§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn—[Mr. Berry.]9.52 am
§ Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)
In my old profession Sir, the curtain always went up on time, however unprepared the participants. This morning we have had some unco-operative elements, who have held up our very important cultural debate.
The British Broadcasting Corporation —hereinafter referred to as "the BBC" or "the Corp"—is not a capitalist organisation grinding down the faces of the poor. Nor is the Musicians Union a militant, mindless group, summoning the exploited classes to the barricades with flourishes of trumpets. So how is it that two such bodies, composed of sensible and, indeed—on both sides—sensitive men, have come to this intractable impasse—a strike by the musicians, no Promenade Concerts, to the great public regret, and no "Land of Hope and Glory" on the last night?
One has to examine the developments that have led to the BBC's intention to disband five orchestras and to the ensuing strike of the Musicians Union. Because of governmental need to tackle the bedevilling problem of inflation, the previous Home Secretary, my colleague—because of his care for the consumer—and the present Home Secretary—because of his apparent commitment to the Cabinet's monetarist policies—have both felt unable to grant the rises in licence fees that the BBC had argued were essential to meet its current expenditure and its future strategic planning in the face of competition from the better-heeled commercial companies.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) raised the colour licence fee from £21 to £25 and the monochrome fee from £9 to £10—less than the BBC had justifiably argued that it needed. The BBC turned to borrowing to cover the gap between income and expenditure, and the result has been a monthly cost of £600,000 to meet the interest charges. The present Home Secretary raised the licence fees from £10 to £12 for black and white and from 946 £25 to £34 for colour sets. The BBC had argued for a rise to £40 to meet its costs.
The outcome has been that the corporation has decided to make a reduction in planned expenditure of £130 million over the next two years. Ninety million pounds will be saved by deferring or dropping various capital projects and developments. The remaining £40 million will be found by cuts in operating costs across the whole range of its services in television and radio, in engineering, in central services, in education and drama, in national and local broadcasting in every region of the country.
Although there have been large percentage cuts in drama and education of 18 per cent. and 10 per cent. respectively, the cuts that have aroused the greatest concern—and, indeed, outcry—have been those in music. It is important to say this morning that, although it is those last cuts that we are debating today, that must not be read as lack of concern for the damage that the other cuts are causing.
What do the music cuts entail, in detail? In England, the Midland Radio Orchestra will be disbanded, with a loss of 32 jobs. That, of course, is in Birmingham. The Northern Radio Orchestra will be disbanded, with 22 jobs lost in Manchester. The London Studio Players will also be disbanded, with a loss of 19 part-time posts of musicians on first call. The Northern Ireland Orchestra will go, with a loss of 30 jobs, and with the hope that those musicians may get employment in a new orchestral alignment to be set up over the next year or so in a merger with the Ulster Orchestra. What those musicians do for a living in the meantime is somewhat unresolved.
Finally, the Scottish Symphony Orchestra will be—if I may use the phrase—scotched, with 69 jobs gone. It is this disbandment that has aroused the greatest concern. I say that not as a Scot but because that orchestra has a long and distinguished tradition as a nursery for composers and conductors, and because of its contribution to the cultural life of Scotland.
That decision was taken by the Broadcasting Council for Scotland. It was not taken in London. That, to my mind, makes the offence the more incomprehensible and the less excusable.
947 In toto, 172 orchestral posts disappear. I have been given the figures for the cost of running each of these orchestras by the BBC. They are, per annum, as follows: the Northern Radio Orchestra, £180,000; the Midland Radio Orchestra, £220,000 the Northern Ireland Symphony Orchestra, £700,000; and the Scottish Symphony Orchestra, £620,000.
The BBC has fostered the impression that these cuts are dictated by economic considerations, but the union—and, indeed, some of the journalistic commentators—suspect otherwise. As one of them put it, "There is a suspicion that the men at the top have seized upon the current economy drive to get out from under the burden imposed upon them by Lord Reith." It is well known, of course, that the BBC had tried to shed some of the orchestras in 1970.
When this point is put to BBC executives, they come back with the argument that the cuts have been made not only for economic reasons but are, to quote one of them, "artistically justifiable". They argue that the present composition of the two radio orchestras, the Midland and the Northern—strings and wind players—means an inflexibility in the sort of music that they play which does not allow for change in music fashions and which, in the seven half-hour sessions a week broadcast by both the Midland Radio Orchestra and the Northern Radio Orchestra, produces a constancy of tone colour which pervades everything that they play.
That is a professional comment, which I do not think I ought to try to examine or to enlarge on, but the BBC music bosses want to introduce a flexibility of instrumentation, to use their phrase, which would lead to a more varied musical output. In all fairness, one has to admit that the Annan committee seemed to support that argument. I shall return to that consideration a little later.
What was the reaction to the BBC's announcement of these cuts? I believe it to be significant, and I think that it should have disturbed the BBC, that nearly all informed opinion has been strongly opposed to them. The quality press made its comments. The Times although sympathetic to the BBC's problems, questioned the wisdom of the elimination 948of all the regional symphony orchestrasand suspected that the BBC wasdeliberately seeking to avoid the odium of making a choice.The same editorial stated:There is no justification for further expanding local radio at this time.Discussing the cuts, the leader had this to say:the test by which they should be judged is whether they bear evidence of a deliberate strategy—as distinct from the easy managerial device of an equality of misery all round—and whether they take account of the needs of the public rather than the institutional requirements of the BBC. With its long and proud tradition the corporation must have higher priorities than equipping itself for battle with the second commercial television channel.The Financial Times was even less understanding of the BBC's intentions. And I quote its leader:It is not often that the Financial Times expresses support for militant industrial action.This is good stuff.But it is impossible to avoid feeling sympathy for the boycott of BBC programmes which the Musicians Union imposed this week.Further down, it goes on:But the real importance of the dispute between the BBC and the musicians is that it reflects a trend in the BBC's whole philosophy which should be disturbing to admirers of the BBC's standards and of Britain's cultural achievements in recent decades.If a broadcasting system funded by a compulsory licence fee, rather than by advertising or sponsorship, is needed at all, it is only because such a system can provide the nation with forms of entertainment, culture and information which commercial broadcasting is unable, or unlikely, to produce. But the BBC's priorities in searching for cuts suggest too little concern with Britain's cultural life and too great a preoccupation with competing against commercial stations in areas where the need for public funding is not at all apparent.Anthony Arbluster in The Guardian had this to say:the orchestral cuts are not primarily inspired by financial considerations at all. They represent a quite drastic change in the BBC's policies of musical patronage …The economic squeeze had provided a handy opportunity for cuts which the more philistine elements at the top of the BBC have obviously been wanting to make for a long time.Public reaction was symbolised by the Cardiff concert where an audience of 1,000 strong provided so much contribution to the musicians' strike fund that they had to fetch buckets from neighbouring houses to collect it.
949 Letters to The Times—always an important indicator of informed public opinion; I hope that laughter means agreement—included one from Sir Anthony Lewis who wrote on behalf of the music schools deploring the predicament facing many young orchestral musicians starting out on their careers Another was from Peter Maxwell-Davies bewailing the effect on young British composers.
Orchestras and musicians abroad have sent the union messages of support and condemnation of the BBC. The Concertgebouw of Amsterdam, the Danish Symphony Orchestra and the Vienna Philharmonic have all refused to allow a relay of their concerts while British musicians are on strike.
Organised labour has responded strongly. The TUC has condemned the proposals and wants discussions on them. The Association of Broadcasting Staff has expressed its disapproval. The Federation of Broadcasting Unions has condemned the BBC's intentions. The Incorporated Society of Musicians, which is not a trade union, has opposed them. And the Musicians Union, of course, is now on strike against them.
What are the reasons that have brought the musicians out on a strike supported by 83.6 per cent. of the affected players in a secret postal ballot of a union composed of members of all political dispositions? I think that on that result even that bucolic squire, the Secretary of State for Employment, had better put down his euphonium, because there is massive support among all or nearly all the professionals in that figure of 83.6 per cent. for the strike.
The union argues that these proposals were never presented to it as a basis for negotiation. They were a "take-it-or-leave-it" package. The first that it knew of it all was a statement made at an information meeting, so termed, at the BBC on 28 February 1980.
On 3 March Mr. John Morton, the general secretary of the Musicians Union, received a letter reiterating the proposals and stating that they would necessitate a renegotiation of the guarantee of musical expenditure that the BBC had with the Musicians Union and of the understandings on employment.
Meetings between BBC representatives and the union took place on 19 and 27 950 March at which the BBC simply re-presented the same proposals.
On 14 April another meeting was held and the union then made a detailed response and made clear that it would not accept a unilateral alteration of properly negotiated agreements.
A further meeting took place on 24 April at which the union stated, first, its willingness to negotiate throughout May; secondly, that the repeated presentation of unaltered proposals was not negotiation; and, thirdly that if the BBC per-sited in the dismissal of a third of its employed musicians a strike would be called after a ballot of its members.
From 24 April to 29 May the BBC refused to meet to negotiate with the union, although Morton, in a letter to Ian Trethowan on 16 May, had expressed its readiness to do so. The ballot was held and the membership overwhelmingly rejected the BBC's proposals and endorsed the union's stand. The players then downed instruments on 1 June—an inglorious day for the BBC.
The union bases its case on the following arguments. The first is that the BBC, by its unilateral decision, had breached the 1964 agreement which guaranteed the continued existence of the orchestras in exchange for the union's agreement then in 1964 to treble needle time—that is, the use of records in broadcasting. The agreement has never been terminated, although the BBC contends now that it has been replaced by the 1978 agreement, so the guarantee of 1964 on the orchestras has vanished. But can anyone in his senses believe that the union would ever have accepted such an agreement and the interpretation that the BBC now wishes to put upon it? It is inconceivable. The phrases in the 1978 agreement referring to the BBC's obligation to negotiate on the number of posts can only be taken as a reaffirmation of that 1964 relationship.
Secondly, the union argues that the 1978 agreement contains two elements: first, an assurance thatThe level of employment of permanent orchestral staff will remain a matter for negotiation with the Musicians Unionand. secondly, a base line total expenditure guarantee—with a formula for calculation—which produces an expenditure of £6½ million.
951 Although the BBC has admitted the need to renegotiate these matters, it has made no attempt to do so but persists in presenting unilateral proposals and has subsequently gone on to break the agreements.
The agreements, of course, can be terminated, subject to the necessary notice. New tripartite agreements would then be necessary between the BBC, the union and the Phonograph Performing League if the BBC wants to use records. But the BBC has not sought such new arrangements.
Thirdly, the union argues that the reduction in the wages bill resulting from the orchestral dismissals at £1.5 million will be three times the amount that the BBC claims that it needs to save overall, which is £500,000. The union questions why the BBC needs to create such a large figure of unemployment—156 dismissals —to achieve a disproportionately small net saving in labour costs. Those 156 dismissals in 172 posts represent not the stated figure of desired cuts of 5 per cent. but the enforced redundancy of one-third of the BBC's permanently employed musicians.
Fourthly, the union argues that although 60 per cent. of BBC radio output consists of music, less than 5 per cent. of radio expenditure goes on staff orchestras.
The sixth and final point, and I think perhaps the most fundamentally important argument, is that the licensing system—the authorisation to raise money from the public—entails the maintenance of standards of performance and production and the acceptance of cultural responsibility as a public broadcasting organisation.
The sixth and final and perhaps most fundamentally important argument is that the licensing system—the authorisation to raise money from the public—entails the maintenance of standards of performance and production and the acceptance of cultural responsibility as a public broadcasting organisation.
§ Mr. Julian Critchley (Aldershot)
Does the hon. Member also agree that the real responsibility rests with Governments to make certain that a sensible level of licence fee is charged?
§ Mr. Faulds
I am delighted to find that my arguments are being made for me by a member of the Government party. I could not more strongly endorse what the hon. Gentleman says. Of course it is the Government's fundamental responsibility—I am sure that this matter will arise during the debate—to provide the proper funding so that the BBC can fulfil its charter obligations.
§ Mr. Faulds
It has not happened, sadly, under the present Government, or under the previous Government.
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
I do not want to make this a party wrangle, but it is surely common knowledge in the country and on both sides of the House—there should be no dispute over this—that the previous Government did not increase the licence fee to anything like the rise in inflation and the rise in costs to the BBC. Although the increase by the present Government does not arise pari passu with the increase in costs to the BBC, we have made a far better stab at it than the previous Administration. That point is surely fair.
§ Mr. Faulds
There is always a danger in coming late to a debate, because an hon. Member may wish to raise a point that has already been made. I granted this point in my earlier arguments. Had the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have great affection, been here earlier, he would have heard me make that point about the previous Home Secretary.
§ Mr. Faulds
That is very good of the hon. Gentleman. I thank him. Perhaps I may continue with my spiel.
These requirements of the standards of performance and production and the maintenance of cultural responsibilities were never questioned after their establishment by Lord Reith and their sustenance by his successors, until considerations of commercial challenge arose in the 'sixties and 'seventies. The BBC apparently needs reminding that its charter entails obligations not only to entertain but also to inform and to educate.
953 Here, Sir, may I digress for a moment or two to make a critical comment, and also an autobiographical comment, on where and why I think that the BBC has gone wrong over the last few years. I was PPS to our old colleague, John Stone-house, when he was Postmaster-General. When that significant document "Broadcasting in the Seventies" was produced, my reading of it—it has subsequently transpired that this was true—was that, although the BBC was committed to the cultural trusts that Lord Reith had embraced as its public duty, the corporation had decided to step down-market and compete in the commercial arena. That decision could only mean, over time, a decline both in standards and service. I resigned my PPS-ship in protest against my Minister's acceptance of its arguments.
That fateful change of course for the BBC has led to what I believe have been massive misjudgments in its efforts to compete with the commercial providers. They have no standards to live up to. Their commitment is to the provision of the lowest common denominator of popular pap, and the BBC demeans its higher purposes of public service by stepping down to take them on. The result is the puerile rubbish of Radio 1, and the false decision was then taken to provide local radio, with its evanescent chatter on matters of absolutely no import whatsoever.
Those decisions have cost the BBC dear, not only in the lowering of standards but also in the waste of financial resources. I really do wish that the governors and executives of the BBC would address themselves to a reconsideration of their fundamental roles.
There is little purpose in this debate, however, if we simply point the finger at the BBC or at the Musicians Union and utter our condemnations. I think that we have to prescribe remedies out of these ills. Several cures have been suggested. Some of the panaceas are pretty unpalatable. The Musicians Union has not taken kindly to the idea that it might plough back its needle-time earnings, which are supposed to stand at about £900,000, to the maintenance of the orchestras. It explains, quite justifiably, that such moneys would not sustain more than a single orchestra for a single year.
Then there was the scheme that the chairman of the Royal Television Society 954 mooted—that an independent body jointly financed by the BBC and the commercial television and radio contractors should take over all the 11 BBC orchestras. Well, I do not see that there would be many takers among the pop-orientated commercial ladies for that non-profit-making investment. What would be the purpose, then, of allowing the BBC licence money for its traditionally accepted role of music propagation and dispensation among its other cultural responsibilities?
Although I do not go along with that suggestion, I do believe that there is a case for requiring those who coin their money from a commercial radio or television franchise to make a greater contribution not only to the musical life of Britain but to the whole range of its artistic activities. These are matters that I think, the present Government, and certainly our next Government, will have to examine.
What are the more practical proposals that should be considered? The BBC itself wants to see trusts established both in Scotland and in Northern Ireland to which it is prepared to commit £100,000 a year each, for a possible term of five years, and to which other organisations, be they commercial, such as Gallahers in Ulster. or Arts Council, should contribute funding. The BBC argues—and it is an incontrovertible fact—that the Welsh BBC Orchestra has one-third of its 66 players sub-vented by the Welsh Arts Council, and that the Scottish Arts Council provides £450,000 a year for the other Scottish orchestra, the Scottish National. But I think that it is pretty sanguine to hope or expect that either commercial sponsors—much as the Minister responsible for arts and libraries summons them to his assistance—or regional arts councils, will cough up anything like the total funds needed to run either the Scottish or the Northern Irish Symphony Orchestras, which the BBC intends to disband and which currently cost £620,000 and £700,000 per annum respectively. It is a pretty unlikely prospect that commercial and Arts Council funding can do that job.
The more that I consider these problems of funding orchestral life in the regions the more I begin to believe that since the licence restraints of Government—both Governments—have brought them about, the more incumbent it is upon the Minister responsible for the arts, whom we all know to have real concern 955 and commitment, to consider making a special grant to the Arts Council to help certain of these orchestras to survive—not all of them; certain of them.
There is a parallel, of course, in that both the present Government and their predecessors have made just such special grants of —1 million a time to the Arts Council to provide funding for the Covent Garden development plan. There is a slight degree of metropolitan elitism there. The regions, too, have cultural needs.
But, overall, I go along with the main argument of the Musicians Unions, which is that the BBC, by charter and by licence, has an absolute and incontrovertible responsibility for artistic patronage which cannot and must not be shrugged off when the economic climate gives excuse. The BBC's responsibilities have been and are to furnish the cultural sustenance of drama, of education, of public affairs and of music. I believe that the House this morning should make clear its view that the BBC should take these proposals back and reconsider its intentions. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad that the "Hear, hears" come from both sides of the House.
The BBC should enter into genuine negotiations with the union to see where a little give and take can be exchanged. But we should say, too to the union—and I say this to my hon. Friends—that it should consider where it can yield a bit on staffing and flexibility of instrumentation—to use the BBC jargon—where orchestral style has changed. I revert to my earlier comment, that Annan made that criticism of the union's intractability.
It is certainly not in either the BBC or the union that this contest should drag on for months, as well it may.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, Central)
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend in his speech, which is very sound and contains much information and good judgment. However, did I hear him aright in his last statement? Was he condemning the union's intractability when faced with an ultimatum?
§ Mr. Faulds
I do not think that my hon. Friend was listening as intently as he usually listens to these debates. Perhaps on a Friday morning he nods off a 956 little earlier. What I was talking about was the Annan committee's comments—not my comment on the musician's present position. I do wish people listened when we were talking.
§ Mr. Faulds
That is a professional criticism that I am not prepared to take.
What I was trying to say when I was politely interrupted is that it is not in the interests either of the BBC or the union that this contest should drag on for months; and it is certainly not in the interests of the public. Nine months or a year may well drag on before us.
At an estimate the BBC has nine months of needle time, but when it runs out of that it can put on foreign recordings and transcriptions. It can put on its own pre-recordings, already paid for, stockpiled and not used. Over those months many musicians may turn to other occupations for a livelihood. Is it really the intention of the BBC to deplete the store of British musicians? Is it really in the interests of any of us that skilled instrumentalists should turn to taxi driving, serving in coffee bars, or working in factories—if they can get the jobs?
The BBC, in its ensconced position of power, really must not underestimate the determination of its dismissed employees. Nor must it act the bully, as the hirer of hands. The BBC must learn that it cannot adopt the attitude of Aubrey Singer when he envisages that the BBC will grind the union down.
What a slogan for industrial relations! But, sadly, it is typical of an organisation that seems unaware that negotiations actually entail negotiation. Both sides must be prepared to come together and ravel how they can meet the valid concerns of the other. I hope that that is the clear message that the House sends out to both those parties today.
§ 10.21 a.m.
§ Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)
The hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) has done the House a service by raising this matter. As he implied, many of his points will be shared in other parts of the House. My colleagues, the hon. Members for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack), for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price) and for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mr. 957 Murphy), my fellow officers of the Conservative Party arts committee, have asked me to express the great interest that they share in this debate. They all have pressing constituency engagements today and in this short debate there is, obviously, not time for all hon. Members who would like to take part to do so.
The officers of that committee were grateful when representatives of the BBC led by Mr. Aubrey Singer, and of the Musicians Union led by Mr. Morton, called to see us in the last two weeks to express their points of view. The officers of the Conservative Party arts committee tabled a motion saying that the BBC should review its priorities. We firmly believe that.
I start from the standpoint that Britian is one of the musical centres of the world. We are second to none in this country in the range of what we have to offer in orchestral concerts, chamber concerts, instrumental concerts, opera and ballet. Music is one of the things that we in this country do really well.
From the national point of view we should build on our strengths.
We should be proud that we do so well in this area, Fine music, like other great forms of art, has an emotional and spiritual dimension that enriches and enlarges people's lives and lifts them above the cheaper and brasher forms of entertainment.
The BBC in the 50 or 60 years of its existence has established and built up a great tradition in its special role as a patron of music. This role has been accepted by directors of the BBC and the heads of its various departments. The BBC's role in leading and sponsoring and awakening interest in the public at large, so that music is now the most popular of the fine arts, has been a major factor in the cultural life of our country.
Now we see that the BBC must economise. It cannot charge as big a licence fee as it would like. I suppose it never will be able to do that. The BBC would always like to charge more and do better, but someone has to hold the balance between what the BBC would like to charge on the one hand, and the interests of the fee-paying public on the other hand. That somebody must be the Government and Parliament. That is not a popular role for the Government and 958 Parliament. Few of the roles of the Government and Parliament are popular, but somebody has to do it.
In common, I suppose, with hon. Members on both sides of the House, I receive letters about the licence fee. It seems that hardly a month goes by when I do not receive a letter from an old-age pensioner saying how onerous the television licence fee is. They ask if something cannot be done to exempt them or to charge them a specially low licence fee.
Those who have looked into the difficulties—as most of us have—know that if this were done it could be done only if the licence fee were increased for everyone else. It would have to be increased very substantially because, though numerous old-age pensioners live alone or in twos, there are a great many households in which a pensioner lives with younger people who are working. One in four households has an old-age pensioner in it. In such households there would be a great temptation to put the television licence in the name of the old-age pensioner. If a special licence were created for old-age pensioners, the television and radio licence would have to cost everyone else well over £50 a year. The great majority of the people would not want that. They would expect Parliament and the Government to exercise some control over what the BBC charge.
Where should BBC savings be made? To what extent, if at all, should savings be made from music? Should savings go right across the board equally among departments with each taking a share, or should the BBC concentrate on those services which only it can provide really well?
This raises the question of the role of the BBC, and I wish to stress that over the years—and I spend a great deal of my time listening to the radio, particularly to the music channel—I have greatly admired the services provided by the BBC, not only in music but in other areas as well.
§ Mr. Faulds
Will the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) allow me to pay him the compliment of informing his colleagues—not many of us know this—that he is himself a fairly distinguished concert pianist?
§ Mr. Jessel
I am an amateur pianist. All of us who have busy lives, whether we are in Parliament, the BBC, the Musicians Union, or anywhere else, getting on with what we have to do, tend not to take enough time to pause, step back, and ask ourselves what we are really doing and why. The BBC should do that over this matter.
My belief is that the BBC should concentrate on certain things of quality. It should concentrate on good music, good radio plays and features and not expend its precious licence resources on those things that commercial radio can do just as well. I think partly of Radio 1. I cannot see any case for the BBC being in the pop music business. That can well be left to commercial radio. The BBC will then have more resources for good music.
The hon. Member for Warley, East, quoted a leading article in The Financial Times. I quote further from that article. It went on:the largest single cut in BBC radio is to be achieved by axing the five regional orchestras, while far larger savings which could have been available from abandoning plans to expand local radio have not been attempted.Radio 3 and educational programmes have been cut back, but the popular music output on Radio's 1 and 2 has emerged largely unscathed.The article goes on, after saying that the BBC has hinted that it might drop all opera and ballet from television:Local and popular radio would have been better candidates for pruning than the orchestras, not because their programmes are in any sense unworthy; but simply because there is ample evidence that these popular services can function perfectly well on a commercial basis, without public funding. At a time when commercial radio has become firmly established throughout Britain… a reduction in the BBC's output '—could easily have been made in that way.
My hon. Friend is not quite right in saying that there have been no cuts in radios 1, 2 and 4. What about "Waggoners' Walk"? I am told that over 1,000 letters of protest have been received by the BBC about the demise of "Waggoners' Walk" and only 150 about the orchestras.
We all receive letters on many subjects. Most hon. Members receive between 20 and 30 letters a day. The strength of feeling about a subject is imperfectly measured by the quantity of letters about it. As the hon. Member for 960 Warley, East said, there is a great volume of informed and influential opinion. I attach at least as much weight to the quality of an argument as to the number of letters. Radio 1 should be scrapped altogether so that the BBC can devote its resources to programmes which only the BBC can do well.
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich. East)
Radio 1 attracts a mass audience. If Radio 1 was axed and BBC radio then attracted only a minority audience, would not that make BBC radio an even more likely candidate for axing?
No. The BBC has a traditional role, inherited from Lord Reith, of educating and enriching people's lives. The type of work done by Radio 1 can be done just as well by commercial radio financed by advertisements. It would not worry me in the least if that happened and if the people who like to listen to pop music heard it on the commercial network.
I suggest another economy that the BBC could make. The BBC is about to construct an underground car park costing £3,250,000. The capital and interest on that money at current interest rates could save nearly the annual £500,000 it is saving by cuts in music.
I should be particularly sorry to see the BBC Scottish orchestra go. It is a splendid orchestra and has done a great deal to promote the works of contemporary composers and to train young conductors such as Simon Rattle and young orchestral players. The orchestra has high standards and it would be a tragedy of the first magnitude if it were to go.
It will be sad if we miss the Proms this year. Hon. Members might have seen the letter from Sir Adrian Boult in The Times on Wednesday in which is proposed a formula which might save the Proms. Sir Adrian said:The BBC understandably want the Proms broadcast live; the musicians are unwilling to play if they are broadcast. Could not both parties compromise? Let the Proms go ahead; let the BBC record the concerts but not broadcast them till later. When the strike is over, the musicians could be paid and the concerts broadcast. Musicians not in the BBC would get concert fees immediately, broadcast fees later. In this way, honour would be satisfied and a great international festival made safe.961 One can understand the BBC's view and the view of the Musicians Union. Some of us want to speak up for the Proms audiences as well.
Although nearly everything that I have said has been sympathetic to the Musicians Union. I hope that it is prepared to take one more look at that possibility. If it is not it risks losing some of the public sympathy which it has won. The Musicians Union could comply with Sir Adrian Boult's suggestion, or a variant of it, without weakening its negotiating position. I hope that it will do that.
§ Mr. Bryan Magee (Leyton)
I have considerable sympathy with the BBC in its difficulties. It is not only to be blamed. Since the BBC was founded it has had two main roles; it has been a great broadcasting organisation, and it has also been a great patron of the arts—probably the biggest single patron of the arts in this country.
For most of the BBC's life it has not occurred to anybody that these two roles could conflict. On the contrary, they harmonised. However, they are in conflict now, and it is because the BBC has not got enough money. Every penny that it spends on cultural activities not required for broadcasting is a penny taken away from its programme budgets. So the conflict has entered into the very centre of the BBC's activities, and it is struggling to resolve it.
Other things can be said in favour of the BBC. For example, some of the orchestras it proposes to axe are light music orchestras, and whereas light music was a mass taste 30 or 40 years ago it is such no longer. Popular tastes in music change quickly, and there is simply not the demand for light music now that there once was. So the BBC is justified in no longer wanting to maintain several permanent light orchestras.
The BBC made a reasonable proposal for Ulster, which the Musicians Union did not accept. It proposed the establishment of a new orchestra, comprising many musicians from the existing BBC orchestra and others from outside. That could have led to an excellent new orchestra, giving as much employment to Northern Irish musicians as now, but on a different basis. So altogether the BBC has had many good arguments on its side.
962 But I turn now to the other side of those arguments. And I have to say that in spite of everything that can be said in mitigation of the BBC, the case against what it is doing is stronger than the case for it. The BBC's chief fault is a false order of priorities. If it has to cut expenditure it can and should cut many other things before it even dreams of cutting symphony orchestras.
Local radio is an example. It was misconceived for the BBC to become involved in local radio in the first place. It was a panic measure, because the BBC was afraid that a whole new sphere of broadcasting would fall into the hands of commercial interests. Many hon. Members—and I am one—said from the beginning that the BBC would be bringing trouble upon itself if it became involved in local radio. And now this is coming true.
A few weeks ago a letter appeared in The Times from somebody living in Lincoln. It made the point that while saving £500,000 by axing orchestras the BBC was proposing to spend the same amount in setting up a new local radio station in Lincoln. The correspondent said that he, as an inhabitant of Lincoln, would far rather have the orchestras, and what the orchestras provide, than a local BBC radio station.
Another cut that could and should be made is in the BBC's bureaucracy. This has been a bone of contention for many years. Almost everyone who has professional experience of working for or within the BBC has agreed that it is a bureaucratically top-heavy organisation. Far too many people are employed who have nothing directly to do with the making and transmission of programmes. Decade in and decade out, the top management of the BBC has denied that this is so. Yet the people who know it best and object to it most are the programme-making staff of the BBC itself.
So I should like to see the bureaucracy drastically thinned down, and the expansion of local radio halted, before symphony orchestras are cut.
§ Mr. Magee
One direct standard of comparison on the television side is with ITV. Between the big current affairs 963 programmes on ITV, such as "This Week", and the board of directors, there is commonly only one person. In the BBC, there are hierarchies of people between these two levels. The fact that the resultant programmes are not qualitatively different—often, indeed, when there is a difference it is in favour of ITV as far as current affairs programmes are concerned—shows that these intermediate people are not necessary to the production of good programmes.
There is something qualitatively wrong with top BBC management. I know a large number of individuals in that management personally, and they are, on the whole, extremely nice people. They are very well intentioned, and very professional. They are hard-working public servants. But what is important in the context of the present discussion is that nearly all of them reach the top via a concern with current affairs broadcasting, journalism, politics, or management itself, and not through an involvement with the arts and artistic broadcasting, say, music or drama.
Although in such a big organisation there are bound to be individual exceptions, the fact is that there are very few people at the top levels of BBC management with a really passionate concern for, and detailed knowledge of, the arts. This fact becomes important when cuts have to be made.
§ Mr. Magee
I have given way once to the hon. Gentleman. I cannot go on giving way to him.
This lack of knowledge of the arts becomes an important factor when cuts have to be made because the people making the ultimate decisions are passionately concerned, and rightly so, with public affairs, with news and documentaries, with politics, and often even with sport, but alas, they are not so passionately concerned with the arts. They are, therefore, more ready to accept large scale cuts in broadcasting on the arts side than on other sides.
The BBC management is, at this moment, defending its decision to cut regional orchestras on the ground that they are, after all, second-class orchestras —they are not the Berlin Philharmonic or the Concertgebouw—and that many 964 of the people now complaining do not go to their concerts, or, if they do, they do not think all that highly of them. There is a grain of truth in this.
One cannot, however, simply have first-class orchestras and nothing else. Where would young orchestral players train and gain experience? Where would up-and-coming solo artists play? Where would young conductors gain their experience? Where would the top people hear the young and up-and-coming players in order to put them in the better orchestras?
Throughout the world of the performing arts—not only orchestras but theatre companies and ballet companies—in order to have the first-class, one has also to have the second-class and the third-class. One needs a whole structure up through which artists can develop and grow, and gain training and experience. It is an illusion to think that one can axe the second grade and the third grade and still keep the top grade. It cannot be done. So the BBC has a unique responsibility to maintain those middle grade orchestras as indispensable to the continuing health and vitality of the country's musical life.
It is, at bottom, a question of money. Here, the BBC is fundamentally mistaken in its insistence on basing its finances on the licence fee. By doing that, it is insisting on remaining poor. It will always be Governments that fix rises in the licence fee. And the pressure on politicians will always be to raise it as little as possible. Now that 90 per cent. of households have television, the licence fee is a tax that almost everyone pays.
We, as politicians, incur unpopularity by raising taxes So there will always be pressure on Governments of either party to raise the licence fee by less than the BBC wants or needs—to raise it, in fact, by the minimum amount that they can get away with. I believe that the pressure is greater on my party than on the Conservative Party. We have an especial concern with the situation of the poor, and of old-age pensioners, to whose needs I believe we are more sensitive than the Conservative Party. We are, therefore, more reluctant than they to increase financial burdens on those sections of the community.
So long as the BBC is financed by a licence fee, it will continue to have less 965 money than it needs. The reason why the BBC is attached to the system is that it thinks that this preserves its independence. Because the money is collected by the Post Office and paid direct to the BBC, without going through the Government, the BBC thinks that this is a very symbol of its independence of Government. But the fundamental fact is that the Government decide the increase. And everything else depends on that.
There is one suggestion that I would put to the BBC management and ask it to consider most seriously. We have been unusually successful in this country in developing institutions for the purpose of distributing public money to public organisations without allowing party politicians to exercise patronage or control. This has been especially successful in the sphere of culture and the arts. I instance the Arts Council and the University Grants Committee.
No serious body of opinion in this country pretends that the universities, or the bodies that benefit from the Arts Council, are interfered with by party politicians. On the contrary, there is continually an outcry from party politicians about the way the money is being spent and we, in this House, find ourselves—rightly in my view—unable to interfere with it.
§ Mr. Magee
The hon. Gentleman is determined to interrupt, but I am even more determined to prevent him. The example of the Arts Council and the University Grants Committee shows that an organisation could be worked out for broadcasting whereby the Government made the money available to an intermediate body, which disposed of it to broadcasters in such a way that there was no Government interference, no party political interference, no dependence at all of the BBC on the Government of the day. If the BBC would involve itself in discussions to that end, we could arrive, I am sure, at a permanent arrangement whereby public broadcasting was properly funded, and none of the problems that we are debating today need arise.
§ Mr. Michael Neubert (Romford)
The House will be indebted to the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) for his 966 opening speech, which provides the setting for this debate. His restrained but strongly argued case will have found a common cause in many parts of the House. It is often said to be one of the strengths of this Parliament that its Members bring so much diversity of experience to its discussions. Perhaps my brief contribution this morning will exemplify that, because I can claim to have been a professional orchestral musician myself.
Sadly, I cannot declare a financial interest. The time is long since past when I could hope to make a living out of music. However, 27 years ago, when I was a student at the Royal College of Music, I had reached the point at which I was paid to play rather than to go away, which is the critical break-through in any musical career.
In coming, over a period of many years from one precarious profession—music—to another—politics—I must recognise that the musical profession is a highly precarious one. I start from that standpoint, from the musician's standpoint.
Perhaps I can illustrate how hazardous the profession is by citing one example which comes to mind. We know the insecurities and hazards of politics. They are notorious. But perhaps the insecurity of being a musician is not so well known. I cite the case of Roger Winfield, who when I was playing about 30 years ago was a very young recruit to the Halle orchestra. He was the protégé of Sir John Barbirolli and the pupil of Lady Barbirolli, better known as Evelyn Rothwell, the professional oboeist.
A couple of years ago, Mr. Winfield was sacked from the London Philharmonic orchestra after a long and distinguished career because, it is said, Sir Georg Solti, who took over the artistic direction of that orchestra, did not like his sweet melodious tone. Apparently, Sir Georg preferred the sonorous, metallic sound which is characteristic of some Continental orchestras, notably the Germans. For that reason, and possibly for others, Mr. Winfield lost his job. He took the matter to a tribunal. I do not know the outcome. However, that exemplifies the hazard of being a professional musician these days.
After all, we politicians may lose our jobs because of what we say, but it is not often that we lose them because of the 967 way we say it. Here was a highly competent musician, playing in one of the country's leading orchestras, who found after 30 years that his position was no longer as secure as he might have had reason to think it was.
When we approach the question of the BBC's plans to reduce the number of orchestras that it employs, we must see that in the context of the potential employment for professional musicians in this country. The hon. Member for Warley, East raised the point about flexibility of instrumentation. It may well be that fashions in music change, but it would be unwise to diminish the significance of that for the profession. It may well be true that different textures in orchestral work, different instrumentation and going away from the traditional instruments to more synthetic kinds of music-making, have employment implications for musicians. But one must recognise at this point in time the very limited range of permanent, paid, pensionable employment for those who have chosen to make music their career.
I hope that the BBC will recognise the part that it has to play. As the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee) has just said, it has a duty to the Arts as a patron to ensure the continuing flow of musical talent in this country. It cannot do that by proposing to close down five out of the 11 orchestras at a stroke; nor is there any need for it to do so.
Before I turn to the question of the BBC, I should like to dispose of one point of vexation—that of VAT. Up until now, the debate has concentrated on the BBC's proposals, and that is obviously the motivating force behind the debate. It is certainly the occasion for it. However, I remind the House that the subject on the Order Paper is the proposed disbandment of regional orchestras and that it is not the BBC's orchestras alone which are under threat of disbandment. There is considerable concern in different parts of the provinces about the future of regional orchestras.
The imposition of VAT touches on those wider concerns. I am glad that the Association of British Orchestras is not pressing for relief of VAT, because that is a political non-starter. I think that it is right not to do so. I do not think that there is any possible chance of VAT 968 exemption for the Arts, whatever comparisons can be made with the Continent. It is just a fact of life which must be accepted, and the sooner it is accepted the better, because for the moment the concentration on that niggling tax on the Arts is diverting those involved in artistic enterprises from more constructive campaigns to secure support for their activities.
§ Mr. Faulds
The hon. Gentleman really cannot refer to the money which Customs and Excise takes from the imposition of VAT on tickets as a niggling tax. Customs and Excise takes £30 million a year from VAT on concert and theatre tickets. That is nearly half of the total Arts Council grant. I ask the hon. Gentleman to summon his energy and courage and to support those of us who want that VAT point debated and changed in a future Finance Bill.
§ Mr. Neubert
I cannot accept that invitation. I was about to make the point that, although the sum of money raised by VAT is not inconsiderable, on the individual decision to go to a concert or see a play I cannot accept—and do not accept from my experience—that it can be as influential as contended. I cannot accept that, because VAT was last year increased from 8 per cent. to 15 per cent., the addition of 7p in the pound on a £3 or £4 ticket will make that crucial difference between going to a play and not going to a play. It is not a critical decision of that kind.
Of course, rising prices generally may detract from support for the Arts. It may be that the cost of fares, petrol or having supper afterwards means that the evening becomes too expensive for people to engage in it as frequently as they would like. But I believe that the point about VAT is grossly exaggerated. I should like to see those in the theatre, music and the other arts concentrating their efforts and energies on promoting their artistic activities. They would do better to spend the time spent on campaigning against VAT in promoting going to a concert as a way of life.
I welcome the innovation of "Subscribe Now" and the dynamic new selling techniques for the theatre. I should like to see the same applied in respect of concerts. We must persuade people in 969 this recessionary era that they must maintain our artistic life. It is a matter of competition for cash.
That brings me to my second point about VAT. It is so often forgotten that the VAT increase was made last year to enable tax relief to be made. As a result, people have more money in their pockets, and it is for the theatre and musical enterprises to go out and compete for that extra cash. That is the challenge which they face. They should not concentrate on this red herring or blind alley of seeking relief from VAT, because I believe that they are making a great mistake in doing so.
Such enterprises will also be misled if they take the point that the amount raised by VAT should be given to the Arts. That is a popular prejudice in connection with the so-called road tax, where it is widely believed that road tax is no longer applied to the purposes for which it was originally raised. There was an interesting answer from the Minister for Transport earlier this week, in which he pointed out that, although vehicle excise duty raises £1.3 billion, the expenditure on related subjects is £1.95 billion. In other words, more money is spent than is collected through road tax, and people are wrong in thinking that they are paying enormous sums of money through vehicle excise duty which is not being spent on the purpose for which it is intended. The same will apply to VAT. Of course we have to raise money by taxes, but it is not a question of raising taxes to offset grant.
A substantial part of VAT revenue is contributed by tourists. I use that argument against a tourist tax. If we are to have such a tax, it will certainly deter tourists. Is that what actors and theatre owners want? I am sure that they recognise the major contribution by tourists to their revenue and would not want a tourist tax to take the place of VAT on the arts. Our present system gives a fairly balanced result.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) and the hon. Member for Leyton that it is a mistake for the BBC to strive to match the competition. Many would gladly provide some of the services that the BBC is striving to provide from its limited budget. In my constituency there was an attempt to provide an illegal radio service for the 970 London borough of Havering. It was well supported by its listening public, illicit though it was. That point will no doubt not have escaped the eye of the Minister of State, Home Office. There is also the East London radio campaign by people wanting to provide local radio services.
Yet, in this, as in so many other aspects, the BBC wants to match all the competition. It cannot do it. In particular, it cannot match the kind of money that commercial television can raise. That is very much part of the problem. Therefore, I hope that the BBC will not try to follow all the paths to listening figures, since that will diminish its important and unique role as a patron of the arts. That is why it should give the highest priority to these orchestras.
Of course this can be described as elitist and catering to the tastes of a small minority. Nobody denies that: I believe that Radio 3 has only 2 per cent. of the listening audience. It will always be like that, and I hope that the BBC will recognise it.
Also, we should consider the background against which the BBC is making these cuts. I hope that it will have regard to its unique opportunity to support music. It is valid to say that the BBC would like more flexibility, but ultimately it is using the opportunity of the economic recession to make a change of policy, defending it with the economic argument. That is not honest. If the BBC wants to make a change in musical policy, it should state it and argue it and negotiate it as such with the Musicians Union.
Instead, the BBC is claiming that we once again have brought about this dreadful calamity—not only the abolition of "Waggoners Walk", as if that was not bad enough, but the disbandment of five regional orchestras as well. That is just not true. The BBC has the choice and it is not making it. It is putting up false alternatives. This should be pointed out to the BBC.
These orchestras fulfil a role, just as the other regional orchestras do. There is a great danger that, if we allow this plan to go ahead, we shall once again concentrate musical and artistic resources in London. I do not want to introduce a political note, but my hon. Friends will have observed the result of yesterday's 971 by-election, which could be said to reinforce the growing gulf between the North and the South where we find most of our support. That trend will be accentuated by the concentration of musical activity in London; it will be one more nail in the coffin of the unity of the North and South.
I pass on to less contentious issues. If I were to ask the Government to do any one thing, it would not necessarily be to spend a great deal more money. However, one thing could reasonably be asked of them—that the amount of the Arts Council grant, which filters down into the regions and supports the orchestras, might be made known much earlier. Musical programming is a long-range activity. If the best artistes and programmes are to be secured, one must be able to act well in advance—perhaps two or three years ahead. It would not cost any more to announce the decision early.
After all, this profession is by no means well paid. Few of its members, and only those at the peak of their profession, can command their own fees. The rest must work hard to rehearse and must often record to make any kind of living at all.
Then there is the question of maintaining the real value of the support which is given. It should be recognised that inflation is not the best criterion, that there will be extra high costs for music. For instance, the instruments themselves, which the musicians provide, are obviously made by craftsmen, and in a computer-controlled, mass production age, crafts will always command a higher premium than everyday products.
Finally, I hope that the Government will stress to local authorities the need to maintain the level of regional musical activity. It is for the local authorities to decide, but Government guidance would be helpful. Even during the Second World War, it was regarded as sufficiently important for national morale to sustain the arts by subsidy. The lunchtime concerts by Dame Myra Hess at the National Gallery were a real contribution to the war effort.
Therefore, whatever our economic difficulties and the cries of the world recession, I hope that we shall ensure that our orchestras survive.
§ 11.7 am
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston-upon-Hull, Central)
I join the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert) in saying that I would applaud any action which put the cost of music on the defence budget. We could use some of the money that we are going to waste on Trident for musical education. That would do more for the morale of the country than the Government's policies.
We must be careful to ensure that we do not create an elitist attitude. Just because we are talking of the Scottish symphony orchestra or something of that nature, we should not immediately attack the tastes of the majority of citizens, who prefer Radio 1 to Radio 3.
We must be careful not to appear to be knocking local radio. I do not share the criticisms of local radio made by some of my hon. Friends. It serves a useful social purpose.
In the present economic climate, if a choice has to be made between expanding local radio and introducing new stations or making these cuts, which should have priority? That is a different question, but on the general principle of local radio we should not suggest that jobs should be lost there to maintain jobs in orchestras. That would be setting against each other two groups who should be not fighting but supporting each other. Certainly, at their executive level, the ABS and the Musicians Union have appeared to be supporting each other.
§ Mr. Jessel
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that no one is suggesting that the tastes of those who prefer Radio 1 should not be met? It is simply that many of us feel that those tastes can be met perfectly well by commercial radio financed by advertising, which would enable more of the BBC's resources to be concentrated on those quality things which only the BBC can do.
§ Mr. McNamara
I do not accept that the BBC has a monopoly in quality broadcasting. That equally would be a wrong premise on which to start this argument. Some of the arts programmes that have been put out by the commercial stations, certainly on television, have been of very high quality. That also should be recognised. Whether the commercial stations spend sufficient of their money or time on such programmes is 973 another argument, but it is wrong to say that the arts programmes that they are putting out are of lower quality.
Those are two important points that must be made. Otherwise, we are arguing simply about minority interests and minority tastes against what might appear to be the interests of the community as a whole. That would be sad.
Reference has already been made to the Financial Times leader on the issue. I do not want to pursue that point, because other hon. Members want to take part in the debate. But it seems to me that if the BBC seems to be abandoning its role and going into the market place and fighting the commercial world on the commercial world's terms it will be asked to discover and raise its money in a commercial way. If that happens, the whole reason for the BBC's existence as an independent institution under its charter seems to disappear.
Therefore, the BBC must look to what it is doing in the arts and in maintaining the quality of life, particularly in the regions, if it is to continue to have the support of many people. I believe that that is particularly true of Opposition hon. Members, who have supported it as an institution that did not necessarily go in for the high competition of the commercial world but sought to maintain a degree of quality and objectivity that is not always present in a commercial station looking for profits, looking for audiences, in order to maintain the interests of its sponsors. They are two incompatible things.
One the BBC starts to use its TAM ratings or whatever—how many people watch it on Christmas night as opposed to watching ITV, how many watched its sports programmes, or listened to a particular programme—as the sole criterion by which to judge a programme, that is an argument for a fall in quality, for pandering to the lowest common denominator, rather than looking for maintaining the highest common factor. Once the BBC does that sort of thing, it will find it very difficult to obtain support from the Opposition Benches.
We can also examine what the BBC has spent money on. It spent £2 million on buying "The Sound of Music". We shall doubtless see that film and the escapades of the von Trapp family singers every Christmas and Easter for the next decade 974 at peak viewing time. What is interesting is that the von Trapp family singers were live musicians. We shall have them canned and recanned and recanned.
My second point is that we have not properly looked at the role that the orchestras have played in a regional setting. This is perhaps the greatest criticism that can be made of the cuts—their regional effects. There have been some minor cuts in London, but the effect of cutting the symphony and light music orchestras in the regions will be out of all proportion to similar cuts in the metropolitan areas. In the regions they supply a core of highly trained, highly disciplined musicians. They are a nursery for great instrumentalists, young composers and new music. But they are more than that.
The orchestras give opportunities for people engaged in music in the provinces to compare their own performances. The orchestras raise standards. They give opportunities for young players to play with gifted, experienced musicians and raise the quality of the music locally. They have a great influence on the teaching of music in their own areas, not only because of lessons that the players may give as individuals but because of the effect that the orchestras can have on people who listen and watch and learn the techniques. All those effects raise the whole of the cultural and music life within important areas and within the regions.
The immediate reaction to the cuts of people who are interested in music is "Why is it us again? Why is it Ulster? Why is it Scotland? Why is it the North-West? Why is it the Midlands? It is always us." It is always away from the metropolitan centre. It is always those areas that are not perhaps the most fashionable, which may be the areas where the bureaucrats of whom my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee) spoke do not live. It is this attitude, this contradiction of an expansion of local radio and at the same time the curtailment of local and regional facilities, that people find depressing.
My hon. Friend raised the question of the licence fee and the BBC's attitude to it. That was another point that I had intended to raise, but he dealt with it eloquently. We may or may not use a University Grants Committee or Arts 975 Council model, but one can take also the position of the judiciary, who are paid from public funds. It would be hard for any hon. Member, certainly on the Opposition Benches, to argue that Lord Denning's independence of judgment is affected to any great extent by the fact that he is paid from public funds. I have a feeling that the arguments about independence because the BBC is funded from the licence fee are nonsense. There are other ways in which money can be found and independence can be maintained.
There is another point that, as a trade unionist, I regard as of the utmost importance. I regret for many reasons, but particularly on this occasion, that my late right hon. Friend the former Member for Rotherham, Mr. O'Malley, is not here. As a sponsored member of the Musicians Union, he could have put the case far more eloquently.
There is an important issue here. Every time we look at the BBC we have stories of strikes, bad industrial relations, how much better matters could be arranged if only people behaved rationally and objectively, like the commentators, interviewers and programme producers, and how much industrial relations would be improved. The matter is before ACAS, and I do not want to sour a happy outcome, if one is likely, but I am certain that in its handling of it the BBC has denied all proper precepts of good industrial relations.
One does not tell people "You will lose one-third of your work force and one-third of your membership in this branch of the industry. These are the terms. Good afternoon, and goodbye ", and expect there to be no positive reaction. That has been shown in the figures given by my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) of the results of the secret ballot over strike action. The union was incensed. What would happen if in any of our areas, in any of our large factories, we said "One-third of the employed people will be dismissed arbitrarily. Some of you may get premature retirement, if you are over 50, but that is about it"? There would be great consternation on the Opposition Benches, to put it mildly. But, because this is such a small affair, because it is not industrially significant, there has not been the 976 outcry that one would have expected. But that is no excuse for the BBC acting in a nineteenth century factory master manner towards operatives who are not all that well organised because in its view they do not really matter. The BBC cannot expect to start negotiations based upon a fait accompli that it has already introduced. It is no good the BBC saying "This is what is happening, but now we shall give £100,000 here and £100,000 there, perhaps we shall look to see how we can help the Scottish Symphony Orchestra with Stirling University, and perhaps there may be something that we can do in Ulster", when it has already reached its decision.
If the BBC is to save the Proms—and we should all like to see them saved—it must go back to the Musicians Union and say "We are in trouble. We think that there have to be cuts. Can we sit down and negotiate about them?" That has been the line of the Musicians Union all the time. It has said all along "Let us sit down and negotiate." But it does not wish to be presented with an ultimatum.
The hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) spoke about the Proms. I regret greatly that we may not hear or see the Proms this year. However, Sir Adrian Boult's proposal amounted to strike-breaking and the removal of the most powerful weapon at the disposal of the Musicians Union, even taking into account the fact that the union's battery and arsenal are not very strong.
It is significant that this demand does not come from the musicians involved. It comes from outside sources who realise the significance of this matter. If the BBC could say "We have still got the Proms", it would have broken the position and strength of the Musicians Union. I hope that even at this late hour the Proms or some part of them will be saved. They can be saved if the BBC says "We shall scrap these proposals. We shall go back to the negotiating table and see how we can work out these problems together." That is the way to do it.
The other problems of the BBC over licensing fees, over money and over its dealing with a Scrooge-like Government can be surmounted if the BBC takes up the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton. A great many hon. 977 Members on both sides of the House believe the licence fee to be nonsense. This is an important institution, and its finances should be spread across the board of taxation and provided in that way. If the BBC came forward with suggestions of that kind, it would get a great deal of sympathy and support from right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. In the meantime, the BBC must withdraw its ultimatum and negotiate with the union.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Leon Brittan)
I hope that it will be for the convenience of the House if I intervene now, although I make it clear that I have no desire, let alone ability, to curtail the debate. I wish merely to express the Government's views at this stage.
Most of the debate has consisted of hon. Members putting forward views on the priorities that the BBC ought to have in the expenditure of the money available to it. Some hon. Members have suggested that more should be spent in one direction and less in another. As a viewer of and listener to BBC programmes, quite naturally I have my own views on these matters, and that aspect of the debate has provided an immense temptation to me. However, I think that it would be wrong for me to do anything other than apply a self-denying ordinance here, because Governments of both parties have always taken the view that they are not in a position, and ought not to seek to be in a position, to tell the board of governors of the BBC what should be broadcast and what should not.
It is for the board of governors to determine its priorities, and not for the Government of the day. It does not take a great deal of thought to see just how dangerous the consequences would be if a Government said "Within this budget you must spend money in a particular direction." This Government believe that if the independence of the BBC is to be maintained, by whatever financial mechanism one seeks to achieve that goal, one should not express Government views about the content or nature of programmes. I shall not do so, therefore.
Still less do I propose to comment on the negotiating position and the trade union matters just referred to by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central 978 (Mr. McNamara). I do not think that it would be right for me to attempt to do so.
However, I have been informed that Mr. Aubrey Singer, the managing director of BBC Radio, does not accept that he used the phrase attributed to him about grinding down the unions or the orchestras. He informs me that what he said was that he could not see much light at the end of the tunnel—[Interruption.] It is not for me to do anything other than report what I am given to understand Mr. Singer says was said on that occasion.
§ Mr. Faulds
I have no doubt that Mr. Aubrey Singer made that interesting comment about light at the end of the tunnel. However, when it was put to him that the dispute might go on for a long time until the parties were ground down, an interviewer quoted him as saying "And I know which side that will be". I can only quote the interviewer. If Mr. Singer wants to correct that, perhaps he should take it up with the editor of that paper.
§ Mr. Brittan
As the hon. Gentleman has chosen to quote the interviewer, it is not unfair that I should quote Mr. Singer, and that is exactly what I am doing.
The debate has concentrated on the BBC, which is not represented in this House. Therefore, I ought at least to explain what the BBC says about some of these matters, even though I do not believe that it is the Government's role to indicate those programmes on which the BBC should or should not spend its money.
Perhaps I may turn to what is undoubtedly the role of the Government. Here I refer, of course, to the licence fee. I appreciate greatly the fair and moderate way in which that aspect of the matter has been handled in this debate by hon. Members on both sides of the House. This has not been one of those occasions when there has been a clamour for increased licence fees. Whatever may be said outside the House, it is very significant that when the initial increase in the licence fee was announced, and subsequently, there was no great clamour in the House for a higher level than that determined by the Government of the day.
It has been accepted by both sides of the House that for many people the payment of the licence fee is a substantial burden and that the Government have to 979 be extremely careful about the extent to which they can raise the fee. The message that must go out from the House on that score is one of a balance that it is not easy to maintain, and that there is not an easy way out simply by raising the licence fee. For the Government, the position has to be that in maintaining that balance we have to look at what other public institutions face at a time of acute pressure on public expenditure. That factor should be taken into account.
My hon. and learned Friend speaks about an easy way out. Would not it be fairer to say that when the BBC asks for £40 and is granted £34, it is the Government who are taking the easy way out?
§ Mr. Brittan
I do not think so because, as the response in this debate has shown, whether it should be so or not, the Government have to deal with the matters as they arise from the consequences of the licence fee. That is perfectly reasonable.
Let me also develop the point raised by the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee) and another hon. Member about alternative methods of financing. We heard the analogy of the University Grants Committee and the Arts Council, and even, from the hon. Member for Leyton, the payment of the judiciary. Where in those cases direct financing is applied, leaving aside the effects that that may have on the independence of the bodies concerned, it clearly does not ease the financial situation. Just as under the present system the Government have to decide on the level of the licence fee, so under any of the alternatives envisaged, even if they did not threaten the independence of the BBC, it would still fall to the Government and, ultimately, the House, to decide on the proper level of support. That is something that would have to be determined in the light of the economic situation as a whole and of the Government's attitude towards public spending.
§ Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)
I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman does not have the impression that there is no anxiety on the Opposition Benches about the level of support for the BBC. We have been concentrating an alternative methods of 980 funding. At least I would take the view that the present licence fee, which amounts to about 10p a day and is half the cost of a heavy newspaper, or two-thirds of the cost of a cup of coffee in the House of Commons Cafeteria, is quite inadequate.
§ Mr. Brittan
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving his view. I have borne in mind that in remarks from the Opposition Front Bench and other hon. Members the difficulties facing Governments in increasing the licence fee have been accepted, not just from the point of view of its being awkward for the Government but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) pointed out, in respect of its being difficult for people to pay the money. I think that I was therefore, entitled to take that view.
Let me proceed to the specific question of the BBC and its expenditure on the orchestras. It is not for the Government to decide or even to advise the BBC on how to spend within its budget, but it will be for the convenience of the House if I report on the BBC's position on the matter.
The BBC came to the conclusion that within its budget it had to cut £130 million of planned expenditure within the two years covered by the licence fee increase. Of that, £90 million would be saved by deferring or dropping various capital projects and developments, leaving the remaining £40 million to be found through cuts in services. It is in that context that the cuts affecting orchestras arise.
The BBC has had 11 house orchestras —four symphony orchestras and seven light and popular music orchestras—which employed 551 musicians on continuing contract. These orchestras were costing about £4½ million a year—about 70 per cent. of the £6½ million a year that the BBC was spending on live musicians. The BBC considered that there were too many symphony orchestras for the needs of the main radio networks and none of them was as large as it should be.
As for the popular and light music orchestras, which are unique to the BBC, many of them, in the view of the BBC, are relatively limited in their style and repertoire because of their static instrumentation. The governors took the view 981 that radio music had to take its share of the cuts—about £½ million a year or 8 per cent.—and that the only way of retaining the same quantity of live music and of keeping up quality and variety and achieving the required saving was to reduce the number of house orchestras while increasing expenditure on freelance musicians.
A substantial increase in that expenditure is something to which I know the BBC attaches considerable importance. The total volume of live music is not to fall, but is to be achieved not only more cheaply but in a more flexible way.
Six full-time house orchestras are to be retained, at a cost of about £3 million a year—three symphony orchestras—the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Northern Symphony Orchestra and the Welsh Symphony Orchestra, and three orchestras providing light and popular music—the Concert Orchestra, the Radio Orchestra and the Scottish Radio Orchestra. That will provide full-time employment for 379 musicians.
§ Mr. Brittan
I think that there will be none. In addition to the changes to which I have referred and the decrease in freelance activity, the BBC has earmarked, for spending in Manchester and Birmingham, £100,000 a year each, which will provide work for freelance musicians. It is also actively encouraging efforts in Northern Ireland and Scotland to sponsor new orchestras which, if successful, will also provide work for many former BBC house musicians. It is only fair to give those facts to the House, since they put the matter in a slightly different light.
We should also bear in mind that no other European broadcasting organisation employs as many as six orchestras, and that the 379 musicians in these orchestras represent about one-quarter of all the salaried orchestral jobs in the United Kingdom. One cannot stigmatise the BBC in quite the language that has been used on some occasions when these facts are taken into account.
In a sense, the present troubles have been partly created by the success that the BBC has enjoyed as a patron of music over the years. This aspect was put very well by the chairman of the BBC, Sir 982 Michael Swann, in a recent speech. He said:In the early days, the Corporation could only put out all the music it wanted by setting up its own orchestras. Over the years this had a dramatic effect on musical appreciation in Britain, so that other orchestras grew and multiplied, with the result that today, in more straitened circumstances, we still have as many orchestras of our own, but not as well supported as we would like, and providing more music than we need for broadcasting if we are to do justice to all the other admirable orchestras that we have helped to create. The problem should have been grasped long ago, and in our present plight it can simply be avoided no longer.That seems to be a fair analysis of the problem, which shows the effect that the policies of the BBC have had in the past in stimulating other orchestras and, now, the need for the BBC, irrespective of the immediate short-term situation, to take action that reflects a change in circumstances.
I have thought it right to put forward the BBC's factual position and the arguments advanced in its favour, but it is also right to refer to an outside body of some authority that has also had occasion to comment on this matter. That is the Annan committee. It saidWe said in Chapter 21 we did not believe it to be essential for the profession that all the BBC orchestras should be maintained in their present form. We thought that the BBC's overall expenditure on live music and on the employment of musicians, either permanently or on a casual basis, was more important than the maintenance of any particular orchestral structure. Naturally, we also regard it as important that opportunities of employment should be offered to many different kinds of musicians and should not be restricted to a small numebr of experienced musicians. The aim should be to sustain a profession which can provide music of all kinds and not to fossilise the present arrangements. The present arrangements rightly permit the Union to negotiate the terms on which their members shall be employed. But it cannot be right for these arrangements to be used as a means of dictating to the BBC what the content of their broadcasting services should be.It is important that the Government should not in any way give the impression that they are seeking to take over the BBC's role as the body that decides on the nature and scope of its broadcasting services and the priorities within them. It is equally important that the BBC should have the opportunity of hearing the views of the House—as it has heard and will hear them today—about how its responsibilities should be exercised.
983 I accept the responsibility of the Government in the sense that by determining the licence fee we set the financial climate within which the BBC operates. In doing so at the level that we have set, we have reached the right judgment in the general economic climate of today, taking into account the action that we have rightly taken, and are taking, on public expenditure generally.
I hope that I have been able to put to the House the considerations of the BBC and also the view that the Annan committee has brought to bear on the question on music within the BBC.
§ Mr. Faulds
I endorse the comments of the Minister that it is not the role of the Government to interfere in any sense with the decisions of the BBC. But neither is it the role of the Government to act as such an obvious apologist and propagandist of the BBC's present arguments.
The Minister has not met the point that I made in my speech, that there is another aspect of governmental responsibility in this matter. Will he comment on the possibility of the Arts Council being given a special additional grant to aid the orchestras in their plight?
§ Mr. Brittan
I do not regard myself as an apologist for the BBC, and I do not think that I have spoken as one. I have put the BBC's views, and it is right that those views should be put to the House. The BBC is an important and large public corporation, and it is right to expect a Minister—while making clear that the BBC should decide its priorities —to put forward the BBC's views clearly.
I shall draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster the hon. Gentleman's plea for extra money from a source other than the BBC and unrelated to broadcasting policy and the licence fee. It is for my right hon. Friend to consider that different approach to the problem.
I have sought—I hope with some success—to put in context the matter of broadcasting policy and the BBC's approach to it.
§ 11.44 a.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)
Despite the Minister's reply to the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds), he has 984 come to the House to apologise for and defend the actions of the BBC in this matter. To some extent, I agree with the view that in this debate the BBC has come in for some stick which was not entirely merited.
The Minister was reading almost entirely from the dog-in-the-manager brief that we have been given by the BBC. There is some merit in what the BBC has said in reply to those people who signed petitions opposing the proposed cuts. I quote from the BBC brief:If all those who have written to the BBC about the proposed cuts, or signed petitions opposing them, had in the past made their views known to their Members of Parliament, successive Governments might have taken a different view of the public's attitude to being asked to pay a realistic price for broadcasting, as for everything else.That is true. The Minister was right in saying that when the licence fee was increased to £34, to last for two years, there was very little opposition in the House. It is a political football.
Oppositions seek to exploit for political purposes increases in licence fees proposed by the Government of the day. We should seek to devise a way in which that sort of exercise can be avoided. It is difficult to find an alternative, because ultimately this House must make a decision on the question whether public money will be provided. Therefore, it will be a political football. We must have the courage to say that, and to act accordingly. I should like the BBC to be financed in the way that commercial radio and television are financed. The broadcasting functions of the BBC are the envy of the world, both in quality and content. However, despite what has been said to the contrary, I think that there has been a reduction in the quality of BBC services, as a direct consequence of the introduction of commercial broadcasting over the past few years.
Like other political and public institutions, the BBC is a victim of inflation. The Government are bashing—to use a crude term—the provision of public housing, public health services and public education, and are saying that the BBC should not be exempt from that kind of slashing exercise. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) said that, whenever these exercises are engaged in, the most deprived areas of the United Kingdom 985 —whether in Scotland, Ireland or Wales—come in for the worst kind of punishment. The people of Scotland feel particularly angry about this cut. The Government know that in terms of employment, education provision, housing and social services generally, Scotland, like the Northern region, is the most deprived area of the United Kingdom. Proportionately, the largest cuts are being inflicted on Scotland, and Scotland's cultural life will be the poorer for it.
I say to the Minister and to the BBC that in imposing this sort of cut in Scotland they have shown an elitist arrogance that is completely indefensible. I have never known such complete unanimity across the broad spectrum of political and cultural life. Almost every organisation in Scotland opposes this sort of imposition on its cultural life.
It is not without significance that there are three Scottish Members present, who probably take the same view. It is rare on a Friday to find three Scottish Members present. They are normally three-or four-days-a-week men. They are present today because they know the political importance of the matter. Several others are waiting outside for the following debate, which is of considerable importance. I shall therefore be brief.
We object to this sort of treatment by a public institution that should be more sensitive to public opinion. It should have realised that the reaction in Scotland would be unamimously hostile.
It may be a good idea for a Select Committee to examine the overall finances of the BBC—to study how it is financed and what the relationship between commercial radio and television and the BBC should be. They ought not to try to compete; they ought to try to find a particular niche for themselves. If some method of dovetailing the activities of the two can be found—and if some way can also be found of considering the way in which the BBC is financed—it would serve a very useful purpose for the public interest as a whole.
Meanwhile the BBC ought not to send these dog-in-a-manger briefs to us in an effort to justify what seems to us to be indefensible.
§ Mr. Allan Stewart (Renfrewshire, East)
It is a great pleasure to speak after the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) and to agree with him. I agree, first, on the central point that he and other hon. Members were making—the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee) in particular—that if, on the one hand, the BBC is to feel itself bound in a ratings war with ITV and with the commercial radio stations, and if, on the other hand, it is financed by a licence fee system, it will be inevitably and continually in an impossible squeeze, because the politicians will never put up the licence fee as much as the BBC would like.
I also agree with the hon. Member for Fife, Central in what he said about the Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the immense strength of feeling in Scotland. I do not want to go too far down the path of analysing the attendance of Scottish Tory Back Benchers on a Friday, but I entirely agree with him that, unusually and almost uniquely, the BBC has achieved the impossible by uniting Scotland on one issue.
The Minister has set out very clearly the position of the Government and of the BBC. If I may say so, however, his quotations from the Annan report were slightly selective. It is worth making the point that the Annan report was very clear in saying that it would not wish to see a national orchestra in Scotland or Wales abandoned. That was a very clear and specific recommendation from the Committee.
I should like to ask one or two questions about the way in which the decision to cut the SSO was reached. First, who took the decision? The hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds), who opened the debate, said quite rightly that the decision was taken by the Broadcasting Council for Scotland. That is technically correct. The chairman is on record as saying that he went to Scotland with an open choice of options —but I think that some of the options were a bit more optional than others.
When we consider the context in which the Broadcasting Council for Scotland was operating, we find that some very interesting questions emerge. How is the SSO funded within the BBC? That is a point of some complexity. It was pursued by the Select Committee on Scottish 987 affairs, when we took evidence from the BBC. The hon. Member for Renfrew-shire, West (Mr. Buchan) asked:Could we get absolutely clear where the cost of specifically the Scottish Symphony Orchestra is borne? Is it borne nationally? Is it borne out of the Scottish block?The director of finance replied:It is borne out of the Scottish block. It is part of the Scottish total budget.The hon. Member then said:That is now the fourth answer I think I have had on this.A little later Mr. Trethowan said:It is in the BBC Scotland budget.The hon. Member then asked:This is the final and definitive answer?The director of finance replied:Yes—I have the accounts here.Then Mr. Ramsey, from the BBC, said:May I complicate the issue?The issue is complicated, but the key point is that the BBC in Scotland had, within the overall cut with which it was faced, a very considerable financial incentive to cut the SSO, because the SSO, in effect, is partly funded within Scotland and partly funded from London sources. If the SSO were cut the total saving was to be attributed to Scotland's share of the cut, so there was a considerable financial incentive to cut the SSO.
My hon. and learned Friend the Minister referred to the fact that the Scottish Radio Orchestra is being continued. That is entirely correct. But it is still very odd that there was such a policy reversal within the BBC that last December the Scottish Radio Orchestra was to be abandoned as surplus to requirements, with 10 new posts going to the Scottish Symphony Orchestra: Over this very short period there has been a complete reversal of policy.
It also remains a little odd that Mr. Aubrey Singer was able to send a letter to all staff on 25 February, declaring that the decision had been made to cut the SSO before the meeting of the Broadcasting Council for Scotland, on 27 February, which took that decision.
Were there any alternatives? In the Scottish budget other economies are being made. The BBC and the public have made much of the many administrative and back-up staff who are to be made re- 988 dundant. They say that there is nobody shouting for them. There are these cuts, but investigations suggest that no one on the administrative and back-up side has been sacked. I say that with some hesitation, in case I am inundated tomorrow with letters from people who have been sacked. As far as one can tell, there has been resettlement, retirement, golden handshakes, and so on, and the only people who are to be made redundant in Scotland are the musicians of the SSO.
Did the BBC in Scotland really have the alternative of "across-the-board cuts", as they have been described? The BBC says "No". It says that it was impossible, because of the high proportion of its total expenditure that goes on overheads—buildings and equipment—which cannot be reduced.
I do not think that that case stands up. The percentage breakdown of the BBC's annual operating costs in Scotland shows that total staff expenditure amounts to 70 per cent. The BBC presented the Select Committee with a great deal of factual and statistical evidence. I take the view that when I receive a lot of statistics from an official body the most interesting statistics are likely to be in the table that is in the smallest print. So it proved with these statistics, for in the smallest print of all were the statistics for staff numbers in the BBC in Scotland.
The statistics showed that over the period of the early 1970s—1973, 1974 and 1975—the BBC employed between 900 and 950 people in Scotland. It now employs over 1,200 people in Scotland. So it is not possible for the BBC in Scotland to argue that the organisation is terribly constrained, that it has been cut back and cut back, and that it had no alternative. The argument does not stand up.
I entirely accept that all these new people have been doing useful work. I am not suggesting that they are wasteful or under-utilised. The BBC, of course, has been doing new and additional things in Scotland. We have Radio Scotland, which has expanded its coverage—losing its audience at the same time. I do not want to attack the output of Radio Scotland. I think that the original marketing decision was probably the wrong one and that the audience has gone either to Radio 4 or to the commercial station. Perhaps the 989 audience for the type of programme that Radio Scotland is broadcasting does not exist in substantial numbers.
The essential point is that there have been these extra things that the BBC has been doing over the last few years in Scotland, and there is no attempt to see whther they could be cut. There has been no attempt positively to evaluate the prospects for broad across-the-board cuts. There was certainly no consultation with staff to ask whether the staff could perhaps put up useful proposals for economics in other areas.
One comes back to the fundamental truth that the BBC is obsessed with a ratings war with commercial television and radio. In Scottish terms, many people have used the need for economies as an excuse to cut the SSO. That decision has appalled Scotland. People still do not believe that it will happen. It is getting very late, but let us hope that the debate will have a positive effect and that the worst will not happen.
§ 12 noon
§ Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)
I start with what I hope will not be seen as too pompous a disclaimer. As the House will have recognised from the speech by the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Mr. Stewart), the Select Committee on Scottish affairs took evidence from Mr. Ian Trethowan and other senior people in the BBC about the effects of the cuts in Scotland. That was an information-gathering exercise, The Committee did not reach any formal conclusion. However, what I am about to say may represent the views of many of those on the Committee. The fact that I am the chairman of the Select Committee does not mean that I am speaking formally on behalf of the Committee. I speak only for myself.
In my view, there is widespread dismay and considerable disquiet about the basis of the decision to disband the Scottish Symphony Orchestra in the BBC's planning. That orchestra has long been an integral part of the musical scene in Scotland. It is one of only two full-time symphony orchestras. Its removal, by any stretch of the imagination, will leave a substantial gap in the musical life of the country. It will kill off 69 jobs. That cannot be done without causing a considerable blow to the range 990 and depth of musical activity in Scotland.
Apart from the direct loss of jobs, there will be a multiplier effect which has been well-documented in the Select Committee's evidence and in the debate in Scotland. The Scottish Symphony Orchestra, because it was a house orchestra with perhaps not the same financial constraints as other orchestras, was able to air new Scottish works which no other orchestra in Scotland was able to do. It was a training ground for some extremely distinguished conductors. That perhaps underlines the importance and value of the orchestra. James Loughran, Alex Gibson, Colin Davis and Simon Rattle are names which immediately spring to mind.
The removal of this orchestra will have a considerable impact on the teaching of music in schools. Anyone who has read the written evidence submitted to the Select Committee by the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama will see how serious the loss will be because, in terms of its teaching effort, particularly in the woodwind and percusion section, it was dependent on people with full-time jobs with the SSO.
I have lived most of my life in the West of Scotland and I think that that area particularly will suffer. The orchestra was based in Glasgow. In Scotland there is an East-West split just as there is a North-South split in Great Britain as a whole. The cultural life of Scotland will be hit and impoverished by the disbandment of the SSO. It is not just 69 redundancies. We have a new surge of redundancies in the West of Scotland and a 69-job loss will be accorded merely half an inch in the local press. The qualitative effect of these specialist jobs will be sadly missed in the area.
Pat Ramsay, the controller of BBC Scotland, in reply to a question from a member of the Select Committee, managed to make the masterly understatement:It is certainly very difficult to replace an orchestra once it has gone.I believe that if the BBC does the deed, Mr. Ramsay, on that at least, will be proved right. It will be very hard to fill the gap or to put the pieces together again. I think that would be common 991 ground among all Members of Parliament representing Scottish seats, irrespective of party.
I am not insensitive to the difficulties of the BBC. I know that it got £34 for the colour licence fee when it wanted £41 and that it is frozen for two years. I think that the BBC will face a considerable crisis even if it gets the cuts that it wants. The BBC has said that it has to find £130 million immediately in cuts. That figure is based on an inflation rate of 16½ per cent. from April 1980 and 12½ per cent. from April 1981. I make no particular political point, for this may be true whatever Government are in power, but it is irrefutable that there is no hope of those inflation figures being reached in the immediate future. The BBC will have to hack again and hack hard at what remains after the present round of cuts.
One of the interesting by-products of the evidence given to the Select Committee was the interchange between the Committee and Mr. Pat Ramsay in which he made it clear that, if the BBC had its calculations marginally wrong and had to find another £10 million or £12 million in cuts immediately, he had an understanding, which he could make stick, that the cuts would fall not in Scotland but in London. There were slightly choked gasps from some of his colleagues when he said that, but it is on the record. We in Scotland have noted that very carefully. Most of us suspect that that further adjustment—a nice euphemism—cannot be far behind in terms of BBC policy.
The Minister said that there had not been much protest in the debate about the level of the licence fee. I made the point in an intervention, and I repeat it, that we are trying to talk constructively about alternative methods of funding given the difficulties of the licence fee machinery and the political pressures involved. But for all that, as I have some critical comments to make of the BBC, I believe that we cannot run a service of the kind that I demand and expect from the BBC on the present financial base.
This morning I bought The Times for 20p and paid 16p for a cup of coffee in the House of Commons Cafeteria. When I think that my colour television 992 licence fee costs probably 9p or 10p a day, I regard it as not just a good buy but an extremely cheap buy. However cynical and jaundiced I may be about BBC output, I get more enjoyment from it than I get from the average cup of coffee in the House of Commons Cafeteria.
It has been suggested to me on a number of occasions that we should go for an index-linked licence fee. I do not favour that. Index-linking is a dangerous mechanism to build into our economic system. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee) and others that we should look towards a buffer body on the pattern of the University Grants Committee to protect the independence of the BBC which is already heavily challenged by escalating inflation and the constant political hassle which is coming from its inadequate financial base. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) said, if we funded the BBC from general taxation across the board, we would take away many of the distorting pressures which encourage hon. Members on both sides of the House to be parsimonious with the BBC's financing. We must do something about that in the long term.
I turn now to what we must do in the short term about the Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the present round of cuts. My appeal, even at this eleventh hour, is that the BBC should look again at its priorities. The cut in Scotland was 7 per cent. across the board. Like the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East I do not accept that it is impossible to do it across the board. The BBC, in its memorandum to the Select Committee, suggested that wasto betray a misunderstanding of how broadcasting works.That is a misunderstanding shared by many people who are professionally involved in broadcasting. I do not believe that it is a misunderstanding at all. It would be better to ask for contributions from every Department than to amputate in one area alone. I notice that Mr. Ramsay said that it was better to take off a couple of fingers than an eighth of an inch of skin all round. That may very well be. It is an unpleasant metaphor. However, it is special pleading. The lingering doubt in all Scottish Members' minds is that it wanted to lop off those 993 fingers and it was not through necessity.
I do not take the view that it is an easy equation—for example, if we eliminated the duplication of sports programmes, got rid of Radio Scotland, which has only 6 per cent. of the radio audience and which costs £4 million a year to run, or did not buy "The Sound of Music" for £2 million, it would not be necessary to make these other cuts. I give my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central the admirable news that, according to the evidence to the Select Committee on Scottish affairs, he has only eight, not 10, other outings for Maria across the hills. It is perhaps a rather depressing spectacle, but it is slightly better than he thought.
I accept that these are things that it is easy to say could have happened. It is probably much more complicated. But for all that, I believe that we could find the money on a much more equitable basis. We are left with the unfortunate feeling that came from the Select Committee evidence and the Minister's speech: that the BBC management positively wanted to get rid of the Scottish Symphony Orchestra and that it was not financial stringency at all; that that was the cover, the excuse, but it was not the root cause.
I want very briefly to make my protest against the kind of arguments which have come through again and again in the BBC's statements, which are arguments about centres of excellence, and centres which should be localised within the headquarters in London. The point was very well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton when he said that this is a deeply mistaken policy which will lead to distortion and ultimately the inability to maintain standards. I know that the BBC does not like being in the patronage game. It has made that very clear. It wants to see itself as a television and radio production company simpliciter. But I believe that that is a betrayal and a departure from well-established BBC practices that would be a tragedy.
I also agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton that the kind of argument which is put, perhaps, in the phrase "They are not a very good band, anyway", when referring to the SSO, is an entirely false argument to use in the present context.
994 It may well be that we are being over sensitive, but in the Select Committee on Scottsh Affairs, when I, as it happened, asked Mr. Ramsay whether, if he suddenly was given the £600,000 back—he is, after all, the controller of BBC Scotland—he would save the SSO, we got the following remarkable answer:That is a very interesting thought. I would want at least a week's notice of that question, because to save the Symphony Orchestra would be one's initial immediate and pleasing reaction, but I cannot say whether, because I have not looked at the options, in fact if somebody said 'Here is £600,000', I would spend it on a very expensive way of providing music.It may be an expensive way of providing music if one takes the very narrow, selfish, commercial criterion. But given the broader, wider charter commitment of the BBC and considering the cultural needs of an area such as Scotland, which the SSO serves, I believe that that £600,000 should have been found and devoted to saving this orchestra.
So the first answer is that the BBC ought to reconsider even now. If it will not do so, the second best—but it is a long way behind—is that it ought to give time and ought to be a great deal more generous to those who are attempting to find alternative funding. Many energetic efforts are being made in relation to the banks and the oil companies. There is a lot of money at present in the Scottish economy in certain sectors. Possibly the Government, having specifically rejected a windfall profits tax in their last Budget Statement, could allow us to have some small cultural contribution from those who have been spared that particular impost.
If the BBC were to give a bit more, particularly time, to see whether that is practicable, that, at least, would be some contribution. But the best is that the SSO should remain in-house, remain an orchestra in the BBC livery, doing its best to maintain the extraordinarily valuable teaching and cultural service that it provides throughout Scotland. The unthinkable would be for it to disappear now and, therefore, as the BBC concedes, for ever, because that would be a betrayal of everything that the BBC ought to be trying to maintain in terms of its own history. The charter commitment is to have full regard for the culture, language and interests of Scotland. Dr. Roger Young, the chairman of the Broadcasting 995 Council for Scotland, a full governor of the BBC, said to the Select Committee:We are doing some damage to that broad commitment by disbanding the Scottish Symphony Orchestra.Of course he is, and that is cheeseparing that I believe that we cannot afford.
It is perhaps a small retreat, but it is a retreat from the high standards of the past, and once one starts to retreat, where does one end up? It seems to me that we could end up with the BBC being just another production company dominated by audience ratings and commercial judgments. That would be a very tragic situation. It would be a signficant defeat for the whole concept of public service broadcasting and for the BBC's wider social and cultural role.
I believe that the BBC is not prepared to think again. By persisting in its attitude it will damage the musical life of Scotland severely and permanently. But, more importantly from the BBC's point of view, it will damage itself.
§ Mr. Ian Lang (Galloway)
I think that it is right that this debate has now taken on a strong Scottish flavour. In following my fellow members of the Select Committee on Scottish affairs—my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, East (Mr. Stewart) and the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar)—I hope that the House will allow me to concentrate, most of my remarks on the Scottish Symphony Orchestra, because, of course, it is incomparably a major victim of the cuts, both in numbers and in musical importance. But, I hope, too, that my remarks will have some general application.
I am conscious that the BBC has no right of reply in this Chamber, although it has had an admirable advocate in my hon. and learned Friend the Minister. I am conscious, too, that the House does not have the right—rightly so, as my hon. and learned Friend pointed out—to interfere in the day-to-day running of the BBC. But we have a right and, indeed, a duty to comment freely when we see what we perceive to be an error in an important field of public concern. If in doing that I find myself criticising the BBC, I should like to register a degree of apology in advance and place on record my conviction that what the BBC 996 does well it does superbly, and that certainly includes the making of music. It is a case of "When they are good, they are very, very good, but when they are bad they are sometimes horrid".
I also join the hon. Member for Garscadden in paying tribute to the BBC's willingness to send facts and figures to the Select Committee on Scottish affairs in April, and to the frankness and helpfulness of its answers when its representatives came to see us with their director-general, Ian Trethowan. I am delighted to see that he has subsequently been knighted for his efforts.
I take as my text a quotation from Mr. Aubrey Singer, in a speech delivered in Monte Carlo last June, in which he said:The whole point about public service broadcasting, indeed perhaps the whole 'raison d'etre' for its survival is that it is in the game of nurture—more than it is in the game of exploitation".If the BBC means nurture rather than exploitation, I suggest that it has a strong moral obligation to provide noncommercial programmes. I suggest that this is far more important than pursuing commercial radio and television down the alleys of pop music, expensive films and American soap operas, and trying to match every local commercial radio station around the country.
Of course, the corollary to this moral obligation to provide non-commercial programmes is that the BBC does not have to cope with all the problems of advertising, and few of us would wish it were the other way round. But perhaps sponsorship of orchestras is another matter, and something that we might consider. On a roll-over four-year or five-year basis, the sponsorship of orchestras or even of music festivals and concerts must be a negotiable possibility at the very least to lighten the burden of the costs of orchestras. If an oil company is willing to sponsor the Scottish National Orchestra, why could not the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra find a sponsor or a number of sponsors among the banks, oil companies and insurance companies?
Sponsorship seems to me to be a legitimate and acceptable course of action, which could ensure survival on a long-term basis and not just on a year-to-year basis.
997 The hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds), to whom I pay tribute for initiating this debate, quoted a number of very telling newspaper editorials. I would add just one to his list—the editorial comment from the magazine Life and Work. That magazine commented on its "sense of outrage" about the attempt to kill the Scottish Symphony Orchestra. It said:The BBC has proposed a mistake as catastrophic and insensitive as the one which tried to foist pop and bingo on its most loyal listeners.I should like to comment on the licence fee because I feel that the BBC's claim that it suddenly faces a problem that can be cured only by dramatic surgery, because of Government intransigence over the licence fee, just does not bear close examination. Perhaps, as hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, the licence fee is too low at just over 9p a day. Certainly the BBC should be given the stable financial environment in which to lay its long-term plans. I am glad to know that it is trying to negotiate a four-year rolling expenditure agreement.
I sympathise, too, with the BBC's claim that help is always too little and too late, but the fact is that the licence fee has risen by 60 per cent. in less than three years. It has almost trebled in six years. Last autumn the Home Secretary gave the BBC a clear two-year commitment within which to plan. Moreover, the buoyancy of the BBC's income is still greater than that, because the sale of colour licences has risen from 10 million in 1977 to nearly 13 million this year. It is estimated to rise to 14½ million by 1982. The BBC's income has doubled in the last five years, and its claim of "virtually static income" is manifestly false.
In the BBC statement of 10 June Mr. Aubrey Singer said that radio drama, talks, and so on had been cut by 10 per cent. or more and that the BBC could not make an exception for music. I accept that, and I also accept that there may be some truth in the statement of Mr. Patrick Ramsay to the effect that making cuts across the board is too facile an approach to something as complex as broadcasting. I have reservations about that, as have other hon. Members who have spoken.
998 I cannot accept that it is fair or reasonable that music, which provides 58 per cent. of all radio air time, should bear such heavy cuts when so relatively few people are employed in it. A user of that much air time, should be a provider of jobs and not the main jobs victim. While 69.1 per cent. of total costs, in Scottish terms, is accounted for by staff —staff have increased by 20 per cent. in the last two years and by 30 per cent. in the last 7 years—orchestras account for only 5.5 per cent. of operating costs. Yet the orchestras are being asked to bear 38 per cent. of the planned economies. The Scottish Symphony Orchestra, costing 3.5p of every licence fee, is to be destroyed. It is quite remarkable that it should come to that.
The Glasgow Herald made a telling comment when it pointed out that orchestras have survived wars. That point was echoed by my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert). I cannot comprehend how the BBC, that great public corporation with a great tradition and record of public service, can contemplate such an act as wiping out an orchestra that it has nurtured and built up over 40 years.
The BBC spend over £25 million in expenses each year collecting licence fees. That is five times the figure for 10 years ago. If the BBC could achieve a 10 per cent. saving there it could solve the entire orchestral problem five times over. By sacking one-third of the musicians employed the BBC will make a net saving of only £500,000 out of total savings of £132 million. It will then employ only 50 more musicians than Dutch Radio, and one-third of the musicians employed by the Federal Republic of Germany.
Unlike my hon. Friends the Members for Romford and for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel), I would be the first to disclaim any musical prowess, but I avow an abiding love of, and solace from, music. I played in a school orchestra. I was a bad flautist in what was, in school orchestra terms, a good orchestra. I think that I can claim to understand something of the extra dimension that being part of an orchestra can mean to musicians. There is an extra challenge, an extra insight and an extra creative stimulus generated in live performance.
That is of benefit not just to musicians. Through them it radiates to listeners and 999 to musical life in general. I believe that we have a greater love and understanding of great orchestral works if we have played them. That understanding communicates itself to others in discussion and in listened-to music.
The effect of the BBC measures is not just on its own orchestral structure but on the entire musical profession, and upon music itself. As mixing metaphors is, perhaps, in fashion in the debate, I suggest that the ripples in the cultural pond caused by this bombshell will be of almost tidal proportions.
It is not just the symphony orchestra that will be affected. The smaller ensembles, groups, choral societies, music clubs, teaching, and the composition of music —constituting the sheet anchor of employment in a symphony orchestra—which have been allowed to flourish alongside—the symphony orchestra, will now be jeopardised economically and culturally.
The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama employs about 17 members of the Scottish Symphony Orchestra on a part-time teaching basis. Those teachers give almost 90 hours' individual tuition each week of the term. Their work covers 13 instruments and represents a substantial proportion of the total teaching capacity of the academy. Without the Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the teaching that it allows, it would not be possible to field a full academy orchestra. The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama is the only college in Scotland where such training is available.
Another important feature of the full-time training that takes place there is the opportunity for advanced students to deputise in the SSO. That is in an invaluable stepping stone into the profession and is offered by no other orchestra or college on the same scale. The suggestion is whispered behind cupped hands that the SSO is not as good as it might be. If that is so, why have such distinguished conductors as Loughran, Davis, Rattle and others been willing to conduct the orchestra? Why three months before the cuts were announced was there a plan to expand the SSO?
An orchestra is a living, organic thing. It is something that evolves. Of course, it has its ups and downs. That very 1000 vitality and variability is what gives stimulus to the performance of music. If the SSO is not currently at its best—and that is unproven—surely that is a challenge and not an excuse for annihialation. If the standard is bad, why in recent years have 120 hours of broadcasts by the SSO been heard on Radio 3 compared with only 50 hours on Radio Scotland? Does that tie in with the claim that demand for the orchestra's work has declined?
Maurice Lindsay, a distinguished commentator on the arts in Scotland, has pointed out that during 1979 the SSO broadcast almost 50 new, or newish, British works. About a dozen of those were by Scottish composers. The chances of a London-based orchestra giving a first performance of a new Scottish work are almost non-existent. Thus, the disappearance of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra is likely to make it virtually impossible for a young Scottish composer to hear his own music. The ripples are, as I have said, of almost tidal proportions.
Alternative sources of funding have been suggested. I do not propose to travel down that avenue, but I am tempted to comment on Radio Scotland. which employs between 60 and 70 people, at a cost of around £4 million a year and is now pleased that its listening figures have risen by 6 per cent.
Even in the musical context there must be options such as mergers, phased redundancies, negotiations with the unions, and natural wastage. Those options must be able to apply across the full spectrum of the orchestras. I believe that there is a possibility of longer-term co-financing arrangements under the heading of sponsorship.
The orchestra could perhaps cut out some unprofitable public concerts and, perhaps, abandon some of the larger orchestral works, which might enable the orchestra to be reduced slightly. The BBC may have awakened to the ill-conceived nature of its plans with its halfhearted talk of a new, smaller, independent sinfonia orchestra. That suggestion has all the worst features of compromise without any redeeming features.
The secretary of the Musicians Union has pointed out that the introduction of a new orchestra at the present time will undermine fund-raising at all levels for 1001 the performing arts. He said that if the BBC has its way not only shall we lose a broadcasting orchestra; we shall face a situation in which existing orchestras would be placed under threat through lack of finance. Already the Scottish Arts Council contributes more than 40 per cent. of its annual budget to orchestras. The Secretary of the Musicians Union says:The Scottish Symphony Orchestra has a distinct role to play in the development of Scottish music; its international reputation has been built up over many years. To force that Orchestra under a new name into the market place is to ensure that the Orchestra will be forced to abandon its hard-won identity and reputation for an adventurous musical policy. Without clear identity, and short of funds, the Orchestra would quickly be the object of attack from all sides.Against that background it is tragic that the BBC should have allowed itself to get into a situation in which it could even contemplate the irretrievable selfmutilation involved in destroying a great orchestra. To do that would be to demolish a cornerstone of cultural life in Scotland. Even at this late hour, I say to the BBC "You have got it terribly wrong. Think again while there is still time."
§ Mr. Guy Barnett (Greenwich)
The hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Lang) owned to being a bad flautist. I own to be a bad clarinetist. Perhaps there is scope for a parliamentary orchestra, but unfortunately, like some of our debates, its performances might be a little conflicting.
The debate has been characterised by a remarkable degree of unanimity. I shall not repeat the arguments. I shall make one point and a general comment in a brief speech. There is a tremendous resurgence of interest in music in our education system. Conservatories and colleges of music, many of them concentrated in London and others throughout the country, have students of a high quality. A year ago at Goldsmiths College, in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin), the National Centre for Orchestral Studies was established. Most of its work is undertaken in my constituency. The students at the centre have already attended a conservatoire or college of music and predominantly they come from Britain.
1002 Last Tuesday I went to a concert by that institution, as part of the Greenwich Festival. I was astonished by the incredibly high standard of playing. I heard that a leading conductor who had conducted the orchestra, which comprises youngsters in their late teens and early twenties, regarded it as a first-class orchestra with players of international standard. That is no surprise.
Some months ago I went to a concert given by a European youth orchestra. I was told that one of the difficulties of having a European orchestra for young people is that the British players are so good that they tend to overwhelm players from other countries. I have not checked on the truth of that. However, it is incontrovertible that the standard of talent and skill in the younger generation is unrivalled by anything that we have possessed in the past.
Students who have had full musical training and have taken the course provided by the National Centre for Orchestral Studies will have difficulty in getting jobs, whatever the BBC does. If the BBC goes ahead with its proposals we shall turn our backs on a tremendous standard of achievement at a time when we are able to take full advantage of it.
Britain is already a centre of musical excellence. We have every opportunity to become an even greater centre of musical excellence. It would be a tragedy if the BBC were to go ahead with its proposals which will deprive young people who want a musical career of stable employment.
I understand from the Musicians Union that, excluding principals, about 90 per cent. of the musicians in the BBC's orchestras in the provinces depend on salaries paid by the BBC. In London the figure is about 85 per cent. That indicates that the amount of freelance work available is limited. The great attraction of a job with a BBC orchestra is that it provides stable employment, the opportunity of contributing to a pension scheme, pay during sickness, and holidays with pay.
I was speaking to a musician last night. Musicians usually live on the knife-edge that can result in disaster when sickness strikes. They have little chance of earning pension rights. We have all encountered people who engage in an aspect of the arts but fall on evil times in their 1003 old age. I emphasise the extraordinary measure of damage that is likely to result from the proposals. I hope that the governors and senior staff of the BBC are made conscious of that as a result of the debate.
Whatever we might say about the licence fee or the financing of broadcasting there is no question but that the proposals constitute a shift of policy by the governors and policy-makers in the BBC. I remember hearing of someone travelling in France who discovered a hotel called "Hotel of the Immaculate Conception, and Commercial". That sums up what is happening—the immaculate conception from the days of Lord Reith but now a BBC which thinks that it must enter the commercial sphere and attempt to compete with commercial television and radio.
It is wrong to attempt to do that. It is a denial of the BBC's traditions. It is a denial of its reputation in Britain and all over the world for artistic and musical excellence. The BBC is such a valuable institution that, although we should have proper regard for its independence, it would be wrong for the House not to express its views forcibly.
§ Mr. Julian Critchley (Aldershot)
I shall be brief. I have no wish to come between the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) and his exquisite light lunch. I have no wish to come between myself and my own exquisite light lunch. This has been a well orchestrated debate. Amid the pipes and drums, which at times have been deafening. we have heard the speech of the hon. Member for Warley, East, who is well known as a wind instrument, and also the speech of the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee), who is, essentially, a string. I have no real idea which instrument I shall play, but I promise to play it briefly.
§ Mr. Critchley
The debate must start from the assertion that there has been a failure on the part of this Government, just as there was a failure on the part of the previous Government, to allow the BBC a reasonable licence fee. The Home Secretaries of the day are the villains of the piece, although they are among the nicest men in the House of Commons. They were unable, however, to persuade 1004 their colleagues in the Cabinet to a particular line of policy.
The fact is that the BBC is short of money. Over a period of increasing inflation, the situation will become more serious. It must find £130 million in savings straight away, with the clear implication that this will be only the first cut and that it will have to look for more.
The BBC proposes to save £500,000 all told on the cost of musicians. This will reduce the amount spent on music from £6.5 million to £6 million. Put another way, 8 per cent. of the overall savings will be made on music. That is £500,000 out of the £130 million that the BBC is obliged to find. Translated into human terms, this means a loss, in the first instance, of 170 jobs out of 1,200 musicians employed by the BBC. To put that figure into perspective, the saving in education that the BBC is obliged to make is 10 per cent. and the saving in drama 18 per cent.
Of the 170 musicians, there are 20 vacancies and 30 musicians who are old enough to retire. That leaves 120, who will be drawn in the main, from the radio orchestras; the BBC has also announced that £1 million will be made available over the next two years, in freelance income for the very musicians who, until now, have been employed full time by the BBC. If all these changes are instituted, there will be 2 per cent. less live music than today. Money will be put aside by the BBC for the Northern Ireland Symphony Orchestra for some form of rescue operation. That is equally true in the case of the Scottish Symphony Orchestra.
It is a sad and sorry business that the BBC has no choice but to make these economies. In an ideal world the BBC and ITV should enjoy an income that is roughly equal.
§ Mr. Jessel
My hon. Friend says that the BBC has no choice. Surely the BBC has the choice, as many hon. Members have stated, of cutting local radio or Radio 1. There is very limited demand for the BBC to carry out local radio. It is done perfectly well by commercial bodies.
§ Mr. Critchley
I was just about to move on to that point. If the BBC is to survive as a national organisation, it has 1005 to compete right across the range of broadcasting. There can be no doubt about that. The question is then posed "Why?". The answer is that, for as long as the BBC relies on licence-fee income, it has to attract at least 45 to 50 per cent. of the viewing and listening audience. Once the figure falls below 50 per cent.—to 45 per cent—no one will wish to pay the licence fee and the whole basis for financing the BBC will come unstuck. The BBC is, therefore, obliged to act as a rival to commercial television and to maximise its audience.
§ Mr. Allan Stewart
Is my hon. Friend serious? Is he suggesting that if the BBC's share of the audience fell to 42 per cent. no one would pay the licence fee and the fee would become impossible?
§ Mr. Critchley
My hon. Friend is being very Scots. If the figure of viewers that the BBC could claim fell below a certain figure—it is hard to be specific, but say below 40 per cent—the argument against the licence fee as a means of financing the BBC would become overwhelmingly strong. The BBC is, therefore, obliged at least to aim for half the viewership and more than half the listenership if one wants the licence fee to continue, which is of course another and separate point. There are obviously alternatives.
I assert again that the BBC and the ITV should enjoy incomes that are roughly the same if they are to continue on equal terms. At the moment, the ITV is able to raise its prices through the price of its commercials and to do so freely. The BBC is stopped from doing precisely that, because Home Secretaries of the day, anxious to prove their virility, are prepared to make an example of the BBC, whereas on other occasions, they are not prepared to do so.
Sir Ian Trethowan is making a new approach to the Home Secretary to see whether the Government would consider the establishment of a new body—three wise men, for example—to examine the finances and structure of the BBC and to report at intervals on what the licence fee ought to be. That would help the Home Secretary in part, because it would remove from him the immediate agony of having to take the decision.
1006 The history of such "three wise men" bodies in the past has not been a very auspicious one. As Members of Parliament, we can all think of Lord Boyle. None the less, there at least ought to be an attempt to introduce into the debate some sort of mechanism which would make the task of any Government marginally easier. For example, in the Federal Republic, there is a commission of 12 men, who every so often decide what the German licence fee should be. That figure is announced and the German Government immediately accept it.
These are all steps which in the long term might ease the problems of the BBC. Were that to happen, all the short-term agonies of how much money might be saved by orchestras and by any other means would be avoided.
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
I hope that the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) will forgive me if I do not take up his arguments except to say that I agree very much with what he said.
About five years ago I was approached by Mr. John Morton, the general Secretary of the Musicians Union, and Mr. John Patrick, the chairman of the MU, who, following the sad death of our late colleague, Brian O'Malley—who was their sponsored Member at the time—requested that I should act in a strictly honorary capacity as their representative in this House. Although, unlike many hon. Members, I can claim no musical talents or ability, I have for the past five years met those two gentlemen fairly frequently. During my talks with them and their executive, I have been struck by the diverse nature, and politics for that matter, of musicians in general.
One can find on the Musicians Union executive a postman from the North of of England who plays music principally for pleasure but also for personal gain in a strictly part-time capacity, sitting next to a member of the executive who plays full-time for one of our principal orchestras. An ultimatum such as the one that the BBC has issued, to unite people as diverse as that, says a great deal about the incompetent way in which the BBC has dealt with this whole matter.
I am not anti-BBC. On the rare occasions on which the crazy hours that 1007 we work in this place enable me to watch television, I first look at the programmes on the two BBC channels, and only if there is nothing on there do I turn to see what is on the commercial side. The same applies to radio. In my constituency, which adjoins that of my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds), there is a unique situation for the provinces in that, at least theoretically, there are two competing commercial radio stations. I do not know of anywhere else outside of London where that is true. We also have BBC Radio Birmingham, which the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) and, to a certain extent, my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee) feel is somewhat inappropriate.
The hon. Member for Twickenham was adamant in his view that there was no place for the BBC in local radio—a point of view that I respect but with which I disagree. The fact is that the two supposedly competing commercial radio stations, covering the borough of Sandwell, which embraces the constituencies of my hon. Friend and myself, play exactly the same sort of music. By and large, they play the top 50 records, interspersed with the jingles that can be heard nation-wide on any commercial radio station. There are normally disc jockeys whose accents are more Baltimore than Birmingham and more Wichita then Wolverhampton. These are the people that the hon. Member for Twickenham would leave alone, in full charge of the local radio airways.
On BBC Radio Birmingham one hears orchestras such as the Midland Radio Orchestra—soon to be disbanded, if these proposals go ahead—and interviews with minor and not very important people, such as Members of Parliament and leaders of voluntary organisations. One hears these things infrequently, if at all, on commercial radio.
The hon. Member for Twickenham and those who support him presumably feel that it is sufficient to abolish BBC local radio and leave the field clear for commercial stations that are not remotely local in the nature and concept of their programmes. For the reasons that I have given, I disagree.
The Minister of State made a predictably robust defence of the BBC. 1008 I think that someone once called the Foreign Office a "nest of vipers". No one would use that description of the Home Office, since vipers occasionally hiss and show signs of life.
The Home Office view is that senior, if not junior, civil servants should be issued with a very dead bat, perhaps passed on by Mr. Geoffrey Boycott, or even Mr. Trevor Bailey in his heyday, and instructed to play it on each occasion. Home Office Ministers, regardless of political hue, make the same speech on every issue. They support the Establishment and say that there can be no justification for any change. The hon. and learned Gentleman has done it more eloquently than most, but his defence of the Establishment and his vote for no change were much the same as those of any of his predecessors.
§ Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)
Is not my hon. Friend being a little unfair to the vitality of the Home Office? Is he not aware that while the Minister was speaking representatives of another arm of the Home Office—the Metropolitan Police—were in a boat on the river, silencing some of the only decent music that we have heard from the Terrace in recent years?
§ Mr. Snape
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the ingenuity with which he got that comment in.
I do not believe that this dispute, if dispute it is, has been correctly outlined by the Minister of State. The BBC management has wilfully and deliberately abrogated an agreement that it freely entered into just over a year ago. The management was reminded by the Musicians Union representative at a discussion earlier this month that it is only just over a year since union and management agreed that expenditure on musical employment could be reduced by £240,000, provided that agreement could be reached. That does not sound like the militancy that the Minister implied was behind the union case. He did not use that word, but that was his implication.
The same agreement, freely entered into by both sides, also allowed the BBC to negotiate the number of staff orchestra posts. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) said so eloquently, it is a 1009 strange way of negotiating to say "You lot are sacked; away you go." I know of no other industry in the 1980s whose management would conduct negotiations in that way.
Following the agreement, and before the cuts were announced, there were trailers from senior management in the BBC, and after the announcement of the cuts there were various inspired leaks to interested journalists, to people who it was felt might create a justifiable fuss about the proposals, that the five orchestras referred to were inflexible, outdated and non-cost-effective—a lovely expression to use about light music. Perhaps that is an indication of the Philistines at present making policy within the BBC.
§ Mr. McNamara
Does my hon. Friend agree that it says something about the quality of the management that it can make such comments about orchestras that it has had for so many years?
§ Mr. Snape
It would be interesting to find out the musical qualifications and abilities of the management people who have been so outspoken about the musical qualities of professional musicians. I do not know whether any or all of them are experienced in live classical music. They have been fairly pungent about the abilities of the orchestras that they now propose to disband.
§ Mr. Snape
I shall not give way. I am already being reminded of the time. I appreciate that I intervened during the hon. Gentleman's speech, but I have given way twice, and I think that I should continue.
The hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Lang) quoted from Mr. Singer's eloquent speech in Monte Carlo in June 1979. The hon. Gentleman might have gone on to finish the paragraph in question:Our job in radio must be concerned with the employment of musicians of all kinds for what the pop industry has suffered from is the recorded sound feeding on itself.Those are wise and accurate words. Mr. Singer went on:If a musician's only outlet is the recording studio, the quality of performance suffers from lack of live contact.Again, those are wise and accurate words. What a pity that that man, who was so eloquent in Monte Carlo, is not with us 1010 today to lay down the future policy for the BBC!
The BBC's proposals have no friends outside the Home Office. They have managed to unite newspapers as editorially diverse as the Evening News, The Sunday Times, The Guardian and the Financial Times in condemnation.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have suggested various alternative areas for saving rather than on live music outlets. Far be it from me to detain the House much longer, but I believe that one can look at the people employed by the BBC on Radio 1 and Radio 2. For the reasons outlined by the hon. Member for Aldershot. I do not object to the continuation of those two stations, but it seems that some of the people involved are even longer in the tooth than I am. One or two of their more highly paid disc jockeys appear to have been around since the days of the crystal set.
I do not think that the youth of this country would be particularly socially deprived by the loss of Mr. Tony Blackburn's sophisticated sense of humour on Saturday mornings, for example, or that the housewives of Britain would commit mass suicide if Mr. David Hamilton disappeared from the air waves of Radio 2. The termination of the contracts of both those gentleman—I have nothing personal against either of them—would make an even better dent in the BBC's expenditure than the sacking of many able and professional musicians.
The BBC's views on the matter have no friends anywhere, as far as I can see. The Musicians Union will continue the dispute for as long as it considers necessary, until in the view of all intelligent, humane and right-thinking people it has won a dispute that it did not seek, that it did not embark upon, and that was entirely provoked by the incompetence of the BBC management.
§ 1 pm
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Perth and East Perthshire)
I am grateful, even at this late stage, for the opportunity to speak in this debate. As the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) said earlier, this matter has united the people of Scotland in a way which has been achieved before only rarely. The hon. Gentleman went on to comment on the presence of Scottish 1011 Tory Members on a Friday. He was quite correct, of course. It is unusual for the new breed of Scottish Tory Members to be here on Fridays. We happen to live in our constituencies, and we go back there at weekends, as do most Labour Members. We come here on Fridays only when the House is discussing matters of great concern. We consider this to be a matter of great concern to Scotland.
Perhaps I might also draw attention to the absence today of the representatives of the Scottish National Party and the Liberal Party. I hope that it will be noted.
This debate is about the disbandment of regional orchestras. However, it is not possible to debate that without examining very closely the BBC's recent financial difficulties and how the Corporation has handled them.
I do not wish to make any party political points. I felt that the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) was honest and very fair, and I found myself agreeing with almost all that he said. That does not happen very often. But, without making a party political point, it is right to acknowledge that the last Labour Government handled the pay rise in the Corporation very badly, and that had a great deal to do with the Corporation's problems. What is more, the position was not helped when the present Government did not give the Corporation the money that it required to meet its current proposed expenditure. That is really what has brought about this problem, and it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge our responsibility, because it lies here. It would be wrong for us to attempt to duck it.
Even if the BBC had been given enough money, we should still want to look carefully at the way it planned its expenditure. I say that with some feeling. Some years ago I was living in Birmingham at the time when the BBC was building its new Pebble Mill studios. At about the same time, ATV was building its new studios. I did some work for ATV during that period, and I remember vividly how ATV first built its studios and got the operational side going. The BBC built the administrative section first. That demonstrated more clearly than anything that I had ever seen which of them had its priorities right.
1012 I believe that that is why we have this present problem in Scotland where we have to find savings of £2.6 million. It has been brought about by the proposals to meet the new restrictive finance. It has meant the disbandment of the Scottish Symphony Orchestra. That was a pistol that was put to the head of the Scottish Council of the BBC. It had little option. We in Scotland believe that it is a wrong decision and that we shall live to regret it.
In the past 20 years there has been a revival of cultural life in Scotland, and it was founded firmly on the work of the BBC's Scottish Symphony Orchestra, which has been broadcasting for more than 40 years.
The Scottish Symphony Orchestra has a distinct role to play in the development of Scottish music. It has an international reputation and worldwide respect. To force the orchestra out of existence of to make it play under a new name in the present music market is to ensure that it will lose all that has been worked for in the past. It will lose its identity and its reputation, especially its reputation for an adventurous music policy. We in Scotland will live to regret that, because not everyone in Scotland wishes to listen to Radio Scotland's pop music or to "The Flower of Scotland" played on piano accordions.
I draw attention to the splendid example given by a corporation in my constituency. The General Accident Insurance Corporation has donated a substantial sum to help retain Scotland's orchestras. If only others would follow that example, we could perhaps find a way of saving the cultural life which we need so desperately in Scotland. Scotland desperately needs its orchestras. I recommend the BBC to review its policy, and I urge the Musicians Union to be more flexible in its attitude. I plead with the Government to look carefully at its policy for financing the BBC.
I suggest that in Scotland Radio 4 would be perfectly acceptable instead of Radio Scotland—in most cases more so. I suggest that Radio Scotland is a poor imitation of Radio Clyde and that it should leave Radio Clyde to get on with the job it can do so well. I wonder whether it was necessary for Mr. Brian Redhead and his team to make their journey to Venice, given all the costs 1013 that were involved. After all, no visual effect was obtained. It was a sound radio presentation, not a television programme. The team had to go all the way to Venice to be near the summit, but only to introduce it to enable someone else to talk about it. That is a typical example of how the BBC squanders its resources. In the current climate is it necessary to send a team to Moscow?
I plead with the BBC: "Do not deny your responsibilities. Review your priorities and save our orchestras."
§ 1.7 pm
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker) that the debate is important and in the regret that he expressed that not more hon. Members are present. I remember that when the plans were originally announced by the BBC hundreds of hon. Members rushed to the Table Office to append their names to an early-day motion expressing their concern. The way of expressing one's concern is not by putting one's name to an early-day motion which will never be debated but by being present here today on the Floor of the House. I agree with the hon. Gentleman also that it is wrong to debate the orchestras in isolation of all the other economies to be made by the BBC.
I intervene briefly in this limited debate to attempt to elicit further information from the Minister. If he finds it impossible to give me answers today he can write to me or get in touch with sources in Northern Ireland to place on record the precise position of the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra. I have serious misgivings about that even at this stage.
Those hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds), who referred to the orchestra seemed to accept that a rescue operation is in progress and that the jobs of those currently employed in it will be, under amalgamation, absorbed into a new Ulster symphony orchestra. I have serious doubts about that. I have a communication from the director of the BBC in Northern Ireland which somewhat contradicts that indication. He says:Detailed plans for a combined orchestra were drawn up several years ago but unfortunately were rejected by the Musicians' Union and never came to fruition.1014 In a further paragraph the director said:For several weeks now we have been engaged in talks about creating a new Ulster Symphony Orchestra.I wonder with whom he is engaged in talks. Is it the previous members of the Ulster orchestra, which is under the control of the Arts Council? Is the Musicians Union involved? If it is, why was it necessary for the BBC musicians employed by the Northern Ireland orchestra, aided and abetted by their colleagues in the current affairs section, to mount a picket outside the BBC last week in protest against the disbanding of the orchestra?
Later in the letter the director said that if the talksare successful the orchestra would come into existence in 1981.That is the big "if". We do not know how far the talks have gone, or who is engaged in them. Further, the director saysWe would hope that many of the 33 new posts would go to players in the BBC orchestra.That is an insecure basis on which to hope that those musicians will be able to retain their jobs.
The director said that if everything goes well and if a new symphony orchestra is created in Northern Ireland, it will be a first-class orchestra of international reput. But it is no use having only a first-class orchestra. There must be a second, third and fourth-class orchestra, so that the young musicians can obtain all the necessary skills and talent before they take their place in the number one orchestra. I should have thought that the two existing Northern Ireland orchestras would have been more conducive to the training of young musicians.
There is much uncertainty regarding the Northern Ireland Orchestra. Even if the talks are successful, and it is agreed to set up a new symphony orchestra, it will be outside the BBC family. The BBC will have no control over it. To some extent we shall be depending on a contribution from the Gallaher tobacco company and that contribution could be withdrawn at any time.
§ Mr. Fitt
Exactly. If there is a recession in the tobacco industry, and if 1015 many people give up smoking—from another point of view, I hope that that will happen—that company may withdraw any contribution towards the upkeep of the orchestra.
There is a good deal of uncertainty, and I should be grateful if the Minister could ease some of the suspicions and fears about the continuation of that orchestra.
§ Mr. Faulds
I should like to make a concluding comment or two very briefly indeed. There has been some expression of sympathy for the BBC in its funding problems, and not inconsiderable animadversion on the parsimony of successive Governments. But what has really been very significant this morning is that a near unanimity of view has been expressed across the House, both of disapproval and distress at the BBC's intentions to dismantle its regional orchestras. The message has come across loud and clear that the BBC should, and must, reconsider its proposals. We can only hope that someone up there at the top of Broadcasting House has his earphones on, and is listening.