HL Deb 14 July 1954 vol 188 cc993-1005

3.12 p.m.

House again in Committee (according to Order).

[The EARL OF DROGHEDA in the Chair]

Clause 7:

Government control over Authority as to certain matters

(3) The Postmaster-General may from time to time by notice in writing give directions to the Authority as to the maximum time, the minimum time, or both the maximum and the minimum time, which is to be given each day to broadcasts from any of the television broadcasting stations used by them and it shall be the duty of the Authority to comply with the notice.

LORD SIMON OF WYTHENSHAWE moved, in subsection (3), after "them" to insert: and as to the hours of the day in which such broadcasts are to be given which shall so far as possible coincide with the British Broadcasting Corporation Television Service.

The noble Lord said: The Amendment I have to move is an Amendment to Clause 7, subsection (3), which states that the Postmaster General may from time to time give written directions to the Authority as to the maximum time and the minimum time for television. My Amendment adds to that, that he shall have authority to lay down the actual hours during which these broadcasts shall take place. That happens to be exactly the condition which the noble Earl the Postmaster General has laid down for the B.B.C. In the licence for the B.B.C. of June, 1952, there is a clause which says that the Corporation shall send out every day programmes of sound and television from such stations and during such hours as the Postmaster General may prescribe. My Amendment is that the Postmaster General shall give the same directions to the I.T.A. as he now gives to the B.B.C.

No doubt on the advice of the B.B.C., the Postmaster has made, if I may say so, wise regulations as regards hours. What happens is that Children's Hour is from 5 to 5.40, or 5 to 6 o'clock every day. Then the B.B.C. shuts down television from 6 to 7.30, so as to give the parents a chance of settling down, having their meal and getting the children off to bed, and to give the children, who have been, or may have been, viewing television from 5 to 6 o'clock an hour and a half before going to bed when they will not be bound to this fascinating screen but will be able to do homework or engage in the sort of activities in which children should engage before going to bed. The simple object of this Amendment is to ensure that the Postmaster General will give the same directions to the I.T.A. as he gives to the B.B.C., and that he will continue the same beneficent instructions he has now given to the effect that between 6 and 7.30 there shall be no television. In my view, that is a wise arrangement.

I know that the Postmaster General does not like to hear much about the United States, but I must ask him to allow me to read two short extracts of what happens in the evenings when children are listening in two towns of the United States. The first report comes from the Federal Communications Commission, which is the I.T.A. of the United States. That body grants licences; it can suspend licences, and it has in a few cases suspended licences. It does not, I believe, have to wait three years before it can suspend a licence. Even so, its powers are very limited. This report is given as regards broadcasting in San Francisco, and it says: A group of dedicated San Francisco mothers … sat down for four uninterrupted hours of watching T.V. moppet shows. The F.C.C. published the results. The outraged mothers saw: 13 murders and assorted killings, 4 sluggings, 6 kidnappings, 5 hold-ups, 3 explosions, 3 instances of blackmail and extortion, 3 thefts, 2 armed robberies, 2 cases of arson, 1 lynching, 1 torture scene and 1 miscarriage"— I do not quite know how that was shown. It goes on: The mothers concluded '… Not one episode, not one character, not one emotion did we see evoked that the children might emulate to their gain.' Although I have many of these instances, I will read only one more. It is a letter from an English father, who was living in Washington at the time. He wrote: The programmes on television for children are, with few exceptions, quite dreadful. … Here I am faced with the eternal problem of preventing my children from watching blood. and thunder stuff which has the immediate effect of keeping them awake half the night. What its long-term effect will be I shudder to think! I note that to-day a thousand mothers in the little town I live in sent a protest to the National Associaion of Radio and T.V. Broadcasters saying 'Two or four hours of visual education in violence and crime are refuting our own efforts to protect the standards of our homes.' That is the sort of thing that is happening in the United States to-day. My noble friend Lord Listowel read a similar account only yesterday of something that is happening at the present moment, but this was about a year ago. I do not say that this would necessarily happen here, but if commercial broadcasting were allowed for those hours the same pressure would be brought to bear on the commercial broadcasters as is brought to bear in Los Angeles and Washington, and there would be a great danger. This is quite a simple Amendment. I am asking the noble Earl, the Postmaster General, to treat the I.T.A. only in exactly the same way as he is treating the B.B.C., and with the same wisdom and judgment. I beg the noble Earl to accept this Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 12, line 13, after ("them") insert the said words.—(Lord Simon of Wythenshawe.)


I wish to support what the noble Lord, Lord Simon of Wythenshawe, has said, on the simple principle that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. It seems to me that it would be quite intolerable that one of our television authorities should be restricted in its hours and the other absolutely free. It may be that the two authorities might come to some understanding between themselves which they thought was fair, by which one stopped, as the B.B.C. does now, between 6 and 7.30, and the other at another time. The B.B.C., perhaps for laudable purposes, stop between 6 o'clock and 7.30. I do not know what their actual purposes are in stopping between those hours—whether it is for the children or whether it is for other reasons—but it would be intolerable if the fact that they did so enabled the commercial television to have an absolutely free run just before all the children of the country went to bed. I do not say that commercial television here will at all follow the practices that some operators follow in the United States. Let us suppose that they are perfectly decent. Nevertheless, there seems to be something totally unfair in a compulsory clause which gives freedom to one of the authorities and not freedom to another.


With reference to what the noble Lord, Lord Simon of Wythenshawe, has said, there is one question I should like to ask. As I understand it, the noble Lord read out a list of items displayed upon television—in America it is true—which American parents seem to have thought were extremely unsuitable for their children to look at. The thing that puzzles me is this: Why do the parents allow their children to look at it? It seems to me an extraordinary abdication of responsibility on the part of parents to wring their hands helplessly and to say. "We think it very bad indeed for our children to look at this programme, but we can do nothing about it." Surely, the remedy is in the hands of parents themselves not to allow their children to look at programmes which they think deleterious to the manners and morals of their children.


Might I say, knowing something about the United States, that American parents are not all-powerful in the control of their children. I have talked to American parents who have told me that it is useless to forbid their children to look at television because they will just go next door and look at a television set where there may not be children, but where the inhabitants of that house are perfectly happy that the children should look at it. It is really very difficult, in America at any rate, to forbid children to look at television, and I think parents in this country might find equal difficulty once it gets going.


I can only say that, whether here or in America, I think it is quite deplorable that parents should expect the State to do for them what they ought to do for themselves.


With all respect to the noble Lord, Lord Simon of Wythenshawe, I venture to protest about this eternal ramming of America down our throats. We on this side of the House have, by Divisions, declared repeatedly and made perfectly obvious that we do not agree with it. The whole arguments on repeated occasions have been that we do not believe that England is going to follow necessarily the same lines as America. It is getting tiring to some of us on this side to hear this repeated idea that because America do it we shall do the same thing.


I think we all agree that one of the great advantages of being a Member of your Lordships' House is that there are no Rules of Order, and there is not the slightest obligation on us to stick to the point. We are all, in spite of what the noble Lord said about my not being interested in what happens in America, delighted at any time to be lectured by the noble Lord about what he knows. He knows a great deal about broadcasting in America. I venture to join with the noble Viscount, Lord Hudson, in the protest at the list which was read out by the noble Lord, Lord Simon of Wythenshawe, who must know, if he has looked at this Bill and if he has listened to the debates, that not a single one of those children's programmes that he has mentioned would be allowed on this network. It is true that one cannot always avoid crime plays. I was ill a short time ago and I looked in at television every day of the week for seven days, and every day I had to witness a crime play on the present B.B.C. network.


During Children's Hour?


I have forgotten the exact hour, but children are about at other times of the day than Children's Hour. I think the real point of this Amendment—it is a perfectly logical one—is that the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. should be on the same basis. I must say that at first I thought the wise thing to do would be to accept this Amendment. Then I had second thoughts, and I think it would be much better to give the noble Lord his point, but to say that I do not think it is necessary or even proper that a Minister should have to lay down with responsible bodies, either the I.T.A. or the B.B.C., the exact hours or even quarter-hours during which they are to be allowed to broadcast. I am content to give the noble Lord a firm assurance that at some suitable time, when the B.B.C. licence may well have to be reviewed, I propose to change the licence of the B.B.C. so that I no longer control the details of their hours, but bring back my powers to what is in this Bill—that I should approve a maximum and a minimum time. I believe that is a much better way of meeting the noble Lord and ensuring what the noble Lord, Lord Brand, quite rightly asked for: that the B.B.C. and the I.T..A. should be on the same basis.


The noble Earl has taken one of the arguments of this Amendment and accepted it, but rejected the other which, to my mind, and I am sure to the minds of many of your Lordships, is perhaps the more important of the two—the need for protecting the children and their education That was treated really with contempt. I am sorry that he should have taken up that attitude; it seems to me to be a thoroughly reactionary one. I am sure that all educationalists are very worried and upset about this problem, not only on the other side of the Atlantic but in this country also. If it is to be handled in the light-hearted and almost cynical way in which the noble Earl has handled it, it is a bad look-out. There was a time when the noble Earl was interested in the problem of juvenile delinquency. It is bound up with this type of business, in cinemas and in other ways, and it is, I submit, a serious extension of this danger. I hope that noble Lords will be prepared to consider the matter on its merits in relation to this country and not necessarily in relation to the experience in other countries, because I can assure them that there is something very real here, and the B.B.C. has taken an enlightened attitude towards it in restricting this period. It is perfectly clear that it should be restricted on the new arrangement also.


May I say a few words to support the noble Lord, Lord Chorley? Every time attention is drawn to certain defects in American television programmes, noble Lords who support this Bill say, "Oh, but the same sort of thing happens on the B.B.C." That happened during the Second Reading and continually during this Committee stage. Is it seriously suggested by the supporters of this Bill that two wrongs make a right?


I cannot speak about parents, but I can say a word to the noble Lord, Lord Winster, about grandparents. I can assure him that it is by no means as easy as he seems to think to say to the children: "I am very sorry but you must not see the television." It really is a godsend for grandparents, before the children go to bed, that television is turned off. I can assure him of that, beyond any argument at all, and anybody in my position and, I strongly suspect, in the position of the noble Earl, would cordially agree with me about it.


Mine are much more difficult.


Perhaps the noble Earl's are better behaved than mine. But I would ask the noble Earl to think again about this. I attach importance to it. Frankly, I feel that the whole impact of television on children needs to be thought over very carefully. I believe that we are face to face with an important and grave problem here, and, for my part, I think it is all to the good that the Postmaster General should have the powers that he has and that are incorporated in the broadcasting licence for the B.B.C. of June, 1952. The Postmaster General perhaps will tell me and, I should like to know, whether he exercises these powers—as indeed he must, because the rule, as read out by the noble Lord, Lord Simon of Wythenshawe, is this: The Corporation shall send out its programmes from such stations and during such hours as the Postmaster General may from time to time respectively in writing prescribe. So far as I know—I invite correction if I am wrong, because I do not pretend to be an expert on this matter—the Postmaster General has prescribed in writing the hours during which the B.B.C. broadcasts and, so far as I know (and it is a tribute to the wisdom with which the noble Earl has done it) there has not been the smallest difficulty or conflict between himself and the B.B.C. about this matter. I think it would be a pity now to alter the arrangement with the B.B.C.

It is all to the good that he should have this control. Owing to the good sense of the B.B.C., he may never have to alter their wishes, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Brand, said, we must put the two in line. It is much better to bring the I.T.A. on to the same line as the B.B.C., the arrangement having worked very well, rather than to cut out the arrangement with the B.B.C. and let it be a "free for all." If there is a "free for all" in the way of competition, there is the grave danger that the hours may be extended. In that case I am quite certain that what most parents would desire may be lost sight of. This is not in the least a Party political question, but I think it raises social implications. I would ask the Postmaster General to think again about it, and to say that he will extend to the I.T.A. exactly the same provision as he to-day extends to the B.B.C., the provision which, during the last two years and over, has worked perfectly happily and well and, I believe, to the public advantage.


May I, as a grandparent, just say in one word that I cordially agree with what has just fallen from the noble and learned Earl.


Having supported the Government in their Bill for the last two days, and speaking, as the last speaker has spoken, as a grandparent, I would on this occasion support the views of the noble and learned Earl the Leader of the Opposition. I think that the times for the two bodies should be the same, and that in the early stages of the new scheme it is desirable to start from the present position. I have no doubt that, with experience, when perhaps some of the fears of some of the opponents of the Bill have been set at rest, it may be possible to extend the hours. If those fears are not set at rest, then we can think about it again.


May I, in a word, say that I deeply regretted to hear from the noble and learned Earl of the deterioration which has set in amongst grandparents. I can only tell your Lordships that if my grandfather said I was not to do something, I did not do it, and that was the end of it. But, according to the noble and learned Earl, grandparents are not what they were, and I am very sorry indeed to hear it.


Forgive me if I do not follow noble Lords with little pictures of my family life. I cannot help feeling that this discussion has gone just a little wide of the actual Amendment. The noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, even spoke in terms of appealing to me not to have a "free for all." If the noble and learned Earl will be good enough just to give his mind to the actual clause as it is drafted, he will see that I have complete power to lay down the maximum time during which there shall be broadcasts, and that may be six or seven hours a day. All I say is that it is quite unnecessary for a Minister, when there is a corporation with the responsibility of the B.B.C. and the responsibility which the I.T.A. will have, to say: "No, you must not go from 3 to 4 o'clock. I think it is better that you should go from 3.15 to 4.15." It is perfectly true that I have administered the licence during the last two years. I have been doing that and, of course, I must continue to do so as long as it is the law of the country that I am administering; but I venture to say that it really is utterly unnecessary.

Somehow or other, this discussion has become linked entirely with the Children's Hour. There is not a word about the Children's Hour either in the clause or in the Amendment. There seems to be the extraordinary assumption that children are all in bed excepting between whatever the hours are—4 to 5 o'clock—and that they cannot possibly look at anything outside that period. It is utter nonsense. What we have tried to do is to produce a scheme that is going to give decent programmes throughout the day and programmes which we do not mind our children or our grandchildren viewing.


Is it not the fact that, so far as the B.B.C. is concerned and with their full concurrence, the Postmaster General has prescribed that there shall be no broadcasting between 6 and 7.30 o'clock in the evening, save in special circumstances?


It is perfectly true that I have been administering the law as it is and I will continue to do so. I should perhaps put the House right on one point, and that is that I have no power whatsoever to tell the B.B.C. at what hour they shall put on a children's programme. I have power only to prescribe the number of hours and the hours during which programmes shall be broadcast.


It is perfectly true that there is nothing specific about Children's Hour in the Amendment, or about the hours between 6 and 7.30, but the sole purpose of putting down the Amendment was to try to persuade the noble Earl to stop all broadcasting during those hours. Apart from that, there is no point in the Amendment. We have heard a good deal about the effect on children. In view of the pathetic appeal that has been made, I will not revert to America, but, if you have commercial broadcasting between 6 and 7.30 here, you will inevitably get very much the sort of thing happening that I read out. I beg the noble Earl to accept this simple Amendment.


I need not repeat this; you will not get that. There is a perfectly simple issue before us. Noble Lords opposite do not trust anybody. They will not trust the B.B.C. or the I.T.A.—and we do. It is most complimentary of the noble and learned Earl that he should say that I am much better and wiser than are the Governors of the B.B.C. or of the future I.T.A. I do not want to be given the power to assert that supposed superiority.


May I ask the noble Earl, with great respect, why he refers always to "the noble Lords opposite"? Many opponents of this Bill belong to the noble Earl's own Party.


So far as I can understand this—and I was unable to hear the earlier part of the debate—what the noble Lord, Lord Simon of Wythenshawe, wishes to do is to say that if the B.B.C. co not broadcast during a particular period, the I.T.A. shall not broadcast during that period.




I think so. I am not sure in that case that I see the object of the Amendment. What happens, I understand—and I really cannot see what this has to do with children—is that to-day, when we have only one broadcasting business, the Chairman of the B.B.C. writes to the Postmaster General and says, "We do not want to broadcast during these hours"; and the Postmaster General, who is very obliging when he has only one authority to deal with, says, "Very well, there shall be no broadcasting during those hours." Now we are going to have two or more authorities. One of them, the B.B.C., may say that they do not want to broadcast during particular hours; the others may say they do. If the Postmaster General has power to make regulations for either, and he thinks it is a good thing that the I.T.A. should broadcast during certain hours, he will say "Very well, you may broadcast during those hours." He will not exclude the B.B.C. from doing it. If the B.B.C. do not want to do it, that is the affair of the B.B.C. I really cannot see why the viewing public should be deprived of seeing something at a time when one assumes they want to see something.


If I may say so with respect, the noble Viscount comes in, without having heard the argument, and then gets up and completely misrepresents the case. The case is simply this. Under the licence of 1952 the Postmaster General has the power to prescribe not merely the maximum time or the total time occupied, but also the hours. And, as he told us, the Postmaster General has prescribed the time, and has prescribed that there shall be no television broadcasting between 6 and 7.30 p.m. That carries with it, I think, the assent of all sensible people, and certainly the assent of the B.B.C. All we are asking in this Amendment is that the Postmaster General, who is taking power with regard to the I.T.A. to prescribe the maximum time per diem during which broadcasting may take place, shall also take power to prescribe, if he so desires, the times during the day during which broadcasting may take place. All we want to do is give to the Postmaster General a power which he may or may not exercise, as he thinks proper.


I have not only read the Amendment since I came into the House but also have studied it very carefully before coming into the House. Let me read what the Amendment is—it is not what the noble and learned Earl has suggested it is. It seeks to insert: and as to the hours of the day in which such broadcasts are to be given"— that is the I.T.A. broadcasts— which shall so far as possible coincide with the British Broadcasting Corporation Television Service. In what I have said, and I am addressing myself to the Amendment, I do not think I have misrepresented what would be its effect—I do not know its intention. Today, the B.B.C. have said to the Postmaster General "We do not want to broadcast between 6 and 7.30 p.m., and therefore you should make an order against broadcasting in that period." But if this Amendment is carried, and the B.B.C. do not want to broadcast during the period, if the Authority will have to conform to what the B.B.C. do it means that the Authority will not be able to broadcast during that period. Exactly. Lord Simon of Wythenshawe, who, after all, is the author of the Amendment, agrees that I have read the Amendment right and the intention right. Regarding my absence when the Amendment was moved, I had an important engagement which prevented me from being here at the beginning; otherwise I should naturally have been here. I do not think I have at all misrepresented what is in the Amendment, or as Lord Simon of Wythenshawe says, what is the intention behind it. All I am saying is this: that if there is to be a general power to prescribe broadcasting hours, surely the Postmaster General ought not to be ordered by Parliament to make the I.T.A. do whatever the B.B.C. want to do; but if he is to prescribe hours during which the I.T.A. broadcasts, then the B.B.C. ought to be able to broadcast during the same hours.


I think the noble Viscount who has just spoken has missed the whole point of those who support this Amendment. It is thought by those interested in children and education that it is a good thing that for a short period in the day there should be no television. That is secured by the direction of the Postmaster General to the B.B.C. not to broadcast television between those hours. If the commercial system begins putting on a television programme during those hours the whole purpose will be destroyed—that is, to secure that during the time when the B.B.C. have no television programme in the afternoon the commercial people shall be in the same position. Those who know best about it consider that this is in the interests of children and their education, and it is to secure the continuance of that situation that the Amendment is put forward.

On Question, Whether the Amendment shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 37; Not-Contents, 53.

Aberdeen and Temair, M. Archibald, L. Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, L.
Brand, L. Mathers, L.
Jowitt, E. Carnock, L. Pethick-Lawrence, L.
Listowel, E. Chorley, L. Quibell, L.
Lucan, E. [Teller.] Douglas of Barloch, L. Rea, L.
Douglas of Kirtleside, L. Saye and Sele, L.
Alexander of Hillsborough, V. Grantchester, L. Sempill, L.
Elibank, V. Haden-Guest, L. [Teller.] Shepherd, L.
Samuel, V. Howard of Glossop, L. Silkin, L.
Waverley, V. Kenswood, L. Simon of Wythenshawe, L.
Kershaw, L. Strabolgi, L.
Liverpool, L. Bp. Lawson, L. Uvedale of North End, L.
Layton, L. Wilmot of Selmeston, L.
Ammon, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Simonds, L. (L. Chancellor.) Rothes, E. Dunleath, L.
Selkirk, E. Ennisdale, L.
Salisbury, M. (L. President.) Winterton, E. Fairfax of Cameron, L.
Foley, L.
Portland, D. Astor, V. Freyberg, L.
Davidson, V. Gifford, L.
Cholmondeley, M. Goschen, V. Hampton, L.
Reading, M. Hudson, V. Hardinge of Penshurst, L.
Margesson, V. Hawke, L.
Airlie, E. Stonehaven, V. Hore-Belisha, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Swinton, V. Leconfield, L.
Bessborough, E. Mancroft, L.
Birkenhead, E. Balfour of Inchrye, L. Rathcavan, L.
Carlisle, E. Brassey of Apethorpe, L. Rochdale, L.
De La Warr, E. Braye, L. Saltoun, L.
Fortescue, E. [Teller.] Carrington, L. Sandford, L.
Home, E. Chesham, L. Templemore, L.
Macclesfield, E. Crawshaw, L. Winster, L.
Munster, E. De L'Isle and Dudley, L. Wolverton, L.
Onslow, E. [Teller.] Derwent, L.

Resolved in the negative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Clause 7 agreed to.


For the purpose of making a Statement on Kenya, I ask leave to move that the House do now resume.

Moved, That the House do now resume.—(The Earl of Munster.)

On Question, Motion agreed to, and House resumed accordingly.