HC Deb 27 July 1960 vol 627 cc1630-2
21 and 22. Mr. Mayhew

asked the Postmaster-General (1) if he will take steps to encourage research into the impact of television broadcasts on children;

(2) what is the nature of the communications he has received from the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Independent Television Authority relating to the report of their joint committee on the impact of television on children; and if he will appoint to the Independent Television Authority persons specially qualified to ensure a high standard of television broadcasts seen by children.

Mr. Bevins

I welcome some intelligent research on the influence of television on children, but I do not think it is for me to direct either the B.B.C. or the I.T.A. to undertake it.

I have received no communication from either the B.B.C. or the I.T.A. on the O'Conor Report, though, of course, I have read their observations upon it.

The I.T.A. already has a children's Advisory Committee.

Mr. Mayhew

Is the Postmaster-General aware that we have as yet no real means of knowing to what extent children can be harmed by the kind of television programmes criticised by this committee? Should not a lot more research be done on this? Meantime, is it wise to brush aside the strong recommendations of this committee for precautions?

Mr. Bevins

I realise that there are differing views in different parts of the House on this question, but the view of the British Broadcasting Corporation and of the Independent Television Authority is that they do not believe that the needs of children should be allowed to determine the content of programmes during peak viewing hours. I am bound to say that I personally am in agreement with that view. They also point out that this is largely, though not wholly, a matter of parental control of children in the home. I think it is dreadfully easy to exaggerate the supposedly evil effects of television on children. I myself think that children are very much more intelligent and much wiser than some of us give them credit for. As for research, a good deal of research is going on, and the Granada Organisation is sponsoring research at two provincial universities at the present time.

Mr. John Hall

Will not my right hon. Friend agree that there has been an increasing tendency both in the legitimate theatre and in the cinema to dwell on subjects which have sexual sadism as their theme? Is not this creeping into television entertainment as well? Has he not some responsibility for this? It is not only a question of the effect on children but the effect on viewers as a whole.

Mr. Bevins

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend—

Mrs. Slater

Then what is the right hon. Gentleman doing about it?

Mr. Bevins

—that there has been a tendency in that direction in the cinema and the theatre in recent years, but I do not believe that it has been so extensive on the television—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—as my hon. Friend would indicate. But I am perfectly prepared at any time when any Member of this House wishes to complain about any programme which features what my hon. Friend referred to as sadism and sex to make representations to either of the broadcasting authorities.

Mrs. Slater

The right hon. Gentleman may leave it too late.

Mr. Ness Edwards

If the right hon. Gentleman is going to carry out his promise he will have a full-time job of complaining both to the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. Is he not satisfied now that the needs of the advertisers are determining the contents of the programmes and that that really has led to this degradation?

Mr. Bevins

I think that that is a very unfair allegation to make against the Independent Television Authority. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"] It is very easy to make loose accusations of this sort, but I am bound to say that my contacts with the Independent Television Authority have convinced me that it is a responsible body trying conscientiously to do a decent job of work.

Mr. Driberg

Has the right hon. Gentleman read both last week's report and the Nuffield Report which led to it, and, if so, in view of the evident differences of opinion to which he has referred, why does he not positively encourage the research which is demanded in that report?

Mr. Bevins

Because it is not my function to encourage research. That is the job of the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Independent Television Authority, and I am quite convinced that both authorities are responsible bodies which will give due and sufficient weight to those recommendations as they ought.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

We cannot debate this at Question Time