§ 3.52 p.m.
§ The Postmaster-General (Dr. Charles Hill)
I beg to move,That this House considers that it is in the interest of Parliament and the nation to preserve the principle of some limitation to the anticipation of Parliamentary debates by broadcasting; and would welcome the appointment of a Select Committee to consider whether any changes are desirable in the present methods of giving effect to this principle.
§ Mr. C. R. Hobson (Keighley)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would it be relevant at this moment to ask what Amendments are likely to be called?
§ Mr. Speaker
If it would assist the House, I may state that I intend to call the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly). That is the only Amendment I intended to call, as there seemed to be some doubt whether some of the other Amendments are in order.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
With respect, Mr. Speaker, while accepting that view, may I ask whether you will give consideration to the Amendment standing in the names of ten hon. Members, including myself, at the end to add:and to investigate the selection of speakers by the British Broadcasting Corporation on political and industrial topics; and, in particular, the reason why so few trade unionists, co-operative movement representatives, and honourable Members from northern constituencies are selected"?Could that be taken as an addendum if not as an Amendment?
§ Mr. Speaker
I have decided not to call that Amendment as I have some doubt whether it would be in order. I gathered that the intention of the House was that there should be a discussion on the 14-day rule, as it is called, and to distract the attention of the House from that point would not be in the interests of the House as a whole. Therefore, I propose to call the one Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Pembroke.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr Tydvil)
Further to that point of order. May I be advised whether there will be an oppor- 2316 tunity for hon. Members to vote without any qualifications at all against the 14-day rule?
§ Mr. Speaker
So long as we get started on this debate in the first place, so long as hon. Members limit their eloquence to such periods of time as will enable me to call as many hon. Members as I can, and so long as hon. Members keep in order, there is no reason why those things should not be expressed.
§ Dr. Hill
I think it will assist the House in consideration of this Motion if, before passing to arguments and counter-arguments, I describe the main events which led up to the issue of a direction to the B.B.C. under Clause 15 (4) of the Licence and to the Independent Television Authority under Section 9 (2) of the Television Act. The story began in 1944, for then it was that the B.B.C. decided, on its own responsibility, to limit the anticipation of Parliamentary debates by broadcasting. The Governors decided that when a debate on a major matter of public policy was imminent or actually taking place in Parliament the B.B.C. should not allow the broadcasting of Ministerial or other ex parte statements thereon. In operating that decision the B.B.C. construed the word "imminent" as covering a fortnight before the Parliamentary debate.
True, this was a self-protective measure of the B.B.C. True, it should be considered in relation to the circumstances of the time, for political broadcasting was hardly under way at that time. True, it was directed mainly at Ministers, but the fact remains that it was a 14-day limitation of all ex parte statements, Ministerial and otherwise. Thus it was that a 14-day limitation of anticipation of Parliamentary debates began to operate from 1944. Between 1944 and 1948, in the discussions between the then Labour Government and the then Conservative Opposition, various modifications of the 1944 rule were considered and the outcome was that in 1948 a new edition of the rule, on the basis of suggestions made by the B.B.C., was agreed between the B.B.C. and the leaders of the Government and the Opposition. This 1948 edition took the following form:No broadcasts arranged by the B.B.C. other than the normal reporting of Parliamentary proceedings are to take place on any question while it is the subject of discussion in either House. …2317 It was further provided that this new rule would be subject to the following interpretation agreed by the Corporation:(a) the B.B.C. will not have discussions or ex parte statements on any issues for a period of a fortnight before they are debated in either House.That, in practice, was extended by the Corporation to cover the debate as well and the interpretation also said:(b) while matters are subjects of legislation members of Parliament will not be used in such discussions.That 1948 rule, if I may so call it, governed the situation from 1948 until July this year, but it was early in 1951—following the publication of the Report of the Beveridge Committee which recommended that these arrangements should be reconsidered—that the B.B.C. first indicated a desire to reopen the matter of the 1948 arrangement. It was in 1953 that the B.B.C. put forward some positive proposals and the positive proposals of the Corporation may be fairly summarised in this way. The B.B.C. claimed that the responsibility in this matter should be wholly theirs and no longer shared with the party leaders. They proposed that the fortnight rule should be deemed to be terminated and that the Governors should resume the same control over this as over other matters. But the Governors made clear, at the same time, that in exercising their responsibilities they would undertake to refrain from using Members of Parliament of either House in broadcasts during the fortnight before a debate and they would also take particular care to avoid ex parte statements or discussion programmes on highly controversial questions of the first importance during that period. If this could not be approved, they asked that the matter should be regularised and made plain by the issue of a direction under Clause 15 (4) of the Licence.
In 1954, after exchanges with the B.B.C., the leaders of the three parties decided that they could not agree that the whole of the responsibility should rest with the B.B.C. and that they preferred to continue the arrangements which, in their view, had been working satisfactorily since 1948. In short, they preferred to retain the status quo. Whereupon the B.B.C. asked that if the rule was to be continued in force, it should be imposed upon the Corporation by the issue of a direction. And so it was that in July of 2318 last year the party leaders decided, with reluctance, that the arrangement should be converted into a direction.
§ Sir Robert Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)
To whom is my right hon. Friend referring by "party leaders"?
§ Dr. Hill
I think the House may take it that hon. Members know the names of the hon. Members concerned.
Efforts were made by my predecessor to persuade the B.B.C., now confronted with the fact that its proposals were unacceptable, to continue the 1948 arrangements and make a direction unnecessary. And when, in April last, as Postmaster-General, I inherited this position, one of my first tasks was to repeat the efforts of my predecessor to avoid the issue of a direction.
I saw the Chairman of the Governors personally. I urged on him the disadvantages of a direction. I said to him quite plainly that as a general principle the issue of directions should be avoided wherever possible. But the Corporation, fully within its rights, was adamant on the point. So it was that in July of this year a direction was issued in terms intended to achieve the same objective as was intended by the 1948 rule.
Perhaps I may remind the House of the actual words of the direction:that the Corporation shall not, on any issue, arrange discussions or ex parte statements which are to be broadcast during a period of a fortnight before the issue is debated in either House or while it is being so debated.Secondly,that when legislation is introduced in Parliament on any subject, the Corporation shall not, on such subject, arrange broadcasts by any Member of Parliament which are to be made during the period between the introduction of the legislation and the time when it either receives the Royal Assent or is previously withdrawn or dropped.
§ Sir Leslie Plummer (Deptford)
Is it not true that on receipt of that direction the B.B.C. issued a public protest against it?
§ Dr. Hill
Oh, yes. I have assumed that hon. Members are aware of the public statements of one kind and another that have been made by the B.B.C., by the I.T.A. and by other bodies.
There are several significant features of this recital of facts to which I should draw the attention of the House. First, it was the B.B.C. itself which decided, in the light of its own experience, that some limitation on the anticipation of Parliamentary debates was desirable. Secondly, the arrangements of 1948, as agreed by the B.B.C., had been working since that date until replaced by the direction issued in July of this year. Thirdly—and this, I believe, is the most important point—the essence of the Corporation's proposals up to 1954 was that the rule should be abandoned and the matter should be left entirely to the Corporation's discretion.
The Corporation's intention at the outset, as it made plain, would have been to avoid ex parte statements or discussion programmes on highly controversial subjects of the first importance during the period of a fortnight, but the matter would be entirely for the Corporation's own discretion. The whole matter of the rule, that it would seek voluntarily to impose in the absence of a direction, would be a 14-day limitation, in the terms that I have used, relating to Members of Parliament and others.
Here was the important difference. The B.B.C. would have the responsibility to determine the limitation or to modify it—it may be to shorten the period or to lengthen it—or to narrow the scope or to extend it in its own discretion. It would be free to act as it thought best. Let it be said that we in this House have no doubt whatever that the Corporation would have acted with a full recognition of its responsibility. But this was what the party leaders found themselves unable to accept.
2320 The B.B.C. agreed that there should be a limitation—indeed, it has devised one. It had worked an agreed limitation. It was still prepared to operate a limitation provided that it was within its own discretion. What was unacceptable was that the Corporation, and the Corporation alone, should have full responsibility for working that limitation and for modifying it.
Fourthly, it was the B.B.C. which, having failed to persuade the party leaders that the Corporation should decide and operate the rule, insisted on a direction. Lastly, the direction which was issued set out, as I have said, precisely to achieve the same arrangements as those which had obtained since 1948. So much for the background against which the issue now before the House should be viewed.
I come now to some of the arguments which have been used in connection with the rule. Some very interesting words were used by the Corporation itself, by its then Director-General, Sir William Haley, now Editor of The Times, words that he used after some experience of the 1948 rule and which he wrote in the spring of 1949. I quote his words:It would be highly undesirable for it"—that is, the B.B.C.—to become a simultaneous debating arena with Parliament. There should be explanation, debate, controversy before, and possibly after, Parliament has dealt with an issue, but Parliament is the only grand forum of the nation. Once the matter at issue is under active discussion there, it should not also be being contested on the ether. In order to avoid this danger, the Corporation a few years ago established a rule that no controversial or ex parte statement should be broadcast on a matter upon which a debate in Parliament is imminent. So far as possible 'imminent' is construed as a fortnight before a debate in either House.Similar but simpler words were used by the B.B.C. in its Annual Report for 1954–55:The object of the rule has been to give effect to the principle that broadcasting should not be allowed to encroach on the position of Parliament as the supreme forum for the discussion of public issues.I therefore suggest that the issue before us today is this: Would broadcasting, in the absence of some such rule, encroach on the position of Parliament by prejudicing the Parliamentary discussion of public issues? I am posing the question which I shall seek subsequently to answer. If so, should steps be taken to prevent 2321 such an encroachment? Thirdly, if that be agreed, is it right to limit anticipation by some such method as the 14-day rule? Before seeking to answer all these questions, let me refer to three main propositions which have played a prominent part in the public discussion, and let me for the moment speak as if there were but one broadcasting body, the B.B.C., as there was when these events took place. Later, we can consider whether the advent of the I.T.A. affects the arguments.
It has been contended, and widely contended, that the B.B.C. is not so different from the Press as to justify the application of a restriction on the former which is not applied to the latter. Is there really no great difference between the two? I suggest that the Press, on the one hand, is a miscellany of competing and diverse and differing organs; that, to say the least of it, it is many-sided and many-coloured; that tit is probably true to say that points of view worth expressing can be ventilated in one or another way in one or another organ of the Press. I suggest that in such circumstances such views can be challenged and rebutted by contrary views, that in the Press there is virtually a free-for-all.
On the other hand, the air is controlled by a single agency. The speakers are selected by that single agency. It is not available to all and sundry, not available to all Members of Parliament, not available to all members of the public. I should say that the comparison with the Press would be closer if there were but one newspaper and one only. Indeed, if there were but one newspaper and a variety of broadcasting agencies the comparison would probably be complete; but I suggest that if there were but one newspaper some people would be suggesting some limitations on its activities in the interests of freedom.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards (Caerphilly)
How does that square with the obligation on the B.B.C. to maintain a proper balance of views?
§ Dr. Hill
It is a requirement on the Corporation to maintain a proper balance of competing points of view, but it is also a fact that the single agency chooses the speakers, and that is the one point which, for the moment, I am making.
In much the same way, in the controversy comparisons have been made be- 2322 tween broadcasting and the public meeting. There are obvious differences, of course—perhaps growing differences—in the size of audience, but also, as hon. Members know to their cost, at a public meeting the audience need not be silent. It can show its dissent. On the air, the speakers have the substantial advantage of talking to an audience which cannot answer back.
§ Dr. Hill
The second proposition I would put to the House is that broadcasting, including television, has an immense power to influence public opinion, a power that is greater than that of any other agency of news and views. Clearly, this is a matter of opinion. Perhaps those of us who spend so much of our time away from our firesides may find it difficult to reach a conclusion on this point, yet I believe it is a fact of everyday life, of everyday experience, that broadcasting, and particularly television, exercises a dominating, almost commanding, and certainly an intrusive influence on the lives of the people of this country.
§ Dr. Hill
Of course, the position may change in the future. Audiences may become less captive than they are, and many of us will hope they will, yet I believe it is an undeniable fact of life today that the influence of broadcasting is tremendous for good or for evil. One of the Archer family perishes in the radio flames. What an outburst! What a sense of personal loss! Though I recognise that this argument of influence is not the complete case for the rule, I do suggest that it is a factor which should be taken into account.
The third proposition—indeed, it is less a proposition than a statement of fact—is that in this, as in other activities, the people to do it are selected, as they should be, for their capacity to do the job—in this instance, for broadcasting qualities. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I want to state this case moderately and fairly. No one can complain of that fact, or that a rôle of broadcasting is clearly to hold, to entertain and to amuse, but it does mean that if these are the qualities demanded, as, indeed, they should be, the contributions of the few 2323 selected may be informed or not so well informed, representative or unrepresentative, accurate or inaccurate, cautious or reckless.
If it be accepted that broadcasting does differ from the Press and the public meeting, if it be accepted that it has an immense influence, and that the limited number of those who appear are selected for special qualities not necessarily related to the knowledge or authority with which they speak on a topic, then is there not a real danger that if a few selected persons are free to broadcast on matters shortly to come up for discussion in this House, if they are to broadcast free of restraint and responsibility before Ministers have come to this Box and speakers for the Opposition to that Box to deploy the facts and the arguments, Parliamentary discussion will be prejudiced and the authority of Parliament will suffer?
§ Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)
Would the right hon. Gentleman consider this argument? Suppose there were to be a debate on health in the House, would he say that the "Radio Doctor" should disappear for a couple of weeks beforehand?
§ Dr. Hill
I shall treat that question as seriously as, I am sure, it was intended.
Some hon. Members would say, "Yes, even if the case is made out that there is a danger to the authority of Parliament, such is the sanctity of the liberty of free speech that no limitation of anticipation should be imposed, but the risk should be taken." I think it was Edmund Burke who said that liberty must be limited in order to be possessed, but, in any case, does anybody really maintain that the B.B.C. should be free to express its own views on current issues? At present, it is prevented from so doing. It is prevented by direction from so doing. That, I believe, is a limitation of free speech which is generally agreed, and generally agreed in order to ensure freedom.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Party is fully entitled, if I may say so without presumption, to change his mind. In July of last year, he agreed to the 14-day direction. Since then, he has changed his mind, and no one will criticise him for that. Indeed, I hope that other hon. Members will change their minds during the course of 2324 today's debate, but what I want to say is this. Surely, if there had been so obvious a conflict between the 14-day rule and the principles of free speech, he would have spotted it in July of last year, when the right hon. and learned Gentleman agreed to the rule?
Others have spoken as if this rule is crippling free discussion on the air. I am bound to say it has been in operation since 1948 and that I have not noticed that in controversial programmes there has been a crippling disability.
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge and Airdrie)
This rule has not been in operation since 1948. There has been a distinct change within the past six months, whereby no subject introduced to the House, from the time the Bill is introduced to the time when it receives the Royal Assent, can be discussed at all. We are presented with two and a half pages of subjects on which we dare not comment.
§ Dr. Hill
In the form of 1948, the rule covered the same field as the direction of last July, but I shall come later in my observations to the distinction between that general arrangement and the prescribed rule.
On this subject of whether there has been a crippling disability since 1949, the B.B.C. itself, as the House will recall, not only began the rule in 1944 and agreed to a modified version in 1948, but was willing to continue in 1955, provided that it could do so within its own discretion. On the subject of freedom, whose freedom is here involved? Is it the freedom of the ordinary man? He has no right to a place on the air. It is not the freedom of Members of Parliament, for they will have the opportunity of seeking to catch Mr. Speaker's eye, and, in any case, can appear on the air only if considered suitable by the broadcasting authorities. It is not the freedom of the Press, for the Press is not subject and will not be subject to any such limitation.
Is it really an invasion of the principle of free speech to say to the broadcasting authorities that when Parliament is about to discuss a topic, it should be able to deploy facts and arguments before broadcasters resume discussions or statements on that issue? When the legislative programme is announced in the Gracious Speech, there can be unfettered discussion, and when Parliament has had its debate 2325 there is no limitation. The period of limitation is that between the decision to discuss an issue or subject and the end of the actual discussion.
This direction is not the beginning of a censorship, nor does it, as has been suggested in some quarters, raise the spectre of Parliament against the people. It is designed, I suggest, to protect the public, while Parliament is debating an important issue, from having views on that issue thrust upon them—because they obviously cannot answer back—by a few people, sometimes unrepresentative, sometimes not fully informed, and often trying to cover a vast problem in a few minutes.
Over the years, as everyone in the House will recognise, the B.B.C. has played a great part in putting Parliamentary issues to the people, and we should pay tribute to it for its work in this field. It might well help still further, as many hon. Members will think, for the broadcasting authorities to report more fully the arguments in Parliamentary debates, rather than arrange anticipatory or simultaneous discussions on the air by a few people selected by them without any responsibility to Parliament or the nation for the statements they make or the views which they express.
§ Mr. Percy Daines (East Ham, North)
Surely, the right hon. Gentleman is being a little ungracious about the extent of the coverage which the B.B.C. gives to Parliament, which includes "Today in Parliament," "The Week in Westminster" and the ordinary news. In view of this, I suggest that he is being a little bit unfair to the B.B.C.
§ Dr. Hill
I have no desire to be ungracious to the B.B.C. in this respect. Indeed I said earlier that the B.B.C. has played an immense part in interesting the people in public and Parliamentary issues.
Though much of what I have said bears on both parts of the rule, the second part, as the House will know, relates only to legislation before Parliament and refers only to Members of Parliament. Is it not reasonable that when Members wish to discuss legislation while legislation is before the House, the better place to do it is here, with you, Mr. Speaker, as the selector of the speakers, and with all the checks and counter-checks which this House customarily applies to its debates? The reason for putting this refinement in 2326 separately is that the first leg of the direction relates to matters at issue and covers all Members of Parliament and others, while the second and legislative leg covers subjects, whether issues or not, which are included under the heading of legislation.
Before concluding this part of the argument, I should perhaps refer to the Independent Television Authority. Does the fact of a second programme, at present confined to the London area, but later to be available in other parts of the country, upset the main arguments? I think not, at present. Should television so develop as to give the variety and diversity of the Press, a new situation would arise and new consideration would be needed, but I suggest that, as matters are, the main arguments stand.
So far, I have said nothing about the form of the rule. The 1955 rule is intended to be the same as the 1948 arrangement, with such precision as is necessary in a formal rule, but, of course, when we seek to convert a general arrangement, which leaves room for judgment and discretion, into a formal rule of legal significance, we are bound to run up against difficulties of interpretation, and I think that no one will deny that. For example, under the second leg of the present rule, if the introduction of a Bill means its First Reading, Members of Parliament are precluded from discussing the subject of that Bill until the Bill has passed through all its stages or has got lost on the way. On a strict interpretation, that would catch a Private Member's Bill even before it was printed and for so long as it was before the House.
There are other difficulties, as there must be under any formal rule, but a good case could be put forward for so simplifying the rule that it is the items of business specifically announced by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on Thursdays which alone are subject to a limitation of broadcast discussion until the end of the following week, or, to be more accurate, until Parliament has disposed of the subject during the following week.
It might well be argued that to have an eight-day rule would differ little from what we have under the 14-day rule as it is today. On the other hand, some have suggested that the rule should be limited to Members of Parliament, leaving others, including defeated candidates, to 2327 rule the air. Like other hon. Members, I shall have suggestions to make in the light of experience for simpler working, but it is such matters which I suggest can properly be put to a Select Committee of the House, once the House has made up its mind on the fundamental principle. That is what really matters, and that is all that the House is being invited to pronounce upon today—not the merits of the existing rule. Once the House has decided its attitude and has approved the principle, and once the Select Committee has reported on the form, and that has been approved, it might well be possible for the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. programme companies to agree to operate the new arrangement without the need for a specific direction by the Postmaster-General.
They are matters for the future. The matter for the present and for the House is the underlying principle. I am sure that I express what many hon. Members feel when I say that this is not and should not today become a conflict between the viewed and the unviewed, the glamorous and the not so glamorous. I suggest to the House that today is the occasion for approving the principle and that merely to debate it without conclusion and then to invite a Select Committee to debate it again and report back to the House is an unnecessary and undesirable prolongation of the procedure.
If I have not dwelt for any time on the fundamental importance of preserving the position of Parliament it is partly because I prefer to put it in more precise terms, and partly because I feel that it would be presumptuous for one who has been for so short a time in the House to deal with that aspect when I know that other hon. and right hon. Members with much longer service to the House will seek to speak on this subject.
All I would say is that if it be true that the maintenance of Parliament as the principal forum for the discussion of national issues, the maintenance of the prestige of Parliament, is an important element in the preservation of liberty then, limitation though this is, it is not unreasonable to say that this limitation is in itself a contribution to freedom.
§ 4.33 p.m.
§ Mr. C. R. Attlee (Walthamstow, West)
I desire to intervene for only a very short time in the debate. I am speaking for myself. This is a matter for the free vote of the House. I think that I have been connected with this subject for longer than anybody else in the House. Indeed, I have taken part in discussions ever since it was decided that there should be political broadcasting. I can remember the time when there was no political broadcasting.
It must be realised that this is a difficult and important subject. We are dealing with an instrument of very great power. I am supporting the Motion which has been moved by the Postmaster-General. It falls into two parts. First of all, it asserts the need for some control and proposes a Select Committee of the House to consider its extent. The Postmaster-General has set out the history of the matter and I am in agreement with him. Whatever responsibility I have in the matter I fully accept.
The Postmaster-General has noted that the rule began with the B.B.C. The odd thing is that, despite all the cries now that this is a terrible infringement and a hardship, nobody noticed it for about seven years. As long as the practice was not reduced to writing it worked perfectly well, as so many of our conventions do. We are accustomed to working under an unwritten Constitution. We carry on in the House of Commons with all kinds of conventions which could never be reduced to writing. The trouble is that once one begins to define, one gets into difficulties.
I support the rule because I believe in maintaining Parliament as the right and major forum for debate, the place where Measures and policies can be debated and where, through very long practice—and this is a very difficult thing obtained in few places—we have come to a position in which, by and large, the majority is able to secure its will, but the minority is given full opportunity of criticism and opposition. That is not an easy thing to achieve. I do not think that it is too easy to do on the B.B.C.
Here, in this Chamber, when they make their speeches, leading statesmen are conscious that they are in the presence of critics. They can be answered at once, not only by the leaders but by back 2329 benchers, who frequently intervene. I think that that has a very salutary effect on the speeches they make. It is true that people can switch off the wireless, but they cannot interrupt speakers on the wireless and a period of time must always go by before there is a reply. I am only alluding, in passing, to political speeches which are given by the various parties. They take a great deal of arranging and a great deal of care has to be taken over them. We are more concerned here with the discussions which we have on the wireless.
We then come to the point which was made by the Postmaster-General—the fact that in the House the speakers are selected by Mr. Speaker and the Chairmen of Committees. Here again, convention comes in. It is the convention generally that someone from the Front Benches speaks at the beginning and end of every debate, but on the radio the selection is made by I do not know quite whom. As far as I know, it is done by someone who is quite anonymous, someone who is a servant of a body of most respectable people, who are not elected, but who are, in fact, selected by the Government of the day; and that question of selection is a very difficult one.
Broadly speaking, as time goes on, the House of Commons generally finds out to whom it wants to listen and people attain certain positions in the House. I do not quite know how the people who appear on the wireless are selected. I am told that the selection is based on their entertainment value. There are quite a number of hon. Members who are very entertaining in this House, though the B.B.C. does not know it and very often the speaker himself does not know it. I am sure there is a reservoir in the House among the 500 or 600 who have never been selected who might do very well on the B.B.C., but this is something outside our ken altogether. These matters should be put before the public by people with responsibility.
§ Mr. Attlee
I quite understand that the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby) objects. Perhaps I could include him as a responsible person.
§ Sir R. Boothby indicated assent.
§ Mr. Attlee
The Press has been dealt with very fully by the Postmaster-General. 2330 There is no comparison with the Press. The B.B.C. debate on a major matter which is before Parliament is a single occasion. The subject may be debated by one person or by three or four, but a number of views may be expressed in the Press. Despite the syndication of the Press, one has a certain variety. The more reputable organs will publish letters from people with a contrary opinion and obtain great variety.
The B.B.C. broadcast is a single occasion and it enters into millions of homes. It is of immense importance, and, therefore, I think that there comes in a great difficulty as time goes on. At present, it is done by selection by an official of the B.B.C., who selects people for their entertainment value. I think that it would be very dangerous if this thing so grew in importance that eventually we had to have "back benchers," so to speak, always speaking on these matters.
One of the fears I have always had, is, first, that the B.B.C. should become a kind of Fifth Estate of the Realm, with views of its own, and, secondly, that it should become an instrument of the Government. I propose to take the Government point of view for the moment—which is kind of me, because I am in opposition. Broadly speaking, a Minister would not appear in these debates, and therefore it would, so to speak, handicap the Government side to be represented more often than not by someone, shall we say, from the "Third Eleven"—[Laughter]—I am, of course, dealing with responsibility and not entertainment value—whereas the Opposition would be free to put up their people who are not in office.
There may therefore be a tendency, sooner or later, for the Government to put up its Ministers. There might come a time when major measures were introduced by a Minister, not first in this House, but first on the wireless. That may sound absurd, but we have had examples of what happens when the wireless is used in totalitarian countries. It is an instrument the use of which has to be watched extremely carefully, in my opinion, and, therefore, I think that there is good reason for this rule.
There is further, the fact that we put a restraint on ourselves in this House. I am not suggesting that the B.B.C. or other authorities are reckless. But this 2331 very week there was the question of whether there should be a debate on Cyprus, and this House, in its experience, decided it better to postpone that for a few days, because of its knowledge that there is need for control. Otherwise, were the matter left completely free, much might be anticipated and the danger then would increase with the responsibility of the person selected to speak. There is, I think, a clear case for some regulation.
There is no right of speech on the wireless. There is no infringement of the right of free speech. No one here has the right to go to the B.B.C. and demand to be heard. A great many people never have been heard and, like as not, never will be. Therefore, I think that kind of ultra-libertarian point of view is out of it altogether. On the other hand, I think that there is a need to examine the exact working of what is proposed. It worked much better so long as it was a kind of "gentleman's agreement," and was not reduced to writing. Maybe the question will arise, I think it may, that there should not be discussion on a Bill before Second Reading. On the other hand, after the Second Reading debate, and when the Measure is going to a Committee, and so on, the more discussion the better.
Again, I do not think that the rule should apply to Private Members' Bills, because private Members can stake out a claim to discuss all sorts of subjects. It might hamper national life very severely were every Motion and Bill tabled by a private Member to block the way for discussions on the wireless. There is need for consideration of the matter and I think that a House of Commons Select Committee should do that.
I hope that there will be support for the Government's Motion to affirming the rule, but that the House itself will recommend the application. It would be a mistake if we try to avoid coming to a decision ourselves by handing that matter over to a committee, and we should probably get only divided reports if we did so. The right way is for the House to decide on the principle and then to set experienced people to work out how it is to be applied.
I believe that this is an issue, which, while it lends itself to some extent to 2332 entertainment, is one of very vital importance. I believe that we must keep this House in the position which it has held for so many years as the great forum of democracy. I deplore that today so much of the Press neglects this House. When I was young we got far fuller reports on Parliament and far more newspapers reported the proceedings of this House, and I should regret anything that would detract from the importance of this House. After all, we are an exemplar for other people. While I think that the wireless is a tremendous instrument for good, as the Postmaster-General has said, it is susceptible to abuse. This is not one of those things of which, in the national interest, one can say, "Go and do just as you please."
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Chichester-Clark (Londonderry)
As this is a maiden speech, I must crave the indulgence of the House and, as a member of what the right hon. Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Attlee) might call the "Third Eleven," I must also crave its double indulgence. The occasion of a maiden speech often provides a chance to refer at some length to one's constituency and, indeed, to one's constituents. If that be so, hon. Members may think that I have chosen the wrong occasion on which to make my maiden speech, because I can think of no Motion which it would be more difficult to relate directly to one's constituency. But let me say that, in the constituency of Londonderry which I have the honour to represent, I know that there is a large body of opinion which will support the views that I propose now to put forward. Of the others, let me say that I hope they will not condemn them out of hand.
I find no difficulty in accepting the terms of this Motion. The case, or rather the body of opinion which the Government have to meet, is twofold. Outside this House there has grown up a feeling that this 14-day rule, this control, is, to put it forcibly, a form of ramp. It is thought by some less responsible members of the public to be a form of agreement between the "powers that be," which they are sometimes pleased to call the "establishment," to prevent back benchers and people outside from exceeding their own importance and from taking the focus of the country. That is not the real responsible argument 2333 which has to be met in this case. It is an opinion which has grown up. The responsible argument simplified is that the electorate should be as well informed as possible of any current event, and no one will deny that to be true.
But, say the critics, the electorate, or rather the public, do not read the newspapers, or if they do, they do not read the political columns; so it is better that they should hear of what goes on through the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. than nothing at all. During the war the B.B.C. gained a deservedly great reputation, which to a very great extent has continued and exists today. No one would quarrel with that reputation. I am quite certain that no one will refer to the B.B.C. during this debate as, I think, Pitt once referred to the Press as the "chartered libertine of the air." Owing to the war, and during the war, speakers after the news bulletins found themselves credited with a kind of infallibility which they would never have claimed for themselves. This reputation grew up and has lingered on today.
If anyone doubts the credulity of people who listen to wireless programmes, they have only to recall the case which my right hon. Friend mentioned and remember that their sympathies should go out to a lady who "posthumously" continued to receive flowers many days after her "funeral." If that example is not enough, there is the case of the actress who jocularly appealed for sixpences with which to buy a new mink coat. I never heard whether she got the mink coat, but I did hear that she got enough sixpences to advertise in the papers thanking the donors. That is true of the B.B.C., but what of the I.T.A.? Someone said the other day that the I.T.A. had the power to empty the pubs between 8 and 9 p.m., and there is no other medium which can do that, with the possible horrible exception of watered beer.
All of us in some degree or other will probably admit that both the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. are extremely compelling and fascinating media, but it is that which makes the whole thing so dangerous. In the heat of debate accuracy slips by. Anyone can quote an inaccurate and unchecked figure with the greatest ease, and these is no contradiction possible. There is not on I.T.A. and the B.B.C. the 2334 restraining influence of the recording angels here in the Gallery. There is no check on the air. One cannot see in cold print at the breakfast table the next morning what one has said on Independent Television. There is nothing that is a really serious check.
It is also true, as already mentioned, that conventional views are rarely heard on the B.B.C., and Ministers, as we know, are never heard at all. We have heard much of this question of freedom of speech. Does freedom of speech, as the situation stands today, really exist? As the right hon. Gentleman rightly said, ordinary members of the public cannot go to the B.B.C. and say, "Look, we want to broadcast." They will get no answer to that. The real problem is the question of selection. As it is, only a handful of Members or other people outside the House can attain to the B.B.C. or the I.T.A. programmes. Who broadcasts, who is televised, is determined by anonymous producers who are very much more interested in listener research figures than they probably are—and I say this with respect—in providing a balanced and realistic argument, with the result that people are apt to hear what is possibly a minority view and certainly not—it is debatable whether it should be—the party line from either side of the House. It is often argued that the party line is heard, but it is not. This is almost never heard.
I must confess that I have some sympathy with those people who object to that part of the directive which has the effect of limiting the freedom of Members of Parliament to discuss Private Bills. There are some 20 or 30 such Bills before the House at the moment dealing with a wide range of subjects, and we are prevented from saying anything about them. In fact, many of them may never be heard of again. It seems a pity that nothing can be said about them on the air just now. In future, probably, the people who now put down Private Members' Bills will not even bother to do so on subjects which really matter, because they know that once they are down they cannot be discussed on the air, at least by Members of Parliament, and that a great deal of valuable publicity will be lost.
I have also some sympathy with, but perhaps not a great understanding of, the Amendment put down by the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White), 2335 which concerns regional broadcasting. I should like to ask the Postmaster-General to clear up one point. Can he tell me whether the 14-day rule in fact applies to Northern Ireland and to business transacted in the House at Stormont? It may be of interest to those who are concerned with the claims of Scottish and Welsh nationalists to know that there is, I understand, a rule—and I hope I may be corrected if I am wrong—that in a Northern Ireland election for the Northern Ireland House of Commons an Irish nationalist is, by agreement with other parties, perfectly entitled to air his views. I do not know whether that would be considered equitable by everybody when in this country Welsh and Scottish nationalists have at no time on the B.B.C. a chance to air their views.
There is another small point. In Northern Ireland now the Sinn Fein party is reappearing. I hope that the Postmaster-General is perfectly satisfied that we shall not at the next General Election hear the air being used to produce a clarion call for recruits for the Irish Republican Army. But I must leave that topic.
Ever since the days of Canning, who first realised the importance of this principle, it has been regarded as important that Members of Parliament and Ministers should go to their constituencies and expound their views on current and important topics. I believe very strongly in that, because I believe that the very best form of political discussion, other than in this House, is not what takes place in the Press, nor, if I may say so with respect, the ipse dixit of handsome political entertainers; it is surely the give and take of our political meetings in our own constituencies. Our constituents come not only to hear us but to be heard, if they want to speak themselves, and give expression to their opinions.
My own constituency is still partially beyond the umbrella of television. My own meetings are well-attended, and I find them extremely valuable. That is one way in which one can know something of the opinions of one's constituents.
The real question before us is where the lead is to come from in political opinion in this country. Is it to come from political stars or from those who by their 2336 responsibilities and their ability have found their way to the forefront in this House, and from those, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, whom you call to address the House?
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Desmond Donnelly (Pembroke)
Like the Postmaster-General, I have been in this House for only five years, so it is perhaps with lack of proper weight that I speak, but it gives me very warm pleasure to congratulate the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) on his maiden speech.
I have a very great affection for Northern Ireland and for the hon. Member's constituency, firstly because his predecessor was a personal friend of mine, and, secondly, because I was once timorous enough to contest a by-election in Northern Ireland. I believe that I was the first British Labour Party candidate to stand in Northern Ireland, and to the best of my knowledge I have remained the last of its candidates to do so.
I well remember the enthusiasm of the constituents there. On polling day, I recollect going to one polling station and being shepherded into a tent where I was given a mackintosh. Then I was placed in a queue before a man sitting at a card table in the sunshine with what looked like one of the Postmaster-General's directories, which turned out to be the electoral register. When I reached him he said, "You are Mr. O'Shaughnessy; you will be voting for him." I said, "Indeed, I am not Mr. O'Shaughnessy." He said, "Do not worry about that, he is in Liverpool." I asked, "For whom shall I be voting?" He said, "You will be voting for Mullen, the official candidate." I replied "I am Donnelly, the Labour candidate." He took one look at me and said, "So you are, bejabers."
Since I have been in the House it has given me a very warm feeling when I have received a green card from a former constituent in County Down asking me whether I could give him a seat in the Gallery because he voted for me 30 or 40 times on that one day. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will always have such enthusiastic constituents from Londonderry. I hope he will always be supported in the same determined manner.
Naturally, he will not wish me to comment on his more controversial remarks, but I think I am speaking for the whole 2337 House when I say that we hope he has a long period of representation of that constituency in which we shall have the opportunity of hearing him again. We are warmly appreciative of his sincerity, of his lucidity and of his clarity of thought in presenting his case to the House, and on behalf of all hon. Members I extend to him our congratulations.
I now turn to the more controversial business of today. At the end of my speech I should like formally to move the Amendment which stands on the Order Paper in the names of several of my hon. Friends and myself: to leave out from "That" to the end and to add:a Select Committee be appointed to consider what changes are desirable in the limitation of broadcasts in anticipation of Parliamentary debates.Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if I read out now how the Motion would read as amended and then explain the full implications of the Amendment. If the Amendment is carried, the Motion will read:That this House considers that a Select Committee be appointed to consider what changes are desirable in the limitation of broadcasts in anticipation of Parliamentary debates.In effect, this supports the Select Committee which has been proposed by the Postmaster-General but it contests the principle which the right hon. Gentleman said ought to be written into the Select Committee's terms of reference.
§ Mr. Daines
I am a little bewildered about this. The Motion says that there shall be some limitation to the anticipation of Parliamentary debates and my hon. Friend's Amendment does not rule out the possibility that such a limitation can be recommended. May I submit to him that in the practical working, the Select Committee will be chosen by the usual channels, so the result will be the same. Frankly, I cannot see the difference.
§ Mr. Donnelly
With respect to my hon. Friend, there is a considerable difference. The point which I am seeking to make is that the Select Committee should not be tied in advance to any principle. I have confidence in the Select Committee coming back to the House and making a Report which the House can consider. What I am saying is that the Select Committee should not be tied in advance in its deliberations on the principle.
2338 The Postmaster-General this afternoon made the case in favour of the principle. If I may presume to say so, he made a very clear and very fair case. He quoted Sir William Haley, the former Director-General of the B.B.C., and he quoted the fears which many of us have felt about the importance of broadcasting. These were all very clearly and cogently put in a sentence or two, in answer to a Question, by the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) who, speaking in the House on 23rd February, when he was still Prime Minister, said:I am quite sure that the bringing on of exciting debates in these vast, new robot organisations of television and B.B.C. broadcasting, to take place before a debate in this House, might have very deleterious effects upon our general interests, and that hon. Members should be considering the interests of the House Of Commons. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd February, 1955; Vol. 537, c. 1277.]That is the substance of the case which I and my hon. Friends have to answer and that is the point about which I want to talk first.
It is not the proposition from anybody that there should be staged vast new exciting debates on the radio. It is not the suggestion that this kind of thing should take place. What we are discussing is whether the existing discussions which take place on the radio should be limited by the terms of the directive which the Postmaster-General gave last year. That is what we are discussing, in terms of this principle which he is seeking to have written in advance into the terms of reference of the Select Committee.
I cannot accept the view of the Postmaster-General, or the right hon. Member for Woodford, even with all his experience, that the Select Committee should be tied in advance. Have we so little confidence in the position of the House of Commons that we wish to be tied to the principle that we do not want to have any kind of rivalry in advance of our debates? Have we so little confidence that we believe that the House, with all its years and traditions, with the position which it occupies in the country, should have this narrow limitation because otherwise the situation in some way prejudices the position of the House of Commons and the hold which it has on the public imagination?
It has been said by some people, including the right hon. Gentleman, that 2339 it might be possible to work up in advance of the debates a great deal of public clamour through the use of some unscrupulous broadcasting which might in some way prejudice the decisions of the House. Is it possible, in 14 days or 7 days, to work up that sort of clamour? I do not believe it is. I do not believe that one can influence public opinion in that fashion. I think it takes much longer and I think it must have a germ of very substantive truth behind it before the public will move—the British public, at any rate, in the stage which we have reached in our democracy.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
Is not my hon. Friend underrating the performance of the Postmaster-General before the 1950 Election?
§ Mr. Donnelly
I concede to my hon. Friend that the one argument in favour of this case is where the Postmaster-General is today. But I am seeking to discuss the wider issues. In any case, the Postmaster-General did not do it in 14 days or in political discussions. He did it in discussing more urgent matters for the early morning.
I do not believe the House of Commons is in need of this kind of protection. I do not believe that it is proposed that there should be staged vast new debates in this medium and I do not believe the House should make such heavy weather of this limitation.
May I turn next to the second objection to the case which I am putting forward—the question of the prominence given to individual hon. Members or people outside the House by the publicity afforded by radio. The suggestion is that the caprice of some individual producer can make or mar a politician. I do not believe that either. I do not believe that a broadcasting reputation is in any way connected with a Parliamentary reputation. I do not believe that the two things go together at all.
Hon. Members have prominence in other walks of life—in industry, the trade union movement, at the Bar and in journalism. Why not in broadcasting? I do not believe that it in any way affords political power to anybody. Look at the number of defeated ex-candidates who are radio stars today—Mr. Michael Foot, Mr. Dingle Foot, Mr. John Arlott, Mr. W. J. Brown, Mr. Randolph Churchill. Those 2340 are all great radio stars today and are defeated candidates.
§ Mr. Donnelly
This is the fear which hon. Members have expressed. It is said that radio stars receive considerable prominence, far out of measure with their true political worth. Let us compare them with my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell). In General Election after General Election he is continually re-elected upon the broadest possible franchise—despite everything. All that this amounts to is that a few people travelling up on the Great Western Railway on a Saturday morning after an "Any Questions" programme sometimes go along the carriage, peer through the window of a first-class compartment, and whisper, "Look. There's Sir Robert Boothby." I do not believe that this is something which this House should be afraid of; it is something we should warmly applaud and support. Also this is the House of Commons, and we cannot judge an issue like this on the question whether or not we are selected ourselves, or who is selected, or in any such terms. It is not good for the reputation of the House.
I come, in parenthesis, to one brief point which I should like to address to my hon. Friends and colleagues on this side of the House. Hon. Gentlemen opposite can consider the three principles of the three wise monkeys in the meanwhile. I should like to say to my hon. Friends that the radio is the one mass medium which, in practice, because of the limitations that have been voluntarily accepted by the broadcasting authorities, retains the balance between the political parties. This is the one mass medium in which we are equal with the party opposite.
§ Mr. Donnelly
A case is never made on the radio without it being answered as far as is humanly possible. The greatest importance should be attached by my hon. Friends to this point, because the greater the discussion the greater the margins of our equality; the less the discussion the smaller the margins of our equality. I ask my hon. Friends in the 2341 interests of our party in the practical politics of democratic Socialism, to consider this point, because this is a problem which will confront us in the future.
I turn again to my main theme, the central principle. Let us be clear what the present situation is. Let me make it clear why I am opposed to tying the Select Committee in advance to the principle of limitation. We live in a democracy. We can write as we please in what journals we please. We can say what we please, we can attack or pillory a Government, we can glorify or villify a Government—except on the radio fourteen days in advance of a debate.
We live in a democracy in which any hon. Member can criticise or support any Measure of this House, in the House, on the platform, in the Press, in the country, anywhere—except on the radio after it has once been introduced into this House and until the Measure receives the Royal Assent. We live in a democracy. We can say what we like, where we like, to whom we like without fear of political reprisal—except on the radio fourteen days in advance of a Parliamentary debate.
This is absolute nonsense. It makes nonsense of the men who devised the rule. The radio is a new medium. The plain fact is that many hon. Members are afraid of it. It reminds me of a remark made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), in very different circumstances, on another occasion. The attitude of the House to broadcasting, as exemplified by what has been said today, is rather like that of an old man approaching a young bride—fascinated, sluggish, apprehensive. We can do a lot better than that.
The House must look at this issue in its historical perspective. Radio is a medium of expression, like the printed word. Discussions on the radio are another form of journalism. They are spoken journalism. It is wrong to confuse them with discussions in this House or to imagine that they are in some way an extension of discussions in this House.
§ Mr. Donnelly
I have already given way several times. I understand that my hon. Friend wishes to ask whether I am a journalist. Of course I am a 2342 journalist. Why should not I be speaking today on this subject? Is this House reaching the point where people cannot be journalists and Members of the House? What monstrous suggestion is this?
This is a new medium. We should not be apprehensive about it; we should welcome it. Do not make the same mistake twice, as we did towards the Press. This House, above all other bodies, should he welcoming the radio. This House which has done so much to foster discussion and enlightened argument should not be afraid of using the radio. We live in a period in which the boundaries of human discussion, of argument, knowledge, and criticism should always be widened. Are we to decide in principle against that, however small, however limited that principle? Indeed, the smaller the limitation, the smaller the principle.
This is why, of all the proposals, this mean and petty limitation is something which is unworthy of the traditions of the House of Commons. We in the House should have confidence in our convictions, in what this House stands for and in the principles of liberty. In fact, the radio can become our main ally. I look forward to a continuing and growing partnership, because I am a passionate believer in free discussion. What we can do here can be extended to the hearthsides in our country and in an ever increasing number of countries abroad.
I come back to the point. I accept the principle of the Select Committee because that is the way to consider the implications of what we are discussing. I reject the acceptance of the principle of limitation in advance, because I believe it to be unworthy of the traditions of the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Hobson
Would my hon. Friend say whether his plea in itself is not limited by virtue of the fact that space is limited on the ether?
§ Mr. Donnelly
My plea is not at all limited. There are vast numbers of discussions. I am only seeking to widen my plea. I do not think that my hon. Friend is making a valid point, but, if he is, it is only diminishing the argument of the Postmaster-General. What are we arguing about?
2343 I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:a Select Committee be appointed to consider what changes are desirable in the limitation of broadcasts in anticipation of Parliamentary debates.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Montgomery Hyde (Belfast, North)
I beg to second the Amendment.
The original intention was that this should be done by my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) whose name appears on the Order Paper immediately after that of the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly), but my hon. Friend is unable to be here for the earlier part of the debate and I am discharging the task in his stead.
Before I do that, I should like to echo the words of congratulation which the hon. Member for Pembroke offered to my hon. Friend, my colleague from Northern Ireland, the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark). My hon. Friend made a very interesting contribution to the discussion. In particular, he raised a point about the application of the 14-day rule to the Parliament of Northern Ireland. That is a very interesting point, and I hope that we shall hear the answer to the question before the end of the debate. I hope, too, that we shall frequently hear my hon. Friend and that he will be here for a long time, even though it may not be as a result of the picturesque experiences of the hon. Member for Pembroke when he was a candidate at a Northern Ireland election.
As The Times pointed out this morning, this issue is really one not between Government and Opposition but between the leaders of both sides of the House and their back benchers, and it is as one of the latter that I support the Amendment. Hence I welcome this debate, which has been described by the Postmaster-General as "a free-for-all," and I welcome the fact that the Division at the conclusion will be on a free Vote.
§ Mr. Hyde
I am prepared to accept that, but I would like to adopt the expression of my right hon. Friend of a free-for-all as applied to this debate.
I welcome it also because, if the Government Motion is passed as it stands, the Select Committee would be bound in advance to accept the principle of limitation. I believe that the Select Committee should have a free hand in this matter. I am prepared to accept some degree of limitation if the Select Committee recommends it, but I think it is unwise, and indeed contrary to the spirit of free speech and true democracy, to seek to fetter the judgment of the Select Committee in advance and to restrict its terms of reference.
We have heard something from the Postmaster-General of how the 14-day rule came into being. We have also been reminded by the hon. Member for Pembroke of how my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill)—whom we all wish many happy returns today of his birthday—expressed himself on this matter. In addition to what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke, the right hon. Member for Woodford also on the same occasion expressed it as his opinion that it would be shocking to have debates of this House forestalled time after time by expressions of opinion by persons who had not the status or responsibility of Members of Parliament.
This argument has been accepted by my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General and by his right hon. Friends on the Front Bench on the ground that the principle embodied in the 14-day rule is in the best interests of Parliament. If this argument is a valid one, and if we are to carry it to its logical conclusion, surely it should also apply to newspapers and to the public platform outside Parliament? Editors and public speakers habitually anticipate Parliamentary debates. The only distinction is that they are using a different medium and that their words reach fewer people—
§ Mr. Hyde
The argument that somehow the dignity and influence of our proceedings here would be impaired if our debates were forestalled by discussions over the air is similar to the arguments put forward in Parliament in the 2345 eighteenth century, when it was sought to prevent newspapers from publishing reports of Parliamentary proceedings.
There is an interesting account of a debate in this House which took place in the year 1738 on a Motion of this House prohibiting the publication of debates and proposing that this House should proceed with the utmost severity against offenders in this respect. The discussion was opened by Sir William Yonge. This hon. Member was not very popular at the Court, where King George II was in the habit of referring to him as "stinking Yonge," but he managed to hold on to a Rotten Borough for 40 years and he made himself very useful to Sir Robert Walpole and to other Members of the Government Front Bench at that time. This is what Lord Hervey had to say about Sir William Yonge in his Memoirs of the time:He had no wit in private conversation, but was remarkably quick in taking hints to harangue upon in Parliament; he had a knack of words there that was surprising considering how little use they were to him anywhere else.
§ Mr. Hyde
Lord Hervey continued:He had a great command of what is called Parliamentary language, and a talent of talking eloquently without a meaning, and expatiating agreeably upon nothing.Far be it from me to suggest that there are any hon. Members of this House today who at all resemble that description. I will content myself merely with quoting a few sentences from the speech which Sir William Yonge made in support of the Motion to prohibit the publication of Parliamentary proceedings by newspapers. He was, of course, addressing your predecessor in the Chair, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. This is what he said;I have observed, Sir, that not only an account of what you do, but of what you say, is regularly printed and circulated throughout all parts, both of the town and country. At the same time, Sir, there are many often gross misrepresentations, both of the sense and language of gentlemen. This is very liable to give the public false impressions both of gentlemen's conduct and abilities. Therefore, Sir, in my opinion, it is now high time to put a stop to it.This argument was supported by another hon. Member named Thomas Winnington, who was the Whig Member for Droitwich and another of Sir Robert Walpole's placemen. When not attending to his Parliamentary duties, it is said 2346 that Mr. Winnington led a life of gallantry and that, in spite of his strong constitution, he died prematurely from the effects of a cold. Before doing so, however he was able to make this remarkable contribution to the debate:Therefore if we do not put a speedy stop to this practice, it will be looked upon without doors that we have no power to do it, for the public will very justly think that if we had such power, we would exercise it. And then, Sir, what will be the consequence? Why, Sir, you will have every word that is spoken here by gentlemen misrepresented by fellows who thrust themselves into our gallery. You will have the speeches of this House every day printed, even during your session. And we shall be looked upon as the most contemptible assembly on the face of the earth.It took a long time for this hostility towards newspapers and the Press to disappear. Certainly reporting was carried on under great difficulties in the eighteenth century and, naturally, it was more partisan and more forthright than it is today. Some time after the debate to which I have alluded, one newspaper reporter described an hon. Member, by way of prefacing one of his speeches, as a "little scoundrel" and "that little paltry insignificant insect." Even that respectable Tory, Dr. Johnson, who sat in the Press Gallery for two years, confessed that in the preparation of his reports he was careful to see thatthe Whig Dogs should not have the best of it.We have come a long way since then, but it took nearly 100 years for it to be realised that fair and impartial publication of our proceedings in print, far from imparing the dignity of this House, was calculated rather to promote it and to stimulate public interest in Parliamentary affairs.
I was impressed by one remark of the Leader of the Opposition when he referred to the amount of space given to Parliamentary proceedings in newspapers 50 or more years ago. There is a contrast between what happened then and what happens today in respect of the space devoted to Parliamentary proceedings. Today I think it is fair to say that the majority of the electorate do not attend public meetings and they do not read very many leading articles in newspapers. Therefore, if the directive which the Postmaster-General read out is to be rigidly enforced, then there are fewer opportunities for political education than there 2347 were at, say, the turn of the century when burning political issues were discussed on innumerable platforms and speeches were reported in the Press very fully indeed. At the time of the great controversy over the Home Rule Bill for Ireland, it would have been considered quite intolerable for anything in the nature of a 14-day rule to be applied. A tremendous amount of space was devoted in the newspapers to proceedings here in relation to that Bill and to other matters and also to the discussions which took place on public platforms through the country at the time that and other Measures were before the House.
I should have thought that anything such as broadcasting in sound or vision, which arouses interest in the larger issues, must help to focus public attention upon the proceedings of Parliament. I should have thought, too, that the ethics of the matter could safely be left to the discretion and good sense of the broadcasting authorities. Reference has been made to the view expressed by the Beveridge Committee on this matter. I apologise for having given several quotations, but this is the last one that I shall inflict upon the House. I think it is an extremely important one, because it expresses the unanimous view of that Committee of experts. Paragraph 264 of its Report, published in 1949, refers to the 14-day rule in the following terms:This provision is open to serious objection In Australia and New Zealand alike Parliamentary Debates are systematically broadcast as they are proceeding and the practice undoubtedly helps to keep the democracy in closer touch with the representatives. We do not advocate following this example here; simultaneous broadcasting of Parliamentary Debates themselves could hardly fail to influence the character of the Debates in a way which most people in Britain would think harmful. But we do not see why the British democracy should not be allowed to have microphone debate of a political issue at the time when debate is most topical and interesting, that is to say, when the issue is actually before Parliament. This would both increase popular interest in Parliament and popular capacity to judge the wisdom of Parliament. Both these things are gains from the point of view of good democratic government.The only other matter to which I wish to refer is the clause of the Directive which disqualifies Members of Parliament from broadcasting on any subject which is being dealt with by pending legislation.
§ Mr. Hobson
Would not the hon. Member agree that discussions of matters which are to be the subject of Parliamentary debates are absolutely at the whim of the producer, in the matter of who should be chosen to debate the respective issues?
§ Mr. Hyde
—in this matter, and when we take into consideration the various regional stations and the opportunities which exist, I do not think it can be shown that any discrimination has been exercised by those responsible for arranging these matters.
I now return to my final point. In relation to the second part of the Directive, fantastic results must appear when it is applied to the subject of Private Members' Bills. This point has been mentioned before. We are having quite a spate of them in this Session, and they deal with such subjects as small lotteries, the publication of wills, the liabilities and rights of hotel proprietors, capital punishment, obscene publications and the designation of sanitary inspectors. None of those subjects can be debated on the air or on television, because leave has been given to introduce the Bills into the House; they have had their First Readings, and in some cases have gone further. They cannot be discussed by any Member on the air or on television, possibly for the next 12 months.
I now want to sum up my arguments. I am in favour of a Select Committee, but I think that its members should have free hands. I am prepared to accept any limitation which this Select Committee may lay down, either upon Members of this House or members of the general public. There must be some occasions when restraint is necessary. For example, it would be unwise to discuss the pros and cons of some industrial dispute when delicate negotiations were in progress. At the same time, I believe that broadcasting should be used more and more as a means of assisting listeners and viewers to understand the issues upon which they may eventually be called to decide at elections.
2349 If Parliament tries to erect a wall of silence round its proceedings it may well weaken the democratic system, and our Parliamentary institutions, of which we have been so justly proud for many centuries. In deciding how they will vote tonight, I ask right hon. and hon. Members to remember Voltaire's celebrated words:I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker (Smethwick)
There seemed to me to be a contradiction at the end of the speech of the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Hyde). He ended by saying that he thought that some restraints were necessary, and he cited one. No doubt there are others. How on earth he can enforce these restraints if he is going to die in the defence of people's rights to break such restraints I do not understand. His whole speech was based upon the need for there being no restraints at all.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
That was another point which seemed to be a little odd. He was not prepared to make up his own mind, but he was prepared to let somebody else make it up for him. That seems to be a great derogation from the proper duties of a Member of the House.
It is fair to say that the main argument of the hon. Member's speech, and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) rests upon an analogy between broadcasting and the Press. It was to the effect that if we accept anything for one we must extend that acceptance to the other. My hon. Friend talked about the extraordinary fact that we had liberty to write, and do everything else, but not to broadcast except in certain circumstances, and the hon. Member for Belfast, North made very much the same point. This goes to the root of our differences tonight. The whole question is whether there is a difference between broadcasting and the Press. I thought that the Postmaster-General made his case very well upon this point, as did my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition.
It seems to me that broadcasting is so powerful a medium compared to any 2350 other that it is different from the Press not only in degree but in kind; and, further, that we all recognise this. The House of Commons, Parliament and everybody else does, in fact, recognise it. For example, we stop the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. from expressing their own views in the way newspapers are free to do. That distinction is made and it is a restriction upon their liberty. If they are exactly like the Press they should be able to express their views in the way the Press does in leading articles. I do not know whether my hon. Friend would advocate the I.T.A. and the B.B.C. expressing their views in the same way as The Times or the Manchester Guardian. Otherwise he must admit that there is some proper limit upon liberty in this respect, grounded upon the difference between broadcasting and the Press.
Another example is the fact that, whereas we permit—and, indeed, have welcomed, since the eighteenth century—reports of our debates, we do not allow broadcasts of them. The only justification for this distinction is that there is a difference between broadcasting and the Press. The hon. Member for Belfast, North pressed his analogy from the eighteenth century, concerning the rights to report our debates, a little far, because it will lead him on—and I hope he will say whether this is how far he is going—to demand the admission of microphones as well as stenographers and shorthand writers into our public galleries. That is the true analogy.
What we fought in the eighteenth century was the right of newspaper men to come in. If we follow the logic of those who argue against the 14-day rule, it follows that because we let newspaper men in we must now let the microphones in too. Certainly very few hon. Members would want that. No fuss has been worked up about that. It shows that this analogy is not brought out except where it suits hon. Members. They make a tremendous fuss about freedom, but they admit that there are these proper limits, grounded upon this difference in kind between broadcasting and the Press. The maintenance of the 14-day rule is no more a censorship or an invasion of liberty than is our refusal to allow our debates to be broadcast. They are exactly the same thing, and the same reason underlies both. It is, indeed, to preserve Parliament and 2351 the character of Parliament, by drawing this distinction between broadcasting and the Press.
§ Mr. Donnelly
I agree that there are limitations, but what we are really discussing is the limitation of anticipation of Parliamentary debates involving people who are not necessarily Members of this House.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
I will, of course, come to that point, but my hon. Friend went further than that. He grounded himself on the most noble principle that we must have absolute liberty to do anything: broadcast, write and everything else. In his intervention he has put it very much more moderately. I will come to this very point in a second.
I believe that the ending of the 14-day rule would tend to undermine the character of Parliament, and for two reasons. I am sure that Parliament must remain the central forum for public discussion in this country. The Economist wilfully misunderstood this point in its note this week. It is not true that anybody wants Parliament to have a monopoly or even to be the main forum of debate. The country itself, in its pubs and homes, is the main forum for discussion. The position of Parliament lies in the fact that we set the theme for the major discussions that go on in the country, in the pubs and homes. It would weaken Parliament if people began to look elsewhere than the House of Commons for the themes of their discussion and for the main arguments pro and con, for guidance in the setting of the tone and choice of subject of general public discussion, which certainly goes on today. This would be greatly weakened if we abandoned the 14-day rule.
Secondly—and I regard this point as in some ways more important—Parliament ought to be the place where Members of Parliament build their political reputations. We put Parliament into danger if hon. Members begin to look elsewhere for the best place to make their speeches. Here again, it is proper to draw a distinction between the Press and broadcasting just as we do in so many other matters. Members of Parliament can, to a certain degree, build up their reputations by writing articles in the Press, but they build them infinitely more by broadcasting and televising. That is 2352 again a difference in kind. The amount of reputation one can build up outside by writing is as nothing to what can be done by broadcasting and televising.
There is already some danger of this happening too much, even with the 14-day rule. Already there is a danger of some Members of Parliament building up a reputation outside instead of in this House. It would be far worse if the 14-day rule went; then there would be Members of Parliament who would be more keen and strive harder to get in on a television debate than on a debate in this Chamber. My hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke says there was no question of staged debates and so forth resulting from the abandonment of the 14-day rule: how does he know? He is not going to settle it. This is going to be settled by the people who organise broadcasts, and among these is commercial television.
This alters the situation. If it were only the B.B.C., I could understand some argument for a gentleman's agreement, but with commercial television we are, by definition, not dealing with gentlemen. We are dealing with commerce, with people who say, "Business is business," and who justify their very existence and their activities on this basis.
Hon. Members should consider—I think this is an important point—whether commercial television would not exploit the abandonment of the 14-day rule. Directly an issue was before Parliament they would stage programmes. Of course they would. They would get the biggest names they could, which is just what the advertisers want. It is the sort of thing that attracts advertisers. They might take as the theme for their debates what we were discussing, on the very night that we were discussing the thing in this House, or the night before.
My hon. Friend based his argument on high principle. We cannot have a 1-day rule if we cannot have a 14-day rule. We should have to allow commercial television complete liberty. They would be able to stage their debates on the very subject and on the very night that we had chosen. Once we had commercial television rampant that might very well happen. The Times said today that the I.T.A. would stop it; but of course it would not. Already it is winking at many evasions of the Act. There 2353 is no power in the Act for the I.T.A. to stop this sort of thing. It would be quite powerless.
There is one argument which at first sight seems to have a lot to be said for it, but which is really very dangerous. It is that the ban should apply only to Members of Parliament. This does not stand up to examination. We should have to apply the same 14-day rule by analogy to Members writing in the Press if we applied it to broadcasting, because it would be very unfair if some Members could write while others could not broadcast. What would happen to a Member of Parliament fourteen days before a debate if he were in a mixed programme with non-M.P.s? The situation would be impossible, because some of the broadcasters could discuss the matter and some could not.
If we abandoned the 14-day rule but stopped Members of Parliament from broadcasting we would create a new and profitable profession of defeated or even resigned Members of Parliament. There would be a very great demand for them. We might even find a Member of Parliament in due course deciding that it would pay him politically to resign and build up a reputation through the broadcasting medium. [An HON. MEMBER: "There have been cases."] It may be. There would be a very great demand for people whom the broadcasting organisations could describe as politicians—organisations with quite a lot of money behind them. I have no doubt that a corresponding supply of such people would be forthcoming.
I have talked throughout of the 14-day rule because that is the way we describe it, but I do not attach particular value to fourteen days. There is a great deal to be said for a shorter time during which Parliamentary business is known ahead. Questions of Private Members' Bills have been referred to. If this ban were worked properly by the B.B.C. and in a sensible way, none of these problems would arise. The B.B.C. is trying to bring the ban into disrepute by guying a rule under which it is working. It is a very dangerous thing for it to do. It is also working under a charter and licence; it could also guy them. If it worked to rule, it would do all these things by taking the letter of the rule to extreme and absurd limits. It is a very unwise 2354 thing for the B.B.C. to do. These points of detail are the sort of thing that a Select Committee should look at, but I do not think it is right for the House to delegate to a Select Committee major decisions of policy. That would be completely wrong. It is the sort of thing we must decide for ourselves.
For all the reasons I have given, I hope that the House will support the Motion moved by the Postmaster-General and will reject the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Sir Robert Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)
Our Victorian ancestors always held the view that one could not be in commerce and at the same time be a gentleman. I am fascinated to hear from the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) that the view still lingers among hon. Gentlemen opposite that one cannot engage in trade and remain a gentleman. I suppose one has to be on the I.T.A. or in the B.B.C. to qualify.
The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) made reference, in moving the Amendment, to something that he alleged had happened to me in a railway station. I assure you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that there is absolutely no truth in that suggestion. I will give hon. Members the benefit of the only story of anything that happened to me in a railway train. It happened about a year and a half ago. I was travelling to Birmingham and opposite me there sat an elderly lady who was reading the Daily Express.
She peered furtively round the corner of the paper, and after a very long time she took a deep breath and said, "Excuse me. Are you Robert Boothby?" I said, "Yes," rather pleased. She said, "The one that appears on television?" and I said, "Yes," more pleased than ever. Before she could help herself she gasped, "What a disappointment." That is a true story. It is my only experience of a railway train in connection with television.
On 5th February, 1953, Mr. Speaker gave a very important Ruling in this House—so important that I very nearly 2355 raised it in connection with another matter. He said:Members frequently declare their interest—any interest they may have—when they speak in debate, but the rule of the House applies only to their votes."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th February, 1953; Vol. 510, c. 2039.]I cannot deny for a moment that I have an interest in this business. I declare it; and I also declare that because of that interest I do not intend to vote at the end of this debate today.
This is an old story. It began with the printing press. The House did not like the printing press. For some considerable time, when printing began, the House was reluctant to grant licences. I believe that it was only due to the fact that, by inadvertence, the refusal of the licence for printing was overlooked in one year that printing became universal and free in this country. From printing we moved on to the Press. I need not remind hon. Members of the long war that took place between the House and the Press, which finally concluded with an order that the whole of the record of the proceedings was to be expunged because, by then, Members felt rather ashamed of themselves.
We have now moved to broadcasting—a new and rather frightening medium about which we do not know a great deal—and I think that we should spend quite a lot of time before we come to any final or drastic decisions on the subject. So far, we have gone faster and further than we have ever done before. Whatever hon. Members may say, we have deliberately sought to impose a ban of some kind upon free public discussion and, in my submission, some of us would like to make the broadcasting corporations the lackeys, not of this House, but of the party machines. That is what I am afraid of.
As my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General well knows, the origin of these directives was a move on the part of the B.B.C. to protect itself during the war from Ministers who were queueing up for the microphone in order to make a lot of rather irrelevant statements about things that did not matter very much. There was such a jostling and a queueing of Ministers that, if the B.B.C. had not protected itself, the whole country would have been subject to a deluge of state- 2356 ments about Spam and all the rest of it, in which no one was particularly interested. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I can assure hon. Members, from the depth of my heart, that I was never interested at any time in Spam.
After the war there came a fresh development. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has said that nobody noticed the pressure which, he said, by agreeable understanding, was imposed by the party machines upon the B.B.C. in the years up to 1953, and particularly after 1948. I can assure hon. Members that I noticed it. It was quite rough. Programmes were broken up by order of the party machines, behind the back of this House and without the knowledge or authority of this House. Members of Parliament were rationed. I was myself rationed, and still am rationed, as if I were a bit of Aberdeen Angus beef cut up into joints—so many lb. a programme.
That applied to a lot of other people. There was an hon. Member on the other side of the House who was prohibited from broadcasting accounts of football matches in the Western Region on Saturday evenings because no one on this side of the House had a comparable knowledge of Soccer. If any one thinks that that is a good idea, I can only say that I do not.
§ Sir R. Boothby
As a matter of fact, that was one of the causes of the trouble—it was one of the causes of the pressure. If the hon. Lady will cast her memory back, she will remember that those speakers gradually faded from the air, and were replaced by representatives of the official point of view. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] There is no doubt about that. No one is arguing about it.
Every one knows that there was terrific pressure from both party machines. The emissaries of Transport House and Abbey House were seldom away from the B.B.C. There was a continuous procession from the party machines bringing pressure on the B.B.C. to withdraw this M.P. or that, or to alter a particular programme; and to break up—I say it categorically—the original "In the News" team altogether.
2357 I do not deny that it was, in a way, a legitimate party exercise, if the party machines did feel that way about it; but it took place outside this House, and without the knowledge of the House. Then the Front Benches were drawn in to give support, but everything was still pretty furtive and secret. And finally the B.B.C. struck. The present directives, to which the Postmaster-General has referred, were issued by the Government, again without the specific approval of this House. If my recollection serves me aright, they were issued on 30th July last, which was about the day the House adjourned for the summer Recess—a very long summer Recess. There was, therefore, not much we could do about it, and it has gone on since.
I should now like to give, in a few words, my own objections to these directives as they stand. I am not in entire disagreement with everything the right hon. Member for Smethwick has said, but my objections are, first, that, as they now stand these directives really constitute a gross interference with freedom of speech. Secondly, they amount, in fact, to a censorship on the listening public; not on us, but on the listening public. Thirdly, they are unworkable—and I think that that case has already been made in this debate.
A Member of Parliament trying to take part in a B.B.C. discussion is not allowed at present to mention anything to do with road transport or houses. Nor can there be any mention of capital punishment. If one peruses the present Private Members' Bills there is precious little one can talk about at all, other than large philosophical questions which have no practical bearing of any kind.
I come to the 14-day rule, about which the right hon. Gentleman seems to be so keen. Being a member of the hierarchy opposite—
§ Sir R. Boothby
—he may know what the business of the House will be for the next fortnight; but I do not, and the ordinary back bench Member does not. Quite often, I suggest, the Government themselves do not know just what will be the business of the House for the next fourteen days. The Prime Minister extricated himself rather skilfully, but was on very delicate ground, when he suggested that he might give information 2358 about our future business to the B.B.C. and to the I.T.A. but was not prepared to give it to hon. Members. He said that we could find it out for ourselves, if we could—from the Whips I suppose. That is getting pretty rough. To operate this rule effectively one must have almost divine prophetic powers.
My fourth objection is that, in principle, no valid distinction can be drawn in these matters between the Press, the platform and the air. The Postmaster-General said that broadcasting was not available to all Members of Parliament. Is the Press? Broadcasting has at least one thing to be said for it; it is growing, and competition exists. At least, we claim that it exists, and I think that we are right. Otherwise, there is not much point in having commercial television. I think broadcasting and television have one specific advantage over the Press, in that on every controversial issue both sides of the case are presented.
I would say—and I beg hon. Members on both sides of the House to consider this—that during the last few years millions of people in this country have heard the other side for the first time. Millions of people, on both sides, who belong to a particular party, go normally only to their own party meetings. In the last three or four years they have heard, for the first time, the other side of the case, and have become interested in it. I do not say that their views have necessarily been changed; but they have become interested because they have heard the other side, and very often they continue the argument after the discussion is over.
I want to say this about the position of Parliament. I do not think this House has any historical claim at all to be the sole or even the main forum of public discussion. It has never claimed that in the past, and I do not think that we can find any historical precedent for it. I think it was the right hon. Member for Smethwick who said that we set the theme for public debates in this country. I am not even sure about that. One thing that I am sure of is that our debates are most inadequately reported, and are not greatly known in the country. This applies certainly to the speeches of back benchers, some of which I would say were incomparably better than the speeches of front benchers.
2359 We are an assembly of elected representatives of the people, called together to pass legislation and grant supply to the Queen. That is our job. As such, I think we should take a restrained view of our own importance. I read the OFFICIAL REPORT of the first all-night sitting on the Finance Bill—[An HON. MEMBER: "Where was the hon. Gentleman?"] I was in bed, thank goodness. I can assure hon. Members that it was a sobering experience; and I can truthfully say that few people who took part in that debate would qualify for the B.B.C., especially after four o'clock in the morning. To those who talk so much about the dignity of this House I say, "Let us be careful that we do not take any action that will detract from that dignity in the eyes of the public rather than add to it." We could very easily do so.
I come now to the importance of free discussion in a free democracy. Lord Beveridge wrote the other day:No argument of merit can justify stifling the discussion of public issues at the moment when discussion is most important.I agree with that. I believe that, on the contrary, Parliament should welcome it as a good guide to what people are thinking about and how people are feeling—I repeat that these discussions have done an immense amount to stimulate public interest in public affairs, and that that is good for a democracy—just as I believe that the B.B.C., in the last twenty years, has literally turned this country into a musical country, which it never was before.
We should not under-estimate the increased interest in public affairs that broadcasting and television have brought about. The machines of the Front Benches may feel that their own increasing and, as I think, inordinate power is threatened by the free and uninhibited discussion of subjects of public interest and importance. It may constitute a slight threat to the power of the machines—I do not know—but I think that the Front Benches over-estimate the influence and the power of the medium itself. I do not think that, from a political point of view, television is nearly as frightening as a lot of right hon. Members on the Front Benches think. I think it stimulates interest. I do not think, on the whole, that it swings opinion. It may do 2360 so on occasions, but the argument has got to be very good for it to do that. As for the machines, if they are a little afraid of this medium, that reinforces my argument.
I had hoped that my hon. Friend the Postmaster-General would have come forward this afternoon with a proposal for a compromise. I had, indeed, been led to believe that it was a possibility. I thought that the Government might say—I think this would have been a wise thing to do—that a commonsense agreement should be reached with the B.B.C. and the programme contractors of the I.T.A. that no debate of real importance which had already been announced in this House should be anticipated in a broadcasting discussion. I think myself, although it infringes the principle for which I am standing, that that would be justifiable at a time when we are still feeling our way in this matter.
Let me give the examples of Cyprus and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, on his return to this country from Bagdad, being about to make a statement to this House. I think it would be undesirable for a discussion to take place on the wireless or on television during the weekend before we had had the opportunity of hearing what the right hon. Gentleman had to say. I think that those situations would not arise very frequently. They obviously would not arise on the Committee stages of Bills and so on. They might arise on a few occasions each year, and then only for three or four days. I do not think that that would be a very grave infringement of the right of free speech. It would be well worth making that concession—because, after all, we happily indulge in compromise on many important issues—in return for the withdrawal of these directives, which are in themselves vicious and cannot work. That would have been a wise move, and I would have supported it.
However, my right hon. Friend has proposed a Select Committee. I do not know that a Select Committee can help us very much. I think that this is a matter for the House as a whole. We should decide it. I do not know that a Select Committee will reflect our own opinion very much better than we can. If it has got to happen, it has got to happen; but I would not have voted for it myself. However, I 2361 am not going to vote, so that it does not affect me.
One thing alone I resented about the speech of my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General, apart from the fact that he did not propose this compromise, was the naked and unashamed appeal that he made to the lowest motives of all Members of Parliament—envy, jealousy, malice and all uncharitableness. That is what he deliberately stirred up on both sides of the House—"We cannot all be broadcasters, we cannot all be stars. You are not asked"—and he very nearly added—"I am not asked." Then he suddenly remembered that he could not use that one. Apart from that, I have no particular complaint to make.
I have, however, a really formidable complaint to make about The Times newspaper. I do not know how many hon. Members read the leading article in The Times this morning. It said that a sharp distinction should be drawn between broadcasts involving M.P.s and those which do not because a right which the ordinary citizen does not enjoy is possessed by Members of Parliament, namely, the right to be called in this House; and that, says The Times, makes such a dividing line proper. I do not know what your views are, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I do not know what are the views of Mr. Speaker; but if I rose in this place and claimed the right to speak on every subject in which I am interested and on which I am in the habit of expressing my views sometimes on television and sometimes in the columns of the Sunday Press, and demanded it as a right, I think should have a pretty rough reception both from yourself and from Mr. Speaker.
I do not think that the Editor of The Times can know a great deal about the practice of this House of Commons if he thinks that every Member of Parliament has a right to speak in this House on any subject that interests him. The Editor of The Times has not sat here for hours and hours and days and days—in fact, all night—and gone home sadly with that brilliant, undelivered speech in his pocket. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nor has the hon. Member."] For thirty years I have suffered bitterly.
What else has The Times to say? The leading article opens as follows:Not much that is accurate is likely to be heard about the history of the so-called 14-day rule … when it is debated in 2362 the House of Commons today. The great majority of members know little of its beginnings, the five or six who might do so will hardly recall details of so unobtrusive an occurrence.For sheer condescension that takes some beating. Do not forget:Not much that is accurate is likely to be heard—in the House of Commons today.We have Auntie Times claiming to defend the House of Commons—and then this coming from the man who sold the pass to the party machines on behalf of the B.B.C. I must say I thought it was hard to beat. If that is all that the Editor of The Times thinks of this House—that we cannot be accurate, and that the five or six Members who know anything about the subject have forgotten about it already—then I do not think that we require his defence, whatever other defence we may call upon.
I am astonished that the Conservative Party should seek to create for the House a monopoly of public discussion; and I am still more astonished that the Labour Party should seek to fetter public discussion outside Parliament, out of which the Labour movement was born and built up. Had it not been for outside discussion the Labour Party today would not exist. The Labour movement was entirely built up and created by the original pioneers, outside this House, not so long ago; and yet now, having established its place inside the House, the Labour Party seeks to fetter public discussion.
But the issue goes deeper than that. During the past century and a half most of the great legislative changes in this country have been initiated from outside the House and not inside the House at all. The abolition of slavery, the Factory Acts—Lord Shaftesbury played a leading part outside Parliament—the rights of the trade unions, universal education, women's suffrage, tariff reform—all these great movements were initiated outside the House and ultimately brought to fruition inside it.
Therefore, I say that in a democracy it is madness to try to fetter, beyond an extent which is absolutely necessary, public discussion in every shape and form outside the House—on the platform, in the Press, on the air, in the pubs, in homes and everywhere else. Such discussion makes for a healthy democracy. It seems to me that these directives, which I hope will be 2363 withdrawn as a result of what the Select Committee says, constitute an attack on free democracy at a time when the State is becoming every day, and to an increasing extent, the master of us all. The encroachments of the State in the modern world are almost irresistible.
This is a time when we should be on guard to protect our democracy against bureaucracy, and not to give way. I say that these directives, as they stand, should be resisted and withdrawn. Never before in the whole of our history have we had to ask a Government for permission to express our views on matters of public importance.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
I think we had better start by getting the record straight. About 11 per cent. of the Members of the House have spoken on the air on the main programmes over the last three years. According to my reckoning, that leaves about 89 per cent. of Members who have not spoken on the air. I am not speaking of the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Sir R. Boothby), who has had rather more than his ration in these matters.
I think we must say that those who have not broadcast, as well as those who have, should declare their interest. We can say at once that we are prepared to agree that these 11 per cent. of the Members are not defending a vested interest. We will assume that in this matter they speak, as we speak, for the good of Parliament itself. If we do so, then those hon. Members who represent the 11 per cent. who regularly broadcast must not presume, as my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) presumed, that we are all hidebound and envious. My hon. Friend used some pretty wide and generous terms, lacking the precision which usually characterises his interventions.
The hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire is a broadcaster, a journalist, a Member of Parliament and a member of the Conservative Party—in that order; and it is precisely because it is in that order, because he is an eccentric, that he is the darling of the broadcasting corporations.
§ Mr. Pannell
In case the hon. Gentleman thinks that I am being particularly unkind, let us examine his model panel, the panel which he suggested as the best in the world. I believe that it consists of Michael Foot, W. J. Brown, Professor Taylor and, of course, himself. [Interruption.] I am informed that I should have said Doctor Taylor, not Professor Taylor. Will anybody suggest to me that that panel could be considered as representative of either of the two main parties of the State? [Interruption.] I do not want my hon. Friend the Member for Yardley (Mr. Usborne) to provoke me into saying unkind words to a comrade. My hon. Friend is sitting very close to me and he has been irritating me for most of the afternoon. I do not want to deal with him; I want to deal with the House. He will probably make his own speech, if he catches Mr. Speaker's eye—and if he does, most hon. Members will go out of the Chamber when he rises.
I think that—and I am expressing a personal opinion now, with the greatest of reluctance—the 10 or 11 per cent. who broadcast and who are supporting the Amendment are a rather noisy crowd of self-deceivers who have risen a little above themselves.
§ Mr. Pannell
Ten per cent. of the House.
I will give an example to illustrate what I mean. This is what took place, not in theory, but in practice. There was a panel the other week on the Budget, and the hon. Members taking part were the hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. J. Amery), the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Hare), my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Younger) and my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Fienburgh). They rose in great wrath and protested that they were not allowed to discuss the Budget. They all wanted to speak about the Budget. The hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge was not quite so emphatic; he represents farming life in the House and speaks in agricultural debates, but nevertheless he wanted to speak on the Budget on that occasion. The fact is that, in spite of all their protests, not 2365 one of them ever attempted to catch Mr. Speaker's eye in the Budget debate.
§ Mr. Julian Amery (Preston, North)
I tried for two days running to catch Mr. Speaker's eye. On one occasion I sat right through the debate for the whole day and on the other occasion I sat here for two or three hours.
§ Mr. Pannell
If the hon. Member recollects, he will recall that it was after the broadcast and after I had called his attention to that fact.
§ Mr. Pannell
If the hon. Member assures me of that, I will certainly withdraw the allegation but it is seldom that he rises to speak on pots and pans and Purchase Tax; I have always found him speaking about such matters as an incipient revolt in the awakening East, but I must have missed him on this occasion. The fact of the matter is that the panel was not interested in the Budget and I cannot think of any particular contribution that the hon. Member could have made on it.
The question of how I feel on this matter was explained in a letter to The Times before this debate. It is that there ought to be a rule which would put a ban on the broadcast of items to be discussed in the following week. On the other hand, we have got ourselves into a sad mess with regard to prospective legislation, and here I shall tell the Government what actually took place. I believe that there was an ambitious programme planned for the Third Programme—it must have been a popular one—on the police forces of the country. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), as an ex-Home Secretary, was engaged, I believe, to make either the first or the last speech in that programme. Then my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East (Mr. Moody) secured a third place in the Ballot and announced that he would raise the question of pay for the police. So the whole of the programme had to be turned down until that reference to pay in the police forces had been dealt with.
2366 If we look at the subjects which are down for debate in the House at present we find that everything from the bastardy laws to the death penalty would be "out." The housing subsidies, which are a matter of great complexity and very much misunderstood—not understood at all in many cases in this House—presumably, will be barred for some time to come. I should have thought that a matter of that complexity was one which needed explanation as we went on. I have put that case as frankly as I could before, but I suggest that on the great issues there could be a general proscription.
It is really useless for the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire to suggest that on certain excepted occasions some power should rest in the hands of the Executive, in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition, to say, "This will be 'out'." We should have points of order by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) from now till kingdom come—and he would be right. It is far better that the House should make a general rule and that we should administer this matter within that rule.
§ Sir R. Boothby
Suppose the House is engaged on the Committee stage of a very complicated Bill, is the hon. Member suggesting, that that should preclude discussion on the whole Bill?
§ Mr. Pannell
Of course, I am very loth to be interrupted on this matter. I cannot interrupt the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire in his panel games but he can interrupt Pannell in his party game in this House. It does the hon. Member good to listen. I have already made it perfectly clear that under the rule I advocate the business announced for the next week would be barred. Of course the timing of that rule would be a matter for the Select Committee. I think that is the purpose of the Select Committee—to consider all these curious subtleties which one cannot deal with in a speech of this nature.
I wish to say a word about The Times. This is the one point on which I agree with the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire. The trouble is that the Editor of The Times thinks he is now the director-general of the nation.
§ Mr. Pannell
The trouble with the Editor of The Times—I say this quite deliberately—is that he really feels in his subconscious that this is a rather squalid place, full of squalid people. He believes that we ought to be meanly paid and, having been meanly paid, we shall be meanly esteemed.
Hon. Members on the back benches who "ratted" on the decision about Members' pay have a great deal of responsibility in this matter. I hope that some of them, when they look at the deplorable spectacle in the Press this week of the plight of an ex-colleague who was a much respected Member of the House will appreciate that that is the pass to which the Government brought them when they "ratted" on that decision. It is not a matter for private charity by the Labour Party but a matter of the dignity of this place that a man who served this House for seventeen years should not have a foreclosure on his house because he lost his leg and, as a result of the war wounds, undermined his health. I hope the Prime Minister and all the others concerned are thoroughly ashamed of themselves. I am glad that I have been called to speak in this debate if only for that reason.
That is really what The Times believes. It carried on a campaign that hon. Members should not be adequately paid. It misrepresented the position. Those papers which have expressed the most unholy horror were those which were accessories before and after the fact. The dignity of this House will be maintained, not only by the 14-day rule, but by ensuring that the older and crippled Members go down to the autumn of their lives in decency.
There is no comparison between broadcasting and the Press. We are dealing now with a near-public monopoly. I have had a page placed at my disposal in the oldest Labour weekly newspaper in the country, for which I receive no payment at all. That is a degree of altruism which the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire would never practise. I have never doubted that it was worth while. It is as good as a speech each week. The readers can muscle in and tell me what they think—which is more than the News of the World will usually do with regard to the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire.
People read the Press now for amusement and turn on the radio for news. The 2368 power of the Press is falling. One of the comforting reflections of the time is that the tripe which goes into the Daily Express today wraps up the fish and chips tomorrow. This change is largely because the B.B.C. has built up a reputation for fair recording and fair news values. I do not want to say anything against the B.B.C., because Parliament gets a "crack" largely because of the B.B.C. and not because of the newspapers.
I wish to say a word or two about a supplementary question which I asked a week or two ago when I had to say a great deal in a short space of time. I had a letter of protest from the secretary of the B.B.C. Staff Association because I suggested that the producers suffered from caprice, ignorance and irresponsibility. I was asked whether I could not say a kind word to take the sting out of those cruel remarks. I thought about them and consulted the dictionary. Now I wish to reaffirm them.
First, I will tell a story. It concerns an hon. Member opposite who has given me permission to tell it, but obviously I shall not use his name. He was speaking in his constituency when a lady rose and asked—in that sort of arrogant way which is as much as to say, "You are rather less than Robert Boothby"—"Why have you not been on in 'The Week in Westminster?" The hon. Member said, "I do not know. You had better write to the B.B.C." She wrote to the B.B.C. because she was an admirer of the hon. Member, and the B.B.C. wrote back: "Dear Mrs. X, we have received your letter and we have heard of Mr. Y." A fortnight later he was on "The Week in Westminster."
Let us take the literal meaning of the word "caprice," which is an old one. Swift has a quotation in which he saysThe caprices of womankind are not limited by climate or nation.It can meanA freak of whim or a mere fancy; anything irregular, changeable, unresolved or resulting from a kink.I would suggest that the B.B.C. qualifies for that definition, or its producers do.
The word "ignorant" broadly means "destitute of knowledge." It means:One who ignores, one unknowing, having no knowledge or innocent of a lack of comprehension; simplicity, having no share in it.2369 If one turns to the first dictionary derivation of that, going back to the Scriptures, one finds that St. Paul said:For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face:He must have been thinking of the hon. Gentleman. As a matter of fact, St. Paul goes on to say—and this, I think, is more apposite to Members of this House and the values that we place upon it:We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen:I think that is what we do here.
I will say this to the hon. Gentleman opposite; and if he would consider himself as the great broadcaster, he should appreciate this: I say it with the greatest friendliness. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has usually played for the party—for the side. Something of his massive integrity has come over to this House and is recognised on all sides. I rather suggest that those are the qualities which are bred here, the qualities, not of showiness, flamboyancy, ostentatiousness. I leave it to the judgment of the House.
The question of irresponsibility raises that of arbitrariness, the fact that one is not accountable for anything and is incapable of legal responsibility; and so I think that the producers fall into those categories. They do act irresponsibly.
I will tell another story. It happened only last Saturday. The Minister of Housing and Local Government, last Monday, introduced into the House a most contentious Bill, which will evoke some of the deepest possible feelings and differences in the country. At the end of the week, "The Week in Westminster," a rather innocuous programme, was given by the hon. Baronet the Member for Walsall, South (Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid), who is the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister. That was a rather curious thing to do. I wonder whether it was capriciousness, ignorance, irresponsibility or merely a coincidence.
There have been complaints made to me by hon. Members on the other side of the House who have been in the House for more than ten years at not being selected for that programme. But the hon. Baronet entered the House in May and has only just made his maiden speech. Am I being too cynical if I link his selection to the fact that he was Parliamentary 2370 Private Secretary to the Minister concerned with a contentious Measure in the same week? Is it not reasonable that the producer should have thought of that impression upon simple-minded people like me?
I am not making a personal point, because the hon. Baronet was a valued colleague of mine in local government life. I have a high regard for him. After all, he is a new Member. I am placing responsibility where it belongs, on the producer. Nobody could have excused that choice in that week. The hon. Gentleman opposite had better have a talk with some of his hon. Friends on the back benches who do not broadcast and ask whether there is not some feeling on that side of the House—and there is.
If we consider that programme, we find that there are considerable trends of opinion in this House that have not been recognised. It cannot be suggested that we need a great broadcasting star like the hon. Gentleman to do "The Week in Westminster." I have heard some fairly lousy programmes, despite the capacity of the producer. Consequently, I suggest that a good many of these things are capricious.
There is another point. There is always a case for publicity. Generally speaking, is there not sometimes a case for reticence? Unless certain things are barred, where do we stop? Is there a single Member of this House—a journalist—to whom nothing is barred, who would excuse the idea of a helicopter hovering all one weekend over a country house because a Royal personage was there trying to make up her mind on a difficult decision?
§ Mr. Pannell
When the hon. Gentleman asks what that has to do with it, it merely shows that he has a rather distorted sense of values.
I was asking whether there is not a case for reticence. The hon. Gentleman presumably thinks there is no case for reticence. So far as he was concerned, he would not object to all the vulgar prying into private lives and the blaring out from microphones or anything from the television screen so long as his face was upon it. That is only a short step to other intrusions.
2371 It should not be forgotten that in the United States television has already impinged upon legislative proceedings. It has already impinged upon judicial proceedings. When this degree of vulgarisation arises there is then the smear of McCarthy, on the one hand, or Moscow, on the other hand. In this country, we rather prize our reticences. It is in the British tradition; we are an island people.
I am going to ask this question quite seriously of individual Members. I do not ask it of any broadcasters, because they suffer from no false modesty at all. I ask any individual Member here who hears the business announcement on a Thursday afternoon and who wants to make a speech whether he is so sure of himself that occasionally he does not want to take himself off for the weekend to study, to ponder and, perhaps, to pray.
We are moving now into a time when everybody thinks that everybody can answer "off the cuff." Do not forget that this great engine that we are facing now, this machine which is such a power for good or for evil, evokes the moron in so many people. It makes Gilbert Harding into a great authority on a ballpoint pen. It makes a gloved mannequin, "Sooty," into a national celebrity. It causes people to pour out letters of sympathy to a non-existent lady, and a very ordinary producer, a nice-looking chap, is nearly mobbed at his wedding. It has already imposed on the British people standards of which we ought not to be very proud. Parliament stands as the barrier to that sort of vulgarisation and for better standards.
What do the broadcasters appear for? Do they really believe in education or are they there for entertainment? I remember a teen-age daughter of mine saying the other week, "The worst of these chaps, Dad, is that professionals do it very much better." No one can watch one's friends without appreciating their struggle after effects.
I want to know particularly how these people are chosen. An hon. Friend of mine with great knowledge of this matter told me that there was a panel of 600 people engaged in listener reaction. He told me, quite seriously, that "Working-class accents are out." He said, "Only those people who have successfully masked their origins get on." I am 2372 speaking quite seriously. He said that the most popular accent is the Canadian accent—and if the hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Leather) is the favourite son of the Western Region it is because there they think there is nothing like Leather.
Next in order of popularity are West Country accents, and one can imagine the bovine tones of a Ralph Wightman or an Arthur Street. In spite of the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) have appeared, Cockneys do not appear in very great numbers. One of my comrades suggested that as people do not like their children at grammar schools to hear working-class people on the air, perhaps they do not like to hear on the air the sort of English I am supposed to speak. I can only say that I am Essex-born, Kentish-domiciled, a near-Cockney representing a Yorkshire constituency, so I have a fair range.
If it is true that working-class accents are out, that is pretty bad for the Labour Party, because whatever may be said by some hon. Friends of mine who come in and see the light as the years roll by—and we welcome them, and I extend to them the hand of brotherhood—the fate of this movement of ours rests broad based on the working classes. I do not say that because of any form of inverted snobbery. Most hon. and right hon. Members will know whether I have any chip on my shoulder or not. I say that as one who is extraordinarily proud of the traditions of the working people and particularly of the trade union movement of which I have been so long a member.
My view is that many of the programmes of the B.B.C. do not sound authentic to the ordinary people, because they are listening to the voices of people speaking from an academic slant rather than from practical experience. When all is said and done, an intellectual is nothing but a person whose intellect has outrun his experience.
I was asked on a previous occasion what this had to do with the 14-day rule. I can only say that it represents a mood, the mood of many people who think as I do, that there must be a pause, a check to the power of individuals to choose and regulate the climate of opinion of the 2373 nation. The B.B.C. and its television is far too big to be used completely irresponsibly.
I recall that when this matter was the subject of Questions at Question Time one day I mentioned the sense of privilege which we all feel when we are called upon by you, Mr. Speaker, to speak in this Chamber. You, Sir, certainly cannot act in any spirit of caprice, and I would not dare to suggest, and nobody would, that you are irresponsible, and I can scarcely venture to breath the word "ignorant" in connection with you. We know what your duties are and how you perform them. If I may give a personal opinion about your conduct of our affairs here, I would, with great humility, say that it is to see this old place ticks over, to see the Government get their business, but get it with due regard to the rights of the minority. The Government must govern, and if the Government have not the guts to govern they ought to have the grace to get but. Here we achieve a balance between the rights of the Government and the rights of the minority, and it is your job, Mr. Speaker, somehow or another, to safeguard that balance, those rights, and those values.
Here we address ourselves to a man, but also at a man, to be answered by a man, and that is the essence of democracy. The exercise of democracy does not lie merely in going on a panel from time to time to shoot an opinion "off the cuff," or to be amusing about serious issues. It is the essence of democracy to give serious consideration to serious matters, and give due regard to the views and feelings of other people, with kindness and charity, in the spirit of a family relationship. Indeed, it consists very much in projecting the spirit of family relationship into the larger, the public life, and we here are in a special sense the guardians of its traditions and liberties.
We need not care when the Editor of The Times seems to think we are being given a privilege. We have not been given a privilege. We have been given a right, hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House, and we have paid a terrific price for it, to get into this place, and we have done so because we have a sense of vocation. The representation of people is not a business. We cannot do it without a sense of vocation, and it is 2374 in that spirit we come into this House, having gone through the toils and the ardours of a General Election, suffering insults—which, of course, are part of the stock in trade of freedom, incidental to democratic life. We have to stand such things to get here, and when we get here.
Having got here we represent those who sent us here, and we speak not merely as individuals but as their representatives. It is in a spirit of humility that I can say that I stand here with 60,000 people in Leeds behind me, people who for some reason or another thought I was the best of three men. All hon. Members on both sides of the House are here with thousands of people behind each of them. We are all here in exactly the same way.
Democracy is something to be safeguarded and sheltered and not to be given away to the highest bidder. In this day, when great national issues are at stake, such as the question of our sending our young men abroad to serve and risk life itself, let us occasionally pause to ponder, to consider our answers. I hope that this great Parliament of ours will go forward to achieve an even greater stature and authority than even that which it has known in the past.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)
I am very glad that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Attlee), the Leader of the Opposition, is here to hear my opening words, because I want to thank him, as, I am sure, the whole House would wish to thank him, for having made it clear that the operation of this rule, at any rate prior to its being put into writing in the form of a directive, was the subject of an agreement between the major political parties. The right hon. Gentleman has blown sky-high the unwarranted attack which some of the Press has made upon the Postmaster-General. I do not want to detain the right hon. Gentleman any longer. I just wanted to let him know that I, and, I am sure, all other hon. Members, too, appreciate his coming to that Box to make the position perfectly clear.
In considering what action we should take upon the Motion and the Amendment, we ought to have two things perfectly clear in our minds; first, what 2375 obtained prior to the issue of the Directive, and second, such changes as have taken place since the Directive was issued. I want to make it clear that I am entirely in support of the Motion. I believe it suggests the sensible way of dealing with the situation, approving the principle of some limitation on anticipation of Parliamentary debates, and leaving to a Select Committee of the House the detailed consideration of how best to deal with the problem, and whether the Directive should be altered to bring it into a more suitable form to meet all the criticisms which have been made.
The rule, not in directive form but as a gentleman's agreement, has been in existence, as has been pointed out, ever since 1948. We have had many discussions in this House which have affected the British Broadcasting Corporation, and some controversial discussions about the creation of the Independent Television Authority. I have not yet found it difficult for the B.B.C. to secure expression in this House of its point of view. There have been many individual Members of the House who, on many occasions, have come here supplied with argumentative ammunition which they may have obtained by diligent research but some of which at any rate appeared to be coloured with advice from the B.B.C. people who assisted them in obtaining it. If that be so, surely it is a remarkable thing that from 1948 to 1955 neither the B.B.C. nor any of those who seek to cultivate its favour has ever yet given us a long list of instances in which broadcasting discussion has been hampered, or broadcast debates, undertaken or to be undertaken, have been broken up, as they would have been, one would have thought, if the rule, as applied prior to the issue of the Directive, had been so onerous and hurtful as it is suggested it is. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) is not here at the moment, because I should have liked to have asked him to give us from his great experience a list of all the broadcast discussions which have been cancelled. I have not had that experience, and can speak from only a very limited experience. Such experience as I have leads me to believe that it has happened very rarely.
I am glad to see the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) in his place, because he will recall with me 2376 that the only occasion on which he and I have ever been at variance on this point was when he and Mr. Michael Foot wanted to discuss a railway strike while it was still on. In fact, even that dispute was not brought to an end by the operation of the 14-day rule. It was brought to an end as the result of an instruction from the Director-General of the B.B.C. to the effect that he did not think it was wise that the panel should discuss a trade dispute while delicate negotiations were going on.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me, as his facts are not quite right? There was no railway strike on at the time. A railway strike was to be called, but before we got to the microphone the strike had been called off. It was still thought that it should not be discussed, and it was in those circumstances that we did not continue. Since then, I have not been invited by the B.B.C. to take part in any further programmes until a week or two ago. After a year's suspension, the B.B.C. have very decently asked me to go back.
§ Mr. McAdden
I am glad to be able to help the hon. Gentleman to state his case for further appearances. May I say that the facts are roughly as he and I have just related them?
If we in this House respond to appeals made from the Front Benches on both sides of the House that we should exercise discretion in pressing Ministers for answers on delicate industrial issues, because of the difficult balance of the negotiations at that stage, surely it is quite improper for Members of Parliament, after being asked to observe a certain amount of reticence, to dash out of the House into Broadcasting House or a television studio to proceed to air, in a position of advantage over their fellow Members, their individual viewpoints upon these difficult issues? It seems to me to be entirely wrong. As has been mentioned in the debate, a further example arose as recently as this week, when the Opposition withheld the use of their legitimate right of seeking to move the Adjournment of the House on the question of Cyprus because it is to be discussed, among other things, on Monday next.
Surely, if it is right and proper that Members of this House in the conduct 2377 of their own business should seek to refrain from expressing their points of view upon a matter of great moment when it is already scheduled to be discussed in the House, if in fact we adopt that method of restraint for ourselves within this Chamber, surely it is unfair and improper that one should seek, through the medium of broadcasting and television, to "jump the gun" over our fellow Members of Parliament and seek to discuss these controversial issues before we have had the full benefit and guidance of all the information which necessarily cannot be in the possession of individual Members until a Minister, from his knowledge and consideration of the subject, has been able to deploy his case before the House, and until responsible leaders of the Opposition have put their points of view?
I know that there are some hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Sir R. Boothby), who hold different views on this question. That is a matter for regret, but we cannot always agree. It is the fact that my hon. Friend does not believe—and I believe there are other hon. Members who do not believe—that television and broadcasting are a very powerful medium. I have heard it suggested that we should not regard them as being very powerful, because if we look at the figures compiled on audience research in connection with party political broadcasts during the General Election, it will be found that they did not play very much part. This does not strike me as being a very valid argument. I believe it to be true to say that the majority of the people of this country, though not all of them, have made up their minds which way they will vote in a General Election before that General Election takes place. Their opinions upon political thought are qualified by the kind of books and newspapers which they read, and by the expressions of political party viewpoints which they derive from listening to or watching radio and television.
If that is so, and I believe it is, it seems to me to be reasonably certain that political disputation between different hon. Members of this House on the radio and television does have some effect upon public opinion. I do not seek to exaggerate it, but it must have some effect. It seems to me also that, no matter how much one might choose to discount it, the 2378 average listener assumes that a speaker who is a Conservative Member of Parliament and a speaker who is a Labour Member of Parliament necessarily put forward the views of their own parties. It is not possible to expect the average listener to view the political viewpoints expressed by Members of Parliament with the same disregard which perhaps Members of Parliament have for each other's speeches. They seriously regard them as expressions of the points of view of those political parties.
Some people, including my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East, do not hold that view. They hold the view that people recognise these expressions as being the speakers' own individual viewpoints. Unfortunately, it must be admitted that that is not the view that is cultivated. I have read articles and letters in which it has been pointed out that this was true in the early days when the circle was limited and there were only four disputants. Then, it is said, it was true that we got an individual expression of opinion, but I have been led to believe, from reading more recent books and articles on this subject, some by my hon. Friend, that since the original four were broken up, the party hacks have been brought in, and that since then all we got were the mouthpieces of official party policy. So we are told now. Indeed, the producer of the I.T.A. programme entitled "Free Speech," which used to be called "In the News" on the B.B.C.—Mr. John Irwin—has written a book in which he emphasises the point that the programme was not what it was since the original four had gone, and that we now got the mouthpieces of official party policy expressing their views.
I have never accepted it as a term of rebuke that one should seek officially to expound the policy of the party to which one belongs. I have never thought that there was anything particularly disgraceful about that. Although one recognises that that distinction does exist when one is speaking as an individual Member, I think that other hon. Members will find in their constituencies that that distinction is not as clearly defined by the ordinary members of the public. Indeed, there are people who raise questions at meetings, and who, when given the answer, say, "That is not your party's policy, because I heard So-and-so say on the radio or television what it is." Consequently, it 2379 would be foolish for us to discount the effect which it undoubtedly has.
In these circumstances, it seems to me that my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General made a strong case indeed for exercising some limitation over the amount of anticipation which can be permitted in broadcasting and television. I think his case is a good one, and while I agree that there are many anomalies to which attention can rightly and properly be drawn, a great deal of time has been spent in dealing with the anomalies, instead of in dealing with the principle. If we only stick to the principle that there should not be too much anticipation of Parliamentary discussion, and leave it to a Select Committee of this House to work out the details, I am sure that it would be very much better for all concerned.
We are told that something has been worked out between the Front Benches on both sides of the House, and that back benchers are really not getting their say. That really is not true. A number of distinguished occupants of the Front Bench opposite take a considerable part in radio and television discussions. It is fair to say that these people must have had some knowledge of the discussions which were taking place with regard to the operation of this rule ever since 1948 up to 1955.
One of the difficulties which I believe is confronting us today is the fact that it has been necessary to reduce into formal words what was really a gentleman's agreement between the B.B.C. and the Postmaster-General. It is that attempt to reduce into a form of words a decent, gentlemanly standard of behaviour which has resulted in the difficulties with which we are confronted. It seems to me peculiar that this has worked without any evidence whatsoever of wholesale dislocation of B.B.C. activities or restriction of discussion and without any excitement at all from 1948 to 1955, and that it is only in 1955 that a big agitation about it springs up. Indeed, it is only in July, 1955, two months before the Independent Television Authority comes on the air, that the B.B.C. begins to insist upon having the matter in writing and having a directive.
I hope that I shall not be thought particularly nasty-minded if I think that there seems to be a coincidence between the insistence of the B.B.C. on a directive and 2380 the coming into being of I.T.A., especially since the producer and arranger and the whole of the original team of "In The News" were transplanted to I.T.A. Is it unreasonable to suggest that the B.B.C. might say, "We are, after all, bound by a gentleman's agreement but these fellows might jump the gun on us. We are gentlemen but we do not know what they are like"? I wonder if that accounts for the desire of the B.B.C. to have the arrangement in the form of a directive.
§ Mr. McAdden
I am glad to have confirmation from the hon. Member of the views which I have hesitantly expressed.
§ Mr. McAdden
I am naturally coy.
If the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East confirms that what I have said is correct, surely there is this much further to be said. The B.B.C., having sought artificially to prevent the I.T.A. from jumping the gun and beating it in discussion of matters of topical interest, now finds itself in difficulty. But the people at the B.B.C. are not nearly in such a difficulty as they pretend.
The right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker), who made a most excellent contribution to our debate, brought out part of this point extremely well. He tried to make it perfeclty clear that the B.B.C. has not interpreted the rule, or even the Directive issued by the Postmaster-General, as leniently as it could have done if it had wanted to do so. The B.B.C. has done a great deal to stir up a quite misplaced agitation against the tyranny of the existing Directive.
We are told that the B.B.C. was informed that it was perfectly possible for it to have a discussion on the Budget on the Friday night when the Budget debates were concluded, but that that did not prevent the B.B.C. going on the air and saying that owing to the operation of the 14-day rule it could not talk about it, although it knew perfectly well that it could.
§ Mr. McAdden
Precisely because the people of the B.B.C. wanted to make out that it was very difficult and awkward and that they must not mention the Budget. That is what I am complaining about. If they knew that they could have discussed the Budget, it was being extremely awkward and narrow-minded to delete that part of the programme which they knew from the beginning was perfectly in order.
It may be said that they were entitled to hold a different view. All that they had been told was that the Postmaster-General felt that his interpretation of the Directive permitted them to discuss the Budget, but their view was different. It might be said that they did not want to get into trouble. What trouble could they possibly have got into? The most that could have happened would have been that the Postmaster-General would have had to take action, but if the Postmaster-General said that he was satisfied, and if it was he would have had to take action, then surely it was stirring things up to pretend that they were in difficulty.
§ Mr. Martin Maddan (Hitchin)
A common informer could have informed against the B.B.C. and brought an action against it if the Corporation had been on the wrong side of the law.
§ Mr. McAdden
I very much doubt that, but I am glad to hear that my hon. Friend has gone into the matter. I am told that the Postmaster-General is responsible for taking the decision. I am not very much worried about the common informer.
The House would be well advised to take the advice tendered to it by the Postmaster-General and the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition that we should restrict on television and radio anticipation of Parliamentary discussions, that the period during which anticipation should be restricted is something which should be settled by a Select Committee, and that we should seek, as far as we can, to see to it that the rule of anticipation which we apply to ourselves in our own House should not be disregarded by our own Members' taking advantage of other media to express their points of view.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I take a view opposite to that of the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. McAdden). I would be far from denying that a serious problem is raised by broadcasting and that the House would be well advised to consider it particularly carefully. What disturbs me about the course of this debate is that there seems to be an under-current running through it to the effect that what some hon. Members really care about is that they are not asked to broadcast themselves. But that is not what is under discussion, and none of the matters which we are debating will have any effect whatever on that.
We should be sympathetic to the difficulties of the B.B.C. in this matter. The Corporation is bound to put on the air people to whom the public in general want to listen. We cannot have it go out from the House that every hon. Members has an automatic right to be on the air, whether or not he is any good at broadcasting. We all have our disabilities. I do not speak as well as the right hon. Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot), but when the right hon. Member comes to my constituency to speak, I do not insist that his mouth be filled with pebbles before he starts. I have to take him as he comes. Other hon. Members have opportunities to write in the newspapers or address large political meetings.
I was surprised by some of the arguments of the Postmaster-General and the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. Many of them went considerably beyond the 14-day rule. If we accept their arguments, there must be a much stricter curtailment of political broadcasting. I may have misheard, but I thought that I heard the Leader of the Opposition say that in general affairs should only be discussed by people who have some responsibility. If the right hon. Gentleman said that and if it had been accepted in the past, had wireless been invented in the early days of the Labour Party, they would never have been on the air at all. We cannot have it go out of the House that we demand a special dispensation over the air. Several of the things which have been said today about the position of the House are more liable to damage that position than to do it much good in the eyes of the public.
2383 We should try to disentangle some of the questions that are involved in this matter. It seems to me that the first question is—do we need to have a ban of any sort, whether it is placed voluntarily by the B.B.C., or by the I.T.A., or by Parliament or by the party machines? Or is it sufficient to have due balance kept between the parties and the different points of view? Secondly, if the ban is applied, should it be applied by the B.B.C. without any direction from Parliament, or should it come in the form of direction by the Postmaster-General or should it be applied by agreement between the parties?
Thirdly, if there is to be a ban, is it to apply only to Members of Parliament, or to Members of Parliament and members of the public? I think there may well be general agreement that it is extremely difficult to lay down as a legal direction what is the best rule in these matters. I should have thought that everyone would agree that there are certain issues which it would be almost impossible to discuss at certain moments—and the question of Cyprus might be one of them—if you are to keep a fair balance between different points of view.
On the other hand, I should have thought that most people would agree that there are certain other matters, such as the Finance Bill, upon which, broadly speaking, the more information the public have, the better, and the more there are discussions by responsible economists on such measures as the Finance Bill and Housing Bills, the better. Therefore, I should have said that we should decide against any ban and leave it to the good sense of the B.B.C. to maintain a balance of all the different points of view and not, obviously, to put the "Radio Doctor" on the air just before the introduction of a Health Bill or something of that kind. I think that could be left to the B.B.C.
If it be said that we must have some ban—and I know that the I.T.A. comes into the position here and complicates it—on the whole I would rather that it was put on by a directive than that we should have what I might call a hole-and-corner agreement between the party political machines. As to the third question, in spite of what has been said by the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby), I feel that there is a distinction 2384 between Members of Parliament and members of the public. If Parliament likes to impose a self-denying ordinance on itself, I think that people will put up with it, even though they be denied the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire. They will grit their teeth and say, "We must do without him for a week or two, sad as it is." But I do not see that the public should be denied the advice of expert economists on the Finance Bill. It is essential to the freeworking of democracy that the public should be provided with as much expert information as possible and, within reason, with as many points of view.
I feel that we must keep this debate within the limits of fact and probability. It is not probable that the B.B.C. nor, in my view, the I.T.A.—considering Section 3 (f) of the Television Act, which lays down strictly that it has to maintain impartiality—that either of these corporations will put on a prejudiced programme just before a matter of the greatest importance is to be discussed in this House. But, as I understand it, the whole argument today rests on the proposition that the wireless is a new sort of medium and that audiences are so big and that the people who broadcast are so few that, even if we do not have broadcasting a night or a day before a big issue is debated in the House, nevertheless the impact of broadcasters is out of all reason and that they might attain a position similar to that of Huey Long in America. I think we should take that with a grain of salt.
After all, the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire writes 52 articles a year in the News of the World.
§ Mr. Grimond
Well, fifty. There are those who say that people do not buy the News of the World in order to read the hon. Member, but I cannot believe that. No doubt a few of them take the medicine with the jam and get round to the hon. Member in due course. He must reach a far greater circle in that way than by his appearances on the radio. Secondly, there is a wide variety of broadcasting and even a good many Members of this House in fact broadcast. It is not true that it is confined to a small minority. If anyone is going to establish a sort of demogogic position, they will not do it 2385 because they are allowed to broadcast fourteen days before a debate in the House of Commons, but because they have already won such a wide popularity that they are pressing certain issues, quite apart from this House, on the attention of the public.
Then it is said that we must safeguard this House from being brought under undue pressure because of these popular broadcasters. They might work up public opinion upon an issue just before it is discussed in this House. That might happen. I do not say that it can never happen, but I do not believe that hon. Members find their constituents ringing up and saying. "You must do this because Michael Foot says so." I have not seen great deputations in Westminster Hall led or inspired by Gilbert Harding protesting about this, that or the other. In point of fact, the people who are continually quoted in this House—and this debate has been no exception—are the editors and leader writers of the newspapers. They are the people who are able to put out leading articles on the very morning when an important issue is to be debated in the House. Nor is it true that the House or the public are grossly misled by statements over the air which go uncontradicted. It just does not happen.
Then there is the argument that if we allow things to be debated on the air immediately before they come to be discussed in this House we shall not so much prejudice discussion as smother it. People will give up paying the attention to this House as they ought to do—so we are told. I believe that belief rests on this misunderstanding. Certainly this House is a very important debating forum, though, as one hon. Member said, the debates do not always come up to the standard which he would like. A great deal of information is sought and given. But this House is not merely a market for the exchange of information. The point about all the debates in this House is that they lead up either to action or to stopping action.
What lends this House its unique position is that on the Government Front Bench sit people who can do something and we are here to question them, bully them, drive them to act or stop them from doing things. That is the essential function, in my view, of our form of Parliamentary democracy. It is an advantage 2386 which we have over most other forms of democratic Government—the responsibility which the Members of the Government cannot escape. They must come to this House day after day and submit to Parliamentary Questions and argument. That is something which we have to safeguard and this rule was brought in to safeguard it. It was to stop Ministers going outside this House and appealing directly to the public. To my mind that is the danger—not letting back bench Members broadcast before a debate. If we get to the stage in which the Government are allowed to appeal to the people over the head of Parliament, that would be dangerous.
In my view, Members tend to see too much of each other. They not only live together in this place, but when they go abroad they travel in each other's company and they are usually entertained in company with other Members of Parliament. They see too much of each other and, in my opinion, the public, so far from being led by this House and bowing down before it, are often occupied with quite different subjects. I think that the more back bench Members of Parliament are encouraged to take part in discussions on the air with other people the better. But whatever we like to do for ourselves, I think we are doing democracy a disservice if we try to stop discussion by experts who are not Members of Parliament on matters in the public mind, just at the time when they are most topical, which will often coincide with the time they are debated here.
I wish to make a protest, which I am not certain is in order, against the decision not to allow the Welsh and Scottish National Broadcasting Council to arrange local political broadcasts. I think that it would do no harm whatever and they might be more interesting than many of the official broadcasts put out by the major parties. I cannot think—
§ Mr. Speaker
I think that the hon. Gentleman is now outside the terms of the Motion, which is concerned with this rule. If we introduced all sorts of extra subjects about the B.B.C., I do not think that the debate could ever come to a conclusion.
§ Mr. Grimond
If I may say so with respect, Mr. Speaker, I agree. I am one of the few people in this House who in 2387 recent weeks has accepted a point of order without making any difficulties, but I must say that I think this Government order is an unnecessary limitation on free speech.
What we have to decide tonight is whether we accept a Government Motion which roughly says that we must have some control and then set up a Committee to find out what control we are to have, or else set up a Committee and leave it to the Committee to decide. At the moment I believe we are not suffering. There is no grievance which we could not leave to the B.B.C. or the I.T.A. to work out. If the time came when we found that Members of Parliament were being pestered by their constituents or that the public were being worked up by some great figure like the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire, we should have to take steps to stop it, but at the moment this is largely a figment of the overheated imagination of the party central offices.
I do not see any case for a ban or a Committee. Everyone agrees that we cannot have a 14-day rule. Nor can we ban all matters which are the subject of legislation before the House, because it is absolute nonsense to do so. Hardly anything escapes it. After today we could not discuss milk bottles because there is a Bill before the House. Milk bottles are out, and old-age pensions are out, too. I think that everyone agrees that if a ban is necessary it must be a very short ban, for at most a week ahead, and it must simply apply to matters coming up in this House for major debate. I should therefore leave matters to the B.B.C. and I.T.A.
But I cannot pretend that I feel there is any tremendous liberal principle of free speech at stake if a ban for a few days is imposed—though I am against it. I should like to and I have tried to; I looked up Burke and all that. There are genuine difficulties on both sides. But I think that there is a danger when the two Front Benches get together; that is where the real danger to free speech arises. If there is any danger to freedom that is it.
§ Mr. Grimond
Certainly, too, they are nearly always conservative. There is this continual tendency for a coalition to grow up between the Front Benches. After all, they are the people who have tasted power, and once one has had power one wants to keep the other chaps out. There is this feeling of Front Bench coalition about the Government Motion.
§ Mr. Grimond
I think that there may well be a trade union soon, and the interesting thing is whether the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) or the Leader of the Opposition will be in charge of it.
I feel that the Government in this matter are rather like the people in the early days of motoring who said, "This is a dangerous business and we must have a man with a red flag to walk in front of our car." Broadcasting is a very dangerous business, and it is possible that it may lead to all sorts of troubles. These troubles have not arisen yet. I do not think we can meet them by putting on this ban which, in the eyes of the public, is rather nonsense and which I cannot believe adds very greatly to the dignity of this House.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
I think that all of us in the House will have enjoyed, as we always do, the speech of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. J. Grimond). I agree with so much that he said, and I hope that he will excuse me if I do not comment upon it.
I should like to take up one or two points made earlier by the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), who has left the Chamber. I thought that it was a little unnecessary for him to make such a personal and vituperative attack against hon. Members of this House and individuals outside. I would also like to point out to him that the producer's job in the B.B.C. is not at all easy. I speak as one who for three years was a producer and who was responsible for selecting commentators and speakers on television.
It is very difficult to steer a course between Scylla and Charybdis, between 2389 entertainment, knowledge and responsibility. On the whole, I think that the producers rather than select, as I think the hon. Member for Leeds, West said, freaks and extroverts, have done an extremely good job.
I equally do not agree with the hon. Member's point that only the professionals are good entertainers. I remember very well that it was exactly a year ago tonight that we saw Lord Ismay in an almost classic television programme on the 80th birthday of my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill). Lord Ismay was an amateur, but an amateur who came over with tremendous conviction and gave a great deal of pleasure to a very large number of people. People who know their subject can often be extremely entertaining on television, and I hope that we shall not drop the amateurs from the list of those who appear. Let us see both amateurs and professionals.
I take the view that at present, and I underline the words "at present," some limitation is necessary.
I have heard most of the speeches during this debate, and I think that the influence of one or two appearances on television have been over-emphasised. Sometimes I have tested an audience with whom I have been watching television after someone has made a point, or after an announcement has been made. Sometimes after Silvia Peters or Mary Malcolm has said something I have said, "What did she say?" to a member of the audience, who has replied, "I am so sorry but I was discussing the new dress she had on," or her pretty necklace, or why her hair was done in a different way. It is astonishing the way in which people will concentrate on how people look, or on what they are wearing and not on what they are saying.
I think that what does have a great influence is the constant and regular appearance of a team. I believe that the team has far more influence and that their arguments are listened to to a much greater extent, but not perhaps to the extent which my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. McAdden) tried to suggest. I think that the casual and transitory appearance of a person putting forward a few arguments is not absorbed by the public at large. It certainly does not have any influence on the 2390 debates which we have in this House in subsequent periods.
I have studied a number of party political broadcasts which took place during the Election campaign, and of these I should have thought that the Prime Minister set as it were a "four-minute mile" standard; but even that performance I do not believe will have influenced many votes. I would say, to summarise this section, do not let us overrate the importance of one or two hon. Members of this House who appear once or twice on television. Let us not under-rate the importance of a team appearing week after week. I find that, in general, the public cannot remember the arguments but say, "He is rather a good chap; he is always amusing," rather than actually absorbing the arguments advanced.
I suggest that as we get more programmes on broadcasting and television the impact of these individual appearances and even of these teams becomes less and less important and of less influence. I support the proposal for a Select Committee but I do not like what my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General seemed to have some leaning towards, the "unofficial" or "gentleman's agreement." I am wholly opposed to that way of restricting freedom in this important sphere. Let us have a written instruction. It may be very difficult to draft, but we can draft the basic idea and then leave it to sensible and responsible people both in the I.T.A. and the B.B.C. to administer the idea of which this House has approved.
If we have an unofficial agreement, there is nothing which can be grasped. No one knows what it is. There have existed some agreements between leaders of parties in the past, and I cannot help remembering that it was just that sort of unofficial agreement, which between the wars kept my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford from broadcasting his opinion over the radio and warning us about what was coming. I believe it is dangerous and very undemocratic to advance the case for an unofficial agreement. I was very glad that, whatever the reason, the B.B.C. no longer accept unofficial agreements but insist that something should be put down in writing. I think the Corporation was wrong even to accept an unofficial agreement for the years 1944 to 1955.
As I understand the reading of it, it arose in 1944 because certain Ministers 2391 were rather liable—perhaps this is too strong a term—to "hog" the microphone and to advance their views, and so some protection had to be afforded. That was in wartime, and I feel that we have now woken up to the fact that the 14-day rule was a thoroughly unhealthy arrangement for democracy, and I am glad that we have now this opportunity to debate it and ask for something better and in writing.
I notice that my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General put a copy of his instructions in the Library on 27th July. I wonder when the Charters both of the I.T.A. and the B.B.C. come up for renewal whether instructions of this sort ought to be laid before the House and we could have an opportunity of praying against them. I am not saying that these are wrong. In general, I agree with them, but I do not like the position where a Minister can issue an instruction affecting the liberty not only of hon. Members of this House but of every person in the land, without our having the chance of discussing the matter or even reading the instructions until after they are issued. I made this point during the debate on the Charter, and I think the debate today has underlined the desirability of it when we come to consider the Charter after seven years.
I accept the position that some insulating period is desirable. In a General Election it seems to be generally agreed that five days is sufficient. The last speeches are made on a Saturday, and generally the country votes on the following Thursday. I wonder why it was thought that 14 days was necessary before we in this House could form an objective and sound judgment, if five days is enough after all the heat and fury and argument of a General Election. Fourteen days seems to me wholly excessive.
I hope that the Select Committee will accept the proposal that once business has been announced to this House then the subject should not be discussed on the B.B.C. or the I.T.A. I hope that this bogey will be laid. I am sure it is a bogey, and I accept all the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland. I hope that as a shorter period begins to work we shall find that even that is not necessary and we may reduce the period still further.
2392 After all, surely the danger to democracy is not the dignity of this House as a forum. The greater danger is apathy. Anything which will stimulate interest in the events of the day is wholly desirable. We may say that broadcasting discussions are undertaken by outriders or "small shots." But if that be so, it is a good thing, because the "big shots" will come along later and get quoted. Public interest will be stimulated in something which is going to happen in the House later on. I should have thought it desirable to go on discussing topics of interest as close to the day as this House will accept.
The second part of the Postmaster-General's instruction deals with legislation which affects only Members of Parliament, and as I understand it, although it is not written into the instructions, also the members of another place. It saysThat when legislation is introduced in Parliament on any subject, the Corporation shall not, on such subject, arrange broadcasts by any Member of Parliament …It seems to me that that is grossly emphasising the precautions. We have the almost classic case of the Road Traffic Bill. We had this Measure introduced first in the House of Lords on 25th March of this year. It is a relatively non-party matter, and I believe that the second Bill is in Committee upstairs and making good progress with the co-operation of both sides of the Committee. This is a matter of tremendous importance to all of us, and especially those who live in the great towns of this country. Yet here is a subject which, since 25th March—and the Bill will not become law until early next year—no one, or rather no Member of Parliament, is allowed to discuss on television, on the Third Programme, the Light Programme, the Home Service, or the I.T.A. I am sure that when the regulation was drawn it was not intended to be as wide as it is in that respect. Equally, I hope that when the Select Committee comes to consider Private Members' business they may be able to exempt it altogether, or not make it as comprehensive as it is at the moment.
Over the last 25 years Britain unconsciously has created a monopoly in broadcasting and a duopoly in television. Under these conditions some special safeguard may be needed, and I think these regulations are designed in a reasonable way, provided all these small amendments which I have enumerated may be made.
2393 May I summarise what I have described. I feel that at present, with the limited choice of television and broadcasting programmes, some limitation is required: some insulating period may be needed between discussions over the air and discussions in this House. I suggest that 14 days is an unnecessarily long time and that it may well be reduced to five days or cover the period after business is announced to this House.
I hope that this present ruling on discussing legislation will be relaxed to a great extent and that Private Members' Bills will not be included. Lastly, that when the Charter comes up for discussion, in order to protect ourselves in the future, I hope we shall ask that the Minister lay his regulations so that they may be prayed against by this House and that they be not issued as a directive.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Edelman (Coventry, North)
May I first declare by interest in this matter. I was broadcasting for a number of years before I became a Member of Parliament, and recently I have been writing plays for television. That will not influence my vote, because, like the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Sir R. Boothby) it is not my intention to vote this evening. I propose to abstain, because I am wholly and radically opposed to the 14-day rule. I do not consider that it is justified in any form, even in a modified form, and I am not satisfied that the Amendment states sufficiently emphatically the opposition to the principle contained in the rule.
I listened with considerable interest to the opening speeches today. I confess that I am sorry that the Postmaster-General is not in the Chamber now. I was, however, deeply pained by the speech he made, and when next he seeks the suffrage of Luton I hope that he will remove the term "Liberal" from his description as a National Conservative Liberal. He is not justified in retaining it on the basis of the somewhat demagogic speech which he made today.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition is, of course, one of the authors of the 14-day rule. I was struck, not so much by what he said in his speech as by what he said in the course of a supplementary question which he put to the Prime Minister earlier today. He said—I took down his words and I 2394 believe that I am quoting him accurately—"Nothing but what is official can be said over the Moscow Radio." As I heard him say those words, I could not help feeling that in a sense that was a commentary on the whole debate today; and that if the advice of certain hon. Gentlemen—which I am quite certain was given in good faith—were in fact to be adopted, the result would be that nothing but what was official could be said over the British radio, whether it be an official statement made on behalf of the Government or an official statement on behalf of the official Opposition, I thought I detected in the use of the word "responsible" when applied to allegedly responsible speakers on the wireless, that what those who describe that form of responsibility had in mind was, in fact, a responsibility, an alleged responsibility, which comes from being, if not the official spokesman, at least the party spokesman nominated by the party machine.
I feel that the whole of the debate today and the whole of the Motion on the Order Paper in the name of the Prime Minister represents an elaborate face-saving performance on the part of the authors of the 14-day rule, who have now seen how, in practice, the 14-day rule is not only undesirable but unworkable.
After all, it is not difficult to recognise that if one has a 14-day rule and is dealing with 7-day business, one has to be either a prophet or has to get privileged information from the Whips' Office, as indeed is indicated by the letter of the Postmaster-General to the Director-Generals of the B.B.C. and the I.T.A., in order to know the business which will arise later.
In fact, the result of the contradiction between the rule and the fact that business is known only seven days in advance was seen the other day when an hon. Member complained that an evening newspaper had had advance information about the business of the House. This was denied very vigorously by the Leader of the House, but the fact is that if the 14-day rule were to be made workable, it would be essential that certain organisations and certain individuals outside the House should have privileged access to the Whips' Office in order to obtain information which is traditionally and normally given to the House before it is disclosed 2395 to the public. That is self-evident. The 14-day rule is unworkable.
I want to say tonight that I should not be in favour in any circumstances, as some have proposed, of changing the 14-day rule into a 7-day rule in order to make it workable. That would merely be to make a bad principle worse. It is because I am fundamentally opposed to the principle of the rule that I should not do anything, or support any Motion, to make it more efficient.
The origin of the rule is, of course, well known, but perhaps I might add one supplementary detail which may be of interest to the House. It has already been stated that the rule emerged as a self-denying ordinance on the part of the B.B.C. during the war in order, as has been stated, to prevent Ministers from "hogging" the microphone. The most blatant example of that was when the Education Act was before the House, and the present Chancellor, who was then the Minister of Education, went to the microphone the evening before the matter was debated in the House and made what was virtually a Second Reading speech about it. That was an abuse of Parliament, and an abuse of power by a member of the Executive. For that reason, it was rightly resented by those who were concerned to preserve the fundamentals of the B.B.C. Charter.
From that point of departure, however, a whole series of curious principles began to be formulated. In the first place, the general slogan was circulated in one form and another—I believe it was initiated by the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill)—that in no circumstances should there be any alternative forum to the forum of Parliament. That was put in a variety of different words, but in all the descriptions the word "forum" was used to point to the possible threat which might come from some competitive platform of discussion.
"Forum" is itself a metaphor. As the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) said, the House of Commons is not a debating society but a legislature. If one uses the metaphor "forum" to describe our place of assembly and our meetings, one is using it to describe a legislature. On the other hand, when one uses "forum" to describe the various places where forms of discussion 2396 are conducted by the B.B.C. and the I.T.A., one is using the word merely to mean "a place of discussion." The forum of public discussion in a democracy should be wherever the public may find itself, in the streets, the clubs and any place where people may meet.
I wish to state as a first principle that I regard the 14-day rule as an attack on the right of free speech. I dissent from those who suggest that there is no constitutional principle involved. I believe there is. The reason there has not been more consciousness of the essential constitutional principle involved is that the whole of the argument has been somewhat obfuscated by the fact that the form of selection has become the central point of argument and of passion. I have listened with very great interest to some of the attacks on the form of selection which have been made in the House and outside, and I feel that they should be the subject not of political analysis but of psycho-analysis. They spring from a whole complex of motives which have nothing to do with the issues involved.
Both Front Benches are haunted by the spectre of the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East together, on the other side, with that perhaps of Mr. Michael Foot, glaring at the electorate from television screens and wholly beyond the control of the party machines. I believe that many of those who say that they are concerned with upholding the dignity and supremacy of Parliament are much more concerned with upholding the dignity of the two Front Benches and the supremacy of the party machine and patronage.
It is essential not to confuse two wholly different considerations. It is the business of the Whips to keep control over the expressions of opinion of Members of Parliament. The creeping power of the Executive in our own century, and particularly since the First World War, is bad for democracy, and the decline in the power of the private Member is inimical to the functions of Parliament as a genuine forum of public opinion. When, casually, last summer the leaderships of the Parliamentary parties got together and came to this slap-dash decision about the 14-day rule, I believe they were not primarily concerned, whatever their subsequent rationalisation, with the 2397 supremacy of Parliament, although that is a very noble phrase, but principally with keeping their hand and their power on the expression of opinion of private Members.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that much more dangerous than the 14-day rule was the suggestion of his right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) that the choice of speakers on the B.B.C. should correspond in some way to their stature in this House?
§ Mr. Edelman
My right hon. Friend has rebutted that suggestion, and he does well to do so. I am sure that he did not say it. If anyone did suggest that overtly, no one would accept it, although de facto there is a similar suggestion in this talk of only responsible opinion being heard on the air. What is meant is nominated opinion, the opinion of those who are chosen by the party machine.
There may be considerable room for improvement in the selection of Members by the B.B.C. and producers, but I hasten to say that I have an incomparably higher opinion of producers than one of my hon. Friends. I believe that they discharge their duty with impartiality and with understanding of the basic principle that opinions should be balanced. It would be infinitely more undesirable to have selection in the hands of the Whips and of the party machines than to leave it in its present form. I hope that there may be changes.
I should like to see a genuine correspondence column on the air, so that when viewers or listeners have been outraged by some unorthodox or orthodox opinion expressed by someone speaking on the radio, they should have the chance of sending a letter to the B.B.C., and then the writers should have an opportunity of reading their letters to the viewers or listeners. I believe that they should be permitted to confront the viewers themselves because, undesirable as may be some of those who are appearing on the air, I think that some of those who write irate letters may, in the event, be found to be even more undesirable. If that were done, as is the case with newspapers, one grievance might at least be modified.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
I do not know whether the hon. Member is aware of it, but the "Any Questions" programme is followed a few days later by a programme called, I think, "Letterbox," in which letters from irate listeners are read.
§ Mr. Edelman
I think that is admiraable, but it should be extended so that following all discussion programmes there should be an opportunity for correspondence to be read out in that way.
There has emerged during the debate a very unattractive and, in my view, undesirable tendency to attack both the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. for putting on the air what have been called eccentrics, nonconformists, heretics and so on. By definition, a nonconformist or a heretic may be someone who is a little ahead of his time, and I would say to one of my hon. Friends that when he attacks eccentrics he should remember that eccentricity depends entirely on one's point of view. It is a most relative term.
I resist the 14-day rule absolutely and without compromise. I believe that the appetite of censors grows with feeding. They have to find employment for their scissors, blue pencils and switch-off men. If the rule were allowed to survive, I firmly believe that it would not be very long before reasons were found for applying some of its principles to organs of mass circulation. It has always been asked why, if it is wrong for three million people to see any hon. Member on television should it be right for them to read him on a Sunday morning, addressing himself to eight million people.
I can well appreciate that many of the arguments advanced by Front Bench spokesmen today could equally be applied to the Press, and although there is, of course, no exact analogy between Press and radio—the only basic analogy is that they are media of mass communication—I believe that the 14-day rule, the first formal act of political censorship for over a hundred years, might prove to be the thin end of the wedge. Today's debate has not come about by the good grace of the Government or of the Leader of the House, but because of what the Prime Minister referred to as "frenzied agitation." I am glad that he yielded to it, because what he described as "frenzied agitation" was, in fact, a spontaneous 2399 concern of the public as a whole, and it has found expression today.
Parliament does not derive its strength from censorship, nor from simply saying to other bodies, or potentially competitive platforms, that there shall not be speech on those alternative platforms. The strength and vitality of Parliament derives, in great measure, from the strength and vitality of private discussion. For those reasons, I oppose the Government Motion. and I hope that back benchers on both sides of the House will combine to resist the encroachment on their traditional rights and cherished liberties by the party machines.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
Would the hon. Member deal with two matters arising directly from his speech? He intimated at the outset that he proposed to abstain from voting, and then made a speech which was, as I understood it, absolutely in support of the Amendment. He has not dealt with his main reason for not wishing to support that Amendment, when he himself desires a Select Committee untrammelled by any other principle.
§ Mr. Edelman
The short answer to that is that I do not think that the Amendment adequately states an uncompromising attitude to the Government Motion.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Amery (Preston, North)
I find myself in very general agreement with the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman), and I hope that he will accept what I have to say as sufficient comment on his speech. I have not had anything like his experience of broadcasting and it would be rather pompous for me to declare an interest. I must, however, admit that I have, at least, lost my amateur status in television and broadcasting. I am, in fact, one of the 11 per cent. who have been referred to by the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell).
The hon. Member made a strong case for what might be called fair shares for M.P.s on television—a doctrine of "Buggins' turn." Although only 11 per cent. of Members of Parliament act as commentators on television, that 11 per cent. is rather less than 10 per cent. of 2400 all the commentators who appear on television, the great majority of whom are outside the House.
I think that the emotion engendered in the bosom of the hon. Member is due partly to a certain confusion of ideas resulting from the novelty of television. Had television been a long-established institution, a whole generation of commentators would have grown up, some of whom would no doubt have come into the House of Commons without anyone thinking it odd for them to carry on their ordinary business as television commentators. What upsets people is that television is new and that, as a result, the producers have—not unnaturally, perhaps—turned to politicians to provide political comment.
Turning to the Government's Motion, we should ask, what is its object? Is the object of the 14-day rule and the principle of limitation to secure the impartiality or the representative character of broadcast and television services? I submit that it is not. There are already quite adequate powers under the existing charters to secure both impartiality and representative character. What we are asked to do is to approve a time limit in relation to debates in this House—a kind of close season.
The argument put forward by my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General was, I understand, that the rule would uphold the authority and dignity of the House of Commons. I find that a very strange argument. I could accept it only on one hypothesis. If the Government and Opposition Front Benches really think there is something to be ashamed of in the way in which we conduct our debates, then, no doubt, it would be upholding the dignity of the House to conceal our activities. If we really behave like monkeys we should not broadcast the fact.
§ Mr. Amery
I am coming to that point presently.
I cannot help feeling that any comment made outside the House on subjects which are to be debated inside the House must have the effect of stimulating public interest in our debates. I am reminded of the old principle of, I think, M. Clemenceau, "It does not matter whether 2401 they speak good or ill about us as long as they speak about us at all and take an interest." We are not a jury. It is not suggested that we have to avoid expressions of opinion outside which might influence our decisions. If anyone suggests that we are likely to be influenced by what is said on radio or television, or outside generally, he is guilty of a serious reflection on the powers and abilities of the party Whips, as well as of contempt of the House.
The right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker), in a skilful but characteristically reactionary speech, made a good deal of play with the idea that broadcasting and television constituted a quite different medium from the Press and were much more influential. I think he misunderstands the way in which public opinion is formed. I do not believe that public opinion is formed by the man in the council house listening to or watching a programme on his television set and suddenly being converted to an opinion expressed. I think that opinion is formed much more by a succession of "leaders" all the way down the scale, each forming opinion in his own little circle, whether it be a man talking in a public house, or a trade union leader, or a man in the office or the local newspaper editor. That is how opinion is formed. Men and women do not, in fact, undergo a kind of conversion like St. Paul's on the road to Damascus when they see and hear my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Sir R. Boothby) on television.
I do not think that the present discussion programmes can have a great deal of influence, simply because of the way that they are arranged. One does not get the time to whip up much passion in these programmes. One has to put across in a couple of minutes at the most a rough indication of where one stands and what one thinks. What is more, that has to be done with two or three other people arguing with one. I do not deny that a broadcaster can have influence. It is true to say that the party opposite benefited a good deal from the series of broadcasts by Mr. J. B. Priestley during the war. But, let us face it, those broadcasts helped to build up a climate of opinion, and it would not have made any difference whether they were made a fortnight later 2402 or three months later. That would have been neither here nor there.
All this leads me to the opinion that the authority of a representative body cannot be enhanced by curtailing discussion among the people whom it is supposed to represent. This seems to me so obviously patent that I have been bound to ask myself whether there is another explanation, some other reason, why the two Front Benches are so keen on this principle of limitation. I think there may be.
It is a very common defect of statesmen in any country to identify themselves with the institutions which they lead. Can it really be that what preoccupies the leaders on both sides is not concern for the authority of the House of Commons but concern for their own authority? The point has been made before, but I think it is cardinal and crucial to this matter. The Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister have to face the fact that they reach a smaller audience than does my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire when he writes in the News of the World and appears on television and on the radio. If they are worried about that I think it is the fear of the old lady who looks for the burglar under the bed.
Lord Baldwin proved years ago in his struggle with the Press lords that the organs of public opinion are very weak in relation to the House of Commons and the Government. My hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire has been preaching on the radio and in the Press what I think are the right economic views for the last ten years, and it has not had the faintest impression on the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If the Leader of the Opposition should lose any sleep over Bevanite representation on "Any Questions," he could console himself with the thought that Mr. Michael Foot could not even hold his own seat. I do not think that the Front Benches have anything to fear from this. The question is: Have the Front Benches something to gain from maintaining this limitation? Now it is quite true that in the more respectable organs of the Press, at present, the speeches of the Front Bench leaders are still—I will not say adequately—reported in some detail. But for the rest of us, outside the circle of HANSARD readers, our discussions and 2403 debates might just as well take place in secret session.
We can discover front the Press if an hon. Member has voted against his party, but we can scarcely ever discover why. I made an experiment the other day, and I would urge hon. Members in doubt to look up the files of the newspaper reports of the Budget and the Finance Bill debates to try to find out the reasons why the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) voted differently from the rest of us on this side of the House. One will see the fact reported but one will not see any serious extract from his speech giving the reasons why he did so.
§ Mr. Percy Daines (East Ham, North)
I do not know if the hon. Gentleman has looked at today's Daily Herald, but if he does so, he will scarcely notice that we met at all yesterday.
§ Mr. Amery
I am afraid it is a fact that the Front Benches regard this silence which surrounds the utterances of back benchers with some complacency, and they themselves are not really bound by the 14-day rule. Party political broadcasts are not subject to it. We had a most extraordinary exhibition during the Budget debate. In mid-debate on the Wednesday evening and on the Thursday evening, nearly twenty-four hours before the final vote was cast, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the right hon. Member for Leeds. South (Mr. Gaitskell) appeared on the television and said what they thought about the Budget. A more robust assembly would have had them dragged before the Committee of Privileges at once.
It is not surprising, in these circumstances, if the public believes that there are only two views about the Budget or, indeed, about any other issue. Of course, the abolition of the 14-day rule will not make much difference to that, but it will make it possible for a little cheep of independence to seep through every now and then at a critical moment.
This debate has focussed the spotlight on what is a really grave issue. We in the House of Commons are very proud of our traditions, of the things we have done in the past and of what we are still doing. But we must face the fact that we are becoming more and more an Augustan 2404 Senate with less and less influence—a dignified façade but no longer the centre of British public life. We are still a safety valve. Question Time ensures that. But, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if you believe that we lead opinion, you will believe anything.
It was not always so. In the nineteenth century our debates were reported almost in full in the serious newspapers. Back benchers could rely on a couple of columns. Those reports, astonishing as it may seem, were studied very carefully by the electorate. Nobody who has searched the archives of Victorian Members of Parliament will fail to discover the enormous correspondence which they received, and which showed that every word in our debates had been closely scrutinised. We cannot go back now.
§ Mr. R. E. Winterbottom (Sheffield, Brightside)
Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that there is less newsprint today and that there are more film stars?
§ Mr. Amery
I was just saying that the Press would not print this material even if it had the newsprint and space, nor would the public have time to read it. But they would look and listen.
Now I come to the point which was raised by the right hon. Member for Smethwick. If it is really desired to raise the authority of the House of Commons; if we want to increase interest in what we do and say, if we even want to safeguard the authority of the party leaders against competition from outside, then I believe that the answer is to put the House of Commons on the air. The remedy is in our own hands. It has been done in Australia and with interesting results.
When the Federal network broadcasts the proceedings of the Australian House of Commons, the commercial advertising rates are reduced because so many people are known to listen to these Parliamentary broadcasts. I know that we shall be told that this leads to playing to the gallery. But that is not unknown even today. The illustrious statesmen whose statues adorn our lobbies did not only address your illustrious predecessor, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. They had an eye on the Westminster Gazette and The Times.
This House is not a Council of State. It may have been so in the eighteenth century, when anybody who was not in the House of Commons was in the House 2405 of Lords, but it has not been so since the great Reform Bill. Our main task since 1832 has been to lead public opinion, and we are not doing it now. Yet we have only to stretch out our hands to grasp this opportunity and to bring what we have to say here into every house in the country. Here is a great chance for leadership.
Meanwhile, so far from limiting discussion, let us, since the broadcasting and television systems constitute a quasi-monopoly, do everything we can to increase the amount of discussion there is on the air and the amount of interest which exists in our debates. Let us therefore recognise this 14-day rule for what it is—an encroachment of the party machine on our freedom of speech, an encroachment which may well bring the House into conflict with the nation one of these days; and let us have done with it.
Although I agree with the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) that there is not, immediately, any great liberal principal at stake, if we fail to defend freedom of discussion outside the House, we shall be in a very weak position to defend it inside the House if it is ever threatened.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge and Airdrie)
I am glad, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to have caught your eye as up till now I have not heard the Scottish point of view in the debate. Secondly, I am glad to have this opportunity of speaking, because the other week I was on both the Scottish and English broadcasting stations in the same week. My experience when I met the producer was one of very great surprise, disappointment and concern. I am not a frequent broadcaster. I am, in fact, an infrequent broadcaster, in that I appear usually about once a year on each station. This year it so happened that my two annual appearances came in the same week, and I therefore had the experience of hearing what was happening in Scotland, of an all-night sitting the following night and of then proceeding to Wiltshire and receiving the full blast of what was happening in England.
It concerns me seriously. When I arrived with the team at the Scottish broadcasting room I was told that there were two-and-a-half sheets of subjects 2406 which we could not discuss. It started with the Budget, and one of our team said, "Suits me."
§ Mrs. Mann
We could not discuss rents, not because Scotland had a Rent Bill before the House but because the Housing Subsidies Bill was before the House. Therefore, no one in Scotland could discuss that subject. It penetrates a bit further, because when our Scottish Housing Subsidies Bill comes before the House, English hon. Members will not be able to discuss housing subsidies at all on the wireless.
The operative words are not "14 days" or "7 days." The operative phrase is "From the time a Bill is presented to the House until it receives the Royal Assent." The Scottish Bill dealing with valuation and rating has been presented, but the Government will be lucky if the Bill receives the Royal Assent this Session, for it is one of the most revolutionary legislative proposals ever put before Scottish hon. Members. It entirely revises our Scottish rating system. One of the tenets of the Bill is that from now onwards landlords in Scotland will pay no rates. That immediately raises the ire of everyone in Scotland. Moreover, it is not as simple as that; it is a good deal more involved. It is a subject which ought to be discussed, in the interests of both parties, time and again on the wireless.
Need I go on to give a list of the subjects which we could not discuss? We could not discuss food, roads, streets and the cost of living. Hon. Members may ask the reason. If they look at the Order Paper they will see the reason. We could not discuss education, we could not even discuss the very air we breath because before the House there is a Clean Air Bill. We could not discuss noise, or rural transport, and not even the hotels which we have to tolerate; nor land, nor litter, nor sugar, nor J.P.s, nor wills, nor local authority expenses, nor National Insurance, nor workmen's compensation, nor agriculture, nor dentists, nor the Leeward Islands, nor criminal justice. We could not even discuss broadcasting, because this Motion was due for discussion. We could not discuss the death penalty, leasehold enfranchisement, the Legitimacy Act, sanitary inspectors or obscene publications—and I take it that that refers to 2407 both party manifestoes. There are a few more.
When I was confronted with this list I said, "What am I here for?" I suggested that they might say, "Give her the money, Barney, and let her go home." They did not feel disposed just to give me my cheque and let me go away, however. I then suggested that it would be of interest to the people of Scotland, and when I was on the other programme to the people of Britain, if I told them in detail all these subjects upon which I was debarred from commenting, not for 14 days but from the date when they were presented to the House until they received the Royal Assent.
I should like to know what the people of Britain would think of this list. My first thoughts on it were thatmen loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.I thought it was deliberately designed to help the Conservative Party in the next 18 months to get through a great deal of obnoxious legislation. But I was wrong and I think that on second thoughts I was unkind.
I have heard St. Paul quoted tonight. I think that the greatest piece of advice he ever gave to politicians, which I confess I am not very good at following myself, was:Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity … it availeth me nothing.I remember being given that advice as the very first advice given to me before I went on to a Socialist platform.
I thought I was uncharitable because I recalled what the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) had said of such a ban. Nevertheless, a great many Members on the Government Front Bench, I am sure, could not possibly have anticipated this sort of situation, so I support the suggestion to set up a Select Committee. But I hope that Committee will hurry. If it takes 18 months to two years to report and then at the end of two years the present Government bring in rather pleasant legislation, in strident contrast to what we are getting now, they may want the ban removed to give us all perfect liberty to speak about the nice new legislation that is coming on 18 months before they have to face the electors again.
2408 I am supporting the Motion hoping that the Select Committee will do its work very quickly, but I also like the idea of some sort of limitation. I think a debate in this House always stands supreme on any subject. One of my hobbies is listening and knitting while I am listening. I listen to all the broadcasts I can. Sometimes I am dismayed at the great amount of misinformation which is thrown across by politicians, some of whom are very seldom in this House and most of whom are ill-informed about Committee stages of a Bill because they dodge that part of the work.
Arising from long experience in this House, one can understand how a Minister has great responsibility in introducing a Bill. He has gathered great knowledge, although he may not have gathered it himself. He has equipped himself with all the knowledge he can find bearing on that Bill. The same applies to hon. Members on both sides of the House. On the Opposition side there are the working parties which get together and study Amendments. Those hon. Members equip themselves with all the knowledge they can get. They know every aspect of the Bill because they are hard-working good back benchers and—Full many a flower is born to blush unseen and waste its sweetness on the …upstairs Committee Corridor. One has to be careful—this is the danger of too frequent appearances—of becoming a star and overloading oneself with work. We must keep fresh, because spontaneous questions demand spontaneous answers and one cannot give a spontaneous answer after being up all night on a late sitting. So usually we find that on an all-night sitting of the House our television stars have folded their lily-white hands over their manly bosoms and are reposing in the arms of Morpheus, getting ready for the next big appearance when we shall get a half-baked version of what may be coming before the House next week. For that very reason I uphold the limitation.
I think it is a good thing, but is there not something rather illogical about the two stages? One is that the House knows best and will give the full 100 per cent. viewpoint. We must not let the B.B.C. usurp that authority. The other is that we are to give the B.B.C. an advantage which no hon. Member in this House 2409 possesses—the knowledge of what is to be the business of the House in the next 14 days. That carries me back to the years in which I have appeared infrequently—usually once a year—on the Scottish and the National Programmes, when I never came across this embargo. The system seemed to be working quite all right. I do wish we could get back to it very quickly.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Martin Maddan (Hitchin)
I do not want to follow in great detail what the hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) has said, but I wish to take up one point she made—that there is just a possibility that the Postmaster-General and his colleagues may maintain the ban for 18 months or so whilst, in the opinion of the hon. Lady, unpopular legislation may be going through, and then lift the ban.
I think it important to go back to a point made very cogently by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Sir R. Boothby) who said that one of the great effects of radio and television was that, for the first time, people are beginning to listen to the other point of view. We on this side of the House often feel that if the electorate could hear our point of view, as opposed to the point of view which perhaps they read in party-controlled newspapers, it would be a great deal better. Although I do not want to embark on a party question, I think for that reason alone the fears of the hon. Lady in that respect are groundless.
I want to turn to the main issue which I consider is involved in this debate. We have heard a great deal about free speech. It is indeed a matter of free speech for a few. Although this is so, I do not think it weighs against the principle. The main issue to my mind is the right of people to listen to what in fact are the most topical issues of the day. They can read about them in the papers and can go to public meetings; why can they not listen to them?
It is suggested that if people exercise their right to listen to those discussions Parliament will be put in jeopardy. I do not believe that for a moment. The Beveridge Committee—a very august committee—which certainly did not reach a hasty conclusion—made it quite clear 2410 in its Report that it rejected the 14-day rule out of hand. My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Defence, who signed the minority Report, did not dissent from that conclusion.
I support the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) in saying that this House is not just a debating forum. If we think that it is we are confusing means with ends. The end of this House is to make decisions. To imagine that it detracts from the dignity of the House if other people are debating matters elsewhere seems to be putting forward a proposition which would put this House on the level of nothing more than a talking shop.
I think that the proponents of this rule must show exactly what attributes of Parliament are in jeopardy as a result of discussions on the air going on at times which now are banned—precisely what attributes are in jeopardy, and why. I have not heard any answer which convinces me on this subject. Therefore I disagree with the first part of the Motion, which suggests that there should be some limitation of discussion.
I want to turn very briefly to the history behind this rule. It has been explained, and I will not repeat it again, except to make the point that if the monster had grown up suddenly to full size this House would have rejected it out of hand. Solely because at first it was scarcely an agreement, then it was a gentlemen's agreement and now it is a rule which has gradually grown upon us, we have accepted it. I am convinced that if there had been no background at all and the Minister had come to the Dispatch Box to suggest suddenly that there would be a 14-day censorship on broadcasting, and a censorship a great deal worse for Members of Parliament, every Member would have been up in arms. The rule is no better for having come gradually.
It has been suggested from some quarters that if the rule were made a 7-day rule, it would be that much better. In fact, it would not make any difference, because at the present time it is a 7-day rule—or, to be precise, it is a 3-to 8-day rule, depending on what day of the week one is talking about. The reason for that is that private information given to the broadcasting authorities about 2411 what is to happen two weeks hence cannot be taken by them as a basis for planning their programmes, because they do not know whether there will be changes. Whips can be helpful in regard to programmes that have to be planned long in advance, but as the rule is operating at present it is a 3- to 8-day rule.
I consider that for Members of Parliament to adopt a self-imposed ban would be wholly unacceptable. It would undermine the authority of this House if defeated candidates, journalists and the rest were enabled to discuss these subjects on the air but elected Members of Parliament were not allowed to do so.
I must at this stage make a general comment on the debate. It has been said in the newspapers that one of the motives behind a lot of Members who are in favour of the rule is jealousy of their colleagues who go on the air. I had put that right out of my mind, but I must say that having heard some of the speeches during today's debate I have had to bring it back to mind. This jealousy does more to undermine the dignity of the House than any amount of broadcasting.
In my opinion, no restriction on broadcasting is justified at all. For that reason I see no point in having a Select Committee to consider how to operate the restriction. I do not agree with the restriction and, therefore, I do not agree with the proposal to have a Select Committee. In fact, in recent indiscretions about the Budget and even about the 14-day rule on the air, there is no evidence that any harm has been done to the House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Hyde) pointed out that the discussion on trade disputes on the air could do a great deal of harm. These particular subjects are not covered by the 14-day rule. There will always be times when open discussion does harm, but to impose a restriction limited to Parliamentary affairs seems to me to be getting matters entirely out of balance. We must leave it to the good judgment of the various broadcasting authorities, who can use their discretion, but to try to legislate for it, or even to have a gentleman's agreement in a formal manner, seems to me to be quite out of the question.
2412 It has been said that broadcast debates have a tremendous influence, but it is important to remember that they are arranged impartially and every speaker has his counterweight. That being so, the tendency towards producing a leaning in favour of any one party seems to be negligible.
I want to say something about television stars. Politicians have always had certain attributes, varying from age to age, that give them an edge over their colleagues. I am no television star; I am one of the 89 per cent.; I do not know whether that gives me some distinction. There must have been a time, back in the days of the rotten boroughs, when to be a two-bottle man gave a politician an edge over his colleagues. Then there came wider franchise, and to be a good orator gave a man an edge over his colleagues. Then came mass circulation newspapers, and to be a good journalist gave one an edge over one's colleagues. Now, there is broadcasting, and to be a broadcasting star gives one an edge over one's colleagues. I do not see that it is any worse to be a television star than to be a two-bottle man in the days of old. It is something that we simply have to accept. I never heard of Parliament trying to ban its Members from drinking wine.
In my opinion, the continuation of the rule undoubtedly increases the importance that is attached to broadcast political discussions. It is rather like watching a striptease act; one looks to see whether the performers will step beyond the bounds of propriety. I have no doubt that the people watch their television sets with more attention than they would have done had there not been the hullabaloo about this rule.
I want now to come to the point, which seems to me to be all-important, about whether there is a parallel between the newspapers and broadcasting. Already three programme sources are in existence. There are the B.B.C., Associated Television and Associated Rediffusion. It is true that two of them cover only a small area, but it will not be long before that is much improved. By the spring, at any rate, there will be five broadcasting sources, and shortly afterwards there will be as many as a dozen.
It is possible to answer back, it is possible to get any worthwhile opinion 2413 expressed on the air, and with a dozen or so sources available I cannot believe that there is any real cause for alarm that worthwhile opinions will be suppressed. Even if the present three sources are not quite adequate for these purposes, I do not believe that the ship of British democracy is so unseaworthy that it cannot weather the storm for a few more months or years until many more sources of programmes are on the air. Surely, British democracy has gone through enough storms to be able to weather this one.
Undoubtedly, television is the cause of the resurrection of the ban on political discussions at certain times which was otherwise ended in 1928 with the general ending of the ban on the broadcasting of controversial matters. In some respects that is wise, for television is already overtaking sound radio. It is true that only a fraction of over one-third of the homes in the country yet have television, yet on any evening when there are three sound programmes and one or two television programmes covering an area, more television viewing than radio listening takes place. In other words, the number of man-hours before the set is already greater for television, despite the small number of television sets, than for radio.
With that preface, I want to examine some of the figures relating to viewing and newspaper readership. My generalisations about viewing are based on audience research figures produced by a commercial company which is now operating, and of which I am a director. One cannot make precise generalisations because, obviously, the audiences vary from night to night according to the competition. The figures are nothing like as steady as those of newspaper readership, but without a doubt the general picture is that in homes which receive only the B.B.C. television programme, when one of the political discussions comes on the air, the sets in about half the homes are tuned to it. In homes that get both the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. programmes, when one of these political discussions is televised about one-quarter of the sets in the homes are tuned to any given political discussion. This means that about 6 million adults may be exposed to one of these political discussions. Probably not all who could view do so, for some will be washing up and others will be in the 2414 garden and others playing cricket, and so on. That is the maximum, however.
I want to compare this figure with the readership of some of the big national newspapers. Let hon. Members remember that the maximum potential radio audience to political discussions is 6 million. The readership—I am not talking about circulations—of the News of the World every Sunday is 17 million, of the Sunday Pictorial 12 million, of the People 11 million, of the Daily Mirror every day 11 million, of the Daily Express 10 million. Compare this with the 6 million gathered round the TV sets.
§ Mr. Maddan
How many newspaper readers really read and how many listeners really listen and take in what they read and hear, I do not know. However, I would add two more figures which, I think, are significant. I am quoting these figures from the Hulton Readership Survey. The people who read the Daily Mirror and no other national daily number 7 million and those who read only the Daily Express and no other national daily also number 7 million. In each case the number is more than the possible total of the number of those who could be listening to one of these political discussions. In these circumstances I cannot see that any limitation of debate on the air is any more desirable than is limitation in the case of the newspapers.
I can see no point either in having a Select Committee. I cannot vote for the Amendment because I do not believe in a Select Committee, and I cannot vote for the Motion because I do not believe in the principle. I shall vote against the Motion.
We must look beyond the confines of Westminster to the democracy 50 million strong, famed throughout the world as one of the most—probably the most—mature democracy in the world. The thought must perish in our minds that we—who were voted here—should vote to restrict the right of these 50 million people to listen to political discussions.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Miss Elaine Burton (Coventry, South)
My heart sank when I heard the hon. Member for Hitchin (Mr. Maddan) say "after that preface" he would proceed to give us some facts. I am glad that 2415 what followed the preface was very considerably shorter than the preface itself. As a former athlete, I should say that there is much less endurance required in winning championship races than in sitting here for more than five hours hoping to catch Mr. Speaker's eye. To say that is no reflection on the Chair. Sometimes we have to sit as long and longer, and then do not speak.
In casting my vote I am in some difficulty, because I agree with what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) said, that he believed it would have been better had it been possible for there to be a gentleman's agreement between the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. and this House, but that is not in the Motion, or the Amendment, and it is not possible to vote for that. I therefore intend to vote for the Amendment. I do not think that that is to abdicate responsibility or to hand it to a Select Committee, because we have no choice, if we want to vote tonight, but that between the Motion and the Amendment. The Select Committee should not be bound by any limitation.
It seemed to me that this business came into the limelight only recently because some broadcasts and some subjects were banned by the B.B.C. It was raised in the House and we were told it was not possible to discuss it because within two weeks it was to be discussed in the House.
§ Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)
I am rather worried about the fact that my hon. Friend said she would vote for an Amendment for a certain reason which does not seem to me to exist, because the Amendment suggests that a Select Committee should be appointed to consider what changes are desirable in the limitation of broadcasts, which is exactly what the Motion says.
§ Miss Burton
I should not have thought the two exactly the same. The Motion says… it is in the interest of Parliament and the nation to preserve the principle of some limitation …Those words do not appear in the Amendment. If my hon. Friend will allow me to get on he may understand my reason for intending to vote as I have said I shall.
2416 If the ban is to be operated the onus should be put where it belongs, and the onus apparently belongs at the moment to the present Government. When the B.B.C. realised that this ban would have to be operated it asked, I understand, for a directive from the Postmaster-General. It was sent, and both the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. are bound by it, the one under the Charter and the other under the Television Act.
We hear a great deal about the freedom of the individual, and I do not want to make any trite remarks, but quite honestly I do not see how any Government, of whatever party, can ban the right of people who are not Members of Parliament to discuss matters on the air. I just do not think they can do it, and I think that if one does believe in the freedom of the individual, if we decide to ban ourselves from taking part in these discussions, that is one thing, but I really do not see how this House, which one would have thought is the stronghold of democracy, can deny to ordinary people who are not Members of Parliament the right, if they get the opportunity, to express their views on the air on matters of public interest. I think it should be permitted to the ordinary citizen, and I do not think it should be forbidden to Members of Parliament—and I am not one of the 11 per cent.
If we take the Budget as an example, we find the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the former Chancellor, whoever they may be, speaking about the Budget. I know that it is customary, but I should think by including the Budget we should have broken the rule at once.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
May I point out to my hon. Friend that, as she will no doubt appreciate, the Budget is excepted from the 14-day rule, but the I.T.A. has so far broken the rule, and there is the question whether the B.B.C. could have done so or not. What really happened, of course, was that there was a Motion of censure; but the Budget itself is expresssly excepted from the rule.
§ Miss Burton
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I was under a misapprehension; I did not know that, and I thank him for his intervention. I thought that the discussion on the Budget on "Any Questions" was forbidden, but if my hon. 2417 Friend assures me that that is not so, then I accept it.
Why has it been thought necessary to bring this in? I have one or two reasons here that t want to discuss. The first one is that people are nervous—I suppose that by people I mean the Government—I may even mean members of my own Front Bench; but I am certainly talking about the Government now—they are nervous of the far-reaching effect of this new medium, because I do not think there is the slightest doubt about its influence. Here I join issue with some hon. Members—that the medium of television is a medium which reaches more people today than any other communicating medium in the world. In addition to that, although it has a great influence on public opinion, conversely I do not think that during the General Election—although all of us were too busy to see the television programmes—the television programmes had much effect. I believe that between elections the constant appearance of the same people on television can have a very great effect.
The reason why I am in this difficulty is that I do not think that we shall get anywhere by running away from this important medium. I am quite convinced of that. We have got to face it, and try to deal with it, and I do not think that we shall he able to deal with it by banning certain subjects from it.
Secondly, I know that many people have a genuine fear that the dignity and prestige of Parliament may be impaired. There have been some hard things said about The Times leader this afternoon, but I believe one thing which that leading article said:that for Parliament to try to hedge about the dignity and authority of its debates by a wall of silence outside will, in the end, weaken not only the democratic system but also the very things that Parliament and all men of good will are trying to preserve.Thirdly, we come to the very real apprehensions certainly felt in these days that broadcasting stars may be accepted by the public as the voices of their parties in Parliament. Last week, in the Star, I glanced through an article written by my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich. East (Mr. Mayhew), who did not agree with this. He said that these people have made their reputation as broadcasters and not as parliamentarians. I do not accept that, because in the country 2418 that reputation is regarded as a parliamentarian reputation, though it is not in this House. If one goes round the country there is not the slightest doubt that one will find that the opinions of parliamentarians as expressed on the radio and television have come to be regarded as the opinions of their respective parties in the House.
§ Miss Burton
Who is to blame for the fact that this feeling has arisen? I hope that what I have to say will be added to the material which the B.B.C. will consider after this debate. Is the producer of the programme to blame? We come then to the problem of who are to be chosen as broadcasters. It is obvious that from the producer's point of view the more often the same people are selected the greater the facility they will acquire and the better will be the programme they produce. That is obvious. These people require less practice beforehand and the producer feels that consequently he will put on a good show. It is very natural that he should have that feeling.
I do not believe that the House is a hot-bed of jealousy. We are 630 people who are a pretty good cross-section of the British people. Obviously we have our jealousies, but the House is a fair place. The goodwill and generosity shown by hon. and right hon. Members one to another in this place could certainly not be exceeded and I do not think could be equalled by the spirit shown in any other public body anywhere in the world.
After having said that, I must add that I believe that there has been a real worry, and that part of the present trouble has grown up against the background of how people are selected to broadcast. I am not saying that in any jealous or disgruntled mood. I cut out from The Times today an answer to a Question yesterday about the number of occasions on which the same people have broadcast, but going back three years, in relation to my party, I can distinctly remember that week after week a very small group of people holding exactly the same minority point of view in the party were given the privilege of going on the air. They held a point of view which certainly they should have had the opportunity of expressing on the air, but I am sure that 2419 no hon. Member would defend the right of anybody of whatever viewpoint to broadcast that view week after week.
I can say from bitter experience of going round the country that at that time there was not the slightest doubt that the opinions of that small group of people had become synonymous in the minds of listeners with the name of my party. It is beside the point whether I agreed or disagreed with that point of view. That was certainly an influence of this medium of broadcasting which was dangerous.
Why were these people chosen? I am really trying to be helpful. If the B.B.C. would think about it, it would realise why there has been so much opposition in the House. Obviously one cannot put 630 people on the air on the same day. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] I am, of course, in favour of all hon. Members broadcasting, but one wishes to be reasonable. I do not think that there would be any feeling about this matter if the opportunities to broadcast were thought to be going round.
Why were these people chosen? Did the producer approve of their opinions? Certainly, people of the same opinion were chosen every week. Was it because these people were thought to be good entertainment value? Whether they wish to broadcast or not, I want to put it on behalf of the 89 per cent. or so of hon. and right hon. Members who are left out, that however good people are on the air one cannot find out how good the others are if they are not allowed to have a "look-in." These opportunities should certainly go round.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) said that if the 14-day rule were abolished more hon. Members than ever would spend their time trying to get on television programmes. I would only like to say that it would not be the slightest use, judging by past experience—not my past experience. I am sure everybody knows—I say it in all honesty—that if one is out, one is out. That is the feeling that has been worrying a great many hon. Members. I would emphasise once more that if one is in, one is in, but if one is out, one is out. I hope that after this debate more hon. Members from both sides of the House will get a chance.
2420 What is the answer to the problem? I am not pretending that I know that, but I feel that the Select Committee, which is not bound by any limitation, might investigate whether or not any ban is necessary. I hope it will decide that it is not. I think it could be left to the good sense of the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. not to put on discussions immediately the subjects are arising in Parliament. If it is hopeless to rely on that good sense, we can then take action. I do not see the point of taking action beforehand. We cannot deal with the evil of selection by the evil of banning. I hope very much that my remarks will be taken note of, because it is a matter not of jealousy but of fair play and of facts.
I should like to return to the much-maligned Times and again quote from its leader, which said:If Parliament were to express some general principle it could surely be left to the broadcasting authorities to interpret it reasonably without any set rules. (The programme companies are admittedly a much bigger problem than the B.B.C., but is the Government ready to admit so soon that the I.T.A. has no effective powers?).
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
I apologise to the House for not having been present when the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) moved the Amendment standing in his name and the names of myself and a number of my hon. Friends. This is really and truly not a party matter. We have no party feelings on it, and there will be a free vote. I have said that I shall be very brief and shall not speak for more than four minutes.
First, I believe it is right that a Select Committee should give careful and considered thought to the matter. I was sorry to hear the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Sir R. Boothby), and other hon. Members who have said that they would abstain because they fervently believe in the abolition of the 14-day rule. They are wrong, because they themselves are denying the very freedom and liberty which they want the House to express.
Surely it is right that a Select Committee should first consider the matter carefully, and in a reflective and unemotional mood. I ask all hon. Members who are in favour of abolition to support the Amendment, because it is designed to 2421 give a Select Committee an absolute, unfettered opportunity to express its opinion.
Hon. Friends of mine associated with the Amendment have varied views. Some of them are in favour of retaining some form of limitation. Others are in favour of complete abolition. However, we all agree upon the one principle that in a matter of freedom the least we can do is to give freedom to a Select Committee to consider the matter in a reflective mood.
In relation to consideration by a Select Committee—and there will be a Select Committee—I should like to express two points. One is that, in any event, we should have a period in which there would be no rule and no limitation on discussion of legislation. I suggest that the period should be for one year, and we should see how the arrangement worked. We can always restore the rule. It might be specifically stated in the licence that for, say, three or six months there should be an experimental period.
The second point is this. Certain matters may arise involving questions of national security. Recently there have been the subjects of riots in Cyprus and Mau Mau activities in Kenya. There have been other matters which might be of even greater importance in relation to the defence of the Realm. I am sure that in a national emergency the country would not mind some limitation upon broadcasting. I do not think it would really be necessary, because I believe that the B.B.C. and the other organisations would themselves have the necessary sense of responsibility in the event of such an emergency.
On the other hand, I believe that the country would be willing to accept a right of veto on the part of the Prime Minister himself as his personal decision. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I know there may be other views. However, I believe it is worth while considering my suggestion that in times of emergency the Prime Minister might have the right to ask the B.B.C. and the television companies not to discuss a certain subject over a given period.
On the whole, I hope that we shall require no limitations. I ask all hon. Members, whether they are in favour of limitation or against it, not to fetter the Select Committee but to allow it to con- 2422 sider the matter in a reflective manner and in accordance with the spirit, not only of the Amendment, but of the House of Commons.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
I would draw the attention of the Postmaster-General to the tremendous degree of unanimity that there has been in the debate against the 14-day rule. I know there have been exceptions, but on both sides of the House the overwhelming number of hon. Members who have spoken have opposed the idea.
The Postmaster-General made a rather extraordinary speech. I say "extraordinary" because he was not only trying hard to find a number of arguments to bolster up his case, which he did extremely well, but he dug arguments out of all kinds of corners, although they did not add up to anything.
I had no real intention of speaking, and I have no particular feelings one way or the other. I felt there was a potential threat to liberty of discussion, and I wanted to hear the case. Having heard it, I am convinced that we must vote against the Motion.
One of the main points of the Postmaster-General was his comparison with the Press. He drew attention to the medium of television and broadcasting, saying that it has such a tremendous impact on public opinion now that it overwhelms anything the Press has been able to do. Hon. Members have time and time again today, in supporting one or other case, quoted leading articles from newspapers, particularly The Times. The Times has intervened in this discussion within twenty-four hours of the debate, and it has been quoted over and over again. Not a single word has been quoted from any B.B.C comment, either within or outside the 14 days, although the issue has been under discussion for a considerable time. [Interruption.] An hon. Friend of mine says that The Times has not a great circulation, but that emphasises the influence that even a paper with a small circulation has upon public opinion.
§ Mr. McAdden
The hon. Member says there has been no comment from the B.B.C. on the subject. Will he also deal with the fact that the B.B.C. has not so far, in public, in private, or through hon. Members, drawn attention to any way in which it has been inconvenienced by the rule from 1948 to 1955. If he knows of any instance, will he tell us of it?
§ Mr. Hynd
I do not know of any instance.
That is rather like the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Attlee) when he said something to the effect that the rule has worked satisfactorily for years and that nobody has noticed it. Nobody has noticed it because nobody was aware of it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am talking about the general public, and even a number of hon. Members. Indeed, the hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton) drew attention to the fact that she was not aware of the detailed application of the rule because she did not know that it did not apply to the Budget. I did not know that, and I am sure that other hon. Members, if they are honest about it, will confess they were in the same position. Not many people were aware of the rule or how it operated. Thus, there has been no row about it. However, there was an article in The Times about it—the matter was brought out not by the B.B.C., but by the Press—which gave rise to the debate today.
I turn to the popular Press. One hon. Member mentioned the enormous number of millions of people, totalling about four times the population of this country, who are presumably reading the political news and the debates in this House in those newspapers. They are doing nothing of the kind. Look at the Daily Herald yesterday; one would probably find it difficult to believe that Parliament met at all that day. This applies not only to the Daily Herald but to a large number of other papers as well.
What do we find in the national popular papers about debates in Parliament and about politics? If we see anything it is a headline, generally a headline which is something like a plebiscite, which poses a question in the language that the paper cares to select, and does not give one the answer. On the B.B.C. radio and on television, when a question is up for 2424 discussion, there is usually someone to answer the points which are made. The matter is openly discussed before the public, who have an opportunity of correcting the wrong impressions that they have got from the headlines in the popular papers. I am not at all convinced that there is less danger of open discussion on the B.B.C. than there is from the misrepresentation upon political issues that goes on too often in the headlines in the national Press.
Even the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary, when replying to Questions today on foreign affairs, gave an answer which was lifted almost entirely from the leading article of The Times of this morning. One could recognise the phraseology in the terms which he used. That is another example of how newspapers, as compared with the B.B.C., have an influence on discussions in this House. I have never yet heard the Prime Minister quoting the B.B.C. as the basis for an answer in this House. [An HON. MEMBER: "The B.B.C. could not discuss it."] I know that, because of the 14-day rule, but it has had many months in which to discuss all these questions.
Another point made was that the B.B.C. and television had a tremendous influence upon popular opinion. I suggest that the Press has even more influence in creating opinions before debates take place in this House. We have heard that opinions are put over on the radio or television according to the will of the producers, but does not exactly the same thing apply in the Press? Are all the letters written to the newspapers published? Are they not selected by the newspaper editors? Does anyone suggest that in the selection of people on the B.B.C. or television there is anything more invidious than there is in the selection of contributors to the popular Press?
Again I cite the Daily Herald. I invite hon. Members to look at the names of two regular political commentators in that paper every Saturday and to say whether they represent the collective opinion of the party which that paper is supposed to represent? Is every member of my party satisfied that those are the best contributors? I am not. I think I could do better myself, and there will be others who think they could do better; but it so happens that the editor thinks that those two contributors can do the job better 2425 than we can. An editor is entitled to think that because he has the responsibility. I do not quarrel with the decision but accept it with all humility.
The same consideration applies to the B.B.C. and television. I have no interest to declare because I am one of the rejected. I have had my turn on T.V. and I have been replaced by people whom the producers think are better than I am. I do not agree with the producers, but it is they who have to take the decision. I know that we can call it a racket. Everybody in the theatre world in this country thinks that the way in which people are selected for theatrical productions is a racket, but when running a show of that kind one has to decide and to select, and then to take the responsibility for having selected. Those who are rejected or not selected have to face that fact, and those who are responsible must carry out their responsibility. I do not think that there is any case at all for comparison with the Press.
I am not sure how far the rule is practicable. I gather that the experience of previous Postmasters-General has been that it is entirely impracticable to apply it. The list of subjects read out by my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) must have staggered the whole House, and will stagger the readers of any newspaper that troubles to print it tomorrow, although I do not think that many will. That list was a revelation. It indicates that it is almost impossible to make the rule work. I do not know how far it applies to Parliamentary Questions, but a Question dealing with, say, the Russian request for the banning of the hydrogen bomb, could be tabled by an hon. Member within two or three days. How would the B.B.C. anticipate such a Question? If it cannot so anticipate, how does the rule apply?
To my great regret, I understand that a number of hon. Members who support another Amendment are to oppose my hon. Friend's Amendment and support the Postmaster-General's Motion, not out of consideration for the merits of the rule at all, but because they are not satisfied with the method of selecting speakers. I do not assume that any one of them is concerned because he, individually, has not been selected. Whatever the motive, it has nothing to do with this issue. I have a great deal of sympathy, as one 2426 of the rejected, with them, but that is another matter and should be considered quite separately. If they vote for the Government's Motion and against my hon. Friend's Amendment they are perpetuating the present position. I hope that they will deal with this question as a matter of public interest and democratic principle, and will vote for my hon. Friend's Amendment.
§ 9.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)
I, too, hope that when the House comes to give judgment it will support the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly). It was made clear to us by the Postmaster-General that this is the first occasion on which the House itself has been able to examine this question of a time limit. We are examining it in the context of 1955, and what has been said of the circumstances which led to the adoption of the convention 10 or 11 years ago by the B.B.C. has very little relevance to the present debate.
Up to now, the whole matter has been debated, not in the House but between the leaders of the political parties and the British Broadcasting Corporation. It therefore seems unfortunate that on this, the first occasion on which the House has been able to discuss the matter, the Government should have tabled such a Motion. It seems to be common ground between the Government and those who support my hon. Friend's Amendment that it would be desirable for the House to have the assistance of the advice of a Select Committee. Why, then, is it necessary, as a condition of setting up that Select Committee, that we should first give formal approval, if not to the 14-day rule, at any rate to the provision of some kind of time limit?
It is because the Government Motion proposes this that the debate, when not being concerned with totally other matters has, in fact, been concerned with whether or not, on the whole, we like the idea either of the 14-day rule or of some other time limit. We therefore have to ask ourselves what arguments have been advanced in favour of either; and surely the burden of proof lies on those who want to impose the restriction. That is a sound general rule with regard to all restrictions.
2427 I do not want to overstate this case. I think it would be absurd to suggest that if the House were to decide either now or subsequently to maintain this time limit, it would mean the complete wiping away of English liberties, and that we should be no better than a country on the other side of the Iron Curtain. That would be an absurd exaggeration. But what is one of the reasons why this country maintains its liberties in a way that is the envy of so many other sections of mankind? It is because time and again we have made it a rule, whenever any restriction, however limited or apparently harmless that restriction by itself may be, is proposed, that it is for those who want the restriction to make the case for it—that the burden of proof lies on them and not on those who object to the restriction.
I have been absent from this debate for, all told, a period of twenty-five minutes, and, listening to so much of the debate, the point that has struck me has been that we have had a great many interesting arguments and speeches but that in general they scarcely related at all to the question whether there ought to be a time limit. They related to many other important and interesting points about the relations between the House, the B.B.C., the I.T.A. and the general public, but when the speakers tried to relate them to the particular restriction which is under discussion tonight, it was there that the missing link in the argument appeared.
What were some of the arguments about? One which at first sight would naturally have a very strong appeal to Members of this House, and which appeared to be based on very grave considerations of public interest, was that we do in certain circumstances impose a restraint upon ourselves. We say, "We will not, at any rate for the moment, debate this subject." Hon. Members, jealous as they are of the rights of this House, say, "We will deliberately forgo those rights in order not to embarrass the Government at a very critical stage" in home or world or foreign affairs.
It was argued that if we can impose such restraint, ought it not all the more to be imposed on broadcasting? But how does that work out in practice? The House might very well decide, as a matter of public policy and wisdom, not to 2428 debate a particular matter until 14 days or more have elapsed; for if, as many advocates of the time limit have conceded, the time limit were reduced to seven days, it might very well happen that the House, having heard a plea from a Minister, would say, "As a matter of public interest, we will not debate this topic this week but we shall expect a debate either next week or very early in the week after." What should we be doing by that decision? By that very restraint that we imposed on ourselves, we should be putting this subject in a category which could be legitimately discussed on the air. By closing the door on discussion ourselves, we should by this time limit rule be opening the door for discussion outside.
The reason why the B.B.C. ought not in certain circumstances to discuss certain matters—such as a very critical situation in a Colony or an industrial dispute at home—is not that they are, within either seven or fourteen days, to be discussed in Parliament. It is a more profound reason than that. It is that reckless discussion of the matter at that moment may have very grave results on a large section of mankind. We might very well have been asking ourselves, "Do we need any special machinery to see that the B.B.C. observes restraint on those grounds?" But that has no relation to the 14-day rule.
Another argument advanced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) was that it is this House which ought to decide the themes for public discussion.
§ Mr. Stewart
But if by means of a time limit we say to the broadcasting agencies. "During this time there are certain things you must not discuss," we are inviting them to find alternative matters in which to interest the public. My right hon. Friend does not seem to have considered that. While there is something to be said for his argument, the maintenance of the time-limit rule is not the way to achieve the result that he had in mind.
Allied to his argument was the suggestion that the House is the supreme forum of debate and that we must resist any attempt by broadcasting to take that position from us. Does it really do that? It was rightly pointed out by the hon. 2429 Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) that the unique and supreme position of the House springs from the fact that it is a sovereign Assembly in which the members of the Executive sit and to which they are responsible. No rules about broadcasting will alter that fact. Suppose the B.B.C. were free to stage a debate on a matter to be discussed in the House the following day. Why would that discussion on the B.B.C. be of such special interest? Because it was to be debated in the House the following day. Any prestige or interest that the B.B.C. discussion might have would be a reflection of the fact that the matter was to be discussed in this House. Anyone who knows anything at all about the government of this country knows that the discussion which would matter would be the discussion here, because it would be that discussion which would determine action.
If it is suggested that the notable figures of broadcasting would have such an influence on our constituents that our constituents would then bring such pressure to bear upon us that we should not be able to give an unfettered judgment, I can only say—and I think most hon. Members will agree with me—that nothing which has happened in the experience of our relations with our constituents so far bears out such a suggestion for a moment.
A great deal of the argument—it was in the speech of the Postmaster-General, in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) and in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton)—dealt with the selection of speakers for broadcasting and television. I am not quite sure whether I fall within the black-listed 10 or 11 per cent. In fact, I have been a singularly infrequent broadcaster. I have wondered at times why I have not been asked to broadcast more often, and I should be happy to believe that the real reason was a sinister conspiracy against me, if only I were not troubled by an uneasy feeling that it may be due to a dispassionate judgment that other people do it better.
It is almost impossible for any of us to judge that question dispassionately. Admittedly prejudices that I have and share with other infrequent broadcasters, I would say that, while I may be actuated 2430 by prejudice and the regret that I myself have not been selected more often, I still went a very long way with what my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West and my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South said about selection.
Let us suppose, however, that everything which has been urged on this question of selection is a valid and unshakeable criticism of the B.B.C. Will maintaining the 14-day rule cause the B.B.C. to make any better selection? It was not suggested at any time in the speeches of any hon. Members who made those criticisms that the maintenance of the 14-day rule would remedy that abuse. Why was it that whenever this matter of selection was mentioned there was a natural growl of sympathy from so many hon. Members in this House? It was because they knew that the speaker was not describing an evil which might fall on us if the 14-day rule were abandoned, but an evil which is with us here and now and against which the 14-day rule is no protection whatever.
I cannot accept the suggestion that the 14-day rule may reduce the influence of those who are ill-advisedly selected. That influence, such as it is, is not affected by their being able to broadcast at a particular moment, but by the fact that, so far as it exists at all, they are there time after time. It is their being there repeatedly over a long period and not the fact of their being able to get in on any one point which gives them their influence, such as it is. As I say, I would feel fully with hon. Members on this matter if it were not for the very natural hesitancy one has about saying that a method of selection that does not please oneself personally is necessarily a bad method of selection. I would ask hon. Members who feel strongly on this point whether they will be setting about tackling it the right way by insisting on the maintenance of the 14-day rule?
We do not persuade or compel or in any way induce an institution to adopt reasonable and proper reforms by saying that we are going to impose on it an unreasonable restriction and retain that unreasonable restriction despite the fact that we cannot produce any arguments in its favour. I trust that the B.B.C. will pay very great attention to what has been said by my hon. Friends and by hon. 2431 Members opposite on the matter of selection. But I cannot believe that by imposing on the B.B.C. a restriction for which no justification has been advanced we shall any more persuade it to give attention to what seemed to me the well-founded arguments advanced on the matter of selection.
§ Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
Will my hon. Friend not admit, however, that when Athens was at its democratic best it not only chose its broadcasters, but its admirals and generals, by lot? Could we not do the same here?
§ Mr. Stewart
That is a very interesting suggestion. If, as we say in another context, my hon. Friend ever succeeds in putting that proposal on the Paper, I think I shall be with him. I would suggest that saying to the B.B.C., "You must not discuss certain matters within a certain period" is not the way of getting the B.B.C. to adopt the very interesting proposal of my hon. Friend, or indeed any proposal about selection.
I wish to turn to another matter. If we are going to impose restrictions, why should they be on this particular medium of communication and formation of opinion? It has been rightly said in the debate that we cannot draw analogies between broadcasting and the Press. Part of the argument of the Postmaster-General depended on trying to draw a contrast with the Press. He said that we must impose this restriction because here we have a monopoly which selects the speakers—it is not open to all and sundry to go on the radio.
Is the Press open to all and sundry? If the argument of the right hon. Gentleman was a valid reason for a restriction on the radio, it would be equally valid in respect of a restriction on the Press It was also argued that the selection of speakers was with relation, not to the degree of their information or capacity to deal with a matter, but with irrelevant consideration—if they are irrelevant—such such as, are they photogenic, are they witty, can they give snappy answers? Are those who write in the Press invariably chosen for the solidity of their judgment and the breadth of their information? Are there not sometimes some external considerations?
2432 Many criticisms may be made of broadcasting, but it was said by an earlier speaker in the debate—and I do not think it will be contested—that if we look back over the whole period during which broadcasting has been an important element in our political life, there has during that same period been a growth in the general level of information about politics. On the whole, during that time the British people have come to take politics rather more seriously and to form their judgments in a rather more informed manner. That development is not due to the influence of the B.B.C. alone, but I do not think it could be disputed that, on the whole, the B.B.C. has been an influence which has helped to produce that desirable result. In that respect it compares favourably with any general judgment that one might pass on the influence of the Press as a whole on the level of people's political information and judgment.
Why is that so? It is because until what I regard as the profoundly unfortunate introduction of commercial interests into television, it could at least be said of what one hears over the air and the people who frame those programmes, that although we may think their judgment bad, they are not there with some particular—particularly financial—axe to grind.
Secondly, and this is a point to which not sufficient credit has been given in relation to broadcast and television discussions, those programmes nearly always take the form of argument between people of conflicting sides of opinion. They are not exclusively trying to win the people over to one view. And, as a rule, they contain a greater measure of factual information than will commonly be found in the treatment of a matter in the popular organs of the Press.
§ Mr. Stewart
I am exercising my judgment, which we are all entitled to do.
But it is not only the Press that we have to consider. If we are frightened of any attack on the dignity and authority of the House, let us remember other organisations which, if we impose this 14-day rule, will still be in a position to exercise pressure on the House right up to the moment before we have to take a decision 2433 on some matter. Hon. Members on this side of the House should particularly consider this point. There are a great many ways of bringing pressure to bear on the House.
In broadcasting and television, while there may be a great deal of criticism of the method of selection of Members, that selection does at least have to observe, sometimes almost pendantically, the principle of selecting hon. Members with equality in regard to party; and I trust that both in broadcasting and in commercial television that principle will always be retained. But that is about the only medium of communication in which that principle is observed. In all the other media of communication, the party that can command the largest financial resources will have the advantage. During the passage through the House of much of the legislation that was introduced by the Labour Government we had repeated campaigns, with the use of posters on hoardings and articles and advertisements in the Press, trying to exercise pressure on the House up to the very last moment.
Does the Postmaster-General not remember a certain campaign against the National Health Service Act that was inhibited by no 14-day rule? From what I heard of some of the speakers against the National Health Service at that time, by whatever criterion they were selected they were not selected for their knowledge of the Measure or their knowledge of the needs of the people.
That kind of campaign we tolerate in a democratic country; we rightly tolerate it if we believe in democracy. But if we tolerate that kind of thing, if we tolerate campaigns which are not factual, which use immotive arguments all the time and which do not pretend to select more than one side of the argument, why impose a special restriction on a medium of communication against which those criticisms cannot be advanced?
I would, therefore, appeal to hon. Members in all quarters of the House to consider that this debate has revealed many matters concerning the relation between the Press, the B.B.C., the House and the public to which consideration might be given, and that we might be in a happier position if the terms of reference of the Select Committee were wider; but that on the particular issue which we 2434 now have to decide as between the Government Motion and the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke, we shall really be acting more in accord with the traditional British conception of freedom, and we shall be more likely to preserve the kind of matters in broadcasting which many of us desire, if we give our support to the Amendment.
§ 9.36 p.m.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Harry Crookshank)
This is not a particularly easy debate to sum up, because we have heard a number of varying views from the different sides of the House. The vote, of course, if the matter goes to a vote, will be completely free. I speak, at least, for my own side of the House, and I know from what the right hon. Gentleman said that this is true of his side as well.
Before I speak of the debate itself. I should like on behalf of all of us to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) on his maiden speech. I am perfectly sure we shall all look forward to hearing him again. We congratulate him also on what was a rather rash action, in making a maiden speech on what purported to be a controversial subject, and upon yet managing to keep controversy out of his own speech, which was quite up to the high standards which have already been set in this new House.
The second thing I would say, if the Postmaster-General will not mind my saying it, is this. I think all of us, certainly those of us who sit on this bench, and, I imagine, on the Front Opposition Bench as well, must have rather resented seeing how in the last few weeks the bitter attack on this rule has been centred by the Press upon the person of my right hon. Friend. It should have been quite obvious to anyone who knows anything about anything at all that—[Laughter.] Well, many of the writers, I suspect, do not know anything about anything at all.
Of course, it is quite well known that this difference of opinion, if that is the right word to use, started long before he took his present office. It was also quite well known that, as Postmaster-General, he would not have been taking action of this kind on his own initiative, but that what he did certainly had the support of all of his colleagues. It was also known, as 2435 the Leader of the Opposition himself has said in supporting the Motion, that the principle of what he was doing was agreeable to the leaders of all parties in the House. So I hope that the attack will not continue upon him personally, but on the broader backs of those who are more responsible than he.
It has been anticipated in the Press for weeks past that this was going to be a great and dramatic debate. I must say that even the most enthusiastic supporter of the Motion or the Amendment could hardly describe the hours since half-past three as being that. It has been a calm, dispassionate dissection of a very interesting problem. Indeed, however much some hon. Members and writers in the Press have excited themselves over the matter, I very much doubt if the dispute has really penetrated very far into the minds of the ordinary voters. I can only say that while I might have expected, from my position in this House, to have had some correspondence on the matter, I have not yet received any letters about it—and it is too late for anybody to start now. We have had the debate, and we shall have the vote, and the principle will either be decided or rejected within the next half-hour.
To sum up, one must point out once again that my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General, in opening the debate, gave the history of the whole of this matter, going back to 1948. Incidentally, of course, it was also an ex-Postmaster-General who spoke second in the debate, as well as another former Postmaster-General who is now winding up, but this is not really so much a Post Office responsibility as all that. However, my right hon. Friend gave the history of the matter, and it is quite true that for seven years the rule has worked perfectly well, and there has been no difficulty whatsoever under a gentleman's agreement.
As I think the Leader of the Opposition pointed out, as soon as we in this country try to formalise something instead of keeping to the unwritten constitution, as soon as we try to write in some bits here and some bits there, difficulties which never emerged before suddenly become very great. For example, the hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) said that in her annual outing in England and Scotland over broadcast- 2436 ing she had never before been confronted with the difficulties of this year, when she was given, as she described, a long list of all sorts of things which she was not to mention.
The hon. Lady asked how that could be. I do not know how it could be, but there are people who do like to make themselves awkward, and I am not at all sure that some of the difficulties of this year have not been brought about just because there is a rule of a formal nature, whereas this difficulty, if difficulty it be, has been there a long time, and yet somehow everybody managed to get along.
§ Mr. Crookshank
I can only say to the hon. Lady that what happens now is exactly what was happening before. That was how these matters were generally arranged; that was all. I do not know; I have never done any of this broadcasting that has been talked about. I am in the 89 per cent. class. Certainly, as far as these particular broadcasts are concerned, they are not those in which Ministers take part, anyhow. All I am saying is that, as soon as a matter becomes formalised, all sorts of difficulties seem to have arisen which never emerged in the seven years when the arrangement worked perfectly well with everybody's agreement on the basis of gentleman dealing with gentleman.
In my view, it was wise that this rule originally came into being, but I must again remind the House that it originated with the B.B.C. itself. The B.B.C. started it, and what has been done this summer by the Directive which my right hon. Friend issued introduced no new principle and, indeed, nothing new at all. It was merely formalising what was done by the concordat, agreement or whatever we like to call it, of the earlier years, and it certainly worked. The argument here has largely been that somehow or other by having this Directive there has been some interference with the freedom of speech. I really cannot see that that 2437 argument can hold water. There has been no abnegation of the freedom of speech here, and all that is involved is that there is a short period during which the broadcasting authorities may not have discussions on topics which are about to be discussed in Parliament. That is all, and there is no general abnegation of freedom of speech at all. At the most, it would mean the postponement for a few days of a debate that could take place in the very near future.
§ Mr. Edelman rose—
§ Mr. Crookshank
I am sorry I cannot give way. I have very little time, and if I give way now I shall not be able to say all I want to say, whereas the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) said all that he wanted to say without interruption.
My right hon. Friend posed the question, if it was said that this is a restriction of freedom, whose freedom it was that was to be restricted, and no one seems to have found the answer to that question during the debate, as I have heard it. The hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) thought that if there was any restriction involved here it was possibly because a debate on the broadcast might coincide or come right up to the time of the debate in the House and pressure might be generated against hon. Members as a result of that broadcast debate.
The pressure argument, to my mind, is far more dangerous from the point of view of the House if it is known that there is to be, for example, a Second Reading of a Bill or a discussion of an important matter of foreign affairs. It is obvious that in these debates, whether upon an Opposition or a Government Motion, the opening speeches will be authoritative, whatever happens during the rest of the debates.
The opening speeches will put the orthodox view of the parties who wish to take part in the discussion, and the far greater danger from these anticipatory debates on the broadcast is that somebody or other will start up on that very subject when he has not the authority of the Prime Minister of the day or the Leader of the Opposition or of the Minister who is introducing his own Bill in the House.
2438 It is not the broadcasters' fault. Whether they want to or not, they cannot give as good a version of the topic as would be given if the broadcast waited until the matter had first been broached in the House. The hon. Member for Fulham was saying that there was not much argument on anticipation in the 14-day rule, but whether the rule involves 14 days or not I think that the question of anticipation is a very strong argument.
If the complaint is that there is some restriction upon the freedom of the B.B.C. because it is not allowed under the rule to organise these debates, I call in aid the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker), who pointed out that under the Charter itself the B.B.C. already has restrictions set upon itself. This is not the major restriction. The major one presumably is that the B.B.C. cannot express views of its own at all. The newspapers can, but the B.B.C. cannot, and on the B.B.C. there can be imposed either the compulsion of publishing something or the compulsion of not publishing something. That, too, does not apply to any newspaper. Therefore, comparisons which have been sought to be drawn between the Press and broadcasting in this country really do not fit. They are quite different matters when we are talking about the Press and talking about broadcasting. The analogy is by no means exact.
It is also really no answer for anybody to say that because speeches can be made elsewhere before a debate in the House, and letters can be written and articles can be published in the Press, the monopolistic broadcasting power—as I think we must still term it—should be able to put over to all its viewers and listeners something which, if it is to appear in articles, speeches and letters, is diffused over the whole of the Press. And it is a Press which, whatever one may say about it, does not think alike. There is a bit of difference between the Daily Worker and The Times, and the Manchester Guardian and the Daily Herald. People who have particular views have an opportunity of expressing them in one organ of the Press or another. All newspapers are not the same, whereas broadcasting is.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mr. Maddan) quoted figures just now and said that all this does not really 2439 matter very much because the broadcasting public is made up of 6 million listeners and viewers whereas a Sunday newspaper has 17 million readers and the Press has far greater coverage. But it is probable that the 6 million viewers and listeners that my hon. Friend was talking about are viewing and listening deliberately, whereas the 17 million readers are not necessarily buying the newspaper to read an article by my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby). They may be buying it for the sake of some of the other interesting material that appears. My hon. Friend is no longer here, because he said he was not going to take part in the division. [HON. MEMBERS: "He is here."] I beg my hon. Friend's pardon. I did not see him. He is in the wrong place—and not for the first time. He was quite rightly praising—at least I think he was probably right on this occasion—broadcasting in this country, in that now, as the result of the technique of political discussions, millions of people were hearing both sides of the question for the first time. Very well, but they have done it all these years with the 14-day rule in existence. Before the war controversial broadcasting in this country did not take place. It is only since the war that this has happened, and all this wonderful education and the rest of it has happened in spite of this terrible calamity.
I think that the position from the point of view of Parliament is of course a very obvious one. If we are trying to maintain the Parliamentary position, it is here after all that we have the Opposition before us, if not behind us. It is their criticisms and interruptions which follow if one quotes a figure which is wrong; and it is a very strange thing that there is bound to be someone who knows that one is wrong. But that is not so on the air.
What is more, if hon. Members are very much in error, I have seen many instances of requests to put something right for the OFFICIAL REPORT. I do not think that happens as a rule in the political wrangling on the B.B.C. The opportunities for criticism and interruption are vital to the understanding of a great number of complicated political topics, but that is the element which is absent from discussions on the B.B.C. One could sum up by saying that in 2440 Parliament and in the Press the debate continues, but on the B.B.C. the debate ends, there is no more. In this House the question is taken up again, and errors are corrected.
It was inevitable that in such a debate as this a lot should be said about the method of selecting speakers. It has nothing to do with me, but the hon. Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton) was one of the more indignant speakers. All I can say is, let everyone read the book, "The B.B.C. From Within" by Lord Simon of Wythenshawe. May I read a couple of sentences from page 134, because it makes the point which has been at the back of the minds of hon. Members—it was certainly at the back of my mind—during this debate. Apparently complaints had been made from both Front Benches that the nature of some of the speakers was not representative from the party point of view. Lord Simon says:In reply the B.B.C. pointed out that its business was to attract an audience; that there were about sixty members of the Government who were not available to broadcast and a similar number of ex-Government members of the Opposition;"—I am sorry to read this one—that the solid back-bone in the middle of the party were unfortunately dull and, so far as we could discover, bad broadcasters;but this is the serious point—On the other hand, among those who were rather extreme there was a number of excellent broadcasters and they were the only ones we found available to make a popular show.If we are to have debates two or three days before important matters are discussed in this House, we certainly do not want—as I think every hon. Member will agree—to have colleagues put up to tell the world at large over the air what is going to happen, not because they know anything about it, but because they are the only ones available to make a popular show. That is from Lord Simon, the Chairman.
This is indeed a broad question. I hope that the House will reject the Amendment because we think that the House should decide the principle. That is what the House is for. We have had a debate and hon. Members have had plenty of opportunity to think over their decision. Let us decide the principle for or against and, having done so, let the 2441 matter go to a Select Committee. The broad question is, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Smethwick said, whether it is in this House that the theme of the debates should be set. If debates are anticipated immediately before they take place here, then the House will no longer be setting the theme.
What is the function of this House? The hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire said that it was to pass legislation and grant supply to the Queen. I do not agree with that. If it were only that, this would be a legislature. We are a Parliament; we are a deliberative assembly. That side of our function must never be overlooked. Simultaneous debate here and on the B.B.C. is undesirable. That is what the Chairman himself said, as quoted by my right hon. Friend, in 1949—simultaneous debate is undesirable. Acceptance of that principle will make abundantly clear that this is the feeling of the House.
I have, Mr. Speaker, been in the House a long time. You are the fourth Speaker under whom I have sat, and I know from my experience of the way in which you rule over us and the way in which your predecessors ruled over us that it is the function of the Chair to try to make the debates "cut and thrust," as Mr. Speaker Fitzroy used to say, "bringing out all the different points." B.B.C. discussions cannot do that because they are, broadly speaking, for and against. All the different small points which arise here in a
§ big issue, or a small issue, cannot come forward there.
§ I say that the selection of a debate under the chairmanship of the Speaker of this House will, when it is reported and read, give a far better idea of the work in which we are engaged than a programme which is frankly admitted to be selected by someone who is anonymous and whose object is to find the people to make a popular show. One has only to put it in those words to remind the House that the maintenance of Parliament is one of the most important elements in the preservation of freedom.
§ It was my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) who stressed that time and time again during the war when we went on sitting. We were bombed out of this Chamber. Bombs were falling time and time again as we sat, and our example meant much to the enslaved world beyond our shores. I fear that if we have broadcast discussions just before we have debates here we shall to some extent—I do not put it too high—detract from the high position of Parliament, and as an old Member that is the last thing that I would wish to see happen.
§ Question put, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 271, Noes 126.2445
|Division No. 68.]||AYES||[9.59 p.m.|
|Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.||Braine, B. R.||D'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry|
|Ainsley, J. W.||Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)||Deedes, w. F.|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Deer, G.|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry||Dodds-Parker, A. D.|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J.||Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Duncan, Capt. J. A. L.|
|Arbuthnot, John||Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton)||Eden,Rt.Hn.SirA.(Warwick&L'm'tn)|
|Armstrong, C. W.||Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T.||Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)|
|Ashton, H.||Butler, Rt.Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden)||Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.|
|Atkins, H. E.||Carmichael, J.||Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Carr, Robert||Errington, Sir Eric|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Cary, Sir Robert||Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury)|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Chapman, W. D.||Farey-Jones, F. W.|
|Barber, Anthony||Chichester-Clark, R.||Finlay, Graeme|
|Barlow, Sir John||Conant, Maj. Sir Roger||Fisher, Nigel|
|Barter, John||Cooper, Sqn Ldr. Albert||Forman, J. C.|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley||Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Corfield, Capt. F. V.||Galbraith, Hon. T, G. D.|
|Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Cove, W. G.||Gammans, L. D.|
|Bidgood, J. C.||Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Garner-Evans, E. H.|
|Birch, Rt. Hon, Nigel||Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hn. H. F. C.||George, J. C. (Pollok)|
|Blackburn, F.||Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Godber, J. B.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Crouch, R. F.||Gooch, E. G.|
|Boardman, H.||Cullen, Mrs. A.||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.|
|Bossom, Sir A. C.||Cunningham, Knox||Gough, C. F. H.|
|Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S.W.)||Currie, G. B. H.||Gower, H. R.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A.||Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Graham, Sir Fergus|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Dance, J. C. G.||Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich)|
|Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth||Davidson, Viscountess||Green, A.|
|Gresham Cooke, R.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Reeves, J.|
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)||Remnant, Hon. P.|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Lennox-Boyd, Rt. Hon. A. T.||Renton, D. L. M.|
|Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)||Linstead, Sir H. N.||Rhodes, H.|
|Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.||Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Robens, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Gurden, Harold||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)||Roberts, Peter (Heeley)|
|Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Lloyd-George, Maj. Rt. Hon. G.||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)|
|Hall, John (Wycombe)||Low, Rt. Hon. A. R. W.||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)|
|Hannan, W.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Roper, Sir Harold|
|Hare, Hon. J. H.||McAdden, S. J.||Ross, William|
|Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.)||McInnes, J.||Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.|
|Harris, Reader (Heston)||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.|
|Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)||Sharples, R. C.|
|Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.)||McLaughlin, Mrs. P.||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Hayman, F. H.||Maclean, Fitzroy (Lancaster)||Short, E. W.|
|Head, Rt. Hon. A. H.||McLeavy, Frank||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)|
|Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Smyth, Brig. J. G. (Norwood)|
|Heath, Edward||Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)||Soames, Capt. C.|
|Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis)||Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark)||Sparks, J. A.|
|Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Mann, Mrs. Jean||Speir, R. M.|
|Herbison, Miss M.||Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.||Spence, H. R. (Aberdeen, W.)|
|Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton)||Markham, Major Sir Frank||Steele, T.|
|Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)||Marples, A. E.||Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)|
|Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Stewart, Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Hirst, Geoffrey||Mason, Roy||Stones, W. (Consett)|
|Hobson, C. R.||Maudling, Rt. Hon. R.||Storey, S.|
|Holman, P.||Mawby, R. L.||Studholme, H. G.|
|Holmes, Horace||Medlicott, Sir Frank||Summers, G. S. (Aylesbury)|
|Hope, Lord John||Monckton, Rt. Hon. Sir Walter||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.||Moody, A. S.||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence|
|Houghton, Douglas||Morrison, John (Salisbury)||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Howard, John (Test)||Mort, D. L.||Thomas, George (Cardiff)|
|Howell, Charles (Perry Barr)||Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.||Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)|
|Hoy, J. H.||Moyle, A.||Thomas, Rt. Hn. J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)||Mulley, F. W.||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.)||Nairn, D. L. S.||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)|
|Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Neave, Airey||Thompson, Lt.-Cdr.R.(Croydon, S.)|
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Nicholls, Harmar||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. P.|
|Hughes, Hallett, Vice-Admiral J.||Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.||Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.)|
|Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'gh, W.||Nugent, G. R. H.||Touche, Sir Gordon|
|Hutchison, James (Scotstoun)||Oakshott, H. D.||Turner, H. F. L.|
|Hylton-Foster, Sir H. B. H.||O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|Irvine, Bryant Codman (Rye)||Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)||Vosper, D. F.|
|Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Padley, W. E.||Wall, Major Patrick|
|Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Page, R. G.||Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)|
|Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)||Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.|
|Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Johnson, James (Rugby)||Pargiter, G. A.||White, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.)|
|Johnston, Douglas (Paisley)||Pearson, A.||Wigg, George|
|Jones, Rt. Hon.A.Creech (Wakefield)||Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Willey, Frederick|
|Jones, David (The Hartlepools)||Pitt, Miss E. M.||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)||Pott, H. P.||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)|
|Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)||Powell, J. Enoch||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Kenyon, C.||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Kershaw, J. A.||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)||Wills, G. (Bridgwater)|
|Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Lagden, C. W.||Profumo, J. D.||Wood, Hon. R.|
|Lambert, Hon. G.||Pursey, Cmdr. H.||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Lambton, Viscount||Raikes, Sir Victor||Woollam, John Victor|
|Langford-Holt, J. A.||Ramsden, J. E.|
|Leavey, J. A.||Rawlinson, P. A. G.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Leburn, W. G.||Redmayne, M.||Sir Herbert Butcher and|
|Albu, A. H.||Burton, Miss F. E.||Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)|
|Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)||Callaghan, L. J.||Fell, A.|
|Amery, Julian (Preston, N.)||Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F.|
|Awbery, S. S.||Champion, A. J.||Fletcher-Cooke, C.|
|Baird, J.||Coldrick, W.||Freeth, D. K.|
|Balniel, Lord||Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Greenwood, Anthony|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.|
|Biggs-Davison, J. A.||Cronin, J. D.||Grimond, J.|
|Bishop, F. P.||Crossman, R. H. S.||Hale, Leslie|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Davies,Rt.Hon.Clement(Montgomery)||Hastings, S.|
|Body, B. F.||Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)||Hay, John|
|Bowen, E. R. (Cardigan)||de Freitas, Geoffrey||Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.|
|Bowles, F. G.||Delargy, H. J.||Hill, John (S. Norfolk)|
|Boyd, T. C.||Donnelly, D. L.||Holt, A. F.|
|Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Dugdale, Rt. Hn. John (W. Brmwch)||Howell, Denis (All Saints)|
|Burke, W. A.||Dye, S.||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)|
|Hunter, A. E.||Mathew, R.||Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.)|
|Hynd, J. B (Attercliffe)||Maude, Angus||Snow, J. W.|
|Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)|
|Irving, S. (Dartford)||Mayhew, G. P.||Stokes, Rt. Hon. R. R. (Ipswich)|
|Jeger, Mrs. Lena (Holbn & St. pncs, S.)||Mitchison, G. R.||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Jenkins, Roy (Stechford)||Moss, R.||Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (vauxhall)|
|Jones, A. (Hall Green)||Nabarro, G. D. N.||Stross, Dr. Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)|
|Kerby, Capt. H. B.||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)||Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington)|
|Kirk, P. M.||O'Brien, T.||Swingler, S. T.|
|Lawson, G. M.||Oram, A. E.||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)|
|Leather, E. H. C.||Owen, W. J.||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn|
|Ledger, R. J.||Paget, R. T.||Usborne, H. C.|
|Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)||Vickers, Miss J. H.|
|Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)||Parker, J.||Weitzman, D.|
|Lindsay, Martin (Solihull)||Parkin, B. T.||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.||Plummer, Sir Leslie||West, D. G.|
|Logan, D. G.||Popplewell, E.||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|Longden, Gilbert||Probert, A. R.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|MacColl, J. E.||Proctor, W. T.||Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)|
|McGovern, J.||Rankin, John||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|McLean, Neil (Inverness)||Rees-Davies, W. R.||Winterbottom, Richard|
|MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)||Ridsdale, J. E.||Yates, V. (Ladywood)|
|Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)||Rippon, A. G. F.||Younger, Rt. Hon. K.|
|MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Maddan, Martin||Silverman, Julius (Aston)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfd, E.)||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)||Mr. Hyde and Mr. Royle.|
Question put and agreed to.
That this House considers that it is in the interest of Parliament and the nation to preserve the principle of some limitation to the anticipation of Parliamentary debates by broadcasting; and would welcome the appointment of a Select Committee to consider whether any changes are desirable in the present methods of giving effect to this principle.