HL Deb 13 December 1956 vol 200 cc1123-7

3.15 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper:

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have reconsidered their decision not to allow television broadcasting between 6 and 7 p.m.; and if so, what are their reasons.]


Yes, my Lords. My right honourable friend the Postmaster-General has reviewed the working of the rules introduced in September, 1955, and considered various proposals made. The Government has decided that within the present maxima of fifty hours a week and eight hours on any one day, both bodies should, on week-days, be free to broadcast during the periods they think best to meet the needs of their audiences. On Sundays it will still be the rule that programmes must not start before 2 p.m., and there will be an evening break from 6.15 p.m. to 7.25 p.m. The normal maximum hours may be exceeded, and other rules waived, for certain stated purposes, such as religious broadcasts, broadcasts of outside events and Welsh language broadcasts.

The revised rules may be introduced from Saturday. February 16. They will. of course, continue to be subject to review in the light of circumstances. Copies of the revised rules have been placed in the Library of your Lordships' House and that of another place.

The reason for the relaxation between 6 and 7 p.m. is that experience since September, 1955, has shown that there is no need for a closed period on week-days. Indeed, during the summer months this period was used on approximately three week-day evenings out of five for sports broadcasts by one or other of the broadcasting bodies, and no difficulties or complaints came to light. The Government feels, therefore, that there is no further justification for an enforced shut-down during these hours.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that full reply, but the reason given by way of reply to the second part of my Question astonishes me. Does the noble Lord recollect that when the Television Bill was before this House some of my noble friends moved an Amendment on this question of the hours during which there should be no television broadcasting in the evening, and a considerable body of opinion was expressed that, for the benefit of children, there should be a silent period in the evening. I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government whether the committee that was set up, representative of organisations, authorities and persons interested in the welfare and education of children, were consulted before this decision was come to.


Before the noble Lord replies, may I ask him a further supplementary question? Is he really convinced that it is for the good of the country to increase inflationary expenditure on television, at a time when the strictest economy is desirable? Furthermore, is not this concession to a commercial company inconsistent with the Government's appeal for wage restraint?


My Lords, in the first place, in reply to the first supplementary question, the children's committee the noble Earl has mentioned, as he is well aware, is more concerned with the matter of programmes than anything else. It is aware of these proposals and has expressed no objection. At the present time, the question of the matter to be contained in such programmes is being discussed with the committee. I think that that is what the noble Earl wishes to know. It might perhaps be as well just to comment that, according to Press reports, the I.T.A. companies have in mind to put on balanced family programmes, with some special provision for young people. No doubt the children's committee would be considerably interested in that, and, as I have said. discussions are going on with the committee about it.

I really cannot see the justification for the second and third supplementary questions, taken together. about the increase of inflationary expenditure. I thought we had the matter fairly clear. I take it that the noble Earl was referring to the advertising matter contained in the programmes. If that is so, there is no more advertising than is taking place already. The maximum hours remain exactly the same, together with the limit on the amount of advertising which may be permitted during any one hour.


My Lords, in view of the noble Lord's reply, is he aware that the decision of Her Majesty's Government was received with great concern by all parents in the country? In his opening statement the noble Lord spoke of proposals having been received. I should like to know from whom they were received, and whether they were received from anyone other than the commercial interests of the country. If the hour from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. turns out to be only an extension of the Children's Hour. with their parents battling to get the children to go on with their homework or go to bed, I should like to know whether the noble Lord will convey to his right honourable friend the necessity for eliminating all advertising on the programmes from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.


My Lords, I think that all I can say in reply to that question is teat it is about time a little reliance was placed on parental responsibility. I do not believe that this is a matter on which the Government should try to dictate to parents, as to when their children should do their homework or go to bed. I do not believe that there is any force in what the noble Lord has just said on why there should be no advertising during this period. I feel that it would be a very good thing in this country if parental responsibility were encouraged, rather than made a matter of State control.


My Lords, may I. ask the noble Lord a question on behalf of grandparents who are relatively helpless and incompetent in this matter? Will Her Majesty's Government consider publishing a White Paper giving advice to grandparents on how they should get their grandchildren happily to bed when they have been watching the Children's Hour, and 6 o'clock comes and it is bedtime? How can a grandparent persuade children to go happily to bed if the television is to continue?


My Lords, in reply to the noble and learned Earl I would say that I have not yet achieved the status that he has, although I am happy to say that I am doing fairly well, and probably it will not be long before I do so. But perhaps the best thing, if I might presume, would be that I should have a word with him privately afterwards.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend why, throughout his Answer, he has made the Government singular instead of plural? Is this not an undesirable departure from the rule laid down, if I remember correctly, by the grandfather of the present noble Marquess the Leader of this House, who said, in a Minute which I believe still exists in the Foreign Office, that while every other Government is singular, Her Majesty's Government are plural?


My Lords, until I have seen tomorrow's OFFICIAL REPORT I do not think I can reply properly to the noble Lord, because I am not now sure what I said.


My Lords, would the noble Lord, having delivered himself of a homily on the duties of parents, which I did not ask him to do, now reply to the question which I did ask, and say from whom were received the proposals which, according to the opening of the noble Lord's statement, prompted Her Majesty's Government to change their policy?


My Lords, I should be pleased to answer that question. I must apologise to the noble Lord for not having done so. He raised a subject on which I have somewhat strong feelings and the question got "lost in the wash". The proposal originated from the I.T.A.


My Lords, does that mean that the I.T.A. will now have an added incentive to increase the profits they are seeking, and that the B.B.C. will, as I am told, have another £500,00 added to their expenditure?


My Lords, the question of how those matters will he handled is entirely guesswork. So far as the B.B.C. are concerned, it will be entirely a matter of the organisation of their programmes. They are perfectly free, within the rules laid down, to organise their programmes as they wish, and it is purely a matter of how they go about it as to what will happen.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether Her Majesty's Government have had advice on this particular matter from any authoritative body which has not a vested interest such as the I.T.A. have?


My Lords, just at the moment I am unable to tell the noble Lord exactly which bodies my right honourable friend has had advice from, and which he has not. What I can tell the noble Lord is that my right honourable friend has given full consideration to all representations of opinion and to any factors of which he could think having to do with the matter.


My Lords, may we take it that there will be no extra charge on the Exchequer from the arrangement?


My Lords, I really think my noble friend Lord Chesham has done very well. He has answered all kinds of questions well outside the scope of the original Question on the Order paper, and I think your Lordships might agree that any further question on this subject should be put down or made the subject at a later stage of a debate—to which, at the moment, we seem to be getting.


My Lords, it should be said that we on this side of the House must reserve the right to raise the question next week as a matter of considerable urgency.