§ 3.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Bowles (Nuneaton)
On a point of order. Before the Assistant Postmaster-General starts his speech, may I say that it is well known to every hon. Member that there are certain hon. Members on the other side of the House who are directly connected with the future of sponsored or competitive television? They have openly admitted it, and I am not saying anything personal against them at all. They are connected with advertising firms or radio manufacturers. I ask your advice, Mr. Speaker, for their benefit and for the general information of the House, as to what is their position in the debate which we are about to have. If called upon to speak they will obviously declare their interests. On the other hand, some hon. Members may not be called; should we challenge the votes of those hon. Members immediately after they have been given? What are our rights in these matters?
§ Mr. Speaker
In answer to the question that has been put to me, an hon. Member of this House is not precluded from speaking on or voting for a Measure which would confer a benefit on him in company with the rest of Her Majesty's subjects, otherwise we should have no farmers speaking or voting on agricultural Measures, which would be a great loss to the House. It has frequently been ruled that to disqualify an hon. Member's vote, the benefit must be direct and personal and not one shared in common with the rest of Her Majesty's subjects who fall into the same category.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
Might not the difficulty be resolved by persuading the "Daily Worker" to publish another article?
§ Mr. Speaker
That question is out of order. That matter has been referred to the Committee of Privileges and until we hear from the Committee it should not be mentioned.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
On a point of order. Does not the argument used by the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) equally apply to those hon. Members who work for the B.B.C. on a paid salary?
§ Mr. Speaker
I have ruled on this matter and it is perfectly clear and perfectly well established. It is not a personal interest if it is shared with the rest of Her Majesty's subjects.
§ Mr. Herbert Morrison (Lewisham, South)
With regard to your Ruling, for which we are grateful, Mr. Speaker, may I put it to you that in this case it is known that certain hon. Members who have been advocating commercial television very actively have an individual and personal interest in advertising concerns which intend to participate in the new venture. I submit that that is not a general interest which is open to a man's fellow citizens. As for hon. Members who sometimes broadcast on the B.B.C., their interest would be the other way because their fees would be more likely to go up. So that does not arise. But I submit that in this case it is not a general interest but a particular interest which it would appear that hon. Members have in mind because they are seeking to do business out of television for their own personal profit.
§ Mr. Desmond Donnelly (Pembroke)
Further to that point of order. By their nature advertising agencies are paid to promote a particular thing and the argument here centres on the fact that advertising agencies are sales promotion organisationsand have not ordinary administrative functions in the ordinary course of business. The issuse is that several hon. Members have a financial interest in advertising agencies which are paid to promote this particular point of view.
§ Mr. Speaker
That may be so, but it is very unwise to discuss a point of order, as it were, in the abstract. [HON MEMBERS: "Oh."] Order. I have given a Ruling on the question raised by the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles). If any hon. Member uses his vote and that is challenged, the ordinary procedure of the House will apply and I shall deal with it on a concrete instance. We cannot carry it further as an abstract matter.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
I wonder whether you would be good enough to answer the point I made, Mr. Speaker? I understand and follow the point about an hon. Member voting on a matter which is of advantage or disadvantage to his fellows, but I submit that in this case it is extensively believed that there are hon. Members who stand to gain in a peculiar individual sense owing to their profession, and it is believed that that is one of the reasons they are advocating this policy. I ask you, first, whether this is a case, not of general public interest but of an individual and personal interest, in which they ought to declare that individual personal interest; and secondly, whether it would be proper that they should be challenged?
§ Sir Robert Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)
Further to that point of order. About February last you gave a very important and interesting Ruling, Mr. Speaker, with regard to declarations of interest. You said you had been into the precedents and found that the rule of the House did not apply either to Questions or to speeches, but did definitely apply to votes, which could be overthrown if it were proved that an hon. Member had voted—not spoken but voted—on a matter in which he had a personal interest. It does seem to me that this question raises a matter which ought to be cleared up.
§ Mr. Speaker
I think the position is perfectly plain as I have stated it. If the vote of an hon. Member is challenged in connection with this matter, we shall have to look at the circumstances of that case. What I said in the previous Ruling, of which the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Sir R. Boothby) has reminded me, was that the vote is the thing to which the rule of order strictly applies. It is the custom in this House very often, as a matter of precaution, if the hon. Member has an interest in a matter, that he should declare it lest it be assumed that he is speaking from his personal rather than from the national interest. There are many hon. Members on both sides of the House who would benefit from this or that sort of legislation, but whose speeches in favour of such legislation are speeches not to be construed entirely as a matter of personal gain but on the ground that they believe the matter 43 they are advocating is in the public interest. We had better proceed and see how we get on.
§ Mr. Bowles
As it is very likely that my hon. Friends on this side of the House will challenge these votes may I put a point to you, Mr. Speaker? It should be remembered that the voting procedure in the House is different from the procedure in a Standing Committee, where everyone knows which way an hon. Member votes because he declares the vote orally. I am not quite sure what would be the procedure, but we do not know which way an hon. Member has voted until the day after the vote is given. When have we the right to challenge votes, if we so desire?
§ Mr. Speaker
The matter of disallowing the vote of an hon. Member can be raised as soon as the facts are before the House. It has to be examined, of course. Neither the House nor Mr. Speaker would disallow a vote until it had been examined. I hope that this matter is sufficiently clear for us now to proceed with the debate. A very large number of hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to speak, and if we waste time on points of order, we shall never get on to the subject of debate.
§ Mr. Anthony Marlowe (Hove)
In view of the fact that the Co-operative Society has applied for one licence, would any hon. Member who is a member of the Co-operative Society have to declare his interest when speaking in the debate?
§ Mr. Speaker
That question is an indication of the difficulties the House gets into if we leave the old-established and well-understood rule.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
May I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that it is patently silly to raise that kind of point. If what the hon. and learned Member for Hove (Mr. Marlowe) says be the case—I do not know whether it is the case or not—as my hon. Friends associated with the Co-operative movement intend to vote against the Government on the matter, how can they be guilty of voting for their own interests?
§ Mr. Walter Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)
Further to that point of order. If hon. Members concerned with the entertainment industry in other branches 44 vote against this proposal and thereby improve their financial position, will it be possible for other hon. Members to challenge their votes?
§ Mr. Speaker
I think the House is endeavouring to discuss the Motion, which has not yet been moved, and endeavouring to do so under the guise of points of order. The matter is perfectly simple and plain. It is governed by well-established precedent in this House. In my view, there is really no further justification for the House to waste time upon it and we ought to proceed with the Motion.
§ Mr. George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
The hon. and learned Member for Hove (Mr. Marlowe) spoke of the Co-operative Society. I think he must mean the Co-operative Wholesale Society. He said it had applied for a licence to run a television station. That information, as far as we are concerned, is only known to the directors of the Co-operative Wholesale Society, to the hon. Gentleman representing the Post Office, and myself. Can the hon. and learned Member say how this information happened to get into his possession?
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. G. Darling) must find that out from the hon. and learned Member for Hove (Mr. Marlowe) in time which is not the time of the House.
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ The Assistant Postmaster-General (Mr. David Gammans)
I beg to move,That this House approves the general policy of Her Majesty's Government on Television Development (Command Paper No. 9005).It is about 18 months since the Government introduced their first White Paper and announced their intention of ending the B.B.C. monopoly in television. This question has aroused a great deal of controversy and the Government have, therefore, been in the fortunate position of having at their disposal a wide divergence of views upon which their detailed plans could be based, although at the heart of this controversy, we on this side of the House believe there is a fundamental principle which, in our opinion, is of very great importance. I do suggest that the House ought to try to treat television generally in its right perspective, whether we are talking about television from the B.B.C. or television from any other source.
45 The great questions that matter today are those of peace and war, of national security, the balance of trade, full employment and housing. [An Hon. Member: "Why bring this Motion forward?"] We shall not earn our daily bread, nor save ourselves from being bombed, by looking at a television set. That equally applies to whether the television screen shows a programme from the B.B.C., or from anyone else. Television, to the majority of our people, will always be primarily a means of entertainment. I hope that, even in the Welfare State, we believe that the bread must come before the circuses.
During this long controversy, fortunately, there have been one or two passages of humour. It has always amused me to see letters in the Press from very distinguished people which begin by admitting that they have not got a television set and do not propose to have one, but nevertheless feel constrained to tell their fellow citizens what they should be allowed to look at. The hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew), who is much respected and personally liked on both sides of the House, has also been entertaining us. I am sure that all of us who have seen him on the television screen will agree that he is a great artiste—a most talented artiste. Indeed, I am not sure whether we should not regard him as the House of Commons star. But now he has decided to go into comedy as well. I see in the Press that he was recently at a debate of the Oxford Union accompanied by a baboon—
§ Mr. Gammans
—a female baboon by the name of Milly or Minnie, I am not sure which, but which, for some curious reason, the hon. Member insisted on referring to as "Mr. Beauchamp." He seems to have been very successful. He won his debate with a comfortable majority, and it is quite certain that the joint act was irresistible. I trust that we may see the hon. Gentleman and his friend not only on B.B.C. programmes, but on commercial programmes as well.
Luckily, in the intervening period, some misconceptions have disappeared. At the beginning, many people seemed to think that the B.B.C. was going to be 46 abolished, or at any rate curtailed. [HON MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] It is no good hon. Members opposite saying "Rubbish," because the Leader of the Opposition said at Bedlington on 13th June:It looks at present as if the Government are going to hand over television to private enterprise.That can only mean one thing, that the right hon. Gentleman intended it to be believed that we propose to hand over the B.B.C. to private enterprise.
§ Mr. Gammans
I have been in this House too many years to believe that the right hon. Gentleman meant to deceive, but all I can say is that I am quite sure he did not understand the position. At any rate, I am sure that he does not fear that any longer, for, as the House knows, owing to the improved financial position of the country, we have been able to allow the B.B.C. to build another seven stations, with the result that today this country has the greatest television coverage of any country in the world.
I think, too, that there are no longer any fears that because we propose to introduce a system of television financed by advertisements, we must inevitably follow the American pattern. I have never been impressed by that argument at any stage, because I cannot imagine that, even if there were no regulations, any industrial concern that really wanted to sell its goods would interrupt programmes by constant advertisements or allow its products to be associated with programmes which offended public taste.
§ Mr. M. Turner-Samuels (Gloucester)
Is that not precisely what has happened to films in this country?
§ Mr. Gammans
I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman might have let me finish my argument before putting his question. Is he suggesting that we should start to censor films, because that is the only outcome of his suggestion?
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
The hon.Gentleman is being quite unfair to me. He was arguing that it does not follow that the pattern of television in this country would follow the same lines as in America. I am submitting to him an example, which I think is a very cogent 47 one, of what happens to films in this country as a result of examples from America.
§ Mr. Gammans
I am sorry if I misunderstood the hon. and learned Gentleman, but if he will allow me to finish what I am saying on the point, he will see that I have dealt with what he has in mind. I should have thought that if there was anything which was self-regulating, it was that.
Incidentally, I often wonder how many people who criticise American television have ever seen it, or have the slightest idea of the vast variety of good programmes which, in fact, it produces. Whatever may be said against American television and the effect that it is supposed to have, or, rather, the effect which the 12-hour programme is supposed to have on production, we might sometimes remember that American prosperity is the highest in the world and that it has produced an overspill which has helped us and a great part of the free world to live.
§ Mr. Gammans
I think that some of those who deplore so vociferously the moral effects of American television would feel much happier if our churches were as well filled as are the churches in the United States. I only mention these arguments because they have been put forward.
With all its shortcomings, American television has produced an enormous vitality and a range of programmes far beyond anything to which we in this country have ever aspired. I say quite seriously, because it concerns all of us, that unless we in this country can produce a virile and vital television industry, it will be American and not British programmes which will capture the world's markets.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker (Smethwick)
Can the hon. Gentleman say what percentage of the American population is altogether out of reach of a television programme?
§ Mr. Gammans
My point is that unless we can produce a virile television industry in this country, it will be American and not British programmes which will capture the world's markets, even in the Commonwealth countries like Canada, which do not want to be entirely dependant on American programmes.
Another misconception, which I hope has been cleared up in the past 18 months, is that the Government were pressed into this scheme against their will by a small number of professional advertisers who, somehow or other, managed to overrule the wishes of the vast majority of their colleagues. It was always a very fanciful picture, but it has been blown sky-high by the advertising bodies themselves who have stated their opposition to sponsoring in the American sense, and who have told us that it is contrary to the rules for any advertising agency to have a financial interest in any medium of advertising, whether it be newspapers, hoardings or television.
There are two reasons why the Government decided to end the B.B.C. monopoly, and both of them are questions of principle. The first is that we do not believe that this service should remain in the hands of a monopoly, however good that monopoly may be. The second is that we believe that competition is a good thing for the consumer in practically every walk of life.
The task which has faced the Government has been to put these two principles into practice while, at the same time, taking into account the fears on the part of many people—and we respect them—that abuses might creep in. As I hope to show in a moment, we have never regarded these fears as being well founded, unless, of course, we start off on the assumption that the British people are not to be trusted. We have gone a very long way to respect this viewpoint and towards meeting it, and we feel that at this stage of television development we should proceed cautiously and empirically, without binding ourselves regarding subsequent developments.
One thing is quite certain, that there has been a very great change in public opinion since this matter was first mooted. If we can take the debate in another place as any indication, many people who 49 disliked the idea altogether 18 months ago have now shifted their ground. They are prepared to agree with us that a monopoly is undesirable. They are prepared to admit that there is nothing intrinsically wrong or dangerous in a programme being financed by advertisements. The only thing which disturbs them—and I refer to those particular people and not perhaps hon. Gentlemen opposite—is that the new programme should be entirely financed in this way, and not, as in the case of the Press, to a large extent only.
§ Mr. Edward Shackleton (Preston, South)
The Minister has made a specific statement. He said that many people, with reference in particular to a debate in another place, had changed their opinion. What is his evidence for saying that?
§ Mr. Gammans
By listening to the debate. I suggest the hon. Gentleman should contrast the speeches made by noble Lords in the last debate with those made in the previous debate. [HON MEMBERS: "Which one?"] I can assure the House that in these 18months we have given very careful consideration to every conceivable variety of scheme. Some people have suggested—and for all I know this may be the attitude of hon. Members opposite—that the second programme should be provided by the B.B.C. itself straight away. This would mean a licence fee of at least £5 a year, and there is the insuperable objection that it would not end the B.B.C. monopoly.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
I should like to know from where the hon. Gentleman obtains that figure. Does it mean that were the B.B.C. to carry out its desire to develop an alternative programme, this figure would arise? I am bound to say it surprises me?
§ Mr. Gammans
It may surprise the right hon. Gentleman, but nevertheless it is true and I take full responsibility for giving it. [HON MEMBERS: "Why?"] The Post Office is responsible for the direct supervision of the finances of the B.B.C. [HON MEMBERS: "As a monopoly."] I take full responsibility for that figure.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards (Caerphilly)
Is it not the case that in the published plan the new Director General has said that it will cost £3?
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
The hon. Gentleman ought not to be allowed to get away with that. We know that the argument of the B.B.C. was that it should have permission to cater for great centres of population immediately, and with a full national second coverage in 10 years.
§ Mr. Gammans
The B.B.C. programme includes the figure of £3, with the envisaged programme of development lasting 10 years. I say that if the second programme is provided now by the B.B.C. it will entail a licence fee of £5. There is also the insuperable objection that, far from ending the B.B.C. monopoly, it will extend it. It may well be that the B.B.C. may have a second programme, but that is not what we are discussing at this moment.
It has also been suggested that the second corporation should be financed by licence fees in the same way as the B.B.C. There are two objections to this. The first is that viewers would have to pay this increased licence fee although some of them might not want it, and some people—50 per cent. of the population at least in the first instance—could not get it. The second objection is that it would mean a very big increase in the fee, possibly up to £6 or £7 a year.
There is a certain amount of evasion of the payment of licence fees now, though it is not now a serious problem. We can keep it under control with the minimum of friction and unpleasantness by our present system of inquiry and detection vans. So long as the fee is moderate people who try to evade it are regarded as anti-social, and in any case it is not worth running the risk of prosecution to evade the payment of a comparatively small sum. But were the licence fee doubled, or even trebled, I should expect evasion on a much more extensive scale and the right hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) is as much aware of that as I am.
I should probably have to come to the House and ask for increased powers for detecting evasion. It might result in the employment of thousands of enforcement officers, who would incur the usual odium. [HON MEMBERS: "Oh."] I do 51 not need to remind the House of the sort of thing which accompanied the rationing of various commodities. I am glad to say that those things are no longer necessary because this Government have been so successful in abolishing most of the rationing system which made enforcement necessary—
§ Mr. Gammans
Another possible scheme is that the new corporation and the B.B.C. should share the licence fee between them, but that both in addition should be allowed to take advertisements. The Government have rejected this idea because they feel that it would alter the whole basis of their policy, which is to leave the B.B.C. alone to do the job with its licence revenue. Moreover, the B.B.C. does not want it. It would change the whole conception of the Corporation were it associated with advertising revenue even to a minor degree.
The last type of scheme is one which I know is favoured by some of my hon. Friends, namely, that we should have full-blooded private enterprise, entirely dependent upon advertisements and without any public corporation to supervise the programmes. In other words, the view is taken that we should rely upon the good sense and maturity of the British people. My hon. Friends who hold that view have a valuable precedent for it. When the Labour Government were in power, with the agreement of the then Secretary of State for the Colonies, commercial broadcasting with sponsored programmes was introduced in Jamaica, and state broadcasting was abolished. This is the system, with an element of commercial broadcasting, which exists in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
There are two reasons why the Government have not accepted this idea. First, there is the technical reason that there are only two channels available at the present time and we could not have free and unrestricted enterprise with such limitations. The other reason is the one given in the White Paper, that the Government believe that at this stage of television development it is the general wish of the public that we should proceed with caution. As is stated in the White Paper 52 in paragraph 7, this does not prejudice other developments later on when bands IV and V become available. For example, it does not prejudice subscription television, to which reference has been made recently in the Press.
Before I come to the details of the scheme itself, I wish to say a word about the Government's policy with regard to the clearance of band III. In this band there are eight channels and only two of them are immediately available. As the White Paper says, they will be allotted to the new public corporation. The rest of this space is being used by taxi-cabs, ambulances and public utilities, and also for aeronautical aids. The Television Advisory Committee has recommended that this band should be cleared for television as soon as possible and my noble Friend has accepted the recommendation. I should make it clear that it would be necessary to do this whether the second programme were run by the B.B.C. or by anyone else.
I warn the House that the complete clearance of band III will take some time, and that the rate at which it is cleared must depend upon the general development of television in this country and the demand for services in this band. I ought also to make it clear that all licence-holders in this band were warned, when their licences were issued, that it might be necessary to change their frequencies. We shall not ask them to make these changes at short notice. I can give the assurance that they will be given plenty of time.
As I told the House last Wednesday, the radio industry has now at its disposal the necessary information for designing and producing adapters and also the new sets which will be required to receive the new programmed.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
The hon. Gentleman said that manufacturers now have the information on which they can construct the adapters. Does that mean that 53 either the second or the third channel has been allocated to London, Manchester or Birmingham? What is the technical basis of the information on which manufacturers will make the adapters?
§ Mr. Gammans
Perhaps I should have gone into more detail. What I mean is that the manufacturers know the limits within which the new programmes will come; but no information has been given yet about which station will use which frequency.
I come to the details of the scheme itself as set out in the White Paper. We start with the public corporation. Its governors, like the B.B.C. governors, will be appointed by the Government. The basic principle is that this corporation will be responsible for all that goes out over the air, and they will have the power required to exercise that control. For 30 years we have trusted the B.B.C. with those powers. I cannot see why we should have any doubt that a similar corporation to the B.B.C., set up in the same way with governors appointed in the same way, should fail in their trust. I should have thought that if ever a scheme were watertight, this was.
But the public corporation will not produce its own programmes. People sometimes forget that the B.B.C. does not produce all its own programmes. Much of what we see today on the B.B.C. screen is recorded by them, but not produced by them. The B.B.C. does not produce football matches or sporting events, and it did not produce the Coronation. We often see excerpts from music halls. West End theatres and ice shows, but these too are not produced by the B.B.C. Therefore, there is nothing new in the principle. It is a question of degree, not of principle.
How is the public corporation to be financed? Its capital is to be provided initially by a Government loan. The amount of this loan, the rate of interest and the terms of repayment must be discussed between the public corporation, when it is set up, the Treasury and the Postmaster-General. It will be necessary to set up the corporation under an Act of Parliament, and it is proposed to present a Bill to the House in due course. There is no question whatever, al any rate at the beginning, of the corporation providing more than a 50 per cent. coverage. The sites of the stations have not 54 yet been finally settled, but London will certainly be one of them, and Birmingham and Lancashire may well be the other two. The reason for this is that not only are these very concentrated centres of population, but the main co-axial cable and radio routes run north wards from London through these places and therefore linking-up facilities can be provided at the minimum of capital cost.
I want to make it clear that this initial limitation does not mean that other parts of the United Kingdom will be excluded. The corporation will have the power, with the permission of the Government, to build new stations, and it will be able to use its surplus revenue for that purpose to diminish the need for future borrowing.
Some people seem to think that it is rather odd that a public corporation of this sort should be set up out of State money, and that it should then lease its transmitters to public companies which might make money out of them. There is nothing new in this principle. It is the exact analogy of a trading estate, where the Government put up the factory itself, with the roads and all the other services, and then lease it to a private enterprise company which runs all the ordinary risks of trading, either making money or going bankrupt. That is the exact analogy. In any case, the amount of money provided by the taxpayer is very small, and will be largely used to create physical assets.
The exact basis of finance between the corporation and the programme companies has—
§ Mr. William Warbey (Broxtowe)
Does the hon. Gentleman intend to give any information about the probable cost to the taxpayer? Will he go further into detail about the estimate of the loan required to start the initial scheme for these three stations?
§ Mr. Gammans
That information will come in the Financial Resolution accompanying the Bill, but I can give some indication now. The amount of money we envisage at present is well short of £1 million.
§ Mr. Gammans
Well short of £1 million. It will certainly be less than 55 that. I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite will not get puritanical about the spending of public money. I might remind them about one scheme concerning groundnuts.
§ Sir Leslie Plummer (Deptford)
Would the hon. Gentleman also remind the House of the £21 million lost on the sale of barley by the Ministry of Food this year?
§ Mr. Gammans
The exact basis of the financial relationship between the corporation and the programme companies will have to be decided when the corporation is set up; but it is probable that it will not only be an economic rent for the use of the transmitters but also some arrangement whereby the corporation, possibly after an initial period, will share in the profits which the programme companies are making.
There is one requirement to which even at this early stage we attach great importance, and which may well be provided for in the appropriate legislation. It is to ensure that what is put on the air is predominantly British in character. There is, of course, a danger that filmed programmes of foreign origin, which have already earned their cost in their home market, may be put on this market at cut prices. There is that danger. We must be careful how far we go. It would certainly be contrary to all our traditions to forbid foreign programmes altogether. Any hon. Member who saw the B.B.C. television programme last night would realise that it was overwhelmingly of American origin. We are determined to take care to preserve the British character of the programmes and to protect the interest of our artistes and producers.
In the case of live programmes, there is already adequate machinery for regulating the employment of foreign performers who have entered this country. I hope that the assurances which I have given will do much to meet any of the misgivings which have been expressed by various bodies interested in the entertainments industry in this country.
I want now to speak of the general relationship between the public corporation and the programme companies. We do not yet know how many companies 56 will come forward. No decision has been reached whether we should aim at one company per transmitter or more than one. It will, however, be the responsibility of the corporation to satisfy itself that the programme companies are capable of producing an agreed number of programmes per day and have the necessary finances behind them.
I should make it quite clear that a quite considerable amount of money will be required before the programme companies can start operations. [HON MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] They will normally be expected to provide their own studios, cameras and equipment, although the corporation may wish to provide, build or lease some small studio facilities of its own. It may be some time before the advertisement revenue which it attracts will equal its expenses. Certainly, in the scheme which the Government have put forward, the over-welming percentage of the risk being taken is not by the public corporation but by the programme companies.
The White Paper sets out in general terms the powers which the corporation will have over the programme companies. For example, a code of advertisement is to be drawn up and, incidentally, it has to be agreed with the Postmaster-General.
§ Mr. Gammans
I can be questioned on it certainly.
We do not propose to allow interruptions of programme with advertising material. In fact, the general rule will be that there are no interruptions at all unless they are in what are called "natural breaks." [Laughter] There is no need for hon. Members opposite to get excited about it. For example a "natural break" is an interval in a play. [HON MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am afraid I have not made this clear to hon. Members on the other side. What I have said is that the code which the corporation will lay down has to be approved by the Postmaster-General, and in so far as it has to be, it is subject to Questions in the House; the public corporation will have power to give general directives to programme companies with regard to the 57 standard of programmes; and it will certainly have very strong powers for dealing with programme companies in the unlikely event of their committing breaches of this agreement.
It is too early to say whether the corporation may need an official in the shape of a programme director to give a proper balance to the programmes. The best assurance I can give that the programmes are not likely to be debased is that it will be the programme companies which will have the large capital at stake and which would be literally ruined if they were put off the air. So much for the scheme.
I must admit that there are several types of critic who cannot be satisfied by anything I may say to them. First, there are the monopolists, those who believe as part of their political philosophy that all State monopolies are good. That is probably the view of most hon. Members opposite. It is, after all, the whole basis of nationalisation that competition should be destroyed and more and more of one's daily life should be entrusted to the gentlemen in Whitehall.
I shall not succeed either in convincing the ultra-conservatives, the conservatives with a small "c." They are people who dislike any change, even though circumstances have changed. They believe—and I think there are some of them on the other side of the House also—that because there has always been a B.B.C. monopoly, there should always be one—"What is good enough for my dad is good enough for me." Then there are critics who are more B.B.C. than the B.B.C. itself. We must remember that the B.B.C. exists for the public and not the public for the B.B.C. As has been stressed so many times, the B.B.C. will remain the main instrument for broadcasting, and in so far as more people buy television sets because they have the chance of getting an alternative programme, it is the B.B.C. which will benefit from the additional revenue which it gets from the licences.
I trust we shall not hear today any argument that competition will mean that the B.B.C. must pay more to its technicians and artistes. If the B.B.C. does have to pay more—and possibly it will—it would be a deplorable doctrine, and certainly not one that we should favour on this side of the House, that it is right to use the power of a State 58 monopoly to hold down wage rates. [Laughter.]
§ Mr. Gammans
There are two other types of critic whom I cannot hope to satisfy. First, there are those who live in a world of slogans. [Interruption.] I know there are some hon. Members opposite who automatically attach some adjective to some particular noun.
§ Mr. Gammans
The hon. Member should declare his interest in advertising.
There are the sort of slogans that landlords are always "grasping," capitalists are always "greedy" and interests are always "vested." I hope we shall raise the level of this debate a little higher than some of the slogans we heard last time about handing over television to commercial interests—"the hidden power of big money." "the sinister influence of advertising." That sort of stuff brings a serious debate down to the level of Hyde Park.
Lastly, I cannot hope to satisfy anybody who starts off with no trust in his fellow countrymen. If hon. Members opposite believe in the theory that it is right and moral for a Government monopoly to decide what the rest of the community shall be allowed to see, obviously they will dislike this scheme from the beginning.
There are two types of criticism which do not fall into this category. There are people who argue that the B.B.C. monopoly should be ended, who realise the difficulty of having a second corporation financed out of licence revenue, and who do not mind advertising but nevertheless have certain misgivings at the back of their minds. The first is that they do not like a public corporation being 100 per cent. dependent upon advertisement revenue. They feel that the corporation should have income of its own apart from advertising, even if it were only a comparatively small percentage of the total. They believe that if the corporation has this independent income it would give it greater independence. It would enable the corporation to commission programmes which, perhaps, might not have a popular appeal; it would enable it to 59 commission programmes which, for varying reasons, we would not want to be associated with advertising at all.
I want to make it clear that the Government, far from quarrelling with this point of view, agree that there is a great deal to be said for it. The difficulty is to know where this extra income is to come from. Some people are arguing that a second corporation should be given a percentage of the licence revenue, and it is said that 2s. 6d. from each licence would, by the middle of1955, produce about £500,000 a year, but it has one serious disadvantage. It is that people will be paying this 2s. 6d. who could not get a second programme, or who, perhaps for varying reasons, would not want to buy the adapter to receive it.
§ Mr. Chapman
Would it not be the case that the people who were paying advertisement costs in the price of a product and did not have a television set would also be paying for the second station?
§ Mr. Chapman
That is not the point. Advertisement costs are paid by everyone, but not everyone has a television set.
§ Mr. Gammans
If the hon. Gentleman is going to raise licence fees and the cost of advertising—[HON MEMBERS: "Why not?"]—that possibly may be argued in this debate, but one thing that I have noticed is that motor manufacturers have been doing twice as much advertising as they did a year ago, and have recently reduced their prices.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
There are many parts of the country, including my own constituency, where it is impossible to receive all the programmes of the B.B.C. We cannot get the Third Programme at all. In such circumstances, should we be compensated by way of the licence fee?
§ Mr. Gammans
That is an entirely different question. I want to put forward this point of view with regard to taking a percentage of the licence revenue to provide the second corporation with an independent source of income. It is an idea with which we have much sympathy, 60 and, if we could find a way round it, we should adopt it.
One suggestion that has been made is that a percentage of the B.B.C. revenue should be taken for that purpose, and I have given the reasons why we do not think this method should be used, but we are, however, prepared to consider very favourably this idea or any other suggestion which may be put forward in this debate. I want to go further and say that, in preparing legislation, the Government are prepared to consider most carefully and sympathetically any schemes or any ideas put forward by anyone who is prepared to accept the principle of ending the B.B.C. monopoly, and who will face up to the practical difficulties of doing so. [An Hon. Member: "They have already had the opportunity."]
There is another matter on which the Government would welcome the views of the House in this debate before coming to a final decision, and that concerns religion and politics. I do not need to dilate on that matter, to which reference is made in paragraph 10 of the White Paper, but, on the whole, the Government feel that, with the safeguards suggested in the White Paper, the balance of public advantage would be to allow these subjects in the programmes. If we do not do so, there is the difficulty of defining what is meant by politics, and, certainly, we do not want to condemn this new corporation only to entertainment. Perhaps I ought to make it clear that we have never envisaged that political parties or religious bodies should be allowed to advertise, or that any advertisements should be associated with religious programmes.
The other misgiving which people have is that any programme financed by advertisements must inevitably lead to a lowering of standards. Here is a case where we ought to look carefully at the words we use. What does a lowering of standards mean? It cannot mean that we shall have programmes full of sex and violence, or programmes which are unsuitable for children. In the debate of 11th June last year, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South—and also in an article of his which I read some time ago—gave himself the shudders, and tried to give us the shudders, by suggesting that these programmes 61 would inevitably be full of sex and violence and be unsuitable for children. That cannot happen in a public corporation. Possibly, it could happen without one, and, therefore, I suggest that that is one aspect of the matter on which we need not spend too much time today.
If we do not mean that, what do we mean by a general lowering of standards? I think it sometimes means that in people's minds, perhaps unconsciously, the new stations will be putting on programmes which are more popular than those of the B.B.C. and which will be looked at in preference to those of the B.B.C. In other words, it may mean that, when the B.B.C. is putting on "Ballet for Beginners," which may have a very limited appeal, or "Science Review," which I happen to like very much, the new corporation will be putting on a cabaret or a play with a much more popular appeal. Is anyone going to say that there is anything wrong about this—that people may prefer to look at the new programme instead of the other one—because, if so, they must then believe that people should be compelled to look at what they do not want to see, and they should demand that the B.B.C. should do away with the Light Programme and stick to the Home Service.
I do not know whether the Opposition want to be helpful in this debate or not, but I assume that they do, and, therefore, it would be a very great help to us if they would define their attitude and say what they really want, especially as there seems to be the usual divergence of opinion that we now find in the party opposite on every issue. First of all, we have "The Tribune" section of the Labour Party. What do they want? They are anti-B.B.C. monopoly; they want two corporations financed by licence revenue and they want to separate television from sound. That is their point of view. Is that the view of the Front Bench opposite? Will the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South say that he subscribes to that view?
Then, we have the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford, Central (Mr. Webb), who wrote in "Reynolds' News" last month—and this is a most interesting point:With long experience of broadcasting, I must record my conviction that something has to be done about the complete monopoly of 62 the B.B.C. If the hierarchy just do not happen to like you or your ideas, then you are as dead as mutton in this country as far as broadcasting and television are concerned.I am thinking of the countless young people, artists, technicians, writers, and the rest, who, finding the door barred often for the most trivial reasons, have no other place to turn to. I say this is bad, and I do not think the Government's plan is a satisfactory solution. It is a spineless compromise.I do not know if the right hon. Gentleman is a whole-hogger and does not want the corporation, but he goes on:I think the Labour Party will make a profound mistake if it just goes on supporting a hidebound monopoly, which, brilliant as its work has been and complete as is its integrity, is stifling much of the flow of new ideas.How many hon. Gentlemen opposite support that point of view?
Then, we have Mr. Hardman, who was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education in the late Government, who said:I believe myself in freedom for the twin arts of instruction and entertainment, and I think that some of my friends who are opposing it are being too emotional and hasty in their judgments.In view of these conflicting viewpoints, perhaps I should ask the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South whether he could help us by giving us replies to three questions. The first is this. Are the Opposition opposing this because they believe in monopolies, because, quite recently, they did. After all, this party of monopolists fastened several monopolies on this country in the last eight years. Secondly, if they want two corporations financed by licence revenue, are they prepared to stand for a licence fee of £6 or more, with all the difficulties of collecting it? We ought to know.
§ Mr. Chapman
On this question of the licence fee of £6, the second television station, we are told, might cost £5 million per year. There are 2¾ million licences now, so that the most extra they would have to find to finance a new corporation would be £2 per licence. That only brings it up to £4, and that would be reduced by the fact that overhead economies of the B.B.C. will bring the total cost below £5 million. Where does the hon. Gentleman get his figure of £6 from?
§ Mr. Gammans
I cannot agree with that figure at all. If the hon. Gentleman was in this House last Wednesday he may remember that I was asked a Question on 63 this subject, when I had to point out that B.B.C. television now is running at an enormous deficit, and that the B.B.C. are drawing heavily upon their sound radio licence fund for it. If they had to depend entirely upon revenue raised solely for television they would need now a licence fee of £3 5s. or so. It is fair to assume that a new corporation, setting out afresh and having to put up all its buildings at post-war costs, etc. would need far more.
§ Mr. Chapman
I am only using the figure given by the B.B.C. of what it would cost them to run a second station, which was about £5 million. If the B.B.C. were helped by the radio fees, the cost must be much less than that.
§ Mr. Gammans
It may be that the hon. Gentleman is right. All we can take now is the analogy of a public corporation starting now with no other revenue, and I think that the figure of £6 or even £7 is not in the least excessive. Are the Opposition prepared to stand for that figure? Are they going to tell the people of the country that this is a feasible proposition? Hon. Gentlemen must realise that they cannot raise the television licence fee to £6 or £7.
§ Mr. Gammans
My next question is a political one. The Leader of the Opposition, speaking on 13th June, 1953, at Bedlington, said:The Labour Party, when it gets back to power, will have to alter this.We assume that that pledge still stands. If it does not, perhaps we may be told so. If it does stand, it must add a certain amount of piquancy to the next General Election. We shall have Labour candidates' posters all over the place saying: "Vote Labour and lose your second programme." The truth is that the Labour Party knows that this prospect of an alternative and independent programme is a popular one throughout the country, and that the majority of regular viewers are looking forward to the day when they will get it. [An Hon. Member: "How do you know?"]
§ Mr. H. Morrison
Before the Minister sits down, may I remind him that he said that he would give an indication of the cost to the B.B.C. or to the community if a second B.B.C. corporation were 64 created? I do not agree with his figures. Would he tell us the aggregate cost of floating a separate television corporation now?
§ Mr. Gammans
No. I cannot do so. This matter does not concern public money at all, and I cannot give estimates at this stage. Let me come back to the viewpoint of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. Is the Labour Party going to do away with this second corporation? [An Hon. Member: "We have not got it yet."] If so, we do not mind fighting the next Election on that issue. The truth is that hon. Gentlemen opposite know that this is a popular idea and that people are looking forward to getting it, as the latest Gallup Poll figures, published last month, and the figures in today's "Daily Express" show.
§ Mr. Shackleton
The hon. Gentleman has said that he would not mind fighting the next Election on this issue. Why did he not fight the last Election on it?
§ Mr. Gammans
The hon. and learned Gentleman should be the last one on earth to contend that everything referred to in a General Election must necessarily go into legislation.
§ Mr. Gammans
I have given way quite enough, I think. It is in some ways astounding that we should be having a debate at all on this issue of television freedom. When we look at those who oppose our suggestion, whether in this House or outside, what does their opposition amount to? It comes down, in my opinion, to a question of trust. The critics do not trust British industry not to debauch their fellow human beings, and do not trust their fellow human beings with the freedom of a television knob. Most of us in this House who are about my age have seen a lot of changes in our lives, some good and some bad. One of the worst of the changes is the way in which Governments all over the world are arrogating to themselves the right to 65 decide what their fellow subjects shall read, see, believe and even think. There is far less true Democracy in the world today than in the year when I was born, although we are supposed to have fought two world wars to defend it.
The only reason why my hon. Friends on this side of the House feel strongly on this subject is that they do not want to see this country going the same way. Is any hon. Member in this House prepared to put this issue fairly and squarely to his constituents? Is he prepared to say, "You have for centuries had the right to sit on a jury and judge your fellow subjects, you have a completely free Press, your cinema and your stage are not Government-controlled or censored and you have the ballot box by which you can decide your fate and that of millions of your fellow citizens overseas; but you are not fit to be trusted with freedom of television." Are they prepared to tell their constituents that? I am not.
A debate of this sort would have been quite impossible in this House 50 years ago. It would have been unthinkable that any hon. Member should champion the cause of the Executive for deciding what people should be allowed to look at. Perhaps it is as well that we got freedom of the Press, cinema and stage when we did. We might not get it today. Perhaps it was as well that we were given universal suffrage when we were, because there are many pople who would put up arguments against it now. All I can say is that on this side of the House we regard this issue on that same plane. I hope that it will not go out as a result of this debate that this House and this generation are terrified of freedom.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Herbert Morrison (Lewisham, South)
I think there will be general agreement that this debate, and what comes out of it, is perhaps one of the most important, if not the most important, debates that we have had since the war. An enormous amount depends upon it as to the future of our country, the thinking of the people and the standard of culture of the people. Whatever view we may take on either side, or as between individuals—because there are individual views—I think we are all agreed that this is a profoundly important issue and that the House is faced 66 with a profoundly important decision. Therefore, it is desirable that all of us should give the best counsel that we can in the matter, for the help of the House and for the information of the country.
I will mention one or two points which have been dealt with by the Assistant Postmaster-General in his speech. First of all I will deal with the three questions which he has put to me, although I think that the last one really ought to be addressed to my right hon. Friend, but I will do my best to answer it in his absence. The first question is, is the Opposition opposing in this matter because we believe in monopoly? The answer is "No." We are opposing in this matter because we believe that the present system is to be preferred to the system which is proposed by Her Majesty's Government.
§ Mr. Morrison
If the hon. Gentleman is asserting that this is a monopoly of opinion, I will come to that in the course of my speech, but I do not agree.
Secondly, do we believe in two corporations, that is to say public corporations on B.B.C. lines, which, the Assistant Postmaster-General asserts, will cost an annual payment per set of £6 or more. I cannot understand this, because it has been calculated that, provided prices do not rise too rapidly, the B.B.C. could hope to carry through the whole programme without asking for these amounts to be raised beyond £1 and £3 respectively for any time within the stated period. That is an official B.B.C. estimate.
§ Mr. Morrison
The date is 23rd June, 1953, which, I think the House will agree, is reasonably recent.
I do not think that has been disputed, but, in any case, the Assistant Postmaster-General really was rather unfair and misleading. He compared the full B.B.C. programme, substantially covering the whole country, with the proposals of the advertising people and the Government—at any rate as visualised in the White Paper—to have not more than three stations providing alternative programmes, covering very wide centres of population, and presumably leaving out the people in the more sparsely populated 67 parts of the country. If the B.B.C. do it, they will do it as a public service. They can easily cover the three centres of population within five years, I understand, or possibly less. Therefore, in that respect, there is no advantage in commercial television.
In answer to the second question, I think that it is wasteful, administratively and technically, to have two corporations, though I am in favour of alternative programmes. I will come, at the end of my speech, to a proposal whereby any ideas of this or other kinds, based upon public service, could be considered between us at our leisure. However, my answer, at first blush, is that I am disposed to think that the artificial manufacture of a second corporation is unnecessary and wasteful, but the main issue involved in the debate is the question of advertising in association with television.
The third question was in respect of a statement made by my right hon. Friend that a Labour Government would not pursue the policy which was then the policy of this Government. He said so. But it must be remembered that the policy which was then the policy of the Government was sponsoring, so it is not a fair question to put today. [HON MEMBERS: "Oh."] It was sponsoring, and the Lord Chancellor said so, and not only urged it for television but for sound broadcasting as well. Therefore, I do not know what my right hon. Friend's answer would be about this, or any other scheme which may emerge; because I am very glad to note that the Assistant Postmaster-General declares, on behalf of the Government, that they have not finished their thinking yet, that there may be further evolution, and that they are prepared to consider other proposals as long as the competitive principle is involved. I am glad that he so restricted what he said.
That is quite right. I did not put it quite accurately, I agree. I only put it the other way round, and the hon. Gentleman has brought me the right way round from his point of view.
That is a fair point to pose if we are to enter into consultations about it. 68 The Government are not happy with the structure as it is, whereas, broadly speaking, we are. We do not say it is not capable of improvement or that the administration is incapable of improvement but, broadly, we think that the existing structure is right. The Government think it wrong, but it is a little cool for the Government to say, as was said in another place, "All right, here is our proposition; you produce an alternative which is not based upon the existing general structure." It is not a fair proposition—but I will come back to that later.
The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, including the Home Secretary, will appreciate that no Parliament can bind a succeeding Parliament, as indeed we know by past experience in respect of road transport, and iron and steel, so I am sure that the Postmaster-General would not ask me to bind a future Parliament, or a future Government. His own Government have been very quick to undo things which the Labour Government did. Incidentally, one of the things which they undid, namely, a co-ordinated transport system, is a contributory factor to the present railway dispute, and do not let it be forgotten that the British Transport Commission would be in a better position today if that were not so. However, I gather I must not pursue that or I shall be out of order.
The hon. Gentleman has said that they do not wish to impose advertising on the B.B.C. because it would alter the whole character of the institution, and that the B.B.C. do not wish it. That is an admission, of course, that it is the wish of the Government that the character of television shall be changed. He says that the corporation responsible will be responsible for all that goes out on the air, but this really will not do. This is implying that the new corporation is going to control every word and act which will go out on television, but what does the White Paper say at the end of paragraph 9? It states:In practice, the fewer rules and the less day-to-day interference the better; the need would be for a continuing friendly and constructive contact between the corporation and the companies.Therefore, it is clearly visualised, and is the wish of the Government, that the less 69 the corporation has to do with the programmes the happier they will be. I do not think that that is good.
To draw an analogy between the capital provided for this competitive, advertising corporation and its programme companies, and the trading areas, is typical of the Assistant Postmaster-General. It is his outlook. The trading estates were created in order to help the disgrace of what were formerly known as the depressed areas. They were a constructive effort to bring life, and, if possible, prosperity to people who, under previous Governments, had had a very rough time. To compare that with the provision of capital or commercial advertising interests seems to me to be a grave reflection on the spirit in which the Assistant Postmaster-General approaches this matter.
§ Sir H. Williams
Not at all. The right hon. Gentleman's suggestion was that his party invented the trading estates?
§ Mr. Morrison
No, I did not claim that. This was a minor palliative which was introduced by general agreement, but it at any rate had the purpose of being a constructive social policy in respect of the depressed areas. To call this a constructive social policy in respect of any area and in any sense is surely going beyond the point.
The Assistant Postmaster-General said that there would be a code of advertising. I rather think that this is a fresh announcement, for it was always contemplated that the Government or somebody would have some control over the advertising. Clearly, if this is to happen, it is desirable that there should be a code of advertising; but may I ask the Government to tell us in due course whether the code will be published? I gather that it will be, because the hon. Gentleman indicated that there can be Parliamentary Questions about it and that it is to be presented by the Postmaster-General and, presumably, approved by the Postmaster-General.
In that case, may we take it that it will be submitted for the approval of the 70 House or for the challenge of the House, either by affirmative Resolution or by negative Prayer? Is there not a lot to be said for making this and other matters relating to a code of ethical behaviour, so to speak, scheduled to the Bill so that Parliament can then debate the subject and can move Amendments which would not be possible on an Order which was submitted to the House?
There is only one other remark in the hon. Member's speech to which I shall refer—and that was typical—in which he compared rather scornfully, I thought, lessons in ballet, for which apparently he had no respect, with cabaret, of which commercial television will give us plenty. Is this not typical? This is the bias—plenty of cabaret, plenty of pretty ladies, but no classical ballet, or very little. It indicates a most unfortunate frame of mind which the Government appear to have in this matter.
The case that we put to the House is that the B.B.C. has not hitherto been the subject of sharp and acute party political controversy, and I think that is a fortunate thing. It has enabled it to grow peacefully and to develop. I think everybody will say that it is good. All of us have often said that it is the best in the world. On both sides of the House we have often said it. Why it has suddenly become not so, I do not know. It is not only good; it has steadily developed and I think it is steadily improving. It has learned by experience and by the vigorous criticism that it gets from the public and from the newspapers, and from time to time from Members of Parliament to whom it listens.
It was initiated by a Conservative Government as a single broadcasting institution, and that was done deliberately by a Conservative Government after careful thought. It has been maintained as such by Conservative and Labour Governments ever since. These decisions have been reached by the Government and by Parliament after careful impartial inquiry was made. No matter which Government selected the members of the inquiries, they were carefully selected, competent people who served on these B.B.C. inquiries. Indeed, Lord Beveridge, a trained and experienced social investigator, was chairman of the last committee of inquiry, and nobody can say 71 that he had a bias in favour of what is called monopoly. All his bias was against it.
Nobody can read that Report, with the careful, reasoned arguments put forward against the principle of monopoly, without realising that he and his colleagues were fully conscious of the point, as I am sure the Minister of State will agree—there was a public minority of one on the point—and that they gave very full and proper consideration to the point. Having done so, and having stated the case against so-called monopoly in the Beveridge Report, nevertheless all the reports of the committees of inquiry, including the Beveridge Committee, declared for responsible public service.
§ Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing
It was brought out in the Beveridge Report—and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree—thatThe description of all the three previous committees of inquiry as supporters of monopoly as a condition of effective service…is not historically accurate.I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not take the line that these three committees to which he was referring found in favour of monopoly.
§ Mr. Morrison
I do not recall that the previous committees of inquiry recommended the break-up of the B.B.C. Nor did they recommend the scheme which is now before the House.
§ Mr. Morrison
All right. Then I do not think there is much in dispute between us. In any case, past Conservative Governments have recommended that the existing general structure of the B.B.C. should be maintained.
Let us look at the monopoly argument shortly, because I dealt with the matter on the occasion of the previous debate, as did others on this side of the House. Paragraph 3 of the White Paper says:As television has great and increasing power in influencing men's minds, the Government believes that its control should not remain in the hands of a single authority, however excellent it may be.Paragraph 10 refers toa monopoly in the very important realm of ideasto which point I shall come soon.
72 If the assertion about television haying an enormous influence over men's minds is true—and, by the way, presumably it will have an influence on the minds of women and children as well—if all this is true and it has this profound influence over the minds of human beings, surely the last thing to do with it is to make it predominantly subject to the influence of commercial advertising as is now done in the United States of America. But I shall return to that later.
Let us examine the so-called monopoly—a word which is freely used by the Government to create prejudice against national public concerns and not against private concerns which are monopolies, a number of which have been built up by Conservative politicians and Conservative leaders of industry, and some by Liberals. It is curious that there should be a bias against any public concern but not against a private concern. There are exceptions in the national field. For example, the Assistant Postmaster-General represents a great monopoly—the carrying of letters, telephones, telegraphs—but is he going to ask for a separate Post Office in competition with the one of which he is an official at the moment? He will not do it, because he does not favour that policy.
We have a national electricity grid which was started under the Act of 1926 by a Conservative Government, and that in effect includes the monopoly of the generation of electricity. We have also a monopoly in the Armed Forces. I have not heard that the Government wish to start competition in this field. It is all very well. If this policy of monopoly is universally wrong, why is it defended and maintained in these cases? Consider the position of the public utility services ever since the last century—gas, water and electricity; they have all been local monopolies and have now largely become national monopolies. They became local monopolies because it would have been wasteful to duplicate the physical assets and the distribution system by establishing rival and competitive concerns.
I ask myself and the House the question, is the B.B.C. a monopoly in the sense that it is monopolising opinion, that it is deliberately setting out, in the words of the White Paper, to influence "men's minds"? Is it a monopoly in the very important realm of ideas? In the sense 73 that the B.B.C. has a monopoly of the physical means of broadcasting, I agree that it is a monopoly, but because it has a monopoly of the physical means of broadcasting, including television, that does not make it a monopolist in the field of ideas, nor does it make the B.B.C. an influence, decisive or otherwise, over the minds of human beings. In the physical sense, therefore, there is a monopoly, but I submit that it is only in that sense.
In the first place the B.B.C. is subject to a temporary charter and a licence granted by this House and the Postmaster-General, which presumably can be taken away. It is subject to periodic inquiries. In the case of serious misconduct Parliament and the Government could step in. It is, indeed, dependent upon Parliament for its revenue. To make an analogy, therefore, between the B.B.C. and, for example, Imperial Chemical Industries or the electric lamp monopoly, which stipulates prices, or the match monopoly is wrong.
§ Mr. Morrison
The Co-op is in competition. In the case of the Co-op, a number of these businesses which may support commercial television in the interests of competition, flatly refuse to supply the Co-op with goods because the Co-op is an effective competitor. That is, therefore, an irrelevant interjection.
None of these private monopolies has a charter from Parliament or is subject to periodic review by Parliament or by committees appointed by the Government. They are in a totally uncontrolled sphere, except in as far as the general law may apply to them. The argument advanced in that connection falls to the ground, therefore, to that extent.
But in sound broadcasting there is plenty of competition within the B.B.C. itself. One of my hon. Friends reminds me that there is Radio Luxembourg, although I do not think it is a very effective competitor. If hon. Members wish to hear what commercial sound broadcasting is like they should listen to Radio Luxembourg. I did for a time but it bored me. Within the B.B.C. there is the Home Service, the Light programme and the Third programme, all in active competition with each other, and encouraged 74 so to be. Moreover, there are the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland services and English regions competing with each other and with the three national programmes.
There is also competition between producers of various programmes within the B.B.C., including television. To assume that merely because the physical assets belong to one Corporation there can be no rivalry, no competition, no emulation within the industry, is, I submit, an unjustified assumption.
Far from the B.B.C. being able to determine of itself how people shall think and having a monopoly in the realm of ideas, it is the case that the B.B.C. is officially prohibited from having opinions of its own. It is prohibited under the Charter from having editorial opinion. [HON MEMBERS: "No."] If anybody can show that the B.B.C., of its own volition, is trying to promote either political partisanship or religious ideas, let them have a go; it should be publicly ventilated. It is the case that the B.B.C. is prevented from having editorial opinions of its own.
§ Mr. Spencer Summers (Aylesbury)
The right hon. Gentleman says the B.B.C. has no mind of its own. Whose mind was it expressing when it denied access to the air for the present Prime Minister to express his views before the war?
§ Mr. Morrison
In the first place, the present Prime Minister has not a prescriptive right, even as Prime Minister, to appear on the air, and certainly he had no prescriptive right in those days to appear on the air. It is well known that in the case of controversial political broadcasting the party organisations are consulted, as they ought to be. I imagine whathappened—I make a guess—was that the Conservative Party organisation imposed a veto. It is not fair to blame the B.B.C. for that. The hon. Member must blame the political leaders and the political parties who wished to keep control over the use of the limited number of occasions when controversial political broadcasts were made.
§ Mr. Gammans
Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that the B.B.C. is prevented at any time from putting any hon. Member on the air unless his political party agrees with it?
§ Mr. Morrison
I was talking about controversial political broadcasts. What 75 is the Assistant Postmaster-General arguing? He is now arguing that the B.B.C. ought to have the right to put any politician on to deliver a controversial political broadcast, including Oswald Mosley.
§ Mr. Gammans
No, Sir. I am defending the B.B.C. against what I think is a very unjust charge which the right hon. Gentleman is making. I said that the B.B.C. has complete freedom as to whom it asks to its transmitters.
§ Mr. Morrison
Not in a political controversy or a party political broadcast—nor should it have that right, otherwise we are farming out controversial politics on to a body which has no responsibility for those things to Parliament. It would be a monstrous state of affairs. Is that what the hon. Gentleman intends to do with commercial television?
§ Mr. Gammans
I have asked the right hon. Gentleman whether he stands by his statement, which I understood him to make just now, that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was prevented from going on the air before the war because of the Conservative Party.
§ Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)
Would my right hon. Friend call to the attention of hon. Members opposite the words at the top of page 6 of the White Paper:…impartiality in the treatment of all controversial issues, and subject to agreement (revised from time to time) between the Parties and the B.B.C. on party political matters;
§ Mr. Morrison
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend. That disposes of the Assistant Postmaster-General. The B.B.C. News seeks to be fair and objective. There is provision whereby if controversial opinions are expressed, somebody else is arranged to answer them, usually with great fairness, although we recently made a complaint when the right of Ministerial broadcasts was abused by the Minister of Agriculture and we were denied the right of reply.
Provision for the controversial expression of conflicting opinions is systematically made. In television it is the B.B.C. 76 that has taken the initiative in seeking alternative programmes for the very purpose of providing that competition and emulation, within the B.B.C., and in order to provide viewers' choice. Will this scheme kill that B.B.C. idea? Is the B.B.C. now to be tied down to one programme? Is it to have no alternative programme? Is there to be no viewers' choice so far as the B.B.C. is concerned? I gather that the answer is in the affirmative. [Interruption.] Is the B.B.C. to have alternative programmes?
§ Mr. Gammans
The right hon. Gentleman asks me whether the existence of a second corporation precludes the idea of the B.B.C. ever having a second programme. The answer is "No."
§ Mr. Morrison
I will repeat my question, and the hon. Gentleman can get up again. The B.B.C. had a development plan which provided for alternative programmes. It was anxious for Government consent to go on with that plan. Does that still stand? Is it to be agreed?
§ Mr. Gammans
I cannot say whether permission will be given to the B.B.C. to have its second programme, but I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the mere fact that there is to be a second corporation does not preclude the B.B.C. from having a second programme.
§ Mr. Morrison
That does not answer the question.
It is inevitable, of course, that directly a second or commercial corporation is brought into operation the channels which the B.B.C. would use are being given away. Consequently it seems to me that it is bound to prevent the B.B.C. from coming along with its development plan.
Surely the running of alternative programmes by the B.B.C. is the best, most economical and most public-spirited way of promoting competition and viewers' choice. It lessens the overhead costs. The fact that the B.B.C. is a responsible public service is all to the good. Everybody agrees, as I have said, that the B.B.C. has done well and improved, and all of us were proud of the B.B.C.'s achievement at the time of the Coronation. No one will say that the B.B.C. is perfect. There may be room for improvement, and criticism will certainly be heard and improvements made.
77 Let us have a look at the case for commercial television. As I understand it, the argument is that competition will be good, that it will bring another spirit to television, that it will liven the B.B.C. and that the B.B.C. will liven commercial television. That partly depends on what "liven" means in this connection.
Nevertheless the competition is bound to be wasteful. Considerable capital will have to go into this new venture. There will be overheads, and it may have an effect on the fees and salaries, as to which the Assistant Postmaster-General was rather indifferent. I hope, however, that British television is not going to get into the mad field of luxurious star salaries into which the cinema industry did.
Therefore, I am not indifferent to this competition for technicians and artistes and even politicians, who may put up their fees. I do not like it. I would sooner that the B.B.C. should have a chance to be fair to these people, and if it is not being fair let there be public argument about it and let the matter be settled. This was an unfortunate day for the Assistant Postmaster-General to talk about public monopolies and wages in view of the statement made earlier by the Minister of Labour in respect of the railwaymen.
The second argument for commercial television is that it will be giving the public something for nothing. It is true that they will have to pay anything between £5 and £15 for an adapter, which I hope will limit the number of viewers to commercial television, but apart from that the argument is "You will get it for nothing"—all for nothing, a proper Father Christmas kind of offer. But that is an absolute illusion. People will not get it for nothing.
The consumer will pay. It will be part of the cost of running industry, part of the cost of production. Anyone can read the reports of the American organisation, Consumers' Union, which reported in respect of certain tomato soups that some sample tasters who tasted without knowing which brand they were tasting, gave the highest marks to the least advertised tomato soup.
This business boils down in the end—which is perhaps relevant to tomato soup—that it can be the case that the highest-priced article is highest-priced because it is highly advertised, yet it may be the 78 worst of the lot. Therefore, the idea that advertising has not to be paid for is silly. It has to be paid for, just as taxes have to be paid. It has either to be paid by the consumer or the worker employed in the industry.
Moreover this scheme will encourage the big man in industry. Only the big man can afford to pay. The charges will be high, the costs will be great. How is the small manufacturer to fare? How is the "Little Man" of Strube of the "Daily Express" going to fare out of this? How is the small manufacturer to fare, the little shopkeeper round the corner from where I live, or up the road? How is he to get advertising on television?
Nothing could more illustrate the in difference of the Conservative Party to the little man than this proposal. It will build up the rich monopolies, and it is being supported by some people because it will build up the big man in industry and eliminate the little man. Therefore, this is a proposal in the direction of monopoly in private industry. No wonder it is being supported by people who believe in private monopoly but are shocked whenever a public monopoly shows its head, except in the Post Office, which employs the Assistant Postmaster-General. So they will tend to be squeezed out and be forced—
§ Mr. Morrison
There are very few Members of this House whom I have on the barred list, but the hon. and gallant Member is one of them.
§ Mr. Morrison
To do the advertisers credit, not all of them want commercial T. V. There is a noble Lord in another place who is associated with a certain beer. He says that he does not want commercial T.V. but that he will probably have to use it because of the competition from other people. But he does not want to do so and evidently regards it as a first-class waste of money. Having regard to his admirable posters on the walls, I am bound to say that they are very well done—though I never drink the stuff myself.
Then there is an adaptation of the sets. I pass to the next question: what is the difference between sponsoring and "spot" advertising? The Government were 79 firmly for sponsoring earlier; that was the scheme and the language used. But now the Government say they have "decided as a basic principle"—how glad I am to hear that there are basic principles—"that there should be no 'sponsoring'.…" I welcome the change for what it is worth and to the extent to which it operates it shows that public opinion has had some influence with the Government. I sincerely congratulate the Government that that should be so, and I hope that that will still be so in the light of this debate. When I ask myself whether the change is a real one, I am very doubtful.
It is still the case that the whole of the revenue of these undertakings comes from advertising. The enterprise cannot live without advertising, and it must have enough of the advertising at a high rate. The first thing the advertiser wants to know is the price of the spot advertisement, and the second, and very vital, is his position in the programme; and, of course, the one affects the other. If his spot is to appear before or after a popular variety—possibly I should say cabaret—especially if it is spicy—or a boxing match, he will be willing to book, or to pay more, than if the item is Shakespeare or educational or local government, or, apparently, ballet.
So the revenue will largely be influenced by the magnitude of the audience, rather than the quality of the programme, and the advertiser or his agent—because the agents will be active in this matter, I gather—[HON MEMBERS: "They are already."]—will effectively argue about these things. The advertiser will say to the programme company, and the programme company will say to the delightfully simple, independent, pure-minded corporation—which will get corrupted in due course—he will say, "My advertisement must be associated with such and such a feature or sort of feature."
§ Mr. Morrison
I shall come to that. I know all about that, too, as well as advertising agents. He will say, "My advertisement must be associated with such and such a feature or sort of feature or else I shall not come in, or if I do it must be at a low price." There may be 80 advertisers' complaints, after an appearance, calculated to influence future programmes. There may be direct pressure for specific shows brought to bear by the advertiser. I ask the House, I ask the Home Secretary, I ask the Minister of State, can the programme company or the corporation be indifferent to these considerations, these arguments, persuasions, pressures? After all, if a fellow pays a lot of money for his advertisement he is entitled in connection with T.V. to know where it is going and what the probable audience is going to be, just as if he advertises in a newspaper he is entitled to know approximately what the circulation is; and most newspapers now publish their circulation figures. Clearly neither the programme company nor the corporation can be indifferent to these considerations.
§ Mr. Morrison
I think the hon. Gentleman had better wait till he has heard what I have to say, because I may cover the point he has in mind, even though he may not agree with it.
Both the company and the corporation—make no mistake about it: the corporation, too—are going to live by advertising; advertising alone, with no other source of revenue; lots of advertising; well paid advertising. They will need a lot of money. The corporation will need a lot of money to pay off its loan from the Treasury and acquire capital reserves for future capital expenditure and development. The programme company will need money—and it can get it only by advertisements—to pay for its costly shows and its rent.
Moreover, it will be in competition for viewers with the B.B.C., and it will be in competition with newspapers, and billposters and cinemas as well for advertising. What the effect on them and their advertisements is going to be, what the effect on the Press is going to be of their diminished advertising resources, is a very serious issue; not for the mass circulation newspapers, which appear to be safe, but for papers with modest circulations. But I mention that by the way.
The programme company and the corporation are to be 100 per cent. dependent on the advertiser. The advertiser pays. He will call the tune in substance as much 81 as he would under sponsoring. He is bound to exercise his influence in his own commercial and business interests.
§ Mr. Morrison
I have not done with the Press yet. That is really a different issue. [HON MEMBERS: "Oh?"] I will show that in a bit. The chase for mass viewing will inevitably bring standards down, because the chase will be for the maximum numbers. It is bound to be so, because the higher the numbers, the higher the advertising revenue and payment rate, and the advertiser will be the hidden and irresponsible sponsor. There was this to be said about the earlier scheme, though I do not defend it at all, that at any rate we knew who the sponsor was; but now there will be a hidden and irresponsible sponsor in the shape of the advertising interests of one sort or another.
§ Mr. Peter Smithers (Winchester)
The argument the right hon. Gentleman is making would succeed, perhaps, if there were not safeguards in the scheme and if it could be shown that that large audience would necessarily choose the worst kind of programme. In fact, that is not the case.
§ Mr. Morrison
I do not accept that these safeguards in this White Paper are worth much. They are set out, and then the Government ignore them. The chase for mass viewing is bound to bring standards down. [HON MEMBERS: "No."] I think it is.
§ Mr. Morrison
Yes, it is democracy as understood by the hon. Member for Croydon, East, and I know exactly the quality of his democracy. I do not know, but United States advertising probably will be sought, and it may be that there will be importations of one sort or another from the United States, from programmes that we have heard about in this House. It is said we may be able to export. Perhaps we shall, but I do not think we shall solve our balance of payments difficulty with this particular type of business.
The Government say, "Trust the public." The public that is to get what the advertiser wants. But they are a 82 curious Government to say, "Trust the public," when they will not even trust their own back benchers to vote as they like on this matter.
There is an extraordinary provision in the scheme whereby the taxpayer is finding the capital for a highly controversial private venture. All of us, whether we dislike the thing or not, have our money at stake in this. We may get it back. We may not get it back. I ask hon. Gentlemen opposite, would they like it if a Government provided the capital for a newspaper to open up in competition with a local Press monopoly in order to break the local Press monopoly? I do not think they would like it. We should not like it if the taxpayers' money were so used.
I want to deal further with what I have been challenged to deal with, namely, the analogy with the Press. It is said, "Look at the Press."
§ Mr. Morrison
Let us not be too particular. It certainly has the largest circulation of any of them.
§ Mr. Morrison
It is said, "Look at the Press. It takes advertisements, but it is independent. The advertiser does not dominate the newspapers." There is a little controversy about this, but personally in general I agree with that assertion. I do not blieve that the advertiser as such dominates or dictates editorial opinion. Even here there is another aspect of the matter which does not contradict what I have just said. The mass circulation newspaper finds that its advertising revenue is influenced by circulation. It must be. Its claim of a circulation of x million is a factor which affects the advertising rate it will get.
The search and chase for the mass circulation naturally has an influence on the newspaper, in respect of its make-up, presentation of news, features and pictures, as it will have an influence in regard to commercial television. It is obvious that commercial television endangers the advertising revenue of the Press. As I have indicated, it will not be a healthy happening for newspaper land. Even so. I should not allege that individual advertisers can call the newspaper's tune, and that is a good thing: 83 but they can and will do so in commercial television.
Certainly "The Times," the "Manchester Guardian" and other newspapers of their type are in the clear in this respect. The great Delane and C. P. Scott, like the present editors of those two newspapers, would not accept influence, even of a general character, from the advertising manager. One of the finest things in newspaper history is that C. P. Scott of the "Manchester Guardian" defied the mob at the time of the Boer War, and to some extent risked his own life in the process. No advertiser would have been listened to by C. P. Scott if that advertiser said, "If I do not call the tune I will change my newspaper." Newspapers of that character attract advertisements not because of their circulation but because of their quality, their standing and their influence.
Newspaper revenue is derived mainly from circulation and advertising. It does not come from advertising alone. The quality and amount of the circulation are also factors. But commercial television will need mass viewers, because the whole of its revenue will come from advertising. Moreover, it is impossible for the advertiser to require of a newspaper that his advertisement in the news pages shall appear against a particular news story. This is where the analogy with the Press begins to break down.
I agree that if there is a feature concerning a motor exhibition it is quite conceivable that the advertisement of a motor car manufacturer would appear on the same page. But news pages, especially those dealing with first-class news, are of vital importance, and the advertiser just cannot say, "I want to be against such and such a news story," because nobody knows what the principal news stories will be on any particular day
§ Mr. Rodgers
Will not the right hon. Gentleman agree that his analogy is false to the extent that there are preferred positions in all newspapers, for which one pays more, and in respect of which one specifies on what page one wants to go and at what place on that page?
§ Mr. Morrison
The page and the place on the page, certainly—if it is available, and the paper is at liberty to let that place. That follows. But if a first-class news story breaks, it is obvious that the advertiser cannot say, "I want to be next to that news story," or, "I want to wait until there is a first-class news story of a certain character." He cannot stipulate, because no one knows what the first-class news will be. Even 12 hours previously it is not known what general news will be printed. There is no certainty about it until the newspaper goes to press or, as they say, is "put to bed." That is the case of the newspapers, and their experience.
But that is not so with the greater part of the television programmes. I notice what is said in the White Paper about religion and politics. It is said that they are to be controlled, and I shall be interested to hear from the Home Secretary or the Minister of State exactly how. I should like one of them to tell us how the straightness of the news is to be controlled on television. It is profoundly important, because it can become an exceedingly dangerous party political instrument. I should also like to know—as would many of the nonconformist and other Churches—whether intoxicating liquors, football pools and various other forms of gambling are to be accepted, or whether there will be limits on those things.
Television programmes are made up weeks, and sometimes months, in advance. The advertiser will want to know what he is going to be in front of or what he is going to be behind. Obviously, if he is going into a serious discussion on the structure of local government, it will be a different matter from preceding or following one of the Assistant Postmaster-General's cabaret shows. I am amazed that hon. Members opposite who know the advertising profession should not know that. The advertiser will want to know where he is to appear, because that will influence the number of viewers, and the numbers of viewers will influence him in relation to the price he will pay.
§ Mr. Morrison
There is nothing like taking an advertising man through simple stages. It is the art of his profession to explain things simply, and I am glad that 85 I have a potential co-operator in the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. J. Rodgers). There is plenty of chance for the advertiser to influence the programme. The programme companies will have to listen to him or risk their own revenue and the corporation's capital.
Paragraph 9 of the White Paper says that programmes will be controlled by the corporation, and it sets out a list of things which the corporation can control. Then it says, "Do not do it if you can help it." It says:These powers would normally be held in reserve and used only if there was specific reason, revealed by complaints, etc.…It also refers to the need for a "constructive contact," of which there will be a lot, one way or another, if the corporation is to be able to live with the advertisers. If the powers of control are exercised, it is obvious to anybody reading them that there is going to be irritation. If the powers are not exercised, the whole thing will be dangerous. That is the dilemma thrown up by these curious arrangements.
I should like to know the sphere of Parliamentary Questions with regard to this new corporation. It is true that it is a public authority, but it will have under it quite a lot of private interests and commercial affairs. We should have the widest sphere of Parliamentary Questions and discussion in this case.
That is our case against the White Paper, and it will be amplified by other speakers from this side of the House and, I hope, by some hon. Members opposite, in the course of the debate. It is a question for the House to decide. We have appealed for a free vote on a matter which is really well outside the usual issues of party politics, and it ought not to be settled by a party vote.
§ Sir Robert Grimston (Westbury)
The right hon. Gentleman has raised an interesting point with regard to a free vote. He knows that various leaflets have been issued by the Labour Party—they all have the Labour Party imprint on them—violently opposing the Government's proposals. Does he suggest that after a political party does this sort of thing there should be a free vote in the House of Commons? I should think it would be a new political doctrine, and I should like him to enlarge upon it.
§ Mr. Morrison
Those activities, in which no one can prevent any political party engaging, could be well equalled by those of the party opposite, in various ways and under various aliases. I am told—I do not know whether it is true; the Assistant Postmaster-General will tell me if I am wrong—that although, in another place, the Liberals and the Labour Party took off the Whips—[HON MEMBERS: "No."] Yes—the Government did not, and they chevied the Liberal and Labour people because various communications had gone out expressing opinions. Why should not communications go out expressing opinions? I am told, however, that the Postmaster-General in another place—and I do not know if it is true—had a meeting with the so-called Independent Unionist peers, which virtually meant a Conservative Party meeting in the other place, in order to educate them in the way to vote.
I say that this could well have been a non-party issue which we could have settled without the party Whips being put on. It was not an electoral issue; nobody raised it at the last Election. As a whole, broadcasting has hitherto been kept out of party politics, and I think that is a great achievement, creditable not only to the House of Commons but to our public life and to the British people.
I want to suggest this to the Government. The right hon. Gentleman asked for other proposals to be put forward. Is it not a pity that this matter of broadcasting should be thrown right into the middle of the Floor, that it should be a matter of sharp party division with Whips on both sides—because they cannot very well be on one side only in the House of Commons? [HON MEMBERS: "Oh."] Certainly not; this is a two-way traffic. May I suggest this to the Government? There may be other alternatives, alternatives which do not make a breach with the principle of a public service broadcasting and television service; and, therefore, would it not be better, instead of forcing this issue through the House with all the power of the Whips, if we could get together round a table and have a talk to see whether we could not find some way of getting general agreement?
Is not that a reasonable thing to do about a matter of this kind which is not party politics? I noticed that the hon. 87 Gentleman mentioned the House of Lords, but that is an essentially political subject; it cannot be anything else. This is not essentially political. This is outside the sphere of political controversy of party politics, or it ought to be; and I sincerely appeal to the Government—I do not ask for an answer immediately—to consider between now and tomorrow whether we cannot get round a table to see whether there is not room for agreement, which does not necessarily conflict with what the Postmaster-General laid down and does not necessarily conflict with what I have laid down, upon a matter upon which none of us would be committed, but in regard to which we would enter the discussion with a view to lifting out of the sphere of party politics a matter of grave concern.
The issue would have to come back to the House, and I hope very much that hon. Members, who have a direct interest in it, will be careful when they are voting. I urge this question upon the Government: In this matter which is a great moral issue, a great controversial issue upon which very sincere convictions are held by worthy and good citizens: is not it possible to avoid this sharp party cleavage? Let us try to talk about it and see whether it is possible to settle it by agreement.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)
Does the right hon. Gentleman wish to move his Amendment?
§ Mr. Morrison
I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:whilst recognising the desirability of an alternative television programme, regards the general policy of Her Majesty's Government on commercial television, set out in Command Paper No. 9005, as being contrary to the public interest.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Sir Robert Grimston (Westbury)
I quite agree with one thing which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) said in the course of his speech, and that is that we are today discussing a very important issue. But I cannot agree with anything in the rest of his speech, and I shall take up his various points in the course of my remarks. Least of all can I agree with him that this is not 88 a political issue because I shall, I hope, show in the course of what I have to say that it is probably the greatest political issue of the day.
Perhaps there is one thing about which we can agree, and that is that this new invention of television broadcasting is likely, as it develops, to be the greatest agency which the world has ever seen for the diffusion of ideas and of entertainment, and, indeed, when history comes to be written, I think that there is little doubt that this invention will far out shadow the invention of the printing press.
The issue, as I see it—and I want to bring the House back to this because it is the important one in this controversy—is simply this: Is this great medium to be in future a State monopoly in this country? That, I believe, is the issue which has to be faced by this House and by the country. In the course of his remarks, the right hon. Gentleman sought to make out that the B.B.C. was not a monopoly. I cannot agree with him on that. The directorate of the B.B.C. is one set of people and that one set of people has equal control of all programmes put out by the B.B.C. The best way in which I can illustrate it is, I think, to put it in the form of the old nursery question: When is a monopoly not a monopoly? And the answer by the right hon. Gentleman is: When it is the B.B.C.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to compare the B.B.C. with various other monopolies, and he said that we have the monopoly of the local services, the Post Office and so on, but I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that one cannot, for instance, compare the monopoly of sewage disposal with the monopoly of the projection of ideas of the mind. Therefore, I come back to the fact that I believe that the B.B.C. is a monopoly, and the issue facing the House is whether the greatest medium ever invented for the projection of ideas is to remain a State monopoly or not.
The answer, I suggest to the House, in an authoritarian State is most certainly "Yes," but I suggest to this House that it ought not to be "Yes" In a free society. In recent months we have witnessed a tremendous campaign for the preservation of the monopoly. I must say that 89 the spectacle revealed to me and to many of my hon. Friends of embattled monopoly marshalling every kind of force for its preservation has set the seal on my conviction that it ought to be broken.
I propose, during the course of my remarks, to look at this campaign and at some of its implications. It may be remembered that, apart from propaganda to which we have already referred, in connection with the free vote put out by the Socialist Party—and I will come to that later—there was a campaign launched in "The Times" newspaper on 4th June under the heading "A call to social responsibility" and it was put in the middle of the leader page in the most prominent position.
It was signed by five signatories, very highly respected people, many of whom we all know and four of whom I must say, were governors or ex-governors or members or ex-members of the B.B.C. or of one of its advisory councils. This letter in "The Times" launched what was called, "The National Television Council" and I want to quote to the House some passages from the letter which launched this campaign. It said:Before very long most of the population of Great Britain, including millions of children, are likely to have become regular viewers. We believe that the development of this new medium of information and entertainment calls for the exercise of the highest sense of social responsibility in all those engaged in it, and that commercialisation…is fraught with dangers to those spiritual and intellectual values which the B.B.C. has nobly striven to maintain.Hon. members should note the next paragraph:We express our sincere hope that the Government will yield no further to the intense pressure to which they have been subjected by a comparatively small number of interested parties;…[HON MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I thought I should get a cheer from the opposite benches, but I wish to show this up.…and that they will decide, even at this last moment, to remain true to the principles which have given us the finest broadcasting system in the world.I hope the House will note that the campaign was launched in a letter by people who had been at one time or another connected very intimately with the B.B.C. It was launched in a newspaper whose editor had very recently been the Director-General of the B.B.C., 90 and it imputed motives to those who opposed the maintenance of the monopoly, suggesting that they were simply the machinations of a few interested people. I ask the House to note these facts. We start the campaign with a number of people connected with the B.B.C., and the suggestion has been that those who oppose the maintenance of monopoly are merely self-interested parties.
§ Mr. Shackleton
I am interested in the line of argument which the hon. Gentleman is adopting. Would he suggest that it would be wrong to call in evidence Mr. Norman Collins or Sir Frederick Ogilvie, who were both connected with the B.B.C.?
§ Sir R. Grimston
Not at all. but I am merely giving the House the facts about the campaign. I have been frightened at the power which the monopoly already asserts over the minds of a great many people. It is a point of view which has not been put before, but I think I am entitled to put it to the House.
Against the background of how the campaign has been launched, I want to look at what the 1949 Report of the Beveridge Committee says on the subject of monopoly. When the present campaign for the maintenance of the monopoly is seen against the background of what is said in the Beveridge Report, the very dangers of the monopoly which the Committee pointed out are emphasised. In my opinion, the Committee made no attempt to counter them. Those dangers have been shown to us by the operation of the campaign. However, the Beveridge Committee, having pointed out these dangers, made no recommendations to break the monopoly, other than those made in the minority Report, where my right hon. Friend advocated the breaking of the monopoly.
Paragraph 155 of the Beveridge Committee's Report says:We have felt it incumbent upon us to probe more deeply than our predecessors into this main issue, not only because of its importance but because, in contrast to the evidence given to our predecessors, we found a substantial body of serious opinion challenging monopoly itself.I emphasise those last words.
Paragraph 174 says:The preceding discussion shows that the attack on the existing monopoly of the British Broadcasting Corporation is not single. It 91 comes from at least four distinct standpoints by people seeing in the present position dangers and evils of different kinds and proposing in most cases different remedies.I shall not go into the four different points in detail but there were the points raised by Mr. Crowther and Sir Robert Watson-Watt in connection with the danger of excessive power over men's thoughts; the Liberal and the Fabian Research Groups produced arguments against monopoly; and the people referred to by the Report as "Minorities with a Message" also brought evidence against the monopoly; and the fourth standpoint was that of the employees who feared the power of a monopoly over their lives.
§ Sir R. Grimston
I do not propose to have that red herring drawn across the trail. I am talking about monopoly. It has been one of the features of the propaganda campaign to draw a red herring across the issue, and I do not propose to fall for that.
§ Mr. Warbey
Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House whether he is speaking to the Government's Motion or to the Opposition Amendment?
§ Sir R. Grimston
The hon. Gentleman will find out about what I am speaking by the time I have finished my speech, if he will be good enough to listen.
It will be seen that the opinion of the Beveridge Committee, of which the people who started the campaign must have known, does not bear out the allegation that all this has been started by a comparatively small number of people for their own private ends. It is the most gross misrepresentation of the facts of the case.
§ Mr. Shackleton
The hon. Gentleman is misleading the House very seriously. He has suggested that the whole of the campaign in favour of breaking the monopoly is in accordance with the views of those who are afraid of the monopoly. There may be people who are afraid of the monopoly, but the commercial issue is a completely different one and it is the commercial issue that 92 we are now debating. If we conceded to the hon. Gentleman the breaking of the monopoly, would he concede no commercial television?
§ Sir R. Grimston
Perhapsthe hon. Gentleman will be good enough to listen to my arguments. I am endeavouring to show that there has been a most unscrupulous campaign to preserve the monopoly, and that in itself is one of the very dangers the Beveridge Committee pointed out.
Where does the pressure to maintain the monopoly come from? To a large extent it comes from the Socialist Party, but it is difficult to make out how much that is, because the Socialist Party are apparently ready to have a free vote upon the issue. It comes, of course, also from the Press. It is obvious that the Press are fearful of their advertising revenue. That is perfectly understandable. They expect that part of the money which is spent on advertising in the Press will be transferred to television. Therefore, almost without exception the Press are opposing the breaking of the monopoly. I do not blame the Press for that, but when I hear the Press put the case on a very high moral tone, I look at it with reserve.
§ Mr. Christopher Mayhew (Woolwich, East)
If the "Manchester Guardian" and "The Times" are influenced in their editorial views by advertising considerations, how can the programme office avoid the same complaint?
§ Sir R. Grimston
That is completely different. I am pointing out that the Press are opposing the breaking of the monopoly because they fear for their own advertising revenue if that is done.
Another objection to it comes from the cinematograph people. It is interesting to note that the public relations officer of Associated British Cinemas is the honorary secretary of the National Television Council. I merely state that as a fact. It is interesting to note how the various forces have been cleverly marshalled together.
Lord John Hope(Edinburgh, Pentlands): Can my hon. Friend say whether this gentleman's other employment was mentioned at the time of the formation of the National Television council?
§ Sir R. Grimston
All I know is that he asked his employers if he could give his services to the National Television Council and the answer was "Yes."
I was under the impression that the B.B.C. was not supposed to have any political opinion of its own, and that view has been advanced today, but it gave a very decided view on the monopoly issue to the Broadcasting Commission. In Appendix H, paragraph 196, the B.B.C. said:The view which the Corporation wishes to put forward with the greatest earnestness it can convey is that it is vital to the public interest that the monopoly of both sound and television broadcasting should be preserved.If that is not a political opinion, I do not know what is. It went on to say:It believes that the introduction of competitive broadcasting would not merely lose certain cultural and social advantages which this country has…enjoyed up to the present, but would lead to a serious weakening of many of the influences operating for good within the community,But the point of view put forward there is that the monopoly should be preserved and that it should be the preserve of the B.B.C. to guide the public taste and have a monopoly of what they should hear.
§ Mr. Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)
Will not the hon. Gentleman say that the B.B.C. gave its view in response to the request of the Beveridge Committee? Will he also tell the House what value he would place on the Report if the Committee had not taken evidence from the B.B.C.?
§ Sir R. Grimston
That has nothing to do with the point that I am making. My point is that the B.B.C. is supposed to have no political views. Quite rightly, the Beveridge Committee invites the B.B.C. to give its views. If the B.B.C. has no political view, then surely its reply would be that it was not its intention to give a political view. [HON MEMBERS: "Oh."] That is a matter of opinion. That could have been the reply of the B.B.C., but it was not. The Corporation replied by giving a definite political view.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
Here is an inquiry into the B.B.C. and surely it is inevitable that the B.B.C. should be called upon to give evidence if only to justify itself and its accountability. The B.B.C. has a perfect right to give evidence on the 94 question whether it should have a competitor or not, and whether having a competitor would be wasteful or not. The hon. Member has the self-assurance to try to gag the body which is under investigation. It is really shameful and contrary to the principles of liberty.
§ Sir R. Grimston
I have been in this House a long time and I know all the tricks of the right hon. Gentleman. I suppose that he is the most astute politician in this country today. His handling of the free vote dispute was really wonderful, but I have too much respect for his political acumen to think other than that he did it with his tongue in his cheek, and I would say the same of his intervention now.
§ Sir R. Grimston
The right hon. Gentleman knows exactly what I mean, and I am not going to be pushed off the point that to the Beveridge Committee the B.B.C. gave the very definite political view that its monopoly of broadcasting should be preserved at all costs.
I say that there is the voice of the B.B.C. speaking to the Beveridge Committee and I suggest that we have had the voice of the B.B.C. speaking again in this campaign and imputing the most unworthy motives to those who wish to break its monopoly. I refer again to something which is said in paragraph 185, on page 48, of the Beveridge Report. The Committee refers to monopoly and this is part of its answer to what it calls the first fundamental question:There is the danger finally that when a sense of mission such as animates the B.B.C. is combined with security of office it may grow into a sense of Divine Right, as it did in the case of Charles I. The dangers of monopoly are not imaginary.That is exactly what we are saying today.
I should like to look for a moment at the way in which the campaign which is being carried on by and on behalf of the B.B.C. is being conducted. I suggest that it is being done with skill.
§ Mr. Dryden Brook (Halifax)
On a point of order. The hon. Member keeps referring to a campaign which has a dishonourable source. He says, in the first place, that it was opened in "The Times", but he has never given us the names of those who signed the letter 95 to which he has referred. Should not the hon. Member in all honour give the names in order that we may know who were these people who were alleged to be representing the B.B.C.?
§ Sir R. Grimston
I did not say that they were dishonourable. I said that the campaign was launched in a letter and that four out of the five who signed that letter were interested, or had been interested, in the B.B.C. I said that they made accusations of dishonourable conduct on the part of other people.
§ Sir R. Grimston
Please let me finish my sentence. The hon. Member should not jump up and down like a jack-in-the-box. I will read the names.
§ Mr. Speaker
A point of order has been raised, and, if I may express a personal opinion with all deference to the House, I would say that the House would be very wise on both sides to avoid charges of dishonourable and disreputable conduct. This is a grave issue of public importance on which diverse views can be quite honestly held and it would be to the credit of the House if on both sides we abjured these suggestions and allegations.
§ Mr. Brook
It is within the memory of the House that the hon. Member for Westbury (Sir R. Grimston) referred to a dishonourable campaign, and he had previously referred to a campaign as having been initiated in "The Times" by a letter signed by five individuals who were previously connected with the B.B.C. I suggest that in fairness to those individuals the hon. Member should give their names.
§ Sir R. Grimston
I do not know why the hon. Member should make such a song and dance about it. I had already said that I would read the names and I was about to do so when he interrupted.
§ Sir R. Grimston
If the hon. Member jumps up again, perhaps it is because he does not want to listen after having made his remark.
I did not say that these people were dishonourable. I said that an unscrupulous campaign had been carried out and that those concerned were imputing dishonourable motives to their opponents. The letter is signed:Violet Bonham Carter, Brand, Halifax, Tom O'Brien and Waverley.Four of those five have past or present connections with the B.B.C. If only hon. Members will be good enough to listen, I will repeat what I have been endeavouring to say—that the accusations these writers make regarding the motives of their opponents are utterly unscrupulous.
I want to look further at the way in which the campaign has been conducted. It has been done with a skill and a sense of propaganda values which can only be admired, but which only serve to show the immense power which this monopoly has already acquired. It is what I might call the mystique of the B.B.C.
Immediately following the Coronation broadcast, which made a great impact, the chimpanzee episode was splashed across every newspaper, and the impression deliberately conveyed was that every Coronation programme in the United States of America had a chimpanzee put into the middle of it. What was the truth of the matter? I asked a question of the Foreign Office and found that our Ambassador had reported that this was grossly exaggerated, that there had been one or two lapses but that, on the whole, the television broadcast of the Coronation in the United States had been shown with a restraint which had not previously been experienced in the United States Notwithstanding that, this campaign had tried to make the fullest propaganda value of that incident.
When we are talking about lapses, while there may have been one or two lapses in America, there was a shocking lapse by B.B.C. which was referred to in the other place recently. It consisted of a broadcast so obscene and profane that I am shocked that it could ever have been broadcast. Supposing such a broadcast had been made by an American station, I can imagine the propaganda that would have been made by the B.B.C. However, the Director-General has apologised, and 97 I do not propose to refer further to the matter.
The B.B.C. has been in operation for the best part of 30 years and, in the words of Lord Reith, what it has done has been achieved by the "brute force of monopoly." I do not like the brute force of monopoly. The right hon. Gentleman raised this question: We have had the B.B.C. for 30 years, how is it that successive Conservative Governments and others have left it as a monopoly? My answer it that I think we now realise that we have made a great mistake in leaving it for so long. What has brought that home to me is the difficulty we are now having in breaking that monopoly and the forces that are being marshalled in support of it.
Looking back, if we could start again, I do not think we would set up an instrument like this which has gained such power in so short a period because, when a suggestion is made to break the monopoly, we have seen a propaganda campaign and a state of agitation in the other place which many of us have never seen before. That is all an indication of the strength which this monopoly has already acquired.
Now I turn to the White Paper. Its chief value, to my mind, is that it breaks the monopoly. An alternative programme under the B.B.C. does not imply a breaking of the monopoly. This does. We shall have an alternative programme under different control, with safeguards, and it will be provided without pushing the licence fee up to such a figure as to cause an immense amount of evasion.
The White Paper, however, is not the last word. Today we have only two channels available for competition but in three or four years there will probably be 60 or 70. I do not believe that anybody can say exactly how this will turn out, but hon. Gentlemen will recollect that when sound broadcasting was first introduced in the days of 2 L.O., all the gramophone companies thought they would be ruined by this competitor. What happened? Since the broadcasting of music the sales of gramophone records have gone up and up. Nobody can yet foresee the result of the White Paper proposals, but I accept them because they make a start at breaking this monopoly.
One method of preserving it is to try to keep an argument about a compromise in being for so long that nothing is done. 98 In fact there is evidence of that already. I was astonished to find that in another place, despite a terrific campaign being carried on against advertising, the suggestion was made that, if there is to be advertising revenue, the B.B.C. should have a share in it. That came from the Opposition. Therefore, I hope the Government will not waste a great deal of time in seeking a compromise they will never get because it would be possible to keep the controversy alive for so long that the monopoly would remain intact. To my mind the important thing is to break it before it gets too strong for us, as it very nearly is already.
I have here the final appeal of the National Television Council which repeats the letter containing the imputations to which I have referred. Apropos of the right hon. Gentleman having his tongue in his cheek, I want to point out the following paragraphs to him:We will also resolutely oppose the introduction of commercial T.V.…—The British Labour Party.On the back page there is this:If it does come to the House, as it is not a party political question, may we take it that on that occasion the Whips will not be on?—Herbert Morrison.I think that disposes of the request for a free vote for what it is worth.
In conclusion some words written on behalf of the Society for Individual Freedom put what I feel in much better words than I can and I should like to read them to the House:The final appeal of the National Television Council to people 'to press on the Government their opposition to commercial television' will, moreover, reveal to many the real significance of a public relations campaign that has been one of the most disquieting demonstrations of an embattled monopoly in British history. We would earnestly appeal to those whose apprehensions about competitive television one must respect, not to lend their support to so ruthless an attempt at stifling a vital freedom.
§ 6.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Grey (Durham)
It is a matter of great regret to me that this subject should be debated in an atmosphere of party controversy. It was assumed that the Government might have had some decency in this matter in view of the amount of feeling there is in the country on the question of sponsored or commercial television and about which we have received many letters from various denominations and organisations.
99 I was surprised to hear the Assistant Postmaster-General say that there was a growing opinion in favour of competitive television. I do not know how he arrived at that conclusion, because I find that many important people and organisations are against this White Paper. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the leaders of the Free Churches and Vice-Chancellors of 14 universities, and numerous organisations, including the N.U.T., the Workers' Educational Association and the Trades Union Congress are still opposed to the proposals in the White Paper. Despite the fact that the Government know of these objections from responsible people and organisations, they are still persisting with their proposals, and it is a matter of regret that they have allowed them to be debated in this atmosphere of party political controversy.
I want now to express one fear which I have, and which is local in its application. It is concerned with the north-east of England. I am not going to demand a competitive television station for the north-east. We have had a long struggle with the Assistant Postmaster-General to get our existing T.V. Station at Pontop Pike. He can have my assurance now that there will be no demand from me for another station for commercial television.
I understand there will be capital resources needed for the erection of these stations. Ever since 1945 we have had a quarrel with the Post Office because in the north-east of England we have had to share our wireless wavelength with Northern Ireland. That is a matter which is not for discussion today, but about a month ago I put a Question to the Assistant Postmaster-General on this subject. He gave me the assurance that if we waited until the development of very high frequencies, we would get a separate wavelength but that would take time. Then I asked him whether we could have a high frequency wavelength before sponsored television stations were provided, but he gave no reply to that.
I should like to know from whoever is to reply to this debate whether we in the north-east of England will have our own particular wavelength, even of a very high frequency, before there is any expenditure on competitive television. If I 100 could have some kind of assurance on that, then, even though things are as bad as they are, they might not be so bad then.
Charges have been levelled against the B.B.C., but the only argument that has been used is that it is a monopoly. Quite a number of people in this debate will be arguing about the principle of monopoly, and, as this seems to be the main principle of difference, I could not help wondering what the Postmaster-General would have to say if there had been any intention expressed against the Post Office monopoly.
I now come to another point. Hon. Members opposite have the impression that we on this side of the House take a delight in setting up a monopoly, and as evidence of that they point to the various nationalisation schemes. I think the men in the mining industry ought to take notice of what is being said today, because if it is the Government's intention at some time or other to break up these monopolies, be they public or private, then the mining industry can look out. Among hon. Members opposite there may be certain ideas about breaking up these great nationalised industries because they are monopolies.
The argument against a monopoly does not hold water. We believe that public concerns like the B.B.C., the Post Office and the nationalised industries can best serve the public under one supreme authority. Although the breaking down of the B.B.C. is outlined in this White Paper, it also says that the whole country is justly proud of what has been achieved. I think it is rather strange for the Government in this White Paper to say that the country is justly proud of the B.B.C. and then advocate doing something that would destroy the power and good influence it has in the country.
The other point I wish to make is that, no matter how good the B.B.C. is, even if it is 100 per cent. perfect, it is not likely to be left alone. I think it is a great pity when there is a fine public corporation doing a very fine work, that, because of some demand from sectional interests, the Government should try to undercut and undermine it.
In paragraph 6 of the White Paper there is a reference to the Press to the effect that it accepts advertisements, as do the cinemas. There is the assumption 101 here that the Press performs the ideal service to the community. [HON MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am not altering that criticism of the Press. I think our best Press is the best in the world, but I think our worst Press is the worst in the world. I stand by what I said, and I shall not repeat it.
How does the Press live and get a circulation? Papers cater for particular types of readers, and the more spectacular the news in a paper the more likely are people to buy that paper. I know there is a feeling in this House among many hon. Members who take part in debates that their speeches have never been quoted in the Press at all. I remember an hon. Member opposite speaking in an Adjournment debate. That hon. Member always makes a very useful contribution to any debates in this House, and he gives great thought and care to the preparation of his speeches. On that occasion, while he was speaking, there was an interruption from the Public Gallery. When he got a newspaper in the morning, he found the interruption was reported, but not his speech. I think everyone will agree that the fairest thing to do in such circumstances would be to report the speech. One could quote instances of that nature where the Press themselves have not taken the best course. Sometimes they give the facts as they want the people to see them.
I heard an amusing story the other day of a man who was supposed to be stranded on a desert island. After being there for two years he was getting rather depressed and worried. He thought that no one was coming for him. Then as he looked cross the sea, he saw a ship. He waved at it a flag which he had made from some old cloth, and he attracted the attention of the captain of that vessel, who sent a boat to bring him to the ship. At least, that is what the stranded man thought was going to happen. He saw two men get into a boat with a large bundle. They proceeded to the shore, left the bundle, and went back for some more, but never said a word to the man who had been left on the island for two years. Eventually, they said to him, "These bundles are with the compliments of the captain; they are the newspapers of the last two years. If you want to come back after you have read them, we will come back for you."
102 The Press have an important function to perform in publishing better news rather than the spectacular items. The advertiser seeks the newspaper with a large circulation and that newspaper gets its circulation by publishing spectacular items.
There is no guarantee in this White Paper that the standard of programmes required for the general public will be observed. I know there are safeguards, but I am not sure that those safeguards cannot be overcome by some subtle people in order that certain types of programme may be put on the air. It is these fears which people have in their minds in regard to competitive television. Whatever we do we must maintain the kind of programme which the people need. The standards of life and character of our young men and women will be greatly influenced by what they see on television.
I urge the Government, even at this last moment, to reconsider the position. If they cannot withdraw the White Paper, I pray them to allow a free vote. If there is a free vote, I hope that the policy of the White Paper will be defeated.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Sir Ian Fraser (Morecambe and Lonsdale)
I think too much has been made of the alleged personal interest of hon. and right hon. Members. There can hardly be a matter which comes before this House for discussion which might not advance or detract from the personal interests of some hon. Members. It would be very much better if we discussed the merits of this matter rather than the alleged personal interest which some suppose to be embodied in it.
I have no personal interest in any advertising company nor in any radio company. By way of evidence supporting the contention of my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Sir R. Grimston) that this matter was not started by a group of interested members of Parliament, I draw attention to the fact—which can be checked in the evidence given to the Beveridge Committee—that as long ago as 1949 I, who have no interest in this matter, gave reasons why I thought advertisements were necessary to pay for television. That was only a small point, but by many years it preceded the 103 alleged supporting of this movement by my hon. Friends.
May I deal—I hope in a non-contentious way—with the question of the Whip. That interests a great many people throughout the country. Some of us on this side of the House favour the proposals of the Government for one reason and some for another, some positively and some with reluctance. It is always so in public affairs. It would be incredible to find 300 men on one side or the other all feeling exactly the same about a particular subject and for the same reasons. In our party something like a concensus of opinion has been reached on the proposals now being put forward by the Government, in their second White Paper after the full and public discussions which have taken place and after taking account of the most valuable contributions to thought about this subject which have come to us.
In those circumstances the Government have decided that this policy is the best in the interests of the country and should be implemented now. In those circumstances they ask supporters in the House to support them in the Lobbies on this issue. That is what is meant by putting on the Whips. It is familiar enough to us in this House, but some hon. and right hon. Members, who know quite well what the Whip means, have made statements about it which I think will mislead some of the public who read about it.
In "The Times" this morning a large number of vice-chancellors of universities unanimously suggest that the Government should abandon this project. I wish to tell the House of two reflections I had when I read the letter. The first operative sentence in the letter says that they are "unalterably"—that is their word—"unalterably of opinion" that this is a bad scheme and so on. That they should be "unalterably" opposed strikes me as coming curiously from vice-chancellors of universities, who should have open minds and who, presumably, teach the young to think, rather than to think that they are right always. How long are they to be unalterably opposed—forever? Whatever the issue and however it works, are they still to be unalterably opposed?
The second thought which struck me was of their unanimity and the timing of 104 the letter. I wondered who was the chairman of the party and who was the whip. Is not this a good example of the way in which men who perhaps feel the same—perhaps all of them do feel the same although that surprises me—decide to operate at a particular moment and that they must have some organisation?
§ Mr. Warbey
Is the hon. Member seriously suggesting that these very eminent gentlemen did not mean what they said in their letter to "The Times"?
§ Sir I. Fraser
Not in the least; of course they meant it. I must say it surprised me. I can only think that one of them wrote the letter and the others signed it without giving it the full consideration which my speech will undoubtedly cause them to give tomorrow morning. I also suggest that the unanimity of their letter and the sudden production of it today suggested a whip—[HON MEMBERS: "No."] What else? It suggested organisation, a round robin, and so on. That is exactly what a whip is.
I want to speak without controversy. It seems to me that a plea should be made—and I beg leave to make it—for an open mind and some tolerance in this matter. We need more television; that is agreed on both sides of the House. The question is how to get it. We invented television in Britain, but we were not the first to exploit it widely and make it available to large numbers of people because war supervened upon us before it came to others. It would seem a pity if this invention, so swift, so capable and so remarkable, should not be fully available to our people—as fully available as science and our resources can make it. The problem before us is to see how we Members of Parliament can help forward a policy which will bring it to fruition quickly.
May I give briefly three reasons why we need it? First, it is the most astonishing method of transmitting ideas. Second, without a vigorous and big television industry in our country we cannot expect to sell television transmitters, television receivers, television films and television ideas to the rest of the world. Our skill, our knowledge and our command of scientific resources and our ideas are as valuable to the world as those of anyone 105 else. It is, therefore, our duty to promote the free flow of ideas through this medium as well as the export of the medium and machinery to other countries.
As I shall try to show later in my speech, advertising is of enormous advantage to the community, producing wealth and production, and we may need that production. I shall leave that argument to a later stage. Those are, however, three good reasons why we need more television and why we need it quickly.
The Assistant Postmaster-General made out a very sound and fair case. I thought that the prejudice exhibited on the other side of the House was quite astonishing. The Assistant Postmaster-General was challenged, and there has been some to-and-fro debate about the assertion, that the licence figure would have to go up to £5 to enable the alternative programme for which the Opposition are asking to be carried out by the B.B.C. The Assistant Postmaster-General said it would cost £5, some said £6 others £7 10s. The Assistant Postmaster-General was challenged on that point by the right hon. Gentleman.
I give the House these figures, which I think they will find to be correct. There are now 2½ million persons who pay a television licence fee, which is £2. I believe that the estimated cost of the present television service given by the B.B.C. is between £4 million and £5 million. If we are to have a similar service, which is obviously what we must build up to as a minimum alternative, clearly it will cost £4 million or £5 million. That could only be obtained by licence fees if we were to raise another £2 per head of the persons who pay a television licence fee.
§ Mr. Chapman
Clearly the whole point is that if the B.B.C. were to provide the alternative programme there is no reason why it should cost as much as if a wholly new corporation started from scratch to build a new alternative television programme. It may be that the B.B.C. could do so for £2 million or £3 million, in which case the additional cost per licence would be very small.
§ Sir I. Fraser
I see that argument. Of course if there was the same direction and control it would save overheads. If there were one Sir George Barnes instead 106 of two all direction of thought would be canalised into one hand instead of into two and thereby a few salaries at the top would be saved, but it would not save transmitters. [An Hon. Member: "It would."] With respect, if there is to be an alternative programme an alternative transmitter is required. [HON MEMBERS: "No. Use the same masts."]
If these two Government corporations can find ways by which, working together, they can save the national resources they will surely do that but, apart from that, there must be separate transmitters. [HON MEMBERS: "No."] The art of television broadcasting in the open ether has not yet reached the stage at which two signals can be sent from the one transmitter at the same time. The same aerial masts and buildings might be used, and if that be practicable, why should the two corporations not work together?
§ Sir I. Fraser
That is the whole point of my objection. It follows from my remarks about the £5 or £6 additional licence fee.
I shall repeat briefly part of what I have said. There are 2½ million owners of television sets who are being provided with a service at a cost of £4 million or £5 million. They pay £2 a year, but half of that is the payment they make for ordinary radio. The special contribution which they make to television thus represents about a half or three-fifths of the cost of television. Therefore, the ordinary listener is subsidising the television viewer.
The ordinary listeners include many people who, as they grow up and come to know about it, will want a television set. They include also a number of blind people to whom a television set is no use, and a much larger number of persons with bad sight who cannot look at television with comfort. There are some hundreds of thousands of them. The ordinary listeners also include many old people, many old-fashioned people and many poor people who do not want or cannot afford a television set.
Is there any reason why they should be asked to pay for the televiewers? I affirm that there is not, and that, therefore, the present arrangement is unjust and would be even more unjust if it were aggravated by a higher fee.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
Would the hon. Member admit that it would be scarcely necessary for this subsidy for television to be carried by sound radio if the Treasury would allow the B.B.C. to retain 100 per cent. of the fee?
§ Sir I. Fraser
That is a small point, which I concede the hon. Member. But all parties have made a deduction for the services rendered by the Post Office.
§ Sir I. Fraser
May I finish my sentence? It happens to be my speech. All parties have made a deduction for services rendered by the Post Office in policing the ether and also as some sort of contribution towards the national finances. There is no reason in principle why this particular form of entertainment should be wholly free from taxation if other forms are taxed. I should not mind the B.B.C. having that extra money, but the hon. Member has made a small point, and what he suggests would not bridge this gap.
I ask the House to visualise something of the importance of this matter. As regards its size, I have seen some figures which, taken with other figures, permit me, with some little knowledge of this subject, to quote them to the House as good guesses—no more. In five or 10 years' time there may well be 6 million or 8 million persons owning and using television sets. Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that there are 8 million. They will then be contributing £16 million by way of licence fees. No longer will half of that need to be taken for sound radio. The very fact that those people have been looking at and using television for so long will have won them away from sound radio to some extent.
There is nothing inconsistent between this argument and the one I made earlier. There will then be £16 million, the greater part of which will be available for the B.B.C. to carry out its present splendid service and to carry on services in other channels. And, by way of answering the point made by the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) when he complained that the B.B.C. would be stopped from going into other channels, there are a vast number of channels available—[HON MEMBERS: "No."]—there is—perhaps I 108 should have said "is"—there is a vast number of channels available—as will be clear to anyone who studies the science of this matter—which will come into use within the next few years, or as soon as we have the valves and the apparatus to use them.
There are seven channels of television used in the little town of São Paulo in Brazil. We can easily have seven, or 15 channels here in Britain—not today, but as soon as we have the apparatus which is already in existence in the United States and in use. There is plenty of room for all this money to be spent.
When we reach the point of having six million televiewers—it is my guess that may be in five or 10 years'time—and if we assume three or three-and-a-half persons looking at each screen; if we assume a charge of 10s. per thousand as the charge for advertising in relation to the number of viewers, we may have an income of £20 million, all earned by advertising on television. It really is a mighty thing we are talking about and something which we should try to deal with by exhibiting tolerance and by not being sure that we are right until we have heard what other people have to say.
Much has been said during this debate and much more outside in the Press, on the public platforms and by the propaganda societies, about what is called the lowering of standards. I wish to deal with that frankly and thoughtfully. The question I would ask is, "Lowering whose standard?" I do not deny that the standard of "The Times" and the "Manchester Guardian," viewed from the standpoint of its readers, is a higher standard intellectually, educationally and philosophically than the standard of the more popular newspapers. No one would deny that.
Is it really proposed that we should avoid giving the best and the swiftest means of communication to the mass of the people because their standard is not as high as that of the readers of "The Times" or the "Manchester Guardian"? Is that what is proposed by hon. Members opposite? [HON MEMBERS: "No."] I would very much like someone to tell me what they are proposing. It seems to me that what they are saying is exactly what the priests and educationalists said hundreds of years ago when printing presses first came into existence. They 109 said, "Do not let this get out of our hands, because so long as we are a select and limited few who are cultured and educated, so long we can keep this power for us."
Hon. Gentlemen opposite are saying, "Do not give the mass of the people this wonderful new invention to the extent that it can now be given to them. Do not let them all see and hear as freely as they might. Let us have our standard"—the standard of the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South. I have no reason to believe that that standard is necessarily the best. It may be different from others, but why should we assume that it is the best?
One hon. Member—I do not think he knew what he was saying—said that the "News of the World" was, he did not say the worst, but was more popular than some other papers. And why not? Since printing made it possible for the masses to read they have enjoyed things previously limited to other people. They began to acquire a taste for reading and a discrimination and a critical faculty. What the Labour Party, and the Archbishop of Canterbury and the protagonists for this other point of view—and the B.B.C.—are saying is, "Do not give the masses the best that we can give them. Do not give them something that they would like, because it might not be agreeable to the minorities."
I say, let the minorities continue to listen to the minority programmes provided by minority advertisers and by the B.B.C. The more we give the masses of the best we can in the field of entertainment, and the more money we can spend for that purpose, the quicker they will raise their standard of appreciation and criticism and the better will be the programmes of Britain. That seems to me to follow logically.
I am astonished, not that the B.B.C. and the others should take this view, but that the Labour Party should take the view that the people cannot be trusted; that they must be kept in ignorance and denied the best possible programmes they can be given. That the Labour Party should lend themselves to such a point of view is, to me, quite inexplicable.
There has been too much desire to excuse ourselves for having advertising, for going to advertising to pay for the 110 broadcasting of television programmes. I confess to having excused myself too. When I gave evidence before the Commission in 1949 I said that I viewed with reluctance the prospect of advertising on television programmes, but I thought that was the only possible way it could be paid for. Unlike the vice-chancellors and th Labour Party, I have approached this matter in the last year or two with an open mind. I have listened to what I have been told by many people, and I hope I have profited by it. I have come now to a different conclusion.
I have also taken the opportunity to study this subject, which previously I had not studied, because I was not and am not connected with advertising. But I have tried to find out something about it, and I have come to the conclusion, not merely that I support this White Paper with reluctance or with excuses, but that I support it for a variety of positive reasons. I have already given two or three of them, and I will now add another. I think advertising is a good thing. I think that an extension of the medium through which advertising can be used is a good thing, and that it will make some positive contribution to the well being of our people.
I trust the people and I feel that it would be a good thing for them if they had what they wanted so far as is practicable. I think the people will like advertising in their programmes just as people like looking through magazines and newspapers both for the news and the views, the football and the leading articles, according to their taste, and also to see the advertisements. When one catches their eye they are pleased to see it.
That is not very surprising when we think that every young married couple is concerned about what kind of furniture they can afford. They like to be told about it. Every good-looking young woman likes to be told how she can preserve or, better still, increase her beauty. Why should not she? It is one of the things which interests her most—much more than the right hon. Gentleman's lecture on local government.
We are passing from an age in which goods are allocated to one in which they have to be sold. Unless we sell them, we shall have unemployment. This brings me to a third reason why I welcome the 111 proposal to add a new method of advertising to the existing ones. I wish to say a few words about standards of living. The war years compelled a frustration of our natural desires, they canalised our desires and needs, and made us spend our money on what was available rather than on what we wanted.
But we are moving out of this age of frustration into one when there will be more goods available. In many groups of the community people have found, within a period of 10 years, that they have very much larger wages than they had, both relatively and actually, before the war. But they have not enlarged their tastes very much. During the war there was not much on which to spend money. In the years after the war the shortages were continued for political policy reasons.
For 10 years people had to spend their money on what was available, and they could not choose. Therefore, a lot of money went into such things as pools, betting, cigarettes and drink. Hon. Members may have observed that the extraordinary demand for these commodities, in the absence of others, enabled successive Governments to put quite inordinate taxes upon them. That would not have occurred if there had been more goods available. It was because people could not spend their money on other activities that they spent it on so much taxation.
It will be a tremendous advantage to our people to be able to choose and to know about the new and wonderful goods which are available. There are many cottages in the mining districts which are as bad as they were before the war. There are many housewives who do not know that there are better ways of heating and cooking than by means of the old coal oven. They do not know. They have the money to buy them, but they do not buy because they do not know. There are all kinds of ways in which the lives of men and women could be made easier if they could have modern kitchens and other equipment; but many do not know about that.
There is no medium so admirable, so my salesman friends tell me, as the T.V. medium for bringing the seller, with the goods to be sold, into personal contact with the buyer in his home, without even 112 the disadvantage of having to put a foot in the door. Are hon. Members aware that only half the people in this country clean their teeth? Might not it be a good thing if everybody did? Might not it be an economy for the Ministry of Health? Is the House aware that even today there are some millions of people who have headaches which they could easily remove, if they only knew how, without bothering the Ministry of Health? There are many commodities available about which people ought to be told.
It has not escaped the notice of speakers in this debate that the Americans have a high standard of living. That is due to mass production and advertising, and the two go together. The case for more advertising making more wealth and a higher standard of living seems to me unanswerable. We ought not to deny our people the economic advantage of having this new and unrivalled form of advertising.
Some hon. Members on both sides of the House have spoken of newspapers having an interest. I reckon that about £140 million this year has been spent on the display advertising which appears in our daily newspapers against which television would be a direct competitor. The cost of this form of television, if it is done by advertising or by the other method, will be between £4 million and £5 million. It is probable that when it first becomes available advertisers will find the money by making a reduction from the appropriations they have made for advertising generally.
To that extent newspapers will get less advertising money, but only to that extent—£4 million or £5 million out of £140 million, to say nothing of the other £150 million which is spent on advertising in other fields. It is clear that the competition envisaged at present is minimal. I do not believe that this factor has influenced the newspapers in their editorials. I say, on the contrary, that they have behaved in this controversy in an exemplary manner; but it is our duty as Members of Parliament to consider whether this would seriously damage old friends of ours on both sides of the House and an institution which is of the greatest value. The Press is an institution which is absolutely necessary to the conduct of a democratic State.
113 I affirm that we will not damage them seriously, but only minutely at first, and as soon as new selling starts—and it will start directly the advertising is put into effect, that will mean more money for advertisement appropriations and no deductions from existing appropriations. It might even mean, as it has meant elsewhere, that the more people become advertisement-minded the more people will wish to advertise and spend money in this way generally
Finally, I issue a word of warning to the Government. It appears to me that this scheme is extremely restricted. I thought about the proposal of the Archbishop of Canterbury that licence fees and advertising revenue might be shared between the B.B.C. and the new corporation, but I rejected that after talking it over with a number of my friends. I came to the conclusion that it was better that we should have one public corporation undertaking this job with one array of companies and machinery, primarily motivated by private enterprise and the profit motive.
I am one of those who think that the profit motive is a good thing. I also think that public service is a good thing. I should like to see both operating each free from the other. Let us see if we do not get a better service by this means. The proposals of the White Paper are restricted. There are handicaps which must be borne in mind. When the Americans started T.V. advertising they had had many years of experience of radio advertising which though not identical is at least a similar operation. To begin with, we have no indigenous knowledge whatever about radio or television advertising. There are many young and brilliant people in our advertising firms who will learn about it quickly, I have no doubt, but we do not start with the advantage of knowing much about it.
Secondly, the listeners will have to pay £6 or £10 each to alter their sets to enable them to receive the second programme. That is common between the Government's Motion and the Labour Party's Amendment, and no point can be made on it. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South made a point on the subject, he overlooked that fact. Therefore, the build-up of the audience will be slow, and it will require an act of great faith on the part of advertisers to put their money into something 114 which will start slowly and will be subject to enormous restrictions.
If there is to be no sponsoring and no mixing of advertising with programmes on any occasions, hon. Members should realise what we shall be denied. The new commercial television will be able to have a programme about local government, to suit the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South, or about a cabaret or anything else, and at the end of it will be able to say "Selfridges have a very fine Christmas show. There you can buy toy aeroplanes and engines and so on." But that is all.
What does the B.B.C. do now? The B.B.C. has a young woman who takes one along to Selfridges or Harrods and says, "We are going into a big shop. There is Santa Claus. Look at the aeroplanes and other toys." But the young woman leans over backwards in order not to give the name of the shop, so that one will not know where to buy a Christmas present for one's grandson. The new system will allow one to be taken to Selfridges with the comment, "This is Selfridges. Let us spend a quarter of an hour seeing what Christmas presents there are." I do not know what my hon. Friend would say, but I imagine that that would be called sponsoring. However, I believe that would be a very valuable programme. It might be Selfridges or it might be another firm; it would depend upon who pays the most. What could be better than that? It would be a good thing, for mothers would know where to go to buy the toys they wanted.
The Canadian Pacific Railway or SouthAfrican Railways might wish to buy a programme in which they would take one from the east coast of Canada to the west coast or from Cape Town to Johannesburg respectively, showing one the scenery and saying how well one would be looked after. I imagine that would be a sponsored programme, but I believe it would be a good thing. The B.B.C. does that sort of thing now, but the situation is such that the B.B.C. cannot mention the Canadian Pacific Railway or the South African Railways, which is ridiculous.
The system will be entirely financed by advertisers and there will be no licence fees. I do not complain of that, but it means that there will be no other revenue, so at first there will not be much coming in. Newspapers get a lot of money from 115 their sales. I have calculated that "The Times" gets £4,000 per day as a result of its circulation and £6,000 from advertising; the "Daily Herald"£6,000 from advertising and £12,000 from its circulation; and the "Daily Express" £13,000 from advertising and £25,000 from circulation. Hon. Members opposite seem surprised at the big money from the big circulations. It indicates where the masses are. We want to give the masses the best, but they are the people hon. Gentlemen opposite want to hold away from the new invention.
When we have tried this for a year or two, if we on this side of the House are wrong, let us have the courage to say so and stop it. But if we prove right, let right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have the good sense and courage to agree with us and let it continue. Do not let the Opposition pre-judge the whole matter by saying what they axe going to do before they have had any experience of it, for that would mean that they were behaving as foolishly as the Vice-Chancellors of the Universities have done.
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
We all like to hear the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser), but I prefer to hear him talk about ex-Service men rather than advertising. He seemed to have the impression that the B.B.C. television programme consists of a long series of lectures on local government. There would be nothing very much out of place with that. Even if we occasionally get such programmes or even programmes on the work of St. Dunstan's or of Roehampton Hospital, which I am sure we should never get from sponsored television, there is no reason to decry the B.B.C.'s taking its responsibilities seriously.
The hon. Gentleman suggested that there are people who do not put in new fireplaces and labour-saving devices because they have never heard of them. That is astounding. He suggested that there are people with headaches who would be able to cure them if only they knew of the existence of certain patent medicines. What is much more likely is that if they took the advertising of liquor less seriously, they would never have headaches.
116 In our national and local Press more space is devoted to advertising than to any other single section of news. Whatever else is crowded out tomorrow morning, whatever speeches delivered in this House today are crowded out, the advertising space will remain as usual. When we get the morning Press tomorrow, we shall get all the advertisements. On our way to the Underground we shall pass the hoardings with their advertisements. In the Underground as we stand for five or 10 minutes waiting for a train, the advertisements will dazzle us. There will be all the advertisements on buses, both inside and outside, and there will be all the neon advertisements in the sky at night.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)
Does the hon. Gentleman wish his speeches to be printed on the sides of buses?
§ Mr. Ross
That interruption is as irrelevant as the hon. Gentleman's interruptions usually are. Advertising haunts us everywhere, and I am sure we do not need another advertising medium. To say that people do not know of the existence of certain articles because of lack of advertising facilities is the poorest argument that has been put forward for commercial broadcasting.
The Assistant Postmaster-General had some rather strange arguments today. It was one of the most amazing speeches I have heard for a long time. The hon. Gentleman could not have put in very good heart the honest supporters of commercial broadcasting sitting behind him. I have always hoped that the level of debate in this House will be higher than that in another place, but we got off to a very bad start with the speech of the Assistant Postmaster-General today. It was more or less a knockabout turn. He began by telling us that we did not earn our daily bread by looking at television. Judging by the importance which the Government appear to attach to the proposal, I begin to wonder whether he meant it. Listening to some of the speeches made today, one might have come to the conclusion that having sponsored or commercial television means more than anything else in the Government's economic programme.
The hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale was saying that this will lead 117 to greater mass production—but based upon what? Apparently, based upon increased home consumption as the result of the advertising. But at the present time the Chancellor of the Exchequer is worried because consumption at home is rising at the same time as the value of exports is actually falling. If he were to try to relate this in any way to our economic situation, he would be doing what the late Sir Stafford Cripps had to do a few years ago and advising advertisers to go very carefully with their advertising rather than spend more of our much-needed substance in such expansion.
We are told that people with no television sets are prepared to tell those who have television what they ought to see. I hope the Government will remember that, and that, when they come to this House and ask for approval for conscription, they will remember that those who have no sons aged 18 will tell those who have just exactly what their sons will do and so conscript them in that way. Are the people always to be free to choose? Then, instead of the Government conscripting them, will they ask young men of 18 what they want to do? Is it not the case sometimes that this House, in particular problems, has to judge something from the highest political aspects, on something higher than just what people affected themselves desire, but rather on the basis of the country's needs?
The hon. Gentleman opposite was quite wrong when he put forward the analogy of the priests and the clergy of old. What is happening here is that he is only setting up a new set of priests. The people who are going to provide the programme or have control are not the people at the watching end of television. The Government are setting up a controlling body over commercial programme directors, but it will be the commercial advertising people who will themselves be presenting the programmes. They will decide what the people shall see. They are the new high priests of private enterprise advertising.
When we consider that, in the White Paper, on the subject of the importance of television, the Government have said—…television has great and increasing power in influencing men's minds,it is remarkable that they are prepared to hand over part of the television programme to commercial advertising, whose 118 sole interest is not the provision of good programmes, not the effect which those programmes will have on men's minds, thoughts and actions, but whether or not those programmes will cause the people who are watching them to buy more of certain commercial products.
Surely, if anything, this is prostituting a very important and potentially beneficial medium, which is capable of influencing people's minds, and of educating as well as entertaining them. There is no doubt at all that the Government are by-passing their own high responsibilities in handing over this medium to advertising. Today they say that we must trust the people engaged in the industry. But the Government do not trust them in the White Paper. They lay down conditions as to how the scheme will work, because they themselves are conscious of the dangers.
The Government devote the whole of the lengthy paragraph 9 to explaining how programmes are to be controlled. Admittedly, they say, these powers would normally be held in reserve, but the actual fact that the Government have seen fit to put them into the White Paper shows that they have realised that there are dangers. If we examine the controlling powers and balance them with the dangers which everyone recognises exist, there is no doubt that we shall come to the conclusion that these powers are completely inadequate to prevent the lowering of standards.
I want to say a word or two more about the lowering of standards and the abuses, to which the Government make references in the last paragraph of the White Paper. If we lower standards, we lower them from some previously existing level, but the whole point is that we lower them, and this White Paper visualises the possibility of lowering them from the standard previously set by the B.B.C. [HON MEMBERS: "We can raise them."] How can we raise them when the controlling body has no power to raise the standards, because the powers given to the controlling body are only to call for programme schedules and scripts in advance—not to change them or make them better—but to examine them, to require the companies to make sound and visual records for subsequent examination, to forbid something else and to regulate advertisements? These are purely negative 119 powers, and there are no positive powers to raise the standards, and the only power—and an inadequate power at that—is to try to prevent abuse. That has been admitted by the competitive television people themselves.
I myself had no heated feelings about this matter until I read "Some Thoughts on Competitive Television" sent to me with the compliments of the Popular Television Association, and they say in paragraph 3:It is true that the primary aim of advertisers is to sell goods and services…we will fight as an Association to ensure that those companies which tend to pander to the lowest taste do not overstep the limits of decency.There must be some such companies, then. How are they going to do it? Are they going to form a Television Association, and, if so, will it be as effective, for instance, as the Press Council, which meets and passes pious resolutions as the result of which nothing happens either to raise standards or stop the debasement of standards? I think that, if we expect to get as good or better television from this scheme, we are really not facing the unpleasant facts which even the competitive television people themselves admit. The handling of this medium will require the very highest social responsibility on the part of all concerned, because the dangers are recognised.
The financing of this scheme is wrong. Public money is to be used to set up and give opportunities to people whose primary aim is to advertise and sell goods and services in order to make profit. Now we see the Government's latest retreat before the champions of sponsoring. They say that they will be using only spot advertising, but in fact recognise that this money may not be enough. We now see a tendency for the opinion to be expressed that this private company will encroach upon the licence fees of the B.B.C. The latest step to be taken, if the practical difficulties could be got over, would be to split the licence fees between the B.B.C. and the company. I am sure there are many hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House who have no desire to see that happen, and who think that it will be better for the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale to have his way rather than the split personality of this compromise.
120 We have been told that the one big reason is that we need an alternative television programme. We admit that, but we also say that the B.B.C. should and can give us that alternative programme, as it has done in sound broadcasting to the satisfaction of the whole country. There is no reason why it should not do it in television. We are told in the White Paper that the alternative programme should be provided by interests other than the B.B.C. because we must break the B.B.C. monopoly. I am very interested in this great and sudden crusade to break monopoly. I wish the President of the Board of Trade were here, because his desk at his Ministry must be cluttered with reports from the Monopolies Commission inviting him to take action on monopolies. We have not had any legislation in this House to deal with such monopolies.
The time for action is here, but we get no action from the President of the Board of Trade to deal with industrial monopolies. Instead, we have something which the country never heard about at the last Election—the breaking of the monopoly of the B.B.C., but only in television. On the other side of the House are men of principle. If it is a matter of breaking the monopoly of the B.B.C. in television, how can they sleep at night for thinking of the B.B.C. monopoly that exists in sound broadcasting?
§ Mr. Ross
I rather have a suspicion that hon. Gentlemen on the Government side believe that sound broadcasting is on its way out. The future lies with television. Where the money lies, there we will find the Tory advertisers gathered together. There is no doubt about that.
We have been told that the B.B.C. is a despotic monopoly. That was the implication in the speech of the Assistant Postmaster-General today, that this monopoly must be broken. There was an interruption from the hon. Member for Aylesbury, (Mr. Summers) that came straight out of this document from the Popular Television Association, which such wonderful reading. It gives reasons why the B.B.C. monopoly must be broken. Here is an example of them:Mr. Churchill, as he then was, was never able to warn the country through the B.B.C. 121 of the dangers of the rise of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. The B.B.C. followed the Government line and allowed no deviation from it.Is that true? Are hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House satisfied with this criticism of the B.B.C.? The right hon. Member for Epping, as the Prime Minister was in those days, sat below the Gangway when he made his speeches in this House. If the country did not know about those speeches, who was to blame? The B.B.C., or the Press? Who was to blame that the right hon. Gentleman was not sitting on the Treasury Bench above the Gangway? The very people who are gathered around him today, the very people who are urging him to go forward with this project—the Conservative Party. If the Competitive or Popular Television Association suggests that the sins of the Conservative Party should be borne by the B.B.C., it is asking us to swallow a little bit too much.
Another sentence in its pamphlet is:Lord Halifax and Mr. Churchill were then, as now on this issue, in opposite camps.The implication is that because Mr. Churchill was right then the Prime Minister is right now, and because Lord Halifax was on the wrong side then he is wrong now. I do not subscribe to the doctrine of the infallability of Mr. Churchill, and there are very few people in the country who would be prepared to subscribe to it and to accept it.
This document would have us believe that everyone will benefit from popular, commercial television—actors, public, taxpayer, in fact, everyone—except those who are financially interested in commercial television. This is rather a nauseating document, considering the extracts I have just read. I am sure that what is behind the document is a fight, not for the right of people to choose, but for the right of people to make money out of a new medium which should be kept free from the taint of profit because it can influence the minds of men. We have been told to trust British industry, but that comes from a Government that do not trust their own back-benchers, and will not allow a free vote.
The Assistant Postmaster-General said that a debate of this kind could not have taken place in this House 50 years ago. That is probably because the Tory Party 50 years ago was composed of different elements, because a different kind of 122 person was in the Tory Party then. The interests that are behind this proposal are related to the change in the Tory Party, which is not a change in principle but a change in personnel, and it has not been a change for the good.
Summing up, I am satisfied that what we require in this matter is not a new advertising medium. We all agree that we need an alternative television programme, but it should not be a sideline of commerce and advertising. Television is too important a medium to be dealt with in this offhand way.
All the arguments that have been put before us about the right of commercial advertising on television were put before this House when it discussed long ago the question of monopoly of sound broadcasting. They were then set aside. The action that was taken by Governments in those days and by Members of this House has been vindicated by events, the history of the B.B.C. and the history of entertainment and culture in this country. It is because the B.B.C. has shown itself capable, responsible, efficient and objective, and able to entertain, educate, and raise our standards that we should leave this matter of television to them.
Let me finish my speech. The trouble about these advertisers is that they are so ready to jump in on the ground floor. The pamphlet of the Popular Television Association says:We recall that there were those who sought to prevent the spread of radio on the ground that it would cut concert—and theatre—going and reading.Then follows what is a tribute to the B.B.C. and one which undermines all the arguments about monopoly and everything else of that kind. The pamphlet says:In fact, it is true to say that never have so many books been bought and read, never has there been such a wide audience for good music, never have plays commanded such large audiences.That is the result of a monopoly set up under Government control, democratic control. We decided that in this House when we debated the Charter of the B.B.C. and we established at the B.B.C. people with a high sense of social and moral responsibility which I am sure we shall not be able to get from advertising agents, whether they be from the Government side of the House or from their friends outside.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. David Ormsby-Gore (Oswestry)
I want to be fairly brief, because I think everyone is getting rather restless with some of the speeches we have been hearing. I do not propose to deal with some of the rather wide, abstract points of principle, which naturally crop up when discussing this particular problem, and I shall, therefore, confine myself to two or three practical points which I think are of some importance.
First, the argument is put forward by the opponents of the Government's policy that the cost of advertising will increase the cost of goods in the shops so that, in fact, the general public will pay as much for an alternative programme under these proposals as they would if they had to pay an additional licence fee. That was one of the arguments put forward today by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison). It is a well known and, if I may use the term, a rather "corny" Socialist argument which has been used often before and which can obviously be used, by implication, against all advertising, at all times and in all places. I think it is based on an unreal and static view of a country's economy.
Let me put the proposition quite briefly. If the advertisers have to pay, say, £5 million to put on this alternative programme, it is suggested that the public will be "milked" of exactly that sum of money by a rise in the retail price of goods. That is a fairly simple, one might almost call it a childlike, proposition, but I think it is entirely misleading and certainly, when it is put forward as a general proposition against all advertising, it is almost the exact reverse of the truth.
The object of the advertiser is either to increase his sales—as hon. Members on the opposite side have said with a rather deprecating air—or to bring to the notice of the public, and this is important, some new product which is believed to be superior to some alternative and similar product already on the market. I suggest that both these processes are of the greatest benefit to the economy. If an advertiser increases his sales he can almost certainly bring down his cost of production per unit. If he is able to publicise a superior product and get 124 it generally accepted throughout the country, that will tend to the more efficient use of our resources, it will stimulate change, and be of general benefit to the consumer.
The economy of a country is not a static thing. All of us have probably been guilty, from time to time, of picturing the economy as a large, round cake of limited dimensions which we can all cut up into slices, but the economy of a country is not at all like that. It is much more like some living organism, which is expanding in some parts and contracting in other parts, and it may possibly be expanding or possibly contracting as a whole.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
I have listened very carefully so far, but I still cannot make out where the £5 million comes from. I have heard about the cake, and the economy not being static, but from whom does the cake come?
§ Mr. Ormsby-Gore
The right hon. Gentleman is simply putting the point which I am trying to answer. It is said that the economy is something static, with a certain amount of resources at one particular moment, that this is the total size of the cake and if we take another £5 million at this particular moment and allot it to more commercial television the rest of the cake is then diminished. But if the economy is seen, over a period of time, as a living organism which is all the time expanding, then it is quite possible to have both more advertising, more goods, and prices not going up. That is the kind of thing, I suggest, which happens in every country.
Advertising is part of this living organism and, by encouraging trade and stimulating demand, I believe that it accelerates the expansion of production. I feel that it is no mere accident that, roughly speaking, the amount of advertising in the economy of a country is commensurate with the standard of living in that country. It is not altogether surprising that even the Marxist planners in Russia are at last understanding the benefits of advertising and are putting forward proposals for more advertising in Soviet Russia because they see that it has benefits and is a spur to production. Nor should we be surprised to 125 find that Marxists in Russia, as elsewhere, are 50 years behind the times.
I would, therefore, ask the House to reject the proposition that the cost of television advertising would be entirely paid for out of the pockets of the consuming public. Over a period of time, I very much doubt if one single item will go up in price; and in the long run, I imagine, the prices of many things will come down.
It has also been suggested that the Government's proposals will mean more and greater expenditure in television at a time when we cannot afford it. That is an argument which is very popular with those who do not really like television at all and who think that the less television we have in the country the better for everyone. My reply to those who say that we cannot afford the expansion of television is that I do not believe that this country can afford not to expand television at the present time. Surely, here is a field in which we ought to encourage expansion in every possible way, not merely because it will provide more pleasure and education in millions of homes, but because here is an industry which requires the highest technical skills and the most advanced research, with the result that the final product has a very high labour on cost. In this way, it is very similar to the aircraft industry.
At the present time we and the United States are pre-eminent in the television industry. It would be hard to find a sphere in which expansion would yield higher dividends to the country. I doubt very much whether we can go on competing in the markets of the world by trying to sell cheap cotton goods, and other manufactured goods of that kind. We cannot go on very much longer, for the simple reason that the skill involved can be too easily learnt by other countries with lower standards of living and lower wages. It is, therefore, in those industries which require a high degree of skilled labour and which have complicated scientific techniques that our hopes for the future lie.
§ Mr. Joseph Reeves (Greenwich)
May I suggest that if the B.B.C. were allowed to run the second service, the required results would come in any case?
§ Mr. Ormsby-Gore
I am afraid that I did not quite follow the relevancy of 126 the hon. Member's remark, but it seems to me that by expanding the television industry we shall be benefiting the economy of the country.
§ Mr. Reeves
That is my point. If the expansion comes via the B.B.C. the result would be the same, so the argument is not very strong.
§ Mr. Ormsby-Gore
It is not the same because, unless we have a great deal more competition, both in techniques and in the variety of the programmes, we shall not get the export trade, nor indeed the internal demand, for television that could result from two programmes.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
Does the hon. Gentleman say that there is now no variety and competition in the B.B.C. programmes?
§ Mr. Ormsby-Gore
I think the present standard of television broadcasting is far too low, but the point I was making is that here is an industry which requires a very high technical skill which we happen to possess and very few other countries do. Therefore, if we can expand the production of television cameras, transmitters and receivers we shall be doing a real service to this country. I therefore strongly advise hon. Members to reject the arguments of these rather restrictive planners who want to reduce the amount of television in this country. Many of them, I think, are horrified already at the rate at which television has expanded during the last five years. Many of them never thought that it would expand at this tremendous rate. They never thought that a method of entertainment such as this, which costs about £70 a unit to install in the house, would sell by the million and find its way into so many humble homes in this country.
I suggest that more and better television will certainly come, not because it is planned by high-minded arbiters of public taste, but because the ordinary British people will make it their full choice to have more television in this country. In making that free choice they will not only be giving themselves a great amount of pleasure but they will be benefiting the economy of this country.
The next point which I want to discuss requires a certain amount of technical information which we may get later on 127 in the debate. I think it would be most interesting to know what are the prospects of expanding the range of television transmitters in the near future. Only a few years ago the maximum range for good reception was about 25 miles. Then it went up to about 50 miles. Now I should say it is nearer 100 miles. Is there any reason to suppose that the distance over which these programmes can be transmitted should not continue to increase? If so, what is there to prevent the public in this country tuning in to foreign transmitters outside the control of the Government in this country?
§ Mr. Ormsby-Gore
The hon. Gentleman says "the shape of the earth," but if the range is already 100 miles, as is the case, then it would appear that there are many places on the Continent from which it will soon be possible to receive television programmes.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
Would not those transmitters have to use our frequencies in order to reach our sets?
§ Mr. Ormsby-Gore
Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that we should only manufacture sets which are not capable of getting foreign stations?
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
I am suggesting that we should manufacture sets which operate on frequencies which are internationally allocated to us. That is all I am saying.
§ Mr. Ormsby-Gore
I am saying that in the future it seems to me to be probable that we shall be able to tune in to foreign stations, and I have not heard anything so far which suggests that that will not be possible. If the British public do choose to listen to foreign stations, what is there to prevent the British public being debauched and degraded by those programmes? How are we to control their listening? For that matter, why should not those foreign programmes receive a certain amount of revenue from British advertisers, as happens with Radio Luxembourg? How are we to prevent that?
If the proposal is that we should try to jam foreign stations, we ought to hear about it. Likewise, if the proposal is 128 that, as is the case in Russia, we should make sets on which it is impossible to receive foreign stations, we ought to be told. I assume that people in this country will be able, if they so wish, to tune in to these foreign stations. I do not see how we are going to prevent those foreign stations putting out commercial television to this country if they want to. Surely, if that is a possible prospect, would it not be very much better to provide facilities for British advertisers in this country, where they are under the control and influence of the British Government and Parliament?
I personally doubt very much whether the moral fibre and good taste of the British public can so easily be degraded as some hon. Members have suggested. I do not think they are easily influenced by these programmes, and I certainly do not think they will be successfully influenced by a policy of restriction, censorship and monopoly. In this connection, I suggest that the leaders of the Church and the leaders of a lot of educational opinion would be much wiser if they bent their energies to instructing men, women and children individually to choose between right and wrong, between the good and the bad, rather than continually trying to prevent these individuals from having to make any free choice at all.
In any case, I have yet to be persuaded that those people who listen to Radio Luxembourg—and I am one of those people—are any more anti-social or degraded than people who do not listen to those programmes. I imagine that it is true to say that the majority of them live in the South-East corner of England. I have never seen any statistics to show that the people in South-East England are any more degraded than the people in any other part of the country. If that is the proposition that is put forward, that people who listen to commercial programmes are so easily degraded, we ought to be able to detect some signs of that degradation in this country at the moment, and I have seen no evidence whatever to lead me to accept that contention. Indeed, I am bound to say that, having listened to a good many programmes on Radio Luxembourg, on the whole, one is less likely to hear a vulgar or immoral programme from that station than by listening to some B.B.C. programmes.
129 I sincerely appreciate the deep felt convictions of those who oppose any form of commercial television. I think they have put forward their views with great power and they have had a very fair share of publicity in the Press. I do not think that anyone could say that they have not been given every opportunity to state their views. They have certainly stated them very strongly to the public. However, I myself would feel very much more convinced by their case if I did not know that some of the leaders of this opinion do not like either sound broadcasting or television, and that they very rarely listen to or look in at any of the programmes. In addition, I particularly distrust the attitude of mind which is so certain of its own good judgment, its own superior taste and its own moral rectitude, that it cannot bear the idea of lesser mortals making a free choice on their own.
When finally I am told by the "Observer" that only if I am bound to look at Miss Diana Dors on the B.B.C. television programmes, or to listen to some drivelling vulgarities on the Light Programme, or to listen to what has been rightly described as pornography on the Third Programme, only then shall I be "conserving cultural and social values"—then I know that I am confronted with propaganda which is sheer unmitigated humbug, and I support the Government's proposals with all the greater relish and all the greater force.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mr. George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
It is very tempting to follow the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Ormsby-Gore) into the collection of irrelevancies to which we have had to listen. In fact, most of the remarks that we have heard up till now have been quite irrelevant to the main issues which are before this House. Most of the speech to which the hon. Member for Oswestry treated us seemed to me to be delivered in the wrong place. Its place was the Marshall Library in Cambridge where, I think, it would have been listened to with a great deal of attention, although, of course, if he had had a typical audience in that library the classic views that he expressed about the economy of advertising would have been well known.
There is one point on the technical side which, I think, should be cleared up. I 130 am not a television technician, and I may be just as wrong as I think the hon. Gentleman is. It is now possible to transmit television programmes 70 or 80 miles over land—not much more; it is exceptional to get them up to 100 miles—but it is much more difficult to get clear reception for that distance over water. I also understand—and this contradicts the point which the hon. Member went on to develop—that as we get into the higher frequencies for television, where the development is bound to come, the area of transmission will get progressively smaller. Most of the argument to which the hon. Gentleman treated us was therefore quite irrelevant.
§ Mr. Ormsby-Gore
Is the hon. Member prepared to state that it will be impossible for large numbers of people in this country to receive foreign television programmes?
§ Mr. Darling
I should think so—certainly impossible to get clear reception in the way the hon. Member suggests.
§ Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)
As the hon. Member must know, it is related to the height between two points—the height of the aerial and the height of the mast. It is quite conceivable, therefore, that it could be done by relaying from an aeroplane carrying a transmitter.
§ Mr. Darling
I quite agree, but that is taking the argument a little too far. The hon. Member had better discuss it with his hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry. I should like to revert to my speech.
May I be the first person in the debate to declare an interest? I have three interests to declare. First. I am a Co-operative Member of Parliament, and on behalf of the whole Co-operative movement I have to say that the whole movement is utterly and completely opposed to commercial television.
§ Mr. Darling
The Co-operative societies of this country are democratic institutions. The members meet regularly, and at members' meetings in practically every Co-operative society of the country this issue has been raised and the members have had an opportunity to vote on it.
131 My second interest is that for some years I was a B.B.C. news correspondent, and therefore I am not very happy about continuing the B.B.C. monopoly. My third interest is that as an active member and former chairman of the radio branch of the National Union of Journalists, I am very interested in the wages and conditions of service which will exist in any kind of television development.
I was glad to note that in the midst of the Assistant Postmaster-General's rather naive observations to which we were treated today, there was this offer that the Government will consider constructive suggestions for the development of alternative T.V. systems, and I hope that in the course of the debate we can keep to that constructive line rather than venture repeatedly into the irrelevancies which we have had so far.
The main argument of the Government for these proposals is that they bring a healthy element of competition into our television services. That is the whole of their case. They think that competition is necessary and desirable, and I assume, therefore, that if their proposals fail to promote healthy competition the Government will put a stop to them. My view is that the White Paper proposals will not produce a great deal of competition and that what competition there will be—I say this quite deliberately and advisedly—will not be very healthy.
We know that the technical facilities which are available are limited and restricted, so that we cannot have wide competition, with all sorts of conflicting interests, political, industrial, commercial and social interests—fairly balanced in a competitive system. There are only very few companies which can take part in programme production. There are only very few agencies or institutions or firms or trade unions or Co-operative societies which will be able to afford to go into television transmission and to pay for programmes and their advertisements if these proposals are carried into effect.
The whole thing is very narrow and restricted, and I suggest that if we cannot provide for a full, widespread competitive system in which all the various elements in our rich national life have their place, the Government ought not to go on with 132 their proposals, because we have in the B.B.C.—and I am not defending the monopoly; I am stating the facts—in this public service institution, a method of balancing all the various interests which make up our national life. We may criticise the way the B.B.C. does the job. All of us are entitled to do that, and the B.B.C. is gravely open to criticism. But a public service balances all these competing interests, or could do so, and I think, generally speaking, the B.B.C. does a fairly good job.
There is no reason why the B.B.C. should be a monopoly. My right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) has made a suggestion which we hope the Government will take up. But the Government and their commercial friends behind them say they object to monopoly in broadcasting. As I see it, what they want to do is to put our second television service—the only one we can have for some time because of the restrictions which I have mentioned—into the hands of a like-minded group of people with commercial interests of a very narrow kind. On many subjects which are vital to our well-being they all think alike. They have the same point of view about politics and industrial organisation and many of the other vital matters with which we are concerned in politics and in our national life.
It is proposed by the Government that this narrow group of commercial interests shall be responsible for what hon. Members opposite describe as the free flow of ideas. The Government speak as though there is something wrong in this public service corporation, which can balance all our interests in our national life, being the medium, the vehicle, through which this free flow of ideas is made, whereas it is perfectly proper to allow a narrow group of commercial interests to have the right to be responsible for this free flow of ideas.
Whatever arguments the Government may bring forward to justify the case they are making—according to them it depends upon freedom—this is how I think the proposals will in fact work out, because of the technical restrictions which inevitably will hamper the development of television for many years. In fact, I cannot understand why the White Paper is so vague about these technical questions and I think there is something 133 sinister in it. Paragraph 7 says that a public corporation will be set upwhich would own and operate the transmitting stations and other suitable fixed assets…Nobody has told us what are these other suitable fixed assets or what they are likely to be. In his speech the Assistant Postmaster-General said the phrase will not mean studios. But if that is so, if the public corporation is not to own studios and equipment, cameras and all the rest of it, then obviously the number of companies which can go into the operating side and the production of programmes will be greatly limited, because that is where the expense of television arises.
I think that we have been led astray, and perhaps deliberately led astray, because I can see all kinds of sinister things in this until we get a better explanation of them by the Government. We have been deliberately misled here not only about the transmitters, but about the studios, and whether they are going to be owned by the corporation. I think they will in the end be owned by the corporation. In my view, there are two reasons for that assumption. One is because of the expense that is involved in the provision of the studios and their equipment, and the other is part of paragraph 9 of the White Paper, which says that the contract of the programme companiescould be the more easily modified or terminated since they would not have invested large sums in fixed assets which would be difficult to sell.In other words, the fixed assets are in the hands of the corporation and not in the hands of the companies.
It is fairly clear that if the studios were not owned by the corporation, control on who should be allowed to broadcast would pass into the hands of the broadcasting companies completely, or to the people who own the studios, and I am certainly not led to believe by the speech of the Assistant Postmaster-General that the Government would wish to break a public service monopoly by setting up as an alternative a tight monopoly of studio owners. That is how I read the White Paper. There is nothing in the hon. Gentleman's speech that gives us any indication that the Government believe so much in competition that, whatever happens, they will see to it that enough 134 production companies are set up to provide a large measure of competition, and in no instance will they give a monopoly of television to any one company at any one station.
It seems to me, however, that if the White Paper means what I think it means, then the taxpayers are going to provide the transmitters, the studios, the cameras and other equipment—all very expensive equipment. The Assistant Postmaster-General shakes his head, and I am not suggesting he might intervene at this stage, although if he wishes to clear up the matter I will give way.
§ Mr. Gammans
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was here when I spoke, but I thought I made that point abundantly clear.
§ Mr. Darling
That is what I am complaining about; the hon. Gentleman certainly did not make anything abundantly clear. In fact, from the mixture he gave us we had great difficulty in sorting anything out. I mentioned a moment ago that the Assistant Postmaster-General said this afternoon that the studios would be in the hands of the companies. I am arguing from the words in the White Paper that the studios are quite clearly going to be in the hands of the corporation, and I hope the Government will clear that point up.
Whether these studios and the equipment are in the hands of the corporation or not, the taxpayers of this country are going to be called upon to pay very large sums of money to finance commercial television. That is hardly fair competition when one bears in mind the fact that the B.B.C. has been compelled right from the beginning to finance its capital development out of current revenue, and if there is to be fair competition, the sort of figures which the Assistant Postmaster-General trotted out in his speech about the cost of licences ought to be modified, and some public money should also go into the financing of the B.B.C. instead of it all coming out of the fees paid by licence holders.
What do the Government mean by competition? The viewers of this country do not want competition in their programmes; they want alternative programmes. They do not want one service to be putting on music hall at the same time as the other service is putting 135 on music hall. They want different programmes right throughout the programme service of the day. Are both services going to the same football match on the same Saturday afternoon? Are both to put on variety shows or music at the same time in order to prove which one can give the better service? That is what competition means.
The point is that if there are to be alternative programmes, the programme companies and the two public corporations have got to work together to eliminate competition. They must work together, otherwise we shall get complete confusion and the viewers will not get the services they ought to have. Who will arbitrate if the programme companies, with the public corporation, and the B.B.C. fail to agree on which nights of the week they are to have variety and on which nights of the week they are to have some other kind of programme? This has not been thought out, unless the purpose is to hide the real intentions of the Government by this vagueness.
I do not take the view taken by the other side of the House that the commercial interests already in this business—[An Hon. Member: "Norman Collins."]—the Associated Broadcasting Development Company and the other advertising agencies working with them, are all socially responsible people. In my view they are not. That is why the Government propose to control them. Many of the advocates of commercial television already indulge in anti-social behaviour, though we are told that they will be good boys if we place commercial television in their hands. If I may use the metaphor, I do not believe that leopards change their spots.
There is one advertising agency—I will not name it because the hon. Member who represents it here has left the Chamber, but it is the British branch of an American agency. [HON MEMBERS: "Give its name."] J. Walter Thompson. One of its biggest clients, both in the United States and here, is a well-known firm which manufactures detergents and soap powders. Hon. Members may think this is a small point but it indicates the dangers and difficulties we are up against. In the United States of America this agency and the manufacturers of these soap powders have been asked by the 136 Federal Communications Commission to stop making false claims for the products. Over here the false claims are still being made that somebody's soap powder will make things white without boiling or rinsing, which is chemically impossible. Those claims will continue unless we do something about them.
Who will control the advertisers? According to the White Paper one of the jobs of the controlling body will be to regulate advertisements. I gather that in doing so the controlling body will see that no false claims are made for any products mentioned over the air. That means setting up some kind of public laboratory, or using existing ones, to make sure that the claims of every advertiser are true. That ought to be done. If we are to protect the public against the false claims, and all the other flapdoodle which comes out of these advertising agencies, this job will fall upon the controlling body. What arrangements will the Government make to see that the people of this country are protected from false claims by advertisers? This is not newspaper advertising, remember. A newspaper advertisement can be turned over if one thinks it smells, as most of them do, but in the case of television the advertisement is on the set and the manufacturers of the sets and the dealers say that viewers ought not to keep switching them on and off.
§ Mr. Darling
Because it ruins the set. As things are, there is no power of enforcement on any of these matters.
§ Mr. Gilbert Longden (Hertfordshire, South-West)
The hon. Member will have had brought to his notice the Merchandise Marks Act which was recently passed in this House.
§ Mr. Darling
Yes, but the hon. Member will agree with me that its operations are greatly restricted and the power of enforcement there is not as clear as it ought to be.
§ Mr. Darling
Hon. Members opposite may think that the point which I am now about to raise is not a matter of anti-social behaviour, though I think that it is. It concerns the collective boycott which the radio manufacturers who 137 are associated with this business impose upon the Co-operative societies. The societies are not allowed to sell the products of these manufacturers unless they undertake to distribute their profits in the way in which the radio manufacturers dictatorially lay down. There is no radio manufacturer outside the ring and the Co-operative movement has been forced rather against its will into the manufacture of radio and television sets.
The boycott is there. The point is that if the Co-operative movement is compelled to go into commercial television, that is, to have its advertisements placed at the beginning and end of a commercial television programme, then in order to get the job done it either must have its own studios, which would be foolish and wasteful, or it will have to go to the people who apply this boycott and ask them to produce a programme. One can see what difficulties are involved there.
I want to refer also to a matter which arose at the beginning of this debate and which I think is very serious indeed. As I said, the Co-operative movement is utterly and completely opposed to commercial television. It is also the fact that the Co-operative Wholesale Society, which is the central trading body of the whole Co-operative movement, applied to the Postmaster-General for a licence to run a television service. The first reason for its doing so was to remind the Government that the Co-operative movement ought not to be left out of any consideration. At the time that the request was made and the application was put forward, things were very vague and nobody knew what the Government's proposals would be. So the second purpose of the application from the Co-operative movement was to obtain more information. It was hoped that in the correspondence that would follow the Co-operative Wholesale Society would obtain some idea of the Government's intentions.
But because the Co-operative movement, for the very good reasons given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), is opposed to commercial television, the C.W.S. followed the line which was followed by all other applications for television licences. In other words, the 138 C.W.S. did not make the fact public. The only people—and I swear that this is true—who knew that the C.W.S. had applied for a television licence were the C.W.S. directors and myself, because I was brought into consultation with them. Yet hon. Members opposite know that the Society made the application. Where did they get the information? [HON MEMBERS: "Answer."] I suggest that much of the vagueness in this White Paper is put there deliberately to cover up some of the arrangements that have been made between the Government and their commercial friends.
§ Mr. Darling
I am not deliberately accusing anybody. I say that the application went to the Postmaster-General and hon. Members opposite know that it went. I want to know how the information got out?
§ Mr. Gammans
No names whatever have been revealed. I have been asked in the House many times to give names and I have refused, and I can assure hon. Members that there has been no disclosure of information at all.
§ Mr. Darling
In view of the statement of the Assistant Postmaster-General that there could not have been any leakage from his Department, I assure him there has been no leakage from the Co-operative side—[HON MEMBERS: "Oh."]—for the very good reason that they did not want anyone to know they had made the application. To the rest of the Co-operative movement it would look as if the C.W.S. were selling out on this issue, and they certainly were not. There was no leakage on that side. I do not want to pursue the matter further, but I hope that the Government and the hon. Gentleman will look into this matter because there has been a leakage. I got the first intimation of it, not from the hon. and learned Member for Hove (Mr. Marlowe) at the beginning of the debate, but from a person closely associated in a very high capacity with the Associated Broadcasting Development Company.
139 The Government say that codes of behaviour will be laid down to prevent abuses by advertisers. That would be very difficult because any code laid down would be purely negative in character and difficult to enforce. I am not so much concerned with the argument that commercial television would lower the standards of television programmes. I think the tendency would be in that direction; whether it would be serious or not is a matter of opinion. But many of the advertisements which would go into the homes of the people would be thoroughly objectionable and frequently dishonest.
Another claim made by the White Paper which is untrue is that these proposals get rid of sponsoring. That certainly is not true because the advertising agencies are in the production companies and there will be the closest tie-ups between advertising agencies and production companies. The whole thing is tied up already. One of the difficulties the Government have found in getting out of these ill-conceived proposals is that the whole matter is so tightly sewn up.
Because we have all these objections to the kind of commercial television which is being put before us, we ought to follow, very seriously and constructively, the proposals of my right hon. Friend. My own view, for what it is worth, is that there ought to be a second public service corporation. Although at this stage I cannot go into detail, I would point out that there are additional ways of financing commercial television to those of licensing, Government grants and commercial advertising.
§ Mr. Darling
I will give one suggestion. There are all kinds of Government announcements going out over the air which, in my view, ought to be paid for. If television goes into the schools—as I think it ought—it should not be paid for by licence fee payers but by the Ministry of Education. There are other suggestions, which I hope will come into the discussions proposed by my right hon. Friend, for the payment of licence fees, which are bound to go up in any case. Another suggestion which should be followed up is how to cut the cost of television for old-age pensioners and others 140 of low income. I think I have solved that problem also.
I suggest briefly, because there are other people who wish to speak, that many proposals like these ought to be brought forward. The atmosphere has been created for them and the suggestions that have been made by both Front Benches should be followed up. We now ought to have some decent, intelligent, constructive suggestions on how to provide competitive television in this country.
There is a further point. There ought to be another public body set up at this stage to inquire what we do when we get into the higher frequencies. All that is being left in the air at the moment. That is a matter which ought to be associated with the discussions that have been mentioned by the two Front Benches. I hope that out of this debate we shall get the discussions that have been suggested.
§ 8.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)
I hope that I shall not follow in length the two Front Bench speakers, but, as the hour is getting late, it might be for the convenience of others who wish to take part in the debate for me to say that I shall speak for some minutes.
I must at once declare an interest. It is one which has happily escaped the major part of the censure in which Members opposite seem to have been keen on indulging. My interest is with a very great company in the radio industry that has done as much, I suppose, to advance television in this country as any other. [An Hon. Member: "Pye."] Yes, Pye. My interest is not directly with Pye; I am interested only in a marine electronic company. Therefore, I do not stand to gain anything directly out of this proposal.
I speak on this subject from a deep conviction which has grown up over a period of about four years or more during which I have been making a study of the whole problem. The hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. G. Darling), I thought—and I am afraid this is about the only time I shall defend my own Front Bench—made an extraordinary and most unfair attack upon the Assistant Postmaster-General about this knowledge that the Co-op had applied for a licence. Good gracious, two years ago, when we were talking about what was going to happen, 141 everybody knew that the Co-op would apply for a licence.
What the hon. Member said is really such nonsense. [Interruption.] Hon. Members cannot dispute that what I have said is correct; it so happens that that is what has happened. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may not even have noticed it, but that is what has happened. The Co-op did apply for a licence. If the hon. Member thought it was necessary for my hon. Friend to go round whispering the great news, "The Co-op has applied for a licence," he is mistaken. Everybody knew, probably before my hon. Friend did.
§ Mr. G. Darling
As the hon. Gentleman has referred to me, may I point out that at Co-operative congresses and meetings throughout the country every Co-operative society throughout the country has gone on record as being opposed to commercial television. In those circumstances, it is just nonsense to suggest that the Co-operative movement would apply for a licence. It did so for the reasons I have given.
§ Mr. Fell
Whatever reasons it did it for, the Co-op movement did it. I wish to pass on to important matters, though I do not in any way wish to detract from the importance of what was said by the hon. Member for Hillsborough. He said some very important things, and one could almost agree with some of them. One with which I could almost agree was that he found it difficult to support this White Paper, because he thought it would not give free enterprise a real chance.
I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman who will wind up this debate tomorrow to give us assurances on some points in the White Paper. I found the White Paper to be probably the most depressing document I have ever read in my life, though for completely different reasons to those which might appeal to hon. Gentlemen opposite. I found it depressing because when I had finished reading it I did not know whether provision would be afforded for the very thing referred to in the third paragraph, which states:There will also be an increasing and urgent demand for filmed television programmes throughout the world, and competition at home should induce vitality and help Britain to produce programmes for overseas markets.142 The whole theory and premise on which this document is based, so it seems to me, is that great vitality will be injected into all parts of the industry, and out of that will come several good things. There would be competitive programmes for the British public. There would be continued employment and a higher rate of employment in this great industry. There would be a large amount of money coming into this country from exports to all parts of the world.
May I say a few words about exports. I imagine that every hon. Member is aware of how we lost the film business of the world. I visualise that in the not very distant future a far bigger thing than Hollywood ever was will be built up in the production of canned films for transmission in countries throughout the world. I say a far greater thing because there are few countries in the world, very few, which will be able to afford to produce their own television programmes. They will be able to afford a transmitter, but they will have to use canned films.
Therefore there will be set up somewhere in the world a vast industry for the production of canned television programmes. I want to see that industry set up in this country and not in America, as was the film industry. We have lost the first round, and probably we have lost the first 12 rounds of this 13-round fight. We must have a knock out in the last round in order to have a chance of competing with America. It is as bad as that.
We have hardly made a start in the production of canned television programmes in this country. One of the main reasons is that there is little outlet in this country for either artistes or producers, and the building up of a great number of artistes and technicians. We could not, even if we would, at this moment launch suddenly into the production of canned television films on a huge scale. Therefore the sooner something is done to give to the industry the vitality which the Government talks about in this White Paper the more chance—and I admit I think it is a slender chance, but we must "have a go"—there is that we shall be able to build up this great "Hollywood" of canned television programmes here in England, instead of losing it to America.
143 I should like to ask one or two specific questions. The last sentence of paragraph 8 in the White Paper says:Like the B.B.C., the corporation"—that is the new corporation—would be given independence in the handling of day-to-day matters, including individual programmes.What does that mean? Does it mean what it says, that in fact the corporation will be given independence in the handling of day-to-day programmes? If it means what it says, it is clear to everybody that it will, or could, be in exactly the same position with regard to the production of day-to-day programmes as the B.B.C. now is. If, on the other hand, this is some reference to the censorship control of programmes, why is the reference in paragraph 8 and not in paragraph 9?
I have had it explained to me by those who support the White Paper, "Do not be worried about that because that has to do with the censorship of programmes." Frankly, I do not understand it. It may be that the explanation is that my interpretation is wrong. I very much hope so, because it will make me a little less worried than I am now, and it is not unimportant that even one hon Member's genuine worries about a White Paper should be dispelled.
Then, in paragraph 9, after the list which the controlling body may call for, there is the statement:These powers would normally be held in reserve and used only if there was specific reason, revealed by complaints, &c.,…I should like to know what exactly is the intention. It it all very well to talk about powers being held in reserve. I should have thought that the inspiration for this move by the Government, albeit they have taken a couple of years to do it, had come about because they wanted to give some vitality to this industry.
If we set up this public corporation and it has these programme companies running the programmes, but all the time they are responsible to the corporation in the matter of schedules, scripts and all sorts of requirements—if the spirit is read into paragraph 9 and:The corporation proposed by the Government would have a flexible control over the 'programme companies,' whose contract could be the more easily modified or terminated since 144 they would not have invested large sums in fixed assets…and the corporation is lightly to withdraw the licences from the companies, then how will it be possible for the companies to take the risk and the initiative, and to possess the drive and vitality necessary to get these stations going?
It may be asked, "But what is the risk?" I should have said that the risk, at a modest estimate, was that of running for probably five years without any chance of making a profit. It will take that time, first, to build up stations and get them going and, secondly, to produce the adaptors and new sets and to get a large enough audience to make it possible for the advertisers to pay a decent fee to the programme companies. For not less than two years and probably five years the programme companies will not stand very much chance of making a profit.
§ Mr. Fell
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way. I should like to finish my argument, and there is a lot to be said.
The companies will be hedged around with difficulties. They will have not only the difficulty of the censorship hanging over them all the time but also the difficulty of expansion. The programme company is supposed to bring alternative television to the homes of the people, and that, in turn, is supposed to put vitality into the whole television machinery. But how can we expect such a company to do its job, as private enterprise is capable of doing it, if it is unable to expand its stations whenever it wants to and if, when it finds that the main transmitter in London is successful, it is not able to set up another transmitter 20 miles away and yet another transmitter 20 miles further on?
Who will pay for the transmitter? Must the companies go to the Treasury every time? If they have to go to the Treasury, who else will ask at the same time for permission to expand? It will be the B.B.C. Who will win—the one which takes the money from its own resources, or the one which has to get money from the Treasury? It would be as well if we had a little more information about the financial aspect and about the freedom, if any, which the programme companies 145 will have, for there is no such thing as successful restricted, limited, censored free enterprise.
Paragraph 12 of the White Paper says:The Postmaster-General would specify maximum and minimum hours for broadcasting each day, and would thus control the amount of broadcasting, as he does with the BBC.Why? For what reason does such a paragraph appear in the White Paper? Is it in order to pacify the B.B.C.? I am not for a moment suggesting that all the paragraphs have not been inserted with the best intentions in the world, but we know what happens to good intentions, and we should therefore like some pre-knowledge of the intentions.
Will the Postmaster-General specify as the minimum hours at the beginning longer hours than the newly-started company can reasonably be supposed to operate? On the other hand, when the company gets going and is a magnificent success, as the company will be if it has any freedom, will the Postmaster-General then restrict the company to the hours which are allowed for broadcasting by the B.B.C. television service? Can we be told what will be the basis of restriction on minimum hours and what will be the basis of restriction on maximum hours? Better still, could we have the paragraph withdrawn altogether?
There are two final points that I want to make, and they are political points in the sense that a political final point never lasts less than five or 10 minutes. There has been some talk about the terrors of advertising. Is it not time that we stopped talking nonsense about advertising and its horrors? I do not feel that this nation has come to any great harm because of the advertisements on the Underground or on the buses. Indeed, I think a lot of people spend quite an amount of time looking at these advertisements and that they get a certain amount of enjoyment out of them. Certainly, women get a tremendous amount of enjoyment out of looking at the advertisements in women's magazines. [An Hon. Member: "What about their husbands?"]
Much more important than that, I want to say a word about the culture that is supposed to emanate from the B.B.C. I have never been a culturist, perhaps, because I have a very limited estimation of my own culture. It has never been my 146 desire at any time to push upon other people my form of culture. I do not believe, firstly, that the B.B.C. is as highly cultural an organisation as some dignitaries who have never heard or watched it would have us believe; and, secondly, I wonder what people really mean when they say—and this goes for very many hon. Members of the Opposition—that we must not allow these harmful things to get to the British people. What have the British people become of recent years? A lot of namby-pambies who cannot stand a little evil?
There have been attacks on newspapers, but I would ask those people who attack newspapers for what appears in the "News of the World" and the "Sunday Pictorial," and, perhaps, even over Jane, God bless her, in the "Daily Mirror," what their alternative would be. Would they do away with a free Press, or would they rather have the evils that go with freedom and the benefits of freedom? Which would they choose? So it is with television. Let us suppose that it does, in fact, bring some evil. What is the matter with this nation? During the last century, it was closer to evil, nausea and misery than at any time during known civilisation. Of course, the people suffered, and, out of their suffering in overcoming these evils and miseries, they became the greatest nation on earth. What do they wish to do now? To insulate themselves against all evil?
What happens to a child? Let us suppose that we took a chance and insulated a child in its early life against the possibility of coming into contact with germs at any time. The moment when we released that child, it would catch every disease that was going, and would live for a very short time. Yet that is the basis of the arguments of the Archbishop, of the Lords and of all those people who think they know what is good for the people better than the people themselves.
I would very seriously appeal to my hon. Friends and to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary who is to reply, to give those who feel very deeply on this subject more heart than we yet have. Some of us in this party are like myself. I cannot find it in me to vote for something which I believe will destroy the basis of British democracy. I put this issue as high as that. We are dealing with an important medium for the dissemination of news, views, propaganda and 147 entertainment, no less important than the Press, and within the next 20 years I believe it will be of far greater value for the dissemination of news, views and propaganda.
Therefore, I have to be convinced that what we are about to do will give a chance for the way to be open to real, free enterprise within this great medium, for entertainment first and propaganda largely second, so that it may assist this nation in the fight against the onslaught of Communism and any other form of totalitarian Government. It must assist us by remaining as a safety valve against autocracy and protect us from the depredations of persons who may wish this nation ill. Though I shall support the Government tomorrow—
§ Mr. Fell
The right hon. Gentleman might perhaps give me the benefit of not suggesting dishonesty in my motives until he has heard what I am going to say. If he will do that, I am sure he will be able to withstand the strain while I tell him. When I was interrupted, with some haste and less thought and sense by the right hon. Gentleman and one or two of his right hon. friends on the Front Bench but not on the back benches, I was saying that I shall certainly support the Government tomorrow on the White Paper. I shall hope to get some assurances tomorrow, and in the period between now and the coming forth of the necessary legislation I hope that the position will be made much happier than it appears to look on the surface at the moment. If it has not, then I shall be placed in a very awkward situation.
§ 9.19 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I have only a very few minutes, and I shall try to make my remarks short. I have found the last two speeches of the greatest interest. I found myself in very considerable agreement with the hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. G. Darling), but I was 148 distinctly alarmed by the speech to which we have just listened from the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell). I was alarmed for the reason that it confirmed the fear which I have that these proposals might give us the worst of both worlds.
I think that the hon. Gentleman dealt with a very important matter when he spoke of the importance of developing the television industry, if I may use that portmanteau word. Television is undoubtedly going to have a tremendous effect all over the world, and probably particularly in Asia and Africa, in time to come. I cannot say that I entirely agreed with his proposal of, so to speak, strength through evil. I am not sure that the strongest argument in favour of commercial television is that it will give us a good healthy dose of evil, but his argument does point to a very serious danger in these proposals.
I am myself a supporter of competition in television. I voted for the Government in the last debate on television, and I congratulate them wholeheartedly on the defeat of monopoly and, incidentally, of sponsorship as well. I am sure those two nostrums have now left the field. In spite of that, I find the greatest difficulties in supporting these particular proposals. I should like to consider why we want competition, and what sort of competition we want.
We want competition in light entertainment. We want that to give an alternative programme, possibly a better programme, and to give alternative employment in the entertainment industry. I am not in the least moved by the cry that the people cannot be trusted; I am not in the least frightened of the picture of hordes of baboons prancing on the television screen. I think much popular entertainment is extremely good. Musical comedies like "Oklahoma" brought something new into the entertainment world and did not bring anything that was evil.
§ Mr. Grimond
No one. I merely give it as an example of good and very popular entertainment. And I must say that the many eminent people, admirable as they are, who tell us that the people are not to be trusted are perhaps not the best judges. If one were to consider whether 149 the current programme at the Windmill was worth televising, I think three of the last people one would go to would be Lord Waverley, Lord Reith and the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University. I think there is a certain amount of hypocrisy about the evils of the Press. Every day, I come to this House to see the "Daily Mirror" and is it to be found? No. "The Times," the "Daily Telegraph," all the other serious papers you can find in the Tea Room, but not the "Daily Mirror."
§ Mr. Grimond
Nor the "Manchester Guardian," but, I hope, for different reasons. I am not, therefore, at all unhappy about allowing commercial television to have the opportunity to produce programmes of light entertainment, but there seem to me to be more important matters than light entertainment.
It is when we come to serious programmes that I do not see how these proposals are going to give us competition, and I do not think that the Government will deny that competition is needed in that field as well. Will the advertisers, who admittedly are to be hedged round with restrictions and to have life made very difficult, be interested, under these proposals, in sponsoring a more serious programme? Candidly, my own fear is that they will not. I think that their ordinary light entertainment will have to be so respectable in order to comply with all the conditions in the White Paper that it will take them all their time to make anything out of that, and I do not, candidly, see good talks and music and the like being sponsored by the advertisers.
There has been a great deal of talk about the necessity for stimulating the B.B.C. I think that is necessary, but if we are to stimulate the B.B.C. we must appeal to the same audience. If we stimulate it for audiences of light entertainment we have to stimulate the light programme, but, for the Third Programme we have to appeal to the people who would listen to it. I do not think that will happen. One does not give any competition to "The Times" and the "Manchester Guardian" by proliferating "Daily Mirrors." One has to produce something of the same type.
150 Next, there is the argument against State monopoly which may, and could, curtail free speech. That, I think, is a highly important matter but I do not think that arguments of the Areopagitica are answered by allowing Lever Brothers on the air. I think, in fact, that the B.B.C. is fairly brave in tackling controversial subjects. If the B.B.C. is not brave enough, then the chance of advertisers being sufficiently brave is about nil. If the B.B.C. is circumspect, I have no doubt that the advertisers would be very much more timid. It is the unpopular view for which it is difficult to find room on the air. Almost by definition, advertisers will not be interested in the expression of unpopular views.
I think there is a strong case for allowing more time on the air for Scottish Nationals, Welsh Nationals, Marxists, and those of different religions and, indeed, those with no religion at all. One may not agree with their views, but they have a right of free speech. I think the Liberal Party is extremely well treated from the point of view of time on the air, but I cannot defend the fact that in a General Election in this country most, if not all, the time on the air is divided between the three official parties.
It is not the fault of the B.B.C. but I find that indefensible. I am certain that the problem will not be touched by these proposals. It is inconceivable that Lever Brothers or I.C.I. will be interested in sponsoring unpopular philosophies, Marxism, Communism or Scottish Nationalism. These proposals do not touch that important problem.
There is an even more important matter. There may come a time when there will be a rift between different sections of the country or between the Government and a large section of the people. I would agree that if we had a really revolutionary situation, no safeguards for free speech or reasonable speech would be effective. But there might be a situation short of revolution. There might be a time when big strikes occurred. We might get the Government saying that they must to some extent control what goes over the air, in the name of good order and discipline. The strikers might want to put their point of view on the air, and the Government might intervene and say no. The danger would be even greater if the strikes were unofficial. 151 because then we might have the Government and the T.U.C. both on the same side. Yet it might be desirable in the public interest that the unofficial strikers should state their point of view.
That sort of situation, too, is not touched by these proposals. It is a very difficult problem, but I do say that if there were some alternative corporation, it is possible that we might get a slightly different view of a situation like that, and we might have some extra protection—not very much, perhaps—of free speech. It is in the future that these matters of free speech may become really important, and I do not believe that these proposals meet the problem at all.
I should like to sum up. My view is that there should be competition on the air. There should be two corporations. I do not think alternative programmes by one corporation will be of any use. I think there is a distinction to be drawn between the provision of entertainment and the provision of news and views. I agree that there is a sort of frontier where we have programmes like "In The News," and on the entertainment side classical music which may be regarded as partly instructive and partly entertainment. Nevertheless, there is a distinction, and personally I would have no objection in the field of pure entertainment to seeing these proposals going a great deal further and allowing more freedom to commercial interests, under reasonable safeguards of decency and so on.
There is a danger that the programmes under the heading of light entertainment would be extremely pompous and boring. On the other hand, when we come to serious entertainment, I think it is undesirable that the second corporation should be entirely dependent for its revenue on advertising. I suggest that the right solution might be for a proportion of the licence fee to be paid to it to enable it to put on serious programmes. It has been said that that would be unfair to people who could not receive the programmes, but in my constituency we pay a licence fee and very frequently have no reception. No one has suggested that we should pay a part fee. The people who cannot get the programmes in the meantime may have a hope that subsequently reception will be greatly expanded.
152 If that cannot be done, could a levy be placed on the advertisers and paid direct to the corporation with which it could put on its own serious or other programmes? Or is it impossible—and I understand it may be—to have a slot machine so that people may to some extent choose their own programmes?
Another argument advanced against dividing the fees is that if we greatly increased the fees, as would certainly be necessary in such a case, there would be greater evasion. I am not convinced about what is the ratio between higher fees and more evasion. Is it certain that if we increase the fees to £5 or £6—which is a maximum amount which could be wanted—evasion will go up in proportion?
Lastly, and most important of all, there is nothing in the White Paper about the nature of the second corporation, and to me that is quite fundamental. If this change in our methods of broadcasting is to be worth while, the second corporation must not be a shadow of the B.B.C. In a previous debate the Government put forward a suggestion that the B.B.C. governors might be nominated by certain public figures. In this context I do not believe that was a particularly good suggestion, but it contains the germ of an idea. I should like to see the members of this new corporation appointed by people outside the Government. I want to see them given security of tenure, so that they can make up their own minds and sponsor unpopular programmes, if they want to do so, without any danger of Government interference. Further, I should like to see such bodies as the universities brought into this and given some say in the appointment of the corporation.
It has been said that all this is an experiment. That is undoubtedly the case. As with all experiments, we shall learn from it and no doubt we shall change our ideas. Even now, the Government have promised to review their own ideas in the light of the debate. But if it is to be a valuable experiment it must go some way to meet the needs, and the needs are not only for light entertainment but for some freedom, for some safeguard for freedom, in the realms of serious entertainment, of politics and philosophy and of what I would call dangerous discussion.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Shackleton (Preston, South)
The Liberal Chief Whip uttered a number of remarks with which I found myself in very considerably agreement—until he came to the closing stage of his speech, when he once again indulged in that happy scope of freedom that is always open to the Liberals, enabling him to put forward a number of proposals which, unfortunately, cannot be fitted into the present-day situation. I should like to deal with some of his remarks at more length, but broadly I find myself not so much in disagreement with him as I do with the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell), who I am sorry to say has already left the Chamber—he stayed, I think, for only five minutes of the speech of the Liberal Chief Whip. I want to make a number of comments on what the hon. Member for Yarmouth said.
The hon. Member made one point abundantly clear—that the hope of peaceful day-to-day co-operation between the programme companies and the corporation is in fact a chimera. The slender chance of that co-operation being achieved, when views such as those the hon. Member expressed are likely to be held by many people in the advertising and commercial radio world, reveals a great difficulty for the Government.
The hon. Member also treated the House to some account of his own culture. In his absence, I should perhaps do better not to follow him on that point. He had one very valid criticism, however, and that concerns the vagueness of the White Paper on a number of issues. I must not discuss the debate in another place, but many questions were asked there which have never been answered, and I hope that when the Home Secretary or the Minister of State speak tomorrow they will answer some of the questions, including at least one which the hon. Member for Yarmouth put about what is exactly the meaning of the last sentence in paragraph 8 of the White Paper:…the corporation would be given independence in the handling of day-to-day matters, including individual programmes.What about the programme companies? Are they to have what might be called independence in the handling only of hour to hour matters? The whole thing 154 is obscure, and it must be cleared up. Indeed, the Government find themselves in the most tremendous difficulty with their proposals.
There is one great mystery about the whole of this. Exactly why have the Government brought in this scheme at all? We have not had any reason from the Government as to why they are suddenly introducing this revolution—and it is a revolution—into a field which was broadly settled, and in which the line of development for years ahead was satisfactorily accepted by the majority of the people of this country. There has been some discussion of these various broadcasting reports, but it is a fact that overwhelmingly they have confirmed the pattern of broadcasting as it is in this country today.
Not least of all, there is the Beveridge Report. Certainly if one searches through this vast document one will find expressions of alarm and doubt, but the fact remains that at the end it came down in favour of recommendations which were adopted by the previous Government without any very serious opposition in this House or in the country. Yet this Government have altered the whole thing.
We had a General Election, but no mention of any intention to alter the status quoin this matter was ever put forward by the party opposite. It has been argued that they did not do so because they felt it might not be the best way to woo the floating vote. I do not accuse them of that, but I do say the reason they did not mention it was it had never occurred to them to alter the situation or to stir up this whole field of controversy.
I do not propose in the time available to try to establish what motives and what influences were at work on the Government to persuade them to bring in this scheme, but there is no doubt that by bringing it in they have not only succeeded in causing a great deal of controversy, but they have succeeded in causing great controversy in the Tory party. Hon. Members opposite say they are united, but all I can say is that the Tory party in the country is not united on this subject.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
It so happens that in my constituency at Margate in the month of 155 October two party conferences were held. I was present at the Tory conference and when a vote was taken of the representatives on this subject only some 10 persons were opposed. The whole of the ballot, representing nearly 4,000 representatives from the constituency parties of the Conservative Party, were in favour of these developments.
§ Mr. Shackleton
It is a most admirable thing that the mandate which the Government receive, and which certainly they did not receive from the people of this country, came from what is called a democratic conference held by the Conservative Party before these particular proposals were ever presented to the House or to anyone else. It really is impossible to judge—
§ Mr. Elliot
The hon. Member was talking about the opinion of the party. He should have listened to what was said.
§ Mr. Shackleton
The interventions of the right hon. Gentleman always succeed in creating a little more confusion. Let me deal with the original intervention. The last we heard was from the Leader of the House last summer, when he made a rather disarming and gentle statement that in due course the Government would produce a White Paper, and he mentioned that there would be a few commercial television stations of low power. That was all he said and he was at pains to minimise this matter.
Now that we have got the proposals of the Government, and only now, it must be obvious to the Home Secretary that quite part from the criticisms from this side of the House, and the criticism in the nation at large, this scheme will not work for the reasons suggested by the hon. Member for Yarmouth. Unless the Government are prepared to throw away some of the rather curious safeguards in the White Paper, the schemes they are proposing simply will not work. Although I deplore the entire idea, I think there would be much more to be said if they had gone right out for sponsorship than for a bad compromise which clearly will not work.
One of the most surprising things about the policy of the Government is that they should have introduced these 156 proposals with so little inquiry. At the time of the Labour Government there was frequent criticism by the party opposite that many proposals for nationalization and for major alterations were introduced without due inquiry. I am not prepared to accept that argument entirely, but I think that in one or two cases there was some substance in those complaints. The fact remains that those proposals had long been part of Labour party policy, that they had been put before the people, and that there had been many Government inquiries which pointed in that direction. Indeed, in the case of the gas industry there was an inquiry which set the pattern for nationalisation. Yet hon. Gentlemen opposite complained continually that we were doing those things without due inquiry.
But here, in a field where there have been numerous inquiries which have all come down in favour of maintaining the present approach to the problem, they have thrown those away, they have initiated no new inquiry of their own, and they have put the matter into the field of party politics. Of course the issue is a political one—we all admit that—but need it have been a party political one? It is a simple fact that this was not a party political issue until the Government came forward with their first proposals for sponsorship and for commercial television.
We have had quite a lot of discussion about the B.B.C. monopoly and about monopoly generally. I do not propose to repeat the arguments already deployed on this subject, but it is a mistake to assume that a single institution necessarily involves monopolistic tendencies in its functions. It would be just as true to say that Parliament is a monopoly as to say that the B.B.C. is one. Mr. Speaker would certainly not confirm the idea that there is thought control in this House or that there is not the widest expression of differing views. I think that hon. Members opposite will concede that in the case of the B.B.C. there is a wide expression of differing views and that the B.B.C. do not themselves seek to censor those views.
There has been another argument on the subject of monopoly, the argument with regard to the employment of B.B.C. officials and of artistes. First I think we 157 should agree that an industry or an organisation exists primarily for the benefit for the community as a whole. However, I agree that the employees, whether they be in the B.B.C. or on British Railways, are entitled to fair conditions of employment and fair opportunities, but are the B.B.C. the bad employers that some people have suggested? I know that a number of former B.B.C. staff, and Mr. Norman Collins in particular, have come out and attacked the B.B.C. I do not propose to go into the reasons why Mr. Collins had to leave the B.B.C. He himself is the best judge of that.
§ Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing
Since the hon. Member has rather suggested motives, I should like to say that when Mr. Collins left the B.B.C. he said he was leaving because he did not think that the television service of the B.B.C. had sufficient autonomy and that he thought it should be given a fair crack of the whip by Broadcasting House.
§ Mr. Shackleton
Sincethe hon. Member has said that, I should add that Mr. Collins gave a Press conference before he ever handed in his resignation, and his reason for leaving was that somebody had been put over him.
§ Mr. Shackleton
The reason why somebody was put over Mr. Collins is widely known in the B.B.C. and undoubtedly is known to Mr. Collins.
It is not valid to suggest the setting up of a second corporation or a second system of broadcasting purely to provide better opportunities for broadcasting employees and for artistes and others. I quite agree that it is very desirable that alternative employment should be made available wherever possible, but I do not think that that is a paramount reason or a strong enough reason for breaking the monopoly. In any case, very serious anxieties have been expressed, particularly by British Equity and the Authors' Society and others as to what the future of their members will be under the Government's proposed system of commercial broadcasting. Will they be given the fair crack of the whip for which they hope?
The Assistant Postmaster-General made a number of statements about protection 158 against importations of canned television from other countries. It is almost certain that canned television will come in unless the Government impose the most stringent safeguards of a kind never effectively imposed in connection with the cinema. There is evidence that there will be an increased risk to the employment of British artistes and others under this system of commercial television.
There is one argument which is put forward in favour of the Government proposal which was not stressed today, though it has been stressed strongly in earlier debates and it is stressed in the White Paper. It is the entirely false analogy with the Press. In the debate in the other place Lord Salisbury stressed it particularly, and in fact I think he actually said that advertising was the same in the case of the newspapers and television programmes. That has been effectively answered today from this side of the House. We know that they are totally different things but there is an argument which I should like to put forward which I do not think has been put forward hitherto on this issue.
One main difference between the advertisements which would appear on commercial television and those which appear in the Press is that the number of advertisers who can take part in commercial television is extremely small, whereas the number of advertisements which appear in newspapers runs into thousands. A very high proportion of newspaper revenue is derived from small advertisements both in newspapers like "The Times" and in many other newspapers, like the evening newspapers, where there are enormous numbers of small advertisements. Quite clearly the influence of those advertisers is negligible and, indeed, nil when compared with the influence of the advertiser on television who, if he does his job properly, must insist that the right type of programme is presented to link with his advertisement. It is nonsense to suggest that any self-respecting advertiser would do anything other than that. His job is to secure the maximum amount of advertising for the products that he is trying to sell and therefore he must be concerned with the contents of a specific programme.
§ Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing
If that is true, are the bazaar keepers in Egypt having to pay treble rates because articles written by the right hon. Member for 159 Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) are published next to their advertisements?
§ Mr. Shackleton
I made a mistake in giving way to the hon. Member. This is a subject which we are trying to discuss seriously, and I am trying to put over a rather difficult argument. The influence of advertising, I repeat, is bound to be very great with regard to the actual programmes. The question is whether it is likely to be good or bad. There has been a lot of talk about the importance of advertising. One hon. Member talked of the B.B.C. mystique; we have a lot of advertising mystique today. Some may think that too much money is spent on advertising. Some business men I know feel that they would like to spend less, but dare not take the risk.
This point has been made time and again, but Government speakers have consistently refused either to understand or to accept it. What we are arguing against is that broadcasting should be put on primarily as a lure to the sale of goods and this extension of the rôle of advertising takes it far beyond its proper place in the community. There has been a lot of discussion on the subject of debasement. One hon. Member suggested that advertising was extremely good for people. He said that if one wanted to cure a headache the best way was to look at the popular advertisements. That really is complete nonsense.
What we are objecting to in the effect of advertising on television is not simply that advertising will put on indecent or debauching programmes, but that it will not provide a true alternative programme or freedom of choice for the viewer, and the general tendency will be to lower the standard throughout the country. I shall explain a little more how I think that will come about. This has happened in other countries where there is competition between the public service and commercial radio. The B.B.C. will be compelled to go very hard for the retention of its listenership or viewer audience. They are bound to be influenced by the fact that at certain times of the day there may be a particular type of programme put on with a mass appeal. They may find that there is an all-in wrestling match in Liverpool which is being televised by the commercial organisation and be rather tempted 160 to put on another all-in wrestling match on their programme. Hon. Members opposite, particularly the hon. Member for Yarmouth, may think that a good and healthy development, but it is surely a complete failure to appreciate what the purpose of broadcasting should be in this country. It is a failure to appreciate the true meaning of freedom of choice. We have heard a lot about freedom of choice, but this appears to be freedom of choice to enter this field in order to advertise goods.
It is not freedom of choice for the listener that bothers those who are so intent on advocating the proposals of the Government. All this talk about freedom in this context is completely misleading. It is not open to the small man or the authentic voice of freedom, as in the days when a man went to the printing press in order to get a pamphlet of revolt printed. That type of opportunity will not be open to such people in the programme of companies under the corporation envisaged by the Government. This really represents a misunderstanding of the significance of freedom.
The defenders of the Government's proposals complain that no effective alternative has been put forward. That is completely untrue because we have, first, the B.B.C.'s own proposals, which are quite clear, namely, that it will be possible to provide a satisfactory alternative programme providing that the television licence fee is increased to £3. The Assistant Postmaster-General quoted a number of different figures as to the cost of putting on alternative programmes. It should be the duty of the Government to refute, if they can, the B.B.C.'s estimate in this matter.
This surely seems to be the best and easist way of giving what the television viewers in this country want—a properly balanced alternative programme which will give them a real choice, a choice between my right hon. Friend's ballet lessons and the Assistant Postmaster-General's cabaret club. That is what we want; we want that choice. I do not think the House needs to be too mealy-mouthed or respectable about the type of programme that goes on, but we want a choice and above all we want a real opportunity for the public to have some of the things which the B.B.C. has provided on sound.
161 There is no doubt that the rise in the appreciation of music in this country and in many other directions has largely come through the leadership which the B.B.C. has given. In this matter, there is a serious responsibility resting on the Government. Why are the Government spending so much money on subsidising orchestras, ballet and opera throughout the country? They are doing so rightly, and it is a proper function for the broadcasting system of this country.
The criticisms which we level against the Government's scheme are nation-wide. They are so serious that I hope that the Government will sincerely consider the proposition which my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) put forward that there should be reconsideration of these proposals and that the matter should possibly be thrashed out at a round-table meeting with the Leaders of the Opposition and others—anyone whom the Government like to suggest.
It may be that new technical developments—subscriber radio and so on—create the need for a new technical committee of inquiry to fill in what has happened since the days of the Beveridge Committee. It is clear that if the Government go on with these proposals they will not only be landing the country in serious trouble but will be landing themselves in very serious trouble. I am in no way trying to make a threat when I say that the Government are likely to find much difficulty in getting the Bill which they will have to bring in through both Houses of Parliament. There will be infinite scope for amendment, and the Bill as it emerges may prove to be unworkable.
I urge the Government and the Opposition to make a determined effort to find a really concrete solution, if necessary on the basis of competing corporations but free from advertising. If the Government do that they may run into a little trouble with some of their followers but by and large they will gain in reputation in the opinion of the country.
§ Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Kaberry.]
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.