§ 4.0 p.m.
§ The Postmaster-General (Mr. Reginald Bevins)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the Memorandum on the Report of the Committee on Broadcasting, 1960 (Command Paper No. 1770).As the responsible Minister, I must give expression this afternoon to the Government's views on this wide and important subject, but I undertake not to waste words because I know that many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to take part in the debate and that the Government, for their part, are most anxious to be in a position to take the general sense of the House on the whole complex of these issues.
When I went to the Post Office, rather more than two years ago, little did I think that most of my time would now be absorbed by Telstar and television. Although it goes very much against the grain with me, I have been forced to understand these somewhat technical subjects. I make another small confession. On those occasions when I have 422 stood at this Box answering questions about television, I have often felt slightly uncomfortable because, of course, a Postmaster-General has divided loyalties, first, and most important, a loyalty to Parliament and to the general public and, secondly, a loyalty to the broadcasting organisations as such.
Like many hon. Members on both sides, I have always been aware of both the achievements and the faults of British television, but I am always rather unhappy when people tend to fault individual programmes, as they sometimes do, so censoriously as though they are speaking for the whole population when, very often, they are speaking only for themselves. Some time ago, I asked my advisers to prepare for me a schedule of complaints received against the television world. It was really rather funny. There were criticisms of the news, of "Panorama", of light theatre, of Westerns, of boxing and of drama. There were criticisms of crime and of quiz games.
There were complaints by womenfolk of too much sport and complaints by the men of not enough sport. There were criticisms that people or characters like Maigret consume too much calvados and that almost everyone on television smokes far too much. Let us be frank about it. If one were a censor and one accepted all these criticisms, the television screen would be one continuous and glorious blank.
We have had the Report of the Committee on Broadcasting. Both the Government and Parliament are grateful to Sir Harry Pilkington and to all the members who served with him on that Committee for the truly enormous pains which they took in the preparation of their Report. I am personally very grateful to all the members of the Committee without exception. I have met all these ladies and gentleman and I greatly admire them for their hard work and sincere endeavours in what admittedly is a very difficult field.
I have heard it said that the Committee was composed wholly of "highly academic" ladies and gentlemen, which is meant to be a disparagement of the Committee. This, of course, is wholly untrue. I believe it to be right, when we are dealing with the questions which affect the whole population, that 423 a Committee should be drawn from many and varied walks of life, as this Committee was. As I say, I applaud them for their work, although I do not accept all their conclusions.
As one would expect, reactions to the Report have been very varied. It has been fiercely criticised by some and fervidly supported by others. There are Chose who dislike the tone of the Report. There are those who feel that the philosophy which underlies it is slightly authoritarian. There are those Who dislike what they construe as being the almost unqualified praise of the British Broadcasting Corporation and the almost unqualified condemnation of independent television. In this last respect, I am bound to say—and I say it in sorrow—that I consider that the Report is lacking in balance.
There are others who, whether they accept the Report or not, are nevertheless prepared to go quite a long way with the Committee in feeling that television must have at least some influence on values and on standards, especially among young people, and who feel, therefore, that the Government and the broadcasting authorities ought to take a more positive and, if one likes, an even more paternalistic, attitude to the world of television especially in mattes of programme balance, violence and triviality.
As the House knows already, the Government are about to discuss the question of violence and triviality with the two broadcasting organisations. I assure right hon. and hon. Members that these discussions will be pressed ahead immediately after the termination of this debate. These talks will not go forward in any spirit of recrimination between the Government and the broadcasting organisations—of course not—but with a determination on the part of all concerned to work out better programme standards.
I emphasise with all the force I can command that the Government have not been influenced in any of these matters by any pressures or lobbies, whatever their nature, nor shall we be in taking future decisions. We may disagree with Her Majesty's Opposition here and there, though I am glad to think that there is, perhaps, rather more convergence 424 between the two sides of the House in 1962 than there was some years ago, but we on this side—I do not say this in the least priggishly—are just as much concerned to do what is right as hon. Members of the Opposition.
I come now to the White Paper which we have issued with, shall I say, reasonable promptitude. I express my personal appreciation of the help which I have enjoyed from my fellow Ministers and, in particular, the help of my right hon. Friend the First Secretary. The White Paper refers to many of the Pilkington recommendations with which the Government are in broad agreement. I have no wish to weary the House with all the details. Most of these proposals are not violently controversial, and I shall assume that most hon. Members have read the White Paper.
But the most important of the proposals in the White Paper refer to the change in line definition and the use of the ultra high frequency bands; additional viewing hours for adult education; self-contained television services for Scotland and Wales; a second B.B.C. service; certain colour programmes on 625 lines; and an ultimate pattern of six television services.
I should not like the House to assume that all these have been easy decisions, although, as I say, most of them are non-controversial, because many of them have quite important financial, economic and social implications. These proposals, even as they stand, will lead to a vast improvement in the television service enjoyed by many people in England and, perhaps more particularly, in the Principality and in Scotland. They will help the radio industry, and they should give the radio industry and the broadcasting organisations opportunities which very largely they have so far lacked to export components and television sets and also more easily to exchange programmes with Western European countries.
Hon. Members may say, "This is all very fine, but how will it be paid for?" The Pilkington Committee suggested that the additional B.B.C. service and certain other developments which it recommended should be paid for by increasing the licence fee on the principle, ofcourse, that the Corporation's services ought to be financed entirely out of licence revenue. A licence fee of £6 was suggested, 425 and I believe that the B.B.C. agreed with that view. The B.B.C. feels that the licence fee is the Corporation's and that any other system of financing sup-pert would involve its coming, as it were, cap in hand to the Government for additional moneys and that its independence, perhaps more in the financial sense than in any other respect, might be at risk.
I respect that point of view, and it is certainly one to which the Government will have the most careful regard, although I do not wholly accept it at the moment. But I must emphasise at this stage that the Government have as yet come to no decision on this question. It is perfectly true, as the Committee pointed out, that the licence fee is a good deal cheaper than it is in most other countries. But is that necessarily a good reason for increasing it? I do not think that it is.
The White Paper leaves in abeyance for the time being, and not, I hope, for very long, difficult issues such as local sound radio, pay television and, of course, the future structure of independent television, to which I should like to address myself in a few moments. Here, I wish to interpose one or two general comments on television as a whole, and I hope that the House will not feel that I am pontificating. After all, principles are important here and I think that we ought to get them right.
I think it is true to say that, among all the media of entertainment and instruction, television is unique. It is far more pervasive than any other medium of entertainment or instruction. Almost everyone watches it except those people who dogmatise about it. Yet its range and diversity are limited by technical considerations, and in that respect it is quite unlike the theatre, the cinema or the world of literature. It is also unlike the Press.
I suppose that there are now fewer than a dozen national newspapers and about 50 provincials. Despite all the talk about take-overs and mergers, it is still true, in theory anyway, that anyone can start a newspaper, just as anyone can dine at the Ritz. But a television programme cannot be started unless the Government are prepared to provide a 426 channel, and the number of channels is limited by technical considerations.
At this moment, we cannot have more that four television programmes. By the 1970s we cannot have more than six, short of additional wire services, and six is the lot. It therefore follows that we cannot have unlimited competition in television, and I believe it follows that, since the number of channels is limited, the Government have a far greater responsibility to see that those channels are responsibly used than in any other sphere.
The Daily Telegraph recently said thatthe arguments for exercising a greater control over television than over the printed word and other forms of entertainment cannot be merely shrugged aside".and I believe that, in principle, that is right. I do not think that the Government can abdicate their responsibility for a medium which, in a visual form, enters our homes and must at least have some influence on the young and the adolescent. In my judgment, we cannot avoid some element of positive guidance towards television provided it is limited and certainly provided it is not detailed.
This leads to the question: what do the people want of television? They are the important consideration. Of course, we all want different things, and what we want one day we do not want the next. One or two of my more intellectual colleagues on the Treasury Bench are hopelessly "sold" on cowboys and Westerns. I suspect that the only thing that they dislike about them is the monotonous triumph of virtue. Incidentally, I saw in last Sunday's Observer that Mr. Richard Hoggart, who has been blamed, probably quite wrongly, for the more colourful adjectives in the Pilking-ton Report, seems to be a great fan of "Coronation Street"; as is the generality of people.
All we know from the polls is that, while the majority of our fellow citizens prefer to watch independent television rather than the B.B.C, they nevertheless think that the B.B.C. is better. No matter how people may differ, what we want is good television, whatever may be the type of programme. The public wants programmes which capture and sustain their interest, whether they be escapist or informative.
427 How are we as a Government to meet these diversified demands? Here, we come to the question of principle on which I am not prepared to compromise; I say at once, through a wider choice of programme—not a choice, as so often happens at present, between "Z Cars" on one channel and "No Hiding Place" on another, but a genuine choice between programmes of entertainment and programmes which cater for smaller groups of the population, the choice which one has in a bookshop between Dostoievsky and Ibsen at one end and Peter Cheyney and Ruby M. Ayres at the other—a genuine choice and genuine competition. I therefore believe that we must have more effective competition, and this is fundamental to the whole thinking of Her Majesty's Government.
I took no part in the debates on the Television Act, 1954, yet I believe that the Government were right at that time to introduce independent television. I believe that the effect on television has been stimulating and enlivening. I believe that the B.B.C. itself feels that this is so, and so, indeed, I see, does Lord Beveridge himself.
We are now taking another look at independent television, the future of which is the main question which faces the House this afternoon. I therefore come to what I think we all regard as the principal recommendation of the Pilkington Committee, notably that the I.T.A. ought to plan the programming and sell the advertising time, that the companies should sell programmes to the I.T.A. for inclusion in those planned by the Authority and that the I.T.A., in turn, should pay any surplus revenue to the Exchequer.
The case for these proposals is most eloquently argued in the Committee's Report. The heart of the case is that in the Committee's view, it is not possible to reconcile the commercial itch of the programme companies earning their money from advertising with the production of good television. That, I think, fairly summarises the Pilkington point of view. Incidentally, the Committee believes, also, that its proposal would transfer effective power to the I.T.A. and that it would promote competition between the companies with improved standards and would prevent the earning of excess profits.
428 I say this in complete sincerity. If I felt, and if my colleagues in the Government sincerely felt, that those proposals constituted the right answer we should not hesitate to support them to the hilt and to recommend them to Parliament. Indeed, it would be unpardonable to rush into decisions on a matter of this importance without weighing with the utmost care whether these proposals in the Report are workable, whether they would produce the results that the Committee expected or whether there are other and, perhaps, more effective ways of getting the results that hon. Members, on both sides, wish. This has been exercising the minds of many of my right hon. and hon. Friends and I gather from what I read in the newspapers that it has also been exercising the minds of some hon. Members on the Opposition benches.
Reduced to their simplest terms, the Committee's proposals would convert the I.T.A. into a kind of B.B.C., but also making the I.T.A. the recipient of advertising revenues. In one sense, it would emasculate the programme companies and convert them into programme producers alone. This raises a host of practical questions and I beg hon. Members, on both sides, to face these questions squarely and realistically.
In the first place, what interest would the Independent Television Authority have in the earning of advertising revenue? The I.T.A. is not a commercial organisation: it is a public organisation. What assurance is there that the existing programme companies would remain in the field at all under conditions of this kind or, for that matter, that any new companies would enter the arena? Some hon. Members opposite may say, "What does that matter?" My reply is that to millions of people throughout the country it matters a great deal. In any event, I am certainly not prepared to run the risk of destroying independent television.
But what of the public? Here, we have a situation in which the B.B.C. would be transmitting two programmes, and I think it right that the B.B.C. should have two networks. So do the public. At one time, one programme will be light and another relatively serious, informative or instructive. That would be the general pattern of the B.B.C.'s services.
429 The I.T.A. and the programme companies would be in competition with Chose two B.B.C. programmes and we have to ask ourselves what they would do. Would they seek to compete with the relatively serious programme? It seems to me inevitable that especially during peak viewing hours, the tendency would be—I emphasise this—even more strongly than under the existing structure of independent television, for the companies to compete more and more exclusively with the B.B.C. light programme.
Hon. Members may ask, "Why not?" but let us consider what this means. It means that the I.T.A. and the programme companies would be seeking to beat the B.B.C. for mass audiences in popular entertainment, and they might will succeed even to a greater degree than they do now, but at what cost in terms of money and at what cost in terms of standards?
How, for example, would the I.T.A. pay for the programmes produced by the companies? The I.T.A. could not put the programmes out to competitive tender—that is manifestly absurd in the world of television. One cannot put out a specification for a television programme. One could not have two companies competing for the same programme.
What is the alternative? On a cost-plus basis, as hon. Members on both sides know only too well, that would lead to production of the most lavish and financially extravagant programmes. One has to consider this against the background that the I.T.A. as reconstituted according to the Pilkington Report might well have money to burn. My fear is that we might well end up with the lowest common denominator in programmes produced at much greater prices than programmes are now produced.
Having said that, no one supposes that there are not serious shortcomings in the structure of independent television—of course there are—and the Government would not attempt to deny it. We are told that the profits of the companies are excessive. We are told that the dominance of the big four network companies ought to be broken. Let me take, first, what is commonly referred to in the 430 Press as the excessive profits. It is not really a question of excessive profits at all. Basically, this is a question of requiring the companies, whoever they may be, to pay the right rentals for the franchises that they enjoy from the Government.
There can be no question whatever of the Government acting vindictively against the programme companies. In their early days, they took great risks and some people burned their fingers in commercial television. I do not subscribe to the prejudiced view that they are in some way anti-social organisations that should be rehabilitated and tamed. The question of rentals is commercial and not political. We have to ask ourselves, as the House of Commons how this can be put right.
At one time, many people were disposed to say that the Government ought to throw the contracts open to competition and that the I.T.A. should secure the highest rental that the market would bear. That, I think, was the view expressed by the Public Accounts Committee about two and a half years ago. The matter is, however, complicated by the fact that there are already some well-established commercial companies already on the ground, and it may be further complicated by the possibility that by 1964 there may be room for a second group of companies.
In those circumstances, I put it to the House that it would be exceedingly difficult for any person, no matter how commercially minded, to judge what a fair market rental would be. I do not believe that that is a practicable method of approach. It may well be that a more realistic way would be for a succcessful company to reimburse the I.T.A. in the first place for the I.T.A.'s costs, which are not very substantial—and that would be a relatively unimportant element in the rental; and secondly, to pay a reasonable percentage of its gross profits before taxation to the I.T.A., not as a profits tax, but as a second element in the rental.
That, I think, would be fair, and would be seen to be fair by public opinion. This and other ideas the Government are examining in detail, and in due course we shall inform the House of our final conclusion.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
Would the right hon. Gentleman explain to the House what the I.T.A will do with the surpluses it gathers from the contracting companies?
§ Mr. Bevins
The position would be as now, except to the extent that the I.T.A., as it clearly would, would receive larger income than it does at present. That money would be in the first place with the I.T.A. and then, of course, there is provision in the existing Television Act, for the Treasury, in consultation with the Postmaster-General, to appropriate as much of that money as they so decide. That position, of course, clearly would continue.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
The proposition which the Postmaster-General has just put would, I think, be fair if the position remained exactly as it is now, with the question of rents taking into account profits, but would he keep in mind that the expense of developing a second television service which the White Paper anticipates, would be on the Independent Television Authority? There would be expense involved there, and to pay profits in extra rents for the development of the new service might not be as fair as his words at first seemed to indicate.
§ Mr. Bevins
I understand what my hon. Friend has in mind. It is quite true that if the new companies entered the field they would probably have to have greater capital investment than those already on the ground, but, at the same time, I think that my hon. Friend ought to bear in mind that this would be related to the actual gross profits which the companies earned. That is an important point.
I was about to say a word about the network which, after all, is very important. The present system, as the Pilkington Committee very rightly pointed out, has a serious weakness. What it does is virtually to carve up the market between the four major companies and to keep competition at bay. There have been suggestions that if the Independent Television Authority itself were to undertake the control of networking it could not only infuse the system with genuine competition but it could, at the same time, take a more positive attitude towards programme balance and programme standards.
432 The Authority might conceivably do this by writing into each contract the number of hours any one company would have over the national network each week, keeping, as it were, up its sleeve a certain number of hours to be awarded to the companies showing themselves capable of producing the best television on the basis of experience; or it might alternatively—the Authority I am speaking of—give no guarantee at all of assured hours over the network and in that way introduce free competition all the way along the line.
But, of course, there are other people who quarrel with this particular approach, people who argue that we cannot get good television if those who plan the programmes even in the broadest sense are divorced from those who actually produce them. I wonder myself whether this is really so. I myself hesitate to accept this argument, but it does seem to me that the alternatives here really lie between the Authority controlling networking and also broad programme balance, or the Authority simply laying down the broad programme balance and, of course, seeing that that balance is observed.
I confess quite freely to the House that that is a difficult subject, and one which has to be looked at with both realism and imagination. Because of that the Government have not been precipitate in coming to an early decision, and it is because of that, very largely, that I welcome the debate in the House today, because I shall value very much the views of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen.
Meanwhile, we simply must get the structure of independent television right before we finally decide whether or not to give independent television an additional programme. I am sure that is right. I realise, of course, that hon. Members opposite are, in the main, opposed to a second independent channel, and I shall look forward to hearing the views of hon. Members opposite on this. In particular, if I may say so, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker), when he follows me, as I believe he will, will have something to say on the fascinating question of how he sees a single independent channel competing with two B.B.C. channels.
433 Now I turn to one or two questions on which I shall not detain the House for more than a few moments. The first is pay television or subscription television. As the House knows, the Pilkington Committee came down firmly against this idea on grounds which, as we made clear in the White Paper, the Government do not find altogether convincing. Certainly, it hardly seems feasible to set aside one of our scarce frequencies for the purpose of pay television, but, having said that, we do believe that there are arguments for pay television provided by wire as an additional service, and we are, therefore, giving further thought to the possibility of experiments.
We must not, at this stage, be afraid of innovations no matter how un-respectable they appear to be in some quarters. We shall, of course, bear in mind the views of those who oppose subscription television, and, in particular, the view that it would be unfair to the generality of viewers if wired television were to deprive the B.B.C. or the I.T.A. of programmes which they normally put out at the present time.
I think that we must accept that the scope of any experiment over wire would be severely limited, certainly in the early stages, and it might, therefore, be difficult to discover whether there is a general demand for subscription television. However, as I say, we shall listen carefully to what is said in the course of this debate, and we shall then decide whether or not to authorise an experiment. If, in the result, there proved to be considerable scope for this, then we should have to consider the creation of some permanent body to guide it.
Finally, I come to local sound broadcasting. Here, of course, the Pilkington Committee recommended that there should be a sustained and broadly based trial of local sound carried out by the B.B.C. I am quite sure that the B.B.C. could create the facilities to carry out such an experiment, but if local sound undertaken by the B.B.C. were to become a permanency then we should have to find more money for this purpose.
Those who advocate local sound radio on a commercial basis argue that if it was right to break the B.B.C.'s monopoly 434 of television then it is equally right to break it in sound, but there is surely a distinction between television and sound. Television is a much more potent medium, which is still expanding, whereas sound broadcasting, which gained immensely in significance during the war years, has certainly a useful but a limited part to play in the field of broadcasting as a whole.
Moreover, we have to remember that already we have three national sound programmes, and that nearly all listeners can hear at least one foreign station as well as the B.B.C. services. So, clearly, the monopoly which the B.B.C. has in the field of sound radio is by no means of the same nature as the Corporation's original monopoly in television. However, we have not closed our minds on this question either one way or the other, and again, we shall look forward to hearing the views of hon. Members on both sides of the House.
I should like to add this. The important thing here is that we should get our principles right. I say that the first thing we require is more effective and genuine competition, greater selectivity for the viewing public, and I should not myself shrink from a limited element of paternalism in this. I believe that the public is right and that the Government are right. Primarily, of course, television is, and I suppose will always remain, a medium for entertainment, but the potentiality of television will not be perpetually limited to entertainment and the like. It should and must be used for experiment and for innovation, to widen our horizons, and, as the years pass, more and more to project our standards and our values to lands beyond these shores.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker (Smethwick)
The right hon. Gentleman has made a very thoughtful speech, and has raised a lot of points which we will have to think about, some of which I will take up, and with some of which I do not agree, as I shall explain as I go along. I do not make any complaint that the right hon. Gentleman has not made up his mind on some of the very big issues. It is right that we should take time to decide these things, and a debate like this at this moment can be of extreme 435 value because it enables many different views and interests to be expressed.
The Pilkington Report was subjected to extremely unfair and prejudiced attacks by papers and persons most of whom had a very considerable commercial interest in attacking it. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman did not defend the Committee, which he himself appointed, a little more strongly against these unfair attacks. I am not one to swallow the Pilkington Report whole. I think it has faults of logic, and some of its conclusions do not go far enough —I should like to go further—but it seems to me to be a document of very great social and political importance, and certainly broadcasting will never be the same after Pilkington as it was before. Indeed, the Pilkington Committee and its Report have already had one very great success, namely, the production of the Government's White Paper. The right hon. Gentleman said that it has not been easy to reach some of these conclusions, and that I can well believe. I cannot conceive the Government, on their own, without the Pilkington Report, so quickly reaching decisions of great importance—to give a third programme to the B.B.C., and to end advertising magazines.
These parts of the White Paper we welcome, and we are also glad of the decision for separate television programmes for Scotland and Wales and the decision to go in for 625 lines and to begin with colour, all of which seem to us to be wise and sensible proposals.
I go a good deal further than the White Paper, and make a rather different approach from it to some of the basic problems facing us in this field. I start by accepting what the Pilkington Report says in paragraph 207 that I.T.V.—… falls well short of what a good public service of broadcasting should be.I also accept that I.T.V. has been a main, though I say at once not the sole, cause of this excessive violence and triviality in the programmes which has aroused a very great deal of public concern and disquiet. I am not one of those who thinks that it is necessary, or indeed, on the evidence, possible, to say that I.T.V. is wholly bad. I do not think that is necessary in order to attack it— as I do. It has produced some genuinely good popular entertainment and I do 436 not think it is right to say that mass-audience shows must be bad shows. What is wrong is going for mass-audience programmes, particularly at peak hours, as one's sole and primary motive.
I think that competition has done some good. The Pilkington Report endorses a remark of importance by the B.B.C. in paragraph 145:In light entertainment in particular, competition had, the B.B.C. believed, done something to sharpen and improve their own programmes.I think that is certainly so. I think that I.T.N. has tended to produce a rather better production of news. But, of course, it is hard to make these comparisons because, one cannot imagine that the B.B.C. would have stood still without I.T.V. It would have been making improvements on its own.
There is an advantage in not having a monopoly employer of the artists, the actors, the script writers and the broadcasters, like Members of Parliament, who try to get on these various media.
None the less, in spite of this, we should give credit where it is properly due, but it seems to me that the I.T.V. has done little to mitigate the broad picture painted by the Pilkington Report, and, if anyone has any doubt whether or not, on the whole, the introduction of commercial television has lowered our standards, they ought to ask themselves two questions. First, what would have happened if the B.B.C. had gone all out for TAM-ratings as I.T.V. did? It could have done it and would certainly have got ahead with its big resources and staff. We would have been in a far worse position. The whole thing would have been worse if we had had only I.T.V. and not B.B.C. I do not think that anyone could say that they did not thank Heaven that neither of these two things had happened, and that is the proof that I.T.V. has not, on balance, at all improved our television.
It has tended to lower standards. The Pilkington Report justifies the criticisms of the original Act, about which I made some criticisms, as did Lord Hailsham, and I think that the criticisms of both of us are very well borne out by the Pilkington Report. I think that standards have been lowered, not only in I.T.V. As the Pilkington 437 Report says, there have been some bad effects on the B.B.C., too, and a certain lowering of standards in certain fields has occurred. There has been also this creation of unconscionable profits, and I think that the right hon. Gentleman was a little too easy about this. There is great disquiet at such immense profits —a licence to print money—which the Government themselves created, because they gave the franchise, which has turned out to be a licence to print money. I do not think it could have been foreseen, but now it should be condemned in much stronger language than the right hon. Gentleman used.
I have not changed my views since 1953. I think that this country would have been better off if I.T.V. had not come about, certainly not in this form. None the less, I.T.V. is here now. For good or ill, it is part of our national life. There are great social changes of this kind which, even if one objects to them, one cannot afterwards altogether abolish and treat them as if they had never started. One cannot make that sort of approach to the problems facing us whatever we think of commercial television. We have to proceed on the basis that we must curb and remedy the defects and reconstruct and reform in order to stimulate higher standards and greater responsibility and answerability. To get these things we want radical and far-reaching reforms, more radical and far-reaching than have been indicated in the White Paper or by the right hon. Gentleman in his speech.
I start where the right hon. Gentleman started. I think that free choice is the great thing, and this means that there must be something to choose between— different things, a variety to choose between. That means also that we must regard the viewers as the prime consideration—not the advertiser, sheer profits. We regard the viewers as the prime interest in televising. Where I differ from the right hon. Gentleman, or where I would go much further than he did, is that I argue that in order to get a free choice, we must assert public responsibility in part of this field; we cannot get a free choice unless the State undertakes an obligation to the community in the field of television.
The reason why I say this—I regard it as absolutely fundamental to the whole 438 problem and to the debate—is that competition between channels in television does not produce free choice. It produces a denial of free choice. The only way to get free choice—that is, to give people a variety of things between which to choose—is to have co-ordinated programmes. There is no other way of presenting people with a real choice.
There is overwhelming evidence of this, and I shall dwell on it for a moment because I regard it as a central issue. Even between two channels in Britain today—one public service and one commercial—we get a tendency for the same type of programme to be produced at the same time on the two channels. Take Saturday afternoon sport, for instance. The large number of our fellow citizens who do not like watching sport have no television programme to watch through a large part of Saturday afternoon. This is not freedom of choice, because there is competition here and the two organisations have discovered that this is on the whole the way they can get the bigger audiences. This causes great public annoyance. So does the overlapping of plays, and so on. But this is an integral part of the system which the Government brought into being when they introduced commercial television. These two corporations are ordered to compete. There is no machinery by which they can co-ordinate their programmes.
This sort of competition in this field, even with our two present channels, shows that competition tends to produce —even when one of the channels is run by a public service authority—imitation. This is inescapably so where commercial channels are competing. They must compete for mass audiences. They must produce imitation and not variety. There is in the Pilkington Report a most striking piece of evidence on this point by one of the major programme companies.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
Would not a second channel for both commercial television and the B.B.C. remedy that situation?
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
I shall come to that in a moment. I will not dodge the issue.
439 On the question whether two commercial channels would produce choice because they would produce variety or whether they would merely produce the same sort of programme, the evidence of the Associated Rediffusion Company given to the Pilkington Committee, presumably in writing because the words are put in quotation marks in paragraph 888, seems to me to be most striking coming from that source. The Report says:'Competition between two services,'"—Two commercial services—'each carrying advertisements, would inevitably be competition for the attention of the majority audience. Such a system would inevitably produce competing programmes of the general type provided today by I.T.A. but with the influence of the mass audience very much accentuated. Under such a system it would be even more difficult than under the present system to provide for the interests of minorities. Even the general quality of the programmes might well deteriorate'.Hon. Gentlemen who argue that two competing television programmes might produce variety and, therefore, choice have to deal with the evidence produced by one of the most important programme companies.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
The quotation that I have given refers quite flatly to two services each carrying advertisements. If the hon. Gentleman wants a commercial service not carrying advertisements, it would presumably be outside the scope of that.
I now deal with the point put to me by the Postmaster-General. I think that to get real choice in this country in our circumstances—a small country with not many channels available—the right thing to do is to have three channels. Two of them ought to be B.B.C. and one channel ought to be I.T.V.—and only one I.T.V. This seems to me to be the most important reform of all— more important than anything else in the Pilkington Report—that we can make in our television system. It would transform it.
Co-ordination would transform the B.B.C., because it would by co-ordination of programmes get variety—not 440 imitation but variety and change all the time—and that itself would remove the danger which the B.B.C. is now under of being forced, with only one channel, to lower its standards by competition. Competition by a single I.T.V., reconstructed in whatever way one likes —everybody agrees that it has to be restricted in some way or another— would, I think, be beneficial competition to B.B.C. programmes.
I think that in these circumstances commercial television might well be forced to raise its standards. The whole thing may be turned the other way round. Two B.B.C. programmes would be very potent competition. I.T.V. would have to fight and think about all sorts of minority interests and all sorts of other things it wholly ignores today because it does not have to worry about them.
I do not think that the Pilkington Committee appreciated the difference that would be made by having two B.B.C. programmes and one I.T.V. programme. Indeed, a major criticism that I would make of the Committee is that it never quite got clear in its head whether it was criticising the whole system of television or only one channel. The Committee got the two arguments mixed up through a great deal of the Report. That is why I think it was led into a wrong conclusion when it said that a fourth television programme could be given to a reconstituted I.T.A. I am against giving a fourth programme to I.T.A. or I.T.V., whatever form it may take, if it is dependent on advertising and is in that sense commercial. Two channels on I.T.V., however organised, would compete in such a way as to produce imitation of one another and not real variety. Therefore, we should not be adding at all to choice.
I am not quite sure whether we want a fourth television channel at all. We have to think of our resources. We must not put too much of our national resources into television. In any case, if we have a fourth programme, it must not go to I.T.V. It would be a waste. It would not produce competition. I repeat that it would produce imitation.
If there is to be a fourth channel, I am sure that it should go to education or what I would call a teaching service. 441 Here I think the Pilkington Committee was also wrong. The arguments which the Pilkington Report uses apply very well to three programmes. When we have only three, none of them should be an education or teaching programme. I think three are quite enough for entertainment, but if we had a fourth channel there would be immense value in having a programme which set out to teach science, languages and so forth to schools and institutions of higher education and to adults. A specialist programme would have an advantage which the Pilkington Committee did not notice, namely, that it could pick the hours solely suited to its teaching purpose and not have to get them into the planning of a general programme so that when teaching came over the air a lot of the teaching times would not be suited to the people who ought to receive the programme.
I certainly think that the existing duty of the Corporation and the Authority to include education as one of their aims must continue. We do not want general programmes without any educational element. But the argument for a teaching service rather than a fourth I.T.V. service seems to me to be absolutely overwhelming. The Opposition attach immense importance to this. It is one of the things on which we have clearly made up our minds. We are quite sure that we are right, and will fight for it.
Although I think that two B.B.C. programmes and one I.T.V. programme would transform the situation, it is not enough. We cannot possibly leave I.T.V. as it is now. We must have radical reconstruction of it. I listened with great care to what the right hon. Gentleman said. I agree with and will echo some of the things that he said in this respect, and I disagree with others. When deciding what is the best way to reconstruct and reform I.T.V.—since the publication of the Pilkington Report this has really been universally agreed; it is one of the Committee's great successes—I think the right end to start is with what is wrong and what can be improved. One of the things that is wrong is, clearly, I.T.A.
One clear thing that comes out of the Report is that I.T.A. has been falling down on its job. In fact, it comes out much worse from the Report than the programme companies. It has not even 442 done its statutory job of securing competition between the programme companies. It should not have allowed such vast profits to be made. It should not have allowed a lowering of standards. It should have controlled advertising much more than it has done.
But, above all—and here I agree with the right ban. Gentleman—it should not have connived at the abuse of the networking system. If it had not the powers to cope with this, it had every right to come to Parliament for them. The Authority has connived at this appalling networking system, which the right hon. Gentleman described so well. He could have gone further. It is not merely that four companies monopolise 80 per cent. of the time and carve it up, but that they do so in purely quantitative terms— wholely in terms of something called "time slots", which has nothing to do with the merit or quality of programmes. The Committee which determines time slots does not even know what the programmes are. Its work is purely quantitative.
This has produced immense rigidity, because advertising is also sold ahead. Thus, when a programme company is given a time slot it is told that it must produce a programme of the exact length of time which will attract in the peak hours about 12 million viewers. This is the scourge of the networking system, and it is extraordinarily rigid because, of course, the time for which advertisers pay is sacrosanct. It is hard for the Authority, with this networking system, to make any quick adjustments in programmes.
It is true that the B.B.C. also networks, but it can make quick adjustments. It did that the other week, when the Cabinet changes were announced— although this was perhaps not very much to the Government's liking—by producing a programme on the changes. It would have been hard for I.T.A. to have done that with its time slots.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
When one invites a person to partake in a programme, one cannot be sure what he has partaken of.
Another defect of the networking system is that it is deliberately designed to 443 shut out the smaller regional companies. Things are so arranged that it is penally expensive for these companies to attempt to exceed their allotted 15 per cent. for local programmes, and it is almost impossible for them to break into the network. Southern Television made a contract with the Old Vic to produce a number of plays. It had to drop that contract after the first play because it could not get into the network and the project was too expensive to carry out locally. A network as rigid as that is a stranglehold which we must break.
We must also reduce the amount and frequency of advertising. In my view, the lowering of standards has been in some ways due more to advertisements than to the programmes themselves. There are advertisements continually putting over the idea of "get rich quick" and of succeeding without effort. It is the context and frequency that we should be able to control. Incidentally, all these advertisements have strongly increased inflationary pressure and this has no doubt contributed to some of the economic problems which the Government have not yet succeeded in dealing with.
The excess of advertisements causes great public annoyance. Above all, the natural break causes annoyance. As Pilkington says, and as any viewer knows, natural breaks are patently contrived over and over again. The programme companies take as a guide the view attributed to a television tycoon who said, "any break that brings me £5,000 is a natural break." This sort of thing must be controlled. It must be controlled more directly than Pilkington proposes.
There is another matter in which we must go further than Pilkington. This is to break the tie-up between the programme companies and the Press. This is of extreme importance. Here, if anywhere, there should be competition. I hope that Conservatives who believe in competition so much when it does not make a difference will support it when it will make a difference. To maintain competition between different media of expression is important. It is dangerous to democracy when we get a tie-up between the two main methods. It is wrong and must be altered, as it can be.
444 To achieve these things, the I.T.A. must become much more powerful. It must cease to be a sort of friendly P.R.O. for programme companies. It must assume the position of principal to agents. It must be the master. The question we have to face—the question Pilkington faced—is how we achieve these things without getting rid of commercial television. We cannot, for all sorts of reasons, get rid of commercial television, so we must find the best way of reaching our ends with it. Thus, I come to the famous Recommendation 43, of which the right hon. Gentleman spoke with great thought—that the Authority itself should take the advertising revenue and commission the programmes.
I attach great weight to this proposal. It should not be rejected out of hand. It must be weighed carefully. But also we have a duty to consider other proposals and this is forced upon us by the method of argument in the Pilkington Report. I wish it had gone into much more detail and had given more detailed guidance on this point. It has left gaps in the argument which force us to speculate for ourselves and try to work out alternatives.
I have read the Report twice and these particular paragraphs half a dozen times, and I still do not know the answer to certain questions, which I must know before I can make up my mind. Like the right hon. Gentleman, I cannot find a clear answer as to the basis on which the payment to the programme companies would be made, whether on a cost-plus basis or any other method. But this is essential to the proposal. We must clarify our own minds on how this would work before we reach a final conclusion.
Another thing which worries me is the possible effect of advertising on the Authority. I believe, with Pilkington, that advertising, unless controlled, can have a deteriorative effect on television. It might also have such an effect on the Authority. This also worried the Pilkington Committee, which said:… we have considered whether, if the Authority were responsible for the sale of advertising time, it would be so liable to pressures to conduct a service in a way suited to advertising as to mar it as a service of broadcasting. We have considered this possibility exhaustively.445 That means that the Committee was worried about it, but I wish that it had told us more about the considerations which it exhaustively went into, particularly in the light of its conclusion:It is, in our view, fallacious to suppose that the pressures must be irresistible.That is not a very confident conclusion. I want a much stronger guarantee than that. One cannot merely argue that these pressures need not be irresistible. That sounds as if the thing were still a very grave danger. It is at least arguable that an authority free of this danger, and with great new powers, might be more effective than one which was exposed to this danger.
We must consider a number of these alternatives and not shut the door on them. It would be a mistake to rush into acceptance of one line of possible action to achieve our ends while shutting all the doors on the other ways of achieving them. The essential thing is that the Authority should have the controlling voice in networking and the planning and production of programmes. This may be done, as Pilkington proposes, by separating planning and production. It may be done by giving the Authority statutory duties and powers to share closely in planning and production. In either case the Authority could itself produce programmes. It has such power under the existing law, if it wished to exercise it. We would not have to increase its powers for that.
I find it hard to answer these questions partly because I do not think that Pilkington adequately argued either its own proposals for Recommendation 43. or the alternatives it refers to, or the specific methods, which it does not discuss. So long as the end is clear—an urgent and radical reconstruction of I.T.V.—it is wiser, at this stage, to keep our minds open on some of the means.
On the matter of the licence fee, I wish to say this. It is a poll tax which falls equally on everyone. It has all the defects of a poll tax and among those defects are the great social difficulties in raising it, because one always has to consider the effect on the poorest person on whom it may fall. This is one of the difficulties which arose out of the Beveridge scheme for social insurance. If we say, as Pilkington does, that we 446 can only raise revenue for the B.B.C. by licensing, we shall, sooner or later, come up against this difficulty the social impossibility of raising a poll tax beyond a certain point, and that would curb the proper development of the B.B.C.
I think that the licence fee is high enough already and I am certainly not in favour of a £6 licence. There are some short-term devices—the £1 Excise which raises £12 million a year and which everyone regards as part of the licence that ought to go to the B.B.C. But there is a case, in principle, for getting part of the B.B.C.'s revenue from general taxation which falls more fairly on people than the poll tax. The Government get a great deal out of television.
Of course, one must guard against the danger of any Government influence on the B.B.C. or the appearance of it. I believe that there are various ways of achieving this end. For instance, I Chink that a statutory charge upon the Consolidated Fund is one. This is a device which we use when we want to protect some income from political influence. The judges, the Comptroller and Auditor General and Mr. Speaker have their salaries charged as a statutory charge on the Consolidated Fund in order to avoid any danger of Government control. I think that we should look carefully at the idea of a statutory charge on the Consolidated Fund for the duration of the Charter so that the B.B.C. would be immune from any sort of political influence in the meanwhile. The right hon. Gentleman asked for proposals. I give him this one, and I think that it is an important one.
In the matter of local sound broadcasts, I am with Pilkington and against the Government. I think there is a great deal to be said for this. They ought to go to the B.B.C. for the arguments adduced by the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman gave a lot of arguments why they should go to the B.B.C. and then said he would keep his mind open on the matter. I am with the right hon. Gentleman in his arguments. I think that a start should be made and that this is a good service.
This is an interim debate and we are not called upon to make final decisions. The Motion before us invites us to take note of the White Paper, and, in any case, final decision cannot be taken until 447 we have the second White Paper, the Charter, the new Bill and all the rest. But I warn the right hon. Gentleman that we take very seriously indeed the proper reconstruction, and radical reconstruction, of commercial television. If the fourth programme is given to the I.T.V. and not to the educational service, and if there are not radical and far-reaching changes which turn the I.T.A. into a principal in relation to agents, which remedy the abuse of advertising and break up the tie-up with the Press—if these things are not put before us by the Government we shall oppose them with all our force and fight to get the sort of radical reconstruction of television in which we believe.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Allan (Paddington, South)
I think that a number of hon. Members know that I am associated with a company which has some direct experience with pay television and that this company is seeking to sponsor pay television in this country. I may say that I have no personal financial interest in the company and that I receive no salary for what I do for it.
I hope, therefore, that hon. Members will agree that I have a right to intervene in this debate and, indeed, to advocate the system of pay television. I am rather glad to do so at this stage, because my right hon. Friend, in, if I may say so, a very attractive and witty speech, indicated that he thought serious consideration should be given to the allocation of the fourth channel to commercial television based on advertising.
The right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) suggested that the fourth channel should be an educational channel. I think that it is quite appropriate at the moment that I should suggest that the claims of pay television should be considered for this channel as well. I wish to challenge the arguments on which the Pilkington Committee rejected pay television. I think it right to do this because the Pilkington Committee was an eminent one, and although some people have completely brushed aside its arguments I think that they should be met and met seriously.
In considering pay television, the Committee decided that it should be judgedby whether it will naturally make for the realisation of the purposes of broadcasting.448 As the House knows, the Pilkington Committee devoted the whole of Chapter 3 to a consideration of what the purposes of broadcasting should be. The House will remember that the Committee appreciated, in paragraph 49, that the choice lay somewhere in betweengiving the public what it wantsandgiving the public what someone thinks is good for it".I do not want to quote too much from the Report, but I will, if I may quote, from paragraph 46, which states:No one can say he is giving the public what it wants, unless the public knows the whole range of possibilities which television can offer and, from this range, chooses what it wants to see.Again, on the same argument, the Committee says it would accept this argument if it ran:What the public wants and what it has the right to get is the right to the freedom to choose from the widest possible range of programme matter. Anything less than that is deprivation.My last quotation is of the last two sentences of Chapter 53, which state:All broadcasting, and television especially, must be ready and anxious to experiment to show the new and unusual, to give a hearing to dissent. Here, broadcasting must be most willing to make mistakes; for if it does not. it will make no discoveries.As I have said, the Committee agreed that pay television should be judged on whether or not it made for the realisation of the purposes of broadcasting. I submit that pay television fits perfectly into the purposes of broadcasting as defined by these three extracts from the Committee's Report on the subject. In the first place, if pay television is to appeal to the public at all and get a fee for what it offers it must offer something which is of special interest and high quality. On the other hand, as it is to be paid for programmes, there is no point in it trying to offer anything to the public simply because it thinks it is good for it.
Pay television has, as it were, built in "thrust bearings" which will force it to operate within the limits which the Pilkington Committee set. It must encourage high quality programmes and encourage discrimination among viewers. It must continually test and experiment, and no doubt, as the Pilkington Committee foresaw, it may make mistakes. 449 But I am also quite certain that it can make new discoveries in this field.
It seems to me that pay television meets almost exactly the criteria set by the Pilkington Committee. The Committee rejected it, quite contrary to its own arguments, on four irrelevant counts which are, indeed, based on inaccurate facts. Very briefly, I wish to touch on the four counts on which pay television is rejected by Pilkington. First, the question of cost. Paragraph 974 argues that the only purpose of a pay television unit is for the collection of money.
In the next paragraph it argues that the 2s. per week per subscriber which is estimated to be the operating cost must be considered as a collection cost, and in the following paragraph it compares this cost of collection with the cost of collection of the B.B.C. licence. In the first place, the pay T.V. unit serves other purposes than just the collection of money. Secondly, the figure of 2s. covers studio operating costs, rent to an authority, and interest and capital depreciation on transmitters for three programmes. To compare this with the cost of the collection of the B.B.C. licence through existing State organisations is stretching the argument beyond belief.
In paragraph 976 the Committee complains Chat the cost of collection will be greater than the cost of programmes. If one thinks about this, one must realise that the cost of programmes bears no relation to the cost of collection. To evaluate the true cost of a pay T.V. service one must compare it with what a family would pay for special entertainment, or instruction sought in other more orthodox ways. It must be compared with the cost of theatre or cinema tickets, the cost of tickets at a sports stadium, or even fees at night school. Incidentally, one has to remember that in calculating these costs the money spent on transport and baby sitters and that kind of thing must be taken into consideration.
The second reason for rejecting pay T.V. was the effect that it might have on existing services. Everyone I know who has advocated pay television has indicated that there should be an authority to run it, and this authority would unquestionably have the power to 450 determine what programmes should or should not go over the pay T.V. system. It could deny certain programmes to a pay T.V. service. As the House knows, this method is already used, and a list exists by Which both B.B.C. and I.T.A. are prevented from claiming exclusive rights on certain programmes designated as national events. Such a list, extended by all means if necessary, could easily be applied to pay T.V. I do not think that there is any danger of the existing services losing material in that way.
The Committee also argues that there is such a limited amount of material available that a pay T.V. service would have to be sustained by robbing the existing services of the programme material which was currently available. This is a negative approach. There was a letter in The Times yesterday, signed by a number of distinguished people in the world of entertainment and sport, which advocated pay T.V. because of the stimulus that it would give to their interests. I have had conversations with many producers and promoters of sports, people concerned with high class and less high class entertainment, and all are agreed that pay T.V. would create new material for itself, and also, incidentally, for the other television services.
In addition to the specially created material, there are a lot of programmes which are eminently suitable for a pay T.V. service which are not at present suitable for the free services. For in-instance, complete theatre productions, complete ballet, or opera, could be available, instead of excerpts as now. There could be a complete and uninterrupted view of Wimbledon tennis or Test matches. Not in competition with free television, but as an alternative, being run concurrently, so that if any time during a Test match, or a tennis match, the programme turned to Children's Hour, or something else, a viewer could, by paying, continue to watch cricket or tennis. Again, there could be special programmes of exhibitions, or instruction in all kinds of specialised events such as archery, fencing, or golf. We have people offering programmes on how to sail dinghies, and there are endless opportunities for programmes giving instruction in bridge, chess, and so on.
451 Those are some examples of the lighter type of entertainment which could be available, and there are almost as many of a rather more serious nature. There is instruction in diploma courses in languages and in adult education, and refresher courses for professional people such as lawyers, doctors and dentists.
Another important fact in this connection is that pay T.V. programmes can be repeated. Indeed, it is part of their attraction that they will be repeated so that viewers can look at them at times of their own choice. Their repetition, in fact, increases the amount of material available. I do not think that there is any justifiable argument for the Charge of poaching by a pay T.V. service on existing material, and the same consideration applies to talent. Why should we think that there is a limited pool of talent? This argument was used against the introduction of commercial television in the first place, but consider how the demand has brought forth new resources. The same thing could happen with the introduction of pay T.V., perhaps even more so because the demand would be for higher quality.
Again, the Pilkington Committee rejects pay T.V. because it fears that it will cause a further decline in live audiences. There is a decline in live audiences, but this is due much more to the changing habits of people in an affluent society than to anything else. The motor oar has had more effect on the reduction of live audiences than ordinary television services. Also, I believe that pay T.V. seeks out and finds in the home new types of audience who have not been able to participate before. For instance, a London theatre production could be made available to people in the North of England. Programmes from the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, or courses in Russian, could be made available to individuals in remote parts of the country who could not possibly go to the source of the entertainment.
Finally, in this connection, a small T.V. screen will never replace the excitement and drama of going to an event, any more than the record player is a substitute for the concert hall. Indeed, the record player has stimulated and increased the number of live audiences at concerts, opera, and so on. Undoubtedly, the same thing could happen with pay 452 T.V. It could provide a new stimulus for people engaged in the creation, promotion, and production of sport and entertainment.
The last argument adduced by the Committee against pay T.V. is what the Committee calls the dynamic of profitability. The argument is that a minority programme might be profitable, but majority programmes would be much more so, and therefore the operators of the pay T.V. system would concentrate on that. This shows that the Committee did not understand the essential characterestic of the type of pay T.V. service that we are recommending.
An essential quality of this is that there should be three simultaneous programmes appealing at the one time to three different classes of people. It would seek to increase its audience not by going out for a mass audience, but by appealing to three different series of minorities, for those minorities are there. It might, if they were good enough, get a large audience on any one occasion. Then the dynamic of profitability would force it to go for the two other sets of minorities to increase still further its revenue without greatly adding to its overheads. In that way, the dynamic of profitability would work in exactly the contrary direction to what the Pilkington Committee foresaw and be the best guarantee that minorities were catered for.
I have spoken for quite a long time on the Pilkington argument and I do not make any apology for doing so. The Committee was an eminent one and I think that their arguments must be met. I hope that I have convinced the House that the rejection by the Committee of pay television is really contrary to its declared objective and is based on unacceptable arguments.
In trying to meet these arguments, I have advanced some of the positive reasons why I advocate the pay television system. Broadly speaking, viewers want the choice of light entertainment, more serious entertainment, and finally, what I think the right hon. Gentleman called the information or educational services. This can only be done by three simultaneous programmes. I do not see how a free service could possibly provide that, but a pay service 453 could do so in high quality and, furthermore, be financially self-supporting.
I speak with some authority and confidence on this because we have had, as some hon. Members know, the benefit of a three years' experiment of this system in Toronto. I should like to say very few words about it. First, this was, and still is, an experiment. It was never intended that this very limited service to only 5,000 or 6,000 people should make a profit and, therefore, the argument of the people who decry pay television because of the so-called losses made in Canada can be discounted. The experiment was carried out for two main purposes. First, to prove that pay television was a technical possibility. This was done with dramatic success. There are no technical snags whatever with the pay-television system. The second point of the experiment was to test viewer reaction to a number of programmes which varied from modern opera to do-it-yourself kits and from ice hockey to Hitchcock horror films.
Toronto has West end cinemas as we have in London and also local release cinemas. To test the reaction of pay television on cinema audiences, the authorities there carried out an experiment with three films which had had a West end run and a local run as well. One week after the local run they put on three films, at different times, over pay television. The films were "The Parent Trap", "The Absent-Minded Professor" and the "Swiss Family Robinson." Over one-third of the pay television subscribers paid to see the films. That shows that pay television is not robbing the cinemas of their audiences; indeed, they are finding the lost cinema audiences. This is further confirmed by a poll which showed that 32 per cent. of the adult pay television subscribers had, in fact, not visited a cinema for over a year.
In Toronto the local football team had refused up to then to allow its games to be televised. However, last year it allowed pay television to televise seven games While these were being put out over pay television there was no drop in gate. In fact, the gate was larger on each occasion than it had been for this match in the preceding year. It did not suffer any loss in gate money, but had 454 additionally the television revenue. In January and February this year pay television put out nine away games of Toronto ice hockey matches over its system. These were away games and 23 per cent. of the viewers paid to see those matches. This was a very nice additional revenue for the club and, of course, involved no loss of gate money because they were away matches.
These figures show what the use of pay television could mean to the finances of local cricket and football clubs. They also show, incidentally, that a pay television service can break even on the basis of 30,000 subscribers. Of course, these figures—and there are others which I should be only too delighted to make available to my right hon. Friend should he want them—are applicable to North America. I believe, however, that they give us sufficient information to make it unnecessary for us to have a trial in this country. We could go ahead straight away with a start, maybe on a limited scale. If my right hon. Friend decides that a trial should take place, I hope, despite what he said just now, it will be on a large scale, otherwise it will not be possible to make deductions from it. I also hope that it will be in an area from which it will be possible, if the trial proves successful, to develop naturally into a full pay television service.
I ask him most urgently to consider that it should not only be a trial over wire, but a trial over the air as well, because pay television systems have now been developed, tested and proved for both wire and air. Which system is used depends I think very largely on cost and speed of development. If one is to go for any significant coverage of the country and densely populated areas are not to be favoured at the expense of lighter populated areas, there is no doubt that the air system will be enormously cheaper than any wire system.
As to speed, I think that it takes twelve years to get full air coverage, but I believe that the present estimate is about five years for 65 per cent. coverage. According to the Relay Association Book, the existing relay systems are capable of transmitting television over wire to about 130 communities out of a total of 2,500 communities listed in this country. The great 455 populated areas of Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Glasgow and Edinburgh are not even touched by wire and Greater London itself is hardly touched. In the areas which are served only 12 per cent. take advantage of the relay system offered. In total, just over 3 per cent. of all television licence holders receive their television over wire.
Even if instead of the 12 per cent. that I have mentioned, 100 per cent. of homes in the wired communities took the relay services—which is unlikely—it would still mean that only 21 per cent. of the country was covered. This alone would occupy the companies concerned for years, and it would be a very expensive operation. To undertake, in addition, the task of first preparing and then wiring even the large areas of population at present unwired would be an enormously lengthy and very expensive procedure.
A broadcast, on the other hand, reaches the isolated areas and the built-up areas equally effectively, and if a reasonable national coverage is to be achieved it is very much cheaper than wire. Wire services must play a part in this, too, but if we are to get a significant and quick economic coverage a broadcast transmission must be used. This is quite possible, as my right hon. Friend knows. I have already sent him a scheme indicating how it could be done.
It makes a great deal more sense to give the fourth channel to a pay television service than to an additional commercial service, based on advertising. I agree with the right hon. Member opposite in what he said on that subject. He and others on his side of the House want to curb the present I.T.V. profits. Many of us will be discussing ways in which this can be done as well as by the introduction of another service based on advertising, but we all want to see standards of television raised.
Another advertising channel would be bound to encourage and increase fierce competition for mass audiences, as the right hon. Gentleman indicated, quoting from Rediffusion's statement to the Pilkington Committee. That is not the way to raise television standards. A discriminating pay television service, on the other hand, would raise standards and do so without imposing a financial 456 burden on the general public. To go ahead with pay television now would not only raise standards, but would also allow us to level peg with the United States, and lead Western Europe in the development of a new medium which has very far reaching possibilities. Not least, for us here, in this Chamber, it would offer a new solution for the future organisation of our television services. If we have two services financed by licence revenue, one by advertising revenue and one by consumer's choice, this could be a non-partisan solution. It would remove from party controversy the whole question of broadcasting. AM those who are interested in the future of broadcasting, and not least my right hon. Friend, would surely wish to see that.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Christopher Mayhew (Woolwich, East)
The hon, Member for Paddington, South (Mr. R. Allan) has given us a comprehensive picture of the pay-television service. I take the view that if Parliament ware to offer television on pay T.V. a large coin would be required to tune in to the hon. Member. I hope that he will forgive me if I do not follow him on the subject of pay-television; I want to devote my remarks almost entirely to Recommendation No. 43 of the Pilkington Report which, as the Postmaster-General said, is probably the most controversial and the most important decision facing us.
There will be much agreement with what the right hon. Gentleman said in his speech and with what is contained in the White Paper; for example, with the proposal that the B.B.C. should get a second channel—although I would add that the arguments are more evenly balanced between the B.B.C.'s getting a second channel and its being given to an independent public corporation than the Pilkington Committee made out—the proposal that certain technical changes should take place, and also the caution which the Government are rightly displaying on the question of the £6 licence fee. I understand that the cost to the B.B.C. of the Pilkington recommendations is £6 and that the cost of the White Paper recommendations is £5. In any case, I go along wholly with those who say that at this time we do not require so stiff a rise in the licence fee as that recommended by the Pilkington Committee.
457 I now turn to the controversial issue of the reform of I.T.V. There can be few controversial issues on which it is less useful to seek guidance from the newspapers at the present time. It is a familiar experience to those who have attacked I.T.V. to find that their criticisms are consistently ignored or mis-reported in one section of the Press and. by compensation, reported with gratifying generosity in the other. There is an almost perfect correlation between a newspaper's shareholding in I.T.V. and its willingness to publish criticisms of it.
The Press and television should never have been tied up together. Even taking them separately, they are already far too powerful and monopolistic. To have put them into each other's pockets, as the Authority did, was a disastrous mistake. The Pilkington Committee does not go far enough in this matter. It merely states that no dominant Press interest should be allowed in a programme company. I see no answer to the simple recommendation that there should be a total separation of the Press and television, so that both can watch each other vigilantly and can criticise each other freely and objectively, in that way making a contribution instead of a threat to our Parliamentary democracy.
One of the misrepresentations made of the Pilkington Report in the Press was that it made out I.T.V. to be a total failure. This is not so. A careful reading—and I admit that it must be a little careful—shows that a lot of well-deserved praise was bestowed on certain aspects of I.T.V. I agree with the Report in much of this praise I.T.N. was warmly praised, deservedly, and a proportion of I.T.V. output was declared to be excellent. Tribute was paid to the advances which I.T.V. caused in television production techniques. I agree with that. I add that I consider that the speed at which I.T.V. was established after the Act was quite remarkable, and reflects great credit on the administrators concerned.
The Report also makes some important and unavoidable criticisms. Four main defects, which will be agreed by hon. Members on both sides of the House, are revealed by the Report: first, inadequate competition between programme companies; secondly inadequate control of advertisements; thirdly, 458 inadequate range and balance of programmes, and fourthly, excessive profits. To overcome these four defects the Committee put forward its famous Recommendation No. 43, proposing that advertising should be sold by the Authority, which would do the programme planning and buy the programmes substantially from the programme, companies.
This recommendation has been the principal target of attack by the supporters of commerial television, and by the programme companies in particular. They are right to single it out. There is no doubt that the principles behind it are extremely drastic and mean that programme planning is to be run on the basis of a public service instead of a commercial profit. Therefore, this scheme of reorganisation is not merely one scheme among many; it raises in the clearest form the most fundamental issue in broadcasting—the choice between public service planning and commercial planning of programmes.
We ought to support this recommendation. It should be implemented. I take this view not on doctrinal grounds or on grounds of morality, although arguments can be put forward on those grounds; I take the view simply because it is the most straightforward and practical way to overcome the defects which hon. Members on both sides of the House agree require to be remedied in I.T.V.
Let us take the first of these defects, the question of the range and balance of programmes, that is to say, the mixing, often in peak hours, of programmes which appeal to less-than-maximum audiences. They need not be highbrow programmes. Here I think that the Postmaster-General was wrong. He suggested that we should mix Dostoievsky and, I think, Ruby M. Ayres. But, of course, a minority programme is not necessarily a highbrow programme. Football, in general terms, is a minority programme. Women do not watch it. Current affairs is a minority programme; gardening, local affairs, travel programmes, religion, greyhound racing—none of these can be described as highbrow, but none gets a maximum audience. They could, therefore, be called minority programmes.
459 They often get big audiences, even though not the largest audiences. Everyone, the Government, I.T.A. and hon. Members, agree that these programmes must be given a fair showing in any proper broadcasting system. It is increasingly realised—this is something which could be demonstrated by audience research and often has been— that, in fact, it is these programmes, which appeal to a particular taste or a particular interest, that are actually more keenly enjoyed by those watching them than programmes which are watched by a much larger number of people. This can be demonstrated.
I.T.A. strongly agrees that there should be this mixture, this balance, this wide-range programme. Hon. Members Will have received, as I have received, booklets from I.T.A. deliberately designed to show that the Authority does not set out to get maximum audiences all the time, but, in fact, puts many minority programmes on even at peak hours. Whether the booklets actually prove this is another question. There are a lot of statistical pitfalls in this question. What is a peak hour is one statistical pitfall. Another is, what is a minority programme? A current affairs programme on some subject, treated authoritatively, will get a much smaller audience than a programme on the same subject which is treated sensationally. Thus it is very difficult to deal with statistics of the degree of seriousness of programmes on the two systems. My point is simply that the Authority itself agrees on the importance of balance. So do the Government and so do the programme companies.
In their evidence in the Pilkington Report, which is summarised in paragraph 194, all the main companies agree that they have a responsibility for leading public taste and that is an implied responsibility to cater for the minority as well as the majority taste. Here, I suggest, we have an important shift in the climate of opinion since the debates which we had on the Television Act. At that time there was a great deal of argument that the test of a television system or programme was simply the size of the audience which it attracted. The system which attracted the largest audience would be giving the viewers what they wanted, it would be a demo- 460 cratic programme. It was further argued correctly enough that the commercial motif in broadcasting would ensure that the maximum audience was obtained at all times. The larger the audience the more the advertising rates and the higher the profit. It would be a kind of self-regulating system.
That is a totally different outlook; it is an outlook against balance and a wide range of programmes. My question is, if we now accept, as we do, that getting the maximum audience all the time is not the purpose of broadcasting, what exactly is the advantage of having programme planning commercially motivated? What do we gain by it? What point is there in rewarding programme planners according to the size of the audience if it is not their duty to go for the biggest audience?
The programme companies agree that there is no commercial advantage in putting on a minority programme. In the Pilkington Report it states:Anglia Television said that independent television must be concerned to hold the maximum audience; Associated Rediffusion said that it was inevitable that it should serve the majority; for Scottish Television Mr. Thomson said that, because advertisers paid for viewers. ' it is inevitable in the system that you should be reaching generally for a maximum'"—and so on. It is perfectly plain that to the extent that they broadcast minority programmes the companies lose money, and to the extent that they pursue their profits, as they are entitled to do, they unbalance their programme schedules. Therefore, one would have thought that they were the worst possible people to be in charge of programme planning for television. The only sensible and logical solution, therefore, is to do what the Pilkington Committee recommends, namely, to separate programme planning from the commercial profit basis. The planning would be done by I.T.A. which is a public service and a non-profit making body.
The Postmaster-General seemed to feel that this problem of balance and range could be solved by a halfway house. He suggested that we could leave the programme companies earning the advertising revenue but strengthen the Authority. This comes up against the basic snag which the Pilkington Committee plainly realised, that if we make the Authority the planner while leaving the advertising revenue with the companies, we create 461 a conflict of interest at the top of I.T.V. which makes efficient administration impossible. That is the conclusion which the hardheaded business people on the Pilkington Committee came to.
On the one hand, under the Minister's scheme the Authority has a duty to secure a proper range and balance of programme, but, on the other hand, it is in the financial interest of the companies to evade it. Therefore, what we should get would be more directives, more detailed codes, more monitoring and supervision, more fines, I suppose, and there would have to be a preview of all the programmes because it would not be possible to secure range and balance in the programmes without knowing what they were about. Therefore, we should be creating the maximum bureaucracy and the maximum friction.
I should be sorry for the programme companies because in this kind of halfway house they would be getting their revenue from the advertisers, but the Authority would decide when their programmes went on the air. The result would be that the companies might make a large programme for a mass audience at a great cost, but the Authority might put it on late in the evening and the company would make a loss.
To sum up on this question of principle,' it would seem to be that once we agree that programme planning should be balanced, we must agree that it should not be commercially motivated. Once we agree that it should not be commercially motivated it is absurd to leave programme planning in the hands of commercial programme companies.
The second defect, which I think is agreed by hon. Members on both sides of the House, is in the control of advertising. It was referred to by my right hon. Friend, and I think we all agree that a closer control is needed over the amount of advertising, over the content and over the "natural break" about which the Postmaster-General is to talk to the Independent Television Authority. Again it is suggested that the way to handle this is not through the Pilkington Committee recommendations but simply by strengthening the supervision of the Authority over the programme companies.
462 We have heard this kind of thing before. These are the assurances that we were given when the Television Act was being discussed in this House. Everything was to be all right, we were told, and there would not be too much advertising. There would be no irritating interruptions of the programmes, we were told, because for one thing—hon. Members may remember this—it was contrary to the interests of the advertisers that such things should happen. We were even told on one occasion, I recall, that British advertisers were not like foreign advertisers and that they would never stand for things of that kind—and if they did they would be quickly disciplined by the iron hand of Sir Robert Fraser.
I recall, in particular, the natural break and the assurances we were given by Government spokesmen about that. I cannot resist quoting Lord Kilmuir on the natural break. He said:Suppose there is a two-act play and there is a really natural break between the acts, I cannot myself see any harm in an advertisement coming in there, especially if the first act had lasted an hour and 10 minutes."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th March, 1954; Vol. 525, c. 1448.]I see that he is tipped for the post of Director-General of I.T.A. by the Evening Standard this evening. Compare the assurances which we were given at that time with what happened. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) may recall that he and I went to the Independent Television Authority a year or two later to complain about a number of matters, including the natural break. I asked the Director-General what advantage it was to interrupt Dr. Bronowski's science lecture with a commercial. In the words of the agreed minute of the meeting he replied thata pause was an advantage in exposition just as chapters were an advantage in a book.It was the same concerning the amount of advertising. Again in the House we were given an assurance that the Authority with its iron hand would look after this. We were told that what was envisaged was five or six minutes' advertising in the hour. We have not got that yet. We still have seven minutes maximum, though heaven knows that is better than what we have had in the intervening years. We have 463 had a system which is called averaging. It means that the Authority says six minutes an hour, but averaged over the day, which means three minutes an hour or less in the mornings and afternoons when no one is watching and rates are low, and nine minutes in the evenings when everyone is watching and rates are high. That is the trick by which viewers have had inflicted on them nearly twice as much advertising at peak hours as they are entitled to have.
Last week the Postmaster-General said in this connection that he did not think it very rewarding to look into the past. Many of us on this side of the House would understand his feeling on that point, but, on the contrary, I feel that there is something to be said for studying carefully the means by which the programme companies—aided and abetted by the Government—have evaded the Television Act, so that we may be able to stop these evasions in future. If the Government could not withstand the pressure to water down the Television Act, why should we expect them to be able to withstand the very much heavier pressure to water down the Pilkington Committee recommendations? The dominant feature of this whole battle in the last eight years has been the vulnerability of the Conservative Party to commercial pressures.
The Pilkington Report recognises as a logical solution of this problem of controlling advertising simply that advertising should be taken away from the programme companies which have abused their privileges and given to the Independent Television Authority. If a suitable financial basis were arranged for the Authority, there would be no incentive to advertise more than was appropriate or to interrupt programmes in an irritating way or put on advertisements of a low standard—for instance, the detergent advertisements which are regarded by millions of viewers as dishonest.
That is the simple solution of the Pilkington Committee, but a great clamour has grown up among the programme companies against this idea that they should lose this valuable, powerful privilege of television advertising. It will be interesting to see on which side the Government come down, on the side of the Pilkington Committee's recom- 464 mendation that advertising should go to the control of the Authority or to the programme companies strong pressure that they should be allowed to retain it. We shall watch with great vigilance to see on which side they come down and we shall bring home to the electorate what their decision is. As indicated by the Postmaster-General today, it seems likely that they will not accept the Pilkington recommendation but will go for a watered down compromise to strengthen the Authority in its relation to the programme companies on advertising.
If they try that halfway house they will be up against the same conflict of interests as if they tried to organise the balance and range of programmes. On the one hand, the Authority's duty will be to make sure that there is not too much advertising, and irritating advertising, in the middle of the programmes, while, on the other hand, there will be the companies' financial interests and what is most profitable from the financial point of view. This conflict of interest will lead to more detailed codes, supervision and bureaucracy of all kinds. If there is one document in the world which is useless and fatuous it is a code of advertising practice. If we want codes and directives of this kind, the Television Act is full of them and the I.T.A. has a mass of advertising practice codes. The solution is not to tidy up this matter and make it tighter and more elaborate. The solution which is best from every point of view, of common sense and good administration, is to get advertising into the hands of the Authority and away from the programme companies.
The third great defect which the Pilkington Committee set out to overcome with its recommendations was lack of competition among the programme companies. Here we are talking about two forms of lack of competition. There is the monopoly of selling advertising and the monopoly in the sense that only certain companies can get their programes broadcast. In the advertising monopoly there is common ground, I believe, between the Postmaster-General and myself as against my right hon. Friend. As I see it, he and I agree that television advertising must not remain a monopoly in private hands. I think he 465 adds the suggestion of a second channel to try to break the television advertisers' monopoly.
The Pilkington recommendation is to make a private monopoly into a public one and to cream off the surplus revenue for the Treasury. The Government's intention to start a further channel would at least change the monopoly into a duopoly, as it might be called. A duopoly is a racket enjoyed by two persons instead of one. The best answer against making a fourth channel commercial has been given, strangely enough, by the Independent Television Authority itself. I quote from the evidence it gave to the Pilkington Committee as quoted in the Authority's booklet on educational television. The Authority says in its evidence:The Authority is inclined to feel that three general television services are perfectly adequate to meet public demand, and that the addition of a fourth general service would not be very sensible …. We can have four television services. Which is better for the nation—to add to three general services a fourth general service or to add a specialised and broadly educational service, with a purpose different from the other three?I do not see that it could be better put than that. This was when the Authority thought it would get the third channel. I ask the Minister whether his suggestions about an additional channel are accepted by the Television Authority. What it has written is sensible. I doubt very much whether there is much public demand for a fourth channel. I doubt very much whether there is enough entertaining talent for a fourth general channel. I am sure, however, that a wonderful service could be given by a specialised educational channel run on proper lines.
We must somehow create competition among the programme companies in the markets of programmes. The Pilkington Committee's recommendation is quite simple and sensible on this. It would create competition by requiring the companies to sell their programmes to the Independent Television Authority or, if they preferred, to some other purchaser. There is no reason why they should not sell them to the B.B.C. or to a foreign service. This would ensure competition between companies and a fair deal for the smaller as against the bigger companies. What the Government plan is far from clear. The Minister made 466 no proposals on this point at all, and it is a weakness of his position in trying to create a system of competition between the programme companies without putting the Authority in charge of the programme planning and while the programme companies still have the advertising.
I will not say much about profits, because I do not agree with the Pilkington Committee when it says that Recommendation 43 is the only way of bringing down the programme companies' profits. There are a number of other ways possible. Nevertheless, Recommendation 43 would undoubtedly bring down the profits to a more reasonable level.
All the time since the Report has been published, those who support Recommendation 43 have been awaiting a detailed and authoritative statement as to why this recommendation will not work. We have watched the newspapers and the periodicals. The Minister has had two or three months in which to study the proposal and to bring before the House a clear statement showing why it will mot work.
§ Mr. Mayhew
I hope that my hon. Friend does it better than did the Minister, because if he does not, we may take it that it is totally workable, because none of the points raised by the Minister had not been discussed by members of the Pilkington Committee.
His first objection was that it will create a kind of B.B.C. It is true that programme planning under this recommendation would be a public service matter and not commercially motivated —and that is important—but the programme companies would still remain and would be local. Anglia would still be in Anglia, Granada would still be in the North, and there would still be local broadcasting of local things. That is very different from the B.B.C. They would be financed differently from the B.B.C. The style of the programme companies would be unchanged, and it is perceptibly different from the B.B.C. I see no ground for saying that I.T.V. under the new set-up would not have a distinctive characteristic of its own.
467 We were told that under the recommendation the Authority might be undesirably influenced by advertising if it took the advertising itself. This would depend to some extent on how the finances of the Authority were arranged. But if, as many hope, we simply give the Independent Television Authority the right to raise a certain sum of money by advertising, it will have no incentive whatever to yield to the pressure of advertisers. It will have no shareholders and make no profit. The danger of pressure from advertising seems to be negligible.
The only other way in which the Postmaster-General said that it would be unworkable was in the question of payment. There is a simple answer to this objection. At the moment, both in B.B.C. and I.T.A. there is an infinite variety of means of payment for programmes. At one end there is the B.B.C. which might create a programme entirely out of its own administrative staff. That would be one kind of payment. At the other end, the B.B.C. goes to America and buys a series of programmes. That is another kind of payment. In between those two there is every type of payment for programmes, and the same could be true under the I.T.A. scheme.
Quite a proportion of the I.T.A. programmes will be bought abroad—let us say 15 per cent. Another proportion will be made by I.T.A.—say, 20 per cent. Another proportion will be locally done by the programme companies and the question of payment will not arise. That makes 50 par cent. of the programmes. For the rest, there is an infinite variety of ways of handling payments for programmes, and I therefore claim that no case has been made out by the Government in this respect.
A number of other objections have been raised. The Lord President of the Council mentioned two or three of them. I am glad that the Postmaster-General did not refer to them in the House today, and I have it on good authority that none of the objections mentioned by him today is considered important at a very high level in the Independent Television Authority.
Finally, there is the argument that this recommendation, this radical reform, 468 would be unpopular with the public. If there had been evidence of resistance from the public to this very important plan, I believe that the Minister would have brought it forward today. He brought no evidence forward that the public was against this drastic suggestion of the Pilkington Committee. He quoted no public opinion poll, for the very good reason that public opinion polls show a decisive majority of public opinion in favour of this Pilkington Committee recommendation. The established polls in the Daily Mail and in the Daily Express have shown this quite plainly.
Perhaps I may quickly read into the record the Daily Mail poll, which is also typical of the Daily Express poll. This is the poll which has forecast with uncanny accuracy, with deadly and encouraging and extremely satisfactory frequency, the appealing by-election defeats of the Conservative Party in recent months. The question was,The Pilkington Committee suggests that in future the I.T.A. should run the advertisements, decide the programmes and order them from Granada, A.T.V. and the other companies. First, do you think the system will work? Yes, 53 per cent.; no, 39 per cent. Do you think that the system is desirable? Yes, 55 per cent.; no, 37 per cent. Do you think that this system will result in better I.T.V. programmes or poorer I.T.V. programmes? Better, 60 per cent.; poorer 29 per cent.The Daily Express poll is still more decisive.
It is a fact that whereas, as the Postmaster-General said, by the judgment of Tam ratings I.T.V. is extremely popular, whenever any survey of public opinion is made—for example, which does you best, I.T.V. or B.B.C.?—the public says over and over again that it prefers the B.B.C.
§ Mr. Mayhew
I could easily answer that. We have discussed balance and maximum audiences, for example. If my hon. Friend had been following me— I do not think that he could have been —he would know that that provides at least part of the answer.
The same poll asked,Taking all things into account, which do you think is doing the better job with television as far as people like yourself are concerned?469 The answer was, B.B.C. better, 42 per cent.; I.T.V. better, 22 per cent. Therefore, it is a fact which we must bear in mind that the mere existence of a high Tarn rating does not mean that I.T.V. is necessarily respected or regarded with great affection as a system by large sections of the British public.
In conclusion, if this is so, if it is not regarded with great affection and respect, we could argue whether it is due to dislike of advertisements; or to the false suggestion that commercial television is free; or because commercial television and the commercials in particular reflect a system of values which many people reject; or simply because after six years a large section of the British public feel that this commercial system is not the right way to run broadcasting in the last resort. Whatever it is, public support for this drastic recommendation of the Pilkington Committee is, I think, undeniable. If the Government reject it, let them do so on grounds that it is unworkable and not on grounds that they are pressed by a hostile public opinion.
I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend indicate that at worst he had an open mind about Recommendation No. 43. I am glad that he intends to study it further. I thought that I already detected some welcome signs in his speech of recent study. I put it to my right hon. Friend that the case for this reform should be made out on practical grounds as the most sensible and common-sense approach to overcome the defects about which we all agree.
But this reform is also a precise expression of the principle of public service broadcasting for which he and his party have fought year after year for many years. It is also the principle by which the Conservative Party stood year after year until 1954. In 1954 they were pushed off the traditional Conservative Party policy by a well-organised but unrepresentative pressure campaign.
This recommendation of the Pilkington Committee—a Committee which the Government set up, which was unanimous and which was of independent people—gives the Government an opportunity, if they wish, to go back on the path of public service planning of pro- 470 grammes which they should never have left. It gives them an opportunity of doing so without loss of face and with considerable dignity. I am therefore glad that the Postmaster-General did not rule out this recommendation today. If he accepts the broad principle behind the recommendation, not necessarily the scheme itself, he will be reflecting the real mood of the country on these matters and he will receive strong and well-deserved support from all political parties.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Sir Hugh Linstead (Putney)
I am sure that the whole House enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew). Behind it there was a great deal of knowledge and experience. Above all, it was delivered with a great deal of gusto. I could not help feeling that one ought to pass a discreet message, not to the Evening Standard, perhaps, but to the Evening News, tipping the hon. Gentleman as a possible runner for the chairmanship of the I.T.A. If the hon. Gentleman were able to take that rather unenviable post, I still have the feeling that, in spite of his enthusiasm for Recommendation 43, he would find that that proved somewhat more tough in the working out than he seems to think at the moment. A little later in my speech I shall state my basic reason for thinking that that way of solving a problem which, I admit, must be solved will probably not work.
I ought to say that I am a member of the General Advisory Council of the B.B.C. Therefore, I Start my approach to this subject prejudiced in favour of the B.B.C, but I have absolutely no authority to speak on the Corporation's behalf and what I have to say is my own personal opinion and nothing more.
I want to make a reference to the criticisms, some of which are justified, of the Pilkington Report for overstating the case for the B.B.C. and losing its balance in stating the objections to the conduct up to now of the I.T.A. and I.T.V. On the whole, as the hon. Member for Woolwich, East said, public opinion is broadly with Pilkington in saying that the Corporation has performed an admirable task in balancing 471 the three necessities of broadcasting— information, education and entertainment. I am certain that the public is with my right hon. Friend in desiring to see as soon as possible a second television channel going to the B.B.C. so as to give the Corporation the opportunity of balancing its programmes and giving a real variety of choice to viewers.
The criticism which is often made, and in some respects perhaps fairly made, that the B.B.C. is, as my right hon. Friend said, sometimes authoritarian—a little later he softened it and said "paternal"—or, as the Economist said, "Auntie" is something that for a moment is worth facing. My mind goes back to a meeting of the General Advisory Council of the B.B.C, when we were discussing some questions of standards in broadcasting. Our attention was drawn to the fact that the motto of the Corporation is the Latin word "Quaecunque"—in English, "Whatsoever things", taking us right back, as was pointed out at the meeting, to St. Paul—Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just …In so far as the B.B.C. has been animated by that motto and by regard for principles of that kind in the highly cynical world in which we live today, it is not a bad thing. In so far as the Corporation can be criticised for having put too much emphasis on that side of its activities, on the whole it is well on the side of the angels.
I do not know whether many hon. Members present now saw the film which some of us arranged to have shown in the Grand Committee Room in Westminster Hall, "T.V. Round the World." If any hon. Members did, the thing that must have stayed in their memory was the picture of those African audiences sitting in little communal listening posts getting their impressions of Western, European and American civilisation from the discarded American films. To see those eyes drinking in the impression of civilisation from the Westerns, the shootings, the riots and the murders was a lesson in the necessity for maintaining, so far as we reasonably can, the highest possible standards in broadcasting and television.
472 There are two problems which I want particularly to discuss. The first is the financing of the second B.B.C. channel, which I think raises a matter of considerable constitutional importance, both to the B.B.C. and to the House. The second question is the future of I.T.V., which the hon. Member for Woolwich, East has just dealt with.
The Corporation has made it abundantly clear that it regards it as impossible to maintain its reputation as an objective organisation serving certain standards independently of Government and independently of commerce if it has to draw any part of its finances either from advertising revenue or from a grant in aid from the Treasury. This proposition of the Corporation's, which is wholeheartedly supported by Pilkington, requires some thought and examination. We must not be afraid to look at this through the eyes of the man in the street. The Treasury is taking £85 million a year out of broadcasting at the moment. In a few years' time the figure could be as high as £100 million a year. The man in the street, conscious of Chat sort of revenue passing to the Treasury, mainly, in his mind, from the profits of commercial television, cannot equate that with a request that he should pay another £2 a year for his viewing licence.
We must face the problem squarely of not increasing the licence fee, but financing the second B.B.C. channel by what can only be a grant in aid from the Treasury, although balanced and represented by a payment into the Treasury from the profits of commercial television. If that is to be done, it is essential that ways and means should be found by which the Treasury grant does not, and does not appear to, impose any kind of control of policy by the Executive, nor control of methods and organisation by the Treasury.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
Can my hon. Friend hazard an estimate as to what the two figures might be, the grant in aid and the amount which could be taken from commercial broadcasting?
§ Sir H. Linstead
I think that I could, but I have not actually done the sum, so I would have to ask my hon. Friend to"put down a question ".
I am sure that public opinion is broadly in accord with that way of 473 financing development, and it is not impossible for means to be devised— whether by means of the Consolidated Fund Bill, as was suggested earlier, or in some other way—whereby the money could pass to the B.B.C. without any strings attached to it, and with no possibility of the Executive interfering with the Corporation's freedom, and its reputation for integrity and independence.
The question of Treasury control also requires some thought. The Public Accounts Committee already discusses the finances of the B.B.C, because the Corporation receives from the Post Office a certain repayment of the collective licence revenue. That is not open to objection, because it is an inquiry into how the money is spent, but with the B.B.C. moving in the world of entertainment—a world completely different from the world of the Civil Service and Government administration—it would be a tragedy if it found itself confronted with Treasury control, and Treasury inquiry into the detailed running of its administration. The B.B.C. is entitled to have every possible protection from that danger.
Then there is this most difficult subject of the future of I.T.V. From the point of view even of those who backed the setting up of independent television, the performance of I.T.A. and the results as shown in I.T.V. must be regarded as a disappointment, in the sense that there is immense limitation of What could have been great opportunities. After all, the object was to import competition into viewing, but the possibility of competition has been killed by allowing the growth of the network system.
The I.T.A. has not at all been seriously conscious of the need to combine education and information with entertainment, in the sense that if that is to be done seriously it must be done at the peak viewing hours. There is only a surface compliance if it is put on at hours when only very small audiences will be available. That is a disappointment to those who were glad to see the I.T.A. set up, because it at least gives the impression that it is the commercial tail that wags the I.T.V. dog.
I do not join in criticising the programme companies because of their 474 profits. I do not think that they arc to blame for the profits. The system was prescribed by Parliament, it has worked a certain way and has produced a certain result, and if anyone is to blame it is Parliament for having created the system. The most that can be said is that the profits should be regarded as being at the disposal of broadcasting, and need to be looked at again as part of the examination that is now going on.
The reorganisation of the I.T.A. must be done with two aims in view. Those aims are very easy to state, but probably very difficult to achieve. The first is to control programme companies for quality, and to ensure that they provide more competition. The second is to find a way to divert more of the advertising revenue for the general benefit of all listeners and all viewers.
I do not think that Recommendation 43 will work. It implies that the programme companies will have no financial interest in the success of their programmes except what they may be able to sell them for to the B.B.C. or to other purchasers. Once we take the possibility of cashing in on a really imaginative and successful programme we are liable completely to demoralise, and take away all substantial interests in, the programme producing of the programme companies—
§ Mr. Mayhew
Of course, the B.B.C. producers, who are at least as good as the I.T.V. producers, do not get that reward at all.
§ Sir H. Linstead
That is probably true, and it may be a weakness in my case. Nevertheless, there is a great deal of difference between planning a programme that one knows will be put on the air, a programme which, if it is successful, will at least bring one satisfaction of having done a good job and ensure that the artists one employs know that they will be put on the air, and the planning of a programme which, until it has been produced, one does not know whether one will be able to sell it.
It will be in the discouragement of the programme companies that we shall discover the weakness of this Pilkington recommendation. They will, in fact, become very little more than production agents. The I.T.A. will tell the programme companies the sort of things it 475 wants, and the companies will produce those things. There will be the minimum of incentive to producers, authors, and so on, to produce their inspired programmes. I find the arguments in paragraphs 579 and 585 of the Report completely unconvincing.
If the I.T.A. is to be the chosen agent for controlling commercial television, I do not think that sanctions of the kind Pilkington discusses will ever be likely to be very effective. The most effective sanction we can have for a body such as the I.T.A. is for it to have some hand in the choosing of the directors of the programme companies. If those directors know that some part of their continuance in office may depend on compliance with standards laid down by the I.T.A., we shall probably have a real sanction that money would not impose. But, on the whole, I do not believe that even that sanction is the way to deal with a body to which we give substantial public responsibility.
What my right hon. Friend really has to do is to choose his men properly; choose them, give them a job to do, and expect them to do it as public servants would do it. If that is done, and if they retain—and this, I think, answers what my right hon. Friend put to us—the control of the planning of the programmes, but not necessarily their content, they will have the authority that it is necessary to have over I.T.V.
The background of our discussion is what the public want, and I am sure that the public want a few very simple things which it is not impossible for us to give to them. They want as much real choice as possible. I am equally sure that they want the B.B.C. to be the main broadcasting medium. I am certain that they do not want an increased licence fee—they would be superhuman if they did—tout they would say that if the B.B.C. is to be financed partly by a grant in aid there must be safeguard to ensure its integrity and freedom. They want I.T.V. kept as a lively competitor and for broadcasting, however it is financed, to be recognised as a public service.
I believe that they would also say that, from their point of view, both the B.B.C. and I.T.V. should be equally independent. I do not quite know what 476 the word "independent" in the terms of the title "I.T.V." actually means now, but I am sure that this question of independence, both from Government and commerce, is really at the heart of the future of good broadcasting in this country.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards (Caerphilly)
As one who seven years ago played an active part in the debates concerning the establishment of commercial television, my reading of the Pilkington Report has given me a great deal of satisfaction. I recall that seven years ago Lord Kilmuir, the then Home Secretary, introduced the relevant Bill with the same sort of speech we heard from the Postmaster-General today. Then, as now, we were given various assurances, pledges and promises on how this new phenomenon in British broadcasting was going to be for the good of the nation.
When one reads the Pilkington Report one discovers that all our warnings were justified. That is borne out by the Report of this Conumittee which was hand-picked by hon. Gentlemen opposite. We were told that independent commercial television was being brought into being to break a monopoly. That was the great slogan of those days. But what do we find on reading the Pilkington Report? We find, as our own knowledge bears out, that a commercial monopoly in this country, in the hands of three men, now dominates commercial television. Three great companies control the network, with various minor companies as their satellites and protectorates. The controllers of these three companies are the men who are supposed to offer a real challenge to the monopoly of the B.B.C.
I recall how we repeatedly warned the Government of the dangers involved in natural breaks. The Pilkington Report deals with this and so far no one has denied the criticism contained in the Report. We also warned about the power of the Press—of a monopoly controlling the minds of the people—being in the hands of a small group which would have charge of the powerful new medium of commercial television. I do not know how the Postmaster-General could have made the sort of speech we heard today, in the sort of mood in which he delivered it. After all, both 477 he and his predecessor were repeatedly challenged on the natural breaks issue, about monopolies and about networking which was in contravention of the intention of the Act.
The justification for our warnings and criticisms and the fact that alterations are needed is contained in the Pilkington Report, for what this document states in a most critical manner has proved us to be right. I should have thought that it would have been obvious to the House Chat we made a great mistake seven years ago. Hon. Members should by now have appreciated that every pledge then given has been betrayed and that the people who pressed the thing through were really concerned not with the welfare of the nation but with the money that could be made out of it.
Instead of abusing the Pilkington Report we should all be grateful to that Committee for what it has done in the face of the climate of thinking which now exists. Despite all the power in the hands of the Press lords and big tycoons the Pilkington Committee has issued the sort of Report which calls us back to a sense of public duty. Now we must try to undo the things for which hon. Members opposite have been responsible. We must change it all and try to get back to a condition of sanity.
It has surprised me that on the Motion before the House we are discussing not the matters which are contained in the White Paper but, mainly, Recommendation 43 of the Pilkington Report on the future of commercial television. I understood that that was to be the subject of a further White Paper and that the great battle on the future of commercial television would not be fought today but on another occasion when this additional White Paper is before the House.
I differ from some of my hon. Friends over our approach to this problem. I believe that the responsibility for either implementing or rejecting the recommendations of the Pilkington Report on the future of commercial television rests with the present occupiers of the Front Bench opposite and not with those who sit on this side of the House. It is for the Government to say what they propose to do. Do they accept the general approach of the Report on commercial 478 television? If so, do they accept the means whereby that approach can be put into effect? Or do they believe that an entirely different type of structure from that suggested in the Report is the answer? The responsibility is theirs and my hon. Friends should not fire their ammunition before the big battle commences, so giving hon. Members opposite the excuse of using divisions on this side of the House for not applying the recommendations of the Pilkington Report.
I shall, therefore, leave the question of the future of commercial television to another occasion when, I hope, we shall be told what the Government intend to do. I am reminded of the attitude of the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill). When in Opposition that right hon. Gentleman always declared that it was for the Government to propose and for the Opposition to oriticise and examine their proposals. The Postmaster-General, when moving the Motion, devoted little time to the White Paper and I want to return to those parts of it which deal with the least controversial matters contained in the Pilkington Report.
I believe that there is a general welcome for using the available channels in Band III to set up a Welsh network. This would detach Wales from the West of England and would give Wales a complete Welsh network. I believe that there is also general agreement on the new powers to be given to the Welsh Council and the proposal to increase its numbers. It is equally important that a similar council should be established for commercial television. What is of greater importance is that on neither council should any person be appointed who has a direct financial interest in the programme contractors who will be operating in the Welsh area or in the I.T.A.
Equally, we welcome the acceptance by the Government that there shall be party political broadcasts directed particularly to Scotland and to Wales; they will have independence. We hope that the voice of the minority will not take the place of or have equal place with the voice of the majority. We hope that when the matter is being discussed between the appropriate parties, this will be kept in mind.
479 I also welcome the change in linage, but the Postmaster-General—and the Pilkington Committee, too—is a little behind the times in recommending a 625 instead of a 525 linage. I am sorry to be technical in this matter, but it is of the highest importance. Telstar which is now functioning, operates on 525 lines, so that every picture from it is on the 525 basis. We are on 405 lines. The recommendation in the White Paper is to go to 625 lines. Therefore, every picture that we get from Telstar must be converted from 525 to 625 lines or, on present linage, to 405.
Television transmission of the future will depend upon space telecommunications rather than on landlines and radio links. The main Telstar system will be American.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
It is the American system that is functioning now and it is not proposed that we should put into orbit a Telstar on a different linage. If we did, they would fail to function. One would be transmitting on 525 lines and ours, I presume, would transmit on 625 lines.
The result is that there must be a conversion from one linage to the other. I hope that the Television Technical Advisory Committee, which prepared the evidence on which the White Paper is based before Telstar came into operation, will reconsider even now whether we should go to 525 rather than 625 lines. I do not want this country always to drag behind the two ends of the earth. The whole of America uses 525 lines and Japan, in the Far East, uses 525. It is probable that the Continent of Europe will adopt 525 lines, but under the recent proposals we are to use 625 lines.
I also agree that the compatible colour system which is recommended on 625 lines is the right process for the future. There is, however, one problem concerning which both the White Paper and the Pilkington Report are inadequate. I am sorry to get back again to technical matters. The Pilkington Committee recommends that the new programme be given to the B.B.C.—and with that I agree—but that it be given to the B.B.C. on 625 lines in Bands IV and V. That is right. What it suggests, 480 however, is that it shall be a new national network, and authority is given in the White Paper to proceed with the introduction of this new national network almost as soon as possible.
If that happens, we shall have one 625-line programme and anybody who wants to receive it must buy a new receiver. In addition, however, although the White Paper is a little doubtful about this, the Pilkington Committee recommends that we should transfer from the existing 405 lines into Bands IV and V on 625 lines by duplication rather than by switching—stopping all present transmissions, say, this week and going into Bands IV and V on 625 lines next week—thus rendering all existing sets obsolete and making everybody buy a new set. Twelve million sets in this country will be rendered obsolete by the change.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
Yes, when it occurs. Side by side, we shall have two systems, one of which can be received only on a new set and the old system which can be received only on the old sets., The proposal is that the new programme shall be in Bands IV and V and that the old programmes shall be transformed to 625 lines in those two bands. If that is done on a national and not a regional basis, we shall create all over the country the ability to receive one B.B.C. new programme and two old programmes, one B.B.C. and one I.T.A., so that everybody must get either two sets or a dual set.
Everybody who buys a new set when the B.B.C. has started its new programme will receive only one programme and will be unable to receive the old programmes. My suggestion is that the B.B.C. should have its new programme in Bands IV and V in the London Region, as suggested, but that parallel with it the Corporation should start to duplicate its existing programme, so that it will be possible to receive in London on the same set on 625 lines in Bands IV and V both the new B.B.C. programme and the old duplicated B.B.C. programme.
That raises the question of the I.T.A. As on 625 lines in Bands IV and V four times the existing number of transmitters 481 will be required, the areas of the programme contractors will have to be entirely recast. The old areas will be destroyed because there will be four times the number of transmitters.
I shall not forbear to draw to the attention of the House at this stage the rather illegal and immoral conduct of the I.T.A., which, behind the back of Parliament, gave to the programme contractors an option agreement upon any new development before the House of Commons had decided upon it. I am using the words of the Pilkington Committee. There has been no Press publicity, there have been no headlines, about this immoral conduct of the I.T.A. and about this subservience of the I.T.A. to the programme contractors. But there is the fact, that when we go on to 625 and duplicate I.T.A. programmes we destroy the basis of the present programme contactors' areas and we shall have to have an entirely new set-up for the operation of commercial television.
As this involves viewers in what may be a lot of unnecessary expense and a lot of confusion the Government ought to make it quite clear that the introduction of this new B.B.C. programme on 625 in Bands IV and V, side by side with which there should be duplication of the current B.B.C. programme, and, I presume, of the commercial programmes as well, will involve all sorts of readjustments in the programme contractors' current contracts.
Here is a tremendous task for the electronics industry of this country— four times the number of transmitters and 12 million new television sets to be made available. To ask for a fourth programme as well, whether on a commercial or a non-commercial basis, is, in my view, just economic madness and is asking the electronics industry to carry a load which it cannot carry. If it is to be put on to it it will push up prices, because too much money will be chasing too few goods.
I turn now to pay television and wired T.V. Here are two nice juicy areas for exploitation, with wired T.V. covering Wembley not for the purpose of providing programmes either for the B.B.C. or future commercial television but for those people who can pay and 482 pay heavily for the possibility of getting what will really amount to a monopoly of the big events in London. That is the sort of thing we have very much to guard against.
§ Mr. Edward Gardner (Billericay)
I wonder if the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to interrupt, because I am seeking information, and I am sure the House will be interested to learn the answer to this question. I think it is Section 7 of the Television Act which enables the companies to be kept away from a monopoly of a particular programme such as of sporting events. Would it not be possible to introduce some similar restrictive legislation which would govern pay-television so to be piped as to avoid just getting it for some customers, and to stretch it out so that other viewers can also see the programme?
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
If we had a provision of that sort and if it were effective. But if everybody can see the programme, why pay? Why pay through the nose to see a big fight at Wembley if one can see it on the B.B.C. or I.T.V.?
The effectiveness of wired television depends on the programme contractor having a monopoly of a particular item. The greater his monopoly the greater the price he can charge, and the greater the price he can charge the more difficult it is for commercial television or the B.B.C. to get it. Here we are in a field in which very fat profits can be obtained by withholding from the majority of the public what is to be given to a selected minority of the public. I hope indeed that we shall have no illusions about this. This is going to be another pressure lobby in this House, on the ground that we must make experiments—another experiment like I.T.A.
I am sorry to have taken so much time and to have talked so technically about this matter, but this question of the change-over and the duplication and its application throughout the country is of very great importance. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take into account these and some other points I have put.
Tonight we are having only a skirmish before the great battle which is yet to come. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to remember this. Let him not 483 repeat the same sorry experience which a predecessor of his had at that Box, and that was to give assurances, and then to have to admit in another place that all the assurances which he had given, and all the pledges which he had made, given with good intent and in all honesty, were of no avail because the commercial friends of the Tory Party had let them down and let them down badly.
§ 7.6 p.m.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
I am delighted to be able to follow the right hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) and to congratulate him on attempting to talk about some of the intricate technicalities which surround this subject. He was an ex-Post-master-General when commercial broadcasting was first introduced. I, at that time, held the high office of Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Assistant Postmaster-General who was dealing with the question of bringing it in.
The right hon. Gentleman said he had a lot of satisfaction in reading the Pilkington Report as a consequence of all that happened in those days. I can tell him this, that I, and those of us on this side who had anything to do with it, have a lot of satisfaction in seeing the actual good results which flowed from introducing commercial broadcasting into this country.
In a way this evening's debate is not a debate in the normal sense. It is not intended to be. I thought that the Postmaster-General was very impressive, and he gave the sort of lead which can be helpful on occasions like this. He was asking for a pooling of ideas so that later on, having got all those ideas together, he could be assisted by them in preparing the further legislation to be effective in two years' time. I think that that impressive mood which he set has been reflected by the debate so far.
The right hon. Member for Smeth-wick (Mr. Gordon Walker) was in much better form than usual. He did not say that commercial broadcasting ought to have died. He contented himself with saying that it ought never to have been born. I think that that was a real advance on his part. He posed some 484 real problems which must be taken into account and must be settled. I am glad to see that the mood set by my right hon. Friend has been maintained so far, and I feel that it will be maintained for the rest of the debate. There has been no return to that hurling of abuse which took place immediately after the Pilkington Report came out.
We all know that there have been brilliant programmes put out by both the B.B.C. and independent television. We also know to our cost that there have been very dull and trivial and mediocre and objectionable programmes put out by both of them over the same period. It would be foolish to suppose that either the B.B.C. or I.T.A. has not a lot of room for improvement, and one of the purposes of this exercise tonight, as I see it, is to try to find ways and means of bringing about that improvement.
In saying that we have had these objectionable times on both of the channels, I do not think that we ought to denigrate the really first-class development which has taken place in this miracle of television. Over the twenty-five years that the B.B.C. has been in the business of television it really has made a most commendable contribution, and the good has certainly outweighed the bad. There is no doubt about that, and now, after a mere six years in which I.T.A. has been here, it has produced its own particular blend without cost to the taxpayer or to the licence holder, and has produced it in a way which I think justifies its continued existence. I am very glad that the mood of the White Paper and of my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General reflects that desire, too.
The strictures on television which we have heard are more or less strictures on all advertising. At the end of the day, that is what it comes down to. The hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. May-hew) has been amazingly consistent ever since we had discussions about this in expressing his abhorrence, his hate, or advertising in almost any form, but advertising on television in particular, and he is entitled to that view. I do not think the situation justifies the extremes to which he goes, but he has been consistent and that is his view.
§ Mr. Francis Noel-Baker (Swindon)
My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) is not in the Chamber. I think I know his views just as well as he does the hon. Gentleman, who has presented a travesty of them. My hon. Friend is against all bad advertisers and too much advertising, but that is not the same thing as saying that he is against all advertising, as such.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
I am glad to hear that. It may well be that we might go into the same Lobby, if the hon. Gentleman's interpretation of his Friend's views is right and if I am wrong. The hon. Gentleman has very great knowledge of this subject and wants to do the right thing, however misguided he might be on occasions. His real objection is wider —to advertising as a whole, with particular emphasis on television advertising. I believe that is a philosophic outlook which cannot be accepted today, and that, if it were accepted, there would be very little advertising. I do not think that would be very helpful to our general economic health. It would affect the general economic health of the country. Efficiency in marketing and distribution, which means advertising, is no less important than efficiency in production, and if we allow bias or prejudice to put a strait-jacket on advertising, I think it would affect the nation's economic health as a whole. I merely make that point, because it is so easy to make these objections to advertising, without realising the length to which they might lead us if we accepted them in toto.
I should like to get away from stating the obvious, along the lines which have been indicated already in this debate. Important decisions have to be made which will affect the livelihood, for good or ill, of many thousands of people engaged in television and in the allied industries connected with it—decisions both on the technical plane and on the field of presentation, which will affect the nation's standing, and which are tied up with the future of television. On the technical side, there is so much agreement that one need not spend much time about it. I think it is clearly right that we should speed up the switch to 625-line standards, but I do not think 486 the right hon. Member for Caerphilly and I are on the same "beam".
As I understand it, the development is that on Band III two channels remain, and that one of these channels will be given in order to improve and to separate the Welsh broadcasts. That is good, and we all approve. The other will be given to improve some of the bad reception areas in the various fringe areas in other parts of the country. It means that we can forget about Band III, because two channels are to be allocated, if effect is given to the White Paper. It means that if we get into Bands IV and V, a new channel can be allocated, and here I part company with my right hon. Friend. He suggested that that would be only four channels for programmes, but, in point of fact, on Bands IV and V I am informed that we could have up to 13 or 14 channels. Not that there is any suggestion at the moment of using them, but we know that we could have that number. We could have a second channel for the B.B.C. on the 625-line standard, and, simultaneously, a second channel to the commercial programmes on 625 lines, and we could do what the right hon. Member for Smethwick wanted to do, and have our special teaching channels, if the money were there for all these things to be brought in at the same time. That shows the complexity and technicality of the matter, and perhaps the right hon. Member for Caerphilly and I can discuss this matter outside the Chamber at some time, I hope, to our mutual satisfaction.
We all agree that we want to go over to the 625-line standard and that it is right to allocate the remaining space on Band III, in order to give the Welsh their service and improve the service to the fringe areas. I know that the House will forgive me if I interpolate some remarks about improving the fringe areas, which is very important. It has my wholehearted support, because in Peterborough we suffer from being in a bad fringe area. My right hon. Friend had better take heed, and the sooner he can improve reception there, the happier will be his hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough.
It is obviously right to open up Bands IV and V and to move from V.H.F. to 487 U.H.F. Once this is done, it will break the log jam which has surrounded manufacturers of radio and television sets for some time. The point is that for two years, while we have been waiting for the Pilkington Report, the whole of the radio industry has been waiting for some guidance. As the right hon. Gentleman has pointed out, there has been this fear that they could not go on turning out sets which would become out-moded any time we make the switch to 625.lines, and therefore we have this log jam in the industry, which is a very important industry. There are between 50,000 and 70,000 people employed in it and they have been waiting for the decision. Once the decision is made, they can give up their "cliff-hanging", tool themselves up for the new 625-line U.H.F. standard, and, with their future distinct and clear, they can get on their way.
On these technical matters, there is fairly general agreement, and I ask my right hon. Friend to make his decision on this matter pretty quickly and to announce it. We could then say to the manufacturing industry "Godspeed, the best of luck, give the listeners good quality at the cheapest price you can," and we shall be on our way.
What about presentation? The technical matters can be sorted out, but what about presentation, and who is to provide the programmes? I agree with my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General. I do not think we can accept the Pilkington Report recommendations on this matter. I do not believe that any group of responsible people who understand the set-up can accept the extreme recommendations about the methods of programming and organisation. For practical and political reasons, I truly believe that it is impossible to hand over the whole running of independent television to I.T.A. I.T.A. is completely unequipped to act as a programme company or as a space-selling company, and to attempt to put these duties on it would not be sensible. I believe also that it is not politically acceptable, because it would create a second State monopoly, and I do not believe that a Government of this complexion could possibly contemplate that.
Therefore, on this aspect of the matter, which has already been dealt with at 488 great length, so that I need not pursue it, I think that Pilkington is simply "not on". On the other hand, we can support the general Government line as set out in the White Paper and enlarged upon by my right hon. Friend. The Government line in the White Paper is that both the B.B.C. and independent television should have second channels in Bands IV and V. I was a little disappointed at the words used by my right hon. Friend today. I have read the White Paper as giving a much more certain indication that we should have the B.B.C. with its second channel, which we all want, and that we should also have commercial television with its second channel, too. My right hon. Friend's words retreated a little from that. Perhaps I have misunderstood it. I hope that what will count will be the White Paper message and not my right hon. Friend's words as I thought I heard them.
The second was that there must be some closer control of independent television and that for this purpose I.T.A. must be strengthened. I think it will be done. It ought to be done. I do not think that the hon. Member for Woolwich, East and the right hon. Member for Caerphilly were quite fair in the way they worked out their "shopping list" when they criticised the details of averaging. They picked out all the little mistakes which had been made. If one went to similar trouble and found out all the little mistakes the B.B.C. has made I think the list would be just about as long. I do not think we need brush off with a rather flamboyant sentence the idea that we could strengthen the I.T.A. control to ensure that Parliament's desire is carried out. I believe we can do that. Apparently we have the chairmanship of I.T.A. vacant. Let us ensure that someone is put into it who really can ensure that Parliament's intentions are carried out. I believe it can be done, and I have every faith that it will be done.
The third point in the White Paper was that the present system of commercial contractors will not be dissolved. That has my support, and I believe it now has the support of pretty well the whole House.
With regard to experiments in colour, one accepts this, but it is a long-term project. It will be very expensive. It 489 would be wasting the time of the House to go into detailed comments on it now. Four or five years' time will be soon enough for that.
Pay-television has been discussed at length. The general indication of the White Paper is sound. It is that there is a possibility that we shall have experiments in certain parts of the country over a wire or on the air. That can only be good. That is the only way of finding out whether there are any faults, whether the faults are insurmountable and whether the system is desirable.
I come to the last point, the allocating to both the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. of their second channel. I should like a start on the new second channel to be undertaken by the B.B.C. and I.T.V. simultaneously. That would be for the good of the people who purchase the sets. I reiterate the point made by the right hon. Gentleman. At the moment people have paid £80–£90 for a set, expecting to see both channels. If we had 625-line transmission on the B.B.C. only, it would mean that people with those sets would not be able to switch over to look at the alternative commercial programme. If the two bodies move together, the people can have both. Let us give the customers full value for their money.
On the other hand, I do not want the television licence fee to be increased. Nor am I particularly enthusiastic about the Treasury giving up the £12 million that it obtains from the fees at present. That is where we come to the dilemma. I do not envy my right hon. Friend his task. If the B.B.C. is to start a second channel, the production cost—setting up the studios and so on, and getting the project really on the move—will be £40 million to £50 million. Where will that money come from? I am sure that my estimate is not excessive; it may even be an under-estimate.
Perhaps I may kill an inference which has been bandied about and accepted a little too easily. This is the suggestion by the Pilkington Report that the I.T.V. profits could cover it. The total gross profits of the programme contractors for 1961-62 will not exceed £28 million. When tax is deducted, a little more than £15 million will be left. In one programme company alone—A.T.V.—there are about 14,000 shareholders. So that 490 if the money left after deducting tax were handed over, it would go nowhere at all towards paying the cost of the B.B.C. putting on the second channel. I am afraid that the cosy thought that the commercial profits could be diverted to the B.B.C. to finance its second channel must be discarded. If the B.B.C. had all the money left, plus a subvention from the Government—which it is said nobody wants—of £25 million—I cannot see it getting that—it would only just about be enough to put on the second channel.
Back we come again to the licence fee. If the Government insist on the B.B.C. having its second channel at once, I can see no alternative to a £6 per year licence fee. The extra £2, if it is all given out, will amount to only £25 million or £26 million. Therefore, I cannot see where the money is to come from to enable the B.B.C. to have its second channel, which we all want it to do.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
There is another important point. If a second channel for I.T.V. is allowed for, is there anything to show that anything like the present profits would be made by the other existing independent television company? If that be lost, is there anything to show that on a second channel we shall get additional promoters who will find the requisite capital sums to ensure that there is such a programme?
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
My hon. Friend has made the best part of my speech for me. He has done it most admirably— much better than I could have done it. That is the problem.
The initial stages of the new 625-line transmission cannot be speedy. There are too many of the old 405-line sets in homes for the transfer to the new system to take place overnight. Therefore, it will be a five-year programme, and possibly a seven-year programme. Because of that the number of viewers having the new type of set can grow steadily. If it is that I.T.V. is prepared to take the risk that my right hon. Friend has just underlined, as it took the risk previously, it could wall be that that might be the best means of getting us over the initial experimental period of switching to the 491 new channels with the 625-line transmission. It would mean that commercial television on the second channel would have to come first or alongside the B.B.C.
If we allocated the only channel for the 625-Line transmission to the B.B.C. and the I.T.V. was prepared to share it, as programmes are now shared on the channels on the 405-line system, that would be one of the ways I visualise of overcoming the dilemma about doing what we want to do. Without something like that, I cannot see how we can have the second channel for the B.B.C. Otherwise there would have to be an extra licence fee plus a subvention. Since it can be done by merging the B.B.C. with the commercial undertakings, which have shown a public spirit in the past in handing on the results of their experiments, I think that that is a line of thought that we ought to follow.
If we can put the slurs, the biases and the prejudices on one side, it may well be that we can have all the benefits of the next stage in television development without viewers having to pay a 50 per cent. increase in their licence fees. I take the line that it is for the Government to decide whether they would prefer to face the odium of an increase in the licence fee.
That is my contribution in reply to the invitation by the Postmaster-General to those of us who have given some thought to the matter. It is not an easy problem, and there is no need to make it more difficult by having an unnecessary battle on all sorts of partisan lines. I believe it is possible to give extra benefits to the televiewing public. If we put aside bias and are prepared for the B.B.C. to merge to some extent with the commercial undertakings, I believe we can leave all the customers happy.
§ 7.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Woodrow Wyatt (Bosworth)
I want, first, to declare my interest in this matter. I have appeared on television under contract, both for commercial television and the B.B.C.—much more for the B.B.C. I hope to appear again. I have made filmed programmes for television. I own a few hundred shares in Granada Television, although I have never appeared on that network. Two small local newspapers which I control 492 have applied, as a self-protective measure, to operate commercial radio stations in case they should be instituted. However, almost everything I am going to say is in conflict with those interests.
Let me start with the B.B.C. I am sorry that the Government have fallen in with the prevailing Pilkington fashion of worshipping the B.B.C. as a sacred cow and as the potential mother of sacred calves. The B.B.C. is very good, but it is not as good as all that. Until commercial television, it took very little interest in television at all.
Its former Director-General, Sir Ian Jacob, never went to Lime Grove, which was starved of money and attention. The television news was prepared by sound radio by a gentleman called Tahu Hole, from New Zealand, and read out in great slabs as though it was on the wireless. Programmes were tedious, unimaginative and contemptuously doled out to captive audiences. Consideration of regional affairs and regional interests was pitiful and minimal. I am bound to say that it still is on B.B.C. television.
Then came commercial television. The B.B.C. sprang to life, mainly activated by the drive of a very remarkable woman, Mrs. Wyndham Goldie, who would have made a far better Director-General than Sir Ian Jacob—but she was a woman, which aroused great prejudice in the B.B.C. Young and able producers were recruited, like Michael Peacock and Donald Baverstock, to name only two. Such persons had never been seen in the B.B.C. before.
"Panorama" was invented solely because of, and to compete with, commercial television. I know, because I was invited to be in at the beginning. This has proved one of the best things done by the B.B.C—since I left it, of course—and, indeed, it is one of the best things ever seen on television. "Tonight" was later created to compete with commercial television because the Postmaster-General gave additional hours of broadcasting and the B.B.C. had to fill it up with something. Some people criticise "Tonight" for being superficial, but I think that it is pretty good. It would never have arisen but for commercial television.
In the same on-rush of energy provoked by commercial television, 493 "Monitor" was born, as were numerous creative and important documentary programmes which still persist. It is absurd to say, as does Pilkington, that competition has been harmful to the B.B.C. and has lowered its standards. It has given it fruitful stimulus. It has given the B.B.C. television a face-lift. T.V. has improved it out of all recognition.
However much those at the head of the B.B.C. would now like to forget their dismal pre-commercial television record, it is unquestionable that competition has compelled the B.B.C. to far higher standards of presentation engaging millions more deeply in serious subjects. This would never have happened otherwise.
If the B.B.C. gets another channel, there is a real danger that it will fall back into its old complacent, self-satisfied and priggish ways. Having been awarded an accolade by Pilkington and the Government, it would relax its valuable attempt to influence the level of understanding and appreciation. This can only be done by tremendously hard work in preparing programmes in such a way that many millions are encouraged to watch things that previously they would have thought too difficult or too boring for them.
The B.B.C. never used to do that before commercial television. It used to have gentlemen with blackboards retailing lots and lots of figures and facts, with no attempt to stimulate the imagination or interest of an audience beyond a narrow group who were sufficiently interested in that subject already to be paying attention.
In any case, the B.B.C. has quite enough to do already running sound radio and its television service. I quote here from a great authority who has been listened to with enormous respect in this House:One of the defects of B.B.C. television is that it is too centralised and cumbersome. This is partly due to its links with sound broadcasting, which could be broken, but partly also to the vast size of the job it already has to do. Its existing defects would be magnified if it were to undertake a second T.V. programme.That authority is none other than my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew), who wrote that in a carefully considered document which he presented to the Pilkington Commit- 494 tee as his evidence. It was right then, and it is right now.
I cannot understand why my hon. Friend has changed his view. Perhaps as the Pilkington Committee accepted everything else he wrote, and based its Report on his pamphlet, he thought it reasonable to give it a concession in return.
§ Mr. Mayhew
Perhaps my hon. Friend could oblige me by reading the full quotation. As I have explained, I consider it a very finely balanced argument between the B.B.C. getting the second channel and the second channel going to a second public service corporation. He chooses the argument on one side, but I also deployed the argument on the other side.
§ Mr. Wyatt
I was much impressed by the pamphlet. I am glad to hear that my hon. Friend is not entirely reneged from his position and is willing to concede that the B.B.C. might not have another channel.
There is another consideration, even more important, which should prevent the B.B.C. getting another channel. It is something which has not been mentioned today. It is the right of freedom of expression, the desirability of extending the freedom of expression. Monopoly in anything must tend to be bad, but particularly so in ideas.
However worthy and good the motives of the B.B.C, a second channel would have the same interchangeable staff and would be controlled, at the top from Where the tone comes, from where the ethos emanates, by the same people. The heads of the B.B.C. may urge upon their subordinates the utmost individuality and initiative, recommending the widest possible diversity of outlook and approach. But they will not get it, because it is impossible.
Anyone who wants to be promoted in such an organisation must inevitably say, "How would the Director-General like me to present this programme?" "How would the Head of Talks like me to do this?" One cannot have a huge monopoly like this and expect out of it to get tremendous diversity of ideas, outlook and unorthodoxy. Common standards in both programmes would be bound to prevail, and it is clear that 495 Pilkington thinks that they should. He has said so throughout his Report.
This would mean that if one of the two B.B.C. programmes decided that a certain type of programme was unsuitable, or "old hat", or that a performer was no good or past his best, the other B.B.C. channel would make precisely the same decision. You do not have to be rich to be a tyrant. You can be very amiable and still be a tyrant. There is no appeal from one B.B.C. programme to another if one is considered to be no good or undesirable by the B.B.C. The outlets of expression would have increased numerically but not in style, content or inventiveness. Nor would there be any greater chance for the unorthodox view to administer healthy shocks to the nation.
I hope that the Government will drop the notion of giving the B.B.C. an additional channel. It is the road towards censorship of ideas however genteel, middle class, humane and liberal the censors are. But if the Government pursue this plan, which will be so damaging to democracy, then more taxation ought not to be levied to pay for it. The licence fee is taxation. Pilkington says that it should be raised, but I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East in his only other dissent from Pilkington. It should not be raised.
The B.B.C, if it gets a second programme, or for that matter to contribute to its existing programme, should be compelled to take advertising. Why are we so mealy-mouthed about advertising on the screen? Advertising itself is not sinful, although what advertisers do may be sinful—but that can be controlled in other ways. The Times lives on advertising. The Guardian lives on advertising. The Catholic Herald lives on advertising. The Church of England newspapers live on advertising. The Salvation Army publications live on advertising. So even does that moral beacon the New Statesman and Nation. All of them have rules about the type of advertising that they accept. The B.B.C. could do the same, and in so doing could operate with great effectiveness to drive out dishonesty and deception from advertising. The fact that one could not see a particular advertise- 496 ment on the B.B.C. would in itself be an indication of the worthlessness of the advertisement and its product.
What reason does the B.B.C. give for being so coy about advertising, for being so much above the world? I have discussed this with the present Director-General of the B.B.C. He told me quite frankly that the B.B.C. does not trust the Government, that if the B.B.C. started drawing an advertisement revenue the Government would plunge deeper and deeper into the B.B.C.'s share of the licence revenue, and it would then be forced into the pursuit of a larger popular audience to raise more advertising revenue. This is the only reason of substance that he gave me for refusing to have advertising, or refusing to ask to have advertising, on the B.B.C.
I do not believe that it is impossible for the Government and the B.B.C. to work out an honourable arrangement by which the B.B.C. is guaranteed always a fixed amount of the licence fee and at the end of the year is asked to hand over only an agreed surplus over and above what is needed to improve its programmes and facilities. It would be possible to do this and I see no reason why it should not be done. As we extend into the 'seventies, 'eighties and 'nineties, the country will be asked to pay more and more taxation for television which is totally unnecessary, and which if it can be raised could be put to more serious purposes than providing entertainment.
I turn now to commercial television. The Pilkington Committee, simply on the haphazard basis of people who happened to write to it, concluded that there was general dissatisfaction with the programmes. The Committee conducted no survey, and stopped its examination of programme content in 1960. It really was a trivial approach to a great problem.
The evidence of the Top Ten, for example, shows consistently, without a break, that the vast majority of people able to watch both channels prefer to watch commercial television. It may be wrong of them, but they just do.
My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East quoted polls to show that the nation had understood the implications of the Pilkington Report and understood the kind of new structure 497 which it suggested should be set up for I.T.A. in future. Perhaps I might quote as a warning to him a poll which posed this question:At the next Election would you prefer to vote for an M.P. who wanted to keep I.T.V. in its present form, or an M.P. who wanted to transfer the planning of I.T.V. programmes to a new authority similar to the B.B.C.?Of those interviewed, 59 per cent. said that they would vote for the M.P. who wanted to keep I.T.V. in its present form, and only 26 per cent. said that they would vote for the M.P. who wanted to transfer the planning of I.T.V. programmes to a new public authority similar to the B.B.C. This poll was conducted by the Sunday Times.
§ Mr. Wyatt
I thought that my hon. Friend would ask that. He must not assume that everybody who disagrees with him is dishonest, and that only those who agree with him are honest, because in the same series of polls in which that was contained there were many results which bore out the opinion that he was quoting from his poll, and the Daily Mail poll is run by an organisation which owns one-third of Southern Television.
§ Mr. Mayhew
I think that my hon. Friend will agree that there is a difference between established polls such as National Opinion Poll, and the Daily Mail and Daily Express polls which have been going on for years, and a special survey run by Mr. Roy Thomson on the subject of the Pilkington Report.
§ Mr. Wyatt
My hon. Friend is entitled to make that point, and there might be some validity in it if it were not for the fact that the other questions in the poll conducted in precisely the same survey by the Sunday Times organisation brought precisely the same answers where the questions were the same as did the Daily Mail poll which he quoted. There is no dissimilarity between them. But it just shows that the more questions one asks, and the further one goes into the ramifications, the more confusing and contradictory are the answers that one gets.
When the News of the Worldconducts research amongst its readers into what part of the paper they read first, 498 they say that they always begin by reading the leading article. Anybody who can believe that can believe anything. The British hypocritical attitude is well known, that we in Britain like to think that we are more respectable than we are. If a number of people are asked which they prefer, Auntie B.B.C. or Wicked I.T.V., they answer Auntie B.B.C, and then go home and turn on commercial television.
The members of the Committee did not like commercial television programmes, or what they heard about them. There was no suggestion that they actually watched any of the programmes. So they decreed the setting up of a new I.T.A. and the disappearance of the television companies as we know them. They wish to convert them into film-producing Companies, providing programmes on an uncertain basis to the I.T.A. The programmes may be rejected even then if the I.T.A. does not think that they are up to standard.
But a large edifice of staffs, buildings and studios has already been built up by the programme companies, like it or not. Under this scheme the programme companies would be decapitated and most of their organisations dispersed. This would be an absurd and unjustified waste of national resources. Apart from that, it simply is not possible to plan programmes at all well for a complex of stations if it is all done at the centre. It just cannot be done. This is probably why B.B.C. television has remained woefully inadequate in its service to the regions, and one good reason why it ought not to be allowed to run local radio stations. Making television programmes is an immediate activity. There has to be resilience, quickness of adjustment, and fast rearrangement of programmes. These are all things which cannot be done centrally by one bureaucratic staff telling a lot of other people how to make programmes. Those who plan the programmes must, in the main, make them. One can have some programmes from outside and fit them into one's own schedule, but the basic provider of the programmes must be basically the person who devises them. The B.B.C. has found this to be so, as have all other T.V. stations in the world. One cannot run a newspaper with only freelance contributions. No more can one run a television programme like that.
499 What is worse, such a scheme would further diminish freedom of expression. Pilkington says that only the B.B.C. understands the purposes of broadcasting, and there is about a ten-page incomprehensive essay which attempts to set out the purposes of broadcasting. I was none the wiser when I finished reading it than when I began, except that it seemed that everything that the B.B.C. did was O.K. and everything that everybody else did was wrong. The new I.T.A. would have to model itself on this B.B.C. model and so we would get another B.B.C. This new I.T.A. would be forced to make at least 90 per cent. of its own programmes, because no programme contractors would tie themselves to so improbable and tenuous an arrangement as that suggested by the Pilkington Committee.
Much play was made by Pilkington about violence in commercial television. It is true that these programmes may not be the sort of programmes which university professors and paternalistic, benevolent, monopolistic, glassblowers may want to watch, but they provide a quality distinctive from the B.B.C. which pleases the great majority. And since 1960, when Pilkington last examined their content, commercial T.V. programmes are higher in standard, deal intelligently with more serious subjects, and make considerable provision for minorities, provided that these minorities do not refuse absolutely to watch the programmes unless they are in the middle of the peak hours. I do not see why it should be assumed that minorities are people who always find these the only hours in which it is possible to watch a television programme. There are plenty of other hours of the day, and if someone is really interested in something he can watch it at 9.30 just as well as he can at 7.30.
In working for both channels, and I have done so consistently, I have found a growing sense of responsibility in commercial television. There is still much room for improvement but it is improving and considering that it has been at it for a great deal less time than the B.B.C. I think that it has not made such a bad fist of it.
Having said that, why has everybody to be so much protected from what they 500 see on the screen? Cannot parents turn the switch off if they think that a programme is unsuitable for their children? Are we such a race of morons that we cannot turn off if we do not like what we see? Are we really at the mercy of television, patterning our lives on it without any other sources to which to turn. I utterly reject this dictatorial concept, which is only another form of censorship. No one enacted that schoolchildren should not be taken to see Shakespeare's "Titus Adronicus", at Stratford-on-Avon, in which there was presented a raped and maimed heroine, a succession of foul murders and a finale in which the body of one of the victims is given to his unsuspecting nearest and dearest to eat at a banquet in the form of a paté.
It seems to me extraordinary that Mr. Richard Hoggart, who championed everyone's right to read the unexpurgated edition of "Lady Chatterley's Lover" should now be so squeamish about what they are allowed to see on the screen. If, in the judgment of sensible people, there is too much violence on television, leading to crimes in the community, then the powers of the I.T.A. should be strengthened to prevent such programmes being shown. It is quite simple. If there were such powers, they should be used very sparingly. The real censor in a democracy should be the individual himself and not a whole set of bodies put over him to tell him what he should or should not do and see. It is unnecessary to overthrow entirely the structure of commercial television to reduce the amount of violence on the screen.
It was here perhaps that the Committee was at its most trivial. It did not attempt to search for a solution of the defects of I.T.V., which are considerable. It shirked its task and simply proposed that it should be turned into another B.B.C. The worst shortcoming of the programme companies is the way in which they were formed. They were given, in the main, to people who already hold powerful positions in other spheres with a judicious admixture of those who are elevated in the social hierarchy. It is quite wrong in my view—here I agree with my horn. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East—that the Press should hold any stake in commercial television 501 at all. It militates against honest criticism of the system and of programmes, however much they may attempt to lean over backwards to try to provide fair coverage. But more calamitous that that, it strengthens by its huge revenues from television the power of these vast Press combines in other fields.
The Sunday Times was bought out of the profits of Mr. Thomson's monopoly in commercial television in Scotland. The Daily Herald and Odhams were bought out of the Daily Mirror and Sunday Pictorial's profits from owning 26 per cent. of A.T.V. The News of the World and Berrow's Newspapers are buying up one provincial newspaper after another out of their 25 per cent. share of the profits from T.W.W. The Westminster Press is doing likewise out of the profits of its 7 per cent. holding in A.T.V. The News Chronicle is still making a fortune for its former proprietors, although it no longer exists.
Why is G. C. Thomson's Press group from Scotland entrenched in Southern Television? What is the sense in that and what is the Guardian doing with 21 per cent. of Anglia Television many miles from its base? I could perhaps answer that. Together with the local co-operative societies and Reynolds News, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough and a group of other people, I was concerned in an application to run the Anglia station. We made our application and had an interview with the Authority. We explained to them that for the first time under our scheme almost every household in the area would have a stake in their own television station because co-operative societies are very strong in East Anglia.
Afterwards, I discovered that the whole thing was a farce, that the station had, in fact, been promised to the Guardian group beforehand, because after it failed to get Tyne-Tees station it was told to apply for the next one that came up, which was Anglia, and it was given that. Often the stations were allocated before the applications were formally closed. However, I must in fairness say that Mr. John Woolf and the Guardian have made an exceptionally good job of running the Anglia station. It was complimented by the Pilkington Committee as being the nearest thing in commercial television to the B.B.C.—so it must be very good.
502 But it is not only the Press that should have nothing to do with owning commercial television. Those engaged in the distribution and production of films and the owning of cinemas should also be dissociated from it. At the very time when the trend is towards Government attempts to break up monopolies the Government are trying to build them up with the other hand.
Associated British Pictures ought not to be allowed to own 100 per cent. of A.B.C. television. It controls too much of what goes on to our screens already. The same applies to Granada, of which I am a shareholder. It should not be allowed to own 95 per cent. of Granada Television. The Rank Organisation should not be allowed to own a third of Southern Television.
Again, Mr. Lew Grade, Prince Littler, Val Parnell, Howard and Wyndham's Theatre, which already have a very powerful and unhealthy control in the theatrical industry, ought not to have been allowed to add to it by participation in the State monopoly of commercial television, and be put in the position where anyone who tries to compete with them will be sent to gaol.
The way in which programme companies were formed has further diminished freedom of expression as a whole. The outlets of expression have been more and more concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. Although, of course, there has been some window dressing 'by putting in a few lords lieutenants and other such persons into the television companies.
I like Lord Derby very much, but I hope that he will not mind my saying that there was no possible justification, in terms of his knowledge of television or of administration, for his being presented with a 25 per cent. share in the highly valuable T.W.W. He had always struck me as being pretty rich before. Now the Government have given him £4 million or £5 million, just like that. I think that it was too much for them to have given him. Even though he was chairman of the popular Television Council, sponsored by the Conservative Central Office and had to be rewarded with something, I think that £4 million was too much, and even though he is president of five Conservative associations I still think that £4 million was too much.
503 I understand that Lord Astor who is a friend of mine, got only 2 per cent. in the same organisation because he chanced to be talking to his Mend Lord Derby at the right moment, and was offered a 2 per cent. cut in T.W.W. That is very nice if you can get it. T.W.W. was a very fishy business altogether. There is a gentleman called Mr. Chapman Walker who arrived from the Conservative Central Office to run it as managing director, and is still on the board.
This is not the right way to deal with public, State monopolies—to hand them out as political rewards to one's friends. It is not worthy of any Government, and I do not believe that it has been done in our history since absolute monarchy finished—theoretically, at any rate. We have given the programme companies to some of the greediest elements in the country, and we should not be surprised that they have put the emphasis on making profits.
The problem of ownership needs to be examined ruthlessly. The programme companies should be compelled widely to diffuse their ownership and control, as a condition to getting further contracts. None of them should be allowed to hold interests in other fields of communication and entertainment. It was a byproduct of this desire for profits which caused the network committee to be set up—the committee about whch we have already heard. I do not want to elaborate on how it works; I only say that I am surprised that the Postmaster-General did not seem to realise that all the subsidiary companies are forced, under their contracts, to pay for these programmes, even if they do not use them, and are, therefore, induced not to make their own programmes but to take the ones for which they have already paid.
This, again, militates against further outlets of expression, and is the opposite to what we were told would happen under the Act. That problem can be handled simply by the I.T.A. sitting in at the meetings of the network committee, taking the chair and deciding how the programmes should be arranged, and seeing that the regional companies get a fair crack of the whip in getting their programmes on to the networks. This is not a very difficult thing to do.
504 As the Postmaster-General has said, the problem of profits is a fairly easy one to solve. I would prefer it to be done by fixing rentals for facilities at the end of each year in relation to the profits made by the companies, rather than by trying to work on the basis of a percentage of the gross profits, because there might be a tendency for more and more money to be paid for variety and other artists under this scheme, making it more and more difficult for the B.B.C. to compete, because it could not acord to pay the astronomical sums paid by commercial television. It is a technical and an administrative problem, and I see no difficulty in finding an effective answer.
Broadly speaking, there is nothing much wrong with commercial television which could not be put right with a few radical reforms. Here I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker). The personnel of the Authority should be changed, so that more vigorous men, who use the powers they have, take over. Much of the present trouble in commercial television could have been avoided if the existing powers had been used effectively.
The powers of the I.T.A. should be strengthened and the profits of I.T.V. should be curbed. There should be a diversification of ownership as I have suggested. But we must not destroy the whole thing, because, by and large, it has given the people much of what they want. I cannot understand the objection to giving people what they want. It is becoming a very fashionable thing to say that it is arrogant to give them what they want. Why? If they do not want it they can turn the set off, or look at something else.
I agree that the I.T.A. ought not to have a second channel, any more than the B.B.C. should. If there is to be another channel it should be used to increase the outlets of expression in variety, style and form. If a third channel is to be set up it should be under an entirely new organisation—a public corporation perhaps—empowered to take advertising. Perhaps, in order to placate hon. Members opposite, it could be owned partly by the Government and partly by private enterprise—on the lines of British Petroleum. Whatever it is, however, it must be different from either 505 of the existing bodies, otherwise it will not spread the outlets of expression. I am amazed that the Government should have fallen for the proposition that the B.B.C. should have a second channel, in order to bore off the heads of the nation.
The fourth channel should be used to promote the future good of the country. If we have, as proposed, four entertainment channels we shall be spending £160 million a year on television—as much as the nuclear deterrent costs. Some of that £160 million should be used to improve our capacity to survive, as well as to enjoy and appreciate our present existence.
I can see no valid argument against the establishment of a specialised educational service. We are short of teachers at every level, and especially in science. The Russians have ten times as many science teachers as we have. At least we have ten times as many television sets as they have, so why the devil do we not use them? I hope that the Government will think over this problem again.
I hope, too, that they will forget the Pilkington Committee altogether, and will start doing their own thinking. It is the job of Governments to govern, and not continually to shelve their problems on to some commission or committee, to iron out the awkward comers for them, and then to hide behind it when something goes wrong with their relationship with the electorate. It is their job to govern.
Even when the Pilkington Committee deals with technical matters its reliability is doubtful. It advocates colour television. This has been tried in America, but it has not got very far because of the expense of colour programmes and television sets. If an affluent society like theirs cannot stand the expense, why should we think that we can do it more successfully?
I agree with what my right hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) had to say about the choice of lines. This choice should have been made much earlier, if a change was to be made. We should not have had to wait for three years, for Pilkington to turn up. Now that this shallow Report has arrived, I hope that the Government will consider the problem again. New 506 technical developments are in the offing which could cause a further convulsion in another five or ten years. There are developments in hand which could mean that pictures will be transmitted without the use of lines. By that time we may have laboriously changed to the Continental linage, and we might be very lethargic about changing once again, although it might be the correct thing to do so, because it would be much better for our export trade. If we made a quick change then, as we have left it so late now, we should be able to lead the world in exports instead of lagging behind.
We get as good a picture from our 405-line system as the Continent gets from its 625-line system, because of our local conditions. I do not want to go into technicalities, except to illustrate that even in dealing with them the Pilkington Committee was wrong, as it was in almost everything else it said.
I urge the Government not to be paralysed by Pilkington. They should have made their own decisions long ago. When they finally do so I hope that they will remember that democracy is a many-sided institution, and that we do not necessarily get it by putting the same well-meaning people in charge of more and more institutions. The more widely held are the printing presses and the means of communication of all sorts the greater is the protection to our liberties, and the greater the possibility of new and stimulating ideas, and of the people having a genuine choice of what they really want.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Captain L. P. S. Orr (Down, South)
What an attractive, interesting and intelligent speech we have just heard from the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Wyatt). It is surprising for an hon. Member on this side of the House to find himself almost totally in agreement with the hon. Member for Bosworth. I have often listened to him, but I have rarely heard him put before us such a stately procession of ideas and solid, decent thinking.
Like him, I must declare an interest. [Interruption.] I judge from the comments from hon. Members opposite that the old canard may still be alive that I belonged to a sort of pressure group 507 which was active at the time of the introduction of commercial television, the innuendo being that I was acting in my own financial interests. At the time of the passing of the Television Act, and all that went before it, I had absolutely no financial interest or prospect of financial interest in commercial television, or in anything whatsoever to do with it.
In the meantime, however, I have become a director of a company in Scotland which is engaged in the manufacture of radio and television sets. My interest in this matter is as a manufacturer. Absolutely no part of my income comes from commercial television, unlike the hon. Member for Bosworth. I have absolutely no share in any television company or in any firm of public relations practitioners who may act for them. In view of the comments made in the past—I have suffered from them and they have recently been raised again in the House of Lords—I thought it right to make that point. I am speaking as a manufacturer, and the manufacturing industry has a tremendous stake in what we now decide.
May I make one general comment about television in this country? From Pilkington, and from a lot of what has been said in the Press and elsewhere, one would think that we were dealing with a television service which was really rather bad. In point of fact, television in this country is the best in the world.
§ Captain Orr
It may not be saying much, but we ought to remember, as the background to everything we do, that we have certainly the best television in Europe.
If one looks at the number of people who watch our television, of our families about 90 per cent. have television sets. Of the 10 per cent. who do not have sets there are quite a few who cannot have them because of geographical reasons. There are quite a few who cannot have them because of their way of life, and I would guess that only about 2 per cent. or 3 per cent. do not have television because they do not think the programmes are worth watching.
If we look at the European television we see a very different picture. I have 508 here some figures relating to Europe which may interest the House. They represent the number of television licences per 100 inhabitants. In this country the figure is 22. In Austria it is 2.9; Belgian 8.9; Czechoslovakia 7.9; France 4.9; Federal Germany 10.3; Eastern Germany 5.9; Holland 8.8; Italy, 5.9; Norway 3.1; Spain 1.1; Sweden, 176; Switzerland 3.5. Suppose we take Spain—although perhaps Spain is not a good example because there the people are very poor. They cannot afford television and the Spanish Government have restricted the production of television sets. Let us take Switzerland with a figure of 3.5. That means that nine out of ten people in Switzerland do not have television sets because they think that the programmes are not worth looking at.
§ Captain Orr
It is not entirely the geography. If we look at the figure for Sweden, where the geography is much the same, we see a different result.
In Switzerland, as in so many European countries, a number of people do not have television sets because the television service is so bad. I was talking recently to a group of young French students who were fascinated by our television service. I asked whether they looked at television in France and they said, "Oh, no, it is not worth looking at. It is something which the Government use to instruct us about agriculture in Brittany. It is not like your television, which is something that everybody wants." That was a great tribute to the television service in this country, both the B.B.C. and the I.T.A., and the people who produce the programmes.
When we are discussing the criticisms of the service do not let us run down television in this country as if we have something which is bad. We have the best in the world. Let us not, for the same ideological reasons which were so well expressed by the hon. Member for Bosworth, wreck the finest system in the world. That does not mean to say that there are not justifiable criticisms. I will make one general point on the question of criticisms. There is a great deal of 509 justification for criticising the two organisations, the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Independent Television Authority. Ever since the days of Lord Reith there has grown up, and we accept it almost without question, the notion that the Director-General is the chap who runs the show. In each case the Director-General has become a sort of dictator, certainly in the B.B.C. and very largely, I think, in the I.T.A. as well. This is wrong.
I believe that we should make the most careful study of the people we ought to have in each of these two organisations. The choice of who should be chairman and who members of the Corporation and the Authority is very much more important, in my view, than any of the rules which we lay down for them. I consider it vitally important that these bodies should be able to act with strength and that they should be able to control the Directors-General. There are certain things which might strengthen them. We must be careful to select persons who are dedicated to the medium and who know something about it; people who have a sufficient knowledge to be able to stand up to Directors-Geneoral. At all costs, we must see that they are not put in a position where a Director-General has the power of patronage over them.
To me it seems odd that members of the Corporation or of the Authority, or members of the Advisory Committees, can broadcast and derive part of their income from the very bodies which they are meant to control. I think this is wrong. I would rather pay them a reasonable salary instead, because there is no doubt that they are largely in the power of the Director-General and that is something which ought not to be allowed. It is much more important than any rules which we may lay down. Soon we shall have to choose a new Chairman for the I.T.A. and it is very important that he should be a man of stature, a man who knows something about the business and not simply someone who has retired from some other walk of life, either politics or public life, or the Civil Service or who is a retired general, for example. That is not the sort of person we want. We must have someone who has been engaged in the business and knows something about it, and about 510 industry generally, and who knows how to act as a member of a board of directors and can control his managing director.
Having said that, let us come to some detailed criticisms which have been made. I consider that the hon. Member for Bosworth was first class on the subject of triviality. Of course it is true that a great number, probably the majority, of the programmes put out on television, both by the B.B.C. and I.T.A., are trivial. But the vast majority of what one reads in the newspapers is trivial. The majority of what one hears in ordinary conversations is trivial. When human beings communicate with each other through any medium the communications are bound to be trivial. The very nature of the medium of television and the putting out of so much stuff hour after hour will result in a great deal probably the majority, of it being trivial.
Triviality however is a matter of human judgment. The very night when Sir Harry Pilkington went to his famous Press conference and announced his view about triviality I was driving in my car and at about seven o'clock—I forget the precise time—I switched on the car radio to the B.B.C. programme and I heard a talk about the artificial production of rhinoceros milk. I know now that it is impossible to milk a rhinoceros, and use a stool at the same time. Sir Harry Pilkington and others thought that this was undoubtedly very learned and great stuff, but it struck me that quite a lot of people in this country would probably think that very trivial.
Although I think "Juke Box Jury" is very trivial, people who listen to it and argue about it take it extremely seriously —as seriously as Sir Harry Pilkington would take the artificial production of rhinoceros milk. Triviality is a matter of opinion. I do not think we should become too excited about triviality—it is indigenous—but I agree that there is fair criticism that there is not quite enough serious content in any of the programmes. This is largely our own fault here in Parliament. We have laid on both authorities the requirement to be absolutely impartial in everything—that no television producer in the B.B.C. or I.T.A. shall have any opinion about anything. There is no editorial freedom so every programme has to be carefully 511 balanced in case anyone might be offended.
That is frightfully stultifying. When one goes into any serious subject, philosophy, metaphysics, religion, or politics, one is up against this inhibition. I think that we should move towards a greater editorial freedom and there should be a more liberal approach to these things. By all means require a balance and impartiality overall. By all means insist on an hour at the end of each week for a right of reply for anyone who feels that his view or his organisation has been misrepresented or not heard properly, but for goodness sake let us get away from too much restriction in that sense. We shall get more and better serious programme content as a result.
A great deal has been said about violence, and there have been some very bad cases of violence. We ought to seek to control it. I do not think we can do that by writing anything into the Television Act or the B.B.C.'s Charter, or laying down any sort of rule. A great deal of violence, the sort of thing we see in Robin Hood and cops and robbers is perfectly ordinary and unexceptionable. Unless we get to the position in which everyone has to be nice to everyone there must inevitably be some violence.
Undoubtedly there have been one or two very bad cases. There was an appalling case in "Oliver Twist" and another the other night in "Z Cars". Here again the character of the people at the top of the organisation is what matters. If there is good control and good sense this sort of thing will not occur. It often occurs through parsimony when a contractor buys a series from America and feels that he must put on every single one of the items in the series.
There has been a great deal of criticism of the network. Much of it is justified, but I think that the right bon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) criticised the network in a peculiar way. He said that it was our fault in Parliament for passing the Television Act. That is very unfair to Parliament. In point of fact the evils of the network arise from the lack of com- 512 petition, but that was the result of the Government decision not to allocate sufficient channels to I.T.A. to allow it to put contractors in competition with each other. It also stems from the theory that we must have national coverage.
Whether that was right or wrong when introducing the first commercial network, it is certainly something we have to think carefully about now when introducing any other network. The theory that we must have national coverage is extremely wasteful. What we want in future is to see in the rural areas and within the smaller areas the B.B.C. and one good commercial station. In the greater centres of population— this is looking at the long term and I am coming to the question of the next four or five years, which is a different matter —we want to see more channels available for the people to look at.
We should not insist on holding up the production of extra channels in the big centres until we can provide national coverage. Not only is that extremely wasteful in money, but it is very doubtful if competition in those smaller areas such as Northern Ireland, Wales, East Anglia would be viable anyway. If we get away from this business of national coverage I think we shall strengthen the position of the local station as against the commercial contractor, as against the network contractor, as against the big fellow. If we have competition in the bigger centres we shall strengthen the finances of the local contractor and clip the profits of the bigger companies. That is what we want to see in the long run.
There is another very important reason for departing from the idea of national coverage. For a long time I was a member of the Postmaster-General's Frequency Advisory Committee. I think that I was one of the first members. During that time I learned a great deal about the shortage of wavelengths and about the fact that frequencies are one of our great national assets. The ether through which all this works and upon which the whole future of broadcasting, television communications and every thing else depends, is at present as congested as the roads of this country. A concession to use any particular frequency or channel of 513 frequencies is like gold dust. It is not often realised that in extending coverage over the nation the last 10 per cent. or 15 per cent. of the population covered requires as many frequencies as does the first 85 per cent. Therefore, in our future thinking we must be careful not to insist on national coverage, which is wasteful in money, wasteful in men and resources and wasteful in frequency, and that is even more important.
I shall not get into a technical argument with the right hon. Member for Caerphilly. We have had many in the past and I very much doubt our ability to agree. Much has been said about profits and of course they have been very high. It is fair to make the point that my right hon. Friend and many others made when this venture started. The Government and many others were doubtful about whether it would succeed. It was a considerable commercial risk. Many people withdrew when the great losses were made and many people had to put their hands deep in their pockets again in order to remain in.
Looking back, I feel that the contractors of the I.T.A. did a great service to the nation. They took a great risk. They have certainly recouped themselves, and I do not think that we can blame them for having done so. But there is no doubt that something must be done, and there have been constructive suggestions. My right hon. Friend's proposals and those of the hon. Member for Bosworth are very interesting.
It ought to be borne in mind, however, that although one can talk about profits in the past, one must be careful about talking about profits in the future. There may not be any cow there to milk, because we have to undertake this massive operation of going on to 625 lines, and it must be remembered that it will take four or five years. Some people estimated that it will take longer, but I think that it will take four or five years to make the change-over and before 625-line operation becomes profitable and there are sufficient people looking at 625-line sets for there to be an advertising revenue. If we put that task on the present contractors, as I shall argue with the Minister that we should, to be done out of their profits, 514 then the chances are that there will be losses rather than profits in the future.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
Is not the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that the cost of the duplicated transmission will fall not upon the programme contractors but upon I.T.A.?
§ Captain Orr
I do not accept that for a moment. Possibly the right hon. Gentleman thinks that there is nothing involved but duplicating the transmission by putting up a transmitter. I am arguing that we shall need fresh programmes on 625 lines, with new studios, new equipment and new programme material. It is nonsense to say that the whole cost would fall on I.T.A. The contractors must accept a very small return for four or five years. This is quite a different operation from that in 1953, when it was simply a question of taking a set and putting on it an adapter costing £5. This is quite different. One must have a new dual standard set which is very expensive or an extremely expensive adapting device, and I doubt whether anyone would do that. For a number of years, putting on new programmes on 625 lines, there is likely to be not only absence of profit but probably loss, and we must be careful about that in our future thinking.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams (Manchester, Openshaw)
I agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman, but may I ask whether he agrees Chat there have been excessive profits in the past few years and that he does not want this to occur in the future?
§ Captain Orr
Yes. I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. There have been excessive profits, and I do not want that to continue in future. But in our consideration of what to do about it, we must remember that there may not be profits in the future.
The change to 625 lines is a contribution which the present contractors ought to be made to make in the national interest. They have had a very good haul, and now there is a chance for them to repay the nation. The present contractors should do it. In the post-1964 arrangements there should be a definite requirement, a direction and an obligation, placed upon them—I refer to the big contractors, not those in the 515 regions—to produce at least as many hours on 625 lines as they produce on 405 lines, with completely new programmes. I believe that that is a fair requirement to put on the present contractors. That is not asking too much of them.
Now the industry. The hon. Member for Bosworth referred to the unnecessary delay caused by the setting up of the Pilkington Committee. In the industry we said three or four years ago that the technical facts were known. There was a remarkable agreement within the industry, to begin with, with the I.T.A. and the B.B.C., and with the Television Advisory Committee, toegther with the G.P.O., about the necessity for going over to the new standard. We said then that if the industry was not to run into very bad times a decision had to be taken then.
My criticism of the Government is that that decision ought to have been taken then. Probably never in the whole of our history was there a more unnecessary Committee than the Pilkington Committee. All the judgments the Committee was asked to make were political judgments. They were questions of taste and opinion. The House is a much better forum than such a Committee.
During all this time the unfortunate industry has been decimated. It is not generally known in this country just what a blow has fallen upon the radio industry as a result of this long delay, coupled with the operation of the Government's stop and go policy, from which our industry suffered more than any other. The industry which a few years ago comprised about fifty companies has now been reduced to five. It truly has been decimated. Something must be done. At one time the radio and electronics industry was one of our strongest assets for going into the Common Market. It is now in a very weak position. The retailers attached to it are in the same position. Small retailers oll over the country have (had to go into other businesses. Many of them have had to give up (business. Many of them are hanging on toy a thread soiling distressed merchandise. Action must be taken.
I believe that if certain things are done the industry can be great again. First, 516 we must have 625, and have it quickly. The suggestion that perhaps the Government were going to give the new channel to the Corporation and invite the Corporation to change to 625 and that nothing much would happen on the independent side has produced the oddest thinking about timing. The first B.B.C. stations took four years each to build. The first commercial station was built in one year. The second was built in a year and a half. Now, when it is suggested that there might not be competition, it is proposed to build the first of the new stations in two years and the second in four years.
If we built the first independent transmitters in one year and and a half years, why on earth should it take two years and four years now? This is not good enough. The Government must either tell the Corporation, "This is not on. You must get on with this business faster", or they must say to the Authority,"You have to go very quickly out to tender for your 1964 concessions so that those who are going for the concessions afterwards will be able to get ahead with this if the Corporation cannot do it."
We must not accept this timing. We want to see a new station in London in 1963. It can be done. We want to see a new station in Birmingham in 1964. I am convinced, and almost everybody in the industry who knows about these things is convinced, that this can be done and that we ought to get on with it.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Bosworth has gone from the Chamber, because I should like to have drawn to his attention one good suggestion in the Pilkington Report. The suggestion was that the new sets should be sold free of Purchase Tax. That, I accept, is a shade unrealistic, but would it not be possible for my right hon. Friend to persuade the Treasury to agree to a reduction in Purchase Tax on the new sets so as to make them no more expensive than the old ones? I think that is feasible, and it is even possible that the Treasury would agree.
Engineering advances have gone on, and we have now got to the position where the new dual-standard sets can be sold at about £10 or so more than the existing ones. That is a tremendous achievement by the industry, and very 517 few people realise how tremendous it is. A cut of £6 or £7 per cent. in Purchase Tax would tremendously facilitate the move over from the old 405 to the new 625. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider that suggestion.
The right hon. Member for Caerphilly spoke of duplication. This is a technical subject about which one could argue for hours. The answer lies somewhere in between the two extremes, because if we duplicate everything we lose a great many channels. The number of frequencies required to duplicate on national coverage is enormous, and otherwise one is left with having the new dual-standard sets for a very long time—
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
The hon. and gallant Gentleman must surely know that there are far more channels in Band IV and Band V in which to do the duplication than there are in Bands I and III. That is elementary.
§ Captain Orr
The right hon. Gentleman does not seem to have grasped the elementary fact that even in Bands IV and V, frequencies are like gold dust, and must not be squandered. It is extremely important to strike a balance between complete duplication all over the nation, which is very wasteful of these important frequencies, and the necessity for duplication in the bigger centres. The truth lies somewhere in between. To use the fewest number of channels for the maximum number of people seems to be the guiding principle.
The main thing is to speed up the new programmes—get them on the air as soon as possible. It is a gigantic engineering task. Very few people who talk about it really understand just what a massive operation it is. Neither the B.B.C. nor the I.T.A. nor the G.P.O. have the necessary personnel, engineering material, and other resources for it. The industry should help, and I think that it can. We can make a very considerable contribution to that end, and I believe that we would be willing to do so in the interests of speed. One thing that the G.P.O. can do, and it is important, is to see that the linkage is provided as soon as possible. I hope that the G.P.O. has started on that, and 518 will get on with it as fast as it can; it would be a tragedy if other things went ahead and we were held up for lack of intercommunication.
The G.P.O. has circulated standards which are not unreasonable. But one thing on which I may find myself in disagreement with a great many hon. Members is about colour. It seems to have been generally agreed that we should get into colour and have colour programmes on the air as soon as we can, and I agree. But we must be very careful about how we do it. There is at present no agreed European colour standard and I honestly believe that before we get into the provision of colour for the ordinary viewer in this country we should have an agreed standard within the industry and with the G.P.O.
Then we should negotiate a standard for Europe because there is the gravest danger that if we rush into colour too soon, as a result of pressure from the Press or anyone else, we may find ourselves in precisely the same difficulty as exists over the 405-line standard. We should try now to get an agreed European colour standard. I do not suggest that to do this would take too long. However, it is a necessary prerequisite, certainly for the industry, our exports and so on.
Provided that all these things are done, I am confident that the industry can make the same sort of contribution it has made in the past. Although we are almost at saturation point in this country in the provision of television sets, the export opportunities are really enormous as long as we have the right standards and the correct basis here at home. I truly believe that the industry can be built up if we now have a sense of urgency and speed. It is within the Government's power, considering how the industry has been treated for many years, to help in this process.
There are many ancillary subjects I had intended to discuss but since many hon. Members wish to speak I will not detain the House. Regarding pay television, my view is that if anyone wants to pay his money into it, let him. Let us have an experiment and not license anything for too long. Let us not use frequency space to do it in the first instance. This space is like gold dust and 519 we should, therefore, conduct an experiment for a brief period on wire to see how it gets on.
There are unlimited prospects for educational television. Television can be a valuable tool in the hands of the teacher and we should at least reserve the necessary frequencies for such a television channel in the future. I will only say, on local broadcasting, that the B.B.C. idea is appalling and that the Pilkington Committee should have supported it I find incomprehensible. We have three national programmes already and to suggest that there should now be another network of sound services, with perhaps a little local news and weather, seems a shocking waste of frequency space.
The Government must invite commercial people to do it—or universities, local authorities or someone truly local —or say to the B.B.C, "Go away, think again and produce a better plan". Otherwise, the Government should reserve a frequency for future consideration. One of the three by all means, but for goodness sake not this extraordinarily wasteful duplication.
I had intended to say something about Telstar and international broadcasting. I will merely say that we should get in on this ourselves. Let us not merely be the paying customers—paying through the nose to the Americans. Let us consider communications to Africa and Asia and let us have a big stake in the future so that we may reap the benefits. Out of international communications—satellite communications—will come gigantic profits compared with those from commercial television and we should, therefore, have a share in them.
Since many hon. Members wish to speak I regret having spoken at length. I hope that some of my remarks will be useful in the next stage in the development of what is at present, and will be in the future, the best television in Europe.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
I enjoyed very much the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr). I disagree with the hon. and gallant Member, however, in his summary dismissal of the Pilkington Report. Whatever criticisms can be 520 made of it, that Report expresses the disquiet which most thinking people have felt about the television service, and one great contribution which it makes is to underline the worst evils of the present television system.
It is a fair criticism that the tone of the Report is objectionable in parts This is due largely to a failure to distinguish between morality and good taste. Be that as it may, however, it seems to me that most of the criticisms made by the Pilkington Report of our present television set-up are valid, although in some instances one might arrive at those conclusions by a different route.
In its evidence to the Pilkington Committee, the Liberal Party suggested that the third network should be given to a separate corporation, separate and different from the B.B.C. and I.T.A. I entirely agreed with the view expressed by the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Wyatt) on that kind of proposal in his valuable contribution to the debate. It was the proposal of the Liberal Party that the separate corporation should derive its revenue from advertising, controlled cenrally, and should take programmes from both the B.B.C. and the programme producing companies in independent television. I suggest that the Postmaster-General might reconsider that suggestion.
If, however, that suggestion is not followed, we welcome the decision of the Government to give a second network to the B.B.C. If one overcomes one's natural reaction against the excessive whitewashing of the B.B.C. in the Pilkington Report and even bears in mind what the hon. Member for Bosworth said of the B.B.C.—incidentally, if the hon. Member were to appear more often on B.B.C the B.B.C.'s TAM rating would go up—I believe, that it is the view of my Party and of myself that the Corporation has performed an invaluable service to our country, both through sound broadcasting and television. It has been a remarkable example of the discharge of a public duty by what is virtually a public trustee. We think it a good thing that the third network should go to the B.B.C. if our own idea of a separate corporation is not accepted.
In his book on television, Mr. Robin Day was right when he said that in the past, when discussing television and 521 broadcasting, we had been too concerned with a concept of "freedom from"—freedom from interefernce, and so on. We have been preoccupied with the question of controls. But we have now reached the stage when we can be more concerned with the concept of "freedom to". That is, we can now take a more positive view of freedom; freedom to develop and to experiment, with greater freedom of expression. I would like to see in the second programme which the B.B.C. is to operate more freedom, more variety and more independence allowed to producers and the like.
The B.B.C, with its natural concern for impartiality, is a little too concerned with the concept of "balance" in every single programme. Provided that it is anounced as such—namely, as a programme in which a certain viewpoint is to be put over—I do not see why one could not have a biased programme on B.B.C. It should, however, be announced as such and a proper balance should be maintained over a period. This would mean more independence of thought and ensure greater freedom of expression in the B.B.C. itself.
There is one other point I should like to make before I leave the question of the B.B.C. and that is that we take the view that it is very important to preserve if possible the complete independence of the B.B.C. and to maintain its present financial position of sole dependence upon licence revenue. I know that the B.B.C. itself attaches very great importance to this. It would seem to me to be a pity if the B.B.C. had to depend upon Government grant from another source. One of the first contributions which the Government can make would be the abrogation of the present Excise fee of £1. I cannot believe that the addition of a second B.B.C. programme would necessarily cost twice as much as the present single programme. Surely some kind of saving could be made.
I should like to come now to the central point in the Pilkington Report, and that is the question of the future of I.T.V. in this country. I have already said that we accept a great deal of the criticism made of I.T.V. in the Pilkington Report. Under the present set-up of I.T.V. four valid ciriticisms can be made. First, it is a commercial monopoly 522 created virtually by act of State. Secondly, because of the nature of this monopoly, advertisers inevitably must have a great effect upon programmes; and whereas we cannot eliminate the effect of advertisers' influence on programmes we can at least limit it.
Thirdly, excessive profits are being made out of this valuable monopoly, created—certainly indirectly—by the Legislature. Fourthly, far from providing competition, the I.T.V. companies have certainly not competed with one another, due largely to the networking arrangements.
If, in fact, there is to be only one commercial television system in this country my party would very much prefer to see Pilkington Recommendation 43 rather than the present set-up. There can be no doubt whatever about that. What really concerns me about that is that if, in fact, we have one commercial television network then we preserve the commercial monopoly, and if we do that we avoid the benefits which could come from commercial competition itself. Because it would still remain a commercial monopoly an authority akin to the B.B.C. would have to be created for it, and that is what, as I understand it, the Pilkington proposals would amount to.
I was greatly attracted by the argument put forward in a leading article in the Guardian on Saturday last. It really suggested that if the Government are intent on providing a second network for the B.B.C. and a second one for commercial television we can afford to look at this whole problem anew. The question posed by the Guardian was: why should there not be two competing commercial television systems, one on the present lines, but modified, and the other on the Pilkington lines? That, first, would do away with the commercial monopoly. It certainly would bring crashing down the present profit levels which result from this monopoly. Secondly, of course, it would avoid the possibility of wastage in the present commercial television set-up. Thirdly, it would introduce healthy competition between the commercial systems themselves.
This proposal has its political attractions, too, because we might be faced with a long battle over changing over the 523 present system, and if the Government are proposing to give a second network to independent television then there is a great deal to be said for branching out anew on Pilkington lines and amending in a much less vigorous form the present set-up of I.T.V.
If the suggestion is followed so that there would be two commercial television programmes, then the view of my party certainly is that there ought to be a stronger element of public interest represented in the present commercial set-up, and that can only be done through a body like the I.T.A. If one does not follow the Pilkington recommendations for I.T.V., I suggest, first, that I.T.N., which has contributed a great deal to the measure of success that has been achieved in commercial television, should have far greater independence than it has at present. It should have financial independence of the programme companies. It could come directly beneath I.T.A., and be completely independent of the programme companies. It should have some control or say over the time at which its topical programmes go on the air. I know that a programme has been put out recently by I.T.V. which was excellent, but was put out at six o'clock in the evening at a time when very few people can have been viewing. It would also be very important to break up the present networking system of the independent television organisation, and I think that that might well be helped by having I.T.A. and I.T.N. represented on the networking committees.
I am very limited in time, but I should like to deal with one other matter, and that is television as it affects my own country of Wales. First, I wish to say how much I welcome the proposals of the Government and the recommendations of the Pilkington Report in so far as they affect Wales, but I would ask the Postmaster-General to have another look at independent television in Wales. I think it is a mistake to think that we in Wales would be satisfied with one all-Wales programme, one national programme run only by the B.B.C. There is a great deal to be said for having Wales regarded as one region for I.T.V., also, and there is a great deal to be said for amalgamating the Wales Television Company and the Welsh side of 524 T.W.W. so that we have a complete choice of programmes in Wales as between independent television and the B.B.C.
We in Wales pay the same for our licences and for the detergents which are advertised, but our petrol costs us a little more, so we are entitled to the same kind of choice as is available in England.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ Mr. J. A. Stodart (Edinburgh, West)
I do not want to spend any time in dealing with what has been mentioned a good deal in this debate—whether or not the B.B.C. or commercial television has had the bettor record during the last few years. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. W. R. Williams) for providing an opportunity for the voice of Scotland to be heard following that of Wales and for allowing me to put some of the particular problems about Scotland that are mentioned in the Pilkington Report.
The first thing I want to mention is the criticism that has been made of the relationship between Scottish Television and the Press. Mr. Roy Thomson controls The Scotsman, the Weekly Scotsman, the Evening Despatch in Edinburgh, the Aberdeen Press and Journal, the Aberdeen Evening Express, and the Highland News of Inverness. He also controls Scottish Television, and I estimate that that newspaper chain is probably read by about one-fifth of the newspaper reading population of the country. I think it only fair to say that in this case there is no sign of any abuse. Perhaps that is because no particular policy or gimmick is identified with Mr. Thomson as is the case, for example, with Lord Beaverbrook. All the same, I think that the Press interests of Mr. Thomson, together with his control of Scottish Television, have brought him to a pitch where he has an undue concentration of power over public opinion north of the Border.
I have seen Mr. Thomson on television declaring that his main interest and aim in life is to give happiness to people through providing them with work. I suspect that he must employ many more people in his newspaper undertakings than he does on Scottish Television, and I think that the Pilkington Committee was entirely justified in 525 recommending that he should shed one interest or the other. I should have said chat for the benefit of the majority in this case he should shed his interest in Scottish Television.
I want also to deal with Scotland's position in regard to broadcasting and television. It has been suggested that in Scotland we should have a Scottish Broadcasting Corporation and cut ourselves tree from the B.B.C. I think it is indisputable that we could not possibly shoulder the increased costs of operating a separate broadcasting system, the administration and the engineering, if we were to go our own way, and, although there may be disadvantages in working closely with London, I am sure that in this case the disadvantages would be far greater if we went into isolation.
The National Broadcasting Council for Scotland, which was set up under the 1952 Charter, was obliged to exercise control "with full regard to the distinctive culture, interests and tastes of the Scottish people". In those days that related to sound. The new proposal, which is very much welcomed in Scotland—that the National Broadcasting Council should assume similar responsibilities for television—brings in its wake financial problems, because television is very much more expensive to run than sound. Scotland is one of four regions which at the moment work at a deficit. The others are Northern Ireland, Wales and the West Region. The income that Scotland gets from the Postmaster-General is £500,000 less than that received by the West Region. Because of its geography, extensive area and so on, its expenditure is greater. Therefore, we end up with Scotland having the largest deficit of all.
What are the special needs and considerations in Scotland? We have our own established Church and our own religious programmes. We have, as do the Welsh, a programme which is beamed to the Gaelic-speaking community. We have our own sporting interests. Although we take our hats off to Tottenham Hotspur, I do not think that team inspires quite the devotion that Heart of Midlothian or Hibernians in the City of Edinburgh do. None of these subjects are any use as network programmes. I think that all this adds up to special financial needs.
526 I think that agriculture is the only industry which has for many years enjoyed its own regular programmes on sound radio. Each region has it own programme. It is difficult to say how much broadcasting has been responsible for bringing about better farming, but I am quite sure that it has had a good deal of responsibility for doing just that. The scope and the emphasis on farming are different in Scotland from what they are in England and Wales. Farming is more important to the economy of Scotland than it is to that of England and Wales, and it surely forms one of those interests which are distinct and which are, under the 1952 Charter, catered for in sound radio.
In television, however, things are not so good, and this applies both to the B.B.C. and to commercial television. Apart from Grampian Television, the commercial farming programmes are almost entirely networked. A programme called "The other man's farm" deals almost entirely with farming in England. The B.B.C. is not much better in that nearly all of its programmes originate in Birmingham. I suggest that out of the weekly television farming programmes Scotland should provide the network with perhaps half a dozen programmes a year, and that on half a dozen other occasions it should be able to opt out of the network.
I have compressed by speech to as great a degree as possible. I accept that extra money is involved in what I have suggested as being the special needs of Scotland. But I do not shudder at an increase in the licence fee, considering that the suggested figure would put us firmly in the centre of the scales operating in the countries of the Six—and that is a fairly topical note on which to end this contribution.
§ 9.13 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams (Manchester, Openshaw)
We are nearing the end of a very good debate on a very important issue. I thought that the debate in another place was also very good. I do not know how far my right hon. and hon. Friends will go with me in this, but it occurs to me, as we have now left behind the old battle on the question of commercial television v. the B.B.C. or some other form of corporation, that this House may decide that, in the 527 national interest and in order to get the maximum benefit for our people out of this powerful medium, we should be able to bridge some—I do not say all —of the differences between us so that we can concentrate on ends which seem to be common to both sides of the House and on the means by which to achieve them.
I think the time has come when we have to use much of our resources in the development of this medium, and that we shall be in such great competition with European nations and with the United States in scientific development that the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. will have to co-ordinate as well as act in healthy competition. I hope that I have not dirtied my copybook by saying that, but it must be the natural consequence of this debate and the trend of thought among hon. Members on both sides of the House.
Coming to the debate itself, I thought that the Postmaster-General gave us an excellent start. He made a good speech. He seems to have a genuine desire to try to resolve the more controversial issues on basic arguments rather than to accept pressure from any groups or from any quarter of the House. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman made an important declaration, and if we had had a similar declaration when we last discussed this important media some of the decisions that were taken then would not have been taken. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman meant what he said, that that spirit will continue and that we shall see the result of that type of thinking in the White Paper which, I understand, is to be published later this year.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) made an excellent and comprehensive speech. How he expects me to have anything to say on the various aspects of the subject absolutely beats me. My right hon. Friend dealt clearly, concisely, and forth-rightly with all the matters about which we have come to some sort of an agreement among ourselves, and he spoke with his usual candour and made it clear that there are decisions and issues which need a good deal more study and examination, and in this I entirely agree with him
We have also had some brilliant and witty speeches from some of our hon. 528 Friends on the back benches. Some of them perhaps should not have been there today, but I was reminded of the saying attributed to the late Earl Lloyd George about his old colleague in the Liberal Party, now the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill). In passing, may I say that the way in which this doughty old warrior has been fighting himself out of his present sticky corner has once again been a source of pride and admiration to us all and we wish him a speedy recovery to take the seat now occupied by the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr). This is what Earl Lloyd George said:The trouble with Winston is that he thinks that when he has made a brilliant and witty speech he has solved the problem.I hope that that comment does not apply to anybody who has spoken today.
I add my tribute to the Chairman and members of the Pilkington Committee. I think that they deserve it. They have spent nearly two years getting down to some of the fundamental problems connected with this media. I do not think that they have been given the credit which they deserve. I do not think that they have been given the credit which is due to them for the high ideal they had of the purpose of broadcasting in a modern world. I think that for a change we have had people who have examined the issue from a high moral point of view, and I do not deprecate their viewpoint.
Turning to the Report, it is a massive historic document which has been carefully studied, is being carefully studied, and will continue to be carefully studied not only in this House and in this country but all over the world, and will become a classic. That does not say, however, that I am prepared to accept all the Pilkington Report, hook, line and sinker. I do not consider it infallible. I think that it sometimes fails even to reach logical conclusions based on its own arguments. For instance, I should have thought that the logical conclusion of the Pilkington Committee on whether or not we should have commercial television was whether the profits motive was compatible with public service. The whole of its argument would lead one to believe that it did not think that it ought to continue. 529 But when we come to its recommendations, we find out that not only does it say that it can continue but that it can expand if there is a fourth channel available for it.
On the question of the relationship of the Press with television, I should have thought that the logical conclusion of its argument would be to say unequivocally that there was no room for Press participation in television broadcasting. It has not said that. Therefore, I cannot regard the Report, which has a good deal of inconsistency and which fails to reach logical conclusions, as infallible. It leaves reasonable room for doubt and a good deal of difference of opinion.
I have no doubt at all that the Committee has pinpointed some very serious faults and disabilities in I.T.V. I think that they have existed for a long time. Many people tried to bring them to the notice of the Government, but nothing happened. I think that as a result of the criticism made by the Pilkington Committee, I.T.A. has been shaken to its very roots and that those who were arrogant and boastful are now penitent. The only question that worries me is whether it is the case of when the devil is sick, the devil a holy man would be. I certainly hope that the effect that the Report has had on it will shake it up permanently.
Having said that, however, I deplore the nasty, crude, irrational Press comments which have flooded into the Committee as a result of its pronouncements and recommendations. I do not think that I have ever before read such vitriolic comments about any body or any issues since I remember reading anything at all. The Press organs in this country, with one or two exceptions, ought to be really ashamed of the attitude which they have taken on the Pilkington Committee's Report. The Daily Sketch said:If the Committee think you are enjoying yourself too much—they will soon put a stop to that. Coronation Street, Emergency Ward 10 and all the others will be blacklisted.That was a wicked travesty of what the Committee has said. But Mr. Cadbury excelled them all in his vilifications. The trouble is that all that he succeeded in doing was to bring discredit on a name which has been honoured in British public life; and social welfare.
530 I do not want to repeat any arguments that have been used if I can help it, because this is not a debate in the normal sense of the term. As far as I can see, it is an exchange of ideas, and it is no use my working myself up into any heat or emotion in dealing with something that is not here. I do not believe in putting up Aunt Sally's just to have them knocked down.
It is not a very good thing to publish a massive Report of this sort without, at the same time, publishing the evidence that was available to the Committee and upon which it based its decisions. It may be that the Committee has reasonably, accurately and fairly reflected the evidence placed before it. It may be that it has come to the right conclusions, based on the evidence. But I would prefer to have an opportunity of reading the evidence, of interpreting it according to my inclinations, and then of coming to a decision and treating the decision in the light of my reaction to the Report.
I cannot say whether there is any foundation to support the allegation made by Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick. He alleged that the attitude attributed to the I.T.A. in various passages of the Report was not in accordance with the evidence, and that the Committee's account of the character and the plans of independent television programmes, as given in the Report, was incorrect and misleading. That is a serious allegation, and the Government ought to produce the evidence as soon as possible.
Yesterday, I received two weighty reports from Granada Television, of Manchester, giving me the evidence it had presented to the Committee. There were some substantial points in that evidence. Granada is a good company, from the production point of view. I say that although I have never appeared on its programmes, and I do not expect ever to do so because I have not a photogenic look about me. What surprised me was that I bad not been made aware of those substantial points from my reading of the Pilkington Committee Report. Above all, I would give a lot to see the evidence put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew). I should like to know whether there is any difference between what he has said here tonight and what he said to the Committee.
531 I turn now to technical aspects. I am no electrician or technologist, but as far as I can see there is little difficulty, technically, about the conclusions of the White Paper concerning the change from 405 to 625 lines and the use of new H.F. bands to provide spectrum space for any additional programmes. But my right hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) shook me a little today when he told the House that there is not a lengthy future for the 625 line and he thought we ought to be going in for the 525, because Telstar and the Americans operate that line. There was a word in the document from Granada indicating that the 625 line was likely to be outdated. I have tested these points with someone who ought to know and I am told that there is not much substance in them.
I think it important, and my right hon. Friend will appreciate this, that the 625 line is operated on the Continent, and that in any exchanges we are likely to have in television, colour television or broadcasting it will mostly be with the people on the Continent. In my opinion it will be necessary to do a great deal more research on this matter because it will be very costly. I do not think hon. Members appreciate just how costly. But when the bill comes in they will realise, and so I suggest that we must try to save money by engaging in conjoint research and action. I suggest that that should be one of the objectives of the Postmaster-General.
I am 100 per cent. in favour of the B.B.C. getting a third channel. I do not equivocate about this. I am a firm believer in the need for a public service corporation, the B.B.C, being the dominant partner in British broadcasting. My hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Mr. Wyatt), perhaps it was partly in fun, denigrated the B.B.C, but I think he went beyond what was reasonable. I have a high regard for the B.B.C. and I know that that feeling is shared by most people in this country. Because of the contribution it makes to the supply of news, education and information, and above all because of the basic integrity which is a feature of the B.B.C. I know that the Corporation has commended itself to people overseas and so I am absolutely in favour of the 532 B.B.C. getting a third channel. I hope that the Postmaster-General will stick to his decision in that matter despite anything that might be said by hon. Members on the benches behind him, or anything which may be said by my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth.
There has been a reference to a fourth programme, but I do not think that we should start to discuss a fourth programme until we have discharged our responsibilities in relation to the other programmes which we are trying to perfect and in relation to the transfer to a new line, the adoption of U.H.F., and so on. I think that it would be unreasonable, unwise and impolitic to talk about a fourth programme until such time as we know the consequences of introducing a third channel. If we do introduce a fourth channel, I am absolutely against it going to commercial television. If it is to go anywhere it must go to educational and cultural purposes. If my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) had been able to speak in this debate he would have made a great contribution on the possibilities of a fourth channel to deal with educational problems.
Recommendations 27 and 31, of course, specially appeal to me as a native of the Principality. The new arrangements may not be completely satisfactory for all the interests in Wales. I am not sure that anything would be satisfactory to all of them, but I am satisfied that an excellent start has been made. I hope that Welsh hon. Members will take this thought back to the authorities and that in their anxiety to cater for this service they will not forget the Welsh exiles who enjoy so much some of the programmes, cultural, musical and the rest, which come from Wales to England. If the Authority in Wales drops that I shall apologise to the House for having troubled it about those paragraphs.
In regard to my hon. Friends who thought that some of us were flagging when they wanted to be galloping, all I say is that I do not think there is a substantial difference of opinion between us. The difference is so small as to be almost negligible. When I compared the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick with that of my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) I could not 533 detect any substantial difference between them. I sincerely hope that they will now agree with us that this debate and the debate in the other place have been well worth while and it is not unwise now and again to take time to think out some of these difficult controversial problems because we do not lose anything by thinking over some of them.
I am glad that the Postmaster-General has been able to agree on some issues already. I do not take any exception to the Government and the Postmaster-General wanting to reserve their position on some of the bigger problems. We expect them to tackle the I.T.A. vigorously. In the spirit of the debate today they will appreciate, as we do, that there are many faults to be corrected in British broadcasting. We hope that they will not be mealymouthed with I.T.A. and that whatever alternative proposals they make will be based on the fact that they make it perfectly clear to I.T.A. that it must exercise full authority in future, and if it cannot break down monopoly in the middle of the structure and improve its programmes— do away with violence and triviality— we promise the right hon. Gentleman that we shall be very much more vigorous in the debate on the next White Paper.
§ 9.39 p.m.
§ The Assistant Postmaster-General (Miss Mervyn Pike)
We are nearly at the end of a day which for a great many of us seems to have started a very long time ago. We have had a fascinating debate, and we are all extremely grateful to hon. Members who have made such thoughtful and stimulating contributions.
The purpose of the debate, as was said by the hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. W. R. Williams), who sat down so promptly and with such courtesy to me, has been to collect our thoughts and to develop our arguments so that we could crystallise our ideas perhaps for battles which lie ahead. Hon. Members therefore will not wish me to attempt to try to answer all the points which have been raised, but rather to try to bring together the strands of the debate, and some of the thoughts of those hon. Members who have not been fortunate to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker 534 —because there has been considerable discussion in public and in private on this important issue since we have had the Pilkington Committee's Report.
It is difficult to try to say anything new or to give a fresh look to ideas which have been so freely and fully expressed. I want, first, to pay my own personal tribute to Sir Harry Pilkington and his Committee. I think that it is true to say that no group of people can have worked with more zeal or with a greater sense of dedication to their task. We are deeply grateful to them. The hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Wyatt) suggested that the Pilkington Committee had not looked at television since 1960, but I remind him that in paragraph 9 of the Report, the Committee say,We have also all systematically watched and listened to many programmes with the object of assessing the quality and range of the service offered.I think that we can be sure that they have done their best to give their full attention to this important problem.
The hon. Member for Openshaw asked about the evidence. The evidence amounts to 1,200 pages, and printing is being pushed forward as rapidly as possible, but it looks as though we cannot promise publication before mid-September; and this will not include the oral evidence and therefore will not deal with the point which he made about Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick.
Many speakers in the debate, both here and in another place, declared a financial interest in broadcasting. When trying to assess the power of this medium and to represent the views of the uncommitted and the publicly less articulate members of society, I think that we should all force ourselves to recognise the extent of our own personal bias. This is a field in which each one of us secretly regards himself as being a bit of an expert. Broadcasting is, of course, an aspect of human activity in which most of us feel that good commonsense and a working knowledge of what makes society tick are the best tools with which to form a balanced judgment. It is, in fact, a field in which there are considerable pitfalls, a field in which "I know what I like" imperceptibly tends to become "I know what is best" Paradoxically, I would say, our sense of personal humility in face of the anxiety generated by a recognition of the power 535 of this medium for good or evil too often leads to the assumption of an excessive paternalism, a too-arrogant assumption of our duty to protect the individual from himself.
I must admit that my own training and abiding interest is in social psychology. As a result, my own personal bias is towards an analytical approach to social problems. I am in sympathy with those who, like Baroness Wootton, regret that there has been so little scientific analysis of this problem. I appreciate the value of the researches already in hand, and of course I recognise the overwhelming difficulties and the time factor involved in covering such a wide and diverse subject in this way. But whatever our approach, and even if we are not always satisfied that the hand that rocks the cradle will always control the knob wisely, we must recognise that the impact of television is circumscribed by the four walls of the home. Although this may in some cases heighten the realism, at the same time, in general it conditions and it cushions the impact of programmes, particularly on young people.
Further, it is an undoubted fact that our reaction to television is conditioned by its continued use. The effect, even of the most dramatic events, is diluted because we have been so freely and often so excessively exposed to this magic. I am thinking, for example, of my own reaction to last week's Telstar T.V. programme. To be sitting here in the Palace of Westminster watching President Kennedy's Press conference was to participate in, I suppose, the most significant surge forward in world-wide communications of all time. It was a great moment. It was a great achievement. But one had seen the President so often before on telerecordings that somehow one's sense of wonder was diminished. This leads me to believe that, although we must be cautious, we should not be over-anxious in the face of the pervasive power of T.V. on the fabric of our society, because perhaps after all it may not be such a devastating force in a society which is as mature and as sophisticated as ours.
At the same time, we are all aware of the influence of T.V. on the home. We sometimes tend to overlook the influence 536 exerted by the family as such on television. In the post-war years it has been an important unifying factor in a large number of families, where it has brought the focus of family life back into the sitting room.
The most persistent and the most serious charge probably levelled against television is triviality. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) dealt with this at some length and to good effect, I thought. This charge should be judged first in the light of the limitations necessarily imposed by the number of channels available. In addition, not only is the impact of television affected by the background against which it is absorbed, but this very background in itself becomes a serious limiting factor in the creation of demand for new programmes.
Television is a mass medium. In most cases it is a mass medium which is required at peak viewing hours to hold the attention and to entertain simultaneously every age group, from wee Johnnie, who should have been in bed long ago, to Granny, who is probably very set in her ways and will never go to bed.
Although the family as a unit may produce this demand for the most acceptable common denominator of entertainment, as individuals, we have a right to expect from this medium of all media a widening of our horizons and an enrichment of our minds. This is why the educational network is so particularly important. We are considering this. I will not go into the arguments fox and against it. I think that we all recognise the importance of the educational value and the mental enrichment of this medium.
The achievement of this goal of widening our horizons and enriching our own minds and lives would bring great benefit to our society. In addition, and per-haps more important, it would enable us to make a significant contribution to the progress of mankind. I am sure that no one who saw the B.B.C. film "Television and the World", which was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Sir H. Linstead), would under-estimate the potential of this power. We can all imagine the tremendous uses to which it can be put in the world at present.
537 What I am trying to say is that we all want good broadcasting. I believe that in this field it is true to say that Gresham's Law works in reverse and that good entertainment will drive out bad, provided that a real choice is available. It is our responsibility to make certain that a real choice is available.
It is in this context that I should like to say something about networking, to which my right hon. Friend, the hon. Member for Bosworth and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South referred. In the Government's view, this is one of the main questions which needs looking into in the context of the Pilkington Report. There has been a good deal of criticism of these arrangements and some disquiet has been expressed by the I.T.A. itself and also by certain of the programme companies. There seems little doubt that the present rigid arrangements unduly limit any real competition amongst the various contracting companies in the provision of programmes.
The position is well summed up in paragraphs 538 to 544 of the Report. The Report first points out that there is a given amount of permitted viewing time to be filled and that no less than 15 per cent. of it should be originated by each company, major or regional. The independent television news bulletins, which are taken by all the companies, account for some 5 per cent. of the time. The remaining balance, namely, about 80 per cent. of viewing time, is shared by agreement between the four major companies.
As the Report says, the supply of network programmes to the minor companies and payment for them are governed by a series of standard agreements between them and the major companies, and for this purpose each minor company is "affiliated" to a major company. What happens is that all the smaller companies pay a part of their advertising revenue to the major company to which they are affiliated, in return for the right to show items from the network programme.
But the amount which the affiliated companies pay to the major companies increases as their advertising revenue grows, however many or few items they take from the network programme. We 538 think, with Sir Harry Pilkington's Committee, that these arrangements do not encourage minor companies to initiate programmes beyond the minimum 15 per cent., as we should like them to do because, if they do, the proportion of advertising revenue that they must pay to the major companies is not reduced.
As the Pilkington Committee said in describing the effect of these networking arrangements:… the same programme items can be seen all over the country simultaneously; and for the most part, they are. In effect, independent television provides, for most of the time, a national programme.This system of networking was, par-haps, an inevitable consequence of the way in which the I.T.A. network has developed historically, since, naturally, the regional companies were given contracts covering the largest areas of population and found themselves in an entrenched position. But that this should be so is clearly not in accordance with the aim embodied in the Television Act of 1954. It is clear, too, that the I.T.A. originally envisaged the networking of programmes, not in a restrictive sense but as a means of promoting competition between the programme companies, for, in its first Report, published in October, 1955, the Authority recorded the expectation that if there were to be free trade among programme companies in buying and selling programmes a real measure of competition would result. The Authority expressed some concern to Sir Harry Pilkington's Committee about the present position.
Therefore, while accepting that I.T.V., like most television services in other parts of the world, must depend to a large extent on some networking arrangements, the Government intend to examine very carefully, in co-operation with the I.T.A., means by which the present system can be made less restricted. There have been many suggestions that the Authority itself should play a more prominent part in planning and organising the networking of programmes, and that is certainly one idea that we will look at carefully.
There were, of course, many others, and particularly technical, points that I could go into, but if I started on technicalities with the right hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for 539 Down, South, I think that I should be crushed between the two of them. Anyway, all of us would probably be no wiser than before, and the issue might be even mote badly muddied than at some points we felt it was. I do not think that at this time there is any point in my trying to go over the problems that lie ahead.
I think that, as the hon. Member for Openshaw said, the salient part of this debate has been the very large measure of agreement that we have found between us. I realise that the differences are very real ones and that, therefore, the arguments that lie ahead may be all the more serious and prolonged for that very reason. At the same time, I believe that this debate has served an extremely useful purpose in clearing all our minds on so many of the controversies that were behind us and, clearing our minds for the decisions that lie ahead.
I am sure that all of us are very conscious of the importance of this debate at this time, and that we are all conscious, too, of the significance of any decisions that will be taken as a result. Therefore, in summing up, I have found it difficult to give, perhaps, a cogent expression to the essence of the problems involved; they are problems that are at once deeply profound, highly technical, and charged with strong personal, moral and political convictions.
There is, of course, a wide field for speculation between those who take the view that television is a sort of moral therapy to restore what they regard as a weak and degenerate public taste and those who see it solely as a means of light entertainment and escape from the realities of life. Then there are those, the devotees of our modern technology, who believe that mankind can enjoy all the benefits of continuous technological advance without having to pay for any compensating disadvantages. Only a little less ingenious are those people whom I might call the devotees of organisation. They are the people who substitute the redemptive organisation for the redemptive gadget.
Nowadays advancing technology can make nonsense of any organisation or administrative blueprint within a matter not of years but of months. Hon. Mem- 540 bers who have spoken about the effects of Telstar had that very much in mind. As I said, the majority of hon. Members, and the wider public, prefer a more realistic attitude to these problems. They prefer to identify themselves with the views of those who accept the fact that the individuals who compose society are in themselves the arbiters who will finally determine the standards which can be achieved.
Material and organisational instruments are indispensable, and a good tool is always preferable to a bad one. However, we recognise that in listless or malicious hands the finest instrument is either useless or a means of positive evil. The debate has been concerned mainly with realism and it is in this spirit that our arguments and discussion will go on in the future. I believe that, in this spirit, acceptable solutions can and will be found.
§ 9.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Francis Noel-Baker (Swindon)
I am sure that the Assistant Postmaster-General will not chink me discourteous if I tell her that some of us found her winding-up speech profoundly unsatisfactory. It bore very little relevence to the earlier speeches. The debate has been, from some of our points of view, unsatisfactory because only a few back benchers, excluding a Liberal hon. Member, were able to get in. Despite this, the points that were made were not answered by the hon. Lady.
An even more important point is that it is clear from what has been said by the Postmaster-General and the Assistant Postmaster-General that the Government have not made up their mind on what they propose to do about the future of broadcasting in Britain. They have not told us what they intend to do in the meantime, although a number of urgent problems need tackling. The Pilkington Report has revealed an important fact—that no one is satisfied with the present arrangements concerning I.T.A.
Some of us would like to see I.T.A. reorganised out of all recognition while many of us agree that changes in its personnel and methods must be made. We should like to know what the Postmaster-General intends to do between now and the time when the Government 541 make up their mind on the Pilkington Report. Will they re-organise the Advertising Advisory Committee of I.T.A.—a totally ineffective body in which vested interests have been over-represented and consumer interests are not represented— which is doing a thoroughly unsatisfactory job, as today's debate has shown.
What do the Government intend to do on the urgent problem of tobacco and cigarette advertising about which there has been a dramatic report by the Royal College of Physicians? There has also been a report from the Advertising Inquiry Council, with which I am connected and about which there is tremendous public feeling. Is action to be taken on that Report? What will be done about the faking of television commercials, about which private enterprise in America has taken very much more drastic action than we have done?
There are a number of unanswered problems which are very urgent and which cannot wait until the Government make up their mind about the implementation or otherwise of the Pilkington Report and about which reference has been made in many of today's speeches.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the Memorandum on the Report of the Committee on Broadcasting. 1960 (Command Paper No.1770).