§ 3.58 p.m.
§ The Assistant Postmaster-General (Mr. Ray Mawby)
I beg to move,That the Licence and Agreement, dated 19th December, 1963, between Her Majesty's Post-master-General and the British Broadcasting Corporation, a copy of which was laid before this House on 19th December, be approved.Hon. Members may wonder why my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General has asked me to open this debate. The reason is that the views expressed during the debate will be most important and my right hon. Friend would prefer to listen to them. He will reply to the debate if he is fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker.
As hon. Members will be aware, the Licence and Agreement is laid before the House because it contains provisions relating to overseas broadcasts and creating a public charge over a period of years. Hence, it falls within the scope of Standing Orders Nos. 92 and 93. The Charter itself, however, which gives the Corporation its existence, is granted under the Royal Prerogative and does not require the House's approval.
I shall not, therefore, be referring to the terms of the Charter, other than incidentally to the discussion of a particular aspect of the Licence: in fact, I shall be talking essentially about the operation of the B.B.C. rather than its constitution. However, I might perhaps mention that the Government's first White Paper (Cmnd. 1770) on the Report of the Committee on Broadcasting concluded that there should be no change in the main constitutional position—a conclusion which, I think, commended itself to the House.
As its name implies, the Instrument now under discussion is in part a Licence, granted by my right hon. Friend in exercise of his powers under the Wireless Telegraphy Act: and in part an Agreement between him and the Corporation. It contains: first, a number of technical clauses which can be described, broadly, as discharging his responsibility for ensuring economy and order in the use of frequencies. There follow a group of 47 clauses about the uses of broadcasting: clauses which lay certain well-defined duties on the B.B.C. and reserve certain powers to my right hon. Friend.
Among the latter is the clause empowering him to prescribe the amount of broadcasting time. Another confers the power—regarded by successive Governments as a reserve power—to veto broadcasts. The use of this power is, of course, confined now to the two prescriptions: the first banning broadcasts by the B.B.C. of its own opinions on current affairs or matters of public policy: the second banning party political broadcasts other than those in the agreed series. Next come the financial provisions: and finally a group of miscellaneous provisions. So much by way of general description: not an exhaustive one, but an outline which will, I hope, help discussion.
In the first White Paper, the Government recorded their view that there should be no major change in the powers of the Government, which would remain largely as at present The changes made to the Licence are, therefore, of detail. Hon. Members will not, I am sure, wish me to burden them with a recital of drafting changes designed to bring the provisions up to date, or to clarify them.
In the technical clauses 1 to 9, there are a number of changes. Perhaps, however, I should note the omission from the new Instrument of Clauses 6 and 8 of the current one (that is to say the Licence and Agreement of 1952, which the 1961 Licence and Agreement continued with some amendments). Clause 6, which requires the B.B.C. to observe regulations made under the Wireless Telegraphy Act and the Telegraph Acts, is unnecessary. In effect, it requires the Corporation to observe the law of the land. Clause 8 provides for the avoidance by the B.B.C. of interference with signalling by the Forces. This clause, too, is unnecessary. Clause 9 of the current instrument contains a general prescription for the avoidance of interference. This prescription covers the particular case of the Forces.
Clause 5 of the new Instrument is an innovation. Section 18 of the Television Act, 1963, lays on the I.T.A. the 48 duty of complying with any notice given by the Postmaster-General to radiate its transmissions from a mast or tower belonging to the B.B.C., or to permit its own masts to be used for the radiation of B.B.C. transmissions.
Clause 5 imposes a reciprocal obligation on the B.B.C. The reason for this power, as the House will remember, is that all UHF transmissions serving the same general area need to be radiated from a single mast if the cost of receiving installations is to be kept to a minimum. And, for the sakeof economy and amenity, two or more masts should not be built where one will do. Our expectation is that the broadcasting authorities will co-operate in the planning and provision of the UHF stations, and so render unnecessary the use of the power in the Act, and in the clause now under discussion. I am glad to be able to say that, so far, this has been so in the planning of the UHF network. There has been a most welcome spirit of give-and-take between the two organisations, and we have every hope that these powers will remain reserve powers.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
The hon. Member has mentioned the arrangements for political broadcasting. Has any variation been made in the rules laid down by, I think, Lord Morrison, that if an hon. Member of this House does an individual broadcast on some subject on which he has special knowledge he must be balanced off by an hon. Member on the other side, so that if a Labour Member speaks about chrysanthemums a Tory Member may have to talk about computers or mathematics, or something like that, to balance? I hope the hon. Member will not say that this does not exist, because I know that it does exist. A distinction has been applied against hon. Members over a long period. They have been debarred from broadcasting, to the extent that when I was writing some material for the B.B.C. it was found that I had had to have a Tory Member with me if I broadcast, and the labours of some years were thrown on one side for that reason.
§ Mr. Mawby
There is nothing specifically laid down. What we do lay down is that those concerned shall be impartial and adopt an impartial 49 approach. Therefore, it is very much a question of how the B.B.C. interprets what "impartiality" means. In most cases, in my own experience, the B.B.C. has taken the line that where it was not a truly political matter which was being dealt with—for instance, where a Member of Parliament was writing or reading a short story and so on—it would not require that there should be a balance by someone from the other side. But it is very much a question of its interpretation, of trying to make certain that this requirement of observing impartiality is carried out whenever it is confronted with this difficult problem—it is difficult for it at all times—and to interpret what exactly is the need in a certain case. We would hope that those concerned would observe as far as possible impartiality without going to the ludicrous lengths which the hon. Member mentioned.
§ Mr. Hale
Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that a distinguished Member of this House who is a sports reporter had to cease broadcasting on football for this reason? Will he also bear in mind that there was another rather curious rule of the B.B.C., that economists have to balance? How one can balance economists I do not know, but a Socialist economist was political and an anti-Socialist economist was non-political.
§ Mr. Mawby
This is really a matter for the B.B.C. in its day-to-day activities to interpret what we call upon it to do. I think it will bring us into very great difficulty if we try to make it any clearer and laid down real, rigid prescriptions of what attitude it ought to take in certain cases such as the hon. Member mentioned.
§ Mr. Donald Chapman (Birmingham, Northfield)
I believe that, in his interpretation of what the B.B.C. does in this matter, the hon. Gentleman has gone much further than the B.B.C. says it goes. The B.B.C. says on page 68 of its 1964 Handbook:It is recognised that the appearance of an M.P. at the microphoneor in front of the television camera may inevitably carry with it a degree of publicity for the party to which he belongs, irrespective of whether the subject of the broadcast be political or non-political. The B.B.C. therefore takes steps to ensure, in the interests of impartiality, that broadcasts by M.Ps. are regulated so as to provide a fair balance between Government and Opposition.50 I am afraid that in the other words which he has used the hon. Gentleman is not saying what the B.B.C. says it does.
§ Mr. Mawby
Obviously, the hon. Gentleman has the actual wording which the B.B.C. uses, and it is obvious that in these words it is interpreting "impartiality" very strictly indeed. I have no doubt that it will take note of what hon. Members opposite have said. But, as I said earlier, it is a matter in which one could in trying to be more rigid in placing requirements on the B.B.C. only do damage rather than good. So I hope that this intervention has done a certain amount of good.
I was saying, about the question of the two authorities joining together to use communal masts, that I am glad to be able to nay that so far this has been so in the planning of the UHF network. There has been a most welcome spirit of give-and-take between the two organisations, and we have every hope that these powers will remain reserve powers. But I think I should make it clear that my right hon. Friend would not hesitate to use them if it seemed necessary or desirable in the wider interest that he should do so.
Clause 10 relates to the employment of aliens. The corresponding provision in the current Licence includes a condition that the employment of aliens by the Corporation in an established capacity shall be confined to those who are not subject to any restrictions under the Aliens Order as to the period of their stay in this country or the employment in which they may engage. This restriction, which puts the people whom it affects at a special disadvantage, is unnecessary. My right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Minister of Labour have agreed that it should be omitted.
Clause 13, which prohibits the broadcasting by the B.B.C. of advertisements, is a revise of the corresponding Clause 14 of the current Licence. The present form has given rise to opposing legal views as to whether it is permissible to allow references to industry and commerce which might amount to advertising of an indirect and incidental kind. Examples come easily to mind: the current controversy about trading stamps 51 is obviously an issue which the Corporation must present in its news and news-commentary programmes. This it can hardly attempt in any meaningful way without naming firms and reporting their views.
By doing so, it may arguably be said to have advertised them. There may be room for doubt: and it seems better to clear the possibility out of the way. This has been done by deleting from the existing clause the words "commercial advertisements or", and the consequential proviso. The change will in no way affect the B.B.C.'s present programming practice, nor does it enable it to broadcast advertisements for payment without the Postmaster-General's prior consent, even if it should want to do so.
I come now to Clause 14(3) of the new Licence. This contains the power previously contained in Clause 15(3) to require announcements to be broadcast. The current Licence vests this power in the hands of Government Departments, but my right hon. Friend has concurred with the view expressed by the Corporation that it would be more appropriate to place it formally in the hands of Ministers. Requests will, of course, continue to be made as a matter of practice by officials on behalf of Ministers: normally this is a matter of well understood day-to-day arrangement for dealing with a routine of Departmental business. Incidentally, the parallel provisions in the Television Act refer to Ministers, not to their Departments. I think the House would agree that, for the sake of form and consistency, the power should be expressly in the hands of Ministers.
Clause 17 differs from the corresponding clause in the 1952 Licence: the first provides for the payment to the Corporation of an amount equal to 85 per cent, of the net licence revenue: the second for 100 per cent. Hon. Members will, however, recall that the 1952 Licence was amended to this effect by the Licence and Agreement of 6th November, 1961 (Cmnd. 1537). The new Instrument provides that during the period up to 31st March, 1965, the B.B.C. is to receive a sum equal to the whole of the net licence revenue—that is, the total revenue less Post Office expenses. Thereafter, during the term 52 of the Licence, the B.B.C. will receive an amount equal to the whole of the net licence revenue, or to such proportion of it as the Treasury may from time to time determine. This means that the B.B.C. will get the net revenue from the sale of some 16 million licences a year, composed at present of 13 million at £4 a licence covering both television and sound radio: and 3 million at £1 a licence for sound radio only. Individually, viewers and listeners are paying no more now than they have paid since 1957. They are getting, I think, very good value for money at about 1s. 6d. a week.
As stated in paragraph 60 of the Government's first White Paper (Cmnd. 1770) on the Report of the Committee on Broadcasting, the Government accepted the recommendations of the Committee that the B.B.C's borrowing powers should be increased to £10 million for temporary banking accommodation and to £20 million for capital purposes—this is being done in the new Charter—and agreed that borrowing would be an appropriate means of meeting a fairly short-term need for high capital expenditure over a limited period.
A change of substance has been made to Clause 21. This clause applied to the Corporation the Fair Wages Resolution. In the current Instrument, the effect of the Clause is to treat the B.B.C. as contractor to the Post Office. I am advised that, technically, the Licence and Agreement constitutes a "contract" and that for this reason the clause was put into the Licence in 1946. Doubts were expressed at the time whether this was an appropriate application of the Fair Wages Resolution, but, anyway, the clause went in. The effect is to apply the Resolution to the employees of the B.B.C. as a contractor to the Post Office. That this is the effect has not always been generally appreciated.
I am sure that the Fair Wages Resolution, which has existed in one form or another for over 70 years, was meant to relate to contracts let by Departments to firms providing materials, goods, equipment and services for the Departments. The B.B.C. cannot be said to be acting in this capacity for the Post Office. As a public body, the Corporation's position is analagous to that of the nationalised industries and the 53 I.T.A. Public boards generally, including the I.T.A. are not under a statutory obligation. On this view, the B.B.C. should be required to observe the Resolution so that it applies to the staff of contractors to the Corporation rather than, as at present, to the staff of the B.B.C. The new clause has been amended in this sense. Here, I think, I may properly refer to the Charter, to recall that Article 15 lays on the B.B.C. a duty to establish and maintain machinery for negotiating terms and conditions of employment.
These, then, are the main changes which have been made to the Licence and Agreement. As I said earlier, they are not of a fundamental kind: and they include no major change in the powers of the Government.
I turn now to a point of more general significance. When the Television Act was before Parliament last Session, we thought it right to lay various obligations on the I.T.A. as to programme standards. At the same time, it was recognised that, in principle, there should be parity of treatment as between the I.T.A. and the B.B.C. Hon. Members who took part in the Committee stage of the Act will recall that, when Section 2 was before them, my right hon. Friend gave an undertaking to this effect. He said that, when the B.B.C.'s Licence and Memorandum were revised, he would allow for the broad general principle of parity of treatment. This, I suggest, puts before us this afternoon two inter-related questions: within the broad general principle, what should the obligations be? And how are they to find formal expression?
On the nature of the obligations, my right hon. Friend would, I know, wish to be guided by the views expressed here this afternoon. But there are some preliminary observations which I might bring to the attention of the House.
At first sight, it may seem that the answer is simple: sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. But there are, of course, important differences between the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. The Authority broadcasts advertisements which provide independent television with its revenue. And independent television is a two-tier organisation: the Authority, which is answerable for programmes, and the programme contractors which 54 produce them, under contract to it. There is, therefore, a range of rights and duties in independent television which are not relevant to the B.B.C. So the idea of parity of treatment cannot be taken too literally.
Nevertheless, there are some obligations which are just as relevant for the B.B.C. as for the I.T.A. I have in mind those which require the maintenance of high standards, in the widest sense of the expression, in programming. To this end, Section 3 of the Television Act, 1954, as amended, and Section 2 of the Television Act, 1963, lay on the Authority a series of duties and responsibilities. For the reason I have already touched on, not all of them are relevant to the B.B.C, but some certainly are: the obligation with respect to balance and quality of subject matter: to avoid anything which offends against good taste and decency: to present news fully and with due impartiality: to see to it that a proper proportion of the material broadcast is British and to avoid subliminal techniques.
As I have said, my right hon. Friend would wish to be guided by the views expressed here today. It is right that there should go to the Chairman and Governors of the B.B.C, whose responsibility it is to control programme standards, an expression of the views of the House. The responsibility is heavy: the Instrument they have in their charge is, by common consent, one of enormous potential for good or ill. This is not to say that their use of it should be inhibited by excessive caution, that their approach should be negative. Rather, it should be positive, forward-looking, and eager to seek new opportunities. At the same time, it must keep itself closely aware of the public response to its programmes and care about it.
Here, in Parliament, that response finds its principal means of expression. The independence in this country of the broadcasting authorities, reaffirmed in the first White Paper, is of fundamental importance. The concomitant is responsibility—responsibility for ensuring high standards and, consequently, for keeping fully aware of, and taking full account of, public reaction. This does not mean that the B.B.C. must always defer to this or that criticism, for, in its nature, broadcasting must affect, or be thought to affect, many attitudes and 55 interests: and, obviously, the Corporation cannot please everybody, all the time. That would be the way to please nobody.
There are perhaps two aspects of the question of programme standards to which I should refer more particularly: I mean the portrayal of violence on television, and the danger of excessive triviality in the treatment of programmes.
In the second White Paper, the Government recorded that it had discussed these aspects with the broadcasting authorities. Since 1960, the B.B.C. has had a code on the portrayal of violence, and, in the discussion my right hon. Friend has had with the Corporation, he has received assurances that the code will be kept under review. It is, of course, the application of the code which is important. But this must remain a matter of practice and example: meanwhile, the House will, I think, wish to know of the assurances that the B.B.C. has given in this respect.
With regard to triviality, the Corporation has assured my right hon. Friend that it is in full accord with the views expressed on this by the Pilkington Committee. To that assurance there should, I suggest, be added a further commitment. When Section 2 of the Television Act, which deals with programme standards, was before the Standing Committee, my right hon. Friend gave it as his assurance that he would expect the Section to be interpreted in the spirit of paragraph 49 of the Pilkington Report. He has, of course, the same expectation of the B.B.C.
The second of the inter-related questions was: how should the views of this House find formal expression? The Motion is to approve the Licence and Agreement, and, under Standing Orders 92 and 93, this must be laid as an executed document. In order that he can take account of the views expressed here today, my right hon. Friend proposes to use his Memorandum to give formal expression to any statements as to programme standards.
The Memorandum contains the various prescriptions made by my right hon. Friend under the powers reserved to him: for example, the two directions in exercise of the power of veto—the ban on party political broadcasts other than the 56 agreed series and the obligation on the B.B.C. to refrain from expressing its own opinion on current affairs or matters of public policy. The second of these goes on to express the Postmaster-General's reliance on the Corporation to treat controversial subjects with complete impartiality. This is a statement of moral obligation. As such, it is regarded by the Corporation as absolutely binding.
These are the precedents which we propose to follow. We propose that, in the new Memoranda, which would be a necessary consequence of the approval of the Licence and Agreement, there should be included such statements as to programme standards as seem desirable. The exact form and scope of the statements can best be decided after the present debate, so that we can take account of the views expressed in it. I am sure that a formal expression in this way of our expectation will, whatever its precise form, be regarded by the B.B.C. as mandatory.
I trust that the Licence and Agreement will commend itself to the House and will be approved.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossendale)
In standing today at the Dispatch Box, I am very conscious of the fact that but for his untimely death my place would have been taken by Mr. Bill Williams, a most distinguished Chairman of Committees, a stimulating contributor to debates in this House and a very dear friend to many of us.
§ Mr. Greenwood
We are extending, or are proposing to extend today, the B.B.C.'s licence for a period of twelve years. I suggest that that is significant for two reasons—first, because this is the first time that the B.B.C. has been given so long an uninterrupted period to plan its development and, secondly, because that period will take us up to 1976, into the last quarter of the twentieth century, a century which has seen more rapid change than any other in human history.
The twelve years for which we are legislating will therefore embrace a period of scientific revolution at home and political changes abroad which will rapidly gather momentum, and our 57 ability as a nation to meet the challenge of the period will, to a large extent, depend upon our ability to absorb and react to new experiences. We need, in fact, an educated, knowledgeable democracy of men and women able to discuss problems and to act upon their findings, and clearly, in that situation, the mass media can help to repair our failures and our omissions.
Therefore, we welcome the fact that the Government are today implementing the recommendation of the Pilkington Committee, in paragraph 437, that the B.B.C. should remain the main instrument for broadcasting in the United Kingdom, although reference to it was omitted from the Government's second White Paper on the subject, Command Paper 1893.
This decision is, I think, of special importance when more and more newspapers are disappearing every year, when the commercial programme contractors are to a large extent under the influence of Press magnates, and when the Government, in the case of Lion Films, have scarcely shown much solicitude for the public service sector of a vital mass medium.
I know that some hon. Members would have liked another public service corporation to be established, and, indeed, there are attractive arguments in favour of that proposition. It would, for example, be bad if the administration of the B.B.C. became too elaborate and too cumbersome, it would be bad if the choice of employment in radio and television were too restricted, and it is arguable that further competition might be good. But the Pilkington Committee advanced three reasons for choosing the B.B.C. as the appropriate recipient of the third channel.
The first reason, the Committee said, was that the B.B.C. admirably discharges its heavy responsibilities and sets the standards for broadcasting; secondly, it said, the B.B.C.'s constitution and organisation offer reasonable certainty that its performance will remain good; thirdly, according to the Committee, the B.B.C. has an enviable reputation in all aspects of broadcasting.
I suggest that there is a fourth reason for choosing the B.B.C. for this task. It is that to add yet another competitor would not necessarily improve the viewers' 58 choice. One of the infuriating aspects of the competition between the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. has been the fact that both systems have competed by screening the same sort of programmes at the same time. Real choice for the viewer can only come with co-ordinated planning of programmes, and that we must hope for when we have B.B.C. 1and B.B.C.2.
Mr. High Carleton Greene, the Director-General of the B.B.C.—whom we all wish to congratulate on the honour conferred on him in the New Year's Honours List and which, I know, he will regard as a tribute not only to an outstanding Director-General of the B.B.C. but also as a tribute to the Corporation itself—when speaking in September, referred to two programmes planned together to provide a choice instead of the haphazard chances of competition. It was Mr. Clancy Sigal who first spoke of the "tyranny of T.A.M." when referring to the T.A.M. rating and other viewer research statistics. I am sure that the tyranny of T.A.M. has. been a bad thing.
Almost exactly a year ago Mr. Kenneth Adam announced that the B.B.C. was paying less and less attention to commercial competition. He prefaced that remark by saying that, when he went to the B.B.C, the ratios of those watching the B.B.C. and commercial television were much against the Corporation but that the build-up, although slow, had been persistent and would, he thought, be lasting. At the time when Mr. Adam was speaking, for every 54 people watching the B.B.C. there were only 46 watching I.T.V. At the end of the same year the figures had been almost exactly reversed. There were 47 watchingthe B.B.C. and 53 watching I.T.V. There had, in fact, been a drift back to the position of 1960, and it is difficult to resist the conclusion that the tyranny of T.A.M. over the years has forced the B.B.C. to lower its sights. No one who studies the figures of both I.T.V. and the B.B.C. for the current week can be wholly happy about the small proportion of time at peak viewing hours devoted to subjects other than show business and sport or about the large proportion of time devoted to American-produced material.
The B.B.C. will be going ahead in the period for which we are legislating today with an impressive scheme of expansion, 59 approved by the Government in the light of the Pilkington Report. B.B.C. 1 will go over from 405 to 625 lines, colour television will be introduced, the coverage of B.B.C. 1 will be improved and Wales will at last get her own television service. The hours of sound brodacasting will be increased and B.B.C. 2 will begin operating on 625 lines. That in itself will mean more studios. It will mean the re-equipment of present studios for 625 line transmission, and the construction of more than 60 transmitting stations and hundreds of low power stations. In the light of this expansion, it would be interesting to know how the Government envisage the B.B.C.'s financial future. I hope that when the Postmaster-General replies to the debate tonight he will enlighten us on this point.
Mr. Carleton Greene, in that speech to which I have referred on 30th September, seemed confident that the necessary finance would be forthcoming, for he said:The Government has given us this great opportunity and a firm guarantee that it accepts its responsibility to see that the B.B.C. can secure sufficient income to finance adequate services.That speech puzzled me to some extent, because either the Director-General was relying on Cmnd. Paper 1770, which in paragraph 59 says:The Government accepts its responsibility to see that the B.B.C. can secure sufficient income to finance adequate servicesor he had received some private assurance from the Postmaster-General and the Government. It would be interesting to have an answer on this point from the Government, because the B.B.C. has shown less confidence in the Annual Report which appeared at the end of the year and in the statement which the Director of Finance has put out in the last day or so.
It would be a pity if we did not clear up this point, because I cannot believe that the B.B.C. is happy about the Postmaster-General's apparent expectation that it should rely on borrowing in the immediate future. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take us into his confidence and tell us something about his plans on a matter which is of the greatest importance to the B.B.C. and to those who watch its programmes.
60 I now wish to deal with three aspects of broadcasting, and I do so with some diffidence after having stressed the financial problems that must be faced. I wish to speak, first, about local broadcasting. I confess that I have been disappointed at the timidity of the Postmaster-General's reaction to the suggestion of the B.B.C. and the Pilkington Committee. The technical difficulties have been overcome and we believe that the opportunities are great. Local stations could revitalise whole areas of the country and give a new impetus to local administration. They could reinvigorate the churches and chapels and help to preserve our decaying local cultures. The educational possibilities of local radio stations are immense.
We concede that experiment is needed before, as a nation, we commit ourselves to the 90 local stations for which the B.B.C. originally asked, but Mr. Carleton Greene's latest suggestion, which was published in the Yorkshire Post on 11th December last, is a much more reasonable proposition. He said:Let us conduct radiated experiments in half-a-dozen places chosen because of the character of the local university or technical college and the readiness of the local educationalists to co-operate with us.As a party we welcome that statement, and I am sure that local broadcasting on an experimental scale would be a better use of our limited resources than experiments with pay-television, experiments which the Pilkington Report did not recommend and for which there is no proved public demand. It is difficult to resist the suspicion that experiments with pay-television and the Postmaster-General's announcement in December were really a sop to the commercial lobby who had been pressing the claims of independent television.
§ The Postmaster-General (Mr. Reginald Bevins)
For the hon. Member to make a comment of that sort indicates that he did not take a very close interest in our proceedings on the Television Bill.
§ Mr. Greenwood
I did, indeed, take a close interest in the discussion on the Television Bill, and I have read those debates before taking part in today's debate. The fact that the Postmaster-General has now offered five groups the opportunity to experiment for three years seems to be departing from the 61 spirit of the Pilkington Report and to suggest that he has been over-sensitive to pressures in a way that is deprecated by my hon. Friends.
My objections to pay-television are very much the same as those which the Pilkington Committee put forward and which are summarised in paragraph 83 of the first White Paper, Cmnd. 1770. It would in my view be a great pity if licence holders found the B.B.C. denuded of most of the top-level prestige programmes which it is now able to obtain.
I welcome the progress that has been made in educational television. Both the Newsom and Robbins Reports have brought home to us the inadequacy of our educational preparation. Both Reports referred to the use of radio and television, and clearly they could do something to fill the gaps which have been revealed. Radio and television can ensure that teachers are used to the best advantage—and it is a good thing that some local educational authorities are experimenting, or are planning to experiment, with micro-wave transmissions to schools or with wired systems on the Hagerstown model.
Radio and television also have a part to play, in adult education and higher education. In adult education they must develop the new interests which have been aroused among minorities by the mass media, and in higher education they must supplement the inadequate provision of places in universities and colleges. They can, I believe, lay the foundations for the university of the air which was envisaged by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in his speech at Glasgow on 9th September.
The last aspect of the B.B.C.'s operations to which I want to refer is the external services. This afternoon the Secretary for Technical Co-operation gave a faint ray of hope to my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew), but he was far from precise. We do not know what amount is to be made available, and we do not know whether allowance will be made for the increasing cost of the services, but we believe that there is room for an expansion of the external services, the expansion of which has so far been 62 held back only by the short-sightedness of the Government, and we have on a number of occasions in the last few years protested at the short-sighted policy that has been pursued.
The external services are now absorbing only about 0.1 per cent. of our national income, but today there are 400 million radio sets in the world, nearly double the number of only eight years ago. In that period there has been an increase in Western Europe of 45 per cent., in the U.S.S.R. and its allies 87 per cent., in the Middle East and North Africa 257 per cent., in Africa, outside the Republic of South Africa, 622 per cent., in India 250 per cent., and in China 400 per cent.
One of the tragedies of the post-war years has been that we have largely neglected the vast reservoir of goodwill with which we emerged from the war. In its Year Book for 1964, the B.B.C. gives totals, on page 105, of the hours devoted to external broadcasting by various world powers. We find, for example, that the U.S.S.R. has increased its output since 1950 from 533 hours to 1,179. The output of the satellite countries has gone up from 412 hours to 1,132, the Voice of America from 497 to 816 hours, China from 66 to 808, and Great Britain has gone down from 643 hours in 1950 to 603 in 1963. It seems a tragedy to us at a time when other countries are seized of the importance of this that we should be lagging so far behind.
The tragedy is emphasised by three things. First, there is the fact that recent surveys in Finland, South Vietnam, and Egypt have emphasised the success of those B.B.C. programmes which still go out, and it is a matter for gratification to hon. Members on both sides of the House that 11 per cent. of the listeners in Saigon said that the B.B.C. was the most reliable source of world news, whereas only 3 per cent. paid the same compliment to the Voice of America
Secondly, the B.B.C. has an especially valuable influence abroad because it faithfully reports all points of view expressed here in the United Kingdom and so reflects democratic processes in a very practical way. One of the outstanding examples of the contribution 63 that the B.B.C. can make was its coverage at the time of the Suez crisis.
Thirdly—this is perhaps the most important of all—in the new climate of world opinion, co-existence will be much easier if we all of us know what ideas are expected to co-exist side by side. It is perhaps through the medium of broadcasting that the greatest contribution can be made in that direction. I hope that the Government are planning a rapid completion of their programme for expansion of the external services and are looking still further ahead.
Before leaving the subject of external broadcasting, I should like to pay tribute to the success of the B.B.C. in the selling of B.B.C. television programmes overseas. To set up a television system, as all of us know, is a most expensive proposition. It is much better that countries abroad should be able to buy objective programmes at reasonable prices from the B.B.C. than that they should rely upon help either from Governments or commercial concerns which will want some share in the control of those services. There is here, we believe, a genuine scope for Britain, and an opportunity to exert once again some of the influence for good which seems to have been lost over the last few years.
Finally, I should like to mention the question of obligations to which the Assistant Postmaster-General referred. We shall await with interest information as to the formal expression of his views which the Postmaster-General intends at a later stage to communicate to the Corporation. This is General Election year, and all of us are watching with keen interest the psychological warfare that the Prime Minister is indulging in. At the same time we are keeping an eye, all of us, I think, on both sides of the House, on the B.B.C. to ensure that it maintains its reputation for accuracy and impartiality at a time of such political crisis as the current year. I trust that that will not mean that initiative and enterprise will be at a discount in Broadcasting House.
Neither my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition nor I, nor, indeed, the Prime Minister nor the public hangman, had any reason to be grateful or over-appreciative towards 64 TW3, but my right hon. Friend and I certainly regretted its disappearance, whatever the Prime Minister and the public hangman may have felt.
I know that it is possible—indeed it would be difficult to do anything else—to object to many of the items on TW3 as being offensive, some of them very offensive, and many of them hurtful to large sections of the population. I know that one can say that at times it was immature and boring, that it always went on too long, and that more skilful and responsible direction would have been useful. Nevertheless, I regret the decision to take it off, and particularly the grounds on which the decision was taken, that 1964 was election year, a fact that seems to have escaped the Governors of the B.B.C. in October when the programme came back on the air.
I cannot believe that any of us on either side of the House are so squeamish that we would have objected to the continuance of TW3, at least until the announcement of the date of the General Election. Prudence is one thing and cowardice is another, or, as the Chairman of the Governors of the B.B.C. put it in a different context, prudence can be carried too far. We hope that, while the B.B.C. is jealous of its reputation for impartiality and good taste, it will not carry prudence too far. In the coming months we expect the B.B.C. to act with fairness and discretion, but not to fight shy of new techniques which the B.B.C. itself has pioneered, and we shall hope to see those techniques and others developed in the twelve years for which we are legislating today.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ Mr. David Gibson-Watt (Hereford)
I hope that the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Greenwood) will forgive me if I do not follow him in everything he said, but I should like to take up one of his incidental remarks about one particular B.B.C. programme. It is quite true that this very good satirical programme "That Was The Week That Was" has been taken off by the B.B.C, but it is quite possible that the B.B.C. Governors' reasons for doing this were not those put forward by the hon. Gentleman today.
65 I have watched this programme on many occasions, and I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it had a great deal of excellent satirical content. I agree with him, also, that it was sometimes a little too long. Whereas I regret very much that this programme is not now with us, it may well be that satire is something that cannot last for more than a period of months; that such a programme can only be good, and can only be acceptable to the general public, over a reasonably short period. If the programme starts again, as I hope it will at some unspecified date, I should like it to consider omitting the satirisation of religion. Religion is a very personal thing to religious believers, and I do not believe that it is something that one can satirise. I think that it was that, above all, that made it so objectionable to some people. I make that only as a personal observation, as the hon. Gentleman referred to the programme.
One of the most important things said by my hon. Friend the Assistant Postmaster-General was that, as was said in the first Government White Paper, it was not thought necessary to make any change in the constitutional position of the B.B.C., and, furthermore, there were to be no major changes in the powers of the Government. That is important. The position of the B.B.C. as an independent public corporation must be the central and vital theme which those of us who are interested in the presentation of news, either through sound broadcasting or through the television, must cherish.
One of the ways in which the B.B.C. has remained, and will in future remain, independent, is, very naturally, in the method of its financing. I think that the Governors of the B.B.C. would object very much to direct subvention from any Government. Furthermore, they believe that the right way of financing the B.B.C. is through the licence fee. I shall not argue about what the size of the licence fee should be, but only say that this is the right way to finance the Corporation, because, in itself, it brings with it that independence which is so important to the B.B.C.
We have before us the Charter, and a new licence which will take us to 1976. I believe that this will be a period of immense activity and progress by the B.B.C. We have had a great deal of 66 discussion in this House and we have had the Pilkington Report, and, as a result of all this thinking and debating, we are now seeing the B.B.C. expanding—with its second channel, its experiments in colour, and its progress to625 UHF. During this period the B.B.C. will undoubtedly need a great deal of support—I do not say that it has not had that support up to now, but it must continue to have that support from my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General. It will have problems. It is dealing with new things. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will keep this very much in mind.
What picture shall we see in future in all our broadcasting and television? It is important to keep a balance in these things. I must cross swordswith the hon. Member for Rossendale, who rather intimated that the so-called commercial interests should not have their place in the general balance within broadcasting. The hon. Member shakes his head. I am not surprised that he does not agree with me on this, because I do not think that his views and mine on the value of commerce in this country are necessarily the same. Nevertheless, I believe it to be important to keep the right balance and, if we are to get expansion, to get it not only on the publicside but on the private-enterprise side.
It is important that not only should the B.B.C. be considered to be independent by people in our own country but that it should be valued as such by people overseas. It is, therefore, a matter of great chagrin to many of us when we see some of the newly-emergent countries cutting off the issue of B.B.C. programmes. I shall not go into the details, but we look forward to the time when some of these avenues of understanding may be reopened, because, as has been already said, the B.B.C. can do a great deal, not only to further and spread our ideas of democracy, but to keep its reputation for fair presentation of news in the international sphere. So much for the question of financing, and the importance of a method of financing to ensure that the B.B.C. keeps its independent structure. As the hon. Gentleman has said, these points were well made by the Director-General in his address to the Foreign Press Association last December. 67 This is an opportunity in a rather wide-ranging debate to refer to some of the criticisms that come in from time to time from various members of the public. The first and foremost criticism is that of too many foreign programmes. This is an understandable criticism, but when one discovers that only 15 per cent of the total number of programmes come from abroad the matter is seen in its proper perspective. It should be our aim to increase the percentage of British television and British-produced films for television, but the so-called foreign items include such programmes as Perry Mason, which has, I think, become almost as much a part of our national structure as has Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square. Many people would now be sorry to see that programme removed from television.
There was an extremely good programme last Sunday night from, I think, Sweden or Denmark, which had to do with young people and with horses. It had as good photography as I have seen for a long time. This was classified as a foreign film; it may have been a foreign film, but it was certainly a very good one. If the films we get from abroad are good ones, we ought to have them, but it must be left to the judgment of the Governors and others in the B.B.C. to decide which are good and which are not.
Then there is the criticism about good taste—
§ Mr. Roy Mason (Barnsley)
The hon. Gentleman refers to foreign material being used on television. I hope he will recognise that the B.B.C. is able to use its American or foreign material wholly at the weekend if it so wishes, whereas the independent television companies must spread theirs throughout the week, because there are some companies that operate during the week and others at the weekend. There can therefore be unfair competition in foreign material if the B.B.C. decides to put on most of its foreign material at the weekend as against one company putting on only one or two items of foreign material over the weekend.
§ Mr. Gibson-Watt
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point, but the selection of these films and programmes must be left 68 to the discretion of those who are running the B.B.C.
The second criticism is of the timing of programmes. One often hears criticism from mothers that programmes for young children are not always broadcast at the right time, though I believe that as a result of applications to the B.B.C. and of letters of protest many of these have now been put right. It is also important to continue to realise the difference between 6.30 and 9,30 in the evening. Few parents have not put young children to bed by 9 o'clock. If they have not, then the B.B.C. cannot be blamed if adult programmes are seen by young children, but as a parent this is something which sometimes causes me a little concern.
I dealt at the start of my speech with T.W.T.W.T.W. I would only add that one of the greatest tributes paid to that programme came from the United States. The fact that this satirical programme was interrupted on that evening which we so well remember and a serious programme was broadcast about the sad and untimely assassination of President Kennedy was something which, at the request of Senator Humphreys, was put on the Congressional Record of the United States.
As for the way in which the B.B.C. is controlled, we know that it is run independently of the Government of the day by a Board of Governors appointed by the Government. The Governors are helped in their administrative work by the Director-General and others and also by regional councils. This is an important point. The B.B.C. should always have on its various councils representatives from those parts of the country where there are certain national feelings and sometimes national prejudices. If these are fully considered and full weight is given to them, those who are represented will feel that justice has been done to them.
There is also the national General Advisory Council on which the hon. Member for Rossendale and others, including myself, have the honour to serve. The Chairman of that Council is Sir Edward Fellowes, who served this House as Clerk for so long with such distinction. It is, therefore, not surprising that we get through our business at a reasonable speed. The Governors bear 69 heavy responsibilities in seeing that the present position of the B.B.C. and the way in which at present it carries out its manifold duties are continued. This so-called birthday of the B.B.C. is a landmark in its history. It is something which will carry us forward now for a further twelve years during a period when I hope there will be great progress and great developments, technical and otherwise, which I am sure will have the support of the Government of the day and in particular of the Postmaster-General.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I join with the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Greenwood) in regretting the death of Mr. W. R. Williams. He was a much liked and respected Member of the House and we shall certainly miss him. I agree with the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt) in some of the things which he said about programmes which are foreign or may have some foreign connection. There is a danger of the House putting on an air of well-meaning hypocrisy very often when talking about subjects like television. I regret to say it, but I have noticed hon. Members sneaking away from the magnetism of this Chamber to view "Maigret". Many Members also watch "The Avengers" and even "Laramie," apart from "Perry Mason".
I also agree with the hon. Member in congratulating the B.B.C. in making an effort to maintain its standards, but what we want to obtain from this debate is the view of the House on the sort of direction which might be given to the B.B.C. My view is that what the House would say to the B.B.C. is, "Be enterprising and do not take too much notice of the uproar it will create." The B.B.C. is in a different position from that of the newspapers. All the pressures on newspapers are in the direction of sensation, but in the B.B.C. it is all too easy to take refuge in a rather bureaucratic attitude and to say, "We are public servants and if the public protest every time we put on an adventurous programme we will not put on those programmes". There is far greater danger at the moment, though I do not say that it will always be the case, that a devitalised orthodoxy will spread through broadcasting and 70 that broadcasting will over-stress balance aid good taste, which, of course, I do not deny are important.
The hon. Member for Rossendale regretted that the programme "That Was The Week That Was" was taken off. I was glad to hear that. But I wonder whether it is really true that politicians, even high-minded Labour politicians, have always been encouraging the B.B.C. to go further and have been saying, "How splendid it is that we should be pilloried on the B.B.C."I doubt it. Exhortations now to be more bold and courageous may be rather like the hound saying to the fox, "It is unsporting of you to go to ground. Why not remain above ground and fight back?" We should encourage the B.B.C. to be bold not only in the ordinary run-of-the-mill programmes but in programmes which might be objectionable to some part of the population. This is of paramount importance in Election year because this year will raise genuine problems. This, above all years, will see tremendous pressures put on the broadcasting authorities of both the B.B.C. and independent television.
The Assistant Postmaster-General mentioned that the licences of the B.B.C—and this applies, too, to the I.T.A.—do not allow them to project their own political views, but, equally, politics are not the perquisite of the major political parties. I hope that during election year it will not be objected to if broadcast programme: raise subjects which the major political parties may not find it convenient to raise. There may be certain issues, such as those concerned with defence, which may be of great importance but which may not be acutely raised by the political parties. There may be questions about the Commonwealth or Europe or about the United Nations which may not be in the forefront of political controversy.
There are also the views of the minority parties. I regard it as a duty of the House to encourage the B.B.C. to give the minority parties, however much we may disapprove of them, a fair showing on television and sound radio. The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) raised the difficult problem which arises, and I think that this will be acute during this year, where people who are no: only prominent in politics but who are also expert on other matters 71 look to broadcasting for part of their livelihood as experts on those matters. I support what has been said by the hon. Gentleman, and while, taking the period as a whole, it is important to keep a balance, for my part, I hope that we shall not deprive people who are accustomed to broad casting on matters that may or may not be political of their livelihood simply because they may by that means be getting a certain amount of publicity.
I view with dismay, as I understand them—and I may not understand them fully—the proposals of the new head of the I.T.A. I do not believe it is possible to censor programmes in advance. I believe the result would be to discourage every independent producer with new ideas and to encourage dullness, orthodoxy and safe programmes. In my view, it is very important to encourage independent productions and to provide them with money. One of the great faults of the I.T.A. is that it has not provided this kind of production with money. I should like to see far more enterprising and, indeed, risky programmes because by so doing we would establish new and better standards.
One of my objections to "That Was The Week That Was" is that because it was the only programme of its sort it got a tremendous amount of publicity and, as a result, thoroughly bad things—not offensive things but just incompetent things—were supported and, indeed, approved of in that programme, whereas if they had been included in "Gallery" or "Panorama" or "Tonight" they would have been swept away because people would have realised they were so bad. Because this was a unique programme all sorts of things which should not have been included were tolerated because they were not in bad taste but just bad. I want to see more adventurous programmes—
§ Mr. Chapman
The right hon. Gentleman asks people to be more enterprising. When they are enterprising and they make a mistake he says they should be stopped. Where does he draw the line?
§ Mr. Grimond
I have not said they should be stopped. The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood me. I said that I do not think politicians can take much credit for encouraging them. I believe 72 the right check is for the I.T.A. to make it clear that the programme companies may put on these more enterprising programmes, and the Postmaster-General should do likewise, and, if the programmes are disapproved of, the system of broadcasting should be changed or the contract should be withdrawn from the offending contractor. I do not think we shall improve the situation by attempting a sort of pre-emptive censorship. If the system is bad, then we ought to examine the system.
May I now pass on to the question of finance. I am not sure that anyone has so far faced the crucial issue, which is the licence fee. Are we prepared to give the B.B.C. £6? This may be very unpopular in election year. I am told that it enters into the cost of living, and no political party will wish to see the cost of living go up in election year. However, I do not think £6 is an inordinate amount to ask people to pay for all the programmes which are offered. I think the Assistant Postmaster-General was right in saying that 1s. 6d. a week is very good value, and if it should be increased a little I do not think it would be wholly objectionable. Of course, there may be classes of persons, such as old-age pensioners and people on National Assistance, for whom it would not be easy to find the additional money, but I do not think it would be beyond the wit of man to relieve such people of the burden.
Anybody who has studied this matter seriously knows that this is the crux of the controversy, that the B.B.C. feels that a direct grant from the Government might have repercussions on its freedom and it prefers to have an increase in the licence fee. I believe the B.B.C. has practically used up all its reserves. Up to now the B.B.C. has been entirely viable and it is reluctant, and rightly so, to run into debt.
My next point is the need to do more broadcasting on national and international issues from outside London. All sensible views are not confined to W.1. It was very noticeable when the new Prime Minister was chosen that we had most excellent programmes night after night, but they had the same questioners and the same commentators. They were very good, but they projected a London view. There are people in Manchester, 73 Edinburgh and, I have no doubt, in Wales too, who are as well able as people in London, to project views on foreign affairs and major national issues. One of the best schools of government in this country is in Manchester where also there are to be found business men and trade unionists with a different point of view from London. The Prime Minister said that he once represented a coal mining constituency in Scotland and was a Scottish Minister. We might have had someone from the coal mining industry in Lanarkshire to ask the Prime Minister his views on coal mining, but we did not have such a programme.
I say to the B.B.C. in all seriousness that one of its duties is to get away from W.1 and occasionally to project to the rest of the country programmes which are not merely of local interest but express the views of Edinburgh, Manchester and other places on national and even wider issues.
I also support what has been said about the importance of foreign broadcasting. I think I am right in saying that at the moment there is a tendency for the Russians to do less jamming, and it is unfortunate that this has coincided with a decrease in the number of hours of foreign broadcasting. This point has been dealt with fully by the hon. Member for Rossendale and I shall not pursue it any further, except to say that I am in favour of more foreign broadcasting.
I cannot leave the subject without once again touching on television of this House I should like to make my feelings clear. I do not want unedited television of the proceedings in this House. That could lead to all sorts of unfairnesses and to some people showing off before the cameras. But we have every night an edited radio account of affairs in this House, and it is done extremely well. Much can be done to increase the prestige of this House by telling people outside what is happening here. That is the sort of thing that I want. Even so, I do not definitely come down in favour of televising the proceedings in this way without some further experiment.
People usually put forward three or four objections to this suggestion. One objection is that a lot of the work in this House is done in Standing Committee. Let us see if some of the Standing 74 Committee can be televised. It would be valuable for the country to see how the work of this House is done in Standing Committee. Secondly, people say that Members would make speeches directed to the television cameras. I would not say that Members now do not make speeches directed to their local newspapers. It would not be a new vice among politicians; it would merely be an extension of the old one. We have had Hansard for a very long time. All the arguments were brought against it which are now brought against television. We have the Press with us. When the Press ceases to take an interest in this House we may say goodbye to democratic government in this country. The Press or T.V. may take a bad sort of interest, but I maintain that it should be allowed to take some interest. It is absolutely vital that the organs of general information should take an interest in Parliament, and now we are in the age of television.
We are told that we must modernise Britain. People will not believe that a House of Commons or a governing party which cannot even modernise its own procedure and its own projection will be very good at modernising the rest of Britain.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Sir Robert Cary (Manchester, Withington)
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) will recall that I had the privilege of following him in our debate on 4th December on regional development, which is a part of the business of modernising Britain. I found in his speech then much with which I agreed. I do today.
Let me first of all from this side of the House join with him in his tribute to the late Mr. Williams. I do so because the late Mr. Williams was my next-door neighbour in Openshaw and he became an old friend over some 12 to 15 years in representing Manchester with me. Although we belonged to different political parties we formed a great friendship, and I agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Greenwood) that it is a great pity that he is rot here to participate in these proceedings today. His memory will live long in the minds of those who remember his keenness about the subject under discussion. I think my right hon. 75 Friend the Postmaster-General will recall that on the last great occasion here when Mr. Williams spoke he did make the overriding point in his speech that the Labour Party had accepted independent television as a political fact and would not return to that party's earlier attitude, that if it were to succeed to the seats of office it would seek to undo what had been done in establishing independent television.
Let me also take up the point raised by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Rossendale and by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland about T.W.T.W.T.W. Of all the artistic efforts made, surely to embark upon satire is the most difficult to accomplish; the most difficult and most treacherous ground on which one could possibly seek to be adventurous, or to have experiment in those things which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) indicated when he interrupted the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland. To try to sustain that for 50 minutes was a desperate undertaking, and it could not be sustained; and, as the right hon. Gentleman said, it drifted down into naked badness. There was one superlative thing done in terms of satire, absolutely the most brilliant thing I have ever seen achieved in satire, but it was momentary, something lasting only three or four minutes. But then the programme had to go on a time schedule to occupy the viewing public for as long as 50 minutes—and to do that with a thing as will o' the wisp as satire! I am so glad that the B.B.C. has had the intelligence to end that programme for the time being, and perhaps in its adventurousness and its experiments it will choose a subject a little less difficult than satire.
Let me also follow the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland by touching on the nub of this problem and this debate. I must say to my right hon. Friend that I feel rather disappointed. He will know that in our debate here two years ago I raised this vital subject of the licence fees and the revenues of the B.B.C. I asked then that the B.B.C. should be given the £1 taken by Custom and Excise, that it should be given the additional £1 which would be placed upon the listener, thus increas- 76 ing the payment which would go to the B.B.C. to £5. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Rossendale asked my right hon. Friend if he would be specific, in winding up this debate, in dealing with this matter, because the speech made by the Director-General, Hugh Carleton Greene, rather indicated that he felt comforted and assured on this matter, and this is the vital point of this debate.
Of course, every individual Member can express his own personal opinion, and, personally, I would take the risk of putting up the licence fee although it would be, in the second half of this Parliament, electioneering—that factor has made this difficult, as has been said. However, I must say quite frankly to my right hon. Friend, as he has given the B.B.C. these new and vast responsibilities for the second channel, that when I analyse some of the things that it has got to embark upon in making the second channel possible, when I think in terms of its capital expenditure, and match that with the prodigious rise in costs which occur in so many aspects of technical and engineering work, I really do not think that the B.B.C. will be able to discharge its responsibilities on a full licence fee now collected by the Government of £4 less certain small deductions. I do not think the B.B.C. can sustain this work, beginning with something like 30 great television masts and something like 60 to 70 infilling stations. When one begins to embark upon work of this sort, one finds that the costs do not, because of the plenitude of work done, decline: they become higher and higher.
Therefore, I think that we shall have to do something about licence fees in the lifetime of this Parliament. I think it was only three years ago that in this House we gave the nationalised electricity industry borrowing powers for over seven years—beyond the full lifetime of any Parliament. That is imposing something on a Parliament not yet born. I should like to see my right hon. Friend being a little more flexible about this matter of financing the future of the B.B.C. The Treasury plays a part in this, a bigger part than my right hon. Friend does. We know that. It would seem to be miraculous if tonight he would be prepared to stand at that Box and say that he would impose an additional £1 on the present £4 licence as from 1st January, 1966, bringing it to £5, and an 77 additional £1 bringing it to £6 as from 1st January, 1967.
That might be a way by which the B.B.C. could observe its obligations, so wonderfully well put out by itself, by this great Corporation which, after all, was founded by a Conservative Government under the leadership of the then Mr. Baldwin to serve purely the public interest. In serving that public interest it has not only done so within the limits of its own revenues but has built up reserves to as high as £3 million or £4 million, and yet has sustained the service which it has given to this country since that Charter was first established in this House in the 'twenties. I think it is a magnificent record, but under the present ceiling of the £4 licence it will have to use up all its reserves, and if my right hon. Friend does not increase that £4 he will drive the Corporation into the worst possible camp to live in, and turn it from one which is a self-sufficient organisation into one living on borrowed money to assure its future. In the end it will be the individual citizen as taxpayer who will be the fountain from which the borrowed money will come. I myself would rather have the B.B.C. as we have known it for so many years, borrowing for purely short-term, but to drive it into long-term difficulties because it has borrowed money which has to be serviced is a wrong step for my right hon. Friend to encourage.
§ Mr. Mawby
There is one short question I should like to ask my hon. Friend, because this is an interesting point which he has raised. Does he really believe that the British Broadcasting Corporation should be different from any other organisation in the country which in fact finances heavy capital expenditure by borrowing which will be repaid by those who enjoy its services in the future rather than those who at the moment do not enjoy them?
§ Sir R. Cary
My hon. Friend is experienced in these matters. He is a technical engineer himself, apart from being a member of the Government, and I am sure he will forgive me if I do not accept the analogy that, for instance, the B.B.C. and the electricity organisation are equal in this matter. Sir Christopher Hinton has made a £42 million profit. This is the splendid achievement of the 78 great electrical supply industry. Sir Christopher wants every penny of that for capital investment. We want all the nationalised industries to be profitable businesses and to be successful not only as profitable nationalised industries but, in other terms, to be extremely successful joint stock companies.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir William Anstruther-Gray)
I hope that the hon. Member will not allow himself to be led too far from what is right and proper in this debate.
§ Sir R. Cary
Thank you very much, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I am afraid that I was drifting a little.
May I reiterate once again what I want to say to my right hon. Friend? I should like him to give a firm assurance to the Corporation about its future finances. I personally would have faced the matter. I should be perfectly willing to face my own constituents on the subject. I agree with the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland that we could work out a formula whereby certain exceptions could be made. Even with a £6 television licence we should still be the lowest fee-paying country in Europe. France and Holland, I believe, pay a few shillings above what we pay, but I understand that their level of licence fees is now under review and will go up. With a licence fee of £6 we should, I think, still be doing the general public extremely well and we should be able to give the B.B.C. a sufficient income to carry out the wonderful task set out in the White Paper.
Finally, I wish to congratulate my right hon. Friend as a Minister and, if he will allow me to say so, as a friend in getting through two very difficult years extremely well. I think that he has brought great distinction to his Department in the way he has managed these difficult and complicated matters over the last 18 months, both on the Floor of the House and in Committee upstairs. I hope that there is a final margin left in his mind whereby, at the end of this debate, he can offer a better solution and offer more financial encouragement to the B.B.C. to carry out its great task in the years ahead.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Mrs. Eirene White (Flint, East)
I wish, first, to make two relatively minor 79 points before coming to the main subject that I wish to discuss—broadcasting and education. In the debate so far a good deal has been said about broadcasting and politics, and I am bound to draw attention to one small, though I think important, matter, which is that when an increasing number of political statements are being made on television, either on the B.B.C. or on I.T.A., by Ministers or by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, who has a statutory position, I believe that records should be kept of them. It seems to me most undesirable that people in these offices of great responsibility should be able to make statements to millions of the public and that when, even a few months later, one tries to find out what exactly they said one finds that there is no record available.
Not so long ago I went to the Library of the House to try to make a comparison between what was said about higher education by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury last March, when the Opposition brought out its Taylor Report, and what he said in the autumn after the Robbins Committee's Report had appeared. It seemed to me that that would make an interesting comparison. But I was unable to find the necessary text of the two pronouncements; I could find one but not the other. The Library very kindly made some inquiries on my behalf to find out what is the practice in the matter. I find that, in effect, the B.B.C. is very good concerning this. It keeps records of such statements. On the other hand, the practice of the independent television companies varies enormously.
I suggest that we as people with political responsibility should look at the matter. If Ministers are to make statements to millions of people, when speaking in their official capacity, there should be the obligation to see that a record is preserved, at least for a reasonable period of time.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
Has the hon. Lady raised the matter with the I.T.A. since its new Chairman has been appointed, because I understand that the arrangements are now much better?
§ Mrs. White
I understand that investigations are proceedings in the matter 80 because I raised it with the Library service, but it seems to me to be something that ought to be mentioned in the House in view of the increasing number—and some people think the increasing importance—of political statements made through this medium.
There is one other minor point that I wish to mention, because to those of us who are interested in it it is of some importance. I should like to pay a tribute to the B.B.C. for all it has done to help an institution with which I am connected as a governor. It is the National Film Archive of the British Film Institute. It will be appreciated that a little while ago the British Film Institute sought permission from the Treasury, and was given it, to extend its activities not only to cinematograph films but also to television. One of our great difficulties has been that the Treasury, while graciously granting permission, said, "We are not going to pay a penny towards it. You will have to find your own finance if you are going to deal with the preservation of television programmes."
The B.B.C. has been particularly generous in the matter. I am not saying that the independents have not, though some have been more generous than others. As I say, the B.B.C. has been particularly co-operative in the matter of films of television broadcasts. It is extremely difficult to select those items which are likely to be of interest to posterity, but here we have living history andone can suppose that the historians of the next centuries would expect our generation to preserve for their use not merely the printed word but also, with some intelligent selection, the recorded appearance of various personalities which would be of interest to them.
Of course, this is an expensive matter and the problem has not really been tackled by anyone so far. I repeat that the British Film Institute is doing its best, on a shoestring as usual, to do something about it, but I hope that the new Chairman of the Independent Television Authority, with his own experience of public life, will take the matter seriously and will do what he can to see that an adequate arrangement is made for a television archive as well as 81 the cinematograph film archive which, of course, we have had for a number of years.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
I think that a more immediate problem is the question of the very valuable educational television programmes transmitted. Some of these would be of exceptional value to schools and universities if put on film. For instance, I suggested that the teaching of painting and art to children was already being done in colour in the studio but was coming over in black and white. These programmes which are just lapped up by the children all over the country could be put on colour film and made available to the education authorities. I may be anticipating my hon. Friend, but would she deal with the possibility of there being greater co-ordination between the education authorities, as well as the British Film Institute, and the B.B.C., to make use of these programmes?
§ Mrs. White
My right hon. Friend has raised a very interesting and important point on which I was proposing to touch when speaking on the educational value of television. My right hon. Friend no doubt appreciates that there are difficulties. They have to some extent been overcome with sound broadcasting, but there are difficulties over copyright and also over the attitude of various unions who fear that if there is a large stock of what they call canned material there will be fewer opportunities for new material to be broadcast.
This is a delicate matter, and there are arguments both for and against. We could get into the position of again and again using material which was not of the best. Equally, it would be a great pity if further consideration were not given to using, within reason, existing material. The arrangement in respect of sound broadcasting is that material may be taped by a school or other establishment concerned and used within the current academic session without any problem arising. This is important from an educational point of view, and it will become more important if, as we all confidently expect, the use of both sound and television broadcasting for educational purposes is enormously expanded in the next few years.
82 That brings me to my main point. We are all familiar with the admirable work done by the B.B.C. for many years in its schools broadcasts. This was one of the first things which the Corporation undertook at its foundation, and in its broadcasts to schools it has done its utmost to co-operate with teachers, local education authorities, and the like, in framing its programmes. Now, of course, we have come into the age of television, and both the B.B.C. and the independent companies have ventured into this field in school broadcasts.
Television might prove to be a particularly valuable medium if we are going to pay attention, as I hope we shall, to what in educational circles we call the Newsom children, that is, those who are not strongly academically inclined but whom we feel should have greater educational opportunities than in the past. It may be particularly important to children between the ages of 15 and 16 who stay on at school.
Television will be especially valuable for such subjects as science, as its intelligent use will enable us to some extent to make up for the scarcity of adequately equipped science teachers in our schools. It will also be of particular use in teaching mathematics, and I hope that its use will be considerably extended. At the moment not more than about 6,000 schools are registered as being able to receive television, compared with about 30,000 which can receive sound broadcasts.
We have to recognise that television is, and always will be, relatively expensive. It therefore seems that as far as possible it should be used for those subjects in which the visual image is of special importance, and where, as in a scientific experiment, it is better than live teaching because the children can see in greater detail what is going on, far better than they can in an overcrowded and ill-designed classroom or laboratory. I hope, therefore, that the main emphasis in television programmes to schools will be on those subjects where this medium has a definite advantage over sound radio.
Similar comments apply with regard to adult education. We all know that the B.B.C. is planning a considerable programme of adult education for when 83 the new channel comes into operation, and independent companies are carrying out similar experiments. Here I must pay tribute to Southern and Anglia Television. I have a copy of an extremely interesting programme which Southern is to run on English literature, and I am glad that these independent companies are venturing into the adult education field.
I hope that the resources available will be used to the best possible advantage. We shall have to face a tremendous problem in higher and further education in the next few years, and I hope that there will be adequate consultation with those who are concerned with the programme of expansion for further and higher education to ensure that these television resources are used to the best possible advantage.
I hope, too, that while we use television intelligently, we shall not overlook the possibilities of sound radio. It is very much cheaper, and for some subjects and for some groups of students it can be equally effective. In schools sound radio depends very much on the co-operation of the teacher concerned. Without the active co-operation of the teacher, school children are not likely to pay attention to sound radio to the fullest possible extent.
When we are teaching adults, and particularly those whose educational background is sufficient to enable them to follow sound radio courses with profit, the possibilities of sound radio are considerable indeed, particularly if they are linked, as I think they should be in the future, with correspondence courses, with local institutes of education of one kind or another, with weekend schools, with summer schools, and so on. I think that there is a tremendous future for education of that type.
It is largely because I am so intensely interested in the possibilities of that type of education that I am deeply disappointed at the Government's attitude to local sound broadcasting. Every university of any consequence in the United States has its own broadcasting station. These stations are not expensive or difficult technically to establish. Some time ago the B.B.C. estimated that the capital cost of such a station would be 84 £17,000. It may be a little higher now, say £20,000. I cannot understand why the Government have been so hesitant. The Pilkington Committee went into this matter at great length and came down emphatically on the side of encouraging local sound broadcasting and of putting it in the hands of the B.B.C.
The reasons why that form of broadcasting ought not to be commercial are pretty obvious to anybody who considers the position of local newspapers. Whereas the national newspapers can more or less stand up to the competition from the independent television companies for advertising revenues, if this were reduced to local level the strain on local newspapers would be overwhelming. I do not, however, propose to argue that at length. What I am arguing is that there is an important place for local sound radio, and that the Government should give the "go ahead" on this.
The B.B.C. has carried out experiments in various parts of the country on a closed basis. It can produce ample evidence of the potential demand in general terms, and I have no doubt that in educational terms one could work out a most exciting network of educational programmes based on local universities, colleges of technology, technical colleges, and so on.
We have seen something of this in the United States, but I believe that we could do better in this country if we set our minds to it. I am extremely anxious that we should not be held back. This is not something which can be done on a national network basis. I am not in any way deprecating the efforts that are being made and will be made by the B.B.C, either on television or sound radio—or the efforts made by the independent companies on television, but it is not the same thing. If we can link students with a physical institution, and with people whom they can see and talk to, we shall be able to provide an infinitely better quality of education, for a vast number of people, than we shall be able to provide in any other way.
If we are going to extend broadcasting beyond the generally cultural to the specifically informative—and we must do this if we are to meet the educational challenge of the next few years—we must break it up and localise it. The 85 number of people who, in the privacy of their homes, can follow such programmes without some direct contact with tutors at some point is very small, but if that sort of contact can be established the possibilities are almost boundless.
I am thinking of all kinds of students. I am thinking, for example, of the person who works by day and who is trying to take his National Certificate by going to evening classes on three or four nights a week. We all know of youngsters who try to do this and who fall by the wayside. The wastage rate is colossal, but I believe that it would be far lower if, on even only one evening a week, such people could go home, without the tiring journeys which many of them have to undertake, and listen to their local radio station and do their work, perhaps going to the college on another night.
I am thinking of women at home. We know that the social pattern of this country has changed and is continuing to change with ever-greater rapidity. Women now marry younger and start their families earlier, and leave their professions. But there comes a time when some women wish either to return to their profession or train for a new one, but find that they cannot undertake full-time training—for example, for teaching. They could start by taking a course with broadcasting and correspondence, with a weekend or a summer school. Perhaps they could go to the school for a week during the year, for a year or two, after which they would perhaps be ready for more intensive training in order to obtain more specific qualifications.
A great deal can be done in that way, but it cannot be done nationally, or even on regional networks. Admittedly it would be easier on regional networks than on national, as we have proved in Wales, where we pioneered on a modest scale something of the nature that I have been describing, through our adult education college at Coleg Harlech. Here, for the last four or five years, working in co-operation with the Welsh Council of the B.B.C., we have been running correspondence courses in the Welsh language, Welsh literature and Welsh history, with students now numbering about 1,000. I do not know the exact figures for this year. The college has been responsible for the sylla- 86 buses, and the B.B.C. for the broadcasts, the students paying a fee to cover the cost of tutorial work—the correction of the papers sent in, and so on. There is a week's annual summer school, to which quite a number of students go, where they are able to discuss the courses with the tutors and prepare for the next session.
This kind of work could be infinitely extended, and the quickest, cheapest and—for some subjects; not all—the most effective way would be through local sound broadcasting. Therefore, I beg the Postmaster-General to take this matter seriously, on an educational basis if on nothing else. There is no other way of obtaining as quickly and as effectively the large number of people we shall need during the next few years.
I was in Cambridge last week, with those extremely lively young people of the Advisory Committee on Education. As the Postmaster-General no doubt knows, they have been in touch both with the B.B.C. and the Anglia Television Company. They are now working out the possibility of various forms of adult education, using the means which I have mentioned. This offers a tremendous, opportunity, and I hope that we shall have some encouragement for the project tonight from the Postmaster-General, so that we can go ahead and really show the world what we can do to make a better-educated Britain.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Longbottom (York)
No hon. Member will need any reminder of the power of the medium of radio or television. The transmission of the spoken word here and abroad has been one of the most exciting developments of this century. The B.B.C. is charged with the vital rôle of spreading understanding and truth and of overcoming the barriers of distance between our people and people abroad. I say straight away that I agree with the many hon. Members who have spoken of the admirable way in which the B.B.C. is fulfilling its duty in this regard.
There are endless exciting developments ahead of us in broadcasting. On 20th April, this year, the B.B.C. will start its second channel. It will give itself the chance of devoting another channel to more educational programmes and 87 serious documentary material. The advance knowledge and publicity which the B.B.C. has given us as to the type of planning which it is putting into this second programme show that it is accepting the challenge of giving B.B.C.2 the chance of producing many more serious programmes. Like many other hon. Members, I have an opportunity of seeing television only at weekends, and I am delighted to see that the B.B.C. is laying particular emphasis on producing serious programmes at weekends.
I am pleased to be able to follow up what the hon. Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) said about educational broadcasting. Last year national education weeks were held all over the country. Last year we received the Robbins and Newsom Reports. Great emphasis has been laid on the possibility which broadcasting provide for further education. It is good to see that the B.B.C. is taking such a close interest in this matter and that in its plans for B.B.C.2 Tuesday night is to be education night, which will provide an opportunity for experiment in planning, in conjunction with universities and research centres, the further educational facilities of television.
It is a great opportunity to develop adult education, and an even greater one for us to have the chance of seeing in more detail on television conditions in countries overseas and of learning more about the people in those countries. Thousands of our people are doing work for such organisations as Freedom From Hunger and Oxfam, and it would be admirable if, in its second channel, the B.B.C. could devote more time to showing people exactly the conditions in which more than half the world is living as an incentive to helping those organisations.
I agree with the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Greenwood) about the external services. The B.B.C. has a fine a well-deserved reputation abroad for its unbiased and factual brodacasting. The importance of this work demands our close attention and our financial support.
The B.B.C. can and is doing extremely fine work for this country in explaining our position abroad and in showing the right way to live to people throughout the world. But it is—and it is explicit 88 in the licensing agreement—the duty of the Government to support the B.B.C. in this venture. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that even more support is needed for the external services than is being given at present. The hon. Member for Rossendale gave some interesting figures about the amount of broadcasting tune which important countries devote to their external services. It is an abrogation of our responsibility to people overseas and what we try to stand for that it is this country which is contracting its external services rather than expanding them.
I am told that the additional capital provision required for the United Kingdom transmitter modernisation and overseas relay transmitter base would be about £10 million. But there is need for even more bases for more medium and short-wave transmission. People will find it difficult, and probably will not even try to listen to the B.B.C, if they find it necessary every few seconds to twiddle a knob. It is the volume and quality of production which is important. The B.B.C. needs an assurance that continued support will be guaranteed in respect of external services. It was unfortunate that a few years ago there was a drawing back of finance for the services and that programmes like the Thai service, which was extremely valuable in relation to that part of the world, had to be withdrawn. It is pleasing to note that this tendency has now been reversed. But I hope that my right hon. Friend can give some assurance to the B.B.C. of continuing and expanding support for that very important part of the work of the Corporation.
We in this House regard television and radio as vital services. But how much more vital must they be regarded in the newly independent countries? They are of enormous value in the process of building up a nation and in expanding the creative possibilities of a newly independent country where—perhaps for the first time—all the people are reached through these modern media and made to feel that they are one nation.
Today all the newly independent countries are expanding and developing television and radio systems. But they are desperately short of trained personnel. I know that the B.B.C. has a great 89 deal to offer. Training in radio is comparatively simple and inexpensive and the B.B.C. is training about 100 overseas students each year. The facilities offered more or less meet the demand from accredited or governmental sources. On the other hand, training in television is extremely costly. According to the costing of B.B.C. facilities a period of two months' training for one person costs little short of £1,000, without taking into consideration the living expenses of the student or the cost of travel from his own country.
Recently, all the B.B.C. training facilities have been needed to train personnel necessary to operate the second channel. But previously the B.B.C. was able to offer about twelve courses a year to people from developing countries. That is quite inadequate to meet the demand. The B.B.C. has let it be known that it will restart these courses as soon as the second channel personnel have been trained. The B.B.C. has new ideas for courses for overseas students. There will be courses for about 40 students a year as well as a possibility of trained staff being released to go to the overseas territories and conduct courses there. This was recognised at the Commonwealth Broadcasting Conference in Canada last year.
I hope my right hon. Friend will agree that the B.B.C. should not be expected to bear the main burden of the cost of all this through the licence revenue. I am told that the cost of the schemes to the B.B.C. would be about £60,000 a year in capital and £22,000 in revenue. I hope my right hon. Friend will ensure that in some way this cost may be met by the Government. I think it desperately important that the B.B.C. should take the opportunity to help in the great work of training people in newly independent countries to understand and be able to promote the medium of radio and television.
It is right that we should put the training costs of the B.B.C. on a proper footing. The country relies a great deal on, and we have a big stake in, overseas television equipment and programmes. This year, for example, the B.B.C. is selling twice as much programme material abroad as was the case two years ago. Other countries like France, Germany, Italy and the United States of 90 America are taking a great interest in training programmes for independent countries, and I hope that we shall ensure that it is not through lack of finance—it will certainly not be through lack of purpose on the part of the B.B.C.—if we are prevented from expanding that side of the work.
Today the B.B.C. is forward-looking and modern in its approach. I appreciate that it was bold enough to make an experiment with TW3. I regret the necessity for taking that programme off the air. The Corporation provides a service to the community, and it is an extremely cheap service. It works out at about 1s. 6d. a week per household, and I agree with what was said about the licence fee by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Sir R. Cary). On all these counts, I feel that a generous tribute of thanks is due to the B.B.C., to Mr. Carleton Greene, who is an exceptionally fine Director-General, and all his staff. In accepting the Motion, we should add our congratulations and thanks for all that the B.B.C. is doing and for the service it provides for this country.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
I support the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) and I appreciate the remarks of the hon. Member for York (Mr. Longbottom). It is true that we should welcome the fact that the B.B.C. has been called on by other world circuits to provide programmes. That supports the point I made about the position of the educational authorities in this country and education programmes conducted other than by the B.B.C. They should not be at a disadvantage compared with what is provided for television in other parts of the world.
A great deal has been said about the economy of the programmes, and it appears to me a tremendous waste to spend several thousands of pounds on producing a half-hour programme which is not preserved. My hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East could not find the record of a speech made by a Minister. That might have been important. Some of the educational broadcasts have been superb and could not be improved. But what is the use of spending £2,000 91 or £3,000 on a programme and repeating it for someone else, and what is the use of asking schools to listen to programmes at a particular hour on a specified day when the students may be engaged at that time in some other activity?
One of the great disadvantages in the broadcasting of television programmes to schools is that the schools may not always be ready to use a particular item at the time or on the day when it is put out. If these programmes could be put on tape or on colour-film—no doubt, it will be possible to put them on colour-tape fairly soon—they could be available in libraries for use by schools and universities at the time when teachers could make the most use of them. This would lead to great economy. It is an awful waste for a programme lasting half an hour or an hour to be broadcast, and then so to speak, to the desert air. In permanent form, such programmes would be there for a considerable time for schools to use when they chose.
I recall a television broadcast on electricity. The lecturer had at his disposal Faraday's own instruments, and the interest of the programme was enormously enhanced. He was able to make his lecture more interesting than any ordinary teacher in this country could possibly do, no matter how much effort and skill he devoted to it. The permanent availability of programmes of this kind would be of inestimable value to any teacher because he could use them at the most suitable point in his work. On one or two Sundays, I watched the science television broadcasts. For example, I saw a lecture on the skin. This broadcast must have required a very great deal of preparation, and it contained the results of years and years of experience put into just an hour or so. Members of the medical profession may not have been able to watch television at that particular time, but it was an extremely valuable lecture. It should have been put on tape so that it could be made available to students in universities, who could thereby have the benefit of the knowledge and skill of the expert dealing with his own subject in that excellent way. I should like the B.B.C. to take into account the great 92 economy which could be secured by combining with the education authorities and the universities not only in the production of programmes of this kind but in the permanent recording and storage of them for further use.
It is about six years since I raised the question of medical teaching in this connection, the very thing which is being done now by the B.B.C. As my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East, said, the students who are able to watch operations on colour-television in London see far more of what is going on than the professor who is doing the operation because he must pay attention to other things while they have the opportunity to observe and note every detail, an opportunity which no student has ever had hitherto.
Is there any reason why a record should not be kept of operations conducted by eminent surgeons such as one sees in programmes like "Your Life in Their Hands"? I saw one such broadcast of an operation on the ear which was a marvel of technique and of teaching. By electronics, the details of the ear and of what was done were magnified and made visible to an extent which no professor could ever achieve before, and every student could see all that was done in the inner part of the ear. Why should not such a broadcast be put on film so that it could be available in universities as an example of a magnificent piece of surgery? There may well be surgeons today who will never be excelled in their skill at performing certain operations. Is there any reason why examples of their work should not be recorded in the way I suggest so that every student might derive benefit from permanent records maintained in a film library?
Our schools already use film strip. The film strip is probably one of the best instruments for a teacher to use because he can use it at his leisure. Already there are film libraries of different kinds upon which the schools may draw. Because of the shortage of teachers, Glasgow is instituting a closed circuit television broadcasting service in order to have mathematics and science taught to its children. The children will not get the teaching otherwise. This service is being instituted 93 with the assistance of someone from America, and it will make use of lessons prepared by experienced teachers. But, if a first-class educational broadcast has already been prepared, why net use the services of the greatest teachers in the country?
Those who have listened to the greatest teachers know that the really great man is the one who can make a difficult subject relatively simple. It is not everyone's genius to be able to do this. The pity is that some children cannot pass their examinations in, for instance, mathematics because they had a "dud" teacher. A television broadcast lesson in mathematics could be given by the finest teacher. There is no reason why our children should not have the benefit of teaching by the best exponent of the subject available to them. Both the children and the teachers in our schools could benefit in this way, the teachers having the advantage of their children being started off in a subject by the finest exposition available.
I suggest, therefore, that the Postmaster-General should bring to the attention of the B.B.C. not only the importance of producing valuable educational programmes but also the importance of not wasting the money and effort involved by allowing the material to be used just once. Programmes should not be lost after they have been put out on the air.
I watched several television broadcasts by Adrian Hill lecturing to children and teaching them how to paint and how to draw. He exhibited some of the work which had been sent in by thousands of children all over the country. Any teacher would be thrilled to know that he had had such an effect on children. The work they sent in was magnificent. Unfortunately, of course, we could not see all its qualities because it was not a colour television programme.
I suggested to the B.B.C. that there was no reason why, if it was using one camera to broadcast a programme, it could not use another camera to make a coloured film record of it which could then be available for the teaching of art in schools. The Corporation replied that there were technical difficulties, but I cannot believe that modern science is un- 94 able to overcome what technical difficulties there are. I should be very surprised if the scientists of the engineering department of the Post Office and of the B.B.C. could not overcome them.
I welcome the contribution to education which is now being made. But our resources are limited, and our most limited resource is time. There are only 24 hours in the day, and only about 12 of them are available for broadcasting. We cannot, in the time we have, accommodate all the subjects and all the education which we want to give to the public.
A good deal of ordinary broadcasting is educational. Some teachers have found it necessary to buy television sets because the children know more about some subjects than hey do themselves if they have not been able to watch television. Often, children are more up to date in some subjects than their teachers are, and the teachers have found it necessary to keep themselves up to date by buying television sets for their own use. Education goes on all the time.
The more formal type of educational broadcast must be combined with follow-up studies. The only purpose for which television can be used economically is getting the student interested in the subject. It must be followed up in other ways at some other time. I tried to follow the radio programme 'Parliamo Italiano" for one or two weeks but, of course, engagements came along and I missed lessons. They were broadcast on Tuesday nights as well, and, of course, once Parliament starts to meet, one cannot do any listening then. A Member of Parliament cannot listen regularly, and there is any number of other people who cannot listen regularly. Even when I was in hospital recently, I could not listen regularly because things happened in the hospital at the very times when the desired programmes were broadcast. People's lives are not regulated by the B.B.C. It is only someone who lives alone in a house where no one interrupts or knocks at the door who can possibly listen to the radio or watch television at the san e time each week. Therefore, these programmes should be made available in permanent recorded form. The B.B.C. already provides books for its 95 educational broadcasts, and there is really no reason why films should not be kept and made available for our schools.
I pay tribute to the B.B.C. for what it does. I pay tribute also to Independent Television; although, commercially, it is not bound to provide educational programmes, it has done very good work. Scottish Independent Television has been producing postgraduate education programmes for doctors. Perhaps these are not of great interest to the general public. In some cases, I think that they may be a little depressing to the ordinary person because they have tended rather to show the limits of the knowledge of the medical profession and have, perhaps, been more likely to destroy the faith of the ordinary person in the doctor's power to cure everything. However, this was a valuable effort aimed at giving doctors the latest post-graduate information late at night when the general public was not looking in. This sort of thing can be done, but there is a limit to the quantity of material we can put across every day by broadcasting. Programmes of this kind, once produced, ought to be "canned" and made available for later use. A programme may be out of date in a year or two, but, if so, one could "can" another. We ought to get greater use out of an hour's programme than is possible from just the one broadcast which is transmitted and is then gone for ever.
The educational value of the normal work of the B.B.C. is, I believe, much greater than some people realise. There have been references to foreign programmes as though all foreign programmes were "Perry Mason", "Laramie" and things like that. There are documentary programmes which come to us from European countries which are quite magnificent. I have seen nature study films of a kind which no teacher could possibly put before his children. Some of the "Look" and other programmes are really remarkable. Children are taken out into the countryside to see things in great detail and in a way which would be quite impossible for the ordinary teacher. Some of the foreign programmes in this category are of the greatest value. For instance, there was 96 one on the woodpecker, from Austria, which was one of the most marvellous pieces of nature filming that I have ever seen. It is quite wrong to dismiss foreign programmes as though they were all "gun-slinging Westerns". Many of the foreign programmes are excellent educational material.
Great work has been done in America in developing the use of television for education, and great experience is available to us. I am sorry that we are so slow. One or two schools in England and one or two in Scotland are experimenting. Glasgow has now gone ahead, because of need, in a great experiment, and I hope that the Minister of Education, the Postmaster-General and everyone else concerned will watch this work very carefully to see what is the best use which can be made of it. I beg Ministers and all concerned not to squander the money and effort, thinking that, because this is a new medium, we can afford to throw it away and not use programmes again and again. I do not believe that any trade unionist would object to children having the benefit of the recording of the best piece of broadcast education put out on television. To put programmes into the "can" and give them to the schools is not to deprive anyone of anything. The schools will never get them at all in any other way.
I want the Postmaster-General to tell us what are the relationships between the British Broadcasting Corporation, the education authorities and the universities in regard to their exchanging material. It is tragic that great universities outside London are not yet in a position to make use of closed circuit television. Closed circuit television is expensive to install, yet the material which is, or might be, available for use is being thrown away because of some technical difficulty in getting it from the B.B.C. to the education authorities.
I hope that we shall establish libraries for the keeping of recorded programmes, and I hope that the B.B.C. and the education authorities will link themselves more closely together. I hope that their mutual economies will be regarded as complementary. Effort and expense need not be duplicated if the work is done in mutual help. In this way, I reinforce what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East. 97 Perhaps the best outcome of this debate would be a new development in cooperation in education and broadcasting. We are on the threshold of a great advance. The fine new experiments and developments in broadcasting should be followed up by correspondence courses and by other means. In this way, education, entertainment and knowledge can spread throughout the community, each being linked with the others in harmony, not as rivals.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)
We all sympathise with the viewpoint expressed by the right hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) and the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) on the progress in education which we desire on television and sound radio. Perhaps they will draw some comfort from the possibility that pay television, which they dislike so much, will in its minor way make some contribution to this end.
I reinforce what the hon. Lady said about the intransigence of some of the unions on the issue of canning. I should not like to condemn the unions out of hand, because we all have to preserve our livelihoods in one way or another; but the preservation of livelihoods in this country has gone on to such an extent that had we not called some halt to it there would have been no livelihood for anybody in 10 or 20 years' time. I hope that a more liberal attitude will prevail, even with the A.C.T.T. and other associated unions.
The debate demonstrates the difficulty in connection with public taste. My hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Long-bottom), who is very knowledgeable, said that to him the highlight of American programmes was "Perry Mason". To me it is the utter depth. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) said that he thought that it would be an excellent idea to photograph our proceedings upstairs. I can only believe that he has lost all faith in democracy and wants to polish it off.
§ Mr. Shepherd
My hon. Friend may be right. At any rate, I cannot conceive any more dreary punishment to inflict upon British citizens that to broadcast 98 in any form, either on sound or on television, the proceedings upstairs. The only effect it would have would be to prolong even further the tedious and turgid discussions which take place up there, and all the poseurs and others would be even more tiresome than they are at present.
I support wholeheartedly the proposal to give the B.B.C. additional security and independence by virtue of the longer term of the Licence and Agreement. The Corporation cherishes its independence. I admit that it rolls it off its tongue regularly, but this is perhaps understandable. However, the Corporation merits the degree of confidence which we repose in it, although I shall have some words of criticism to say later. The Corporation is an extremely responsible and responsive organisation. A few years ago I criticised some expense in administration. The Corporation was good enough to ask me to go and talk to it about this. Instead of meeting the sort of brush-off I experienced when some 12 years ago I suggested that B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. might combine to secure some economies, the B.B.C. readily admitted that this defect had occurred. The Corporation told me precisely what steps it was taking to try to put it right. I much appreciated the frankness with which the Corporation accepted that there was cause for complaint and its anxiety to put it right.
The Corporation has its human points. Some time ago I was discussing the question of television with B.B.C. officials in the north. Obviously they were not too keen upon I.T.V. In fact they ran it down in a gentle and refined way almost continuously and obviously thought that there should be no extension. In a later discussion about the cost of television they said, 'Of course our costs are very high. We have terrible communication costs because the damn Post Office has a monopoly". It did not occur to these officials that they were very anxious to preserve the monopoly in their own right, like all monopolists believing that they conferred benefits upon society, whereas other monopolists sought only to damage society.
We all appreciate the excellence of the organisation. It is a mammoth affair. It operates from about 30 buildings in London. Despite the enormous size of this organisation, it maintains 99 an admirable spirit. There is no doubt that it has done much to improve this country's image. One cannot say of any other organisation of its type overseas that it is a better example of a national institution than the B.B.C. I am therefore very pleased to support my right hon. Friend's proposals.
I will try to reinforce what has been said about assisting emergent nations with their own broadcasting stations. This is a different matter from their refusing to take our news broadcasts or discontinuing to take certain parts of our programmes which they previously accepted. This is an important point. By helping these people we not only perform a service but, particularly if they are Commonwealth countries, we help to preserve an association. I hope that it will enable us to get orders for equipment, if people are accustomed to our equipment. If we have a little money to spare, investment here would be of real value. Independent television companies are doing just this in various parts of the world, but with no public money at their disposal. We should pay tribute to them.
The competition which we engender between the B.B.C. and I.T.V. is now producing some results. At one time the I.T.V. geed up the B.B.C. I think that I.T.V. is now coming back with programmes which in many cases are better than their B.B.C. counterparts. I think that "World in Action" and "This Week" are probably more vital and enthralling presentations than the corresponding programmes. We are achieving the results of competition which we all wish to see.
I turn to the questions of how adventurous the B.B.C. should be and good taste. I confess that I have not shared the unconcern of some hon. Members about the lapses from good taste of which the B.B.C. has been guilty. I do not excuse it on the ground of adventurousness. I do not excuse it on the ground of the nature of the performances which have been aimed at, because on the whole the best performers do not lapse into bad taste, irrespective of what the medium is. Indeed, on the whole, bad taste is the last refuge of the poor performer.
In the B.B.C. plays and in T.W.3 there has been a sad failure to main- 100 tain the standards which a national institution ought to maintain. I agree that in the last few years we have achieved something in English drama on television and on the stage. We have got something like a fairly faithful presentation of ordinary working-class life. It is not entirely faithful, because no one who knows Salford would imagine that the films of Salford are really Salford. Not every man in Salford has a mother who is a prostitute or a brother who is a homosexual or an uncle who takes drugs.
§ Mr. Shepherd
It is true that in the past few years we have been able to present working men in other than a caricature form. I am grateful for this. Some may think that we have made no progress. I think that we have. However, particularly in B.B.C. plays, I believe that there has been too much slavish adherence to the kitchen sink and too much use of language which is not artistically supportable.
§ Mr. R. E. Winterbottom (Sheffield, Brightside)
This problem was considered by the B.B.C.'s Northern Advisory Committee, whose conclusion was, not that the drama was connected with the kitchen sink, but that there was too much drama, especially on Sunday nights, connected with sex, vice, and such matters, totally out of keeping with the night, the circumstances, or anything else. Even the B.B.C.'s Northern Advisory Committee has had to protest about it.
§ Mr. Shepherd
There is an overemphasis on these matters. It is proper to realise that dramatic situations can be found outside sheer violence and sex. The attention of producers and writers should be drawn to this simple fact.
I want to say a few words about the T.W.3 programmes. I do not complain about attacks on individuals, though I think that some of them tended to be unfair. The attack on the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Greenwood) could not be described as fair by any manner of description. However, I do not think that in political life we should 101 be too concerned about getting knocked about occasionally. There are far too many sensitive people who will not have a word said against them and who want a far too meticulous balance to be preserved. Members of Parliament should not subscribe to criticism based upon excessive sensitivity.
However, there are respects in which these programmes transgressed the standards which we expect from a national institution. My hon. Friend the Member for York said that he thought one of the respects was the treatment of religion. I believe that it is a good thing to deflate the pompous and the pretentious, whether it is in politics, business, social life or in religion. There are plenty of futile trappings of religion which are a reasonable subject for critical comment and might indeed help the Church to re-establish itself more effectively. I observed in some of these programmes an attack upon belief itself. This is what I find to be wholly detestable, because this is an essentially personal thing which ought not to be attacked. By all means attack the unnecessary and sometimes pretentious trappings, but do not try to attack and demean what a man believes in—his faith. Here I think the B.B.C. has been guilty of falling below the standards to which it ought to be attached.
In the matter of good taste it is always better to be on the side of safety. I remember one Member for Parliament who was very able in this Chamber. He is dead now, so I will not mention his name. Very few people asked him a second time to speak at a dinner. This was because he told stories which were not acceptable. If one has any doubt in a production or at a private gathering about the wisdom of a story or a situation, it is best to omit it.
In T.W.3 there was a group of young men to whom lavatorial humour was particularly acceptable. When they started they were perhaps not artists of great standing. Millicent Martin is still technically very much better than any of them. That is not the sort of level which a national institution ought to allow. If people want the more dubious forms of humour, they ought to go and 102 listen to dirty little under-paid comedians in dirty little halls. It ought not to be possible for them to have this sort of material from the B.B.C.
Therefore, if this programme comes back again—and I hope that it does, because there was much about it which was arresting and interesting—it should be realised that it is possible to be adventurous and penetrating and critical without being offensive or smutty. I appreciate the problems attached to producing a programme of this kind once a week on current material. I appreciate the difficulty of trying to control the elements. I appreciate even more that the producer is reported to have said that he was not conscious of any lapses from standards of good taste during the whole run of the programme. What is to be done with a man who takes such a view of such a production? This is a programme of real merit and it is not necessary to have these lapses in order to make the programme. The programme was not made but marred by the lapses. Original ideas and vigorous criticism can persist without a lowering of standards.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will try to put before the B.B.C. standards which it Can observe in matters of taste and in other directions in the same way as the I.T.A. is required to observe standards. It is a good thing to have this target, particularly in an organisation as big as the B.B.C, so that if people do not fall into line, it is possible for those responsible to point to the requirements laid down by Statute. It is not possible to work to a formula as the B.B.C. has tried to do in the past. To lay down in book form what is permissibly: and what is not is virtually impossible The high personal standards of those responsible for the programmes are a better safeguard than anything laid down in any book or any formula.
I have made these criticisms of the recent lapses of the B.B.C. from what I consider to be reasonable standards of taste, but that is not to detract from the great achievements of the Corporation. It ought to be able to look back on the incidents of the last 12 months as little unfortunate incidents in its life and not having any permanent effect on our regard for the Corporation.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Desmond Donnelly (Pembroke)
I hope that the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) will not think me patronising if I say that I am sure that in his strictures of the B.B.C.'s lapses in taste he means well. But the answer is not so easy as he has implied. It is possible to have a very puritanical approach to all programmes and even to go back to the days of Sir John Reith and the story, apocryphal or true, of the announcer who was caught kissing his secretary by the Director-General and who was told that he must not read the news again; finally, under pressure from the staff association, Sir John Reith relented but said that he must not read the epilogue. We could return to those days.
However, much of the freshness of programmes such as T.W.3 stems from the fact that they are not censored but are given freedom of expression and freedom to make their own mistakes and to learn from their own mistakes in the same way as the rest of us. Although it is true that they are given enormous power in a great national medium and that this imposes obligations upon them, it would be a sad day if they became too inhibited and if much of the freshness of B.B.C. programmes, which has been introduced in the last year or two under Mr. Hugh Carleton Greene, were to be lost. The B.B.C. improved 100 per cent. when I.T.A. came along and yet further after the appointment of its new Director-General.
There has been much unanimity of opinion in the course of the debate during which we have discussed the future pattern of all our sound broadcasting and much of our television broadcasting for some years to come. I often wonder how much the general public realises—I think that it is now beginning to dawn on the nation—that the introduction of broadcasting, sound and visual, is the greatest advance in mass media of communication in the history of the world.
A number of people say that television and radio have not had great cultural or political effects in countries such as the United States of America. This is only partly true. It could have a much greater effect in any country, dependent upon the manner in which it is utilised. Ultimately, historians will look back and 104 regard Marconi and Baird as as important in their way as Caxton was in his. It is perfectly true that Caxton used by Mr. Erie Stanley Cardner and Mr. Mickey Spillane does not have any very dramatic cultural or political effect; but Caxton used by Karl Marx, or by the authors of the Authorised Version of the Bible, has had a very profound effect. Radio is much the most easily understood and the quickest and widest and most flexible media of expression ever invented. That invests this debate with a profound importance in the changing patterns of the late 1960s and the early 1970s.
Many tributes have been paid to the B.B.C. This nation often takes its successes for granted and complains only of its failures. As the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Sir R. Cary) so rightly said, the B.B.C. itself is one of the most remarkable institutions evolved in the democratic processes of this country. Although I poked some minor fun at Sir John Reith a minute ago, he will go down in history as one of the great editors and leaders of public opinion along with the great editors of The Times. He is a great man.
What are the main facets of these new media of expression and how they should be deployed? As the hon. Member for Cheadle said, they have cultural implications; as my right hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) and my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) said, they have educational implications. The also have political implications—external, national, regional and local. My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Greenwood), who came to speak in the debate with a considerable disadvantage because he has been suffering from illness, spoke of the external services of the B.B.C. There have been great changes in the pattern and numbers of sound and television receiving sets all over the world. According to the B.B.C.'s handbook for this year, the number of sound receiving sets in the Soviet Union rose from 20 million to 38 million in the last seven years; in Africa the figures are from 360,000 to more than 2 million; in Latin America from 12,500,000 to 25,500,000; in China from about 1 million to about 5 million. This means that those who can command the ether have a greater power potentially, for good or bad.
105 In the discussion of ideas which must go on in the evolving areas of coexistence, those of us concerned to win our arguments by ideas and not by soldiers or bombers have to pay a great deal more attention to the utilisation of the external services of the B.B.C. The B.B.C. has already created for itself a unique reputation abroad. In the few journeys I have made behind the Iron Curtain, I was particularly struck by the prestige achieved by the B.B.C. after the Suez operation because, alone of all the major broadcasting networks of the world, it stated fairly both sides of the question. This to the Soviet people was, in itself, a unique object lesson in democracy. It showed what it really meant to have people who could criticise the Government and have their case stated on the national radio network broadcasting not only to home audiences but to other countries as well.
Looking at the figures of the costs of the external services of the B.B.C, nearly all of which comes from grants in aid, one is struck by the very small amount involved—only about £7 million a year at the moment. Extension of the external services of the B.B.C. should have just as high a priority as the financing of a division of troops or the ordering of a new aircraft.
In the long run it will be the truth that will count in the Cold War. and this little box is the greatest medium for deploying truth that has ever existed. We are only beginning to see its possibilities. I impress upon the Postmaster-General that some of us on this side of the House, who believe that the philosophy of democracy is inherently superior in itself and not because we can bash the idea into other people's heads, are determined to see this specific aspect of the B.B.C.'s work extended.
What of the national aspect? In his last major speech in this House, Aneurin Bevan spoke of the failure of democracy to reach out in its proper and true form to the public of the country. He discussed the question of televising our proceedings. He introduced his remarks with some words which make the problem much clearer than anything I could say. They put it in its true perspective. Mr. Bevan saidApart from a few responsible, solid newspapers with small circulations, the debates in 106 this House are hardly reported at all, and such reports as take place are, as hon. Members on both sides know, a complete travesty of our proceedings.I am merely calling attention to the fact that there do not exist at present in Britain the normal processes of democratic education that make the people aware of the problems that lie ahead of us, and of their own responsibility."—[Official Report, 3rd November, 1959; Vol. 612, c. 865.]I see the practical problems and some of the inherent dangers if we were to embark on televising the proceedings of the House. There are, first, the technical problems, concerning cameras and lighting. Secondly, there are the problems of how the programme should be conducted—whether it is to be a continuous transmission, as Mr. Bevan said, or whether it should be an edited version, a sort of "Today in Parliament", as suggested by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). Then, as the hon. Member for Cheadle said, there are the problems of good taste—whether the programme would attract, stimulate and give undue prominence to the exhibitionists. Let us look at the problems in turn. First, there are the technical problems.
I am informed that it is not necessary any longer to have any special lighting or to have obtrusive cameras impinging upon our proceedings and that cameras put into the framework in sufficient number could be devised successfully to transmit the proceedings. I am also told that, such are the developments of technique, the tolerance of the cameras is much greater in conditions of bad light.
§ Mr. Donnelly
I will come to that. As we have been able to see in transmissions of football matches, for instance, it is very often possible to see more clearly on one's screen the last few minutes of a rugby match than it is if one is at the ground. That is part of the change in technique.
The hon. Gentleman asked where I got my information. I have made it my business to discuss this with numerous officials of both the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. and such is the advice I have been given by them. In addition, there is 107 the admirable pamphlet by Mr. Robin Day, which is an important contribution to the debate, because that debate is constantly developing and techniques are constantly changing.
There has also been the report which was called for by the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) and subsequently we have read in the Press that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Leader of the House has asked for a report from technicians of the B.B.C. I accept that this is a controversial proposal and that a number of hon. Members have very strong doubts about it. But it puzzles me why the House as a whole has not been allowed to see these reports.
If this is a matter for the House as a whole, as the Prime Minister has repeatedly claimed it is, the House as a whole should have the opportunity to see what evidence is made available and what guidance he is receiving. Perhaps some of these technical reports will either allay the fears of the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) or confirm his doubts and prove me wrong, but let us have more information about the subject. According to the sources I have, however, it appears that it would not bean instrusion upon our proceedings in the sense that it would be noticeable to us all. That side of it may not be as difficult as some people think.
Secondly, there is the problem of editing. I agree with the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland that perhaps a continuous programme would be something of an infliction on the public. It might, of course, raise the standards of debate in the House and increase attendance in the Chamber but, on the other hand, I can see the difficulties involved.
I would far rather see an edited version. It is true that this would place a great deal of responsibility in the hands of the editor of the "Television Hansard" but the editor of "Today in Parliament" has considerable power. Why should not these people exercise their editorial right? In journalism, newspaper editors exercise their editorial rights over our proceedings and what they print. Providing that this were done reasonably, we are much more 108 likely to get a responsible presentation of our proceedings by someone acting on behalf of this House, especially if it were incorporated in some way in the present arrangements of HANSARD itself.
In any case, I am sure that there would be every attempt to see that there was a fair presentation and it would be up to us to criticise it if we felt it was unsatisfactory. I agree that there would be difficulties and I am not evading them but these are problems for the editor and it would be for him, whoever he might be, to show that the job could be done.
§ Mr. George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
How long does my hon. Friend think this edited programme should go on? Which part of his speech would be right for the editor to eliminate so that he could get it into the space allocated?
§ Mr. Donnelly
The answer to the second part of that question is that I would not dream of imposing my views on the editor in whatever he considered might be newsworthy for the programme. In any case, this right to choose newsworthy items already applies to party conferences. As far as I know, there have been few complaints about the way the choice has been conducted in this respect. Indeed, the coverage of party conferences has meant that the proceedings at these gatherings have been brought alive to the public. The public have shared in them and the parties concerned have been brought more closely in contact with the people.
The answer to the first part is that I would be prepared to be flexible in the length of the television HANSARD. On a dull day it could be, say, of a quarter of an hour's duration while, if the House were debating important questions, it might be a little longer. I am not against there being certain live telecasts of our proceedings on special occasions, for example on Budget Day or on a particularly dramatic Parliamentary occasion.
Anyone who has watched the proceedings of the United Nations televised live on the American networks has seen the great impact that this has had on the general public of the areas in which these programmes are received. These transmissions have done a great deal to educate the American public in the realities of the United Nations. They have enabled 109 people to see the leaders of the world coming together to present their views.
I agree, however, that there are difficulties. There are the problems of what the hon. Member for Cheadle described as "taste". It has been said that one might get the exhibitionists on television, but this medium is a fairly good X-ray. It shows what people are really like and the exhibitionists who at present play to the gallery and who get their lines of applause in certain popular newspapers will no doubt seek to catch the eye of the television cameras again. Sometimes they will succeed but, speaking for my own part, when party conferences are filmed the whole time and are later cut and edited, a speaker standing at the rostrum under the arc lights—which are there for the filming and not for television purposes—is not conscious of the outside world but is thinking of the audience before him. Any hon. Member with the House of Commons at heart and who wishes to continue to retain the respect of the House will be addressing the House of Commons and not the audience outside. He will not retain the ear of the House for long if he does not.
I agree that there are problems but, on the other hand, there are advantages, the most important one being that by this method one would be able to bring into touch with the people the proceedings of the House of Commons, which is, after all, the forum of our democracy. I said earlier that television was the most important mass media of communication. I ask hon. Members who take a contrary view to mine about televising our proceedings how long they think this House can go on retaining the interest of the nation while burying its head in the sand and ignoring this most powerful medium of expression? We must address ourselves to this question if we are concerned about the future of the vitality of democracy in Britain.
I urge the Postmaster-General when he replies to produce the technical data. What about a closed-circuit experiment? Let us see how this would work out. Let us not approach this matter, as Aneurin Bevan once said, like an old man approaching a young bride; fascinated, fearful and apprehensive. A great opportunity exists and the whole vitality of democracy can be revived.
I now come to the other aspect, the regional and local one, and I welcome 110 the decision of the B.B.C. to go ahead with special transmissions on the new Welsh television service. As a newcomer to Wales I have seen the national culture being drained—as though it were going out through a bath-plug—through the television screen because of the extraneous cultures brought in and the neglect of the indigenous culture. The new Welsh programme will do a lot to remedy this and I wish it well. However, there s another aspect about which the Government can do a great deal more and to which my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale referred; that is, local sound broadcasting.
We are at present in danger of losing much of the civic spirit and individuality of cur community. Local sound broadcasting, in responsible hands, could do a great deal to change all this. The amount of money involved is relatively small. I am told that the capital cost of a sound radio station would not be much more than £20,000, while the operating costs would be about £30,000 a year, perhaps slightly more because costs have risen since the earlier estimate made by the B.B.C. in its evidence to the Pilkington Committee. Whatever the amount, it is certainly not excessive.
As has been said, suggestions have been made for experiments to be conducted along these lines. I would very much like to see such experiments carried out. Five or 10 experimental stations could be run for two years and my constituency in West Wales would be an ideal unit for such an experiment. A great oil port is being built there and an experiment of this sort would enable the local authorities to argue their case, the public to state their problems and difficulties and the whole community would be given a sense of participation.
There is also the educational aspect, to which several hon. Members referred. There is a great deal of untapped indigenous talent in educational terms which is not being deployed at present but which could be used and which would be the soundest possible investment for the nation as a whole. It is sheer timidity on the part of the Government of the day that they are not prepared to proceed, in an experimental form, with this bold prospect. It would do a great deal to revive local cultures, 111 bring new reality to the relationship between town hall and people and give a sense of unity and community to the areas in which it was operating. The return could be immeasurably greater than the monetary outlay involved.
Despite what I have said I realise that all this will cost money. This brings me back to the point made by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland and the hon. Member for Withington. The present licence fee is farlower than every other major broadcasting country in Europe. For how long can this go on? The hon. Member for Withington spoke about the B.B.C. being authorised to borrow money. The difficulty is that the normal practice of borrowing is to expand the revenue in order, in turn, to expand profits. This does not operate with the B.B.C., which cannot expand its revenue unless the Government permit it to do so through a higher licence fee. Already the Government have done a lot to milk the B.B.C., for well over £100 million has been taken out of the Corporation by successive Governments over a number of years. We must face this difficulty.
I also appreciate, as the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said, that there must be certain exceptions. I would be in favour of making exceptions for those who cannot afford higher fees—old age pensioners, those receiving National Assistance and unemployment and sickness benefits and so on—but it is not beyond the wit of man to devise such exceptions. We already have the exception for sound receiving licence fees for blind people and similar arrangements could be made if there was an increased sound and television fee.
One cannot expect the B.B.C. to tackle the challenge which should be tackled—with major extensions in programmes—without giving the Corporation an opportunity to do the job properly and in a way worthy of what the hon. Member for Cheadle said was a great national network. This challenge will have to be met by increased licence fees received by the B.B.C. If this is done it will make all the difference to the quality of the programmes and the quality of the people attracted to work for the Corporation.
112 I have expressed some general thoughts on what is one of the most important debates we shall be having in the last period of this Parliament. It will affect the whole pattern of our society for a long time to come. I hope that when the Postmaster-General replies he will give an assurance that the Government are willing to look much wider and further and in a much more enlightened fashion at the propositions which have been put before them today.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
I am very happy to follow the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) because he has touched on some of the topics that I had hoped to raise, although I cannot say that I agree with him in all that he has said.
I shall begin by trying to counter some of his suggestions about televising the proceedings of this House. This debate is not about that subject but I should like to reply to him on that point straight away. I have had, I think, as good an opportunity as he has had—perhaps even a better opportunity—of studying the technical difficulties of this matter and receiving technical advice from the B.B.C. and the independent companies and from other places, and I have read nearly everything that has been published on the subject.
My judgment would be—I would be interested if any hon. Member would challenge this, apart from the hon. Member for Pembroke—that it would not be possible to televise the proceedings at the present stage of technical development without that televising being an intrusion into the character of our discussions. Questions of sensitivity of cameras and of lighting having to be increased have not been resolved, nor is it possible at the present time to place cameras in such a way that hon. Members would not know where they were operating. The whole character of our debates would be changed if television were to be introduced at this time. That does not mean that I am against the use of this great media if, at some future time, it might be devised in such a way that it would not alter the whole character of Parliament.
Obviously, there are some advantages. Some hon. Members have complained 113 that their speeches are not at present given sufficient attention. I have some sympathy with the hon. Member for Pembroke if he experiences the usual fate of an hon. Member who speaks at this time of the day and receives very little newspaper publicity, because the Press are notorious in neglecting this part of the debate. They have had their fun at 2.30 and 3.30 and they have gone away to write about it. Perhaps we might see a change. The competition of television might have a good effect in that direction. I do not want to dwell too long on that subject because it is something for the future, but I do not think that it is a subject in which the Government are entirely uninterested—indeed some of the public statements of the former Prime Minister and the present Prime Minister have certainly not shut the door on such experiments in the future. But I think that the Government are right to resist any stampede in this direction. After all, we are in the last few months of a Parliament, and it will be for the next Parliament to make a decision, if a decision has to be made.
I welcome what the hon. Member said about the external services. I regard those as being the most important rô1e that the B.B.C. has to play and I shall have something further to say about that later.
I was very interested in the speech of the hon. Lady for Flint, East (Mrs. White). Her thoughtful remarks about education would, I think, find little disagreement in the House. I agree with her that local sound broadcasting might well have a greater part to play in this matter. I, too, wonder why we have been so slow to allow these experiments, while allowing experiments in pay-television. But I would counter the suggestion that pay-television experiments have come about as the result of pressure, because, in all the dealings that I have had with broadcasting in the last three or four years, I have noted remarkably little interest In this subject, and no one has tried to pressurise me about it.
I do not think that local sound would necessarily kill the local Press. In Bristol we have the example of the local evening paper which has far more advertisement material in it than plain news. Indeed, so great a public outcry resulted from this great mass of stuff that one had to read 114 through before one got to the hews that it has now produced a pull-out advertisement section in the middle of the paper which one can discard.
It has been suggested that local sound might be produced by university based radio stations. I have some experience of those, hiving been in America within the last three years, and I shudder to think what might happen if we had that sort of thing here. I remember doing a broadcast at a university in one of the Southern states, in an area which I think is commonly known as the Bible belt. This university was run by the Baptists and any reference to the word "alcohol" or to drink had to be rigorously suppressed. When I was asked where I came from I said "Bristol". I was asked what happened in Bristol and when I said "beer and tobacco", everything else that I said was cut out, too. That is a trivial example. But the idea that a university alone could produce the required programmes is an uncertain one and I feel that the B.B.C., with all its wealth of technical information, could probably produce a much more satisfactory experiment, and it should be given the first chance to produce such a service.
I am sorry that the Secretary for Technical Co-operation is not now in the Chamber, although he was listening earlier, because my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Longbottom) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) both spoke about the splendid work which the B.B.C. and the commercial companies have done in training television technicians—people who can set up stations and provide a service in foreign and Commonwealth developing countries. It was suggested by both my hon. Friends—no doubt other hon. Members approve of this idea—that this should be sponsored in some way by the Government and helped financially. That may be a good idea in one way, but this service should not be exclusive to television and broadcasting. There are many other ways in which the United Kingdom supplies splendid help to developing countries. If it were not for the way in which the Royal College of Surgeors trained people from the Commonwealth and foreign countries—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I cannot see that activities in that field are dependent on the Licence and Agreement relating to broadcasting.
§ Mr. Cooke
I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, if I have strayed too far from the point. I content myself by saying that the suggestion that technical cooperation by the B.B.C. and the independent companies should be helped by the Government should not be left on its own and that there are many other contributions by the United Kingdom which should be given Government support.
This has been a rather subdued debate; we have had none of the excitement that we had during the debates on independent television in the last Session but, as a result of those debates, we have a greatly strengthened Independent Television Authority with the prospect of much improved programmes. I am very glad that, where appropriate, the B.B.C. is now to be puton the same footing. No doubt the B.B.C. has benefited by competition from independent television, and each has learned much from the other. I can remember the early days of television after the war, when my impression was that it was somewhat dull. I was not surprised that there was a vast loss of audience with the onset of commercial television. Then the B.B.C. hit back, and regained a very large part of its audience. That was the result of free competition, and is the sort of thing that can produce the best possible form of broadcasting.
I am sure that the onset of B.B.C.2 will sharpen the wits of the I.T.V. companies, and strengthen those companies so that, when the time comes—and it could easily be at the end of this next three-year period—there may be a second commercial independent channel—
§ Mr. Cooke
The hon. Member says "possibly", but I am sure that even the party opposite is not quite so antagonistic to the independent companies as it was, and may perhaps be less so in the future. The way in which the B.B.C. and the independent companies have reacted one on the other has had a very valuable effect, and I would hope 116 to see a second channel for the commercial companies in just over three years' time.
Many hon. Members have made much play with the question of minority interests and educational programmes. The right hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) and the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East, swapped stories about the benefits of recording educational programmes. No doubt there is some merit in that. Sound programmes are recorded, although the unions may object—this sort of thing goes on all the day with sound programmes—but we have yet to see a video tape machine invented that can tape the television picture at the sort of cost a school could afford. But I can envisage something like that coming before very long.
Hon. Members laid perhaps too much emphasis on the suggestion that the broadcast of a particular expert was so good that it should never be lost and that that should be the one way in which that subject should be taught, but in almost every subject there is more than one expert and one must not do more to enhance the monopoly of this medium of television. The suggestion that one televised expert should be the person to give his views on that particular subject without any other view being expressed is very dangerous. In any case, there is absolutely no substitute for a first-class teacher. The standard of teaching does not greatly improve at the present time—in fact, I think that in some cases the standard of the teachers has fallen—and when providing visual aids one must be very careful not to detract further from the standards of teaching in our schools.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle had much to say about good taste. One generality is that it is not the duty of any broadcasting undertaking, B.B.C. or independent, purely to pander to public taste. The taste of the broad masses is bound to be on a fairly low level. Surely, the B.B.C.'s duty is to try to raise the standard of public taste. I hear an hon. Member say "I.T.A.", but what I say applies also to I.T.A.—I was coming to that. Both the networks should have as their objective not just to pander to public taste, the idea of getting the mass audience, but to try to improve 117 public taste. I am sure that when we have four channels we shall see a great deal more of that done.
I shall not go into great detail about a certain satirical programme. It is all part of the current trend for so-called "satire", much of which is nothing of the kind—It is just undergraduate or "prep" school humour. The Corporation has been so anxious to be "with it" that it has behaved rather like some small boy who has just learned a new and rather rude four-letter word and feels he simply must say it in public. No doubt the first occasion of the use of that word has breathtaking effect on its audience, but after a time it becomes just a bore. I am sure that would be the judgment on a great deal of what has been passing for satire.
But great lessons have also been learned as a result of certain programmes, and had they had a courageous editor they would not have fallen to the depth to which they did fall. No doubt when, in future, another programme of similar type is produced, we shall not see the lapses we have seen in the past. I would not wish to ban such programmes—they are incredibly healthy and good for broadcasting—but there was no sort of editorial control over recent events, and that is why we got the sort of thing we had to put up with.
Perhaps we might have a balance of an anti-satirical programme broadcast somewhere near the new satirical one. Why should these people have it all their own way? Why not let someone else satirise them? Those in the programme I have in mind became almost like a row of gods in the public imagination. One of my hon. Friends says that the electors of Kinross and West Perthshire put that programme in its place: that is as it may be, but if we are to have such controversial material broadcast it is only fair that the other point should be put—and it could be put in an equally witty form.
There is reference in the Licence to the question of balance, and it has been said that it is not good broadcasting or good journalism to have absolute balance in a particular programme and that a balanced series of programmes meets the requirement. That is as may be, but there is great scope for imbalance if one point of view gets the 118 first word and the last, and if the first programme of the series does so damn the other side it is difficult to see how the other side's point of view can ever prevail later on. There are grave dangers here, and although the requirements are drawn fairly loosely in these documents I hope that we shall not see some of the things that have happened in the past.
An hon. Member referred to the disability of Members of Parliament in the broadcasting world as a result of which they can hardly appear as public or non-political figures—just because they are Members of Parliament. This is a most unfair disability, and if the procedures mentioned in the B.B.C. Report were carried out in the letter in all parts of the county in a regional way one would have an absurd situation.
Looking at the west of England—and here my figures are only approximate—if one leaves out Bristol and looks at the countryside from Bristol to Land's End, we find one Labour Member, one Liberal Member, and all the rest Conservatives. How absurd it would be to have balance of political parties on non-political subjects there—the poor Labour Member would never be off the screen. There are limits. It is a delicate problem, but I hope that as a result of what is said the rule will be interpreted sensibly.
A number of hon. Members have deplored the way in which the B.B.C. is to be financed. I do not wish to add to the Postmaster-General's burden in answering all these criticisms, but will simply say that I, too, have some doubts about the way in which we have tried to avoid increases in the licence fee. I should have favoured a more courageous step, and a bigger increase sooner, because I foresee considerable difficulties in the future. As we do now enjoy the best television and broadcasting service at the lowest cost in Europe, we could afford to pay a little more for it quite soon.
One of my final points is bound up very closely with finance. We have regional services. I have said something about sound broadcasts already, but the B.B.C. has had its television difficulties and only now in the West of England do we see separate Welsh programmes for Wales and programmes in English for the West Country. It has taken a 119 good many years for the B.B.C. to get near to putting that right, and the I.T.A. has yet to solve the problem.
Without labouring the point, I would hope that when we have four channels, two independent and two B.B.C., we in Bristol shall no longer have to endure these Welsh broadcasts. Much as I love Wales, and I was born there, I do not understand the language and I must say that we could do with our own service. The B.B.C. has been hampered to some extent in putting this right because of lack of finance.
My final point is that it is the external services of the B.B.C. which should receive the greatest attention. We may quibble about matters of good taste or whether debates in this House should be televised. These things are important in many ways but the external services surely come higher than all these, because our influence in the world is all-important. It is no good thinking any longer that we can have influence by force of arms, and indeed some of our economic force has dwindled in recent years, but the spoken word and television can do a great deal of good not only for us as a nation but for the world.
I would not be as depressed as the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Greenwood). He thought that the fact that the Russians provided twice as many hours of broadcasting as we did showed us in a terrible light, but quality is what matters, not quantity, and if our broadcasts are listened to we need not be too depressed with the present situation. The B.B.C. makes the case that it could do with stronger signals and more broadcasting hours. As the world changes the B.B.C. finds that more of its broadcasts from the United Kingdom have to go further and further afield and that its transmitters are not strong enough to do the job. The B.B.C. should not be hampered financially from doing it.
I received from the B.B.C. before this debate about 50 pages of close typescript containing all the information that I could possibly want. I will not weary the House by reading any of this, except to paraphrase one paragraph and to say that the B.B.C. attaches tremendous importance to the external services. It 120 feels itself considerably handicapped by lack of finance and feels that the Government and the country should take far more interest than they do in this matter. It adds that television was obviously becomingone of the most powerful forces ever to affect the thoughts and actions of the public. The Corporation believes that the United Kingdom is not doing enough to maintain its interest and its influence in this important new area of activity.These sentiments are quoted from the last Annual Report of the B.B.C.
One suggestion, not concerned with finance, which I would make and which might be of help is that if we cannot increase the hours of broadcasting enormously we should try to have a reciprocal agreement with countries that think differently and give them a half-hour a week on our network in exchange for half an hour on theirs, and perhaps a further half-hour a week each for an appraisal of how wrong or right each side might have been. This may be said to be a childish suggestion, or the product of a childish mind. I have not seen it suggested before, but perhaps it has some small merit.
I have detained the House on a wide variety of somewhat trivial subjects, but I would emphasise that the B.B.C. is in a unique position to provide these external services on which much of Britain's influence for good in the world depends. I should not like to vote today to support this Motion if I felt that these activities of the B.B.C. were in any way hampered. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General will make quite clear that the Government think that this activity of the B.B.C. is of fundamental imporance.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Chapman (Birmingham, Northfield)
I should like to start by picking up briefly three points made by the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke). In listening to the debate, I began to think it was a pity that every hon. Member had to talk about T.W.3 and no speaker could leave it alone.
§ Mr. Chapman
I was right; but, on the other hand, discussion of T.W.3 brings 121 us to a discussion of broadcasting and the essential nature of an independent body like the B.B.C. and therefore, perhaps we should not apologise for discussing it. I was sorry to hear the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) talk about these young people having no interest other than lavatorial humour. This was taking discussion and criticism of T.W.3 much too far. I was sorry to hear him say that T.W.3 should not have attacked religion. I felt like going back to John Stuart Mill's essay "On Liberty" parts of which in my youth I could have repeated almost verbatim, where he said that doctrine which was never discussed became dead doctrine and that it was part of the duty of democracy to allow these discussions to take place.
I accepted T.W.3 with all its mistakes as a new venture, but I agree with Mr. Hugh Carlton Greene, and probably with the Government, that T.W.3 should be taken off during the period of the election. T.W.3 was making mistakes. It was rightly exciting opinions on many subjects, and it would have been most unfortunate if in its period of learning, of making mistakes, of venturing steadily onwards in its experience, it had pitched into the middle of an election campaign its faux pas, its misstatements and its lapses of taste to become highlights in the campaign and to distort it one way or another. Whilst T.W.3 was so new and liable to make mistakes, it was probably best to play safe and take it off the air during the period of the election. I would not wish to cross swords, therefore, with Mr. Carlton Greene, although I am glad that this programme existed and I hope that it will exist again quite soon.
I have not fallen as much as have many hon. Members for all the briefs supplied by the B.B.C. on the issue of finance. I was in sympathy with the Assistant Postmaster-General when, interrupting a speech, he asked whether the B.B.C. was to be the only public body to exist without borrowing. Most of the B.B.C.'s capital development programme has been paid for out of revenue so far. This is an unusual state of affairs which I do not see should necessarily continue for ever. It may be as well for some of the new big technical developments of the B.B.C. to be provided out of borrowed money 122 so that future generations will help to pay for them in interest and amortisation over a long period. I do not close my mind, therefore, to the idea of borrowing, and I do not wholly follow the B.B.C.'s point of view in saying that it is absolutely wrong that it should borrow at all. We should steer a middle course. I thought that the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Sir R. Cary) went much too far in presenting the B.B.C.'s, case on this issue.
The external services of the B.B.C. have been another of the themes running through this debate. I would say in friendliness to the hon. Member for Bristol, West that he and his hon. Friends were very quiet in the 1950s when the real damage was done to the external services, and when protest after protest was made, led mainly by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling), about the great harm being done by the slashing attacks on the financing of these services by a Conservative Government. No voice was raised in protest from the benches opposite at that time. It is a little late now to start praising these services and asking for more money for them. I know that the Government have partly relented, and one repentant sinner is a very good thing. The Government have offered £4,500,000 for the building of transmitters overseas to rebroadcast some of the B.B.C. programmes in the external services. But this does not face the problem in anything like the required way.
Let me take the question of finance alone. In 1958 we were spending £6.1 million on the external services. Today we are spending £7.7 million. This is barely enough to cover the increase in costs. It is important that the right hon. Gentleman should give a firm assurance—I appreciate that as the Estimates are about to be published, he has to tread carefully—that there will be a substantial increase in this figure in coming years.
I should like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman will agree to another proposition, that it is time that we had a committee which reported on the whole impact of our external services. I should like this issue to be brought before us in the form of a considered report on what has been happening in 123 the areas where it could be most effective, and the sort of finance we ought to be considering for this service.
The present numbers of radio sets in the newly-emergent countries are pretty staggering. The figure was given earlier in the debate, but it was only given as a percentage. Let me give the actual figures. In emergent Africa seven years ago there were about 360,000 radio sets. There are now 2,600,000. I would say that within five years there will be 10 million. In the Continent of Africa a large part of the world's history is going to be written in the coming decade. We must be absolutely sure that Britain's voice, for the first time since the cuts of the 1950s, will be properly heard in those parts of the world. The good that we can do for democracy, for the civilised ways of life and civilised relationships between nations by our broadcasts in such areas is untold in its magnitude.
I have touched on three points which the hon. Gentleman raised. May I briefly, before coming to my main point, mention one other matter. This is the question of local sound broadcasting, which every Member seems to have mentioned at last, thank goodness. What the right hon. Gentleman has been saying to the House and in the White Paper has been, "I have not authorised local sound broadcasting because I have seen no evidence of a demand for it" In fact, I think words like that are actually in the White Paper. In that decision he has acted against the recommendation of the Pilkington Committee. The reason why there is no local demand expressed is that for 30 or 40 years we have been nurtured on the conception of national broadcasting. We have thought of the B.B.C. as broadcasting mainly from London and only a little from the regions. It has not been our natural growth pattern for 40 years to think in terms of local sound broadcasting. Moreover, the evidence that we have from America is that local sound broadcasting often means merely a day for the disc jockey, and nothing else.
Those are the reasons why we have not heard any local demand. I hope that what has been said today will change the right hon. Gentleman's mind. He must have noted that the numbers 124 listening to the radio are on the increase again. With the coming of television the numbers dropped, but with the coming of transistor sets and with the reduction in prices the number of people listening to the radio last year increased by one million. It will go up again as transistor sets become cheaper to buy and are more widely used.
The number of people still listening to the radio is substantial. For instance, 18 million people listen to "Two Way Family Favourites" at Sunday lunchtime, and many B.B.C. programmes which are broadcast at peak times, such as from 12 midday to 2 o'clock, attract many millions of people. The B.B.C. states that this trend back to the radio includes people who could otherwise be looking at television. The move back from television to the radio has begun on quite a scale. In those circumstances, is not this the time to allow the B.B.C. to conduct their experiments in local sound broadcasting? If the B.B.C. had 40 stations—not immediately, but within five or ten years—running at £30,000 or £40,000 a year, this would be very little out of the B.B.C.'s total budget. It is spending over £40 million of our money and we are worrying about how it will spend 2½ per cent. of its total expenditure.
With this possibility of transmitting on V.H.F. so cheaply and at so small a capital cost, and in view of all the stimulus this could give to local interests, traditions and politics—and local politics can do with some stimulation—is this not the time for the right hon. Gentleman to say that the B.B.C. can go ahead with its experiments?
Having made those preliminary points, let me come to my main point. It is a subject which I raise with some diffidence but one which has been worrying me fo some time and about which I have talked to some of the people concerned. I refer to the B.B.C.'s failure in one particular respect, namely, in its presentation of music. It may seem very strange that I should charge the B.B.C. with failure in the presentation of music. I do not wish to exaggerate. It is true that our national taste for serious music owes a great debt to the B.B.C, to its inspired directors-general and to the devoted people who are and have been in charge 125 of the musical programmes throughout the years since the B.B.C. came into existence. Our national love of serious music today is undoubtedly largely due to the efforts of the B.B.C.
However, that does not prevent me from raising a number of doubts about what the B.B.C. is doing. It has, I am sure, a very devoted and inspired gentleman in charge, Mr. William Glock, but his presentation of serious music has a number of very unfortunate features. There has apparently been a determination to push into a prominent position, particularly in sound broadcasting, the modern 20th century composers to the detriment and disadvantage of the more traditional music which finds a wider popular enjoyment. I know that Mr. Glock would say that this is still only one-third of the B.B.C.'s total output of serious music, but let us consider what has happened.
The Thursday invitation concert, which used to be a highlight of the week's listening for many thousands of people, has now become much more remote and devoted to unknown and unusual modern works for the specialist and the person who is highly educated in music. There are other programmes which have ben treated in this way. Even the Promenade concerts have had a knock in the last few years. They are very different from the old pattern. I was astonished to learn that Mr. Glock had said that when he was planning the Promenade concert programmes in 1960 he started "with a blank page". It is as though we did not need to think much about the past, and could begin from scratch without learning anything from the experience of Sir Henry Wood and the people who put them on in the first place.
Mr. Glock is a very mighty and powerful man inside the B.B.C. He was talking some time ago about what his ideas were in running the B.B.C. music programmes and he said that when he looks at a week's programmes, he likes to see what he calls some "cutting edge" in a week's broadcasting of serious music. When he defines what he means by "cutting edge" he says—and I am quoting from a lecture he gave:Next week, for example. First of all there are some performances of outstanding interest: a take of Rostropovich playing three 'cello 126 concertos, and John Ogdon as soloist in the Tippett Piano Concerto. Then there is the second in a series of programmes including music by Webern, and an inviting Thursday Concert with some wonderful pieces for chorus, ranging from Lassus to Debussy, and new works far string quartet by Boulez and Roberto Gerhard. When you add to these events two performances by the B.B.C. Symphony Orchestra, of Bruckner's Fourth Symphony and Mahler's Seventh, you have the basis of a stimulating week's programmes.
§ Mr. Chapman
I do not know which orchestra. With respect to my hon. Friend, that is not the point. The point is that in this trend, this big revolution towards programmes of modern, twentieth century music,he is taking it much too fast for all of us to be able to go along with him, and it is having a deleterious effect on our programmes.
I do not want to stop the right of the B.B.C. to educate us along towards appreciation of modern music. I am absolutely with the B.B.C. in its declared aim of trying to educate people in the course of general programmes. Mr. Carleton Greene himself has said thatin our educative function it is vitally important that education and culture take their place alongside information and entertainment and are not segregated from them, and that, because this is so, so many millions of people are given an opportunity of discovering new interests which they might not otherwise have a chance to develop.However, if we want to educate people we do not bulldoze them with big slabs of things which they do not understand. We must lead people along, and not break so many of the deep traditions. Let us go slowly. Let us have the Fabian approach to this, which is to do a little by stealth and gradually to change taste.
But, having said that mainly about the sound broadcasting of music, let me be even more critical, if I may, about the presentation of music on B.B.C. television. This, I think, is an abysmal failure. The sort of thing the B.B.C. does in the presentation of serious music on the television is to take the way of one of two extremes. The first extreme is to have a symphony orchestra playing and the orchestra televised; and the camera moves around the orchestra so that just as the pianist is playing some beautiful, lyrical passage we see—as a 127 friend of mine who is a concert pianist told me—a flash of a man with the French horn emptying his spit out of it.
I make this remark advisedly because the point I am making is that what the B.B.C. seems to have failed to do with the presentation of music on television is to set its people the job of finding the right way to present it. We all know that when the B.B.C. produces drama it puts all the dramatists on to the job of finding the extraordinary, unusual ways in which to adapt their artistic and creative ability to television. Nobody, however, seems to have done this for music, and I must say I am very sorry indeed to see this failure of the B.B.C.
I think that Mr. Hugh Carleton Greene feels that television is not very much good for music. He talks in his lectures about "the enormous advantage of sound radio" in the presentation of music. That makes me suspect that he does not think that television has much of a chance in this respect. I think he is wrong. I am rather a low-brow and with a taste for Beethoven, Brahms, Mendelssohn, the nineteenth century romantics; and if the B.B.C. wants to take me through to Bruckner and so on, the way to do it is to lead me forward with a series of television programmes which explain the music, explain the new sounds in modern music, explain to me what it is all about, so that I can understand the change between nineteenth century and twentieth century writers of music. This I suggested to Mr. Carleton Greene in a series of letters. I must say I got a cold reception. I was told, "Oh, well, public opinion changes, public taste changes, compared to the programmes you have in mind." It was left at that. Nothing has been done. I have not seen what new ideas the B.B.C. has got in the presentation of music. We seem to have come to a dead end, and I for one am very sorry to see it.
I said that there were two ways of presenting music on B.B.C. television. The second is typified by "Music for You" under Mr. Eric Robinson, and it it significant, following what I have just been saying, that this programme has been retained, as far as I can discover, in the teeth of opposition from the B.B.C.'s music pundits. 128 Frankly, Mr. Robinson does not have the very best of orchestras for this purpose of presenting classical pieces of music. He is left with snippets, with small introductions, starting the job of introducing serious music to a wider audience, but without the chance of seeing it through—as I say, of educating me through from Beethoven to Bruckner, or Schoenberg.
I think it is a tragic failure on the part of the B.B.C., and the B.B.C. ought to do something about it—and soon, before the B.B.C. gets a very bad reputation indeed for the way it is handling its presentation of music.
I have been critical, but I know that anyone who has heard me speak about these matters before knows that I have tried to be balanced. Indeed, I have paid tribute to the B.B.C.'s long tradition in education in music, and I do pay that tribute in the wider sense, as other speakers in this debate have done. We all owe, the nation owes, a very great debt to the B.B.C.
It is on the verge of enormously exciting events. One of these does not sound in tune with one of my criticisms, namely, that in a short time we are going to have a third programme broadcasting serious, good music, continuously all day long. This is an exciting thing. It is exciting, too, that we are moving towards colour television. The educational broadcasts from 6.30 on the Third Network are absolutely marvellous in these modern days. I think all the creative ideas about what is to come from B.B.C. 2, the second television programme, are wonderfully exciting, and although I am sure they will make mistakes, nevertheless there is this attempt to make a really new approach, compared with B.B.C. 1, and it is something for which a real tribute must be paid to the B.B.C.
It is a great organisation; it has accomplished many things. It has got beyond the era of worrying about the I.T.A. and it is level-pegging on audiences. It is not so worried about T.A.M. ratings and has lost the fear of what one of my hon. Friends called the "tyranny of T.A.M." and it is moving more creatively than ever into new fields.
I ask the B.B.C. to realise that many of us follow what it does with the utmost 129 interest, and with the utmost affection for its achievements; but occasionally—and I hope that we are not unjustified and will not be thought wrong of—with a critical eye for some of the respects in which we think it has failed. Nevertheless, it remains a great national institution, and one to which ought to be proud to give a new lease of life, as we are doing tonight.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. A. R. Wise (Rugby)
I cannot followthe hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) in detail in his musical excursions. He is better informed on the subject than I am, but I take up what he said about Mr. Hugh Carleton Greene's suggestion there was no place for orchestral concertson television. I am not sure that Mr. Carleton Greene was not right, because what can one do but look at the orchestra? One wants to listen to something, and efforts to produce any form of background or anything of that kind have never been successful, and I am not sure that they can be.
I also take up the point made by the hon. Gentleman about local sound broadcasting. We have heard a good deal about this tonight, but I am not wholly sold on the idea because I do not see what local sound broadcasting can do. It could be used educationally, but that is a different point. If it is a question of local news, what can it do except retail gossip? It can, of course, produce the local football results, but they appear in the evening or the weekly paper in due course, and in any case most people interested in the game know the result anyway. There is limited scope for this sort of thing, and I am not sure that we should saddle the B.B.C. with the task of applying its finances to something which is not nearly as important as a lot of other functions which it will be called on to perform.
Having said that, I come to my basic criticism of the proposals that we are discussing tonight. It is that the period is too long. I do not agree that we should hand over total control of anything to any corporate body or to anyone else for 12 years. After all, we do not trust ourselves to carry on for more than five years without asking somebody to renew our charter, and 12 years is much too long. I should like the 130 Charter to be reviewed more often. It is impossible to discuss the Corporation between the rare occasions which occur like the present one.
The same comment applies to the fact that we fell between two stools with our nationalised industries. We did not make them responsible to Ministers, so we deprived ourselves of the power of saying anything about them in this House. That is a mistake which we could avoid, particularly in this case, and I shall state one or two instances in which I think that this would be a reasonable and sensible precaution.
§ Mr. Woodburn
Is it not the justification that we are asking the B.B.C. to plan ahead for 12 years? Of course it will remain within the power of any Parliament to revoke the Charter or to renegotiate it if anything serious arises.
§ Mr. Wise
I am not sure that, constitutionally, it is within the power of Parliament to revoke the Charter. It is a Royal Charter, and I very much doubt whether it could be done. I cannot see why the B.B.C. cannot plan ahead for 12 years, knowing that its behaviour will be discussed at intervals during that time. I still think that my objection holds good.
§ Mr. Chapman
It is a similar period to that given to I.T.A. If we object to one, we should object to the other.
§ Mr. Wise
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I see no reason why the I.T.A. should not be discussed at regular intervals. Indeed, I think that it would do the I.T.A. a lot of good if it were. It does us all good to be discussed at regular intervals.
Curiously enough, during the debate by far the greatest emphasis has been not on T.W.3, thank heavens, because much too much is said about that, but on the educational function of the B.B.C. It is a great and important function, but there are others, and in my view the dissemination of news is as important as the dissemination of instruction.
It may be regarded as heresy, but in my view by far the most important function of the B.B.C. is the provision of entertainment. By "entertainment" I mean both the low-brow and the highbrow types, and I think that the B.B.C. will agree with me on this, because of 131 the extra time that it gives to this function. I am not sure whether political broadcasts—about which I shall have something to say later—come under the heading of education or entertainment. Some of them probably fail to qualify under either.
If, as has been suggested by the right hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) and by the hon. Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White), this educational function is to be extended by preserving certain selected parts of it, it will admittedly cost a lot of money. Good lectures will have to be filmed and the films stored for use by any school or university which has a projector and can use them. I warmly support the idea, but if we are to do the job of the schoolmaster, it is only reasonable that the cost of doing so should be met by the Ministry of Education and not by the B.B.C. It would be a legitimate educational charge, and also a legitimate educational exercise.
One of my hon. Friends said that there was no substitute for a first-class teacher. Of course there is not. There is no substitute for Aristotle, but when he was alive there were a lot of people going round Athens who were not Aristotles, just as today we have a lot of people who are not first-class teachers. These films would be a substitute for such people, and I therefore think that these films could be legitimately regarded as an extension of the educational system, and should be paid for by the Ministry of Education. That would relieve the B.B.C. of some of the expenses which have been suggested to it in the course of this debate.
In this House we are always very keen on suggesting ways of spending money, and sometimes not so enthusiastic when the time comes to provide it, but I do not think that the B.B.C.'s claim to raise the licence fee is justified by anything that it is being asked to do. If it cannot run its business on £55 million a year, there must be something wrong with its administration, and I think it should be firmly reminded of that fact. It has had an increase of 33⅓ per cent. in licence revenue, which is not too bad. In the future there will be more television sets moment, on average, there is one tele- 132 vision set per house, but very often two people living in the same house want to see different programmes, and I have no doubt that the number of sets in use will increase.
That brings me to the question of external broadcasts. I agree that these are immensely important. But I do not agree that the fact that we do not broadcast for as many hours as do some other countries is of the least importance. We are told that the Russians broadcast for about 1,000 hours a week, and the Iron Curtain countries for another 1,000 hours a week, against our few hundred hours, but we have never found it necessary to jam their broadcasts, although they have found it necessary to jam ours. This indicates that in these matters it is quality and not quantity which is the deciding factor.
The reputation of the B.B.C. is very high in these matters. It was built up during the war to a great extent—so much so that when I first got back to Europe I found that many people would not believe anything unless they had heard it on the B.B.C. first. They would not even believe what was in their own newspapers. This was particularly so in Belgium, where there were apparently more underground transmitters per head of population than was the case in any other occupied country.
External broadcasts are not solely a function of the B.B.C.; they are surely part of our foreign policy, and I cannot see why some contribution should not come from some bodies whose job it is to propagate the British way of life abroad, including the British Council. I cannot see why some assistance should not be given to the B.B.C. for doing these various jobs, which are not really within the main bulk of its work.
Another function of the Corporation is to present politics. It is probably the least useful—and it is certainly the most difficult—of all its functions. Many suggestions have been put forward in this respect. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) put forward the most startling exposé of Liberal Party policy that I have ever heard. He said that every minority party should have its fair share of the air. The simple answer is that there is not enough time or air. And who is to say what is a minority party? There 133 are many parties which are not represented in this House but which have political views. Some are quite arguable political views. Social Credit is an arguable political view, although I have never understood it. Are we to extend our political broadcasts to the Social Credit Party? It exists. It put up a candidate in my constituency at the last General Election. This illustrates the very slipshod thinking that takes place on the question of how much politics should be allowed on the B.B.C.
The right hon. Member went one stage further in suggesting a return of satirical programmes of every kind, which he indicated ought to be regarded as political. He wanted them all to be encouraged, so that all parties should be properly represented. This conjures up the horrifying vision of having TW3 on one night, the "Transport House Follies", with song and dance, on the following night, and on the next night my own party's performance. I have not thought of a title for it yet. We obviously could not do that sort of thing. It is slipshod thinking to suggest that we should.
One of the great difficulties in political broadcasting is the problem of impartiality. I do not see how it is possible to have impartial broadcasts, especially if we regard satirical broadcasts as part of the political programme—and I think that we must do so, because such broadcasts are basically political. We cannot set off one against the other, but we can demand a slightly higher standard of satire. One essential of good satire that has always existed, and one basis to which ail the good satirists would subscribe, is that it should have behind it some great and abiding purpose, otherwise it ceases to be satire and is turned to sniggering.
So far, every purported satirist in the Press, on the stage, in the night club, or on the B.B.C, has entirely failed in that respect. None of them has been a satirist in the proper meaning of the word. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Sir R. Cary) put his finger on the point, unconsciously, when he said that we should not have expected too much of these programmes and that, after all, four minutes of really good humour in the middle of a 50-minute programme was about as much as anybody could expect of any satirical programme. It is all very well to say that, 134 but I wonder whether my hon. Friend has worked out how long it would take him to read "Gulliver's Travels", which is a genuine political satire throughout, and which must have kept its audiences entertained for a good deal longer than four minutes out of every 50.
These are all general principles, concerning the way in which the Corporation has at the moment not wholly fulfilled the duties laid upon it. I am not going to be led into a discussion of what would happen if we broadcast the proceedings of this House. Such a prospect fills me with absolute, stark horror. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) who quoted effectively the late Aneurin Bevan but forgot to mention that he was against broadcasting anyway.
This suggestion does not make a great deal of sense. Either we broadcast the lot or we edit it. Whom would we trust to edit it? Would it be the Government Chief Whip, or the Opposition Chief Whip—or a committee composed of the pair of them? A committee would be safest, because then none of it would ever get on the air. We cannot countenance any such suggestion, especially if we increase the licence fee which people would have to pay to look at it.
So far, the obligations which have been laid upon the Corporation have been basically those which are contained in its Charter—decency and the impartial presentation of news. There are many cithers, but those are the two great bases. We have not paid them as close attention as we should have. I realise the difficulties. It is much easier, and it is more amusing, for that matter—and it may attract more listeners—to broadcast a happy talk in favour of pre-marital intercourse rather than a talk in favour of continence. It is probably true that continence is less interesting that promiscuity. But there is no reason whatever why the Corporation, which is a chartered body with certain standards to maintain, should be allowed to do this. I think, also, that it is much easier to broadcast some South Bank theologian telling us that Christianity is outdated than to broadcast a good Christian bishop telling us that it is not.
§ Mr. Chapman
The hon. Gentleman ought to be fair. Every Sunday there is a television programme around seven o'clock which is entirely devoted to religion. I defy him to say that once a week there is a programme attacking religion.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
Will my hon. Friend agree that there was more publicity given recently to the vicar who put a curse on some of his parishioners for moving a tombstone than to all the theological thought in that region?
§ Mr. Wise
That strengthens my point considerably. It means that someone who is trying to make Christianity ridiculous gets more publicity than someone who is not. That is one of the things against which I wish to protest.
Some people say that we are a sick realm and part of a sick civilisation. I do not think that we are a sick realm. Basically, our health is still sound. But, as a realm, we are exposed to a great deal of infection, and in my view the British Broadcasting Corporation, which should be the prophylactic, sometimes produces stuff which is more heavily loaded with streptococci than antidote. That is why I suggest that while allowing all this to pass for the moment, we should remember before the Charter comes up—afterwards it will be too late—that 12 years is too long a period to trust anybody unquestioned and uncriticised, and that also we should demand even higher standards than we have now.
§ Mr. Greenwood
Will the hon. Member clear up one ambiguity? If I heard him aright he seemed to be suggesting that the B.B.C. covered the cost of external services. I am sure that he is aware that that is met by a subvention from the Government.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
The Assistant Postmaster-General said that his right hon. Friend would welcome observations made during this debate; that they would be studied and a memoranda prepared which, I understood, would be submitted to the Chairman of the Governors of the B.B.C. I welcome that, and I wish to make clear that I cast no personal reflections on the Postmaster-General in anything which I shall say during the limited period in which I shall address the House. I have come to the conclusion that people who are critical of others are unable to perform a task as efficiently as those whom they criticise. It has been proved in so many ways. But I have not the time to discuss that now because I wish to devote myself to the main issue.
I have listened to most of the debate and I agree with most of the observations which have been made. I agree with my hon. Friend who is a student of music. I have friends and close relatives who have contributed to the Halle. One of my best friends was a leading figure, and some of us had a lot to do with the transformation of John Barbirolli into Sir John Barbirolli. So I wish to associate myself with what my hon. Friend said.
As regards the criticisms made of "That Was The Week That Was", in my view the less said about that programme in the House the better. It was a disgrace to anyone associated with it. It should never have been allowed to be broadcast. It lowered the standards of the British people, and it was undermining confidence in everything and everybody. Speaking for the millions of people resident in our industrial areas, in which some of us have spent our lives and which we have never left, I can only say that we were sickened by the whole business.
I agree with what has been said about the period of twelve years. It is a little too long. A great deal can change in 137 a period of that length, and I hope that the question will be further considered.
I deprecate that the Licence is presented to us in such a way that it cannot be amended. I accept my share of responsibility in considering questions of this kind. When a document such as this Licence is presented to us, Members must not be allowed to rove over the whole field, but, if we are to introduce democracy into the functioning of an important national institution, then, within limits, we ought to be free to draw upon our experience and our associations with other people in order to make constructive suggestions to improve the Licence. But we cannot do that. The responsibility is not the Minister's, and, here again, I welcome the opening remarks of the Assistant Postmaster-General which I understood as an undertaking by the right hon. Gentleman that what is said today in the House will be considered.
For some time, I have listened carefully at Question Time to what has been said by several of my hon. Friends whom I greatly respect and whose sincerity I acknowledge. Time after time, questions have been asked which have given rise to great public concern about certain aspects of broadcasting When these questions have been put, the Postmaster-General has never been able to go as far as many of my hon. Friends have gone, and, at times, my hon. Friends have been very disappointed because they have felt that they have not been able to use their influence as Members of the House of Commons as they would have wished. In this connection, I want the Postmaster-General to consider—he may have done so already to some extent—the advisability of taking the House and what is said here as a sounding board for public opinion outside. Whenever anything occurs in broadcasting which gives rise to serious questions in the House, especially when a number of hon. Members are associated in the criticism which is made, the right hon. Gentleman should use his position in order to have the matter dealt with by the B.B C.
I feel that some of the criticism which has been made about religious broadcasting, the discussion of religious worship and principles, and so on, has 138 been overdone. It is causing concern and has given rise to a number of critical leading articles in reputable newspapers. I hope that the Postmaster-General will bear this in mind, too.
I come now to the attitude of the B.B.C. to the tragic event at the close of last year. My wife and I were sitting together at home on the day when President Kennedy was assassinated. Because I am away from home so much, it is very seldom that we sit together, but on that Friday evening we were together as we heard the news. It came as a terrible shock. We were almost stunned. I am quite sure that what we felt was felt equally by most people in this country and, indeed, throughout the world. It was an awful tragedy. Most of us could not carryon with what we were doing. But the B.B.C. allowed the Harry Worth programme to go on. I thought that that was very bad taste, and I would like to know whether the Postmaster-General used his position in order to inquire into what happened.
The following Sunday, much to my surprise, a man named Goold Adams, conducting a programme at 1.10 p.m. on the B.B.C., claimed to speak in the name of Britain. In my view, there is too much of this sort of thing on television. Non-elected people are not entitled to speak in the name of Britain. This ought to be the prerogative of Her Majesty's Government, and, if they like to appoint others to speak on behalf of the elected representatives of the people who sit in the House of Commons, then they accept responsibility for what is said. Anything else leads to a great deal of misunderstanding throughout the world, as I have myself experienced in several countries. At times, when people abroad have been critical of what has been said in Britain, I have had to dissociate my hon. Friends from it because those speaking had been speaking as; individuals, expressing a personal point of view which, very often, was a very narrow one. People who speak in that way are not entitled to associate with what they say those who live in the areas where most of us live. The Postmaster-General ought to give his attention to this matter, too.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)
If the hon. Gentleman is 139 giving that side of the reporting by the B.B.C. of the assassination of President Kennedy and the surrounding circumstances, it should be said also that, on the Saturday night, T.W.3 was a first-class programme, speaking of President Kennedy in such terms that the Americans thought fit to take the wording of it and write it into their Congressional Record.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
I accept that wholeheartedly, but it has nothing to do with what I am talking about. I heard that. I am now speaking about Goold Adams and what he said at 1.10 on the Sunday afternoon. He was conducting an international discussion on the new situation arising out of the tragic assassination of the President. I was so indignant about what was said that I wrote to the B.B.C. for a copy of the script. I have that document at home now, and, if anyone ever challenges me about it when I speak outside, I shall certainly have the script with me in order to deal with the matter thoroughly.
Those who listened to the programme heard the Frenchman, the American and the German all repudiate Goold Adams. They took an objective approach to the situation, which they thought at that time had not fundamentally changed. It was an Englishman who said that it had changed. All the others said that it had not. Time has confirmed the Frenchman, the American and the German, and disproved what was said by Mr. Goold Adams. I ask the Postmaster-General to consider this aspect of B.B.C. programmes with a view to something being done to prevent misunderstanding being broadcast throughout the world.
In this country, as a result of the struggles of the working class in particular and organised labour in general, we have gradually won a form of democracy. We have won the right of free speech. Some of us used to have the privilege of speaking to thousands of our fellow countrymen. Relatively speaking, we have lost free speech. Relatively speaking, we now speak to a few people, while the dilettantes, the university-trained smart Alicks, can go on the television and misrepresent what people stand for. We now want the democraticisation of wireless and television.
140 If anyone differs from me I ask him to watch the Granada televising of the Trades Union Congress, of the Labour Party conference, of the Conservative Party conference held at Blackpool, and of the Liberal Party conference to a lesser extent. All these were first-rate. This is what we should be doing in this assembly, to which we are all elected. If anyone disagrees with one word of what I intend to say, I ask him to be good enough to go to the Library. There he will see in today's Daily Telegraph an excellent historical analysis of the reporting of the proceedings in the House of Commons and how it went through one stage after another. The article concludes by advocating the televising of our proceedings as a logical consequence of the reporting which has taken place for ages.
I admit right away, however, that if there were a free vote in the House at present it would be overwhelmingly against televising our proceedings. That does not make what I am saying wrong. I have sufficient historical knowledge to remember that just before I was born a man stood here representing only about thirty of us. He came here with a cap on. As a result of the struggles and sacrifices of our fellow countrymen, we have built up the Labour Party to such a membership that it looks like forming the next Government. What holds good for this form of evolution will apply even more strongly to televising our proceedings, because of the increased tempo of life. This will have to come if we are to hold our own in the country's respect.
Therefore, my first constructive proposal is that the time has arrived when Question Time between 2.35 and 3.30 should be televised. I have no confidence whatever, because of my experience, in having an edited version. It was my privilege to be closely associated with and the friend of two of the finest journalists there ever were. They got there on merit. I refer to Mr. Wadsworth and Mr. Harry Boardman. I recollect their conversations with me. I remember them telling me that with the space at their disposal they tried to do justice to reporting the House of Commons to the extent they should. However, the Press has never done it, because of the circulation battle. Our proceedings are reported to a lesser and lesser extent. If a critical scientific 141 analysis is made of any current event, not a word appears in the Press. However, if a joke is made or something smutty is said, there are headlines and columns of reports. This is the stage we have reached in the eyes of the Press.
The right democratic thing to do is to focus attention on the proceedings at Question Time, when our proceedings are most dynamic and informative and hon. Members carry out their constitutional duty of interrogating Ministers. This procedure is admired throughout the world. People in all parts of the world—from behind the Iron Curtain, in Australia, in New Zealand and elsewhere—say how they enjoyed listening to Question Time from the Gallery and how they admire our system. If the whole world can admire our system in this way, the British people should be able to see and hear their Members carrying on their daily work.
The proceedings of the House should be broadcast as they occur between 6.30 and 7.30 p.m. We have now reached a time when Members are acquiescing in the practice of having "prima donnas" speaking for 40, 50, 60, 70 or even 80 minutes. This is unfair to Mr. Speaker and Mr. Deputy-Speaker, who are not left with enough time to call other hon. Members. For a short time proceedings should be broadcast and televised between 6.30 and 7.30 and at such other time when it is considered in the national interest, for instance when the Chancellor is making his Budget statement. Democracy should now mean that the people can hear and see their representatives at work, and I hope that the Postmaster-General will consider that when he is preparing his memorandum.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Wolrige-Gordon (Aberdeenshire, East)
I wish the B.B.C. well and I yield to nobody in my estimate of its importance and the quality of the work itcan do for our country and for the society of our country. But I disagree with those hon. Members who have expressed their sorrow that T.W.3 has been taken off the British screen. I am glad that it has gone. My only regret is that it has gone to America. The thought of that image of Britain being disseminated in the U.S.A. fills me with real sorrow. It is a far cry from 142 the image of truth and the fight for freedom during the war years, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. Wise) referred. I want to say one word about finance.
There is an old slogan which used to have great power in politics. It was, "No taxation without representation". That applies in some sense to the British Broadcasting Corporation. The B.B.C. is a public service and as such its service must be acceptable. I do not tolerate the view that if its service is not acceptable, in some way it is the public's fault. It is not the public but the service that has to be acceptable. One of the most disturbing features of the B.B.C. to me is the arrogance with which it treats anyone who seeks to take issue with it on any point.
Another feature which I find disturbing is the attitude of the Government. It can be described as, "Our hands are tied, but theirs are not". The Assistant Postmaster-General spoke of a need to maintain high standards, in the widest sense of the word, in programming. He mentioned as one of the criteria not offending against good taste or decency? What happens when there is an offence against good taste or decency? What happens when the B.B.C. produces shows like T.W.3 or Dr. Comfort? Who does control the B.B.C. if the Government do not? In view of the tremendous effect which the Corporation can and does have on the minds of the people of Britain, and particularly the minds of the young people, I ask my right hon. Friend to make sure that in future this control is exerted stringently to produce programmes of far better taste than we have had to endure for some time.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Mr. R. E. Winterbottom (Sheffield, Brightside)
The question which has not been forcefully put today and which is the question which has to be answered is: from where is the B.B.C. to get its money? That is the sixty-four thousand dollar question. Ten years ago the B.B.C. had reserves, but they have now been frittered away, mainly on capital development.
Last year the B.B.C. spent £2,700,000 on capital development, which left a balance of reserves of under £200,000. It approached the right hon. Gentleman 143 about its problems in relation to the second channel, the introduction of colour television and the introduction of Welsh-language television. It pointed out to him that, unless certain things were allowed, these developments could not take place within the specified time efficiently and well.
These representations, however, did not succeed, and the result is that, if these developments are to be pressed forward as they should be, by 1968 the public will have paid £39 million more than it would have done had the B.B.C's advice been taken in the first place. I would have said very much more about this matter had I not had an arrangement with an hon. Gentleman opposite.
The B.B.C.'s second channel is to begin in April, 1964, in London, and as a result the finances of the regions have been recast. Certainly, more money is to be given to the Northern Region, but nevertheless the B.B.C. has been most parsimonious in its attitude towards the regions generally. Just as with the Arts Council, so with the B.B.C., and so with almost any organisation of a cultural nature. Where there is the slightest touch of Government influence, we have a concentration of values in London and a starvation policy towards the Provinces.
As a result of the recasting of the B.B.C.'s finances, the Northern Region will get one new mobile van. When another is needed it will have to be borrowed from the Midland Region. In London there are seven of these vans, many of them doing nothing. I do not agree that there should be a committee, but I believe that the B.B.C. should be subject to more Parliamentary accountability and that there should be more discussion in the House on these matters. That is all I am able to say in the time I have allowed myself.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I shall confine myself to three aspects. If the B.B.C. could finance itself with a licence costing £6 a year, we ought to think twice before raising the cost to £6, even with all-party agreement. It would be a mistake for a national corporation of this kind to be completely independent financially of any form of control by the Treasury over its over- 144 seas service when it is virtually speaking for the nation.
I want the B.B.C. to have more money, however, for I am convinced that it has not enough at the moment. I wish that we could get all-party agreement to raise the licence fee. I think that it speaks very ill for our own sense of judgment in this House if, just because there is a General Election pending and because we are frightened that one party might electioneer against the party which has the courage to put up the cost of the licence, we leave it where it is. This would be a great mistake. It would be bad for the country. Parliament and the B.B.C, and if it was bad for the B.B.C. it would mean that its programmes would not be as good as they might otherwise be.
I want more money devoted to overseas broadcasting, and I agree that we are not doing enough. I would go so far as to say that if the money we spend on the British Council and the money we allow for the B.B.C. to do its overseas broadcasting had to be reduced, I would sooner see the work of the British Council cut than the work of the B.B.C. However, I do not believe that we should cut either; rather, we should expand both.
The country and this House should face up to the fact that the licence fee must be a great deal higher than we have been talking about. That will have to come in the end. The sooner we face up to this the sooner sensible plans will be laid by the B.B.C. and, eventually, implemented by the Corporation. Even if this is General Election year, cannot we get all-party agreement about what the licence fee should be and, perhaps, have a joint committee of both sides of the House and of both Houses, in consultation with the B.B.C. and the Postmaster-General, to reach a sensible agreement on the matter?
The second subject with which I wish to deal is programmes. I have always thought that the real trouble with "That Was The Week That Was" was that people made the same mistake about it as they often do about the spelling of "welsh rarebit". In spelling "rarebit" they miss the joke, for it should be spelt "rabbit". In the same way I have always believed that a programme like T.W.T.W.T.W. should never have been 145 taken too seriously. The trouble was that the public took it in that way. It was really a riproaring joke. It began in an extremely excellent way and made the nation laugh for three or four weeks. The trouble was that it should never have been a weekly programme. It should have been spaced so as to give adequate time in which to digest what was important and what was not. Time should have been provided during programmes for us to sort out what should be taken seriously as satire—and I agree that satire should be taken seriously—and what was frivolous. It was obviously a joke from the word "go".
I join with the tribute paid by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. K. Lewis), when he intervened in the speech of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith), to T.W.T.W.T.W. One of the most moving programmes I have ever seen was that produced on the Saturday after the assassination of President Kennedy. Despite this, perhaps even in that programme some things were missed at the time because the impression was given that President Kennedy had a monopoly of political wisdom, which was somewhat derogatory of this House. However, the programme was deeply moving and, perhaps, more than justified some of the less good things which we had to endure. There is indeed a place for a satirical programme. Perhaps there is not sufficient satire. In any case, let it be good satire, although no one can be expected to turn out really first-class satire in a regular weekly programme.
My third point is that the B.B.C. has set an absolutely superb standard in the presentation of its scientific programmes. I would like to see these programmes multiplied in number. It is one of the less laudable facts about this House, I am afraid, that science has not yet caught on. Having sat through three full science debates in the House—at which only about a dozen hon. Members have been present—I find it a serious reflection on Parliament in what is said to be the scientific age. Anything that can arouse public interest in science is a good thing, provided the quality of the programmes is right. The quality of the B.B.C.'s programmes in science has been magnificent and I would like to see even more done.
146 I must mention religious broadcasting. I do not know whether other hon. Members share my view, but I find it utterly distracting to be presented with a picture of Willy picking his nose in the third pew back when trying to concentrate on what the parson is saying in his sermon. The roving camera in church distracts from the service. I would not object to looking at some of the glorious architecture in our churches, but I do not see why it is necessary to see whether Mrs. Jones is wearing a nicer hat than Mrs. Black. This danger arises in religious broadcasts when cameras rove around the church.
In the same way, this is also reflected in music programmes. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) has left the Chamber, because I was interested in what he said about this. I would be inclined to agree, if it is true that Mr. Carleton Greene thinks that television is not the best medium by which to convey music. But one thing I am quite certain is wrong. One should never be shown the face of the conductor, even if it is Sir John Barbirolli. It is a fascinating face, but it takes one's mind off the music. One of the great things about an orchestra is that one never sees the face of the conductor until he has finished the job. I think that this business of cameras roving round the orchestra, provided it is limited to picking out the instruments predominant at the moment, is well and good, but this casual roving into the audience destroys half the music, or at any rate the ability to concentrate upon it. These are technical matters which it ill becomes a politician to criticise, because it is telling the technicians how to do their job, but as it has been mentioned in the debate I thought that I must take it up.
I would say a word about the political programmes. I have no particular axe to grind either for the B.B.C. or the independent companies on this. I think I can count on the fingers of two hands the actual occasions on which I have appeared on television, whether independent or B.B.C. I found that a very dangerous form of political programme is that which has been pre-recorded and which is capable of being edited. I would never again, if I could possibly help it, go over other than "live", if 147 I knew that if I did not the programme might be edited to present something different from that which I actually said in the programme, by leaving out bits. This extraction of portions can give a completely different impression, and this is something that my right hon. Friend would be well-advised to watch very carefully in political broadcasts in the future.
I suppose that all one has said on this topic is essentially a matter for the Postmaster-General to keep his eye on, although perhaps he is not finally the person who will persuade the B.B.C. This is a very important feature in political broadcasting, because the whole tenor of what a person has said pre-recorded and then cut can be changed by someone who may not really be fitted to change it because he has not the political knowledge to quality him to do so.
May I say this, in general, on the question of morals and decency. I hope that the B.B.C. and I.T.V. will remember that what might be all right in a stage play, since the passing of the obscene publications legislation, when put on a television set in a small room with everyone concentrating on whatever it is may convey a very different impression and make a double bed look far more indecent than it is on the stage. It is perfectly obvious that we shall see a lot more double beds on television. They need not be indecent. But the fact remains that the trend is developing fairly fast and the work of Jean Paul Sartre and some others does not exactly lend itself to television, although it might be perfectly acceptable in a theatre. There are things that only really good judgment by those running the B.B.C. can decide.
We are in the danger of forgetting one thing about television—that what is done in a sound radio play may not be suitable on television because of the overwhelming position of television to be able to emphasise to the point of dangerous exaggeration. That is the real danger involved in television, and it is a consideration that I hope will be borne in mind without anyone having to be too priggish about it. There is nothing more objectionable than intellectual arrogance or moral priggery. I think that both are perfectly appalling, 148 but at the same time it is essential to recognise differences where differences exist, and there is a very great deal of difference between television and the theatre.
§ 8.55 p.m.
Mr. W. M. F. Vane (Westmorland)
For this brief intervention I have two excuses; I have been a member of the North Regional Advisory Council of the B.B.C. for the last year, and I represent a constituency where the reception is probably the worst in England. As to the last, I pay the B.B.C. a tribute for what it has done. All my constituents will not be pleased to hear me say this, but I must pay tribute to the Corporation for what it has done to improve reception in these areas although it will take some time to solve the whole problem. I reinforce the plea made from the other side that a greater part of the B.B.C.'s resources should be made available to and deployed in the Northern Region, where the population is very large—far larger than one might think from the proportion of resources made available there. In too many facets of our national life it seems to me that London and Scotland get more than their share and the north of England and the west of England less than their share.
No specialist tasks are entrusted to the north of England, as some are to the west. It would be of great help to the cultural and technical life of the region if more programmes could be created in the North. There are many able and rising young men and women in the service of broadcasting who feel that if they want ever to reach the top of the tree they must somehow, sooner or later, get to London—and the sooner the better. That is no good for the life of the country. I should like my right hon. Friend to look into this question, and see whether it is something of such importance that, even if it means a change in the policy of the B.B.C, he ought to concern himself with it.
This sort of "London approach" applies in small things as well as big. We must all have noticed how, in the news bulletins, trivial things—traffic jams on the roads, people stuck in snowdrifts and so on—are always shown on the roads leading from London. In recent days, of course, it has only been 149 the Londoner who has been caught in snowdrifts, with those in the North bathing in sunshine but, generally speaking, such traffic mishaps due to weather apply generally, yet those composing the news bulletins seem to think that nothing except a major disaster ever happens more than 20 miles out of London.
Then there is the discussion of public questions, especially those where party interest is brought in. I have always thought it a pity that when such discussions appear on the screen it always seems necessary to create an aggressive atmosphere of question and answer. We do not conduct our business in this House all the time in an aggressive atmosphere. There are the occasions when party interests are sharply denned and here we can sense such occasions, but the impression given by the B.B.C. is that public issues can never be discussed by people with any sense of responsibility without creating an atmosphere of white-hot controversy. That is a great pity.
Further, there are the comments often made by the interviewers and staff. When in this House, whether at Question Time or in debate, someone makes an unwise comment which could be taken as going just a little too far, there is always an hon. Member who knows more about the subject and who will straight away give the matter a proper sense of proportion. But the final words in these B.B.C. programmes, where this rather artificial controversial atmosphere has been created, are often made by members of the staff who may speak with the best intentions in the world but who, even though they may be very high-class broadcasters, are not necessarily the wisest men, nor do they have a wide experience of politics, or a responsibility to constituents. I hope that my right hon. Friend will also look at that.
I come to my last point. I apologise that I was not here at the beginning of the debate when policy on overseas broadcasting may have been referred to, but I should like to think that when my right hon. Friend replies to the debate we shall hear something about who controls overseas broadcasting policy. We are now entering on a time when there is without doubt less jamming, obstruction, and difficulty in the 150 world of international broadcasting, particularly across the Iron Curtain. Are we shaping our overseas broadcasts to meet these changes? To whom are we appealing?
I fear that our policy may be a little out of date Things are changing and we must change our policy too. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to say that this is happening and that one of the most powerful agencies in the world is controlled by those who are responsible to the Government and, through the Government to this House and to the country, and that something which may affect the lives and fortunes of all of us, is not left in the hands of technicians however able they may be.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Roy Mason (Barnsley)
At the outset of the debate the Assistant Postmaster-General asked for the views of the House in order that his right hon. Friend might be better advised in passing on views to the B.B.C. in the next few weeks. After having listened to practically every speech in the debate, it would appear to me that there had been four themes—the external services, local broadcasting, future financing, and the televising of Parliament. No doubt the Assistant Postmaster-General and his right hon. Friend will have noticed that there has been advice in plenty on all four.
T.W.3, much to my regret, crept in far too often. My opinion of it is that it was a welcome innovation, adventurous, stimulating, new, and exciting, but towards; the end it was gradually finding its audience level and it slumped somewhat in viewing figures. Nevertheless, that vas about the measure that the viewing audience had of that programme. It was a stupid comment on the part of the B.B.C. to say that it was withdrawing; it because we were in an election year, when at the very outset the B.B.C. knew precisely that 1964 would have been the election year in any case.
I follow what my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Greenwood) said at the beginning and I congratulate the Director-General of the B.B.C. on receiving his knighthood. He has pursued an enlightened policy, giving the B.B.C. a more modern image. He has shown a. policy of friendship abroad 151 in the external services and he has planned and is ready for the expansion of sound and television broadcasting. He has also been a good reflection of the B.B.C.
At this stage another person who has every right to feel pleased is Sir Harry Pilkington. We are coming to the end of a long review of broadcasting and television. There were 120 recommendations in the Pilkington Report and that Committee must have been pleased at the way the Report was received and at the number of recommendations which were recognised. The Report received staggering Press coverage when it was published. We had debates fairly quickly after the Report was issued and there have been two Government White Papers embodying a number of its recommendations. When the Television Bill was considered the Committee's Report was quoted in almost every speech, and now all its recommendations regarding the Charter and the Licence and Agreement have been adopted. In all, that is a remarkable achievement. Equally remarkable is the fact that at the time we had a Government who were prepared to accept and implement so many of the recommendations so quickly.
With regard to the B.B.C., as I say, all the recommendations of the Pilkington Committee on the Charter and Agreement have been accepted. In general they have proved fairly satisfactory in the past, and little amendment was required. But, having said that, I do not wish to imply that the B.B.C. is perfect. It is by no means perfect. Indeed, two speakers today, one on either side of the House, have criticised the proposal that the B.B.C. should get this length of Licence, for 12 years. There is some substance in the argument mainly because there is not sufficient Parliamentary accountability over broadcasting and television, and we are giving the B.B.C. a Licence to carry on for a further 12 years.
In view of the fact that the Postmaster-General, in accordance with the Agreement, must be consulted by the B.B.C. on areas to be covered by sound broadcasting and television, the siting of stations, the hours of broadcasting and so on, and allied with this the rapid growth of this organisation 152 and the B.B.C.'s increasing share of sound and television broadcasting, many criticisms are now being made of what is being broadcast, but with no apparent satisfaction to the persons and organisations responsible for the criticisms.
Therefore, we think it is time that the Postmaster-General—not the B.B.C. or the I.T.A.—should set up a national advisory council to assist him in this work, a body representative of the radio and television industry, consumers, viewers, universities and possibly broadcasting personnel, with terms of reference wide enough for them to report on all matters affecting sound broadcasting and television and, more important, that they should be given authority to present to Parliament an annual report which should be debated annually in this House.
Parliamentary accountability over this range of broadcasting is badly lacking, and the adoption of this proposal would help to fill the gap. The House really needs some satisfaction on this score. Members have difficulty in raising points at Question Time and we never debate the B.B.C. and I.T.A. annual reports. This idea of a general advisory council with teeth and with power could help the House and would make the sound and television broadcasting authorities more accountable to Parliament.
The Radio and Television Safeguards Committee has complained many times, particularly to the B.B.C. and indeed to the Pilkington Committee, that far too much light and popular music on the B.B.C. has been and still is foreign material, stating that over the years the foreign music content has risen as high as 60 per cent., leading the Committee to believe that the B.B.C. is operating a quota heavily weighted in favour of foreign material. The Radio and Television Safeguards Committee also chastised the Pilkington Committee for not drawing the attention of the B.B.C. to this fact, pointing out that the B.B.C. should really be acting as a trustee of the national interest.
Some British composers feel strongly, having had their works accepted and played abroad, but rarely on the B.B.C. In this field the B.B.C. has a monopoly. Here I am speaking of sound programmes only. Members who take an interest in this aspect of broadcasting know that 153 composers have submitted material to the B.B.C., have had it turned down, and later have managed to get their compositions played abroad. They have subsequently protested to the B.B.C., and from then on have felt that they have been blacklisted.
The B.B.C. has no right to act in this rather dictatorial fashion. One cannot be encouraged to give the B.B.C. free licence in local sound broadcasting if bans and embargoes of this nature are enforced and perpetuated on the national network. Therefore, I would have thought—and the Postmaster-General ought So have given some consideration to this—that there is a case for a quota or percentage to be written into the Licence, stipulating that more British material should be used. The Postmaster-General may have an avenue of escape here. We recognise this, because we have noted that the Third Programme is to have extended broadcasting hours especially during the day and that most of the time is to be devoted to serious music. We would hope, therefore, that we shall see a change in the B.B.C.'s attitude towards our own British artistes, writers and musicians.
Another criticism of the B.B.C. is, when is the bidding going to stop between the I.T.A. and the B.B.C. for certain national events? The right hon. Gentleman knows, for he made a statement in 1956 stating what had been agreed on between the two organisations. But there are still a number of national events coming to the fore each year on which this bidding takes place. It is a rather stupid practice because it adds to each other's inflation, but I would point out that within the lifetime of this Licence pay-television may well become another competitor. The experiment is being allowed. It is going to be for three years, but it may be only for two if it is successful, and then there may well be formed a national broadcasting association, a third body, which will then be making a request for a channel on v.h.f., and there will be another bidder in the field—and that may possibly mean that half the nation's viewers will be denied seeing a national event because only those with pay-television will receive it. So it is time that a formula was worked out for all these national events. 154 Also there has been much serious Press comment against the B.B.C. about its type of output, its type of programmes, etc., being affected by audience measurement, and the charge has been made against it that its public service motives were losing ground and that the bad of I.T.V. had driven out the good of B.B.C. Unhappy to say, there is some truth in this. To some extent this did really happen. The B.B.C. was so scared of the competitor that it started a search for the mass audience, as the I.T.A., of course, was pledged to do. I would remind the B.B.C. from the mass audience, as they have said many times now, that we do not pay the licence fee to get from the B.B.C. what the other side gives us free.
I agree with the criticism by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) that another deplorable trend which has crept into television is that the interviewers have become inquisitors, armed with a set of well-prepared and loaded questions hurled by them like javelins at the interviewed, hoping to find a vulnerable spot, causing him to lose his temper, and thereby ensuring that the interview merits a repeat. Interviewers should be informed that the scoring of points is not their business. The audience are primarily interested in hearing the views of the interviewed, whether it be a Minister charged with responsibility, or an authority speaking on his own subject. Interviews should be designed to inform, and not to provide spicy spectacles.
It seems to me that the individual interviewer should be doing more of this. I am pleased to say that on the B.B.C. there is one programme—thoughI hesitate to mention any—where they are very good at interviewing, and interview well. That is the "Tonight" programme. The people there could be taken as the best examples of interviewers. Some of the individual interviewers may be freelances not fully employed by the B.B.C. or the I.T.A. It is these people who tend to take this inquisitorial method too far.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
Surely the hon. Member would not include Mr. Derek Hart's performances on "Tonight" as being entirely self-effacing?
§ Mr. Mason
I do not think that he takes it as far as some of the individual 155 interviewers do. I think that on the whole the "Tonight" programme is well run and conducts its interviews in a proper manner.
While speaking in this vein, I come back to the question of Parliamentary accountability, which urgently requires the attention of the Postmaster-General. In recent times we have had a spate of debates on broadcasting and television. Everyone who has taken part in the debates knows the special reasons for them, but normally we would not have a major debate on broadcasting and television for about 10 or 12 years, depending on when it was necessary to renew the Licence.
The lack of Parliamentary accountability over such a long period was strongly criticised when the Television Bill was considered in Committee upstairs, and no doubt the Postmaster-General remembers his promise to the Committee. I should like to quote from the Official Report to bring his mind back to the subject. He said:The principal opportunity of talking about the affairs of the broadcasting organisations is by asking Parliamentary Questions under Section 9(2). It is equally true…that we have these reports on Bills at intervals of about 12 years, which is a long time, and that Parliament ought to have more frequent opportunity.It would be very easy for me to ride this off and talk about Supply Days, but I will not do so. We might well consider this matter. I am prepared to talk this over with the Leader of the House to see whether from time to time—I do not say annually but at intervals of two or three years—we can have a general debate."—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 21st March, 1963; c. 231–2.]What has happened? Is it not time that the Postmaster-General said whether he has any progress to report on this matter? We are seeing a rapid growth in sound and television broadcasting. We have two authorities, and three channels. This is now such an important medium that more frequent debates will be necessary in future, and I therefore ask the Postmaster-General to fulfil his promise to the Committee and tell the House that he can guarantee periodic debates on the subject, or, better still, that he will set up the National Advisory Council which I mentioned earlier.
I turn now to the future of local sound broadcasting, because by the end 156 of this Licence period this form of broadcasting could be very well established. Over the past two years the B.B.C. has carried out experiments in 16 areas of the country. Thousands of people took part in the experiments, and there are now 250 hours of locally recorded material deposited in the B.B.C's Library. The B.B.C. experimented with a station to cover a small town with a radius of four to five miles, and also with one to cover a rural area with a radius of 20 miles.
The Pilkington Committee came out strongly against the introduction of commercial local broadcasting, saying that it would be subject to the same organic defects as commercial television—in other words, that the motivating force guiding its introduction and presentation would be profit—and that the programme companies lacked experience and had not the same concept as the B.B.C. had of a service to the public.
The Pilkington Committee also suggested that commercial local sound broadcasting would include Press interests, and if it did this would be undesirable. On the other hand, the Committee said that the local Press may be purposely excluded, and that this would threaten the future of local newspapers. I agree with that point of view, although one hon. Member spoke against it today, but the point really being made is that local sound broadcasts, run with service in mind, would attain a higher degree of co-operation and compatibility with the local Press than a mass audience and profit-seeking organisation would do.
Knowing that at least a hundred commercial companies have already been formed to exploit the commercial aspect of local broadcasting, one can visualise the pressures that will soon be brought to bear on the Postmaster-General.
My hon. Friends and I think that local broadcasting should be run on public service lines, and that with all the experience behind the B.B.C. it has a good start. But we think it right that local broadcasting should wait until other priority claims have been settled and introduced—such as B.B.C. 2, and the introduction of colour—and that the priority to be given to various areas in the matter of receiving local sound 157 broadcasts should be determined according to the length of time they have had to wait for other special services.
We agree that local sound broadcasting might prove to be the best medium for starting the universities of the air and that, leading from this, an educational channel on television might also be used. In my opinion, and in the opinion of many other hon. Members, the Postmaster-General went too far when he promised commercial interests an independent commercial channel by 1965 or 1966. By that time there will be three demands—one for a commercial channel, another by pay-television for greater development, and probably a channel, and one for a channel for education and minority interests. The fight will be between those three claimants.
I want to say a word about the external services. This subject has been one of the main themes of the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale, my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly), and the hon. Member for York (Mr. Longbottom) mentioned it. Twelve years ago we topped the league in foreign broadcasts; we are now relegated to fifth place. Russia, her satellites, America and China are above us. Five years ago Her Majesty's Government granted the external services of the B.B.C. just over £6 million to operate these vitally important services. Today, they offer £7½ million—a paltry increase of £1½ million in five years.
Until recently the broadcasting personnel of Bush House were financially lagging behind their contemporaries in the B.B.C., although this situation has been remedied recently. In the past few years the ownership of radio sets has almost doubled—and in some parts of Africa north of the Republic it is doubling annually—yet the actual hours of our external broadcasts have not yet reached our broadcasting figures for 1950. This is not a pleasing picture.
I realise that recently some encouragement has been given to the B.B.C. to reshape its external services, and the go-ahead has been given to build three new powerful relay stations more effectively to cover Asia, Africa and Latin America. This is welcome, but it is far from suf- 158 ficient. The radio audience of the world is increasing by leaps and bounds, but our efforts are pathetic compared with those of America, China and Russia.
Last year the jamming of broadcasts to Russia was gradually reduced until, on 8th June, it ceased entirely. The B.B.C. average 21 hours per week in broadcasts to Russia, where there is widespread listening. Indeed, messages from 75 towns in Russia have indicated the interest that is shown in our broadcasts, and it is estimated that half the listening audience are under 30 years of age. This is the new determining generation of the Soviet Union. Having in mind the fact that jamming has now completely ended, the era of the battle of words has passed and we have now entered a phase of East-West broadcasting in which a recognition of viewpoints is being established.
The importance of this transitional period cannot be overstated. The realisation by the East that broadcasting is not just mere propaganda material and the gradual gaining of confidence by the Russian authorities in the standards of fairness of the B.B.C.'s Russian programmes, represent a great step forward in East-West relationships, and at the same time it is a considerable achievement on the part of the B.B.C. external broadcasters.
This development is as important as disarmament; indeed, it is the forerunner. There is new a greater chance than ever before of lessening misunderstanding, especially as the definition of terms used by East and West becomes understood. Our languages will mean more to each other, and out of this encouraging development—and, we hope, this expanding medium—a much friendlier atmosphere will grow. We think this is a prerequisite to disarmament between nations, and it is one of the aspects of external broadcasting which we should like to see encouraged.
The B.B.C. also reports that relations are much more friendly in the European Broadcasting Union, and following a number of exchange visits between B.B.C. staff and O.I.R.T., that is, the International Organisation for Radio Diffusion and Television—which is really the East European broadcasting union—the B.B.C. feels that it is on the brink of a major break-through in East-West broadcasting relationships. We 159 think this is all to the good and whatever the Postmaster-General can do to help the B.B.C. in furthering its aims in this direction should be done.
Another very important topic which was referred to in practically every speech is the televising of Parliament. The Leader of the Liberal Party, my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke and the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) all referred to this question. First, may I draw attention to the fact that the Licence and Agreement deal with sound only and give the B.B.C. the right to broadcast Parliamentary proceedings in sound each day. This is simple and stereotyped, and it is dull. There are a couple of paragraphs from each Front Bench speaker and a long sentence from each back bench speaker, and that is the total of the programme. This sound only "Today in Parliament" programme will have to continue, irrespective of other innovations, because there are still 3,200,000 people who receive only sound broadcasting. But I think that we could assist by giving the B.B.C. the right to record speeches made in this House so that when they were put on the air in the evening listeners would actually be listening to a live "Today in Parliament" and hear the voices of hon. Members, and the sentences they uttered, rather than the dull and stereotyped report which I have mentioned.
There will be demands for television editions, and the demands will grow, and it is inevitable that in due course Parliament will be televised. But from the recent reactions in the House when this matter was raised it would appear that the House is not yet prepared to receive what some hon. Members might describe as Peeping Tom cameras and more eavesdropping microphones in the Chamber. Nevertheless, it is time that some method was devised whereby the television of Parliamentary proceedings may be relayed each night, and each week if necessary.
We must remember that the B.B.C. cannot claim the sole right in relation to television that they have in sound. The Licence and Agreement makes no mention of television. There are now two national television authorities, and this might create difficulties were the 160 proceedings in the Chamber televised live. How do we give the "show" to both channels? But at this stage it is safe to say that that is not in the reckoning.
We suggest, therefore, that the next best step would be to provide studio space within the precincts of the Houses of Parliament for the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. The two authorities could then experiment with different ideas of presentation. Hon. Members would be immediately and easily available to elaborate on matters which arose during Question Time, or even to express opinions on points made in debate. Were agreement reached to televise Parliament live it would be an advantage to have such Studios, and there is no reason why their provision should not prove a useful interim measure.
The B.B.C. is in the throes of a massive operation and is racing to maintain a promised schedule—the switch-over in frequencies from v.h.f. to u.h.f., the change in lineage on television screens from 405 to 625, the introduction of B.B.C.2, and the start of colour television. In sound broadcasting, the Corporation is planning three hours extra broadcasting per day, plus a regular service of serious music on the Third Programme which, it hopes, will run throughout the day till the early evening. In short, the B.B.C. is offering viewers and listeners two television programmes and the prospect of colour television, between 17 and 20 hours of sound broadcasting per day, with the choice of three sound broadcasting services, all for less than 3d. per household per day. This is incredibly good value for money and represents by far the cheapest sound broadcasting and television service in the world.
The £4 licence, in spite of the Chancellor forgoing the £1 duty which now goes to the B.B.C, cannot alone finance the developments necessary to give this type of service, and neither can the limited powers of borrowing now being allowed to the B.B.C. This matter has been raised throughout the debate and questions have been asked about future financing. First of all, I say to the B.B.C. that there is no need to have Press conferences to apply more pressure and carry on "belly-aching" as it has been doing in the past two days, notably 161 in the Press this morning. The Corporation is now embarking upon a great operation. Initially, it is being assisted by the £1 extra from the licence fee and by the extended borrowing powers.
We say that, in the light of events, according to how these television developments proceed in the next 12 to 18 months, it will be incumbent upon the Government to decide whether there should be (a) an increase in licence fee, (b) a further extension of borrowing powers, or (c), whether some of the things that the B.B.C. will be asked to do, such as local educational sound broadcasting, should be financed as the external services are now, that is, by what is, in fact, an annual grant from the Government. There are various ways and means running through the minds of hon. Members who are studying the problem. It is not necessary at this time to decide how future financing can best be done.
But we must recognise that the provision of a television service on the new frequency and lineage requires the creation of an entirely new transmitter network of great technical complexity, involving the construction of more than 60 transmitting stations and hundreds of low-power stations throughout the country. Thirty of the transmitting masts will average 1,000 feet in height. A large number of men will be required to design, plan and erect the new transmitting network. In addition, it will be necessary to train many other people to operate in u.h.f. on 625 lines, and likewise in colour transmissions. The training problem alone is imposing a strain upon the B.B.C.
Moreover, a vast range of new equipment is required for studios, offices, cutting rooms and so on, and here the Corporation will be dependent upon suppliers to maintain its timetable. About 1,000 more people will be wanted for output from the studio floor—camera men, producers, and technicians and artistes of every category.
This is a mammoth task, but it is not all. A certain standard has been achieved on the television screen, and B.B.C.2 will have to prove that in its standards, its methods of presentation and its degree of sophistication it is as good as, but preferably better than, B.B.C.1. A critical public will soon 162 start to make comparisons, and B.B.C.2, unlike television in its earlier days of growth, must hit a high standard from the start.
There is one perturbing feature, that, in order to receive B.B.C.2, an additional and larger aerial is required, herringbone in shape, costly to buy and to install. One shudders at the thought of these fish-bones or cobweb-like structures sprouting out of every house. I hope that experiments now taking place designed to allow one common aerial to feed hundreds of receivers, thereby doing away with vast numbers of these unsightly and in many instances, dangerous structures on roof-tops, will succeed.
I ask the Postmaster-General to pay particular attention to this point. He should warn the public that many television sets have been advertised and sold as convertible when, in fact, they have only an external knob showing the figures 405 and 625 and the equipment necessary for receiving B.B.C.2 has yet to be fitted. This will be expensive, and people will feel that they have been fooled. A few manufacturers adopted this ruse 10 boost sales. It is, to my mind, deplorable. In fact, all manufacturers are bound to do quite well soon because there will be a series of waves in demand, first for dual-line receivers, then for 625 monochrome receivers, for v.h.f. sound receivers, for aerials, and then for colour television receivers.
As regards colour television, we have waited far too long for this exciting development. The trouble now is that the Postmaster-General and the B.B.C. have got themselves bogged down in a series of discussions and experiments with the European Broadcasting Union and we can move only as fast as the members of the Union will jointly allow. We have had years of experiment with the N.T.S.C. system, with S.E.C.A.M. and with P.A.L., one American, one French and the third really a German version of the American model. I appreciate the need for European compatibility, but has it been necessary to wait so king? Even now, all depends upon the spring meeting of the European Broadcasting Union coming to a decision. If there is disagreement about which colour system we are to adopt, what next—a further series of experiments, a 163 further round of talks, and another 12 months' delay?
Is it not true that the B.B.C. has already decided on the system which it favours, namely, the N.T.S.C? If so, what does the Postmaster-General think of its being accepted as the European standard? Soundings must have been made. What are the prospects of success? I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will address himself to this matter and give us an idea of whether there is any possibility of the early introduction of colour television.
During the lifetime of this Agreement, because of Eurovision, the development of submarine cables and satellite television links, the B.B.C.'s international transmission and reception will expand enormously. On the Eurovision network in the first six months of 1963, by Eurovision, 438 programme exchanges were made. The B.B.C. played a major part by offering 177 to Europe, whilst receiving 261 from Europe. With B.B.C. 2 and line compatibility, this will inevitably and rapidly increase. Over 4,000 B.B.C. television programmes were sold in one year to more than 80 countries. English by television was sold to Europe, Africa, South America and Asia. Now, with television links by submarine cable and the use of satellite relay and Telstar, outstanding events abroad, because of their nearness in the home and the actual happening, move people a great deal more and result in massive viewing. The funeral ceremonies of Pope John and the late President Kennedy were two such classic examples. In three months alone the B.B.C. assisted with 22 television transmissions via satellite and it has already experimented with coloured transmissions.
I mention these details just to show its growth and how fascinating and exciting can be the future of international television. This is just a glimpse of things to come.
One of the aims of the society that we have in mind to try to build is to bring to the fore the finest and noblest instincts that there are in mankind, to lift the cultural standards and values of people, and broadcasting and television are the greatest mass media for doing this. Enough has already happened to jeopardise that goal by allowing to 164 develop in this nation a system which is dependent upon finding the lowest common denominator which will unite mass audiences. This means that objective broadcasting is relegated below that of satisfying the advertiser who foots the bill. Broadcasting must have a purpose, and all those who care about the health of our democratic society must see that a purpose remains. Call it what you will—culture by craft; education by stealth—the purpose or the aim is noble and fine and is not motivated by a lesser instinct, such as greed or profit. We would like to see more programmes where there is a genuine desire by the artist and the producer not only to be good artistically speaking but also to feel that he is doing something good for the listener or the viewer, striking a chord so that, although the recipient has enjoyed the programme, he feels that he has personally gained by watching it; therefore, by design the viewer's standards are gradually raised.
§ Mr. Gibson-Watt
Do I take it from what the hon. Gentleman is saying that he and his party are totally averse to any form of television in this country which is dependent for its revenue upon advertisers?
§ Mr. Mason
No. If the hon. Gentleman had watched the proceedings on the Television Bill, he would have seen time and time again that, although there may have been the utmost opposition to it in 1953, hon. Members on this side have since recognised that independent television sponsored by advertising is here to stay, but we do not see any reason why we should encourage its expansion.
There is a chance now for more effort to be concentrated on the raising of viewers' standards. Freed from this stupid race of T.A.M. ratings, Parliament will expect the B.B.C. to give more thought and time to raising television standards. Indeed, one would hope that in offering a genuine alternative programme on B.B.C. 2 this will prove to be its guiding theme.
I address my final sentence to the Postmaster-General. I hop that he will keep his promise to Parliament regarding Parliamentary accountability so that those of us who feel that our nation's destiny matters and that its health morally and democratically is important 165 will have the periodic right to keep these vastly important media of education, information and entertainment on the right track.
§ 9.47 p.m.
§ The Postmaster-General (Mr. Reginald Bevins)
I have burned a good deal of midnight oil during the last two evenings studying the detail of the Charter and the Licence and Agreement of the B.B.C. I am a little disappointed that no hon. Member from either side has referred to either of these two documents today. However, that is the way it goes.
The speeches have fallen into two categories—first, those that have expressed unqualified praise of the B.B.C., and, secondly, those that have expressed even more unqualified praise of the B.B.C., linked with scathing criticism of that organisation, some subtle and some less subtle. Even so, we have heard some very thoughtful speeches and a great deal of very good sense has been spoken from both sides of the House.
The reason why I wished to wind up the debate was that it was my genuine desire to listen to what was said by right hon. and hon. Members and to take general cognisance of the sense of opinion on the various topics that are covered by the Licence and Agreement. I hope that in what I have to say—I shall say it as shortly as I can—I will give evidence of that.
I will leave to the end of my remarks my comments on the subject of B.B.C. finance, on which I am afraid I am not entirely in agreement with several hon. Members who have expressed themselves from both sides of the House.
I do not require to add anything about my sentiments in respect of the former Member for Manchester, Openshaw, because the House knows my feelings from what I said on an earlier occasion. I welcome the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Greenwood) to his new assignment, at least for today's purposes in the context of the B.B.C. I am sure that what has been said in the debate will be studied not only in the Post Office but in other quarters.
It has been a happy occasion in the sense that the consideration of the future of the B.B.C. has not taken up anything 166 like as much time as our consideration of independent television. Mercifully, both the procedures and the circumstances are radically different. Mercifully, too, in spite of some of the things which have been said, this has not been a debate about the programme "That Was The Week That Was".
As with independent television, so with the B.B.C., a great deal has been said about the mundane subject of filthy lucre. Many odd statements were made about the I.T.A., and within a few short months most of them have been proved to be rather odd, not by me, but mainly by those who uttered them at the time. It is some consolation to know that private enterprise always understood elementary economics.
B.B.C. finance is a much simpler business, on the surface at least. The B.B.C. must have the money to broadcast, and broadcasting, as one B.B.C. gentleman is reported in the newspapers this morning as having said, is a costly business—as though we did not know. In the first and last resort, it is the public who pays, and it is for the Government and for Parliament to decide what the public shall pay. I shall revert to this later.
Before doing so, I should like to make one or two general observations on what we have been debating. Only a fool would go out of his way to dogmatise about the influence or value of television and I am the last man to do so. It is often said that television has been the cause of the decline in moral standards which is alleged to have taken place in this country. That is an argument which we ought to treat with extreme reserve. Other people rightly refer to the greater interest in serious literature and serious music which has taken place during the last decade, although whether that is due to the influence of television or to advances in education nobody can say.
While the influence of television and broadcasting on the nation as a whole has been beneficial, there are certain things which we know or sense about television. The first is the obvious one that we all watch it. We know this partly from the advancing figures of television licence holders and also because whenever the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), 167 or I myself, is dragged before the television cameras, everyone we see the following day gives us a look which is either very friendly or very black.
The second thing we know is that the standards of British television—and this is a sincere compliment both to the B.B.C. and independent television—are probably better than any in the world outside. I am equally sure that the new developments now in prospect, especially in the case of the B.B.C. with its second programme and developments in colour and education and school programmes, will mean that this country will lead the world in broadcasting and television.
Thirdly, in television, as in life, it is always a good thing to raise one's sights. This is a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) and other hon. Members. I entirely agree that popularity ratings reveal only what people actually watch and not what they would like to watch. Here lies the great opportunity of the B.B.C. with its second programme. Although I disagree with the Pilkington recommendations in many respects, at least the Pilkington Committee was right in saying that the T.A.M. ratings were not an infallible guide to what people wanted.
I believe that the Television Act, 1963, marks a great step forward. The Independent Television Authority has been placed in a more commanding position. It has a new Chairman and I am sure that he and his team will forge ahead with worth-while improvements in independent television. But tonight we are discussing the elder of the two children, the B.B.C.
Many hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt), my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) and almost every right hon. and hon. Gentleman opposite who has spoken, have paid tribute to the B.B.C., linking that tribute, rightly and appropriately, with congratulations to the Director-General on his knighthood. The B.B.C. is a great British institution of which we are all proud. It is served by many thousands of dedicated men and women, from the Chairman downwards.
It is right that I, as Postmaster-General, should pay my own tribute to 168 all these dedicated people. Of course the B.B.C. makes mistakes, but we all do. I certainly do. I get many complaints about the B.B.C, with some of which I agree and with some of which I do not agree. But I have never at any time attempted to censor the B.B.C. either directly or indirectly, although I am quite prepared to say that I have sometimes had informal talks with prominent members of the B.B.C, knowing as I do that the hierarchy of that organisation is not insensitive either to Parliamentary or private comment, including my own and including the comments made in this House.
I am all for the independence of the B.B.C. I am against fussing and meddling with the B.B.C. But, of course, it is true, as my hon. Friend the Assistant Postmaster-General said, that independence must carry with it a high sense of responsibility and also of readiness to react to balanced and well-informed Parliamentary and public opinion. I am quite sure that the B.B.C. recognises this.
At the same time, it is no use complaining in one breath about the sameness and triviality of B.B.C. programmes and demanding innovations and then literally raising hell once they are put on the screen. This was not suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle, in what I thought was a very balanced speech. His criticism of a particular programme was of one feature of it, but we should all bear in mind that all innovations in programmes are opportunities to create criticism. Indeed, some criticism may prove to be valid, as I think has been acknowledged by the B.B.C itself. But this in itself is not a reason against innovations, and I hope it never will be.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said that the B.B.C. ought always to be enterprising, and I agree. Indeed, I am sure that we all agree with him. I also agree with him that it would do well to escape from the exclusive atmosphere of London, W.1.
Of course, it was precisely because the Government wanted to escape from the atmosphere of the Metropolis that in the Television Act we went to such lengths to ensure that, in the new network, the provinces should have a bigger say in programmes. We wanted to 169 demonstrate that London is not the country as a whole and that the people of the district where I come from, the people where the right hon. Gentleman comes from—in fact, the people of the provinces of England and the Welsh and Scottish people—have a real contribution to make towards television programmes.
I want to say something about parity of obligations between the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. As my hon. Friend the Assistant Postmaster-General said, our feeling was that in certain respects the B.B.C. ought to be put under the same obligations as the I.T.A. On balance and quality of subject matter, good taste and decency, the reporting of news fully and impartially, and on the proper proportions of British programmes, I think it would be in accord with the general sense of the House that we should issue a prescribing memorandum incorporating those obligations. However, I will read carefully what has been said on this topic and, in due course, I shall prepare the necessary memorandum and place a copy in the Library.
I turn to some of the detailed questions that have been asked today. Educational broadcasting has been referred to by a number of hon. Members. The House knows that the Government have encouraged the start of adult education by authorising additional hours for these programmes. I have recently been studying with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education and other colleagues in the Government the possible scope of other types of experiment in educational broadcasting, by television, local sound and by wire. We recognise the need for more educational programmes, as indeed do the broadcasting authorities. We shall do all we conceivably can to promote this sort of programme, not only for schools but also those of a general educational character.
The hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason), in one of his interesting speeches, dwelt at some length on the question of public accountability to the House of Commons. It is true that when we were discussing the Television Bill I undertook to discuss the question of periodical debates on the B.B.C. and I.T.A. with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I did so and he took the view at that time that, in view of the surfeit 170 of debating that we had had on independent television and the certainty that there would be at least this debate on the B.B.C, this was hardly the time to come to a firm conclusion. After what has been said today, I will certainly have a further discussion with my right hon. Friend, and I must say that I am in sympathy with the idea of regular debates, whether they be at intervals of two or three years, on the two broadcasting organisations.
I was not quite sure to what the hon. Member for Barnsley was referring when he spoke of having a debate on the report of a general advisory council I think that he was referring to the idea of a broadcasting council, supervising, as it were, and taking complaints against the two broadcasting organisations. That conception was considered by the Pilkington Committee and was rejected. It is not an idea that appeals to me, because it would seriously affect the status of the two organisations and would raise perfectly legitimate doubts as to where responsibility lay. Having said that, I repeat that I am in sympathy with the general idea of public accountability and I hope to have the opportunity of telling the hon. Gentleman at an early date where we stand in this matter.
A great number of detailed questions have been referred to during the debate. I hope that I shall be allowed to deal with some of them on a correspondence basis, because while listening to the last speech I for a moment tried to add up the number of these detailed questions that have been asked. There are about 100 of them, and I do not wish to keep the House until midnight in trying to answer them. There are, however, one or two points to which I wish to refer. On the first, local sound broadcasting, I confess that before I came into the Chamber today I did not realise that the consensus of opinion here was so much in favour of local sound as it has appeared to be during the debate. The House knows that on an earlier occassion the Government dismissed this recommendation of Pilkington. My mind is no; closed on this subject. I would like to study the matter further in the light of what has been said, without giving any undertaking or promise to the House at this stage.
The subject of the televising of the proceedings of the House is a matter 171 for Parliament and not for any individual Minister, although I hasten to add that I have my own personal opinion, which is a very strong one. I would gladly draw to the attention of my senior colleagues the various views, mostly divergent, which have been expressed on this topic, and perhaps—one never knows—decisions might be taken rather earlier than they otherwise would be.
§ Mr. Donnelly
If this is a matter for Parliament, is there any reason why Parliament should not have a technical report?
§ Mr. Bevins
I should not like to trespass on the domain of my right hon. Friends who are senior to me on this matter. I shall draw to their attention all that has been said in the debate.
§ Mr. Grimond
I am on tenterhooks to know what is the right hon. Gentleman's opinion. He cannot legitimately leave the House with this appalling lack of knowledge of his own opinion on which, we are told, he feels so strongly.
§ Mr. Bevins
Of course I could in a free country, but I do not propose to.
I should like to say a word on the external services. It is quite clear that the consensus of opinion during the debate is that not sufficient is being done. I do not want to go into details, because I think that hon. Members will appreciate that this is really a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Technical Co-operation. But it is the case that the Government have approved a major programme of building new transmitters both at home and abroad to improve our external services. Two sites have already been made public on Ascension Island and the Maldive Islands, and there are three other sites at present under consideration.
The House will understand that sound broadcasting is not the only effective information medium in our external services. The House ought to know that our total overseas information effort has expanded greatly, from £13 million in 1957 to nearly £26 million in 1963. On the B.B.C.'s external services alone, expenditure has gone up from about £6 million in 1957 to more than £9 million in 1963–64. It is also the case that the number of hours broadcast has been 172 increased and has not been reduced, as one or two hon. Members said. But again I recognise the force of the opinions that have been expressed and I shall be very happy to discuss what has been said with my right hon. Friend.
I do not want to deal with all the detailed questions, some of which were highly interesting, for example, that raised by the right hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn). I entirely agree with him that there may be very great scope for the taping or filming of educational programmes and medical programmes and putting them out to schools and universities. That is an idea that is well worth considering, as were the suggestions put forward by the hon. Lady the Member for Flint East (Mrs. White), who desired that there should be recorded evidence of the utterances of prominent personalities and the recording of certain important events. Similarly, a suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Longbottom) who said that the cost of training overseas students should not fall on the licence revenue. That again is a matter well worth consideration by my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Technical Co-operation.
I have already referred to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle, and I wholeheartedly agreed with him when he referred to the importance of television facilities being provided for the emergent nations in Africa and elsewhere. As he knows, at least one of the larger commercial contractors is doing very valuable work on the continent of Africa and in India and elsewhere.
I want to say a very serious word about B.B.C. finance, and I shall do so as quickly as possible for the convenience of the House. This subject has been referred to in almost every speech today. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Sir R. Cary), who has had to leave, paid me a quite undeserved tribute, and then asked the pointed question: how can the B.B.C. discharge all the obligations we are imposing on it with a £4 licence? That is a perfectly fair question, and I do not propose to avoid it for one moment.
173 By Clause 17(1) of the Licence and Agreement the B.B.C. is to get the whole of the net licence revenue; that is, the total licence revenue less Post Office expenses, which are very small. As from last October it has also received what was formerly the £1 Excise Duty which, before then, was retained by the Exchequer. The B.B.C., therefore, now receives almost the whole of the proceeds of the present £4 licence. I have said all along, and I want now to reiterate it with all the force at my command, that, during my term of office as Postmaster-General, there will be no increase in the B.B.C. television licence fee. I have said that before, and I repeat it now.
I will tell the House why I take that stand. I take that stand for a number of reasons. The first reason is that I do not believe in increasing prices until it becomes imperative to increase them, and it is not imperative to increase the licence fee at the present time. The second reason is that if the licence were to be increased it would undoubtedly lead to hardship for several millions of people. It would be resented by retirement pensioners and old people, it would be resented by many thousands and thousands of widows, by people who are bedridden, by people who are in receipt of National Assistance.
Certain hon. Members may ask: why not exempt these hard cases from the application of an increased licence fee? My answer is that if we were to do that the level of the new licence would have to be even higher than the B.B.C. has advocated. Other hon. Members have said: why not make special provision for the payment of licence by instalments? But that situation has not yet arisen; when it does arise will be the time to consider providing a scheme for the payment of licences by instalments. It is perfectly true that the B.B.C. has said that the £4 licence fee is the lowest in Europe, perhaps in the world. That is so, but that is not a reason for increasing it, nor is it a matter for reproach. It is a matter for pride, not criticism.
I see that in the last B.B.C. Handbook, published last December, it is said that it is nearly 10 years since the B.B.C. benefited from any increase in the fee. With respect to the B.B.C, that is not a statement of fact; it benefited to the 174 tune of £1 per licence as from last October, which meant that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer relinquished about £13 million a year. Hon. Members with long experience in this House know that to persuade a Chancellor of the Exchequer to give up £13 million a year is not the easiest of tasks.
What is the present financial position of the Corporation? In 1962–63, the B.B.C. had a deficit of about £2.67 million, which was met from reserves. There is nothing wrong in that—after all, that is what reserves are for. The B.B.C. will now need to borrow—of course it will. We have never concealed this, and we propose to give it power to borrow up to £20 million for capital purposes. I do not see anything wrong in that. The Pilkington Committee recommended that the B.B.C. should have this power to cover peaks in capital expenditure
I realise that the B.B.C. is averse to borrowing, on the ground, as I understand, that it increases the ultimate cost of its service to the public who in the long run will have to bear the interest payments on the borrowed money. I do not regard that as a very good argument, for it ignores completely the value of money today compared with its value in the future. In any case, borrowing to cover peaks of capital expenditure to extend services designed to give pleasure, as I think an hon. Member opposite pointed out, not only to the present generation but also to posterity, is certainly right in principle. Local authorities do it every day and every week and there is no legitimate reason why the BB.C. should not do it too. Meanwhile, we entirely adhere to the assurance which we gave in the White Paper that we shall see that the B.B.C. has sufficient income to finance adequate services.
§ Mr. Donnelly
The right hon. Gentleman was not here when I was speaking. Perhaps he was chasing a mailbag or something of that nature. Is he aware that the B.B.C. is not in the normal position of a commercial undertaking, in the sense that a commercial undertaking borrows money to expand its turnover and possible revenue and profitability? This is not the case with the B.B.C. The Governmen limit its 175 revenue and therefore this is a completely different situation.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke rather fighting words earlier about his personal pledges on the Licence. Whilst I appreciate that there was a change last year, may I ask how he reconciles that position with the fact that wages go up, that there are wage awards, that circumstances change, and that the cost of machinery and equipment goes up? Either the service suffers because it is being squeezed against the ceiling or the ceiling of revenue has to be raised. I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman's tenure as Postmaster-General will be brief, but there will come a day when someone must face the point. The right hon. Gentleman is running away from it tonight.
§ Mr. Bevins
No, I am not running away from anything, and the second point made by the hon. Member is about as woolly as anything could be. If the hon. Member had studied even with the most perfunctory attention the finances of the B.B.C., based on present revenue plus the borrowing powers given in the Licence and Agreement, he would have found that the B.B.C. will be able to give adequate services for some time to come. As for the second point, of course the B.B.C is not a commercial organisation but the idea that it is wrong for a non-commercial organisation to borrow for capital purposes is complete nonsense.
To speak briefly in general terms of B.B.C. finances, the B.B.C.'s view—and it is only fair that I should put this to the House on an occasion of this kind—is that ideally it would like to be able to meet all expenditure, whether capital or revenue, from its licence revenue and that if it cannot then the licence fee should be raised with practically no questions asked. I must say that I think that this is going much too far. The House of Commons has the power under Clause 20 of the Charter to ask the Corporation for as much detailed information about expenditure as we like, but in practice Governments have been very reluctant to make extensive use of this power because they have realised that it would be a dangerous game to start making detailed inquiries into the cost of programmes, of payments to artistes, and so forth.
176 I say that it would be a dangerous game because it would lead to Government interference with programmes. Yet this poses a dilemma. The B.B.C. naturally wishes to retain its independence, and its financial independence is a large part of its general independence. In that I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford The last thing I want to be is a bureaucratic meddler in the affairs of the Corporation. Yet we are left with this residual question: who is to protect the pocket of the licence fee payer? How is it to be done? This really poses a financial dilemma which sooner or later has got to be faced by Parliament.
As matters stand at present, the B.B.C. submits to me its Annual Report and Accounts which I present to this House It also gives me annually its three-year forward estimates which are looked at by a working group of the Post Office, the Treasury and the B.B.C. It may well be—and this is my hope-that here there will be scope for a greater interchange of financial ideas between the Corporation and the Government, but done in such a way as not to affect the essential independence of this organisation.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. It is possible that this point has not been raised today, but there might be considerable economies without interfering with programmes or anything else. Has the right hon. Gentleman considered recommending to the B.B.C. the appointment of an organisation and methods department to look through the whole thing just as the Treasury does in its own organisation and as Ministries have been asked to do? Without the Government necessarily doing it, could not the B.B.C. do it itself?
§ Mr. Bevins
I am sure that the B.B.C. has already considered that possibility and, indeed, it does employ a considerable staff of highly-qualified cost accountants. What I am saying is of much wider application than the sort of thing that the right hon. Gentleman has in mind. I thought it only right that I should express that thought to the House because I believe it is a thought which is well worth considering.
177 I conclude by saying that I am most grateful to hon. Members on both sides of the House for their contribution to this debate. I am sure it has been a useful debate. I hope that the House will approve the Licence and Agreement, I wish, as I am sure we all do, the Corporation and all who work with it the greatest success.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the Licence and Agreement, dated 19th December, 1963, between Her Majesty's Postmaster-General and the British Broadcasting Corporation, a copy of which was laid before this House on 19th December, be approved.