§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Portillo.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the Home Secretary, may I tell the House that no fewer than 29 right hon. and hon. Members wish to take part in this important debate. It will plainly not be possible to call all of them if speeches are very long. Although I have no control over the length of speeches, I ask for brief contributions.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd)
Before mentioning the Peacock report it might be sensible to say something briefly about the principles that lie behind the recent exchanges between my right hon. Friend the chairman of the Conservative party and the BBC about its coverage of the Libyan bombings. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear, it is not for the Government as such to form a view on that coverage, and that certainly applies to the Home Secretary, but the principles involved are worth restating.
First, the BBC has a responsibility, contained in article 13 of the licence and agreement, to refrain from sending any broadcast matter expressing its opinion on current affairs or on matters of public policy. It has also undertaken to treat controversial subjects with due impartiality. Those are responsibilities assumed by the board of governors. They put the BBC and those who work for it in a different position from those who work, say, for a newspaper or a cable company. Those responsibilities were undertaken in return for the privilege granted by Queen and Parliament in the charter of exercising what was once a monopoly and is now half a duopoly.
Second, it is not for the Government to enforce that responsibility as regards the normal content of the BBC's output. The responsibility rests on the board of governors. Under the charter and the licence and agreement the Home Secretary has some powers, but it is clear from the texts and from past practice that those powers should be used only in an emergency or wholly exceptional circumstances. As I have already stated in public, the Government have neither the power nor the wish to control the normal output of the BBC.
Third, any group or individual who believes that a broadcasting authority is falling below the standards set has an absolute right to say so. There is no reason why the chairman of the Conservative party should be deprived of that right. My right hon. Friend has shown himself entirely capable of distinguishing clearly between his duties as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and his role as chairman of the Conservative party. He showed that again during Question Time on Monday.
Broadcasters have no reason to believe themselves persecuted or insulted when such criticisms are made, whether by my right hon. Friend or by anyone else. As we observe, they have plenty of opportunities to reply and the public can then judge. Private individuals or political parties have no reason to regard with dumb reverence the output of broadcasters. I have not noticed that broadcasters approach the output of politicians with any such reverence. Both professions are in the public arena and learn to look after themselves. Members of both professions also learn, if they are wise, while defending 711 themselves resolutely, to watch out for the lessons which they can draw from criticisms brought against them. If those three principles are accepted, the recent exchanges will find their proper perspective.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
Although the BBC and the other broadcasting authorities should not be immune from any form of criticism and it is the right of private individuals and organisations to complain if they so wish, does the Home Secretary accept that there is a distinction between a private individual or an organisation and the chairman of the Conservative party who is a senior member of the Cabinet? Does the right hon. Gentleman really believe that the BBC or the public will not make much of a distinction between complaints by the chairman of the Conservative party and a senior member of the Cabinet— one and the same person—and those by an individual or an organisation? The BBC has been bullied, harassed and intimidated by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the Home Secretary knows that full well.
§ Mr. Hurd
The BBC understands that distinction well. Throughout, my right hon. Friend has been wholly explicit that he has been putting forward his observations as chairman of the Conservative party. It is not the BBC or the general public, but only the Opposition, who wish to blur a distinction which is perfectly well understood.
§ Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
Will the Home Secretary make it clear that he is now specifically repudiating the views expressed by the chairman of the Conservative party?
§ Mr. Hurd
Of course not. I shall not fall into that trap. If I began to state personal views on the issues involved, I would he accused of acting improperly as Home Secretary, by leaning on the BBC. I have no intention of falling into that trap or of adding to the clear points that I have made on the matter.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)
I do not wish to become involved in the discussion about the chairman of the Conservative party, but it was interesting and valuable to hear him read the rubric under which the BBC must operate under section 13 of its charter. What is the difference between the BBC and the IBA and, therefore, ITN news? Do they have a similar duty, or is it different? Why not mention the other broadcasting authorities?
§ Mr. Hurd
I did not mention the other authorities because the immediate controversy is not about them. The right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) will recollect that in the Broadcasting Act 1981, which covers the IBA, there is a similar but not identical statutory obligation.
I hope that the debate will concentrate on the long-term future of broadcasting in the light of the challenges and opportunities brought about by rapid changes in technology. When I welcomed the publication of the Peacock report on 3 July, I said that the Government would come to a final view on its recommendations only after they had measured parliamentary and public reaction. Some, out of their native cynicism, interpreted my remarks as a signal that the Government had buried the report, albeit with some compliments and a suitable funeral oration, but I hope that later events have shown that that is not true. The Peacock report is still very much 712 above ground, precisely because it provides a stimulating agenda for the decisions which, during the next few years, must he taken on broadcasting.
The debate provides the House with the opportunity to make its views known. We will listen carefully to those views and take them fully into account in the final decisions on the recommendations, which we have not yet reached. From our point of view, the debate is interrogative and exploratory.
The main thesis of the Peacock report has been widely discussed and is now well known. The report argues that the special structure of broadcasting that we have known up to the present day, with its duopoly and sophisticated system of regulation, has been necessary for two main reasons: first, because there has been a scarcity of broadcasting spectrum; and, secondly, because the consumer could not register his preferences directly.
The report argues that technology is changing all that and that new advanced systems for delivering programmes, mainly cable and satellite, will lead to a multiplicity of channels. Sophisticated techniques for encryption, decryption and direct charging will enable the viewer or the listener in due course to pay direct for the programme of his choice. The report predicts that, as those technologies develop, we shall move towards a genuinely competitive broadcasting market with a multiplicity of channels supplied by a wide range of programme providers from which the consumer can make his choice. In summary, that is the committee's view.
There is no doubt that technological change in broadcasting is coming fast, and we should welcome it. I hope that no one will argue as though we were simply discussing the future of the four existing television channels and the existing radio frequencies. That is not so. The initial comments of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) on the Peacock report suggested that he was simply interested in the status quo, but the world moves on, and the question is how we move with it.
As I said on 3 July, the Committee's emphasis on consumer choice is very much in tune with the Government's general philosophy and with the broadcasting policy that we have pursued since we took office. We have never doubted that the new systems should be allowed to develop freely with as little interference as necessary from the Government. That is why the Cable and Broadcasting Act set up a new framework for the new wide band cable services, retaining only a light framework of interference and regulation. It is also why in May last year we removed restrictions on the reception of satellite programmes direct by individual dishes, so that in back gardens up and down the country one occasionally sees evidence of a slowly expanding market which is international in character.
Also, after a number of false starts, we asked the IBA, under the new Act, to advertise contracts for the new direct broadcasting by satellite service, which will provide three new national television channels. In response to that invitation a number of consortia have applied for a British DBS contract. The IBA tells me that it aims to make a selection before the end of the year, so there is a reasonable prospect—after past disappointments, I do not want to be absolute about this—of progress being made and of a new British DBS service becoming available by the end of the decade. The same period has shown a rapid expansion of satellite programme channels in this country, 713 some of which are already providing diversity of choice for viewers, not just in this country, but in the rest of Europe as well.
We have given our full support to these developments, but we have also been conscious of the need to ensure that we do not lose the great benefits of our existing broadcasting services. Like the Peacock committee, I pay tribute to the very high quality of many services provided by both our major broadcasters. There is no reason why, as the broadcasting market expands, we should lose the high quality of those services. Often in the past when changes have been suggested in broadcasting — for example, when commercial television was introduced—there have been those who, with much grave shaking of heads, have warned that existing standards of excellence would not survive any disturbance of the status quo. We have been familiar with that throughout the history of broadcasting. There has always been a great deal of head shaking and predictions that changing anything means spoiling everything. I see no reason, however, why broadcasting should not develop in such a way as to retain high standards, supplemented by greater diversity.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)
Is the Home Secretary aware of what happened in Italy when the Italian broadcasting authority, the RAI, was subjected to intolerable pressures? Due to the absence of proper legislation, anyone was allowed free entry and the result was almost 90 per cent. American films, no original programmes and material of a standard which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would not accept.
§ Mr. Hurd
That is why we put DBS in the public service sector under the Cable and Broadcasting Act and why, although there is a lighter touch and less regulation for cable, there is nevertheless a framework which would rule out the kind of development that the hon. Lady fears.
§ Mr. Derek Conway (Shrewsbury and Atcham)
I welcome the Government's progressive attitude towards extending viewers' choice, but will my right hon. Friend comment on the Peacock proposal that the regional contracts given by the IBA should be put out to tender? Would there not be a danger of losing the valuable provincial services such as we enjoy in the midlands?
§ Mr. Hurd
No. I have been warned by the last intervention. I note the hon. Gentleman's interest, but I must get on.
As I have said, the Peacock committee stressed that the two main obstacles to a genuinely competitive broadcasting market were scarcity of spectrum and the lack of a direct means of consumer payment. The shortage of spectrum is gradually being overcome by the expanding cable and satellite markets. To speed up the development of a national cable grid, the committee recommended that both telecommunication and cable services should be delivered over common carrier networks operated by British Telecom and Mercury. However, it also recommended that BT and Mercury should be prevented from offering cable television services or interactive 714 telecommunications services over those networks. This is a complicated matter and it is fundamental to Government policies on telecommunication and competition as well as on broadcasting. We are far from sure that the Peacock committee has got this particular recommendation right, but we shall consider the proposal in detail and we shall be interested to note any views expressed today on this important point.
On the second point—the absence so far of direct payment—the committee recommended the development of pay television systems. This is one of the most important and far-reaching recommendations in the report. If a system of encryption and subscription were technically and economically feasible, it could provide a means of overcoming the undersirable aspects of the licence fee system which have been widely discussed in recent years and establishing a direct relationship between providers and consumers of television services.
The committee commissioned some useful research to provide an appraisal of the various options, mainly on the economic side, but we judged that further and more further detailed work was needed on both technological and economic aspects. We have therefore commissioned consultants to carry out a study. They will be looking at the technological systems available and the feasibility, in terms of both security and costs, of adopting them for a major television service. The study will also consider the economic effect on broadcasters of the various options for a subscription service, either as a substitute for the licence fee, or as part of a competitive subscription market. Finally, it will consider the impact on the viewer. Technology is developing rapidly in this area and there is already practical experience, albeit on a limited scale, in both France and the United States. We have asked the consultants to let us have their report within six months, so they will be reporting to us in the spring. I hope that we shall then be in a better position to assess the potential role, feasibility and possible time scale of introducing subscription television in this country.
§ Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I have long been interested in concessionary licences. If we go over to a subscription system, how will that concession operate?
§ Mr. Hurd
That would clearly need to be considered. If the licence were to fade away or be abolished, the concessions would clearly follow suit, but that is still some way down the road. It will be some time before we can assess the extent to which concessions might be built into a subscription system, but the hon. Gentleman raises a reasonable point which he may wish to develop later.
If subscription proved to be the natural successor to the licence fee, it would clearly take time to introduce. The Peacock committee saw it as an option for the medium and longer term. The central question for the committee was whether the licence fee should be displaced in the short term by other means of finance, particularly advertising. As the House knows, the committee rejected the idea that the BBC should be funded wholly or partly by advertising, because it concluded that, with the present limitations of the broadcasting market, competition for advertising between the two major broadcasters would lead to a reduction in the range and quality of programmes.
The committee made out a powerful and detailed case based both on economic principle, on the committee's 715 assessment of the price elasticity of demand for advertising, and on research of experience abroad. The arguments were pretty forceful and I believe that the onus now rests on those who disagree with the committee's conclusions to disprove the arguments underpinning those conclusions. We have not reached a final conclusion on this and I look forward to hearing the arguments to be deployed today, which will he taken fully into account in the conclusion that we reach.
Once a final decision has been taken about advertising, the Government will need to decide on the various recommendations put forward by the committee for improving the licence fee arrangements in the short term. The main conclusion in that group of recommendations was that the licence fee should be indexed. The committee recommended that in future the fee should be fixed by reference to the retail prices index, starting from a notional licence fee of £60 on 1 April 1987.
There are attractions in such a proposal for the Government, the public and broadcasters. It would ensure for broadcasters a guaranteed and predictable income on an established basis and reinforce their independence of the Government. It would also provide a considerable incentive to enhance cost-consciousness and improved efficiency. Most important, it would ensure that future increases in the licence fee would move in line with the ability of the viewer to pay. I shall be very interested to hear the views of right hon. and hon. Members on this matter. We have reached no firm decision, but we have much sympathy with the approach recommended by Professor Peacock.
Until these decisions are taken, the licence fee remains with us at the level fixed by my predecessor in the spring of last year. At that time he announced that the fee of £58 would run for a minimum of two years, with the possibility of extending that for a further year if no decision had been taken in time about replacing the licence fee. As the main questions raised by the Peacock report have yet to be resolved, I have decided t hat the present settlement should run for the full three years. Therefore, I can tell the House that the licence fee will remain at £58 for the period from April 1987 to April 1988—that is the third year of the period.
The Peacock committee made a number of important recommendations which affect the independent television system. I come to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Conway). One of the most significant recommendations was the proposal that in future ITV contracts should be put out to competitive tender. On 3 July I made it clear in my statement that the option for carrying out this recommendation, or indeed any changes to the system, including changes which the IBA has suggested, would be closed off for the next 10 years if the IBA were to proceed under the timetable in the present legislation to award the next round of ITV contracts to take effect from the beginning of 1990.
I have discussed—as I told the House I would—with the chairman of the IBA the means by which the proposed timetable can be amended so that the decisions that we take on the committee's report with regard to ITV contracts may be incorporated in the next contract round instead of having to wait for the next round but one.
I therefore propose that there should be early legislation which would have the effect of enabling the IBA to extend existing contracts, provided that the contractors 716 themselves agree, by a period of three years, which would allow an adequate margin for these decisions to be taken. A Bill for that purpose has been introduced in another place. That Bill has not been brought forward because we have already decided on the changes that should be made. We simply do not want to foreclose the options. There should be flexibility so that the Government, after the next election, can decide to introduce changes which they consider necessary without being told that they can do nothing for a long time because the die has already been cast until the beginning of 1998. Unless the change is made, the IBA would award new contracts which would be likely to run until 1998.
The Government believe it is essential to provide an earlier opportunity for change. The Peacock committee forcefully argued that an increase in the amount of independent production in broadcasting services, independent of the BBC and ITV system—
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
I wish to come back to the right hon. Gentleman's point regarding the IBA's ability to extend the existing contracts for a further three-year period. Will the Secretary of State allow the IBA to make any other forms of regulation? There is dissatisfaction with some of the franchises which are currently in hand. It would be wrong to make it impossible or difficult for the IBA to carry out its proper role of ensuring that standards are met by various companies. In certain cases, some companies will be allowed a further three years to print money.
§ Mr. Hurd
The hon. Gentleman will have his chance to argue that when the Bill comes to the House. We are in no way modifying the IBA regime under which companies must operate, or modifying responsibilities which the IBA must discharge during that period. I am concerned to avoid the situation, after the election, whereby one is told that any changes that are wanted will not be effective because the next round of contracts is already under way and has to be left under the existing system.
With regard to the volume of production independent of BBC and ITV, the Peacock committee argued forcefully that an increase in independent production would help the general move towards a more competitive broadcasting market, which the committee favoured, and have a good effect on the level of costs and efficiency in broadcasting generally. Many sensible people, inside and outside the broadcasting world, consider that it is desirable to encourage the independent sector for reasons of diversity, freshness and efficiency. We agree with that view and believe that the independents, too, deserve a place in the sun.
Historically, broadcasts have been part of a system where all the aspects of programme production were carried out in-house. The programme was commissioned, produced, scheduled and transmitted within the same organisation. Channel 4 and the Welsh fourth channel show that it is possible to separate production, commissioning and transmission without losing any quality of programme standards. Channel 4 is a publisher rather than a manufacturer of programmes. We believe that independent productions should form a substantial proportion of ITV and BBC television programmes. We would like to see a major shift—a shift more substantial than that so far contemplated by broadcasters.
Peacock recommended an increase of at least 40 per cent. of programmes to be supplied by independent 717 producers over a period of 10 years. We have been in touch with the independent producers, who campaigned for a figure of 25 per cent. Perhaps that is a more realistic goal. We would look for somewhat faster progress than that envisaged by the Peacock committee. However, important issues are involved — such as how one defines independence — which must be considered quickly. I have, therefore, arranged to meet the chairmen and directors-general of the BBC and IBA soon to discuss the means of achieving the broad targets that we have in mind.
Most of the Peacock report is about television, but there are specific recommendations about radio, the most important of which is the proposal that part of BBC Radio 1 and Radio 2 should be privatised. I do not propose to tackle that question in detail today. Our reactions to the Peacock recommendations on radio will fit in with the proposed Green Paper on radio services which I plan to publish before long.
Radio may be a good testbed for pursuing deregulation rather faster than may be immediately possible for television. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because there is a great deal of change in radio. There was the community radio experiment, which was aborted at the last minute. However, we are aware of the problems of the independent local radio companies and we are aware of the proposal for an independent national radio station. There is a great deal of ferment and activity in radio which we wish to encourage. For that reason, it may be possible to pursue a more rapid policy of deregulation, and we will discuss these options in the Green Paper.
§ Mr. Faulds
The right hon. Gentleman is really talking about the quality of radio broadcasting and the implications, because of the collapse in the last two years, for that quality. He may not remember, because he is not quite as old a Member as I am of this House, that when John—the chap who disappeared—
§ Mr. Faulds
When John Stonehouse was Postmaster-General, I was his Parliamentary Private Secretary—
§ Mr. Faulds
I am still around, and shall be around for a long time. When I was PPS to that Postmaster General, he introduced a very misguided paper called "Broadcasting in the Seventies". I resigned because I could see what he could not see—[Interruption.] Take this matter seriously. I could see, as he could not see, the implications for the BBC's maintenance of standards of wanting to compete in the commercial market. All that the Home Secretary is now faced with in the decline of standards in radio stems from the misunderstanding of the introduction of that paper. I may have to refer to this matter later in the debate.
§ Mr. Hurd
The hon. Gentleman's beard grows greyer each day that passes. I do not know what he may have to resign from next, because I am not sure what the next 718 pinnacle of his political career will be. I should be sorry if he had to resign over the quality of radio services, because I do not share his pessimistic analysis of what has taken place. To conclude—
§ Mr. Buchan
The right hon. Gentleman has talked about the deregulation of radio. Why did he block overnight the one single measure of development that was community-based and had the opportunity of properly serving public service broadcasting in the independent sphere?
§ Mr. Hurd
That is a fair question. There was to be an experiment, the terms of which were announced, for two years. The service was to be completely free—there was to be no regulation. One had one's licence and there was no requirement even to monitor the output. As the time came closer for that to be implemented there was a good deal of anxiety, which was represented in several parts of the House. There was not a Left or Right pattern. People began to be worried that political parties, extremists—Left or Right—racist organisations, all sorts of people, might get control of community radio stations, and there would be no monitoring, no regulation and no sanction of any sort. We thought of various ways in which we could avoid that by importing a little regulation and monitoring, but that was difficult to do on the basis of the original experiment. The pressure for community radio is there, and the experiment showed that it was there. The hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) will see, when the Green Paper comes out, how we envisage meeting that pressure.
British broadcasting is thus on the edge of one of those periods of change, just as happened 50 years ago when the BBC took its bold step into television, and just as happened 20 years later when commercial television established itself. I am sure that the House will not lose sight of that basic, underlying fact in the stir of immediate controversies. Periods of rapid change, such as we are entering in the broadcasting world, offer a pretty fair mixture of pain and opportunity, but one will not get through those periods successfully simply by complacency or supposing that one has to stay with the institutions and arrangements of the day. All of us have to rethink our attitudes and, for example, in the House we have to think of what different forms of regulation may be required in the new age.
The prospects are exciting. It is an exciting area, not just because of the new technology, but because of the great wealth of creative talent on which broadcasting in this country has always been able to rely. We have to yoke together the technology and the talent in a way that will bring the greatest benefit to the viewer and the listener. That is the task to which we have set our hands as a Government. It will take some time, and I hope that the House will give us today a first instalment of the guidance and insights that we seek.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)
We are debating today the possibility of the most far-reaching changes ever proposed in the structure of British broadcasting. It is important to recall exactly how that has come about.
719 Year by year, dissatisfaction with the steady rise in the BBC television licence fee has led Governments of all parties to be reluctant, or at any rate cautious, about agreeing to applications for increases in the licence fee. It was interesting to note from the Home Secretary's speech that the Government have decided to peg the licence fee for the 12-month period when the general election will almost certainly take place. That seems like a strong argument for annual Parliaments.
In that impetuous way of hers, the Prime Minister decided that the solution to the long-term licence problem for the BBC was to introduce advertising to the BBC. The previous Home Secretary, therefore, set up a committee to examine and, it was hoped, to endorse that notion. The Peacock committee, having examined and rejected the case for advertising on the BBC as at present constituted, decided to ignore its terms of reference. It "overflowed them", as the Secretary of State charmingly put it in a speech to the Royal Television Society the other day.
The committee set its hand to a fundamental re-examination of the function and role of broadcasting in Britain. As its membership included such free-market zealots as Professor Peacock and the bizarre Mr. Samuel Brittan, who appears to have been the Rasputin of this whole dubious enterprise, the outcome was the document that we have before us today—the Peacock report, one of the most intellectually impoverished and ideologically obsessive documents ever to have been put before the House—
§ Mr. Kaufman
God, that was a brilliant intervention. No wonder the BBC withdrew its libel action against the hon. Gentleman if it was to be faced with such dazzling repartee.
We are all agreed that any consideration of the issues in the report starts from two bases. The first, as the report concedes at the beginning, is thatBritish broadcasting is the most highly regarded system in the Western world".The second is that technological advance, especially through satellite broadcasting, and also in other ways, will broaden the scope of television in particular and make possible far wider choice. But instead of using those advances to build on the achievements of British broadcasting, the Peacock committee wishes to dismantle our successful structure and replace it with one that would degrade standards and risk turning our present admired system into an electronic equivalent of the tabloid press.
Before Peacock, the Government put forward modest objectives for change. They envisaged not meddling with the present structure but adding to it in three ways—first, by augmenting television choice by a nation-wide network of cable television, established by merchant adventurer enterpreneurs, on whose profitable systems would ride all the interactive services dreamed of by the present Secretary of State for Education and Science before he went on to higher things from the Department of Trade and Industry. Secondly, there would be a direct broadcasting by satellite consortium, which would further expand choice of programmes. Thirdly, a network of community radio stations would enhance choice for radio listeners at local level.
That entire strategy has, of course, collapsed. Cable has failed to make any real progress, as I warned it would 720 when the Cable and Broadcasting Bill was debated two years ago. The chairman's foreword to the first report of the Cable Authority was published this week. He states the failure quite cheerfully:Almost all new developments start off slowly,he consoles himself, and goes on:It is foolish to doubt the long term prospects for cable because its initial development has been faster.The Peacock report is franker and, it has to be said, more doleful. It says that by 31 March 1986,of about 130,000 cable subscribers, fewer than 10,000 were connected to the new wideband systems currently under installation following the award of franchises.Today we have read in the press about what is available to those subscribers. At a time when the Government are deeply exercised about alleged Left-wing bias on television, Cabletel, a cable company in Enfield, has begun offering its subscribers programmes from the main channel of Soviet television, relayed direct from Moscow. It is a great relief to know that, as an alternative to the BBC's Marxism, the lucky residents of Enfield now have available to them direct news of the Thatcherite policies that have been adopted by the Right-wing Soviet Government.
As for DBS, the Home Secretary told the Royal Television Society last week, in his euphemistic way, thatDBS is not coming about in the way originally envisaged.That is "Hurdspeak" for saying that his predecessor's planned consortium has flopped, and the whole project, which should have been operating in 1988, has been delayed indefinitely. The Home Secretary expressed a hope, no more, that it might be operative by the end of the decade.
§ Mr. Tim Brinton (Gravesham)
The right hon. Gentleman has made many quips about Russian television being received by cable subscribers in Enfield, but is he not missing the main point? However slow is the development of cable in Britain and however slow is the development of British direct broadcasting by satellite, it is inevitable that satellites will be operated from other countries. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that it took about three years for the video recorder to take off in the domestic market. If people buy reception dishes at the same speed, the result of what I understand to be his policy—no change in broadcasting—is that the BBC and ITV will have to compete with popular programmes from abroad over which he will have no control.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I do not in the least challenge the hon. Gentleman's forecast that satellite television will eventually transform the opportunities available to viewers in Britain. That is axiomatic, but I was talking not about satellite but about cable television.
As I said on Second Reading of the Cable and Broadcasting Bill, cable is a dead duck in Britain because people will buy video cassette recorders and choose their own programmes rather than pay to have them put on cable. That is being shown in the Westminster area now.
Then there was community radio. The experimental stations should by now have been transmitting programmes. The Home Secretary said in response to an intervention earlier that the experiment was "aborted at the last moment" as though that was regrettable and nothing to do with him. But he ditched the experiment because he suddenly discovered to his alarm that the community radio applicants were likely to be less ideologically sound than the programmes on Soviet 721 television. The result is that the Government are now searching anxiously for a new strategy to replace the one that has failed—and along came Peacock to fill the gap.
There are two ways in which to plan the future of British television and radio. One is to build on, expand and vary the country's enviable tradition of public service broadcasting, and to preserve and protect what the annex to the BBC's licensing agreement laid down by the Government declares to be the duty toprovide a properly balanced service which displays a wide range of subject matter".We should also try to preserve and enhance the generally high standards of ITV which, as every ITV executive will freely admit, derives indispensably from the standards achieved by the BBC. It is from that structure that the Leeds university study commissioned by Peacock concludes that it ishighly probable … that the range of choice on any day in the United Kingdom is greater than in most other countries including the United States.It is because of those standards that the Peacock committee had in its report—
§ Mr. Kaufman
Afraid of the truth or economical with the truth? We have a choice these days because of the Cabinet Secretary.
§ Mr. Kaufman
It is because of those standards that the Peacock committee had to admit:In every country we encountered expressions of amazement — even from NBC and ABC in the United States — that the British should be thinking of changing their system, which is almost universally admired.Having agreed that Britain has a broadcasting structure which is the envy of most other countries, Peacock brings forward plans to wreck it absolutely on the basis of addiction to the free market economy which is ideologically deranged and, if put into practice, would not merely fail to work as Peacock predicts, but give us not the best but probably the worst television in the world.
§ Mr. Faulds
My right hon. Friend was extraordinarily charitable in his introductory remarks to the membership of the Peacock committee and commented on only a couple. There is an acolyte of Rasputin on the committee— the extraordinary appointment of a particular lady with an enormous battery of intellectual ability who was chosen for membership because the Prime Minister knew from long personal contact that the young lady had been born from a Tory womb.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I am not able to go through all of the qualifications for membership of the Peacock committee, 722 but I am ready to accept my hon. Friend's word that some qualifications were even more bizarre than others, difficult as it may be to believe it.
We have a few short-term proposals about financing the BBC in the report. One is to give free television licences to pensioners on supplementary benefit. That at least is on the right lines, but we do not believe that it goes far enough. That is why the Labour party is committed to phasing out completely the television licence for old-age pensioners.
Another, to which the Home Secretary referred, is indexation of the current licence fee. Of course, the tolerability of that course would depend partly on the level of the licence when the indexation started. Yet another is the proposal to impose a £10 radio licence charge on all car owners. That is unfairly discriminatory and hard to enforce, and it would bring in only a fraction of the money that the BBC needs each year.
For that very reason, Peacock goes on to propose that BBC Radios 1 and 2 should be sold off. The report does not explain how the sale should be achieved since Radios 1 and 2 do not exist in tangible form. Exactly what property is to be sold? Is Jimmy Young to be put on the auction block? Is so, as she is reputed to be very fond of him, the Prime Minister might decide to buy him for herself, but he would then not be available to a wider audience.
§ Mr. Kaufman
If those channels' airwaves were to be for sale, what would there be to stop the BBC from using its existing allocation of airwaves to provide substitute Radios 1 and 2? If a sell-off were achieved, with advertising on the privatised wavelengths as Peacock advocates, the effect on independent local radio would be crippling if not in many cases fatal.
The Peacock report provides the statistics which show how fragile and precarious are the finances, and therefore the prospects for survival, of many existing ILR stations. A study commissioned by the Newspaper Society shows that advertising on Radio 1 would take £50 million away from ILR and, what is more, itwould be certain to bring about closuresamong local radio stations and regional newspapers.
The murder of many channels of diverse information and opinion could surely not be justified by obtaining a once and for all sum which, at its most optimistic, would account for only a tiny fraction of the revenue needed by the BBC, not just for one year but every year. It also goes without saying that turning BBC radio into a ghetto of talk, however enlightened, and of classical music, however admirable, would be an utter violation of the Government's own requirement in the annex to the licensing agreement that programmes shouldprovide a properly balanced service which displays a wide range of subject matter".Peacock's intermediate proposals are based on the supremacy of market forces and the entire subordination to them of quality and standards. As the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Conway) has rightly warned, under the Peacock proposals, ITV and ILR franchises would be auctioned to the highest bidder. Commercial objectives would reign supreme over a variety of choice and lead to a bland mash of quiz shows, chat shows and soap operas — the kind of thing which prevails in the United States.
§ Mr. Kaufman
They are worth every penny.
That is not just my conclusion. This is what the Peacock report said would happen:Whereas at present both BBC and ITV pursue policies of mixed programming—with schedules which in peak time include news, current affairs, documentaries, serious drama, and science programmes — the requirement to maximise audiences would mean substituting comedy, variety, quiz shows and other entertainment for many of the 'information' programmes and for the more demanding forms of drama.Cable would also be sold off to the highest bidder and the restriction on non-EEC ownership would be removed. That would be the first of many changes proposed by Peacock, which would allow the Murdochisation of the British electronic media. Channel 4 would be privatised and, undoubtedly, robbed of its distinctive and enterprising character. The night-time hours of BBC and ITV channels would be sold off, with the BBC and ITV companies excluded from bidding, at least in the early years, without any regulation of content for the companies that win the right to use those hours. The Government, with a Prime Minister who proclaims family values at the drop of a hat and a Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster who preaches from the pulpit, would introduce the night-hours porn shift.
Plans would proceed for the BBC to be reduced from a universal service to a subscription service. ITV would still have its channels vulgarised and cheapened, but available to all viewers at the turn of a switch or the press of a button, whereas the BBC would be available only to those who agreed to pay the subscription. That would rule out large numbers of people and the Peacock report readily admits it. Peacock states—this matter relates to the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay)—The substitution of voluntary purchase of broadcasting services means that poor listeners and viewers will have to pay the same as rich listeners and viewers for programmes and the rich will be able to afford a greater volume and variety in their broadcasting 'diet' … The Committee accepts that a move towards a Pay-TV system might result in those on lower incomes paying more for broadcasting services both because of the charges introduced and their desire to alter their 'mix' of the volume and type of programmes that they wish to enjoy. If Pay-TV had any adverse distributional effects then the Committee would prefer to see these taken care of by alterations in the tax or benefit structure or both.That is the classic argument that anyone may dine at the Ritz, but with the patronising proviso that the Supplementary Benefits Commission should be asked to pay for the dinner. There is a fat chance under the Secretary of State for Social Services or the Prime Minister of anything like that being done. Peacock wants to introduce poor law rules for the reception of television with the added twist that better-off people can afford to go out for entertainment other than and supplementary to television, whereas for millions of the poor television is the only available entertainment.
§ Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North)
Notwithstanding what the right hon. Gentleman has said, does he agree that all is not entirely happy in either ITV or BBC, despite their duopoly of purchasing power, when it comes to the sums 724 that they pay for cinema films? Will he concede that there must be a different arrangement from the present one so that the sort of films that have been popular on those two channels should be made more plentiful in future?
§ Mr. Kaufman
That is an arguable case, but I would go further and say that one of the most admirable ways in which the British film industry in its present precarious state can be assisted is by the types of methods used by Channel 4, whereby original, new films are financed with the intention of showing them in theatres as well as on Channel 4. Some of the best recent British films have been made in that way.
From those proposals the Peacock report goes on to propose a structure of subscription television.
§ Mr. Hurd
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the question of concessions, could he tell us whether the pledge that he has repeated today that the Labour party will make the television licence free for all old-age pensioners is in the outer circle of promises that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) has told us we should ignore, or in the inner circle of promises, about which he proposes to do something?
§ Mr. Kaufman
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to emphasise that pledge which will be a priority of the next Labour Government. That was a helpful intervention and the right hon. Gentleman must feel free to rise to his feet again whenever he regards it as appropriate.
Peacock goes on to propose a structure of subscription television, which it calls electronic publishing, in which it foresees a Nirvana of a myriad of television channels with each of us tuning in, after paying our subscriptions, to the programmes that please us most. But we can tune in only to what is available, not to what we should like, if it is not available. That seems obvious, but it is made clear in the study by Leeds university which was commissioned by the Peacock committee. It states:The audience cannot actually demand a programme. It can only accept or reject a programme after it has been shown. Any system which gives 'more of the same' because the same is highly popular is failing in its duty to the audience, since the latter is not given the chance to accept or reject something new.That danger would undoubtedly arise from the system proposed by Peacock. What would be on offer would be programmes to please the lowest common denominator and programmes that would amass the largest number of subscriptions. We would he treated, not to the Faber and Faber and Sidgwick and Jackson of the air, as the Home Secretary imagines, but to the electronic equivalent of The Sun and the Daily Express.
It might well be said, "If that is what people want, why should they not get it?" People are much more selective and fastidious than they are insultingly represented to be by the vulgarisers of the Peacock committee. The Broadcasting Research Unit, which is sponsored by the BBC, the British Film Institute, the IBA and the Markle Foundation of New York, has today published one of the most detailed surveys of public opinion on television and radio ever undertaken. In answer to the proposition that television programmes should try and experiment, even if the programmes often turn out not to be worth watching, 65 per cent. of the respondents definitely agreed or tended to agree, whereas only 6 per cent. disagreed and 16 per cent. tended to disagree.
725 The Peacock proposal is based on the axiom that minority programmes must be made cheaply, but "Brideshead Revisited", "The Jewel in the Crown" and many excellent nature programmes could never have been made on tiny budgets. Moreover, popular programmes such as "Eastenders" and "That Was The Week That Was" started as minority experiments. Perhaps those are precisely the types of programme that the Government want to kill.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I can only say to my hon. Friend that I would be a great deal happier if one of those programmes were running now—
§ Mr. Kaufman
A very great deal richer. The BBC's repeat fees now are much higher than the original fees.
Peacock accepts that consumer sovereignty should not be paramount because it proposes some half-baked public service sponsor, although information about how it would work and how much money it would have at its disposal is dubious in the extreme. It is impossible to reconcile Peacock's recommendation of the creation of this body with its optimistic forecast thatDiscriminating matching of individual viewers' requirements with programme costs will be possible.That is simply a fantasy conjured up by those who seek to convince themselves that the mirage of a completely free market can be made a reality in a world that simply does not work that way. However, we do not know if it would work technologically, which is why the Home Secretary set up his working party.
The Peacock report is far from confident. It says:it is impossible to predict with any accuracy how soon technological developments"—upon which the proposals depend—will be implemented. The coaxial cable industry, for example, once heralded as having the bright new future seems to have been bogged down as of late.Even if the technology were available, it is clear that the subscription base is unreliable. The Peacock report seems to regard as an argument in its favour the information thatnearly a million French households receive Canal Plus".The report claims:We are optimistic about the BBC's ability to attract subscription revenue for its two main channels.It claims in their favour that those two channelsare not a marginal extra but in the mainstream of broadcasting.Of course that is the case now, under the present system. However, a million subscribers under a subscription system would not guarantee sufficient finance to retain the BBC in the mainstream. The BBC would then become exactly what the Government want it to be—a marginal provider of minority programmes, subordinated to the commercial giants.
Nobody denies that there will be change, as the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Brinton) commented in his intervention. There will be major change which can enhance the opportunities and widen the choices of our citizens. We must harness change and not become its slaves. We must build on standards of excellence, not 726 demolish and repudiate them. That requires careful thought and preparation, and not dogmatic zeal based on Friedmanite wish-fulfilment.
What is more, the regime proposed by the Peacock report for our ultimate broadcasting structure would lack any regulation or controls. There would be a lack of control on sex and violence and for ensuring balance in politics. The same big business political bias that prevails in most of the press would become the rule on television and radio. Of course, that is exactly what the Government want. It is what the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is seeking to bring about by his vendetta against the BBC, which seeks also to intimidate ITV. If yesterday's cosy party at No. 10 is anything to go by, it appears to be succeeding.
The Chancellor of the Duchy holds an office which makes him responsible for the administration of the Duchy estates, the appointment of justices of the peace in the counties of Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside, and for ecclesiastical patronage in the Duchy gift. According to a parliamentary answer given on Monday to two of my hon. Friends, he spends an average of 20 hours a week on those and other ministerial duties. The equipment that he requires for carrying out those duties is unusual.
In answer to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon), the Chancellor of the Duchy revealed on Monday that his suite of two rooms and a lobby in the Cabinet office is equipped with a television set and a video recorder. What does he use them for? Are there many programmes about the appointment of justices of the peace in Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside? If so, does he watch them and record them in order to savour them over and over again? Is there to be a soap opera about the bestowal of ecclesiastical patronage in the Duchy gift, and is the Chancellor to be a consultant on it?
One feels that that public property, together with the electricity needed to operate it, is not being used entirely in the interests of my constituents, and other residents of the Duchy of Lancaster. One feels that it might be being used for wider and more suspect purposes. What is clear is that, whether in his two rooms and lobby or elsewhere, the Chancellor of the Duchy has been watching television in a manner which is obsessive to the point of paranoia.
It is difficult to believe the claim on the first page of his recent letter to the BBC that:Media monitoring is not a mainstream Conservative Central Office activity.Some of the complaints made by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster against the BBC seem—how can I put it—to display a lack of sense of proportion. There is, for example, his claim that the BBC's use of the phrasein intensive care with serious injuriesisdesigned to arouse anti-American emotion.One would very much like to have a psychiatric explanation for the reasoning which led to this complaint against the BBC:Strangely, whereas ITN said the hostages were murdered, the BBC merely said they were 'shot through the head' and 'killed', neutral terms which decriminalise the act, although at the very end of their broadcast, the BBC did acknowledge that the hostages 'have been murdered'.As it happens, ITN did use the anti-American word "shot" as well.
727 There is also the mistake that the BBC admits to having made—the linking of the American raid on Libya with Mr. Hindawi's planting of the bomb on the E1 A1 plane at Heathrow. That was undoubtedly an error, but it was an error made by others as well. For example, the Daily Mail said:Scotland Yard had little doubt that the bombing attack was a direct reprisal for Britain's involvement in the American raid on Libya.The Sun said:The bomb was almost certainly meant for an Arab revenge attack following the blitzing of Libya.The Daily Express said:The plot is seen as the start of reprisals for Britain's part in the U.S. bombing of Libya.On reflection, I concede that the BBC is severely to be censured for having followed the editorial lead of the Daily Mail, The Sun and the Daily Express. The Home Secretary referred to those matters today in remarks which were deliberately lacking in clarity, a characteristic of the Home Secretary that has seen him safely home through a number of tight spots. The Home Secretary has a clear duty to the House to uphold the licence and agreement with the BBC which was made by his predecessor, Lord Whitelaw.
A few days ago I wrote to the Home Secretary about this matter and his reply to me, dated 11 November, was very soothing. He said:I am glad that this particular controversy is dying down, and welcome the further opportunity to remove any misunderstanding.That, as I said, was on 11 November. However, four days later, on 15 November, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster stirred the controversy right up again, with his second and even more preposterous letter to the BBC, the one containing the analysis from the anonymous, impartial lawyer, of the Chancellor of the Duchy's acquaintance. I do not know whether that is yet another leak of a letter from the Solicitor-General. On this occasion the Chancellor of the Duchy at least let the BBC see his letter first, unlike the previous occasion when he handed his letter over to ITN to be broadcast on its news before it was put into the hands of the BBC.
I ask the Home Secretary now, so that he can respond in the House—does he or does he not believe that the BBC is fulfilling its obligations under the annex of the licence and agreement, for which he is responsible to the House? That obligation says that the BBC must treat controversial subjects with due impartiality. Does the Home Secretary believe that the BBC is fulfilling that obligation? If he does not, will he tell the House what he will do about getting the BBC to uphold the licence and agreement? If he does not, will he tell us what he intends to do about the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster? Does the Home Secretary really want the controversy to die down, as he said in his letter to me? If so, what is the Home Secretary doing to prevent the Chancellor of the Duchy stirring up again the controversy that the Home Secretary told me that he wishes would die down?
§ Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
My right hon. Friend has put a crucial question to the Home Secretary. As he has not responded, does it not follow that he cannot gainsay the fact that the BBC is upholding the licence and agreement? I hope that my right hon. Friend will pursue that matter very hard.
§ Mr. Kaufman
My right hon. Friend has a particular authority in such matters and he asks that question with 728 that authority. If the Home Secretary does not intervene now when he has the opportunity given to him by my right hon. Friend's intervention, we must take it that he believes that the BBC is fulfilling its obligations under the annex to the licence and agreement and that the BBC is treating controversial subjects with due impartiality. If that is so, it is clear that the intervention of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is even more disgraceful than we have previously said, because the Home Secretary is now implicitly denouncing his own colleague in the Cabinet.
§ Mr. Hurd
The right hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) are simply repeating a question put to me by the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), which I answered during my speech and, indeed, in the first three points on which I spent the first five or 10 minutes of my speech.
§ Mr. Kaufman
All that the right hon. Gentleman needs to do to clear the matter up once and for all is just to say yes or no to the question: does he believe that the BBC is fulfilling its obligation under the annex to the licence and agreement, for which he is responsible to the House, to treat controversial subjects with due impartiality? The right hon. Gentleman has intervened. All he has to do is to say yes or no. [HON. MEMBERS: "He has answered.] No, he has not.
§ Mr. Kaufman
When the hon. Gentleman becomes Home Secretary, I shall be glad to give way to him. Meanwhile, we have this Home Secretary and we must make do with him.
§ Mr. Kaufman
No, the hon. Gentleman is not the Home Secretary either. I want a confirmation. The silence of the Home Secretary must be an implicit condemnation of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster for unwarranted and disgraceful charges against the BBC when the Home Secretary himself, by his silence, is making it clear that he is fully satisfied with the way in which the BBC is observing its obligations.
§ Mr. Kaufman
We now know where we stand. The Home Secretary has implicitly repudiated the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster by his silence. That is on the record.
Every test of opinion shows that the public want an independent BBC, free of Government interference. Lord Whitelaw, the Home Secretary's distinguished predecessor, insisted that the first principle of broadcasting must be to defend the independence of the broadcasting authorities from Government and Parliament. Does the Home Secretary agree?
§ Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)
The Government advise any citizens who have a complaint against the BBC to lodge that complaint with the Broadcasting Complaints Commission. Does my right hon. Friend have any information on why the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster did not take the advice which he sees fit to give to all other citizens with any complaint against the BBC?
§ Mr. Kaufman
It is a mystery; but then the whole conduct of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster defies any logical analysis and has for some little time now.
§ Mr. Kaufman
No, it is the Home Secretary to whom I want to give way.
Lord Whitelaw said that the first principle of broadcasting must be to defend—
§ Mr. Kaufman
I have written to him.
Lord Whitelaw said that the first principle of broadcasting must be to defend the independence of the broadcasting authorities from Government and Parliament. Does the Home Secretary agree? If so, what will he do to defend the BBC from his malevolent colleague who sits with him at the Cabinet table?
The Government today are trying to turn the BBC into a Tory party political puppet, with the hope that ITV will fall into line.
§ Mr. Kaufman
For the future, if the Government follow the Peacock proposals, they will destroy the standards which have brought distinction to British broadcasting and television. It is because we condemn the Government's present anti-BBC vendetta and oppose the Peacock prospect of a free-for-all future that we shall be voting on the Adjournment tonight.
§ Mr. Leon Brittan (Richmond, Yorks)
Listening to what the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) had to say about the Peacock report, the House will have been depressed but not in the least surprised by the antediluvian and backward-looking approach that he displayed.
The House will also recall, at least from the history books for those of us who are far too young to remember it in actuality, that exactly the same kinds of argument were put forward over 30 years ago by those who passionately resisted the introduction of independent television or any kind of breach of the monopoly of the BBC. So respected have the achievements of ITV been that it took a very few years before the Labour party would not dare to criticise or to threaten to repeal that which it passionately opposed coming into existence.
We also heard from the right hon. Gentleman the gleeful repetition of his electioneering pledge to the pensioners. I think that it was one of the people whom he admires who once said that socialism is the language of priorities. The right hon. Gentleman talked about giving free television licences to all pensioners. It is a strange choice of priorities that wishes to give a substantial present to elderly millionaires, apart from anyone else.
What the right hon. Gentleman had to say was not only backward looking; it was also inaccurate. He repeated the canard that the Peacock committee was set up in order to force the BBC to take advertising. There was never any truth whatever in it. The reality of the matter is that, in the debate that raged before I announced the setting up of the Peacock committee, there were, on the one hand, the pro-advertisers who believed that the answer to the problems of financing the BBC was to require the BBC to take in 730 advertising and, on the other hand, there were the defenders of the status quo who could not envisage any possible change in the existing arrangements.
I found myself not persuaded by either of the two camps and it was precisely because I thought that the arguments put forward on both sides were not rooted in a full analysis of the implications of either course for the system of broadcasting as a whole that I announced the setting up of the Peacock committee. I thought it important to think through the implications of the various forms of financing broadcasting and that that should be done by a broadly based committee, but one with a cutting edge.
I had no preconceived notion of what the outcome of the committee's deliberations would be, although, frankly. I was not in the least surprised when, at a fairly early stage, it became apparent that the committee was unlikely to endorse the financing of the BBC simply by the immediate introduction of advertising.
The right hon. Gentleman also suggested that in some way the Peacock committee exceeded its terms of reference. I can reassure the right hon. Gentleman that I deliberately formulated the terms of reference in a broad way because I wanted the Peacock committee to consider some of the wider implications of the matters that they were considering. It has in no way exceeded its terms of reference.
Some people asked for, and thought it preferable to have, a broader type of inquiry, a general Annan type of inquiry, into the future of broadcasting. I thought about the possibility but rejected it because it seemed to me that a general inquiry into the future of broadcasting, or even into the future of the BBC, would simply encourage the members of the inquiry, whoever they were, to parade their personal prejudices. Moreover, by looking into the difficult question of the finances of broadcasting, one was likely to have a much sharper analysis of the problems and, at the same time, a full and wide examination of the possibilities.
§ Mr. Faulds
It would be interesting for the House to have information as to whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman personally was responsible for the selection of the rather odd personnel of that committee, or whether he was instructed by others on whom to appoint.
§ Mr. Brittan
The hon. Gentleman knows that I am responsible for the people who were appointed, although, equally, it would have been absurd if I had simply sat down and written names on a piece of paper by myself.
The result of the committee's deliberations is a report based on principle but founded on practicality. It does not present merely a theoretical blueprint, and one of the best illustrations of that is the careful phasing of the proposals. The committee looked carefully into what had to be done at each stage to move from the system that we have now to a different system which it envisaged for the ultimate future.
The report recognises and explains clearly that technical developments and the proliferation of broadcasting services both make present arrangements unsustainable and provide opportunities for new arrangements that will be preferable in future. The report encourages choice while preserving the best features of public service broadcasting and reducing state intervention to a minimum.
731 It was suggested that the report ignores the importance of public service broadcasting and the features of broadcasting that could not be reproduced in a purely commercial environment. That is shown to be wrong by the serious suggestion, dismissed airily by the right hon. Member for Gorton because it did not suit his caricature of the recommendations of the committee, that there should he a broadcasting council with the authority to provide public service grants to ensure the appearance in television and on radio of programmes that would not otherwise be financed by purely commercial operations. In the totality of the proposals, what is suggested amounts to a new way of combining greater freedom for both viewers and listeners, and programme creators.
The central concept is that ultimately the BBC will be financed by subscription, a concept upon which the right hon. Member for Gorton has wrongly poured scorn. There is nothing for the BBC to be afraid of in that concept, and everything to be gained from it. If that concept were followed, it would free the BBC from the shackles of a political haggle every few years over the licence fee, in which there never are, and never can be, winners.
If we had an agreement about the right basis of the indexation of the licence, we might be able to find an objective basis for deciding how to finance the BBC at its present level of activity. It would he formidably difficult to reach such an agreement, but one could just conceive of it and agree on how to finance the BBC to do precisely what it is doing now. However, the BBC, rightly and understandably, aspires to do better than it is doing now and to do more than it is doing now. When it comes to the question of to what extent it should do so, there is no rational basis for that to be determined by the Government except on the broadest possible general conception of what the traffic will bear.
How can the Government know how much extra radio or television, or more costly or complex radio or television, the public want to buy? Inevitably, there will be a constraint on the BBC in its legitimate operations as long as the present licence fee system exists. The BBC should be self-confident enough to be prepared to face its public and sell itself to them.
I can understand that those at the top of the BBC, who have been used to the present system, with all its inadequacies, should he reluctant to face the challenge of subscription. Equally, I do not find it surprising that many younger people in the BBC rightly regard the licence fee as a straitjacket, and subscription as a potential liberation, giving them the opportunity to sell their wares to the public.
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith
I am following my right hon. and learned Friend's argument closely. It may be that in the future the licence fee will be an increasingly stringent straitjacket, but what evidence is there to suggest that the BBC should follow the example of public subscription for broadcasting in the United States, and that that would allow it to escape those restraints?
§ Mr. Brittan
The studies made by the Peacock committee led it to believe that it is not an unreasonable aspiration for the BBC, which is well established, well regarded and much sought after, that it would be able to raise the finance by subscription. It is significant that many people at the BBC, if not at the top of it, share that view.
I do not agree entirely with the Peacock committee in its view that, when the right conditions are established, 732 there is no need for regulation, apart from the general law of the land, which it recommends should be aligned for broadcasting and non-broadcasting purposes. That recommendation seems too far-reaching. There are two reasons for the present extent of regulation. The first and most obvious one is the monopoly character of broadcasting, even today. In spite of the increased number of services, they are still finite, and monopoly has to be regulated and administered. The second is the special nature of broadcasting and its peculiarly intrusive character as compared with other media. The monopoly is disappearing, and proliferation will enable fewer and fewer regulations on monopolistic grounds.
I warmly commend the proposals in the report with regard to lighter regulations on local radio. However, there is still a great deal in the argument that there is something peculiarly intrusive about radio and television that does not permit it to be handled simply in the same way that applies to the written law.
Although I think that we can have much less regulation than we have had in the past, and although it may ultimately be possible to move to a system in which there is virtually no legislation in advance, I do not believe that it can be left at that. The right course to follow when regulation substantially diminishes is to amend the general law of the land to reflect the particular characteristic of radio and television. It would not be impossible to make changes in the law of obscenity and related subjects so that they applied fully to radio and television, and to apply a test of criminality which impinges on radio and television in a way that reflects their greater intrusiveness.
That can be done in one of two ways. Either there could be special provisions affecting radio and television in the amended law on obscenity and related matters or, and probably better, there could be general provisions which took account in their definitions of criminality and the different impact of different media.
In suggesting that, I am not suggesting a specially harsh regime for the BBC or television, but only a way to ensure that the general law achieves the limitation which the charter at the moment requires the governors to impose. I should place the same degree of limitation on what may or may not be shown on the screen, but I think that ultimately, although not immediately, it could be better achieved by a general law rather than by advance control.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that there have been many attempts to define obscenity, particularly in relation to something as difficult as broadcast material? Does he not realise from his own experience that it is virtually impossible to find a definition that is both fair to the broadcasters and acceptable to the general public?
§ Mr. Brittan
I agree with the hon. Lady that it is not easy, but I do not accept that it is impossible.
The Peacock committee also makes important recommendations regarding the independent sector, and I want to touch upon the recommendation that franchise contracts should be put out to competitive tender. Once again, that recommendation has led to howls of anguish from all quarters. The suggestion is that, if implemented, it would lead to the lowering of standards. I am sorry that the IBA has joined in that chorus. I do not agree that in any way that need be the consequence if the 733 recommendations of the Peacock committee are implemented. Of course that would be the case if all that the Peacock committee suggested was a crude auction of the franchises, but even the most cursory reading of the committee's report will show that that is not what is proposed. The suggestion is that the IBA could award the contract to a lower bidder if it believed it to be offering better value for money in public service terms.
I see no reason why the IBA should not be able to adopt an arrangement whereby minimum standards of accuracy were insisted upon. No potential contractor should even reach the starting point unless the IBA is satisfied that that contractor both intends and is capable of providing a television service for the area concerned which meets the standards that are currently required of television contractors. However, all the experience of the past suggests that it would be a grave mistake to believe that there will be only one contractor who meets that minimum standard.
Provided that the minimum standard is insisted upon and maintained, I see no reason why the choice from among a number of contractors, all of whom can meet that standard, should be made on the arbitrary basis of which one happens better to appeal to the members of the IBA from time to time. It would be far better if the IBA confined itself to satisfying itself— and it would be a quite considerable task — that all the contractors who are to be considered meet the basic standard and if the ultimate choice were to be made, from within that limited group, by competitive tender. If that were done, there would be absolutely no threat whatsoever to standards.
The final point that I should like to make does not emerge directly from the Peacock report. However, it is relevant to the general discussion on broadcasting matters that has taken place in recent months. I refer to the management of the BBC. Anybody who has observed the various events and controversies over recent months and years could not possibly believe that the present divorce between the governors and the managers is a satisfactory way of handling the matter. Indeed, it is completely unsatisfactory.
Nobody seriously doubts that it is the duty, the right and the responsibility of the governors to be more involved in the running of the BBC than they have been in the past. At the moment it is extremely difficult for them to be more involved, however much they may wish to be, because the governors represent a rarefied body that sits above and separate from the board of management that is actually running the BBC. Therefore, with the best will in the world, however earnest their intentions may be, it is a very difficult task for the governors to perform.
I am not suggesting constant intervention by the governors in the day-to-day running of the BBC. Because of the tradition of separation of governors and managers, anything that they did would be regarded by the BBC as intrusive and unacceptable and would be met with a solemn, if not a hostile, response. That impasse is unacceptable. It is as damaging to the BBC as it is damaging to the country as a whole.
It may be possible to move to a position in which the governors are accepted by the broadcasters themselves as having a more positive role on behalf of the public. I do not believe that the BBC professionals can seriously think that they should be accountable only to themselves. 734 However, I am sceptical about whether it would be possible to reach a position where there is general acceptance of the propriety of intervention by the governors in the way that I have suggested—not on a day-to-day basis, but from time to time.
§ Mr. Holt
In trying to define the role of the board and the role of the management, will my right hon. and learned Friend say who he thinks should impose the embargo date, after which it is considered that the general election is taking place and nothing that could affect that general election will be allowed, as Mr. Alasdair Milne has done in the case of Mr. Ian Curteis's play?
§ Mr. Brittan
The suggestion that I am about to make will answer my hon. Friend's point.
I am sceptical about the change that would be necessary if there were a merger. Therefore, I am increasingly attracted by the concept of changing the present arrangements in a more radical way and having a unitary board that incorporated both the governors and the managers who would run the BBC like other concerns, in which there are some non-executive directors and other working directors. That would bring the two together and would be a much healthier way of running the corporation. We may not have reached the point where such a change is inevitable, but we are coming very much nearer to it.
I have to concede, however, that there is one real problem if we move in that direction—the problem of complaints about the contents of broadcasts. In the situation that I have envisaged, it would be difficult for the governors to handle their current task of dealing with complaints if they were parties, as members of a unitary board, to policy decisions.
If we moved in that direction, the answer might be for that aspect of the present role of the governors to be taken over by an enhanced broadcasting complaints commission. I accept that that would be contrary to existing practice, but the idea of having public interest in the BBC represented on the unitary board that was running the BBC, while there would be a separate broadcasting complaints commission, is likely to be considered increasingly in the future.
Looking at the picture as a whole, it seems to me that the Peacock committee has etched out a principled, practical and attractive future for broadcasting. There is no need for an instant Government decision, nor is it expected that the Government would accept it as a whole, but with due respect to my right hon. Friend I do not believe that an expression of general support and sympathy would be sufficient. At the very least, the world of broadcasting should be given in the very near future a clear signal, by at least one specific decision, of the direction in which we wish it to go.
One small decision could be made as soon as the technical studies have been completed, and I commend it to my right hon. Friend: the implementation at an early date of recommendation 1 on page 136 of the report that would require all new television sets to have a peritelevision socket, which would foreshadow and enable the introduction of subscription in due course. That announcement alone would show that the Government were not just mouthing soothing words of general support for the principle but that they were prepared to start on 735 the process of implementation. I look forward to hearing at an early date the good news that an early decision has been reached.
§ Mr. Clement Freud (Cambridgeshire, North-East)
No one would argue with the contention of the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) about the undesirability of the current relationship between the governors and the managers of the BBC. The whole House welcomes the independent stance which to date has been taken by the new chairman.
We are debating the long-term future of broadcasting, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. We are debating a report with many recommendations and, as the Home Secretary said, this is an interrogative debate. It is a sign of the lunacy of the procedure of Parliament that the official Opposition are calling a vote on an Adjournment debate.
§ Mr. Freud
I listened with care to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who told the House why. My hon. Friends and I want no part in such a vote. We are not abstaining: we are not voting. We are discussing this report and we look forward to hearing, as I am sure the Home Secretary looks forward to hearing, the opinions of all hon. Members about the suggestions in the Peacock report. In many ways the report is not nearly as had or as unhappy as the right hon. Member for Gorton said it was.
§ Mr. Freud
No. I shall make a short speech, and the hon. Lady can make her speech afterwards.
What we most feared from Peacock has not come about. We welcome the recommendation that BBC television should not take advertising. I find the Samuel Brittan, near-elitist, idea that the BBC should use only what could commercially be exploited a totally unacceptable and essentially vulgar concept. I am unhappy with the recommendation in the report about the separation of BBC Radios 1 and 2 from Radios 3 and 4. It is immensely to the credit of the BBC that one body is charged with running both the popular and the more intellectual aspects of public broadcasting. To separate those and place them under different nets, each retaining an administrative superstructure, is not only insane but uncommercial.
It is important for us to accept what public service broadcasting is, and to make it keep an eye on viewing and listening figures to justify its continued existence is not what public service broadcasting is about. It is not about competing with everything simply because everything is there. The BBC has made no great contribution to breakfast television. I still fail to see why both channels should show the cup final. There is some merit in having the Eurovision song contest and the Miss World contest switched year and year about, but, from my memory as a sports writer covering the Olympics, the organised events of boxing, judo and weightlifting were nothing compared to the impromptu battles between BBC and ITV cameramen trying to take pictures of the same event.
We are rather in favour of pay television, because it might well provide a widening of opportunities for 736 independent producers who will be unhampered by the cosy union rules which currently confine programme making to hugely expensive ventures. Channel 4 has shown that that is not essential for good television. Pay TV will help to target programmes to specific sections of society, and that will be welcomed by advertisers. We expect pay television, and specifically the amounts to be charged, to remain under the supervision of a Government Department.
I should now like to deal with licence fees. We have always been attracted by the arm's length principle that these provide, even though we are disturbed by the lack of planning which annual or even three-yearly increases deny the corporation. Indexing is right, but I am not at all sure whether indexing in accordance with the retail prices index is right, because expenditure by broadcasting corporations does not bear much relationship to retail prices. We join all hon. Members in wanting to make it easier for the elderly, the housebound and the handicapped, those who have in common the fact that they do not have a lot of money, to afford licences—if there is a way in which this will not be abused.
Perhaps the Home Secretary will consider that which annoys my constituents most — the unfairness of the current system and the incompetence in tracing and finding licence dodgers. I do not believe for one moment that the vans which purport to be able to tell whether somebody is operating a television set without a licence contain anything except three or four people in the back —playing poker. I remind the Home Secretary of the fury felt by so may pensioners about the 5p per year concession accorded to those in warden-controlled accommodation, while others, many of them poorer and less cared for, paid the full £58. I am also disenchanted with the proposed £10 car radio licence, because this will bring in very little money, be exceedingly difficult to implement, and will annoy and harm those who should least be harmed by new legislation.
We do not believe that the BBC has a monopoly of impartiality, or that public service broadcasting benefits from investigation by the sort of politically motivated investigators who published the most recent report. In Sir John Reith's day deference was considered to be impartiality, and it is certainly pleasing to have moved away from that sycophantic stance.
When the "Real Lives" trouble broke, the general public were suddenly aware of the Right-wing nature of the majority of BBC governors. After the Libyan bombing the Tory party became aware that its general stance on broadcasting had made it more enemies than friends among those who run the media and accused the management of being to the far Left. Both imbalances should have been, and probably will be, rectified. Neither deserved the intemperate outbursts that we heard from the chairman of the Conservative party and his Doppleganger, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
It is quite clear from the report that many Government Departments are messing about with broadcasting. It has long been Liberal policy to have one Ministry for all aspects of the arts — including broadcasting. We have always found it difficult to know what to call this Ministry, because "Ministry of Culture" is a title which we find particularly unattractive.
§ Mr. Freud
We could give it to the Milk Marketing Board, but it seems to us totally wrong to have a restrictive Ministry looking after a dynamic medium.
Probably as a result of the diversification of ministerial responsibility, there is a sad lack of forward planning. By not joining the six-country European consortium, British television will in 10 years' time be working on someone else's hardware to someone else's financial benefit. We must ensure that we join in future enterprises, both cable and satellite, to the benefit of our nation.
I am satisfied with the way that we are awarding franchises. I was singularly unimpressed by the suggestions made by the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks, who seemed to feel that doing it on a best cash offer basis was satisfactory. For the sake of freshness and efficiency, the assessment carried out by the IBA is a totally satisfactory procedure. I remind the Home Secretary that we in Parliament do not go out to tender. We are assessed every few years by the electorate and that serves us well—or does the Home Secretary think that it might be sensible for us to offer ourselves for tender?
We have as good a television product as any country; let us build on it rather than make changes because they might please the political ambitions of a Government. Let us also define more rigorously what we mean by public service broadcasting. Finally, I believe that we can be more relaxed about pettifogging controls. The laws of the land, when it comes to broadcasting, are already adequate.
§ Sir Paul Bryan (Boothferry)
I declare my interest in Granada Television and as chairman of Croydon Cable Television.
When the Peacock committee was commissioned, most of us—certainly myself— expected, after the statutory year in which the committee was given to report, to receive a modest volume, mostly devoted to the future financing of the BBC. In fact, we received a massive work which deals with the entire future of broadcasting; I welcome it. It takes us, in considerable detail, through the development of all the new technologies, which will in time make the present BBC-ITV arrangements untenable and will open up many new opportunities for consumer choice.
The committee wisely divided its consideration of these matters into three stages. Stage one takes us roughly to the turn of the century, by which time technological changes will have begun to take place. During that period, it is estimated that the present arrangements will continue, with the BBC having a slightly altered licence arrangement. At stage two, real changes in the arrangements will have to be made to meet the new technology. During stage one, the main competing technologies will be cable, DBS and, less importantly, one or two satellites from Europe.
I should like to correct some of the presumptions of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) about cable television. He described it as a "complete flop". That is not so. Cable television has got off to a slow start, for a number of good reasons. First, cable television is unfamiliar to the British public. I said to an American salesman in Croydon, "In what way is selling cable television in Britain different from selling it in America?" He said, "In America, the potential customer will say, 'At last you have come.' In England, he will say, 'What is cable?'" We simply do not know about cable 738 television. It is scarce. Therefore, the natural self-generation which comes from people talking amongst themselves about programmes has not occurred.
Secondly, we laid down for ourselves Rolls-Royce standards — probably rightly — which make our cable television more expensive than American cable television. The Americans hang their television cables on trees, lamp posts and so on. We insisted upon sophisticated technology with interactive capability. By now, those involved in cable television have reached the stage at which we know that it is not a matter of if cable will succeed but when. At last, that confidence is spreading to the City.
Originally cable television finance in this country came mainly from trans-Atlantic banks. They are used to financing cable television. Recently—I am talking about the last few weeks—there has been a surge of interest from British banks with a view to the long-term future. That is encouraging.
My guesstimate-I underline "guess"—is that by the end of the century 4 million households might receive cable television. That is about one fifth of the number of present television licensees. I have no intimate knowledge of DBS, so I am not qualified to give even a guesstimate.
Next week, five consortia will come before the IBA, each of them apparently willing to risk up to £400 million on DBS. Among the names of the consortia are those of some of the best known and most successful people in communications — Murdoch, Maxwell, Virgin, the television companies, Pearson, Saatchi, Bond, and so on. These people tend to be successful. From my soundings, they appear to think that, by the turn of the century, there will possibly be 8 million households receiving DBS programmes. That is almost half the number of present licensees.
Coming to stage two, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, subscription television, with a Government subsidy element, is the Peacock solution for BBC finance. I am not as optimistic as my right hon. and learned Friend and my right hon. Friend. For the practical reasons I shall give, cable television would sound the death knell of the BBC as we know it.
At the turn of the century, what will the average viewer be offered? He will be offered two free ITV channels and two or three free DBS channels, provided he is willing to put up a dish, which will be easily obtained through a television rental company. Also, on each of the DBS systems there will one channel for which he can pay if he wishes, and that will undoubtedly be the highly popular film channel. In addition, there is the growing cable system, with customers being offered up to 30 channels. Also, the distribution of video tape recorders will be even wider than it is now. Distribution is reaching 50 per cent. The price of video tapes, which has already plummeted, will be even cheaper. BBC pay television will face formidable competition.
At the moment, through the licence fee, the BBC raises about £1 billion. How will the BBC, through pay television, ever raise £1 billion? Even if half the number of licensees had pay television, £100 a year would have to be raised from each family. I have nothing against the system, but I cannot see how it will work.
To justify the practicality of pay television, the Peacock report quoted America. The report states that America 739 started with pay television, but it petered out as it came into competition with superior technology. That is not encouraging.
Also, there is the practical matter of how the BBC will collect its money. That may not sound a very difficult matter, but from my experience of radio rentals the hardest task in the trade is to collect one's money, and the BBC is not skilled at that.
It is proposed that Channel 4 should be independent and raise its own revenue. I remind the House of a phrase used by the Americans—"If it ain't broke, don't mend it." I have never known a stronger case for leaving well alone. Channel 4 has been a huge success. Hon. Members ordained the form it should take. We laid down that it should be distinctive, experimental, independent. It should not compete for funds with ITV but be complementary to it. All those aspirations have been achieved. It is now a highly popular and respected channel. We said that it should be the entree for independent producers, and that is precisely what it has been.
What are the finance arrangements? Channel 4 is paid for by the ITV companies. Last year, it cost them £170 million, about £130 million of which they got back from advertising. Peacock evidently considers that it would be an easy matter to sell its own advertising, but more than half of all television advertising comes from regional customers. The television companies have 15 teams around the country which seek regional advertising. The idea that little Channel 4 would be able to sell on that basis does not arise.
The first part of the Peacock report gives a long, fully argued case on why advertising for the BBC is wrong, but the committee seems to go back on that argument. Once again, it provides for two broadcasting organisations which will compete for funds and the outcome of lower standards will be the same.
We get the same contradiction in the proposal that ITV companies should tender for a franchise. Everyone in broadcasting knows how to produce cheap television. One follows the American pattern of bought-in films, quiz games, and so on. On the programme "The History of Television" an American tycoon said that American television will always be bad because there is so much money in bad television. How will a consortium submitting a bid make a financial estimate of the money it will make in the next 12 years in an industry that is changing quickly and in which the Government are constantly moving the goal posts? It would be almost impossible to calculate. If the sum turns out too high, the consortium will eventually have to reduce its costs by lowering programme standards. If it is too low, the public will lose. Peacock recommends that if the IBA does not consider that the lowest bidder can provide the right standards, that consortium should be rejected. But we would be back where we are with the present system, except that the Treasury would be breathing down the IBA's neck. If the Treasury saw that the highest bid was not being accepted, it would want to know about it. We are at least clear of that interference now.
I was glad to hear that the length of the ITV's contract is to be extended by three years. I must say as a general proposition that the present eight-year contract has been to the detriment of television. Granada, with which I am connected, is the only one of the original large companies that still exists, and its franchise has been unchanged. Even for a company with its stable record over the years much 740 managerial and creative time has been diverted into preparing for franchise application. If that can be avoided, it will be for the best. I have no magic solution, but it seems to me that the IBA's suggestion of a 12-year licence, with a reassessment at half time, followed by a final decision about two years before granting of the licence as to whether the company will be required to reapply would get rid of much of the hassle associated with applications. That is not the best of all possible worlds, but it is the least bad.
Recommendation 15 of the report states:National telecommunication systems … should be permitted to act as common carriers".I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary say that he had great doubts about that. Nearly everyone else seems to have great doubts also, not least British Telecom, which is meant to be the main beneficiary.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)
The hon. Member for Boothferry (Sir P. Bryan) talked about the slow development of cable television. My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) made the point that two or three years ago one thought, from the talk in the City and the financial press, that the whole of the United Kingdom would be cable within months, but that has not happened. The hon. Member for Boothferry has hopes for the future. He said that the English were not interested. In the part of Wales where I was born, we had cable radio a long time ago, because that was the only way one could listen to the radio. There was good reason for having cable. Cable may be of interest to people in the United States, but backwardness is not the reason why the British are not interested in cable television. They have a better broadcasting service than that which obtains in the United States.
The hon. Member for Boothferry referred to Murdoch, Saatchi and Saatchi, and so on, being associated with cable. I am sceptical about future standards if they run to form. I, too, am sceptical about pay television, for the reasons that he gave. I agree with him about competitive tendering, and there is no point in my repeating the argument.
I remember discussing with my Home Office colleagues in the appropriate Cabinet Committee our response to the Annan report. We decided to agree with the report and the idea of the Open Broadcasting Authority. We discussed how advertising revenue would be raised, but we lost the election. The Home Office view differed from that of the Labour Government, and the incoming Conservative Government took up the Home Office view. It is strange that, after all these years, we go back to the argument of the OBA, at least on the way in which revenue should he raised.
The right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan), the former Home Secretary, seems to work on the principle that all political parties get it right all the time. We were wrong in 1954, or whenever it was. In this instance we were probably wrong again, for the very reasons that have been given. The 15 regional companies can raise the advertising far better than the OBA could do from London. The latter would find it very difficult to get into the regions and to raise revenue in the same way.
741 The hon. Member for Boothferry spoke about the terms of reference and the rather narrow approach, and was surprised that the report was broader than those terms of reference. I was just as surprised when I read the report. The report is narrow in concept, and, although it has overflowed to some extent, it is still narrow in its approach. Unlike the earlier reports, from Crawford to Pilkington, which we all read from time to time, it will not go down in broadcasting history. The report's narrow approach is not very exciting. Of course it deals with future broadcasting. Indeed, no one could consider broadcasting without asking questions about direct satellite, cable, and so on.
I find the new ideological thinking of the Right as arid as the new ideological thinking of the Left. Indeed, the thinking is very similar in approach. The development of broadcasting in Britain since 1926 has not always been right by a long chalk. Nevertheless, during the war the voice of the BBC was heard in many parts of the world. When I am abroad these days, I listen to the World Service. In many ways, our broadcasting system is superior to that in most parts of the world. It is certainly superior to that in America.
I hope that no one will say that I am being anti-American. Before the Americans joined in the war I served with the Americans, or Americans served with me. I served under an American command for four or five years during the war. I am also on the international education board of Boston university, and go to the United States as frequently as possible. However, all that does not prevent me from telling Americans that their broadcasting is pretty poor. They may tell me that there is public service broadcasting, but on a Sunday morning in a hotel room in America or Canada it is pretty frightening to go through the buttons. If that is what free market broadcasting brings, God protect us from the new world.
We are not very good at telling ourselves how good we are. Our natural bent is to run ourselves down, but we do very well at broadcasting, and our job is to adapt and use the technological developments so that we can maintain the standards which, perhaps more by good luck than judgment, have been achieved over the years. The right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks spoke about "the state". For about 30 years I have not been enamoured of the state boards that run many of the things in this country, but the BBC is not a state board. Sometimes God only knows what it is. However, it was given a charter and independence, and is not a state board. It is difficult to explain that to Americans.
My regard for the BBC is very high, but that does not mean that it does not have problems. I sent evidence to Peacock, and last night I reread what I wrote. As it was written only a year or so ago, it is not surprising that I have not changed my mind about much. From my experience as a junior Minister many years ago, and as Home Secretary, I am convinced that all broadcasting authorities should be independent of the Government, of politicians and of all vested interests. It does not matter what the words say: everything must be done with that in mind. Similarly, those authorities must think hard and avoid becoming vested interests themselves. For example, one thing annoyed me about the BBC when we were looking 742 after Annan. If there was any change pending, or papers and discussions in the Home Office, the BBC seemed to become very upset at questioning.
§ Mr. Rees
It is probably true that all Governments become upset when they are criticised, and that is probably true the longer that they are in office. When I was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, I was often critical of the media. Like most of the English media, the BBC and the IBA are not very good at Irish affairs —[Interruption.] As the lights have gone out in the Chamber I shall make a shorter speech, because I shall have to remember what was in my notes. However, the BBC does get things wrong and does make mistakes. It and the IBA must learn that, if they are criticised, people are not trying to get at their independence—or are they?
I thus come to the recent exchanges between the Conservative party and the BBC. I have somewhere with me a copy of a letter that I sent to my colleagues in 1978. As the lights are out, I shall have to remember it. I said that the Home Office was not a receptacle for complaints from Cabinet colleagues against the BBC or IBA. I said that if any colleague wanted to criticise the BBC, he should do so in the same way as anyone else and should direct his remarks at a precise point. I also said that it was not the job of colleagues to tell the BBC or IBA how they should run themselves. That is where the Conservative party—
§ Mr. Tony Banks
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have heard of people turning up to see the lights, but it is a bit strange to see hon. Members turning up to see the darkness. They are making it very difficult for my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) to make his speech, and even more difficult for us to hear it.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
I thought that the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) was doing very well indeed.
§ Mr. Holt
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman can hear me, even if he cannot see me. When he was Home Secretary and received all those complaints about the BBC from Labour Members, just as complaints are being made today, is it not true that the BBC never once conceded—just as it does not concede now—that it was wrong?
§ Mr. Rees
The complaints did not get anywhere near the BBC. However, they were rather different in kind.
The BBC believes that the licence fee protects it from Governments and that it is a mark of its independence that it obtains its money through a poll tax that has developed over the years. It knows that it runs into trouble because of the plateau in the amount of money coming originally from broadcasting and then from the television licence. I and the BBC know that when the licence fee is considered the Treasury enters into the discussion, and a small but excellent department in the Home Office also holds discussions with the BBC. Eventually, an amount is arrived at. At present, it is £58.
I no longer believe—I did not believe it very much at the time, but there was not much chance of doing anything about it — that the licence fee should go on being 743 collected in the same way. We have heard this evening about the inefficiencies of collecting the licence, and we know that about £80 million is not being collected by the licence system. I put it to the Peacock committee that the amount of money for the licence fee should continue to be determined in the same way, and let us suppose that the fee is £58. It should then be determined what the total sum is to be, and instead of collecting it through post offices and through Bristol, with all the inefficiencies of that system, that sum could be voted by the House. That would not be done at the time of the Budget. Instead, there would be a special procedure within the House, and if the fee were £58 and the total sum to be collected were £X million, collection could be on the same basis as income tax, and once a year. We would do away, of course, with the £5 licence fee for those in sheltered accommodation and warden-controlled accommodation, which I introduced to try to help people in that position when I was Home Secretary.
We have the present system of collection because the BBC believes that it protects it, but I no longer accept that. I do not believe that it protected the BBC when the curious relationship between the Government and the BBC went wrong a year ago. The protection for the BBC lies in its independence, and for my money it does not even lie in the charter. The IBA is subject to an Act of Parliament and does not have a charter, and the fact that one organisation has a charter and the other an Act does not mean that there is any less protection for the IBA.
We should remember that the hoard of the IBA consists of members who are not managing television companies. Instead, they have regard to the principles that are laid down in an Act. The problem with the BBC is that the governors are too close to the management. Perhaps the BBC should be modelled far more on the way in which the IBA is run, and perhaps there is no need for a unitary board. That may well be the right approach.
§ Mr. Holt
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way to me for a second time. Can he say whether his mind has moved away from his policy, when he was Home Secretary, of introducing a form of national insurance surcharge and phasing out the television licence, as he stated on 6 December 1979? He will find this policy set out in column 648 of Hansard.
§ Mr. Rees
It seems to be a daft idea. If I thought of it, I must have been out of my mind. As it was not the view of the Government, nor that of the Home Office, I must have been in a funny mood that evening when I chose to relate the licence fee to national insurance. Of course, those were difficult times. The Government had a small majority.
I understand it when my party says that those of pensionable age should not have to pay the licence fee. I believe, however, that it is time to bring an end to the licence fee altogether. The suggestion in the report that the ending of the fee should be confined to those on supplementary benefit is an extraordinary one. We hear about privatisation and all the rest of it, and that is, I suppose, "politics", but in my constituency there would be an enormous amount of trouble if someone in receipt of supplementary benefit did not pay the licence fee and the family next door, which had received £1 a week from Leeds tramways for the past 20 years, had to do so. Whatever else those who formed the Peacock committee are—they 744 may be good ideological Right-wingers or Left-wingers— they know nothing about what goes on in constituencies and about those who come to see us on Saturday mornings.
The Peacock committee recommended also that those who have radios in their motor cars should pay a licence fee. When, thank heaven, I drive away from London tomorrow, I shall find it pleasant to listen to Radio 2. I am an avid listener of the Jimmy Young show in the mornings, and thereafter I move on to Radio 4. I listen more to the radio in my car than I do in my home.
The House will recognise that the Home Office has a responsibility also for the police. There are far more policemen than we have ever had, but there are complaints that there are not enough in rural areas. Does anyone really think that chief constables will say, "We shall, of course, have far more policemen on the motorways. We shall stop cars at pull-ups to see whether they are displaying somethng that indicates that they have a licence from the BBC"? The police do not do their job properly now in ensuring that the car licence fee is paid. Right hon. and hon. Members will recall that one of our colleagues in the House some years ago recited a hymn of criticism of the police for not checking cars in the Metropolitan police area to ensure that the owners had paid the licence fee. A week later he was done for not having a road fund licence displayed on his car.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
My right hon. Friend is speaking about my predecessor in Newham, North-West, and I must complete the story. When my predecessor was stopped, he was found to have a Guinness label where his road fund licence should have been.
§ Mr. Rees
If the Home Office is considering introducing a car radio licence, it should listen to the story that my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) has completed, instead of going to the police. If such a system were introduced, the number of Guinness lables in lieu of car radio licences would be extremely great.
I have two main concerns. First, there is the independence of the BBC. When I was Home Secretary, I ate only once, I think, at the BBC. It is not the Home Secretary's job to be friendly with the BBC, and nor is it the BBC's job to be friendly with the Home Secretary, so that everybody knows one another and everyone is Bill or Bert. It is necessary to keep one's distance all the time. That is far more important in many respects than a piece of paper which sets out the rules.
Secondly, we should do away with the licence fee. We do not wish to remove the independence of the BBC, but what a way to collect money in the later years of the 20th century.
Finally, we should all be pround of the development of public broadcasting—not that it is perfect by a long chalk. However, public service broadcasting is something of which we should be proud. How do we operate it in a fast-changing world? The report poses the problems, but it has not helped me very much in deciding what we should do to overcome them. Before the Government — well, they do not have much time—or any of us legislate, we should think hard about how we maintain public service broadcasting, with our knowledge of what goes on in the United States. Another example is television in Catholic 745 Italy. The developments there are unbelievable. If Mrs. Whitehouse thinks that television is bad here, she should see what is happening in Italy.
It would be easy to make mistakes about public services broadcasting, but "Public Service Broadcasting" should be written in the form of a notice on the front of the Home Secretary's desk. I am not clear how we translate such a notice into action, and that is the weakness in the Peacock report. Its terms of reference were those of an accountant, and it is not an accountancy approach that we want. The most important consideration is the standard of British broadcasting, and for me public service broadcasting is worth supporting.
§ Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)
I agree strongly with many of the well-made points of the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), including those which he made in the dark. I commend him on them.
In paragraph 547 of the Peacock report it is argued clearly and fairly thatthe fundamental aims of broadcasting policy should in our view be to enlarge both the freedom of choice of the consumer and the opportunities available to programme makers".It also maintained that, with the benefits of some technological developments, those in the media should overcome the two key problems to which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary referred — the problems of spectrum scarcity, and the technical problem of developing and installing the various gadgets, whose names I cannot pronounce—one is peritelemetry—of pay-per-view.
In paragraph 551, the report states that if those two things were done there would beat least a chance of creating a genuine consumer market in broadcasting combined with a continuation of public service.That was the stated hope of the authors of the report. Those aims may be admirable, but they pose other important questions which the House should consider carefully. The first question that comes to my mind is whether there is a compelling need to change or even abandon the present "comfortable duopoly", as it is called rather pejoratively in the report. The report states that the "comfortable duopoly" must be changedin view of the pace and scale of future technological changes.It is not self-evident that that must be done right away.
Secondly, is it likely that the benefits of facilitating more of a free market in broadcasting will outweigh the costs? If they do not—that is a reasonable expectation—we should pause for thought before leaping ahead.
Thirdly, will it be possible for public service broadcasting, to which the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South referred at the end of his speech, to survive and, I hope, prosper in a media world dominated by free market pressures? Much of the evidence from abroad suggests that it will not.
The main assumption underlying the Peacock report is that there will soon be a compelling need for change since escalating broadcasting costs and, in some cases, vaulting media ambitions will sooner or later be constrained and made impossible by the relative non-buoyancy of the licence fee as people cease to change from monochrome 746 licences to colour licences, and the apparent — I stress the word "apparent"—unhappiness of the public to pay for its radio and television in that way.
I hope that it is not too late at least to question some of those assumptions. Even the colour licence at £58 a year costs only a little more than £1 per week. I and, if they thought about it for a moment, many others would regard that as very good value for money. However, even that amount can be difficult for some people to pay. Surely the answer is to make provision for more people to pay in easier and smaller instalments throughout the year, as is already possible.
The Peacock report also proposes that future increases in the licence fee should be linked to the retail prices index as a financial discipline on the BBC, with its high and rising operating costs. Conservative Members understand and agree with the arguments in favour of greater efficiency. It is hard to dispute that, but we must also consider, in a broadcasting debate, the likely effects on the quality and range of the BBC's output if that discipline were to be imposed. It might increase the productivity of the BBC's activities, but how would that be manifested? It would probably be manifested in more sales of BBC programmes and other published material here and abroad and in the sale of tapes and records, of books of the film and films of book and so on. It would probably be manifested also in cuts in staff and in what the BBC might regard as marginal activities. That would be sad because it might mean a reduction in diversity and possibly in quality. It would almost certainly result in a narrowing and lowering of quality in the programming through the much more extensive use of repeats and archive material.
Those who already see some of those tendencies in the BBC and regret them would not wish to make the problem worse. The financial restraint which the committee recommends would be unfair to the BBC in its implicit competition with commercial broadcasting which has been the reality since the 1950s, as the commercial broadcasters would presumably continue to rely on buoyant advertising revenue as the economy expanded.
§ Mr. Michael Morris (Northampton, South)
Has my hon. Friend seen the recent evidence from the IBA which suggests that, by 1990, the difference in resources between the two channels will be £1,000 million?
§ Mr. Forman
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point.
In all those circumstances, it would be fairer and more realistic to put the BBC on a broadly comparable basis with the commercial companies by indexing the licence fee on a formula of retail prices index plus an agreed modest percentage for a stated period.
We must also consider the longer-term outlook and whether the likely benefits of facilitating more of a free market in broadcasting would outweigh the likely costs. In the medium to longer term, extra finance from somewhere will be needed to make possible a wide range of new services using the new technologies of co-axial and, later, fibre optic cable and direct broadcasting by satellite.
The key point is that if the BBC is to be involved in all those developments it will need to charge or to supplement its existing sources of finance. If it cannot do so, the task of doing all those things simultaneously will become increasingly difficult or impossible.
§ Mr. Brinton
My hon. Friend seems to assume that the BBC should go into every new piece of progress. Will he explain why?
§ Mr. Forman
I was coming to that point. It is at the heart of the debate as to whether the future BBC—we are looking at the next 10, 20 or 30 years—should seek, as it always has done, to do everything or whether it should have a more specialised role.
The benefits of using the direct market mechanism of individual subscriptions, as suggested in the Peacock report, should include those of extended personal consumer choice, which we welcome, and the elimination of any form of cross-subsidy from those who watch only programmes made by other sectors of broadcasting.
However, the costs or the drawbacks of individual subscriptions seem likely to include a degradation in the quality of programmes. Anyone who doubts that assertion need only consider the record of Canal Plus in France, which was well documented in a recent article by Raymond Kuhn of Queen Mary college, University of London. The BBC would be placed at a serious competitive disadvantage compared with the advertising finance of commercial television. That point is made clear in table 10.1 of the Peacock report.
On the point or my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Brinton), the dilemma for the BBC is that if it cannot or is not prepared to stand aside from taking up all the opportunities which will offer themselves to the media in future it must swallow its traditional aversion to advertising and/or sponsorship and adopt a buoyant form of mixed financing, as is the case in many other countries.
However, if those in charge of the BBC would specialise more and concentrated within a rapidly expanding total market on what they do best and what they know best, they could continue to entertain, educate and inform in a high quality way, but on the basis of substantial assured public finance supplemented by revenue from sales and sponsorship at the margin.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but the lights will go out at 7 o'clock for about five minutes. We will, of course, continue the debate.
§ Mr. Forman
I can take a hint, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
My final question is whether public service and commercial broadcasting can and should co-exist in one large organisation — or rather two in the current duopoly—or whether it will be possible for the different roles of broadcasting to be performed alongside each other in different organisations with a variety of different purposes. The latter model suggests the future BBC concentrating on its public service role in ways which complement the commercial output of other organisations. We should recognise the dangers inherent in that model and the political interference or control to which such a restricted BBC could be subjected, because it would then be the only form of broadcasting likely to cause embarrassment or pose a threat to those in power. At the same time, the rest of the broadcasters would be drawn to compete for a mass audience on highly competitive commercial lines, which, I believe, would lead to lower overall quality and the inexorable working out of a Gresham's law of broadcasting in which the bad drives out the good and in which the public is provided with what 748 they are believed to want, thus making it difficult, if not impossible, for the broadcasters to provide the best of which they are capable.
I believe that the Government should proceed cautiously in this area. It is clear that we cannot legislate satisfactorily on this enormously important topic in a hurry and probably not this side of the general election. I hope very much that the Government will take full account of the powerful speeches from both sides of the House and will pay very close heed to them, because if we rush ahead according to some kind of technological determinism we shall make irremediable mistakes and damage the quality of our lives in a more fundamental way than some hon. Members may realise.
§ 7.1 pm
§ Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
If the lights go out again, I shall not be unduly concerned. I shall simply go to the Dispatch Box, where there is a lamp, and where I feel more comfortable anyway.
I have a special interest in broadcasting, because before I came to the House I was a BBC television producer for some eight years, having been a radio producer for seven years before that, and when I came to the House I joined the General Advisory Council of the BBC. I therefore have a deep interest in the subject and I welcome this debate.
However, the two people responsible for this debate are not present. The first is the Prime Minister, who got a black eye when Peacock rejected her wish for advertising on the BBC. The other is the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who got a black eye when the BBC rejected his absurd and malevolent attacks on the BBC. If Dennis Potter ever writes a play about the Government's attempts to manipulate the BBC, he will undoubtedly find a way to break into the old ditty, "Two Lovely Black Eyes", as he likes to bring in the old songs.
The main person with whom we are concerned today, however, is Professor Peacock. He is very worthy but he has shown himself to be lacking in judgment by offering solutions for the future of broadcasting when no one knows what the problems will be. He is like an irresponsible motorist peering through the fog—instead of pausing, he has put his foot on the accelerator and gone charging ahead. So it is not surprising that he has run into trouble. He should have waited for the fog to clear before making recommendations. It is impossible at this stage to evaluate the consequences of the new technologies. 'They are far too complex and distant for us or Professor Peacock to be jumping to conclusions and making firm recommendations. We should advance pragmatically and with great caution, but Professor Peacock has done the opposite, and I believe that the Government will do the same and charge ahead regardless if they get the chance.
I hope that the House will exercise caution and urge the Government to do the same. To judge from the Home Secretary's speech, the Government want to confine broadcasters to the Government's own narrow commercial ideals, which I believe will damage or destroy our magnificent broadcasting values, which are respected world wide. I do not say that every Conservative Member takes that view. I know that some Conservative Members, and, indeed, a couple of Ministers, are well aware of the values of broadcasting, but the Government as a whole will damage both the BBC and the commercial companies if allowed to run amok. The Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and some of their 749 colleagues are obsessed with dislike for the BBC, which is a very dangerous emotion, and they must be resisted by the BBC, by responsible Members on both sides of the House and by the public. I believe that if we all combine we can frustrate the Government's attacks on the BBC.
The BBC is by no means perfect and will eventually need restructuring. As our brilliant former colleague, Phillip Whitehead, so aptly put it:Loyalty to public service broadcasting is not coterminous with admiration for the present structure of the Corporation.I agree with that, but I still admire the BBC and I know that Philip Whitehead does, too. In addition to eventual restructuring, the BBC will need to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances, but it is reconstruction rather than destruction that is required. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Duchy will bring about its destruction if we are not careful. The Prime Minister and to some extent the Home Secretary are making a serious error in equating the provision of broadcasting with the sale of detergents.
Some Ministers, and their allies, the brash entrepreneurs, are great enthusiasts of pay-as-you-view television, but such a system for all would be disastrous because it would erode broadcasting standards and lead to a diet of caviar for those who could afford it and bread and marge for those who could not. Pay-as-you-view television would deprive the millions of people in poverty of the right to view the excellence of television and deny them the information, education and entertainment which are the hallmarks of British television — the traditional fare provided by the BBC and now willingly accepted by ITV. Millions of poor people would be cheated out of something that genuinely enriches their lives and provides them with a window on the world.
There may well be a place for pay-as-you-view television for a few special films on a limited basis, but there is no case whatever for pay-as-you-view television over a wide area. The fat cats of television, these new commercial people, will have to look elsewhere for their fast bucks. They must not be allowed to make a great profit out of pay-as-you-view television. We need to return to public service television and eschew pay-as-you-view at all costs.
I should like to take a stage further the argument concerning the provision of television licences. Although, in principle, I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) that we should phase in free television licences for all pensioners, the priority should be that free television licences are given to those old pensioners on supplementary benefit. That could be paid for by a tax on car radios. I know that my right hon. Friends the Members for Gorton and for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) are not happy about a tax on car radios. Yes, it would be difficult to enforce and it would be an anomaly to have a car tax on motorists and no similar tax on other people, but it would not be as anomalous as having pensioners unable to afford a licence compared to those who can afford a licence. It would be far better to have an anomaly of people with car radios paying extra tax which would pay for the television licences for those very poor pensioners on supplementary benefit.
750 We have to cope effectively with the complex problems of the future — modern techniques, satellite dishes, cables, finance, franchises, standards and many other things. We should not be motivated by personal or political animosity, but I believe that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster are so animated at the present time.
The way forward is by constructive and careful consideration, and that could be provided by a permanent standing Communications Commission. It is not by accepting Peacock's recommendations. If we accepted those recommendations for commercialism and pay-asyou-view television, we would damage the standard of broadcasting, damage the skill of broadcasters and damage the interests of millions of poor viewers. We should fight to protect the interests of the BBC and the other television companies—such companies have done splendid work. We must protect the interests of viewers who enjoy television. They are entitled to do so and should not be deprived of it by the Peacock recommendations.
§ Mr. Madden
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will be aware that the Chamber and large parts of the House have been in darkness for various intervals of the evening, and indeed some parts of the House remain in darkness. I should like to know whether there will be a statement from the Leader of the House on the reason for this, and will he assure us that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has not pulled out the plugs to avoid the lights being focused on his recent activities?
§ Mr. Neil Hamilton (Tatton)
The right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) will not be surprised to learn that I do not agree with a great deal of what he said. In contrast, I thought that the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) spoke much common sense in his speech, which will find echoes in various parts of the Chamber. It was in great contrast to the speech by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). His was one of the most reactionary speeches that I have had the misfortune to hear in this House. The right hon. Gentleman appeared to accept the proposition that all was well with broadcasting at the BBC and that there was no criticism that could fairly be made. He was being the most pliant poodle of the Establishment that I have seen for a great many years. That contrasts starkly with what he must have said as his master's voice when Lord Wilson was involved in a great many scraps with the BBC over alleged bias in the late 1960s.
The House will appreciate that I have no special reason to love the BBC, except that, a short time ago, as a result of its failures, I derived a great deal of gratifying publicity. My right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) and my hon. Friend the Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) told me how envious they were of the amount of publicity which I had received and which had pushed them from the front pages of the newspapers.
I had to pay a price to derive that publicity. The price was that for three years I was robbed by the BBC of peace of mind. My family and I underwent considerable suffering and anguish. My hon. Friend the Member for 751 Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth) and I put our good names, reputations and possessions on the line and risked bankruptcy and our places in this House to fight what we believed was a great evil on the part of the BBC. That evil must be rooted out so that the BBC's reputation can also be salvaged. As a result of the case, which was settled between my hon. Friend, myself and the BBC, £500,000 of public money was lost. The ethical guidelines which the BBC had laid down were flagrantly breached and, as a result, the BBC's reputation was gravely damaged.
On the basis of that catalogue, what action was taken in the BBC to rectify that matter or to explain it? The answer is that the Director-General said that there would be no disciplining of the journalists responsible for making the "Panorama" programme which had defamed us and that that there would not even be an internal inquiry into the events which had taken place.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I am anxious not to give way, because many hon. Members wish to take part in the debate. I am sure that the hon. Member will make his own speech in due course.
The experience of my hon. Friend and myself is not unique. In May 1985 the BBC lost a case against Dr. Gee which cost £1.25 million, but once again there were no disciplinary proceedings or an internal inquiry. Dr. Gee was libelled in the programme made by Esther Rantzen, who was observed giggling by one of my constituents as she was travelling in a train after that case and the experiences of Dr. Gee. In May of this year that programme continued to broadcast unfairly about Dr. Gee, and it is now the subject of a complaint before the Broadcasting Complaints Commission. I shall say no more about it.
In the past few years the BBC has lost many libel actions. They have cost the corporation a considerable amount of money and have identified many weaknesses in the management of the corporation and in the standards which are acceptable to its journalists. Nothing whatever seems to have been done, and I cannot see any similar cause celebre which may be laid at the doors of the independent television companies.
We must analyse why the BBC seems to be peculiarly susceptible to the failures and weaknesses identified by our cases. The main reason for this weakness was identified by the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South. It is that the BBC considers itself infallible and thinks that it never makes mistakes. The BBC is the reverse of that, and the truth of the matter is that the BBC is out of control. It is too big and too diverse in its operations. Its constitution is archaic and anachronistic, and it is all tied up with the question of funding.
The management at the top level of the BBC appears to me to be weak, ineffective and incompetent. The managers are far too frightened of the National Union of Journalists' threat to pull out the plugs if they attempt to discipline any journalist for whatever cause. That constitutes weak management.
On the other hand, there are some journalists—I do not wish to damn everybody—probably not more than a small minority, who do disproportionate damage to the corporation's reputation. There are a great many journalists working for the BBC—but not only for the 752 BBC — who have an armour-plated arrogance, which leads to recklessness because they think that they will never have to explain the programmes that they make and will never be examined in minute detail on what they have had to say. They are prepared to fight for injustice and to defend their lies to the last penny of taxpayers' money, but when it comes to putting their own money on the line to defend their own reputation they are not prepared to risk that.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I am sorry. I did not give way to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). I must be fair if I am accusing the BBC of being unfair. It would be improper if I were to be inconsistent.
The governors of the BBC are supposed to be the representatives of the public interest. In the past—arid this will probably happen in the future — they have displayed a stunning ineffectiveness, which is tied up to some extent with the nature of the individuals who are made governors, and to a greater extent with the nature of the office itself, which is part-time. Most governors do not come to the corporation with the necessary experience and weight to counterbalance the management in the BBC. All the evidence is that they are often hoodwinked.
Let me take as an example the current fracas over the complaints of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, in his other capacity as chairman of the Conservative party, about the Libyan reporting, on which I intend to make no comment. Did the governors meet at any stage to discuss their response to his criticisms? We have not yet had the answer to that question—
§ Mr. Hamilton
The BBC made a response. It would be interesting to know the way in which the BBC management collected the opinions of the governors on that issue. In the case of the libel action of my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock and Burntwood and myself, did the BBC seek the opinion of counsel, for example? I understand that the BBC was given less than a 40 per cent. chance of winning on a good day with a happy judge. No commercial organisation would go into court with such an opinion.
The problem was identified recently in The Independent by William Rees-Mogg, the former vice-chairman of the governors of the BBC, who said:there are whole systems of communication inside the Corporation to which they have no access. They issue policy instructions which are solemnly noted and as solemnly disregarded.That is what I think has happened in this case. The truth is that we have a constitutional structure in the BBC which was fit for the period between 1930 and 1950, before competition was introduced to broadcasting, but which is wholly unsuited for the different times in which we live today. In those days, perhaps television journalists were more scrupulous than they are today and the BBC was more of a national institution.
Politicians should not fear criticism or mockery, but that criticism and mockery must be placed firmly on the bedrock of truth. My objection is that so often in current affairs programmes the bedrock of truth is not there. That economy with the truth, to be complimentary about journalists who have been guilty of infractions of the BBC 753 code, arises because of the security of funding of the BBC, arising out of what is effectively taxation. It brings about irresponsibility by virtue of lax management.
The vast resources of the BBC—now £1,000 million a year or more — incline the BBC to the view that, whatever costs arise out of legal actions, they can conveniently be ignored. The costs and damages that the BBC had to pay in the cases of my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock and Burntwood and myself amounted to over £280,000. That is two hours' income for the BBC, but a lifetime's income and more for most of those who would be faced with the task of fighting a corporation the size of the BBC were they defamed by it. The BBC is uniquely unaccountable. It cannot be examined in the House because there is no ministerial responsibility for its internal workings. I should not like to see that change, because I do not want to see the BBC become a plaything of any political party or grouping.
The BBC has no shareholders who must be faced at an annual general meeting. At the moment, the Director-General and those who are responsible for the debacle in our legal actions are skulking in their bunkers, their heads well below the parapet, and it seems that nobody can get at them. We expect to be attacked in the House and outside it for our errors, infractions, failings, deficiencies and so on. If they are sufficiently salacious and newsworthy, the television cameras are parked outside our garden gates waiting to catch every facial contortion, grimace or sadness.
The Broadcasting Complaints Commission seems to me to be a toothless bulldog and suffers from a great many deficiencies, not least of which is that a great many people who were libelled on the same "Panorama" programme as my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock and Burntwood and me have been prevented from securing any consideration of their case because the commission cannot consider a complaint while legal proceedings are pending. There are still cases to come involving hon. Members of the House, which have not been concluded.
The justification that is put forward for maintaining the licence fee, which underpins the system of irresponsibility, is public service broadcasting, yet if we look at a copy of the Radio Times for this week we see in it a great many programmes which cannot be justified on the principle of public service broadcasting, however agreeable they might be to watch. The quality of the programmes does not seem to be uniquely the result of the principle of the taxpayer funding public service broadcasting, because every year the independent companies walk away with the bulk of the awards for quality programmes.
The BBC does not seem to be very innovative, because most of the great innovations that have arisen over the years have come about under the impulse of competition from commercial stations, whether it be afternoon broadcasting in the 1950s, local radio or breakfast television. As the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South said, quality seems to have become synonymous and confused with lavishness of production. That is surprising, because, as the costs of the technicalities of broadcasting have fallen in recent years, the costs of programmes seem to have risen, when the reverse might have been expected.
The real issue to which we should address ourselves in the debate and in the wider debates outside the House is 754 not political bias of the BBC but ethical standards. The BBC is engaged in a ratings war with the commercial stations. There is considerable sensationalising and trivialising. I agree with the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), who for many years has campaigned for fairer treatment of Left-wing Labour Members of Parliament by the BBC and other broadcasting institutions. There is more than a kernel of truth in the things that he has been saying.
What we want from the BBC is that it should observe its own code of ethics. That is set out in a paper by Alan Protheroe, the Assistant Director-General of the BBC, with several simple propositions, which seem to have been conveniently ignored. He says that basic honesty is something that all contributors to BBC programmes should be able to expect, yet recently in a case involving the "Rough Justice" programme the Lord Chief Justice condemned the interview methods that were used by the people making the programme as "outrageous", and referred to "investigation by menaces." He said that had those methods been used by the police they would have merited instant condemnation from the courts.
When Mr. Justice Bingham was considering an interlocutory application in the proceedings on the Dr. Gee case, he said that these were the methods used by the programme makers:the Defendants made a sham appointment with Dr. Gee at his surgery and then proceeded to attempt to interview him in the presence of Dr. Gee's other patients and without giving Dr. Gee any notice of their intentions.He said that they wrote a letter three days before the programme went out posing a number of questionsof the when did you last stop beating your wife variety and clearly Dr. Gee was being given little time to consider the criticisms being made or to respond.Mr. Justice Bingham concluded:the Defendants would I think be very well advised to give careful thought to any criticism that they might make and do not think that their initial handling of their investigation reflects great credit on a corporation such as the BBC and I hope that given what I have said the appropriate caution will be exercised by the Defendants.That hope was completely ignored.
We must also consider the fabrication of evidence, as happened with my hon. Friend and me. In spite of the Director-General of the BBC now saying that there were no deliberate falsehoods in the manufacture of the "Panorama" programme, the reverse is true. The programme wanted to claim a connection between David Irving, the historian who claims that the holocaust never happened, or that Hitler did not know about it if it did, and the Conservative party. It could not find one, so it rang various student Conservative associations to persuade them to set up a meeting with David Irving which the "Panorama" team could then film. It used that filmed evidence to say that there was a connection between Irving and the Conservative party, which it must have known was false.
It is quite clear from the uncut film in our case that another objective of the corporation's code of ethics—to produce programmes that are independent, objective, impartial and fair—was infringed, because it decided the story line in advance and tailored the facts accordingly. The rule in the BBC is "defame first and justify afterwards". That is never necessary if one can oppress and intimidate—a word that we have heard often from the 755 Opposition the private people who are the corporation's victims with the vast and oppressive weight of the resources available to it.
The BBC uses third degree tactics in interviews if the interviewee is to be the victim, but if the interviewee is helping the programme makers in their nefarious purposes, he is groomed and coaxed to give such performances as are likely to make the programme more viewable.
The BBC is also warned in its code of ethics to be careful not to be manipulated by lobbyists and the mouthpieces of groups with points of view to put forward. How was it, then, that the programme made on my hon. Friend and me could have been researched by a former Communist party candidate, a convicted burglar with a known record of stealing documents—
§ Mr. Hamilton
—and the editor of a magazine which employed convicted arsonists? Stolen documents were used in the programme and produced at the trials on the basis—
§ Mr. Hamilton
I have said it outside. I should like to observe to Opposition Members that I do not seek the cloak of privilege to defame hon. Members.
There are a great many other techniques of which the BBC should be utterly ashamed. They are used by its employees to defame individuals who often cannot defend themselves. They use Goebbels' techniques. That could happen to any of us, including Opposition Members. If there is a Labour Government again, I dare say that Opposition Members will be subject to treatment such as we have received.
The answer to these problems is to restore real management control and responsibility in the corporation. That can come about only as a result of a complete reassessment of the methods of funding. I applaud the direction in which the Peacock committee exhorts us to go. I entirely support its proposal to privatise Radios I and 2. We could extend that to BBC 2, because public service broadcasting ought to be a sort of Arts Council of the air. That would reduce the BBC to manageable size and restrict it to producing high quality or admittedly controversial programmes made from an admitted political stance, as happens on Channel 4 with "Diverse Productions".
Management must manage and be accountable. Privatisation seems to me to be one of the ways in which to achieve that. When the BBC has to be responsive—as eventually it will have to be with pay television and subscription television—to the needs of its viewers and the people who are responsible for providing the money to make the programmes, many of these evils will be swept away.
It is a great pity that the BBC does not have a system such as we have with the ITV companies, which have to compete for franchises and account for their stewardship from time to time. That is another source of the evils which seem to be endemic in the present vast octopus of the BBC. I warmly applaud the Peacock committee's forward-looking proposals. Not all will be universally accepted, but the broad thrust is in the right direction. Market solutions are the right ones for broadcasting, as for other parts of the economy.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South)
The hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) might realise that we would probably listen to him with a little more sympathy if he had been less free and loose in here about other people. In view of his panegyric on the virtues of the market, it is worth keeping in mind the old slogan about the man who was hanged for stealing the goose from off the common, but let the greater villain loose who stole the common from the goose. That is precisely what the Peacock report does.
The greater villains are those whom we saw rejoicing when the Peacock committee was established. There was an orgasm of joy on the Conservative Benches as they saw the opportunity, with the Peacock committee, to get up to their elbows in gravy. They saw an opportunity to smash one of our greatest public service institutions and to have a go at the BBC, which they regard as an especially snooty organisation.
We might have considered standards, bias and fairness and what the Conservative party has said during the past few weeks through the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the hon. Member for Tatton and the Home Secretary today until we consider their own standards of bias. The Home Secretary told us that debate on the Peacock report would be delayed. It has been brought from the back burner very quickly.
The Government have already asked Communications Studies and Planning International to prepare a report for the Home Office on pay-per-view. It cannot be an objective study. Mr. Jonscher, who has been put in charge, is an enthusiastic free-marketeer who is strongly committed to the expansion of pay television and convinced of the merits of a system in which viewers can buy the entertainment they want to watch. He says:There is too little entertainment material coming into people's homes. Television is hopelessly under-financed here. It costs viewers two or three pence per hour. I can't help feeling people would pay more than that".The Conservatives are delighted at the prospect of being up to their elbows in gravy as a result of subscription televison. The same organisation has been advising on the use of the spectrum—the frequencies on which television and radio signals are transmitted — and the sum for which it could be sold off to interested users. The objective people who the Government have put in charge of the investigation are firmly committed to turning the licence fee into a subscription and to scrambling the signal.
Having listened to the hon. Member for Tatton, I find an article in today's The Guardian about the attack on broadcasting during the past few weeks especially interesting. I should like to concentrate on the media monitoring units. They are apparently objective, and issued the recent report of alleged Left-wing bias among broadcasters. All of them have intimate links with the Conservative party. The hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), who was in the Chamber for a moment or two earlier, is involved. The Coalition for Peace through Security and Mr. Lewis, the well-known Right wing—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman must withdraw that statement. He cannot accuse an hon. Member of telling a lie.
§ Mr. Buchan
I am quoting from The Guardian. It may be wrong, but I shall quote it again. It says that the Coalition for Peace Through Security has among its membersMr. Edward Leigh, Conservative MP for Gainsborough.The hon. Gentleman had better check that with his friends. I thank him for his withdrawal, but it is a pity that he ever made the allegation.
We are witnessing a double attack upon the public service in general and on public service broadcasting in particular. The message coming through from Peacock is quite simple. When we were preparing the evidence for Peacock we recognised within the first three or four weeks that the argument for advertising could not be sustained, because to have any effect on the BBC such advertising would in particular smash the regional aspect of commercial television. We therefore decided that it would not happen.
Our fear was that no such committee once established would say that there was nothing to report. Our worry was about what it would report, and what it has argued is astonishing. It is in line with a general attack on the public service, with the Prime Minister's view of pushing back the boundaries of the state and her view that she wants to end what she calls Socialism, although we might call it public or welfare service.
Peacock's short-term proposals are not so finally serious, although we must beat them if we can. Even more disturbing are the report's long-term concepts. It has basically argued that the new technologies will inevitably mean that we must move away from public service broadcasting because satellite broadcasting cannot be controlled or subject to regulation. Peacock himself said that, like Canute, we could not push back the waves, and as it could not beat the new technologies, the committee took the view, "Let us close our eyes, roll on our backs and think of England. If we cannot control the technology, let it move uninterrupted and let us hasten its coming." Hence the argument about fixing television sets by a certain date to allow pay television to occur.
It is a surrender for mankind to say that the technologies themselves must control us. We recognise that there is a basic problem and difficulties, but the argument used by Peacock that broadcasting should move in exactly the same direction as the press moved in 1694 bears some examination. As all hon. Members will recall, 1694 was the date on which pre-publication censorship was ended. Fifty years before then Milton had used the same argument in relation to the Areopagitica. As a result, freedom of the press came into being. Peacock, and, to a limited extent, Peter Jay, also used the same argument—that we can move in the same direction of unlimited, free market broadcasting as has happened with the press since 1694.
The difficulty is that at that time the campaign for freedom in the press was a campaign against a nervous and tyrannical state. Over the last 300 years the real tyranny in relation to the press is not that of the state but the tyranny of wealth, power and riches. The truth is that with 758 a free market the entire popular press of this country is dominated by three people. In addition, we need only look at Berlusconi in Europe. Virtually the entire dissemination of news on a popular basis in the whole of western Europe is controlled by five people — Maxwell, Murdoch and the Express syndicate in Britain and Berlusconi, for example, in Europe.
It should be remembered that human beings operate not on reality but on our perception of reality. This is the power within the media that we must examine. The central thrust of Peacock is the argument about freedom. At the conference last year, he said that I was the only one who understood the central thrust of the paper, which was the question of freedom. He believes that we achieve freedom by removing all controls and regulation and that this will open up the possibility of an entirely free market which will then determine what happens. We argued that in such a situation we merely surrender to two, three or four monopolies, and Peacock, his committee and the Home Secretary know it.
The analogy with the press is absolutely right. An opening up of unrestricted, unregulated, satellite dominated broadcasting would mean in the same way in broadcasting a surrender to three or four people. That is the end-point of Peacock's view of freedom, and it is time that we contrasted it with a better view of freedom, because this really is the central thrust of the argument.
The truth is that uncontrolled broadcasting leads to monopoly and control. Regulated broadcasting by the community is not of itself a restriction. On the contrary, properly regulated broadcasting, which in this country we have to a very great extent, opens up the possibility of access and a diversity of opinion.
These arguments matter and are linked exactly to the philosophy of the Hayeks, Friedmans, Tebbits and Thatchers of this world. Incidentally, can one imagine what the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster would say if "Diverse Reports" were to devote six programmes not to examining the philosophy of the so-called new enlightenment—the old reaction, as I call it—of Hayek and Friedman, the Chicago centre and the St. Andrews school — heaven help us, the second most reactionary university in the Western world — but to Marxism or democratic Socialism? I use the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster as an example of that school of thought. That is the kind of argument going on at present.
To a curious extent, this has been the central argument throughout politics since the beginning of time. It has lasted for several thousand years, and Peacock has suddenly resurrected it again at the centre, just as the Prime Minister has done in her social and economic arguments.
We reject the view that we cannot control the technologies. Once we surrender to technologies and say that we can do nothing else, mankind has finished his chance of progress for ever.
We shall have to recognise that, no matter what is done here, we shall still be able to get unrestricted broadcasting from overseas. Incidentally, the freedom for all to do their own broadcasting does not mean the bloke next door who is buying into the satellites, because the people who have bought into satellite broadcasting are the Maxwells and the Murdochs. They have got a share of the action, and that will mean unrestricted pap.
One of the difficulties is that we are accused of elitism. Let us look at the most recent report undertaken by the 759 NOP for the Broadcasting Research Unit. It analysed the percentage of people who were "agreeably surprised" and referred to:the surprise factor and the possibility that a programme which a person felt would not be enjoyable might turn out on exposure to be agreeable and acceptable.Three per cent. of those interviewed said that this happened very often, 20 per cent. said that it happened fairly often and 46 per cent. said that it occurred occasionally. In other words, nearly 70 per cent. of those asked said that, far from it being elitist to think that things that are slightly above the common denominator should be broadcast, they had enjoyed such programmes when they had seen them. Therefore, we are arguing not so much about elitism as about an understanding that if they go below the lowest common denominator, audiences will be maximised. That is what happens with uncontrolled and unregulated broadcasting.
That is not an elitist argument. It is one that says that we cannot secure diversity of opinion and diversity of programme—be it from coarse fishing to politics, opera to jazz— unless broadcasting is controlled in this way. That is the problem to which we must address our minds. Peacock is a massive step backwards in this regard, and it should not be tolerated. It is an immediate, massive backwards step in the arguments about Radios 1 and 2.
The one section of independent radio with which Peacock could do something positive was community radio which gave groups the opportunity to broadcast community or neighbourhood interests. It is astonishing that at the time of Peacock and deregulation, community radio was barred and banned. Why? The Government were terrified of some of the views that might be expressed. They were afraid they would be inimical to the Government. That had nothing to do with freedom.
We now come to the curious case of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. The Peacock report is one aspect of the double attack on all public service and all community activity. Another aspect is the attack that we have heard from the hon. Member for Tatton and that released by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. I am afraid that he is not very bright. He and the Prime Minister both suffer from tunnel vision and second-rate minds.
§ Mr. Buchan
Indeed, they also suffer from elements of low cunning which act like adrenalin upon them.
The Chancellor of the Duchy was asked about bias. He criticised apparent bias in the BBC as did the media monitoring unit. He was asked why he had chosen to attack the BBC over Libya. He said:Well, there were a number of possible subjects, some of them would have required a very, very large amount of work, for example the allegation that there was bias in the drama side. What we looked for was something self-contained, something where there were transcripts, where we were dealing with facts.The interviewer asked whether, if the Libyan broadcasts were self-contained, he thought them typical of BBC news reporting. He replied:No, no I wouldn't, and indeed that's part of the whole point I was seeking to make. On the whole, standards are high"—he might have been kidding, judging from his attack on the Libya broadcast—but there are lamentable lapses, and you have to focus in on these.760 In other words, sometimes people make an error, so he will focus in on them. Quietly in an interview, he thought that the standard was good, but 90 per cent. of the British people did not gain that impression from the right hon. Gentleman. The interviewer then asked what the Chancellor of the Duchy was trying to do by "focusing in" on the odd lapse or two. He replied:Well if you make the generalised statement that the BBC is biased against the Labour party, which is so often being made, then this statement can be brushed off very easily … So you do have to be precise. And if the standard is generally good, as it is … though there is a tendency to muddle news with comment, and a tendency to sensationalise … er I have lost track of what your question was.That was his analysis. The right hon. Gentleman has undoubtedly unleashed and given credit to media monitoring, now exposed as a Right-wing group. He has let loose the moral majority who can take every opportunity to be associated with that. I see that the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle has now joined us. That is to buttress attacks on the best television and radio in the world today. If hon. Members do not believe that, they should lock themselves up for two or three hours and look at some of Murdoch's satellite broadcasting and see how they like that.
Hon. Members could do what I did when I was preparing the evidence on Peacock. I took off to Italy for five days — any excuse to spend five days in Italy. I knew Italian television reasonably well and I was staggered at its unbelievable degeneration. I grew up on bad American B-movies. I did not expect to see four of them at the same time on the 10 available channels in Italy, but I did. They were so bad that even I did not go to see them at the age of 15. There was an absence of commercial breaks. The adverts cut straight into programmes. I was watching a Russian pole vaulter attempting to break the European record and as he loosened up and took off two steps he ran straight into a line of nappies, advertising soap. I have never yet discovered whether he broke the record because by the time that had finished we were in the middle of a 1,000 metre race. I experienced a kind of culture shock at the logo flickering constantly during a film.
The curious result of deregulation and the large-scale expansion of programmes—about 300 private television, stations in Italy—is that they are almost all controlled by one man. It is curious that with relaxation and deregulation, which open up the possibility of more programmes, there is in fact less choice. Berlusconi has now bought into the 300 small private commercial programmes, so basically three massive commercial networks control the 300 apparently private commercial stations. That is what is meant by Peacock's free-for-all and "Do your own broadcasting". Berlusconi is one of five who control the entire dissemination of news in western Europe. In the United Kingdom, we have three.
Peacock knows the end result. Indeed, he is clear about it. Peacock recognises that the commercial world will not produce programmes of value. The report states:The Committee has its own views on the types of programme suitable for public patronage, and which form a large part of its concept of Public Service Broadcasting.So, together with the freedom to have pap, since the stations will not put on good programmes, the committee say that we must call on the public purse to transmit better programmes. The committee expects a minor quantity ofnews, current affairs, documentaries, programmes about science, nature and other parts of the world … high quality 761 programmes on the Arts (music, drama, literature etc.) … critical and controversial programmes, covering everything from the appraisal of commercial products to politics, ideology, philosophy.What kind of television and radio has Peacock got in mind when he says that religion, ideology, drama, literature, music, news, current affairs, documentaries, and programmes about science will form a minor part of broadcasting which must be paid for from the public purse?
We are seeing an attack on some of our most important values. It is not merely a minor matter as to whether we have historical accuracy in "The Monocled Mutineer," for example. It involves the type of civilisation that we wish to create. That cannot be left in the hands of the profit-makers, not only because that is the greater immorality, but because they have no vision or concept other than that of profit. Indeed, they cannot, because, by the nature of the beast, that is all that it can do. Freedom will not remain if it is entrusted to the pockets and the purses of the Murdochs, Maxwells and Berlusconis. They will not preserve the quality of broadcasting, ensure the diversity of programmes or seek to eliminate bias by extending genuine access.
The BBC is not the perfect body, any more than ITV is, but the quality of our commercial television is protected by the existence of the BBC alongside it and through the regulations imposed on it. Without that, it will be unadulterated pap. The people who will not watch that unadulterated pap but will themselves go to the Royal Opera House or the south bank will be the very people who try to push this on the ordinary British people. It must be defeated and I believe that it will be defeated. We have been suffering under this philosophy for a long time. The sooner the election, the better for British civilisation itself.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I should remind the House that Mr. Speaker appealed at the outset of the debate for brief speeches.
§ Mr. Tim Brinton (Gravesend)
I appreciate that the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) cannot entirely grasp the principles of capitalism and profit. However, I am also considerably worried about his version of freedom. He seems to think that control over what is broadcast is a way of establishing freedom. I look forward to the day when there are so many broadcasting channels in this country that we can have the absolute freedom to have radio and television stations to the far Left and to the far Right, and also in the middle.
The hon. Member for Paisley, South alluded to the beginnings of such a broadcasting system, that is to say, the sadly aborted community radio experiment. It was right to abort it because it was but a pilot scheme involving about 20 stations. Those 20 stations would have stuck out like sore thumbs. I hope that when my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary considers this matter he will go at it full bloodedly so that we get that sort of variety and begin to see that absolute freedom to broadcast can work through from the little local centres to something much more important.
Although we sometimes complain about the BBC and ITV, we have to remember that most of the stuff that we see is excellent. It was sad that the criticisms of the 762 chairman of the Conservative party happened to coincide with the 50th anniversary of British television, because during that week we saw what the BBC was really made of. I have said publicly that the BBC has problems, and may do so again later. However, I do not believe that they are as deep and difficult as some people suggest, or that the BBC is as white and pure as others suggest. I feel rather like the lady soothsayer—most unsuitably cast—in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" with Frankie Howerd which was repeated during that celebratory week, who comes rushing in saying "Woe, woe!"
In a sense, although not in the total sense that the hon. Member for Paisley, South meant, we shall be controlled by the developments of the new technology. It is difficult to know when this will come about. The value of the Peacock report was that it brought added emphasis to the previous attempt by the Annan committee, which was also laudable, to say, "The face of broadcasting in this country will change one day."
Many right hon. and hon. Members have accepted that. My difficulty is that I see it as almost a certainty within the next 10, 15 or 20 years. I have scant experience of the House compared with many right hon. and Members, although I have been here seven and a half years, but having considered parliamentary timetables I realise how long it would take to make major changes in legislation in time to carry out that sort of exercise.
If we keep the BBC's activities at the same level and fund them in the same way, or even if we allow it to expand as it has done instinctively during the past few years, understandably so because it wanted to, and nobody was going to stop it, the BBC will be forced into either competing directly against a multitude of popular downmarket programming which we shall be unable to control because it will come from abroad, or backing off and contracting to some degree.
In the 1950s I worked for the BBC, and I am proud of it and all that that means. In the new world of fragmented receiving, viewing and listening, I should like to see a public service broadcasting system in this country that is ready to fit in and that will not be decimated.
In the past few years we have seen the BBC's professional attempt to claw its way back in the ratings. Its ratings in the top 10 were going down, so it employed Mr. Grade, who is an expert in this area, and slowly and steadily, and quite rightly, he pulled them up on the important programmes. In the present climate of competition, there is nothing to be ashamed of if the BBC competes on popular programming. However, if, as the hon. Member for Paisley, South suggested, this material from outer space is all down market, like Italian television, and apparently everyone, although they do not really want to watch it because they would rather go to the opera but cannot afford it, tunes in and watches that unsuitable stuff, our public broadcasters will have to produce similar material to secure the viewers. That is the basis of the Peacock committee's thesis.
The Peacock report gives a few ideas but says to us, and, I hope, to the BBC, "Look ahead carefully. It takes time. How will you fit in in this new world which has not yet come along?"
We should have a public element of funding for the BBC for some time to come. I am not speaking on party political grounds, but one cannot justify continuing the full licence fee for much longer. As multiple choice arrives, 763 why should a compulsory tax—that is what the licence fee is because one cannot have a television set without having a licence— be levied to finance, for example, "Dallas" and "Dynasty" which are brought from America and are highly popular? Such programmes would multiply on the other channels, so why should the BBC offer the same?
Like the hon. Member for Paisley, South, I do not claim to be an elitist. I want the BBC to spend its money on the things that it does best, including popular programmes made by the BBC, for example, "Hi-De-Hi" and "The Two Ronnies". Those programmes regularly come at the top of the top 10. They cannot be made by commercial interests because, first, they cannot develop that sort of series because of the nursing and financing needed, and, secondly, because of the constriction of fitting in commercials. When Morecambe and Wise went over to the commercial station, the programme was constrained to roughly a 12½ minute slot before the commercials. There was an artificiality about some of those sketches, good though they were, which did not occur on the BBC's 45-minute programme, because their sketches could stretch to eight minutes, or even to 12, or go back to three minutes, or whatever they wanted. Timing constraints did not matter.
The BBC's genuine talent should be preserved in public service broadcasting. I am not saying that ITV and Channel 4 do not produce excellent shows; it is just a different system.
An element of licence fee should remain, but it should be pegged to a target which allows the BBC to remain independent but which has eventually and in the roughest of ways to be sketched out by Parliament. The Peacock committee rightly suggested that we might move towards a pay television socket being installed in all new sets in about a year's time. That is very important and a matter for technological advance. As those television sets come into use over a period of five years, if the BBC would move BBC2 to a subscription service, leaving BBCI paid for by licence fee, that would preserve the universal nature of one British channel, in BBC1, while BBC2 would be paid for.
The concept of paying for a channel is not as scandalous as one might think. When BBC first started, there was no way that individual payments could be made for the supply of what were then called wireless signals or crystal set signals, so another method had to be thought of and the licence became a universal tax. If there had been another way, I am sure that the corporation would have chosen to send a bill, as for the supply of electricity or the telephone. Indeed, we would not be having this debate because if everybody had paid for their television viewing the matter would have been straightforward. We have all paid to go to the cinema, which was the chief form of visual entertainment before television took off in the early 1950s.
I do not contemplate selling off Radios 1 and 2. As many hon. Members have said, there is nothing to sell except a couple of wavelengths. Jimmy Young can be sold off any day by the BBC or bought by anyone who attracted him. He is independent of the BBC. There is no property there for the BBC to sell, even if it were a good idea.
But we want some far-reaching reforms to cope with the new scene of, perhaps, a contracting BBC with fewer staff and a contracting BBC radio. I like the idea of beefing up the management board of the BBC so that the governors 764 become non-executive directors. That would be good. But having done that, I should like that board to run the BBC, not do the policing as well. I should then want to see one television authority policing—if that is the right word— or regulating the public service broadcast element of television and a separate radio authority doing the same for BBC radio, independent local radio and any national independent radio that comes along. In that way, the policemen—the governors, or whatever they are called— will be further away from the problems of management and routines within the BBC, but there will be a stronger board with non-executive directors looking after the day-to-day policy of the BBC.
I do not want to say much about the letter of the Conservative party chairman to the vice-chairman of the BBC, except to applaud the vice-chairman of the BBC because when he spoke in Edinburgh he said, rightly, that all politicians and all political parties always complain about the broadcaster. But, having said that, there are identifiable events, which have happened over the years, which we should draw together. One is the recent libel case against the BBC of my hon. Friends the Members for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) and for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth). I know that there are staff within the BBC who are muddled as a result of that case. I am not taking sides, but what was the BBC's management doing saying that it would fight the case and then withdrawing so quickly after a few days?
Secondly, there is the play about the Falklands by Mr. Curteis. I am not interested in the virtues of whether he was asked to write scenes differently, but I have not heard anyone contradict the fact that that play was apparently commissioned by the Director-General of the BBC As an old BBC man, I ask what the Director-General of the BBC is doing commissioning plays directly. He has many people to do that for him, such as the head of drama, whom he called in to go to see the playwright. That is not denied and that gentleman apparently went down to the playwright's house and talked about changes, forgetting that the BBC had appointed a producer for the venture, Mr. Messina, who had never been brought into the story. That is odd procedure within the BBC's management.
It is that odd procedure which I think gave rise to the guts of the chairman of the Conservative party's attempt to criticise. I do not go along with all his criticisms, but I should like to point to one specifically. It is a narrow point, but it is important because it has not had much publicity. As hon. Members will remember, the BBC admitted that there was one major failing and that has been discussed. But on page 20 of its response to the chairman of the Conservative party, in the first paragraph on the right, it also admitted that there were two sentences which, with hindsight, drew the wrong inference and were ill-advised. The first was:in Beirut and in London the terrorists and bombers have struck against the British people.The second sentence was:and the long arm of Arab revenge reaches Heathrow Airport.The BBC has admitted that it regrets the inclusion of those two sentences. I highlight them today because they illustrate where, perhaps through natural evolution and style, the BBC governors have something serious to look at. There was no attribution of those two sentences and they had language which was opinionated. In a sense, that is an example of the worries that some of us have about 765 clause 13(7) in the BBC's licence, which makes it clear that the BBC accepts that it has no opinions on political matters, except for broadcasting. When the staff reader is giving out such news it presents worries.
The only other example to which I want to refer now is the blurring of comment and hard news. I shall fight for the BBC governors' independence from Parliament and politics, but I sincerely hope that the governors will look seriously at those two issues and then many of the other things will come right.
This is the beginning of a long trail. I hope that after the election the Government will start to put in place the pegs for the policy change which we must have if we are not to see the end of public service broadcasting as we have known it.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
It is always interesting to hear the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Brinton) talking on a subject about which he has a great deal of knowledge and experience. Indeed, for someone such as myself thinking back to television in the 1950s, when he speaks he conjures up many of the images of the BBC at that time. I know that he is not as old as this, but "2 LO calling" and Alexandra palace come back as vivid images to me when I hear him. I shall be brief in view of what I said the other night, but I hope that the hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) will also catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so that we can have another blast from the past of the BBC.
One point that I want to take up with the hon. Member for Gravesham is that an element of editorialising is creeping into BBC news reporting. In many ways, that has come about because there is too much aping of Fleet street in the BBC at the moment. I was an official of the Association of Broadcasting Staffs when, with the National Union of Journalists, we were negotiating the newspaper allowance for the newsroom. The journalists were saying that they needed to have the daily newspapers in front of them in order to have the agenda for the news. The BBC should be separate in that sense. I should like to see far more investigative journalism coming from the BBC and far less of the worst practices of Fleet street beginning to infiltrate it.
Having said that, the debate is welcome. I have listened with interest and great care to the contributions that have been made. I am glad that we have been able to strike a fairly objective balance in the debate so far. However, that is not something which is going on in the rest of the media. I must put the blame for that firmly at the door of the chairman of the Conservative party and, indeed, the Prime Minister. The levels of paranoia that they have reached have taken them to the point where they seemed to believe that the BBC is run by Maoists and that the Church of England has become the Kremlin at prayer.
This is an interesting debate, but is it the most important thing that the House should he discussing? Britain faces many other problems as the Government's policies take us closer and closer towards economic and social chaos. When North sea oil runs out, Britain will become a banana monarchy, without the benefit of the bananas. There are many things that we could be discussing, but we seem to be discussing one of the few British institutions that is a success story and is recognized 766 as such all round the world. This is an interesting debate, but it cannot be the most important issue that faces the House or the country today.
The real crime that the BBC has committed in the eyes of the Government is not the crime of bias. We all have our feelings about bias in the BBC. Many of us on the Left regard the BBC as biased against the Left—and that was certainly true during the miners' strike. The real crime of the BBC in the eyes of the Government is that it is a public corporation. The Government are opposed to the public sector, whatever the body and whatever its social and economic worth. Therefore, we are talking not about careful consideration of the BBC in terms of its quality and social standing but about attacking a public corporation because the Prime Minister finds it objectionable on ideological grounds.
No doubt the Prime Minister and the chairman of the Conservative party would like to see the BBC as slavishly loyal to them as The Sun, the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, The Times, the Daily Telegraph and so on are. Many other people would prefer some objectivity in the news and reporting of current affairs. For all its faults, we are nearer to that objectivity in news reporting and current affairs with the BBC than we are with the mad dogs of Fleet street and Wapping.
It is obvious that the Government were disappointed with the outcome of the Peacock committee. Perhaps that does not include all the Government. I detected from what the Home Secretary said that he viewed with some suspicion the opinions of Peacock and will treat them with circumspection. There is sufficient feeling within both the House and the country for no or very few changes to come about in the BBC as a result of Peacock. On this occasion, I would be on the side of those advising caution.
Peacock did not deliver to the Prime Minister justification for her prejudices. She certainly wanted justification for the break-up of the BBC so that it could be sold off to the likes of Rupert Murdoch. Peacock did not provide that justification. It rightly rejected advertising, which would have been a bad choice. Many people want to choose to look at a television programme or listen to a radio programme without having the interference of advertisements. If there is to be any selling off of any parts of the BBC, and if the Government or the Prime Minister have their way and commercialism comes into the BBC, many people who do not want advertising on radio or television will have lost their choice.
The proposals in the Peacock report for the eventual replacement of the licence fee by subscription are unacceptable. I know that people do like not paying their licence fee. They also do not like paying their rates, taxes or bills. It is a natural reaction. However, for that £58 a year we get two television channels, four national radio channels, a great collection of local radio, and other services. That amount works out at about 15.8p per day. There is no national newspaper of which I can think that costs as little as 15.8p. Even The Sun, which can hardly be classified as a newspaper by any stretch of the imagination, costs 20p. The only objection that people have is that they do not normally pay their paper bill once a year. If they did they would realise what little value for money they are getting for newspapers such as The Sun and the Daily Mail. The licence fee must stay.
Alternatives have been canvassed. We have strayed away from the Peacock recommendations and this has given us an opportunity to trail a few coats. We could look 767 at the BBC's finances over five years, which would take them away from the normal term of Parliament. It should be set by an independent review body, which would take much of the politics out of the licence fee. It cannot be beyond the minds of the BBC governors, when considering their programmes, that they must go to the Government to ask for an increase in the licence fee. That would happen with any Government, because no Government like criticism, and this Government like it least of all. I hope that I am not boring the Minister too much. He keeps yawning.
If we were to have something like an independent review on a five-year basis, that could take the BBC out of the political arena in the direct and rather commercial sense. I do not believe that the market conditions about which Conservative Members have spoken improve the choice. The BBC offers the viewer and listener a great deal of choice. That is excellent, and we should want to defend it.
I say this with due deference to my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). I know that my right hon. Friend will soon be sitting on the Government Benches as the Home Secretary. However, I should like the BBC and broadcasting to be taken away from the Home Office. Many countries call such a department the Ministry of the Interior. There is something rather grating in having broadcasting in the hands of the Government Department that is responsible for police and prisons — even in the fair minded and capable hands of my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton. I want the BBC not in the Home Office, but, together with broadcasting, printing and publishing, in an enlarged Ministry for the Arts. We shall have to wait for a Labour Government to introduce that change.
External broadcasting should be taken away from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. In the minds of many people overseas, the connection between the financing of the BBC External Service and the Foreign Office means that the External Service is giving the opinions of the Government. It does not do so. It is one of the best services that we have, and I know that hon. Members on both sides of the House listen avidly to the World Service and hear a much better quality of news. It is strange that the further one moves along the dial, the more the quality of the news and stories changes, as broadcasters decide that they should shed or cut the news to meet what they see as the expectation of their audience. That is an unacceptable level of patronising.
We need to have far more access to broadcasting by the public. We have already had the discussion about community radio. Community groups, ethnic minorities and interest groups should be able to secure air time.
There should be a television channel delegated wholly and exclusively to the broadcasting of Parliament. People could dip in and out at any time in a debate that interests them. There would be no question of broadcasting authorities deciding what people are interested in. If Parliament is so essential to democracy, it should be available to all the people. The only way to do that is through television, as we are clearly limited in the space that we have in and around the Palace of Westminster.
We do not have a free press in terms of its objectivity or balance. The Sun is not crucial to the maintenance of democracy. However, I deeply believe that in the BBC we have a unique institution. The BBC is central to the maintenance of democracy. The language of democracy is 768 that impartial and objective reporting of the news should be available to everyone. For all its faults, I still believe that we get impartiality from the BBC, and if we meddle with it we do so to our cost.
§ Mr. Julian Critchley (Aldershot)
I agree with a great deal of what was said by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). Many of the high hopes of our ideologues regarding Peacock have been, happily, disappointed. First, there is to be no advertising for the BBC. That was always a foolish suggestion. Fortunately, it has been put on one side. Secondly, it was recommended that the licence fee should be indexed. We should do that in the middle term, and do it promptly. However, even by indexation we should still starve the BBC of additional resources over and above the rate of inflation.
There is a curious recommendation regarding the privatisation of Radios 1 and 2. I should have thought that both of them were vulgar enough. I use the word "vulgar" in the proper Latin sense of the word. Why should the BBC be restricted to Radios 3 and 4? The idea is crazy.
More significant is the recommendation regarding the future franchises for the ITV companies. Many of our newspapers are owned by foreigners who do not live in the United Kingdom. The House might care to look at that problem one day with a view to legislation. The idea that at a future date our independent companies will fall into the hands of Hugh Heffner is something that not even this House would welcome.
A few years ago a former chairman of the BBC governors and I talked over lunch about bias. He said, "You should not worry about news and current affairs; what you have to worry about is the drama department." However, if we think about it, we realise that all art is subversive, whether it be the 18th century theatre, the 19th century novel, the 20th century cinema or the "box" of the 21st century. Perhaps we need a Right-wing playwright like Jeffrey Archer.
Surely enough has been said about the dispute between the chairman of our great party and the BBC. The BBC must remain independent. It is one of our great state institutions. The monarchy and the BBC are probably the only two institutions in Great Britain that work. The BBC should be protected from the leaders of political parties in an election year. The electorate is far more interested in government than in politics. The chairman of the Conservative party has laid himself open to the charge of playing politics at this time.
I admire the courage of the chairman of the Conservative party—who does not? — and I enjoy his wit, which is very considerable, but I am under no obligation to agree with him on this issue, or on many others. It is an open secret that within the Cabinet the chairman of the Conservative party had doubts about the wisdom of the American attack on Libya. Therefore, all that he had to do, if he felt so strongly about the Libyan coverage, was to pick up the telephone and get through to a governor. That is the way it should have been handled.
I suspect that the advice that the Prime Minister ought to give to the chairman of the Conservative party is the advice that Mr. Attlee gave to Harold Laski— that on this issue, if on no other,a period of silence would be welcome.
§ Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)
I begin by declaring an interest. I have a very close association with the Association of Cinematograph, Television and Allied Technician, to which a few hon. Members on both sides of the House belong.
Before I turn specifically to the Peacock report, one essential point needs to be made, and I am glad that the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) has made it. It is the duty of this House to uphold absolutely the independence and impartiality of the BBC. It has an absolute right to tell the truth, no matter how unpalatable that truth may be, to any political party or to any Government, and to tell it interestingly and somtimes graphically. That is where, sometimes, the BBC may be open to criticism. Criticism can always to justified, but pressure is not justified. During the past few months the chairman of the Conservative party has been placing undue pressure, because of an imminent election, on the BBC. That is unacceptable. This House must uphold the impartiality and independence of the BBC.
The Peacock report has provided us with an opportunity to examine many of its specific recommendations and also to examine the general issue of the future of broadcasting in this country. I give a warm welcome to the rejection by the Peacock report of advertising on the BBC. Quite rightly the committee came to the conclusion that the pool of available advertising revenue is limited and that the imposition of advertising on the BBC would be detrimental to the existing independent television channels. That conclusion is completely valid and I welcome it. I sense that the Government have accepted that recommendation, although they have to say that they are keeping an open mind.
Also, we must acknowledge that the licence fee cannot and must not be unlimited. It cannot continue to rise for ever. I favour a standard licence fee, from which pensioners would be excluded, that would be topped up and complemented by funding from general taxation. That would have to be established by a mechanism that was independent of political debate between the parties in this House. It would be difficult to achieve such a mechanism, but that route would provide the best and the most suitable and progressive form of funding for the BBC.
Certain immediate and short-term issues arising out of Peacock and also out of the Home Secretary's speech today pose some important questions. Peacock proposed, though it was not a unanimous recommendation, that Radios 1 and 2 should be privatised and funded by advertising. Today the Home Secretary hinted that this issue is likely to be addressed in the Green Paper on radio, which is expected within the next few months.
If Radios 1 and 2 are to be privatised and funded by advertising, we have to make exactly the same point about the available radio advertising income as Peacock makes about television. Peacock tries to establish a quantum leap into a different generation of advertising that might be generated by the establishment of advertising on Radios 1 and 2. I do not believe that that would happen. There is a limited pool of available radio advertising, just as there is a limited pool of available television advertising. The imposition of advertising on Radios 1 and 2 would have a deleterious effect on independent local radio, which at present is funded by advertising revenue. It would also 770 have a deleterious effect on the remaining programmes that are broadcast by the BBC. That point has already been made and does not need to be greatly stressed.
We are entitled to ask the Minister of State, who is to reply to the debate, whether these proposals will be considered in the Green Paper and, if they are to be considered, what time scale the Government will seek to propose for the privatisation of Radios 1 and 2. The Government are playing their cards close to the chest on this issue and I hope that they will come forward with rather more information before the end of the debate.
The other related issue raised by Peacock and by the Government in their first response to the report is the proposed extension of television franchises for — if I heard the Home Secretary correctly—three years. In principle I have no specific objection to the extension of the existing franchises for a limited period. Nevertheless, we are surely entitled to ask how rapidly decisions will be made on whether or not changes to the franchise system should be adopted.
The Peacock proposal is for selling to the highest bidder, but the minimum standards point raised by the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) does not offer any real protection from competing operations. Going for the highest bidder will not necessarily present us with the best mixture of programming, style, content, educational and current affairs programmes, and we need such a mixture if we are to have good and decent television from the independent channels. I would be worried if that were in the Government's mind and if it were the real reason behind an immediate extension of the existing franchises. I am powerfully opposed to the Government going in that direction.
The major proposal in Peacock is the one for subscription television. The proposal is that a much freer market should be allowed in the availability of television programmes. The principle behind that is a perfectly valid and honourable desire for wider choice for the consumer, and surely we all support that. In addition, there is an entirely mistaken assumption that choice comes from the freest possible commercial market. We must challenge that assumption.
There is an illogicality in what Peacock recommends, because stage 2 of the forward-looking proposals says that we should have independent television still financed by advertising revenue and, therefore, free at the point of delivery to the consumer. It also says that side by side with that we should have subscription television provided by the BBC, for which people will have to pay hour by hour to watch. We do not need a free market economist to tell us that people's instant reaction will be to watch the free channel rather than the one for which they have to pay. The impact on BBC income would be disastrous, and if that proposal is adopted I fear for the long-term future of the BBC. It would not be logical to implement that recommendation. I hope that the Government will not choose the road of subscription television, but if they do they should introduce it not piecemeal for one channel or for a couple of channels, but simultaneously for all channels.
There are many flaws in the principle of free market, free-for-all competition for the provision of television, and that is the principle that underlies Peacock. Of course, it fits in perfectly with much of the Government's philosophy, and for that reason I can see why it may be 771 attractive to the Government. The first flaw is that it will discriminate against the poor, the unemployed and pensioners if they have to pay to watch television. Such people spend most of their leisure time watching television.
Secondly, it leaves the market open to predatory multinational ownership of precisely the kind that we see in the tabloid press. I do not want to see that happening to British television. Thirdly, it will inevitably drive quality towards the lowest common denominator and bring about fierce and vicious competition for the highest ratings and the highest income from programmes. Fourthly, in reality it will not provide sufficient income to enable minority interest programmes to be well made and provided on anything like a regular scale. Fifthly, Peacock envisages deregulation as a component in opening up the free market, and that would lead us to far fewer safeguards than we have under the present system of guidelines. Sixthly, a proposal of this kind ignores the educational and cultural roles played by television, and those things are important parts of our national life and culture.
For all those reasons, subscription television and the free market principle that underlies it are not appropriate for a good television service for our people. The basic philosophies enshrined in Peacock and the illogical and incoherent conclusions contained in the report will do nothing to enhance choice. They will damage the standards and availability of public service broadcasting. Of course, our present broadcasting network has its faults and failings, but on the whole it has served us well. The Peacock recipe would certainly not improve it.
§ Mr. Gerald Howarth (Cannock and Burntwood)
I do not entirely agree with the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), but he has certainly made a serious contribution to the debate and attempted to be brief. I shall attempt to do the same, and for the purposes of my speech I shall assume that the lights have gone out. I hope my hon. Friends will understand that, having observed a self-imposed silence for nearly three years, there are one or two things that I would now like to say and that it may not be possible to encompass them all in as short a time as I would like. However, I shall be as swift as possible.
It is common ground in the House that much of what the BBC puts out is excellent and of the highest standard, and that is that which we hear around the world. I listened to the World Service broadcast about the Falklands victory while huddled over a wireless in Lagos. I was with a number of other expatriates and we heard Lily Bolero being broadcast to Nigeria. The voice which said, "This is London", had something special and authoritative about it. Having said that, I must add that there are serious shortcomings in the management of the BBC and that is manifesting itself most clearly in the area of current affairs.
My principal worry is not so much about bias, although that is a factor, but about accountability and the maintenance of professional standards about which the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury spoke. If I refer to the recent High Court actions which affected my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) and me, it is not out of any sense of wishing to have a go at the BBC or in any sense being vindictive. It is a matter of speaking about an experience which, fortunately, few hon. Members have had. Indeed, few people in the country have 772 had such an experience, and I believe it is my duty to raise in the House matters arising from that experience. I hope that the House will understand that.
In 1984 the BBC produced a publication entitled "It's your BBC". How right that is, but the actions of the BBC contradict that title. The BBC should be held in trust for the British people, but instead in recent years it has increasingly become the plaything of the board of management and of a minority of journalists. Quite unlike Parliament, it is a uniquely powerful institution. We are among the most accountable of people. There are no secret votes or secret debates here. The BBC is unlike the trade unions whose members benefit from an increasing amount of accountability and democracy. It is unlike the press or even commercial television. It is accountable to no one. Ministers cannot answer for its day-to-day activities. There are no shareholders to stir up trouble at an annual general meeting. Yet we all have to pay this compulsory £58 levy simply for the privilege of owning a television, even if we refuse to watch the output of the BBC. The only available sanction is the parliamentary approval required for an increase in the licence fee and the power of the Government to appoint governors.
The argument runs that it is to the board of governors itself that the corporation is accountable. That argument has been mentioned a number of times by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Mr. Duke Hussey, the new chairman of the BBC, was reported in last week's edition of The Sunday Times as having told the chairman of the Conservative party:It was the job of the governors to uphold the charter of the BBC.How real is the grip of the governors, that band of 12 good men and ladies true, who speak for the nation? I am sure that they are worthy and excellent people. Well known they may be to many television viewers, but I confess that I do not know and am not familiar with a number of governors of the BBC. It is to them that the nation looks for the protection that everybody agrees they are unwilling to put into other hands. I do not know whether hon. Members know, but there is a national governor for Wales, a national governor for Scotland and another for Northern Ireland. Despite the fact that England produces 93 per cent. of the corporation's income, there is no national governor for England. I wonder who, on the board of governors, speaks for England.
§ Mr. Howarth
Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes), if he is on the board.
The former BBC vice chairman, Sir William Rees-Mogg, quoted in an excellent article in the first issue of The Independent of 7 October, which was slightly at variance with subsequent remarks he made, said:The Governors, miserably underpaid, take responsibility for an organisation they have ceased to control …They feel themselves to be under the influence of continual bureaucratic manipulation, and read in the newspapers of decisions taken in their name of which they often thoroughly disapprove.Further extracts from that article have been quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton.
It is the fault not entirely of the governors, but of the system that they operate. If they are the body to whom the 773 BBC is accountable, and Sir William Rees-Mogg is right and they do not have control, the BBC has become de facto unaccountable, because, we are told, it is the board of governors which is answerable for the actions of the BBC.
I am sure it is common ground across the House—and I agree—that the BBC must remain independent of the Government and of any undue political influence from any quarter.
The corporation's reaction over recent weeks shows, however, that it is willing neither to brook any criticism nor to take proper action following that criticism. With an Olympian arrogance as unique as its status, the BBC effectively claims diplomatic immunity. This attitude—this overbearing arrogance—is evident. This unwillingness to respond to any criticism is endangering the very independence of the BBC itself. Those in the corporation who stick their heads in the sand are damaging that which they claim to hold most dear.
The BBC, in its own handbook, recognises the relationship between its prized independence and high professional standards. It states:Without genuine independence, it is difficult, if not impossible, for broadcasters to maintain the highest standard of truthfulness and impartiality.It goes on to say:Conversely"—this is quite right—without having established a reputation for just those qualities it is difficult for any broadcasting organisation to he recognised as being truly independent and worthy of trust.In other words, it accepts that the price of independence is to uphold the highest possible standards of truth, decency and integrity. Some of those who work in the corporation are in danger of forfeiting that trust and thereby endangering the independence that we all wish them to have.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tatton mentioned the guidelines drawn up by Mr. Alan Protheroe and how they have been so flagrantly breached. I shall refer only to one — that information from pressure groups is often tendentious and is a filter between the programme and the primary source. The only guard against manipulation of lobbyists is the professionalism of the programme maker. In the case of the "Panorama" programme, not only was the evidence taken from the lobbyist, but the lobbyist was on the research team. Mr. Gerry Gable, a former Communist party candidate and convicted burglar—
§ Mr. Howarth
I must tell the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) that these are the facts of the matter. He has tried in the House to raise matters on behalf of Mr. Gable, who has conducted a most scurrilous campaign, through this programme and by other means, against my hon. Friends. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that nothing that has been said in the House today has not been said outside.
The BBC has made a grave mistake in breaching the guidelines. I shall not draw attention to any more. Let us leave the "Panorama" programme to one side. Clearly, I have a close—closer than I should have wished—interest in "Panorama." "Rough Justice" has been alluded to. Those people were responsible for that travesty, which was 774 so strongly criticised in the courts. If that had been the behaviour of others, it would have been the subject of investigative journalism by the BBC. As I understand it. those people are still in the corporation. There was "Monocled Mutineer" — the rewriting of history—and Ian Curteis's play, that scandalous action which my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Brinton) mentioned. Something which has not been mentioned is the poaching by the BBC of ITV film in April of this year concerning Princess Michael of Kent. The BBC deliberately videoed the ITV output and stuck it on the BBC, pretending that it was part of their original film.
Behaviour like that is intolerable. I shall not allude to the submission by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, apart from saying that I think that he was right, because I watched both programmes. Let me leave any further argument aside and mention that the BBC recently put out a questionnaire inviting the public to comment on that attack by the chairman of the Conservative party. The question that was put to the public was:Do you think the Conservative party is right to try and influence the way the BBC covers news items, or should it leave such matters to the BBC governors and managers?That is not what the chairman of the Conservative party was on about. He was not saying that it was the job of the Conservative party to influence that programme; he was saying that those responsible for that programme had got it wrong. We all make mistakes from time to time. My wife tells me that even I do occasionally. It is the BBC's willingness to brook any criticism that is so unacceptable. The fact that such a disingenuous question was put to the public proves a degree of malevolence which is thoroughly undesirable.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tatton mentioned a number of outstanding libel actions and the number of times the BBC had to pay out large sums in damages. I draw attention to just one. In March 1985, the Grunwick film processing company and its director, Mr. George Ward, won substantial damages and all their legal costs for false allegations on "Open University". The press stated:This was 'the latest in a series of damages awards'. Grunwick was libelled twice on the same matter in Open University; the BBC paid damages twice on the first libel then repeated it.That is thoroughly bad management, at the very least.
Turning from the political arena, there is great anxiety in the commercial world as well. It is not simply politicians who feel that they are getting a raw deal from the BBC. I do not know whether you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or hon. Members saw a quarter page advertisement in The Times and other newspapers on 22 May 1985 by the British School of Motoring. I believe that it is a supporter of the Liberal party, although I am not sure. That proves that this matter is across party lines. It is to do with standards; it is nothing to do with bias. The BSM advertisement said that the BBC was expected to transmit a programme which it felt was thoroughly unfair. The first point was:The BBC is not prepared to specify any of the particular allegations or criticisms which will be made of BSM in the forthcoming programme sufficiently to give BSM an opportunity to investigate the matter.That type of lousy journalistic standard is a breach of the Protheroe guidelines. It is not a breach of my standards or those of my hon. Friends or Labour Members; it is a breach of the BBC's own standards. It is a breach of decent 775 standards, and that is the problem. The BBC does that because the licence fee arrangement gives it a guaranteed income.
I was slightly distressed to hear my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary say that it was reasonable for the BBC to require a predictable income. Few organisations have that privilege. I do not see why the BBC should not be subject to pressure from the need to satisfy customers in funding its activities. I do not believe that the BBC should be immune in the way it is when it can use licence payers' money to freeze out those who wish to take action against it in the courts but do not have the necessary resources. This is not an attack on investigative journalism, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks)—investigative journalism has its place —but it is not a licence to defame and rob people of their livelihoods and reputations.
The essence of the BBC's case against the introduction of advertising has been that it cannot allow its high standards to be sullied by commercialism, yet the catalogue which I have outlined at the very least shows cause for concern and generates a demand for answers which have not been forthcoming. The BBC remains silent. There have been no investigations, inquiries, sackings or resignations. If we had lost our action, all the journalists would have been on our doorsteps. "Doorstepping" is an expression used in journalism. I am told that it means getting one's foot in the door, ramming a microphone up someone's nostrils and getting him to comment with the arc lights on him. That would have happened to us.
The BBC has been able to go to ground. No journalist from the BBC has gone to ask Mr. Milne how he came to lose £500,000 of licence payers' money—the same has been true in all the other actions I mentioned—and no journalist from the newspapers has done so either. Mr. Milne can simply go to ground in a way that we in the House cannot. Of course the BBC is human and capable of making mistakes. Unless it accepts that, it cannot expect to impose its compulsory levy on the rest of us.
I should like to conclude by making a number of short recommendations. The licence fee must be frozen. Any increased revenue required to fund its programme plans should be met from the sale of programmes, by contracting out work, in the way that Channel 4 does, by advertising or by a combination of the three. The board of governors must be strengthened with people who can take a much closer interest in what is going on. The suggestion of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan), the former Home Secretary, for a unified board may be the answer. The board must take a closer interest in current affairs. It must ensure that those libel actions which have been outstanding for three months are properly looked at to ensure that there is no repetition of the recent fiasco which involved my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton and me. Those journalists whose behaviour falls below the standards that the BBC itself sets and whose slipshod actions result in the corporation and, therefore, the licence payers incurring substantial loses must be disciplined. I hope that the board will take that action to heart and see it not as a vindictive response to what has recently happened, but as a constructive approach to try to get some sense.
§ 9.5 pm
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) has disappeared from the Chamber, but he tempts me to evoke the glowing embers of the past by referring to the days when I was involved in the BBC. However, I shall resist that temptation, as time is moving on. I have no wish to join in the dispute, although my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth) has my sympathy, as I was once involved in a libel case, but I have no doubt that many sections of our community have felt unfairly treated by the BBC during the past decade.
On the whole, standards have not been as high as they should have been. It is tempting for me to say that they were higher when I was involved in current affairs. There was certainly a redoubtable woman, Mrs. Grace Wyndham Goldie, who was very tough and rigorous when dealing with young producers, researchers and interviewers. I suspect that that rigorousness no longer has quite the force that it used to have. It may have something to do with the fact that the edifice has expanded and that the interaction between senior producers, heads of department, assistant heads of department and young sprouts straight from university is not as close as it should be.
I declare an interest as a non-executive director of London Weekend Television. I believe that the BBC and ITV are, on the whole, great success stories. Their success no doubt stems largely from the fact that as a people we are rather good at television, just as we are rather good at writing, acting and producing for the theatre. I must tell my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that that success also has something to do with the structure that we have devised. It has been a pretty good example of a mixed economy. The ecology is changing and the airways spectrum is widening. We can now get more companies involved, and there is DBS and cable. All that will encourage new entrants.
It is wholly understandable that many of my hon. Friends should begin to think seriously about dismantling the structure that has been patiently built up and about leaving broadcasting to market forces, such as newspapers, books and magazines, but I believe that that course could he disastrous. Equally, it would be foolish to let things go on and to do nothing, because the new ecology will have a marked effect on broadcasting. In order to survive and flourish our broadcasting institutions will need to change, but there are three reasons why I counsel caution, and why I believe that we should think most carefully and allow the Government to take their time about the changes that should be adopted.
First, as the hon. Member for Newham, North-West said, the industry is prosperous. We do not have many examples of this in this country, and I do not want the Government to muck about with it so that we are left with something that is less workable. The industry makes good profits, provides many jobs and provides the Chancellor of the Exchequer with a lot of money. Secondly, the industry as a whole has shown itself to be not only responsible but responsive.
The company with which I am involved, London Weekend, is involved in a consortium for DBS. Also, along with other companies, in January of this year, using a low-powered satellite, British programmes will be linked into European cable. I reckon that that will provide the 777 best of British and do a lot of good on the Continent. The BBC should be given time to adjust, and it also has its own ideas for the future. Some of them may be a little bigger than the BBC can afford, but it is not lacking in ideas for future programmes.
Thirdly, the new DBS stations are not in place, so we need not panic. Many people have yet to come into the market, and so it would be unwise of the Government to rush in with ill thought out reforms. The Government and Parliament have adequate time to analyse, reflect and ultimately to propose changes that will, I hope, enable our traditional broadcasting organisations to adapt successfully.
Consequently, I urge my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary not to rush into the idea of abolishing the present licence system that finances the BBC and to make it wholly dependent on advertising. I am shocked that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) should suggest a subscription. I can think of no evidence to show that a large national broadcasting corporation, which covers a wide spectrum of broadcasting, can be financed by subscription. It is the sort of begging bowl, low-powered broadcasting system that is found in the United States, and I cannot see how it will do the BBC any good.
It seems that the public do not resent the licence fee, but they may as DBS and cable television proliferate. When that time arrives, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, with the BBC, will have ready and waiting other means that will supplement the licence fee, including pay TV.
I ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary not to scrap the present method of applying for commercial franchises by substituting for it an auction. I shall not develop that argument, because the weaknesses of the Peacock committee's proposals have been adequately exposed during the debate. It is a bad idea for one basic reason: it will weaken the public service feature of commercial television. With this in mind, I hope that my right hon. Friend will be careful about severing the links of the commercial contractors with Channel 4. That may give greater independence to Channel 4, but to sever all links would be a serious step to take. The present link enables popular programming to feed minority programmes. London Weekend has proposed a long programme on the trial of Lee Harvey Oswald and the entire programme will be broadcast on Sunday afternoon by Channel 4.
I suspect that the linking of popular programmes with minority programmes is one reason why the BBC is so popular. The licence system is more successful than any other I know in combining popular and minority tastes at peak viewing times, and I would not want to see that unique element disappear.
More positively, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will embrace the Peacock proposal to increase the proportion of programming made by independent producers. This should help to keep costs down and encourage new talent and innovation. I welcome my right hon. Friend's intention to continue to welcome the participation of new consortia in broadcasting by satellite.
I am far from happy about my right hon. Friend's proposals to privatise Radio 1—
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith
I am sorry. Yes, I understand that. Those who are involved in local radio have a tough enough time anyway without having that extra burden to bear.
I conclude by saying that I am glad to see my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on the Front Bench. I urge him to accept change in a manner that will enable the best of our excellent broadcasting traditions to be carried forward into the next century. It would be a pity if they were buried by new technology.
§ Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)
The last occasion on which I was able to speak on television licensing was in the last Adjournment debate on a Friday before the House went into recess. On that occasion I had the company of a duty Minister, a duty Whip and the duty Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall repeat this evening some of the comments that I made on that occasion, but I want to make it clear that they are what I said previously and do not constitute second sight.
I am in favour of the abolition of the television licence, but there is a danger that the anomalous position in which we find ourselves — further exclusion will only make things more difficult—will lead to far greater problems. I have not yet come to a conclusion on how the licence system should be replaced.
I was delighted to know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, after he had responded to my Adjournment debate on 25 May, when he said that nothing would be done about television licensing, was reported in The Sunday Times 10 days afterwards as saying:Who should pay for television? The Government are considering alternative means, says Douglas Hurd.I must have been heard on that occasion, if not read very widely.
I find from my own researches into television licensing that some extraordinary statements are made, especially about the elderly and the disabled. As the law stands, an elderly person can have his television supplied and television licence paid for by his local authority.
§ Mr. Holt
If hon. Members wish to dispute that, they should take note that I am referring to House of Commons research note No. 105, which states:Local authorities have the power under the Health Services and Public Health Act 1968 to make arrangements for promoting the welfare of old people. According to a written answer in 1973, this covers the provision of television and licences for elderly people, although the extent to which the provision is made is a matter for the individual local authority.It is not untrue unless the House of Commons Library has produced a false research note. I say to those who suggest that it is untrue that the people of Rotherham have been especially well supplied as a consequence of that. When I obtained the research notes, 18,493 people had been helped, of whom 12,726 lived in Rotherham. They all received a £7 subsidy towards their television licences.
§ Mr. Holt
No, I shall not give way because I have waited for six hours to speak. How long has the hon. Gentleman waited?
I wish to develop further the value-for-money argument — whether we are receiving what we should from the BBC. For some considerable time, standards have been dropping. I must defend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in carrying out his duties. It was not the imagination of the entire Conservative party that caused everyone to write letters to the BBC or to Conservative Members to complain about bias. One need only read the media monitoring report which has just been published—
§ Mr. Holt
I am not suggesting for one moment that it is neutral. It identifies the cases where there is bias to the Left and to the Right. Even if the report is not as entirely accurate as it should be, we should not place the BBC under a microscope in that way to discern whether there is bias. The report alleges that 94 per cent. of programmes such as "Open Space" have a Left-wing bias. That is not even-handed. Then it suggested that "TV Eye" on ITV was biased. According to the report, none of the programmes is biased in favour of the Right.
Something must be wrong and we must consider what it is. Perhaps it is the management of the BBC, which is in the hands of Mr. Alasdair Milne. I refer specifically to the Ian Curteis play. Yesterday, I had the opportunity of meeting Mr. Curteis after corresponding with him. Therefore, I obtained full details about what has happened with his play. My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Brinton) said that he had heard allegations that Mr. Milne had commissioned the play, although he had no evidence of that. I have evidence because Mr. Milne wrote a letter to me on 14 November which states:Ian was commissioned to write a play by me in the summer of 1983 and took rather longer to finish it than was expected.It is alleged that Mr. Curteis was late in finishing his play, but he asserts that he was dissuaded from continuing his play at the time of a dispute between the BBC and the Ministry of Defence. Consequently, the play was not completed by the commissioned date of 31 December 1983. Mr. Curteis was not asked to recommence writing it until July 1985. The play is now complete, but what worries me—it should concern Opposition Members and everyone in the House— is that Mr. Milne personally exercised a judgment that the play was not to be performed because, in his opinion, it was likely to affect the outcome of the next general election, whenever that might be.
I will quote another letter. Mr. Milne must be away an awful lot as in September I received a reply from the Assistant Director-General and the reply to my letter of 2 October was dated 20 October and came from the Deputy Director-General. The letter of 20 October states:The decision to schedule the production and transmission of the play after the next General Election was taken by the Director-General in the knowledge that it dealt with recent history in a way that would be likely to lead to controversy. In particular, there were obvious difficulties in directing actors to portray serving politicians in the run-up to an election.If that is so, why did the Director-General commission the play in the first place?
§ Mr. Holt
No, I will not give way.
Having commissioned the play, the Director-General did not like the content so he tried, through Mr. Goodchild, to force Mr. Curteis to rewrite the play, which had received critical acclaim from independent people. When that attempt failed, he shelved the play, saying that it might affect the outcome of the general election. What right has he to make that decision?
§ Mr. Holt
Has ITV been consulted? Is there a coterminous date after which anything liable to affect the outcome of a general election is shelved at the behest of one man and without reference to anyone else? That is the kind of thing that needs to be looked into and the kind of thing that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and members of the Conservative party have been complaining about.
§ Mr. Holt
It is not pleasant to have to indulge in this form of character assassination, but the honesty and standing of the BBC have been under the microsope today and it is from the top that we must examine them.
As I wish to leave some time for my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) to speak, I shall not be able to expand further on the cases of bias about which I personally have written to the BBC in the past 18 months, but out of 47 instances the BBC admitted bias in only one—the 6.30 am religious broadcast, "Lift up your Hearts".
§ Mr. Holt
The BBC cannot be right all the time. That is part of our argument with it. The new chairman must he given the opportunity to deal with the problems within the BBC. In a truncated debate such as this, it is difficult to deal in a structured manner with the three aspects under discussion—the finance, management and political bias of the BBC—and to deal with each point definitively, but I urge the Government not to come to any urgent or early conclusions. In my view, the Peacock report is a half-cock report, and does not provide the answer. Perhaps it was to be an interim report, but there must be a further and proper examination of the finance, management and political aspects of the BBC. I am told that it is not political influence from without by politicians such as ourselves that needs more thorough examination, but the politics of influence from within. Perhaps an independent body should be brought in to carry out that examination.
§ Mr. Michael Morris (Northampton, South)
I gave evidence to the Peacock committee because I suspected that the role of advertising would be misunderstood. As I had been a director of a major advertising company for some 13 years, until a few years ago, I felt that I ought to 781 submit a paper that explained in reality how advertising was bought by advertising agencies. It is sad that the report ignored not just my evidence but the evidence from the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising.
I suspect that the only people who really welcome the Peacock report are the ITV companies who managed to persuade the Peacock committee that the bonanza of the past 10 years was about to burst and that the growth in advertising expenditure, which had run at the rate of 7 per cent. in real terms, was about to end. Reality, of course, has been totally different. As forecast by the IPA and myself, the bonanza has continued. It has continued because the old trade cycle, which was influenced by the packaged goods manufacturers, who used to be the heavy advertisers, has changed. New advertisers have come in from the world of finance, leisure and other industries which are less affected by the traditional trade cycle. That major point was ignored by the Peacock committee, yet that has a major impact on whether, from a financial point of view, the BBC should consider taking advertising and whether the small TV companies will go to the wall.
I suggest to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that if one looks at the history of television, as several hon. Members have done, it is clear that the beginning of ITV raised standards. That would be commonly accepted across the House. When ITV first came in, it raised standards not only at the BBC but within the ITV organisation. If a pay television system is introduced—I do not support it—surely there is an analogy with the press. Tomorrow morning, any of us could buy for 75p a copy of The Times that has no advertisements in it, but we do not. Instead, we pay 25p because it contains advertisements—
§ Mr. Morris
The hon. Gentleman may not buy it. He probably buys The Guardian, which is equally subsidised by advertisements.
The choice is available as regards pay television—perhaps a mixture of part pay and part advertising. The key point that I wish to address in the three minutes remaining to me relates to the vital question asked by the chairman of the Peacock committee, whether programming standards would fall if advertising were introduced on the BBC. It is sad to record that only 10 paragraphs, covering just two pages, deal with that vital question. There is the evidence of the National Opinion Poll, which shows that, roughly speaking, 80 per cent. of people do not believe that advertising would be an adverse dimension on television, while the remaining 20 per cent. — whose views are reflected by many hon. Members—believe that it would.
The Peacock committee states that if the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers' model was followed it would have a detrimental effect on the BBC. Evidence was also submitted from the IPA model, as well as other models, all of which suggested that there should continue to be regulations to control the output from the commercial sector. The committee quotes at great length from Mr. Fremlin and Miss Rantzen, but these are highly personalised contributions and, frankly, many of us would wish to see them refuted.
Peacock argues that advertisers would buy space on a programme which had many viewers—10 million for a 782 comedy programme—instead of on an arts programme which had just 6 million viewers. That is absolute rubbish. The success of Channel 4 and the advertising space that is bought by advertisers on that channel demonstrates that advertisers want a spectrum—a range—of programmes which have different viewers. No advertiser wants to keep hammering away at the same viewer. Advertisers want width and a range of programmes.
When people suggest that the standards of ITV are lower than those of the BBC, we all know that that is a travesty of the truth. It is interesting to look at the export figures —£82 million from ITV and just £24.5 million from the BBC.
Today a great problem faces my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. The revenue figure forecast by the IPA is that by 1990 there will be a £1,000 million difference in the revenue available to the BBC from the licence fee compared to the advertising revenue available to ITV. That means an unfair situation and that resources are mismatched. Frankly, I see no evidence from the Peacock committee to show that that gap will be closed.
If I find the Peacock report disappointing, I suppose that there is a little hope from across the Channel, where the Commission of the EEC, both in its Green Paper "Television without Frontiers" and in its proposed directive, recognises and welcomes the role of advertising. The assumption it makes is that broadcast advertising will be recognised and extended. That is a challenge that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State should address when he considers these matters.
§ Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)
This has been a quiet and thoughtful debate so far. I understand why the hon. Members for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) and for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth) said what they did, although I wish that they had left much of it unsaid. Let us not forget that the start of the affair over the "Panorama" programme was not only allegations from the Labour party, but a report drawn up by the Young Conservatives concerned about extremist Right-wing infiltration into the Conservative party. As a result of the settlement, the experienced BBC journalists involved in the making of that programme have been denied the opportunity of putting their point of view and being able to defend their actions.
I say this to the two hon. Members in their absence. If Gerry Gable, whom they bad-mouthed in the House tonight, does no more, he should stand high in our praise for unmasking the Conservative candidate in Stockton, South at the last general election as a former National Front candidate in the last two elections in 1974 in my constituency of Birmingham, Erdington. It is to the credit of the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) that when he went there, having found that out, he refused to share a platform with Mr. Finnegan.
It is a pity that the debate has taken place against a background of sustained abuse and hostility towards broadcasters generally and the BBC in particular, which reveals the extreme face of Conservatism. [Interruption.] I thought that that would bring a protest. That is not my judgment about extremism, but the judgment of most of the electors in today's Gallup poll in the Daily Telegraph. Most voters asked to identify which party they saw as the most extreme opted — quite rightly — for the Conservatives. Fifty-two per cent. of them said that the 783 Conservatives were extreme and 34 per cent. saw them as moderate, a word which the chairman of the Tory party, if he were here, would instantly reject. Thank you, Tory party chairman. It will surprise no one that his lone rantings have shown up so dramatically and quickly in the polls.
The right hon. Gentleman is coy about answering questions in the House. He will be more coy tonight, because he is not here, but I have two questions for him. First, if, as has been alleged, the complaints were made in his role as chairman of the Tory party, and in that sense as a private individual rather than a putative Minister of truth, why did he not send them straight to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, which his Government set up? Secondly, if, as he and some of his hon. Friends imply, the BBC is riddled with Trots and Marxists, can he explain how that happened? Has he forgotten that until last year at least every editorial appointment at the BBC was vetted by a grey man in a small office in Broadcasting House? Is that MI5 failing again in its duty?
What the Tory party chairman wants to achieve and this applies to other extremists in his party—was demonstrated yesterday when ITN's "News at One" came from 10 Downing street. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) said, there were 14 minutes of the Prime Minister. He had complaints from his constituents that they should not have to watch that while eating their lunch— it put them off. The broadcast ended with the words:This is Leonard Parkin and Margaret Thatcher at Downing Street.Doubtless there will be no complaints about bias there.
Broadcasting will clearly experience more change more quickly than ever before. If that leads to continuing high standards and increased access to groups and interests that are now denied it and widens the scope of information that is available to listeners and viewers, I shall welcome it. Other people, however, have other benefits in mind. They see a chance to make more money and to strip away the protections offered by the BBC board of governors and the Independent Broadcasting Authority. They would privatise and let the people with the deepest pockets and purses take over, just as they have all but dominated the national press and turned Fleet street into a giant bingo hall. That is what lies behind calls for so-called competition and freedom of choice. The route that is advocated by Peacock and supported by the Government would restrict choice to those who are able to pay.
Peacock's argument, and that of the Government, is wrongly based, because they regard broadcasting as consumer driven rather than citizen driven. There is an important difference. Everybody is supposed to be an equal citizen under our law, but all consumers are not equal. What kind of consumer choice do the 4 million jobless people have? How real is consumer choice for the millions of pensioners who are forced on to means-tested supplementary benefit? What consumer preference can be exercised by the 5 million who are at work but on coolie-level wages?
Peacock and the Government want, not pay television, but no pay no television, further to deny the 16 million people who live in poverty any real place in society. It has been asserted today that we pay for BBC television but that somehow we get commercial television free. There is 784 no such thing as free television. There are two ways in which to pay for television — through the licence, or each time we shop.
Supposedly free commercial television costs about 4p for every hour of viewing. It is paid at the supermarket checkout and over the lounge bar, irrespective of whether the programmes are watched. The cost of advertising is drawn from all consumers and puts an estimated 15p on a jar of coffee and 10p on a packet of tea bags. Free commercial television costs each household an estimated £55 a year, as opposed to £58 for the BBC licence, which provides a wider choice and a national service.
§ Mr. Brinton
I know that the hon. Gentleman has experience in marketing matters. Has he considered that advertising keeps down the price of goods?
§ Mr. Corbett
That is another story. I am not making that point at all.
We accept that the BBC licence fee is regressive and hits hardest people with the least cash. That is why, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said, we are pledged to phase out the licence for all pensiioners. [HON. MEMBERS: "Phase out?"] Phase out. The vast majority of viewers can and do pay the licence in return for programmes which are generally recognised as among the best in the world.
No Opposition Member is saying that the BBC is perfect. Many of us would argue that, if bias exists, it is a bias against the Labour party, but that it is by no means as great as the bias against Labour in the pro-Tory national press.
There was an interesting Gallup poll in July 1986. People were asked:Do you think BBC programmes tend to be biased against any political party?Some 26 per cent. said yes and 59 per cent. said no. They were then asked:Which party do you think the BBC is biased against?The reply was Conservative 34 per cent., Labour 51 per cent. That does not prove the point, but it reveals people's perceptions.
The banner of so-called competition as advocated by Peacock will not wash. We assert our unshakeable commitment to public service broadcasting, where chasing the ratings to attract advertising is not the main reason for making or showing programmes. Down that route lies round-the-clock "Eastenders" and the equivalent of a junk food diet.
If it is all about giving viewers what they want, we had better know what they do want. The Broadcasting Research Unit asked viewers what they expected. Ninety-seven per cent. said that television should entertain, 93 per cent. said that it should inform, and 84 per cent. said that it should educate. Those preferences do not live in separate boxes, and most programmes are a mix. Those preferences show that the viewers are not the mindless morons which the likes of the sewer Sun take them to be. Those preferences will be ignored and overridden in the quest for profit if bits of the Beeb are flogged and ITV licences auctioned to the highest bidder and, no doubt, those with the lowest standards.
It is the same with the notion of pay television. Peacock said that the decoder cost between £100 and £150 in the United States. How are the millions on supplementary and welfare benefits expected to pay that on top of the cost of the price of a new set? Among the heaviest viewers of 785 television are pensioners and those denied work. How much will they have to pay to view what they want, and where will the cash come from? Just imagine a pay television channel buying up the cup final, the State Opening of Parliament or the Queen's Christmas message — the sky would be the limit as to what they could charge both viewers and advertisers.
It is no wonder that the distinguished Professor Alastair Hetherington, a Peacock committee member, said:It is daft because no one has thought out what could be sold.The same is true of plans for advertising. Where is the extra advertising supposed to come from at a time of recession? Advertising on ITV rose by about 14 per cent. in 1981–82 and 19 per cent. in 1982–83, but slipped back to 10.8 per cent., to reach about £1,000 million, in 1984.
There are many in the industry who believe that advertising has reached a plateau. Advertising on the BBC would hurt both commercial television and the radio stations, many of which are now struggling to make ends meet, as the latest rental reduction agreed by the Government shows. It would also impact on the share of advertising carried by provincial morning and evening newspapers, as well as some consumer magazines. Peacock failed to understand that advertising is not confined to one section of the media, because many campaigns have a carefully chosen media mix.
It is suggested that there are no controls on the broadcasters. That is rubbish. Both the BBC and ITV have standards to meet and machinery to deal with complaints. Neither wants signals that the Government intend to stiffen controls. The NUJ, with many members in broadcasting, has this week established an ethics council to investigate complaints in broadcasting and the media generally from those who work in it and the public. Indeed, it invited the Tory party chairman to send his silly dossier to the council, but he has not yet responded. TVS and the NUJ have agreed guidelines for the conduct of interviews, and the NUJ and ACTT are developing a joint policy on a right of reply. The Home Secretary has been asked to meet the NUJ over broadcasting policy, and I very much hope that he will respond to that request.
Labour wants a vibrant, independent, responsive and responsible system of broadcasting, with a regulatory system which encourages rather than restricts, and which does not limit access to television and radio to those who can pay. That is why we want the go-ahead for community radio development and the building up of regional television and radio, to let more voices be heard, especially from those currently denied access, or find it difficult, in our many ethnic communities.
Satellite broadcasting, properly run and handled, can cross frontiers which now separate us and in its way make a better contribution to improving understanding between peoples. Our democracy will survive and flourish if we preserve and promote what is best in our broadcasting and if we widen and sustain the BBC's role in public service broadcasting. The mix of this mixed economy gives us the best of both worlds. That is why we want to build on it rather than tear it down and let cash alone determine what we view.
The Government and Peacock pose serious threats to the worldwide justified reputation of the BBC, which is rightly described as the envy of the world. All that could 786 be put at risk or lost by the Government, as Professor Hetherington said. Once again the Government have shown that they know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Mellor)
Perhaps I can begin by paying warm tribute to those who sat with Professor Peacock and in 12 months produced such a thought-provoking report. It deals not only with the central issues on which they were invited to report, but sets the matter in the proper context, looking more widely at the future of television and radio at a challenging time.
Today's debate has been lively and interesting, indeed, even livelier after the speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett). Inevitably some hon. Members agreed warmly with Peacock's proposals, some sought to reject them utterly, and rather more found many recommendations of value, while taking issue with others. That is as it should be.
The purpose of the debate was in no sense to establish the Peacock report and to pre-empt discussions. The Peacock report was the stimulus to informed discussion. It is in that spirit that the Government come before the House tonight. I was happy to yield up half the normal time for which hon. Members must endure a Front Bench speech so that almost all hon. Members could speak. The purpose of the debate was not for the Government to tell the House what we intend it to accept, but for us to have a chance to listen to the House and to hear what hon. Members, especially those with genuine interest in and experience of the media, feel should be the future direction when there is no option but to make changes. The questions are: in what direction do we go, and how far down certain roads do we try to go in the years ahead? It is on that basis that we have listened to the debate and shall study carefully the text in Hansard. There were some distinguished speeches and some amusing ones. Those of us with a well-defined sense of the ridiculous enjoyed what the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said about value for money. I admit that I yawned at one point and he properly rebuked me for it, but it was not at that point. He had no difficulty in persuading me that the BBC offered better value for money than the GLC ever did.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan), who has apologised to the House for not being present for the winding-up speeches because of an outside engagement which he could not postpone, properly referred to the report that he commissioned. We should be grateful for his foreight in doing so. He described the report as being based on principle and founded in practicality. The recommendations must be considered on that basis and against that interesting test.
Most hon. Members endeavoured to do that, with the exception of the Opposition Front Bench. In 40 minutes the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and in 15 minutes the hon. Member for Erdington drew attention not to the inadequacies of Peacock, but rather to the flimsiness of Labour party thinking on the crucial area of the future of broadcasting. In particular, one of their charges was well wide of the mark. In no sense is Peacock gratuitous in the sense that it is inviting us to consider matters that do not need to be addressed. Peacock is taking one view—not necessarily 787 one with which everyone, even on the Conservative Benches, wishes to agree.about future decisions that must be taken against the background of inevitable change, such as the development of the VCR, the introduction of cable, DBS, and international developments which mean that, whatever we choose to do, the rest of the world will take decisions that have implications for us, and, indeed, that offer opportunities for us.
Why should we in Britain always see change as a threat? Why do we not see change as an opportunity? Goodness knows there are few industries where we are better equipped to deal with opportunities than in the media where our reputation stands high around the world. I pay tribute to that. It is no part of our case that we do not have excellent television and radio for the most part and that which is rightly the object of comment and congratulation from others. That gives us a strong base to be confident about developments.
But let us not be more ultra than the ultras. Let us not, in the congratulations that we heap on the broadcasters, even exceed the massive amount of self-congratulation that they are capable of heaping on themselves without any help from us. Let us keep some sort of balance, and recognise that some change is crucial and a lot of change will be inevitable.
I am sorry to take issue with the right hon. Member for Gorton, but it was a sad indictment of his speech that he spent 10 times as long dealing with parliamentary questions about the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster's video recorder as with Labour's vision of the future of broadcasting. No wonder we were treated to that insight into the internal politics of the Labour party in The Independent yesterday. That is proving to be a most useful sheet. It had three attractive photographs—a large one of the right hon. Gentleman in full ortorical flow, and rather smaller ones, as is only appropriate, of his hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) looking rather grim—so grim that he is not even here as far as I can see—because he apparently had lost out in the battle to make a Front Bench speech and was obliged to speak from the Back Benches, and a rather attractively rugged photograph of the hon. Member for Erdington, looking as though he had just come off the set of "Emmerdale Farm" and very fetching.
However, the text had little of comfort. What do we find but this revealing paragraph. The media corresponddent of The Independent, displaying proper independence, which I commend, said:For the debate finds the Labour party in disarray, still in the process of formulating its media policies. Senior broadcasters who have been lobbying discreetly in the past few days"—so discreetly that they have not come to my notice—are dismayed and shocked at the lack of serious thinking. The bald fact is that Labour has not responded to the Peacock recommendations with a thought-out document.Nor, indeed, has it responded with thought-out speeches.
It will be no surprise to those who have listened to the speeches from the Opposition Benches that all the worthwhile developments that have been taken place in broadcasting since the war have been under Conservative Governments—the introduction of ITV and independent local radio. The next step forward after the next election will be in our charge as well. For those who are afraid of what the future holds with those changes, exactly the same 788 things were said before the introduction of ITV and independent radio, and, of course, it was found to be equally wrong.
If the Labour party were flimsy on policy, it became positively hysterical when we reached the attacks on what my right hon. Friend the chairman of the Conservative party had to say. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Gorton repeated what he said in July when he said:The forthcoming Labour Government will ensure that the BBC, as a great national institution, internationally respected, is not only preserved, but is protected from interference by Governments of any party." — [Official Report, 3 July 1986; Vol 110, c. 1179.]That sits ill with the days when he was sitting in the kitchen Cabinet of Mr. Wilson. I have to cut out the number of quotes that I can use because I do not have sufficient time, but I must remind him of one from October 1965 when The Times reported that Mr. Wilson — the right hon. Gentleman was there at the time — summoned a producer and warned him tomend his ways or the Government will have to think about bringing the BBC under tighter discipline.The Guardian, that well-known Tory biased newspaper, on 3 October said:The Labour Party is to double its 60-strong team monitoring political bias on television, following the appointment on Wednesday of Mr. Marmaduke Hussey as the Chairman of BBC. Mr. John Mc William, MP for Blaydon and a Senior Whip, who runs the Party's monitoring system, said yesterday that the team, which tries to ensure that the definition of balance in the BBC Charter and the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act is applied, would be doubled as Mr. Hussey's appointment was, 'the last straw'.We are being told that the Labour party wants not a hair of the head of the BBC touched, whereas even before "the last straw" it had 60 people apparently doing nothing but monitoring broadcasting.
That is hysterical, but there is more to come on the interesting point about the phasing out of television licences for pensioners. The right hon. Member for Gorton insisted that this was not one of those optional extras but at the core of the programme. However, the hon. Member for Erdington told us that there would be "phasing out". "Phasing out" is usually what politicians say before an election to justify going into the next election without having done it. I suspect that that will be the reality.
The £3.5 billion that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) is to take off the rich—nobody else will have their tax increased—will be for specific pledges relating to the relief of poverty. This is not one of them. How will they do it? Is the £325 million to be lost to allow poorly-off citizens such as the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) and the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) — both pensioners—to be protected so that young couples with two children and on supplementary benefit will have to pay a licence fee of £85 to cover the lost money? Is the truth more like what Mr. Blunkett, poor soul, who let the cat out of the bag and was firmly sat on and squashed, suggested? The electorate will not be taken in by that.
§ Mr. Mellor
No; I do not have time to give way.
We have serious business to do. The development of cable is an exciting prospect and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Boothferry (Sir P. Bryan) said, has many opportunities. We know that within the next few weeks the IBA will announce the allocations, from the five 789 applications that it has received, for three DBS channels, which proves the wisdom of our policy of allowing the market to sort out these things. After the next election, if the House approves the new Bill, we shall be in a position to extend the franchises for three years to allow ITV companies to take crucial decisions on the future of the independent television system.
A group of consultants is looking into the prospects of subscription, about which we have had a variety of interesting comments. We understand the drawbacks of subscription. We are not saying that we are committed to it but we are saying that the idea must be tested and that process will be taken further by those reports.
I particularly commend the principled speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman). He urged us not to rush ahead impelled by technological determinism. It is not that. We do not see ourselves as driven by technological change where we are like, was it M. Roland, the French revolutionary who, as the mob was rampaging through Paris, stood on the sidelines and said, "I must follow them for I am their leader." We do not see technological change in that way.
However, technological change will not be denied. People want the VCR and the satellite. We have to find a system of regulation that best enables us to retain all that is best in British broadcasting and ensure that we move on, as we have always done, to a better era. In that spirit we, and we alone, are tackling the problem.
§ Question put, That this House do now adjourn:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 143, Noes 221.791
|Division No. 5]||[10 pm|
|Abse, Leo||Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)|
|Adams, Allen (Paisley N)||Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)|
|Anderson, Donald||Deakins, Eric|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Dixon, Donald|
|Ashley, Rt Hon Jack||Dormand, Jack|
|Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)||Dubs, Alfred|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Duffy, A. E. P.|
|Barron, Kevin||Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.|
|Beckett, Mrs Margaret||Eadie, Alex|
|Bell, Stuart||Eastham, Ken|
|Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)||Evans, John (St. Helens N)|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Fatchett, Derek|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Faulds, Andrew|
|Blair, Anthony||Field, Frank (Birkenhead)|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)|
|Boyes, Roland||Fisher, Mark|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Flannery, Martin|
|Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)||Foster, Derek|
|Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)||Fraser, J. (Norwood)|
|Buchan, Norman||Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald|
|Callaghan, Rt Hon J.||Garrett, W. E.|
|Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)||Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Godman, Dr Norman|
|Canavan, Dennis||Golding, Mrs Llin|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Gould, Bryan|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Hamilton, James (M'well N)|
|Clarke, Thomas||Hamilton, W. W. (Fife Central)|
|Clay, Robert||Hardy, Peter|
|Clelland, David Gordon||Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith|
|Cohen, Harry||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy|
|Coleman, Donald||Heffer, Eric S.|
|Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)||Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)|
|Corbett, Robin||Home Robertson, John|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Hughes, Roy (Newport East)|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Janner, Hon Greville|
|Cunningham, Dr John||John, Brynmor|
|Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)||Randall, Stuart|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Raynsford, Nick|
|Lamond, James||Redmond, Martin|
|Leadbitter, Ted||Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)|
|Leighton, Ronald||Richardson, Ms Jo|
|Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)|
|Lewis, Terence (Worsley)||Robertson, George|
|Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)||Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)|
|Lofthouse, Geoffrey||Rooker, J. W.|
|McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)|
|McKelvey, William||Rowlands, Ted|
|MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor||Sedgemore, Brian|
|McTaggart, Robert||Sheerman, Barry|
|Madden, Max||Sheldon, Rt Hon R.|
|Marek, Dr John||Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)|
|Marshall, David (Shettleston)||Silkin, Rt Hon J.|
|Maxton, John||Skinner, Dennis|
|Maynard, Miss Joan||Smith, C.(Ils'ton S & F'bury)|
|Meacher, Michael||Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'ds E)|
|Michie, William||Soley, Clive|
|Mikardo, Ian||Spearing, Nigel|
|Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Stott, Roger|
|Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)||Strang, Gavin|
|Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)||Straw, Jack|
|Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Tinn, James|
|Nellist, David||Torney, Tom|
|Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon||Warden, Gareth (Gower)|
|O'Brien, William||Wareing, Robert|
|O'Neill, Martin||Welsh, Michael|
|Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Williams, Rt Hon A.|
|Parry, Robert||Winnick, David|
|Pavitt, Laurie||Woodall, Alec|
|Pike, Peter||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)||Mr. John McWilliam and|
|Prescott, John||Mr. Allen McKay.|
|Adley, Robert||Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Carttiss, Michael|
|Alexander, Richard||Chalker, Mrs Lynda|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Channon, Rt Hon Paul|
|Amess, David||Chapman, Sydney|
|Ancram, Michael||Churchill, W. S.|
|Arnold, Tom||Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)|
|Ashby, David||Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)|
|Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)||Clegg, Sir Walter|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)||Cockeram, Eric|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Colvin, Michael|
|Baldry, Tony||Conway, Derek|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Coombs, Simon|
|Batiste, Spencer||Cope, John|
|Bendall, Vivian||Cormack, Patrick|
|Benyon, William||Corrie, John|
|Best, Keith||Cranborne, Viscount|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Critchley, Julian|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Crouch, David|
|Blackburn, John||Currie, Mrs Edwina|
|Body, Sir Richard||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Dover, Den|
|Bottomley, Peter||du Cann, Rt Hon Sir Edward|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Dunn, Robert|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes||Durant, Tony|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Evennett, David|
|Bright, Graham||Fallon, Michael|
|Brinton, Tim||Favell, Anthony|
|Brittan, Rt Hon Leon||Forman, Nigel|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Forth, Eric|
|Browne, John||Fraser, Peter (Angus East)|
|Bruinvels, Peter||Gale, Roger|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Goodhart, Sir Philip|
|Bulmer, Esmond||Gorst, John|
|Burt, Alistair||Greenway, Harry|
|Butcher, John||Gregory, Conal|
|Butler, Rt Hon Sir Adam||Grylls, Michael|
|Butterfill, John||Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)|
|Carlisle, John (Luton N)||Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)|
|Harris, David||Portillo, Michael|
|Harvey, Robert||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Hickmet, Richard||Powley, John|
|Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)||Raffan, Keith|
|Holt, Richard||Renton, Tim|
|Howard, Michael||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas||Ridsdale, Sir Julian|
|Jackson, Robert||Rowe, Andrew|
|Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Rumbold, Mrs Angela|
|Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith||Ryder, Richard|
|Kershaw, Sir Anthony||Sackville, Hon Thomas|
|Key, Robert||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|Knight, Greg (Derby N)||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Lang, Ian||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Latham, Michael||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)|
|Lester, Jim||Shersby, Michael|
|Lilley, Peter||Silvester, Fred|
|Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)||Sims, Roger|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|Lord, Michael||Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)|
|Luce, Rt Hon Richard||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Lyell, Nicholas||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|McCrindle, Robert||Speed, Keith|
|McCurley, Mrs Anna||Speller, Tony|
|MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)||Spencer, Derek|
|MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)||Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)|
|Maclean, David John||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)||Steen, Anthony|
|McQuarrie, Albert||Stern, Michael|
|Major, John||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|Malins, Humfrey||Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)|
|Malone, Gerald||Sumberg, David|
|Maples, John||Taylor, John (Solihull)|
|Marland, Paul||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Mates, Michael||Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman|
|Mather, Carol||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Maude, Hon Francis||Terlezki, Stefan|
|Mawhinney, Dr Brian||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|Mellor, David||Thompson, Donald (Calder V)|
|Merchant, Piers||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)|
|Miller, Hal (B'grove)||Thornton, Malcolm|
|Mills, Iain (Meriden)||Thurnham, Peter|
|Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Miscampbell, Norman||van Straubenzee, Sir W.|
|Moate, Roger||Waddington, David|
|Montgomery, Sir Fergus||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Morris, M. (N'hampton S)||Wall, Sir Patrick|
|Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)||Waller, Gary|
|Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)||Ward, John|
|Mudd, David||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Murphy, Christopher||Watts, John|
|Neale, Gerrard||Wheeler, John|
|Needham, Richard||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Nelson, Anthony||Wilkinson, John|
|Neubert, Michael||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Norris, Steven||Wolfson, Mark|
|Onslow, Cranley||Wood, Timothy|
|Oppenheim, Phillip||Yeo, Tim|
|Osborn, Sir John||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Page, Richard (Herts SW)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Pattie, Geoffrey||Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd and|
|Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth||Mr, David Lightbown.|
|Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
§ Question accordingly negatived.