supply information regarding conditions and regarding the policy of His Majesty's Government towards the particular country concerned, but beyond that, as was stated in the White Paper, the Government intend that the Corporation shall remain independent in the preparation of its overseas programmes, as it is in the preparation of its home services programmes. Finance will thus be provided to cover an approved programme, built up by the B.B.C. on the basis of departmental requirements and with the approval of the Postmaster-General and the Treasury. The amount of the grant will be adjusted in the light of those particular requirements.
I ask therefore that these Estimates shall be passed in order that the Corporation may carry on its work of maintaining and developing broadcasting services both at home and abroad.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Scottish Universities)
As has just been said by the Assistant Postmaster-General, these of course are not ordinary Supplementary Estimates; they do in fact raise a very much wider subject than the ordinary Supplementary Estimates. In the first place, as far as the overseas services are concerned, these are new services, but in addition, as the Assistant Postmaster-General has himself said, the Vote here is for the carrying on of the whole activities of the B.B.C. over a period of time, and is not an increase in the general amount. Therefore, anything that comes into the Agreement can be discussed on this occasion. That being so, I should like to ask the Assistant Postmaster-General to give us some information on the subject about which he has not so far said anything, namely, the very great changes which have taken place in the programmes due to the present emergency. It is laid down most clearly in the Agreement that,Unless prevented by circumstances beyond their control the Corporation shall send efficiently on every day (including Sundays) from such Stations during such hours as after consultation with the Corporation may from time to time De prescribed in writing by the Postmaster-General programmes of broadcast matte' for reception in the British Islands.Clearly, those hours have been very greatly reduced, and that must have been 1242 done after consultation with the Postmaster-General, and a really full explanation of the Postmaster-General's policy in this matter will certainly be required by us on this side of the Committee because, in accordance with the ancient and traditional customs of the British people, the first thing that went was any pretence of culture of any description.
The axe fell with a clang on the Third Programme, and although in every other branch of cultural activity some effort has been made to maintain at least a token connection with culture, no such attempt has been made at all in the case of this late but bright-flowering blossom of the B.B.C. The weakness is that the Third Programme is killed and the others go marching on. Might it not have been possible for the Postmaster-General to arrange, at least, as a token of the Third Programme, that something of the Third Programme should be included even in those hours which he has consecrated to Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra? I listened to the great message which the B.B.C. had to give to the world this morning; I listened to the news; I listened to the Programme Parade which informed me of the hours in which the Corporation were going to send out programmes—no doubt, as I say, after consultation with, and with the prescription in writing of, the Postmaster-General. After that, at this time of crisis, they said, "We will now hear Bing Crosby singing, 'If I Had My Way.'" Well, I have no objection to that. or a certain amount of that; but that the Government should think, that the Postmaster-General should think that, at this time, the only thing to broadcast is a drooling continuation of dance music, really does not square up to the responsibilities either of His Majesty's Government or of the B.B.C. I think that we should very much like to have some explanation when the Assistant Postmaster-General replies.
I agree that it is owing to certain circumstances over which he has no control that the Lord President of the Council, who takes final responsibility in this House for the B.B.C., and who spoke at some length in the last Debate on the matter, is not able to be present. We agree that that is unavoidable. I must say, however, that, at this critical moment, I could have hoped that some more senior person would have been 1243 present, at least, on the Government Front Bench, because no less a person than the Lord President himself thought it worth his while, in the Debate on nth December, to wind up at very considerable length.
Mr. Galfucker (Fife, West)
We have got quite a bunch of the boys there.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Oh, yes, wee boys; but we should like to see some of the big boys, some of the sixth form, for company. I would, in the first place, ask the Assistant Postmaster-General if he could not arrange for certain hospitality to be given to the Third Programme, or some aspect of the broadcasting which the Third Programme represents, in the other programmes. After all, the measure which the break in the broadcasting represents of the whole expenditure of power at a broadcasting station is, I suppose, of the order of 100 horse-power. It is quite true that the major expenditure is, no doubt, in the switching on of the numerous sets, but, even so, the complete killing of the Third Programme, the blacking out completely of the B.B.C. during long periods of the day, were far-reaching steps indeed, and should not go without some explanation when the House of Commons has an opportunity of debating the matter.
It is also interesting to wonder whether the break which has taken place, like other things in connection with the crisis, may be a blessing in disguise. It was during the last war but one—one gets confused in one's memories of the wars in this curious and warlike century—that a break in the licensing hours was introduced, purely as a wartime measure, to prevent the continual soaking of people in alcohol. It is by no means certain that a break of some kind in the non-stop programmes on the wireless may not be in future a feature of our programmes for the sake of our culture; because it is by no means certain that the continual soaking of the mind in adventitious noise from outside may not, at the end of the day, be to some extent injurious to concentration and to connected thought, just as the over indulgence in alcohol during long hours on licensed premises can be.
This Estimate does give us the opportunity to discuss the educational and cultural side of the B.B.C. programmes as a whole. We have an opportunity now 1244 of reviewing what is, in essence, education. We are not, at the moment, concerned with the salaries and conditions in the educational system, with which so many of our educational Debates are entirely concerned. We can now concern ourselves with something which is a great cultural and instructional medium, which affects the minds of people, not only adults, but children. Thoughtful people working on the programmes of the B.B.C. are already beginning to give this consideration. There is a very interesting article in the "B.B.C. Quarterly" by Janet Adam Smith on "The Children and the Wireless." I do think it is necessary for us, at least, to consider the proper use of this medium, and not simply the power which science has put into our hands. It is a medium which, like other media, will require to be used; and already educationists are beginning to give a good deal of attention, not merely to the beneficial effects of the wireless, but to its possible injurious effects.
I should very much like the Assistant Postmaster-General to consider expanding listener research to cover, not merely the commercial aspects of the increasing consumption of the wireless pabulum of one kind or another—which is mostly what it does just now—but, also, the effect of the consumption of this pabulum on those who are either moderate consumers or, in some cases, addicts. Wireless addicts, as we all know from our own experience, do exist, and in some cases they are much more difficult people to live with than addicts of alcohol or drug addicts. They, on the whole, injure only themselves, whereas wireless addicts, who switch on their sets all day and night, with their windows open, can do more to annoy their neighbours than the addicts of alcohol or drug addicts.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I would leave that to the Assistant Postmaster-General and his consultations with the B.B.C. But it is certainly not three or four hours of Bing Crosby. It is 30 and 40 hours, and 300 or 400, or 40 days and 40 nights of Bing Crosby. Certainly, these are allocations of wireless which are rained 1245 upon the heads of many people in this country. It is a real point that the adventures of "Dick Barton, Special Agent," have already been commented upon in a good many educational journals as interfering with the home preparation and evening work of the children. I do hope that the Assistant Postmaster-General will not dismiss this as being a fanciful idea. I do think listener research should be devoted, not merely to expanding the consumption of wireless, but to the effect which the wireless programmes have upon adults, and, more particularly, upon the children. As I say, there is nothing fanciful about it. This has been examined already by the authorities and people deeply interested in the matter, and I do think that something should be done, if something has not been done already.
As I see it, the wireless is suffering from over-goodness in some ways. That is to say, it is acquiring a reputation in the country for anonymity and infallibility. These are two very dangerous qualities to associate with any works of man. During the war, the news bulletins were prefaced by the name of the announcer. We heard, "Here is the news, and this 13 Joseph Macleod reading it." It was clear that it was a human being and not a mysterious voice from Mount Sinai. Now that has been washed away, and we are left with "the B.B.C. said it, or "the wireless told us." The wireless tells us nothing at all; someone on the wireless tell us something, and he may be wrong, or he may be putting across a line of policy, not in this country but in other countries, which is definitely tendentious. This is the third point I put to the Assistant Postmaster-General. As a set policy. he should break down this tradition of anonymity and infallibility, and that can only be done by controversy of one kind or another, and by named controversy. The only advantage in a sponsored programme is that no one is going to regard a sponsored programme by the "Soda Mint Company" as the voice of God, but there is the danger that some people regard the mysterious emanations from the B.B.C. as something only second to that. The sponsored programme does not come in here, but the named programme certainly does.
1246 I suggest that names should be used a great deal more than they are at present, and the policy should be to say, "This is Jones" or "This is Smith,'' and not just "This is the B.B.C." The Government should definitely seek to pursue that policy, and in that way they will get away from the accusation, which is common on both sides of the House, that there is bias in the programmes. My hon. Friends on this side of the House think that there is a definite Leftward bias in the programmes of the B.B.C., and I have heard, although I can scarcely credit it, hon. Members opposite saying that there is a distinct Rightward bias in the programmes. The only thing I can agree to is that the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), I should say, has a distinct grievance, because a definite anti-Communist bias is given in the programmes of the B.B.C.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
And boycott, and that, I think, is definitely wrong and mistaken. If you have this gentle drip, there is the danger that it may be thought to be the thing to aim at, and that it is infallible. In this furious, warlike and quarrelsome century, drip does not correspond in any way with the facts, and I am sure that the nation which is brought up to regard gentle pink drip as the ideal of thought and policy, is heading straight for a great and lasting disaster. By controversy you can get away from anonymity and infallibility, because in controversy you have to give names, and each participant breaks up the reputation of the other for infallibility, and therefore both things will be secure. It is not easy to bring this about. The House exists for this purpose, and the system which has been brought into existence and preserved through many hazardous attacks from many quarters has disappeared in nearly all the other countries in the world. It is not a simple thing to evoke or conduct controversy.
As was said by an illustrious senior of yours, Major Milner, the art of a Speaker is to develop the cut and thrust of debate. I am sure you, Major Milner, would agree that once evoked it is not the easiest thing to control. Often one finds a mild Liberal in the Chair, with a mild Socialist masquerading as a Conservative on the one side, and a mild Conservative masquerading as a Socialist on the other. Real cut 1247 and thrust of debate is altogether bypassed, and real Conservative opinion in this country, which holds many of its views very strongly indeed, is left unrepresented, and it should not be left unrepresented in the arguments which are brought out on the B.B.C. I do not think that the great arguments in the present crisis have been adequately treated on the B.B.C. There are many other arguments. On the last occasion when my hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. H. Strauss) dealt with some of the talks by Mr. A. P Taylor, the Lord President of the Council animadverted with great scorn. I do not find any countervailing arguments brought out in that series, giving the views and opinions very-strongly held by a great number of people in this country. There is the series which is going on just now, under the title of "Power." In that series there is Mr. Alan Bullock, a don at New College, who says he is non-party, Mr. Bertrand Russell, who has very definite and well-known views, Lord Lindsay, who was promoted to the House of Lords by a Labour Government, with a very definite Left bias, at least before promoted.
§ The Chairman
I would point out that this is in essence a Supplementary Estimate, and that while the right hon. and gallant Member is entitled to deal with the B.B.C. in general, he ought not to go into infinite details.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I was merely giving them by way of illustration. The last of these speakers is Maurice Dobb. No one can say that the other point of view is in any way adequately represented. I do not want to go into detail, because there are other Members who wish to speak who, I believe, feel that the Debate is wide enough to allow them to go into these matters. I do not wish to harass the Assistant Postmaster-General, but I do think that as we have had a discussion on what I might call the engineering aspects of the B.B.C., it is right that we should now regard this Debate as having a wider aspect. The fact that we are debating the B.B.C. at a time when a great transformation has taken place in their programmes make it extremely a propos. I have not attempted to discuss overseas services, because that will be 1248 dealt with by some of my hon. Friends behind me, but I beg the attention of the Assistant Postmaster-General to some of the points I have raised. I beg him to believe that I have brought them up with the genuine desire to have a Debate of a more general character, the kind of Debate we have often desired but have seldom had, one which, I think, will be in the interests of the House and, I hope and believe, may be of some service to the country.
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge)
We are being asked tonight to agree to the rather large sum of £2,970,000 for the home and television services of the B.B.C. We ought, first, to ask whether we are getting value for our money. As a Scot, that is usually the first thing I ask, and I must say that I do not think we are getting value for our money from the B.B.C. I listen to the wireless whenever I can and I have been very much perturbed for months, nay, for some years past, at the kind of entertainment we are getting at present. An eminent countryman of mine, Fletcher of Saltoun, said: "Let me make their songs; I care not who makes their laws." I listen to songs coming from the B.B.C., and I compare them with the songs we used to sing in the days long past, when I was young At that time, we used to sing "It is best to leave you, it is best for you and hest for me," but today they sing, with nauseating reiteration, "It must be right; it can't be wrong." In the old days we used to sing Tosti's "Goodbye." but today they take an entirely different line. It is "Room 504," or A Lovely Weekend." We, who make the laws, are perturbed at rising costs in the divorce courts, at the homes for illegitimate children, about foster parents who have to be found for the children of those who have regarded their duties and matrimonial responsibilities far too lightly, those who are encouraged by the entertainment programmes of the B.B.C., by their band shows and crooners, even by "Itma" itself, to regard that sort of thing as the high-light of happiness.
I think we should balance what we are spending with the miseries caused by following this example. We ought to examine how much we spend in the divorce courts, and in trying to patch up the unhappiness that is caused, by giving the young people the wrong impression 1249 of real happiness. With notable exceptions, such as Rob Wilton, Wilfred Pickles, Will Fyffe, and he who set the best example of them all, Sir Harry Lauder, the comedians of the B.B.C. seem content with smutty sex jokes. Today, 70 per cent. of their wireless programmes are based on jokes of this kind. If families are sitting with us we feel we want to switch off. The greatest insult of all to Scotland is the introduction of a Scots girl to "Itma" who is supposed to he falling head over heels for a little "twerp" called "The Governor." No true Scotswoman would ever have looked at him twice.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) talked about the injurious effect of programmes. I do not want to be a killjoy. I like fun and laughter, and heaven knows, M.P.s do need it. But, at the same time, all parents want to see their children avoid pitfalls, to see them on the road to real happiness. The B.B.C., in my opinion, are failing to point out the way to real happiness. I listened, the other night, to a request programme of what people themselves wanted and I was so charmed that I was late for a meeting through staying to listen to it. It was not, "It must be right; it can't be wrong"; it was the nostalgic, "I'll take you home again, Kathleen," and, "Love's Old Sweet Song." That programme followed the line of happy domesticity.
I would like to talk about the Brains Trust for a minute or two. At one time, it was the bright spot of the week. I have, in my home, a fairly good cross-section of the community, people with different personalities and with minds of their own. Everyone used to make a point of listening to the Brains Trust. Now, I notice, Scotland has rejected it on Tuesday night for the MacFlannels, in which we are regaled every three or four minutes by MacFlannel, who talks of "never having died a winter yet." Scotland gets a. 4 o'clock edition of the Brains Trust, and the other day there were five people in my home when 4 o'clock struck. I said we would listen to the Brains Trust. Two said, "Not It all; it is only the Brains Trust," and two others said, "Yes," so we listened. Within seven minutes everyone was talking about something entirely different 1250 from what was on the wireless. The Brains Trust simply fails to hold attention.
Does not the Postmaster-General think we are due to get some replies to questions? The other day, a question was asked of great interest to the nation—the amount of the American loan spent on films and tobacco. I am sorry to say that although two Members of this Government were present, neither was able to say the percentages spent on films and tobacco, and the percentage of the American loan already absorbed by the nation. No one suggested that the Chancellor of the Exchequer raises as much on the Tobacco Tax as would wipe out the entire interest on the prewar National Debt, which was approximately £8,000 million, and which demanded an interest annually of £350 million. Everyone was left with the impression that the Government did not know what they were doing in allowing the loan to be so spent. It has been averred that the Brains Trust is strictly impartial; that if there is a speaker for the Opposition there is one for Labour. Note how it works out in fact. There are two hon. Members on the opposite benches who are more or less constantly present. The speaker for Labour is usually—
§ Mrs. Mann
—the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown). I consider that if questions are a definite political reflection of this House, there should not only be a representative from the Opposition benches to put their case, but also a representative of these -benches—they should be fairly matched—Opposition M.P. and Government M.P. The B.B.C., assailed on this, justified themselves by saying that they had the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) and his opposite number the hon. Member for Rugby. Those of us who are on these benches know how far we can trust the hon. Member for Rugby to put the Government case. I notice that the chairman of the Brains Trust is very impartial. There has never been a speaker, whom I can recall, from the Government benches. The questions are of great moment—in the nature of "How much sleep should a worm have?"; "How long 1251 does it take a snake to crawl from Cambridge to Penzance?" Is it alleged that the public are really interested in the questions thrown out by the B.B.C. on a Tuesday night? Who selects the questions? Of course, an ex-Tory candidate selects the questions—one who stood as a Tory candidate and failed to get on the Opposition benches. He is the question master.
§ Mrs. Mann
Then, that is one crime less of which he is guilty. Finally, I would ask the Postmaster-General to take note of this: Every session of the Brains Trust ends with these words, "Questions must be sent on postcards addressed to the B.B.C., London. Members of the Brains Trust cannot answer questions by correspondence." I think that the Postmaster-General should know that the final two words "by correspondence" ought to be deleted.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Dodds-Parker (Banbury)
I hope that the hon Lady will forgive me if I do not follow in her arguments because I want to put two points, and to be as brief as possible, as many other hon. Members wish to speak. I would ask the Assistant Postmaster-General if he could tell us how much of this amount under Subhead B is to be spent on television. I represent a rural area, and I believe that the possibility of television in rural areas has not yet been fully appreciated. I think that if it were properly used and developed, it might do as much to build up life in rural areas as the cinemas in big cities have done to disrupt it. I would ask him to consider, when developing programmes for periods ahead, if a certain priority could be given for programmes for rural areas—for schools, for instance, because I think there is a greater possibility there for television than ever there was for the use of cinema projectors. I think that a great deal could he done in that way. I am not particularly critical of the programmes at the moment. I think that the whole of television. is rather on the lines of "2 LO" in about 1922. I would suggest, however, to the Postmaster-General that it might be worth considering when 1252 setting up stations, not just covering urban areas—which having more people closer together will bring in greater revenue, but giving a certain priority to rural areas, which will not bring in immediately big returns, but which will repay this country by giving our countryside amenities which will help to keep the people in the rural areas.
So far as the programmes are concerned, these are clearly in an eliminatory state, awaiting imagination, ideas and experience. I know very little about the technical side. I recognise that it is very difficult, with the shortage of material, etc., to find programmes immediately suitable for televising. As time goes on, and as opportunities develop, I hope imagination will be used in developing these services. It might be suggested that this House should be televised, but I hope not before we are back in our peacetime guise, when, at this time of night, for instance, the Chairmen of Committees would be dressed in full regalia of white tie and tail coat to which we are all looking forward.
Again, I suggest that the Postmaster-General should seriously consider the use of films on television. There is "sales resistance" by certain interests against the use of films. It is suggested that the use of film on television, if greatly developed, will draw people away from the cinemas—hut I would ask him to consider the use of films on television, in particular for education.
The other point on which I wish to touch very briefly is the question of Subhead C, the overseas service. I should like to ask the Assistant Postmaster-General or whoever is going to reply to the Debate whether he can give any details of the break down of this sum of over £1 million, and how far it is divided between the Colonial Empire, the Dominions and other countries, particularly countries East of the "curtain." I put it to the Postmaster-General that the House would he interested to know to what extent it is possible to maintain the effective wartime organisation, obviously on a different basis, for the sending out of news from this country all over Europe. My final point is to stress the importance of maintaining English programmes in overseas broadcasts and not to concentrate too much on broadcasting in the language of the country to which the pro- 1253 gramme is sent. I do not think people here fully appreciate the tremendous influence of these programmes throughout the war. Large numbers of people learnt English in consequence of those programmes, and this still has great influence throughout Eastern and Central Europe as well as in Western Europe. I believe that it is most important in the future that these overseas services should be properly developed, the correct wave lengths maintained and wherever possible English should be used in preference to foreign language. I would be grateful to the Assistant Postmaster-General if he will give us some indication as to the extent to which the Estimate is being divided between these various services.
§ Mr. Mack (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
We have listened to a number of speeches of which hon. Members have recounted their experiences when listening to the wireless, and if to these were added my own I do not think it would have the effect of increasing the value of our discussion, and so for a change perhaps it would be better to speak of my own experiences in connection with my efforts to broadcast. I have tried many things in my life with varying success, and confess quite frankly to the House that I rather fancied myself as a broadcaster. That was largely because I had heard other people broadcasting. [An HON. MEMBER: "You should have waited for television."] Television is different and speaking of it, I am reminded of the famous lines written by a celebrated American ambassador:For beauty I am not a star, There are others more handsome by far. But my face I don't mind it, because I'm behind ic[...].It's the people in front get the jar.I tried to get away with a little bit of propaganda on the wireless, and who is better qualified to speak on subjects like Rumania and Bulgaria than I am? So I went to see what could be done about it, and accordingly rang up the B.B.C. A young lady answered and I asked to speak to the "Talks Director." Incidentally, I was advised that that was the gentleman who should be especially contacted.
He was away at the time, but they produced a very jejune, friendly little human being who was quite a respectable official, and who eventually wended his way to the House to meet me. We got into a corner and I fixed him with my glittering eye, like Coleridge's Ancient 1254 Mariner. I said, Look here, I am very much concerned about this broadcast, having heard all sorts of insinuations about the bias introduced into them and also about favouritism. I am not suggesting for a moment that they are necessarily true, but I want the version from you which should be as near the truth as you can make it." He said, "As far as the B.B.C. is concerned we are very impartial." When I hear the word "impartial," particularly in politics or when told that a particular man or woman has no political opinions, I immediately get suspicious.
I am now going to make a sensational statement to the Committee if hon. Members will bear with me. He said to me, "If you prepare a script, we will be pleased to look into it." I thought I would get a little bit of propaganda in and so I prepared a script on Rumania and Bulgaria. Here I have in my hand a most remarkable document. It is headed "R.P. Talks, British Broadcasting Corporation." Then comes the date, which is 7th October, and it goes on, "Talks on Bulgaria and Rumania."
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, Southern)
On a point of Order. Is there not a very wide variation between the character of the Debate tonight and that of last night? Last night you, Major Milner, definitely ruled that when discussing bodies like the B.B.C., such as the Art Councils, hon. Members could not go into details to the extent that they are doing tonight. Is it in Order, therefore, to make the personal statements with regard to the B.B.C. which are being made now?
§ The Chairman
I am sure that the noble Lord the Member for Southern Dorset (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) did not mean to reflect on the Chair by what he said. There is rather a difference between the form of Estimates we are now discussing and those we were discussing yesterday. This particular Supplementary Estimate deals with three months of the year and it is not quite in the usual form. Certainly I deprecate these personal views and too much detail. As I understand it, the Government, who are submitting this Estimate, have the power to direct the B.B.C. as to their programmes, but, in fact and in practice, except in war time or at other times of emergency they do not exercise that power. The 1255 Assistant Postmaster-General will correct me if I am wrong, but I do not think they take any part in directing the internal affairs of the B.B.C. and are not responsible for these routine programmes, and I hope that the Committee will bear that in mind. I am loth to restrict the discussion in any way, but I hope hon. Members will not go into too much detail.
§ Mr. Mack
I am very grateful, Major Milner, for those few words from your lips, and I am sure when the noble Lord hears what I have got to say it will electrify him and he will realise how relevant it is to the question under discussion. Perhaps he will bear with me for a moment. The date of recording was Saturday, 3rd August, and I was to give two five-minute periods which would not in itself be a remarkable thing, but believe it or not, I got a cheque for ten guineas from the B.B.C. for a talk which I never delivered. I want to know how that comes about. I would not mind delivering a talk and getting no money, but I was rather amazed at getting money for no talk at all. I said to myself that this was a problem which surely would require some explanation from our diligent and perhaps harassed friend, the Assistant Postmaster-General, who has to deal with the financial affairs of this gigantic Corporation. That is a point which ought to be brought to the attention of the Committee. I do not know who is responsible for the final selection of speakers—
§ Mrs. Leah Manning (Epping)
Before the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Mack) leaves that part of his speech, I should like to tell him I am awfully sorry but he has not electrified the noble Lord.
§ Mr. Mack
I would say to the hon. Lady that that native calm which characterises the noble Lord arises quite probably from generations of boredom and smugness and does not necessarily mean that he is not moved and motivated inwardly as a result of this startling revelation. Nevertheless, this is a remarkable thing. This may well be a rather expensive speech which I am delivering tonight. I might even be called upon to refund this money to the Corporation, but nevertheless would be prepared to make that sacrifice, in spite of the fact that on the last line of the account it says that the money is inclusive of expenses. I am not ashamed to tell the 1256 Committee that I did incur some expenses in connection with my inquiries in this regard.
I do not know whether the other point I want to make comes within the ambit of this discussion. I wish to be meticulously careful, Major Milner, not to place you in the unfortunate position of giving me directions or having to allow a very considerable deviation from the strict line of discussion that should be followed in a Debate of this kind. But would it be possible to ascertain from the Assistant Postmaster-General exactly who is responsible for these broadcasts? I myself, for example, broadcast for seven minutes on Poland and for that I received payment at the rate of £1 a minute. Incidentally, a friend said to me afterwards, "Johnny, you were marvellous; I couldn't recognise your voice at all." But the point is that no doubt some pull and a certain amount of influence are brought to bear, and one requires for this kind of work a certain type of personality which, I understand, is usually the result of a considerable amount of experience, and a pleasant, gratifying voice. I could make invidious comparisons between different speakers, and the reactions of some Tory speakers upon me would be similar to that on the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Quintin Hogg) if he heard a broadcast by the hon. Lady the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mrs. Braddock). I myself have heard speakers who, I thought, should never be allowed to broadcast week after week as they do, not only because of the paucity of the stuff they put over but because, in my opinion and in that of others, they are not equipped with the necessary art and skill. Perhaps the Assistant Postmaster-General would give some enlightenment not only on this, but particularly on the question of who is responsible for the selection of the people who make these broadcasts, and to what extent influence can be brought to bear to secure their engagements.
§ Lady Megan Lloyd-George (Anglesey)
I shall not follow the hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann) in her argument about the moral effect of the B.B.C. on the listening public. I make only one comment on her speech. She said she could not imagine that any Scots lassie would fall to "Itma." I can 1257 assure her that some Welsh female hearts are very much more susceptible to what is, I think, the highest entertainment value the B.B.C. offer.
§ Lady Megan Lloyd-George
They have never possessed an inferiority complex. Before I come to the general question of broadcasting and follow the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot), I should like to raise one other matter with regard to Wales. As the Assistant Postmaster-General said in opening this Debate, these Supplementary Estimates are necessary for the maintenance of an efficient broadcasting service, and we in Wales maintain that there cannot be an efficient broadcasting service in the Principality so long as there is not a Welsh Governor on the B.B.C. I may say that a great deal of indignation was felt when the personnel of the Governors was announced and it was found that out of seven directors room had not been found for a single Welsh man or woman. With her language and her distinctive culture there is no single field in which our claim for recognition is greater than in this instance.
The injury was aggravated by the fact that it was suggested that Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd would fill the bill. I have nothing against the name—why should I have? —but the Prime Minister might just as well have said that the Lord President of the Council was an admirable representative of Scotland because he bears a Scottish name. That really has nothing to do with it. A very strong protest has been sent by the Welsh Parliamentary Party, representing all sides of the House, and we have now received a reply from the Prime Minister. We have been told that at the moment there is no vacancy on the Board of Governors, but as far as I can make out there is no statutory provision in the Charter which limits the number of Governors, nor anything which says that they may not be added to. Indeed, the very reverse is the case. There is a provision in the Charter that the number of Governors shall, unless otherwise directed, be seven, and that it may from time to time be increased or reduced in council. No period of time is specified for their appointment and there is nothing to prevent the Prime Minister from advising His Majesty to increase that number at the 1258 moment. I hope, therefore, that the Prime Minister will reconsider his decision in this matter. I can assure him that such a change of heart would be very much welcomed in Wales because this is just another of the examples, and they are continually multiplying, of the complete failure to appreciate that there is a special problem in Wales, and of the complete disregard of her claim to national recognition. This is, in fact, the second example in a week.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities has spoken about educational, cultural and controversial subjects. I should like to come down from the rather high, cultural level he attained to the dust of the political arena, and to say a word in particular about the need for more controversial broadcasting on live political issues—not academic discussions such as we have so often. We are continually being told that the B.B.C. are an independent Corporation, and that no control is exercised over them, but because they are independent they have a responsibility which is all the greater in this matter—a responsibility which they cannot escape and which they cannot shift on to other shoulders. After all, as we are all aware, the efficient working of democracy depends to a very large extent upon the stimulus as well as the vigilance of a well-informed public opinion—one of the things we lacked in the years immediately before the war, and it was a tragedy it should have been so. I hope it is a tragedy which will not be re-enacted because of our failure to inform public opinion in the future.
I believe that the B.B.C. have a unique opportunity of rendering a great national service in this respect. In the course of the last Debate hon. Members on all sides made a very strong plea for more controversial broadcasts, for more and hotter controversy. The Lord President, who was then speaking for the Government, gave his blessing and expressed the hope that the Governors would not be too timid but would take account—to quote his own words—"of the spirit of the House." That was in November, and what has happened? I would say that there have been fewer controversial broadcasts in the past three months; certainly there have been fewer than there were a year ago, and far fewer than during the war when there was a 1259 political truce. That is in the Home Service. In the European Service a very different state of affairs prevails. The air is much freer and more invigorating. Listeners get stronger meat and they get a larger ration. There are talks upon practically all subjects—foreign affairs, domestic affairs—and practically nothing is precluded, so far as I can see, from those programmes on the ground that it is inflammable. There have been talks on the Franco regime, on Anglo-Soviet relations, and on the "iron curtain." Nothing is barred. Why is it that we cannot have vigorous programmes of that kind on the home service? Surely we, who have been born and bred in controversy, and who have-a heritage of freedom of speech, can take it, if foreigners can.
What has happened? I am told that an agreement has been reached among the parties on this matter of political broadcasts, which covers three points. First, there is the right of the Government to make a statement on national policy. If the opportunity is abused the Opposition have the right to claim a reply within three days. In addition, there are to be 12 political broadcasts in a year, actually one a month, on political affairs in this democratic country. There is to be a generous ration of 12 points a year, and the political parties can judge for themselves how and when they spend their points. I should have said that there are also to be broadcasts by Members of Parliament, what are called "personal appearances at the microphone," in programmes such as the Brains Trust and "The Week in Westminster," mostly of a non-controversial character. Then, of course, there is a certain amount of political discussion by outside speakers, and by politicians who are not Members of this House.
What are the reasons for this meagre allowance? I believe there are three, and it is important that we should examine them; otherwise we shall never remedy this state of affairs. I believe that the hierarchy of the political parties are nervous. They are afraid of this very powerful new weapon. They are afraid of its misuse and its abuse, both of which are possible. We have seen it happen. No-one will deny for one moment. that it is a possibility. It is estimated that about 40 per rent. of the electorate listened to General Election broadcasts, which reach a far greater number of people than do 1260 public meetings. Many of us can recall the effect of the General Election broadcast in 1931 by Lord Snowden, and the broadcast by the present Leader of the Opposition during the recent General Election. Both may be said to have been the turning point in the campaign. We all have to realise that broadcasting is a tremendously powerful weapon, but that is not a reason for not using it. It is all the greater reason for using it, in order to increase the efficiency of our democratic system.
I think the second reason is that the B.B.C.—I am sure every hon. Member will agree with this—is thoroughly scared of political broadcasts, which have always been a thorn in their far-too-sensitive flesh. The classic example of all times was when a broadcast of 'The Mikado" was cancelled for fear of offending the Emperor of Japan. From this very fear, the B.B.C. are inclined to follow the line of least resistance. They are always thinking how they can displease the least number of people and how they can avoid, above all, Parliamentary Questions. There is a third reason. It is said that the programme value of political talks is not very high. Well, "Today in Parliament" has become a very popular feature. I am told that it is estimated by the B.B.C. that something like 3,000,000 people listen to it and that the number has grown since its inception to a very remarkable degree. If the B.B.C. will persist in tackling issues when they are stone cold and stale, of course political broadcasts will be dull and tasteless, and especially if they are discussed in an academic and theoretical manner. The B.B.C. should broadcast them when they are on the boil, sizzling and bubbling. That is the way to make controversy interesting, as every hon. Member of this Committee knows.
§ 7.45 P.m.
§ Sir Ian Fraser (Lonsdale)
Will the noble Lady allow me to interrupt her for a moment? Would she say that the B.B.C. should broadcast hot controversy, at a time when it is first coming on in this House—before a Second Reading Debate, for example?
§ Lady Megan Lloyd-George
There can be no conceivable objection to that. What is really important is that controversy should be discussed when it is alive. Discuss it before a Second Reading comes 1261 up in this House, or after it, or during the Committee stage. That is immaterial. Whatever is at any moment a matter of controversy could usefully be ventilated by the B.B.C.
I do not propose to go into the details tonight of particular broadcasts, except that I will give one example. It is the excellent broadcast which took place during the unofficial transport strike a short time ago. I think it came from Bristol and it was a discussion between a trade union official and a strike leader. It was vigorous and topical and, of course, extremely interesting. It had the advantage of coming straight from the horse's mouth, and coining, so to speak, straight from the course on the day of the big race. That is what we want, and that is the way to make controversy really interesting. Does anyone say that at any time during the last 10 days a live discussion on the wireless about the fuel shortage would not have been of great interest to the overwhelming majority of the people of this country? It would have been of great advantage. It would have cleared the air, in one sense, if not in the other.
I hope therefore that the B.B.C. will reconsider the whole of their policy in regard to controversial broadcasts. They might be able to provide a forum, say, half an hour or three-quarters of an hour every week, and leave the time open for improvised discussions on topical subjects as they arise. There should be no difficulty in filling the time, none at all. If it is divided among contending parties, giving a right of reply to the Government of the day, who, after all, are the Aunt Sallies, there can be no objection. If the B.B.C. are criticised from the Right, from the Left and from the Left Centre, they need fear no criticism. They will have kept on an even keel. If the granting of a Charter to the B.B.C. gives them a monopoly which results in stifling controversy, that is the best reason I have yet heard for competitive broadcasts. The B.B.C. rendered memorable and great service in preserving freedom during the war. They can if they will render even greater service to democracy in peace.
§ Mr. Benn Levy (Eton and Slough)
The right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) approached this subject as a moralist, and the hon. Lady the Member 1262 for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann) evidently is a moralist also. And I, if the truth must be told, am also a moralist. But my moral appetites are not satisfied merely by condemning popular tastes or by censoring them. The hon. Member for Coatbridge looked back to a rosy youth. She is evidently a praiser of days gone by, and thinks in rosy terms of the songs which were current in those days and compares them favourably with the demoralising products of today. She seems to be under the impression that at that time everybody was singing Tosti's "Goodbye" and "Come into the garden, Maud." But I must remind her they were also singing "Beer, glorious beer" and "Two lovely black eyes" and "A little bit of what you fancy does you good." Yet none of those seem to have demoralised the hon. Lady, and I am not at all sure that the corresponding product of today is really so demoralising either.
The right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities complained on a quantitative as well as a qualitative score, and appeared to have a special grudge against Mr. Bing Crosby. I am bound to confess that if he had his way with that warm, melodious minstrel, I for one would consider it a most grave deprivation. [Interruption.] If the hon. and learned Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. H. Strauss) will wait, I will do him the honour of alluding to him presently. I am prepared to admit that there might be a case, that one might argue that a pervasive background of cheap or popular music might have a demoralising effect. That is arguable but unprovable. Come to that, it has also been argued that Wagner is a demoralising influence. One is up against the old business of arguing which is demoralising and which is not, and the insoluble problem of who is to decide. The right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities maintained that anonymity gave an impression of infallibility. That would be a minor reform. I would say that it was quite without basis to suggest, however, that during the war when the B.B.C. was less anonymous it carried less the aura of infallibility than now; or than do the newspapers. It is true that people say they heard it on the B.B.C. and that it must be correct. People say that they have read things in the newspapers and that it must be correct; more- 1263 over, they do not differentiate between the signed column and the unsigned column.
The more important point was raised by the noble Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd-George). She raised once more the whole question about the desirability of controversy on the B.B.C. We all agree about the desirability of controversy, but it is not really practicable to a much greater extent than at present in present conditions. First of all, as soon as controversial or political matters are discussed they immediately evoke—I am glad to see that the hon. and learned Member for the Combined English Universities has returned because it is from such as he that there immediately issue strident lamentations on the ground that there is bias and equal lamentations from comparable figures at the other extreme of the scale. It is inevitable that the pressure of that kind of complaint and criticism tends to hamper the B.B.C. The only possible way of getting round that is to make the B.B.C. a free agent. It is no good girding at the Government —they cannot do anything about it. Nobody wants them to dictate what the B.B.C. has to do. The Government keep out of it, and they are quite right to do so. However, if ode wants a freer B.B.C. and one that is not afraid of its own shadow, one in which controversy can flourish and become a stimulus to freedom of thinking and speech, one must reorganise it in such a way that it is not one B.B.C. but several B.B.Cs. or branches of the B.B.C. in free competition, one branch with another.
§ Mr. Derek Walker-Smith (Hertford)
For a few moments I want to do what is rather an unfashionable thing—to say some good about the B.B.C. I hope this will commend itself to the Committee's sense of fair play because, as I see it, the situation is this. The Press may attack both Parliament and the B.B.C., and constantly does so. Parliament may attack the Press, though this is somewhat frowned upon in Fleet Street, and may also attack the B.B.C., a practice which is greatly applauded in Fleet Street. The B.B.C., on the other hand, are in the morally edifying, but tactically disadvantageous, position not only of offering the other cheek, but of offering 1264 both cheeks simultaneously without being allowed any right of riposte. It is right that on occasions such as this we should try to make some objective and dispassionate assessment of the quality of the service they are rendering.
I want particularly to address my remarks to the question of the overseas service because I believe that this comparatively new development of the B.B.C. has made, and is continuing to make, a very great contribution indeed. The overseas service of the B.B.C. is characteristically British in many ways. Like the British Constitution, nobody planned it; it grew. It is probable that we should never have consciously and purposely adapted broadcasting to an overseas national purpose. It may be that as a people we are too modest, or that we are too insular, or maybe merely too lazy. Whatever the reason, the Committee will agree that we would not have evolved of our own initiative the medium of overseas broadcasting had we not been forced into it in 1937 by the constant streams of anti-British propaganda from Italy and Germany to the Middle East.
It was for that reason that we had some organisation to bring into play when the war made much greater demands upon an overseas broadcasting service in this country. I think the service to the cause of freedom done by the B.B.C overseas service is very well known. In this connection, I recall attending a dinner at which the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Vernon Bartlett) and myself were speaking. It was a dinner given by some of the overseas service people on the B.B.C., and I ventured to say that a Member of Parliament naturally felt a certain diffidence in speaking to those particular people because, whereas the most a Member of Parliament can hope for when he speaks in the House is that some of his colleagues will desert their tea in the tearoom or their papers in the Library to come and listen to him, these were speakers to listen to whom people all over Europe had risked their lives.
The voice of Goebbels is still, and we might have hoped that anti-British propaganda was also still. Unfortunately, as the Committee is only too well aware, that is not so. The language of anti-British propaganda on the air is different, but 1265 the spirit is the same. On this account there is all the more reason for a British overseas service. I believe that the overseas service of the B.B.C. is serving not only a British purpose; I believe that in the quality and character of the programmes put forward they are serving the cause of freedom and democracy. By adhering to fact, they have made truth a mighty weapon in the minds and hearts of men of good will all over the world; and in matters of opinion they do not speak with one authoritarian, infallible voice, but give scope to the expression of different points of view on matters of public interest which, as hon. Members on all sides of the Committee will agree, is the lifeblood of democracy as we know it.
We often hear of the small account in which we are held in some matters by the United States. It so happens that I have here a recent issue of the "Saturday Evening Post" which devoted a large article to this subject under the challenging title of "Britain's Bid to rule the Air Waves." It says:The British Broadcasting Corporation…is aggressively blanketing "—I do not personally adopt the attitude "aggressively"—the world with programmes that are designed to get people to think British as well as buy British.Imitation, as we know, is the sincerest form of flattery; and it will not have escaped the attention of the Committee that the United States have in the last week or two followed suit by setting up an overseas American broadcasting programme of their own.
Having said that, may I for a moment or two turn to the home service? I agree with the noble Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd-George) that in the treatment of matters of controversy and discussion the home service of the B.B.C. undoubtedly has a great deal to learn from the European and overseas services. Among the features of these overseas programmes are discussions of the sort to which the noble Lady referred; and I think that in political matters such discussions have a distinct advantage over talks, because both sides are simultaneously represented. This gets rid of all the argument as to whether the approach is too Left or too Right, because if you have the exponents of both sides present, you get a fair contest, and one 1266 which appeals to the sense of democracy and fair play which characterises our people. It is, of course, true that there are discussions also in the home service. But there is, as the noble Lady has remarked, a considerable difference between the sort of discussions found in the home service and those which characterise the other programmes to which I have referred. In the overseas programmes there is a tendency for discussions to be unscripted and unrehearsed, and, therefore, to have all that spontaneity and life which is the basic ingredient of a successful broadcasting discussion.
On the home service—like the hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann) I listen when I can—it seems to me that it is far otherwise; the home service discussions give the impression of over - scripting, over - rehearsal and, generally, of too much preparation and too much caution. There is, for example, or was, a programme known as "Topics in the Air" on Friday evenings, and I have listened to some of those. My impression was that they were over-scripted and over-rehearsed. I did once take part in one myself, but I had the good fortune to have as an opponent the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot), who is of such a fiery nature that it would take more than a continual cold douche of rehearsal and scripting to damp down the fire that is in him. Most of these discussions, however, are not lucky enough to have such a fiery and experienced disputant as the hon. Member for Devonport, and sometimes by the time they come on the air, they give a very dead impression indeed.
I echo the query of the noble Lady as to why it is that this difference should exist. I think it is because in some peculiar way the B.B.C. is rather apprehensive of the reaction of Parliament to more live political controversy. But surely that is the last thing of which they need be apprehensive. I know a lot of Members of Parliament—I am glad to say, I think I know most Members of Parliament, and, unlike the hon. Lady the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mrs. Braddock), I do not dislike the faces of my political opponents. I look at them, not perhaps with rapture, but certainly with sympathy and understanding. I believe that all the Members of Parliament I know share this view—that they like the clash of opinion, and believe in our basic democratic principle 1267 that out of the free clash of opinion truth will come. That is surely the principle on which we want the political discussions and controversies to, be conducted on the B.B.C.
The noble Lady referred in terms of some contempt to some treaty that is being arranged about political broadcasting. Whatever may be the truth about that, I do not think the Committee will feel that any such programme of political broadcasts would do away with the necessity for more live political discussion and controversy on the air. Apart from anything else, it is a well known fact that political eminence is not necessarily a passport to broadcasting excellence. There is this further point, that the B.B.C. has a great natural advantage in that it can bring together two people of different views who can answer each other then and there. It has an enormous natural advantage in that respect over the newspapers, who can only print side by side in two columns a for-and-against argument which, at the best, looks like compromise and, at the worst, is a very dull affair indeed. So I urge them not to throw away this natural advantage but to make use of live political controversy and discussion in this way, thereby ridding themselves of all this tiresome argument as to whether the B.B.C. is a bit too far to the Left or a bit too far to the Right. So long, however, as it only has individual speakers, it will always have to meet this criticism, however good its intentions are; and for one, believe that its intentions are good. If it adopts the system of discussion and controversy, with exponents of different points of view present together to argue the matter out, it can rid itself of this recurrent difficulty.
Finally, as we are discussing the Estimates, I shall just refer to one financial matter. I suppose one day some review should be made of wage and salary rates within the British Broadcasting Corporation to see whether they are compatible in these days with the quality of the services they render and with the experience and qualifications that they are supposed to bring to the tasks that they discharge. I hope the Assistant Postmaster-General will be able to tell us that that is one of the matters lodged somewhere in his mind for consideration, at any rate, at some future time.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
I listened with very great interest to the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) and I gather that he does not like crooners. I do not know the difference between crooners and other criminals. Vic Oliver said that "if all the saxophone players were placed in a row in the desert, they would reach to—I do not know where they would reach to but it would be a very good idea." It would be doubly good if crooners were put along with them.
I disagree with the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Levy). We had some very good songs in the old days and some a bit smutty. We had some very good comedians and some very questionable comedians. In those days we had to go to the music-hall to hear them. I have been in music-halls in the North where a comedian has been shouted off the stage for trying to put over some of the smutty stuff we sometimes hear on the radio. But the radio is in the homes, and can be heard by the whole family, including children. Some awful stuff is put across. I remember that on one night when we turned on the radio and heard a story, I toll my wife it was almost unbelievable.
§ Mr. Gallacher
If I attempted to repeat it here I should not only be ruled out of Order, but I should be suspended. I was so annoyed that I sat down and wrote a very strong letter to the Governor of the B.B.C. I showed the letter to a friend in the profession and he said "Willie, I should not send him that letter, he is great supporter of yours."I failed in my duty, and did not send the letter.
Reference has been made to the Brains Trust. I did not understand that it was instituted for the purpose of answering questions. I thought the Brains Trust was evolved in order to keep a fellow named Joad from worrying the public assistance committee. I do not hear the Brains Trust very often, but recently wherever I have gone I have heard reference to the great improvement in the Brains Trust since the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities joined it. He always made an effort to provide something like an intelligent answer. Friends of mine always 1269 spoke about him very highly, and said he always made a good contribution.
Now I come to the boycott on the B.B.C. Friends occasionally tell me that they have heard me mentioned. I do not care about myself, but the party gets boycotted. Hon. Members who know him will be prepared to agree that Harry Pollitt is one of the finest, most reasonable, and capable speakers in this country.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher
The hon. Lady the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mrs. Braddock) has said that she did not like the faces of hon. Members on the other side. Very often they would be much more attractive if they were kept closed.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) will understand that in the continual spate of oratory from other hon. Members, an occasional yawn must be allowed.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Hon. Members can yawn to their hearts' content, but when an hon. Member gets infantile, and puts the question, "Who is he?" when I say there is no greater or better known speaker than Harry Pollitt, and the hon. Member who interjected knows that is true, then that is a different matter. Harry Pollitt would be an asset to the B.B.C. [Laughter.] Yes, of course he would.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Many hon. Members on the Government Front Bench are also kept off the B.B.C. That applies to hon. Members on this side of the Committee, as well as to Harry Pollitt. But hon. Members know that many hon. Members on this side of the Committee would be of the greatest value to the B.B.C. in dealing with particular questions.
§ Mr. Osborne (Louth)
Supposing the party of the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) were in control of this country, had a majority and could do as they liked, can he imagine that they would allow the noble Earl the Father of the House to broadcast?
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)
Even if the hon. Member were inclined to answer, I should not allow him to do so, because it would be far away from the Vote we are discussing.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I protest against the boycott of my party, and against the boycott of many hon. Members on this side of the Committee. Issues are coming up continually on which Harry Pollitt, and hon. Members on this side of the Committee, could give valuable talks to the people of this country. They could give speeches not only of an educational character, but of a really stimulating character. Nobody can deny that during the decisive period of the coal crisis, Communists, along with the general Labour movement played a very big part in bringing about a solution of the crisis. Let hon. Members make no mistake about that.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
There is no mistake about it that the hon. Member has wandered very far from the Supplementary Estimate.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I was about to get to the point. I do not know why anybody should try to deny that Communists, along with the general body of the trade union movement, played a very big part in solving that crisis. If necessary, I could mention names. How valuable would it have been if these men, who were so close to the crisis and played such a big part in solving it, had spoken over the B.B.C. Another point to which I wish to refer is the religious boycott. What are the religious people afraid of? Why do we get only one side over the B.B.C.? Why is it that it is only the Gehenna fire insurance societies who are allowed to speak over the B.B.C.? Why, when they are speaking over the B.B.C., do they never tell us the claims they have paid out? They get on to the B.B.C., they advertise their wares, they peddle their premiums, hut never once do they show you the paid-out claims, or any client saved from Gehenna and planted by the jasper fountain. Why should so much of the time of the B.B.C. be taken up by these people? When there 1271 is a discussion of religion, do they bring in someone with an opposing point of view? Do they ever bring in a Mohammedan, or a Hindu, or an atheist, to have a discussion with the representatives of the popular religions of this country? No. The B.B.C. set out to keep religion secure and free from any open discussion of any kind.
There has been talk about controversy over the B.B.C. Let us have controversy on all matters that are of importance to the physical, moral and cultural wellbeing of the people. Why should there be any fear? Why should hon. Members opposite, or hon. Members on this side, be afraid to- discuss openly with Communists the theory of Socialism that Communists hold? Why should Tories be afraid to speak over the B.B.C. in open discussion with leading members of the Communist Party? Of course, I know what would happen. I know that the Tories have no case and that, face to face with Communists, they would place themselves in a deplorable position before the people of this country. Nevertheless, when there is talk about controversy over the B.B.C., it would be valuable to the people, young and old, to have controversy in politics, morals and religion. If it were possible to get a clear field for free discussion of all these things, I have no doubt whatever that, in the shortest possible time, the people of this country would have finished completely with Conservatism and would be moving very rapidly over to Communism.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr Burghs)
Many queries arise out of the statement that was made by the Assistant Postmaster-General, but I want to ask him only one question before I proceed to make a few general remarks. The hon. Gentleman mentioned that there are now 10,750,000 licence holders. Would he tell us whether the number has diminished or increased as a result of increasing the price of a licence from 10s. to £1?
§ Sir T. Moore
It seems now to be the accepted custom, even on the part of those who work for the B.B.C., to attack, or at any rate to criticise, the Corporation. I propose to break new ground by saying something, in fact quite a lot, in support 1272 of this great monopoly. Some of us may remember those early adventurous days in 1922 when, from that tumbledown shack at Savoy Hill, there came bursts and blizzards through the newly found loudspeaker and the not so becoming earphones. If one remembers those days, I think it is nothing short of a miracle that, within the brief span of 25 years, we obtain, for this small price each year, plus the cost of a modern elegant receiving set, so much interest, pleasure, education and entertainment, with such little trouble to ourselves. I would like here to pay a tribute to the man who made more bricks with less straw than anyone else in connection with the B.B.C., John Reith. I would like also to pay a tribute to the engineers, technicians, producers and artistes who have done so much to brighten and enlighten our austere existence during the past seven or eight years. They do not get enough credit for doing a grand job of work.
Having paid those well-earned tributes, I would like to make a few critical, but I hope constructive, comments. I would like, first to dissipate, as far as I am concerned, any belief that there is a political bias or a political complexion in the activities of the B.B.C. I have listened to the wireless day in and day out for the last 20 years or so, and honestly I have not been able to find any particular bias shown to the Right or to the Left. When one finds both the Right and Left complaining of bias, I think it is fairly reasonable to judge that the B.B.C. maintains a middle course at any rate as regards politics. The noble Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Lloyd-George) made some suggestions, one of which I would like to follow up. There are three points on which I find room for criticism of the present conduct and service of the B.B.C. The first is that they are too frightened of anything that is new, unusual, and, as she said, controversial. No doubt this is due to the fact that, being a monopoly, they have to serve all masters, God and Mammon included. The second point is that if they find that some particular item is an immediate success, they tend to hang on to it like grim death, work it to death and eventually bore the listener to death. The third point is that the announcers are too often apt, by inflection or emphasis, to stress the news they are giving, which ought to be most objectively recorded. I 1273 remember being particularly moved by this during the war, when sometimes there was a gloating expression in the voices of the announcers when they referred to our bombing of Berlin and the known number of women and children killed.
I would like now to go into a little more detail, and I feel that here I am treading on delicate ground, but I believe it is our job to express our opinions candidly and honestly, even though we may upset or distress certain individuals. For instance, I think that Vic Oliver was undoubtedly, and is still undoubtedly, a unique humorist, but he needs a well earned rest, so that he can restore and revive his humour. I would even run the risk of high treason by suggesting that "King" Handley himself should be given a rest, but I would earnestly urge, for the sake of the rising generation, who will never see his like again in this austere period of our history, that records of that rich and fruity voice of Colonel Chinstrap should be retained, and also the method by which he achieved it. Crooners, with their dreary, unmelodious, untuneful voices, should be definitely barred, and for the benefit of those with the weaker brand of eardrums, brass bands might well be restrained—[Horn. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—both in their enthusiasm and frequency—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, indeed, even when they are celebrating the taking over by the National Coal Board of the coal mines of Scotland.
I should like to say one word about the monopoly system of the B.B.C. It is wrong. We pay £1 a year, which brings in £10,750,000 a year, to which we are now adding over £2 million and I feel that we are not getting full value for that money. It would, I believe, be in the best interests of the B.B.C., and certainly in the best interests of the public, if there were two further corporations. In cultural matters, at any rate, competition is the very essence of diversity and entertainment. What has happened to that charming Third Programme, one of the most delightful programmes which the B.P, C. has ever conceived? Now it has disappeared, and even when it was alive reception was so bad in the West of Scotland that nine times out of 10 we missed it altogether. I am told that this was due to some interference from Russia, that Russia has a powerful station in Latvia 1274 which prevented us from getting the full beauty of that programme. It seems to me odd that with the wit and technique of our engineers we should not be able to overcome that handicap, without even going to the higher realms of diplomacy.
There is one point I wish to make about the Brains Trust. Years and years ago, when I was a younger and more susceptible listener than I am today, I became rather tired of the hysterical giggles, which greeted his own jokes, of one member of the Brains Trust, and I was rather tired of another member who persistently wanted us to accompany him to Patagonia. Therefore, I sat myself down and wrote a postcard to the B.B.C., which I had often been invited to do. It was a simple question, and one which could have been easily answered. It was, "Why call it the Brains Trust?" I still await an answer, and the B.B.C. still maintain a coy silence. I repeat the question tonight through you, Mr. Beaumont.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Cooper (Middlesbrough, West)
I propose, to start with, at all events, to adhere to the Motion before us, and I hope, Mr. Beaumont, that you will not have to call me to Order, as you had to do in the case of the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher).
§ Mr. Gallacher
Mr. Beaumont called a questioner to Order, and said that if I answered the question he would also call me to Order.
§ Mr. Cooper
I stand corrected. I wish to follow a point which was touched upon by the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith), when he referred to the payment of the salaries of the B.B.C. staff. A portion of the Item in the Estimates which is before us must manifestly cover the subject of salaries. From information which has come to me recently, I feel that there needs to he a complete overhaul of the B.B.C.'s organisation, taking into account the payment of adequate salaries.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I am sorry to have to tell the hon. Member that his anticipation is realised, and that he is out of Order. The question of salaries comes under the Charter.
§ Mr. Cooper
I will leave that point. I hope I will be in Order in touching upon the qualifications of the staff who are paid by the B.B.C.—
§ The Deputy-Chairman
Again the hon. Member would be infringing the rules of Debate. That is in the Charter. We cannot discuss the Charter.
§ Mr. Cooper
I will refer to information which has come to me. I trust this will be in Order. Since I raised a matter of some controversy, when the B.B.C. was last debated in this House, many people have written to me on the subject of the way in which the B.B.C. functions.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
It the hon. Member is referring to an inquiry, which I understand is still proceeding, it would be quite out of Order to enter into a discussion here.
§ Mr. Cooper
I appreciate that if I referred to the investigation which is proceeding I would be out of Order. In point of fact, I have not mentioned that investigation. I think it is a matter of some considerable importance that those members of the public who have written to me on matters affecting the B.B.C., should realise that the present investigation is proceeding, that the matter is not flagging and that the allegations will not be sidestepped. In fact, the reason why this matter has not already been brought to a conclusion is that it is being undertaken, I believe, so very thoroughly—
§ The Deputy-Chairman
That is as far as I can allow the hon. Member to go. He must now get on to some other aspect.
§ Mr. Cooper
There is one rather serious aspect of this matter. It does not relate directly to the inquiry but refers directly to the way in which those who make contacts with the B.B.C. from outside —the members of the public, artists, broadcasters, and so forth—are treated. I think that we should expect from a public organisation that the public should be treated in a way that is entirely creditable. It would be extremely unfortunate if, for example, a situation were to arise where matters which the public felt justified in criticising were brought, perchance to an hon. Member, and that they were then victimised and threatened and told that if they continued to make, representations they would he dropped from the programmes.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
The hon. Member is continuing to make certain charges which I cannot allow to be discussed on this Vote.
§ Mr. Cooper
I appreciate your Ruling, Mr. Beaumont, and I leave that point. Perhaps it can be raised on some more suitable occasion. During the war this House was rightly jealous of the privilege of its Members. I was in one of the Forces, the R.A.F., which is a public service. I remember occasions when men thought that they did not get satisfaction through the normal channels, and they felt justified in approaching their hon. Member. When any suggestion was made in this House that a man in the Forces had acted outside his rights in approaching his hon. Member, that was immediately pounced on by hon. Members on both sides of the House and—
§ The Deputy-Chairman
Will the hon. Member tell me what relevance his remarks have to the Vote we are now discussing?
§ Mr. Cooper
The matter I am discussing is the question of the way in which the B.B.C. treats various matters that come before it. Members of the staff have to have contacts with the public, and is it not in Order, when a Supplementary Vote is under consideration which affects the members of the staff and the payment of money—
§ The Deputy-Chairman
No, it does not affect members of the staff. All questions of the staff come under the Charter, and the Charter is not under discussion tonight.
§ Mr. Cooper
There is one other matter that I think does come under the Supplementary Estimate and does not necessarily apply to the Charter. Several hon. Members have appealed for a greater variety and force of argument to be put over the air. It is suggested by one hon. Member opposite that it would be a bad thing if all the fire and vigour of discussion were damped down, and the suggestion was made by the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) that the cause of it was over-prudence when scripts were submitted. I suggest that the reason why we do not get fire and vigour into our programmes—and these are required to make them lively—is that we are expecting from the B.B.C. something that it is not designed to give. There in Broadcasting House they are, sitting behind closed doors very often, and it is difficult for them to appreciate the current of public feeling. If criticisms do come from 1277 time to time, they come almost completely from this House or from the Press. I am suggesting that it would be a very excellent thing, and I think it would have a good effect and be a healthy stimulus on the way in which the programmes are built up and the way in which the whole organisation functions, if there was brought into being a National Broadcasting Council, which could be representative of all interests and might have useful suggestions to make.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I am sorry, but, again, I have to draw the attention of the hon. Member to the fact that he is quite out of Order.
§ Mr. Cooper
I would ask for your guidance on this point, Mr. Beaumont. If a criticism is made, is it not proper to put forward a suggestion of how it might be met?
§ Mr. Cooper
In these circumstances, I will conclude. It is a point relative to the desire which we all feel that, as far as possible, the B.B C. should represent, in the composing of its programmes, the topics that are of interest to the public. I mean this quite sincerely, and I say that, at the present moment, they take too sectional a view of the interests of the people, as was illustrated by the point made by the hon. Member for West Fife from the religious point of view. They take this sectional view, instead of taking the wide field of the public interest, and therefore it is very necessary that they should be encouraged by healthy criticism from this House. The B.B.C. should take a more critical view of its task, and should try to bring the abilities of those in its employ more into line with what would be appropriate to a great commercial undertaking.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (Oxford)
I hope that the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. Cooper) will forgive me if I do not follow him in all that he has said.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I would remind the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) that the hon. Member for West Middles brough (Mr. Cooper) was out of Order on more than one occasion, and if he? 1278 follows on with the same arguments he will be repeatedly out of Order.
§ Mr. Hogg
You have taken the very words out of my mouth, Mr. Beaumont. I hope that this Debate will have served a very useful purpose, and that those members of the British Broadcasting Corporation, whose business it will be to read it, will take serious note of what has been said. It seems to me that, in a series of speeches of high quality coming from all corners -f the House, there has been a degree of unanimity which, unhappily, is all too tare in our discussions. Therefore, if I pick out from those speeches one or two points which I desire to stress, I hope that I may De forgiven.
The first point which seems to me to stand out clearly from all that has been said is that, whereas the Foreign Service has come in for almost universal praise the Home Service has come in for almost universal contempt and derision. And perfectly rightly, because the Foreign Service has solved two very difficult problems to a much greater degree of satisfaction than the Home Service has attempted to do. These are, the difficulty of reconciling the rival claims of quality as against quantity, and the difficulty of dealing with controversy. Both of those problems have been satisfactorily solved on the foreign programme, whilst the home programme is dully lagging far behind.
I do not wish to cast an apple of controversy into this matter by suggesting that it is, perhaps, because the foreign programme is competitive, and the home programme monopolistic. Maybe that would be too directly political a moral to draw. However, I think I should be justified in indicating how it is that the home programme has failed to do that which the foreign programme has done so satisfactorily. In dealing with the controversy between quality and quantity, I must confess that my sympathies were with the hon. Lady the Member for Coat-bridge (Mrs. Mann), and against her hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Levy). The republic of taste is a democracy in the true sense, but not in the sense that one can simply count noses. The B.B.C. home service has failed utterly to deal with the claim of quality against mere quantity because, in a slavish manner, they have tried to 1279 solve it by counting the noses or the ears, instead of, by measuring the ears, of those who listen. That is the whole reason for their failure.
All forms of snobbery are ridiculous and hateful, but there is no form of snobbery quite so ridiculous and quite so hateful as inverted snobbery, and it is inverted snobbery to which the high pundits of the B.B.C. are ardently subservient. They take their listener research and they mark down each listener into an income group. The one that belongs to the lowest income group is given the most weight, and very little attention indeed is paid to the quality of the criticism which they receive. For that reason, they constantly find themselves taking the easy way out, by trying to please numbers instead of trying to produce quality.
§ Mr. Levy
From time to time, we have heard several bizarre definitions given from the other side of this House, and now apparently, we are to have one of democracy. I should be glad if the hon. Gentleman would define what he means by this alternative democratic standard which ignores a majority taste. Is it to be decided on the quality of the letter sent in, and who is to say which is a good quality and which a bad?
§ Mr. Hogg
The B.B.C. and the editors of the programme are clearly to say. what is good quality and what is bad, subject to the criticism of this House, but I do not think you would let me go far in this, Mr. Beaumont, except to say that any editor of any newspaper or of any programme who slavishly tries to follow what he thinks the majority want him to say is neither a good editor nor a good democrat. That is true, as I believe it is true whatever view one takes of democracy, political or economic. The effect of that on the area of controversial talks has been little short of disastrous, for the various reasons which have been given from all quarters of the House this evening. The foreign broadcasting programme does not attempt to deal with controversy otherwise than by placing the opponents in a cockpit and letting them fight it out together. That is a device far simpler than that proposed by the hon. Member for Eton and Slough. If one side wins, the losing side is not to be heard to complain. But the home service selects a series of boring 1280 talks by people, most of whom represent some quite definite point of view but are never capable of being answered, and the result is that both sides complain, quite rightly, that the talks have been biassed. One hon. Member thought there was some answer to the criticism of bias which is levelled at the B.B.C. when it comes from both sides, on the sort of hypothesis that it a programme is universally execrated it must be all right. But that is a foolish argument, if I may say so. The truth is that a series of tendentious talks, to which no kind of reply is ever possible, which is what the Home Service attempts, is doomed to failure from the start. It is the wrong way of handling controversy. Controversy must be well balanced at the time it is produced, and if that is not done the Home Service will continue to be the object of contempt in the realm of controversy which it is at the present time.
I venture to make only two more criticisms. Here I am speaking as a Member of the Opposition, and hon. Members opposite who form the vast majority will, no doubt, disagree with me so long as they form the vast majority, but I think in matters of controversy it is the minority which ought to have overrepresentation. I think there can be no doubt of that, because it is the minority which is offering the criticism. If it is given only that proportion which its present strength is offered, it can never have a proper chance to put its criticism forward. That fact has been wholly overlooked by the B.B.C. itself [Interruption.] That interruption was neither in Order nor relevant. I was not seeking to make a party point. I was stating what I believe to be a fundamental rule of controversy. Some of us who have sat on the other side of the House have now come to sit on this side, and some of those who sat on this side have gone to sit on the opposite side. Most of us know that the Chair in this House, which is recognised as a model of impartiality, if I may say so, Mr. Beaumont, always follows some sort of rule like this in order to give fair play between the two sides in this House. We do not find twice as many hon. Members opposite being allowed to speak in a controversial Debate as are allowed to speak on this side. We find they work out approximately equal—because the minority must be given equal representation—and not in numerical proportion. Secondly, 1281 where bias is actually felt—and most of us are quite unable to rid ourselves of bias, even when we are most desirous of doing so—bias must always be acknowledged.
I will give a short example, and then I shall have done. The other day there was a very good talk, if I may be allowed to say so, by the then secretary of the Fabian Society. But was he introduced as the secretary of the Fabian Society? Not a bit of it. He was introduced as an independent and impartial expert. Now that is the wrong way to introduce tendentious stuff. Nobody complains of having tendentious stuff from time to time if we know where it is coming from, and if we can see the hallmark on it describing its origin.
I have said enough to show that I think the home service is failing in its task at the present time, and to show that I associate myself with the various criticisms which have been made. This is the first time I have ever intervened in a B.B.C. Debate, because hitherto I was of the opinion that, in doing so, I should have to disclose an interest, namely, that I have, from time to time, coyly, but not reluctantly, received small sums of money from that great Corporation. But I have observed that this inhibition did not seem to apply to a number of my hon. Friends and hon. Gentlemen opposite who have spoken, so I have only mentioned it at the end of my speech in case I was subject to criticism.
§ Mr. Burke
I think the Committee will agree we have had at least a good deal of hilarity during the course of this Debate; and we have also had a good deal about which the British Broadcasting Corporation may think, and they may possibly find some ways and means of applying some of the good advice that has been given to them this evening.
The right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish, Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) asked about the changes in the programmes due to the emergency. I think he regretted particularly that the Third Programme had to be sacrificed. I agree with him in his regret that the Third Programme had to go. He made the suggestion that possibly some of the items in the Third Programme could be transferred to other programmes during the period when it is essential that the Third Programme should be put to one side. The 1282 Postmaster-General of course, has the right to direct the B.B.C. as to the times when it shall broadcast, and in this emergency he considered it right to give directions that a certain amount of time should be cut from all the programmes, in order that a saving might be made. It is a pity that the Third Programme had to go. But I suppose the reasons why the B.B.C. selected the Third Programme were because, after all is said and done, the audience for the Third Programme, while perhaps of very high quality, is numerically small compared with the audiences for the other programmes. At the peak periods I suppose the Third Programme will not command an audience of more than two million; and throughout the normal periods it may be only half a million. Therefore, if a sacrifice had to be made it was perhaps advisable that a lesser number of persons should make the sacrifice than a greater number.
I am sure the Committee will agree with me that it was not advisable to cut down the regional programmes. As for the Light Programme, in these times of austerity if we cannot get heat we are entitled to a little light. Possibly for those reasons it was decided that the Third Programme should be the one with which to dispense completely. But I can assure hon. Members that when the emergency is over it will not take any very great length of time to restore the Third Programme. I am sure the B.B.C. will take note of the fact that on all sides of the Committee the Third Programme is regarded as being of very high quality, and it is desired that it should be restored as soon as possible.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Before the hon. Gentleman passes on, could he give an indication as to how long the cuts are likely to last?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I would like to stress that point a little. As I understood him, the Prime Minister seemed to indicate that the domestic cuts might not be restored for months—at any rate in full—and it really seems that it will be rather drastic to continue the cuts on the wireless and not restore them until the whole of the domestic cuts have been restored.
§ Mr. Burke
The cuts have not been very great, and have only covered the hours between nine o'clbck in the morning and 12 o'clock, and between 1.30 and 3.30 o'clock in the afternoon. All the evening, which is the peak period of listening, in the lunch-hour and in the early morning, the programmes are still available over a very wide field. I can give no statement at all here tonight as to the restoration of the cuts. The only person who can decide that, of course, will be the Prime Minister, in deciding the general policy.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
That is quite correct, but the morning programmes are not separate. The morning programme is a blended programme, and it is only after six o'clock that the programmes separate. Up to that time all the programmes, Home, Light and Third. have been practically wiped out. I hope that on this or some future occasion something more will be said, apart from a reference in a statement on general policy by the Prime Minister, because that holds out no hope at all of the restoration of the Third Programme.
§ Mr. Burke
That is just what I said. Except for those periods in the morning and the afternoon there is a programme going on, and during the evening, in the peak period, there are two programmes. I do not think that the community generally will regard that as a very drastic cut.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman spoke about listener research and its expansion, and desired that listener research should not base itself entirely upon quantity but should consider quality as well. No doubt the B.B.C. will consider that. But the right hon. and gallant Gentleman went on, as so many other hon. Members have done, to tell us about his likes and dislikes He did not like 1284 Bing Crosby, and apparently he did not like Dick Barton. I am not in a position to decide likes and dislikes, but this Debate, like so many other Debates about the B.B.C., is turning itself into a debate on the question as to what parts of the programme are good and what parts are not good, and what certain people like or do not like. I myself do not like certain things the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has mentioned, but there are many people who do, and the B.B.C., I suppose, must have regard to other people outside this House as well as to those inside. All I can say about anybody who likes Bing Crosby is that that is just the sort of thing they would like—there is no more to it. But it is not my responsibility; programmes are entirely a matter for the B.B.C.
The third point the right hon. and gallant Gentleman made was that the B B.C., because of its anonymity, suffered from infallibility. He suggested that the names should be given, and not kept from the people. So far as I understand it, the only anonymity on the B.B.C. is when the news talks are on. I think the reason that the names of the announcers are no longer given is; that it was thought that, in dealing with matters of news, there should be anonymity rather than the possibility of a person's being connected with opinions. That is also the case in the Civil Service. But, apart from the news talks, I understand, the names of the people who make the other talks are put before the audiences.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to talk about bias, Left or Right. Others have spoken in the same strain. On this side, in the last Debate, hon. Members spoke about bias towards the other side. The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) and the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. McAllister) spoke about the bias in that direction. Tonight we have heard about bias to the Left. Really, in all these matters the B.B.C. must be allowed to choose its speakers as it thinks best. I am advised that in choosing Members of Parliament they do try to keep a balance. I understand that during the last three months there have been 18 Labour Members who have spoken and 15 Conservative Members who have spoken. With regard to the other speakers. the B.B.C.—
§ Mr. Hogg
I have noticed that statement, too, and I have noticed this, that in the Conservative case there were included four Brains Trusts—which are self-balancing, one has heard—and, also, the speech in favour of the blind on Christmas Day by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden). Do the hon. Gentleman's figures include things like that—which can only be put in by the B.B.C. to mislead people as to their real bias?
§ Mr. Burke
No, it is not put in to mislead people at all. The same kinds of talks are put in by people on both sides. There are Brains Trust talks by Labour Members. The simple fact of the matter is, that where the B.B.C. can and do consider the political alliances of the speakers, then they try to strike a balance. Apart from that they cannot be held responsible for the views held by their speakers.
The hon. Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann) wondered if she was getting full value for her money. I understood that she wanted to lay at the door of the B.B.C. the fact that there were a lot of illegitimate children in the country. I do not know whether she was entitled to do that. Also she did not like crooners, but she did like the old-fashioned songs. Her plea was the very familiar plea that there are no songs like the old songs. Well, of course, there never were. That is the usual thing. I know people who would object very strongly to the cloying sentiment of "Love's Old Sweet Song," but then, the B.B.C., I am perfectly convinced, while it follows up taste, does not follow it slavishly, but has to provide programmes that command general approval over the whole country. I understood the hon. Lady to say that the Scottish Region had rejected the Brains Trust, and I gather from her criticism that she thought that that was not the right thing to do, and that the Scottish Region is getting too Scottish and nationalistic, and that a little more of the English programmes, apparently, is desired in Scotland.
The hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Dodds-Parker) referred to the question of television, and asked a question about the amount to be spent on television. I cannot tell him how much of this amount will be spent on television, but I understand that the amount of 1286 money to be spent on television in a very short time will be a matter of £2 million. I am afraid I cannot hold out any hope that television will be reaching the rural areas for a long time to come. I was also asked about films. I understand that there was a film unit in connection with television before the war, and that it is to be revived. I was also asked how the £1,024,000 could be broken down. The hon. Member was anxious to know whether the English language was used to the full in our overseas broadcasts. I can assure him that out of the amount spent on various broadcasts, £1,750,000 a year is spent on English language services, and that out of the 106 programme hours given to overseas broadcasts per day, 53 hours are in the English language.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Mack) told us that he was due to speak on the B.B.C. and that he wondered why he had received £10 10s. I can only suggest that he received it for not speaking, and to carry on the fun, if there is any danger of him speaking, he had better send it back. He also had his personal likes and dislikes, and he particularly disliked speakers from the other side. The hon. Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd-George) raised the question about a Welsh Governor, but I understand that the Prime Minister has answered her on that point. It would not be right for me to say that the claims of Wales should be considered in terms of the number of licences, because Scotland and Northern Ireland might also put forward the same claims. She made a strong plea for controversy, and this was also taken up by other Members. I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) that it is essential we should have controversy at the time. One of the essentials of democracy is that the minority 'should be given a fair chance, and I think that the B.B.C. would do well to bear in mind his suggestion.
§ Sir I. Fraser
Does the Assistant Postmaster-General really suggest that it would be wise to have a hot controversy, let us say tomorrow, on the subject of Palestine, which is to come before the House next week, or a hot controversy on a Bill the day before it received its Second Reading in the House? Surely that would prejudice fair discussion in this House.
§ Mr. Burke
When talking about time, I was referring to the two controversialists being present at the same time, instead of there being a lapse of time between the first speaker and the second. There is a good deal to be said for leaving controversy in connection with a Bill to this House, but when it becomes an Act, the amount of controversy which may then be allowed is for the B.B.C. to decide.
But I agree entirely with those who have said that the amount of controversy should be increased. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities said that there was a constant drip of a certain type of propaganda. I do not know whether that is true or not, but I agree that what the people of the country want is the whole truth. They do not want to have one aspect of it put to them over and over again. Putting only one aspect is to falsify the whole truth. I am with the right hon. and gallant Gentleman in asking that the greatest freedom should be given to this type of programme.
The hon. Member for West Fife was morally indignant about a certain item he heard which, he said, was not fit for his own home, but then he went on to say that there ought to be religious controversy. Just as he objected to that item going into his home, there are many who would object to religious controversy being carried into their homes. In matters where conscience is concerned I believe that the B.B.C. are wise in going carefully. In other matters, political, industrial, or economic, the controversial ban was withdrawn from the B.B.C. in 1928. They have perfect freedom to allow as much controversy as they think the public really want. My hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Levy) wanted more. Corporations, so that there could be more variety. The fact is that this House has decided that the B.B.C. shall be the sole authority for broadcasting. That was decided by previous Governments. It was a Conservative Government which set up the B.B.C. in their present form—
§ The Deputy-Chairman
The hon. Gentleman is now getting out of Order. He is now dealing with matters affecting the Charter.
§ Mr. Burke
Then I shall not be able to reply to those who wanted extra programmes. What determines, very largely, the number of programmes there can be at the present time is the availability of wavelengths. They are limited, and that limits very severely the number of programmes, and the amount of freedom, there can be. May I say, in conclusion, that the speeches we have had tonight have not been criticisms of the Government? There is nothing that I, personally, or my noble Friend the Postmaster-General, can do about them, but points were made which the B.B.C. may very well take into consideration, as I have no doubt they will. I hope we shall get this extra money so that the B.B.C., which did a marvellous job during the war, may go on now, in peacetime, and have the resources to maintain and develop their broadcast services both at home and abroad.
§ Mr. Hollis (Devizes)
I would like to say a few words in reply to the Assistant Postmaster-General, because I think he singularly misunderstood the depth and the strength of the argument put forward by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot). My right hon. and gallant Friend is here now, and, I hope, will interrupt me if I misinterpret his argument. But he appeared to make two main points. First, as regards programmes, it is to some extent a matter of opinion what is a good and what is a bad programme, but my right hon. and gallant Friend's point was a much deeper one than that.
When my children go into the drawing room they are apt in these days to turn on the wireless much as they turn on the electric light and then not to listen to it but to talk it down. A staggering amount of listening goes on which is technically known as background listening—that is to say, a mere noise, as my right hon. Friend said, which no one is paying any attention to at all. It must be admitted that it is an extremely bad thing educationally that people should be carrying on their conversation behind a background of noise. That is the first evil which we have to try to 1289 clear away. What is the solution? Various suggestions have been made. One was the greater development of television, and, above all, the improvement of the quality of broadcasting. That is why I think the Postmaster-General has made a most disastrous decision, to which there has been no adequate defence, in closing down the Third Programme. The Assistant Postmaster-General told us that the Postmaster-General was not responsible for any of the things criticised tonight, but this particular decision was apparently taken definitely by the Postmaster-General.
As to the quality of broadcasts, hon. Members may have noticed that there was an interesting letter in "The Times" from Mr. Kenneth Norcott in which he stated that in 31½ hours' broadcasting today, 9 hours 20 minutes were given to dance music and three quarters of an hour to serious music. I do not think that anyone can be complacent in the face of such statistics. Secondly, as to the political Point, my right hon. Friend's point was not particularly to say that the Conservative speakers were getting a bad time as compared with the Labour speakers. other hon. Members spoke on that point but his argument went much deeper than that. We have to face the fact that broad, asting has been, from the political point of view, up to the present, one of the most gigantic evils that has ever come to the world. Since broadcasting came into existence, the most gigantic tyrannies, unknown before in the world, have flourished, and radio has been one of the instruments used to impose that tyranny. We have to face that fact. We have to see how we can get the benefits without suffering these gigantic evils.
My right hon. Friend's point—and a most important point—was that a great evil of the radio is that it imposes itself on people's minds as a sort of pseudochurch—this voice coming out of a box seems to people like the voice from Sinai. There used to be the mysterious authority of the printed word, and one of the great services done by journalists and newspaper proprietors has been to destroy this mysterious authority of print, so that people no longer believe automatically what they see printed. But they still believe to a fantastic extent what they hear coming out of a box. A friend of mine, an agricultural worker in the West of England, gave up going to church be- 1290 cause he explained to the vicar that he heard some doctor on the wireless telling him that cannibalism was not unnatural, and that all those years, when he might have been eating his wife, the vicar had kept this from him. Therefore, he had stopped going to church. These are the problems that my right hon. Friend stated. What is the answer to them? The answer is that there should be as much controversy, as much live controversy, and as much authoritative controversy as possible in order to break down in people's minds this idea of a mysterious authority behind any opinion just because it happens to be expressed on the radio.
I do not so much worry about the proportion of Conservatives, Labour or Liberal speakers—their parties are well able to look after themselves up to a point. I am much more concerned that a fair do should be given to what might be called the "crank speakers." The hon. Gentleman the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) spoke of a boycott of the Communist Party, but only a few weeks ago I had the great pleasure of taking part in a debate on the wireless with the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin), so that obviously there is no such boycott. But I do think that a reasonable dose of Fifth Monarchy men and Flat Earth men should be allowed their run on the wireless, and if they sometimes talk nonsense so much the better because it is important that a lot of nonsense should be talked on the wireless—irregular nonsense, that is, recognised as such—so as to break down this mysterious authority of the radio. It appears to me that the Assistant Postmaster-General did not realise the strength and depth of the most important criticism put forward by my right hon. Friend, and that he was dealing with the whole problem on a level which was altogether more superficial than that upon which my right hon. Friend placed it.
§ Sir Ian Fraser (Lonsdale)
There is only one point which I wish to make. The power of a transmitter is, say, 100 kilowatts; 100 kilowatts equals zoo horsepower. That is what it sends out on the air, although the Diesel engine or electric power which it uses may be four or five times as much, but the point is that this power is infinitesimal by comparison with the extraordinary area over which the transmitter sends its wireless waves. Incidentally, most of the B.B.C. stations have Diesel 1291 engines on the spot which are used for breakdown purposes and which could perfectly well be employed now for filling in the gaps without taking one kilowatt from the mains supply of the 'nation. The engines are there, and they have the oil on the spot so that they would be using stores already in hand. Of course, if the programmes were continued a little longer people would use the radios in their homes and that would use some power, but the moral effect of giving people a cheerful programme when they are working in their homes in the mornings—especially the. housewife who is the cold one doing her best without heat or light—would be doing an enormous amount of good and using extraordinarily little electricity.
§ Mr. Osborne (Louth)
I should like to remind hon. Members that we are discussing a Supplementary Estimate and deciding on behalf of the taxpayers whether to grant £3,994,000 to the B.B.C. In doing so we should be quite satisfied that the money is being well spent. May I remind the Committee also that this is added to the £7,500,000 already agreed, making a total of practically £11,500,000? Hon. Members may not think that spending Dalton pounds, which are worth only about half the Kingsley Wood pound of before the war—
§ Mr. Osborne
Whether the currency that we are spending is inflated to the degree I suggest or not, the point is that we, as responsible Members, should see that our constituents are receiving value for money.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Osborne
As regards that interruption, I do at least stand here as a full-blooded Englishman representing England and not a foreign Power. Most hon. Members have agreed that the Third Programme has been the saving grace of broadcasting, and that if we are getting value for money it is in that programme. I asked the Minister how much power was being saved by cutting out that programme and he gave me. as do most Socialists, an answer that meant nothing. He said, "43 per cent." Forty-three per cent. of what? He has told me exactly 1292 nothing, and that is what the Socialist Government usually tell the country. I want to know. May I remind hon. Members that last week I had the privilege of calling the attention of the House and the country to the football pools industry?
§ Mr. Osborne
All I want to say is that the amount of electricity that is being saved by cutting out the Third Programme—and surely I am in Order there —is quite small as compared with other items which are being allowed. The Minister justified the Government's action —not the B.B.C. action, because it is the Government's responsibility—in cutting out this programme by saying that only two million people listened to it. Is it nothing that two million want to listen to a good programme? Are they to be debarred from doing so at the saving of quite a small amount of power when large amounts are wasted in much more frivolous ways? The responsibility rests quite squarely on the shoulders of the Government and not on the Governors of the B.B.C. I could make a long speech. [Interruption.] Having sat here all day except for meal time, I think I am entitled to make my points.
As I represent an agricultural constituency, I wish to emphasise the point made by one of my hon. Friends concerning what is to be done in the rural areas with regard to the television service. When this question was raised some time ago the Minister who is sitting there now admitted to the House that people living in the country were being made to subsidise London viewers who are to have the service first. Then, as I hope he will remember, he went on to say that he hoped Birmingham would have the service next and then, ultimately perhaps, industrial Lancashire and Scotland. What about the agricultural people in East Anglia? I am speaking for them. That is what they sent me here for. They are to get their pound of flesh when all the others are provided for. I want to make a special plea that when the television service is fully developed the agricultural workers' interests will not be overlooked. Finally, may I say that I was thorough disgusted when the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) made his quite unnecessary and unprovoked attack on organised religion?
§ Mr. Osborne
With reference to his taunts at hon. Members on this side and at the British way of life in general, and in reply to his assertion about our not allowing his point of view to be put, may I ask him what hope we should have if we were in Moscow?
§ The Deputy-Chairman
Can the hon. Member indicate to me where Moscow is mentioned in the Vote we are now discussing?
§ Mr. Osborne
I was referring to what was said by one of the hon. Members for Moscow. Perhaps I may now finish my speech. At least we Conservatives do give our people value for money, which is what hon. Members opposite cannot say to the mugs who voted for them. When we discussed the Third Programme—
§ Mr. Follick (Loughborough)
Is it in Order for an hon. Member to call the constituents of other hon. Members "mugs"?
§ Mr. Osborne
It depends upon the Division from which they come. When we discussed the Third Programme in this House some little time ago, it was claimed that the programme brought in an element of competition and therefore justified itself. If another Corporation could be allowed to be established to take over that Third Programme, I suggest that it might be of advantage.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, Southern)
In common with other hon. Members, I wish to protest in the strongest possible terms at the inadequacy of the reply given by the Minister in regard to the closing down of the Third Programme. Of all the great Departments in our public life, the B.B.C. has done most since the end of the war to develop and improve its service. In the Third Programme and in the improvements which have been made in the Home and Light Programmes, there has been a development which, put against the development in railways, the coal industry, housing and any other branch of public life, lifts the B.B.C. out and away top of the lot. What has taken place? We have had a fierce and sudden fuel cut, and the B.B.C. programme has 1294 been smashed to pieces. Millions of people who have grown accustomed to and who were enjoying the Third Programme have had to do without it altogether. They have had to do without other programmes also, for considerable periods of the day. I think hon. Members can imagine what heart-searching trouble and anxiety must have been caused to B.B.C. officials to have to face those serious cuts, in view of the remarkable development which had taken place.
I should therefore have thought that any self-respecting Minister, knowing that the Debate was to take place and that millions of listeners would read the reports of it on the morrow, hoping for some relief in the present circumstances, would have seized himself of the situation and would have come to this House prepared to make a full statement of how soon the cuts could be restored. If the Assistant Postmaster-General cannot do it, could not his noble Friend the Postmaster-General have been allowed this morning to see representatives of the Government's crisis fuel committee in order to get an answer to give to the House on this question on whether we are to have a full statement of how the cuts could be restored?
The Minister informed us that the B.B.C. comes in on the domestic side, so it may be that for weeks or even months we shall have to suffer cuts on the domestic side. Is it really to be supposed that, having started this great venture and enterprise, the Government will allow the B.B.C. to continue with a programme which is back to the Savoy Hill standard? I listened to it in the early hours of this morning and I was taken right back to the early days of 2LO, so fierce and drastic had been the changes imposed on B.B.C. programmes by the Government. I am saying that the hon. Gentleman should have come to the House and given the people of this country a more adequate reply than he has given today.
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £43,994,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1947, for a grant to and grants in aid of the British Broadcasting Corporation.