§ 4.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Paul Bryan (Howden)
The fact that we are devoting the last of our Supply Days to the B.B.C.s plan for radio in the 1970s indicates the importance which we attach to this subject. The fact that it has already been debated by the public and in the Press so persistently, and for so long, shows that it is of very great public interest. The House would have been in a better position to debate had the Postmaster-General made his expected statement. We have left this debate as late in the Session as possible to give him an opportunity to do so. We are disappointed that he did not see fit at least to let us have a statement yesterday in time for us to consider before this debate today.
We have reached a critical moment in British broadcasting. Both public service and commercial broadcasting are suffering from intractable money trouble. Our licence system, so far considered sacrosanct, is increasingly questioned now that the national rise in licences has reached a plateau and the costly inefficiency of collecting the fees becomes apparent. As things stand, the B.B.C. looks like running chronically short of money while retaining an appetite for expansion into other broadcasting fields however unsuitable for public service. At the same time, by the use of the levy the Government have reduced profit in the television companies to the level of a public utility. If this continues Independent Television will become about as adventurous as British Railways.
Our policy on radio follows the logical sequence of our policy on television. In 1954, against passionate opposition from the Labour Party, we established Independent Television. Hon. Members opposite promised—I think it 1524 was more than a promise; a pledge—to abolish commercial television as soon as they came to power. Like other pledges, that was not honoured. It was not honoured because by then it had become obvious that competition and the breaking of the monopoly had stimulated the B.B.C. into better programmes and people enjoyed a better choice. Second, the breaking of the monopoly gave those working in television the freedom to choose among a number of employers. Third, many millions of pounds have been injected into television without cost to the public.
I wonder whether hon. Members opposite have ever worked out what the licence fees would be today if we had followed their advice and given the B.B.C. all the television channels. I suppose it would be £8 or £9, not £6, and the Government would be out of pocket to the extent of £35 million a year from the levy and taxation. In radio we acknowledge the importance of the public service type of broadcasting which the B.B.C. provides, or should provide, but when it comes to broadcasting, which could quite easily he supplied free by commercial radio, we inquire why the public should be asked for an increased licence fee. For this reason we would introduce local commercial radio.
I have said that this can be done by a combination of the v.h.f. and medium-wave frequencies. At one time the Postmaster-General said that this was not possible, but the Director-General of the B.B.C. clearly does not think it impossible for in an interview in the Sunday Times he said he did not relish commercial radio because he did not want to lose his mass audience. I think the whole tone of the document it has issued shows that the B.B.C. takes commercial radio seriously enough. We may take it that if the Government of the day decided on commercial radio they would see that facilities for it were provided.
In the same Sunday Times interview, the Director-General said that the advent of commercial radio would put up the cost of "material". Presumably he meant human material. There once again speaks the voice of the monopoly employer. If decisions are to be made as to what type of programme is suited to public service broadcasting, we must define public service broadcasting. Without going back to Reithian definitions, 1525 which would seem out of date today, we probably all agree that minimum requirements would be, first, the provision of programmes for minorities at times and on frequencies which made them generally available and, second, a deliberate policy aimed, to some extent, at raising the level of public taste.
For many years, the B.B.C. has fulfilled those requirements to the satisfaction of listeners and to the admiration of the world. The orchestras it maintains and the quality of serious music freely available to us all, even in our motor cars, shows a concern for this music-loving minority exactly in keeping with public service. The fact that many listeners have acquired a taste for serious music only through B.B.C. programmes reflects a coherent policy of the corporation to raise public taste. People say that today London is the musical capital of the world. If so, the B.B.C. can claim a large slice of the credit.
When we examine the B.B.C.'s new proposals, we wonder whether it appreciates its own achievements, for it appears to be tending to throw them away lightly. The axe seems to be falling almost exclusively on the educational and cultural services appealing to minorities which a commercial broadcasting system is unlikely to supply. If this blueprint materialises, we shall be left with little more than a facade of public service broadcasting. Radio One is to be all Caroline. Radio Two is to be all sweet music, or 390. Radio Three is mostly serious music, but, as the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Boston) rightly pointed out the other day, in reality it has been cut by being limited to v.h.f. It would not be available in motor cars. The audience would be decimated. It will be cut to a great extent by this new restriction. Radio Four is largely a speech programme. Therefore, catering for minorities has been reduced to the truncated Radio Three and some talks and drama on Radio Four. The policy of trying to improve public taste has been quietly but completely abandoned.
Under the heading "Network Radio", we lead on page 3 of the pamphlet:Traditionally, broadcasting has been based on the principle of mixed programming. On a single channel, the public is offered the whole range: news, documentaries, plays, music, light entertainment, serials, sport—all types of programmes, covering all interests and all 'brow' levels".1526 Exactly. That was how listeners were introduced to better music and drama. The pamphlet continues:But experience, both in this country and abroad, suggests that many listeners now expect radio to be based more on a different principle—that of the specialised network, offering a continuous stream of one particular type of programme, meeting one particular interest. One channel might offer pop, another serious music, another talk programmes, and so on".That is a straight description of commercial radio. For advertising effectiveness, a station likes to attract a complete age or market group to one programme. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, but it is not compatible with public service broadcasting if, as I suggest, one of its requirements is to educate and lead people towards better things. Network broadcasting may or not be an inevitable development, but it should not be adopted without a clear realisation of its implications. At no time in this B.B.C. publication is our attention drawn to these implications.
I have considerable respect for the B.B.C., but I think that one of its faults in the past has been that it has always over-reacted to competition and criticism, be it Mrs. Whitehouse or Radio Caroline. Radio One was the reaction to, and imitation of, Caroline. The new plans are the reaction to the threat of commercial radio. The B.B.C. argues that as a national corporation it must have a mass audience, otherwise people will not want to pay the licence fee. But it has gone too far. People are now saying, "If the B.B.C. production is to be 90 per cent. neo-commercial, why pay for a licence when we can get this sort of thing from commercial radio?".
Having discussed the public service rôle, I turn to a proposal which I think astonishing—the plan to embark on 40 local stations at a yearly cost of over £5 million, equal to nearly a quarter of the entire radio revenue of the B.B.C., at the very time when, for shortage of money, orchestras are being disbanded, Radio Three cut, staffs dismissed and the regions abolished or cut down. One wonders what the unions will say about this, particularly the Musicians Union.
Here I aim my criticism not at the Corporation but at the Government, for it was the last Postmaster-General but one who started the B.B.C. on this trail 1527 —this irresponsible trail, as it is turning out. When he imposed the first eight experimental stations on the corporation, we told him that the financial basis for them was not merely unrealistic but laughable. Let us recall to mind the basis. The White Paper states:Since the essential purpose of the local station is to give expression to local interests and aspirations, it seems right that its income should derive so far as is possible from local sources and not from a general licence fee. These would not include general subvention from the rates; however the local authority, particularly for its educational services, might wish to contribute…There are also in local life various other bodies which might well be prepared to make financial contribution to the costs of the station…the local university…the Open University; Chambers of Trade and Commerce; local Councils of Churches; arts associations; and other representative bodies active in the social and cultural life of the community".Has a serious project ever been built on a more rickety financial basis than that? In the event, as we foretold, the money coming from these sources has been hopelessly insufficient, and unless the Government intervene the stations will undoubtedly grind to a halt.
We are told on page 6 of the pamphlet that the eight stations have proved "viable". My dictionary defines viable as "capable of living". But living on what? Apparently no lessons have been learned. Forty of these viable stations have been thrust on the Postmaster-General with no visible means of support. He is simply told on page 10,…we will need additional revenue of £5,200,000 a year".But from where? From advertising? Apparently not. From a Government grant? Apparently not. From an increased licence? Surely not, for the licence was increased only last January, and, as I have said, the public would rightly resent paying for a service which could be supplied free by commercial radio.
No doubt the Postmaster-General will give his reaction to this challenge. It would be interesting to know how he has allowed himself to get into this highly embarrassing position. Why, one wonders, did he not settle the matter one way or the other with the B.B.C. before it published the plan so that we could know where he stands—or perhaps he is not on speaking terms with the 1528 corporation. Perhaps I could have acted as a go-between.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
The hon. Gentleman has made play with the word "viable" in relation to the B.B.C.'s proposals and he has twice said that this broadcasting could quite easily be supplied free by commercial radio. Would he explain how that remarkable feat is to be achieved?
§ Mr. Bryan
I take it that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the word "free". I have had exchanges with the Postmaster-General on this matter. If the hon. Gentleman asks one of his constituents whether he thinks that he is paying for a commercial television, he will say that he does not think that he is paying for it, except that he probably thinks that he is paying for it through his licence. He is not conscious of paying for the advertisement for, say, Daz. I believe that he would have the same reaction to commercial radio.
Having condemned the future plans, I should like to pay tribute to the tremendous efforts of the B.B.C. staff at the present local stations, many of which I have visited. I said, when they were launched, that in terms of acceptability, if not in financial terms, I thought that they would be successful. I thought that they would be professionally run, as they have been, and any extra choice at no cost is always acceptable.
Frankly, I do not consider that they have produced the right sort of programme for a local station. Even without the handicap of going out on v.h.f. only, I do not believe that they would attract a large audience. If a local station is to be a significant part of the community and community life, it must attract a community audience.
The rôle of a local newspaper is comparable. For example, the Halifax Courier and Guardian appears to be in every house in the town. It has a very wide appeal. That is why it is part of the life of Halifax. This can be said of many local papers.
The same should apply to local radio. That is why it is particularly suitable to commercial radio, which demands a big audience. Hon. Members will gather from this that I do not believe that the B.B.C. should embark on local radio.
1529 Lord Hill, in his foreword to the pamphlet, says:Whatever else happens the public service which the B.B.C. provides should be complete, nationally and locally.I disagree. If the B.B.C. is to snap at every broadcasting opportunity that v.h.f. will make possible in future years, whether or not the opportunity could be better taken by other means, its public service element will suffer, and I think that these plans give the plainest possible warning of that fact.
"Broadcasting in the Seventies" is particularly vague about the actual savings effected by the various cuts. I hope that the Postmaster-General will be able to enlarge on this. For instance, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what the abolition of the English regions means in terms of cash and staff redundancies? The B.B.C., in its evidence to the Pilkington Committee, and on many occasions since, has stressed the value of the regions. If so apparently valuable an asset is to be sacrificed, we should know what figures are involved. What are the savings to be made by the cuts in drama, in orchestras and in education programmes?
It is even more vague in its references to the Musicians Union. From this pamphlet we certainly would not appreciate the formidable obstacles described in the memorandum that many of us have received from the Musicians Union. Would it not have been wiser to delay publication of the B.B.C. plans until negotiations had at least made some headway and the possibilities become clearer?
The House will also be grateful for the Government's view on the B.B.C.'s attitude to orchestras. In these days of superlative recordings, if we pursue to its logical conclusion the argument that the B.B.C. has no obligation to employ more orchestras than it needs, it would employ very few musicians indeed.
Therefore the question arises: how far should the obligation of the B.B.C. extend? If it is not required to continue its present rôle of patron to music, who is to take it on? The Government must, clearly, have a policy on this before orchestras are unnecessarily disbanded and irreparable harm is done to the nation's music.
1530 The launching of the two-tier postal system came to grief because the Postmaster-General tried to do two things at once. He tried to introduce a price rise and disguise it with the introduction of an entirely new system.
In its radio plans for the seventies, the B.B.C. is trying to do three incompatible things. It is trying to save money, expand into the large new sphere of local radio, and alter the nature of its production to take on commercial radio. In attempting the impossible it is in danger of succeeding only in achieving a part abdication if its public service rôle. One newspaper says that it has decided to convert itself into a branch of the light entertainment industry sustained by public funds.
I said earlier that these plans are an attempt to forestall commercial radio. In fact, they are trying to forestall more than is threatened. We have proposed local commercial radio: hence the 40 B.B.C. stations. But there is no doubt that the B.B.C. is also setting itself up to take on commercial radio right across the board.
The paper talks of the pressures to maximise audienceswhich a commercial system cannot as easily resist.But these are the very pressures which the B.B.C. is showing itself unable to resist even before they are exerted. It is retreating before the ghosts of these pressures.
We all take pride in the independence of the B.B.C. from the Government. However, the Government, through their charter, lay down a general guidance about the type of broadcastng that they expect. I suggest that when the Government of the day issued the current charter they certainly were not conscious then of sanctioning so pronounced a departure from the traditional public service rôle of the B.B.C.
We on this side of the House are, frankly, disturbed at the look of these new plans. I say "look" because they are a long way from fruition. We do not know what is to happen. But if they are brought into effect, it would appear that they will alter the whole broadcasting situation. When we get into power we shall examine the position carefully and we shall reserve the right to adjust the 1531 charter and our plans for commercial radio however then seems right.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ The Postmaster-General (Mr. John Stonehouse)
I think that the whole House is grateful to the hon. Member for Howden (Mr. Bryan) for choosing this subject for a Supply day and for the moderate, as well as illuminating, way that he has opened the debate.
We are helping today to set the pattern of broadcasting for at least another five years, if not another 10 years. It is important that the public debate, as well as the debate in this House, should continue before the Government come to any final decision about this subject. Therefore, I do not intend this afternoon to make any final statement about our position in relation to the plans that the B.B.C. has put forward.
There are five general considerations to be borne in mind when approaching this subject. First, broadcasting is very young. Although the spoken word has been used by the human race for tens of thousands of years and the written word for thousands of years, broadcasting has been in existence for less than 50 years. It is a young and dynamic means of communication. It is dynamic because, as we have seen in the last three days, millions of people can take instantaneous participation in the events of our time. I am told that no fewer than 600 million people all over the world saw the landing on the moon just a few days ago. This is a new dimension in democratic participation in the events of our times.
It is also a shocking medium, because it brings home to people events to which they could have an apathetic approach but which, when conveyed into their own homes through television—for instance, events in Vietnam or Biafra—can have a numbing and traumatic effect.
Broadcasting is an educational medium also. T.V. and radio are the best teaching machines so far invented. There were those who a few years ago lamented the development of T.V. and suggested that it would have a curbing effect on the development of culture. I think they have been proved absolutely wrong. Any hon. Member who saw the civilisation programmes on T.V. some time ago will, I am sure, agree that the reverse is true. 1532 People are buying more books than they did before the development of T.V., and they still flock to the Proms.
Broadcasting can also be propaganda, and I think that it is relevant to bear this aspect in mind when we consider the future structure of broadcasting, and particularly when we consider the proposals for commercial radio which have been put forward this afternoon by the hon. Member for Howden. I believe that this medium is so important that it is necessary for the public, and indeed for this House, to continue to take a very close interest in the way that it is used.
Nor should the medium be hogged by professional broadcasters, because there is an inherent danger that their professionalism and their specialisation could lead to an isolation from new ideas emerging in our free society. There is also a danger that the professionals can exercise an arrogance that can curb innovation and bend the public to preconceived ideas of their own, rather than allowing ideas to emerge as they would do through free communication.
I therefore believe that it is necessary for the medium to give minorities not only the opportunity of hearing the programmes that they want to hear but also of participating in the production of those programmes. I believe that this also is highly relevant to the suggestion that we should have commercial radio in this country.
Broadcasting is a medium that is owned by the whole community, and therefore I believe that there is another factor that we should bear in mind. It is wrong for commercial interests to cream off the benefit of the exploitation of such a network. Our broadcasting institutions are the best in the world. It is recognised that radio and T.V. broadcasting in this country reach standards higher than achieved elsewhere, and the variety of programmes is the envy of the world. I believe that the I.T.A. does an excellent job. There is no doubt that there is some room for improvement in that field, but today we have as the main interest of our debate the future of the B.B.C., particularly sound radio.
§ Sir John Rodgers (Sevenoaks)
Following the right hon. Gentleman's last statement, is he saying that if commercial 1533 radio came in it would cream off the best? If he belives that, does he think that I.T.A. has creamed off the best in television? if he does, that contradicts his earlier remarks.
§ Mr. Stonehouse
I am saying that the medium is one that belongs to the whole community, and it is important that the community should have an interest in the way it is exploited. I believe that we have that with the I.T.A.
The B.B.C. is recognised as one of the best broadcasting institutions in the world. I was struck by the correspondence in The Times this morning, where Sir Tom O'Brien said:The B.B.C. is a unique institution in the world. It has added lustre to British prestige everywhere, in times of war and peace. The miracle is, not that these magnificent services have continued but that it has survived at all.I believe that the B.B.C. is a magnificent institution, and that as well as analysing some of the proposals that it makes for the future we should pay tribute to the magnificent job that it has done and the dedication of those who serve it.
Sir Tom O'Brien says that the B.B.C. is the Cinderella. I do not know whether I agree with him on that. This matron of nearly 50 certainly has many admirers of her virtues, and dozens of Princes Charming who will rush to her aid against the Ugly Sisters.
The problems of the B.B.C. are financial, and I want to come to these immediately because I think that they should be put frankly before the House. The B.B.C.'s costs are going up. The demands for its services are going up, and there is no automatic increase in its income. The financial results for 1968–69 will show a gross licence revenue of about £86 million, of which less than 5 per cent. is for sound-only fees, at about £4 million. When the G.P.O.'s expenses of about £5 million are deducted—and of that £5 million about £1½ million would be saved if the sound-only fee were abolished—the B.B.C.'s net income in the last financial year is about £81 million. Expenditure on radio was about £22 million and on T.V. about £64 million. When other income of about £½ million cones into the account, the deficit for last year lies between £4 million and £5 million.
Financially, the position of the B.B.C. becomes progressively worse as its costs 1534 continue to rise, and its income does not continue to rise at the same rate as before because, as the hon. Member for Howden said, we have reached a certain plateau in the number of T.V. fees, although we can expect in a few years' time the number of colour T.V. fees to go up considerably, which will produce a rising income for the B.B.C.
What are the solutions to the problem? I believe that there are six, although one can have a mixture of them. The first is to cut down on the programmes. The second is to accept advertising. The third is to increase the fee. The fourth is to increase the other sources of income of the B.B.C., such as for the selling of T.V. programmes to the United States. The fifth is to increase efficiency, and the sixth is to counter evasion. Evasion of payment, particularly of T.V. fees, is still a very serious drag on the income of the B.B.C., and costs about £7½ million a year.
I should like to deal with each of those suggestions. The first is the suggestion that we should ask the B.B.C. to cut down on its programmes. There is enormous public demand for the programmes that the B.B.C. puts out. I do not accept the philosophy, apparently supported on the other side of the House, that because the B.B.C. is a public institution is should for some strange reason not supply what the public as a majority want. I believe that as a public institution it has such a responsibility and should cater for majorities as well as minorities.
It is reasonable that the B.B.C. should put forward a proposal to meet the demand, for instance, for pop music. This is a sensible suggestion. We should not sneer at it. But the pattern of demand not only for pop but for sound broadcasting as a whole has changed considerably. Twenty years ago there were only 120,000 television sets; now there are about 16 million. During the evening most people are absorbed in watching television programmes. The radio audience drops considerably during the evening. However, it is very high during the day.
In its prospectus the B.B.C. proposes that sound broadcasting should be streamlined to provide for the considerable demand during the day and to give the customer a certain amount of choice without trying to force him to twiddle the knob on his set in order to find the programme 1535 that he wants to hear. This suggestion makes a lot of sense. But I am a little more doubtful about the cost-effective argument used by the B.B.C. I do not believe that it is possible to discuss the problem of providing programmes as though it were the same as selling soap-flakes. The B.B.C. points out that the cost per hour of radio is £378 at breakfast time, when the audience is 7.7 million, and £720 in the evening, when the audience is 1 million. It shows that the Third Programme costs £967 per hour for an audience of about 50,000.
It also demonstrates the fact that providing pop music is cheaper than providing any other form of broadcasting. But we should not draw the conclusion—and I am glad that the B.B.C. does not draw the conclusion—that therefore the only broadcasting should be the pop service. That is the error that broadcasters abroad, especially commercial broadcasters, have fallen into, and it is a pitfall that we should avoid.
Besides the cost of producing programmes we should also consider the effect on the public who hear them. Pop music has been called musical wallpaper. It does not command one's whole attention. It is regarded as a background. I believe that there is as much distinction between pop music and a live serious music concert as there is between mass-produced wallpaper and original works of art in the Tate. I do not suggest that the B.B.C. is anxious to cut out all serious programmes—quite the reverse—but I counsel it against following to its conclusion the logic of the efficiency experts. The B.B.C. is the guardian of our cultural inheritance, and it is one of the raisons d'etre for the public service institution that it is. If we were to operate on purely commercial criteria in broadcasting it could be as well for commercial organisations to do the job. The B.B.C. must bear that point in mind.
§ Mr. John Lee (Reading)
I do not want to interrupt the normal sequence of my right hon. Friend's speech, but he talked a little about cost efficiency. At some stage will he say something about the reason for the introduction of American efficiency people to the B.B.C., which some of us questioned some time ago, especially as the corporation is supposed 1536 to have its own organisation and methods and grading department?
§ Mr. Stonehouse
I shall come to that point in a moment.
The second way out of the B.B.C.'s financial dilemma is to accept advertisements. The B.B.C. emphatically rejects this. It fears that it would be the thin end of the wedge and that once it was accepted in respect of pop music programmes future Ministers might suggest that when the B.B.C. ran into future financial problems it would be natural for advertising to be accepted elsewhere—on television as well. I share its reluctance to move down that road. The B.B.C.'s view on this must be respected
The third suggestion is that the licence fee should be increased. I do not want to make any announcement this afternoon, but the House should bear in mind the fact that our licence fee is one of the cheapest in the world for a service that is among the best in the world. We are charging £6 for the combined fee. In most of Europe it is much higher than that. In France it is £8 5s.; in West Germany it is £8 15s., and in Norway it is also £8 15s. The Swedes pay £14 5s., and in Switzerland the fee is £11 17s. 6d. Only in Ireland is the fee less than it is in the United Kingdom. Our colour fee, at £11, is very low compared with that of Denmark, where it is £18, and that of Sweden, where it is £22.
§ Mr. Angus Maude (Stratford-on-Avon)
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us how the sound-only fee compares with that of other countries? That also seems very cheap.
§ Mr. Stonehouse
Yes. The sound-only fee, at 25s., is much lower than elsewhere. I believe that in Switzerland it is £2 and that elsewhere it is also considerably higher than it is here.
There is a case for the B.B.C.'s increasing its income from the sale of programmes abroad. Television programmes should not be made with a view to obtaining an audience in the United States. This could tend to change the character of the programmes, and we might end up with a mid-Atlantic type of programme. But the B.B.C. should bear in mind the eventual exportability of a programme without affecting the character of that programme. The B.B.C. could be 1537 much more energetic in promoting its sales abroad. In this respect it could take a leaf out of the book of A.T.V.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
Does not the Minister think that the B.B.C. could cut its teeth in respect of the export of programmes to other countries by providing its own programme matter to the leading commercial broadcasting companies in this country?
§ Mr. Stonehouse
I believe that the case made out for commercial radio in Britain is a very thin one. I would not support it. Therefore, I do not believe that there should be an opportunity for the B.B.C. to provide material on the lines suggested.
I now come to the question of increasing efficiency. The B.B.C. was very wise to bring in outside consultants to investigate the way in which it ran its business. Many successful organisations have been able to learn a lot from the use of consultants. I believe that the B.B.C. has been in that position. I have seen the detailed reports of the McKinsey consultants, and I was very impressed with the job that they have done. In terms of productivity improvements the B.B.C. expects to save about £5 million during the next four or five years.
But cost-effectiveness contains certain inherent dangers. As I have found in the G.P.O., there is the danger that in the case of a social service that must, as a public responsibility, be continued—such as delivering mail to the remote islands at considerable expense—a lack of efficiency is induced elsewhere in the set-up. I believe that the B.B.C. could well have suffered from this in the past. Because of its public service responsibilities, it has become in some parts of its organisation flabby and inefficient in its approach. I believe that is being put right and that there will be considerable savings from increasing efficiency in the next few years.
I very much disagree, however, with the development of thought in the B.B.C. about patronage. I see a certain equivocation in the approach to this matter. I saw an article by the Director-General in the last edition of Crossbow, for instance, in which, in replying to questions, he said:It seems to me when you ask a question about patronage you must also ask the ques- 1538 tion how far is it right for the licence fee for radio to be used for the purposes of patronage when the patronage itself is not essential to the broadcasting service. This is the kind of question one has to consider.I find myself rather frightened by those words. If we relate the patronage function merely to the broadcasting requirement, we find that there is a lot of sense in the disbandment of the orchestras and a lot of sense in cutting back on a great many of the activities that the B.B.C. now does. If it is related merely to its commercial cost-effective responsibilities, this is a dangerous road indeed and it throws into question the whole matter of the public service concept. I counsel the B.B.C. against that.
If the B.B.C. were to abolish the orchestras on the lines suggested, it could save millions of pounds a year and increase canned music. I recognise that there is a case for needle time being increased. It is lower than in some countries, but I believe, as a listener, that there is more enjoyment in listening to a live concert, even if it is not technically perfect, than in hearing a recording. There is, even if remote, some audience participation, and I believe the B.B.C. should look again at the proposals it has put forward for disbanding orchestras. It should look at the suggestions made by Yehudi Menuhin for repositioning them so that they can play a more effective part in the cultural activities of the times in which they are based.
I have set out some of the solutions to the problem of financing the B.B.C. I shall, of course, pay very close attention to any other suggestions that are brought forward because we must weigh up the considerations here before any final decision is made.
There is also the problem of how the local radio developments will be financed if we allow the extension of the experiment that has been conducted with very great success during the past year or so.
§ Mr. Tom Boardman (Leicester, South-West)
Could the right hon. Gentleman clarify one point? The White Paper on page 6 refers to the B.B.C. as saying:We make no claim for monopoly.That means, surely, that the B.B.C. accepts competition from commercial radio. Is the right hon. Gentleman in agreement with that?
§ Mr. Stonehouse
I shall be coming on to that point. I believe that commercialism will tend to lower standards, and I do not support it.
I was coming on to discuss the radio experiment, which we have debated in the House before, and on which I have consulted every Member of the House whose constituency has been affected by it. I should like to express my thanks to them for replying to my request for their reactions. It has been extremely helpful to have their views about the results of this experiment. There is no doubt that the experiment has been a very great success. A very real demand for local community broadcasting has been shown. The sale of v.h.f. sets in the towns of the experiment have gone up. There has been a very great deal of local participation. It has opened up new means of communication. Each of the stations has been broadcasting material produced on the spot for about 48 hours a week and the total audience has reached 1 million. I believe that this is a significant figure, bearing in mind that the experiment has so far been restricted to only eight towns.
I reject the commercialism that is propounded from the other side of the House because I do not believe the public want their radio spoilt by high-pitch advertising. I think that it would tend to pander to the lowest common denominator of demand and would produce a great deal of mush—a word, I may say, that I have extracted from a speech by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths), who used it in describing the pirate experience some time ago. I believe we should have a lot of mush here if the commercial radio which is being propounded from the other side of the House were allowed to be developed in Britain.
I believe also that commercialism would militate against local participation. Certainly if we had 100 broadcasting stations, as suggested, these could he viable on the basis of continuous canned pop music, and the possibility of local participation would be very low indeed. Fourth, if we had local advertising on the radio this would tend to drain advertising from the Press in the localities and tend to undermine their economic viability.
1540 I have had an opportunity in the last year of consulting a great many interests on this subject. One of the most significant contacts I have had has been with the representatives of the municipalities which themselves have been involved in the experiment. When I saw them, one one of them put forward commercial advertising as the way to finance the development of this service. I believe that is extremely significant, and I believe that their point of view would be supported by the majority of municipalities in Britain. I know that a small number of them favour commercial broadcasting, believing that it will give them some sort of an income. I believe they are gravely misled in that respect. The majority of municipalities would not welcome commercialism in their localities.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
The right hon. Gentleman used the word "mush". He will appreciate, of course, the tremendous distinction here. The pirates were operating illegally and all the "mush" they broadcast was copyright free, whereas the sort of commercial radio that we advocate would be wholly different.
§ Mr. Stonehouse
I very much doubt whether that would be the case. A commercial broadcaster is anxious to maximise the audience because the advertising rates depend on it. He would, therefore, tend to play the material that will attract the highest possible public, and this tends, as the pirates discovered, to be mush.
§ Mr. Stonehouse
I propose not to give way again. As time is restricted, I think that I should be allowed to conclude my speech.
The B.B.C. put forward plans for 40 radio stations established in England. I believe that it has got its priorities slightly wrong and that it is important to bear in mind the needs of Wales and Scotland as well. I should like to discuss with it further, and also with some of the other interests involved, the way in which this proposal could be financed.
Debates about broadcasting will go on. It is an immense subject. There are new developments in technology also which affect it, developments which perhaps are not yet invented. There is, 1541 for instance, electronic video-recording, which will have an immense impact on the way in which we use our T.V. sets. There will be improvements in v.h.f. and u.h.f. which will affect the quality and scale of broadcasting of the future. I believe that there are many other considerations which we can bear in mind, and this debate is only a contribution to the great debate which must continue.
Finally, we should remember that this country has an immense investment in broadcasting. The consumers have equipped themselves in their own homes to the tune of over £1,000 million in equipment. They are also paying rentals of up to £100 a year. It is partly our responsibility and the responsibility of the broadcasting institutions to ensure that the public get the value for the money which they are investing—and this includes the minorities as well as the majority.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)
Order. In view of the very large number of hon. Members wishing to take part and the limited amount of time remaining, I would ask for the cooperation of all right hon. and hon. Members in keeping their speeches short.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)
I agree with the Postmaster-General that this is an important debate. It is important because we are not really discussing the B.B.C.'s Music Programme or local sound radio, or the B.B.C.'s recent paper on its own future. What we are discussing today is the future of the B.B.C. itself. We are not simply discussing, critically, as everyone else has been doing, with a certain amount of enjoyment, the B.B.C.'s plans for the 1970s. We should, as the Postmaster-General did to an extent, be discussing our plans for the B.B.C.
Two questions arise here. First, do we want the B.B.C. to remain an independent public service corporation? Second, if we do, are we prepared to exact from the people the price which is required? In answering those questions, I fear that I shall give some offence to some of my hon. Friends. There were passages in the right hon. Gentleman's speech with which I found myself alarmingly in agreement, but this is a respectable place 1542 to disagree, even with one's hon. Friends, and I am fortified by that reflection.
The B.B.C.'s finances are in a mess. Like others, it faces rising costs on virtually a static income. It is by no means blameless for the financial predicament in which it finds itself. Whether it is extravagant or not, whether it is efficient or not, I am not qualified to say, but the B.B.C. is certainly a bold spender —or perhaps a bold investor would be a fairer expression. It stakes a claim in practically everything that is going—a second channel, colour, local sound radio —and this becomes expensive.
To sustain the public service image as it seeks to do, it also does a good deal for free which, I think, should be chargeable to other people's accounts. I am thinking in particular of the educational broadcasting. In addition, the B.B.C. loses £7½ million to defaulters, or we lose it for them. It is also a fair criticism to say that it may be a good spender but that it is not a very forceful salesman. I hope that what the Postmaster-General said about the value of the goods which it has to sell will not be lost on the B.B.C.
A strong case may be made out on those lines, but I am bound to add, when we are talking of this financial mess, that the blame resides largely here, with successive Governments who have resisted to the last ditch—or, rather, to the B.B.C.s last ditch—the odious task of raising the licence fee. The right hon. Gentleman said that this is relatively one of the lowest in Europe and one of the lowest in the world. In effect, we are trying to get a very good public service broadcasting system on the cheap. That is a principal reason for some current difficulties. That is partly what this crisis is about.
I accept that this is not how everyone sees it. Many have seized on the initiative over local radio as an example of the B.B.Cs irresponsibility. The picture has been plausibly presented of a corporation so determined to pre-empt our plans for local commercial sound radio that it has jettisoned its cargo, with some good cargo among it—the regions and the orchestras—and launched something which it cannot afford. It certainly cannot afford it: In its own paper, the B.B.C. asks the Government for about £5½ million to support it.
1543 I thought that the right hon. Gentleman brushed lightly aside the question of how, under his dispensation, local sound radio will be financed. We did, not hear much about that. The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I that none of these municipalities is very enthusiastic about continuing financial support, so where is the money coming from?
Personally—although this is not my main point—I retain considerable reservations about local radio under any dispensation. Notwithstanding what the right hon. Gentleman said, the year's experiment with these eight pilot stations, in which I have tried to take an interest, does not prove public enthusiasm. It may have worked out as well as the right hon. Gentleman hoped, but it does not prove public enthusiasm and it certainly does not prove financial viability. A decade ago, some of us went into this and found no public demand for local radio. It has been said that the "pirates" changed this mood, but I wonder whether that is true. They established that pop music is popular, but they did not also established that local sound radio is popular.
I am not very sanguine, therefore, about the B.B.C.'s plans and I would not readily defend its 40 broadcasting stations. I am bound to add, and some of my hon. Friends will be annoyed when I do, that I am anything but enchanted with our own ideas. I will not dwell on this. It is a sensitive point. I have always thought that there was a strong case for breaking the television monopoly —what the Postmaster-General called a "young, dynamic force". I can see no such compelling principle at stake over sound radio, whether national or local, and I fear that this policy may ultimately injure quality, of which we do not have a superabundance. But I do not want to irritate my hon. Friends any further, and they are being unduly patient. It is a factor, albeit a small one, in what concerns me most—the independence of the B.B.C.
My hon. Friends have a very good answer for this—let the B.B.C. take a limited amount of advertising on Radio One, for example, and the deficit will be made up. Putting my foot yet deeper in it, I am bound to add that I am wholly 1544 in sympathy with the B.B.C.'s thinking here—that, once one admits advertising to any degree, that is the end of public service broadcasting, and the standards which we are discussing will fall. The pressure of the advertisers is quite inexorable. So—this is much more significant —is the pressure of those who pay for the licences. That is the real point.
The fact is—and the B.B.C. and the Postmaster-General know it—that the licence fee is extraordinarily vulnerable, not because so many people do not pay it but because so many people dislike paying it, and Governments dislike asking them to pay more. The delay over the last licence fee increase of about a year cost the B.B.C. about £12 million. I expect that our Government was responsible for even larger losses.
So the B.B.C. is caught between a Scylla and Charybdis has a thoroughly unpopular way of securing money, and advertising, which, once started, as it sees it, would destroy the concept it wants to defend. That is what it fears, and I wish to goodness that some time it would state it a little more plainly.
My hon. Friend the Member for How-den (Mr. Bryan) said that it had been unfaithful to its charge of public service. To an extent, I think that that is true. But it is partly, I suspect, because it fears that if mass audiences fall below a certain point, the licence system will be challenged and the pressure to go commercial will become very strong. Some of my hon. Friends will say that it would not matter very much. Those who feel like that are entitled to their view, but I think that it would matter a great deal. It is an old-fashioned view, but I think that the B.B.C. gives us a great deal that the commercial sphere will never give us.
We all suffer from subjective thinking on this matter. Many are primarily concerned with political aspects, particularly political balance. The B.B.C. is less interested in politics than many of us suppose. I have always found that its prime interest is survival, which is a reasonable interest. The bitterness it feels about its predicament has not been lost on me for a number of years. It is the difference between a matron of 50, as the Postmaster-General put it, dependent for her housekeeping on a fairly tight-fisted and rather unaccountable husband, and a woman who can 1545 raise her money by more vicarious means. I will not take it any further than that.
I have long thought the way we go about raising money by the licence fee to be ludicrous. It is intolerable for an independent Corporation to have to go cap-in-hand to Ministers when it wants to raise more money. What happens if the B.B.C. quarrels with the Postmaster-General, with the Government, or—it is just conceivable—with the Prime inister? With or without a quarrel of that sort, we have a situation which we are at pains to avoid with the universities, and we should avoid it for the B.B.C. There is urgent need for the equivalent of the University Grants Commission, an independent body to determine what the fee should be. That would leave the Government free as air to accept or reject the recommendations. But it would be done openly, and there would not be all that shuffling of Postmasters-General in and out of Cabinet meetings, when the Postmaster-General has to say that the licence fee must be raised, and his colleagues look at him and say, "Not today, brother", and send him away. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman has experienced that in his time.
I beg my hon. Friends who sincerely feel that to give wholehearted backing to a public corporation is to give a political hostage to fortune to reflect on, this. In other spheres, I am as strong for private enterprise as anybody—much stronger than the Postmaster-General. But in this matter I am persuaded that there are rational grounds for an exception.
A decade ago there was a strong case for re-energising the B.B.C. with commercial corporations. That has proved, in a sense, to have been the right step. Today, the need is to raise not very high standards—I am being generous—particularly on television, the product of over-riding majority catering. To that end, our right course is to restore a strong, independent and confident public service element. It is worth paying for, and it rests with us to persuade people that it is worth paying for.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Gordon Walker (Leyton)
I hope that it will not embarrass the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) 1546 if I congratulate him on a very thoughtful and courageous speech, which I liked a great deal better than that of his hon. Friend the Member for Howden (Mr. Bryan). He was right to say that the basic problem in sound broadcasting is financial. The yield of the licence is remaining stable at about £21 million a year and costs are going up. Since 1965, when the licence fee was last raised, costs have risen by 20 per cent., though the B.B.C. has improved productivity in the same period by about 5 or 10 per cent.
The stark fact we must face is that if the B.B.C. does not get more revenue by one means or another, by 1974 it will have an annual deficit of £4½ million and an accumulated deficit of £12 million. The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that the House must bear part of the blame, because we alone under the existing system can raise the B.B.C.'s revenue by increasing the licence fee, and it is because we have not done so that the B.B.C. has got into the present terrible financial mess. That is the basis of the proposals put forward in "Broadcasting in the Seventies".
I want to say only a word or two about the specific proposals. In the circumstances that the B.B.C. and we face, I think that they are pretty good. They are fairly well-balanced, and are much better than making a serious cut in the output. Some of the proposals are desirable in themselves. I like the proposals for local radio. The hon. Member for Howden praised public service broadcasting, and it seems to me that local audiences have a right to that kind of public service broadcast. Certainly, local minorities have a right to be catered for, and they would not be catered for at all if commercial broadcasting companies were doing it.
On the matter of orchestras, I agree with my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General that anything that checks the training and employment of musicians is deplorable. I support what he said, but if a considerable patronage element is to continue in the B.B.C.'s expenditure on music, we must give it enough money to discharge this function. Patronage is not a possible function for a corporation that we are keeping very short of money. My right hon. Friend wants to maintain this patronage, and he must know that that can be done only if the B.B.C. receives more money. I therefore deduce 1547 that he is really in favour of raising the licence fee.
It is arguable that patronage belongs not really to a broadcasting corporation but to bodies like the Arts Councils. We should think about that proposition. But whether patronage of orchestras is through the Arts Councils, the B.B.C., or both, we as a Parliament must provide the necessary money. It is no good saying that we want the patronage to continue but will not allow them to have the money.
I turn to the question of advertising as an extra source of revenue. Some of the proposals are that the B.B.C. should take advertising, particularly on Radio One, or that independent companies should be set up for local broadcasting or broadcasting elsewhere. One thing that has not been realised is that if the B.B.C. took advertising on Radio One it would not raise anything like enough revenue. It would raise £1 million or £2 million a year at the most, and the price, as the right hon. Member for Ashford said, would be appalling. Advertising would spread very quickly to the whole of the public service, or at any rate sound broadcasting, because once the Government and Parliament have a relatively easy alternative to raising the licence fee the political pressures and temptation to spread advertising instead of raising the fee would be irresistible. The right hon. Gentleman was right; the public service concept of sound broadcasting would disappear.
There is very little to be said for allowing companies to make local or other broadcasts of pop or whatever it may be. There would be no patronage element. Second, the B.B.C. would have to compete with such companies for the biggest audiences and would probably have to divert more and more money to that. There would be still less money for things like orchestras and patronage. There would also be less choice, for the B.B.C. and the companies would quickly discover which programmes and hours attracted the biggest audience, and there would be similar programmes on both, just as on the whole there are on B.B.C. and I.T.V. now. The only choice is between B.B.C. 1 and B.B.C. 2. One of the paradoxes of broadcasting is that if 1548 one has competition one gets uniformity. It is only if one has a monopoly which can afford to lose audiences here and there that one gets choice. If B.B.C. 2 were being run by a company, all three channels would be alike, just as the nine channels are alike in the United States at all hours of the day and night.
The right hon. Member for Ashford made an interesting suggestion about some kind of body like the U.G.C. to finance the B.B.C. Another suggestion is to grant the money from the State, putting it on the Consolidated Fund so that it could not be reached or voted about. A third possibility, to which there are obvious objections, is that the Government and Parliament should forgo the right to raise the licence and hand it over to the B.B.C. The odium would then lie where it should—not with us—and we should get away from this problem which is like the problem of M.P.s salaries. We always flinch from raising them. In the case of the B.B.C., when the corporation gets in a mess because we have flinched from raising the fee, we have to raise it in the end more than we would have done originally.
Other public bodies and corporations are allowed to raise their prices, subject to the Prices and Incomes Board and so on. The B.B.C. would be able to raise the licence fee by smaller and more acceptable amounts. When we finally steel ourselves to do it, we have to raise it by tremendous amounts. It could be argued that a monopoly should not have such power, but other bodies, such as the Post Office, have it. The B.B.C. is so sensitive to public reaction that it is unthinkable that it would over-raise the licence fee.
§ Mr. Maude
I see the force of the argument that other public bodies are able to pass on increased costs to their customers while the B.B.C. is not, as Sir Tom O'Brien pointed out this morning. Could the right hon. Gentleman enlarge on how he envisages enforcement? About £7½ million a year goes astray despite enforcement through the criminal law. Is he suggesting that it should remain a crime to operate a receiver without a licence, or would he have enforcement by the B.B.C. through civil proceedings?
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
I would keep that part of it the same. The Post Office 1549 is to be a public corporation and it would continue to act as the agent for levying the licence fee as it does now and would try to catch the evaders.
If all these ideas of a U.G.C.-like body or the B.B.C. raising its own licence fee and so forth do not win acceptance, there is a simple and stark choice. We either accept cuts and changes of the kinds put forward in the document or we increase the sound licence fee. If we are faced with this choice, I hope that we find some way. I declare myself as one who favours the raising of the sound licence fee to an appropriate amount.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Sir John Rodgers (Sevenoaks)
I am sure the House will generally endorse the remarks of the Postmaster-General about the excellence of the B.B.C. It enjoys a unique reputation throughout the world. It is very much admired in this country. I served for six years on its General Advisory Council and I would do all I could to preserve what I think is best in the B.B.C. But that did not prevent me years ago in this House from trying to break its monopoly position.
For the benefit of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), I remind him that the battle was fought on the principle of monopoly. What we were pressing the House to do was not just to break the television monopoly. We wanted to break the B.B.C. monopoly. The Postmaster-General of the day did not realise the dynamic growth and potentialities of the communications medium of television. He thought that radio was far more important than television—which it is not today. He said to us, "If you take the television side and break that monopoly, we will go along with you, but more people listen to radio than watch television." I maintain my position as pure today as my right hon. Friend maintains his—I want to break the B.B.C. monopoly in sound as well as in television. I am delighted to see that in the paper the B.B C. says:We make no claim for monopoly The B.B.C. has matched up to competition in televisioin and given equal opportunities, it could do so on radio.I cannot understand therefore why the Postmaster-General held forth as though any form of competiton in radio would be anathema to the B.B.C. and lead to the lowering of standards.
1550 Of course, the B.B.C. is in something of a dilemma. It wants to advance on all fronts equally at once. The Government know that this cannot be done, that there must be priorities. While sympathising with the B.B.C. in its position of being driven by Government policy into deficit and debt, nevertheless I say that it would be extremely unpopular at the moment to try to raise the licence fee for the provision of local radio. A vast amount of money has to be spent by the B.B.C. on colour television, and there is the question of the extension of hours to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. All this will make a demand for an increased licence fee without any question of local radio.
Do not let us get away from the fact that if local radio disappears and service is provided by other sources there will be less pressure for some increase in the B.B.C.'s financial resources. There will be the payment which we shall be discussing later. The B.B.C. has asked for £5½ million from the Government per annum. It has rightly suggested that educational programmes should be paid for through the Department of Education and Science and not through the B.B.C. So the pressure will be there anyway.
The B.B.C. Charter does not require that the Corporation should put on pop and ceaseless sweet music, particularly when there are commercial companies which would like to satisfy these particularly contemporary tastes. I want to approach this subject from an angle slightly different from anything mentioned so far today. Recently the International Chamber of Commerce put out a draft resolution on the availability of television and radio as advertising media, and I want to quote from it. It says:In this connection, advertising plays an increasingly important rôle since, by stimulating and expanding purchases, it enables production to progress at the same rate as consumption. Moreover, advertising makes it possible to familiarize the greatest possible number of consumers with the advantages of the technical inventions which have been made in all fields and thus contributes to the building of a happier world.While respecting the rules designed to protect the consumer, as defined in the I.C.C.'s international Code of Advertising Practice, advertising should be able to use all present-day information media. Consumers, similarly, should not be denied the facility of receiving news of products and services via all media.1551 That is enough to show what I have in mind. The resolution says:…the I.C.C. recommends that advertising on television and radio be authorized in those countries where it is still forbidden. It invites the government of those countries to seek ways of putting those media to use which, while respecting the rights of the public and the laws and regulations in force at the national level, will enable advertisers to reach the greatest possible number of potential purchasers. It also recommends that on the occasion of the introduction of radio and television advertising, due consideration be given to the interests of the other media, but recognising the need of the advertiser to be free to select the medium of his choice.I know that the Postmaster-General is aware of this, but I wonder whether hon. Members and people in the country are aware that we are the only English-speaking country that does not have commercial radio.
As the immediate Past President of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, I say that we believe that the '70s are right for the introduction of commercial radio, and this is the view which is shared by the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers and by manufacturers.
Experience of commercial television has shown that its introduction does not lead to a decline of broadcasting standards. In that connection, I should like to quote the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, who was Opposition Deputy Chief Whip when we debated the B.B.C. monopoly position in 1954. He said that as Deputy Chief Whip he had made sure that his political colleagues voted against commercial television, but he went on to say that todayany Government looking for money for broadcasting could consider the use of advertisement revenue without the study being bedevilled by the fears of 14 years ago. It has been demonstrated that recourse to advertising revenue and the introduction of competition do not mean the death of the public service tradition in broadcasting. It has also been demonstrated that the opening of our television screens to advertising has in one way and another brought about a vast improvement in the quality of British advertising—a totally unexpected bonus to the consumer.
§ Sir J. Rodgers
The evidence of the sinner who repenteth is worth a great 1552 deal more than that of the man who was right all the way through.
The advertising agents do not necessarily advocate that the B.B.C. should devote one of its channels to advertising, although it is free to do so under its charter if it wishes. I respect the view of Lord Hill that that may lead to pressures which he could not resist and that, therefore, it is not necessarily the right way to do it. But it is possible that there could be commercial radio stations under the umbrella of the I.T.A., or a third public service corporation could be set up to foster them and to protect the public in the provision of local radio programmes. All these possibilities are open.
The figure mentioned by the right hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Gordon Walker) was wrong. He said that if the B.B.C. were to go commercial in one of its channels the cost would be £1 million. The best media people in the country believe that the immediate figure would be about £5 million to start with.
The next question is what effect local radio would have on other local media, a subject to which the Postmaster-General referred. The evidence from other countries with local Press and commercial radio side by side does not bear out the contention that the local Press would suffer. In point of fact, it flourishes, not in spite of, but because of local radio. I will not go into detail, but hon. Members who do not agree with me should consider the position of the local Press in countries like Ireland or Australia where they will see that what I am saying is amply borne out. The provincial Press has not suffered since the coming of commercial television. It still has, and for the last eight or ten years has had, 20 per cent. of the advertising money spent in this country, and it would continue to get around that sum.
There is a genuine demand for a look at radio as we looked at television, for radio is a most important medium of communication. We hampered printing, saying that printing could be used only to print the Bible, and we taxed it and had licensed printers, but we cannot—and I assure the Postmaster-General that I know I am right here—any longer hide behind the lack of technical resources, the shortage of wavelengths and 1553 things like that and sustain the monopoly position of the B.B.C. The B.B.C. must sustain it as a public corporation publicly financed.
But do not let hon. Members doubt that the coming of v.h.f. opens an enormous area for expansion. As the right hon. Gentleman himself said, still further technical advances are just around the corner and they will make it possible to have many stations in many towns.
That is the background to the debate. I hope that the B.B.C. will think again carefully about whether it wants to go into local radio—I do not wish to prevent it if it so desires—or whether it would be better to concentrate on an extension of hours and the provision of good colour television and the like, leaving it to the I.T.A., or another body to be set up by the Government, to deal with the provision of local radio financed through advertising.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Terence Boston (Faversham)
After the speech of the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), I thought that there would be a remarkable degree of agreement between the back bench Members on the two sides of the House. Unhappily, I do not find myself on the sane wavelength, if I may put it that way, as the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Sir J. Rodgers).
I begin by declaring a past interest in that I used to work for the B.B.C. As others have said, this is an important debate, for broadcasting clearly makes a tremendous impact on the lives of people and over the next weeks and months we shall be deciding the future of broadcasting for a period of some years. I should like later to refer to the B.B.C.s proposals, particularly those for Radio Three and the music output and local radio, but I should first like to mention the B.B.C.'s financial position, because most of its problems stem from its financial difficulties. Those of us with views about new plans for broadcasting have a duty to face this problem of seeing that the B.B.C.'s financial position is sound. I should like to make a proposal for meeting this need.
My right hon. Friend has already enumerated the traditional methods of raising revenue. The main methods are: 1554 first, by increasing the licence fee; secondly, by direct Government subsidy; thirdly, through advertisements on B.B.C. programmes. If no other way can be found, we must be prepared to face an increase in the licence fee. As my right hon. Friend has said, it is less than that in most comparable countries. The radio licence has gone up from only 5s. to 25s. in more than 20 years. There are obvious difficulties about increasing the licence fee, but we should be prepared to say that it may need to be increased if there is no other way.
Secondly, there is the proposal that the B.B.C. should gets its revenue by direct Exchequer subsidy. The Corporation has always been reluctant—and I entirely agree with its view—because it fears that its independence would be jeopardised.
Thirdly, I fully share the view of the B.B.C. that advertising would inevitably mean that the Corporation would always be dogged by the need to go for the bigger audience all the time, and the result would undoubtedly be a lowering of standards. The Chairman of the B.B.C., Lord Hill of Luton, is already on record as asserting that view, and I am glad that he takes a robust view about it.
My suggestion is that the Exchequer should indemnify the B.B.C. against loss through licence evasion. The B.B.C. is now losing £10 million a year through licence evasion, £7½ million from the combined radio and television licence and another £2½ million from unpaid car radio licences.
The B.B.C. is fully entitled to this money. One can describe the licence dodgers as pirates who are depriving all other listeners and viewers of improved and continuing services. Under my proposal, the Exchequer would provide the B.B.C. with a sum equal to the estimated loss from licence evasion. This indemnity proposal would undoubtedly meet the B.B.C.s present needs.
It is said in Broadcasting in the Seventies that, on current levels of expenditure, by 1974 there will be an annual radio deficit of £4½ million. It is also said in the document that the proposal to set up local radio stations will cost £5.2 million. The indemnity proposal which I have made, and which would bring in £10 million a year, would cover 1555 all of these items, including the existing orchestras.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
The hon. Gentleman began by saying that he was against a Government grant. His suggested scheme of covering the sums which people are not paying represents the payment of a Government grant.
§ Mr. Boston
The hon. Gentleman has anticipated my next words. It is clearly possible to calculate the amount of money because the loss from evasion has been worked out for many years. My proposal would enable the Government to provide money without any of the political pitfalls associated with a direct Government subsidy. I hope that that answers the point raised by the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls).
The calculation would be based on the amount the B.B.C. is losing—this has already been calculated—from licence evasion. In addition, the Government would have a greater incentive to tighten up on licence dodgers because the more money they recouped from them the less the Exchequer would have to provide in in the indemnity amount. There would also be greater moral blame attached to evaders because they would be seen to be imposing a burden on all taxpayers.
§ Mr. Kenneth Baker
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that his plan virtually asks the Government to indemnify law breaking? If such a payment were made to the B.B.C. and special treatment were given in this case, would he recommend extending it to those who cheat on railway tickets, tax, gas, electricity and telephone bills and pay an indemnity to the concerns responsible for those things? Is he not suggesting an open-ended commitment?
§ Mr. Boston
The hon. Gentleman has missed the point. I do not want to go into the question of evading railway fares and so on, except to say that if we followed through his argument to its logical conclusion, the concerns which he mentioned would all be run down to the extent of the money that they are not receiving by the evasion of which he spoke. My argument is that the B.B.C. is entitled to this money. My indemnity proposal would be a way of getting over 1556 the difficulty of a tied Government subsidy.
In Broadcasting in the Seventies the B.B.C. outlines a number of plans, but before coming to two specific points I want to mention it is worth remembering that the proposals in the document are so far-reaching that they are on the sort of scale that would normally arise from the recommendations of a Royal Commission. For this reason it is important that the bulk of the proposals are based on decisions made by this House.
A meeting took place yesterday of members of the Radio and Television Council of the National Union of Journalists. While I am a member of the N.U.J., I carry no brief for that organisation. The Council represents about 1,000 journalists working in broadcasting and the Union's Executive Committee on Broadcasting Matters endorsed a proposal of the Federation of Broadcasting Unions that the B.B.C. should be given the necessary finance to maintain its services at least at their existing levels until an independent inquiry into Broadcasting in the Seventies and into the B.B.C.'s rôle in the provision of broadcasting services could be conducted.
While I do not go along with the proposal that the B.B.C.'s plans should be held up pending such an inquiry, I do suggest that we have reached the stage where we need another Royal Commission on broadcasting covering the whole of broadcasting and particularly developments in television. The N.U.J.'s statement would be met in part by my indemnity proposal. It would rescue the B.B.C. from its financial difficulties. It would enable it to carry out some of its major proposals in "Broadcasting in the Seventies" and would provide that stability which would give precisely the time necessary for further consultations to take place about some of the B.B.C.'s other plans—something the unions are concerned about.
I said that there were two points in "Broadcasting in the Seventies" to which I particularly wished to refer. The first is the B.B.C.'s plans for Radio Three, the Third Programme and The Music Programme. This proposal has caused one of the main outcries about the B.B.C.'s plans. Concern about this service is seen partly by the fact that more 1557 than 200 hon. Members have signed Motion No. 337 which aims at safeguarding the service and which urges the B.B.C. not to reduce the quality and quantity of its serious music output.
One proposal which I find unacceptable is the B.B.C.'s plan to stop broadcasting this service on medium wave and to keep it only on v.h.f. This would undoubtedly deprive many listeners of this service, notably those who do not have or cannot afford v.h.f. sets, including the vast majority of car radio owners because these instruments are not equipped to receive v.h.f.
The B.B.C. proposes to made Radio Four a mainly speech programme, with the emphasis on news and topical events. People who get their serious music mainly on Radio Four would have to rely on Radio Three, and without v.h.f. sets they would not be able to get it. It is said that a higher proportion of Radio Three music listeners have v.h.f.—the figure quoted is 60 per cent. —compared with Radio Four, the figure for which is given as between 40 per cent. and 45 per cent.
The argument, therefore, is that a smaller number would be affected by putting Radio Three on v.h.f. only. However, this is a misleading argument because the larger number and higher proportion of Radio Four music listeners without v.h.f. would not get Radio Three, anyway.
Further, the extent to which people use v.h.f. sets is an interesting question to consider. My wife mentioned to me the other day that many people with v.h.f. sets in, for example, their living rooms—this particularly applies to housewives—carry about portable radios from room to room when doing their housework and so on, and these instruments are not equipped with v.h.f. Thus, if one is quoting figures in this connection one must quote not merely the bare proportions but the extent to which people are using their v.h.f. sets.
The B.B.C. points out that there is a choice between using the present Radio Three medium wavelengths to extend the other services, notably Radio Four, to those who cannot get them at present, and continuing to use the Radio Three wavelengths for the more limited number of listeners to that service. But by taking Radio Three off medium wave the B.B.C. 1558 would be depriving listeners of a service which they already have.
The B.B.C. says that it would be possible to use the medium wave for Radio Three during the day time, pointing out that in the evening medium wave reception is poor in parts of the country. The hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Dudley Smith) and I, who recently saw the Chairman of the B.B.C. and others, were interested in this what one might call half-way house suggestion. This would be help. We agreed, however, that it would still not meet the need.
The proposal to drop Radio Three from medium wave would represent a retrograde step. After all, there is a duty on the B.B.C. to maintain this service and one must not forget the disabled, the blind and organisations like Wireless for the Blind which would have to replace their existing sets with those capable of receiving v.h.f. at a considerable cost.
The B.B.C.'s decision not to close down Radio Three was welcome. There is no doubt that the B.B.C. is the finest broadcasting service in the world. The B.B.C. has also seen a vast growth in the number of people who appreciate serious music, partly as a result of its efforts. There has been a steady growth in demand for this output over the years. This is clear from the increase in the B.B.C.'s serious music output. In 1963–64, the total of serious music hours was 3,455. In 1967–68, the last year for which figures are available, the total was 5,749 hours. Far from reducing or even simply maintaining this coverage, it needs to be further developed to meet growing demand.
I should like to make a passing reference to the B.B.C.'s orchestras. I was glad to hear the view put forward by my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General today. Others will no doubt deal with this matter in greater detail. I should feel less justified in criticising the proposed orchestra cuts if I had not put forward a proposal for financing the B.B.C. Many of us have been distressed by the proposal to disband some of these fine orchestras and the B.B.C. chorus, some of which have achieved international reputation. There is also the position of the devoted staff of these orchestras.
I was particularly surprised by the proposal to disband the Training 1559 Orchestra, especially as the B.B.C. has praised it in its own publications. In describing the training orchestra, the latest B.B.C. Handbook for 1969 points out that it was set upat the beginning of 1966 for the specific purpose of training qualified young musicians aged 18 to 26 and to provide extensive orchestral experience immediately following an instrumentalist's course at a school of music. It is hoped through the establishment of this orchestra to ensure a steady stream of experienced players of the standard required by the leading orchestras in the United Kingdom.What was worth putting in the B.B.C's Handbook which came out in January this year is worth repeating and continuing now.
I wish to mention the B.B.C's proposals for local radio stations and regions, particularly from the point of view of local radio, because this is the biggest single advance now open in radio. I am among those who feel that the existing regional set-up has been long outdated because it coincides neither with regional community interests nor with the new economic regions being created. The B.B.C. is right to tackle this admittedly very difficult problem.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General will allow the B.B.C. to go ahead in the very near future with local stations on a permanent basis. There is no doubt that the Corporation's local radio experiment begun in 1967 has been an outstanding success. It is right for us to find out at first hand about these stations before passing judgment. It was with that thought in mind that I spent a whole day at B.B.C. Radio Leeds during the last Recess. This is a very lively station indeed. It is clear that when listeners are provided with the opportunity to have local radio there is a ready demand for it. The response from young people is particularly encouraging.
I have been particularly disturbed at the level of some of the propaganda being put out by some of the commercial radio lobby, and in particular a statement put out by an organisation called Commercial Broadcasting Consultants Ltd. with a proposal for local commercial radio run by a corporation on a national basis. It says of the B.B.C's local radio experiment that 1560Local radio on v.h.f. has proved a failure due to lack of funds for programming.The B.B.C's local stations might not have excessive funds, at least at the moment, but their output has been tremendously varied, informative and entertaining. One has only to look at a brief resume of the past year's activities of Radio Leeds to see the extent of this variety. It says:Radio Leeds, the walk-in-and-talk station, has given ear time to about 4,750 walk-in-and talkers during its first year of operation. In addition, recorded interviews, talks and musical programmes by local people have brought a huge number of Leeds people in front of the microphone. In Teenage Week alone"—when over the whole week the station was operated by teenagers—there were 1,000 new broadcasters. The station's first year ends on Tuesday, 24th June, and by then the small team will have put out more than 3,300 hours of local material…News and current affairs account for about 1,000 hours: sport 300; discussion 300; light magazine 600; children and women's programmes 350; education 250; serious music 200 and minority programmes 300 hours. The rest is made up of council affairs, municipal elections, record programmes, outside broadcasts and other output difficult to classify.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
Since the hon. Gentleman is opposed to commercial broadcasting, why is he giving a commercial for the B.B.C.?
§ Mr. Boston
I share some of the hon. Gentleman's views on other matters. But we should take pride in the achievement of this public Corporation. We should pay tribute to that.
Without going into further detail, for reasons given in previous debates I am wholly against running local stations commercially, partly because of the adverse effects which they would have on the quality of output, but not least because of the adverse effects that they would have on local Press by syphoning off advertising revenue and endangering local papers, as has been made clear by the bulk of newspaper interests in their evidence, including the Newspaper Society, to the Pilkington Commission and repeated only recently.
I hope that we shall no longer hear the sort of humbug which we have heard previously that commercial radio can be set up free of charge to the public. I hope that those who have been trying 1561 to con the public with that grotesque distortion will have the grace to drop it. They must have a poor view of the British public if they think that they are as gullible as that. Of course, people would have to pay for commercial local radio. Consumers would have to pay through the advertising included in the cost of the goods they buy.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will allow local radio to be developed under a reputable body, the B.B.C. I hope that the B.B.C. will live up to its reputation by keeping Radio Three on the medium wave, and I hope that my suggestion about B.B.C. finance will be of use as a constructive idea for meeting the Corporation's financial needs.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills (Belfast, North)
It is pleasant to hear someone speak, as the hen. Member for Faversham (Mr. Boston) has, so very well of his former employers. I trust that he will not take too much exception to it if I say that I hope that after the next election he will be able to go back to them and get on with the job.
Looking round the Chamber, it is noticeable that a lot of people want to take part in this debate. As we all listen to sound radio, there are probably 630 different "experts" on it in the House. I find it useful, in one's capacity as a Member of Parliament, to listen to the news, current affairs, "Today in Parliament" and "What the Papers Say". We are all "experts" in our own way, or claim to be, on the subject.
I have some reservations about the method by which the B.B.C.'s publication was handled by the Corporation. We had well-informed leaks of what was being considered, starting right back in January. Then we had considerable secrecy about what was happening. It was like the Ku Klux Klan. There was a period of alarm among many responsible bodies and in the B.B.C. regions. There was alarm among orchestras and about what would happen to the music programmes. Then we had the announcement.
I believe that Mr. Kenneth Adams' remarks in the Daily Mirror were very fair comment. He said:The B.B.C. appears to regard the current reshaping of its programmes as an internal 1562 matter which neither the P.M.G., its own staff or the public has any right to discuss".It is unfortunate that the matter has been handled by the B.B.C. in this way.
The B.B.C's publication is deficient in that it was probably misconceived in aim. It asked the wrong question. To put it another way, it did not set out the range of alternative policies which might have been discussed in such a document so that the public would have the opportunity of considering the various alternatives. The Sunday Times put this very well in an editorial headed, for some reason, "Doctoring radio". It said that the first choice might have been what the B.B.C. could do with a £2 radio licence fee; the second, what it could do if the Charter was amended to admit advertising; and the third, what the B.B.C. could do given the existing licence fee and the exclusion of advertising. I believe the document which we are discussing was unduly narrow in concept. It would have helped public debate of these matters if a rather different type of document had been presented.
I turn now to the question of serious music. Many have paid tribute to the B.B.C.'s patronage in all fields of the arts, and this is in my view entirely justified. One tends to take it very much for granted but it is well worth repeating. I was very glad to hear what the Postmaster-General said about this today. He put it well and fairly.
Now, however, we have the situation that the B.B.C. appears to aim at running down orchestras to maintain Radio One and Radio Two and so as to avoid advertising. This is unfortunate. I take my own example from Northern Ireland, where the Northern Ireland Orchestra, which was founded by the B.B.C., has done excellent work in promoting music.
The B.B.C. now says that it is "unable to bear the full cost" of the orchestra, but I hope that it may have second thoughts in the light of the helpful comments today by the Postmaster-General concerning local orchestras. Obviously, the whole question is in the melting pot, but I hope that the B.B.C. will be generous in its support of music in Northern Ireland.
Turning to Radio Three and the Third Programme, I join with what has been said about how unfortunate it would be if this programme were to be broadcast 1563 only on v.h.f. The interest of the motorist, particularly, is important in relation to the music programme. I rather got the impression from some of the comments from the B.B.C. since the paper was produced that one was, perhaps, pushing at a partially open door in this respect. I certainly hope that a firm decision has not been taken.
A part of the White Paper which I find pleasing is the references to Radio Three where it speaks about the extension of music during the evening. I have always felt that during the evening the Third Programme missed a great potential audience for which it was not fully catering. It is in my opinion too high-brow and too narrow in character and, accordingly, it has much too small an audience.
I would have thought that Radio Three should have aimed at the rather wider audience which has grown up in the 25 years since the programme commenced—the audience who have stayed on at school until the age of 18, who have gone on to technical college and university, who read the serious weekly magazines and who read the heavy Sunday newspapers. If I have read correctly between the lines of the document. I hope that that is the audience which the B.B.C. will be aiming at more in the years ahead in Radio Three.
I think it is particularly significant that the section of the paper concerning finances is sandwiched in at the end between frequencies and music. I would have expected it to be right at the beginning of the document after setting out the problems, because it is obviously the key matter which arises for the B.B.C.
I feel that the way that we are seeing a cut-down in minority programmes to maintain the mass programmes is particularly undesirable. It was well put in the Sunday Telegraph of 13th July, which set out the matter very clearly when it said that there were three main questions to which hon. Members should be addressing their minds in these debates.
The first question, which to me is the most important, is whether we accept that the B.B.C. must not raise money by advertising. This is something on which there is a fairly clear division of opinion between the two sides of the House 1564 although, after hearing the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), you might consider, Mr. Deputy Speaker, calling another hon. Member from this side to help balance the debate. I hope that my right hon. Friend does not take that unkindly.
The question of advertising is put by Lord Hill in his foreword when he says:The B.B.C. unhesitatingly accepts that this implies a responsibility to provide a comprehensive service meeting the needs of minorities as well as majorities. It is convinced that it will be the better able to remain truly comprehensive and securely independent if it continues to be financed by the licence fee method and is not exposed to the pressures which a commercial system cannot as easily resist.When Lord Hill was at the I.T.A., I did not notice that he protested so firmly about the commercial pressures to which he refers in his foreword.
I find it difficult to believe that a fundamental change in the character of Radio One would be brought about by a few minutes' advertising in every hour. Is it something so essentially British that we want to preserve intact? Would its whole fundamental character be so altered for the worse by advertising? I find this difficult to believe. It does not seem to me that Radio One is a vital part of public service broadcasting principles. If, as in politics and as in broadcasting, one inevitably has to take choices, for my part I would rather see advertising on Radio One plus a continuation of the B.B.C.'s position as a major patron of the arts.
The Sunday Telegraph poses the second question of whether we are prepared to face an increase in the licence fee. Many hon. Members, in debates in this House, may say that the B.B.C.'s is the cheapest licence fee in Europe and that compared with the quality of the programmes, the increase would be small. Against that, however, one has to put into perspective the fact that for many people an increase in the B.B.C. licence fee is a major increase in their annual household budget and would hit particularly hard elderly people who rely very much upon radio and television for comforts.
The third point which the Sunday Telegraph raises is consideration of additional methods of collecting the £10 million which licence dodgers should be paying. 1565 I do not think very much of the proposal by the hon. Member for Faversham. My hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Kenneth Baker) put the objection to it very well.
I find it astonishing that there should be over 10 per cent. of the B.B.C. revenue which no Government are able to collect. I would have expected the Wireless Telegraphy Act to cover new television sets, and that the house to house cards and the detector vans would have made a substantial impact on the older sets, which are the most difficult problem. I would have thought that a new system through motor taxation might succeed in catching the motor radio licence dodgers who should pay £2.5 million a year. By tightening up inside the Post Office, and by some such methods as I have referred to we should in this House be able to help the B.B.C., who should not be denied this substantial sum.
§ Mr. Boston
Since the hon. Gentleman has referred to the proposals which we are putting forward, may I ask him to bear in mind that, far from condoning criminal evasion, as his hon. Friend was suggesting, this proposal will be a direct incentive to Governments to take tightening up action against licence dodgers.
§ Mr. Mills
If I understood my hon. Friend correctly, I thought his point was that this was a matter of wider principle —should it be extended for example to the railways, to gas bills and telephone accounts? I would have thought it was a matter of wider principle on which objection could be taken to the scheme put forward by the hon. Gentleman.
I come now to local radio. I tried to intervene during the right hon. Gentleman's speech, as I found this the most astonishing part of his speech. He said that he had read what the B.B.C. had said. He paid tribute to the work of the B B.C. and, although at an earlier stage he had said that there would be a review of the whole subject terminating in July, all he was able to say this afternoon was that he would have a discussion about it.
He did not set out the alternatives. He did not say how his mind was working. Although he said that none of the local authorities liked the commercial principle, he neglected to say that seven out of eight have already made it clear that they do not want to continue with 1566 the existing scheme. The House is about to go into recess and the right hon. Gentleman appears to be running away from this decision.
The B.B.C's plans for local radio are the central matter of the debate. Are there or are there not to be B.B.C. stations? Is the B.B.C. to get additional finance for it? Will there be advertising? These are questions which could reasonably have been answered today by the right hon. Gentleman. Many hon. Members will be disappointed if we do not get more information on the Government's thinking on this matter when the Assistant Postmaster-General replies tonight.
Several editorials have referred to the aim of the B.B.C. of pre-empting the next Government by getting established 40 local stations. I do not know whether or not that is the aim of the B.B.C. I hope it is not, because the B.B.C. as a public body depends on its good relations with all parties in the House, and an attempt to jump the gun and to try to make the rôle of the next Government more difficult in this field would not be in the long-term interests of the B.B.C.
I was surprised to see chat the B.B.C. at page 6 of the White Paper referred to the way in which it had always championed local radio. I recall the B.B.C. evidence to the Pilkington Committee, in which it said that in its view there was no demand for local radio but, if such a demand was shown to exist, it was the B.B.C. who should be given the job of catering for it. This indicates a certain hesitancy of memory on the part of the Corporation.
I believe that there is still a great future for radio—radio at certain times of the day, car radio, serious music, news, current affairs, pop music for the young and local radio, but this can happen only if we endeavour to release broadcasting from the straitjacket of B.B.C. traditional methods of finance, and if the monopoly of the B.B.C. can be broken to let other minds into this exciting new medium.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent. South)
One of the major accomplishments of the B.B.C. proposals has been to bring to the forum of public debate some of the many issues in broadcasting which have been neglected for far too long. The time is long overdue for the 1567 reappraisal of sound broadcasting which the B.B.C. is now conducting.
I am glad that in the proposals put forward the B.B.C. is now rejecting the old-fashioned concept of giving all of the people some of the things which they do not like for some of the time. That is the old Reithian concept of introducing a little culture into frivolous programmes, and vice versa. The B.B.C. is now providing the kind of programmes which the people require.
The B.B.C. has no alternative, because there is now convincing evidence that the public are not prepared with sound radio to switch over programmes as they do with television; they simply switch off. The public are at last beginning to get the programmes which they want. That is the reason why the B.B.C. has now come to the proper view that audiences should be given the programmes which they require.
I believe this is a right decision, and, on the same basis, it is a right decision to go ahead with local radio. The experiments conducted have, if not proved, certainly given a clear indication that there is a demand for local radio. People want programmes with local interest. In my constituency, Radio Stoke-on-Trent is a highly popular station and has now taken its place as an accepted and popular institution in the community, despite the limitations of v.h.f.
The critics of local radio tend to confuse local radio with the whole question of economics, and they tend to believe that local radio is a substitute for orchestral programmes and other types of national network radio. This is nonsensical, because the B.B.C. has reiterated time and time again, and I believe it, that the financing of local radio is entirely different from the financing of national networks. It is regrettable that people should still confuse the economics of local radio and the national network; the two are entirely divorced.
The economies which are being made by the B.B.C. are to a large extent to be welcomed. The economies were inevitable because in a situation of a static income and rising costs the B.B.C. is under an obligation to try to meet this difficult financial problem. What it has done is to formulate principles in advance 1568 rather than detailed plans. I believe that no conclusive judgment can be made until the full consequences of the detailed plans are known and until a number of questions are answered.
It is unfortunate that the B.B.C. has created hostility among the broadcasting trade unions by its refusal to discuss in a meaningful way its proposals with the unions. By that I mean that the B.B.C. refuses to allow the unions to discuss these issues with their members. This was an entirely wrong decision and quite contrary to the normal methods of negotiation.
I assure the House, after 14 years' experience as a sound radio and television producer, that the B.B.C. is a highly civilised organisation. In fact, it is not only civilised; it is a paternal organisation. The House will note that I refer to it as paternal, not maternal, since it sometimes likes to wield the big stick.
In all my negotiations with the B.B.C. when I was chairman of the producers' branch of the union I found the B.B.C. administration to be a curious mixture of quite extraordinary charm and absolutely implacable obstinacy. Once it had decided what was best for the B.B.C. and for B.B.C. staff, then in the best possible civilized manner that was that. One was carefully listened to, given a cup of tea—and, if one was fortunate, a few biscuits—and ushered to the door, having gained not a single concession. But the corporation did as it thought right because it was behaving in a paternalistic way and was concerned with the well-being of the B.B.C. as a whole.
But I believe that at Present it is creating dangers for itself by its refusal to negotiate with the trade unions. I emphasise that it should be negotiation in a meaningful way. It is creating hostility, and there will be a backlash from the unions which may result in industrial unrest in the B.B.C. I hope that the corporation will think again about its attitude to the unions which are involved.
The B.B.C. has admitted that there will be redundancies. How many redundancies will there be? How many of the displaced staff will be reabsorbed in different jobs? What kind of effort 1569 will be made by the B.B.C. to find other work for the displaced staff? These are all questions which should be considered, I do not say considered in detail at this advanced stage but considered in such a manner as to win the confidence of the unions. No other employer in. Britain, certainly no other monopolistic employer, could possibly present a plan of what it intends to do without full consultation and negotiation with the unions.
I believe that the financial problems with which the B.B.C. is confronted will increase rather than diminish. In the next few years costs will inevitably rise as inflation continues, and the fact is that growth in the licence revenue has now stopped. The B.B.C. is in a serious situation and needs to get all the co-operation it can.
On the matter of redundancies, as a former producer I hope that the B.B.C. will not fail to look very closely at its administration. It would be most unfortunate if the programme staff of the B.B.C. were to be curtailed and pruned and the long and very worthy tail of administration and the supporting structure were not to be scrutinised very carefully and cut, perhaps rather more than the creative staff on the production side. If the corporation fails to do that, programmes themselves will suffer as will the standards of public service broadcascing as a whole.
I am still not clear in my mind—I do not think that the B.B.C. has made it clear—whether the changes which are now put forward are advanced because the B.B.C. desires the changes or because they are forced on the B.B.C. by financial stringency.
Many of the speeches by Lord Hill and Charles Curran and the other distinguished leaders of the B.B.C. tend rather to obfuscate the issue by saying, "Of course the new plans are desirable, but on the other hand there are financial pressures." One does not quite know which is which. But if the corporation needs an increased licence fee it should say so. It should say exactly how much it requires in order to present to the public the high level of programmes to which we are accustomed to receive from the B.B.C. If, on the other hand, it does not require an increase in licence fee, it should state what the consequences will 1570 be in the curtailment of serious programmes, in the cutting down of staff and the other economies which will necessarily follow.
Some people have suggested that the way in which economies can be made and the financial problems solved is by the introduction of commercial radio. We have heard eloquent contributions—some of us have lip-read them—by right hon. and hon. Members opposite about the merits of commercial radio. It is interesting that these now fall into three separate and distinct categories. The first is to have a hundred or so local radio stations which have been described by some hon. Members opposite. The second is that the B.B.C. should accept advertisements on Radio One. The third is that Radio One should be hived off completely, should be able to broadcast advertisements, and that the revenue should be put to beneficial broadcasting purposes. This idea was advanced quite recently by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins).
I believe that commercial radio is the easy way out. But every single committee of inquiry, from Crawford in 1925, through Beveridge, to Pilkington in 1960, has rejected the idea of commercial radio. The basic argument against it, without a shadow of doubt, is that commercial local radio is the thin end of the wedge. The House must decide the simple issue: the issue of public service broadcasting versus broadcasting for private profit. If advertisements are accepted on Radio One, the B.B.C.s whole future will be jeopardised and, in the long run, the corporation as such will cease to exist. Governments are dependent on votes, just as we all are. Inevitably, Governments will say to the B.B.C. when they are approached for increases in licence fees, "Now that you have it on Radio One, why not extend it to Radio Two, Three, Four and ultimately Radio Five, with local broadcasting?" The pass would be sold if commercial advertisements were given to Radio One, and the B.B.C. would have no effective answer once the principle was breached.
I remember the debates about the establishment of I.T.V. I am prepared to admit now that I was wrong. I was against the establishment of I.T.V. Today I am glad that I.T.V. was established, but that in no way invalidates the case 1571 that I am making. We were told distinctly that it was in order to have advertisements on I.T.V. because the B.B.C. was conducting public service broadcasting. That was a convincing argument to many, and Independent Television was accepted because public service broadcasting was provided by the B.B.C. Now the argument is being deployed that the B.B.C. is living in a mixed broadcasting economy. In view of that, the critics say, it ought to accept commercials on Radio One. The logic is clear and simple. I.T.V. is established and a mixed economy is created. In a mixed broadcasting economy, the public service principle is breached by introducing advertising to Radio One. Once commercials are established on Radio One, because of the financial problems attention moves to Radio Two and Radio Three, and then to B.B.C. 2 and eventually to B.B.C. 1. As a result, ultimately the whole of British broadcasting will be commercial, and the only difference between broadcasting in the United States and in Britain will be one of dialect. Minority programmes will either be dropped in mid-Atlantic or draped around midnight.
I do not want to contribute to the illusion that the argument against commercial radio is based solely on a concern for minority programmes. One of the most powerful arguments against the introduction of commercials on B.B.C. programmes is that of concern for the majority. If Radio One is hived off, as my hon. Friend has suggested, and commercials are given to the new Radio One, the B.B.C. will be failing to provide the majority of listeners with a service. It will be confining its programmes to a minority. Because the B.B.C. has a responsibility to provide pop or any other kind of programme that the majority wants as much as it has serious programmes to the minority, this argument should carry a great deal of weight with the House.
Once the argument is conceded that Radio One is to be hived off and given commercials, the B.B.C. will no longer serve the young, and young listeners will then demand vociferously that they should no longer pay the licence fee. If hon. Members doubt that that demand would be made, I would ask them to remember that in the early 'sixties when I.T.V. had 1572 big ratings and the B.B.C. had a minority audience on television, many people were demanding that they should not pay the B.B.C. licence fee because they did not watch the B.B.C. but watched only I.T.V. That same argument can be advanced by the young once Radio One is hived off and turns commercial.
Apart from that consideration, the historic independence of the B.B.C. could be seriously jeopardised once commercial pressures were accepted. I do not believe that those pressures would dominate, but they would influence. I would regard that as a regrettable and dangerous situation. Far too few people in Britain appreciate what a magnificent concept public service broadcasting is and how greatly admired the B.B.C. is throughout the world. This House should cherish the independence of the B.B.C. Although we are all critical of it at some time or other, it would be a profound error of judgment to allow temporary financial difficulties to begin to erode that freedom.
If the B.B.C. is subject to these financial pressures and one is against the idea of advertising, ultimately one must put forward suggestions for solving the problem. In my view, the licence fee is the only proper solution. However, that provides a new problem, quite apart from the one which I mentioned earlier about the reluctance of Governments to increase the licence fee.
The problem is not only that the Government are unwilling to increase the licence fee but that the number of licences is no longer increasing. I suggest, therefore, that my right hon. Friend should hold annual or biennial reviews of the licence fee so that the cost of inflation can be taken into account automatically. If that is done, a major part of the problem will be solved. I hope that my right hon. Friend will reject the idea of a direct Government grant, because that can involve some kind of Government control, and I believe that most hon. Members would be against that. This proposal for the licence fee being realistically assessed and automatically increased annually or biennially with living costs ought to solve the financial problems with which the corporation is confronted. It is only by resisting the commercial pressures and providing adequate finance for the B.B.C. that we can ensure that it 1573 continues to provide an outstanding system of public service broadcasting.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour (Norfolk, Central)
The House will have been struck by what the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) said, with his great experience, about consultations with staff in the B.B.C. and about the possibility of industrial trouble. But I felt that his logic went sadly awry when he said that, having been wrong about commercial television, he was now against the introduction of commercial radio. The hon. Gentleman said that this would mean the commercialisation of the B.B.C. But it would not mean that at all; it would merely mean that a competing service would be set up to compete with the B.B.C. just as the I.T.A. competes with the B.B.C. in television.
The hon. Gentleman accused the B.B.C. of obfuscating the issue; but the obfuscator-in-chief has been the Postmaster-General. I was prepared to criticise the right hon. Gentleman for not making a statement before the debate. Having heard the right hon. Gentleman's speech, I should not criticise him for not having made a statement. It would have made no difference whether he made a statement before or after the debate. He told us nothing at all. He made a non-speech. The right hon. Gentleman was meant to be carrying out a review of local radio and was meant to tell us what the Government's decision was to be. But, as my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) pointed out, all that he said was that he was to have discussions. This is non-government. The right hon. Gentleman is refusing to make decisions which are incumbent upon him.
Since the Postmaster-General told us nothing, it means that the debate must go back to the B.B.C.'s proposals for "Broadcasting in the Seventies".
I want to consider what the B.B.C. says in its financial statement. The essence of its case is that the economies that it proposes should be separated from the expenditure proposed on local radio. It says that these two things are not connected because the economies were to be made anyway. But that is absolute nonsense. One cannot have great retrenchment and great extravagance in the same statement 1574 and claim that they are not connected. Obviously, they are connected. In this statement the B.B.C. seems to me to be behaving like a man going up to a very rich friend and saying, "I am in terrible financial trouble. I have no money. I am badly overspent. I have told my wife that she cannot buy any more clothes. I am cutting down on the children's food. I have sacked my secretaries whom I have been employing for years. I hope that you will be very much impressed by this financial economy. I should now like you to lend me £100,000 because I want to buy an aeroplane and build a swimming pool."
Any friend approached in that way would point out to the approacher that he had his priorities absolutely wrong, that great economy and extravagance did not go together, that he should concentrate on what he was set up to do, and did very well, and not indulge in luxuries which did not suit him.
It seems that the reason for what the B.B.C. is proposing is that it is anxious to hold on to its monopoly. We all know the right hon. Gentleman's attitude to monopolies. We heard him on the Post Office Bill talking about the Post Office monopoly with immense enthusiasm. No nun ever looked at a cardinal with greater admiration and wonder than the right hon. Gentleman looks at a monopoly. Indeed, it is not only the Post Office monopoly but also the B.B.C. monopoly which gives him so much pleasure. The B.B.C.'s attitude is exactly the same.
What has not yet been sufficiently considered is what justification there is for a monopoly. That question can best be answered by examining the phrase "public service broadcasting" Everybody uses it a great deal. I thought that even my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) used it a trifle more loosely than he usually uses words. The phrase "public service broadcasting" is a great favourite with the B.B.C. It occurs seven times in the first one and a half pages of the document which we are considering. It is a great mystical expression for the B.B.C.
To my mind, there are two legitimate and separate meanings of "public service broadcasting". The first is the Reithian concept that broadcasting should elevate and educate the public taste. This is what Lord Reith called a policy of 1575 "moral responsibility". While that policy can easily be criticised and ridiculed, it certainly lent reality to the idea of public service broadcasting. In its later manifestations it came to look on life as a sort of cultural obstacle course. The listener started off listening to the Light Programme and, by assiduous application, he graduated to the Home Service and so up to the Third Programme. That concept was held by the B.B.C. until quite recently. When Radio Manx applied for increased needle time, the B.B.C. opposed its application on the ground that this would lead to an unbalanced programme. The B.B.C. is no longer in favour of balanced programmes. It introduced Radio One—and there is no balance about that programme—and in this document it goes over to the concept of specialised programmes and abandons the idea of balance.
The second meaning of "public service broadcasting" is simply a service financed by the public out of licences or taxes and not by advertising. In this sense the B.B.C. is plainly a public service, but equally in this sense the phrase is not an incantation; it is absolutely neutral. In this sense there is no reason why the public service should be a monopoly.
For example, London Transport runs all the buses and underground trains in London, but it does not have a transport monopoly. Although it is a public service, it allows the public a choice. The public can go by taxi or by private car if they wish.
Obviously, once the B.B.C. has thrown out Reith, it has thrown out the case for a monopoly. It has thrown out the baby with the bath water. Whether one agreed with the Reithian policy or not, its inevitable corollary was a monopoly. Once that policy goes, the inevitable corollary is choice. The B.B.C. is now saying that it is not trying to educate people but trying to give them what they want. If one is trying to give people what they want, why should only one body be allowed to give them what they want? The B.B.C. is saying that it will give the public what they want, but there is no reason why somebody else should not also give the public what they want. The phrase "public service broadcasting" in this sense does not seem to carry any implication that 1576 there should be a monopoly for the B.B.C.
Indeed, the B.B.C. seems to have realised this because it has taken to adding a new word to "public service". That new magic word is "comprehensive". That word occurs three times in the first four sentences of Lord Hill's introduction. This is very much the new idea.
With the abandonment of Reith, there is no more reason for the service to be comprehensive than for it to be a monopoly or for London Transport to have a monopoly of all transport in London. With the new concept, the B.B.C. should provide what it is uniquely fitted to provide; namely, a choice for those who do not like popular programmes financed by advertising. Therefore, I do not favour the B.B.C. taking advertising. One of the genuine choices that should be allowed is freedom from advertising on broadcasting for those people who do not want to have it.
Unfortunately, instead of attempting to do what it is uniquely fitted to do and leaving out what it is not, the B.B.C. appears to be intent on doing the exact opposite. The sacking of orchestras, which has been commented upon by many hon. Members, seems to be excessive. I have received the memorandum from the Musicians Union which I gather has been sent to the right hon. Gentleman. It says:The broadcasting organisation of France provides continuous employment in its own orchestras for 467 musicians. The organisation in the Federal Republic of Germany provides employment for (when the figures were last obtained) at least 1,200 musicians. The B.B.C., with a high international reputation, and a tradition of patronage, propose to adopt a plan that would guarantee employment for no more than 279 musicians.If these figures are correct the B.B.C. would seem to be abandoning its tradition of patronage in a wholly unjustified manner. I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said about patronage and the B.B.C.'s duties to protect and employ musicians.
The logic of the B.B.C.'s financial stringency, the logic of the desire to have local radio of some sort or another, and the logic of the competition already taking place in television suggest that part of the solution to the problem of the future of radio is to set up commercial 1577 local radio. The justification for a monopoly has disappeared. On the grounds of economy and freedom and on the ground of choice that monopoly should be broken, and I look forward to a system that will provide a choice for the listeners and a choice for the performers and that will also provide minority and cultural programmes of a high order. That is the sort of system that we should aim for.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)
I am astonished that the hon. Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour) should make a case for commercial radio apparently on grounds of choice. The comments made by some of my hon. Friends have clearly demonstrated that choice is precisely that commercial programmes do not provide, in all the experience of those countries who, unfortunately suffer under commercial systems. It is precisely the problem in the United States, where there are masses of precisely the same programmes on every channel at a certain time. My hon. Friends made that devastatingly clear. If we want choice, that is the main argument for a public service system.
I start from the belief that the major threat to our society comes from the danger of domination of narrow commercial values. That is why this debate is so important. If we are to preserve choice in the way we are to live in the 'seventies we must preserve a wide area of our lives where commercial advertising is not in control. That is why it is desperately important that the field that has already been taken over by commercialism in one form or another should be halted at this point. That is why it is desperately important that such a vital element in our lives—in education, in social matters and in every other way —as the B.B.C. should be retained in its present form. We have all heard comments made by sociologists that many of our young people receive far more in the way of education from what they see and hear on television and radio than from their normal official schooling.
The influence of these main channels is of immense importance. That is why I strongly believe that it would be wrong for the B.B.C. to open the door to advertising in any form. We have gone too far along that road already. Much of 1578 the social disease that we fear and suffer from today is traceable to this origin.
Having said that, I agree that I face the same problem as that which other hon. Members have to face. That being so, if we are denying the B.B.C.—and if it is denying itself—this source of easy revenue we must face the other challenge: how do we ensure that the B.B.C. obtains the revenue that it requires. We must face the problem frankly. We are deluding ourselves into considering the public rejection of paying an increased licence fee a danger. We are making this a bigger bogy than it need be. I am very conscious that many people are not paying the existing licence fee. I am disappointed that my right hon. Friend did not say more about the problem of evasion, which is a grave one. It is something of a scandal that these enormous sums of money—some people have mentioned £7½ million and others as much as £10 million—should be lost to the B.B.C.
Various ideas have been put forward to remedy the situation. It has been suggested that the Government should guarantee that sum, whatever it is, to give the Government and the Postmaster-General or his successor some incentive to claim that money back. I am far from satisfied that the Post Office is doing what it should be doing to get in that money. It is precious little interested in doing so. It has no immediate encouragement to do so. I fear that this is one of the matters in respect of which we could make a great advance. It is quite unacceptable that such a large number of people should batten on those who are paying the proper fee.
§ Mr. R. F. H. Dobson (Bristol, North-East)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there has been a large increase in the number of detector vans used by the Post Office? Is he also aware that the cost of recovery in this way represents a loss in terms of the total amount expended in trying to find those people who have evaded their licence fees.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
I am prepared to believe that, and I am not satisfied that we have gone far enough in other ways to check this evasion. We might do so at the time of purchase of sets. There are also ways of overcoming the evasion of the payment of car radio licence fees. 1579 Simple methods are available, if the Post Office were prepared to use them, to bring in that revenue. I hope to hear something from the Minister about the steps that the Post Office intends to take in this matter.
I agree that this would make a very big difference. Nevertheless, it is necessary to face the need for an increased licence fee. The proposal put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) might be a wise one, that is to say, the introduction of some form of annual or biennial collection of revenue that is fairly automatic, which would allow proper investigations being made. I agree with many hon. Members who suggest that there is some uncertainty about what the B.B.C. is really proposing. I agree that it would have been better if the B.B.C. had said, "We put before you our two proposals. First, what we want to give and what we believe we ought to give is a public service, maintaining as we think we ought to maintain the existing services. This is what it would mean financially, with proper economies where they can be achieved." They ought to put that before us and say, "This is what you will have to provide us with if you want us to do this job for you. If you deny us these funds, then alternatively this is what we shall be driven to do. These are the stark alternatives."
It would have been better if that approach had been made. I agree with some of my hon. Friends who have suggested—the point was made by the Postmaster-General himself—that the B.B.C. appears to be adopting purely commercial criteria, whereas we are saying that the maintenance of the work of the B.B.C. ought not to be tested purely on commercial grounds. We want the B.B.C. to be as efficient as possible. We accept that it is carrying out a most important function for the country, involving certain expenses that would not be met by a commercial channel. Therefore, in that respect I support strongly the warnings made by my right hon. Friend, but the corollary of the warning is the clear declaration that we are willing to find the money. This is what we must make clear tonight.
There are many proposals in the Report that we should welcome. Coming from the North-East as I do, I wel- 1580 come strongly the proposed changes with regard to the regions. I do not believe that the proposal to have eight regions in the future as against six is necessarily adequate. I accept that this is a part-time proposal and that it might be reviewed as time goes on and as finances become available. I know how bitterly we in the North-East have felt about the difficulty of control from Manchester of a whole northern region, including both the north-east and the north-west. I believe this has stifled a lot of initiative and fresh ideas in the development of both sound and television programmes. I welcome the possibility of that restriction being lifted as soon as possible, but, of course, this will mean money if it is going to be developed.
Some anxiety has been expressed as to whether the new proposals would mean the end of some of the very effective new developments in drama and in other fields which have come about with the assistance of the B.B.C. I hope very much that that will no be so. The new set-up of regions should ensure not the closing down of initiative but rather the encouragement of new initiative in many other areas. Therefore, some of the criticism of these proposals is misplaced, but we want to ensure that if it is to be done, finance will be provided for it.
The proposals relating to music programmes illustrate to some extent the uncertainty there must be in our minds. I accept that there is a limit to the level of patronage which the B.B.C. can provide. Even accepting the wide view about the B.B.C.'s public service duty, nevertheless it is right that from time to time there should be a review of what is being provided to ascertain whether it is of real value. I am not in a position to judge whether every one of the orchestras today would meet that kind of challenge. Therefore, one is fully entitled to carry out a review, but one has to justify any cut that is made. The Musicians' Union is quite right to direct attention to the guarantee that it thought it had from the B.B.C. about the maintenance of adequate employment of musicians. This again is a field where the B.B.C. will have to look again, bearing in mind that we should be prepared to face the financial commitments which are bound to be involved.
I come back to the point at which I started. I hope very much that this 1581 House will make clear that we are firmly opposed to the concept of extending the influence of commercialism and commercial advertising through the B.B.C. I hope that we shall make clear that we accept a public rôle for the B.B.C. which goes far beyond the restricted rôle of meeting a market demand, and that because we accept that wider rôle for the B.B.C., we ourselves accept the need to provide the finance that is needed.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ Dr. M. P. Winstanley (Cheadle)
I can say one thing at least which will not be contradicted. I shall be the only Liberal Member to speak in this debate. That means that I cannot do as other Members and concentrate on one particular aspect of the subject, leaving other colleagues to deal with the other aspects. I have to do my best to make a contribution on the whole, but within that important limitation I shall do my best to be brief. At the same time, I cannot regard the fact that a lot of hon. Members of other parties wish to speak as an acceptable reason for limiting the single contribution which will be made on the subject from this bench.
It would not be strictly accurate if I were to say that I was disappointed in this Report, since I was not expecting to be very pleased by it. But I think that, seen in relation to other B.B.C. reports on a variety of topics, this is disappointing. I believe that the future verdict of the B.B.C. itself will be that it is a disappointing report which might have been better had it not been made at all.
I accept that the B.B.C. has a right and a duty to give its views from time to time on any matters relating to broadcasting on which it wishes its views to be known, but I share the views expressed by the hon. Members for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) and for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) that the B.B.C. should have given us a more helpful document to discuss. In many ways the B.B.C. has been doing the wrong job. I do not accept that the broadcasting coat must now be cut from some arbitrarily fixed length of cloth. In other words, we should first decide what the nation needs in the way of radio and television broadcasting and then turn our attention to the complex question of how to finance 1582 it. The B.B.C. could have helped us by giving us a report more adapted to that particular end.
I wish to deal mainly with the regional aspects of this Report, but before doing so I want to make some general comments on various points in the Report. As I have said, it was in a way a mistaken exercise. We understand that the intention of the Report is to effect economies.
The economies which the Report recommends are almost all in programmes and there is very little about economies in the expensive field of engineering where there is scope for it. There is nothing about the conflict of interest with the Post Office over the renting of land lines as against the possible use of microwave links and, generally, nothing about economies in engineering. Also, there is nothing about major economies in the considerable public relations activities of the B.B.C., another important aspect, or about economies in administration and all the general questions which might come under the heading of "establishment"
I know that it may be argued that by the unwinding and dismantling of the regional headquarters some minor economy in administration, and possibly even in engineering, might be effected, but anyone who examines these proposals carefully will realise that this is not a valid answer to that argument.
It is astonishing that the B.B.C. should find it possible to put out a document which first recommends a cut in the number of musicians and orchestras, with redundancies of about 300, and then refers to the necessity for an extension of needle time. To put those two together suggests a lack of reality.
Third, there is a proposal for substantial changes to v.h.f. yet no recognition that the supplies of v.h.f. equipment are limited. Indeed, people in the industry believe that there may be a shortfall of more than half a million next year in the supply of v.h.f. sets and equipment to meet existing demand. If the Third Programme is to go over to v.h.f., for instance, other things have to be done if the supply of sets is to be adequate.
My fourth point is the general one which has already been made, that it is extraordinary that a document mainly concerned with economies should propose 1583 the spending of an additional £5.2 million on providing local radio.
Are the cuts necessary? I underline the points made about the importance of getting in licence money. The point was made by the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Boston), and has often been made by the hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris), that if a method could be found of ensuring that the B.B.C. collected the licence revenue, many of its financial difficulties would be over. I also endorse the point made in a Question by the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) the other day, about the need for the payment by education authorities to the B.B.C. for certain educational programmes. One could look for better arrangements with the Post Office over certain payments, and there are other sources of income, such as the sale of programmes overseas. Substantial savings or additional revenue could be derived which might make any cuts unnecessary.
We could occupy a whole debate with the question of advertising alone. We should all recognise that, by providing a continuous pop music channel, the B.B.C. is entering a field monopolised in other countries by commercial radio and is providing a programme identical to Radio Luxembourg, except that it does not have adverts. I do not wish to commit my party to ardent support of advertising as a source of income, but I do not turn my back on it or accept that if one wanted to introduce advertising on a continuous pop music channel one would somehow open the flood gates and would have to let it in on all the other channels. The continuous pop music channel is used to advertising and always has advertising in other countries. Advertising there would not be objectionable and would not lead to a spread of advertising to other programmes.
I would be prepared to support advertising as a source of income to finance local radio, if the body responsible for the sale of advertising time were totally separate from that responsible for the preparation and presentation of programmes. In other words, if there were an independent corporation charged with selling advertising time, totally separate from the units which made programmes, this might be acceptable. I should be 1584 willing to discuss it sympathetically and possibly to support it if that were the only way of deriving the revenue needed.
I endorse fully what many other hon. Members have said about orchestras and the need for patronage. This is not patronage in the sense of a charity. The B.B.C. is desperately dependent upon musicians. Without musicians and orchestras the B.B.C. would grind to a halt. It must recognise this with a better grace and much be ready to pay more fully for what it fully enjoys.
Has it yet been established that we need local radio? Maybe we do, but, if we do, has it yet been established what sort of price we should pay for it, what we are prepared to do without in order to have it? I should like more thought given to this. I commend highly the work already done on small budgets, which has achieved a considerable amount in the experimental stations, but whether we can at the moment afford to embark on this wholesale extension of local radio, as a public service has not yet been established. We should not take any steps on the basis of its being established yet.
The success of local radio hitherto has been purely because it is local. Because it has been serving a narrow catchment area, it has been able to secure a degree of audience involvement and participation which is not possible in other ways. Any tendency to extend the catchment areas of local radio—this is clearly what the Report envisages, since it appears to be pushing local radio almost as a substitute for regional broadcasting—would destroy local radio as it now is, yet provide nothing worthwhile in its place.
I have been concerned about the readiness with which people would allow local radio to be financed by or dependent upon local authorities. It would be paid for by the rates and there would be local broadcasting councils occupied by eminent, reliable and good people, but people who are often members of local councils. We have taken great care to separate the control of national broadcasting from national Government. This is the reason for the B.B.C. Charter and the Television Act—to keep broadcasting separate from this place. If this is so important in a national context, it is equally important to keep local broadcasting separate from local government. The business of local radio is to criticise 1585 local government and not to act as its mouthpiece. I do not suggest that it does so now, or would do so immediately, but I warn hon. Members on both sides, even those interested in commercial local radio provided under the control of local councils, that they should look again at this.
I am primarily concerned with regional broadcasting. Under the heading "The Regions", the Report says that the three nation regions serve homogeneous communities, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. It says that the English regions have no such homogeneity and gives evidence of this by demonstrating that the Northern Region must cover Liverpool and Newcastle and Manchester and Hull. Yet it is perfectly prepared to regard as homogeneous a Scottish region including Glasgow and the Orkneys. I cannot accept that as a logical argument.
My conception of regional broadcasting is not a region talking to a region. If something is interesting from the broadcasting point of view, it is interesting wherever it happens. If it is not interesting, it does not become interesting merely because it is happening nearby. In local radio, yes—Mrs. Jones may be interested in what is happening to Mrs. Smith if Mrs. Smith lives half a mile away. But if it is happening further away, outside the community, broadcasting material depends on its innate interest, and not its local characteristics. In other words, the activities of Bolton are of no more interest to people in Bury than if they were happening in Bognor Regis.
My idea of regional broadcasting is not parochial broadcasting, but an opportunity for a region to make its own individual regional contribution to the national whole. I would like to see the Northern and other regions looking at national and international events through regional eyes and doing programmes for the national network. I do not say that they will be any better. I do not say that a programme produced and initiated in Manchester is better than one similarly produced in London, but it is different, and its difference is of a kind that we should try to protect. The regions should be able to give a regional flavour to universal themes and make their regional contribution to the national whole. I do not think that the document 1586 provides for that, though it may provide more opportunities for parochial broadcasting.
The hon. Member for South Shields talks about distributing the resources of a region better over a region. I would accept that. If he wants to say that we should redistribute and redispose the resources in the Northern Region over the Northern Region as a whole, I would accept it, provided there is an increase in the regional resources as a whole, and somewhere in the region there is a mother or father station capable of doing the major programmes, and feeding them through to the national network. A region should be able to put out major drama on television—this debate concerns television as well—major light entertainment, and major current affairs programmes—not all the time, but sometimes. If we divide the present limited resources of the region into small pieces dotted about over the region, we destroy its capacity to do that.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
Does the hon. Gentleman accept the need to ensure that an area as big as the North East has an opportunity to develop its own talents?
§ Dr. Winstanley
I entirely accept that, and I want to see it in the regions and parts of regions.
Again, I quote Manchester, which has an interesting history, as has the whole North West, in terms of the drama, producing playwrights, actors and so on. Liverpool is now the home of light entertainment. It is important to establish the principle that people who feel that they can make a major contribution to broadcasting, whether in radio or television, should have an opportunity—I do not say a big one—to make it without having to move to London. There has grown up within B.B.C. staffs in the regions the feeling that the only badge of a successful B.B.C. career is a single ticket to London. There have remained loyally in the Northern Region talented people who could, given the opportunity, make major contributions. They have stuck it out because they expected an expansion of their opportunities and not what they now see, a probable contraction. It seems to me that in all these particulars the document points in the opposite direction to Redcliffe-Maud and I find this very regrettable.
1587 I would quote many authorities for this, but time prevents me. I could quote Sir William Mather, Chairman of the North West Region Economic Planning Council and his predecessor, Mr. Charles Carter. To those who say that the present plan provides these regional opportunities I would quote Mr. Kenneth Adam's article in the Evening News on 10th July, when he said:Reading not even between the lines, but actually as they are printed for all to see, this document foreshadows the end of Regional Broadcasting as it has been known for a generation and more, … there is little or no provision for England outside London to make a national contribution.The proposal to enable the new eight centres to work up a total of 400 new programmes a year is one for local consumption only.As for the idea of having a 'senior executive' to nourish creative talent in Birmingham, Bristol and Manchester, one wonders what the controllers and programme heads of these centres think they have been doing all this time.The creation of a 'senior controller' representing the regions and local stations to central management is a throwback to an experiment in the thirties which failed absymally.I quote that for the benefit of those who feel that the plan offers additional regional opportunities. I do not think that it does. Even Mr. Robert Stead, the North Region Controller, has expressed anxieties about the kind of opportunities he and his staff in the North might have, under these proposals, of making major contributions to the national whole.
I am glad that the Postmaster-General has not swallowed the whole document and said that the Government accept it all. I do not criticise him, as others have done, for not saying, "We are going to do this or that." I am glad that he did not say, "We shall do this with local radio", because I believe that local radio is one part of the whole, and we should look at broadcasting policy as a whole.
Some time ago I had the honour of opening a debate for the Liberal Party here on a so-called half Supply day in 1967, the first we had had for 20 or 30 years, when the present Secretary of State for Education and Science, then Postmaster-General, said:There remains beyond all this the question of the longer-term organisation of broadcasting in Britain … I cannot see the present 1588 kind of organisation lasting for more than the decade which we have ahead of us …He then explained why he had arranged that the I.T.A., B.B.C. and relay companies' licences would all terminate at the same time. He added that with the new arrangements for Post Office reorganization… the … Minister will be able to devote a great deal more of his time to broadcasting, and I hope that, in the spring of 1969, a long, cool look will begin at the whole system of broadcasting in this country.He concluded:I believe that a much more original solution than Pilkington will be required. I regard it as a supremely suitable topic for this House to rise above party politics and try to find a consensus."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th June, 1967; Vol. 749, c. 455–6]When the right hon. Gentleman makes that attempt to find a consensus, we shall be with him and shall assist him along those lines.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
In speaking to this subject, I should remind the House that I am a part-time member of the staff of Actors' Equity, but what I am about to say will not necessarily command the support of that body.
Nevertheless, I would like to begin by referring to a statement issued by the Federation of Broadcasting Unions, which includes Equity, the Musicians Union, the Association of Broadcasting Staffs—the B.B.C.'s own organization, the National Union of Journalists and the Writers Guild. The hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Boston) quoted from that statement, but what he did not say was that those organisations all collectively reject the B.B.C.'s document "Broadcasting in the Seventies". It is important to make the point that the unions reject it outright.
The unions' main reasons for this rejection are that the document involves a serious reduction in the provision of music programmes; involves the destruction of a number of B.B.C. orchestras and the B.B.C. Chorus; jeopardises the livelihood of the specialist staff associated with their output; and implies a reduction in the provision of drama, light entertainment and feature programmes.
I was therefore very pleased by the somewhat astringent attitude my right hon. Friend brought to it in opening the 1589 debate. Here I share the view of the hon. Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley), and I found myself in agreement with one or two of his other points. He asked for some indulgence because he was speaking for the Liberal Party, and as I am taking up some of my time in giving the views of organisations representing all those who work for the B.B.C. I hope that the House will be good enough to grant me a similar indulgence, beyond the three or four minutes that I normally think should limit my contributions to debate.
The rejection which the unions bring to the document is one which I support. I think that the B.B.C.'s proposals constitute an attempt to spread the butter of entertainment and the arts even more thinly over a larger number of slices of broadcasting bread. That is the substance of the objection. The B.B.C.'s attitude comes out in the attempt to extend even further its monopoly control of sound radio. I think that, despite what is says, the B.B.C. is really concerned to maintain its rule over the sound waves and that it is prepared to accept the consequence that the quality of the products that those waves carry will be reduced as a result of that determination.
The B.B.C. has consistently refused any consultation, in the sense of participation in decision-making, with the unions whose members provide the material which it broadcasts and the means by which it is transmitted. If, as a result of an unwise attempt to implement these proposals without effective consultation, the public should be deprived for any period of broadcasting by television or sound radio, it is as well to say now that the responsibility for that would lie firmly on the shoulders of the B.B.C. because there are in these proposals the seeds of the first really major dispute, uniting all those who work for the B.B.C. against the corporation. It is as well to say at this time that the seeds are there, and I am glad that my right hon. Friend brought an approach to this problem which I think will not precipitate the sort of thing that all of us would deeply regret if it were to occur.
§ Mr. H. P. G. Channon (Southend, West)
Can the hon. Gentleman tell the House whether any negotiations have taken place since the publication of this 1590 document between the unions and the B.B.C. and, if so, the state of play?
§ Mr. Jenkins
I shall be saying something of what has been said. There has been discussion since publication of this document. I say "discussion" rather than "negotiation" because I have myself some knowledge of what goes on in talking with the B.B.C. They are really more discussions than negotiations. One is told things rather than invited to express views.
As the Federation of Broadcasting Unions has said, it is not for the B.B.C. to say what the nature of broadcasting in the 1970s should be. As has been said on the benches opposite, it is for Parliament to decide, and also for Parliament to decide what shall be the rôle of the B.B.C. in the providing of these services.
If the B.B.C. suggests that saturation point has been reached in the number of licences which can be sold, then some other means of providing it with increasing revenue must be found if the corporation is not to face an annual decline in real income. In other words, a new situation seems to have arisen—and the B.B.C.'s response is to ignore it, to propose to expand the physical quantity of broadcasting at the cost of depreciating the product. "Never mind the quality", it says, "Feel the width".
The B.B.C. did not say in its public statement what it told the unions—and here I come to the point the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) inquired about—that it proposed to cut expenditure on sound radio by between 11 and 14 per cent. This means not only the music cuts which have been announced but also cuts in drama, light entertainment and features. The B.B.C.'s eight local radio stations have not employed between them a solitary professional performer even at minimum rates, and the B.B.C. has made it clear to the unions that, if it gets its project of 40 stations, they will still not employ one man or woman between them as professional performers or writers in any sector at the normal minimum rates negotiated by the unions concerned. The B.B.C. has admitted this to the unions. Therefore, where is this implementation of the White Paper on Broadcasting, what the White Paper called, in discussing the development of local radio, the "wide basis" on 1591 which to raise the musical culture of the country?
Where in these proposals is that wide basis? Where is the balanced output of top class drama? Where are the features and the light entertainment programmes which the White Paper said would be the consequence of this spread of sound radio? These things are nowhere in the B.B.C. document. All there is in it is a spreading out over a larger area. These proposals do not fulfil the White Paper. They throw it out of the window.
Should there then perhaps be a fresh look at the broadcasting scene or perhaps the whole communications scene? It is no use having Royal Commissions if their recommendations are ignored. It was a doctrinaire Conservative Government and perhaps a not very virile Opposition which allowed the programme companies to get their hands on the advertising revenue and to keep their hands on it instead of it being given to the I.T.A. itself, which was the original intention and which was recommended by the Pilkington Report.
It will be our fault and not the B.B.C.'s if this instrument of communication is allowed to take the foolish course which the corporation proposes for itself in its document. The B.B.C. is not only a means of communication but has been a great force for good in its own right. It is a patron, an educator, an enhancer of appreciation—which is what civilisation is about and not the moon—on a scale previously unknown to mankind. Inspite of her faults, there is something noble about "Auntie" B.B.C., and beside her the commercial radio lobby looks a rather paltry group. That group seems to think that the function of this tremendous medium is to stuff people with pap so that they will never want anything better.
The Labour Party is concerned about communications. In its policy statement adopted at the last annual conference it said that three problems arise from the multiplication of the communications media. Two of them I will mention in passing—the superficiality of treatment and the question of the indoctrination of children. The policy statement said:… the cost of modern media services is so high that advertising revenue presents itself as central to the needs of otherwise non-commercial communications.1592 The Labour Party regards, in other words, the question of advertising revenue as an essential part of the whole communications problem. I think that it is well to do that. It recommended that the communications scene should be looked at as a whole, and I agree.
This the B.B.C. is unable to do, but we are able to do it, and if we fail to do it we shall betray our functions and, what is more, come to the wrong conclusions. If we take a glance at the communications wood and avoid becoming bemused by the great B.B.C. tree, we shall be astonished by its strangeness. The newspapers are privately owned, radio is publicly owned and television is a mixed economy. Each of them is equally convinced that any change in the form of its financing would be injurious to its freedom and to the welfare of society as a whole. This is possibly attributable to the conservatism of the human race but it does not make much sense. The nature of the transmission is what counts, and it is affected by the nature of the control of the ownership and not by the source of revenue.
The point is that it is necessary to set up a form of apartheid between advertisers and communicators so that the first may be prevented from influencing the second. If we make this separation and kept advertising in its proper place, it could be used for the public benefit. For example, this is done with most newspapers and certainly with the weeklies. Nobody suggests that the opinions of the weeklies or even of the major Sundays, or the major daily newspapers, are conditioned, governed or controlled by advertising, although, of course, there are certain exceptions. Generally the advertising is kept on one side and is used instead of being allowed to become the master.
If we allowed advertisers to control the medium, as in American television and radio, they could destroy it. Water can either irrigate parched land or flood it to destruction—it depends on whether it is controlled. Exactly the same is the case with advertisers and their influence.
What is wrong with the Conservative Party proposals is that they propose to hand over the medium of radio to the advertisers. That would be disastrous. We have seen what the advertisers can do when they are out of control in pirate 1593 radio and in America. We can see on our own screens that they can spoil a medium even when under partial control, as is the case with the I.T.A.
The proposals which I have placed before the Prime Minister and the Postmaster-General and which were outlined in the Sunday Times ten days ago are designed to use the revenue from advertising for the public benefit and simultaneously to reduce the influence of advertising over the media.
First, the Independent Television Authority would be reorganised. It would receive the advertising revenue which now goes to the programme contractors. It would hire the programme contractors, as was recommended by the Pilkington Committee, and as was the original and proper intention. It would be responsible for Radio One and perhaps for Radio Two and it would be a parent station for local radio. All these channels would take advertising, but only between programmes. The so-called "natural break" would come to an end.
After deduction of its programme costs, the I.T.A. would hand over the balance of the advertising revenue to the Postmaster-General. It would not go to the Treasury as at present. This sum, now over £20 million a year and growing still, the Postmaster-General would redistribute to the B.B.C. and the local radio stations according to their needs. This huge sum would provide the money solely needed in the communications media, and it would be the means of preventing the B.B.C. from going the way the B.B.C. suggests in its document that it must go.
§ Mr. Bryan
I appreciate that much thought has gone into the hon. Gentleman's plan. However, the great snag about it, as with so many other plans by hon. Members opposite, is money. The sum is not £20 million but £29 million. This year that sum will be paid as a levy. It is not likely that a Chancellor of the Exchequer of my party or of the hon. Gentleman's party would give up that sum. Such a chance is not a basis on which to base a programme.
§ Mr. Jenkins
This is the most difficult part of my proposals—getting the money out of the Treasury. But let us consider the Treasury's justification for receiving this money. It is that a franchise has been given to private enterprise which is so 1594 profitable that large sums of money are going into the pockets of individuals and that even a Conservative Government found it necessary to impose a levy, because of the consequences of the franchise which had been given to individuals and which some of them described as being like to a licence to print money. But once the money is going not into the pockets of private companies and individuals but to a public authority the Treasury loses its justification for the levy. The authority would have to pay taxation as much as anybody else and the Treasury's argument for hanging on to the levy would be much weakened.
Under my proposal, the B.B.C. would take no advertising but would subsist on licence revenue, which I personally would not hesitate to increase if necessary, but which would not need to be increased under these proposals, because the B.B.C. could acquire ample revenue for its two television channels and for Radio Three and Radio Four, even in their present form and in their more flourishing form as they would be with my proposals for a redistribution.
The Treasury would not lightly give up the money and it would have to be a Cabinet decision, but a wise Cabinet would do well to come to the conclusion which I have suggested. The essential consideration is that the medium shall be publicly and not commercially owned. The distinction which I wish to draw is that my proposal is for public service radio financed by advertising revenue.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Ray Mawby (Totnes)
I hope that the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) will forgive me if I do not comment on his speech, have already decided to dispense with many of the comments I intended to make so that I may keep my remarks as short as possible in the interests of other hon. Members who wish to speak.
What concerns me about the plan is its constant reference to v.h.f. Hon. Members will probably have raised their eyebrows on seeing my name accompanying that of the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Whitaker) as signatories to a Motion urging the B.B.C. not to transfer its music programme on Radio Three to very high frequency.
In its document, the B.B.C. says that there are still people without television, 1595 or with a personal preference for radio, but that most people now regard radio as being mainly for the daytime. There are a few people, such as those who drive in the evening, who cannot watch television, but what is important is that most radios are still capable of receiving medium and long wave length signals and there is no reason why, with the technical advances since the Copenhagen Convention, most programmes now going out on medium or long wavelengths should not continue to do so. There seem to be other considerations preventing this from happening.
The G.P.O. issued a Press statement for release on 25th June last in which it referred to the European Broadcasting Convention of 1948. That laid down programme wavelengths agreed between member nations and said that if a country wished to make a change it could apply under Article 8 of the Convention for a change to be made. The G.P.O.s statement pointed out that… the United Kingdom has never invoked Article 8 for the U.K. domestic broadcasting servicesAlthough that was a firm statement, I had received a letter dated 1st March, 1968, from the G.P.O.—it was addressed to the Inter-telecommunications Union—the last sentence of which said:I have to request that you will apply Article 8 of the above mentioned Convention and inform all other administrations of these proposalsI naturally thought that the G.P.O. Press statement had contained a misprint. Accordingly, I tabled a Question to the Postmaster-General asking him on 3rd July last… whether the United Kingdom has at any time made use of the procedures prescribed in Article 8 of the Copenhagen European Broadcasting Convention for the establishment of medium frequency broadcasting servicesThe Answer I received was:Yes, in respect only of frequencies allocated in the plan for the use of the United Kingdom." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd July, 1969; Vol. 786, c. 118–9.]The mystery deepens because notification was given to I.T.U. when Radio Nicosia was brought into operation; and the name of the operator of that station is registered as the United Kingdom Government. This station was, and still is, using the same frequency as that used by Radio Luxembourg.
1596 Far from our never having applied under Article 8, we have applied on a number of occasions, not only for domestic programmes but also for overseas programmes. One need only study the various applications that we have made to see that a lot of nonsense has been talked about the sanctity of the Copenhagen Convention. For example, one application was made for Malta and another for Halfaya. They share wavelengths with stations in other parts of the world. Right now on 202 metres there are at least 108 sharing stations.
The latest technical advances, with sophisticated aerial systems enable broadcasting services to share wavelengths without any possibility of them interfering with one another. As I have explained, this is happening now. Nicosia is not interfering with Luxembourg and Malta and Halfaya are not interfering with some of the high-powered stations in Spain and points even nearer.
If we clear our minds of the suggestion that we should not apply under Article 8 for changes to be made in the wavelength and if we really consider the technical question of the possibility of sharing, we can reach the right decisions. I am assured by the technical experts that, with modern sophisticated aerial systems, it is even possible for local radio to be operated—by of course either the B.B.C. or commercial companies—on the medium wavelength without interfering with other stations. It is, therefore, important that the B.B.C. and the G.P.O. should seriously consider this point because it could solve a number of problems.
It is said that local broadcasting goes out on v.h.f. and is a success. How much more of a success would it be on the medium wavelength, remembering that elderly people may have no intention of changing their sets or cannot afford to do so? How many listeners would suddenly be added to these services if they were transmitted on the medium wavelength?
It is also said that music programmes have a higher fidelity on v.h.f., and nobody questions this. However, if these programmes could also be received on the medium or long wave bands the listenership would be vastly increased. This would provide an alternative in that people could receive local broadcasting, particularly with Radio Three on v.h.f. 1597 If local broadcasting can be received only on v.h.f., a large number of people will be unable to enjoy it.
§ Mr. Dobson
Is there not plenty of technical evidence to the effect that it is not possible to restrict local radio to medium waves and that it is very difficult internationally to control medium waves, despite all the modern advances in aerial and other propagation systems?
§ Mr. Mawby
If that is so, I wonder why the Post Office adopts its present attitude. Rather than argue out the technical difficulties, it tends to say, as in the Press handout, that there is the difficulty of the Copenhagen Convention and then goes on to say that the United Kingdom has never applied under Article 8, whereas I have sought to prove that it has done so on a number of occasions. This should be confined to a technical discussion. Whenever someone says, "I have a sophisticated aerial structure which will be able to form a pattern of broadcasting which I can guarantee will not interfere with someone operating another station on the same wavelength", opportunity should be given to try it out so that we do not deliberately turn down new ideas which could be of great assistance to a number of people who either have no intention of buying v.h.f. sets or, even if they did, could not afford them.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hannan (Glasgow, Maryhill)
We all have great sympathy with any body like the B.B.C. in dealing with problems such as those outlined in its publication. But I am disappointed that the various facets and alternatives to remedy the situation in which it touches and then seems to run away from are not put more starkly and clearly. There seems to be a lack of candour and clarity, and it is very much a matter of inference and implication. Only two issues seem to be emphasised, and they are made to appear to be the only issues worth troubling about. One is that there is an economic crisis for radio, and the other is that the regional orchestras are at risk. It is with the threatened abandonment of the Scottish Symphony Orchestra that I wish particularly to deal. However, before doing so, I owe it to the House, like other hon. Members, to state a view as to how the B.B.C. might try to find the necessary money either within 1598 its present allocation and resources or by increasing its income.
There seem to be three assumptions in the publication which we are asked to accept and which are implicit. One is that local radio systems should continue to be developed. The second is that pop music should continue to be provided for 21 out of 24 hours as a public service. The third is that we should continue to pay what is generally accepted to be the lowest radio fee in the world for what is undoubtedly the best service. I do not accept one of those three assumptions.
I am sorry to disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Boston) about whether local radio has all the advantages claimed for it. However, if it is suggested that local radio stations should be developed at the expense of the orchestras and their musicians, I do not accept it. The B.B.C.s answer to the pirate stations was to provide Radio One, which stopped the pirates, but ruined the B.B.C.'s finances. It was at that point that the B.B.C. should have dug itself in and asked who was to pay for it. I leave that argument to pass on to the next point.
Much more to the point of this debate—and here I agree heartily with the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes)—is whether Radio One is to be allowed to ruin other well-established standards, too. Socially, it seems inappropriate to me that a public corporation operating under Royal Charter should be trafficking in the modern opium of the people called pop. I should like to qualify that by saying that I am not against a reasonable provision of it, but 21 out of 24 hours is just too much.
What really is at stake is nothing else than the whole purpose and future of the B.B.C. I agree with Patrick Huther, who wrote in the Sunday Telegraph of 13th July, when he referred to Radio One. This point is stressed by the Musicians Union, of which at one time I had the honour of being a member. He said of Radio One thatIts main hearers are teenagers who (a) are in general affluent and (b) pay nothing for the privilege of listening since their transistor sets do not require separate licensing if their parents hold a licence. Simple economic judgment might suggest charging them something.There, too, is a source of cutting back and getting revenue.
1599 The third point, however, is that which was made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) when he drew attention—this is a point for my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General—to the need for firm action to deal with the thieves and cheats who are indulging in licence evasion to the extent of £10 million a year. This is done by the same type of irresponsible citizen who hides behind his newspaper on the top of a bus in an effort to avoid paying his fare. My right hon. Friend must deal with this abuse urgently and effectively on behalf of the vast majority of citizens who are responsible and are called upon to carry the can either by the loss of valuable orchestras such as we are threatened with or by increased licence fees.
The B.B.C. admits that disbanding the Scottish Symphony Orchestra would be disastrous and it implies that some other body should take the responsibility. Why is it not frank about it? If the B.B.C. means to abandon its patronage of the arts, let it say so. That would mean an amendment of its Charter. If, on the other hand, as I suspect, the corporation is saying that it needs an extra subvention to continue its patronage, this is a matter for the House. Together with my hon. Friends, I would be prepared to say that if the radio fee has to be increased to do this, the people get such value for the fee which they pay that this is a reasonable suggestion.
The B.B.C. Controller in Scotland has already said that the dropping of the orchestra would be disastrous. He said:It is high time anyway that the people of Scotland and the Arts Council carried a greater burden than they do at present.What he did not say, however—and this is important—was whether, in that event, the B.B.C. would continue to engage the orchestra on a similar number of occasions as hitherto.
That impression was strengthened in my assessment of the talks which took place last week at Broadcasting House between Lord Hill and Scottish Members, from both sides of the House, when the term "only minimum use" was used. Nor does the B.B.C., apparently, desire to suggest an increase in the licence fee. It avoids that odium, presumably, because it wants the Government to do it. It 1600 was much more encouraging to hear my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General, in opening the debate, say what he did about the orchestras, and we are very much encouraged by that.
The B.B.C. is getting into an imbalance. If the B.B.C. intends, as it says, not only to maintain but to develop these responsibilities, it is proceeding in a peculiar way by proposing to disband an orchestra of the quality of the Scottish Symphony Orchestra. The B.B.C. refuses to follow the logic of its case, and if further evidence of its logic is needed, hon. Members have already been referred to the terms of the White Paper.
I hope that I can convey to my right hon. Friend, to Ministers and to the Governors of the B.B.C. adequately and in measured terms the strong feelings of resentment and opposition to the proposal about the Scottish Symphony Orchestra. The services which this orchestra gives to the community, not only in the provision of music but as by-products of its presence in Scotland, have not been adequately stated.
There is dismay and apprehension for the future of musical education, the appreciation of music and the quality of listening in Scotland should this grievous prospect become a reality. It comes at a time when there is an increasing demand for orchestral music, and increasing interest among our young people and virtually a renaissance in Scotland, much of which, ironically enough, is due to the public patronage of music in the past by the B.B.C. The B.B.C. has been badly and sadly advised on this matter and must be urged to reconsider it.
The Chairman of the Scottish Arts Council has protested to the B.B.C. The Council does not accept the grounds and principles on which this proposal is based, and regrets that the B.B.C. did not seek the views of any representative body in Scotland, other than the Corporation's own Broadcasting Council for Scotland, before taking the decision.
One of the strongest criticisms is that Mr. John Noble, the Chairman of the Music Committee of the B.B.C.'s Scottish Broadcasting Council was not even consulted. Mr. John Noble is known to many hon. Members, and particularly to the right hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. Michael Noble). Mr. Noble has been 1601 one of the letter-writers to Press editors who has complained bitterly at the prospective loss of the orchestra. On Friday of last week in the Glasgow Herald Mr. Noble wrote this:So far as I can discover, no one in Scotland with real knowledge of the state of affairs was consulted, either in the preliminary or in the concluding stages of the enquiry, about the effect on our musical life.The Press in Scotland has unanimously condemned this proposal, so-called responsible and popular papers alike. One of the more forthright letters appeared in a so-called popular paper, and, if I shock the House by quoting, the House will appreciate that the letter was printed. This letter to the Evening Times of 6th July contains this passage:It goes without saying that … the B.B.C. will go on handing out fantastic fees to the never-ending string of long haired gyrating gits who pass themselves off as guitarists. Few of them would know the treble clef from the bass, but they earn as much in a night as would maintain a decent sized orchestra of legitimate musicians for a week.This may not be elegant language, but, by God, it is accurate and true.
The Trades Council of Glasgow and other working class organisations are expressing themselves strongly. The protests are coming not only from certain select sections of the community. The elevation of the mediocre and the encouragement of pop programmes are doing great damage. The impression is abroad that the B.B.C. is more concerned with counting heads than with the pursuit of ideals and that it has abandoned the previous rôle and purpose of its predecessors.
Some 500 young people from school orchestras meet together every year at Toward Castle and members of the S.S.O. become their instructors and conductors. Members of the orchestra teach in the Royal Academy of Music, and the conductor of the orchestra has undertaken the onerous job of agreeing to conduct the Royal Academy Orchestra in Glasgow. These are some of the facts.
The third aspect is that the Scottish National Orchestra will itself suffer if S.S.O. goes since both are complementary. If left on the scene on its own, the Scottish National Orchestra will not be able to carry out its job as well as it undertakes it at the moment. Employment opportunities for young graduates of the academy will go and they will be forced 1602 to come south to England instead of remaining in Scotland. The orchestra has rendered wonderful service in accompanying choral and amateur operatic societies who are placed in a critical situation owing to a shortage of professional accompaniment and advice.
Scottish opera, which is such a recent and valuable acquisition to the musical life of Scotland, and to which so many worthy people have devoted time, money and energy will be dealt a body blow if the orchestra is lost. Visiting ballet companies at the Edinburgh Festival and the Theatre Ballet Company, which has also recently come to Scotland, will suffer greatly. The Scottish Symphony Orchestra, almost alone, plays new works by Scottish composers, of whom there are now 12 in Scotland, whereas 30 years ago there were only two or three.
The policies of successive controllers, supported in the last 15 years by the National Broadcasting Council for Scotland, have been to give two-year engagements to young assistant conductors rather than to have a visiting conductor each week, I apologise to the House for speaking so strongly, but the B.B.C. Governors must be under no misapprehension. If the orchestra goes it will be a disaster for the future educational prospects of young people in Scotland.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. George Younger (Ayr)
I will not repeat anything that has been said by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Hannan); in that way I hope that I shall manage to keep down the length of time for which I will detain the House. However, I should like to say that I entirely agree with everything the hon. Gentleman said. He put the case extremely well. The proposal of the B.B.C. to remove the Scottish Symphony Orchestra is a matter which has disturbed everybody.
I was extremely pleased to hear what was said by the Postmaster-General when he opened the debate this afternoon. It seemed to me that he struck the right note and made clear the view he expressed, which I think will be supported by hon. Members on all sides of the House, that the B.B.C. must think again about this proposal. I refer particularly to the proposal as it affects Scotland.
The sum and substance of the case is that we cannot maintain the present most 1603 encouraging and successful musical life which we are at the moment building up in Scotland on the basis of only one major, professional, full-time orchestra—since that is what would be left if the B.B.C. Scottish Symphony Orchestra were to be abolished as planned. We could not maintain Scottish opera and ballet and the series of weekly public concerts in the main cities. The National Orchestra could not undertake to carry on the job of the Scottish Symphony Orchestra and could not get as far afield.
The effect on the teaching of music in Scotland is desperately serious. I happen to be a Governor of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill mentioned that the Academy Orchestra is exceptionally good, and its efforts will be greatly depreciated if Mr. James Loughran, the conductor of the B.B.C. Scottish Symphony Orchestra, is removed from the scene. Another aspect worthy of mention is that of the members of the Orchestra no fewer than nine are teachers of instruments in the Royal Scottish Academy of Music.
I ask any hon. Member who cares to think about it to imagine what he would do if he were the principal of an academy of music teaching music students the widest possible musical experience if, suddenly, within the next year, he had no fewer than nine of his instrumental teachers removed from his classes. Who is to find fresh teachers for such unusual instruments as the contrabassoon, the cor anglais or the harp, all of which are essential for the full functioning of a modern academy of music?
It is sometimes forgotten that the removal of this orchestra will reduce by about one-third the number of full-time professional musicians engaged in orchestral work in Scotland. I hope that the most encouraging attitude taken up by the Postmaster-General will be passed on to the very top of the B.B.C., so that it is made to realise that, if it goes ahead with its intention to disband the orchestra, its action will be a clear abandonment of what we have all come to expect in the way of a pratronage rôle for the B.B.C.
We are the people who must give the B.B.C. its brief. This House must decide what it wants the B.B.C. to do. Do we want the British Broadcasting Corpora- 1604 tion, which we have known for so long, to abandon this orchestra simply because it is not needed for broadcasting? That is what we have been told time and time again. We can produce all the arguments that we like about damage to the musical life of Scotland, but continually we come back to the fact that the orchestra is not needed for broadcasting.
Where does that argument lead us? If it is not necessary to have live orchestras for broadcasting, is it necessary to have live actors and actresses? Could not the B.B.C. fill the hours of broadcasting by replaying 20-year-old recordings of, say, "Man and Superman"? Could it not replay talks by distinguished people of the past in order to fill broadcasting time? This argument leads us down a slippery slope. The B.B.C. cannot abandon its rôle as a producer of live entertainment. It cannot take to the needle and the tape recorder and fill its hours of broadcasting at a cheap cost with recorded music, drama and talks by looking back through its archives for its material.
We must insist that the advantage of having a public service broadcasting system is that it is encouraged and has the means to produce live music and entertainment. If it is to abandon that rôle, the whole concept of public service broadcasting will come into question.
I would greatly regret that. It distresses me to be in disagreement with the B.B.C. because, ever since I was a boy, I have had the greatest admiration for it. The whole concept of the right to charge licence fees throughout the country and to give, in return, a truly public service broadcasting system is most valuable and successful, and we should be proud of it.
We are now told that there are too many orchestras to produce the music that is needed and that, instead, the B.B.C. will have more needle time. It is argued how good this will be for audiences who will be able to hear the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and the Boston Symphony Orchestra on records. We are asked to believe that this is better than hearing our own musicians playing in their own way and making their own contribution to music as they go along.
§ Mr. Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)
The public will hear these records only if they have v.h.f.
§ Mr. Younger
My hon. Friend is absolutely right.
I now turn to the use of records for everything. If we are to have the argument produced that it is better to have a wider choice from records from all over the world rather than our own orchestras, the B.B.C. is abandoning its production of live entertainment and setting itself up as a sort of musical public library. I contend that if we want to hear records of famous overseas orchestras and other records which are on sale, we can buy a radiogram or a record player, buy the records, and play them for ourselves. What we cannot do particularly if we live in remote areas, is hear our own musicians and orchestras and get pleasure from feeling that this is our contribution to musical life.
I should like to raise one point concerning the performance of B.B.C. Scotland. I know that the Controller has expressed himself as disturbed by the loss that he faces of his orchestra. Is it our wish that B.B.C. Scotland's contribution to broadcasting and art generally should be confined to the production of Scottish dance music, Scottish Highland music, Scottish songs and general Scottish light music? Excellent though that is, and much though I should deplore any reduction of it, is that all we wish B.B.C. Scotland to do? I believe that we require more of it than that.
If Scotland, Wales or any other nation is to have its place in the artistic and musical world, it must be able to give a full spectrum of contribution in art. It is not enough for a nation to produce its art in its own way and to send it to others. Although that is a very important function, it is also essential that Scotland should make its contribution to international art to show the world, through its broadcasting services, that it can produce a first rate orchestra to produce music of international standard as well as providing music of a very high standard in this country.
The justification for the B.B.C.'s Charter and its existence as a public broadcasting system depends upon its willingness to contribute live music and live art entertainment and to use its public service position to those ends. That is why I should deplore any suggestion that the B.B.C. be allowed to go ahead with the 1606 disbanding of the B.B.C. Scottish Orchestra.
What is to be done about this orchestra? I understand that no final decision has yet been taken. The B.B.C. made this clear last week. I welcome that very much. I hope that that decision will never be taken. But it is essential that we know before too long whether this orchestra is to survive. If uncertainty is allowed to drift on for weeks, months, or even more, obviously the members of this orchestra will feel that they have to think about their future and we will begin to lose the best players. The Minister has spoken in a most encouraging way today, but I beg the Government to tell the B.B.C. that it must make up its mind fairly quickly about the future of this orchestra or it will begin to disintegrate.
Should the worst happen, that the B.B.C. decides that this orchestra must go—I hate the thought of that and would never agree to it—it is absolutely unacceptable that it should be done at once. If the decision is that it has to go, we must be given at least two years of grace in which to find some substitute for all the work and the activities which this orchestra provides at present. Therefore, the least that we should be allowed to contemplate is a two-year reprieve as a warning that we must replace it somehow.
Those are the two things which I hope the Minister will now try to do, but because of all the arguments which have been advanced, I feel that we must now come to the conclusion that the B.B.C. should not be allowed to do this at all.
Finally, will the B.B.C. consider the timing of what it has suggested? This is the worst moment of all moments to remove one of the orchestras from Scotland. Over the past five years, musical life in Scotland has really begun to get under way in one of the most encouraging trends that I have seen. Suddenly our great orchestras, the National Orchestra, and the B.B.C. Orchestra., have blossomed forth. Their standards have gone up out of all recognition from what they were 10 to 15 years ago. We have the nucleus of a first-class international opera company in Scottish opera. People are beginning to believe that we can produce the best in music in Scotland, and beginning to see it when they go to concerts and Scottish opera. I hope that the B.B.C 1607 will not spoil this just when it is getting off the ground by withdrawing the B.B.C. Scottish Symphony Orchestra.
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
I am pleased that the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) has just returned to the Chamber. He made a most felicitous and courageous speech. Indeed he made it possible for some of us to speak much more briefly than we might otherwise have done. He deployed arguments which many of us on this side of the House would strongly endorse, but I think they came better from the right hon. Gentleman than they might have done from some of my right hon. and hon. Friends.
It will be unfortunate for the continuing discussion of this document on the future of broadcasting if the division of opinion is along party lines. There are others opposite, all of them honourable men, who share the views of the right hon. Member for Ashford, and I had hoped that there would be time for them to express themselves in this debate. I should have liked particularly to hear the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude). I honour him very much for the intellectual quality of his approach to this subject, and I know that he reflects a substantial measure of conservative opinion in this country.
I turn now to the speech with which the hon. Member for Howden (Mr. Bryan) opened the debate. I agree with him that this debate is of great public interest and importance. At times the hon. Gentleman was slighting of the B.B.C.'s achievements, and at others he was obscurantist. In his references to the experiment in local broadcasting he was at once slighting and obscurantist. The hon. Gentleman referred to the word "viable". These stations, as hon. Gentlemen speaking officially for the Opposition ought in justice to recognise, have been exciting, stimulating, and remarkably successful. Moreover, what has been achieved in the local broadcasting experiment is in keeping with the highest traditions of public service broadcasting in this country.
§ Mr. Morris
I have given an undertaking that I shall not speak at great 1608 length. The hon. Gentleman did not give way to me, and I hope that in view of my lack of time he will understand if I do not give way to him.
The hon. Gentleman recognised the intimidating financial problems of the B.B.C. But his mind appeared to be fixed on only one solution; that is, the admission of advertising revenue, especially in local broadcasting.
As my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General indicated, there are many other ways of dealing with the financial problems of the B.B.C. I believe that the suggestions of the hon. Member for Howden would carry little support, given any genuine measurement of Parliamentary opinion. He cleverly gave the impression that only the B.B.C. was against the idea of advertising in local broadcasting. I remind the House of the effect on our local Press of allowing advertising in local broadcasting. Regrettably, little mention has been made in the debate of the effect upon our local newspapers of siphoning off advertising revenue to local broadcasting stations.
§ Mr. Morris
My right hon. Friend made a fleeting reference to the local Press, but if there had been more time I am sure that he would have dwelt on the very experienced viewpoint of the Newspaper Society and the National Union of Journalists. He may perhaps also have made the point that even if the amount of revenue lost to the local Press is marginal it could nevertheless be enough to ensure the deaths of many excellent local newspapers. Marginal revenue can be extremely important.
It was a bad day for the hon. Member for Howden to speak so enthusiastically about the advantages of advertising in broadcasting. The Daily Express is not noted for its dislike of commercial television, but I notice that when referring to the historic happenings of Sunday and Monday, the great achievements of the American spacemen, it said:It was I.T.V.'s coverage of the most exciting moment in history—and as I suspected it could not have been in worse taste … This mixture of high history and 1609 low variety I found in the lowest possible taste. How do you match great achievement with such out-of-date humour?In previous debates I have referred to the way in which broadcasting can be debased if commercial interests are given a free rein. Thus, I am happy that my right hon. Friend dismissed the idea of allowing advertising in local broadcasting. He said that he would welcome suggestions about how to meet the financial problems of the B.B.C., and he has already received some suggestions from my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Boston), which to some extent reflect proposals I put forward on 3rd July.
I should like my right hon. Friend to consider the suggestion that whoever collects licence fees should have a cash interest in the result. The collector should benefit in proportion to his success in collecting. One of the present difficulties is that, although the B.B.C. pays £4½ million to the Government in collecting costs, it receives some £10 million less than its entitlement in licence fees. My proposiiton is that there should be a cash interest in the result for the institution which collects the fees. Second, why is it not made compulsory to produce a licence when a television set or radio is purchased or when a hire-purchase arrangement is renewed? Third, what consideration is being given to the question of grants in aid for educational broadcasting programmes put out by the B.B.C.?
Time is pressing very heavily and I must conclude this brief intervention as quickly as possible. In my approach to "Broadcasting in the Seventies" I have anxieties which reflect those of many other people who live in the B.B.C's English regions. They are anxieties about the balance of power between London on the one hand, and England outside London on the other. I hope very much that the B.B.C. will take careful note of the anxieties that have been expressed about the future of the English regions.
I had hoped also to refer to the B.B.C. as a patron of the arts and, in particular, to the future of the B.B.C's orchestras. It has been put to me by several hon. Members present tonight that we should recall what was said about the future of the orchestras in the Radio Times of 1610 18th July, 1968, and there are those who wish to remind the B.B.C. of what they regarded as an undertaking in the statement of that date. While I would not agree that the B.B.C. Scottish Orchestra is as good as the Northern Symphony Orchestra, nevertheless I hope it will be possible to save some of the orchestras now facing disbandment.
My right hon. Friend referred to what the Director-General said in a recent issue of Crossbow. He said that the Director-General had made a rather dangerous statement in that he appeared to be concerned almost exclusively with cost-effectiveness. But if an organisation has financial problems as intimidating as those of the B.B.C., it is very difficult not to have regard to the importance of costs. What else can the B.B.C. do if its financial problems make it necessary to look at the cost-effectiveness of every penny spent? One ought not to be criticised for taking the kind of exercises that the B.B.C. has been obliged to take because of its lack of adequate resources.
My final point is that I hope this debate will continue in the country and that the outcome will ensure the future of public service broadcasting in this country.
§ 9.17 p.m.
§ Mr. H. P. G. Channon (Southend, West)
The hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) has been unfortunate in having spoken for only a few minutes. It is, indeed, unfortunate that this debate has had to be truncated and that a number of hon. Members who would have liked to take part have been unable to do so. That is very sad, but I am certain that this is the first of several debates on this important issue.
I have no wish to be unduly critical this evening, but I must tell the right hon. Gentleman how very disappointed people both inside and outside the House are that he has been unable to make any statement this afternoon about the future of local radio. This has turned the debate, as has already been said, into a total non-event. Instead of being told the Government's plans for local radio we are now arguing in the dark. Nobody knows what the future will bring forward.
1611 As long ago as 11th November last year, the Postmaster-General said in the House:By July next year the eight stations will have been running for a year or so, and that will be the right time, I think, to review the experiment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th November, 1968; Vol. 772, c. 171.]Will the right hon. Gentleman now give his conclusions on the experiment and tell us what the future is? If he is not in a position to do that, what is his plan? Will he announce these very important decisions about the future during the Recess or wait until we come back in October? What is his programme? It is very inconvenient that the House has been asked to debate the plans today, for we have heard no plans from the Postmaster-General although there have been repeated requests that we should do so.
The Leader of the House said last Thursday:… my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General feels that the statement should await that debate."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th July, 1969; Vol. 787, c. 886.]There has been no statement about the future of local broadcasting. It will be a great pity if the statement is given during the Recess. We must know what the Government's plans are. The House naturally wants to know, and so do people outside the House, including the B.B.C. The people in the local radio stations must know. I must press the right hon. Gentleman. This is the most important single issue in the debate. Is there really nothing further that he can say about the future of local broadcasting today? If he cannot today when will he be able to say something about this? This has aroused widespread interest and all hon. Members are entitled to have an answer and to a debate on the Government's decision.
The paper "Broadcasting in the Seventies" goes far wider than only the issue of local broadcasting. Since its publication there has been a very full debate both inside and outside the House about the future of broadcasting in the seventies. Indeed, one hon. Member wisely pointed out that it is, of course, for Parliament to decide what the future of broadcasting should be in the seventies and what the rôle of the B.B.C. should 1612 be in any dispositions that Parliament chooses to make for the seventies.
The first question which this House has to answer is, why should we have a public service corporation, a British Broadcasting Corporation at all? Why is it essential to have a monopoly of sound broadcasting? What are the arguments in favour of this? My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour) did the House a service when he analysed the two interpretations that can be put on the term "public service corporation". But surely the reason for having a public service corporation, even if it sounds a little Reithian is that it is argued that such a service can provide the old Reithian function of elevating taste and catering for minorities. Lord Hill himself says in his Foreword to "Broadcasting in the Seventies":The B.B.C. unhesitatingly accepts that this Implies a responsibility to provide a comprehensive service meeting the needs of minorities as well as majorities.And I think a lot of the debate has resolved today around whether or not the B.B.C. had managed to achieve what Lord Hill sets out in his Foreword.
Many hon. Members have said how widely admired the B.B.C. has been and still is, how it still probably provides the best broadcasting service in the world. I would like to add my tribute. It is unnecessary to go on at great length; this is deeply felt by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and deeply felt by the general public. I have considerable sympathy for the B.B.C. In its financial difficulties, it was faced with unpalatable alternatives and had to try to produce a rational plan for the 1970s. But has it succeeded in providing a plan that this House should approve? What will we get? On Radio One we will get a pop programme, on Radio Two light music, Radio Three will possibly be moved to V.H.F., the speech network on Radio Four, local stations, perhaps—if the Postmaster-General will provide the cash—and the disbandment of orchestras. Does that add up to a package which we should accept?
How will this proposal he implemented anyway? What will happen about needle time? We heard from the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) and other hon. Members about the reaction of the Musicians Union and the other unions to this proposal. It is rather 1613 curious procedure for the B.B.C. first of all to say that it will sack many musicians and at the same time also ask the Musicians Union to make a concession on needle time in order to help it to do so. Is this a practical proposal? Will it happen? I wish that the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. O'Malley) could take part in this debate, because we should be very interested in his views on that matter. Are we wasting our time discussing this document. Will it never come off at all? I have grave doubts as to whether it is practical at all.
The second point is that, at a time when the B.B.C. is arguing that it faces penury in the seventies, that it has to cut its coat to according to its cloth, at a time when these beggars cannot be choosers, it is suggested to us that an extra £5 million a year should be given to it for providing a whole series of local radio stations. At present, sound radio costs are about £21 million a year. The B.B.C. is asking for an extra £5 million a year, or a little more, to provide a new local radio service at a time when it is having to reduce its standards in the traditional rôle it has played in the past. I wonder whether the £5 million which has been quoted will be enough, even if it is available—and I wish that we were told whether it is to be made available to the B.B.C. from the Government. If it is, is it the right priority to spend the £5 million in providing a service that could be provided by others?
But perhaps it might be argued that that is an unfair criticism, that even if there is to be no extension of local radio something must be done because by 1974 there will be a deficit of nearly £12 million. But is that inevitable? I think that the right hon. Gentleman said that the evasion of licence fees accounts for about £7½ million a year. Is there no way of overcoming this? The Postmaster-General said that one of the things we may be able to do is to try to reduce the evasion. He did not say how he would set about this, perhaps wisely. We should be told what steps are being taken to reduce evasion. When it is running at £7½ million a year, are we seriously to take so dramatically a £12 million deficit over a five-year period? If even half the evasion were prevented, there would be a dramatic change in the finances of the B.B.C.
1614 The hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Boston) produced his revolutionary plan for solving the B.B.C.s financial problems. It is very attractive for the B.B.C., but I cannot see it being very attractive for the Government. It would provide a very expensive guarantee to the B.B.C. from general taxation of about £10 million a year, and I very much doubt that the Postmaster-General will tell us to night that that is a starter.
The B.B.C. often says that this is not just a question of financial considerations but that it is in favour of the proposals in any case, and thinks that they stand up on their merits. The House should subject that to critical analysis. The paper has not had a good reception, either in or outside the House.
The B.B.C. has always been a great musical patron. Until today I thought that it was the greatest musical patron in the world, but, having read the very interesting document from the Musicians Union, I am not so certain as I was. The broadcasting organisations of France and the Federal Republic of Germany provide employment for many more musicians than the B.B.C. But whether or not it is the greatest musical patron in the world, it is certainly a great musical patron. It provides an enormous amount of music for the general public, and satisfies a substantial public demand. If an organisation is to provide so much music and satisfy that demand, it has a responsibility to music—and live music. Do the proposals measure up to that responsibility?
The B.B.C. wants to cut out three orchestras, the B.B.C. Chorus and the training orchestra, and discussions are going on with the Arts Council about a number of other orchestras. I have no idea what the Arts Council can do. It does not possess a bottomless purse. The B.B.C. might as well have discussions with the Government about providing extra cash. Lord Goodman does not produce cash out of the air, magician though he is in many ways. The Government will have to provide the cash, and if it is to be provided, that is a decision for Parliament.
Musical standards have risen enormously in this country over the past few years, and opportunities have also greatly, increased, but there is still much to be 1615 done. There is a great deal to be done in musical education. The B.B.C. has played an important rôle in this, but the musical education system in this country is not yet satisfactory.
We need a clear study of our orchestral requirements. What do we need? What can we afford? How can our orchestras be provided and financed? We need a clear plan. Fortunately, we have a chance to solve these problems. The Arts Council has set up the Peacock Committee to make recommendations on the development and financing of our professional orchestral resources with particular reference to a whole number of matters. I draw attention to one of them in particular—broadcasting, television and recording.
Can the right hon. Gentleman assure us that the B.B.C. will be giving evidence to that Committee? Can we also have an assurance that the B.B.C. will not disband these orchestras while the Peacock Committee is sitting? The Committee is to report in a short time, and while the matter is under public inquiry it would be scandalous if the B.B.C. were to jump the gun and wind up these orchestras.
I am sorriest of all for the musicians whose careers have been threatened. Hon. Members have referred to the article in the Radio Times on 18th July, and I have great sympathy for what was said there. The B.B.C. took credit for setting up the Training Orchestra. The article said:To balance the long term effects of gramophone record time, the B.B.C. has given a guarantee of full time employment in its permanent orchestras to at least 500 musicians.Some guarantee! People who thought they had good and safe jobs with the B.B.C. have been sadly disillusioned. I often think that the people who criticise or who are not so keen on subsidies to the Arts overlook the fact that the people really subsidising the Arts are not this House and the country but the performers—the actors and musicians, who are over-worked and underpaid. These proposals are a serious blow to them.
Of course the B.B.C. has a right to look at its rôle as a patron of the arts, and I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said about that. Of course over a period of time it is right that its rôle should be 1616 changed if it is in the public interest to do so. But this is not the time to do it, particularly when the whole orchestral scene is being impartially examined. I hope that no decision will be taken until the Peacock Committee has reported.
I agree very much with what the hon. Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley) said about the effect of the proposals on regional drama on the young playwrights and people getting their chance. I hope that chances will be available to them under the new set-up as under the old regional set-up.
To me and to many hon. Members the most objectionable feature of these proposals is the transfer of Radio Three to v.h.f. Radio Three, the Music Programme, is to me the crowning triumph of the B.B.C. for which it has won worldwide renown and acclaim. It is true that on v.h.f. one gets better reception and no interference. But most of the population do not have v.h.f. sets. There is an enormous car audience. I have heard it suggested that perhaps not many of the car audience listen to Radio Three. I declare my interest. There has hardly been a day during the past six months when I have not listened to it on my car radio. Perhaps I am a prejudiced party, but I would lay a bet that a large number of other hon. Members do the same and that an enormous number of people listen to Radio Three on their car radios.
I understand that the B.B.C. says that there is no financial gain whatever to it in transferring Radio Three to v.h.f. There is no financial argument involved. It will make the transfer on its merits in that there are other items which, it says—but not in the paper—are better entitled to be on the medium wave than Radio Three.
The right hon. Gentleman went a long way this afternoon to satisfy us about the position in relation to the orchestras. Can he say something about the question of Radio Three going on to v.h.f. He cannot instruct the B.B.C.—perhaps he can, but I am not sure that he would want to. But can he at least tell the B.B.C. that it would be unfortunate if it carried out its proposal to transfer Radio Three to v.h.f.? This change would not allow the B.B.C. to effect any financial savings but it would cause much resentment and disappointment. I pay 1617 my tribute to the hon. Member for Faversham and my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Dudley Smith) and other hon. Members who have signed the relevant Motion for the part that they have played in forcing this issue to the attention of the public. I also include the Press and particularly the Sunday Times and I hope that the Postmaster-General will take serious note of what that Motion says.
I do not have the time to deal with the many other issues which have been raised in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Howden (Mr. Bryan) outlined our views about local radio. We do not agree with the Postmaster-General and hon. Members opposite about that, but I need not take up time by arguing that case because the arguments on either side are well known.
I listened to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) with a great deal of respect and attention, as every hon. Member listens to all his speeches. But after the experience of local radio in other parts of the world I do not know how he imagines that we shall not have learned from the mistakes made elsewhere. I am certain that if commercial local radio is set up in this country the dangers of mush and slush which the Postmaster-General mentioned will be avoided—the right hon. Gentleman always likes to catch the headlines by referring at the end of his speeches to "squalid capitalism", or "mush and slush", or something of the kind. It requires far more time than I now have to argue the case in detail.
Several hon. Members referred to a different way of financing the B.B.C. There are all sorts of possibilities. The Postmaster-General seemed to be clearly hinting at an increase in the licence fee, at least in due course. I ask him to be more specific. What are his proposals? Is there to be an increase in the licence fee, or can he tell us this evening that he does not propose to finance any of the suggested changes by an increase in the licence fee? He gave very clear hints, and it is not unfair to ask him what his proposals are.
This will no doubt be a continuing debate. We shall have to debate the subject again when the Postmaster-General gives his decision about local radio. It is an important and fascinating topic, not 1618 only for the '70s, but from then on. In his article in the Sunday Times, the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) said that we should look at the whole of the communications scene as a package and not at each bit of it in isolation That is probably right. Before the renewal of the Charter and before all the changes that may or may not take place, there will have to be a major review of broadcasting.
My hon. Friends and I and the Postmaster-General all have the same intentions, although we may disagree about detail. Should it fall to us to be in office in the next few years, we shall do everything in our power to ensure the continuation of the B.B.C.s magnificent record of providing an outstanding service which the country has come to know and to expect of the B.B.C., something of which every hon. Member is proud and which we are all determined to preserve and enhance and not allow to be weakened from whatever source.
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Stonehouse
With the leave of the House I will speak again.
This has been a remarkable debate. It has been marked by an absence of political controversy and by compliments and congratulations to the B.B.C. on the excellent job it does. The general view has been expressed that the B.B.C. is performing a valuable service.
There have been disagreements between the parties and within them about the way in which we should deal with this matter. An outstanding aspect of the debate has been the fact that so many hon. Members have come prepared with fresh ideas that they have worked out for themselves. These have been worked out with a great sense of objectivity, and this has been heartening.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) on his summing up of the debate for the Opposition, and I will respond, first, to some of the questions he asked. As for transferring Radio Three to v.h.f., I entirely endorse his remarks. It would be a most regrettable development. It would have the effect of reducing the potential audience for the music programme by about 60 per cent.
It is technically difficult as well as extremely expensive—if, indeed, it can 1619 be achieved—to install v.h.f. sets in motor cars to give good reception when vehicles are on the move. While I believe that it can be done, the prospect of its being done on a wide scale is extremely unlikely. Thus, the net effect of transferring the music programme to v.h.f. would be to prevent the reception of this programme in virtually 3 million cars, and that would be most regrettable.
The hon. Gentleman questioned me about the Peacock Committee of the Arts Council. I am sure that there will be no decision or action by the B.B.C. before this committee has considered its remit.
There have been some strictures on me because I have not given the House a clear statement of our intentions. How ever, the House must recognise that the document produced by the B.B.C. was issued only a fortnight ago, on 10th July. Several deputations have asked to see me, and I have arranged to discuss with them the implications of the announcement. It would have been wrong for me to have made a final statement on the local radio experiment before the House had had a chance to debate the wider issues raised in the announcements that have been made by the corporation.
§ Mr. Stonehouse
I think I can anticipate the hon. Gentleman. It was at one time my hope to be able to make an announcement about the results of the experiment. I have said that it has been extremely successful, but I think that it would have been a mistake to have reached a final decision about an extension of the experiment before the views of the House had been expressed.
§ Mr. Bryan
We have expressed surprise at the lack of a statement in view of what the Leader of the House said last Thursday when he commented, after pointing out that it was an important subject:…my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General feels that the statement should await that debate."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th July, 1969; Vol. 787, c. 886.]The right hon. Gentleman was referring to this debate. That is why we expected a statement today.
§ Mr. Stonehouse
I have made a statement applauding the results of the experiment. What I have sought from this debate and what I think I have obtained is some guidance from the House as to how this experiment should be financed. I agree that there is not a unanimous view on this. Some believe that advertising is the way to develop the service. Others are prepared to grasp the problem of increasing the fee, and strong arguments have been adduced for doing that.
The hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) talked about the leaks of the B.B.C. proposals. He is less than fair to the corporation, because during the process of debating and discussing the proposals internally there were found to be some leaks and it would have been quite wrong of the higher executives of the B.B.C. to have made public announcements about their proposals before the advisory committees had been consulted and other internal discussions had taken place. They have behaved in an entirely proper way. As they made clear, these are proposals, and they are prepared to respond to the points of view of the public and of the House. There cannot be any complaint about the way in which the corporation has brought forward its proposals.
As the House appreciates, the B.B.C. is in a very difficult dilemma. It has these demands put upon it to run certain services, and its financial restrictions are enormous. A number of suggestions have been made in the debate about how this matter should be dealt with. I was particularly pleased to hear various proposals for dealing with evasion. I applaud some of the suggestions, although the idea that the Government should guarantee the hypothecated amount which should be obtained from all those who have sets is open to very grave objections. First, the B.B.C. does not have a prescriptive right to the whole of this income. Indeed, the Treasury has the power to vary the percentage which the B.B.C. will receive. As the House may know, some of it has been retained in the past, but even if we were to guarantee the whole amount to the B.B.C. there can be no certainty exactly how much the amount should be. There could be a great deal of dispute about that.
1621 However, the biggest objection to this proposal is that it is tantamount to providing some sort of subsidy from the Exchequer. That would be a dangerous precedent to establish, and it would undermine the independence of the corporation, which I think we all admire and want to protect.
§ Dr. Winstanley
How does the right hon. Gentleman relate his statement just then with his previous willingness to rely on the rates for the support of local radio?
§ Mr. Stonehouse
We believe that the rates may be able to play a part in financing broadcasting; but there is no suggestion that they should be the major source of finance. They are simply a vehicle for the local municipalities to participate in the experiment.
We in the Post Office are very keen that evasion should be cut. I think that we can claim that in this respect we have achieved a great deal of success.
§ Mr. Boston
My right hon. Friend has referred to the question of indemnifying the B.B.C. against loss from evasion and said that there may be some dangers, which we can appreciate, in that this could be regarded as a Government subsidy. But this proposal can be distinguished completely from any direct subsidy. Further, does my right hon. Friend appreciate that we have reason to believe that there are those in the highest quarters in the corporation who would not regard this proposal as a threat to their independence?
§ Mr. Stonehouse
I have borne all that in mind, but on balance I reject the point of view.
I turn to the question of dealing with evasion. We have achieved a great deal. In January, 1967, there were just under 14 million television licence holders and 2 million evaders. The proportion of evaders was about 12 per cent. We now have 15½ million licence holders and the number of evaders is down to £1½ million, or down to 7 per cent. We can claim that in two years the percentage has been decreased quite considerably.
Since January, 1968, we have had the advantage of the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1967, and we have been receiving from the dealers the names and addresses of all those to whom they sell or rent 1622 television sets. This has helped us to catch up on a good deal of evasion. I would like to thank the dealers for the way they have co-operated with us in that.
I am inaugurating a new scheme to increase the detection of evasion. As the House knows, we have decided to increase the number of detector vans by 18 from the 20 which we now have or have on order. I am increasing the amount of advertising against evasion, both in the Press and on television. I hope that we shall be able to increase the income that we get as a result of this increased detection by at least £3½ million a year, so reducing the evasion to, perhaps, what will be the basic hard core that will be unavoidable; namely, about 5 per cent. of those who have television sets.
The House will also know that we have developed computerisation of the list that we receive from the dealers. We have a pilot scheme in Croydon, and in time all those who have television sets will be computerised and it will be possible for our evasion detection techniques to become even more efficient. I believe that in this way we shall reduce evasion to the very minimum that is acceptable.
§ Mr. English
Will my right hon. Friend concentrate on the London area? Is it not the case that 45 per cent. of the evaders are in London? If that is the case, why should the rest of us pay for the fact that half a million Londoners are successful crooks?
§ Mr. Stonehouse
I do not know whether I accept that percentage, but I accept that the Metropolis contains a great many evaders. One of the reasons for this is that so many of them are on the move. When dealing with the big towns, and particularly the Metropolis, where so many people live for only a short time in a flat or house, it is not particularly easy—and, indeed, it is extremely expensive—to try to catch up on all of them. We are, however, turning our attention to deal with evasion whether in the Metropolis or elsewhere.
I should like to thank hon. Member as for what they have said about the patronage responsibility of the B.B.C. I belive that this point has been received with unanimity in the House. I do not think that any speech today has absolved 1623 the B.B.C. from that responsibility. I hope that the corporation takes note of this and that the House, on its side, takes note of its responsibility in providing for the B.B.C. the financial wherewithal that it requires so that it can meet its financial responsibilities.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
The right hon. Gentleman suggested earlier that he thought that a case had been made today for an increase in the licence fee. Does this mean that a request has been made to him for an increase in the B.B.C. licence fee? Does one detect a favourable glint in his eye towards it?
I am not suggesting that at all. I am suggesting that the logic of today's debate seems to point in that direction. In speeches made from both sides of the House, it has been recognised that our fee in this country is less than most others. Indeed, it is as much as £2 less than the fees being charged in the rest of Europe. I believe that the House generally accepts that this is a reasonable way out of the B.B.C.'s dilemma. I am sure that the Deputy Chief Whip, who has attended most of the debate, would have been delighted, wearing his other hat, to have heard the speeches which have been made about the position of the musicians.
There is general acceptance on both sides of the House that the B.B.C. has a patronage responsibility beyond its simple broadcasting requirements to maintain its orchestras.
I was most impressed with the points put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) against the concept of commercialism. I agree absolutely that commercial radio will not provide a choice. If we were to follow the road suggested by some Opposition spokesmen, we should be lowering radio's standards in Britain and providing a great deal of "mush"—a word which I did not myself invent but which I borrowed from the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths), who used it about the "pirates".
I believe that the B.B.C. has done an excellent job in the local radio experiment. In the communities that have enjoyed the experiment a great anxiety has been shown that it should continue. Hon. Members in whose constituencies 1624 the experiment has been conducted have reported to me that it has been a fair success. There has been divided views about the way in which it should continue, but, generally speaking, hon. Members support the idea that the experiment in these eight towns should continue. We must now look seriously at the ways in which the experiment can be financed, and I undertake at the earliest time to make a statement about the decisions at which I arrive in this respect.
I accept that today's debate is by no means the end of the road. There will have to be continuing debate on all these subjects, which are of great concern to all our constituents, not only about radio but also about television. There are many considerations which we must have in mind about the future of television and the extension of broadcasting. The House today has gained credit for the way in which it has approached the subject, stimulated by the document produced by the B.B.C., which, on balance, has been extremely helpful in our consideration of the situation.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.