§ 4.1 p.m.
§ Sir Peter Rawlinson (Epsom)
The subject chosen by the Opposition for debate on this Vote is broadcasting. The debate will be very general and we hope that it will be a useful opportunity for the widest discussion and presentation by us to the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster-General of our broad ideas. We hope to learn from the right hon. Gentleman the specific proposals of Her Majesty's Government.
This is a subject on which, in every sense, every single human being believes himself or herself to be an expert, in the sense that we are all critics of the programmes which they see. We must confess frankly that we, as Members of Parliament, must surely see less television and listen to fewer sound broadcasts than the vast bulk of our constituents. If we do not, then perhaps our constituents would like to know why. The timing and matter of our job and of the proceedings in Parliament necessarily restrict the viewing which we do, or ought to do. I confess at the start that I have attended the television room upstairs on the occasion of a Test Match against Australia when I have found greater unanimity of views there than I have done here on the Floor of the House.
Obviously, the proportion of programmes seen by us must be limited, but 716 we must all be aware of the intense public interest in television and broadcasting and we must not under-estimate that interest or the importance of it. It appears that as a nation we have become avid television viewers. The number of people who watch it varies from season to season, but it has become a habit and has provided enjoyment and entertainment for many millions of people.
Some say that it is a pastime manufactured by young people for the entertainment of the middle-aged. Whatever it is, we can see and note the extent of the popularity which television certainly enjoys. In the short time in which it has been an effective source of entertainment it has effected a revolution in social life. The wonder of it is, extraordinarily, taken for granted now—even the wonder of the transmission by Early Bird. Without the technical expertise of some of my hon. Friends, I confess to a sensation still of wonder when I am sitting in my home in London, watching contemporaneously life proceeding in New York or Washington and thinking of the hours that it takes to fly by jet aircraft, or the days and nights to travel across the sea by ship to cover those thousands of miles, and then there is the picture of a man actually as he is talking at that very moment.
This is a piece of technological naivety which the Postmaster-General might find foreign to him, but which the Assistant Postmaster-General might share with me. Television plays an important rôle in our lives, either directly or indirectly, and it affects taste in entertainment of all kinds. It affects our social habits and also political attitudes and allegiances.
We should never fail to emphasise the real power which is concentrated in the hands of those who are able to direct, design or influence programmes or hire and fire producers. If politics are about power, the acknowledgment of the fact of the power of television is now an essential appreciation for a politician. Therefore, as politicians, we must understand the need to ensure that we have set up the fairest and best national system, and we must take the opportunity which we now have of reviewing the working of that system. The mould of broadcasting in this country has been set up and fixed for some time. It is a conception of a degree of control and responsibility free of all political control.
717 I should imagine that the vast majority of people and of Members of this Committee accept and appreciate that combination. I should assess that it has worked reasonably well. Over 40 years the great pioneering work by the British Broadcasting Corporation, and the great characters and personalities of the B.B.C., have determined the continuation of the concept of public service broadcasting. Much later in the day came the entry of independent television, not that we should forget that it was an entry which was hotly opposed by hon. and right hon. Members opposite at the time. I understand that many long and weary days and nights were spent in Committee getting that system approved and the necessary Bill through the House.
Then there came a remarkable volte-face, with the late Lord Morrison of Lambeth saying that if a Labour Government were returned independent television would be stopped. That volte-face was because of the popular approval which was given to the programmes produced by independent television. Some people even found the production of the advertisements agreeable.
I know that there are some people who would affect to despise the popular programme. It is very odd of us as politicians to do that, because we accept popular judgments. We accept them complacently in our political triumphs or bravely in our political defeats. It is all based upon the approval of the mass of the population, of the population knowing best and the verdict of the majority. While we can accept that in our political life, I do not know why we cannot accept it in our entertainment. I cannot see what is so wrong with the entertainment that is the most popular. Nevertheless, we accept that there should be an arbiter of standards and there was established the Royal Charter, the duties of the Corporation, and the freedom from outside interference.
§ Mr. J. J. Mendelson (Penistone)
I wonder whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman's analogy of our position vis-á-vis the electorate holds water. We accept the verdict of the electorate as a body of political wisdom, but we do not approve of those who make the lowest possible appeal to the electorate.
§ Sir Peter Rawlinson
Possibly not, but we base ourselves on the weight of popular approval.
One reason for the strength of the British Broadcasting Corporation is the manner in which it is financed. I know that the Corporation attaches the greatest importance to it because it is determined, I understand, to maintain its complete independence, with the Advisory Council and the powers of the governors, to whom, I trust, the Corporation pays proper attention. It is the licence fee which is the ark of the covenant for the B.B.C. and public service broadcasting.
The manner of financing the Corporation and broadcasting is, in effect, a poll tax, a tax on sets, whether those sets are tuned to view the programmes of the B.B.C. or not. Therefore, quite apart from any of the other responsibilities which are set out by Statute, that necessarily involves acceptance by the B.B.C. of its especial position and the massive responsibility which it bears. I wonder whether the B.B.C. is sufficiently alert to the sense of proprietorship which the public has over the B.B.C. which this licence system creates.
The Pilkington Report and the decision to give the Corporation a second television channel was, in my view, an important watershed in broadcasting. I was one of those who doubted the wisdom of that and some years earlier had recommended, with some of my right hon. and hon. Friends, that it should be given to independent television. The B.B.C., however, was desperately anxious to obtain it and I understand the Corporation's attitude. It had no wish for relegation, apparently, to a permanent minority audience. Yet again, one wondered whether the quality and influence of the more discriminating kind of audience which the Corporation would then perhaps have might not have been best both for the Corporation and that audience.
Nevertheless, it was the desire of the Corporation to compete in the popular field and its preoccupation, I understand, to drive up the 35 per cent. audience viewing figure to parity which, in my opinion, has influenced some of the judgments on taste which have been made. To the general viewer, there has been, no doubt, a certain degree of change.
719 As has been said, the B.B.C. will always be an Aunt Sally. It is inevitable that a high degree of criticism will be directed against it from every quarter. At a time, however, when there has been, apparently, some idea and certainly some sense of change, I think that it would be happier if the B.B.C. appeared more sensitive to critics and did not dismiss those critics, as sometimes happens—in my view, too often—as empty-headed prudes.
No one under-estimates the general difficulties nor the generally high standards which the B.B.C. maintains, but it must appreciate that in seeking the new emphasis and rôle there comes the dilemma arising from, first, its dependence upon the present form of financing—the poll tax, the set tax—and yet, secondly, its desire for full licence to develop new-style entertainment and a reflection of contemporary image in drama and in programmes.
Obviously, some people have felt concerned that personal attitudes and enthusiasms might be used to shift this organisation, with a world-famous reputation, into a pose which could even be thought, rightly or wrongly, to conflict with its especial position and its duty to maintain high standards and real impartiality in slant as well as in material.
The B.B.C. must, presumably, have expected a reaction from many when it set out into the new fields with the new weapons of protest and of contempt of people and ideas which have been introduced recently into public service broadcasting. Opinions can differ, but it is difficult to see how one can challenge the concern that must be felt over the degree of duty which the Corporation has in its especial position to mock and to shock.
There can be in the theatre or in publications entertainment which is patronised only by those who want that kind of approach or attack on ideas or even on people. That kind of presentation is not supported by the public from the public purse; it is not supported by compulsory money. It is obviously right and liberal in our country that people should be permitted to obtain that kind of approach or attack on the stage or in publications. When it comes to the public service system, however, it is not only the people who have been described as busy-bodies who have become concerned.
720 To give an illustration, believers today may be in a minority, but I believe that the overwhelming majority of the nation, as would be the case in the House of Commons, does not basically approve of public mockery which is partially paid for by those who are being mocked of deeply-held feelings quite apart from and irrespective of the belief of those who are being mocked. There is something generally alien in the exercise by a powerful instrument of influence to shock and mock minorities. I do not believe that generally it is acceptable to the majority.
To switch from that facet to another which may or may not appeal to other right hon. and hon. Members but as an example of judgment, why has the decision been taken to go out of the way, for example, to record and to televise, to transmit not contemporaneously but, I understand, several days later, a provocative undergraduate debate about Queen and country? Why has this debate of these undergraduates been selected for television?
What is the yardstick of decision? Whether it is appreciated or not, this subject has marked overtones for many people who have experience of the last war. Here there is to be a stunt, with undergraduates all falling over each other to shock older people, as has been the traditional rôle of undergraduates from the day the world began. And yet it appears that it is being pandered to by the B.B.C. Sir Roy Harrod, Dr. Good-hart and now, I see, Sir David Lindsey Keir have criticised this. It is not even news, and it is not to be presented as news, because it is to be transmitted sometime later. This is a stunt and it is being given great emphasis and false importance.
I agree very much with the views of the Postmaster-General, as he expressed them at the Dispatch Box, about political interference by Ministers with the Corporation or with the Independent Television Authority. The right hon. Gentleman said it most articulately and completely correctly. It is, however, our right to comment and to criticise and we are entitled to give a criticism of the judgment and the odd emphasis on the [...]mature and on the desire to offend as though the yardstick has become that of the undergraduate.
§ Mr. Christopher Rowland (Meriden)
Do I understand the right hon. and learned Gentleman to suggest that the desire to broadcast the kind of programme to which he has referred is a characteristic of the B.B.C. only? Surely, this is a characteristic of broadcasting on both channels.
§ Sir P. Rawlinson
The hon. Member may be right. There seems, however, to be more emphasis at present in the B.B.C. on the kind of programme which mocks and attacks, this kind of laughing-at and the stunt. I regret this. It is a matter of judgment and taste. I know that the B.B.C. will always be subject to criticism, and I pay tribute to it for the difficult balancing act that it has to perform. There is, I appreciate, a danger of leaning too far one way or the other——
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
Is not the difference between the two channels that the commercial channel has behind it the Independent Television Authority, which intervenes in a more positive way? We had an example of this when there was a suggestion that the inside working of the B.B.C. should be shown.
§ Sir P. Rawlinson
My hon. Friend will, I hope, have an opportunity of speaking in the debate and of developing that point. All I can say is that this is an example of judgment which I claim the right to criticise.
Of course, there will be persistence of criticism. Of course, it can be said "Switch it off," and I appreciate that. But the people who have switched off in fury know that part of their money is being used to produce that programme. I think that we are entitled sometimes to raise our voices in protest if that is what we think.
In the sphere of current affair programmes, both I.T.V. and B.B.C. have shown imagination and initiative in developing this type of discussion programme. It does, however, create problems. Television is primarily a medium of entertainment. Politicians very rarely entertain other politicians when they are speaking, let alone entertaining people who are not politicians. I think that one of the most enjoyable things about this House is watching other hon. Members 722 watching the hon. Member speaking so that when he sits down we can all stand up and quickly try and catch Mr. Speaker's eye.
The problem of bringing in a political item on an entertainment medium seems to be one of remarkable difficulty. When politics is transferred to the studio floor it takes with it all the entertainer's gimmicks—the make-up, the back projections, showing the halo behind the head, the teleprompter, so that that frank and open gaze into the viewer's eyes need never wander or waver. All these are gimmicks which are brought into the presentation of politics and which must be brought in because of that medium.
In the case of the interview the star is, of course, the interviewer, and well he knows it. When discussion with politicians is mixed up with the professional entertainer, the politician quite properly comes off second best to the entertainer.
Whatever the form of programme, there is no doubt that influential political debate now takes place not on the Floor of the House of Commons, but upon the studio floor. Formerly, when there was a debate in this House it was reported in the Press by a very wide variety of newspapers. Then the House of Commons was the forum of debate. Now, I suggest, the real forum for influential political debate is the studio floor. I think that we will have to accept that today people are influenced not by what passes on this Floor, but on the floor of the studio.
§ Mr. Frank Tomney (Hammersmith, North)
What I think is particularly alarming is that when British statesmen who have been overseas on missions of extreme political delicacy arrive back in this country they are met by T.V. commentators, often young and immature, who put pointed questions which are not relevant to the issue. Unfortunately, they have a way of alarming the public and forming a false impression. Airport interviews should be stopped finally once and for ever.
§ Sir P. Rawlinson
I think that many people have had similar experiences to the hon. Gentleman and the difficulties imposed upon responsible leaders of State, but this is something which is extremely difficult. Nevertheless, it has 723 to be accepted that this is a new medium of communication. It is no use shutting our eyes to it and trying to cut it out of our lives. We have to live with it and to do so sensibly.
As I say, I regret that what I believe to be real political debate is moving away from this building. As I have said elsewhere—and this is a purely personal view; I do not speak for my hon. and right hon. Friends in this part of my speech—I personally have always favoured the televising of Parliament. I know that some of my right hon. Friends here will disagree, and maybe some hon. Members opposite will agree, but I think that this is a matter essentially for an individual, as a Member of Parliament; and it is a decision that we might be about to make shortly. It is something we should debate. There are, of course, great technical difficulties and there may be need for experiment, but I have been very impressed by the B.B.C.s proposals and the way in which it overcomes——
§ The Chairman
May I make quite clear to the Committee that the hon. Gentleman the Member who drew a place in the Ballot yesterday stated that he would raise the question of televising Parliament. By the rule of anticipation it is not in order for any Member to anticipate that debate today.
§ Sir P. Rawlinson
I appreciate that, Dr. King. We have here a debate on broadcasting and we cannot, apparently, deal with one of the matters of great importance.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
On a point of order. Since this debate was announced before the Ballot was drawn, should not this debate have priority over the Ballot? We now have on the record one point of view, but I think that we should have the other one, too.
§ The Chairman
This is not only a question of order, but also of justice and fairness. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, we have a very broad subject to discuss today. As an hon. Gentleman has won the privilege of initiating a debate on whether Parliament should be broadcast or televised, I should say, not only in the interests of order but also of common decency, that he should be allowed to exercise the privilege. I hope 724 that the Committee will take notice of what I have said.
§ Sir P. Rawlinson
I shall, of course, accept that Ruling, Dr. King.
I turn now to other matters. The programmes available——
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
I was not here when the Ballot was drawn yesterday. Could you tell me, Dr. King, whether the Motion on televising Parliamentary proceedings drew first place in the Ballot?
§ The Chairman
I hope that hon. Members will not ask the Chair to do jobs which hon. Members ought to do for themselves. But, as this is the first occasion when the Chair has been asked to act as HANSARD, the hon. Gentleman was the first in the Ballot.
§ Sir P. Rawlinson
I was turning to the programmes available to the public in the main sectors of population. We are entitled to ask ourselves whether they are adequate. Is what is available at present adequate for a nation which had the first television service about 30 years ago? Are we entitled, sitting here, arbitrarily to restrict access to more programmes if more could be provided? Are we satisfied, in maintaining the present commercial monopoly? As I understand the position, there is, technically, room for six television services. There could be B.B.C.1, and I.T.V. 1 on V.H.F. 405 lines, on Bands 1 and 3, and on U.H.F. 625 lines, Bands 4 and 5, B.B.C. 2, as there is now, and three further services, although the sixth would not have complete coverage. If B.B.C. 1 and I.T.V. 1 were converted to 625 they would have to duplicate in Bands 4 and 5 and, therefore, there would only be four separate services.
Since the Pilkington Report, technical opinion has been moving against 625. If this is so, it shows how swiftly technical opinion in these matters can shift. Two-thirds of the population live in London, the Midlands and the North and it would only be in those areas where there would be sufficient advertising income to carry two competitive independent television services, if that levy was abolished.
The object we should set ourselves is the creation of two separate companies 725 in each of the three main areas, which would mean the introduction of two more into television. The significance of this would at first lie in the introduction of direct competition. I make no apology for advocating the idea of competition and its merits. Just as we on this side of the Committee broke one monopoly, it is now right to consider breaking the other.
A technical pattern could be devised, with each of the competing companies at first having access to U.H.F. One company could transmit part-time on v.h.f. while the other transmitted on u.h.f. and vice versa until the two audiences had been equated, when the system would cease. Thereafter, one would operate always on v.h.f. and the other en u.h.f.
I believe that the separation between London, the Midlands and the North for weekend transmissions has always been cumbersome. It was brought into existence to prevent one single seven-day television company operating in London, which would have made it the Titan of independent commercial television.
I understand the arguments against giving the fourth television channel to the I.T.A. They are strongly and cogently put. It is said that there is not enough talent available and that standards would be debased. Such arguments have been used before. Yet they are, basically, those of the man with the red flag walking in front of an early motor car. It is certainly not so with theatres and concert halls and I believe that the introduction of the fourth channel would create the talent while education would provide opportunities and there are wider interests that could be televised, all of which would be able to maintain standards. I do not accept the policy of despair in this matter. The fourth channel would introduce another and further element of choice and the policy of the Opposition is that the fourth channel should be devoted to commercial television.
I have never understood the reason for a limitation, under the control of the Postmaster-General, of the permitted hours of television. Whatever the reasons in the past, is it necessary now? Why must we prolong this discipline? I imagine that the I.T.A. is anxious to extend its hours. Will not the right hon.
726 Gentleman agree that it should be permitted to do so? I ask him to give a categorical assurance that the hours will be extended. If not, he should explain why. Surely there is no need to wait to do this until the inquiry into B.B.C. finances. This discipline should be removed.
Recently, we had a debate on education by television. It was most interesting and, certainly, there seems sufficient scope on the three channels at present—and on the fourth channel which should come into existence—for extensive and imaginative educational programmes. In the United States, the early hours are used very successfully for education.
There have been encouraging developments in Kingston-upon-Hull and Glasgow, by local education authorities, and also by the Universities of Nottingham, Cambridge and Leeds with local experimental stations with low-power transmission and a capital expenditure of only about £50,000, run on 625 lineage by the universities' own faculties. Above all, such a service should be in the hands of teachers themselves. From such centres, there might well develop this very important service. I hope that we shall hear from the right hon. Gentleman his decision about educational television and that we shall hear not only words, but a story of action and achievement.
Now I turn to the question of sound radio. The time has come for its further development. The quality and standard of B.B.C. sound broadcasting has been extremely high, as is acknowledged by all. It is a source of a great deal of enjoyment to many millions of people. It is very skilfully and agreeably produced. The B.B.C. must always have the supreme position in sound broadcasting.
But now is the time to encourage the introduction of local broadcasting. Some people think that this means nothing but "pop" music stations and object for that reason only. I cannot see why one should object for that reason only. "Pop" music may not be to one's own taste, but why object if there are people who would like to listen to it? The intellectual snobs are as objectionable as the pretentious prudes. The broadcastings ships have shown that a demand exists and that an audience waits. Why should such an audience be denied?
727 Of course, there are difficulties and objections and these will have to be dealt with carefully. There are objections about copyright, with regard to the recording industry and its over exposure, and there are the objections of the Musicians' Union. But the supereme interest should, of course, be that of the listener. If the ships are dangerous, and their circumstances are such that action must be taken against them in one form or another, then that is all the more reason for meeting the demand from the land.
Apart from that development, however, we believe that the right solution is in low-range local broadcasting stations. These could perform valuable service, not necessarily of poor standard, and could be economically viable. Why should we not have this service without an increased licence fee? We should not under-estimate the effect of the recent increase in the licence fee. It came at a time when there was disquiet about the organisation and alleged extravagance in the B.B.C. Some hon. Members will have seen the articles in the Daily Mirror about staff increases from 9,640 to 12,000 in television producing about 6,545 hours' viewing, out of a total staff of 21,000.
On the other side, hon. Members will also have seen Sir Ivan Stedeford's letter in reply in the Daily Telegraph of 30th April. It set out his views—very authoritive—about how wrong that criticism is.
But the main point here concerns public relations. The public wanted to be satisfied before the licence was increased that the B.B.C. was running its affairs prudently and sensibly. What is needed is local sound broadcasting by low-range transmitters. This should not be imposed as a burden upon the licence payer. There could be appropriate control over taste and impartiality either by licensing or bringing the stations under the I.T.A., which could be expanded into an independent broadcasting authority.
§ Mr. Tomney
The hon. and learned Gentleman said that Sir Ivan Stedeford examined the question of the staffing of the B.B.C. in his letter. That is not strictly correct. He was looking at the 728 financial results appertaining to the B.B.C. What he did not consider was the policy which produced the financial results. This is a matter that we should be dealing with. The finances of the policy seem, as Sir Ivan said, to be adequate.
§ Sir P. Rawlinson
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. Some hon. Members will have had a copy of the letter. It appeared in the Daily Telegraph of 30th April and it sets out the point of view of Sir Ivan Stedeford.
Since the publication of the White Paper in 1962 it has surely been demonstrated that an impressive number of people like and want independent radio. I do not believe that the supreme rôle of the B.B.C. nationally should change, but it would not be suitable for local broadcasting. Nor do I believe that it would be jeopardised by independent local broadcasting, which would be as healthy for it as was the effect on the B.B.C. of the arrival of independent television.
§ Mr. Rowland
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is making generalisations about the alleged success of Radio Caroline, but what local need has been shown to be served by Radio Caroline?
§ Sir P. Rawlinson
I am told by my hon. Friends to whose constituencies it is beamed that there is considerable and even extensive liking for this form of programme. All I am saying is that this surely demonstrates, whether hon. Members think that it is a good or bad thing, that there is this taste. Who are we to say that it should be forbidden?
§ Mr. Bernard Flood (Acton) rose——
§ The Chairman
I have no power to prevent interventions, but giving way to them is in the power of the hon. Member who possesses the Floor. However, I remind both sides of the Committee that interventions prolong speeches and that I have a very long list of would-be-speakers.
§ Sir P. Rawlinson
I must have been particularly confusing in my arguments to the Committee, especially to the hon. Members who have just intervened.
I was saying that Radio Caroline shows that there is a liking for this kind of music and an audience for it which should not be written off and ignored and not tolerated. My proposal for sound broadcasting is that there should be low-power transmissions of a local nature which should not be a burden on the licence holders and, therefore, not a burden on the licence payers. I believe that there is a demand for such local stations which can be met, perhaps not wholly, but certainly to a great extent.
There are many other things to discuss in this very wide subject and you have told us, Dr. King, as we probably knew, that there are many hon. Members who wish to catch your eye during the course of the debate. The time is now ripe for a change in the fixed pattern which we now have. The first thing for which we should call is greater competition in commercial television, the extra choice of viewing which should be provided by the fourth and commercial channel. That is our proposal and I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the Government accept that proposition and what their proposals are. Secondly, there should be a wider choice in sound broadcasting by local stations and without an increase in the licence fee.
This is a matter which deals with the extension of the choice of the people at the receiving ends of the radio and television sets. The time has probably come for a completely new look at this position and perhaps for a Minister of communications with a duty to consider wavelengths and the general discipline of services. The field is ripe for this further development.
I hope that we shall not hear—and I am sure that we will not be put off by—talk of having yet one more of the Government's interminable committees. The picture of the groups and committees of Ministers which has been painted by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite is becoming alarming. This is not the pose of dynamic government of which we heard so much in the halcyon days of October, 1964, when the Government said that they were poised to swing their plans into instant operation or, in the more recent elegant phrase of the Prime 730 Minister, "Knock the hell out of them". I do not know who "them" is, or what "the hell" is to be, but perhaps we have been suffering it a little already.
What were the views of the Labour Party in October, 1964, and what are the Government's proposals now, and how instant is to be the operation in which they are to swing their plans into orbit? The time has come when we shall hear from the right hon. Gentleman in his own inimitable fashion. I hope that that we shall be told that the people are entitled to have an extensive choice of that to which they listen and what they see, and that is what we expect to hear from the right hon. Gentleman.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ The Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn)
Today's debate is the first covering the whole range of broadcasting policy which has been held in the House of Commons since the Pilkington Report was debated in 1962. There have been other debates more recently on specialised aspects of broadcasting, like the television levy and other subjects, but none has covered the whole range, as can be done today. I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Epsom (Sir P. Rawlinson) that when one considers the influence and power of broadcasting on the lives of all of us, it is surprising that the House of Commons, at any rate, should devote so little time to it. I should like to thank the Opposition for having given us the opportunity to hold the debate today and to say how much the Government welcome it.
There are many controversial issues to be argued out. Some have been already mentioned by the right hon. and learned Gentleman and others will, no doubt, emerge in the course of the debate. Not all of them follow strict party lines. There are many differences and different streams in broadcasting views.
However, I think that the Committee is united on two things: first, in the enjoyment which it gets out of broadcasting and its gratitude to the B.B.C., the I.T.A., the programme companies and the people who make the programmes for the skill and ability which they show in preparing the programmes which we see and hear; and, secondly, in our desire to develop the best possible system, although we may not always agree about 731 what that system should be. In so far as I am utterly convinced that my children are better educated than I was, I would attribute half of that to the development of education in our schools and half to the development of television, and I think that most parents of my generation would agree.
Perhaps it would be helpful if I told the Committee the way in which I propose to deal with the subjects which are relevant today. I should like, first, to describe the broadcasting problems which were awaiting decision when we took office and why we have thought it necessary to undertake a major review; secondly, I should like to deal with the problems of B.B.C. finance; and, thirdly, to indicate the principles which will guide the Government in the reviews which they are now undertaking.
It is inevitable that while the reviews are in progress debates or statements of Government opinion will be tentative, but this is a positive advantage for the Committee, since it is often argued that subjects are debated only when the Government have made up their mind. On this occasion, all the views expressed in the debate will come in good time to be fully considered. It would be helpful in dealing with some of the controversial issues if I aired alternative possibilities without commitment specifically in order to invite comment upon them. On the clear understanding that what I say would be taken on that basis, I should like to focus attention on the factors which should weigh with us in reaching our decisions.
I come, first, to the broadcasting problems which were awaiting decision when we came to power. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has referred, as I did in the debate in March, to my Department as a sort of Ministry of Communications. Certainly, the responsibility of the Post Office is very natural in this respect, not in the day-to-day management or content of the programmes, but in the structure and development of broadcasting. The job of the Government is to create the conditions in which broadcasting can flourish. This places responsibility for broadcasting policy upon my office and upon the Government as a whole.
732 When I came to office in October I discovered that there were many problems which had to be decided. Probably the most urgent was the financial crisis as it affected the B.B.C., to which I shall return later. The other man issues were the allocation of the fourth channel, educational broadcasting, colour television, pay television, the pirate radio issue and sound broadcasting, particularly local sound broadcasting. It seemed to me that as many of these issues were linked together it would be foolish to try to tackle them separately and even more foolish to rush a decision until the full implications and alternative policies had been fully explored.
May I deal, first, with the allocation of the fourth channel? The right hon. and learned Member for Epsom posed the technical problem absolutely correctly—that the decision to move into U.H.F. and 625 lines, taken by his colleagues, makes four channels available. One of these is already in use for the B.B.C., two are earmarked against the possibility of duplication of B.B.C.1 and I.T.A.—we do not want a double line standard for ever—and that leaves only one unallocated channel, the so-called fourth channel. The question which confronts us: who should have it?
The last Government foreshadowed the allocation of this channel to the commercial companies and the I.T.A. We are not committed to this view, although naturally, we have noted what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said—that he and his party are committed to it. The disposition of scarce and valuable wavelengths is a matter of high policy, and the decision must also take account of the effect on physical resources. It seems to me absolutely essential that before we reach a decision of this kind we must be clear in our own minds as to what purposes the fourth channel should be required to meet.
It is not any good simply saying that television is primarily entertainment without considering alternative possibilities. I believe that the debate would justify itself if it did no more than provide a forum for the House of Commons to consider this one point. We have to decide whether the fourth channel is to be built principally upon public entertainment in a general service or whether it should be reserved for education or for 733 community programmes developed regionally and networked together. Views may differ about this, but no one, I think, would deny the importance of the decision that we would be taking one way or the other.
I must say—and the right hon. and learned Member for Epsom was a little naïve in not mentioning this—that broadcasting policy is a jungle of special interests and we must not forget that the fourth channel is a very valuable piece of public property, the disposition of which can easily make fortunes for those to whom it is granted. Although I do not want to reopen the controversies of 1954, the plain fact is that by their decision to institute commercial television in the way in which it was done, the last Government made possible, as one contract holder said, a licence to print money which has been utilised very fully.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
On a matter of history, that point was made from the Labour benches in the House of Commons. At the time it was a minority view. It was very farsighted of the Labour Member to make it. Although the remark was made in this House, it was picked up by a right hon. and noble Lord in another place later. However, it first originated in this House.
§ Mr. Benn
I should be the last to be surprised that one of my hon. Friends was the first person to think of the phrase. We were invited earlier today to admit our error in the view that we took then. It seems that one of the prophecies made by one of my hon. Friends on that occasion turned out to be fully justified.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
Would it not be fair to say that the question about the licence to print money, whether rightly or wrongly, was put right in the last Television Act? Also, would it not be true to say that, as we were then in virgin territory, if we give the fourth channel we shall have that experience to go on and we shall not make the same mistake again?
§ Mr. Benn
It is true that the Conservative Party recognised rather late exactly the character of the decision which it had made, and the television levy goes some way to meet this point.
I am not trying to reopen this particular 1954 controversy. All that I am saying 734 is that this is a very valuable piece of property and that we should be deceiving ourselves if we did not admit that there were a large number of people who, for their own reasons, would like access to it. We must also remember that those in commercial television do not actually make their money by selling programmes. They make their money by selling to advertisers a part of the time which the Government gave them when they gave them the channel.
It is sometimes said that these programmes are free. I have heard hon. Members opposite attack the idea that the Welfare State is free. Similarly, the idea that independent television is free is a complete illusion. Both the Welfare State and independent television programmes have to be paid for. There is no concept of something for nothing here.
Some hon. Members suggested recently that people who did not watch B.B.C. television should not need to pay the licence fee. I wonder what would happen if a man went into a shop and asked for his soap, detergents or chocolate at a lower price on the ground that he never watched I.T.A. and saw no reason why he should contribute towards the advertising budget of the firm which sold them.
§ Mr. James Dance (Bromsgrove)
I raised this question last week. Suppose that I had an electric fire or a gas fire. If I did not use the nationalised gas or electricity, I should not pay for it.
§ Mr. Benn
I have dealt with this point. If one argued that those who did not watch I.T.A. television could get a special rebate on all the purchases which they made in shops selling goods which were advertised on commercial television, one would be arguing from the same premise. I am merely attacking the idea that the community can get the fourth channel free if only it accepts the recommendations made today by the right hon. and learned Member for Epsom.
There are a number of other issues which hang on this decision about the fourth channel. One is the question of the current I.T.V. contracts which expire in 1967 and another is the control of hours. The right hon. and learned Member for Epsom knows very well that control 735 of hours of broadcasting was exercised throughout the entire period of his own party's time in office. In the first White Paper on the Pilkington Report, it was made absolutely clear that the Postmaster-General's control of hours of broadcasting would continue. Of course, it is true that the hours of broadcasting which are authorised, or those which are not authorised, are real resources available to the community for a variety of purposes and that any decision about them is a fundamental policy decision.
Similarly, we must take account of the fact that as a result of the way in which independent television was set up in 1955 the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. are in a very different position about extended hours. More hours for I.T.A. makes money. More hours for the B.B.C. loses or costs money without any comparable increase in revenue. This is a matter which must be looked at in terms of the purposes which we wish to see served.
I come to the possibilities of educational broadcasting, to which the right hon. and learned Member referred. This is closely tied to the question of the fourth channel, and, although the subject of the university of the air, which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has advocated, falls within the responsibility of the Department of Education and Science and the Scottish Office and, therefore, I cannot comment on it in any detail, this is under very urgent consideration and a number of alternative possibilities, including the use of unused hours, are now being considered. There is interest among universities and local authorities about ways and means of using television and radio to realise local educational needs. I think that what I have said certainly justifies the necessity of reaching a decision after the most careful consideration of the alternatives.
I turn for a moment to the question of colour television. It is not necessary for me to say much about this subject, because it was very fully aired in the House yesterday and has been during recent weeks. We are anxious to make an early start ourselves. The B.B.C. is anxious to get on with it. The I.T.A. is interested. There are export possibilities here, not only in terms of sets but also in terms of programmes. The communications satellites are, of course, capable of 736 transmitting colour just as well as black and white.
When can we expect to see it? We had all hoped that the Vienna conference would clear the way for an acceptable uniform colour system in Europe. The British delegation, on technical grounds, was briefed to support the N.T.S.C. system, which had the advantage of having been used and tested in America for some years and which, we thought, was more capable of developing a greater potential than its rivals in the future. But, as the House knows, the Vienna conference did not reach an agreement. It set back our hopes of European standardisation, to which we attach the highest importance. It would be a real tragedy if Europe were to abandon standardisation just at the moment when the exchange of programmes is becoming so much easier.
For this country, the choice, if one has to be made, between America and Europe, or between American and European systems, will be a particularly difficult one, for, technical standards aside, we are linked to America by a common language and to Europe by geographical proximity. There would be no satisfaction in having to make a choice of this kind. It would be made even harder if there were two different systems on the Continent of Europe, not just one. I must, therefore, ask the Committee to be patient for a little longer. In this case, it is better to be right than to be first.
When colour comes in, we shall also have to consider how to pay for it. The high cost of sets and the additional cost of colour transmissions raise new considerations which must be faced. In the past, B.B.C. television developments have been financed by all licence holders, whether or not the new service had yet reached them. This was quite justifiable on the ground that those in more remote areas were financing the development of the transmitters which would bring the new service to them. But this may not apply to colour television. It may not be right to ask the main body of licence holders to pay for a colour service which they may never wish or be able to afford to receive themselves, and we might have to consider the introduction of a separate licence fee for colour receivers, for the reasons I have given.
737 A few words now about pay-television. Although the Pilkington Committee recommended against pay-television, the previous Government issued licences, just before they went out of office in October, to several pay-television companies on an experimental basis. These licences were binding upon the present Government, and we have done nothing to interfere with them. The last Government were not permitted to authorise a general pay-TV service, and neither are we. In fact, all but one of the pay-television licensees have now withdrawn, and we are bound to honour the licence granted to the remaining company; but we cannot yet say, any more than the previous Government could, what future, if any, pay-television may have.
I turn now to the question of pirate radio, which has been aired in the House in the past and on which there is very little new which I can say today. Whatever future there may be for local sound broadcasting in this country, the pirate radios have no part in it. These stations, which started last year, were designed to force the hand of this Parliament on the future development of sound radio. That has been made crystal clear time and again, and, indeed, without making the arguments respectable in any way, the drift of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's own argument today pointed, I thought, in the same direction.
As I have said time and again in the House, the stealing of copyright, the endangering of the livelihood of musicians, the appropriation of wavelengths, the interference with foreign stations and the danger to shipping and ship-to-shore radio make the pirates a menace. This led the previous Government, like ourselves, to seek to negotiate with European countries a convention which would eliminate the pirates altogether. We shall certainly follow this through. The pirate stations have no future whatever in the further development of broadcasting in this country or Europe.
But, of course, there is raised in this connection the question whether or not there are new issues which ought to be confronted in sound broadcasting policy. One of these is the undoubted public demand For light music programmes running through the day. It is sometimes said that this demand has been produced 738 by the pirate radios, but I suspect that it has always existed.
§ Mr. Benn
"Muzak" is one example.
This wish to have a background of music, sometimes rather disrespectfully called "audible wallpaper", is a feature of public demand which cannot be left out of account. But it is essentially a national demand which can be met only by the use of a national wavelength. It would bean appalling waste of the potentialities of local radio to have a multiplicity of "pop" stations duplicating each other in different areas. In any case, neither the record companies nor the musicians could possibly tolerate the unlimited "needle" time which would absolutely destroy the livelihood of the one and the business of the other, which, in the case of the record companies, of course, includes a substantial export business.
Local v.h.f. "pop" stations could not even be received by the "transistor" audience who buy cheap transistor sets which are capable of receiving only the medium-wave band. Therefore, any idea that there is a relationship between the demand which the pirates may have revealed—though they did not create it—and the future pattern of local sound broadcasting in this country seems to me to be an illusion.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
I am following the right hon. Gentleman very carefully. I think that he will agree that during the daytime, when there is no interference with Continental stations, these local stations could use the medium-wave frequencies without interference or trouble, and this is, in fact, what has been done by the pirate stations. I am not supporting them. I am saying only that it is possible for local radio stations to use the medium-wave band during the day.
§ Mr. Tomney
I would like to get this right, if I can. As I understand, the European Broadcasting Commission has disagreed about pirate off-shore radio stations. Some countries are now receiving revenue direct from pirate off-shore radio stations. Is my right hon. Friend saying that he intends to take action on behalf of this country in defence of, or in association with, the European Broadcasting Commission, although he does not agree about what should be done?
§ Mr. Benn
With respect, I think that my hon. Friend has misunderstood the position. A convention has been signed by this country and others which binds us to introduce legislation to eliminate the pirate stations, and there is no question of a disagreement between ourselves and European countries on this particular issue. This is a matter which the previous Government took up. They started the negotiations, which we have carried on for the reasons I have given, and there is no question but that we shall go ahead.
But if this demand is to be met for music programmes, it will have to be met by the B.B.C., and we should certainly be interested to see how it could be done by the Corporation, so long as the interests of live music and the musicians who provide it and the legitimate rights of the recording companies are safeguarded.
Local radio made possible by the use of v.h.f. channels could play a most useful part in community life. The B.B.C. is anxious to run some pilot stations, and the Director of Sound Broadcasting, Mr. Frank Gillard, has made this his special concern and has conducted some valuable and encouraging experiments. Similarly, some universities and local authorities have expressed interest in the value of these stations in community development, locally run and locally supported, and hon. Members of this House, seeing the value of such a service, have been pressing for a start.
The decision to go ahead raises the same sort of issues about the allocation of resources which I mentioned in connection with the fourth channel.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
Do I understand that the right hon. Gentleman does 740 not rule out the local sound radio station providing the service which he has described?
§ Sir J. Rodgers
I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that "pop" music could be provided only by the B.B.C. Does he adhere to that view?
§ Mr. Benn
I said that if there was a demand for music programmes throughout the day this could not be met by local commercial sound stations of the kind mentioned by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. It had to be met nationally by the B.B.C.—this is not only recorded music, but live music as well—because it was only in this way that we could make it available to the sort of audience which wants it, with the sort of sets that they have. The rôle, the functions, and the programming of community stations are things on which I have not given any indication in detail at all.
§ Sir J. Rodgers
Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that he is giving no consideration to the possibility of breaking the sound monopoly of the B.B.C.?
§ Mr. Benn
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman quite understood what I was saying. I was dealing with the question of meeting this demand. I was also considering all sorts of other possibilities, which I had mentioned in my speech, including the possibility of genuinely locally-run and locally-supported stations. But, as we are reviewing this, it is impossible to do more than consider alternatives. I hope that the House will take it in that spirit.
Now we come to the structure and control of broadcasting, which has been highlighted for me by the large number of Questions which have been asked in the House about programme standards and political impartiality. These all raise the question of the constitutional relationship which ought to exist between the Government and the broadcasting authorities. The right hon. and learned Gentleman 741 today has mentioned a number of these questions, and of course he is right in saying that the freedom of comment must be preserved within this pattern in the House itself.
In answering all these questions I have always restated the traditional doctrine which has been accepted by all Governments, and is designed as a safeguard against political interference. I would remind the House of the great danger of going beyond this limit with regard to Ministerial interference. I recall very well—and I reminded myself of the actual words—what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said at the time of Suez. Admittedly he was dealing with overseas broadcasts, but he said that overseas broadcasts of the B.B.C. should reflect only the policy of the Government of the day. Although we are not discussing overseas broadcasts today, I think there is a real danger that if we allowed ourselves to be carried along too far in considering this problem, we might find that, for the best reasons, it was the Government of the day who decided these things, and they were not decided by more independent bodies vested with that responsibility.
§ Sir P. Rawlinson
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the debate at the time of Suez. I repeat that that is my view with regard to overseas broadcasts. I hold the view that when British soldiers are in action the B.B.C. should speak in the name of the Government of the day.
§ Mr. Benn
This is within the terms of reference of the debate, and perhaps I might read the part of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech which struck me most forcibly. He said:I speak here of the overseas broadcasts, and in regard to foreign policy. That should be the policy of the Government of the day approved by this House; the foreign policy of the Government which is maintained by a majority of this House. That should he the only thing that should be sent out in the name of this country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 14th November, 1956; Vol. 560, c. 1030.]That means that were any difference to develop between this side of the House and that on foreign policy, the B.B.C. could not reflect it in its overseas broadcasts. I think that on reflection the right hon. and learned Gentleman might have second thoughts about this for, among other things, he would destroy the reputation of the B.B.C. for independence. It is listened to all over the world, just 742 because from Britain come different voices. This is why people in countries where alternatives are not available listen so keenly to what we have to say.
§ Sir P. Rawlinson
The right hon. Gentleman must not be too clever by three-quarters. My statement was made at a particular time when, as he knows, the forces of this country were in action. I adhere to what I said in the context of what was happening at that time. If the Government of the day, supported by a majority of the House, commit the forces of this country, in the name of this country, to action, I think that it is right that the B.B.C. should reflect in its overseas broadcasts on foreign policy the views of the Government who have sent those forces into action.
§ Mr. Benn
I think that I have said enough to show that this is a sensitive area. It is exactly this sort of problem to which we would have to turn our minds in great detail if we were to accept the idea of any sort of political interference, because many of the programmes that we hear are also broadcast abroad, and it would immediately begin to have implications for the sort of things that we could hear. If committing our troops abroad meant that only the Government's view could he heard abroad, the same might apply at home.
This is a real problem, and I have done the best I can, in discussing it with the chairmen of the B.B.C. and the I.T.V., to see that criticisms made in the House of the two broadcasting authorities are brought to the attention of the boards of governors. I think that I have made some progress, because I have received an assurance that HANSARD is on the agenda of meetings of the Governors of the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. I have tried to clarify the position with regard to the supply of scripts, to satisfy myself that they are made available. I have inquired to see whether the general Advisory Councils, which help both the B.B.C. and the I.T.A., could be used for independent appeals of this kind, but I am told that this would not be acceptable to either the B.B.C. or the I.T.A.
This problem remains, and if, as I hope, broadcasting development proceeds, with a multiplicity of new channels and new stations, the problem 743 of some form of real public accountability will arise, and it may well be necessary to create new institutions and authorities to meet this need. The Government have an open mind on the question whether some other machinery might be desirable in the future.
I turn now to the central problem of B.B.C. finance as it was presented to us on taking office. I was astonished to hear the right hon. and learned Gentleman deal with B.B.C. finance in the way that he did, for the simple truth is that within a matter of hours almost of coming into office urgent representations were made by the B.B.C. to see me to present to me the full nature of the financial crisis which the previous Government had left the Corporation.
What did this amount to? It amounted to this, that, following the Pilkington Report, the party opposite, which then formed the Government, asked the B.B.C. to undertake a whole host of new functions, such as B.B.C. 2, to which reference has been made, independent television programmes for Scotland and Wales, more adult education, colour programmes, longer hours of broadcasting, and so on, with a pledge to provide the money. That pledge simply was not honoured.
The B.B.C. gave me the figures showing how the situation would develop. By 31st March of this year, there would have been a deficit of £10 million, but this was reduced to £5 million because of the repayment of money dealing with Income Tax. By 31st March, 1966, there would have been an accumulated deficit of £25 million. By 31st March, 1967, there would have been a deficit of £52 million. By 31st March, 1968, the deficit would have been £87 million, and at the end of the five year period there would have been a deficit of about £120 million.
The situation was extremely serious. The B.B.C. was handed over, as it were, to the incoming Administration with a deficit running at about £40,000 a day. In the light of what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, I think there was no doubt whatever that it was necessary for us to take serious action, and this is what we have done.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills (Belfast, North)
Has the right hon. Gentleman checked 744 the forward projection figures which he has given, and does he accept responsibility for their complete accuracy?
§ Mr. Benn
I am not responsible for the finances of the B.B.C. as such, but these figures were available to the last Government just as they were available to this Government. All that I am saying is that in this matter, as in certain others with which I have had experience, the last Government failed to take the necessary action early enough, for political reasons. This has just made the problem more difficult for us. It has also made nonsense of the claim that they costed their programme, because the provision of television for the public was part of the general programme of social improvement that the party opposite advanced in the election.
At any rate, it fell to us to take action. We had these alternatives—either to raise the licence fee by £2, which would have covered expenditure until the late 1960s, or to have made such drastic cuts in B.B.C. services as would have enabled it to continue with the present fee of £4, or to grant an interim increase and to review the problems of broadcasting finance more fully. We absolutely rejected the idea that the problem could be solved and the position held with a licence fee of £4. To have done that would have involved the virtual destruction of B.B.C.2, the abandonment of the growth of a fourth channel and the transmitters associated with it, and it would have crippled existing television and sound services. At the same time, we did not feel able to go right up to the £2 increase without further consideration. The £1 will only hold the present position and keep the B.B.C. within its present borrowing limits.
The need for a review arises from a new situation. Hitherto, as the B.B.C. has developed it has been able to rely not only upon occasional increases in the licence fee but also upon the fact that an increasing number of new viewers have been buying licences every year. Now that we have reached the point where there is virtually complete coverage the B.B.C. can no longer rely to anything like the same extent on increased revenue arising from new licence holders. From now on, on this basis, that expenditure would have to be 745 financed by increased licence fees rather than by new licence holders.
The position is that the prospects have radically altered for increased revenue for the B.B.C., and the Government felt it was quite right to look at the whole problem afresh. Some people have criticised us for raising the licence fee to the extent that we have done, at a time when we are trying to hold prices stable, but the majority of the need for this increase arises not just from certain increases in cost that the B.B.C. has had to bear. The true fact is that this money will be used for the expansion programme that the B.B.C. is undertaking. We have asked the B.B.C. to co-operate with us in this review and are naturally concerned to see that the best possible system of financial control is exercised within the B.B.C., and all reasonable economy.
Previous inquiries that have taken place have given us no reason to believe that this prudent economy does not take place, but we felt it our duty to reassure ourselves on this point. Many of the criticisms of B.B.C. expenditure arise from the payments made to entertainers who command a very high fee.
We are also looking at the problem of evasion to see whether it can be reduced. I have suggested to the B.B.C. that in its programmes and announcements, which reach into millions of homes, it could do a little more to remind viewers and listeners of their obligations and to publicise prosecutions—because every extra penny which can be brought in from a person who has hitherto evaded paying his licence is, from the point of view of the B.B.C., a pure gain.
We are also considering other measures in the Post Office. We spend £2½ million a year already, and we spend it out of licence payers' money, in order to issue the licences and to do the policing and to check evasion, and beyond a certain point, the cost of stricter policing has to be set against the gain derived from it.
I must make it clear that even if we were absolutely satisfied that there was no evasion this would not be sufficient, in terms of money, to meet the B.B.C.'s growing needs.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)
Will the Minister give the Committee the breakdown between the administrative cost of issuing licences and of policing? The figure of £2½ million seems rather large.
§ Mr. Benn
It does seem large, and if the hon. Member puts down a Question I will try to provide him with the breakdown. But there is a comprehensive system for sending reminders and for checking those who do not renew. There are combs of areas. There are the detector vans. It is a measure of the seriousness with which we take this task that we should be doing it in such a comprehensive way.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills rose——
§ Mr. Benn
I cannot give way again. If the hon. Member is fortunate in catching your eye, Mr. Mallalieu, he will no doubt be able to make his point.
What are the alternatives open to us? A number of suggestions have been pressed upon the Government and I want to mention them. Some people have suggested that the answer lies in seeking to finance the B.B.C. entirely by advertising, thus transferring it into a commercial organisation. The B.B.C. has circulated a memorandum to hon. Members for today's debate in which it has given its arguments against such a course.
Another alternative would be to raise the licence fee by £2, to £6, and thereafter to accept that it would tend to rise annually; by an amount which would depend upon the rise in costs experienced by the B.B.C. and the extent of the new tasks placed on it by the Government. Others argue that there might be a middle way, which would leave the B.B.C. as a public service corporation, drawing its main revenue from licence fees but supplementing this income by a strictly limited degree of advertising on one television channel and one sound programme—say, B.B.C. 1 and the Light Programme—leaving the others as now. This would be a radical departure from existing practice and would raise a number of important questions. In particular, should the B.B.C. be asked to undertake this advertising itself, or would it be better for it to be done quite separately—using B.B.C. time but with the money accruing directly to the 747 Exchequer for transfer back to the B.B.C. together with the licence revenue in the normal way?
These alternatives are some of those which have been urged upon us, and they are obvious to anyone who sits down to consider the problem. Any comments that hon. Members and others outside would like to make upon the suggestions, or others that may occur to them, will be studied. We do not think it right to exclude automatically any serious proposals that are put forward.
Before I finish, in view of the necessarily tentative nature of what I have said, I want to try to make clear the principles which will guide us in the reaching our decisions.
I have mentioned, first, a profound belief in the growing importance of radio and television to the community and the world. In this I am at one with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Secondly, the Government wish to see television and radio expand, as rapidly as national resources permit, to meet important national needs and to develop still further their potential for education, information and entertainment. Thirdly, there is the recognition that technological changes have opened up new possibilities that were hitherto entirely excluded—for example, the possibility of making more wavelengths available, the scope for an international exchange of programmes, colour, and new means of recording programmes. These all promise to revolutionise broadcasting, and must be used to the full.
Fourthly, there is our determination to uphold and entrench the principle of public service in all future television and radio development. This public service principle must be reflected in terms of the purposes to be served by broadcasting; in the allocation of channels; in the maintenance of programme standards; in public accountability without political interference, and in the intergrity and independence of programme planning.
The next principle arises from our desire to permit the greatest possible freedom and scope for creative talents to express itself through radio and television and, hence, the encouragement of a diversity of outlets.
748 The sixth principle concerns the Government's readiness to consider various methods by which broadcasting can be financed, including one or more, or a combination of, broadcast licences, grants in aid, local government grants and advertising revenue under proper supervision. If hon. Members will study those principles they will see the way in which our minds are working. I hope that they will realise that the Government are seeking to exercise their responsibility with a wider purpose in mind.
Admittedly, the application of these principles will not be easy and will leave room for much public argument and discussion. But one thing is clear. It would be absurd to be rushed into decisions without considering their full technical and social implications. I hope that I have said enough to indicate that we are genuinely receptive to new ideas, and do not intend to be locked for ever into the pattern of past controversies and the rigid attitudes which they encouraged on both sides.
The sort of broadcasting system we evolve is of deep concern to all those who make and watch and listen. It concerns script writers, producers, educationists, schoolchildren, parents, cameramen, film makers, politicians, and indeed everyone who cares about the influence of mass media on the minds and character of our people. We have had enough experience of broadcasting in this country to know how true this is. The intricate fabric of intercommunications in Britain is now very largely made up of radio and television. We are now on the eve of world developments which will mean that the whole of mankind may be able to participate in an extended structure encompassing the globe.
The technical developments that make this possible are amazing enough, but it is the political and social implications which really dazzle the imagination. I think it no exaggeration to say that future historians assessing the significance of space research may conclude that the real dividend it brought to man was not that it prompted him to learn about his universe so much as to learn about himself, to understand better the choice that confronts mankind and to realise the common interests that unite him and to see the necessity of common action to serve those interests. This process 749 is what scientists call feed-back or the control mechanism that enables us to correct our mistakes before it is too late. Broadcasting offers to humanity this same mechanism of feed-back. It is up to us to use it in such a way that its full potential can be realised.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)
I listened, as did the whole Committee, to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and I would agree that he covered a great deal of the ground in a manner which was generally agreeable. I was somewhat disturbed towards the end of his speech, before the final perforation, to hear something which vaguely reminded me of the offer of the First Secretary and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs to listen to proposals, but largely, and I think rather more honourably, he was prepared to listen only on the basis of 100 per cent, public ownership. I hope that as he grows more accustomed to his office the right hon. Gentleman will mellow and broaden in his view. I am perfectly satisfied that most hon. Members will take the view that there is no room for dogmatism in the many varied and conflicting issues besetting us in the field of radio and television.
I believe that both the I.T.V. and the B.B.C. have served us well over the years. As one who was originally a critic of I.T.V. may I say that I think that in recent years the Independent Television Authority has done a remarkably fine job, and competition between these two bodies has, on the whole, benefited both. When he considers the allocation of the fourth channel I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will bear in mind that competition has a most stimulating effect on the efficiency of bodies whether they be connected with television or industry.
I wish to make one comment on the nature of political interviewing on television and on sound radio. I believe that hon. Members, on this side of the Committee and on the Government side, are often far too sensitive to political criticism and comment on radio and television. If we are in the somewhat rough and tough business of politics I think that we have to accept a certain amount of criticism from television and radio, and to realise that while on one day the television or radio may be rather hard on the party of 750 our choice, on the next day it may be very hard on the party with whom we disagree. I think that there has been—I say this freely about my own party—far too much sensitivity on this point.
It is very desirable, in my opinion, that we should take a somewhat blasé attitude, bearing in mind that on the whole the individuals at the B.B.C. and I.T.V. do very well to conceal the nature of their own personal opinions. When one bears in mind how magnified is television as a medium, it is a remarkable achievement that interviewers and others should manage to keep from the public, in the main, their own personal views. I know that I should find it extremely difficult in similar circumstances to be as successful as they are in that direction.
I should like to make one minor criticism and that is to protest against the insulting manner of some younger interviewers. I do not want to claim an undue measure of respect for politicians or others, but I feel that when a politician of high standing, like the Prime Minister, appears on television, he should be accorded the proper respect which is due to his Office. I do not like to see a Prime Minister, of whatever party, treated in an insulting manner in the House of Commons, and I hope that not only shall we improve our attitude here, but that the B.B.C. and the I.T.V. will try to restrain the somewhat disagreeable attitude of some of the younger, less competent and less sensitive interviewers.
I turn now to the case for the fourth channel. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not completely close his mind on this. As I have said, I was not a supporter of I.T.V. originally, because I thought that one might better conduct this operation on the basis of a public institution. Having gone into I.T.V., I feel that we ought to make the fourth channel a commercial channel, if only for the overwhelming reason that it is wrong to allow commercial operators to enjoy a monopoly. I want to see it made harder—much harder—for those at present running I.T.V. to make a living. The only way in which to do that is to provide them with competition against which they would have to fight. Having said that, I should add that I think there are some safeguards to which I would draw the attention of the Committee.
751 First, I do not want to see this decision rushed. I want to see it given mature consideration. Secondly, I do not want to see existing contractors—save in the matter of exchange—given any more scope. I should regard the giving of further contracts to existing contractors as an absolute disaster. If we cannot get other contractors than those who are now operating to take on these stations, I should prefer that they be not operated. I think it essential, from the point of view of commercial competition and from the wider issue of the influence on public opinion, that we should not allow a large slice of the public-opinion-forming and influencing bodies to get into the hands of fewer and fewer people. It is essential, therefore, that contractors for the fourth channel shall be new contractors and not old ones. I would accept some degree of exchange to deal with the situation mentioned by my right hon. and learned Friend.
Thirdly, I hope we shall try to get as contractors people who have not made fortunes in other directions. Many of the shortcomings of I.T.V. in the early days sprang from the fact that people had already made fortunes in other directions and were not living the business as intensely as would someone for whom it was the sole source of income and purpose in life. I hope that we shall try to get people who fulfil this requirement. It was difficult to do so when we instituted I.T.V. originally, but it should not be as difficult now. I hope that in selecting the new contractors we shall try to get people who are prepared to make it their life work.
Obviously, when the new channel is to be opened there will be an appeal to reduce the existing levy. I take the view that under no circumstances should it be reduced. We should look to the increase in advertising revenue spreading from the general development in the economy, which even right hon. Gentlemen opposite will not be able to prevent, to give us the necessary added revenue, without requiring a reduction in the existing levy.
I turn now to a point which has given me a great deal of concern in the past year or so. This is the decline, in many respects, of the British Broadcasting Corporation. 752 I have always held, and have expressed in the House many times, a very great regard for the Corporation, which has set a standard which is equalled in no country in the world, which on the whole has reflected very well the spirit and temper of this country and which has been an example to institutions of its kind in every corner of the world. Yet in the last few years there has been a very serious decline in its standards. This decline has come from within.
I am not speaking about the possibilities that the administrative costs of the B.B.C. are higher than they should be, and I am still not wholly impressed by the arguments put forward by certain people about this. I should like to see the B.B.C. subjected to a method study in the same way as the Post Office, because I am not satisfied that the statements made by various people reflect the entire truth.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
Is my hon. Friend suggesting that another team of American consultants should be brought into the picture?
§ Mr. Shepherd
Yes. I think that it would be refreshing to have someone look at an organisation which tends to be rather inward-looking. I think that that is a very good idea. When my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) has been engaged in activities himself, he will realise that he is apt to think that all he does is the best in the best of all possible worlds and that he cannot be taught anything about its operation. This is not true. As one who does not think that the B.B.C. is inefficient, I would like to see a commercial organisation look at this set-up. I am convinced that some administrative savings could readily be made.
It is not that point of criticism with which I am concerned, nor with the apparent failure to judge things as well now as they used to do. There have been two examples of faulty judgment in the B.B.C. which give rise to some concern. The first was the planning of B.B.C.2. Many people without all the knowledge of those within the B.B.C. and without their experience could have said that the original concept of shoving one lot of programmes on one night and another on the next night was calculated 753 to invite failure. But the B.B.C. went into this, hook, line and sinker, with a very large investment of money. It has been, on the whole, a badly designed programme which has caused a great deal of loss of morale in the B.B.C. It is an example of the faulty judgment which has pervaded the Corporation in the last few years.
Another programme which caused a great deal of concern was "Not so Much a Programme …". I shall not here refer to the contents of the programme, but surely anyone with any reasonable measure of understanding of the problems of producing this sort of entertainment—if entertainment it be—would not say that this was a programme which they would produce three nights a week. But the B.B.C. again rushed into a decision which was clearly faulty and which any reasonably intelligent layman outside would have regarded as being extremely questionable.
The matter to which I particularly want to address myself is not faulty judgments—we all make mistakes in life and those who do not are those who do nothing—but the deplorable level to which B.B.C. taste has sunk in recent years. I am concerned about this because, whether it likes it or not, the B.B.C. is the mirror of life in this community. It must act in the knowledge that what it does and says is looked upon as reflecting the standards of our existence in Great Britain. Frankly, in these last years, there has been a deplorable failure to maintain the levels which could reasonably be expected from a national institution of this kind.
§ Mr. Rowland
I am not sure of the hon. Gentleman's argument. Is he suggesting that the B.B.C. is inaccurately reflecting public taste or that it is accurately reflecting public taste?
§ Mr. Shepherd
I do not know how to treat that intervention, but I think that I had better develop my argument and the matter may become clear, even to the hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Rowland).
I do not support those who say that the B.B.C. must pursue a purely puritanical path and that it must, under no circumstances, indulge in wit, satire or challenge; that it must not be experimental and that it must be a service produced by maiden aunts for maiden aunts. 754 That is not what I believe. I believe that, in the past few years, we have seen a gratuitous disregard of the standards of taste which it is reasonable to expect in public entertainment. If we look at the kind of plays to which we have been subjected, we see a whole series of mediocre plays with torture scenes and unseemly dialogue reflecting life in this country about at much as the Daleks do. In fact, I would not pay most of the playwrights concerned. If one goes into other programmes, one sees again and again the failure to maintain a reasonable standard which is essential in public entertainment.
I would remind the Committee that when Miss Hermione Gingold was asked in a programme a few weeks ago what struck her most on her return to this country after an absence of five years, she replied:The thing that strikes me most is the low level of entertainment on the television.Miss Gingold, as people who have been in the theatre know, was not purveying fairy stories in her own work——
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrew, West)
Does the hon. Member know exactly to what Miss Hermione Gingold was referring? Was it the "torture scenes in plays", was it the satire, or was it the continual purveying of "pop" and mock "pop" on television?
§ Mr. Shepherd
I do not think that there is much purveying of "pop" on television. There is more on sound radio than there is on television. Miss Gingold said that this was her main impression of the change in England in the intervening years, and I think that she is quite right in taking that view.
What the B.B.C. should do is to maintain the standard which the best professionals would maintain in respect of public entertainment, and to realise that it is, on the whole, a mass medium. It is no good the Director-General telling me, "You should put all your children to bed at 8.30", and then turning out filth at 9 o'clock. This is not satisfactory. The B.B.C. is a medium of mass entertainment, and, in the same way that the most uncouth people tend to regulate their behaviour according to their company, so must the B.B.C. regulate its behaviour according to the fact that it is essentially a mass medium.
§ Mr. Maurice Edelman (Coventry, North)
The hon. Member has made a grave attack on the Director-General. He says that the Director-General has urged him to put his children to bed early and then proceeds to purvey filth at 9 o'clock. Would he give an example of the filth which the Director-General purveys?
§ Mr. Shepherd
The hon. Gentleman tempts me to repeat my conversation with the Director-General of the B.B.C. on this matter. For the benefit of the Committee, it might help if I refer to a small sequence of my conversation to illustrate the difficulties which the Committee faces in discussing this issue.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
On a point of order. Is the hon. Gentleman entitled to repeat a private conversation such as the one he had with the Director-General?
§ Mr. Shepherd
I went to see the Director-General as a result of complaints which I had received from constituents. It is not entirely improper that I should give an extract—although I am not relating the exact words used—of our conversation, because it illustrates the problem which faces the Committee. After we had discussed the matter for some time the Director-General asked, "What was wrong with last week's programme?" [Interruption.]
§ Sir Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)
I am interested in what my hon. Friend is saying. Am I right in assuming that responsibility for determining what is in order rests with you, Mr. Mallalieu, and not with the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock)?
§ Sir S. McAdden
Then I hope that the hon. Member for Orpington will be quiet and allow me to listen to what my hon. Friend is saying.
§ Mr. Shepherd
After discussing the complaints I had received, the Director-General said, "Let us forget the past and will you tell me what was wrong 756 with that programme?" He was referring to "That Was The Week That Was". I then gave an example to him of what I considered to be objectionable in the programme. Lance Percival was dressed up as Father Christmas and was singing a song about children. He referred to children in the song as "little bleeders". I said to the Director-General, "First, as one who is engaged in the entertainment business, 'little horrors' would have been artistically a better phrase to have used and, secondly, many parents would not wish to have children referred to as 'little bleeders' on television, especially when children were present, as they were likely to be."
I invite the Committee to consider the Director-General's reply. He said, "You know, I have children, but it has never occurred to me to think that there was anything objectionable in children being referred to as 'little bleeders'." [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] There may be—clearly there are—people who also take that view. It explains the difficulty of getting better standards on the B.B.C. if a man at the top of the B.B.C. for administrative purposes takes that attitude of mind. I do not believe that it is an attitude which should be allowed to prevail and I agree with the Postmaster-General that we may have to consider alternative means of supervising television. Immediately, I think that the right hon. Gentleman's task is to strengthen the Board of the B.B.C. If one has an immensely strong director and a not so strong board, the great danger is that the director will have all his own way and the board's position will be eroded.
What I have said about the treatment by the B.B.C. of certain material in no way detracts from my admiration for the Corporation as a whole. I regard the decline of the past few years as regrettable and I hope that it will not be allowed to damage the reputation of the Corporation permanently. Neither do I wish it to be felt that I am opposed to adult treatment of subjects by the B.B.C. or to any reasonable presentation of life. What I object to is the gratuitous bad taste to which we have been consistently subjected by the B.B.C. I hope that the Committee will make it clear that while it wants no prudish attitude, it does want an attitude which is 757 consistent with the good name of this country.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Mr. T. G. Boston (Faversham)
When the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) began his speech I thought I was going to be placed in the embarrassing position of having to agree with him all the way through. I support what he said about the political sensitivity of hon. Members. A lot of us are a little sensitive when we see and hear ourselves criticised I have always thought, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman agrees, that criticism is a healthy sign.
I was sorry that the hon. Gentleman felt it necessary to make the sort of personal attack he made about someone who is in no position to reply. Perhaps this issue will be taken up by other hon. Members later, because there are other matters on which I will concentrate my remarks.
§ Mr. Shepherd
I was not talking about a person who is in no position to reply, because no one would say that the present Director-General is silent.
§ Mr. Boston
I leave the hon. Gentleman to reflect on the sort of attack he made.
This is an appropriate moment for this debate to take place. I will concentrate on sound broadcasting, and it is a particularly appropriate time to be talking about that. I gather that listening is in fashion at the moment. It is probably true to say that we now have more listeners than we had this time last week. My right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General has more "listening" at his command than any other hon. or right hon. Member. One might say that he has a monopoly of listeners.
I must refer, first, to the rather alarming statement of my right hon. Friend that this is the first full general broadcasting debate we have had since the Pilkington Report was debated. Perhaps my right hon. Friend might consult the usual channels to see whether a regular broadcasting debate could take place at least once a year in view of the tremendous amount of interest there is in the subject generally.
As I said, I wish to concentrate on sound broadcasting, local broadcasting in particular, although some of what I have to say is related to television. Is 758 there a demand for local sound broadcasting? When the Pilkington Report was published in 1962 it stated that at that time there was no evidence of spontaneous public demand. However, the Report was careful to point out that if people did not know what they were missing they could not be said not to want it. That is an important point to bear in mind.
We had from the former Government a White Paper, in July 1962, which stated that the Government would prefer to take cognisance of public reaction to the Pilkington Report before reaching a decision. A few months later, in December 1962, a second White Paper stated that the Government did not discount a possible latent demand for local sound services. In this connection, I was glad to hear the comment of the right hon. and learned Member for Epsom (Sir P. Rawlinson) that he has now come down firmly for local broadcasting.
Many of my hon. Friends are glad that my right hon. Friend is including this matter in his review. It is to be hoped that something will be done in the near future. It should also be remembered that pirate radio stations have been established, which goes to show that there has been a certain demand for extra sound broadcasting—or perhaps one should refer to an uncertain demand. However, I do not wish to refer at length to pirate stations today.
We have had general evidence in the form of comments and Questions over the last six months from both sides of the House. There have been requests for local stations in some areas, and even though each hon. Member who has raised the matter has seemed particularly concerned with one potential station, the subject has been brought forward as a result of feeling in the constituencies. There is a growing feeling in favour of local sound broadcasting, but, in deciding whether or not we should start local sound broadcasting, we have to discover whether or not, technically, it can be done. The information given to us today by the Postmaster-General completely allays any anxiety on that score. There is no problem there at all. With v.h.f., local sound broadcasting can be developed over a limited range with very good reception.
759 The next question is how, physically, it could be done. The B.B.C. suggested to the Pilkington Committee that 80 or 90 stations might be set up to cover the whole of the country in stages, perhaps leading to 100 or more stations throughout the country. It suggested that for an initial period of, say, five years about 60 stations might be built. The firm of Pye, at Cambridge, has produced a very interesting and useful booklet listing towns of over 50,000 population in order to indicate the sort of places where local broadcasting stations could be set up. One proposal was that these stations should have a range of between two and ten miles, or slightly more.
That brings us to the definition of local sound broadcasting. The Pilkington Report states:But we distinguish at once between two possible definitions of local broadcasting. In one, 'local' means only that a large number of stations would each serve a small area. In the other, 'local' means that the material broadcast by a local station would, for a sufficient part of the broadcasting day, be of particular interest to the locality served by that station rather than to other localities. It seems to us that, if the word 'local' in the expression 'local sound broadcasting' is really to mean what it implies, the second of the two definitions is the right one.It is important to bear those definitions in mind, because most estimates so far show that local material could produce only about five hours of good broadcasting. I will come back to the question of what to do with the remainder of the time a little later. In deciding exactly what local broadcast stations should mean, the aim should be the second definition given by the Pilkington Committee.
Cost has to be considered. We have here a potential development that is not too expensive. Local broadcasting, whether sound or television, is the one remaining field, setting aside colour television, remaining to be developed, so it is important that we should give it more urgent attention than some other developments in broadcasting generally. The B.B.C. estimates that the capital cost of a station would be about £35,000 and the revenue cost, or running cost, would be about £40,000. In considering the urgency of getting on with the job, we should remember that in 1962 the capital cost per station was reckoned to be about £17,500. That the figure should now be 760 about £35,000 is a very strong reason why, whatever final form local broadcasting takes, we should get on with the job quickly.
We should also bear in mind that the running costs have not increased at the same rate——
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
Can the hon. Member give us his authority for that figure of £35,000? My own information is that, even now, it would be about £20,000.
§ Mr. Boston
I know that in Pye's booklet a figure of about £20,000 is suggested, but there are one or two ancillary services. For instance, an outside broadcast van would cost about £5,000. It is better to err on the high side, if anything. In any case, I do not think that £35,000 would be considered a desperately high price to start a local service.
When the Pilkington Committee was hearing evidence, it was estimated that if local sound broadcasting was done by the B.B.C. the extra cost on the licence fee would be about 5s. Richard Hoggart and Stuart Hall have pointed out in the Spectator on 4th July, 1964, that even if the additional cost was 10s., as one licence covers the entertainment of a number of people, it represented only ½d. per week per person.
If local broadcasting is done in this way, what about those who do not have a local station near them? We have some experience to guide us. For instance, when the Third Programme was started it took some considerable time for it to extend to the whole country. Again, television did not at first cover the whole country with good reception at any particular time. We have some evidence of the way in which this problem has been handled previously.
Can a scheme like this be made to work? We all know of closed circuits, and experiments have been carried out in 16 different places by the B.B.C., and the churches, local industry, educational and social organisations, and voluntary bodies of all kinds, were found to be very enthusiastic about the experiments. The powerful Association of Municipal Corporations has also given its support to the idea of local broadcasting, and evidence of various kinds was given to the Pilkington Committee.
761 It has been suggested that there would not be enough local material for more than, perhaps, five hours' broadcasting per day. If local broadcasting is to be run by the B.B.C., material from the national and regional sound networks could be fed in for the rest of the time. This would be the great advantage of doing it in this way. The alternative would be to provide endless canned music. I agree that canned music has a part to play, but the danger is that if other material is not to be fed in the rest of the time—perhaps 12 hours—might be devoted solely to canned music. If the service is run commercially and we have this difficulty about endless canned music, we would face problems with the gramophone companies and the Musician[...] Union. I mention that to draw attention to the difficulty.
Various estimates have been made of the number of staff who would be required on each station. I have heard mention of 12 or 15. The important point here is that one would hope that many of those employed at local stations—not necessarily the station managers, because one might want to draw them from the wider national professional field—would be recruited locally. It is important that these stations should have a considerable number of local people, with knowledge of local affairs, running them.
I have a few brief comments on the uses to which local broadcasting might be put. It is important to put on record the ways in which local broadcasting could be of help to local communities. For instance, it will be of great value in reflecting local events—sporting events and social events of various types. Local broadcasting will be of particular value to a whole range of organisations. Local universities, colleges and schools would no doubt wish to contribute.
There could be broadcasts of local church services of various denominations. Hospitals could take part, with messages to patients being broadcast and with special request programmes for local hospitals. There could be local weather reports specially designed for the farming community. There could be special reports for holiday makers. These would be of particular importance in holiday towns 762 where holiday events could be publicised in the form, possibly, of holiday bulletins. Local shopping advice could be broadcast. Clubs and societies—drama and operatic groups, for example—could take part. No doubt pop groups would be encouraged by this type of broadcasting. Sports clubs and youth clubs of all kinds would no doubt contribute to the ideas and operation of this type of programme.
One would think that news would play an important part. Local emergency announcements and local police messages could serve an important local need. Information about local traffic conditions could be broadcast. Undoubtedly there is a vast amount of material which could adequately fill at least five hours per day.
On the question of schools, there could be local debating knock out competitions between local schools. This could be carried out on a regional basis. This is the value of feeding in regional and national material of the type to which I was referring earlier, carired out on a regional and national basis and perhaps on an international basis as well as between towns which are twinned with other towns either in other parts of the Commonwealth or in foreign countries. In my area we would certainly look forward to an arrangement of this type between Sittingbourne and Ypres and Faversham and Hazebruck.
Local journalists would be expected to contribute to a fairly substantial extent. They would have a considerable outlet, as they do on the national television and sound networks, as chairmen of discussions, as commentators on events, and as interviewers. We could also expect to see local employment opportunities publicised. There is an almost unlimited scope as to the type and amount of material.
I want to utter a word of caution about the way local broadcasting is organised. The various stations, whether they are run by one of the national organisations or by separate local organisations, must not be stereotyped. "Radio Faversham" must mean what it says; it must be "Radio Faversham" and be distinguishable from other local stations. We would all agree that "Radio St. Marylebone" would be nothing like any other station, 763 even in the absence of the right hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg).
I want to refer to one or two other difficulties in connection with the way the stations should be set up. First, it has been suggested that local newspapers ought to be allowed to apply for licences. There is a great danger that, if the stations were run commercially, this might endanger local newspapers. It depends entirely on how the stations are run. In other words, should the stations be commercial? The great danger which local newspapers would face is that inevitably, if the stations were to be run commercially, they would siphon off much of the local advertising revenue from local newspapers. As we have seen, over recent years there has been a reduction in the number of local newspapers. We would not want that trend to continue.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
The hon. Member will concede that he is advocating the extension of a monopoly in public communication.
§ Mr. Boston
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned that point, because I intend to deal with it briefly in a few moments. It is important to bear in mind that this proposition would endanger the revenue of local newspapers and affect their circulation. This might conceivably create a dangerous monopoly, for instance, in a certain area. Many areas have only one newspaper. If a station were to be run by that one newspaper, it would create a dangerous monopoly but still affect the circulation of the local newspaper.
Newspapers would certainly benefit if these stations were run non-commercially, whether by the B.B.C. or by another independent body, because they would not be competing with advertising; the newspapers would derive benefit from their reporters or commentators appearing on the programmes and conducting interviews. As is the case with national networks, no doubt local newspapers would be mentioned on the stations. Therefore, they would be helped to some extent.
Here, again, I utter a word of caution. Great care would have to be taken about political balance in people appearing on local stations. The experience of the 764 national broadcasting services is an important guide.
I come now to the question of monopoly. This is the question whether the B.B.C.'s monopoly of sound broadcasting should be broken. If local broadcasting stations are to be set up anyway—let us say, for the sake of argument, commercially—a local sound monopoly is being created in fact, unless there are two stations, either two commercial stations or one station run by the B.B.C., say, and one run by a commercial set-up.
The difficulty about that would be that we want more choice, as has been suggested earlier; but it would be difficult to run more than one station locally and provide an adequate amount of material. It is important to bear in mind that, whether a station is to be run by the B.B.C. or commercially, the public pays in the end and it will cost twice as much in the end to set up a whole chain of double stations in all these towns which we are suggesting. This is why there need be no misgivings about this. If it were decided to break the B.B.C.'s monopoly of sound broadcasting, a local monopoly would be created anyway. Therefore, one would be getting nowhere by breaking the B.B.C.'s monopoly. There are many counter-balances within the broadcasting organisation which can help in the running of local stations.
It has been suggested that the way out of the dilemma whether there is a commercial set-up or whether there is a B.B.C. or other independent broadcasting set-up is to have local stations run by local authorities—that is, by locally elected authorities, local universities, and so on. The difficulty about this is that there is probably not a great deal of professional broadcasting expertise in the local authorities and other organisations which have been suggested. Such professionalism is essential in local broadcasting stations. There is no reason why the suggestion of local authority control should not be considered, but there are serious objections to this way of doing it.
I should think that in view of the various reasons suggested, and particularly in view of the point about what is to be done with the hours of time after the five hours, probably the most satisfactory solution is to have local 765 stations run by the B.B.C. But these other suggestions have been put forward and no doubt will be considered by the Government in the course of the review which they are now undertaking.
There is no doubt at all that there is a real demand for local broadcasting. The increase in capital costs, as opposed to revenue costs, is a matter which means we ought to get on with this very quickly. Finally, and perhaps the most important reason of all is that as this is a field which we have not developed at all, and apart from colour television is the one remaining which we can develop in this country, it is one which we ought to get on with urgently.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Sir John Rodgers (Sevenoaks)
I am sure that the whole Committee is indebted to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Epsom (Sir Peter Rawlinson) and the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster-General for the lucid, far-ranging and responsible way in which they have introduced this enormously important subject of sound and television broadcasting. The House of Commons pays far too little attention to this fantastically important medium. It is far and away the most important medium of communication yet invented by man.
I had hoped to develop arguments today in an attempt to convert the Leader of the House to my belief that democracy itself will not survive unless it harnesses itself more than it now does to this medium. I shall not now, of course, pursue the question of starting immediate experiments in televising the proceedings of Parliament because you, Mr. Mallalieu, would rule me out of order if I attempted to do so, but the whole debate underlines the significance and importance of that matter. Scientific changes have been enormously rapid, and we must all be on our guard against shackling ourselves with systems which are out of date before we can change them.
This was what happened originally when the B.B.C. was set up. We embarrassed ourselves with a system, however good the B.B.C. was, and towards the end of its monopoly position the B.B.C. was holding back technical progress in order to preserve its own 766 monopoly position. In the years immediately after the war, France, Germany and particularly America were much more forward in technical developments. These had been held back, Canute-like, by the B.B.C., because it thought that that was a great argument for the retention of its own monopoly position.
Those of us who sought to break that monopoly in 1964 did so on two grounds. One was that this important medium of communication could not be entrusted solely to one set of people however well-intentioned or public-spirited they thought they were. We felt that there must be opportunities for other groups of people holding other views to present a viewpoint which differed from that of the monopoly. We therefore took the stand that we did to try to break the B.B.C. monopoly. We believed that the B.B.C. would be stimulated and helped, as has proved the case, by the production of some form of competition.
I believe greatly in competition in all fields of human endeavour. I believe that it operates in sound and television broadcasting as in any other sphere. We did not labour to break the B.B.C. monopoly, however, to create, as we have done, a monopoly of commercial television. Therefore, I urge the Postmaster-General when he considers the allocation of the fourth channel to see that at least part, not necessarily the whole, of that channel is given to commercial purposes in order that the monopoly of the commercial companies operating under the I.T.A. should be broken. Nothing could be worse than to break one monopoly only to create another.
The thing that interested me about the Postmaster-General's speech was that this was the first time that I had heard from the party opposite the idea that one need not necessarily tie oneself down to any one system. It is quite possible to conceive a situation part-commercial, part-educational, part-cultural and part-religious. This medium of mass communication should be open to everybody. It should be open to people advocating sport, religion, politics, entertainment, the commercial sale of goods and company news. All these things are part of life, and this is a medium for the transmission of things to do with life. I hope that the 767 right hon. Gentleman will remember this when he comes to the difficult problem of allocating channels.
Equally, I should like to support my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Epsom on the question of the extension of hours, of television broadcasts particularly, but also of sound broadcasting. I see no reason why in the state of society in which we live we should seek to say arbitrarily how many hours a station should be on the air. We are urging people to work a three-shift system and to keep machinery working throughout the day to ensure the maximum amortisation and efficient production, yet at the same time we penalise those who do this by not enabling them to look at their favourite programmes.
It has been argued that we have not enough writers, artists and script talent to televise for 24 hours. At least let stations be able to repeat their programmes more often than they do. Because of the hours that we keep in this place I often find my constituents talking about various programmes which I ought to have seen or heard and which I could have seen if I had been able to pick my time. Everybody should have the opportunity to listen to the Prime Minister or to the Leader of the Opposition, if they want politics, or to programmes of public interest which our constituents see or hear. I strongly urge, therefore, that we should not try to keep the I.T.A. and the B.B.C. in parallel in the matter of hours. If the I.T.A. can double its output now, let it go ahead, and if it wants to broadcast all the hours of the day, let it do so.
My third point is in support of the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Boston) in his urging that an immediate start should be made on local broadcasting stations. I do not want to go into the many and various arguments about how these should be controlled. I am sure that there is a real need for them and that it is a democratic demand on the part of the people that they should have these. I also agree that to have them as purely local stations would be wrong. There must be national hook-ups and things of that kind.
I make a passionate plea here that whatever system hon. Members favour 768 we should realise that this medium, particularly television—though sound is more important than some people realise—must have a great variety of people in control. I disagree with the hon. Member for Faversham that there should be no more than two stations to a locality. A number of channels are available to New York on both sound and television. Therefore, this can be done and there is a demand for it. Do not let us say that there should be one station and not two because two would be too expensive.
§ Mr. Rowland
Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that the multiplicity of channels in television and radio in the United States has led to a higher standard of programmes?
§ Sir J. Rodgers
I purposely left out of the whole of my argument the question of taste to which some hon. Members have devoted themselves. It is a subject to which I do not intend to be diverted. All I say is that the system appears to suit the Americans. They are a democratic country. If it did not suit them, presumably they would change it. Perhaps that same system would not necessarily suit us.
My fourth point is to agree with the Postmaster-General against my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Epsom concerning intervention by Ministers on control of any of these broadcasting authorities. This must be viewed with the greatest suspicion. There should be the minimum interference by this House or by Ministers in the conduct of these stations, whether B.B.C., I.T.A., or a new organisation yet to be set up.
§ Mr. David Gibson-Watt (Hereford)
In the absence of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Epsom (Sir P. Rawlinson), I should like to repeat what he said: that he takes exactly the view of my hon. Friend that the Postmaster-General should not interfere and that the B.B.C. should be free. The only point which my right hon. and learned Friend made—and this is important to stress—is that at a time of national emergency, such as might well apply in the case of our forces in Malaya at the present time, was to state his view, as he did at the time of Suez, that he considered it wrong for the B.B.C. consistently to take an anti-Government view. I repeat that because it is important.
§ Sir J. Rodgers
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making the position clearer titan I did. I should like to go on to say that this would not arise if the debates in the House of Commons on Malaya, Vietnam or, say, on Suez were broadcast to the country. The selection is not the job of the B.B.C. That is one of the most potent arguments for televising and editing live broadcasts and television appearances from this House.
I am tempted by that intervention to recall that in 1931 the then Director-General of the B.B.C., Lord Reith, suggested that the three political parties should broadcast their views on that year's Budget. The Chancellor of the Exchequer insisted upon a regal sanctity of a solo broadcast with no competition. He was the Socialist, Mr. Philip Snowden. To redress the balance in 1934, it was suggested again that there should be a radio debate on the Budget. The then Chancellor of the Exchequer said that a Budgetought not to be the subject of a wireless debate before an unrestricted audience. The Chancellor should be treated not so much as a party leader, but as a national figure talking impartially.That was a Conservative, Neville Chamberlain. That was the attitude then, and that it still the attitude today.
The fight that was conducted in this country, and in this House particularly, to free the Press is now being fought for broadcasting and television. That is the note on which I end, urging the Postmaster-General to do his utmost to give the greatest possible degree of freedom to the use of this medium and to make it available to all sections of the community.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Edelman (Coventry, North)
The hon. Member for Seven-oaks (Sir J. Rodgers) was one of the most enthusiastic and effective supporters of the commercial television lobby. I am interested tonight to hear that his voice has not lost its cunning. On the one hand, the hon. Member has argued in favour of an extension of commercial radio, suggesting that in some way it is a public service. On the other hand, he has made it clear that there are interests concerned with commercial radio who consider it not as a public service but simply as a normal means of profit-making.
770 Indeed, the whole case for commercial radio, the reason for the general enthusiasm for it on the benches opposite and the reason why, under all the rather bland statements of hon. Members opposite, we can hear the grinding of the axes of the commercial radio lobby is precisely because here there seems to be a rich field for great pickings.
The hon. Member said that he had just returned from the United States. I was there at the same time and I have had some small experience of American radio. In my opinion, American commercial radio is an abomination. It confuses advertising with opinion, it blurs thought and it creates confusion in the mind of the listener about what is being promoted commercially and what is being put forward objectively as an opinion. The result is that apart from the drug of the steady stream of pop music which pours out of American commercial radio—that stream of popular radio which somehow creates a sort of hebetude in the mind of the American public—I see nothing to commend it. I can, however, imagine that those who run the stations make extremely great profits out of it and I understand perfectly well why there are those in this country who would like to imitate the system of American commercial radio and to profit from it.
§ Sir J. Rodgers
On no account must the hon. Member say that I am advocating the adoption in this country of American television or radio methods. I hope that he will absolve me from that.
§ Mr. Edelman
The hon. Member knows very well that I am not suggesting that what he is proposing is a blueprint of the American radio. I believe, however, that if we were to imitate the United States' commercial radio in any form, or even in principle, some of the greatest evils which exist in American radio would be translated to this country. For that reason, I oppose commercial radio in this country.
I have some interest in radio and television. I have been associated with it as a writer and broadcaster for a number of years. I think it necessary to say that in advance, although perhaps in what I am about to say I will be biting some of the hands that have fed me. What is certainly true—and this has emerged in the debate—is that radio 771 and television are an all-pervasive element in our lives. They enter our homes whether we like it or not. We even hear our neighbours' radio. It is constantly at work, fashioning opinion and determining even the country's moral climate. It is something which affects children and adults alike. It is an element in the lives of all of us which is of incomparable importance. Therefore, while welcoming this debate, I regret that debates on the subject of broadcasting are so rare. What I hope to propose during my few remarks is that adequate machinery should be established so that there can be a growing and continuing study of radio and television and that there should be adequate communication between the public and the broadcasters.
One thing which is certain is that with the power of radio and television an enormous amount of resource is concentrated in very few hands. The administrators of radio and television are ordinary vulnerable people and yet they have to make major decisions which reach right into the lives of millions of people. The great problem of our times is to match the power of the administrators of radio with an appropriate responsibility.
The public, on the other hand, are extraordinarily vulnerable to the effect of television. The young are hypnotised by this box at which they stare, sometimes for hours. For adults, the television box is what Andre Malraux called a dream factory. Every night, millions of people enter this world of dreams which are concocted by a very few people. Therefore, there is a great responsibility on those responsible for creating the myths and images of television that they should be myths and images which are elevating and not degrading to our society.
In addition to that, the television box is what has been called the hidden persuader. It is something which is capable of influencing our subconscious and even our unconscious mind. Although in the television code there is a provision against subliminal advertising, nevertheless the fact remains that such is the impact of television that, whether we 772 like it or not, we are all subconsciously or unconsciously influenced by it.
Who is it who stands between the public and the administrators and projectors of television and radio? Fundamentally it is our own critical sense.
More immediately, however, there are the critics. I mean the professional critics in the Press and television who have some responsibility for the assessment of programmes and the criticism of them. They have a responsibility for discouraging the bad and encouraging the good, but I am obliged to say that the status and the performance of television and radio critics in this country is extremely low. With one or two exceptions, the television and radio critics are people chosen by editors to find an interesting story for the day after, when the programme itself is cold potatoes. All they have to do is to try to extract something from the programme, something accessory, which may interest the public. So the critic is a failure in establishing that the programmes should be of an adequate quality for the age that we live in and for the tremendous amount of technical and mechanical achievement which goes into the production of television output.
One of the remarkable things about television and radio today is that while, on the one hand, there is this tremendous development of the technical, the mechanical and scientific technique of television, on the other, there is the quality of output which I do not believe matches in any way the technical development. I say this as someone who has some responsibility for television.
There is, of course, tremendous competition for viewers. Although I accept what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Sevenoaks said about competition, and although I believe that in a sense competition, even in the arts, is capable of stimulating other performers, I think that on the whole the effect of I.T.V. has been to degrade and to debase the quality of performance as such. Many times in this House I have drawn attention to the violence which has been shown, and continues to be shown for that matter, despite all I.T.A. codes, on television. In the general climate of violence in which we live, I believe the development of violence in crime has 773 something directly to do with the impact of violent crime as it has been consistently represented on television.
It is perfectly true, especially among the groups of vigilantes, who number some of hon. Gentlemen opposite, that there is concern about sexual morality and its representations on television. I believe that they have narrowed the concept of morality within too fine a limit. I would have thought that the kind of pornography of violence which is shown on television is much more sinister, much more degrading and debasing than even the representation of sexual offences. I would say that I.T.V., which has been a pacemaker and a trend setter in this kind of representation, has a very grave responsibility. Although the B.B.C. was attacked this afternoon, the responsibility of the B.B.C. is really a secondary one. The B.B.C., in fact, follows tie trend and the pattern set by I.T.V.
In the competition for audiences a milk bottle thrown through a plate glass window or the crunch of a cosh on somebody's head is obviously going to attract attention, perhaps break up the conversation at the tea party, and in the competition for viewers it is necessary to use this particular technique. This is a debasing form used in the struggle for audiences and it is a reflection of an attitude among the television promoters which is concerned with finding the lowest common denominator in order to have the greatest mass audience. This technique, so widespread and continuing, is something to which we should give our attention and which should be deplored.
How is the public to be protected from the debasing of standards in television? At the moment we have been talking about the mechanics and machinery of television, but we have said very little about the internal organisation of television by which the viewers can be protected and can express an opinion. It is perfectly true that there are advisory councils of one kind and another, appointed variously by the organisations concerned. This is wholly inadequate, for the advisory councils are often nominated by the organisation which is directly concerned and which may, or even should, be subject to criticism. The problem of the Postmaster- 774 General must be to consider in what way he can really find some representation of consumer opinion. Pilkington, of course, discouraged the idea of a consumer council, I think wrongly. I do not believe everything in Pilkington is right by any means.
I would have thought myself that what is necessary in order to have a dialogue between the administrators of television and radio and the general public, if the views of the public are to be heard, is some kind of broadly based broadcasting assembly, perhaps even elected indirectly from the major bodies who are concerned with expression of public opinion such as churches, trade unions and all kinds of bodies concerned with the safeguarding of public standards. Vigilante bodies, who rise up in wrath when a particular programme seems to offend them, are the least desirable of the bodies to deal with problems of this kind. They are usually obscurantists concerned with censorship, people who have some particular axe to grind or even who have some private psychological difficulty. These people are certainly not the most desirable to represent the public interest in my view.
What is necessary is a reflection of the broad views of the public as a whole. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Epsom spoke about television and radio as being the mirror of the public. To the extent that he meant it reflects the public mood or should reflect the public mood I think that is true. What is happening now is that there is a great gulf between the administrators of radio and television and the public at large. The Postmaster-General is answering today in the first debate for seven years after the Pilkington Report. After this the whole subject will lapse into a silence which will be broken perhaps in the Press by somebody being outraged by some particular programme. But the broad, constructive and worth while things which are being done in radio and television will not be referred to.
Questions like education in television, which is of the highest importance, will not be mentioned, or will only be mentioned by specialists. The result will be that in the absence of any form of 775 communication between the administrators of broadcasting and the general public, such as ourselves, there will be a ragged discussion which would emphasise the trivial and would not deal with the central questions.
§ Sir J. Rodgers
I agree with what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but I wonder whether he has ruled out altogether, as Pilkington did, the use of market research. It has always struck me that the bodies existing do a great deal of research, not just into the size of audiences but into programme reactions and public taste, and I feel that if these could be published it would be a great safeguard and would help the hon. Gentleman in what he is questing for.
§ Mr. Edelman
I am not very sympathetic either with Gallup polls or market research. This method of sampling things is wholly inadequate to express the broad public view. I suggest a broadcasting council which would be elective and open to the Press—and I agree with the hon. Gentleman in this respect—so that its proceedings and discussions were reported. If we did that, we would not have this extraordinary division which exists between the administrators of the I.T.A. and B.B.C. and the public, which is, after all, most vitally concerned day by day and which would thereby be brought democratically into contact with those who hold the levers of power in radio and television.
Then there is the question of advertising. The I.T.A., in its report, reproduced the code it recommends to advertisers. It is my observation that it is not adhered to. For example, one provision deals with cigarette advertising. It lays down that the attraction of cigarette smoking should be not enhanced by putting those taking part in the advertising in romantic circumstances which will somehow or other associate cigarette smoking with romance. However, if hon. Members see television even tonight, they will see that this most important provision is simply ignored in encouraging the young to take up smoking. Many other provisions are also ignored in practice. I hope that there will be general concurrence in the Committee with the view that the code of advertising, although in itself fairly innocuous, will 776 be made effective as far as it can be and will not be ignored.
We have not reached the depths that I have observed on television in the United States. I have referred before to my radio experiences with the hon. Member for Sevenoaks. On television I saw a child dressed in white emerge with a bunch of flowers and then trot through the flower beds, finally putting the flowers on the tomb of her father, saying, "This is for you, Daddy". The advertisement was for an American mortician. I thought it had touched rock bottom. I hope that no one here will be encouraged to imitate American examples.
There has been a flow from America of programmes wholly unsuitable and, in my judgment, debasing to standards in this country. People talk about Wild West programmes as though they are part of the mythology on which children are reared. In fact what one sees in them are thugs in American fancy dress. Their manners and habits are imitated in high streets in our provincial cities and in London as well. The B.B.C. and the I.T.A., because of their unseemly competition to get as low as they can, follow each other's programmes in search of the mass audience. The result is that a lot of the thuggery which seems now to be characteristic of our age is derived from the screen. We talk about the screen being the best educator, and that may well be true to some degree, but if it becomes a school for violence for organised crime, then indeed something sinister is happening which should be resisted.
The campaign for local sound broadcasting will have my support if it results in the B.B.C. having responsibility for it, but I would oppose any attempt to introduce local commercial sound stations, especially—and I say this with all due respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Boston)—if the local commercial stations were associated with local newspapers. I find that doctrine pernicious. It has already been rejected by Pilkington and I reaffirm my own opposition to it.
Speaking as a journalist, I say that the situation in which we find ourselves, whereby great newspaper chains have put their heavy hands on commercial television, is thoroughly undesirable. If that 777 situation were to extend, it might even be disastrous and add to the monopolies which now exist. If the newspapers were to go into commercial local radio I believe that we would see a serious encroachment of the rights of free speech. It is because I believe in free speech that I want to see the local radio stations controlled by the B.B.C. I want to see standards preserved. Only in this way will those standards be preserved in local radio.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) since I listened to his remarks with great interest. I would not agree with his condemnation of all American programmes that we see. I find great pleasure, as does my family, in "I Love Lucy". I have formed a great endearment for her and I hope she lives for ever. Many American programmes are harmless and engaging. Both the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. put on quite a lot of these good American programmes during popular hours and they are widely appreciated.
Just as the hon. Gentleman declared a mild interest, I have to declare no interest at all. I was connected with an electronics company eight years ago but left it on becoming a junior Minister and have not rejoined any company, so I am not speaking with any connection or interest.
The principle which motivates me and many others on this side of the Committee—and, I suspect, many hon. Members opposite—is that there is no reason, now that scientific progress allows us adequate channels in a very much larger spectrum, to stop people who want to do so from risking their own money in trying to entertain the public by singing, acting, writing or speaking. This seems to me a natural freedom in a democracy.
I cannot understand those who say that we should not allow this and should control it. What are we so suspicious of? As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Epsom (Sir P. Rawlinson) said, we are democrats and utterly dependent on the 50,000 voters that we each try to convert in our constituencies. Surely the judgment of the people can be left to be applied sensibly to broadcasting as it is left to be applied to 778 politics. My only qualification—and it is shared by my right hon. Friends but not by many hon. Members opposite—is that I do not believe in monopoly. I want to make certain suggestions whereby we can break up a monopoly which has grown up since we broke the B.B.C. monopoly.
I think that it was unfortunate, but I did not appreciate that it had happened, that, after this very important Supply day was chosen by the Opposition for a debate on broadcasting, and after many of us had taken a great deal of trouble to prepare speeches about televising the House in order to keep up to date, a private Member selected for debate the subject of televising the House and that this has somehow silenced us on the subject today.
I ask you, Sir Samuel, and the Chairman to think about this Ruling, because it means that every time there is a Supply debate on a certain subject a private Member successful in the Ballot could put down a Motion on much the same thing. Indeed, the Government and the Committee could be muzzled, for he need not turn up on the Friday and speak in the debate and so let the subject go without discussion. That would not be in accordance with the wishes of the House and its general procedure. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North(Mr. Iremonger) will discuss televising the House on 28th May, but I doubt whether that debate will be as well attended as this one is. That will be a pity.
I hope that the Postmaster-General himself will be present on that occasion, because this is a very important subject and we ought to have a well attended debate with a responsible Minister present. I suspect that my hon. Friends and perhaps some hon. Members opposite will want to speak in that debate which may well last too long for the debate on the second subject, a Motion on House of Lords reform by the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton), to take place.
The Postmaster-General constantly stressed national resources, but did not underline the adequate and sensible use of wavebands available for broadcasting on an international basis. He [...]aid that we would have to make provision in the 779 ultra high frequency bands—bands 4 and 5—to repeat programmes now going out on bands 1 and 3, the B.B.C. and I.T.A. programmes, because, he said, we did not want switchable sets for the future.
Since this recommendation was made by the Technical Committee of the Television Advisory Committee to the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, we have had some experience with bands 4 and 5, rather unhappy experience for the B.B.C., through no fault of its own, because of the physical properties of these bands. If we are concerned with the best use of national resources, I would have thought that we ought to keep the basic B.B.C. service going on band 1, where it gives very good coverage and a perfectly adequate picture and on which it can be received by most people in black and white and by those, who for many decades will be the great majority, who cannot afford to buy the more sophisticated sets, let alone colour television sets. It seems sensible that we should not rush in to repeat these programmes and to spend money on taking up extra channels on bands 4 and 5, but that we should continue to use bands 1 and 3 up to the limit.
I did not altogether agree with what the Postmaster-General said about hours. He said that there was a divergence of views and that extra hours would cost the B.B.C. extra money and so it did not want them, while extra hours would get the I.T.A. programme companies extra money and so they did want them. Surely it is the consumer about whom we should be thinking in the House of Commons. If the shift worker wants these programmes, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir J. Rodgers) said, must we always go at the pace of the slowest? If this argument is carried to its extremes, we would say that the Palladium cannot run three shows on a Saturday because the Coliseum does not do so.
This is a complete fallacy and I hope that now that the B.B.C. has extra money—and we are examining whether it is using it correctly—we should consider what happens if the I.T.A. wants to entertain people and to use its capital equipment and studios to do so at other 780 hours. Have we any right to say that the shift worker who sleeps during the day must be denied television entertainment which comes outside normal hours and at times when most people have gone to bed? If someone wants to risk his money entertaining outside normal hours, there is no reason why he should not do so.
I should like to refer to B.B.C. finances. The right hon. Gentleman was right to say that this was a matter to be considered. Many of us on this side of the Committee believe that an outside audit would be a good arrangement for examining whether these vast sums of money are being used in the most economical way. The B.B.C. has always said that it does not wish to finance from borrowing, feeling that somehow that is to forgo its independence. Our universities are financed by Government grant through the U.G.C. and I do not think that anyone has suggested that their views are not very independent.
Because the B.B.C. borrowed from the Government in order to spend capital on equipping new stations and perhaps to spread B.B.C. 2, it would not in any way forgo its traditional independence of the Government of the day. Borrowing would seem to be the normal way to finance a capital programme, not always putting it on the licence fee. This is something which should be re-examined and we ought to make sure that old bogies are not being brought up by the B.B.C. when the tradition is outdated. I very well remember that the B.B.C. said that it would be able to run its second programme provided that it was allowed to keep the whole of the £4 licence fee. I concede that prices have risen quite a lot in the intervening years, but that statement was made long before the present Director-General was in the chair.
I now turn to the subject of the streamlining of B.B.C. staff. I think that it is the experience of most hon. Members who have broadcast on radio or television—and I speak as someone who was a television producer before I came to the House—that B.B.C. standards of manning are much more generous than those of I.T.A., and I think overgenerous. The figures show a discrepancy of about two to one. This is out of all proportion to the programme quality 781 which the B.B.C. might claim is rather better. The quality of the administration is better and the entertainment which one gets when one goes there undoubtedly is better. But none of these things would justify a two to one ratio of the staff required for programmes by the B.B.C. and by I.T.A.
The Postmaster-General did not make what is perhaps the most important point of all. He did not say that he would expect the B.B.C. to increase the productivity of its staff, as we expect the nationalised industries and everyone else to do. Every Minister who stands at the Box says that it is hoped that the latest wage increase—in this instance a licence fee increase—will be linked to more productivity. The more sophisticated equipment, the better and more sensitive cameras with less lighting needed as a result and fewer breakdowns and more sophisticated arrangements coming to be used in television studios ought to result in far greater productivity. This covers the technical engineers and studio staffs and so on. This is a factor which ought to be taken into consideration.
I was a member of the group on this side of the House which wanted to break the B.B.C. monopoly. An hon. Member opposite referred to that group. Although people like to say that this was done for commercial purposes, I know of no instance in which any of those people has gained financially out of it. We believed at the same time that we should keep public service broadcasting going in this country. We believed that this was the task of the B.B.C., the task for which it had world-wide renown.
It is for this reason that I do not altogether like the idea that the B.B.C. should start to accept advertisements. This seems to lead to a rather slippery slope, because advertisements would be linked to certain types of programmes. The B.B C. would say that it could not accept advertisements with religious programmes, or serious plays, or Shakespeare programmes, and that would begin to push the advertising into a hole and corner. This is undesirable and I prefer to keep the B.B.C. as a public service. It accepts advertisements very widely in its publications—the figure used to be more than £1 million a year and is now, I think, more than £2 million a year— 782 and I have no objection to that, but I do not believe that the way to finance the B.B.C. is through advertising on programmes.
I ask the Government not to think always in terms of an increase of £1 in the licence fee, from £3 to £4 to £5 to £6. Each £1 means £l3½ million extra. The £5 might become five guineas. It does not seem necessary automatically to raise the increase by £1 to provide a total of £13½ million when an increase is justified.
I want now to deal with the breaking of the monopoly. I said that one of my motivations behind my attitude in broadcasting and television was that I did not believe that a monopoly by the B.B.C., or anyone else, was right. For the same reason, I do not think it right that the independent television companies should have an advertising monopoly in the areas where they operate. I believe that the next move should be a fourth channel used by commercial stations, financed by advertisements but which does not make use of the same programme contractors, because I like diversification.
I am not against monopoly merely because of the evil that some undertakings may grow lush and perhaps lazy and over-careful. In broadcasting artists should have a choice of employment. If an artist offends one group, he should be able to sack his boss and go next door and have the chance of getting a job in another television or broadcasting system. I could quote instances from my life in the B.B.C. Perhaps I have made mistakes myself. One might have a flaming row with a commentator or an artist and say, "That man is so awkward I will not employ him again." It is not right that a person's talent should be denied because his personality clashes with that of someone else. This is very important and is another reason why a second set of independent stations should be started.
It has been said—and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Epsom dealt with this point—that there would not be enough talent. This is an argument which I have heard used every time it is proposed to expand television. When I first joined the B.B.C. T.V. in 1937 it broadcast from 7 until 9 every night. When we extended these hours we heard arguments to the effect that it lowered standards and that there were not 783 enough writers, actors, script writers, music people, and so on, to go round. Of course, this is not true. The artistic world expands as opportunities are offered and extra hours are required. If a person like Lew Grade—and who am I to challenge his commercial judgment—thinks that there is enough artistic talent available to man a second commercial network, I should not like to contradict him.
I turn to the question of independent sound stations. The hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Boston) dealt with this point. My figures show that the cost of starting a sound station would be cheaper than the figure which he quoted. I should have thought that £20,000 was adequate. I spoke to the man running the Manx local station, and he told me that he did it all with a total staff of eight, which included doormen and sweepers. I think that the figure of 15 which the hon. Member quoted is on the large side.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
I make this point only because the whole purpose of a small broadcasting station is to do it quickly and cheaply. It is the equivalent of a cyclostyle press. I do not mind if the quality is not very good or whether it broadcasts for only five hours a day. Five hours is more than enough. If those running the station can derive a living from it and entertain people and arouse enough local interest for perhaps two hours during the mornings and evenings and an hour at lunchtime, why should they be denied the right to do it?
I agree with all that the hon. Member for Faversham said about the opportunities which exist for local sound radio stations. I do not think that we should assume that there is room for only one in any town. I was recently in Boston, where there are seven local broadcasting stations. I know that that is a large town, but we should not assume that there is room for only one station in a town and plan on that basis.
Speaking as someone who represents a dormitory area, I should like to mention another respect in which a local broadcasting station can be of tremendous value. I refer to the broadcasting of traffic information morning and evening. In Boston a helicopter could hover 784 over our heads to which we listened all the way. We could hear perhaps that there had been a smash at a certain bridge and that all traffic was asked to divert this way or that. This is essentially a local matter. Timing is important. It is no good feeding such information back to the B.B.C., because it is of interest only to the local community.
Another reason why I am in favour of the local stations, apart from my general philosophy as to why people should be allowed to entertain people, is the potential in the export market. Clearly under-developed countries can afford this type of equipment. For television, the cost of the initial transmitting equipment and the receivers may be far beyond the reach of most under-developed countries, but the cost of transistor receivers and simple local broadcasting and transmitting equipment is not beyond their reach.
I come to the question of who is to control the second I.T.A. channel? Who is to oversee it? I am not talking in terms of censorship. Who is to administer it, as the I.T.A. tries to do now with the present contractors? The way to do it is to broaden the I.T.A. so that it becomes a Broadcasting Authority. It would then have a general oversight over the standards of the B.B.C., of the I.T.A. and of local broadcasting stations. If people say that this is too near censorship, I would point out that we have long accepted the British Board of Film Censors which we do not find undesirable and which most of us support. Most countries have some sort of broadcasting authority.
This would also have the tremendous merit to which reference was made earlier that it would decentralise from the responsibility of the Postmaster-General any Questions in the House concerning particular programmes, bias or slant. The Postmaster-General should be very careful before he interferes. This is the sort of function which could be properly carried out by a broadcasting authority on the lines which I have suggested.
Up to now the Postmaster-General has been the authority on powers, wavelengths, the allocation of time and hours. Some of these responsibilities could also be decentralised to the broadcasting authority.
785 On the use of wavelengths, the Post Office is a tremendous user of the radio spectrum. It has a vested interest in it. I do not believe that it is in the long-term interest, or making the optimum use of wavelengths, that they should be concentrated in the hands of someone who is a very considerable user. It might well be that we should set up something like the Federal Communications Commission which looks after these matters in the United States. This is exactly the solution which was recommended in the Beveridge Report, which constituted a very much more thorough examination of broadcasting problems than the more recent Pilkington Report.
May I summarise what I have said? I believe that the time has come to get on with the second channel in commercial television. It would be wrong to encourage the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. to spend money in duplicating on u.h.f. the programmes which exist on bands 1 and 3. I support the development of local broadcasting, because I believe that it could be of service to the people. Lastly, we should broaden the I.T.A. so that it has a general oversight over all broadcasting in this country and to make sure that the standards of all the authorities are roughly equal and fair.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Mapp (Oldham, East)
I have listened to all the debate, apart from about 15 minutes, and I have heard very thin arguments called in aid to support the views advanced in the opening speech from the Opposition Front Bench. The policy put forward by the right hon. and learned Member for Epsom (Sir P. Rawlinson), followed by other Opposition speakers, reveals the bald fact—it was underlined by the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing)—that the recommendations of right hon. and hon. Members opposite are that the fourth channel should go to I.T.V., that local sound broadcasting should go to the independents and, apparently, that additional hours should be conceded in face of what the Postmaster-General has said. In addition, we have heard observations from individual hon. Members opposite to the effect that the B.B.C. should institute time and motion study or have some new auditors. In the final analysis, 786 the policy of the Opposition is wholly and exclusively based on the profit motive—not so much a policy as a way of profit. That seems to be their whole idea.
I wonder whether my hon. Friends noted the significant fact that, when the hon. Member for Hendon, North was speaking about advertising, he quickly and automatically assumed that the B.B.C. should not enter that field, and there were some approving noises in his support from other hon. Gentlemen opposite. Plainly, on that side of the House the dogma is held that advertising as such should be confined to the area which already holds it. I shall discuss later in my speech whether there is a case for the B.B.C., in any or all of its media, coming in on the commercial advertising side.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
The hon. Gentleman will concede that, in saying that the B.B.C. should not advertise, we are following the view strongly expressed by the B.B.C. itself in a document issued to both sides of the House today.
§ Mr. Mapp
I know that the hon. Gentleman will call in aid every argument he can think of to avoid the logic of what I was saying. At one moment, hon. and right hon. Members opposite want to break the monopoly situation, but I have not heard any argument about breaking the monopoly in television advertising.
§ Mr. Mapp
But the point was made by him that the way to break it would be to set up another commercial agency, not break it by permitting the B.B.C., for instance, to come in. The thinking of the Opposition is very significant on this issue all the time.
I have limited willingness and opportunity to look at television or to listen to broadcasting generally, but, in passing, I must say that I take strong exception to the exotic nature of many of the advertisements one sees on television. I do not say that of all of them; some are quite acceptable in one's dining room. A few of them, on the other hand, are outrageous, and a good many are much over-coloured in presentation. In my view, something should be done about it. 787 When independent television pretends to put on serious programmes, one can sense behind them a patronising and superficial attitude. When its programmes are light and on the surface, they are over-sophisticated. When they are light but go beneath the surface, they are usually sordid and based on a certain amount of disordered morality.
Another matter which disturbs me about both the B.B.C. and independent television, though it applies more to the independent channel, is that their programmes seem to be moving more and more in the direction of the feminine audience. As a mere male, I regret that half the nation which likes to see sport and manly things, as it were, is not properly catered for. This certainly applies to commercial television, and I much regret it. I have discussed the matter with I.T.V. officials. If our television is to take on more and more of a feminine background, they should let us know, because, for me, it will then be just as welcome as the women's journals. One will lose interest. These things should be produced for a special audience, if it is so desired.
In my view, the achievement of B.B.C. programmes generally—I shall come to a reservation on this point in a few moments—is that they are fairly well balanced, exceedingly good on national occasions of sport and entertainment and on national events. But, while I should not particularly approve of the comments made by the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd), I must say that there are many of us, on both sides of the House, I am sure, who do not approve of the growing and fairly indiscriminate use of bad language on television, in more ways than one. I think that this ought to be said, and I say it from a family point of view, not with any narrow-minded approach. The B.B.C. is no exception in this respect.
I suggested that there were blemishes, and I think that the weekend programme we have heard so much about was produced in the main out of what I would call the late harvesting of perverse university habits of young men who, more or less, take 10 years to settle down. It is time that our television programme compilers and producers reflected more strongly in their personnel the personality 788 and experience which comes at about 40 years of age. We do not want in our dining rooms programmes which exhibit excessive or exotic ideas of sex and sadism. This is not what one wants to have brought into the ordinary home. I can understand it in the young. We have all been young men, and I fully understand it, but we are entitled to expect from both broadcasting authorities the kind of balanced responsibility and experience which come somewhere after 35 years of age or so. As things are, however, it seems that the programmes are almost consistently dominated by young people.
I turn now to a totally different aspect of television. On page 101 of the Annual Report and Accounts of the British Broadcasting Corporation for 1963–64, one can see the breakdown of the regional figures for television. I find that, including publications, the revenue, which reflected the viewing public nationally in 1963–64, was £32.6 million, and expenditure was £34.8 million, giving a deficit. The regional impact of these figures is as follows. In the North—I wish to make this point beyond all argument—the revenue is 30 per cent. and the expenditure is 27 per cent., greater than London's figures, which are 26 per cent. revenue and 24 per cent. expenditure. I put it to the regions in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the West and even the Midlands, that these figures are most illuminating. In the North region, we have the largest revenue, one-sixth greater even than the London revenue, and twice as much as the revenue of Scotland and Wales combined. The point of these figures, of course, is that they reflect the number of licence holders. How is the money spent, and what does the policy seem to be in respect of the North region?
The North is three times as profitable as London, but together the gains of both London and the North are out-done 10 times by the deficits in the other regions, and ultimately we face that deficit of £2.23 million. I give those figures because the North as we know it is the only real counter-magnet to London. We can study the figures to see what is happening. Because of the need for economy in the B.B.C., its board room is looking round for ways and means of making those economies, and it is feared in the 789 North that there will be a big attack on that region to break it down into 10 or 12 splinter areas. This would be economic foolishness. It would certainly be socially undesirable.
The North region covers a vast area. It includes Newcastle, and both sides of the hills. It covers a large part of the country. The capital investment there must not be wasted. Is our region—as well as the Welsh, the Scottish, and all the others—to become totally, or largely, dependent on the capital city? Is it right that, although in the North we have the offices, the equipment, and the technical knowledge that is necessary, everything should be centralised in London?
I concede that the services to some areas in the North should be increased, but that increase could be provided without killing the heart of the North and making it even more remote from London. People in the North are apprehensive about what is going to happen, and I should like some assurance that anything which is done will not be to the detriment of the region about which I am concerned, which is not just the North-West, but the North generally.
I turn now to the long-term problem of B.B.C. financing. I notice that hon. Gentlemen opposite had little or nothing to contribute to this problem. I think the duty rests on us to decide the best method of dealing with this issue. The volume of B.B.C. new viewers has reached almost saturation point. It has reached the stage when it cannot look forward to an increase in revenue. Its revenue is likely to be constant and static, and this is an impediment in an era when money values are changing, and the cost of employing artists and providing entertainment is rising rapidly.
We are all asking for increased services. How can the B.B.C. provide them without coming to the House to ask for more money, or by getting it in some other way? Is it to be given a grant? This idea was, I think, tentatively put forward from the benches opposite. Is it to be done by cutting down the service it provides? Is it to be done by increasing the licence fee to the point where the average man objects to paying it? I think that at the moment we are getting the best and cheapest television in the world, but we 790 have to take account of the views of the people whom we represent, and I have no doubt that if the licence fee was increased many people would ask why they were being called on to pay an additional sum for a vehicle of communication which they seldom used.
We face a dilemma when we have a nationalised industry competing with private enterprise, as we have in broadcasting. We ensure that the pricing structure of the nationalised industry is governed by social criteria; but private enterprise on the other hand, is allowed to base its pricing structure purely on profitability. If one examines the precedents—and there are many of them; transport is one, and power is another—one sees this built-in contradiction in every case. We expect our nationalised, or socialised, bodies to be viable—I think that is the word—yet they have a built-in structure of social criteria for social purposes.
If the private enterprise sector is to be allowed, as it always will be, to have profitability as its criterion, plus selectivity of service—the second of those is very important—the social agency, whatever it may be, will lose in the long run. Therefore, distasteful though it is to me, I have had to consider whether in this modern age, we should permit the B.B.C. to earn revenue by advertising. I do not want advertising to be brought into people's dining rooms, but we have to decide whether to continue as purists, or to allow the B.B.C. to earn money by advertising.
If we allow the B.B.C. to advertise, we will bring in a totally new and equitable factor vis-àvis its competitor. I believe that if we do we will break a monopoly in the sense of advertising on television, not by putting in another competing private interest, but by introducing a State agency. Secondly, the B.B.C. would have the right of veto, which would cut both ways, and this would ensure that advertising standards reached a certain minimum, which would eliminate some of the worst forms which we see today.
If we accept the principle that the B.B.C., under the terms laid down by the House, should be allowed to advertise, we will introduce a new source of revenue. It has been argued that this would interfere with the editorial chair. 791 Would it? Do I take it that the argument is that when I read The Times, or The Guardian, or the Daily Worker, or any other paper, I am over-influenced by the pages that I never read, namely, the pages carrying the advertisements? We have come to accept newspaper advertisements for what they are, and take no notice of them. They do not influence our judgment. I am sure that they do not influence the judgment of ordinary people.
The central problem that arises in any sphere of activities where a utility is produced by a nationalised or similar body on the one hand and by a private enterprise organisation on the other, is that ultimately the position is always reached when the nationalised body, operating as a social agent, ceases to become viable, I say with some regret that I am prepared to compromise. I hope that the committee examining the question will say, "Let us be pragmatic in solving this. Do not let us be dogmatic." In the 'seventies we shall be able to look at the matter again. Last year the I.T.A. had between 7,000 and 8,000 advertising customers, and that number could be doubled in the next two or three years. We should spread our broadcasting arrangements throughout the system, involving all the possible advertisers, from the princes of industry down to the regional captains of industry. If it still remained necessary for some help to come from the public purse I would not object to that help being given, because the public purse could operate equitably as between the two.
§ Mr. Charles Curran (Uxbridge)
I am interested in the hon. Member's argument and I should like to know how far he takes it. Does he say that he would like the B.B.C. to take advertising on both radio and television?
§ Mr. Mapp
I did say that I wanted the B.B.C. to have advertising on all its mediums. If that were to come about it should share a veto with I.T.V. This House would impose on both certain overriding considerations.
I was saying that twice as much money, if not more, would go into the world of broadcasting if advertising were allowed in this way. There is no reason 792 why this should not be considered. I hope that the two major points that I have made will be considered. The first was a regional one, but nevertheless an important one, namely, that London should not be the only magnet. There are other magnets. The life of our country would be imperilled if everything rotated round London when the largest region is the North. My second point was that we must be broad-minded about the way in which we meet future financial requirements. If we are to have expansion we should be courageous enough to take all the opportunities available.
§ 7.44 p.m.
§ Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)
I very much appreciated the clarity of the opening exposition of the Postmaster-General. Before proceeding further, I should declare a minor interest in the matter. Immediately prior to coming to the House I was under contract to the B.B.C. I still appear occasionally in Scottish programmes, both on the B.B.C. and the Independent channels.
I disagree with the Postmaster-General on only one point—the question of a variation in the licence fee. I am interested to note that the argument for variation is under consideration in respect of colour television. I do not accept the argument that those of us who live in areas which do not receive B.B.C.2 should be expected to pay the increase in the fee on the ground that they are paying for a service that they will receive at some time in the future. This is completely illogical. The people in the South-East region did not have to pay an increased fee when their additional service was in preparation. They paid it only when the service was available. To say that it will be more expensive to extend it to other areas, and therefore that the people in those areas should pay more for it, is an odd argument from a Socialist, especially when we accept a flat rate postal charge.
The Government's presentation of their case completely omitted the question of an extension of the existing basic broadcasting services to parts of the country where it is either unsatisfactory or nonexistent. It should have been a priority of the last Government, and certainly of this one, to make sure that before there 793 is any further discussion of a fourth channel, or an extension of B.B.C.2 services, the existing services are improved or are created in areas which now receive bad services or none at all.
Parts of Welsh-speaking Wales do not yet receive the Welsh Home services, and there are parts of Galloway which, even when the new scheme is introduced, will not receive B.B.C. Scottish television, and parts of northern Scotland which are still without any television at all. I hope that we shall hear something tonight about the extension of existing basic services.
In my view, if there is a fourth channel it should be given to the B.B.C., and advertising should be allowed on it. It is interesting to read the B.B.C.'s objections to taking advertising, and to hear some of the arguments that are used against it. I would like those who are against it to remember that we are faced with the fact that if we are to have a fourth channel it must be financed. If we are not to have advertising on the B.B.C. we must either bump up the licence fee—somebody said that we could possibly raise the licence fee by £5 in the future—or give the fourth channel to commercial television. The B.B.C. should be very careful about expressing the view that it wants to be free of advertising lest it loses the channel altogether.
Some hon. Members, and certainly some members of the public, will feel that on balance the fourth channel should go to commercial television rather than that there should be a substantial increase in the licence fee. That is why, when I say that it is desirable that the channel should go to the B.B.C. I also say that it is desirable that an independent advertising authority should be set up to regulate advertising on that channel.
The right hon. and learned Member for Epsom (Sir P. Rawlinson) advanced the peculiar argument that the new channel should go to commercial television because we must break the monopoly that exists in commercial television. I found that argument very difficult to follow. I thought that we had broken the monopoly in television when we first introduced commercial television. If we are to say that we must have more competition the process could go on 794 indefinitely. Why stop at two commercial channels? Why not go on to three or four? Some hon. Members have advocated this. My contention is that if we have unlimited competition for advertising, the more competition there will be for viewers and listeners, and there will be a general lowering of standards of programmes. That would be undesirable.
On the question of sound radio and local broadcasting stations, we might open a new sound wavelength, under the control of the B.B.C. on a national basis, with local stations having set "opt-out" periods, rather than establish a complete gaggle of independent stations throughout the country. If they were really local stations they would be extremely numerous.
I also support the idea that the B.B.C. should open up a "pop" channel to replace pirate services. Consideration might also be given to the question of all-night radio programmes. These could largely be repeats of programmes that had been broadcast during the day. It seems odd that we do not cater at all for those on night shift. The radio services which are in operation have never undergone a radical change since the introduction of television. We still have the basic radio framework which we had in this country before television came into being. The advent of television has changed completely, I would think, the purpose and object of the radio services. Certainly we should welcome a Government proposal to have a completely different radio framework on the lines of the demands for local broadcasting "pop" channels, night-shift work, for the increasing number of people who use radio in cars, and so on.
In connection with local broadcasting, I wish to draw the attention of the Committee to the success in the sphere of independent television of Border Television at Carlisle. I think this is the smallest of the television stations. It is the only one which managed to keep going during the recent television strike. Oddly enough, its own local early evening programme after the six o'clock news has the highest viewing record of any of these programmes, either on B.B.C. or I.T.V. That is, I believe, due partly to the small area it covers and, there- 795 fore, the purely local content of the programme.
Border Television has introduced a new experiment in which, I am glad to say, the Conservative Chief Whip and I took part a week or two ago. It has broken into the middle peak viewing period on Saturday night to put on a discussion programme. Lest it be thought that I am giving Border Television a mild pat on the back with a view to the future, I must also make the point that its fees are the lowest I have ever come across.
Regarding the standard of programmes generally, my main criticism would be that we have too much imported and bought film which is of dubious quality and frequently of even more dubious age. Apart from that, I do not think that the B.B.C. or I.T.V., while they should certainly listen to the criticisms which are made, should draw in their horns and cease to cater for minority tastes. Surely there is room late at night on weekend nights for programmes of the type of "Not So Much A Programme …" just as there is room for "Lift Up Your Hearts" early in the morning. I cannot support the argument of the right hon. and learned Member for Epsom that the Oxford Union debate on Queen and country should not be televised. It is a matter which has been raised in public, the public is aware of it and there is a certain amount of interest in it. if people are offended by these programmes, or do not like them, they do not have to watch them. I often suspect that there is in this country a kind of person who gets a perverse kick out of watching these things deliberately and then writing furious letters to the B.B.C. or to The Times.
I come finally to two points which have not so far been raised in the debate. One of the recommendations made in the Beveridge Report which has been raised subsequently on other occasions is the need for greater devolution in the broadcasting regions. I think this is particularly necessary in the natural regions—ornations—of Scotland and Wales. Certainly broadcasting in Scotland suffers greatly from lack of funds and lack of overall control in Scotland. It has been argued that looking at the accounts—to take the British Broadcasting Corporation as an 796 example—this would not be justified because regions of the B.B.C. like Scotland are at present subsidised. This is a fallacious argument, and if the accounts were prepared on a different basis it would be seen that this is not the case. To give one example, there is a popular Scottish programme which is seen throughout the nation—"Dr. Finlay's Casebook." This programme is produced in England, not in Scotland. If we had autonomous or, at any rate, a greater control over broadcasting in Scotland, it could be produced in Scotland and sold—showing no doubt a huge profit in the balance sheet—to authorities south of the Border.
I do not accept the argument that it is financially impossible to do this. I reiterate the point made frequently by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Liberal Party that the output of broadcasting from Scotland to the rest of the country and the rest of the world seems to fall into two categories. One is the 1920 picture of Scotland as seen in, "Dr. Finlay's Casebook". The other is the sort of kilted dressed Andy Stewart type of programme, which certainly has its place—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad to hear that vociferous support as I had thought that this was the part of my speech which would be received most coldly.
The rest of Scottish radio and television broadcasting is of a pretty poor level, both within Scotland and in the programmes which go out of Scotland. There is, for example, criticism from Equity and other unions of insufficient use of Scottish talent in drama programmes, and so on. Certainly there is insufficient discussion of Scottish politics in current affairs programmes in Scotland. To give one example, with which I had some connection, it was considered that during the Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles by-election viewers on B.B.C.2 saw more of the campaign than viewers on B.B.C. in Scotland, which seems extremely odd.
§ Mr. Buchan
The hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that that is the reason why he won the by-election?
§ Mr. Steel
No, nor am I suggesting it is the reason why the candidate of the hon. Member's party lost his deposit.
797 The conferences of the three parties in Scotland received very little attention from the broadcasting media, certainly nothing like the attention given to conferences South of the Border. In mitigation, I must say that one of the most successful innovations in broadcasting north of the Border has been the television reports of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. They have been of a very high standard.
It is partly a question of cash and partly of control, and also facilities given or available. The broadcasting facilities in Scotland are very poor indeed. We have a magnificent studio in Glasgow for B.B.C.2. We do not have even a small studio in the capital, Edinburgh, either for B.B.C. or Independent Television. That clearly is much needed.
A matter to which I should like to draw attention, and which interests me very much, is the whole question of current affairs and political broadcasting. An hon. Member who has now left the Chamber said that he wanted interviews with politicians at airports to be stopped because they were open to so much misrepresentation and politicians said foolish things. Television is a most penetrating medium and shows politicians for what they are. If a politician says something stupid it is because he is given to saying stupid things. If he loses his temper it is because he is prone to lose his temper, and no one can blame television or television interviewers for showing this to be so.
I should be grateful to have an answer to this next point. I believe that trans-scripts or recordings should be kept of programmes of a current affairs or a discussion nature which go out "live". I know that this is customary in the case of many programmes, but it is not mandatory. There was a case only two or three weeks ago in a Scottish current affairs programme where a remark by the right hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble) was disputed later by the person to whom he referred who was his Liberal opponent in the General Election. The matter could not be gone into further because the right hon. Member for Argyll thought that he said something different from what other people thought and there was no proof on either side. The question of retaining 798 recordings or making a recorded trans-script of broadcasts which could be contentious is extremely important.
I wish to touch on Section 63 of the Representation of the People Act. I am sure that this is a matter which will be discussed at length by Mr. Speaker's Conference on Electoral Reform. I think that in the realm of broadcasting we might consider whether an immediate change could not be introduced to give the broadcasting authorities the same exemption which newspapers have from the consequences of presenting one candidate and not another in a certain election. It seems to me to be quite wrong that a radio or television authority is not free to report a particular constituency election or by-election referring to the progress of the campaign in an objective manner. They are already under an obligation to keep a balance. A ludicrous situation arises out of the failure to bring our law up to date in this matter.
For example, I believe that there has been a tendency of late for certain people to offer themselves as independent candidates for elections, because they know that they can demand, as a right, certain television time if there is any televising of that contest. This seems to be entirely wrong. Far more important, I am sure that most people would accept now that the television authorities present a reasonable balance. They receive, I suppose, more complaints from the Liberal Party than from any other, but on the whole it must be said that they provide a reasonable balance between the parties. There is no reason that this freedom should not be extended to the reporting of election campaigns, particularly after the Scottish court case, that of the election of the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home). These are two points—on devolution in the broadcasting authorities and political broadcasting—on which I should be grateful for a reply.
§ 8.02 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)
I should like to start by supporting the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) in calling for some revision of the Representation of the People Act in this respect. All 799 kinds of absurdities come out of it as it stands and, patently, the television companies, both B.B.C. and I.T.V., now have a wide experience of how balance can be properly kept. They do not require, in my view, the kind of regulation which has applied up till now. Perhaps it was natural that there should be anxiety about how they would use their powers in the initial stages, but surely now that should be passed and we should approach the matter in a rather more grown-up way. I hope that my hon. Friends will look at this matter seriously and immediately.
There has been some criticism of the B.B.C. and its finances and some suggestion that there has never been any sort of independent investigation of its finances. I do not think that that is true. They have, of course, their own internal O. and M. organisation. Apart from that, there were the investigations and major enquiries, commissions and their reports, and investigations into their financial affairs, but there have also been independent investigations which the B.B.C. have themselves commissioned. Therefore, there does not appear to be on their part any unwillingness to have their system of finance investigated. Indeed, the investigations which have been carried out so far suggest that they do their work efficiently.
We have had displayed in the Committee a split mind attitude from hon. Members on the opposite benches. On the one hand, we had, particularly from the right hon. and learned Member for Epsom (Sir P. Rawlinson) a demand, as far as I could understand it, that the B.B.C. should pay more attention to mass audiences in some respects. He criticised the B.B.C. for not doing so and for apparently turning its back on the mass audiences which were there for the having. Yet he also complained that they were not providing for a more selective audience and that they were not adequately meeting the wide range of needs which there are in the community. I think that there is some justification for the complaints which have been made, both about the B.B.C. and the I.T.V., on grounds of quality of programmes. But one must look to see what the cause of this could be. I suggest that to some extent, we—particularly hon. Members 800 opposite—must accept some responsibility for this.
To start with, the introduction of commercial television itself—whatever its rights and wrongs—was bound to concentrate more and more attention on the mass audience. It was bound to make the needs of minority audiences less easy to satisfy. It is no use saying that the B.B.C. is not subject to the kind of pressures which the I.T.V. is. Obviously, one cannot isolate the B.B.C. in this way. Once the provision of commercial television began, bringing with it the necessity to estimate the audience if advertising is to be secured at all, then clearly this has its effect upon the B.B.C. as well. They are bound to find it necessary to give more attention to the size of their audience for particular programmes than we might normally think is desirable. Therefore, I think that questions of quality are to some extent due to the very changes which were brought in when commercial television was introduced.
Secondly, as there has been this pressure for extending programme time—whatever hon. Members may say—I think that it is again quite inevitable that, as programme time is extended, it is likely to have some effect upon the quality of transmissions. Whatever a few may say, there is some limitation—at any rate at the top level—on quality and performance. Therefore, we must not be altogether surprised if we find that, over the past five years or so, there has been some change, and not altogether a happy one.
I think that this is a matter worth considering when we are thinking about further extension of time of service. We should consider carefully what form that extension should take and what kind of audience we want to satisfy. That is why I hope that, in considering the possibility of a fourth channel, my right hon. Friends will still keep in mind the possibility of educational television. There is also a big opportunity within existing channels, which are not fully occupied at the moment. I believe that there is a need for a largely educational national programme and that there is still a strong case for the devotion of the fourth channel to it.
I also believe in discussing possible further educational uses of broadcasting, 801 that a very great contribution can be made by sound broadcasting and certainly by local programmes. I support what has been said about the desirability of the development as rapidly as possible of local sound broadcasting stations. I would suggest that there is a great opportunity for their development for educational purposes.
The whole question of the independence of the B.B.C. has not been fully developed in the debate. It is, of course, relevant to the question of how the Corporation is to be financed and I doubt whether there is any possibility of introducing an element of financing from advertising without damaging the independence of the Corporation's home services as well as its reputation abroad.
I was concerned by what the right hon. and learned Member for Epsom (Sir P. Rawlinson) repeated as being his view about the opinion of the opposition being expressed by the B.B.C. in overseas broadcasts in times of crisis. Although his hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt) tried to recover the position, the right hon. and learned Gentleman repeated his view that the Government of the day should have the whole use of B.B.C. time to present their case in times of crisis abroad. The hon. Member for Hereford tried to explain his right hon. and learned Friend's remarks away by saying that he had merely been saying that opinions contrary to those of the Government should not be the only view heard abroad.
I happened to be in India at the time of the Suez affair. I was on my way further into the Far East, and at that time a great many B.B.C. programmes were being put out. There was no question of only opposition views being expressed. The B.B.C. attempted to have a reasonable balance of view, giving both the Government's case and the contrary view. This was immensely welcomed in those countries. It was an outstanding example of the independence of the B.B.C. It proved the Corporation's independence as nothing else could. It was of enormous benefit to the standing of Britain abroad—that even in a crisis of that sort, when it was known that opinion here was divided, it was still possible for the B.B.C. to give other than the Government point 802 of view. It would he a tragedy if we were to accept the view, which was strongly pressed on the B.B.C. at that time, that it should give only the Government case.
§ Mr. Gibson-Watt
The hon. Gentleman has thrown the fly in my direction on several occasions and I now rise to it. When my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Epsom (Sir P. Rawlinson) was referring to this matter—and it is unfortunate that he is not in his place at the moment to answer—he was saying that he entirely agreed that the Postmaster-General should not exert his authority over the B.B.C. but that it was a different thing in times of a national emergency such as Suez. I added in my short intervention that if such a thing were to happen in the situation in, say, Malaysia today, then this might also apply. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be careful in quoting what my right hon. and learned Friend said in his absence.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
Hon. Members will see in the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow just what was said. It is precisely on points of this sort that the independence of the B.B.C. rests. Whether we talk about Malaysia or Suez, it is right that it should be seen at all times to be independent and to be able to declare, in as balanced a way as possible, the attitudes which are current in the country. I welcomed the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General on this issue, which were in clear contradistinction to the view of the right hon. and learned Member for Epsom.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills (Belfast, North)
While I do not wish to closely follow the remarks of the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop), I believe that he somewhat misrepresented the view of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Epsom (Sir P. Rawlinson). My hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt) gave as an example the possibility of war breaking out in Malaysia. That is relevant to the situation to which my right hon. and learned Friend referred.
I will give another example. Would the B.B.C. have been justified during, say, the 1939–45 war, particularly at the time of Dunkirk, in giving time in its 803 external services for the expression of the views of the very small Fascist minority in Britain, particularly since the people comprising that minority were at the time interned? In a national emergency we must consider these matters in very special terms. I will not pursue the matter further, because I wish to be brief.
The debate has been much concerned with the question of standards. The Independent Television Authority, by exercising the rôle of policeman, has had a considerable effect on keeping up standards in independent television. The main concern now is over the standards of the B.B.C., which are, perhaps, not as acceptable to all sections of the community as they might be.
Donald Baverstock was recently pushed out of a leading job in the B.B.C. and many people feel, rightly or wrongly, that he was to some extent made a scapegoat for the criticism which was going on in the B.B.C. His removal from a leading post at a young age caused a good deal of offence and concern to many other people of his generation working in television. While I do not expect a reply from the Government on this point, I have made these remarks so that they will be on the record.
Many people wonder whether Sir Hugh Greene, the Director-General of the B.B.C., is the right person for the job. I have no doubt that Sir Hugh is a man of very many qualities, but I have considerable doubts about whether both his judgment and general standards are, as head of this great organisation, altogether suitable. I am not convinced that Sir Hugh is fully in touch with what ordinary people are thinking or that he is properly interpreting the rôle which the Director-General of the B.B.C. should take.
The B.B.C. has built up its position in Britain to a tremendous extent due to the work of Lord Reith. If at the beginning of its life the B.B.C. had not had someone of the stature of Lord Reith in command it would not have become as broadly accepted in the community as it has. I doubt whether it would have attained its present position had it started off with Sir Hugh Greene as its first Director-General.
The question of standards in the B.B.C. is not an easy matter and I agree 804 that it would be undesirable if the Postmaster-General or any politician acted as general policeman. The case has been strongly made, and the Postmaster-General several times hinted that there is a case for some kind of overall broadcasting authority for the Independent Television Authority, the B.B.C., and local sound radio, when it comes.
I have grave doubts as to the general value of the advisory committee structure of the B.B.C. which has recently been extending to the Independent Television Authority. I believe that an advisory committee is not suitable for the kind of general supervision which is required. The Postmaster-General might consider having a Select Committee composed of members from both sides of the House, to which complaints about standards could be put. As hon. Members have the advantage of being, perhaps, more closely in touch with public opinion than has the advisory committee type of organisation, they might be able to help in this way. A case has in my view definitely been made out for some new form of advisory procedure.
The Postmaster-General referred briefly to the overseas broadcasting service. Apart from one slightly contentious matter that has come into the debate, I think that we can agree, that, broadly speaking, this is a most useful service. It is, of course, very hard in any particular case to assess its value, but I am sure that hon. Members who have travelled abroad or who have taken part in it will know that it is greatly welcomed and highly regarded abroad. While it is difficult to judge it in hard terms, I am sure that it plays a very useful rôle.
The right hon. Gentleman gave a five-year projection of what the B.B.C.'s potential deficit would have been if the licence fee had stayed as it was when he took office. He put the total deficit at, I think, £121 million, but when I intervened he took great care not necessarily to accept those figures himself. He repeated that those were the figures that had been given to him by the B.B.C., and he neither accepted them fully nor rejected them.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
Yes, I appreciate that point. The right hon. Gentleman finds himself at a sort of half-way house.
The right hon. Gentleman announced the increase in the licence fee as an interim measure, and he took the further step of having a review undertaken to see that the B.B.C. was operating efficiently, just as he did in the Post Office when the postal charges were increased. But why did it take six months to come to his decision? Why, if he was so convinced that the figures put on his desk were right when he took office, did he wait six months before making his announcement? If the right hon. Gentleman wants to intervene on this point, I shall gladly give way.
§ Mr. Benn
That is a question that the hon. Gentleman should really ask of his own colleagues. Matters of this kind are bound to be considered very carefully. This position was not new when we carne into office. It was known fully to the party opposite. Repeated representations had been made by the B.B.C. to the party opposite. I do not think that this is a question that can be but to the incoming administration in the [...]irtical terms that the hon. Gentleman has used.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
The right hon. Gentleman's reply would be relevant if he had acted in the first month of taking office, but if he felt that the figures were so absolutely pointed and clear I do not understand why he took six months to reach a decision. I will not pursue the point farther, but it is obvious that the Postmaster-General did not necessarily accept that the figures were quite as clear as he tried to make out this afternoon.
It would have been generally welcomed if he had used the facilities provided by his right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State to put this price increase to the National Board for Prices and Incomes. He declined to do that in regard to his one-third price increase in the postal services, and he could have taken this opportunity to put the licence fee increase to that body. The opportunity was not taken, and we must all draw our own conclusions from it.
I think that all hon. Members will agree that, first, local sound radio must be truly local—this is essential. Secondly, 806 it must give a wide variety of choice to the listener. Thirdly, such a service can only be achieved by its not being part of a national organisation. It should, essentially, be built on a local basis, perhaps with the help of the universities, local business, newspapers, and the like. But it must be truly local. It would be damaging to this development if it were to be a B.B.C. preserve. These aims can best be attained by other methods.
I thought that the Postmaster-General, though he obviously was not in a position to make any definite announcement, made it fairly clear that he did not intend to break the B.B.C. monopoly. He indicated that continuous music of a "pop" nature could be provided by the B.B.C., and that B.B.C. local sound radio experiments were continuing. I may be wrong, but I thought that his mind was moving very much in the direction of the B.B.C. entering firmly into the field of local sound radio. That could be harmful to its development.
Again, I felt that the right hon. Gentleman was moving towards giving the fourth channel to the B.B.C. In this connection, I would remind him of what was said by the late Mr. W. R. Williams on 27th June, 1963, as the Opposition spokesman. The debate was about the allocation of the fourth channel. He said this:I am very glad that the Postmaster-General has said that the Government will review the position. I have no objection whatever to Independent Television reviewing the situation and all its aspects between now and 1965 and presenting its case to whoever happens to be Postmaster-General at the time. I think that this House would be failing in its constitutional responsibilities if it failed to recognise that a matter of this magnitude was one proper for the I.T.A. and not for the Government of the Day."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th June, 1963; Vol. 679, c. 1817.]At the time when the Television Bill went through Parliament in 1963, the Labour Party supported the Bill. I argue very strongly that the words of the late Mr. Williams which I have quoted constituted a very strong commitment by the Labour Party to support independent television having the fourth channel. I hope that the Government will not renege on this in the year ahead.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrew, West)
The hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) ventured on to slightly 807 dangerous ground when he attacked, in rather general terms, the Director-General of the B.B.C. Earlier a similar attack was made, commenting on the Director-General's sense of humour when he used the phrase "little bleeders". This was when the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) was talking about "low taste".
The whole debate, gentle in tone as it has been, has been an exercise with one objective. It has been an exercise to secure the maximum amount of time on radio and television as quickly as possible for commercial interests. This is gentle seduction of the innocent. I hate to admit that there are one or two innocents on this side who have been seduced in regard to the question of advertising on B.B.C. and, above all, the development of what is known as a permanent kind of "pop" programme on television and especially on radio. I sometimes wondered whether we were living in cloud-cuckoo-land as I listened to the analysis of the different forms of control and authority, with suggestions made for control over the B.B.C. and I.T.V. This is not a gentle process. Behind it all is the straightforward, grim, hard, businessman.
We were not in fact discussing the central core of television or of radio, which has things to say to us. It talks to us. It gives us music and drama. All that these people were concerned with was methods of control which would allow the hard-faced men who have done well out of "pop" to get an even firmer grip upon it. The sooner we realise that this is what the debate has been about, gentle as the accents have been, the sooner we shall understand the question at issue.
It seems to me that already the pressure which has been building up is having some effect on the Government. I hope that before the night is out my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General will deny reports which have been appearing—for example in The Times and the Sun last week—to the effect thatThe Government have decided that when the pirate radios are driven off the air by the effects of the legislation they intend to introduce next session, some equivalent programmes must be provided by the B.B.C.808 The argument is that there is a demand for a form of permanent "pop" programme. Hon. Members opposite are offering to do it for money. There is pressure on the Government and on the B.B.C. to provide this kind of music. I hope that the Postmaster-General will keep in mind his own characterisation when he referred to sounding wallpaper, because the whole of our musical and cultural standards are being degraded on the altar of the great god profit. On these kites in the air I shall want some reassurance before the night is out.
Just as we are getting this kind of accent tonight, we are getting the same kind of accent on the general projection of television. People tend to refer to "our television" and "their television", "our television" being the commercial station. We get this permanent kind of "phoney" projection of being at one with all these nice gentlemen. It is the "phoney" accent of bonhomie, with a kind of popularism behind it.
In this kind of drive by the commercial interests at present and the scampering after it by the B.B.C., which is much more serious, I am reminded of the story of the two young producers who put in front of a more senior producer of the B.B.C. a model of the battleship "Potemkin" in order to remind him of what happened when the ratings got out of control. I hope that we shall not indulge in this kind of scampering any longer.
The difficulty in dealing with this matter is that we are accused of two things. We are accused, on the one hand, of having a paternalistic attitude, of being long-haired, of knowing what is best for the people, and of handing it down as if we were standing on the top of a shute and merely dropping little parcels of culture down to those waiting below. On the other hand, we are accused of being killjoys, as though the tycoons behind the "pop" singers, behind Denmark Street, behind commercial television, were concerned with people's fun. They are not concerned with their fun, but with their money. They would not know Joan Littlewood if they saw her walking in the street. They have had no dealings with her. Those of us who are trying to defend standards against what we see happening by way of "pop" are those of 809 us who are interested in fun and in joy, and not those on the other side attached to commercial interests outside.
The Pilkington Report said that commercial television had two tasks to perform. One was to sell advertising space and the other was to produce programmes. The Report said that these two things did not coincide. The Committee was far too kind. These things are mutually contradictory. When actors are paid to appear on advertising and a few minutes later they appear in a programme they are treated with the same kind of disbelief and scepticism, and the truth of the play is destroyed. After having created the demand in these popular markets those concerned now want permission to fulfil the demand. This was the point of Tory Party Questions yesterday.
This is the exploitation of young people. We are told that young people make this world of "pop" and are demanding it. I have been in this business. People in the business make this world. They call these voting people "the mugs". I have, God help me, taken part in all this. Young people who believe that this is the world of "pop" are a mirror image of the hard men who are projecting this world upon them. I do not think that the B.B.C. should have anything to do with this kind of destruction of culture.
We are all affected by this, not only at the top level but at all levels of art at the present time. The best possible example is the kind of deference that has been paid in the Sunday quality papers to the worst writer of the age, Ian Fleming of James Bond fame. This is the kind of effect that kow-towing to the world of "pop" has on our total of culture.
§ Mr. David Steel
One big development of radio broadcasting recently is the broadcasting of serious music throughout the day. No one suggests that "pop" should replace it, but if broadcasting is able to offer serious music all day, why not "pop" music?
§ Mr. Buchan
There are great doubts among many people, including the Musicians' Union, whether there should be a permanent non-stop music programme, because it tends to create indifference in reaction. There is a difference 810 between music created to be listened to and music created for decoration behind the scenes or as the Postmaster-General has described it, sounding "wall-paper" music.
The point is that by having this permanent music we are degrading the rôle and importance of art, including music. I do not want the B.B.C. to fall into this trap. If it does it will sell the pass totally. The B.B.C. is part of society. The rôle of the B.B.C. Light Music Department is not just to reflect the taste of society as the head of B.B.C. sound broadcasting has said. The programmes broadcast by the B.B.C. should help to create the attitudes and taste of society. In this sense the B.B.C. has an important rôle to play.
This leads me to another extremely important point. We are rapidly approaching a crisis as a result of the growth in the use of recorded music in programmes. This use not only degrades the function of music, but it is now beginning directly to affect the livelihood of musicians. Two things are happening. First, the music itself is increasingly being distorted by recording. Those hon. Members who have been to a recording session will know what I mean. The sound put in bears no relation to the sound as it come out on the record. The sound that comes out is nearly 100 per cent. synthetic sound. It is engineers' sound. This is beginning to happen in serious music as well. The tendency is for even a single performance not to go out live but to be recorded; and as soon as it is recorded there is a tendency to use synthetic methods to get a better result. This method of discontinous recording, 2 or 3 minutes of the piece followed by a retake, is destructive of the aptitudes of the musicians themselves, who detest it.
More important is that by having "pop" programmes and canned music to such an extent, the livelihood as well as the artistic qualities of the musicians is affected. I must warn my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General and those representing commercial interests that there is extremely strong pressure at all levels within the Musicians' Union, among both the "pop" boys and the more serious musicians, to abandon the making of gramophone records altogether. I can say with the authority of the Secretary of the Musicians' Union that the 811 position is so worrying that we must not overlook the possible consequences of disregarding what is happening with recordings. One consequence, which, again, I can state with the authority of the Secretary of the Musicians' Union, is that it is not only a possibility, but a probability, that if this trend of the provision of permanent canned music goes on, we will find within the next 12 months that gramophone records are not being made at all. This is a serious probability.
We have seen this problem increasing since Radio Caroline began. The piracy of Radio Caroline is now legalised piracy, because all sorts of livelihoods are involved in this through Radio Manx. There has been nice talk about Radio Manx being a local broadcasting station. It has not, however, provided a local service. Its sponsors are appearing before the Performing Rights Tribunal to ask for something like 8 or 9 hours of canned music—not to provide a local service, not to stimulate local cultural activities and not to project the local scene, but to provide 8 or 9 hours of canned music to attract advertisements. That is their rôle.
It was said in evidence at the Performing Rights Tribunal that if the station broadcast more than 45 minutes of local material in every 8 hours, it would not be attractive to advertisers and, hence, it would not be a viable proposition. Therefore, after all the argument in favour of the establishment of local stations which would serve and stimulate the local community, we find in practice when these matters are left to the commercial boys that we are reduced to a bare 45 minutes of local material, otherwise, it is said, the project will not be a commercial proposition. We must, therefore, take carefully the arguments which have been put forward about advertising and the sponsoring of local radio stations by commercial interests. Above all, we want to avoid the hybrid concept of B.B.C. control plus advertising in this way, because it would be a very thick thin end of the wedge for the commercial interests.
My comment about the serious position which the Musicians' Union is facing and the possibility of action being taken within the next 12 months reminds me 812 that it has already been taken in America for exactly the same reason. If it takes place—and this, perhaps, at least will appeal to hon. Members opposite—it will affect the export market, because we make about £5 million from exporting the Beatles' and other records. If the bottom were to fall out of this market, the Americans would take over and this kind of investment would go. We must, therefore, watch carefully.
I want to look at the effect of advertising on programmes. We are told that advertising is a means of supporting local radio stations. We shall see. We are told that advertising would not affect the programmes themselves. I wonder whether this is true. Certainly, we have set up a system of safeguards. We have written in a method of preventing commercial advertisers from affecting the programmes which are put out. Lord Thomson, of Scottish Television, said, however, that because advertisers paid for viewers,it is inevitable in the system that you should be reaching generally for the maximum number of viewers.Even more seriously, Southern Television's representative stated that it was "impracticable" to put out opera, because no advertiser would be prepared to buy advertising time knowing that the audience would be small. In fact the presence of advertising, despite the written-in safeguards, also writes into it an effect and a control over the nature of the programme. Opera will not be put on because the audience would be too small.
The Postmaster-General should have a look at some of the advertisements we are seeing at the present time. They are just within the meaning of the Act, according to how you define the word "clean" in the I.T.V. Act. The advertising material for one pair of shoes and a pair of trousers called, God help us, James Bond trousers, are ten-second pieces of concentrated sadism and violence. Not the kind of violence which some of the Members opposite have been objecting to—violence as an essential part of life, but violence in order to sell a pair of shoes or a pair of trousers. I hope he will look at this aspect seriously.
In this sphere of advertisements one has to look not only at the nature of the advertisements but the gap between 813 them. We should now seriously consider reducing the amount of advertising to provide a gap of at least one hour between advertisements. This quarter of an hour break is beginning to be destructive of programmes and programme planning.
The Postmaster-General has also to look at the radio position because radio is beginning to give up the struggle in view of the attacks it is facing. To consider regional broadcasting. The National Broadcasting Council has a particular function. This is to operatewith full regard to the distinctive culture, language, interests and tastes of our people in the county for which the Council is established.As the Liberal Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) has pointed out, to a very great extent these local councils have failed in their purposes. Scottish B.B.C. has singularly failed to serve the Scottish people and this is equally true of commercial Scottish television, both in quality and in quantity. We find there is more American material than Scottish material. We are told, for example, in the B.B.C. Report, and I like the sound of it:The Council welcomed the arrangement to produce drama serials for B.B.C.2 in the new Studio 'A' at Glasgow The Council hopes that it will promote creative effort and inspire ideas, for there is still a lack of new drama for radio and television.So we have now perhaps the most modern television studio in Europe in Glasgow for Scottish T.V. But how many plays have been produced by Scottish B.B.C. in the last year? The answer is none. The story is that they propose to double that figure next year. With this new studio they have in fact been working for B.B.C.2. So with the expenditure, for which we are all paying, we are assisting B.B.C.2 which serves one area, already well served and the regional expenditure is cut down. When the breakdown of expenditure in Scottish broadcasting is examined it is found that about £1 million is spent. Of this a very great deal is related to engineering and transmitter problems. They have just spent a £¼ million in building new transmitters for an area which will serve 16,000 people.
When we break down that £1 million, we find that the expenditure on programming by B.B.C. Scottish Television 814 has been £151,000, or 7d. per head of the population, per annum. This situation has occurred under a council which has the duty of fertilising and stimulating the culture of the region. Scottish Television—the commercial company—has managed to produce only seven plays in its eight years' existence, although we were promised that it would develop local drama and music. The Programme Director of Scottish Television, Mr. Noel Stevenson, in a letter to Equity, last year, said,It is not our present policy to produce drama.In other words, one organisation does not produce it and the other says that it is not its policy to produce it. That is the kind of service that we in Scotland are receiving in television. The question of money for regional broadcasting becomes increasingly important.
Recently I was to do a radio programme, a montage of many hours of speech, building up the programme by using tapes. I was asked by the Glasgow studio of the B.B.C. how many tapes I would need. I said that if they were small I would need about 200. When the B.B.C. representative rose up from the floor he said that that was more than the B.B.C. had in all its Scottish studios. We had to get tapes from Birmingham and London to get sufficient to do the programme, lasting ½ hour.
The B.B.C. must see its duties as resisting the siren voices of commercialism. It must take seriously its duty to fertilise and develop cultural attitudes and to develop and fertilise regional culture. This is a more important task than spending money on developing colour television. We are told that this raises money in exports. I do not know about that, but I do know that it will not contribute much in the meantime to the artistic level of broadcasting. How many colour films do hon. Members remember as good films? There have been very few, if any, good colour films. The tendency will be to exploit the medium as a gimmick. Someone said that the first picture to go out on colour would probably be the Black and White Minstrel Show, and last night I conjured up a picture of the Prime Minister appearing in a nice combination of silvery-grey and pink. The real task is to develop the artistic quality of the 815 average programme. Where the B.B.C. is erring, it is doing so where it is attempting to imitate commercial television. I would be a lot more critical if I were discussing commercial T.V.
When my right hon. Friend is considering local broadcasting stations, I hope, first that he will remember the effect of Radio Manx on the livelihood of musicians and its failure to develop local interests before he takes firm decisions. Secondly before he takes decisions following on this review, I hope that he will first of all consult musicians and artistes whose livelihood will be involved. Thirdly, I hope that he will investigate the purpose and the rôle of regional broadcasting, the appointment of officials and so on. Some recent appointments have disturbed me—and the establishment nature of the council. Fourthly, he should repudiate all rumours that the Government intend to introduce a "permanent pop" radio programme.
At the present time we are getting into a crisis but crises always lead to sunnier and lusher pastures. If we do nothing and leave the field to those whose concept of television is as a means of printing their own bank notes, this will lead to eventual decay and destruction of the standards we have developed so far.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. James Dance (Bromsgrove)
I hope that the hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) will forgive me if I do not comment on his speech, but we are short of time and I should like to get straight on to my own.
I am extremely grateful to have the opportunity of speaking in the debate, because I want to clear up a misunderstanding among many hon. Members opposite and people outside the House who are under the impression that my colleagues inside the House and the Viewers and Listeners Association are gunning for the B.B.C. Nothing could be further from the truth. All we are endeavouring to do is to see that broadcasting and television are brought up to a better standard than is now sometimes the case. When we started to form this group, I sincerely hoped that hon. Members opposite would join us. They did 816 at the beginning, and I hope that they will come back in future, because this should be an all-party matter.
Nevertheless, it appears to many of us that some programmes produced by the B.B.C. are of a lower standard than those put out by the independents. This is very likely due, as has been said, to the fact that there is the Independent Television Authority which has power over all the 12 producing companies. It uses that power to say, "This is not a good programme; we do not like it." It also has the sanction of taking away the company's licence at the end. It might have a beneficial effect if the whole of broadcasting and television came under the same type of umbrella, in other words, if there were a British Broadcasting and Television Authority. This might be a good idea. I am not having a go at the B.B.C. on this matter, but the independents have the protection of this umbrella of the Authority and I should like it to be extended.
The other point I want to make clear is that in no way do we want to set ourselves up as censors. That is not the idea. It is merely that we wish to convey to those who put out television and radio broadcasts the genuine views and feelings of the nation as a whole, and we feel that we are in a good position to get those views. I want to make it quite clear that it is not censorship, but merely conveying our views to the authorities concerned.
I do not believe that Lord Norman-brook and the governors of the B.B.C. are doing their jobs properly. They are there to do the job which I.T.A. is doing, but they are failing abysmally. Can the Postmaster-General tell us what has happened to the Noble Committee, which was set up by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Brooke)? Has it made a report and has any action been taken?
I firmly believe that the public is sick and tired of bad taste on some programmes. Nobody can deny that there are many excellent programmes, especially from the B.B.C., whose programme about the Great War was magnificent. Nothing could have been handled more beautifully and with greater dignity than the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill. Our sports programmes are second to none and great compliments should be 817 paid to the B.B.C. for that sort of work. Technical achievements have been fantastic.
What a great pity it is to spoil these excellent programmes and the excellent showing which we get from the B.B.C. by distasteful programmes, chiefly plays. Some of the plays are extremely unpleasant. Many people have also been offended by the satirical reviews, in particular, "Not So Much A Programme, More A Way of Life".
I was delighted to read in the newspapers some time ago that this programme was to be removed, and one hoped that it would not come back. In a way I was just as horrified to read the other day that it is coming back again with Mr. Frost as the compère. It certainly was a "Frost" and apparently a rather expensive "Frost" in New York. I feel that we should not have this type of programme.
Let us consider what it did. It gave offence to very many people. I want to make it clear that I am a member of the Church of England, but I saw the programme about Roman Catholics and, frankly, I was absolutely appalled at the offensive way in which it was put over. I remind hon. Members that it was only a short time before this programme about Roman Catholics that there was a programme which made a mockery of our Holy Communion. I took very great offence at it and took the trouble to ring up the duty officer at the B.B.C. immediately it was over.
No words of mine would be anything like as adequate as the words of Cassandra in the Daily Mirror of 16th November:The successor of 'That Was The Week That Was' bears the elephantine title of 'Not So Much a Programme More a Way of Life'. I think I can say with all the restraint that I can muster that rarely on television have I seen such an embarrassing performance. As a mixture of pretentiousness, bathos and approved-school humour, nothing I can recall has ever been served up more calculated to make one writhe and retch. In its least offensive moments it was owlish and oafish. The self-conscious artificers of this epic combination of facetiousness and fatuity have one consolation. No matter how they strain every nerve in their bodies and rack every cell in their brains, they cannot do worse than this. This is the bottom and the end. This is the absolute and ultimate zero of what can be committed on the television screen.818 A great multitude of the public have very much the same view as Cassandra about this programme, and I sincerely hope that it does not come back.
What would happen if we had a modern Rip Van Winkle who woke up and said, "How can I find out what life is like now? What is going on?". Suppose he were told to look at television for a day or two and that that would put him in the picture. What a horrible shock he would have. He would see sick humour in bad taste, undue violence, condonation of homosexuality and free love, many of our churches and religion being ridiculed and attacks on our most beloved institutions and traditions. He might think that what he saw really represented modern British life. Of course, it would not be true. He would be seeing only what a very small proportion of the British people indulge in and like. The vast majority of our nation are as fine and good as they ever were. Why, then, must we show this sort of thing which is a representation of the life of only a minority of people in this country? What effect does this have on overseas visitors? If they look at the television, they get a very wrong impression of the sort of people we are.
There appears to be an extremely unco-operative attitude on the part of members of the B.B.C. towards individuals and various institutions. If members of the public take up with the B.B.C. criticisms of various programmes, they are apt to get a complete brush off. I read on page 130 of the B.B.C. Handbook for 1965:It is the duty of the Corporation to keep in touch with public opinion and to weigh such representations as may be made to them.Yet I read in a book written by Sir Hugh Greene:The attempts at censorship come nowadays also from groups—Hoggart calls them the new Populists'—(one might call them the 'new Puritans')—which do not claim to be Guardians' but claim to speak for ordinary decent people' and to be forced to take a stand against' what they arbitrarily call unnecessary dirt, gratuitous sex, excessive violence—and so on. These 'new Populists' will attack whatever does not underwrite a set of prior assumptions, assumptions which are anti-intellectual and unimaginative. Superficially this seems, and likes to think of itself as, a 'grass roots' movement. In practice it can threaten a dangerous form of censorship—censorship which works by causing artists and writers not to take risks …819 This is the point. These modern-thinking humanists are undermining all the things which most people believe in. Indeed they are. Let hon. Members go round the country and hear what is being said. This is factual. It is true. The humanist attitude which is creeping into our society is undermining it very badly.
I was horrified the other day to learn that the programme, "Lift Up Your Hearts" was to be taken off. I quote from a letter written to the Scotsman and signed by Alick Buchanan-Smith, Michael Clark Hutchison and W. H. K. Baker:A motion was tabled today in the House of Commons deploring the decision of the B.B.C. to withdraw the programme 'Lift up your Hearts'. This motion has been signed by many members. Whilst appreciating that it is desirable from time to time to alter the form of such programmes, we deprecate the implications which underlie the statement by the Director of Religious Broadcasting that this type of programme is not in keeping with modern conditions. If society is more pagan than 25 years ago, then, surely, the need for the programme is greater than ever before.I entirely agree.
The unco-operative attitude of the B.B.C. goes further. Earlier this year, there was a programme on farming which ran down the farmers completely, saying that they were feather-bedded, going on about the subsidies they received and so on, utterly ignoring and failing to bring out the fact that those subsidies are very largely consumer subsidies. Sir Harold Woolley, President of the National Farmers' Union, saw a preview of the programme and complained, insisting that the farmers' viewpoint should be given. But, although there is a farmers' subcommittee in the B.B.C., their view was not allowed to be heard. I understand also that the religious committee was not consulted and its views were not heard about taking off that fine programme, "Lift Up Your Hearts".
When the Viewers and Listeners Association was formed, Sir Hugh Greene that evening called it "a lunatic fringe". What does this so-called lunatic fringe consist of? Among its members are an Anglican bishop, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Britain, a high official of the British Medical Association, many chief constables and many Members of Parliament. I submit that the lunatic 820 fringe, who ought to look at their own misconduct, are the minority to whom I have referred, not the people who are trying to get things put right.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
The hon. Gentleman has been speaking about the programme "Not So Much A Programme More A Way of Life", and describing it in some detail. I assume from what he has said that he has watched this programme fairly closely over the past few months. What would be his attitude if the programme returned? Would it be his intention to watch it constantly instead of enjoying the many sweet and clean programmes on which he could well concentrate?
§ Mr. Dance
What a very stupid argument. I think that it is my duty to watch this sort of programme. [Laughter] Of course it is. I am here to object to things which I regard as offensive to the majority of the public. I would much rather look at other programmes which would appeal to me. That is a very poor argument.
We have not much time, so I will conclude. The people and bodies to whom I have referred deplore what is going on. The police are certain that violence on television increases violence outside. The B.M.A. feels that programmes which condone or, indeed, sometimes advocate premarital or promiscuous sexual intercourse increase the incidence of abortion and venereal disease. Is this really what we want? Is this the sort of programme that we want? Is it not time that we made strong representations to Lord Normanbrook to get on with his job? I do not think that the public will be satisfied until the Director-General, Sir Hugh Greene is replaced, and replaced immediately.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Mr. David Gibson-Watt (Hereford)
This has been a good debate, and a very worth-while one, on a subject rightly chosen by the Opposition, because it is a long time since we discussed this all-important question. That view has been supported by both sides of the Committee.
During the debate we have listened to the accumulated wisdom of a number of hon. Members on a number of subjects. We have listened to those who have 821 experience of the B.B.C., both on the technical side and on the programme side, and, indeed, those who have been on the Advisory Council. We have also listened to the hon. Member for Refrew, West (Mr. Buchan) who, I believe, has a particular knowledge of the problems of the Musicians' Union.
We introduced this subject for debate for one very good reason. The Government made some fairly strong remarks during the election, but they have now been in office for six months and we have not heard very much from them. When we are considering the two major participants in telecommunications, the B.B.C. and the I.T.A., although it is the undoubted right of every hon. Member to voice disagreement and criticism where it is necessary, no one should be in any doubt that the standards of the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. are far higher than any other standards in the telecommunications world. Later in my speech I shall discuss some of the programmes and some of the criticisms which have been made about them.
The Postmaster-General, my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing), who has a long experience of television matters, and others, referred to the possibility of having an overall broadcasting authority. I believe there is a possibility that we may evolve to this eventually. This question of overseeing—control is too strong a word—is one which is probably going to change over the years.
Throughout the debate there has been one great difference between the two sides of the House, as one can well understand. Time and again hon. Gentlemen opposite referred to, and ran down, the profit motive in commercial television. Let us be in no doubt about the fact that on this matter there is a fundamental difference between Conservatives and Socialists. There is nothing wrong in an interest being commercial. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have commercial interests in their private lives. But let us be honest about this. Profit is not a bad thing. If this country had a few more profits, and larger profits, it would be a good deal better off today.
The reason for raising this debate is that we feel that the Government should be franker with the people on this 822 subject. The first Secretary used the expression "We, the nation", the other night. If the Government are so close to the nation let them tell it what they are thinking about these all-important matters concerning telecommunications.
Many subjects have been touched upon this afternoon. I hope that the Lord President of the Council will be able to give us some of the fruit of the workings of his Committee and the thinking of the Government on this matter. I hope that he will not say that this is a situation that the Government inherited. We all inherited the situation. The fact remains that the Government have now been in for six months. We hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to say a little more than the Postmaster-General said earlier.
When we consider the question of telecommunications we are aware that Britain first produced television. We led in the field, although it is difficult to convince any American that it was Britain which took the first step. [An HON. MEMBER: "A Scotsman."] I am told that it was a Scotsman. The Scots were responsible for many things, including the invention of the steam engine. [Interruption.] I would not wish to get into an argument, Sir Ronald, on the question who discovered the steam engine—but since the gentleman concerned happened to be my great-great-grandfather, on this subject at least I think that this is a matter on which I would be right for once.
The experimentation and work that has to go into the discovery of new avenues of invention in this important field must be carried out by Government and free enterprise together. Nothing could be a better example of this than the launching of the Early Bird project in the United States of America. Only last week we were able to see the American President talking about his ideas of an Atlantic Community, and Generals Eisenhower and Montgomery at it again—and a very enjoyable programme it was. It came to us as a result of the launching of the Early Bird satellite at Andover, Maine, by a corporation called Comsat, in which government money provided some of the backing, although many private citizens have a stake in the satellite.
823 That is a factor which ought to be considered, especially by those hon. Members opposite who continually harp on the question of profits. Do not let us be in any doubt that a British project of the Early Bird type would require money from many people. I hope that it will be possible for the Government to see that free enterprise plays its part in any experimentation of this kind that may take place. A good example is to be found in pay television. I must disclose an interest in this matter. I was once associated with pay television in a small way, although I am not now. This was an avenue which needed exploring, but the Conservative Government of the day did not wish to see public money put at risk in order to discover what was the answer. Therefore, the last Government gave permission for five separate companies to make experiments to find out whether it would be successful. The Postmaster-General did not say very much about it this afternoon, perhaps advisedly, for I know it is a difficult problem. When the previous Government gave their permission they had no idea whether the experiment would be successful. Equally, when they gave permission to the regional commercial companies they had no idea whether the companies would make money. As we know, for the first years they made considerable losses.
We do not yet know the result of the pay television experiment, but we have no regrets and no apologies to make to the country for allowing the experiments to take place. I am sure that there will be many occasions when this type of free enterprise should be encouraged by the Government of the day. I hope it will be possible for right hon. Gentlemen opposite to say that this will happen whatever may be the view of their party.
We have today discussed whether a fourth channel should go to the Independent Television. This is a difficult question. The Conservative Party had agreed that in this year, 1965, commercial interests would be allowed to take the fourth channel. Arguments have been advanced from this side of the Committee about why the fourth channel should go to commercial television. I shall not repeat the excellent technical exposition 824 given by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Epsom (Sir P. Rawlinson) on how the various wavelengths and channels could be suited so that we might have a fourth television programme. I reinforce the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Sir I. Orr-Ewing). The party on this side of the Committee broke the monopoly of the B.B.C. We believe, and have done for some time, that it would be right to break the monopoly of commercial television. The more companies we have in this sphere—it would certainly be possible to have two more companies—the more competition there would be. I say this knowing only too well that many hon. Members opposite do not share my view.
In this country we have two different forms of creature which produce television programmes. There is the B.B.C., the national organisation, and the I.T.A., a number of commercial companies competing one with another, and therefore, for reasons which have already been given, I hope that the fourth channel will come.
I referred earlier to an interest in pay television, and I should also admit an interest in the B.B.C., as I was once a member of the General Advisory Council. A number of rather hard things have been said about the B.B.C. during this debate. Having worked fairly continuously and closely with the Corporation over a period of two or three years, although, admittedly, the G.A.C. does not meet very often, one gets a shrewd idea of how things are going. The B.B.C. does not do everything which I should wish it to do, but I believe that the amount of good done by those who work in the B.B.C. and administer it definitely counteracts the mistakes which any human men are bound to make. May I comment on the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Dance)? It is something on which a Member of Parliament gets a good deal of correspondence from his constituents. I believe that it is something which those responsible for television and broadcasting programmes must continually keep in mind.
I should like to say something about the religious programme, "Lift Up Your Hearts". On two or three occasions in the House I have criticised the B.B.C. over religious programmes. It would not 825 be out of place, possibly, if on this occasion I supported them. The new Director of Religious Programmes is fairly new to the job. He has not been there long, but those who know him have a very high opinion of him. This programme appeared, I believe, at 7.50 in the morning. I will not pretend that I always saw it—[HON. MEMBERS: "The hon. Gentleman never saw it."]—I am grateful to hon. Members opposite for saying that, because it is obvious that some of them do not see it—[An HON. MEMBER: "One would hear it."]—exactly, hear it. They were not about to hear it on Wednesday morning last.
The reason that this programme has now been taken off and another programme put in its place called "Ten to Eight" is that those responsible for religious programmes have not only to consider the minority—an unfortunate word to have to use—of Christians. They have also to consider the other great number of People who do not believe in the Christian religion. Therefore, we must give some latitude—I say this with all sincerity to my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove—particularly to a new man trying to do a new job and to bring a new look to this programme.
§ Mr. Gibson-Watt
I am only giving to my hon. Friend the reasons, as I have them, that the programme was taken off and another put in its place. I would not disagree with him at all. I feel quite certain that if there is enough genuine feeling about this matter, I have enough faith in the Director of Religious Programmes—I am sure that the Postmaster-General would agree with this—to believe that if he thought it necessary, he would change it. But as I say, there has been a genuine reason for the change in this programme.
A good deal has been said today about local sound. Here again, we have said fairly strongly that we hope that the Government will go ahead on local sound fairly soon. We hope that here, too, it will be a job of finding what local 826 needs are for sound broadcasting. Certainly, it should not necessarily be run by the B.B.C. Much can be learned from what I would call the regional stations, both on television and broadcasting. They are complicated problems. I would not go into the question of how local broadcasting should be provided nor of what type of programme we should have. With the going of the pirate radio stations, to which the Postmaster-General referred, there will he a certain amount of demand for the type of programmes—not all day, of course, but some of the day—which have become popular while the pirate radio stations have been operating. I feel certain, however awkward the pirates may have been to the Government, that the Postmaster-General will have listened to Caroline sometimes. He must feel a little sad to see her go. What will be put in the place of the pirates? I hope that the Leader of the House will tell us something about Government thinking on this matter.
We have heard a lot recently about a so-called University of the Air. It is a rather blown-up concept, and we know that a great deal is already being done from the educational point of view on closed circuit and in other ways. An extremely good pamphlet on this subject was written by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Chataway). We debated the subject not long ago. It is a highly complicated matter, and I hope that the Leader of the House will comment on it.
I hope that the Government will hasten slowly over colour television. I appreciate some of the difficult problems involved. I have had the benefit of seeing S.E.C.A.M., P.A.L. as well as the N.T.S.C. system in Paris and in this country at the B.B.C. and some of the commercial companies. There are a great number of matters to be taken into account when considering colour television, including exports, a matter which has been raised in the debate.
Exports will probably be concentrated to cameras and other equipment rather than T.V. sets. I do not imagine, certainly during the initial years, that many colour sets will be exported from this country. Colour television was at first a technical problem. It was clear that the G.P.O., the B.B.C. and B.R.E.M.A. 827 —the British Radio Equipment Manu facturers' Association—were in favour of the American N.T.S.C. system. Indeed, the Postmaster-General went so far as to say on 3rd February:The fact is rather that developments over the last few months have served rather to strengthen the Government's view that the N.T.S.C. system should be adopted"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd February, 1965; Vol. 705, c. 289.]Although at that time, for technical reasons, the Government thought that that system should be adopted, since then their view must have been affected by what has happened at Vienna and also because of the coming meeting at Bonn. I therefore acquit the Leader of the House from having to make an announcement on this subject tonight. I appreciate that it is a difficult technical as well as political matter.
The Postmaster-General in his speech touched lightly on all the matters of telecommunications we have been discussing. I hope that the Leader of the House, who is in rather a different position from the Postmaster-General, will be able to comment further on some matters. I think I am right in saying that he is the chairman of a committee which is looking into the overall position of the B.B.C. and that for the past 10 years he has held an unrivalled position in the Socialist Party in regard to the decisions as to who should represent his party on television and sound radio. It might be fair to say that it was he, rather than Transport House, who decided who should retain the image of the Socialist Party before and during the last election. I congratulate him on his success. In being able to keep some of the pretty embarrassing specimens off the radio the right hon. Gentleman certainly did a great deal for his own party. The House will forgive me for going into such detail.
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has not argued on the facts I have put before him, but it is right that he should make clear this evening, with his vast knowledge of broadcasting and television problems, what he and his right hon. Friends are deciding. We have been waiting for six months, and we do not want to go another six months before we are told what the Government intend to do. Tonight, we shall listen to what the right hon. Gentleman has to say— 828 and, on this side, the word "listen" really has a meaning.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Bowden)
I do not want to waste too many of my precious minutes in replying to the eulogy of myself expressed by the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt). I can assure him that if I was responsible for keeping anyone off the air during the election I was responsible for keeping myself off as well—except on one occasion, when I appeared with the then Government Chief Whip.
This has been a very excellent debate. It has not been a political debate, and that is probably right. The Opposition are entitled to credit for using a Supply Day for this purpose. It has already been suggested that there should be a debate on broadcasting each year. I think that is right and, as Leader of the House, I will bear it in mind on a future occasion. As I say, this has been a good debate, and the exchanges we have had and the views that have been expressed are of great value to the Government.
Before I reply to the major part of the debate, I should like to deal with one or two points that are, in a sense, extraneous, to the general run. The hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) made a point on Section 63 of the Representation of the People Act. I absolutely agree with him that it is rather fantastic in 1965 that, because one candidate in a by-election refuses to go on the air, the other candidates are prevented from so doing. That view was taken by the former Government and it is the view of this Government, but to alter the situation needs amending legislation. We felt in the last Parliament, and we feel now, that this should not be done piecemeal, but yesterday we heard Mr. Speaker state that broadcasting would come within the terms of reference of his Conference on Electoral Reform.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to recording. As former Opposition Chief Whip, I know that there were many occasions when I wanted scripts of current affairs programmes, party political broadcasts, and so on. In the main the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. were extremely helpful, and provided them on every occasion. There may be technical difficulties in 829 having tape recordings of every current affairs programme, but we shall pass on the idea, and see what can be done.
A great part of the debate has dealt, and rightly dealt, I think, with programme standards. The more one thinks of defining a standard of programme or taste the more difficult one realises it is. The Pilkington Committee tried, and did not succeed very well. I do not think that anyone could define taste or standard with any degree of accuracy, or could give a description that would suit everyone, because tastes differ. I think that it would be easier to define bad taste than good taste or good standard.
The House will recall some recent exchanges on business, arising out of an early-day Motion, when criticism was made of a B.B.C. programme and I used the expression "sick humour". I received a number of postcards about that, and was criticised in the normal way, but my personal view—and I express a personal view here—is that satirical programmes are good. We should not cut them out—there is always room for a measure of experimentation—but when questions of personal taste, and particularly when matters of religion and race are affected, exceptional care should be taken. I do not think that one could define it in a way which would suit everyone.
My right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General has reserve powers, but it would not be a very good thing for the Postmaster-General to use those reserve powers, except in very extreme cases. If these powers were used, the Government would be involving themselves in a censorship of television, whether it be B.B.C. or I.T.A., which I am sure would not be the wish of the House of Commons or of the country.
The hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) said that he felt that politicians are too sensitive and I was inclined to agree with him; but if there is any section of the public in this country or, for that matter, in any other country, which ought to have skins like rhinoceroses it should be politicians. If we have not got them, we jolly well ought to have them. If we cannot take what the music hall, the comedians, or television do to us, we should think again 830 about whether we ought to have come here. I do not think that politicians are particularly over-sensitive, with one or two exceptions.
Perhaps the best way of dealing with programmes of this type, where public opinion is often upset by some chance remark, is the method already adopted. The B.B.C. and the I.T.A. must receive thousands of protests from listeners or viewers when anything is said or done on television to which people take exception. When a Member of Parliament receives a complaint from a constituent, he either raises it in the House of Commons or tables an early-day Motion. The Postmaster-General sees it, it is replied to at some point from this Box, often in business exchanges on a Thursday afternoon. The B.B.C. and the I.T.A. are well aware of what happens in the House. These are the things that can be done to draw to the attention of the authorities the importance of maintaining a reasonable standard, without destroying the value of their programme by cutting out satire entirely. I think that this is as far as one should go.
There may be a case for a sort of watchdog committee composed of representatives of both authorities, outside people, advisers, and representatives of religious bodies. I know that the Pilkington Committee turned this down, but the idea should be examined. It should not go out from here tonight, as a result of our debate, that it is the view of the House of Commons that all programmes on the B.B.C. and I.T.A. are not good. In fact, they are exceptionally good. I agree with the hon. Member for Hereford that our standard is probably higher than that in any other country, although I must admit that I myself have seen examples in only a few other countries.
The hon. Member for Hereford said that we have been six months in office and that it was only on 14th April that my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General made the statement that the Government were engaging in a general review of broadcasting. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Pilkington Committee reported in June, 1962. It took almost exactly the same amount of time—six months—before the second White Paper was issued indicating what line the then Government were taking on B.B.C. 2, on local broadcasting, on colour television, 831 and so on. From December, 1962, until the election in October, 1964, the former Government made no provision whatsoever for this additional expenditure that had to be met by the B.B.C.
Having had some experience of this during the last six months we know how difficult this subject is. That is why we are carrying out this review. It would have been possible for my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General to have come to the House of Commons two or three days after the General Election and increased the B.B.C. licence to £6. We took the view that we had to examine every possible aspect of the case before the increase took place. The recommendation that the increase should be £1 to £5 is purely a holding operation to enable us to get the review completed and report to Parliament in time.
§ Mr. Bowden
If we had faced the position in October, 1964, and had given the increase for which the B.B.C. asked, it would have been a £6 licence and 25s. for sound. That would not have been too much. It would have given the B.B.C. what it wanted, to cover additional expenditure and the work which, quite rightly, it was carrying out on instructions from the former Administration. The question was what should be done immediately. We decided to increase the licence fee to £5, which happens later this year. In the meantime we are reviewing the whole position.
It has been said on two or three occasions but it cannot be said too often that the ceiling oflicences having been probably reached at about 13½ million, every additional penny that the B.B.C. requires for the additional work that it carries out, or because of increased costs, has to come out of an increased licence fee or from a Government subsidy or perhaps from advertising revenue. The money has to be found. The review is therefore looking at the whole position from that point of view.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
Or from better organisation and increased productivity, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree.
§ Mr. Bowden
I am not convinced at this stage that the organisation in the B.B.C. is not a good one. I have said that we are looking at this. The Pilkington Committee did it and the Beveridge Committee did it, and both were very satisfied about the organisation within the B.B.C. It is true that one has heard criticisms, but the matter must be looked at before we accept a generalisation.
This mounting deficit will have to be met somehow. This means that changes will have to take place. It is impossible at this stage, despite the request made by the right hon. and learned Member for Epsom, to say what these changes are likely to be. He has had Ministerial experience and he knows that one never indicates who are the members of the committee, or what is happening in the committee until that committee reports to the Cabinet.
We accept at once the constitutional position of the B.B.C. vis-à-vis the Government, but the Government are also in a different position in that they have to consider the consumer, the licence buyer, and to what extent one can continue to increase the licence fee. This is the main problem on the financial side of the question which we hope to look at.
Included in our review will be consideration of the fourth channel. The hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) made the point that it ought not to be necessary to continue B.B.C.1 on 405 lines v.h.f. It might not be for all time, but it is very necessary at the moment when the majority of sets in the country are still 405-line sets.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
I am sorry if the right hon. Gentleman gathered that I put it like that. It is not what will be in HANSARD. I said that we should reexamine the matter to see whether it is necessary to repeat on bands 4 and 5 the existing B.B.C.1 programmes, and the same for independent television.
§ Mr. Bowden
There may be more channels available but that might or might not happen for years.
One suggestion of great importance is that the channel should be used if not mainly then to a considerable extent for educational purposes. There is a need for increased educational facilities. The 833 educational programmes now put out by the B.B.C. and I.T.A. are excellent, but if one thinks in terms of a university of the air, in the way indicated by the Prime Minister during the General Election, one visualises a programme which will enable people to accept courses at a university and to become graduates through television and partly through postal courses, which means that there will have to be hours available on one channel or other at times of the day when people can study. This is not an easy problem. It may be early morning or it may be hours that at present are not normally used for television. All these things will have to be looked at. The fourth channel comes very much into this. The Government have made it clear that we do not accept the decision of the former Administration that this fourth channel should be handed over to I.T.A. as a commercial channel or developed in some other way as a commercial channel. On the other hand, the whole situation is being reviewed But we do not automatically accept that.
Again, I do not think that the concept which one has heard from one or two sides of the House tonight about local broadcasting really holds good. The pirates will be forced by legislation to close down, because they are stealing frequencies that ought to be used for other purposes. They are interfering, and they may interfere still more, with shipping and the shipping lines and they are stealing copyright. At some point when legislation is introduced, in conformity with the Strasbourg agreement, and the pirates are closed down, there will undoubtedly be a demand for popular music programmes. I know that this idea is not accepted generally. It is a view which I hold because, whatever one may feel about it, the so-called "pop" programmes are enjoyed by thousands of young people. I am not absolutely sure that every young man or woman who carries a transistor set that is blaring its way along the street as they walk along is listening. It may be a status symbol. Nevertheless, it is switched on.
From the point of view of standards, one should not be unduly worried about this sort of programme. It may be that in a different generation "pop" music today with the groups is what the Strauss waltz was in those days. I prefer the 834 Strauss waltz, but that, I should think, is something to do with my age.
When these pirate stations are off the air, one cannot assume that there will be a full day's popular programme from any form of station in this country, one of the main difficulties being what is known as needle time. Needle time is the time that is available to the broadcasting authorities, by arrangement with the manufacturers of records and the Musicians' Union, during which the records can be broadcast. On the other hand, I do not think that one wants a continuous programme all day of canned music. If we are to have a full day's music of a light type or of the less popular but not quite highbrow type of music, surely a great deal of it has to be light. Again, however, I do not think that this will be met by local broadcasting stations. We are looking into the matter. We do not have closed minds about it.
I understand that some of the local broadcasting stations would have a radius of from 5 to 7½ or 10 miles and that there might be as many as 250 or 300. To have popular musical programmes being broadcast all at the same time in that way, apart from being a horrible thing to think of, would not achieve the objective. Therefore, if we are to have a light music programme with more music than at present, part of which must be live and part canned, I agree with my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General that it can be done only by a national programme such as the Light Programme.
That does not mean that there is no function for local broadcasting. This is a problem which we are examining. I like the example given by the hon. Member for Hendon, North of traffic control. This sort of thing would be extremely valuable and needs to be considered. Do not, however, let us run away with the idea that the local broadcasting stations, whoever may own them, will be easy or cheap. They are not. The hon. Member for Hendon, North suggested that the capital cost of a station would be something like £18,000 to £20,000. One possibly could if it was simply broadcasting. But it would be important that a local station of this sort should broadcast local news. One would then have to think in terms of outside broadcasting units, and I am advised that the average cost would be 835 something like £35,000 capital cost per station, with an annual revenue of something like £40,000.
This is quite a costly thing. It is not an impossible figure. But, despite the fact that the former Administration made no decision on local sound broadcasting, we have not a closed mind and are still looking at it. It fulfils only part of the function.
Included in this review we shall, of course, look at almost every aspect of broadcasting, including colour. I agree with what the hon. Member for Hereford said about colour, in that it is premature to make a decision and take any independent action. If this were done we might find ourselves landed with a system not acceptable to the rest of Europe. There could be no interchange of programmes and there might be a loss of revenue in the industry because it was unable to sell overseas sets of the type used in this country overseas. We must tread softly, quietly and slowly here. I hope that we will not be accused of dragging our feet again on this particular issue.
The main debate has centred on the B.B.C. One or two things have been said about independent television, and I think it should be clearly stated here—I may perhaps speak for myself and say that I voted against commercial television—that the programmes, and the content of the programmes, on commercial television in this country are of quite a high standard. One sometimes disagrees with the advertisements, becomes bored with them is a more accurate description. One sometimes disagrees with them, but there is a safeguard in that the I.T.A. has machinery of its own for checking them, and one could extend it still further.
I understand that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has in mind the introduction some time of some legislation on merchandise marks, which will have an effect on the control of advertising and its quality, and which could easily affect television.
The whole question of advertising on television is an important one, and I think that it ought to be reiterated here that, as my right hon. Friend the 836 Postmaster-General said, many people in this country have the idea that commercial television is something for which they pay nothing at all and that it is free, whereas they pay or will be paying a £5 licence fee for B.B.C. The fact is of course that they pay for commercial television indirectly. This is the old argument of direct and indirect taxation. When they buy a packet of detergent, 1½d. or 2d. perhaps—some fraction of the cost—pays for their commercial television, but it is not generally recognised. There is nothing free under the sun and I am sure that commercial television is not either.
This has been an excellent debate. The views exchanged have been of great value to the Government and we will continue with the review and will report to the House as soon as possible. I hope that, as a result of this good debate, the Opposition Front Bench will not move for a reduction in the salary of my right hon. Friend.
§ Whereupon Motion made, and Question. That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again—[Mr. George Rogers]—put and agreed to.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.