§ Question again proposed.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. A number of hon. Members wish to speak. I hope that we can have shorter speeches.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Edelman (Coventry, North)
I have written for television for a number of years, but I hope that that will not disqualify me from contributing to the debate. I prefer to think that my experience as a contributor will supplement by own feelings as a viewer.
At the outset I must voice my regret that the Minister has not intervened earlier in the debate. It would have been of value to hear his comments on this admirable report of the Select Committee so that the House could have some guidance. After all, the right hon. Gentleman is the arch-exemplar of one who believes in laissez faire. He left his last post presumably because he was dissatisfied with the Government's policy of intervention and he has now moved into a position in which, though he may have hoped, with his well-known hostility to nationalisation, that he would be spared some of the moral crises that he found in 1516 his previous post, he finds himself suddenly in a position where one of his major tasks is to provide a cloak of patronage for television companies which over the years have probably made more money relative to their investment than any other group of investors in the country.
Although the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) spoke about the losses made by some of the early entrants into television, in reality they made paper losses. Such was their investment in property under the benevolent care of a Tory Government who did so much to prosper the interests of property investors that now one has only to look at the premises of television companies to see that in terms of bricks and morlar they have resources and assets and have made real profits which are wholly disproportionate to any contribution that they have made to the country.
The Minister has turned down the idea of an inquiry. I can well understand why. Within his competence he exercises a potential patronage which would have made Walpole green with envy.
The Minister is in a position not only to dispense contracts, to give licences and to hand out resources—I do not mean in the way described by Lord Thomson when he spoke of a licence to print money—but to give real assets under the patronage which he exercises. This is a matter which should be carefully examined and studied by the House.
The right hon. Gentleman has declined an inquiry that we seek into one of the most important media that the country has ever known. We seek an inquiry into a means of communication whose impact is immediate. Its visual impact is such that on the day after a television programme has been shown in the playgrounds of the country, in the pubs and clubs, everyone is talking simultaneously about what was shown the night before.
This is not any ordinary media. It enters into the life of the country in a way that no other means of communication has ever achieved. For that reason, the Select Committee was concerned not only with the restructuring of the industry but with the means by which the medium of television could serve a useful social purpose.
1517 One matter that has already been under-emphasised in the debate, although perhaps other hon. Members will emphasise it in the course of further discussion, is that television conditions the quality of our life. No other means of communication is so capable of transforming the way that people think and behave. Television is a school of manners, a school of conduct, and also a school of crime. For that reason, this instrument should be carefully examined by the House in the interests of the nation.
It is not enough to say, as the hon. Member for Bristol, West said, that the Government should not interfere. It is not enough to say that this is an area in which everyone should have as much liberty as possible to do what they like, because there is a point where liberty spills over into licence. For that reason, it is all the more important that this House should take cognisance of what is being done within the framework of the television industry, not only by commercial television, but by the BBC, because there is a kind of symbiosis between commercial television and the BBC. One organisation tends to assimilate itself to the other. The result is that what we decide today about commercial television will certainly have its impact and reflection on the BBC.
Therefore, we are not considering the Independent Broadcasting Authority in isolation. We are considering it as an essential element in a general medium of communication which comprises the BBC. The inquiry for which we ask, and which the Select Committee has suggested, would seek to establish exactly what is being done through this novel, indeed unique, means of communication which has so great an effect upon our society.
One of the paradoxes of the world in which we live is that whereas, on the one hand, we have constant exhortations, even on television, from the clergy, from the police and from our educators against violence in our society—we have witnessed an increase in mugging and in all crimes of vicious violence which have characterised the last few years—on the other hand, we see these activities promoted night after night in a sort of night school of crime and violence on television.
1518 My charge against the Independent Broadcasting Authority is not simply the way that it has allocated licences, the means by which the organisation is run, or even the fact that it has neglected to proliferate committees to safeguard viewers against different things, but that it has failed to carry out the duties imposed upon it by Parliament. I do not believe that the IBA has upheld the criteria incorporated in the Television Act. I hold the right hon. Gentleman responsible—perhaps I should also put the blame on his predecessors—for having failed at an early stage to curb some of the excesses which have occurred on television.
It can and may be said that much of the violence which is shown on our screens is imported from the United States. I understand that a certain quota of importations is tolerated. Nevertheless, the American way of life, which has many admirable aspects, in the area reflected by crime programmes should not be imported because it has a pernicious effect on the quality of life in Britain.
It is obvious that if, night after night, children are exposed to this kind of instruction—I do not necessarily mean the detailed instruction portrayed on some crime programmes—where the lawless man, even though a thug in fancy dress and Western uniform, is made a hero of society, inevitably we shall get a public state of mind in which these demeanours will be imitated. Has the Minister, in the exercise of his authority, ever intervened with the IBA or its predecessor to try to tame and diminish some of the excesses to which I have referred?
Many years ago I recall going to see Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick and complaining, even then, about the nature of violence on our screens. I was asked what remedy I would propose and whether it was not the case—this is a stock argument—that violence occurs in classical drama, in Shakespeare, and so on. But television, with its instrusive and gloating lenses, is capable of presenting violence in ways which were never thought of before. It is capable of introducing a vast public to expressions of crime and to forms of sadism which an earlier generation would never have tolerated. Indeed, I suggest that not since public executions 1519 has the British public been exposed more directly to the representation of violence and horror than it is today. All this has flourished under the protective cloak of the IBA. If that seems extreme, I invite hon. Gentlemen to consider some of the scenes of violence which are the nightly pabulum of our children and to consider whether there is a kind of schizophrenia in cur society in which, on the one hand, we have the constant exhortation of Government, preachers, and police against violence while, on the other hand, night after night we have the impact of the scenes that I have described.
I am certainly not in favour of censorship by a body that would proscribe on political grounds anything that might be shown. But I draw the Minister's attention to the existence of the Television Act which has established certain criteria. It is no good the television companies multiplying codes of conduct and then saying, when charged with tolerating the representation of crime and violence on our screens, that they have introduced these codes of conduct for the producers. If these codes are not respected by the performers they might just as well not have them, because that is whitewash.
The right hon. Gentleman should have paid special heed to what was said by the Select Committee about the quality of programmes. It would have been desirable for him to pay some attention to those who offered their testimony as members of the Free Communications Group. Although I do not believe in a syndicalist approach to television—indeed I do not think there is any particular reason why people working in an industry which serves the public should be given preferential treatment in determining the policy of those undertakings—I believe that there should be much wider participation in the administration and running of the companies by those who are technically responsible for and who play their part in the industry.
In my judgment, those who are technically responsible for the industry, the people who produce the programmes and who are engaged in the physical projection of television programmes, are incomparable. I have seen television in many parts of the world, and technically we have elevated our programmes and productions to an extremly high level. 1520 But that is not enough. What is important, as has been underlined by the Select Committee in its recommendations, is that there should be a greater regard for the quality of programmes—not simply technical quality but the quality of life that is represented in those programmes.
It was McLuhan who said that the medium was the message, and never before has there been any medium capable of entering so directly into the lives and experience of those towards whom it communicates. For this reason the right hon. Gentleman cannot detach himself from the responsibility for whether the IBA has fully carried out those duties of establishing and preserving criteria which have been established by Parliament. Therefore, I am asking for an inquiry, not simply into whether in future there will be a greater care in issuing licences, but for an inquiry into the whole quality of television and the way of life projected by television.
I wish to refer briefly to the Warhol programme which caused so much controversy. I have said on other occasions that I do not believe in censorship even of extremely bad programmes, although I think that pernicious programmes should not be tolerated. But in the case of the Warhol programme the Anglia Television Company declined to show it. The reason it gave was that it thought the programme sleazy, inadequate and contrary to public interest. Then, after some debate, a combination of the IBA and the network companies insisted that Anglia should show the Warhol programme.
Anglia Television has an extremely high standard and reputation and has consistently sought to represent a quality of life which most of us would commend. Yet in the extraordinary situation over Warhol the IBA took upon itself the task of obliging the company to present a programme which it had condemned because it felt that it would undermine the quality of life.
§ Mr. Whitehead
Does my hon. Friend not agree that if there were not mandatory scheduling of documentaries by the IBA, timorous companies would often wish to opt out of good or controversial programmes? He will appreciate that the Select Committee commended the IBA's intervention on Warhol.
§ Mr. Edelman
I differ from my hon. Friend on that point. The whole point of regional broadcasting is to permit the regions to have a certain degree of autonomy. If there is to be a situation in which a central organisation, such as the Independent Broadcasting Authority, dictates to the regions what they must show irrespective of their own regional judgment as to its propriety, suitability or desirability, the whole question of regional broadcasting becomes a sham. For that reason I believe that the IBA abused its powers by forcing Anglia to show a film of which it strongly disapproved.
The BBC and ITV are closely involved because they must follow each other in pursuit of a mass audience. It is the pursuit of a mass audience—a condition which derives from the commercialisation of television—which has debased programmes. When people are sitting at home drinking cups of tea, what most catches their attention on the television screen is a milk bottle thrown through a plate-glass window. That is the technique of trying to hook an audience on a programme. It gives a traumatic shock to the viewer, and violence is one of the major means by which this is achieved.
If the Government consider television to be not simply a matter of organisational structure but something which can either contribute to the quality of life or degrade it, they must set up an inquiry into the effect of some of the programmes which have been shown. It has been established in the United States that a child who has reached the age of 18 has spent about 20,000 hours in viewing television and about 10,800 hours at school. That is a measure of the instructive quality of television and is a measure of the impact of television.
The need for the future relates not merely to security for television companies to be able to plan their programmes. The need for the future relates to security for our children who will have to grow up living with this medium. And it is up to us to see that the quality of life which they inherit will be worthy of them.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)
I join with those who have 1522 already expressed regret at the Government's decision not to have a full inquiry into the future of broadcasting and, instead, to proceed with a temporary extension of the Charter and the Television Act.
It is wrong for the Government to suggest that there is no great demand for an inquiry. I believe that the reverse is true. Because of the lack of a properly-sponsored governmental inquiry, people throughout the country who are concerned about broadcasting, whether they be professionals within broadcasting or those who look at the matter from an academic standpoint, are setting up their own inquiries. We look forward with interest to the report by the Social Morality Council which is expected at the end of this year. We also note the setting up of the Standing Conference on Broadcasting. Both these moves are signs of considerable concern about the future of broadcasting.
Hardly a weekend passes without hon. Members who are interested in broadcasting being invited to symposia or discussions on the subject. It appears that broadcasting is a topical issue with everybody except the Government. It is a great pity that the Government have taken this mistaken policy decision, and for this reason I and my colleagues will support the Opposition amendment.
I agree with the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Gregor Mackenzie) about the inadequacy of the report of the Television Advisory Committee. It underestimated not only the fairly short-term possibilities of cable developments but the dangers of such developments.
The whole future technology of direct wire services, not only for television but for meter reading and other Post Office purposes, is a major issue. There is no point in deferring detailed discussion and examination of the possibilities and establishing a long-term view of what our national policy will be on such developments. It is a mistake to say that, because there may be no substantial technical advance before 1976, we should not now begin with a detailed and authoritative examination. That is extremely important.
One of the major issues which such an inquiry should consider is not which authority should get the fourth channel 1523 but, before that stage is reached, whether we need a fourth channel. I join with the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Rutherglen, in stressing that priority and importance should be attached to the development of the existing three channels. Many people at present are unable to receive the services for which they pay by licence fees and by the cost of products advertised on commercial television.
That is no minor matter. It is a source of considerable aggravation that, every time a new service is introduced, it starts and becomes available first in London and then is gradually extended, over some years, to the furthermost parts of the country. As I said recently during Question Time, it is time that a distinct policy decision was taken to start new developments at the opposite end of the country. That would give the people who have footed the same bill as others some advantage in broadcasting facilities. So far they have had all the disadvantages of facilities which arrive late in the day.
There should be detailed discussion about whether there is a need for a fourth channel, not only in the context of direct wire development but on the philosophical query of whether more television is desirable. We have only to look at the United States to see that a great quantity of television does not necessarily lead to greater viewer satisfaction or a genuine choice of quality. There must at some stage come a limit to the sheer quantity of television output which it is worth having. These are major issues which should be the subject of an independent authoritative inquiry.
If the conclusion is that we are to have a fourth channel, the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Rutherglen about the future financing of the BBC must be considered. There may be a strong case for a fourth channel to be under the control of the IBA. That should not necessarily and automatically mean that it must be a commercial television channel. Equally, the BBC must not for all time be devoid of any commercial element. It is possible that one television channel or one radio channel could be operated by the BBC with commercial sources to meet the expense of the medium. That is not a popular view, but, if we are to have a balance within competitive broadcasting, we will not have such a balance as long as one side 1524 of the broadcasting network is completely commercial and the other side completely non-commercial. I hope that steps will be taken later to set up an inquiry.
I hope that the Government will continue to resist the attempts which are made quite regularly, within this House as well as outside, for some superstructure of control over and above the IBA and the board of governors of the BBC.
The hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) referred to the Warhol incident. He may have been incorrect in making the precise criticisms which he made of the IBA. As the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) said in an intervention, if it is the case that the regional companies' contract with the IBA was to show a series of documentaries at a particular time, the system will be wrecked if one company is allowed to opt out of a certain documentary. However, I agree that it is the responsibility of the IBA, particularly if individual companies within it are objecting to a particular programme, to assess whether it is right to proceed with the showing of that documentary. I agree with the hon. Member for Coventry, North that the responsibility lies with the IBA. Of course, we can never expect the IBA to be a totally faultless body, just the same as we cannot expect that any Government or Parliament will be faultless.
We must accept, if the system is operated by the IBA, that occasionally mistakes will be made. I did not see the Warhol programme and, therefore, I am not prepared to say that a mistake was made. I believe it is a generally and widely held view that it is wrong for well-known buccaneers like Mr. McWhirter and others to try to remove such situations. Matters are only made worse when there is interference and an attempt to try to superimpose something else on the responsibility of the IBA, just as the BBC made a mistake in setting up its three wise men instead of limiting the responsibility to the board of governors.
§ Mr. Edelman
I am grateful to the hon. Member for agreeing with me in part. The Warhol episode arose because Anglia decided that it would like to opt out of showing the film. I had seen the film and I could sympathise with its 1525 desire to opt out. Would the hon. Member, with his Liberal conscience, say that the cash nexus is more important than the exercise of conscientious objection?
§ Mr. Steel
I shall not put that forward as a statement. The possibility of conscientious objection is one that should have been hammered out between the IBA and the commercial companies. In that regard the hon. Member for Coventry, North is raising a genuine point for discussion.
It is not possible to say in retrospect that the IBA was wrong in principle. However, it was wrong in principle to show the programme. Once there is an arrangement to show documentaries on a network, that arrangement is destroyed if, after the companies have agreed to have network programmes, a company is allowed to opt out. The responsibility must rest with the IBA as well as the companies concerning what they show and what they decide not to show. It is right that they should be encouraged to have wide discussions with those who are employed in television, with the public, the Press and with Parliament about the way in which they arrive at a decision and as to the examples of decisions which they take.
On a personal note, I commend the action of Sir Lew Grade who invited some hon. Members to watch a documentary which his company, and not the IBA, had decided not to transmit. It was a riveting and an excellent piece of television. It was a documentary on the life of Michael Collins which the company decided it would not be appropriate to transmit. The company's willingness to extend the discussion a little wider than that of the company itself is a good thing and something which we should encourage. I do not in any way suggest that someone outside the television authorities should start bringing in quantities of literature and advice.
There is a reference in the Select Committee's Report, and in the reply to it, to the rôle of the regional companies. One slight defect in the independent television network at present is that there is not the same flexibility of interchange of programme facilities between the companies—particularly between the small companies and the large companies and 1526 vice versa—as there is in the BBC network, with its complete control of studios throughout the country. That is one area where the recommendations of the Select Committee are extremely important. It is not a major controversial issue but it would be useful if the companies were encouraged to lend their facilities to each other on a much greater scale than they do at present rather than regard each programme company as being in competition with its fellow companies.
It is right that we in this House should press the Government to support the views and findings of the Select Committee. It is wrong in principle in any case that the Government should be allowed to get away with turning down a principal recommendation of a Select Committee of this House on such a flimsy argument as that contained in the Minister's observations. For that reason, it is right and proper to vote against the Government tonight.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ The Minister of Posts and Telecom-munications (Sir John Eden)
I hope that hon. Members will feel it appropriate for me to intervene at this stage. It has been extremely interesting to listen to the debate so far. I have recognised speeches of some considerable value and also speeches of some considerable criticism. Of course I will remain during the remainder of the debate to hear what other hon. Members have to say.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) described some of the speeches by Labour Members as being very critical. Of course they have been. They have been critical on two grounds. The first is that the principal recommendation of the Select Committee has not been accepted by the Government. The second is the form in which my observations were given. This point was also made by the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel).
It is important to recognise—I say this in answer to the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Gregor Mackenzie)— that the White Paper was not seen to be, and certainly was not intended to be seen to be, a comprehensive declaration of Government policy on broadcasting. What was in the Government's White Paper 1527 was a formal statement of the Government's observations on those recommendations of the Select Committee which were specifically directed to the Government. Hon. Members who look back over previous White Paper observations by the Government of the day on a Select Committee Report will find that it is reasonably traditional to be fairly staccato in such observations in printed documents.
I am grateful that the normal procedures of the House have enabled a full-scale debate to take place, because it gives me an opportunity to elaborate on one or two comments made in public documents.
§ Sir J. Eden
That is certainly a statement, but my hon. Friend will have an opportunity to hear further words from me on the subject in a moment.
The main recommendation of the Select Committee called on me to establish now a comprehensive inquiry into the whole future of broadcasting after 1976. An important part of the Committee's argument was that there should be a widespread and informed public debate about the future of broadcasting. I agree with that. I am sure that anyone who has a point of value to contribute should be given the opportunity to do so. Decisions affecting the development of broadcasting in this country need to be based not "on an analysis of past performance or on an assessment of prospects for any particular sectional interest but on a judgment of what is in the best interests of viewers and listeners as a whole.
The recommendation of the Select Committee is one way by which this might have been achieved, but it is not the only way. Whatever the merits of having a comprehensive review from time to time, it is not a good idea to do it too often. The plain fact is that the date 1976 was coming to assume an importance which it never really had. It 1528 seemed to me that some people were becoming quite mesmerised by it.
But 1976 has become irrelevant. As the title of the Select Committee's Report recognises, Parliament has recently enlarged the functions of the Independent Broadcasting Authority so that it is now responsible for independent local radio as well as for independent television. This is a most important new development which has attracted widespread interest and which offers the prospect of a significant additional service for the listener. It will start this autumn and I am sure that, whatever the individual views may have been during the passage of the Sound Broadcasting Act, the whole House will now join me in wishing it well.
It would have been absurd, having so recently launched a new service, immediately to bring it within the compass of a review. It must be given time to get established. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West referred briefly to the question of rolling contracts. It is a fact that the authority will be able to gain some experience of rolling contracts from their application to independent local radio and if, as I hope and expect, this is a success the authority will, I am sure, wish to adopt the system for independent television, as the Select Committee has recommended. The extending legislation when it comes forward, like" the present legislation, will allow the authority to do it. The legislation will be in the form of a Bill to extend the lifetime of the IBA, and in relation to the BBC Licence it will be in the form of an order before the House.
§ Mr. Gorst
Could my right hon. Friend explain what has happened since we spent many months discussing the Sound Broadcasting Act, querying the reason why the Act was to terminate in 1976 and the Government's publication of the White Paper? At the time we were given to understand that 1976 was sacrosanct.
§ Sir J. Eden
I think that, as my hon. Friend hears me deploy my case, by the end of my speech he will have a greater understanding of these matters than he appears to have at the present time.
The Government's view that no full-scale inquiry is necessary at this moment was also influenced by the conclusion of my Television Advisory Committee that 1529 new technical developments were unlikely to have a significant impact on broadcasting until the early 1980s. The committee included representatives of the radio industry and also independent members who would have no interest in maintaining the status quo. Its technical sub-committee, whose detailed studies will be published shortly—the report has not yet been made available to hon. Members but we are pressing ahead with it—included experts drawn not only from my Department and from the BBC and the IBA, but from the programme companies, the relay companies, the radio industry, the Post Office and the Department of Trade and Industry and also two independent members.
The programme of detailed studies for the sub-committee was described in paragraph 4 of the report, and it is relevant to the arguments put to me that I should remind the House of what the programme was. It was for a reappraisal of the problems and costs of extending the coverage attained by the UHF services until it is virtually complete; an estimate of the period of time for which VHF bands I and III must continue to transmit the obsolescent 405-line services; an appraisal of the scope for redeployment in due course of those bands for television services using 625-line definition; an assessment of the technical problems involved in establishing a service of television broadcasting from satellites, with an estimate of the costs involved in transmitting and receiving such a service: consideration of the methods by which cable networks might be used for distributing television into the home on a general and widespread scale, and the rate at which the development might take place; and finally an appraisal of the likely effect on broadcasting of the domestic and other use of equipment for recording material for reproduction on ordinary receivers.
§ Mr. Golding
Has the right hon. Gentleman considered the criticisms of the report that it was disappointing because the terms of reference said that the sub-committee should consider cable networks on a general and widespread scale? Many of us have argued that cable might by its nature have been considered in terms of a build-up of localities.
§ Sir J. Eden
I was not commenting on the actual terms of reference. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the committee was set up by my predecessor. The point I was making was that the study group, the particular technical subcommittee, was specifically charged to cover these particular aspects and it was on this that the report of the Television Advisory Committee was based. Therefore, some of the criticism which has been levelled against it has assumed that it was saying things about matters which it did not, and in fact was not required to look into.
I will come to the question of cable in a moment or two because I want to deal with some of the points that have already been raised on that.
In January 1971 the TAC was asked by my predecessor to consider how far the exploitation of transmission and recording techniques available or likely to become available would be likely to proceed in the period after 1976. I think it would have been fairly easy for Sir Robert Cockburn and his colleagues to produce a headline-catching report which held out the prospect of all sorts of exciting changes just around the corner, but they very wisely resisted the temptation, if indeed it was there. Instead they made an expert and realistic assessment of the likely technical developments, thereby ensuring that the future of broadcasting was not to be considered against a background of prophetic assertions and wishful thinking. The committee has not said that developments such as direct broadcasting from satellites or video cassettes will never have an impact on broadcasting as we know it today. What it has said is that these developments are unlikely to have a significant impact during the present decade.
That is why I concluded that changes in the structure of broadcasting during the 1970s are not made necessary by any immediately foreseeable technical developments. Changes may well be necessary in the decade that follows, and it seems right, therefore, to enable the whole position to be reconsidered in a few years' time when the technical outlook for the 1980s will be a good deal clearer than it is at the moment.
One of the things some people tend to forget when they ask, for example, for 1531 more and more television services is that more and more for some areas—usually London and the larger cities—might lead to less and less for people in the rural areas. We have heard the plea on their behalf echoed in speeches today by the hon. Member for Rutherglen and the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles.
The House will recall that the other main conclusion of the Television Advisory Committee was that the first priority should be to complete as soon as possible after 1980 the coverage of the UHF 625-line television service. In the 1950s television services were provided on the VHF 405 lines. Later, BBC2 was broadcast on a higher definition standard, 625 lines, and dual-standard sets which could receive 625- and 405-line pictures were necessary.
In 1967 the Government of the day decided that BBC1 and ITV should be duplicated on UHF and 625 lines, and so the industry was able to produce a cheaper and more reliable UHF 625-line-only set. But until the UHF 625-line coverage matches that already attained on VHF it is the fact that some viewers will have to rely on the 405-line transmissions and will need sets which can receive them. The production of dual-standard sets is already being phased out and, in the industry's view, will be uneconomic after 1975. This means that the extension of UHF coverage is a matter of increasing urgency.
Hon. Members whose constituencies do not yet receive UHF signals will be well aware that the UHF programme is a major project which the BBC and the IBA have undertaken jointly. Already UHF services are provided to some 90 per cent. of the population. But over 400 more stations will be needed to bring UHF to a further 8 per cent. of the population. Both my Department and the two broadcasting authorities are giving top priority to the extension of UHF coverage. In doing this we are now reinforced by the findings of the Television Advisory Committee which indicated that, since it will still take some time to complete this programme, it would be sensible to get to 1981 before considering the redeployment of the VHF channels, which would then become a possibility.
1532 In recent years other claims have been made which, if they were to be met, could have the effect of diverting the broadcasting authorities' resources, in terms of both investment and expertise, from the UHF extension programme. Among these claims are those for changes in Welsh broadcasting and a number of other specific problems, such as the provision of independent television to Humberside, Lincolnshire and North Norfolk, about which we had such a spirited debate just before the House rose for the recess. There are, therefore, conflicting claims from various parts of the country on the broadcasting authorities' resources.
To a large extent the problem is one of establishing priorities and on this the Government considered that independent advice would be valuable. This is why we have decided to commission an independent study of coverage of the broadcasting services in Scotland, Wales. Northern Ireland and rural England. The Government attach a great deal of importance to the work of this group. Its extended terms of reference will be:Taking account of the Report of the Television Advisory Committee and the Government's intention to consider separately whether the frequencies available for a fourth television channel should be allocated, to examine the Broadcasting Authorities' plans for the coverage of television and sound broadcasting services in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and rural England, bearing in mind the particular needs of the people in those areas; to consider the priorities to be observed in the implementation of those plans and the allocation of resources; whether any improvements to the plans are feasible and, if so, with what financial implications; and to make recommendations.Those are to be the full terms of reference of the independent study group which I announced it was the Government's intention to set up when I made my observations on the report of the Select Committee.
I am glad to say that Sir Stewart Crawford has agreed to be chairman of the independent study group. I shall announce the names of the other members very shortly. The group will begin work as soon as possible and will, I hope, be able to report early in the New Year.
The White Paper announced that separate consideration is being given to the question of a fourth television channel. The Select Committee had recommended that no decision should be taken 1533 on the allocation of the fourth channel except as part of a general review. However, given the decision not to have a general review at the present time, it does not seem reasonable to put off until 1981 a decision whether the fourth television channel should be allocated and, if so, to what kind of service. I take the opportunity once again to stress as strongly as I am able that there are two questions for decision and not just one.
It could be that the conclusion we shall put before Parliament will be that there should be no allocation of this very scarce resource for the time being. In coming to a decision on this very important matter I intend to take account of as many views as possible. A number of organisations, such as the Independent Broadcasting Authority, the unions and the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, have already published their own proposals. Others, like the Social Morality Council to which the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles referred and which includes this subject in its current study of the social effects of broadcasting, are preparing their suggestions now.
The main options which have been identified are, I think already well known to hon. Members who have followed these matters. They are an ITV2, relying wholly or largely on present ITV contractors and providing programmes complementary to the existing ITV1 service— this is the sort of proposal to which reference has been made by my hon. Friends the Members for Howden (Sir P. Bryan) and Bristol, West—or an ITV2 with different contractors and providing competing programmes. Yet another is that it should become an educational channel, and lastly there is the option that there should be a fourth channel service independent of both the BBC and the IBA.
I should welcome views on all those ideas. There is no need for people who have put in suggestions to me to do so again, but if there are others who feel that they have constructive suggestions to make I should be glad to hear from them, if possible, in order to enable me to carry out this work, before the end of July.
As I have already made clear, before the House is asked to agree to the exten- 1534 sion until 1981 of the enabling instruments of the broadcasting authorities proposals concerning the fourth channel will be available to it. While I should obviously be unwise to predict exactly how long my study of this matter will take, I hope to make substantial progress with it during the remaining part of this year.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
My right hon. Friend said that two options were open if the independent part of the industry were to handle the fourth channel: either to use the existing contractors or to have new ones. Is my right hon. Friend aware of the widely-held view that a synthesis of the two ideas might produce a solution? Use could be made of existing contractors, and perhaps some new ones, and it might be a continually evolving process under the wing of IBA.
§ Sir J. Eden
One could devise a number of permutations. I was not seeking to be comprehensive in my list of possible options but merely highlighting the principal ones which I think are widely recognised as such by hon. Members generally.
I think that I should say something about cable television. Although the Select Committee's report does not refer to cable television in the summary of its recommendations, it records the Sub-Committee's study of evidence from the United States and Canada as showing that the development of cable television will be of great importance. I agree with that.
The Television Advisory Committee did not, as has been suggested in some quarters, recommend against the growth of cable television. On the contrary, it found that it would continue to grow and that techniques now available could be used to provide local as distinct from national or regional programmes, whether by developments in existing wire distribution systems or by the provision of new systems. It may not be generally realised that Britain pioneered the use of cable networks as a means of distributing radio and television services and that by now about one home in 10 relies on cable in order to get television. That number is growing.
Until recently the cable companies have not been licensed to originate their own programmes, but only to distribute the programmes of the broadcasting services. There was, it is true, the experimental pay television service which ended 1535 in 1968. But now we are at the beginning of very interesting local television experiments. There are five of these. One, in Greenwich, has been running since last summer. Another, in Bristol, will be starting a fortnight from today. Later this year, services will start in Sheffield, Swindon and Wellingborough. It will be most valuable to have the benefit of these experiments, but local interest programmes of this kind are not technically the only kind of programme that cable networks can carry.
The Incorporated Society of British Advertisers has proposed to me that cable networks should carry advertising. As many hon. Members will know, the Cable Television Association, led by my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayreshire (Sir F. Maclean), has advocated that cable operators should be authorised to provide a much wider range of services: distant British and foreign television programmes which cannot be received locally, access for minority views, local arts, pay television, adult education programmes, repeats of broadcasting programmes, advertising and many other kinds of service.
The justification for developing cable television will be if it can bring the viewer not an alternative way of getting something which he already gets from the broadcasting services but something extra which he does not now get and which the broadcasting services do not give him. That is the way in which I should like to see it developing, and I shall be discussing with the broadcasting authorities, the Press, the cable television operators and other organisations interested how it can be encouraged to do so.
§ Mr. Whitehead
Will the right hon. Gentleman authorise before 1981 at least some experiment in the importation of distant signals? I am thinking of a cable system located at Liverpool which may wish to import signals from Telefis Eireann for the Irish population in the area. This could be done immediately, without great inconvenience, if the Post Office and the Ministry would allow it.
§ Sir J. Eden
I do not wish to brush aside the point made by the hon. Gentleman but I should like to leave that until I have carried my studies of this matter a little further. During the coming 1536 months I shall increasingly be engaged in having important discussions, and I do not want to come to any prejudg-ment on the exact way in which the developments of the potential of cable television should be encouraged.
The Cable Television Association recognises that its proposals need to be considered carefully, and I shall welcome comments on them as soon as possible. It would be particularly helpful if such comments could be made before the end of July. I see no reason why, if any organisation or individual has any comments to make on the association's proposals, they should not be openly stated so that they can be the subject of wide public debate. In due course, along with the other matters to which I have already referred, the Government's proposals for cable television will be brought before Parliament.
§ Sir P. Bryan
Would my right hon. Friend agree that time is not on the side of the cable relay companies? As transmission over the air improves, so the necessity for relay services is diminishing.
§ Sir J. Eden
I accept that time is pressing, and that is one reason why I have decided to go ahead with my discussions immediately and to bring them to a conclusion as expeditiously as possible. As my hon. Friend knows, if there had been a general inquiry—as had been advocated—it would have taken two years, and possibly longer, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West said, the whole of the development in the broadcasting field would probably have been delayed for all that time.
The Select Committee made a number of important observations about the authority's relations with the public and about the need to consider some form of consumer organisation. Indeed, the Committee went so far as to suggest, though without actually strongly arguing in its favour, that there should be a single organisation for all communications media. That would present it with an almost impossible task. Its functions would be much too diverse for it to be effective. But there is, in any case, a most important distinction to be drawn between the broadcasting authorities, whose members are appointed as trustees of the public interest in broadcasting and, 1537 as the debate has shown, are answerable to Parliament, and the Press, which is composed of commercial firms with formal responsibility only to their shareholders. The House will recall that, in another context, the Younger Committee on Privacy accepted that distinction as a valid one.
The analogy with nationalised industries, though closer, is again not exact. I think we must be wary of establishing new bodies whose functions to some extent duplicate those of the authority. Nevertheless, I certainly recognise that there has been a demand in recent years in broadcasting, as in other fields, that the consumers should play a larger part in decisions about the services provided for them. I am already having discussions with the BBC and the IBA about the ways in which viewers' and listeners' interests can best be represented. I would welcome views on this from other organisations, from hon. Members and from members of the public, and hope that they will write to me to let me have their views before the House rises for the Summer Recess.
It is worth while underlining, as did the Select Committee, that broadcasting services are provided for the benefit of viewers and listeners. They are not for the benefit of the programme companies or of the broadcasters. That is the basis of present legislation. The Television Act makes the IBA independent in the day-to-day conduct of its business, but it also makes it ultimately responsible to Parliament. Its annual report is presented to Parliament so that we can consider whether it is carrying out the duties which we have laid upon its members.
The traditional independence of the broadcasting authorities from the Government may give some people the impression that this is a mere verbal formula and that, in practice, the authority is responsible to no one. That is not the case. The work of the Select Committee, and indeed this debate today, make that very clear. It is right that hon. Members should express their views on the authority's performance of its duties, because we represent the people for whom the authority provides its services.
That does not, of course, mean that Parliament—or the Government—should 1538 seek to do the authority's work for it. However, I know that close attention is paid to what is said in this House, especially, for example, to the constructive speech which we had from the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman). I would not hesitate to draw the authority's attention to the views of Parliament if I considered that the authority had under-estimated the strength of feeling on any particular issue, but it is not a part of my job to tell the IBA what to do about matters for which it, and it alone, has been given responsibility.
§ Mr. Edelman
The right hon. Gentleman has very properly pointed out that the IBA is responsible under the Television Act to Parliament, but a point he has not dealt with is what happens when the IBA fails in its duty as in the debate is has been accused of doing. Why has he not intervened in cases in which it has conspicuously failed in its duty?
§ Sir J. Eden
The hon. Member will recognise that when there is a clear consensus of opinion in this House that the authority has failed in any particular instance, or even in the general observance of the duties which this House has placed upon it, the course is open to the Minister to replace the existing members of the authority by other members.
To sum up, although we have not followed the Select Committee's report in every actual recommendation, its analysis has certainly been of the greatest value. I am sure that hon. Members would wish to express their gratitude to our colleagues who served on the Committee for the work they have done. The Government consider that there is no cause in the present decade to alter the basic structure of broadcasting in this country.
There are, of course, several important issues which need to be tackled, and this we shall be doing in the coming months. These are: the question of the fourth channel, cable television, the findings of the study in the provision of broadcasting services in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and rural England and the representation of viewers' interests. This makes up into a comprehensive package of action on broadcasting and demonstrates why a general inquiry is unnecessary at this stage. It also illustrates the 1539 inappropriateness of the Opposition amendment and the total absence of justification for the critical tone of some Opposition speeches. I therefore invite my hon. Friends to vote them down tonight.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Christopher Mayhew (Woolwich, East)
I warmly apologise to the Minister for missing the first part of his speech, but I heard enough at the end to make me worried about whether it is possible, as he suggested, to take a decision on cable television without a thoroughgoing inquiry first. It is possible to take a negative and unconstructive decision in advance of an inquiry, but we cannot do justice to the opportunities presented without the inquiry which my hon. Friends have been demanding.
I hope that the House will forgive me if I deal mainly with the subject of cable television. My constituents are able to view locally-initiated television programmes in their homes. Since July last year Greenwich cable television has broadcast for one hour a day with strictly locally-initiated programmes. On Monday I had the great pleasure of presenting a television football cup to the Plumstead Royals football team, which won the Greenwich cable television football competition conducted among several teams in the area. That was a good idea. There is no reason why other hon. Members should not have the opportunity of presenting similar cups to football teams.
Apart from sport, on Greenwich cable television we have had local issues discussed by local people, plays performed by local schools, women's affairs programmes and local arts and religious and youth programmes of our region. In addition, we had on the cable two BBC and at least two ITV programmes because we get London Weekend and Anglia— which is a great deal more than is obtained in other constituencies—and we had sound broadcasting as well. The programmes are, of course, rudimentary. Those concerned would be the first to agree that, compared with the high standards achieved by the BBC and ITV, because of extremely important technical difficulties, the programmes are rudimentary.
1540 Greenwich cable television is also faced with serious difficulties such as the special effort needed to tune in, which discourages many who watch the programme. In spite of this and the fact that it is operating on a shoestring budget of £25,000 a year, many constituents take the trouble to watch sufficiently to make the system worth while. The Minister demands payment for this valuable experiment, from which I hope he will be able to learn. He demands that this small company, with small resources, should pay the Ministry part of the expense of the experiment.
Yet people are really anxious to appear on Greenwich cable television and so far there has been a sufficient degree of success to justify the conclusion of the Select Committee thatin the late seventies and eighties, cable television will be as important for the broadcasting industry and, above all, for the communication needs of the country, as was the introduction of television in the forties and fifties.Those are stirring words, but I consider they arc justified. Already 2 million families have sets wired for television. If all took advantage of the exciting wire system, nearly one-third of the sets would be wired and getting their programmes on a cable. I predict the disappearance of all television aerials from the British skyline within the next 20 years, even granted the rather cautious and conservative attitude which the Minister displays.
Briefly, what are the advantages of cablevision? There are certain secondary advantages, such as much better reception, easier maintenance, cheaper sets in certain systems—I am not going into the technology tonight—and the absence of aerials. If I were asked to place the types of environmental pollution in order of demerit, I would put the television aerial high on the list. Aerials, especially in the country districts, are a form of environmental pollution which we would be much better without.
The first major advantage, however, is, of course, increased participation. I mean this not in any political sense but in the simple sense. I estimate that Greenwich people already appear on television at least 10 times more than people elsewhere in this country and that that figure can and will be increased. For masses of people, cablevision means not just watching the screen but appearing on it, 1541 and that is the objective we should be working towards.
But the main advantage of cablevision is the vastly increased choice. I do not know that a good case has been made out that we need more choice simply in itself or that people want more choice simply in itself. Heaven forbid that we should reach a similar situation as, in the United States, where there is a choice of 12 different channels but with about the same programme on each. That is something we have to avoid. More of the same, only worse, is quite the wrong objective when it comes to choice. The speeches of some hon. Members on the Government side today convinced me that in practice this was what they were working towards—more of the same, only worse.
By "choice" we means a wider choice of quite different types of programme. This can come only through cablevision. If the British are to remain sane and democratic, the mass output of our national and regional broadcasters has to be balanced by an entirely new range of viewing choices—local affairs, local sport, local films, leisure activities, education and all the rest—as well as a service for repeating outstanding programmes which would not otherwise be repeated.
The service must be truly local. It is no good talking in terms of the regional half-hours that some of the ITV regional companies produce. They are not local and they are very restricted in time. My concept of community television is on a borough basis, no higher than that. That is a service that only cable can achieve, with a minimum of 12 programmes. There could be many more, depending on the technology, and preferably with two-way communication, which is not out-of-the-world expensive or difficult, so that one could initiate one's programme from one's own set.
What are the obstacles? First, there is the rapid change of technology. We cannot tell, if we go now for a big cable-vision programme, whether the whole technology will not have changed and become out of date. I absolutely reject this form of argument. If we refuse to advance in the 70s and '80s because technology might be even better in the '90s, we will simply do nothing. The implication of this objection is that some- 1542 how technology will stop at some moment and that, at the moment it ceases to change and advance—so the Minister and his White Paper imply—a decision will be taken.
But it will go on changing all the time. If we always allow the good to be ousted with a vague prospect of the best, we shall get nothing done. I say this with greater confidence because I think that existing technology will be compatible with the later technologies when they come. It is a question of the interface of one local system with the main network, the main trunk system. Such technical knowledge as I have suggests that what we do now, if we have a vigorous policy of development, will not unduly prejudice future changes in technology.
The second major obstacle is finance The Television Advisory Committee's estimate was £500 million to £1,500 million as the capital cost of the system, or, if the particular cable viewer paid the whole cost, between £5 and £10 a year for him. How is this to be financed? Conservative Members have looked forward to increasing the scope and scale of commercial advertising. I hope and believe that this will never be accepted at the local level, at least by those who will try to develop these local systems. I do not believe that many Labour local authorities, for example, would welcome a system which would destroy local newspapers to start with and which was not really wanted.
I dispute absolutely the view that people positively want advertising on their screens. On the contrary, there is likely to be growing resistance in general to commercial advertising on television in the years ahead. It is worth reflecting that, only 20 years ago, those who condemned outdoor advertising as environmental pollution were dismissed as cranks. Yet that is a very general view today.
I predict that, as the years go by, people will see that advertising which interrupts television programmes is just as objectionable as advertising which interrupts our views of the countryside. We have not got there yet, but that will happen. Conservative Members will then be regarded as pioneer cultural pollutionists —and quite right too, in my opinion.
1543 I am not arguing that there is any politically acceptable alternative to advertising for financing ITV for many years to come, but I do say that to suggest that the concept with which I am dealing can be financed by advertising is to destroy the whole principle and aim of local broadcasting. That would automatically motivate those who planned the programmes towards maximising the audience, when the whole sense of this new concept is for the minority programme, the local programme, the special interest programme. The two things will not match.
Two big changes are needed in broadcasting finance. First, as my hon. Friends have rightly said, the television licence must go. This matter was discussed fully in a recent debate. Anyone can see that, in the old days, when only a proportion of people had sets, it was necessary that they should pay for the television and that those who did not have sets should not pay. The licence made sense then. Today, when practically everyone has a set, the television licence has simply become a big poll tax, paid equally by the very poor and the very rich. It costs £12½ million a year in collection and evasion and it ties the BBC to the Government, because it forces the BBC to kowtow to Ministers every few years in order to get an increase in the fee.
The television licence should go now, independently of anything else we decide. Instead—the second major change in my opinion—we must establish a Broadcasting Finance Council organised on the lines of the Arts Council, so that it can accept some of its revenue in rates and taxes without losing its independence to the local authorities and the Government. We know how to do this. It works with the Arts Council. It can work with a Broadcasting Finance Council.
That council, therefore, would receive from general taxation the amount of the licence money. It would receive rate contributions from those local authorities which enjoyed local television services— paid centrally, of course. We should never allow a local authority to pay locally for its local television: that would be intolerable. There would also be the subscriptions from cable viewers who had the system, plus, I would say, a large slice of the grossly excessive revenue from the ITV's advertising monopoly. 1544 We should have a council capable of financing both the BBC and the development of cablevision.
One might envisage even £50 million a year for the development of cable-vision starting as soon as a proper inquiry had been made into it. This is perfectly practicable, but I am not asking the Minister or the House to say "Yes". I am simply asking the Minister not to turn down this or other constructive ideas without properly examining them. However, the Minister says that he will turn down the suggestion without even examining it. He cannot hold that kind of position. He should have a wide-ranging inquiry to see whether I am talking nonsense. I and others have good ideas which deserve examination.
The Minister has a wait-and-see policy. In a cursory reference at the end of his speech he said that he would look into cablevision. We know that he will make a negative response. He will not make a proper study. It will be a complicated business and his policy will never work. The right hon. Gentleman's policy and that of his backbench supporters is to let things rip, which will mean that we get more of the same thing but much worse. I ask the House to urge the Minister to have an inquiry.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North)
In order to satisfy those Members who are keen on such things, I should like to declare that I have no interest to declare on the subject except a failure to produce the sort of broadcasting on commercial radio which I think this country should have.
It is usually assumed that if one criticises or disagrees with the Front Benches and, in broadcasting matters, with the BBC and the IBA and with most of the speeches that are made, one is unlikely to be making a good and effectual speech. Since all of this applies in my case I will have only one redeeming feature of making a short speech.
I believe that there should be more television and that there should be a fourth channel but I do not believe that there should be a fourth channel until there has been an inquiry. I do not believe that a decision can be taken about a fourth channel in total isolation and 1545 without considering the rôle of the BBC. The Select Committee, the White Paper, and most of the discussion today has been like a performance of Hamlet without the Prince. It has almost been as if we have been discussing trains and their usefulness in the community without considering that there are other possibilities, such as road, air and sea transport. All the propositions put forward for a fourth channel make certain assumptions about the whole pattern of broadcasting and about the maintenance of the status quo for the BBC.
But to brush away the argument for an inquiry, as the Minister has done, on the ground that a television advisory committee has identified the possibility of changes in the 1980s, reminds me of when we were told that we could not have commercial local radio because, it was argued by earlier Governments, the frequencies were not available. All the time we all knew that they were. This argument was never produced when there was a change from 405 to 625 lines, or when the change was to colour. This was no argument against having BBC 2. The Government cannot have the argument both ways, and yet that is what they appear to be doing. The first question about the fourth channel is not who should run it but whether it should be competitive or complementary.
Much of the argument that has taken place has taken it for granted that it should be voluntary, and that seems to be the burden of the argument of the television companies and the IBA. Before it is possible to decide, we must ask what should be the rôle of the BBC. Much of the argument for a fourth channel, and in particular for it to be a commercial television channel, assumes that there is a fixed amount of advertising revenue that is available, and that it cannot be split between two competing commercial channels because there is insufficient to go round.
I do not say that an inquiry would necessarily decide but, if we were to consider that the rôle of the BBC, its mandate, should be changed so that instead of there being two popular television channels and five radio outlets—four national radio channels and a series of local stations—the BBC should be a sort 1546 of broadcasting Arts Council to complement the popular programmes provided on a competitive basis by others, we would be releasing a popular audience for competition between the others. I do not necessarily suggest that this is the way it should be done, but without an inquiry to assess these matters and their social, political and economic considerations, we are not likely to make a rational and reasonable decision.
For the Government there is basically only one argument for the delay of eight years and that is that technical developments are coming along. However, I put it to my right hon. Friend the Minister that decisions which have to be taken are basically political decisions. They are not decisions in which the working members of broadcasting organisations should be asked to spend a great deal of time. What we have to decide are matters relating to finance. It was suggested by the BBC not long ago that by 1976 it would run into a multi-million pound deficit—long before 1981—and therefore that decisions have to be taken. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will say that this is not a realistic estimate because the BBC has its estimates wrong about the level of licence revenue that might come from colour television.
Maybe my right hon. Friend is right or maybe the BBC is right. What is also open to question, however, is whether, with the changes that have been effected in the period of the present Government, we require the BBC to put its various sound broadcasting resources into so many channels. This is a matter at least for assessment by independent inquiry and subsequently for a decision on a political level, a decision which must be related to the cost factors involved. I see no reason why technical factors should determine a consideration of the rôle of public service broadcasting, whether or not it should be complementary or competitive, and whether we should have five or fewer radio channels from the public service broadcasting system.
I want to urge my right hon. Friend to ensure that there should be an inquiry if there is to be a fourth channel. I urge him to decide that there should be, because in a democracy the more channels of communication there are, the healthier 1547 will be that democracy. Most of the people who watch television watch it for entertainment, but we politicians and this House have the responsibility to consider not merely the entertainment but also the cultural and information aspects of the medium, and it is those aspects which I believe are the important aspects about which to take decisions long before 1981.
To make any decisions without at the same time considering the rôle of the BBC is to take a decision on a false premise, because no such decision could be valid unless it were related to the whole spectrum and not to just one small part. Let us have a little more of the Prince to accompany the Hamlet we are discussing tonight.
§ 7.20 p.m.
Mr. J. D. Dorman (Easington)
As a Member of the Select Committee I am greatly tempted to take up the Minister's speech, but I promised to speak for only a few moments and I am also committed to speaking on something which could be regarded, and I regard it, as a minor theme of the report. Therefore, I intend to honour those obligations.
I found the Minister's speech deeply disappointing. It was irrelevant in many respects, but I am delighted that he found time at the end to deal with the question of the consumer. None of the speeches in the debate has referred to the consumer. I hope that the House will not think, if I do not deal with the major items already mentioned by my hon. Friend—the allocation of a fourth channel and the need for a wide-ranging inquiry—that I do not feel as strongly about those subjects as anyone else. I most certainly do. If these matters are to be widely discussed, it is perhaps even more important that someone should deal with some of the minor aspects of the report, and I make no apology for doing so.
The highest standard of television can be attained only if there is full two-way communication from the authority, the IBA, to the viewer and from the viewer to the authority. The report shows quite clearly that there are fundamental weaknesses in the structure and that most people do not even know of the existence of the central body of the IBA. They have never heard of it, and the IBA takes 1548 no positive steps to make itself known to the public at large. Even if it did there would manifestly be difficulty in estab-lishing a close relationship between the two.
The authority therefore must rely on its regional officers. I pay a tribute to the work done by these dedicated people. They work hard, they have a heavy workload and they make an important contribution to the service. However, they work under at least two disadvantages. First, they have too much to do in that they cover too wide an area so that their efforts are dissipated. Secondly, like the IBA, they are virtually unknown outside the companies. We Members of Parliament in the North are generally more fortunate than most hon Members in that we have a regional officer who is conscious of the kind of rôle I am describing and who keeps us closely informed on everything that is being done. We in turn, I hope, can make our presence felt on these important matters.
The importance of the work of the regional officers is recognised by the report. It has a specific recommendation about them. It says:Regional Officers should be appointed on the basis of one for each programme company, their rôle to be strengthened and their existence made known to the public in each area.I welcome that recommendation. I disagree with my colleagues on the committee when I say that it does not go far enough. If one regional officer were appointed to each company it would provide a much-needed strengthening of the liaison between the IBA and the companies and it would have the added advantage of providing the authority with the information about the public's views required by the Act. That, too, is the first time the Act has been mentioned today. I am bound to say, however, that much will depend on the person himself. In becoming totally involved with the community he serves, he could work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Great care is needed in the selection of these officers.
The existence of the regional officer is little known to the public at large. Nothing less than a continuing campaign —I place the onus for it on the IBA and, perhaps, the Government—will be necessary to make the public aware that he is 1549 the man who safeguards their interests and to whom representations can be made. He provides the local touch which is necessary in so many ways these days, when we have ever bigger institutions.
I hope that something will be done to strengthen the rôle of the regional officer, because he can make good some of the deficiencies in the IBA structure, which the report highlights in a number of places. The IBA's observations on that part of the report seem less than enthusiastic. The authority seems to damn the office with faint praise. As I say, I disagree with my hon. Friends on the matter. I think that there should be a better regional office, properly staffed, with the regional officer as the spearhead of the attack but with his own expert advisers and with fully appointed administrative staff.
I said at the beginning of my speech that two-way communication between the authority and the viewers was of the utmost importance. I turn to the machinery established for representing the views of the consumer, which takes the form of the General Advisory Council.
I mean no disrespect to the members of that body when I say that it is a toothless wonder. Some of its members are distinguished people, of high intelligence and wide experience. Two of them are hon. Members of this House. But I challenge anyone inside or outside the IBA to say that it is an effective body. I remind the House of the council's terms of reference:To keep under review the programmes of Independent Television and to make comments to the Authority thereon; to advise the Authority on the general pattern and content of programmes; and to consider such other matters affecting the Independent Television service as may from time to time be referred to it by the Authority.Those are pretty strong, extensive powers, but as a member of the Select Committee I gained the clear impression that the advisory council plays a minor rôle in the work of the IBA. I attribute that largely, though not entirely, to the over-cosy relationship between the authority and the council. I say that in no pejorative manner. I refer to the structure rather than the personal relationships although both are obviously involved.
1550 The weaknesses can be shown with examples. First, members of the council are appointed by the authority, which seems to me indefensible. [An HON. MEMBER: "Ridiculous."] I agree with my hon. Friend. The appointment should be completely out of the hands of the authority and the members should be appointed by the Minister or some other third party.
Secondly, the council has no staff of its own, and depends on the authority staff. It was very revealing to learn from the evidence we took that the council's report on its work was written by the secretariat of the authority. I admit that the chairman of the council saw the draft and made a number of changes and comments on the report, but this illustrates an interdependence of a degree that should not exist. The chairman of the council admitted in answer to a question by my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham (Mr. Russell Kerr) that he thought the relationship was a little too cosy.
I have a third example. The council meets four times a year, and I understand that it meets on the premises of the IBA. Four meetings a year are totally inadequate, and the meeting place confirms the impression that the council is no more than an appendage of the authority, seeking to carry out its wishes.
My final example concerns the composition of the council. In his evidence, the chairman readily conceded that the present body reflects, in his own words, "middle-class intellectualism". It is not an easy task to appoint people to such a body, but I believe that it should have more working-class members. If the Minister or anyone else has difficulties in that respect, if he lets me know I will send down some miners from my constituency, who will make a most effective contribution.
I shall not choose any more examples. I hope that I have shown that there are inherent weaknesses in the present structure, and I trust that they will be corrected. The rapport, the relationship, the link between the IBA and the people, the viewers, is virtually non-existent.
That is not to say that we have a totally unsatisfactory television service— far from it. But if the IBA and the Government accept the recommendations 1551 made by the Select Committee on the narrower points about which I have talked tonight, I am certain that the service will be greatly improved.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Wyn Roberts (Conway)
The only possible valid justification for the decision to extend the operation of the Television Act and Sound Broadcasting Act and the BBC charter to 1981 is that there is general satisfaction in the country and in Parliament with the Acts and the charter and their operation, and that we in the House cannot improve upon them significantly at this stage. That poses the obvious question whether the situation is as I have described it.
The reasons of my right hon. Friend the Minister for letting the BBC and the IBA roll on in their present form are essentially practical. What he has told us is that the time is not ripe for an inquiry. The implication is that if there is anything very wrong with our broadcasting systems, it can be put right largely by internal action.
In this connection it is significant that of the Select Committee's 30 recommendations about the IBA, only nine are for my right hon. Friend to consider. The remainder are obviously for the authority. Internal reform is one of the most difficult kinds of reform to carry out. I should be a little happier if I were more assured than I am that the IBA has an open mind on the 21 recommendations put to it by the Select Committee. In the answers that it has given so far, published alongside the Minister's observations, the IBA has shown that it has a tendency to a closed mind after 17 years' existence.
The most important of the nine recommendations for the Minister is recommendation No. 29, which calls for a full-ranging inquiry and expresses in fairly mild terms some of the dissatisfaction felt in some quarters with the present structure and state of broadcasting. The Select Committee dealt only with the IBA, but a great deal of the criticism applied to the IBA is at times equally, if not more, applicable to the BBC.
We all have a suspicion about where the structural faults in the broadcasting organisations lie. All these faults are inter-related. I shall touch on only some. First, there is the considerable independence that Parliament has given to the 1552 broadcasting authorities, admittedly for the best of reasons. This autonomy, and the extensive immunity from parliamentary Questions in particular that it entails, has grave disadvantages from the point of view of public responsibility and accountability. The Select Committee is on the right lines in recommending study of methods of securing greater public accountability.
The BBC and the IBA are like the mediæval Church, a State within a State, an imperium in imperio. If we in Parliament cannot trust ourselves with the responsibility for them, they must be publicly accountable by other means independent of themselves. I think that that was the essence of the criticism made by the hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Dormand) of the Advisory Council of the IBA. It is not independent of the IBA. I think that we can say the same of the many advisory councils and bodies that advise the BBC. There is the same kind of cosy relationship.
What kind of system, what kind of body, are we to have that is independent of the BBC and IBA? It has been suggested that we should have a consumer council for the entire media. There have been objections on the ground that the field covered would be far too large. I still return to some form of broadcasting council, which could be similar to the Press Council and which would have a general oversight of both the IBA and the BBC.
The second structural flaw in broadcasting is at the very top of the authorities. The top echelons of both the BBC and the IBA are far too concerned with defending their institutions and what goes on within them, and they are insufficiently concerned with real control and the positive pursuit of good programming, which is the simple thing we are asking them to do.
The IBA's refusal to take a more positive rôle by sponsoring programmes is an example of what I mean. Programming is the life blood of television, and the IBA must involve itself in that central activity of producing programmes. Sir Lew Grade in his evidence to the Select Committee kept harping very amusingly on this theme. Putting it in his way, the authority will never know anything about programming unless it is actually involved 1553 in production. The IBA should be more open-minded about that recommendation. The power for it to be rather more involved in programming is in the Act.
The third flaw in the structure, I suspect, lies at the producer level. This is the reactor at the heart of the power station, where positive influence for good can be brought to bear. On page 8 of Cmnd. 5244 the IBA feels it necessary to say that its programme activitiesare not confined to approval of schedules and thereafter to hope".I wonder how much truth there is in the reverse of this denial. I wonder too how much the top executives at the BBC know about what is going on in the programmes they put out. The authority says that when poor quality is diagnosed, this is taken up with the producing company. From my experience, that was often after rather than before the programme had been inflicted on the viewing public.
The IBA and the BBC have to take a new look at themselves and to realise fully that it is at producer level that there is this power-house of creative ideas. Perhaps they should shape their organisations much more around the central activity of programming. I do not believe that there is half enough editing in either organisation. There is nothing comparable with the editing that goes on in the Press where material is totally discarded. There should be much more of such editing and total discarding of inadequate programmes in television. Nor do I think there is sufficient training of producers, directors and all the other people involved in the television industry.
There is surely a flaw in the relationship between the broadcasting authorities and the public. It is essentially one way. The authorities always have the upper hand. Whether they are giving the public what they want or ought to have, it is what the authorities think they want or ought to have. I agree with the Select Committee about the need for more research. What we want is more contact between the rarefied world of television and the outside world. From this will come a more real sense of responsibility on the part of those involved in television.
I want to say a few words about the fourth channel. I believe that it should go to the IBA. It has some claim upon 1554 it. I am not altogether happy that it should go to the existing programme companies, although I can well understand their fear that unless they get the second channel they may find themselves outdone in terms of audience by the combined audience of BBC 2 and BBC 1 and consequently become unattractive to advertisers.
I would like to see the IBA use the fourth channel to involve itself more actively in programming. I would hope that the channel would be experimental. One of the great successes in television has been Independent Television News. We can all agree on that. Can we not have similar experimental bodies concerned purely with their own specialty? Why not, for example, have a drama company or one specialising in light entertainment, each contributing to a complete service? I have long been of the opinion that it is only through this kind of specialisation that we can get quality programmes.
In Wales there is a considerable demand for segregation of Welsh language programmes. This is backed by the broadcasting organisations, by Welsh speakers who want nothing but Welsh and by non-Welsh speakers who do not want any Welsh at all. After much serious consideration I am reluctantly forced to favour this separation of Welsh language programmes and to accept the claim in Wales for the use of the fourth channel for Welsh language programmes. The IBA in Wales tells me that this can be done, given the chance.
There is much to be said for the Government's course of action. The time may not be ripe for a general inquiry. At the same time, I want many of the points that I and others have mentioned to be discussed. Presumably we shall have an opportunity to discuss them when we extend the Television Act and renew the BBC charter.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Whitehead (Derby, North)
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Wyn Roberts). I agree so much with what he said that he has ettectively shortened my speech.
There are two things I must say by way of caveat. First, all of us, considering the Select Committee recommendations, 1555 who urge on the IBA, on the one hand, to take a greater interest and a more active rôle in programming and scheduling and who, on the other, say that there should be complete separation between the IBA and the advisory councils are putting forward a proposition which may to some degree be contradictory. That is a danger we must face.
In view of the hon. Member's later remarks I must also say that there are dangers to be faced if the language service, however meritorious in itself, is isolated on a special channel, be it radio or television. If educational broadcasting were to be isolated on the fourth channel, that would diminish educational broadcasting. If Welsh language programmes were to be put on to the fourth channel only and rammed down the throats of the Welsh, that would probably diminish the Welsh language.
We have only to look at the effect of compulsory Irish on Telefis Eireann to see this. The Welsh Language Society and others ought to realise that those who now want the Welsh language compul-sorily dominating the fourth channel in Wales may not have the best interests of that language at heart.
I take part in this debate with a heavy heart. I, too, must declare an interest, not of the log-rolling variety, but as one who gave evidence to the Select Committee which, judging by its recommendations, was accepted, and as one who is therefore somewhat upset over the way in which the Government have rebuffed both the Committee and its distinguished adviser, Professor Himmelweit. I must also declare an interest in that I was one of the founders of the 76 Group—which I suppose must now be called the 81 Group—for Broadcasting Reform, which was urging as its major plank that there should be an inquiry, purely because although we could suggest most of the questions about the future structure of broadcasting we were not presumptuous enough to suggest the answers as well. It was clear that an inquiry was the best way to do that.
However, I fear that the debate today has been in sad contrast with debates in which more controversial matters are discussed, matters which are thought to be of great political moment. More hon. Members were present yesterday and the 1556 day before to discuss water resources than are here today. That was a debate about a national resource which may be seen and appreciated as such—a source of life. But air waves are also a national resource. Television, and to a lesser degree radio, are basic and fundamental and affect the lives of all the households in this country. Every bit as much as the water that comes out of the tap, broadcasting is a basic service to households nowadays.
For that reason I hope that the House will not take at its face value the White Paper provided by the Minister in reply to the Select Committee. In that White Paper I fear that the bland have attempted to lead the blind. I hope that the House at least is not blind, however bland the report may have been.
The reason why so many of us have urged that there should be an inquiry and that it should take place in the general sequence of inquiries of 1935, 1949 and 1960, and why such a course of action has also been urged in the Press, by the broadcasting unions and most people who have written seriously about broadcasting, whatever their persuasion or preconceptions, is that the only possible way to get a general structural reappraisal of the shape of broadcasting at both the macro and the micro level, with the over-the-air broadcasting we have had so far and the new technologies which will break down many traditional secrecies and supremacies of the professional broadcaster, is by a comprehensive inquiry.
How much greater is the need for that inquiry now than was the need for the previous inquiries. When the Ullswater Committee sat in 1935 we were already looking at the consequences of the relay companies and their relations with the Post Office, the first 10 years of BBC and the imminence of television, which was introduced in the following year. When the Beveridge Committee was set up in 1949 we were already looking at some of the dangers and potential of the BBC monopoly. That was considered seriously by the Beveridge Committee 20 years ago. Many of the things that Beveridge said about that monopoly are apposite reading even today. The Pilkington Report, which is not the final fount of wisdom on our present broadcasting structures, also looked at the first few years of performance of ITV.
1557 How much more necessary is it that we should have an inquiry now, at a time when innovations both of a structural and a technological kind have come not annually but almost every month on to the broadcasting scene.
For the Minister to take refuge in the narrow, national broadcasting terms of reference of Cockburn and to say that there is no technical reason for an inquiry now on the future of broadcasting in this decade is at best a supine attitude, and I am sorry that he has done so. There are so many things that have to be discussed.
We have heard about the possible destiny of the fourth channel, the final UHF channel which is available. A decision about it could be taken tomorrow. We have heard something about cable and a little about local radio. The Minister's real reason is certainly not the curious one that there is now a new Chairman of the BBC. The Director-General of the BBC was changed in 1960 —the year Pilkington was set up. The year in which the BBC Charter expired, the Chairman of the BBC was changed. These arguments were not then advanced as reasons why the BBC should not be re-examined. What is at stake is that the Government are fundamentally satisfied with the present duopoly.
The Government regard this analysis of broadcasting and broadcasting structures as one which will enshrine at least until 1981 the present system of the BBC on the one hand—the public service monolith—and commercial broadcasting as a whole with the development of local commercial radio and perhaps a fourth channel on the other. The Government see the only forces of change out of this static situation as the commercial appetite, which is always a powerful catalyst on the one hand and the occasional irredentism of Portland Place on the other.
There are alternative structures which have been widely canvassed over the last last few years, not only within the Select Committee. These suggestions are taking place in a vacuum because of the absence of the inquiry which could have taken place within the brief of the Annan Committee which was lamentably wound up by the Government when they came to 1558 power. I do not believe that the Standing Conference on Broadcasting or the Social Morality Council Inquiry, excellent though they may be within their self-appointed terms of reference, can replace an exhaustive inquiry on the Ulswater/ Beveridge/ Pilkington pattern.
The suggestions put forward publicly in the last few years have been wide-ranging. Five or six years ago a former Secretary of the ITA, Professor Weddell, suggested a new structure for broadcasting, a devolved system of four television and two radio authorities plus a separate local radio authority and a national finance board—similar to the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew)—to allocate surplus advertising revenue across the board to broadcasting, and a transmission agency.
Mr. Sean Day-Lewis in the Daily Telegraph—hardly a radical newspaper— exactly a year ago proposed a broadcasting authority with four separate channels and divided functions beneath it. Reference has been made to the Cable Television Association's proposal and to the proposals of the ACTT Television Commission, the main broadcasting union, and to others from the Institute of Practitioners of Advertising and Mr. Anthony Smith who proposed a National Television Foundation specifically for the fourth channel.
It will be said that these proposals can be disregarded because effectively many of them contradict each other. The proposals suggest one thing or the other according to special interests and the grinding of axes. It has always been the position of the Ministry, the Civil Service and the broadcasting hierarchies on both sides of the duoply in recent years that because these criticisms were to some degree self-contradictory they cancelled each other out.
In a remarkably complacent statement in the last BBC Annual Report the Director-General of the BBC said that the corporation had always provided an opportunity for its audiences to disagree with each other. That seems to be the view of those who have a settled interest in maintaining the status quo. They are quite happy for the critics to disagree with each other.
All the critics point to a dissatisfaction with the present structures that is 1559 far wider than was expressed in the general debates about broadcasting in 1935, 1949 and 1960. That is why we are saying that it is wrong for the inquiry to be put off and that when Labour comes back to office an inquiry will be held forthwith. I hope also that we shall not be bound by the date 1981 and that extensions of the charter and Act will be simply for the time needed for an inquiry to be held, for the report to be published and for public discussion before new structures are brought into effect. That need not take up to 1981—far from it.
There are a number of fundamental questions which the Minister and his advisers should be considering. They are questions which will not go away simply because we have been told that there shall be no inquiry and that the Select Committee could have saved its time because no one will listen to its proposals about ITV, and similarly for those others who have criticised the BBC. There is the question of finance. There is the question whether the licence fee is the best system and whether we should not now be having separate public service authorities financed from general taxation instead of one financed from the licence fee. the main virtue of which appears to be to ensure that the BBC is the unique recipient of public service money for public service broadcasting. There is also the question whether ITV can ever work properly while it confuses what Pilkington called its primary and secondary rôles of commercial broadcasting— the provision of programmes and the sale of advertising space.
There is the question of scheduling and the widespread complaint that where BBC 1 and the ITV channel are at the same time on the same night showing "Carry on Camping" and "Carry on up the Khyber", it is not good enough. It is not the case that all the channels at the moment are complementary and that a fourth channel would be again. They are not complementary. They are competitive, often in the crudest way, because like against like dictates that situation, the public broadcasting and the commercial broadcasting organisation alike.
I suggest that one matter which the Minister should consider is whether there might not be some overall scheduling 1560 function and also overall research and publishing functions, which cannot be carried out piecemeal by the rival organisations that we have at the moment but which might be carried out by some overall authority.
In the same area of discussion I put the matter of countervailing power. Various hon. Members have referred already to the question of viewers' access, complaints procedures and so on. There is general agreement that the attempt by the BBC and the IBA jointly to suggest that "beefing up" their advisory councils, which they appoint, is a satisfactory means of having public participation in the discussion of programmes. Clearly it is not. It is equally clear that the complaints council set up by the BBC and composed of three distinguished old gentlemen, one of whom was later discovered to be dead, is no answer to independent reference for complaints of malpractice which was widely demanded by public opinion.
I suggest that here, too, there is a possible rôle for what I call an overall or supervisory body to look at the structures of broadcasting in a new light, call it a Broadcasting Commission or what you will. These proposals have come from many sources. They have to be discussed seriously, and to say that we can put them off until 1981 or beyond is unsatisfactory.
Equally it is unsatisfactory to say that we can go along with the present situation in radio ignoring the opportunity to conduct new and realistic experiments in radio. Commercial radio is no experiment. It is simply an attempt to give on a local level to those who have already, to allow a cut of cake to those already involved in the manufacture of hardware and the peddling of software to television and the general entertainments and communications industries.
After our debates in Committee on the Sound Broadcasting Bill, I find it deplorable to see the great monopolies which exist in commercial television already being allowed to buy in, in some cases contrary to the spirit of the Sound Broadcasting Act in their own areas, so that a company can buy 15 per cent. of one of the London radio companies although it has a very large holding in the predominant London television company. That will not give us any experiment.
1561 With the possible exception of the Cambridge University submission, very few of the applications that have gone to the IBA are for genuine community participation in broadcasting. That is a matter that we cannot leave over. We cannot say that we can look at it in 1981 or thereafter.
It is not a matter which can be left largely in the hands of the BBC. So often has the BBC changed its policies according to the climate, announcing one day that it was against pirate radio stations and the next setting up Radio 1, otherwise known as "Radio Wonderful", and setting a distinctive style which has nothing to do with public service broadcasting. Some hon. Members may have read, in the celebratory volume for the 50th anniversary of the BBC, Mr. Peter Black's description of the coming of Radio One and Radio Two. He says:For Radio One listeners the Corporation had become a barmy teenage twit, endlessly playing gramophone records of pop music and chatting up the housewives in a frightful Americo-Australio-Cockneyfield-Liverpool jargon that seemed to rise from some international sub-world. For Radio Two listeners it had become a kind of meals on wheels service, nourishing the old folk with selections from Ivor Novello and the Grand Hotel Orchestra.It does not seem to me that that is the kind of responsible approach to public service radio that we would hope to see from the BBC. It seems inevitable that we shall continue to have this situation if the BBC is allowed to keep national radio while there is simply commercial radio at the local level and to take refuge in large audiences for Messrs. Terry Wogan, Pete Murray, and other gentlemen like them.
I suggest that we should be considering not only some form of National Broadcasting Commission to look at alternative forms of television and radio broadcasting in the public service and in the public interests as well as the commercial sector, however it is organised, and as well as the fourth channel if it is to be given to some form of new national television foundation. We should also be looking at realistic experiments in the micro field, by which I mean the area of cable television.
My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East has spoken already with enthusiasm about the experiment in Greenwich. I have been there to see the kind 1562 of programmes that they broadcast. For £20,000 a year they put on almost as much programming as the local independent television company, Southern Television, which makes £1 million profit a year. It is a moving experience to see in a semi-detached house the beginning of a new system of local television. At the moment it is brutally restricted. They have to pay for this privilege and sometimes they are under the fussy control of a clerk in the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications. But it is happening, and to think that we can restrict the experiment, keeping the five stations and nothing else and that the rest of cable television will grow only where and when we want it, ignores the experience of other advanced countries who have begun to introduce cable systems.
I remember last year at a conference in Brussels a gentleman read a long and exhaustive paper about the coming of cable television. He said that it would take a long time before it came to European countries. At one point his words were almost drowned by a noise in the street outside. It was only later that we discovered that it was caused by a cable system being installed in Brussels. It is happening all round us and in a way which will damage the television professionals—people like me who have always taken a pride in the restrictive mystique and mysteries of the communications business.
I make one last quotation from last week's edition of the magazine Broadcast. The managing director-elect of the Swindon Cable Television station writes:In medieval England monks were about the only people who could read and write Changing this situation took a very long time Today our medieval monks pace the cloisters of the national networks, believing in their divine right to the electric image. Change happens faster these days, but it is still not going to happen overnight. Putting television into the hands of the people is an exciting, but exhausting educational task.I agree with that. The people who are most threatened are those who, like myself, have lived their professional lives in television as an over-the-air central national organisation. Those great communities of the broadcasting elites are threatened, but it is in the public interest and to the public gain if the small community can take its share in these exciting potentials.
1563 I do not believe that the Minister's attitude, following the lamentable Cock-burn Report, gives that kind of potential that any community like the town that I represent with a population of 250,000 people already has for local television.
§ Sir J. Eden
I have a great deal of sympathy with the views expressed by the hon. Gentleman about the great potential at community level that cable television provides. The experiments are just beginning. It is my intention to see in what way these experiments can be further encouraged. That is why I am engaged or will increasingly be engaged in discussions with the Cable Television Association and others, as I said in my speech.
§ Mr. Whitehead
I welcome that statement by the Minister, because he still has an opportunity to redeem himself in this sphere. There is a growing generation in the colleges and going through the polytechnics—in the United States and Canada it is a generation in the schools and even the primary schools—which is familiar with all the techniques of visual communication of television, videotaping, and so on. They know about it because they can go out into the streets carrying a Portapak camera which uses half-inch videotape which enables them to make and edit their own television programmes, and they can then wipe the tape and use it again. They will not put up with narrow national elites, bureaucrats or politicians who do not want them to get this means of communication into their hands.
There was a remarkable report in the Christian Science Monitor about a group of 10-year old schoolchildren in Boston, Massachusetts, who made their own "Dr. Who" style of programme for which they made the props and in which they acted and put the whole thing together. That generation will not lightly take the failure of this House or of the Minister to widen the whole potential range of visual communication in the next decade.
The Minister may have missed his opportunity. We must not miss ours. We still have a chance to make the most powerful medium of today responsive to the public interest and reflecting all the strands of our democracy. I hope that we 1564 shall take our chance by rejecting the philosophy of the White Paper and initiating a proper inquiry, as soon as we, the representatives of the public, can, into the meaning and purposes of electronic communication—not merely what is communicated, who pays for it and who benefits from it, but what its selling potential may be for both ideas and associations.
Already, my two-year-old son will pick up a packet of cereals rather than another because there is a picture of Tom and Jerry on the packet. He cannot speak many words yet, but he already has associations which lead him to one form of consumption rather than another.
My three-year-old son, whose first words, I regret to tell the House, were "Telly on" and "Telly off", can already tell me that he will have one soggy cereal rather than another at breakfast because it is "man's natural food". He is echoing another commercial that he has heard.
I suggest that we should look at all these matters only in the context of an inquiry. The historian of the BBC, Asa Briggs, in a review in the New Statesman this week, said that when C. R. Wallace, the evolutionist, had drawn up a balance sheet in 1898 of the successes and failures of the nineteenth century he assigned first place among the successes to the conveyance of thought. What shall we say in the year 2000 of the successors of the telephone and the telegraph? Shall we be able to say that television, cable, and over-the-air are amongst the successes for the conveyance of thought, ideas, and all that is best in our society in the twentieth century? I hope that we can. If we are able to do so at that time it will be because the achievement has come from the initiative of this House.
§ 8.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Fowler (Nottingham, South)
I agree with a great deal of what was said by the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead). I agree with his stress about the importance of this subject and his regret that there was no greater attendance in the House tonight. However, it is fair to express gratitude to my right hon. Friend the Minister who has been present and will remain throughout the rest of the debate.
1565 I should like to deal with a reasonably limited area of vital importance which was mentioned notably by the hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Dormand), namely, whether the interests of the consumer—the public—are adequately protected by our present procedures. This is a recurring theme throughout the Select Committee's report. It is particularly reflected in paragraph 164 which, having patted my right hon. Friend on the back, I think he rather skated over in his speech.
Today, we take very seriously the case of the consumer. We recognise the right of the public to adequate protection in a number of spheres. We emphasise that that protection should be adequate. There is no point in having a protection which seems adequate but is a sham. I suggest that we particularly recognise this right when the body that we are considering is exercising great power.
I will illustrate this point by analogy with the Home Office on a matter about which the hon. Member for Derby, North was very much concerned. I refer to the debate which has been going on for a number of years concerning the investigation of complaints against the police. The reason for concern is that the police exercise power, and therefore any abuse of power is a matter for concern. The Home Secretary has now proposed a new system as a result of the Private Member's Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Derby, North. I take that example from the Home Office because, apart from anything else, I discovered from reading The Times leader today that the Home Secretary is chairman of the Cabinet Committee on Broadcasting. I hope he will take note of that analogy.
There are other examples where great power has been used and has led to the development of the consumer voice. There are consumer councils—for example, the Gas Consumer Council—for the nationalised industries which exercise monopoly powers. Power of another kind is exercised by the media, and that is covered by the Press Council. I am not necessarily suggesting that all the procedures in other spheres are perfect but I am saying that the general principle has been accepted.
Initially, what disturbs me about the broadcasting sphere is that all too often a 1566 simple case of principle is not accepted. It is not accepted by some in broadcasting that the consumer should have an interest. It is said that things are better left to the broadcasters themselves. Finally, when all other arguments fail, it is said that consumer interest is another word for censorship.
It should be emphasised that the public have a legitimate interest in this area because of the undoubted power of the broadcasting organisations. They are semi-monopolies. Their power of communication, as has been said time and again, is enormous. Therefore, apart from anything else, the potential damage that they can do to an individual is also enormous.
The more sophisticated argument that is used—in a way, this argument was used by my right hon. Friend this evening —is that certainly the public has an interest but that that interest is already safeguarded by the Independent Broadcasting Authority and the board of governors of the BBC. That is the reason why they exist, and the setting-up of an independent consumer body would drive a knife through their hearts. The case put by the BBC was that it would call in question the structure of broadcasting control and would lead to some kind of regulating body and, eventually, to censorship. I believe that this is a nonsensical argument which should be refuted.
In ensuring the general day-to-day standards of the BBC and of the independent television companies, the IBA and the governors do a very good job indeed. I emphasise that I am referring to general standards. I can give one example from an area which I know very well indeed, having worked for nine years on a newspaper in Fleet Street. I regard the journalistic standards of the BBC as extremely high. I believe that a programme such as "News at Ten" is one of the best journalistic programmes of its kind. British Broadcasting Corporation correspondents, such as Charles Wheeler in Washington, are outstanding members of their profession and the general news service put out by the BBC is probably the best of its kind in the world.
The fact that general standards are high is not a complete answer to the case 1567 that is being made. It does not answer the case for the consumer. The fact that the majority of programmes are good will not satisfy the viewer who is disturbed by the contents of a programme or by what he sees as a particular trend in broadcasting. The hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) mentioned the trend of violence and initiative crime. Equally, it is no comfort to a member of the public who believes that he has been harmed by a programme or by the activities of a broadcasting organisation to know that most people are not harmed. The innocent man who is in prison is probably not too much comforted by the fact that most of his fellow inmates are guilty. It probably does not restore his faith in the system of justice.
Both these factors have been recognised by the BBC and the IBA and they have set up their own bodies to deal with issues of this kind. The BBC has set up an advisory council and the IBA has set up a complaints review board. Therefore, the argument is not whether such bodies should be set up, because they are already in existence. The argument should be aimed at considering whether those bodies which have been set up are adequate to do the job.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
Assuming that a broadcasting council is set up, to whom will it be responsible? Will it be responsible to the Minister or to the viewing and listening public? My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) is prepared to go the whole hog and say that such a body should be elected. What does the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) say?
§ Mr. Fowler
I shall be grateful if the hon. Gentleman stays with me in my argument, because a little later in my speech I shall be coming on to the point which he raises.
The more general body of the two in independent television is the advisory council, and its terms of reference are wide. It sets out to keep under review independent television programmes, and I suppose that its remit could hardly be wider than that. Furthermore, it can make comments to the authority and may advise the authority on the content and pattern 1568 of programmes. That appears to be a very wide remit except when we examine the matter a little more closely.
One of the chief advantages of the Select Committee report is that it highlights the ineffectiveness of the advisory council in terms of independent television. We are told in the report that the advisory council meets four times a year and that its meetings last between two and three hours. The chairman of the council told the Committee that meetings start at 2 o'clock and continue until about 5 o'clock. The attendance lessens as the afternoon wears on, but the chairman emphasised that most people stay until 4 o'clock. There are no meaningful soundings of public opinion. The advisory council has no full-time staff but has only a secretary who is loaned to the council by the authority.
The chairman told the Select Committee that the council contemplated making Press statements on its wide remit. But the fact remains that since 1964 no such Press statements have been made. If we want to see how effective a consumer body can be we have only to look at the evidence set out in the Select Committee report on the rôle of the advisory council. I suppose that something is better than nothing, but I do not regard the council —I do not blame its members—as an effective body to put forward consumer or public interests in terms of broadcasting.
The complaints review board appears to be rather more serious in its intent. It is beyond doubt that such a body is necessary and the case for it has been overwhelmingly made out.
I should like to make three points in emphasising why I feel that such a body is necessary. First, journalists— and television journalists in particular— of necessity work at enormous speed, and therefore mistakes can happen. I do not think any journalist would deny this. Secondly, journalism—again, television journalism in particular—can exaggerate by concentrating on a particular incident. For example, in the case of a demonstration a completely wrong impression can be given of the whole incident. To cut a quotation can mislead. The damage which that does is rather greater than the damage which is done by a newspaper, because the viewer is asked to believe the evidence of his own eyes. 1569 He sees and hears it. Therefore, if damage is done it is substantially greater.
Thirdly, television journalism can be unfair. Members of the public can participate in a programme believing that they will be asked to do one thing and they can be required to do another. The hon. Member for Manchester, Wythen-shawe (Mr. Alfred Morris), who is the adviser to the Police Federation, might be interested to know that the Police Federation's magazine Police in its current issue seems to give a good example of what would happen. Members of the federation were asked to go to a recent edition of London Weekend Television's "Weekend World ". Several of the representatives of the police associations, including Dick Pamplin of the Police Federation, went along to debate the hon. Gentleman's Private Member's Bill and his proposals for dealing with complaints against the police.Much to their surprise but not to the surprise of the other side the live transmission was introduced by a film reconstructing a recent case in which a complainant had sued the police and won his case.None of the police participating in the programme knew the facts of the case. Yet the programme resolved into an argument about its merits with the complainant present and making further allegations. The police spokesmen were not given prior knowledge for the very good reason that the producers knew that they would not have taken part in such a programme.I am not necessarily apportioning blame in that case. However, it would seem prima facie that the members of the police who appeared on such a programme would want to have their case, if such existed, referred to some kind of impartial body.
The public have an interest in all three questions which I have raised. They have an interest which they have a right to expect to be protected. Therefore, it becomes a question of whether the Complaints Review Board, which is described in the Select Committee's report, is an adequate measure for doing that. The terms of reference are set out in the report and I shall not weary the House by repeating them. I merely mention in passing that part of its terms of reference is as follows:
In cases and matters which might give rise to the right of legal action the board will ask for a written undertaking that any such right 1570 will not be exercised in connection with the complaint.In other words a person loses or signs away his legal rights before making a complaint to the board.
Even if this is accepted the Programme Complaints Board seems to be defective on a number of important grounds, I doubt whether one person in 100,000 knows that the board exists. As an effective means of gathering complaints, it is necessary that the public should know that such a board exists. That seems to be a fairly elementary first step.
Secondly, there is no stipulation about publicity and about how the findings of such a board should be made public. Thirdly, there is no one upon the review board who seems to have any judicial experience. I make no comment about the individual members but I should have thought that someone with judicial experience would have been an asset to the board. Above all, the board's greatest defect is that it does not appear to be an independent review board. Doubtless it does its job vigilantly, but it has the appearance of a creature of the Independent Television Authority. The deputy-chairman of the authority is the chairman of the board. One of the other board members is employed by the authority. The two remaining members come from the advisory council.
If such a body is to appear to be independent, it should also appear to be effective. We have two bodies which in different ways have been set up to safeguard and represent the public interest. The IBA has accepted in principle and in practice that such boards and such actions are necessary. It would seem, from what I have studied of the Select Committee's report and from my own observations, that these bodies are ineffective. No one can claim seriously that they effectively protect the consumer and the public interest. Therefore, we are left with the need for such a body.
I now turn briefly to the kind of body which we should have. I do not need to set out in detail the terms of reference of such a body, first because I have tried to set them out previously in the House, when the hon. Member for Derby, North did not agree with me then either, but secondly because I think that there are very important areas for debate in the 1571 matter. I believe, however, that there is need for a consumer council in broadcasting, set up not to censor but to carry out effectively the aims laid down for the advisory council and for the complaints review board.
The advisory council should be scrapped in its present form and a new broadcasting council should be set up to include the aims, and perhaps even expand upon the aims, given to the advisory council. I would hope that a broadcasting council would be able to take on the kind of rôle which the Press Council occupies—making a declaration of principle in an important area. For example, the Press Council condemned the serialisation of memoirs by criminals.
At the same time, the broadcasting council should also accept complaints. Again, this would not be a method of controlling the broadcasters but would provide a means of proper redress for the public. I think that the council should consider complaints from members of the public who believe that they have been treated unjustly or unfairly by the broadcasting organisation. I believe that the public should be able to complain when there are errors of fact or when there have been omissions which have made the whole misleading. I believe that members of the public should be able to complain when there are allegations of bias, which is important in a broadcasting organisation set up with the remit of providing a balanced service.
Because of shortage of time, I have not been able to go into these matters in detail, but I believe that basically the public have a right to expect that kind of body. It would not be a means of censorship, nor would it be a means of control. It would respect the rights of broadcasters; any body which is set up must respect their rights. It would also respect the rights of the IBA and the board of governors of the BBC. But we should respect also the rights of the public. We should recognise that the public have rights as well and that we should set up the kind of machinery which would sensibly and effectively protect those rights.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
I express my regret for having been absent from 1572 the debate for far too long by confining what I have to say to about five minutes. I know that the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) will forgive me if, in that short period, I do not follow him on the questions of consumer representation or of censorship, except to say that in ideas and communication it is hard to separate the interests of consumers from the question of censorship. Whereas the interest of the consumer in other goods or services is to test them himself, it often seems that his main interest in television is to prevent other people from sampling the goods, although he has the perfectly free option of switching off.
Broadcasting, particularly television broadcasting, rides on the back of the relatively high cultural and artistic level of the entertainment programmes. I believe that it is true that these are among the best in the world, but I cannot take the same view of the remainder of the output. From the communications point of view, from the point of view of the quality of political comment in particular, from the point of view of the standing of current affairs interviewing on the media—and I make no party point —we have very poor media indeed.
This applies even more to our Press. The very high quality of the arts and sports pages covers up the very poor standard of political reporting and comment, which is quite often at dimwit level. There is no political commentator writing in the British Press today who even approaches the standard of the best American and European journalists. So poor is the quality that eccentrics like Bernard Levin and conformists like Ronald Butt are thought to be quite good.
The situation in radio and television is even worse, so much so that a recent historical survey of America—a rather dull one actually—by the expatriate Alastair Cooke was received with wide acclaim. Such is the level of comment on the media. Many of our British commentators and interviewers are specialists in trivia, or tedious pontificators, sometimes trying to cover up their own lack of knowledge by hectoring aggression.
Such a Press, radio and television perhaps suit the present Government. 1573 Maybe this is why they want no inquiry.
Our media are dominated by advertising. Even the BBC is conditioned by it because of the need to compete for the mass market in order to maintain the credibility of the licensing system. If at any point the number of people viewing BBC television falls below 50 per cent., the whole licensing system proposition is brought into question. It has been said by the BBC that they had to take extreme measures in order to recapture about 50 per cent. of the audience because if fewer than half the people had been looking at the BBC it would no longer have been possible to maintain the proposition that all the people should be charged a fee for doing what less than half of them wanted to do. So they had to go for the peak viewing time.
The central motivation of our system, although better than that of some, is not public service, which is supposed to be the sole object of the BBC. The central motivation is to please the advertiser and put on programmes which will enable him to capture the largest market at peak viewing hours.
We have created a system which demands a certain technical quality and polish and for this reason our entertainment programmes compare very well with anything I have seen anywhere else. But our system demands no such excellence from the news and communications —although news is better than communications—and consultation, participation, interviewing and current affairs programmes. Much of this area of television and radio is dull, dreary and biased. Particularly is it biased against the wage-earner and his trade unions, which are bashed day after day, night after night, throughout the media. This applies to Press, radio and television. Seldom do we get a good word, seldom does a trade union leader appear on television without being hectored by an aggressive interviewer. Ask any of the lads who have to put up with them. Very seldom do they get a straight opportunity of being interviewed by a sympathetic interviewer.
§ Mr. Golding rose—
§ Mr. Jenkins
I have calculated the time very carefully and I have about 90 1574 seconds of my five minutes left so my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) must contain himself for a few more moments.
We need to look for a new framework of relationships in the media, in which the domination of the advertiser is ended. That is why I believe an inquiry is so necessary. It is laughable to call what we have now a free Press, and I believe the inquiry ought to embrace the whole of the communications media. I do not believe it is possible to reach correct conclusions about any one of the media without seeing it in the context of the whole.
Therefore I believe the inquiry which should be set up should do something which has never been done before. It should take a look at the entire process of communications, the relationship between them, their motivations, their sources of revenue, the degree to which they are really free or perhaps not free at all. These are the things an inquiry ought to look into.
That is the single point which I intend to make in my contribution, and these are my final words. The difference between this country and the United States is that there they have an honest and vigorous Press which is putting the spotlight on a corrupt society. Here we have tame and cynical media which tend to present a generally well-intentioned society in their own cheap, slick and tawdry terms.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Evelyn King (Dorset, South)
I should, first, declare my interest, which is that I have no interest. I seem to be not quite alone, but almost alone, in that I am not the director of a television company, nor a trade union official, nor TV executive, nor have I served on the Select Committee. But I have an interest, which is that of the viewer, and I believe that I have very much at heart the interests of tens of thousands of viewers who, as many hon Members have said, are all too silent.
The debate has been fascinating, but to my mind it has concentrated a little too much on technicalities, and I should like to go back to first principles. Two things have emerged from the debate, one of which I am sure my right hon. Friend took on board. I have heard almost 1575 every spech today, and I think that almost without exception every hon. Member is discontented, in one way or another. That is a fairly common thought, and I have no doubt that in that hon. Members are representing their constituents. There is discontent, and I hope that that is known.
Secondly, I think it has been clearly established, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler), that advisory councils, whether attached to independent television or to the BBC, are pretty bogus institutions. What they do is not useful and what they decide is not known, and they should not be appointed by the body which they are supposed to advise or criticise.
I now turn to the main part of my speech. Parliament is concerned with power, and it is about the power of the media that I want to talk. I do not think that we can emphasise too strongly the amount of power which now exists in the hands of the media. We should examine both where it lies and how it is exercised.
I was impressed by the best speech that I heard this afternoon. It came from the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead). I know that the House always turns up an expert on any subject, and I have not always thought of the hon. Gentleman as a person whose views I shared, but I share the views he holds on this issue and I was glad to hear them put so well.
We cannot over-estimate the amount of power that lies in the hands of the media. At one time that used to be argued, but I do not think that it is arguable any more. I was fascinated to read in The Times nearly a year ago of its opinion poll which showed that in the opinion of most people television and radio were more influential than the Government. Whether that is right or wrong—and it is probably right—it is a matter which Parliament cannot ignore.
Television and radio create the climate of the times in which we live. I do not mean merely politics. They influence our dress, our manners, our style of conversation, our methods of family living, and so on. Far more than we ever recognise, we derive our habits from television and radio.
1576 During my lifetime we have seen the power of the House of Commons sink, and the power of the media rise. This is not a thing about which we can do much, but it is a thing that we ought to recognise when we talk of reform. If I speak as a democrat, I doubt the right of any human being to talk to 12 million people. It has to happen, but whether we can maintain the kind of democratic society that we have understood in the past alongside that development is a thing which itself is doubtful.
If power must reside, as it does, to that extent, one asks how it is exercised. Is it exercised responsibly? I pay some kind of tribute to the BBC. I have no doubt at all that its influence in the realm of the arts, of music and much of drama is overwhelmingly good. I doubt whether any broadcasting corporation in the world attains the strength and the skills which it shows in those fields. But, like the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins), when I turn to the political field my view changes.
It is not much good arguing that 90 per cent. of the quality is good if the other 10 per cent. is bad, because the other 10 per cent. matters. I take the year 1971. In February 1971 disc jockeys on the BBC were accused of corruption on a massive scale. The BBC itself conceded the possibility of this and ordered an inquiry. We are now in May 1973 and no report has been issued. That just ought not to happen in any public corporation of any sort, and I do not think it is defensible. In June 1971, we had the episode "Yesterday's Men". The governors, conceded that there were leaks, errors and treachery. In July 1971, the governors apologised for an attack on one of Her Majesty's Ministers which was slanderous in character. In August 1971 Lord Carrington had to complain that the standards of reporting in the matter of Ireland were below the standards of accuracy and fairness which he was entitled to expect.
Before the last election, Robin Day— and I do not criticise him but the governors because, whatever members of staff do, they do it under the aegis of the governors and must be assumed to be carrying out the governors' policy— addressing the then Prime Minister, leader of the Labour Party, asked him, "What 1577 would you say to this, Prime Minister? That no one in the country any longer believes a single word you say ". I say that about the leader of a party which is not mine, I do not believe that any commentator has the right to say that to any Minister. It was an outrage and I regret that the BBC did not denounce it as the BBC should have done.
Then, "The World At One". Here is a programme which is designed to be news. The BBC made a world-wide reputation for accuracy and for objectivity, but in this programme we have a breathless mixture of showbiz, news, red-hot comment, up-to-the-moment interview in which accuracy is not important for "we must attract the audience ". I have tried to be fair, but that is the concept behind that programme—the instant comment. There are certain situations in which it does not matter. There are other situations, perhaps when a solider is shot in the street in Belfast, when that sort of manner jars horribly. I should like the BBC to understand that because I do not think it always understands the nature of the criticism that has been made.
I remember Mr. Hardcastle himself— again, I blame the governors, not him— within minutes of the moment when a corpse was in the road, shot by a soldier, asking a witness some question with the comment, "Placing the blame fairly and squarely on the British Army …". I do not know whether the blame was the British Army's. All I am saying is that that sort of thing is just not acceptable in those circumstance without investigation and at that notice. I could quote other examples.
So I am a critic. I am sorry that the Minister has not seized the opportunity which was his, or at least the Government's—I appreciate their responsibility —to act more drastically. Our broadcasting companies and corporation have now reached a state of total non-logic. No one who started today to create a national broadcasting system could conceivably create what we now have. It is time that we began to think again.
There was an argument for the original BBC being a sort of The Times of the air, a Reithian, respectable, high and 1578 mighty, immensely respected organisation. Then that was broken, perhaps wisely, by the introduction of commercial television. From that moment, the logic collapsed. There is no logic in having one body financed by licence fees and another by advertising charges if the two are doing much the same thing.
There might be some logic in a BBC that was publicly financed if it performed the same sort of function as the Arts Council, if it produced material which was not popular. But the present position has no logic and no sense. There is nothing that the BBC does which ITV does not do equally well or equally badly.
§ Mr. King
There should be no implication that one is British and the other non-British. There is no obvious entitlement to the word "British ".
I have no doubt that it is time that we began from the beginning and thought of the sort of set-up that we want. Again, I liked the speech of the hon. Member for Derby, North when, quoting someone else, he suggested the possibility of one overall financed committee, with, below it, four television companies and two radio companies all responsible to it, some taking advertisements and some not. I am not didactic on that point. But I am sure that the present arrangement should not last, that far too much power is concentrated in too few hands and that that power is not always exercised responsibly.
I believe that every party in the House shares that criticism from time to time. I do not take the view that the BBC is unfair to the Labour Party or to the Conservative Party. If anything, I would say that it was possibly a little unfair to the Labour Party. But I do take the view that it is unfair to politicians and Parliament as a whole—and that is infinitely more important. That is the origin of my criticism and of my doubts about the exercise of power.
A great opportunity rested upon this Government to right wrongs of which almost everyone perceives the existence. To put that off until 1981 is a dangerous thing to do. That is a year that is all too close to 1984.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. John Golding (Newcastle-under-lyme)
I must first thank the hon. Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Evelyn King) for concluding his speech and giving me this late slot. It is important that we should have an inquiry, particularly into the BBC. I mentioned once the irony that we have been able to conduct a partial inquiry into the commercial sector of the industry, but we have not been able to examine that sector which belongs to the public, and there is a need for such an examination.
Having been a member of the Select Committee I cannot understand the arguments of Conservative Members who say that an inquiry would be detrimental because it would be disturbing. I do not believe that those of us who served on the Select Committee wasted our time, because the complacency of the IBA has been disturbed to some extent. If all we have done is to get it to talk to the unions or to play a greater part in programme planning and in the networking committee, we shall have done a good job. However, I wonder whether the argument can be sustained that an inquiry would disturb its work. It behoves Conservative Members to tell us how. Has the work of the IBA been upset in the last year because of the inquiry by the Select Committee?
The fourth channel should be allocated because television has great potential and there is room for an increase in the number of regional programmes. I do not like the over-dependence of the BBC and its over-centralisation in London and the South-East. There should be more experimental programmes and not only for those who suffer from insomnia. There is a need for a large increase in educational broadcasting. We need not only an extension of the open university but also the creation of a technical college of the air.
But the fourth channel should not be given to either the IBA or the BBC. I was glad to hear the Minister indicate that it would be possible to allocate it outside the existing institutions. I was pleased to hear that in broadcasting at least there might not be simply a Garden of Eden made for two. There is a great need for the third force which should be 1580 publicly-owned and financed, perhaps from the excessive television profits which are being made following the derestric-tion of hours.
In the report the IBA is criticised for failing to maintain standards and balance. It is important to have the best possible entertainment. The report's main criticism is that television is deficient in the peak viewing period, and that point has not been sufficiently stressed in the debate. We must relate balance and quality to peak time viewing, and that the Select Committee did. There is disagreement between the Select Committee and the IBA on what should be a proper interpretation of the Act on this point. Quite clearly the Select Committee believes that there should be balanced programmes within peak hours. The IBA believes that that is not what the Act says, although the way in which it says it is very pertinent.
This will be a significant point for legislation later in the year and it will be important for the Minister to decide for himself the aims of the Act on this point. There should be programmes of high quality balanced within peak hours.
The IBA has defended some lowering of standards by saying that it is not possible always to control the quality of programmes that are made. I accept that. What I cannot understand is why programmes should be put on if they are not considered to be of sufficient quality. A previous speaker referred to editing. A writer cannot guarantee that what he writes will be of the highest quality, but he does not have to force his writing on other people if he is dissatisfied with it. There is no justification for transmitting films of inferior quality, particularly films from America. It is important to develop British talent, particularly in drama, rather than use films.
One of the most illuminating parts of the inquiry came when we examined Sir Lew Grade on his cutting 20 minutes from a film, something which Lord Aylestone, Chairman of the IBA, could later hardly credit. Sir Lew defended it by saying,You never find feature films that will fit exactly to a time slot. The reason you cannot run feature films to their full length is because the News has a static time: the News at Ten is at ten ".1581 If the News at Ten is at ten, the film could at least be started after the 6 o'clock news, or at whatever time is necessary to allow it to run at full length. It was a nonsensical explanation. The IBA has failed to control the way in which films are butchered.
The inquiry also showed that the IBA acted particularly severely when it killed London Weekend Television's current affairs unit. Reparations are being made, but the IBA showed itself to be far from responsible when it did that.
Apart from those errors of judgment, the IBA's failure stems from its lack of financial control. We must go back to Pilkington and understand that we shall not have strong regulations until our regulatory body, the IBA, itself sells the advertising time.
Two other important points are made in the report. One is that there should be enforcement of the law relating to natural breaks and more bunching of advertisements. There is a very strong case for bunching advertisements and preventing their being put on the air between, say, 8 o'clock and 10 o'clock at night, so that programmes of quality can be produced at that time.
§ Mr. Gorst rose—
§ Mr. Golding
I have to be brief.
The job of the IBA is to enforce the Act, not to safeguard commercial interests. My impression, sitting week after week on the Select Committee, was that the IBA saw its rôle as the protection of the commercial interests of the programme companies. The job of the programme companies is to make money. The IBA's job is to enforce the 1964 Act, and it should pay more attention to that than to anything else. I was pleased that the Minister said today that cable television could be encouraged.
The IBA would be stronger if transmissions were taken from it. I believe that the BBC would be less monolithic if transmissions were taken from it, too. There is a compelling argument for the unification of broadcasting transmissions under one agency. The broadcasting authorities should be left to broadcast and some other body should then take over transmission. There should be a national, integrated telecommunications network under public control, and one which 1582 encouraged the development of broadband cable techniques.
It is important, while encouraging cable, that we do not encourage pay-TV in cable. We must make a distinction between wire and cable and insist that privately-owned cable companies should install broad-band cable which will provide facilities for the future rather than provide wire, the use of which is limited. I shall be voting tonight for the amendment to the motion, to which I originally appended my name, because I have been persuaded by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Gregor Mackenzie) of the importance of the amendment.
§ 9.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater)
It is a peculiar pleasure for me to follow the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding). This can perhaps best be appreciated by those who served on the Standing Committee examining the Sound Broadcasting Bill, when I had to listen to many of his speeches without the privilege of ever being able to answer back. I have, perhaps for too long, been a silent member of what might be called the broadcasting club. I am therefore particularly pleased to have this opportunity, in this rather unusual rôle from the back benches, of speaking last in the debate from this side of the House.
The pleasure is increased because those of us who served on the Standing Committee are under no illusions as regards the capacity of the hon. Member. Tonight we have had but a morsel from him in comparison with some of the contributions of which he is capable.
The hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Gregor Mackenzie) said that there were 630 different views on broadcasting in this House. Looking round the Chamber it occurs to me that we have yet again a triumphant exhibition of the silent majority. If there are 630 different views, there are approximately 610 Members who would rather express them elsewhere. The absence of so many people hardly helped the hon. Member in establishing his basic thesis that there is overwhelming interest and concern throughout the country for a wide-ranging inquiry. A rather greater attendance would have helped him in his manful struggle to present that case.
1583 We certainly cannot accuse another long-standing member of the club, the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead), of being a member of the silent majority. He has had two bites at the cherry as those who were members of the Select Committee have already heard him speak as a witness, and I congratulate him on his energy in this matter. He seemed somewhat obsessive tonight about the Irish situation. We had a couple of interventions about Telefis Eireann. There is one matter to which the hon. Member should address himself in his concern to import Irish television to Liverpool. He might consider having a licence fee paid by the inhabitants of Dublin. Anyone who has seen the monstrous aerials erected by the inhabitants of Dublin to receive British programmes will realise that the traffic is much more in the other direction.
The hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Dormand) properly dealt with a number of perhaps secondary recommendations which have not been mentioned by many hon. Members. All of us will have accepted that there was considerable point in his arguments about the position of the advisory council.
The Select Committee commented on the broader membership of the authority. I am in the unusual position of being the last speaker from the Government side, with no responsibility to speak for anyone, and I can therefore make a critical comment. One criterion which might be applied to members of the authority is whether they view or listen. That is one criterion that is not taken into account. I should like to do a survey of the listening and viewing hours of the members of the boards of the BBC and the IBA. I am sure that, if we compared those results with the average listening and viewing time of the general public, it would be found that these busy people who have many demands on their time have little chance to sample the products for which they are responsible. I hope that my right hon. Friend will bear in mind this factor in any further appointments he may make.
I remember a certain gentleman, who had had the doubtful privilege of trying to teach me at school, being appointed Chairman of the BBC. On his appointment it was established that he did not 1584 own a television set and never viewed. That is a somewhat doubtful qualification for becoming Chairman of the BBC.
My hon. Friend the Member for Conway (Mr. Wyn Roberts), like the hon. Member for Derby, North, has considerable practical experience, and I was surprised to hear him support the Select Committee recommendation that programmes should be originated by the IBA. This was a unanimous recommendation of the Select Committee, and the House in considering it must see considerable merit in the IBA argument that it would jeopardise its independence in assessing the quality of programmes. To invite the IBA to originate its own programmes is a recipe for establishing yet another judge and jury in its own cause.
The hon. Member for Derby, North complained about the relative cost of the operation of IBA and contrasted the amount of revenue involved in producing one service with the number of services run on BBC revenue. Part of the problem arises from the plurality of sources, and that will not be helped by adding yet another source to the present production activities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) mentioned the Broadcasting Council. This is a theme on which he has spoken before and on which he feels deeply. Every hon. Member will be able to remember incidents in recent years which gave rise to the concern expressed by findings of the advisory council. The point was aptly covered by the hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris), who asked to whom such a council would have responsibility.
We have to recognise the problem and the way in which it has been tackled in the past by the board of governors of the BBC and the board of the IBA being made responsible for looking after the public interest. If we were to set up yet another broadcasting council, would those bodies be absolved from responsibility or would their responsibility remain in a diminished form? This is a much wider problem than simply setting up a broadcasting council and saying to whom it should be responsible. This point is partly accepted by the IBA and the BBC in the measures they have initially taken —the BBC with its special council and 1585 the IBA in its answer to the Select Committee report.
In general, the debate so far has been less than fair to my right hon. Friend and to the attitude of the IBA in its reception of the Select Committee report. In the cut and thrust of debate it is understandable that hon. Members concentrate on points in the report which must divide. However, there are a considerable number of points which either my right hon. Friend or the IBA has accepted in part or in whole. They have accepted the validity of many of the comments and have either agreed to discuss them further or have already taken action on them.
My right hon. Friend was criticised a little unfairly by the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew), who unfortunately missed the first part of my right hon. Friend's speech and gained the wrong impression about his attitude to cable television. The hon. Gentleman may also have missed my right hon. Friend's intervention in the speech of the hon. Member for Derby, North which went a long way to correct that impression. I understood my right hon. Friend to say that he was keen to support and to develop further experiments. I welcome that.
§ Sir J. Eden
The experiments will go on as they have been set out and as they have just begun. What I am keen to support however, is the further development of cable. It is that that I am discussing.
§ Mr. King
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for making the position clear.
The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme brought out very well a point which has not been mentioned by anyone else. It has been a surprising omission in the past. It seemed to require the comments of the Select Committee to provoke the IBA into meeting the unions to discuss matters of general interest affecting especially programme quality. Clearly, following the comments of the Select Committee, the IBA has instituted the practice and the first meetings have taken place.
A further point on which, surprisingly, my right hon. Friend was less than enthusiastic concerned the Select Committee's suggestions on the rolling contract.
1586 As my right hon. Friend said, this is already accepted as a principle in the case of radio. It is accepted as being an improvement. It was discussed during our proceedings on the Sound Broadcasting Bill when its advantages were widely recognised. It is a logical extension of the procedure to introduce it to television, and I hope that there will be some more enthusiastic and more positive attempts to see that such a proposal is introduced.
§ Mr. Whitehead
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that in 1976 none of the 15 television companies should have an automatic second extension of contract from 1976 to 1981?
§ Mr. King
That is exactly the point I was attempting to make. There is a case for introducing it speedily. There is time before 1981 to get a rolling contract system going, and I hope that it will happen soon.
Another matter which has been accepted is my right hon. Friend's speedy introduction of a study of the coverage of reception. In a sense there are two nations: we are not one nation in terms of reception. One part of the country is rather jaded with what it receives on the three channels and would like a fourth channel as an improvement. The other nation would be glad to have any channel at all, preferably in its own language.
I shudder every time I hear my hon. Friend the Member for Conway talking about the Welsh language. It tends to leak a bit across the Bristol Channel and it is resented by my constituents who find that the only reception they have is in Welsh, a language which they do not find attractive and which is totally incomprehensible. For that reason especially I welcome the speedy way in which my right hon. Friend has set up the survey. It is a matter of real concern to many parts of the country.
The hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Evelyn King) expressed concern about the presentation of the news. My own impression is that many of the points they have made forcibly and fairly in the past have got home. There has been an improvement in the standard of reporting of news in more recent months than 1587 was the situation in the earlier stages of the difficulties in Ulster.
§ Mr. Evelyn King
I agree with my hon. Friend that there has been an improvement. I hope that it remains.
§ Mr. Tom King
It seems that, even in the context of our debate today, my hon. Friend has shown the way that improvements in certain areas of concern can be achieved better than by some of the more wide-ranging solutions proposed by other hon. Members.
This brings me to what must be the core of today's discussion. I have already suggested, understandably, that by concentrating on points of criticism we have tended to conceal from the House that there is more acceptance and agreement by both my right hon. Friend and the IBA of many of the points in the Select Committee's report. But there is one fundamental issue on which there is no agreement. This matter was strongly pressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst), supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Conway and a number of Labour Members who believe that there should and must be a full, wide-ranging inquiry into broadcasting.
It is said by some—it was said initially by the hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Russell Kerr)—that there must be an inquiry now and that it must report in time for 1976. Although the recommendations were not listed in order of importance, I suggest that this was the most important recommendation of the lot and that a number of the others were sub-recommendations to the proposal that there must be an inquiry and that it must report by 1976.
My right hon. Friend said that the Government proposed to extend the time for the IBA and the BBC to 1981. What does that mean? It means that, if an inquiry is set up, it must be set up certainly by 1976. Indeed, if the Labour Party's programme for Annan were implemented, the inquiry would have to be set up in 1975. Therefore, the suggestion that the whole issue has been thrown out of the window for eight years is hardly fair.
My right hon. Friend said that we will not have an inquiry now, but will perhaps have one two years hence. That is not 1588 an outrageous postponement, as might be suggested by hon. Gentlemen opposite. They will recall that at the time the Pilkington Committee complained that they were not allowed enough time for the inquiry. I think that 1975 is the kind of time scale we would require to implement changes of any significance by 1981.
I assume that hon. Members who are pressing of an inquiry have ideas of great significance and think that fundamental changes will need to be made. Therefore, they must be particularly conscious of the need for more time for the inquiry to allow for the necessary procedures before any changes can be made. If fundamental changes are to be made, they will not be made in five minutes. That seems to put a different complexion on my right hon. Friend's action. This is a postponement of no more than two years from what is proposed. It is highly preferable to do that than to rush something through by 1976.
Great scorn has been poured on the reasons why there should not be an inquiry. However, I have not heard many convincing reasons why there should be an inquiry at this time.
There is concern about a number of aspects affecting the BBC and the IBA. My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South has mentioned some of them. This concern flows, as he has often and eloquently said, from the size of the power that these organisations have. It is inevitable that with their scale of operation mistakes are made from time to time, and by their scope and dimension some of these mistakes can be most painful and grievous.
We must look at the matter in wider perspective. Does the demand for an inquiry stem from a deep-seated concern that all is very sick in the state of broadcasting? Is there profound disquiet and a need for an urgent inquiry? Perhaps some of us are too close to the situation and should stand back and take a general view. When we go abroad, we have a great pride in the international reputation enjoyed by the BBC—a reputation which is unrivalled. Labour Members are pleased to poke fun at the IBA but in this House those same hon. Members fight for the preservation of individual programme companies such as Anglia 1589 Television, and they pay their tributes to these programme companies. With the single exception of one company in London, I cannot recall one attack by a regional member on his own local independent television service. Television is collectively fair game, but individually I have heard no complaint. Therefore, I question how deep and how justified is this concern.
There is a further point which my right hon. Friend the Minister might have made. One change of a great significance in the programme planning of IBA is the freedom of hours which has been granted. This has already resulted in a doubling of the regional programmes now networked and has brought about a significant change in the situation.
The question of whether there should or should not be an inquiry is a matter of judgment. We have heard discussion about digging up the plant to see how healthy are its roots, but we have heard nothing to suggest that this is the right time for an inquiry, the recommendations of which would be implemented in 1981.
On balance I think that my right hon. Friend is right, and I think that the hon. Member for Feltham did less than justice to my right hon. Friend. The report of the Select Committee, under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Feltham, is a valuable contribution to our understanding of this subject and is having its effect. But because of the theme of the amendment, which involves an inquiry now rather than in two years' time, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman and I support my right hon. Friend. For that reason, I ask my hon. Friends to vote against the amendment.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ Mr. John Grant (Islington, East)
Since I recently assumed responsibility for media matters and for broadcasting in particular, I can confirm one longstanding belief—which is that there are no easy answers to the crucial and controversial issues which arise in discussions in this field. On that matter, if on little else, the Government and Opposition Front Benches agree.
We are undoubtedly dealing with matters which are of enormous political and social significance. It is timely to 1590 remind the House that just as the media sometimes act irresponsibly, so sometimes they can act in a democratic society as a crucial check on abuse, and of abuses by politicians. We have only to look at what is now happening on the other side of the Atlantic in Washington to see that.
So this debate has dealt with matters of immense public importance which receive too little attention in this House These matters come to the fore only in situations of immediate crisis or controversy. This has been an interesting and at times stimulating debate. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will require answers from the Government to some pertinent questions, and some trenchant criticisms have been made.
With all due respect to the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Tom King), who did a gallant sweeping-up operation, we were entitled to hear from the Government at the end of this debate. There has been a flagrant disregard of the House in this respect. Today The Times mentioned that the Home Secretary has special responsibility in broadcasting matters, and he might well have been the appropriate Minister to reply to this debate.
The hon. Member for Bridgwater said that attendance had been sparse. There has been no shortage of interest or of speakers during the debate. The Government have sought, in the way in which they have handled this debate, to downgrade the situation. When the present Prime Minister was Leader of the Opposition, he regarded this subject as sufficiently important to take part in a similar debate himself.
The debate has ranged over the entire field of broadcasting. It has shown the appalling limitations of the approach in the Government's White Paper. The Minister said that that White Paper was not intended as a comprehensive statement of Government policy. That was the understatement of this debate. It is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ruther-glen (Mr. Gregor Mackenzie) described it, a pathetic little document. It is a poor and unimaginative dish to set before the House and the nation. The nation will be considerably affected, far more than many people seem to appreciate, by the decisions and non-decisions which are made by the Government in this matter.
1591 I go a little further than my hon. Friend. I think that the White Paper is an insult, particularly to the Select Committee, on which my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham (Mr. Russell Kerr) and his colleagues spent so many hours making such painstaking inquiries—only to find their key proposals brushed arrogantly aside. The arrogance is not the Minister's—it lies in Downing Street, with the Prime Minister—but the Minister has brushed the proposals aside with some embarrassment, if anything.
The Minister's arguments in the White Paper, which incidentally took a long time to emerge, are so threadbare that they are scarcely there at all. He said very little today to alter my initial view of the While Paper, that it is a tragedy of lost opportunity. All he has done tonight is put a very little flesh on the bare bones.
We now have a little more detail about the study group to look at regional broadcasting services, and we have the chairman's name. That is to be welcomed so far as it goes, but it does not go very far. I hope that the broadcasting interests will be represented on that study group. I have had representations about this from the Federation of Broadcasting Unions. Their interest is to see not necessarily a trade unionist on the study group but at least an active broadcaster.
The study is seen in the trade if I may describe broadcasting that way in this context as a very mini inquiry indeed. I hope that that is unfounded. It is seen as a means of considering many delicate regional problems, but in no sense can it be regarded as a compensation for the full-ranging inquiry into broadcasting which the Select Committee recommended the Minister to institute at the earliest opportunity.
We may as well face the fact that there could never have been such an inquiry under this Government. The Prime Minister made it clear when he was Leader of the Opposition that that was not his view, and immediately he gained office he abandoned the inquiry set up by the Labour Government. To approve an inquiry now would have meant the Prime Minister admitting that he was wrong in 1970. We all know how, once he sets a course, he sticks to it. The National Board for Prices and Incomes, the Con- 1592 sumer Council, the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation and a compulsory wages policy have all been abandoned or rejected, only to be resurrected or implemented again in some form or other. One could say that the Prime Minister has lurched about like a political drunken sailor.
But on this question of a broadcasting inquiry, in which he is wrong again, the pressures are less acute and the issue is perhaps less emotive. Therefore, he feels that he can avoid admitting another petulant error. It may well be thought that the Conservative Party under the Prime Minister's leadership, is after all, the party of change, because no Government have changed their minds so often in such a short time. The Prime Minister has dogmatically refused to change his mind on the question of a broadcasting inquiry, although the call has come from an all-party committee. It is noticeable that Conservative Members of the Committee have been somewhat conspicuous by their absence today—presumably to spare their blushes.
The call for an inquiry is supported by a very wide range of interested organisations and individuals, including all the broadcasting unions. The Minister claims in the White Paper that the Government recognise the force of the argument for an independent review but says that the Television Advisory Committee has reported. My hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen had a great deal to say about that report in his forthright speech, and I shall not go over it again.
But whatever the technical arguments, there is a great deal of concern, which has been expressed on both sides of the House, about the structure, finance, access, programme content, accountability and so on. These subjects are what an inquiry should be about. As the Select Committee said,… it should study the social, cultural economic implications of alternative systems and invite public debate to consider the options.It may be thought that further technical advances will not be significant until the 1980s, but there are other vital, non-technical matters, which need to be fully and openly examined, not at some future unspecified date, as we heard from the hon. Member for Bridgwater, but now and quickly at the earliest opportunity. 1593 I do not think that the Minister can hide behind technology and ignore all these other far-reaching considerations.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about people being mesmerised by the date 1976. I realise that there is little prospect of it, but if there were to be a change of mind even now about an inquiry, I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman would need to worry much about 1976, nor—and more important—about 1981, the date he has set for the extension of the BBC charter and the television Acts, because these dates are a movable feast. It could be suggested that a Labour Government may well wish to move them. There is no magic about these dates. I hope that that meets the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) during the debate.
The right hon. Gentleman also argued that some practical experience of independent radio is desirable before any policy review. But how much better it would have been if, instead of the Government rushing ahead with independent radio, to which the Labour Party remains entirely uncommitted, the review had come first. It is clear that the Government expect that BBC local radio will now be unable to afford to expand. They welcome that because the commercial operators will thereby get a chance to fill the gaps.
Of course, there is not much likelihood of the commercial operators going where it will not be profitable, and the rural areas, which are already suffering in many cases from such things as the withdrawal or threat of withdrawal of bus and train services, will not be able to hope for any sort of compensation in their isolation from locally commercially sponsored radio, even if that were desirable. I hope that the regional study will look into this aspect. Indeed, the best hope for this mini-inquiry will be that inevitably it will call attention to the urgent need for that much wider-ranging investigation which we have been foolishly denied.
The right hon. Gentleman suggested that the new chairman of the BBC should have time to settle in, but I endorse what some of my hon. Friends said, because my evidence shows that the BBC at all levels would welcome an inquiry and is 1594 still hoping that one will be set up. Overall, the right hon. Gentleman failed to answer the Select Committee's case for an inquiry. If they had televised his speech—and I wish Parliament were televised—it would have had a little white blob on the screen. This is one more decision—to set up an inquiry—which a Labour Government would want to take very quickly if it were returned to office.
The other quite fundamental point made by the Select Committee concerned the allocation of the fourth channel, and a good deal has been said about that in this debate. The Committee said quite categorically that no decision should be taken prior to a general review embracing the broadcasting needs of the country, and the Opposition certainly endorse that point of view. But the Select Committee's references to the fourth channel were quite incredibly dismissed in the White Paper in a single sentence, which just said:Separate consideration is being given to the question of a fourth channel.And that was it.
Our fear is that the decision has been pre-empted by the refusal to hold an inquiry. If the Government do allocate it, they are going to do so without the benefit of that wider-ranging public examination of the case. Our fear, too, is that the Government, well softened up by the very powerful and influential commercial television lobby, are already preparing for the big sell-out. It would be very much in character—Thomas Cook, the State breweries, commercial radio itself. The Government have always looked after their own very well indeed.
There is certainly no hard evidence of public demand for early allocation of this channel. We can only hope that the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues remain undecided about this not only now but for the rest of what I hope will be a very short tenure of office. The Minister stressed today that it is quite possible that he will not allocate. That must be acknowledged. However, he must pardon our scepticism as well. Personally, I doubt very much whether the Government will feel able to resist grasping the chance—which, after all, may well be their party's last chance—to hand this immensely valuable public asset over to 1595 the money-makers of the kind who sustain their party.
That is a view which is not confined just to Labour Members of Parliament or even the broadcasting unions. The Financial Times not long ago asserted that the commercial television lobby would" almost certainly meet with success "in its efforts to grab the fourth channel. "Grab" is my word. When the Labour Party talks about extending public ownership, we always see the word "grab" used in the headlines. I hope that, similarly, the headlines will use the word "grab" if, in fact, there is this commercial television carve-up which we still very much fear may happen.
These efforts of the commercial television lobby have been formidable, and the reason is not hard to see. An article in The Sunday Times Business News on 11 th March said:Apart from anything else, the ITV companies can see advertising income soaring towards £200 million by 1975, which would be double the whole of the BBC's income, and they want this money to stay in the industry rather than be siphoned off as a levy or even to a competitor.What is clear, above all, is that there has not been proper public discussion of the alternatives, or indeed of whether this fourth channel is desirable at all at this time. I think this is a view which deserves much more serious attention than it is likely to get, in spite of what the Minister says, bearing in mind resources as well as social desirability.
There is a whole range of alternatives, some of which have been mentioned tonight. A number of helpful suggestions have been made by the Association of Cinematograph, Television and Allied Technicians, and from the Association of Broadcasting Staffs there was an extremely interesting proposal for a national television foundation. There is the possibility of using a fourth channel to get peak-hour placing for minority interest programmes, which is virtually impossible at the moment. There is the possibility of its use for Welsh language broadcasts, repeats of educational programmes, additional regional programmes —all these things, many of which overlap.
What the Minister said is that the criterion is what is in the best interests of the public as a whole, and he is 1596 considering the alternatives. His major mistake is to do so virtually in private, because these alternatives—and there are obviously others; indeed, some have been mentioned today—ought to be aired thoroughly. They require public debate, with the Government giving the debate the necessary impetus. That is the best way of measuring what is in the interests of the public and not, as the Minister appeared to be doing, by telling people that this is what they are to get because the Government know what is best for them.
I am not to be numbered among those who want nothing but culture and moral uplift from television programmes. I am not one of those who think that if things are sufficiently obscure they must be profound. I want a good mixture of information, education and high quality entertainment. Often I want to relax, and perhaps I may give two examples.
I enjoy a top quality Western. My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) is not here, but I accept what he said about violence. We get an excess of Hollywood-inspired violence on the television screen in films where blood is thicker than talent.
To give a second example, I referred earlier to relaxation, and the Warhol film has been mentioned. I found it extremely relaxing. It literally sent me to sleep. I think that that kind of programme is designed to cure millions of people of the sleeping-pill habit.
I do not find the existing channels lacking in entertainment, but I question the standard of a great deal of it, geared, as it is, largely to the rat-race of the ratings. I do not think that a fourth channel, primarily entertainment-oriented, which is inevitable if it goes commercial, is what is wanted.
I am recording a personal view and trying to underline the difficulty in reaching a right decision in the best interests of the public. What we are promised is ministerial consideration. We cannot even secure the guarantee of a Green Paper, which has been asked for on a number of occasions, setting out the alternatives and arguments and the Government's preliminary views. Is this the kind of open Government of which the Conservative Party has boasted? If open Government does not start with communications, where the devil does it start? 1597 Time will not permit me to deal with many of the points made in the report, even those which call for Government reaction.
Recommendation 25, which has been referred to in some detail, puts forward the possibility of a council or consumer organisation for all the communication media. This is a matter of considerable public interest, but once again it was dismissed out of hand in the White Paper, and I thought that the right hon. Gentleman's attempt to explain the Government's reasoning on this was inadequate.
The Committee's suggestion is an interesting one. It has far wider implications than some members of the Select Committee may have realised when they reported. What they have said, in effect, is that, far from having the diverse functions which the Minister has mentioned, these interests are inextricably bound together, and it is a fact that all the major newspaper companies have an interest in commercial television companies. They have generally found that a most profitable investment, and the introduction of commercial radio sees a further increase in these overlapping interests.
The media has enormous power and influence, and it is central to our democratic process, but it is far too mealy-mouthed about its own shortcomings. Again, open Government requires a more open media. There should be far more discussion about the media in the media and in this place. An independent consumer voice, not without essential representation from within the industry, should serve to stimulate that discussion, and the Committee's recommendation for a council which would cover the communication media as a whole is deserving of far more consideration that it has been given by the Government. I will do no more than speculate here, but I tend to feel that the case for an inquiry into broadcasting may be matched by the case for a much wider-ranging inquiry into the media as a whole.
The White Paper gives a remarkable impression of complacency, which was repeated in the Minister's speech, suggesting that everything in the broadcasting garden is lovely. I am not to be listed among the extreme critics of our broadcasting. Indeed I pay tribute to it and 1598 think that at best it could not be bettered. Yet we know that there is considerable disquiet in the industry and in public argument, and we have heard it from both sides of the House. There is discontent about censorship, participation, industrial democracy, access and so on. There is the very real issue of financing the BBC.
I am very much an editorial man by background and I have natural reservations about switching from the licence fee system to some kind of grant-in-aid situation. But it may be that editorial men, in public service can get rather too touchy about this and we cannot leave the situation as it is. If nothing else, there is the position of the pensioners as a constant reminder of the problem that exists.
I hope that I have spelled out some of the key issues on which I think a full-scale inquiry should have been set up with a fourth channel as undoubtedly the most urgent and vital. No limited technological inquiry in any way invalidates the case for that.
I want to say a few words about the IBA comments in the White Paper. My hon. Friend the Member for Feltham did a first-class demolition job. The IBA is very understandably defensive. I have concentrated on the Government's views but what is disturbing in the White Paper is the virtual assumption throughout that ITV2 is imminent and that the case has been won. The IBA seems to have used the White Paper as another propaganda vehicle to peddle the case for ITV2. It uses the argument in dealing with problems of achieving balanced schedules, the idea of a programme planning board and regional companies, and even in its comments on the initiation of production it ends by underlining the drawbacks of a single channel. But the IBA does agree that all the proposals for the use of a fourth channel should be given a fair hearing. That does not seem to be "on".
This is the first time I have spoken from the Dispatch Box in a debate. I hope that I have been suitably restrained and moderate, but I must say that I think the Government are treating the House, and therefore the nation, with a considerable degree of contempt. They are again adopting the arrogant and conceited know-all attitude which has been their hallmark in office.
1599 The disquiet will not cease to exist because the Government choose to ignore the views of the Select Committee. The position of the Opposition is clear. We are in no way bound by any decision taken about the fourth channel in this shabby and almost secretive fashion which appears to be the Government's intended method of proceeding. We shall reconsider the whole situation after a general election and we shall want to establish that inquiry.
It has been said that broadcasting is too important to leave to the broadcasters and
§ that we must find better ways of using it to allow people to speak to each other. There is a great deal in that argument, and I add to it that the future of broadcasting in this country is far too important to leave to the Government of a commercially sponsored party to decide in this hole in the corner fashion. That is why I ask my hon. and right hon. Friends to support us in the Lobby on the amendment.
§ Question put, That the amendment be made: —
§ The House divided: Ayes 97, Noes 119.1601
|Division No. 120.]||AYES||[10.0 p.m.|
|Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis)||Horam, John||Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.)||Pendry, Tom|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Hunter, Adam||Perry, Ernest G.|
|Booth, Albert||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Reed, D. (Sedgefield)|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur||Jones,Rt.Hn.SIr Elwyn(W.Ham,S.)||Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)|
|Brown, Robert C. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne, W.)||Judd, Frank||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Cant, R. B.||Kaufman, Gerald||Rose, Paul B.|
|Carmichael, Neil||Kelley, Richard||Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)|
|Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.)||Kerr, Russell||Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)|
|Cohen, Stanley||Kinnock, Neil||Skinner, Dennis|
|Concannon, J. D.||Leonard, Dick||Small, William|
|Conlan, Bernard||Lestor, Miss Joan||Stallard, A. W.|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.)||McCartney, Hugh||Steel, David|
|Deakins, Eric||Mackenzie, Gregor||Stoddart, David (Swindon)|
|de Freitas, Rt Hn. Sir Geoffrey||McNamara, J. Kevin||Strang, Gavin|
|Dormand, J. D.||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Marquand, David||Taverne, Dick|
|Dunn, James A.||Marsden, F.||Tinn, James|
|Edelman, Maurice||Marshall, Dr. Edmund||Tope, Graham|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Mayhew, Christopher||Torney, Tom|
|English, Michael||Mikardo, Ian||Walden, Brian (B'ham, All Saints)|
|Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||Millan, Bruce||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Miller, Dr. M. S.||Wallace, George|
|Forrester, John||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Fraser, John (Norwood)||Moyle, Roland||Whitlock, William|
|Ginsburg, David (Dewsbury)||Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)|
|Grant, John D. (Islington, E.)||Murray, Ronald King||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hltchin)|
|Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.||Ogden, Eric||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Hamilton, William (Fife, W.)||O'Halloran, Michael|
|Hamling, William||O'Malley, Brian||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Oram, Bert||Mr. John Golding and|
|Hattersley, Roy||Orbach, Maurice||Mr. Joseph Harper.|
|Heffrr, Eric S||Oswald, Thomas|
|Archer, Jeffrey (Louth)||du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward||Hawkins, Paul|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Eden, Rt. Hn. Sir John||Higgins, Terence L.|
|Bell, Ronald||Emery, Peter||Hiley, Joseph|
|Benyon, W.||Eyre, Reginald||Hill, S. James A.(Southampton,Test)|
|Biffen, John||Fell, Anthony||Holland, Philip|
|Boscawen, Hn. Robert||Fenner, Mrs. Peggy||Hordern, Peter|
|Bossom, Sir Clive||Fidler, Michael||Hornsby-Smith, Rt.Hn.Dame Patricis|
|Bowden, Andrew||Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton)||Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.)|
|Bray, Ronald||Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Iremonger, T. L.|
|Brinton, Sir Tatton||Fookes, Miss Janet||James, David|
|Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher||Fortescue, Tim||Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Fowler, Norman||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine|
|Chapman, Sydney||Goodhew, Victor||Kershaw, Anthony|
|Clark, William (Surrey, E.)||Gorst, John||Kimball, Marcus|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C)||King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)|
|Clegg, Walter||Gray, Hamish||King, Tom (Bridgwater)|
|Cooke, Robert||Green, Alan||Kinsey, J. R.|
|Coombs, Derek||Grylls, Michael||Luce, R. N.|
|Costain, A. P.||Gummer, J. Selwyn||Macmillan,Rt.Hn.Maurlce(Farnham)|
|Deedes, Rt. Hn W. F.||Gurden, Harold||McNair-Wilson, Michael|
|Drayson, G. B.||Hall, John (Wycombe)||McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)|
|Madel, David||Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)||Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N.W.)|
|Mather, Carol||Rees, Peter (Dover)||Tebbit, Norman|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David||Temple, John M|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Ridsdale, Julian||Thatcher, Rt. Hn. Mrs. Margaret|
|Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)||Tilney, John|
|Moate, Roger||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)||Trafford, Dr. Anthony|
|Money, Ernie||Rost, Peter||Trew, Peter|
|Monks, Mrs. Connie||Scott, Nicholas||Tugendhat, Christopher|
|More, Jasper||Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)||Vaughan, Dr. Gerard|
|Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.||Shelton, William (Clapham)||Warren, Kenneth|
|Morrison, Charles||Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Murton, Oscar||Soref, Harold||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally||Speed, Keith||Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher|
|Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby)||Spence, John||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Peel, Sir John||Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)||Worsley, Marcus|
|Percival, Ian||Stokes, John||Younger, Hn. George|
|Price, David (Eastleigh)||Stuttatord, Dr. Tom|
|Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis||Tapsell, Peter||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Raison, Timothy||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)||Mr. Marcus Fox and|
|Redmond, Robert||Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)||Mr. John Stradling Thomas.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Main Question put and agreed to.
§ That this House takes note of the Second Report from the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries in the last Session of Parliament and of the relevant Government observations on this Report (Command Paper No. 5244).