HC Deb 13 July 1960 vol 626 cc1402-6
The Postmaster-General (Mr. Reginald Bevins)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I would like to make a statement about sound and television broadcasting.

The Government have decided to set up a Committee of Inquiry into the future of sound and television broadcasting. The terms of reference are: To consider the future of the broadcasting services in the United Kingdom, the dissemination by wire of broadcasting and other programmes, and the possibility of television for public showing; to advise on the services which should in future be provided in the United Kingdom by the B.B.C. and the I.T.A.; to recommend whether additional services should be provided by any other organisation; and to propose what financial and other conditions should apply to the conduct of all these services. As the Committee will need to consider the technical background, I propose to ask it to consider the report which the Television Advisory Committee has recently made to me.

After consultation with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, I have invited Sir Harry Pilkington to be chairman of the Committee and I am glad to inform the House that he has consented. I shall announce the names of the other members of the Committee as soon as possible.

The Government have decided, also, that the B.B.C.'s Charter and Licence should be extended from 30th June, 1962, to 29th July, 1964, the expiry date of the Television Act. Extension of the Charter is subject to the approval of Her Majesty the Queen. Extension of the Licence and Agreement requires the approval of the House under Standing Orders Nos. 87 and 88, which I will seek in due course.

Sir J. Barlow

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on acquiring the services of such a competent chairman in a difficult matter of this kind. At first sight, the terms of reference may appear a little complicated, but they are so important that I feel sure that they are likely to be satisfactory. Will my right hon. Friend accept that we all regard ourselves as very fortunate in having the services of such a competent chairman?

Mr. Bevins

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those words. I am quite sure that I express the view of the Government and, I hope, of the whole House when I say that Sir Harry Pilkington has all the attributes to undertake this important assignment in the public interest.

Mr. Ness Edwards

Can the Postmaster-General give us an explanation about one part of the terms of reference of the Committee, that is to say, to recommend whether additional services should be provided by any other organisation"? Does that mean that the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. do not fall into the category of organisations providing any further services? I should like to have his view about that. Otherwise, it appears that the terms of reference are comprehensive enough to permit the widest and deepest investigation of the matter.

The decision to extend the Charter and Licence of the British Broadcasting Corporation to make it coterminous with the I.T.A. appears to be the most sensible way of dealing with the problem.

We associate ourselves with what has been said about the chairman, but will the right hon. Gentleman keep in mind that it is very important to have a balanced membership of the Committee and that the viewer's interest ought to be uppermost in his mind? Wild he see to it, therefore, that the membership of the Committee will be wide and comprehensive and one in which the viewer's interest will have major consideration?

Mr. Bevins

The terms of reference say that the Committee is invited to advise the Government on whether additional services should be provided by any other organisation. I should like to make it quite clear that these terms of reference ensure the continued existence of both the B.B.C. and the I.T.A., but they are sufficiently wide to allow the Committee to consider whether any third or other organisation should be brought into existence.

We have given a great deal of care to the composition of the Committee. It is very important. We ought to have a broadly based Committee with, perhaps, an accent on youth in view of the nature of the problem with which we are dealing. I am quite sure that when, in due course, the membership of the Committee is announced, both sides of the House will be content.

Mr. Mayhew

The setting up of the Committee will be widely welcomed, but will the Postmaster-General give an assurance that its recommendations will be treated by the Government on their merits and not, as in the case of the Beveridge Committee's recommendations, pushed aside as a result of the pressure of commercial interests?

Mr. Bevins

It is not for me to speak about the experience of my predecessors or of earlier Governments. All I do know is that, in the case of the Beveridge Report, the majority Report was not accepted by Her Majesty's Government at the time and it was decided to introduce commercial television in this country. It gives me great satisfaction to know that Her Majesty's Opposition would have had no intention, had they been successful at the last election, of destroying that very valuable organisation.

Mr. Grimond

First, can the Postmaster-General tell us whether the Committee will make recommendations on the rules regarding political broadcasting? Secondly, without implying any criticism of Sir Harry Pilkington, but merely for the record, can he tell the House the attributes which make him so particularly suitable far this post?

Mr. Bevins

The answer to the hon. Member's first question is "Yes".

In answer to his second question, may I say that I think that any Member who knows Sir Harry Pilkington realises that not only is he a man with very wide experience of industry and of social questions, but is a gentleman who, I am sure, will take an objective and impartial view of all these problems.

Mr. Crosland

While entirely recognising the competence and integrity of Sir Harry Pilkington, may I ask the Postmaster-General whether he thinks it right that the chairman of this Committee should be a person who, because of his lifelong connection with large-scale industry, must inevitably have a strong bias in favour of advertising?

Mr. Bevins

I do not for one moment agree with that suggestion. I am sure, as is my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, that there will be no predilection of the sort which the hon. Gentleman has indicated.

Mrs. Slater

As television may play a very large part in education in future, will the right hon. Gentleman see that educational interests are watched in the kind of persons appointed to the Committee?

Mr. Bevins

Yes. I gladly give the hon. Lady that assurance.

Mr. Bowen

Will the right hon. Gentleman agree that Wales has a particular interest in the problems which this Committee will consider? In view of that, will he give an undertaking that among the members of the Committee there will be one who will be able adequately to represent Welsh problems and difficulties?

Mr. Bevins

I can give the hon. and learned Member that assurance. The individual I am about to invite is a Welshman and speaks Welsh fluently, although within this context that is not very important because the proceedings of the Committee will not be conducted in Welsh.

Dame Irene Ward

Will there be anyone representing Commonwealth interests on this important Committee?

Mr. Bevins

No, Sir.

Mr. Driberg

Arising from the last question and answer, although the terms of reference naturally refer to broadcasting in the United Kingdom, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it will be within the competence of this Committee to consider the existence of Eurovision, and possible future developments in international and inter-Commonwealth television?

Mr. Bevins

That will be within the province of the Committee. I think that it is only fair that I should say to the House that perhaps the only subject which will not fall within the ambit of the terms of reference is the external services of the B.B.C.

Mr, J. Griffiths

Will the right hon. Gentleman convey to the Prime Minister and to the Minister for Welsh Affairs his view that it is very important to have certain qualifications in mind when appointing people from Wales?

Mr. Mason rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot debate this matter now, without a Question being before the House.