HL Deb 19 March 1931 vol 80 cc447-82

THE EARL OF RADNOR rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether they can state what considerations guide the British Broadcasting Corporation in the selection of their programmes and, having regard to the wide publicity enjoyed by these programmes, what steps have been or can be taken to ensure that political bias does not enter into their arrangements; and to move for Papers.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I am prompted to raise the question of broadcasting because of its very great importance to the country as a whole. The rise in the desire to listen-in to the broadcast programmes has been most phenomenal, and to-day I think I can say, without fear of contradiction, that the British Broadcasting Corporation is the largest organisation in the country catering for the amusement and edification of the British public. The latest figures of those who have taken out licences to listen-in is, I believe, three and a half millions, a rise of half a million in the last twelve months, and the British Broadcasting Corporation reckon that their audience numbers four to five times that number—namely, between fourteen and seventeen million people listening-in every day, or rather every evening—a very important proportion of the population and an increasing number.

I would say further that listening-in, in its initial stages, was a luxury, but it has now become almost a domestic necessity in every house. One is glad that it should be so because it brings within the reach of every one the opportunity of listening to good music and to talks on subjects of the day by those best qualified to speak upon them. But it also puts on the shoulders of those in charge of the broadcasting organisation a very great responsibility and places in their hands an enormous power for propaganda if they choose to use it. It was said to me by a keen and experienced observer of people and matters in this country that if only he were given the broadcasting organisation, within less than twelve months he would make the whole country Conservative. I have no doubt that noble Lords on the Benches opposite would be horrified at such an idea, and I think that noble Lords on this side would be just as horrified if the word "Socialist" were substituted for "Conservative." I do not propose to subscribe to that; but it is a fact that the propaganda value of wireless broadcasting is very great indeed and will increase, of course, as the number of people who have listening-in sets increases.

I do not wish to decry the work that has been done in the past by the British Broadcasting Corporation. I believe that the broadcasting organisation of this country is second to none in the world and that it has acquired in the minds of those who listen-in the reputation of being impartial and just. The mere fact that it has that reputation amongst the population of this country puts on those responsible for its programmes a graver responsibility than even those things I have mentioned already. I do not know on what principles those programmes are selected. One can only judge by the results as one knows them from what is sent out into the ether. But I think I can say definitely that recently there have been certain incidents which seem to indicate, and more than indicate, that there is a tendency on the part of those in charge of the B.B.C. to try to educate the people of this country towards Socialism and even towards Communism. If your Lordships will bear with me I will give you certain cases that I have in point.

First of all, I think it was in February last, Mr. Harold Nicolson, in the course of a weekly talk, discussed the subject of Russia. His general treatment of the subject was capable of being objected to, but I will point only to one sentence in which he stated that in Russia there is no religious persecution in the historical sense of the term. I think that is a statement to which exception might easily be taken. It seemed to a very large number of people that it was at variance with the known facts. That statement was allowed to be made in a broadcast talk, but at much the same time a refusal was given to a movement known as the Christian Protest Movement to broadcast the proceedings of a mass meeting at the Albert Hall. The Christian Protest Movement, if your Lordships are not aware of it, is supported by almost every branch of the Church in civilised countries. I do not object to permission to broadcast a mass meeting in the Albert Hall being refused, but I feel that in common fairness there should also be a refusal to broadcast statements such as that of Mr. Harold Nicolson.

Then Mr. Morris Dobb was given permission to broadcast on the subject of Russia. His name was completely unknown to me when I first heard it, and I dare say that the vast majority of those who listened-in to his broadcast had not the vaguest notion who or what he was. Mr. Morris Dobb is a paid correspondent of a newspaper called the Daily Worker. The Daily Worker is the organ of the Communist Party in this country, and I am informed that it is subsidised, if not entirely financed, by the Communist Party in Russia—by the Russian Government. Mr. Morris Dobb was, in effect, a paid official of the Russian Government. He gave a particularly illuminating address on the subject of Russia, one of the finest pieces of subtle propaganda that I have ever read. It left one with the impression that the Russian system as now carried on was the most admirable thing, was for the benefit of the people in that country and was ultimately bound to supersede capitalist systems in other countries. If Mr. Morris Dobb was allowed to broadcast, most certainly the British Broadcasting Corporation, before allowing him to broadcast, ought to have given their audience the very fullest particulars of his activities and past history. I am not certain whether, when he did broadcast, they knew all about him. Surely, if they do not know all about them they ought to make the most careful investigations as to the people who broadcast for them.

The other points I have to bring before your Lordships are more in the nature of domestic politics. There is still in progress, I believe, a thing known as the Daily Herald radio ballot. The Daily Herald radio ballot is one of those things with which most of us are familiar in these days. It is a competition in which the element of skill is just sufficient to bring it within the law of the land. To the ordinary person examining the particulars of that radio ballot it would seem to be nothing more nor less than a common lottery. It is one of those competitions fostered by a newspaper under the guise of assisting charity, but really with a view of advertising the newspaper and increasing its circulation. On February 4, the British Broadcasting Corporation permitted a broadcast advertising the Daily Herald radio ballot. A protest was made by other newspapers, amongst them more particularly the Morning Post, and they were informed that the acceptance of that particular item in the broadcast programme was made on the sole responsibility of one senior official and that the Director - General had no knowledge of its being accepted at all, but virtually said that it was a mistake in judgment on the part of one senior official. That statement was accepted. On February 17 the Daily Herald radio ballot was again broadcast as an advertisement in the ordinary programme. I do not think that even the Director-General can escape from some criticism for allowing an obvious advertisement for one particular newspaper to be broadcast a second time, after protest on the first occasion.

There is yet another and a rather important thing which has happened recently. The Listener is a newspaper published by the British Broadcasting Corporation, and the broadcast programmes have recently included a series of talks by prominent politicians, seven in number, on the problem of unemployment. The final one was given by Mr. Stanley Baldwin, and was published in the Listener of February 25. Your Lordships can see that there is Mr. Stanley Baldwin on one side, and on the other side: "No. 8, The problem of unemployment; Epilogue by Henry George." It purports and apparently seems to be a final instalment summing up all the previous seven addresses on that subject. At the bottom of the page, in small print, is a little remark to the effect that this is an advertisement, and was not a broadcast address, and is merely extracts from Mr. Henry George's book "Prosperity and Progress," or some such name. Mr. Henry George was one of the keenest exponents of the single tax, and it states in that advertisement that hundreds of British municipalities are behind this land value policy, and that the Government are pledged to introduce it this Session. I do not know whether they are, or whether they are not, but anyhow it is undoubtedly a Socialist type of measure, and its juxtaposition on the opposite page, at the same opening as Mr. Stanley Baldwin's address, is in my opinion designed to take away from the value of Mr. Baldwin's address, and draw attention to other and Socialistic measures for dealing with unemployment.

I can also point to the Listener for May 8, 1929, where you have a large advertisement—"The Labour Party needs money." There is no other advertisement for a political Party, and I think that one of the official organs of the British Broadcasting Corporation should in no circumstances whatsoever accept advertisements from any political Party. There are many other cases. Mr. Bernard Shaw, in 1929, finished an address by saying that we were not educating children to be good citizens, but in one country, Russia, they were. Professor Macmurray, in July, 1930, said:— There is no such thing as a moral law, and the idea of obedience has no place in morality. Mr. Wells is given as saying:— Patriotism is the enemy of civilisation. Those statements are all extremely controversial. In many cases they are extremely subversive of everything we believe to be right and proper in the civilisation of this country, and they should not be brought into our broadcast programmes in any circumstances whatsoever.

In more than one of those cases the excuse was given that it was a mistake, that they got into the programmes by Mistake, but it is a curious thing that those mistakes all tend the same way. It is a curious thing that those philosophers who speak and make these contentious statements are quoting or giving opinions which are held very often by Socialists, and still more often by Communists, and that one does not see similar statements giving the views of people of other political points of view. The instances which I have given your Lordships lead one to two possible conclusions: either that there is political bias in the organisation of the British Broadcasting Corporation, or that there is such a degree of inefficiency in the supervision of the programmes that those who are interested politically against the welfare of this country are enabled to slip past the watch-dogs, or those who should be the watch-dogs, of the British public, and get into their programmes things that ought never to get there.

I do not expect His Majesty's Government to confess that there is political bias in favour of Socialists on the part of the British Broadcasting Corporation. I can hardly expect them to do that. I am, therefore, led to the conclusion that they can only say that those mistakes are caused by inefficiency or misguided keenness which results in inefficiency. But the result is the same whether it be deliberate or whether it be a mistake. The result is that propaganda is sent out over the wireless which should never get to the ears of those who listen-in in this country, or at least should not get to the ears of those who listen-in in this country unless some opportunity is given for the opposite point of view to be stated just as clearly. If it is inefficiency I think that your Lordships and the country are entitled to have some information regarding the British Broadcasting Corporation. They are virtually a public utility corporation. There is no Government Department which answers for them. They are under no Government Department. If they were they would be subject to questions, and would have to produce full particulars of their activities, and, I may add, full accounts of the salaries paid to their officials. In fact, they would have to tell us everything which the British public wishes and ought to know. If they were a public company they would be compelled to have an annual meeting, and their shareholders would be able to ask questions, to which they would be entitled to answers; but with the British Broadcasting Corporation there are 3,500,000 licensed holders who are virtually in the position of shareholders, because they provide the money, and yet they get little or no information out of the British Broadcasting Corporation as to how that money is spent, or as to the qualifications of the men employed by that Corporation.

I have suggested inefficiency as being part of the reason why this propaganda is got over the wireless, and it is put into my mind by information I was given as to the qualifications of some of the senior officers. The Director-General is, I understand, an engineer. I have no doubt that is perfectly correct, and I have no doubt it should be so, because there are many engineering problems in connection with the British Broadcasting Corporation. But he should be supported by somebody who is perfectly capable of advising him on the subject of the entertainment of the public. I am informed that one of the Deputy Controllers is a retired Admiral, another is, or was, a chicken farmer—that is the Controller in charge of the programmes—and yet another is a regular officer with no experience of entertainment work. I say nothing against these gentlemen. I have no doubt that they are most excellent. I only mention what my information is to draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that there seems to be hardly any one there who has had experience in the entertainment business and is capable, therefore, of justly judging the effects of the programme on the people who are listening, or of judging whether the matter of the programmes is harmful or otherwise.

I suggest that, at the present day, we are not getting the fullest information about the British Broadcasting Corporation to which we are entitled. We should know exactly how it is organised. We should know exactly how the money is spent and we should know how those who are the officials in that organisation are selected. I suggest that the Government should tell us whether they have taken any steps in the past to ensure that there should be no biased political propaganda, and what steps they intend to take in the future in view of the facts that are now before us. I would suggest, therefore, to His Majesty's Government, that it is desirable in the future that no question of politics or of a controversial nature should be put on the broadcast programmes unless all three political Parties have been asked and have acquiesced in such political subjects coming forward, and that unless all three Parties have acquiesced, no politics should appear in the programmes whatsoever. They are subjects of controversy, they are subjects which give people to think that the British Broadcasting Corporation is biased. I hope I have proved to your Lordships that there is for some reason or another political bias in the British Broadcasting Corporation, that through some cause or another that is getting to the public, and that the public and your Lordships are entitled to the fullest information from His Majesty's Government in order to set their minds at rest and to ensure that the British Broadcasting Corporation is not being used for propaganda purposes of a nature which we should all deplore.


My Lords, I am not going to follow my noble friend through all the biographical details he has given us, nor indeed in the criticism he has made of recent items in the broadcasting programmes. I do not pretend to be qualified to offer a measured opinion upon these points. Whether there is bias or not I do not know. I doubt it, but I do not know. I do, however, ask your Lordships to allow me to trespass on your time for two or three minutes to deal with the last part of his speech. If he intended anything definite he meant that Parliamentary control should be exercised over broadcasting, that there should be a censorship by some outside authority, and that we in Parliament should be entitled to ask questions, to control salaries and generally, in short, to run the British Broadcasting Corporation.

My noble friend said that the officials concerned seemed to be highly inefficient. But how is that consistent with the fact that every day about 1,500 people enrol themselves as new subscribers? How is that consistent with an inefficient broadcasting, which apparently is the view of my noble friend? The mere fact that half a million people every year are becoming new subscribers, new participants in this Corporation, is a sufficient answer to the argument that they are so hopelessly inefficient. They are not. I do not know if my noble friend has studied broadcasting in the United States. It is deplorable, it is grotesque, it is laughable, compared with the high state of efficiency of our broadcasting here. When all these rather light-hearted attacks are being made upon the British Broadcasting Corporation, I wish those who are so ready with their criticism would take some trouble to compare our situation in this country with what prevails elsewhere. I have no hesitation in saying that there are few countries in which the broadcasting is more efficient than in our own. There is no country in which there is a greater variety of entertainment and of education and in which a series of more remarkable men contribute the best of their knowledge through the broadcast. I add this in conclusion, that if once Parliament gets control of broadcasting, every time anybody is displeased by jazz music, he will get a Member of Parliament to ask a question. There will be no peace in Parliament or elsewhere. Every Member of Parliament will have to intervene whenever any group of his constituents is annoyed and the efficiency of this marvellous organisation will infallibly be impaired.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl who last addressed the House because probably in neither House of Parliament has anybody got a more intimate knowledge than the noble Earl of the work of the B.B.C. during the first four years of the company's existence, before the Corporation was created by a Royal Charter. During that period I happened to be Chairman of that Company, and it is perfectly true, as the Earl of Radnor said, that as a company we had annual meetings with our shareholders. But at no time were we criticised adversely by them for our policy. I have now been identified with the British Corporation and the British Company for over eight years, and this is the first time that the policy of the British Broadcasting Corporation or Company has been really challenged in this House. It is at any rate the first opportunity I have had of replying to criticisms. I welcome the criticism and so do the Governors, the Director General, and the heads of the departments in connection with our programmes.

I should like to reply to the first Question which has been addressed to the Government, because nobody is in a better position than myself to reply to the first Question on the Paper, as to what considerations guide the British Broadcasting Corporation in the selection of programmes. My first point is a negative point and it is this. We take, as a Corporation, no editorial view whatsoever in regard to the matter which we broadcast. We prepare our programmes to give the maximum interest and the maximum value and that applies to our entertainments of all sorts, whether they are musical or the spoken word. The talks are in nearly every case factual expositions and we refrain from expressing any view in regard to policy. In regard to controversial matters I will come to them in a few moments. All I have now to say about our policy in regard to them is that we aim to secure in controversial subjects diverse expressions from those competent to express their varying points of view. We have had one series recently on which a good deal of comment was made, that on "Science and Religion," in which able scientists as well as clergy of the Church of England took part, and we have had another on the unemployment question, in which Mr. Baldwin, together with politicians of other schools of thought, and Professor Keynes and Sir Josiah Stamp took part.

What I resent is an attack upon the staff of the British Broadcasting Corporation, who, like civil servants, are not in a position to defend their action in this House or in another place. If there has been any dereliction of duty on their part or lack of discipline, or if they have not reached that standard required by the British Broadcasting Corporation, then the Director General and the Governors are responsible and will deal with the situation. But, whatever faults are to be found, it is the Governors who are responsible and I am here so far as I am allowed as, a Peer in your Lordships' House who happens to be the acting Chairman for the time being of the British Broadcasting Corporation, to reply to the attack which has just been made upon that Corporation. We have a staff of 1,200 individuals and those individuals do their duty to the satisfaction of the Director-General, and of the Governors of the Corporation who have been appointed by the Government. If we fail in our duty, it is open to the Government at any time to replace us and to remove us from the positions which we occupy. We welcome criticism and I am glad, if these things that we have heard said by the noble Lord to-day are to be reproduced outside, that there should be an opportunity of meeting such charges.

If there is a strong feeling about any such question, it is reflected very rapidly in our correspondence and there is very little in our correspondence to justify the charges which the noble Lord has made to-day. During last year, in connection with our programmes, we received over 80,000 letters, of which 30,000 were inquiries and suggestions, 54,382—to give an accurate figure—were favourable criticisms of our programmes, and only 3,492 were critical in regard to what we had broadcast. I do not think any better tribute could be paid than the fact that over 50,000 people have troubled to speak well of our programmes and that only 3,500 were critical.

While I am speaking about the staff, I would merely say that, in regard to the appointments for the engineering staff, as well as for the programme staff and the head office and accounts staff, we endeavour to select the best men who apply, after very carefully going into all their antecedents, and because one man or another may have taken an interest in chicken farming, it does not disqualify him from being appointed to perform his duties at Savoy Hill. We claim that we have the best transmission service in the world, as the standard required from us by the British public is higher than that which exists in any other country, and we are looked up to by all the other countries of Europe and America as an example that should be followed. We have very few breakdowns and on the technical service we claim to be superior to any other.

I want your Lordships to recollect that this after all is only a sound-producing service. Up till the present time television accompanying broadcast of sound through the ether has not reached more than an experimental stage. It is difficult for us always to be amusing because, after all, a man cannot tell a good story in the dark. He almost needs to be seen in order to be amusing, but we do our best to entertain the British public. Yet we claim to do a good deal more. In addition to entertainment, we endeavour to give accurate information on all topics of interest as well as appropriate educational matter which may help the public. By a relay system, which is rapidly increasing, we are becoming more and more an international body and bringing the peoples of Europe and of the whole world closer and closer together. I believe international communications are improving and it is all to the good because it enables each nation to see better the other's point of view.

I want to come to the particular charges which have been made against us. I will deal, first of all, with the charges made against Mr. Harold Nicolson, who has a great number of admirers among the listeners in the country. He has been giving a series of talks which will end to-morrow. He has been speaking on "People and things," a series of talks in which a good deal of individual latitude has been given to Mr. Nicolson, but at the same time I take full responsibility for everything he has been allowed to say. Mr. Nicolson was quite frank in the particular talk to which the noble Lord alluded. The noble Lord does not do Mr. Nicolson justice. He did indicate that things had been exaggerated in one direction, but he said something quite different from that which the noble Earl indicated to the House.

I will venture to read four paragraphs from Mr. Nicolson's talk, to which the noble Earl referred. These are the paragraphs that I would select:— And yet there are certain questions which arouse angry passions of even the mildest among us, of even the most enlightened. One of these questions is that of the religious persecution in Russia. It is very difficult to approach this question without our minds being clouded by gusts of emotion.… I believe that, for political reasons, many Bishops and priests in Russia have been put to death. So also have a number of professors, doctors, grocers and trade union leaders. He goes on to say:— The Moscow Government persecute individual religious leaders, just as they persecute other elements in the State, but the man who wants to worship in his own way is still, I am told, at liberty to do so. … I disapprove strongly of much of what is happening in Russia … I feel myself that, if one applies moral judgments without knowing the truth and all the circumstances, one is apt to lead oneself in a position from which it is difficult with any dignity to recede, but I fully admit that, as shown by yesterday's debate in the House of Lords, there are many men and women wiser and better than I am who feel quite differently. At any rate Mr. Nicolson is quite frank. While he does in one direction admit that there has been persecution in Russia, a somewhat different complexion is put on the matter by his remarks than by those of some other speakers.

The charge that the noble Earl made against us is that the opposite point of view is not represented when we allow statements such as he has mentioned to be made. I am afraid that the noble Earl has been briefed by one side. He has been given only certain statements, collected out of the innumerable talks in which reference has been made to factual events that are going on in Russia, but he has not referred to facts equally presented by other speakers, because he has not been so advised, nor has he taken the trouble to listen to other talks of a very different character.

In order that as Governors we might have the best advice we could get, we have appointed various committees. One is a musical committee, upon which very eminent musicians are placed, to advise us in regard to our musical programmes. We are not bound to accept their recommendations, but we place a good deal of confidence in their judgment, because the committee includes a variety of men of great ability, whose recommendations, as a rule, are such as we can easily accept. We have an appeals committee, which advises us as to what appeals we ought to make to the public for subscriptions. We have a religious advisory committee, in which representatives of, I think, practically all the denominations are included and which advises us in regard to our religious activities. Then we have a joint committee—which was recommended as the result of an investigation between ourselves and the British Institute for Adult Education presided over by Sir Henry Hadow—consisting of a large number of educational experts. This committee is now presided over by the Archbishop of York, and advises us in regard to matters of adult education.

I say again that we take entire responsibility for the talks that have been allowed, but I want to be perfectly plain that the recommendation of the series of talks on "Whither Mankind?" to which the noble Earl has particularly addressed himself, has been spoken to, not only by Professor Dobb, a don at Cambridge, on the recommendation of the Adult Education Committee, but also by Dr. jacks, who is, I believe, principal of Manchester College, Oxford, and who indicated in his first address of the series exactly what was the problem that other speakers would deal with. He said:— We are passing through a crisis in the world's history, economic, political, religious. And behind all this there is the spectre of race degeneracy, which threatens the revolutionary no less than the conservative. … Now what are the marks of low condition in a people? I name five. He gives one as follows:— When people generally look upon the State as a charitable institution, which can be made to supply all their wants by putting enough votes in a ballot box. That is a sure sign that they are declining in will power and virility. Another mark that he mentioned was:— When people generally buy their pleasures ready-made on the market, in the form of external excitement—a sure sign that personal skill is on the down-grade and creativeness passing away. He goes on to say:— In following this series we must attune our minds to strange music. We shall hear of things that are new to us, things that challenge our own position and habits of mind, things that some of us may intensely dislike or even be afraid of, but which, whether we like them or not, are mighty forces in the world of our day, and certain to play a part in moulding the destiny of mankind. We must preserve an open mind, not putting our heads in the sand when things that terrify us are spoken of, but facing the facts boldly, eager to understand the signs of the times, and determined to play the man whatever may happen. Then comes along Professor Dobb, with a talk on Russia and the five-year plan, which is purely informative. There is no indication of propaganda intended to be conveyed, I believe, in that talk. It is a factual exposition of the position in Russia as he has seen it. Is it suggested that I ought to have investigated the whole of the antecedents of Professor Dobb, and to have found out whether he was in the pay of the Russian Government? Whether he was in the pay of the Russian Government I know not, but I do know that we looked very carefully at every word of this talk before it was allowed to be broadcast, and I am satisfied that there is not a word of propaganda in it. It is merely a statement of that which Professor Dobb saw in his travels through Russia, and an exposition of the facts in connection with the five-year plan of the Russian Government.

I then come to the next talk, to which, of course, no allusion has been made by Lord Radnor. It is the talk by Sir Reginald Johnston in the same series, and he exhibits Russia from a very different point of view, based on the facts he has seen from his position, not merely as tutor to the Emperor of China, buy from his administrative post at Wei-hai-Wei. He said:— It may disappoint, but it should not surprise us, that the conditions in China in this twentieth year of the so-called Republic are, to say the least, unsatisfactory. What we have to bear in mind is that revolution is affecting every department of Chinese life and activity … and that the destruction of the Manchu Monarchy was amongst the least important of its results. He went on to say— I think it may be asserted with complete confidence that, had it not been for the stimulus applied directly or indirectly by Communist inspiration, there would have been no shooting incidents in shanghai or Cantor in 1925, no boycott of Hone Kong in 1925–6, no anti-British outburst at Hankow and no anti-foreign outrages at Nanking in 1927. The greatest perils that still remain to be faced and overcome are, first, the prevalence of Communist banditry in the Central Provinces; second, the underground influence of Communist propaganda among students, peasants and industrial workers; third, the possibility of a new alignment of militant forces owing to the serious split that exists in the ranks of the Kuomintang. In a manifesto recently issued to the nation from Kuomintang headquarters it was declared that 'banditry and Communism are to receive due attention,' and it is recognised that peace and tranquillity cannot be achieved until these menaces are removed. There all these ills in China are attributed to Communist action in Russia, and I have no doubt that, as with Professor Dobb, from the speaker's point of view, these observations are taken as expressing what he may have seen when travelling through that country.

I wish the House to realise that we to endeavour to maintain the balance. It is clue to the listeners in this country that they should be given the best facts which are obtainable, and we endeavour to supply the wishes of the people in regard to the information which we give, and we give it from all the expert sources which are at our disposal.

Now I come to the other allegations made by the noble Earl in connection with advertisements in the Listener. I admit that the Listener, owing to my intervention, has become a paper which is a record of all the best thoughts and statements broadcast, so that they may be filed and be capable of being used as a reference for all time. I have taken very great care, against the advice of my officials, that all the advertisements should be placed at the beginning or the end of the Listener, so that, just like Punch, you can tear out the whole of the advertisements before and after the material for which people generally buy a paper, and you have in the centre the Listener containing, without advertisements, all the information which we wish to have permanently recorded. It is quite true that on one occasion, after a debate on a controversial subject by the three Parties in the House of Commons, an advertisement appeared in the Listener to which the noble Lord has called attention—an advertisement, I think, in connection with more money required for the Daily Herald, or some such purpose. Every Party was asked whether they would help the Listener by putting in advertisements. The Conservatives and the Liberals declined the opportunity, but the Labour Party accepted it, and paid £15 for their advertisement. As we are losing about £8,000 a year in connection with the publication of the Listener we are anxious to secure advertisements. I admit it is unfortunate that after Mr. Baldwin's speech on unemployment was placed in the Listener there was placed on the opposite page, owing to Mr. Baldwin's speech having being given the first page in the Listener, an advertisement put in by the Land Tax Party, for which they paid double fees for the particular position.

If we had known that that particular advertisement was going to be placed opposite Mr. Baldwin's speech, we would not have allowed it to be there. It was put there owing to the over-zeal of one of the officials, who knew that we were anxious for rather more money for advertisements. We did, I think, all that was possible in the circumstances, because in the next issue of the Radio Times we apologised handsomely to Mr. Baldwin and the Conservative Party for the fact that this advertisement had appeared opposite the address on unemployment delivered by Mr. Baldwin. We made the amende so far as we could. I admit that whilst we could have accepted the advertisement in another position, it ought not to have been placed where it was, because it was liable to misrepresentation as a reply to Mr. Baldwin, which no doubt it was intended to be by the Land Tax Party, although it was in the form of an advertisement and nothing more.

Then in regard to the noble Earl's view that there should be no political broadcast delivered, all I can say is that political broadcasts were introduced on the withdrawal of a ban which was placed upon us when the Corporation was established. In 1926 we were asked not to broadcast anything controversial, either religious, political or industrial, but in March, 1927, that particular ban was withdrawn, and I would like, if I may, just to refer to the tribute which the Postmaster-General of that day, a Conservative, paid to us when he withdrew the ban. We received this letter:— The Postmaster-General desires me to convey to the Governors his appreciation of the loyal and punctilious manner in which they have conformed to the obligations thereby imposed. I must say that since the withdrawal of that ban neither the late Government nor the present Government have at any time drawn our attention to any departure from the liberty given to us by the withdrawal of the ban in connection with the broadcasting of controversial subjects. In regard to political broadcasts, we have an agreement with the three Parties in the House of Commons as to what we may and may not broadcast of a political character. That is all drawn up, and they take no exception to what we broadcast of a political kind. We consult them as to all that we do with regard to political matters which may be thought to trench upon the agreement arrived at between us.

With regard to religious questions, we are, of course, on still more delicate ground. We have endeavoured in our religious talks, and in any matter connected with religion, to see that no one should be allowed to broadcast anything which is calculated in any degree to injure the religious susceptibilities of any reasonable citizen, and so far, I think, we have been fairly successful. In regard to industrial controversy, I think we have had very little trouble. It is really not quite such a delicate matter as religious and political differences, which we have now and again to broadcast to our listeners. Of course, it would have been much more satisfactory to me if we had not engaged in those controversial subjects, but the Crawford Commission definitely recommended that we should be allowed to broadcast controversial subjects and the Government gave us permission, and the public require information on controversial subjects. What we have endeavoured to do, and I think have fairly succeeded in doing, was to maintain a fair balance between one view and another and to see whenever one view was put forward that if another view was held by another body of opinion that should also be expressed so that the public would realise what both sides held or, if there were more than two sides to the controversy, what the arguments were in favour of the different views.

There is one other matter to which I think I ought to refer. We have had very difficult work to carry out. It was a duty imposed on us by our Charter. We have to try to please as many people as we can. We know we cannot please everybody at the same time on any one subject, nor are we likely to please everybody, but we do our best to supply useful, healthy, valuable and interesting information, and all the time not to overlook the importance of good entertainment. The best reply to our critics, I think, is that which the noble Earl referred to in his opening remarks—the increase in licences. It is perfectly true that we have now over 3,590,000 licences. In 1925 there were only 2,178,000. We thought then that the saturation point had very nearly been reached, and as we did not anticipate that very many more millions would accept licences, we agreed with the Government under protest and accepted in the Charter an arrangement by which the Government received for each million an increased contribution out of the 10s. from the public. That we feel to-day is a real grievance because the increase in the number of licences has been very remarkable. In the year 1927 they were 9.9 per cent. over 1926; in the year 1928 20.6 per cent., in the year 1929 35.7 per cent., and in the year 1930 they were 56.6 per cent. over 1926. Therefore, the increase has been progressive month by month throughout the whole period, and during the months of January and February this year 74,000 licences were taken out more than were taken out in the corresponding two months of last year.

Out of the licence money which is paid £212,000 went in 1930 to the Post Office (that is 12½ per cent. of each person's 10s.) in order to cover the very infinitesimal cost of issuing licences to the public and checking to a certain extent the evasion of title licence duty. The Treasury to-day retain 26 per cent. of the licence revenue, whereas in 1927 they received only 20 per cent., and the aggregate figure they received for last year was £441,000 as against £242,000 in 1927. The Government retains an increased amount every year in proportion to what they were able to retain the year before. The B.B.C. really feel that is a grievance, and I mention it here because I think the listening public ought to be aware that we could give a better service than we are giving if the Government could see their way to be rather more generous in connection with the contributions of which they deprive the listeners through the B.B.C.

I know that we cannot please everybody, but I submit that we do our best, and that we give, so far as it is possible for human beings to do so, an unbiased presentation of matters of public interest. In return, whilst we expect some indulgence for our imperfections, we trust that the public will regard those points which are raised in criticism against us from time to time not only with an indulgent eye but in a tolerant and broad spirit.


My Lords, I cannot claim to have the same official or semi-official connection with the British Broadcasting Corporation as the two previous speakers. I can only speak as a member of the public who has taken an interest in the development of this institution, as one who has had an opportunity from personal acquaintance of discussing with the Governors the lines on which they conduct their work, and as one who knows personally many of the officers or officials who have come under criticism to-day. I have had an opportunity of knowing from them at all events what it is they aim at doing even if they do not succeed.

The noble Earl, I understand, brought two main charges against the British Broadcasting Corporation, that of bias towards the Left and that of inefficiency. It is very fortunate, I think, that we should have such an opportunity as we have to-day of seeing how far either of those charges is justified. Your Lordships will agree that the wireless is undoubtedly one of the greatest inventions of our time and that we have not, nearly reached the full development of that invention. It has done more to revolutionise the world, to bring people together and to bring knowledge before the public which was hitherto unavailable than any other invention. If you compare the wireless with the other two media of recreation and information, the Press and the stage—and in the stage I include the cinema—it seems to me that the wireless comes out extraordinarily well. I sincerely hope that attention will be paid to the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, that this Corporation should not be put definitely under any Government control. I think it is one of the greatest assets of the British Broadcasting Corporation that it is independent. It would be a tragedy if there were a Minister directly responsible because then, undoubtedly, there would be a real risk of political propaganda and bias.

As I see it there are two alternative functions before the B.B.C.—either to go in for recreation or for recreation and education. By education I mean something general and based on the fact that knowledge and information are not static but are constantly changing. Your Lordships, if you think of it, will agree with me that often the infallibility of yesterday becomes the fiction of to-morrow, and that the accepted opinion of last year is looked upon as being antiquated in very many cases. I have here extracts from two newspapers, oddly enough published on the same day, criticising the B.B.C. for bias. The first is from the Morning Post of February 27 of this year. I will make only two brief quotations:— Widespread and legitimate anxiety is being caused in the public mind by a whole series of recent events, which cast grave suspicion on the political impartiality of the B.B.C.… the function of the B.B.C. is to provide entertainment and instruction, and not to disseminate political propaganda obnoxious to large sections of the community who pay for its amenities. It is very difficult to carry that out as, obviously, there is not unanimity amongst the subscribers of the B.B.C. On the same day the Daily Herald had an article from which I should like to make a quotation:— So timid, so orthodox, is the B.B.C. that it declines to allow any original thinker to broadcast his views. No man or woman with a message of any kind that is likely to startle the conventional listener is allowed to 'shock' the ether. Here are two attacks on the British Broadcasting Corporation by well-known newspapers attacking it from a totally different angle, one on the ground that it was going too far and too fast, and the other on the ground that it was too slow or not moving at all.

It seems to me that the Governors and officers concerned have had to decide whether to go in for originality, or whether to adopt as their principle what is known as fundamentalism. I think that they were quite right in going in for originality and reasonable examination of new subjects and new topics. Undoubtedly this is the age of new ideas. There is hardly an accepted traditional point of view that is not being challenged. That applies to economics, to political theories, to the position of sex, to patriotism, to theology. Take, for instance, the question of theology. To many young persons to-day it is not a question whether they are to believe in old theology or new theology, but whether they are to believe in new theology or no theology at all. I think it would be contrary to the public interest if the decision were to go forth, either from this House or the Government, that the British Broadcasting Corporation was not to allow what is called controversial matters to be put before the public. I agree entirely that if one point of view is put before the public then every opportunity ought to be taken to put the opposite point of view. The answer to wrong ideas is not to go in for a sort of mental imprisonment, but to put forward right ideas, and then let the public judge as between the two which in fact is right and which is wrong.

I do not know that it is necessary for me to deal in detail with the different charges brought before your Lordships, because they have already, to a certain extent, been dealt with. As regards the attack on Professor Dobb in connection with "Whither mankind?" series, I understand the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, has told us that, the paper itself was very carefully scrutinised by those who were responsible before it was passed. I have read it since I saw the Motion down on the Paper, and I cannot say that I think it ought not to have been given over the wireless. I have looked at it very carefully. I understand that the charge is not so much against the material, but is against the fact that Professor Dobb had been associated with a Communist newspaper. I can easily understand that it is very difficult, even if it were possible, for the British Broadcasting Corporation to investigate all the antecedents of any individual who is invited to talk, and I think if they were to attempt to do that they might find they might get into very serious difficulty. If you are to discuss not only the employment but the associations of an individual you might also have to go into the question of his private life. I think that the fact that the British Broadcasting Corporation satisfies themselves on the subject matter should really clear them on this particular point.

As to Mr. Harold Nicolson, there again I have read the article since I saw the Motion on the Paper, and it seems to me that it is a very balanced statement. It is possible to take sentences out of the context and quote them and give a wrong impression. Regarding the other point about the election manifesto of the Labour Party having been published, I understand what happened was that the three Parties were offered space, and that the Conservative and Liberal Parties did not avail themselves of the opportunity, so you can hardly blame the Broadcasting Corporation for that.

I listened as carefully as I could to the speech of the noble Earl—I only missed the opening sentences—and I could not help thinking that taken as a whole the extent of the charge and accusation was significantly small. We have brought up here to-day the accumulation of years of observation and scrutiny upon the British Broadcasting Corporation. What is the total? The noble Lord finds fault with two of the speakers; there are three indiscretions made by subordinate members of the staff, and two cases of misfortune or bad luck. Speaking roughly that is the sum total of the charges. I have been at pains to enquire how many talks are provided by the British Broadcasting Corporation. I find there are roughly fifty to sixty addresses given every week, and between 2,000 and 3,000 every year. We have been told this is the first public debate there has been about the activities of the Corporation in eight years. If all the noble Lord can do is to bring forward half-a-dozen cases of ineptitude, of inefficiency, of bias, if you like, why it amounts to something like one-half of one per cent. of the whole for a year. I should say it was an amazing tribute to the impartiality with which the Corporation have conducted their operations in the past. I have also taken the trouble to ascertain from the Corporation whether they receive a large number of letters from the public, and if so what is contained in those letters. I understand that the overwhelming number of letters are laudatory, and that those that are critical are about equally divided, one-half saying the Corporation is too much inclined to reaction, and the other half saying it is too much inclined to radicalism. That again is a tribute to its impartiality.

I hope very much that nothing which has been said, or is going to be said, to-day will restrict the activities of the Corporation. I think it would not be in the national interest if we were to try and limit it to such an extent that its work could be described as grandmotherly. We have to face the fact that there are nearly always two points of view, and that it is not dangerous to the public to put those two points of view before them, although it would be unjustifiable to put merely one. Certainly I myself am glad to have this opportunity, as a listener and as a member of the public, of congratulating those who are responsible for the addresses of the British Broadcasting Corporation upon the high tone which they adopt, the diversified addresses which they give, and their balanced impartiality.


My Lords, I should like to say one word upon this matter having been connected with the Post Office some years ago. The last words which fell from the noble Lord in reference to the extraordinary development of broadcasting made one think how very remarkable that development is. I remember well only some twelve years ago—it was just about the end of the War—going into a broadcasting station and asking the operator if I might listen in. I did so, and heard a very small scratch. I asked the man in charge what that was. He said: "That is Madrid speaking." It seemed to me then almost a miracle that he could tell it was Madrid.

When the noble Earl rose this afternoon he began by saying that our broadcasting was the admiration of the world. It will be quite impossible for any one not to find a system which could not be justifiably criticised. I think it is very wise for us to have a discussion on these matters in your Lordships' House in order that different ideas may be put forward and criticism made, because it may be the means of making the service even more efficient than it is to-day. I only rise to make one point, and that is as a layman to express my gratitude to the British Broadcasting Corporation for what they have done for religion. I consider that the religious addresses which have been given have been of enormous value and that they have probably had a very great influence on our national life. I believe also that having heard many of the voices of the great citizens of this country is of very great value to a vast number of the people of this country and a precious memory.


My Lords, the House I feel will be somewhat disappointed in the speeches of the two noble Lords who have answered on behalf of the British Broadcasting Corporation. Their speeches were neither an adequate explanation nor a defence of the facts laid by the noble Earl behind me. If I may take the points which the noble Earl has brought forward in their order, the first matter complained of was with reference to Russia and Mr. Harold Nicolson, Mr. Harold Nicolson said there was no persecution in Russia, that a man who wishes to worship in his own way is at liberty to do so. That statement of opinion was not answered. In fact the noble Earl has told us that when the Christian Protest Movement wished for an opportunity to answer that statement they were not permitted to do so. That does not seem to me to be an impartial treatment. of a very controversial subject. Again, Mr. Harold Nicolson appears to have said that many religious leaders were shot, not as religious leaders, but as politicians hostile to the Soviet régime. That is exactly one of the most abominable devices alleged against the Soviet Government—that they do not persecute religion openly but that they do accuse religious leaders of opposition to the Soviet, and by this means they are carrying on a very subtle and very dangerous persecution of religion.

The next point which the noble Earl brought forward was the case of Mr. Dobb. Apparently Mr. Dobb—I did not hear the broadcast myself—alleged that conditions in Russia were exceedingly good, that the Bolshevist Government was a great success in Russia; and then another gentleman on a later occasion said that Russian action in China was exceedingly bad. That does not strike me as any kind of answer to Mr. Dobb's assertion. It is perfectly possible for a Government to have an exceedingly bad domestic policy and an exceedingly good foreign policy or vice versa. I cannot accept that, and I do not think your Lordships will accept it as an answer.

Then we come to the amazing fact that the officials in charge of the Listener were so very indiscreet as to invite political Parties to advertise in their paper. The Listener alone among organs of the Press occupies a privileged and quite peculiar position. The utmost discretion is absolutely necessary if it is to avoid charges of political partiality. I do not blame the Labour Party for their acceptance of the offer of advertising space, but I do blame—and I trust your Lordships will agree with me—the officials in charge of the Listener for making that offer at all. Then there was another matter—that of the advertisement coming under the heading of "Unemployment No. 8." It appears now that the B.B.C. have apologised for the position in which that advertisement appeared, but so far as I can gather from the speech of the noble Lord they did not apologise for the acceptance of such an advertisement. I do not think that a more experienced paper would have accepted an advertisement with a direct reference to a matter that was being discussed in its news columns, and I do not think they would have allowed an advertisement to appear to be a contribution to the ordinary columns of the paper.

I have felt it my duty to bring forward these very serious criticisms and to point out the inadequacy of the answers given. I say that without any feeling of hostility towards the British Broadcasting Corporation, and I am delighted to associate myself in every respect with the many tributes that have been paid to the efficiency of that service; but, as the noble Earl pointed out, the very fact that the British Broadcasting Corporation is a popular and efficient service entails a particular duty or caution upon those responsible for it, and it is only proper that Parliament should be ready to criticise the very least signs of imprudence upon the part of those to whom such important duties are entrusted.


My Lords, as the hospital ballot broadcast to which the noble Lord referred was made by me, probably you will allow me to say a few words. The British Charities Association, of which I am Chairman, organises competitions for the benefit of the hospitals. We have run several of these competitions in national newspapers because their editorial columns save us expense in circulars and postage stamps. The competition referred to is called "The Radio Ballot," the term "ballot" being used because it is a voting competition. Competitors vote for the items in the broadcasting programme that they like best and have to place in order of popularity fourteen subjects, such as talks, plays, dance music, information, etc. Over a million entries at sixpence each have already been received, so you will realise the value of the competition to the British Broadcasting Corporation as a means of obtaining information as regards what programme is desired by the public.

This is the first time opinions have been obtained on such a large scale and in such detailed form. We shall have the advantage of the opinions of over a million listeners and as each entrant has to pay before he expresses his views he no doubt does it with care after discussing with other listeners. In addition to that, this scheme encourages people to buy radio sets and as each radio set means an additional 10s. licence fee for the British Broadcasting Corporation, you can realise how very beneficial the scheme is to them. We have organised these ballots through many newspapers, but this is the first time we have held a ballot through the Herald, John Bull and the People with a circulation of five million copies between them. The whole of this circulation has been used to advertise the hospitals and radio for weeks, whilst the ballot has only received a few minutes' broadcast which we of the British Charities Association thought a rather small allowance by way of contra-advertising. But no doubt the British Broadcasting Corporation thought their action might be open to misrepresentation.

Short though my broadcast was, I was a little surprised by having my address censored only a few minutes before it was given, the name of the paper being cut out in two places. Those of you who have appealed for charity will know how unfortunate it is to have the address where information can be obtained cut out, especially at the last moment. These papers are mostly read by workers and it was for this reason that we accepted their offer because it would draw new money for the hospitals from new people and also—which was far more important—because it would explain to the class that get most benefit from the voluntary hospitals, that to subscribe to them was a virtue in which they could join.


My Lords, I rise to address to the House only a very few remarks, because I cannot claim any expert knowledge on the subject which has been discussed. I think that all your Lordships will feel that we are indebted to my noble friend Lord Radnor for having introduced the subject if only for the fact that it has evoked a very interesting debate and has elicited expressions of opinion and statements of policy which are of very high importance. I think we should all be agreed that if there is any feeling in any quarter of the country that there is any sort of political bias or unfairness in the administration of the B.B.C., it is very much better that that matter should be ventilated and that full opportunity should be given of dealing with the complaints and of explaining them. All your Lordships will have been gratified to hear of the high technical excellence which the British Broadcasting Corporation is able to claim. I am quite sure that the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, was right when he said it would be a great misfortune for this country if the British Broadcasting Corporation came in any sense under the direct control of the Government or in a position in which a Minister of the Crown was responsible for its administration. The temptation to misuse that power would indeed be great and—what is even more serious—the feeling on the other side, whoever happened to be the other side for the time being, that that power was in the hands of a particular Minister would lead to a suspicion of unfairness that would be most undesirable.

I agree also that it is impossible in any human institution that there shall not be some opportunity for criticism. It is inevitable in carrying on a great undertaking like this, that there must be mistakes made. Perhaps my noble friend Lord Astor is right in saying that the fact that there are comparatively few criticisms brought forward to-day is a matter on which the Corporation is entitled to congratulate itself. I am not quite sure that the increase in the number of subscribers is quite so conclusive a testimonial as Lord Gainford would have us believe because, after all, one must remember it is a monopoly and that, however dissatisfied the listeners are with the service rendered, they cannot get wireless from any other quarter. Even if they do not listen to the British Broadcasting Corporation but to some foreign station; they have still to pay. No doubt, the facilities and advantages given by wireless for the early dissemination of news and for information on all mariner of subjects are facilities which becomes a necessity in public life, but, just as I would not think that an increase in the number of telephone users was a conclusive proof that the telephone administration was beyond reproach, so I think the British Broadcasting Corporation cannot rely too much on this argument.

There rest two matters arising out of the criticisms on which I would like to add a word or two of comment. The first is the question of these Socialist advertisements. I gather, if I did not misunderstand Lord Gainford, that the position was that the Listener, being a newspaper desirous of reducing its losses, had offered to all three political Parties an opportunity of advertising in its columns. One of the three had accepted, and the other two had refused. The noble Lord seemed to think that made the matter completely satisfactory. To me, at any rate, that is a profoundly unsatisfactory explanation. The Listener is a paper primarily designed, apparently, to inform a very large public of the nature of the talks which have been given and of the subjects of the programmes which are about to be given. It ought essentially, I should have thought, have been a non-controversial and non-political organ. To say that it will for money—because that is what advertisements mean—allow any one of the Parties to propagate its particular views in the columns of that paper seems to me a complete misconception of its proper function. I do not think it is in the least true to say that, because only one Party chose to buy the space, therefore you have got a good excuse. It is a profound mistake to sell to any one of the Parties in the State the right to disseminate its views by means of that particular newspaper.

The other matter, which I confess leaves me a little uneasy, is the matter of this man Dobbs, and the explanation which the noble Lord gave seemed to me to make the matter rather worse than it originally appeared. It seems that Dobbs was giving a lecture on the five-year plan in Russia as one of a series of lectures, which were introduced as by distinguished professors of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge leading listeners on the wireless to believe that they were going to hear high authorities on the future tendencies of civilisation. In fact, what they got from Dobbs was not the statement of a learned professor upon the future tendencies of civilisation but a Communist propaganda speech from the paid servant of the Daily Worker. If the noble Lord had said: "Well, we were deceived. We did not know who that man was. We did not understand the sort of thing he was going to talk about," one would have said it was a mistake, the sort of mistake we must expect from time to time. But that is not the attitude of the noble Lord. He says: "We see no harm in it. Dobbs gave a statement of facts as he regarded them of what he saw in Russia." And the noble Lord added: "We actually went through the paper before he read it so that we knew exactly what he was going to say."

I wonder if any of those who listened on that particular occasion realised what they were listening to was not a statement of fact by an eminent professor in a series of discourses by high authorities but was really propaganda put out by the Soviet Government in favour of its own particular point of view. I wonder still more if the noble Lord would have been willing to publish with equal equanimity a statement of the true facts about the five-year plan, which is what Dobbs seems to have lectured upon. We all know that the five-year plan is a scheme under which Soviet Russia is plotting the overthrow of civilisation in this country, a plan designed to destroy our industries, to put our men out of work and to drive them to such a state of desperation that there will result that state of armed revolution and civil war which they hope will result in the establishment of a Soviet régime in this country.

If he had followed up the statement of Dobbs with those facts, with an account of the slave labour that exists there, and with an exposition of the true facts in Russia to-day, there might have been some excuse. To say you have sufficiently counteracted a statement of the five-year plan by a Soviet apologist by allowing somebody the next week, in describing affairs in China, to mention that Communism had done a lot of harm there, seems to show a lack of appreciation of the gravamen of the charge. I should have been quite willing to accept the statement: "This was a mistake. We are very sorry for it and it will not happen again." But, in regarding it as a statement of fact because it is what Dobbs says he saw in Russia, the noble Lord seems not to have appreciated the feeling that it was likely to arouse in this country and the mischief such lectures are liable to do.

I have said these words by way of criticism because I think that a fault does seem somehow to have crept into the administration of the British Broadcasting Corporation in these instances. It is not a failure to hold the balance, as I am quite sure the noble Lord would wish to hold it, and as, indeed, he assures us that he does, but it is not an unbiased way of presenting different points of view. I do not in the least take the view that only what may be pleasant to one section of the community ought to be broadcast. I entirely agree that the different sides ought to be fairly presented, but I do not think that, either by selling their space to one particular political Party for the dissemination of their propaganda or by allowing a man of this kind to masquerade as an impartial professor and lecturer upon scientific matters—I do not think that in either of those ways the British Broadcasting Corporation have succeeded in living up to the high standard which they profess that they seek to maintain. I am sure that all your Lordships will be grateful to the noble Earl for introducing this subject, and I hope very much that, with the ventilation of the grievance to which he drew attention, the British Broadcasting Corporation, without in the least necessarily accepting his point of view, will at least be careful not to offend the susceptibilities of a great many of their fellow-citizens by making their unique opportunity the mouthpiece for Communist propaganda in this country.


My Lords, this debate has been very interesting, and we are greatly indebted to the noble Earl who raised this question, and whose speeches are always so sincere and persuasive that they carry a great deal of weight in your Lordships' House. Until the last speech the debate had been carried on with great good humour and in a very placid atmosphere. I cannot help regretting the speech of the noble and learned Viscount who has just sat down.




Because I think the violence with which he spoke was based on insufficient knowledge. He referred to this particular case of Mr. Morris Dobb, whom he referred to as "the man Dobbs." He had not even taken the trouble to find out what the gentleman's name is.


I hope the noble Lord will forgive me, but I used the name which the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, used. If it was wrong, I am sorry, but he is responsible.


At any rate, Lord Gainford did not call him "the man Dobbs."


He called him "Professor Dobbs."


The noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, told us that Mr. Dobb had said that the Soviet Government was exceedingly goad. I do not think either the noble and learned Viscount who has just sat down or the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, have the remotest conception of what Mr. Dobb said. I think it is rather unfair to bring a charge against the British Broadcasting Corporation merely on gossip, from the Morning Post. Mr. Dobb gave a lecture on the five-year plan, a very careful analysis of that plan. Whether it was a good lecture or not has nothing to do with it. What we are dealing with, apparently, is the point whether the British Broadcasting Corporation ought to have ascertained that Mr. noble had been a Communist and had contributed to the Daily Worker, I think it is putting an obligation on the British Broadcasting Corporation that is a bit unfair if they have to cross-question people and make investigations with regard to their careers and their beliefs. I have sometimes had the honour to do broadcasting for the British Broadcasting Corporation, but, if an investigation were to be made into my career, I should resent it very much, and I think the Corporation would lose a great many of the important and interesting people whose services they now have if they adopted that course.

I think that this debate has done a very useful bit of work in showing that the charges against the administration of this immense Corporation have really dwindled down to—well, I really think that at the end of this debate I can only find one, and for that the British Broadcasting Corporation have apologised. That was the improper advertisement put in, not, as Lord Gainford said, by the Labour Party, but I think by the single-tax people, or the Society for the Taxation of Land Values or something of that sort. It was printed in the wrong sort of type and put in the wrong place. They have apologised for that. Over a period of seven years, that is the sum total of the charge against this organisation. The others have been disposed of by my noble friend Lord Gainford, but perhaps I might refer to those other than the point about Mr. Dobb.

I should like to say one word about Mr. Nicolson, because, although Lord Gainford quoted passages from the paragraphs in his address, he did not give the passage in which the sentence, or rather the parenthesis, quoted by the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, occurred. I think that, if I read the sentence to him, the noble Earl will see that to detach this parenthesis by itself and give it as the substance of Mr. Nicolson's address was really not fair. This is the sentence:— I believe also that the Russian Government have embarked upon a systematic campaign in order to uproot religion from the minds of the Russian people, and that they have stopped at nothing to heap the most sacred beliefs of the Russian peasant with ridicule and abuse. But I also feel other things. The Moscow Government can scarcely be said to persecute religion in the historical sense of the term. They make fun of it, and they render it highly inconvenient and irksome. After just detaching that one parenthesis, the noble Earl criticised this interesting talk by Mr. Nicolson. I almost felt, when the noble Earl was putting his case, that he had been briefed in such a way as to give us an opportunity of showing how little criticism can be brought against the administration of the British Broadcasting Corporation.

I think the Daily Herald radio ballot is perhaps the only other case that has not been dealt with. I should like to give examples of the British Broadcasting Corporation's method of co-operating with the newspapers. The Daily Herald is not the only newspaper with which they have co-operated. Other examples are the Daily News campaign for wireless for London Hospitals in 1925–6; the Daily Mail programme popularity competitions of 1926 and 1931; the Daily Express community singing campaigns of 1927–8; The Times campaign for the preservation of the fabric of St. Paul's Cathedral in 1928–9; the efforts of the newspapers of the Berry group for the Children's Hospital at Westminster; the Daily Mail concert in celebration of the diamond jubilee of the Royal Albert Hall in 1931; and the farewell dinner to Mr. C. P. Scott of the Manchester Guardian. This radio ballot of tile Daily Herald was no exception and, as the noble Lord, Lord Luke, has pointed out, it had a very beneficial effect both in helping the British Broadcasting Corporation and in collecting money for the hospitals. As for the newspaper advertising in this connection, all the newspapers do it. Whether the Corporation should turn out all this sort of advertisement is a matter that may have to be taken into account, but for the time being that is not their policy.

Let me add that I fully endorse what Lord Crawford said as to its not being the business of the Government to interfere in this matter. I remember well in the House of Commons hearing Sir William Mitchell-Thomson, the Postmaster-General, protesting against a suggestion that His Majesty's Government should be ma de responsible for programmes that were broadcast. It is quite impossible that they should do anything of the kind, and we are continuing the policy of the last Government in preventing anything of that sort; but it rests with the Postmaster-General to intervene should there be any flagrant case of bias being shown in one direction or another. They have an exceedingly difficult task, and I must say that I think the Director-General does his work with amazing skill, because extremists from both sides fire at him. He has to try and keep an even, middle course, and there is nothing so objectionable as a middle course to the extremists of both sides. Therefore, he finds himself in great difficulty. He has to deal at this moment with three Parties in the State, but he is a little doubtful what the future is going to bring in regard to fresh political Parties, and he may find his work considerably complicated in that direction.

I must say that this debate shows that an advertisement here and an advertisement there is all we can find to exemplify what may be termed as bias; that the lecture by Mr. Dobb brought in not one single letter of protest; that there have been no complaints of error in judgment or use with regard to advertisements. All this serves to show that this organisation is being conducted in a way of which we can heartily approve. I must say, in answer to the Question, that the balance sheet of the B.B.C. is published as a separate Parliamentary Paper every year. I personally very much hope that controversy will continue. I think it is the breath of life, and I am sure it is very much appreciated by the listeners. It gives zest and interest, and although it is possible mistakes may be made, here and there, on the whole, since 1928, the conduct of this organisation has proved that with wise judgment and discrimination, controversy can be well conducted.

I should, in conclusion, like to quote to your Lordships an opinion which comes from abroad, because I think it is a testimony which is interesting. I give it in the words of the report of an interview by one of the officials of the Broadcasting Corporation, who was being questioned and interviewed by the head of a large Broadcasting Corporation in a foreign country. This is the note:— After his describing the difficult situation in which they were, I asked whether he thought our experience and opinion would be of value. 'What,' he said, 'of value? Do you not know what the Continent thinks of the B.B.C.?' I said I was not quite sure. He leant back in his chair and pointed up to the ceiling. The Continent regards the B.B.C. as away up there, high above anything we have been able to do. Whenever we manage something good, we say that it is a step up the hill towards the B.B.C.' After more to the same effect, changing the metaphor, he said, 'What the B.B.C. has done is like a light-house, indicating the route for safe navigation.' I think that is a very striking testimony from abroad, and shows that Great Britain is taking the lead in this matter. I am glad that we have had this debate, if it is only to show that the criticisms have been very small, and that the defence has been so very strong. I think we may say that during the afternoon we have been using a steam hammer to crack a nut, and I am afraid at the end of it the nut is found to have no kernel.


If your Lordships will permit me, I would like in reply to Lord Gainford to make it perfectly clear that my criticisms of the staff of the B.B.C. contained no personal feeling, and in fact I wish to make the point that I was not criticising them so much as showing that they had not had the training to enable them to perform their functions quite as well as people who had been trained in the entertainment business. I did not wish to criticise them in the way which he seemed to imply by defending them. Also it has been a general criticism of what I said that I think one noble Lord stated that there had been so few instances of bias in the last eight years. I have not attempted to produce an exhaustive case, for it is impossible for me to go through, year by year, the sixty lectures a week during the last eight years. I have merely picked out recent instances, and most of those which I produced were this year. I feel that those instances have not been very satisfactorily answered, and that whether they were mistakes or not, the cumulative result of those and other instances is not redounding very greatly to the credit of the B.B.C. However, it seems that the general opinion of the majority of your Lordships is that the B.B.C. cannot be better, and I therefore beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.