§ 2.43 p.m.
§ LORD WOOLTON rose to call attention to the Report of the Broadcasting Committee, 1949 (Cmd. 8116), and to subsequent publications relating thereto; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the broadcasting of news and views is so obviously a matter of great national interest that I thought your Lordships would desire at some time to give a day to its discussion. I was certain, also, that your Lordships would desire an opportunity to thank the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, and the members of his Committee for the Report they have presented to Parliament, and for their most exhaustive and, I should have thought, exhausting, labours. The reason why I venture to intervene is that it chanced that I was a Chairman of the inter-Party Cabinet Committee that dealt with this problem in the days of the Coalition Government. Therefore, I thought your Lordships would perhaps forgive me if I raised the matter to-day. We have, indeed, a great deal of information to guide us. I do not know whether your Lordships have read it all. I started out with a great ideal on this subject, and a determination that I would read not only the whole of the Report, but all the information that was sent to me by various people who have been good enough to favour me with their opinions. But as more and more of it poured in, I am bound to say that I had to give up an unequal struggle. I therefore propose not to deal with any of the interests that have suggested that I should raise particular points, which some thought were not adequately covered by the debate in another place. I shall confine myself, on the whole, to the main headings on the subject, and particularly to those aspects of 1214 it on which Parliament can properly express a view.
§ I believe the first thing that we have to do is to make up our minds on whether we think the B.B.C. during all these years have served us well. The best is the enemy of the good, and, of course, we should always strive for those things that are more excellent. At the same time, we should be most careful not to discard the good until we are quite sure that we have something that is better, if not the best. To-day I hope your Lordships' House will tell the Governors and the staff of the B.B.C. that we review their work with grateful admiration. To fortify ourselves in this praise, I ask those of your Lordships who were in Britain during the war, and particularly those who were here in the early days of the war, when dispersal of many of our services was so necessary, to think of those days. I ask those of your Lordships who were, for one reason or another, able to judge the opinion of other nations of the work of the B.B.C., and who know what happened in occupied countries, to remember those things. I feel that the recollection of them must affect our judgment on the importance of securing that the essentially British national character of our broadcasting system should be retained. Those recollections, if your Lordships will be good enough to think of them for a moment, will, I believe, both mark and enliven your sense of gratitude and praise for the B.B.C.
§ During the war the B.B.C. spoke for Britain. But I am inclined to think there is little doubt that the German broadcasting system spoke for Germany. I wonder whether, if Hitler had not had the broadcasting system at his command, he would have been able to capture so completely as he did the soul of Germany. We must face up to the danger of the Government of the day having handed to them exclusively, by Parliament, so powerful an instrument. Of course, it all depends upon the spirit of the nation, which the Government must reflect. The German nation perhaps liked the reflection that it obtained from its broadcasting system. The difference between the German system and ours was that we created a broadcasting company with a major degree of independence in its operation of programmes in this country, whereas Hitler captured the machine. It is interesting to note—and I think most 1215 creditable—that during the war, with all the stringencies of war, the B.B.C. retained a great deal of its independence. Those members of your Lordships' House who were Ministers at the time will know that we frequently had words on the subject of what we were allowed to do and how much we were allowed to use the broadcasting service. That independence, while it was quite frequently inconvenient, was, I am sure, perfectly right. It is a peculiarly British compromise between logic and practice. Here we have a Government deciding the extent of the licence for broadcasting; we have the Government collecting the revenue; we have the Government appointing the Governors; and, having done all that, we have the Government telling them to be independent. That position cannot be defended on the basis either of reason or of logic. The best parallel is to be found in the entirely illogical composition of your Lordships' House. The answer in both cases, of course, is the quite unassailable one, that it may not be very logical but it seems to work very well.
§ I have raised this issue because of the obvious danger that lies in the future if we had an unwise Government able to capture the B.B.C. That could be done. It might be done by the use of political patronage, by which the Government would secure the political support of the majority of the Governors; but, more important, and I think infinitely more dangerous, the Government might use their influence through the Chairman of the Governors to secure appointment to key positions on the staff of people who would give a Party slant to the general programmes of the B.B.C. I am glad to see my noble friend the Chairman of the B.B.C. in his place, and I assure him—though I believe it is unnecessary—that in making these remarks on the subject of the Chairman of the B.B.C. I am talking of a hypothetical Chairman, and certainly not casting any reflections on his conduct of his office. The danger is one of degree, and one that varies over a wide area. Nothing more tangible might happen than that a Chairman of deep political conviction might tend to favour those people of like mind, so that the political orthodoxy of the Corporation might take its tone from the Chairman.1216
§ There, I believe, is a real danger. The Chairman might, either from an excess of political impartiality, or because of his personal sympathies, allow Communist influence to get a hold in the place. Believe me, once that happened we should have a deliberately destructive force at work, giving a slant to programmes in such a subtle manner that it might be difficult for those in control of the administration of the B.B.C. to be both wise and patently just in dealing with the staff involved. I raise this issue, because I personally am convinced that we are in some danger of hiding our heads in the sand regarding the danger of Communist infiltration into our public and our educational services—and there is no educational service in which it could be so dangerous as that of the Broadcasting Corporation.
§ The Report of the Beveridge Committee brought to light the ill-defined position of the Governors. I understand from their White Paper the Government propose to deal with this matter by Charter. May I therefore make three observations? I have come to the conclusion that it would be better if the Chairman of the B.B.C. were chosen from one of the very large number of men in our national life—men or women; I have no feeling as to their sex—who have achieved distinction on other than political grounds. I think it might be well if, instead of the Chairman's being chosen by the Government—that is to say, by the Prime Minister of the day—he were chosen by a small Committee consisting of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Archbishop of Canterbury, acting as an impartial chairman. By that means we might at any rate secure that the temptation to make a political nominee would be reduced.
§ The second reason why I raise this matter is because of the Government's suggestion that there should be broadcasting councils, drawn from public authorities, for the provincial areas. I hope that, whatever else we do to-day, we shall kill this idea stone dead. It is the most pernicious idea which has come out in all the discussions we have had. I believe that if we agree to it the whole area of the B.B.C. will be subject to political bias. Let us make it plain to the country to-day that we are determined to preserve, and even to strengthen, the 1217 safeguards which will confine Party political propaganda on the air to the clearly defined appointed channels of Party political broadcasts. If these councils, as indicated in the White Paper, are to have almost absolute control over the policy and the programmes, I think we shall get into a state of chaos. I cannot imagine why they have been suggested. The B.B.C. would, I presume, be able to have nation-wide broadcasts only by permission of these local councils. But what about the staff? They would have dual and may be conflicting loyalties. Your Lordships know what would happen in the end. We should have more committees, hindering operations, delaying actions and incurring travelling expenses.
§ The third reason which I adduce arises From Recommendation 8 in the Beveridge Report. The last thing in the world that I wish to do is to misinterpret or do any injustice to that Recommendation, but I have not understood it. In Paragraph 556 there is a suggestion, at least, that a Governor might take a special responsibility in some section in which he has particular interest. Now that would obviously be very proper, for Governors ought to be interested and ought to lake special responsibility if they have special knowledge. But, surely, action must not be expressed as a result of the direct decision or instruction of any Governor—it must to through the Director General. In an organisation like this, if Governors began [...]o interfere with the detailed operations—and especially with the contents of a programme—I do not know where we should et. It would be as if a business panel of company directors, men who are not whole-time directors but who are there [...] represent shareholders' interests, went Into the works and gave instructions to he foremen. It would be disastrous. I do not know why anybody suggested it.
The Governors of the B.B.C. hold partime appointments. Their duty lies, and must lie, in the range of public policy. They must not be allowed—and I quote
to enter into execution and practice.
The B.B.C. is a vast organisation of 13,000 [...]more people, and unless the Director General and the staff who are appointed serve are recognised as the only vehicle or transmitting opinions to the staff, not only will the position of the Director general become intolerable but the staff way frequently find themselves gravely
embarrassed. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, will be good enough, as a result of the vast amount of labour which he undertook to enlighten us as to his opinion on that subject.
§ Now I come to the question: How long is this new Charter going to last? At once I agree with the importance that the operations of such a Corporation must demand. The Corporation should have stability, and the Governors and the staff must be able to look ahead. I very much doubt whether the major premises for stability really exist in this matter. The technology of electro-physics is in a state of constant change, and it may be that well within the period of fifteen years most revolutionary scientific changes will take place. In those circumstances, I wonder whether it would not be much wiser if we provided for the Charter to last for much less than the fifteen years. To suggest seven years is just an obvious compromise, Lord Beveridge's Committee, in a very reasonable endeavour to deal with this particular problem, suggested that there should be what, in insurance language, is called a quinquennial review. I wonder whether such a review would serve any useful purpose. Of course, it could not alter the Charter, and it therefore seems to me that it would be a sort of cautionary committee, which might well bring a great deal of hesitation into decisions. I have come to the conclusion, therefore, that the best thing we can do here is to take the mean course and let the Charter last for no longer than seven years.
§ Now I should like to deal with the Government's financial proposals, which I understand are causing a great deal of disturbance and alarm in B.B.C. circles. The proposal is that the Government should take 15 per cent. of the revenue of the B.B.C. for their immediate use. I am told that that means a figure of something like £1,750,000. Here, Lord Beveridge and the Government disagree, and I have no hesitation at all in supporting the noble Lord's views. Your Lordships will realise that when the Government say that the B.B.C. can retain 85 per cent. of the licence fees, that does not mean that the B.B.C. have 85 per cent. of the licence money at their disposal. I do not know whether your Lordships know it, but the Post Office take 7½ per cent. as a collecting fee. I do not know whether they make a profit 1219 on that. If they do not, I should very much like to "get in on it." If the Post Office cannot collect those licence fees for less than 7½ per cent. they had better review the efficiency of their organisation. However, it is after they have collected that 7½ per cent., I understand, that the 85 per cent. begins to operate. That is not the end of the story. The Corporation have a receipts and expenditure account. I am not quite clear how this works. I know that they pay income tax on any profit they make, but I am not clear what is "profit" in these circumstances. The only thing I am clear about is that it means that in 1947 they paid £4,500,000 by way of taxation.
§ I will not say anything more about this matter. I should very much like to, but I understand that the question whether the B.B.C. should pay income tax is before the courts, and it would therefore be improper for me to go any further—though, as I say, I am vastly tempted to do so. But I do not think the Government are right in taking the 15 per cent. I am sure they are wrong to take the 15 per cent. and then tell the B.B.C. that, if this tax prevents their putting money aside for their future need they will be able to borrow it. That is the sort of "cock-eyed" finance that is causing so much of our present troubles. The B.B.C. must continue to put aside out of their income very considerable amounts of money for the future financing of their activities; and they ought to go to the country to borrow for only quite exceptional and major developments. If the Government want to put a tax of 15 per cent. on broadcasting, there is a case for that; but, let them do it in the Budget. I do not like this "taxation round the corner," because that is what it comes to if people have to pay £1 for a licence and then find that, without any Budget proposal, a portion of this money is being taken for taxation.
§ I come now to what I personally have found the most difficult issue to face in this debate—the question of monopoly. On this particular subject I do not think the Beveridge Report is as helpful as it is on so many others. It is enlightening—but I do not know where the light leads to. I read the Report for guidance because I have found great difficulty in coming to a conclusion on the subject. I went to the Beveridge Report, hoping that 1220 there I should find something that would balance my wavering mind. But what they have done is to tell us all the dangers that arise from the monopoly; and then, for some obscure reason, which they have not given, they have come to the conclusion that they are not in favour of monopoly in this form but that they are in favour of monopoly in, I understand, some other form. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge will enlighten us in that matter, because I may have done him an injustice.
§ I admit at once that on this question of monopoly I have both prejudice and fear. I do not like monopolies of any sort whether Government or private. I share that point of view at least with noble Lords opposite. I dislike the effect which monopolies have on the people in charge of them. When I say that, I hope that the Governors—one of whom I see is sitting here—will not feel that I am saying I do not like their minds. But it is a dangerous thing to have so much power The question is whether there is room both for the B.B.C., with its assure, revenue, and for some form of free enterprise. I recognise at once that the B.B.C. is a Conservative-created monopoly—had better give noble Lords opposite that point, in case they raise it. I agree that it has served a most useful purpose. I think it was essential to have this monopoly when the Conservative Party creates it. But that does not seem to be an argument for maintaining it when the industry is no longer an infant industry and, indeed, has grown to strength and maturity. I can find only one strong argument that commends itself to my mind in favour [...] continuing the B.B.C. in its present form and that is that it seems to be working very well at present. On that complace[...] tone, perhaps it would be convenient [...] stop thinking about it.
§ But I do not think we can do that; do not think we can say that this is "The Only Way." We are here threatened with the continuance of this monopoly f[...] fifteen years; and that with an industry which has developed so rapidly that the[...] is not a noble Lord in this Chamber w[...] could foretell what sort of services may be available from it in three or four years time, let alone in fifteen years. Monopoly stifles enterprise, not only in the think that it monopolises but also in the invention and production of the instrument that it uses. But what about fifteen years 1221 hence—and an unknown Board of Governors? Surely there is something to be said for the idea that, if there were other users of broadcasting in this country, they might provide considerable and additional encouragement to the development of new scientific methods and processes—and that in itself is a matter of vital importance to the defence services of the nation.
§ I ask your Lordships: What is the answer to this question? What is the objection to competition? We are told that if we have competition the bad will drive out the good, and that broadcasting in this country would be much worse if it were left in some part to people who are motivated by a desire to sell goods by broadcasting. I wonder whether that is true. I wonder what is the evidence for that argument. It is based on the idea, apparently, that we needs must love the worst if we are free. I do not think that reflects our general character. There are two types of B.B.C. programmes which I find very much below the standard of sponsored American programmes. Strangely, one is the programme designed to amuse us, to make us laugh. The other is the religious programme. I think the B.B.C. are very wise in giving people free tickets to go as audiences in the amusement parts of their programmes, because it gives listeners an idea of when they ought to laugh. Otherwise, I, for one, frequently find myself puzzled to find out what there is to laugh at. And then it occurs to me that if these people were televised they might perhaps look funnier than they sound—as they so easily could. I am quite certain that sponsored programmes would give us a livelier variety.
§ I hope your Lordships will forgive me, for I think this is a digression, but I cannot help saying this. I am most concerned about the religious programmes. When I was in America a year ago, I had more to do with broadcasting in the course of three weeks than I normally have in a year in this country. Of all the programmes that I heard or took part in, the one that impressed me most was three-quarters of an hour of a religious service, paid for by the Roman Catholic Church. It was full of vitality and conviction. It was a first-class broadcasting performance. I must say, it held me. Protestant as I am, I listened to it with most profound admiration. I generally listen to the programme in his country "Lift up your 1222 Hearts." at ten minutes to eight every morning. The religious organisations of this country get it free, day in and day out, and whilst, of course, there are brilliant exceptions, on the whole even the weather forecast that follows seems lively in comparison—maybe because they have an expert broadcaster giving the dismal news about the weather. I cannot help but think that what is given freely is valued lightly. I hope your Lordships will forgive me for having brought up this matter. I do not think it really arises out of the Report, but I am deeply convinced that the religious organisations of this country—and I hate to think of this country ceasing to be a Christian country—are missing a very great opportunity. I hope that the Spiritual Lords here will not think that I have gone beyond my temporal province in mentioning it.
§ Let me turn to the question of monopoly. There is another and a human factor which I am sure we must take into account. I do not like the idea of there being only one employer in any occupation. If any man falls foul of the B.B.C. and loses his job, or feels that he has to give up his job on that account, he is finished for broadcasting in this country. It is true that he can probably go abroad and do very well there. Then again, look at the matter from the point of view of the Directors of the B.B.C. They are very human and considerate gentlemen. They know quite well that, if they dismiss anybody from the B.B.C. because he is not very good, that man has no chance of getting a job in his own chosen profession anywhere else. I think that is a factor of which we must take notice.
§ Let me now give your Lordships the conclusions at which I have arrived, as a result of the considerable amount of thought that I have given to this problem—and not only since the Beveridge Report came out. Let me say that I am speaking personally, for I do not regard this as a Party matter. I do not want to involve anybody else in my opinions, and I have taken the opportunity of not consulting my Leader in this House about what I am going to say. He told me that I could say what I liked. I have come to the conclusion that the B.B.C. should be retained in full possession of their present powers, except that they should not have, for any long period, the exclusive right of broadcasting in this 1223 country. Under the powers which the Postmaster-General now possesses, I think that, within a reasonable distance of time from now, some station should be either leased or created that would permit of sponsored programmes; but from this station, or from any other station except the B.B.C., I would prohibit Party political broadcasts or broadcasts overseas. I want the B.B.C. to continue to be "the Voice of Britain" overseas.
§ As regards Party political broadcasts, I do not want any sponsored politics on the air. In this matter, I should declare an interest, because I do not want to see either of the two wealthy Political Parties in this country, the Communists and the Socialists, having an advantage over the Party to which the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, belongs, or to the Party with which I am associated. Further, I believe that there is much to be said for a wider choice in broadcasting stations. I believe that we should encourage the development of local pride and civic sense in our provincial cities. Edinburgh, Cardiff, Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool and Belfast are all places that have interests and talents different from those that we find here in the Metropolis. We should be wise to cultivate these national and regional interests, and I wonder whether we could not do this and, at the same time, get away from the broadcasting monopoly that some of us fear.
§ I am given to understand, though I speak without expert knowledge, that the installation of very-high-frequency stations can be carried out for comparatively small sums, and that there is room for considerable development of broadcasting stations by this means. I see no reason why such stations should not be installed and supported by local interests. What have we to fear from such freedom arising from the development of a new technique? I believe that by this compromise we could obtain the best of all worlds. The B.B.C. would have nothing to lose; they would remain as the national organisation; they would broadcast to the country; they would broadcast overseas; they would be, and would be recognised by other nations as, "the Voice of Britain"; their revenue would be secure. All the time they would be stimulated to tech- 1224 nical advance by the fresh enterprise of the smaller and independent bodies, who would have to be very much alive to retain their place in face of the wealth and the power of this great national organisation. Thirdly, I suggest that, through very-high-frequency broadcasting on a local basis, we should overcome the problems that are worrying us about developing local feeling in the various areas of the country. I will not strain your Lordships' patience any longer. I have done my best to give your Lordships the views at which I have arrived in the face of many difficulties, difficulties that have been enhanced by my personal admiration for the work of the British Broadcasting Corporation, their staff and their Governors. I have not trespassed on your time to deal with the problems of television, and the relation between films and television, because I believe that other noble Lords, more competent than I am, will deal with those subjects.
§ 3.20 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, in their White Paper on this subject, in which they have invited an expression of public opinion, the Government themselves have put forward their own views, though only in a tentative fashion. I think this procedure is to be warmly welcomed, and we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, for having given to the House the opportunity that it would desire, in order to offer a reply to the Government's invitation. For my own part, I speak not only as a faithful listener to the B.B.C., as most of your Lordships no doubt are, but also as having been for some years a member of the General Advisory Council of the B.B.C.—as also are several of your Lordships. In consequence of this membership, of course, I have been heavily documented on all these subjects for several years past, and have had the advantage of hearing many of them debated in the discussions of that Council. The noble Earl, Lord Halifax, who is Chairman of the Council, will speak later, and will do so with the authority that belongs to that office. The Government's conclusions are, as I say, tentative. They are not at this stage like the character in one of Goldsmith's plays, who said:When I am determined, I never mind listening to reason, because then it can do no harm.1225 No doubt we shall reach that stage a little later on.
To the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, and to his colleagues, we, and the public in general, must all be exceedingly grateful for the eminent service that they have rendered. This inquiry has been more thorough, more comprehensive and more helpful in the solution of the various problems that arise than any previous one has been. On the whole, it is a vindication of the British Broadcasting Corporation. So is the Government's White Paper, which endorses categorically the conclusions of the Beveridge Committee. For my own part, viewing the matter as a whole, I feel convinced that that is the right view for us to adopt. We often say, of our institutions or systems, that this or that is the best in the world. The phrase comes trippingly from the tongue, and when we mean to say that this or that is very good, we may be saying that it is the envy and admiration of the world, without, however, having made any very careful investigation as to the precise facts in other countries. But there are certain institutions in which, almost by common consent, the British do show an example to other countries. The most important of course is the Justiciary. There is the Civil Service; there are our police forces; one might add perhaps the London Underground transport system. And I believe that to the list we can add the B.B.C. It is an institution which we can show proudly to the other countries which are in competition with, or in emulation of, us; and that fact is surely a justification of the principles, and also of the choice of persons who have been responsible during all these years for this great organisation. Among the persons to whom very high praise is due are, perhaps, principally, the first Director-General, Lord Reith, and the present Director-General Sir William Haley.
The main principles which I would suggest to your Lordships are three in number: first that the B.B.C. should be wholly independent of the Government of the day; second, that it should be a publicly owned monopoly; and thirdly, that it should not include programmes sponsored by advertisers. On the first point it is unnecessary to say anything, for it is universally recognised that the B.B.C. does possess complete independence, that all through the years, in war and in peace, it has had its own 1226 duty to perform, and recognises its own responsibilities. And the fact that that independence has been so invariably and scrupulously observed is greatly to the credit, not only of the Corporation itself but also of successive Governments, of all Parties.
The second point is that of monopoly. We on these Benches are, and have been historically, denouncers of monopoly as against competition. Indeed, it has become a term of abuse, and in fact it always has been, from right back in the 17th and 18th centuries. But a monopoly of this character is quite different from any other, except perhaps the Post Office, which is also a complete monopoly, in the hands of the State, and which, on the whole, serves its purposes well. Here again, this general principle has been reaffirmed. As a result of their long inquiry, after hearing much evidence against the principle, and after considering many alternatives, the Beveridge Committee came definitely to the conclusion, I think with one dissentient, that the monopoly should be maintained, although they did say that in various manners it should be safeguarded, and perhaps in some respects qualified, in the ways specified in the course of their Report.
Somewhat to my surprise, Lord Woolton to-day took a different view. Very few of the leaders in public life have asked for the mitigation of the monopoly by the inclusion of other organisations or an organisation for advertisers' programmes. This, of course, is the system which prevails in Australia, where there is both a State service, maintained through the usual channels for obtaining revenue, and also a commercial service, which is maintained by payments from advertisers. For my own part, I do not at all agree with Lord Woolton; indeed, I entirely dissent from him. I would rather see the present system maintained as it is. There is, in fact, a considerable measure of competition within the B.B.C.; or, if your Lordships do not like the word "competition," perhaps I may say "emulation." There are the three different programmes which compete with one another for reputation and favour. There are the seven regions which have control over a very large part of their own Home Service programmes, and there are 1227 several Overseas programmes always being transmitted. The producers of all these various programmes are in competition with one another. The heads of the B.B.C. are always on the lookout for good producers, and the producers themselves are always on the lookout for fresh talent, whether as speakers or as performers, who will enable them to show that their programmes are as good as, or better than, anyone else's.
The noble Lord, Lord Woolton, has said that he does not like the principle of having only the one employer: that a man who does not make good, and is not a success in the opinion of the B.B.C., now has no opportunity to obtain another position in the same branch of life. Why should he have? He may, indeed, go to another producer within the B.B.C. for one of the other programmes and get employment. But if they all reject him as being inefficient, why should we expect that any commercial programme would employ him? On the contrary, they would be the very last to do so. Therefore that argument, it appears to me, is not one that carries weight. As to the programmes themselves necessarily they must obey public demand. The B.B.C. is not a body catering for any one class of the community, or for people of any one standard of education; it has to take into account the whole 50,000,000 of population. If one listens in by chance and hears someone crooning, and cloying us with "blue," "new," "true," "for you," and so on, one perhaps thinks that it is worse than jazz; but if, again, we turn to jazz and hear that, we may say: "Well, after all, this is even worse than crooning." And if we turn to the deadly uniformity of what is so strangely called "variety," we can only say: "Well, for those who like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing they like." But they have to be catered for.
We must recognise that the tastes of the nation must govern, to a very large degree, the character of the programmes. It is the duty of the B.B.C.—a duty which they recognise, however reluctantly, is imposed upon them, and which they perform with great care and pity—to see that they choose their programmes to suit their public according to a balance of tastes. The reason why so many of us are bitterly opposed to the principle of commercial broad- 1228 casting is that the moment that is introduced it alters the balance of tastes that are catered for. The competition is of people paying fantastically high fees to the best performers or speakers or musicians, whichever they may be, in order that their own commodity may receive advertisement, on what is stupidly called "the air," but what ought to be called "the ether," as against their rivals. There is an odious but common expression that "time is money." It would be much more true to say that "time is life." It is the listener's leisure time which is being used, and why should he, in the time he wishes to give to listening, be catered for by people whose main object is to advertise the virtues of their soap or pills, or whatever it may be. Listeners' time is sold in the market to the people who can pay the most money, and who will determine the character of the programmes which will make it worth while for them to pay that money.
Indeed, the matter touches even deeper issues than those. Our modern 20th century civilisation, by the common consent of intelligent people, is already far too much commercialised by the buying and selling of things that we use and consume. These are aspects of human life which receive undue prominence in the modern age. Advertisements have been intrusive everywhere for the last fifty years. Some of us who have been concerned in this matter have been struggling to preserve the countryside against the degradation of advertising. The first Act to that end, I had the honour to assist in passing over forty years ago. That measure has been gradually extended, in face of great opposition. Powerful vested interests have had to be overcome, but at the present time we have some measure of protection for our treasures of historic and architectural interest and natural beauty. Now we have this new influence entering every home and affecting the intellectual and mental environment of every family. Why should we, for the sake of picking up a million or two here and there, degrade the standards of our broadcasting system by diluting it with a continuous stream of commercial advertising? I am told by those who know the working of the Australian system that in the commercial broadcasting service there, even during the playing of a Beethoven symphony, the brief intervals 1229 between movements are used for advertising pills and soap, and other items of that kind. Once you let in this principle, it is almost impossible to stop it because the financial advantage is so enormous; sponsored broadcasts must, sooner or later, dominate a large part of the programmes and leave to the B.B.C. the less remunerative ones.
Our cathedrals and abbeys and churches are in urgent need of large funds for their preservation, and appeals are about to be made on a considerable scale. What could be easier, or more remunerative, than to surround each of these buildings with hoardings for commercial advertisements? The more beautiful the cathedral, the larger the number of visitors it would attract and, therefore, the more valuable the advertising medium. We have spent vast sums on the restoration and the improvement of this very building in which we are meeting. That has to be a charge upon the taxpayer. Why not line Westminster Hall with effective advertisements of gin and stout, patent medicines and cigarettes? It would quickly pay for the whole of this expenditure. No one would suggest any of these things, of course, any more than he would advocate selling parts of Kensington Gardens or St. James's Park for housing sites, which, equally, would he an exceedingly remunerative proposition. Why, then, should we sell the listening time of the nation to various wealthy commercial undertakings? The question, in fact, comes to this: What kind of civilisation do we wish to live in? What sort of mental atmosphere do we wish to have around us? For my own part, I oppose commercial broadcasting in any form, including the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, and two of his colleagues, who wish to give some hours to commercial broadcasting. I am afraid that the noble Lord and his colleagues must have suffered from some momentary aberration in making that proposal. I am very much surprised that Lord Beveridge should have supported such an idea. I hope that the Government will adhere to the principle that has been adopted hitherto, and will offer no compromise on these matters.
There is in the Beveridge Report one other proposal of far less fundamental importance—it is merely a matter of machinery—about which I have a great 1230 deal of doubt. That is that public influence should be directed into and within the British Broadcasting Corporation itself, by means of what is termed a public representation service. The proposal is that there should be a head of a department of equal rank to other heads of departments, whose business it should be to have a staff which should keep in the closest touch with the public, advise as to programmes, criticise programmes, and endeavour to act within the organisation of the B.B.C. itself as an agent of the public. I doubt whether that would be administratively feasible. I should imagine that it would be likely to cause great friction in all the various departments. It would be almost like the Soviet system of appointing a political commissar for every Army and division and brigade and battalion, or like having a censor by your elbow all the time for your programmes. No doubt that is not what was intended by the Committee in making this proposal, but it seems inevitable that it should so work out, because these advisers of the public representation service would really be doing what ought to be the plain everyday duty of the officers who are preparing the programmes, guided by the results of listener research and also by the opinions and decisions of the Board of Governors themselves.
I have only one other point—a very minor matter. I shall not occupy your Lordships' time about finance because I understand that several of your Lordships are about to speak who will probably deal with that topic. The point to which I wish to refer is the question of devolution, particularly to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. On this matter there has been a great deal of division of opinion. The present plans of the B.B.C., those of the Beveridge Committee, the White Paper of the Government and, to Tome extent, the views of the General Advisory Council all vary more or less, and a decision will be arrived at according to the amount of stress we lay upon one or other of the factors that are involved.
It seems to me of great and permanent importance that the distinctive characteristics of the different nationalities making up the British people should be maintained; that the traditions and culture and language of Wales and the traditions and 1231 culture of Scotland should be recognised as exceedingly valuable elements in enriching our national life, and that this new influence should not be allowed to be merely a unifying and levelling process which, in the course of a generation or two, would lead to the disappearance of all these distinctive characteristics. There is strong feeling in Scotland and in Wales about this matter, and it is well-founded.
What the precise form should be for the modification of present practice I am not quite sure. It may be a good thing, as it is now proposed, to appoint three additional Governors who shall be specially representative of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. That may, or may not, be a good thing. It might be a wise plan to try it and see whether it gives rise to any difficulty or serves some useful purpose. It could at any time be easily changed as the result of experience. I do not agree with the proposal in the White Paper that there should be local councils which should be composed partly of representatives of county councils and borough councils. Although in general I am strongly in favour of our democratic system of local government, this is not properly a local government function, and I am by no means sure that these councils would be the right people to appoint persons to perform these particular duties. It might involve local elections in counties and towns turning on questions of the B.B.C., upon which there certainly would be violent controversy. I tremble to think of what might happen in Belfast and in Northern Ireland. The Press might take this matter up, and anyone who wished to make himself prominent before the public would need only to bring forward some trivial topic to cause the most strenuous and undesirable controversy. There has been a good deal of opposition in another place to this proposal, and I suggest that the Government should reconsider this matter.
I have one other point, about the period of the Charter. I think all members of the General Advisory Committee are convinced that a review of all these questions should not be too frequent. It causes a great upheaval within the B.B.C., which is hampered for long periods, and developments have to be postponed while the inquiries are proceeding. On the other hand, I doubt whether the country would 1232 approve an indefinite Charter for the B.B.C., as suggested by the Beveridge Committee, with interim inquiries perhaps every five years. It appears to me that the Government's proposal of fifteen years is one that would be acceptable, together with interim inquiries whenever necessary. I think we should not be too rigid or definite about that. We should leave it to the needs of the time to say whether the B.B.C. have fallen short in their duties or whether any new technical development, such as in high frequency or television, seems to necessitate important modifications. As to when interim inquiries should be held within the fifteen years, that could be left to public opinion as expressed in Parliament, and be acted on by the Government of the day.
My final point is one that can arouse no dissent or controversy. It is to join in expressing the deep appreciation which the whole House must feel to the Chairman and members of the Beveridge Committee. My noble friend Lord Beveridge has spent the major part of his time for a long period in the devoted service he has given to this inquiry. Twenty-five years ago he was a most valued colleague of mine on the Royal Commission on the Coal Industry. Having made Reports in the course of his life on coal, on national insurance, on full employment, on voluntary organisations and on the B.B.C.—all of them major social documents—I do not know what is left for him to report upon in the future unless it be the British Commonwealth or the British Constitution.
§ LORD WOOLTON
My Lords, may I, by leave of the House, apologise for the fact that in my anxiety to sit down, an anxiety doubtless shared by your Lordships, I forgot to move to call attention to the Report of the Broadcasting Committee, 1949, and to subsequent publications relating thereto, and to move for Papers? I now beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.46 p.m.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (THE EARL OF LISTOWEL)
My Lords, I do not know whether we ought to have heard anything during the time the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, was speaking, because we had no Motion before the House, but I think that technicality can be waived in the informality of our customary procedure. I am 1233 sure your Lordships will agree that we have just listened to two notable contributions to the symposium on the future of broadcasting which we shall hear in the course of the afternoon. I think the word "symposium" is right, because this is not a political debate in the ordinary sense. In discussing this vastly important subject, from whichever side of the House we speak, we speak with a common purpose, We all want to work out by a process of pooling our honest convictions the best system of broadcasting for this country.
Before the Licence and Charter expire at the end of this year, the Government will have to decide what alterations, if any, should be made in the present structure of the It would be folly for any Government to make up their minds about such a momentous issue without seeking the best possible advice. We have already asked the Broadcasting Committee for advice based on a long and thorough inquiry, and we are now asking for the advice of both Houses of Parliament. We have published a White Paper with our provisional views about the recommendations of the Beveridge Committee. I should like to emphasise that the views of the White Paper are only provisional, or tentative, if I may use a word applied, extremely appropriately, by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel. Our minds are not only open, but anxious for the considered opinion of all who are qualified to judge. There are many so qualified in your Lordships House including two members of the Beveridge Committee—the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, and the noble Earl, Lord Elgin, both of whom we shall have the pleasure of hearing—and, of course, the father of broadcasting, Lord Reith. But some of our highest experts have passed a self-denying ordinance which I think I ought to mention at this stage. In deference to the views expressed by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House and by other noble Lords, about the undesirability of Peers who are on public boards taking part in debates which concern their duties as members of such bodies, the Chairman and the other members of the Board of Governors of the B.B.C. who sit in this House—I see one on each side—have decided to refrain from speaking this afternoon. Of course, we all realise that the B.B.C. is not subject to the same degree of Parliamentary 1234 or ministerial control as other public boards.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
My Lords, I think the noble Earl would like to reconsider a word he has used. He spoke of the "undesirability" of noble Lords speaking. That was not the wording of the agreed statement of advice given to the House, which made it perfectly plain that it was for every noble Lord who happened to be a member of a board to judge for himself whether or not he should speak.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
I am sorry if I did not use the exact word, but I am sure that the meaning I intended to convey was the same as that of the noble Viscount opposite. I think the advice tendered was that members of such Boards should not speak, but that the decision was left to them.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
I am sorry if I do not satisfy the noble Viscount on that point, but I think that was certainly what the noble Lords who desire me to make this statement intended.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
I apologise for interrupting again, but this is an important point. The statement of advice given by the Leader of the House, with which the leaders of other Parties concurred, was most carefully prepared and, with great respect, it was not what the noble Earl has said. I do not say more than that. I leave it on the statement made at the time and in the subsequent debate. I felt that I had to intervene as one of the parties to the negotiations.
It is quite true that the members of this House who are members of the Board of Governors have decided on this occasion that they do not wish to intervene in the debate.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
I gladly leave it at that. I feel sure that the noble Viscount opposite, and the whole House, will agree that it was appropriate for me to say why the Governors of the B.B.C. who are here are not taking part in the debate.
I am sure your Lordships would wish me on behalf of the House—it has already been done for the Government in another place—to pay a sincere tribute to the 1235 work of the Broadcasting Committee, under the able guidance of its Chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, and to associate myself with what the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, has just said. The members of this Committee have given much of their time during more than a year to the preparation of an extremely valuable Report. I remember, when I was concerned with broadcasting policy, that if a change was contemplated we always consulted the Ullswater Committee's Report. I am sure that for many years to come people who want advice in future will, in the same way, turn to the Report of the Beveridge Committee, who have done their work with unprecedented thoroughness.
The Beveridge Report has paid some well-deserved compliments to the B.B.C. I think that, whatever we find to criticise here and there, we also are proud of the B.B.C. as a typically British institution. The noble Lord, Lord Woolton, spoke of our grateful admiration for the work of the B.B.C. I am sure that sentiment is shared by everyone this afternoon. We also share with the Beveridge Committee their admiration for the efficiency, the political and all-round impartiality, the high standard of taste, and the public spirit with which they have discharged their responsibilities. And the whole staff of the B.B.C., its Director-General and its Board of Governors, deserve credit for this achievement. May I give one illustration of the last characteristic I have mentioned—public spirit—because perhaps it is not so familiar as the other characteristics to some noble Lords who have not been so closely associated with the B.B.C.? During the coal crises in the winter of 1947 I was told by the Cabinet to urge the B.B.C. to save fuel by cutting down its broadcasting hours. I prepared with some trepidation for what I felt might lead to my first collision with the Board of Governors. But before even the initial approach had been made, I received from Sir William Haley a note to the effect that the Corporation would like to curtail their broadcasting hours so as to release fuel for more urgent uses during the national emergency. I think this is typical of the way the B.B.C. put the interests of the country first.
Perhaps the greatest compliment of all is the Beveridge Committee's recommendation that the B.B.C. should carry on sub- 1236 stantially unchanged—I say "substantially"; the noble Lord opposite will no doubt substantiate his difference of interpretation of the Report he has produced.
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
If the noble Earl will allow me to say so, the word substantially" does not occur anywhere in the Report.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
I confess that the word "substantially" is my own. Nevertheless, I am prepared to stick to it, and to say why I use it. The Government agree with the recommendation that broadcasting should continue as a monopoly of the B.B.C., and this proposal, it seems to me, is consistent with a substantial retention of the present form of broadcasting in this country. This decision is not inconsistent with keeping an open mind about the licensing later on of local broadcasting stations, independent of the B.B.C. I should like to point out to the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, who, rightly, made a good deal of this point, that we have not closed our minds to the possibility of local broadcasting when the time is ripe. But I think there are three good reasons for not allowing a plurality of broadcasting authorities. The first is that broadcasting would cease to serve a social purpose if it began to compete for listeners. The lowest common denominator of public taste would not be a high one. Minorities would have almost nothing to listen to, and the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, would be reduced to nothing but the uniformity of variety all day long. I believe that it was the noble Lord, Lord Reith, who once said that broadcasting programmes should be chosen not to meet but to antedate the popular vote.
The second reason is technical. We have too few medium wavelengths in this country to provide a large and varied assortment of broadcast programmes, such as they have, for instance, owing to their greater technical facilities, in the United States of America. Those who contend that competitive broadcasting would mean more variety do not perhaps realise that we lack at present this essential element of technical equipment. Every wavelength allotted to us must be used to the best advantage of the public, and we cannot afford the waste of duplication, either of coverage or of programme content. This difficulty may be overcome in time by the use of higher 1237 frequencies, but we have not yet reached this stage of technical development. The third reason for maintaining the present position of a monopoly under a public corporation is that none of the B.B.C.'s critics can suggest a better alternative. The Beveridge Committee have shown convincingly that public opinion is in favour of the present system, both because it works satisfactorily, and because nobody can suggest any other system that would work better—even the Minority Report of the Beveridge Committee did not suggest doing away with the B.B.C., although I think it suggested introducing other broadcasting authorities.
Of course, we are all aware of the dangers of monopoly—what the Beveridge Committee describe as "uncontrolled bureaucracy"—and these dangers must certainly be guarded against, whether the monopoly is a private combine or cartel, or a public corporation. What we have to do is to provide safeguards which will prevent the usual faults of monopoly from arising. I do not feel that these faults have arisen as yet in the B.B.C., and I must say that I was a little puzzled, if he will forgive me for saying so, by what the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, said on this subject. He started off by expressing gratitude to the B.B.C. for their work, and then went on to say that monopoly kills enterprise. I am sure he recognises that the B.B.C. is an enterprising body.
§ LORD WOOLTON
If I may intervene, it might be a slow death. I do not say that it has started yet. I said only that it was a possibility.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
I am more optimistic than the noble Lord, and I am hopeful that the slow death will not ensue. In my view, what we want, in the case of the B.B.C., is to ensure constant public supervision and ultimate public control; and we must also arrange for the greatest possible devolution of authority from the centre. To meet the first of these requirements more fully, we are proposing that the Charter should be renewed for fifteen years only, and not indefinitely, with a right of revocation as the Beveridge Committee have suggested. This will give Parliament an opportunity of thinking again about the future of the B.B.C., in the light of the extremely important technical developments which are 1238 likely to take place in the intervening years. Although, of course, this is longer than any previous renewal of the Charter, I believe that it would be a serious disadvantage to renew it for a shorter period.
The noble Lord, Lord Woolton, suggested a period of seven years, and I should like to give my reasons for thinking that there are great objections to as short a period as that or, indeed, to any shorter period than the full fifteen years. I believe that we are sometimes apt to forget—because we do not see the inside workings of these matters—that a revision of the Charter, accompanied by a detailed inquiry, occupies the minds of the senior officials of the B.B.C. for something like three years in advance of the Final Report. Of course, this is followed by a further period of adjustment to the provisions in the new Charter. Now I am sure that we do not want to distract these senior officials—these key men—from the important developments in television and sound broadcasting which ought to take place in the next ten years. It is therefore essential that nothing should be done which would prevent them from concentrating on this important objective. This, of course, is not in the least inconsistent with a less far-reaching inquiry in to the way the Corporation are carrying out their responsibilities. We think that such an inquiry might be instituted whenever the Government of the day consider that it would be useful. Here again, we differ from the recommendations of the Beveridge Committee, who thought that an inquiry of this kind at an interval of five years would be sufficient. We think it better, on the whole, not to be tied down to a future date of five years hence, because no one can foresee when circumstances will arise—if they do arise—which will call for a limited inquiry.
Probably the best means of diffusing authority in the B.B.C. is to give more autonomy to the regions. I think there is general agreement that more devolution from the centre is desirable, both for its own sake and because it will give a better chance of self-expression to those parts of the United Kingdom with a distinctive culture and tradition of their own. But it is certainly easier to know what we want to do (about this I think there is general agreement) than to decide 1239 what is the best way of doing it. The Beveridge Committee suggested that broadcasting commissions should be set up for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, with chairmen who will also sit on the Board of Governors of the B.B.C. The Government agree in principle with this proposal, and also that these authorities in the national regions should have control of their own home programmes, subject, of course, to any obligations which may be binding on the B.B.C.
The controversial matter to which I now come relates to the composition and method of choosing the members of these national regional bodies. In the Government's view the majority of their members should represent and understand local opinion, and the best way to make sure that they will be genuinely representative is to recruit them from elected bodies, such as the county councils and the larger urban authorities. We are proposing that members of these national regional councils should be appointed by the Government, on the nomination of the authorities. It has been argued against this method of recruitment that broadcasting will become political, and that local councillors may lack the broad outlook required for work in connection with broadcasting. I cannot help wondering whether the risk has not been somewhat exaggerated. Like many other members of your Lordships' House I have served for a number of years on a local authority. In my case it was the London County Council. I must confess that I was astonished, when I was first elected, to find how completely Party politics disappeared when both sides met as members of the Council's committees. We all thought of ourselves as administrators, and not as politicians. When there were differences of opinion, they were based on the merits of housing, education or other schemes in connection with the Council's work, and not on differences of Party programmes. I should be surprised if many of your Lordships have not had a similar experience.
Then, of course, many members of the present and past Boards of Governors of the B.B.C. have themselves been active in politics, and have held strong political views. No one would suggest that they would allow their attitude to politics to influence their work for the Corporation.
1240 For my part, I have found many people of broad outlook and vision in local politics. With the example and the tradition of the B.B.C. to guide them, I see no reason why they should not be expected to avoid political bias. Of course there are noble Lords who would prefer a different constitution for these national regional broadcasting councils. Both noble Lords who have spoken have objected to the proposed composition of these councils. We shall, of course, examine with the utmost care any alternative proposals which may be made, but I must stress that we should like to have alternatives. I am sorry that neither of the noble Lords gave any indication in his speech of what he would like us to do.
Now let me say a word or two on the subject of finance, which has been mentioned by both speakers this afternoon. There has been some criticism of the proposal in the White Paper that the B.B.C. should receive not more than 85 per cent. of its net licence revenue for the next three years. But it seems to us not unreasonable that the Corporation should be asked to share in the heavy sacrifices which firms and individuals are now making for the sake of national defence. We do not regard 15 per cent. of licence revenue as an unreasonable contribution to the country's requirements. It should be remembered that the B.B.C. has never had a right to the whole of the licence revenue. It has, indeed, received 100 per cent. for less than two years, and the amount has sometimes been well below 85 per cent. That it is now receiving more than is actually required to meet current expenditure and a limited capital programme is shown by the fact that it has built up a reserve of £4,500,000—a very large saving. If, in the future, the Corporation should need more money for capital expenditure, we propose to give it the power to borrow up to £10,000,000.
The last thing that any of us wants is to stop or slow down new development, but the capital investment programme, which has to take account of defence requirements, is not likely to allow rapid development in the immediate future. The estimates put before the Beveridge Committee by the B.B.C. indicate that current expenditure for the next three years will be covered by 85 per cent. of the licence revenue. I should like to make it quite 1241 clear that this proposal we are making is only for the next three years. At the end of that time, the position can be reconsidered, in the light of our national finances. If things are easier, and if the requirements of the B.B.C. are greater, then no doubt we shall be able to make some adjustment. What we are proposing now will, in our view, help the nation at a time of financial stringency, while meeting the legitimate financial requirements of the Corporation.
Before I sit down your Lordships will expect me to say something about higher frequency broadcasting and television. We agree with the Beveridge Committee that very-high-frequency broadcasting is extremely desirable, and should be introduced as soon as circumstances permit. It is the only way we can expect to overcome our present shortage of wavelengths and to provide better reception for the programmes of the B.B.C. We also agree with the Committee that this problem should be referred for consideration by the Television Advisory Committee, which has done such useful work in the past on the subject of television. We shall look to this Committee for technical advice about the best method for short-distance broadcasting. We shall also wish them to consider the implications of such a system in terms of money and materials. There would, of course, have to be an adequate supply of radio sets for listeners to pick up these broadcasts, and a large number of new transmitting stations. The physical problem is a very large one indeed.
In regard to television, we agree with the Beveridge Committee that there should be more administrative devolution within the B.B.C., rather than a separation between sound and visual broadcasts. The theoretical advantages of separate services are more than outweighed by the technical disadvantages. The whole plan of gradually expanding the coverage of television, which the B.B.C. have undertaken bravely and boldly, and which we wish all success, would be delayed by such a dichotomy. But it is encouraging to know that the B.B.C. are giving to the Director of Television authority to give television the status and independence it should have in the work of broadcasting. My Lords, I have covered only a few of the points which noble Lords will wish to raise in the debate. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor will 1242 wind up, and I know that he will do his best to cover the whole of the ground.
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ LORD KENSWOOD
My Lords, if I intervene in this discussion with a feeling of anxiety, it is not merely because I am a newcomer to your Lordships' House. I am not altogether happy about the recommendations either of the Report or of the White Paper which are now before your Lordships, and in consequence I have a feeling that I shall come up against the redoubtable wisdom and experience of the Chairman of the Committee of Inquiry. My fears are somewhat mitigated by the statement which your Lordships have just heard from the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, to the effect that the White Paper should not be considered as a programme which is to be implemented by the Government, but rather as a basis of discussion.
Already this afternoon certain misconceptions have been expressed, and perhaps expression will be given later to more. These, I think, should not arise if more complete knowledge existed of the workings of the Corporation. A distinguished member of the Committee of Inquiry in another place the other day went so far as to speak of the "Londonisation" of the B.B.C. In the White Paper, as in the Report, we have frequent references to the desirability of further decentralisation and therefore of the collection and utilisation of the local cultures of this Kingdom. These expressions baffle me somewhat. As an ex-Governor, my experience is that it is the continuous desire and preoccupation, not only of the Governors but of the Director-General and of the executive as a whole, to trace out any local aspects which are worth preserving and worth making known to the rest of the country.
Now, my Lords, it may be the best method of approach if I attempt to throw some light on the workings of the B.B.C. At the head, as your Lordships will be aware, is the Board of Governors. The present Board consists of a Chairman, who is a Northerner—and by no stretch of the imagination can he be accused of having strong leanings towards the South in preference to the North. We have a Vice-Chairman and two other Governors who are Scots. The other three Governors derive, one from Wales, one from the West Country, and one from East Anglia. I can see no trace there of any Londoner 1243 or any desire to favour London or the south over the rest of the country. But, it may be said, what about the people who have the executive power? Well, my Lords, the Director-General comes from the Channel Islands. Of the other five directors, not one comes from London; and, what is more important, the Director of the Home Service is not a Londoner—and it is around the Home Services that the controversy seems to rage. Then, as to the controllers, the Chief Controller of News is a New Zealander, and the Controller of Finance is, of course, a Scotsman.
Now, if we leave London and go to the regions we find that not one controller in any region is a Londoner. What is more, particularly in Scotland and in Wales (I leave out Northern Ireland because I can find no demand anywhere in Northern Ireland to be treated differently from the present) the bulk of the personnel belong to those two nations. I should be very surprised if a single member of the Welsh Region is anything but a Welshman. Then perhaps it may be said that regional programmes are directed from London. But it is not generally realised that there is a basic Home Service, which is compiled of programmes drawn from every part of this country, as well as a few programmes from abroad and from the Dominions and Colonies. Whereas London and the Home Counties must take this programme, the regions—Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the others—need not take any of the particular programmes which constitute the Home Service output, with the sole exception of broadcasts made by His Majesty the King, agreed Party political broadcasts, or broadcasts by His Majesty's Ministers, speaking not as individuals or private persons but only when referring to matters of national importance—for example, the reason why particular articles should be rationed, or why recruiting has to be done in certain spheres. Finally, national news broadcasts must be taken by every part of the country. Decentralisation goes further. Every region has five minutes during the day during which it can bring in news relating to its own region. The only part of the country which does not get this privilege is London. I hope I have said enough to prove to your Lordships that the idea 1244 of concentration on London, or "Londonisation," is a chimera.
In 1946 there were issued a White Paper and a Charter which was based on the White Paper and under which the B.B.C. is working to-day. In that White Paper and Charter it was suggested that the regions might be reinforced in their work by local advisory councils. These councils were set up in 1947 by the then newly-appointed Board of Governors and they have been functioning perfectly well. They are not perfect—we all admit that. We all know there can be improvements, and the Governors, and, I am sure, the executive as well, are anxious to make those regional councils more effective than they are. The Beveridge Committee Report and the White Paper recognise the value of the regional councils. They say in almost as many words that these councils are adequate for England although they may not be adequate for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Where the difference comes I do not know. I am almost beginning to think that I, as an Englishman, and particularly as a Londoner, belong to the depressed classes of this country. It is said, and doubtless believed, that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have aspects of culture which are much more valuable than those found in the rest of England. But when I look at what can be offered by the North, by Lancashire, Yorkshire, Durham, Northumberland, Westmorland, Cumberland and Derbyshire, when I look at the varied and rich culture in those areas, I am convinced that neither Scotland nor Wales can offer anything that is richer and more varied. Therefore, if separate councils, set up on different lines from those which are good enough for England, are necessary, then they should be necessary also for England.
But I think it is a mistake to appoint national broadcasting councils as suggested in the White Paper, not for the reasons that were given by the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, but for entirely different reasons. When the Governors of the B.B.C. set up and continually reviewed the regional advisory councils, they took great trouble to see that every section of the community in those regions was represented on the councils. I know that local politicians are extraordinarily admirable, self-sacrificing and just-minded men and women, but from their very nature they are not suited to give advice to the B.B.C.
1245 The bulk of the output of the B.B.C. is based on art—and here I speak as an artist. I view with distaste and alarm the suggestion that the local councils should be made up of local politicians. It is not because I fear them as men and women. I know that many of them have artistic feelings, but is it not significant that one rarely finds a practising artist in the ranks of local politicians? The two aspects of life are very different. I know it is a crude generalisation when I say that in local politics you are more concerned with the bricks and mortar and the bread and butter of life—that is to say, the fundamentals that make existence possible—whereas, in the artistic and spiritual spheres, you are concerned with those aspects which make life worth living, which make life a joy. They are two different things. If you concentrate on one aspect you are trying to raise the material level of the nation; but if you concentrate on that, you are liable to forget the other, the intangible capacities of life.
I am quite sure that the men and women who would be chosen for the regional councils, as envisaged in the White Paper, would be honourable people. I know they would be impartial. But they would be suspect, at least in their function of appointing the personnel in their regions. They would be suspect and come under continual criticism as seeking to provide what is commonly known as "jobs for the boys"; in other words, they would be accused of bringing back the "spoils" system into British politics. I am fairly sure that that will not happen, but I am quite definite in my belief that the accusation will be made. I think that the prestige of the B.B.C. ought not to be put to that risk. I am speaking not only of the risks during peace time. In a time of crisis the people of this country and the peoples of other countries must look to the B.B.C. as being the mouthpiece of utterances which can be taken for granted and which are not suspect.
I have already taken up a great deal of your Lordships' time, and there are many other subjects on which I should like to touch. I will deal with them as briefly as I can. With regard to the paragraph of the White Paper concerned with the appointment of Governors, I would point out that it takes some time for a Governor to find his feet. One very dis- 1246 tinguished member of the Board of Governors put it as long as three years. I think that that is greatly exaggerated, but the fact remains that it does take some time for a Governor to become 100 per cent. effective as a Governor. Therefore I hope that the Government will reconsider their suggestion that the life of a Governor at the B.B.C. should be four years only. I think it should remain at five years. My personal view is that there should be no renewal of position as a Governor, because there should be a continuous, guaranteed inflow of new blood. But if the Government insist on a possibility of renewal—and I agree that it is sometimes difficult to find a suitable Governor at a particular time—then the renewal period should be for not more than three years. If my arguments are correct that the regional advisory councils should remain as they are, but considerably strengthened—and they can be strengthened by experience—then the reason for raising the number of Governors to nine falls to the ground. I think seven Governors is probably the right number. I should like to see five if it could be guaranteed that they would always be there.
May I say just a few words with regard to finance? It is suggested, and it has been eloquently suggested by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, that it is right that the B.B.C. should receive only 85 per cent. of the net revenue. Is it generally realised that the B.B.C. have already been very heavily taxed? Apart from income tax, which I think they should not pay and which amounts to £1,400,000, there is the extra tax which the sound listeners have to pay for keeping television alive. That amounts to £1,750,000 a year. The holders of sound licences have, I suggest, no interest at all in television, and yet they have to pay this sum because the Government and the nation feel that television should be kept going until such time as it can be properly developed. There are further taxes. The B.B.C. have to broadcast Ministerial statements and Government advertising, such as requests for recruitment, and so on. The Government have to pay the Press for publishing such advertisements, but the B.B.C. make no charge for them. The B.B.C. are fully alive to the fact that it is a public service. Another public duty is broadcasting to schools, which, from a financial standpoint, is almost a complete loss. In view 1247 of those facts alone, I think the B.B.C. should receive 100 per cent. of the net licence revenue.
The Government may ask, what would the Corporation do with this money? They may say that it has accumulated £4,500,000 since the end of the war. That accumulation or reserve of money is not a saving in the true sense; it is the result of a self-denial ordinance on the part of the Corporation. There is practically no end to the money which the B.B.C. could spend on broadcasting. The Governors are subjected to continual pressure to increase the hours of broadcasting and to provide more extravagant and costly broadcast programmes. They could easily have spent that money, but the Governors thought they ought to accumulate it. One finds from the Report that, as soon as labour and material are available, the programme of capital outlay amounts to £32,000,000, in order to give this country the sort of broadcasting system that we ought to have. Therefore the Governors have set aside this £4,500,000 accumulated since the end of the war, so that the moment the present stringencies are relieved the Corporation may go ahead with this work. It seems to me a little unfair to say that the B.B.C. has had a surplus and that therefore it could rightly be taxed. That is not true. It has had no surplus. It is just a reserve commitment for the future.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has pointed out that the B.B.C. will be permitted to borrow £10,000,000 for the future. But that sum will not cover the outlay I have mentioned; and when it comes to be borrowed I am sure that ill-informed or perhaps malicious people will say, "Here is another proof that a nationalised industry cannot work except at a loss." That, is something which ought to be avoided. Of course, there is no reason why the B.B.C. should not be taxed. There is such a thing as entertainment tax. But the B.B.C. is the poor man's entertainment. It is a very cheap form of entertainment, which costs about two cigarettes a week. For that reason, I think it should not have this tax imposed upon it. There are many more points that I should have liked to touch upon, but I have kept your Lordships too long already, and I thank you for the courteous attention which has been paid me.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF HALIFAX
My Lords, your Lordships will have been exceedingly happy to have the opportunity of hearing the noble Lord who has just addressed the House, particularly on a subject about which, by virtue of his lengthy service as a Governor of the Corporation, no one in this House has a better right to speak. We are fortunate that, inasmuch as he has ceased to be a Governor, he no longer falls under that self-denying ordinance which was the subject of some exchange across the Table a moment or two ago. We shall hope that he may often be heard in these debates and contribute to their wisdom.
I intervene for only a few moments, to deal quite shortly with two or three points that have already been mentioned, but on which I should like to place your Lordships in possession of the view taken by the General Advisory Council of the B.B.C., of which I have the honour to be Chairman. I do not know whether those of your Lordships who are not concerned with it are fully aware what the General Advisory Council is. It is a very remarkable "mixed grill" of people, representing every geographical region of this Island, almost every conceivable interest, point of view, background, outlook and so on. I mention that only by way of preface, because with that background your Lordships will perhaps appreciate how remarkable it was (so it seemed to me) that all these people should have reached substantial unanimity on matters that certainly are not, as my noble friend Lord Woolton, and the noble Earl who spoke for the Government, said, in any sense Party questions, although they are none the less controversial questions, in the sense that people differ sharply in their judgment of them.
May I permit myself one sentence before dealing with those points? In all that has been said this afternoon, from the admirable speech of the noble Lord who moved this Motion to those who followed him, I think—at least, I hope—that one thing was implicit. In all our minds, I think, when we remember how easily mistakes might be made by the B.B.C., and how wide is the range over which mistakes might be made at any moment, and how quick inevitably would be the detection of any mistake, must be the reflection that the tributes paid by the noble Chairman of the Committee 1249 (who will speak in a moment), and by all others who have spoken to your Lordships, are the more readily seen to be exceptionally well deserved, not only for successive ranks of Governors but certainly not least for the Director General Sir William Haley, and those who work with him.
The General Advisory Council passed, with substantial unanimity, three resolutions, and, except when I am quoting those resolutions I am in no sense speaking for the Council (I have no authority to do so), but only for myself. The first of the three resolutions with which I wish to deal was that welcoming the recommendation of the Committee as regards monopoly and independence, and so on. About that, I do not think it is necessary for me to add anything to what has already been said. On that matter I agree entirely, if I may say so, with what fell from the noble Lord who spoke last, and with what fell from the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel. The second resolution dealt with the regional point, and said this:That, while fully recognising the importance of reflecting in the broadcasting service the individual contribution of local and national cultures, it disagrees with the proposals of the Committee for the creation of broadcasting Commissions for Scotland. Wales and Northern Ireland on the ground that such proposals:(a) are unnecessary"—I omit the irrelevant words—(b) would be likely to prove detrimental to the standard and quality of the broadcasting service.My Lords, I will not spend time discussing further the argument about broadcasting councils to be drawn from county councils and other urban authorities. Like President Coolidge and the preacher on sin, I "against it." I hope that what has been said by the noble Lord who spoke last, and others, will have induced the noble Earl in spite of what he said, to advise his colleagues to reconsider that one. The real problem there, however, is this: if you do not have people elected, and you do anything to encourage the regional idea, then, clearly, you must have them selected. Personally, if I had to do anything by way of developing the regional idea. I would prefer to see five or six just and wise men selected in the regions to do the job. In the second part of the problem, obviously, the choice lies between executive and advisory. I believe that it is on every 1250 ground essential to have no confusion as to whether these people are to be executive or advisory. The noble Lord, Lord Woolton, made that point very clearly. I have no doubt that, unless you come down clearly with a decision that they are to be advisory, you are going to run the gravest risk of having some kind of hydra-headed authority, whereas you ought to insist on and recognise the importance of having a single authority and one set of standards right through the service.
The next point I should like to make relates to the term of review. I am not very much shocked at the idea of a fifteen-year term. I rather agree with the noble Earl who spoke for the Government, that a long uninterrupted run is a good thing, and Parliament has the right to overhaul and intervene if it wants to. That is my personal view. The General Advisory Council, however, on balance of argument, came with substantial unanimity to favour a period of ten years; and it may be that ten years would not be a bad compromise. I do not at all like my noble friend's proposal for a period of seven years. With all respect to him, I think that that is too short. If fifteen years is regarded as too long, I hope that we may come down in favour of the ten-year suggestion.
Lastly, I associate myself with those who hope that the Government will reconsider the financial point. Here I speak personally, as I am not sure whether the Advisory Council passed a resolution on this or whether they did not. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, spoke about a reserve fund, and the noble Lord who spoke last has, of course, dealt fully with that point. I imagine that there would not have been any reserve fund if the B.B.C. had been allowed to spend as they wanted in these last two years. If the noble Earl should feel disposed to answer that by saying: "Why is it necessary for them to build up a fund if they are not going to spend for another three years?" my answer would be: "Because they will want all the money they can get when they are able to spend; they are desirous of Implementing all sorts of schemes which the public has asked for." And what is this £1,750,000 which the Government propose to retain? It is a mere drop in the ocean, compared with the Government's often profligate expenditure. The Government will not suffer 1251 very much by allowing the B.B.C. to have it, but if they are not allowed to have it the B.B.C. will feel the loss very severely. I hope that the noble Earl will feel able to give some reconsideration to this point, and will not deny to the B.B.C. the material sinews to enable them to keep themselves—as we all feel they ought to be to-day—in the forefront of national broadcasting systems. I do not think it is worth not allowing them to have this money, and if the noble Earl insists on doing so, I think he will run the risk of spoiling the ship for a ha'porth of tar. That is all I have to say. On the first three points I have ventured to give you the views of the General Advisory Council, and I hope that on the last point I have mentioned the Government may be prepared to have second thoughts.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
My Lords, in rising to address your Lordships for the first time in this Chamber, I am reminded inevitably of another occasion, now nearly seven years ago, when also I rose for the first time in this Chamber, but to address a very different assembly. I was then a denizen of another place, and with my fellow denizens who had invaded this Chamber I was engaged in discussing a Government White Paper on Social Insurance, in relation to a Report on Social Insurance written by myself—a large and rather noisy baby, as I then described it, which, two years before, I had left upon the Government's doorstep. With a delicacy suitable to a maiden speech, I admitted paternity of that baby. I agreed that the proposals of the Government White Paper upon Social Insurance were substantially those contained in the Beveridge Report of 1942. To-day I find myself once more in this same Chamber, discussing a Government White Paper, this time a White Paper in relation to a Report on Broadcasting, made by a Committee of which I was chairman. That Report may also be considered a rather large, if not noisy baby. There, alas! the similarity between the two occasions ends. I am not able to admit that the proposals of the Government White Paper are my baby at all though they are dressed up in some ways to look like it.
I want to say this at the outset, because the Government, no doubt, take a rather different view. They say in their White 1252 Paper—and the expressed view of their spokesman in another place was also to this effect—that substantially they have adopted the recommendation of our Report. I do not think they have. There are vital differences of spirit, substance and effect between the White Paper and the Report. Let me begin with the beginning of the White Paper. In Paragraph 4, having quoted the Committee's praise of the B.B.C. for impartiality and high standards, the White Paper goes on, in Paragraph 5, to attribute to the majority of the Committee the view that the best interests of British broadcasting require the continuance of the British Broadcasting Corporation on substantially the same basis as it has existed in the past. As I have already said in an earlier interjection, there are no words of that sort anywhere in the Report. We do not say that we think the B.B.C. should go on substantially as in the past. Indeed, we say the contrary, as definitely and vigorously as we can—and we say it several times. We say that the Charter of the future must be different from that of the past. We recite all the dangers of monopoly, beginning with Londonisation, going on to secretiveness and self-satisfaction and ending up with the danger of a sense of mission becoming a sense of divine right—and your Lordships know that it does do that sometimes, even in the B.B.C. But after most laborious discussion, we came to the conclusion that, in the special circumstances of British broadcasting, there was not now any immediate practical alternative to continuing a public service monopoly for broadcasting.
May I here answer Lord Woolton by saying that I rather think we gave fairly definite and clear reasons for coming to that conclusion? I would refer him to Paragraphs 171 to 176. Having laboriously discussed this question of monopoly with the advocates of competition, Mr. Geoffrey Crowther and others, we came to the conclusion thatThe practical issue reduces itself to the choice between chartering three or four Broadcasting Corporations on terms requiring them to co-operate and accept Government vetoes and directions on certain points, and chartering a single broadcasting Corporation subject to the same vetoes"—and then in our Report come the operative words, which differentiate it from the White Paper— 1253and requiring it to make steady progress towards greater decentralisation, devolution, and diversity.We then decided that we must choose the second of these alternatives. I need not repeat our reasons; they are all in the Report, and have been given to the House by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. That meant that we did not want the B.B.C. in its present form, but in a somewhat different form. The Report proposed four important changes, which in the White Paper are watered down or rejected.
Before dealing with these changes, however, I should like to get out of the way an entirely different problem, that of commercial broadcasting. The Government White Paper has, I think, most innocently, misrepresented the views of the Committee on the basis on which a monopoly should be continued; and it goes on to what I feel is a slight misrepresentation of the Committee, when it says that the Committee were against commercial broadcasting. The fact is that seven members of the Committee were against any advertising on the air at all; one was for sponsored broadcasting; and three, including myself and both women members of the Committee, were in favour of allowing advertising to be used under strictly limited conditions and at strictly limited times. We thought that the ether should be used just as particular columns in the newspapers are used for advertising. I am not going to discuss the merits of that proposal. All I want to say is that a minority of four against a majority of seven is fairly substantial, and might have been mentioned in the White Paper. With reference to what was said by my noble friend Lord Samuel, I must say that all his grisly pictures of what would happen if we plastered the walls with advertisements of gin, in order to pay expenses, have no relevance to what was proposed by the three members of the Committee. I would ask my noble friend to look at their views on the matter as set out in Paragraph 376. I will not waste the time of the House by reading that now, because it is a minor point. All of us on the Committee wanted a public service of broadcasting, whether a complete monopoly or not, engaged only in public service and not dependent on money from advertisements.
I now come to the four essential points of difference between the White Paper and 1254 my Report. These are the measures designed to securesteady progress towards greater decentralisation, devolution, and diversityand, let me add, towards self-criticism within the B.B.C. All these measures are watered down or rejected in the White Paper. They concern the salaried commissions for national regions; the public representation service; the strengthening of the position of the Government, as distinct from the staff; and the quinquennial review of the work of the Corporation. I need not say much about the first of these points. I hope we can take it that the proposal in the White Paper for regional councils of twenty-five, having a majority of representatives nominated by the local authorities, is practically dead. That idea has found hardly any friends anywhere. I object to it, as others have done, on the ground that we ought not to allow persons elected to control the programmes, any more than we should allow members of another place to control the programmes, or allow the Government to control the programmes beyond the limited powers given to them by the Charter.
I have another and different objection, which is that these councils of twenty-five representatives would not be effective for the purpose the Committee had in view. I think that was well brought out in another place during a discussion between Mr. Gordon-Walker and Lady Megan Lloyd George. Speaking on behalf of the Government, Mr. Gordon-Walker said that the only function of these councils was to control; they had nothing to do with initiating. In our Report we say that we want a small body who would really apply their minds to these problems, who would initiate and make suggestions, and keep the regional controller in touch with the opinion of his region—to do far more than the large councils would do. I believe that is necessary. It is true that the regional controller has now all but absolute autonomy over the contents of his programmes; but that is not enough. The regional controller depends for his money and staff upon the central control in London. Only one-fourth of the Home Service in the Northern Regions is regional in character, while seven-eighths of everything that goes over the air is uniform, in spite of the diversity of culture in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and other parts of the 1255 country. We shall get effective decentralisation only by breaking up the corporation into subordinate, fully controlled commissions or doing something of that kind. While I hope that the Government's own proposal is dead, I trust that they will not go back, taking what I think was bad advice given by one of the speakers in the other place, and leave things as they are. The noble Earl opposite asked for suggestions. I would remind him that there are all the suggestions in our Report.
I should like to express my admiration for the maiden speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Kenswood, but I should like to make one point in answer to him. First, I do not feel that representation according to the national regions of the officers meets our point. I myself was born in India, but I do not suggest thereby that, if I were on an advisory council, India would consider herself represented. I will ask the noble Lord, Lord Kenswood, to study the reasons which led to our proposal in paragraphs 522 to 527. May I go on, and say that we did not leave England to go on stewing in its present juice. If the noble Lord will look at paragraph 536, he will see improvements that we propose for England, as distinct from these national regions. That is all I can say on that first point.
§ LORD CALVERLEY
I am sorry to interrupt, but will the noble Lord please move nearer to a microphone?
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
I should like to thank the noble Lord. This is my first speech in this Chamber since it was renovated, and I am glad the noble Lord has given me the opportunity of making myself heard.
I now come to the second point: that the Report proposed a public representation service. We regarded that as an essential means of filling a lack, which we state pretty bluntly, in the existing structure of the B.B.C. We wanted to give the Governorswhat they now lack—namely, the means of performing adequately the duty of keeping executive officials in touch with outside opinion, both expert and lay.My noble friend Lord Samuel said that it was wrong to have special officials as channels of criticism, because it ought 1256 to be the duty of every official who had produced a programme to listen and pay attention. Would that not be a good reason for saying that no Members of another place should be allowed to ask questions about how a civil servant had acted; that, since it ought to be the duty of a civil servant adequately to consider criticism, no further steps were needed to make him do that? We do not believe that about civil servants, however. Why should we believe it about the staff of the B.B.C.? If you look at the case put up in our Report for a public representation service, you will see that we considered all alternatives to having this new service in the B.B.C. We point out that to a busy official engaged upon the next programme, criticism about a past programme is apt to come as an irritating fly to be brushed away as quickly and as smoothly as can be done. Let me recall our central problem. Our central problem was to control a bureaucracy without controlling it by Parliament. That means, in effect, that it must have within itself its own organs of criticism and control. If that causes friction, then that is a necessary friction to prevent settling down into mere officialdom.
I do not want to dwell at length upon actual criticisms made of the B.B.C., but I am bound to mention one or two points. I am considerably surprised by the importance attached in the White Paper to the assurances received from the Governors that they fully agree that effective representation of public opinion is vital to the good working of the Corporation. But my Committee have said—and we said it with deliberation, and after full inquiry—that the Governors of the past have not yet established, and the Director-General has not yet established, the means necessary for keeping contact with serious criticism. They have not, in fact, sufficient channels for public criticism to become effective. On that, I must refer to Paragraph 221 in our Report, which says:What is most wanted is to make clear that when interest"—from outside—takes the form of careful considered criticism, that criticism will always have its fair reward of consideration in the Corporation hierarchy. It should become less and less possible for such words and phrases to be used about the B.B.C. as were used in talking to us by responsible outsiders, not in rancour but as recognition of the obvious— 1257 words like 'pontifical' or 'Olympian', phrases like 'a closed shop' or 'they do not welcome suggestions'.Before I submitted that draft to my Committee, I gave them the names of people who had made those remarks. I shall be happy to send them, in confidence, to the Governors of the B.B.C. and to the Government, if they have not already got them. If you set up a bureaucracy you must have some method of bringing criticism to bear upon it. You should not have detailed Parliamentary criticism of broadcasting. That is why we of the Committee, after full consideration, proposed this organ of internal criticism, and I hope that we shall get it.
I should now like to come to the third point which, in some respects, is the most important. The Report proposed to strengthen the position of the Governors, so as to make them effective watchdogs of democracy. We proposed to increase their number. We proposed to reduce traditional inhibitions on their actions. We proposed to make their reappointment free. We proposed to increase their salary so as to get more call upon their services. On all points except the first the White Paper either rejects or waters down what we proposed. May I, at this point, endeavour to answer a question put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Woolton? He asked what we meant by the Recommendation about the powers of the Minister. What we mean is that the Governors, collectively, should have the unrestricted powers of the Minister over the whole of his Department; and they can exercise that power collectively, as they desire. If they choose to ask one or more of their members to look into any particular thing, then they should be free to do so.
§ LORD WOOLTON
Obviously, Governors should have the power to ask people to make inquiries. The issue I raised was whether they should have power to give instructions to staff.
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
I do not think we proposed that they should ever give instructions to staff, unless, indeed, the instruction was necessary to get their inquiries carried out. That will be settled by the resolutions of the Governors. I may say that we felt that Governors ought not to be like the crowd in Wordsworth's poem:That moveth altogether, if it move at all.1258 They should be able to specialise. May I refer to one further point in the White Paper, where it disagrees with a proposition of the Report about Overseas services? We propose that the Overseas services should have a quite different function from that of broadcasting at home. A special committee of the Governors has been formed so that they could be examined on behalf of the Governors, without using up all the time of all the Governors. I do not know whether that was a good proposition or not. I can say only that it has been turned down in the White Paper for two reasons, both of which appear to be bad. The first reason, which was given by the spokesman of the Government in another place, was that none of the departments concerned with Overseas broadcasting wanted this. We of the Committee were not concerned with what the officials of particular departments wanted or not. We were concerned with how we could make overseas broadcasting a real projection of Britain, and how we could ensure that criticism and comment upon those broadcasts would reach the Governors. The second reason given was that this was not practicable. But why should the Governors be unable to appoint sub-committees for special purposes? To me it means nothing at all. Perhaps when the noble and learned Viscount answers he will be able to enlighten me.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT JOWITT)
Can the noble Lord give me a reference to the White Paper? I cannot recognise a word of what he has said. May I also say that I did not understand the noble Lord's answer to the noble Lord, Lord Woolton's question at all? Does he or does he not say that the Board of Governors should be able to give instructions to staffs?
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
The Board of Governors should be able to give instructions as to what shall be done by the staff—certainly.
§ LORD WOOLTON
May we pursue this matter, because it is very important? To whom shall they give instructions? Obviously, the Board of Governors must be in a position to give instructions to someone, otherwise they are not governing. Will they give them through the Director General—that is to say, will they be functioning in a corporate capacity, 1259 and give their instructions through the Director General? Or will they be able to go round "fiddling" among the staff giving instructions? That was the issue I raised.
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
I am saying that, whether there is one Director General or more than one, they will give instructions through the Director General or Directors General to the appropriate departments. This is a problem with which every Government Department is concerned, and is a question which arises in every Government Department. Those are my answers.
May I come now to the last point? The Report proposed, as one of its essential features a quinquennial review, and proposed at the same time that there was no need for a time limit in the Charter at all. Once granted, the Charter can be revoked at any time.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I should like to know whether I am to receive a reference from the noble Lord. He said that in the White Paper we had made certain proposals with regard to Overseas services. I shall be most grateful if he will give me a reference.
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
I will look for it, and give it to the noble and learned Viscount later, if he will allow me, in order not to take up the time of the House. I come now to this quinquennial review. What we had in mind was that probably, on the present basis, the continuance of a single Corporation could be regarded as certain, until there was a complete change either of scientific conditions or anything else. Therefore, there was no real reason or sense in imposing any fixed time limit to the Charter. More important, we thought that if there were no fixed time limit, it would increase the significance of the quinquennial review, to which we attach considerable importance. It is not a fundamental inquiry, such as that which my Committee have just conducted, and would not mean that the Corporation would have to go through anything like the kind of work it has gone through for us. It is an investigation of what it has done on specific points; it should be required to state, for instance, just what it has done, or why it has not done anything, on each of the fifty-nine Recommendations made for it in our Report. Not all of the Recommendations 1260 are for action, and upon many of them the Corporation may not take any action at all. But I feel that the Houses of Parliament, in considering the B.B.C.—as they will be doing in an Annual Report from time to time—ought to have the benefit of an independent report as to what the Corporation has done in that respect, as in other respects.
I am a little afraid of the argument which was used, I think, by the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, and which was raised in another place by the spokesman of the Government: that one must be very careful not to disturb the B.B.C. about their work. It might equally be said that one must be very careful not to disturb civil servants about their work. Yet Parliament insists upon disturbing them by asking questions. We propose to reduce that disturbance to the minimum, but we also propose that the B.B.C. should feel that they are working under independent watch. We thought the automatic quinquennial review a reasonable way of ensuring that. The alternative of the White Paper leaves it for the Government to move for action. One never knows whether the Government will do that or not. Let me repeat that the normal quinquennial review would not go into the issue of monopoly. But it would show how monopoly was working, by an independent expert review of how the Corporation was working. Of course, in the light of that, there might be material for reopening the question of monopoly if it were found that the Corporation were continuing to do things which they ought not to do.
These four points of practical difference between the Report and the White Paper all illustrate a fundamental difference of outlook. My Committee were profoundly impressed by the dangers and disadvantages of monopoly in so vital a service as broadcasting. The Government, to judge by their White Paper, are not conscious of any dangers at all. There is nothing in the White Paper to show that the Government have even read those parts of the Report, though I have no doubt that some of their officials have. Apart from the major discrepancies which I have mentioned between the Report and the White Paper, this difference of outlook appears again and again in the treatment of special problems such as veryhigh-frequency broadcasting. On this 1261 matter, the noble Earl on the Government Front Bench to-day was much more forthcoming. I welcome his statement that the Government are alive to the possibility of very-high-frequency broadcasting, Leading to independent local stations.
There are other points that I could raise, but I have already spoken too long. Perhaps your Lordships will permit me to say one or two final things to which I feel reference must be made. I have said already that whatever may be the merits of the White Paper proposals, they cannot be put forward as proposals based on our Report. I ask the Government, with all the earnestness I can, to reconsider their White Paper and think over the whole matter again—and to think rather differently from the White Paper. When I consider how the great power of broadcasting is used in other countries—how in some countries it is frittered away for unimportant commercial purposes, and how in other countries it is used to dragoon men's minds, to preach hatred, and to support irremovable dictators—I personally (and I am sure I speak for my Committee) thank heaven that we in this country have a public service broadcasting system to give a voice to freedom and to humanity. For that great gain we owe, as we all know, more to one man—the noble Lord, Lord Reith—than any of us can ever express. But (there is always a but") as T. H. Huxley pointed out:The devoted leaders of revolution in one generation can and do become tyrants in the next generation.All institutions, like all men, are subject to decay as they begin to feel secure. We of the Broadcasting Committee did not take lightly the continuance of a monopoly of broadcasting in this country. We accepted continuance of monopoly because we felt that by taking the necessary steps we could establish effective safeguards against the dangers of monopoly. I beg the Government to consider doing more, not less, than we propose in this matter of safeguards against the evils of monopoly. I make the same appeal to those who are in charge of the B.B.C.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ LORD RADCLIFFE
My Lords, in taking the first opportunity which I have had of addressing your Lordships, I think myself fortunate that the subject upon 1262 which I am enabled to address you is that of the B.B.C., because for the last twelve years I have, in one capacity or another, found myself in close touch with that Corporation. Therefore it is with a sense of piety that I seek to say something about the questions raised by the White Paper: not because my association with the B.B.C. has led to any feeling of reverence—indeed, far from itx2014;but because it has led me to entertain for that body a feeling of genuine admiration and affection. I will be as brief as I can, because your Lordships, may well think that you have by now heard nearly all that can be said about the B.B.C. and broadcasting in this country. I will not begin with any needless compliments to the work done by the Beveridge Committee; but I will just say that the Report is by far the most comprehensive and most complete treatment of the subject: of the B.B.C. that has been made during, the comparatively short years of its existence. The Sykes Committee Report in 1923, the Crawford Committee Report in 1925, the Ullswater Committee Report in 1939, and now the Beveridge Report, all indicate that the B.B.C.'s roots have been taken up and investigated with increasing thoroughness fairly often during its brief history.
The Beveridge Report, if I may say so again, contains many admirable and wise things about the problem of broadcasting. If I am less enthusiastic about some of the proposals that it makes for change than I am about the wise and perceptive things that it says, that is because I have become a little tainted through association with bureaucracy itself. I think that, for good reasons or for bad, the system of broadcasting that has been established in this country has worked extraordinarily well; and I would rather, at this stage, see it allowed to advance on the same lines, without any material alterations, than see alterations made which theory might recommend but which I feel would produce substantial divergencies in practice.
I should like to say one thing on the subject which I feel is of great importance, and it concerns these proposed national councils—"commissions" as recommended by the Report; "councils" as termed in the White Paper. It is my hope that the Government will reconsider from the beginning not merely their 1263 own addition to the Committee's proposals—that is, that the majority of these councils for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should be drawn from local authorities (a suggestion of which I will say only that I would deprecate it) and that they should be unpaid in the great work that they would be called upon to do, but also the wisdom of having these councils at all, with the powers proposed for them and responsible themselves for the contents and policy of their Home programmes. In my view, this proposal cuts right across the advantages that we have hitherto enjoyed from a unified system of broadcasting.
I made an effort to see what were the memoranda which had been placed before the Committee or published in their Appendix which led to this suggestion. Of course, when a Committee of this kind sits, it is a natural thing, if I may say so, that it should have proposals brought in from those who are nationally conscious that they should be set free from the suggested paralysing influence of the urban and debased culture of London, and that they should be allowed to prosecute their own broadcasting way in the true national spirit. Two papers were sent in from Scotland, three from Wales and none from Northern Ireland, which has this un-coveted benefit of a national, responsible council given to it—somewhat, I imagine, to its own consternation. However, there were proposals from Scotland and from Wales and, of course, as one would expect, they ran on various lines of criticism. One said that it was an indignity that the people in Scotland or in Wales should not have their own independent national corporation. Another was a series of really rather trivial comments about somebody (it is amazing how long the memory of broadcasting critics is) who in 1936 did not pronounce a Scottish word rightly, or somebody who at some time forgot a proper date on the Welsh Service—trivial things of that sort.
Then came, of course, the substantial and worthy criticisms raising the question whether the regional services as promoted by the B.B.C. (for they all have their regional services) were really an adequate reflection of the resources of local talent, and genuinely responded sensitively to the background of the national and local culture which they were serving. That, of 1264 course, as everyone appreciates, is a perfectly genuine criticism to raise, and something well worth investigating. But, when one comes to look into it, the extent to which it is possible to make a regional programme fully responsive to all the treasures that may lie hidden in the region depends upon the resources that one commands for the purpose and those resources depend untimately, as always, upon transmitters, upon personnel and upon all the various and expensive forms of equipment which, if available to an unlimited extent for the service of each region, would no doubt lead to a more thoroughly satisfactory service being provided for the people listening in that region. But can it be done with the overall resources available for the service of the whole country?
That can be met, as I suggest, by one of two measures, neither of which is proposed by the Beveridge Committee or by the Government White Paper. You may respond to the national pressure and say: "Very well; take your own independent broadcasting corporation. Do then as well as you can and attract as many listeners as you can on your own responsibility." But then, with what money and with what resources would they do it? Are you to give them all the revenue from the broadcasting licences in their area? If you do, you are most unfair, because you are giving them revenue from licences which really are, and will be, paid for, for listening not merely to the home programme that they will produce but to the country-wide Light Programme, by far the most popular of all, and the Third Programme so far as it is available to the listening facilities in their area.
But even if you gave them all the revenue they could get from their local licences, would they be provided with the great service of talent and treasure that they envisage? I doubt it. On the only figures which the Beveridge Committee have been able to extract, Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland are all deficiency areas, from the point of view of broadcasting. That means that, even today, more money is spent upon the services which are given them than is received from licences which are obtained from them. Those figures are subject to the many quite justified criticisms which the Committee make because of the allocation 1265 of central services, and they are by no means satisfactory or final. But there is no reason to suppose that even to-day those areas, if they were given the revenue from all the licences that they have within them, would be self-supporting with the kind of service that they want to run.
That is one side of the question. The other side is this. You may say: "Well, the B.B.C., after all, have regional services." The idea that they are subject to Londonisation is destroyed by the Beveridge Committee, who find that the regions have almost complete programme autonomy for their regional programmes. The real question is what one can do to develop the contact with the regional controller—who, after all, wants to make a success of his region—by drawing upon his regional advisory council (which exists although it is a fairly new institution) and by seeing whether he ought to have a larger allocation of the total fund and the total resources available for the service of his particular region than he has under existing allocations to-day. It may be he is in an area where reception is particularly difficult owing to the mountainous configuration that is found in Wales or in Scotland, where, of course, the population is widely distributed and not easy to cover. Maybe they ought to have a larger share of the total licence revenue, even if they are drawing upon English listeners for the purpose. That is a question of policy that has to be considered and decided upon and, if necessary, the funds must be allocated under some formula. You have to make up your mind whether under the existing system the listener in Scotland or Ireland is being unfairly starved or not.
The proposals we have before us are these: to institute these independent bodies, who are to be responsible for creating their own local home programme and choosing their own staff. There is all the difficulty of setting up and maintaining the standards of broadcasting that we have in the B.B.C. itself, and which, indeed, are hard to maintain the nearer one gets to the point of pressure. Instead of letting those people follow out the idea of having their own resources and money the capital development which may be needed to increase the service in their area, the B.B.C., by these proposals, are left in control of the 1266 finance; they are left in the position of saying: "You cannot have more for Scotland," or "You cannot have more for Ireland than you are having to-day, because it would not be fair if you did." They are left in the position of holding up development by saying: "You cannot have a new transmitter or a new studio here." The total result is that instead of, if I may quote the amiable prose of the Beveridge Committee, substituting what is called a "federal harmony for centralised control," you are providing the finest method that I can envisage for creating permanent quarrels between the B.B.C., who control the purse strings and the power to hold up capital development, and these local bodies, conscious of the functions they have been appointed to fulfil, who will continually maintain that they ought to have more and more money and who, if they do not get it, will say they are not being allowed to carry out the purpose for which they were appointed. I have mentioned those difficulties as shortly as I can. It is difficult in a subject as complex as this to say anything shortly, but that is my fundamental criticism of the basis of the idea of two national councils, and before they adopt the idea, I beg the Government to see whether the development of the existing B.B.C. system, if necessary with improved facilities, setting a formula, is not the better method.
I have only two more points I wish to place before your Lordships, and they can be briefly stated. One might say a word on behalf of the Committee's proposals with regard to the Governors which, as the noble Lord who has just spoken pointed out, have been rather watered down by the White Paper. It is plain that the Committee were struck, as one is when one comes to investigate the position and structure of the B.B.C., by the immense power that necessarily resides in the permanent official. That cannot be avoided in any organisation devoted to the production either of writing or of speech. There is an idea that large questions of policy are always arising which can be settled in advance by the board, but that is a mistake. Nearly every question that has to be decided is a question ad hoc, which has been decided for you by the man down below, on the spot, long before you have time to think out its policy implication.
1267 The position of any board in these matters is one of holding a rather sad postmortemwhen a serious mistake has been made, and of attempting in advance, so far as possible, to lay down in the most broad and general prose what they believe to be the policy and instructions that their subordinates should follow.
But, having said that, I entirely agree with the view of the Committee that the true democratic control of this peculiar, though successful, organisation lies in giving to the Governors, I would say as a body, as much control on policy as possible. If you are going to do that, may I just say these two things? The man comes in there first as a new Governor. I will not venture to estimate the number of months or years it takes him to find his feet in this enormous organisation, but in my view it cannot be in his first or second year—to put it mildly. If he has to retire at the end of the fourth year, with only an exceptional chance of reappointment in exceptional cases, it means wasting the time and energy that he has put into the service. I would beg that he should be naturally reappointable, unless there is anything to be said against him, or any reason to bring in new blood which is felt to be necessary. Otherwise, you are throwing away the advantages you have gained by the man learning his job and finding his feet. The amount of work he will have had to do in those years, in order to familiarise himself with the services and the problems of the B.B.C. and to keep his eye on his work, is such that, if you pay him £1,000 a year, you are not really paying hint too much; and if you go back again to £600 you are not paying him fairly for what you are asking him to do. May I support the Committee in this respect: that their recommendation for £1,000 and free reappointment should be reconsidered favourably by the Government?
My Lords, there is one last thine—namely, the question of the term of the new Charter. The Committee recommended an indefinite term, subject to what I would call quinquennial assassination by review. If I may, I would put in a word on behalf of the solution that the Government have chosen. Have a Charter for fifteen years if you please; but do not attempt to reconsider either the whole 1268 or a part of the structure until that fifteen years is running out. After all, the point of granting a Charter is that it contains the conditions which are to be observed, and those concerned should be given the length of time the Charter is to run. That franchise is what they need to keep them free from interference, whether it is from the Executive, or from Parliament, or from anybody else. If they do not palpably observe the conditions of the Charter, then, when you find that out, have an inquiry on as high a level as you like, and see whether it is right that they are not observing the conditions of the Charter and are in danger of having it forfeited. That is one thing. If, on the other hand, something of real importance turns up during the currency of the Charter—something which is not affected by the conditions but which goes far towards revolutionising the position in which the B.B.C., or possibly the listener, stands—of course the Government of the day, and Parliament, must step in and appoint their committee to consider the matter. But, apart from those two situations, I suggest that we should allow the Corporation to enjoy the benefit of the assurance and of the freedom to move and progress within a fixed term. Let nothing, hang over them, such as taking their pulse and their temperature, which will upset the whole organisation for years at a time.
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
My Lords, perhaps the House will allow me to intervene to correct a mistake which I made. There is no reference in the White Paper to the Overseas Committee, and therefore there is no need for the noble and learned Viscount to deal with that point in my speech, though of course he is at liberty to do so in so far as it is dealt with in Paragraph 539 of the Beveridge Report. There is nothing in the White Paper.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I thank the noble Lord very much. When I asked the noble Lord where it was in the White Paper I was fully aware that it was not there.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ LORD BRAND
My Lords, I think you will wish me on your behalf to congratulate my noble and learned friend Lord Radcliffe on his brilliant and comprehensive speech. He has been a colleague and friend of mine for many 1269 years, and it would be impertinent for me to attempt to describe to your Lordships what you know very well—how great an ornament and addition he will be to this House. He may not often wish to speak, but when he does I am sure we shall listen to him with the extreme pleasure with which we have listened to-day. In fact, I may say that, when he made his speech, I nearly decided to tear up my notes and to say nothing to your Lordships, because I agree so thoroughly with everything he has said. I will, however, venture to make a few brief remarks—for two reasons. First of all, I have been for some years a member of the General Advisory Council of the B.B.C., and secondly. I have also had an opportunity, which perhaps not many of your Lordships have had, to listen for a good many years to the sponsored programmes on the American radio. I should like to say something arising out of that experience. First, however, I would say a word on the question of monopoly. We all agree that a monopoly may be a very bad thing, and is a dangerous thing; but we have already heard all the arguments against it, and therefore I shall rest content with the small mercy, or perhaps the great mercy, which we have at present—namely, notwithstanding its being a monopoly, an extremely efficient and admirable system of broadcasting under the present management of the B.B.C. I think we can wait to consider what are the dangers of monopoly, if and when we find that things are going wrong—as they are not doing at present.
I should now like to come to the question of commercial broadcasting, to which my noble friend Lord Woolton has referred, and with regard to which he made a certain suggestion. I must say that, having listened for six years or so to the American radio, I am not in favour of any commercial broadcasting in this country. I believe that, if you introduce commercial broadcasting at any point, it is likely to spread; and I am afraid (I am not sure that here I do not differ from Lord Woolton) that Gresham's Law works, so far as broadcasting is concerned. If you have sponsored broadcasting, the advertiser wants one thing only: to get the biggest possible audience. We all know that you do not get the biggest possible audience by, shall I say, the most, educated and cultured kinds of broadcasting. You get it by coming down 1270 to a fairly low level. In fact, the bad money drives out the good, and your broadcasting will descend to a lower level. It is true that you must have amusement as well as instruction.
Perhaps critics of broadcasting are divided into two groups. One group consists of those who wish to give the public amusement and the other of those who wish to give it instruction. You cannot do either solely. You should give as much instruction as you can. Indeed, in the end, I believe, the real aim of broadcasting is gradually—it takes a tremendously long time—to raise the general level of knowledge in the country. Of course, I know that the American radio companies produce a great deal of good broadcasting. It is impossible to have the application of American skill, ingenuity and enterprise without a great many good things being done. But commercial sponsoring itself is really, I think, a poisonous influence on broadcasting. I remember how, during the war, when we were going through a very bad time and when the United States was not then one of the belligerents, one sometimes found oneself listening, perhaps, to some tragic war news—and there was plenty of it, in the first year or two of t he war—and then, suddenly there would be an intervention of a commercial nature. Even a good broadcaster like Mr. Raymond Gram Swing might say: "I shall stop now to give my sponsor a chance of saying what he wants to say"; and so, in the middle of a tragic story, you would get some very luxuriant advertising for Kreml Hair Cream, or for some pills or something of that sort. That kind of thing certainly did not help much to give the population a proper sense of proportion, as to what was important and what was not.
I do not know whether any of your Lordships ever saw a cartoon which appeared, I think, in The New Yorker. It showed a father leading his small boy out of church. The father had taken his son to church for the first time, and as they came out, he said to the little boy: "How did you like the service?" The little boy replied: "I liked the 'Commercial' very much." By the "Commercial" the little boy meant the sermon, and his idea was that the parson was "selling" the church to the congregation. That type of broadcasting does spread a general feeling that nearly everything is for sale or is somehow connected with 1271 commercial sales talk. I agree indeed with the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, that the commercial side of life should not take too great a share of public attention.
A day or two ago I noticed in the New York Herald-Tribune something which, to my mind, shows how much the B.B.C. gain by not having sponsored programmes. It was an article from Bonn, in Germany, by an American writer who compared the "Voice of America" with the B.B.C. The article contained this passage:That the 'Voice' is basically American propaganda seems to be quite clear in the minds of German listeners, with whom the B.B.C. still holds the great advantage of being synonymous with truth in news' … The British, moreover, have the advantage of a tone and style of broadcasting which is more attuned to the European ear than the 'huckster atmosphere' of Voice of America 'Democracy sales', which may or may not be the feature of the programs but nevertheless have in the past set the tone for listeners.That is where the B.B.C. gain tremendously in having nothing to do with commercial broadcasting. It is not connected with the selling of everything whereas it is extremely difficult for our American friends to get away from the idea that what is being done through the radio is to sell something to the audience. Therefore, I should be rather sorry to see Lord Woolton's idea——
§ LORD WOOLTON
Will the noble Lord forgive me for interrupting, but he has completely misinterpreted me? I have been listening with the greatest interest to what he has been saying, but I would point out that I did not suggest that the B.B.C. should go in for this huckstering.
§ LORD BRAND
I thought you did. If you did not, I apologise.
I have just one or two things to add to what the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Radcliffe, said about what the Beveridge Committee's Report said with regard to regional organisation. I think advisory functions, executive functions and supervisory functions were mixed together by the Committee; so that if their proposals were carried out we should have a great deal of muddle in the functions of the B.B.C. At present, we have a system of control, from top to bottom, which is perfectly logical and workable. It is a system under which 1272 no man serves two masters. The Director-General is responsible for the whole of the executive side, and the Governors have a general control. The Beveridge Committee said they were proposing a federal solution. I do not think that is the case. In all federal constitutions, a clear distinction is drawn between the function of the federal bodies and the more local or State bodies. But in the Beveridge plan for regional organisation, which deals, of course, mainly with the Home programme, the regional controller would actually serve two masters. He would be under the Corporation for all matters except a part of the Home programme and as regards that part of the Home programme he would be entirely under the new national council. In that respect he would be definitely controlled by them. Surely that must lead to some confusion in control.
If one puts what, in a case like this, must be the decisive question—and perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, will agree with me—"Who can sack him?" what is the answer? Suppose the national council consider the regional controller very good from a regional point of view, but the B.B.C. consider him bad for themselves, can the B.B.C. sack him? I do not know whose servant he is. More important than that, we shall have two kinds of Governors: we shall have six engaged, as they are now, in general supervision of the Corporation, and we shall have three Governors, equal to them in their powers of general supervision, who will also carry out actual executive functions in the way of working out and settling the Home programme, so that they will have axes to grind which the other Governors have not. That seems to me a bad defect in organisation. I join with the noble Lord, Lord Radcliffe, in hoping that the Government will not accept this alternative. I will say nothing about the third alternative of the Government, because enough has been said about that, and I concur with what has been said.
My own view is that in general we cannot improve on the present system. I think that the advisory councils in the regions should be encouraged to be more active, to meet more often and, particularly in Scotland and in Wales, to feel that they can initiate suggestions and give advice, as the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, suggested. Generally, I must 1273 say that I do not think a great deal of advisory councils, because as soon as a body is merely advisory it cannot do very much. Yet I suggest that these councils could be given more scope. I do not agree with the recommendations in the Beveridge Report about the public representation service. I think the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, seems too suspicious of everything connected with the B.B.C. The public representation service would be like having a detective agency watching all the time to see whether the right thing was being done. I do not think that is the way to get the best service.
As regards finance, it seems to me that a matter of principle is involved in the Government's proposal. I should have thought that all taxation should be through the recognised channel of the Budget. I do not know whether this particular impost is equivalent to Ship Money, but it is a peculiar method of taxation for the Government, without any Parliamentary authorisation, to extract part of what has been paid by licensees. There is a statement in the Report that the B.B.C. should spend £32,000,000 on capital projects in the next ten years. I believe it would be better that they should be allowed to reserve as much as they can of that sum out of revenue rather than have to rely on borrowing. As soon as people in the Corporation who want to spend money know that the B.B.C. can borrow £10,000,000, they will be after the B.B.C. authorities to see whether they cannot induce them to spend more on this and that. It is much better that the B.B.C. should be able to put money by out of their revenue, and build up a fund with which they can carry out at least part of this enormous programme.
§ 6.6 p.m.
THE EARL OF ELGIN AND KINCARDINE
My Lords, I am sure you will all wish to agree with me in paying tribute to the fine speeches which we have had from two noble Lords who have just joined your Lordships' House. The noble Lord, Lord Kenswood, spoke with great feeling and understanding, and from the noble Lord, Lord Radcliffe, from the Cross Benches, we had an example of unhurried eloquence admirably put forward. I feel a little diffident about my own position to-day. I was a member 1274 of the Committee serving under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, who were charged with the responsibility of reviewing the whole situation. I have recorded my views in the Report, and therefore it would seem in a way to be wasting your Lordships' time to refer to those views in any great detail; but I was the one member of the Committee who signed the main Report without any reservation and without any addition. I even refused to succumb to the blandishments of the Chairman and my two lady colleagues to sign the addendum asking for a special time to be given for advertising.
I should not like this moment to pass without my paying a real tribute to the B.B.C., first, for the magnificent service they have built up for reliable information and for entertainment and education. I should also like to pay a tribute to them for what they have resisted, particularly in regard to advertising. We were asked by some of those who gave evidence why we should object to advertisement on the broadcasting service. We had advertising in the tubes and in our newspapers, and why not on the B.B.C.? There is just this difference: that I can assert my own will in looking or not looking at an advertisement in a newspaper or on a hoarding, but if I turn off the programme because of an advertisement I may miss something very important or entertaining which comes immediately afterwards. Having had an opportunity of listening to home broadcasting in America, I say emphatically that once we began with advertisements, we would not be able to stop it.
The noble Lord, Lord Woolton told us of a very impressive service to which he was privileged to listen on the other side of the Atlantic. I have no doubt that Sir William Haley could give us, through the medium of the B.B.C., just as impressive a service in this country as that the noble Lord listened to in America. But that is not the purpose of these short services in the morning, "Lift up your Hearts." They are meant just to give us something to think about; and if they end in a quiet moment, so much the better, rather than that we should try to fill up the interval between that and the weather forecast. Also, in my estimation, little improvement can be made at that time upon a careful reading of verses 1275 from the Bible. I feel that the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, was perhaps a little unkind in making that comparison to the detriment of the B.B.C.
But there are real dangers in monopoly and in "Londonisation." They lead to the position which has already been referred to this afternoon, of the B.B.C. becoming an oracle. The noble Lord who sits below me referred to this question, and made special reference to the news service. It is that service which, to my mind, exactly illustrates "Londonisation." It was, surely, an argument rather against" Londonisation" than for it when the noble Lord said that all regions were provided with five or ten minutes for their regional news, except London. London does not require it, because it has the whole of the national news service given through London spectacles. This looking at things always from the London point of view, to my mind, requires investigation and a new attitude. Why should we always begin our weather forecasts in London? Why not begin in the North, and work Southwards. Why should we think from the London point of view, and concentrate our news efforts within a radius of the home counties?
I should like to give your Lordships two illustrations of items of news in Scotland which were either left out completely from the national broadcast, or were referred to only incidentally. One was very recent. It was a wonderful parade of Scots Guards at Holyrood—something which we probably shall not see again in our lifetime—when the King himself was to have presented new Colours to the two battalions. That ceremony took place at Holyrood in the morning. There was one sentence about it in the news bulletin at six o'clock. With a message from the King himself, delivered to the country through the mouth of the Duke of Gloucester; with the presence of the two battalions of the Scots Guards; with the presentation of the new Colours and their dedication—surely, that was worthy of a proper reference in the national bulletin. Another similar omission of reference was in the case of the Royal Highland Show at Dundee in 1949. That Show was a record. The attendance at the Show on one particular day beat anything that the Royal Agricultural Society of England has ever put up, which shows the response there 1276 was in Scotland. Not a single word was given in the national bulletin about that Show, although Her Majesty the Queen came personally from London to attend it. I give those merely as examples of the kind of thing that shows that we ought to have a different system, and break through the London spectacles through which the news is always given.
Now let me pass to the question, referred to by several speakers, of how we can improve and bring fresh light into the broadcasting service through our suggestion of greater devolution. There are three proposals before us. One is that of the B.B.C., in which they say that the greatest possible devolution is given to the regional controller; that he has complete independence in regard to his programme, except for certain matters; and that he has at his hand the advisory committee. Then we have the Government's proposal in the White Paper that we should have an extra Governor on the B.B.C. responsible for the national regions, who shall be given the help of a national council in the particular country to which he belongs. That has been so much criticised that I do not think I need deal further with it, except to say this. Speaking from the point of view of one who has given a good deal of his life to local government, I feel that those who are elected to local government have "plenty on their plate" without further duties such as are suggested in the Government White Paper. We have suggested that, in addition to the extra Governor, to which the Government agree, the Governor who represents Scotland or Wales should be chairman of a small selected council; and that that selected council should have the power to initiate and propose.
Here I should like to refer to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Radcliffe, who criticised this council, by saying that I think he criticised it from not quite understanding the whole procedure, or that he forgot that there was a second part to this council—namely, that the Governor himself, as chairman of the council, was a member of the Board of Governors in London: he is the link which brings the two together. Therefore, I think that, although there may be difficulties in the working of the procedure, with good will on both sides there should be the possibility of making it work. I have absolutely no hesitation in saying that, of the three alternatives before us, the one which 1277 we propose in the Committee's Report is the one which I recommend. That particular procedure not only gives a greater opportunity to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland if they wish to initiate programmes on their own, but it gives greater opportunity to the producers and artists, who will have the encouragement of alternative employment either with the national region or with the London programme.
I have before me some figures of recent research with regard to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Radcliffe as to whether or not the regions could substantiate and really wish to have their own programmes. In the Report we analyse the figures given in paragraph 228, Table 5, of listeners under the Home Service, the Light Programme and the Third Programme. In that analysis Scotland in 1948 worked out at 44 per cent. for the Home Service, 55 per cent. for the Light Programme and 1 per cent. for the Third Programme. But the figures given to me from Listener Research in June of this year arc 52 per cent. for the Home Service, 47 per cent. for the Light Programme and still 1 per cent. for the Third Programme, showing that Scotland, from the listeners' point of view, has gone up in its appreciation of its Home Service to over 50 per cent. That compares with England as a whole for 1948 at 36 per cent. for the Home Service, and 63 per cent. for the Light Programme, and in 1949 at 33 per cent. for the Home Service and 66 per cent. for the Light Programme. I think that is encouraging from the point of view of Scotland taking a personal interest in its own programme. For these reasons, I hope that the Government will give careful reconsideration to this question of devolution and the form it should take, and I sincerely hope that they will finally abandon the suggestion of councils recruited from local authorities.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ LORD CHORLEY
My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships are very grateful to the nettle Lord who was a member of the Beveridge Committee for his lucid and thoughtful speech upon these problems which he was considering for so long. I hope he will forgive my not following him, as I wish primarily to draw your Lordships' attention to some paragraphs in the Beveridge Report which escaped comment this afternoon, but 1278 which, in my view, are of profound importance. They are the paragraphs relating to the whole problem of what one might call discussion broadcasting—controversial, educational and all broadcasting of that kind. During the debate in another place this very important topic, in my view at any rate, was almost equally neglected. So far as I remember, there were only two speeches which touched upon it, and again they were speeches by members of the Beveridge Committee.
Before I refer to that aspect, I should like to say a word or two about the extraordinarily interesting, and, to a degree, provocative, speech of the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, the Chairman of this Committee. This is another of the great State documents which the country has come to expect from a Committee presided over by the noble Lord. Years ago, I had the advantage of serving under him, and I became accustomed to his astonishing capacity for comprehensive and searching surveys into social problems of all kinds. But, if he will allow me to say so, he rather tends, will his Reports, to adopt the attitude of a father to his favourite child. He fails to see that there can possibly be any blemishes on them, and rather expects the Government to adopt them 100 per cent. I should have thought that it was a very fair inference, from the whole tenor of the Beveridge Report in respect of this matter, to say that the Government were accepting it in substance. It is true that they go on to indicate a number of points of some importance in which they do not do so, but, broadly speaking, it is a very fair inference to say that the Government have substantially accepted the Beveridge Report.
I thought the noble Lord was a little too carping, if one can fairly use that word, in accusing the Government of being favourable to monopolies. As I read it, there is nothing in the White Paper which in any way says that the Government favour monopoly. The Beveridge Committee thought that there was nothing better than the monopoly which has in fact been established; and that, broadly speaking, is the Government's point of view, as I see it. The Beveridge Committee made certain suggestions as to how the monopoly might 1279 be tempered. The Government have made other suggestions, such as this proposal about the local authorities having control. They may not be good suggestions, and I am not sure that I like them any better than I like the suggestion of the noble Lord's own Committee on this particular problem—which is a very difficult one—but surely the fact that the Government did make these proposals for, so to speak, abating the monopoly, shows that they are just as much concerned as were the noble Lord and his Committee.
Perhaps I ought to confess an interest here, as I have more than once broadcast from Broadcasting House, and received a fee, as no doubt, others of your Lordships have done. My own experience does not in any way lead me to agree with the noble Lord's suggestion that the organisation is pontifical, that suggestions are not welcomed, or with the other points that he made. I have always found the B.B.C. ready to discuss any sort of suggestion which anybody in any sort of responsible position came along and put before them. So far as my own small experience of Broadcasting House goes, I have never found any of the officials with whom I have had to deal in any way pontifical or overbearing, or in any way fulfilling the adjective which the noble Lord used.
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
I did not use those words myself. I quoted them as remarks made to us by responsible outsiders. They are contained in the Report.
§ LORD CHORLEY
I appreciate that the noble Lord was quoting remarks made by other people. All I can say is that my own experience has not been to that effect, and I have among my colleagues and friends a large number of people who work a great deal for the B.B.C. I must say quite frankly that I have never heard these sort of expressions used, at any rate for a very long time. I think it may have been to some extent true during the years before the war, but recently I have heard no criticisms of that kind at all. I must say that the noble Lord seemed to answer himself, in a very fine peroration to his speech, when he pointed out the weaknesses of broadcasting in almost every other part of the world, and thanked Heaven that our system was so good. That seemed to me to show that our system is on the right 1280 lines, and that these differences between him and the White Paper which were called "fundamental" were, perhaps, not quite so fundamental after all.
I should like now to say something about controversial discussion, because it seems to me of the greatest importance. One of the aptest definitions of democracy which I have ever heard is that:Democracy is government by discussion.I think the country relies enormously upon the B.B.C. to give leadership in discussion. It is possible to reach right conclusions on problems of politics, sociology, religion and the other fundamental problems with which a thoughtful citizen is faced, only on the basis of discussion: of hearing the facts put by people who have investigated the matter, and of hearing them discussed by people whose minds are trained in the business of discussion. I think it is a rather significant thing that the "Listener Research" which your Lordships will find referred to in Table 6, on page 58 of the Beveridge Report, seems to show definitely that the more educated the type of listener, the more interested he is in the discussion type of broadcast. In column C, for example, which refers to university-educated people, discussion moves right up to the fourth place, whereas, in column A—that is people who have had only elementary education—it is down to tenth place—and, even so, it is reasonably high in the long list. That seems to indicate the importance which people of education attach to the discussions which occur on the B.B.C. I am not saying that the B.B.C. has fallen down over this business at all, but I do think—and this is the view expressed in the Beveridge Report—that there is not enough of it and that it has been rather patchy.
There was a time when the noble Lord, Lord Reith, was apprehensive about allowing political discussion—I am not talking about Party political discussions but about discussions on fundamental problems. I think he was rather afraid that political discussions would be in the nature of gunpowder, and would give rise to so much criticism in Parliament and elsewhere that it was not safe to allow them. But there has been a good deal more of these discussions recently, and I think they are very much appreciated by 1281 the ordinary voter and the ordinary man in the street, in deciding how he is to vote, or perhaps, indeed, how he is to frame his philosophy of life. But there is still a great deal more which could be done by the B.B.C., for they have been rather timid in these matters. They have occasionally experimented; and then, for reasons which are not clear, since these experiments have been favourably received, they have tended to draw back. A year or two ago there were some very interesting controversial religious broadcasts which were well received and which were of the greatest value in enabling people to clear their minds on these fundamental problems. During recent months, they seem to have been dropped. The Beveridge Committee apparently received, very sympathetically, a good deal of evidence on this sort of point, and they give it quite clearly as their opinion that the B.B.C. ought to do more on these lines.
I pass to the question of religious broadcasts. The noble Lord who opened this discussion in a most interesting speech and a most valuable survey of the whole position, was rather apologetic in referring to it. I do not think there was any need for him to apologise, because this is one of the most important problems discussed in the Beveridge Report. I was not clear whether he wanted to have sponsored programmes, in order that the religious communities might pay for their time. I should have thought that that was a distinctly dangerous proposal. But perhaps that was not in the noble Lord's mind. Personally, I should prefer to see the broadcasting of religious services omitted from the B.B.C.'s programmes altogether. It seems to me that that is not the sort of thing on which the B.B.C. ought to be engaged. But I appreciate that that is a view which is not widely held, and that in fact the B.B.C. are committed to the broadcasting of religious services.
That being so, it seems to me that the Beveridge Committee make a very important point when they say that, at the present time, broadcasting of these services is restricted to some of the larger religious bodies. They point out that the Unitarians, a body of the greatest influence, who have had in their ranks some of the most eminent citizens of recent years, are not included. They do not point out, what is equally important, that Moslems and Buddhists, and 1282 members of other religious denominations which are not Christian but which include in their ranks more subjects of the British Crown than there are among the Christian denominations in our country, are also not included. I am not suggesting that they should have as much time as the other denominations, but I suggest that they are entitled to some sort of consideration. I suggest also that other Churches, which are not religious in the ordinary sense, such as the Ethical Church, should be included. They are religious in the most fundamental meaning of the term, and they are representative of a body of people who are, in that sense, just as religious as those who belong to the orthodox Churches. Yet they have no recognition at all by the B.B.C.
There was an intimation, a year or so ago, that the Ethical Church were to be given one or two periods in which their own service—which is a very beautiful one—would be broadcast. That idea, however, does not seem to have been taken any further. The Beveridge Committee are rather against the Ethical Church being given any time at all, just because they are not a Christian denomination. That seems to me to be altogether wrong. The Ethical Church represents a large number of people in this country, who are very sincere and who make just as valuable a contribution to the life of the community as is made by members of the other Churches. I suggest that they have their rights just as the members of other Churches have, and those rights ought to be accorded them. Are these matters such as can be left to the discretion of the Governors? I doubt it. I am suggesting that these people have not had a fair deal in the past, and I should like to see written into the new Charter some sentences establishing in general terms the rights of these minority communities to have their own particular religious service broadcast occasionally, just as do other denominations. I should also like to see written into the new Charter a term that there should be much greater emphasis upon controversial broadcasts, whether it be questions of politics or of religion, or any other of the fundamental issues which affect the lives of the citizens in the community.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I am sure that, whatever else we 1283 may feel about this debate, we must all be grateful, in the first place, to the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, for having initiated it. As the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, made quite plain in his speech some time ago, the Government have deliberately invited this debate before making up their minds precisely what lines they will take. They have promised to consider all the observations made both in this House and in another place before making up their minds. Everybody will agree that that was a wise and proper course to take. I can assure your Lordships that all the speeches which have been made—and they have been unusually informative speeches—will be most carefully considered. This debate has been remarkable for the maiden speeches which we have heard to-day from the noble Lords, Lord Kenswood and Lord Radcliffe, both of whom, by reason of their experience, are very well qualified to talk to us on this subject. I should like to express to both of them our thanks for the trouble they have taken and our sincere hope that on many future occasions we shall hear them making equally well informed speeches.
I do not propose to follow the noble Lord who has just spoken in his interesting observations. I cannot think that it would be appropriate to provide in the Charter that the Ethical Church or the Buddhists should be given a share of time. I think that is precisely the sort of thing which should be left to the discretion of the Governors of the B.B.C., who should have complete and wide powers in that respect. Now I come to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Woolton. May I say to him one word about the incidental reference that he made to the 7½per cent. which he said the Post Office exacted for their services in collecting licence fees. As a matter of fact, the 7½per cent. is a purely arbitrary figure. It is relevant in that it is a figure which is taken from the total licence fees before you calculate on which either the 100 per cent. or the 85 per cent. should be based. In fact, there are considerable services involved by the Post Office. It is not merely as though the cost was the cost of issuing wireless licences. There are also the cost of what are known as the "combs" to detect evasion, and the increasing cost of investigating complaints of interference, alike with sound and television, caused 1284 by faulty apparatus. All this requires a considerable technical staff. I am not going to trouble your Lordships with the details. It is sufficient to say that this notional fund of 7½ per cent. does not pay the cost to the Post Office. The Post Office make no profit at all on it: in fact there is a deficit. The services which they render are more than is covered by this figure and involve a higher sum than is represented by 7½per cent. So I do not think there is any grievance in that respect.
On one other matter I want to speak with great definiteness, so far as I am concerned—and I think I speak for the whole Government. It is on this question of sponsoring. I am against it, root and branch, and so are the Government. We are against it in any form. We are against the Beveridge Committee's limited and qualified sponsoring, which is the thin end of the wedge, and which we regard as just as dangerous as any other form of sponsoring. I do not pretend that I, at any rate, have an open mind on this matter. I have made up my mind and I am definitely against the sponsored programme. I believe that it would damage the whole tone of broadcasting. You may call it, if you like, a sentimental objection, an æsthetic objection or, possibly, a spiritual objection; but I am thankful that there is no sponsoring in this country and I devoutly hope that we never shall have it. I think the whole standard of our broadcasting largely depends on our keeping it out. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Brand, in this case used a certain expression. Sitting on this Woolsack, I find it very difficult to hear what some noble Lords say. First of all, I have to sit or stand with my ears covered with this wig; secondly, I have no facilities for plugging in. I asked to-day if I might have them, but I was told that it is quite impossible, so that I cannot always hear very clearly what is said. I believe the noble Lord used the word "poisonous."
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
If the noble Lord, Lord Brand, used the word "poisonous" I am quite content. It is not often that I hear the noble Lord, Lord Brand, using language of that kind, but I should like humbly to identify myself with his outlook on this matter. I did not have the good fortune to hear the noble Earl, Lord Elgin, but I am 1285 told that he, though not using such dramatic language, made it equally plain that he was opposed to this thing root and branch. That is a matter upon which we have made up our minds.
Then comes the question of the 85 per cent. as opposed to the 100 per cent. I am bound to tell your Lordships that, whenever the Chancellor of the Exchequer produces some proposals to raise a little money and they come before your Lordships' House, I cannot recall one single occasion upon which your Lordships have not been against the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It cannot be a pleasant job to be Chancellor of the Exchequer and, at the present time, he has to look about for money from every possible quarter from which he can find it. It is only within the last eighteen months, I think, that the B.B.C. have had the full 100 per cent., and the difference between the 85 per cent. and the 100 per cent. represents quite a substantial amount. I would remind your Lordships once more of the old proverb:Take care of the pence …If the amount involved is of the order of :1,500,000 or £1,750,000, that may be regarded as at least one penny, in the application of my proverb. Really, the Chancellor of the Exchequer must be careful about it. Equally, it is only for three years, and I do not think it is going to be a very great disaster, because although one can see, obviously, that there are vast schemes which must be undertaken in connection with broadcasting, I venture to say it is impossible that they can be undertaken to any considerable extent within the next three years, owing to the limitations inevitably imposed by our rearmament programme. There simply will not be either the materials or the men to make it possible to embark on schemes of that sort on a very large scale.
So much for those matters. I will say a word presently about the councils but I have noticed with interest that, as in another place, not a single proposal has been made with regard to them which has any point at all. I cannot recall anybody who addressed us in that respect. Having said that, I am going to deal with the various points raised hut, in so far as I have not dealt with them, they are all open to consideration. We shall have to face this problem anew in the light of 1286 what has been said, and, if I have mentioned particular matters, it is only to show that in regard to those matters our minds are, relatively speaking, closed. On all other matters to which I have not yet referred we have open minds and shall look at them.
Here I think it is right that we should pay tribute to the B.B.C. They have now inherited a great tradition, and are most worthily maintaining it. I believe the constitution of the B.B.C., for which I think the Crawford Committee was responsible, has been demonstrated to be a sound and living constitution. I have no doubt that it can be improved in some respects, but in its fundamentals I think that constitution is right and that it should be maintained. I should like to pay my tribute to the B.B.C.—and by that I include past and present Governors and the staff of the B.B.C. We ought to pay our tribute to the way in which they have carried on this immensely important task, and I believe in all quarters of the House we should say, "Well done. You have done really well and deserve well from your country." As I have said, they have inherited a great tradition, and Lord Reith was certainly one of those who helped to build it up. On broad lines, I think we should give to the Governors of the B.B.C. the largest possible measure of control and allow the least possible interference by the Government or anybody else. That is a principle which I am sure would receive acceptance throughout your Lordships' House.
Having said that, I now come to my noble friend, Lord Beveridge. In regard to his speech I frankly say that I do have some criticism and I shall proceed to make it. The White Paper was a very small document of a page or two compared with the massive Report which Lord Beveridge has put before us, and he really must not mind if, in the White Paper, we do not thoroughly canvass all the subjects. Had we done so we should have written a White Paper almost as long as his Report. Here let me say that had we written a White Paper as long as this Report, we could not have done it so well as did Lord Beveridge and his colleagues. They have certainly acquitted themselves with energy and gone to great trouble, and we are exceedingly indebted to them for the labour they have given to this matter. The noble Lord 1287 criticises this sentence in the White Paper:The Government agree with the majority of the Committee that the best interests of British broadcasting require the continuance of the Corporation on substantially the present basis.He says that he regards that as an innocent misrepresentation. He attributes to it nothing more than that. But, having read the White Paper and knowing pretty well what is and what is not in it, and having read, I will not say the whole but certainly all the summaries of the Beveridge Report, and knowing fairly well what is in that, I maintain that that statement is absolutely and literally true. In this matter I join issue with the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, and I will stop for a moment to consider with your Lordships the points which he asserted as indicating that the Government representation in the White Paper was an innocent misrepresentation. What he and his fellow Commissioners say in effect at page 48 of the Report is. "We accept the principle of monopoly, subject, of course, to the various qualifications which are included in the Report."
Let us come to the precise illustrations which he gave to indicate the way in which we "watered down" his Report, and let us see with some little care what substance there is in them, because we may be quite certain that Lord Beveridge has selected his best illustrations. Let us see how good these best illustrations are. I remember there were four of them. The first was in connection with the public representation service. We dealt with this matter in paragraph 13 of the White Paper, and it should be compared with paragraph 221 of the Beveridge Report, which is on page 55. Paragraph 221 says:The second improvement would lie in inviting and encouraging outside criticism by persons entitled to criticise.Then it goes on lower down:It should become less and less possible for such words and phrases to be used about the B.B.C. as were used in talking to us by responsible outsiders … words like 'pontifical' or 'Olympian'; phrases like 'a closed shop'.My Lords, if Lord Beveridge really imagines that you can possibly stop criticism in this country, or that you can stop people saying all sorts of things by way of criticism, he really is living in a 1288 fool's paradise. It is one of our prerogatives that we may criticise and say things like "Olympian." If I can go through my life and the only criticism I attract is such a harmless phrase as "Olympian," I shall indeed be a lucky man. Even if I never make any mistake at all, I shall not avoid criticism, and it would be very bad for me if I did avoid it.
What do we see in this respect in paragraph 43 of the White Paper? There it says:The Government propose to make it a duty of the Corporation in the new Charter to take such steps as may appear to them necessary to bring the work of the Corporation under constant and effective review from without the Corporation. They will leave it to the Governors to decide whether this is carried out by setting up a Public Representation Service or by other means. The Governors have assured the Government that they fully agree that the effective representation of public opinion is vital to the good working of the Corporation.We have not turned down this idea of the public representation service. All we have said is that this is typically a matter for the Governors to decide. We have expressed our approval of the principle of outside criticism, and surely should not be blamed because we say that that is a matter for the Governors. So much for that illustration.
The second illustration dealt with the standing committee for overseas services. So hard up was my noble friend to try to find something in the White Paper which differed from his Report, that he had to go outside the White Paper and draw on some observation made by Mr. Gordon-Walker in his speech in another place. I ask your Lordships to allow me to quote a passage or two from that speech, because, as I knew all the time, that is obviously what the noble Lord was referring to. We are dealing here with the overseas services and the functions of the overseas services. These, of course, are financed by the Government because they are not for ordinary purposes at all. They are obviously something quite different, but the B.B.C. is allowed considerable latitude in putting up what they want. This is the passage from Mr. Gordon-Walker's speech to which the noble Lord has referred.The Government are content with the present arrangement for the overseas programmes—that the three overseas departments 1289 should determine the countries to which broadcasts shall he sent and that the B.B.C. should be independent in preparing the programmes and broadcasts; they should, however, continue to seek information from these departments about the countries to which broadcasts are directed and also about the policy of His Majesty's Government towards those countries. This system works very well indeed and we are content with it.Therefore, we do not endorse two of the proposals of the Beveridge Committee on these matters. Recommendation 42 says there should he a standing committee of the Corporation for the Overseas Service. This, of course, is an internal matter for the B.B.C., but none of the three Government Departments wants this change made. …Surely that is right. We do not, for a moment, turn down the idea that there should be a standing committee of the B.B.C. All we say is that that, plainly, is a matter for the B.B.C. to decide, and is not to be forced upon them by the Government. It is a matter which they must decide in the ordinary way of carrying on their business. I want your Lordships to realise that the complaint of the noble Lord is simply that, instead of imposing on the B.B.C. the duty to have a standing committee, we hive left it to them. We say: "It is an internal matter; you can have it if you like." That is one of the illustrations which the noble Lord gave. It was borrowed not from the White Paper, but from the speech of Mr. Gordon-Walker.
Let me take next the matter of the quinquennial review, which has been mentioned to-day. That is dealt with in the Beveridge Committee's Report, on page 179. They call it a quinquennial review, and suggest that it should take place. What we have done is this. In Paragraph 11 of our White Paper it is stated that:The Government accept the principle of periodical reviews which would be primarily concerned with the way in which the Corporation was discharging its responsibilities but, as the Committee recommend, could also if desired be used for the examination of specific questions of broadcasting policy on which advice was wanted. The Committee propose that reviews should take place every five years, but the Government feel that it would not be right to tie future Governments, either as to the frequency or the precise terms of reference of these reviews; these maters should, they think, be left open for decision in the circumstances of the day.We accept the principle of the five-years review, but say that we are not going to tie future Governments precisely to our term of years; it may be less; it may be more. That is one of the matters in 1290 respect of which the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, says: "You are misrepresenting me and my committee when you say that you have substantially accepted the views of the majority. When you say that you are innocently misrepresenting us."
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
I hope the noble and learned Viscount will allow me to point out that the question of innocent misrepresentation relates to the point as to whether or not we, in our Report, are saying that the B.B.C. should continue on substantially the same basis as in the past. The noble and learned Viscount, if I may say so, is dealing with a different point.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
No; I am dealing with precisely the same point. The noble Lord who makes these allegations must understand it. He said that in stating, as the White Paper does, that we agree with the majority of the Committee that the B.B.C. should go on substantially as at present the Government have made an innocent misrepresentation. And the noble Lord says: "I will give you four illustrations which show that I am right in saying there has been innocent misrepresentation." One of the noble Lord's illustrations, with which I am now dealing, is this matter of the quinqennial review. What we have done is this. Whereas the Report recommended a quinqennial review, we have said that we accept tie principle of periodical reviews, but are not prepared to tie ourselves to precisely five years. Circumstances may arise, we say, in which it would be advisable to have a shorter period. On the other hand, circumstances may arise in which it should be a longer period. That is the subject matter of this complaint. I can deal, with allegations of this sort only by dealing with various specific illustrations which have been given of our so-called "innocent misrepresentation."
The noble Lord's fourth illustration dealt with the powers of the Governors. First, the Beveridge Committee recommended that the number of the Governors should be increased. That we have agreed to. Secondly, the Beveridge Committee recommended—I think I am right in saying this—that the Governors should be appointed for a period of four years, the appointments to be renewable, instead of, as under the present system, 1291 appointment for five years not renewable. The only qualification we have put in is this. Experience has led me to believe that it is useful to make it plain that no man can look upon renewal of his appointment as a matter of course; nor can any man legitimately have any sense of grievance if his appointment is not renewed. We all know, from our experience of boards and other bodies of that sort, the difficulty that arises if you constantly renew and then at last a time comes when you do not renew. The man concerned has a grievance, and he says, "Why was my appointment not renewed, when those of all the others were renewed?" In view of these considerations, the White Paper merely stresses, but does not over-stress, that no one should assume he is entitled to renewal as of right, for he is not. Subject to that, we have accepted that provision of appointment for four years, renewable.
The other point—on which I quite agree we differ from the Committee—is remuneration. Apart from the powers of the Governors, which is a specific question, it seems to me that we have substantially given what is required. Under our proposal the regional controller is to be appointed by the B.B.C. The regional controller to-day is appointed by the B.B.C. There is nothing in the Beveridge Report to say that the regional controller should not be appointed by the B.B.C. I apprehend—though the Committee do not refer to it—that they desire that the present system should go on. We desire that, too.
A further point is that the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, said we had not given him his decentralisation or devolution or diversity. I think that the only way we can give diversity is to leave it to the Governors of the B.B.C. to do what they can in that respect. I humbly agree with what the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said about the drab dullness and uniformity of some of the programmes which are supposed to be variety. But I do not think we shall do any good by talking about that. After all, it is probable that we are regarded simply as just a lot of old fogeys who do not like these things very much. I do not like either crooning or jazz, and I believe that I am not unique in that. There are others who do not like the things I like to listen to. How- 1292 ever, if the Government had not considered a measure a devolution, we should not be in all the trouble we are to-day. It is just because we want to bring about devolution that we are so friendless in your Lordships' House on this point. The whole trouble has been brought about by our keen desire to give independence to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There seems to be no doubt that they want it. They say they want it; whether for good reasons or bad I do not know. We are a democracy. We believe in the democratic system. What is wrong in our proposal? Who has a better one? I have waited to hear a better proposal, but no one has put forward a concrete suggestion. It is so easy to criticise, but not one noble Lord has put up a better proposal, on the assumption that we are going to have a larger measure of devolution.
We have heard a great deal about the frightful dangers of monopoly, about this hydra-headed monster, this tyrant. Are noble Lords really going to let the B.B.C. appoint these people? We have heard so much about the Governmental juggernaut which rides over everybody. Are noble Lords going to let the Government do it? The Government appoint the Directors of the B.B.C. Are they also going to appoint directors and controllers over all these other bodies? What is to become of all the safeguards against the evils of bureaucracy and the terrible dangers that arise from monopoly? If noble Lords really believe what they say about these dangers—and I do not dispute that there are dangers from monopoly—then see how our proposal was designed. Here we have a method of bringing the democratic principle to bear, by appointing people who are elected by the citizens of that part of the world in which these councils are to work. We do not suggest that the regional councils should be appointed exclusively from local authorities, but we suggest that a substantial element of people elected to local authorities should be included, because that is the democratic way. Of course, a body of selected people may be more efficient, but it is not so democratic as the way we propose.
It was our eagerness to carry out the principle of the Beveridge Report that has led us to make this proposal. This matter is certainly one which we will look 1293 at again, and will reconsider, in the light of the criticisms that have been made, and in regard to the fact for it is a fact—that neither to-day, in this House, nor in another place have we had any substantial number of voices supporting us in this matter. Our proposal is the only practical one that has been made, and it may be, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Radcliffe, said, that, failing some other more practical proposal, the best thing to do is to abandon the idea of greater devolution. Do not let us be criticised by the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, for not trying to carry out the principle of devolution, because it is in trying to carry out that very principle that we have got into trouble.
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble and learned Viscount can enlighten me. He said that we have not given any alternative to the Government's proposal. I was under the impression that the proposal made in the Report was an alternative.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I meant to say that we had not had any proposal put forward in the debate to-day, or in the debate in another place. I agree that there is the proposal of the Committee that there should be a small commission, which is worthy of our most careful consideration. But because we thought there are disadvantages in this plan, we put forward our proposal for a larger council with an elected basis. The Beveridge Committee suggestion was that the commission should be an appointed body, but it is supposed to be a safeguard against the dangers of bureaucracy and monopoly; and to give either the Government or the B.B.C., who are the potential wrongdoers and monopolists, the right to appoint these people does not seem to us to meet the criticism which the Beveridge Report has indicated. Therefore, we want to bring in some independent element, and in our search for the independent element we hit on this method of having part of these councils nominated by the local councils concerned. That suggestion has not been acceptable, and no other plan has been suggested which enables us to bring in this democratic element.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, I was one of those who took strong exception to this proposal with regard to selection by local authorities. May I venture to suggest to the noble and learned Viscount 1294 that he is really joining together two lines of criticism which do not necessarily belong together? One is the complaint that the national sentiments of Scotland and Wales are not sufficiently considered in appointing the local organisations for these countries. The other is that a monopoly might become undemocratic and tyrannous. These two arguments need not necessarily be combined, and the noble and learned Viscount answers the first by invoking the second. For my own part, I think the present organisation is at fault from the point of view of satisfying national sentiment, and I think the criticism could be met by a system of selecting a council with much larger powers of advice and suggestion, removing from the Government plan only the elected element, which does not seem to me to apply. The noble and learned Viscount said that this was proposed for Scotland and Wales because they did not have local Parliaments. But where we have a Parliament for the whole country, it is also suggested that we should appoint advisory councils of this sort. It always has been left to the and I think might still be left to the B.B.C.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
There is great force in what the noble Viscount has said. Surely we have done right to assume that the representatives of local councils in Wales and Scotland would fairly represent the Welsh and Scottish points of view. I can imagine that it would be an unpleasant task to appoint five people to the commission. Who are they going to be? Everything will depend on finding the right five people, and I can imagine a good deal of lobbying and burning of hearts about who the five should be. I am glad that I have not that particular task, and if I were the Minister concerned I should look to see whether there was not some other method by which to make these appointments. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, that the suggestion he has made merits our consideration. I conclude as I began, by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, and all your Lordships who have taken part in the debate. I assure you that we will carefully consider these matters. I am sorry if I had to "get across" Lord Beveridge, but if he accuses us of innocent misrepresentation, he must riot mind if I venture to suggest that the error lies with him, rather than with us.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ LORD WOOLTON
My Lords, I think that all noble Lords who have listened to the speech of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack will have recognised that if in the future, by any chance, we have to accuse him or any of his friends of misrepresentation, the one thing we must avoid is accusing them of innocence at the same time. I raised this issue because, as I said at the beginning, I thought it was a matter of considerable importance. We have had a debate which I feel has been of a very high quality, and I hope that it has been of some use. The Lord Chancellor says that the Government have an open mind on most of these matters, and that they will take into proper consideration the various suggestions made—except on two issues. The first is the issue of monopoly, on which, as one would expect, they are following their faith and are firm about it. Let me make it quite clear that I did not raise this as a Party issue. I expressly stated that I had not done so, and I was delighted to find that my noble friend Lord Halifax disagreed with my views, thereby demonstrating my point that this was not raised in any Party sense. I did not ask (I must repeat this)for the destruction of the B.B.C. Indeed, we have paid so many compliments to the B.B.C. to-day, quite deservedly, that I think they will be almost impossible to live with for the next month or two. But the very-high-frequency, and the ultra-high-frequency, wavelengths are new developments in broadcasting. As they come, I ask the Government to consider whether, with this new organ, we might not be well advised to encourage at any rate local broadcasting. Since I am rather a progressive sort of person, and belong to a progressive Party, I hope that the Government of the day will not be less progressive in considering that matter.
I do not propose at this late hour to occupy your Lordships' time by going into details of the various speeches that have been made, but I am sure my noble friend Lord Brand will permit me to make one observation. I was not suggesting sponsored programmes as a desirable end in themselves. I merely want to see some other instrument available besides the 1296 B.B.C. I thought that I had made that clear. If in order to get this local broadcasting to which I refer, it were necessary to have sponsoring, I should not raise any objection. We have heard two brilliant maiden speeches, and if the debate served no other purpose than that it would have been worth while. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Chorley for the observations he made in respect of my remarks about religious broadcasting. I belong to a minority—at least, technically—in that I am a Unitarian. So far as I have been able to discover, in conversation with members of the Church of England, a large number of them are also—but that is by the way. However, the B.B.C. do not recognise Unitarians. I hope that the noble Lord will give due consideration to that, and see whether it is not possible to ensure that religious broadcasts are on a wider basis. But that was not my complaint. I was complaining about the extraordinarily poor quality of the broadcasts. I hope that noble Lords will now listen to "Lift Up Your Hearts" in the morning, and see whether they are elevated as a result. I thank noble Lords who have taken part in the debate for the consideration which they have given to this matter, and I now beg leave of the House to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.