HL Deb 22 May 1952 vol 176 cc1289-347

2.42 p.m.

LORD REITH rose to call attention to the Government White Paper on Broadcasting Policy (Cmd. 5550); and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I begin with an admission of personal interest and a note made just on thirty years ago: I had thought the Chairman. Lord Gain-ford, or Sir William Noble would be around a good deal; and when Noble came to see me before the firs; board meeting on January 4, 1923, I asked him about this. 'Oh, no,' he replied. 'We are leaving it all to you; you will be reporting at our monthly meetings and we'll see how you are getting on.' Leaving it all to me.…I thought of what was involved. Noble misunderstood my silence—'That's all right, isn't it?' Yes: quite all right'. That is the end of the note, and it was more or less "left to me." Anyhow, I was chief executive of the B.B.C. for the first sixteen years; and that is my personal interest—or the start of it.

I am slow of speech, reluctant to waste your Lordships' time or my own, and it seemed that when, after mountainous, six months' travail, a White Paper was produced, the Government were probably minded to force it through, no matter what was thought or said of it. So was there any use in talking? Could any conceivable, slightest good come of the raising of this Motion? Probably not: and so I win; inclined to withdraw the Motion—anyhow, disinclined to proceed: as to myself, whatever any others might do, letting the issue go by default. By default.—what so often happens in these days: the product of laziness, indifference, laissez faire—what does it matter anyhow? Or selfish self-interest—"Don't offend the boss"; and of evasion, timidity, defeatism—why kick against the pricks? I did not want to be accused in years to come of any of those amiable faults and characteristic. Even if as to nothing else, in the wide range of public activity and concern I should wish my conscience to be clear as to broadcasting; that with the unique experience of those first sixteen years I had not, on this subject of all subjects, defaulted on your Lordships.

That personal, mental process is relevant to the Motion. Is there, for instance, any element of default it this document? Look at it; let us congratulate the writers, for it is clever—oh! yes, it is clever. Stand off to starboard and you will see it is green; to port you will see is it red. Very clever—on a superficial viewing. One can imagine the stresses and strains, the pullings and pushings behind the scenes, arguments and counter-arguments, drafts and redrafts. And one must remember what the Lord President of the Council said in your Lordships' House on July 25 last year. Let us get the issues dear. The first point is that past and present managements of the B.B.C. are in no way. individually or collectively, impugned. Their performance, despite the Lord President's unfavourable comparison of the Sursum Corda here with a sponsored Catholic service in New York, is abundantly approved. B.B.C. staff cart feel proud of themselves and their work.

The next point is one to which I first drew attention in 1927—that there was more to the B.B.C. than just broadcasting. It was the first corporation of the kind, a heavy responsibility on that account alone. We should see whether this White Paper suggests anything inconsistent with the status and procedures, the relative independence of a constitutionally established public corporation. Thirdly, there is broadcasting itself, its interests and influences, its serious and tremendous potentialities. Is there anything in the White Paper to prejudice the development of the service pro bono publico?—and that surely should be the determining criterion. As to the B.B.C. itself, because of my long, though long ago, association with it, I suppose some of your Lordships might think me incapable of unbiased consideration of the issues here involved; that I should be either unduly critical or unduly partial; that anything I say should be discounted.

All right—let me make this clear. I have had little contact with the B.B.C. since I left it nearly fourteen years ago, and none at all for the first nine. The present Director-General treats me with great courtesy when we meet, but he knows that I do not by any means agree with everything that happens now. But I say that the country is fortunate, and more fortunate than it can know, in having Sir William Haley as Director-General in that great office. So I hope that what I say will not be discounted, either on the one score or on the other.

Let us look first at some of the White Paper proposals which come into the public corporation category. I regret the suppression of the Whitley document, but it had gotten out of proportion. It was not devised to strengthen the Director-General's position at the expense of the Governors, but to avoid trouble of a sort that had seriously threatened—a Governor or two wanting to break individually into the executive field. It is a relief to find that the Government think that executive responsibility for day-to-day management should rest with the Director-General, and that his office should still be mentioned in the Charter. But the possibility of two Directors-General is to be taken care of. I cannot see the point of this except in terms of something sinister and silly. Do the Government want there to be two—one for sound and one for sight, may be—and, if there are two Directors-General, then the Chairman becomes executive, does he not? Was that thought of? One paragraph says that Regional Controllers were already almost completely autonomous in the Home Service, and that now the Governors have "devolved authority" on the various Service directors. Whatever that means, it is even more authority than the Regional Controllers have, because the paragraph concludes by saying that Regional Controllers are soon to be put in a similar position. What does it mean? What is all this in aid of? Is it one suggestion after another to reduce the responsibility and the authority of the Director- General?—because if so, let this be clear: no matter how much authority any Director-General could ever have, or could ever have had, it is all de facto. I should have thought, from all points of view, the more the better, but however much, it cannot affect the de jure omnipotence of the Board of Governors.

Now the National Councils. Let us embark on the turbid waters of paragraph 21, with the snag of a meaningless "however" in the middle of the channel to make navigation more difficult. Detailed definition of powers is left to the Corporation; and subject to reservations to secure co-ordination and smooth administration, forsooth, the Councils' primary function is to control policy and content of Home Service programmes. There is another subjection—namely, that the Councils' control is subject to arrangements made, presumably at headquarters, for Party political broadcasts. Another primary function is that the Councils are to appoint the staff "wholly employed" in Home Service programmes.

As to the membership of these unenviable bodies, the Corporation Board is to be raised to nine to accommodate three National Council chairmen "in close touch with opinion"—whatever that may mean, and however achieved. There are to be eight members, and we must read paragraph 22 carefully or we shall get lost in a fog of panels, local authorities, religious, cultural and other bodies, National Councils, the General Advisory Council; and even the Corporation itself may be cruising about with no lights showing. The eight members are to be appointed by the Corporation, but they are to be selected for appointment by a panel of the General Advisory Council. How that panel is to be appointed is not specified, but some form of musical chairs or elimination dance may (by permission of the Postmaster General, and with the concurrence of the Treasury) be adopted.

From this panel of the General Advisory Council there is to be a spawn of other panels in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—if indeed Northern Ireland is coming into the game at all. These panels are, somehow or other (again the means are not specified), to be representative of the local authorities—the local authorities, mark you—and from them there is to be drawn, presumably out of a hat provided by the Office of Works, three of the eight members of the National Councils. The other five, we read, are to be appointed after consultation with cultural, religious and other bodies. That will surely mean more panels and more drawings; and a considerable "hoo-hah'" from many bodies that are not consulted and think they should have been. And after all the agonies of conception, gestation, incubation, and delivery in plain vans, these poor fellows are not to get any pay. The chairmen are paid—but by the time their Councils are formed they probably will not be fit to draw it.

Now look beyond the tangled electoral process, at a Council in operation—or trying to operate; appointing staff, controlling programmes. There was a reference to "smooth administration"—again, "forsooth". I can see confusions, conflicts, divisions of authority and responsibility. And if ever the Councils do get going they will be subject to constant pressure to extend their powers and spheres of influence and control. They would probably he willingly so subject: but every strengthening there would mean a weakening of the Corporation; of broadcasting as now known; progressive growth would be progressive loss. The solitary items the National Councils have to accept are Party political broadcasts. Why only that; why this in such unique perspective? Not one other item or class of item that has to have national coverage—no great ceremony; no statesman on a pregnant occasion; not even a talk by the Sovereign. The three Regional Controllers—still appointed by headquarters presumably—could no longer look with -unembarrassed undivided loyalty to Director-General and Board. A local chairman and a local board intervene in absolute control of some part of what had hitherto been the Regional Controllers' staff and the Regional Controllers' work. And, as to the "wholly employed" criterion, let them try to find it.

My Lords, with great respect, these proposals are foolish and pernicious—and note that second adjective; I am not the first to use it in this connection, as you will see in a minute—the administrative structure undermined: professional responsibility at a discount. As a Scot I understand what is desired; and I say that anything and everything desirable can be done by enhancing the position of the existing National Councils, without trying to make them executive and by appointing national Governors. Why not try out something on those lines? Even if the scheme were justifiable and workable, why the ghastly burden, complication, embarrassment now, when there is enough on hand with the changing pattern of the Service, increasing emphasis on television? Why this crippling handicap as the Corporation faces the possibility of competition? And if Northern Ireland does agree, what is to happen between Belfast and Manchester as they now share a wavelength?

Let me remind your Lordships of the Lord President's opinion of July 25 (OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 172, Col. 1216): 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 today, we shall kill this idea stone dead. It is the most pernicious idea which has come out in all the discussions we have had."— That is where I got the word "pernicious."— 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 ought to have used that word.— 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 maybe conflicting loyalties. Your Lordships know what would happen in the end. We should have more committees, hindering operations, delaying actions and incurring travelling expenses. That was the Lord President of the Council, Lord Woolton, on July 25.

Now as to finance, the White Paper deprives the B.B.C. of 15 per cent. of the net revenue it was entitled to expect. I should have thought this wrong at any time; but now, with possible competition, it is particularly shabby to prevent the Corporation from putting anything by as reserve. Two evils at once—competition and borrowing. I need say no more on this point: I will only read what the Lord President said: I do not think the Government are right in takir4i 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 ax 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 for a licence and then find that, without any Budget proposal, a portion of this money is being taken for taxation. On the subject of relay exchanges we are told that a fifteen-year licence is to be given, but nothing about its terms. Perhaps the noble Earl will tell us whether it is to be tramway terms? Is the obligation to take B.B.C. output to be maintained: and the embargo on origination?

My Lords, I have left till last the most serious point of all; one that is not concerned with administration or with the Corporation as such, but with broadcasting itself—its worth and consequence, the flower and essence. The White Paper says: the effective monopoly has done much to establish the excellent and reputable broadcasting service for which this country is renowned. But a few lines lower down, the Government conclude: that in the expanding field of television provision should be made to permit some element of competition. Now either that is a complete non sequitur, or else the Government do not appreciate the significance of television. There is nothing hypothetical about television. Its effect, even under responsible control, presents, I suppose, one of the gravest, most critical and most baffling social problems of the day. Both by the nature of television and the nature of the audience, nothing could be more certain than that Gresham's Law will apply and dominate, far more in television than in sound broadcasting. There is no mention of sponsoring in the whole Paper; but the income guarantee to the B.B.C. means that any competitor will have to finance himself. And is that likely to any extent or for any time, otherwise than by sponsoring? Have the Government any other means in mind? If not, why is sponsoring not mentioned? The Government clearly foresee trouble over sponsored television. It would be necessary, we read, to introduce safeguards against possible abuses; a controlling body would be required. Safeguards here are utterly worthless. Do the Government know about the American Federal Communications Commission? Would a British one be any more effective?

And could there not be less ambiguity about timing? One reading suggests—and it is intended to suggest—that there will be no sponsored television till the B.B.C. has finished its television coverage and has also introduced V.H.F. So, with money and labour and materials as they are in this country, sponsored television is many years away. But the White Paper does not say that; it only gives the B.B.C. a first claim: that is all. Is it beyond possibility that the Government, urged by some malcontents, might somehow find the finance to enable another claim to be made simultaneously? Why do they say: the radio industry must be given as soon as possible the technical information necessary to enable them to design and produce adaptors. And what did the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the President of the Board of Trade mean by telling the Institution of Electrical Engineers last Saturday: Next year television sets which can be switched to different channels will be on sale to the public. One channel will receive the B.B.C., the second the future alternative programmes. Owners of existing monopoly sets will be able to buy adaptors for about £5. In the last three years the B.B.C. has been allowed £5,500,000 for capital construction. One-tenth of this might be permitted to competitors in the next three. I cannot subscribe to the theory that the B.B.C. can go on developing its system while all others are banned. I have given the noble Earl who is to speak for the Government notice of these matters, so he knows about them. Actually, I gather that this Member of another place never made the speech at all: that is what he would have said if he had had the opportunity to make the speech. I ask the Government: Has he advance information of the Government's intentions? A last question on this point: If sponsoring is to come, what arguments could there be for confining it to television?

Now I close. I have never spoken on broadcasting in this House before. I may have done this great cause no good: maybe even harm, because I well realise that, during the years of my association with the B.B.C., I built up for myself an immense unpopularity and dislike which surrounds me still. And yet what was done was approved. For that I claim no credit. I tried to do as I had been taught in the Manse of the College Church in Glasgow. I believe that I was peculiarly helped in plan and execution, and through every sort of opposition, vehement and powerful and determined though it often were. To-day, thanks to Sir William Haley, and Governors, and a devoted staff, British broadcasting commands the respect and admiration of the whole world; an institution of which England—yes, and Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland—can be proud; one which we should be jealous and quick to safeguard and defend.

What grounds are there for jeopardising this heritage and tradition? Not a single one is even suggested in the White Paper. Why sell it down the river? Do we find leadership and decision in this White Paper; or compromise and expediency—a facing-both-ways? A principle absolutely fundamental and cherished is scheduled to be scuttled. It is the principle that matters, and it is neither here nor there that the scuttling may not take place for years. The Government are here on record to scuttle—a betrayal and a surrender; that is what is so shocking and serious; so unnecessary and wrong. Somebody introduced dog-racing into England; we know who, for he is proud of it, and proclaims it urbi et orbi in the columns of Who's Who. And somebody introduced Christianity and printing and the uses of electricity. And somebody introduced smallpox, bubonic plague and the Black Death. Somebody is minded now to introduce sponsored broadcasting into this country. Two things said Immanuel Kant, fill the mind with wonder and awe, the more often and the more intently the mind of thought is drawn to them—the starry heavens above me, the moral law within me. The stars are somewhat depreciated, and man is losing his sense of wonder in these egalitarian days. But what about the moral law? Need we be ashamed of moral values, or of intellectual and ethical objectives? It is these that are here and now at stake. My powers of persuasion may be feeble, my influence very slight, but with all the earnest and urgent conviction of which a man is capable. I ask the Government—especially the noble Marquess whom the whole House admire and trust—to think again. I appeal to them to do so. And leave this thought with them, because right is right, to follow right were wisdom in the scorn of consequence. I beg to move for Papers.

3.11 p.m.


My Lords, no doubt there will be many in your Lordships' House who will not agree with the noble Lord in some of his main propositions, but all will be glad that he did not act on his first thoughts and withdraw this Motion from the Order Paper. He persisted in it, and has given the House not merely an opportunity for a full debate on a matter of immense national importance bin also of hearing a speech, eloquent, deeply sincere and passionate, which must carry weight, coming as it does from a man who, more than any other in this country, has been responsible for the initiation and development of the British Broadcasting Corporation. As the White Paper says, the B.B.C. has brought renown to this country. His is a great share in that renown. And if in future history pays tribute to the achievements of this Corporation, that tribute will be directed also to him.

For myself, I find that I am in general agreement with the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Reith We had a debate in your Lordship' House last July on the Beveridge Report soon after it first appeared, and or that occasion I had an opportunity of addressing your Lordships. I do not propose to repeat to-day any of the arguments which I addressed to your Lordships then. I would say only that I reaffirm the view that C then expressed supporting the maintenance of the monopoly of the B.B.C. and my firm apposition to all forms of sponsored programmes, whether relating to sound broadcasting or to television. My speech to-day will be limited to brief dimensions on account of the number of your Lordships who wish to speak. I shall not attempt to give again the arguments for the position that I took up, but I will consider in what way the situation as it was when your Lordships considered broadcasting last July has been changed by the publication of the White Paper which is the subject of this debate.

As the noble Lord, Lord Reith, said, that White Paper is obscure. It does not say frankly and plainly what it means. It does not declare anywhere in any of its paragraphs that it supports the provision of funds for broadcasting from the proceeds of advertisements. It declares, in paragraph 5: The Government would willing to see any change in the B.B.C. themselves towards accepting advertisements,… Observe, "of the B.B.C. themselves." The White Paper goes on to graph 7: The present Government have come to the conclusion that in the expanding field of television provision should be made to permit some element of competition… "Some element of competition." It then continues, in the following paragraph: Parliament should have…opportunity of considering, before the licensing of the first station, the terms and conditions under which competitive television would operate. And that is all. But I think we are entitled to know definitely from the Government to-day, in short and simple terms, whether they are in favour of sponsored television or not. It is here implied. It is taken to be a fact by the Press and by public opinion. But it is not asserted, and I invite from the Government to-day a clear declaration. The answer, I think, must be that they are in favour of it, but do not wish to say so, for they feel some coyness, some diffidence, some shyness, in appearing before the nation at large and saying that in future to some extent. large or small, the nation will get its broadcasting, so far as sight is concerned, paid for on its behalf by commercial interests, who will choose the programmes and give the nation what they think it is expedient for it to have in order that they shall get value for their money. I can hardly think they can take any other line from the reticence of the actual terms of the White Paper.

The failure to state that honestly and frankly seems to be due to some struggle that has gone on behind the scenes between various sections of their own supporters. Indeed, it has been publicly stated—it is not a matter merely of politi- cal gossip—that there has been a vehement division of opinion in the Party supporting the Government, particularly in another place, as to whether there should be what are called sponsored programmes or not, and that that pressure has been dealt with by the ambiguous terms in which the White Paper is now couched. I can well imagine the conversations that have gone on behind the scenes when those representing these various views got together. I can suppose (I have no inside information but anyone with experience of the working of Governments can easily guess) that at some stage or another the Chairman, whoever he might have been, will have said to those pressing him, "Why should we quarrel about this now? There is nothing to be done at the present moment. There is no capital and no labour to put up these new stations. This is a matter for the future. Let us jump that fence when we reach it. For the time being we are neither endorsing nor opposing the principle of broadcasting paid for by the proceeds of advertisements."

The Government will remember that there is a personage in the Bible who walked delicately. They will also remember that at the end he was hewn in pieces. And it may well he that soon the Government will be denounced both by those who are opposed to sponsored broadcasting—for the Government apparently have admitted the principle that there should be such a thing—and by those who are in favour of the advertisers saying that they have been deceived, and in the long run nothing will be done along the lines advocated. The principle of sponsored broadcasting is clearly admitted in the White Paper, and it is that which has brought the denunciation that we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Reith. If that principle is to be opposed, the moment to do it is now. We cannot lot this White Paper pass sub silentio, otherwise, when the matter becomes actual, in two or three years, or whenever it may be, it may be said: "Well, this was before both Houses of Parliament in 1952 and nobody seemed to object very much. Therefore, the matter is decided, and sponsored broadcasting will become the rule for television."

The safeguards which are supposed to reassure those who oppose this proposition are unreal. It is said: "Why should we trouble to consider this at all at the moment? It will be years before the rearmament programme can be carried through and capital and labour are available." I submit that that is not so. The expenses involved in this matter are not so very large. There would be no difficulty, the moment the urgent pressure of rearmament was over, in inviting commercial undertakings to put down the sums needed for one or two stations; and it could b: done in quite a short space of time.

Nor is it true to say that this is the only way of promoting television with adequate speed; that it would be very costly to provide private sets, and also that considerable capital is needed for the erection of stations; that it is essential to find some new source of revenue, and that advertising is the only place where it can be found. The B.B.C. have already accumulated a reserve of £4,500,000, mostly earmarked for the development of television. The new revenue of the B.B.C. from television licences themselves already amounts to about £2,000,000 a year. If the expansion continued with the speed that it would if there were adequate coverage for the whole country, and the manufacture and sale of Jets were unrestricted, the new revenue from the £2 licence on every set would soon bring in an abundant revenue. Furthermore, the Government are now taking away 15 per cent. of the amount, which will soon reach £2,000,000 annually, of the ordinary revenue of the B.B.C. If it is necessary that the B.B.C. should have more money, as the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, said when he was in Opposition how can this annual withdrawal of this great sum from the ordinary revenue derived from listeners' licence fees possibly be justified? We therefore have no sufficient justification for this change.

The White Paper, as has already been quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Reith, speaks of the British Broadcasting Company as being an excellent and reputable broadcasting service for which this country is renowned. Why, therefore, should we make way, in any degree, for a commercialised corporation, or commercialised stations which are less excellent and are by no means likely to add fresh renown to this country? I ask this particularly because we have the warning before our eyes, the object lesson of the United States of America. I am also informed, though I have little first-hand knowledge of it, that in Australia, where there is a public broadcasting system paid for by licence duties, and a commercialised system paid for by advertisements, the latter is in all respects inferior to the public service.

Earlier this year, I was in the United States for a month and I made it my business to ask many of the Americans whom I met what was their opinion of their own service. I should not venture to quote my own view—it is absurd for someone who in recent years has been there for only a month to form an opinion on this matter—but if one asks Americans to give their opinions, no doubt they are valid. And it is an extraordinary thing that all those whom I asked during the month I was there, just putting the point: "Do you listen to the radio? What do you think of it?", all answered in almost exactly the same words: "I practically never listen to the radio. I do listen in sometimes to the political commentators. I listen if the President or one of the political leaders has a statement to make. I listen the musk on certain programmes, and now and then there may be a good entertainment on the air." Some added that they were interested to see on television sporting pictures, and particularly boxing. They all repeated that; and. I am sure that noble Lords who have been in American who have put the same questions have received the same answers. Those Americans who are familiar with life here, when they are asked to compare the two systems, always say that unquestionably the B.B.C. service is much superior to the American.

My own experience was limited. In the hotel where I was staying there was a television set in the room, and for two dollars you could have the use of it for a day. One day I paid my two dollars and listened at intervals during the day, with the most depressing results. It was quite a simple set to manipulate, with five different programmes: each time you pressed a knob you changed from one programme to another, running down the five programmes and coming back again to No. 1. The only satisfaction I had from listening was the ease with which one could turn a programme off. But the hope that one might get something better from the, next programme was almost never fulfilled. Most of the programmes were crooning, or background music, as it is called; with occasional entertainment consisting of wisecracks fired at you with the speed of a machine gun. There was one programme which I was fortunate enough to come across—a good little play by a Negro company. On one occasion I turned on the programme and heard the last question and answer of an interview with someone who had come from Britain to America on behalf of the Travel Association. The last question was very hurriedly given. It was: "Sir Alexander, what do you think of Anglo-American relations?" The reply was: "I think it very important that the two countries should be on good terms," to which the interviewer said: "And so do I; and I hope when you travel about in America you will remember to recommend to your friends our brand of cigarettes." Then on the screen one saw held up a packet of cigarettes, which grew larger and larger until it filled the whole screen.

Not on television, I wished to listen to a concert one evening. I turned on just before it was due and found that it was the six o'clock news. At the end of the six o'clock news there was an advertisement extolling the virtues of a brand of a bottled beer, as refreshing, stimulating and generally very desirable to those who drink beer. That was followed by the same announcer giving the news from Korea for about three or four minutes, followed again by a repetition of the beer advertisement impressing upon the hearer that it was the best and most famous beer produced in New York. Then came news of the progress of the candidates in the Presidential Election, which similarly was by courtesy of this particular brand of beer. Finally, at 6.15, the same announcer who had been advertising these commodities and giving the news said: "We now take you to the Carnegie Hall where, by courtesy of such-and-such beer, you will have the privilege of listening to Beethoven's Fifth Symphony conducted by Arturo Toscanini who has recently celebrated his eighty-fifth birthday." After hearing the concert, one has to be very quick to turn off the radio before the last notes die away, or one again would be plunged into the merits of this particular beer. I think the British people are right to wish to pay their licence fees in a decent way in order to get their radio programmes provided for them by a responsible authority, and not to get them provided free, at the choice of advertisers, as a kind of by-product of a highly industrialised and commercialised system of society.

I wish to detain your Lordships only a very few moments more to deal very quickly with some other specific points. One of them is the question of the National Councils for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, against which the noble Lord, Lord Reith, has brought many severe criticisms. For my own part, I think the purpose in view is desirable and, as I said in the previous debate, I do not think that the national sentiments and aspirations of those countries are sufficiently recognised in the present constitution and management of die B.B.C. But, to my mind, the way in which it is proposed to carry out this idea is—and here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Reith—reprehensible and, indeed, is likely to prove unworkable. The White Paper says on the one hand that: …the Government will leave to the Corporation the detailed definition of the powers to be delegated to the national bodies. That is excellent, but it goes on to say: The Councils will be responsible for the appointment of staff wholly employed in connection with the Home Service programmes. I doubt very much whether it would be possible, in the first place, to divide the staff up into those who are concerned with Home Service programmes and those who deal with other matters. Secondly, if they are divided up, there must come the divided loyalties and possibilities of friction to which the noble Lord, Lord Reith, referred. I therefore hope that that provision will be reconsidered.

With regard to the representation of local authorities, it is proposed that a panel should be provided from which should be drawn representatives of the local authorities of Scotland. Wales or Northern Ireland, as the case may be. What is meant by "a panel" in that connection is difficult to understand. Are the local authorities to draw up a list of forty or fifty and someone to choose three or four out of that list? What is meant by "a panel"? How is this choice to be made? Perhaps the spokesman for the Government in replying may give us further information on that point. The Beveridge Committee recommended that there should be established within the B.B.C. a public representation service which should guide and control the B.B.C. in its programme-making, in the light of what is ascertained to be public needs. I ventured to take exception to that when I spoke on this subject last July, and am glad to End that that proposal does not now appear and that it is to be left to the B.B.C. itself to provide in whatever way it thinks best for the ascertainment of public opinion. I am convinced that to have a special kind of censorship staff inside the B.B.C., with their censor sitting at the elbow of the programme-maker while he is engaged upon his daily work, would prove to be utterly unworkable.

For the rest, I welcome the provision in the White Paper that Governors are not in future to be appointed by the Government of the day but are to be appointed by a small body of very august personages presided over by the Speaker of the House of Commons. I welcome also that the General Advisory Council (of which I have had the honour to be a member for some five years) is to be raised in status; and the provision that the new Charter is to be for ten years seems to me also a very sound proposal. Therefore, in general, I support and am grateful for this White Paper with one or two minor exceptions and with an exception on one matter of very great importance. I earnestly hope that your Lordships' House will express itself in no qualified terms and say that we are against compromise of any sort on this question of advertisers' programmes. We object that our time—and it is the listeners' time which is involved in this question—should be bought and sold behind our backs by commercial interests, so that if we hear about Anglo-American relations it is by courtesy of such-and-such a brand of cigarettes, and if we are to be indebted for Beethoven, it is to a bottled beer.

3.37 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that I shall have the sympathy of the House in following the father of broadcasting on one side and the father of broadcasters on the other. Whether we agreed or disagreed with the views of the noble Lord, Lord Reith, I am certain we all agree that we listened to an extraordinarily impressive and thought- provoking speech, and that we hope that his maiden speech on broadcasting will not be his last. For my part, I hope that the Government will give very favourable consideration to his advice. I am sure they could not have received advice from a more authoritative source.

Your Lordships will remember that it was less than a year ago that we debated the White Paper on broadcasting issued by the late Government. In that White Paper we put forward some provisional views about the proposals in the Beveridge Report, and those were views which we were asking Parliament to comment upon before we made up our own minds. The subsequent General Election saved us the trouble of making up our minds by transferring this; responsibility, with many others, to noble Lords opposite and their colleagues. The present Government have not unreasonably prolonged the existing Charter to give them time to think over this important problem. Now we have their conclusions, and the noble Lord, Lord Reith, has kindly given us the opportunity of commenting upon them.

I think your Lordships will agree that when we compare these two documents—the White Paper of last year and the new White Paper—the striking thing is the large measure of agreement which is shown about the future of the B.B.C.— perhaps I should say "the immediate future," in order not to be taken up later on for an inaccuracy. We said in our White Paper that we wanted the B.B.C. to carry on, under the new Charter, with no substantial change in its present structure. The present Government states that the B.B.C. is to continue broadly on the existing basis"— I quote the words used in their White Paper. This broad measure of agreement between the two major Parties shows, I think, that the great majority of people, whether they are on the Left or the Right in politics, are satisfied with the performance of the B.B.C. and, indeed, regard it as one of those national institutions which everyone respects and few would substantially change. From the standpoint of the Corporation I am sure it is a good thing that their admirable staff—and I should like to join the noble Lord, Lord Reith, in paying a tribute to their work—should have this compliment from the political Parties, and should be able to go their way with absolute confidence that the outcome of General Elections will not revolutionise their own future. It is something of a relief to many people that the Government have listened to the wise counsel of the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, and the noble Lord, Lord Brand, and many other of their less doctrinaire supporters, who strongly urged them in past months not to introduce forthwith commercial broadcasting. If they had obliged the B.B.C. to increase their revenues by sponsoring broadcasts or had allowed other stations to be licensed for sound broadcasting to commercial users, the essential features of our present system of broadcasting would have been completely lost. But no drastic change in favour of private enterprise is proposed for the moment, and for the time being, at any rate, there will be no challenge to the B.B.C.

As we look into the future, the prospect appears more uncertain. It is reassuring to note that the Government intend that sound broadcasting shall remain uncommercialised. It is a great pity that we cannot feel equally confident about the future of television. Although technical considerations and lack of equipment fortunately rule out commercial television in the near future, the Government regard the broadcasting of television programmes by private companies as a desirable longterm objective of their policy. We on this side of the House dissociate ourselves entirely from this policy, and in that we are in complete accord with the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, and his colleagues on the Liberal Benches. But let me make it clear that we do not object to this policy because it would break the monopoly of the B.B.C. That would be a misunderstanding. There is no reason why the B.B.C. should have a permanent monopoly of broadcasting. When technical progress permits, there might well be a number of broadcasting stations under different control, scattered about the country. The main reason why we object to this policy of commercial television is that it would soon reduce the standards to the lowest common denominator of taste. The noble Lord, Lord Reith, spoke of the operation of Gresham's Law. That is his reason for objecting, and it is ours.

Television has not become a rich man's hobby, as many people expected it would on account of its cost. On the contrary, hire purchase has made it possible for television sets to be acquired by families in every income group, and I am informed that more sets are used in the homes of people in the lower income group than in the homes of the people who are better off. That is an extremely interesting sociological problem. If the present popularity of television continues—and there is no reason to suppose that it will not—there is surely a grave responsibility on Parliament to prevent the television service which at the moment has such a high standard of performance from becoming a byword for crude and trivial entertainment. It is true that paragraph 9 of the White Paper suggests that a public body should supervise the television programmes broadcast by these private stations. This body would also exercise some measure of programme control. I hope the noble Lord will tell me if I am not correct. But it would surely not be among the duties of this supervising authority to interfere with the normal commercial practice that has debased the currency of broadcasting wherever it has been left to private enterprise.

Another reason why we object to commercial television is that it would be unfair, in our view, to the B.B.C. The Corporation would have to compete for popularity with people whose main concern would be to sell their programmes to the largest possible number of viewers. It is hard to believe that the B.B.C. would find it possible to maintain the high standard and quality of their own service in face of this pressure. We have no doctrinaire objection to competition in the quality and variety of broadcast programmes, or in a proper desire to serve the true interests of those who watch or listen in. We should like them to have a wider choice of programmes as soon as this is technically possible. We are following with the keenest interest technical developments such as frequency modulation, because we think they will make possible in future a much more varied diet when a number of new stations have been set up.

If large urban authorities or universities wanted to run their own broadcasting stations we should consider their wishes with a completely open mind. But these are public bodies which, unlike the private companies whom the Government want to see in the field of television, would do their own broadcasting, not for profit but as one of the nonprofit-making services they render to the public. Having a high sense of responsibility they could be trusted to recognise their duty to maintain the quality of their programmes. Now this matter of very high frequency broadcasts is alluded to in the White Paper in only one sentence, at the end of paragraph 6. I would ask the noble Earl, or someone who will be replying for the Government, to give us more information about the Government's intentions in relation to the future of sound broadcasting from high frequency stations.

I should like to comment briefly upon three other differences, not so important as the one about television, between the Labour Government's White Paper and the new one. The first is the proposal to extend the Charter for ten instead of fifteen years. I must confess that I still prefer the longer to the shorter period. Spring-cleanings at frequent intervals are bound to impair the efficiency of the B.B.C. It is sometimes forgotten that a revision of the Charter occupies the minds of senior officials for about three years in advance and that the many adjustments required by a new Charter, which cannot be made overnight, occupy a good deal of time as well. The efficiency of the Corporation suffers inevitably while the minds of its key men are taken off their real jobs. A rather longer Charter, with an ad hoc review of policy and administration about half-way through, seems preferable to pulling up the roots of the B.B.C. every ten years. But I am at least thankful that the Government have not adopted the seven-year extension suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, last year. I have no doubt that the present proposal is a compromise, which might have been less satisfactory, between opposing views in the Conservative Party.

Another difference is the discretion which the new White Paper would give to the Governors to decide whether to disclose that a particular broadcast has been vetoed by the Government. A prohibition of this kind, even though it has never been used and is not likely ever to be used, gives the Government a power of censorship which might in theory be abused. The possibility of public disclosure lessens the risk of abuse and safeguards the immunity of the Corporation from possible political interference. The independence of the B.B.C. is also strengthened by the proposed restriction of the Government's cower to order the broadcasting of matter, other than announcements, to periods of emergency. I do not feel that these alterations in the powers of the Government have much practical importance. I am inclined to think that they are a more accurate description of the existing relationship between the Government and the Corporation.

But probably the most important of the lesser differences between this White Paper and the other one is the proposed change to which the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, referred—I wish we could have had the views, of the noble Lord, Lord Reith, on this matter—in the method of appointing the Board of Governors of the Corporation. I remember that in the 1945 Government, when I occupied the post now held by the noble Earl opposite, one of my first and most alarming duties was to choose a new Chairman and Board of Governors for the B.B.C. There was no staggering of these appointments in those days, and the entire Board of managers had to be replaced simultaneously. I was exceptionally young, both in years and in political experience, and very conscious of the fact, and I cannot imagine anything more cruel or unwise than for my senior colleagues to have left me to take the decision. To my immense relief, I found that, apart from a polite request for my views, the decision was taken entirely out of my hands. It was communicated to me by the Prime Minister, after he had consulted his right-hand man, the then Lord President of the Council, and I merely formally advised the Crown about the terms of the Order-in-Council.

I have described my own experience because I believe it is a typical example of the way in which every Government, whatever Party is in power, has made these appointments hitherto. That is the way in which it has been done. The Postmaster General advises the Crown, but what advice he gives is decided by the Prime Minister. I do not know whether things have changed under the present Government. I shall be very interested to hear from the noble Earl opposite if they have. The first thing that strikes me about this way of doing it is that the system has worked most satisfactorily. The Beveridge Committee gave it careful consideration and were so satisfied with it that they recommended no change in the present arrangement. It has not been suggested by either side in politics that the other has been influenced by political bias in making these appointments—I am glad to observe that the noble Earl concurs in that observation, which I had hoped would receive general consent. I am not aware, indeed, that there has ever been any complaint about Party prejudice in this particular matter. We tend in this country to judge our institutions, not according to theory—although perhaps theory has been more prominent lately than it usually is—but according to the way they work in practice. I hope that some noble Lords opposite, at any rate, will sympathise if we are more conservative than the Government about a system that has proved its value, and are less in favour of something entirely new and untried.

It is to guard against the risk of political interference that the Government propose that this new committee, which will include two judges and the Speaker of the House of Commons, should appoint the members of the board. Judging from past experience, the risk, as I have already said, looks extremely slight. Indeed, it is hardly conceivable that any of the major political Parties at the present time would abuse their authority in this way. Of course, if the Communist Party were to win a majority in another place, or a Party with similar doctrines were to spring up, the danger would then be real and pressing, and we should have to deal with it immediately. But can any of your Lordships imagine that this will happen within the next ten years, before the Charter comes up again for review? In our view, this new safeguard for the independence of the B.B.C. is quite unnecessary. Moreover, it would bring in its train a number of serious disadvantages which do not attach to the present system.

The main disadvantage is that it would diminish the ultimate control of Parliament over the Corporation. So long as the power of appointing and dismissing members of the Board belongs to a Minister, and is exercised by a Minister on behalf of the Government as one of the things for which he is responsible to Parliament, its use will continue to be subject to Parliamentary approval. But if the Government deprive themselves of this power by transferring their responsibility to a committee, no Minister can be called to book if things go wrong in the B.B.C. as a result of a bad appointment. There will, of course, be one Minister sitting on the committee, the Prime Minister, but the decisions of the committee will not be his decisions. They will be majority decisions and, on occasions, he may find himself in disagreement with his colleagues. He will be neither morally nor technically responsible, for he cannot be accountable to Parliament, in the constitutional sense, for the decisions of a committee appointed by the Crown, not on the advice of a Minister but according to the terms of the Charter.

This is a committee which will derive its authority from the Charter and not from the Government. It will not be responsible to the Government and will, in fact, be responsible to no one but itself. Parliament will not only lose its final say in the composition of the Board, but will also find it a good deal harder to criticise the conduct and policy of the Board. It is the business of the Opposition to direct attention to reasonable grounds of complaint, but if the Leader of the Opposition has already given his blessing to the whole of the Board, it is less easy for his followers to point out shortcomings resulting from his choice. There is one other disadvantage in this new method of appointments. One of the principal considerations in the choice of Governors has always been that they should be able to voice the main currents in public opinion. It is just as much the business of Ministers to study public opinion as it is the business of stockbrokers to study the stock markets. But judges, however eminent, are no more concerned than any one else about the state of public opinion. The inclusion of two judges, though adding to the impartiality of the committee, would lessen its expertise and, to that extent, would increase the risk of appointing the wrong person.

There might be something to be said for experimenting with a new method of appointment if both the major political Parties wanted to make the experiment. But for the reasons I have explained, to which we attach a great deal of importance, this proposal is not accepted by the Party for which I am speaking this afternoon. No one wishes the B.B.C. to become involved in Party controversies. Commercial television is a long way off, and in the meantime the broad structure of the B.B.C. is accepted by both Parties. It would surely be a mistake for the Government to do something now which would make the B.B.C. a target for Party criticism. I hope that the Government will have second thoughts about this selection committee and that they will take into account the views expressed in the debates in both Houses of Parliament before the, decide to adhere to their present proposal.

Our main theme is this. We are asking the Government, as the noble Lord, Lord Reith, and the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, have both done, to maintain the present intellectual, cultural and ethical tradition of British broadcasting. That is not a Party matter. That is a matter that appeals to the national pride of people in every Party and in every walk of life. We believe that the policy proposed in relation to television will encroach upon that tradition. We therefore hope that tae Government will give their most earnest consideration to this particular policy proposal before they decide to adhere to the proposed change in the White Paper.

4.0 p.m.


My Lords, I owe to the courtesy of your Lordships who intend to take part in this debate the fact that I am allowed, on the grounds of personal convenience, to intervene thus early. I am extremely grateful to my noble friends and I can promise that I shall not abuse their kindness by detaining the House very long. The noble Earl who has just spoken, and the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, made one observation with which, at the outset, I wholeheartedly wish to associate myself—namely, that the noble Lord, Lord Reith, who has introduced this debate this afternoon, has, by so doing, added greatly to the debt in which we all stand to him for his past work in this field, which has been so completely distinctive and creative in kind. My title to speak is a much humbler one, and consists of the fact that during the last three or four years I have happened to be Chairman of the General Advisory Council of the B.B.C., and though I have no authority to speak on their behalf I have no doubt that in what I propose to say I shall be carrying the overwhelmingly preponderant opinion of those who sit with me on that body.

One point with which the noble Earl who has just sat down dealt is not one with which I had intended to deal but I merely record my own opinion in passing. I refer to his point in regard to the change proposed in the White Paper in the method of appointing the Governors. I do not propose to argue the matter. I think a great deal can be said on the other side, and there is clearly a great deal that can be said on the side that the noble Earl developed. In the light of what he said—if that represents the considered view of noble Lords opposite and those with whom they are associated—I myself should feel that it was certainly not worth making a change in a matter of this sort in present circumstances.

The point to which I wish to address myself is that which claimed the bulk of the attention of both Lord Reith and Lord Samuel—namely, the question of principle involved in opening the door to sponsored television. The difficulty of the Government in this matter is one with which I can have considerable sympathy because it is one which anybody who has ever been associated with the Government is necessarily familiar. I imagine that in this case it was extremely difficult for the Government to maintain the simple direct line of their predecessors, which was to have no compromise in the matter at all. That, I appreciate, was probably politically difficult, in view of the fact, as the noble Lord, Viscount Samuel said, that it was common knowledge that many of their supporters in another place had found their consciences tender on this subject of the so-called monopoly of the B.B.C.—a tenderness, curiously enough, that has never been evident as at all tormenting the consciences of the noble Lords opposite. I am glad they have never been so tormented because, with them, I take the view that the attribution of the general evils of the term "monopoly" to the position of the B.B.C. is a complete misnomer and irrelevant to the real facts of the case.

On the other hand, the Government—and all praise to them—found it difficult completely to satisfy those who wish for free competition on commercial lines. No doubt, their own consciences would not permit them to do that. Therefore they were driven, as I conceive it, to the drafting and acceptance of a White Paper which might be regarded as an innocuous compromise which would do no particular harm to any one and which might appear to mean different things to different people, according to the taste of the consumer. The Government can say to the advocates of competition: "Look at Clause 7. Once you get your foot in the door, have a little patience. All these things will be added unto you, and there will be no limit to what may be your achievements in time to come." On the other hand, they can say to opponents of competition, like myself, "Look at Clause 5 and see how generously we pay our tribute to the past work of the B.B.C. Look at Clause 7, and see how alive we are to the limitations of possible development imposed upon us by the circumstances of other obligations, and the rest. Lastly, if you are not yet satisfied, look at Clause 11, and see how we safeguard the B.B.C. in the completion of its television coverage. Add all that up, and you will see that at the end, for the sake of greater security, the position is carefully controlled by the Government, by regulating bodies and the like." Surely, they would add, the conclusion in the mind of any reasonable person is that nothing can happen for a long time, and when it does happen there is nothing very much to be frightened of.

My Lords, that, I suppose, is the way the Government have arrived at this White Paper, and I do not think it is at all an ungenerous or strange interpretation of the movement of ministerial thought. But as those who preceded me in this debate have said—and nobody more strongly than Lord Reith—no gloss can conceal the fact that a fundamental issue has been raised and a vital principle is being touched by this proposed concession to the claims of commercial and sponsored television. Whatever may be said, the concession constitutes a landmark in the history of British broadcasting. It may be right—some people think it is. I think it is profoundly wrong. But whether we think it right or wrong, do not make any mistake, the Government are doing a big thing in the whole history of British broadcasting; and I am profoundly sorry that it should be the Party with whom I have been associated who have made themselves responsible for it.

Two questions are involved—I will not dwell on either of them, because I think the point is clear enough. The first is: When will all this happen? I do not think I have anything more to say than has already been said by those who preceded me, except that, as Lord Samuel has already pointed out, the time is not necessarily as far away as most people think. I am advised that the actual capital equipment and money required to bring all this into operation would not be very great, once other capital possibilities were within sight. The important question is the second—namely, what effect is this going to have on the practice of television over the years and. consequently, upon the minds, thoughts and lives of our fellow citizens over those years? That, whether it comes soon or late, is what matters. I myself am not greatly interested whether it is a matter of one year or two years, or even five years. The thing itself is what matters.

We can argue, I have no doubt, "until the cows come home" about what the effect will be. It may well be that the effect here would never be likely to be so bad as it has been in America. I do not feel too confident about that, but I hope it is true. We are not, fortunately, accustomed to doing things on quite the scale, or always in the pattern, which they adopt in the United States. Therefore I hope it may be true. But when all these arguments are stated, the fact remains that among those who know what the B.B.C. has done and who have watched what has happened abroad when this other principle is introduced, the overwhelming majority deplore the change; they are satisfied that it must mean a lowering of standards. I do not think it is possible, except at our peril to ignore that mass of experience.

The other thing that impresses my thought is that the principal source of approval of the proposed change is, so far as I can discover, to be found among people who have had no direct experience of what the alternative method means. The reason, I think, is clear enough, because once the commercial element is introduced the service has to be made to pay. The people concerned are not going to be in the business for the good of their health. Therefore another principle is introduced besides that of trying to give the public the best service, which is the principle on which the B.B.C., thanks to those who started it, has hitherto been built. We may be told that the proposed change will be applied only to television. I do not know why, if there is no harm in it for television, it should not be applied also to sound broadcasting. It is certain, I suppose, that over the years television is going to be much more important than sound broadcasting and therefore I find very little comfort in the fact that, at present, commercial programmes are contemplated only for television. To me, the conclusive fact is that if the values of broadcasting are to be preserved, that cannot be done without preserving the values of television.

My Lords, that is all I have to say. I understand that my noble friend Lord Reith is not proposing to ask your Lordships to divide at the end of this debate. But if he did, and if I had to make my choice, I should feel obliged to vote with him. I think he will be wise if he does not ask your Lordships to divide. I entirely appreciate that this debate may have little effect on Her Majesty's Government. I wish I could feel that it was going to have effect. I should like to feel that Her Majesty's Government would take this White Paper back and have another look at it, in the light of what I hope will be the preponderant feeling expressed by your Lordships in this debate. As the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, has said, it is essential for those of us who feel as many of us do to state the objections that we hold to this proposal. There should be no opportunity, if this question comes to life and before Parliament again later, for anyone to say then—as Lord Samuel has reminded us—that "No one four years ago seemed to mind very much; therefore, do what you like." Let us do everything in our power to avoid that happening, and let us make clear that a great many of us do most greatly deplore the decision at which Heir Majesty's Government have arrived.

4.15 p.m.


My Lords, I find myself in such agreement with what has already been said by those who speak with more knowledge and weight than I do myself that I do not propose to waste time by merely trying to say it all over again, but I wish to say just a few wools in connection with the proposal to make a radical departure in the principle underlying broadcasting in this country which appears to me to be set out rather casually in this White Paper. One finds among those with whom on, discusses this subject that the word "monopoly" is very often used to obscure the issue. Monopolies, as we all know, are of several kinds. In the case of broadcasting, monopoly lies in the very nature of the thing and not exclusively in any particular Charter of the Broadcasting Corporation. All radio broadcasting is akin to a monopoly. While anyone can publish a book or produce a newspaper if he has the necessary means, he cannot in the same way broadcast. Air channels are limited, and ordinary competition is not possible in an air channel. But the so-called monopoly of the B.B.C. within this field, where you cannot have completely free enterprise, is surely quite different in its moral character from what we normally mean by monopoly in terms of commerce. For, after all, broadcasting is not an industry; it is a public service, and for the public so served to say, "I am going to keep this service in my own hands and not allow my ears and eyes to be exploited by the vendors of soap or what not" is to establish a monopoly which is in no sense a vested interest.

I believe it is true to say that the B.B.C. has exercised its monopoly with great sensitiveness to the demands of the public. It is of the very nature of its operation that the reactions of the public to its services are very quick and very easily gauged. Introduce competitive salesmanship into broadcasting, and, as a writer in the Tablet said recently, The whole nature of the work is changed. The question then is not what is worth broadcasting but what will fetch the best box office return. Evidence has already been given from the other side of the Atlantic, and I believe that that evidence is conclusive, especially when one recognises that the problem of coverage in this country is not the same as it is on the American Continent, especially in Canada. The Chancellor of the University of Chicago has expressed his opinion in these words: American radio is not made in the image of the American people. It is made in the image that advertising men would like to create. The radio industry disclaims any obligation to improve the people's tastes. Actually, they know well that they are degrading it. Last July, a Canadian Royal Commission on Arts, Letters and Science, of which the present Governor-General was Chairman, published a most comprehensive Report, a large part of which was devoted to radio and television. The survey they give is extensive and thorough. They find little complimentary to say about private broadcasting. I should like to quote the following sentence from the Report: After a careful consideration of the evidence available, we are convinced that only very rarely can limited revenue be advanced as an extenuating circumstance for this inexpensive and unimaginative programming. Artistes in this country, especially those who think that private broadcasting would bring larger fees, may be interested to know that in 1947 in Winnipeg musicians received from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation roughly 94,000 dollars, and front private stations 1,900 dollars: and in Toronto, they received from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 382,000 dollars as against a mere 30,000 dollars from private stations. Bearing in mind that production costs of television are considerably higher than those of sound broadcasting, I think we can fairly assume that commercial television would be driven to concentrate on advertising and on "tickling the ears" of the largest number of people, with little regard to cultural or moral standards.

It is often said by people who argue about this matter that people should be allowed to choose what they wish to hear—"Everyone to his taste." But, in fact, people cannot choose what they wish to see or hear on the radio. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, in New York had five knobs which he could turn for his two dollars, but I do not think he found the choice at all to his satisfaction Surely the difference is this: that what is laid on by a corporation of the standing of the B.B.C. has as its motive the desire to please and educate the public, but what is laid on by sponsored programmes, speaking broad and large, is motivated by the desire to sell goods. Moreover, it is not part of our democratic tradition to say that what the public want should be the sole criterion of our public service and life. To apply that standard to sound broadcasting, in view of its immense social and moral influence, would be foolish; and to apply it to television, which is likely to be far more persuasive and penetrating in its influence, would be an even more foolish thing to do.

As your Lordships are aware, this subject has greatly exercised the minds of those who have some claim to think and speak for the Christian communions of this country. So far as I know, they are well satisfied with the services of the B.B.C. and unanimous in their opposition to sponsored broadcasting. It is to be greatly regretted that neither of our two Archbishops is able to be in the House this afternoon. To-day happens to be one of the major festivals of the Church—Ascension Day—and they are otherwise occupied. But I think I can say for them that if they were here they would speak very strongly against the proposal to have sponsored broadcasting introduced into this country.

I think it is fairly true to say that these words, which come from the report issued by the British Council of Churches and submitted to the Beveridge Committee, reflect the opinion of the Christian Churches in this country. The report says: The commercial system necessarily abdicates before the complexity of the problems. It is content to leave things to the decision of the market. This is to pass authority into the hands of those who can pay for it…We believe that the present system of monopoly broadcasting, under public corporation, or some modification of it, is better designed to secure the good of the community than any other we have been able to investigate. In this attitude we of the Churches are not thinking narrowly of what may help or hinder religious broadcasting as such, but of what may help or hinder a fine quality of life in our people as a whole. If we believe that what is best in our life stems from Biblical and Christian traditions, we must also recognise that these beliefs and values are being severely threatened in our time by powerful influences inherent in our industrial society. Therefore, how we use a medium like radio is a concern for the most wise statesmanship. In the corporate decision that has to be made I would suggest that the voices of whose who exercise influence down or up the channels of the Board of Trade are not the most important voices be heard. I would join with those noble Lords who have already spoken in asking the Government to think again before they commit this country to sponsored broadcasting. We are proud, and rightly proud—and in this we have a debt to acknowledge to the noble Lord, Lord Reith—of the public service given by our Broadcasting Corporation which, quite beyond the imagining of the people of old, makes possible to a high degree In the whole life of a community, a peaceful sharing of the things we cherish.

4.28 p.m.


My Lords, the list of twenty-seven speakers who desire to address your Lordships on this subject is almost as impressive in quantity as the debate has hitherto been in quality. Many speakers who are to speak have intimate connection with the B.B.C. in interests that are well known. They have given vent, or will give vent, to views which are already known to your Lordships. My only qualification for intervening in this debate at all is, it seems to me, a rather unusual one. I happen to possess a wireless and I am fond of listening to it. I should like to offer one or two views to your Lordships with no expert knowledge at all, but solely from the point of view of the average listener. And it is the average listener who has been neglected in the discussion that has taken place so far and I think it is the average listener who might well be neglected in the rest of the debate.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Sheffield said that what the public wishes should not always dictate public policy, and I agree with him. The Economist, however, has pointed to the fact that in the Gallup Poll taken on this subject—the vexed subject of sponsored radio which has been the main topic this afternoon—nearly 65 per cent, express a preference for some form of competitive broadcasting. Here I would say at once that there appears to be some confusion in the public mind. Surely, nobody is suggesting that sponsored broadcasting should take the place of the B.B.C. The suggestion is that it should be complementary. I cannot believe that some of the strictures placed upon sponsored broadcasting, both in your Lordships' House and elsewhere, are very flattering to the standard of our taste. We should not judge our taste, plainly, by what the Americans like. The American taste in neckties is not the same as ours; the American taste in many things is not the same as ours. I believe that we are a sufficiently mature and sophisticated people to decide roughly what we want in the way of sponsored broadcasting when the time comes.

My noble friend Lord Halifax lamented the fact that it was the Party to which he has belonged for a long time that is now proposing sponsored television. I hope that he will forgive me and acquit me of any disrespect if I say, in my turn, that, having been all my life a staunch Tory, I am very proud indeed that it is my Party which has first attempted to break this monopoly: I am delighted, for two reasons, that it has been done. The first is—and I should have liked to see the Government go much further—because it, at least, gives many of us our first chance in due course to see what it is like. Half the difficulty about sponsored broadcasting in this country, as many speakers have so far pointed out, has been that very few of us have had much experience of it. I repeat, I should have liked to see the Government go further and introduce sponsored radio as well. I do not think I stand alone in holding that view in the country, or in your Lordships' House, and certainly not in the other place. We are not going that far, and more is the pity.

The other reason is this. I do not want to make a political point, but if I did this is what it would be. I have all my life been strongly opposed to monopoly, and strongly opposed to dictatorship. I dislike monopoly, be it in beer, in steel, in cement, in meat supplies or in broadcasting—because I think that monopoly of opinion is the most dangerous of all monopolies: what we have seen of the history of Europe in the past ten years should surely have shown us that. Therefore, I welcome the Government's proposal, and I accord a warm welcome to their White Paper. I think they have carried out a difficult task very well. Of course, the White Paper is full of compromise. How could any subject as wide and all-embracing as this, covering so many different subjects and so many facets, be free from compromise? But I still wish that it could have gone further.

On this subject of monopoly, may I remind your Lordships of the remarks of Sir Frederick Ogilvie, who was Director-General of the B.B.C. from the autumn of 1938 to the beginning of 1942? This is what he said in a letter to The Times on June 26, 1946: The B.B.C. itself, good as it is, would gain vastly by the abolition of monopoly and the introduction of competition. So would all the millions of listeners, who would still have the B.B.C. to listen to, but would have other programmes to enjoy as well. So would all would-be broadcasters gain. If rejected by the B.B.C. they would have other corporations to turn to. The only possible losers would be the various Governments of the day, Labour, Tory, Coalition, or what not. I apologise to the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, and his followers for the words "or what not." The letter goes on: Governments are thoroughly suited by the Charter as it stands. What better could any Government wish for than to have at the end of the street a powerful, efficient instrument which has all the appearance of independence but which by the existing provisions of the Charter licence it can control at will? Those are powerful words, coming from an ex-Director-General of the B.B.C.

I should like to consider one or two of the aspects which Sir Frederick Ogilvie brings forth. He says that the B.B.C. itself would gain. Of course, it would. The employees, the artistes, the technicians, the staff, who now have only one means of employment, would surely gain if they knew that upon dismissal they would have somewhere else to go. Those in whose power it is to dismiss a man for incompetence would surely do so with a freer conscience, knowing that he had some other place where he could look for employment. The B.B.C. itself would gain, because even the most efficient racehorse and the most efficient athlete always gains by having some pacemaker to extend him to the full. Sir Frederick says that the listeners would gain. Many listeners like sponsored broadcasting; otherwise, they would not listen in to Radio Luxembourg, which often gives inferior stuff. They listen in their millions—but apparently it is wrong for them so to do. Then he says that broadcasters themselves would gain. Sir Frederick Ogilvie speaks strong words when he says: So would the broadcasters gain. If rejected by the B.B.C.".— that is, if they make speeches in public places which do not meet with the B.B.C.'s approval— they would have other corporations to turn to. That also brings in paragraph 39 of the White Paper. We have had in the past one or two examples of favouritism, and a certain amount of unsavoury linen has been washed in public. If rumour has it correctly, there is still ground for improvement, particularly in the Variety department. Paragraph 39 says: The Government understand that the Governors have reviewed the existing arrangements in the light of this recommendation and that they are satisfied that no additional machinery is called for. That means merely that if an artiste or some performer does not meet with, possibly, one man's approval in the B.B.C., he or she at present stands no chance of employment on the radio, even if that be his or her only livelihood.

Elsewhere, the television proposals advanced in this White Paper are, so far as they go, good. I would only say that the fears which several noble Lords, including the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, have advanced concerning the time factor are my fears too, but for a quite different reason. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, thinks that the period can be accelerated by the Government in order to get television sponsored more quickly than is envisaged by the White Paper. My fear is that the proviso may be used by the B.B.C. as a means to delay the arrival of sponsored television. I therefore hope that the Government will do all they can to see that this proposal is not delayed by those who could use procrastination to spin out the arrival of sponsored television. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, that the question of capital expenditure is not as serious as it seems. I am no economist, and I can never understand this business about capital expenditure. The London Passenger Transport Board, which since 1938 has apparently put 1,230 buses on the streets at a cost of £4,500 each, has not been subjected thereby to great public criticism. But £4,500 is more than a single V.H.F. station costs. So if the Government went into that matter again more carefully, the comparison might prove interesting. I do not believe that the expenditure which would be required for this project is anything like as great as the B.B.C. have suggested, and I do not believe it is as great as the Post Office suggests. I feel that that is something which should be looked into carefully.


Before the noble Lord continues may I explain that I did not say, and I certainly do not think, that the B.B.C. will be induced to press on more rapidly with television itself for fear of others coming along afterwards. I think the B.B.C. wish to press on with television as fast as they possibly can, that being their public duty.


I quite understand that the B.B.C. want to press on with their own television as fast as they possibly can. I am anxious only that sponsored television should also be pressed on with at as great a speed as possible.

Reverting to the question of capital expenditure, I would point out that a great deal of money has been spent upon the B.B.C. Third Programme. I would not say a word against the Third Programme—I even understand it now and again. And I admire it for one thing alone: it is one of the few uncompromising features of our life to-day. It always strives to pull up the standard of the listener, and that is highly praiseworthy. But only one per cent. of the population listen to the Third Programme, and twenty-two transmitters have been provided for it in the last two years or so. So it would seem that there is capital available in the B.B.C. where they want it. I suggest that they should bend their minds to increasing and speeding up certain capital expenditures, because the provision of sponsored television depends entirely on the speed with which the other tasks set to the B.B.C. by the Paper are completed.

Again, I congratulate the Government on what they have achieved. I hope that nothing I have said will be taken as unduly critical of the B.B.C., of which I have just as profound an admiration as have other noble Lords who have spoken. Particularly should we admire its politi- cal independence. Proof of that is surely forthcoming by the number of Conservatives who announced loudly that the whole of the B.B.C. is in the hands of the Socialists, and the number of Socialists who so frequently complain about the Tory reaction of the B.B.C.'s policy. I am happy to think that we are making great attempts to take the ultimate control of the B.B.C. outside of politics. The time may come when we have a Postmaster General not quite so fair and broadminded as the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr. I therefore say nothing critical of the B.B.C. beyond what I have already suggested. I congratulate them warmly on what they have achieved. All I can say in conclusion concerning this White Paper is that we are given now the chance of having an even better service than we have had. That is high praise, as we certainly have the best in the world.

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that the whole House feels itself under a debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Reith, for raising this question. There is no man more qualified in this country to raise it than the noble Lord, and with the great bulk of his speech I find myself in complete agreement. I have little qualification for speaking on this matter, arid I shall be very brief. In the first place, I want to say that I found myself entirely in sympathy with what the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said about the obscurity with which this White Paper is drafted. As he said, the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, like Agag, has been walking very delicately. If my recollection of the Bible is correct, Agag was hewn to pieces by Samuel himself, and I confess that today I thought the same thing happened again. It is no use using a large number of phrases about this. If the Government contemplate having sponsored television it would be better that they should "come clean" about it. As it is, the reader of this White Paper is left to infer that there is going to be sponsored television from the statement that the whole of the licence money is to go to the E.B.C. Applying his knowledge and common sense he will realise that people will not put on television programmes for the sake of their health (as the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said), and obviously, therefore, it is some advertising project. Why not say so? But the Government do not say so. They are obviously shy and coy about it. It is the fact that what is proposed is sponsored television.

I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Reith, is not going to divide the House. I think it would be a pity if this debate at this stage got on to Party lines. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, and the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, realise that there is a very great body of opinion which is fundamentally opposed to this proposal for sponsored television. It is not a mere question of experience. Those of us who have been to the United States of America and to Australia have seen how the thing works. I believe that all those who will speak with me—I do not want to put it on Party lines—are opposed to this idea root and branch, because fundamentally it is wrong. Whether I object on moral or aesthetic grounds I am not quite sure, but I sincerely hope that, just because the House is not to be divided, the noble Earl will be under no illusion that this matter is not very seriously felt—because it is. At the present moment, I am in a difficulty. I am chairman of one of our great public picture galleries, and for the lack of some £3,000 only this morning I have had to cancel an exhibition of twentieth century masterpieces which is now being shown in Paris and which could have come to this country. We have not the money to do it, and it is a lamentable thing.


It is foreign exchange.


It is a question of insurance. We have to pay for the insurance on all these pictures, and we cannot do it. Would anybody in his senses suggest that we should do it in this way: that I should have these pictures exhibited at the Tate Gallery, and that once every ten minutes the lights should go out and that there should be shown an advertisement for somebody's beer or somebody's pills, or something of that sort? Everybody would revolt at the idea. It seems to me that it is just the same thing that the Government propose to do on radio and television. Therefore I beg the Government to think again about this. I do not want to bring this matter on to Party lines at all—I would rather keep it off Party lines. But please realise that there is a great body of opinion to be found in all Parties in this country which rightly or wrongly, reasonably or unreasonably, feels very strongly about this subject and is determined to do all it possibly can to prevent the introduction of this sponsored television. And, for my part, I feel satisfied that once this evil thing—as I believe it to be—is introduced, we shall never get rid of it.

The second point I wish to make is a point upon which my noble friend Lord Listowel touched, and that is this kind of electoral college. I believe that to be a thoroughly bad idea. It is one of the features of English life—and thank-God for it!—that although Ministers are engaged in politics, yet we have the characteristic (perhaps we are unique in this) that we can from time to time cut off our politics, as it were, and apply ourselves fairly to appoint the right sort of people. Over the last seven years I had the experience of appointing judges of the High Court, judges of the county court, magistrates, and so on. The noble and learned Lord, the present Lord Chancellor, does that now. I have supreme confidence in what he is doing, just as I have supreme confidence in what my predecessor did. It is a characteristic of this country that people who have achieved great positions in this country can stop being political when they are considering whom they should appoint. To my mind one of the great benefits of our Constitution is that all Ministers have to be Members of one House or the other. If anything goes wrong, and if there is a ground for criticism, the man is there to face criticism. Somebody once said to me: "You can wring the neck of a Minister, but you cannot wring the neck of a committee." For that reason, I regard it as a profound mistake to leave these appointments to a committee. Incidentally, if I were going to have a committee at all, I should be most careful to avoid including judges, because it seems to me that it is completely the wrong place for judges. It is surely undesirable to bring the judges into the sort of controversy which might conceivably arise about these appointments. I sincerely hope that the Government will think again about that part of their proposal.

One other matter, and then I have finished. It is dealt with in paragraph 30 of the White Paper. I am far from saying that there is not great room for improvement in our programmes, both sound broadcasting and television. I think we might help considerably if we were to try to get a system, and get it fairly soon, whereby great sporting events could be televised and broadcast. There were millions of people in this country who wanted to have the Grand National either televised or broadcast. Owing to some—I will not say selfish interests, but private interests, the services of the ordinary broadcasters were not available, and what a miserable thing that broadcast was!—as those of your Lordships who listened to it will know. It just shows that broadcasting is something which has to be done by expert people. I should like to establish the principle that all these great sporting events—the Derby, the Grand National, the Boat Race, the Test Matches, the tennis at Wimbledon and all such events—should be made available. They should be broadcast and they should "be televised if the technical difficulties—about which I know nothing—can be surmounted.

I believe that the difficulty is largely one of copyright. I am well aware that that matter is being referred to a Copyright Committee, and I believe that that Committee have not yet reported, although they are about to do so. I should like to see not a copyright in the actual performance itself, which I think would be very inconvenient and wrong, but a copyright in the televised image of a sporting spectacle. That would make it an easy matter to prevent "pirates." then, by all means, let the three parties concerned—the B.B.C., who would have the copyright, the cinema interests and the sporting people who organise the events—get together and see how they will parcel out the money arising from this copyright. There would have to be legislation.

I ask the noble Earl to realise that this is a matter in which the public of this country are greatly interested. I feel very definitely and strongly that sectional interests must give way to the general interest. I should, of course, be entirely in favour of treating all the interests fairly. If they were not able to arrange among themselves what the terms or payments should be, perhaps there might be some sort of arbitration tribunal. But the time has come when we should say quite plainly that these spectacles must be made available to viewers and listeners, and it is for the Government to consider ways and means of doing it. I am quite satisfied that this is a matter of urgency: a vast number of people are waiting for something to be done

I believe that television of football matches and cricket matches and such things would do the sport promoters no harm at all. It would in fact, induce a new circle of people to become interested in these things; and, so far from doing the promoters any harm, it would do them a great deal of good. I humbly suggest to the noble Earl that this is a case for prompt action and a case in which the general good must prevail over sectional interests. With these few observations, I would close by saying that I think the House is fortunate in having had a debate of this quality and tone.

4.54 p.m.


My Lords, may I first of all join with other noble Lords who have spoken in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Reith, for having put this Motion on the Order Paper? He told us that at one time he wondered whether he would do so—whether the Government would give sufficient consideration to a debate in your Lordships' House to make It worth while. I can only say that if he or some other noble Lord had not put this Motion down, it would have been the duty of the Government to submit this White Paper to this House for discussion—and, of course, the Government would have done that. We all recognise that there is nobody in this country who has a greater right to speak on this subject than Lord Reith, in view of his years of pioneering service and the devotion he has given to British broadcasting. I admit that I could wish, if only for that reason that he had felt more able to give his blessing to our proposals a little more warmly than he did.

But, whatever the noble Lord's views on the White Paper, the fact remains that the whole country is deeply indebted to him for what he has done in building up our British system of broadcasting. And let there be no doubt about it: it is a great system. And despite all that has been said to-day, I am perfectly convinced that it will continue to be a great system. I do not accept the assumption, which has been made by noble Lords who have spoken already, that the B.B.C. is utterly incapable of facing any competition; and I resent most strongly the unproven assertion made to-day by speaker after speaker that the White Paper represents, to use the words of Lord Reith, a scuttling of the B.B.C. I assert that no proof whatsoever has been put before us for that suggestion. The B.B.C. is a human institution, and it is easy to find fault with it and to criticise it. But I am speaking on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, who are responsible for placing this White Paper before Parliament and I would challenge anyone to point to any country that is better served.

The B.B.C. was set up only twenty-six years ago, and it has given the United Kingdom a broadcasting system that is the envy of many other countries. If we conducted this discussion on any other basis than that, we should be not only churlish but extremely foolish. We have here a system and an organisation that has justified itself in practice; and the first condition of our new policy must be not only that that organisation remains intact but that it should be able to grow and expand as a living organism. That is a test that I am prepared to accept for the discussion of this White Paper. Before I go on to that, however, I should like to add one word. I am glad to see that the noble Lord, Lord Simon of Wythenshawe, is in his place. I can, therefore, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, give a message to him personally and to his colleagues and staff—and I believe that the whole House will feel the same—that we owe them a great debt for what is being done by the British Broadcasting Corporation.

It should not be necessary, after what has been said already, and after correspondence that has appeared in the Press during the last few weeks, and even months, to emphasise that this is an extremely difficult subject, and that very strong and divided views are held upon it. I may be told that it is a platitude to stress that, or to say that our national future, in terms of our thoughts, feelings and standards of values, is at stake; but, even if it is a platitude, it is true, and therefore I believe it is worth saying. For that reason alone I make no apology—after all, we have taken nearly six months to decide on a policy—for the fact that it is easy to describe these proposals, as the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, did, in terms of being in the nature of a compromise. So far from apologising for proposals that attempt to meet the very strong opposing views which are felt, I would assert strongly that a Government which did not treat with respect views that are felt so deeply, and with such sincerity on both sides, would be acting very wrongly.

To carry on that point, what emerges particularly, not only from the discussion to-day but from the discussion that has been taking place outside this House, is that neither side—what I will call, on the one hand, those in favour of sponsoring and (in deference to what the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, and the right reverend Prelate, the Lord Bishop of Sheffield, said about the word" monopoly") those in favour of monopolies on the other—is alone in the sincerity or strength of its moral conviction on this question. The noble Earl, Lord Halifax, said that it was quite unfair to speak of the present position of the B.B.C. as a monopoly. On a definition of the word "monopoly," I simply cannot see how it is possible to speak of the present position of the B.B.C. as being anything but a monopoly—it may be possible, as the right reverend Prelate said, to say that there are good reasons why there had to be a monopoly. It would be so much more difficult to start rival stations than to start rival newspapers—but that is not the sense in which we are discussing the continuance or otherwise of a monopoly.

Speaking on behalf of myself, I say that it is very much in terms a conflict of negatives—certainly it is for a great number of people. By that, I mean that it is really a case of deciding whether our dislike of monopoly is stronger or weaker than our dislike of sponsored or commercial broadcasting. The noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, will see that I am neither shy nor coy about the use of those words. The reason why "commercial" was left out was very different from what the noble and learned Earl has suggested. It is clear that under our proposals commercial television is possible, but it is equally true that there are other possible ways of providing competition. There has been a strong argument, with which I will deal in another portion of my speech, for a rival State-financed broadcasting commission. There is a proposal contained in the Report of the Beveridge Committee—and, shall I say, it was at any rate looked at in a friendly way in the last White Paper—for permitting broadcasting by approved public bodies such as universities and local authorities. I am afraid that I am diverting from my argument, but the noble Lord asked me what we felt about that matter Frankly, we have not made a reference to it in the White Paper because it seemed to us such a long way away, and we felt that for the moment it was not necessary to come to a decision, any more than the last Government did. But if the matter comes up, it can certainly be discussed on its merits.


This is a very important point. When the noble Earl refers to the necessity for providing some element of competition, is he not referring solely to commercial broadcasting? Does he contemplate some other form of competition?


I felt that commercial television was a very likely interpretation of the words in the White Paper, but they certainly do not exclude some other method of bringing about that competition. It was for that reason that the word "commercial" was quite deliberately left out, and not because we were either shy or coy about its use.


Can the noble Earl say where such a competitive body would get its revenue?


I think that is a legitimate point. It was suggested that there should be three separate State commissions financed from the State.


But you do not accept that.


Financed from the State by the taxes?


It is not a proposal for which we are responsible, but is one which has been put forward. Although we are not laying the proposal before your Lordships, that is, nevertheless, open for consideration at a later time when this matter can be considered on a rational basis. But I am assuming, for the purposes of my argument, that the most likely form of competition will be the form your Lordships are assuming it is likely to be—that is, commercial broadcasting.

I want to say, as strongly and as clearly as I can, that the proposals before your Lordships have a very much stronger basis than that of mere compromise. I should fed that it was wrong to base our proposals merely on compromise in dealing with a living and growing force such as broadcasting, and especially television. We have tried therefore—and I believe that we have succeeded—to put forward an answer which takes account of both opposing views of this problem. This we have done by offering an alternative to the principle of monopoly whilst at the same time preserving the B.B.C. in its full integrity, and thus making sure that the people of this country are not left—as is the situation in America—without any alternative to sponsored television. The fact remains that if our full proposals are eventually carried through, nobody who does not want to, need look at a sponsored television programme, but he will be able to tune in to the B.B.C. as he does to-day. And if the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, does not like beer with his Toscanini he need not have it. A parallel with the United States of America is quite unfair. The right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Sheffield, as an argument against competition, said (I did not quite understand his argument) that people cannot choose in broadcasting. That is true to-day, but if the Government's proposals are put through it will no longer be true. They will be able to choose


A very limited choice.


In fact, it is a 100 per cent. choice, which is very considerable.

My Lords, how do we propose to achieve our two objectives? If your Lordships will turn to the White Paper, you will see from paragraphs 5 and 12 that we propose to renew the Charter of the B.B.C. for ten years. As one noble Lord has already said, the B.B.C. will not be allowed to put out sponsored programmes or to accept advertisements without my consent. That is exactly the position to-day. The B.B.C. will be the only broadcasting organisation having any claim on revenue derived from broadcasting licences. It will continue to be the only source of sound broadcasting in this country, and will continue to provide its own television service, though in this case the field will be open to competition. The noble Earl, Lord Halifax, asked what was the logic of allowing competition in television and not in sound. I freely admit that the answer may not be based on pure logic, but it seems to me simple and obvious common sense. The public already have a fully developed service of sound broadcasting. There are the three separate national programmes and a good many local variations. On the other hand, television provides only one programme and under present conditions that is likely to continue to be the case for some time. Therefore, if some new development is to be made—in some ways one might almost be justified in calling that development an experiment—television is the obvious field.

So far so good, on that point. But it has been argued by many noble Lords in this House, first in the speech delivered to-day by the noble Lord, Lord Reith—and the point which has been fully developed by the noble Lord, Lord Brand, in The Times and elsewhere—that there is really no room for competition here, because in entertainment, as in coinage, the bad must always drive out the good. That is pure assertion. We have been given no reason whatsoever why that must be so. I can understand that it would be a danger, but we have not had demonstrated to us that that danger is one that cannot be met. I believe that there are circumstances and conditions provided in the White Paper which can eliminate that danger.

Let us just look at what the position is going to be. If and when the B.B.C. has to face competition, it will start with the advantage of an assured annual revenue of approximately £11,500,000, a revenue which, with the steady growth of licences, is likely to increase every year. As a matter of fact, during the last four months alone the revenue due to the B.B.C. from licences has increased by no less than £325,000—that is in four months. Then, my Lords, even if the fears of certain noble Lords are right (it may well be that they are), that competition would deprive the B.B.C. of some of its audience, this would not affect its income, because wireless licences are paid for in order to use a receiving set and not for the privilege of listening to the BBC.

However, not only would the B.B.C. embark upon its competitive life with an assured revenue, but we can go a step further, because in paragraph 11 we provide that competition against the B.B.C. will not start until that organisation is at least well on the way to supplying the whole country with—to use the words of the White Paper—"adequate national broadcasting services," including both television and broadcasting on very high frequencies. This means building five new low-powered television stations which, with the existing stations, would give service to something in the neighbourhood of 90 per cent. of the population. It means also at least making a good start on developing the use of very high frequencies. In such circumstances, I can see no good reason why it should be so universally assumed by speakers in your Lordships' House that the B.B.C. would be driven to debase its coinage, even if sponsored television were in fact as low as some noble Lords think it might be.

I am going (to say something that I should not have said but for the remarks made by some noble Lords who have spoken. To hear noble Lords speak with horror at the type of programme which they are afraid that commercial television might produce is to make me wonder how much they listen to our present Light Programme. For all we say about the B.B.C, we cannot always be tremendously proud of the Light Programme. Occasionally I look at television, as I feel it is my duty to keep an eye on what is happening. Again, I must say that there are some programmes of the light variety type which are hardly calculated to give pleasure to all who watch. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, made this point—namely, need we assume that the British people would enjoy the same vulgarities and horrors, and even tiresomeness, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, referred, which are apparently so popular elsewhere? I have enough faith in the people of this country to believe that the sort of programmes some of your Lordships are fearing just would not be a success in this country. Incidentally, I cannot help expressing a certain mild surprise that speakers from the opposite side of the House, who claim to be the spokesmen for the common people of this country, should, when it comes to a test case like this, take such a low view of their taste in this regard.

My Lords, I am afraid that I have dwelt at some length on this point, but it is so much the essence of the problem. I must repeat that the more I look at the case the more I find myself questioning this assumption that the bad must drive out the good; that indeed, the B.B.C. is utterly incapable, in spite of all the advantages it possesses, of meeting competition from any source. The whole force of every argument that has been put against our proposal so far has; been based on those two assumptions. Indeed, I think it would not be going too far to say that some of the speeches which have been made seemed almost to be based on the assumption that the B.B.C. was not going to be left to operate at all.

On one point which arose at the beginning of the debate I should like to give my personal view. There is a proposal which has already been mentioned for the setting up of separate State broadcasting commissions. That is the proposal, and it is open to consideration. I have never myself been at all impressed by the idea, although it was argued strongly before the Beveridge Committee. There would be no challenge to a monopoly, because the source of finance and power would be exactly the same for each corporation. But, having said that, I would add that the Government do go some way in the direction of securing the advantages, without the disadvantages, of such a proposal, by providing, in paragraphs to which references have already been made, for greater decentralisation, not only in Scotland, Wales and, possibly Northern Ireland, if they want it, but also in each of the English Regions. I know that; the noble Lord, Lord Reith, does not approve of this greater decentralisation. He regrets the giving to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland of such greater power and influence as is visualised by the setting up of these separate councils. He regrets that any encouragement should be given to increase devolution to the regional controllers. I must frankly say that we disagree with the noble Lord about that matter.

I am quite prepared to admit that in paragraph 21, which deals with the setting up of Broadcasting councils, although what is there stated us almost word for word what was stated in the last Government White Paper—and it is none the worse and none the better for that—there is a certain amount of room for what I call administrative untidiness. I admit that. But it seemed to me that we were faced with a choice between that, on the one hand, and not paying sufficient and adequate respect to the natural desire in regions—certainly in Scotland and Wales, and possibly in Northern Ireland—to have greater control over their programmes. Nevertheless, in spite of possible administrative untidiness, I say that this is a scheme that can be made to work. It was carefully drafted and I believe that its advantages are much greater than its disadvantages. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Reith, cannot agree. As we are aware, he is a great administrator, and I think he has always been one who likes his own way. There is no doubt that in this case there would have to be a certain handing over or devolution of power.

Now I come to a point which was dealt with by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt: I refer to the new methods put forward for the appointment of Governors. I must confess that I am disappointed at the reactions of the noble Lords to this proposal, because whatever we may feel about the position of the B.B.C. and on the question whether the B.B.C. has a monopoly or not, I think we realise that the Governors and the organisation are in a position of immense power. We felt, therefore, that it should be made clear beyond any shadow of doubt that their choice must never be on partisan or sectional grounds. I am prepared to say that we may or may not have chosen the right form of panel. If we are agreed on the objective—


I do not think we are agreed on the objective in the sense of giving the power of appointment to a committee. We think the Government should continue to appoint the Board


I am greatly disappointed to hear that. I am not sure whether the noble Earl is speaking officially and formally for his Party.


May I intervene again to say that—as I tried to make clear in my speech—I am speaking on behalf of the noble Lords and the Party on these Benches on this issue.


Then I can only express regret. In doing so I want to make it clear that there was no suggestion whatever that in the past there has been ground for complaint that complete impartiality has not been shown. All Governments have always shown the most complete impartiality and a deep sense of responsibility about the matter. But we feel that there is much to be said for applying the principle laid down for Cæsar's wife, and of not accepting too easily the phrase: "It can never happen here." That phrase can be one of the most dangerous in our national life. There is only one way in which we can prevent unpleasant things happening here and that is by agreeing together to take steps to ensure that they cannot happen. There is no doubt in my mind that a committee of appointment of the type that we propose will at least help towards these ends. Noble Lords opposite say that they cannot co-operate. That is a matter for deep regret, but I must leave it there, for I confess it takes me by complete surprise.

One last point which the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, raised related to the question of sporting events. I agree with him about the importance of this matter. If I were not in office, I could hardly think of a word he has said which I should not wish to say. But would your Lordships be good enough to allow me to leave it at that? The subject is an extremely difficult one. It is tied up with the law of copyright and with some intensely difficult principles. It is clear that the really satisfactory solution would be that the parties most closely concerned should get together. I do not think it is desirable at the moment to attempt to answer the noble and learned Earl at greater length. I do not think it is desirable that a settlement in this matter should have to be imposed by the Government. Therefore, if your Lordships would be good enough to take that from me as being as much as I wish to say at the moment on the subject, I should be grateful.

I am only too conscious that I have not dealt with all the points that have been raised, but I undertake that the points I have not dealt with will be carefully considered. I had intended to say that broadcasting is not a Party issue and I am glad to think it has been said from the other side of the House first. Though speeches that have been made from the other side have not been over friendly to the proposals put forward by the Government, they have borne out the fact that noble Lords have certainly not criticised them in any partisan manner. The day the B.B.C. becomes a matter of Party division will be a bad day, not only for the B.B.C., but for the country as a whole. I trust that the contribution I have been able to make to this debate has contributed to that feeling. We may not be able to obtain unanimity on a most difficult subject, but underlying unity of purpose is, I believe, possible, and I am firmly convinced that this debate, as it has started to-day and as it continues, will help the nation towards this end.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl a question to clarify a point about administration? I understand that, by convention, as a Governor of the B.B.C. I am not entitled to speak, but if I may ask this question I shall be much obliged. In dealing with the administration of the Regions, could the noble Earl say whether it is the intention that the Corporation should still appoint Controllers of regions?


My Lords, the answer is certainly, yes. I apologise for omitting to make that point. That is definite.


I thank the noble Earl.

5.32 p.m.


My Lords, I think I am the only surviving member of your Lordships' House who was a member of the Ullswater Committee which in 1934 gave the B.B.C. its first official "onceover." I well remember then the appearance which the noble Lord, Lord Reith, made in the witness stand, and what a formidable and ingratiating witness he made. I should like to say what has been implied in various fashions by every previous speaker: one of the chief reasons why the B.B.C. has so conspicuously been the most satisfactory of our corporations; and why, despite the fierce light which beats upon its throne, it has always contrived to retain the good will and respect of the public; and why, after more than twenty years of monopoly, even now its monopoly of sound is not being seriously challenged, has been the fact that the noble Lord (Sir John Reith, as he then was) was its first Director-General. He bequeathed to it a tradition, derived, as he himself remarked this afternoon, from the Scottish manse, a faintly astringent tradition of idealism and integrity which has been worthily maintained since.

The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, who I am sorry to see is not here at the moment, made some passing and not very explicit reference to "unsavoury episodes" at the B.B.C., but I much wonder whether there is any other public corporation which could have faced the almost continuous running commentary which is accorded the B.B.C. in the daily and weekly Press without the revelation of some pretty substantial skeleton in any one of its many cupboards. I remember that, when the personnel of the Ullswater Committee had been announced in the Press, a popular journalist of the day sought me cut and assured me that there was abundant evidence that Broadcasting House had sold its soul to Moscow. I replied, "Send in the evidence." For I was young enough then to anticipate a scandal with a faint sense of pleasurable excitement. Needless to say, not a line of evidence ever came.

I should like to go on record—though I am not going to develop this point, because everyone else has dealt with it to the exclusion of most others—as quite convinced that the introduction of commercialised sponsored broadcasting would be a disaster, one against which, if it came to a vote, I should certainly vote. I want to speak this afternoon for a few minutes, not as one of the former inquisitors of the B.B.C. away back in 1934, but rather as one who has had a considerable personal experience of broadcasting over the last twenty years or more. As I have listened to this debate from the angle of a broadcaster, I have felt that there was a certain danger that in our anxiety to avoid what I agree are the pitfalls of American sponsored broadcasting, we should overlook the fact that nevertheless there is a good deal to be learned from certain American methods, provided we avoid their main mistake of adopting commercial sponsor- ing; lessons which would strengthen our own monopolistic B.B.C. It is true that the worst features of American programmes are worse than the worst of our own, and that is saying a good deal. No doubt it is also true that no broadcaster in this country is ever invited to mutilate his script in deference to some powerful commercial or political prejudice as I am told happens sometimes on the other side of the Atlantic, although it certainly never happened to me on the two occasions when I broadcast in America. In my own fairly long experience of Broadcasting House, the only alterations ever suggested in my scripts have been attempts, usually successful, to improve their artistic quality.

But it is to the best and not to the worst of American broadcasting that we should look if we wish to learn something from it, and practically nothing has been said this afternoon about the best side of the American competitive system. The services of the successful broadcaster in America are competed for by a number of rival broadcasting chains—with two immediate consequences. First, the successful broadcaster is soon earning an income of upwards of £50,000 a year; and secondly, which is considerably more important, there are a number of men and women who devote practically the whole of their working time to broadcasting. Of these two consequences, the first—the fact that the successful broadcaster earns an astronomical salary and becomes what, apart from sports commentators, is virtually unknown in this country, a professional purveyor of the spoken word over the air—is not, of course, anything like so important as the second.

I believe that the paying of astronomical salaries by Hollywood and American broadcasting chains has done these institutions nothing but harm. But, in passing, I feel I am bound to say that the temptation to pay astronomical salaries is one which so far the B.B.C. have been remarkably successful in resisting. The Corporation pays a standard fee for a talk broadcast, the same whether the performer is delivering his first, his fifth or his; 500th broadcast, and it is roughly equivalent to what a provincial newspaper would pay a reasonably distinguished contributor for an article involving about a quarter of the work represented by a broadcast. This is not a very important consideration, though judging from some words which fell from the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, it is a factor which may be stressed by those who are pressing for competition in broadcasting. But I feel called upon to mention it, in passing, because I clearly remember how on the Ullswater Committee we were very conscious of how omnipotent the monopoly would necessarily be in relation to those whom, at its discretion, and on such occasions as it pleased, it might invite to broadcast; and how we did express the hope that it would treat its performers generously.

But the important lesson which I believe we could learn from American broadcasting is the fact that it does keep a number of highly talented men and women broadcasting fairly continuously. I am convinced that broadcasting is an art, just as playing the violin is an art, and that, like playing the violin, it is an art which cannot be acquired or sustained without constant practice. The radio musician can obtain his practice by appearing in the concert hall; but the purveyor of the spoken word can obtain practice only by appearing in front of a live microphone, with all the terrifying consciousness that there are many millions of his fellow citizens on the other side of it. It is not desirable, of course, to have whole-time broadcasters in this country. But anyone who has had the experience of fairly frequent broadcasting, say, once or twice a week for several months on end, will, I am sure, agree that his whole technique has benefited immensely from the experience; and conversely, no one who broadcasts for the first time, or at very long intervals, can possibly do himself full justice.

Of that I think sufficient evidence is frequently provided by the broadcasts at General Election time by the Party political leaders. Quite a number of prominent politicians, all too conscious that for once they are addressing 15,000,000 instead of 500, seem to conclude that all they have to do is to distend their normal platform manner to rather more than life size. The results are usually disastrous. Mr. Churchill's broadcasts have, of course, been immensely, indeed, uniquely, effective: indeed, his war-time broadcasts are already part of our history. But Mr. Churchill is a great man, speaking on great subjects, and his inimitable personal aura overshadows and transmutes anything he does. Nevertheless, I should venture to say that, technically speaking, he is not a good broadcaster, and that, if he were, his peace-time broadcasts would be even more effective than they are now.

At present the Corporation can rarely permit a broadcaster the practice which he needs if he is to develop his full capacity to entertain the public. Here I ought perhaps to say that I do not think I need declare an interest, because to me the B.B.C. have been consistently-generous: if they have been guilty of any error, it has been in inflicting me too frequently on a long-suffering public. In fact, it is my experience in that respect which leads me now to suggest that that sort of experiment should be more widely extended to others. From time to time there has been a series of talks by highly-skilled performers—your Lordships may remember the names of Mr. Harold Nicolson and Mr. J. B. Priestley. But, almost invariably, at the moment of their highest success they suddenly and silently disappear, to return only fitfully and at prolonged intervals. No doubt there are good reasons for the sudden disappearances, as through a pantomime trapdoor, and certainly it would be undesirable to allow any individual to build up the immense popularity which he might acquire by constant appearances over a number of years.

However, I would plead with the B.B.C. to recognise that in the interests of good public entertainment it is desirable that there should be a certain number of people who obtain more practice than anyone obtains at present. It is natural enough to introduce the expert on his own subject, but if he is only an expert and not a broadcaster, all he will do will be to read a literary essay into the microphone. That may be most interesting, but it is not broadcasting.

As if to emphasise the inducement to purely literary broadcasting, the B.B.C. invariably include in every contract a clause which reminds the signer that they retain for a certain period the right to reprint verbatim in the Listener anything he may say on the air. Naturally, in face of this warning, anyone with a literary conscience, experiences a great temptation to produce the sort of material which is suitable for print, rather than attempt to develop a true broadcasting technique. The professor of entomology is brought along to the Home Service once every five years to talk about how water beetles defend their young. He comes nervously to the microphone and reads the sort of essay which he might have contributed as a special article to The Times. Then perhaps five years later he is brought on again, possibly this time in Children's Hour, on "How mummy and daddy water beetle protect their families," or it may be to the Third Programme—of which we have heard some well chosen words of praise—to speak about "recent researches into the defensive tactics of the nototectidae." But wherever he speaks, so long as he speaks in merely literary form, he will not hold his listeners. He may be a good professor, and even a good lecturer, but a substantial proportion of his audience will switch him off if he does not hold their attention as a broadcaster.

There are plenty of analogies outside the B.B.C. for the point which I am trying to make. Not long ago the directors of a company in which I am interested decided that they wished to organise a series of talks—not broadcasts—in one of their factories, with a view to enlightening the operatives as to the history, nature and function of their industry. They soon came to the conclusion that, although there were plenty of directors and plenty of executives who were experts on the subject, if they wanted to get the theme across to 1,000 working men they had better retain the services of somebody who might not know anything about the subject until he had been briefed but who had had long and successful experience of putting ideas across to working-class audiences. We never had cause to regret or revise that decision. I am not suggesting that there should be whole-time professional broadcasters at the B.B.C. What I am suggesting is that rather more attention should be paid to creating, and then making use of, the practised broadcaster.

There is only one more point that I desire to make, and it is part of the same theme: that while we are frightening ourselves by the admitted terrors of the American example, we should not overlook some of its successes. Do not let us forget that it is not only whisky and toothpaste that can buy time on the air—anyone can buy it. Although that sometimes leads to highly unedifying results, it is not always so. Only the other day I was reading in a religious journal an account of a nation-wide revivalist campaign in the States conducted by a man whose name I think (I may have it wrong) was Billy Graham. This man held enormous open-air meetings. There were 50,000 people at a meeting in Washington. It would have ended with the actual audience, but for the fact that his backers were able to buy time on the air, both in sound and in television, with the result that he reached many tens of millions of fellow citizens besides I am not, of course, suggesting that we need sponsoring, but I do suggest that here again is an example of something which can be done over there which is not wholly bad, and which is a reminder to us that we might try to do it too—by being slightly more adventurous in some of our programmes, and particularly, perhaps, in the department of religious broadcasts.

I do not wish to take up any more of your Lordships' time, and I will end by repeating that on the major issue I am with those who have opposed the introduction of sponsored broadcasting, and that I hope that the B.B.C. will enjoy as much success in its next ten years of life as it has in the past.


My Lords, there is to be a Royal Commission at 6 o'clock, and therefore I suggest that we adjourn during pleasure.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.