§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)
It is a great pleasure to me tonight to be able to raise in the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill the question of the allocation of the fourth and final U.H.F. frequency for television broadcasting in this country. It is a matter of great concern and one which, I submit to the House and to hon. Members who are waiting to speak later on other subjects in this debate, is of very pressing and great domestic importance, because there is a possibility—I put it no higher—that the public may be in the process of handing it over without legislation, without recourse to this House, and without proper public debate, and my purpose in introducing this debate tonight is to suggest that that would be no less than a national scandal.
The Minister of Posts and Telecommunications has been quoted in The Times as saying on 1st December that there would be a ruling this month on the use of a fourth tlevision channel. That may or may not be an accurate report. We shall wait with interest to see what the Minister has decided, if he has decided anything, on this matter. I would submit to him that it is a very urgent and important consideration, first because what we are dealing with here is the allocation of a broadcasting channel in a situation in which broadcasting itself is in a state of flux, and secondly, because the fourth U.H.F. channel is the last of its type, the last mass audience television channel which can be allocated in the next 10 years. Broadcasting is in a state of flux. The Minister can hardly dispute that, despite his having killed off, rather wilfully, in July last year the Annan Committee set up by the previous Government to investigate the future structure of broadcasting.
525 I would like at this point to pay a brief tribute to those organisations and foundations which have, notwithstanding that foolish action, gone ahead with their own commissions of inquiry, notably the main union in the industry, the A.C.T.T. and also the Rowntree Trust.
I do not believe that in this situation, when the Minister is attempting, with somewhat lukewarm support from his party, to push through the House a Bill to introduce a system of local commercial radio—or so-called local commercial radio—we can or should now be disposing of a television frequency when it is the last television frequency of its type. Till the 405 line transmission has been discontinued in this country, not till, perhaps, 10 to 12 years' time, U.H.F. bands IV and V carry three national colour services and could carry a fourth, and 625 lines will be the only frequency for transmitting national colour television in this country. We could, therefore, have the fourth channel, the last channel of U.H.F. frequency. In 15 years' time the situation may be very different. In 15 years' time the debate may not be at all about mass audience television but about cable television, co-axial cables, various systems of delivery, C.A.T.V. systems, and stationary satellites and possibly the domestic use of direct transmission to people's homes. But that cannot be for the next 10 years, and we are now talking about the possible use of the fourth television frequency.
That is the background, then, to the current campaign which has been launched by the Independent Television Authority and by its allies inside the current I.T.V. Confederation of 15 companies or, more precisely, the big five companies which effectively control the networking in what they, I suppose, would call the I.T.V. I, the main channel for transmission, for that other second channel which they would call the I.T.V. 2.
The B.B.C. has had two channels since the recommendations of the Pilkington Committee, which were enacted by the late Conservative Government more than eight years ago, and that has led to complementary programming by the B.B.C. It has not been an unmixed blessing either for the viewer or the B.B.C. itself. Nevertheless, it has had a major effect on British television and had 526 a significant effect upon the I.T.A. both in terms of the I.T.V. and in terms of the audience which the I.T.A. channel is able to command. I shall look at that as well in more detail later.
The I.T.A. in its submission to the Pilkington Committee some years ago did not press for a second complementary itself. At that time, the I.T.A. said that it thought that there was a case for a second system strictly competitive with the existing I.T.V., set up, perhaps, under the supervision of the Authority but with different contractors both in terms of programming and in terms of advertising revenue sought, and, failing that—because it did not want a second or third channel to go to the B.B.C.—it would not mind an educational service.
The Pilkington Committee recommended that there should be major structural alterations in I.T.V. itself—the famous recommendation 43 of Pilkington —before any consideration was given to a possible second channel for I.T.V. Those recommended structural changes had not been carried out, and although successive Governments in their various White Papers on the subject have talked about a second I.T.V. channel at some time in the future, one has to remember that neither the Pilkington Committee, with its strictures on I.T.V. 1 nor the other close study of the feasibility of a second I.T.V. made by the late lamented Prices and Incomes Board considered that this proposal was viable without major changes within the I.T.V. system.
It is the record of the I.T.A. and the 15 companies, as they have been since 1968, which causes such grave doubt about the possibility of a second service. I shall not weary the House again—we had all this on the question of the remission of part of the levy in February this year—with an account of the record of the I.T.A. in enforcing the provisions of the Television Act, notably Sections 11 and 12, upon the existing contractors. Suffice it to say that its failure to act under those Sections are under close scrutiny now by the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries. I imagine that the representatives of the Authority will be closely questioned on their failures to impose the provisions of the Act upon the companies when that Committee meets again next year.
527 Many of the problems derive from the non-interventionist philosophy of the Director-General for the first 15 or 16 years of the history of I.T.V., Sir Robert Fraser. It was Sir Robert Fraser's inheritance which was referred to in the Financial Times by Mr. T. C. Worsley in what I thought was a percipient article welcoming to his post the new Director-General Mr. Brian Young. Mr. Worsley said:…it is difficult to see how the I.T.A. can effectively make itself felt. It is charged, under the Act, with ensuring that 'programmes broadcast in each area maintain a high general standard in all respects…and a proper balance and wide range in their subject matter…' But how can it possibly do this when it has no direct control over the companies who supply the programmes? It is the companies not the Authority who decide, each individually, how they will allot the money at their disposal, and what programmes shall be made with it and who shall make them. The Authority can exhort and encourage in general terms, but it cannot insist on anything specific. It can cancel programmes, but it has no means for initiating them.I am the first to accept that the record of the has altered to some extent since the appointment of Mr. Brian Young. There was, after all, a measure of intervention against London Weekend Television after the more ruthless incursions of Mr. Rupert Murdoch at the beginning of this year. I am not inti-I.T.V. as such. It is no part of my purpose to say that the Authority is not trying and has not tried to take some notice of the many strictures which have been levelled at it both in the House and in the Press.
Nor am I saying that I.T.V. as such should necessarily be wound up, or that the system is inimical to good broadcasting. When I worked in I.T.V., I found the companies good employers; I found many people there who had serious creative intent and who, so far as the limitations of the system allowed, were concerned with good programming.
What I do say is that those who control the system and those who, therefore, decide what goes on the air are, effectively, the five men in the networking planning committee—the five major companies within this loose confederation which decide on a basis of slot by slot which programmes to put out as network programmes. The five companies can command the necessary guaranteed 528 space, and these five men decide the nature of programming as we have it in this country.
There was a revealing interview, reported in the Sunday Times a couple of weeks ago, with the "Colossus of Crossroads", Sir Lew Grade of A.T.V., the Midlands contractor which is able to put out more than 25 per cent. of all network programming. Sir Lew was talking to the journalist about a new idea for a television series called "The Adventurer". This is what he said:It is fantastic…Firstly, I'll get a sponsor. He'll put up two million dollars. Then I'll contact the star I have in mind. Those are the two big things. The scripts? That's the last thing we do. It must be sold before it's written".That is Sir Lew Grade's approach to major expenditure within the system. He was interrupted at that point in the interview by the arrival of a lady called Olive. She came in to ask about some old films being put on A.T.V., and this is how the conversation ran:So now we need 107 minutes. My God, Olive. Is that one 152? I don't mind a repeat. You got me a repeat?Olive asked:What about Breakfast at Tiffany's?When did we do it last?December 6th, 1969.Too soon, Olive".So they had another programme brought in, another film, Olive said:It's too long. Here's one. It says, Sordid, preferable after 9".Sir Lew said:Put it in. Cut it by 21 minutes. Anything else?Olive said that there was still a gap and again asked about "Breakfast at Tiffany's", to which the response was, "O.K.: put it in". When she had gone, Sir Lew's comment to the journalist was,People think these schedules just happen".Of course, they do not just happen. They are willed by Sir Lew Grade and the commercial interests which motivate him. The rationale of the whole system is to look for profitability, maximum audiences, maximum viewer figures, and good family entertainment.
In the same interview, Sir Lew Grade said:An ideal evening for me to watch at home would be The Persuaders, or perhaps The Saint or Danger Man. Then a good half-hour comedy, like On the Buses. Then something 529 like The Main Chance. Throw in the news, and for me that would be a lovely evening. I could go to bed at 11 feeling really great".Because Sir Lew Grade could go to bed feeling really great after that kind of programming on I.T.V.1, there is some doubt, to say the least, about the kind of influence the programme contractors will have, dominated by that sort of motivation, upon any I.T.V. system in which they could actively participate and which they could to some extent control.
The I.T.A. recently called for a creative conference which would look at the whole question of a possible second channel, on I.T.V.2. In a question-begging invitation, it suggested to those who were coming for that creative conference that they should consider that it must look at a complementary system for I.T.V. To my mind, that invited rebuff, and rebuffs it received. It received a rebuff from the Federation of Broadcasting Unions. It received a rebuff from many other people who were asked to go to the creative conference. Many people wrote back to say that there ought to be a public inquiry into the disposal of this public asset before they could consider how it should best be used.
Nevertheless, the Authority went ahead and produced a document called "I.T.V/". This document has had a rather bad press, and I am not surprised at that. It has had a bad press largely because, although some newspapers may be parti-pris in this matter because of their concern for advertising and the possible disposal of advertising revenue through a second channel, no one now believes, after the sad tale of London Weekend and other cautionary histories, that propositions put forward by the companies will necessarily be honoured once contracts are signed and sealed.
The Daily Mail, hardly a Left-wing "pinko" newspaper or, indeed, one which goes a long way towards the more austere wing of taste, said:We remember how David Frost said his London Weekend consortium would lead 'public taste on to higher ground' … and how the Welsh wizards of Harlech TV promised us a non-stop Eisteddfod. And what have we got? Hawaii Five-O and This Is Your Life. Good entertainment, but hardly worth repeating on the last available channel".The document which has been put forward, "I.T.V/", makes a number of points which are worth considering. It 530 says, first, that the existing facilities are under-utilised. So they are, but in any regional system there is bound to be excess capacity because of the capitalisation in studios which is needed in so many regional centres. One of the strengths of I.T.V. is that it has those regional centres, whereas the B.B.C. from the beginning was centralised.
Secondly, the document says that a complementary service is needed, using the existing contractors, because of the creeping menace of B.B.C.2. That is a point which Mr. Howard Thomas, the managing director of Thames Television and one of the prime movers in this scheme, has made time after time. He says, "Just watch those ratings for B.B.C.2, they are creeping up all the time."
The submission which has been published today by the T.V.4 campaign contains interesting statistics of the viewing figures for B.B.C.2, B.B.C.1, and I.T.V. The figures prove that the I.T.V. audience is now slightly better than it was when this set of measurements by A.G.B. Ltd. began, and that B.B.C.2 is taking viewers away from B.B.C.1 and not from I.T.V. I do not think that is an argument that holds water.
The third and most serious thing said in the document "I.T.V/" is that I.T.V.1 will remain largely as it is. Paragraph 21 of the document states:The Authority does not envisage the arrival of a second channel leading to any significant change in this balance on the first channel.… In the case of I.T.V.2, there would be advantage in a variety of programme elements so that the audience would be carried forward from diverting programmes to more demanding ones.That is precisely what we have been asking for in I.T.V.1 programming for these many years. It is in this area that I do not think the companies can be trusted to do much to improve I.T.V.1 if they have this second channel outlet.
What has been suggested in a document which has been published as an appendix to a remarkable research document produced by the A.C.C.T. Television Commission is a shadow B.B.C.2, including "Talk Back", "Europa", "Late Night Line-up", "One man's week", and other programmes thinly disguised but quite clearly B.B.C.2 all over again. Although a gesture is made in paragraph 26 of the 531 "I.T.V/" report to independent producers and minorities, the rôle of the big five contractors in the production of programmes is carefully preserved. A guaranteed slot for the big five, guaranteed slots, admittedly, on the minority second channel for the regional companies, and then a third slot which would go apparently to the big five in open competition with anyone else who wanted to come in. How is it hoped to persuade the Minister to give them this public asset?
In paragraphs 29 and 31 the I.T.A. says that it is prepared to set up a programme planning board which has added to it two I.T.A. programme planners and more regional representatives. These programme planners will be able to impose on the system, as has never been done with the network barons in the past, a degree of harmony and complementary planning and emphasis upon quality that we have not had before. I do not accept that we should give them I.T.V.2 just to test this out. The Minister could say to the I.T.A., "Yes, appoint your programme controllers, it is a very good thing. Let us see how the system works with the existing channel, because you are on probation until the system as a whole is reviewed in 1976."
The document "I.T.V/" produces ludicrous arguments why the new channel should be introduced before that review, and in 1974. It says that by 1974 independent television will be nearly 20 years old. Jolly good, happy birthday, but I do not think that is an argument for a second channel. The document says that this would be part of an orderly progression of the television services available in this country. In 1946 there was the restart of B.B.C.1; in 1954, the start of I.T.V.; in 1964, the start of B.B.C.2 and then the I.T.A. would like to say, 1974 the start of I.T.V.2.
I do not believe that the I.T.A. has made a case, and I am alarmed that the Minister has allowed it to be thought within the country at large and by the Press that he will make a decision which may come down in favour of these proposals this month, this year or next year. What we need is a serious investigation of the whole problem of the companies and the way in which they have scheduled programmes, and a serious investigation 532 of complementality with two sets of Siamese twin channels to work out.
To give an example, if we had this Siamese twin system with "Panorama" and "World in Action", respectively on B.B.C.1 and I.T.V.1 and "High Chaparral" on B.B.C.2—which is cutting into audiences and alarming the I.T.V. moguls and the B.B.C.1 moguls—supposing we had a shadow "High Chaparral" on I.T.V.2? This would in no way be an increase in quality. It would simply cut down the overall areas of quality programmes to which lip service is paid. So the whole idea of complementality should be looked at seriously.
Many other possibilities have been submitted to the Minister by the A.C.T.T., and T.V.4 Campaign which has come out of nowhere, because people inside the industry and elsewhere in the media have not been prepared to stand up and see this second channel handed over to a group of private capitalists with a rather dubious record without adding their voice to the debate. I do not mind whether it is a compromise within the I.T.V. system, with a controller from the Authority, an educational channel or a minority channel, financed by the levy, partly by grants in aid, partly by advertising, or whether it is analogous to the Dutch system which we have never considered in this country. All these alternatives should he considered and sifted through the fine mesh of a public inquiry. We cannot let the I.T.A. proposals go through without proper debate.
To quote one final Conservative newspaper, The Times said that there were two objections to the proposals of the I.T.A.:The first is that this is not the best use to which a fourth television channel could be put. The second is that the I.T.A. are seeking a premature decision on a matter which could affect the whole future of British broadcasting.I am not sure that at the end of the day the inquiry would decide that this was not the best use; it might decide that it was, but we must have an inquiry first.
The best thing the Minister can now do is to admit to the House that he was wrong to scrap the Annan Committee and for him to set up a Committee of Inquiry. As a result of this folly he has lost 18 months during which the Committee 533 might have been investigating the structure. He should say that he will set up an inquiry. Perhaps he wants to say so now?
§ The Minister of Posts and Telecommunications (Mr. Christopher Chataway)
The hon. Gentleman is returning to a once familiar theme. If there are to be 10-or 12-year terms for the B.B.C. Charter and the I.T.V. licence, does the hon. Gentleman think that it would make sense to have the greater part of each of those decades taken up with the public relations battle between broadcasting authorities that goes with an inquiry? Does he want more than half of each of those decades to be taken up with inquiries?
§ Mr. Whitehead
The short answer to that question is "Yes, on precedent". There have been three public inquiries so far into broadcasting, the Ullswater Inquiry, the Beveridge Inquiry and the Pilkington Inquiry. On average there was roughly 12 years in between each. I do not think that the structure of British broadcasting has been altered for the worse; quite the contrary; I think it has been altered for the better by this constant system of investigation of a new and emerging medium which is still in its infancy and which has to be guided in its development.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
Does my hon. Friend agree that if the major recommendation of the Pilkington Committee had been implemented the situation in television would have been better than it is?
§ Mr. Whitehead
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point, which I accept. The Minister clearly does not, and he does not want another inquiry. The least he can do is to tell the I.T.A. where it can get off on these proposals which have attempted to pre-empt public debate. He can tell the House today that he will consider those proposals and all the other proposals which are being submitted to him in the light, perhaps, of a departmental inquiry or perhaps in the thought processes of his own mind, before he decides what shall be done with the last U.H.F. frequency, and indeed all the frequencies.
It is against that background that I wish to see a decision arrived at. The Minister must realise that, whether he 534 likes it or not, the public has become involved in this affair. This applies to the older generation, who have learned to their cost that they can be manipulated by the media and those who run it—both in the B.B.C. and in I.T.V.; and also to the younger generation, who have learned how to use broadcasting to enrich their own lives and that of the community.
Let us have a decision from the Minister tonight which opens debate and does not attempt to foreclose it. We are dealing with a public asset and the right hon. Gentleman has it in trust for us all.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. John Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
It is right that this should be the first subject for debate tonight because it is of prime importance. I, along with many other people, am very annoyed at the way in which the I.T.A. and the programme companies have ganged up to try to get control of the fourth channel. Our hope is that the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications will refuse to join this conspiracy.
We have been presented with a document "I.T.V/" from the I.T.A. This has been fairly been described as an indictment of its own record to date. It can be seen almost as a coroner's report on London Weekend Television. I hope the I.T.A. is over-stating its case and that, if it fails to get I.T.V.2 or the fourth channel, we shall not be doomed to watch the never-ending opening up of the American frontier and programmes made with American mass audiences in mind.
At one point in the I.T.A. submission, in paragraph 24, there appears the most questionable statement I have ever read in an important public statement. This reads:There is then, within the ranks of those who work for independent television broad agreement about what is wanted".What follows suggests that they all want the fourth channel. When one looks at the document more closely it seems to be referring only to the companies. It leaves out of account the staff—those who really do work for independent television. The unions have a broad agreement, but it is of a somewhat different kind. The unions want an inquiry.
The A.C.T.T. Television Commission's Report, called significantly "T.V/", makes clear on page 30 why it has joined 535 with its fellow unions in the Federation of Broadcasting Unions in rejecting the I.T.A.'s terms of reference for discussion of I.T.V.2. The Report says:We have jointly requested a public inquiry to examine the allocation of the fourth channel in the context of changes that can be made to the broadcasting system as a whole when the Television Act and the B.B.C. Charter expire in 1976.And this, despite the fact that superficially it appears that more jobs would be available. Whereas the contractors and the I.T.A. have looked only to commercial prosperity, the workers have looked to the public good.
The A.C.C.T. has outlined the choices that face us in allocating the fourth channel. In fact, it reminds us of eight choices. The first is not to use it at all—and I have heard Stuart Hood argue this case. Secondly, it could provide access for minority groups on the Dutch model. If this idea were adopted, I would put in a plea for its use by a majority group, such as the trade union movement, in putting its point of view to the British public.
Thirdly, it could provide an alternative as community T.V. It is pointed out that there is spare capacity in local authority television studios where educational programmes are produced. Fourthly, there could be a new publicly-financed public service network, which is a possibility; fifthly, a national education Service; sixthly, T.V.4 run by I.T.A.; seventhly, a competitive commercial channel; and, eighthly, a complementary commercial channel.
The I.T.A. as we have seen, has come out in favour of a blend of I.T.V. run by companies in their own areas, with the I.T.A. having a say in deciding what kind of programmes should be broadcast at given times on I.T.V.2. But it has not justified this choice, nor has it weighed up the alternatives with sufficient care. Since there are so many alternatives, there is a compelling demand for a public inquiry.
At the A.C.T.T. Commission says, the T.V.2 campaign can be summed up quite simply. It is that there is a threat from the B.B.C. and a prospect of disaster; that fair play demands it; that it would provide a cornucopia of opportunities for experimental programming; and that the 536 spare capacity within I.T.V. would be used. But if the unions, wanting jobs and greater prosperity, reject T.V.4 being turned into I.T.V.2, what are we to think?
The unions reject this suggestion on the following grounds. First, I.T.A. was established as a supervisor of competing companies when, according to Pilkington, it ought to be a master. Networking has reduced competition and the I.T.A. proposals could end competition entirely. Secondly, the financial basis of I.T.V.2 is weak. Indeed the unions are convinced that the I.T.A.-T.V. company conspiracy is purely designed to keep out a third force and to prevent anybody else from obtaining a channel. Thirdly, the uinons believe that I.T.V.2 could ultimately lead to greater instability in the industry. Fourthly, the foundation of I.T.V.2 would inevitably alter the whole structure of I.T.V. They believe that this would require a… radical redrafting of the Television Act to strengthen the powers of the I.T.A.The unions wish to present their point of view to an inquiry and many of us now regret the precipitate way in which the Minister sacked the Annan Committee. But the unions are not alone in wanting an inquiry. Recently I attended a T.V.4 campaign meeting which was attended not only by militants and independents but also by members of the Bow Group. There was a wide spread of people within the industry and in the community at large who were insistent on the need for an independent inquiry. The division now seems not to be, as used to be the case, between Oxford and Cambridge, but between B.B.C. and I.T.V. in the sort of antagonisms and rivalries which this subject engenders.
Many of us who have never been associated with the television industry share the feelings of the Sunday Times article of 17th October. That leading article was headed, "I.T.V.2: a case not proven". It said:Any suggestion that I.T.V.2 would resemble B.B.C. should be treated with the blackest scepticism.… It would be better for the fourth channel—a national and public asset—to be left empty than made available for anyone who would cause it to resemble the present commercial network.Most people, apart from my young son Simon, who enjoys the test card and the advertisements if not the programmes, will agree with that assessment.
537 London Weekend Television has taught us a lesson. So have the words of John Freeman. On 17th November, he said:London Weekend Television cannot explore minority or experimental programmes in peak hours, without a direct, often catastrophic loss of revenue which is impossible to accept if we are to stay in business.Many people fear that the same statement will be made about the fourth channel if it is given to independent television. But it will not be made now. It will be made in five or six years, when it will be too late.
For those reasons, I should like to see the Minister defer his decision until an inquiry has taken place. Certainly no decision should be taken until the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries reports on the I.T.A. The Minister was negligent in his reply to me on this subject when I asked him on 8th December:Is the Minister aware that his reply shows no recognition that today the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries begins an inquiry into the I.T.A? Will he assure us that he will wait for the Select Committee's report before making any announcement about the allocation of the fourth channel?In his usual rapid way, the Minister popped up and said:I have not been led to believe that that inquiry is an inquiry into the services which the I.T.A. provides."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th December, 1971; Vol. 827, c. 1271.]That was a nonsensical answer. The Select Committee is charged with examining the reports and accounts of the I.T.A., and any Minister responsible for a Department such as the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications should be aware of that fact.
The report and accounts for 1970–71 includes the statement:A second independent television service would enable a more substantial extension to take place. Whether a second I.T.A. service would be viable is a matter which calls for close examination …The I.T.A. itself has made this an issue in its annual report. It is only reasonable, therefore, that the Select Committee should inquire into this matter, and it is even more reasonable that the Minister should await the report of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries.
However, this is not sufficient. What happens with the fourth channel should be considered not only in relation to what 538 is happening in independent television. That decision should be dependent, too, on an assessment of what is happening in the B.B.C., especially following an assessment of the use to which B.B.C.2 is being put.
We want a committee of inquiry to replace Annan, and we want a report in good time before 1972. The arguments of the I.T.A. in favour of speed do not hold water. We must agree with the A.C.T.T. that the authority is concerned only with preventing someone else controlling the channel. It is apparent from the I.T.A.'s submission that the argument in favour of speed at present is that changes have occurred in the television industry previously at nine-year intervals. I do not know how it can justify a change after 10 years rather than after 12 years. How it can argue that it has had two nine-year periods and that that is a sufficient argument or any argument at all that we should make a decision quickly rather than waiting until 1976, which is the logical thing to do, I do not know.
Our last television channel is too important to be given away lightly, and I urge the Minister to refrain from making any decision until we have had a full and thorough public inquiry into the subject.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilfred Proudfoot (Brighouse and Spenborough)
I am sure that my right hon. Friend and his Parliamentary Private Secretary greatly enjoyed the Speech of the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding). I detect that the hon. Gentleman is developing a hoarse voice. Tomorrow in the Committee which is considering the Sound Broadcasting Bill I look forward to hearing a little less from the hon. Gentleman, having listened to him for a total of about four hours in the last two or three weeks.
I want to ask my right hon. Friend to walk straight out of the Chamber after this debate and to strike a blow for freedom by permitting television to be broadcast at whatever hours are felt desirable. The 1964 Act gives my right hon. Friend power to do it. He can alter the maximum and the minimum number of hours of television broadcasts.
I feel that the time has come, the B.B.C. having two channels and independent television only one, for freedom to 539 be given in the way that I suggest. I look forward to seeing morning television. Very good news programmes could be broadcast in the mornings such as are to be seen in America and other countries. Repeat programmes could bring pleasure to people who are at work when television programmes are to be seen at present. A lot more people would be able to see some of the very good programmes which at the moment are available only in the evenings.
Undoubtedly, this would take away some circulation from our morning newspapers. That prospect does not worry me. What would happen is that, in the first two or three years, our national dailies would lose perhaps a million circulation. I can face that, because I do not think that there would be a great loss if that happened.
I ask myself why this freedom of hours has not been given before today. The simple answer is to be found in the monopoly position of the B.B.C., which at present has two-thirds of the channels. Its monopoly power takes the form of leaning on independent television and stopping it having longer hours, the argument being that the B.B.C. cannot squeeze more time out of the present licence fee.
I offer my right hon. Friend a suggestion. I suggest that he allows the B.B.C. to put out advertisements. What is more, I propose that they be called solus advertisements, and that they should be put out between programmes, instead of taking advantage of natural breaks, and that there should be only one advertisement between programmes. I feel that that would be acceptable to the public. Certainly it would keep the B.B.C.'s expenditure within bounds without the necessity of increasing the licence fee still further. At present, we have plenty of non-commercial commercials on B.B.C. programmes. B.B.C.1 advertises B.B.C.2, and B.B.C.2 advertises B.B.C.1. There is little wonder that the B.B.C. is making headway in terms of viewing figures against the single independent channel.
In 1975, when the B.B.C. Charter and the position of independent television are due for review, I hope that we shall take a different look at the business of broadcasting with a view to establishing a British broadcasting authority or a 540 British communications authority on much the same lines as the American Federal Communications Commission. This would have continuous supervision of all the channels. It would not have to wait for this 10-year period mentioned by hon. Members opposite. It would be a continuing type of control, and it would be much healthier if the I.T.V. companies did not have the threat hanging over them constantly. Indeed, the F.C.C. is empowered to fine radio and television companies if they are technically unreliable or break down, or do not broadcast programmes they have advertised.
If we had this type of commission or authority, I would ask that B.B.C.1 and 2, and the radios, be regarded just the same as Yorkshire Television, Granada, Tyne-Tees, Southern or any of them, and that the same kind of rules of behaviour should apply whether the service is publicly owned, paid for by licence fee or paid for by advertising.
I urge my right hon. Friend that the fourth channel should be given to separate commercial companies from those existing at present. I do not accept the argument in the pamphlet "I.T.V/". When one considers that in America the N.B.C., for instance, has three producers, whereas the B.B.C. has about 200—perhaps N.B.C. is a bigger outfit than the B.B.C.—perhaps we have the whole thing wrong in the way programmes are produced.
§ Mr. Whitehead
The hon. Gentleman is totally contradicting himself. What he is now describing in America is the direct cause of having like against like on all three channels—the tyranny of no choice, yet three competing alternatives.
§ Mr. Proudfoot
I do not accept that it is as the hon. Gentleman said. There are alternatives. New York has nine television programmes; Los Angeles has 12. The more competition that we get into this business, the better it will be.
We could talk for ever about the quality of television programmes. One man's quality is not necessarily the same as the next man's quality. Perhaps we in this Chamber run away with the idea that the great British public are thirsting for extra knowledge on all kinds of subjects; but perhaps they just want to be entertained and amused. I have sat in 541 front of my television set and been frightened and terrorised; my nerves have been jangled, and I have sat on the edge of my seat. That is not the kind of home life that I want. I prefer something much more relaxing than some of the stuff we receive.
If we had longer hours, I am confident that the whole style of most of our television programmes would change. A more relaxed style would be introduced. In Britain we still suffer from the Gilbert Harding syndrome, namely that if there is not a jolly good row going on on the box when it is a talk programme, it is worth watching. We have never recovered from this. I shall never forget being in New York on the day that Randolph Churchill was on television. He had a row with the questioner. On the next day, everyone I met in New York was shocked and horrified that that kind of argument—absolutely mild by our standards—should have come across on their television screens.
The type of approach I have seen on American talk programmes has been very often preferable to ours. I have seen a programme of over three hours on a Sunday afternoon in which people whom I call egg-heads were discussing foreign affairs. We have never had a counterpart on our television sets.
If one buys the trade Press of America on broadcasting, one is surprised to see there advertisements for off-the-peg programmes which we listen to every night—the "I Love Lucy" shows and the cowboy shows, are all there; it is just the same as buying an off-the-peg suit. They are there to be bought. It is obvious how this has happened.
The idea that our I.T.V. stations have great regional content is a myth. The four centres have been created in this country for production and much money has been invested in some of the stations. But now we have a chronic situation. If one is at a television station in Yorkshire for the odd broadcast on a talk programme, one finds a whole bunch of actors who have obviously come from London, about to put on a half-hour series. At a later date one finds out that they all come from London—because the creative people all collect in one city, in every country; America has its Hollywood. The crazy thing is that 542 one finds that they practice and rehearse the sketches, the half-hour programmes, in schools, churches and chapels around London. They rehearse them, go up to Yorkshire, do a dry run and then put the thing in the can in Yorkshire. That is called regional television. It is like having each garage being a production outfit or every cinema being its own producer. To a certain extent we have the organisation wrong.
I mentioned that Los Angeles had 12 channels. I still cannot comprehend technically why we cannot have more in Britain. But perhaps the debate is absolutely out of date, because cable television must come, and come rapidly. One small town in the United States has 30 television programmes now. The signal is taken into a building in the centre of the town, cleaned up electronically and sent out again for subscription. They have the choice of 30 programmes. Perhaps the debate should concentrate more on what will happen in the very near future, rather than thinking that there will be just four television channels in the next few years.
I conclude by quoting one or two lines from a criticism of a book—the same book I quoted on the Sound Broadcasting Bill. The title of the book is "The News Twisters". During the recent election in the United States, when the three news networks put out many news stories on the election over the election campaign period, in seven weeks a young lady tape recorded the lot. She ended up by scoring the remarks about Nixon and finding out, much to the horror of the owners of the stations, that they were nine to one against Nixon. I am convinced that the same kind of thing happens here, just as much with I.T.V. as it does with the B.B.C.
§ Mr. Proudfoot
If I took my tape recorder and did the same kind of thing, I am sure that I would know which way. Hon. Members opposite would say that it was tilted in our favour, and my hon. Friends would say that it was tilted in favour of hon. Members opposite. That is the normal reaction of politicians. But the young lady decided that what she 543 was really talking about was "mind-set" amongst the communicators:A mind-set that perceives the world in liberal (or left-of-liberal) terms and a self-righteousness …which stops them being critical about things. She enumerates 33 different ways that the questioners and producers have of twisting the news. I quote them as quickly as possible. I am sure that hon. Members in all parts of the House will recognise some of the techniques.Inventing an anonymous source who expresses the newscaster's own opinions. These opinions then get introduced in such phrases as: 'observers point out …', 'experts here in Washington believe …', and so on.We hear these phrases on television every day.Presenting both sides of an issue—but then winding up with a highly tendentious 'summary' or 'recapitulation.' Suppressing negative information that would clash with the newscaster's own view of a subject. 'Mind reading ', wherein the newscaster glibly and casually ascribes motives to large numbers of people—students, blacks, white suburbanites, or whatever.Then the critic says that he has one of his own:The newscaster's seeking out the most extreme spokemen for points of view he wishes to discredit.We see that happening on television here every night. The extremists are very often, at either end of a programme, those who are presented on television. It is another example of the Gilbert Harding syndrome on British television.
The lady who did this book then comes to perhaps the most important thing of all when she asks how do we get fairness of news media in television, and I think that she has the only possible answer when she says:Perhaps the most promising remedy in prospect is technological rather than governmental. On the horizon is cable-television broadcasting, which in time will so multiply the number of available channels as to make the issue of fairness irrelevant. One of these days, we may have openly partisan news networks, just as we now have openly partisan newspapers.I am sure that one day that will be the only way by which we shall feel that when we sit at home watching television we are not being "got at", because we shall have as many as 30 programmes from which to choose. When that day arrives, there will be such a choice of 544 subject matter coming over the box that those who wish to be educated and edified will be able to go through that process for 18 hours a day, while those who wish to be amused and watch cowboys will have a similar choice.
§ 7.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
The hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Proudfoot) suggested that there was a remarkable similarity between the cast of tonight's performance and that which has been appearing twice weekly until now, which I believe is forecast to appear twice daily and which, possibly, because the right hon. Gentleman is so exhilerated with it, will carry on all night.
There is this evening a certain similarity of personnel and though we are in fact debating a different subject from that being debated in Committee, the two subjects are connected. There is a similarity between them because what is being proposed in Committee is that the Independent Television Authority should take over and become responsible for commercial radio in this country. It will start with the appearance of local radio, but what it will finish up by looking like is another question. I suspect that it will finish up as something like an alternative commercial radio network.
Be that as it may, what we are debating tonight—and we are indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) for raising the matter—is a fourth channel for television. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to assure us that he has no intention of giving way to the heavy pressure that has been placed upon him by the Independent Television Authority to pre-empt the fate of the fourth channel. It is natural that the Authority should attempt to do that, and it is being remarkably successful, because it is persuading people to think in terms of I.T.V.2. We ought not to allow ourselves to think in such terms.
I should like to join in the tributes that have been paid to the examination carried out by the Association of Cinematograph Television and Allied Technicians, with the assistance of a remarkable young researcher, Caroline Heller. It is a good thing that the trade union concerned should carry out an objective examination of what goes on 545 in the industry with which it is involved, and I am sure that no one, whatever his views about the future of television, would be disposed to dismiss lightly the conclusions of this report.
I believe that the nub of the problem is who controls the existing television channel. The reason why some of us feel doubtful about giving control of commercial radio to the Independent Television Authority, and why we feel equally doubtful about giving that Authority control of Channel 4, is that the Authority is wrongly organised. This is not a new idea. The Pilkington Committee came to the same conclusion. When that Committee considered whether the Authority should have control of another channel, the view given to it was thatin the Authority's opinion there would be a vice in a restricted broadcasting system, not a virtue … In a free society, control of the means of communications should be diversified not centralised.That was the view expressed by the Independent Television Authority to the Pilkington Committee. The Authority therefore stands hoist by its own petard.
The Authority is now seeking to gain control of commercial radio and of the fourth channel, but at the time of Pilkington, in criticising the B.B.C.'s case for a complementary programme, the Authority referred to weaknesses which now exist in its own case. Therefore, when we are considering whether the fourth channel should go to an existing body we must remember that variety is of the essence in the whole sphere of communication.
The central flaw which the Pilkington Committee saw in the Independent Television Authority was that there was a tendency for the programme contractors to be on top of the Authority, instead of the other way round, and to try to correct that the Pilkington Committee suggested an organisational change. It suggested that the Authority should plan programming, that the Authority should sell advertising time, and that the programme companies should produce programmes and sell them to the Authority for inclusion in the I.T.A. schedules. The Pilkington Committee went on to say that if independent television, after being reconstituted and reorganised along the lines suggested, had sufficient time to adapt itself to a new constitution and had 546 proved its capacity to realise the purposes of broadcasting, it should be authorised to provide a second programme. But that was on condition that the whole organisation of the I.T.A. was put on a different basis.
When the Independent Television Authority says that if it is given the fourth channel it will call for a greater involvement by the Authority in programme planning, we are entitled to say that the Authority will find it extremely difficult to carry out that undertaking because its constitution is such that it will not be permitted to carry it out by people who hold the whip hand, namely, the programme contractors. That is why on many occasions when programme contractors have come along with prospectuses London Weekend—or Harlech, or whatever it is—have said that they will do something different there has been no change, precisely because the organisation is geared to the production of the same old thing.
The Authority should not have the fourth channel. My reasons have been summed up in the report to which I referred. There is no guarantee that the amount of advertising is infinitely expandable. It is not certain that the new channel would have a separate and fresh form of income. The Authority might simply prevent another competitor from getting hold of it and two programmes would have to be provided with the same sort of resources as are now available for one. That result would not benefit anyone.
The competitive position of struggling for advertising funds is not controlled, as the A.C.T.T. has pointed out, by the Authority, but is subject to commercial radio arriving, to manufacturers' marketing policies and to advertising agencies. There is no evidence that a two-channel operation would affect the situation. I.T.V.2, as even this report falls into the trap of calling it, would thus be unable substantially to increase the revenue or correct the inherent instability of I.T.V.'s income.
Another reason is that the suggestion of high quality programming is given no backing to show how it will be achieved. We are entitled to ask, if we are promised some change, for information on how it will be achieved. If the Authority said that it would carry out an experiment 547 along the lines of the Pilkington recommendations for this new channel, that it would constitute itself the "house-owner" and be responsible for the channel rather like a theatre owner, inviting production companies to put on shows, we might have taken its claims more seriously. But as it is we are entitled to look at them with grave doubts.
The arrival of I.T.V.2 would mean a reinforcement of the power and authority of the big five, who already control the commercial television channel. I share the view which my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North so cogently expressed, that we should consider this with great care and caution.
Having precipitately decided to get rid of the Annan Committee, the Minister may feel in some difficulty about recreating a similar committee. He might feel that, rather than a Royal Commission, he would like some other form of examination. I am sure that detailed examination should take place before he makes his proposals.
One of the reasons for our difficulties over the Sound Broadcasting Bill is that this has not been done. That detailed examination is now taking place in Committee, after the Bill has been printed. This is why we are in trouble. Not only are we on this side uncertain about what should happen in commercial radio: hon. Members opposite are equally uncertain.
So I would ask the Minister not to bring forward a similar mish-mash for the fourth channel. He should create an examining committee whether it is a Royal Commission or a committee of inquiry. We should have a thorough examination of the subject. Then, a recommendation similar to the Pilkington Recommendation will surely come forward. The conclusion of any authoritative body which considers television must be that variety and reality of choice, instead of programme matching, can be achieved only through variety of ownership and separation of control. It is on these lines that I hope the hon. Gentleman will eventually come into the House.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles R. Morris (Manchester, Openshaw)
It is always a great privilege to follow my hon. Friend the Member 548 for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins). Equally I am indebted to my hon. Friends the Members for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) and Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) for initiating this important debate, to which they brought the same lucidity, objectivity and indeed brevity which I have seen demonstrated by them on the Standing Committee on the Sound Broadcasting Bill.
I hope that this debate will be the start of a great national debate about whether the nation should allocate a fourth television channel. I hope that the Minister will encourage such a debate, since this decision will have a tremendous impact on the community and on family life.
I was interested to read on 9th December the submissions of the Independent Television Authority on this important question and I am mindful of the consideration which the Pilkington Committee gave the establishment of commercial television.
I was positively fascinated by the evidence given to that Committee in 1961 by a representative of Southern Television —I believe that his name was Mr. Dowson—who examined the argument and basis of commercial television in respect of programming. On the suggestion that it might cater for minority interests, particularly opera lovers, he said that it would be "impractical" because the independent programme contractors were interested in attracting a mass audience.
If we are to have an additional channel, minority interests should be considered, as should education and public information. I am mindful of the evidence of the Association of Cinematograph, Television and Allied Technicians to which my hon. Friend the Member for Putney referred. In Appendix 3 it makes the point that the original concept of I.T.V. was a network of regional companies each identifying itself with its region.
One of the unfortunate features of television in Britain is that the regional identity is not as pronounced as it might be. We should endeavour to reflect to a greater extent the regional culture which is one of the more attractive features of community life in this country.
We look at television in the context of the splendid job which the British Broadcasting Corporation does and in the context of the interesting and fascinating 549 programmes provided by many of the independent television companies. If the Minister accepts my call for a great debate on this issue, I hope that he will also look at the possibility of having regional public service broadcasting. I should like him to encourage independent public-spirited groups in the regions and to give them the franchise for providing programmes of a cultural and educational nature catering for the minorities to which I have referred, thus giving the regions greater regional identity.
Inevitably, the question will arise: how is it to be financed? Is it to be financed by direct subsidy from the B.B.C.? Is there to be a separate television licence for regional public service broadcasting? All these suggestions can be considered. The Minister might also consider—I put it no higher—establishing regional public service broadcasting on the basis of the sale of advertising spot time, the revenue from which should be the basis for financing regional public service broadcasting.
I should like the bodies responsible for regional public service broadcasting to be the universities in the regions, together with local authority representatives and, indeed, many of the minority community interests to which I have referred.
We should examine the idea of a university of the screen. We have seen the development of the University of the Air. I should like to see this idea developed further. Perhaps the Minister will consider whether the time has arrived, on the basis of regional public service broadcasting, for a university of the screen.
Additionally I should like programmes to be provided for the disabled and the deaf in the regions. He might consider the development of educational broadcasting catering for nursery school children who cannot gain entrance to nursery schools because of the inadequacy of provision in many local authority areas.
Indeed, I should like local authorities to come into the public service broadcasting idea. There should be a dialogue between the governed and those responsible for government in the counties, the cities and the regions. I should like to see a proper community relationship engendered between bodies such as the Lancashire County Council, the Manchester City Council and the Liverpool City 550 Council and the communities they serve. Such an opportunity might be provided if we do not allocate the fourth channel solely on the basis of commercial considerations.
The decision on the allocation of the fourth television channel will be crucial to our national, and indeed community affairs. I hope that the Minister will not take this decision lightly and will not hurry it. I hope that he will give the nation the opportunity of representing views to him and that he will consider them carefully.
When the I.T.A. presented its views, the Minister quite rightly said that he would consider them carefully. I hope that he will encourage other sections of the community to put their views to him on this important subject.
There is no need to hurry the decision. We have all the time in the world. In the context of national financial resources, I do not think that the allocation of an additional television channel is so urgent. I hope that the Minister will use the time available to take account of all the views represented to him and that he will pay regard to the views expressed by hon. Members in the debate.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Joseph Harper (Pontefract)
I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) and Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) on initiating the debate.
Quite a lot has been said about the fourth channel. As my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West (Mr. Armstrong) has the Adjournment and there are many more subjects to follow, I will be brief. I will not range as widely on this subject as my hon. Friends; I will speak to a narrow point.
No case has been made out for a fourth channel at the moment. There is no proof that it is necessary. But I am firmly of the opinion that when we have the fourth channel it should be operated by a public corporation and not left to commercial enterprise. I do not want anyone to misunderstand me. I am not such a purist as to say that everything the B.B.C. does is right and everything the I.T.A. puts over is wrong. On balance, in the little time that I watch television, I look at more I.T.A. than B.B.C. programmes. I am stating how I feel about 551 it. In my opinion, one commercial channel is enough.
I want to take up a point raised by the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Proudfoot), who is not in his place at the moment. He said that in his opinion a fourth channel would affect the newspapers, especially if we had more channels and had television programmes in the morning as well as in the afternoon and evenings, but that it would not very much matter. I take issue with him, because it is not an educationally sound prospect that, if we have a fourth channel, there will be fewer papers to read, or the papers will be available but people will not read them because they will be watching television.
The hon. Gentleman, in saying that he looked forward to the day when there will be 20 channels, thrust out his arms as if to embrace all the I.T.A. and commercial networks which would arrive to supplement B.B.C.1 and B.B.C.2. I think that he would like that because he is in that line of business. The hon. Gentleman spoke as if he were speaking from an aeroplane which was in a nosedive. He said that we must have freedom of choice. I was taught in the 1930s that we have always had freedom of choice providing that we had the money. I was told that there was nothing to stop one from going into the Savoy Hotel, but that one would be thrown out if one did not have the money.
Before we have freedom of choice as regards the fourth channel, let us have freedom of choice for everybody to receive the three existing channels. About 2 million people cannot watch television on any set of their own because they cannot afford a set.
In the debates on the Television Licensing (Elderly Persons) Bill last Session one hon. Member opposite suggested that the television licence fee be halved so as to enable that vast number of people to be able to afford the fee. We beat that in Committee, and the Government were defeated by seven votes to six on an Amendment I had tabled to secure that the licence fee for old people should be cut to the same amount as that applying to people living in one unit of accommodation who have communal television facilities—namely, 5p a year.
552 On that occasion the Minister concerned made a long speech pointing out that it was not possible. Whether or not that was possible, and whether it is a public corporation or a commercial enterprise that has the fourth channel, it will still cost Parliament £X million out of the Consolidated Fund. That money could be better used to enable old people, if not to pay a licence fee of 5p, at any rate to pay 50 per cent. of the cost of the present licence fee.
Old people do not want television for educational purposes; 98 per cent. of them watch it for entertainment. I am not such a purist that I do not like watching television for entertainment. The hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough said that with 20 channels Westerns could be watched on one channel, sport on another, sex on another, and so on.
Some years ago, on a visit to the Soviet Union, I visited one of the palaces of culture. My host said to me, "Mr. Harper, you see the chandelier?" I said, "Yes, I could not miss it". My host said, "Beautiful chandelier. It cost 500,000 roubles". I had one eye on the chandelier and was looking with the other eye out of the window at some "hen huts" in which the people were then living. I then said, "Why could you not spend that 500,000 roubles on decent accommodation for the people to live in?" My host said, "Nothing is too good for the workers".
I believe that analogy is apt in any discussion about the fourth television channel. What is the good of a fourth television channel if people cannot look at the three that we have already? I exhort the Minister to weigh the pros and cons. In my list of priorities the old people come first. Let us first enable everyone to look at the three existing channels before we start talking about the fourth, fifth, sixth, right up to the twentieth channel that the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough wanted to see come into operation, with him no doubt being the managing director of them all.
The lesson of this debate is that we should see how we can help the old people to have television now or in the immediate future at a price that they can afford to pay. That is of paramount importance and is much more important than any talk about having a fourth 553 channel when so many people cannot watch the three channels that already exist.
§ 8.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Armstrong (Durham, North-West)
I hesitate to intervene because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Harper) said, I shall be speaking on the Adjournment at a much later hour and I have no wish to postpone that hour.
However, I have been stimulated by some of the comments made by my hon. Friends and by the controversy that is raging on the question of the fourth channel. I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract, in that I would not argue that we do not need a fourth channel. In view of the potential of television, we must look ahead and be prepared to devote more of the national resources to this tremendous medium.
I have in mind the possibilities for television in schools. I have personal experience, as a headmaster, of some of the school television programmes. School television has widened children's interests and made a great contribution, but much remains to be done.
The advent of the commercial outlook in television, with its concentration on the mass audience, has prevented us from developing television as a public service, which is how I should like to see it develop. I am not saying that we should restrict the development of television, but we must be concerned with certain priorities.
The hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Proudfoot) talked glibly about 25 channels and about people watching television 24 hours a day. The hon. Gentleman said that we wanted freedom of choice. That will sound a little odd to a great number of my constituents who are paying the licence fee but who cannot receive B.B.C.2.
Further, some of my constituents receive I.T.V. only through a piped service for which they pay a weekly charge. I think that that is robbery with violence, but I believe in choice, and if people want to watch I.T.V. they should be able to do so. However, it is an imposition that these people must make a weekly contribution to a private firm for this public service and then at the same 554 time read all the Press comments and hear the glib talk about all the channels which will shortly be available, with cable television just round the corner. The main priority for my constituents is to be able to see the services that the rest of the country now take for granted. My constituents pay the same licence fee and they have a right to the same service.
We are missing an opportunity to develop truly regional services. I am disappointed in the regional service given by both B.B.C. and I.T.V. The North has a great number of closely knit communities. The largest town in my constituency has a population of 12,000. Almost every village community has its brass band. We have some first-class male voice choirs. The North has a culture very much its own which enhances the quality of life there.
I am disappointed that television, because of its obsession with the mass audience, pursues so much that is trivial and mediocre, and it is becoming very boring.
The B.B.C. in the North is run on a shoestring. The newscasters give a first-class service, but they read the early morning news on sound radio, they are there again at lunchtime, and they read the news on television at night. It is about time the Northern Region had its fair share of the resources which are going into this public corporation. The undoubtedly talented people who are running the service there should be enabled to give the Northern Region the type of service which they are anxious to give.
Tyne-Tees has attempted to give a regional service. But it is handicapped by the constant pressure that there is, as there must be when the medium is controlled by advertising to strive for the mass audience. When I think of the closely-knit communities and the community associations in the North, of the tremendous amount of voluntary activity and the first-class entertainment provided in villages and towns throughout the North, I feel that television is missing a great opportunity. There is plenty of talent there and plenty of opportunity for good regional television. The Minister should be encouraging the television authorities to give far more attention to that kind of development than talking 555 glibly about the great expansion we are to have.
We must make up our minds whether the priority is to be public service, by which I do not mean service to people who happen to live in the big conurbations. I mean by that that people in the most remote village in my constituency must get just as good a service as those in the middle of the conurbations.
I do not want to push education down people's throats. I want to give them plenty of choice. But when we recognise the tremendous potential of television, its great power as it is piped into every home in the country, we realise that there are bigger considerations than the mass audience, satisfying the advertisers and so on, the commercial considerations so prominent in the speech of the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough. We must use this great medium to entertain people, but we must also use it to improve the quality of life, and we are not doing that now if the Minister is not ready to stand up to the commercial pressures being exerted upon him.
There is no urgency to make the decision. The Minister should wait for the inquiry. The very important considerations I have mentioned demand that we give time to examine the situation from all sides, and that we remember that public service should take precedence over the desire of folk who want to make a pile of money quickly.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Ivor Richard (Barons Court)
This has been a very useful debate, and I am grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) and Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) for giving us the opportunity to air the problem.
When the debate started I felt that it was rather like being in the Sound Broadcasting Bill Committee. When I saw the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Sir M. Galpern) appear at the Bar of the House it seemed as though we were perhaps discussing the wrong matters.
It is useful to have a public airing of the topic at this stage, because there is now widespread public concern that the I.T.A., by its proposals for an I.T.V.2, has tried to jump the gun, attempting to 556 pre-empt a decision that clearly need not be taken at this stage, and that by attempting to pre-empt that decision now all that it is doing is to submit proposals designed not to create a fourth television channel of great social benefit to the country but rather to deprive anybody else of getting it.
There has been virtually no support in the Press for the proposals. I do not propose to read many quotations, because I am sure that the Minister will have had them pointed out to him, but it is worth noting one or two. For example, The Guardian said on 9th December:Mr. Chataway, representing the viewers, needs to look at the fourth channel on a much wider basis than the I.T.A. has done. He should establish soon a major inquiry into how to produce the best and most varied service that the country is prepared to pay for.The Daily Telegraph of the same date said:If it were the case that a fourth television channel was an urgent necessity then this argument might be sufficient; but it is hard to see why there needs to be any hurry. On the contrary, since there will have to be a general review of broadcasting policy before 1976, when the B.B.C. charter comes up for renewal and the present commercial contracts come to an end, there is everything to be said for putting off a decision until the review has been completed. This would enable a number of other possibilities for the fourth channel to be considered.The Sun called the I.T.V. proposalsInsufferable Effronteryand the Daily Mail said:There's no hurry for I.T.V.2 and not much money to pay for it. Mr. Chataway would do best to wait until the charters of both B.B.C. and I.T.A. run out in five years' time.Then he could overhaul the whole structure of television from top to bottom"—a somewhat egalitarian sentiment from the Daily Mail—and make sure that it is the viewers not the tycoons who profit.That is a sentiment with which I wholly agree.
The Financial Times saidMr. Chataway, who has now received the official proposals of the I.T.A., would do best to reply in the manner proposed by the 'TV4' Campaign.…Sean Day-Lewis wrote in the Daily Telegraph:I fervently hope that the Government will be persuaded to delay its decision at least 557 until all alternatives to I.T.V.2 have been carefully explored.In the Evening Standard on 8th December Milton Shulman wrote:I would guess that there are no more than 300 people in the entire land, and that is probably an over-estimate, who firmly believe that it is wise and desirable to set up I.T.V.2 at this time without a general inquiry …I am happy that this debate is taking place, because it gives me an opportunity on behalf of the Opposition to make our point of view on the I.T.A.'s proposals crystal clear. We are firmly and definitely opposed to the allocation of the fourth channel to I.T.V. at this stage. If it is to be allocated now, we would nevertheless wish its allocation and its future to be included in the terms of reference of the inquiry the Minister will clearly have to set up before 1976. We would certainly not wish any decision he took now on the allocation of a fourth channel to pre-empt the considerations or the deliberations of that inquiry.
It is worth while examining the I.T.V. proposals. The document containing them is rather an odd combination, being pretentious in some parts and over-pious in others. Neither of those two attributes is particularly justified by the terms of the document or its proposals. It concludes first that:there is a strong case for a second I.T.V. service;…When I read that, having a nasty, inquiring legal sort of mind, I asked, if there was a strong case for a second I.T.V. channel, what evidence there was to support it. I looked for it in the document. But one looks in vain in it for any evidence of public demand at this stage for the additional service. Not only is the document silent in terms of public demand but, on page 8, it concedes that there is no such public demand. It says:The case for the introduction of a second service is based upon the programming restrictions which must exist in a single service.In other words, the I.T.A. is saying, "We cannot produce evidence of great public demand for a second I.T.A. channel but, clearly, since running one service imposes some restrictions on us in the treatment of our programme content, the introduction of a second service must therefore be necessary." The document goes on to say: 558The Authority is charged by Section 1 (4) of the Television Act to provide 'a public service for disseminating information, education and entertainment' and to secure 'a proper balance and wide range' in the subject-matter of the programmes; but it is obvious that within the confines of a single service, there cannot be as wide a representation of the tastes and interests of the audience as a whole, and those of the various groups within it, as there can be with two jointly planned services.There are two arguments there by implication in support of the I.T.A. case. The first is that there is public demand and the second is the assumption that the second channel would provide a proper balance and range which is at present lacking. I do not believe it and I hope to persuade the Minister that he should not believe it either.
The document then says, as a heading to Part IV:I.T.V.2 Complementary to and Not Competitive with I.T.V.1.That is a wholly admirable sentiment. God forbid that we should have two I.T.V/'s competing with one another for the same audience or the same type of audience, and putting out the same type of programmes. If they are to be complementary to each other and not competitive, it is worth looking again at the document to see what sort of programmes they will be able to put out. On page 10, paragraph 19 starts with the ringing statement:It is time to be more specific about some of the fields in which opportunities would arise:It then lists 11 of them. I ask the House to note them, and I ask whether it really believes if this is what a second I.T.A. channel would provide:The new service would have a newspaper correspondence column. Another point is that in a two-channel service there would be
- "(i) It would be possible to deal in greater depth and detail, and more frequently, with current affairs, with arts and sciences, with political, economic, and social issues."
- (ii) In an age of increased leisure, television can support a wide range of leisure pursuits; some of these, like gardening and motoring, have very wide appeal, while many others command smaller followings but equal, or greater, devotion.
- (iii) To travel vicariously…
- (iv) It is desirable to stimulate the production of programmes of an experimental nature.…
- (v) Extended coverage would be possible for a number of sporting events of all kinds.…
- (vi) It is an incentive towards excellence in educational and other serious programme
559 fields if better viewing times are available for some of this output."…scope for the planned repeating of worthwhile programmes of all kinds between the two channels.Point (ix) says that more programmes could be taken from the regions and fed into the network, which would encourage, according to (x), independent programme makers and—according to point (xi)—there would be more programmes in Welsh. Thus, we are presented with the prospect of a wholly admirable mixture of complementary programmes to those put out by I.T.V.1.
§ Mr. Whitehead
Would my hon. and learned Friend agree that the best we could say for competition between I.T.V.2 and B.B.C.2, if we get I.T.V.2, is that it would be like against like, and that, in discounting the case for competition between two I.T.V. channels, the Authority says that all the evidence suggests that competitive planning did not enlarge the range of choice? Indeed, it did not. It narrowed it, and it would so narrow choice between I.T.V.2 and B.B.C.2 if they were the same kind of programmes.
§ Mr. Richard
I see the argument. All things are relative. Two competitive channels is an infinitely worse prospect to me than two which are designed and intended to be complementary one to the other. It is perhaps worth asking whether we would get this if the second channel went to the I.T.A. The document itself almost disproves these possibilities on page 12, where there appear these chilling words:The companies, without exception, took the view that a second service, run on the lines so far described, was indeed possible and desirable. It was plain that the establishment of such a service could not be a very rewarding prospect financially for the companies, and indeed, for the first few years at least, would be almost certain to reduce profitability.That is the document put out by the I.T.A. On what we know about the existing financial position of the programme companies I am not encouraged to believe that they will undertake the sort of public subsidy that would be 560 necessary to put out I.T.V.2 on the lines set out here.
I quote Mr. Aidan Crawley on this in 1970, commenting on a Prices and Incomes Board's Report when he said:Instead of being a goose laying an endless succession of golden eggs, I.T.V. has become a high risk industry.I do not believe that a high risk industry will pursue a service which is not a rewarding prospect for the companies and would be almost certain to reduce profitability.
Secondly, I am not very impressed with the proposals made in the document for a greater degree of central control by the Independent Television Authority over the programme companies. There is little in the past history of the relationship between I.T.A. and the programme companies to encourage me to believe that in future the Authority will be any firmer or more successful with the companies than it has been in the past. It would clearly need a very tight central programme control to make the structure of the proposed complementary service viable in any shape or form.
Promises are cheap, but in television it seems that performance becomes extraordinarily expensive. The pressures would be in the direction of audience maximisation. The companies would finance themselves by selling advertisements, and if they were to do that they would need to go for the mass audience. The effect of that is that they would not be able to provide that complementary service.
I conclude that the proposals submitted by the I.T.A. are economically nonviable, that the expression of hope as to the future standards of programme are impossible of attainment, and I further believe that the I.T.A. is not really capable of exercising the degree of control necessary to ensure that standards are maintained and promises kept.
There are an enormous number of alternatives which I will not spell out. I hope that the Minister has a copy of this document produced by the A.C.T.T. which is extraordinarily well-documented, and well argued. It is one of the best background briefings on this subject that I have been sent within the last month or so. Faced with this position—that there are a large number of alternatives, 561 that this is the final television channel of this sort that will be capable of being allocated, faced with the fact that in 1976 the charters run out and the contracts come to an end—what should the Minister do now? I hope that he will accept our proposals for an inquiry or at least consider them more seriously than in the past. Whatever might be said about his proposal to abolish the Annan Committee, and I make no party point here, I suspect that the Minister would dearly like to have an independent body to which he could at least refer this problem.
In the course of the debate on commercial radio I said to the Minister that broadcasting in some ways was a peculiarly public thing—almost everyone is a consumer, everyone has a view about broadcasting and the sort of programmes they would like, and it is essential for the Minister to conduct those discussions as publicly as he can. It would be very wrong for the Minister to take a decision of this sort before such a public discussion takes place. The whole weight of Press and broadcasting opinion is on the side of that proposition and the only body I found on the other side was not unnaturally, the I.T.A. The Minister must say definitely and firmly to the I.T.A. that he is not prepared to take a decision as to what should happen about the allocation of a possible fourth channel. He should then set up the inquiry that has to take place before 1976.
In view of his intervention in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North, I want to say something about the time-scale of this inquiry. The Minister is obsessed by the year 1976 which is the year in which any legal action will have to be taken. It is not the year in which an inquiry would start sitting. It is not the year in which an inquiry would have to report. It is not even the year in which the Minister would have to take a decision consequent on the report of that inquiry.
Therefore, if the Minister feels, as I hope he does, that there must be an inquiry between now and 1976, there is no reason why he could not announce the setting up of that inquiry in 1972. It could start deliberations, say, in the middle of next year and produce a report towards the end of 1973 or the beginning of 1974. We would want that inquiry to 562 look not only at the allocation of the fourth channel but at the whole structure of broadcasting, including commercial radio and consider whether there should be commercial or non-commercial radio, local or non-local radio. We would want all such matters to be considered by the inquiry.
On the unlikely assumption that the Government are still in office towards the end of 1974, or, if they are, that the Minister still occupies his present post, whoever is responsible for this decision then must, by the end of 1973 or the beginning of 1974, have in his hands a report based on long and detailed consideration. There is no reason why at that stage he could not announce his decisions in principle to take effect in 1976, when the charter runs out. He would not be pre-empting future decisions which must be taken. He would not be preventing the B.B.C. or the I.T.A. from going on with their activities or initiating such activities as they would wish to initiate after 1976.
The report having been prepared and put in the Minister's hands, it is not 1976, but the date at which he announces his decision on the report which matters. This is not a semantic argument, with respect to the Minister's P.P.S.; it is an argument of substance.
It would not be right for the Minister to take a decision on the allocation of the fourth channel or on local commercial radio until he had had the opportunity to look at the report of that independent body. There is no reason why the report should not be in his hands in approximately two and half years from now, or why the decision should not have been announced by then. If the decision is that the I.T.A. shall continue in its present form, I see no reason why the Television Act should not be amended to bring the date forward a year. If the decision was that the B.B.C. should continue with something very much approaching its present charter and structure, why should it have to wait until 1976 if everybody agrees that it should go on from the middle of 1974? It is not a question of freezing the position for five or six years every 10 or 12 years.
Inquiries of this sort should take place when decisions of this sort have to be made. If there are major decisions to be made in broadcasting, it might well be 563 worthwhile setting up a public inquiry. If no decisions have to be taken, I agree that there is no point in having an inquiry for the sake of it. There is no magic in the period of 10 to 12 years. There is no reason why the inquiry should not be designed to set the pattern of broad-casting, not for a decade, but for 15 years or even longer. If matters arise which call for a new inquiry, then let us have one. But I should be reluctant to see the Minister taking decisions now on the basis that he must wait until 1976 when this is patently not so.
If the Minister were to approach the matter in this way, he would be demonstrating his concern to secure a full and public discussion on broadcasting problems and he would be taking his decisions slowly and deliberately, as clearly he should, on this very important topic. Everybody agrees that that is what the Minister should do, and I hope that he will make an announcement to that effect this evening.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ The Minister of Posts and Telecommunications (Mr. Christopher Chataway)
I should like to add my very warm congratulations to the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) upon giving us the opportunity for having this debate and upon the way in which he introduced the debate with what was an extremely thoughtful and interesting contribution. There had been on this side of the House a little anxiety about the health of some hon. Members opposite who have been indulging in marathon performances in the Standing Committee upstairs. We offer them our condolences. It has been a very welcome surprise to find how much extremely interesting material those hon. Members can pack into a very short time.
It is extremely valuable that we should have the opportunity to have this debate at this time. It gives me the opportunity to make it absolutely clear that the Government do not have a closed mind on the subject of the fourth television channel. There have been a few confident assertions, outside the House, that the issue is already settled one way or another. That is certainly not so. I have always made it plain to the House, and certainly to the Independent Television Authority, that while I see some strong arguments against allocating this fourth channel in 564 the years immediately ahead, the Government have not ruled it out. We have recently received this submission from the Authority, and that I shall be studying carefully.
I think it has been recognised throughout this debate that the discussion about the uses to which the fourth channel could be put has been conducted for quite a number of years. There have been references by hon. Members to the Pilkington Committee and the recommendation of the Pilkington Committee that with a structural change the fourth channel should be allocated to I.T.V. The Government at that time, while not authorising the I.T.A. to go ahead with the second channel, expressed the view that this might be right in a few years' time.
A number of hon. Members taking part in the debate—the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins), the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) and others—have suggested that that Pilkington recommendation for structural change in the I.T.A. ought to take place. It was not the view of the Government of the time of the Pilkington Committee, or of the Opposition of the time of the Pilkington Committee, or, I think, of the last Government, and I know that it is a view which would be contested in many parts of the House. I welcome the fact that over these past months there has been renewed interest in the subject of the fourth channel and views of a wide variety have been put forward.
§ Mr. Charles R. Morris
The Minister has indicated that the Independent Television Authority has made submissions to him. What consultations has he had with the British Broadcasting Corporation? Is he aware that the B.B.C. is making representations and submissions to him on this important topic?
§ Mr. Chataway
I was going to come in due course to the other representations made to me. I simply say that this debate in many shapes and forms has been going on for a very long time. Many of the alternatives which are advanced now are not new, but I very much welcome the fact that there has been, and still is, a wide-ranging debate about the uses to which the fourth channel might be put, and the decision which the Government have to make will certainly have 565 to take account of the many potential alternatives there might be.
Briefly, because I am very conscious of the fact that there are many hon. Members who want to take part in subsequent debates tonight, I would attempt to look at some of these alternatives which have been discussed by hon. Members this evening, and to enumerate some of the factors which, I believe, it is right one should take into account. The hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Charles R. Morris) and the hon. Member for Derby, North spoke of education. It has been suggested on a number of occasions and in the Pilkington Committee that the fourth channel might be devoted to an educational service. There has always been a problem of financing. It has always been the case that the idea of a channel devoted exclusively to education would have to compete with other priorities in education.
There is a strong case—I think that it is well argued by the I.T.A.—for contending that the broad educational interest would not necessarily be best served by concentrating all educational programmes into one channel and that it is better that such programmes should be distributed across channels which are used for entertainment as well.
§ Mr. Whitehead
There is a strong probability that the I.T.A. will itself be concentrating educational programmes in the mornings only on the channel which it has in order to give additional time to the companies which want to put programmes on in the afternoon. How does the right hon. Gentleman view that prospect? Will he authorise it if it is proposed to him?
§ Mr. Chataway
The hon. Gentleman has raised a separate matter on which one would hope to have an opportunity to comment at another time.
Apart from the points which I have just put, there are in the education world continuing doubts about the extent to which broadcast television can be expanded to make any substantial contribution to the curricula of all students. There are many who argue that the shortage of frequencies, even with another channel, must mean that broadcast television can touch the differing curricula of different students at different stages of development and with different aptitudes at only 566 a very few points, and such people would rather look to cassettes or closed-circuit systems as the growth points of the future. But these are primarily questions for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science, and I am, naturally, consulting her on the matter.
It has been suggested that the fourth channel should, perhaps, be devoted to parliamentary proceedings. Neither House has said that it wants to have its proceedings televised, and perhaps it is difficult anyway to envisage that it would be thought right to televise all or most of Parliamentary proceedings, or to devote the whole or most of a channel to that purpose. If, on the other hand, it were thought desirable to televise an edited version or to televise extracts from Parliament on special occasions, I should incline to the view that those programmes ought to find a place in the ordinary networks.
Third—several hon. Members have referred to these possibilities—there is the concept of allotting television time between different interest groups. In some quarters this has in recent months become a rather fashionable idea. There is considerable interest in the Dutch system, to which some hon. Members have referred. The idea of stimulating what I think is called participative radio and television has been campaigned for over the years by the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn). In his speech in 1968, which was widely reported, he argued that interest groups should be given access to the media, and I think that it is probably from the right hon. Gentleman that the recent interest has primarily stemmed.
Those interested in these ideas frequently allude to the system in the Netherlands, where political, religious and other communities have traditionally provided all or part of the broadcasting services on a transmitter-sharing basis, although successive post-war Acts of Parliament have obliged them to surrender increasing amounts of air time to a central public service broadcasting authority. The system has gradually become more fragmented and complex, with such minority groups as Moral Rearmament and the Society for Sexual Reform being allowed a few minutes weekly, while larger organisations, of 567 course, are allotted more time. I would not suggest that all these ideas ought to be dismissed out of hand.
In broadcasting, as in other fields, there is value in studying the experience and practice of other countries at a similar stage of development. I have looked with a great deal of interest at the Dutch system of broadcasting, but I am sometimes advised by Dutch friends not to overlook the fact that one by-product of the system has been that the pirate stations, Radio Veronica and Radio North Sea International, have attracted away the majority of the audience.
Our experience in this country of broadcasting by interest groups has been confined to party political broadcasts. Although I have appeared in a number of these over the years, I cannot conceal from myself that they are not widely regarded as being the jewels in the British broadcasting crown. Not everyone would see them as providing the springboard for a new leap forward in broadcasting. Many people have concluded that allotting time to political parties, religious groups and other interests would not necessarily produce the most rewarding broadcasting, but I shall continue to examine with care all the many suggestions of this sort which have been advanced.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
Does not the Minister agree that it would be rather narrow to judge this purely from the Dutch experience and the comparison with the rather special case of party political broadcasts?
§ Mr. Chataway
I will certainly take account of the hon. Gentleman's view.
Other possibilities have been mentioned. The hon. Member for Openshaw talked of a public service regional broadcasting authority. The hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Mr. Armstrong) spoke of the need for more regional broadcasting. As the hon. and learned Member for Barons Court (Mr. Richard) made clear, one of the potential advantages that the I.T.A. see in having more time is that it would mean that more time could be given to the regional companies. In considering the possibilty of using the fourth channel to provide much smaller companies which would serve relatively small areas, one has to have 568 regard to the cost and the method of financing. Although no doubt television need not be quite so expensive as it is at the moment, it is a comparatively expensive medium, and it will always be difficult to provide a broadcast television station for a small community.
The debate, both here and outside, has centred principally around the Authority's recommendation that the fourth television service should be used to provide a service complementary to I.T.V.1. The Authority has advanced a strong case and has argued it persuasively. Clearly there are many advantages in a service which is complementary rather than competitive.
I will not repeat the arguments that have been advanced by the Authority, but one must take account of what the Authority says about programme possibilities and of the fact, as one or two hon. Members have recognised, that in a regionally based system, such as I.T.V. is at the moment, there is bound to be considerable surplus capacity in the regions and, therefore, the possibility of providing a good service somewhat more economically than if the alternative service were started from scratch.
Doubts about the proposal of the Authority that the second channel should be organised to be complementary rather than competitive have been expressed from several quarters. In a characteristically thoughtful review of the television year in this morning's Financial Times, that much-respected critic Mr. T. C. Worsley, describing the I.T.A. proposals as sensible and workable, voices the doubt whether the Authority would be able to ensure that the two services were complementary and that I.T.V.2. would not degenerate into a ratings-catching copy of I.T.V.1.That is a crucially important consideration.
It is said by many, including the hon. and learned Member for Barons Court, that the past record of the I.T.A. does not offer any guarantee of their ability to control the companies. All of us can point to I.T.A.'s failures. I wonder whether enough allowance is made for the sudden economic reversals which falsified expectations in the early years of the present contract periods. I have considerable respect for the present membership of the Authority, and I take only 569 limited credit for it since most of the appointments were made by the last Administration. We should recognise that I.T.A.'s failures are often more apparent because the I.T.A. is separate from the broadcasting companies.
It is always possible to quote—as, for example, by the T.V.4 campaign—from the Authority's annual report which criticises the output of the companies and to use it as evidence against the Authority. When the Authority fails to get its policies implemented by the companies, it is more apparent than is the case with the B.B.C. because they are separate from the broadcasters and sometimes engaged in an open dialogue with them. Those who argue that supervision of the B.B.C. should be by a body divorced from the Corporation should particularly take account of the handicap in their public relations imposed by this situation on the independent authorities.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
Criticism of the structure of the Authority in no way constitutes criticism of the personnel of the Authority.
§ Mr. Chataway
I am grateful for that intervention. I know that that would be the view of a number of hon. Gentlemen opposite. Indeed I believe that the hon. Member for Derby, North said it expressedly.
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
Does the right hon. Gentleman think that it is at least as important to encourage the many excellent people who work on the staff of the various companies, such as producers and people on that level, who are often not in a position to make the final decision, which is made for them by the commercial directors of the programme companies? We should not forget when we talk about good personnel the excellent work carried out by the producers and other people who work for the commercial companies. The Minister should arrange his future programmes in such a way that these people are encouraged to do their best work.
§ Mr. Chataway
I do not intend to embark on a long list of tributes, and any tribute I have paid in passing to the personnel of the Independent Television Authority is in no way exclusive. I 570 hold a high view of a large number of other people involved in broadcasting, and indeed in other walks of life.
Other criticisms of the Authority's concept of complementality have come from those who want competition. My hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Proudfoot) made it clear that he wanted to see genuine competition and would wish to see the fourth channel allocated to companies which would be in competition with existing companies. The advertising interests have equally made it clear that they do not favour the idea of the same companies being involved in the second channel because, from their point of view, they would wish to see competition.
The hon. Member for Putney in arguing that he wanted to see control diversified, less predictably was arguing that he would wish to see the fourth channel, as I understood it, allocated not only to programme makers separate from the present ones, but also to a body which would not be regulated by the I.T.A. because he wanted that amount of separateness. From that standpoint, obviously there is a case to be made in favour of competition. It is tempting to argue that it might be possible to get the benefits of complementary programming alongside the advantages of competition. This has been argued from a number of quarters over the years. But it must be recognised that, if one is saying that it will be difficult for the Authority, even with the safeguards that it is proposing in its favour, to ensure complementary programming under the structure that it recommends, it would be even more difficult to ensure complementary programming if the two services were being provided by competitive channels.
Then there is the issue of finance, to which the hon. Member for Putney referred. It is an important practical question whether there would be enough money to pay for a competitive commercial service. Obviously it would be considerably more expensive than the £15 million that the Authority estimates would be the cost of providing a second service along the lines proposed by it.
Incidentally, I did not find wholly persuasive the argument of the hon. and 571 learned Member for Barons Court on the financial question raised by the Authority. It seems to me to be possible to envisage that the companies would find a prospect of this kind attractive, although, as the I.T.A.'s submission notes, it would be two years or more before the companies were able to break even on a second channel provided on this basis.
Again, one must take account of the position of the Press and the likely impact on it of a fourth channel financed by advertising. A number of hon. Members have referred to this point. Certainly there will be differing views on whether it is any function of the Government permanently to check the development of broadcasting in order to protect existing Press interests. But I think that there is general agreement that, in discussing new developments, one should bear in mind their likely impact on other media of communications.
If one is anxious to produce a greater diversity of choice in broadcasting, one must be concerned also with the range of choice in the Press. There can be no doubt that independent televsion has had some effect on the Press. Equally, there can be no doubt that the extent to which the Press and television compete for the same advertising is often exaggerated. But some estimates suggest that perhaps 10 per cent. of independent television's present revenue might otherwise have been available to the Press.
Finally, there is the question of the timing. This was the last subject dealt with in the Authority's submission, and obviously it is an important one. Two questions will have to be decided. The first is whether to take any decision at the present time on the allocation of the fourth network. The second is to what purpose the channel should be allocated. If the answer to the first question turns out to be a decision not to allocate the fourth channel now, there is plenty of time for a continuing public debate about the eventual allocation.
§ Mr. Richard
Does that mean that the right hon. Gentleman accepts that there will have to be a general inquiry prior to 1976? If it does, will he comment on my points about the timing of that inquiry?
§ Mr. Chataway
I accept that, nearer to 1976, it will be right to look in a comprehensive way at the options which are open. But I do not think that it can be sensible for broadcasting to be in a state of more or less permanent inquiry. The hon. and learned Gentleman must recognise that, during the time that there is a public inquiry, the broadcasting authorities cannot initiate any changes. The hon. and learned Gentleman must recognise, secondly, that as soon as a public inquiry is set up, a large part of the energies of those engaged on both sides in broadcasting is devoted to the public relations battle. Those involved in the last exercise make that absolutely clear.
I do not believe that the hon. and learned Gentleman is on to a good point when he suggests that we should break out of this 10-year or 12-year cycle by trying, at the end of the next review, to set a pattern for 15 or 20 years. We are entering a period in which there will be even more rapid change. We have to recognise that the review period has to be shorter. It would be quite ridiculous, in 1970, as was proposed last year, not even half way through the cycle, to set up an inquiry for post-1976. On that pattern, what would be happening would be that in 1976 we should usher in the new order, and in 1980 or 1981 we should be setting up the inquiry for the next round. The hon. and learned Gentleman must recognise that many of the most valuable innovations in the post-war period have come before inquiries, and to adopt this suggestion would be to impose a hopelessly narrow straitjacket on our system.
§ Mr. Whitehead
On this central point, surely the Minister realises that if there is to be a review before 1976, the inquiry should report two years before that, which means that it should be set up two years before that. If that means setting up an inquiry in 1972, surely the consideration of the allocation of the fourth channel is one thing for the inquiry. The Minister cannot decide it.
§ Mr. Chataway
If the hon. Gentleman says that the inquiry has to take two or three years, no doubt his arithmetic will lead him in that direction. I do not take that view.
I have taken note of a number of other points which have been raised. 573 The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme and the hon. Member for Putney drew attention to the evidence produced by the A.C.C.T. I have been glad to receive that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brig-house and Spenborough raised the question of hours, and I took note of his views. As the House knows, the I.T.A. have put to me their proposals for decontrol of hours. A number of other hon. Members have drawn attention to the importance of spreading the existing services. In all of these, I recognise that there are points to which it is right that the Government's attention should be directed.
In conclusion, one promise I can make to the hon. Member for Derby, North and to other hon. Members who have raised the question is that, should we decide that the time has come to make an allocation of this fourth channel, I shall have discussions with any of the main groups who wish to represent their views to me before any final decision is taken.