§ Mr. Speaker
Before we turn to the main debate, I must point out that it is clear from the long list of right hon. and hon. Members who have indicated that they hope to catch my eye during the course of the debate that they will not all be able to do so. The list of people who wish to speak is long and that makes the need for shorter speeches all the more important.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Merlyn Rees)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the Report of the Annan Committee on the Future of Broadcasting (Command Paper No. 6753).I look forward this afternoon to a wide-ranging debate on the Annan Report on the Future of Broadcasting. I should like to preface my remarks by repeating my thanks to Lord Annan and his Committee for the outstanding service that they have rendered.
When I announced the publication of the report on 24th March, I said that I hoped that it would be discussed inside and outside Parliament and that I should welcome comments from anyone who felt they had a contribution to make. We have already received a large number of letters, most of them, I might add, about the Committee's proposals for local radio. I am glad to see that a number of organisations are holding conferences and seminars on the report and that there is a continuing debate on the future of broadcasting on radio and television.
However, the centre pieces of the process of consultations on the report are, of course, the debates in both Houses of Parliament. One thing that emerges from the report itself, and from the debate that has so far taken place on it, is that the Government were right to institute the inquiry in the first place. I was pleased to see that this was acknowledged by Lord Carrington in the debate in another place last week.
What are the next steps? The period of consultation ends at the beginning of July. I shall then take stock of all that has been said about the report and formulate proposals for the future structure of broadcasting, which I can put to Parliament. It may be that a White or 1019 Green Paper will be an appropriate form in which to announce my proposals. Obviously legislation of one kind or another will be necessary to deal with the future structure, but in any event the IBA Act, under which the Independent Broadcasting Authority is constituted, and also the BBC's Charter expire in July 1979.
I note that views on the report have already been expressed by the Conservative Party. I must proceed on the basis, however, that there is a wide variety of views on the future of broadcasting in all parties and inside and outside Parliament; and my aim is to consider all of them before reaching any decisions.
What impressed me most about the report—and Lord Annan articulated the point at the end of his recent Fleming Memorial Lecture—is what the Committee did not recommend. It did not recommend any fundamental change in the constitutional arrangements for broadcasting in this country.
In fact the Committee's views on this are reflected in its first recommendation:Broadcasting services should continue to be provided as public services and should continue to be the responsibility of public authorities. These authorities—of which, of course, it recommends two in addition to the BBC and the IBA—should be independent of Government in the day to day conduct of their business.I can think of no more succinct summary of the existing constitutional arrangements for broadcasting in this country—arrangements that have been endorsed by successive Governments and that I take this opportunity to endorse on behalf of the present Government.
It might be worth reflecting on this recommendation because in doing so I may be able to indicate the way in which I approach the report in my capacity as Home Secretary. The concepts of a public service and of a public authority are fundamental to broadcasting in this country. They date from the earliest years of broadcasting and they embody the solution that we in this country have adopted to the problem of reconciling valid, yet conflicting, claims to control broadcasting.
On the one hand, as the Committee said 1020However broadcasting is organised Governments in the last resort have responsibilities for the use of the radio spectrum".On the other hand, we have also recognised in this country that broadcasting is too important to be left to anyone, or to any group—including the Government of the day, but not forgetting interest groups of various kinds—who might be tempted to use it for their own ends. We have therefore vested control over the output and management of broadcasting in public authorities accountable through the Home Secretary to Parliament. This concept has proved its worth over the past 50 years and, as I have said, the Government believe, with the Committee, that it should be retained.
This of itself is a tribute to the existing broadcasting authorities. The Committee has paid them the compliment of judging their respective performances by only the highest standards. And in the end the Committee has been able to say, in relation to the BBC:we conclude that the public is getting good value for its licence fee";and in relation to the IBA:the achievement and success of the British system of organising commercial broadcasting ought not to go unrecorded".I come now to my approach to the Annan Report. Under the constitutional arrangements that I have described, my primary function as Home Secretary is to ensure that the framework of broadcasting in this country is the best that can be devised to ensure that broadcasting is as good as it can be.
A large part of the report is devoted to the consideration of what the framework should be. There are also comments and recommendations in the report that do call for action not so much by Government as by the broadcasting authorities and the broadcasters themselves.
In saying this I do not mean to inhibit our debate this afternoon. This House has the right and the duty to express its views on these matters, and I know that these views will be considered carefully by the broadcasting authorities.
As I said earlier, the main question with which I shall be faced at the end of the period of consultations on the report is what will be the best structure for broadcasting for the next decade or so—possibly up to the turn of the century.
1021 When the Annan Committee came to consider this question, it did two things. First, it tried to see what the future held in technological terms—and here the Committee had in mind, for example, teletext; the possibilities of additional local and national radio services and of a fifth or sixth television channel; and the possibilities which broadcasting by satellite might hold.
Secondly, the Committee tried to see what kinds of services people would want in the future—and here it saw the likelihood of increasing demands for a larger number and a greater variety of broadcast material. From this view the Committee derived what it called "four requisites for good broadcasting"—flexibility, diversity, editorial independence and public accountability. The first is that the structure of broadcasting should be flexible enough to accommodate the kinds of changes and development which the Committee foresaw. The second is that the structure must permit and encourage diversity.
As I said on 24th March, I accept these objectives. This does not mean, however, that I necessarily accept the structural changes recommended by the Committee to achieve them. There are other possibilities, many of them discussed in the report, and I shall want to consider all of them in the light of the report and in the light of the comments on it.
The other two requirements that the Committee identified for good broadcasting, and that I have also accepted, are part and parcel of the Committee's endorsement of the existing constitutional arrangements: the requirements are editorial independence and public accountability. The Committee felt that there was room for improvement as regards both of them. On the latter, the Committee felt that the broadcasting organisations should be mademore responsive to the opinions of the publicand many of the Committee's recommendations are directed towards this goal.
I judge that there is a substantial measure of agreement about the four requisites or principles that the Committee identified. However, as Mr. John 1022 Grist observed in a recent article in The Listener,it is in the working out of these principles into organisations that there is room and need for debate.While the Committee recommended that the BBC and the IBA should continue basically in their present form, its two most important recommendations, which it saw as strengthening the flexibility and diversity of broadcasting, are those for the establishment of the Local Broadcasting Authority and for the establishment of the Open Broadcasting Authority. It would be a mistake, however, to think solely in terms of institutions. Our first task must be to reach a view on what kinds of services we want to see provided by local radio and on the fourth television channel.
So far as local radio is concerned, the Committee's view of the kind of service which should be provided will command a good deal of respect. In its view, a local radio station shouldhelp to create opportunities in a community. It should be used by those who want to communicate…Local stations should help to bring the community together.On this last point, I would observe that local radio can play a vital part in bringing together the new communities which have been formed by local government reorganisation.
The first question that occurs to me is, what do we mean by "local" and "community" in the context of local radio? The answer to this question has important implications in frequency terms and in financial terms, and also, I suspect, in terms of the amount of local material which could be generated.
Another important question is to do with competition in local radio. I would make two points here. First, we must remember that even in an area in which there is only one local radio station, that station will be in competition with the national radio services provided by the BBC. Secondly, I wonder how much room there is, at any rate in the smaller areas, for competition between more than one local radio station as regards the element of their output which is genuinely local.
If, as I am sure, there is a wide measure of agreement that local radio is here to stay, the question then arises whether we need new institutional 1023 arrangements. The Committee felt that a single authority would in the long run be more successful than the perpetuation of the present duopoly; and also that this authority should be neither the BBC nor the IBA, but a new authority.
The options seem to be, first to create a new authority as the Committee recommended; secondly, to extend the existing pattern so that as many places as possible receive both a BBC and an independent local radio service; thirdly, to allocate different parts of the country to the BBC and the IBA for local radio purposes; or fourthly, to hand local radio over entirely to either the BBC or the IBA.
The choice is not easy, and I particularly want to hear what people have to say about various options.
I also want to hear what people have to say about the other major decision with which I shall be confronted, the question of the fourth channel. Again, I start with the question of what kind of service do we want. The Annan Committee obviously wanted a different service. It wanted programmes whichsay something new in new ways",and it believed that both the pool of talent and the demand from the public was large enough to support such a service.
Could the service they had in mind be provided by independent television? The Committee was clear that the fourth channel could not operate without a substantial contribution from independent television. It felt, however, that the kind of diversity it was after was more likely in the long run to be provided by a separate authority "publishing" material from a variety of sources, including the independent television companies, than by independent television as it is now organised. I note that in their evidence to the Annan Committee, the Independent Television Companies Association also envisaged a new institution, a Television Foundation, which they proposed would have a share of the fourth channel and which would have, in relation to this share, a rôle not dissimilar from that which the Committee proposed for the OBA.
The biggest question mark that hangs over the proposals seems to me to be their financial viability. The Committee 1024 itself recognised that a fourth channel service of the kind it had in mind would have to await an improvement in the economic climate. But the question remains whether such a service could pay its way even then without a rather larger contribution from the public purse than the Committee envisaged.
As my noble Friend said last week in another place, we do not find the report wholly reassuring on this aspect. We are quite clear, however, that we cannot have the fourth channel for nothing—even if we simply handed it over to independent television. A new service cannot be provided without additional resources, and it is quite clear that some part of the necessary finance would have to be provided, certainly in the short term, either directly or indirectly by the taxpayer.
Another aspect of the proposals with which I have found some difficulty is the suggestion in the report that the requirement that controversial matters should be treated with due impartiality might be relaxed in the case of the OBA. I can see that a case might be made out for relaxing the requirement of "proper balance". This, in a sense, is implicit in the Committee's concept of the service which it thinks should be provided on the fourth channel. But what about the requirement ofdue impartiality in the treatment of controversial matters"?As I read the report, the Committee seemed to feel that this requirement should be dispensed with. Perhaps this is also implicit in its view of the rôle of the proposed authority as a publisher of other people's material. But it amounts to a fairly radical change in the traditional responsibilities of the broadcasting authorities. There can be no doubt that it would indeed bean experiment in new ways of exercising responsibility for broadcasting".Like all experiments, it would carry risks and the question to which we shall have to give the most careful consideration is whether, with a medium as important as television, they are risks we can afford to take.
The House will appreciate that I am personally much concerned about what has been said on the relationship between television and the Welsh language. I should like therefore to underline what 1025 my noble Friend said last week in another place. The Government have reaffirmed their commitment to the project for a fourth channel in Wales, in the Welsh language. The House will appreciate that in the present economic climate provision cannot yet be made for the necessary expenditure. However, officials in the Home and Welsh Offices are about to begin discussions with the broadcasting authorities on how progress might be made so that, when the necessary funds are available, an immediate start can be made.
There is one other matter that I have noted has been discussed since we published the report, namely that of regionalism. Everyone rightly feels that it would be wrong for the broadcasting authorities to be too metropolitan in their outlook. They must have proper links with the regions and with the artistic talent that is not based in London. The Committee went so far as to suggest that the IBA should be renamed the Regional Television Authority. It is true that the IBA derives strength from the fact that it is an amalgam of regional companies, but it provides a national network and it has been suggested that the proposed new title does not correctly convey the way in which the IBA works.
There is a different problem with the BBC. It, too, has its regional base and the report is clear that its three network production centres in England—in Birmingham, Bristol and Manchester—should continue.
The Annan Committee had doubts whether the eight regional television centres in England which produce weekday evening regional news and magazine programmes should continue in their present form. The Committee does not come down in favour of abolition but it suggests a possible change of function so that they can concentrate on local news programmes. The House will not expect me to express views on this matter, which is for the BBC, but I am sure everyone will agree that some form of BBC regional organisation and a means of providing a local news service is essential to the health of its progress.
I turn now to the Committee's recommendations for improving the responsiveness of the broadcasting authorities and of the broadcasters to the public at 1026 large. The Committee rejected the idea of a Broadcasting Council or some other form of tribunal of taste set above the authorities, as it were, to police them, and I am bound to say that I find the arguments against placing a new body over the existing authorities to be powerful ones.
How, then, can the broadcasters be made more responsive? What the Committee has suggested is that there should be a system of public hearings conducted, on the one hand, by the broadcasting authorities themselves—and here I should acknowledge that the authorities already conduct some public hearings—and, on the other, by a new body which it called the Public Enquiry Board for Broadcasting.
I can see the attraction in the idea of public hearings, but I must tell the House that I do not think we should be justified in creating a new organisation unless we were satisfied that this was clearly the only effective way to meet a demonstrable need.
What I am clear about, however, is that there is public concern about a number of issues in broadcasting—and I mention programme content again because this seems to me to be the most important; that this concern must not be ignored; and that means must be found, if they are not already to hand, to enable this concern to be expressed.
I come finally to a particular aspect of concern relating to programmes, namely, concern about the arrangements for dealing with complaints of misrepresentation and unfair treatment in programmes. The Annan Committee concluded from the evidence it received that—and I quote from paragraph 6.16—if the Broadcasting Authorities themselves appoint such bodies"—that is, bodies to handle complaints—however impartial they may be, the public and complainants will never be convinced that an independent judgment is being given.This is a substantial argument—and not just in the broadcasting field. The Committee went on to recommend a single independent Broadcasting Complaints Commission to deal with the complaints about misrepresentation and unfairness. It thought the commission should have powers to require the broadcasters to publish its adjudications and, where 1027 appropriate, to broadcast an apology. These are attractive proposals from my point of view and for which I think I detect a fair measure of support.
I shall be urged, I know, not only to accept the Committee's recommendations for such a commission but to extend its remit to cover complaints about programme content generally. On this, I would only say at this stage that I share the Annan Committee's view that there is an important distinction to be drawn between complaints of misrepresentation and unfairness, on the one hand, and complaints about programme content generally, on the other. As my noble Friend the Minister of State remarked in another place last week, the former seem to us to be susceptible to the kind of quasi-judicial treatment and—what is more important—to the kinds of remedies proposed by the Committee, whereas such an approach in the case of the latter would seriously detract from the responsibilities of the broadcasting authorities.
I have attempted to indicate the way in which I shall be approaching the report and the comments which are being made on it. The debate this afternoon is an important part of the discussion.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
My right hon. Friend is clearly coming to his peroration, and perhaps I can get in one point which he has omitted but which is of great concern to most people in relation to broadcasting—the price of the licence fee. The Home Affairs Group, of which I am Chairman, took an almost unanimous view that no further increase in the licence fee was justified and that any increase must come about through advertising or out of a levy on independent programmes. I hope that my right hon. Friend will take that into account.
§ Mr. Rees
I shall. I am not offering a view whether I agree with what my hon. Friend said. Given the size of the report, I felt that if I were to deal with every point that was raised I should take far too long. I do not deny that finance is important. Indeed, I said about the OBA that finance was of the greatest importance. If I catch your eye later this evening, Mr. Speaker, I shall try to pick up some of the points that hon. Members have made and which they consider important. I would rather do that later than do what Front Bench speakers 1028 usually do, and that is speak for too long. I hope to speak briefly this afternoon, but I shall take in the points that are made.
I look forward to continuing wide-ranging debates outside the House. This is not the time when the Government should reach their decisions. What we have to do is to listen and then to respond. We shall do so within the framework of public service broadcasting. We must be conscious of the decades that follow. People will change, their needs will change and, as I realised when I became Home Secretary and delved into this, the technology of broadcasting will change. Great changes are possible in the decades ahead. We must provide flexibility and take all those factors into account.
None of us underestimates the importance of broadcasting in our society. It is now integral to our way of life, both as individuals and as a community. We have in the twin concepts of public service broadcasting and of the broadcasting authority a firm and well-bred foundation on which to build for the future. We have in the Annan Report a vision of what the future might hold and how we might meet tomorrow's needs. However, in reaching decisions we cannot afford any mistakes. But, by the same token, we cannot afford to miss any opportunities. It is the job of the Government to listen and then to come back to the House with specific proposals.
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ Mr. William Whitelaw (Penrith and The Border)
I join the Home Secretary in expressing thanks to Lord Annan and his Committee for all their hard work in producing a most important report.
My task is somewhat different from that of the Home Secretary. He said that it is the job of the Government to listen to the views expressed in this debate. It is my task, on behalf of the Opposition, to express some of our views, and some of my own personal views which might not accord with those of many of my colleagues.
I was one of those who were basically opposed to setting up the Annan Committee at all because I considered it unnecessary and possibly even dangerous to subject our system of broadcasting to regular root and branch reviews which occupy many people's scarce time and 1029 may well lead only to a prolonged period of uncertainty. But Lord Annan and his Committee have convinced me that I was wrong by producing a report which is not only lucid and readable but gives a chance to consider with the Committee the basic method by which we should regulate our broadcasting system in the future. That is surely valuable, because it enables us to stand back and review as a whole the relationship between Government, Parliament and viewers, on the one hand, and the broadcasting authorities, on the other, which has inevitably developed piecemeal over the years by trial and error.
As a start it is certainly encouraging, though never a reason for complacency, that after two and a half years of study Lord Annan himself believes that his report should be read as a massive vote of confidence in the British way of regulating our broadcasting system. He has also stated that at the end of its labours the Committee had no doubt that British broadcasting was the best in the world.
Against that background, it is important to consider not only the changes which the Annan Committee proposes but also those parts of the system which it recommends should be left as they are. Although these negative recommendations, as one might call them, have inevitably attracted far less publicity and comment, they are, in my judgment, probably the most important part of the report. I agree with much of what the Home Secretary said on this aspect. Before I come to the proposed changes, on which I find myself in some cases in disagreement with the Annan Committee, I want to say something about its support for the existing arrangements, with which in general I agree.
I was interested to note that Lord Annan and others believe that we have discovered the secret of regulating our broadcasting through independent authorities while preserving editorial independence. I hope and believe that we have, but preserving that balance is a most difficult operation and will always be subject to stresses and strains which we in this House have the duty to overcome.
First, we have to maintain the independence of the authorities from Government and Parliament against the background of the inevitable love-hate relationship between 1030 politicians and broadcasters. As politicians, we know—and if we do not, we ought to—the enormous power of television and radio as a means of communication. That power gives a temptation to us to interfere, and the more powerful the politician, the greater the temptation. It is a real danger from Governments—let us face it honestly, from any of us in Government, whatever our party. So Government and Parliament must unite in preserving the system of the basic independence of the broadcasting authorities as a means of protecting ourselves from doing our nation a great disservice.
I can claim considerable experience of this relationship between Government, Parliament and the broadcasting authorities. I have gained this experience as Opposition Chief Whip for six years, as Leader of the House of Commons for two years, as Chairman of the Conservative Party in the difficult broadcasting times leading up to and during a General Election, and as the longest-serving member of the inter-party committee on broadcasting. I have now survived in my membership of that committee all the directors-general and all the chairmen of both authorities, and still I am there. So I am entitled to say that I know something about it. As a result, I want to make a special plea for the maintenance of the strength of the independent authorities against political pressure.
Of course we have the right to complain—a right very extensively used. But the authorities must have the standing to resist when they believe us wrong, and also to admit their mistakes—something which weak authorities and weak people seldom have the courage to do. That is one of the main reasons why I support the majority of the Annan Committee in opposing the splitting up of the BBC, which would, I believe, inevitably weaken its position.
I am sure that if the BBC were to be split up, the independence of producers would suffer. I believe, too, that the BBC's international standing, based on the external services, would also suffer because people overseas would not understand why this organisation, which they so admire was suddenly to be split up.
Resistance to pressure and the maintenance of independence is also the reason why I support the present relationship 1031 between the Government and the BBC governors and the IBA board. The present method of appointment to both boards for a specific time with an option for reappointment seems to me to work satisfactorily. I am not sure that I would go as far as the Annan Committee in insisting on an affirmative resolution before the dismissal of the majority of a board on important policy grounds, because I do not believe that any Government could take such action without a parliamentary row and debate.
I can foresee difficulties arising which all concerned might regret if a debate had to take place whatever the situation. In my time in Parliament, I have had considerable experience of occasions when it has appeared to be sensible always to have a debate, but when the time has come for the debate to be held everyone on both sides of the House has wished desperately that it was not going to take place. I can foresee such a situation in this case, and I would not go as far as that recommendation by the Annan Committee.
The maintenance of independent authorities is also a major factor in continuing to finance the BBC through the licensing system. Here, I want to refer to what the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) had to say on the matter. I know from personal experience the difficulty facing a Government in raising the licence fee, when they, as nearly always, are fighting inflation. But I find the arguments in the Annan Report against any other method of financing wholly convincing.
If, for example, the BBC were to be financed by general taxation, there would always be the temptation for any Government to encourage compliance with their views through greater rewards, or to punish the BBC for alleged misrepresentations or unfair treatment by financial cuts. I do not regard these dangers as wholly illusory. I have heard remarks by members of Governments of both parties leading me to the view that such arguments could take place, and if they did, they could lead to dangerous consequences.
In this connection, it is also important to point out that, after its exhaustive study, the Annan Committee concluded that the public are getting good value 1032 for the licence fee. The hon. Member for York suggests that it might be possible to change the licence fee, not by going on to general taxation but in some way through advertising. I believe that the essential difference between the BBC and the IBA and the independent television companies is that the BBC is not tied to any advertising revenue. I believe that the whole difference between the two systems, which is very important in our national broadcasting, would be considerably undermined if the position were in any way changed.
§ Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)
Would not the right hon. Gentleman also agree that the important thing for the BBC is to know how much money it is going to receive in order that it can plan its programmes, and if, in any way, the income were dependent on the economic ups and downs of advertising, that would be totally impossible?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I agree on that point.
In considering the question of the licence fee, there are those who suggest some form of indexing. But I would regard that as a recipe for over-much spending by the BBC and some relaxation of what I believe to be the very strict procedures it deals with, and has to deal with, because of the constraints of the licence fee. I would not in any way go down the index-link road. It is fair to say that we have gone down that road on other matters and that some of us have doubts as to the wisdom of such a course.
Therefore, I hope that we shall stick to the licence fee and settle it at reasonable intervals which will give the BBC the opportunity to plan ahead but will equally keep it restricted to what it can hope to achieve. I think that that is the best way of proceeding.
§ Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)
I think that the right hon. Gentleman will carry most of the House with him on the question of the continuance of the issues that he has outlined. However, does he agree that that ought not to bring about a situation that is to the financial disadvantage of the BBC?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
It depends what one means by the phrase "to the financial disadvantage of the BBC." I think that it is inevitable that Governments will 1033have to argue and wrestle with their own feelings before they decide on making increases in the licence fee from time to time. I believe that all of us ought honestly to consider—I say this while in Opposition, and I hope that it will be felt to be important—that where the Annan Committee says that the viewers are getting good value for their licence fee, it is reasonable to accept it. If we accept that proposition, we can proceed on a more sensible basis when we have to face what is inevitably the political difficulty and unhappiness of increasing the fee from time to time.
I do not know of a better system. I am reinforced by the fact that, having studied it very exhaustively, the Annan Committee could not find one either.
There are also certain aspects of the report concerning the independence of the authorities in their relationship with the public which conveniently fall to be dealt with in this part of my speech. I am greatly relieved—as I note, I think, was the Home Secretary—that the Committee has not proposed some overall broadcasting council, which would have meant inevitably more bureaucracy and more cost, for no obvious reason. I believe, as I shall make clear throughout my speech, in the maintenance of the existing authorities. I believe also that the Annan Committee's view that the IBA's control of the companies had over the years worked fairly and satisfactorily is right. Therefore, I would personally prefer to keep this position.
Rather in the same way, I cannot support the suggestion—and I think that the Home Secretary was of the same mind—for a Public Enquiry Board. Once again, there would be more bureaucracy and cost, just at a time when at any rate most people are seeking means of sensibly reducing public spending. Indeed, the Committee itself appeared to me somewhat to undermine its own proposal by its strong advocacy—with which I agree—of more public hearings in different parts of the country by the existing broadcasting authorities. Such hearings would give the viewers the chance to express their ideas and their feelings direct to the broadcasters, and so to the authorities. I would only hope that if such hearings take place they will be well attended, and that the many people who 1034 complain to us, as their Members of Parliament, and widely in other fields, will take the opportunity of attending the hearings and putting their particular proposals and ideas to those who are responsible for the actual broadcasting.
That needs to be said because so often in our society a great many people are very voluble and very interested, but when it comes actually to going somewhere and telling someone of their views, they suddenly achieve a remarkable degree of reticence, which we ourselves do not normally find. Therefore I hope that they will do that.
I hope also that these hearings will be encouraged particularly in some of the remote parts of the country where some of us and our constituents live, in conditions which are not so akin to savagery and barbarism as is frequently imagined by many of those who live south of Watford.
On the other hand, my opposition to new bodies does not extend to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, covering both authorities, that the Committee proposed. I think that this very modest—I trust—extension of bureaucracy would be widely welcomed by the viewing public as giving them a thoroughly reasonable right.
Lastly in considering existing authorities and their independence, I want to comment on programme standards. There is no doubt that many of the viewing public are very concerned at the effect of broadcasting on values in our society, particularly when it comes to bad language, violence and sex. Those who sneer at Mrs. Whitehouse and her supporters are, I believe, very unwise. On the other hand, over-strict censorship and a refusal to admit to many facets of life as it is can, I believe, particularly with young people, frequently be counter-productive.
In this difficult area I am, however, quite certain about one point. We in this House should not set ourselves up as judges or censors in these matters. By all means let us pass on the views of our constituents to the broadcasting authorities. Let us complain ourselves. Let us argue with the authorities and the producers. But let them decide. If the Governors of the BBC and the members of the IBA Board fail in their duties to 1035 maintain the right balance in programme standards, let the Government, when it comes to appointments or reappointments, exercise their right and duty to make changes.
Let the Government, in considering appointments, try to attract men and women from as wide a spectrum in our society and from as many different age groups as possible. In this connection, I frankly cannot understand the Committee's proposal that the number of BBC Governors should be reduced from 12 to nine. It seems to me that this cuts totally across the idea of getting as broad a spectrum of people as possible, which would seem to me wholly desirable.
Here, however, I would sound one note of warning from experience. It is not as easy as is often imagined to attract men and women who live far from London and are busy earning their own living to give the time necessary to serve on the various boards. Efforts to attract people from different walks of life and different age groups frequently founder because of this problem, which has confronted all Governments over the years.
I turn to the particular recommendations that have attracted most discussion and controversy. First there is the proposal to give the fourth television channel to a new body, the Open Broadcasting Authority. Despite my basic dislike of new bodies, which lead to more bureaucracy and cost, I certainly appreciate the Committee's purpose. It wanted to ensure, as I understand it, that when a fourth channel was introduced it would provide programmes of different sorts, that minority interests would be catered for, and that independent producers would have greater opportunities. The thinking behind the proposal for the Open Broadcasting Authority was, therefore, both original and imaginative.
But alas, to my mind and to many other people—including again, as I understand it, the Home Secretary—it has a fatal flaw, as set out in paragraph 15.23 on the report, in page 237. Proposals for financing it simply do not stand up to examination. The paragraph on finance bears all the hallmarks of an almost desperate search for ideas. Some of the tentative suggestions might provide some money, although surely not enough. Others strain the imagination too far.
1036 For example, programmes produced by the CBI and the TUC for the benefit of their members would seem most unlikely to attract many viewers—if, indeed, the bodies concerned were prepared to spend the very considerable sums of money involved. From what both bodies say, and from what I understand one of those bodies says from time to time to the Labour Party, they do not seem to have sums of money of this size, so possibly they would not wish to continue along those lines.
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
Without decrying that suggestion altogether, it is, however, a fact that in the United States a number of major trade unions finance programmes, and those programmes are both popular and successful.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I do not wish to decry or laugh at the suggestion, but I think that it is extremely unlikely to be effective in our present society. It may be that the situation could change. Perhaps there would be difficulties. I have my suspicions, and I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) would have his own whether the bodies concerned would ever seek to embark on what would be a particularly hazardous course for them. Perhaps they might, but I have my doubts.
One then comes to the question of the education authorities—
§ Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)
The right hon. Gentleman has had his fun while talking about paragraph 15.23. If he turns the page and looks at paragraph 15.24 he will see that the rest of the programmes are to be financed by advertising organised in a different way—by block advertising.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I accept that, and I hope that the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead), whose contribution to the report I most certainly recognise, would not imagine what I have said is knocking the principle behind the Open Broadcasting Authority or the ideas put forward in the report. I intend to come to how I believe this matter should be met.
I do not believe that the particular methods of financing the proposals would work. I therefore want to turn to the other side of the coin and to say how I 1037 think the ideas of the Committee could be met in a different way. That is my purpose, and I hope that the hon. Member for Derby, North will recognise it. I would add that I doubt whether the educational budget, which is already very strained, would be a likely source of extra funds, as is proposed in paragraph 15.23.
I believe—and I am sure that the hon. Member for Derby, North recognises this—that the proposed new authority would be extremely reliant on the IBA and the ITV companies for many of the necessary transmission and technical services. It would therefore seem sensible to start the other way round, by giving the fourth channel to the IBA and ITV companies, which can immediately provide the necessary equipment and skills, but on conditions that would meet the Committee's main purpose.
In their evidence to the Annan Committee, the companies suggested that there should be an independent programme board which might allocate time to a television foundation. Their idea, to quote from the report, was thatITV2 earned the revenue and siphoned off part of it to subsidise programmes unlikely to be economic propositions on their own.I believe that many people envisage that they would take over the Open University programmes from BBC. My hon. Friend the Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts), who has specific knowledge of this subject, will, if he catches the eye of the Chair, no doubt speak of the need for Welsh language programmes, which I understnad Harlech Television could certainly provide under these circumstances.
It has also been suggested to me that another method might be for the IBA to have a special board from its own members to deal with the fourth channel. Surely proposals such as these should be carefully considered, for in principle there can be little doubt—
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I note that the hon. Gentleman says that the proposals were carefully considered. I start from the same basis as the hon. Member for Derby, North does of providing different sorts of programme, but I believe that the way that I am proposing of reaching the goal that he and I seek is a better and a more likely one than his. That is the difference 1038 between us—not the purpose of particular programmes on a fourth channel. Surely there can be little doubt that ITV2 is the only means of using the fourth channel reasonably quickly, as the Committee itself accepted, and on a sure financial basis.
§ Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North)
Will my right hon. Friend say, within the context of what he has said are his own views, whether he totally rejects the proposition of sponsored programmes in the American form, which the Committee rejected?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
Frankly, I have some doubts about embarking on sponsored programmes, as did the Annan Committee. I believe that many hon. Members and many people outside the House would also have doubts. It is reasonable to consider such programmes, but the Committee did not think that they were the best way of proceeding. I have grave doubts myself, but by all means, if it can be proved that they are a good way of proceeding, we should certainly consider them.
Surely it is true that ITV2 would provide an outlet for spare resources and equipment, and fresh opportunities for talent, which most people accept is at present unused. If a plan on the sort of basis that the ITV companies suggested—and which I would support—could be instituted, I would not feel so obsessed, as the Committee did, about this ogre of duopoly, which seems to have occupied the minds of Committee members to a considerable extent. Nor do I believe that the proposals that I have set out would be of great extra cost to the taxpayer.
I accept that there would inevitably be some diminution in the levy in the early years, but I doubt whether the cost to the taxpayer would be as great as the Home Secretary implied.
Then there is the future of local radio. Again, for reasons of bureaucracy and cost, I would not favour the proposal to set up a new authority, nor can I see why it should be necessary. As the IBA is at present constituted, it is perfectly capable of controlling local radio, and this was recognised by the Committee. No one should imagine that this new authority could simply be established by hiving off the local radio divisions of the IBA. That is flying in the face of all 1039 experience of setting up new authorities or new bodies in any sphere of national life. We all know quite a lot about that subject, and we all have experiences which we would be unwise to forget.
I have a more fundamental objection to the Committee's proposal, and on this point I find myself in complete agreement with the minority report of Mr. Tom Jackson. It happens that my constituency in Cumbria is served by BBC Radio Carlisle. I doubt whether the size of population would make a commercial radio station a viable commercial proposition. Be that as it may, Radio Carlisle has been immensely successful and has made itself part of the life of the community with, for example, farming broadcasts, special features of interest to old people, local discussion programmes and also—although possibly this might not commend itself to everyone—it gives considerable opportunities to local Members of Parliament to appear on its programmes.
My constituents would be furious if anyone threatened to deprive them of the type of service that Radio Carlisle provides, and I must tell the House that I would, too. When I read the Annan Committee Report I wondered whether I was incapable of seeing the wood because of the very large tree on my own doorstep, but since then I have talked to people who run BBC local radio. I have found that they have a real sense of mission in providing a true local community service. I am not in any way prepared to be put off this view by people who say "Oh, they have been trying to sell you a line". I have been in politics long enough, and enough people have tried to sell me a line over the past 20 years, to be somewhat proof against their activities.
I do not believe that they have been unreasonably trying to sell me a line. They have been stating what they believe about the particular service which they seek to provide, that it is a very real service in the sense of being a true local community service. That in its turn is something that commercial local radio, by its nature, would not provide because its advertisers would not support the kind of programmes that small minorities in a local community require.
I also support those who consider that it would be a great mistake in any event 1040 to deprive the BBC in any way of its regional functions and to allow it to retreat to its metropolitan base. There are those who feel that the licence fee should not be used to finance BBC local radio, but, for the reasons I have stated, I do not agree, particularly as the sums involved should be small. The BBC assures me that they are. There is some argument about this, but I am convinced that they are small and therefore I would not feel that factor to be a bar.
Equally, more commercial radio stations providing their particular type of programmes can be set up in other areas and would provide the service that many people require. Therefore I would accept some extension of both BBC and commercial local radio stations since I conclude that they provide totally different kinds of services and that both should be allowed to develop.
I know that some hon. Members might ask how many of both of these sorts of station I would be prepared to allow. Here I think I am entitled to retreat somewhat and say that I am not prepared to be tied down in advance on particular targets, as they must depend on financial circumstances. I should be quite happy to see all these sorts of station develop as and when we felt we had the resources to permit them to do so and as the BBC, in the terms of its licence fee, felt it had the necessary resources. That is a reasonable way to proceed, and I hope that that is what we shall do.
§ Sir Paul Bryan (Howden)
Does my right hon. Friend recall a certain Postmaster-General, who has since wisely changed his name, telling us before there were any commercial radio stations that it was impossible to establish them because there were insufficient wavelengths, since when 20 of them and 20 BBC stations have sprung up?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I accept what my hon. Friend so wisely says on these matters, about which he knows so much.
There is now an opportunity for us to face what has happened and to allow both sorts of station, providing their different sorts of services, to proceed and expand in different areas and to give more choice to audiences in those areas, which is what I believe should be the basic purpose of us all.
1041 My final point concerns cable and pay television. These did not seem to get sufficiently detailed consideration from the Annan Committee, but Lord De La Warr spoke with considerable knowledge about these matters in the other place. What he said impressed upon me the need for us to give far more thought to this subject in view of future technological developments. The Annan Committee attitude to pay TV seemed to me more restrictive than necessary.
I have grave doubts about entrusting future cable developments so much to that large monopoly, the Post Office, which does not always inspire in me, in all its activities, that complete confidence that I should like to have. I believe that we should give more encouragement in this important and developing area to the Cable Television Association of Great Britain which represents those who are engaged in it on a commercial basis. Surely our purpose here, as in the other areas, must be to provide the maximum choice to the viewer.
I conclude by summarising my basic theme. While I may disagree with some of the particular proposals by the Annan Committee, I strongly support its principles, its basic aims and the philosophy behind them. The Committee recognises that television and radio play a central and commanding rôle in the lives of our people. It makes it clear that Government and Parliament owe it to the nation to ensure that it has a broadcasting service which is well regulated and which preserves that degree of independence from Government which is vital in any democracy.
In stating these principal aims so clearly and convincingly the Annan Committee has given us a most valuable base from which to plan for the future of a British broadcasting system which must continue to be the best in the world.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Ron Lewis (Carlisle)
I am delighted to have the opportunity of following my parliamentary neighbour, the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw). I agree with many of his conclusions. What we are discussing now cuts right across party lines, which is different from the situation which existed more than 25 year ago 1042 when independent television was established.
As the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border said, we in Carlisle have Border Television and Radio Carlisle. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) appears to have left the Chamber because I wish to draw attention to a slur against journalists employed by Border Television contained in the Annan Report. The report says on page 154, paragraph 11.23:A major scandal is one thing. But we found dissatisfaction among journalists who worked for Border that the company would not touch the story of the plan for the city centre of Carlisle which they attributed to fear of upsetting vested interests. Regional television is not doing its duty by the public it serves if it does not ventilate disputes in local government. We are not asking for crusades. Even if officialdom is at first coy in putting its side of the case, reporters have a duty to be fair and to recollect that there are usually at least two sides to any dispute. But there is a weakness in some regional news coverage. This is a problem for the IBA, who must satisfy themselves that local items are being reported adequately by the television companies.There is no evidence to suggest that there is any truth in that statement, and we can get no information as to its origin. Is this another Daily Mail story? Someone should apologise to the reporters of Border Television because I understand on good authority that they greatly resent the implications of that statement. This is something which should be cleared up at once.
What is good about the Annan Report overall is that it does not recommend any radical changes in the present structure or operation of British broadcasting. This means that after nearly three years of investigation Annan recognises that in ITV and BBC we have a broadcasting system better than anything to be found anywhere else in the world. That is to the credit of BBC and ITV.
It may be that our friends across the border, the Scottish nationalists, will be a little disappointed with what Annan has to say in that he recommends retaining three channels for Scotland. We in Carlisle appreciate that, because Border Television covers part of Scotland, to Dumfries and beyond. Naturally our people at Border Television are pleased that no change is recommended in Scotland. They will be able to continue 1043 giving their wonderful service to those just across the border.
I do not come down one way or the other on this issue. I certainly agree that to set up any new authority would be cumbersome and that a fourth channel would cost a great deal of money. On balance, I am inclined to the view that, since BBC has two channels, ITV should be given the opportunity of a second channel.
The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border mentioned local broadcasting. I agree with him that Radio Carlisle has done a marvellous job during its few years of existence. I would not wish to see any new authority set up usurping the powers of Radio Carlisle. Most hon. Members will have received a circular letter from the Association of Independent Radio Contractors. It suggested that commercial radio—and I take my own county as an example—could be set up at Barrow, Workington and Carlisle. If that happened we would not get the good service which we are currently getting from Radio Carlisle. In some other parts of the country there may be a case for selectivity. I do not argue against this in heavily populated areas since it may produce revenue for the local station.
In future legislation dealing with local radio we shall have to consider the local provincial newspapers. If local broadcasting in my area was permitted to carry advertising it would have a serious effect on the circulation of the local newspaper. That is the last thing any of us wants to see. When ITV came in it had a great effect on advertising in our national newspapers.
§ Mr. Freud
May I tell the hon. Member that what he is saying is total nonsense? Before ITV came in, 17.1 per cent. of all national advertising expenditure went on newspaper advertising. After ITV had been going for 15 years the figure was 17.2 per cent. There was no difference whatever. If anything, the effect was to stimulate advertising in newspapers.
§ Mr. Lewis
The hon. Gentleman may be very good and clever at advertising dog meat but I am afraid that he has dropped the ball on this one. There was an effect on national newspapers. Some nationals closed. I am advised that if local radio 1044 stations are set up and carry advertising there will be an adverse effect on local newspapers. If we are to set up local ITV broadcasting stations it should be done on a selective basis, taking into consideration the population and geographical conditions.
Like the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border, I come out in favour of Tom Jackson's report. In addition, the Methodist Church in Carlisle and district, meeting in synod a few weeks ago, passed a resolution—and the synod is in no sense political—supporting Tom Jackson's proposals. Therefore, I support the Jackson proposals.
The right hon. Member also referred to the content of programmes. We are custodians of the public good and should have some say in affairs when programmes which have an adverse effect upon society are being produced. I believe that there is too much violence on our television screens. This should be investigated. Another matter warranting attention—and I do not think that many hon. Members will agree with me here—is the fact that we have almost 1 million alcoholics in this country. Taking their families into consideration, that produces a substantial figure. We see too many programmes which act as an incentive to young people to drink alcohol. I want to see some Government curtailment of advertisements dealing with alcoholic beverages, as there was Government action a few years ago on tobacco advertising.
I hope that someone can clear up the position of the journalists in Border Television. I hope that in the days lying ahead, arising from this debate, we shall continue to ensure that our broadcasting system, ITV and BBC, will be the envy of the civilised world.
§ 4.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
In the Middle Ages the Church was against the printing press because it thought that it would enable the masses to acquire learning. So, too, Parliament and some Governments have been obsessed with the control of this comparatively new medium of broadcasting, radio and television. I take some pride in the fact that it is the Conservative Party which has widened the choice in both and which would do so yet again. 1045 I support the robust common sense expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) and I add my voice to those who have already rejected a third authority. As we see it, the Open Broadcasting Authority that Annan suggests is yet another costly bureaucracy. I believe that ITV 2 would be complementary to ITV 1 and would provide ample opportunity for anything that is worth seeing on television that is not now seen. The Annan type Open Broadcasting Authority would have to compete to survive, so by definition it could not succeed in Annan's aim of making it a complementary service.
I am confident that ITV 2 will provide a healthy challenge to the programme companies, especially the smaller companies. I must declare an interest in one of those companies. Some of the smaller companies are not too keen on ITV 2 as they see the disturbance of a settled world, but it must be recognised that there is an enormous amount of latent talent and much that is worth networking that at present does not reach a national audience. Nor should one forget the possible additional finance for the arts, both nationally and locally, that would flow from ITV 2.
If there is to be no break-up of the BBC, let it conduct its own shake-up. That such is needed is confirmed by the Francis Report which we read about in the Observer on Sunday and which is now confirmed in The Times.
I feel reasonably confident that the new Director-General, if supported by the Chairman and the Governors will achieve the necessary reconstruction. I suggest to the Secretary of State that on the expiry of the charter—perhaps I should make this suggestion to my right hon. Friend as I expect that he will be in charge by the expiry—we should have an Act of Parliament like the Television Act, which will continue the IBA. It is all very well for the BBC to have a renewable charter, but it does not give the House of Commons and Parliament the same opportunity to discuss the future of the BBC as we have with a Television Act, when we can go through the whole issue clause by clause with a fine toothcomb. I hope that my suggestion will be taken up by the next Government.
1046 Surely local radio choice could and would be widened and the gaps on the map filled by private enterprise. If I have to find something over which to disagree with my right hon. Friend this afternoon—perhaps we do not really disagree at all—is that I contend that there should be no extension of BBC local stations until private enterprise has at least had a fair whack, and perhaps even a few more whacks.
The BBC local radio stations are doing a fine job. I pay tribute to my local station. On many occasions I am invited to appear on it. The invitations are always to appear on a Sunday morning when I am miles away in the countryside. I make no complaint about that as I have the statutory invitation. Local radio is clearly doing a good job and should not wantonly be destroyed. However, private enterprise could do a good job to fill the gaps. Perhaps it may be given a freer rein than heretofore.
I support my right hon. Friend's idea of a single and independent Complaints Commission. The BBC's present board is a farce, and it knows it. The IBA sees programmes in advance. It sees the schedules and it sends for anything that it is worried about. At present that does not happen in the BBC. I am not suggesting that the Complaints Commission should be able to take that action, but I point to the BBC a way in which it could improve its responsibility by taking more trouble in advance.
The IBA also has the power of life and death over the programme companies—not so the BBC. We read that its reaction to criticism, to quote one journalist, is that of a hedgehog at bay. My wife tells me that to uncurl a curled hedgehog it is necessary to offer it a saucer of hot milk. I do not believe that the hot milk treatment would satisfy such as Mrs. Mary Whitehouse, and she represents a substantial segment of public opinion. There is no denying that that is the case. I support my right hon. Friend's idea of an independent Complaints Commission.
I hope that as a result of this debate we shall have wide public discussion. I hope that the Government will produce a document that we can discuss in advance of legislation. I hope that when 1047 we get legislation there will be plenty of time to discuss it. I hope that the legislation will contain no Public Enquiry Board with the periodic seven-year inquisition. I am reminded of the young child gardener who daily digs up his plants by the roots to see how they are getting on.
Broadcasting has now grown up and surely we should aim for the widest possible choice for the fourth channel. Even fifth and sixth channels are not impossible in the not too distant future. In that way there can be a wide clash of view not so different from the other means of communication that flourish in our democracy.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell (Grimsby)
At the outset I declare an interest. Until a recent happy event, I worked for a commercial television company. Perhaps in some ways I wish that I still did. It would be nice to be considered eligible for an ambassadorship somewhere. I am a company director, albeit unpaid, of a commercial radio station. In some ways that sort of background is a disqualification for speaking on broadcasting. That is because in many respects all one needs to speak on broadcasting is a certain amount of prejudice.
Even watching a television programme is a disqualification. That is because television has become a universal whipping boy in situations such as these. It is a whipping boy that is blamed for every sort of social evil, from the ethics of the Daily Mail to the violence at Tory Party conferences when debates take place on hanging and flogging. It is almost as if it were some power which was dominating society and those in the industry. In fact, we are struck not by the malevolent influence of television but by its nervousness, caution and inhibitions.
It is appropriate that in a debate such as this hon. Members should air their views and prejudices about television. The Annan Report reflects a certain amount of prejudice about television, too. That is the prejudice of the very important person of the type who was on the Annan Committee. It is the prejudice of the intellectual. There were only two people on the Committee with relevant experience of television programming. That means that the Committee 1048 ignored what I understand to be the real needs of the industry.
Television is an industry that is no longer expanding. As a result, it finds itself in a log jam in terms of promotion and ability to implement programme ideas and to achieve programme ambitions. It is an industry that is logjammed by the failure to expand over recent years. It is a middle-aged industry that is posing as a young industry. It is an industry that is set in several grooves primarily by the heavy cost of producing programmes, which places a premium on safe and set formulae and the endless repetition of basic and safe formulae.
Television is far too centralised on London. That is particularly so in respect of the BBC. We are in no way replacing the position that used to obtain in our large cities, where competing local newspapers gave a drive and vigour to local opinion, provided employment locally, provided continuous machinery for inquiring into local problems and provided local news in their pages. The centralisation on London has drained the life from the regions and our large cities. These are the real problems of television and broadcasting generally.
However, the Committee was faced with another problem, namely, the problem of duopoly, which it seemed to regard as the greatest evil in television. I do not see why, because the duopoly has done very well and has helped us to provide in this country what is still the best television in the world. It has moderated the evils of competition and provided us with far better and far more important current affairs coverage than is the case in most comparable countries.
Because of its emphasis on the evils of what it saw as the duopoly, the Annan Committee wandered in a wrong direction by turning to the Open Broadcasting Authority as the sponsor of the fourth channel. I sympathise with the aim of the Committee, which is to achieve more diversity, but it cannot be achieved effectively through the Open Broadcasting Authority. There are problems about the Open Broadcasting Authority. The basic one is finance. If the programmes are financed by advertising, there is an implicit drive to appeal to mass audiences in order to compete with BBC1 and the IBA channel. Advertisers are not charities. Pressure would be put on the 1049 OBA, as pressure is put on commercial television, to increase its audiences.
The case put forward for sponsored programmes takes us on to very dangerous ground. I should hate to see a situation in which there was a programme on Guest, Keen and Nettlefold as a way of life or the Weltanschauung of ICI, because generally, with competition, money buys programming. It is dangerous to open the door to sponsored programming. It is difficult to define what the OBA would provide in terms of programmes, because the prescription in the Annan Report is vague. It says:Broadcasters will not be incapable of creating programmes of a different and intriguing kind.After many years of competition in television, I cannot see what sort of programmes theseprogrammes of a different and intriguing kindwill be. Where are the sources of these outside programmes?
Programmes are, in modern terms, extremely expensive, and if these expensive programmes are to be financed by the Open Broadcasting Authority, it will be a factor which will push it into a competitive situation with the first two channels, which the Annan Committee wanted to avoid. Therefore, I do not see how it will provide the kind of programming that the Committee wants without successfully competing.
The basic problem with the Open Broadcasting Authority is the simple one of how it can be complementary without being controlled by the same authority which controls the IBA channel. In other words, to set up an Open Broadcasting Authority with the brief of providing complementary programmes is to give it an impossible rôle, because complementary programming can be carried through only by an authority which controls two channels. In the same way that BBC2 can be complementary to BBC1 and can provide a choice of viewing, so a second independent television authority could be complementary to the first. I cannot see that the OBA, because it would not be in control of the programme plans, could be genuinely complementary.
§ Mr. Whitehead
The intention was not that the OBA should be complementary 1050 to ITV1. If one wanted that, one would have ITV2. The intention was that the new channel should bring something new to the system and be complementary to the other three channels.
§ Mr. Mitchell
If it is to be new, it will be in competition with BBC1 and with the IBA's first channel. This is inevitable. Complementality is the only alternative to competition, otherwise we create a situation in which the OBA is perpetually programming for small minorities and small audiences, which is totally contrary to its brief. We shall not achieve diversity without complementary programming, and we shall not have complementary programming if we do not have one authority in charge of two channels so that it can provide a genuine choice.
It would be difficult for a television company to achieve a programme budget on the prospectus which the Annan Report puts forward for a second channel, let alone a second channel itself. The need is for speed, jobs and expansion of a deadlocked, log-jammed industry. Even if it comes in the form of a second independent broadcasting channel, expansion will provide jobs throughout the industry and it will lead to the breaking of logjams in the BBC as well as in the ITV, because people are regularly changing between the two broadcasting networks.
I do not wish to take much time in discussing local broadcasting, because although, according to the report, it is in a mess, it is not in as much of a mess as it would be if the Committee's prescription for local broadcasting were followed. If the BBC local radio stations were to become commercial stations, it would change the whole nature of the beast. If they were commercial radio stations appealing to mass audiences, they would become different sorts of radio stations.
Far better to have competition in as many localities as possible between commercial local radio stations and BBC local radio stations, because both types serve different audiences, both have different appeals and both treat local news differently. To argue that there is not enough local issues, news and interest to justify two competing stations is to demote and degrade the local interest 1051 which we all wish to serve. In most towns and cities there is sufficient basis for competition. Competition is the only way in which to serve local interests, just as in the past competing newspapers served local interests.
I wish to say a few words on the BBC's regional structure. One can agree with all the Annan criticisms of the BBC bureaucracy, because the BBC's problems are mainly problems of scale and bureaucracy. Surely the answer to bureaucracy and centralisation is not to cut off local roots in the form of the island sites that the BBC has been trying to develop to compete with commercial television. The answer is to encourage the BBC to expand its regional production and to integrate its regional production with its network production centres in the regions and to provide commercial television with competition similar to that which commercial radio provides to BBC local radio—competition for the benefit of both.
On those grounds, I must express my disappointment with the Annan Report.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Sir Paul Bryan (Howden)
I declare my interest as a director of Granada Television and of Greater Manchester Radio Ltd.
I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) in paying tribute to the Annan Committee for its monumental work. Time will show whether many of its recommendations are followed, but, to put its achievement at its lowest, the Committee has provided and brilliantly marshalled a mass of material on which the next Government can decide the future of broadcasting. It also provides a unique reference book for any student of broadcasting.
I agree with my right hon. Friend that the report is more important for that which it perpetuates and rejects than for that which it proposes to innovate. The balance of power between Government and the broadcasting organisations remains pretty well as it is, and surely that is sensible in the light of our success in this country compared with the free-for-all system in America and the Government-controlled systems in many other countries. The rejection of any super body 1052 leaves the main responsibilities for programmes well and truly on the shoulders of the IBA and the BBC.
Having paid tribute to the report, let us not make the mistake of over-valuing it. We must get its status in perspective. Annan can recommend, but it is for us in Parliament to decide what is to happen. The result of the next General Election will have much more bearing on the future of broadcasting than will the report. One of the main recommendations of the Pilkington Committee was that the IBA should collect all advertising revenue and that the companies, as programme makers, should be left on commission. Fortunately, the incoming Conservative Government would have none of it. Some of the Annan recommendations may be sunk in precisely the same way for precisely the same reason. Others of its recommendations, such as the one on local radio, would not get through this House, Whip or no Whip.
I shall concentrate my remarks on two subjects on which I am perhaps best qualified to speak—the fourth channel and local radio. The Committee agrees that ITV has the capacity, experience and expertise to provide the fourth television channel. Since only ITV is in a position to do so within a reasonable time, why, then, is this obvious solution wrong? I quote the Committee's answer from Chapter 15, paragraph 32, where it says:It is simply that in our belief an ITV 2 will result in worse television services than we have now because the BBC and ITV will engage in a self-destructive battle for the ratings.This is a serious judgment and requires a serious answer. Assuming for the sake of argument, and only for the sake of argument, that the broadcasters long for "self-destructive battles", they still cannot have them. We here in Parliament will decide the kind of broadcasting we want and the IBA will see that our wishes are carried out.
In his Fleming Lecture Lord Annan said:If the new service were the responsibility of the IBA, how could the IBA resist pressure from the TV companies to allow them a considerable share of peak programming time on the new channel?This again, shows a surprising ignorance of the relative power of the IBA and the television companies. The IBA is a public body set up by Parliament to 1053 ensure compliance with its will. It awards franchises and approves the appointment of directors. No large shift of ownership takes place without its approval. Companies are obliged to submit their weekly schedules to the Authority and are expected to indicate any items which may prove sensitive or controversial.
The companies, as does Annan, think that the IBA is over-meticulous in its supervision of programmes. It has intervened countless times in the past to influence schedules. A well-known instance was when the IBA introduced the half-hour of news at 10 p.m. That was not favoured by the companies. The Authority insisted, and it has proved a great success. The IBA lays down such things as the minimum time that companies should devote to local programmes. As parliamentarians, we should acknowledge the very positive reaction of the IBA to the findings of the Select Committee on Independent Television. In the face of this actual history the idea of the IBA being pressurised by the companies is laughable.
If Parliament decides, as I hope it will, that ITV2 should be a channel weighted in favour of minorities, the IBA will certainly have the muscle to compel the companies to carry this out. In his lecture Lord Annan said:We thought the IBA did a fine job in seeing that commercial TV did not go the way of the American network.This the Authority will continue to do.
But, apart from the strength of the IBA itself, equally compelling is the fact—perhaps this will convince the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) rather more—that it would not be in the companies' financial interest to try to turn ITV2 into another popular channel. The programmes so far suggested for ITV2 will for the first time bring within the reach of television advertising the section of the population with high incomes and low levels of viewing. The audience for ITV2 will be smaller in number and higher in purchasing power. It would become an advertising medium to many advertisers who up to now have been unable to reach these potential customers on television. To make ITV2 into yet another popular channel would merely fragment an audience which is already readily and economically available on ITV1.
1054 Ever since the possibility of a second channel began to be discussed, the companies have recognised that it could not be a replica of the first channel. This is all spelled out in their original evidence to Annan. Recently some hon. Members will have received a specimen schedule of what ITV2 will look like. If one examines the specimen schedule one will see that the programme portfolio is not very different from the type of programme that the Annan Committee recommends for the OBA. It is a difference not of philosophy but of practicality. There is also the important difference, which has also been mentioned by the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), that ITV2 would be twice as convenient and acceptable to the viewer because it would be complementary.
The programmes of the two channels would be complementary in time, which is of immense importance. It is no good an attractive programme beginning on one channel if one is watching one's favourite programme on another. They would be complementary, too, in subject matter, for the whole purpose of running two channels is to offer real choice and variety.
But in the final analysis the case for ITV2 is a broadcaster's and viewer's case. It stands to reason that a single popular channel on its own cannot take the same account of minority interests as could two complementary channels. With another channel, ITV could and would be as adventurous in its own way as the BBC, with its second channel. Operating within a single channel one cannot give full opportunity to the creative talent within the system.
Television is in danger of suffering all the faults of an ageing industry. Up to now periods of growth have served to keep television young and vigorous. There have been periods of swift expansion at intervals of four or five years—recruitment for ITV from 1955 to 1960, for BBC2 in 1964, for the new Yorkshire contractor in 1968 and for the extension of hours in 1972. These are the times when one gets infusions of young talent into the industry. Another such period is overdue, and only ITV2 can provide the growth in the reasonably near future.
The Annan Committee got itself into a great muddle in its preoccupation with duopoly and plurality. For your information, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in case you 1055 have not read the whole report, the sort of people who used to be pro the BBC monopoly are now anti-duopoly and pro-plurality. Having at the outset settled for plurality, they soon came up against the road block of the BBC, which clearly cried out for pluralisation but could not be dismembered for fear of what foreigners would think. Then they came to the ITV, which with its 15 companies plus the ITN is in itself a model of plurality. This should have pleased them very much; but then most of them found that they had a deep-down feeling against commercial broadcasting, so ITV had to be demoted to regional status.
However, since no one wants a £50 licence fee, one might as well accept that commercial broadcasting is with us for good and make the best of it. The best of it happens to be very good. It is good because the structure of ITV is good. Looking through the TV Times I see that this week's programmes on Yorkshire Television come from no fewer than 12 companies each one with its own very individual character and regional background. This diversity, unequalled by any other broadcasting authority in the world, is surely good in every way for the viewer. It must mean variety. It must stimulate quality in programmes, for all these programme makers are in various ways competing against each other in quality and ideas. The system is clearly good for those working in television, for it gives them a wide choice of jobs. All the system lacks is a second channel to widen still further the choice for the viewer and for the broadcaster.
Of all the chapters in the Annan Report, the one on local radio shows the least understanding of its subject. This is not surprising. Local radio is quite new to Britain and, I would guess, particularly new to the personnel of the Annan Committee. Furthermore, it is impossible to judge the merits of a local station on the strength of a three- or four-hour visit. One would have to stay in the locality for several days, listen for many hours, and talk a lot with local people, before it would be possible to get a feeling for the station and assess whether it had succeeded in establishing itself as a familiar and valued part of local life.
The chapter starts with the much quoted phrase:local radio is a mess".1056 This may be the view from the heights of Annan after brief visits to several stations. I doubt whether the listener in, say, Manchester sees it that way. He or she has the choice of four national BBC channels, one BBC local station, and one independent local station. No listener in the world has a better choice. Our objective should be to make this choice available to many more people in many more places.
How can this be done? I see no reason why independent radio should not build up to 60 or more stations. Technically this is possible. Financially it is also possible. By good fortune the surplus profits in independent radio are paid back in the form of secondary rental to the IBA for use within the system. As the larger stations get more profitable and multiply, funds will build up which can be used to subsidise stations in towns too small to provide a viable audience. This is quite unlike the position in television where the Treasury makes sure that the TV levy comes straight out of the industry and into its own coffers.
§ Sir P. Bryan
Local radio has no such thing as a levy. Local radio has something called a secondary rental. As a station breaks into a profit, the surplus profits are paid to the IBA in the form of a secondary rental. We in Manchester are about to pay secondary rental. The earlier and more successful stations are beginning to pay the secondary rental. I have not the slightest doubt that many other local stations will follow. The resulting funds will be an admirable way of financing local radio for small towns.
I cannot understand the arguments in favour of the suggested monopoly authority for local broadcasting. The report tells us that the new authority, having no Other responsibilities, would give the local stations its undivided attention. But this is the last thing that they want or need. Once a station has established a good audience, it literally becomes part of the community. Unless it is obviously bad, it should be left alone to develop.
Unlike television, which always seems a little remote, local radio is subject to direct, unavoidable local accountability. 1057 If people do not like programmes, they walk in through the front door of the station and say so. The more usual and instant reaction of the listener is to pick up the telephone while the programme is on and give the producer a piece of his mind. Under such pressures a reasonably run station is bound to adjust to the special demands of local people.
Most stations broadcast 24 hours a day. The programme is always there. Local people are always appearing on it. The stations have their roots in the community they serve. They provide a public service without public expenditure. The very success of independent local radio shows that it is meeting local needs. One of the stations—Radio Clyde—claims that it now attracts more listening in its area than all the four BBC national networks put together.
When it comes to the financing of a local radio authority, the Annan Committee flies high into the realms of fantasy. The authority would presume as a start to take over 20 BBC local stations at a capital cost of at least £250,000 each, plus annual costs of probably much the same amount. Whence comes the money? There is talk of foundations and trusts and money raised from voluntary sources.
Lord Annan said in his Fleming Lecture:If a community wants local radio, there is a strong argument for saying that they ought to pay for it or organise the finance themselves.Such prospects must surely be minimal in a country where people are used to getting their radio free of charge, paid for either by advertising or by the TV licence. Before the BBC local radio was launched the Postmaster-General of the day invited 80 local authorities to London to sound them on the possibility of raising local money for local stations. Even with the bait that those who paid would get the first stations, only eight were willing to pay anything and some of those never paid at all.
The final death blow to the idea of a local radio authority is the plain fact, as I have already said, that such a proposition would never get through the House of Commons. There must already be 300 Members of Parliament who have local radio stations in their constituencies. 1058 We have heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border and from the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Lewis) that they are not particularly keen to see the end of their station. We are all beginning to discover that they are as important to us, or soon will be as important to us, as our local newspaper.
If a Member of Parliament has a truly local station with an established audience, he is unlikely to want to see his constituents upset by the station being shut down or taken over by a new authority in London. For the listener, the present arrangements have worked well. The IBA and the BBC have acquired considerable experience in supervising local radio. Almost nobody except the Annan Committee wants to see it changed.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Moonman (Basildon)
Unlike the hon. Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan), I have few reservations about the report of the Annan Committee. It is a substantial and well-written document. It meets two of the points that are in the minds of many people, not only those who are connected with the communications industry but people in education and the political parties, who have to consider the whole development and utilisation of ideas.
The first priority which the Committee had to grapple with was an attempt to open up the BBC and the IBA—in other words, an attempt to see whether there is a way of meeting the current desire for participation and the exchange of information and a better way of effecting this exchange than exists at present. That is a significant point.
The second point is that the report recognises the balance which I believe has been maintained for a long time in the BBC. It is a balance of entertainment, due to the fact that there are 51 million people over the age of five in these islands who want to see different things at different times. A lot of them want pop music. A lot of them want to watch sport. Five million listen to Radio 3. Quite a lot every week, including some of the previous categories, want to watch "The Generation Game". Thirty-three million want to hear the news at night on BBC and IBA stations. These categories must be catered for. Yet they are not exclusive.
1059 It has been pointed out in the recent Haldane Memorial Lecture that there is a need to maintain a balance between that type of entertainment and the minority interest programmes, whether in music or politics.
The Annan Report is a remarkable one, in that it recognises a responsibility to come up with answers to these two areas—on the one hand, the need to open up these two institutions to greater public interest and scrutiny and, on the other hand, the need to attempt to maintain a balance between the very popular areas of entertainment and the minority interest areas.
My hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) spoke of a log jam. Few people in the industry accept that even if there is a log jam it is anything like as serious as was suggested. There is no money problem. If there were, how does my hon. Friend explain the fact that a company with which my hon. Friend was associated—Trident—was able to find the resources to diversify its interests and buy a safari park only last week.
I shall relate my brief remarks to the fact that I was a member of the Labour Party working group on the people and the media, and we looked at the same general questions as the Committee. We did not go far enough in our analysis of the subject, because we did not have the resources of the Committee, but had we done so I think that we would probably have come up with the same conclusions.
Labour's approach to the media is, in general, simplistic. That is one of the problems that we face. Our attitude is "He who is not for us is against us". As a result, our policies relating to communications are rarely thought through. At National Executive Committee meetings or at conferences there is very little evidence that we have any real concern about the issues that have been raised by the Committee.
We do take a great deal of time on matters such as the abuse of privilege, the failure to treat ideas properly, the inevitable accusations of prejudice on the part of the broadcasting producers and interviewers and the newspaper writers and editors, and a suspicion of 1060 elitism within the BBC. When it comes to conference resolutions, however, it would be dishonest not to admit that we devote much less time to the areas that have been contained in the Committee's inquiry.
The future of broadcasting arouses much less excitement. Since the report was published there has been a reaction, but only in a few newspapers. The structure of broadcasting will never be an issue that will preoccupy large numbers of the population. Even on the Labour Party's working group to which I referred we ducked the intellectual issues in favour of platitudes.
The setting up of the Committee provided an opportunity for more weighty consideration of the subject, and it was welcomed by most members of the Labour Party with an interest in the media because we recognised that we did not have access to some of the necessary areas of information that may be available within the newspaper industry. When the Committee got under way I was worried that it would generate more light than heat, since the breadth of its terms of reference opened the door to opinions on all aspects of broadcasting from programme content to technical developments and from violence on television to cable services.
The precedents for the Committee were not encouraging. The Beveridge Report in 1951 advised against the introduction of commercial television and as we all know, in the event that advice was rejected. The Pilkington Committee in 1962 was concerned with the trivial nature of ITV. That Committee recommended that certain changes be made in structure and control, but when it came to the point the status quo prevailed. It is interesting that Annan endorses this rejection accepting thatThe individual companies are given an incentive to maximise revenue when they raise and spend it themselves.I am concerned that the Annan Report might be allowed to lie on the shelf, gathering dust. However, in view of the Home Secretary's remarks in opening the debate that would seem not to be the case. Nevertheless, it is important to try to pursue some of the areas of inquiry, the suggestions and recommendations in the report.
1061 Central to the Annan Report is the question who controls broadcasting. Almost uniquely, broadcasting in this country is neither solely commercial and profit-making nor State-controlled. Even in its commercial manifestations it is regarded as a public service answerable to a public authority independent of the Government.
Annan's first recommendation is that this situation should continue and be reinforced by a Broadcasting Complaints Commission, a Public Enquiry Board for Broadcasting and a Telecommunications Advisory Committee. In its evidence to the Committee the Labour Party argued for a Communications Council to carry out the functions of all three bodies in relation to the mass media generally, including the Press. The arguments against such a monolith are powerful. Had the Labour Party's working group examined the Canadian system, which so impressed the Committee, I believe that we would have come up with a similar conclusion although I am still inclined to the view that complaints against the Press should be heard by the same independent body as complaints against the broadcasting media, especially as the new broadcasting complaints commission, as envisaged in the report, would be considerably more independent and less toothless than the Press Council. This seems to me to flow directly from the proposals that complaints from individuals and organisations who feel that they have been misrepresented should not be heard by the same body as complaints about taste, content or standard of programmes.
Responsibility towards individuals, their legal rights and their privacy, is of a different order from responsibility for general presentation because it requires specific sanctions or remedies. Its quasi-judicial nature does not accord with the more discursive activities which relate to research into, for example, the incidence of violence on television.
The principal advantage of the proposed Public Enquiry Board and the Telecommunications Advisory Committee is that they will preclude the need for any more Royal Commissions or committees of inquiry since they will keep under review constantly all those matters that have been referred successively to Beveridge, Pilkington and Annan, as well 1062 as inquiring into the specific topics at the request of the Home Secretary or one of the broadcasting authorities.
The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw), who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench, expressed anxiety about having a Public Enquiry Board. My response is that the Complaints Committee requires such a comprehensive review body to back it and to give it strength and point. There is some advantage in not having to set up a Royal Commission or a committee of inquiry, but having instead an ongoing inquiry board. That has great merit.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
The hon. Member referred to my speech. My fear is that such a board would become a permanent Royal Commission or, as he said, an ongoing inquiry which was permanently seeking to take out broadcasting by the roots and change it. That is why I prefer a hearing by the interested authorities in various parts of the country.
§ Mr. Moonman
Surely, the proposed board would avoid the wide terms of reference that were given to the Committee, and, instead, would concentrate on being an extension of the Complaints Commission, which the right hon. Member was supporting and which I, too, favour.
Things have not stood still during the three years since the Annan Committee was given its terms of reference and, inevitably, some situations have changed in that period. One of the striking features one notices when one looks at the terms of reference of the Committee is the way in which, in its recommendations, it has widened its discussions and reflected those considerable changes over the three-year period.
Given the unrealistic breadth of the inquiry, Annan has produced a remarkably well-reasoned report, with a fundamentally cohesive philosophy which has produced a minority view on a few specifics only. But it is questionable whether the Committee was fully competent to look at the technical side of broadcasting and therefore it is hardly surprising that trivialities have crept in—such as the rental companies' comment about customers complaining that TV sets had too many knobs with which to fiddle.
Labour will certainly welcome the Annan proposal for the fourth television 1063 channel. Annan has concluded that competition between the BBC and ITV has not benefited the public. Rather the intense competition for audiences has led to the two services becoming more alike and thus the choice of programmes at peak hours is restricted.
Leaving aside the doctrinnaire suspicions about competition held by some of my colleagues, which on occasions has led to a call to give the fourth channel of the BBC to minority interest programmes, such as "Open Door", Annan's proposal opens the door to "creative" television as well as to an extension of educational television and the Open University. The use made of the BBC's "Open Door" spot and the interest with which it has been received would justify the need for a channel on which there is no overall viewpoint but would give free expression to the individual approaches of organisations and producers.
The rôle of the new authority will need to be monitored, while the proposal that it should have no responsibility for the content of individual programmes is the only possible way to reintroduce creativity. There must be some responsibility for balance between sources of programmes or rights of reply, otherwise there is a danger that the channel will fall into the hands of sectional interests, or succumb to the highest bidder.
The financing of this channel and of local broadcasting stations and the new authority to run them is the weakest part of the report. I am sure that many people will share Tom Jackson's reservations on this point.
The Committee argued forcibly that the effect of allowing competition between the BBC and commercial radio will be to provide some areas with two or three local radio channels, while other areas, usually rural, will have none at all because of the shortage of available frequences. But we have only to look at the effect of the dependence of the newspaper industry on advertising revenue to see that it provides a most insecure basis for operation. If we take the struggles of The Guardian newspaper as an example, we see that few operators are likely to be found willing to set up the kind of trust envisaged by Annan. Local radio is thus likely to become a wholly commercial operation and, given the 1064 demand for the largest possible audience, will become trivial in content. I believe that Annan has allowed wishful thinking to dominate in that section of the report to the exclusion of reality.
By contrast, the chapter on programme standards and the incidence of violence and sexual promiscuity is one of the most balanced I have encountered. It makes a point which the Labour Party, above all, will welcome—namely, that the point at issue is that programme compilers and producers are out of touch with what ordinary people think.
The proposal for a formal requirement that members of production staff should take part in discussions with groups of listeners and viewers, either by going out to existing organisations or by groups brought together for the purpose, is a valuable contribution to the growing desire for a more participatory society. So, too, is the concern for regional approaches not only by broadcasters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but in other areas which are conscious of a separate identity from that of London and the South-East.
The same balanced view is applied to access programmes and party political broadcasts, religious broadcasting and other areas where there can be conflict between the need to provide information and the need to show both sides of the question.
The Committee is critical of the media's tendency to present issues in terms of conflict—not just political conflict, but in such areas as consumer affairs. Again, this reflects some of the anxieties in the Labour movement. We should welcome the proposal for a booklet on interviewees' rights and the requirement that guidelines should be made public.
I found of interest the Committee's assessment that there was a communications failure in the BBC because of its over-bureaucratic nature, resulting in lack of leadership. In the light of the references in The Observer yesterday about the management, style and structure of the BBC, I believe that this is an area that requires further examination. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will give some attention to this matter. The Observer mentioned the autocratic way in which decisions were made in the BBC, and said that the report 1065 gave general support to complaints about remote bureaucratic decision making. One witness told the Committee of having to wait more than 20 months before he managed to persuade the Department concerned to withdraw a reprimand issued to a member of staff.
The area of management style and the way in which decisions are made appears to be typical of the way in which the large public institution has developed over the years. These institutions should seek to be more responsive to the outside world.
I believe that "Old Auntie BBC" will probably survive the Annan Report, as she has survived its predecessors. The Government should pay serious regard to the matters set out in the report and should try to encourage a warmer response than we have seen in the past. It would be nice if "Auntie BBC" responded to the justified criticisms of complacency instead of merely reacting to them, which has been the case following reports in the past.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
I would remind hon. Members that there are still 20 hon. Members in the Chamber, who have been sitting patiently and faithfully through the whole of the debate. They could be accommodated because, as I know from my experience on both television and radio, the shorter the programme, the better the performance.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Mark Carlisle (Runcorn)
I take full note of your comments, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
All the contributors to the debate so far have spoken with great knowledge of television and radio. I cannot claim that degree of knowledge, nor can I claim any direct interest. My only justification for taking part in this debate is that I am a member of the General Advisory Council of the BBC. Perhaps I should also mention that the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes) and I attended a conference last weekend when we discussed the Annan Report.
I found the report fascinating and extremely readable. I agree with much of its contents, particularly what is said about the importance of independence, 1066 the diversity of programmes, the need to retain the present high standards of broadcasting, and the need for a greater awareness of public reaction. I also welcome the report's rejection of a broadcasting council, and I endorse the committee's view that it does not wish to see the BBC broken up. However, I do not go along with the Annan Committee in many of its recommendations. Having heard the contributions of the hon. Members for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) and Carlisle (Mr. Lewis), I think that Labour Members, too, share that view.
I do not believe that there is a need for the various new authorities recommended by Annan. I fear that inevitably they would lead to a general increase in bureaucracy. Let me take as an example the Public Enquiry Board. I was glad to hear the Home Secretary pour cold water on that suggestion. Despite what was said by the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Moonman), I regard such a board as a totally unnecessary concept. Of course the BBC and the IBA must be seen to be more responsible to the public, but surely the way to achieve that lies not in setting up a new board but in allowing the present organisations to work more effectively. The Governors of the BBC are trustees of the public interest. The IBA is in many ways in a similar capacity in regard to television. Therefore, rather than that we should set up a new board, I hope that those bodies will respond by becoming more responsive to what is being said.
I am all for the idea of public meetings—not only attended by Governors, but by members of the Board of Management of the BBC as well as by members of the Regional Advisory Council who could play a wider part in assessing the effects of programmes on the public. I believe that a Public Enquiry Board not only is unnecessary but contains positive dangers. If the board had power to look into any matter referred to it, it could take a totally different view from that of the Governors or of the IBA. There might be an incentive to indulge in greater political interference in the day-to-day running of the BBC.
A unified Complaints Commission is an urgent necessity, and I am delighted at what the Annan Report said about it. 1067 The present arrangements are totally inadequate. The BBC appears to accept no responsibility for reporting the results of its own complaints committee, and that seems to show that the committee really is not doing its work. I hope that the BBC and the IBA will get together to take an initiative and to set up immediately a Complaints Commission for the whole industry. The Commission should comprise people of a quality that will show them to be independent and should preferably be headed by a judicially qualified chairman.
§ Mr. Moonman
Would not such a Commission face the same sort of problems, hang-ups and ambiguities as are faced in the newspaper industry, where the Press Council does not attempt to deal adequately with all the problems that may arise in the future?
§ Mr. Carlisle
The Annan Report was rather more specific about the powers of a Complaints Commission than was the Press Council. The BBC and the IBA should take the initiative by going ahead and setting up something better than the present system. There should be a body to which people who have been unfairly criticised on television programmes should be able to go. I welcome the report's recommendation that the legal waiver that applies to the Press Council should not apply to such a body in the television industry.
I concede that there are difficulties, because those involved may not wish to give evidence to such a body when there may be a court case because someone has been severely libelled in a television programme—and we should not forget that television is a powerful medium. I do not see why such people should lose their legal rights by trying to obtain vindication from the Complaints Commission.
Turning now to local radio, like other hon. Members who have already spoken I do not believe that there is a need for a new authority. The real issue is whether the BBC should be involved in this area at all. I rather suspect that if we were starting from scratch a strong argument could be put forward that the BBC is basically a national body and that local radio should be left to the commercial field. However, the BBC is already involved and therefore it is probably right 1068 that it should be allowed to remain so. I cannot see the purpose of a new authority which would, in any event, probably become purely commercial. Commercial radio should be left to the IBA.
As for a fourth channel, I can only echo every word that was said by the hon. Member for Grimsby and by the Opposition spokesman. I do not believe that the broadcasting authority will be able to achieve everything that its sponsors have set out for it. The matter has not been thought through. If there is to be a fourth channel, it would be far more complementary to the present ones if it were given to the ITV than if it were given to a new authority.
I hope that I have kept my speech within the length of 10 minutes that has been requested by the Chair, but I should like to say one or two words about content. I agree with the hon. Member for Basildon that the part of the Annan Report that refers to sex and violence is one of the most balanced pieces of writing on that subject that one could have. There are lessons in it for the broadcasting authorities to learn. The report is frankly critical of the authorities and the authorities ought to realise that.
It is often claimed that the case about the relationship between broadcasting and violence in the media and real life has not been made. Broadcasters cannot shield themselves behind that justification. As long as that case is neither proved or disproved, the authorities have a responsibility to act as though that argument has been shown to be correct. I cannot believe that the media which is claimed to be so powerful in every other way—and which advertisers are so anxious to use to display their goods—cannot have some effect on the individual watching the programmes put out. If television works in advertising, I cannot believe that it does not affect violence in two ways. It affects the susceptible and emotionally immature and may invite repetition. For others, it may deaden their susceptibilities and sensibilities so that, in the end, it can do harm to one's threshold of violence generally.
On sex, the report has shown that there is concern about the volume of sex and swearing on television. It is true that television is seen in a different context—within the family—from films or books. Annan was right in making that point.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Whitehead (Derby, North)
The hon. and learned Member for Run-corn (Mr. Carlisle) said that he did not come to us as an expert but, like a good lawyer, he has absorbed his brief and spoken persuasively. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that after a weekend of studying the Annan proposals he came to conclusions contrary to those of the Committee on many important matters. I can understand that, but the Committee has had almost three years to study the matter. I had the privilege of being a member of it. It went through all the arguments and, after thinking them through, arrived at conclusions that some hon. Members will say—because those conclusions agree with their own views or preconceptions—are ones of great wisdom and beyond dispute. On other matters, because the conclusions may challenge the preconceptions of hon. Members, some hon. Members may say that the report appears to be slapdash. However, if one follows through a certain logic in the way that we did—not just about the next year in broadcasting or about current problems but about the next 15 to 20 years, which was our remit—one finds that broadcasting will change fundamentally whether one likes it or not.
Lord Annan and his Committee spent an exhausting and exhaustive amount of time on the work. As a member of the Committee, I pay tribute to Lord Annan for his chairmanship, and also to the secretary to the Committee, Miss Goose, and the deputy secretary, Mr. Lyon, for their work in assimilating the enormous body of evidence that we had to consider.
Those who have said that the Committee did not look at some matters sufficiently must have overlooked the visits that it paid to various parts of the country, to Europe and across the Atlantic. It received about 23,000 letters from members of the public and those interested in the setting up of different channels.
In a rather glib and populist speech in the Lords last week Lord Willis said that the Committee had contained only two experts. He said that in a tone that left me in doubt whether he meant that that was two too many or 14 too few. The Committee contained people who were expert in a number of fields that matters that the Committee had to consider 1070There were not only two television producers—of which I was one—but Professor Himmelweit, who was one of the pioneers of television research; Miss Lasky, an experienced broadcaster; Professor Sims, a leading expert in the new technology; and several other people, including Mr. Goldman, who are experts in setting up and running the kind of non-profit-making trust which was one of the new ideas that we tried to inject into the debate on broadcasting.
After three years, this wide range of people of varying political views and social backgrounds came to an almost unanimous conclusion about the route that broadcasting should take during the next 15 years. The Annan Report is not a prescription for instant action or an attempt to say that certain things are terribly wrong now and must be changed overnight or that certain other things must be introduced tomorrow. It is, rather, an attempt to say that innovations must be made during the next 10 to 15 years and that they must take account of the way in which broadcasting has already developed and the ways in which it might be restricted and restrained in the future if we do not introduce new ways of thinking about the form of the broadcasting industry and changes in society. The Committee had to take the longer view and that is the view contained in the report. Examples of this are the proposals for structural change as well as the chapters about standards and other matters. In making these proposals we may have upset the existing broadcasting authorities. Unlike our predecessors, we have made proposals that may lead to a slight diminution in the status, rôle, or band of frequencies controlled by the BBC and the IBA.
That is very difficult. Our predecessors did not do so. They took care to duck out on one side or the other. To borrow from Lady Bracknell, some members of the Committee may feel that to offend one half of the duopoly may be unfortunate, but to offend both may be downright careless.
So far in the debate, hon. Members have spoken, as they have every right to do, about the points that have been put to them and have argued the case for the existing system as that had been presented to them. However, many of these points do not look beyond the 1071 present situation to the next two or three years when we must review the licensing agreement with the BBC and the Independent Broadcasting Act for ITV and commercial radio. I shall try to persuade hon. Members that if this thinking is followed through, many of these points will lead to the sort of conclusion reached by the Committee.
My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Moonman) has said in print and in the debate that the Labour Party study group on which we both served perhaps reached rather foolish conclusions because it did not sit or argue for long enough and did not cover enough of the span of opinions and reservation. This is what the Committee attempted to do.
I hope that this House will do better in our debate than did another place last week when there was a sonorous procession of lords on the boards delivering the views of and arguing on behalf of vested interests. They have every right to do that, but the debate so far has been largely mediated by the broadcasting authorities who have, to an extent, been challenged by the proposals in the report. The authentic view of the sections of the community that we hoped to involve in the decision-making process in broadcasting and the practices of broadcasters has been absent. That public view has not been sufficiently heard in the argument so far.
§ Mr. Whitehead
No, but I regard that as a slightly tendentious question. The practicality or otherwise of what is proposed must be judged against the social and economic climate of this country over the next 10 or 15 years. If the hon. Gentleman or any other hon. Member feels that he can foreclose every decision in the debate in terms of the present political and economic situation, he is doing a great disservice to broadcasting. We have to look beyond that.
The philosophy of the report is one of pluralism and this has been welcomed on both sides of the House. That is why the Committee rejects the notion of a 1072 dominant executive broadcasting council superimposed on broadcasting but separated from broadcasters. Such a body would be a return to another kind of monopoly in another form as would the direct rule of some Minister in Parliament if broadcasters were made responsible to him. We reiterated—and this is the negative aspect of the report—that the notion of authorities responsible to Parliament should not only be continued, but extended and that there should be new authorities as well as existing ones.
The report had four interdependent principles. The essence of the matter is editorial independence. That is the essence of any free broadcasting system, but it has to be balanced by public accountability and involvement. The diversity that we seek can be brought about only in a flexible system that adapts to developments in our society and technology that do not necessarily fit the imperatives of our great broadcasting institutions. I do not deny that they are great institutions, and that they have given the State and society some service and will give more, but will they fit the patterns that we need in future? If we were examining only their stewardship so far, we could say—as indeed we did say—that we have the best broadcasting system in the world. But we are trying to look at the future as well.
For the future, the first thing to get right is a proper counter balance between broadcasters and society. Anyone who has been exposed for three years to the public's view of broadcasting can have no doubt that there is disquiet and even outrage in the minds of many members of the public at the indifference of the broadcasting elite to the many fears and worries about radio and television.
There is also disquiet about the way in which many decisions about how television and radio should develop have been handled. That is why we want an amalgamated and independent complaints council. It would be a saving on bureaucracy and not an addition to it and most hon. Members have welcomed the suggestion. It would not be a tribunal of taste, but a real means of redress in cases of malpractise. That is why we want a Public Enquiry Board for broadcasting to look at the performances of the authorities. Various members have belittled this 1073 aspect of the report and asked why we should pull up the roots, but this is precisely the argument advanced against a setting up of the Annan Committee and the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) has admitted that he was mistaken in his original view and that he now welcomes the establishment of the Committee.
One of the problems that the Committee faced and that we felt as strongly in the third year as in the first year was that we were not sufficiently well informed and that we had not been backed up by proper research into what we were looking at. We were an ad hoc inquiry and we knew that there might or might not be another in 15 years' time. Given the great complexity of broadcasting, that is not sufficient.
That is the case for a Public Enquiry Board that could involve the public through public hearings rather than through questions by hon. Members that are fobbed off by Ministers as they must do. The establishment of such a board is the way to enable the public to have its say in confrontation with those who have the exercise of power of broadcasters or broadcasting authorities responsible to Parliament. This body would be small and would have a trigger mechanism that would mean that any inquiries carried out beyond those into the performance of the authorities, would have to be asked for by the Secretary of State. They would not come about as a result of a greedy bureaucracy seeking, in some over-weaning manner, to extend its remit.
I apologise for going on at some length, but I have felt at times in the debate as though I were taking on single handed the whole House and all the parties in it.
The BBC does not believe, as did the Committee, that small is beautiful. We have been attacked for complaining that the Corporation is top-heavy in managerial fat while also cutting away its base in local radio and its roots in the community.
I want to take the House through the Committee's thinking on this. The BBC holds sway over an immense span of frequencies. All except external services have to be paid for by the licence fee. In inflationary times, that is hideously stretched. The BBC cannot do everything 1074 with it and already it has had to turn covertly to other methods of financing, some of which are dubious in terms of the licence fee and the public service ethic. However, the BBC wants to do everything. It has a territorial imperative as the only rationale of the organisation. Its theme song is, as Lord Annan said, the same as Ethel Merman's—"Anything you can do, I can do better". Internationally, nationally, regionally and locally—the BBC wants to be there doing the lot.
Some of my hon. Friends think that by advocating that the licence fee should continue, the Committee has copped out and that we should have said that it should go. I put this case as the Devil's advocate in the Committee, but the view of the Committee, which is persuasively argued in the report, is that the fee should stay. The corollary is that it can pay only for the number of services that more or less equates with what the public and our constituents will accept having to pay for.
The BBC has been saying that it is not in financial difficulties and that it is even expanding its services in local radio, but we shall soon hear the rattle of the begging bowl when the Corporation comes to the House asking for the licence fee to be raised. The Committee took the view that some services are beyond what it is reasonable to expect the licence fee to pay for. Some of us wanted to go further. We made a case for separating BBC radio and television and a minority of six had this recommendation written into the main body of the report. Our case was that these services, which are largely separate in practice, could develop in their own way without the desperate attempts to fit everything into a common BBC mould, which now occupy much of the time of that otiose bureaucracy that has already been attacked in the debate.
There are two ways in which to deal with this. One is to federate, to turn it into an imitation ITV. But if one accepts the BBC as a national instrument of broadcasting and that it has a centralised planning structure and that many advantages flow from that, the only real practical change is to separate radio and television and have two separate services run as two separate public corporations 1075 built out from under the kind of bureaucracy that lies across them both, attempting to co-ordinate and hold them together. That is what the minority of the Committee wanted.
The majority of the Committee settled for exhortation. They said that they accept that there is a problem, but their view was paraphrased by the hon. Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan) who said that we cannot split the BBC because foreigners will not like it. The political case is against it, though it can be overwhelmingly argued organisationally and structurally. That may be so, but when I look at the suppression of the Francis Report, and at the evidence that the BBC will not change its ways nor change the immense top-heaviness of its top echelons of management, I believe that my view and that of the minority on the Annan Committee is right.
We do not intend to cut the BBC off from its roots in the country, where local radio exists, but this must be the only plant organism to grow roots 50 years after the stem. The BBC managed for a long time without local radio stations. Indeed, initially it argued passionately against them. Now the BBC has local radio stations and it wants to keep them.
The Committee took a different view. Its view was that we need a new authority upon which local radio can develop. There are good stations, and some not so good. There are good stations in both sections of the system. Some of the smallest are some of the best. One mentions Radio Blackburn and Swansea Sound. It is not right to advance in the future with the BBC and commercial stations competing in every locality. It is not right for the competition to go on for ever and a day while many areas and many communities, which are communities of interest rather than of locality, have no local radio.
The BBC's proposals for local radio exclude Scotland and Wales. The BBC, in saying how much it loves local radio, has skated over this fact, just as it did over the fact that for much of the time local stations broadcast and transmit network material and not genuine local output.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans (Carmarthen)
I heard recently of the great success that 1076 the BBC has had with local radio in Wales. It got hold of an outside broadcast unit from the Irish-speaking part of the Irish network and put that Welsh programme over to several towns and villages in Wales. The streets were empty because people were so anxious to hear the programme. The BBC is extremely interested in Wales having a local as well as a national network.
§ Mr. Whitehead
I am not sure that the retransmission of Irish programmes in Wales is what I would call local radio, although I can see that it might be an Irish definition of local radio.
I should like to see many more of the communities in this country being able to receive at least one service of local radio. The idea of having the LBA, which would also look after the development of cable services and local television, is to see that there was some reasonable spread of these precious facilities for all the communities.
I have been heartened by the response of the public to our report, because the public, where they have been able to get a word in edgeways, have written to us to say that, for example, there might be a case in London for having a station that can be run by the black community and which will broadcast to them. It would broadcast to a particular group within this great metropolitan sprawl. Other, smaller communities have said that they like the idea of non-profit-making local stations that are financed partly by local advertising. In most areas local newspapers are flourishing in a way that the national Press cannot, and local advertising would mix this revenue with support from other services.
I leave a last thought in the minds of those who challenged the financial viability of our proposals for local radio. Why cannot the BBC enter into a relationship that is not one of ownership and colonial domination with many local stations? Why cannot the BBC have local services and pay local broadcasters as an alternative to owning them outright, settling them as miniature broadcasting houses in the community, which is what we have today?
That is what I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Lewis) and others who have spoken movingly about what their services mean to them. 1077 I do not want to see them all swept away in a miasma of pop and prattle, but there are new ways of running local broadcasting that can be tried. One has only to look at the way in which the cable services were begun and have developed. One knows of Swindon Viewpoint. We see new ways of communities running their own services, raising revenue for them and being responsible for them. The whole service grows out of the community.
I now come to my last word, and that is on the fourth channel. The proposals of the Committee have been derided and dismissed by those who in this debate have spoken for the companies and ITV. There has been a great howl of protest from those who cannot bear to share in a facility that they want to control. They have been aided and abetted by an outburst from the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley). Before he had even read the report he called it a dog's breakfast.
§ Mr. Julian Critchley (Aldershot)
I know that the hon. Gentleman has been saving that crack for some time, and perhaps I deserved it. I read the story of the Annan Report which was fully reported in The Observer.
§ Mr. Whitehead
The hon. Gentleman read a leak from a preliminary draft of the report, and a highly selective one. He did not wait for the report. I see that as a result of his action on this matter he has at last been promoted to the Opposition Front Bench. Perhaps he feels that that was a worth while way of proceeding. Perhaps that is how the Conservative Party seeks out talent in its ranks—those who cannot wait for things to be published before commenting.
The national debate has to be more informed in these matters. We are not dismissive of ITV. Contrary to Pilkington, we praised it. We thought that its strength lay in the regional identity of most of the companies. We want to see that preserved in the network system which has a national and an international reputation. We are glad to see that the companies have brought something of the flavour of their localities to what they produce. Even ATV has been able to fit in amongst such distinguished Midlanders as Moses and Edward VII the 1078 Clayhanger series made by Stella Richman.
I mention Miss Richman because she is one of the independent producers who gave evidence to the Annan Committee, as many others did, and argued the case for the foundation that we want to see. These producers argued the case because they felt that it was more than just having an ITV 2 complementary to ÏTV 1.
There are other ways in which to meet the demand for work to match talent, argued by the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) who, like his wife, works in the commercial sector of television. One way to do this is to have the OBA, which operates as a publisher, on a loose rein which allows much of the new talent to come through. What has happened to that talent in the past, whether Television Reporters International, Kestrel Films, or many other small companies, is that they have been brushed aside by the duopoly.
The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border said that it would be right to have ITV 2, but on conditions—and we waited to hear what his conditions were. Out they came, and we discovered that they were the conditions set out by ITCA! ITCA said in its statement after the report that the views of the Committee were divergent and were the result of inconsistencies and disagreements on the Committee, and that the report was settled on the basis of compromise. That is not true. The proposals on the fourth channel were the unanimous view of the Committee. They were the view of every member of the Committee who felt that there should be something new in broadcasting.
What should come into the system is a new way of looking at programmes, new ways of involving the community, and different arrangements for and different ways of paying for them. I believe that we could do it. Giving ITV another channel will not do it, given the kind of scheduling that there would be, which would only fit in with ITV1 and have an effect on the BBC's two channels as well. I do not believe that we can go on with that kind of competition, which is what we were referring to when we spoke of the straitjacket of monopoly.
I want to see a new channel run by a new authority, not set up if necessary for even five years or more. It could 1079 exploit many of the other creative outlets in the country which lack exposure to a wider medium through television. It could end the hypocrisy whereby we currently have sponsorship on channels that are supposed to be free of it, by making that sponsorship overt and not covert. It could begin to lead us to the world that is coming anyway, where building the mass audience complementarily on both channels—making sure that one does not lose a single viewer—between 6 p.m. and 11 p.m., is not the only preoccupation.
Like it or not, developments in our society will take broadcasting in the direction that Annan foretells. Whatever the House decides, we should not try to force broadcasting into a straitjacket, and graft everything new into the existing pattern. We have to look at the new technologies. We have to look at their implications for our society as it is and at the implications for the generation growing up—our children, who will be as literate and as versatile in these new media of communications as we have been in print.
The new way forward will mean that the old hierarchical way of doing things—the old preconceptions of television society and scheduling—will not stand up any more. There will be new forms of broadcasting. For example, I hope that one of those new forms will be the televising of the proceedings in this House, so that, instead of addressing 20 hon. Members who are waiting for me to sit down, I can address the nation at large.
This new approach was the keynote of the Annan Report—pluralism, more outlets, different ways of seeing and hearing, more innovation. That is the best way of rooting our broadcasting in all the communities of our society and helping the progressive spread and extension of our democracy in the years ahead.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Wyn Roberts (Conway)
The hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) has given us a concentrated refresher course in the contents of the Annan Report, but he has left me in some doubt whether it should be called the Annan Report. Perhaps it should be called the "Whitehead Report". One thing we do know about the report— 1080 that it has been praised for its robust and ebullient style, and that characteristic was, I believe, transmitted to it by Lord Annan himself.
The report's venturous quality is not confined to the words and phrases which make the report so readable, as many hon. Members have said, even if its comments are not always totally justifiable. This quality also inspires the recommendations, which are imaginative and exciting in their way, even if they achieve that characteristic at the cost of a divorce from reality. What we have to do is to check those recommendations against the facts of broadcasting life as they are, and, as the hon. Member for Derby, North said, as they are likely to be. But I am sure that our conceptions of the future will all be different, all be highly individualistic. There is no time to talk about many aspects of the report, and I shall concentrate on one or two.
There is, first, the recommendation that the fourth channel be allocated to the Open Broadcasting Authority for the use of independent producers, the Open University, and the existing broadcasting authorities. This recommendation is, I believe, inseparable from the rejection of ITV 2 as a possible recipient of the fourth channel on the ground that the establishment of a second ITV channel would perpetuate the duopoly that we have heard so much about and exacerbate the battle for ratings. I think that the thinking not only of the Annan Committee but of the BBC—which, with typical acumen, supplied, along with others, the crux of the Open Broadcasting Authority idea—is erratic in this area.
In my view, the battle for viewers would probably be far sharper and more brutal if there were three contenders in the field rather than two, especially when the third would be a complete newcomer which had to survive and flourish. I am glad to see that the noble Lord, Lord Willis took much the same view in the other place in their debate, and I think that the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) was thinking along the same lines.
Let us take, for example, the, since Saturday, very topical world of sport, which has witnessed some of the most expensive skirmishes between the BBC and the IBA in the past. The Annan 1081 Committee on page 348 suggests that commercial sponsors of sporting events mightput their programme proposals to the Open Broadcasting Authority and…provide the necessary finance for these programmes".Of course they might. But it would be after rival bids from the BBC and the IBA for some of those events had reached staggering heights. The OBA might indeed be an outrageous success in rating terms if it went into battle with a will and with abundant risk capital. But I doubt whether the Government would supply that risk capital, or whether anyone else would.
In any case, is it that kind of authority that the would-be creators of the OBA really have in mind? Is that what any of us have in mind—an outrageously successful service in terms of ratings? I doubt it. Such a success would upset the balance of the broadcasting services which the Annan Committee would like to preserve—two popular channels, BBC 1 and ITV, with two minority channels in BBC 2 and the OBA.
So the odds are that if the OBA were to come into existence, it would be severely handicapped in one way or another, and if such were the circumstances of its birth it is questionable whether it could survive. The public expect a fully fledged fourth channel service, and to secure such a service from a completely fresh external source would seem to me to be a very tall order. After all, we are talking about 60 hours or more of television a week, week in and week out, and that takes a lot of organising, financing and supervising.
I do not think that the publishing parallel is really applicable. It costs a man little to sit down and write a book; it costs a great deal to make a television programme. With abundant resources, the OBA might be able to commission programmes on a grand scale and reject them if they were not up to standard. But even the Annan Committee is horrified at the wastefulness of such an editorial process. Indeed,something is seriously wrong with communications if this happens more than once in a decade",it says of a commissioned programme which goes through all the stages of production 1082 but is not transmitted. Nevertheless, that is the essence of publishing. A copious supply of material on offer is matched by a total freedom to reject.
My conclusion is that, to run a successful television service, one must have a sustained, professional source of good basic programming; the backbone of a schedule must be there, and the only reliable existing source, as far as I can see, is Independent Television, which has spare capacity and resources. ITV has proposed a completementary service, which is not of itself competitive, as my hon. Friend the Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan) pointed out. It is true that it means the perpetuation of the duopoly, but I suggest that a duopoly is likely to result in saner competition than a tripoly, which is what the OBA would involve.
I want to make a few comments about the fourth channel in Wales. Hon. Members will be aware that the Crawford Committee recommended that a fourth channel in Wales be brought into use as soon as possible to provide a service comprising some 25 hours of Welsh language programmes, derived from the BBC and HTV, which is the local independent television contractor. Following the acceptance in principle of this recommendation, the Government set up the Siberry Working Party, which outlined how the Welsh service might be established in practice. The Annan Committeerecommend that the proposals of the Siberry Working Party should be implemented as soon as the Government can find the necessary finance.The report goes on to say that eventually the Open Broadcasting Authority might take responsibility for the fourth channel in Wales as elsewhere.
We, as a party, suggest that the responsibility for the fourth channel in Wales, as elsewhere, should rest with the IBA. The question may well be asked, how we on our part reconcile this recommendation with the Crawford and Siberry recommendations. The first point to make is that under Annan the transmission of the fourth channel service is to be an IBA responsibility, so there is no change there. The outstanding questions, therefore, are whether the IBA should also control the scheduling of the service in Wales, and, if it is to do so, whether the schedule should include BBC Welsh programmes as well as HTV's, as recommended by 1083 Crawford, accepted by the Government and now endorsed by Annan.
Crawford and the Government envisaged joint control by the BBC and ITV, while Annan thought in terms of joint control as temporary and of final control by the OBA. The different broadcasting organisations will have different views on these issues. Nowhere in its evidence to Annan does the IBA state that if it were given the fourth channel in Wales it would incorporate the BBC's Welsh language programmes. The IBA view might well be that the BBC also had two channels and should put its Welsh language output on one of them. It is also a moot point whether the BBC would wish to place its programmes on an ITV controlled channel, although there is no fundamental reason why it should not do so provided that these programmes were properly identified.
We must consider this matter from the public's point of view rather than that of broadcasters. The non-Welsh-speaking majority of viewers and the Welsh-speaking minority both want the Welsh language programmes placed in a separate channel. However, there is a valid point in the Annan Committee's statement on page 414, that,if all Welsh language programmes were banished to the fourth channel…we think it would be the worse for the Welsh language and the heritage of Wales.I suggest that the proper solution is for both BBC and HTV Welsh programmes to be transmitted on the fourth channel under the control of the IBA and for the BBC to continue transmitting selected programmes on its main Welsh channel and thus maintain the Welsh language presence on that channel in accordance with the Annan recommendation. This would be a fair distribution of responsibilities between the broadcasting authorities. ITV 1 and BBC 1 and BBC 2 would be clear of Welsh language programmes. BBC Wales would carry a selection, and the bulk would be on ITV 2—that is, the fourth channel. The IBA would bear the capital and operating costs of transmission, while the BBC and HTV would bear their own production costs, as they do now. HTV would also have to bear the costs of ITV 2 programmes taken from the network.
As to increasing the output of Welsh language programmes to 25 hours a week, 1084 as recommended by Siberry, even before the service starts, I disagree with this Siberry recommendation. It would require considerable extra expenditure and special provision would have to be made for it, but the increased output is not necessary to establish a Welsh fourth channel service as such. My view is that we should begin with what we already have by way of programming, and then increase output after the service has been established. The majority agree that a separate service is urgently needed in Wales. There is no doubt that the quickest way to get this is by allocating the fourth channel to the IBA, which has the resources to provide it before the end of the decade.
Finally, I want to comment very briefly on local radio. I do not think that the Committee fully appreciated the part played by competition betwen the BBC and the IBA in securing the present extent of coverage. We still have a long way to go before this popular form of service is within the reach of all the communities that can sustain it. That, I believe, is the strongest argument for leaving things as they are. Let the competition between the two broadcasting authorities continue.
In Wales, we have only one local radio station, the commercial station at Swansea, which is commended in the report. We could sustain other stations in Wales—at Cardiff, for example, which is the only capital city in the United Kingdom without its own radio station. There are other areas, notably the North-East of Wales, which could support a local radio station.
Annan approves of competition in excellence, and so do I. The broadcasters' challenge is not to give people what they want or what they ought to have but to give them what they have not dreamed of—as Shakespeare did—and, to give them their due, some of our best broadcasters in the BBC and ITV have also tried to do just that.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Mark Hughes (Durham)
I should like to take off from the point at which the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) finished. In terms of local radio, I think that in this House I probably have a unique experience, in that Radio Carlisle, which was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Penrith and The 1085 Border (Mr. Whitelaw) and my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Lewis), started its existence as Radio Durham, and I had the entertaining problem of being responsible for its closure and transference to Carlisle. Therefore, as one who has seen a local radio station closed around his ears, let me say that I had two letters from disgruntled constituents who were appalled at its loss, and not one other comment of any sort. It may not have had long enough to put down the roots that clearly exist now. However, it sometimes worries me that there is a mythology of deep roots in the locality—which means that a lot of noise is made by a relatively few very interested persons.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)
Surely the hon. Gentleman does not determine his attitude on the basis of his mail. In normal activities in society nowadays, there is an inertia everywhere, but it does not necessarily mean that because people do not write they do not miss a local radio, or anything else.
§ Mr. Hughes
I determine my attitude in that respect no more than I would judge the hon. Gentleman's learning on broadcasts of "Rutland Weekend Television".
There is now, however, in the North-East a proliferation of public and commerical provision which cannot be justified in terms of the mass coverage required for local radio in the country. Those same constituents, having lost BBC Radio Durham, are now provided with two commercial radio stations on medium wave and two BBC stations, whereas vast areas of the country have no immediate prospect of local radio.
If that is what Annan means by saying that there is a mess, I cannot do other than agree. I do not know why BBC television coverage in the North-East should be wholly inadequate compared with that available from Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham or Bristol. BBC television produced from the Newcastle centre lets the North-East down badly.
On radio, the BBC is in competition with Radio Metro in Newcastle, and is losing some of its clientele. Radio Newcastle, although it may not care for Shostakovich, is at least prepared to go that way. What worries me, when listening 1086 to the protagonists of the independent broadcasts and the BBC, is that we are getting very near to the stage where we accept that BBC radio is for a socially distinct, older group that would not be seen dead listening to pop and would leave that for the commercial stations. The impression given by some people working for the BBC is that commercial radio just blares out pop 24 hours a day with minuscule pretence at doing anything else. Both of these views are caricatures of reality. Is it an accident that Oxford has a BBC station while Reading has a commercial station?
Do we not see a risk in future, when allocating a commercial station to one area and BBC local radio to another, that there will be a mirroring of this ability to call up certain expressly social group pressures to bring in a BBC station? The ratio of BBC stations to universities appears to be relatively high, whereas the distribution of commercial stations appears to be rather more free flowing.
I wish to mention the problem of Scotland, which was raised by the Scottish representative on the General Advisory Council of the BBC. Annan seems to be extremely weak in this area. Apart from Radio Clyde, there is no local radio, either BBC or anything else, in the whole of Scotland. The assumption is made too readily that Scottish radio is local radio. It is not. In terms of the Scottish National Party it is, I suspect, a national radio in embryo, but in terms of the rest of British broadcasting it is separate regional broadcasting. I would welcome an increase in the independence given to regional broadcasting.
§ Mr. George Reid (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
The BBC is now broadcasting local radio from Aberdeen, Inverness and Greenock and has two very useful community experiments in Orkney and Shetland.
§ Mr. Hughes
I meant commercial radio stations other than Clyde. Radio Clyde is the only commercial station.
§ Mr. Hughes
When did they start? I withdraw all that section of my speech, having been misinformed. I hope that I shall be better informed in turning to the problem of licence fees.
1087 I am sure that no hon. Member would welcome the prospect of having to go to his constituents and announcing an increase in the licence fee of perhaps £25 or £30 until the intricacies of pensioners in warden-controlled accommodation, and the benefits which they now enjoy, can be resolved. I note that the Annan Report recommends that the privileges enjoyed by pensioners in warden-controlled accommodation should be allowed quietly to fade away and die, while any new pensioner going into that sort of accommodation would have to pay the full cost of the licence fee. That solution does not appear to have much political wisdom associated with it.
As we move more towards households with two television sets and a high outlay on the annual licence fee, I urge the House to consider carefully whether licensing is the best way of raising revenue for the BBC. I do not think that the BBC's fears of losing independence of editorial control are as strong as its fears of losing money if it becomes politically inescapable that we cannot recommend higher licence fees in a period of inflation because that would give a great boost to inflation. I am not satisfied that the licence fee is the only possible way of financing the BBC.
I close by repeating that in looking at regional and local radio—allowing that I made a right codswallop of my efforts on Scotland—the concept of affiliate stations with the ability to plug into the BBC or other network material seems to offer the one hope of the vast majority of people in this country being given access to local radio. There is a difference between local and regional radio. But there will probably have to be some sort of mixture of moneys. I would prefer the affiliate status to the proposals formulated by the local broadcasting authority, but I think that the fourth channel may have to go to ITV.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)
This is a subject on which I think all Opposition spokesmen on broadcasting must have had a great deal or correspondence. I cannot remember getting more mail on any subject since a friend of mine entered my name on cards promising insurance 1088 benefits of £4,155 at the age of 65 and I was beleaguered by every insurance company in Britain.
The extraordinary thing in this case was that the correspondence on broadcasting that came my way all derived from official bodies. I did not receive a single letter from what could loosely be called a private human being. Each letter had as its subject one of those paragraphs at the end of which the Annan Report stated "We thus recommend…" and each time the report "thus recommended" anything at all, whether on local radio, cable or whatever, interested parties wrote with very good reasons because they felt—and in some cases I felt, too—that the Annan Committee should have made its recommendation the other way.
It cannot be easy, when given a brief on the future of broadcasting, to get it absolutely right by determining what is practicable now, what is impracticable now, and what should be practicable in the future. I think that perhaps the main argument—and it was on this point that I interrupted the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead), who was a member of the Committee—was that the Committee tended to fail to recommend alternatives because it felt that in five or 10 years' time there would be a solution.
This is where I would argue with the Annan Report. After all there are periodic reviews of the franchises of independent television companies, and as ITV is almost ready to go ahead with ITV2, I see no great harm in giving it a chance to do so. The OBA will take five or 10 years to set up, and it could be given the franchise if ITV2 is found to be unsatisfactory.
In the same way, I think that the argument against cable television, which was based on the fact that there were too many kinds of cable television, is fallacious. It is wrong to suggest that we should stop the growth of cable television until we can define what system would be the most advantageous for the country as a whole. Surely the whole strength of British industry lies in the fact that there are different and differing systems, which should be allowed to grow so that people may eventually discover which is the most successful?
1089 It cannot be said often enough that the Annan Report was an absolutely smashing one, that it was well argued and readable, and that there was barely a boring chapter in it. If it cost £250,000 to produce, and even if it will cost £61,000 more to print, it is worth every penny. It is time that the House differentiated between a good report such as this and the fearful junk, in the same coloured jackets, that we obtain from the Vote Office on other, more frequent occasions.
I wish to comment on the arguments about the creation of the OBA versus ITV 2. This argument seems to have very little validity. It has been said that if the IBA gets control of the fourth channel, it might be able to direct television advertising at a compact minority of the public. I do not see that that would be a bad thing. It is not a bad idea to have commercials that go to people who might buy the product being advertised.
The other argument to which I wish to refer is that which says that the new channel would knock out newspapers. The hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Lewis), who made a quick entrance and a somewhat faster retreat, said that if ITV 2 came into being local newspapers would die. There is no evidence to support that suggestion, as the Committee recognised. People with commercial experience who worried about whether ITV, when it was introduced, would kill newspapers have now accepted that the share of total advertising commanded by newspapers has remained roughly the same over the last 20 years.
There is the argument concerning local radio and the new Authority to be set up to administer the IBA and local BBC companies. The Annan Report said that local radio was in a mess, and that was a pretty fair remark to make. I am not sure that it meant that local radio was in a mess in the way in which the Government Front Bench or the Liberal Party are in a mess. It meant simply that local radio was in a mess because the small independent companies have to pay far too much towards supporting the bureaucracy of the IBA and that in the unlikely event of their making any extra money they would have to pay a secondary rental from that money.
1090 Local radio is in a mess because frequencies and wave lengths are being jammed together to leave room for the fire service and the police. Anyone who is expert on the subject will readily admit that there is plenty of space in the air for the creation of 60 BBC and 60 commercial companies without spoiling or impeding the work of the fire or police services to whose broadcasts we are not, of course, allowed to listen, because that is illegal.
One of the points that has not been mentioned is that the BBC has to have local correspondents in order to carry out the designated work of the Corporation. Under the charter it is obliged to give a national picture of life in this country. If the BBC has an office in each county town from which reporters transmit broadcasts or simply information on tape to Broadcasting House, it is not a bad thing to use those local people to provide the local community with a few hours a day of information directed specifically and solely at that community.
We in East Anglia have possibly the most successful of all local independent radio stations. It is Radio Orwell, which I believe secures an audience of 73 per cent. of all the people in the area who listen to the radio and who tune in for about an hour a day, and there would be no reason why the presence of BBC Ipswich would not provide an incentive to both companies to give even better service.
The hon. and learned Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) mentioned the question of violence. The report states that there seems to be too much violence, and certainly too much unnecessary violence on television. In a mammoth Robin Day talk-in programme recently Mrs. Whitehouse was given a great deal of prominence when she said how totally unnecessary this violence was. Nevertheless, people should relate what goes on in the world to the violence of television drama. I can think of nothing more idiotic than for a news item about Sharpeville, Kent State University, Manchester United supporters going home, or a report from Ulster, Vietnam or some other trouble spot, to be followed by a fictional police drama depicting a non-belligerent policeman. It makes no sense to have seen an Old Trafford baton charge followed by a policeman on a 1091 drama programme saying "Excuse me, Sir. I hope you won't mind too much if I take a pair of handcuffs from my pocket and place them around your wrists. I should like to warn you that this could be painful and perhaps you would care to wrap a handkerchief around your wrist in order that they will not chafe."
We are living in violent times. Drama on television must have some resemblance to the type of violence which exists in real life. If not, we are living in cloud-cuckoo land and the whole strength of television drama lies in the fact that it can be, should be, tries to be, believed. Very few people believe in mollycoddling by the average policeman.
I think that perhaps the most irrelevant part of the Annan Report was the comparison between ITN and the BBC news and current affairs programmes. Sterile stuff, that with about as much relevance as comparing the services of different escort agencies. I am sure that hon. Members will know that all escort agencies actually employ the same women. All agencies have the names of the same escorts on their lists—
§ Mr. Freud
I was coming to that. I once did an interesting article for a monthly magazine which has now gone out of business which asked me to compare the efficiency of the different escort agencies. For four days I went out with ladies supplied by the different agencies and for three days it was the same person.
There is so much cross-germination between ITN and BBC news and current affairs programmes, so many reporters, camera men and producers who move from one to another, that in a report about the future of broadcasting it seemed that a little less time might have been spent on as negative and sterile a point as this comparative study.
What I am consistently opposed to—and I believe that my life as a sports writer gave me a greater insight into this than that possessed by other hon. Members—is the duplication of events by ITV and BBC. There can be nothing more shaming than for a sports writer to go to Tokyo or Mexico to cover a world title fight or something else which has 1092 been bought by both BBC and ITV and to have to witness fights between colleagues of his own nationality intimidating one another in an effort to get a new angle on the same event.
I realise that in the case of party political broadcasts it is important, if someone wants to be seen at all—or to put it another way, if someone does not wish to be switched off—to give the viewer no alternative other than to watch that broadcast. For sporting events, the Cup Final or perhaps the Olympic Games, there is nothing gained by having the event on all channels at the same time. We believe in competition, and there is certainly no competition there.
I come now to the argument in the Annan Report about comparative merits between spot advertising and block advertising. I accept that it is a good idea that things that have not yet been tried on television ought to be tried. Although we are, without much argument, the best producers of television anywhere in the world, we have not reached a position where no one will catch up with us. But we learnt enough from the disastrous advertising magazine experience to know that to have a solid lump of, say, 25 minutes of advertising is an open invitation to people to switch off.
If we are to say "Let us provide competition in television financed by advertisements which are reasonably harmless" people will buy those expensive spots simply because the viewers will not dare switch off in case they miss the resumption of the programme. I do not believe in natural breaks any more than anyone else in this House, but it is simplistic to believe that if we have an Open Broadcasting Authority people will switch it on to see 25 minutes of solid commercials. They will not, and I do not believe that that is any way to finance a new, alternative authority.
On the subject of authorities, it is quite right that someone, somewhere, should be responsible for everything that goes out to the public, but we do already have two authorities that work pretty well. Surely the idea should be to make those authorities work better rather than create yet more authorities which will be even more expensive, which will give manifestations of even greater patronage and simply create another tier of bureaucracy.
1093 There has been some criticism of BBC Governors, who are immensely powerful, yet I doubt whether many people, with the possible exception of the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison)—whose wife served on the Committee—know very much about them. By and large if we ask someone "Who are BBC Governors?" the answer will be "Anonymous geriatric fuddy-duddies". Oddly enough, it is one of the offices of patronage most coveted, although for the past 17 years Governors of the BBC have been paid the same amount—£1,000 per annum. If we want the BBC to work better we are lucky that we have people prepared to work as hard as the Governors work, often for a couple of days a week to do the job properly. The Home Secretary might think again about these most under-rewarded people. I am sure that they do not want more money but I equally am sure that, like all of us, they could do with a research assistant or two to make their responsible jobs a little more pleasant and manageable.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Mr. George Reid (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
As the Annan Committee probably discovered to its cost, everyone is an expert on broadcasting these days. That may or may not be the fate of the House tonight. It is well for me, therefore, to confine my remarks to Scotland, and to the creative openings available to producers there, though I hope that they will have some bearing on the situation in the English regions.
The Scottish National Party seeks the same freedom for Scots broadcasting as it does for the Scots people. We seek the right to make and transmit programmes according to Scots priorities. The party wishes to end the provincialism from which much of the current Scots output suffers, to ensure a richer, much more creative programme service, and to strengthen and invigorate the Scottish nation's democratic life. Hon. Members may say "Fine, that is a perfectly reasonable objective." The problem is that it is not happening.
For a nation that claims to have invented television, through John Logie Baird, we have not had much success in its utilisation. Although we have production staff of high ability in Scotland, although there have been recent attempts 1094 to go for quality, as Annan recognised, much of the present production is trivial and homespun. Why should that be? What has the Annan Committee to say about the particularly Scots situation? Not much.
If I were a British nationalist I should find much of interest in the Committee's report, and I could say that it had done a fundamentally good job of going into the basics of broadcasting.
I agree with Annan on ITV2—that what the United Kingdom needs at present is not more broadcasting but a better standard of broadcasting. I am afraid that if the channel goes to ITV there will be a drop in quality if the advertising base is not wide enough—an upset in the delicate balance between BBC1 and BBC2 and ITV1—and ITV2, if created, might become the station for the "filler", the old films and the repeats. I agree with Annan on the democratisation of the industry and greater public consultation. I agree on pay TV.
I have my doubts about both a Complaints Commission and a Public Enquiry Board being set up since two bodies might fudge a clear line of democratic accountability. The Committee is badly wrong in terms of the Independent Broadcasting Authority, because it is a mistake in nomenclature to try to change the name to the Regional Broadcasting Authority. Such a title does not take account of the network back-up available throughout that channel. The report is completely wrong in terms of setting up a Local Broadcasting Authority. I cannot see what is wrong with the BBC and the IRC both continuing to provide local community radio services on exactly the present model.
Not many of these points have a bearing on the current Scots' situation, however. Why? Because Annan dipped into Scotland only briefly. He gave only a few grudging answers. It is certainly right that the Broadcasting Council for Scotland should be given a "modest" amount of capital expenditure in its own right. It is right that the Controller of BBC Scotland should be able to play his schedules according to Scots priorities. It is right, I believe, to praise Grampian and Border Television for the notable programmes that they have put out and the exceptional service that they have given to the local community. Perhaps 1095 it is right to look with a rather "gley" eye on the Scottish Television situation. It is not right to say then, as Annan did, that he did not know what to do about the STV situation, and turn the whole business lamely over to the IBA for solution.
The report might be fine on the coffee tables of Highgate and Hampstead, but I do not think, given the fact that Scotland is relegated to the status of a "national region", whatever that might mean, that it is the end of the story for Scots' broadcasting.
I give two reasons for saying that. First, the Committee steadfastly rules out the possibility of a Scots broadcasting authority being set up responsible to the Scots Assembly. However, it has to concede that Scots broadcasters will have to have a touch-point with the Assembly or Scots Parliament as soon as it is set up.
I give three examples. The Committee has to concede that Scots Assembly Ministers will have the same right to interrupt programmes for announcements that United Kingdom Ministers have at present. It has to concede that the Assembly will have the right to debate broadcasting within the Scots dimension. It has to concede that Members of the Scots Assembly will receive copies of the reports of all the various broadcasting authorities and that they will be consulted on the shape of the Open Broadcasting Authority in Scotland.
It is naive to expect a Scots Assembly to go through all the speechifying, the debates and the process of consultation and then meekly to sit back and let the Home Office and the Departments of Education and Industry and Trade take all the decisions. I do not believe that it will happen in that way.
Secondly, and for the record, let me say that the concomitant of Scotland gaining its independence is an independent broadcasting service north of the border.
§ Mr. Reid
If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I shall answer that point in full later. I tackle, first, the position as it stands now. I shall go on to what could be done under a Scots Assembly and then I shall advance what should be done under a Scots Parliament.
1096 I must admit immediately that Scotland is not an easy country in which to broadcast. The terrain is difficult. The licence base, the advertising base, and the population base are small. It is not easy to achieve blanket radio and television penetration. However, there are still far too many "white" spots in Scottish broadcasting, especially in those remote spots that are most dependent on the media for entertainment and knowledge of the outside world. The need for good reception is in direct proportion to the remoteness of the area served. That is especially true in areas with oil-related developments where social amenities are few and where there has been a large influx of population in recent years. In such areas the need is obviously intensified.
I welcome what the Committee has to say about the extension of UHF and VHF radio coverage to the Borders, the islands and the far north. That must be a prime objective—the first media objective in Scotland. However, none of these modifications will do much to improve the quality of Scots broadcasting or get to the root of the malaise. I want to consider some of the reasons for it. As someone who has worked as a producer for "national" television in England and for "regional" television in Scotland, I suggest that there are five or six reasons.
The first reason is that Scottish television—I use the word in its generic sense—at present resides in limbo-land. Both our television channels have to attempt to provide a national service with largely regional resources. That puts tremendous pressure on channel controllers to programme right across the board. They have to put out Scots news, Scots current affairs, Scots politics and Scots information services. At the same time they have an inbuilt obligation to provide for a variety of specific Scots interest groups—for example, Scots education, religion, agriculture, law, industry and the arts. The pressures are not present on regional television companies in the North-East or the South-West to the same degree. Against that background, resources, staff and cash are spread extremely thinly.
Second, there is still intense schedule competition. The Scots viewer gets a diet of similar fare at peak hours. There is a great tendency to match like with like. In the national network channels I think that there is a fair case for saying that 1097 these days a programme scheduler has become more important than a programme producer. The ITV scheduler is anxious to gain an audience for the advertiser. The BBC scheduler is anxious to maintain a parity audience with ITV. As a result, there are problems with standards. Scots programmes tend to get squeezed out of peak hours, and budgets drop accordingly. Most of us would like to see far greater facilities for retaining opt-outs.
For example, if "World in Action", an excellent programme, is showing a programme dealing purely with Merseyside, that will not be of great relevance to the Scots. In those circumstances the Scottish controllers should be able to pull out and put in a Scots programme in peak viewing hours.
Given the fact that budgets, cash, resources and facilities are spread thinly, Scotland's wealth of creative ability is sucked south to London, Manchester or Leeds—the centres where the major network programmes are to be found.
Then there are the London dippers-in who arrive abruptly in Scotland. As a Scots broadcaster, I find it offensive that many of the major programmes on Scots oil, which is keeping the United Kingdom afloat at present, are done by people who are not resident in Scotland. They do not know the situation intimately, but are flown up for three or four days, from south of the border. These are some of the basic problems now facing Scots broadcasters.
How do we go ahead and produce broadcasting of quality in Scotland? I make three simple suggestions. I have said that broadcasting is not cheap, because of the terrain and population base. That is a prime reason for both the Scottish Council of the Labour Party and the Scottish National Party suggesting that there should be one ITV Scottish company. I make it plain that we are not suggesting the STV takeover of those excellent companies, Grampian and Border. We recognise the need for them to continue, to expand and to talk locally through sub-opt-outs to their own communities.
The reason for a single ITV company in Scotland is that then we would be getting precious close to the size necessary 1098 to qualify for membership of the "Big Five" network committee. If in ITV there were automatic Scottish membership of the network committee, we would have automatic network programmes. Given one company, the population base in Scotland would just about justify that membership. As a goal, I suggest that such a company might aim for network programmes as of right in proportion to population size: about 60 per cent. of the current network output of Yorkshire.
I turn now to the points that have been raised by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Craigen), who dealt with the post-independence situation in Scots broadcasting. It need not be a pale carbon copy of present British models. The present duopoly of public service—that is licence-financed—and commercial—advertising financed—alternatives may not be suited to Scotland's needs. For reasons of geography and population, once independence is gained there may well have to be a separate system of finance and development. That is the problem to which the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill was referring.
Given our positive resources, how do we put money into the pockets of Scots broadcasters without putting them into the pockets of the politicians? Clearly, as politicians we have no desire to influence the editorial content of broadcasting in Scotland. Much will depend on the circumstances of individuals, but I hope that there will be interdependence on broadcasting. I hope that we shall continue to receive a large percentage of programmes that are generated in England. None of us wants a small provincial "kailyard" Scotland that is turning inwards. While we want to produce our distinctively Scottish investigative and overseas programmes, we should clearly want to pay for international news—from BBC, ITN and Visnews—generated south of the border.
The important point is that we are not a region of the United Kingdom; we are a nation with regions in our own right. How do we cope, media-wise, with that? I think that there is an interesting model advanced here by the Standing Conference on Broadcasting and the Scottish National Party to the Annan Commmittee—namely, that there should be one blanket body analagous to 1099 the Arts Council or University Grants Committee that stand between the Scots Treasury and the Scots broadcaster. That is a useful bridge. Underneath we should have the respective Scots programme services. STV1 and STV2 licence-financed, STV3 Commercial, an "open" channel, and so on. In Scotland this would be on a mixed economy basis. Such a body would allow co-ordination in Scotland and avoid much of the duplication of effort that takes place at present.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has no joy in switching from one channel to another on a Saturday evening and finding exactly the same football match, or whatever, when he might be inclined to watch a bad B movie, for example, or some information programme.
Secondly, the organisation should be responsible for the collection of all finance—licensing finance and advertising levy—and perhaps, in the Scottish situation, Treasury grant-in-aid. In a small country such as Scotland there is a case for saying that broadcasting is every bit as much a public service as is the provision of drainage and electricity in remote areas with populations of under 500, and it is perfectly reasonable to expect a Treasury subvention—[An HON. MEMBER: "What sort of Treasury?"]—a Scottish Treasury, of course—in such independent circumstances.
§ Mr. Craigen
The hon. Gentleman has been quite realistic about the difficulties of the terrain of Scotland, but I hope that he has not overlooked the fact that about 90 per cent. of IBA rentals in Scotland are devoted to capital developments. If he is anxious, as I am, that television should cover the whole of Scotland, a good deal of the financial resources of the authorities will be eaten up by the erection of transmitters, and so on.
§ Mr. Reid
I accept that, and I agree that the BBC and IBA have both done a good job in extending the provision of small transmitters. Perhaps part of the levy in Scotland could be devoted to that. In this House there cannot be hypothecation of levy to broadcasting needs, but I see no reason why part of the levy in Scotland should not be used to help finance the fourth channel to bring television pictures to small communities.
1100 Beneath that broad confederal structure we should have mixed programming, with the radio companies—both BBC and IRC—continuing much as they are now.
The Scottish National Party has no desire to create an inward-looking or excessively Scottish system of broadcasting. We want a wider range and variety of service at a high creative level and a distinctive Scottish contribution to the world of broadcasting. It is a pity that the Annan Committee did not investigate the Scottish situation more thoroughly, but simply "dipped in". It is a pity that Scotland was written off as a mere "national region". Perhaps Annan forgot that by the time his report is acted upon Britannia may no longer be ruling the Scots air waves.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
I hope that the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) will forgive men if I do not follow him into the Scottish Highlands. If I were tempted to do so I should be deterred by the fate which befell my hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes) when he took pathways unknown to him.
Every speaker in the debate has prefaced his remarks with a tribute to the Annan Report. This strikes me as rather ominous. Almost the same happened a few years ago to the Pilkington Report. Everyone said what a jolly good report the Pilkington Report was, but nothing was done about it. In some respects, the Pilkington Report was a more revolutionary document than is the Annan Report. Perhaps that is why its main recommendation—that the Independent Television Authority, as it then was, should receive the advertising revenue and should redistribute it among programme contractors—was not implemented. That would at one stroke have got rid of the complete nonsense of franchising and the rubbish talked by all companies when they put forward a false prospectus in asking for a renewal of the franchise. There is not in television or in broadcasting a company which is closely following the prospectus given to the Independent Television Authority.
A very useful service was performed the other day on Capital Radio when Miss Anna Raeburn reassured the males 1101 of this country, who, perhaps, are suffering from a sense of personal inadequacy, that they need not worry too much. This was not a specifically London matter. There was nothing local about it. If there is a sense of inadequacy among the male population, it is widespread and is not confined to London. I give that illustration to show that local broadcasting is not local. It may conceivably be local in Carlisle, but it is not local in London.
Radio London does a very good and amusing round-up once a week of local newspapers. London Broadcasting broadcasts some of the proceedings of the Greater London Council, occasionally question time, but to say that these stations are really local is nonsense.
Therefore, I agree with the recommendation of the Annan Committee that an authority should be set up for the purpose of taking over local radio and ensuring that it is local. I hope that the Minister will consider that recommendation very carefully and will not reject it. There is a great deal to be said for it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead), who took us so clearly and comprehensively through the Annan Report, made it clear that the central proposition of Annan was what he called pluralism. I firmly believe in pluralism in broadcasting. I call it multiplicity. I believed in it when it was unpopular to believe in it. I was possibly the only member of my party who wanted to break down the BBC's monopoly. Hardly anybody on this side of the House was against it.
In communications and the arts multiplicity of source is essential. It struck me as utterly absurd and ridiculous that the same people who said that it would be disastrous if we were to lose daily newspapers and that we must maintain a dozen, or 20 as it was only a few years ago, organs of the Press were content that there should be one organ of broadcasting. That seemed to me untenable. Therefore, I supported the introduction of a second television channel. I agree with much of the Annan Report because it advocates multiplicity. It does not stick to the old idea that because we have a duopoly that is as far as we need go.
Annan says that local radio should have a separate degree of control. I even 1102 agree with the minority report, which suggests that BBC television and BBC sound should be separated. The greater avoidance of centralised control in the arts, communications and the media, the better. That is essential and basic. As I have said, the main Pilkington recommendation was not followed, and perhaps the same sad fate will befall some of the Annan recommendations.
I should like to deal with what should happen to the fourth television channel. Here again I turn to the idea of multiplicity. I like the Annan recommendation in this respect because it presents a new idea in television. It suggests that, instead of handing over the fourth channel to ITV, something quite different should be brought forward. What is proposed is a sort of house theatre. We already have a national theatre in the BBC. We have a commercial theatre in ITV comparable with the West End theatre. But we need a third—a house theatre which will take products from a variety of producers. It would provide something we badly lack in television. We have no fringe. Some endeavours have been made by open door programmes to create a fringe. Here we have an opportunity to create a fringe in television. We have an opportunity through the fourth channel to do all those things that are not being done, and will not be done while we have the duopoly. I regard the idea of a new approach to the fourth television channel as one which should gain widespread support. I commend the idea to my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Jenkins
It is absolutely vital that that should be so. Indeed, under such an independent organisation anyone should be able to go along to the "house owners" as it were and say "I have got an idea for a programme. Will you find me a slot?" The organisation should be responsible for what goes into the channel and for a variety of things coming from a variety of different sources without a single brand name covering them. That is essential. A tremendous contribution could be made not only to that channel but to the whole newness of television itself.
1103 The danger at the moment is that television is beginning to settle down and is falling into a pattern. We are beginning to know what sort of thing we shall see on BBC1, BBC2 and commercial television. That is all very good, but it is time that something was done to prevent television from becoming gradually worse. That is the advantage of the fourth channel.
I do not intend to take up much more time, but I want to refer to the levy which at present goes into the Treasury. The hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire talked about hypothecation. That was a word invented by the Treasury for the purpose of centralising its control. Once the Treasury has its hands on some money, whether it is State money or not, it becomes hypothecation to take it away. If there is one piece of money which the Treasury ought not to have, and it would not be hypothecation to take it away, it is the television levy. The Treasury should never have had it.
What ought to have happened was that the IBA should have been given the authority to charge a differential rate to the independent companies according to their profitability. Because the IBA was not given that right, the companies became over-profitable and the Treasury had to take the extra money away because it was becoming a public scandal. That was not Treasury money, but money from entertainment, and it should have remained in the entertainment business. It would have been entirely right for that money to have been redistributed for the purpose of regenerating the unprofitable areas. This will be necessary if, indeed, we have a fourth channel.
One of the few things mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North with which I disagreed concerned the licence. My hon. Friend suggested that Annan is a matter for the next 10 years. There is an immediate problem. Do hon. Members really think that it is tenable for people to go on paying £18 or £20 a year for something that they do not look at? All over the country large numbers of people are reluctantly paying £18 a year, and are complaining about it, because by and large they look at the other programme. They regard the licence fee as something which they ought not be paying. They see it as a BBC fee, but they watch the other side. 1104 One of the reasons for the great objection to the licence fee is not its size, but it is that people feel that they are having to pay for something they are not using. That is the sort of feeling which exists. I, and I am sure many other hon. Members, have come across that point of view. People are asking "Why should I have to pay this? I do not watch BBC. I watch commercial television."
§ Mr. George Rodgers (Chorley)
That is an extraordinary suggestion. Does not my hon. Friend agree that the same objection is made about NHS contributions? People argue that they never utilise the service and ask why they should have to pay for it. My hon. Friend has not made a very valid argument.
§ Mr. Jenkins
I think it is a valid argument, because it is a question of choice. It is something that a person does not have to do. A person can choose not to use the BBC service. However, if one is childless one still pays towards the education service. The question of choice does not arise because once a person has a child that person is entitled to make use of the education service. It is a different argument.
I therefore suggest that the way of getting over this problem is to set up a broadcasting revenue authority. This authority, in accordance with the recommendations of the Pilkington Committee, woud have the right to collect all revenue arising from television. It would handle both advertising revenue and licensing revenue and redistribute it to the various companies. In that way we would overcome the problem while maintaining the independence of the BBC. We would maintain the independence of the commercial companies by maintaining their advertising basis of revenue. We could also develop local radio and the fourth channel because we would have an authority which had nothing whatever to do with programmes. It would solely be an authority which collected and redistributed money.
I have the greatest personal admiration for my right hon. Friend in spite of some occasional disagreements, but I believe it is wrong—I suspect that in his heart he may not entirely disagree—that the Home Office should have anything to do with television, broadcasting or anything else in this area. The Home Office 1105 is not in existence for the purpose of engaging in communications and the arts throughout the country. The Home Office is essentially a restrictive organisation. What we need is the establishment of a new ministry of arts, communications, entertainment and sport. We should bring together all these areas. There should be a minister with a seat in the Cabinet with responsibility for them. We should bring the arts and communications together, and thus give them the coherence and importance they deserve.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)
There are still 18 hon. Members who wish to catch my eye before the Front Bench speeches begin at 9.20 p.m.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas (Merioneth)
The Minister will pardon me for being slightly cynical about his statement on the use of the fourth channel in Wales. In effect, it was the same kind of statement that we have had from the Home Office over the last two years. Indeed, when I met Lord Harris immediately after the publication of the Annan Report to discuss the implications for Wales and the recommendations of the report, it was very much an action replay of the meeting that I had with him when I first came to the House three years ago.
We have had a recommendation from the Crawford Committee and from the Siberry Working Party, yet there has been no real progress at all in implementing the decision to allocate the fourth channel to Wales and to give it some degree of priority. Indeed, Annan tells us that that this should be second in priority only to the extension of UHF television and VHF radio coverage. It also says that the provision of the fourth channel in Wales should certainly precede the use of the channel for the rest of the United Kingdom.
What seems to me to be emerging clearly from the Government's unwillingness to allocate any finance to the fourth network in Wales is that we shall not see any implementation of that recommendation, that there will not be any progress in Wales on the fourth network, until there is some progress on the fourth network throughout Britain. That is my main fear arising from the Government's 1106 failure to allocate resources to set up the channel. The longer this is delayed the more expensive the initial capital outlay will be on setting up the network.
The commitment, which was repeated by the Home Secretary this afternoon, was not good enough. There must be a clear statement about allocating resources to this new development. Only in that way will the commitment have any validity.
In the meantime, there is increasing frustration about the present situation in both linguistic communities in Wales. The present output of Welsh language programming by BBC Wales of 330 hours per year and the 280 hours by HTV is the maximum that can be contained within the present system. We know that throughout South-East and North-East Wales thousands of viewers have voted with their aerials and tuned in to transmitters based outside Wales to avoid having to look at programmes they cannot follow.
This means that the cultural deprivation of the English speaker in Wales is perhaps greater than that of the Welsh speaker, in that the English speaker in Wales is not being provided with programmes of his own area and interest. He is not receiving those. He has to look at programmes that are generated outside Wales. He has to look at the regional English output because he is not offered a linguistic choice on channels within Wales itself.
The proposal in the Annan Committee recommendations about which I have most misgivings is that, if the fourth channel is alive in Wales when the OBA is established, the fourth channel in Wales should become part of the OBA's responsibility. This is a basic failure on the part of the Committee to understand that Welsh language programming is not minority viewing, is not fringe—if I may use a word which has been already deployed by one hon. Member to describe how he hoped to see the OBA develop. It is an attempt to provide a broad general programme in Welsh. It is an attempt to provide a whole output of current affairs, light entertainment, sport, and so on, in the Welsh language. It is not in any sense minority viewing or a fringe development.
This was said categorically in the report of the Siberry Working Party—that Welsh 1107 language programming should be seen as a broad service and not as something exceptional, not as minority viewing.
The Broadcasting Council for Wales has expressed opposition to OBA control of the fourth channel. Siberry recommended that an authority be established to co-ordinate the setting up of the fourth channel within Wales. In my view, such a co-ordinating committee, if set up to run the channel, should be retained and become the nucleus of a broadcasting authority in Wales.
Another aspect of the Annan Committee's recommendations that needs to be criticised—here again I think that the Committee is guilty of trying to fit Wales into an all-British model as opposed to looking at the specific broadcasting problems of Wales—is the proposal that the BBC should no longer have anything to do with local radio.
The proposal to set up the LBA reflects again an attempt to pigeonhole Wales into an all-British structure when we all already have in BBC Wales exciting developments in local radio alongside the commercial radio station at Swansea which is so widely praised in the Committee's report.
We have seen the experiments which BBC Wales has done in community radio both in Welsh and in English. In those experiments BBC Wales has been not only providing a community radio service on a weekly basis in towns with a very small population—under 3,000—but has also been using programmes generated for the community radio as an input into the national network. In this way a link has been established between the community radio and the national network. Indeed, BBC Wales is planning further regional opt-outs within Wales on the basis of its existing pattern of send-outs throughout Wales. It would be a mistake to debar BBC Wales from continuing this activity in local radio and building up a relationship between community-based radio and the national network in Wales.
§ Mr. Michael Morris (Northampton, South)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the BBC, in its report "Serving Neighbourhood and the Nation", found its contribution in Wales and in Scotland to be not local radio but regional radio and derivations from that? That is relevant to some of the points made by the Home Secretary.
§ Mr. Thomas
When talking about the national network, I mean the national network in Wales. I am talking about the link established between the national programming done by BBC Wales since it made a split between VHF and medium wave, Welsh language programming on VHF and English language programming on medium wave. The concept of localised opt-outs from the main Welsh network of BBC radio should be encouraged rather than discouraged.
§ Mr. Whitehead
The hon. Gentleman is wrong. The Committee said that we wished to see extended the BBC's rôle of interpreting the different national regions of the United Kingdom. That meant a wider rôle for the BBC than the hon. Gentleman is talking about. It is not local community radio stations rooted on the ground as we have them in England. They do not have them in Wales.
§ Mr. Thomas
This is precisely what the BBC itself has been developing in Wales in its community radio experiments. If the BBC is prevented from continuing this kind of grass roots community radio within Wales it will be barred from having a fruitful relationship between community radio and the national network within Wales. That is my understanding of the recommendations. Perhaps the Home Secretary will enlighten us later.
As regards the fourth channel television, Annan refers to the question whether Welsh language programmes should be placed on one channel or whether there should still be a sprinkling of Welsh in programmes on the existing channels. This point was also made by the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) when he argued that the ITV should take over the fourth channel and be able to provide through the Welsh language the service that we have been asking for.
I believe that it would be a mistake not to concentrate Welsh language programming in one channel. By not doing that we should still be faced with the very genuine argument of viewers who are voting with their aerials. I look forward with interest to the publication of the audience research figures giving details of the split between VHF and medium wave radio to see to what extent there is or has been built up a substantial audience for VHF Welsh language radio on a split frequency which the BBC has already brought to Wales.
1109 Finally, reference was made in the other place to the fact that television and the mass media constitute a grave threat to the Welsh language. This is not my personal view. My view is that the media in Wales have made a fantastic cultural contribution both to the consciousness and to the development of Welsh language culture. Through the medium of television national communication has been established in Wales. The history of BBC and ITV in Wales shows that they have been able to establish a national culture and a national Welsh language culture which prevented such a culture from becoming purely localised.
I think that television more than anything has made the Welsh language culture our national culture. Nothing indicates this more than the growth of the Welsh pop culture, which is due entirely to the medium of television. I want to see new technologies to strengthen Welsh culture, and this can be done only if we have the fourth network and the resources to set it up.
§ 8.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)
I want to say a word about the proposals for an Open Broadcasting Authority. In reading the Annan Report I was continuously told that there could be a fourth or a fifth channel. The Open Broadcasting Authority, as set out by Annan, could not come into existence until the economy is strong enough to support the expenditure on it.
On the other hand, ITV tells me that it could set up a fourth channel by 1979 with no recourse to the taxpayer. Therefore, I would support ITV as the original organisers of the fourth channel, because if the fifth channel is there I am not damaging the concept of the Open Broadcasting Authority. However, I should prefer to see the fifth channel devoted entirely to education.
Any document purporting to be about the future of broadcasting must be portentous, and in this case it is voluminous. Obviously, it has been carefully researched and will become something of a bible for broadcasters. In my opinion, its contents rather than its recommendations are its value. I do not say this with any desire to be hypercritical of Lord Annan or any of those who worked with him, including the hon. Member for 1110 Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead). I do not find myself in agreement with many of its recommendations, and in reading the report I feel that it reaches recommendations that have little to do with the arguments that have led up to them.
I want to confine my remarks to Chapter 16 which deals with standards. It is fairly obvious that any broadcaster must ask himself one principal question about his medium. The question is basically whether he is an informer or an entertainer. The obvious answer is that he must achieve both rôles. But in the last 10 years, we have seen the broadcasting authorities placing more emphasis on being entertainers rather than on the more serious task of informing by news and views and by putting forward a balanced viewpoint between the various arguments in order better to inform the democracy.
I would go so far as to say that their attitude gives credence to the phrase that we heard some years ago—that they are inclined to trivialise great events and turn almost everything in life into an extension of show business. It is as if they have become master showmen in a world circus. As a result, they have not treated this tremendously powerful medium with the respect that it deserves. To quote Shakespeare, they seem to think thatAll the world's a stage,And all the men and women merely players".Because of that, the standards set have not enhanced our country, our society or our democracy.
These same points about trialisation, sensationalism and superficiality lie at the core of the American film "Network", which is currently showing in London, and must make us ask whether our television is going the same way as that of the Americans.
What is wrong is the cynical view of the world and its activities taken by the broadcasters about those who seek to be responsible for society. Not for nothing did the Prime Minister touch recently on the cynicism of the media, and I suspect that we are all aware of it. They think of television as being a mirror image of life when in fact it is nothing but a distorted looking-glass. Lord Hill once described it as a view that shows life, warts and all; in my view, it simply shows one aspect through the eyes of a particular broadcaster.
1111 Today too many broadcasters do not see society in positive terms with clear-cut moral standards or social values that are worth defending. They are simply knockers or questioners of authority. Certainly there is a place for that, and none of us can be complacent. But for too long this country has been suffering from too much of that sort of thing. Whether the televisers are affected by something that comes from other parts of the media or whether they are the purveyors themselves is a question that I leave to hon. Members to decide. The Annan Report touches on this aspect on pages 279 to 281 where it describes how certain important events in our lives—such as industrial relations, party politics and the Common Market—have been treated.
On standards, we must ask ourselves how we can raise them and enforce them. We know that the report goes into some detail about public concern over bad language, violence and explicit sex. But when anybody calls for some means of making these views known to broadcasters, Annan shies away. He will not hear of a broadcasting council but refers to a council for taste, which strikes me as being a million miles away from the wishes of most of us.
One viewer actually went to the trouble of counting and found that in the course of a year on one channel viewers were subjected to 3,500 murders. We must ask ourselves whether that sort of diet is all that we can get from this marvellous medium. The hon. Lady the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Colquhoun) may smile, but I wonder whether she has seen a survey which shows that one out of three children between the ages of 11 and 13 stays up to watch X and AA films from 9.30 p.m. onwards while broadcasters have the comfortable illusion that all those children have gone to bed and no harm can be done. Why are we so sure that this sort of diet has no effect at all on those who watch? Can we be really certain that the increase in juvenile crime bears no relation to programmes on television? I think that the broadcasters must say that they do not know whether there is a cause and effect, and add that "If there is any doubt, we shall not put out that material." They should take the view "If we are to put out X and AA films, we shall follow 1112 Annan and put a symbol on the screen such as that suggested by the IBA—and, better still, we shall censor out pieces of the film to bring them to the British Board of Film Censors "A" certificate standard.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
Yes, but they are not censored to that extent.
Let me turn to the subject of the Broadcasting Council. I believe that members of the public who write to the offending authority or to its chairman or to their Member of Parliament are not given the consideration they deserve. Since the Annan Report makes that point, I am following its view. There is another factor. Although members of the public will be given a reply, it will be the kind of reply which I have received in the past from Lord Hill, Sir Charles Curran and Sir Michael Swann. Those answers have ranged from the arrogant to the anodyne, but never to the apologetic.
We are told earlier in the report that parliamentarians have a check on broadcasters. That is certainly news to me. If it means that, theoretically, we are able to table Questions, I accept the point, but if it is being said that we have a check in more material form, I should like to know how it is operated.
We are also told that the Governors and the Chairman impose a check, but we see on page 120 of the Annan Committee Report thatBoth Lord Hill and Sir Michael Swann have told us how hard it is to get BBC top management to accept proposals put to them by the Governors.We then see from page 121:Sir Michael said that some producers are astonished when, having criticised some executive or business or group in a programme, their victims answer back and demand redress; and they are not only astonished but indignant if, after the hullabaloo, the Governors do not as a matter of course support the producer of the programme.If that is the case, I should like to ask who does control the broadcasters. Why should we give them total editorial freedom that is enjoyed by no other organisation in the country? The BBC exists because licence holders pay their money—and, indeed, have no say in whether they pay it. They have to put up with what is said on television, whereas when 1113 a newspaper offends, the reader is able to cancel his subscription.
I believe that we should not dismiss the idea of having an outside authority—not a tribunal of taste, but a council agreed between broadcasters and Government representing a brake on the broadcasters, a body which can take up issues of taste, violence or bias, Sir Charles Curran recently said that we were being given the kind of drama we now see on television because only Left-wing dramatists were producing material. Apparently Right-wing or centrist dramatists are non-existent. That is a curious argument if the medium is supposed to be unbiased. The question of bias is central to democracy. If one or another is able to lend itself to a particular viewpoint, and that viewpoint alone, we are all in danger.
The Government should carefully consider whether the arguments against a complaints procedure have been made out. The individual with a complaint is in a different category, but I am referring to members of the general public who wish to complain because the authorities can put those complaints on one side if they do not suit their point of view.
If the Press Council works, and it does work, why cannot a Broadcasting Council work? If we are not to have a Broadcasting Council, will the Minister say whether the Government have given any thought to giving governors greater strength than the secretariat which was suggested by the Annan Committee? If we are talking about the future of broadcasting, it is the viewer and the listener who should be given pride of place above all the technical innovations. Unless we can guarantee that their voices are heard more effectively, the system will fall short of what is required, and our broadcasting may not remain the pride of the world, as many hon. Members have emphasised it is in this debate.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Bryan Magee (Leyton)
I fear that this debate has not been forward-looking enough. I do not have in mind the trivial point that the report we are discussing is "On the Future of Broadcasting".
It has been argued by many speakers that we cannot keep tearing up broad- 1114 casting by its roots every few years to see how it is working. For that very reason the Annan Report presents us with what is likely to be the last chance we shall have in this century to revise the pattern of broadcasting in any radical way. Whatever decisions we in this House take on the report are likely to stick for another 15 years at the least and, much more likely, 20 or 25 years—which, as I say, takes us to the end of the century.
Therefore we should approach the subject with much more imagination and flexibility than we have done so far. There is much too much tendency to defend entrenched positions. That is a disappointing feature of the response with which the report has been greeted not only in this House but outside. On the night the report was published I appeared on a television programme on BBC to discuss its implications. The most striking feature of the programme was that every vested interest represented sought to defend itself. I began to think in that broadcast, as I have continued to think during this debate, that the general response to Annan is: "We approve of everything in the report except its proposals. Its argument is excellent but we do not like its conclusions." The representatives of the BBC said: "We think the report is good—but we do not like the bit about the BBC, particularly the part which says that the BBC should lose control of local radio stations".
People in ITV likewise give the report a great deal of praise, objecting only to the fact that it does not propose to give them the fourth channel. I regret to say that even the trade unions are guilty of the same kind of attitude. More than one of the trade unions with large numbers of members employed in broadcasting have shown themselves primarily concerned with defending the vested interests of their members rather than with broadcasting.
What matters most about broadcasting is the programmes, and the public who watch them. We should try to arrive at whatever organisation of broadcasting will best produce quality, diversity, integrity and entertainingness of programmes. That cannot be repeated too often. It is programmes that matter. The trouble with the policy document produced by the Labour Party three years ago was that it lost sight of that. It 1115 showed itself more concerned with the control of broadcasting than with programmes.
It is worth reminding ourselves that the four main principles enunciated in the Annan Report are: diversity, flexibility, editorial independence and public accountability. It is difficult to combine the last two, namely editorial independence and public accountability. Nevertheless we have shown ourselves to be successful in this country at devising institutions which spend public money but are not under the control of party politicians. The Arts Council and the University Grants Committee are examples. For that reason the BBC is mistaken in its fear that if the licence system is discontinued it is bound to lose its independence. This is one important respect in which I disagree with the Annan Report.
It would be perfectly feasible to devise a system whereby the financing of broadcasting came from Government money but was not under the control of party politicians. I should like to see the finance come from general taxation. That would be appropriate, because about 90 per cent of the people in this country—or at least of householders—have television, and that being so, the licensing fee functions as a regressive poll tax, which the poor part of the population is finding it increasingly difficult to pay.
But again I must stress that however broadcasting is financed it must remain absolutely free from the control of party politicians. The hon. Member for Newbury is nodding his head, but I took him to be implying the opposite during his earlier remarks. If I was mistaken, I am extremely glad I was mistaken.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson
Since censorship has been mentioned I should like to point out that we are all consumers of broadcasting. There is a Consumer Council, so why should there not be such a council for broadcasting?
§ Mr. Magee
The BBC has come out of this report very well. The point has been made that in one sense the report is a massive re-endorsement of the existing system. To some extent it is. However critical we may be about some particular 1116 points, we should remember that we have developed—although it sounds complacent to say so—the best broadcasting system in the world. Whatever changes we may make, we must preserve and extend that level of quality. That must be the first consideration.
However, there are some elements of hypocrisy in the BBC's attitude to the report. I remember the time, a couple of years ago, when in the early stages of the Annan Committee's considerations, word got round that a number of people on the Committee wanted to see the BBC broken up. The BBC was absolutely terrified. At that time the BBC would have handed over local radio almost with a laugh it it could thereby have ensured the continuing integrity of the existing television broadcasting structure. Time has passed. Now local radio—which the BBC had been prepared to hand over as though it were of little account in the total context of its whole operation—is the focal point of its criticism of the report. Indeed, the BBC is adopting a hostile attitude to the report because of that point.
It is desirable that we should have a special broadcasting authority for local radio, chiefly because of the way local radio functions within the BBC. It is a small tail on an extremely large dog. Local radio stations are, as it were, outposts of empire, a long way from the centre—under-budgeted even when they were set up, largely as an attempt to preempt commercial local radio. There has always been doubt about the motivation behind these stations, and they have never fitted happily, or totally successfully, into the broadcasting system.
I should like to see—as the Annan Report suggests—a body with local radio as its central concern. I do not want local radio to be the last concern of a body with much bigger concerns. It is always at the end of the line. Local radio can contribute marvellous things to the life of a community, especially very small communities. But it is essential that small stations should be considered as ends in themselves, and treated as such in administrative as well as other ways.
I endorse also the Annan proposal for a fourth channel. I am in favour of the fourth channel going to an Open Broadcasting Authority. Great lack of imagination has been shown so far in this debate. 1117 We are being asked to conceive something entirely new in broadcasting, and we have shown ourselves rather inadequate in forming this new conception.
§ Mr. John Mendelson
My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee) should not be too pessimistic. After all, this is a limited debate and many hon. Members may support what my hon. Friend is saying but they have not yet had an opportunity to speak.
§ Mr. Magee
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) will turn out to be right.
Within the existing set up new ideas can be developed only within one of two rather rigid frameworks—commercial broadcasting or the BBC. Anything that cannot grow up under one of those two umbrellas cannot grow up. The fourth channel, in the form advocated by Annan, would create open access for all comers. It would be an independent producers' channel—not necessarily a channel only for those people who are normally television producers, but one open to programmes from all sources. It would be much more like the traditional publishing function than the traditional editorial one. We should open our minds to that exciting new concept.
Those hon. Members opposite who are advocating that the fourth channel should go to ITV should be reminded that ITV would not only be as free as any other source to contribute to such a channel, in practice it would be—because it is the biggest independent source of manpower, finance, talent and so on—the biggest such supplier. But it should not be the only supplier of programmes to the fourth channel. And it should not control it. But, if the only concern of hon. Members opposite is to find a wider outlet for under-used talent, expertise and finance, it can be found abundantly in a fourth channel of that kind. Therefore their objections to the proposal fail. So in its two main proposals the Annan Report thoroughly deserves the support of the Government. I hope that the Home Secretary will reconsider his apparently half-hearted attitude to these proposals.
It is difficult when discussing broadcasting to ensure that matters are considered on their merits. Before he left the Chamber the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely 1118 (Mr. Freud) said that since he became a Member of Parliament he has received more letters on this issue than on any other. He added that not one of those letters was from a private constituent. They were all from interested parties or pressure groups. All of us who are concerned with broadcasting know that that is so. Alas, the general public shows remarkably little interest in the structure and organisation of broadcasting. For those who pour their life blood into broadcasting this can be hurtful. Nevertheless, it is a fact. Precisely because of this fact, hon. Members face an unusually sharp responsibility. The general public does not care, and the only people who do care are interested parties. We therefore have a double responsibility to make up our minds free from undue pressures.
There is another danger that the House may make up its mind on the basis of false values. I have heard far too many Conservatives, inside and outside approach broadcasting with an ideological prejudice in favour of the commercial principle. Equally, there are hon. Members on this side of the House who are ideologically against commercial broadcasting. These ideological stances, on both sides, are mistaken. We should try to put them aside. There is a place, as the present situation proves, for both public service broadcasting and the commercial principle in broadcasting. We should not allow ourselves to be blind to the virtues of one or the other on ideological grounds.
There are parts of the report that do not make specific proposals but should nevertheless be taken seriously. The part under this heading that deserves special consideration is the criticism of the bureaucracy of the BBC. There is quite a lot of criticism of the BBC for being overstaffed, top heavily bureaucratic, excessively rigid, and so on. I have done work for the BBC over many years, and I am involved in making a series of programmes for them now. Although I am not expressing any personal complaint—and some of my colleagues at the BBC will be angry at me for saying it—almost everyone who works with or for the BBC is forced to the conclusion that such criticisms as the report's are true. It is an excessively bureaucratic organisation. It is top heavily staffed. It does react either badly or complacently to criticism.
1119 I appeal to the BBC to take these criticisms to heart, and to try seriously to do something about them. I also appeal to the Home Secretary to think of ways of doing something about them. The great weakness of the Annan Report is that, having made these excellent critcisms, it proposes no solution to the problem. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North, who was a member of the Committee, is nodding in agreement. Solutions must be found. The difficulty is that the BBC management cannot be expected to wield the axe against itself. No one wields an axe against himself. The BBC management would rather cut anything, orchestras or anything else, than itself.
A way must be found from outside—if it does not come from inside—of making the BBC cut the bureaucracy and overmanning, without posing any threat to programmes. I am sure it can be done. It is one of the most important responsibilities of the Home Secretary, who has the ultimate responsibility for the arrangements arrived at through the drafting of legislation. But I should still like to see the BBC do as much as it can to forestall action from outside because, as I said earlier, I do not welcome interference with broadcasting by politicians.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith (East Grinstead)
I should like to confine myself to two aspects of the report—the financing of the fourth channel and the question of allowing sponsored programmes on television, especially those relating to sport. Following the custom and procedure of the House, I must declare a number of interests. I am on the IBA General Advisory Council, I am a member of the Institute of Practitioners of Advertising, a director of an advertising agency, consultant to two companies concerned with sporting activities, chairman of a consortium that hopes to obtain a commercial radio licence and, for good measure, I have a number of good friends in the BBC.
I hope that with those credentials behind me—from both sides, one might say—the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee) will acquit me of adopting an ideological and emotive stance. I am not ideologically motivated in favour of commercial television to the detriment of the broadcasting developed by the BBC. I 1120 admit that I have an ideological motivation in favour of freedom. I believe that we should have a greater variety of sources, because in that way we can contribute to a greater variety of programmes on existing channels and on the fourth channel, which I hope will materialise much quicker than will be the case if we accept the recommendation of the Annan Committee.
I suspect that this is where we differ. I agree with him and with the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead). We go around congratulating ourselves that we have the best broadcasting services in the world, and perhaps that is true, but we also have some bad broadcasting. I agree with the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins). There is a great danger of our sitting back and thinking that nothing should be done. We ought to have a look at the future.
I agree with much of the thinking in the report, and I am not being cynical when I say that I disagree profundly with some of the methods which it suggests should be adopted to achieve its objectives. In paragraph 15.18 it says thatThe greatest temptation in British television in the next 15 years will be to continue the present duopoly of BBC and IBA.I notice that the hon. Member for Derby, North agrees with that.
The report quotes with obvious approval the views of someone whom we know. He is much respected as a pundit on television, a Fellow of Nuffield College, and a former distinguished television producer. I am referring to Anthony Smith. The report quotes this statement:If the fourth channel is placed in the hands of the IBA and the companies it will complete the symmetrical straitjacket of broadcasting and continue it for ever: two public institutions would each supervise two channels and they would compete, two by two, for parallel audiences in perpetuity. In other words, awarding a new channel or even a substantial part of it to the IBA and the companies would damage broadcasting irreparably. Better not to award it at all than to place it in these particular wrong hands.With respect to Anthony Smith, that is pretentious, over-awesome stuff, and it is a pity that the Committee ever got hooked on it and served us up with a new organisation so inadequately and unrealistically financed.
I find it difficult to understand why the Committee, which praised the IBA for 1121 its governance, should paradoxically find it so difficult to concede that it could do just as competent a job overseeing a second ITV channel, approved by Parliament, to provide fresh opportunities for a greater variety of programmes from a variety of new sources and independent producers, in addition to those of the established programme companies.
§ Mr. Whitehead rose—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I know that hon. Members can intervene, but I remind the House that a number of hon. Members have been waiting all afternoon and evening to take part in the debate.
§ Mr. Whitehead
This will not be a long intervention. May I ask the hon. Gentleman why, if the Anthony Smith proposals are as bad as all that, IBA has come out with substantially the same ideas?
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
I shall come to that. Some of the thinking should be incorporated in the second ITV channel, but I do not think that we need the OBA. It is bureaucratic. It would be floated financially on extremely unsound lines. It is proposed for some time in the future, when the economy grows, when already we have an organisation that will put into operation in a very short time many of the things that the hon. Gentleman desperately wants. The Committee would have been much better advised to have stuck to the logic of its thinking rather than allow the emotional dislike of some of its members of commercial television to lead it into an impractical and wasteful compromise.
I am indebted to one advertising agency for this comment on the proposed financial arrangements. I shall not go into the details of its thinking, but I hope that the Home Secretary will take some practical financial advice from the companies that have to give advice on these matters.
According to Annan, the financing of the fourth channel would be provided by block advertising, sponsored programmes and educational grants. The analysis that I have seen is that on that basis the programming would have to cater for minority groups and not be allowed to be in competition with the BBC and ITV. On that basis, assuming that there would 1122 be 20 minutes of advertising during the day, it would yield £18 million annually. We know from the Annan Report that at 1975 prices the estimate is that it will cost about £30 million to run.
I believe that a careful study of the cost of the opportunities to bring in advertising revenue would reveal that that proposal is impractical and when one adds to it the suggestion that there should be no advertisements in children's programmes or between them, and that advertisements promoting products and services of particular interest to children should not be shown before 9 p.m.—not to mention the interpretation of what should be in an advertisement designed to be of particular interest to children—one sees that from the outset we would be saddling an enormous burden on those responsible for the OBA in embarking on a project that was inadequately financed.
One proposal by the Annan Committee that struck me as interesting and practical is that for injecting fresh cash into televised events by sponsorship. In the context of its proposals for the fourth channel, the Committee suggested that for certain types of programmes—for example, sporting and artistic events—the suggested new authority should be able to transmit sponsored programmes. When we set up commercial television we rightly rejected the system of sponsorship prevailing in the United States, whereby time is sold to a sponsor, who is then free to choose a programme and dictate its contents. As I interpret it, the Committee's recommendation is not for that type of sponsorship.
The Committee suggests a system that would permit a sponsor to buy time in order to bring to the screen a public event—for example, a sporting event-that he himself had helped to finance. In other words, the event would be something that was going to happen anyway and whose content was not being dictated by the sponsor. I presume that the extra amount of publicity and the shape it was to take would be subject to ground rules laid down by the IBA in accordance with the wishes of Parliament, just as we could impose our wishes on the IBA when it came to enriching the content of the second ITV channel.
There would be need for further safeguards. The Kerry Packer cricket deal and its unfortunate effects gave rise to 1123 considerable concern about the problems of bad commercial arrangements for televising of sport, and there is need for an arrangement to ensure that sport is not traduced and its rules subverted. It should be possible for the sponsor to make the arrangements necessary with the governing body of the sport concerned. Thereby, the sport itself would benefit and its ideals would be preserved.
Many sponsored events are already televised, with the names of the sponsors clearly to be seen. In no sport is that more the case than in cricket. The Annan Report says that this form of indirect advertising is a challenge to the principles of both the IBA and the BBC. Rightly, it says that the problem will get worse for broadcasting unless we do something about it. Improved facilities for spectators and more lucrative rewards for sportsmen are inevitably leading to higher costs. The Director-General of the BBC has complained more than once of attempts to bribe his cameramen. The problem of how to deal with this form of advertising is a complicated one, and it has led to the banning of cameras from Formula I racing. On more than one occasion a blind eye has been turned to obvious transgressions.
It is time that common sense and financial reality came together again. All of us, I hope, resent the worst forms of commercialism, be they in sport or elsewhere, but in our kind of society, which rightly rejects the Eastern European methods of State dominance, I believe that we can and should recognise sponsorship along the lines that I have mentioned and clean out a lot of the cant and hypocrisy at present enveloping the whole question of the relationship of advertising and televised sport. I believe that broadcasting can benefit from less covert means of publicity. Certainly, sport itself can benefit from the extra funds and much support from this additional investment. Meanwhile, the sponsors would be entitled a fair return in publicity for the amount of money that they had invested.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw)—with most of whose speech I agreed—touched on the question of pay-TV. There are other ways of providing for a wider range of programming. Pay-TV and cable-TV are just 1124 two. The report did less than justice to these forms of financing programmes. Perhaps the reason lies in the belief that TV belongs to and is an extension of the broadcasters and therefore that anything not transmitted by the broadcasters is an intrusion into their domain. "Parasite" was the word used in the report to describe pay-TV.
But TV is not wholly something that belongs to broadcasters. We are no longer wholly dependent upon them, technically. The advent of video-cassette machines has changed all that. With video discs and the Post Office's own view data system, all these additional facilities are on the threshold of mass consumer demand. Those who want to own or use the facilities have to pay for them. Pay-TV is such a facility, which people should be able to buy or not to buy, as they choose. They should be given that freedom, be it in their home or if they are staying at an hotel. To put it out of court, along with—for the time being—cable-TV, because it is merely distributing film material and not originating it, is like banning booksellers because they do not write books.
To conclude, whatever my strictures and reservations about the report, I should like to express my own appreciation and thanks for all the hard work put in by the members of the Committee. It has led to their producing quite the most lucid and informative report that we are ever likely to read. It is a pity, as I have said, that the Committeee's conclusions do not follow much of the logic of its thinking.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Jim Craigen (Glasgow, Maryhill)
Following, as I do, the speech of the hon. Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Johnson Smith), I must say that I found the speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) and Leyton (Mr. Magee) among the more stimulating. However, I had to keep reminding myself that they are professionals in broadcasting. Indeed, a number of hon. Members who have spoken in the debate intimated that they have either advertising interests or professional interests in broadcasting.
One cannot help but feel that the Annan Report may share something of the fate of the Layfield Report on Local Government Finance, because while everyone has been calling for reform for years, 1125 there is no clear agreement about the means by which we shall actually fund the necessary reforms. Just as the two consultative documents of last week on local government finance said, more or less, that the existing system is not so bad after all, I have a feeling that the Green Paper or White Paper on Broadcasting, when it comes, may be in similar tone.
It struck me as significant this afternoon the Secretary of State had to be drawn on the question of the BBC licence fee. It was not in the content of his opening speech—although I accept that there are limits to what can be covered in the opening speech. None the less, the fact is that finance will be the Achilles heel for both the BBC and the IBA. The question is whether the public will be prepared to pay for more and better broadcasting in the future, and it is not one that has been readily answered today. The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) said that he was not very happy about the idea of index-linked licence fees, so we shall not be placing the BBC licence fee in the same category as old-age pensions concerning index linking.
In one sense, it is important to answer the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton when he spoke about how we should cut the size of the bureaucracy, because if one just closes the tap sufficiently on the matter of the licence fee, the authorities will have to sort it out themselves.
There are, of course, some postive ways in which British television has been trying to earn money. One of these is the contribution it makes towards our balance of payments by selling programmes abroad. I know that there are certain quotas on the number of foreign programmes shown in this country, but I hope that in the foreseeable future there might be a higher content of programmes from Western Europe—and indeed Eastern Europe—with perhaps a proportionate reduction in the number of rubbishy American films that feature so often on our television screens.
I wish to make one point concerning the Open Broadcasting Authority. I note 1126 that my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North, after the diligence of three years' work on the Annan Committee, was still freshly enthusiastic about some of the Committee's proposals. There is no doubt that the OBA, or "off-beat authority", will be something of a challenge to the existing order, but we have to accept that this proposition is a long way off. Where will the money come from to finance this hybrid broadcasting authority? I agree with the hon. Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Johnson Smith) that, like Noah's Ark, we seem to do everything in twos. I am not saying that there would be no scope for a third broadcasting authority in the future, but I think that it is more in the future than the present.
I do not think that any hon. Member has yet referred to the interface between broadcasting and the Press, and perhaps this is something about which we ought to be thinking much more seriously. We are still awaiting the final report of the Royal Commission on the Press. Hon. Members will realise that the Press and broadcasting are the main means by which we get our information, apart from our entertainment and adult education. The Annan Report referred, albeit briefly, to the interlocking between commercial television and Press interests, although it added that we must not over-play this.
In the present context of the difficulties facing some of our national newspapers, quite apart from the difficulties that they get into by publishing forged letters, there is the real problem of a growing monopoly or oligopoly of news distribution in this country in the future. I think that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and his Cabinet colleagues will have to look more closely at the interrelationship between broadcasting and the Press. The newspaper industry is going through some of the same problems as broadcasting is coming up against in terms of technology and inflation.
There is a need for some kind of strong independent audience research, which could perhaps be coupled with an effective complaints procedure against the broadcasters, which must exist in any free society, just as we have a procedure against the Press.
I have one more point to make on a matter referred to by the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire 1127 (Mr. Reid). Many of us would like to see the television companies in Scotland making a bigger contribution to the national network. The problem is one of trying to balance cultural aspirations with the technological financing of the industry.
A significant point was made by the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) who said that television had generated a great interest in cultural matters. That is fair, but it cannot be divorced from the sheer cost of financing an effective television set-up. I cannot help feeling that, in spite of the enthusiasm shown today by my hon. Friends about the future of broadcasting and the need to set up an Open Broadcasting Authority, when the BBC charter and the IBA contracts come up for renewal, in 1979, the watershed year, it will be a matter of "stay as you were". I do not think we shall be ready to grasp the opportunities that now face us in broadcasting.
§ Several Hon. Membersrose—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
Order. Five speeches at five minutes each will enable all hon. Members who wish to participate to be accommodated.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)
I am in the world of advertising, though not, as the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee) suggested, ideologically committed only to commercial television. If I have any ideological commitment it is to the difference between broadcasting and narrow-casting. That point has not been brought out in the debate.
I am frustrated at having only five minutes in which to speak, and I hope that the Home Secretary will give an assurance that once the White Paper is published we shall have a full debate. If that happens, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I hope that I shall be able to catch your eye at an earlier point in the evening.
I believe that it is most important for the Government to make absolutely clear to the BBC that its licence fee is not dependent on maintaining a 50 per cent. share of the audience. This point crops up in almost every conversation that I have with BBC people. It is an unfair yardstick to apply to their performance.
1128 Secondly, I believe that licence fee increases should be contained. The BBC must look for economies, and in looking it might come to the conclusion that it should divest itself of local radio—not to eliminate those stations that are so well established but purely as an economy measure. I believe that reductions in the bureaucracy are possible. An hon. Member who worked for the BBC confirmed that earlier. I wonder what other economies there might be.
In addition, could not the BBC be charged with the investigation of more cost-efficient yet politically independent ways of raising its own finances? Programming by a new and entirely independent authority would be more rather than less likely aggressively to seek audiences in order to establish its own existence among viewers.
Therefore the fourth channel should evolve as a complementary service, not as a totally separate and competing one. We must remember that there will eventually be much competition locally from cable television, video cassettes, video discs and teletext systems and the like.
Programming could be kept to the sort of quality and balance envisaged by the Annan Committee only if it could be planned as part of a balanced two-station system, because otherwise it must abandon its principle and seek out its audiences or, inevitably, there must be a drop in standards as interest wanes.
Local radio needs extending, and that should be left to the commercial companies, because that would put the least burden, if any burden at all, on the taxpayer. It would, in addition, include the establishment of satellite stations to those stations already created. The present local BBC stations should be continued.
I also believe that one day there may be room for a Local Broadcasting Authority. I do not believe that it is necessary at the moment, from a cost standpoint and because there is not sufficient responsibility for it to take under its wing.
I deal now with two technical points, the first relating to the comments on advertising during the so-called "Children's Hour". This overlooks the safeguards already existing in the ITA code. It genuinely underestimates the power of choice and decision among children 1129 today. I speak from perception of my own children. It is a somewhat peculiar logic that children should be stopped from watching commercials aimed at them whereas there should be no limitation on their watching commercials aimed at their parents. The loss of revenue from that time segment might lead to a diminished quality of children's programmes.
My other point has to do with research. Co-ordinated research could be valuable. We have to be careful that it is more cost-efficient than present research and that quality does not suffer. I welcome the suggestion for a complaints tribunal. I question the idea of an institute of broadcasting affairs. I am reassured by the assurance that broadcasting is to remain responsible to Parliament. I ask the Home Secretary to make it possible for us to have annual debates on the reports of the BBC and the IBA, since that is essential if we are to have this responsibility.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Mr. George Rodgers (Chorley)
Few would dispute that the Annan Report contains much that is of great merit. A great deal of it will be accepted and approved by the majority of hon. Members, certainly by those employed within the service and by the broad community outside who receive the programmes. My criticism of the report relates almost exclusively to the observations and recommendations concerning regional television and local radio.
In this area I find the report to be not only ill-researched but contradictory in places and certainly offensive in some of its remarks about those who work in the regions. To suggest that the situation there was bizarre and rustic and that there was introspection in the regions was unnecessary and has been resented by those employed in the regions by the BBC.
The Annan Committee describes broadcasting in Britain as an "inhibiting duopoly" and it proposes that the BBC should cut back on its regional services and that the commercial companies should become responsible for a single service regional television system. To seek to remedy a problem created by duopoly by establishing a monopoly is a curious thing. By definition, a monopoly forbids competition, and in my view the 1130 proposition, if carried into effect, would result in a stifling monopoly based on commercial considerations. Annan claims that there is only small evidence of attempts to interfere in programme content by those who provide the revenue. If the commercial stations had the field to themselves, the circumstances would be completely changed. Then there would be enormous pressure by those who pay the piper to dictate the tune.
There is a greater danger. If a monopoly by a commercial outlet is tolerated at regional level there will inevitably be a demand for a similar arrangement at national level. At present the independent television service is bound to respond to the yardstick of quality provided by the BBC. Should this criterion cease to be available the standard of television broadcasting would surely diminish to what Annan describes as pop and prattle. There would be an attempt to maximise audiences for the benefit of commercial interest.
There is the illusion that commercial television is "for free." In reality, the cost of the advertisement is added to the price paid by the consumer purchasing the goods advertised. I see no evidence to suggest that any article has become cheaper as a result of its virtues being proclaimed on radio or TV.
In current economic circumstances the rôle of the advertiser is somewhat odd. Government policy is designed to persuade the public to restrict their spending and accept a lower level of incomes. At the same time, we have advertisers seeking to persuade or stimulate people to indulge in an orgy of spending, usually on trivialities.
I am concerned substantially about local radio, especially in the area with which I am most concerned, namely, the North-West. Fewer than half the Annan Committee spent less than half a day with the BBC in Manchester. None of the Committee visited the regional television operation or showed any interest in it. I believe that in 1966 and 1967 the North-West regional television operation cost £840,000. It went out to a potential audience of 7 million. That works out at 1p per person per month. Surely that is a small price to pay to 1131 prevent an insidious commercial monopoly.
There has been little correspondence on this subject, but I have been advised by some of my constituents that I should defend BBC local radio to the death. I am prepared to go a little way along that road. BBC local radio provides a unique and intimate service. It recognises that hon. Members are prepared to broadcast at the drop of a hat. It has recognised that hon. Members do not warrant a substantial fee, as is paid by the major stations. It provides a service to the in-living communities and minority groups. I believe that that would be siphoned off if left in the hands of commercial operators.
I cannot anticipate that commercial interests would be prepared to support a consumer programme that was critical of consumer provision and to interlock that programme by occasionally advertising the very goods in dispute. I know of a consumer programme in Manchester that has 1,500 calls a year. That programme would be put at risk if the proposals in this sphere were implemented.
I hope that we look upon the Annan Report and act upon it with common sense and decency. I hope that we reject those parts that are in defiance of those objects.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)
I very much agree with the Home Secretary that independence is precious. The right hon. Gentleman has said so, as has my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw). Every hon. Member has recognised the preciousness of independence of the authorities. That applies to the IBA, the BBC or any new authority.
The Annan Report properly said that during the war it was the BBC that was trusted world-wide for its independence of views and news. It was never a propaganda unit. That should be remembered.
The report concentrates on the duopoly and the need to drop it. I do not follow it in that respect. I do not think that the matter is so serious as it is claimed to be in the report. I want to see the BBC preserved. I am a great admirer of it, with all its faults, warts and all. I want to keep both the BBC and the IBA.
1132 Competition has greatly helped the BBC. It has become sharper. It has lost much of its old-fashioned image and has achieved greater ratings than the IBA in many instances and on many occasions.
Competition has helped to produce a well-balanced independent television service. It is well balanced in as much as it has not gone down the drain like heavily commercialised television in the United States. I was on the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries that examined the old ITA some years ago. Mr. Stanton, the President of CBS, told us that he had to take live theatre out of the programme of the CBS network in the United States because he could not achieve a 25-million audience. He had to give way to re-run films and old Westerns that would capture a greater audience. He told the Committee that the power of commerce and the power of advertising—I used to serve in advertising to a greater extent than many of my colleagues—had driven the good out of television as provided by a commercial service. This was said by one of the most influential commercial television people in the world, the President of the Columbia Broadcasting System. In this country, however, we have managed to keep the two in contradiction to each other but balancing, competing and helping each other.
It is not so much a question that the BBC and the IBA have a responsibility for what they produce but that they should be responsive to the public. That is brought out clearly in the Annan Report. I have read the Report. A great deal of work is involved in reading it, as the Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border admitted. It contains 500 pages, but it is worth reading. The report said that both authorities must not only continue to be responsive but must be more responsive and must get closer to the public.
I agree. I do not wish a Public Enquiry Board to be set up. I merely wish the present authorities to be more accessible to the public. The Governors of the BBC and the members of the IBA should go out to meet people in the regions and to listen to their views, as hon. Members listen to their constituents. They must be more visible. They must not sit in Broadcasting House or in the IBA premises thinking that they are visible. They must 1133 meet the people and explain their reasons for their actions.
I have a letter, which I do not have time to read, from Sir Michael Swann as a result of a complaint which I transferred to him' from a constituent about a play on television early this year which depicted an explicit rape scene. I had a good explanation from Sir Michael, who is Chairman of the BBC's Board of Governors, setting out why he felt that the scene should be shown. It has helped me, and I think that it has helped my constituents who complained, to understand that there is another side to the coin.
Unless the authorities make themselves accessible to the public, that understanding will not be possible. They must remember that they are not like the producers of a play during the first night at a great London theatre. There are no first nighters or critics of the performance in the gallery. There is no worry about whether the show will have to come off after the first night. The BBC and IBA must remember that there are not catcalls or boos. The public are very disturbed occasionally by what they see on television. Television is different from the theatre and the cinema and from what one can read in a book. It is seen collectively in the home by our children and friends. We have not reached the stage of having a television set in each room.
The authorities have a big responsibility to be responsive to the public. They have a responsibility to censure but not to censor. They must catch the producer by the arm in the studio and say "People do not like what you are doing. They do not like all this bad language. There is perhaps another way of doing this". The producer may say "This is real. This is what happens in Britain." The Annan Report rightly says that the producers should be caught by the elbow rather than twisted by the arm. This is typical of the Annan Committee's understanding of the English language and of current feeling in the country.
As Lord Clark has said, the authorities have an opportunity to enlarge their knowledge and to stimulate interest, and even to change their views and attitudes. They have the opportunity to hold up a mirror to nature. We should not underestimate their influence. We may say that 1134 they have no influence on our behaviour, but the advertisers who book IBA lime recognise that they have an influence: they book time for that reason.
The broadcasting authorities have a great responsibility. They must be more responsive to the public. The only accountability I want them to have is to be directly accountable to the public by going out to meet them. They must remember their accountability to Parliament and to the Government and bear in mind the criticism that they received from hon. Members in voicing the opinions of their constituents about what they hear and see. That is the only accountability that I want to see. I want to see the authorities maintaining their independence.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Ms Maureen Colquhoun (Northampton, North)
In the short time available to me I want to say that I am against the increase of commercial enterprise in local radio stations. I believe the end results of such an increase will be a number of things, like a brief news flash, pop music, phone-ins and the sale of products. One has only to look at what has happened to radio in the United States to see the progressive horrors of such a policy. A great deal of local air time there is spent on the phone-in, when people are engaged in selling things to each other. All that more commercial radio in the United Kingdom will result in is a kind of "Exchange and Mart" of the air, briefly interposed with the time of the day or night, the latest world disasters—laughingly called news—and the trendiest pop group, which will be called music, also heavily influenced by the debilitating pressures of commercial considerations.
The whole concept would be a travesty of broadcasting. The BBC has no doubt been and still is of inestimable value to Britain and the outside world, but it is—and this has been its overwhelming failure—a very insular group. It is also an overstructured one. Decisions are made from the top, and entry to the organisation is from the bottom, working one's way up. This has resulted in the "Beeb type" insular mind, where original ideas are nearly always sapped by the bureaucratic structure. People are sent out to the provinces hopefully in order to progress to Portland Place. They naturally tend to toe the "Beeb" line.
1135 I want to talk about that part of Annan which has concentrated on the question of trust radio. I have an interest in this. I am a trustee of a non-profit making group, which is hoping to set up a women's radio service that is in no way meant to be confused with BBC Radio Four's "Woman's Hour", which, typically with the BBC structure, broadcasts in the early afternoon. Any item of faint interest to working women, now well over one-third of all adult women in this country and the highest percentage in Europe, is never heard, nor can be heard. "The Voice of Women" plans to broadcast international news concerning women—particularly in the Third World—not covered by any existing news service, as well as conditions of employment, housing, education essential to Britain's growth, and progress reports on the Equal Opportunities Commission, its achievements, and how women can best use its facilities. The Arts, women painters, musicians and poets get hardy any coverage at all, in the traditional broadcasting sense. That was a feature of the Annan Committee—a diversity of broadcasting interests.
We shall also broadcast women's sports, because the media has always assumed this to be a male prerogative. It is assumed that women make the tea or sandwiches and that the men play the cricket. One has the impression that only tennis is considered by men to be a nice female game, because that is basically the only sport ever covered.
Women play as well as work. With all the pressures in today's society I do not know how women get the time to play after they have looked after their homes, their husbands, done the shopping and taken an outside job. As for health information, there is hardly any coverage at the moment. Almost non-existent is information about cervical smear tests, breast examinations, contraception, abortion, and the menopause. There is a lack of basic information on all these issues, which could well be covered by a women's radio service. That is why a group of women have got together to set up a non-profit making trust to communicate women's news at a time when women, and particularly working women, can listen.
Annan has shown that wavebands are available and that more air time can be 1136 used. Although the Committee does not speak of discrimination against women other than in the career structures of the IBA and BBC, and having taken note of the information supplied to it by "Women in Media" and other organisations, one would have wished that it could take a look at the indirect discrimination in programming. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that there is a real need for a radio frequency that will provide a service for over half the population of the country.
I end with a protest. I have sat in this Chamber for the whole of this debate and I have been told at the end that I can squeeze my speech into five minutes. When I think that I have been the only woman speaker and that I have listened to the waffling of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen, who have sometimes gone on for over 35 minutes at a time, I am disgusted. I hope that the Speaker's Office, if it is going to censor speeches or impose a time limit for speeches, will think very carefully about this at the beginning of debates and not constantly put some hon. Members who are not as favoured as others in situations in which they have to carve their speech and garble it.
I was not sent here by the electors of Northampton, North to be constantly placed in that situation, but that is what has happened to me in at least four debates and I am disgusted by it—and I hope, with respect, Mr. Speaker, that you will take note of it.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Lady knows that whoever is in the Chair does his best. Other hon. Members feel just as strongly because they have not been called.
§ 9.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Morris (Northampton, South)
I have just three minutes. May I first declare an interest as a director of an advertising agency?
I welcome the extension of local radio suggested by Annan. I ask the Home Secretary to reflect again about the need for a new body. The BBC controls both radio and television successfully. I think that there is a misunderstanding of the rôle of the IBA. Radio Orwell, Radio Swansea and Radio Clyde are all good, successful, commercial stations which 1137 need relatively little interference or supervision from the IBA. They are models for the future. They indicate also something that a number of us questioned in the early days, when we doubted whether commercial radio could successfully deal with both the urban environment and the small rural community. These stations are a good example of stations that have successfully dealt with the problem.
We need to recognise also the evidence of Annan, that where the BBC and commercial radio are in competition it is the commercial sector to which the public respond.
As to public resources, if it costs £250,000 to set up a local radio station, as the BBC says, in my community in Northampton if there is £250,000 of public money going we should prefer it to be spent in the hospital service rather than on a public local radio.
It would be a great pity if the BBC were to opt out of regional television. There is a need for the BBC to maintain competition with the regional ITV networks. There is a danger—one reads between the lines—of the BBC's opting out of regional television.
The report contains just a few lines about charity advertising. The Home Secretary and his Department need to have a close look at this question and provide revised guidance for the many charities that wish to use the commercial network in future, whether it be radio or television.
My final point is that I do not think that commercial radio or local radio through commercialism can wait for two, three, or four years. This is an area of decision for local radio in which we need action in the relatively near future.
§ 9.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Critchley (Aldershot)
I shall be mercifully brief. This has been a good debate and a good-natured one as well. If we do not have the experience of some on the subject of the Annan Report, such as those who spoke last week in another place—Lord Hill, Lord Annan, Lord Aylestone and Lord Windlesham—we have at least in the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) one member of the Annan Committee who is more of a minority 1138 report in himself. I hope to come later to some of the points that he made.
All speeches should begin with a resounding statement of the obvious, and most do. My statement is no less important for being obvious. It is that Britain enjoys the best radio and television in the world, and that we should all be concerned to try to improve it.
Having said that, I stress that the Conservative Party speaks not for the BBC or even for ITV, but for the many millions of viewers. The Conservative Party is not responsible for Annan. In 1970 we stood down that small army of workers and intellectuals because we thought it was wrong to subject the industry to yet another investigation. We thought that this would postpone decisions such as that on the fourth channel. Annan was given the kiss of life by the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) and the Annan Report—all 500 pages of it—is the result.
Love it or loathe it, it is a highly literate report, and for the time being at any rate we are obliged to live with it. When the recommendations of the Committee were first published I described them as a dog's breakfast. Perhaps that was rather hasty.
Does the Home Secretary have any news on the investigation that I believe he is conducting into how a copy of the final revise of the Annan Report fell into the hands of the Observer newspaper for, I am informed, the sum of £1,000? Has the culprit been apprehended? How like the Observer to know the price of everything.
If the Annan recommendations are not a dog's breakfast they are perhaps a frito misto in which one finds a large amount of squid. They are a curious melange. They succeed in being both conservative and radical at the same time. They are conservative in that they acknowledge the merits of the British system and the standards of programmes that have been the result. The BBC is not to be carved up, and there is not to be a central super body imposed on the BBC and the IBA. The sources of finance will remain the same—the licence fee for the BBC, and commercial advertising for IBA. Most important of all the freedom of broadcasters from political 1139 control is upheld. So far, an alpha at least.
The radical element is seen most plainly in the hostility that Annan shows towards ITV and especially to advertising. The IBA is to be rusticated. It is to become the Regional Television Authority and it is not to be given the fourth channel. On page 241 of the report Annan asks:what could have been easier in the short term and cheaper in terms of public expenditure than to have recommended that the fourth channel be allocated to the IBA for a second ITV service?What indeed? Annan goes even further. The report states that it is not lack of confidence in ITV to hand over the goods that led to the conclusion to award the fourth channel to the Open Broadcasting Authority. Should we then not ask what was the overwhelming reason for this conclusion, if it be neither business nor ability? I quote from page 241 of the report:It is simply that in our belief an ITV2 will result in worse television services than we have now because the BBC and ITV will engage in a self-destructive battle for the ratings.Where has Annan been all its life? Why should a so-called "battle" be self-destructive? Somewhere in the report Lord Annan claims that the advent of ITV has served to improve programmes. Would not the OBA have to compete for viewers with ITV 1, BBC 1 and BBC 2?
Am I being unfair in detecting in the report a high-minded disapproval of commerce and of advertising? There is the flavour of Whiggery about the report. I sometimes hold Whiggish views, but unfortunately I am landed with a Conservative income. The report has a whiff of exquisite patronage. It is written by those who rarely watch the box for the rest of us who do.
The Committee gives the game away in one small recommendation, namely, that commercials should not be shown during programmes specifically designed for children. Are our children to be protected from advertisements as well as from hard drugs, wood alcohol and strong tobacco? Does Annan believe advertisements to be corrupting? Evidently he does. That such an attitude shows a mistaken "rectitude" is not surprising. What is perhaps more surprising is the fatuity of the suggestion.
1140 For three years I wrote nightly about television for The Times. My notices were racy and inaccurate, but it at least gave me a marginal advantage over the overwhelming majority of hon. Members who rarely watched television but only appeared on it. Perhaps I should absolve the hon. Member for Derby, North. While I was watching bad television, he was producing it. To be fair to the hon. Gentleman, the only bad programme he produced was the one in which I starred.
My duties as a television critic allowed me to begin to understand the extent of the anxiety of the public about certain aspects of television. We, as politicians, are in the anxiety-relieving business, and so is Lord Annan. I think that we can distinguish at least three different kinds of anxiety—sex, which is intimately linked with the name of Mrs. Whitehouse; violence, for which there is no one parent; and distortion or bias, which has many fathers drawn equally from every political party.
I do not share Mrs. Whitehouse's obsession with sex—or, to put the matter another way, I do, but in a different way. I have never thought that television is a medium that has been more guilty of sexual misbehaviour than any other. In fact, the controls on sex on television are far more strictly observed by the broadcasting authorities than are similar controls upon films or theatre.
The broadcasting authorities are inclined to put on any programme with a sexual content late at night—which is a reasonable thing to do, except that they hold the curious view that all children are safely in bed by 9 o'clock.
Sex is often to be found in television drama, especially in the Wednesday Play. I think that I can claim to be—I shall be happy to give way to the hon. Member for Derby, North if he wishes to contradict me—the only Member of Parliament ever to have written a Wednesday Play. It was a bad Wednesday Play, but then most them were bad. It was never screened. I was asked to go away and rewrite the third act. I refused to do so, because my theme was a row between a Conservative Member of Parliament and his executive committee, and slap in the middle of my rewriting I was adopted as Conservative candidate for Aldershot.
I refuse to march on London with Mrs. Whitehouse under her flags or banners, 1141 most of which are made from lace curtaining material. None the less, Mrs. White-house speaks for many people. She would make an admirable Member of Parliament, for she reflects the anxieties of many people—anxieties that would be more properly directed not at the box but at society itself. But we should not offend these people. They are as entitled as anyone else to their point of view.
If broadcasting has a peculiar sin it is that its values are very much those of the London-based middle class—NW1 rather than SW3—as opposed to those of the rural, semi-rural and urban, working and middle classes. The purpose of broadcasting should not be to give offence to the majority of its viewers. There is a tendency for television to be blamed for the sins of society, particularly sex and violence. Lord Annan was right in saying that violence on the box is a matter of moral judgment—indeed, of moral aesthetics. It is true to say that the British enjoy violence, but at second-hand. Yet, for all our anxieties, we live in a remarkably non-violent society. I cannot remember the last occasion upon which I saw a fist fight in public, but perhaps, unlike the majority of my hon. Friends, I live an especially sheltered life.
There are two kinds of screen violence—real life and fictional. Fictional violence has become so stylised that, with certain exceptions, one accepts the ritual violence of Westerns, gangster films and crime series. They really do not impinge on the sense of reality of the overwhelming majority of those who watch. The degree of violence in a crime series is a matter for the broadcasting authorities, who must draw the line—an exercise that is far from easy.
However, I sometimes feel that we are far too squeamish in terms of showing the effects of real violence on the screen. However admirable our motives, we ought not to disguise the horror that results from an assassination or the explosion of a bomb. We might learn to hate violence the more if we were made fully aware of what it really means. We do not really know the effect of television violence upon the watcher. For every sociologist who says one thing we can find another who takes the opposite view. We can at least agree that some violence on the screen may cause some people, 1142 who are already predisposed towards violence, to act savagely. Of course, films and football matches can do the same thing.
Perhaps the most useful point that I can make is that what matters is not so much how much violence one sees as the attitudes implicit in the violence in the programme. Violence never ought to be presented as the solution to anything.
Another public anxiety concerns distortion or bias. Television suffers from a natural inherent defect in that it holds up a distorting mirror to the world and the image often bears little resemblance to reality. It also gives scope to some producers to use the uniquely powerful medium of television not for informing but for persuading. However, television is organised on the basis of editorial control and the obligation to strive for some sort of balance.
As a newspaper journalist—though how much longer I shall remain one depends on the NUJ—at least I enjoy the luxury of expressing my own opinions in print, reading my own opinions and re-reading them. Were I a producer I could understand the frustrations if under instructions from above not to persuade but only to inform. In the past, broadcasting has recruited clever young men, mainly from Oxford and Cambridge, who were more likely to be dissatisfied than satisfied with society. A bright and ambitious young man dissatisfied with society will, if he takes a very long view, join the Army, and if he prefers the middle-term view he will join the BBC. A person basically satisfied with society will become either an advertising executive or a merchant banker.
There is one Committee recommendation that should be scrutinised with special care, because it goes to the heart of the relationship between broadcasters and this House, namely, the recommendation in paragraph 17.58 to modify the requirements placed upon broadcasters to ensure impartiality. The rule that broadcasting authorities should not broadcast their own opinions and should ensure a fair spread of the opinions of others is fundamental to broadcasting in Great Britain. It is written into the broadcasting Acts and is an obligation accepted by the BBC each time the charter is renewed.
1143 In the relevant paragraph, the Committee proposes a drastic modification of the way in which this principle should be applied. Indeed, it is so radical a modification as to put the principle in grave danger. In an earlier paragraph the Committee endorsed and praised the whole principle of impartiality, but it went on to recommend thatthe requirement for impartiality should not preclude committed public affairs programmes from having a recognised place in broadcasting outlets".The word "committed" is one of those sly words that sociologists and propagandists use when they want to get into our minds an idea that, if expressed forthrightly, we should find unacceptable. In this context it means slanted and biased. If those words are too strong for the hon. Member for Derby, North I shall use the word "opinionated", which the Committee itself uses later in the report.
If the recommendation that broadcasters should establish a regular series of reports on film using commentators who are clearly identified as Conservative, Labour, Liberal, Marxist or National Front—and National Front should be verbally underlined, because that is what the opening of such choices implies—no doubt a case could be made for it on the ground of freedom, just as some years ago, in one summer when "Panorama" was off the air, the BBC handed over that spot on Monday evenings to the Spectator, the New Statesman, Tribune and The Economist to give their versions of the week's events. The result was unwatchable, but it was fair.
If the recommendation means that some people should be invited, as in the excellent BBC series "One Pair of Eyes", to give opinionated accounts of their opinions, it would be valuable, but the recommendation goes far wider than that. It is not just a matter of using an opinionated film script and commentary to argue issues that are mostly debated in the studio; it is a proposal that reporters and producers should go to the trouble spots of the world, such as Ulster and Rhodesia, and report from there in a way that intermingles fact and opinion and gives not only information but information with a slant on it.
The people of this country have not yet developed the immunity to assertions on 1144 television that they have fortunately developed to assertions in respect of the written word.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
With the permission of the House, I should like to speak again briefly.
I thought that the elegance of the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) matched, to some degree, the elegance of the Annan Report, and I hope that the House will forgive a more fustian reply. I was glad to hear that the hon. Gentleman believes that violence is rare in this country, if only because when I conclude this speech I shall begin preparing one for the Police Federation Conference at Scarborough on Wednesday.
It is commonplace to say "this has been an interesting debate", but I have listened for most of the day, and from my listening post I have learned a great deal. I have found this a questioning debate, and one can ask for no more than that.
I felt that the only one who spoke with certainty was the hon. Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan). His certainty on everything about broadcasting matched that of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) in another respect. I am not wishing to be rude in drawing that analogy. I made the point about certainty, and I meant what I said.
There are many questions to be settled about broadcasting. Because time is short, I take up one point made by the hon. Member for Aldershot—programme content, about which not a lot has been said. The hon. Gentleman's views are very interesting. There are problems about content. There is the influence of advertising. I have noticed it over the years with my children, but I do not worry too much about it. I think that if one brings one's children up in what one regards as the proper way they can resist that influence. I am not always satisfied with what is done in advertisements.
I am concerned about violence. I think that to brush it off too easily ignores the influence that it has in society as a whole.
There are two matters on which I think I can help the House. The hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Cooke) said that 1145 it would fall to the next Government to implement Annan. We shall see. Perhaps I should remind the House that we do not have an unlimited amount of time at our disposal. The BBC's Charter and the IBA Act expire in 1979—in two years' time. There must be legislation, at any rate for IBA. I note the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that the BBC should be transferred into a statutory body. Clearly this legislation must be passed in good time for July 1979 because, whether it is renewal or new legislation, all the programme companies come up for their contracts to be renewed.
I hope that both sides of the House will take note of the fact that there is not a lot of time available in which to take decisions. I suppose that we shall have to renew for a short time if we cannot make up our minds on the most important issues, but I hope that we can do so and that we can provide the framework for broadcasting for the next decade and possibly longer. It will be a substantial Bill, and, to judge from today, there will be substantial argument. However, we shall see.
With regard to the debate as a whole, I have noticed that there is agreement on the concepts of a public service and a public authority. Those seem to be generally agreed. There is clearly wide support for the Committee's proposals for a Broadcasting Complaints Commission to deal with complaints about misrepresentation and unfair treatment in programmes. There seems to be a substantial measure of agreement that pubic hearings by the authorities themselves might be used more extensively, and that the Committee's proposals for a Public Enquiry Board for Broadcasting should be rejected.
On the major issue of the OBA, ITV 2, and so on, I detect signs on both sides of the House that, whatever decision might be taken, there is a wide measure of agreement that the fourth channel should, as far as possible, provide something different rather than more of the same.
I now propose to say something about licences.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that a decision on the use of the fourth channel in Wales 1146 was reached by the Government years ago but that we are still waiting for that decision to be implemented? The reason given for its not being implemented is a shortage of money. In the meantime, £12 million has been spent in Germany to establish an English channel that is seen, apparently, by 38,000 people.
§ Mr. Rees
I do not want to get involved in the question of BAOR and what the Ministry of Defence does. However, I remind the hon. Gentleman that there has been a step forward. Home Office officials and officials of the Welsh Office are studying how the preparatory work should be done. I may say that I was impressed by the forward-looking remarks of the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) about television in Wales. But a fourth channel in general will require money, and in the current economic situation the money is not available.
There is also the interesting question whether the BBC should continue to be financed by means of the licence fee. My hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) mentioned advertising; other suggestions have been for the use of the levy on Independent Television or a direct Government subvention. My concern would be that any change made should do nothing to remove the independence of the BBC. If it was dependent on taxation or money from another source, there would be a problem in ensuring that its independence was not threatened in any way. That aspect is of great importance.
With regard to the financing of the OBA, the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) said that he had understood me to say that I found the problem of the financial viability of the proposed authority to be a fatal flaw. I did not say that, but there is no doubt that it would present a real problem that we must sort out in considering it.
There have been suggestions that if the fourth channel were to be given to ITV, it would be possible, by use of spare resources, to provide a new service quickly and cheaply. It may be—and this is for the broadcasters themselves—that some use could be made of existing facilities for making programmes. But the House will appreciate that, whatever arrangements are made, there will be a real cost in resource terms.
1147 Since this is so, there will, as Lord Annan has pointed out, have to be a judgment how to use available money and resource. Should we concentrate on the completion of the UHF programme, so that as many people as possible can receive television services? We have mentioned the Welsh fourth channel. How much should be spent on local radio? There may be a balance of argument between all these proposals, but all of them require resources.
I turn now to the question of cable television. The present services of the Cable Television Association are licensed by me. The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border, who mentioned cable television, may have had in mind pay-TV. The problem here is whether pay-TV would syphon off programmes from national television and so impoverish it. Certainly, a decision by the individual viewer would be more easily taken with pay-TV. There are also other local cable services—both television and sound broadcasting experiments, such as those at Milton Keynes and Swindon. The problem here is how to supervise such developments.
The future of cable services raises much wider and long-term problems. The Annan Committee envisaged in the future the provision of a national and wide-band cable network to carry communications services of all kinds. There are conflicting claims as to how much a cable network might be provided. As the Committee records, a number of organisations, including the Post Office Engineering Union, have urged that the Post Office should be given the sole responsibility for providing this network, which raises wider questions in the long term than the simple provision of entertainment. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Post Office and its research and development work at Dollis Hill and Martlesham and other places. The public sector is often allowed to be better at research and development than at implementation.
There are wide implications for the future in considering the question of cable television. The Cable Television Association is anxious that it should play some part. It would be premature for me to make any decision on the matter now. I will simply say that it is important.
§ Mr. Freud
On the subject of cable television, does the right hon. Gentleman 1148 not agree that there are areas and pockets of reception in this country where the only way in which a decent picture can be obtained is by existing cable services? Promising to look carefully into the matter of giving it all to the Post Office is an enormous disincentive for those firms that are now providing a valuable service from continuing with it.
§ Mr. Rees
I understand that, too. However, either way, my job tonight is to cast the net widely. No decision has been taken. I am simply saying that the sort of cable provided for entertainment would not of itself be suitable for the scientific developments that would take place on a wider scale in the future. That illustrates the sort of decision to be taken.
With regard to Scottish television, mentioned by the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid), the Annan Committee commented upon the problem of providing an identifiable Scottish television and radio service. I think that the hon. Gentleman was fair about the problems that arise. I asked for some figures. I find that in 1975–76 the BBC provided 538 hours of television in Scotland and 2,400 hours of radio. The three independent television companies provided 1,076 hours of television. However, the House will appreciate that the provision of television in Scotland is expensive.
§ Mr. Rees
Again, the hon. Gentleman made that point. But very broadly, Scotland provides less than one-tenth of the total licence revenue. The licence revenue would, therefore, have to be multiplied many times if Scotland were to bear the full cost. That is a point that the hon. Gentleman fairly made about the revenue that comes in from broadcasting. I am not making a point other than to say, amplifying what the hon. Gentleman said, that it is easier said than done, certainly in the short run, to develop Scottish television and radio.
The last point that I want to make concerns the Press. It was my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Lewis) who raised the matter of the implications of local broadcasting for local newspapers. I note the figures quoted by the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud), but I cannot shut my mind to the question 1149 raised by my hon. Friend. There is the report of the Royal Commission on the Press, which I understand is due quite soon. There is no doubt that the provision of more and more news from local radio, or on the hour from national radio, must have an effect at least on the content of local newspapers.
That is something that we must take into account. I think that it was my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Craigen) who talked about the question of duopoly and the fact that news nationally comes from two sources—which is better than one. However, when one reaches the pitch that the local newspaper is being affected in its traditional rôle, then that is something we must take into account. The media, and the news provision of the media, are changing and will change with the developments that are mentioned in the Annan Report.
The purpose of today's debate is to take note of the Report. I think that the appropriate thing will be to provide, at an appropriate moment, a Green Paper or a White Paper—I take the point that has been made about that—and then we can have a more concentrated debate in advance of legislation.
The Annan Report is of the greatest importance. I think that we were right to set up the Committee. It is right that from time to time we should look at the developments taking place in broadcasting.
I finish where I started. Whatever else happened in Annan, the Committee praised the existing—the word is now being used all the time—duopoly. Praise there must be; but it is not perfection. On the basis of the Report, in some way or other, after discussion, we shall have to legislate in this House. I say to the hon. Member for Howden that I suspect that the divisions will not be on strict party lines, which is perhaps appropriate for such an important matter as broadcasting.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the Report of the Annan Committee on the Future of Broadcasting (Command Paper No. 6753).