§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. J. Henderson.]
§ 3.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield)
I wish to raise certain matters arising out of the Annual Report and Accounts for the year 1946–47 of the British Broadcasting Corporation, presented by the Postmaster-General's Department last month. I do this in no spirit of carping criticism, because, as a former member of the staff of the B.B.C. during the war years, I have a very high respect for the achievements of that Corporation; but I wish to offer some constructive criticism and to seek from the Minister who is to reply some assurances on certain matters which I will raise, particularly regarding the organisation of the staff and the internal organisation of the B.B.C.
First, I will deal with the report itself which, in my view, is an unnecessarily colourless and out-of-date account of the activities of the B.B.C. In fact, it seems to me to reflect resentment on the part of the Corporation at any outside interest in its activities. Any such interest it is inclined to interpret as interference. This White Paper is presented to us as a mere catalogue of the programmes and activities of the B.B.C. during the 12 months under review. It is not even a current catalogue, because this report is published some 11 months after the end of the B.B.C. year. There is no reason or justification for this long delay in its publication. The British Overseas Airways Corporation and the other Civil Aviation Corporations, which have world-wide ramifications and great difficulties in obtaining their accounts from overseas with all the complications of exchange control and so on, are able to publish their accounts before the B.B.C., whose activities on the accounting side are only concerned with this country. By the time it reaches Parliament and the country, this catalogue, as I have said, is not even a current catalogue and reads as boringly as an out-of-date telephone directory.
It is unfortunate that matters which are of the greatest interest to Members of this House are skimmed over without any explanation, and without imparting anything of real interest to the House. For instance, 1645 there are only five lines in the report devoted to the question of listener research—that is, the assessment of the size of the audiences who listen to the programmes of the B.B.C. The five lines refer to the fact that there is a Listeners' Research Organisation. I should have thought that when a Corporation of this type make their report to Parliament it should publish its results, and the results in terms of broadcasting are the audiences which the Corporation succeeds in attracting to its various programmes. From its excellent system of listener research, the B.B.C. is able to assess the audiences of the different programmes, not only of the different services as a whole, but of individual programmes, but no account of this is given in the report. It would be simple for them to give us some facts and information as to the extent of the audiences in connection with the Home Programme, the Light Programme, the Third Programme and Television respectively, but no attempt it made to do so.
In the same way, the question of engineering research is very briefly dealt with, although there is a great work being done here by the B.B.C., but no information is given of any value on that score. Finally, on the question of the inadequacy of the report, I would add that the advisory bodies are equally cursorily dealt with, and we are not given any information as to the actual task performed by the advisory councils which have been set up, whereas the establishment Acts of the other nationalised undertakings require that those corporations shall include with their annual reports the reports of such councils.
The very meagre information of the financial position of the B.B.C. is thoroughly insulting to this House. I say that because the accounts here presented would not be accepted by any body of shareholders and, after all, it is the public who are the shareholders, in effect, of the B.B.C. Any board of directors would be stampeded by their shareholders were they presented with such inadequate accounts. The B.B.C. makes no attempt to follow the normal commercial practices which again are required in the other nationalised undertakings. The accounts as here presented group in a series of omnibus items the various activities of the B.B.C. There is no attempt made to segregate the Home, Light and Third Programmes one from the other. There is no attempt to 1646 give us any information as to how much each of the regions cost and how much is spent in each of the regions.
Far worse, there are no figures whatsoever in this report concerning the cost of television in this country. We are not told how much television is costing us, by how much the home listener is subsidising the television service whether the Post Office is subsidising the television service, or, for that matter, what is the estimate of expenditure on television in the future. Therefore, I ask the Assistant Postmaster-General, who is to reply, for figures, if he is able to provide them, showing how much the television service costs, whether it is subsidised and to what extent? At the same time, could he inform us of the expenditure on the different programmes if that is possible? It is important that we should have these figures, as only by knowing how much is spent on each of the various services of the B.B.C. would it be possible to assess their value in terms of audience interest, were of course the figures of listener research given. Only thus would it be possible to decide whether any of the programmes could be dispensed with to enable the money saved to be devoted either to television or to other programmes in which the audience interest was greater. Similarly, could he distribute the expenditure between one region and another.
Finally on the question of accounts I should say that the most unfortunate item is the lack of information on the question of publications. In the financial figures the B.B.C. merely includes a net figure for the profits made by the publications. There is the net profit for the 12 months earned by the B.B.C. publications of £844,268, which is a very gratifying profit. If one thinks of the six million circulation of the "Radio Times," the "Listener" and other publications of the B.B.C., and of the advertising revenue of these publications and the income from sales, one could conclude that the turnover of the Publications Department of the B.B.C. must be very large. I would estimate that that turnover could easily be in the neighbourhood of £8 million, but whether it is actually as high or not, it is a fact that the turnover runs into millions of pounds. Can we be told how much it is? This publicly owned, publicly controlled, and publicly 1647 operated Corporation does not deign to inform the public of the accounts of that trading department which has this huge turnover and makes this very satisfactory profit.
The danger of this in my view is that if a net figure of the surplus only is given, the true position could easily have been disguised in these accounts. How are we to know that the B.B.C., for internal purposes, does not charge excessively against the profitable accounts certain items of expenditure which it is incurring, and which it is not desirous of charging against other accounts? It would be possible to disguise the true situation by charging an excessive amount for overheads or for this or that item. I would ask the Assistant Postmaster-General to give me an assurance that this net profit is a true figure, that there are no hidden charges as regards the publications account. I ask him to look into the position between now and the next presentation of these accounts with a view to requesting the B.B.C., as he has a right to do, to give fuller information in the future. A State trading concern such as the Publications Department should reveal its true position.
Hon. Members will recollect that the Select Committee on Estimates, in its first Report last Session, drew attention to the financial accounts of the B.B.C., and in particular referred to the fact that they were inadequately presented. It also drew attention to publications. It said:Moreover the accounts presented to Parliament by the Corporation, including those of their trading activities, are not as informative as they might be. In the result, Parliament is deprived of the opportunity of obtaining sufficient details to satisfy itself that the Corporation are so conducting their affairs as to secure that due economy is observed and that the public gets value for money.The Treasury, in answering this criticism by the Select Committee, produced what I consider to be a quite inadequate reply because it stated that the accounts could not be amplified to advantage without involving undue interference with the day to day conduct of the Corporation's business, which was not the Government's policy. In their reply, the Treasury added,Trading accounts would be embarrassed and operations hampered by the necessity of 1648 revealing information which other publishing houses need not disclose.It went on later to say:The willingness of the public to buy the periodicals published by the B.B.C., together with the earning of a substantial profit … is, in the opinion of the Treasury, sufficient security that the public is getting value for money and that due economy is being observed.This is an unconvincing statement. It is argued that because the B.B.C. succeeds in making a profit there must be due economy, and it totally ignores the fact that the "Radio Times" has practically a monopoly so far as the selling of the week's programmes is concerned. It is the only publication which does that and it gets free advertising over the B.B.C. also. At the same time, it might easily make greater profits if there were greater economy, assuming that to be possible. On the other hand, if the profit is as great as is shown, or greater, it may be that a lesser price could be charged for the publications of the B.B.C., if that were considered desirable.
I refer to this simply to suggest that no adequate answer has yet been given to the criticism which the Select Committee made 18 months ago. I hope that the Assistant Postmaster-General will not fail to draw the B.B.C.'s attention further to the desirability of acquainting this House with more facts as regards the financial position of the B.B.C. That is the more important today as the cost of a licence is twice what it was before the war, and the overseas services, with which I am not proposing to deal this afternoon, are now financed out of grants-in-aid and not out of the licence fee.
There are two further questions arising out of the report with which I wish to deal. They are related to matters regarding the staff and organisation. The first is staff representation. It is a very serious matter, and a question which has not yet been adequately resolved by the B.B.C. In this report the B.B.C. states:The Corporation has under review its policy in regard to staff representation in the light of Section 8 of the new Charter. Various unions have recently applied to the Corporation for recognition. The Corporation's policy hitherto has been based on the recommendations of the Ullswater Committee and the B.B.C. Staff Association has been recognised as the appropriate collective medium for discussion of questions concerning conditions of service of members of the staff.1649 This report, appearing in February, is some 14 months after publication, or after the coming into force, of the new Charter. The Section 8, which is referred to, deals with the whole question of the organisation and consultation with the staff. Among other things it states:(1) It shall be the duty of the Corporation, which except in so far as the Corporation is satisfied that adequate machinery exists for achieving the purposes of this subclause, to seek consultation with any organisation appearing to the Corporation to be appropriate with a view to the conclusion between the Corporation and that organisation of such agreements as appear to the parties to be desirable with respect to the establishment and maintenance of machinery for—(a) the settlement by negotiation of terms and conditions of employment of persons employed by the Corporation, with provisions for reference to arbitration—And so on. It covers the whole question of collective bargaining which is also included in the other nationalising Acts.
The position is still far from satisfactory, because this Section 8 of the Charter has not yet been implemented. I state that, because, at the present time, the staff of the B.B.C. is organised in a Staff Association. The Staff Association was started by the Corporation itself, and only recently has it become registered as a trade union. Although it is registered as a trade union, and is recognised as the sole negotiating body by the Corporation, its staff, that is, its paid officials, are actually seconded by the B.B.C. to the Staff Association. The association, in all particulars, appears to be far more like an employers' union than a trade union capable of representing the staff of the B.B.C. It is a most unusual practice, in any case, for an employer to second an employee to bargain for its employees against himself; but the position is far worse than that.
The position, in effect, is that the B.B.C. has established a closed shop, that closed shop being the Staff Association itself. In other words, it has been closed by the employers and not by the employees. The Corporation has slammed the door, as it were, in the face of legitimate trade unions who have attempted to enter into negotiation with it on behalf of their members. It is a fact that the B.B.C. refuse to recognise 11 out of 12 unions, in which members of various professions, trades and crafts concerned are organised, for negotiations or collective 1650 bargaining. In other words, the staff association is a monopoly and is the sole organ recognised for bargaining purposes.
The B.B.C., in justifying its case for giving the monopoly to the staff association, which itself has organised, has said that it is carrying out the recommendations of the Ullswater Committee. When the Ullswater Committee reported in 1936 the position in the B.B.C. was very different from what it is today. There has been a great expansion in the staff of the B.B.C. since 1936. The allied industries, such as films, newsreels, the cinematograph trade and television have expanded remarkably, and brought a large number of fresh people into this industry who are technicians, craftsmen or professionals, and who are all organised in their own trade unions or associations. They must remain organised in their own trade unions, because if at any time they leave the B.B.C. and go back into the commercial or professional world, then they will be required to be members of those unions in order to obtain, or to hold, their jobs.
The B.B.C.'s excuse, put forward at the time of the Ullswater Committee and repeated since, for not allowing other unions to act for negotiating purposes, is that it would be difficult to deal with a very large number of unions representing a very large number of different professions, trades or crafts. But that is a problem which is common to a great deal of industry and which, in both public and private industry, has been overcome. It is quite possible—as has been successfully done by the British Overseas Airways Corporation—to form a joint consultative council both in local areas, and centrally for the purpose of negotiation. I would like to point out that in the case of the Ullswater Committee, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister entered a reservation objecting to the recommendations as regards staff. In fact, the Prime Minister, who was a member of this Committee, stated categorically:I do not regard the present attitude of the Corporation towards staff representation as at all satisfactory. While it is stated that no inquiry is made as to whether or not an employee belongs to a trade union, it is my clear impression that trade unionism is not encouraged and that the general tendency is in the direction of autocracy and paternalism.That situation still prevails in the B.B.C.
1651 It is time that this anomaly was ended. My own union, the National Union of Journalists, in 1945, drew attention once more to the difficult position. It asked that the matter should be reopened and discussed. At that time the B.B.C. again hid behind the Ullswater Committee, and no action was taken. Then in March, 1947, after the new Charter had come into effect, the N.U.J. reopened the matter. At that time the then Assistant Postmaster-General stated in this House:I understand that the Governors of the Corporation are re-examining the question of staff representation in the light of Clause 8 of the new Charter. I suggest that my hon. Friend …That was the hon. Member for Upton (Mr. A. Lewis):… should await the result of that report."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th March, 1947; Vol. 434, c. 198.]That is exactly what the N.U.J. was told at that time. The Corporation rejected the representations made by the N.U.J. on the ground that the general question was being examined and that they felt no useful purpose would be served by meeting the N.U.J. on the matter. In other words, the Board of Governors of the B.B.C. were going to determine what should be the future system for negotiating with its staff, without consulting the unions involved in the matter who were most concerned about it. The unions were not to be given any opportunity of stating their case. This, of course, was nearly a year ago. Since then the Trades Union Congress has taken up the cudgels on behalf of the snubbed unions. I do not want to say anything this afternoon which would prejudice the negotiations which are still proceeding, admittedly slowly, between the T.U.C. and the B.B.C. on the matter; but I would say that the present position is one which cannot be tolerated indefinitely.
In the case of the members of the National Union of Journalists who are on the news staff of the B.B.C., they are members of their union but they cannot be also members of the Staff Association, because the N.U.J. rules prevent members from being members of two unions at the same time. While the B.B.C. agrees to receive representations from the National Union of Journalists, any such representations must go through the head 1652 office and cannot go through the locally organised branch. In other words, if Members of the N.U.J. who are on the staff of the B.B.C. wish to make representations concerning their working conditions, and they are not members of the Staff Association, they cannot do so. They have to approach the head office of their union, the head office approaches the B.B.C., the B.B.C. replies to the head office, and the latter informs the branch, which is a most ridiculous procedure for any trade union negotiations to go through.
It is my view that this position is intolerable. The members of the staff of the B.B.C. who are members of their legitimate trade or professional unions—some of which, though not all, are affiliated to the T.U.C.—are denied by this public corporation opportunities of negotiating through unions of their own choosing. They can only negotiate through the Staff Association, sponsored and aided by the B.B.C. itself, which seconds members of the staff to be officers of the Staff Association. This, in my view, is a closed shop of the worst type, and, in effect, denies any representation to many members of the B.B.C. staff, inasmuch as they cannot be members of two unions. Nor, in my view, can the Staff Association possibly negotiate for the whole of the staff, in view of the technical questions involved, which are matters for the professional, craft and trade organisations and not for an omnibus body trying to sweep into it every member of the staff, without any regard to the technical skill and knowledge of the people concerned.
So far as the staff are concerned, there is another matter with which I wish to deal, and that is the question of consultation. Section 8, which I have already quoted, also provides that there shall be consultation between the staff and the management as regards all matters affecting their welfare and safety and the efficiency of the organisation. In this House, when we had a Debate on the B.B.C. in 1946—that was before the Charter came into force—the Lord President of the Council gave an assurance that he wished these consultations to come into existence. Here, again, nothing has been done. The Corporation has taken no action to bring into operation that requirement of consultation between the staff and the 1653 management. In any organisation, if a job has to be done well, there has to be close consultation between those actually doing the job and those making policy at the top, and one of the difficulties of the B.B.C. has always been that the people at the top have not had that practical experience of broadcasting which is really essential to policy-making.
A few months ago, there was interposed between those doing the actual job of production, the heads of departments, producers, and the like and those at the top, the Director-General and the Governors, a further board of five directors. What is worse is that, of these five directors who have been brought in, only one has any recent practical experience of broadcasting and, of the other four, two have been brought in from outside. It can well be imagined that the morale of the staff is not improved if, when they have given of their best to the Corporation, they find themselves, instead of receiving promotion, called upon to give place to people brought in from outside, who are put above them, and the effect of which is to remove them one more rung run down the ladder. The danger of this hierarchy in the B.B.C. is very great, and, unless this consultative machinery is brought into it and something is clone to streamline and cut short this long and frustrating process of reference upwards which is now taking place, I am afraid the general output of the B.B.C. is bound to suffer. We have seen in the past how a number of people working for the B.B.C. have gone into films and other industries where they had a better chance and a better opportunity of getting on.
I do not want to deal with the question of programmes, except, in my concluding remarks, to make one reference to say that the staff of the B.B.C. are carrying on and doing a very fine job. But the B.B.C.'s present anti-Communist campaign, which is so apparent in certain of its programmes, is sometimes in danger of becoming an anti-Socialist campaign, and an anti-Government campaign. Nobody in this country is so sensitive that he objects to well-meaning and good-tempered criticism. Members of the Government can stand that, and expect it, but I do not think it is well that, in the variety programmes, there should be these continuous anti-Government digs with 1654 which we are so well acquainted, and which, in many cases, are brought to our attention by constituents. Nobody criticises Tommy Handley's well-meaning and good-humoured fun, even when he gets a laugh against the Government. When, however, a Hulbert, on Tuesday evening in "Hulbert House," sets himself up as an embryonic political commentator and engages in political sneering, the time has come, I think, to call a halt. In the "Friday Forum" programme, which is sometimes excellent, there is a tendency to bias, with two speakers putting themselves up against the Government spokesman. That has been very apparent in that programme once or twice recently.
I do not ask the Postmaster-General to take any action regarding this now, but I would ask him to watch the situation because, if there is a development of this tendency, and if evidence of this anti-Government stuff continues, I for one—and I am sure that many other hon. Members propose to do the same—shall certainly raise the matter again in this House. Although the importance of the B.B.C. justifies these matters receiving more attention than can be given to them on a Friday afternoon in an Adjournment Debate, I felt that I would like to raise these points because of my personal experience and knowledge of the B.B.C., and because I feel that there are dangerous tendencies within the B.B.C. There are faults of organisation and this great fault of staff organisation which should be set right. I call upon the Postmaster-General to give me some assurance this afternoon that these things will be looked at, and that his relationship with the B.B.C., which is provided for in the Charter, will be so used as to put an end to some of these disturbing situations. It is also time that some of the hierarchy of the B.B.C., who dwell in the remote ivory control towers of Broadcasting House, should come down to earth and consult with their staff, and should realise that, for the most part, the people who listen to the B.B.C. live in council houses.
§ 3.43 P.m.
§ Mr. Blackburn (Birmingham, King's Norton)
I am sure we all feel that my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield (Mr. Ernest Davies) has done a great service by raising this matter this afternoon. I wish to support everything he has said. 1655 If I might respectfully add a comment to what he said at the end of his speech it would be on a matter which I did not intend to raise. There have been discussions before in this House about the B.B.C.'s Overseas Service, which is a very good service indeed. Its popularity on the Continent is enormous, and it is growing and becoming more important every day. I am sure that my hon. Friend, particularly in view of the position he occupies, will agree that it is important that the B.B.C.'s Overseas Service should express the point of view of Britain, and that the news should be put across from a purely British angle. There has been considerable evidence of Communist influence in certain sections of that Overseas Service; there is absolutely no doubt about that. Evidence of it has not been submitted only by Conservatives; I have had evidence supplied to me from many sections, and I am sure the matter is now receiving the attention of those who are responsible. I do not desire to deal with that point in my speech.
I wish to raise two points, but before doing so I would like to say how much I endorse my hon. Friend's demand for further information. This is an exceedingly successful example of a semisocialised industry, but I suggest the reason that it is so successful is that its activities are always subject to public scrutiny. The results of the B.B.C.'s work are heard by millions of people every day.
My first point is something which is often referred to in the public Press and is, perhaps, not regarded as very serious, and that is the "Dick Barton" programme. I am bound to confess that I have a personal interest in this matter, because it is very rarely that I manage to get home at 6 o'clock in the evening. When I do manage to get home at 6 o'clock, particularly if I am going to take the dutiful course of reading the "Daily Herald" or the Labour Party's publications which my hon. Friends often recommend to me, I like also to hear some music. The Third Programme starts at 6.30, and on that programme one is able is hear Bach, Scarlatti or Handel, and one's mind dwelling on high and lofty political themes is often attuned also to these great masters of the past.
1656 Unfortunately, just as I am settling down, my eldest son rushes into the room with the cry of "Dick Barton," forcibly takes over the wireless and switches over to "Dick Barton." [An HON. MEMBER: "What are his politics?"] He has no political views, as far as I know. He is at a school at which the majority view is probably Conservative, and my advice to him is that he should not proclaim the political opinions of his father, The fact is that he gets exceedingly excited, and so do other children; by the time they go to bed they are re-enacting the adventures of "Dick Barton" upstairs, and the result is pandemonium. This is not confined to one family; it is a common experience today. I have living next door to me Mrs. Pudney, who is the daughter of the junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert), and she is the Editor of a magazine entitled "Family." She has three children and she has exactly the same experience. I go along to her and say, "Why do we not stop our children listening to 'Dick Barton'? We should then get a bit of peace." Her reply is that it would be unfair because all the other children listen to "Dick Barton." They all imitate "Dick Barton" the next day, and they would feel a great sense of grievance if they were not permitted to listen.
I do not advocate interference with a particular programme, but I suggest that it is wrong that just before children are going to bed we should have programmes which are ostensibly for adults but which the B.B.C. knows perfectly well are listened to by children. I was going to use the expression "juvenile adults," but I understand that the Lord President likes to listen to "Dick Barton," so I had better not do so. One does not wish to interfere in any way with what adults do, but it is quite wrong that this programme should be put on at a time when it is known perfectly well that it will be listened to by children about to go to bed. If my hon. Friend the Assistant Postmaster-General could have a private word with Sir William Haley on this matter, perhaps we could clear up this point.
The last subject I wish to raise concerns the Third Programme. This is the most marvellous programme sent out by any broadcasting station in the world, and it helps to give us an opportunity to become the cultural centre of Europe. It 1657 is a remarkable programme. Unfortunately, it cannot be heard all over England. The reception facilities are very bad in many places, and I hope my hon. Friend will indicate, as I am sure is the fact, that everything is being done to see that the Third Programme can be heard all over England as soon as possible. I am sure that any remarks made in the House this afternoon are in no way intended as criticisms of the B.B.C. as such. I am sure we all feel that it performs a wonderful service. We have no desire to make carping criticisms, but my hon. Friend has performed a useful service in raising this matter so that hon. Members have had the opportunity to make comments on it.
§ 3.49 p.m.
§ Mr. John E. Haire (Wycombe)
I should like to join with my hon. Friend the Member for King's Norton (Mr. Blackburn) in thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield (Mr. Ernest Davies) for having raised this matter. On such a subject there is much to be said which cannot be squeezed into a Debate of short duration on a Friday afternoon. We must await a further occasion to go into our likes and dislikes in regard to the programmes of the B. B. C.
I am anxious to take up some particular point to which my hon. Friend who raised this matter has referred, but before doing so I would like to argue the very first point the hon. Member for King's Norton raised. He seemed to join in an attack on the Overseas Service of the B.B.C. for what he called "bias." I do not know whether he was present in the House on the occasion of the Adjournment on 19th December when an hon. Member from the opposite benches raised this point, and in the short Debate which ensued many on this side of the House were anxious to refute much of what he said. However, time did not admit of our being called. I hope the hon. Member has read that and has read questions which have subsequently been asked in the House, because he would have seen that the attack, to which this afternoon he gave further publicity, has been refuted in this House. I know perfectly well that he is anxious to be fair in this matter. He knows, as well as I do, that Members on this side of the House tend to think that the Over- 1658 seas Service of the B.B.C. is loaded against us—my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield tended to suggest that this afternoon—whereas those on the opposite benches tend to think it is loaded against them.
I must confess that I have a personal interest in this matter as my wife is a member of the European Service of the B.B.C. and I, therefore hear many of the programmes which go out. Indeed, my interest in this Service often starts at breakfast time. Having carefully considered this matter, and knowing the desire of the B.B.C., especially the European Service, to be impartial, and having listened to programmes which it has been suggested in this House are full of bias, I have to state that in my opinion this is an unfair charge. I believe that the staff of the B.B.C. are as anxious as anybody to preserve impartiality. The hon. Gentleman referred to what he considered was Left Wing bias, indicating that he fails to understand the machinery of the news service in the European Service of the B.B.C. in the matter of content.
Does he realise that before any news programme goes on the air, the policy line has been agreed at a conference—generally held once daily, and sometimes twice daily? Then the available news goes to a sub-editor for compilation into a bulletin. This bulletin then goes to the central news desk for examination as to items included and their order. Then it goes to a policy editor, and finally a switch censor guards it during broadcasting. Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that, having gone through this machine, it could emerge with any possible bias one way or the other?
§ Mr. Haire
Or often the right colour. I think the hon. Gentleman the Member for King's Norton would be well advised, before contributing what I consider an unfortunate reference to bias on the B.B.C. to get down to this business of examining what is the machinery of the B.B.C. before news broadcasts go out, and, better still, to an examination over a period of the actual scripts.
§ Mr. Blackburn
I am a little embarrassed by that. I do not want to say anything which will lengthen the Debate, but it is not true to say that I 1659 made a general charge against the Overseas Service as a whole. I say it is a fact, and one on which evidence is now being submitted, that in certain sections of the Overseas Service there was a tendency to give overdue prominence to the views of the extremely Left Wing element in this country, and insufficient attention to supporting the Foreign Secretary, who is supported by all sections of opinion in this country.
§ Mr. Haire
In fact the person to go to for the information is obviously the Controller of the Overseas Service of the B.B.C. I know as a result of the Debate in this House he has been most concerned, and he has gone into this very carefully. We have had questions answered in the House which revealed, in fact, that the statement is not true. Most careful attention is paid to this in order to avoid any partiality to one side or the other. I must say that I take the view that this country, having a Labour Government—and the Overseas Service of the B.B.C. is intended to project Britain—the service should in fact give prominence to legislation of this House, to the development of our social services and, in fact, project a Labour Britain.
If hon. Members used the listener research machinery, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield referred, they would be surprised to discover how many people on the Continent of Europe still think that the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) is Prime Minister of this country, and how many of them think that we have a Coalition Government. That is because the B.B.C., in its desire to pursue this blessed objectivity, is inclined to play down the achievements of the Labour Government. For example, my hon. Friend, who is interested in that part of the European and Overseas Service programme which concerns itself with news reviews and excerpts from newspapers, would be surprised to find how often the "Manchester Guardian" is quoted. I say that with no disparagement of the "Manchester Guardian." Why is that? Because it is a good middle way newspaper. I feel that undue prominence has been given to this matter, and it is unfortunate, because it is upsetting to the staff of the European and Overseas Service.
I should like to feel that on this service we had a loyal team working, persons 1660 who knew clearly what their policy was, and who were anxious to work closely together. But it is my opinion that there-is a certain lack of team work; that there is a certain sense that some members are Right and others are Left, and that they cannot quite trust one another. That is a bad spirit in any organisation, and the more hon. Members and others try to find bias the more they tend to split this staff in two. I suggest that in this House we should always urge that in its European Service the B.B.C. shall be impartial, and try to get a sense of reality and team work infused into their task. When that is achieved we shall have stopped something about which I am beginning to get alarmed, and to which my hon. Friend referred this afternoon, namely, the disappearance, because of difficult and bad conditions in the B.B.C., of so many useful members.
At the end of the war the European Service had an extremely high standard; the prestige of the B.B.C. in Europe stood very high. Unfortunately, many of those members have disappeared, and that process continues. Could the Assistant Postmaster-General give us any figures of, for example, the number of journalists who have left the European Service in the last six months? I suggest the number is alarming. Why have they left? Because of the uncertainty of conditions; because of this sense of intrigue, if you like; because of what looks like administrative breakdown, and because of other reasons, such as the absence of a suitable representational trade union within the B.B.C. No staff can be happy which is continually being changed or given unsatisfactory and frequently changing conditions. The Minister ought to investigate these changes and conditions of the staff. If he did he would be surprised to find that the European Service is grossly under-staffed—and that at a time when we ought to be increasing it.
At the present time, with the international situation as it is, the Overseas Service ought to be strengthened in order to get the British point of view out to the world, and especially to Eastern Europe. The staff is now so inadequate that it cannot cope with any additional work in that direction. I draw the Minister's attention to the fact that in one department there are now only three sub-editors, where- 1661 as a year ago there were six. This situation is fairly general. In regard to broadcast time in the European Service, does he consider it right that at present——
§ It being Four o'Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed without Question put.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Joseph Henderson.]
§ Mr. Haire
For example, we give live hours a day to the French programmes, about nine hours a day to the German programmes, and only one and a quarter hours to broadcasting to Russia. I suggest that we ought greatly to increase our broadcasts to Eastern Europe, in order to put over the British point of view and counteract the restrictive influences in these countries working against us. I hope my hon. Friend will explain the "America Calling Europe" service referred to in the report, which I see is given four and a half hours a day. Will he say what arrangements have been made to put this programme over in liaison with the B.B.C., whether it is a dollar-earning arrangement, and what wavelength facilities are granted? Finally, I should like my hon. Friend particularly to look into this question concerning the N.U. J. Has full scope been given to them to represent their case in the B.B.C., or are they merely given a pleasant reception during negotiations with little done subsequently? I conclude by congratulating my hon. Friend for having raised this subject. I am pleased that we have had a little longer than the usual half hour in which to discuss it.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ The Assistant Postmaster-General (Mr. Hobson)
We have had a very interesting discussion on the B.B.C. report and accounts, and I am sure that the Board of Governors will pay attention to what has been said. It would be very easy for me to take refuge under what is, after all, a statement of fact, namely, that all the questions which have been raised today are not the responsibility of the Postmaster-General but of the B.B.C., in accordance with the terms of their Charter. I do not, however, propose to take that line. I wish at the outset to enunciate one or two of the fundamental 1662 principles upon which the B.B.C. is built up and controlled. As far as their day-to-day working is concerned, the B.B.C. must have complete independence. That was stated categorically in paragraph 16 of the White Paper, which was discussed in July, 1946, and that is the policy of the Government; it is the line of demarcation between the responsibilities of the Government and of the Corporation.
Looking back, we can say that this arrangement has been very successful. It has three advantages. First, it has ensured complete freedom of expression on the air in Britain. Secondly, it has removed any temptation on the part of the party in power to use the B.B.C. for its political ends, and, thirdly, it has given the people of Britain and the world confidence in our broadcasting system—there is no insidious propaganda such as can be attributed to other broadcasting systems, and no slavish adherence to a party line. Because of the success of the general policy of the B.B.C., my right hon. Friend has refrained from inquiring into their affairs, except in so far as it is necessary to fulfil his obligations. It is just as well to consider what are these obligations. There is the cost of the licence, hours of broadcasting, the erection of broadcasting stations, wavelengths, the right of the Corporation to organise concerts and to provide public entertainment, and the laying of their accounts before Parliament. I would remind the House that these are the accounts of the B.B.C., and not of my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General. That, broadly, is the general principle which we carry out in our relations with the B.B.C.
My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield (Mr. Ernest Davies) complained about the lateness of the presentation of the accounts to the Minister, and subsequently to Parliament. The reason for that is because of the change-over from war to peace, but I can assure him that the next accounts will be presented much quicker than heretofore. My hon. Friend also complained of the inadequacy of the accounts. The relative clause in the Royal Charter states that it is for the B.B.C. to prepare a report of its proceedings in the preceding year. That means that the accounts must be somewhat in the form of a catalogue. I do not think that that can possibly be avoided, although I must point out that there has been some im- 1663 provement over the previous year, for instance, in 1945–6 the size of the report and accounts ran to 38 pages; today, there are 47 pages. Therefore, they are more extensive than those which were published last year. Looking at the accounts we see that under the heading "Programmes" reference is made to artists, speakers, permanent orchestras, performing rights, news royalties, publicity and intelligence, salaries and wages. The items are enumerated fairly extensively, and I suggest that there is far more detail in the accounts than in those of an average company or those of a registered or approved society.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies
There are omnibus items about programmes but the programme account, which represents 54 per cent. of the expenditure, is not broken down as between the Home, Light, and Third Programmes and television.
§ Mr. Hobson
That may be so, but in comparing the accounts with company accounts, or those of a local authority or electricity authority, they bear a very favourable comparison as to detail. The form of the accounts was laid down by the Ullswater Committee, which gave special consideration to the publishing of the accounts in detail. Further suggestions were made last year by the Select Committee, and attention was drawn to their observations. But our difficulty is that my right hon. Friend is not in a position to interfere and give instructions as to how the accounts should be catalogued or itemised.
My hon. Friend referred to B.B.C. publications, the profit on which is very satisfactory. The net revenue for this year is £844,268. My hon. Friend said there was not a sufficient disclosure of actual costs. If the B.B.C. did that I suggest that they would be at a disadvantage compared with other publishing houses, which do not publish these costs, so we feel that there is no point in pursuing that matter. I think it can be said that the success of the B.B.C. in the field of publications is proved by the profits they are earning. Their business is being carried out with efficiency, and with due togard to economy. My right hon. Friend considers that the auditors' certificate appended to the accounts is sufficient guarantee of their validity, and 1664 that no items have been charged to the publications account that should not be properly included.
My hon. Friend referred to the number of listeners to programmes. I agree that the report contains little information, but it has the advantage that it prevents invidious comparisons from being made between individual speakers and artists. If these figures were published we should be accused of showing a bias in favour of one speaker against another. When ad hoc inquiries are made from Fleet Street and elsewhere there are times when the B.B.C. give the required information, but we do not feel in a position to give instructions to them to give details about the number of listeners. In any case, such figures might not be accurate. It would appear that the only way in which they could get them would be by sampling methods—for instance, going into the streets and asking people——
§ Mr. Hobson
I know, but I was not suggesting that this would be a very accurate method. We do not feel that we should interfere in any question of the publication of the number of people listening to all programmes.
§ Mr. Hobson
Yes, but we are talking about the B.B.C., which is supposed to be non-political. It is true that there are no television accounts.
§ Mr. Seholefield Allen (Crewe)
Surely it is agreed that the value of a programme is not to be judged by the number of people who listen to it.
§ Mr. Hobson
I know. I was giving one of the reasons why the figures should not be given for every programme.
So far as television is concerned, there is not a separate account. I think it is safe to say, however, that television is developing and that with the erection of the new station at Birmingham and a greater audience there will be published by the B.B.C. the cost of television development. In any case, there is, as announced by the Lord President, an inquiry to be set up before the new Charter 1665 is introduced when the present one expires in 1952, and that may well be one of the matters which can be referred to that committee of inquiry.
I now come to the most contentious part of the hon. Member's speech, with regard to the staff. Quite frankly, I agree with most of the animadversions which he has put forward. I think that it is just as well to look back to what the Ullswater Committee said with regard to staff. It discussed two forms of organisation and whether the established trade unions affiliated to the T.U.C. would be responsible for wage negotiations or whether an internal union should be constituted. It decided—and I agree that there were reservations—that it should be the method of the internal trade union. There were two before the war, one dealing with the general employees and the other with the engineering staff. At the outbreak of war these two were welded into one and now we have the B.B.C. Staff Association. The position I am informed is that, taking the manual workers employed by the B.B.C., the B.B.C. do implement the trade union awards which are made by the respective trade unions. The B.B.C. are governed by Clause 8 of the Charter, to which my hon. Friend drew attention, and the governing phrase in Clause 8 is:to seek consultation with any organisation appearing to the Corporation to be appropriate …The Corporation have decided that the organisation which is appropriate is the Staff Association.
I am hoping that as a result of the representations that have been made by the Trade Union Congress to the B.B.C.—and they have already met, I believe, on two occasions—an understanding will be arrived at with the trade unions generally. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, I do not see any difficulty in that direction. For instance, the London Transport Executive, the Ministry of Supply Ordnance Factories, and the Joint Industrial Councils for the electric supply industry have all found it possible to negotiate with their trade unions, and I do not see any reason why the B.B.C. should not be able to do so as well.
The position is, as my hon. Friend said, that no employee could be recognised unless he was a member of the 1666 B.B.C. Staff Association. I do not attempt to equivocate on that at all. I am confident that we can leave the position by expressing the hope that the Corporation will bring to bear on this problem the same progressive outlook which they have brought to bear on broadcasting generally which has made British broadcasting pre-eminent. I had better leave the matter there at the moment particularly having regard to the fact that negotiations are taking place, but nevertheless I feel constrained to express what I consider to be the general approach to any dealings to do with the Trade Union Movement. After all, we are not in 1935; we are in 1948.
My hon. Friend went on to deal with a rather different matter—the question of internal organisation. That, again—I am sorry at having to keep referring to the Charter—is a question for the Governors and in the Charter they are given certain directions. The Charter gives directions in relation to the chairman, vice-chairman and chief executive officer of the Corporation and authorises them to appoint such staff as they desire and fix their remuneration. If the B.B.C. is to remain independent it has to keep those powers. The method of organisation does change from time to time. There has been reorganisation recently, for instance, and I am hoping that the method of reorganisation which has been effective will meet some of the points of criticism which my hon. Friend has himself raised. In any case, so far as organisation is concerned, given adequate staff representation and staff consultation, it should be possible to make an approach to the heads of the various departments and to seek an improvement.
With regard to the point raised by the hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Blackburn) about the Third Programme, here again I agree that we are in a difficulty. At the present moment only half the population of Britain can listen to the Third Programme because there is a shortage of medium and long wave lengths. Droitwich operates at 514.6 metres with a range of 80 miles and we have installed 23 low power transmitters at 203.5 metres at Aberdeen, Hull, Edinburgh, Crewe, Bristol, Leeds and various other places. It may be that through the development of frequency modulation the problem will be solved. At 1667 the moment we are experimenting with the matter and an experimental station will be started.
The hon. Member referred to "Dick Barton" becoming tied up with Bach and Handel. I have the same liking for "Dick Barton" as the Lord President of the Council. Apparently this afternoon Dick Barton is in a hole he will be unable to get out of, probably for the first time. I am sure that those people who draw up the programmes will pay some attention to the points which have been raised.
I had some difficulty in following the arguments of the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Haire). His speech was largely a defence of the present B.B.C. set-up, and a description of the methods adopted in putting talks on the air. To that extent it was certainly very interesting. He went on to deal with foreign broadcasts, but, with all the goodwill in the world, I cannot be responsible for foreign broadcasts. That is a matter entirely for the Foreign Office and is not the responsibility of our Department. It is one of the advantages of a Debate on the Adjournment that these matters are brought, sometimes sharply and vividly, to the attention of the powers that be. To that extent his contribution was certainly valuable.
There are certainly many difficulties which the B.B.C. will have to face, and there are problems which will have to be faced by the Postmaster-General. I think that that is appreciated on both sides of the House and certainly by the Government. It has been stated by the Lord President that it is the intention of the Government that, before the expiration of the present Charter, there will be a full committee of inquiry into the work and the general state of the British Broadcasting Corporation. A lot of the problems which have been raised this afternoon could quite well be dealt with by that committee of inquiry. If the B.B.C. is to remain independent in its day-to-day management it is very difficult indeed for my right hon. Friend to intervene. In point of fact, the House does not desire him, to intervene. It was not suggested from any quarter, during the whole of the Debate on the White Paper in July, 1946, that there should be increased interference.
1668 As I say, so far as the general points that have been raised this afternoon are concerned, particularly the point about political bias, the attention of the B.B.C. will be drawn to them by the fact of their having been stated in the House of Commons. On the question of political bias, I find that we get complaints almost equally from both sides of the House, and that they cancel each other out. That is proof positive that the B.B.C. are dealing with this question of controversial broadcasts in a fair and impartial manner, and in that respect we should pay tribute to them. I know that there have been cases to which the attention of my right hon. Friend has been drawn, particularly to certain of the so-called variety programmes, and some of the jokes in them which some people have not thought to be in good taste. We have made inquiries on that matter. The B.B.C. are only too ready to help to see that impartiality is always maintained. I would like to pay them the tribute that so far as controversial broadcasting is concerned, they have done a good job in maintaining the British tradition of liberty and understanding.
§ 4.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Marples (Wallasey)
There is one point which was made by the hon. Member for Enfield (Mr. Ernest Davies) to which I should like to refer. He said that in the Tommy Handley programme there were certain political jokes of which he disapproved.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies
On the contrary, I paid a compliment and said that no one objected to good fun even if it was of an anti-Government character. I complimented Tommy Handley on doing what we expect to be done under British democracy. It was certain other programmes that I criticised.
§ Mr. Marples
The dictum that "news is sacred; comment is free" should apply to the B.B.C. as well as to anyone else. It is most undesirable that in this country any pressure should be brought to bear on the B.B.C. or on any newspaper to refrain from commenting upon politicians. This week for example, Tommy Handley referred to my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) I see no reason why that should be stopped. It is a good thing to encourage. I should also like to refer to a remark of the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Haire). He said 1669 he thought that overseas programmes should project Labour Britain. I do not know quite what he meant.
§ Mr. Marples
That is no reason why it should be Britain as seen through the eyes of the Socialist Party.
§ Mr. Marples
The hon. Member used the words "projecting Labour Britain. "That will appear in the OFFICIAL REPORT, and might go out as meaning that the 1670 Government should take charge and see that the news which goes out from the B.B.C. has a Labour flavour. I strongly object to any such suggestion, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for making that correction.
The Assistant Postmaster-General said he thought that the B.B.C. had done well to make a profit. Any monopoly can make a profit. No one has attacked monopolies more than hon. Gentlemen opposite. The B.B.C. have a complete monopoly with their publications and they use their broadcasting facilities to sell them by advertising their publications. They advertise the "Listener" quite frequently. It is no matter of credit to them that they should have made a profit.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Half-past Four o'Clock.