§ 2.35 p.m.
§ Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion moved on Thursday last by Lord Reith: That there be laid before the House Papers relating to the Memorandum on the Report of the Broadcasting Committee (Cmd. 8550).
§ LORD MACDONALD OF GWAENYSGOR
My Lords, I am quite sure that noble Lords who were present last Thursday on the opening of the debate would agree that we had a most interesting, a most memorable and, I might almost say, a most unforgettable day's debate. I spent much of my time looking at the faces on the Government Benches and, in particular, at the faces on the Front Bench. Before my noble friend Lord Reith got very far with that powerful, pulverising process, I saw a deep depression settling down on the Government Benches. It soon became a real cloud of gloom. Later in the evening I thought it spread towards the Woolsack. That did not surprise me, because things were said which were very disturbing to the Government, and they were said by a man who mattered in this House. This Government can ill afford to ignore serious, profound statements by the noble Earl, Lord Halifax—and he had some very serious statements indeed to make. When I find a man like the noble Earl, who has been a tower of strength to the Conservative Party, who has meant much in this country especially amongst the thoughtful in the Conservative Party, expressing profound regret that his Party have lent their hand to certain suggestions, I am not surprised that there is gloom in the Government. When he tells this House, as he did, that if my noble friend Lord Reith decided to take this Motion to a Division he would support him, that, again, is cause for consternation in the Government. I trust that his words will not be in vain.
1366 When the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, with his dash and daring, self-assurance and cleverness, intervened, I was in no way surprised to see some relief on the Front Government Bench. But I noticed that it did not last long. Back came the gloom, as intense as ever. The deep depression settled down again and stayed there until the last half hour, when three of the youngsters in your Lordships' House decided to intervene on the part of the Government. They had no regard for what the elder statesmen had said. They asserted their youth. I even felt that the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, spoke not only with enthusiasm but almost with recklessness. Thursday ended there, and I am not too sure how the Government spent the week-end. It could not have been a very happy weekend. I noticed something else: that on the list of speakers for to-day there are as many as half a dozen new recruits. I do not know whether it is a case of calling up the reserves. I do not know whether they are noble Lords who volunteered to sacrifice themselves in a great cause. But here they are—six whose names were not on the list last Thursday. I do not know whether they are going to sponsor sponsored programmes or not but we shall find out later on. It may be that their enthusiasm for the cause is the only reason that they have ventured forth and put their names on this list.
Now there are many aspects of this White Paper with which one would like to deal, but we do not wart a long debate with long speeches. Therefore, I shall confine myself to two aspects of it. I shall deal with sponsoring but, first of all, I should like to refer to the National Councils. It is as well to look back on this National Council question. This is not the first time that it has been raised. I seem to remember that almost since the early days of the B.B.C. reference of one kind or another has been made to the necessity for an arrangement of this type. Every Committee which has dealt with the matter has made some reference to it, until the Beveridge Report gave us a definite recommendation. Noble Lords will remember that about a year ago the Labour Government drafted a White Paper on the Beveridge Report. They included, with variations, he same proposal as is now included in the Conservative Government White Paper. That White Paper was debated fully, frankly and, I 1367 would almost say, fiercely, in this House and in another place. The General Election brought about a change of Government.
The present Government were so anxious to do a thorough job that they decided—and, if I may say so, decided very wisely—to delay the ending of the Charter for a further six months in order to give it a full examination. They appointed Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe as Minister for Welsh affairs—one of the regions involved in the recommendation. I do not know of any Minister of the Crown at any time who has worked harder or devoted more time and energy to master his job than Sir David. He visited Wales frequently. He did all he could to get a real grasp of the problem, to get to know the Welsh outlook, the Welsh conception and the Welsh desires. When he had done this the Government, with all this and the debates in the other place and here before them—and the debates were full debates, often expressing views for or against this, that and the other—in their wisdom brought out this White Paper. It cannot be suggested that the proposal to set up National Councils has not been fully considered. For myself I welcome this section of the White Paper; I am sure that it is a step in the right direction. Wales is my country. I lived there; I speak her language. I have a good knowledge of the aspirations of Wales. It is not quite fair to talk about the North Region and the West Region and Wales, for those terms have not the same connotation. Wales is a nation separate from England. The English and the Welsh are two different peoples, and this country cannot afford to forget that. The Welsh have a tradition; they have a culture, a language and a literature which differ from those of England. What do they ask? Only that the B.B.C. shall give them the maximum help to preserve and foster that language, literature, and culture and those traditions. Is that asking too much? At any rate it is what they are asking. I am sure that the step taken in this White Paper is a step in that direction.
I know there are those who regard this as a matter of small concern in a big world which is so full of difficulties and trials. So it may be—outside Wales. But inside Wales the people are concerned about this. They ask for a little more 1368 freedom and a little more power—power to arrange the programmes for Wales, to control Welsh affairs, so far as they are affected by the B.B.C. There are those in Wales who clamour for greater freedom, who clamour for self-government for Wales. This is not a request for self-government for Wales. It is a request that the Government, having had the opportunity of examining the experience of their predecessors should do a little more as regards the B.B.C. than they have done, and that it should be done on these lines. I was pleased to observe that the noble Lord, Lord Reith, though very critical of this scheme, at the same time indicated his strong desire that all that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland wanted on these lines should be done. He was, nevertheless, uncertain whether this was the way to do it. I have spoken to Lord Reith since Thursday, with the object of trying to ascertain what he has in his mind, and I gather that he wants to do the same thing as the White Paper does, but in a different way. Personally, if I want a thing I am not very much concerned how it is done; I am not much concerned about the machinery; that does not worry me, so long as I get what I want.
The noble Lord, Lord Reith, would carry the matter very far. He would give the right to the Council in Wales to examine many things, not only programmes but finance and capital expenditure—but with this proviso (and it is a very important one) as regards the proposal in the White Paper, that it should all be done through an Advisory Council. The reason why Lord Reith, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Radcliffe, and the noble Lord, Lord Brand (and Lord Radcliffe and Lord Brand both spoke in the debate on this subject in July last) are anxious, is that they fear the method suggested in the White Paper will cause rather a muddle administratively, and that the mixing of the advisory, executive and supervisory functions would create difficulty for the B.B.C. nationally. Frankly, I do not think anybody who creates difficulty for the B.B.C. nationally is likely to help any Region. I personally, therefore, should be anxious to avoid causing difficulty for the B.B.C. nationally in dealing with Regional programmes.
I wonder whether I dare ask Lord Brand and Lord Radcliffe whether they 1369 would apply their minds a little to make, out of their great and wide experience, some constructive suggestions in order to overcome these procedural and administrative difficulties in the Regions without in any way handicapping the B.B.C. in London. Wales to-day has many English people living in it. I happened myself to live in Flintshire—probably the most English of all counties in North Wales. I live in Prestatyn, which is probably the most English of all Welsh towns. In Prestatyn more than half the population are English people—retired people from Manchester and elsewhere. These men and women living in Wales are as keen on this proposal that something should be done to safeguard and foster the Welsh tradition and customs as any of the Welshmen. It is certainly not a case of nationalism on any narrow lines.
Now for sponsoring. I noticed that a number of noble Lords told your Lordships' House of their various titles to speak on certain aspects of this subject. Perhaps I may be allowed to say that my title to speak on sponsoring is that I was condemned for several years to live and move and have my being with sponsored broadcasts. My position in Newfoundland entitled me to be inside sponsored broadcasting, and I knew all that went on inside, as well as outside as a listener. I would assert that not a living soul in your Lordships' House or elsewhere in this world, who has enjoyed, as I did, twenty years of broadcasting on the very high standard set up by the B.B.C. and then three years of sponsored broadcasting, would ever advovate sponsored broadcasting. If only noble Lords could have an experience of that kind, we should hear no more from them of sponsored broadcasting. It would be the end.
The constitutional arrangement in Newfoundland put the Governor in a very strong position. In addition to being the Monarch's representative, he was also acting Prime Minister of the country. The difficulty was how to keep the Monarchy away from the centre of politics—an arrangement which may not be repeated in the history of our Commonwealth. What happens? Somebody has some wares to dispose of. He is not doing too well, and he thinks to himself: "I will approach the Minister responsible 1370 for broadcasting and see what he has to say. I will try to buy from him an hour on the air, and there I will advertise my wares in the hope that I shall dispose of them." He places a programme on the air which he is sponsoring financially for no other purpose than as a means of selling his wares. Some of the programmes are very popular. They are listened to throughout the land, but the listeners do not become buyers of his products. They enjoy his sponsored broadcasts but they do not buy his products, with the result that the financial returns that he expected from the broadcasts do not materialise. The broadcasts do not last long, for he is not concerned with how many are enjoying the programme. That is no concern of his. What does it matter to him? What he is concerned with is the programme solely as a means to enable him to make money.
Is that our conception of broadcasting in this country? I did a little broadcasting on my own over there, and I appeared on several occasions on television. I had the good fortune both to hear and to see myself—and I may tell your Lordships that that has a sobering effect, too. On one occasion I agreed, on invitation, to do a joint broadcast with Mrs. Roosevelt. I was asked whether I would allow Mrs. Roosevelt to interrogate me on the Colombo Plan which had just then been published. I saw no objection to it. We both assented. We were already very friendly, because we had sat cheek by jowl at Lake Success. We appeared, and I was asked some very serious; and searching questions concerning the poverty, penury and privations of South and South-East Asia, and about this Plan as a means of dealing with that poverty, penury and privation. Things were going very well when suddenly we were taken off the air. The sponsor thought to himself: "Now is the time for me to push in my advertisement." In came his advertisement, and when it had finished we were allowed to continue discussing the Colombo Plan problem. That is making a farce of broadcasting, and I hope that we in this country shall have some regard to the tone and dignity that we have established throughout this world.
In every country that I have visited—and I have been in quite a number—where sponsored broadcasting is carried on, I made it my business to see those in 1371 authority to see what they thought about sponsored broadcasting. I have yet to meet the man or woman in any of those countries, apart from those directly or in directly financially interested in sponsored broadcasting, who wholeheartedly sup ports sponsored broadcasting. What they did—and this was illuminating and encouraging to me—was to say this: "Whatever you do, Macdonald, in Britain, do not interfere with your present method of broadcasting. You are unique in the broadcasting world. You stand in a dignified position that is not to be compared with any other country. Now, retain that. Do not risk touching sponsored broadcasts in any shape or form; otherwise you will lose some of that grandeur that is associated with British broadcasting." That was the view of those outside.
"Ah," says the young man, "what are you afraid of? Are you afraid of competition?" No. No one who opposes sponsored broadcasting is afraid of competition as such, but what we are afraid of is sponsored broadcasting tarnishing our fine reputation in the broadcasting world. That is what we are very much afraid of. We are asked: "Who is going to criticise?" In countries where sponsored broadcasting is allowed sponsored programmes are criticised much more. Criticism in this country is light compared with criticism in those countries where sponsored broadcasing is permitted. You will not end criticism. What do you want to end it for if it is sound? Criticism is necessary and healthy—why end it?
There is another aspect to which I should like briefly to refer—I hope that I shall not offend any noble Lord in what I say. Is it wise for this country to follow up this craze that we find growing rapidly in some countries to commercialise everything? Is it really wise? Will it add to the dignity of this great country of ours? Surely there are some things which are too sacred to be commercialised. Nothing gives me more satisfaction as a Briton than that we in this country have not yet trod that path very far. The main reason why I am against sponsored broadcasting is that I am afraid that it is a step in the direction of commercialisation. There are some countries which have commercialised some very sacred things. I have been disgusted with that commercialisation. It has not added to 1372 the grandeur or the nobility of those countries.
The position, I recognise, is difficult. I know that this White Paper is a compromise. As sure as I live, there are members of the present Government who do not like it. They have had months of discussion and they have arrived at a compromise. And as all of us who have had some experience know, there is nothing more difficult than to get a compromise reopened. The Government have had so much difficulty in arriving at this compromise—this is a difficult question—that no one wants to reopen the discussions and tread again the thorny path to another compromise. But I do beg Her Majesty's Government to look again at this matter. There are many in the country who do not want sponsored programmes. I ask the Government, in the good name of the Conservative Party, in their own good name: "Have another look. Be careful." It is not a Party question, I entirely agree. Let us not drag this question into Party politics. It ought not to become Party politics. I would urge the Government: "Have a look." I close with a reference to the final entry made by Tolstoy in his diary in 1910, an incomplete entry of a French proverb. The full proverb, which I would commend to Her Majesty's Government, would read:Do what you ought; let come what may.
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ LORD BRABAZON OF TARA
My Lords, I regret to say that I was not present during the earlier speeches on this subject on Thursday, though, of course, I read every word in Hansard, and I thought the speeches were, as is usual in your Lordships' House, of a very high order. We have started to-day with the most delightful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald. The Government have not started so badly to-day because, if I understood the noble Lord's speech aright, he was, so to speak, a neutral—he was in favour of the first part of the White Paper, although he was anti-sponsoring. I should like to tell him that, so far from the Government's seeking out and calling up people like myself, I had the very greatest difficulty in getting on to the list of speakers. I assure my noble friend that my views on this particular subject have been consistent and known for many years—I am an unrepentant pro-sponsorite.
1373 I do not want to speak this afternoon on the organisation side. The White Paper includes a great deal on that aspect. It is only on one point that I shall speak this afternoon—namely, the possibility of sponsored programmes on television, and on television alone. In reading those speeches I was interested to see how many opponents this subject has. First, there is the Advisory Council of the B.B C. They had a meeting last Wednesday, when they were addressed by the Chairman, Lord Simon of Wythen-shawe and by the Director-General, Sir William Haley—I suppose that was a sort of "pep talk" for this debate. At all events, it brought forth some formidable speeches in this House. The whole team has rallied round. We have Lord Halifax, Lord Radcliffe, Lord Brand, Lord Piercy, Lord Samuel and an ex-Governor, Lord Kenswood. I have read what some of them have had to say, and I shall listen to what the others say this afternoon. I must congratulate them on the noble work they are doing for monopoly.
As I have said, it is extraordinary what enemies this proposal for sponsoring has. The Press do not like it. After ail, the Press have a certain amount of interest. Obviously, any advertisement that goes to broadcasting, whether it be television or anything else, conies off the Press. You are not going to find many friends there. The cinema interests do not like it. Obviously, they do not want people to be entertained at home when, from their point of view, the people should go out to the local cinema. Obviously, the television keeps people at home—and for that reason the trade do not like it, because people are kept at home. Then, curiously enough, the B.B.C. do not like it. That is very quaint. Finally, of course, the great Lord Reith does not like it. I read Lord Reith's speech with very great interest. It was a splendid speech. Why he said he was unpopular, I do not know. Like a great many other people, Lord Reith wants a lot of knowing, but I must say that I think he is the most human, humorous man I have ever met. What we want is more Reiths. I do not say that, even if we had them. I should agree with one of them, but they are splendid people and the more we can get of them the better. I did not, of course, listen to his peroration, but I read it and I found it extremely moving.
1374 But I cannot help reminding your Lordships of this fact that whether you are brought up in the Manse or in the Tottenham Court Road, nobody likes to see his child mutilated and emasculated; and that is the proposal which sponsoring brings in summarily to the B.B.C. This child of Lord Reith's is a very remarkable child. It differs from many children, in that we know the father but not the mother, because it will be remembered that the noble Lord said he did it all him-self, without the aid of a consultative committee, or of anybody. It was a great achievement, but times change and everything changes in time What nobody seems to pay attention to, however, is the point of view of the public. What do they think about it? Some of our newspapers have indulged in what is called a Gallup Poll. To their consternation they have found that the British public would like competition. It is extraordinary, but that is what they feel. In reading the White Paper, I noticed the suggestion that if you do what the people want you are being anti-social. That shocks me very much. It strikes at the root of all democratic government. Is this idea seriously to be advanced during General Elections?—because it is easy to slip down that slope. Of course, in recent years we have been told that "The people in Whitehall know what is best for us." That idea has been rather exploded. Now, apparently, we are to change it to, "The people in Portland Place know what is best for us."
Now I want to talk about the White Paper from the point of view of the deduction of the 15 per cent, of the licence revenue. The proposal has been criticised. I agree with one noble Lord, that it should be in the Budget, but I cannot help thinking that it is a good type of tax. It is a tax on luxury. Surely you get an amazing amount of entertainment for £2 during the year, and it is one of those highly desirable taxes which you can pay or not pay, as you like. There are few taxes like that. It is like that with cigarettes or drink. If you do not want to pay you do not smoke cigarettes. If you do not want a drink, you do not pay the tax. It certainly diminishes the amount, but I question very much whether £2 is enough to charge for hours and hours of entertainment curing the year. I cannot help reminding the Government that if they want a bigger return for television, the first thing to do would be to 1375 take off the prohibitive tax of 66 per cent. on the equipment of radio sets.
It is clear, of course, that if we are to have a first-class television service we must have extra revenue, and that will be obtained by advertisements. Here I think many people underrate the intelligence of the advertisers. I am not afraid or terrified of advertisers; they are pretty wise people. After all, noble Lords who read The Times will have noticed that it has no fewer than five pages of advertisements. Is any noble Lord conscious of any moral downdrag therefrom? I have not noticed it. The entertainment world would not flourish if it were nursed on vulgarity and pornography. Advertisers know quite well that that is true. In television we have only one programme. Of course, in radio you can switch to another station; you can even go abroad, and you can listen to sponsored programmes from Luxembourg. No fewer Than 6,000,000 people listen to Luxembourg. They cannot be frightfully offended by the sponsored side of it. I admit that these figures are somewhat guesswork, and that an invention which is long overdue and much wanted at this end is a device which would tell headquarters when sets were being turned off. The authorities at the B.B.C. would get some shocks if they knew when sets were turned off.
There is one thing that the public resent. Having acquired a taste for television, people want the outstanding events of the year televised, and it is indeed a cynical reflection on the present position that in the past we have had the most wonderful televising of the Derby—it was a remarkable technical performance—and yet we have got into a state to-day when we cannot have it. People resent that very much. I was a little alarmed to hear some of the remarks made by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, in which he conveyed the idea that the B.B.C. could televise any events they liked as of right with a fee to be determined by arbitration. That sounds all right, but I read in one of the papers the other day an account of an interview by Mr. Gentle, who has been studying the question of television in America, from the point of view of sports promoters and what they get paid. I should like to tell your Lordships about 1376 the case of the fight between Ray Robinson and Graziano. There was, first of all, a local "black-out," so that people living in the area were not allowed to see the fight on television at all. Only people living outside the town where the fight took place could see it on television. For the rights to televise, the promoters of the fight received £28,000.
Then take the case of the world series of baseball games—seven games in all. The promoters were paid £350,000 for the television rights. You will soon spend £2,000,000 a year when that sort of rate of payment is the rule. At present you do not get the best artistes on television. If you have a good turn to put on the "Halls" it will last about two years, travelling about from one place to another. But if you put that turn on television you have only to put it on once and it is dead. And the fee is very small. It is obvious, therefore, that the best people will not give their best shows on television. The question of copyright is holding things up, and the more a settlement of this question is hastened the better. It is clear that without new money the public will continue to get very second-class programmes. For myself, I welcome the realistic and yet imaginative approach of the Government to this new, ever-changing art. The idea that, because we invented an admirable plan many years ago, it must remain for ever is an untenable theory. I will conclude with this suggestion—and I should like to see something done on these lines now. The noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, made this suggestion last week. At present there is nothing on television between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Let us try a sponsored programme on television during that period. Let us see whether we like it; let us see how it is put on; and let us see how much it offends us. I am sure that if we did that quickly we should learn a great deal.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ LORD BRAND
My Lords, I had intended to speak to your Lordships entirely on the question of sponsoring, but as Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor asked me to express an opinion on the question of National Councils, I will venture to do so very briefly. I have not the ability, and I have certainly not studied the 1377 problem sufficiently, to be able to suggest how responsibilities should be divided between the B.B.C. in London, on the one hand, and the National Councils in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, on the other. I hold the opinion, however, that it is a fundamental mistake to divide financial responsibility and executive responsibility. I believe that these two should always be joined. If the B.B.C. are to have financial responsibility, then I think they should have the final executive authority over programmes, staff and so on. But, of course, that does not exclude all sorts of arrangements between the B.B.C., on the one hand, and the National Councils, on the other, for seeing that local patriotism has its full share in the making of the programmes, and all kinds of arrangements between the two different authorities being put into force which will give the people of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland what they want. That, it seems to me, should not be a very difficult matter to arrange.
Before saying what I want to say on the subject of sponsoring, I should like to refer to some remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara. It is true that I am a member of the General Advisory Council of the B.B.C. It is true that I have listened to a number of discussions there on the questions now under discussion. It is not true that I am not expressing anything but my own opinions. I should not venture to suggest that Lord Brabazon, in taking the view which he does take, was being influenced in any way by any advertising friends of his, and I am sure he does not consider that I am influenced by any other consideration except what I believe to be right. Lord Brabazon made certain criticisms of the B.B.C. as a monopoly, and that is certainly a very important question for consideration. I agree however with the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, in the admirable speech which he made last week, that the B.B.C. is not a monopoly in the ordinary sense of that word. It is not a commercial monopoly. It does not sell its own wares, its own goods. It is a monopoly in one sense but—and in this I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft—it is not a monopoly of opinion. In fact, it has no opinion. Possibly, sometimes, one wishes it might be allowed to have an opinion of its own. because, if you have no opinions you are, perhaps, sometimes more timid than you 1378 might otherwise have been. But it is not a monopoly of opinion in any sense.
I fully agree that in this modern world monopolies of opinion are extremely dangerous. We have only to take note of what can be done in this age with human beings. We have seen that East Germans can be made into Nazis by Hitler; and in a few years they can be made Communists by Stalin. Undoubtedly there would be enormous dangers if there were any possibility of a dictator in this country getting hold of the B.B.C. and of the "Press. But the danger is the dictator. If once we allow a dictator to take charge, he can seize three broadcasting stations and a hundred newspapers as easily as he can seize one. Therefore, I do not believe there is any real argument against the continuation of the present monopoly of the B.B.C.
I have been surprised at the strong Back Bench opinion in another place on the necessity of immediately altering the whole foundation of our broadcasting. I assume that it is partly due to this feeling against monopoly. I suppose that it may be due also to a desire for something new, and to the fact that people are tired of the B.B.C. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, supported that opinion by saying that one of the strong arguments he felt in favour of the change was that he would be able to see what the effects of commercial advertising were.
§ LORD MANCROFT
My Lords, I agree that I said I wanted to see what the results of commercial advertising were, but merely to put an end to arguments so widely voiced by those who never have heard it. I do not think that I said I was tired of the B.B.C. What I said was that I should like to see some competitive broadcasting, because I believed that it would result in an even better B.B.C.
§ LORD BRAND
I accept what the noble Lord has said. He wants to carry out the White Paper, and I think more than the White Paper, because he wants to see what the result is like. My view is that he can easily see what commercial broadcasting is like. A twelve-hours' journey, a hundred dollars and a short visit to New York will show him what it is like. I do not think his argument is a serious one for altering the fundamental basis of our present system.
1379 I have already expressed my opinion, in the newspapers and in your Lordships' House, about advertising as a means of paying for our news and entertainment, either in broadcasting or on television, and I do not want to take up your Lordships' time for any but a brief period. Nevertheless, in view of the contents of the While Paper, I think I should say something, not because I am a member of the General Advisory Council of the B.B.C. but because I have listened to commercial broadcasting for nearly six years. The result of that experience is that I heartily dislike it, for many reasons, and I regard our system as incomparably better.
Before I come to the reasons, I should like to deal with one argument—that is, that advertising here will be quite different from advertising elsewhere; that we are "not as other men are"; that we shall be more gentlemanly and that advertising here would not be a bit like American advertising. I agree that it need not be entirely the same. It might not be so vigorous. It might not be so strident—and, possibly, less humorous. Probably we should not use all their methods, but essentially advertising is the same everywhere: every advertiser does everything that he thinks is best needed to sell his product. Some people have said that the views I have expressed have given an entirely wrong idea of American advertising. I can say only that I have had several letters from America, from men whom most of your Lordships would know by name, enthusiastically supporting the views I express, and none expressing the contrary. One letter that I received recently said:I read your letter in The Times on sponsored broadcasting with enthusiastic approval of the substance. You are absolutely right about the American experience.I can support the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, in his statement that he had not yet met an American who is in favour of his own broadcasting system.
One of my main reasons for disliking commercial advertising is a moral reason. It spreads throughout the community—as the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor said, in words much more eloquent than I can command—the idea that everything is for sale. As an Ameri- 1380 can friend of mine wrote to me: "Irrelevant pressures, irrelevant factors are introduced everywhere in the broadcasting system." You do not simply listen to a programme. You are aware of the advertiser through his programme selling his goods to you; he makes you very much aware of this. He always intervenes in the matter to which you are listening. He has to do it, because he is buying your custom.
It may be argued that this is fundamentally true of newspapers as well. Newspapers are kept going not simply because the papers are sold but also by advertising. This applies equally to serious newspapers; indeed, to newspapers that the general public might regard as impossibly serious, as well as to "light" newspapers. But there are two vital differences. Advertisers in newspapers have no influence on the contents of the paper. It is true that some advertisers may choose a newspaper with 8,000,000 readers or 4,000,000 readers and others may choose papers with 200,000 or 300,000 readers, but, so far as I know, in no case do they try to influence the editorial policy of the paper or the actual contents. The second difference is that the reader can ignore the advertisements. I dare say there are other noble Lords who are like myself. When I read The Times I do not know what advertisements are there, because I never look at them. But as an American friend of mine said to me only yesterday, "If you are to have sponsored advertisements, you could only compare it to an advertiser coming and taking your Times away from you as you were reading it and saying to you, 'You have to listen to me for three minutes before you can read the leader'." And only when you have heard what he has to say can you return to the leader again. All this makes the position of newspapers totally different from broadcasting over the air.
Like other speakers, I assume that Her Majesty's Government wish in the White Paper to make the minimum change necessary to meet the views of certain of their followers and, indeed, thought that they were making only a small change. A great deal of the Press thought so, too. Both The Times and the Economist had articles to say that they believed this was a comparatively small change which need not excite the apprehension of anybody. I disagree with that opinion. First of all, 1381 television is likely very largely to oust sound; therefore listeners will diminish and viewers will increase. This is regret-able on general grounds, for the reason that viewing requires no mental effort whatsoever. Even the Light Programme, I suppose, requires some mental effort, but viewing requires none. Secondly, advertisers will design their television programmes for the largest number of viewers; that is to say, for the most popular type of programmes. Thirdly, the B.B.C. must then follow the example of the advertisers or lose ground. Thus the result will be that the whole level of television will deteriorate.
Television is certainly a marvellous instrument, but in the best circumstances, in my opinion, it is not likely to prove highly educational. I do not know how many of your Lordships would send your children to a school to be educated by-television alone. Their imagination might be fostered, but I think their powers of concentration would be nil. No one can deny what are the consequences of giving the public exactly what they want, or what the advertisers think they want. I always wish to speak respectfully of the Press, but, nevertheless, you can see what results from newspapers setting out to give the greatest number of the public exactly what they think that greatest number want. We all know that the consequences do not lead to a very high standard. We see the same tendency already in the present figures of broadcasting and television. I understand that in the Midlands, out of every 100 listeners or viewers, 19 listen to the Home Service, 46 to the Light Programme and 35 to television. Therefore, 81 per cent. listen to the television or the Light Programme. I happen to live in the Midlands, and personally I listen as often as I can to the Third Programme. Apparently I am too small a proportion of 1 per cent, to be counted. If the diagnosis I have given is at all correct, I believe your Lordships will see what is the real question underlying this debate: Must we give the people exactly what they want, or what they are supposed to want? One of the advantages of your Lordships' House is that we do not always have to flatter the public; we can say what we think about their possible weaknesses without believing that it matters to us greatly. Are the public always to be flattered and followed, as they certainly will be, if we give way to 1382 advertising? Or shall the community try to use this great instrument, not only for entertainment, but also for enlightenment? If so, we shall reject on principle any commercial advertising.
I believe that this is a matter of very great importance in the world as it is. We have recently started experimenting with universal suffrage. At the same time, the questions which we are putting to the electorate become more numerous and more difficult, as Governments take over more and more functions. I fully support the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, the other day (I did not have the chance of hearing it) as to the importance of somehow educating our people to understand the meaning of the vital problems which come before them. Our popular newspapers at the moment do not help greatly in this respect. That is the double effect of a struggle for circulation and a shortage of newsprint. One hopes that if there is more newsprint they will be able to devote more space to trying to tell the public something worth while. At present the American public learn much more than the British public about foreign affairs and large questions of home policy. Your Lordships may say that the public can never be properly educated about these difficult problems. If that is so, then I think our outlook is poor. But we must certainly do what we can. Broadcasting and television are, in my opinion, the best instruments of all for reaching the great mass of the people, and it would be a great pity to blunt that instrument. That is what I think the White Paper plan will do, and that is why I personally am strongly opposed to it. I sincerely hope that the Government will reconsider their decision.
§ 3.37 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT WAVERLEY
My Lords, I do not propose to take up your Lordships' time for more than a few minutes, but I am, as it happens and have been for some years, a member of the General Advisory Council of the B.B.C, and I contributed a brief letter to the recent correspondence in The Times on the subject of sponsored broadcasting. It seemed to me, therefore, that I ought not to let this opportunity pass without briefly stating my views, for what they may be worth. There are only three or four points with which I wish to deal. I should like to turn, first, to the decision 1383 of Her Majesty's Government, embodied in the White Paper, to open the door to sponsored broadcasting in the case of television—and I use the words "open the door" advisedly. I said in the letter to The Times, to which I have referred, that I saw in televisionan instrument of immense power, the social and economic implications of which are as yet but dimly appreciated.I therefore take the view that it should be kept in the hands of people whose sole purpose is to serve the public interest.
Reference was made in the course of the debate last Thursday to Gresham's Law. I do not think that the case which those who share my view wish to put forward is in any way helped by such a reference. Gresham's Law is a law of limited scope, concerned with the phenomenon that a metallic currency of high intrinsic value tends to be shut out by an inferior currency, for the simple reason that when people get the high-value currency into their hands they tend to hoard it, and when they get the inferior currency in their hands they tend to put it back into circulation as quickly as possible. But that has nothing whatever to do with the subject under discussion in this debate. I prefer to face the issue squarely and, I think, quite simply, in this way. I say that advertisers, if they are, indeed, honest in the pursuit of their avowed aims—and I see no reason why they should not be—will seek to provide what, in their view, is the sort of programme most likely to appeal to the smoker, the beer drinker or whatever the case may be; and—this is the point I want to stress—such a programme will then be presented to the community as a whole, to the rich and the poor, to the ignorant and well-informed, to the young and the old alike. That is a state of affairs which is likely to prove very undesirable, if not indeed intolerable. Therefore I urge with all the emphasis I can that television should be kept under the control of those who are single-minded in their efforts to promote the public interest.
My Lords, I am not unduly cast down by what I find in the White Paper, because it seems to me that a great deal of experience that we now lack will inevitably be gained in this country and elsewhere in the course of the next year or two, and I feel convinced that that 1384 experience will go to show that the views I hold, in common with so many of your Lordships, are sound. I think, therefore, speaking for myself, that there is nothing lost by the decision of the Government to keep the door open; indeed, I would go so far as to say that I do not see how the Government, planning for ten years ahead and conscious of the strength of the feeling in favour of sponsored broadcasting, honestly held in so many quarters, could have done other than keep the door open. These, very briefly, are my views, on the question of sponsored television.
I should like to say one word about the devolution of responsibility within the B.B.C. I can well understand the reluctance of the noble Lord. Lord Reith, to whose speech on Thursday I listened with great interest, to see the authority of the British Broadcasting Corporation undermined by any rash experiment in deference to local opinion. On the other hand (and here I can speak as a Scotsman) I feel very strongly indeed that it would be indefensible to disregard the strength of local sentiment in Scotland as well as in Wales (and in a much more attenuated form I believe in Northern Ireland) in this matter. I agree with my noble friend Lord Brand in thinking that there should be no very formidable difficulty in the way of those who would seek to reconcile local sentiment with the requirements of efficient control at the centre. Executive responsibility and some considerable degree of deference to local sentiment can, in my view, quite easily be reconciled in practice; and the good sense of the people in this country is such that there is every reason to think that, with good will, which I am perfectly sure will be available on both sides, locally and at the centre, the practical difficulties can be resolved in the light of experience.
May I say a word about a quite separate matter, the proposal in the White Paper regarding the method of appointment of members of the British Broadcasting Corporation? I am sorry to be critical, but I view with regret the proposal contained on that matter in the White Paper. It seems to me to be a most unfortunate declaration of lack of faith in the capacity of the Government of the day to do something which is not more important, which involves certainly no graver issues, than many of the things 1385 that under our constitutional system must rest always with the Government of the day. The noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, spoke of the appointment of judges of the High Court and expressed his complete confidence in the manner in which such power of appointment had been, and, I think he said, always would be, exercised by the Lord Chancellor. We must all recognise that the Lord Chancellor occupies a very important position in our Constitution. But take other Ministers—take the Prime Minister himself. Who appoints the judges of the highest rank in this country? The Lords of Appeal in Ordinary and the Lords Justices, are appointed, I believe, by the Crown on the advice of the Prime Minister. No doubt there is consultation (that is how these things are done) but they are appointed on the advice of the Prime Minister. I believe Lords of Session and Senators of the College of Justice in Scotland are appointed or the advice of the Secretary of State for Scotland. I know that when the Government of Northern Ireland was established the appointment of judges of the Supreme Court in Northern Ireland was a matter for the Home Secretary, and for all I know it still is. Those are only examples of the sort of responsibility that is exercised, with the approval of Parliament and the people as a whole, by members of the Government of the day. Is it not perhaps a little absurd that in this one particular matter, not of the highest moment, the power of appointment should appear—I say "appear"—to be formally withdrawn from His Majesty's Government? I have had some experience of administrative arrangements and of constitutional practice, and I felt bound to say what I think and feel on this matter.
One further word, again on a quite different aspect. I have noticed that people have been inclined to argue outside and in the course of this debate as if, in order to get a satisfactory broadcasting service, at any rate in the matter of television, we should have to rely on extraneous sources of income such as might be made available if sponsored broadcasting were allowed. Having had charge of the nation's finances for two years, I feel justified in saving, positively and emphatically, that I find no substance whatever in any argument of that sort. 1386 If more money is required it can certainly be found in one way or another, without introducing what many of us would think would be a most undesirable innovation. Those my Lords, briefly, are my views on this matter.
§ 3.47 p.m.
My Lords, I promised to speak for only five minutes and I would not have been led to do so if I had not gathered from some of the Press at the week-end that they had gained the impression that your Lordships' House was against the breaking of the B.B.C. monopoly. From what I am able to gather from noble Lords on these Back Benches there is a substantial majority in favour of breaking the monopoly. The majority among the younger Peers is of course considerable, but I do not believe that, even among those of a riper age, the balances are more than even, at the worst, from our point of view. The reason why I am in favour of some breaking of the monopoly is, first, that to my mind a monopoly is entirely wrong. It would never be tolerated in this country by authors, for instance, if there were only one publisher in the country, and that a semi-State concern. Further, it must be a matter of the most considerable hardship to artistes of all sorts who know that their livelihood depends on their subservience to, and good relations with, the B.B.C. Once the B.B.C. monopoly is broken, they will at all events have another master to whom they can turn.
The other reason is that I believe the public will get a service additional to what they get at the present moment. The noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, suggested—and it is the first time I have heard it—that extra services could be and should be provided from public funds. It is a difficult point to argue at short notice, but I have never been aware that there was such a plenitude of public funds as to be available for matters of this sort in sufficient freedom. Many noble Lords seem to think that the additional service is bound to be a worse one than the existing service. I am inclined to think that it is more likely to be a great deal better. What is it that the critics fear? Is it that they fear the British public share their distaste for advertisements? But 6,000,000 of the British public are already listening to Radio Luxembourg, so they cannot share 1387 that distaste to a great extent. Do they fear that there will be any impropriety put on the air? I can assure your Lordships that the veriest hint of impropriety would deal the most damaging blow, firstly at the sponsor of the particular programme and, secondly, at the station which was putting it over. The conscience of the British public is such that they will never stand for any form of sponsored broadcast which is not in good taste.
Do these critics think that it would drive out the B.B.C.? Following long correspondence in The Times some weeks ago, from writers of great weight and learning, I gained the impression that some of them thought the B.B.C. were likely to be in such direct competition with the sponsored station that the B.B.C. would be forced out of business. That is nonsense. How can you force out of business the holder of the only secure revenue? The B.B.C. will always be there, and anybody who prefers it will turn it on. Only those who wish to will listen to the sponsored programmes. Believe me, the sponsors are very well aware of that, and they know that unless they put on an extremely good programme they will not get anybody to listen to it; and the stations know that if they do not put on a good programme they will not get another sponsor to come along. I am convinced that through sponsorship we are likely to get additional programmes of very great merit, particularly in the field of music and variety. The noble Viscount. Lord Samuel, does not like beer with his Beethoven conducted by Toscanini, but are the British public likely to have any opportunity of hearing Beethoven-cum-Toscanini without any beer? So far as I can see, none at all. I think they would prefer beer with their Beethoven, rather than no Beethoven at all.
Of course everything cannot be of the highest possible standard, but there is a good deal of what one might, with some propriety, call drivel which goes out on the air at the moment. At least I am perfectly certain that what is given will be drivel in good taste—if indeed it be drivel. I am sorry that the White Paper does not go a little further. I should have liked to see some sponsorship on sound as well, for the precise reasons that I have given. I should like to see sponsorship on religious programmes, but I 1388 know that there I am entering a very controversial field. Finally, I think if one were to ask the British people: "Would you prefer what you have, or would you like to have what you have plus something else for which you are not going to pay at all?" they would say every time: "We will have something for nothing."
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ LORD KENSWOOD
My Lords, it would take me far too long were I to reply point by point to the statements made by the noble Lord who has just sat down and the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley. I should like to touch on just one or two items. The noble Lord, Lord Hawke, has advocated sponsored programmes because he does not know where the extra finance would come from, which the noble Lord, Lord Brand, thought might come out of public funds. The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, seemed to think that the licence fee of £2 a year was far too little for television. Well, there is the answer which the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, should accept from a fellow noble Lord who feels like himself.
To come to more serious matters, it has been said that we want more competition; that the door should be opened to competition, and that monopoly is evil in itself. But have we got monopoly in the B.B.C.? It is estimated in the White Paper under consideration that the Regional Controllers of the B.B.C. already have all but autonomy in programme choice. We have there, together with the Light Programme, a number of ways in which an author who cannot get on to the basic Home Service can find a way in which his works may be broadcast. There is no monopoly in the B.B.C. There is competition and competition of the best kind—namely, emulation. Anybody who studies the programmes as advertised in the Radio Times must be struck by the fact that, say, the West Region has a programme which is apparently right to broadcast and which the other broadcasting centres accept as being suitable and desirable. Is that monopoly? Every Region can do what it likes and I maintain, therefore, that there is virtually no monopoly in the B.B.C.
Now with regard to competition, here there are some very bad misconceptions. 1389 Some noble Lords have advocated sponsored programmes in the name of competition. But what will be the results? I understand that it costs £2,000 or £3,000 for one hour on television. What firms can afford to pay between £2,000 and £3,000 for an hour's broadcast? And, be it noted, it is not one hour that the advertiser will need. He will need to advertise daily, or at least weekly. It is only the very rich firms who can afford this expense. What becomes then of competition or monopoly? Inevitably, the small firms, the weak firms, will be driven out of production. What will happen is that the wealthier firms will be bound to combine into cartels, and then what becomes of your competition? Competition defeats itself, and you then get a monopoly which will have a stranglehold on the consumer. It is said that the consumers will get the advantage of having programmes free. Will they? Does not the advertiser have to recoup himself for this very heavy cost of advertising? Will that not go either on the price or the reduction of the quantity sold per unit?
I want to make this point. It is not fair, and it is unwise, to upset the machinery, already put in motion, which regulates the working of the B.B.C. We must remember that during the war the functions of the B.B.C. were quite different from what they are to-day; virtually a revolution has taken place in broadcasting. Before the war, if your Lordships remember, there was to be no religious or political controversy. Other changes have taken place since the war—rightly, I think—owing to popular demand, and experiments had to be made. A new system of broadcasting had to be set up. This system has been going on for some five years—that is to say, since the end of 1946. New experience has been gained all this time, and I think that the working of the B.B.C. during these few years has been excellent. The White Paper admits it. Why, then, make a change now? Why not allow the Government, in conjunction with the extraordinarily efficient executive staff, to go on developing? This development is only in its infancy: there is a great deal of ground still to be covered.
One element has been forgotten, and that is the Governors. I feel self-conscious and awkward in speaking of the Governor, because I was one of the 1390 first to be appointed, just after the war; and if I say anything in favour of them I hope no one will think that I am complacent, or wish to seem to be congratulating myself. But who are the Governors? What sort of creatures do those who have compiled this White Paper think the Governors are? What sort of people do they think they wish to appoint in the future? I would remind your Lordships that the Governors have been and are some of the most eminent men and women in this country. They were chosen because of their wide experience, their good judgment and their integrity. This White Paper throws a doubt upon all those virtues. For no adequate reason at all the White Paper suggests that the Governors have been badly chosen. I hope the noble and learned Lord who is to wind up this debate on behalf of the Government will find it possible at least to make some sort of apology to the Governors. I think they have had a very raw deal in this White Paper.
I take it as axiomatic that we on this side of the House can do things better than noble Lords who grace the front Bench on the other side. It looks as if the framers of this White Paper have not the confidence in the members of their Government that we had in the members of our Government. They have taken the choice of the Governors out of the hands of the Postmaster General. He no longer has the choice of appointing the men and women who will be responsible for running the B.B.C. Why have they run away from this Governmental responsibility and what have they substituted for it? Are they afraid of it? They have put up a board composed of the very busiest politicians of the country and the two busiest jurists. Without any disparagement of these illustrous people, I must say that they have not the time to devote to the finding of the men and women who should be responsible for the B.B.C. How are they to find candidates for Governorships? Are they going to put vacancies Out to advertisement? I cannot see any way in which they will have a list of names of those from whom they can choose.
Moreover, they are to choose the Governors so that there shall be impartiality in political broadcasts. How is that to be done? Are they going to choose, or is the Prime Minister going to choose, 1391 a well-known politician? And is the leader of the Opposition then to say "I must get somebody who is equal to him"—irrespective of the person's other capabilities? Or are they going to say "We are not going to have anybody who holds any political views: we will have nonentities"? There is in the White Paper a reference to political broadcasts. But is politics all that the B.B.C. stand for? Are there not even more important issues? Is there not the spiritual, the ethical, the moral side? And should not, therefore, some of our eminent divines be on this Board? Is not art also very important? Surely the artistic attitude comes into every aspect of broadcasting, even in the presentation of news. Ought we not at least to have the Chairman of the Arts Council on that Board? And so I could go on, until we arrived at quite ridiculous ends. Now, my Lords, I advocate continuing what has been done over the past few years and seeing how that pans out in a few years' time. After all, these Governors are not nonentities: they are eminent men and women of experience. Leave it to them to find a way of implementing the wishes of those who are responsible for broadcasting, the wishes of the country. See how they can work it out. Things have worked extremely well up to the present.
I should like now to say one word about the Governors since 1947. Why do the framers of this White Paper want a change? Is it not a stricture on the good sense, the impartiality, and the integrity of the Governors? Although I ought not to say anything that transpires during the sittings of a Board, I can say that, during the whole time I was a Governor of the B.B.C., not once did any single member discuss anything from a Party political point of view. The Governors were fully conscious of their duties in regard to impartiality, and they used their integrity and their experience to see that every political point of view was represented, so that the people might form their own judgment. As I have said, I think that the Governors ought to have some sort of explanation. They, unfortunately, are tongue-tied. They are not allowed to speak in this House or in another place, and therefore their point of view cannot be expressed except by me as an ex-Governor.
1392 Now, with regard to this vexed question of sponsored broadcasting, I have already touched briefly on the suicidal effect of the desire for competition, how it will inevitably lead to monopoly. Let me mention something which, to my mind, is far worse, and that is the mesmeric effect of continually hearing day after day these sponsored broadcasts. I have had seven years' experience of it, both on the Continent of Europe and in Canada and the United States, and I have noticed among people there how it has an insidious and disastrous effect on the mentality of people, how they think that unless they take certain patent medicines something dire is going to happen to them. I think that in no circumstances should the people of this country be subjected to that tyranny.
A further point is as regards the effect of sponsored programmes on the life and the health of Britain. The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, spoke of competition. True competition in broadcasting would exist only if the sponsored television were to be done simultaneously with broadcasts by the B.B.C. Then the licence holders would be able to turn on either one programme or the other. But what the noble Lord suggested is something quite different. He wants sponsored programmes to take place between six o'clock and eight o'clock—that is to say, at a time when the B.B.C. is not broadcasting. What he wants is not competition, but an extension of the television service. If that is what he wants, why is he not logical? Why does he not say: "We want more television and that is going to cost more money. As £2 per licence holder is too cheap, we will put it up to £3 or £4." That would be the logical consequence of his argument. But that is not what he says.
Probably all your Lordships, and certainly those who are responsible for this White Paper, have read the last quarterly publications of the B.B.C., where there is an article on viewer research. Have the advocates of sponsored programmes studied the results of that investigation? Have they really gone into it thoroughly? It does not look as though they have. Here we have children who should be out playing, or doing homework, or indulging in some active work, not being passive all the time listening for an average of two hours a day. That is the average—in other words, there are some children who 1393 view television for much longer periods. What effect is that going to have? I am fully aware that ophthalmologists declare that excessive viewing will not have a deleterious effect on sight, a problem which your Lordships can well imagine goes very much to my heart. Nevertheless, I know that many viewers complain of headaches and eyestrain. Is that not going to reduce the efficiency and the vigour of the viewer? It is my opinion that television already absorbs as many hours of the day as is good for us. In fact, I should like to reduce the hours. But to increase them I think is a crime against the health of the people of this country.
One point that I overlooked concerns the appointments and numbers of Governors of the B.B.C. It is suggested that we should have nine Governors and that three should be from the national parts of Britain. I would say here and now that I am violently opposed to that suggestion, for various reasons. One is that I think that there should not be more than seven Governors—five would probably be the right number. The larger the number of Governors, the more individual responsibility is reduced. I know that the framers of this White Paper take a poor view of Governors. I have mentioned that already and it is emphasised by the financial recognition given to their services. It is perfectly ridiculous to offer them the salaries suggested in the White Paper. I know that the previous Administration had the same feeling, but remember what I said at first—that we were in an experimental and transitional stage after the war. We were feeling our way. It is time now that that absurdity was rectified. It is not as though the B.B.C. were a poverty-stricken body.
The number of Governors should, I think, remain at seven. I do not think they should be reappointed, for the simple reason that, if they are not reappointed, we shall be assured of a continual flow of new blood and of new ideas into the Corporation. There should not be these national Governors, because they are superfluous. Have the B.B.C. ever shown any symptoms of treading under foot the national aspirations of Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland? Quite the contrary. It is almost an insult to suggest that the Governors of the B.B.C. have not sought out, and diligently sought out, every possible means of expanding and 1394 developing the characteristics of every part of the country. When I say "every part of the country," I wish to emphasise that Northern England feels just as nationalistically as does Scotland, and so does the Cornishman who thinks that everybody born east of Truro is a foreigner.
The question of finance has been mentioned. It seems rather odd and needs explanation that, according to the White Paper, the Corporation are to receive 85 per cent. of net licence revenue for the next three years, but elsewhere it says that the Corporation can at any time appeal to the Postmaster General to have this amount reviewed. The time for the B.B.C. to ask for a review of that 85 per cent. is now. They are spending up to the hilt already. Why are they spending up to the hilt? For various financial reasons, the first of which is that until recently the Treasury have taken several million pounds from the B.B.C. on account of what is considered to be "surplus revenue." But there is no such thing as "surplus revenue" at the B.B.C. This money is subscribed by the licence holders for a certain purpose. The B.B.C. had thought to be able to put aside that money for future capital expenditure. The White Paper suggests that the B.E.C. should be allowed to borrow up to £10,000,000, but the framers of the White Paper seem to be oblivious of the fact that the present schemes of essential capital development over the next ten years amount to £30,000,000. Then how do the Government envisage that this money should be repaid? No mention is made about that in the White Paper. Further, Her Majesty's Government receive from the B.B.C. the facility of the use of the existing Overseas Services, free of charge. My Lords, I put it to you, that it is neither gracious nor magnanimous to deprive the B.B.C. of another 15 per cent. of their net licence revenue.
I should like to make two suggestions: first, that the B.B.C. shall be allowed to keep that 15 per cent. and to lend it to the Government, if they so wish, at a very low rate of interest, so that when the time comes for expansion they will have some capital which they can use for that purpose, and will not be in danger of invoking the criticism that "Here is another nationalised industry which has shown that it cannot pay its way." Secondly, with regard to sponsored programmes, 1395 will Her Majesty's Government, if they persist in this evil deed, consider spending these ill-gotten gains on remedying, at least to some extent, the evil effects of that sponsoring and expansion of programmes—namely, devote the money to playgrounds and playing-fields, so that children and young persons may at least have the chance to do something to combat the effects upon their health of excessive viewing.
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
My Lords, before I take up one or two points made by the last speaker I should like first to say that I think everybody in this country is very much indebted to the B.B.C., to its successive Boards of Governors, to its successive Directors-General and to all its loyal staff. As the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, is probably well aware, I had my name down on Thursday on the list of speakers to which he referred. He may not, however, be aware that I have had the honour to be on the General Advisory Council of the B.B.C. for a number of years. I was not at what Lord Brabazon humorously referred to as the "pep talk." Of course, he was not being serious when he said he thought that any noble Lord who had been there was speaking as he did solely because of that fact. But at any rate, on the question of sponsored programmes I take a somewhat different line from my colleagues on that Advisory Council.
Before I come to that subject, may I just take up a point arising from the speech of the noble Lord who has just sat down? In reading the White Paper, I did not think that the proposal to change the method of appointment of Governors cast any reflection whatsoever on anybody who had been appointed a Governor or who is a Governor at the present time. I am certain that that was not intended, and few people would think that it was. I am going to pass over this matter in a sentence. I do not see much point in the proposed Committee of Appointment. It will appoint similar people to those who have been appointed in previous years by Postmasters General, after consultation with Prime Ministers; and if it is thought that at some time it will exercise a check on a Communist Prime Minister saying to a Communist Postmaster General, "You are to appoint a Communist Governor on 1396 the B.B.C."—well, I doubt whether in those days the Leader of the Opposition will be a very effective person. I should fancy that the Speaker, too, will be a Communist. As for the Lord Chief Justice and the Lord President of the Court of Session, or whatever they will be called in those days (I do not expect them to be called Lords), I rather suspect that they, too, will be Communists. So although this Committee will not do any harm, I do not think it will do very much good.
The second point to which I should like to refer is that which was raised, I think for the first time, by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, and referred to afterwards by other speakers—namely, about the televising of the Test Matches, the Derby, the Grand National, the Boat Race and so on. Oddly enough, he omitted the Cup Final. I believe the question is more than one merely of copyright. I do not believe that the televising of the Cup Final would be in any way likely to affect the attendance at Wembley. In fact, many people who saw it on television in one year would want to go and see it actually on the field the next year. But the effect would be that all the lesser matches played on that day would have their attendances very much reduced because, sooner than go out to see the lesser teams play, people would stay at home and look in at the Cup Final on the television. That is the problem. In some way or other, if cricket and football are to be kept alive, we shall have to compensate the people concerned for taking away those who might otherwise have been their audience.
I welcome one fact that has not been mentioned very much—namely, that under the proposal in this White Paper the new Charter is to operate for ten years. I know that at one time fifteen years was thought to be the proper period. I think five years is much too short, and that ten years is just about the right length of time. I am glad to be able to agree with the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, in saying that there is no Party conflict on the general basis upon which the B.B.C. should continue. There are differences within the Parties—perhaps there are no differences in the Labour Party on this particular matter; I would not know—as to whether or not we should have sponsored programmes. Rather would 1397 I have a difference within a political Party as to whether or not there should be sponsored programmes, and have the Party united on foreign affairs, than have it divided on foreign affairs and united against sponsored programmes. I say that merely in passing.
The wonderful thing about the debate here on Thursday was that, by and large (I hope I am not going to insult anyone now), the older members showed themselves more wedded to their present ways and less open to contemplate change, and the later speakers, the younger members, were more adventurous and, perhaps, not so inclined to seek to tell others what they should do or what they should have to look at. Well, I take my stand with the Government and the younger members, the more adventurous spirits. I do not feel very passionately about this matter, I also have had experience of living for a year in an area where sponsored programmes were given. I must say I did not like them very much. But it does not follow that we shall do things in this country exactly in the same way as they are done elsewhere in the world. One point I think we had better get our minds clear upon is that the only alternative to something financed either by the State directly or out of licence revenue is the sponsored programme. People may talk about the universities putting on these programmes, and they may talk about the lager municipalities doing it. Universities have not the money to do it, and they never will have, while the larger municipalities, in my view, should not spend their ratepayers' money in this way. So let us get it clear in our minds that it is a case of either a sponsored programme or a programme run on the same sort of lines as those followed by the B.B.C.
What I think led some noble Lords astray on Thursday was that idea of which I thought I detected a little in the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel. He is, as a rule, such a very accurate speaker, but he spoke once or twice as though the introduction of sponsored television programmes would mean the end of the B.B.C. television programmes. There were one or two sentences which gave me that impression. I note that the noble Viscount indicates that he disagrees with me, so I am glad I read those sentences in the wrong way. 1398 But at any rate Lord Hailsham, whom I am sorry not to see in his place to-day because I wanted to say something about his speech on Thursday and his letter in The Times this morning, has stated that this "growing weapon" will be taken out of the B.B.C.'s hands. I should be one of the first to object most strongly if we were handing over the whole of television to sponsored programmes. But that is not what we are suggesting.
The position is, as I understand it—I take these figures, and I am certain they are accurate, from the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel—that the B.B.C. has £4,500,000 in reserve; revenue from television licences amounts to £2,000,000 a year and (this I take from the noble Earl, the Postmaster General) the total licence revenue is £11,500,000 a year. There are to be set up, I understand, a total of six television stations before any sponsored programme will be introduced. I gather from the noble Earl, the Postmaster General that I am wrong. Perhaps he will tell me what is actually the position.
§ THE POSTMASTER GENERAL (EARL DE LA WARR)
The actual position is that there are five high-power stations—I am counting one to be opened in Wales very shortly—and there are another five low-power stations which have been approved.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
That strengthens my argument. There will be five high-power stations and five low-power stations before anyone wishing to have sponsored programmes can enter the field. So, in fact, the B.B.C. are well away; they have an extremely good start.
My colleagues on the General Advisory Council will remember that at the very outset of my joining that body (I have now had the honour to serve on it for. I think, five years) I asked what was happening about television. The noble Lord may recollect that we had. a discussion about the matter, because I was not satisfied that it was going ahead quite fast enough. And, frankly, I am not satisfied to-day that the B.B.C., however good it has been about all its other programmes, is pushing ahead with television as well as it should be doing. The noble Lord who spoke just before me, if I may say so, rather "let the cat out of the bag." He was one of the Governors at this time and he 1399 said to us, in effect: "I am not sure that we have not got as much television as is good for us—two hours a day." He may be quite right, but if that was the attitude of one of the Governors of the B.B.C. no wonder that this side of the service—if I am right—has rather lagged behind the others.
§ LORD KENSWOOD
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but I think he has misunderstood me. I am afraid that perhaps my speech was a little muddled. I pointed out that there were sociological implications contained in the last Quarterly Review of the B.B.C. relating to television which should be studied. Before the Government, or anyone, demands more television, I suggest that they should make up their minds whether more television will not have a deleterious effect. Remember, my Lords, that a period of sunshine is beneficial, but that you can have too much sunshine.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
I appreciated that. What I am getting down to is the difference between us—whether the B.B.C. or the parents should decide the maximum amount of time that a child should spend looking at television. Ought the B.B.C. to be allowed to say "If we come to the conclusion that a child ought not to look at television for more than one hour a day we will not have a programme of more than one hour a day"? After all, it is the responsibility of parents to bring up the child and to look after its health; it is not the responsibility of the B.B.C. That is where I part company completely with the noble Lord. I still believe in parents having something to do with the bringing up of their children. In my view, it should be for them to say how long the children can go on looking at television and when they must not do so.
To go back to what I was saying, I think that, having got this good start, the B.B.C. need not be afraid of competition. I hope that it will act as a spur. If it does, and if the B.B.C. produce unbeatable programmes on television, nobody else will apply for a licence to come into this field. It is easy enough to run a Radio Luxembourg. Get one or two people with extremely nice voices as announcers, buy a good collection of the best gramophone records, hire a boy to 1400 put them on, and you can give concert programmes of the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra and the Band of the Grenadier Guards for a cheap advertising fee. But on television, if you want to give a concert, you must have the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra and the Grenadier Guards there to be televised; and that costs a substantial sum. In this field I feel that there are considerable advantages for the people in having some competition with the B.B.C. I am certain that it would be of advantage to the artistes. At present, when they go to the B.B.C., they are offered a fee which they can either take or leave. There is nowhere else they can go; they have no alternative employer. This would also be good for the sporting clubs. Here again, the B.B.C. offer a certain payment for televising the Derby or the Grand National, and the proprietors have to accept it. If those showing sponsored programmes were able to offer better fees, it would help some of our cricket clubs.
Why should it be imagined that sponsored programmes will necessarily be worse? In most cinemas during the interval advertisements are flashed on the screen. Do they make the films any worse? They do not—and that is exactly what will happen on sponsored television programmes. Advertising has reached a stage in this country where it is realised that only good advertising pays. I am not much impressed by the argument that if some of the programmes sent out should be bad, people would always choose the bad, and that would tend to bring down the good to the bad. Every year, two-thirds of our county rates are spent on the education of our children, and this year we are spending £259,000,000—£8,000,000 more than the previous year. There are many noble Lords fully in favour of this educational programme who, by their speeches on this Motion have shown how little faith they have in its results. I do not think that the people will always choose the bad. The noble Lord, Lord Brand, said that the whole level will deteriorate because viewers will like the sponsored programmes. Is it not sometimes necessary to entertain the people, and is it not part of the job of the B.B.C. to entertain? It is odd that, while we trust people to choose what Government they want, many noble Lords have no confidence in allowing them to choose what programmes 1401 they want to see. There has been more nonsense tall, ed upon this matter in this House in the last two days than I have heard for a long time. I join myself with the younger and more adventurous Peers who are supporting the Government on this matter. I do not think it is the function either of the Government or of the B.B.C. to dictate unduly to the people.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ LORD RADCLIFFE
My Lords, among much that I welcome in the Government's White Paper, I want to confine what I say to-clay to your Lordships to two points of criticism. One relates to the proposed National Councils, because I have been invited to say something about their proposed formation and constitution, as a year ago I ventured to criticise proposals of the late Government on the same subject. The other, which to my mind outstrips all other matters in importance to-day, is the proposal that in due course we should have sponsored television programmes in this country.
First, with regard to these National Councils, I appreciate entirely the feeling which exists both in Scotland and in Wales (I doubt whether it exists in Northern Ireland), that, from the point of view of their national culture and aspirations, it is not satisfactory that the Regional Controller, if he is to have under his purview all programmes directed especially to these countries, should be merely an official of the B.B.C. and nothing more; that he should work with nothing but a Regional Council, representing the country, which has been selected and appointed by the B.B.C., and by nobody else. In so far as the proposals are directed to correcting that state of affairs, which, I think, is a failure of organisation, I am with them. But where they make a mistake, where I think they produce something which is quite unworkable in this field, is in the suggestion that they should give to these new Councils, in a large and important field, executive powers which they would be quite incapable of discharging. For it is said that they are to be controllers of policy and the contents of the Regional Programmes. That cannot be.
Let us consider for a moment what the position is. As your Lordships know, the Light Programme and the Third Programme are single programmes, the same for the whole country. There is no one 1402 Home Service programme: it alters in its constitution according to the area to which it is specially directed. It is the Regional Controller, the B.B.C. official, who decides how much central material, or material originating outside his Region, his Regional programme is to contain. Ever since 1945 he has had absolute control of that decision; he has been the local dictator for that purpose. On the figures found by the Beveridge Committee, about one-quarter or one-third—the proportion varies with different Regions—of the total of the Regional programme has originated within the Region. That man, who is a highly paid expert, is the man who sits in the Regional Office and plans the content of his programmes from day to day. He decides what shall be taken, what shall be created, or how much he shall have of each. And he is able, by being there on the spot, a working official with an eye day to day on the output, to control the policy and content of what goes out.
What is the proposed change? That man, we are told, is still to be appointed by the B.B.C.—he is to be their official. On the other hand, he is now to have responsibility to a new Council, who have not appointed him, who will be the controller of policy and contents. They are to appoint any members of the staff who are wholly employed in the Region. So that the Regional Controller will have under him people who he has not selected or appointed. His finance, which, after all, in the end controls the programme to a very large extent, is to be controlled, not by the National Council but by the B.B.C. With great respect, that is a set-up which cannot work. It is a divorce of responsibility for the content and policy of the programme from financial control. It means divided authority.
Who are these people who are to form the National Council? They are to be amateurs; they are to be unpaid. They are to be drawn from all over these large areas, three from local authorities, and five, by a complicated process, after consultation with religious, cultural and other bodies. How can those persons, pursuing their ordinary avocations since they are to be unpaid, hope to make themselves responsible for the policy and content of a programme that is to go out, as these programmes do, from day to day, hour after hour? They could not know 1403 how the matter was being conducted, unless they gave up a large slice of their unpaid time to it; and if they knew, they could not control the results in any real sense.
May I make this suggestion? It is right that this national feeling should have a body to represent it which does not owe its origin to the B.B.C. Let the body therefore be appointed—it should be appointed—not by them, but by some process that will give it independent national status with regard to its country, Wales or Scotland. Let it feel (I hope that it will be remunerative, but that is a side issue) that it can call for as much information, both before and after the event, as to what its Regional programme contains, and why, as it desires, in order to feel that it knows what goes on. Let it be in the best and fullest sense a high-level council, advisory to the Regional Controller; and let it, if it desires, have the right to make an annual report to Parliament as to the conduct of its Service. But let it be—because it is the only thing in reality, apart from paper, that it can be—an advisory committee. Do not impose upon it, as a result of a sentence of a White Paper, which can never be realised in practice, executive responsibility for policy and contents of a programme.
Let me now pass to this other question which largely occupies your Lordship's time to-day. Let me say, as many others have said in speaking to your Lordships, with what deep dismay I regard this proposal, and how grave I believe is the decision to allow sponsored television programmes in this country—I care not whether it is this year, next year, or five years hence. It is easy not to treat the matter gravely today, so long as it is still in the future. It is easy to be confident and cheerful about it, and to say: "Well, after all, it is only entertainment that you are talking about. Why make such a fuss about the effect of entertainment upon people in this country? Cannot you trust to the good sense and judgment of the British people to select what is good and to reject what is bad?" One can always say that, because, after all, we are all only speculating about the future, and the future of something which has never yet been realised in this country. But I am not one of those who believe that that cheerful answer really copes 1404 with the decision with which we are faced.
One may be ranked—and if so, I will rank myself cheerfully—with the prigs and alarmists. One may be ranked with the old as against, we are told, the adventurous young—who it seems to me are taking adventures at other people's expense, rather than at their own. Or it may be that one is told one is a mere product of the General Advisory Council of the B.B.C., enthused with nothing greater than "pep talks" from the Director-General. But I think this proposal is too grave for such light-hearted treatment. We cannot bring anything more to-day to this question than our own experience of life, and our own experience of these vastly potent instruments of broadcasting and television, so far as we have been brought in touch with them. I make my declaration of faith, as everybody does who speaks about this subject; and my faith is that what is proposed is too dangerous a hazard for the Government to wish to go forward with it. One looks for experience abroad, and the reports are gloomy. One is told, "Well, perhaps it will not happen here." Moreover, one recalls that for twenty-five years Governments in this country have been considering the question of whether sponsored broadcasting should be allowed, and have rejected it. It has been put before Committee after Committee, the last, the Beveridge Committee, rejecting it by a majority of ten members to one. To reject the considered views of those ten members and to follow the view of the one is to show, not a respect for minority opinion but veneration for it.
What are the arguments in its favour? It has been said that this represents a compromise—a compromise between whom I will not ask. We are told that there are great sections of the people who desire it—although the public of this country is a large constituency for any Peer to speak for. But it is a compromise about what? To compromise, is to do a thing that you believe to be half wrong because someone else thinks it is only half right. There are large fields in which such a course of action is quite reasonable and proper, but is this the field in which compromise has its place? I think it is the level of culture of this country that you are needlessly putting to the hazard. My Lords, 1405 do not fear in this House. It is not your Lordships who will be in danger; the symbols of your imagination, the clarity of your intellectual process, the level of your emotional response, is not threatened by sponsored television. The wise and mature are not threatened by it. It is the young people to whom it is a peculiar delight, it is the adolescent, it is those who have not been rendered invulnerable by deep-seated education and by arrival at mature and independent judgment, who are in danger from it. I think that they are in danger of a cheapening of tone, of the touch that makes all things common; and if anything that I can say in this House can help to prevent them from being needlessly exposed to these dangers I should like to say it.
I know that the B.B.C. is not always free from blame in all its programmes; one can find much fault with its programmes. It is the duty of the B.B.C. to entertain and attract, and I think that it often takes the wrong line. But, after all, we have the confidence of knowing that its administration is in the hands of people who have no other duty than that of serving independently the purposes of society and the people at large. They are not dazed, as anybody serving commercial programmes must be, by a divided loyally, loyalty to the man who pays and loyalty to the customer whom they must attract. It is that divided loyalty which lowers tone, as it must, which I fear if it is let loose in this country. It is argued that all the White Paper says is that what we need is competition. But competition in what? Competition in trying to give to the public of this country the best service of information, of education, of art and culture that a service can provide; or competition in the meaner art of trying, by all decent means, to seduce and attract the largest circle of customers that you can win? If it is competition in that second sense (as I believe it to be) that is the justification for this departure, then I venture to suggest that we are better without that competition.
My Lords, it is a simple problem. Television is a vastly ingenious thing; it is a wonderful discovery; but it is a good thing or a bad thing as you press on with it only according to the use to which you put it. What are you going to do by this proposal? It is, quite simply, this: you are going to allow people to build great 1406 shops in this country, television transmitters and all that goes with them. Over the counters of those shops you are going to sell by auction what is called "radio time." These are vastly potent and persuasive instruments. Radio time is just this: it is the standard of culture and taste; it is the level of intellectual and emotional response that makes up the value in the life of the people. I do not believe that those are things which ought to be put up for sale over any shop counter.
§ 5.6 p.m.
My Lords, may I say at once that I support the Government's White Paper, but I do not think it goes far enough? In my view there should be some degree of sponsored competition, both in sound broadcasting and in television, and I must repeat what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, this afternoon: that nearly all the younger members of your Lordships' House who have spoken, both on Thursday and to-day, have taken that view. Whilst not in any way criticising the bona fides or the intentions of some of the noble Lords who have spoken in the opposite sense, I think it is only fair to point out that the speakers have included one ex-Director-General of the B.B.C., one ex-Governor of the B.B.C. and eight members of the Advisory Council, and I feel that those noble Lords are a little too much inclined to be counsel for the defence and are rather too near the organisation which they think (quite wrongly in my belief) is, now threatened. I do not believe that the B.B.C. is in any way threatened, and I should be the last person—because I am an admirer of the B.B.C.—to advocate anything of the sort. But the B.B.C., on the number of channels available to-day—the three programmes—cannot possibly give the public the variety and choice that it wants. I think it is essential that there should be other channels outside the B.B.C to give the public further alternative types of programme.
Some of what I call the elder statesmen of this House have given us some long and interesting speeches in this debate, and in the normal way I should be guided by what they say. If it were a question of foreign policy, I should certainly listen carefully to the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, and, if it were economics, to the noble Lord, Lord Brand; but when it comes 1407 to entertainment—and, after all, the main object of broadcasting is to give entertainment and recreation to the people—I think some of us younger people and some of us, like myself, who are in the entertainment world are possibly nearer to the truth of what is required. I wonder how many of those noble Lords who have spoken in this debate regularly follow "Mrs. Dale's Diary." I wonder how many of them could give an expert opinion as to whether the dance band at the Palais de Danse at Hammersmith is better than the one at the Locarno at Streatham. These matters are of great interest to many of our younger listeners of the present time.
It has been said by many noble Lords that allowing sponsoring would lower standards. I do not agree. Several noble Lords said they hoped it would not be like America. So do I; but British Press advertising is quite different from American Press advertising, which would not be popular in this country. The noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham—who I am sorry is not in his place to-day—in one of his, as usual, very able speeches, tried to point out that the allowing of sponsoring would not give an element of competition to the B.B.C. He argued thus because the revenue of the B.B.C. would not be affected by commercial stations. I think that that is a most fallacious argument. After all, one might just as well say that there is no competition amongst ships of the Mediterranean Fleet in gunnery or in a regatta practice, because the ship which puts up the best performance does not receive extra pay for its gunlayers or boats' crews. Of course there can be competition apart from the financial aspect, and the B.B.C. could certainly not continue with a certain programme if there were public criticism that it was far inferior to some similar programme on a commercial station.
As I have said before, I believe it is essential that there should be at least five or six different programmes in order to give the many varied tastes in this country what they require. The noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, spoke of the sporting aspect, and I think that that is very important. It is an aspect in which the B.B.C. (largely through no fault of their own) have not been able to cater for the needs of the people. In my view, 1408 the racing broadcasts of the B.B.C. are on nothing like as high a standard as that achieved in Australia. The reason for that is that a certain commercial station in Australia has a racing specialist who knows all the colours and can run through the whole field every furlong. This subject has been brought to a head recently by the absolutely tragic broadcast of the Grand National. I am not blaming the B.B.C. for that, but it was the laughing stock of the world. Even my small son of twelve was "taking it off." Serious racing people just do not listen to racing broadcasts in this country because the commentator is not a racing expert. He cannot be, because he broadcasts racing only a few times a year. Then take the Test Match, for instance. In Australia, one can hear a ball-by-ball broadcast of the whole match going on right through the night, put on by a commercial station. Very often a Cup Tie here can be put over the air only up to half-time or after half-time, because with the number of channels in use the B.B.C. cannot make time available to broadcast the whole of a football match.
My noble friend Lord Mancroft drew attention to what I think is a very important point, which is that the B.B.C. are in a most difficult situation at the present time as the only employer of technical broadcasting staff and of artistes who broadcast. It is certainly desirable that these people should have some alternative source of employment. There must be a tendency within the B.B.C.—they are kind-hearted people—to keep on somebody who perhaps is not quite up to top mark because they feel that he has no chance of getting a job elsewhere. On the other hand, some artiste may express a viewpoint on the B.B.C. which is not quite popular, and he may never be asked to broadcast again. All that is bad. It has been hinted in the course of this debate that the vast majority of the country is against any form of sponsored broadcasting. I simply do not believe it, and I believe, without any disrespect, that some of the younger people reading this debate will say: "How do all these old fogies know what we want? We want to be able to have a whole evening's dance music on a commercial station. Then we can invite our friends and know that we shall get a full dance programme lasting two or three hours coming from one of the leading 1409 bands." The B.B.C. cannot do that. They can give only half an hour's dance music as other interests must be considered. The broadcasting of an evening's dance music is most popular in Australia, and is made use of by a great number of hostesses. All these things can be done if you have more broadcast channels. Finally, I emphasise again, and it cannot be said too often, that if you do not like sponsored broadcasting you have the remedy in your own hands—you can turn a knob and switch back to the B.B.C.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ LORD PIERCY
My Lords, I mean to try to restate the arguments on what I conceive to be the main issue arising on this White Paper—the question of sponsoring. I would very gladly leave that subject where the noble and learned Lord, Lord Radcliffe, so eloquently left it, but debate is a lengthy process, so, with your Lordships patience, I will try to contribute to the matter, even if from a lower altitude. Like many noble Lords, I daresay, on reading the White Paper and finding that the B.B.C. Charter was to be renewed for ten years—that the B.B.C. was to continue to receive licence fees and was to be "the only organisation having any claim on revenue derived from broadcasting licences"—and following through the mellifluous paragraphs of the White Paper, at first blush I felt inclined very much to the opinion that was expressed by the caption of the Economist: "A verdict for the B.B.C." But that view, I suppose we should all concede, has not stood up to further reconsideration. The fatal flaw, of course, is in paragraph 7, which provides that an "element of competition" is to be admitted in "the expanding field of television"—a skilfully worded paragraph. The noble Earl, the Postmaster General, with the frankness and sincerity which are natural to him, tore the veil from that paragraph. It has become apparent in the course of the discussion that at some time the full force of "sponsored or commercial broadcasting"—I quote the noble Earl—is liable to be concentrated, at any rate on one arm of the broadcasting service: that is to say, television. It is true that under paragraphs 8 and 10 certain conditions of sanction and of time or means 1410 are to be interposed, and those are reinforced by assurances given by the noble Earl in last Thursday's debate. The precise value and substance of these assurances may be a matter for consideration, and to that point I will later return.
The upshot of all this is to impress on the minds of those who understand and are attached to the present system this view of the real import of the White Paper: that while the B.B.C. is to continue, the concept or system for which the B.B.C. stands and of which it is the product—that is, the concept of broadcasting as a public trust—is subverted. The B.B.C., in short, may be "preserved in its full integrity"—though I regard that as a dubious phrase—but the system will have gone.
That argument may be rebutted by the argument that that view overstates the case, because, after all, the B.B.C.—and here I quote the noble Earl—is "to remain the only source of sound broadcasting in this country." Sound broadcasting is one thing and television another. The element of competition which is to be permitted at some future time is limited to television; and therefore everything is all right. That view has been argued here and elsewhere, and above all in the source from which the Government appear to have derived most of their ideas—that is to say the one-man Minority Report of the Beveridge Committee. In that a separate television corporation was recommended as the ideal set-up.
I for one totally reject that plan. It seems to me that on any weighing of evidence without arrière pensée the view that television can be regarded as an independent service which can be dealt with independently is bound to be rejected. The view which holds the field among those who have had experience of the matter is that the ideal public service is a blended service—"a marriage," as Sir William Haley has said, "of sound and television within the broadcasting service as a whole." And if that future service is developed it is more than likely that the proportion of television, of sight to sound, may be preponderant—perhaps by as much as 75 per cent. Therefore, I maintain that you cannot say that because in paragraph 7 the introduction of sponsoring is to be confined to television the White Paper has not struck a blow 1411 at the whole broadcasting system, a blow more deadly because it seems indirect.
I reinforce that argument by a glance at the present situation of television. In this country, and indeed generally, television as a whole is very much in its infancy. It is not simply a question of coverage or simply of technical questions. It is a question of handling this new medium of communication, a question of method and of standards. I believe, and I feel that noble Lords must agree, that television is far more likely to be a bad thing than a good thing unless its development is strictly controlled from the point of view of its social significance. That aspect has been dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord Kenswood. The wisdom with which the development of the B.B.C. was guided, and the success with which it has solved many of its problems of public policy and public good over its twenty-six years, must, I think, be because it has always been guided by the concept of public service and public trust. In the problems, mainly yet unsolved, of television some such clue to the wise solution of problems seems to me equally essential.
Therefore, the proposals of the White Paper, if persevered in, are calculated to subvert the existing system of broadcasting in this country at a critical moment of its career. Of course, there are those who like the mixed system. I was interested in the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Gifford. He has lived in Australia and in his letter to The Times, which no doubt we all read with interest, he explained that he found the system there satisfactory. To-day he has repeated that view. The question is one of evidence and testimony. A day or two after the noble Lord's letter to The Times I read in the same newspaper the views of an American lady, Mrs. Barbara Ward Jackson, who had lived both in Australia and in the United Kingdom and has the advantage of residence in the U.S.A. Her verdict was different. Apart from the lonely role of the A.B.C. in maintaining a high standard, she found the standards low, with a tendency to deteriorate. As an economist, I can hardly follow her in her comparisons with Gresham's Law, but on the fact she is perfectly clear. The situation in Australia exemplifies the proposition that, under sponsoring, bad entertainment tends to prevail. Courtesy 1412 would incline me to accept the lady's view but, as far as I can understand, the weight of evidence is with her.
Does the noble Lord regard as good entertainment the entertainment which prevails in this country at the present moment?
§ LORD PIERCY
To answer that inquiry would cause me to digress from my purpose, so I will leave that question and proceed with my remarks against sponsoring. I have made it clear, I hope, that I do not regard paragraph 7 as a limited concession to critics. It is a fundamental attack on the broadcasting system.
I turn to the case against sponsoring, whether for television or generally. What is the case for it? There has been a great deal of talk about monopoly. For my part I find it difficult to decide how much of this talk is humbug, using that word in a neutral sense, and how much of it is a cover or a defence mechanism. There is certainly a general urge for access, so to speak, to the broadcasting system—from cranks and doctrinaires who want to get their hands on it. Then there is pressure from musicians and others who think there might be a good deal more employment for them if there were more centres of broadcasting. There is also said to be pressure from youth, which wants the excitement of change. Behind these confusing voices one might discern two main pressures. The first is that of powerful vested interests, commercial and professional, who want to use this new medium and who conceive that in the development of the advertising field they would be playing for high stakes.
My Lords, I am told that many substantial advertisers doubt whether a new channel is needed or whether it would create any more business. I am also told that among advertising practitioners there is a division of opinion, and that, on a reasonable estimate, the balance of opinion is against the introduction of sponsored television for their purposes. Nevertheless, there is bound to remain a sufficient number of advertisers and practitioners to make a strong pressure group. There is, of course, in the promotion of advertising the excitements of the American parallel and of the large appropriations, although, in passing, one is bound to observe that in America, with its nation-wide market, advertising 1413 expenditures are possible which might well wreck business here.
The second line comes from the large number of people who think they can get the best of several worlds, and get something for nothing—as Lord Hawke observed. That is a well-known failing of human nature. The psychologist William James once remarked that he would like to be handsome and fat and a great athlete; that he would like to be a university professor and make a million a year; that he would like to be a famous tenor and a philosopher; but that he recognised that not all of these things were compatible with one another. I think that in a somewhat analogous way—I do not wish to drive the parallel too hard—a great many people have failed to see that sponsored television, whatever it might give them in quantity, is incompatible with the preservation of the high levels of quality that the B.B.C. has created. For it is bound to have a reaction on the B.B.C., first of all in bidding up the price of the scarce resources of artistes and performers which must be used. And that is quite a serious thing, since the availability of good artistes, good performers and broadcasters is very limited. Even the available quantity of humour and of variety, I am told, is severely limited.
But, more important, the introduction of a great deal of entertainment on a lower level, and not inspired with the same ideals, would wreck that raising of public education and public taste which, however it is sneered at, has been the great effect of the work of the B.B.C. Many noble Lords have made a great deal about allowing the public to have what they want. The noble Lord who spoke a little while ago eloquently pleaded the lightness of public taste. He felt that the periodical exhibition of good taste which is manifested in election results is a great credit to the public and that you might trust the public in other fields. The idea of relying on the public taste seems to me, if I may say so, a new line for Conservatives. Was it not an eminent and famous Conservative statesman who said:We must educate our masters"?Is there not still a good deal of wisdom in that for the Tory Party? The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, I think, would go so far with Robert Lowe as to 1414 support the system of public education, but he does not wish to go beyond that. Surely, directly and indirectly, the broadcasting system is one of the greatest educative agencies of our time.
I suggest that this question of programmes is governed by the fact that the advertiser will not do something for nothing. It has been suggested by a friend of mine, a distinguished advertising expert, that there is nothing in the notion that sponsored programmes would necessarily be low or debasing. They would be calculated for the audience. He says: "If you wish to sell a Morris car, you go for a large audience. Then, no doubt, you will produce variety, perhaps as low as possible, for large numbers. But if you want to sell a Rolls Royce, you go for a small and distinguished group. For them, you will do the Agamemnon in Greek." That may be true, but I doubt it. In any case, the putting on of programmes by sponsors is not what the lawyers call in pari materia with the putting on of programmes by a public agency. The objects they aim at are quite different, and the results will work out differently.
The last element in this idea of getting something for nothing enshrines, if I may say so, a curious delusion. It is the idea that advertisers can, and will, pay for something which is beyond the public means, will pay for it out of some unidentified, and presumably limitless, source of funds. There was a naive expression of that in a letter which appeared in The Times It made three points: first, the tremendous possibilities of television; second, the substantial costs necessary to their realisation; and, third, that there was no commensurate source of revenue except sponsoring. To begin with, I do not believe that, at the rate at which this instrument should be developed, the funds available and foreseeable in the future will be insufficient. On that point I think the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, spoke to some purpose.
What are the real economics of the question? For one thing, it should be perfectly clear that, whatever is spent on sponsoring broadcast programmes, the public pays it. The expenditure comes out of the price of the goods they buy. No new wealth is created, and that is especially true in a state of full employment. Therefore, the public is just that 1415 much poorer for the expenditure which is being incurred by sponsors except that, on the other hand, it has as a value equivalent, the television which they have provided. It is fundamental to the whole argument that the public gets something for nothing. If the public realise that they are paying for sponsored programmes, they might feel differently, particularly if the diversion of advertising appropriations to this particular source robbed the newspapers and the public had dearer newspapers as the result of sponsored television.
But there is more to it than that, if I may pursue the point for a moment. It is a question of accountancy. Let us look at the expenditure which is supposed to be paid by the sponsor and supposed to be provided out of his generosity. Do these expenses reduce the profits of the sponsor by the amount of those expenses? Not at all. They reduce his profits by about one-half of the expenses. The other 10s. in the pound of the amount expended is borne by the Inland Revenue. That is to say, it comes out of the taxpayer's pocket. That is one reason why, within limits no doubt, advertisers can afford to be generous. In a sense it is right to say that the expenditure on sponsored television would be expenditure subsidised by the public.
In the White Paper there are many other topics which are most important. There is the question of National Councils which has been touched upon this afternoon. There is, in particular, a matter in which I feel much interest, the question of public showing in which I, for my part, regard the Government proposals as deplorably weak. But I think it would be wrong to take up time with those questions. I have deliberately used my time this afternoon on this critical issue of sponsoring, because I conceive that, however small its original introduction and however guarded it may be, it goes to the root of broadcasting as we know it.
What then? Some earlier voices in the debate on Thursday did appeal tactfully, to the Government if possible to reconsider and abandon the so-called element of competition in television mentioned in paragraph 7. Every noble Lord will realise that it would be difficult for the Government to take advice so drastic, 1416 even though the only cure for this business is abandonment. All Parties, and no doubt the Party opposite, have their internal political exigencies. It is difficult but I would, if I may, make this point. Broadcasting in this country has always been a non-Party matter. I, for one, am fully content to believe that the Government, whatever the internal pressures, have applied their judgment to the matter to the best of their ability. They have also, of course, deliberately made it possible for the proposals they make to be considered in this House and in another place. And I would suggest that the Government should not, and will not, be indifferent to the weight of opinion expressed in this House and. I should hope, perhaps also in another place.
In view of the attitude which all great Parties of the State have taken on this matter in the past, would it not be a misfortune, and perhaps a major error, if, when it came to the last point, this matter of the acceptance or non-acceptance of the White Paper were decided upon Party lines—that is to say, on a vote on Party lines in another place? Would it not at least be possible to avoid that? If it were possible to avoid that, if the Government could take that line, after consideration of the debates here and in another place, without any derogation from their respect, then I believe they would come to the conclusion that the broad balance of opinion is in favour of continuing the existing system, without the introduction of sponsoring; and I think their readiness to come to such a conclusion in that atmosphere of mind would be re-enforced by reflection on the extreme gravity of this particular decision. That is the appeal that I personally want to make to the Government.
In the meantime, there is one other matter within the ambit of the White Paper with which I wish to deal. The policy in paragraph 7 is expressed in paragraph 8 to be subject to the further future approval of Parliament. The introduction of competition is also to be deferred until calls on capital resources needed for purposes of greater national importance make it feasible again; and paragraph 11 states that the B.B.C. must clearly have first claim on such resources as are available. All that is fairly spoken. But is it precise enough to give assurance to the administrators and the 1417 personnel of the B.B.C. and people who, like myself, have serious misgivings? Is it precise enough to give assurance of any real priority in the completion of some definite stage before the pressure of competitive broadcasting arises? I noted the assurance of the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr in column 1340 of Hansard, May 22. Could the noble Earl go just a little further and give an assurance that the B.B.C.'s existing television programme, the five additional stations which he mentioned, and again the very urgent matter of the development of very high frequencies—very urgent because the pressure on the medium wave has now become almost intolerable—will be completed before any licences are proposed to be granted under paragraph 7? It seems to me that if that can be done, and pending any final conclusion on the matter in general, one can look forward at least to a much better base from which to consider any great change in the system at some future date.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
My Lords, I rise to support the Government's proposals, and I hope the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, will convey to his noble friend Lord Macdonald who opened the debate to-day a message to the effect that, though I was one of those who did not have his name down owing to difficulties in attending your Lordships' House last week, nevertheless, I am not a sponsored speaker in any sense of the term. We have had in your Lordships' House and we have read in the Press from those directly concerned at present and in the past with the B.B.C., a series of views which have been forcefully expressed, and I feel that those who would otherwise have remained silent, when they hear that body of opinion expressing itself are equally entitled to give, within this House and outside, the contrary view, which is one of support for Her Majesty's Government.
Some of the remarks on this issue in the debate, of which I have read every word, seemed to me so forceful and so passionate that they reached the point of being melodramatic and often became a matter of overstatement. Let me give your Lordships two examples. First, let me remind you that in the proposition about which I speak to-night—namely, the possibility of sponsored programmes—there is no 1418 proposal in the paragraph or in any other part of the White Paper to damage the present or the future expansion of the B.B.C. But one noble Lord said:We are jeopardising this heritage and tradition.Then another noble Lord, speaking of television, said:It presents one of the most critical and one of the most baffling social problems of the day.That may or may not be so. I personally think it is something of an overstatement. I wonder whether those of your Lordships who make these passionate remarks, with deep sincerity, realise that the average listener does not want to be considered as the aural guinea pig for a large number of earnest social researchers. The average listener wants a good deal of entertainment, a good deal of interest and a good deal of variety and amusement.
Of course, I admit, as the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, said, reinforced as he was in his remarks by the Postmaster General, that in principle the Government have taken a big step forward. But while I admit that the Government have taken a big step forward, I do not think that in order to obtain a balanced assessment of that step it is necessary to couple with it a phrase like this, which was used in the debate:Amongst those who know what the B.B.C. has done, the overwhelming majority are satisfied that it must mean a lowering of standards.My Lords, those who know to a greater or lesser degree what the B.B.C. have done are millions of listeners. Again, I am not at all sure to what standards the noble Lord who made that remark is referring. Does he mean a lowering of the standards of taste in the general public, or does he mean a lowering of the standards of the B.B.C. itself? These ambiguous assertions, unsupported by any logical argument, do not really do the case of those who are opposing the Government any particular good. I submit that the very heavy weather which is being made by the friends of the B.B.C. in regard to the concession of a principle by the Government is doing scant justice to the B.B.C.'s activities and ability to maintain its hold on the British public. They are not being very good friends to the B.B.C.
I ask myself three questions, and I invite your Lordships to examine the possible answers. First, is there a public 1419 demand for some competition to the B.B.C.? If there is, should the Government deny to the public a fulfilment of that demand, as expressed in sponsored television? Secondly, if it is to be refused, is the refusal to be based on an objection to exposing the B.B.C. to competition, for fear that the B.B.C. will be weakened in the fulfilment of its mission of public service, or an objection to allowing the general public to enjoy programmes which are judged by a chosen few to be such as should not be given to the public? On the first question—namely, whether there is a public demand—I do not think there can be any question at all but that the answer is that there is a public demand.
Even those who say the demand should not be satisfied must admit that the demand is there. The Economist, in January, 1950, conducted a "Gallup Poll" on the question: "Would you favour some sort of competition to the B.B.C?" Some 65 per cent. of those answering said "Yes." Correspondence in a leading newspaper showed that 63 per cent. of the people taking part were in favour of some competition to the B.B.C. The weight of the debate in your Lordships' House may have been against the Government last week—though I think it is less so to-day—but let us remember that in another place, the House of the elected representatives, there is an expression of that public wish, as well as support for the arguments which I have put before your Lordships. So I think it is right to say that the answer is, "Yes, there is a public demand."
The second question is: Should it be denied on the ground that competition would weaken the B.B.C? I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, in the speech which he made on Thursday, that competition with the B.B.C cannot be expressed in terms of money but can be expressed in terms of public esteem and public popularity. And if any body ever was "feather-bedded" it is B.B.C., as regards competition, in the proposals in the White Paper. The B.B.C. are protected by their licence revenue proposals, and they are protected by reservation of resources. Surely the supporters of the B.B.C. do scarce justice to the B.B.C.'s ability to maintain standards of programmes if they are so frightened of competition.
1420 The third question is: Should competition be denied on the ground that the general public should be protected by the Government from enjoying programmes judged not suitable, and should the public be restricted in their viewing to programmes chosen by a select few? I think that here we come to a much more difficult question—it is one which was touched upon very clearly by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Radcliffe. First, as regards Gresham's Law, I would say that that has all gone by the board. As the Postmaster General said the other day, and as Lord Waverley said again to-day, it does not really apply at all. In the fields of newspapers, publishing, films and theatres, we have not seen the bad driving out the good. If, on the one hand, you fear that the youth of the country will be debauched and the taste and tone of public entertainment lowered, I, on the other hand, as a democrat, do not like the idea that the State or a State instrument—a State instrument run and controlled by a comparatively few people—should decree to me what my family is or is not to be allowed to see. Lord Radcliffe said that we in your Lordships' House need not fear: we are superior persons. The wise and mature, the noble and learned Lord says, are not threatened. It is the young who would be needlessly exposed. That doctrine of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Radcliffe, with great respect, is a totalitarian doctrine; it is the doctrine that the State should say, within the confines of the family, within the family house, what the children of the family should be allowed to see. To me it is an intolerable doctrine. Let us remember that the Conservative Party fought the Election partly on the slogan "Trust the People." The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, has said that those claiming to represent public opinion are not going very far down the road of Conservative policy if they do not trust the people at any rate to turn on or off the right knob at the right time.
I agree with the right reverend Prelate, the Lord Bishop of Sheffield, that what the public wants should not be the sole criterion of the service. Of course not. But why assume all the virtues to the B.B.C. and assume all evils to sponsored programmes? With sponsored television programmes, the B.B.C. would have to face some healthy competition in variety entertainment. Defenders of the 1421 B.B.C. cannot contract out in their defence of the total work of the B.B.C. It follows that the noble Lord, Lord Reith, must include in his defence an acute appreciation of those very well-worn mother-in-law jokes we hear in the variety programmes. And the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, in his support of the B.B.C., cannot turn away from acceptance of instances of vulgarity unsurpassed on any music hall, which we very often hear in the B.B.C. programmes. The noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, in his speech said that some things are too sacred to commercialise. Let him take that message to the B.B.C. Let him take it to some of those responsible for the variety programmes of the B.B.C., because there is nothing sacred about them. They are vulgar and unpleasant in many directions on many occasions. And who is to say that sponsored programmes are not going to set a higher standard in variety?
§ LORD MACDONALD OF GWAENYSGOR
My Lords, I said that the sponsored programmes did not set a higher standard in many countries which I have visited.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
Let me come to that. Who is to say that sponsored programmes will not set a higher standard here? American television built itself up in a haphazard manner. Under the Government proposals, we are going to start in an orderly, proper manner, under proper Government control. That is essentially different from what has happened in the United States. I wonder whether it has occurred to some of the noble Lords who defend the B.B.C. baseness, as we listen to it at the present time, that a sponsor who has a particular product to sell and is proud of it may well himself insist on a. standard of decency and cleanliness which will be higher than that which the ill-paid comedians of the B.B.C., responsible to no one except the programmes director, are often guilty of giving us at the present time.
I believe that the case for this definite step forward cautiously taken under Government control, can be proved on grounds of reasonable acceptance of public demand. And, with proper safeguards, I do not believe it will do harm; indeed, I believe it will stimulate the B.B.C. I believe that, as in the case of 1422 so many other things, we shall in this country evolve for the British people a system which will allow the B.B.C. full opportunity to fulfil its mission, full opportunity to have preference, full opportunity to give variety entertainment and yet, at the same time, to face a measure of competition which will be healthy for the B.B.C. themselves, and for the listening public.
§ 5.59 p.m.
THE EARL OF ELGIN AND KINCARDINE
My Lords, my excuse for entering into the debate, even at this late hour, is twofold. First, there is my membership of the B.B.C. Inquiry Committee and, secondly, that I may speak a word for Scotland. In the first capacity I look at this White Paper with some doubt. I welcome some paragraphs, but others inspire me with great fear for the future. But looking at the Paper one must be impressed, I think, with one fact—that is, that it appears to speak with two voices. In paragraph 5, the Government say they are most unwilling to see any change in the policy of the B.B.C. towards sponsoring or accepting advertisements. But later on, in paragraph 7, the Government say that they will permit some competition in the new enterprise of television. How are the B.B.C. to meet that competition? Many noble Lords have spoken on this subject. Some have said that the B.B.C. have nothing to fear and others that they welcome sponsoring as providing an incentive to the B.B.C. Having had an opportunity during two years of hearing the evidence before the Broadcasting Committee, I feel bound to come to the conclusion, which I put to your Lordships in the debate last July, that sponsoring means a lowering of the tone of performance. And that is the experience gained in those countries which have adopted sponsoring.
I am not surprised that the Government should have brought this feature of sponsoring into their White Paper, because it formed the subject of the Minority Report presented by one member of that Committee who is now a leading member of the Government. Several noble Lords have said that there is a great demand for the opening of this door and that there is a public demand for competition. But I should like your Lordships to remember that in a Committee of eleven, the one member who 1423 produced this Minority Report failed to get any other member of the Committee to join him in signing it. I do not say that that necessarily is the proportion which would appear throughout the country. But neither should I admit that it is entirely because the Committee were of the old school. Possibly the Chairman, Lord Beveridge, and I would qualify for that characterisation, but that qualification would not apply to several other members of the Committee.
In our discussion of this question of advertising and sponsored programmes, I remember the question being put to us: "Why do you object to advertising in broadcasting?" Surely the answer is simple. It was given very forcibly by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, and I would repeat it in this form. Advertising in broadcasting is something quite different from advertising in the newspapers or on the cinema screen. We need not read advertisements in the newspapers. We need not look at posters, and we need not look at the screen between the films shown at the cinema. But if the advertisement appears on the broadcast programme, either we must turn it off and thereby lose some of the thread of the story, or concert, or whatever it may be, or we must listen on and hear the advertisement. We have no alternative. Surely that is some reason why we should look carefully before allowing the door to be opened in the field of television. Commercial broadcasting means the selling of time—that is to say, the actual minutes cost something: they produce revenue. Therefore, if we adopt that kind of programme it is a crime to allow a moment to go by without something being said or seen. Personally—I underline the word "personally" though I believe a great many will agree with me—I welcome some of the pauses which we have on the B.B.C. I think particularly of the pauses which occur occasionally after the Home Service programme "Lift up your Hearts." We have time to think, to look back, before we are brought to the next part of the programme—the weather and forecast for the day. Again I say, let us think carefully before adopting the principle of commercial broadcasting.
Another point on which I should like to speak is the paragraph in the White Paper which deals with devolution. Here 1424 I must part company with the noble Lord, Lord Reith, who submitted this Motion to the House. As the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, so fluently put to us at the opening of this afternoon's discussions, we have had strong representations from Wales and Scotland that there should be greater independence. We were told by the noble Lord, Lord Reith, and others that the Regional Controllers have almost complete independence. I wonder whether that is strictly true? I wonder whether it might not more properly be said that "Regional Controllers will not be interfered with if—." The Regional Controller is a member of the staff representing headquarters at the Region. Perhaps it is this use of the term "region" which upsets us, if I may associate myself with the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor. In Wales and in Scotland we do not like being called "Regions" of England; nothing is further from the correct nomenclature. We are nations and, as the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, said, we have our own culture and prestige, our own history. This kind of thing, this Londonisation, happens frequently in the national news bulletins.
I mentioned this subject to your Lordships before in the debate in July. The news bulletins look at the news through London spectacles. In this respect, I welcome one paragraph in the White Paper. In dealing with the directions to the Governors, the White Paper lays down that they shall periodically meet in Scotland, in Wales and in Northern Ireland. If that were carried out, I think it would be a great advance on the outlook to which we are accustomed at the present moment. I would especially mention that paragraph which deals with the formation of the constitution and duties of what are called the Regional Councils. Let me refer to paragraph 535 of the Beveridge Report, in which we suggest the outline of these commissions, as we called them. The Report says:We contemplate that each of the Commissions should initiate and decide on a Home Service programme in its Region, and should have powers in relation to finance, accommodation and staff sufficient to allow of this; the wavelengths needed for the Home Service in their Regions would be made available to them. Overall responsibility for finance must be reserved for the Corporation, but there should be increasing allocation of block grants for spending by the Commissions. So ultimate 1425 control for capital developments—involving central dealings with the Government—will rest with the Corporation, but responsible initiative with regard to such development should pass more and more to the Commissions.These Councils, which were referred to in the late Government's White Paper, were then large bodies recruited from local authorities. That proposal received but scant courtesy from anybody who read or considered it. But the present Government's proposal is a halfway house between that which was proposed by our Committee and the late Government. It is a Council, said to be of eight members, three of whom will represent local authorities.
I have had some opportunity during the week-end of discussing this matter with a leading officer of the Saltire Society, a Society which presented concise and interesting evidence to us on the Broadcasting Committee. He agrees entirely with what I have tried to say to your Lordships this afternoon, that there is a tremendous difference between this body which we recommended—a body of five under the chairmanship of the National Governor; a body of five who had time to devote to their business; a body of five who would give all their time to that work, and would meet frequently for the purpose, and be able, through their Chairman, to communicate direct to the Board of Governors at Broadcasting House—and such a body as is represented by the White Paper, which consists of live members from various religious and other educational bodies, and three who represent local authorities. I have had some experience in my life of local authority work: I have had over thirty years on the Fife County Council, and I am now a town councillor of the historic borough of Culross. I know that anyone who gives his time and attention to local government, particularly since the 1929 Act, has his hands and his plate as full as it should be. I therefore think that any representative from local authorities on such a Council as is proposed would find it quite impossible, as, indeed, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Radcliffe, has pointed out, to attend sufficiently to grasp the details and get on with the work. I feel bound on these two matters to press the Government to consider the position further before opening the door to commercial broadcasting; and I would urge them to give 1426 further thought to the representations from Scotland and Wales for greater real independence.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, I am sure your Lordships will agree that we have had one of the most interesting and important debates of recent years. It has been interesting because of the large number of exceedingly well-informed speeches from all sections of the House—and I include in that speeches both for and against the White Paper—many from men who speak from years of experience. It is an important debate, because there are no fewer than 12,000,000 licensees, and something like 500,000 subscribers to television, representing roughly 80 per cent. of all the households in this country. Therefore, what we are deciding to day is something which is going to affect the vast majority of the people of this country. I suppose that no public body has been so much scrutinised and reported upon as the B.B.C., and I feel that they are entitled to congratulate themselves on having come out of it so well. Obviously, no body could have been subjected to this very close, periodic scrutiny without some defects emerging. The tribute which has been paid to the B.B.C. by this Government, by their predecessors and by almost every member of this House is, I am sure, thoroughly deserved. I would echo the words of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, that if those tributes are sincere on the part of the Government, then it is somewhat difficult to follow the action which they are proposing in paragraph 7 of the White Paper.
So far we have had something like twenty-five speeches on this subject, and it is difficult for the twenty-sixth speaker to find anything very fresh to say: at the best he can only say the same things in a somewhat different way. I do not propose to go through the White Paper at any length. In this debate two main points have emerged. One is the question of sponsored programmes for television, and the other is the method of appointment of Governors to the B.B.C. It is to those two subjects that I propose to devote my speech. Whether one be for or against sponsored television, I am sure that every member of this House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Reith, for having sponsored this debate— 1427 that is sponsoring at its best. I personally am grateful to him for the manner in which he initiated the debate; and I suppose we are all in his debt for the very existence of the B.B.C. in the form in which we have it to-day.
Let me first say a few words about the question of sponsoring. I feel that most of the arguments that have been made both for and against sponsoring might well have been directed either to sound broadcasting or to television, or to both. It has been difficult to distinguish the arguments as between television and sound broadcasting. Some noble Lords (I think Lord Gifford was one) have frankly said that they do not think the Government have gone far enough. I am bound to say that I think they are logical. If the Government are in favour of sponsoring television, I find it difficult to understand why they do not take the logical course of also agreeing to sponsoring broadcasting. I would venture to say further that if, in due course, the sponsoring of television is introduced into this country and becomes a normal feature, then inevitably, and not necessarily because of the success of sponsored television, it would logically be quite impossible to keep sponsoring out of sound broadcasting. Therefore, in discussing this question to-day, we have really to consider the question of sponsoring over the whole field of sound and television.
What is the purpose of broadcasting?—and when I use the word "broadcasting" I propose to use it both in the sense of sound and television. I think most noble Lords will agree that it has a threefold purpose, and this has been expressed by a great many noble Lords: it is for the purpose of entertaining the public, for the purpose of education and for the purpose of providing information. These three aspects of broadcasting appeal to the public in different ways and they appeal to different sections of the public in different ways. The Beveridge Committee made a very interesting survey of the interest taken in different aspects of broadcasting according to the education of the various classes of persons—elementary, secondary and university—and it was remarkable that the things which interested elementary-educated people most were the very things which least interested the university-educated people. For 1428 instance, variety came at the top of the list among people educated at elementary schools and came roughly last among university-educated people. On the other hand, people educated at the universities were most interested in chamber music and symphony concerts, and these again were last among those who were educated at the elementary schools. Therefore, when you talk of what the public wants, you have to realise that different sections of the public want different things and that you have to give to the public a balanced programme; and you must cater for certain sections of the public who are numerically very small but who, nevertheless, are important if you are going to give a proper balance.
May I interrupt the noble Lord? Instead of giving a balanced programme, would it not be better to give four or five different programmes, so that they could each get what they want in turn?
§ LORD SILKIN
As my noble friend Lord Ogmore reminds me, they would all be unbalanced. The idea is that we should provide a balanced programme. I know a number of noble Lords have made play of the fact that it is not for somebody sitting in Portland Place to dictate to the public what they should enjoy, but somebody has to prepare a programme, and the gentlemen in Portland Place are commissioned to do it and have done it to the great satisfaction of the public as a whole for many years. In passing, may I say that even those who sponsor programmes have to judge what the public want and have to try to give it to them. The public have no direct choice in either case.
The B.B.C., which is rendering a public service and is not working for profit, regards itself as under an obligation to cater for small minorities and to look ahead for the kind of minorities that, to one who is looking at it from the point of view of an advertising public, do not pay. For instance, in the course of this debate a number of noble Lords have referred to the Third Programme in somewhat disparaging terms. I have heard it said, with what authority I do not know, that only one per cent. of the listening public listens to the Third Programme. That may be true or it may not—I wish I could discover what percentage of the public listens to any programme. Assum- 1429 ing it is so (and for the purpose of what I am going to say I am prepared to accept that only one per cent. of the listening public listens to the Third Programme) I would submit to the House that that one per cent. is one of the most important sections of the listening public. It has happened throughout our civilisation that in matters of taste and culture the small minorities of to-day are the prophets of the future: that what is discarded and rejected at one particular period in history is accepted with acclamation later on. We have a great many examples of this. Noble Lords will remember that when Beethoven's Fifth Symphony was first performed in public it was howled down. The same applied to a great many other of his works. The same applied to Tchaikovsky's Pathetique Symphony, to Wagner's works and to the works of a great many others who to-day are accepted as among the immortals.
I was horrified to hear one noble Lord, one of the "younger adventurous noble Lords" in this House, say that he sometimes listened to the Third Programme and he sometimes even understood some of it. I wonder what would have happened if Shakespeare were on the Third Programme to-day for the first time, and noble Lords had never heard of Shakespeare before. I can imagine some noble Lords coming to this House and saying that they had heard this programme by Shakespeare and they even understood some of it. That is the function of the Third Programme: to educate public taste, to enhance it and gradually to improve and increase the culture of the people of this country. The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, referred to the millions of pounds, the increasing amount of money, we are spending on education. I submit that this money is wasted unless we improve the taste and enhance the culture of our people. That can be done only by providing programmes to which at certain periods only one per cent. of the public listen, but which gradually become more and more popular and which, in due course, one hopes, will be listened to by a larger and increasing number of people. So I would submit to the House that the B.B.C. is doing something which no sponsored programme could do or would do, and is rendering a service to the community which it is impossible for anyone else to render.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
Can the noble Lord say where in the proposals we are discussing there is anything which would prevent the B.B.C. carrying out that admirable and desirable function?
§ LORD SILKIN
Of course I realise that I have to face that point. That is the issue with which we are confronted. I think I have said enough to indicate that one cannot expect a commercially sponsored organisation to provide that kind of balanced programme. I would ask, as I have been asked: Why is it impossible or difficult for the B.B.C. to continue to provide that kind of programme in the future? The first answer is that which I have already given to the House. What are the preferences of the large majority of people in the form of broadcast programmes? Any organisation which seeks to cater for what the public most enjoy in the way of entertainment will attract the audiences, and there is every reason to fear that the sponsored programmes will go out of their way to seek deliberately to capture the audiences of the country by providing them with the kind of entertainment to which most people in this country at the present time in their lighter moments will turn. I think one has to be perfectly frank about it and recognise that that will be the case.
I say also that it may well be that on that level of the lighter entertainment—variety and so on—those who sponsor programmes will be able to do better than the B.B.C. because the advertiser will be prepared to pay very large sums for his entertainers, sums which no public authority can or ought to pay. When one is dealing with taxpayers' money, one cannot pay sums of the order of £150,000 in order to get the rights to show a certain event (as I understand is occasionally the case in the United Status) or to pay artistes fabulous sums. It is quite likely that in this question of providing programmes which will catch the eye and ear of the public, the effect of the large sums of money which the sponsored programmes will be able to provide will be to divert audiences from the balanced B.B.C. programme. Therefore, the effect of the sponsored programme will possibly be to lower the standard of the B.B.C., even by attracting from the B.B.C. by paying them a higher rate, artistes who would otherwise be employed by the B.B.C.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
May I ask the noble Lord one question on this interesting theory which he is putting forward? If he were controlling the B.B.C., would he immediately completely close down the Light Programme?
§ LORD SILKIN
Certainly not. I should hope that those programmes could be improved. One of the few things in which I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, was that those programmes were not always everything to be desired and could be improved. But the B.B.C. is, of course, subject to constant public scrutiny, and there is a great deal of public accountability which there would not be in the case of sponsored programmes. The very fact that the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, made the criticism which he did—which I am sure will be taken note of by the B.B.C.—is an argument in favour of a public corporation and of public accountability.
In the course of the debate there has been a tendency to treat the sponsored programme and the B.B.C. as somewhat of an antithesis. But, of course, that is not the case—they would not really be in competition with one another at all. Part of the case which has been made for the sponsored programme is that the B.B.C. is in need of competition. If it were possible, by means of sponsored programmes, to achieve the objectives which the B.B.C. have—namely, to provide entertainment, information and education—and if one had the opportunity of providing alternative programmes of that kind on the same basis, I should say that there was something to be said for competition. But the fact is that the two types of programmes are totally different. One is the rendering of a public service, and the other would merely have for its objective the attraction of as many people as possible to listen, in order that it might sell the particular goods which are being advertised.
As I said at the outset, I recognise that I am very largely saying, in other words, what has already been said before. But I am sure that anybody who has listened to this debate for the two days and read the reports and so on, would have been impressed with the enormous weight of opinion both in this House and in the reports against sponsoring. I do not want to draw a dichotomy between the old and the young. I do not agree with 1432 the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, that this is an issue between the old and the young. I do not know on which side he thinks he ought to be.
§ LORD SILKIN
Well, so do I. We are all as young as we think we are. But the noble Lord is not altogether right in his facts, because we have on the side of the opponents of sponsoring a number of young people. There is no doubt at all—the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye had to admit it—that the weight of argument in this debate has undoubtedly been heavily on the side of the opponents.
§ LORD SILKIN
I thought the noble Lord said that he had gone some way towards redressing the balance, but I did not understand that he claimed to have entirely redressed the balance. In fact, there is no doubt that the weight of argument over the two days' debate has been very heavily on the side of those who are opposed to sponsoring. There is no question at all that the weight of experience has been on the side of the opposition—and this has been by no means a political debate. Indeed, if I may say so in all humility, the fact is that the opposition has come not from members of the Labour Party at all but from members of the Party in office, from those who sit on the Cross Benches and on the Liberal Benches. Indeed, I have never, since I have been in the House, heard such a weighty argument against any case as I have heard during these two days.
We have the Report of the Committee which itself is heavily against sponsoring: it is ten to one. There were three members of the Committee, including the Chairman, who were not opposed to advertisements being introduced into the programmes; but they carefully, in very strong language, made it quite clear that they were opposed to sponsored programmes. For what it is worth, the whole of the Labour Party, which after all represents more than half of the country and which is the largest Party in the country, is against it, as is the Liberal 1433 Party. The Institute of Incorporated Practitioners in Advertising and the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers were almost evenly divided. One would have expected such bodies to be strongly in favour of advertisements. But in reply to a questionnaire which they sent out to their members, 201 were in favour and 181 against; and of those who normally advertise 169 were in favour and 122 against—not a very overwhelming majority in an industry which certainly one would expect to be predisposed towards sponsored programmes.
The Newspaper Proprietors' Association and the Newspaper Society are against it. The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, tried to discount that by saying that they are interested parties. They may be; but it is an interesting fact that these people with one voice speak against sponsored advertisements; and I cannot believe that the great newspaper interests would be influenced solely by their own personal interests. As regards the members of the Council, I think every member who has spoken in this debate, with one exception, has opposed sponsoring. It may be, of course, that they have been dominated by the shadow of the Director-General or of the Chairman, but I cannot believe that. They all struck me as being noble Lords with minds of their own and not likely to be influenced by a speech or two. If they were, then they would have been influenced much more frequently by speeches from this side of the House. But they surely have minds of their own.
And so the enormous weight of evidence is against this proposal. Furthermore, the Government recognise that it is going to be a long time before it is possible to implement the proposal. I should, therefore, like to ask the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack to tell us what is the urgency about coming to a decision which cannot be implemented for a long time to come. It may well be that if we had to look at this question afresh in the light of conditions where it was possible to implement the sponsoring of programmes almost immediately, one might come to a different conclusion. But in view of the fact that it may be years before this can be implemented, why is it necessary to make a statement to-day? Moreover, it is exceedingly unlikely that this Government will be responsible for implement- 1434 ing the statement at all. I am not making any prophecy about the constitution of future Governments, but I am certain that it will not be this Government who will be responsible for implementing this change. Why not, then, leave a future Government to make up their own mind, in the light of the circumstances of that time, as to whether or not sponsored programmes are desirable? If noble Lords are prepared to accept that and to withdraw this proposal I can assure them, speaking for myself, that I should be very ready to approach the question, when it was ripe for consideration, with a perfectly open mind. One cannot be uninfluenced by the case that has been made by responsible persons in favour of sponsoring, though, on the whole, I still feel that the case against is very much stronger.
That is all I wish to say on the subject of sponsored programmes. There is only one other point that I desire to mention, and that is with regard to the appointment of Governors. This matter has already been referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, and others, and I cannot remember that a single noble Lord has supported the recommendation of the Government in the White Paper. Some may have accepted it in silence. But nobody is really enthusiastic about it, and a good many noble Lords feel that it is wrong. I feel strongly that it is a reflection, whether intended or not, upon Governments of the past and upon Governments of the future. I feel that if a Prime Minister cannot be trusted to appoint nine persons to a body such as the B.B.C. without its being thought that he is actuated by political prejudice or is creating "jobs for the boys"—I think that term was invented by the noble Lord opposite—
§ LORD WOOLTON
I can assure the noble Lord that I was not responsible, and I am sure he will be glad to have that assurance.
§ LORD SILKIN
I accept that wholeheartedly. At any rate, the previous Government were accused of making appointments in the way of "jobs for the boys." I do not think the suggestion was made seriously, and I do not think anyone could have substantiated it. Certainly any Prime Minister who could not be trusted to make honourable appoint- 1435 ments would not be fit for the position he held. Nor, if he were so minded, would he be deterred by the set-up recommended in the White Paper. It would be quite easy for any Prime Minister to push through, if he insisted upon it, any individuals he wanted.
But I fear that if this set-up were pursued it would result in a colourless, inoffensive, inconspicuous collection of men and women being appointed as Governors of the Corporation—people who had never committed themselves to any strong view or been connected with any great controversial movement. Obviously, the strong figures would tend to be eliminated—and I think that that would be disastrous for the B.B.C. I hope that both those points will be reconsidered, in view of the very strong feeling that is held about them by so many responsible and respected noble Lords in this House. I hope particularly that the question of sponsoring can be left over until, both from a technical and from a financial point of view, we are in a position to make further progress with it. If the Government agree to this course, I hope that when the time comes for reconsideration all Parties will be prepared to give the matter full and objective consideration.
§ 6.51 p.m.
My Lords, I was interested in the remarks of the noble Lord who has just sat down to the effect that one's support of sponsored television depended upon whether one was young or old—that one supported it if one was young but not if one was old. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said that he was as old as he felt, but he did not give his age. I do not know whether he uses age as a criterion for being an "anti-sponsorer" or not. I am a little perturbed by the remark of the noble Lord that there are a number of noble Lords on this side of the House who are young and who are "anti-sponsorers." So far as I know, there are only the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, and the noble Lord, Lord Elton—
Do not anticipate your speech. I believe both those noble Lords have been in B.B.C. programmes. 1436 I say categorically that I am a "pro-sponsorer." I do not believe that any man using some of his advertising appropriations, if he was in his right senses, would put on a programme that would upset the public to whom his advertising programme was directed. I am also one of those—and I am sure that many noble Lords in this House on both sides feel the same—who have a great belief in the taste of the British public. They would be the first to switch off a programme which they disliked and thought was wrong and bad. I know they do so to-day. That is the last thing that a sponsor wishes to happen. He wants to have his programme listened to by the largest number of people he can get, and he hopes they will enjoy it and listen to it again.
I am also a little disturbed at a feeling I experienced that a sort of "Holier than thou" inflection seemed to come into the speeches against sponsored programmes, a sort of "Divine right of Kings." Your Lordships well know that in 1649 Parliament saw fit to deal with the question of the "Divine right of Kings." I sincerely hope that in 1952 we shall not give a "Divine right of the B.B.C." I would give full support to trying out sponsored television on the B.B.C. television programme between the hours of six to eight because then we should have a market of listeners who would be able to tell us after a period whether or not they liked sponsored programmes. After all, the B.B.C. says it is in need of funds. It could very well charge a reasonable sum per hour for the use of its equipment. There is a safeguard there, too. If it charged an unreasonable sum in order to stop anyone taking those hours, we could soon find out, because it would be a question of how much the network cost per hour to run, and the public would want to know.
In connection with establishing other stations for competitive programmes, and with regard to paragraphs 7 and 10 of the White Paper, I urge Her Majesty's Government to consult with the industry and agree frequencies as soon as possible. In this country we are starting to make television sets for export, and we are urged to export. Overseas, they have switchable programmes, and unless we have a fairly healthy market in this country for those switchable sets we shall be at a disadvantage. I believe we could 1437 assist our export drive if we got down to designing a reasonable production of turret tuners for our television sets, and adaptors to fit the existing sets to enable them then to be switched to another frequency. Obviously it would be wrong to outdate the television sets in the hands of people to-day.
May I now say a word in connection with sponsored programmes on the ordinary radio broadcasts? I thank the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for his remarks at the beginning of his speech Quite logically, he suggested that the two should run together. It is surprising to me that the B.B.C. has not proceeded with the development of V.H.F. broadcasting in the past. Germany now has fifty V.H.F. stations, and they provide a good service over twice the area of the medium wave stations. Italy has twelve stations operating, and other European nations have one or two operating on an experimental basis. The United States has 636 stations, including eighty educational stations. I feel that the B.B.C. since the war has had greater enthusiasm for spending its capital construction funds not on the development of V.H.F. or television but on an additional sound programme on a medium frequency. I am afraid I am going to refer to the Third Programme again. I have listened to the Third Programme quite often; but can the cost of twenty-two stations be justified for 1 per cent. of listeners? Surely, if the B.B.C. organised it properly they could put the Third Programme on a single station that could cover the whole of the country, and use their twenty-two stations for 90 per cent. of the people who wish to listen. I believe that the present arrangement is bad organisation. The cost of erection of a V.H.F. station I believe to be between £2,000 and £5,000, according to type. It is not necessary to have large steel masts; a small wooden mast on the top of a building will do perfectly well.
In conclusion, I would sum up what I have tried to say in a very short space of time. I believe the public wants sponsored programmes both on radio and on television. I do not believe that the sponsors would put on a programme that would, if I may quote Lord Macdonald's words: "tarnish the fine reputation of the B.B.C. in the broadcasting world." I should be among the first to say that I think that that reputation stands very 1438 high indeed. Thirdly, I would urge Her Majesty's Government to consult at once with the industry on the technical problems involved.
§ 7.1 p.m.
My Lords, I join with your Lordships who have participated in this debate in paying a sincere tribute to my brother Scot who initiated it. As your Lordships have emphasised and are agreed, Lord Reith has given us the best national broadcasting system that the world has yet seen, and to him and to all those who worked with him in those pioneering days, many of whom are still on the job, and to the others who have joined, we owe a great debt of gratitude. Quite briefly and directly, I support Lord Reith, and were there to be a Division in your Lordships' House I, like my noble friend Lord Halifax, should vote with Lord Reith.
Since so little time is available for the few remarks which I wish to submit to your Lordships, I should like to say that two speeches to which I have listened, one on the first day of the debate and one to-day, expressed my views completely. They were the speeches of the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, last Thursday, and of the noble Lord, Lord Brand, today. I hope that when the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack comes to make his reply, he will be able to tell your Lordships that the advice tendered by the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, about withdrawing the White Paper has been heard. But I fear that not much will happen along those lines. If that is not done, may I add my voice to that of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, and pray that those eminent leaders of jurisprudence in England and Scotland, to wit, the Lord Chief Justice and the President of the Court of Session, be excused the invitation to become entrammelled in the proposed plan in the White Paper?
In this important debate, the emphasis has been on who should do what. It is true that an occasional reference has been made to the listeners and in a minute, if I may, as one of the Scots representatives in your Lordships' House, I should like to speak for some of the listeners, to wit, my own folk, the Highlanders. We, as ever, seem to be reminded in this, as in other things, that since we did not win at Culloden we must be the last to be served. 1439 In my own part of the Highlands, in Aberdeenshire, it is impossible to listen to any B.B.C. programme by night or day unless you are willing to be a permanent "knob twiddler." We can listen to European stations without this and without getting our tempers, or those of our neighbours, frayed. This inadequate service should be remedied. When we in the Highlands are to be offered television, let the coverage be adequate—it is not at all adequate at the moment—and, all-important, let the programmes be of our own making, North of the Border.
A further suggestion, and one which I have submitted on other occasions, is that there is room for a twenty-four hour music service, particularly available for those who are sick and in hospital—a service which is broadcast without any words at all, music throughout the twenty-four hours of the cycle of the day. If your Lordships would like to know what one means by that, I should say music of the type that a man of the eminence of Sir Malcolm Sargent would think suitable for such a purpose.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD SIMONDS)
My Lords, this long debate now draws to a close. At the opening of the debate to-day, the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, made a speech which, I think, by its moral fervour moved us all. But if he will allow me to say so, Lord Macdonald is one of the great orators—he has the art of the orator in mixing the gay with the grave. He began with a little of the gay, observing, as he thought, that as speaker after speaker criticised the White Paper, increasing gloom decended upon the Government Benches, and ended by saying that he observed the shadow of gloom reaching even to the Woolsack. Well, I should like to tell him this: that if he will change places with me one day, and sit for five hours on the Woolsack on a hot summer's afternoon in a full-bottomed wig, he will find that quite a sufficient reason for a little gloom appearing towards the end of a sitting. But there was, perhaps, another reason for gloom—namely, that I heard so many of those old friends with whom I was wont to walk and talk, take a view upon the moral aspect of this matter which distressed me profoundly. I will come to that aspect later and deal first with just 1440 one or two points before I come to what is, by common consent, the substantial question in this debate—namely, the question of monopoly.
First, if I may deal with what one of the last speakers said, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, asked what was the urgency of this matter. The urgency of this matter is surely this: that the Charter of the B.B.C. has now to be renewed and, therefore, the Government of the day have to decide whether the monopoly is to be perpetuated for the period of ten years, or it may be fifteen years, or, as some people want, for a longer period; or whether, as the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, said, the Government should state their intention to keep the door open for sponsored radio. That is the urgency. It would have been utterly improper at this moment for the Government to shirk the decision whether or not the monopoly is to be perpetuated. That was the urgency and the only urgency.
The next point with which I wish to deal, though I think it should not be necessary, is that the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, questioned the clarity of the White Paper in respect of the future which is destined for the B.B.C. Well, Lord Samuel is himself such a master of clarity that perhaps he expects in others a perfection of which we fall short. With great respect to the noble Viscount, I suggest that the future which we propose for the B.B.C. is crystal clear. It is surely that the position of the B.B.C. is to remain exactly the same. It is not to be required to put out sponsored programmes. It is to remain exactly the same, except that the door is kept open for the licensing of sponsored television—that and nothing else.
Perhaps it would be expedient at this moment just to say what is proposed. As I say, the position of the B.B.C. remains unaltered, but the door is kept open for sponsored television. The paragraphs of the White Paper must by now be very familiar to the House, yet I cannot help thinking that some of the arguments have proceeded upon a totally different basis, as if there were some objection in this White Paper and something new in Government policy which meant that the public were to have a choice of no B.B.C. or no sponsored radio. In fact, the position is clear. The B.B.C. will go on and there may, subject to the conditions 1441 which Parliament thinks fit to impose, be sponsored television also. And what conditions and restrictions Parliament may think fit to impose when the time comes will be for Parliament to say. It would be utterly improper for Her Majesty's Government to say now, since it cannot but be several years before any licences can be granted, what those conditions and restrictions should be. Accordingly, Her Majesty's Government have taken the proper course of saying that when a licence is to be issued it will be subject to the restrictions and conditions which Parliament will then impose.
I come to another question, which I find one of some difficulty. That is the question as to the constitution of the Regional Councils. That is a matter upon which there has been some difference of opinion. It is clear that if the decentralisation for which some noble Lords have asked is effected it will diminish centralisation. That, of course, is clear. On the other hand, if you increase centralisation then you increase the danger, which some of us fear, of the B.B.C. in effect being a monopolistic autocracy. There is another point upon which there has been very little discussion—that is the duration of the Charter: whether it shall be for ten years or fifteen years. That is a matter upon which I think there is a good deal to be said on either side, but on the whole we think that ten years is a better term than fifteen years, having in view the great developments likely to take place in the ten years.
Before I come to the large issue of monopoly there is one other question with which I wish to deal, and I will freely confess that it is a question which has given me personally greater difficulty than any other in this matter. The question is that of the mode of appointing Governors. I listened with great interest to the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel—and if I may say so without impertinence, his moderate, and conciliatory tone lent great weight to his argument, as it usually does—and also to the speech which Lord Waverley addressed to us. I think we should all admit that in the past the system under which the Government of the day has submitted to the Sovereign the names of the Governors has worked satisfactorily, but (and I say this without wishing to give any sort of offence) recently there 1442 has been an incident which, in regard to Party political controversy, can, I think, be said to have made a new chapter. I do not see any great difference between the appointment of the Chairman of a Royal Commission and the appointment of the Governors of the British Broadcasting Corporation. It may be that I am wrong about that, but I venture to think that in view of the risk of incidents which are so deplorable, as some of us think, when we come to appointments like these, where in effect the appointment is of someone who may directly or indirectly if he thinks fit exercise great political influence, we have to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of different methods of appointment. I can assure the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, that we shall think very hard upon this question, and we shall particularly bear in mind the words which he and other speakers have uttered.
Now I come to what is, I venture to think, the great issue in this case: the question of whether the door should be kept open or whether the principle of monopoly should be perpetuated. I think that if it is perpetuated for a further ten or fifteen years there will perhaps be difficulties then in making a breach in the walls. The first point is rather a curious one. Many noble Lords, including the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, who was courteous enough 1o write to me to explain that he could not be here for the debate to-day, the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, who is not here, and, I think, the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Sheffield, and it may be others, have been very anxious to disclaim the name "monopoly" for the privilege (I will use a neutral word) which the B.B.C. have. I can understand their anxiety, for all of us have for 300 years been fighting, in Parliament and in the courts, against monopolies because they are odious and against public interest. Why then is this not a monopoly—the sole right to send over the air messages in words and in music; the sole right, when it comes to television, to transmit pictures? Why is that not a monopoly?
If the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, were here, I should dare to ask him whether if he had the sole right of speaking in this House, that would not be a monopoly. I would ask the same question of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, if he 1443 were here, adding that if, perhaps, he had that right, it might not be a valuable one, for he would soon find himself speaking to the empty air. Is not this in every true sense of the word a monopoly? My noble and learned friend Lord Radcliffe, in words which I thought extraordinarily apt, referred to this. He spoke of shops being set up at which radio time was sold. How true! These are the goods and the price is paid, and there is to this day a monopoly in the British Broadcasting Corporation. And, justly and aptly I thought, Lord Reith referred to the achievement, the great and magnificent achievement, which it has accomplished by the brute force of the monopoly I have mentioned. And I should not like this occasion to pass without paying my tribute also to the great work which the noble Lord, Lord Reith, has accomplished. If I say anything which is in any way offensive to him I believe that it will leave our old friendship unimpaired.
The B.B.C. is a monopoly. Many speakers have been anxious to find other words for it, I know, but running through the Reports, not only of the Beveridge Committee but of all previous Committees, you find this organisation referred to as a monopoly. Noble Lords have denied that it is a monopoly because they know that, as I have said, a monopoly is odious and against the public interest. Some monopolies are justified by sheer necessity, as in the case of the Post Office, as in the case of the Army and as in the case of many other things. But in order to justify a monopoly you must find cogent and compulsive necessity for it. Now what is the cogent necessity which is urged in favour of this monopoly to be perpetuated as is proposed? It has been put in various ways, but I think it always comes down to this: that we must not lower the standard of broadcasting; we must not give the people what they want because they might want something that is not good for them. How utterly that should be rejected in a democratic country!
As I sat listening to this debate, and one noble Lord after another proclaimed that theme in different language, my mind ran back into the history of our country. We live in the present; we look forward to the future; but we may 1444 obtain guidance from the past. Do your Lordships remember that for many centuries there was no freedom of the Press, that printing had to be licensed? At different times in our history the restrictions were greater or less, but my mind went back to the period of the fifth decade of the seventeenth century, when an order was promulgated that no book, no paper, no pamphlet, should be printed without the approval of the authorities—it might have been the Lords in Council or whom you will: if they had been alive then, it would have been, perhaps, in the hands of Sir William Haley and his colleagues. But that order produced a tremendous reply. It produced John Milton's An Essay in Defence of Unlicensed Printing, and John Milton's words have rung through the ages.
I do not want to be extravagant or to suggest that the position is the same in regard to sponsored radio, but I would have those of your Lordships who think that communication between man and man should be cabined and confined, to read what John Milton wrote on that subject. After pointing out the evils which arise if men cannot speak freely to one another, whether on the printed page or, as now, through the medium of the air, he bursts into the noble passage which begins:Methinks I see in my mind a noble and puissant nation rousing herself like a strong man after sleep. …These are words which have rung through the ages. Every argument that I have heard to-day and last Thursday for restraining the liberty of sponsored radio was used before in the days of John Milton. I am not saying that Milton's vision came true. But I know there is not one noble Lord on either side of the House who would disagree with me when I say that, had John Milton known that bad books would be published, as well as good books and a still greater number of indifferent books, he would not have changed his tone one iota. So, when I listened to the moral fervour of the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, and the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Radcliffe, my mind went back to those attempts to restrain the liberty of the Press. I submit to the House that freedom is a thing which is above all price, and that we must not restrain those who would send out messages over the air 1445 from doing so just as they will, subject always to those laws in regard to blasphemy and obscenity which must regulate all public communications.
Now I come to closer considerations. First of all, I come to the fear that has been expressed of the lowering of the standard. What does that mean? Does it mean that the B.B.C. themselves are going to lower the standard? Nobody ventured upon that until the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said that would be so; but that is not the argument which is usually put forward. It is suggested (though I do not find it easy to understand this suggestion) that the B.B.C. will lower their standard because public taste will be lowered and the B.B.C. would have to conform to that taste. I do not know whether that is right or wrong. It appears to me to be the merest assumption. Why should the B.B.C., with a duly imposed upon them by the terms of their Charter, imposed upon them by the fact that they receive public funds, in order to do their imposed duty lower their standard? That seems to me to be the grossest assumption. Rather I think—and here my opinion is as good as that of anyone in this matter—the standard of the B.B.C. will be improved by the competition which will be forced upon it.
If the B.B.C. standard is not lowered—indeed, if it is raised—what is there to fear? Is it that the public will be debauched in some way because they have to listen to unworthy programmes issued by sponsored radio? Here are two assumptions again, both of them unwarranted. The one is that the programmes which are issued from stations other than the B.B.C. will be of a lower standard. The second is that if they are of a lower standard the listening public will be diverted or turned from the Third Programme, the Home Service or the Light Programme, and will listen to this lower standard of radio from the other stations. Why should such an assumption be made? Why should we not assume that we shall receive from sponsored radio a standard of substantially the same kind as we now have from the B.B.C., but with a greater variety?
I go further—and here is where I join with the noble Lords who have criticised upon the moral issue. I avow that I breach no moral law at all if I say "Trust the people." Many before me have said 1446 that. One noble Lord said aptly that we have granted universal suffrage to the people, and asked whether those in whose hands we put the election of their representatives in another place are unfit to determine the programmes to which they should listen. I confess that such an idea shocks me. What about the twelve jurymen, the twelve common jurymen, in whose hands the lives, the liberties and the fortunes of our fellow citizens rest? Are they the people to whom we would deny the right to choose what they shall hear, lest they be debauched? We have to come down to real things, to men and women. We talk about the great public: who are they? In this House, in another place, the attendants and officers of the House, the listeners in the gallery. Who are these people for whose morals you fear? Trust the people. I think this attitude with regard to the moral law is utterly deplorable. For my part, I am glad that Her Majesty's Government have been wise enough to say that the monopoly shall not be perpetuated, but that the door shall be kept open.
I have already occupied more of your Lordships' time than I should, but clearly there is one other aspect of this matter to which I ought to refer. More than one noble Lord has said: "Why do you stop short at television? If that is your view, why do you not licence sponsored radio?" That is surely a most ungenerous comment; it is surely the "unkindest cut of all." What we find is this. A great body of men, many of whom have spoken to-day, and whose opinions we respect, say one thing. On the other hand, we find a great body of people who take a diametrically opposite view. On each side there is an assertion of a moral principle. When you find such a thing as that, is it not wise statesmanship to go by stages? Call it, if you will, a compromise, but it is not an inconsistency. Forgive me if I say this to your Lordships. Where there is a moral principle involved, and where one side affirms with great moral fervour that it is right and the other side is wrong, and that no inch can be given and no step taken to conciliate the other side, will your Lordships not remember what Cromwell said to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland? This is what he said, in very solemn words, which I dare to repeat in this House, because I agree that this is a solemn issue: 1447I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think that ye may be mistaken.When I hear a moral principle asserted with the moral fervour of some of your Lordships; when I recollect, as I do, that what you say goes contrary to the morals and principles of a great many of our fellow citizens; and when I find that which we advocate here has been carried out in some of the Member States of the Commonwealth, then I venture to utter this warning.
Dare I say this, too? There was to me in the speeches of many noble Lords who criticised the White Paper what somebody called a "Holier than thou" attitude. I sincerely hope that in due time—and it must be some years—there will be sponsored television in this country. I believe that it will work for the good. I personally also hope that in time it will lead to sponsored radio—but that lies in the future and is a purely personal opinion. The position of everybody is safeguarded in this: that before any licence can be granted the Parliament of the day will have an opportunity of considering its position.
That concludes all I have to say. I understand that there is not to be a Division to-night, and perhaps it is for that reason that there are not so many noble Lords here as there might be. The noble Lord, Lord Reith, who has initiated this debate has rendered us a great service in enabling us to air our views. I will end where I think I began, by saying that I yield to nobody in my admiration for Lord Reith's work. I believe he was at the B.B.C. for sixteen years. It so happens that under the Patent Law sixteen years is the term that is granted for an invention which is 1448 worthy of a patent—if it is a remarkable one it can be extended for a further term of years. The noble Lord, Lord Reith, did remarkable work, and he served for the full period of a monopoly of sixteen years. The monopoly was extended in favour of some of his successors, but the time has now come for the monopoly, like all other monopolies, to come to an end.
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ LORD REITH
My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, for what he has said by way of summary, and I thank all those noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. Time will show which view is right. I ask leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.