§ 2.48 p.m.
§ LORD REITH rose to move to resolve, That there be laid before the House Papers relating to the work of a political pressure group for the introduction of commercial broadcasting, as disclosed in a book by Professor H. H. Wilson, of 224 Princeton, published last June called Pressure Group. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I put down this Motion months ago, without naming a day. I thought I ought to. It was just that: a duty encumbent on me, a moral duty—to introduce that term thus early and so give opportunity for a cynical snort to those so inclined. Too much goes by default in this country in these days—far too much—because not enough people care about this or that, because they cannot be bothered, because they have not enough sense, or intelligence, or faith, or courage, or energy or love of country to read the issues aright and to take action. Silly position, I thought to myself last night, apropos this Motion, and rather sickening. What is the use of raising it here? What can come of it, and in an atmosphere heavy with hostility? I nearly telephoned to someone, but did not know to whom to telephone, to cancel the Motion, or to transfer it to the Liberals, or to Labour, or to anyone willing to receive it. But I changed my mind in the middle of the night, and I have the honour to submit this Motion to your Lordships.
§ There seems to have been a mighty moving of the waters in the last two or three weeks over this Motion; a significant, if not an impressive, array of Party opposition in a matter which ought not to have had any Party implications at all. The Motion does not refer to the decision to disrupt BB.C. monopoly and to introduce commercial television. It refers to the way it was done. There is no objection to pressure groups as such. The history of many reforms in this country, beginning with Wilber-force, is the history of pressure groups formed by individuals conscious, perhaps deeply conscious—and long ahead of the majority of their fellows—of a need for change. Nothing necessarily shameful in a pressure group; nor in being moved by the pressure of a pressure group, if—if, I say—its motives and methods are above-board, straightforward, honourable and honest. See if you can claim all that, my Lords, for this particular pressure group.
§ As to the decision made entirely as the result of this pressure group, of course I considered it, as did many of the most 225 respected leaders of this House—Lord Halifax, for instance (who said in one of the two momentous debates that, if I were to take the matter to a Division, he would vote with me against the Party of his life's dedication and service), Lord Brand, Lord Hailsham, Lord Waverley, Lord Radcliffe and Lord Samuel. Of course I considered it, as they did—will you excuse me, my Lords, if I talk frankly?—as one of the mostdeplorable, shocking and subversive actions in British political history. I think so more than ever to-day, and I believe that there is an appreciable number of Conservative politicians who now regret what was put across them ten years ago.
§ And put across it was. For the issues of broadcasting policy were never formulated by Conservative Party headquarters for the ratification or rejection by voters, despite frequent references to the weight of public opinion and all such hypocrisies. The voters were simply never considered, never consulted. The pressure group was right out of touch with the rank and file, but it was so operating as to commit the Party leadership. It was the most remarkable and extraordinary exhibition of political lobbying that this country has seen. There is much detail in the book to which I refer. Objectives were primarily and in origination commercial gain, for all the reeking smoke about the evils of monopoly, and saving broadcasting and its administration from the dangers of political interference. That was one of the bogies raised by the noble Earl, Lord Woolton; and he advocated a supervisory body such as the Federal Communications Commission in America, a body notoriously ineffective and notoriously the focal point of intense political pressure.
§ My Lords, I am in no way associated with the Labour Party, and what I say now is true, apropos the fear that had been expressed; that during all my wretched years in the B.B.C., as I now feel them to be, since almost everything I had done has been destroyed (and Lord Hailsham said it was the wrecking of a life's work) and, so far as I know, in more than twenty years since then, Labour Governments have been at least as scrupulous as Conservative Governments not to interfere 226 with B.B.C. independence, for the establishment of which I suppose I was originally responsible.
And the credit for what has happened is, I suppose, with the Lord Woolton—or is it discredit? Heaven help us, are we to be diffident, if not ashamed, to speak of moral values, or of ethical and intellectual objectives? Listen to what the Conservative White Paper of May, 1952, said:
The effective monopoly"—
of the B.B.C—
has done much to establish the excellent and reputable service for which this country is renowned.
Do we often hear of such renown? And then there comes this non sequitur, as I see it, when the White Paper continues:
… but in the expanding field of television. provision should be made to permit some element of competition".
§ How mild! But how silly and squalid! No mention of commercialism—they were too clever for that; proceeding gently, they were, in those days, but with full, if disguised, intention of doing what I had always said would be the result—the incredible evil, my Lords, of putting the ether at the power of money.
§ Of course monopoly has to be justified—justified by circumstances in its establishment, justified by what it does and does not do in execution. In the B.B.C. we were always conscious of monopoly, and were highly resolved, derivative therefrom, that it should be justified—and it was, and abundantly so, by public acclaim, till this pressure group started up. The precedence of the United Kingdom was the admiration and envy of the world, often copied as to the constitution and procedure. "Delenda est", said Lord Woolton. Not just monopoly, but the precedence that Britain had in teaching other nations, in Miltonic phrase, how to live. And so the B.B.C.—admitted source of a new but potent renown of Britain—was "sold down the river" by the noble Earl and his pressure group. How gallant the achievement! How the new renown of its doing must shine upon him now!
As I said ten years ago somebody introduced Christianity into this country; somebody introduced the printing press; others the incalculable beneficence of medical and scientific
discovery and application. Somebody brought smallpox, the bubonic plague, the Black Death, greyhound racing and football pools. And commercial television was introduced by means conspiratorial and disreputable, as given in that book—in which, incidentally, there may be some misstatements, though they amount to a negligible total compared with the shattering indictment of its survey. I have here a letter from the publishers which, of course, I can lay, if that be recognised procedure. Here is what it says:
Almost all the charges of inaccuracy have been unsupported by details or any evidence. A trivial number of minor slips do exist in the book, but we are convinced, having seen much of his material, that Professor Wilson has ample evidence to support at least 95 per cent. of the statements in his book; and certainly enough to support the really significant points.
§ Irrespective of what one may think about the rupture of the B.B.C. monopoly and the introduction of commercial television, it really is nauseating reading.
§ The comment of the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Hailsham, so generally admired in this House, on what was done is good enough: "a shoddy and squalid constitutional error"; "a disreputable piece of chicanery…"; "a deliberate concealment …" Thus, Lord Hailsham.
The report is concise, clear and fully documented, and Professor Wilson of Princeton College closes thus:
One is left with the impression that the Conservative leadership was something less than forthright … Britain was given commercial television against the advice of almost all the nominal leaders of society in education, religion and culture, as well as significant sections of the business community. At no time was the British electorate, or even the rank-and-file Conservative voter, given an opportunity of passing on the merits on the case.
One cannot help "—
Listen to this my Lords—
but appreciate the extent to which the British Constitution is dependent on the character, sensibility and responsibility of those in positions of leadership.'
§ "Palmam qui meruit…"; or is it "Stigmam qui meruit ferat"?
§ The book recounts the methods by which a small group of Back-Bench Conservatives were able to introduce commercial television, thanks to the active co-operation of some Party 228 leaders and the indifference of far more until it was too late. It raises these three important questions: propriety of using the Conservative Central Office for fundamentally sectional ends; propriety of introducing a commercial element into broadcasting without mandate from the electors in 1951; propriety, finally, of certain public relations methods as a means of influencing public opinion—for example, writing identical letters to different newspapers over different signatures, and the submission of allegedly impartial articles by distinguished contributors.
§ Now it should be stated, my Lords, and I do so categorically, that the same sort of fraudulent public relations policy and mechanics as were adopted ten years ago have been planned to operate in advance of the Pilkington Report—that really should be noted—ready to crash into full activity whenever the Report is published, especially if it recommends what this pressure group and, I imagine, the noble Earl, Lord Woolton, fear it will. Do you approve of that? Do you approve of the denigration of the Pilkington Committee increasingly in progress? Only a day or two ago, for instance, the Chairman of the Pye Group said in public that the Committee was a sham; but he added that the Government must implement the Pilkington decisions immediately they came out. That is something that the new manifestations of the pressure groups exist, if possible, to prevent. Incidentally, there is an interesting difference between public relations as practised in 1953–54 and now. The same people are now putting emphasis on the implementing of special interests, such as the clergy and educationists; and for obvious reasons.
§ The noble Earl, Lord Woolton, once said that it would be unfortunate if the public ever became cynical about advertising. In fact, I submit that it would be far more unfortunate if the public ever became less cynical, if it stopped being cynical. The real misfortune would come if this cynicism were to spread into fields not properly those of advertising at all. This has happened; it might well happen again if public relations techniques were used, or rather abused, as they have been, in the interests of pressure groups. This will interest you, my Lords. An advertisement 229 depicting a mother and her family made happy by using a certain detergent is said to sell not the detergent but family love. "Mr. Cube" was designed to sell "freedom", not the cause of sugar manufacturers—and it absolutely did, most effectively. I am not complaining about it; I am giving information that some have never had before. But advertising so often is not for the product at all, but the results of the product. Similarly, those who use "freedom" in their talk of broadcasting are cynically exploiting that commodity while disguising their real ambitions.
§ The National Broadcasting Development Committee, forsooth, formed in the early summer of 1961, is a natural son—and when I say "natural" I mean it—of the Popular Television Association, spearhead of the commercial lobby of 1953–54. The Chief Publicity Officer of the Conservative Central Office resigned early in 1961, and joined a public relations firm—a firm with the same address as the National Broadcasting Development Committee, of which Lord Lloyd—glory be!—is chairman, Lord Woolton a member, and the notorious Mr. Simms, ex-Central Office, a partner in the firm, secretary of the Committee. The Committee has five major aims. I am not going to bother your Lordships with them, but I am going to tell you that I do not think they will get one single one of them adopted. The Institute for Educational Television, proposed in a letter to The Times in August last year—many eminent signatories, but they were curiously mixed—has its headquarters with another public relations firm. Maybe the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, will tell us whether this body is still alive. It was widely condemned in educational circles, and very little has been heard of it of late.
I hope that the Labour Party—I say this with every recognition of the seriousness of it—if and when it comes to power, will be strong enough, and courageous enough, to free the ether from the bondage of commercialism. I make this statement on the authority of reports I have read from official quarters that the increasing number of crimes of violence to the person and to property is in recognisable measure due to what is being put across the ether—that ether
of which all things consist and in which we live and move and have our being. I say further, that if I were in a position myself to take supreme and sole responsibility, however great the unpopularity, I would take it simply because of this: that
right is right, to follow right were wisdom in the scorn of consequence"—
and any damn consequences at all.
§ To transport your Lordships for a few seconds to a different scene and setting altogether, I wish I had the power of veto in Northern Rhodesia, where recently they have decided to permit an American syndicate to build an enormous hotel by the Eastern Cataract of the Victoria Falls, complete with casino. I would exercise a veto over that if I could, despite whatever consequences came. I can go to Ascot with the best of them and enjoy myself—and, moreover, find it profitable. But to attach a casino to the Victoria Falls is an insult to the Almighty, to the memory of David Livingstone and to the majesty and magnificence of the Zambesi.
§ I end, my Lords, by putting, with great respect but with great urgency and appeal, five simple questions to the noble and learned Viscount The Lord High Chancellor—not as a Party leader, but as high custodian of British proprieties, political, constitutional and moral: (1) Does he approve of commercial television?; (2) If he felt the B.B.C. monopoly should be disrupted, were there not other and better ways of doing it?; (3) Does the noble and learned Viscount approve of what was done by the pressure group ten years ago?; (4) Does he approve of what is being planned and done now by way of discrediting and baulking Harry Pilkington's Report?; (5) Does he approve of the Conservative Central Office being used as it was ten years ago? My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Moved to resolve, That there be laid before the House Papers relating to the work of a political pressure group for the introduction of commercial broadcasting, as disclosed in a book by Professor H. H. Wilson, of Princeton, published last June, called Pressure Group.—(Lord Reith.)231
§ 3.13 p.m.
THE EARL OF WOOLTON
My Lords, it is kind of you, if I may say so, to welcome me after you have heard this torrent of vulgar abuse that has come from the noble Lord. I am very greatly in doubt whether it is a good thing for anyone to get up and reply to a speech of that nature. The noble Lord and I were members of two Governments. We were on terms (I hope I do not insult him by saying so) of considerable friendship. We worked together with much amity. He could not at that time have suspected that I had so much moral failure about me. I was, my Lords, though a little surprised, rather prepared for the speech; because in the middle of April I received from the noble Lord a letter addressed, "Dear Sir", and telling me that if he spoke to-day—so it was not in the middle of last night that he had doubts about whether he was going to speak—he proposed to refer to me considerably. Well, he has kept his promise.
My Lords, I am at a loss to know how to reply. I have been in your Lordships' House a long time. Is it necessary now for me to get up and defend myself against charges of having poisoned the ether of this country; of having been the tool of bad influences? Be careful, my Lords, because many of you were parts of that bad influence: I did not initiate it. I have come to the conclusion that the only possible reply for me to make is one of a quite simple statement, and it is this: that never during my time—I ought to say at any time—has any pressure group in this country ever sought to influence my opinion and my actions, either by promises of reward to me or by promises of financial support to the Conservative Party. The noble and learned Viscount the Leader of this House knows quite well that it is a part of the unpleasant duty of the Chairman of the Party to try to raise the wherewithal for running the Party; and I did. But never once was either principle or honour sold during the period in which I was Chairman of the Party. I ask your Lordships to accept that as my assurance, my faith and my pledge to you. As probably one of the senior Privy Counsellors in this House, I would not give you a pledge—I should not dare to give you 232 a pledge—that was false. May I, therefore, dismiss that issue?
My Lords, while the noble Lord was speaking I made some notes: "putting the ether at the mercy of money", and "selling down the river". What does the noble Lord mean by "selling"? Does he suggest that there was a financial transaction there? "Selling down the river"—what does he mean by it?
THE EARL OF WOOLTON
I think I have been tolerably patient with the noble Lord up to now, and I am determined to remain patient. But after that sermon with which he started, and the assumption of high moral rectitude on his part which the rest of us do not have, I must say that it is really rather offensive that somebody who so rarely fills this House with his presence and his voice should use it as a platform, with all the protection that it gives a man, to make these statements. I did try to make a note of something he said about bubonic plague and smallpox; I gathered it had something to do with something I had done, but I lost the point. I do not know why the noble Lord brought it in.
Now, my Lords, let us get away from all this hypocrisy about pressure groups. Of course they exist in this country. I do not know anything about the man who wrote this book in which the noble Lord seems to have had so much faith. He is a university professor. I have never heard of him, but why should I? He is no worse for that. But what does he mean? Of course we have pressure groups; I hope we always shall. What is Parliament for, except as a place to which people who have grievances or ideas can come and say, "We want this rectified; we want this adopted"?
My Lords, have we not all seen great crowds of people here who have come along, seeking to put their grievances before Members of Parliament? We have seen members of trade unions with a financial benefit in prospect. It is a very proper thing for them to do to those who are the leaders of public thought and legislative action in this country. The nurses are now indulging in a very considerable pressure group. 233 And, if I may go right off the subject (I will try to get it in before I am called to Order), I hope that the nurses will keep up that pressure group. For I am one of the people who owe so much to them, and I am most anxious that they should get justice. But that is off the line. If they succeed, my Lords, what will they succeed in doing? They will succeed in getting more money and shorter hours. Well, why should they not? But that is a pressure group.
What happened about commercial television? For a long time there had been a good deal of consideration going on upon two issues. The first was whether we were wise to continue the monopoly of the B.B.C.; the second was whether we were wise not to encourage television in this country and encourage the commerce which would come from it. I will tell your Lordships quite honestly my action about it. There is nothing that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, need not know and for which he really needs a Select Committee, because it is just this. These gentlemen, competent in electronics, thought they saw an opportunity of developing it, for their benefit truly, but without damage to anybody else. They came along and saw a number of us who were in the Government at the time. There was no threat; there was no offer of anything to us. They put forward a view.
They were not the only pressure group. There was another pressure group of great strength, full of moral issues also, who came along and made speeches in this House, or some of them did, and others made speeches through an organisation which they created for the purpose. Why should not they do so? I think they were right to defend something that they thought was essential for the wellbeing of the country. But so were the other people who said, "There is something which we can give to the people of this country." True, they thought they would make a profit. True, they made very considerable losses for the first year; but subsequently they have made great profits.
My Lords, may I make one other personal statement? I have not at any time had any financial relationship with any of those companies. Neither I nor any of the family trusts which come under my general direction have one 234 penny-piece invested in commercial television or in any of the attendant companies in commercial television. And, of course, if I had had, I should have made vast sums of money—perhaps even more than the noble Lord, Lord Reith, made at Ascot. But I saw the possibility of gain, and I thought it was ill-advised, it not wrong, for a person who had taken such a prominent part as I had in advocating commercial television to have any financial connection with it. I thought that, since so much had been said against my moral character, it was probably advisable that I should tell your Lordships of that.
That is all I have to say. I cannot go through the whole range of what Lord Reith has said and pretend to reply to it. I can only sit down with one consolation. I personally have not seen any marked deterioration in morality or patriotism—your Lordships remember that long phrase with which the noble Lord introduced his sermon to us. I have not seen any marked change in the people of this country since the commencement of commercial television. I have certainly seen no evidence of causation of any immorality or irregularity in the country. But I have seen one thing, my Lords, and I think it is a matter which you and I, as legislators, might take a certain amount of credit for. I have seen vast numbers of people who are thoroughly enjoying night by night the results of commercial television. In fact, I am told that more people switch on to commercial television than to the B.B.C. Therefore, my Lords, perhaps we were not so foolish when we agreed to commercial television. Perhaps there is very little with which we can charge ourselves as to having done harm to the country. I regret profoundly the speech that Lord Reith has made to your Lordships today.
§ 3.29 p.m.
LORD SHACKLETON had given Notice of an Amendment to the Resolution, to leave out "there be laid before the House Papers relating to "and to insert" in view of", and to add at the end of the Resolution:
a Select Committee of this House be appointed to inquire into and report upon the allegations made in this book, in the light of the important Parliamentary and public issues involved.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Titans have hurled their thunderbolts, and I hope that my speech will be delivered in a calmer mood. I should first like to say that it is not my intention at this stage to move the Amendment standing in my name; and, indeed, if the debate goes on very late and we follow our usual practice in regard to attendance late at night, it may not be worth moving at all. My object in not moving it now is, of course, to avoid distracting the House from the main subject which we are discussing; and for the same reason I have suggested that we do not to-day go into the question of the definition of "an advertiser", not for lack of desire to pursue the matter—and I am quite sure that the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack would be extremely ready to give an answer—but because I think it would be agreed that it is better pursued on another day by question and answer.
§ My Lords, I hope we shall take this subject seriously, and I hope that we shall not try to laugh it off or disregard it as vulgar abuse or reckon that this is not a matter which we should consider in this House. The fact remains that a number of allegations have been made—not allegations, I would stress, of corrupt practices. So far as I know, there has been no suggestion of corruption on the part of Members of Parliament or Members of your Lordships' House or of those outside concerned with the introduction of commercial television, but I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Woolton, when he says that pressure groups are a normal part of our political life. Indeed, in their way, political Parties themselves are pressure groups, sometimes of a rather confused kind, or a number of pressure groups go to make them up.
§ The noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, disagrees with me and perhaps I am carrying the analogy too far. Certainly the trade unions, the farmers' unions, the employers' associations and organisations like the British Legion are all perfectly respectable pressure groups who bring pressure on Members of Parliament and do so publicly. Of course, it is perfectly normal to identify sectional interests with the national advantage. This does not necessarily suggest that they are 236 hypocritical, though there may be a considerable measure of self-deception or wishful thinking.
§ The accusation is not that this was an ordinary pressure group activity, but that it was a very exceptional one, one that has stirred strong feelings among people in all Parties and not least among some of the most respected leaders of the Conservative Party. I remember the late Lord Waverley saying to me that never in his life had he known the type of pressure group activities that were going on. I confess to prejudice, if not, I hope, to a vested interest. The more I defend the B.B.C., the less they invite me to broadcast, I find. But I confess that for a long time I have had strong views on commercial television. I agree with much that the noble Lord, Lord Reith, said about it and I am surprised that the noble Earl, Lord Woolton, should have taken the credit that he appeared to do for the creation of this and the fact that many people switch on commercial television.
THE EARL OF WOOLTON
My Lords, I hope that I did not claim any credit for it. That certainly was not my intention.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, I am sorry if I misinterpreted the noble Earl. He appeared to regard with satisfaction, anyway, the result that viewers are more inclined to switch on commercial television than the B.B.C. programmes. But more people read the News of the World than read the Sunday Times. I do not think that we need to be unduly moralistic about this. This is not the issue. The issue is that the decision on commercial television was influenced by means that, on the whole, are of a kind which most noble Lords would prefer not to see introduced into our public life and which have been fully described in this book. I would say that to a large extent the noble Earl, Lord Woolton, has confirmed the broad statements in this book. Certainly there has been no denial of particular statements in it. This is the sort of political lobby that we should prefer not to see introduced into our country.
Although the book is written by a distinguished Professor of Princeton University, it is open to the charge to which all history, particularly contemporary history, is open—namely, that some of 237 the facts come under dispute. I was heavily involved at that time as a member of a frankly opposition pressure group. This was certainly not a single group but an all-Party group. The facts that have been written with regard to that group appear to me to be completely true.
It is mentioned that certain cinema interests were prepared to contribute to the National Television Council, in support of what seemed to be their interests in resisting commercial television. This I can confirm and this part is accurate. We are criticising the whole tactic of pressure groups. I have here a letter written to Lady Violet Bonham Carter by one of the more notable supporters of the National Television Council. The letter reads:Dear Lady Violet,Thank you for your letter of the 1st inst., inviting me to a meeting on Thursday, the 18th. As I am very much opposed to commercial television and would do anything possible to defeat this measure, I should very much like to be present.Yours sincerely,Prince Littler.This letter, I must admit, does make the situation somewhat confusing. But I think that it shows that pressures were at work. Subsequently, Prince Littler (I will not quote his later remarks) Changed his mind and said that many of the fears Which had been expressed by others were unjustified. The fact remains that commercial television was introduced in this country without any real demand for it, without any of the major political Parties—I am sorry I must include the Liberal Party—being in favour of it, and certainly with the Government of the day very reluctant and doubtful about the whole thing. There are still members of the Conservative Party, in Parliament and outside, who regret this decision.
It is not easy to disentangle all the different strands in this book. The easiest answer to the allegations, of course, is to deny their acuracy, but I would go so far as to say that I think that most of the facts in broad detail are correct. There is the account of the forming of an informal Back-Bench pressure group. It appears that the majority of its members had interests in advertising agencies or radio manufacturing firms. I am not accusing them of corrupt 238 action in this. It is a common feature that people with special interests will pursue them, believing that they are also in the national interest. It is said that this group decided to meet without disclosing its existence to the other members of the Conservative Party or the contact that members of the group had with Ministers. It would be interesting to know whether this statement is true. Certainly it has been suggested by a number of people, both inside and outside of the House—their names are given in this book—that it was this group to whom most of the credit must be given—I will not say for persuading the Government to change their mind, because I still do not know what really went on within the Government at the time; but for the fact that the Government found themelves in such a position that they had to go ahead with commercial television.
Of course there was a considerable amount of anti-monopoly feeling among them, and a number of people who have no interest. Certainly there has been no suggestion that the noble Earl, Lord Woolton, either has made, or at that time sought to make, any personal profit out of it. The objection to the noble Earl's part is the extent to which the Conservative Central Office was operating in close association with the pressure group without, apparently, the knowledge of the Government of the day.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, the noble Earl may have said that the case is not worth answering, but I can only quote what he himself is alleged to have said. Perhaps he can deny it. This apparently is what he said to Professor Wilson:We created the Popular Television Association, you know, ex-Central Office, and put Lord Derby at the head of it. This was done because it was thought desirable to have a non-Party organisation".This, he suggested, is a common practice of the Conservative Party. The establishment of front organisations is a well-known tactic in the Communist Party, and I am sure there is nobody less like a Communist than the noble Earl, Lord Woolton. But the fact remains that there was activity of a kind, 239 of a very high pressure kind, and, furthermore, of a clandestine kind, which was not generally known. We shall be glad to hear the denials that have not yet come.
Then there was, of course, the group outside. In particular certain men have been mentioned, men of great distinction and energy, who have done a great deal industrially for this country. There was, for instance, Mr. Stanley, Mr. Robert Renwick and Mr. Norman Collins. The Observer says in the "Profile" on Mr. Stanley—and this was not taken from the book:To the fierce task of breaking the B.B.C.'s monopoly Stanley contributed materials and endless enthusiasm. He financed Mr. Norman Collins, the ex-B.B.C. man, who stumped the country selling the idea of CTV in the early' fifties, to the extent of £150,000. Without this and a similar sum from Sir Robert Renwick, the financier, Collins' persuasiveness might have come to nothing.I do not know where that £150,000 went. I do not think the Popular Television Association ran big enough activities to consume it, and it would be very much simpler if the Conservative Party published their accounts so that we could know whether in fact this sort of money was going in that direction.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
Is the noble Earl saying that no contribution—this would be a light on what goes on in these accounts—of any scale went into the Conservative funds from any of these people or interests?
THE EARL OF WOOLTON
That was not what the noble Lord said. What he said was that there was a fund, which was separately created, of £150,000, or whatever it was, and he wondered how much of that went into the Conservative Party. I give the answer: none of it. And I did not know of that fund.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
If the noble Earl does not know of that fund, I take it he does know the sources of the money that came into the Conservative Party. I feel it would be helpful to us all if we knew that.
I think enough has been made on that point, and I would only say that some of the accounts in this book of what 240 went on are part of the high pressure tactics of a kind to which we are not accustomed in this country. People were roped in in all directions. A lot of respectable people in public relations do not like this sort of business at all. The Popular Television Council spent quite a lot of its time stating that it supported the B.B.C, but every piece of dirt that could be thrown at it was circulated to the newspapers. Mr. Gillie Potter, for instance, who was a supporter of the Popular Television Association, accused the B.B.C. of flogging foul films and boosting bawdy books. All this was circulated to a very large number of newspapers, including the provincial newspapers in this country. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, attacked an unfortunate lapse on the part of the B.B.C. This was circulated by the Popular Television Association, who claimed to have secured just over 1,000 column-inches of editorial space.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
My Lords, is the noble Lord suggesting that my strictures on the B.B.C. were not justified and were not properly right to be made in this House? Is he aware that I received an apology from the Chairman of the B.B.C. for what happened on that occasion?
§ LORD SHACKLETON
I am not suggesting anything of the kind. I said it was an unfortunate lapse. I am making no accusation against the noble Lord. I said the Popular Televison Association took full advantage of this.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
I am glad the noble Lord thinks so. They circulated the letters—sometimes the same letters, but with 22 different signatures, written from the same address, all apparently written by Mr. Sims. Later the same gentleman said: "I receive a large number of provincial newspapers, and have noted in the past week a tremendous increase in the number of letters in these papers." Letters he had himself written!
This characterises the world's Press as a new nitwit industry.
I do not propose to make any more points about the Conservative Central Office. The facts are there. There was 241 one error. It was stated that Mr. Chapman-Walker was Secretary of the Broadcasting Group and I understand that Mr. Goldman, of Orpington fame, who is also Conservative Central Office, has officially claimed the credit for being head of the broadcasting group. I cannot see what difference this makes. It does not make any difference as to the extent of the tie-up between this front organisation and the Conservative Central Office at a time, apparently, when the Government had not made up their minds.
The Conservatives may reject this, but I hope they will consider seriously whether the accusations are true. If they are not true, then they ought to be disposed of, once and for all. But if they are true, then they reveal a rather undesirable; state of affairs for which the noble Earl, Lord Woolton, has himself, as I have quoted, claimed the credit. The question of accuracy is undoubtedly one of the matters that will come under discussion. It is a pity that, so far as I know—and there may have been a second one—only one libel action has been taken in this matter. I have here a letter from Professor Wilson, to whom I wrote asking him whether he still in fact stood by what he said in this book. I should like to quote what he said:I don't really have anything more to add to the story now… There are certainly gaps in my account, for people like Renwick and Stanley wouldn't see me, and"—and he mentions a certain noble Lord—while giving considerable assistance, was not eager to go into the final operations in great detail…Despite the efforts to discredit the book, the threats of libel actions etc., only one factual error has been pointed out—that I know of—and that is the stupid reference to Chapman-Walkerto whom I have already referred.… So far as I am aware"—and he would surely be the person to know this—no one has challenged the detailed account of the tactics used by the Popular Television Association, nor the various statements from backbench memoranda which came into my possession.I would add one further sentence:Though by British standards it may not seem so, I actually leaned over backward to understate the facts, especially in regard to the 242 contempt and cynicism expressed by the commercial proponents.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord just for one moment? He said he had received this from the author. I received my copy of the book as late as last week. It has a corrigendum apologising to my honourable friend C. I. Orr-Ewing for the statements made about him. Did not the publishers of this book, in making that apology, communicate with the author?
§ LORD SHACKLETON
NO The noble Lord is quite right—they did not communicate with the author, and the author in fact has not withdrawn that, as far as I know. I did say there was one and possibly another, and I had in mind Mr. Orr-Ewing, but I had no intention of referring to him.
We could leave this matter here, were it not for the fact that there are signs of rather similar activities developing to-day. The line-up is just the same. The noble Lord. Lord Reith. indicated the sort of people who are involved. Some of them are high-minded, and I do not doubt they all believe in what they are proposing. There is a certain confusion. Some, in fact, are doubtful as to whether there ought to be another commercial channel, because they prefer to keep the present monopoly which the Government set up in the commercial field, and they would rather create something called the Educational Institute or the Institute of Educational Television. I do not propose to criticise that. But there is a division of opinion; there is a great deal of pressure going on and I have had evidence, including some from Conservative Members of Parliament who have expressed anxiety about tactics of this sort. And, my Lords, there has been a certain lowering of standards. We have the deplorable example of a well-known television contractor and producer deliberately bringing pressure to bear on the local Press in a direct, financial way in order to get good propaganda. That may be part of the normal practice of the entertainment industry but, again, it is certainly the sort of thing that we should prefer not to see here.
The only thing I would say in conclusion is that I think it would be as well if these charges could be investigated 243 impartially and not merely denied, and I hope that whatever happens this episode will not be repeated in other directions. I would end with one last sentence, which is in fact from Professor Wilson's own book. After a description of what went on, he said:One cannot help but appreciate the extent to which the British Constitution is dependent on the character, sensibility and responsibility of those in positions of leadership.
§ 3.52 p.m.
My Lords, I think it would be generally agreed that an interesting aspect of your Lordships' House is that by its very make-up, in not being an elected body, it probably has more continuity than any other legislative chamber in any civilised State. It changes little from Parliament to Parliament as regards its personnel and, of course, we are not to-day discussing the desirability or undesirability of that situation. But, except to fanatical extremists, I suggest it is unique in its continuity, which in fact seems to involve us in particular political responsibility for the standards of morals of Parliament, which is greater than the responsibility which falls to a Chamber whose complexion may change greatly every few years and whose past record can be more easily disregarded, if it seems convenient to disregard it, on the basis of what was done, rightly or wrongly, by a past political generation who took good or bad action, and when criticism in retrospect can, therefore, be only academic and fruitless.
Not so in your Lordships' House! The protagonists of yesterday's battles, victories and defeats, are still arrayed in very much the same lines. If I may say so, it seems quite appropriate that a retrospective analysis such as that which is sought by the noble Lord, Lord Reith, to-day should be the subject of your Lordships' attention.
The critical faculty of the people of this country has, of course, been greatly broadened and shaped by the surge forward in education, especially I think by broadcast education, more particularly over the last half century; and it is essential that political integrity should not only exist but should be seen to exist. In most games there are opportunities for ruining the whole spirit of 244 the game, the whole disinterestedness of it, by resorting to cheating and unfair practices, yet we do not hear it stated as an axiom that cricket is a dirty game or that chess is a dirty game. On that analogy I should like to say that I have always deeply resented the loose saying that politics is a dirty game, because that is a denigration based usually on disappointment or jealousy and only in the smallest proportion upon fact.
Of course, unpleasant things do happen even in the best regulated families, in politics and all political Parties; it cannot be helped. But it is I think irresponsible and dangerous to allow any incoming generation to form an over-cynical view of those who are performing public services with high purpose and with integrity, as indeed for the most part is done in both Houses and by all Parties. The only sure way of putting across this picture of politics which we want to be put across—a true picture of sincere and true dedication to the welfare of our country—is, of course, to ensure so far as we possibly can that the high standards be maintained not only in full public view but also behind the scenes in Parliament and politics in general.
Suspicion is an insidious cancer which feeds upon itself and there comes a point when ugly rumour can no longer be ignored; it must be tackled and investigated, and that is the point to which I think the noble Lord, Lord Reith, has brought us to-day. I personally am in no way prepared to offer judgment on the book which has been referred to in to-day's debate except to say that I found it rather tedious reading; but, as the allegations in it are grave and the position which it discloses is, if true, damaging to the reputation of British politics, it would seem that further official investigation is desirable and that this Resolution is not out of place.
I happen just to have completed my term as a member of the B.B.C. Advisory Council, but apart from that I have no interest whatever in this matter to disclose. Like almost all of your Lordships, I have views on the matters which occupied this House a few years ago in one of the most interesting debates it has had. Given the same chance, I should vote the same way now. But we 245 are not discussing those merits and demerits which we discussed in such detail. We are viewing certain activities which appear to be disturbing, and if the noble Lord, Lord Reith, or his supporters, should press for an inquiry into the truth of the matter, I should support that object.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
My Lords, this is clearly a very important debate, which is shown particularly by the large attendance of noble Lords now sitting on the Front Bench. In spite of the numbers that are speaking in this debate, I felt that perhaps it would be proper that I, who played some part in taking the Television Bill through your Lordships' House, should take part in it. May I start by saying that I, and I should have thought many others who have an affection, and respect for the stature of the noble Lord, Lord Reith, must regret that in the middle of the night he did not change his mind. I must confess that I have never listened to such a staggering assumption of moral superiority without a single fact justifying—not his charges, because he made no charges, but his implications. For this is essentially a debate founded on implications which are founded on a book that is founded on implication.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, on the skill with which he dissociated himself from some of the more startling statements of the noble Lord, Lord Reith, but when he talks about charges being justified I would ask: what are the charges? He was very careful to say he was not accusing anybody of being corrupt or of being interested. Oh, no! He has no accusations to make. Then, what on earth is all this about?
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, would the noble Earl allow me to interrupt him? I certainly said there was no accusation of corruption, but I repeated time and time again that there was personal interest involved which was, as is so customary, identified with a national interest. He is saying I did not make charges, which I did.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
I do not count an interest declared before Parliament as a charge at all. We all frequently speak on matters in which we have an 246 interest. I have for years spoken in your Lordships' House on agriculture, with a very great interest; there is no charge against me for having done so. We all knew perfectly well that on both sides of the House there were people speaking, as I felt, with a great sense of disinterest but who in fact had certain personal interests. The leader of the opposition to the Bill in the House of Commons was deeply interested through his employment by the B.B.C. Many of those who were supporting commercial television, we knew perfectly well—and they declared their interest openly—had interests in various companies that were associated with the industry. It has never been considered a crime in Parliament to speak with an interest, provided that it is openly declared.
Let us be perfectly clear what this is all about. It is no good the noble Lord saying that he is not accusing those who were connected with the Television Act of having been either corrupt, or interested without declaring their interest—because there is no charge without that—or that they were weak and foolish, and were pressurised or deceived. He has made a charge. And here let us be dear against whom this charge is made. It is not merely against the Government. There were two days of debate in this House and 160 of your Lordships voted in favour of what was then the Television Bill—the Bill which was to set up Independent Television; and therefore everyone who voted for that Bill is implicated in whatever charge the noble Lords claim that they are making. I think those of us who were implicated with this Bill would be quite entitled to feel very deep resentment at this suggestion. Actually I confess to what I have said already; that I feel rather sorry that one of the stature of the noble Lord, Lord Reith, should have made the speech that he has made to-day.
I have been puzzling as to what really was at the back of his mind. Is it that he just looks back nostalgically to the days when he was a dictator of a monopoly? Is it that he takes pleasure in throwing mud at perfectly sincere people who happen to commit the crime of disagreeing with him? Or is it that he hopes, by raising the matter at the present moment somehow to influence the Pilkington Committee in its proposals for 247 allocation of the new channels? I have tried to find an answer to any one of these questions; and I have failed.
If he initiated this debate from any one of those motives why choose this slipshod book? Here it is. What is the first thing your Lordships see when you open it?—two corrigenda for inaccuracies. In regard to the second corrigendum, the fact is omitted that it was made only as a result of legal action taken in the courts by somebody whom the noble Lord would no doubt regard as deeply venal for his support of commercial television. In fact he was sufficiently disinterested to refuse to ask for damages, although it was made very clear he would have been entitled to them if he had so pressed. Those are not the only two corrigenda that were needed. There is one of the noble Lords here involved and he can correct me if I am wrong; I understand that the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, had to be written to and apologised to, and also the noble Earl, Lord Derby. I am told by somebody who has taken the trouble to read this worthless book more carefully than I have that they have discovered more than 100 inaccuracies. I think it is sufficient to quote four admitted inaccuracies, admitted by the author himself and by the publisher.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
If the noble Earl will permit me to intervene, I think he was guilty of inaccuracy when he said they were admitted by the author. They are not admitted by the author except in one case.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
There may be disagreement between the author and the publisher, in which case that makes even clearer the inaccuracy of the author. But I keep coming back to this point. What is it all about. The noble Lord, Lord Reith, and the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, too, I take it, are just concerned with the purity of British politics. What do they mean by that? We are told that it is quite legitimate for the T.U.C., the National Farmers' Union, or other bodies, to press the interests of their members. Surely it is not merely the normal process of democracy, it is the very essence and purpose of democracy that any of us who feel strongly on any subject are entitled to press our views on the Government, 248 and it is a duty in a democratic country for the Government to take regard of their views: It is in fact the duty of Her Majesty's Government to search its own mind and conscience as to the action it should take, but not as dictators. Of course there was pressure here. People felt very strongly on it. But I would correct the noble Lord on the history of the formation of these councils or associations. The first pressure—let us call it—group, if the noble Lord likes to use that word, to be formed was the National Television Council in defence of the B.B.C. It was not until after that had been formed that the Popular Television Association was brought into being.
At this point I confess to just a little embarrassment as to what to say further. We very clearly do not want to get drawn into a debate on the merits of independent television. But on the other hand I cannot help feeling that as the then departmental Minister charged with the duty of advising his colleagues on what steps to take it might be helpful to your Lordships if I tried to outline how my mind worked on this subject. I stress "my mind", for the simple reason that although the decision was a Cabinet decision, no one Minister can say how other Ministers' minds work; you can only say what the decision was. But it seemed to me that the moment one let one's mind run according to first principles then the whole case for independent television seemed to outline itself very obviously and very simply.
What was the position? It was clear and I think fairly generally agreed, in the midst of a subject which brought forth so much disagreement, that a second programme had become technically possible and was considered desirable. It then seemed to me to be clear that if we were to have a second programme it was highly desirable to do what so many of us had felt should be done for a long time: to break the B.B.C. monopoly. That was felt strongly by admirers of the B.B.C. as well as by those mythical ones who are supposed to have been its opponents. But if there was to be competition, it seemed to me that it should be real competition, and therefore that merely to have another Director-General or another department within the structure of the B.B.C. would not give genuine competition; nor 249 would another State corporation formed on precisely the same lines as the B.B.C. That drew one inevitably to the only other method of bringing this about—namely, commercial television.
At that point one bad to face the fact that there were certain fears connected with commercial television. I freely confess that I felt able to sympathise and to try to meet these fears because I had lately been to America myself, and I had seen things that I definitely did not like in the system across the Atlantic. Therefore, to my mind it was necessary to respect those fears and to try to meet them. That led the Government on to the next point, which was that the B.B.C. must be left as it was, not only because it had done such excellent work (Which was sufficient in itself), but in order that no one in this country who had a rooted objection to commercial television need ever turn the knob to view it, but could continue viewing the programme of the British Broadcasting Corporation.
What was the next point that at once occurred to us? There was a fear that the advertisers would control the programmes, to the detriment of quality. That was met by laying it down that there should be only spot advertisements, that there should be no sponsoring and that therefore the programme companies solely should be responsible for the content of the programme. I hope I am not being too personal, but I feel that as I am dealing with the charge of having acted under pressure it might be useful just to indicate how my mind ran.
Just about that time I had to go across the Atlantic, and I made it my Dustiness to see some of those who were operating control of commercial television across the Atlantic. They told me that their efforts at controlling the operations of programme companies were quite ineffectual. I asked them: "In your view what would make them effectual?", and the answer came straight back, "If we, as a controlling authority, owned the stations, we could exercise control". From that day that proviso went into the build-up of our television policy.
There is one final point. We knew perfectly well that what we were doing was something quite new—you can call it experimental; that whatever trouble we 250 took to attempt to make this a decent British system, one of which all British citizens would be proud, and however much trouble we took, we were conducting an experiment, and we might well be making mistakes. Therefore, the final proviso was inserted, that the scheme was to be started on the basis of a ten-year licence, which would leave the ultimate functioning of this great power in the hands of Parliament, which would be in the position, after a few years of trial, to review the way it had worked. Actually, we now see the Pilkington Committee conducting that review. It is said that all this was done "subject to pressure". I can tell your Lordships one 'thing which I think is fairly good proof that it was not so done: that is, that what we proposed was heartily disliked by both sides. It was a compromise, perhaps, in the view of some people. But to me it was never a compromise; it was what I thought ought to be done and what—I assert this most strongly—has been proved in practice, after eight years' trial, to have worked.
We have had two strong speeches to-day by those who are violently against the system that we established. I do not know whether your Lordships have noticed that they have not mentioned one single item of justification for their dislike of what we have done. They leave me in the position of being able to assert that the only effect that it has had on the broadcasting world is to "buck up" the B.B.C. so that we now get better programmes from them; and, of course, we have destroyed their monopoly position in regard to dealing with performers and with their technical staff.
My Lords, I think I have been drawn a little into the question of the merits of Independent Television. I must remind your Lordships that we are not discussing that matter, but we are discussing the integrity of those who proposed and those who supported it. I would suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, who I believe is not now asking for his Select Committee—whether or not he is going to do so later, I do not know—that if he still feels that there is something wrong with the system, or with the way in which it was brought in, he should accept this challenge. Let him persuade his own Party to take this subject to the country at the next General Election. Or, if he 251 wants to help the Conservative Party to redress some of the difficulties it has had at by-elections, then let him persuade his Party Leader to make this an Election issue. He will then get the answer of the country.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ LORD FRANCIS-WILLIAMS
My Lords, I had not intended originally to intervene in your Lordships' debates at quite so early a stage of my membership of this House. But the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Reith, is one which interests and concerns me deeply. It would be wrong of me to seek to conceal from this House the fact that I have over a number of years been, so to speak, mixed up in television. Indeed (and perhaps this may assist me in the avoidance of controversy, which is so desirable in a maiden speech), I have appeared on the screen for both the B.B.C. and commercial television. There is a saying in America, which has wide experience in such matters, that all cameras corrupt; the television cameras corrupt utterly. I can only hope that I have escaped to your Lordships' House in time.
For most of the period which has been under review in this book by Professor Wilson I was a Governor of the B.B.C, but I think I may say that I was—if I may be forgiven for using the word in this debate—a somewhat controversial Governor of the B.B.C, since, while sharing the admiration of my colleagues for it, I did not believe that it should necessarily remain completely alone in the field. I was prepared to accept it as the established church of broadcasting, but I felt, if the right reverend Lord Bishops will forgive me, that even Established Churches sometimes benefit from competition. Therefore, being in this perhaps somewhat anomalous position, I took no part in the various groups and debates and measures on each side of the controversy, though, as one concerned through journalism in the gathering of news, I could not avoid reaching me from time to time whispers of the jungle fighting going on around me.
A good deal has been said in this debate, pant in praise, part in disparagement of the author of this book, Professor Wilson. I have the advantage—or some of your Lordships may think 252 it is the disadvantage—of having known Professor Wilson for a number of years. I met him first when I was lecturing at Princeton, where he is of course a Professor. He struck me as a careful and rather conservatively-minded man, as indeed Princeton is a rather careful and conservatively-minded institution. He had a tremendous belief in British political institutions, and he had also an idealistic and perhaps, as it seemed to me, a romantic conception of the British Conservative Party. He believed that its spirit, its soul, was in an important sense kept—I almost said "embalmed"—in a number of the Members of your Lordships' House. He used to talk to me particularly of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, Lord Halifax and the noble and learned Viscount the Leader of your Lordships' House, Lord Hailsham, whom he regarded as a kind of trinity who could be assured of guarding what he believed to be, and liked to describe as, the aristocratic tradition of British politics.
He did not of course believe—because he was a shrewd and careful student of politics—that they were always, or indeed often, right. But he felt that when they were wrong (and I feel sure this is a view which your Lordships will share and which I certainly do) it was from the noblest of motives. And he had a belief that when issues of great public importance arose, affecting particularly the social and moral values of this country, it was to men such as these that the Conservative Party turned for guidance. Your Lordships may therefore understand his shock, having regard to the motives which embarked him upon this inquiry, when he found that all these custodians (as he believed) of the true spirit of British Conservatism and of the aristocratic tradition in British politics had apparently been rejected by the Conservative Party on an issue so deeply affecting the public interest as the decision on commercial television.
I remember that when he arrived in England to start his researches he rang me up and I invited him to have lunch with me at the Reform Club. He was a little shaken at first, until I assured him that the reform with which the Reform Club identified itself was that of the Reform Bill of 1866.
§ LORD FRANCIS-WILLIAMS
I stand corrected, my Lords. He told me why he wanted to make this inquiry: from the other side of the Atlantic, it seemed to him to represent so significant and, in many ways, so fascinating a movement of British politics. I was, for the reasons stated earlier, unable to help him or to give him any inside information on what had gone on, though I was able to suggest a number of people he should see. I saw no more of him until some months later when he had completed his researches, and when again I lunched with him. He struck me as a changed man. Indeed, he looked as I imagine that other Professor Wilson, also of Princeton, must have looked on the way back from Versailles—like a man who felt that the Old World had let him down.
My Lords, much has been said about this book. I think it does need again to be said that, although it has been out now for nearly a year, apart from one or two comparatively small mistakes (and anybody who seeks to make a survey of this kind, where it is impossible to document the evidence; where one must depend a great deal upon the conversations and verbal reports of interested people, will be aware how difficult it is to he accurate in every detail), nothing which affects the main burden of the book, the main description and outline of the tactics and methods which were employed—whether one justifies them or not—has been stated to show that he was wrong in that.
I know that maybe he is guilty of many errors of omission, as well as of commission. I would by no means seek to declare (and I feel sure that my noble friend Lady Wootton of Abinger would not wish to disagree with me on this) that professors, even American professors, are not human and are incapable sometimes of getting things wrong. But I do suggest to your Lordships that the general case, the case for the entry of new methods, new types of public relations pressures, into British life shown in this book is one worthy of examination. And, of course, although I do not wish—and it would be wrong in the context of this debate—to seek to compare the two systems of television, 254 one has to recognise that the stakes involved indeed were very high, and that the consequences were in many ways very profound.
The other day I saw a report just issued by what is called the Statistical Review of Independent T.V. Advertising, which sets out the record of advertising revenue for the commercial stations since the Act was passed. It makes interesting and in many ways startling reading. In 1955 the advertisement revenue was £2 million; in 1956 it was £12 million; in 1957 it was £31,900,000; in 1958 it was just over £48 million; in 1959 it was just over £58 million; in 1960 it was £76,900,000, and in 1961 it was £93,276,000—an enormous, constant progression of money rolling in.
I am reminded of the story told me by an eminent lady member of the staff of the B.B.C., who found herself the other day at a rather pleasant country house party. A rather nice gentleman whom she did not know came up to her and said, "I hear you are in television". She admitted it, and he said, "It is a very good thing, I think". With that modesty, that constant desire to be reassured that they really are doing something which is definitely for the public good, which so distinguishes members of the staff of the B.B.C., especially of course if in their formative years they came under the massive and beneficent influence of the mover of this Motion, she said, "In what particular way do you feel that television is so good?" He said, "Well, as a matter of fact I do not myself have very much to do with it, but a lot of my friends tell me that they made a packet out of it". And, indeed, a lot of people's friends have "made a packet" out of it.
One is bound to agree with that rather honest and outspoken Canadian, Mr. Roy Thomson, controller of Scottish Television, when he said that to be allowed into commercial television was to be given a licence to print money. He himself, it has to be said, has used his licence to print television money to buy up, and on the whole to improve, a number of newspapers. But the consequences of the decision which were stated, in part, at any rate, as a result of the activities described in this book by Professor Wilson, have for the Press as a whole been remarkable and 255 disastrous. The death of one national daily paper, one London evening paper, four Sunday papers, and a number of provincial papers, can be put down in large part to the decision to have a new television channel in the way that it was decided, and in the way in which those concerned in these pressure groups pressed for it to be decided.
I am not, my Lords, in any way criticising advertising. The Press of this country depends upon advertising. Indeed, there would never have been any independent Press in this country but for the existence of advertising. But it must be borne in mind that there is a fundamental difference between the method of using advertising in television, and the advertising in the Press. Advertising is won by a newspaper because of the whole personality of the paper and the whole public that that paper appeals to. It is possible, therefore, for papers of varying difference of appeal and content to flourish, from the mass-circulation paper to the serious quality paper primarily concerned with public affairs. Advertising on television is sold primarily to tie up, not with the whole personality and content of a total programme, but with one programme at one particular peak hour; so that the whole drive and concentration is to get your immense advertising revenue, on the level I have outlined, by throwing away at the peak hours all standards except those which can bring in the largest possible captive audience.
The trade paper makes an examination from time to time of what it regards as really good television advertising, and I noted with interest its star selection the other week, which it praised for really understanding the television medium and for getting, as it said, to the heart of the television market. It was a film of a domestic scene in which one saw on the screen a group of people sitting round a table playing cards. All of them were laughing except for one lady, who had her hand in front of her mouth. A warning voice came on and said, "She dare not smile because her false teeth are dingy". There is nothing of which to complain in that, for in due course, and by taking the right thing, that lady will be able to join the laughing 256 card party without any doubts or difficulties or need to hold up her hand. But I suggest, my Lords, that to tie one of the great discoveries and potentialities of our time in the field of mass-communication to a system which requires that at the peak listening hours it shall be able to sustain and attract a public which is being softened up to be told solely about its false teeth, runs us into considerable dangers.
But this, of course, is not a matter of looking back on the past. The purpose of this debate, as I understand it, is not simply to look back and see what was done and by what methods this decision was taken. Anybody who is at all connected with this world of television and the Press is well aware, as has already been said, that the pressure groups are mobilising again—and, of course, so far as they do so perfectly openly, it is quite right that they should do so. For example, I was interested to read in one of the trade papers of a new series of meetings, one of which was being addressed by a group of people: Mr. Norman Collins, a man of great ability and drive, who was one of the most active and most successful people in the whole drive for commercial television; the managing director of Pye Radio, which was the most active of all the firms in this drive; and the media director of Benton & Bowles, which is the London associate of a great American advertising company. Their theme, which is a theme of which we shall be hearing much more, was that if local radio comes to Britain, as it must, then it must be commercial; and the new drive is going to be not only for a development of commercial television, but that sound radio, which from the earliest days has been organised as a public service in this country, shall also be given over to commercial usage and advertisements.
My Lords, I hope I shall be forgiven if I conclude on a personal note. I have spent the whole of my professional life in what it is now fashionable to call "the business of mass-communications", but which I prefer to call journalism. I have been a journalist not only of the written word but also of the spoken word. Although it has many defects—and I admit them—I am proud to think that, as a whole, British journalism and 257 British newspapers set a standard for the world; and I am glad to think that, in their early, formative years, British radio and British television also set a standard for the world. We are on the edge of immense developments in this field of television—immense developments in the way of world link-up, through Euro-vision and going on to links between other continents. It seems to me profoundly important that, in those developments, the face of British radio and television to the world shall be one that is based and founded on the public interest and on the maintenance of values which we believe to be important and which we know to be British. It is because I believe so profoundly in those values that I venture to intervene in this debate and hope that there will be sent out to the British people—and, indeed, to the world—the message that this House is determined to maintain those standards and that judgments on the future of television and of radio shall be made solely in the public interest.
§ 4.49 p.m.
My Lords, it is my first and very pleasant task to congratulate the noble Lord, who has just sat down, upon his maiden speech. Like myself, he is a Welshman, and, therefore, I did not expect either that he would find himself at a loss for words or, necessarily, that he would be entirely non-controversial, because Welshman find that very difficult. But I can assure the noble Lord that I personally, and I know all of your Lordships, very much enjoyed his speech. We are glad to welcome him to this House, and we hope we shall hear him often again.
Turning to the subject of the debate, may I begin by saying that I, and I am sure many of your Lordships, have in the past greatly admired the achievements of the noble Lord who moved this Motion, in what he did to build up the B.B.C. in the early days, in his work with the Colonial Development Corporation, and elsewhere? Therefore, personally, I feel very sorry that he should have made the sort of speech that he made this afternoon, because I felt that, for a man of his achievements, it was not what I personally would have expected. The noble Lord's views on the subject of broadcasting have, at any rate, 258 whether you agree with them or not, the merit of extreme simplicity. They were expounded by him in a memorandum which he wrote for the Beveridge Committee, in which he said the following:It was the brute force of monopoly that enabled the B.B.C. to become what it did and to do what it did, that made it possible for a policy of moral responsibility to be followed. If there is to be competition it will be of cheapness and not of goodness. The usual disadvantages of and the dangers of monopoly do not apply to broadcasting.Those were 'the noble Lord's views. He expressed them to the Beveridge Committee at that time, and although he did not express them to your Lordships this afternoon, I did not feel that his views had really changed.
I must confess that I, for one, am not quite clear, and I do not follow his reasoning, as to why the B.B.C. should be so very different from various other organisations of a similar character. As I understand it, the task of the B.B.C. is to provide information, education and entertainment for the public. But, of course, the B.B.C. is not the only organisation which performs this function; it is done by the Press, the publishing industry, the theatre, and the cinema. I do not think, however, that any sensible person would suggest for one moment that all these industries should be turned into public monopolies for fear that they might not follow a policy of moral responsibility, or that competition might lead to cheapness rather than goodness. However, the noble Lord believes in a B.B.C. monopoly of broadcasting. He has an absolute right to his beliefs, and I have no doubt whatsoever that he holds them with the greatest sincerity. On the other hand, whilst he is perfectly entitled to his views, I think it is a pity that he should have suggested, as he has suggested this afternoon, in no measured terms, that all those who disagree with him and who in the past have endeavoured to press the merits of another policy have in the main—not all of them, but the majority—done so for venal and unworthy motives.
At this stage I had intended to declare an interest, but the noble Lord has obligingly done it for me. I am the Chairman of a body known as the National Broadcasting Development 259 Committee—Glory be! as the noble Lord said. I should like to take the opportunity, since the noble Lord is obviously very suspicious of this body, as he was of its lineal predecessor, the Popular Television Association, to assure him that I have no links whatsoever with Lord Woolton, except that he is a member of that Committee. But it is not in the Central Office. This Committee receives no money from the Central Office, has no connection with the Central Office, and is composed of people from different political Parties. It is therefore a perfectly simple organisation; it is not the terrifying bogy or pressure group which he thinks it is.
At the same time as I make that declaration—well, I did not have to make that declaration, because the noble Lord, with his usual courtesy, made it for me—there is another declaration that I will make, and that is that I have no connection whatsoever with any television company. I do not even possess a single television share, and because I am not a very good investor. I should never make a penny out of it, anyway. Therefore, I am in fact one of those quixotic people in whose existence the noble Lord seems to have a certain difficulty in believing, who are actually opposed to a monopoly of broadcasting, not because I am going to make anything out of it but simply because I do not think it is a very good idea.
There is another declaration which perhaps I ought to make at this time, and that is that I did not have anything to do with the Popular Television Association at the time we are concerned with in this debate. Therefore, I have no personal knowledge of exactly how it came into existence or of its dealings. But your Lordships have heard what my noble friend Lord Woolton has said this afternoon. Personally, his word is good enough for me, and I thought it ought to be good enough for your Lordships. I do not believe in a monopoly of broadcasting by the B.B.C. But that does not mean I am opposed to the B.B.C. On the contrary, I thoroughly like the B.B.C. I respect it, and I should be horrified if there were any suggestion that it should be done away with and that we should have instead in this country the complete American system of broadcasting.
260 On the other hand, I Chink perfectly sincerely that all monopolies are objectionable, and that of all monopolies perhaps the most objectionable is any monopoly which in any way limits freedom of expression or has too great a power to influence men's minds. I think that in these perhaps over-simplified views there are many other people, not only in this House but in this country, Who agree with me. In any case, should the noble Lord believe that these views are confined to such unimportant people as the public, I should like to draw his attention, and that of the House, to the views of the Beveridge Committee on the B.B.C. monopoly, because I think they are important. In their Report they said:There are dangers arising from the mere size of such a corporation. There arc dangers of Londonisation. There are dangers of remoteness, of self-satisfaction, of secretive-ness. There is danger of slowness in exploring new unfamiliar techniques. There are dangers of favouritism and injustice in treatment of staff or performers, each of them an evil in a monopoly more serious than it would be in a concern with rivals. There is the danger, finally, that when a sense of mission such as animates the B.B.C. is combined with security of office, it may grow into a sense of Divine Right, as it did in the case of Charles I. The dangers of monopoly are not imaginary.In the same way, the late Bishop of Chichester, Dr. Bell, of whom we were all very fond and who I should not have thought could be accused by anybody in your Lordships' House of having had unduly Right-wing views, said:This is a subject upon which Christian people are fully at liberty to differ, but I hope full consideration will be given to the danger of monopoly. The new independent stations will offer a service of value in itself.I do not believe that anyone who knew Dr. Bell would think for a moment that he was expressing any except his own sincerely held opinion; and I am quite certain that no one ever succeeded in bribing Dr. Bell.
The noble Lord, Lord Reith, has referred to a pressure group. I have always been in some doubt as to what exactly was a pressure group. In the end, I have come to the conclusion that it is very difficult to tell whether anything is or is not a pressure group. The three political Parties are all pressure groups. The trade unions are pressure groups. I suppose the R.S.P.C.A. and the N.S.P.C.C. are pressure groups. Almost 261 any body of people who get together for the purpose of putting forward certain ideas have, I suppose, pressure. I do not know whether pressure groups become immoral only if there is any risk of any money being attached to it. But at any rate, as other noble Lords have said—and therefore I do not want to labour the point—it is the very essence, surely, of our democracy that there are always pressure groups, all the time, of different kinds. Sometimes they are Party groups. Sometimes they cut across all Parties as in the case of television. I do not think there is really anything very much wrong in pressure groups.
In any case, surely we have learnt by now that where there is not freedom for pressure groups to operate, ultimately it ends in violence. That is the trouble in many parts of the world, where there is not the freedom which we mostly enjoy in this country. In any case—and this is a point I should like to emphasise—contrary to the noble Lord's opinion (which I thought, I must confess, was a little disingenuous in this respect) that there is one pressure group, there are two pressure groups. That is made quite clear in Professor Wilson's book, which I painstakingly read last week-end. I might add here that it is perfectly clear that Professor Wilson takes a much more indulgent view of the pressure group which supported the B.B.C., and reserves his moral indignation for that which supported the opposite point of view. I have no doubt, after reading the book which Professor Wilson has written, that it is perfectly clear which way he thought. Various inaccuracies in the book have been exposed and there are probably some more which have not been mentioned. I think that the conclusions which he reaches must be treated with some reserve. So much, my Lords, for the book.
As I say, there were two pressure groups. Almost immediately after the publication of the first White Paper, an organisation called the National Television Council was formed. Its earlier sponsors were Lady Violet Bonham-Carter, Lord Waverley and Lord Halifax. It enlisted the support of bishops and vice-chancellors in opposing commercial television. Letters were sent to leading newspapers, pamphlets were printed and public meetings were 262 held. The Council engaged a full-time organiser, temporarily released by a film company. Members of both Houses received literature from this organisation. The Council made no attempt to deny that the bulk of its funds came from the cinema industry, which at that time thought that it was threatened by commercial television and obviously had a direct commercial interest in preventing the introduction of commercial television.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, the National Television Council, which I admitted frankly was a pressure group, and I gave same examples of our notable supporters in the cinema industry, did not receive the bulk of its funds from the cinema industry. Its account books were shown to Professor Wilson, but the accounts of the National Television Council, like the accounts of the Conservative Party, have not been published.
My Lords, if I may refer to Professor Wilson's book, the A.B.C. actually admitted to him that it gave money to the N.T.C. I make no complaint. I think that that is inevitable. But while on the record, I think that the noble Lord will find that the A.B.C. did finance the National Television Council. If what Professor Wilson wrote on other things is accurate, presumably he is accurate on that.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, I agree that they made an important contribution, but they were not the only ones. In fact, it was a rule of the N.T.C. not to receive any contribution which would give anybody any control over it. The question is not in dispute. This is all a splendid example of the nature of pressure group activity.
My Lords, it would have been better if the noble Lord had mentioned in his Motion that there were two pressure groups instead of one.
On July 22, 1953, the Trades Union Congress entered the field of battle with a statement in which they announced their intention of fightingany surrender of control over television services to private commercial interestsand the National Association of Theatrical and Kine Employees also announced their intention of fighting the Government's plans for competition. It 263 was only after all these developments that the Popular Television Association came into existence. A great deal has been said about the publicity campaign waged by the P.T.A., but at any rate we never went to the excesses of the N.T.C., of exhibiting a baboon at public meetings, which they were dissuaded by the R.S.P.C.A.—Mr. Alfred J. Marks, I presume—from continuing.
The Popular Television Association, so far as I know, never complained that its rival took money from the cinema industry: nor did the Association ever deny that it accepted support from people who were financially interested in commercial television.
Yes, my Lords, I thought it would be more interesting for your Lordships to change the word—money, of course. Both sides accepted financial support and frankly I do not think that there is a great deal wrong with that. Just as Professor Wilson says (I have no personal knowledge, but I am sure it was true) that the policy of the National Television Council was never influenced by the money it received, exactly the same was true about the people on the executive of the Popular Television Association. I have looked through the list of their names and I do not think that at that time any one of them had any connection with television. There was not a great deal to choose between these two pressure groups, and I think that most of those who took a leading part in the controversy did so as a matter of principle, just as I am opposed to a monopoly of broadcasting because I think that it is wrong.
I would venture to make one final point. Both sides waged vigorous campaigns, some with baboons and some without; and at the end of it all, it so happened that the Government came down, on the whole, in favour of those who wanted commercial television. Suppose it had gone the other way? Do your Lordships really believe that the noble Lord would then have come here to draw attention to the pernicious activities of the pressure group known 264 as the National Television Council? I do not think so. It was because it went the other way that we have this debate this afternoon.
But all that is past history. I think that what really matters to-day is the future, though obviously we are not in a position to discuss it. In the past we adopted the usual attitude which we in this country adopt in these matters. We came to a compromise. We have neither gone to the extreme of complete Government monopoly of television nor, thank Heaven! have we gone to the extreme of the American system of unbridled commercialism. I believe that, on the whole, that was a wise and sensible compromise. It was the sort of compromise which has given this country the stability which it has always enjoyed, because we are that sort of people. What really matters is that in future we should again look at this question as objectively as we can and decide what is the right thing to do in the next stage. We all have our views and prejudices one way or the other. Undoubtedly there are some things wrong with commercial television. I agree that they have probably made far too much money far too quickly. But it might be argued that that was because there was insufficient competition. There were, in effect, local monopolies; and because there were no competitors in the advertising field, they made too much money. That is a point for consideration.
There is the question of standards. In some ways standards have risen and in some ways they have fallen. I am sure that they need to be looked at again, and it might be necessary to strengthen the authorities concerned with standards. I think that it is in that spirit that we should look at this question, instead of dragging up the rather dreary controversies of the past. Therefore I hope that we shall all wait until we have read the Pilkington Report and then try to reach decisions which are wise and sensible and which will ultimately redound to the good of this country.
§ 5.9 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF WORCESTER
My Lords, it is with some trepidation that I rise to address your Lordships. 265 I am mindful of the words of a great Prime Minister, who once said:A man may speak very well in the House of Commons and fail very completely in the House of Lords.Though I have not had the honour of speaking in another place, I am fully aware that what might pass in a pulpit might prove intolerable in your Lordships' House. I will, however, promise your Lordships that I will bear in mind the advice of the author of Ecclesiasticus, who said to those in my position:Let thy speech be short, comprehending much in few words; be as one that knoweth and yet holdeth his tongue.My only excuse for speaking this afternoon in this debate is that I have had some little experience over a number of years of both broadcasting and television with the B.B.C. and the independent television companies. If that experience has taught me anything, I think it is the responsibility that anybody who is involved in any way whatsoever in broadcasting should be conscious of the tremendous power of this medium for good or for evil—that is, for both the revealing or the disguising of truth. That is why I should regard, if such exists, the activities of any pressure groups in the sphere of broadcasting, if not with dismay, at least with some concern.
The debate this afternoon has, so far as I can see, been an inquest into the past, and perhaps your Lordships will forgive me if, as a short interlude, I ask you to consider from what we have discussed this afternoon the possibilities in the future. Here, I think that in discussion we ought to differentiate between television and sound broadcasting. I imagine we should now accept as a fait accompli our having commercial television in this country. Speaking for myself, I regard them as different mediums in this sense. When I look at a television programme, whether it is a play, the Cup final, a thriller or a concert, I am really only concerned with what I see actually on the screen before me. Therefore, I am not greatly perturbed, when the play or the match is over, whether any particular pressure group informs me that my health will depend entirely upon the daily and regular use of some patent medicine.
But when I listen to any of these things on sound radio the position is entirely 266 different, because when one listens to the radio, at once a certain series of mental processes comes into play. Appreciation is involved as well as imagination, concentration and one's critical faculties. Surely, it is a shock, when the programme is over, to have one's train of thought violently interrupted by the very doubtful information that female charm is impossible to acquire without using some particular scent. That may be true or it may not, but the whole purpose of broadcasting, as I see it, is not just entertainment but a development which widens the mind, deepens the understanding and refreshes the spirit. It is not a case of pandering to what we call popular taste but expanding the popular taste. I realise that this is a personal view and, therefore, is no argument for objecting to broadcasting in the future being controlled by any pressure group. But I must say that I discussed this matter with a number of excellent gentlemen in a pub last Sunday evening after service, and I found that none of them was particularly keen on the extension of any kind of commercial broadcasting in this country.
I would share myself the disquiet of a distinguished member of this particular Bench on which I sit, who some years ago was gravely perturbed, when listening in to a Shakespeare play across the Atlantic, to be told between acts that Lady Macbeth's staple diet was a certain form of cereal. It would appear to me, as a pure layman in these things, that the commercial broadcaster must depend for his living on the good will of the advertisers. In other words, he must be able to offer in return to them the audience of the right kind and size to buy their goods. This must surely be in practice the largest possible audience. To achieve this it seems to me the broadcaster is bound to limit the range of his programme. The principal argument I would concede against any extension of commercial broadcasting in this country is not what it includes but what it is bound to exclude by its very need to secure and retain large audiences. I know there is a theory that you can have sponsored programmes, one catering for a minority and another for a majority audience, but in practice it would be very difficult to resist the inevitable commercial pressure to extract 267 the maximum possible income from the mass advertiser whose advertising expenditure is so much greater than that of the man concerned with some specialised interest.
Finally, I think we ought to realise that there is a danger in that possible pressure groups with yet another source of advertising, often with its somewhat unfortunate appeals to what we describe as undesirable human traits or its occasional exploitation of noble qualities, may not be a good thing for the country. May I give two examples? One has been referred to, and is the example of mother love. This is a quality which has inspired poets and artists through the centuries, and without which very few of us would have survived to this moment. It is surely prostituting this great thing when it is used to advertise a detergent alleged "to make baby clothes softer than soft for the mother who cares". Nor is it right, in order to sell a product, first to arouse feelings of anxiety or even fear which can be resolved only by the reassurance which comes from the purchase of whatever the advertiser has to sell.
I dare hardly contemplate the anxiety neurosis in the minds of the clergy in the Established Church if they are constantly to be asked to wonder, "Why is his surplice whiter than mine?" which, when you analyse it, is a vested interest to preserve the status quo, to hinder national thinking, to limit the power of choice, and to encourage the uncritical acceptance of an entirely false set of values. Therefore, I ask your Lordships this: ought we really, in the present condition of the world, which calls for self-sacrifice, the spirit of adventure, for boldness, courage and for clear thinking, to allow to any pressure group a medium which requires the British people to subject themselves to a further dose of self-indulgence?
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ LORD FRASER OF LONSDALE
My Lords, I am sure it will be the wish of all your Lordships, in all parts of the Chamber, that I should express on behalf of all of us satisfaction that the right reverend Prelate, the Lord Bishop of Worcester, has joined us here, and upon this, his maiden speech. Known to many all over the world as Charles Edwards 268 the vicar of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, he will have an audience greater than that in this House if he continues to address us, as I am sure he will. May I then express to him our deep thanks for his speech and our best wishes for his future among us?
Before I turn to the precise terms of the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Reith, may I deal with a matter raised by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, about which I am able, happily, to give your Lordships a little evidence? It was in that passage in which he said that there was a committee of the Conservative Party which was "clandestinely"—that was his word—meeting to discuss what should be done about television policy at that time. I was a member of that committee, and far from its activities being clandestine, I have ascertained this very afternoon—and here is the bit of paper—that it was stated on the Conservative Party Whip of February 6, 1952, that this committee was meeting for the very purpose of considering the future of television. Now it is commonly known to those who sat in the other place that the Whip goes to all Members of the Party and a certain number of officials, and, owing to the carelessness of Members in dropping it into the wastepaper basket, it is generally available to the Opposition. I make only one point: that the noble Lord was wrong in suggesting that this committee met clandestinely, thereby implying that there was something about it unusual or particularly noxious. On the contrary, it was one of those ordinary committees of the Party which all of us have sat on from time to time, where new matters or old matters, Party matters or controversial matters are discussed while the Party is making up its mind what it is going to do. A little later I will develop my own attitude towards this matter arising out of my having become a member of that committee.
Perhaps your Lordships will bear with me for just a minute if I mention the background of my interest in this matter. First of all, I have no commercial interest, I have no shareholding interest, nor have I had in any of these wireless or broadcasting activities. But I have had a deep public interest, having been as long ago as 1925 one of the 269 original members of Lord Crawford's Broadcasting Committee, which first recommended Parliament to set up the monopoly service called the B.B.C. Very many years later I was for two terms, including the term immediately before the Second World War and for the greater part of the War, a Governor of the B.B.C. Board. In all this time, over twenty years or more, I knew and met the noble Lord, Lord Reith, who was a friend of mine, and who, notwithstanding what I am going to say to-day, is still a friend of mine. Certainty I regard him as such. I reckon that in all these years I sat at his feet because I thought he was rendering a great service to our country and to many other countries by the moral attitude—and I use the word as advisedly as he did—which he adopted towards broadcasting. I think he set an example to the B.B.C, and we, all of us in Britain, set an example, through the B.B.C, Which was followed to some extent in Canada, South Africa and Australia, and exercised a good influence over men's minds throughout the world during the time that this new and dangerous method of mass communication was finding its feet.
I think it is most sad that the noble Lord, Lord Reith, in the latter part of his life should come down here and tell us that he regrets the whole of his life, that he regrets what he did. I affirm he has left a monument in the B.B.C, whose tradition and uprightness of purpose will long lead to our remembering him and the work he did for Britain and the world. It is quite unnecessary for him to come and apologise and be sorry for himself because changes have taken place after 20 or 30 years. They often take place, and it may even surprise your Lordships to know they can take place in the mind of a person like myself, who has no financial interest Whatsoever in the matter. It is one of those things which we ought to recognise: that there is integrity to be found in various quarters sometimes where you might not expect it.
I turn to this Motion. It includes the words "political pressure group" and I cannot help thinking that the words and the way they are used in the writing of this Motion are intended to create prejudice; and I say that with respect to the noble Lord. The words "political 270 pressure group" are used as if they were a nasty phrase implying a dirty bit of work. I have some notes here which would have led me to develop the argument that pressure groups are a necessary part of the democratic system. I will reject the lot, because all noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Reith, himself, have made it quite clear that a pressure group is not necessarily a method of behaviour to be criticised, but, on the contrary, is often a wise and sometimes necessary part of our activities. Since Members of the House on all sides and the noble Lord, Lord Reith, himself have made that clear, I will not take up time by going over that ground.
Lord Reith's Motion then goes on to refer to this book. My Lords, the book is a year old, and while it has been said that since it has not been thrown down, brought into the Law Courts or violently corrected in the public Press for a year it must therefore be true and, by implication, notable, I should also like to say that this matter may not be of great public interest in Britain. I have now read considerable extracts from the book—I had not, in fact, heard of it until about a fortnight ago when this Motion appeared on the Paper. I wonder, therefore, whether it is significant, as we may be led to suppose, and whether perhaps the reason that it has not been a matter of public controversy is that it is an obscure work by a professor in a place a long way away, and a place from which I, personally, would not wish to be advised. I do not know how other Britons may feel, but that is how I feel.
Then we come to question ourselves: what can be the purpose of this Motion and why its timing? Why was it not raised last year? Why now? Is it not obvious that the noble Lord, Lord Reith, consciously or subconsciously, is putting this Motion on the Paper so that it may adventitiously appear just after the publication of the Pilkington Report, or just before it—he did not know which when he put the Motion down—but probably just before, in order that a major change of broadcasting policy might be debated. Although that has not yet taken place we are on the threshold of it and touching upon it, and some of the signals are going up as to lines which might be 271 taken when we come to read the Pilking-ton Report. But would it not foe better to read it first?
Therefore, I think this Motion is suspect of disordered thought on the part of my noble friend and suspect of prejudice; and that it has been put down for a purpose which is not the one on the Paper and which is not manifest. I do not say that in denigration of his character, which is one of the highest in the land, but in denigration of his judgment, and I deeply regret to have to say it. Nevertheless, I do think it is so.
What is the gist of the whole matter? My Lords, I was in the Commons throughout the period when the Bill was going through all its stages, upstairs, downstairs and in the Chamber. I took part in the whole of that. I had no interest beyond public interest, or outside the public interest. I indeed had a strong tendency to be a supporter of the Establishment—and in this instance by "the Establishment" I mean of the noble Lord, Lord Reith, and the B.B.C., as he saw it and would like to see it remain for ever, because I sat at his feet, as I have said, and I had to admire him, and still do, and because I had been a Governor of the B.B.C. I had been one of the very few—.there ware only three—of the Members of the Commons who sat on the Committee which set up this monopoly.
But after 20 years in public life I had seen two or three things happening. One was that I thought the monopoly was getting a little too strong. I thought that a division of power in the land was a good thing, rather than a concentration of power of any kind, and especially the power of the word. And I also had begun to discern that television, now developing rapidly in America but only in its early infancy here, must rise quickly, if given a chance, but that it could not do so without vast extra money. I remember saying to the Beveridge Committee, in evidence, what was known to many at the time: that it costs £1 to put a certain amount of material into the studio for presentation orally but it will cost £10 to put it into a studio to present it by television orally and visually. The process is more extravagant of ether, of equipment, of 272 staff and of money—very extravagant indeed.
There was never any hope that an adequate service suitable for a country of our status and situation and commercial development could possibly be financed out of licence fees. There was only one way it could be financed and that was by advertisements. I urged upon the B.B.C. to take advertisements; that was the advice I ventured to give at that time. But their conscience would not allow them to. They would take £1 million a week or a month (I cannot remember) of advertisements in the Radio Times. They would glady acknowledge artists and authors and theatres, night by night. They would gladly advertise the Radio Times in their own programmes, to increase circulation. But their conscience would not allow them to take advertisements in order to pay for something Britain needed. I think they were small-minded, and pig-headed, and it is their own fault if they did not see what was coming. But they did not.
I then said to myself, "We need television on a proper scale and we cannot have it without advertisements, so we must have it with advertisements", and I supported the Government. There was nothing Machiavellian or nasty or round the corner or clandestine, nothing horrible about this, Lord Reith, nothing at all; just a change of mind due to all the facts of the case, which it surely is right for a public man to consider and weigh. That is how I came to be supporting it. I should not be surprised if, as my noble friend Lord Lloyd said, a great many others who supported it felt as I did: that it was time the B.B.C. monopoly was changed, and the only way we could have proper development of television was by the method of having advertisements. In 1955, when the Television Bill was passed, there were 5 million televiewers; today there are 12 million. That development could not possibly have taken place without vast sums of money, and vast sums of money have been spent, as your Lordships know.
Finally, let us look, without all the heat and passion that is generated in this matter, at the television advertisement itself. Is advertisement in itself a 273 bad thing? The noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams—and in passing may I congratulate him on a most interesting maiden speech which I was glad to hear—said that there could not be a free Press in this land without advertisements. I entirely agree. There could not be a vast, rich, well-equipped television system without advertising, I affirm. Advertising is not only useful for that reason; it is useful for at least two others. It helps manufacturers to make more things that are known to be wanted, and that enables them to make them cheaper; and it helps the public to know what is being made and to choose. I do not believe that a bad service is rendered by the broadcasting of advertisements; I believe a useful and a good one is. I do not adhere to the doctrine that we must always give the people what we or they think is good for them; I affirm that "a little of what you fancy does you good". And that is the theme that will guide me in judging the Pilkington Report when I have the honour to read it.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, I think that at the outset of my speech I ought perhaps to declare an absence of interest. I must disclose this absence of interest in television: I have no television set. I have never yet seen a programme of Independent Television. I think I last saw a B.B.C. television broadcast in a private house when I saw—a not entirely satisfactory experience—the Boat Race of last year; and the other B.B.C. television broadcasts I have seen have been in Westminster Hall, of great occasions like the State Opening of Parliament and the Coronation. I hope that this admission that I scarcely ever see television will not be thought to be too disgraceful. After all, it is not yet compulsory.
The reason that I intervene this afternoon is that, though I have little experience of television, I have a good deal of knowledge of the matters dealt with in the book that is the subject of the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Reith. I read the book last weekend. For some 30 years I have been interested in broadcasting and in the B.B.C. I took part in some debates in the House of Commons on the subject, in particular the debate of May 28, 1940, when I intervened 274 from the Government side, and the debate of December 11, 1946, when my Party were in Opposition. I was a Minister at the Board of Trade at the time the Television Act, 1954, was going through Parliament. I know it is sometimes thought that no junior Minister ever has knowledge of anything; that he remains quite ignorant of the forces operating in the House of Commons and in his own Party. But that really is not so. I had some knowledge of the forces at work in the Party and in Parliament, and I had some means of judging the merits of what Professor Wilson has described in his book. I knew, fairly well, I think, all the Members of Parliament who are mentioned, though I do not profess to have known all those outside.
An Act of Parliament of such novelty as the 1954 Act is, of course, the product of a number of varied views and forces. I think some previous speaker has pointed out that that Act satisfied nobody entirely. I do not think that was altogether surprising. But I have no doubt whatsoever what was the main influence, the main motive that influenced the Tory Party and many others to introduce this legislation; and that was the dislike of monopoly and the evils associated with it. We may have been right or we may have been wrong, but that was the motive. Of course that does not mean that those of us who took that view were necessarily opposed to the B.B.C. The noble Lord, Lord Reith, is quite preposterously wrong in making that assumption.
If I may explain my own position, I was—and I still am—a great admirer of a great deal of the work of the noble Lord, Lord Reith, When he first became responsible for that monopoly. He will probably have forgotten this, but I had the pleasure of meeting him at some fairly small gatherings at which he explained some of his ideas after a few years. Above all, I admired him because he treated this new medium seriously. He had high ideals for it; he was determined, if I may so put it, not to ignore public taste but, if anything, to be a little ahead of it. I believe that the greatest of all the achievements of the B.B.C. sound radio hitherto, and the way in which it has added more happiness than by anything else to the lives of the people in these islands, is by 275 making them acquainted with great music. That would not have happened unless the noble Lord, Lord Reith, had had high ideals. I had the pleasure of personal friendship for many years with Adrian Boult and with Arthur Bliss, two of the Directors of Music at the B.B.C. I was a school friend of Arthur Bliss and a college friend of Adrian Boult. I can never be too grateful for what the B.B.C. has done in this sphere.
I took part in many debates over the years on this subject, two of which I have mentioned in particular. In those early years I took for granted the necessity for the monopoly, and I concentrated my criticism of the B.B.C. on an endeavour to improve its practices, but not to curb its powers. But in the course of the years I formed the definite conclusion that it would be advisable, in the public interest, to end its monopoly, if that should become technically possible. This afternoon the noble Lord. Lord Reith, spoke as if this dislike of the monopoly aspect of the B.B.C. had been a rather insincere conviction conjured up, when the Conservative Party took office, by this pressure group to which he refers in his Motion. This idea is entirely unfounded. The objection to the monopoly of the B.B.C. had been the subject of Parliamentary criticism from a much earlier date. I daresay that some noble Lords who are interested may have referred to the debate in another place on July, 16, 1946, when my Party, from the Opposition Benches, endeavoured to carry a Motion to secure an inquiry before the renewal of the Charter of the B.B.C. Many interesting speeches were made in the course of that debate, not least a speech by a friend of many of us, the late Lord Bracken.
Perhaps I might draw attention, in particular, to the speech of my honourable friend, Kenneth Pickthorn, then the senior Burgess for Cambridge University. He is one of those mentioned frequently in these pages. In that debate of July, 1946, he wanted an inquiry on whether it was necessary that the B.B.C. should continue as a monopoly. But may I mention something else? I am astonished that it has not been yet mentioned in the debate this afternoon, and I am even more astonished that the writer of this book 276 should have given it such slight mention, if he wished to be honest and accurately to portray the great issues involved.
The noble Lord, Lord Reith, is not the only Director-General of the B.B.C. who had high ideals. There was my friend, again an Oxford friend and a friend of many Members of this House, I think, on both sides, the late Sir Frederick Ogilvie. On June 26, 1946, Sir Frederick Ogilvie expressed these sentiments in a letter to The Times—sentiments derided this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Reith, as unworthy, as if they were sentiments that could result only from corrupt motives. Sir Frederick Ogilvie made a plea that there should be an inquiry—a plea which in the next month was supported by my Party in this Motion in the House of Commons. Now let me read two or three passages from Sir Frederick's letter. It says:Freedom is choice. And monopoly of broadcasting is inevitably the negation of freedom, no matter how efficiently it is run, or how wise or kindly the boards or committees in charge of it. It denies freedom of choice to listeners. It denies freedom of employment to speakers, musicians, writers, actors and all who seek their chance on the air. The dangers of monopoly have long been recognised in the film industry and the Press and the theatre, and active steps have been taken to prevent it. In tolerating monopoly of broadcasting we are alone among the democratic countries of the world.I was Director-General of the B.B.C. from the autumn of 1938 to the beginning of 1942. At the time of leaving I set down some of my impressions and experiences in a memorandum which Sir Alan Powell and his colleagues on the B.B.C. board of governors have had in their possession since the end of the war. My chief impressions were two: the evils of the monopoly system and the gallant work of a very able and delightful executive staff in trying to overcome them. The B.B.C. itself, good as it is, would gain vastly by the abolition of monopoly and the introduction of competition. So would all the millions of listeners, who would still have the B.B.C. to listen to, but would have other programmes to enjoy as well. So would all would-be broadcasters gain. If rejected by the B.B.C, they would have other corporations to turn to.I hope that the House will have thought it worth while to be reminded of these extracts, and to have them read. I know how many other speakers there are, so I content myself with having drawn attention to the letter. It will repay study throughout.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to intervene? He mentioned that in Professor Wilson's book there was a reference to this letter.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, I am glad I have been asked for that: it enables me to read it. I think the House should know this; it is the only reference in the book, and it is in these terms. Speaking of a debate in this House, Professor Wilson says—and these are his words:Not until the sixth speaker, Lord Man-croft, did the Government hear words of commendation for its proposals, and even then they were told they should have gone further and faster and proposed sponsored radio as well. From his stress on the evil of monopoly to the copious citation of Sir Frederick Ogilvie's letter to The Times of June 26, 1946, which had been widely circulated by the Conscrvate backbench group, Lord Man-croft might have been speaking from a brief prepared by the Broadcasting Group.I leave it to the House to judge whether that gives an adequate description of the letter I have read to the House. I have mentioned that in July, 1946, my friend Kenneth Pickthorn and others in the other place objected to the monopoly of the B.B.C. and asked for an inquiry. I have read the letter in The Times by a former Director-General of the B.B.C, a most humane and cultivated man, known to a great many people in this House and in another place.
I come now, with some astonishment because I do not think it has yet been mentioned in to-day's debate, to the Minority Report of my right honourable and learned friend Mr. Selwyn Lloyd in the Beveridge Report. Is this thought quite unworthy of mention? Of all parts of the Report, it reads among the best to-day. I do not ask anybody to agree with it, but what I want to say is that anybody who is interested in what moved the Conservative Party to legislate can take it that there was dislike of monopoly and the evils associated with it.
My Lords, over the weekend I read the book which is mentioned in the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Reith. I found it a very strange document indeed. That there should be numerous mistakes about the standing and nature of various committees, I thought was natural and excusable in a stranger to our Parliamentary proceedings; I attach 278 little importance to slips of that kind. I tried—and I hope noble Lords will agree with me—to be as patient as I could with the actual language used, repulsive though I sometimes found it. I hate it when people talk about people being "pressured", When they mean "pressed". It is as if Shakespeare had said, "Where the bee suctions, there suction I". For all I know, my Lords, that is what they teach in American universities. There the title of "Professor" is not always inconsistent with illiteracy. The word "motive" is not allowed to appear anywhere in the document. Wherever "motive" is meant, "motivation" is used. I tried, as I say, not to he repelled 'by the language, and I ignored all the milder mistakes of getting all our committees wrong, and so forth.
Then I came to what I found was utterly extraordinary about this book: that an intelligent American, living in a country where there are the severest possible laws against monopoly, should have taken it almost for granted that nobody could object to the monopoly of the B.B.C. except for money or some indirect or improper motive. I found this so insane that I began to fear for the sanity of the author. But, of course, I must do that no longer 'because the same illusion seems to have entered the head of the noble Lord who proposed this Motion.
My Lords, I have never, curiously enough, had any financial interest in advertising or television. I have been invited from time to time to broadcast or to take part in broadcasts by the B.B.C.—very long ago, of course, before they regarded me as a very elderly "has been" and an "angry old man". But that does not prevent me—any more than it prevented my friend the late Walter Elliot, who, by universal admission, was a superb broadcaster and a good friend of the B.B.C.—from questioning the B.B.C. monopoly. The disadvantages and evils of a monopoly in so powerful a medium of information, education and entertainment as the B.B.C. are so obvious that I shall not weary the House by repeating them. I will just give a few examples based on my own experiences, some of which I have raised in the other place in earlier debates.
279 Let me deal first with B.B.C. treatment of matters of acute controversy, which is a difficult problem. I think that there are only three possible ways of dealing with it: one of them utterly bad; the two others with possibilities. The utterly bad way of dealing with a controversial matter is to ask one man to broadcast on it and nobody else. The second method is to have a debate between two opponents. That can be very good indeed, but it used to be the tradition to have an extremely elderly Liberal in the chair, who would say at the end of the debate: "I am sure that we are really all agreed on this". That way, again, is not an ideal way. Fortunately it is not likely to be repeated to-day, because nobody in his wildest moments any longer regards a Liberal as impartial. The third, and best, method is to have a series of broadcasts in which different views are given.
Now let me give one example of the B.B.C.'s employment of the first method, which I have described as the worst. This happened in 1946. I was very much interested at that time, as some noble Lords may know, in trade union law, on which I had recently written a book. I heard with some astonishment after the 9 o'clock news a well-known Socialist (incidentally a friend, about whom I make no complaint of any sort) give a talk on the highly controversial matter of the closed shop, with which he was generally in sympathy. I had no objection whatsoever to what he said, as he gave the views I should have expected of him, having regard to his known political antecedents. I wrote the B.B.C. a polite letter asking if an equivalent opportunity would be given to some opponent of the closed shop. The reply of the B.B.C. was that no such opportunity would be given, because the gentleman had made an objective broadcast and they saw no need for any further broadcast at all. That is my first example.
I am not saying that all these examples are equally important, but I now come to what I regard as a very important matter—and I cannot help thinking that noble Lords in all quarters of the House may conceivably agree with me. In the ten years before the war, foreign affairs were probably as important in this country 280 as they have ever been. The B.B.C. was in a position to decide who should broadcast to us on foreign affairs, and nobody whom the B.B.C. did not choose could address the British public on this subject.
From 1928 to 1934 Mr. Vernon Bartlett broadcast regularly, and thus had a virtual monopoly of addressing the British public on the subject. Let me say at once, my Lords, that I make no sort of complaint against Mr. Vernon Bartlett, who is, and has always been since I have known him, a personal friend of mine. May I quote what Mr. Vernon Bartlett himself says in his work, This Is My Life, published in 1937? He said:During the six years I was almost the only broadcaster on foreign affairs, and the interest in the subject was so great that inevitably I had a very large audience.He goes on, himself, to point out how very undesirable he thought that was. Let me quote another passage, which comes a little later in his work:There should, I think, be not one broadcaster on foreign affairs but a panel of them. They should be of widely different political viewsAs your Lordships know, Mr. Vernon Bartlett was for a long time connected with the News Chronicle. As I say, I have no complaint against Mr. Vernon Bartlett and I share his views on how evil this monopoly was.
There is only one other matter in this connection of which I would remind the House. I think it was in 1933 that Mr. Winston Churchill, as he then was, was refused an opportunity of broadcasting on foreign affairs by the B.B.C. Now I daresay that the B.B.C. has an excuse for everything I have mentioned, but what I say to the House is this: is it conceivable that any of these things could have happened if they had not had a monopoly?
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL AND MINISTER FOR SCIENCE (VISCOUNT HAILSHAM)
My Lords, I believe the point that my noble friend is making is a legitimate one, but I think he should also say that the policy has been changed since, and that does not represent policy.
§ LORD CONESFORD
I entirely agree, and if anybody thought I implied that it did, then I withdraw. I am sure that 281 the B.B.C. would never do anything like that again. But I still think if I may say so, that the B.B.C. should not be the sole employers.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, may I just ask what the noble Lord is saying now? Is he saying that the B.B.C. gave up this policy only because of the coming of Independent Television or that they had abandoned it first? Because if they had given it up before, and would never have it again, the relevance of this reminiscence is not quite obvious.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, it is obvious to my mind, and I am very sorry if it is beyond the noble Earl, that what I was saying—with, I thought, such clarity as I am capable of——
§ LORD CONESFORD
—was that the subject of the debate to-day is whether the Conservative Party had some improper motive, yielding to a pressure group to persuade them not to extend the monopoly of the B.B.C. I said—and this is the whole point of my remarks—that there had been long a desire in the Conservative Party to end the monopoly of the B.B.C, when that could be done, because that monopoly had given rise to serious evils.'
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, I have given the reference of the debate, and if the noble Lord was not listening I will give the dates again. The debate I am alluding to was in 1946. I have read the letter in that year of the late Director-General, whom I regarded as quite as honourable and humane a man as I do the noble Lord who introduced this Motion; and I have mentioned the desire expressed in the House of Com mons by Members of my own Party to end the monopoly. We may have (been flight or we may have been wrong, but it was no new thing; and I still think——
§ LORD CONESFORD
I think he told me at the time, but I cannot remember 282 whether he told me whether I should reveal it. But I am not going to charge my memory in order to do so. I knew Sir Frederick Ogilvie quite well. I have read his letter to The Times, and if the noble Lord is suggesting anything would have made Sir Frederick Ogilvie write something in which he did not believe, then I would repudiate that as monstrous——
§ LORD CONESFORD
That comes very well from the noble Lord, after his treatment of my noble friend Lord Woolton this afternoon.
§ LORD CONESFORD
The noble Lord shouts out "Nonsense!", well expressing what is on his mind.
My Lords, I have said that these effects of monopoly which I have described are no small evil. I also believe that it is no small evil that talented broadcasters should have only one possible employer in this country. I believe that, too, is a great evil. Finally, in dealing with these evils, I believe that the power of patronage is a great evil. The B.B.C. monopoly enabled the Corporation, by its choice of those Who were to broadcast on important occasions, to confer on its favourites a political advantage unparalleled since the 18th century. I do not believe that those who were in a position to give away rotten boroughs in the 18th century, had a greater power of patronage than the B.B.C. under its monopoly.
My Lords, I do not know if the noble Lord, Lord Reith, will have any complaint about my noble and learned friend Lord Simonds. He quoted in these debates some years ago the book which I love more than most books with Which I am familiar in English literature: I remember that it moved me more, when I first read it as a boy, than almost any other work in English prose. I refer to John Milton's Areopagitica. I think I can recite great passages of that even to-day, but I promise you that I will not do so. But it was the most noble and magnificent plea for unlicensed printing, and it was the most splendid weapon against monopoly in disseminating the things of the mind. I do not believe that John Milton's argument applies only to printed books 283 Yesterday, I refreshed my memory of a very different piece of prose, which I shall now read to the House. Your Lordships will find it on page 364 of the second volume of the Report of the Beveridge Committee:It was the brute force of monopoly that enabled the B.B.C. to become what it did; and to do what it did; that made it possible for a policy of moral responsibility to be followed. If there is to be competition it will be of cheapness not of goodness. The usual disadvantages and dangers of monopoly do not apply to Broadcasting; it is in fact a potent incentive.My Lords, I prefer John Milton.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ LORD STRANG
My Lords, I ought to say at first that I am a member of the General Advisory Council of the B.B.C. I would add that I shall say nothing whatever about the B.B.C. in what I am about to say.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, might I interrupt my noble friend for one moment? A friend has drawn my attention to the fact that I did not give responsibility for the words that I quoted; they were from a written memorandum by the noble Lord, Lord Reith, to the B.B.C.
§ LORD STRANG
My Lords, it is my objective, if I can, to bring a little calm into this debate. I take a rather more sober view of this affair than does the noble Lord, Lord Reith. But I do not share the complacency which I think has been shown by some members on the other side. And, as regards what the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, has just said, I would observe that "monopoly" may or may not be a bad thing, but the answer to monopoly is not necessarily commercial television.
As many noble Lords have said, this should not be a debate about commercial television as such. It should rather be a debate on a different and wider theme, a theme which relates to the anatomy and physiology of our society as a political organisation, and in particular to the constitution 284 and ethos of the Conservative Party. This is the subject matter of the book to which the noble Lord, Lord Reith, has drawn attention and, in my view, the subject is treated cautiously and temperately in well documented fashion by the author, who belongs to a type which is commoner in the United States than it is here. He is a political scientist, a student of government; and, in spite of the strictures of the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, on his language, his book has the virtue that it avoids, in general, the rather pretentious jargon in which many American political scientists clothe their analytical and theoretic conclusions about the springs of political action. Unlike so many of his colleagues, he tells this rather complex story as plainly as he can.
Now I have said that the book is well documented, and it certainly draws on a wealth of written and oral evidence. But, of course, the author cannot know everything. He admits that many questions have been left unanswered. There may be relevant and important facts which have escaped him; and he may have got some of his facts, some of his impressions, wrong. If so, those who speak for the Government and the Party will no doubt challenge him. They have done so on one or two points, but, apart from that, in general, they have so far confined themselves to broad accusations of inaccuracy. I shall leave it at that: but, in my opinion, Professor Wilson makes out a prima facie case which should be well pondered by those who care for the good ordering of our political life.
My Lords, to the minds of many people in this country there is something almost indecent in subjecting the operation of our contemporary society to scholarly scrutiny; and political science and sociology have accordingly been late in coming to maturity here. It is all right and proper to study, shall we say, the process of growing up in New Guinea, but until recent years similar studies of our own social processes have been rare. If now there has been a change, if we are becoming conscious that our own society is as much in need of analytic study as any other, that is all to the good; and for that reason Professor Wilson's book is, I think, to be 285 welcomed. He tells how, against formidable odds, a small, resolute group, inside and outside of Parliament, was able to swing opinion in the Government and among the rank and file of the Conservative Party, and to succeed in placing on the Statute Book a new and rather revolutionary measure for which it would appear the Government had no popular mandate and to which there was every indication that both Government and Party had, at an earlier stage, been generally opposed.
That is Professor Wilson's main thesis, and he sets out to show, so far as he can, how it was that that result was achieved. This suggests, I think, two general observations. The first is that we are inclined to dismiss, perhaps too readily, the Communist accusation that in countries such as ours governmental decisions are dictated by what are called "capitalist circles". That charge is grossly exaggerated, yet here is a concrete instance to show that, perhaps, the charge can sometimes be well-founded. The second observation is that, in general, revolutions are made by small, resolute groups who know what they want and how to go about getting it, but acting—and this is important—in a propitious environment where wider support can be aroused.
Now this, in its way, was a small revolution, and those who engineered it had, I think, as has been suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, perhaps learnt something from the well-established revolutionary techniques of propaganda, pressure and infiltration with which we have become familiar. The environment in this particular case was propitious, because, for one thing, the Government had a slender majority in Parliament and was susceptible to Back-Bench pressure, and because, secondly, the campaign for commercial television was in harmony with the electoral plans of the Party management, since the public to Which commercial television would be most likely to appeal was the public which the Party management was most anxious to attract into the Conservative fold.
There was the double approach. On the one side there were certain powerful commercial, financial and advertising interests, who had their eye upon the big money which they hoped would 286 accrue if consumer consciousness could be sufficiently developed, by way of entertainment, among a wide public. Commercial television has done many worthy things, and some of its chief figures are enlightened and public-spirited men; but, essentially, it exists in order to persuade the public to buy more and more consumer goods. On the other side were certain professional Party officials at Conservative Central Office who foresaw, very justly, that the promotion of consumer consciousness would be an electoral asset for the Party. There were votes to be won, particularly from among Labour voters, who it was thought were, as a Whole, more favourable to commercial television than were the Conservatives.
To illustrate those statements, I shall give three short quotations from Professor Wilson's book. The first quotation is a statement by a Conservative Member of Parliament in 1953. He said:The advantage"—that is, the advantage of commercial television—should lie with the Conservative Party, because the more vulnerable Labour voters will be exposed to a new form of persuasion".That is the first quotation. The second quotation is from a Conservative Party official, speaking at Swinton College in 1959. He said that commercial televisionhas done us incalculable good".The third quotation is again from a member of the Central Office, made in 1958. He said that, in his judgment, the achievement of commercial television was the idea and the complete operation of the Party professional at the Central Office. He went on:All the top leadership of the Party was opposed with the exception of Lord Woolton. We could not have got our programme through without him".That is not Professor Wilson speaking: that is a Party member of the Conservative Central Office.
My Lords, the campaign was brilliantly successful. The campaigners, it is true, did not get all they wanted. In particular, they were denied sponsored programmes; and in other respects the Government wisely introduced safeguards into the Act. But the main objective of the campaign was secured.
Now, my Lords, there is nothing corrupt about this, and Professor Wilson 287 does not suggest that there was. The campaign owed its success to the skill and drive with which it was conducted; but it would probably not have succeeded if it had not been a projection or an extrapolation of the already accepted post-war Conservative appeal. That appeal was addressed with skill to the newly-prosperous electors in the lower middle ranges of society. It took credit for that prosperity and promised to continue it and make it secure for the future. Commercial television played in with this appeal by showing how, in practice, the new prosperous life could be lived. In the course of the campaign, the old-style traditionalists inside and outside the Government and Parliament were routed. The rank and file toed the line. The campaigners had their way. They had calculated rightly, on both counts: the campaigning interests got the big money; the Party won two electoral victories. So, my Lords, the introduction of commercial television by the Conservative Government takes its place in the evolving political life of our country.
Yet, my Lords, the truth of the matter—although here I share perhaps the somewhat naïve illusions of Professor Wilson—is that the great Conservative Party, whatever else it may be, is not, in essence, the bagman's party which some of its supporters run the risk of making it appear to be. It is not the party of the Manchester school and of laissez-faire. The older Conservative tradition, the tradition of Disraeli, has not been submerged. Of course, the Conservative Party, by its nature, is inevitably enmeshed with the vast complex of commerce, industry and finance, in the same way as the Labour Party is enmeshed with the trade unions: these are the disadvantages under which both Parties suffer. Yet the Conservative Party has not wholly capitulated to the commercial ethos, and it has preserved some of its aristocratic values.
Some of those values were asserted by Mr. R. A. Butler when, in 1946, he stressed the Conservative belief that "quality is as necessary as equality", and when he insisted thatour particular contribution to the social philosophy of our time is that we are guardians of traditions, that we bring all that is most 288 inspiring in our past to serve the ever-altering needs of our present.Those of your Lordships who attend to 'these matters will have noted how brilliantly and how inspiringly the traditional philosophy of Conservatism is expounded, inside and outside of Parliament, by the noble and learned Viscount the Leader of the House. Let us hope that his Party will listen to him. The episode which is the subject of to-day's debate is, I think, an explicable one. There is no mystery about it. But it marks, I venture to say, some transfer of allegiance away from the respectable principles of the older philosophic conservatism towards the the idols of the market place. As one Conservative critic put it:… the hucksters who were asked to attract the crowds … have taken over the show".Finally, I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, will move his Amendment, but as to that I would say only this. The affair may or may not have been a desirable development in our political life. I doubt myself whether it was. But there was nothing corrupt in what was done. It is therefore, as I see it, not a matter for a Parliamentary inquiry. I doubt whether it is even a proper subject for a Resolution in this House. It is a matter, if anything, rather for the conscience of the Conservative Party.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ LORD WALSTON
My Lords, I believe I am the first speaker from these Benches to follow upon the two very admirable maiden speeches we have heard this afternoon, and I should like, with all sincerity and gratitude, to congratulate my noble friend Lord Francis-Williams, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester, for the two extremely interesting, knowledgeable and helpful contributions which we have had. I am also very nearly—though I think perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Rea, shares this distinction with me—the only speaker in this debate so far who has absolutely no connection whatsoever with the B.B.C., with the Independent Television Authority or with the negotiations, in or out of Parliament, which have taken place, and which are the subject of this book. And what is more—and I say this in no spirit of 289 boastfulness—I can scarcely call myself a listener or viewer either of Independent Television or of the B.B.C., though I do occasionally look at their programmes. So while I hope I have the benefit of speaking with a certain amount of objectivity, I cannot claim the benefit of speaking with any degree of expert or inside knowledge of this matter.
I can say quite honestly that I opened this book of Professor Wilson's with a completely open mind. I had not read any reviews of it. I had heard a little about it, but very little, and I did not know what I was going to find. I rather suspected that I was going to find a strong indictment of the Government and disclosures of disgraceful and possibly even corrupt behaviour. I found none of this as I read this book. I do not think that Professor Wilson himself would ever suggest that he was imputing corruption or improper behaviour to respectable politicians and public people. But what I did find in this book was something which the noble Lord, Lord Strang, very properly, and in a very balanced and lucid manner (if I may say so) referred to, something which should give us all a very great deal to think about in the running of this country, and that was the influence of groups of people who wished to get something which at the present time the majority do not wish.
We have heard a lot about pressure groups from various noble Lords Who have spoken already, and it has quite properly been said that there is nothing wrong whatsoever in a pressure group. But what is wrong, to my mind, and I think my view would be shared by most noble Lords, is that this book is a camouflaged pressure group, a disguised pressure group. There is nothing wrong whatsoever in the publishers of this book, Messrs. Secker & Warburg, advertising it in an attempt to pressurise (if the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, will allow me to use the word) the public into reading this. But what would be extremely wrong indeed would be if the publishers of this book, in order to promote sales, had "got at" the noble Lord, Lord Reith, and got him to inaugurate this debate simply in order to promote the sales of their book, without an-nouncing or letting it be known that that was the reason. That is surely a type 290 of pressure which we must all condemn; and that is the type of pressure which, in reading this book, I could not say to myself did not exist. I cannot say to myself that it did exist, but I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Strang, that there is a prima facie case to be answered. I hoped that in the course of this debate we should have good and satisfactory answers to this, and I still hope we shall.
We did have certain explanations from some noble Lords who have been mentioned in the book and who have been involved in this case. The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, gave in his usual frank and honest manner a complete account of his part in the transactions, and there is no doubt at all about it that there has been no criticism of any kind, even in the book, of what the noble Lord did. I must say frankly that I was disappointed that the noble Earl, Lord Woolton, did not quite so freely disclose everything that happened. His speech seemed to me to be far more concentrated, if I may say so, upon an attack on the noble Lord, Lord Reith, than upon shedding light on this extremely important subject.
THE EARL OF WOOLTON
My Lords, I think the noble Lord, in fairness, might admit that I was the person who was attacked. Perhaps there was some justification for my trying to repel that attack.
§ LORD WALSTON
My Lords, far be it from me to justify, or otherwise, any action of the noble Earl. Of course, if he believes attack is the best form of defence, he made an admirable defence in this matter. But I say quite frankly, and I repeat, that I would have gone away from this debate in a happier frame of mind if more information had been forthcoming in the noble Earl's speech.
When we get down to it, what is really at stake in this matter? We have the knowledge that there were two pressure groups at work; and the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, was quite right in pointing this out, as my noble friend Lord Shackleton had done earlier. I have no complaint about that whatsoever. It appears that there is a possibility, to put it no stronger, that the successful group operated in a way which was not at that time completely clear to all the people among whom it was operating. 291 The effect of that was first upon the Conservative Party. That is no concern of mine. It is no concern of any of us except noble Lords sitting on the opposite Benches. I must say that if such imputations or suggestions had been made about my own Party, I should have urged strongly that there should be a full investigation to see how true they were, and I should not be happy at any form of covering up.
Then there was the question of what effect this pressure, open or hidden, had upon the Government of the country, and its effect on the actual condition of the country. We now have commercial television and whether one approves or disapproves of it, it is something that cannot be lightly dismissed. The effect of this pressure group has undoubtedly affected the lives of every single person in this country.
That brings me to my third point, the general effect on the country as a whole. It would not be in order to have a wide discussion (though certain noble Lords have wandered a little far) concerning the merits of commercial television or B.B.C. monopoly, but I think that it is right at this stage to amplify a little what the right reverend Prelate said, so rightly, about the effect of commercialisation, and particularly of advertising, on our life to-day, because this has always been one of the strongest fears of those who have opposed the inauguration of commercial television.
If I may, I will quote some words of my noble friend Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, as reproduced in this book, from the debate in your Lordships' House on Monday, May 22, though I am afraid that I cannot tell of which year, because they seem to me so true and representative of the fears expressed by those who opposed commercial television. My noble friend said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 176, col. 1371]:Is it wise for this country to follow up the 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 it is a step in the direction of commercialisation.292 The figures which were given by my noble friend Lord Francis-Williams are very apt in this context. I will not go through them all again, but let me remind your Lordships that the advertising revenue of I.T.A. rose from some £2 million in 1955 to £93 million in 1961. That shows the advertising potential and the effect it can have on life in this country. We can be certain that this figure of £93 million will be greatly extended in years to come. There is nothing wrong in advertising itself. There is no reason why people should not try to promote the sale of their products; indeed, there is every reason why the public should be given information about where they can obtain articles and what they contain. But modern advertising is something very different from that. It sets out openly and deliberately to create a demand where none existed before—in other words, to create dissatisfaction where people were satisfied. It encourages them to base their standards on materialism rather than on other more important things. If we look at it fairly and squarely, it turns away, with the approval of society, from all those virtues which we fundamentally believe to be good and great.
I should like to read a passage from a broadcast made some months ago on the B.B.C. by Mr. Tynesley, of the Department of Theology at the University of Hull. He said in that broadcast:Modern advertising has a definite image of the successful human being. What sort of hero is held up for our admiration by the advertisements we most commonly see? A man of the city, a good-looker with unmistakable drive and ambition. He is clearly on the way up, outstripping his fellows all the way along in clothes, girls, cars, cigarettes, and so on. He conforms to the pattern of life around him and all his fears and anxieties have been solved!All this amounts to a caricature of what our mediaeval forefathers knew as the seven deadly sins! The appeal of advertising is directly to the things people used to be warned against—pride, envy, sloth and so on. These values add up to a powerful and enticing image of the good life and provide a persuasive popular alternative to the Christian ideal.My Lords, I believe that to be true. That is the way modern advertising is working to-day. While no one blames advertising, and advertising alone, for the decline in our moral standards, or commercial television 293 alone for opera-fling advertising, those who say "hat this great weapon of advertising should be used freely, and still more freely as the years go by, must ask themselves whether they approve of the sort of values which are being offered to our young people as the ideals for which they should strive, as being the true form of good life to which every true "he-man" and "she-woman" of this country should aspire. Because we cannot divorce these two complements. We cannot say that we do not want a monopoly, therefore we we must have commercial television and then, once we have commercial television, wash our hands of all responsibility for what happens.
We can now see with our own eyes what happens when a country has commercial television. If we say that that is the sort of young people we want to see, that we want young men and women growing up with those ideals, why not carry on with commercial television—and let us have commercial radio, too! But if we believe that we should have higher standards, to which we all pay lip-service, then we must have doubts. We must wonder whether those who promoted commercial television, however good their motives and however high-minded they were at the time, were right and whether the country is really a better place because we now have it. And if we have doubts, surely it is not too late at least to say that, no matter what form of pressure group, open or hidden, we may have, this sort of thing shall not spread in our country and shall not be given Government licence to provide a form of ethic and moral to which we are wholeheartedly opposed.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ LORD MILVERTON
My Lords, I cannot pretend to approach the subject under discussion this afternoon with a completely unbiased mind, because I took part in the debate of June, 1954, and on that occasion expressed very definite views in favour of the Government's Television Bill, and in favour of the creation of a new Authority. On looking at the terms of the Motion before us this afternoon, it is obvious that it is not intended to have a debate on the future of television or broadcasting, but a study, apparently, of the vote of censure passed by an American Professor 294 on the present Conservative Government of this country. I do not wish to say that the facts are right or wrong; I will accept the facts as stated.
I have taken the opportunity of reading with some care this book in question. I do not take any exception to the facts, but what I do take the gravest exception to are the innuendos, the implications and inferences drawn from those facts, which I consider to be quite false. In the 1954 debate, I referred to the Television Bill as a cautious, guarded and empirical approach to a delicate problem. It may be that the results have not been as successful or quite what we hoped they would be, and it may be that something like the equivalent of Gresham's Law is operating in the field of television. But, in any case, this is not the occasion to deal with that; as I have said, we are not debating that particular subject.
In the early twenties the noble Lord, Lord Reith, said:He who prides himself on giving what he thinks the people want is often creating a fictitious demand for lower standards which he will then satisfy".In some respects I think these words were prophetic, and to-day, in my view, they apply both to the B.B.C. and to the I.T.V. That is the dilemma as I see it. After all, the choice in those earlier years was not whether to keep the B.B.C. in solitary splendour, but between having a competitive incursion of uncontrolled, foreign, and largely American-sponsored programmes, and setting up another Corporation instead of that under British control. I still believe in liberty of thought, speech and action; and the, in some ways, disappointing results of I.T.V. do not alter my view that the Government were right in setting up another body.
Television is set in a modern world and cannot be insulated, even if it were a good thing, from the failings of modern man. My respect and admiration for the noble Lord, Lord Reith, in his amazing achievement in building the B.B.C. on standards which have won the admiration of the world, do not blind me to the facts of the present situation, as I see them. Having brought up, as it were, the B.B.C. and given it such an admirable training, the time had to come when the noble Lord had to leave it to 295 face alone a hard world. Just as on a short-term view (the best Government is probably a highly efficient and benevolent dictatorship but a highly dangerous situation arises because of the uncertainty of succession and the uncertain hands into which this unchallenged power might fall, so, with the B.B.C. as a monopoly, the dangers of unworthy hands gaining control of a machine with terribly and unpredictably wide influence were altogether too great to face. It was highly improbable that fate would produce a succession of men fit to wear the mantle of the noble Lord, Lord Reith, and it was also unlikely that Governments would acquiesce in consolidating such independent power.
To turn to this book, which apparently is the chief subject of our debate, I have read it with great interest. I am always interested in political propaganda and its manifold and sometimes cunningly devised manifestations. Descending to the phraseology common in this book, one might wonder what pressure group stimulated this piece of propaganda against the Conservative Government and certain of its supporters. It is obviously written by a man obsessed with the idea of pressure groups; and having lived and worked all his life in the land of pressure politics, pressure cookers, pressurised air, and pressurised other things it is perhaps natural that he should feel bound to attribute the success of any movement to a pressure group inspired by the most ignoble motives. That was an atmosphere with which he was probably familiar.
It has apparently escaped his notice that sincere belief in liberty of expression in its manifold forms may bind men together sincerely in a common cause. With an outlook like this—and I say this with the greatest respect—it would be possible to attribute even the growth of Christianity to a successful pressure group aiming at the spiritual domination of mankind. It would be as easy to put up a case for that as to put up the case which it has been attempted to put up this afternoon.
I found this book a distasteful exhibition of the skillTo hint a fault and hesitate dislikeand, without sneering, to teach the rest to sneer. It seems to have been overlooked 296 by the author of the book that the supporters of I.T.V. might patriotically object to monopoly; might have patriotic motives binding them together. He seems also to have overlooked that they took a tremendous risk, and at one time it looked as if their losses might be astronomical. It is true that they won through to financial success, but, surely there is no justification for condemning them on that account, unless one is afflicted with the view that there is something fundamentally ignoble about financial success even in the interest of one's own country's welfare.
Personally, I found this book most interesting as a piece of anti-Conservative propaganda, ill concealed as an impartial analysis of improper political manipulation. Otherwise it was quite a valueless book. In our debate in June, 1954, I spoke in favour of the Television Bill and the Government's action. I gave my own views and my own reason, uninfluenced by any pressure group. Nor do I believe that one existed in the sense of Professor Wilson's book. There must have been many other Peers who spoke at the time who were in the same position. We exercised our own judgment as, indeed, I have done to-day. May I say that I have never had any financial interest of any sort or description in television or broadcasting?
One final word. The noble Lord who moved this Motion has, and always has had, my deepest respect and admiration. One of our troubles is the unimpeachably high standard of his aims and his achievement. It is given to few men to impress their personality and their ideals so vividly as he did upon a public institution. I can understand his feeling as a disappointed idealist to-day. If your Lordships will permit me to be didactic, the essence of an ideal is that it should be unobtainable; that it is always there, just on the horizon, to be striven for but never reached. It is something the poet meant when he talked of:That something still which prompts the eternal sigh,For which men bear to live or dare to die.I regard the ideals of the B.B.C. as a beacon light in a world of imperfection. But a study of their programmes will give evidence of the continued pressure on their ideals, and they are weakening 297 at times, with the public taste for more common food, which is also plentifully supplied by the I.T.V. That is all I wish to say on this subject except to add that I very much appreciated, as I am sure the whole House did, the extremely dignified and adequate reply which was made by the noble Earl, Lord Woolton, to those aspersions on him and his activities. I regret, my Lords, that the Resolution was ever put an the Paper but, as it was put there, I felt one should say quite frankly what one felt about it.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ LORD AUCKLAND
My Lords, may I first add my own congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, and to the right reverend Prelate, the Lord Bishop of Worcester, on two admirable and lucid maiden speeches. The noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, is a seasoned campaigner on television and a skilful exponent of the art of interviewing. The right reverend Prelate is a brilliant exponent of the spoken word, and, having heard him both from the pulpit and in your Lordships' House, may I say to him that we hope we shall hear a lot more from him from both places.
I am in a minority of those taking part in this debate who have no interest to declare whatever in the realm of television, either B.B.C. or I.T.V., as I was not a Member of either House during the course of those somewhat heated debates during the 1952–54 period, but I am a reasonably prolific television viewer and I choose which channel I wish to view purely according to merit.
I turn to Professor Wilson's book and, like the noble Lord, Lord Walston, I approached it with a completely open mind. Parts of it I found intolerably dull, others quite fascinating. Whether or not it is a truthful account of what happened during the time in question I do not know, but I regret the imputations made against the Conservative Central Office. I have had certain dealings with the Conservative Central Office because I am currently on their Parliamentary speakers panel, and I know that the noble Earl, Lord Woolton, has not only helped to revive the Party but has always given this country the most valued and impartial service. Whilst the author probably meant no malice towards the Party, in certain extracts from his book he imputed it.
298 May I turn for a moment to the subject of advertising? The B.B.C. has, in fact, experimented with advertising recently in a monthly series of programmes called "Choice". I happen to have a great interest in the matter of consumer advice and I am all in favour of any channel indulging in giving impartial advice of this kind, but the only time I watched this particular programme it seemed to me to be presented in a most unconvincing manner. So far as Independent Television advertising is concerned, judged purely on its merit, I personally find much of it irritating in the extreme. Often, during a great play or a well-known play, one will have an interruption for an advertisement for some kind of toothpaste or shampoo, and I should personally wish—whether or not the Pilkington Committee have considered this I do not know—that advertising were limited to the end of the programme. Surely the impact would be just as great. It is most irritating to find that a feature programme—and some of the I.T.V. feature programmes are extremely good—is interrupted in the middle for a series of tedious advertisements, some of which deal with two or three advertisements for one particular kind of commodity.
I therefore speak in this debate purely from the point of view of the viewer, and his interests must be considered in the light of what has emanated from this book. I listened with great interest to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Reith, who, as other noble Lords have said, has rendered great and valued service to this country by what he has done for the B.B.C, the Colonial Development Corporation and other Departments. But I must confess that I was very unimpressed by his speech to-day. It seemed to me that he never got down to any fundamental attack on the events Which this book describes.
It has been suggested that the Independent Television Authority programmes have more impact on the viewer than those of the B.B.C. I have not a copy of any recent listening figures, but the last I saw certainly tended to confirm the opposite view. Speaking for myself, I think that the B.B.C. programmes, again purely on merit, are on the whole of a vastly superior quality. Something was said of the lack of impartiality of the B.B.C. on certain political occasions. I do not think that at any 299 rate to-day that is a fair comment. May I instance, for example, "Panorama" with which the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, will not be unfamiliar. In this programme a very balanced account is generally given of any subject which is discussed. I dare say there have been lapses, but they are in the minority. One thing I regret is the frequent lack of co-ordination between the two channels. I find on Tuesday nights there are two programmes dealing with the police: "No Hiding Place" is now welcomed back and restored to us after a lapse of some three months, and this new programme "Z Cars". There would be some case for looking into coordination regarding the timings of these programmes. Just who is to blame? Whether it is the B.B.C. or the Independent Television Authority I am not in a position to say, but something in the way of co-ordination would be of great help to the viewer.
I quote from the Second Schedule of the 1954 Television Act, which states:The amount of time given to advertising in the programmes "—that is the I.T.V. programmes, of course—shall not be so great as to detract from the value of the programmes as a medium of entertainment, instruction and information.To be fair, I believe that advertising time has now been cut down, and I think that is a very welcome move. Like other noble Lords, I have no bias against advertising—far from it. A very great friend of mine who is a Member of another place is a director of the firm of J. Walter Thompson, who have been mentioned in Professor Wilson's book. So I hope that what I have said has been useful in that I have approached this debate in an 'unbiased frame of mind. As I have said, I have viewed both programmes, I.T.V. and B.B.C, frequently and I think that both have their faults. There may well have been faults which Professor Wilson has been right to point out, and I, for one, will listen with great interest to the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor who is to reply, before deciding what to do if this matter should be pressed.
§ 7.5 p.m.
THE EARL OF BESSBOROUGH
My Lords, I had not originally intended to 300 intervene in this debate since, frankly, I hardly felt that this book by a somewhat obscure associate professor in an American university was worthy of discussion in your Lordships' House. However, we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams—whom I also should like to congratulate on a most able and interesting speech— something of the character of the author of this book, and I am somewhat reassured, although he did admit that the associate professor had perhaps made certain errors of omission and commission and that in this sense he was only human.
I might add that this book contrasts unfavourably with an admirable volume, published I may say by a fully fledged American professor, Dr. Burton Paulu, entitled British Broadcasting in Transition. This gives a balanced, intelligent, very thorough account of the breaking of the B.B.C. monopoly and the setting up of the I.T.A. It is very fair to the B.B.C. and very fair to the I.T.A., and to noble Lords who are anxious to establish the facts this volume should be warmly recommended. I only wish it were Professor Paulu's book which formed the subject of our debate rather than the other, and I can only regret that your Lordships' time should perhaps have been wasted in considering that.
However, since my name is mentioned in the book and I am a director of one of the original I.T.V. companies, and because my views have been represented inaccurately, I feel I should say a few words. When I saw extracts from this book serialised in the New Statesman I found it was stated that at one time I and some of my friends wanted to drop out of the movement for I.T.V. I wanted to tell your Lordships that it is not true that I ever wished to drop out. I was always completely convinced that the breaking of the B.B.C. monopoly was necessary and would sooner or later come about, and I still believe that to have only one broadcasting organisation is not a healthy situation either in television or in sound radio. Not that I would, for a moment, speak against the B.B.C.; indeed, I am immensely impressed with what they have done, and even more impressed by what they have done since I.T.V. have been on the air.
301 However, I was not intending to discuss the merits and demerits of commercial broadcasting in this debate, which should, I consider, under the terms of the Motion be confined to Professor Wilson's book and perhaps generally to the problem of pressure groups. All I would say, in so far as I am concerned, is that the New Statesman were good enough to publish my correction and my solicitors have received a letter from the publishers in which they say they will of course take steps in all future editions, reprints and further impressions, if any, either to correct the passage in question or to include an appropriate footnote. I do not think the corrigenda is in some editions your Lordships have here.
Quite apart from the inaccuracies of the book, which I understand are numerous—the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, said someone had counted over 100—I am surprised at the whole tone of it since it comes from a citizen of a country which leads in private enterprise and in whose capital city pressure groups are more active than perhaps anywhere else in the world. It seems to come ill from an American to make such insinuations. But I understand the Professor's politics are of a fairly Left-wing variety, and therefore it is not surprising, having decided what his conclusions were in advance, before he even started to make investigations, that he should fit every possible fact within the framework of what I must call his preconceptions—or should I say fundamental misconceptions? This is certainly the impression that I gain in reading a book which itself appears to me to resemble more of a gossip column in the popular Press than a serious historical piece of work, except that it seems incidentally to be less accurate than most gossip columns.
Considerable store is set on who met whom in which London clubs, on which date, and important conclusions are derived from these meetings. No doubt other noble Lords may quote other in-accuraoies—they have done so already— and I expect there are some to which the noble and learned Viscount will refer in answering the debate. In fact, I should say that the book abounds in half-truths as well as inaccuracies and even downright falsehoods. Corrections have been demanded and in at least one case legal action has been taken. This must be as 302 embarrassing to the publishers as to anyone, and it may well be that the list of corrigenda will grow, and I should not be surprised if further legal actions were pending.
The real mischief done by a book of this kind seems to me that it creates an aura of untruth and invention. A journalist reviewing it in Time and Tide let himself be completely taken in by it, as well as by some mischievous and malicious inventions of somebody's imagination. In the result, he had to publish an apology admitting that his story was without any foundation whatsoever.
It cannot be other than a matter of regret that a noble Lord of the distinction and high ideals of Lord Reith should have impugned the integrity of the noble Earl, Lord Woolton, not facing him openly with first-hand evidence but hiding behind the back of a journalising professor whose home is thousands of miles away, and who has already landed his English publishers with a good deal of trouble.
THE EARL OF BESSBOROUGH
Well, I think it is most regrettable that the noble Lord did not think of slightly changing the terms of his Motion. But the point I really wish to underline is one which has already been made by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, and by the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd: that the Popular Television Association—call it a pressure group if you like, and I was not myself a member of the Association—was not formed until another pressure group, the National Television Council, had been in existence for a month. Had the National Television Council not been formed, it seems unlikely that the Popular Television Association would ever have come into being.
It interests me greatly that it should be the noble Lord, Lord Reith who should so much deplore this pressure group. I was recently reading his own book Into the Wind, and I got the impression from that book that the noble Lord himself was a most powerful pressure group on his own account. First of all, to cite one passage, at pages 80 to 82 he describes his many interviews including one with the right 303 honourable J. R. Clynes, because—and I quote:'it seemed that in the Labour Party there was most chance of finding the essence of what I believed.There follow several references to the amount of money handed over to him. In one case he says—and again I quote:I had distributed considerable money, often in cash. I rarely knew the purpose. Fifteen thousand pounds passed through my hands.There is also in the book a whole series of instances in which the noble Lord uses strong pressure to achieve his own ends. He seems to have had access to the Crawford Committee in 1925. He says that he gave the Committee before his second appearance a memorandum of comment on what the others had said. Was this correct procedure? He was extremely active in what I can only call lobbying, and says, for example, on page 106, that he drew up a statement of the B.B.C. case and sent it to Members of Parliament, and that the Postmaster General was very annoyed. I cannot avoid the impression, from reading Lord Reith's book, that he brought powerful pressure to bear on more than one Prime Minister.
On page 155 he says that as the then American Ambassador was in some distress about it, he "spoke to the Prime Minister's Secretary" about Mr. Ramsay MacDonald's commitment to broadcast to America under the aegis of a Chicago newspaper. He says that he telephoned to the head of the N.B.C. in New York and asked him to speak to the head of the Columbia Broadcasting System, and then sent a joint telegram to him. The telegram came next morning. Another Prime Minister on whom he seems to have exercised what might be described as pressure was Mr. Lloyd George, whom he pressed, against his original intention, to speak in a debate in 1933. In another passage Lord Reith says—and I again quote:MacDonald said we were turning his hair grey; he wondered which was the Government—we (that is to say, the B.B.C.) or they".Then, on page 227, he says:There was no lobbying of members, but when offered opportunities of private conversation I took them gladly. I suggested to the General Advisory Council that they might give evidence on their own … The Board of Education was stimulated to give evidence—they should not have required it; and I asked 304 Attlee, one of the members, if he thought others should be stimulated also. …On page 228 he goes on:By the courtesy of Lord Ullswater I received throughout a copy of the evidence given by other witnesses.Really, my Lords! What a pressure group was there! Here was the head of the B.B.C. telling Prime Ministers what to do and what not to do; having numerous private conversations with other Ministers and other Members of Parliament; distributing considerable sums of money—often in cash; admit ting (and this is quite extraordinary) his own Party political bias; being privately shown evidence given before Committees by other witnesses. If your Lordships need a classic example——
§ LORD TAYLOR
My Lords, would the noble Earl allow me? Did he say "distributing large sums of money, often in cash"?
THE EARL OF BESSBOROUGH
Well, would it be desirable to go further into this? The noble Lord will know precisely what he meant by it.
§ LORD REITH
Let him tell the whole story. I was 24 years of age and I was not at the B.B.C. But what does all this matter?
THE EARL OF BESSBOROUGH
My Lords, the noble Lord wrote the book. I have a copy of it here. If he would like to find the correct page and explain exactly what was behind it——
THE EARL OF BESSBOROUGH
My Lords, I am only saying that it was stated that it was distributed to others. If your Lordships will allow me to pass on, the book is available to your Lordships and it can be read after the debate.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, I do not really understand -this. This would seem to be the first suggestion made in this debate of something amounting to corrupt practice. Nobody 305 else has suggested that anybody has done this. What is the context of this statement?
THE EARL OF BESSBOROUGH
My Lords, I am not passing any judgment on this; I was merely quoting a passage from the book. That is all I can say at the moment. I am purely quoting Lord Reith's words
If you will permit me, I feel that from the examples which I have given this is a classic example of a pressure group, and the like of it has never been seen before or since. The power of the man or, in his own words "the brute force of monopoly" is manifest to all. I do not wish to impute any false motives on the part of the noble Lord, Lord Reith. I have no doubt that he acted with the highest principles. My point is that in our free society in varying ways we may all contribute to pressure groups—whether we be parents insisting that our children attend school, or Whips insisting, or perhaps requesting, that we attend debates. Surely objections cannot be raised against these so-called pressure groups. If there is to be any objection, let it be to the underlying principle.
I was not going to say more, but since the noble Lord, Lord Reith, mentioned the proposed Institute of Educational Television, I thought I ought to say a word to him that this really has little to do with the book or with commercial broadcasting. A number of interested people, who have no connection whatever with commercial television, are its supporters, and its motives really cannot be in question. I think they are even going to change their address.
THE EARL OF BESSBOROUGH
That is really all I have to say, except that it is surprising to me that in these last three days there has; been this somewhat concerted attack—shall I call it?—on commercial television, and it comes just before the Report of Sir Harry Pilking-ton is expected. Do we detect some kind of pressure group in this? And which, my Lords, is the co-ordinating organisation, or should I say corporation, behind it all?
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, could 306 he tell us why the Educational Institute, or whatever it is called, is changing its address? It is another mysterious remark he has made.
THE EARL OF BESSBOROUGH
A noble Lord earlier in the debate referred to the address of the Institute as being related in some way to commercial television. It may be that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, was not in the House at the time, but this was suggested, and all I can say is that it was housed in its present address because an offer was made. But it is not being changed because of any criticism of the address.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ LORD TAYLOR
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Reith, opened this debate in a mixture of sorrow and anger. He said, "What can come of it all?" He spoke very sadly. Well, I do not think he should have been quite so sad, because a very vigorous debate has come out of his Motion, a debate which in itself, even if it went no further, if it stopped before my speech, I think would have done a useful service. Some noble Lords think it should not have taken place; I think it should. I think the noble Lord has achieved what he set out to achieve, merely by bringing about this debate.
The noble Lord then spoke of the wrecking of a life's work—as though a life's work had been wrecked. I think he was absolutely wrong, and that the B.B.C. to-day still bears the imprint of the moral integrity with which he started it off. I think it is a thing we all should be proud of, and I do not see any deterioration in the B.B.C. since the coming of commercial television. In fact, I would agree with the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, when he said that, if anything, it has stimulated the B.B.C. to do even better. But that is entirely apart from the question of advertising and broadcasting.
Then there developed, my Lords, a very sultry dispute between the noble Lords, Lord Reith, and Lord Woolton. I only hope that when the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor comes to reply he will feel that there is a serious subject here to be discussed, and that Lord Strang perhaps set the tone we ought to try to follow in arriving 307 at the true importance of this book and the importance of the subject—which may very well be much greater than the nature of the book.
This is one of those debates in which one wants to be scrupulously fair, and I shall try to be so, and also try to maintain a sense of proportion, to face life as it is and not as we should like it to be. For one has to do just that. Politics is often an affair of mixed motives, but it is none the worse for that; otherwise, it would be out of touch with reality. In real life, motives are always mixed. Because of the nature of the raw material we deal with, because in getting things done we have to deal with this mixture of motives, we try to build safeguards into our way of life to prevent our acting from private interest, prejudice or partial affection. We try to do that, and that is really, I think, what we have been trying to do in to-day's debate. It is one of the big, important safeguards of our way of life that we should be debating this very subject.
As to the book, I have to read many sociological text books by Americans, and I would say that this is a fairly average sample. I would not say that this is a great book; I should say it is a painstaking book; and I am absolutely sure that Professor Wilson took great trouble over getting his data and trying to analyse and evaluate it fully. Whether he is completely accurate or not is another matter. No textbook of this sort is ever altogether right, and it is proper that it should be criticised and the mistakes pointed out. I think the noble Lord, Lord Strang, was right when he said it makes a prima facie case, a case worth looking at, worth examining in the public interest. It is a good thing that we should see how pressure groups operate in this country.
I was a little upset when the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, and the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, were rather sneering about American professors. America has more Nobel Prize Winners among its professors than any other country in the world. They are not a race of stooges and second-rate people any more, whatever may have been the case fifty, sixty or seventy years ago, when American universities were just 308 beginning. They have a fine record of scholarship, and I do not think we add to our reputation if we simply denigrate American professors. I think that is quite wrong.
THE EARL OF BESSBOROUGH
If the noble Lord would permit me to say so, I was not denigrating American professors. I know many of them and I would praise their work—particularly, in this field, the work of Doctor Burton Paulu. But Professor Wilson is not very well-known, and is actually an associate professor.
§ LORD TAYLOR
There is nothing wrong in being an associate professor. In America these associate professorships are a very good thing. I wish there were more of them in our universities, where readers very often cannot become professors until they are fifty-five or sixty, and this is a very bad thing. Incidentally, my noble friend, Lord Francis-Williams tells me that so far as he knows Professor Wilson is a Republican, not a Left-wing person at all, and I honestly found no Left-wing bias in this book. There may have been little bits of stupidity here and there and lack of knowledge of England, but in every book that is built up of a series of conversations with people inevitably there are inaccuracies, particularly when describing events that happened ten years ago. Those are the sort of things for which it can be criticised, but I did not find much evidence of bias. I think it should be looked at fairly by anybody who is interested in this subject, bearing in mind that it is not a great, important volume, but nevertheless a very useful piece of sociological source material, or case material, to be read by anybody who cares about freedom and liberty and the way we make our laws.
I am very glad that our attention has been drawn to this question. The book is, I think, scrupulously fair in describing both the National Television Council and the Popular Television Association. It pointed out that they were both pressure groups. It pointed out the association of A.B.C cinemas and the various vested interests with the National Television Council. It showed it all. I do not think there is anything left out, or any subtle angling. I am sure if anybody has suggested there is angling, 309 Professor Wilson's book ought to be read in order to put it right.
My Lords, advertising is a legitimate and valuable human activity. But it is a secondary activity, for its value to the community depends entirely on the value of the -product or service advertised. I thought that my noble friend Lord Walston made a most valuable contribution to the basic philosophy of advertising—and yet one had the feeling that perhaps he pressed it a little too far: that we have to accept that advertising does a very useful job, so long as it does not try to persuade us that false things are true. In many fields, however, our society has decided that advertising is wrong. For example, individual members of professions may not advertise; and that, incidentally, is why advertising is not a profession, much as some of its practitioners would like to say it is a profession. Then there are certain products which, because of the harm they may do, may not be advertised in certain ways. So society puts certain restraints on advertising: we say, in effect, that advertising may be good in its place, but that it is possible to have too much of a good thing.
But this is not a debate about commercial television. It is getting much nearer when we come on to one branch of advertising—namely, public relations, which is a variety of advertising and much more open to abuse. Public relations at one extreme is harmless, and indeed valuable, when it gives information about goods or services which we all ought to know about; and, so long as it is really public, and clearly identifiable, it is not open to objection. But it easily extends into private relations and secret pressure; and it is the secret-ness of pressure, particularly when the person who is being pressed or impressed does not know that it is happening, that is objectionable—and I am glad to see the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, nodding his head.
The noble Lord, Lord Reith, goes to see somebody about the B.B.C. There is nothing secret about that: he was an open pressure group, if he was anything. That, surely, is what we all do all the time; and provided we do it openly it does not matter. But this new kind of public relations, which is really private relations and secret relations, is applied 310 to people who may not realise that they are being pressed for ulterior motives; and the best of us may be remarkably simple when our friends seek to influence us for some ulterior motive. We may fall without realising that we have fallen, or even what we have fallen for. That is the background to the case we are examining to-day.
An open pressure group which identifies itself and states all its aims, is not only something we can all accept but, as the noble Lord, Lord Reith, said, something which has often achieved great reforms in our history and is a proper part of our political life. So long as we can see who is after what, we can judge the issues on their merits and guard ourselves against subtle, secret persuasion. But the secret pressure group without clearly identified members and objects, working underground and out of sight, is a menace to our society. As my noble friend Lord Shackleton said, the great example of such a secret pressure group is to be found in the sphere of politics—namely, the Communist Party. Communist Party methods have rightly earned the scorn and contempt of decent people throughout the world. Note that it is not the object which is necessarily objectionable, though it may be; it is the method of secrecy, deceit and subtle intellectual corruption of decent people. This is the philosophy of conspiracy and of the end justifying the means.
When one uses the word "corruption", my Lords, there are two ways in which it can be used. There is corruption by money, and there is the corrupting of minds for any kind of ideological reason; that is to say, persuading, influencing, people to think wrongly or unclearly for ulterior motives, without telling them the whole story. That is the thing which is so objectionable and so wrong. No doubt many of those who wanted, and still want, commercial broadcasting are honestly convinced of its value. No doubt many were concerned only with the money they hoped to make out of it, and I suppose there is no great harm in those two groups coming together. I did not see any great harm in it, provided that they did so openly, and provided that they fought clearly for what they wanted. But the story as revealed in this book shows that they worked in secret and 311 with very great skill, declaring only such of their aims as were appropriate at any particular moment. They arranged this extraordinary letter-rigging business, in order to appear to be influencing public opinion, when in fact they were doing nothing of the sort. They were employing methods which really were indistinguishable from those employed by the Communist Party when it seeks to rig a campaign, as we in the Labour Party have known only too well when they have fought against us. The danger is that these gentlemen were far more intelligent than the average Communist propagandist and, therefore, far more dangerous.
How could ordinary, decent people protect themselves from this subtle type of corruption?—and I am using the word here in the non-financial sense; in the sense of having their minds indoctrinated and changed. There is one answer, and one answer only, that I know; and that is to find out and publish as widely as possible what is going on and who is doing it, even though it is unpleasant for all of us. We have in this House, and in another place, the valuable rule designed to prevent our deceiving, and thereby greatly influencing, our colleagues. We always have to declare our interests, and if we fail to do so we are very properly taken to task.
The Press in this country, too, are concerned to preserve their integrity, in that they shall not be greatly influenced by the P.R.O., the private relations officer, the hander-out of hand-outs, or the giver of cocktail parties, who is trying to get advertising material into the news columns. This is going on all the time, and the Press, very properly, are on their guard. But every now and then they are caught out, as they were caught out on this occasion in the campaign by the Popular Television people, as is so fully described here, when these articles were sent round to the editors of little provincial papers, achieving that great number of column inches which my noble friend Lord Shackleton mentioned.
My Lords, this pressure group, which was working against another pressure group, won the battle. It won over the Government without persuading the mass of the Conservative supporters that 312 it was right. There was no question of having a General Election about it, and I imagine that, had that occurred, it would have gone very much against commercial television. I shared the doubts of the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, about what would happen, but so far as we are able to judge, the people who were setting out to do this attacked the Conservative Central Office both from within and without. They then attacked, approached or pressed upon individual Members, and Back-Bench Conservative Members of Parliament. There was nothing crude about this. There was certainly no question of handing out money or offers of positions, except that at one point there was a public appeal in some of the theatrical magazines for potential performers on commercial television, when it came. These lists were apparently compiled by the promoters of commercial television, but they were subsequently admitted to be a complete hoax on the people who sent in their names.
Fortunately, however, this process of "brain-washing" was only partly successful, and the Government, thank goodness! failed to swallow the whole bait they were offered; so we were spared commercial sound broadcasting and sponsored programmes on television, which the hidden persuaders would have liked us to have. The Government imposed on commercial television a supervisory organisation, although not perhaps a very strong one. So we had something far less obnoxious than we should have had if the pressurisers had made their way to the full. Nevertheless, the door was open to private profit-making on an unprecedented scale.
As again my noble friend Lord Francis-Williams showed, in his remarkable speech, there must be very few commercial enterprises which have shown such a staggering return on capital invested over such a short period of time. Those who seek to add to these enormous profits are once more at work. This time, I am sure, their approach is more circumspect than subtle. What they want, however, is clear enough: they want commercial sound broadcasting, and their way in is via local broadcasting—that is, by sound broadcasting stations with a radius of a few miles covering local communities, and ostensibly designed to give local 313 news, information and entertainment. What they, the people who are after commercial sound broadcasting, want to give us is not local news and local talent at peak hours, but Radio Luxembourg by the back door. That is what they are after giving us, so far as we are able to ascertain. As your Lordships probably know, Radio Luxembourg is essentially a background of "pop" music, listened to by children and young people, with plenty of profitable advertisements thrown in.
The point about local broadcasting is that no locality could provide more than three, four or five hours' local material, at the very most, so it would have to fill up with something else. That something else, if it were B.B.C. or a public service, could be existing B.B.C. programmes which are available on other wavelengths. If it were commercial broadcasting, on the other hand, it would mean the creation of a commercial network sending out "pop" music and carrying very large commercial advertisements to pay for the royalty costs of this "pop" music, which would be very heavy. In fact, it would consist of Radio Luxembourg—"pop" music and national advertisements; and the pressure to get peak listening time would be enormous, to the loss and detriment of local broadcasting. This is something which I hope we shall never see.
Moreover, this is; something which has one appeal—and it is an enormous appeal—to the commercially-minded: that it is very cheap to set up a local broadcasting station. It can be done for £20,000 or £30,000 capital cost, and the running costs per annum are of about that order. Here is an absolute goldmine for them, if only it can be done: so no wonder the scramble has begun. By the end of 1961 there were 300 companies registered for the purpose of operating commercial radio stations in different parts of this country. A great many of these are already linked together, in anticipation, we presume, of the formation of chains. One of them has run a sample programme which I think was called "Radio Bristol". It consisted of very little local material and largely of national people: recordings of Eartha Kitt, Frankie Vaughan, Charlie Drake and so on—people who 314 had no possible local connection or local interest.
So, my Lords, the pressure is on, and I hope that this debate will make sure that the pressure is openly applied this time. For if it is openly applied, there is nothing wrong, provided that we all know who is after what and who is trying to get what. That is fair enough. We are prepared to meet it; and we hope that the Government will act as an honest, decent arbitrator; will decide what is in the public 'interest, and will make a fair and good decision. But next time it must not be this secret business.
I would ask the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, finally, two questions only. First, do the Government share our view that it is a bad thing in British political life that there should be secret pressure groups, with secrecy of membership and concealed aims? This is the technique of the cover organisation, the technique of the Communist Party, and, I would suggest, a very undesirable introduction into British politics. I hope the Government do take the view that this is something wrong and bad. It is a matter of degree: in all these things it is hard to know where to draw the line. But where a pressure group exists, it Should make itself known—its objects, its objectives, what it is after and, preferably, where its money comes from, too. Secondly, we should like to think that the Conservative Party and the Government are determined that there shall not be pressure groups operating, quite possibly against the Conservative Government policy, inside their own organisation. That is something with which only the Conservative Party can deal.
My noble friend Lord Shackleton and I, and our colleagues, as we have listened to the debate, have felt that it would be wrong to move the Amendment standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Shackleton; that it would be quite wrong to have a Parliamentary inquest into this matter. We feel that Lord Strang was right when he said that this is something which the Conservative Party must do for itself, and can only do for itself, by imposing a self-restraint within its own membership and within its own Party machine; and by making sure not only that right and truth is done but also that it is seen to be done, and that we do 315 not have a repetition of the sort of thing that we have heard about this afternoon.
My Lords, there is one last thing I should like to say, and that is to congratulate the two noble Lords who made such excellent, non-controversial maiden speeches. We all hope to hear from them many times again.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT KILMUIR)
My Lords, there are three preliminary matters to which I invite your Lordships' attention. The first is my joining the pleasant band who have had the good fortune to congratulate our maiden speakers. I thought that, for felicity of phrase and, if he will allow me to say so, use of voice, the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, is high among those I have heard over what is now a very long time. With regard to my old friend, the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Worcester, we are delighted to have heard that sincerity, which has meant so much to so many thousands of people in the past, expressed in our House. We hope that we shall hear them both often again.
The second point is to recommend some new reading to noble Lords opposite, because in that new reading they will find expressed almost exactly what they have resented in speeches from our side of the House. I refer to the fables of Monsieur de la Fontaine, and especially that one which says:Cet animal est très méchant. Quand on l'attaque, il se défend.For those of your Lordships who think I am speaking Italian, the translation of that is:This animal is excessively wicked. When anyone attacks it, it defends itself.That has rather been the burden of the counterblast of our speeches to-day.
My third point is this—and I speak with the utmost sincerity. It is always a pleasure to hear a speech from the noble Lord, Lord Reith, whom we all admire for his achievements in the creation and the furtherance of the B.B.C., and for his strong views and direct mode of expressing them. Nevertheless, most of us will feel that it is unfortunate that to-day's debate has been tacked on to a book whose chief 316 characteristics are that it shows, first, slovenliness, in that it is careless, inaccurate and superficial; secondly, an outstanding failure to appreciate how the British Party system permits independence of views; thirdly, an unequalled ignorance of the structure of the Conservative Party inside and outside the Houses of Parliament; and fourthly, a confusion between anonymous gossip and evidence in a manner which would make any political columnist blench. Now, my Lords, I am always delighted to reply to a debate in your Lordships' House, but that delight arises from hearing your Lordships' views of the facts and the problems which stem from them. I hope that the preparation for such a reply will in future avoid the need to read tendentious and ill-written efforts in book form.
May I now take the first point as to the slovenliness and inaccuracies of this book? I will spend a few moments on the slightly sordid task of examining the book from the standpoint of the criticisms which I have felt bound to make. Let us first look at the admitted inaccuracies. Noble Lords who have put this book before your Lordships have said that there is only a negligible proportion. Let us look at it. If your Lordships open it you will see a corrigendum relating to my friend Mr. Orr-Ewing. That cannot be said to have nothing to do with the main thesis; that is part of the main thesis. And there are withdrawals of five points in relation to Mr. Orr-Ewing alone. The first one is:to correct any implication that Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing … had any personal financial interest in the initiation of Commercial T.V.";secondly, toaccept Mr. Orr-Ewing's statement that, during his association with the Company, Messrs. A. C. Cossor Ltd. were never concerned as to how T.V. programmes were organised or created ";thirdly, theytook no financial interest in any commercial T.V. company.The fourth is:They also accept Mr. Orr-Ewing's assurance that it is not the case that he ever formed or joined any unofficial group as stated on pages 63 and 69.The allegation that he joined that group is the only piece of evidence about the starting of the pressure group that the book contains; and that is wrong. To 317 continue, my Lords, the corrigendum goes on:Mr. Orr-Ewing has informed them that he served on the official Conservative Broadcasting Committee, and was also a member, on the invitation of the Conservative Chief Whip, of the Ralph Assheton Committee which was specially set up in February 1951.I say again that this is not a fringe point. That five-fold correction goes, as I shall demonstrate, to the essence of the thesis which this publication is advancing, and it does not help by making that sort of an attack on an honourable gentleman who is a friend of mine. That is the commencement of the book.
At page 96, line 25, there is this correction: the Secretary to the Conservative Parliamentary Broadcasting Committee was not Mr. Chapman-Walker but Mr. Peter Goldman. I was sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, allowed himself that somewhat cheap gibe when he mentioned the gentleman of Orpington fame. I am glad to think that when I was defeated in a Parliamentary election no member of the Labour Party used that term. I should be very sorry to hear that, when the noble Lord himself was defeated at Preston in 1955, any Conservative made that sort of sneer; or that that gibe was made when the noble Viscount who leads the Opposition was defeated in Sheffield in 1931.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
It is better to cheer than to sneer. The noble Lord has got something out of this debate.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I said, hope no Conservative sneered when the noble Viscount was defeated in Sheffield in 1931. No Labour Member ever sneered at me when I lost my seat in an election.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
We had a pretty general sweep, but I might say this to the noble and learned Viscount: that I was offered a by-election to go into another seat, and I went back and defeated the man.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am sure I am equally glad about that. I think it is better if we politicians abstain from sneers when electoral defeats take place.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, is it not better to avoid sneers altogether? Because we have had a good many sneers this afternoon, including sneers at those who cannot answer back.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, the sneers have come from one quarter, as I shall show in a moment. They are not only sneers, but they are completely without foundation.
I now turn to the Law Courts. Of course, the writer of this book made an attack on Mr. Chapman-Walker. He based that attack on the wrong assertion I have just mentioned: that he was secretary of a Committee, when he was not. There was also the broad suggestion that, being in the publicity office of the Conservative Party under my noble friend Lord Woolton, he was using his time for television. Well, of course, an apology was made with regard to that. Proceedings were brought and an apology was made. I now quote the agreed statement:The defendants recognised that, in his capacity of chief publicity officer of the Conservative Party, he had many diverse and important duties which had nothing to do with independent television.They also recognised and wished to state that in so far as he did devote his working time to the promotion of independent television, this was done in accordance with his ordinary duties pertaining to the general presentation of Party policy and subject to the direction of the Chairman…But, of course, the noble Lord says that he did very well.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
I am sorry, I did not. I just wanted to know what was the attack which was made on Mr. Chapman-Walker.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The attack made on Mr. Chapman-Walker was that, being engaged as publicity officer of the Conservative Party, he devoted himself, in a capacity which he never held, to the promotion of commercial television. Therefore, the imputation was quite clear—that he ignored his other duties. Now, this is what the publishers whom the noble Lord is supporting apologised for. They should 319 know, even if the noble Lord does not. What they said was this:Mr. Bristowe, for the defendants, associated himself with Mr. Molony's remarks and tendered their sincere apologies to the plaintiff. They expressed appreciation of his generous attitude in this matter".I think that all your Lordships will agree with Mr. Chapman-Walker's desire not to obtain any pecuniary advantage out of so irresponsible a publication. That is why he took no damages. I refer, without quoting (because time is passing), to similar remarks in the New Statesman of March 2.
As my noble friend Lord De La Warr has already mentioned, there are over 100 inaccuracies in the book. I simply take two. At the foot of page 100 it is stated:… just as in a meeting of the 1922 Committee he "—that is, Mr. Churchill—had brushed off Lord Hailsham's demand for implementation of the Tory pledge to restore the University Seats.My noble Leader asks me to say that this is pure fiction. The pledge was Sir Winston's. My noble friend never thought, nor asked, that the pledge should be carried out. My noble friend was not a member of the 1922 Committee after his father died in August, 1950—that is, at any time when a demand for the implementation could have been made. If this is the standard of scholarship under which attacks are made on the honour of public men, it sheds a curious light on the reliability of the author as an investigator.
The suggestion on page 96 that Mr. Chapman-Walker had been a Socialist is, of course, untrue. Whether it is defamatory might be argued. A few might say that, however untrue, it is not defamatory to say that a man is a Socialist. More of your Lordships might say that, however untrue, it is not defamatory but an encomium to say that a man had ceased to be a Socialist. Anyway, we can leave that with the knowledge that it is untrue. I could give other examples, but those two, and the motives directly attributed to my noble friend Lord Clitheroe, at page 101, show that my noble friend Lord Milverton is perfectly right. The best that anyone can hope to get out of this book is that the author will 320Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer,And without sneering, teach the rest to sneer.My Lords, I now come to the point which the author has got completely wrong—the nature of the formation of opinion in the Conservative Party. As we have all agreed in this debate, we are not discussing which view was right and which was wrong: it is a question of how the opinion was formed. The first point is that what Professor Wilson, as well as all our compatriot critics, deny, ignore and forget, is that the case against the monopoly was not a minority, let alone a conspiratorial, view. The broad trend in my Party ever since the war has been away from the monopoly organisation of broadcasting. The book by Professor Paulu, to which my noble friend Lord Bessborough referred, dealt with the same position in 1946, as my noble and learned friend Lord Conesford described. I am glad that my noble friend Lord Airedale is here, because of the way which Professor Wilson describes that situation. He says:Parliamentary reaction to this decision, however "—that refers to the decision of the Labour Government to extend the Corporation's life without an inquiry—revealed the extent to which the Conservative and Liberal opposition, especially Winston Churchill, questioned the wisdom of continued monopoly operating without a full-scale inquiry.That is the start. The allegation is that it required some secret body to convince us. There is no evidence of how it was done, but that is what is thrown about. Remember the evidence before the Beveridge Committee. It is true that everybody had his own solution. I am not making the bad point that everyone who gave evidence against monopoly wanted commercial television, but, whatever solution they wanted, they were united in not wanting a monopoly. Let me just deploy the evidence.
Let me take Sir Geoffrey Crowther and Sir Robert Watson-Watt. They stated:The only ultimate safeguard of liberty lies in diversity. It is not enough that the individual should have an abstract right to be different. He should, in fact, be different and should be encouraged to be different. But if there is safety only in diversity, how can diversity itself be safe, with the most powerful organ of publicity and propaganda in one centralised control?321 Or let me take a group from Lord Taylor's own Party, the Fabian Research Group, who said:We suggest that monopoly of so important a medium of expression is as undesirable as monopoly of the Press, book publishing, the theatre, or the films. The recurrent difficulties arising from our present broadcasting system seem to us to be largely due to its monopolistic nature.Now let me take: the Liberal Research Group, so that my noble friend may snare:Given the context of a free society, it seems to us indisputable in the circumstances of to-day and to-morrow that the monopoly of the B.B.C. in sound broadcasting and television in this country can no longer be justified.Let me turn from political Parties to the British Actors' Equity Association, who stated:The main problem, as we see it, is to break down the present economic and artistic monopoly of the B.B.C.Proposals for the breaking of the then monopoly of broadcasting came from the Listeners' Association, from such interests as the Radiowriters' Association, the Music Directors' Association, the Radio Industry Council, the Radio and Television Retailers' Association and the Scottish Radio Retailers' Association, as well as from individuals. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, can have the rest. I am not saying that there were no people who took the undesirable view that monopoly was all right. All I am saying is that there was a vast general body of opinion over the whole conspectus of politics and art who wanted to break the monopoly. Now, what does the noble Lord want to say?
§ LORD TAYLOR
My Lords, I am sure that the noble and learned Viscount does not want to mislead us. I joined the Committee very soon after it started and heard the great bulk of the evidence. And the bulk or the evidence was in favour of continuing the B.B.C. monopoly. It is true that there were about three individuals who argued against it and very intelligibly they argued, too. We examined their evidence very carefully, and my recollection is that the balance of evidence was substantially in favour of continuing the B.B.C. unchanged. While admitting the disadvantages of monopoly, we thought 322 that, on balance, in the public interest, the B.B.C. should go on.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I am not going to argue about the number of words. Of course, I accept the noble Lord's recollection. I am not in a position to controvert it, and therefore I do not. But I do say (and I am sure the noble Lord will admit that this is a fair point) that I have quoted a wide conspectus and range of people, of great ability and widely different political views, who were in favour of breaking the monopoly.
In those circumstances, Why is it argued that it was necessary to convince the Conservative Party, when all these people were already convinced? I was grateful to my noble friend Lord Lloyd because he quoted the classic criticism of monopoly. It is a subject that I have studied closely over the last twenty years, and the best, the classic, criticism of monopoly is the paragraph which my noble friend quoted from the Beveridge Report. This is the milk of the word of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor:There is a danger of slowness in exploring new and unfamiliar techniques. There are dangers of favouritism and injustices in treatment of staff or performers, each of them an evil in a monopoly more serious than it would be in a concern with rivals. There is the danger, finally, that when a sense of mission such as animates the B.B.C. is combined with security of office, it may grow into a sense of Divine Right, as it did in the case of Charles I.I gather that the noble Lord wishes to interrupt me again. I am happy to give way.
§ LORD TAYLOR
My Lords, the noble and learned Viscount is very kind. The quotation he gives is absolutely accurate. In spite of that, in spite of all that evidence and all those views, the Beveridge Committee concluded that this monopoly was to be preferred. I think there must have been something powerful in favour of the B.B.C. which made our Committee think thus.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I will tell the noble Lord why he and his Committee came to that conclusion. It was because only one of the members of that Committee, my right honourable friend Mr. Selwyn Lloyd, was prepared to follow to its logical conclusion the argument that the Committee had set out in 323 that passage; and the most logical conclusion was that the monopoly should be broken. That was in January, 1951. There again, take the approach of this book and try to 'preserve your calm. It is quite clear that my right honourable friend Mr. Selwyn Lloyd found that the strongest argument for the breaking of the monopoly was, to use his own words—I think I have it right—"the danger of abuse of power". But it is typical that the Professor, although he summarises my right honourable friend's Minority Report, cannot resist quoting someone else, a third party, as saying that Mr. Selwyn Lloyd had been influenced toy a memorandum on behalf of certain firms associated with foodstuffs. My noble friend Lord Milverton was quite right—only Pope could do full justice in satiric couplets to that approach.
Now let me come on to the next point. That Report was received in January. In February, 1951, ten Conservative Back Benchers were set up by the then Chief Whip,to consider and make recommendations regarding the Party's policy on broadcasting services in view of the expiring of the B.B.C.'s Charter.The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, to-day said that they showed a preponderance of commercial interests. Let me tell your Lordships who they were. First of all, there was my noble friend Lord Clitheroe, who was the Chairman; there was Mr. Brendan Bracken; there was my noble friend the Foreign Secretary, then Lord Dunglass, now Lord Home; there was Mr. Selwyn Lloyd, Mr. Duncan Sandys, Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd, Sir (then Mr.) Kenneth Pickthorn, Mr. John Profumo, Mr. Ian Orr-Ewing, who is the subject of the withdrawals I mentioned a short time ago, and Mr. John Rodgers, who was in the service of J. Walter Thompson, Limited, the advertising agents. I doubt whether anyone who knew anything of Britain, far less British political life, could call that collection of names a commercial pressure group. If they do, then they have my sympathy. These names appear in Mr. John Rodgors' review of this book in the Financial Times. He also said:In July, 1951, the Committee reported in favour of retaining the B.B.C. as a public service institution, while advocating the establishment of a parallel competitive system.324 That is, they reported in favour of the maintenance of the B.B.C, but of establishing a competitive system.
Professor Wilson has fallen into confusion with regard to Conservative committees. I am not making much of that, but it is simply an example of his slipshod methods. The basis of his thesis and argument is that Mr. Rodgers and Mr. Orr-Ewing formed an informal committee in 1950, working independently and unofficially, without the sanction of the Whip's Office. This is untrue. It has been denied by Mr. Rodgers, and in the case of Mr. Orr-Ewing it is accepted in the corrigendum that it is untrue. That is another of the groundless facts on which these charges are thrown round at people in public life to-day. I have just given the account because I want to show your Lordships the way feeling existed at the time in the Party to which I belong.
In July, 1951, my noble friend Lord Woolton, then Chairman of the Conservative Parly, made a speech in your Lordships' House in the debate on the Beveridge Report, pressing for the ending of the State monopoly because of his view of the dangers of State control of these powerful media. I hope I have summarised his views accurately. I think I have. Here again, there was an expression of Conservative political opinion made absolutely public in your Lordships' House, and not subject to any pressures at all.
I want to say merely a short word about my own thoughts, because, after all, I was the Minister who, on behalf of my noble friend Lord De La Warr, was in charge of the Bill in the House of Commons. I should like to pay this tribute to the great work which my noble friend Lord De La Warr did on that Bill. Your Lordships will remember that, with great reasonableness and fairness, he guided the Bill through your Lordships' House. I dealt with it in the Commons with the aid of his Parliamentary Secretary. I want to say just my own thoughts. As I told your Lordships, I have always been interested in, and most anxious about, the dangers of monopoly, and I wrote a booklet about it soon after the war. I should think it would be very difficult to find now. I am not suggesting that any of your Lordships should read it to-day, 325 but my particular interests at that time were transport, getting rid of war-time controls, and stumping the country attacking the policy of the then Government. But when I began to study this subject, the two points which worried me most were, first, State control of a powerful medium which might influence the public, and, secondly, to use Lord Beveridge's own words:There are dangers of favouritism and injustice in the treatment of staff or performers. This had been impressed upon me from sources outside politics and had a great effect.I was very worried by them.
I have tried to show what opinions were held on the subject of the monopoly of broadcasting, and I should now like to examine the thesis that a small group of Conservative Back Benchers overthrew what the Professor thinks were the forces of righteousness. He sees the passage of the Television Bill as the achievement and the dream come true of a handful of men against the Establishment: David against Goliath, except that in his view David is this time in the ranks of the Philistines. This was the idea that a few energetic individuals contrived to defeat not only the Opposition but the Government and the weight of public opinion, at least as expressed in The Times newspaper. This is in some ways an attractive idea, and might even raise a modest cheer among the many millions watching I.T.V. But, alas! the facts were otherwise.
That some individuals were active and zealous in proclaiming the merits of their new ideas is, of course, true. The individuals concerned would be the last to deny this. But they were certainly not more active than the opponents of their scheme; certainly not more vocal—remembering, as I do, the Parliamentary debate at the time, I should say they were considerably less vocal—than those opponents who, of course, I accept were equally convinced of the merits of their point of view.
But to proceed from this and say that Her Majesty's Government adopted policies against their better judgment and real convictions; seems to me to be drawing a really absurd conclusion from non-existent facts. I can only say that if Professor Wilson believes this, then, in the words of the great Duke of Wellington, he can believe anything. The truth 326 of the matter is that at the time all things combined to be propitious for change: the availability of radio frequencies, the ability and ambition among professional technicians and artists, a growing conviction that in such an expanding field provision should be made for greater opportunities, and a wider outlet for all these ideas and abilities which existed in this country and which up to that time necessarily had been somewhat circumscribed.
I should like to think that new ideas always spring fully armed from the collective brain of Her Majesty's Ministers. That would be pleasantly flattering to one who has spent fourteen out of the last twenty years as one of them. The truth is, as somebody said earlier in the debate—I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Taylor—and it is true, that the origin and genesis of each change is not simple. It is complex, complicated, sometimes long in gestation, and sometimes, thanks to the vigilance of the Opposition, extremely painful in parturition. Many things contribute. There is the germination of an idea; the growth of a conviction; the forming of public opinion, all adding up to a high tide in the affairs of men. And when this happens there will inevitably be many who will be astonished and indignant to find that the waters have enveloped and encompassed them while they are sitting in their comfortable seats on the sea shore.
This I can say with as much certainty as is possible after eight years—and, my Lords, I am speaking of 300 men and women, at least 250 of whom were old friends of mine with whom I was on Christian-name terms, and I think anyone would agree that is a modest statement of my ability at that time to know, for, as I said, I was in charge of the Bill. My view is that after the Conservative Party were returned to power in 1951 there was always a majority among our Members in the House of Commons in favour of breaking the monopoly, but it was recognised that there was a great problem as to how it should be done. To prove the case against monopoly was not to prove the case for commercial competition. An alternative nation-wide programme required large extra revenue, and such revenue had to come either from commerce or from the general public, either 327 from advertisements or from licence fees.
I admit it is difficult even for someone as closely associated with all the Members as I was at the time to diagnose the minds even of one's friends after eight years, hut I think that what had great influence with all my friends in the House of Commons was three arguments. First, they thought that licence fees constituted an inelastic, regressive poll tax falling heavily on the poor; and, after all, television as it was ten years ago and is to-day, is not the rich man's luxury but the poor man's regular pleasure. Secondly, competition between two organisations might well become illusory if the State were the paymaster of both.
Thirdly, advertisements, when properly controlled (I shall come to this again), perform a useful, economic and social function. Although people may have their own views of the different influences, they will agree that these three points were important in the forming of the opinions of my friends. Of course, the Government felt it right to proceed cautiously and by stages, and, of course, in any large issue of principle one finds sincere proponents of different viewpoints urging these viewpoints with all the cogency in their power. What is unique about this?
Professor Wilson talks of the two special, one-purpose organisations, referred to to-day; the National Television Council, opposing commercial television, and the Popular Television Association, supporting it. My Lords, some surrounding facts are interesting. The opposing Council was formed in June, 1953, and it is stated on page 153 of the book—it may possibly be something in the book which is right and, at any rate, it is in the book:At a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party Public Information Group on March 6, 1953, a paper was presented which took for granted the inevitability of commercial television and merely considered proposed safeguards against its abuses. In the discussion which followed. Mr. Mayhew was able to persuade the Group to reject this approach and to intensify their efforts. …their efforts to do what?—… to defeat Conservative plans".So there you had it well started; and, my Lords, I think we ought to be very 328 careful indeed about imputing secrecy. Mrs. Mary Stocks, who was a very well-known Left-Wing person, said in a letter to the Financial Times,The National Television Council was not organised by the Labour Party.She had never heard of this meeting. How very odd!
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, let me say this; I did not discover in the second corrigendum which was issued on this book any withdrawal of the second paragraph on page 211 in which there is this quotation, first of all from the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham:Though some Conservatives 'dislike the vulgarity inherent in sponsored broadcasts', others, including the Party professionals and presumably Lord Woolton, were aware of the likelihood that the direct influence of commercial broadcasting would redound to the benefit of the Conservative Party. Mr. Charles Orr-Ewing, in supporting commercial television, had written in 1953 that 'The advantage should lie with the Conservative Party, because the more vulnerable Labour voters will be exposed to a new form of persuasion.'I need not read any further than that. From the last comments the Lord Chancellor made I should think the Party meeting (although I was certainly not there) had the same opinion, which was that it was going to be used in such a way, as has perhaps proved to be the case, as to bring undue influence on the political position.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The noble Viscount has got in his quotation, and good luck to him! But the point that I was on is quite different from the one which he has tried to knock me off. The point I was on before he interrupted me was that the National Television Council—that is, the opponents—were closely tied up, as is stated in that book, with the Labour Party, and they were tied up in such a way that Miss Mary Stocks did not know anything about it. That is an interesting comment on the people who have dealt with secrecy, as has been done in this debate.
The book goes on:By the middle of April Mr. Mayhew had completed writing his pamphlet. Dear Viewer, and submitted it for criticism to Lord Simon, Members of Parliament, officials of the B.B.C. and other potential supporters.And on page 154—As a result of extended conversations between Lord Simon and Messrs. Mayhew, Shackleton, Lewis and Barry "—329 Lewis, if I remember rightly, the secretary of this pure-minded body, was loaned by the entertainments industry—it was decided to invite a number of people to form the National Television Council.As we have heard to-day, they got their money and the services of a secretary from the entertainment industry. Why not? I have no objection to Mr. Christopher Mayhew going to a Labour Party meeting and converting the Labour Party to be against it. He is entitled to. I have no objection to his submitting his pamphlet to Lord Simon of Wythenshawe, Members of Parliament and officials of the B.B.C. Why not? He gets some useful information from them. I have no objection to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, meeting Lord Simon of Wythenshawe and Messrs. Mayhew, Lewis and Barry.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, what an answer that is—what has been quoted now by the Lord Chancellor—to the statement about repeated inaccuracies! That is one of the proofs of the reasonable accuracy of the book.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The noble Viscount's argument is well summarised in a book by Mr. P. G. Wode-house. He describes a character and he says, "He would not hurt a fly. I have often seen him doing it—not hurting flies." If you find a modicum of truth in the book, that does not take away from the vast proportion of error I have already put to the House. But I say, why not; let them do it. Good luck to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton! Good luck to Mr. Christopher Mayhew! They got on with their pressure and they got their organisation going in June; and in consequence of that, the Popular Television Association was formed in July. Again I say: why not?
The book devotes much space to the importance of these bodies. On the other hand, in the New Statesman of July 21, 1961, Mr. A. J. P. Taylor, the historian, who is a gentleman who would hardly be claimed by anyone as being a friend of the Conservative Party or a man of Right Wing views, said—he was speaking of the book that is now before us:In my opinion, this book is wrong from start to finish—wrong in its approach, wrong in its narrative, wrong in its conclusions. It is interesting only as an illustration of the 330 complacent blindness which afflicts the high-minded. To this day, the high-minded defenders of the B.B.C. monopoly do not understand what hit them. They think it must have been some sinister conspiracy. Yet the real explanation is simple: many people were growing to dislike the rule of the high-minded. After all, commercial television has not been the only victory recently for common sense. There are betting shops, and improved licensing hours. No one has suggested yet that these were won by pressure groups of bookies and brewers. They happened as soon as someone had the impudence to ask: why not? Commercial television was just the same. Why should viewers be denied programmes which they enjoyed, and be given only programmes which did them good? This question was dynamite. Once asked, there was no effective answer—only the bleat of protest from self-appointed guardians of culture, most of whom never watched television at all. Professor Wilson has the usual outlook of intellectuals that anyone who has money or makes it must be wicked. It never occurs to him that it is possible to make money by acting according to one's conviction.The noble Lord, Lord Walston, if he will allow me to say so, made a very interesting speech, on the same lines as that of my noble friend Lord Strang; and the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, really asked me to take that up. I should like to take first the advertising part, but I promise the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, that I shall come quite seriously to the political philosophy part of it, which I think the noble Lord, Lord Walston had in mind and in which I was very interested.
It is easy to take up the parrot cry that independent television exists to sell goods and not to produce a good television programme. But what I always ask is: why need there be conflict? A good programme attracts viewers, and that is what any television organisation, B.B.C. and I.T.A. alike, wants to have. By all means let us criticise what we think are bad programmes, but let us remember also that tastes vary and that within the confines of their single programmes the B.B.C. and I.T.A. must suit many different tastes. Let us hope that the Pilkington Committee on Broadcasting will have some wise advice to give us on programme standards and objectives.
I must point this out—and I listened with great care to what the right reverend Prelate said on this point: of course advertising is a form of persuasion, but advertising by viewing and 331 sight never forced anyone to do anything. It is not like the man coming round to the back door or the front door of the small house. It presents a product, a service, a case, in as favourable a light as possible. It plays up the good points and discreetly omits the weaker ones. In this sense I suppose I ought to admit that it is a form of advocacy. In the matter of the sale of goods there are many firms each advocating the merits of its own products. The consumer can choose. There is nothing unfair or sinister or immoral in this conception. On the contrary, it makes the consumer the arbiter; and surely it puts a premium on value for money, because we may—and here I think so many go wrong—credit the ordinary man and woman with enough common sense to detect any glaring discrepancy between the claims of the advertisement and the merits of the product when purchased and used.
I spent a long time working on authoritarian theories, on mad racial theories, and therefore I have considered this point. But I sometimes think there is always a great danger of getting into an authoritarian state of mind if you have an uncontrolled intellectual superiority over ordinary people. I make just this point: those who criticise the tendency of "keeping up with the Joneses" are often—and I say this with regret—individuals who themselves have already satisfied the vast majority of their material needs.
The noble Lord, Lord Reith, not only asked me five questions but was kind enough to send me a copy of them at lunch time, for which I thank him very much. The first question was: "Does he approve of commercial television?" The answer is, Yes. Secondy: "If he felt the B.B.C. monopoly should be disrupted, were there not other ways of doing it?" The answer is, No. Then: "Does he approve of what was done by the pressure group ten years ago?" I have no complaint to make of what was done by either of the pressure groups. Next: "Does he approve of what is being planned and done now by way of discrediting and baulking the Pilkington Report?" I do not know of anything being done to discredit or baulk the Pilkington Report. But I give your 332 Lordships the assurance that, so long as I am one of Her Majesty's advisers, that Report will never be discredited or baulked. The next question was: "Does he approve of the Conservative Central Office being used as it was ten years ago?" I stand by my noble friend Lord Woolton to-day as completely as I did ten years ago. I have no regrets, and I will always stand by him so long as he is there. I do not think there is any equivocation about my answers— I hope not.
I was asked by Lord Taylor about the more general position, and I should like to say this—I hope he will excuse me if it is not quite an answer to his question, but I think it is more the approach that he wanted, and I will try to give it to him. In the Introduction and in the last chapter of the book, the author permits himself some reflections on the movement of political history. He does not, at page 14, disguise his own bias when he expresses-I quote:doubt that so vital an instrument as television should be utilised for commercial purposes.He goes on, at page 16, to make the point which I think the noble Lord, Lord Walston, had in mind. Again I listened with great care. I hope I have got his point. I put it in the Professor's words. At page 16 he said that the Conservative Party sanctioned a development which, its critics maintained, speeds the movement towards a society which would glorify middle-class consumption goals and the commercialisation of all institutional and personal relationships and values. He does not get on to what is the real problem of democratic Government—namely, that a Government must be at once the leaders and representatives of the people. If they were not leaders, they should not be a Government. If they are not representative, it would not be a democracy. In forming their policies, members of the Government must take into account what ordinary people want and desire. It is right that they should. That is one of the aspects of Government that distinguishes democracy, and I will stand for it so long as I am in political life.
I said that there need be no conflict between providing a good programme and advertising. A good programme 333 attracts viewers, and that is what any television organisation, B.B.C. or I.T.A. alike, wants to have. As I say, let us criticise What we think are had programmes; but, I repeat to your Lordships, let us remember that tastes vary, and that within the confines of their single programmes the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. must suit many different tastes.
I cannot equal the eloquence in which my noble and learned friend Lord Simonds put this aspect of the problem when he adorned the position which I now occupy, but I venture to use some words of the more recent Sir John Fortesoue—I said "more recent" because, a year or two ago, I attended at the house of my noble friend Lord Fortesoue to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the first John Fortescue to own that house, my predecessor 500 years ago. I am now referring to the Sir John Fortescue who wrote the History of the British Army which has been very near my bedside for the last 20 years. Sir John says'The great inlet by which a colour for oppression has entered into the world', wrote Burke, 'is by one man's pretending to determine concerning the happiness of another.'That is Burke. Fortescue goes on:'Liberty' is a word very difficult to define; but a worse definition might be found for it than exemption of the attempts of others to determine our happiness.My Lords, I ask all noble Lords, whatever their Party—the more high-minded they are, the more I ask them—to bear that in mind; and on that I ask your Lordships to repel this attack, 334 which is based on a false fantasy, and, if necessary, by your votes to show how non-existent is its basis.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, may I rise to correct a misstatement 'that inadvertently I made, which was unfair to the B.B.C? I said that from 1928 to 1934, when Mr. Vernon Bartlett was regularly broadcasting, there was virtually no other broadcaster on foreign affairs. I find I was wrong. That was unfair to the B.B.C, and I desire unreservedly to withdraw and apologise.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, now is the time, before I ask Lord Reith to reply, to call the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, for reasons that I have already given, the lateness of the hour and others, I will not pursue that Amendment.
§ LORD REITH
My Lords, for the same reason I limit my right to reply to half a minute—less, and to two comments. First, I do not withdraw one word nor change one inflection. Secondly, Lord Woolton charged me with vulgar abuse. Abuse, maybe, if he wants it so. As to vulgarity, if there were any it was of his receiving, not of my transmitting. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at thirteen minutes before nine o'clock.