§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 4.29 p.m.
The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Dr. Shirley Summer-skill)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The limited purposes of the Bill are twofold. First, it will extend the life of the Independent Broadcasting Authority—which would otherwise expire on 31st July 1979, now just 16 months away—by nearly two and a half years to 31st December 1981. Secondly, it will remove certain difficulties to which subsections (2) and (5) of Section 4 of the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act 1973 could give rise in relation to the Authority's broadcasts of parliamentary proceedings.
It was announced in the Gracious Speech at the opening of Parliament that the Government would be bringing forward proposals for the future constitution, structure and organisation of broadcasting in the United Kingdom. These proposals, which my right hon. Friend hopes to present in the form of a White Paper, are now being formulated in the light of the report of the Committee on the Future of Broadcasting under the chairmanship of Lord Annan and of the many comments we have received on the committee's recommendations.
It is clear that there is no prospect of legislation during the present Session to implement those of the Government's proposals which will be appropriate to legislation, in particular to provide the statutory framework for the future of independent broadcasting. Indeed, this legislation could not be on the statute book much before the middle of 1979, by which time the life of the IBA and its contracts with the independent television and local radio companies will have expired or be on the point of expiry.
It would be manifestly undesirable to leave an industry employing some 13,000 people and with a turnover of some £300 million a year any longer in a state of uncertainty about its future, at any rate in the short term. The Bill accordingly 662 proposes an interim extension of the IBA's life for a period of nearly two and a half years beyond 31st July 1979. This will enable the Authority to continue to provide the television and local radio services for which it is responsible, pending the publication and parliamentary consideration of the Government's proposals on the future structure of broadcasting and the implementation of our decisions.
It may be helpful if I explain why we are proposing an interim two and a half years' extension. Obviously, we need a realistic extension. Equally, however, the extension must not be so long as to be likely to defer unnecessarily the implementation of decisions on the future structure of independent broadcasting. The Government consider, on the basis of information from the IBA, that a period of between one and two years from the new legislation's receiving Royal Assent would be needed by the Authority to complete the procedures—which the Authority envisages would include public hearings, as recommended by the Annan Committee—for awarding, on the basis of the new legislation, programme contracts and for these contracts to be able to come into operation.
If one were thinking in terms of this legislation reaching the statute book in, say, mid-1979—and I am not anticipating what will be in the Gracious Speech at the opening of next Session—it would not be reasonable to think in terms of the new programme contracts coming into operation earlier than during the course of 1981. It is for this reason that Clause 1 of the Bill proposes an interim extension of the life of the IBA from 31st July 1979 to 31st December 1981.
I turn now to the amendments which Clause 2 proposes to Section 4 of the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act 1973 in relation to the broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings by the IBA. The main difficulty to which Section 4 could give rise in relation to parliamentary broadcasting by the IBA arises from subsection (2). It is a difficulty to which attention was drawn in paragraphs 48 and 49 of the Second Report of the Joint Committee on Sound Broadcasting.
The problem is that, unless parliamentary broadcasting is removed from the scope of Section 4(2), this subsection could be construed as requiring the IBA 663 to exclude from its parliamentary broadcasting any expression of opinion onmatters of political or industrial controversy or relating to current public policyby an hon. Member—or by a noble Lord in another place—who is a director of an independent television or independent local radio company. The amendment to Section 4(2) proposed in Clause 2 is in line with the recommendations of the Joint Committee.
There are other circumstances in which Section 4(2) could give rise to difficulties. It could be construed as requiring the IBA to exclude parliamentary speeches, or parts of speeches, by any hon. Member or noble Lord in which reference was made to the opinions on the matters in question of directors of independent television or independent local radio companies or to the opinions on those matters of the Authority itself or its members or officers.
When we were considering the Joint Committee's recommendation on Section 4(2), we realised that Section 4(5) could also create difficulties. It would require the previous approval of the IBA to the inclusion in a parliamentary broadcast of a speech, or part of a speech, by an hon. Member or noble Lord in which reference was made to the needs or objects of a charitable or benevolent organisation. It seemed to us inappropriate that the approval of a statutory body, a creature of Parliament, should be required in relation to the inclusion of such matters in a parliamentary broadcast. Clause 2 accordingly proposes the removal of parliamentary broadcasting from the scope of this provision.
Now that regular parliamentary broadcasts have begun, the difficulties to which subsections (2) and (5) of Section 4 give rise now face the IBA. The difficulty with Section 4(2) cannot be overcome until the Bill has received Royal Assent, and it is for this reason that I hope that its passage will be speedy. Although the inappropriateness of Section 4(5) in relation to parliamentary broadcasting cannot be overcome until Royal Assent, I understand that the IBA has decided, pending the consideration of the Bill in Parliament, to grant prior approval in general terms to the inclusion of items of the kind covered by Section 4(5) in parliamentary 664 broadcasts. Thus any practical difficulties to which this subsection could give rise are avoided.
I commend this most modest of Bills to the House. If hon. Members have points that they wish to put to me about the Bill, I shall try to reply at the end of the debate if I catch the eye of the Chair.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Mr. William Whitelaw (Penrith and The Border)
I accept that in the circumstances in which we find ourselves there is no alternative to the Bill. We shall therefore support it.
It is also important to appreciate that merely prolonging the present position of the IBA until 31st December 1981 does not preclude any action that might subsequently need to be taken on the recommendations of the Annan Committee.
Certainly, the temporary nature of the Bill makes is virtually impossible in practice, as the Under-Secretary recognised, to change any of the franchises in the next two years. That will naturally be welcome to the existing companies and in many ways may well be for the best.
The second purpose of the Bill, to regularise the position of independent radio in the broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings, is clearly essential in the circumstances. It is perhaps particularly welcome to those hon. Members who, like me, have long believed in sound broadcasting and who, contrary to what I know the majority of hon. Members feel at present, believe in the televising of the House as well.
None the less, I must tell the hon. Lady that it is very unsatisfactory that we should be debating the Bill without the promised Green Paper or White Paper announcing the Government's conclusions on the Annan Committee's recommendations. After all, the Annan Committee reported over a year ago. Surely, even the present Government should be able to make up their collective mind in that time.
In the debate in the House on 23rd May last year, the Home Secretary said that when the period of consultation ended in July last year he would take stock and announce his proposals. After eight months, however, the right hon. Gentleman is apparently still taking stock. Last month, at Question Time, the Minister 665 of State tried to reassure me about the delay by pointing out the number of recommendations in the Annan Report which had to be considered. Fortunately, I am either too old a hand or too well informed to fall for that story. I am certainly not alone in that. It is an open secret that the Home Secretary and his colleagues cannot reach any agreement on the Annan proposals. That is not surprising in this divided Cabinet and Government, but it is none the less profoundly depressing and unsatisfactory.
I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State and, I trust, her right hon. Friend, realise how important it is to have the Government's proposals so that the House and the country have the basis for an informed debate, leading to decisions which are important for the future of broadcasting.
We shall be failing the viewers and the broadcasters if, after a report as important and well-argued as that of the Annan Committee, not only is nothing done but the House and the Government appear to be doing absolutely nothing about it.
It has to be said that we in the House can act only if the Government, so long as they have responsibility, are prepared to give the lead which so far they are totally incapable of giving. I hope, therefore, that we shall soon have a White Paper or a Green Paper on the Government's proposals. I hope that the hon. Lady will give a reply today indicating a publication date. That is important. We are being asked to go on for a long time, and the Government are treating the House and the country unreasonably. It seems to be appropriate to reserve further comment on Annan's major recommendation for change until the debate on the White Paper, if it ever comes at all.
I want to use the debate for some comment arising out of Annan's opinion and expressed view that we in this country have discovered the secret of regulating our broadcasting through independent authorities while preserving editorial independence. I always regarded that part of the Annan Report as extremely important and valuable. I entirely agree with it. We in the House have our part to play in appointing the independent authorities through the Government, and, indeed, in sacking the board members if 666 we believe that proper standards are not being maintained.
Since we are establishing in the Bill one of the independent authorities—the IBA—this must be the correct moment for us to make some comment on the quality and standards of broadcasting and its control. I shall put forward a few views of my own, which will be more in the nature of suggestions for consideration by programme planners and editors than basic criticisms. In general, I believe that the authorities perform their function. I admire the way in which they do not. But that does not mean that one is not entitled to express one's views and doubts about some of the programmes that go out.
First, I wish to refer to the coverage of international events. Of course, I understand the difficult of filming in countries which are under totalitarian regimes, but the result of not being able to do that is that inevitably in many programmes there is a considerable lack of balance in coverage of international events. The alleged faults of Western democratic society are constantly exposed, whereas the undoubtedly infamous situations in some totalitarian countries are seldom, if ever, shown to viewers in this country. Surely, strenuous efforts must be made to right this balance.
Equally, in view of the Foreign Secretary's forthright words last night, I must say that the coverage of Russian and Cuban incursion into Africa, and into the Horn of Africa in particular, which is clearly a development of importance to us and to all Western nations, has, for some reason which might be understandable, been receiving inadequate coverage.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe)
The right hon. Gentleman has made a general charge and followed it up with a specific instance. Will he read the section of the IBA's report which deals with complaints and tell us exactly where the lack of balance lies?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I make a general point. I do not make it in a basically critical way. I make it as a comment which is widely felt. If I were to make specific criticisms, I agree with the hon. Lady that I should have to substantiate them, but I am making a general point about the need for balance. I think that I am entitled to do that. If one looks at the programmes over a period of time, one 667 finds that there is a lack of balance. It does not matter where the totalitarian regimes are. The hon. Lady condemns some of them assiduously. I agree with her. In some of those countries we do not have the coverage. We should consider whether we are able to achieve a greater balance in this respect.
I should like to pay a special tribute to the way in which Ulster Television has handled the terrorist sitution in Northern Ireland. I know of this from past experience. Its coverage of a difficult situation has been quite exceptionally good and it is worthy of the commendation of the House and of everyone who has been concerned with this unhappy problem. I only wish that I could say the same about all the programmes about Northern Ireland that have come from other companies on this side of the Irish Channel. Alas, I cannot.
That brings me to violence on television. I am convinced that both the IBA and the companies are sensitive to the reports that youngsters are influenced by violence on the screen and that it might have a contributory effect on juvenile crime. One can only say to the authorities that, if they are in doubt about any programmes on this count, they should always err on the side of caution. If that is true of violence, it is also true of sex. I do not suggest that there should be a totally puritanical attitude which is out of touch with reality, but we should have a sensible approach to these problems.
I am surprised, and perhaps many other hon. Members are surprised, at the volume of criticism that one receives about bad language on the screen. I am surprised at receiving more complaints about bad language than about violence and other problems. I do not believe that it is particularly necessary on the screen, and I hope that steps will be taken to remove it since it does not contribute to the programmes.
I reaffirm my support for the present system. The Government, with the backing of the House, should exercise power in the appointments to the IBA. That board must exercise a powerful influence on the ITV companies to maintain standards. If views are expressed in the House and supported in the country, they should be respected, and the Government 668 have the basic responsibility overall to exercise their power in that respect.
§ Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)
Does the right hon. Member feel that the Home Office is the right Department to oversee broadcasting, or might not the Milk Marketing Board do it better?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I believe that the Home Office is the right Department, and I think that it has done the job extremely well over a period of time. That statement, coming from me to the Department, will no doubt be gratefully received.
This House has the undoubted right, when it comes to prolonging the life of the IBA under the Bill, to press the Government on this issue. It is the Government's basic responsibility on the question of standards to respond to that pressure.
Against that background, I hope that the House will give the Bill an unopposed Second Reading and a speedy passage through the House. However, I urge the Under-Secretary once again to tell the Home Secretary that he must produce his White Paper or Green Paper containing the Government's propsals on the Annan Report as soon as possible. It is unsatisfactory to go on postponing major decisions on the future of broadcasting. The IBA and particularly the BBC need longer-term security if they are effectivly to perform the functions placed upon them by the House. It is the duty of the Government, backed by us, in the interests of the viewers and the broadcasters, to give such assurance to those two organisations. As we pass the Bill, as I trust we shall, let the Home Secretary reflect on the extent of his and his Government's failure to meet this basic and very important requirement.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell (Grimsby)
I declare an interest as a director of a commercial radio station—Bradford Community Radio Ltd.—and an unpaid director, I may add.
Debates of this nature are at times a little unsatisfactory, partly because there is no adequate focus—and this brief Bill provides very little focus—but also because we as Members are not true consumers of the radio or television programmes that we talk about. There can be few groups of citizens who watch television or listen to radio less than we 669 do. Some of us watch only when we ourselves are on, and our main complaint seems to be that that is not often enough.
Let us take the case of radio. Over one-quarter of adults in the country listen to commercial radio in the course of the week. The figure is more than 40 per cent. in the areas where commercial local radio is available, but we Members listen to it hardly at all, and, if anything, we have a peculiar distaste for its staple of pop music. Perhaps that is because pop music provides such effective competition for the kind of broadcasting we provide. I hope that we shall provide more formidable competition to pop music.
Having thus skilfully won the sympathy of my audience, let me develop one point. Independent television and radio are two industries which in one sense are unique in Britain. The Government are preaching investment and expansion to every other industry in the country, but here are two industries which should and could expand, because the popular demand for them exists, but which have been held back by prolonged indecision.
To demonstrate the demand, let me quote from a public opinion poll in the Sun two days ago which was produced on page 15, so that I was actually able to read it, and which showed that 73 per cent. of those interviewed favoured a fourth television channel. The indecision has been produced by the Annan Report, and its proposals have to be knocked down and eliminated before we can get on with the serious job that has to be done in the industry.
It is now time for us to write the epitaph of the Annan Report. It can best be expressed, I think, with the words:Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note,As his corse to the rampart we hurried;Not a soldier discharged his farewell shot"—except my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead)—O'er the grave where our hero we buried.There has been prolonged dithering over the fourth channel, but we should be talking not about the fourth channel, but about the fifth and sixth channels which could be secured by re-engineering the vhf frequencies. There are extra channels that could be secured from cable and satellite transmission.
670 It is interesting that a place like Columbus, Ohio, which has about the same population as Leeds in Yorkshire, has 33 channels from which consumers can choose.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody) is an eminent and honourable Lady, but I doubt whether even she has seen all 33 channels at the same time.
§ Mr. Mitchell
I am having to cope with 33 interruptions, that is for sure. However, 33 channels give far greater freedom of choice than our television viewers enjoy in this country. I want to extend that freedom of choice. I have not seen the channels in Columbus, Ohio, but I have seen them elsewhere and they provide an extraordinary range. That is the range that the consumer wants, and it is pathetic for us to be dithering about a fourth channel when we could easily have many more channels.
The solution about where the fourth channel should go is straightforward. It should go specifically to the IBA, which would control and manage it. I know that some of my hon. Friends here today will feel a distaste at handing over a fourth channel to the moguls of ITV. It is, of course, right to be cautious, but a decision in that direction is the only one that will allow rapid expansion of the industry. We want that rapid expansion.
§ Mr. Michael Morris (Northampton, South)
Does the hon. Member feel that these channels should be handed to the IBA or to the existing ITV companies?
§ Mr. Mitchell
It is good to know that I have the attention of my audience. I said that it should be handed specifically to the IBA to control and manage.
§ Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)
It appears that there are some first-class public relations officers in the House today, and they are doing their stuff. I hope that the country will be saved from them. Is my hon. Friend aware that I sent a research worker to Canada and 671 that, judging from the message coming back concerning the content of television there, I feel justified in saying "God save this country from that"?
§ Mr. Mitchell
I hope that the research from Canada is more relevant than my hon. Friend's interruption.
As well as allowing for rapid expansion, a decision along the lines I suggest would provide the new boost that the industry desperately needs. In the 1950s the industry had the boost of ITV and in the 1960s it had the boost of BBC2. It has had no boost in the 1970s. It is a middle-aged, log-jammed, deadlocked industry which has the capacity to expand but is not being allowed to do so.
§ Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)
My hon. Friend is advancing two contradictory propositions. The first is that the companies want to expand and cannot. The second is that we should hand this channel to the IBA, which would guarantee expansion. Surely the IBA could run the channel separately, which would be expansion of a quite different kind.
§ Mr. Mitchell
If my hon. Friend had waited, he would have heard my explanation of how the channel was to be managed.
Such a decision would be a boost not only to the companies but to independent production units and to the industry generally which would cater for the new channel. IBA control would allow existing contractors and independent producers to produce programmes for the new channel. That would secure the advantages that were sought in the Open Broadcasting Authority, but not the disadvantages. That is the strongest point of my suggestion.
The most important reason for handing the channel to the IBA is that that is the only way in which we shall secure the complementary programming that will allow the consumer the freedom of choice between programmes that he should have. If the channel is handed to a third competing organisation, there will be two choices. Either it would become a minority channel, which would not secure advertising, or it would have to get in there and slug it out with popular programmes.
672 However, if we handed the channel to an institution which already controls one channel, that institution—the IBA—could allow a choice of viewing by ensuring serious programming on one channel and popular programming on the other, to give the audience the kind of freedom of choice which I think it must have in the present situation. That, the OBA could not do.
There is a strong case, therefore, tot handing the fourth channel not to the companies but to the IBA and allowing the companies to compete with others to submit programmes to that channel.
§ Mr. Wyn Roberts (Conway)
There is of course, a powerful fillip to the hon. Gentleman's argument about expansion in that the expansion can be achieved only by the IBA without cost to the elector/taxpayer.
§ Mr. Mitchell
I thank the hon. Member for reminding me of a point in my argument that I had left out through reading my notes too quickly.
I turn now to radio. I think that commercial local radio has been a major success story over the last four years. We now have 19 stations, all with substantial audiences, and all are listened to each week by a substantial proportion of the population. Many of them are listened to by over half of the local population for between 10 and 14 hours in the average week. These are major success stories. Most of them are the most-listened-to radio stations in their areas.
The experiment has worked. It is now a firm basis for further expansion, because we now have in these local radio stations a nucleus of trained staff who can, when they can expand, go forth and multiply. We have the nucleus of experience. We have shown, through commercial local radio, that public service can be provided at no public cost.
We have shown, too, that we can provide a new local focus for local news and local interest. The days were when there was a competing series of local newspapers in most of our big cities. There is the famous story of the traveller arriving in Bradford and asking the newsboy for the local newspaper, whose name he had forgotten but it began with the letter "T", to which he received the reply "Dost tha mean t'Telegraph, t'Argus or 673 t'Observer?" There was that freedom of choice. We can revive that freedom of choice cheaply and efficiently by allowing commercial local radio to expand, to provide competition for the local Press monopolies and to provide another source of local news and information.
I know that hon. Members may feel a certain distaste for pop music.
§ Mr. Mitchell
But the point is that the audience is won by providing that audience with the kind of music that it wants to hear, which by definition is pop music, but also by providing it with local news, local service and local information. These stimulate local interest and local concern. These are provided by stations which are locally controlled. This is not, in most cases, anything that can be portrayed as a capitalist plot, because local control is the basis of these stations.
In my own station, Pennine Radio, in Bradford, the largest single shareholding is provided by the National Union of Dyers, Bleachers and Textile Workers. These are local shareholders controlling a local station. The profits from the local stations are effectively controlled where necessary by the secondary rental.
Therefore, why should the rest of the country be deprived of a medium which has proved its worth, proved its attractiveness and proved that it is popular? Why should the rest of the country be deprived of this local focus? There is a strong case for expansion of the network by another 60 commercial local radio stations providing places with over 200,000 people with exactly this service. It is a case which is being obstructed and held back only by the prolonged indecision which is going on.
There is a strong case both for expansion of the ITV network by handing the fourth channel to the IBA and for the expansion of the commercial local radio network. I support the Bill only on the proviso that it is the kind of framework that will allow that rapid expansion, which we hope to secure by an early decision.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Sir Paul Bryan (Howden)
I declare an interest as a director of Granada Television and as a director of the Manchester 674 independent local radio. I start my speech by disposing of a matter that follows directly from the interest that I have just described. It s also, in fact, the subject of Clause 2, which in column inches, at any rate, it comprises two-thirds of the Bill. It affects very few hon. Members, but, as I shall seek to show, it affects more and more people in the country. I shall describe this in rather personal terms because I think that it is the most effective way to do so.
Under the provision of the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act 1973 there are three Members—my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Cooke), the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) and myself—who must never appear in any political programme produced by an independent television company or radio company. This is because we are directors of either television companies or independent radio companies.
In my case, I may take part in political brodacasts on BBC Leeds, but I am the only Member of Parliament in the whole of Yorkshire who is not allowed to appear on Yorkshire Television, even at election time. That is neither fair nor reasonable, especially as Yorkshire Television puts Members of Parliament on television in more programmes than any other company in the country.
§ Mr. Spriggs
The hon. Gentleman has just said that he is the only Member of the House who is not allowed to appear on Yorkshire Television, even during election time. Surely he knows that if he resigned his post he could appear on Yorkshire Television.
§ Sir P. Bryan
—nor, apparently, does the hon. Member for Grimsby.
In the unlikely event of my being selected to appear on a Conservative Party party political broadcast—
§ Sir P. Bryan
—the programme could not be shown by any ITV company. It could appear on the BBC, but, as party political broadcasts have to be exhibited 675 simultaneously, presumably the ITV screens all over the country would remain blank while the BBC presented our programme.
One would have thought that this simple statement of these facts, in their ridiculous truth, would have been enough to persuade the Home Office that, surely, this nonsense must be stopped fairly soon. On the other hand—believe it or not—when I wrote to the Home Secretary in 1976 asking him to take the first opportunity to amend this legislation, I received an answer from the Minister of State which suggested that my situation was not so bad, since if at election time I could not appear on Yorkshire Television I could then insist that none of my opponents could go on either.
In a later letter, this time from the Home Secretary himself, which he rightly described as "an unhelpful reply" the Home Secretary stated:The only consolation, if it is such, I can offer, is the knowledge that there are several Members of the Upper House who as Directors of Independent Broadcasting Companies find themselves in a similar situation to yourself.With the greatest respect, and with no bitterness whatever, I must tell the Home Secretary that this statement is both naive and untrue. I have to fight elections; Members of the other place do not.
In the IBA's view, the offending Section 4(2) of the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act is unduly restrictive, and the Authority recommended to the Annan Committee that it be changed. The Annan Committee, in turn, in Chapter 7.16, reportedMembers of Broadcasting Authorities and directors of organisations providing programmes under contract to a Broadcasting Authority should be allowed to broadcast on controversial subjects not related to broadcasting, on the services for which they have responsibility.
§ Mr. English
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman realises that if what he advocates took place we might be faced with the awful possibility that the governors and managers of the BBC would be allowed to broadcast as well.
§ Sir P. Bryan
These ghastly prospects must be faced. For the time being, I shall continue with my speech.
676 There seems to be general agreement that the absurd situation that I have described should be brought to an end. This Bill is the obvious opportunity for that, but the Government are making a less than half-hearted effort to put things right. Now that the House is being broadcast on radio, of course, it would be completely impossible to have my voice in this House, or that of the hon. Member for Grimsby or that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West, blacked out all over the country on independent local radio; so clearly the Government have to cancel this part under Clause 2 as a great concession.
But no attempt is being made to carry out the recommendations of the IBA and of the Annan Committee to restore our right—the normal right of any Member of Parliament—to address his constituents either over the radio or on television if invited by the appropriate organisations. I shall certainly raise this matter in Committee, but, meanwhile I should like to know why both the recommendations of the Annan Committee and those of the IBA, in a situation which was clearly absurd even before those powerful bodies expressed views, should not be accepted.
What is more, since the Annan Committee reported the case against these restrictions has grown stronger. As the hon. Member for Grimsby said, the audience for local radio, both independent and BBC, is growing daily at a speed quite unrealised by the public. The hon. Member gave some illustrations, and I would add a vivid example from my own knowledge. In Manchester three and a half times as many people listen to the 8 o'clock news in the morning on the local commercial station as listen to BBC.
As these new stations mature, more and more serious programmes will be broadcast. It is obvious that the next General Election will be fought to a significant extent on local commercial radio. A number of directors of independent companies are likely to be candidates of both parties, and if they are not allowed radio time, nor will their opponents be. This is too big a muddle to be tolerated.
I take it that today's debate can be considered part of the continuing debate on the future of broadcasting for which 677 the Home Secretary asked and which has been going on and on and on since the publication of the Annan Report over a year ago. I shall not go over the well-worn arguments for the fourth channel going to ITV, especially as I fancy that my opinions might be considered somewhat biased, but there is a matter of fact, as opposed to opinion, which can stand another airing. Being an unwelcome fact, it is shunned by those who favour the more original ideas for the fourth channel.
The fact is that, after a year's debate, no one has yet found a way of financing a fourth channel other than through ITV. Even the Lord Annan, who put his signature to the other plans for finance contained in his report, has come around to writing in the February issue of TV World Magazine:The financial ideas, and I would say the whole argument, of the Open Broadcasting Authority were not well worked out. I think it was perfectly understandable that people said that this was financially impractical. It wasn't worked out properly.Any subsequent ideas for financing the fourth channel which have surfaced have one thing in common. They all assume the possibility, by one route or another, directly or indirectly, of extracting funds from the television levy. In order to restore some realism to this part of the debate, I invite the Minister to explain once and for all that, unlike the excess profits tax on independent local radio, which goes back to the IBA in the form of a secondary rental to be devoted to the improvement of the service itself, the television levy goes straight to the Treasury. It is a tax. As with any other tax, the Treasury has no intention of returning it to the industry whence it came.
Travelling around the world, one is often told that British broadcasting is the best in the world. Coming back to Britain, one tends to believe it. But the necessity for this Bill proves, if any proof were required, that the Government can take no credit for this apparently happy state of affairs.
The public must by now have concluded that politicians cannot resist investigating, inquiring into, setting up committees upon, every aspect of broadcasting to an utterly unreasonable extent—certainly unparalleled in any other country—but having done so, at great cost and effort 678 to everyone concerned, they cannot decide what to do.
In a speech not long ago, Sir Michael Swann, the chairman of the governors of the BBC, reminded us that, over the last 30 years, the Corporation has been investigated by 20 official inquiries. ITV has been investigated, or in suspense awaiting Government decisions, over almost all its 23 years. Even since the publication of the Annan Report—the biggest inquiry of all time—we now have a Commons Select Committee investigating the IBA once again. This time it is the radio operation, which in historic terms has hardly started.
§ Mr. Russell Kerr (Feltham and Heston)
I am sorry to interrupt what I find an interesting speech, but it is a fact that the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, the responsible body on behalf of this House, has just begun its second investigation of the IBA over what is, after all, a 20-year period.
§ Sir P. Bryan
That is a very good point. I dare say that almost every investigation can be justified in its own right. But, added up, they make a formidable number of inquiries.
§ Sir P. Bryan
Not by us alone, but by the world in general it certainly has.
The necessity for this Bill shows that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) was absolutely right eight years ago when he stopped the launching of the original Annan Committee. He judged that it would have little fresh to tell us and that there was sufficient knowledge and experience within the industry and Parliament to make the necessary decisions. In the event, as he expected, the Committee has described, perhaps more brilliantly and certainly at greater length than he expected all the difficulties facing those who have to provide our broadcasting services.
The proper tributes are paid, the well-known strengths and weaknesses are identified once again, but as to practical propositions, to quote Sir Brian Young:Understandably, with all this talking, they put all their faith for the future in yet more public debate—the favourite committee answer but the least practical answer to those who are considering what they will actually do beyond 679 debating these difficult problems day in and day out.So the Annan Report has added nothing significant to our knowledge. Its many recommendations have merely confused the Government. The only surprise is that the Minister did not take the opportunity tonight to announce the establishment of yet another committee to consider the findings of the Annan Committee.
§ Mr. Wyn Roberts
Is my hon. Friend aware that the Annan Report has overtaken at least one firm decision by the Government, namely, to award the fourth channel in Wales to Welsh broadcasting? Is he aware that the Committee was aware of that decision even as it investigated broadcasting and that the Government still have not progressed with that decision?
§ Sir P. Bryan
I am very glad to be able to give my hon. Friend the opportunity to make his Welsh point.
Independence from Government influence and interference is always regarded as one of the chief virtues of our British broadcasting system. Annan picks out that blessing as something that we must defend at all costs. But that independence is confined to narrow editorial independence. En every other respect, Government interference, or the prospect of some impending Government decision, hangs over the industry like a permanent dampening fog.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
Would the hon. Gentleman suggest that in ITV companies no member of the staff or no programming assistant ever thought about the effect of the advertisers on the programme content?
§ Sir P. Bryan
I am not quite sure what that has to do with what I am saying. I do not doubt that these thoughts go through people's heads.
§ Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)
I remind my hon. Friend that this question was specifically answered in the Annan Report, which found that there was absolutely no influence by advertisers on broadcasting.
§ Sir P. Bryan
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for answering the question very much more effectively than I did, but I should like to get on with my 680 next point, which concerns the independence from the Government of television and broadcasting generally.
I, like many others, believe that in the BBC we have a unique national asset which should be defended and which should be allowed to develop. But we have all chosen a system of financing the BBC which is bound to have exactly the opposite effect. To raise the licence fee is to make an unpopular political decision. This means that over the years the licence fee is likely to be too low to supply appropriate funds. We have one of the lowest licence fees in the world, certainly in Europe. Therefore, far from the BBC being independent of the Government, its daily existence, the quality of its programmes, the quality of its staff and the ability to keep its staff depend to an overwhelming extent on the Government's courage over a political decision. In a period such as this, I should be very surprised if the Government, before the next General Election, were able to show courage of that sort. This merely means that the BBC will continue to run down.
Life in ITV land, alas, is overshadowed by the Government in quite a different way. Clearly, at this moment, while advertising is buoyant, ITV is not short of funds, but it lacks the ability to make any plans whatever for the future, whether in terms of investment or long-term programmes. I doubt whether the Home Secretary realises the strains on the upper echelons of both the BBC and ITV of these continuous inquiries, and in particular the Annan Committee. The preparation of evidence and the countless meetings are matters which cannot be delegated, and as a result top people in both organisations have to be taken off their usual jobs.
A period such as the present, when clearly the Government cannot make up their own minds about the future of broadcasting, leads, naturally and legitimately, to groups setting up all over the country in the hope of getting new franchises. This would be perfectly healthy if we knew the shape of things to come, but since it is just the result of a general lack of any idea of what the future may hold many of the staff of the BBC and the ITV companies are continuously unsettled by hopes and fears which may never be realised.
681 As my right hon. Friend has pointed out, in June last year we were told by the Home Secretary that we could expect a White Paper in the autumn. Autumn arrived but no White Paper was produced. We were told to keep our eyes open at the turn of the year. Then it was to be February. Now we see that there will be no White Paper, and so far as this Parliament is concerned, broadcasting has no future. It is as well that broadcasting can rely on the Parliament that follows to come at last to a firm decision.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe)
So far I have found this an exceedingly instructive debate, not least because it has given me one or two marvellous bits of ammunition.
If there was anything that would cause me to oppose Clause 2 of the Bill, it would be the discovery that certain Members of Parliament are absolutely forbidden from taking part in any form of broadcasting. I am not sure whether there is any way which we can extend that sort of exclusion, but I should be delighted to offer my own short list of Members who should be excluded from appearing on both radio and television. Indeed, the idea of the unfortunate editors of the parliamentary programmes having to sit hacking away at the tapes, talking out any political opinion from the remarks that they have recorded in this Parliament, endearing though it is as a thought, would, it seems to me, cause a certain amount of difficulty.
I welcome the fact that we are having this debate on the Independent Broadcasting Authority for a number of reasons which are totally different from those given by Conservative Members. Unlike them, I do not regard the fact that we have not so far had definitive plans on the future of broadcasting and radio as being a dangerous development. I think it means that the Government are prepared to think long and hard before they take decisions.
The right hon. Member for Penrith and the Border (Mr. Whitelaw) and the hon. Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan) do not have any difficulty at all. "Hand it over", they say, "to the commercial boys, because they would know exactly what they were doing." Indeed, even my 682 talented and charming colleague, the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) seems to be labouring under one or two mild misapprehensions. I think that this apparent unanimity of feeling can only lead one to say that not everyone is of that opinion.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
If the hon. Lady would read what I said a year ago in the debate, or what I have said since on the subject, she would find that I have not said "Hand it over to the commercial boys." I agree with the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) about handing it over to the IBA, which is quite a different matter from handing it over to the commercial boys.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
I am very glad to have that qualification from the right hon. Gentleman. I always feel that he labours under a slight disadvantage. He is basically a tremendously civilised and charming man and is forced into the necessity of occasionally saying things which sound the very opposite. I am very happy, therefore, to have his assurance that what he is suggesting is something other than handing it over to the commercial boys.
The IBA, in this interim period will, it seems to me, have to look very closely at the services it provides. I am now talking not only of the IBA itself or of the companies but particularly of those who are involved in the whole question of local radio.
My hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby said that most Members of Parliament did not hear any commercial radio. That is a sign of his youth. If he had children the same age as mine he would find it difficult to listen to any other form of radio. But the situation ought to cause us some alarm. I believe that there should be an extension of local radio. I have always believed very strongly that it is the involvement of the local community with a radio station that gives it its real use and strength.
If we look at the work that the BBC radio is doing, particularly in areas such as Stoke-on-Trent, we see exactly how it has married into the community at every level. It not only broadcasts debates about subjects of tremendous importance to the local population; it provides information which is really useful to everybody concerned.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell
Would not my hon. Friend concede that the prime weapon in winning local participation, involvement and interest is to get the maximum possible local audience, which we get by providing people with the popular music, which attracts them at once, and with the local news, information and programmes which they also want to hear?
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
My hon. Friend seems to be labouring under the delusion that the BBC plays only Bach and Beethoven. I can assure him that the BBC local radio produces exactly the sort of mix that he is talking about. But the BBC cannot provide for only one section of the community. It has to provide a balanced programme for everybody in the community. There are housewives who listen to local radio. There are youngsters who listen to local radio. People who are retired and who are interested in different subjects want to be able to hear about them on their local radio station.
If we are to talk about the extension of local radio, we must think very carefully and strongly about the policy before we suggest that the only way to provide finance is to hand it over to the commercial interests in order to expand their advertising time. I am not one of those who say that we should never have radio advertisements, although I personally find them intensely irritating first thing in the morning.
We must quite seriously consider whether this is the best way of serving the community as a whole. I am not convinced that it is. Indeed, I think that, both with regard to the question of the second channel and in the extension of local broadcasting services, we should be aiming at a much better quality, not an extension of opportunity for more people to make more money. I think that advertising has its place in the community. It certainly contributes very strongly and usefully to the amount of money available to the ITV companies, but the suggestion that if one automatically expands the number of channels one automatically expands consumer choice begs so many different questions.
I went to America as a representative of the film industry to study specifically the whole effect of cable television. I was aiming particularly at its effect on the film industry at that time. I particularly 684 studied the programme content that one found when one had a number of different channels in a particular area.
I was exceedingly lucky because in Los Angeles the programme controllers were very good to me and allowed me to spend a considerable amount of time studying not only their schedules but their financing and the sort of operation which they had built up. It seemed to me from a very close study of American television that one of the frightening consequences of a vast range of programmes was that one lowered the common denominator. One could see a similar pattern on every channel rather than having a choice, as we have in this country, between what is in effect a quality programme and a more popular programme.
I am not against rubbish. I look at good old British rubbish just like anyone else. I even look at good old American rubbish. The British public certainly requires entertainment. That is one of the major functions of the television and radio services. But it must not be the only form of diet that is eternally handed out. Whether we like it or not, if the fourth channel is handed over to the commercial interests we shall not get a broadening of the programming; we shall get a repetition of the programmes that are popular on the existing channels.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell
Will not my hon Friend concede that the proper way of preventing this competition for the lowest denominator is to have numerous channels in the control of one organisation? In that way, one can, as it were, provide a layer cake in which people can choose their own level of viewing. If there are two channels for the IBA, one can have serious programmes on one channel and popular programmes on the other, and keep alternating them.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
That is one of the popular views put forward. But I do not think it would be so much a multi-layer cake—more a rather flattened sponge. I have been sufficiently involved with producers over a number of years to know that certainly in this country, when we suggest that we are expanding the opportunities for independent producers, we had better think exactly what we mean. Are we talking about expanding the opportunities for independent producers 685 who are financed by the existing companies? Shall we suddenly find a lot of Government money to finance new and bright young graduates of the film schools? What exactly do we mean by "an independent producer"?
I know a great many people who are certainly independent when it comes to putting their own money into a production, but who rely wholly on existing programme contractors for the finance to do the work. I am afraid that they are not always as independent as they might initially seem. We need to be very careful before we expand in that way.
There are several things in the IBA report which are extremely interesting. There is a number of suggestions about the complaints procedure and the sort of point which the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border mentioned—the question of a balance and the need to have a broad approach across politics, education and entertainment. In that I disagree very strongly with the right hon. Gentleman's remarks.
Occasionally one can accidentally give the impression that one feels there is no balance in television because one's own judgment automatically is a subjective judgment. When I see some Opposition Members on television, I feel intensely that they are being given too much time and that they are being treated far too seriously. I have no doubt that the same feeling rests in the breasts of Conservative Members when they watch some members of the Labour Party. But the difficulty is that this is an entirely subjective judgment.
On the whole, I believe that the IBA is doing an extremely good job in seeking the sort of political balance that is absolutely necessary. Where it may not always manage to achieve the impossible is perhaps in the context of some of the entertainment programmes which from time to time seem to lean a little heavily on the side of violence. But I think that so many of the programme contractors are aware of this problem now that it will be a diminishing problem in the future. I am not one ever to suggest that this House should have any editorial control over the contents of either films or TV programmes.
That brings me to one suggestion in the IBA report on which I feel I should comment. I must declare an interest. I am the parliamentary adviser to the 686 Association of Independent Cinemas, Therefore, I have been taking a considerable interest in the number of feature films that are shown on television. The IBA report says that the average weekly output of feature films has not altered a great deal. In fact, it has stuck pretty well at the level of seven, which is an agreed level. This rather begs the question of the size of the films that are shown. For instance, a Bond film shown at peak viewing hours on television has an immediate and quite dramatic effect on the viewing figures for the cinemas. Therefore, let us not imagine that it is quite as simple as saying that if we keep the number of films that are shown down to a particular level we protect all the other industries. That is not so.
What also worries me is the suggestion that when one gets a film which for some reason or other, because it was made for the cinema, contains scenes of sex or violence is not wholly acceptable as family viewing, one should produce a television version. The report says that if a film has been cut in terms of sex or violence this will help it to become suitable. The report suggests that they have done this in America and that we ought to follow the practice here. But there is no suggestion anywhere in the report that the producer or the director of the film should be consulted.
I think that before one hacks any kind of product to death one should consult the people who made it in the first place. One of the livelier members of the British film industry, Mr. Michael Klinger, was once reduced to impotent fury by a television company which cut one of his films, "Get Carter", into so many ribbons that it bore very little resemblance to his original work. While I do not think that either he or I would pretend that the original was highly intellectual, nevertheless it had a sincerity and honesty of its own and he was very upset by the effect. Therefore, before we start hacking other people's work to pieces, cannot we at least consult them?
§ Mr. Giles Shaw (Pudsey)
I should like to ask the hon. Lady one question and supply one point of information on what she has said on this portion of the IBA report. I think that the number of transmission hours is eight and three-quarters, not seven. With regard to cutting or altering films, who owns the copyright when 687 they come into the television company's possession?
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
The hon. Gentleman expands the argument into an even more interesting sphere—that of copyright. What happens is that, in normal circumstances, the ITV company will in effect have hired the film. It will not have taken over the whole copyright. Therefore, the producer still retains that copyright and, needless to say, has the right to get upset if his produce is damaged without consultation. That was the simple point that I was seeking to make.
We come back to the fact that, after all, the IBA has now had an extension of three years given to it. In that time, I hope that the Government will not only be looking at the financing of broadcasting and television channels but might even like to consider one very revolutionary idea. They might like to consider whether there is any justification for allocating the fourth channel at all unless it can be granted for educational use, for the use of the many bodies such as the Open University and the various forms of language teaching—all sorts of sensible minority uses—which I think are desperately under-served at the present time.
We come back again to the question of finance and who will pay. Perhaps the Government will have to be the first to say that the licence fee is no longer an adequate way of producing the cash, and there must be direct grants subsidised at a national level in order to make our broadcasting units viable and able to produce a service of which we can be proud. Hon. Members opposite who spoke of finance never pointed out at any stage that the Post Office, which directly gets its money from the taxpayer, produces, pays for and maintains the cables which many of the television companies use. In that sense, the companies are already benefiting from direct grant-in-aid.
Before we spread ourselves even more widely into the commercial field, let us consider how we can maintain the standards of our existing broadcasting system. The BBC set the pattern originally, and ITV has followed it with astonishing ability. Let us not believe that by expanding their realm we can improve the standards. Service for the viewer 688 and the listener should be our ultimate aim, and unless we can protect their interests we shall be in considerable difficulties.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith (East Grinstead)
We all respect the great interest that we know the hon. Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody) has in the television and movie industries, but I implore her to take more account of the interests of those who work in the industry at every level.
The hon. Lady said that she hoped that the Government, in the next three years, would give more thought and more time to the problem of the BBC licence and the problem of the fourth channel, and consider whether it should have more minority interest, whether there should be more scope for independent producers and whether there should be more variety in and better quality of programmes. But I do not believe that if this Government took from now until the end of the century they would come up with any better answers.
In my view, it is not for the Government to do that. I believe that the Government should give the framework—and I shall come to the framework in a moment—and then let the people in the industry get on with the job. If they do not do it very well the public will tell them so, and if the public tell them in a pretty certain voice then in due course Parliament will respond. I do not believe in asking Government to do any more than they have done already.
I do not believe that that would bring the sort of progress that the hon. Lady would like to see. If she thinks it will, why have the Government not done more already?
The Government had the benefit of some years in opposition when they disagreed with the previous Government's decision not to have an Annan Report, but they did not come up with anything. Then they had the Amman Report a year ago, and they had been sitting on it ever since. We have not had any practical suggestions.
In the meantime, we have a service which hon. Members on both sides of the House believe provides the best form of television and radio that has been 689 devised in any country. It is not a service which is just dominated, as the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) said, by big capitalist interests. It is not a service either dominated by big State capitalist interests, as in the Soviet Union and other Communist countries. It is a system that has been able to provide the benefits of public broadcasting, which is very responsive to the wishes of the viewers, together with responsible private enterprise broadcasting as well. It has taken interesting, encouraging and innovating steps in local radio so that we are seeing the emergence of a new form of community radio, the like of which is not nearly so well developed in other parts of the world. This is a remarkable post-war British achievement, and unfortunately there are not many such achievements of which we can boast.
We should not be asking the Government to spend another three years to try to improve in any substantial way on what we have. The hon. Member for Crewe said that instead of licensing we should perhaps have grants and subsidies. Heaven forbid that broadcasting should be dependent on Government grants and subsidies. That is the way to open the door to political interference from this place. That means that there would be more interference with programme making than occurs already because of the increased dependence by the BBC on the whim of Government on whether the licence fee should be increased.
The system of licensing is perfectly honourable. It has lasted for a great many years and it guarantees that those who work in the BBC as I did at one time, will have a great measure of responsibility, individual independence and freedom—far greater than in any other country. Why muck about with it?
BBC morale is so low—and I speak with some knowledge from a number of friends who still work for the Corporation—because the Government do not have the guts to let the BBC get on with it and allow the licence fee to rise to, or nearly to, the level of inflation. The Government are frightened by the political considerations because this is election year.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
Will the hon. Member consider this aspect of 690 licensing? Will he not recognise that in large parts of the country people spend all their time looking at a station that is not financed by licensing? Therefore, the situation for them in relation to the licence fee is becoming increasingly untenable. While there are great virtues in the licensing system, how long is it possible to sustain the position in which people are looking at one channel but have to pay a licence fee related to another channel which they do not watch?
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
I doubt whether there is a significant proportion of people in this country who spend their viewing lives watching one particular channel. If the hon. Member is really serious in advancing that argument, he must also seriously suggest that those people who have no children should opt out of that form of taxation because they have no children to educate. This hypothecation of either licensing or taxation is a sterile argument. There is no support either in the Press or among people writing into the IBA or BBC for the hon. Gentleman's argument. I can imagine it being developed as an argument if the public broadcasting authority in this country fell down so miserably on its job that it developed into a tiny minority programme company. That would be bound to give rise to the sort of clamour that the hon. Member has suggested. I do not believe that it is true in this instance.
I declare an interest in that I am a member of the IBA general advisory council and the chairman of a local radio consortium which I hope will soon apply for and get a licence. However, the views that I express are entirely my own.
I hope that the hon. Member for Crewe will remember that in our debate on local radio it was interesting to hear that hon. Members on both sides of the House felt that we should leave local radio alone. Hon. Members felt that the BBC should continue if it so wished but that private local radio should exist and expand as well. In this area we have the sort of mix that is very welcome.
However, the hon. Member for Crewe keeps saying that we do not wish to hand over a fourth channel to the commercial boys, as if they were a lot of young buccaneers running an industry with the 691 pure intention of screwing a mighty big profit out of it and to hell with the programme consequences and the fact that they might be degrading the standards of the British people. That is not what my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) has proposed, nor is it what is proposed by the IBA. I should like to remind her of what is on the table for her Government to consider.
§ Mr. Dunwoody
The hon. Gentleman is not suggesting, is he, that the reason the companies wish to have a second channel is that they are not interested in making an extra profit?
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
I am suggesting that the making of a profit is not the sole criterion of those who are involved in private enterprise broadcasting.
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
The making of a profit—unless the hon. Gentleman wants to go back to subsidies, taxes and all the rest of the Socialist paraphernalia—depends on the way one puts on programmes. How else can it be done?
Let me remind the House of what is on the table. It consists of a number of responsible suggestions. The first is the acceptance of the need that there should be programmes within ITV2 for independent producers. That would include those who are financed privately, or the TUC, CBI or any other community groups concerned with national or local issues. I am using as a background note an IBA document from a speech made by Mr. A. W. Pragnell, the deputy director general of the Authority. The document says:We see independent productions from such sources occupying about 1/7th of the production time of the new channel.Then Mr. Pragnell proposes that the opportunities should be expanded for as much as a seventh of production time to regional ITV companies, which have increasingly proved their value to the network. Thirdly, he suggests that there should be programmes from central ITV companies, but that instead of providing 70 per cent, of the total output the proportion should be about 40 per cent.
692 In addition, strong and important proposals are made to provide educational programmes. I agree that possibly the financing of such programmes would come from those people who support education privately or who believe that it is a matter of community effort. Local education authorities might have to pay their whack to put on programmes—for instance, through an open college of the air. It is clear that the IBA believes in letting education form an integral part of the new service and, what is more, that some of it should find a place at peak times.
There are other proposals which involve the management and the planning of ITV2 which would much reduce the power of the big five companies, to which the hon. Lady takes exception. Hon. Gentlemen appear to disagree with what I am saying, but these are serious proposals. I am saying to the hon. Member for Crewe and those who think as she does that if they want the debate to continue not only in this House but in the country on sensible grounds and on grounds that people can understand, it is time we took out of the argument all this pejorative phrase-making.
These proposals make sense, and I believe that they should commend themselves to the Government. I say this particularly bearing in mind that hon. Members on both sides of the House in the debate on the Annan Report last year broadly accepted that the Annan proposals for an OBA were totally impracticable. Indeed, we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan) that Lord Annan had admitted that such was the case.
There is, however, one other point which will be of some appeal and with which I should like to deal. It is not a financial matter but organisational, and is in answer to the question "What is the value of bringing in a new authority?", leaving aside the financial objections which have been voiced so convincingly. The Guardian in a recent editorial gave one answer dealing with the advantage of having a new authority. That newspaper generously allowed Sir Denis Forman, chairman and joint managing director of Granada Television, to refute the answer provided by The Guardian. The Guardian article had commented: 693If you want different sorts of programmes and priorities, you must have a different structure, run by different people.Sir Denis Forman, in reply, said that nobody could say that BBC2 had any different structure or organisation for it to produce very different programmes—in other words, it was not "more of the same thing" with BBC2. He was saying that there was a big difference between the two channels. He continued:Yet both BBC services are run within the same structure under the same Board of Governors. The many fresh programmes in the two-channel BBC have come from the 'new people' not in the shape of additional boards of governors but of a new channel controller and new creative staff. It is surely naive to believe that a new board of governors and a new structure would ipso facto produce a new kind of television. It is the programme executive, the producers and the independent creative people who will do that.I was once involved in a programme which broke new ground and pioneered many interesting developments in television. It was at the time when the BBC's monopoly was broken. I refer to the original "Tonight" programme. It was still the same chairman of the board of governors, still the same director general, but there were a lot more new people, although some people who were not new or who were already involved in the BBC had an opportunity and that opportunity came about because of the breaking of a monopoly.
I believe that if the Government will rise to the proposals suggested by ITV2, it will not be necessary for them to create a new body or board to get the balance, the quality of programming, which the hon. Lady so rightly emphasised, and the variety which takes into account the need of minority interests to play their part in enriching television in this country.
Delay has already caused a great deal of harm to the morale of those who have to plan and make the big investment decisions to avoid our lagging behind—which I fear we are in danger of doing—and to sustain the creativity and to reward, in the best way they know, those who work in television by giving them the framework within which they can make the decisions and reveal the talents which are there to be used for the benefit, not just of themselves or of the bodies which they serve, whether the BBC or the independent companies, but of the British viewer.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)
We are debating the Second Reading of the Independent Broadcasting Authority Bill. It is, as the Minister rightly said, a modest Bill, and I would go along with that view. I also maintain that it is modest due to the incompetence of the hon. Lady's Department—and I hope that she will go along with that.
The Bill relates to two small points. One is the extension of the duration of the Authority's function and the second is the broadcasting of the proceedings of Parliament. I propose to deal only with the first point, the extension of the duration of the Authority's function.
I maintain that it is the duty of the Government to govern and not to procrastinate. This Bill is doing nothing but that. At Question Time today, it was pointed out to the Home Secretary that his Department had promised on three occasions to publish the White Paper on the future of broadcasting, and at least today he was sufficiently honest to say that he did not know when it would be published, although privately afterwards he said that it might be in the not too distant future.
The right hon. Gentleman said—and I thought that this was an interesting comment—that it was better that it should not be published quickly lest he should come to the wrong answer. I suggest that if he had a history of waiting for a long time and of then arriving at the right answer, that argument would have had some credibility. But there is nothing that this Government—in fact most Governments—have done which would have us believe that the longer they think about a matter, the more correct is the decision arrived at or the action that is taken. For that reason, I do not accept what he said.
Independent broadcasting has always been governed by cycles. If the revenue is buoyant, the levy is increased, the proposal comes before this House, and by the time it becomes law there is a period of economic misery; so there are representations, as a result of which the levy is lowered, and then there is an upturn in prosperity.
The television cycle has been simply bound up with the fact that legislation has never actually fitted circumstances. It 695 is as if the great programme controller in the sky fired a rocket that said "Enough" and then everything went backwards. For instance, last year was homosexuality year and one in which everybody prepared programmes to deal with it. They now find that this year is nuclear weapon year; everything has gone wrong, and it is too late to change what has been done.
It is always said that we score over other countries because we have no political involvement in broadcasting. To an extent, that is true, certainly compared with Sweden, where the Swedes debate programme schedules in their House of Representatives. However, it is untrue—in that it is the decisions that we make here that keep the BBC going and the lack of decisions that are such an appalling burden to the IBA.
The hon. Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Johnson Smith) made a point about the BBC licence. Let me tell him that it is a time-honoured rule that revenues from taxation are not earmarked for specific purposes. I do not accept that if the Government gave a certain sum to the BBC, totally unconnected with the amount of revenue raised by the television licence fees, it would make a blind bit of difference or give this House any more control over the BBC than the money that we vote to Her Majesty the Queen affects her personal politics.
§ Mr. Freud
Or her sister's, as the hon. Gentleman says. If we did so—and this is a rotten argument—it would be much better done in the case of the Betting Levy Board, which would desperately like even only 25 per cent, of the money raised by betting tax, or on the road tax fund. Heaven knows that if we had a little more of the money derived from road tax licences for highways, motoring would be very much easier.
I should like to go through the history of the IBA. From the beginning until 1968, there was a contract. The companies had a book of rules. They did not much like it, but they abided by it. In 1968, as Sir Denis Forman said, the referee sent off two sides. They were replaced by two more, and the companies that remained knew that they were to be with us for seven more years, then 10, 696 now 12. Because of the delaying tactic that the Government have brought before us, the last two years will be full of intrigue and reorganisation and, as the hon. Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan) said, it is difficult for any television company to exist in the atmosphere of the uncertainty that will pertain.
The White Paper, which will be published in the autumn or the turn of the year or sometime, will deal with the future of broadcasting, but this is being delayed until it is channelled, I suppose, through the usual channels. The Annan Report was the twenty-fifth report on sound broadcasting since 1948.
The Government's action in delaying the publication of the White Paper and bringing in a Bill to give the IBA an extra two years and five months of life is failing to grasp the nettle and is dodging the issue. In a lecture given to the IBA, Sir Denis said:I would remind our masters in Westminster that there is a fixed term for General Elections. Although they may be more frequent, they cannot be postponed beyond five years and once the writ is issued, polling takes place in three weeks. At this moment, ITV has no writ issued, no date for its next franchise and no certainty about its future constitution.That is a valid point. Between the different options open to the Government, there are wide hectares of common ground. Whether it is the IBA, ITV2 or the boys in advertising, basically all that has to be decided is who shall hold the deeds and who manages the estate. The OBA has obviously not been thought about with sufficient care, and Lord Annan himself admitted this fact.
The Government are here to govern and not to retard legislation. It is the view of ITV companies that they are being punished for making a good job of the franchise. They believe, with some justification, that a Labour Government are resentful of profits—and ITV companies make large profits. They create programmes that are watched by substantially more people than watch party political programmes. They believe that nothing fails like success and that it is for that reason that they are being punished.
I hold no special brief for the IBA, ITV, BBC local radio or independent local radio, but there are four channels on a television set and only three of them are being used. There is a vast amount of 697 talent and equipment ready to implement local radio. All it needs is the go-ahead.
I suggest that we should decide who is ready and able to do the work and allocate the facilities to the people best able to exploit them for the entertainment of the nation. If it is to their commercial benefit, good luck to them. No legislation is needed to bring this about.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)
The debate has been characterised, as are most debates on broadcasting in the House, by a relatively sparse attendance and a mellifluous succession of special interests paraded before us. We are used to having interests declared and a procession of commercial acumen and eager aggrandisement displayed before us. Today it was in the shape of my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) and the hon. Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan)—the Bootsie and Snudge of commercial radio. We have heard precisely this form of lobbying: monopoly is bad. This has been repeated constantly, particularly from the Opposition side of the House, over the years, but duopoly rules OK and long may it continue.
I shall hope to show later why most of the arguments brought to bear on the breaking of the monopoly also apply to the breaking of the duopoly. I must pause, however, to say that the parade of arguments we have heard so far reached its reductio ad absurdum with the notion that the poor independent companies are being punished by having their right to use the public air waves extended without challenge or constraint for a further three and a half years. That is some punishment when they can earn record profits each year.
§ Mr. Whitehead
Indeed. If this form of flagellation is all that we are inflicting upon the companies, it is the sort of punishment that one would expect in Paradise.
The companies that came into their estate in 1968 on what were intended to be seven-year and not 10-year franchises will have had them for the best part of 13 years before they have to give them up and render proper accounting when 698 the IBA scrutinises them, if, after that, we are to have a form of independent television. I assume that we shall and that this is an assumption of the Bill, although it is a temporary one.
I am not opposing the Bill, but I want to point out what it does and does not entail. Obviously, it entails an extension of the contract for the 15 ITV companies. These contracts have run on for a good deal longer than was ever expected. It entails the regulations of the IBA Act remaining in force, with one exception covering the broadcasting of Parliament. I agree with what was said by the hon. Member for Howden about the Annan recommendations and the question of directors of various companies broadcasting on the air. We thought that it was daft to keep this restriction in force and I am sorry that we did not take the opportunity of the Bill to go the whole way and lift it.
It is interesting to find the hon. Member for Howden in full accord with the Annan Committee's proposals. I must declare my interest as a member of that committee. The hon. Gentleman was in full accord with the committee's proposals that were much to his benefit but became censorious when he turned to those areas that might in some degree curb his appetite.
We should now consider the way in which the Bill need not be interpreted. The Bill does not mean that we have to have necessarily the same contractors operating in the same way in all the areas of the IBA for the next three and a half years, or that the search for new contractors and contractual areas has to be delayed until the end of that period. It is probable that my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) will have more to say about that. I intend to mention it again in relation to the East Midlands contract.
The Bill does not mean that the present practices of the IBA in radio and television administration must all be preserved intact. Nor does it commit us, although many have tried to force this on us in the debates that have taken place previously, to the notion of an ITV2 run by the existing companies.
In bringing forward a Bill of this sort and further underpinning, as is inevitable, the composition of the IBA and its 15 contracting companies, we build 699 into the public's mind the assumption that what goes on after 1981 will not be significantly different from what has gone on heretofore. We have to look more seriously, perhaps, at the arguments for not extending the remit of the IBA, and certainly not extending further the area of operation of the companies, as an organisation operating together the network so called, than has been done thus far.
I direct my remarks to the first of the things that the Bill appears to rule out but which it does not necessarily rule out—namely, contractual areas. In the East Midlands it is almost unanimously felt—my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West will testify to this just as strongly as I do—that we are ill served by the existing contractor for the Midlands as a whole. That is not because the contractor is a bad company but because the area that it serves is so large and has little homogeneity as a region. I refer to ATV, which covers an area from The Wrekin in the North-West down to the Welsh borders, down to Oxfordshire and Berkshire and across to Lincolnshire and the East. That is not a region that can be covered if we take into account local interests. It is much too large. Many of us feel that the IBA should long ago have heeded the complaints made in the East Midlands and learnt the lesson of its own operation in the North-West when it divided—
§ Mr. Julian Critchley (Aldershot)
Would not one answer be in the short term to persuade ATV to set up a separate studio and facilities in Nottingham?
§ Mr. Whitehead
That short-term answer has a deceptive simplicity about it that we should avoid. If ATV goes ahead with its proposal to set up subsidiary stations in Nottingham and Oxford, it will use that as an argument against any division of the franchise area at a later stage.
§ Mr. English
My hon. Friend will recollect that the BBC has had such a studio for many years. He will recollect that ATV went to the Nottinghamshire County Council, which is controlled by the Conservative Party, only to be asked "Why have you not done this at any time in the past 23 years?"
§ Mr. Whitehead
The answer to that, as my hon. Friend knows, is purely coincidental. 700 Amazingly enough, ATV is now trying to tell us that these offices are being opened without regard to the torrent of criticism to which it has been subjected in the East Midlands.
In my opinion there should be an East Midlands contractor and the contractual area should be based on the Waltham transmitter, reaching in excess of 2 million people. Little re-engineering would be necessary, and the IBA is well enough financed to undertake the necessary engineering work for such relay stations as are wanted. That area would provide a station that would come into the intermediate six companies, as they would then be, and leave ATV, which is a major company and one of the big five, still with its own area, including about 5 million people.
That would leave the East Midlands with, I hesitate to say a lucrative, but a financially viable advertising area in terms of revenue. It would leave it with an identity of interest that has not been reflected by the large, sprawling ATV contract, which has its main film studios outside the franchise area altogether and extensive interests in other areas through the Associated Television Corporation and in making films for the United States. Those may be praiseworthy activities as regards the export market, but they butter very few parsnips with housewives in Nottingham, Derby and Leicester, and with various community leaders, including the Conservative chairman of the Derbyshire County Council, who has written to the IBA proposing such a change.
§ Mr. Wyn Roberts
The hon. Gentleman will probably be aware that there are other parts of the country—for example, North Wales—that are not very well served by their regional television stations. Does he not think that the IBA is possibly wrong in not putting more pressure on the contractors to provide studio facilities where there is popular demand for them? Or does he think that the contractors are unduly inhibited by the brevity of the tenure of contract?
§ Mr. Whitehead
I do not regard the length of time that they have had as brevity, given the return on equity. No commercial companies can enjoy. No company enjoying an ITV contract has ever failed to reapply for its licence. The companies are aware of the rewards that 701 they can enjoy. I accept that the hon. Gentleman has more experience of Welsh television than I have, and he should put the problem to the IBA.
In some areas the IBA has in the past been far too much in pawn to the companies. It has taken the companies' view. It has accepted the companies' line. That is one of the reasons that leads me to think that we need a new authority and not the IBA to run the fourth channel.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will indicate when she replies the Home Office interest in this matter. I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has received a deputation on the matter and that he has made contact with the IBA. I know that the IBA is considering initiating an engineering survey and various public meetings in the East Midlands so that it may know the extent of support for an East Midlands television contractor.
If we are to have such a contractor, it is essential to start quickly. It is essential to begin to bring forward ideas—in some instances they might be radical—about how such a company can operate and where it should be based. That should be done long before we go into the business, if we go into it at all, of reallocating the licences as a whole for all the other areas, which I assume would be the existing contract areas.
I make some final comments about the sttrictures that have been levelled by the various directors of radio companies and television companies at the proposals of the Annan Committee. These strictures relate to the Bill as the Bill appears to entrench the duopoly and the position of the IBA. It is my belief that we needed to have the examination entailed in the deliberations of the Annan Committee.
The hon. Member for Howden has said that it was all a waste of time and how splendid it was that the then Minister responsible, Mr. Chataway, swept away the Annan Committee in 1970. We know why that happened. One of the reasons was that the hon. Gentleman, with his extensive interests and interest in the singular—we know that he has wide knowledge of these matters—railroaded the Conservative Party into accepting a proposal for 100 commercial radio stations.
702 That proposal was put in peril by the setting up of a committee of inquiry. It could not have gone through if the committee of inquiry had put it under the scrutiny of factual analysis. That is why the Conservatives dumped the Annan Committee. They wanted to extend their half, the commercial half of the duopoly, without the benefit of an investigation or impartial inquiry. As a member of such an inquiry when it was finally set up, I can say that that is a pressure under which we labour the whole time. These extraordinarily well-financed and eloquent interests are always with us. They are always putting forward their proposals at every level. They are very well represented in the House and are able to make their case through their institutions of communication which mediate the whole debate in the country. That is why we have to argue much more seriously for the alternative OBA case.
My hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby, in his engaging, homespun way, said that he had been to Columbus, Ohio—
§ Mr. Whitehead
My hon. Friend has not been to Colombus, Ohio, but he believes that the 33 television channels there are very good. Apparently more means better.
I have been to Dayton, Ohio, and seen all 25 channels simultaneously on the enormous bank of monitors which some Canadian companies have, which show what is going on on the cable at any one time. I will tell my hon. Friend about some of the choice that is available. Three or four channels will be soft pornography running for all the hotel rooms on closed circuit on payment of $3 a time. My hon. Friend may not think that that widens the choice very much. Another channel will have cable drums of advertisements endlessly going round before a camera. My hon. Friend may think that is not widening choice very much.
A few more channels will carry various sponsored programmes telling people in more sophisticated terms, for richer advertisers, what is going on in Dayton, Ohio, or in Toronto, Ontario, or where-ever it may be. Is that what my hon. Friend means by more choice? I think that it is in some ways debauching, not extending, choice.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell
Since my hon. Friend has called me Snudge, perhaps I may thank Zebbedee for accepting this interruption. My hon. Friend's alternation between straight commercial pleading for an East Midlands channel and high principled condemnation of everyone else in the House leads me to ask one question. Was I not saying that more channels would work in the British, not the American, context? That context is very different and will not necessarily provide us with the choice between lowest common denominators about which my hon. Friend was talking which goes on in the United States.
§ Mr. Whitehead
It very easily might if we had anything like the American model. It is dangerous to introduce into argument the example of a particular city in the United States when one has not visited it and does not know what the quality of the programme is.
With regard to East Midlands television, I favour the proposals of an organisation called ComCon, which suggested that it should be community-controlled. That is why, when I was going into these proposals, I said that it could provide radical innovations which would not be possible if we continued with ITV1 in its present form, given the mass blockage of shareholder power within the existing ITV system. It is not that I want something like what we already have in the East Midlands. I should expect to see something better, and I think that there is a novel way of getting it.
I return briefly to the question of the duopoly and all the splendid planning which would make sure that we had new ideas coming out of ITV2. Those who argue for it—this hesitation was apparent in Sir Denis Forman's article in The Guardian recently—are never absolutely straight in their own minds whether they are arguing, as a managing director of Trident Television has done, for a new programme contractor coming in and working directly for the IBA—I suppose that that would be a channel run in a different way by the same authority—or whether they want the existing network somehow locked into this new piece of real estate operating the second channel as well.
§ Mr. Whitehead
I think that both of them suffer from one natural disadvantage. First and foremost, ITV2 is run in the interests of ITV. It is run in the interests of ITV, first, because it sees off any possible competition with ITV or with the sources of revenue which ITV enjoys and, secondly, because it allows any expansion of programming to be in the interests of the companies—the big five companies in particular. I think that there are more interests in broadcasting than are covered by the big five companies, or, indeed, by the network as a whole.
The Annan Committee said that it wanted to see the companies putting some of their talents and productions on to the fourth channel, but it wanted it to be done under a new authority in a new way. What is meant by a "new way"? Essentially, it meant that education, the Open University, and the independent procedures, whom some hon. Members have sought to scoff at in the debate, should have a higher place in the scheduling of the station. The Annan Committee did not believe that anything dominated by the ITV companies would give that result. Nor did it believe that the IBA, accustomed as it is to working with those companies, would be the best way to achieve what was wanted.
People say to me "You are creating a new bureaucracy." I reply "Yes, we would be if we had that instead of the IBA." But sometimes small bureaucracies are better than big ones. That is something that I have learned perhaps painfully over the years. The bigger the bureaucracy, often the more hog-tied it is in the way that it operates. So a small bureaucracy running the new channel, for which one could make many of the claims that were made 20 years ago for the setting_ up of ITV, would be the best way to do it.
The final point on this matter concerns how it will be financed. People say that Annan did not work it out. Indeed, Lord Annan has agonised in public about it. One of the reasons why we were caught and why we had to come to a unanimous agreement and reach a compromise about financing was that we allowed ourselves to be fooled by the Treasury into believing that hypothecation could not work. This time-honoured principle, as Sir Denis Forman discovered because it 705 marches with his own argument which he mentioned in the Guardian, does not necessarily seem to bind us. Money is being taken out of broadcasting through the levy. Money can be put back into broadcasting either by a grant-in-aid or by special appropriations for special services, whether from the Department of Education and Science, the Arts Council or wherever it may be.
As regards other sources of revenue, the committee mentioned one in the shape of a different form of advertising—block advertising rather than the spot advertising that people have to endure on ITV and which would exist in complementary form on ITV2.
Another way of raising revenue which has been trailed this week by Mr. Robin Day in The Times, although he did not mention the OBA, is the idea of a national lottery. People would know that they were both indulging their gambling instincts and, at the same time, supporting a worthy institution—in this case a public service. I see no reason why these ideas should not be tried if the will is there.
We should not wait much longer for the White Paper. It is not, as the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) said, that the Government have not made up their mind. The problem is that the Government have made up their mind more than once. They have made up their mind so often that no White Paper has appeared. To some degree, I blame the civil servants and indecision in the Cabinet for that situation. But we should have a White Paper. It should be a courageous White Paper. It should listen not to the vested interests but to the real interests of broadcasting.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas (Merioneth)
I am particularly glad to follow the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) as I find myself in agreement with what he said about the OBA structure. Originally, when I spoke in the debate on the Annan Report a year ago, I was opposed to the extension of the OBA structure to Wales. I have since changed my mind. I believe that such a structure can take in both the existing commercial companies which are producing programmes in Wales, about which I shall have something to say later, and the BBC and independent 706 producers, particularly the independent film-makers now being established in Wales, and put out those programmes, which would be devoted mainly to Welsh language broadcasting, on the fourth channel.
The continuing delay in publication of the White Paper, which was indicated in the unsatisfactory replies by the Home Secretary at Question Time today, will cause profound concern to all in Wales—there is virtual unanimity in Wales on this issue—who want the fourth channel to be set up immediately for Welsh language broadcasting.
There has been argument whether that should lead to the transferring of Welsh language programmes from the existing channels. I believe that it is the only acceptable solution. The delay in setting up the fourth channel in Wales—the delay in the Government's commitment made three years ago to the Welsh people—has resulted in an increasing lobby being mounted by the commercial company which operates within Wales—HTV—to try to ensure that the fourth channel is not allocated mainly to Welsh language programming, on the basis that the language should be spread over all the channels.
As I see it, the argument about the use of the Welsh language on the other channels has been deployed by that commercial company as a smokescreen for its own wish to continue with the franchise in Wales and to extend the commercial outlets in Wales to the fourth channel as well.
I want to ask the Minister some questions which relate specifically to issues in Welsh language broadcasting which are relevant to our debate on the Bill. The third working party in succession has been looking at the structure of broadcasting in Wales, following the Annan recommendations. It is a working party consisting of representatives of the Under-Secretary's Department, the Welsh Office, the IBA, the BBC and HTV. Has the working party's report finally arrived at the Home Office? If so, when are we likely to have a decision on the report? The Siberry working party reported in 1975. That followed the Crawford Committee, which had recommended in the previous year that there should be a fourth channel in Wales for mainly Welsh 707 language programmes. We now see yet further delays.
I should like to hear from the Under-Secretary tonight whether we are to have an announcement on the future of the fourth channel in Wales before the White Paper is produced. If we are not, if we are not to have the go-ahead for the fourth channel in Wales before the White Paper is produced, goodness knows when we shall have any movement on the fourth channel. Already we have been told that legislation cannot be introduced this Session, which means that we shall be taken into 1979. Presumably, the three-year period from the Government's decision to having the channel on the air will mean a delay well beyond 1983.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)
There is a universal feeling in Wales that the fourth channel should be given to Welsh language programmes. But the difficulty facing the Government is that a fourth channel would require additional transmitters, and what we need to be thinking about is a temporary arrangement, using BBC 2, when it is not otherwise being used, for extra Welsh language programmes and relieving the two existing programmes.
§ Mr. Thomas
Indeed. The BBC has put out certain Welsh language programmes on BBC2—coverage of the eisteddfod and so on. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support on this issue and for the opportunity to press on the Minister the unanimity within all parties in Wales about the need for a quick decision to go ahead with the fourth channel, to honour the commitment that the Government made to the Welsh people more than three years ago.
In the interim, we have been pressing for an extension of what we consider to be a priority area of Welsh language programming on all channels—programmes for young children. The Home Secretary in September received a deputation led jointly by the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells) and myself, with the support of the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis), on this very question. With my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans), I met Lord Harris, the Under-Secretary's noble Friend with responsibility for these matters in the other place, to press further on this 708 issue six weeks ago. A national conference met in Aberystwyth, and a steering committee of the conference met in Aberystwyth last Friday.
We have been pressing for a system whereby the Government can make money available to the BBC, with a subvention by HTV from its increasing profits, to increase immediately the hours of Welsh language programmes for children. We have estimated that we require immediately at least an extra half hour a day of programmes for young children. This would be relatively inexpensive in television terms. We are talking about £8,000 per half hour. If we had £500,000 funding for this from the Government, we could immediately go ahead with an extra half hour a day. What is happening over the submissions to the Government made over six months ago and backed up by a national conference?
We had a clear statement from the Annan Committee in paragraph 26.31 onwards—I shall not quote it because I do not want to take up too much time—that there should be a decision by the Government on the provision of a fourth channel in Wales, and that this should certainly precede the use of the channel in the rest of the United Kingdom. It was then suggested that when the fourth channel was operating in the rest of the United Kingdom the OBA could well take responsibility for the fourth channel in Wales. But we need an interim decision in Wales before we move to the legislation that I should like to see to set up the OBA to run the fourth channel in the rest of Britain.
I come to a number of specific questions on the Bill. First, I ask the Minister to confirm that the extension of the life of the IBA does not automatically mean an extension in the franchise period of the companies. This is very important not only for those in the East Midlands, as we heard from the hon. Member for Derby, North, but for those of us in Wales who are extremely dissatisfied with the attitude and performance of the commercial company that operates in Wales. I am not referring to Granada or Westward, nor am I thinking of those in my constituency who prefer RTE to either BBC Wales or HTV. I am referring to HTV as the company which covers the whole of Wales, in theory.
709 HTV was set up initially through the leadership of the television commentator, John Morgan. We are reliably informed that the idea came to him in a Soho pub, and that he subsequently rang up another distinguished Welsh broadcaster, Wynford Vaughan-Thomas, and then managed to persuade my noble constituent, Lord Harlech, to head the consortium.
When the consortium first appeared on the scene, it had many distinguished international names: Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, who were then associated; the late Stanley Baker; Geraint Evans; and Harry Secombe. It produced a fabulous—that word in its true meaning is very appropriate in this context—prospectus. Wynford Vaughan-Thomas has told us the particular vintage of wine which was decanted when the prospectus was being written.
It appeared from the prospectus that the company promised at least fortnightly appearances by John Morgan and Geraint Evans and at least an annual appearance by Richard Burton. When the vice-chairman of HTV, Sir Alun Talfan Davies, listens to the recording of this debate or reads my remarks, I am sure that he will be able to confirm how many times Richard Burton has appeared on HTV in the past 10 years.
What we have seen in the creation of HTV and in the way in which it has operated since making those great promises is yet another attempt by commercial interests to set up a company which has a veneer of Welshness, a veneer of local cultural appeal, which made it acceptable to the IBA. But the resulting performance of the company has in my view been dismal. I use that word advisedly.
It is not only a matter of its performance. I do not want to comment at great length on programme content. There is also the fact that, when resources are desperately needed to make better programmes in two languages, the company has continually been siphoning money out. What concerns me is that the Bill will mean that for a further two and a half years the company will be siphoning out money from television.
There was a flood of profits in 1975. That led the company to siphon off £1.8 million of its franchise profits. The 710 money went first to buy fine art dealers Frost and Reed. That was the first example of mass diversification by HTV. It was followed in the next year by a creaming off of £1.9 million. Not content with Frost and Reed, which made profits of £531,000 last year, HTV also purchased in 1977 the whole issued share capital of J. and T. Smith Ltd., which will be well known to have a very close connection with broadcasting and filmmaking. It is a firm of diary publishers, stationers and bookbinders.
In the period during which it has been the contracting company for most of Wales, HTV has taken out £4 million, and the IBA has sat back. I have criticised the IBA committee for Wales to its face and I have criticised it in the House. It has sat back and let this happen. When we desperately need more resources for programme-making in two languages, resources have been siphoned out of television.
The Annan Committee expressed concern about what it described as the substantial sums of money being removed from the television industry which should be used to improve programmes and conditions of employment. It said:For these reasons some members of the Committee consider that diversification by the television companies should be prevented or at least severely curtailed; they think that diversification safeguards shareholders at the expense of services and employees. They believe that the television companies hold a public right to make television programmes, not to be absorbed into media conglomerates which can easily become dominated by investment decisions in quite unrelated fields of real estate, catering and amusements.What is true of HTV is true of many other contractors. I must press the Minister on this question. An automatic extension of the life of the IBA is resulting in an automatic extension of further profit-making by HTV and the taking out of those profits from television when they are critically needed for programme-making. I must be fair to HTV. Not all its profits is going to the directors and shareholders. I am reliably informed by my weekly Welsh language newspaper Y Cymro that there is to be a great party at Longleat—suitably. I have not been invited—yet. There are to be special buses from Cardiff, Bristol and London. I am reliably informed that Lord Harlech is not to be fed to the lions.
711 The result of siphoning off the profit of these commercial companies out of television must result in a decline in programme-making and in the resources that are available. I stress that in Wales we are disapointed at the failure of the Government to move to a firm decision and honour their commitment to the Welsh people on a fourth channel for Wales. We are disappointed that tonight, rather than debating proposals for the future of the fourth channel, we are having a yet further extension of the commercial interests in Wales.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
This debate is a little gem. The whole process of Parliament—First Reading, Second Reading, Committee and Report stages and Third Reading in the House of Commons, and First Reading, Second Reading, Committee and Report stages and Third Reading in the House of Lords, and possibly some amendments between the Houses—has been invoked in order to do nothing.
The hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud), who spoke on behalf of the Liberal Party and who has disappeared—as happens with Members from the Liberal Party from time to time—in a sense was right. Here we are wasting the time of the House of Commons, and eventually wasting the time of the House of Lords, in order to say that what the IBA is supposed to do by law this July should not be done for two years.
In 1913, British trade was 30 per cent. of the trade of the earth. Now, it is not even one-third of that. It is less than 8 per cent. It is hardly surprising if the legislature of this country spends its time making great speeches about the proposition that we should defer what the IBA is supposed to be doing. It is a typical example of what is wrong with the country. It is also why people complain about us. In this context they are absolutely right. They are right to complain that we are wasting their time.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) made his points, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) and the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas). All these hon. Members have particular points that should be dealt with by the IBA. We are not satisfied in the East 712 Midlands with the service that we are getting, nor is the hon. Member for Merioneth satisfied with the service that he is getting in Wales. But what do we do? We defer it. We sweep the problem under the carpet and hide it away.
The hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) intervened earlier in the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North. His party is so interested that I believe that it has issued only a one-line Whip to its Members. His colleagues have been instructed to go away if they wish. They have gone away. They are not here. Only the hon. Member for Aldershot, a Whip, one hon. Member immediately behind him and another a little further away are on the Opposition Benches. This is the total extent of the interest of a party which claims to want to govern the United Kingdom in this medium of communication. It is the most interesting medium to most people, and most people watch it. The total extent of their interest is to have four Members of the Conservative Party in the Chamber to discuss what most people are watching now instead of listening to us.
I turn to the problems that concern those people who are watching. The hon. Member for Aldershot said "Is it not nice of Associated Television to offer to put a studio in Nottingham?"
§ Mr. Critchley
I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Member, but I made what I thought was a helpful suggestion. I said that I thought it might be prepared to do that.
§ Mr. English
One would have thought that it would have offered it 23 years ago. I believe that it got its franchise in the mid-1950s. That is only a little short of a quarter of a century ago. In the whole of that time, Associated Television has never set up a studio in the East Midlands. The BBC did. It set up a small studio which until recently operated only in black and white. Now it can deal with colour and is, therefore, more useful.
I see that the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) has joined the limited Opposition team, and has increased that team from four to five. I stand corrected. Still there are only four hon. Members on the Opposition Benches, because the hon. Member for Rushcliffe has replaced another hon. Member who has left the 713 Chamber. Of the Conservative Members in the Chamber, three-quarters of them are on the Opposition Front Bench.
In the East Midlands there are, I think, 44 Members of Parliament. As in any sensible economic planning and social region of the United Kingdom, there are no Liberal Members of Parliament in the East Midlands. Of those 44 hon. Members, about 35 Labour and Conservative Members are supporters of the principle that the East Midlands, which is a separate social region of the United Kingdom, should have its own television programme company. That view is held irrespective of party.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North kindly said that I led a delegation to the Home Secretary. The truth, however, is that the hon. Member for Beeston (Mr. Lester), who is a Conservative Whip, and I led a delegation to the Home Secretary. We have always kept this matter on a bipartisan level. There has never been any political disagreement on this subject. The belief in the East Midlands that the region should have a separate programme company is almost universal.
I am informed by people who serve on the Independent Broadcasting Authority that there are three reasons for having a separate programme company. They say that one is social, one engineering and the third financial. The second point, on engineering, boils down to the question of finance. The IBA may construct transmitters, but then it rents them out and charges for its services. If programme companies rent transmitters, ultimately it is the advertisers who pay for them. So for a viable television company, engineering should not be a problem, but it is. I and my colleagues in the East Midlands do not wish the machine to continue to dominate mankind.
It was perfectly understandable that in the mid-1950s everyone was trying to hurry. Television had been reinstated after the war. It appeared in the South-East, and immediately people in Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow wanted to see this wonderful new medium. In a great hurry it extended from the South-East to Birmingham, Manchester and Scotland. By erecting a couple of television masts on the Pennines, it was possible to serve Lancashire and Yorkshire. The old "Granadaland", as it was called when I lived there, which 714 constituted Lancashire and Yorkshire, was serviced by that one company. But Lancashire and Yorkshire did not regard themselves as the same. They are not identical, and most people born in one would regard the other highly but as slightly secondary to their own county.
Now, the old "Granadaland" has been split up into Lancashire and Yorkshire. At the time that the original Granada company was established, the Midlands region was also created, in television terms. That embraces two regions which have been socially distinct for so long that in the ninth century the East Midlands was conquered by the Danes while the West Midlands escaped a similar fate.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell
May I express my support for the cause that my hon. Friend is developing, but may I ask him to cease drawing attention to the numbers of Members in the Chamber since I shall be withdrawing from it?
§ Mr. English
I am far too skilful a politician to draw attention to the numbers of Members present on my side. I always do it in respect of the Opposition, and I see that their number is still four, but with a different composition.
In the past it was necessary, from an engineering point of view, to hurry to establish television transmitters wherever they could be established. My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North said that he would like an East Midlands region established, based on the Waltham transmitter. I understand that that transmitter is in its present location only by pure accident. The engineers wanted to put it somewhere else to serve the East Midlands, but the local planning authority concerned would not have such a nasty thing in its area. The result was that it was put in its present location to save time. The bodies concerned could have argued about the matter for six months, but instead they located it in the area of another planning authority. That is the sort of reason why transmitters are located where they are.
Engineering should not be a reason for not having separate programmes for the East Midlands. The East Midlands is a separate region. It is certainly a separate economic planning region, just as the West Midlands, Yorkshire, the North-West, the South-East and the South-West 715 are. Those regions may not be perfect in terms of exact boundaries, but they are approximately the social regions of England. The people of the East Midlands are nearly as great in number as the people of Scotland and are more numerous than the people of Northern Ireland. They therefore deserve to be able to see themselves and their own social organisations on a television screen.
I understand that the Home Office does not want these nasty discussions coming up just before the next General Election. Its only contribution to this problem is this Bill, which says "Let us defer the matter for two years."
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Giles Shaw (Pudsey)
We are having a fairly desultory debate tonight and the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) was not unjust in drawing attention to the fact that here we are, in the week in which the radio broadcasting of our proceedings commenced, actually discussing broadcasting, yet the House is virtually empty. He is right that this debate is about extending the franchise of the IBA, which is a decision of enormous importance. It has come very late for the reasons that hon. Members have already explained.
Perhaps I may declare an interest of a different kind. I am a member of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries. At present we are investigating the IBA. Perhaps the only good result that may have come from this Bill is that the report of the Select Committee will be available before the Government produce their Green Paper or White Paper on the subject—I have no doubt it will be well in time for that. It is important that as a Committee we update our views on broadcasting. I must be careful about the extent to which I discuss in the Chamber the proceedings of our Committee. We have had certain public sessions, however, and I believe that I can recall some of the points that were made.
First, let me dramatise the anxiety which has been expressed at the approach adopted by the Government. It is a non method. It is a decision to postpone a decision. As Lady Plowden, the chairman of the IBA said the other night, this is a mini mini Bill; it is not even a mini Bill. As so many hon. Members have 716 said, such an approach perpetuates the uncertainty, but, further, it is an extraordinary decision to take in straight economic terms.
At the moment the Authority runs its independent radio companies on the basis of annual rolling contracts. I feel certain that the decision is due in part at least to the expiry of its franchise, which was to be next year and because many radio stations have been set up recently. It is a good testing procedure. The Authority is faced with two and a half years of continued viability. The whole of the independent radio network, therefore, will presumably continue to operate on a 12-months, begging-bowl-to-begging-bowl operation. To perpetuate that consequence I find thoroughly distasteful.
If there is one fact that our Committee will in due course pronounce upon it is that there is a thriving and extremely valuable and socially oriented medium now in existence—independent local radio. I am deeply saddened that the Government should have decided to postpone their decision by that time and compound the difficulty of establishing permanent viable thriving companies which could provide services to listeners in the regions.
The decision is not to be welcomed commercially for another reason. I can well understand the Government's reluctance to get involved in a decision which could leave awkward electoral problems in its wake. If they decide to act one way—commercially—they will be criticised; but they would be criticised anyway if they went for the OBA decision, so we had best forget the criticism.
But the important thing, in my judgment, is that one has a viable climate in which to make that decision. It so happens that in the question of channels, whether they be radio or television, one currently has a satisfactory climate. Even the smallest radio company has been able to generate funds and to sustain its life. There have been substantial difficulties in the past. Major companies—one of the London companies, as the Under-Secretary will know—have very nearly collapsed and have had to be sustained by a further injection of capital. But currently the climate which provides the revenues for independent local radio is good, as it is good for independent television companies.
717 If ever there was a time in which one could make a decision or a recommendation that involved the use of risk capital—I shall not be drawn at present as to the details of that decision—this is that time. As far as one can judge, over the next year or two the prospects for generating advertising revenue through local radio or through television certainly appear buoyant. To postpone the decision for up to two and a half years could well mean running the substantial risk of having a climate that was not nearly so buoyant for the creation of a new creature, whatever that creature might be.
Therefore, I deeply regret that decision that the Government have taken when they could have taken a decision that would have fertile ground on which to grow.
§ Sir P. Bryan
With his great experience of marketing, does not my hon. Friend agree that the buoyancy of advertising or the future of advertising is the most difficult thing to foretell that one could imagine? Even the greatest experts cannot forecast a year ahead.
§ Mr. Shaw
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As far as I know, not only is there no practical formula to be applied to it, but the consequences of one's planning, in marketing terms, are quite often overtaken by events of which there is absolutely no prospect. Many must be astounded even now, when our economy is only just beginning to recover from a traumatic period, that there should be a buoyant advertising climate, but that is so. There are others more qualified than I to comment upon it.
I want to turn briefly to some other elements. I must regret the continued anguish that is expressed in the House about the commercial interests. If I regret one thing, it is that the late Lord Thomson was ill-advised enough to make the statement that a television franchise was a licence to print money. If ever four or five words were used to ill-serve the medium of which he was so distinguished a member, they were those words.
§ Mr. Shaw
At the time when Lord Thomson uttered those words, under the extremely favourable monopoly conditions 718 that existed then, it was undoubtedly a true statement.
It is the duty of this House—as has, to some extent, already been delivered in the way in which the IBA has developed—to ensure that any decision that this House takes in relation to the future of broadcasting does not perpetuate any monopoly condition. The test that I would apply to whatever might be instituted as the new structure for the IBA would be the extent to which it was genuinely competitive, because then one would ensure that the late Lord Thomson's aphorism would be proved to be false.
§ Mr. English
Does the hon. Member realise that that is what all of my Conservative and Labour colleagues in the East Midlands wish, a little competition, instead of being monopolised by Shepperton and Birmingham, neither of which is in the East Midlands?
§ Mr. Shaw
The hon. Member has made his point admirably, and I endorse it. In an area as large as the East Midlands, we should be able to fund a separate television area without too much major risk being taken.
I have been slightly deflected, and I want to return to the point about the commercial climate. I have referred to the antagonism about it. The reason why I so deeply regret it is that not only does it prejudice too much the opinions of hon. Members upon such an important issue as this but it is symptomatic of what I regard as a major decline in our attitudes towards commercial interest
For example, we spend, quite rightly, a great deal of our time discussing the problems of employment and investment in our basic industries, and in discussion of the diabolical state of the economy in our particular region. We tend to talk globally about the consequences of economic policies. But how often in the House do we ever mention the word "selling", or how often do we really take some pride in advertising? How often in the House do we talk about the consumer not as someone, in a sense, who needs protection—although I appreciate that there are areas of commercial activities from which the consumer should be protected—but as someone whose interest we should seek to stimulate in order to 719 buy, to create and, indeed, to provide jobs and investment and, therefore, a more viable economy?
I believe it to be a talisman of the future development of our economy that we encourage a much wider application of selling techniques and give salesmanship its proper place.
Within that context, the commercial interest is a totally honourable interest. It may have excesses, as any other form of activity will surely have. The aggrandisement of the big company, in television or elsewhere, is just as dangerous as the aggrandisement of the big trade union, and I agree that we should seek to curb it. But I deplore the writing-down, the whole time, of the people whose task in life is to generate sales, jobs and profits, because without such generation our future is nothing.
I have not finished my speech, but if the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins)—
§ Mr. Shaw
I appreciate the hon. Member's keenness and I know that, with his passionate interest in noise, he probably thinks that I have already had too many decibels. However, I shall continue for a little longer.
I regret that the Government have not seen fit to widen the scope of the Bill a little. Comments have been made by hon. Members about what could be done by a quite simple addition of clauses to widen the Bill in relation to the Authority. I draw the Under-Secretary's attention to the following specific point. She will know that, the IBA report and accounts for the year 1976–77 have now arrived, approximately 12 months after the conclusion of the financial year concerned. She will also know, as I think the House will know—if it does not, I must tell it—that this delay was in large measure due to a disagreement between the Authority and her Department in relation to the allocation of the profit that the IBA made.
As the director-general of the Authority made clear to our Committee at a public hearing, this was a matter of intensive discussion between, I suspect, the hon. Lady, or, possibly, her right hon. Friend the noble Lord, and the Authority, 720 as to the decision about what to do with the £1.2 million, I think, that the Authority had made. The Authority sought to place that money for reserve capital, and, bearing in mind the necessity of maintaining and improving the technical facilities for which the Authority is responsible, that seems to be a not unreasonable attitude of mind. The Government thought otherwise because they sought to have the money returned to the Consolidated Fund.
It is a truism that, if a nationalised undertaking is so rash as to make a profit, there is nothing so keen as the Treasury to try to get some of that profit back. On behalf of taxpayers, I welcome that attitude. On the other hand, the hon. Lady and her Department have a duty to ensure that the IBA can make adequate provision for capital replacement. Bearing in mind particularly the shortish future that the hon. Lady is prepared to give the Authority, I am a bit staggered that she has allowed this to be a subject of such enormous protraction and debate. What financial policy will the Minister now apply for the next two and a half years to the Authority's generated profits? It is not good enough merely to say that they will take each year as it comes. The Authority should know what the policy on its profits will be if it is to have two and a half years' more franchise.
My second point is of more general application—the question of joint coverage by the Authority and the BBC. Hon. Members will be aware of the intensive and protracted discussions of the coverage of the World Cup and other football matches in South America. It appears that the unfortunate viewer is to be provided with nothing but football, morning, noon and no doubt night, on both the main channels. The possibility of a shared arrangement has now finally collapsed. What will the Minister do about it?
The IBA has asked whether this matter can be arbitrated. Will the Minister appoint an arbitrator? If not, does she think that she is discharging her authority correctly in allowing this medium to be so monopolised because the two bodies cannot agree on a shared service, which can only benefit the consumer? There has been enough discussion about the importance of choice. The viewer should be given a reasonable choice in this matter.
721 The BBC, splendid corporation though it is, has not covered itself with glory in recent days. I was astounded that it found great difficulty in finding transmission time for the Archbishop of Canterbury on Good Friday but gave peak viewing time to the so-called "wizard" of the Ku Klux Klan when the Home Office had already declared him a prohibited immigrant. If that is the standard the BBC portrays as the proper franchise of the Reithian charter, I am astounded. If it seeks to retain its special position as the keeper of the Ark of the Covenant, it must seek more frequently to show that it believes what it says.
But we are concerned primarily with the IBA. The Government's decision to offer us this mini Bill is belated. We have no real alternative to accepting it. I am astounded that it must go through all the parliamentary processes, because this matter surely should be handled more sensibly. The IBA provides a range of services on television and radio which usually commands the majority of the audiences available. That is the testimony to its good sense, and I wish it well.
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
I am glad that the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw) did not sit down when I thought he was going to. If he had, we should have heard nothing from him about the interests of the viewers. Until then he had talked only about profits, selling and commercial viability, until one could have forgotten that television was for viewers. He talked as though it was for the interests of those who produce it.
§ Mr. Jenkins
No doubt that is true for some Conservative Members who have a close interest in the commercial viability of television. But we on this side recognise that television is for people to look at.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) drew attention to a problem in his area. The hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) mentioned the Welsh problems and the basic flaw in the IBA system. As the hon. Member for Pudsey reminded us, the Select Committee of which he is a member is investigating the IBA. I hope that it will not confine itself to the way in 722 which the system is operated now but will ask wider questions. Even if the hon. Gentleman finds the possibility repugnant, I hope that the Committee will consider whether commercial interests do not play too large a part in the decision-making process in commercial television.
The hon. Member for Merioneth felt that the money that programme companies in his area were investing elsewhere could be used to improve programmes. The hon. Member for Pudsey mentioned the amount that the Government take from commercial television. I believe that that money should also be devoted to improving programmes, but, under the present system, how can one be sure that if the Government did not take the money the programme contractors would have any change of heart and would not spend it elsewhere or invest it elsewhere themselves?
The Annan Committee has not tackled the problem of ensuring that, under the franchise system, commercial companies whose object must be, among other things, to satisfy their shareholders, to spread and safeguard their commercial interests, give programmes their proper share of the huge advertising income. After all, that income arises because people look at television—not primarily to see the advertisements, but to be entertained and to receive information and news. The advertising revenue is incidental: this is really entertainment and information money, of which the Government are taking a share.
The money should be ploughed back to improve programmes. The Pilkington Committee was right to say that the Authority should receive the advertising revenue and redistribute it among the programme contractors so as to remove the commercial incentive altogether. I do not suppose that the hon. Member for Pudsey will agree with that, but I hope that the Select Committee will not exclude the possibility of some rearrangement of responsibility between the IBA and the indepenedent programme companies.
The view is sometimes taken that, instead of being in charge of the companies, the IBA is their creature.
§ Mr. Giles Shaw
Perhaps I may correct one thing that I may have implied. The Select Committee is examining the IBA under its terms of reference to 723 examine the Authority's report and accounts. We are not conducting, as I may have implied, a mini-Annan.
§ Mr. Jenkins
I am rather sorry that that is the case, although obviously I understand that it must be so. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be reading the Official Report and I hope that he will take these points into consideration in preparing his White Paper.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West has referred to the small number of Conservative Members present. Admittedly, there are very few Labour Members present, but in a matter of this importance my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary might have done us the courtesy of perhaps opening the debate rather than leaving the entire burden in the very capable hands of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, who knows that I am one of her many admirers. I should have thought that a debate of this importance demanded the presence of the senior Minister at least in some capacity.
Although the Bill purports to do one small thing, that is, to extend the life of the existing services for a few years until the end of 1981, the debate has ranged much wider than the Bill might seem to justify. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have been generous enough to allow us to range widely. For this reason again I regret the absence of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and in saying that I in no way diminish my admiration for my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary.
In the Short Title it is stated that the period during which services are to be provided by the IBA is to be extended until 31st December 1981. It is a little unusual that the date should appear in the Short Title. The usual procedure would be for the date to appear in the body of the Bill. Some of us may wish the Committee to vary the date, and I should not like to be told in Committee that it was impossible to change the date, for example, to 31st December 1980.
I hope, therefore, that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will give us an assurance that it will be possible in Committee, if we so wish, to alter the date in the way that I have indicated. If that assurance could not be given, 724 I would have some doubts whether I could support the Second Reading. I was proposing to support it on the assumption that it would be possible to make that alteration in Committee.
Although there are 10 million people living in the London area, we have no real local television. There is never any programme of the type which exists in most cities or towns, on which, for example, Members of Parliament can speak about problems which relate to the area they represent. No such programme exists, except for "The London Programme", which is a good one, dealing once a week on commercial television specifically with London problems.
As for radio, in London we have at the moment three stations. First, there is Capital Radio. Although originally we were offered all sorts of tremendous artistic experiences, it has turned out to be a pop station. Suddenly it appears sometimes to be little else. Now that we are moving up towards the consideration of a franchise, we may find that there is a little less pop and a little more of other matters in order to fulfil the terms of the franchise. It is quite a good pop station. But it is, nevertheless, a pop station.
The London Broadcasting Company deals quite well with news and occasionally tells us the condition of the traffic in London, which is usually snarled up. That is certainly helpful. Radio London rather falls between the two stools. But neither of the two commercial radio stations nor the one BBC local radio station provides a sufficiently local service in London. This is one reason why I support the Annan Committee's recommendation that there should be a parent body concerned with co-ordinating local radio as a whole. I hope that my right hon. Friend will include that in his White Paper.
Only when there is a national body responsible for the co-ordination and creation of local radio shall we be able to divide London into areas in which there will be a recognisable local station. If this is not possible in a borough sense, it should at least be possible to have, say, three stations covering the area north of the river and three stations covering the area south of the river. With a local identity of that sort, we should have the possibility of enjoying in London what 725 many towns already enjoy. Some towns already have two genuine local radio stations which deal with local problems. We have nothing of that sort in London. Sometimes we hear that various parts of the country are deprived of benefits which London enjoys. In some respects Londoners do not enjoy the benefits which are enjoyed in some other parts of the country.
I do not know whether to wish that we should have from the Minister a White Paper or a Green Paper. If I thought that it would come down, broadly speaking, on the lines mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead), I should be in favour of a White Paper. If, on the other hand, it were to weaken Annan, I think that a Green Paper would be preferable, so that we could argue the matter a little more freely. However, we shall have to wait and see what happens in that respect.
I rather share the views of those who feel that it is a pity that the present services have to go on until the end of 1981 before we are able to make up our minds what to do about them. However, on the basis that if my right hon. Friend had taken notice of some of the advice he has been given the position would be much worse than it is at present, I support the Bill. At least we have the assurance that until the end of 1981 things will not get any worse. I agree with those who have said that, with all its faults, we have one of the best television and radio systems in the world.
It would be all too easy to make changes for the worse. Let us make sure that when we change the system of broadcasting we change it for the better. In my view, that will be achieved by increasing the amount of genuine choice available and by decreasing the degree of commercial control.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)
I am very pleased to follow the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins). I follow much of his argument and I certainly agree with his comment on the absence of the Home Secretary. In the light of the jibes which were flung across the Chamber by the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English), I point out to the House that 726 the Shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw), was present and contributed to the debate at the opening of it.
I rather doubt that the points just made about the removal of the flow of advertising revenue from each of the production companies—and its redirection directly into the IBA—would reduce the commercial incentive, as the hon. Member for Putney has suggested. The commercial incentive is not revenue-based. It is audience-based, as I think the hon. Member was pointing out earlier, and the incentive exists just as strongly within the BBC as it does within the independent television companies.
I do, however, support specifically and strongly the hon. Gentleman's advocacy of local radio. I am not as convinced as he is that the Annan formula is correct. I shall return to that in a moment. Being not quite as strong a supporter of the Annan Report as the hon. Gentleman, I would tend to invert the colours of the paper which I hope to see emanating from the Government as soon as possible.
The extension of the licence for the IBA is absolutely essential and, therefore, the Bill is sensible and to be welcomed. It is crucial to the good sense of broadcasting now. It is not doing nothing, as the hon. Member for Nottingham, West suggested. But the reason why the House has been empty is that the Bill would not have been necessary if the Government had not dragged their feet in the first place, as was pointed out by my right hon Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border and my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw).
If the Government had not resuscitated the Annan Committee, the whole decision-making process would probably have been out of the way. It was perhaps sad that the last Conservative Government did not take it that way when they were in power after 1970 in the same way as they took the vital steps on broadcasting when they came to power in the late 1950s. That is not to say that the Annan Report does not provide a most useful review of broadcasting in this country, because it does, but it does not add very much to the sum of debate as to the direction in which we should be going.
727 Nor would the Bill be necessary if the Home Secretary himself had stuck to his guns in sticking by the argument which it is reputed he carried into Cabinet and then was forced to give up. Nor would it have been necessary if the Government had not forced him to give up those original recommendations because they are continually kowtowing to their radical Left wing.
But none of this criticism comes very well from the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud), who criticised the Government. Of course, it is his responsibility that the Government are still here and in a position to drag their feet. If he and his party had not supported this Government, the Conservative Party would be in power and would be doing something sensible to carry broadcasting forward into the 1980s, the 1990s and the twenty-first century.
I should like to ask the Government one or two specific questions about the Bill. The first relates to the financial aspects of it. The Bill provides the power to extend the loans which have been made from time to time by the Government to the IBA. I wonder what the extent of the loan extension will be with regard to both time and amount. In addition, what additional loans do the Government expect to have to grant to the IBA during the two-and-a-half-year extended period of its existence?
In the other direction, there is no estimate in the Bill—indeed, there is no mention in the Bill—of what added funds will flow into the Treasury by the continuation of the IBA for two and a half more years—that is, funds over and above the funds that would already have flowed in between now and the beginning of that two-and-a-half-year extension period.
Are the Government sure—as the last part of the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum seems to indicate—that there will be no need for increased staff at the IBA during the extension period? I ask this question because the IBA is not a fat organisation. It is slim and energetic. It is perfectly possible that the Government will require the IBA to take steps during that two-and-a-half-year extension period which it would be impossible 728 to take without additional staff. There seems to be a commitment in the Bill to not adding to staff.
Indeed, I myself would hope that the IBA would be given one task. I am a little disappointed that the opportunity for debating the Bill has not led to an opportunity for giving the IBA that task—that is, of proceeding immediately with the extension of local radio broadcasting into other radio markets. In this I am delighted to support the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). I am sorry that he has left the Chamber.
In this context I should declare my interest, although it has no bearing on the argument that I shall make. I am a director of an advertising agency. That has no bearing because I advocate the extension of radio broadcasting, whether it is under the IBA's auspices or under the BBC's auspices. I should like to see both go ahead. But I should like to declare an interest which other hon. Members have declared before now—the interest of a Member of Parliament with a constituency which is, at least in part, covered by a local radio station, in this instance BBC Radio Brighton.
I have, therefore, been able to judge at first hand the excellent job that local radio can do, and is doing, in this country in the areas where it is already available. The Government give the indication that they are unaware that they have the right under the existing law to give the direction to the IBA to extend local broadcasting. They have that right. They require no additional legislation. They do not have to wait until the Annan Report or plans are brought forward.
It is all the more pity that the Government are not planning such an extension, because all the indications are that additional local radio is desired. It has proved itself in terms of quality and the audience which it can attract. With regard to the IBA, it has proved itself in economic terms as well. This is within the IBA's capability and plans—because the plans have been put forward to the Home Secretary by the IBA.
It is within the capability of both the IBA and the BBC, as was dramatically illustrated by the BBC's most excellent initiative during the storms in the West Country when Radio Taunton—which is sitting there waiting for the green light 729 to go—was put on air within a period of 24 hours. It carried on broadcasting throughout the period of the emergency and was then taken off and put back into mothballs, more's the pity.
It should also be mentioned in this context that extension of local radio under the IBA would cost the taxpayer not a penny over the period of the next three or four years. It could be financed directly from the secondary rental income which has now become available to the IBA. As I have already mentioned, it is no argument that this needs to be part of the greater Annan debate or plan flowing from the Annan paper, be it Green or White.
I advocate this step immediately because such authorisation now would ensure more local radio broadcasting, for more people, in less time, and at less cost—or no added cost—than the plans put forward in the Annan recommendations. It would also be brought about with a less bureaucratic heavy hand upon it, as Annan prescribed in its expansion formula under an OBA or LBA. Nor would it lead to unmanageable airwave clutter from overlapping broadcast signals. This is a point which is made too often against the giving of local radio stations by the Home Office. It is worth pointing out that there are in other communities and other countries small local radio stations—up to 10 or 12 in a market of 10,000 or 12,000 people.
The opportunity of debating the Bill has been missed as an opportunity for the Government to put forward their plans for and thoughts about tomorrow. We must have tomorrow in mind because next year the Government will attend the 1979 world administrative radio conference, where it will have to go into an international conclave in order to lay claim to radio frequencies for use in this country for the next quarter-century.
I have concentrated so far somewhat vicariously on Clause 1, the need for which I welcome as I value the broadcasting of proceedings of this House. Equally, I welcome Clause 2, which guarantees the free reporting of free speech in this House. This was something that was not always taken for granted, and most recently, when the Annan Report was published, the independent television companies were most reticent about carrying reports from politicians on 730 it because of the existence of these provisions. I share the wish with other hon. Members that the clause might have been drawn wider, and perhaps in Committee we shall have the opportunity of applying a wider basis.
I wish that the clause embraced more people and greater areas by the extension of local broadcasting. I believe that there should not be any identifiable community that does not have in the foreseeable future at least one local radio station of its own. By "community" I mean a precinct community such as those within the Greater London area; or social and national communities. This would do more for race relations than anything that the Home Secretary said this afternoon. It also means geographical communities, and this would do more good than any Government plans for devolved Assemblies. It could also mean communities by age groups—young people in universities or older people in retirement areas, such as in my constituency.
I seek a reassurance from the Government on three final points. Does the Bill indicate the Government's denial of, or another nail in the coffin for, the Labour document "People and the Media"? I hope it does, because extending the existence of the IBA for two and a half years means that the application of the absurd plans put forward in "People and the Media" cannot come forward until the end of that time.
Secondly, I seek reassurance on how, if at all, the Government's White Paper of yesterday will apply to Government relationships with the IBA and the BBC. My hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey said that his Select Committee on the Nationalised Industries was looking at the IBA. Therefore, it can be looked upon, as can the BBC, as a nationalised industry. The White Paper yesterday, entitled "The Nationalised Industries", in its advocacy of ministerial powers to compel the boards of nationalised industries to take any action they felt necessary in the national interest, could be, and, if applied, would be, an unwarranted intrusion into the established freedom of broadcasting from Government influence.
My last point is that, although there is much debate about the IBA, this point extends over both the IBA and the BBC. At a time when the Government are giving an extension of the licence, it is 731 an appropriate moment to ask the IBA to look at itself to see what it is doing in the period of the extension, and the period leading up to the extension, to improve its operations. I suggest that the Government should urge it to undertake even more research into the relationship between what is broadcast and people's awarenes of, perception of and reaction to what is broadcast.
What balance is needed? I do not refer only to political balance. I mean moral, social and religious balance as well. Nor do I mean only the balance between programmes; there is also the balance within programmes. Broadcasting is a very ephemeral medium, and a single exposure to a single influence is all the more important. I wonder whether the Government have encouraged research into such matters. They should do so because this is of great significance to the future of our society.
In conclusion, I believe that the Government could be correctly criticised for doing too much too fast and too wrong in many areas. In broadcasting they are doing too little too slowly. I hope that they will roll out their thinking on broadcasting, which bears so directly on the lives of almost all people in this country every day. They should do this very quickly with the appearance of either a White Paper or a Green Paper for the future.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Jim Craigen (Glasgow, Maryhill)
When my hon. Friend the Minister replies to the debate, will she clarify whether the franchise for the commercial television stations will simply continue for another two and a half years or whether the IBA will be expected to review the operation of existing contracts and, maybe, make some changes?
Secondly, in connection with the White Paper, will my hon. Friend make special reference to the problems in Scotland and the inevitable transitional problems that are bound to arise immediately after 1981?
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Mr. John MacGregor (Norfolk, South)
I agree very much with what my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) said about the comments of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English). 732 It is not at all surprising that there should be a poor attendance for this debate. The plain fact is that this is a boring Bill, leaving the House with little choice because the Government have failed to make up their mind.
I wish to make only one point. Yesterday I disagreed very strongly with the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) over my Ten-Minute Bill. Today I am happy to agree with him in his comments about the commercial radio stations.
I should like to follow what my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes said so persuasively about the need for developing additional commercial radio stations and local radio services as a whole, as quickly as possible and without waiting for interminable delays as a result of the Bill now in front of us.
I wish to speak about my own area. My only declaration of interest is on behalf of my constituents in Norfolk. Last September the IBA recommended 14 additional commercial radio stations, and Norwich was included as a possibility.
In Norfolk we have an excellent local daily paper—the Eastern Daily Express—which is one of the most successful and best newspapers outside London. That newspaper demonstrates, with its substantial circulation, the great sense of community and demand for local news in the area. We have, centred in Norwich, the BBC and Anglia Television, which are both excellent in their own ways and spread their coverage over a wide area. However, their coverage of local Norfolk news is limited.
Having heard much commercial radio in other areas, and having seen the successful development in those areas, which can only be because the stations are responding to keen consumer demand in their areas, I subscribe to the view that this has been a success story. Locally with Radio Orwell, one of the small stations, we see an example of that.
Norfolk County Council, Norwich City Council, the local university, various other bodies and large numbers of individual consumers have urged that Norfolk should be allowed to have its own local radio station. We have an enormous range of local radio stations. The community spirit, being such as it is, would greatly benefit from such a radio station, 733 quite apart from all the other benefits for the community, which have already been elaborated in this debate and which I shall not develop further. It would, in short, provide a valuable additional local service, and it would be provided, as was stressed by the hon. Member for Grimsby and my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes, at no additional public cost. This is an important factor, because we are all aware of the constraints on public expenditure and we must be cautious about urging additional public expenditure in other areas.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that advertisers who spend money publicising their products do so for a specific purpose? That purpose is to sell more, and it may be that some of the cost of the advertising could creep on to the cost of the product—or does not the hon. Gentleman accept that argument?
§ Mr. MacGregor
The hon. Lady in her intervention and her earlier comments is mistaken about the way in which the process works. If one can expand consumer demand for one's product, as local radio is clearly doing, not only in respect of products but in providing a service of advertising in respect of ordinary local householders, that must have an effect. If they wish to do these things for themselves, advertisers—let us assume that they are manufacturing or commercial organisations—can expand the demand for their products. This will provide a service for those who buy the products, and it often provides additional jobs for others in the areas concerned. Furthermore, it is clear that this is a matter to which the consumer will respond and something he wishes to have. Indeed, if he did not wish to do so, he would not be listening to the programme and it would not be successful because advertisers would not wish to use the programme.
Advertising is part of the process of a thriving economy. If it adds even a minute proportion—and in local radio it must be minute in relation to the cost—it can often bring down costs by expanding the total market and, therefore, the volume. Therefore, the point is not as simple as the hon. Lady thinks. However, I do not wish to elaborate too much 734 in that direction because I wish to be brief.
When many local organisations are urging that we should have a local independent radio station to provide this additional service, it is depressing that there continues to be delay because of the lack of decisions on the White Paper. I was interested in what my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes said in that respect.
I was told by a Home Office Minister, in response to a recent Written Question, that the development of local radio services must await the Government's White Paper proposals. My hon. Friend has made it clear that that is not necessarily so but that it is simply a question of decision by the Government. I hope that the Minister, in her reply, will say that she will consider the point mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes—namely, that if there are to be further delays—and I suspect from past experience that they will be longer than Ministers at present pretend—the Government will speed up the process, as requested by the IBA, to facilitate the extension of commercial radio stations.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Jim Lester (Beeston)
I apologise to the House for the fact that I was not present earlier in the debate and for the fact that I have come in only at this late stage. I have returned from Southern Africa only in the last two hours, and I would not have spoken in the debate if I had not heard the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) complain that too few Tories had taken part. I hope that I shall redress that balance in about two minutes flat.
In the past few weeks I have been watching Zambian, Rhodesian and Southern African television, and I support the view that the BBC and ITV provide one of the best ranges of television in the world.
However, there is one serious major deficiency. I refer to the coverage received in the East Midlands. In this context I support what I call my hon. Friends who represent the area, including the hon. Members for Nottingham, West and for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead), in pressing upon the Minister the need to recognise the desire of the people of the East 735 Midlands—which, in turn, has an effect on the commercial viability of the area—in seeking to establish a separate commercial franchise and to persuade the BBC to set up a separate studio.
This is no sense said in animosity to existing television companies or to the West Midlands. Anybody who knows the area recognises that it has a population of 8 million, covering such a huge area as the country's second largest city and the Black Country, as well as such important cities as Nottingham, Derby and Leicester. It is not fair on either side of the motorway, if we use that as the dividing line, to try to put together one television station which can give adequate and fair coverage to both areas.
I must emphasise a second consideration. As we have seen commercial television develop, there is a need, if we want variety and interest, to establish a better balance between the national network companies and the smaller regional companies. Most of us who study these matters know that many people's favourite programmes are those with a distinct regional flavour. I refer to the "Puffer-boats" in Scotland, "Coronation Street" in Manchester and other programmes. Those programmes, which have a distinct regional flavour, always attract the imagination and provide better television. With the establishment of an East Midlands television station, I should like to see additional impetus in that direction.
When we consider the fact that people who live in Mansfield—which is only, so to speak, half way up the county—are unable to see Nottingham Forest Football Club winning its matches because they can receive only Yorkshire Television, which picks on football matches played in obscure parts of the North, we realise what a serious cultural deprivation exists in my constituency. When we also consider that in the East Midlands we have been able to breed such people as Robin Hood, D. H. Lawrence and Lord Byron, the mind boggles at the sort of television programmes that we could sustain from such a regional input.
I realise that this is not the place to argue the full case for East Midlands television, but it gives me an opportunity to support those who have spoken in 736 favour of it and to set down markers for the kind of action for which we shall be pressing in future.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Critchley (Aldershot)
This mini Bill is the Government's rather sad substitute for "the great debate" on broadcasting that we were promised after publication of the Annan Report last year. Whatever happened to that mysterious White Paper?
This evening we have enjoyed some debate but we have avoided all the decisions that matter. The failure of the Government to make up their mind is doing much harm to broadcasting. The BBC is left without money and in suspense—what will happen to local radio?—while investment in the commercial companies is made more difficult as their future becomes, in the long term, even more uncertain.
Hypocrisy is the English vice and our attitude to broadcasting is no exception to this rule. As politicians we have always held the view that broadcasting is far too important to be left simply to the broadcasters. We are shocked when we realise the extent to which foreigners interfere in their own broadcasting systems. Yet we disguise our hypocrisy behind the facade of the institutions that we have created to administer broadcasting, the BBC and the IBA, and we do so in our name.
Lord Reith may have seen off the original Winston Churchill at the time of the General Strike in the name of freedom, but it is this House that fixes the BBC's licence fee, still the best bargain in Europe, and the interval between increases. Heaven help the BBC if there is an election in the offing.
We grant and extend the charter and we extend the life of the IBA and other companies. We vacillate over the fourth channel and appoint the workers and intellectuals who made up the Annan Committee. We interfere but we do not act.
Why are we as politicians suspicious of broadcasters? It is because we fear their power. We Conservatives are certainly not an egalitarian party, but we find it had to decide between Locke and Hobbes—between freedom and authority. Socialists share the same problem. Some favour freedom; more, authority. We 737 are both highly sensitive to slights, real and imaginary, and we envy the irresponsibility of the broadcasters and their power. In reality, therefore, we make them responsible to us. Why else do we persevere with party political broadcasts, which no one watches and which achieve nothing save to lower our prestige and boost the sale of hot, milky drinks?
With regard to broadcasting, we Conservatives have inclined more to freedom than authority. That is not true of the other side of the House. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) has mentioned the ratchet effect in politics whereby the Right acquiesces in the changes made by the Left, yet the ratchet effect has worked the other way in broadcasting. It was the Conservatives who broke the monopoly of the BBC in the 1950s—and we were savagely attacked for doing so. In the 1970s we broke the monopoly of BBC radio. In the 1980s we shall give the fourth channel to the IBA and in the 1990s we might even do something for the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead).
Why have the Government not given the fourth channel to ITV, which is the obvious, equitable and economical solution? I believe that they would have done so already had not the programme companies, especially the "big five" been so rich and successful. About £50 million a year is passed over through the levy to the Exchequer as well as 80p in every pound of profit. As Sir Denis Forman said recently,in today's political climate, nothing fails like success".Had the companies lost money, no doubt the Government would already have stepped in with sympathy, subsidy and support.
What have been the effects of the Government's failure to make up their mind? I must briefly trace what has happened since 1968. In 1969, nine years ago next June. Lord Annan was asked by the then Prime Minister to look into the future of broadcasting. In 1970, he was stood down by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath). In April 1974, Roy Jenkins recalled his Lordship to the colours.
For three years, the broadcasters undertook an exercise in rigorous self-examination. In March 1977, Lord Annan reported—only 738 six weeks late. In May last year, the report was debated in this House and in another place and we were told that "the great debate" was about to begin. We were also told that we could expect a White Paper in the autumn. When the leaves began to turn we were told that the White Paper would be published early in the new year. At Christmas we were told to expect its publication in February. In April we find ourselves in a silent spring with neither sight nor sound of the White Paper.
The lifespan of the broadcasting authorities, already extended by one year to 1979, is to be stretched for a further two years and five months until the end of 1981 so that the Cabinet may make up its collective mind. Ministers are taking the easy way out.
§ Mr. English
I suggested earlier that the Conservative Party had issued a one-line Whip to its supporters. This may or may not be correct, but I understood that the Conservatives were not opposing the Bill. If that is so, they must take some responsibility for the deferment.
§ Mr. Critchley
The hon. Gentleman's logic is extremely difficult to follow, but his heart is in the right place. We are waiting for the Cabinet to make up its collective mind.
§ Mr. Critchley
Because the Cabinet is unable to make up its collective mind, it is obliged to take the easy way out, which is why the Minister is here. The Cabinet's way is easy for them, but, thank goodness, a General Election must intervene.
In the meantime, the situation in broadcasting goes from bad to worse. The morale of the BBC has dropped to the same level as its funds. Its staff has been squeezed horribly by three years of wage restraint and the revenue from the licence fee is clearly inadequate. Has the Minister a view on the desirability of adopting new methods of raising revenue? What does she feel about indexing? We know what Annan thinks about indexing, but not what the Home Secretary feels about it. Would he consider some form of arm's length assessment of the BBC's needs by three wise men? The BBC 739 is an independent estate and should be funded as of right.
What adverse effect has the Government's vacillation had upon the commercial network? Uncertainty is harmful to television. If we leave aside the question of investment—and many millions ought to be invested in jobs and equipment—the staff of the companies have no certainty for whom they will be working in four years' time and the management has no certainty that it will be working at all.
The recallocation of the franchises in the late 1960s took 18 months. It is now to take four years—with all the consequent uncertainty. And for how much longer will the IBA be kept in suspense because the Government cannot decide what to do with the fourth channel?
I suspect that the Home Secretary knows that an Open Broadcasting Authority would be an expensive nonsense which would need subvention and support. On the other hand, a local broadcasting authority and an OBA are fully in the woolly and idealistic traditions of Fabian Socialism. But, even so, how are they to be financed? Only by an Exchequer grant. Will the Home Secretary be able to persuade his more atavistic friends in the Cabinet to see sense? Will he be able to say "No" to the hon. Member for Derby, North? I hope so.
What a serial all this would make—a soap opera to end all soap operas. It would be funny were it not so sad. And what a cast for this long running extravaganza: the Prime Minister would be played by Mr. Bruce Forsyth, the Home Secretary by Mr. Harry Worth and the hon. Member for Derby, North by Miss Vanessa Redgrave.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I am amazed that the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) should finish on that note, although having heard so many of his speeches at the Oxford Union perhaps I should have been prepared for that peroration. I am sorry that I was not.
I described the Bill earlier as having limited purposes, but it has certainly served the purpose of making it possible for the House to have a debate on the 740 whole of broadcasting. I can assure all hon. Members who have spoken that their comments have been noted in connection with the Government's eventual White Paper on the Annan Report. It has been emphasised repeatedly, as in Question Time today, that the House is waiting eagerly for the White Paper, but there were 174 recommendations in the report, many of which were highly controversial, and the House has not been exactly unanimous in its views.
Although there is a clamour for the White Paper in connection with the Bill, that alone would not have made the Bill unnecessary. As well as the White Paper, there would need to be substantial legislation, based on the White Paper's proposals, passed through both Houses and brought into effect. All that would be necessary and it would affect broadcasting for at least the next 10 years. All that would be necessary to make the Bill unnecessary. It is not merely the magic of a White Paper that would make the Bill unnecessary. However, we are proceeding as quickly as possible with drawing up the White Paper. Everything that has been said today will be taken into consideration, including the 33 channels mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell).
The official Opposition have oversimplified the problems facing us with the Annan Report. I did not hear a profound analysis of the Annan Report, but perhaps that was not intended by the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw), who did me the courtesy of telling me that he would not be present for my reply. I had the impression that the right hon. Gentleman felt that a decision on the fourth channel, for example, would be easy to make. I do not apologise for saying that the Government do not regard it as an easy decision. That applies to many other decisions on the Annan Report. My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody) made that point in her sagacious speech.
The right hon. Gentleman applauded the Annan Committee's endorsement of the concept of the broadcasting authority, of broadcasting being run by public authorities. As he knows, my right hon. Friend made it clear in the debate on the Annan Report on 23rd May 1977 that 741 the Government believe that it is right that public authorities should run broadcasting.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to programme standards, as have other hon. Members. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is a matter for the broadcasting authorities, but that is not to say that the House cannot express strongly its views on programme standards. I hope that it will continue to do so. I am sure that the authorities will take the views of the House into consideration even if they do not comply with them.
The hon. Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan) and my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) suggested that we should have taken the opportunity presented by the Bill to amend more radically Section 4 of the 1976 Act. I appreciate the anomalous position in which the hon. Gentleman found himself and will be finding himself. A similar anomalous position could affect other hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby. On the other hand, views about Section 4(2) are not unanimous in regarding it as self-evidently wrongly expressed and wrong in its intention. I believe that the Annan Committee suggested—this is an example—that the BBC and the IBA should not be allowed to use their own transmissions to make propaganda for their own cause. I know that that was not the point specifically put forward by the hon. Member for Howden about his predicament, but I can assure the House that there are considerations on many sides to be taken into account as regards Section 4(2). The Government will take them all into account when they formulate their proposals.
§ Mr. Critchley
I am instructed to say that the Opposition in Committee will be moving amendments to alter the section and we look forward to the assistance of many hon. Members on both sides of the Committee.
§ Dr. Summerskill
We shall have to wait to hear what the Chairman of the Committee says about such amendments. I was about to make that point to my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins), who was concerned about being able to amend the date. As far as I can see, he will be able to amend the date, 742 but the final decision on that, and on any other amendments, must remain with the Chairman.
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
There are difficulties, and I do not expect the hon. Lady to spell them out this evening. However, I hope that the Government will have more of an open mind. It is not necessary to go as far as is suggested by some, namely, to remove all the restrictions on Members of Parliament who happen to be directors or to hold official positions in commercial radio or television companies. I believe that there is a half way house that would preserve the proper dignity of a Member who is, for example, a director or the holder of an official position in such a company.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I am sure that that view will be taken into consideration.
My hon. Friends the Members for Derby, North and Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Craigen) pointed out that because we have extended the right of the IBA it does not follow that existing franchises have to continue either in their present form or with the existing contractors. That is true. However, any changes in the ITV franchise areas—for example, to accommodate a new company to provide a separate East Midlands service—would, on the basis of proposals being mooted, mean adjustments in the franchise areas of the three existing programme contractors, namely, ATV, Anglia and Yorkshire. That would be primarily the responsibility of the IBA. The ITV franchise arrangements in the longer term will need to be considered in the context of decisions about the future structure of ITV generally.
The hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) referred to the fourth channel in Wales. The Government remain committed to their acceptance in principle of the recommendation that that channel be used to provide a service in which Welsh language programmes would be given priority. The Government hope soon to receive the report of the Home Office working party, which has been asked to consider and recommend how progress might be made with the project. I understand that the working party is taking into account both the Siberry Working Party Report and the Annan Committee's relevant recommendations, and will proceed 743 on the basis of outlining the possibilities and financial implications of various alternative courses of action.
§ Mr. English
My hon. Friend was studiously neutral in her remarks about the East Midlands, as one would expect. Does she mean that that neutrality has been conveyed to the IBA? Has the IBA been told that it is solely up to it whether the franchise is renewed now or in two years' time?
§ Dr. Summerskill
I think that my hon. Friend could interpret what I said to mean that the franchise areas are the responsibility of the IBA.
§ Mr. Whitehead
Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be a good thing if the Government were to convey the strong feeling on both sides of the House that has been expressed today that the sort of consultation that we have called for should take place at the earliest opportunity, that is, beginning tomorrow or the day after?
§ Dr. Summerskill
I cannot guarantee the time, but I take note of that for which my hon. Friend has asked.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas
Will the hon. Lady confirm that the Government expect to make an announcement about the fourth channel in Wales before the publication of the White Paper?
§ Dr. Summerskill
These two matters are closely interrelated, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman appreciates. As I am unable to say exactly when the White Paper will come out, clearly I am unable to say when the other matter will be announced. I estimate that the two matters will be closely related in the way that the decisions are announced.
The hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw) referred to the duplicated coverage of sport on television. I fully appreciate the point and I understand his irritation, as did the Annan Committee, which, I gather, discussed the matter. This is a matter of programme content, which has traditionally been a sphere in which the Government do not intervene. I am sure that the 744 House agrees with that. On the other hand, no doubt the broadcasting authorities will have taken note of the hon. Gentleman's views and other views expressed about programme content.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned that my right hon. Friend, under Section 29 of the 1973 Act, directed the IBA, with the consent of the Treasury and after consulting the chairman of the Authority, to pay half of the Authority's surplus on its 1976–77 television account to the Consolidated Fund. That was not the first time that such a direction had been made. My right hon. Friend has, however, agreed with the chairman of the Authority that discussions should take place between the Home Office and the Authority to try to establish relevant general principles for the Authority's future financial policy. These discussions have started and will, I hope, soon be concluded.
The hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) asked about Treasury loans to the IBA for local radio purposes. So far two loans, totalling £1.65 million, have been made to the Authority. These loans have not yet been repaid.
As regards the IBA's staff, the Bill does not entail any increases.
§ Mr. Rathbone
It was not so much the loans for local radio as the loans for everything which now exist, and which will be carried forward into the two and a half year extended period. What additional loans will have to be raised during that two and a half year extended period?
§ Dr. Summerskill
I do not know whether this is in order, but, as the matter has been raised, presumably I may answer it on Second Reading. The Money Resolution is required because the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act 1973 makes provision for the payment of money out of the Consolidated Fund and from Votes. In particular, it enables voted money to be paid to the IBA in the form of loans not exceeding £2 million at any one time for the purpose of capital expenditure on local radio. Two advances totalling £1.65 million have been made and they have not yet been repaid, as I have just told the hon. Gentleman. Within the Ways and Means Resolution other moneys, which have to be paid into the 745 Consolidated Fund, include sums in repayment of loans made to the IBA for capital expenditure on local radio.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about staff. As I said, the Bill does not entail any increases. Neither the Government nor anyone else can say now with complete certainty whether there will need to be an increase in the Authority's staff during the extension.
The hon. Gentleman pointed out that the Government could authorise an expansion of independent local radio without fresh legislation. However, we take the view that the question of any additional local radio stations needs to be considered in the context of our proposals for the whole future structure of local radio, and they will obviously be forthcoming in the White Paper.
Research and the impact of programme services on audiences are matters for the broadcasting organisations, but I assume that they will take note of what the hon. Gentleman suggested.
§ Dr. Summerskill
Perhaps I may finish this sentence. As my right hon. Friend said in the House this afternoon and as I have said tonight, we are aware of the great impatience of most hon. Members on both sides of the House—I would not say all; it has not been unanimous—for a quick publication of the White Paper. I cannot say more than that this will be done as soon as possible.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
Some of us are a little worried about the White Paper, because we do not know whether we shall be pleased to see it until we see it. I wonder whether my hon. Friend could clarify one point. I understand that it is expected in the not too distant future. Could she say whether the not too distant future is a period to be calculated in weeks rather than months?
§ Dr. Summerskill
I am not prepared to say that. My hon. Friend is putting 746 words into my mouth if he expects me to say that.
I ask the House to give a two and a half year extension to the life of the IBA, to accept the Bill and to regard it as necessary—
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
I apologise for intervening, but I felt that the hon. Lady was coming to almost the last sentence of her speech. Will she reassure the House that the Government are giving the most serious and close attention to the post-Annan proposals of the IBA regarding the future of the fourth channel—the proposals that I mentioned earlier for ITV2?
§ Dr. Summerskill
I assure the hon. Gentleman that close attention is being given to that matter and to all the points that have been made in the debate on the general future of broadcasting. With that—
§ Mr. Rathbone
This is not a new point. There was the question of the inter-relationship between yesterday's White Paper on nationalised industries and the way that could impinge upon the freedom of broadcasting. It may be too complicated a question to answer at this moment, but I think that the answer is an important one that the House would like to hear.
§ Dr. Summerskill
That is an important point. As the White Paper on Annan has yet to be laid before the House, and as the White Paper on nationalised industries was published yesterday, I am sure that the White Paper on Annan will take account of the points made in that other White Paper.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40(Committal of Bills.)