§ 3.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Paul Bryan (Howden)
We on this side of the House have asked for this debate for two reasons. First, the public, the broadcasting world and all the firms in the electronic industries dealing with broadcasting have become impatient—indeed, by now I think they must have reached the point of exasperation—in waiting to hear the future of broadcasting.
Secondly, we have asked for this debate as a gesture of good will to the Postmaster-General. We feel that he has been left out of the pre-election jamboree. For a long time we wondered how the Prime Minister would explain away his broken election promises. Now we know. He has decided to bewilder the public by 1510 swamping his broken promises with a lot of new promises. Each day we have seen a Minister coming to the Prime Minister's election party bringing gifts of one sort or another. Last night, the Territorial Army followed the rest. But each time the Postmaster-General is the Cinderella left at home while all his ugly sisters have the election fun. This worries us very much. So we want to give him his last chance in his last days as Postmaster-General.
Having given this little orbison funèbre, I must say that the right hon. Gentleman's career has gone against all the betting. We always thought that that much-quoted, almost over-quoted, sentence in the Labour Party election manifesto about Labour being "poised to swing its plans into instant action" was written by the Postmaster-General. It seemed to go with his background; it went with his haircut.
There are two things which we constantly hear in the broadcasting world about the right hon. Gentleman. People say, "This chap cannot really decide anything". When we look at the facts, this is justified. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell us one important broadcasting decision which he has made and announced since he has been in office. When he came to office, he found problems on his plate—the fourth channel, the future of the television companies, colour television, the future of programme hours, local sound broadcasting, pirates, B.B.C. finances and the rest. But he has had no appetite for any of these tough titbits. They lie drying up on his plate. We are still waiting for him to deal with them.
The second thing which we hear is how extraordinary it is that although we have the first Postmaster-General with a broadcasting background he appears to have no influence on broadcasting. Every matter for decision has been given, for some reason, to a committee. This is not necessarily the right hon. Gentleman's fault. The Prime Minister presumably ordains this, but it is poor treatment for a man of the right hon. Gentleman's calibre. We expect it for a dull Minister like the Minister of Power, whose problems are given to the winter fuel emergency committee, which was so effective in its time.
1511 But why should the Postmaster-General's problems be sent to a committee? I should like to ask, first, who is on the committee. Is he on the committee? If he is, why has he not had influence on it? When is this committee to report? We have seen a leak through the Press that it will not report until the autumn. This is very serious. Each time we ask the right hon. Gentleman when we are to have this report he becomes a little embarrassed, and goes pink. I do not believe that he realises the damage that this indecision is causing to the industry and to broadcasting generally.
Let me go through some of the ways in which it is causing this damage for B.B.C. and I.T.V. companies. How can they plan investment when they do not know, from month to month, what is to be the future of the industry? New studios and new orders for equipment all have to be put off. For instance, Granada—one of the big four—was ready, 18 months ago, with big plans for re-equipping studios. Those plans have been put off and put off. We have to take into account the cost of the enforced procrastination. We are talking about plans involving not tens of thousands of pounds, or even a few hundred thousand pounds, but very much larger sums. The example that I have given must have been repeated in every company, and in the B.B.C.
Secondly, there is the question of careers within the industry. It employs highly-paid staff, and it is not made any easier if the companies cannot tell the people that they are trying to take on what the future of the companies will be, where they are likely to be situated, and so on. The stability of the B.B.C. gives it a certain advantage; we are talking not only about the very highly-paid staff; we are also concerned with the fairly highly-paid staff, including engineers and technicians.
When companies cannot plan ahead for any length of period similar difficulties arise in their negotiations with the trade unions. I hesitate to expand on this subject, because I see that the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Floud) has just come into the Chamber, and no one knows more about this subject than he. Nevertheless, I am sure that he would 1512 agree that the present situation creates difficulties in this direction.
But it is not merely a question of contract with trade unions. Sporting contracts, for instance, are entered into for five or six years ahead, and they cannot be satisfactorily concluded unless it is known how the companies will be placed. There are also contracts for mechanical and performing rights. All these things have been impossible to negotiate with any confidence.
I turn to the question of exports. The television industry has had extraordinary-success in exports over the last year or two. There has been a great breakthrough, especially by A.B.C. and A.T.V., in the American market. Now that they are in I hope that they will stay in. Nevertheless, this is a very expensive game. All the films for these broadcasts have to be in both black and white and in colour. It is very difficult to plan costs if one does not know what sort of home market there will be in 18 months. The equipment makers are in the same sort of quandary.
Once we have a large 625-line market we are in a position for the first time to export sets to Europe. But until we know the size of the market we cannot plan. I list all these difficulties because I want the right hon. Gentleman to take this matter seriously and tell us whether we shall have to wait for the findings of a committee before any guidance is given. If there is to be no White Paper in the near future I do not see why we cannot be told many useful things today.
For instance, on the question of colour television, the argument still rages. Is the system to be SECAM, NTSC, PAL, or NIR? We do not know which it will be. Nevertheless, it is agreed that, basically, these systems are the same to the extent of 90 per cent. and surely the Government's forward plans on how it will allocate colour television, are not greatly affected by this. I would have thought that the Postmaster-General could say clearly whether or not we are going into colour television. It might be said that he has already said that we are, but we recently had a leak which suggests that the Prime Minister now thinks that this is something that we cannot afford. The Postmaster-General therefore needs to restate the position.
1513 Cannot the right hon. Gentleman give us a date to aim at? I realise that technical reasons may operate against that, but other countries such as Italy, Germany and Holland have all given dates, and I do not sec any real reason why we should not do the same. This would give a great fillip to the industry and would indicate; to some extent where we are going. We should also be interested to know what the cost of colour television is in various circumstances. It is difficult to get figures from anybody but the Government.
We must at the same time, take into account how much the B.B.C. has spent on colour television research. It must be a very large sum. The B.B.C. has done the bulk of the work on this subject. Cannot the right hon. Gentleman give some indication of his plans for Independent Television? It is in a weak position at the moment. Until it gets a fourth channel it does not look like getting a look in at all in colour television. Is there any possibility of its sharing B.B.C/'s colour facilities if developments go that way? There are so many possibilities—that even if the Postmaster-General gave some broad guidance the industry would appreciate it.
What is the possibility of introducing 625-line television and, hence, colour, into the V.H.F. bands? I hear that there is a system known as "pulse sound in syncs", which may make this possible. I am not technical, and do not understand it, but this suggestion comes from a senior engineer in the industry, so there must be something in it. Should this be a practical proposition, it would make an important impact on the whole shape of television, and alter the colour television pattern. It would provide two channels of development. I should be interested to know the Post Office engineers' assessment of this.
Must the whole question of broadcasting hours wait for a recommendation from a committee? Surely they can be decided by the right hon. Gentleman? In the days of the Conservative Government it was agreed that the B.B.C. and the I.T.V. each broadcast 50 hours a week. The argument was that a longer period would cost the B.B.C. too much, whereas the I.T.V. would make more money out of it. Whether or not there is any substance 1514 in that argument the present situation is very different.
The advent of B.B.C.2 not only changes the argument; it reverses it. Now we have a situation in which the two B.B.C. programmes together take up much more time than is available to independent television, and have the advantages of alternative programmes. I would have thought that the time had now come to grant more hours, at present unused, to I.T.V. Perhaps we can have an answer on that point.
Everybody would be interested to hear from the Postmaster-General how he considers B.B.C.2 is faring—what sort of audiences it is getting and what sort of reception of the 625-line U.H.F. broadcasts people are getting. People say that there is considerable difficulty in receiving it in various places and it would be interesting to hear his view on that.
I turn now to the only White Paper we have been given, that on the University of the Air. I should like to know why it was issued at all, and what it contains which is at the moment of any value to us. One could always see about four great obstacles to the University of the Air. One was the cost, the second was the question of which channel would carry it. If it were to go out at peak hours, once again the question of cost would arise. The cost per student must be colossal, I should think almost as much as putting a Ph.D. through his course. Then there is the very difficult problem of one set per house which will probably be the pattern in Britain for a long time to come.
None of these difficulties is touched on at all. Until we have solved the practical problems of launching the programme, the rest of the White Paper loses its interest. I must make it absolutely clear that we on this side of the House are very interested in the whole future of the use of television and radio in education. Nobody has written a better summary of its possibilities than appears in the document "Education and Television", by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Chataway). It is the best-informed document I have come across on this subject.
We see the growth of television and radio in education as a development of what is already happening. What is 1515 happening is good, but there is not yet enough of it. It is very promising indeed. The enthusiasm at Strathclyde and other progressive universities is a tonic. This university, that at Leeds and others have accumulated much experience. At the same time, experience has been gained through the school programmes of the B.B.C. and the I.T.V. I see that the B.B.C. is to hold a conference on a university of the air at Sussex University, and Granada had a similar seminar a year ago on closed-circuit television in universities. Experience is building up. That is what we want to build on and not embark on a new centralised experiment.
I shall not go into the most obvious advantages of T.V. in education; they are well known. They are the enlargement of the subject which is so valuable in medical subjects, physics and so on; the maximum use of the best teachers, the repetition on video tape at any time of the day; the large audience coverage, which saves lecturers' time so that they can spend more personal time with tutorials, and so on. The many beneficial side effects are also obvious—for instance, the tremendous increase in the quality of teaching throughout the university, which seems to go with the establishment of a television department.
However, as all this experience accumulates, the one thing which it does not seem to recommend is a University of the Air, of the type envisaged in the White Paper. This medium of instruction is greedy in the use of channels. In a normal university, during a morning there may be some 200 lectures. With six channels, there could be 40 on television, which gives some idea of how many channels would be needed to present a number of courses. The proposal for the University of the Air is that there should be 10 courses on one channel.
When one thinks how the number of lectures would build up one realises that when a four or five-year course, which is recommended, reaches its fifth year, it would not have much to do with a University of the Air It would be a correspondence course with a T.V. lecture occurring about once a week or once a fortnight—I see that the Assistant Postmaster-General shakes his head, but I should be very interested to hear the 1516 mechanics of how one gets 10 courses out of one channel. It is almost impossible to envisage even with 50 hours a week.
Experience has shown the value of teacher-involvement at all levels. Teachers and lecturers want to have some control over their programmes, some hand in their make-up and some connection with their pupils. They at least want to know what sort of people they are. With a regional set-up, there would be far more hope of that element, which is very hard to get in T.V. instruction, than could ever be achieved by way of the centralised set up described in the White Paper—
§ The Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn)
I should like to clear up this point, so that I may understand the hon. Member. Is he urging that this should be closed circuit or transmitted broadcasts on a regional basis?
§ Mr. Bryan
I will come to that point.
The next truth exposed by experience is the great difficulty, with centralised radio instruction, of fitting the actual lesson into the curriculum or the daily life of the person, the university or the school which is to receive it. B.B.C. and I.T.V. school programmes are wasted, not because they are anything but good but because some people cannot have them on. Once again, with a more local set-up, programmes can be fitted into the local curriculum.
One of the unanswered questions in the White Paper is the question of who are to be the students. This, clearly, is not known and there is no way of knowing it. Will they be people who have failed to get into a university; people who have passed university age, but who would now like to take the course; or middle-aged people? What subjects would they like to take? I consider that the White Paper is extremely presumptive in all these aspects.
If one talks to somebody with real experience in these matters—say a don at one of the universities who has had some experience of television—one finds that he is much wiser and much more modest. He will say in answer to the questions I have put, "I do not know, but give me a low-powered local transmitter and I will gradually discover what 1517 is wanted in Leeds, Glasgow, or Norwich, or wherever it may be". But there has been no such research. I would expect considerable progress once that research is done. I think that the needs of Glasgow, Leeds and Norwich would be found to differ considerably. Probably, the timings of the courses would need to be quite different as well.
What we would do is build on the knowledge and the enthusiasm which already exists. We would go in for low-powered local broadcasts from existing universities which we would marry in—as is quite possible—with the school television facilities. There are areas like Glasgow, and, soon, London, where hundreds of schools may soon be wired for television, and whose sets will not be in use at night. Many of those people who do not have two sets at home could go to those schools and make use of sets. Not only that, but closed-circuit television could be used in these schools as well. At the same time, unused hours on the B.B.C. and the I.T.V. could be brought in.
That having been said, I come back to my preference for something far more local and regional than the proposed University of the Air. Superimposed on this must be a T.V. centre, which could have a very big part to play. It would build up a library of tapes, give advice on equipment and share experience all round the country.
All this is infinitely preferable to the unlovely centralised colossous recommended in the White Paper, based on practically no knowledge and not nearly enough research. There is no knowledge of cost, of subjects required, of the sort of students to be taught or how the project will be put on the air. I should like the Postmaster-General to come back to the question of how much per pupil a course is likely to cost. My hon. Friend the hon. Member for Lewisham, North stated in his booklet:Already, some of the Tuesday Term courses on B.B.C.2 have raised the question as to whether it makes sense, with only four national channels available, and three used to put on programmes of such specialist interest that they can be of value to only a fraction of 1 per cent. of the potential audience. In some cases it would probably have been a good deal cheaper to collect the audience by taxi and provide them with a first-class lecture followed by dinner at the Savoy.1518 I honestly think that these are the true economics of the University of the Air.
Another thing which fails to recommend the proposal is that one can find no supporters for this university I have yet to find one. People wish it well, but cannot see how it will work. The most truthful reason for it came to me from a Socialist, who said, "Well, Harold insists on having it". That may be a good reason in the Socialist Party, but it is not a good guide to educational advance.
This is a short debate, and I do not propose to prolong my remarks. As the Postmaster-General will see, I have kept them on a very narrow front. My hon. Friends will speak of some other important aspects, such as sound broadcasting.
In concluding, I should like, since I am inviting the Postmaster-General to make his declaration of intent, to summarise where we stand and give our attitude to the problems that I have suggested remain on the right hon. Gentleman's plate. I consider that the world-famous B.B.C. is as respected as it has ever been, and that is high praise. We believe that its reputation will persist, and we wish B.B.C.2 well in its future. I.T.V. was introduced against the doubts and opposition of the Labour Party, and judging from hon. Members' interjections, some of those doubts remain. Nevertheless, I think that we can probably agree that it has established a standard which by world standards is a high one.
In I.T.A. we have discovered a way of controlling I.T.V. in a responsible yet unrestrictive manner. Under Lord Hill, this has undoubtedly been done, and his work is by now widely appreciated. It has established a high enough standard to make it a permanent, useful and essential part of our broadcasting set up. I do not think that anybody doubts that.
We are in favour of allotting to I.T.V. a fourth channel. We consider that a target date for colour should be announced. We believe that I.T.V. should have more programme hours. We advocate local sound broadcasting on the lines laid down by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Epsom (Sir Peter Rawlinson), in the debate on 13th May. We believe that television 1519 and radio in education should be expanded on the lines that I have spoken about today. I now invite the Postmaster-General to tell us at long last what he advocates.
§ 4.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Terence Boston (Faversham)
I ought perhaps to begin by declaring an interest, because I helped to produce the B.B.C. "Current Affairs" programme.
It comes ill from hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to complain about the timing of the review of broadcasting. The Pilkington Committee on Broadcasting was set up and the terms of reference were announced on 13th July, 1960. Two years later, in June, 1962, there was a White Paper from the Conservative Government discussing the Pilkington Report. This was followed a few months later, in December, 1962, by yet another White Paper. But very little was heard about policy as a result of the Pilkington Committee Report, certainly by the time of the General Election in 1964. So I feel that it does not lie in the mouths of right hon. Gentlemen opposite to complain about the timing of the review on broadcasting.
To illustrate this, I will take the example of local broadcasting. The two White Papers to which I have referred make it clear where the previous Government actually stood on this. The July, 1962, White Paper said that the Government would prefer to take cognisance of public reaction about the Pilkington Report before reaching a decision. The one issued a few months later said that the Government did not discount a possible latent demand for local sound services. This is an example—many people might consider it a comparatively minor example when considering the general field of broadcasting—of the way in which the previous Administration failed to deal with the long-term future of broadcasting.
I am one of those who would like my right hon. Friend to go ahead with local stations. In particular, I feel that a pilot scheme by the B.B.C. could go ahead even before the publication of the review. This would be done by the B.B.C., it would involve no great expense, and it could be carried out. But, like him, I desire, above all, in considering the whole field of broadcasting, that the Gov- 1520 ernment should get things right rather than that we should have things rushed. This must dominate our thoughts.
I am glad that there is still time for further discussion of local broadcasting, because there is an aspect of it which, I feel, has not been sufficiently discussed, if at all. I refer to the question of safeguards for maintaining political balance in broadcasts from local stations. I am worried about a purely local set-up run, for instance, by local authorities and other local bodies. I feel that this would be open to local pressures, and might well be open to abuse. There is an obvious risk, too, in having it run by a local newspaper—which was gone into in our debate on broadcasting last May. This is apart from the effect of siphoning off valuable advertising revenue for the local broadcasting station.
It is far better—this is another reason why local stations would be better run by the B.B.C.—so far as political balance goes to have them run by an organisation which has a well established and reliable system for maintaing balance. There should be local autonomy for local stations as far as possible, but the important thing is experienced machinery to ensure that regular checks are made, that balance is maintained free from local interest and also that the balance is maintained over a period. One is not talking about balancing every programme, far less every item. The important thing is to have it done over a period.
I do not know whether I am in order in referring to this, but on the "Current Affairs" sound side of the B.B.C. we had regular weekly meetings to ensure that firm checks are made that the balance is being maintained.
§ Dr. David Kerr (Wandsworth, Central)
I am in some sympathy with my hon. Friend's argument, but it occurs to me that local authorities are currently responsible for running education in their schools and that nobody ever raises any question of partisanship arising from current affairs discussed in schools. Would my hon. Friend care to discuss that?
§ Mr. Boston
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but would rather not go into that deeply. As to local authorities and their rôle in education, the divisional executives 1521 are very widely representative and not confined solely to the local authorities. So I think that one is being fair in distinguishing this from their rôle.
There have been disturbing developments over the past week or so over the question of political balance in the broadcasting services. In particular, I refer to the postponement of two episodes in Associated Television's programme "The Power Game". I consider this to be an example of something at least savouring of the mast blatant political censorship I have come across so far. It goes to the very roots of the principle that a series of programmes must be balanced over a period.
This series was designed and written by its script editor, Mr. Greatorex, and accepted by A.T.V. as a series balanced within that series as a whole. It was a programme in which episode 4, given in January, knocked the Labour Party. I do not complain about that—it is all fair and good. It happened also to be an episode that I saw, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. That episode was to be balanced by one to be broadcast last Monday and Tuesday, with a final episode next week—episode 13.
This week's episode was to knock the Conservative Party, and I understand that part of it was to deal with contributions from the fictional company of "Bligh Construction" to Conservative Party funds. If we had only had the Government's Companies Bill enacted, and if hon. Members opposite had favoured the disclosure of political contributions, this episode might have been less bothersome to them.
But then we are told that the reason this episode was being dropped, after discussions between Associated Television and the Independent Television Authority, that there was "high speculation about a General Election". But the decision was taken, I understand, after a final run-through last Friday, and before the dissolution of Parliament was even announced.
I wonder whether we are to have censorship of this kind whenever there is speculation about a General Election. What might have happened when the previous Prime Minister was teasing us before the last General Election with his 1522 joke about October, or June, or September? What sort of period is likely to be covered if we are to get into that sort of difficulty?
Moreover, the programme is now left in a state of unbalance politically. The Television Act itself makes it quite cleat that impartiality must be maintained in programmes overall. Section 3(1,e) states that there is a duty to see…that due impartiality is preserved on the part of the persons providing the programmes as respects matters of political or industrial controversy or relating to current public policy…".That paragraph makes the position quite clear, and in relation to this particular incident we have a right to know how that decision was reached against the advice and agreement reached, I understand with Mr. Greatorex.
Who was responsible for making the decision? It was evidently cleared by the two political advisers—the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Kirk) and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. Walden); a politically representative pair. Who was responsible after the discussions had taken place between Associated Television and the I.T.A.? It has not escaped people's notice that one of the heads of Associated Television is Mr. Norman Collins, the Deputy Chairman of A.T.V. He also happens to hold another post—as Vice-Chairman of the Conservative Party's National Advisory Committee on Publicity and Speakers.
I am not suggesting for a moment that we should not have people in these bodies with political affiliations—while I was at the B.B.C. I was given permission to stand for Parliament. But here we have a chief executive of a television company, a man who holds great responsibility for the entire programme output—a position incomparable with that which other people have been in—and not only a member of a party, not merely an office-holder in that party, but, in this context, the holder of just about the most sensitive office one could possibly have—
§ Mr. Anthony Royle (Richmond, Surrey)
Is the hon. Member implying that the gentleman in question is biasing the programmes in favour of the Conservative Party?
§ Mr. Boston
I am coming to that, but I think that in his position as Vice-Chairman of the National Advisory Committee, Mr. Collins ought to be in a good position to speak for himself. If he cannot speak for himself, one begins to understand the position into which the Conservative Party has got itself. However, as I said, I shall come to that point.
We are entitled to know what this gentleman had to do with this matter. If, as Deputy-Chairman, he was not involved, where does the responsibility lie? This is a question that we are fairly entitled to ask—
§ Mr. Boston
I have made it perfectly clear that here we have a case where the deputy chairman of a television company, who is in an executive position, having overall responsibility for the entire programme output is, at the same time, holding another post in just about the most highly-sensitive field. That point must be made clear. That is why I think that we are justified in posing this as a question. If a satisfactory answer is given, everyone will be satisfied. A great issue of principle is involved here. In the Civil Service, for instance, there are certain complete restrictions, rightly, at a high level, and this is an analagous sort of case.
This morning, I spoke on the telephone to Mr. Alan Saffer, General Secretary of the Screen Writers Guild. He said that he is very concerned indeed about the way political censorship seems to be developing within certain parts of the I.T.A. He regards the anticipation of the three-weeks' rule about elections, which has arisen in this case, as an example of prejudice here, and he believes that this case exemplifies that sort of political censorship.
It seems to me that the sort of consultation that takes place, and which has taken place in this case, leaves much to be desired. Who is consulted? Who is responsible? I am concerned about the shadowy figures behind the scenes—
§ Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for an hon. Member completely to read his speech?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Samuel Storey)
Copious use of notes is allowed; I have not noticed more than that so far.
§ Mr. Boston
I am grateful to you for your protection, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Far from leaning over backwards to be fair, I am wondering whether someone here is not bent double under the weight of a dual rôle. As my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Technology, the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh), asked at the weekend: where will it all end? Little did he know, when referring to the programme "Pinky and Perky", the significance of his words:If we are to have programmes censored before the election date is even announced then by the time the programme starts we are in real danger of having our viewing confined to Pinky and Perky.Within almost a matter of hours, the B.B.C. cancelled that programme. I am happy to say that last night that aberration was put right, and viewers will see the episode, "You too can be a Prime Minister".
I do not know whether it was Pinky's colour that was in question, or whether it was the title of the programme, but perhaps in this electoral situation the title of the programme as a general proposition is wholly inaccurate. If we are to ban things on the basis of titles, we have only to look at some of next week's programmes in the T.V. Times and the Radio Times to see what difficulties we might be getting into. We have "The New Industrial Revolution"; "The Grammar of Cookery"—what kind of cookery, I wonder? We have "Crossroads"; "Pardon the Expression"; "The Magic Boomerang"—I can imagine certain political repercussions with a programme like that, not to say those which appear in the Radio Times, such as "People to Watch", "Man Afraid" and—here we have the other counterpart, "Blue Peter".
Certainly, at election time one must be especially responsible. I think everybody in broadcasting realises that this is important and that is clearly recognised during the period of an election itself. 1525 This whole matter should be carefully considered again once the immediate events facing us are out of the way. I do not think that the public very much appreciates the sort of pussyfooting attitude which has surrounded the particular incident over the past week. I think that viewers resent being treated childishly. We look forward to the time when further discussion has taken place—as I said earlier, it is important to get things right rather than to rush them too much—and to the proposals which my right hon. Friend will be making.
§ 4.41 p.m.
§ Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)
I listened with very close interest and attention to the remarks of the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Boston) about political control. What he had to say would have come with greater force had he not seen fit to make such remarks about one individual in particular which I hope, on reflection, he will consider were unfair and totally unjustified.
I was rather close to the scene which the hon. Member described just before the last General Election. The impression I got was that the greatest degree of sensitivity and jitteriness was experienced and expressed by hon. Members of this House. It is the political and parliamentary sensitiveness towards a General Election which makes people in television very cautious and sometimes apt to take decisions which appear unwise.
This is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. It is also very natural. As we approach a General Election, hon. Members on both sides and their partisan supporters look very closely for anything on either B.B.C. or by the independent companies which could appear to influence, benefit, or damage their cause and both the companies in I.T.A. and the B.B.C. exercise very careful control.
I do not think that it lies with hon. Members where this has been done to be too critical of what is done, still less to suggest that what has been done has been for ulterior motives. In spite of what the hon. Member said about Mr. Norman Collins, I think that the hon. Member has spoken most unjustly. I hope that the Postmaster-General, when replying to the debate, will have something to say about that.
§ Mr. Boston
As I hope I made clear in what I said, I feel that it is important to raise and to have answers to these questions. I think that we are entitled to that. I hope that I made that clear in what I said.
§ Mr. Deedes
The hon. Member did not make it clear to me. It may have been clear to him. I hope that his right hon. Friend will be able to put this matter into the right perspective.
I very much welcome the opportunity for the Postmaster-General to tell us what he has in mind. That is due to him. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Howden (Mr. Bryan) in thinking that the Postmaster-General has had a raw deal. As one responsible for a realm of enormous importance, the right hon. Gentleman has had too little opportunity to share with us some of the ideas and conclusions which he may have reached. Perhaps it does not enter the credit side of the election balance-sheet. That seems very hard luck on the right hon. Gentleman, because I do not think that he lacks ideas about what ought to be done. He has very clear ideas about what ought to be done. What I question is whether his colleagues have the courage to implement them. I think that he has been trying to do a hard job, but alas, his ticket has not attracted the selective machinery of the Prime Minister just now.
There are a number of matters which cry aloud for decision on which a decision should have been announced before a General Election. I shall refer to only two, which have not been mentioned. One is B.B.C. finances and the other, which hon. Members may think me daft to raise, the question of radio pirates. That is a difficult subject, but we would do better to face it. I think that the pirates have made Governments in general look an ass and to look rather disreputable.
I am quite prepared to accept a share of the blame. The pirates have been running for a considerable time, but this has not been a distinguished episode in Government. These people appeared on the horizon about 1961 and 1962. They became a problem about 1963. They became a serious challenge about the middle of 1963 and they are still challenging. I have no personal 1527 animosity towards the pirates. I would not dare to have. It would cause a rupture in my family circle if I expressed ill-feeling towards them.
They calculated very shrewdly—we had better face this—that they had got both political parties in a cleft stick. This has been the basis of their business and of their success. They have managed to leave the present Government in a more indecent posture than their predecessors. Our Government started by saying that international agreement would be required to make efforts to deal with the problem effectively, but the right hon. Gentleman has not that excuse for we are now under an international obligation.
§ Mr. Deedes
That is why we are now under an obligation. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me on this point. I am trying to be fair. We have not acted because of the persuasive but wholly specious argument that the pirates provide what people want. There are people who think that this is sound democracy. It is nothing of the kind. It is bad democracy. It is pandering to populism. We ought not to deceive ourselves about this. The pirates are derogatory to government. I find that very depressing.
If this is illegal, as the right hon. Gentleman has told us more than once—he has used much stronger words than I have used this afternoon—we are compounding a felony. This is a very bad time for a Government to be seen compounding a felony of this kind, innocent though it may seem. The Stock Exchange Council took a much more scrupulous view about certain activities than we have appeared to take about activities which the Postmaster-General has castigated not only as illegal, but as dangerous.
I want to add a word about the B.B.C. licence, which, perhaps, is less controversial. Again, I accept that not all the blame can be laid on the right hon. Gentleman. Vacillation over the B.B.C.'s finances has been going on for some time. I admit that the dilemma which the licence fee now creates might have 1528 been perceived when the Independent Television Corporation was established. In effect, what we have today is one of the two set-ups financed by direct taxation and the other by indirect taxation. That is a fair analogy. What we failed to recognise—I admit this on our part—is that when independent television came it would be intolerable in a competitive system to have the Government as paymaster of one of the competitors. The B.B.C. has to persuade the Postmaster-General, and through him the Treasury, to take an unpopular step in respect of its licence fee.
The right hon. Gentleman knows that this has led to great bitterness and very hard feeling on the part of the B.B.C. I have some sympathy with the Corporation. It feels it is denied the means it wants to provide the sort of service it thinks it ought to offer. They have to go cap in hand to the Government for money which may, we think, lose the Government votes if the Government agree to increase the licence fee. The virtues of an autonomous corporation, which in my view are still very strong in any broadcasting arrangements in this country, are vitiated by such a system.
If we are to stick to the licence system, I think we ought to reflect at this stage whether there ought not to be an independent advisory finance board which should report annually on what ought to be given to the B.B.C. It would in a sense be a neutral report, between the B.B.C. and the Treasury, so that it would not be a wrangle between B.B.C. financiers and the Postmaster-General.
Failing this, I make this suggestion freely to the B.B.C.: it would be far better for it to go to the prices and incomes Board and put its case. The Corporation knows that it cannot go on as it is at the moment, and the right hon. Gentleman knows this, too. This could be part of a package deal about which perhaps he promises to tell us. It would be far better than to turn it over to advertising—not because advertising in any part of its programmes would in itself necessarily be bad, but because it ought not to be required to advertise simply because politically we find it difficult to increase the licence fee. This is a matter of cause and effect.
Finally, I should like to say a word about what some hon. Members will 1529 recall as the Rediffusion affair, and here I can be a little more generous in my reference to some remarks made by the hon. Member for Faversham about political considerations. I think that the Rediffusion controversy, much of which appeared in the correspondence columns of The Times, raises an important issue, as the right hon. Gentleman may agree. It is, of course, absurd to make too much out of one programme, but I think that some of the criticisms which have been made have some substance, and this particular programme, I think, offered a faint warning signal which it would be foolish to ignore. For those hon. Members who do not recall what the controversy was about, I will explain that the allegations were that material gathered from eminent individuals was edited in a programme which gave, if not a misleading impression in itself, at any rate an impression contrary to the intentions of the individuals who took part. That, broadly, is, I think, a fair summary.
It is very easy to talk nonsense about this. There must be a great deal of recording in any programme of this kind-No one can expect all these programmes to be done live. There must be editing, and that means scissors and paste. I think that hon. Gentlemen would accept that. That is only a variant on what the newspapers do, as I should be the first to admit, although it must also be stressed that the impact of such a programme is much greater than anything which one newspaper can achieve by itself.
It is my view—and if the right hon. Gentleman intends to make any remarks on this subject I should be interested to hear them—that the crucial matter is one of motive. It is a matter not so much of method as of motive. The key to motive behind such a programme is having a responsible internal control.
This brings me to the last thing which I want to say. This is something which I think both the industry and hon. Members will increasingly have to take more seriously. I think that we are perhaps hardly aware of how much depends on effective internal control. I am 100 per cent. behind the Postmaster-General in his invariable refusal to exercise political control, if he can avoid it, over any of the subjects which are raised against him 1530 in the House. I say that irrespective of whether they are raised from this side of the House or from the other side of the House. He is absolutely right. I say frankly that on occasions I have admired the attitude which he has taken on this point.
It is imperative that the right hon. Gentleman is able to maintain this attitude, but my view is that his successful resistance to pressure that he should interfere will depend increasing on the willingness of this industry to manage its own affairs reasonably. I am not sure that the industry has grasped this. I think that the Postmaster-General has grasped it. Unless the industry—and I speak now both of the companies and of the B.B.C.—can evolve a better system of internal checks and balances, then as day follows night we shall have incidents which will bring relentless pressure on the Postmaster-General to interfere politically.
Both the companies and the B.B.C. declare that they have the necessary machinery. On the one hand they have the I.T.A. which does an admirable job. The B.B.C. has its governors. But this is not the whole story. There is also a very natural, if rather obstinate, attitude about artistic freedom, and this is very important to grasp. There is a reluctance to exercise internal supervision, and there is a strong desire to allow producers to be autonomous, and there is a feeling that they ought to be autonomous and not to have management breathing down their necks too much. I think that if one examines it carefully something of this kind could be said of the controversy about the "War Game" programme, on which I have no comment to make, except that to have a film made at a cost of £10,000 and at the end of it to discover that for certain reasons it is not suitable to be shown indicates a certain lack of control at management level. I may be wrong, but I think that it illustrates the point which I am trying to make.
The most difficult task for the Postmaster-General is to persuade both the independent companies and the B.B.C., particularly the latter, at which point this internal principle about which they feel strongly can imperil the much more important principle, which is the political freedom of communication. At which point may they fall into errors which 1531 will lead to the wrong sort of pressure on the Postmaster-General. More than once recently, in the view of hon. Members on both sides of the House, they have overstepped the mark, and then we all come baying here on behalf of our constituents to ask the Postmaster-General to stop it. I think that this is the dangerous point.
The B.B.C. must not ride too high a horse here. We respect its wishes for autonomy and we know that it likes its producers to be independent, but it must not ride too high a horse. I have a great deal of sympathy with the Director-General. He has a very tough job, and it requires a very tough man to sustain that job. But as the power of television increases so will his difficulties increase.
The B.B.C. and others must not dismiss its critics as cry babies. It must not be too arrogant. It must not dismiss the Mrs. Whitehouses of this world as just "sillies", because they are not. They represent a body of opinion in this country, and my anxiety is that this body of opinion shall not reach the point of pushing the Postmaster-General into a situation into which he ought not to be pushed. I do not think that the B.B.C. and the companies will go on enjoying indefinitely the freedom which they enjoy now, or like to enjoy, internally, as well as the wider freedom which I think is so important.
I do not want to prolong my remarks, because many other hon. Members wish to speak, but I should like to end with a question to the Postmaster-General. Many years ago Great Britain laid a cable connecting London, which was then the centre of the Empire, with India. John Ruskin was asked to comment on this momentous achievement. John Ruskin said that he was impressed, and he then asked a question which baffled his interviewers. He asked, "What do you have to say to India?". I think that that is a question which television will be asked more and more. It is not for us, certainly not today, to try to find an answer, but I believe that we ought to have a clearer idea in our minds what the answer might be. Perhaps the Postmaster-General has some idea in his mind, and, if he has, I hope that he will persuade his senior colleagues to let him share it with us.
§ Sir John Rodgers (Sevenoaks)
On a point of order. I understand that the Postmoster-General intends eventually to close the debate. Would it not be for the convenience of the House if he did so now, or soon, in order that we might comment on his policies. If he does not, we are debating in the dark.
§ 4.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)
We have all listened with a great deal of interest and sympathy to the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes). Some of the problems posed by the right hon. Member are very real, and I am pleased that he puts the emphasis where he does. On the question of the political direction of the B.B.C., many of us appreciate clearly the point he has put and the anxiety which very many of us have about how the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. can discharge their responsibilities, maintain the freedom of argument that we want to see and also maintain proper freedom for the producer and yet avoid the mounting pressures of which we are all conscious.
There are many ways in which this matter can, perhaps, be eased. Many of the matters that are considered in I.T.V. programming—the question of timing a programme is one issue; some programmes are more acceptable if they can be put on after a certain time—could become more fully understood and known. We certainly cannot accept the position that every controversial issue is, as it were, pussy-footed and dealt with in gloves. We must have vigorous and sincere argument and expression of point of view, however bitterly people may be annoyed by it.
I agree very much with the right hon. Member for Ashford also that Members of this House are very often to blame for a great deal of the difficulties we find ourselves faced with at election time. It is our fault very largely that programmes very often are not as vigorous as many of us would like them to be. I believe that we have established a position where we could trust the authorities on both sides a great deal more in the conduct of political discussions, and I am 1533 conscious, too, that if and when—I hope that this time will come—we have television of this House, the arguments will mount still further. Therefore, it is very important that we should, together, work out some more acceptable means of self-control that can be applied now.
I was very much in agreement with what the right hon. Gentleman said about pirates. Many of us have been putting Questions and urging that action should be taken, having seen that other countries have already acted in this matter. I very much hope that it will not be long before we get the new legislation that may enable the action to be taken which we think is right. Certainly, none of us ought to be deterred from proper action by anxieties about the reaction from certain groups within the community. In so far as their demands are reasonable, they can perfectly well be catered for without the pirate ships. Therefore, I am again very much in agreement with what the right hon. Gentleman said on this matter.
My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Boston) raised a matter of important principle as to whether it is desirable for one man to hold two posts, as it were, with the very difficult question of taking a position that might be thought to be influenced by the responsibilities that he holds. That criticism is a fair one and it is a matter, no doubt, for the individual concerned as to what he feels about it and what action he should take.
I was very pleased on the whole at the attitude taken by the hon. Member for Howden (Mr. Bryan), who opened the debate, in strong contradiction to the opening of a similar debate rather less than a year ago by the right hon. and learned Member for Epsom (Sir P. Rawlinson), who expressed himself very vigorously indeed on a whole range of matters and brought into question his own and, indeed, his party's view about the real, true independence of the B.B.C. and his attitude to it. This was a matter in which there was some exchange with the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt), who is now sitting on the Opposition Front Bench.
§ Mr. David Gibson-Watt (Hereford)
Before the hon. Gentleman gets into the same pitfall as he did on 13th May, may I say that he was wrong then and I fear that he will be wrong now.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
I would wish to satisfy the hon. Member that I certainly do not consider I was wrong then. The right hon. and learned Member for Epsom made his position perfectly clear—and repeated it several times—that he believed there were occasions when the independence of the B.B.C. should be sacrificed to the needs of the Government of the day. That was the position. I am not stating it wrongly. I am delighted that the hon. Member for Howden, in opening this debate, did not make this point today and I am, therefore, encouraged to believe that hon. Members opposite do not take that view either and that the view of the right hon. and learned Member for Epsom, who, I am glad to say, did not open this debate today, was not the view of his party.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
I remember that debate very well. I sat all through it. My right hon. and learned Friend the member for Epsom (Sir P. Rawlinson) made one specific case, and only one. His argument related to a time when Britain was committed to a military operation and our troops were on the high seas on the way to that operation. That was my right hon. and learned Friend's opinion. It was given in a narrow and specific instance, and it referred to 1956.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
It is precisely critical occasions of this sort that test the sincerity of our belief in the independence of the channel of communications concerned. This is why I have always believed this to be so vital, because I have had experience of this situation and of its importance in the world at large and the very high standing of the B.B.C. at that time because of the independent position it took up. I do not intend to follow that further on this occasion. I am satisfied that as far as I can see, that is not regarded as the general view of hon. Members opposite.
I was, however, rather sorry to hear the hon. Member for Howden refer again, presumably, to some commitment of his party to commercial local sound radio. I take it from what was said—no doubt the hon. Member for Hereford, when he speaks later, will develop the point more fully—that there is a commitment by 1535 hon. Members opposite in favour of commercial local sound radio. That was made clear in our last debate, when the right hon. and learned Member for Epsom spoke about it in some detail, and it was repeated briefly by the hon. Member for Howden, who opened the debate today.
I want to make it clear that for my part I regard the proposal for commercial local sound radio to be thoroughly dangerous, for a whole series of reasons. Like other hon. Members who have spoken, I want to see the B.B.C. have the opportunity of developing local sound radio stations, as it has offered to do on an experimental basis. As has been made clear, the B.B.C. has offered to make a start with nine stations and to do this without further charge, although, clearly, if this programme were to be extended at all widely, some increase in licence fee or other means of raising revenue would have to be provided. I cannot see why decisions should not be taken on this matter very quickly. I do not see that it needs to await the White Paper that my right hon. Friend has not yet been able to give us. I hope that he may be able to say something about this before too long.
I find it surprising that right hon. and hon. Members opposite, who during the last few days have complained about the number of White Papers which have been presented, should complain in this debate of the lack of yet another. I should have thought from their anguish at the number of White Papers which have been presented recently that they would have welcomed the fact that one is not being presented now.
I believe, however, that local sound radio would be the worst place of all in which to meet advertising. I have said in the past that I can imagine circumstances in which advertising revenues might be made available for television programmes for the B.B.C. as well as I.T.V., although I would not welcome that. I think it is possible. I think it would conceivably do less damage than commercial sound radio. There is also the problem, of course, of the position of the local Press to be thought of.
There is also the problem of the effect of commercial development on a local 1536 programme where the period of time in which the local programme is likely to reach a large number of people is bound to be very small, a relatively short period of time every day. In these circumstances I would have thought that the pressure of commercial interests to have their cut out of that relatively brief period would be bound to be very great indeed—accepting, of course, that their proposals are by no means very clear. They were commented on at the time of the Pilkington Committee. I do not know that they are very much clearer now. At that time, I think it was made clear—as, indeed, it has been since—that the commercial interests were proposing the use of both medium wave and other provisions for the evening, medium wave for daytime transmissions and other provisions for the evenings. There is some doubt as to whether indeed anything other than medium wave provision during the daytime will ever get started. There is some doubt whether the other proposals would be satisfactory. However that may be, I would welcome a declaration from my right hon. Friend that this particular form of proposal is not likely to get the support of the Government.
With regard to the question of finance for the B.B.C., there are two problems. It is conceivable—indeed, highly likely, and to be welcomed—that local sound radio would play a very considerable part in educational work. When the hon. Member for Howden referred rather cynically to the White Paper on the University of the Air, he did not seem to take account of the fact that any development of that sort is bound to use sound radio as well as television to a very considerable extent. He certainly did not develop that argument at all.
The hon. Member did not make it clear that if we are really to have developed a University of the Air it would not be purely on television, or that it would not rely mainly on television, unless we are thinking of other new channels and many other provisions of a very costly character. I would hope, again, that there would be very great use of local sound radio in this, and I would have thought that there is a great prospect for it, and if this in fact were done, and if increasingly local sound radio were 1537 to be used for normal educational purposes as well—as, of course, it is today, and we have not reached the end of that—I would have thought there would be great value in this and that we should not discount the enormous potentiality of sound radio as well for educational purposes.
I would have thought it reasonable to suggest some payment might be made by the Minister of Education for a service of this kind—not for advertising announcements, but for the actual service—whose costs would otherwise have to be met in other ways. Part of the cost involved might be met in this way.
There is a second point I would make on the question of B.B.C. costs. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we have got to face the problem of the need from time to time to raise extra money. The B.B.C. needs that freedom of co-operation, and almost certainly it will need in the future the right to secure more money by increased licence fees. This is a prospect we must face, but I think there is as well a question which we have not cleared up, and that is the question of evasion. After all, when we have reached the point where a sum of nearly £10 million a year is being lost to the B.B.C. by way of evasion, this is no small matter. If indeed we could make any effective progress towards overcoming this that could make a very great difference indeed to the situation of the B.B.C. and might at least delay for a very considerable period of time its need to make any approach for any additional licence fee money.
One thing I would very much like to hear from my right hon. Friend is what prospect there is of reaching agreement with the renters and others to enable a rather easier method to be adopted—easier, at any rate, in some ways; easier from the point of view of securing the collection. What prospect is there of securing agreement with the renters and others that might help meet part of this problem? Today a very large proportion of the number of television sets, something like 70 per cent. of the new sets coming out, are in fact rented, and I gather it is not impossible to devise a means of securing collection through the renters' channel. Whatever my right hon. Friend is not able to say, I hope very much he will 1538 indeed give us some encouragement in this matter because it would help, undoubtedly, very much in other fields.
With regard to colour television, I quite appreciate there is a need for a decision one way or another fairly quickly on this matter. Whether we should indeed commit a further large sum of money, whether this is justifiable or not, I am very uncertain. I do not pretend to have knowledge available to make a decision of this sort. If we were to decide it upon the desires or the needs of our own community for colour television, I think there are other things we want to secure first.
I appreciate the commercial argument of the value there might be in colour television development so far as the sale of equipment abroad is concerned, and it may be that that question will outweigh the other factors, but one has to face the fact that a very considerable amount of money will be involved in this investment and, on the face of it, it is very hard to see how we can justify it at the present time.
Unlike some of those who have spoken, I welcome the publication of the White Paper on the University of the Air. I hope that very soon further details will be given of the discussions which are going on with the B.B.C. and, no doubt, other bodies, and I would hope that, at least for a start, we could accept the fact that we could make very considerable use of B.B.2, accepting the probability that a further channel would have to be delayed for some time.
Again the question is of the estimate of the value and importance of capital expenditure in this field as against that in other fields. Certainly a start at least could be made on the lines suggested in the White Paper, combining both a limited amount of television time with sound radio services, and also, of course, accepting the need for correspondence provisions, and so on. What I think is quite vital is that we should ensure that there is proper supervision of this work to see that standards are maintained at the highest possible level.
There is a good deal of sarcasm about what the cost per pupil would be of a service of this sort. We would really be providing a service for those who—they might be few—wish to carry on with a 1539 programme of sustained study right through the same field. In addition, the very much greater number who might benefit from a wide range of educational programmes should be included in that work. We should not think exclusively in terms of the value that it would be to the limited number who might carry through detailed study. We should also think of the value to very much larger numbers of the community who would be attracted by the standard of programmes of that sort.
When we welcome my right hon. Friend back to the House after the brief interruption that we are likely to have, I hope that before long he will be able to give us his views on some of these matters. For myself, I believe that the financial position of the B.B.C. would not be an urgent one, provided that some headway could be made on the question of evasion, and I hope very much that he will be able to make some announcement on that matter, if not on others.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Sir John Rodgers (Sevenoaks)
Doubtless the right hon. Gentleman has very good reasons for not doing so, but I regret that he has not spoken earlier in the debate, because it would have enabled us to hear his thoughts and policy plans, especially as we are considering the whole subject, with one possible exception, in a narrow non-partisan spirit.
§ Mr. Benn
I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but on the last occasion when we had a half-day debate there were complaints that there were two Front Bench speakers from the Government occupying too much time. This is a debate initiated by the Opposition, and I thought it better to come in at the end and answer points which had been raised.
§ Sir J. Rodgers
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for that explanation. I appreciate the reasons. We cannot consider the future of sound and television broadcasting unless we take into account the clear fact that no expansion of TV audiences such as there has been between 1946 and 1964 is likely to continue. If we are going to expand services in sound and television through the public broadcasting system, the very difficult problem of finance has to be faced.
1540 Every speech which we have heard so far today has emphasised that hon. Members on both sides feel, with no criticism to anyone, that we are not making enough progress in various directions and ought to be doing more to use these valuable means of mass communication in the sphere of education. I do not intend to comment in detail on the University of the Air. All of us are convinced that there is a great potential for the use of television and sound broadcasting in the sphere of education both by closed circuit and by certain types of educational programmes in ordinary broadcasting. But all that costs money. We are also being pressed to go ahead with local and regional broadcasting stations, and all that will cost money.
We are wasting valuable assets at the moment by the rather ridiculous rules and regulations governing the hours of television transmission. Hon. Members who have already spoken have referred to the break-through that has occurred in the last year or two in the production of programmes which sell in America and even push out American programmes in other parts of the world. It is a market which we cannot afford to neglect, and I urge the Postmaster-General to look into the possibilities of extending the hours of television transmission both by the B.B.C. and by I.T.A.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Howden (Mr. Bryan) said, a number of people have advanced the argument that it would make too many demands on people's time, but it would be an advantage to the community if a certain amount of transmission time could be made available for repeat programmes. A great many programmes, which have cost a lot of money to produce, are missed by people because there is no way in which they can be repeated. Time could be provided in the earlier hours of the day for repeat programmes to be transmitted at practically no additional expense.
We are now moving into a three-shift system of working. As a result, the ordinary peak viewing hours are likely to change. We ought to get as near round the clock broadcasting and televiewing as possible. We have broadcasting, but televiewing is restricted to a small number of hours, purely for reasons of finance. I.T.A. could easily extend 1541 their hours, because they would have segments of time which they could sell to advertisers, but it is being clamped down and held back because of the B.B.C.'s financial problems.
I am sure that there is not a soul in the House who does not believe that one of the things we ought to be going ahead with is the introduction of local broadcasting stations to serve local communities, churches, schools, universities, clubs and provide local entertainment. I venture to say that the services of those stations could be made available to local advertisers. Provided they did not control the programme content, I see no reason to deny that medium to local advertisers.
In a pamphlet which arrived on my desk this morning, the B.B.C. says:The BBC believes that local radio, like all public service broadcasting, should be paid for out of licence revenue. The Pilkington Committee took the same view. Close on sixteen million people now hold licences. If an extra 5s. could be obtained from each licence for the development of local broadcasting, it would provide an annual revenue of nearly £4 million. This amount would enable the BBC to go a very long way in the implementation of the proposals it put before the Pilkington Committee. Meanwhile the BBC has offered to launch up to nine local stations without increase of licence fee, as a pilot scheme to give local broadcasting on community service lines a trial run and to test its acceptability and usefulness.There is the first break-through on the £5 licence fee. The B.B.C. says that even to do such an experiment it would need a five guinea licence fee.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
That is not true. The B.B.C. offered to do the experiment and launch up to nine local stations without an extra charge.
§ Sir J. Rodgers
Yes, that is for nine stations. But, since it is operating at a loss already, that does not mean very much. It is only when it comes to add up its losses that it gets an increased licence fee. If it is going to mean an extra 5s. on the fee to get local broadcasting started, it will mean much more to make experiments in colour television, and if the hours of television transmission are to be extended as well, it will mean even more. I want to know categorically from the right hon. Gentleman if he is prepared to tell the House what he needs to provide sufficient revenue for the 1542 B.B.C. to go ahead with colour television, increased transmission and the setting up of the local broadcasting stations. I should like to know how much it will cost, and where he is going to get the money.
When I was a member of the B.B.C.'s General Advisory Council, I advanced the view all the time that there is nothing wrong in the B.B.C. having segments of advertising on certain of its transmissions. I do not mean on all its programmes, and not even on all its channels. But if it intends to go in for popular local broadcasting, I see no reason why it should not collect funds from it. Nearly all the public broadcasting organisations in Western Europe and in some of our Dominions do it.
I do not believe that the argument can be sustained that if the B.B.C. takes money from commercial sources it will be tainted and be pressed by people to alter its programmes so that they appeal to majority groups. This argument could be advanced about the universities, which take millions of £s from great industrial organisations, yet they are not pressed by those organisations to change the type of instruction which they give. The same is true of newspapers and magazines. There is no evidence to show that advertisers have used any influence on the editorial content of them. The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) frowns, but he knows that every Royal Commission set up by either side of the House has been unable to prove that any advertiser has tried to bring pressure on the editorial policies of newspapers or magazines.
§ Mr. Christopher Rowland (Meriden)
The hon. Gentleman referred to the experience of the Dominions. Does he know of the recent investigation into the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation which has gone through the kind of process which the hon. Gentleman finds so advantageous?
§ Sir J. Rodgers
Yes, I have read that Report. It is true that there were criticisms, but it is equally true that nobody wants to return to the licence system as the method of financing the C.B.C. That comes out in the Report. Although the people concerned may not think it is ideal, they prefer finance from advertising revenue rather than going 1543 back to the system of licensing fees as we have here.
I am not going into the rights and wrongs of this matter. I want to stick to this mundane problem. We are falling behind in broadcasting and television, and we shall continue to do so unless we expand in the ways I have suggested. I.T.V. presents no problem. It can expand either on its television channel or on radio if entrusted to do so. It is the B.B.C. which presents a real problem, and I want to know from the Postmaster-General what steps he will take to meet the legitimate demands of the B.B.C. for more revenue. We have a right to be told tonight.
It is no good the right hon. Gentleman saying, as the hon. Member for South Shields did, that for the moment the B.B.C. is not going to make any more demands. Anybody who knows anything about finance knows that the B.B.C. is in desperate straits. It cannot continue on its present financing system. It cannot make the necessary advances without a lot more revenue. I uphold the view taken by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) when he says that the licence fee is not the right way of getting money and perhaps there should be other ways of financing the B.B.C. if it says, as it is entitled to, that it rejects any form of subvention by commercial interests. This is the question to which I want to address myself, and it is one on which I believe the House is entitled to expect a categoric answer from the Postmaster-General.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
Would the hon. Gentleman agree that there would be great value in pressing the need to overcome evasion? This would help the immediate problem.
§ Sir J. Rodgers
Yes, but that is not the long-term solution. Everybody deplores the loss of revenue by fraudulent evasion, because that is what it is. One would like to see it stopped, but that is not the answer to the continuing financial problems of the B.B.C.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Mapp (Oldham, East)
I have listened carefully to the debate and I am delighted that it has come to the point to which the hon. Member for 1544 Sevenoaks (Sir J. Rodgers) has now brought it. It is significant that although hon. Gentlemen opposite are asking for the additional services which have been asked for by both sides of the House, no one on the benches opposite has made any observations which matter on the 64-dollar question of how the B.B.C. is to be financed. I am waiting patiently to find out how far right hon. Gentlemen opposite are prepared to commit themselves.
I propose to deploy a general argument which is perhaps a little new on this side of the House, but which, I am sure, will be accepted before long. The hon. Gentleman talked about the B.B.C. having some segments of advertising. Why should it not get into the field in all its services? Why should the I.T.A. continue the monopoly which it has held for so long?
I am not fond of advertisements in my dining room, but I do not think that that is what the argument is about today. It has nothing to do with it. When I looked at my telephone directory the other day, I found my undertaker's telephone number, together with a small advertisement. Am I upset about the attitude of the Observer or The Guardian to advertising? Are we upset by the fact that on London Transport and Manchester Corporation buses we see a reasonable amount of advertising? Of course we are not. The objection is to the standards of advertising, and presumably these vary from place to place, and in different environments.
Who objects to a rugby club displaying an advertisement in its programme? Nobody does. The programme is as delightful as that of any theatre. I therefore must say that at this stage the boardroom of the B.B.C. is of the opinion that the environment of 1955 still exists. Pilkington, too, relies on that environment in its recommendations.
Perhaps I might quote from a letter dated 26th January which I received from the B.B.C. I had accused the B.B.C. of including some unfortunate parts in certain programmes. I had accussed it of moving more and more to philistine programmes backed by puritan financing. In its letter the Corporation said:Our Board of Governors have recently reaffirmed this view,1545 —this is in regard to not having advertisements—after a searching reconsideration of all the arguments, and I believe that the Board would find strong support for their conclusions among most responsible opinion outside the B.B.C.Why was the word "responsible" used? Do the governors take the view that all the knowledge about this sort of thing is concentrated in the B.B.C. and only there, and that by inference those who take another view are somewhat irresponsible?
I am saying no more than that it is a coincidence that there is marked silence on the part of the B.B.C. about accepting all forms of commercial advertising. There is marked silence by the Press. There is complete silence by I.T.V. The advertising world is equally silent. What is more, in the main, the party opposite has great reservations—or at least it had 12 months ago—on whether this State agency should compete on equitable terms in commercial advertising.
I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite are moving forward, albeit slowly. I confess that two or three years ago I was somewhat puritan-minded. I saw no reason why commercial advertisements should come into what I thought was a service which could do without them, and I still take the view that our society would have been much better off had we not brought that kind of service into our homes.
The B.B.C., and this House cannot put the clock back. Perhaps the House could, but it would do so in the face of strong public resistance. We have to accept that the clock has moved on, and that in 1966 we should be saying to ourselves, "Here is a State agency in grave financial difficulties". We may say that a good deal of the trouble is due to past Tory neglect, but the fact is that the B.B.C. is still in grave financial difficulties. The television trade, in particular, is asking for an extension of services.
I hope that the Minister will correct me if I am wrong. I do not want an incorrect figure to go out from this House, but I have a feeling that if the B.B.C. were to meet most of the commitments which many people want to put on it we should have to think of licences costing £7 or more. I see from activity opposite that my figure is not accepted by hon. Members opposite. I shall be delighted 1546 to hear what the Minister and the B.B.C. think the figure might be in two or three years time.
§ Sir J. Rodgers
I do not like to disagree with the figure of £7, but I think that it is a gross under-estimate because it would require a licence fee much nearer £15 if all the demands being made on the B.B.C. were to be met.
§ Mr. Mapp
I am reassured, because I was being rather conservative. What are the pragmatic reasons before us? We cannot continue indefinitely the contradictory forms of financing the two bodies. The methods of finance do not compare one with the other. Sooner or later it will be realised that we must be consistent. The sooner this is realised the better. There is a new monopoly in the advertising world. I am sure that the Tories will not be enthusiastic in ensuring that no further monopolies are created, so even from that angle it is advisable that the monopoly be broken.
Now that we have reached a plateau of licences we must realise the inescapable fact that the B.B.C's. finances are unable to grow with the economy. Equally, it must be recognised that the competing service, being financially hitched to one of the most prosperous parts of the economy, is self-financing and, as the expenditure is under the same control, is bound to be profitable and viable.
My personally chosen service—the B.B.C.—will be constantly in a financial crisis for two reasons. First, the number of licences has reached saturation point. Secondly, whenever the House, I often think unwisely, sets up a State organisation, it proceeds to trammel it with every kind of inhibiting instrument to prevent it doing this, that or the other. Some part of the rigid management and organisation structure of the B.B.C. is due to the House having inhibited the Corporation, instead of allowing the normal flexible arrangements which exist in the competing service. The crisis point is here, and before long the next Labour Government must face it.
I ask the Minister a very straightforward question. I want him to answer it so that during the election this matter can be considered pragmatically. I said that the licence might cost £7 or £8. Hon. Members of the House are sophisticated. If we are frank with ourselves, we will 1547 admit that we are not always fully representative of the ordinary folk who are our constituents. Is it not fair to consider this problem from the point of view of the family man earning from £12 to £20 a week?
Apart from moralising, I am unable to convince many of my constituents of the equity of their paying the B.B.C. licence fee because many of the people to whom I talk spend two-thirds of their time watching I.T.V. and one-third of their time, or less, watching news and sporting and national events on the B.B.C. Their question: Why should we have to pay an additional £2, thus bringing the licence up to £7, when we choose either not to watch the B.B.C. service, or to watch it minimally?—is unanswerable in logic. Our job as Members of Parliament, if we come down to moralising, is to deal with such things as licentiousness and not the question of choice.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
If the hon. Gentleman is being realistic, how does he think that his constituents will ever be able to enjoy the benefits of the University of the Air, because they will need two television sets if it is put on at peak time?
§ Mr. Mapp
Much of this debate has been synthetic and too sophisticated. A notable exception was the speech by the hon. Member for Sevenoaks. The debate so far has not been concerned with how ordinary people are affected. We have heard about 78,000 university students. The University of the Air is an interesting possibility, but I am not prepared to jeopardise the services required by 15 million people. I put these requirements in order of priority. The University of the Air must take its place in order of priority and, in my view, be submitted to the test of what the public wants most. Minorities must be respected, but we must not become over sophisticated.
There is nothing wrong in the B.B.C. taking commercial advertising on all its channels, provided that proper standards are maintained. What are the standards? I would not allow either the B.B.C. or I.T.A. to determine advertising standards. The House should set up a body statutorily empowered to decide the standards 1548 of commercial advertising for both media. This body should be concerned especially with the variation of programmes, their content, and when and how the advertisements should appear. Most of us would prefer the practice in the theatre of advertisements coming at the end of programmes and not as "breaks". With such a body we could accept commercial advertising on both media. The majority vote on this body should be with lay members to ensure that the advertising is acceptable and that there is honest and open competition.
If this were done, £100 million in advertising revenue would flow to the two authorities. I understand that the advertising revenue to the I.T.V. is at present between £80 million and £85 million. This figure will grow, because many regional advertising agencies will be able to enter the field, although admittedly not at the highest price at the peak part of the week. Competition may tend to bring top advertising prices down. In the long run, there will be greater diversification of advertising. I would not regard it as impossible for the growth in advertising revenue to be as much as £10 million per annum.
I do not contend that advertising, going competitively to both services, one privately based in terms of capital, the other publicly based in terms of capital, would provide all the revenue. I believe that a balance would have to be found in some other way. Provided that the extra revenue were equitably shared on a basis of ascertainable criteria, that revenue could rightly be drawn from licence fee.
I want the public to be stimulated into discussing the pros and cons of this issue. I do not ask the Minister, or the country, or my constituents, to bless my proposition. I contend that it should be studied. The B.B.C. has not done this. The Corporation reached its own conclusions on principles. It did not conduct a detailed study of the financial outcome. I beg the Minister to ask the Corporation to get in an outside team—I would be very cautious about a team supplied by the Corporation itself—to consider the commercial possibilities, the possible revenue to the Corporation, and the possible loss of revenue to I.T.V., as a result of legislation permitting the Corporation to accept advertising on all its channels. 1549 Armed with such a report the Cabinet and the Postmaster-General would be in a position to decide on policy.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Royle (Richmond, Surrey)
I am very glad that the opportunity has arisen this afternoon to speak on broadcasting. I want particularly to talk about local sound broadcasting, and some of my comments, I think, will follow those of the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop). The other day at Question Time, when I was questioning the Postmaster-General, I got the impression that he might have felt that I had an interest in this subject. Perhaps that impression was wrong, but I should like to make it quite plain that I have no interest whatsoever in local or commercial broadcasting at the present time.
One of the depressing features of the last few months, watching the Postmaster-General in action, has been his vacillation on so many issues. Not only have some of us found him incompetent at running our local postal and telephone services, but we have also found him quite incapable of making decisions on major issues that face him at the moment in the Post Office. Some of these points were made by my hon. Friend the Member for Howden (Mr. Bryan), in his opening speech this afternoon. One real failure, mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), is the inability by the Postmaster-General and, indeed, by the previous Government to deal with pirate radio. This worries many of us. The right hon. Gentleman has been pressed many times by hon. Members opposite to take a decision on the future of local broadcasting. The pirate radio stations have shown clearly that there is a strong demand for a new type of radio broadcasting even if different from the pirates who do not provide a local service.
I should like to suggest to the Postmaster-General a few points which I have picked up during the last two months when I have been personally carrying out a very careful and detailed survey of the possibilities of creating a local broadcasting system. I have talked to many people, including the heads of organisations which are interested in this subject.
1550 The first thing to get clear is what do we mean by local broadcasting? The emphasis, I feel sure the Postmaster-General would agree, is that it must be local. It is no good having regional broadcasting. I think that most of us have in mind a local sound radio station serving a community of somewhere around 50,000 people—certainly not less, and not more than 100,000.
Secondly, is it technically possible to produce local sound radio stations? This is a fundamental question on which I am no expert. I can only answer it as a layman but after discussing it with many people who have studied the problem in great detail both on the commercial side and in the B.B.C. The experts seem to be satisfied that it is possible, and that a plan could be constructed with a detailed allocation of frequencies based on the daytime use of the medium wave, as was mentioned by the hon. Member for South Shields earlier, and the after-dark use of V.H.F.
The B.B.C., if it was granted the rights to produce and run local broadcasting stations, would, I think, use V.H.F. the whole time both by day and by night. But the growth of the B.B.C. services on these channels has reduced availability, and it would make it difficult for the V.H.F. and the medium wave to be used in the manner that I have stated unless it was very carefully worked out and the allocations issued by the Postmaster-General. The Marconi Company has produced an interesting plan which shows that the country could be covered by 280 small stations each covering a radius of about 50,000 population. This plan would be based on using the medium wavelength during the daytime and V.H.F. at night.
We must not allow the random use of frequencies to grow up. It is very important if local sound broadcasting goes ahead for the Postmaster-General to prepare a national frequency plan. Indeed, he should prepare it now and issue it. There is not time to discuss networking, this evening, which is another technical aspect of importance.
The next point which we should try to answer is: how could local broadcasting be financed? It seems to me, after careful study during the last few months, that it is only by the sale of 1551 advertising with commercial stations that local broadcasting could be financed without being a burden on the ratepayer or the taxpayer or the licence holder. Why do I say this? It would be impossible for the B.B.C. to operate local broadcasting stations alone unless it could either have a substantial grant from the Treasury and be subsidised by the taxpayer, or by the local ratepayer.
Alternatively, the licence fee would have to be increased. The estimated figure is about 5s. increase to bring in local radio stations. But although the stations which would be established throughout the country would not cover all licence holders, all licence holders would have to pay the extra 5s. Therefore, people would be paying 5s. for a service which they might not be able to receive in the area in which they live.
On 27th February the Observer produced what I, having a rather suspicious mind, took to be yet another leak from the Government. There was a long article in that paper which seemed to indicate—perhaps we shall hear more from the Postmaster-General—that some sort of autonomous local trusts might be set up, that the Postmaster-General is coming to the conclusion that the local trusts could be financed by local advertising and that the B.B.C. and the commercial radio stations would be excluded. This seems to me to be an extraordinary suggestion which would only get the worst of both worlds. We should exclude the B.B.C. which technicaly would be extremely competent at running local broadcasting stations, and we should exclude the commercial "know-how" which the proposed commercial radio companies would have at their disposal if they were running the advertising themselves.
I would welcome the solution which would not only bring in the commercial companies which I mentioned earlier, and which would finance themselves by advertising, but would also bring in the B.B.C. I consider that we could have a "mixed" solution to the problem of local broadcasting. But the B.B.C., if it sets up local stations, must not be subsidised by the taxpayer or by the ratepayer or by the licence holder. There must be some other method of providing the finance, and I shall come to this in a minute. I understand that the B.B.C. 1552 reckons the capital cost of setting up a local station to be £30,000 to £35,000. The B.B.C. probably would have a more elaborate station than the commercial radio stations would propose to have, and the latter reckon a capital cost of £20,000 to £25,000.
The key aspect to local commercial radio on the financial side is the mistaken impression which many members of the general public have that records could be used to an unlimited extent. This is untrue. There is copyright, not only on the content, but also on the record, and one of the difficulties which many of us feel, although I listen occasionally to the pirate radio stations is that they are stealing other people's money. Many of them are not paying copyright and not keeping to the needle time which is an important aspect of copyright involved in the sale of records.
A broadcasting station, therefore, must pay the correct amount of royalty, which the B.B.C. pays, and also agree to operate only the length of "needle time" allowed by the record company and laid down under the copyright. If the B.B.C. set up local stations it would not be severely affected by this copyright proviso. The plans prepared by the B.B.C. are interesting and original. The authority, clearly, has put a lot of work into them. The plans are mainly for talks programmes and therefore they would not be affected so much by copyright on records. The commercial companies, on the other hand, are confident that they could use pop music on their programmes and provide the mixed type of programme of music and local interest while keeping within the rules of copyright.
The next question is how the commercial stations should operate and how the operators would be appointed and controlled. This is an important aspect. The frequencies, of course, should be detailed by the Postmaster-General. The station operators should be appointed not by a national authority but by regional authorities on the lines of the I.T.A. But there should be provision for appeal, if necessary, by those who apply for a local station over and above the regional authority to the Postmaster-General. Something on these lines would ensure that we had local people with local interests running local stations, and not 1553 regional stations, and they would have the feeling that they could appeal over the heads of the regional authority if they felt that they were not having a fair deal.
Another important aspect is the position of the local Press. It seems to me that the local Press throughout the country is divided about equally on this subject. Some local Press proprietors fear a loss of revenue if local commercial stations are set up and have advertising time. There are others who feel that this could be another form of journalism and they would want to take part in it. These are two aspects which we must take carefully into account.
I believe that the local Press must be allowed an investment if commercial local stations are set up, but I do not think there is any need, nor do I think that it would be right, for them to have the controlling interest in a local station, certainly not in the matter of programme and editorial content. I have not gone into this in great detail. Possibly the Postmaster-General has done so, but I believe that there could be some method devised of arranging for them to have financial control, but with control over the programming and editorial carefully excluded.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
My hon. Friend will realise that if the Press were to have a controlling financial interest there would always be a suspicion in the public mind that the same people were running all means of communication. Perhaps it would be better if the Press had a substantial interest but not a controlling interest in any aspect.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)
When the hon. Member talks about the Press having an interest, would he distinguish between the local newspapers controlled by national bodies and those independently controlled by local people?
§ Mr. Royle
One would have to make certain that if the local Press had an interest in a local commercial station it would have to be made quite clear that it was a local company that had that interest. If it was a controlling group in 1554 London which ran a local group of newspapers it, too, might well have an indirect interest through its local subsidiary.
Another important aspect of this matter is the question whether the output from these local radio stations would be nothing but endless pop music. This is feared by many people. Many of the pirate radio stations do not abide by the copyright rules and regulations, as I have said, but a local station on land would have to satisfy the record companies on needle time and copyright payment. I believe that a station based on local communities should produce local music and also be an outlet for local market and traffic news, local government news, local entertainment, for dramatic societies, debating societies, social clubs and old people's clubs. The stations could carry local advertising which at the moment has no outlet. The local grocer or the local chain store would have a chance to advertise not only in the local newspaper, but on the local radio station. This is an attractive aspect. I hope that these points might be considered carefully by the Postmaster-General.
To sum up, I would say that local stations should be allowed to be set up for these reasons. First, there is clearly a demand for the service. Secondly, as I have discussed in detail, it is technically possible. Thirdly, a commercial service can be provided at no cost whatsoever to the listener, and the service can provide a valuable stimulus to local trade, education and community spirit. It will provide an outlet for the small trader.
Another point which I am sure the Postmaster-General will be taking into account is that in a modern society it is foolish for a Minister with his modern outlook, which I welcome, not to make use of every modern means of communication that is available. There are, however, safeguards which must be incorporated. There is, for example, the use of local musicians for a certain percentage of the broadcasting time. This requirement should be incorporated in any licence that is granted. This would satisfy the Musicians' Union which is very concerned about it. Local pop groups and musicians could come in. This would help to stop the drift of local musicians away from small towns and communities.
1555 Copyright must be safeguarded. The local Press must be allowed to take an interest in the system. I mentioned earlier the B.B.C. and the idea of a mixed solution. The B.B.C. has made an impressive study of the problem and it should be allowed to operate stations, but the provision of stations should not entail any extra charge on the general licence or upon the taxpayer or ratepayer. To enable the B.B.C. to finance its stations without being a burden on the licence holder, the taxpayer or the ratepayer, the authority should be allowed to trade its programmes with the commercial stations.
In other words, the B.B.C. would be allowed to sell national programmes which it was running on its countrywide network to the local commercial radio stations as fillers in for a profit, which it could keep to help finance its own stations. Also, it would be allowed to enter into financial arrangements with local organisations such as universities, charitable trusts and other representative bodies, excluding local authorities—I do not think anyone would want local authorities to control local broadcasting stations; it could lead to a lot of misunderstanding and difficulty—in this way local stations could be established by the B.B.C. if there were a demand, with the backing of local trusts and representative bodies.
We have waited a very long time for a decision from the Postmaster-General on this question, and we waited quite a long time under the previous Administration.
§ Mr. Royle
I admit that we have waited a long time, but it is time now that we had a decision.
The right hon. Gentleman ought to reach one quickly. A mixed solution along the lines I have suggested would not be impossible. Such a solution would have the support of the B.B.C. Naturally, the B.B.C. would prefer to run the all local Radio, but it would, I am sure, work in with the system I have proposed. Such a solution would certainly have support from many commercial companies which are interested throughout the country.
1556 I believe that the local Press, while not being enthusiastic, perhaps, would be prepared to accept and work with such a solution. I do consider that it might be acceptable to people such as the Musicians' Union, the National Union of Journalists and others interested. I beg the right hon. Gentleman swiftly to make up his mind.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Mr. David Gibson-Watt (Hereford)
I am glad to be able to take part in this debate, and I am particularly glad to follow that very thoughtful contribution on the subject of local sound radio from my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Mr. A. Royle). I shall add a few points about local sound radio later in my speech.
When winding up the last debate on broadcasting on 13th May last year, the Leader of the House said: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 shall bear it in mind on a future occasion."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th May, 1965; Vol. 712, c. 828.]The Opposition have not disappointed the Leader of the House, and we are taking up the matter again to pose once more the questions which we posed nine months ago and a few extra ones as well.
The problems in television and broadcasting have grown and, I freely admit, the difficulties for a Postmaster-General in making a decision have grown. On the many points which have been itemised by hon. Members during the debate, the industry as well as the B.B.C. and the independents are urgently requiring answers, and those in the industry whose livelihood relies on television may be forgiven for saying, somewhat forcefully, "Why are we waiting?" I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us when he winds up. Although a debate in this House has not taken place for nine months, it has been a continuing debate in public, in the Press, on television and radio and among all those who are interested.
I list now under a series of headings eight questions to which this Government have not so far given answers. I 1557 have chosen eight, and there may be more, but these are the most important. They are: colour, the pirates, local sound broadcasting, the future of the fourth channel, extra hours for television, B.B.C. finance, transmitter applications and the contract extension for independent television. That is a fairly long list, and I put the straight point to the Postmaster-General that, at this late hour, he should be able to give us answers to a great number of those questions.
First, colour. In the debate on 13th May last, I urged the Postmaster-General to hasten slowly. We could all see that this was a difficult problem, and I am sure the House in general will admit that we on this side have not pressed the right hon. Gentleman too hard on it at Question Time. But time is running on and, although we have not led the way with a British prototype, it is not right that we should trail in our inability to say whether we are going in for colour or not. This point was made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Howden (Mr. Bryan) and others. Clearly, both Germany and Holland are saying that they are going in for colour in the autumn of 1967, and probably France and Italy will do the same.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Howden said, 90 per cent. and more of the systems which have been produced, NTSC, PAL, SECAM, NIR, are the same. I freely admit that I am no technician, but that is what I am told. Would it not be possible, therefore, for the Government to say that they will go in for colour in 1967?
I come next to the much debated question of the pirates. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) was particularly good on this. It is true that, although no decision was taken by the previous Government, the present Postmaster-General has huffed and buffed at the pirates but done very little else. Very likely, he is in a difficult position, but the longer this situation continues the more of them there are likely to be. Already, across the North Sea from Yorkshire, there are sails bearing down on us. This is 1965, not 1066, and off Scarborough there is yet another pirate ship. As my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, said, a view must be taken on this question.
1558 Next, local sound broadcasting. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Epsom (Sir P. Rawlinson) had a good deal to say on this subject in the last debate. What my hon. Friend the Member for Howden said today contained the kernel of what we on this side of the House would like to do about local sound broadcasting. We want the Government of the day to carry out an experiment, an experiment not confined to either the B.B.C. or the independents. We should like to see both of them have a go. Furthermore, if we are to avoid the rather random efforts one has seen in the United States, the Postmaster-General should make quite certain that he has a rigid national frequency plan. Otherwise, the thing will not work in the long run.
I urge the party opposite to be more adventurous about this. During the last few years of our Administration, we allowed the experiment of Pay-Television, although it was very much criticised, at the time.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
The hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey (Mr. A. Royle) made the ill-informed statement that no one is interested in giving local authorities a say in local sound broadcasting. Manchester Corporation, together with Manchester University and the College of Science and Technology, are extremely interested. Will the hon. Gentleman carry his spirit of adventure to the point of including the local authorities in the experiment?
§ Mr. Gibson-Watt
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for encouraging me to be adventurous. I was coming to the question of local authorities and the aspect of education in this matter.
§ Mr. A. Royle
The hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) did not hear exactly what I said. I referred to local authorities having a controlling interest and not just an interest in local radio broacasting.
§ Mr. Gibson-Watt
My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey, went further and said, in answer to an intervention by the hon. Member for Gates-head, West (Mr. Randall), that the Press should not have a controlling interest in 1559 the setting up of local sound broadcasting, although they should have a part in it.
We need to experiment with this matter and when we consider conducting experiments we must take into account the record companies, which are a major commercial interest, in addition to the Musicians' Union. Has the Postmaster-General discussed this matter with those two organisations? If he is seriously thinking in terms of local sound broadcasting he must have done so, and, if he has, have those discussions been helpful and satisfactory? If we are to get this experiment off the ground we shall need the co-operation from those two bodies.
We believe that if local sound broadcasting was properly organised—and was not a monopoly of either the B.B.C. or the independent companies, of national Press interests or local authorities—it could cater for local communities. These communities differ throughout the country. A Welshman would far sooner hear a programme in Welsh, if he is Welsh speaking, or with a Welsh intonation rather than a Scots or North Country one. We are all a little different and we are all immensely proud of our local communities. I am glad to see that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. John Morris), a famous Welshman, has come into the Chamber. It is important to foster the local communities and the differences which exist in language, accent, outlook and culture. We get far too much Londonisation throughout the country these days. With respect to hon. Members who represent great London constituencies, things go on in other parts of the country which are equally important as those which happen in London.
The degree to which the B.B.C. should take part in local sound broadcasting is a matter for debate. I have said that the Corporation should not dominate the scene, a point which was made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Epsom in the debate on 13th May. We believe that experiments should be made and we hope that the Postmaster-General will say tonight that it is his intention to make them.
§ Mr. Hugh D. Brown (Glasgow, Provan)
Is the hon. Gentleman not 1560 aware that way back in 1961 or 1962 a tremendous number of studies were carried out in the West Country into local sound broadcasting? Would he explain why the then Postmaster-General who must have had enough information from those studies to make up his mind on this issue, did not do the things the hon. Gentleman is asking the present Government to do?
§ Mr. Gibson-Watt
With respect, that is not particularly relevant to this part of my argument.
I turn now to the question of the extension of the licences of the independent companies. This serious matter has caused a great deal of upset in the television industry. I cannot see why the Government did not, as they could have done, extend the licences of the independent companies. Surely the Postmaster-General could have given a decision by now. After all, the contracts could have been renewed and the Government could have given that assurance to the companies, remembering that such an assurance is essential to any commercial enterprise. I therefore ask the right hon. Gentleman to explain why he left this job to the I.T.A. which, under the terms of its charter, has the power to extend by one or more years these licences if the Government of the day do not take any action.
Several of my hon. Friends have referred to the question of extending the hours of broadcasting of the I.T.A. Considering the amount of shift work that is done nowadays, we have got to the position where more hours of broadcasting are necessary. We already have B.B.C.2 and I suggest that it would be reasonable to allow the independents to extend their hours of broadcasting. We appreciate the difficulties—financial ones and so on—facing the B.B.C. in this matter, but it would not be impossible for the Postmaster-General to allow the independents to extend their hours by a reasonable amount, which would be extremely worthwhile.
The subject of the finances of the B.B.C. has been mentioned by many hon. Members. No one can fail to have heard the insistent calls that have been made by the B.B.C. to the Government to get this matter dealt with. I have asked the Postmaster-General why it is not possible 1561 to tighten up on the evasion of licence fees. On 23rd February, in answer to a Question from me, in which I said that £10 million a year could be saved if we could avoid this evasion, the right hon. Gentleman admitted that this was a serious matter.
I trust that the Postmaster-General will comment on this subject because until we can be certain that the evasion is being stopped, all concerned will continue to be unhappy about the B.B.C.'s finances. It should be remembered that it was left to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) to introduce a Bill on this subject. It may be that what Bristol, West says today, we hope that Bristol, South-East may say this evening.
I pass to the question of transmitters. How many applications has the Postmaster-General received from the B.B.C. and the I.T.A.?
§ Mr. Mapp
The hon. Gentleman said that he was going to deal with the question of the B.B.C.'s finances. Do I take it that his only contribution will be to dilate upon the £10 million being lost, remembering that most of it was being lost when his party were the Government, and is that his only contribution on the basic question of the Corporation's finances?
§ Mr. Gibson-Watt
I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not think that £10 million is an inconsiderable amount, because it is clearly accepted by the Post Office and those with knowledge of these matters that it is a most serious issue. He will agree that 2 million people at £5 each might make a considerable difference to the future of the B.B.C.'s finances. I was about to ask the Postmaster-General what further steps he is taking to deal with the evasion of licence fees.
I want to deal now with the subject of transmitters. How many applications have been been put in by the B.B.C. and I.T.A. for transmitters? Why has there been such a long delay in some cases in granting applications? I will quote my local experience. Reception is very bad both in my constituency and where I live in Wales. There is a big hole in reception in Mid-Wales. Why have the extra transmitters asked for not been agreed to by the right hon. Gentleman? For 1562 example, in Llandrindod Wells, in Radnorshire, there has been a hullabaloo. The people there want I.T.V. but can only receive B.B.C. they cannot get an I.T.V. extension to the transmitter, why not? I put this point only as one instance of the demand in the country for good television reception.
We thus have a very long and conclusive list of questions which the right hon. Gentleman should answer tonight. I think sometimes that the right hon. Gentleman is the most frustrated member of the Government. I do not suppose that he is the only Postmaster-General to have been in that position. It may be that, on the advice he has received from his technical advisers, he has put up paper after paper to the Cabinet only to see them turned down one by one. He may have found the Chancellor with granite-like rigidity standing in his way. What is much more likely is that he has had the hand of the Leader of the House upon his shoulder.
I remember saying in the last debate that the Leader of the House had far more power with regard to television matters in the party opposite than anyone else, and there is no doubt that he has had considerable influence in preventing the Postmaster-General from making decisions which, in the national interest, he should have made. The Leader of the House has been chairing his Committee for a very long time. He has been looking into the crystal ball long enough. One cannot shelter behind a review for ever. If, as has already been said—there has been some sort of leak to the newspapers—the Committee is to report in the autumn, then, whichever Government are in power, it will be far too late. The many points raised in the debate should be answered by the right hon. Gentleman tonight.
When the right hon. Gentleman came to office, according to his statement in a debate on 13th May:…I discovered that there were many problems which had to be decided."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th May, 1965; Vol. 712, c. 732.]I ask him now which of the many problems he found he has decided upon and which decisions he has announced. If only he had said "No" we could at least have understood it. We do not 1563 expect him to say "Yes" all the time, but I wish we could have a decision because it can truly be said that the hares have been running through the field of broadcasting just like the Waterloo Cup, only to finish up in a sort of March madness with nobody knowing which way to jump next, least of all the right hon. Gentleman.
Tonight may be his last chance as Postmaster-General to make a deathbed confession. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Whatever the result of the election, I cannot possibly imagine the right hon. Gentleman wishing to be given the post of Postmaster-General again. He has this chance tonight—he owes it to the many thousands of men and women who are determined to see that this young and exciting industry can play its part in putting Britain right ahead. We have waited in vain for far too long for the Government to make these vital decisions.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ The Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn)
It has been an exceptionally good debate and if there were no other justification for having delayed the White Paper on broadcasting, I think the fact that we have had a year to think about these problems has been very well worth while. Hon. Members opposite showed a deep concern for my own welfare. They have pictured a situation in the relations between me and my colleagues which is so inaccurate as to confirm my confidence in Government security. But it is very nice that they should care about it so much.
The main demand has been for decisions, but it was interesting to notice that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Howden (Mr. Bryan), who spoke for the Opposition, forgot to mention the B.B.C.s finances—the central problem confronting any Government. The hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt) did refer, en passant, to some tightening up on evasions, which is very important and I shall have something more to say about that in a moment. But the debate is confirmation of what we suspected when we came to power, and what we have suspected even more strongly since—that the Conservative Party has never really applied its mind to the problem of paying for the developments on which they want decisions. This does not, however, apply 1564 to two hon. Members on the back benches opposite who made useful, detailed and valuable contributions on this question.
Before I deal with the central point, I shall deal with some of the small ones that were raised. The hon. Member for Howden talked about the pulse sound in sync as a way of getting 625 on to the V.H.F. network. This system might offer possibilities. It is being studied. But it will involve clearing 405 off before bringing 625 on. It does not offer the prospect of immediate change, but it opens up a longer-term possibility that we shall look at.
Another small point raised was about the establishment of transmitters, particularly in rural areas. This is principally a matter for the B.B.C. and I.T.A. They bring forward proposals for me and I approve them. There are proposals for 10 more U.H.F. stations for B.B.C.2 and for V.H.F. for B.B.C.1 stations. Applications from the B.B.C. are before me. This is a matter in which I have a general overall responsibility, of course, for approving transmitters, but the applications come from the broadcasting authorities. If any hon. Member has particular points to put, I will look at them.
The next point in this category concerns the contracts of programme contractors. This is a matter for the I.T.A. The I.T.A., of course, works within general policy in allocating contracts and, since the fourth Channel decision is unresolved, it decided to extend existing contracts for a year. The policy aspects may stem from the Government, but the decision is for the I.T.A.
Now I come to the central problem, with which the House would do well to concern itself. This is the problem of the B.B.C.'s finances. In view of the very friendly atmosphere of the debate I do not want to make too much of things that might be thought partisan. But the simple truth is that the last Government reached wonderful decisions about the B.B.C. but made no provision to pay for them.
When the B.B.C. asked me for a £6 licence in October, 1964, its deficit was rising at the rate of £40,000 a day on the expectation of funds which had not been forthcoming. The one decision I took—not a very pleasant or easy decision—was to raise the licence fee by £1 1565 to finance the developments of the B.B.C. authorised by the previous Government. This was a very important decision to keep public service broadcasting afloat in this country. But, at the same time, this problem of B.B.C. finance was so serious that we thought it right to begin a review of broadcasting matters generally and of B.B.C. finances—and it is this on which we are engaged. As the House knows the problem is basically twofold.
First the B.B.C. can no longer rely on increased revenue from a rising number of television licences. Indeed, the latest figures I got two days ago showed—perhaps this was a quirk or an accident—that in January the number of licences actually fell. Certainly, the B.B.C. has reached a plateau and if, therefore, it is to finance further development, or even finance a competitive position in relation to I.T.A., the increased revenue has to come from an increased licence fee.
The second problem stems from the framework of the 1954 Act which left the B.B.C., dependent on a fixed licence, expected to compete with programme contractors granted a monopoly of advertising revenue and for whom expansion was not only self-financing, but highly profitable. It is all very well for people to say to the B.B.C., "You hold tight. You hold still", for this is the position in which the B.B.C. finds itself. That, of course, the programme contractors or local commercial radio companies can come along and apparently offer to provide services for nothing. I thought that the phrase of the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) about the difference between direct and indirect taxation was very profound. The fact is we are working here in a situation where, by definition, there is not fair competition between the B.B.C. and I.T.A. This is the nature of the problem and I make no comment on the solution at this stage.
The position which faced me at first sight when the financial review began, appeared to be that, in addition to the £1 increase in the licence in 1965, it looked as though the B.B.C. would require a further £1 increase in 1966, followed by another £1 increase in the next four years; in addition, if the B.B.C. were to undertake a comprehensive system of local broadcasting, a further 5s. would 1566 be required; more money still would be needed if the hours of broadcasting were to be extended. In addition, the B.B.C. and the Government accepted that licence evasion amounted to the equivalent of an extra 10s. licence.
Taken together, the prospective scale of these increases was alarming, to say the least. Few people would dispute that the licence fee gives very full value for money, but it suffers from the same defects as the rating system, which bears equally on everybody regardless of means. Looked at as a tax, it is, of course, very regressive. In these circumstances—and this consideration has occupied a great deal of the time of the year and has not yet been completed—every alternative has to be considered. One was the obvious alternative—a drastic cut in B.B.C. services. But who seriously, looking at the record and reputation and contribution of the B.B.C., could honestly contemplate such a solution? Another was that the B.B.C. should tide over the problem by more borrowing. But, unlike a commercial firm, which may recoup its borrowing by its earnings, the B.B.C. has no earnings in this sense. It has only its current licence revenue, and this alternative contributes nothing.
Serious consideration was obviously given to the possibility of an Exchequer grant, but the difficulties about this the House will well understand. The B.B.C. did not and does not want to lose its independence to the Treasury or the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Chancellor would find it hard to justify priority for B.B.C. expenditure over the many other claims made on him and the Treasury. This alternative has, therefore, been excluded.
During the debate last May, some Members proposed that the B.B.C. should be allowed to advertise. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp) made this point again most powerfully today, and writing in the Sunday Telegraph last Sunday Donald McLachlan said that this was actually proposed and discussed, I gather by himself, at a meeting with the B.B.C. General Advisory Council. All this has led to an immense amount of speculation, most of it contradictory. I have many of the cuttings of what has been said in the Press and the most extraordinary stories have 1567 been appearing. I have to remind the House that the legal position is quite clear. The B.B.C. is not allowed to carry advertisements unless it asks for permission and this permission is granted by the Postmaster-General. The B.B.C.'s view of this is very well known.
But I want to bring home to the House today—and the debate is very useful for this if for no other reason—the nature of the financial problem which faces us and the relationship between B.B.C. finance and almost every other issue that we have to face. During the past year, there have been many discussions with the B.B.C. on finance. It has now put before us proposals which it believes could, or might, maintain stability of the licence fee for another two years, or possibly longer, without cutting the services. These proposals reached us only this week and deserve most careful consideration. In these circumstances, we think that it would be quite wrong to rush out the White Paper on broadcasting just because of the impending dissolution of Parliament, and we do not intend to do so. In one respect, the Government are ready and anxious to help. I refer, of course, to licence evasion.
§ Mr. Gibson-Watt
The right hon. Gentleman has made a very important statement to the House. He has just told us that he has heard from the B.B.C. that it thinks that it will now be possible to carry on with the existing £5 licence for the next two years. All the information that the House, and anybody interested in this subject, has had up to now leads them not to believe this at all. Will the right hon. Gentleman reiterate that this is a fact? Has he, in fact, told us the whole story? Will he be frank with the House and tell us that this is the only thing which the B.B.C. has told him?
§ Mr. Benn
If the hon. Gentleman is asking me to convey the full nature of the proposals which are in the process of going backwards and forwards, the answer is that I cannot do that. I want to get this absolutely clear. The B.B.C. has put proposals before us, covering a wide range, which it believes could maintain the stability of the present licence fee for, say, the next two years. I, too, had in mind the questions which the hon. Gentleman posed to me. We thought it 1568 right to have a very careful look at these proposals, but I cannot go beyond this except to say that discussions with the B.B.C. are proceeding.
§ Mr. Gibson-Watt
I quite understand what the right hon. Gentleman has said, but can he tell the House what these conditions were? It is one thing to say that the licence fee is not going up to more than £5 for the next two years, but he must tell us far more than that.
§ Mr. Benn
It is exactly because I myself want to know a lot more that I am not telling the hon. Gentleman a bit more than that. I have presented to the House what the position was at first sight about the licence fee and I have explained why it has been necessary to have this long review. A situation has now arisen in which the B.B.C. has sent us proposals with this object or possibility in mind. Therefore, we think it right, for exactly the reasons the hon. Gentleman rises to his feet and presses me, to press the B.B.C. and discuss the proposals with it. This alone certainly justified us in not coming out with our broadcasting policy at this stage.
§ Sir J. Rodgers
Could the right hon. Gentleman just clarify one point? We have agreed that there should be diminution of the services provided by the B.B.C. It is losing money already and is not to put up its licence fee for two years. Is this to be done just by increasing the indebtedness?
§ Mr. Benn
The hon. Gentleman had better take it as I have left it—that the questions he has put are very much in our minds and that it is not possible to say more than that negotiations are going forward.
The alternatives which I mentioned earlier, the alternatives which confront us, are basic alternatives and there is no basic escape from the fact that the B.B.C. is financed by licence revenue and is competing with an organisation which is not financed in the same way. The nature of the competition between them in terms of the payments of artists and everything else, arises from the character of the 1954 Act.
All broadcasting debates would be better if every Member devoted some time, 1569 as the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Sir J. Rodgers) did, to the study of this particular problem, because it is very difficult.
§ Mr. Gibson-Watt
I am sorry to keep pressing the right hon. Gentleman. He will see, I think, that it is not quite good enough to say quite baldly and blandly, in the face of all the evidence in the newspapers and elsewhere about B.B.C. finance over the past weeks and months, that he has now suddenly found, at this late hour, at the end of this Government's tenure of office, that the B.B.C. says that it will not be necessary to raise the licence fee to more than £5 during the next two years. Can he say whether there are any conditions of any kind which he could tell the House?
§ Mr. Benn
I have said this twice. The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood it. I said "which the B.B.C. believes…" It is this which we want to study. I have not made any comment on these proposals, and I do not intend doing so.
What I am saying is that if the B.B.C. comes forward with anything which contains within it the possibility that the licence fee might be held for a period, we will not fix it exactly, but for a period of two years or so, obviously the Government will have to look at it. Let is be perfectly clear that this is not my opinion. These are proposals which we are now studying.
The hon. Gentleman may have a suspicious mind, but in circumstances that were much more difficult than they were in 1963–64, this Government had the courage to raise the B.B.C. licence fee. I do not think that it falls from his lips to make any hint or suggestion that we are doing more than examining this proposal from the B.B.C.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke rose—
§ Mr. Benn
It contains no proposals for a subvention from the Treasury. I have already dealt with that.
May I now deal with the question of licence evasion. This is at an unacceptable level, as has been said. The Post Office has strengthened its organisation. It is doubling the number of detector cars and considering putting the licence records on to computers. We are having discussions with the dealers and rental companies to see what else can be done. We are very grateful to the dealers and the rental companies, whose rôle in this has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop). They have kindly been ready to discuss this problem with us. As the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hereford has said, no one could regard a possible £10 million of evasions as anything but serious.
The next point concerns hours of broadcasting. It will be obvious to the House than an extension of broadcasting has a direct bearing on B.B.C. costs and on the nature of the competition between it and the I.T.A. Therefore, a final decision on this is bound to await further talks with the B.B.C. There are two possibilities which I ought to mention, both of them important to those who care about the future of education. One is the point referred to in the White Paper on the University of the Air, describing the discussions going on between the B.B.C. and the University of the Air about the possibility of finding an outlet for University of the Air broadcasts.
The other is a provision in the 1964 Television Act under which the I.T.A. can arrange to provide, otherwise than by programme contractors, educational broadcasting services of an experimental nature, to be broadcast in addition to the educational programmes provided by the programme contractors under the so-called Eccles Amendment. The programmes under this Section of the Act would carry no advertising and would be financed by the I.T.A. out of the rental payments received from the contractors.
This might open up outlets for universities such as Strathclyde, and independent institutions and units, which have no access to the television screen at the moment. For my own part, I 1571 think that the rôle of publishing in broadcasting, making outlets available for independent experimental educational programmes, is an important one. A public service element of this kind is already provided for by Statute. I am discussing this possibility with the I.T.A. in connection with the question of hours.
We come now to the pirate radio stations.
§ Mr. Bryan
Before the right hon. Gentleman finishes with the University of the Air, can he say who pays for this? I have not quite got it yet. Does the I.T.A. pay? Secondly, may I ask for his ideas on the possibility of providing universities with a low-power transmitter of their own for local broadcasts?
§ Mr. Benn
On the latter point, the Strathclyde University did ask whether it could have a transmitter. We considered this, but it is contrary to what the hon. Gentleman urged earlier, that we should have a national wavelength plan, particularly for television, into which one can visualise the whole of future television development fitting. On this basis, one cannot license experimental television transmitters in that way—much as one might like to do so. I found myself sympathetic to the Strathclyde people, but I do not think that this proposal meets the need.
On the other point, the hon. Gentleman was talking about something quite different, namely, the development of closed-circuit television. This is something everyone welcomes and I am delighted to see that it is now going well.
To return to the pirates. The Opposition had a little bit of gentle fun with us over this. Certainly, no one could have been more shocked, and I believe genuinely shocked, or distressed about the pirates than my predecessor, Mr. Bevins. He warned against them, he deplored them, he sought the co-operation of the advertising industry, he said that he was considering a technical study of the possibility of jamming them. But nothing effective was done, and it was we who signed the European Convention. We intend to bring in legislation, and nothing could be clearer than that. Anyone who thinks that the pirates prove a demand for local radio of that kind— 1572 and I think that this view would be shared by hon. Members opposite—is deceiving himself.
What are the pirate ships? They are hulks with big masts carrying microphones, gramophones and seasick disc jockeys. This is the nature of the pirate. If anyone thinks that by mooring Radio London in a berth in Barking one has pioneered a local radio station he had better have another think. If it is thought that by towing Radio Caroline up the Manchester Ship Canal one has somehow met the deep need of that great conurbation for a sense of communication between different people in that area it is a mistake.
This idea is a bit ridiculous and this is why it has been worth while awaiting this debate. The House has come to see that local radio has greater potentialities than that. If one listens to the pirates one is listening to a gramophone which one does not have to own, and to records for which one does not have to pay. This is nothing to do with local radio.
I had a letter from a man purporting to speak on behalf of the three biggest pirates. He warned me that unless I licensed those three pirates, they would launch a great campaign against the Labour Party at the next election. He promised, as a by-product of this, that if I did license the three biggest pirates, those pirates would undertake to crush the little pirates, so that there would be no more left. It is a sort of radio cannibalism which gives a new dimension to the problem. I did not check the gentleman's credentials to see whether he carried the authority of the companies concerned, but it was a warning of what unregulated broadcasting could amount to, and it would be a great tragedy if we were to allow it to go that way.
Local broadcasting, which is a separate point was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields, and by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Mr. A. Royle) in a very thoughtful speech. As someone who is deeply interested in broadcasting, I think that the awakening of public understanding as to what local radio can give us is one of the most significant developments of the age. Anyone who thinks that it is only the "goggle box" that has any future in broadcasting is missing the development of the closed-circuit 1573 television, its teaching possibilities and the potentiality of local broadcasts.
There are three main groups of candidates interested in licences for local stations. First, there is the B.B.C., with its long and distinguished record, and a high sense of public responsibility. No one could doubt, particularly anyone who has the privilege of knowing Mr. Gillard as well as I do, that it would offer programmes of rare quality, of which any community would be proud. On the other hand, the use of a national licence fee to provide something which is, by its very nature, local, and which cannot be heard by all who pay for it, raises a new issue of finance. We also have to see this against the background of the B.B.C.'s financial problems.
The second candidates are the commercial radio companies. I do not mean the pirates ashore. I mean the commercial companies with whom we are familiar. This raises the question of the local Press. Sometimes the local Press is afraid that local radio would destroy it and so it says that the local Press ought to run local radio. If this is done then one could have a monopoly of local communication.
The third group of claimants is much less easy to define. They are advocates of genuine community stations, including the go-ahead local authorities who are anxious to improve local communications, and the educationists who see in radio untapped opportunities for direct teaching. There are those who want to give a new lease of life to local arts, drama and musicians, who tend to struggle on, drift to London, or give up altogether.
I have had talks with the Musicians Union. It is often unfairly criticised and thought to be opposed to gramophone records for their own sake. Actually, it is made up of people whose interest is to keep live music going, especially in the regions. Now that the regions are beginning to acquire new hope and vitality, might not some sort of community radio play its part?
The White Paper on the University of the Air contains a reference to the rôle which local stations might perform. I find this heterogeneous group of advocates of community radio very exciting people to meet. They are not supported by big organisations or big money, but 1574 they have a faith and a belief in what they would like to start.
These are the alternatives being considered. This is linked with the problem of B.B.C. finance, which is the main reason why it is not possible to produce the White Paper at this juncture.
The fourth channel is obviously a matter of great interest and has a great bearing on the future of television. I was much impressed by the quotation from Ruskin about the telegraph cable to India. Few people who speak about a fourth channel devote nearly enough attention to what we want to see on a fourth channel, or on any other channel about which they have ideas to put forward. But the use of the channel, particularly the possible rôle of the channel in educational broadcasting, deserves and requires a great deal of study. I do not come today in a white sheet apologising for having taken a lot of time on this matter, because it is most rewarding that we should all take time on it.
We also have to consider, if we are a responsible Government, the cost of the fourth channel. We have costed this. We estimate that the capital cost would be about £30 million for the fourth channel with many millions of pounds a year to run it. These are sizeable figures. A Government believing in priorities, as we do, must consider the logic of them. Things which are urgent will be done first. Those which are less essential may have to be postponed. The credibility and integrity of a Government will be judged as much by what they decide to postpone as by what they decide to bring forward as a matter of urgency. This is one reason why we have taken some time about considering the fourth channel, because to make a decision without weighing these factors would be frivolous.
I come now to the question of colour television, which has aroused a great deal of interest. In Vienna last year the British delegation was briefed to support the NTSC system, which is in use in America and Japan, as the only system capable of offering the possibility of world standardisation. Our efforts failed. The French stood by their own system of SECAM, with indirect Russian support. Now the Russians have claim that NIR improves SECAM.
1575 Meanwhile, my Television Advisory Committee has recommended that the PAL system offers the best prospect for common use in Europe and that it should be adopted. There is to be another meeting this summer in Oslo, where the Government hope that European agreement can be reached. Some people asked us to fix a date for a start before we had decided on the system we meant to use. This would have been a meaningless decision. The world suffers from many difficulties imposed by different technical standards, and it would be foolish to introduce and perpetuate a new technical anomaly for the sake of making an announcement a little earlier than would have otherwise been possible.
We were determined to wait until we got it right and then to announce it, but not before. We have had time to consider the recommendation of the Television Advisory Committee that colour television should be introduced on the 625-line standard, using the PAL system of transmission. The Government have decided to accept this advice and to opt for PAL. If the Oslo conference in June were to show that another system, against general expectations, found general acceptance we should, naturally, take this into consideration.
The next question is that of the date for a start. We have been heavily pressed on this in recent months. Nobody wants to see this country, which pioneered television, trail behind the world. Colour adds a new dimension to television. Producers, directors, creative people, have always seen fresh scope through colour. No one who has seen colour television can doubt that it would bring enjoyment to those who watch it. As a Government, we believe that these factors alone would not be decisive. We would want to look at the matter in the context of the economic situation of what demands this would make on resources in terms of manpower and money, and what benefits we could expect to receive from it. A very great deal of detailed work has gone into this, and I want to say something about what we have done.
The B.B.C. estimates that the cost to it, of colour transmission, would be from 1576 £1 million to £2 million a year, against which it has made provision. Estimates of the cost of sets suggest that they would start at about £250 each, and on the basis that 150,000 would be in use two years after a start was made, with a more rapid build-up later, consumer expenditure might well rise to £100 million on sets over the three or four year period beginning with the year in which colour television started. Much of this additional cost would amount to a switch in consumer expenditure from other items to colour television and receivers. The industry believes that qualified engineers would be available for the necessary work, switching from other aspects of television engineering. A number of technicians would have to be recruited. Some thousands in the manipulative grades would be needed—mainly girls, many of them in the development areas.
All this began to look quite reasonable. But the decisive factor in our mind was the export possibility. We estimate that between now and 1970, given an early start, there is the prospect of a net gain of £10 million in exports over imports through colour. Sale of sets in America is rising so rapidly that the industry there is unable to meet the demand. In a few years it will have caught up. Unless we start our industry going now in colour television, when it does come it could simply lead to imports of foreign components. In addition, colour television offers some prospects for the export of British colour programmes, although it is difficult to give a figure for these.
It was our intention to announce our decision as part of the broadcasting review. However, as this is taking longer than we thought—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] That is perfectly true and fair—the decision on colour television had either to be deferred further or treated as a separate issue. For the reasons which I have given the Government thought it right to make their decision known now, and I am in a position to announce that colour television will be authorised to start on B.B.C.2 towards the end of next year, using the PAL system, subject only to the reservation I mentioned about the Oslo conference.
This decision raises the question of a special or supplementary licence for 1577 colour sets, which was referred to in the debate last May. We think that it would be quite wrong to ask those who cannot afford, or do not wish, to acquire costly colour television sets to meet, through the payment of their own ordinary licence, fees for the provision of programmes which they will not be able to see in colour. Discussions about this will go on with the B.B.C. and a further statement will be made about it when the broadcasting review is complete. But I must make it clear that there will be a supplementary licence.
The B.B.C. aims to begin with about four hours of colour television a week, rising to about 10 hours within a year. Since colour television will be available only on B.B.C.2 in the first instance, programme contractors would not have an outlet for their own colour programmes. However, it is possible that an arrangement might be made under which the B.B.C. bought from the programme contractors colour films to be shown by it on B.B.C.2.
This might lead to a home market for colour programmes and increase the number of colour programmes which those with colour television sets would be able to see. It will be possible to view all colour programmes transmitted on existing sets capable of receiving B.B.C.2 in black and white. The supplementary colour licence would be for colour set owners only. This does not affect what I said earlier about the proposals for keeping the basic B.B.C. licence fee stable for a prolonged period.
Having made that important announcement, may I be allowed to say a word about its significance. Not only do I hope that the British decision to go ahead with PAL will help to bring Europe to a decision which permits standardisation and compatability, but I hope that it will lead to a full exchange of colour programmes between different countries. The satellites, like Early Bird and our own microwave system from the Post Office tower, can transmit colour, and a world colour link will soon be possible. But like all scientific developments colour television can be a good or bad influence according to the use we make of it and the motives of those who control it. It therefore imposes an 1578 even heavier social responsibility on us all for the future.
I am sorry if I have detained the House for longer than I intended, but these are complex issues. There is one other subject which I wish to mention, and that is accountability in broadcasting. This point was raised by the right hon. Member for Ashford, by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Boston) and others. Every Postmaster-General is regularly invited to take over responsibility which has been placed upon the Governors of the B.B.C. and I.T.A., and every Postmaster-General has warned the House against the far greater dangers which would flow from the political control of broadcasting, however well intentioned.
But, having said that, it is not the whole story. Quite aside from criticism of individual matters of programme content, certain clear and general issues arise in broadcasting which deserve serious study and thought, not perhaps by political Ministers. Some of them have been mentioned—the issues raised, for example, by the hon. Member en passant about "The War Game," the reference by my hon. Friend to "The Power Game," the question of the editing of film and tape interviews and, an example which was not mentioned, is it right or wrong to show, or what should we do about the showing of X films on television or pay-television, which permits anybody, whatever age, who can pick up a florin and put it in the box to see something which he would not be entitled to see in a local cinema? These are not individual matters of programme content. They are general questions, some of them of intense, academic and general interest.
The right hon. Member for Ashford said that the problem of editing of programmes was one of motive. It is more than a matter of motive. The problems raised here concern the quality and intelligence of the producer, because he may not know, if he cuts out what somebody said, that he has altered the balance of the argument because he may not have read what that particular person has been writing for years in letters to The Times which reflect his general views.
These are very big questions, and with new outlets the problem could become 1579 much more serious. That is why my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council said last year that we were ready to think of the possibility of some sort of council. We are looking at that. We want to discuss it with the B.B.C. and I.T.A. and, if I may say so, with other parties, because this is an area in which one needs to explore the problem together even if we come to the conclusion that nothing could or should be done about it. We are weighing up the need against the dangers. This is something which I believe is worthy of study. Let us say no more than this. We shall include it in the review.
I have completed what I had to say, and I apologise for detaining the House for so long. This is a subject of intense interest. I believe that the debate today, though conducted on the eve of a General Election, has contributed something towards the thinking of many people about broadcasting. I very much hope that shortly after the election we shall be in a position to give our decisions on the remaining questions which are before the country.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Evelyn King (Dorset, South)
It may well be for the convenience of the House, whether it be by intuition or luck, that you, Mr. Speaker, have called me to speak after the Postmaster-General. I have enjoyed the debate—which has been a happy debate—and I have enjoyed the right hon. Gentleman's speech. The temptation is very strong upon me to comment on what he said, because it is a subject in which I am greatly interested. I shall, however, confine myself to one subject.
We have been talking about entertainment and about instruction, which is the normal task which the B.B.C. seeks to perform. I want for a moment to direct the attention of the House to a matter which I think is more grave. I refer to the nature and the quality of broadcasts which are beamed to Rhodesia from Zambia, in some cases from London through Zambia, and in other cases, it is alleged, from within Rhodesia, making use of equipment which is British supplied.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I want to help the hon. Member, as he knows. In this 1580 Adjournment debate he may refer only to matters for which the Government have administrative responsibility. He must direct himself to show the House that that is what he seeks to do.
§ Mr. Benn
The hon. Member indicated that he intended to raise this matter. I certainly have no responsibility in it, and from my understanding of the points which the hon. Member intends to raise, and without anticipating him, I would say that I do not believe that there is British Government responsibility in the matter.
§ Mr. Speaker
If the Minister has no responsibility and no other Minister has responsibility, then the subject cannot be raised in the debate. Perhaps the hon. Member will show in some way that there is administrative responsibility upon Her Majesty's Government.
§ Mr. King
May I quote from the Licensing Agreement:…the External Services from such stations as after consultation with the Corporation the Postmaster General may from time to time in relation to those Services respectively in writing prescribe.I was about to refer to the External Services, and I think that that makes the point crystal clear. I could add one other quotation:The stations and apparatus shall not without the previous consent in writing of the Postmaster General…".I propose to refer to the use of apparatus.
I believe that there can be no doubt about the responsibility of the Government. It is a matter for the Government and not for me how far the Postmaster-General in his wisdom is guided by the Commonwealth Secretary or the Prime Minister. That is not for me to know. But I submit that there is no doubt that 1581 there is Government responsibility for what is said on the B.B.C., relayed to Zambia and passed on to Rhodesia.
§ Mr. Speaker
So far so good. I question nothing which the hon. Member said in his last remarks. What he may not do is to speak about the broadcasts which come from Zambia and for which Her Majesty's Government do not seem to be responsible.
§ Mr. King
With respect, there is an arrangement between the B.B.C. in London and the Zambia Broadcasting Corporation under which material issued by London is relayed from Zambia. London is directly responsible for that material if it is so broadcast, as I shall seek to show. If I may therefore return to the point at which I started, I should like to deal briefly—and I shall be brief—with what is said, secondly with how far the Government are aware of what is being said, and thirdly—a point which we have discussed today—where responsibility lies and how this responsibility is best exercised.
§ Mr. Benn
On a point of order. May I, through you, Mr. Speaker, in order to clear up a question of order, ask the hon. Member whether the quotations which he intends to give the House purport to come from B.B.C. sources or not? This is the test. On programme content I would not comment anyway, but the point of order depends on whether these are allegedly B.B.C. programmes being re-broadcast by anybody else. That is the decisive question.
§ Mr. King
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is trying to be helpful. I understand his difficulties and I have sympathy with him. I know that the responsibility is not his personally. I will seek to answer his question, Mr. Speaker, if you wish. The responsibility is two-fold. This distorts my speech, as I had intended to deal with the point at the end of it. The point which arises is how far British apparatus is being used and has been lent or supplied by Her Britannic Majesty's Government to the Government in Zambia for a purpose which I hold to be wrong. If that purpose is wrong, then it is wrong for the Government to supply that apparatus.
§ Mr. Benn
On a point of order. The hon. Member is now raising quite a separate question about the alleged 1582 supply of apparatus. I can confirm that this is not the case and, unless I misunderstand the hon. Member, I think that he is trying to raise a matter in which there is no Government responsibility.
§ Mr. King
The right hon. Gentleman cannot help misunderstanding me if he does not allow me to finish.
My second point, which I was about to raise when I was interrupted, is the suggestion that material supplied by the B.B.C. and relayed to the Zambian Broadcasting Corporation is there interleaved with Zambian material of a highly offensive character. It is within the capacity of the B.B.C., to which, unfortunately, some of this offensive material is attributed, to cancel its agreement with Zambia to supply the material or, alternatively, to refuse to supply such a programme when it is used in these circumstances. That is the burden of my case.
The tendency to which I am referring is growing, and it is one for which, I suggest, not only the Government but the House of Commons is responsible. The sort of material which is being broadcast in Africa tells or advises that chiefs be killed, crops be destroyed, and that Africans who do not join in strikes or stoning cars—
§ Mrs. Shirley Williams (Hitchin)
On a point of order. Are the quotations which the hon. Member is giving the House from material supplied by the B.B.C. or not?
§ Mr. Speaker
I understand the hon. Member to be alleging that B.B.C. material is sandwiched between items of which he is complaining and that he is arguing that this is a matter of Government policy, which he seeks to change. If that is his argument, the hon. Member is in order.
§ Mr. King
Yes, Mr. Speaker; that is my argument. To continue, I will give as few quotations as possible. Two are enough to show how offensive this material is. The quotation which I first give, and upon which I have checked, was broadcast at 11.45 hours on 25th November, 1965, the speaker being Mr. George Nyandoro, speaking in Shona, he said:At the farms which are occupied by the Europeans, you who surround the farms, we 1583 ask you, children of Zimbabwe, to enter those farms…. You must not be troubled by one person and three or four of his children who are on the farm. Take that farm.That is an incitement to maltreat children.
The second quotation, which is worse, was broadcast at 11.15 hours on 28th November, 1965, and the speaker Mr. Chikerema:take your bows and break the Government of Ian Smith and all his robbers…Take your bows, your axe, your spear and smash that Government. If blood spills, even if blood is shed, the Government must be broken".I do not seek to go on with these quotations. I have said enough—I will come presently to the connection of the British Government—to show that this sort of quotation is an incitement to indiscriminate murder. I do not use those words lightly.
There is in this House, I have no doubt, disagreement upon Rhodesia, and I respect the views of right hon. and hon. Members opposite. I do not expect them to share my views; I do not share theirs. There may well, however, be unanmity within this House, in all parties and by every Member, that incitement to murder can be a part of nobody's policy. In so far as there is any kind of even remote contact with British Government policy in this matter, it is a point which should be raised and and must be discussed in this House.
My third quotation has special point. On more than one occasion, the Prime Minister has said that it is no part of the policy of the British Government to use force in Rhodesia, unless, he added, law and order collapsed or broke down. The right hon. Gentleman has used both of those last two expressions. I am sure that he said it in good faith, and I am sure that he meant it, but it is extraordinarily relevant to the next broadcast which I quote. It was given at 11.45 hours on 10th December, 1965, and the speaker Mr. Moyo. Speaking in Sindebele, he said:The English troops will come if there is terrible disorder in our country. That is when they can come.One sees there incitement to provoke the very disorder which constitutes the only condition upon which the Prime Minister has said that British troops could be used. I could give many more examples, 1584 but I do not wish to weary the House. That is the basis of the sort of thing which is being said.
I now turn to the point where the British Government—I do not attribute this particularly to the Postmaster-General—have a measure of responsibility. Up to 1964, the date when Zambia became independent, the B.B.C. had, I am advised, an agreement with the Zambian Broadcasting Corporation under which Zambia would broadcast British information. If I may ask a question rather than make a statement, I should like to know whether that agreement ceased when Zambia became independent. I ask the Postmaster-General, further, whether that agreement was not renewed at the point when Rhodesia made her unilateral declaration of independence and whether from that time the B.B.C. has been in collaboration, in normal circumstances, quite properly, with the Zambian Broadcasting Corporation for dissemination of British information and talks.
§ Mr. King
I have been very good at giving way. I want to complete what I am saying.
To that material, I am advised, the Zambian Broadcasting Corporation has added the sort of observation which I have quoted. Neither has Zambia made it clear whether the sort of observation which I have quoted is distinct from broadcasts which have been obtained from London or whether the two are mingled together. My submission to the Postmaster-General and to the House—it is one which can hardly be controverted—is that the B.B.C., or it may be the Government acting on behalf of the B.B.C., should now tell Zambia quite firmly that if her Broadcasting Corporation seeks to use British material it must be used in such a way that it is not open to misunderstanding. Clearly, that is something which only Her Majesty's Government, perhaps represented by the Postmaster-General, can say. That is my first question to the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Richard
I have been following the hon. Member's argument as closely as I could. Will he underline that the 1585 House and the country realises—and therefore, I hope, he realises it himself—that the quotations which he has given have nothing whatever to do with the B.B.C., that they do not emanate from British Government sources and that the sole complaint that the hon. Member is making against my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General and the Government is, I understand, that somebody in Zambia, not the B.B.C., is using B.B.C. material interspersed with this sort of comment for which the B.B.C. is not responsible? Will the hon. Member be kind enough to make this clear?
§ Mr. King
I entirely assent. I thought that I had made it clear. If I have not, I make it crystal clear now. The charge is in no sense a charge against the B.B.C. for responsibility for this material, except in so far as the Corporation is responsible for it by collaboration and could stop it if it wished.
There is one other question which I must question the Postmaster-General. It has been stated that transcripts of the Zambian Broadcasting Corporation were sent to the Director-General of the B.B.C. in December 1965 by the Director-General of the Rhodesia Broadcasting Corporation. It is also stated that they were sent to the Government. Here I am quoting a pamphlet on which I place no particular trust. I simply ask the Postmaster-General whether that is the fact. If it is, what action did he take? If he was so informed and the statement was true, he should have instituted an inquiry and taken action. Did he do so?
My last point is an allegation, not a question. There is evidence that there are two medium-wave transmitters in the neighbourhood of Livingstone. They have been identified. One of them is a new double side-band amplitude-modulated transmitter with an estimated 2 kW output. In other words, it is a relatively sophisticated instrument. My impression—I put it no stronger than that, though I think I could—is that these machines are of British origin. If they are, I ask the Postmaster-General, since he possibly and certainly the Government must surely have a responsibility, were those broadcasting machines—call them what you will—supplied to Zambia by the British Broadcasting Corporation? Were they supplied by the Post Office? Were they 1586 supplied by any British Service Department? Were they supplied by any British private firm? I understand that because of the sanctions imposed by the Government even an import into that country is itself illegal. Therefore, these are all questions in which the Government have a measure of responsibility.
I apologise if I have taken a few minutes longer than I intended—if so, it was due to interruptions. But I want to make one matter clear to the hon. Member for Barons Court (Mr. Richard). I am perfectly well aware that this may have happened through inadvertence and not through any fault on the part of the Government, but what I do suggest is that where any broadcast constitutes incitement to murder—and, beyond doubt, this is what has happened—even the remotest and most shadowy connection between that incitement and any action which the Government have taken or might start taking is a matter in which every Member of this House ought to be vitally interested.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
Perhaps while the right hon. Gentleman is collecting his thoughts in order to reply, as I believe he may, with the leave of the House, to the observations made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Evelyn King), I may just very briefly make some observations on the right hon. Gentleman's speech. I shall not deal with all of his speech, because that would take a deal of time, but there were many statements in his bustling, hustling speech on which I should like to question him.
He is a very skilled Parliamentary performer, is the right hon. Gentleman, and by wading straight into this difficult world of B.B.C. finance he managed, I think, to distract the House's attention from some of the other things about which we should have liked to have been told more and with which we should have liked him to have dealt at some length. Indeed, he left the House with no very certain information as to just what was to happen about the B.B.C. licence fee. He held out this hope. He almost said it was not necessarily his hope, but it was a hope, that the £5 licence would be maintained possibly a couple more years. But he did not tell us how it was to be done.
1587 He said that it was not right that we should know because he had not really time to consider it.
It seemed to me that what the right hon. Gentleman told the House was really only another of those kind of statements we have had from the Prime Minister almost daily—holding out a hope to the electorate without telling them very much and leaving a bolt hole through which to escape should he find himself in office again after the election when he might easily say that the suggestion was made by the B.B.C. but it was wholly unacceptable, it was totally unacceptable—to use the sort of phrase he uses in this House—but it was unfortunate that the fee would have to go up, although it was nothing really to do with him and in any case he had made no promise.
I come now to a subject in which I have a considerable interest both as a Member of this House who has tried for some nine years now to take an interest in broadcasting and as a Member for a university city some part of which the right hon. Gentleman represents. I have been trying to find out for some time just what this University of the Air is all about. It was broached at the last election by the Prime Minister who took a great interest in it; it was certainly one of his pet projects. I just wondered how this could be worked out. When I heard the phrase "University of the Air" I wondered how it could be done.
We have at last had a White Paper from the Government. It took them a deal of time to produce it. I tried to find out which Minister was working on this project. We suddenly discovered it was the "Minister for the Arts" who was devoting half of her time to it. Now we have this White Paper from the Secretary of State.
I think that anyone who reads this document will come to the conclusion that the University of the Air is a completely bogus institution. It will not even work within the requirements set out in the White Paper. There is the question of air space, on which the White Paper says:The project requires peak viewing time on a television service with national coverage.The right hon. Gentleman told us that this was to be provided either by B.B.C.2 1588 or by a fourth channel. If it is to be provided by B.B.C.2 it will take the place of other things which the mass audience will like to see. If it is to be provided by a fourth channel in the peak hours on the fourth channel it will kill any possible viability of the fourth channel by taking away the very best of the fourth channel's air space. So we should like to have an answer to that one.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that of course it has to be by a television service with national coverage, but the whole point is that neither B.B.2 nor a fourth channel will have national coverage for a very considerable time.
So it seems to me that a false hope has been held out to the electors about an easy way to get that much prized object, a university degree. A university degree is something worth having even though we are getting a proliferation of universities and although many people are getting degrees. Of course, when everybody can get them they are not worth as much as they were before; there must be an element of competition to get them, and then they are things worth striving for. But here is held out the hope of that much prized object, a university degree.
One cannot be convinced by the White Paper that a service can be provided which will enable people to sit for their degrees. We cannot even be sure there will be the sets on which they can receive the service, because certainly in each household two sets will be required—in every household where somebody is studying for a degree. This is made clear by this business of the peak hours, because at the peak hours the household want to watch the popular programmes, while the university student of the air has to hide himself or herself away with another television set, and one doubts whether there are very many people who will be able to afford this. We should like to know whether fees are to be charged for examinations.
We have heard of this central organisation, but not very much about it, and it is going to be a very costly service to provide, and unless the Treasury is to finance the whole thing we shall have to collect some of the money through fees from the students. Although the Postmaster-General dismissed out of hand 1589 any suggestion of a Treasury subvention for the University of the Air to get the B.B.C. out of its financial difficulties, I think we ought to consider the debate in the House of Lords in which the right hon. Gentleman's noble Friend, Lord Snow, a Minister who has responsibility in this matter, was pulled back into his seat by the Earl of Longford before he went on to explain how educational broadcasting would be financed without embarrassing B.B.C. finances.
The right hon. Gentleman and I represent a great university city; we were both at the same university in another city; we know a little bit about universities. So I would put it to him that the services of broadcasting can be most useful to university circles, but would it not be much better to allow the functions of individual universities to expand rather than try to impose some new national structure? This country is bedevilled by these national structures. They seem to be put up every day by this Government—and even the previous Government, in my view, took too much of a hand in people's individual affairs. This is a growing tendency. It would be better to make it Government policy to expand the activities of individual universities and help them with broadcasting services.
That brings me to the question of local radio. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Mr. A. Royle) dealt with this. I know he has given much thought to it. I have no quarrel with what my hon. Friend said about it, except this. In deciding how local broadcasting shall be developed, it must be made plain that the position of the local press should be safeguarded. It should be allowed to have a financial interest, although I agree that it would be fatal if it were to have a controlling interest in a local radio station. Local newspapers themselves, on reflection, would not want it, provided that they had a sufficiently large interest to ensure that any loss of revenue in advertising in their papers was made up with the profits from advertising on local radio stations.
The right hon. Gentleman and I know Mr. Gillard of the B.B.C. and have had the pleasure of talking to him about local radio stations being developed in partnership with the B.B.C. The West Region is skilled in the matter of local programmes.
1590 My hon. Friend talked about the establishment of 250 small local radio stations, but it will be a very long time before we get that many. However, in our great cities the areas covered by local stations will cater for a greater number of the population than my hon. Friend mentioned and, if the right hon. Gentleman finds himself in the same Department after the election, or whoever else is there—and I speak as a Member of the House of Commons to the House of Commons here—T hope that the partnership between the B.B.C. and local interests will be preserved.
In our big cities there might be two stations in competition, because that would be good for both of them. As opposed to the B.B.C. station, the independent station should be run by a trust or consortium representing the interests of private persons, the Press, commerce, the local authority, the university, if there is one, the churches, sporting interests and all other local interested people. Everyone should be brought in. No doubt there would have to be a regional authority, some national authority or even part of the Post Office to keep a general eye on it to regulate its activities, but, so long as it did not offend against a code of conduct, it should be left to get on with the job on its own and make sure that it is providing a local public service. It should be public service broadcasting that we seek to introduce there.
I could be very unkind to the right hon. Gentleman and go on at some length about the insufficiencies in his speech. I challenge his White Paper on the University of the Air, though perhaps it is not his fault that it has been produced at this time. He is the victim of circumstances, and it may be that the Prime Minister was breathing down his neck. We should like to explore further many of the issues, but I hope that he will bear in mind that there is a great deal of public concern about the delay in getting local broadcasting going. People have had to wait far too long. I repeat that the University of the Air, as set out in the White Paper, is an absolutely bogus project.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
I am beginning to have my doubts about the virtues of a debate of this 1591 character on the Adjournment. In opening the debate, the hon. Member for Howden (Mr. Bryan) started off with what can only be described as a piece of electioneering. It then became a good bipartisan debate from both sides on the subject of local radio, but since then we have had an attempt to link the Zambian Broadcasting Corporation with the B.B.C. I would like to try to put it back on to the subject of local radio and our broadcasting policy, and I shall try to be as bipartisan or non-party as I can be.
Quite frankly, Governments and parties on both sides have been responsible for a large part of our present difficulties. If one looks back over the history of broadcasting, one sees that at one time there was a struggle to have radio at all. The central Government seemed dubious of the new institution of mass communication; they seemed dubious of the thought that one should be able to broadcast to the whole population things which had hitherto been the preserve of a relatively small number of people. We are still making rather heavy weather over broadcasting.
The hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) was the first speaker in the whole debate to mention the possibility that we might have more than one local station in a given area. It is an extraordinary fact that, with the exception of my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General, nearly every speaker has said that we must link it with the local Press, that it must be run by the B.B.C., or that one can only obtain revenue from advertising. They have all made the implied assumption that there is only one possible system. Surely the point about local broadcasting is that it should be local and varied.
It has been said in the debate that a population of 50,000 is sufficient to provide the basis for a local radio station. Many populations would be larger, but, on that basis, in a city like Nottingham—which is not part of a conurbation—one could have as many as seven local radio stations and not just two or three. That excludes the population in the country area around. One could be run commercially, one by the B.B.C. and one by the local authority, for that matter, because a lot of the arguments against 1592 a local authority running a local station disappear if there are competitors, just as a lot of the arguments against the local Press running a radio station disappear if there are competitors. There is the possibility, such as occurs in the United States, of variety in local broadcasting.
There are three levels of communication. Based on the capital investment that one requires, the cheapest is a local radio station. The next most expensive is a local newspaper, which is rather more costly to set up than a local radio station would be. The level above that is that of the television station, and I do not think that that can ever be truly local. It can never be anything other than regional.
But I would ask my right hon. Friend to look at the possibility of television areas having some regional basis in the society that they are supposed to serve. At the moment, it seems to me that television areas are chosen purely for technical reasons. It is convenient to put a television mast in the middle of the Pennines because it can serve Lancashire and Yorkshire, whereas the natural regions would be two in number, one each side of the Pennines. We have allowed the machine to determine our society rather than say, "This is the society, and this is what we ought to have." That is a point which ought to be looked at.
For the purpose of creating viable television systems, we cannot have regions much smaller than the economic regions. On the other hand, we should not go much larger than those regions. We ought to consider whether technical requirements should govern us or not. I would put in a plea for as big a variety as possible in local radio and for some consideration of regional requirements in local television.
No one in the debate has yet argued the true position of local authorities in this sphere. I would not personally advocate a local authority running a local radio station, and certainly not it it were a monopoly in a small area. But, if it were competitive with something else, it might be practicable. However, one position which a local authority could justifiably claim to fill is that held nationally in regard to broadcasting by the Government and by the House. Let us consider the question of advertising. 1593 We seem to be assuming that throughout the country we should permit local broadcasting stations based on advertising, or non-commercial stations not based on advertising. Why not permit a local authority to decide for itself? One might decide that it did not like advertising. Why not let it go ahead? Another local authority might decide that it did not mind advertising. Why not let it go ahead, too? The elected local authorities represent their local people in the way that we here represent the country nationally.
Furthermore, there is the question of the content of advertising. It seems to me that if we lay down national rules of advertising for the whole country, we may lead ourselves into difficulties. Let us consider, for example, the question of advertising drink. I cannot think that a Welsh county—or certain Welsh counties—will take the same view on the question of advertising drink on local radio stations as most English counties would take, but why not let them decide these issues for themselves? I hope that when my right hon. Friend is laying down rules—as I presume he will be—for the government of local radio, he will leave as wide a scope as possible for local decision on a variety of issues.
It seems to me that a decision on the sort of issue which I have been discussing is a legitimate function of the elected local authority in the area. This is not a question of political control. Usually, both parties in a local authority agree on the issues to which I have been referring. They represent their local people, and if they do not know what is required it is difficult to see who does. I therefore ask my right hon. Friend to go in for local radio, but to make it truly local in as many aspects as possible.
§ Mr. Evelyn King
On a point of order. Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I have your guidance? I know that you were not in the Chair at the time, and I appreciate your difficulty, but after the Postmaster-General had spoken earlier, another point of grave significance was raised, and I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman is most anxious to reply to it. The difficulty is that he has spoken once. Is there any way, under the rules of order, by which he can be enabled to speak again?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Roderic Bowen)
The right hon. Gentleman can ask for the leave of the House to speak again, and then it will be for the House to determine whether it wishes to give him leave to do so.
§ Mr. Benn
I do not wish to speak again. It may be that I cannot even intervene now without the leave of the House. I tried to establish at the beginning that Government responsibility did not exist in the form in which the hon. Gentleman suggested. A Question on this matter has been put down by the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) for the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to answer on Monday. In those circumstances, it would not be right to seek the leave of the House to speak again.
§ Mr. Evelyn King
I thought the right hon. Gentleman said that he had no personal responsibility, which I understand, but he suggests that responsibility lies with the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The right hon. Gentleman should ask the leave of the House to speak again. Unless he does so, I must rule that this interchange is out of order.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
On a point of order. Surely the House is now in midair? The right hon. Gentleman was about to reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Evelyn King), and, I hope, to myself, because I made observations on which I expected him to comment. The right hon. Gentleman was halfway through his speech, and then he sat down. We do not seem to be in order at all.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Evelyn King) raised a point of order, with which I dealt. He then proceeded to raise a point of substance, which he is not entitled to raise under the guise of a point of order.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
I was not quarrelling with, or commenting on, anything that my hon. Friend had done. The right hon. Gentleman was in the middle 1595 of making a speech when you called him to order and said that he should ask the leave of the House to speak again, whereupon he sat down and lapsed into silence. I was wondering whether we could get him on his feet again.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
That is not a point of order. That is not a matter within the control of the Chair.