Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [29th November]:
That the Licence and Agreement, dated 6th November, 1961, between Her Majesty's Postmaster-General and the British Broadcasting Corporation, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th November, be approved.
§ Question again proposed.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Loughlin (Gloucestershire, West)
This debate was adjourned on 29th November. I do not think that I ought to detain the House at any great length tonight, because it makes much tidier debating if we have the speeches from both Front Benches. I do not apologise for being in this position, because it was not my fault that we did not hear the speeches from the Front Benches on the previous occasion.
I think that it is essential that I should make two points. In my remarks on the previous occasion I may have conveyed a wrong impression. It was represented to me that I appeared to be opposing and criticising the British Broadcasting Corporation. I assure the House that, far from criticising or opposing it, I have every possible admiration for the organisation and its achievements.
The B.B.C. is a broadcasting organisation par excellence, although it has its faults, which most of us could pinpoint in no uncertain way. When one makes a comparison of the broadcasting and television services almost throughout the world, the B.B.C. stands out with distinction, The standard of its entertainment programmes is very high, and the same applies to its documentaries. Perhaps one of its most important national functions is the provision of that wonderful overseas service which does so much to represent abroad the real voice of Britain.
The Minister will have a duty to try to see that not only is the whole of this Agreement carried through, but that it improves even the excellent service the Corporation renders to the nation. I notice that as a result of the present Agreement there has been a large extension of the Corporation's educational services. The Report issued in 1935 stated that about 3,500 schools were 988 in receipt of the Corporation's sound programmes; today, that figure has been multiplied nine times over. The Corporation can congratulate itself on the progress it has made there.
On the other hand, we find that even now only about 2,500 schools are benefiting from the provision of the television services. I would ask the Minister to seek to step up the type of work that the Corporation is doing for the schools. There is also a weakness in the sphere of adult education. Only 183 hours per year are broadcast in the interests of adult education, while on television I believe that there is only the Saturday night science programme, amounting to half an hour a week. The Minister might look at that when seeking to improve the services.
I am a little concerned about the Minister's intention to ensure the application of the full terms of the Agreement. I am not very satisfied with the Postmaster-General's lack of insistence on this. One has only to look at the abuse being made of the 1954 Television Act by the independent television companies. Section after Section of that Act is today being ignored. There is, at the moment, a dispute between the members of Equity and the independent television companies. The Act states that large numbers of old films shall not be used, but I.T.V. is at present using enormous quantities of them and the Postmaster-General is not making any effort to enforce that Section of the Act.
I understand that the Hughie Green programme gives prizes of £1,000, but Section 3 (3) of the Television Act, 1954 states:Nothing shall be included in any programme broadcast by the Authority, whether in an advertisement or not, which offers any prize of significant value"—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Robert Grimston)
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but he is going a little wide. This Motion does not concern I.T.V. We are concerned with the length of the B.B.C. Charter.
§ Mr. Loughlin
I appreciate that that is strictly true, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but my point is whether the Postmaster-General is prepared to be stricter in his insistence on the terms of this Agreement being carried out. What I am seeking 989 to do is to illustrate the indifference, almost, of the Postmaster-General to the carrying out of the terms of another Agreement. I submit to you—
§ Mr. Christopher Mayhew (Woolwich, East)
As I understand it, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, the difficulty is this. We are discussing whether or not to renew for two years the B.B.C. Licence and Agreement. If we do not do so, we shall have no B.B.C. at all and shall be left only with I.T.V. I wonder whether it is very relevant to the question now before us to consider what we would be left with, and also to consider the different principles embodied in the B.B.C. as against I.T.V. It is, perhaps, rather difficult to judge whether or not we should renew the B.B.C. Charter without considering all these other matters as well.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's difficulty. I think that it is admissible to go into that matter by way of illustration, but it will be realised that that procedure is fairly limited.
§ Mr. Loughlin
That is precisely what I was saying I was attempting to do, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and if I have deficiencies which do not enable me to do it as I should, I humbly beg your pardon. Whatever deficiencies I may have, I have a wealth of experience in examining and assessing the value of agreements, and my experience is that the only way in which one can really assess their value is by comparing one with another. If there are two agreements dealing with the same subject it is really impossible to evaluate one without reference to the other. There are many similarities between the B.B.C. and I.T.A. Agreements while other provisions of those documents are dissimilar. I was not seeking to go into the pros and cons of the dispute involving the I.T.V. although that is, to some extent, relevant to our discussion.
Concerning the financial provisions of the Agreement before us, we see that the income of the independent television companies is fairly substantial compared with that of the B.B.C. Let us assume that the dispute in question ends in victory for the Equity members. Is it 990 not reasonable to further assume that, in that event, the Equity members will then demand from the B.B.C. fees similar to those which have been secured from I.T.V.? Is it not essential, in considering the B.B.C. Agreement, that the Postmaster-General should take into account the possibility of there being an additional burden place on the revenue of the B.B.C.? I therefore doubt whether we can consider both the dispute and this B.B.C. Agreement without making reference to the possible outcome of that dispute.
Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew), who is more capable and circumspect in dealing with these matters, will pursue this point, for I believe that we must take into account the possibility of an additional £3 million—the approximate cost to the independent television companies if the Equity boys win, and I hope they do, for it is a scandal for the I.T.V. companies to act in the way they are at present. But what about that additional £3 million which may be imposed on the B.B.C.? Does the Agreement before us take that into account when considering the various extensions of the B.B.C.'s facilities that all hon. Members desire to see? As I said, I welcome the Agreement. I have nothing but praise for the B.B.C. and I wish the Corporation every success in the future.
§ 8.24 p.m.
§ The Assistant Postmaster-General (Miss Mervyn Pike)
I listened with interest to the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin). The Motion before the House is:That the Licence and Agreement, dated 6th November, 1961, between Her Majesty's Postmaster-General and the British Broadcasting Corporation, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th November, be approved.This matter was previously before the House on 29th November last. I think it will be for the convenience of the House if I explain, first, the need for the resolution, secondly the Amendments, which are largely formal, which the new Licence and Agreement make to the existing one—dated 12th June, 1952—which continues substantially unchanged and, thirdly, deal with various points which were raised on the last occasion this matter was before the House.
991 The B.B.C.'s present Licence is due to expire on 30th June, 1962, and this new Licence extends it to 29th July, 1964. The B.B.C.'s Licence and Agreement requires an affirmative Resolution of the House since it contains Clauses which govern the Corporation's external services and constitute a contract extending over a period of years and creating a public charge, entered into by the Government, for the purpose of telegraphic communications beyond the seas.
Standing Order No. 87 provides that such contracts shall be approved by the House. So it is a condition of the Licence and Agreement—as of previous Licences—thatthe contract thereby made shall not be binding until it has been approved by a resolution of the House of Commons.I should say at this point that the B.B.C. Royal Charter, which sets out the B.B.C.'s constitution, is granted under the Royal Prerogative and does not require the approval of the House. That is not a matter of debate today, but the Government propose to recommend for the approval of Her Majesty the Queen that the Charter should be extended to the same date as the Licence; that is, 29th July, 1964. My right hon. Friend referred to the need to extend the B.B.C. Licence to this date when he told the House on 13th July, 1960, of the setting up of the Committee of Inquiry into broadcasting under the chairmanship of Sir Harry Pilkington. The date 29th July, 1964, is the date when the Television Act, 1954, expires. So the lives of the B.B.C. and I.T.A. are being made coterminous.
Here indeed is the reason why the new Licence is extending the life of the present B.B.C. Licence but is leaving its provisions substantially unchanged. We shall be able, in due time, to debate and decide the future of television and sound in a manner at once comprehensive and comprehensible. The external services do not come within the scope of the Pilkington Committee. A statement on these services was made to the House by my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs on 23rd January.
What, apart from the date of expiry, is the effect on the 1952 Licence of the 992 new Licence before us? As I have said, the amendments it makes are, in essence, merely formal. There are two. First, as the new Licence is the first issued to the B.B.C. since the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1949, became effective, it provides for the Corporation to pay in respect of its Licence an issue fee of £500 and a renewal fee of £500 at the beginning of the second year, instead of a royalty, which was also £500, as formerly. Clause 16 of the current Licence, which provided in terms for the payment of a royalty, is therefore omitted. It is replaced by Clause 3 of the new Licence.
Secondly, Clause 27 of the current Licence is deleted. That Clause disqualified members of the House or of the Senate or of the House of Commons of Northern Ireland from any benefit arising from the contract. It was put in because the Acts to which it referred disabled persons concerned in certain contracts from membership of the House of Commons or the Senate or House of Commons of Northern Ireland. As hon. Members know, the relevant provisions of the Acts referred to were replaced by the House of Commons Disqualification Act, 1957, which at the same time disqualified B.B.C. Governors from being Membe2s of the House of Commons or the Senate or the House of Commons of Northern Ireland.
Otherwise there is no change. I should, however, add a few words of explanation on one of two points on which hon. Members seemed to find some difficulty the last time the matter was before the House. I take, first, the financial arrangements between Her Majesty's Government and the Corporation.
The original Clause 17 of the 1952 Licence and Agreement dealt with the period up to 30th June, 1955. That Clause has been superseded by Supplemental Agreements, normally covering three-year periods, which have been laid before the House on each occasion, in 1954, in 1957, and again in 1960. The 1960 Agreement already provided for the B.B.C. to receive 100 per cent., of net licence revenue for the year 1961–62, and the new licence is continuing that arrangement for the period up to 29th July, 1964.
993 In respect of the external services, the Corporation will continue to receive, as at present, out of supplies voted by Parliament such sums as the Treasury may authorise.
My right hon. Friend was also asked on 29th November by the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West why he does not now have to consult the B.B.C. about the expenses incurred by his Department in relation to broadcasting services within the British Isles, which are deducted from the broadcast receiving licence revenue, whereas under the 1952 Licence he had to do so. That is not an amendment now being made. Until the 31st March, 1954, an agreed percentage of the revenue was reserved for Post. Office expenses. From 1st April, 1954, however, under the Supplemental Agreements I referred to earlier, the amount of revenue set aside for Post Office expenses in each year has been equal to the expenses actually incurred. I think everyone would accept that it is right for actual expenses to be deducted. The position under the new Licence is no different from that under the Clause in the Supplemental Agreements of 1954, 1957 and 1960, which had already superseded the 1952 Clause.
§ Mr. Loughlin
The hon. Lady realises now that, on the previous occasion, we had not sufficient documents before us and it was impossible for us to find out about these things. Hence this adjourned debate.
§ Miss Pike
I recognise that, and I thought it would be for the convenience of hon. Members if, for the purposes of the record, this matter were explained and put straight.
The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West was bothered also about Clause 11 of the current Licence which deals with the employment of aliens, but I am sure that, here again, now that he has seen the documents referred to, he understands those matters perfectly.
From time to time, of course, we have to answer Questions in the House about various aspects of B.B.C. activities, and possible developments. The House rightly continues to show a lively interest in a medium which is so pervasive as broadcasting. Television is watched by about 34 million people and sound broadcasting is heard by about 994 25 million every day. I know that the Corporation studies with care all that is said in the House about its activities.
The B.B.C. will, of course, continue to press on with extension of its present television and sound coverages. Stages I and II of its plans for local satellite television and VHF sound stations have already been announced. The Corporation has further extensions in mind, and my right hon. Friend has had its proposals for Stage III which are under discussion with it.
I think that extension to July, 1964, of the B.B.C. Licence is a sensible step to take. I do not think that I should be tempted to indulge in speculation as to the future. A far-reaching examination of broadcasting is now being made by Sir Harry Pilkington and his colleagues. They have an immense job to do and they are applying themselves to it with vigour and resolution, undaunted, let me add, by the number of weighty memoranda they have received. The number of papers put in exceeds 600. When the Committee's Report is available, I foresee that we shall have some far-ranging debates on broadcasting. But such a debate would be premature today.
The purpose of the Motion now before the House is to continue the B.B.C.'s powers and duties pending this major review. It is in substance uncontroversial and will, I hope, command general acceptance.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Christopher Mayhew (Woolwich, East)
The House is always glad to hear the hon. Lady the Assistant Postmaster-General. With a very great deal of what she said I think that there will be agreement on both sides, but I am bound to confess that I felt a little disappointed that she was so limited in her aims at the Dispatch Box this evening. After all, it is a very big thing to renew the Charter of the British Broadcasting Corporation for two years. We do not often have an opportunity to consider its work, to decide whether we are critical of it, whether we wish to praise it, or to consider its impact on our national life.
I thought that the hon. Lady was, if I may say so, a little optimistic in thinking that she could get away tonight with 995 a purely technical and pedestrian account of the details of the Licence and Agreement. Much as we are glad to hear her, I miss the presence of the Postmaster-General on the Government Front Bench. This is an occasion when hon. Members on both sides will wish to make speeches. We have not had this discussion for a considerable time. We have had no apology from the hon. Lady for the absence of her right hon. Friend. I very much hope that a message will be sent to him inviting him to come.
§ Miss Pike
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and allowing me to say that I should have apologised for the absence of the Postmaster-General on this occasion. He is, unfortunately, engaged upon important negotiations. We could not forecast what time the debate would start, and he is sorry that he cannot be here. I was only glad that I had the opportunity myself of speaking in this important debate.
§ Mr. Mayhew
We realise that the Postmaster-General is having a heavy time of it at present. Nevertheless, there is not much prospect of this being a short debate. The House would much appreciate it if the Postmaster-General were contacted and invited to attend to hear what the House has to say about this matter and to intervene in the debate. As I say, this is not a matter to be treated lightly. It is one which has a great deal of public interest and about which I know hon. Members have a number of things to say.
I agree with the hon. Lady that it is not easy to discuss the future of broadcasting under the shadow of the Pilkington Committee. Nevertheless, I think that all of us, including those with strong views about what should be done—I count myself one of those people—will study the Pilkington report with great care and will keep ourselves in a position to be able to change our minds in the light of the findings and recommendations of the Pilkington Committee. The whole future of broadcasting is an extremely complex question, technical as well as everything else, and I do not think that any of us would wish to be 996 dogmatic before the Committee's report is published.
Nevertheless, in the past the Postmaster-General and the Assistant Postmaster-General have been a little too keen to shelter behind the Pilkington Committee's report and not to take decisions which they could well have taken without its report. I instance the question of colour television. It may be that it is a little late now to take a decision on that matter, but why could not the Government have taken a decision in favour of allowing the B.B.C. to make experimental colour transmissions without regard to the Pilkington Committee's report?
The Government could have taken such a decision months ago and the B.B.C. would have been able to make up some of the ground in colour television that we have lost to foreign countries had not it been forbidden to do so by the Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. W. R. Williams) raised this question many times in the House. We did not have a satisfactory answer, and, unfortunately, the B.B.C.'s enterprising and praiseworthy initiative in pushing ahead with colour television came to grief.
There is another point on which the Government could have taken a decision without waiting for the Pilkington Committee's report. Why has not the B.B.C. been allowed to increase its hours of broadcasting? Why should not the Light Programme go on all night? Shift workers and other people would enjoy listening to the Light Programme throughout the night. The only reason why they cannot do so is that the Government have declined to give the B.B.C. the necessary permission.
Why should Network Three and the Third Programme be confined to certain hours of the day? Why should not they go on all day? This would not be an expensive matter. The B.B.C. is willing that this should happen. It would get a certain listenership. Again, the Government have refused to give the B.B.C. the permission for which it asked. These are decisions which need not be held up for the Pilkington Committee's report. They could have been taken many months ago.
997 My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) raised another matter on which the Government could have taken decisions without waiting for the Pilkington Committee's report. They could have enforced the Television Act a great deal more effectively than they have. Like my hon. Friend, I view with some trepidation the possibility that the House might not agree to the Licence and Agreement tonight and will leave us simply with I.T.V. as the Television Act is practised at present.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West mentioned the Equity dispute. It is a fact that, because I.T.V. has to rely on old feature films, a number of the provisions of the Television Act are being disobeyed. For example, the balance and quality of programmes referred to in Section 3 of the Act were always the subject of criticism, including criticism in this House, even before the dispute. Admittedly, the quality and balance of programmes improved under the shadow of the Pilkington Committee. But now that there is this dispute the old films are coming back and these breaches of the Act are becoming more and more common. In addition, the treatment of the Equity dispute shows the lack of financial independence and control between the programme companies, which is again one of the breaches of the Television Act to which the Government should have paid a great deal more attention. Obviously, we do not want to pay too much attention in this debate to I.T.V., because our main concern is with the B.B.C.
I think that my hon. Friends would wish me to say that we have no intention of challenging the proposition tonight. We wish the Charter and Licence of the B.B.C. to be extended, because we think that it is a sensible and tidy arrangement that they should expire at the same time as the programme companies' contracts. Therefore, we support that. There is also the happy coincidence that we are having this debate on the very day of publication of the B.B.C.'s Annual Report, on which I suppose we have all been doing our homework. This is a helpful feature, and I should now like to make one or two points arising out of that Report.
998 At present the B.B.C. seems to me to have reached a new peak of popularity and respect with viewers and listeners. I shall try to amplify this later in what I have to say, but it has achieved this despite the fact that its public relations are extremely un enterprising and ineffective. I have never understood why a broadcasting system which rightly refuses to broadcast advertising should suppose that that meant that it should not advertise itself. I am not asking that the B.B.C. should copy the enormously extravagant "ballyhoo" of the programme companies. I am not suggesting that, but it could do a great deal better than it does in its public relations.
For example, to give a personal opinion, why is the Radio Times so deadly dull? In my opinion, it could be a great deal more lively and interesting than it is. I notice from this handbook that the circulation of the Radio Times has fallen from 8.8 million in 1955 to 6.78 million in 1960. I am not surprised at that. It is amazing how many people continue to read it, and, even more, having read it, still switch on the programmes advertised in the Radio Times. If I may suggest a personal remedy, it would be that the Radio Times should be handed over for a few weeks to the "Tonight" team to brighten up and edit.
In spite of this poor quality of publication and of public relations, the B.B.C. has reached a new peak of popularity and respect with the public, and, on both sides of the House, I think that will be regarded as true. I hope that tonight we are not having a party debate. I would be the first to agree that hon. Members opposite are good supporters of the B.B.C. and that British broadcasting owes a lot to the support they have given to the B.B.C. in the past.
One sign of the B.B.C.'s popularity is the progress it has made, in getting a higher share of the television audience. I have here the latest figures. The B.B.C. share of multi-channel viewing—that is, of the viewers who have a choice of programmes—shows that it was considerably greater than it had been a year earlier.
If we take the three months of October, November and December, 1961, its share has been as follows: in October, B.B.C. 43 to I.T.V. 57; in 999 November, 46 to 54; and in December, 48 to 52. It could be argued that this was due to the Equity dispute, but, on the contrary, a study of these figures shows that the trend was well set before the Equity dispute began, and these figures compare very favourably with the share that the B.B.C. had of the television audience a year ago.
This is being achieved when it is not the policy of the B.B.C., as it is of the programme companies, to achieve the maximum audiences at all times for their programmes, and it is achieved without taking account of the large number of viewers who still have not converted their sets to I.T.V., and must be regarded, therefore, as B.B.C. viewers. We must also bear in mind when considering these figures of the share of the programme audience that those who prefer the I.T.V. programmes to B.B.C. programmes also watch longer hours than those who prefer the B.B.C. programmes to those of I.T.V.
In the result, therefore, it means that probably on today's figures more viewers prefer B.B.C. to I.T.V. This, in spite of the poor public relations and the fact, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West stated, that the income of B.B.C. television is such a small fraction of that of I.T.V. The accounts will show that the actual revenue available for B.B.C. television is £20 million, and the gross revenue available for I.T.V. is over £80 million, or more than four times as much. In these circumstances, it is a considerable achievement for the B.B.C. to have secured this share of the audience, especially as the B.B.C. sets out by its nature to balance programmes rather than to obtain the largest audience all the time.
It used to be a great argument in controversy, but I do not think that it is still, that there is something democratic in a broadcasting system that goes all out to get the largest possible audience for its programmes. It was considered that this was giving viewers what they wanted. It is now common ground on both sides, including the programme companies, that this is not so and that a democratic system of broadcasting considers not only the universal-appeal-programme that gets the largest number 1000 of viewers, but the minority programme that appeals to viewers as groups, with different tastes and different interests; and that a proper democratic system is one that maintains a proper balance between these two kinds of programme.
The minority programmes which appeal to viewers not as a whole, but as different groups, are not necessarily "highbrow." A greyhound racing programme or a snooker programme is a minority programme just as much as a Shakespeare or a ballet programme. These programmes are not highbrow necessarily, or in any sense of the term "unpopular". On the contrary, audience research shows that it is the minority programmes that are the most keenly enjoyed by those who watch them. This can be demonstrated. The B.B.C. programme research has two indices for every programme broadcast. One shows the size of the audience and the other, which is called the appreciation index, shows what is thought of the programme by those who see it. If it were true that the programmes which are directed to the largest audience were the most liked programmes, there would be a correlation between the two indices. The higher the audience index the higher the appreciation index; but anyone who studies it can see that precisely the opposite is the case. It is the small minority audiences that lead the higher appreciation index.
Common sense would show that this would be the case. In the same way that a tailor-made suit is more comfortable for the man who wears it than something off the peg, so a programme addressed to an individual with a special taste and interest in more keenly enjoyed than a universal programme which gets a bigger audience. This is true and it is common ground. It is profoundly important, because it knocks the bottom out of the case for commercial broadcasting.
If one's motive is simply to maximise advertising revenue all one is interested in is getting large numbers of people looking in or listening. But if one's motive is to give a mixture of universal appeal programmes and minority appeal programmes, one will lose advertising revenue and the commercial motive is in conflict with it. In the United States, for instance, it is purely advertising 1001 .revenue and no other motive which applies—here we have our curbs to some extent in the Television Act—and minority programmes simply are not shown at all over the normal commercial networks. Thus, commercial television, so far from giving viewers what they want, denies them those programmes which they most keenly enjoy, even though they are not the programmes which get the maximum audiences. It is profoundly important to bear this in mind when we consider how we want to develop broadcasting in this country.
If we are to give viewers what they want, not only as a mass but as people with different tastes and interests, we must back the broadcasting system which leads to that result. The B.B.C. has no motive except to serve the viewers. I.T.A. has a dual purpose—to serve the viewers and also to swell advertising revenues. These two things are not always compatible with each other. The integrity of the B.B.C., its single-minded purpose, is its source of real strength.
There are one or two other points about the handbook to which I want to draw attention. It is worth remarking on the extraordinarily enterprising standard of some of the programmes—the travel and exploration unit, the exploitation of Eurovision and the live broadcasts from Iron Curtain countries. These are worthy achievements of the B.B.C. I also pay tribute to the objectivity and integrity of the Iron Curtain broadcasts. This is a profoundly important point. These broadcasts inform us about the Communist countries without propaganda either for or against.
I feel a personal interest in this because, in 1957, I visited the Soviet Union for the B.B.C. to try to get permission for some filming there. I had long conversations with Soviet authorities and they offered me the world—three sound film cameras, two studios, an orchestra, free travel—in fact, everything. [An HON. MEMBER: "Vodka, too?"] And vodka.
§ Mr. Mayhew
On the other hand, I had difficulties. The film which was to go out had to be agreed with the Soviet authorities. I argued closely about 1002 how much criticism and objectivity I could be allowed. I was told that I would be allowed some, but it was not enough. So, with the full backing of the B.B.C., I politely turned down the offer. But I must report that as I turned it down my Soviet friends said to me, "These same conditions have just been accepted by I.T.V." A few months later I saw a film on the U.S.S.R. which was colourful, interesting and popular, on I.T.A.—but it had no integrity.
That same year I went to China for the same purpose. That was far more difficult still. All I could get out was smuggled amateur film. The B.B.C. would never have looked at the conditions which the Chinese Government demanded. A few weeks ago I saw a film about China on I.T.A. which had been made with the full co-operation of the Chinese Government, so the T.V. Times said. It was, in fact, straight Chinese Government propaganda, relayed by a well-meaning innocent. I want to pay tribute to the integrity of the B.B.C. in this matter. One can make a very colourful and successful programme about a Communist country by playing in with the Communist authorities. This is something which needs to be watched. The B.B.C. has no motive for doing so, but there is money in this and I wish very much that the I.T.A. and the Postmaster-General would watch it very carefully.
Another aspect of the handbook which stands out is the enterprise of some of the B.B.C.'s future projects, and I want to talk about one or two of them. We know that the B.B.C. is to begin a series of programmes, comparing the virtues of rival commercial products, called "Choice". This is a welcome development. We cannot be sure that the actual production will be satisfactory and the B.B.C. has been slow to adopt the idea and I am not satisfied that the programmes will not be too cautious and possibly too dull. But the departure is enterprising and could give a great service to consumers and perhaps help to raise the standards, or lower the level of mendacity, of advertising on the other channel. I wish it well.
Perhaps I might help it along with a little practical suggestion for an item in the first programme, one which I have put up to the B.B.C. and, unfortunately, 1003 had turned down. My suggestion is that in the first programme Mr. Richard Dimbleby should appear in the studio surrounded by two or three dozen newly washed pocket handkerchiefs and should read oat the names and addresses of the chairmen of the detergent companies and their advertising agencies who have declined his invitation to come to the studio and pick out which handkerchief was washed by their detergent. What is wrong with that? It is a free country. We would have a window in the studio so that the manufacturer of Daz could take a hankerchief over and give it the Daz daylight test. It would all be quite free and fair.
I hope that the B.B.C. approaches this problem with considerable courage and dash, because the public is in a mood to be given the truth about these advertised products and is sick to death of television commercials endlessly balanced on the razor edge between truth, on the one hand, and downright lying, on the other.
There is one other matter to which I draw the attention of the House and which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West and by the hon. Lady the Assistant Postmaster-General. It is the B.B.C.'s plans for sound radio. It is interesting to see from the handbook how the size of the sound audience has kept up. The key figure seems to be that, in 1961, 25.4 million people listened to one or more sound programmes each day and that the figure for 1960 was identical.
That reflects the fact that even though television is taking a great deal of programme audience away from sound, the growth of the car radio, the growth of the portable radio and the growth of the second set in the average household, or in many households, is offsetting the drift to television. One of the things which the Pilkington Committee will no doubt be considering and reporting about is the future of local sound broadcasting in this country. I am convinced that there is a fabulous opportunity for a new development for British broadcasting in local broadcasting.
There is something about local radio which is unique and which cannot be given by national or regional broadcasting. The regional broadcasts of the 1004 B.B.C. mean well, but they have not caught fire. Let us take the news, for instance. If there is a post office hold-up in a town 100 miles away, it may or may not be news; if it is a post office hold-up in one's own town, it definitely is news; if it is a hold-up in one's own post office, it is sensational.
On that basis, local broadcasting can be of an interest and value to local people far beyond anything that regional or national broadcasting can give. There are not only news broadcasts, but programmes of all kinds—which can be given a new dimension by being close to the listener. It is for that essential reason that I believe that local sound broadcasting has a great future. In addition, it need not be extremely expensive. The estimate is of capital expenditure on local stations serving 150,000 people of about £30,000, and current expenditure thereafter of perhaps another £30,000.
Whatever views we have about how this should be organised, and we shall look with great interest to the Pilkington Committee's report on this, I think that we must all pay tribute to the extraordinary enterprise and initiative the B.B.C. has shown in experimenting and training for local sound radio. There have been experiments at Brighton, Bristol, Bournemouth and Poole in training people and in giving skeleton services for local stations. How far the B.B.C. should be responsible and how far local stations should be autonomous, using B.B.C. services, is one of the things that we shall no doubt be arguing about. I think that I shall be speaking for many of my hon. Friends behind me when I say that we believe it is essential, if these local stations are to be local and to serve their localities, that they must be non-profit-making and based on the principle of public service.
This year it seems that we shall be starting a big break-through in British broadcasting leading eventually to higher definition television, to colour television, to another public-service television network, to a spectacular development of educational television, and eventually to up to 100 local sound radio stations. I believe that there may be a good deal of feeling on both sides of the House that this great development should be put in train imaginatively and responsibly on a 1005 public service basis. That, I believe, is an essential feature for the future development.
There is one final aspect of the handbook to which I should like to draw attention. That is the finances of the B.B.C. Often when hon. Members on both sides of the House advocate public service broadcasting and its extension we are asked, "How do you pay for it?". This, again, is a matter which we shall be debating this year, I expect, exhaustively. Nevertheless, I should like to draw the attention of the House to the extraordinary buoyancy of the licence revenue. Up to March, 1961, the total licence revenue, including the £1 Excise duty, was barely under £50 million a year. If we make the necessary deductions, the B.B.C. gets £33½ million. Of this, £20 million was allocated by it to television.
Twenty million pounds is an extraordinary economical sum. If we measure it against the £80 million or £90 million of gross revenue of I.T.V., I think that it shows the achievements of B.B.C. television in a proper light. If we imagined a kind of national broadcasting fund into which the licence money was put and into which was put a proper sum for renewal of I.T.V.'s advertising monopoly, which might well be £30 million or £40 million, we would have a sum already in a national broadcasting fund which would be sufficient to finance two general networks in addition to I.T.V., one specifically educational television network and 100 local radio stations.
That huge new development would be possible without any increase in the licence fee or any increase of broadcasting advertising in any shape or form. I believe that these figures of the buoyancy of advertising revenue and the buoyancy of licence revenue are extremely encouraging to those who wish to see a great development in public service broadcasting in the country.
I hope that the House will agree to renew the Licence and Agreement of the B.B.C., which embodies the principle of public service broadcasting and which seems to me to be a very good example of its advantages. We hope that the B.B.C. will be given a new lease of life not only until 1964 but, in due course, well beyond that. The principle of 1006 public service for which it stands will, I believe, be the basis of a great new flowering of British broadcasting in the months ahead.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Sir Robert Cary (Manchester, Withington)
In opening the debate the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) paid the most gracious tribute to the B.B.C., and we thank him for that, but I think that he was a little unkind to himself in saying that he had the impression that during our previous discussion he had shown rather an unfriendly attitude towards the B.B.C. The hon. Gentleman may recall that I sat in the Chamber for three hours during that debate. I had no such impression. Indeed, the whole discussion centred round the Charter, a copy of which he had, and his hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. A. Lewis) took the opportunity of complaining to the Chair that he did not have a copy of it, and out of that arose an immense debate as to whether the hon. Lady the Assistant Postmaster-General and her Departmental friends had laid sufficient documents before the House.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that we had no impression during those three hours that he was in any way unsympathetic or unfriendly to the B.B.C., and he has put it into its right context tonight.
§ Mr. Loughlin
Because of the statements that I made on that occasion, one hon. Member from each side asked me what I had against the B.B.C.
§ Sir R. Cary
I agree with the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew), who made an interesting, well-informed and entertaining speech about the B.B.C., that this is not an occasion for great controversy in regard to broadcasting. That must come later from the Pilkington report which we hope we shall have by the spring.
Let us not be under any illusion as to the immense debate that this report will provoke. I have no doubt that, because of the extremely complicated subjects which have come before that Committee, its report will contain a number of minority reports which will have to be considered. Even if we get this report before the Easter Recess, I shall count ourselves lucky indeed if 1007 we are able to have one or two days to take note of it this Session; and there is the possibility of our having no recommendations from the Government or any necessary legislation until we get to 1963, which might be a critical and dangerous year from the point of view of the circumstances of this House.
Therefore, after listening to the hon. Member for Woolwich, East who spoke tonight so well about the B.B.C. services, I would say that by extending the B.B.C.'s Charter to fall into line with the termination of the Charters of the independent companies in 1964, perhaps this may be the year in which a final decision will be taken about broadcasting for some years to come.
What concerns me about the Pilkington report is that it will contain much about radio, locations, colour bands, and all sorts of matter, but the overriding thing for which I shall look in the report is a main recommendation that public service broadcasting should remain the supreme and superior influence in broadcasting in Great Britain. Where broadcasting has been commercialised to a point of being prostituted, again and again Americans have said, "I wish that we had an American Broadcasting Corporation on the lines of that which exists in Great Britain."
I feel very strongly about this. I accept every word uttered by the hon. Member for Woolwich, East with regard to the hard-working services of the B.B.C. If this be not a moment to enter into great controversy with regard to broadcasting, it is a moment to congratulate the B.B.C. on arriving at its fortieth anniversary next November, when the B.B.C. will celebrate the foundation of the old British Broadcasting Company at Savoy Hill in 1922.
In particular I should like to congratulate the Director-General and his staff on winning last year the Golden Rose Trophy in Europe for the fastest, neatest and most entertaining effort in light entertainment with "The Black and White Minstrel Show". It was a superb performance and in terms of the limited amount of finance mentioned by the hon. Member for Woolwich, East it was quite a miracle that so good a show should be produced, not with money, 1008 but with sheer sense of mission and enthusiasm.
I wish to raise two matters with the Assistant Postmaster-General which might be looked at by her right hon. Friend without in any way waiting upon the recommendations of the Pilkington Committee. Like other hon. Members, most of my time today has been devoted to reading the B.B.C. handbook for 1962. I have two thoughts in mind about the B.B.C. work. The Postmaster-General has received representations from the B.B.C. on both these matters of which the first and most important is the extensions asked for with regard to sound broadcasting. This is very important.
After a surfeit of television I turned back to sound broadcasting. I have two television and two radio sets in my home so that programmes are always available to me in any room. I have listened to many sound programmes in the last twelve months and they have been extremely good. I am most impressed by the way the B.B.C. has been able to attract back a listening audience of about 5 million people to sound radio. Even to well-known shows like "The Archers" as many as 4,500,000 people listen. If television be a mass media, so equally is sound broadcasting. If television can entertain and inform, sound broadcasting can build on that and cultivate in depth in an educational sense. I ask my hon. Friend to ask the Postmaster-General to allow some of the extension on sound broadcasting for which the B.B.C. is asking.
The second point I wish to raise was dealt with in the final part of the speech of the hon. Member for Woolwich, East. The revenues of the B.B.C. come entirely from the licence fee. I think that roughly £35 million is taken from the £4 licence fee, and on the combined licence I consider this the cheapest entertainment in the world. In a society where every commodity seems to be rising in price the sum of £4 for the combined television and sound licence is almost the cheapest thing we have. The B.B.C. receives £3 of this and the Post Office the other £1. Many arguments are put forward for a rise in wages, but if there was ever a justification for a rise in price in respect of value given I believe that it is to be found in the combined 1009 T.V. and sound broadcasting licence. It could justifiably be increased to £5.
§ Mr. Mayhew
The hon. Member will agree that of the £4 at present collected £1 represents Exoise Duty and does not go to the B.B.C. If that £1 were to go to it it would make a lot of difference.
§ Sir R. Cary
I agree. But that is asking my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General and the Assistant Postmaster-General for an act of unselfishness. I do not know what Parliamentary form it would take—whether it would be a Bill or a Motion.
The £35 million which goes to the B.B.C. is made up of the £3 proportion of the licence fee. Further, the Corporation receives £750,000 as a profitable revenue from the sale of the Radio Times. I agree with the hon. Member for Woolwich, East that that publication could be greatly improved. The circulation of the Listener has fallen slightly but it is still a widely-read paper. I believe that the Economist has a circulation of 60,000 a week. The Listener, with a circulation of 120,000 a week, is therefore even more widely read. I do not know whether it is profitable.
The B.B.C. is now also receiving revenue from its expanding television services overseas. The Americans have picked up its programmes quite substantially. For instance, there is "The Age of Kings"—which was a great triumph for the B.B.C. If even the commercialised American networks can choose a programme like "The Age of Kings" it shows that there is an audience in that country which can be appealed to enormously by our own medium and by the programmes that we produce.
I have spoken for longer than I expected, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Assistant Postmaster-General will forgive me. There is so much in this subject that we could discuss. I agree with the hon. Member for Woolwich, East; I hope that the Assistant Postmaster-General will get what she wants tonight by the House passing this Motion.
§ 9.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Wade (Huddersfield, West)
As I understand it, the object of the Licence and Agreement is to ensure the continuance of the B.B.C. substantially unchanged until July, 1964. I hope 1010 that it does not follow that there must be no changes at all between now and then, for there are many opportunities for development. It has been forecast that the Pilkington Committee will report at about the end of March this year. I agree that there will be some formidable debates when the report is published—more contentious debates than that which we are having tonight. If there are any critics of the B.B.C. amongst hon. Members opposite it seems that they are not here tonight.
Since the report will be published this year, I can see no necessity to wait until July, 1964, before taking any action upon it. Surely there is nothing to prevent an expansion of sound broadcasting. The fact that we are being asked to extend the Agreement until July, 1964, surely does not rule out any development. Perhaps the hon. Lady will make that clear.
I do not say this in criticism of the existing structure of the B.B.C.; rather the reverse. I agree with the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Sir R. Cary) that the concept of broadcasting as a public service is fully justified. I think that the B.B.C. is still held in very high esteem in many parts of the world.
While we all have our grumbles from time to time, I think that the technical standards achieved by the B.B.C. staff are very high. On the whole, the quality of the programmes is high. The handling of controversial subjects is praiseworthy, although I must admit that scarcely a month goes by without my receiving a shoal of letters from Liberals complaining that some controversial subject has been discussed on sound or B.B.C. television without a Liberal being given an opportunity to give the Liberal point of view. It may be that in course of time that will be rectified. I do not propose to pursue that matter tonight.
There is another item which may be added to the favourable side of the balance sheet. I think that the B.B.C. is still truly British. I was interested to read a comment in this evening's Evening Standard referring to the B.B.C. Handbook, 1962, which has been in our hands today. The article says:Eighty-five per cent. of the 3,000 hours of programmes B.B.C.-T.V. puts out each year are now ' all its own work '. No other television organisation in the world can claim a higher proportion than that, says the B.B.C. Handbook 1962… 1011 Of the remaining 15 per cent. 10 per cent. come from America, the rest from Europe.That is something for which we can feel gratified. On the other hand, I regret the fact that Britain has lost the lead in overseas services. An extension has been promised in some fields, but that does not alter the fact that we have lost the lead.The article in the Evening Standard also says:…the B.B.C., which once led the world in overseas broadcasts, has now dropped to fourth place. Russia, Communist China and the Voice of America take the first three places.In view of that, it is regrettable that the overseas broadcasts to America have been abandoned. I do not think that that action is justified. This is not the fault of the B.B.C. I have no doubt that it is a decision of the Treasury. I think it a sign of cheese-paring on the part of the Treasury. If a saving had to be made I should have thought very much better ways could have been found than giving up these quite useful overseas broadcasts directed to the United States of America. Not only Americans listened to them.
One final quotation I wish to make is from a letter in today's Daily Telegraph, written by Derek McCulloch. Referring to this subject, he has written:The 1,500 American stations radiating or relaying B.B.C. programmes must reach a tolerably larger number of people who are still not quite certain about us and do not wish to be converted by enlightened ' American citizens.But now this is to be slapped down anyway, and to say that the staff behind the programmes now to be guillotined is ' disappointed' is to put it mildly. What frustration, and what a punch below the belt for the B.B.C. who surely ought to be allowed to know their job.I hope that it will not be long before this situation is rectified, because it is a mistake.
There are many other developments which I know the B.B.C. would like to be allowed to embark on. There is a great opportunity for local sound broadcasting, with local talent and local news. We are not discussing commercial television tonight, although some hon. Members have come very near to it. I am not convinced that the case has been made out for commercial sound broadcasting at either a national or a local 1012 level, but there is a strong case for local sound broadcasting.
§ Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
Has the hon. Member noted that the Association of Municipal Corporations, representing nearly 28 million people, in its evidence to the Pilkington Committee held stronger views on this matter than on any other? The Association said how strongly it supported local broadcasting.
§ Mr. Speaker
What is all this about? The Pilkington Committee has not yet reported. If there were to be local broadcasting of this kind, as at present informed I should say that it would, be dependent on some licence other than that which we are now discussing.
§ Dr. Stross
On a point of order. Is it not feasible to discuss local broadcasting as an extension of the arrangements we have at present and will have until 1964?
§ Mr. Speaker
That depends upon whether or no they are governed by this Licence. I am governed by the Rulings of my predecessors in this context. I I do not know, but prima facie it looks as though it would be dependent upon some other licence. I am open to correction about this.
§ Sir Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)
Further to that point of order. I think that the extension of broadcasting to local stations is already developing under the Licence which prevails at present. Consequently, as an extension of the Licence is being sought, there can be no doubt at all that the furtherance of that object can be discussed in this debate. I speak subject to correction by the Government.
§ Mr. Speaker
I accept what the hon. Member says. If it is right, the whole proposition is in order. It depends upon my ignorance of the practice.
§ Mr. Wade
I am aware of the point which the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) made when he first intervened. There are other aspirations of the B.B.C.—for example, the development of colour television. I have seen something of the great advance the B.B.C. has made and I hope that it will not be long before the general public is able to benefit. It is unfortunate that other countries have been able 1013 to make headway whilst we have been held back.
I am convinced that in the B.B.C. is a valuable public service. I say that as one who has always been critical of nationalisation and sceptical of an extension of public ownership. This is a public service, but not a Government service. Thank goodness the B.B.C. is not the official mouthpiece of the Government, as it might be in some other countries. It is properly described as a service for the public. I believe that it is a great public service. I hope that nothing will be done in the coming years to undermine it.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Sir Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)
Perhaps I may, with respect, Mr. Speaker, mention something to which I have already referred. In the recitals to the B.B.C. Licence and Agreement dated 6th November, 1961, we find:AND WHEREAS the Corporation has applied to the Postmaster General for a further licence authorising the Corporation to continue to use its existing wireless telegraph stations and apparatus for wireless telegraphy and to establish instal and use additional stations and apparatus and granting other facilities …Bearing that in mind, I feel that the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) should be discussed and, with the greatest respect, I think that you will agree that it is in order so to do.
I associate myself entirely with the view expressed by every hon. Member who has spoken, that the B.B.C. performs a very important public service here and is admired in this country. I also know that it is also admired in such parts of the world, including the United States, which I have had the privilege of visiting. Criticisms can be made of the Corporation—I may offer some myself—but, generally speaking, we are all agreed that it performs a public service of very considerable importance and value.
I want to stress the fact that we must encourage this public service, and must be particularly careful to ensure that it is not encroached upon by private interests. In my view and that of the Association of Municipal Corporations, if permitted to do so it would be encroached upon and utilised by private 1014 interests to the disadvantage not only of the public interest as a whole, but of the service itself.
A notable feature of the increased use of broadcasting is the manner in which public taste is being catered for, while not being bowed down to, by the B.B.C. The Corporation is now providing programmes that are appreciated by the public and is influencing them to enjoy a higher standard than they might ask for themselves. The development of a public taste for what is good is a very important service, and the Corporation is doing a very good job in that direction.
When discussing a subject such as this, we should not stop at being satisfied by the speech made by the Assistant Postmaster-General. It was a very good speech, but she was a little coy about what she and the Government thought of some of the important issues that have been raised by various organisations.
I happen to be an officer of the Association of Municipal Corporations and have, naturally, taken an interest in that organisation's point of view. It has been pointed out that 27 million people are represented by that body and it should be remembered that the local authorities are dealing with the lives of the people in a very intimate sense, particularly in education, entertainment and the provision of amenities. They are in daily contact with the public and they have been lead to the conclusion that the B.B.C. sound broadcasting should be utilised and extended by the use of local stations as much as possible.
Why cannot the Assistant Postmaster-General say this evening, without waiting for the Pilkington report, that she is encouraged by the results that have already been obtained in this direction and that she is prepared to accept, at least on trial—an extensive trial—the proposals made by, for example, the Association of Municipal Corporations? That body says, first, that under no circumstances should sound broadcasting be placed in any hands other than those of the B.B.C., that no private interests should be brought into it and that even the stations erected in the localities—which, they say, should be put up—should not have any pressures brought upon them by business or party political interests.
1015 That, surely, is perfectly fair. The Association also says that such stations should be under the control of the B.B.C., helped by a committee on which the councils would no doubt have representation. Why cannot the Assistant Postmaster-General say, "All right"? I realise that private interests will try to defeat the case the Association has endeavoured to make, but it has, in its evidence, given very reasonable indications of what it thinks is the proper and important thing to do. We should not wait for the Pilkington report when considering this proposal, but deal with the matter now.
The Association says that the local services should be completely in the hands of the B.B.C., that they should be co-ordinated with the national programmes, that they should give a particular slant and pay full and due regard to assisting local activities—drama, music, cultural, and so on—thus enabling the various localities to develop their own talent and display that talent in a manner which would be appreciated and acceptable.
The Association says that in some cases the programmes could be coordinated between various localities while specific activities, such as would be required by a university town, would require an entirely different type of programme, which would be catered for. I see no reason why we should not proceed on these lines now.
I realise that the Assistant Postmaster-General has us at a disadvantage, since all hon. Members agree that the B.B.C. should be encouraged and continue. We are pleased at what it has done in the past. We agree that its activities should be extended, but the hon. Lady has not given us reasons for doing so other than the reason, substantially I admit, that the B.B.C. has justified its existence so far. I expected more vision from the hon. Lady. She has endeavoured, I think, to keep this aspect of the discussion quiet because the Postmaster-General is engaged on important business elsewhere. You should show a little more courage yourself and make an announcement before the debate closes. I am sorry, Sir. When I said "You", I meant, of course, the hon. Lady.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Gentleman is good enough to apologise to me. He has been very helpful.
I hope that he will understand that I have been listening carefully to what he has said. I have not the point clearly in my mind yet. Let us suppose that what he is advocating were to be done, or let us suppose that it were not to be done: how would that be affected by approving or not approving the Licence and Agreement which is before the House? It seems to me that it would be equally possible whether it be approved or not approved. If that be so, it is not an issue which here arises.
§ Sir B. Janner
I said that I was in some difficulty, Mr. Speaker, because of my sympathetic disposition towards the Motion itself, but I can well understand that some hon. Members might say that, unless they had an assurance from the Government that the kind of extended activities I have been advocating were to be accepted, their consideration for what has been done already might be outweighed and they might, as a consequence, feel themselves unable to vote in favour of continuing the Licence and Agreement itself. That is why I am urging the hon. Lady to take into account what we want and tell us about what she has in mind for the future.
I do not want to keep the House much longer, but this is an extremely important matter, which requires careful thought. We ought to ask the Assistant Postmaster-General to give an assurance that she will press ahead with that aspect of the matter. As I have said, the local authorities do not ask, and would not ask, for control. They say that it would not be right even for them to have such control, but what they do say is that they should be consulted and they should be on the committees which would be set up for the purpose of guiding those preparing programmes. In that sphere, they would be helping and serving an extremely useful purpose.
This is, I say again, an important matter which affects the interests of the community as a whole. It affects the specific interest of the localities. After all, people in some localities are not always interested in the general topics forming the subject of broadcast programmes in the usual way. On the other 1017 hand, their particular topics at times would probably be of small interest to people in the country generally. They have specific interests. Let us encourage those interests. Let us hear from the Government tonight that they are prepared at least to proceed on those lines. I do not think that the Pilkington Committee or any member of it would be likely to try to upset what the Government did in that direction.
§ 9.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Francis Noel-Baker (Swindon)
As has been said, we shall have extended debates when the Pilkingtan Committee has reported. In those debates, no doubt, the atmosphere will be less harmonious than it is in the House tonight, and we shall hear the voices of many vested interests and of many hon. Members who do not take the enlightened view about public service broadcasting which we were very glad to hear from the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Sir R. Cary). If I may say so, I very much welcomed his speech and listened with the greatest respect, interest and agreement to every word he said. At the time when commercial television was being introduced, there was a very powerful lobby in the House working in the opposite direction.
That lobby is now working for an extension of the commercial principle into sound broadcasting and into local broadcasting in particular. Many hon. Members are actively connected with business interests of various kinds which are trying to prepare the ground for the time When the Government have to decide about the report of the Pilkington Committee. I think it strange that not one of those hon. Members who take a different view is present in the Chamber this evening.
I wish to say a few words about local broadcasting. I hope you will consider that this subject is in order, Mr. Speaker. After all, if the Licence we are discussing were not approved, it would not be possible for the B.B.C. to continue broadcasting of any kind or to engage in local radio broadcasts. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew), I believe that local radio has tremendous possibilities. It may be one of the ways in which a new and vivid interest can be developed in local government, local politics and local affairs. 1018 It would be valuable in breaking the monopoly which exists in many towns, including my constituency, in which one local newspaper is the only source of local news which people have. If that newspaper wishes to take a biassed, distorted or incomplete view about a local problem, there is nothing to answer it back.
As I have said, I think that wonderful opportunities could be provided by local radio. But anyone who has been to North America lately will agree, I think, that there are also hideous dangers, illustrated by local radio overseas. I hope that the Postmaster-General and the Assistant Postmaster-General will look carefully and closely at commercial local broadcasting in the United States and Canada. It provides a lamentable spectacle of a succession of cheap musical programmes conducted by disc jockeys and interrupted by lavish advertising and a few very inadequate news bulletins. We do not want anything of that kind in this country.
I hope that the Assistant Postmaster-General will consider carefully the various interests now advocating commercial local radio, in particular the activities of the newspaper proprietors who are spending a good deal of time and money on public relations operations, trying to work for the time when they will control local radio.
I have referred to the dangers of a monopolistic situation.In my constituency, we have a newspaper—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I am sorry to keep interrupting. It is not my wish but these debates have been for a long time difficult to keep in order. Would not these independent activities be dependent on something other than the Licence before the House? That is the difficulty of this kind of debate.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
We are in a difficulty, Mr. Speaker. My understanding is that we are discussing the Licence governing the activities of the B.B.C. and that that Licence would permit it to conduct local broadcasting. Indeed, it has been carrying on pilot trials of local broadcasting. If the House were not to approve the Licence, the B.B.C. would not be in a position to carry on this activity. However, if we approve it, it would be possible for the Corporation to do so. If 1019 I am in error, no doubt you, Mr. Speaker, or the Assistant Postmaster-General will correct me.
§ Mr. Speaker
That is quite right. Discussion of anything governed by this Licence and Agreement is clearly in order. The difficulty which my predecessors and I have felt is that what we cannot discuss is some activity which would be dependent, not on this Licence, but on something else. That is the only point of distinction that I ask the House to recognise.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I will conclude my remarks on this point, Mr. Speaker, by saying that I hope very much that during the lifetime of the present Licence, and pending a final decision when the Charter comes up for review, the Government will not do anything to hamper the experiments which the B.B.C. is conducting in developing local sound radio but will permit it to go further and to start one or two local public service radio stations on a trial basis.
I wish to comment briefly on a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East on whether or not public service broadcasting is more democratic than commercial broadcasting, because commercial broadcasting is getting larger audiences and therefore is giving the people what they want. My hon. Friend dealt very well with the important point that to deprive the many minority interests—and all of us have a number of different minority interests which do not always coincide—of programmes appealing to those interests is the antithesis of democracy. I have always felt sceptical when hearing advocates of commercial television—I heard Sir Robert Fraser make this point not very long ago—arguing that the commercial networks are giving the people what they really want. The fact is that the commercial networks are giving the people what the advertisers want them to have and which they are paying the commercial network to provide them with.
Although we have lately seen what some people have called the "Pilkington programmes" going on to commercial television networks, programmes of a higher standard, we think in anticipation of the findings of the Pilkington Committee in order to impress that Committee, it remains true that, by and large, 1020 commercial television is providing programmes containing the lowest common denominator of appeal and which appeal to the widest possible audience. That is what the advertisers want to put their message across.
Like my hon. Friend, I am delighted to see that at long last, after many hesitations and much too much caution, the B.B.C. is to put on consumer programmes. I am sorry that it has not shown more courage and has not done it sooner, and I very much hope that it will not be too scared at the reactions which it is bound to get from vested interests when the programmes begin. The only thing it has to do is to make certain of the right balance between the participants taking part in the programme, and everybody in the general public will expect that it will devise programmes from a perfectly independent point of view. Both television and sound radio have a tremendous job to do, a job part of which is very inadequately and very dishonestly done by commercial advertising at present, in presenting new goods and services to the public in an objective way. I hope there will be a great extension of these consumer programmes into sound radio and into commercial television.
I should very much like to see not only goods and services discussed in an impartial and balanced way on these various media, but also analyses of advertisements appearing on commercial television. I should also like to see the I.T.V. required to conduct a programme every day analysing the advertisements appearing on their screens in that day.
I now turn for a moment to the overseas services, to which the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade) referred in his speech. Like him, I am very sad about the cuts made in the overseas services of the Corporation, although I am bound to say that perhaps in the case of Europe there is something to be said for limiting the number of languages in which the Corporation transmits. I doubt very much whether there is or ever was a very wide audience for programmes other than news programmes in some of the more obscure languages current on the Continent of Europe. I think that listeners in Greece, Bulgaria, Rumania, Hungary 1021 or Finland, who are interested in listening to the B.B.C., are mainly interested in getting news which they know to be objective and honest, and that nearly all of them who are sufficiently interested to wish to listen to the B.B.C. will speak either English, French or German, or, possibly, in some parts of the Continent, Russian. Therefore, I very much hope that while during the lifetime of the Licence which we are proposing to extend there may be some pruning of the languages used for overseas broadcasts, and though there might well be some pruning of the entertainment content of these programmes, we shall see an extension of their total output, and particular attention given to news bulletins in those languages which are generally spoken throughout the world.
I am very glad to see a new development of a French langauge programme for Africa, so that the B.B.C. is now catering for the African Continent in the two main European languages spoken there—English and French—as well as Swahili. Obviously, it is not possible for the B.B.C. to broadcast in all the languages spoken on the Continent of Europe, and it would be even more difficult and much more expensive to broadcast in all the many languages and dialects spoken on the Continent of Africa. But the new French language B.B.C. service for Africa has done a useful and effective job in the former French colonial territories.
Like everyone who has so far spoken in the debate I congratulate the B.B.C. upon having produced for many years the finest public service broadcasting system in the world. I am glad that we are to extend this Licence and I very much hope that when it comes to an end there will be a new Government in power which will take a very different look at sound broadcasting and at television.
§ 9.56 p.m.
§ Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
I would echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) has just said and I hope that we shall have a Labour Government to implement the new Licence in the middle or at the end of 1964 for, I presume, both the B.B.C. and commercial television.
1022 I hope that the B.B.C. will be courageous in the consumer programmes which it is to introduce shortly, because undoubtedly the Consumers' Association in its monthly publication Which? has done a great deal to enable consumers to have some reliable reports on objects which are bought every day by large sections of the population. We are given an objective analysis of these goods, which are often very costly, on which the consumer can rely, and the great increase in the number of members of the Association is an indication of the great need for that kind of service. I look forward to the B.B.C. developing that side of its programmes.
I have an enormous appreciation of the work of the B.B.C. since it was first instituted. My only complaint about it is that it supports the "Establishment" far too much. As one who was born in a worker's home of two rooms I am quite aware of the general assumptions of the Establishment that they really are Britain in themselves. The B.B.C. tends too much to support that general idea.
I have been a critic of the B.B.C., when it has been necessary, from time to time even in the House. I am glad that of the new satellite transmitters which the B.B.C. is now erecting we shall have one at Redruth in West Cornwall which I and many others told the B.B.C. would be necessary when it set up the radio transmitter on North Hessary Tor some years ago. I am proud of the West Region of the B.B.C. because I think that it has been a truly regional authority. It has insisted from the beginning on dealing with the countryside as one of the major interests in the West Region, as indeed it is. The region's greatest industry, farming, has been given full scope in West Regional programmes. It has now developed the pioneer project of local broadcasting which has been much discussed in this debate. I shall say no more about it except to welcome the initiative displayed by Mr. Frank Gillard and those who work with him in the West Region.
I know the West Region, and I want to say how proud we throughout the West Country are of the natural history unit services which do programmes for the B.B.C.'s whole network. Some of 1023 the programmes are absolutely outstanding. I think that those who saw the film of wild life in the New Forest must have been amazed at the skill and persistence of those who compiled that programme. As one who is not really musical, I can also say how much the music broadcast by the B.B.C. has done to widen my life. I feel that I personally owe a great debt to the B.B.C. on that score—one which must be shared by hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions. I hope that it will continue with those high cultural standards which we have come to expect from it.
Finally, I believe that the B.B.C. is entitled to keep the whole of the licence revenue. It is monstrous for the Treasury to withhold a quarter of the revenue in order to ease taxation. The B.B.C. has shown what magnificent work can be done even on a limited budget, and I feel that the times demand that it should have the full revenue, because we can rely upon it to make fine use of the money.
§ 10.2 p.m.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)
I hope that the B.B.C. will not be complacent about the turn which this debate is taking, but it is none the worse a debate because tributes are being paid to the B.B.C. I want to express my own gratitude to the B.B.C. for all that it has done for Britain in my lifetime. I speak as a radio amateur going back to the days of crystals, cat's whiskers and 2LO—and, indeed, to the days before the radio valve was invented and we had iron filings as an elementary kind of valve.
I speak as a lover of music, as one who regards education as being about the most important problem of the free world, and as one who regards the democratic way of life as the most precious thing on this planet. In this age of mass media, radio is one of the most powerful. When the social history of this period comes to be written, if democracy survives and creates the worth-while society which it has the power to create but has not yet brought into being, I believe that the B.B.C. will be written in that history as having played a not unimportant part in the process.
1024 I think that the present generation is batter-informed, has a wider range of interests and of hobbies, and a wider cultural background largely because of the B.B.C. At any rate, it is to a considerable extent due to the work of the B.B.C. But for the B.B.C., millions of our countrymen would never have heard a symphony, a concerto, or an opera. We are the most inadequately provided country in the world in the matter of opportunities of hearing live opera. But for the B.B.C. very few people outside London would ever have heard an opera. We should never have heard the voices of great English men and women in politics, in literature, in entertainment. Many of us would have been deprived of a real contact with outstanding geniuses in all walks of life had it not been for the propagation of their voices through the ether by radio.
In sport; I think, for example, of cricket as a cricket enthusiast. Those of us who struggled in 1921 with difficulty to get into one match of the series when the Australians wiped the floor with the English Test team, until the Hampshire cricketers Mead and Tennyson saved us towards the end of the summer, can contrast that with the fact that cricket enthusiasts today are able to hear first-hand accounts of Test matches taking place in Australia, and actually see them taking place in our own country. What goes for cricket goes for every sport in the world.
We get one of the best reports of Parliamentary debates. I would not say the best, because the prestige newspapers give similar comprehensive and objective reports, but the range of people who hear the day-by-day summary as given by the B.B.C. is perhaps larger than that of those who read the prestige newspapers. More seriously, it bound us together in the war years. The effect of radio in those years was probably about the most vital influence in keeping Britain spiritually alive during the war. Last Sunday we were at Cape Canaveral. Some months ago we heard the Lunik cease to make a noise as it arrived on the moon. It is impossible to say what the B.B.C. has done for sick folk in hospital, for old folk in the evening of their lives.
Radio, the Press and TV face the same problem—the quest for popularity, 1025 the quest for obtaining the largest audience or the largest circulation. Like every other mass media, the B.B.C. had to ask itself whether it would take the lowest common denominator in every field with which it dealt and play to that lowest common denominator. It had to decide whether to adopt the attitude which Lord Northcliffe took to the Press at the beginning of the century, saying, "Here is a new elementary educated population; we will give it just what it wants; indeed, just beneath what it wants." It had to decide whether to follow the line of over-simplification paralleled in the newspapers by the headline treatment of news. It had to decide whether to follow the line of sensationalism, of pursuing persons rather than ideas, of making all its entertainment light entertainment, of seeking merely novelty.
Those were the lines which the B.B.C. might have followed from the start. It could have gone that way. It is to the credit of Reith as first Director-General of the B.B.C. and the team which he built round him that it sought from the beginning not to pursue the line that the popular Press has pursued. This was partly due to the greatness of Reith himself and partly to the quality of the team which he built round him and which has continued through the history of the B.B.C., but also—and on this side of the House we believe this to be fundamental—because there was no financial interest at stake in achieving what one might call "popularity".
This is not a question of intellectual snobbery. It is a question of being anti-entertainment. The B.B.C. could not have survived had it not been popular in the real sense of the word. But, to some extent at any rate, its aim has been to be just a little ahead of the common denominator rather than just a little beneath popular taste. It decided that it would provide good entertainment and magnificent news coverage. It has provided an interchange on current affairs which has been probably the freest interchange of public opinion on the radio in the whole world. There have been discussions on literature and music and art at all levels, first-class sports coverage and, in the Third Programme, one of the finest minority programmes in the whole 1026 world on radio, equalled only by some of the VHF stations in some of the great cities of America.
I believe, and I think this is worth saying tonight, that the standard that the B.B.C. has set itself has to some extent influenced commercial television in this country. This is not a question of personnel only. There are dedicated programme-makers on I.T.V. just as there are on B.B.C. Anyone who has been to the studios of either the B.B.C. or I.T.V. finds great radio folk at work in all fields. There are first-class programmes on I.T.V. Some of the best programmes on commercial television hold their own in any field with the best programmes on B.B.C.
I believe that one of the great achievements of the B.B.C. is that it has prevented commercial television in this country from following the path of the worst commercial radio and commercial television in America. How bad that can be only those who have seen it or appeared on it, as many of us have done, know.
There have been no forces at work in the B.B.C. other than the forces of radio entertainment and radio education. There has been no commercial angle to all the work that it has done. The B.B.C. may have made mistakes. I would only say to anyone who criticises the programme-makers, who have to provide a varied range of entertainment for 50 million people, that there is no one in this House who could provide on his own radiogram or tape recorder a three-hour programme which would entertain half a dozen of his friends without annoying some of them during the three hours. To devise programmes which would please everybody at every moment is beyond the power of anybody. It makes mistakes. It may have the faults of which my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) has spoken.
It is attacked from the Right and the Left. When it makes a programme in the centre, it is accused by the Right wing of being too Left and by the Left wing of being too Right. It has handled almost every controversy in the country. It may make mistakes but they are mistakes of judgment and not mistakes in 1027 which some powerful vested interest is at work to counter the best in the interests of radio or television.
Its competitor, commercial television, on the other hand, must have as its basic aim the securing of the largest number of viewers. If not, the advertisers would refuse to advertise or, as has been done in the present strike, want to cut down the price they are paying for the advertising space.
It is worse in America. I remember seeing a commercial programme in Radio City, New York, where, at the end of the first act of a musical comedy, the curtains were drawn. The leading actor walked out and proceeded to advertise the Oldsmobile car because the Oldsmobile Company was partly financing the show. I remember a programme in America where the political commentator after commenting on the fall of Malenkov turned from his political subject to advertise tooth brushes which were on sale in the store nearby. None of this has occurred on our own commercial television. But always the force is at work to seize the greatest mass of audience for the advertiser and obviously the same force is at work there as is at work on the proprietors of the News of the World in their search for 6 million readers each Sunday.
It is easy to exaggerate, but frankly I do not care what happens to grown-ups. I do not care what kind of entertainment, or what kind of fare, is set before the adults of this country. I do, however, worry about children. I worry about youth. I suggest to the House that a society which feeds the minds of its youth entirely on cultural pap and all the lightest fare will certainly not in the years ahead win the battle for democracy and the preservation of a free society. It will not do so by the cheapening of humour, the cheapening of pathos, the cheapening of tragedy, the pulling out of all subleties from every problem, the presenting to the British public of every problem as black and white—whereas all problems are grey—the absence of shades, and the emphasis on violence. I think of my three-year-old daughter at Christmas standing before the television set rapt with wonder, eager, and hoping, and then, as the programme, a children's 1028 one, moved towards violence running away from what should have been an entertainment for her to hide under a chair. I believe that the B.B.C. has to some extent preserved us from this.
Anyone who compares from the violence point of view, from the linking of sex with violence, American commercial television with British commercial television, knows that partly because of Parliamentary control I.T.V. has been preserved from the excesses of commercial radio in America.
The B.B.C. in its quest for popularity has had to imitate some of the things which I.T.V. puts on in its programmes, lest it should appear that it is losing viewers to the I.T.V. audience. If the B.B.C. has influenced I.T.V., the converse is true, and the influence of I.T.V. on the B.B.C. is not good. The contrast is marked when we turn to sound. Radio Luxembourg is not really a competitor for the B.B.C. programmes, and, on the whole, in sound the B.B.C. has pursued a way laid down by its founding fathers.
Looking ahead, I hope that we shall decide that the limit of commercial television and radio has been reached, and that the best way in which we can express what we feel about what the B.B.C. has done as we renew this Charter is to renew our determination that, whatever further developments take place in radio and television, it shall, whilst not necessarily under the control of the people to whom we are giving this Charter—perhaps a parallel body—still be under the control of people whose only object will be the furtherance of good radio and television and not some commercial or other financial interest.
As one who has loved and admired the B.B.C. all his life, I am proud of the opportunity to express tonight my tribute to what it stands for.
§ 10.19 p.m.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)
I should not like it to be thought that the sympathy and admiration for the B.B.C. comes from only one side of the House. Most of us who have seen and heard the B.B.C. for many years are filled with admiration for the work that it does.
On the whole, we manage to establish institutions of outstanding merit, and I believe that we can, without any false 1029 claim, say that in the B.B.C. we have the finest institution of its kind in the world. That is not to say that it is without fault. I rather quarrel with what the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) said. I think that the influence of commercial television—to which I was at first opposed—has been beneficial in making "Auntie" a little more amenable than she otherwise might have been.
One programme which strikes me as outstanding and which, as far as I am aware, has not received any tribute this evening, is "Radio Newsreel". Surely there is no other programme of its kind in the world that comes anywhere near its quality and comprehensiveness. I should not like to guess what sort of money it costs, but I know that I should not like to have to pay the cable and telephone bills. It is obviously an expensive programme, but it is outstanding, and goes out each day in five or six different forms. It is a contribution to this country's outlook on the world.
In agreeing to this Licence, as I am sure we shall all do very freely, there is reason to look at the administrative costs inside the B.B.C. Organisations which obtain their funds in the way in which the B.B.C. does are apt to get a little cosy, and are certainly apt to get a little over-staffed, administratively. Little empires are built up. People are employed in the administrative field and are given assistants in cases where the numbers could be reduced. I should like the B.B.C. to take a look at its administrative fat. A certain amount of pruning might take place with advantage.
With that qualification I assent, as I am sure we all do, to the granting of this Licence, and I once again express my admiration for a magnificent British institution.
§ 10.22 p.m.
§ Mr. G. M. Thomson (Dundee, East)
I do not wish to absolve the B.B.C. from all criticism, but I would not have thought that the criticism that it over-employed people and was too bureaucratic had a great deal of substance in it. In public relations and in advertising itself to the public the B.B.C. employs far fewer people than do its competitors in commercial television.
1030 It is a fortunate and perhaps rather odd coincidence that this debate should be taking place on the day of publication of the B.B.C.'s Annual Report, its Handbook, which has an unusually gaudy cover this year. It must be rather heartbreaking for the cohorts of highly-paid publicity officers in commercial concerns who advertise themselves day in and day out by means of expensive and glossy brochures to find this dull and earnest compendiary being delivered by accident on the very day that it can be used to the maximum purpose in a debate in the House.
I now join with other hon. Members in paying tribute to the work which the B.B.C. has done over the forty years of its history. I approach this matter not with an uncritical feeling for the B.B.C., as such. Indeed, I am not in favour of a B.B.C. monopoly of broadcasting or television in principle. I am strongly in favour of the public service principle in broadcasting, and there are various ways of working that out. Like others, however, I greatly admire the B.B.C. I am astonished at the way in which it has adapted itself and its sound radio programmes to the tremendous growth of television.
I had thought that I was one of a few who had been discriminating enough to discover the value of sound radio programmes in the last year or two, and it was with great dismay that I found from the Handbook that I am merely one of 24 million people. What the B.B.C. has done, with tremendous ingenuity, is to show that in many fields sound programmes have advantages over television programmes.
I think of orchestral music. I must confess that I find myself distracted by an orchestra appearing on a television screen. I would far rather listen to it on the old "steam radio". Very often I consider that radio variety is much more entertaining, stimulating and enjoyable than variety on television. Despite shows like the "Black and White Minstrels", the "Billy Cotton Show" and others, I am still a "fan" of "Take it from Here." I do not think that television can ever do that sort of thing in the same way that sound radio can.
Then of course the news bulletins are one of the outstanding contributions of 1031 the B.B.C. to our public life. When speaking recently to a member of another place we discussed the newspapers which we read. I was somewhat astonished when this well-informed and active man in public affairs said that he was busy with his own work and could not find time to read any but his own local newspaper. Apart from that, he relied for his general background news on the B.B.C. news bulletins and commentaries.
I suspected that this was an exaggeration, but recently I had the experience of being isolated abroad a ship and having no communication with the outside world except with the B.B.C. overseas service, and by listening to the overseas news bulletins and radio newsreel, to which the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) paid such a deserved tribute. It was possible to keep oneself remarkably well-informed simply on the basis of these services of the B.B.C., and I consider it a very remarkable institution.
There will be many hon. Members who will share the views expressed about the cuts being made by the Government in the amount of money available to the B.B.C. for its overseas broadcasting services. I had plenty of opportunity, when in Africa, to study at first hand the effectiveness of these programmes. It seemed to me that excellent programmes were being spoilt by the parsimony of a Government who were unwilling to give to the B.B.C. the kind of funds necessary to make sure that the programmes were broadcast at the right sort of strength and at the best time to be most effective and to compete effectively with the much more raucous and propagandist voices to be heard on the ether.
I commend the attention of the Assistant Postmaster-General to the lesson which may be drawn from some of the figures in this Handbook, particularly those given for the hours of external broadcasting per week for the B.B.C. and for the United Arab Republic which she will find side by side. Fortunately for his country, the B.B.C. is still just a little ahead of the United Arab Republic in the "league table" given on page 90 of the Handbook. In 1950, when there was another kind of Government in this country, the B.B.C. was engaging in 643 hours per week of external broad 1032 casting. Ten years later, in 1960, the figure had dropped to 589. In 1950, the United Arab Republic was not engaging in any external broadcasting at all. In 1951, the figure was 28 hours per week. In 1953, it was 86. In 1958, it was 254, and in 1960 it was 336 hours per week.
If this trend continues, and the Government are not willing to give the B.B.C. more money for this essential national service on behalf of this country—I would say an international service in terms of setting an international standard of objective comment on world affairs—we shall find that next year the United Arab Republic will be above us in the "league table" and that, gradually, we shall slip backwards.
As others have done, I should like to commend to the Assistant Postmaster-General the idea that in the meantime under the terms of the present Licence we are extending, the B.B.C. should be given every encouragement to extend experiments in local broadcasting. Already, it has done very good work there, including work in my constituency in Dundee. Only a few months ago I was somewhat astonished when some people rang me up and asked for comments on a local issue for a local broadcasting programme. I asked what local programme it was and was told that they were experimenting for the B.B.C. in running a completely local programme for a day. They wanted to find what could be done and how useful it could be. This has been done in other parts of the country. Local broadcasting could have a tremendous effect in revitalising local life and culture.
I took part recently, in Dundee, in an amateur local broadcasting station programme. It sends out over a Post Office line programmes to patients in hospitals in Dundee, programmes with local colour and sometimes commentaries on local football matches. What is remarkable about this is that when hospital audiences can get the Home Service Programme, the Light Programme, and see on large screens commercial and B.B.C. television, it is the local programme, with local colour, which has an appeal which makes them switch on to amateurs doing voluntary work instead of to the highly paid professionals. If this were done properly and professionally local broadcasting programmes could be tremendously useful.
1033 Coming from sound broadcasting to television, it also seems that the B.B.C. has shown more public-spiritedness in terms of meeting the needs of people in the district I represent. The Assistant Postmaster-General will remember that I went to talk to her about the inadequacy of television reception in the Dundee area, both from commercial and B.B.C. television. So far, only the B.B.C. thanks to her efforts, has "got cracking" and is producing some results. I do not take the view that commercial television has not performed a service in this country. I think that it has helped to keep the B.B.C. on its toes and perhaps to make it do some things, some desirable things, which it would not otherwise have done.
The B.B.C. suffers from a stuffiness and timidity, an excessive fear of the Postmaster-General or any of us who might decide to ask a Question. The B.B.C. is far too establishment-minded and frightened of upsetting the traditions of this country. Commercial television often has a refreshing frankness and irreverence. It also has a lot of other things which are a high price to pay for these new qualities, but we can adapt ourselves to the advertisements. I am becoming highly skilled at getting up quickly when an advertisement comes on and going out of the room to make the cocoa. My children watch the advertisements and very often sing the advertisement songs. When in my car they sing "The Esso Sign Means Happy Motoring", and I always look at my guage and seek a Shell petrol station to fill up.
Before I get out of order, I wish to make the point that the commercial companies with these vast sums of money behind them have not made adequate use of them in the public interest. I think, for instance, of Scottish Television. The owner of Scottish, Television, Mr. Roy Thomson, made the notorious remark that having ownership of this network was like having a licence to print one's own pound notes.
I do not think anybody thinks that Scottish Television has made an adequate contribution to Scottish culture, or made an effort to spend some of its lavish profits on promoting Scottish programmes. Commercial TV has spent its profits on bombarding hon. Members, and no doubt people of influence in other parts of the country, with glossy publicity designed to win us 1034 over on the issue of the future shape of broadcasting in this country which is involved in extending this Licence. It has tried to convince us that commercial television should have some further extension.
This debate will have served a useful purpose if it has done nothing more than allow the House of Commons to compensate for the money that has been spent by these commercial companies in this expensive publicity. Time cannot be bought in the House of Commons. It is a tribute to the place the B.B.C. has won for itself among our national institutions that this long debate tonight has been a unanimous debate in support of the B.B.C.
The debate has been unanimous for two reasons. The first is that the Government back benches have been almost completely empty during most of the debate.
§ Mr. Thomson
There have been many more Members on this side than on the other side during most of the evening. However, that was not the point I wanted to make.
My point was that on this side of the House there are no opponents of the public service standards of the B.B.C., whereas it is well known that on the other side of the House there are many hon. Members who hold a point of view very different from that which has been expressed tonight. When the Pilkington Committee has finally reported and we debate its report, we shall no doubt find that the Government back benches are very full with hon. Members who will be very anxious to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, or that of Mr. Speaker.
The second reason why the debate has been completely unanimous is that the Assistant Postmaster-General has been inhibited from expressing any point of view on behalf of her Department. This is understandable in the present state of the game, though perhaps she misjudged the mood of the House in giving us quite such a technical speech this evening and not anticipating that there would be a desire by hon. Members on both sides to raise the wider issues involved in the extension of the Licence and pay a well-deserved tribute to the work of the B.B.C.
§ 10.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Laurence Pavitt (Willesden, West)
The House is indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester, West (Mr. Loughlin), who has enabled this debate to take place. In November, when the Question was almost put without debate, with a quick reflex action he jumped to his feet and saved the day. This debate has been very useful, in spite of the fact that in the main it has been one of acceptance of the proposal before the House and one in which many bouquets have been handed to the B.B.C. The Assistant Postmaster-General has been able to give a little curtain raiser to the big debate which most hon. Members have foreshadowed. She lifted the curtain only slightly, but she said sufficient to make us realise that when the big debate takes place it will need to be a very long debate indeed. I welcome that. As one who conducted a good deal of study on a previous Pilkington Report, I have always regretted the fact that the House has never had an opportunity to discuss it. I am gratified to know that the next Pilkington Report will receive the attention of the House.
A number of hon. Members have made points about the extension of the Licence with a view to B.B.C. services being extended to local broadcasting. For that reason alone the debate has been worth while, because the team at work at all levels in the B.B.C. who must have been doing a considerable amount of work on this project and who. as my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) mentioned, have been conducting experiments in his constituency, will be glad to have received the straws 'n the wind to indicate the opinion of the House of Commons on this project. The voices heard in the House tonight have been wholeheartedly in favour of the continuation of that experiment.
I believe that such a scheme would help to restore the balance of a position in which the nation tends to be dominated by London. I speak as a London Member of Parliament, and it is very difficult to see how a local service can apply equally, for example, to my own constituency in Willesden, in Ilford and, perhaps, in Enfield when, in London, we do not necessarily share the same 1036 sense of local community and purpose. A scheme of that nature, however, would balance that terrific concentration on the Metropolis by giving to such places as Manchester, Birmingham, Hull and others some feeling of participation in affairs. The Corporation did a marvellous job with its "The Archers" programme by linking up the town and the country, so giving those living in the towns some idea of what goes on in the countryside. I am sure that the Corporation will take due note of what has been said here tonight on the subject of local broadcasting services.
Another matter on which hon. Members have touched, and one which will be useful to the B.B.C. when examining its future, is the consumers' programme. I hope that in extending that programme, the Corporation will be just as bold as the Consumers' Association and Which? have been. As the House knows, I am particularly interested in health matters. I recall that the Minister of Health made it quite plain that it is national policy to discourage young people from smoking. In the Report recently issued by the Minister of Health there is a full page showing how injurious to health cigarette smoking is. It shows that in Jersey, where cigarettes are only 1s. 10d. a packet and consumption is high, the lung cancer rate is the highest in Europe. Yet we have the commercial side broadcasting to the young people every quarter of an hour that if they want the girl of their dreams and if they want to appear manly, and all the rest of it, they must smoke cigarettes.
The new programme that the Corporation is putting forward can do a good deal to counter the health anxieties that are being exploited on commercial programmes, with people being told that this or the other analgesic will largely cure their 'flu in five minutes or prevent them feeling one degree under. From the consumers' point of view, the new B.B.C. programme can be of considerable service to the nation and I wish the Corporation more power to its elbow.
I know that the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) will forgive my saying that I cannot accept the slight 1037 slur in his label of "Old Auntie B.B.C." That kind of tradition dies hard. It was common to affix that derogatory title twenty years ago, and we have a job now to get rid of it. Nevertheless, I challenge anybody to look at the new B.B.C. Television Centre at Shepherd's Bush and then talk about an old-fashioned Corporation—
§ Mr. Shepherd
The hon. Member might, perhaps, concede the possibility that the term "Auntie" may be a term of affection.
§ Mr. Pavitt
I accept that. The Assistant Postmaster-General, too, could be a little bolder in claiming with pride all the research that has been and is being done. In some spheres her own Department has led the world, and the B.B.C. has done a marvellous job from which other nations and even I.T.V. have benefited. I should be interested to hear—though not, of course, tonight—about the new work being done on orbital broadcasting. A number of scientific magazines have forecast that with the various satellites now floating about in orbit there is a possibility of getting simultaneous broadcasts, so that while the 100 yards is being run in Tokyo we shall see it in London. The B.B.C. is well advanced in these matters and we should be rather proud of the way in which this publicly-owned service is so up-to-date in matters of research. The Postmaster-General should take every opportunity to blow his own trumpet in this matter. We should indeed be proud of the B.B.C. and more people should know that.
The splendid help the Corporation has given to the under-developed countries should be emphasised. It has pioneered a number of advances in sound radio but it has not been greedy, for the Corporation has been prepared to share its knowledge, technicians and "know-how". One of the most recent examples of this is in the newly independent country of Nigeria. The Nigerian Broadcasting Service owes a great deal to the way in which it has been able to lean on the B.B.C. in its early stages and develop its techniques.
A more recent example of this pioneering work is some of the experimental work going on with the "can 1038 ning" of programmes which give newly developing broadcasting services in the under-developed territories some of the "know-how" in presenting and producing programmes. This work has not been just the donation of a recorded programme but the elements to help the local people make their own. The Corporation has done excellent work in these matters and we can be proud of this, especially when one considers—as my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) pointed out—its financial limitations and the large area it covers.
Although this is a non-controversial subject and there have not been any verbal clashes or any great fireworks, this interim debate before the Pilkington Committee reports has been useful, for it has given us an opportunity to express to those within the B.B.C.—and I am referring not only to the Director-General, but to all of those who go to make up a team, including engineers and technicians in that institution—the respect that will always be held for them as long as they remain as imaginative and forward looking as they have been in recent years.
§ 10.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)
I should, perhaps, be pleased that I am possibly one of the last speakers tonight and that the B.B.C. may not report what I have to say, for I may, on behalf of an area in which the B.B.C. seems to register almost no sound, have to introduce a jarring note into this general round of praise, almost without reservation, for the B.B.C.
Yes, the people in my constituency have some very serious reservations about the B.B.C. I am rather sorry in a way that the Postmaster-General is not here. I am not suggesting that the hon. Lady the Assistant Postmaster-General is not an adequate substitute, but one begins to suspect that the Postmaster-General himself has begun to work to rule. Is that the explanation? The reason why I regret his absence is that he is, perhaps, more familiar with the questions I wish to raise because I have discussed them with him.
I have listened to hon. Members on both sides of the House praising the B.B.C. and, of course, I have nothing 1039 to say to detract from that praise. The Corporation deserves it for its work over the years and, indeed, we have reason to be proud of it and of its service to us and to other countries. I am not, therefore, going to criticise the general quality of the service or the service generally.
This is, after all, a small country territorially and it seems unreasonable that, in 1962, the B.B.C. has not yet overcome the technical and financial difficulties of providing even good sound services for the whole of the country. It seems really incredible that, with all the technical resources at its command and all the financial resources which ought to be at its command—though that is not altogether within its control—there should still be areas where it is not possible and it will not be possible for years to come, not before 1963, 1964 or 1965, to have even a reasonable sound service. I am not talking about VHF; I am talking about ordinary sound reception of the Scottish Home Service in the north-west Highlands and Islands. I have apologised for introducing a jarring note. The B.B.C. does not introduce a note at all. That is perfectly true in many areas in the North-West where people are not able to enjoy the ordinary services which are enjoyed elsewhere.
This is a shame on the British Broadcasting Corporation. It is even more a shame on the Government for having failed to give the Corporation the financial wherewithal to go ahead with the job of extending good sound reception, VHF reception and television to the outermost islands and further peninsulas of the British Isles. We do not blame the B.B.C. for it altogether, The B.B.C. has been raring to go for a long time. It likes to have plenty of time and plenty of notice so that it may experiment a little with the equipment necessary for the provision of services to island and mountainous areas. I blame the Treasury and the Postmaster-General, who must share responsibility for it with other Ministers. Therefore, if I am critical, I have good reason to be, and I should be betraying the trust of my constituents if I were not and did not introduce a jarring note.
1040 If it is of any help to my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt), I will remind him that it was the Cockney poet William Blake who said something to the effect that it was easy to sing on the wagon loaded with corn and to teach patience to the afflicted. That is not exactly right, but he will understand what I mean. Most people have the wagon well loaded with corn, whereas we, unfortunately, are the afflicted. All we are offered is advice to be patient for a good deal longer. while other areas enjoy good reception and alternative television services, looking forward to colour television, enjoying VHF reception, yet still finding a margin of criticism of the B.B.C.
One can readily understand ordinary people who live in the North-West or in the Islands feeling aggrieved when they hear of demands made in the House for all the luxuries of a television and radio civilisation, if that be the word. and for additional facilities and luxury services, while they are still without ordinary basic services of sound which others have taken for granted and enjoyed for generations.
We are not whining. We pay in that area exactly the same licence fee for B.B.C. services. It is a very modest fee, and excellent value is given for it. However, if someone is paying the same basic fee, he expects to get the same service and have a right to it. If that were our only disability, perhaps we might he able to treat it with more equanimity, but, unfortunately, we also pay the same Road Fund licence fee for motor vehicles which are used in an area closely circumscribed territorially by the boundaries of the Islands. One still pays the same fee in both cases yet in neither case does one have the value for it that people have in the rest of the country where there is free scope for enjoyment and use of the services. In many respects, people who are taxpayers and citizens and who have every peace-time and wartime citizen obligation feel that they are badly cut out and denied the services which are taken for granted elsewhere and for which they have nevertheless to pay the same fee.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. Thomson) and other hon. Members paid tribute to the enterprise of the B.B.C. in experimenting with 1041 local services. This, of course, may be quite a large part of the answer to our problems in areas like the Highlands of Scotland and parts of rural England and rural Wales. It may be a large part of the answer for those of us who are concerned very much about our social problems and closely associated economic problems, problems of depopulation, drift, and so on. I believe that for the younger people especially good sound radio and television services have an even greater part to play in the outlying areas where the temptation is always to drift away to the places with the bright lights, amenities and facilities of all kinds for the enjoyment of leisure. Leisure itself can, in abundance, become a depopulator of areas where people are conscious of these services being provided elsewhere, for there is a temptation to emigrate to those better-served places.
One of the reasons why the B.B.C. has not felt fully able to work upon the provision of services in what are, or were, the most difficult areas is the fact that it is robbed of part of its revenue for reasons which are hard to justify any larger. I support the representations made by my hon. Friends about the B.B.C.'s cash. At the end of the day, it is the Treasury and the Government as a whole who are to blame rather than the B.B.C. I do not want the B.B.C. to have to bear the brunt of the criticism, because I know it wants to finish the job and provide complete sound and television coverage throughout the British Isles, including the outlying islands.
There has been a suggestion that the B.B.C. has not only generally shown neither fear nor favour but has been completely impartial in its services. That is true of the news service and of most of the comments on the news. But I am not quite so sure that at times the B.B.C. does not tend to watch and follow trends in policy and then assume that those trends represent policy or the best and only policy possible. It has been my observation in recent months—and I may be wrong, for it may be bias on my part—that in connection with discussion of the Common Market there has been a great deal more time devoted and opportunity given to the arguments for rather than to the argu 1042 ments against. Perhaps I should like to see it a lot more the other way—I do not deny that.
I do not want to introduce a lengthy argument on this point. It is a highly topical and controversial subject. There is, however, just the danger from time to time of a subject of that kind being treated by the B.B.C., once the Government have announced their policy, as if that were the only possible policy that could be adopted. The B.B.C. at times tends to favour the Establishment and its case, and, indeed, the Government's case. That view of mine may or may not be correct, but it represents my feeling on the matter.
It is also possible sometimes to say things in Gaelic that one cannot say in English on the radio and get away with It. I expect that the same thing applies to Welsh. I could make quite a few comments in Gaelic, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and no doubt you would allow Gaelic quotations just as you allow Latin quotations, but I shall not take the opportunity. But I noticed a few weeks ago a recorded broadcast from Southern Rhodesia by the Duke of Montrose. He spoke in Gaelic and it was broadcast in the Scottish Gaelic service.
If ever there was an apology for apartheid and Sir Roy Welensky, a political broadcast by proxy, it was surely that one, but because it was in Gaelic the Duke got away with it. That sort of partiality and the permission to say in Gaelic what he would not be allowed to put across in English is a serious matter. He was obviously appealing to people in a particular part of the country in their own language, which was a more direct appeal than it would have been in English. It was a most biassed speech on a highly-controversial subject, and should be added to the Government's list of political broadcasts for this year. I ask the B.B.C. to watch that side of its service, because there is a tendency there to allow things to come across in the original language which would not dare to be put across in the adopted English.
Can the hon. Lady say whether, in connection with its general obligation under its Charter and the extension of the Charter, or under its experimental local services, the B.B.C. intends to do 1043 anything to fulfil its obligations to the people of the Outer Islands like Barra and North Uist? I recognise that the B.B.C. has special difficulties in areas where there is no public supply of electricity, and there is no such supply in these areas. Has the B.B.C. any obligation to provide the means for a T.V. service under the Charter or not?
This is rather important to the people of areas who do not have a local supply of electricity which would enable them to have a television service. Does the B.B.C. have some obligation to do something about that and provide a supply which will make that service possible in those areas? I ask the hon. Lady to take this seriously. When there are areas which do not have services which have been taken for granted over other parts of the country for so many years, other parts where there are alternative ways of enjoying leisure, there grows up a general depression and people say that if they are not to have television or the other services, why should they not go to areas where those things are enjoyed for exactly the same fee they are asked to pay for the radio service in the islands.
I ask the hon. Lady to assure us on that, now that the B.B.C. is not to face us with the objection that it is not providing a service in those areas because of technical difficulties. For several years I have been faced with replies from the hon. Lady and her colleagues when I have been told that the B.B.C. would like to do this, but that all sorts of obstacles and difficulties of geography have stood in its way. Those very obstacles of geography, the hills and mountains of the north-west Highlands have been used for a long time, especially by the Americans and particularly by the American Army in the first place, not as obstacles but as a means of bouncing and relaying signals for television as well as sound. Why we should find ourselves hiding behind mountains instead of bouncing signals off them I do not know. I understand that that argument has now been abandoned, at least by the B.B.C. and possibly by the Post Office.
That leaves only one major obstacle and objection in the way, now that the mountains and other geographical diffi 1044 culties are no longer the enemies but the friends of a signal. I understand that the B.B.C. is willing and anxious to provide a service and that all that seems to stand in the way is lack of an assurance that it will have a continuing supply of money for the job. I should like to get these things clear so that by the time we have the debate on the Pilkington report we will know exactly what difficulties and obstacles remain, or are said to remain, because I believe that the only remaining difficulties are financial.
When a few years ago it was intended to set up a full rocket range in the Island of South Uist, in the Outer Islands, the B.B.C. was approached and it was intended that as 6,000 personnel, troops and civilians, were to be sent to the Outer Islands, they should be given television. There was no argument about it and it was practically laid on. Then the whole project collapsed down to the soale of more or less an Army summer camp. A few hundred troops go out to fire a few obsolete Corporal rockets and the Government now see no justification for providing television in that area.
When it was proposed to bring 6,000 people into the area, everything was laid on to provide a television service, but when it was decided that these people would not come in, the 40,000 permanent residents were told that it was not worth while providing such a service, or that it could not be done for financial and other reasons. We have fallen several years behind because the area was not developed as a full-scale rocket range. Because the scale of the range was reduced, the prospects of the local people getting television have been reduced.
The most absurd feature of all in this situation is that in the Island of Lewis. for example; where the B.B.C. could not do the job, where the Postmaster-General and the Treasury could not find the money, and where mountains were regarded as obstacles, a small private company in the town of Stornoway has been able to provide piped television to a few hundred people. It has done so at little profit. It was passionately interested in television and experimented with it, and this enterprising firm has been able to do what the B.B.C., with all 1045 the resource's of the British nation, was unable to do.
Even more absurd—and I think the hon. Lady will realise that the absurdity of this should drive us into providing services of this kind—is the fact that while we cannot get the television service which we were going to get if a rocket range had been set up in South Uist, and while a small local firm is able to provide a service which the B.B.C. is unable to provide, troops in St. Kilda enjoy an excellent service, and so do the people across the water in Londonderry and Northern Ireland.
No wonder that the people in the area are fed up about the absence of a service which is excellent in the rest of the country. The provision of a television service would help us to solve one of the most difficult social problems facing any community in this country, the problem of the drift of population, particularly of young people, from an area which feels neglected, and feels even more neglected when it is said that a second or third choice programme cannot be provided.
I think that the hon. Lady has sufficient imagination to realise how She would feel if she were living in that area and some other young lady sitting in her place were asked questions about colour television and alternative channels.
§ 11.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Short (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)
I want to introduce a note of dissention into this bout of mutual backslapping of the B.B.C., because I have a serious grievance against the Corporation. I have been in the House for just over ten years, and I have put forward this grievance on scores of occasions. Successive Postmasters-General have given me similar replies.
I am getting a bit "fed up" with the B.B.C., and I am almost driven to the point of supporting local independent sound broadcasting. I warn the hon. Lady that if the Pilkington Committee recommends independent local sound broadcasting I will support it. We may then get a better deal than we have had from the B.B.C.
I come from the north-east of England. It is the only region of the country which has to share a local pro 1046 gramme with another region. Ever since the war my region has had to share a programme with Northern Ireland, which is 200 miles from us. We have no community of interest with Northern Ireland. We cannot understand what they are talking about. Their songs are unintelligible to us. We do not understand their plays. We do not understand their language. There is a great deal more community of interest between the north-west of England and Ireland than between the north-east and Ireland.
We are completely separated, even more so since the Government started closing the railways over the Pennines. There is no railway system between Carlisle, Newcastle and Skipton. The Pennine Chain is not crossed by any railway. We are completely cut off from this other part of England. Much more are we cut off from Northern Ireland. Every other region in Britain has its own regional programme, and in this country the regions have a very strong local lore and tradition, which is put across on the regional programmes. In the case of the north-east of England alone is the regional programme halved. We have to share it with Northern Ireland. After all these years it is high time that some other area took a spell at sharing with Northern Ireland. I suggest that Scotland might share. That would be a very good combination. The Irish would not understand Gaelic and the Scots would not understand Irish. Perhaps Wales would be a good choice—or even the pampered south-east of England.
I know the technical argument about the "mush" area, with stations broadcasting on the same wavelength, and that in our case the "mush" area conveniently falls in the middle of the Irish Sea, but I have gone into the matter and I am told that there are other regions which could share, and where the "mush" area would still fall in the sea and not on the land, where it causes confusion. I ask the hon. Lady to look into the matter again. I hope that she is listening to me, because this is not only my argument; it is the argument of 2 million people who live in the north-east of England.
The answer we always get is, "Buy a VHF set." People keep their radio 1047 receivers for many years. I should think the average is about ten or twelve years, especially in the case of old people. Some of them have had their sets for donkey's years. Some are still using battery sets. I have a set which I made when I was 16 years of age and it still works well. People just cannot afford to renew their sets. A Postmaster-General once told me that when we buy a television set we should get one which has VHF combined. People sometimes do that. They dispose of their radio set and then realise that they can get only the three local stations on VHF. They cannot get Radio Luxembourg, and if they have children this is a tremendous disadvantage.
This is a very great grievance in the north-east of England. It has a very important and highly productive population, with over 2 million people, and they are getting an extremely raw deal from the B.B.C. I warn the hon. Lady that if the Pilkington Committee recommends independent local sound broadcasting I shall support that recommendation, unless the B.B.C. splits our wavelength from that of Northern Ireland beforehand.
§ 11.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
Before my hon. Friend replies, I want to ask her a question about colour television. Will she be quite sure that before vast amounts of money and resources are devoted to the production of any short of public colour television service some sort of worth-while picture can be produced? I have recently been in the United States of America, where they have colour television, and where the colours are so garish and usually so out of focus that it is not worth while having them at all. Before we spend money on colour television, and anything is put before the public, could another demonstration be provided for hon. Members so that we may see what is in store for us?
§ 11.13 p.m.
§ Miss Pike
With the leave of the House, I should like to reply to some of the points which have been made tonight. Before doing so, I must once again express the Postmaster-General's sincere regrets that he has not been able to be in the House this evening to listen 1048 to this most interesting debate. He is unfortunate in not being able to be in two places at once. He is still engaged in very important work at this moment.
But I have gained where my right hon. Friend has lost. I have had the opportunity of listening throughout the debate and I have enjoyed hearing the views of hon. Members. I have sat here envying them the freedom they have to express themselves. Hon. Members sometimes feel that they are sitting on the fence in this pre-Pilkington period; I feel as though I am in a straitjacket. It would be unwise, until the Committee has reported, for me to express categorical opinions about matters of such fundamental importance to our social conditions.
I think that all hon. Members have recognised that the views which they have put forward are their own views and thinking at this time, and that when we get the Pilkington report we may all have deeper and second thoughts. Before we make any innovations we should think hard and debate long on the problems which will confront us. It is easy to over-simplify some of the problems. So many of these things are interlocking and a decision made over one matter may have a fundamental effect on another. To that extent, the decision over the whole is prejudiced. That is very much the position at the present time.
I do not wish to weary or delay the House by going through all the reasons why I cannot answer some of the points which have been raised by hon. Members. The question of colour television was referred to by the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew). I would remind him that my right hon. Friend has accepted the advice of the technical committee that we must have a decision on line definition before going into the very heavy capital investment that we shall need in connection with colour television. I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) that some of the colour television experiments which I have seen have been first-class. I think that when we get it in this country we shall lead the world.
Although we may seem to be taking a long time in making decisions there 1049 is sometimes a virtue in not being too soon in the field, but rather of making certain that what we have is of real value. We should not only set a standard for ourselves in the last half of this century, which is what we shall do, but also set a standard for other people throughout the world.
Having said that, it is easy to give the impression that nothing is being done in the television field as a whole. Of course, a great deal is happening at present. Before going on to that perhaps I should say something about the more technical questions which have been raised. I am sure that the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan) would not expect me to go fully into all the technicalities of his problem. I have a great affection for the Western Isles and I wish that the problem were as easy of solution as the hon. Member made it sound. It is perhaps not quite so difficult to get to certain places and supply piped television, but it is not easy to get sound or television signals to other places. But we hope that with the developments which are coming along we shall be able to do it. It is not just money which is inhibiting us at present.
I should like to reassure the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short) that we are very well aware of his problem. He knows that VHF is the answer. I appreciate, of course, that that means buying a VHF set and on that I recognise his argument.
Several hon. Members have referred to the external services. I know that all hon. Members would wish to maintain the effect of these services and so do the Government. We recognise that external broadcasting is of great importance, but it is only one of the ways in which news and information about Britain can be presented to other countries. There may be especially well developed Press facilities in other countries and the radio and television services may be equally or more effective.
Communist countries transmit to the United Kingdom about 100 hours a week. We do not mind them wasting their money in this way. I think that we should be foolish to waste our own by broadcasting to countries where our efforts would be similarly ineffective. It is not our intention to try to match the 1050 quantity of other countries' external broadcasting.
In prescribing the hours and languages in which the B.B.C. broadcasts, Her Majesty's Government have ensured a large broadcasting effort to those areas where it will have maximum effect. This effect has for some time been limited by the difficulties of transmitting over great distances and by increased interference from other broadcasts. The additional transmitters which we have now approved will ensure that to most major audiences overseas the B.B.C.'s broadcasts will be at least as easy to listen to as those of our adversaries.
This is by far the most urgent improvement needed in our external broadcasting. It will cost over £400,000 a year to operate, apart from capital costs. Although we may have to meet some of this extra running cost by reducing or stopping a few of the less valuable existing operations, we intend the total result to be a substantial improvement in our external broadcasting and its greater concentration on the areas of the world in which it is likely to have the greatest effect.
Meanwhile, the programme for replacing and modernising the B.B.C.'s present equipment has been going ahead for some time and about £½ million has been spent up to date. Last year, the B.B.C. was authorised to order a further six replacement transmitters together with new aerials and associated equipment at a total cost of about £1 million. It has been argued that the B.B.C. should have more funds for external broadcasting. We recognise this problem. I do not think any of us would be satisfied that we could not do more, but we are fully cognisant of its tremendous importance. It would be easy to give the impression that nothing has been done, but this is far from being the case.
I wish to take up a point made by the hon. Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt), but before doing so I must not forget to remark on how much we have enjoyed the B.B.C. Handbook in its new format this year. It was fortunate for all of us that it arrived on our desks today and gave us an opportunity of seeing in attractive form the tremendous work the B.B.C. is doing. Of course, the B.B.C. is proud of claiming that it has always been the pioneers 1051 and it is quite right to take pride in this. Perhaps the development which is of the greatest interest to the greatest number is the one which I have already mentioned, namely, improvement and extension of both television and VHF sound coverage by means of the programme of satellite stations.
Equipment has been specially designed by B.B.C. engineers for these stations. The most important piece of equipment is known as a "translator" which picks up the vision and sound signals from an existing station and re-radiates them on another channel. This equipment, I understand, is very simple and reliable and the stations will operate without staff in attendance, so they are economic as well.
We are often asked why the B.B.C. cannot press on even more quickly with this programme, designed as it is to bring sound and television to small scattered communities remote from the main centres of population as well as improving reception in places throughout the country where for one reason or another reception is bad. There are other parts of the country where reception is difficult, but not quite so difficult as in the Western Isles. The B.B.C. attaches the highest importance to its programme. So does my right hon. Friend and, I am sure, many hon. Members.
We are all of us extremely conscious of the need to bring the benefits of radio and television to the more remote and rural parts of the United Kingdom where the other amenities which the city dweller takes for granted do not exist. The B.B.C. scheme is quite a big one. So far, it provides for no fewer than 27 television stations and 21 three-programme VHF sound stations, but the planning of these stations is a difficult and complicated job. Since they have to work within the Band 1 frequencies allotted for B.B.C. use, they have to be of very restricted power so as not to set up mutual interference with other existing stations using the same frequencies and it follows that if the maximum benefit is to be gained for them their siting becomes a matter which calls for very careful calculation. I do not need to mention the other difficulties in regard to acquisition of land, plan 1052 ning permission, and so on, which invariably arise when a mast has to be erected in the middle of the countryside.
The B.B.C. has come up against a few unavoidable and unexpected delays because of difficulty in acquiring suitable sites. Five of these stations are already working—at Sheffield, Hastings, Londonderry, Llandrindod Wells and in the Channel Islands. The Corporation hopes to open by the spring the stations at Redruth in Cornwall, mentioned by the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman), Oxford, Llanddona and Manningtree. The Corporation hopes that nearly all the 48 stations will be on the air by the end of 1963.
Even now, before these stations open, the B.B.C. has achieved a degree of penetration higher than anywhere else in the world, including the U.S.A. Nevertheless, the Corporation is not content with this. It has put to my right hon. Friend its proposals for Stage III of its scheme, and even this does not represent its last word.
It is always fascinating to observe how we proceed with the conventional developments, but how the technical developments seem to proceed on two fronts. I have told the House, because I thought it was important, something of the Corporation's plans to extend its service through satellite stations to as many people as possible. Meantime, this country will be making its contribution in developing the technique of space satellite communication.
§ Miss Pike
I cannot accept that this country is short. I freely admit that I am not very well versed in the great technicalities of wavelengths, and so on, but I believe that we have and can have the best coverage possible.
I want to continue to say something about satellite communications, which can, we hope, be used ultimately for telephone communication and for the relay of television. Experiments may be taking place this year. Perhaps the day 1053 is not too far ahead when we shall have regular television programmes transmitted across the Atlantic via sky satellites and we shall be brought virtually as close to the new world as we are to the old world via the Eurovision link which we enjoy now.
Hon. Members have referred to American television. I started by saying that I believe that this country could set a standard in the world. I believe that when we are bouncing television programmes across the Atlantic on satellites we shall perhaps be doing something to help them with their television programmes.
I conclude by saying that all of us who have taken part in the debate tonight would wish to pay tribute to the work done by the B.B.C. We recognise that we have a long way to go and we all look forward to the debates on the future of radio and television. The B.B.C. has done a remarkably good job in its forty years of life. We all wish it well. I am sure that the House will wish to support the Motion.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the Licence and Agreement, dated 6th November 1961, between Her Majesty's Postmaster-General and the British Broadcasting Corporation, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th November, be approved.