§ 4.22 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
THE LORD BISHOP OF BRISTOL
My Lords, the break in our programme has been concerned with more serious matters, perhaps, than is usually so in the case of breaks in the programmes which form the subject of our debate, which we now resume. I venture to speak in this debate because I have for some years been chairman of an Advisory Committee on Religious Broadcasting and Television. I must first apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, and to your Lordships' House that I shall not be able to stay for the end of this debate; but in these remarks I shall confine myself, in spite of wide-ranging interests in radio and television, only to the religious aspects of broadcasting and television.
I do not know whether all of your Lordships are aware that there is a body called the Central Religious Advisory Committee, which is one of the committees advising the B.B.C. and the Independent Television Authority. It is comparable with the School Broadcasting Council and the Further Education Advisory Council, in that it is a recognition that religious broadcasting is among the specialist fields in which the Corporation and Authority seek advice on policy, though not, of course, on matters of programme detail and production. The body I refer to, of which I am chairman, meets half-yearly; it is comprised of representatives invited by the Corporation and the Authority from the Church of England and the other Anglican Churches in the United Kingdom, the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Scotland and the Free Churches; and it was 361 appointed in 1923, with Archbishop Garbett as its first chairman, to advise the B.B.C. When Independent Television came into existence, with its requirements also to seek religious advice, it was agreed that the same Central Religious Advisory Committee, commonly known as "CRAC", should serve both.
So the first point I wish to make in this context is an expression of gratitude, I am sure on behalf of all the Churches represented on that Committee, for the way in which religious radio and television has had a central role as an element in the reflection of public interest and in the provision of "a whole diet for the whole man." Many of your Lordships will remember that the Pilking-ton Report summarised the definition of religious broadcasting under three aims. The first aim is that it should reflect the worship, thought and action of those Churches which represent the main stream of the Christian tradition in the country. The second is that religious broadcasting should bring before listeners and viewers what is most significant in the relationship between the Christian faith and the modern world. The third aim is that religious broadcasting should seek to reach those on the fringe of the organised life of the Churches, or quite outside it.
This has resulted in a generous provision of programmes. In radio, out of 21,000 hours of broadcasting time, 479 hours have been devoted to religious programmes. In B.B.C. television, out of 6,000 hours, 152 have been devoted to religious programmes; and in the case of the Independent Television companies, something like 5 per cent, of the hours of their production is devoted to religion. What is more, these programmes reach large audiences. There is an estimated audience of some 3½ million for quite serious discussion programmes, such as the "Meeting Point" series, and up to 10 million for the ever popular "Songs of Praise" programme. So there are, in fact, more people watching a programme of that sort than are likely to be in church on any given Sunday. Furthermore, these programmes include a very wide range of types—Church services, simple talks and sophisticated discussions.
The first point I would wish to make as we consider the future of broadcasting is to suggest that experience has vindicated 362 the value of this religious ingredient in the total production, and so to express the confidence that it will continue to have a place in the future. It has, I think, shown a sensitive and skilful response to the temper of the times, and is not simply a reflection of church-going or a means of communicating authoritatively the religious beliefs of the speakers but has shown a genuine sensitiveness and openness in understanding those for whom religion is primarily a quest. It is typically English that the most popular programme should be hym-singing; but these programmes have also sought to open men's minds to ultimate questions.
I should like briefly to quote from the conception which the World Council of Churches Report of the Uppsala Assembly gave of the nature of the medium in which religious broadcasting is set:Press, radio, film, television, have an important role to play as the agora and town meeting of technological society … They can help people to know and appraise issues which affect them. In so far as they stand over against the legislation they can call attention to injustice, corruption, or bureaucratic neglect. They can contribute to responsible inter-national relationships by providing a more objective critique than that of narrow sectional or national interest.But the media can also stultify men's growth. This tends to happen wherever their overriding interest is comercial gain, wherever they are regarded mainly as instruments of propaganda rather than of information and education, or wherever they are content with cheap and unadventurous programmes rather than creative and imaginative entertainment.If mass media, particularly radio and T.V., are to be more than merely the means of passing the time; if they are to deal with reality, to move and awaken the imagination, to convict the conscience, to inspire and possibly to ennoble, to help men grow, there must remain a place for serious and adult programmes. On occasion such programmes may offend some listeners or viewers. Media which never offend are themselves offensive. A central problem, therefore, in the open media is how responsibly to exercise the necessary minimum of control of material going into the home without preventing the transmission of creative programmes of integrity and high quality. Flexible guidelines for and continuous discussion of this problem together with education of the audience are preferable to absolute rules".My Lords, I mention that in order to give the context in which I would make my second point which has to do with what is commonly called "the closed period"; that is to say, the time on Sundays between 6.15 and 7.25 p.m. In origin, this period arose out of an 363 approach by my predecessor, both in the See of Bristol and in the chairmanship of CRAC, the late Bishop Cockin, to the Postmaster General of the time presenting the view of the Churches that there might well be a break in programme to avoid conflict with church services. But later this was modified to allow a somewhat odd mixture of religious broadcasting, live outside broadcasts in which the producer had no control over the timing, programmes in the Welsh language and programmes for the deaf. I would emphasise that this closed period is not conceived of as a sort of jealous preserve for religion but is part of a provision for minorities of special value, thus comparable with those other areas in which Advisory committees exist: adult education and schools. It has, I believe, proved a safeguard of quality.
The production of adequate programmes in this or in any other field depends upon competent producers being encouraged to develop their gifts with adequate resources of budget and adequate promise of broadcasting hours. So the provision of some 70 minutes at a good time each Sunday has contributed substantially to ensuring that religious broadcasting attracts and retains trained and qualified producers. I have often heard skilled and professional producers say that good religious broadcasting is the hardest kind of broadcasting; that it makes demands on the integrity, honesty and skill of the producers and others concerned to a greater degree than in any other field. So I should like here to pay tribute to the succession of Heads of Religious Broadcasting at the B.B.C., and their staffs, and to the advisers, both central and regional, of the Independent Television Authority who have done so much to raise and to keep high the standard of broadcasting, not only during the closed period but throughout the religious programmes.
There is evidence of a growing interest in the Corporation and in the Authority in the religious programmes. They are obviously having a resonance in the listening public which is encouraging. The independent companies are spending more. One such company, I was told, recently spent £60,000 on six religious programmes. I believe that the closed 364 period has protected a valuable area of the minority experiment from more trivial forms of entertainment. There is no evidence, I think, of any public resentment. Recent discussion in the Religious Advisory Committee showed no inclination to change this provision radically, although some independent advisers and producers might like to consider a greater flexibility, for example, as between Sunday afternoons and evenings. But I would suggest that as a matter of social policy. This closed period has had much to commend it. If broadcasting hours are extended, the B.B.C. is naturally concerned as to how to pay for them; but I believe that protection for such a minority cultural interest should be secured, and I would express the hope that if there is any successor to the Pilkington inquiry it will take the closed period as seriously as the past fifteen years of fruitful experience would seem to warrant.
My Lords, my final point has to do with local radio. I recently read the B.B.C. report on the eight local stations in which radio is being tried out on a local basis. I noted with interest that in every case the religious committee of the local radio council was obviously playing an active part. I should have liked to be able to hear what was described as the local vicar producing a play which he had himself written and produced, with an amateur cast, on local church premises in Stoke-on-Trent local radio. The Leeds Council of Churches sponsors what is obviously a lively and sharp weekly religious magazine known locally as "The Mad Parsons".
The British Council of Churches has recently appointed an Advisory Committee on Local Broadcasting which has endorsed the consideration given by the radio and television department of the Church of England Church Information Office expressing the hope that local radio of this kind will continue and, indeed, be extended. It says in its report that any argument for the desirability of local radio of any description falls to the ground unless the purpose of the local station is to serve the needs of the local community, and unless there exists genuine needs which local radio can help to meet. All the available evidence suggests very powerfully that such needs do indeed 365 exist, and that local radio stations covering relatively small areas—for example areas having a diameter of between 10 and 20 miles—provide a channel for the communication of important but purely local news and views; that they can strengthen, and in in some cases recreate, a sense of community and corporate responsiblity; and can advance and stabilise local, cultural, educational, social, industrial and religious activities.
For these reasons coupled with the moderate success of the experiment so far, I would express the hope that the local radio experiment will continue on a basis of finance (admittedly a complex problem which I will not now attempt to analyse) that will ensure that these basic needs are not subordinated to undue commercial or local political pressures; and that in, one would hope, a continued and extended local radio service the local churches will continue to play an active and fruitful part.
§ LORD ROBERTSON OF OAKRIDGE
My Lords, I wonder whether, before the right reverend Prelate sits down, he will allow one small question about what he said. He will not, I think, disagree if I preface my question by saying that there is frequent criticism of the output of the television authorities, and that the question is asked: Why does the Church not do something about it? The Church is represented by the Committee of which the right reverend Prelate is Chairman and is also represented by the religious affairs advisers to the I.T.A. and the programme companies and to the B.B.C. Does he feel that the Church's voice is strong enough? Does lie think that any purpose would be served by enjoining that the advisers who are taken on by the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. should be men who are aproved in some way by the Church? Or does he think that in any other way some strengthening of the means the Church has for expressing its views is desirable?
THE LORD BISHOP OF BRISTOL
My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord should raise a question which, indeed, is often raised with me. I think that it is an extremely delicate one. I would reaffirm the quotation from the Uppsala Statement on the Churches' attitude on the whole question of the mass media of 366 communication by suggesting that flexible guide lines and continuous discussion of this problem, together with education of the audience, are preferable to absolute rules. I think we all appreciate the difficulty of all questions which raise any form of censorship or control, and I believe that the present pattern whereby those who have been invited to advise are seriously listened to, but are listened to in a situation where no one interest can expect to get it all its own way, is the only system that is compatible with an even more precious freedom which, it seems to me, would be jeopardisèd by any more coercive type of approach.
§ 4.41 p.m.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, I de not propose to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol, but later in my speech I hope to make sonic reference to the problem of religious broadcasting. I would begin by repeating the thanks that other speakers have expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for introducing this extremely important debate in such a thoughtful and thought-provoking speech. I would only seek his confirmation of my assumption that when he referred to "this country" he meant the United Kingdom. In fact, I know that that was what he had in mind. Whether we like it or not, both in radio and television broadcasting is an immensely important factor in the lives of all the people of the world to-day: civilised, semi-civilised and even savage people.
I cannot match the silver tones of the noble Baroness, Lady Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, nor indeed, the tenor of her most acceptable speech. But I would, as it were, cap what she said by drawing attention to the "magic box" (as it is called by people in distant places) which brings news and views and propaganda in hundreds of languages to the uttermost ends of the earth. It stretches its tentacles far beyond the reach of the printed word. It informs, it interests, it influences illiterate folk in areas where universal literacy may still be generations away; but the terms of this Motion bring us back to so-called civilised life in this country. Some say that the spread of broadcasting in this country will reduce the extent of literacy, but that, judging by the upward trend in the sale of books seems unlikely. Be that as it may, broadcasting is still in its infancy. I think that 367 point has been established by a number of speakers.
Here, my Lords, it has already invaded the realms previously secure to the Press—and I refer to news and views rather than to entertainment. Broadcasting may well have contributed to the decline in the authority of the Press as we know it to-day. It is hard to say whether the concentration of newspaper power into fewer and fewer hands is a cause or an effect of broadcasting. The fact is that while broadcasting has been developing, the Press seems to be becoming, and has become, less and less responsible and more and more concerned with sensation, trivialities, betting and sport. One has only to compare the amount of space given to reports of Parliament in newspapers in the era before broadcasting with the space given to-day to have cause to wonder. The decline of the popular Press is one reason why broadcasting is so important. I think your Lordships will agree that on the whole our broadcasting media are to be congratulated on their enlightened approach to news and opinions. In this respect, as the noble Baroness said so clearly, this country leads the world, thanks to the formulative years of the B.B.C. under the noble Lord, Lord Reith.
As I see it, my Lords, except where piped television is available the major problem is the lack of variety of choice as between programmes and channels. I live in an area of Scotland which is notoriously bad for the reception of both radio and television, on account of the terrain. We are not served so well as the South, and perhaps I may be taking a rather jaundiced view of this question of the availability of alternative channels or programmes. I only wish that the very few channels available did not mean that at some periods of the day, especially peak periods, there is mighty little variety of choice. Too often there seems to be nothing but Westerns or ancient American films to turn to.
For this reason I, for one, welcome the B.B.C. drive to establish more local radio stations, and the speech last night of the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, at the conference in Peebles seems to have been right on the mark. But can this programme of local radio stations 368 be pushed forward with urgency on a fee basis? In my view, speed is important because such stations will contribute to the variety of choice for which I appeal. It is not so easy in respect of television, but may we look forward to the day—I believe that we may—when technical developments will make numerous channels available simultaneously and viewers will not be condemned to an excess of football programmes—good as that game may be—or nothing? I have talked with many people on the subject and I find a measure of unanimity in seeking more alternative viewing at peak leisure hours—and leisure, my Lords, is going to be more and more of a problem in the years to come if our dreams come true.
There is another reason for a greater variety of choice. It is the intrusion of violence and "dirt" into the home—and this was referred to by the noble Baroness. It takes a firm father or mother to switch off the set altogether. It would be far easier if there were always a worthwhile alternative programme: travel talks or documentaries, handicrafts, gardening, cartoons, "Blue Peter", puppets, hobbies, boating and so on. This may well be technically possible within a few years. In terms of the public weal—and that is our chief concern—I suggest that research into the latest development towards a multiplicity of channels would be more rewarding than the development of colour, no matter how wonderful that is: and it is wonderful—and costly. Colour could come later. I have no axe to grind: I cannot afford a colour set. In all I say I refer to areas of the country which are out of reach of piped television undertakings, which I believe deserve encouragement. But we must think of the cost.
I, for one, remain a strong supporter of the stand to maintain the fee system for the B.B.C. But more channels would mean more advertising—would it not?—-for the I.T.A. It is, I feel, sad that the Addison Rules prevent the two people who really know about the subject from contributing to this debate: I refer to the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, and the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone. They must be driven quite mad by some of what, in my case, may well be ill-informed "bumbling". But they must forgive us; for the fact is that we can see only a small part of the overall picture with 369 which they are so familiar. All the same, my Lords. I wish that the Addison Rules did not apply to a debate of this nature.
Have the broadcasting media sufficient resources to give real encouragement to the technical people to push on in their search for a greater number of channels? Have the independents sufficient security to sit back and plan far ahead? It seems clear from what the noble Lord, Lord Byers, and the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, said that it may well be the case that they have not sufficient security. What about the programme companies? I should say that they all need a larger measure of assurance. The noble Lord, Lord Byers, and the noble Earl both referred to the now commonplace remark of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, about licences being licences to print money, but that is no longer the case.
And I ask myself why has the Postmaster General breathed out threats of limited tenure to licensees, instead of giving a greater measure of encouragement: because without that encouragement, long-term planning and development (which so many seek, as clearly seen by the speeches already made this afternoon) cannot be achieved. In this respect I support and reinforce the strong case put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Byers, not only in regard to taxation but also in regard to the mystic date of 1976, when it would appear, as present policy indicates, that there might be in contemplation a complete break in our present system.
Speaking again of more channels, your Lordships can hardly expect me to omit a mention of the possibility of the proceedings of both Houses of Parliament being available to the people whenever Parliament is sitting, unedited. This may well he a question of "take it or leave it" and, of course, it would largely be, leave it. "But the fact remains that it is a truly democratic dream, though it must be far away in the future, if it ever comes to pass.
That brings me to another question I ask myself. We all know that we are in a situation where the dissemination of news and views in the printed word is threatened by industrial disputes. We have heard the fringe of it only this afternoon in the Statement from the Despatch Box. Are the Government assured that 370 powers exist to prevent any such stranglehold from interfering with the broadcasting of news and opinions through the networks, which are becoming, and have become, the very nerve system of the nation? After all, in television it is oven possible for an unsympathetic technician to interfere with the texture of a broadcast by a public figure with whose opinions the individual might differ. The noble Baroness reaffirmed in her speech that broadcasting should not be an instrument of Government, but I feel that the Government must face the responsibility of establishing that broadcasting cannot be bent by subversive or militant elements.
To turn to Scotland for a few moments and referring back to radio, there is to some extent justifiable criticism about the programmes which come straight to B.B.C. Scotland from London. Broadcasters will talk about "England" when they mean "Britain", and programmes come over which refer to England and Wales and may be quite confusing to listeners in Scotland. I am thinking particularly of a programme on prisons about a fortnight ago, which. excellent as it was, made reference to facts which simply did not apply to conditions in Scotland, which did not apply to Scottish law or to Scottish experiments in the treatment of criminals. Nor did it mention the Carstairs State Hospital when it mentioned three of the special prisons in England. This is the sort of mistake which I think more care should be taken to avoid. And there is the reporting of the doings in Parliament. I believe fiat more could be done in giving a different treatment to material for Scottish listeners. I do not suggest confining the material exclusively to Scottish affairs but rather to tackling national affairs from a Scottish angle.
If I may turn to religious broadcasting, which was dealt with by the right reverend Prelate from the point of view of the Church of England, this is given good coverage in Scotland, both on radio and television, and much thanks for that go to the advisory committees and to the close liaison which exists between the media and the Churches. I could develop the point, but I imagine that we shall hear a good deal more about the place of religious broadcasting in society when the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Soper, is debated on June 11.
371 One last word about Scotland. Apart from the technical need to reach more listeners and viewers, is it possible that Scotland would be better served if they had some measure of pooling in the I.T.A. area, as between S.T.V., Grampian and Border Television? The latter, of course, is in Carlisle, but it is the sole source of independent television for an important area in the South-West of Scotland. I have an open mind about this, but the operations of Grampian and Border, both excellent in their service to their areas and in their enterprise and high ethical standards, must be greatly circumscribed by the tightness of funds in the present circumstances, with these increased items of tax and levy to which the noble Lord, Lord Byers, referred, and because of their limited audiences.
As I have said before, independent television is no longer a gold mine, and it is more than possible that some measure of pooling in Scotland might be of overall benefit. It would not be a one-way traffic: S.T.V. might he able to feed material to the others, but I can assure your Lordships that Grampian and Border could feed the S.T.V. with many a good idea and many an excellent programme. If such a plan were to be recommended, it would only be in the fairly distant future, of course, as existing contracts fall in—and we get on to the mystic date of 1976. I would conclude by echoing in general terms what the noble Lord, Lord Byers, said about the importance of avoiding over-centralisation in the administration of our broadcasting services. Scotland does not like being called a region. It is a country.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ LORD SOPER
My Lords, I must first of all apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, because I cannot be here for the whole debate, but I will try to return, if possible. We are grateful to the noble Lord. Lord Byers, for calling attention to what he described as a most important topic and at a critical time in the discussion of the facts about that topic. I believe that with the coming of coloured television, the cassette and the other technological advantages of which we have already heard in this debate, no one should be in any doubt that what has hitherto been a television implosion is likely now to become, territorially and in many other ways, a television ex 372 plosion, the results and impacts of which are difficult to calculate.
For the validity of this debate, I think that some sort of attempt ought to be made in the calculation of at least two of the unprecedented characteristics of television—particularly of television but of broadcasting as well. It is the repetitiveness of the signal, the length of time over which people are exposed to a flow of ideas or impressions, without the necessary discipline which reading offers of going back and discussing with oneself what was the impact of the sentence that one has just read. This, I believe, needs to be carefully understood. I do not profess to be an expert in this field, but I should like to add my words to those of the noble Lord, Lord Byers, and say that a great deal of research is demanded to discover what of the unique psychological impacts of television (as I am perfectly satisfied that they are unique) may be deleterious and must be understood.
The second unique quality is the profundity and immediacy of the emotional impact. Perhaps your Lordships will forgive me if I give a personal illustration. I have known all my life—of course, I have; and so have we all—of hunger, the pangs of death and all the horrors of malnutrition. But I am haunted by one picture which I saw on the television screen not so long ago, of a bundle of twitching rags in some Biafran hospital, and the reportage was to the effect that here was a woman probably dying: and. indeed, as we watched, the twitching stopped, the dirty rag was pulled over the head of the woman and she was dead. It is no sentimentality to reflect that unless we have in our personal experience seen this, it is highly unlikely that we should react as in the presentation of it on television we are compelled to react. The uniqueness and intensity of the emotional impact of a great deal of television reportage, in particular, is, I think, a new consideration in the attitudes that a great many people take to issues of which they were academically well aware before; they now have an emotional reaction to them which need not necessarily be the counterpart of intelligent understanding of what they convey.
It is for reasons such as this that I profoundly welcome this debate and hope 373 that a variety of contributions will be made on many of the aspects of broadcasting, not least because we need to consider the review, and perhaps to fecundate the arguments within that review, which quite soon will take place. As the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, has reminded us, whatever happens immediately, the proximity of the expiry of the Charter and of the Act will demand of Government, somewhere I suppose round about 1970 or 1971, the setting up of some Commission or some deliberative inquiry.
I will restrict myself to three of the areas in which I believe we can, if we are wise and if we have something to say, help such immediate inquiries and immediate considerations, as well as that more ultimate consideration which sooner or later must take place. To begin with, let me add a little to what the right reverend Prelate has said about religious broadcasting. By now we have learned a certain number of lessons which we might not have learned; but, having learned them, we ought to set them down in our textbooks.
Some of them are the more incidental. We have learned in religious broadcasting of the inefficiency of "The Epilogue". I have suffered considerably under this, particular form of mild torture. You come in late, when the mechanics and the various people in the studio are tired out and are at least trying on their hats and coats; you come in cold, you look at a piece of machinery, and you are invited to say your prayers. It is not at all easy. A fixed glare is very probable on your own face, and the communication of anything of a spiritual nature to those who may be watching or listening is extremely meagre. I do not believe that there is any future for "The Epilogue" and I hope we shall not take advantage of this, so to speak, eleventh hour conversion opportunity day by day, for it is highly unlikely to work, anyhow.
Secondly, we have discovered, surely (and I was for a little while a member of CRAG), that you cannot worship in exactly the same way before a television screen as you can., if you are so disposed, when you are participating in an act of worship. Any Roman Catholic knows that you cannot say Mass; you can only do the Mass. At best, religious services 374 on television are for most people a form of a religious concert, a sacred concert, in which active participation, which is a prime requisite of worship, is inevitably absent. I, for one, believe that there is no sufficient reason for a proliferation of church services, apart from "Songs of Praise", in which there may be a fairly heavy ingredient of worship (but, on the other hand there may be just a Methodist desire to make a loud, joyful noise to the Lord). I am sure that what we need to do is to reffect upon the problem that confronts all religious broadcasting, as it confronts religion itself.
Religion is not in the doldrums to-day because we are a malevolent bunch in the Church. Religion is not in difficulty because people do not understand what we have to say. If we could only improve our liturgy, they would understand it, and all would be well. I venture to repeat what I have said before: that Mark Twain is on record as saying that it was not the things that he could not understand in the New Testament that bothered him, but the things that he could understand. That is a very salient point.
What, surely, religious broadcasting has to do is to attach itself to the essential problem that confronts the Church and, indeed, religious information and impacts generally. The real problem is dubiety. Most people to-day, even within the Church, are not so sure of the faith that once they inherited and then made their own. This widespread dubiety will not, I think, be ultimately overcome by the protective uses of a closed session or of a slot. In this regard, I would heartily appeal for a greater ingredient of humanistic or humanist talking and argument within the general framework of religious broadcasting. Let them all come.
The idea that we within the Christian Church have to protect ourselves as a besieged city from an encircling army which is breaching the walls repeatedly, and to rush hither and thither to plug them, is an altogether unworthy and ignoble concept. Indeed, the argument that is demanded, and the kind of satisfaction that alone can be found, is when people's minds to-day are convinced that they are not being invited to believe things for the good of their soul—which, as a matter of fact, can be demonstrated 375 to be untrue—but in fact are being invited to look at the world and to see, as we believe, that the Christian faith is the quintessence of that which is best and noblest in other faiths, and the groundwork—page I, so to speak—of the primer of moral living. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, suggested, I may advert to this in a forthcoming debate. I will say no more about it now except that I, for one, would heartily vote for a heavier ingredient of humanist thinking as a presentation in religious broadcasting.
The second point to which I should like to refer, quite briefly, is what is called instant reaction. I have never believed that "The World at One" is the true answer to the world at sixes and sevens; but, in fact, the sheer semantic capacity to speak impeccably at an incredible rate conveys with it a sense of authority. What bothers me about "The World at One" is that repeatedly we are bombarded with a number of dogmatic statements on highly contentious issues which have already been pre-digested. I can remember that in the last three weeks I have been asked to make an exhaustive comment in three minutes first on the Baptismal Service in the Church of England, and secondly upon the general principle of the Moral Rearmament Movement, with the advice that about 25 seconds of what I said would finally emerge in the programme. This, of course, is sheer and absolute rubbish. It cannot but have the effect upon people of giving them the idea that life is a placard which can be read if you are suitably near to it. With the multiplicity of issues facing us to-day, particularly in the political field, I for one believe it to be most dangerous that we are now invited to listen to authoritative pre-digested statements, many of which are of not more than a minute in length and all of which, I think, are calculated only to bemuse, and certainly not to inform. I would therefore appeal, even if it were immediately not more popular, for a much more prolonged and leisurely confrontation of political ideals within a framework that can give them substance and significance.
On the questions of violence and vice, I am impressed that Mrs. Mary Whitehouse, of the Viewers' and Listeners' 376 Association (for whose activities my feelings fall a little short of idolatory), has now changed her mind; and that, instead of demanding from her enthusiastic organisation that there should be an independent viewers' and listeners' association, she now feels that the advisory committees can do the job better. Well, praise God! because this is exactly what the Advisory Committees such as CRAC and others, are for. Although they do not have a mandatory authority they are, I believe, the wisest and best method at one and the same time of preserving the unity and conformity of a general thesis within the B.B.C. and I.T.V., and also preserving that sense of discipline which cannot be penally expressed but which, as the right reverend Prelate will know, is nevertheless very widely accepted. I have very little objection to the sexual side of the presentations in general. If they are seriously presented, none who wear the cloth, as I do, should be surprised. This is a wicked world, and there is nothing that should deter us from a cool and sensible presentation of those things which are ugly, if they have the sense of significance and if, as Matthew Arnold said in poetry, there is something of a high criticism of life.
I am very much impressed by the fact that, as the right reverend Prelate will know, the British Council of Churches have set up a pilot scheme, within about a hundred different denominational groups, to discover what the reaction is to violence. Your Lordships may be somewhat surprised to know that the advance replies, although they have not yet been fully collated, indicate a general satisfaction with the high standards of the B.B.C.—something which frankly surprised me not a little, but I think it is significant. I would apply the same principle. Violence for the sake of violence is an abomination; violence for the sake of a "giggle" is a curse; violence as something to titillate the occasional viewer is a monstrosity. But violence as part of the world in which we live to-day, and treated as it is treated in, for instance, that exceptionally fine film, Oh What a Lovely War! is different: it is like the distinction to which the noble Baroness very properly referred, between jazz and "pop". My noble 377 friend Lady Llewelyn-Davies was well aware that there is about 5 per cent. of "pop" music to-day which has the impact already upon it, and which expresses this sense of the purgative, the traumatic and, at the same time, the good effects of facing realistically a world of such intolerable and dreadful violence as that from which we now suffer.
Therefore, my Lords, I do not join those who howl misery, and who talk as if we were living in a degraded and thoroughly corrupt community. On the other hand, I would appeal for a higher sense of the relationship of this violence and sex to appropriate ends and purposes. These are some of the things which I venture to hope will be taken into account when the proximate review takes place, and when the Charter is renewed, for I believe that what we do to safeguard television and broadcasting will have a creative and, perhaps, a revolutionary impact on the sort of world in which our children live.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ LORD PILKINGTON
My Lords, I should like to join wholeheartedly with those who thanked the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for initiating this debate, and also for the way in which he opened it. I cannot follow precisely all the points that I would wish from those that Lord Byers and other noble Lords have made, because to speak until midnight—which would suit me—would, I think, be too great an imposition on the Test of your Lordships.
I am, of course, armed with the most authoritative document, in my view, on the future of broadcasting, as a least it seemed a few years ago—that of the Committee which I was honoured and fortunate enough to be Chairman. The Committee's remit covered, as is seen to-day, an enormous range of topics. In fact, there is no important relevant point yet mentioned to-day that we did not consider. The Committee were composed of people of widely different backgrounds, approaches to life and tastes, and yet on the whole range of topics they arrived at unanimous conclusions. This is partly a tribute to the Committee themselves, who were never willing to be dominated by any one or two members; but it was a unanimity to which facts rather than argument, or preconceptions, eventually drove us on all 378 aspects of the subject. On the whole, these facts remain, and therefore the importance of the unanimity of that Committee should not be underestimated.
As has been said, the independence of broadcasting authorities from daily, or even occasional, direct Government pressure can now be taken for granted. Indeed they ought to be—independence is cardinal. But with that must go responsibility and answerability. The Government exercise their control over broadcasting, as indeed they must, through the appointment of the Chairman of each of the two bodies, and the Governors or members. I think it is here that the Government have their most important responsibility. The Director-Generals of the two Authorities must never become too powerful; the public interest is delegated by Government to the Governors and members whom they appoint from time to time and for specified periods. These Governors and members cannot rid themselves of responsibility, should not wish to, and must not be allowed to. It is they who must constantly interpret the public interest, and they must not be undermined by having too many other bodies intervening too frequently. I hope, therefore, that the standing and prestige of Boards will be built up to the maximum; and if this means more people giving more time and, therefore, needing more reward for this extra service, then it will unhesitatingly be forthcoming. Of course, everything I say about the importance of Governors and members applies with redoubled force to the two Chairmen. I share the regret that has already been expressed that the rules prevent them from contributing to this debate to-day.
There is one way in which Parliament could undermine this very form of authority and answerability that it has constructed. It can do it by too frequent reviews from bodies such as the Committee of which I was Chairman. Within the Charters, policy and action inevitably falls to the Boards of the Authorities. In the first forty years o so of public broadcasting there were so many fundamental changes so frequently the t it was necessary to have rather short Charters and fairly frequent reviews. When my Committee were appointed, Independent Television had been going for about five or six years. It had gone through 379 its growing pains; it had succeeded and become a great and powerful force. At the time when my predecessor Lord Beveridge was appointed, public service television of any kind was still in its infancy. These two reviews, then, had to look at very fundamental changes, and so did the two earlier Committees to which reference has already been made.
When a committee are appointed it inevitably takes about five years before they can have met, mastered the scope of their subject, taken evidence, worked out their many recommendations, drafted and redrafted and again redrafted their report, had it printed and presented to Parliament, had it discussed in Parliament, and before any necessary legislation is passed into law. In fact in our case it was only about four years, but it was not quite enough; we could well have done with more time. The stage when we were sitting was merely two of the four years, and three would have been very much more appropriate for a subject of this nature. Five years may seem a long time, but from my experience with this and with other committees it is not too much for the job and its sequels. But it is too much for the good of broadcasting if a committee is going to be appointed every 12 years. There is, in such a case, only a period of seven or eight years when there is no complication of another body whose recommendations will inevitably impinge very considerably on what the Directors themselves have to do. So, as the noble Lord, Lord Byers, said, I hope that we will not keep on pulling up the plant to examine the roots. And, as the noble Baroness said, "back or sack" —and I say "back".
In recent years we have often been waiting for someone. Eight years ago everything in broadcasting was waiting for Pilkington. Since then we have been waiting for Maud; waiting for Hunt; waiting for Donovan and others, all necessary. But committees usually, and I think inevitably, lead to a stagnation of policy, to indecision and to excessive caution while they are sitting. The innovation and pioneering for which the noble Lord, Lord Byers, was asking go into cold storage during the time that committees are sitting. The two Charters—and with them, I think, the licences of the rental companies—come to an end 380 in 1976, seven years from now. If therefore there is to be a new committee with wide terms of reference it will have to be appointed within two years. I have tried to think, what are the circumstances similar to those that we faced, and which my predecessors faced, that have changed sufficiently in the last decade to bring that about?
Of course there are changes. We have colour; we have B.B.C.2; we are accustomed to the use of U.H.F., which was uncertain when we were sitting. We have experimental local sound broadcasting. But these are not changes that affect the principles about the future conduct of broadcasting. Every one of these was in fact foreseen and discussed at the time my Committee met. And I do not see a case for covering the whole of the same ground again, because of the unsettlement it will introduce into the Corporation. Technological changes, as has been said, are the most likely new factors. Nor is there, so far as I can see, any need for the date of the termination of a review always to be linked to the end of a Charter period.
It seems to me that it would be well worth considering an automatic renewal seven years from now to both the Charters for a further 12 years without alteration, both for the B.B.C. and for I.T.V. The opportunity may or may not be taken in the light of changes in the Post Office organisation to amend the conditions of rental authorities, but I think that that is quite a secondary matter that does not need the complete paraphernalia of a broadcasting committee. The interests of broadcasting will be much better served if the next review, whenever it may be, is based on important structural or technical changes which may arise at any time but which always throw long shadows ahead. That review should be in the context of those changes and their effects upon broadcasting. For example, if, as has been suggested, seven years from now broadcasting from satellite direct into homes on a nationwide scale is really likely, then this would he a new factor, assessable much closer to the time and justifying the appointment of a committee with perhaps fairly wide, but more likely much narrower, terms of reference. But such a change really will have nothing to do with the date of the expiration of a charter and it can usually be foreseen quite a time ahead.
381 Broadcasting in this country, the United Kingdom, is based on scarcity; on there not being enough wavelengths available to allow anybody freely to set up a broadcasting station. We may not yet have enough material for good broadcasting for more than three, or at the most four, programmes of national coverage. The resourcefulness, however, is greater than is usually allowed for, and there is a response to an opportunity when it is presented. Because we started on 405 lines and now are moving to 625 lines, we have to duplicate for B.B.C.1 and for I.T.V.1 on 405 and 625. This must last for some years, but there will come a time when all sets in use will be able to receive 625 lines excepting those of a very few indeed for whom progress cannot any longer be held back, and at that time broadcasting on the two V.H.F. channels will cease and re-engineering will start. We have no right to make the scarce resources scarcer. At the present time we can have four national programmes, and it will be six once those channels have been re-engineered. In the lifetime of my Committee we envisaged, rather roughly, that 15 years from the time when makers began to make all sets on both line standards would be necessary to allow almost all viewers to become equipped with 625-lines receivers—that is to say, about 1977 or 1978—after which two more years would be needed for re-engineering the 405 channels to the new standards.
I think now that with enough warning this can be slightly speeded up. A very large number of sets are already in use, a preponderance I am sure, that are equipped for both 405 and 625; and I hope that the Government will very shortly be able to name a time—let us say 1975 or even 1976—when phase by phase throughout the country broadcasting on 405 lines will cease. If that happens, and if therefore by 1978 we have channels available for six television programmes, then the opportunity becomes greater but the problems become at the same time more insistent. There must then be complementary broadcasting; that is to say, several programmes always at any given moment catering for different tastes.
382 The need to offer viewers a choice of type of programme was stressed very strongly in our Report, and many of our recommendations were designed to ensure it. The B.B.C. and Independent Television, in competition with each other, frequently put on the same type of programme on many occasions. The) did, and they do, and they are quite right to do so. That degree of competition between the two rival organisations for the same audience may well be really stimulating. But the strength of having B.B.C.2 and perhaps one day I.T.V.2, which is my preferred solution for the fourth channel, and then later, at least ten years from now, one day, B.B.C.3 and even I.T.V.3, will lie in having two systems each undertaking simultaneously to satisfy several kinds of taste whenever they are broadcasting. Nothing can be more important to those who care for small or for large minorities than to ensure that these channels shall be used to give viewers a genuine choice and not to give alternative presentations of almost identical material.
I very much enjoyed watching the Cup Final three weeks ago on B.B.C.2 in colour, but even then I felt a little guilty. The B.B.C. and Independent Television should both have access to the Cup Final, as to all major events. That was long ago established. But the privilege of having a second programme, which the B.B.C. enjoy, ought not to be wasted by offering the same fare, the only difference being that it is in colour. There were said to be 250 million people who watched the Cup Final all over the world. I do not know how that figure was arrived at, but I am sure that there were in this country alone hundreds of thousands of people—if not millions—who wanted something else. Not everybody is interested in sport; and, of those who are, not everybody wants to watch the Cup Final. The B.B.C. have two programmes: they should never use them simultaneously for the same event. Fortunately the temptation will become much less when B.E.C.1 is also available in colour. Colour adds a marvellous new dimension, but it does not constitute a real alternative programme.
My Lords, I want now to turn to a different problem on which the noble Lord, Lord Byers, touched at the beginning of this debate. I refer to the news.
383 In our Broadcasting Committee's Report we referred to the danger of bias being created not merely by treatment of events but by their selection. No newspaper, no Broadcasting Corporation, can possibly report everything: the day is just not long enough. In the space of a few minutes all the news that is to be reported must be presented, and this means drastic selection. It was for this reason that we said that all communications in any one area must never be in one pair of hands. But recently dangers, openly foreseen eight years ago by the Committee, and by the B.B.C. and I.T.N., have become real. This is what I might call the preselection of news by its deliberate creation. This can happen in two ways.
The first is a natural temptation for broadcasters to seek out news which is startling and striking, and to present it in a startling and striking way but without keeping a true balance. This is controllable by both authorities, and each of them slips up, if at all, only occasionally. The second, which is the obverse, is that when groups of determined people know that some event may be televised they themselves set out to make that event sensational, in order to draw attention to themselves and the institution they represent. Student troubles in universities, troubles in Northern Ireland and disturbances of many kinds are examples of this. It is easy to unbalance news, to ensure selection and thereby to ensure that extreme points of view, unrepresentative points of view, minority points of view, receive quite disproportionate coverage, to the exclusion of the quieter, less sensational activities of the vast majority.
No one, I am sure, wants to keep out of the news all these minority activities—on the contrary. But they must be kept to some extent in balance. How often does the news start with pictures of some marching or demonstrating? And how often are we assured later by other people that those concerned in the demonstrations have merely the tiniest following; that they are not representative; that they do not matter, and that everybody else wants to get on with his or her work? But broadcasting is their most powerful means of growing significant. One well-known broadcaster has told me that when he is known to be on the air some exhibitionists will collect; 384 and where they used merely to dance and wave their hands, in order to be seen at home, now they will deliberately shout out obscenities in order to be heard. Not long ago many of us, probably, saw someone being interviewed at a university and being grossly heckled in a way that I am sure would not have happened if it had not been known that the programme was to be broadcast. So the preselection of news can be done by those who are determined to hit the headlines, and can be done by live intervention in programmes that are not part of news bulletins. In my view, this is something which needs further thought by the broadcasting authorities themselves. As with piracy, dangerous developments will not be dangerous if they are tackled early enough.
I must now say a few words about local sound broadcasting. I have looked again at my Committee's Report, and I was surprised to find that this one issue involved five paragraphs and four recommendations. It was just about the biggest single issue of them all, and it took a great deal of time. We were not certain—we could not be—about the demand for local services, nor of the quantity of genuine local material. Hence we recommended a sustained and broadly based trial, and we put local sound broadcasting lower in priority than the completion of three national sound services on V.H.F. Everything we said on this subject still seems to me to be right. But I do not believe, even to-day, that intrinsically it is of top priority. We examined exhaustively all the proposed methods and we had no doubt that if there is to be a service it should be carried out by the B.B.C. and should not be paid for by advertising.
We had no doubt that the word "local" must be interpreted as meaning of particular interest to the localities served by that station rather than to other localities. The area covered must be small enough for the community really to have a distinctive common interest and for the service to serve as a focus of interest. In fact the typical radius was considered to be five miles, and not much more. It seems to me that, broadly, our recommendations have been faithfully followed; nothing has happened to change them. My doubt still is as to demand. I live within the Merseyside 385 sound broadcasting area and I have participated. I am sure that those who listen report favourably on the method, but I do not know whether enough listen sufficiently purposefully to justify an extended service. I do not know, but I hope so. I also think that this service has not yet acquired the professionalism of the B.B.C.'s national services. This is a high standard to set for whoever runs the service; it is not easy for small stations to reach that standard, but no lower standard than the national service should be our aim.
Those are my only doubts, but if, as I hope, they are resolved I have no doubts as to how and by whom the service should be provided. I stand absolutely on the twelve pages in our Report. But local sound broadcasting must not, of course, be at the expense either of existing national services or of the regional structure on which those national services absolutely depend. The national services are the models for the world: so it will cost money. But I believe that it will be worth it, so long as they are strictly local and focused on the interests of identifiable communities. It is worth mentioning that this is of special importance to old-age pensioners and others who are less mobile than they used to be, who live partly on their memories and have long contacts and connections in particular places with many people and many events, so that this service can bring to life for them once more the whole of that community.
My Lords, I have spoken for rather a long time, and I should like to close by referring briefly to the more general practical philosophies of broadcasting that affect us all. We are, I think, rightly proud of both the B.B.C. and the I.T.V. It is a splendid system, and for better or worse broadcasting is a powerful tool that influences our lives and our civilisation. We cannot be passive about it. Permissiveness is not enough, and is not a policy worthy of us. In these last few years permissiveness has spread wildly and rapidly through our society, a society threatened in any case by profligacy that causes our world-wide creditors to look askance at us. We cannot shirk these issues. Broadcasting must be more than a mirror, and its influence must be balanced, or even deliberately tilted, I 386 think, on the side of good. I want to conclude by quoting from paragraph 1055 in our Report. The whole paragraph is vital, but it would take too long to read it all. In paragraph 1055 we said:There should be presented for listeners and viewers to choose from the widest possible range of subject matter treating as much as possible of the whole scope and variety of human awareness and experience. To do so the broadcasters must not only reflect society; they must pick out and focus attention on that which is significant—the best, because it is the best; the worst, so that we can know it for what it is; the new and the challenging, because individual listeners and viewers should not be denied the opportunity of responding to them and of judging them. At the same time the broadcasters must care about public tastes and attitudes in all their variety in all kinds of programmes—in those designed to amuse and relax no less than those that are demanding; they must be aware of them as they now are and of their capacity to change and develop.That, my Lords, is true to-day, and yet more urgent than it was eight years ago, and that is why I chose first to stress that the choice of Governors and of members, and above all of Chairmen of the two Authorities is quite paramount.
THE EARL OF BESSBOROUGH
My Lords, I wonder whether, before the noble Lord fits down—we are fortunate to have him in the House—I could ask him a brief question on commercial radio. I understand that he is in favour of having two independent television channels, as well as the B.B.C. Is he totally against all forms of commercial radio, or only against the local commercial radio stations? Would he accept possibly a national commercial radio service?
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ LORD BEAUMONT OF WHITLEY
My Lords, it is indeed a daunting task to follow the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, in this debate, with his unique knowledge of the subject. I hope he will forgive me if I do not immediately follow him, because I wish to take up one or two points the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, made on the question of education and the University of the Air. It seems to me that the great argument in favour of the University of the Air is that in a period when there is going to be tremendous pressure to expand higher education and 387 tremendous pressure on the money available for educational expansion, it can provide a safety net, an opportunity whereby those people to whom we cannot give higher education can, through their own efforts, obtain it. And for this reason I believe that expenditure on the University of the Air is really a priority; it should come first before other expansion in higher education, so that we may have this permanent and particularly wide safety net.
I would argue that the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, was possibly slightly wrong when he said in this connection that America could not afford sufficiently well-endowed educational broadcasting. Surely it is not that they cannot afford it; it is that because of various reasons, which are social and ideological as well as financial, they do not choose to do this, just as, for instance, they do not choose to have a National Health Service. I personally am grateful that we can have this choice of the University of the Air, because I think it is an important one.
Now I would turn to the question of local sound broadcasting. As we know, an important decision must be made on this matter in the very near future. I think that the local sound broadcasting experiment so far has been a success. I consider it is a high priority in terms of social engineering or whatever you like to call it—the kind of thing we are going to discuss under Lord Soper's Motion on June 11. It is a high priority in building communities, bringing back the sense of community from whose loss we are possibly suffering to-day. I think that the listening public will expand for it. The noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, may possibly have miscalculated on this subject, because one of the reasons it is not listened to so much is that there is at the moment a shortage of available wireless sets which can receive V.H.F., and one hears, I do not know with what truth, that there will be a large gap between supply and demand over the course of the coming year.
I agree that the standard must be kept very high, but it must be a completely different one from that of national broadcasting. It can afford to be much freer, much easier, much more "swinging", if you like, much more open. I think that on the whole it is clear that we ought to 388 go forward with local sound broadcasting in rather a big way. The problem I before us, therefore, is basically whether local broadcasting should be commercial or should be run by the B.B.C. Compromises and mixtures are possible, but it seems to me that on the whole any compromise will tend to be based on one or other of these two solutions.
The basic reasons for commercial radio, apart from the desire, not in any way unwholesome in itself, of a large number of people to make money out of it, are that commercial radio can be more responsive to people's needs than can the B.B.C. and it will cost people less. It is true that commercial radio has a very good reason to be as responsive as possible to people's needs: it can charge in advertising according to the number of listeners it gets. This means that while it may respond to the needs of the majority, it may often be tempted not to respond adequately to the needs of the minority, and where the needs of the latter are catered for they may tend to be catered for at rather odd hours, such as, I understand, happens on many stations in the United States. I am concerned that minority needs should be catered for as well as majority needs. The social and cultural implications of broadcasting are too far-reaching to allow the principle of maximising revenue and minimising costs to operate too freely; and there is, of course, nothing particularly local, except the addition of a few names and addresses, in adding a lot of "pop" radio to local broadcasting. That is already provided by B.B.C.1, which everyone can receive. Local broadcasting should be concerned with things much more local than that.
The second argument in favour of commercial radio is that people will not have to pay for it. I must confess to not believing this. I agree with Phil Sidey of Radio Leeds, who said recently:Even a disc jockey knows that radio has to be paid for and that 'free' radio is financed by shoppers rather than ratepayers or radio licence holders.Widows with six children find either method a burden. The issues for and against commercial radio lie elsewhere.But even if the arguments which are advanced in favour of advertising—that radio does not cost so much because it is balanced by savings which are caused by advertising, thus allowing production on a larger scale, and so on—are true, I 389 want to go on in a moment to have a look at whether the cost is going to be so much that we have to decide not to have the advantages which I think we should get from non-commercial radio.
So, to turn to the other side, I want to look for a moment at what these advantages are. In my view, one of the great advantages of non-commercial radio is, purely and simply, that it does not have advertisements. It is, in fact, a straightforward æsthetic argument. I think that in this society we are all agreed that there are places and times when we should not have advertisements. If your Lordships arrived at this House one evening and found a big neon light across the front of the Palace of Westminster saying "Smithers beers for healthy Peers" your Lordships would almost certainly object, even if it was an absolutely true statement in its way and even if the neon lighting was rather attractive. There is nothing like neon lighting in another language: Neon lighting in Chinese looks absolutely wonderful.
We in this country have also rejected—and I am quite certain that the majority of your Lordships would agree that it is right—the kind of billboard advertising that one finds along the highways and in the countryside in certain other countries. On the other hand, a dull journey by Tube can surely be nothing but enlivened by some of the advertisements of films and plays, let alone pictures of pretty girls that one sees. So there is a use for advertising, and a place where we do not want it. From a personal point of view (I hope that it will not be thought to be highbrow or too patronising) I always feel that on television and radio spot advertising between programmes and during breaks in programmes is unaesthetic and that it is better if it can be done without. That is what I consider would be the first value of noncommercial radio.
That does not mean that I think there should be a complete ban on advertising in local radio. There is a place for periods of time given over to advertisements for local goods and to announce what is happening in local shops, which may well be brought in in a twenty-minute advertising programme in the morning which would catch the housewives and to which housewives would listen because they wanted to listen to 390 it. That seems to be a good idea. But even if there is that kind of advertising, I think that its financing should not be tied up with the putting on of programmes. We all know that pressures exist at all levels in radio and television, and it is right that they should. That is how a democratic society decides what it wants to be broadcast. But I think we should all agree that it is totally wrong that an overlarge influence should be exercised by either a small number of commercial interests in an area, or indeed by local government, as has also been mentioned. Perhaps the answer is an independent corporation which would sell advertising time but which would have nothing to do with the main broadcasting system—as was suggested, I believe, for I.T.A. in the Pilkington Report.
While we are on this subject, perhaps this is a moment to say something about the involvement of local government in local radio. It is right that occasionally the local councillor should serve on the local advisory or governing body, but it must be remembered that it is important that local radio should be seen to stand apart from government and be open to those who wish to criticise what is happening in local government. For those reasons, I should like to see local radio in the hands of some independent body not entirely dependent on commercial advertising. The risk of pressures in a local situation is too great, and I do not think the fact that I.T.A. is able brilliantly to resist these pressures in the independent television sector is particularly evidence to the contrary, because there is a large difference between these vast television bodies and the kind of small local radio concern that we are talking about. I believe that, with the help maybe of a little local advertising of the kind that I have mentioned, the B.B.C., experimenting possibly in partnership with the local university or other local bodies could produce exciting local radio in a great many different places.
It is estimated that to run a local broadcasting station in the near future will probably cost about £80,000 a year. It is also estimated that between 50 and 100 local radio stations would probably cover most of the country, with areas small enough to be properly local. If my arithmetic is right, I say that not 391 even counting revenue from advertising of the kind I have mentioned, an addition to the licence fee of 10s. would much more than cover the whole cost of local radio in this country. I think this is worth paying for. The building up of the local community spirit and the local community interest which has appeared to be disappearing in so many places is in itself worth it.
I cannot myself think of any body which is better fitted to undertake this job than the B.B.C. If we look at the mass media in this country and in other countries, we can give great praise to I.T.A., to our Press and to most of the mass media. I think we are lucky. But if we look round the world and talk to people in different parts of the world, it is clear that we are outstandingly lucky in having a shining example in the British Broadcasting Corporation of how to run mass media. Although it may be good to prod it often because it is apt to get stuffy, and although it needs competition to keep it on its toes, I should like to see its influence expanded rather than reduced.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
My Lords, I should like first to add my thanks to those of your Lordships to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for his speech. To say that he made a good speech is an understatement, because he always makes a good speech. I think that in half an hour he covered the ground of this immense subject in a remarkable way. His introduction of the matter was an object lesson in how to set off a debate of this kind and character. I should also like to say that I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, who expressed regret that we should not be able to hear from the noble Lords, Lord Hill of Luton, and Lord Aylestone, who are associated with these undertakings. Of course, I agree with him, and I feel that I should perhaps in some way offer a personal apology, seeing that the rules which preclude them from speaking were named after my father. I hope that the noble Lords concerned will forgive me if I make any criticism.
Going back a little, I think that my earliest recollection of the broadcasting service was in 1922, in London, when at the age of 18 I had a crystal set. I 392 remember at that time being impressed with the high standards which seemed to be aimed at. I think that for these aims we probably owe a good deal to the noble Lord, Lord Reith, who, in spite of the imposition of a perhaps rather authoritarian régime, set the foundation stone for what really, in spite of all its critics, had to come—the most honest, the most independent, the most efficient and the most reliable broadcasting service in the whole world. Some people may not be willing to admit this to be true, but I am sure that in their hearts they know it to be so.
It was perhaps not to be expected, in the years after Lord Reith's retirement, that other men to equal him would be available to take his place. But I think it is true to say that none of his successors did anything to detract from the very high standards which he had set. And in recent years it has been reassuring—at any rate I have thought so—that the same degree of sturdy independence has been displayed by Sir Hugh Carleton-Greene, who must have been subjected to very heavy pressure (I think this was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Byers, in his speech) from a good many directions during his long and important period as Director-General. I believe that on vacating his appointment Sir Hugh has left the public more greatly in his debt than perhaps they recognise, and I am very pleased to think that he has retained a seat on the Board of Governors of the B.B.C. where his wide experience and judgment will continue to be available to the service.
My own experience of the B.B.C. has been a very limited one, but I had one complaint to make when I was Chairman of a Regional Hospital Board, in that when we gave facilities in our hospitals for broadcasting and television they seemed to edit the programmes in such a way as to give great publicity to the bad bits and to leave out good bits. My staff up and down the region formed the impression that we received no credit for all the thousands of satisfied customers, but that we were publicly pilloried for the few dissatisfied ones, some of whom, in any case, were cranks. We got the impression, perhaps wrongly—I hope wrongly—that they were out to "knock" the hospital services; and the nurses and doctors, and the staff 393 generally, began to feel that they could not do right, whereas they were in fact among the most loyal and devoted workers that one could find up and down the land. I did not complain to the B.B.C. at the time, but in the end we would not do programmes other than live. And it seemed to me that from that time we were not asked very often to do a programme. Perhaps the situation is better now; at any rate I hope so.
I have always been an opponent of commercial television and broadcasting—I think that is generally known. I believe that it was a retrograde step to introduce it into this country. In the first place, it seems to me to be wasteful: it leads to duplication; and it seems to me to have tried to achieve a large mass appeal so as to provide a wide circulation for advertisers at the expense of the quality of programmes. A good deal of American influence has been introduced, and I have been asked by a number of Americans why we have allowed so much of what they call their "rubbish" to enter into our service. Of course, one cannot say what effect would have resulted to the B.B.C. if commercial TV had not come; whether the services were reduced in quality by the competitive striving to attract an ever-increasing audience, or whether it has been a healthy competition which has improved the service all round. I am afraid that I think it was the former. I remember the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham (as he then was), in this House when the debate took place, all those years ago. The noble Viscount warned of the consequences of the introduction of commercial television, I and in my view he has been proved right.
I believe that something has been done by the Independent Television Authority to try to restrain the exaggerated claims of some advertisers for their products: even the soap and detergent ones are now a little less ridiculous. But I wonder why the commentators seem to address their audience as if it were composed exclusively and entirely of children of about eight years old, and often in an American accent. Do the manufacturers of one washing agent really expect people to believe that it washes "biologically", and actually "digests" dirt and stains? Is this magic substance really equipped 394 with a duodenum, a liver and a pancreas? Are they deliberately trying to mislead the public, or are they trying to be funny? Unfortunately, some people get taken in; and this, I think, is a continual danger.
Does a certain leading oil company really believe that any driver of a car would attempt to drive his car across a narrow isthmus, with the tide coming in, with so little petrol in the tank that he could not reach the other side, even without the so-called much vaunted "mileage ingredient"? What is petrol if it is not a mileage ingredient? The motorist puts petrol in the car to go along; he therefore puts some mileage ingredient into the car. To my mind the whole thing is nonsense, and this is a matter that needs entirely looking at again. I can assure these people that they greatly underestimate the intelligence of the British public.
Once on the Report stage of a Bill in your Lordships' House I remarked on the exaggerated claims of advertisers on T.V. I said that I did not think anything could be "whiter than white". I still have the same view. On that occasion (it was on an Amendment on the Report stage of a Bill; I do not remember the exact occasion) my speech did not last more than one minute, but within 48 hours I was honoured to receive a two-page letter from the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, in a remonstrative tone. In fairness to the noble Lord, I must admit that at the time he had been Chairman of the I.T.A. for only about two weeks.
But what was much more significant was that the young managing director of a small documentary film company, of which I was at the time chairman, received complaints about the views I expressed in your Lordships' House, and he saw that his business might be in jeopardy. Out of consideration for him, and at his plea, I did not pursue the matter, though I felt very much inclined to do so. I am not now associated with this company, so he has nothing to fear this time. Even if he had, I can assure all the washing powder manufacturers—or, for that matter, the oil companies, be they British or American—that Members of your Lordships' House are unlikely to be intimidated, and that in bringing the sort of pressure which I have described they are much more likely to 395 do harm to their image than to improve it.
I have now made some criticisms, and what I should really like to offer are some congratulations and thanks to the B.B.C., particularly for some of their programmes. The commentaries on the American moon journeys; the arrangements that were made, and the perfection of the programmes describing the Daily Mail transatlantic air race a week or two ago; to say nothing of regular features such as "Panorama", "24 Hours", and so on. Many of their play and serial productions are quite superb. It has always been a source of wonder to me where they find the people who act all the parts, particularly perhaps the small parts. I have never seen anything on the stage or on the cinema to equal some of these performances. How actors and actresses find time to learn their parts, often while they are working in other parts, and still perform the beautiful jobs that they do, quite passes comprehension. If I could make one request it would be for more time to be given to "selling" our country and our products overseas. There is one very good and interesting programme—I think it is called "Made in Britain"—and I feel that more programmes of this kind could be successfully shown. I hope that this idea may be taken up.
I cannot sit down without paying a special tribute to the B.B.C. weathermen and staff who have turned what I think used to be a commonplace subject into a most interesting one. They have also opened our eyes to the potentiality of the weather services for industries such as building, as well as for holidays and travel. Finally, I would add my good wishes to the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, in his efforts to retain and improve the image and high standards of the B.B.C., and to the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, who I am sure has a very difficult task. I think he may need some more teeth. At any rate, very good luck to them both!
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ LORD FRASER OF LONSDALE
My Lords, I apologise deeply to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for not having given myself the advantage and pleasure of listening to his speech. I also apologise to your Lordships, and to the winder-up 396 since I cannot stay to the end as I am going overseas almost immediately. I am very sorry about this. I will be exceedingly brief, but I feel that I must make one observation, following the last speaker, which I would not have made if I had not had the pleasure of hearing him. I think he is grossly unfair, is quite wrong and is misjudging the situation, when he criticises the British for having introduced the I.T.V. programmes. I also think he is quite wrong in suggesting that its introduction has done broadcasting harm. On the contrary, I think it has done broadcasting a power of good, and that B.B.C. television is infinitely better than it would have been without that competition. I think that the viewer is extremely lucky to have two or even three programmes to look at, instead of only two or one. So I entirely disagree with the noble Viscount, Lord Addison. I also entirely disagree with him about advertisements. The woman in the home likes the exaggerated talk of the washing machine man and the washing powder man. It is one of her greatest enjoyments. She likes to be told what is available and to use her own judgment as to how far she believes it. But she is not such a fool as the noble Viscount thinks, nor is she eight years old.
I said that I would be very brief. On July 16 last year I asked an Unstarred Question and made a fairly long speech about broadcasting. If I may say so, I made a very powerful and almost unanswerable plea for financing a large part of it by advertisements. I do not intend to go over that ground again. If anyone will do me the honour of looking at the Report of that debate, he will see that, had I been in another place a week or two ago, I would clearly have supported the G.L.C. in their Bill which so very nearly came to this House. I should not be surprised, if circumstances alter and I am spared for a year or two, if I myself introduced the Bill in this House. The licence fee has now been raised to £6, as I forecast last July, but still the B.B.C. does not have enough money, nor will it ever get enough money to do the job as well as it could be done unless it takes to advertisements. As I said, I shall not go over the ground that was covered earlier, though I still think that a most suitable place to introduce advertisements is the "pop" programme, the 397 No. 1 job, which would be infinitely more interesting if there were some advertisements in it. As my noble friend says, it could not do worse.
But it is the local stations that I want to talk about. I think they have been a considerable success. It is true that nobody knows how many or how few listeners there are, and there are various reasons for this. As has been said, one reason is that some of the available sets do not have the right frequency on them. Another reason is that there is so little material to put in the programmes to make them interesting. How much more interesting they would be if there were some advertisements. The audience would then grow and the civic attention and the civic sentiment, for which some noble Lords have pleaded, would grow accordingly.
The right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister quite recently said in answer to a question—I do not know whether it was in another place or in the open air—that one of the principal reasons for not allowing local stations to be financed by advertisements was to save the local papers from extinction. I am bound to ask myself how much he had studied this matter, or how much he was thinking, "Here is one way of getting some part of the Press, which is at present not unfriendly to me—in fact, it hardly notices that I am there at all—to think better of me." I want to answer this question, because it might have carried a great deal of weight with Members of Parliament and with Members of your Lordships' House; and in this matter I venture to think that a little bit of experience may be worth quite a lot of theory.
As long as 40 and 45 years ago I was a member of the first of the committees to which the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, and other speakers have referred—the Crawford Committee. I took a very great interest in the development of broadcasting in those very early days. Being a member of that committee, friends of mine came to me and spoke about their interests and hopes, and I was guided by what I heard, as I think one should be. Lord Riddell will be remembered by men of my age, and he was a considerable newspaper man of the day. He said that his papers, which included the News of the World and the 398 Newnes and Pearson periodical house, were going to be ruined if advertisements were taken by the B.B.C., and even by the progress of the B.B.C. He hoped very much that there would be no very real progress on the part of the B.B.C., and that we would not recommend this, that or the other substantial development. Lord Iliffe had the same fears about the Birmingham Post and about other matters.
In my constituency then, of North St. Pancras, there were up to fifty small men who, in little factories, made piano pieces—I mean pedals, rods, corners, angles, keys and one thing and another—which they supplied to the big piano manufacturers to put in their pianos. These chaps came to me and said, "If broadcasting flourishes in Britain it is going to ruin our trade. Nobody who can hear something played so beautifully for nothing, or for 10s. a year"—as it was then—"is going to buy a piano." The same applies in regard to gramophone records. An old friend of mine, Sir Louis Stirling, who was Chairman of the Columbia Company and later of E.M.I., said, "You know, this churning out of records by the B.B.C. is going to ruin the record business. You have no idea what a wonderful business we have."
How wrong they were, my Lords! How wrong they were! If millions of people listen to a piano for the first time, a very small percentage of those millions start wondering what the noise is, because they have not heard it before. They get interested, they begin to whistle what they hear, and they begin to inquire about it. And, perhaps because they are musical and did not know it before or because they want a status symbol, they buy a piano. In fact, more pianos have been bought since broadcasting than before it. More gramophone records have been sold, too. If you broadcast gramophone records to millions, you sell millions of gramophone records, even though your object is not to sell records at all. How wrong they were!
Nor has the periodical Press of Britain suffered. It may be that there have been takeovers, it may be that aggregations have arisen, but not particularly for the reason that the advertisements were taken away by the television companies. The periodical Press has prospered. It may be that some newspapers are in a bad 399 way, but there always have been some newspapers in a bad way, and there are one or two which perhaps deserve to be. It is quite untrue to say that things die because of competition. Very often they are spurred to new life. I think, therefore, that the Prime Minister's argument, which seems to have impressed so many people, that the local papers would be lost and that the towns would thereby lose their best friend and the most important element in keeping them together, and all the rest of it, is wrong. That is the main point I wanted to make, and I hope, now that we are reaching the stage at which consideration is being given to this matter, the Government will not make up their minds in advance that we are not going to have any advertising, particularly on the local stations.
Finally, I would say that I should like the B.B.C. to manage the advertising. It may horrify some of them, but it is extraordinary how people change over the years. All kinds of things in which I used to believe thirty or forty years ago have changed in my own mind, and I am sure any mind that is not ossified changes as the circumstances of the time change. A great many of your Lordships would have said, as some did, that television with advertising was going to ruin Britain, was going to be a horrible thing which would lower tastes and standards, and all the rest of it. A great many of your Lordships will have changed your minds; and I do not put it past the B.B.C. to change its mind. Although I served on its Board so long ago, I still think it must have an open mind; and it must know that it cannot get as much money any other way. They have the tradition of sensible management, and I am quite sure that the right thing to do is to give them the power to take advertisements and to leave it to them to see how they do it—and I am quite sure they will do it with grace.
§ 6.24 p.m.
My Lords, the subject of the debate to-day is the future of broadcasting. In other words, where are we going? It has already been stressed that this is an age of great technological change. But the world has always been changing. As Adam said to Eve as they were being chased out of the Garden of Eden, "My dear, we 400 live in an age of transition". But as the noble Lord, Lord Byers, said in opening this debate, the trouble with change is that it is getting faster and faster. It used to be in millennia, then in centuries and then in decades. Now, each year we are faced with some new invention which revolutionises our lives, especially in the field of communications. Look at what has happened since the beginning of the last century. The railways came, and they killed the canals. Now road transport is killing the railways. At one time one crossed the Atlantic on big passenger ships. Now they are being killed by air transport and they are making their money through cruises. Telegrams have been replaced by telephones.
Since World War 2 there has been a great speed-up in the technological change of mass communications. We find television overtaking the cinema, and redundant halls being used for bingo or as bowling alleys. In the United States, television is taking so much advertising from the Press that the remaining newspapers are fighting for survival. Even in this country television is overtaking sound radio; but I share the view of my noble friend Lady Llewelyn-Davies that, although television is with us, there is certainly room for sound radio, which for some forms of broadcasting is much more subtle—music, poetry and even drama. It leaves a great deal to the imagination, which television very rarely does.
This leads me to the question of advertising, especially on sound radio. I am opposed to any existing B.B.C. sound transmission accepting commercial advertising. I am equally opposed to the introduction of commercial advertising on the existing or planned local radio. But I think there is a future for commercial advertising by sound, and in this I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Bess-borough. It should not be beyond the wit of man to devise parallel systems, either central or local or both, for commercial and non-commercial sound radio, as has been done for television. None of us likes the television commercial, but is it any worse than the advertising that we see in the newspapers or the magazines? The only difficulty is that it is harder to disregard something that you hear or see on television than it is if 401 you are reading a newspaper. The eye skips more easily than the ear.
But it is not the interruption by commercials that is the main issue. I agree with my noble friend Lord Addison that there is always a danger, when you get commercial radio, of the lowering of the intellectual content of the programmes. They must be geared to suit the great mass audience to whom advertisements for detergents are addressed. I agree also with the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, about the need to provide for the minority audience. That is very difficult with commercial radio. On the other hand, the technical brilliance of commercial television is, I think, important. Commercial television has money coming in from advertising to such a large degree that it can hire the best talent, and so you get the glossy floor shows on the American model which it is very hard for the B.B.C. to match. This technical brillance of commercial television is a great challenge to the B.B.C.
I agree with previous speakers that the B.B.C. is still the envy of the world, for three reasons. The first is its broad spectrum. It has something for everyone. Secondly, there is the very high level of production. The B.B.C. obviously takes great trouble with its programmes, unlike those in the United States, where many of them are very slapdash. Thirdly, there is no Government control—as for example, until quite recently, in France. The problem is how to maintain B.B.C. television against the competition of commercial television, and non-commercial sound broadcasting against commercial sound broadcasting if it comes.
The clue, I think, is that somehow the B.B.C. must get enough money to enable it to compete. Licence fees have recently been increased; but there is a limit to increases and the time comes when a further rise is impossible. It would be a great pity if fees were so high as to deprive many people, the not-so-rich, of the right of access to information. Secondly, the higher the fees become, the more evasion there is in payment. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, that one cannot have Government subsidies for programmes—it would introduce Government influence—but I think that the Government could 402 at least take over some of the burden of research and some of the burden of capital expenditure. If that can be assured for non-commercial sound broadcasting, I should be in favour of allowing room for commercial sound broadcasting, even if, as I am afraid it may, it damages further the provincial Press—although I feel that my noble friend Lord Leatherland, who follows me, will not agree. We owe a great deal to advertising and I think it is about time that somebody pointed out that it has kept the Press independent for over 70 years. The Press does not need the open subsidies by political Parties that is common in many countries, or the secret subsidies by pressure groups—for example, the Italian subsidies to the French Press before the Second World War.
The trouble is that there is an enormous amount of advertising money available. Mass production needs, and can afford, mass advertising. The products are all competing for the rising hoard of purchasing power of the great middle class—which now includes almost everybody in this country. This advertising money goes wherever it produces the best commercial results. If advertising deserts the newspapers and magazines for television, they fold—and this is very widespread, as I have said, in the United States. That may be bad, but there are remedies. With the decline of the Press, it is all the more important to allow freer access to the microphone. There are strong reasons for a multiplicity of channels, both public and commercial.
Lastly, I should like to say a few words about the future of broadcasting in relation to education. Britain has a long experience in schools broadcasting and adult education and is now starting with broadcasting at university level—the Open University to which the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, referred. I do not think we yet fully realise its potentiality. I agree with my noble friend Lady Llewelyn-Davies that it is a brilliant conception, and I hope that it will establish itself rapidly before it is strangled—perhaps by my noble friends on the opposite side of the House. Other countries have used broadcasting at university level, and the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, mentioned some of them. He mentioned university stations. I happen 403 to have been recently in the University of Alabama where I was speaking on the university radio station; but it has not the means really to become a real broadcasting station. It is largely used for teaching university students the techniques of mass communication.
THE EARL OF BESSBOROUGH
My Lords, while we are on this point, I feel I must just say that there is no intention on our side to strangle this experiment, this plan. I said that we should very much like to see how it works before condemning it or criticising it. But I am grateful to the noble Viscount for some of the other remarks he made which agreed with mine.
My Lords, I am glad for that assurance. Broadcasting has been done, as the noble Earl said, in Chicago and Boston, in Russia and in Germany; and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, also mentioned these experiments. But nowhere has there been a comprehensive scheme as in Britain. These experiments abroad have all failed, largely because they were not geared to produce a degree course. As your Lordships know, in Britain it is to be a combination of broadcasting, correspondence courses and residential summer courses, all decentralised. Secondly, it will have its own academic faculty, its own degree and its own central campus.
I would end by saying that tens of thousands of men and women need it. Some could never afford to go to the university in their youth. They had to go to work immediately after leaving school; or they could have gone to university but did not and now they bitterly regret it; or they want to better themselves but they cannot get to night classes—for example, women who have baby-sitting troubles. Now, at last, we have this great vision of what I can only call rehabilitation. There is one country in Scandinavia—Sweden—which makes use of every man and woman. If they are redundant in a factory, they are moved to where they are needed, they are retrained and re-housed. The aim is to cut down the flight from Sweden, the emigration from a country with barren soil and a hard climate to the United States. We here in this country can do the same. We can rope in every one who needs it 404 wherever they are tucked away and rebuild them mentally and put them to better use. Britain has already pioneered with university extensions and W.E.A. Now we go on to the Open University, where Britain can lead again.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ LORD LEATHERLAND
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Byers, has given us the opportunity for a very thoughtful and enlightening debate, a non-Party debate, with no Divisions, no Whips, so that we can all let our hair down (those of us who still have any) and say what we like. I want to talk about the local sound broadcasting proposals and particularly of the effect that these will have upon our local newspapers; because this is a very serious problem that must be faced.
Before I deal with that I should like to mutter to myself for a few moments about the present state of the broadcasting services and programmes. I think that we have to agree that for millions of people in this country broadcasting and television have become the biggest things in their lives. Naturally there are many complaints, many criticisms. We have not only the very worthy—and I say it very respectfully—Mrs. Whitehouse; we have criticisms from people who are as far apart as Puritans on the one hand, and politicians, on the other. Some people say that there is too much sex on television; others say that there is not enough. Some people are saying that there is too much sport on television; others that there is not enough. I suppose that these complaints will never he ended; they will go on and on, like "The Continuing Story of Peyton Place".
But when we have gathered together all these complaints and criticisms, surely we have to balance them against the undoubted merits of the services and programmes which are provided by our two broadcasting institutions. Of course, there are complaints to be made; there are complaints that can be sustained. I am not a nagger; but I have a few complaints of my own. First of all, I think there is far too much "slush" on television programmes. There are hints of homosexuality; parades of promiscuity. I know that it may be said—I have heard it said—that these things happen in real life, and of course a 405 modicum of it is therefore acceptable if television is to reflect real life. But we do not want too much of this rammed down our throats when we are by the family fireside.
Then, my Lords, there is the question of violence. Having had red hair in my youth, I suppose that I was brought up in an atmosphere of violence. A little violence does not do anybody any harm. I can stand for much of the violence seen on television. And it is the fact that usually in these television stories virtue does triumph, after all; so there is a moral lesson in the story. But what I do object to is the really vicious, unnecessary violence that we get in some programmes. I know that psychologists will tell us that this is good for us, that it enables us to get all ideas of violence out of our systems. But even after taking that into account I am still left with the feeling that the more unnecessary, vicious violence that we see on the screen, the more of it we get in our normal daily life. And, my Lords, we are getting more violence in our normal daily life—shooting, thuggery, student "punch-ups", vandalism, assaults on the police, football hooliganism, gang battles, the smashing up of railway carriages—all of it "just for the hell of it".
I have heard one more complaint, one with which originally I agreed, and I listened with great interest to what was said on this point by the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington. It is that television gives too much publicity to marches and demonstrations. It has been said that if TV gave less publicity to these incidents the promoters and the participants would be less enthusiastic. I happen to know something about the background of some of these marches and demonstrations. I happen to know how television promoters have touted for scenes where violence will be involved, but it would not be discreet of me to give evidence about this because it might cause even more trouble.
There is a good deal in the argument that many of these demonstrations, violent demonstrations (I am not against ordinary peaceful demonstrations) are encouraged because of the certainty which the promoters feel that they will be seen on television and their cause will benefit thereby. But, my Lords, 406 there is another side to this story. While some of the demonstrators are screaming out for peace, others of their number are kicking policemen in the face. So we do see both sides of the question. we do get a balanced view, and some of us probably come to the conclusion that some of these so-called pacifists are not quite so pacific after all.
My major complaint, however, is about the way some of the interviewers in the public affairs programmes go about their job. They ask poisonous, loaded questions, and. when they do not get the answer they want, they add a distorting punch line of their own. It is the distorting punch line that leaves its impression upon the mind of the viewer or the listener. I am not naïve. I know that it is not possible to have complete, tame objectivity in a controversial public programme. But if we are to have controversy, let it be fair, not only in what is said but also in who is chosen to say it. Some of the people chosen to make comments in television programmes, particularly political programmes, are very peculiar people indeed. I have another small complaint. It is that in the news presentation there is sometimes an attempt at editorialising; not in any thunderous way but by the introduction of some poisonous word, or a semi-chuckling inflectien in the voice when the announcer has to say something bad about the Government or the British nation. I know that this sin is not often committed, but it ought never to be committed. That brings my nagging to an end, my Lords.
If one takes a broad view of the two Corporations, and all the difficulties with which they have to contend, and if one remembers the high-speed work which they have to undertake in order to meet their deadlines (I speak as an old newspaper man), I. think that very great credit is due to both Corporations. We have a more balanced programme than almost any other nation. We get the kind of variety that suits the taste of most people. Our children's programmes are excellent—I have an expert panel of four grandchildren who assure me that what I say about that is true. But I would ask the two noble Lords who are not here—evidently they have gone to deliver the 6 o'clock news—whether we may have a 407 few more animals in the children's programmes.
The presentation of news, both voice and vision, is usually very good. So also is the background supplementation and explanation. But I do not like some of the "snap" interviews which some of our producers are so fond of screening. The opinion they seek is sometimes thought-lessly expressed; perhaps it is one on which the interviewee is not capable of pronouncing at all. I think that our educational programmes are of a high standard. The British people are, I believe, much better informed than they were before these influences burst into our homes. Our standard of literacy has risen. Even I can understand all about the virtues of thiamin.
I have little to say about the way the Corporations are run. The noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, and the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, have proved good Chairmen of their respective organisations and have given a general feeling of confidence to the country, despite the fact that, as I say, there are a few blemishes. I do feel, however, that there is a good deal of financial extravagance on the part of both Corporations. Some salaries that are paid are quite fanciful: entertainers fees are really fantastic. There seems to be a tendency for people in the entertainment world to think that they live on an entirely different planet from the rest of us going about our ordinary vocations. I think that there a "long knife" is needed. Probably there will be some spare "long knives" along the other end of the corridor if there is any shortage in other quarters. I have a little doubt about the constitution of the Corporations. I have the highest admiration for every member of the Boards, but I feel that they include too many people of the academic and intellecutal class. These people have their very valuable uses, but we could do with a few more ordinary people to create a link between the boardroom table and the world outside.
My Lords, I wish now to come to the question of local sound broadcasting. Here we have to heed the lesson of the late King Canute and appreciate that you cannot keep back the flowing tide—even some election agents have learnt that recently. It is certainly the case 408 with local radio. There are indications that it is coming to stay. We all know—we have heard this afternoon—about the eight experimental local stations set up by the B.B.C. We have heard that the result of those experiments is to be assessed this year. We shall probably hear that they have been a huge success, and we shall probably be told that we are now to think in terms of a fairly wide, and perhaps rapid expansion in local sound broadcasting. These eight experimental stations seem to have been very competently staffed. They have certainly produced very useful localised programmes. They have combined a good news service with entertainment, and with appropriate cultural and educational elements. They have given a good service to schools, and they have been particularly valuable when some local disaster, like a flood, or a train smash, or something of that kind, has occurred in a particular district. Of course, the B.B.C. will not be the final arbiter here. The ultimate decision will have to be taken by the Government. I hope that (as I assume will be the case) very soon we shall be having what I will call another Pilkington Committee.
There are many aspects of this question which have to be considered, and one of them is the powerful lobbying that is taking place just now on behalf of commercial and financial interests who want to run local sound broadcasting companies financed by revenue from advertising. I am against these commercial local broadcasting companies. If there is to be an extension of local sound radio, then I want the B.B.C. to run it, in collaboration with local bodies like those which are now operating in connection with the eight experimental stations, local radio councils consisting of local citizens.
My main reason is, quite unashamedly, that I do not want to see hundreds of local newspapers ruined. I do not mean ruined in the journalistic sense because the radio may steal some of their "scoops". A good news editor is always capable of carrying a radio announcement three or four stages further. In a sense the radio announcement becomes an aperitif for the local newspaper a few days later, when people want to "read all about it" So I do not think that newspapers have much to fear from local radio on the journalistic ground—in fact, they may gain.
409 Where the loss comes is in respect of advertisements, which would be lured away from the local newspapers by local commercial radio services. This would be a really crippling blow to many local newspapers. Many are 75 per cent. dependent on their advertising revenue. If advertising were seduced away from them by radio, they would be in the bankruptcy court straight away. Local newspapers are having a bad time, and have been having a bad time for many years. I think that it would be a grave loss to the nation if we were to lose many more of these local papers.
There is no need for any guesswork in trying to assess how these local newspapers would be hit. Last year the Newspaper Society engaged an independent firm of accountants to survey 108 of the provincial newspaper companies. They found that six of them were already making losses before tax; 14 others would make losses if they were to lose 10 per cent. of their advertising revenue to local radio—and the experts regard 10 per cent. loss as being quite conservative (I use the word in its decent sense). So that in the first round one in five papers would be doomed to extinction.
Let me give your Lordships a few examples. There is one provincial morning paper that is making a profit of £41,000. If it lost 10 per cent. of its advertisements, it would lose £65,000—that is to say, £24,000 more than the profit it is now making. A small weekly newspaper, now making £37,000, would lose £46,000, leaving it £9,000 worse off. A weekly paper, now making £4,000 profit, would have £7,000 taken away from it. A slightly larger weekly now making £14,000 would have £19,000 taken away from it. In the bigger areas, the accountants found a paper, now making £13,000, which would lose £22,000. They found another making £6,000 which would lose £12,000; another making £14,000 profit which would lose £19,000 and a bigger paper, now making £51,000 before tax, which would lose £57,000 if 10 per cent. of its advertising revenue was taken away from it.
We are not dealing here with peanuts. Three years ago—and it might be worse to-day—the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers estimated that the potential revenue from a local radio service was £30 million a year. There are 410 many other examples that might be quoted but they all tell the same story. Local commercial radio financed by advertisements would kill many of our local newspapers stone dead. That is not my view only. My noble friend Lord Hill of Luton has said this on several occasions and said it again as recently as yesterday. When my noble friend and I both say it, it is probably true. The Beveridge Report said it in 1948 and the Pilkington Report said it in 1962. They both favoured local radio but both were against financing it by local advertisements.
It may be said: what do these experts know about it? What does the ordinary man in the street think about it? Fortunately, we have an answer. A Gallup Poll was taken in 1966. The question put was: would you like to see commercial radio or to leave it to the B.B.C.? Fifty-seven per cent. said, "Leave it to the B.B.C."; 31 per cent. said, "Commercial radio" and, as usual, 12 per cent. said "Don't know". But even if we add together the "commercial radios" and "don't knows", they are still substantially below the percentage of people who want local sound radio left with the B.B.C. So my plea is that in any local service let the B.B.C. rut it, working with some kind of local radio council representing the citizens, on a basis similar to that now operating for the eight experimental stations.
If we dismiss advertising revenue horn the running of these local stations, we inevitably must ask: how is it to be financed? At present, in many cases the B.B.C. is providing about half the money and local municipal councils and other interests are providing the remainder. I hate the idea of municipal councils and county councils being burdened with expenditure of this kind. I speak as one who has been chairman of a county council finance committee for many years and who understands the yearly wrestling with statistics in order to prevent the rates going up unduly. I know that they are going up all over the country and will continue to go up. I know also that local councils are under pressure from Ministers to curb as much of their expenditure as possible, and because of the necessity for this curb, local councils find that deserving and sometimes urgent branches of their expenditure are having to be postponed.
411 I think that the straightforward thing to do is to increase by 5s. or 10s. a year the radio licence duty in areas where local services are established. If that proves troublesome to old age pensioners, they could be given supplementary grants to cover the cost, because radio means a great deal to old people. But 2d. or 2½d. a week does not mean much to most people in these affluent days. When we sec people of 17 and 18 picking up their wage packets and going straight to local music shops and buying two or three records, costing a pound or more, we realise that 2d. or 2½d.a week is not a great deal to pay for establishing a sound radio service on a proper public basis.
I have tried to make clear that I am against any advertisement-financed local radio run by private companies. I am also against any local B.B.C. service being financed by advertisements. That would be worse than ever, because probably the B.B.C. might have an element of subsidy in it, and that would make competition for newspapers even more difficult than if they were having to compete with purely capitalist local enterprises. I want to see the local newspaper preserved. I spent some years on a local newspaper some fifty years ago and so have a sentimental attachment. I think these papers are the heart and soul of many of our communities. But if it should ultimately be decided that the local sound radio is to be on a commercial basis. I feel that the licence to provide this local service should be granted to the newspapers if they wish to have it: they should have the first claim. Their staffs are experienced in newsgathering they understand the traditions of their locality; they are in constant touch with the leading people in industrial, social, political and sporting life; they are in touch with all schools of thought. They could easily recruit extra staff to look after the entertainment side.
I feel that the editorship of the local paper and the editorship of the local radio service should be quite separate. There would have to be a separate editor for each in order that competition might be encouraged. If the ultimate settlement came along the lines that I have suggested—namely, that the newspaper should have the first chance of the licence 412 —then I think the newspapers would profit in two ways. They would be compensated for the losses that they would otherwise suffer to the local commercial radio and they would be able to underpin their own finances on a more stable basis and thus make more assured their continued publication. I am sure that if we allowed our local newspapers to disappear many of our localities would lose their soul and it would be a very bad day for Britain.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ LORD DENHAM
My Lords, if I speak from this Dispatch Box at this stage during the debate it cannot really be called a winding-up speech for the Opposition: inasmuch as it is, it is the sort of winding up that you used to have to do to an old-fashioned gramophone halfway through the record lest the turntable should slow down and the sound get slower and slower and deeper and deeper. If you were lucky the operation was successful and the sound-track went on revitalised until the end; but if you should jog the needle by mistake the whole thing juddered to a halt. So, my Lords, I shall try to wind up with care.
It would probably be impossible and certainly undesirable for any one speaker to cover more than a few points in this debate and I shall speak on very few. I should like to say a word about commercial radio. My noble friend Lord Bessborough has touched on local radio. In July the Postmaster General is to make a statement on the whole future of local broadcasting. He will no doubt announce an increase in numbers from the original eight experimental stations. He will also no doubt set his face against any commercial element in them. My noble friends and I feel very strongly that B.B.C. radio needs the advantage and the stimulus of commercial opposition in the same way that B.B.C. television has had it from Independent Television. I cannot quite understand how the noble Lord. Lord Pilkington, can support commercial television but not support commercial radio. That seems to me to be slightly inconsistent.
I would say here how much I agree with almost everything that was said on this subject by the noble Viscount. Lord Samuel. We are committed as a Party to introducing local commercial sound radio when we are returned to power. We think that the advantages of this would 413 considerably outweigh any disadvantages. One fear that has been expressed—and it has been expressed very forcibly by the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland—is that commercial radio, by draining-off all local advertising revenue, might lead to the demise of local newspapers, especially the smaller ones. These local newspapers give an important service to local communities and it would be a great pity if anything happened to their prejudice. It is with that in mind that my honourable friend Mr. Paul Bryan, who is spokesman on these matters in another place, has said this:Local newspapers should be allowed to take a financial interest, but not a controlling financial interest, in local radio. This would not only compensate for the advertising revenue they may lose, but their newsgathering facilities would be a great help to the radio station.I think the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, in his speech was asking for the local stations to be in the complete control of the newspapers, but no doubt he would welcome this as the next best thing.
I should like to say a word or two now about commercial television. There is definitely a sense of instability felt by commercial television companies as they have qualms about what may happen when present contracts come to an end in 1976. This has not been helped by a former Postmaster General talking in July, 1967, about the whole of television "going back into the melting pot". If the companies fear that the independent television structure may disappear altogether, there is a very real danger that they may be tempted to spend less on programmes and concentrate on profit-making while the sun shines. Would it be possible for the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, when he comes to wind up the debate, to say something to reassure the companies that independent television will have a future of some sort?
I now want to say a little about the B.B.C. One complaint that I share with the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, about the B.B.C. is that on the radio there does not seem to be enough liaison between the various B.B.C. programmes to provide a choice for the listener. It is very common to find either music on every programme, when the listener may want to listen to something else, or talk on every programme when he feels the need of music. On television the B.B.C. 414 and the independent companies are inclined to compete with each other for audience ratings by running the same type of programme in competition at the same time. One can see the point of each channel running a programme on sport on a Saturday afternoon. But at other times you may be faced with the choice of "The Avengers" on one channel and "The Man from Uncle" on the other. Either you like that sort of programme or you do not. If you do not like it you want to watch neither; if you do like it you want to watch both. The unfortunate viewer loses either way.
Having said that about the B.B.C., I should like to pay a tribute to them. When the pirate radios came to an end nearly two years ago the B.B.C. were left with the monumental task of trying to fill the void. Their job was not made any easier by the number of handicaps with which they had to start. They had only one programme with which to replace four or five. They could run this one separate programme only for part of the day. They had to divide this again between "pop" and what is technically called "sweet" music. They were strictly rationed as to needle time. Their disc jockeys had no help from advertisements to spin out and set the theme for their patter between records. They had to be scrupulously fair between records so as not to plug one more than another. They had to overcome the gap between the formality of B.B.C. announcing and the infinitely more free-and-easy atmosphere of the pirate radio.
Allowing for these limitations they have done a really remarkable job. They have taken on many of the best pirate disc jockeys. They have adopted a lot of the jingles and format of the pirates and evolved them into a new style of their own. While some of the limitations they have not been able to overcome, such as shortage of needle time, lack of complete coverage of the country and the fact that neither personnel nor music can be all things to all men at the same time, they have made a very good try.
My Lords, perhaps the most important thing to get right in considering the future of broadcasting is the basic purpose behind it all. Politicians are inclined to show more paternalism over broadcasting than in any other field. The 415 prime purpose, they say, should be to educate rather than to entertain. But there is a fallacy in this approach. It is not a question of there being a choice between entertaining and educating: the two are in a sense indivisible. In the words of Jack Point:He who'd make his fellow, fellow, fellow creatures wiseMust always gild the philosophic pill.A television or radio audience is not a captive one, like a classroom of schoolboys. You cannot educate them unless, at the same time, you entertain them.
This is certainly true of the sort of programme that has lately come to be covered by that much overworked, and frequently wrongly applied, term satire. The object of satire must be to reform. If it has not that object, there can be no excuse for using such a cruel weapon. It can reform in one of two ways: preferrably, by laughing at a particular practice or affectation it can persuade the person satirised to mend his way; but if that fails, it can dissuade people, who would otherwise be so, from being under the influence of that person. But satire must be fair, and it must be funny. If it is not fair, it will not be funny. Even if it is fair, if it is not funny it is not satire; it is just plain rudeness. The unkinder you are, the funnier you must be to get away with it. Satire without wit has the opposite effect to that which is intended. Far from reforming, it makes a person satirised more determined to carry on in his ways, and rallies those under his influence to his support.
In its early days, "That Was the Week That Was" was often a joy to listen to—sometimes even for its victims. Towards the end, the B.B.C. programmes on Saturday nights reached a very low ebb indeed. Much of the material, far from being funny, was just gratuitously rude. A member of the cast had only to mention the name of a member of the Royal Family, an eminent politician or someone else in the public eye, for the studio audience, dredged from God knows where, to titter appreciatively, much in the same way that a fourth rate comedian can raise a snigger by casually dropping a four-letter word. Thank goodness that phase is past!
As with satire, which is one form of education, so with other forms, they must 416 rely on their entertainment value. By education I do not mean the University of the Air, referred to by my noble friend, Lord Bessborough; nor even classical music compared to "pop"; good theatre compared to slap-stick; or "Panorama" compared to "Coronation Street", but to the effects of good broadcasting rather than bad. The paternalistic approach to broadcasting, the attitude that the listening public must have what is good for them rather than what they want, has this very real danger: it could lead to the reaction of the audience not being taken into account when assessing whether a programme is a good one or not. Professional critics may give it a very good write up, but a programme is not put on for the benefit of the critics; it is put on for the benefit of the public, and if it does not get through to the public, it has failed. If for instance a radio or television play is not appreciated by its audience, the fault lies not with the audience but with the producer, the director or the actors, or simply with the fact that it is a bad play.
In the same way that education must rely on entertainment, the converse is also true. Entertainment will be improved by a certain amount of education. "The Archers", for instance, which, rightly, has a very great following on the wireless, does a great deal in telling people who live in towns what goes on in the country. If the authors did not go to so much trouble to make sure that they were meticulously correct in every detail, it would not be nearly such a good programme. A man who has had a hard day's work behind him may prefer to watch a Western on television. rather than a play by Ibsen or Chekov, but he does not want to watch a bad Western; he wants one which is well produced, well directed and well acted. After that he may well switch over to something more serious. If the philosophy behind broadcasting is not, "Give the public what is good for them rather than what they want", but "Give them a choice, and make sure everything is good", education and entertainment will both be achieved.
§ LORD PILKINGTON
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him one question on local sound broadcasting? I was not clear whether it is the intention to have two local 417 sound broadcasting channels for each locality, or whether you are going to have only one available for each listener.
§ LORD DENHAM
My Lords, this is a slightly difficult question, in that, as the noble Lord knows well, there are only a certain number of wavelengths available. Unfortunately, we do not yet know at what time the Prime Minister may go to the country. We do not yet know how many of the wavelengths may be allotted before the General Election to other B.B.C. local radio stations. Therefore, we do not know what will be available. It will, I am afraid, be a question of waiting to see what is available, and then making up one's mind.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
My Lords, I should like to apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for arriving inadvertently late for his debate, but I was unable to avoid that lapse. I am going to speak about commercial television: I hope that I shall not annoy some of my noble friends on these Benches, but I am afraid I may do so. The particular aspect I am going to talk about is the trusteeship of the Independent Television Authority; that is to say, as I see it, the trusteeship of the Authortiy to keep a watchful eye on the standard of programmes of the companies to whom they have granted a licence. Of course, my Lords, it is a monopoly licence to exploit the air channels of the country.
Before I go any further I should like to quote, very briefly, certain parts of the 1964 Television Act, which I remember so well going through this House. I should like to quote Section 1, subsection (3):The function of the Authority shall be to provide, in accordance with the provisions of this Act, and until 31st July 1976, television broadcasting services, additional to those of the British Broadcasting Corporation and of high quality…May I now turn to subsection (4) where paragraph (a) refers to the Authority's duty:to provide the television broadcasting services as a public service for disseminating information, education and entertainment;and then paragraph (b):to ensure that the programmes broadcast by the Authority in each area maintain a high general standard in all respects, and in 418 particular in respect of their content and quality, and a proper balance and a wide range in their subject-matter…".My Lords, in my opinion, and I am very sorry to have to say it, the Independent Television Authority have not carried out the conditions laid down in this Act.
Let us take, for example, the case of London Weekend Television. I take L.W.T. because they are a big company—one of the bigger companies—the company to which the I.T.A. granted the "plum" London area licence. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Byers, who described these licences as "a licence to print money"; and of course to a certain extent he is right. If we study the 80-page application of the London Weekend Television Company when they were applying for this licence, we find some very attractive bait in this application. No doubt it was the bait that enabled them to get the licence. I have read through the application, and I should like to quote just one very short paragraph, on page 29 or this application. It says:The first principle of the group's programme philosophy is therefore a respect for the creative talents of those who within sound and decent commercial disciplines will conceive and make the programmes.In their application, the applicants, L.W.T., held out various programmes that they were going to produce through their current affairs, public affairs, department. They were going to have a new Sunday programme, to be called "Seven Days", devoted to "making the news make sense". And there was to be another regular current affairs programme, "What Went Wrong?" One might have asked what has gone wrong, but that is nothing to do with that programme, of course. This programme, "What Went Wrong?" was to be of an educational and investigatory nature, illustrating, among other things, how Government works. There was also a promise of two other series, "The Need to Know" and "The History Makers".
So far as I can ascertain, none of these programmes has been produced. In fact, in the 42 weeks from last August to May inclusive, in the public affairs department of L.W.T. only nine minutes a week programming has been done. That is only 1 per cent. of the company's air time; and most of it has been after 11.30 at night. One can hardly say that the 419 company have stuck to the promises they made in their original application. I am not including "The Frost Programme" which is on for only four months and is produced by a separate unit, quite apart from the public affairs unit. I think "The Frost Programme" accounted for 18 hours of the whole year—that is 18 hours out of the four months but in actual fact it is out of a whole year.
We have all read in the papers—at any rate, I have read it—that the public affairs department of L.W.T. have now all been disbanded. There are, I think, two staff who have been kept on in a rather minor capacity. What I wish to know is this. Why do I.T.A. not make the company (this does not apply only to L.W.T., but I think it applies probably more to L.W.T. than to the other companies) adhere to their promises and obligations? We have the astounding statement in the Sunday Times of May 4 from Mr. Preston, the Press Officer of L.W.T., in which he said:Regardless of what a company says in its application, once it is in operation the company has no obligation whatsoever to make a single programme. We could in theory buy all our programmes from other companies and do nothing ourselves. This the I.T.A. later confirmed.If the I.T.A. confirmed that, I think it is really disgraceful that the I.T.A. are not acting according to the Act and for the reasons for which Parliament set them up. I have always believed that if one makes undertakings one should carry them out.
Of course we have excuses. I heard my noble friend Lord Bessborough say—and certainly he had a point here—that the taxation on the levy basis is extremely severe on the commercial broadcasting companies, and there may be some slight excuse for their having the most paying programmes, like old films and light entertainment. But the people I am "gunning for" are the I.T.A., for not doing their duty. Why will they not use their "teeth"? They have "teeth" under the Act. I have quite a long nose. It really does not smell too good to me.
I understand that one of the excuses of I.T.A. for not interfering is that they say, "Ah! It is an internal company 420 matter. We would not presume to interfere". But that is nonsense; it is pious nonsense. It is no doubt sweet music, very sweet, to the ears of the Philistines, but I consider it nonsense, and rather disgraceful nonsense. L.W.T. are in the news at the moment, so I have singled them out; but there are other companies that I do not think are all in the clear. Perhaps Harlech Television ought to pull its socks up as regards programmes. if we take Anglia and Southern Television, they are small companies. Southern and Anglia Television have done excellent work, but they are in a very difficult position because their programme is controlled by "The Three Musketeers"—that is to say, the three Grade brothers. They practically control the programming of the other commercial companies so I do not blame Anglia Television or Southern Television. There may be others, too.
I repeat that I am not at all happy regarding the situation because there is no doubt that under the Charter by which the I.T.A. were set up by Parliament they are bound to keep a watchful eye on the quality and the content of commerical T.V. If they do not do that, I personally consider that a deception has been practised on the public—indeed one could also say on Parliament. I suppose the I.T.A. can say that if a company has not adhered to its promises, then after their seven years are up they will not have their licence renewed. But in that time people can make a vast fortune.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
My Lords, my noble friend says that it cannot be done with the present level of taxation. I have referred to the question of taxation and I agree that the levy system is unfair. It would be far better if the companies were taxed on profits. I am sorry to have to say this, because it is rather against my own side. I am all for free enterprise and I am in favour of commercial broadcasting, provided it adheres to certain standards, but I am afraid that the I.T.A. have not made commercial broadcasting adhere to those standards in every case. I wish to add only one thing and then I will sit down, greatly to the relief of my own Party, I am sure. All I am asking is 421 that the Government—I do not know how, but somehow—should make the I.T.A. carry out the responsibilities put upon them by Parliament.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ LORD RITCHIE-CALDER
My Lords, just before I came to your Lordships' House I received the following, which is a description of something that is called, "Intelligence signal sending device". It is described in these terms: "This is a system of sending and receiving of morse code through miniature radio transmitters and receivers incorporated in the bridge work or individual teeth." We have reached the stage to-day where this is not a joke. This is not, "The Man from Uncle"; this is true. One can in fact produce a miniaturised transistor set which can be incorporated in either dentures or teeth. I may say that many people may he in asylums today who never knew this. The fact is that over the years we have had people who have said, quite properly judging by what has happened to-day, that they have been listening to programmes on the air. They might have been right, because in point of fact we know now from the nature of solid state physics and the whole development involved in transistors, that a filling in a tooth will give one the reception of a transmission. That is a statement of fact.
For the purposes of this debate I want to declare an interest on three grounds. First, that as a member of the British delegation to UNESCO I am interested, and indeed deeply concerned, with a point that was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Byers, in his introductory speech with regard to direct satellite broadcasting. I am also very deeply concerned as the President of the Mental Health Film Council with the problem of televised violence. Thirdly, I am extremely interested, as a member of the Planning Committee of the Open University, in the questions which were raised by the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough.
Dealing with the first point, I regard the direct broadcasting satellite as one of the most serious problems of our age. I say that quite advisedly, because I have recently been in Canada, talking to the Canadian Association of Broadcasters—who, incidentally. are the independent broadcasters of Canada and not the 422 C.B.C., which corresponds to the B.B.C. They are, and indeed everyone in Canada must be, deeply concerned about the possibilities of direct broadcasting satellites. A direct broadcasting satellite is not the Telstar, it is not Early Bird, it is not the things which bring us broadcasts by reflection—the kind of thing which has to be picked up by a radio transmitter in this country and rebroadcast at the discretion of the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, or any other responsible body. It can go straight into the home. It is a take-over bid. In UNESCO the general conference was deeply concerned about this, because it means that over any area of the world if you once get a direct broadcasting satellite into position you are able, not just political-wise but culture-wise to dominate an entire region.
This arose because in UNESCO we have agreed, as we should agree, that UNESCO is involved in the proposal for a reflector satellite over India, by which we would be able to increase the capacity of distribution of educational programmes, development programmes, even family planning programmes, over a very large area. But this is at the discretion of the Indians. The local people can pick this up and they can redistribute it. Let us assume—and this is very important—that it is a direct broadcasting satellite. Any country, any Power, anyone with the facilities and the capacity to do it, could put over India, Latin America or Britain, and most of all in relevance to Canada, over Canada, a direct transmitter which would beam directly into people's homes, and the national and cultural considerations would all disappear. This is important because, as your Lordships will realise, the spillover of American culture directly into Canada is now making it almost impossible for the Canadians to decide what in fact is in their own cultural interest.
At this moment the only thing that is saving Canada, in an ironical way, is the fact that they have two languages. If indeed the Quebec French-speaking Canadians did not exist the spillover would be complete. All created Canadian production would disappear, because nine out of eleven transmissions are beamed from the United States, television-wise, into Canada. Assume that you have a direct broadcasting transmitter. You are 423 in a position then to take over the culture of whole vast areas in the world, with no protection, unless you go round and do a Gestapo search of every receiver. This is a question which concerns us not only as British people but as people concerned about the future of cultures in the world. Away back in 1946 the leader of the British delegation to UNESCO said:The white light of universal enlightenment includes in its spectrum the colours of all the cultures of the world.My Lords, if that is not true then we are going to settle completely for a sodium street-lamp culture, a monochrome culture in which every hue and everything else will disappear; and nothing is more horrible by any conception than this idea.
This direct broadcasting transmission may have many advantages in terms or national broadcasting—indeed, Canada is thinking of a direct broadcasting transmitter. And this, remember, is a transmitter in the sky. The idea has enormous advantages, but unless we prevent this from becoming universalised, unless we prevent the take-over hid, we shall be doing a great disservice not only to our own concern about our own culture but to our concern, I hope, with other cultures as well. We have in a sense to establish now not a national standard but international standards of what can or cannot be done by direct broadcasting. It is no good once the transmitter is in the sky; once it is in space, that is the end. It is exactly the situation which occurred in the 'thirties, when we failed to secure international conventions on short-wave broadcasting—and, indeed, enabled people like myself, as Director of Political Warfare to pervert this into propaganda during the war. This is something we have to consider.
The second matter that I want to emphasise is the question of violence. Again, this is not just a question of what we feel as fathers of families or mothers of families, or indeed as British people. This is a total question; a question of how far the dissemination of violence throughout the world is now becoming epidemic. This is not a reproach against any particular programme, and it is not a reproach against people who in fact encourage, by drama or otherwise, the 424 scenes of violence. This is something different. This is now a question of how in this year, 1969, we have instantaneous violence which we cannot escape. This is one of the contradictions on which I want to put before your Lordships as a very serious dilemma.
I happen to believe that in this pushbutton war, or whatever is happening, in Vietnam or elsewhere, where some remote V-bomber presses a button and that is that, where people are able now by remote control to destroy people half a world away by inter-continental ballistic missiles, we should be aware, and continuously aware, of the receiving end of violence. Therefore the job of television is to show us the truth. This is a world of violence, and we are entitled to say that the mass media should reflect the world of violence.
At this point we have a very serious dilemma. in the process of disclosing what in fact we should be continuously reminded of—that is, the effect of what we tolerate, almost to the point of disinterest, in terms of violence—if we cannot be reminded of what we are doing we shall not make judgment about what we are doing. The dilemma arises from the fact that in doing this we are exposing hundreds of millions of people to instant reproduction; that is to say, live broadcasting, with pictures of Bobby Kennedy actually being shot, or of happenings which people would go a mile to avoid seeing, and exposing them, without any warning, to something which is a traumatic experience. This is the price we pay for instant transmission.
I say this advisedly, my Lords, because when we were editing film of what was happening in the Congo somebody could appear and say "Don't let the children see this" or, "Don't let your wife see this". We could prepare people. To-day we have no warning. This is a problem to which we have no answers. I have no answers. I cannot make a judgment. I do not even know how to measure what people think. I am desperately afraid that what this situation is doing is producing an anæsthesia to violence: we are beginning to tolerate and accept it, and at the same time we cannot escape it. All I say, in my official capacity as President of the Mental Health Film Council, is that for any support anyone 425 can give to an international inquiry, through the World Health Organisation, to ascertain what is the total result of this situation I shall be very grateful.
The third point is the one on which I want to answer the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough. I refer to the Open University. This is the first opportunity we have had of raising this subject. The Open University is not something your Lordships can ignore or decry; it is in fact the sublimation of what we are talking about to-day; it is using the media in the way in which they ultimately should be used. I will not go into details. I have been involved in the project since October, 1967, as a member of the planning committee. I will say this. If you in fact realise what the Open University means, then you realise that all our anxieties are ultimately resolved if we use this kind of medium in the way we propose to use it.
It is quite true, as the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough said, that in America we had the trial runs which were quite unsatisfactory. I do not know whether the noble Earl has got up at 5.30 in the morning to listen to a talking face describing what he would have been describing anyway in his laboratory. In point of fact, there is a "drop-out"; it is a bad teaching "drop-out", and has nothing whatever to do with the case. And, anyway, the Open University is not radio and it is not television; it is an amalgam of both, with a recognition, which is important, that in this teaching medium the "steam radio" we have been talking about is in fact in many ways more important than television itself.
We are not bewildered or deceived by the speciousness or the attractiveness of the particular medium. We have got down to a very thorough analysis and presentation of how the modern medium can be used. We shall be using radio, we shall be using television, in a way they have not been used before in education, except in closed circuit; that is, to give the people of this country who have not had advanced education the experience of actually going out with an experimenter into his own experience. We have never before been able to share, as we are now totally sharing with the astronauts, the possibility of seeing the world from outside, or the molecule. This is something that can be done with television
426 and radio. This is the way to use these media educationally.
We are not using television and radio exclusively, because this is not the way to do it. We are using them in combination with first-class education courses, with correspondence courses which we are running. We are using radio and television in combination with radio cassettes, which are sound textbooks. We are, or shall be, using radio and television in conjunction with E.V.R.—that is, electronic visual recording—the visual equivalent of the long-playing record. We are now, in 1969, in a position to offer a second chance to hundreds of thousands of people who have been denied a higher education. We are talking now about part-time students; about the people in work who are trying to get their education and their second chance. And we are in a position to provide this.
The noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, asked whether we are going to consider fee paying. Of course we are considering fee paying. This is a test of good intention. This is not something that we, the planning committee—and in this instance the Government—at this stage can define, because this is something that must be left, with due regard, to the general council of the University and, indeed, in regard to what is offered. Therefore, we are not in a position—no one is in a position—at this moment to say what the fees should be. We have got to make fees for entries, fees for the courses. That will be taken care of; but they will be more than repaid in the experience.
The experience in regard to the "dropout" in America is fantastic. 'The "drop-outs" are the result of a bad technique. In America, they have resulted from the failure there to do what we are going to do, by using the modern techniques of 1969 in and through the Open University. We reckon that when we take in our first entrants, in October, 1970, we shall have over 100,000 registered in that year to go through for a degree. That is the sense of commitment. You can charge them what you like at that time because they want it. I think that in fairness to the Open University we should wait and see what it produces in terms of the fulfilment of our intentions, not just as a planning committee, but as a fulfilment of the 427 intentions of higher education in this country for the hundreds of thousands —indeed, the millions—who have been deprived.
§ LORD BETHELL
My Lords, I too must say how grateful I am to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for initiating this interesting debate, at a time when the future of broadcasting is going through many fascinating changes and when many attractive, exciting vistas are opened out for broadcasting, particularly, as the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, and other noble Lords have suggested, in the field of technologe; in the possibilities which may soon become available for expanding broadcasting; for giving to broadcasting a completely new breadth and scope in our country. Important decisions are to be taken in the next few months with regard to our own domestic services. In July, the Postmaster General is expected to give his ideas about the future of local broadcasting and, shortly after that, I believe the McKinsey Study Group will also decide upon and announce recommendations about the B.B.C.'s line and where they think the B.B.C. ought to move in the future.
I should like, however, to introduce a note more of caution and of concern about the future of broadcasting. There are exciting prospects, but there are also worries, and it is a few of these that I should like to mention. The first aspect that concerns me is one that has little direct bearing on the inhabitants of this country. I refer to the external services. These are not receivable in this country. Many noble Lords may have heard them when they have been abroad, but they cannot normally be heard here and I have a feeling that they are sometimes forgotten. The fact is that these services are financed by a direct grant-in-aid from the Treasury. This has gone up but little in recent years. It has gone up about 7 per cent. in the last five years. One can imagine that this small rise has been more than offset by the rise in costs, by inflation and by things like selective employment tax, which has been increased more than once. This has made the work of the external services more difficult and has necessitated cuts.
428 I would mention three important, and I think damaging, cuts that have been made. There has been the abolition of the Albanian service, to save a paltry £15,000. If this is not cheeseparing, I do not know what is. Then there has been the abolition of the Hebrew service and the reduction in the Arabic service. But, more important I would suggest, is the failure to extend our external services to countries where censorship is strict and where the population rely largely on the B.B.C., on its reputation for credibility, to provide them with reliable news which they know to be true.
During the invasion of Czechoslovakia it is the fact that the underground radio station, which played such a noble and heroic role in those days, based their news bulletins on the B.B.C.'s external services. I know that we did what we could to provide them with an improvement in the service. At that time we were broadcasting for 17 hours a week to Czechoslovakia. We were able to "up" this by about three-quarters of an hour a day; and we are now, I believe, broadcasting to Czechoslovakia for 22½ hours a week, about three hours a day. It is difficult to justify such a small output in broadcasting to this important country which is going through such a difficult phase.
Likewise, I should like to mention Greece, which in April, 1967, went through an appalling trauma, when a Government took power and imposed a most severe censorship which still holds good and where true news is almost unobtainable. At the beginning of April, 1967, we were broadcasting for 8 hours a week to Greece, and we are now broadcasting for 9½ hours a week. I recently spoke to some people who had quite shortly before come from that country. They told me that the broadcasts from the B.B.C. are listened to avidly by all educated Greeks and by an enormous proportion of the population. Because of pressure on transmitters, the broadcasts often take place at the most extraordinary hours. There might be a quarter of an hour period, for example, at 4 o'clock in the morning, then a half an hour period at 7 o'clock in the morning. It is difficult to work out a scheme of broadcasts which does not cause inconvenience to the listener. Nevertheless, the Greeks go to great pains to listen to the B.B.C. broadcasts, and they rely On 429 them more, I would suggest, than most people in this country realise.
I should like now to mention the Russian service, which is of particular importance, if only for the fact that the Soviet Union is a super-Power. It is also a country where censorship is most strict. I have not met a single educated Russian who is not a regular listener to the B.B.C., and I have met many hundreds of them. I am not exaggerating when I say that in Russia the B.B.C. has the position of The Times in this country. More than once I have heard a Russian say, in conversation about something he had heard, some item of news: "I heard it on the B.B.C., so it must be true" The B.B.C. has a reputation for credibility which has no parallel anywhere in the broadcasting world.
I remember a few months ago explaining to a group of Russians how the B.B.C. Russian section works. I told them that it is run with a staff of 18. They did not believe me. I said that it had a budget for freelance contributors. I do not know the exact figure, because it is not available; but I am told that it is something in the region of £100 a week—this to a listenership put, at a conservative estimate, at 20 million. It is very difficult for the Russian section of the B.B.C. to recruit broadcasters because of competition from emigré stations, mostly in Germany—the Voice of America and Radio Liberty—which are committed to a militant anti-Communist line and which can afford very high salaries and recruit Soviet citizens, recently out of Russia and who therefore have a lot to contribute. The B.B.C. gets such contributors, such staff, purely on the basis of its reputation, and it misses many very good men because of its lack of money.
This unique credibility which the B.B.C. possesses dates hack to the war years in Europe, when the countries under Nazi occupation relied very much on B.B.C. broadcasts to tell them what was happening. Happily, this credibility is unchanged; but the quantity and versatility of the programmes have been reduced purely through rising costs, lack of money and, I feel, a miserly attitude on the part of the Treasury. In 1950 we held the leading position in overseas broadcasts. Since then our output has been static, but other important coun 430 tries have increased their broadcasts immensely, correctly believing that this is a unique way of presenting a case. We are now fifth in our output of broadcasts, coming after the United States, the Soviet Union, China and West Germany, and we are being rivalled in output by such countries as Egypt, Albania, and North Korea.
To speak on more general aspects of our country's broadcasting, I should like to express my concern about the decisions which I believe may be taken in future months in Broadcasting House about the future of our domestic radio services. Our country's broadcasting is like a sprinter ready to leap forward or the lines suggested by many noble Lords during this debate, but weighed down by the leaden problem of finance. I have connections in the B.B.C., more with the programme staff than with the administration, and I can assure your Lordships that morale among the people who actually produce programmes is not high. The study group has had to operate and deliberate in the shadow of the Sword of Damocles. They would like to reorganise and improve, but they are so cramped by their financial straitjacket that they are being forced to curb their best ideas and their most imaginative projects.
Rumours are flying about. We heard that there will be an overall reduction in radio broadcasting that the Third Programme is to be abolished or absorbed into Radio 4; that Radios 1 and 2 are to be given over entirely to recorded "pop" music so that broadcasting in future will be worked out on the basis of some formula concerned with the cost per minute per listener. The feeling is growing among broadcasters that in times like these, when the aim of life is supposed to be increased productivity, efficiency and economy, this rule should be applied to the product of broadcasting; and the fear is that the minority interest programmes will be the ones to suffer and that the basic output will be tailored to a middlebrow, middle-of-the-road, Mr. Average image, which probably does not even exist.
These are my points of concern, and I hope that the noble Lord in his summing-up will be able to give me some reassurance. 'Noble Lords have said correctly during this debate that we have the best broadcasting system in the world, 431 but there is the danger of its deterioration through lack of financial support. I would make one or two suggestions about how this might be looked into. The question of licence evasion was tackled and the position was certainly improved. but I am told that there are still estimated to be 1½ million evaders who are costing the B.B.C. about £6 million or 7 million. I feel that the Government should try to think of new ways of financing broadcasting. There is the possibility of a system which I believe is used in Canada, where the manufacturers of sets contribute to the cost of the programmes their sets put out. I submit that this is only just, since if there is no broadcasting the receiving set is useless. The manufacturer of a set is therefore capitalising on the output of the B.B.C. and the independent companies.
Another plea I would make is that some way should be found to make colour sets cheaper. I feel that there was a bit of rather dubious planning in the whole colour enterprise. The B.B.C. was given the go-ahead to develop colour, which it did, and those of us who have seen colour television recently will, I am sure. agree that our colour system is very good and pure, and in certain programmes it provides a wonderful service. But is this much good when a colour television set costs £250 and very few people can afford a set? This situation will be remedied only when the masses of the people are able to buy sets and when those sets can be mass produced. That is the situation in the United States where colour sets are a good deal cheaper. But we find ourselves in a vicious circle where people will not buy colour sets and therefore they cannot be produced more cheaply.
I wonder whether the Government would consider relaxing the restrictions on the hire purchase and the hire of colour sets. It is now the rule that one cannot buy on hire purchase or hire a set without putting down a deposit of something like £80, which, of course, is the cost of a black-and-white set. The effect of this rule is that it sticks in a purchaser's throat to pay as a deposit the same amount of money that he would pay outright for a black-and-white set. If it were possible to get the colour set in the home for a more reasonable deposit, I feel sure that this barrier would be 432 breached. Perhaps the Government will consider whether this can be done.
The main plea I make in my speech is that the external services should be financed up to a level commensurate with their importance to our country. The noble Lord, Lord Byers, at the end of his speech quoted from an article in the Christian Science Monitor. I recently came across an article written by the London correspondent of that paper on April 15, in which he said that the B.B.C. broadcasts are… the most potent. continuous source of British influence in the world today.I have a feeling that this idea may strike many noble Lords as strange, but it does not strike me as strange, and I hope that many people will ponder it. The same journalist went on to say:All the world knows this except the British themselves.That, of course, proves my point.
§ 8.9 p m
§ LORD WILLIS
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for putting down this Motion and giving us an opportunity to discuss it. May I say how much I endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, has just said about radio? I can confirm from my own experience that there is considerable uncertainty, doubt and even fear among many people in radio about their future. It is time it was settled and that they understood that the radio services of this country were going to continue, and on what basis they were going to continue. I think it is unfair that there should be this continuing uncertainty.
I should also very strongly like to endorse what the noble Lord said about the Overseas Service of the B.B.C., which really lives at the bottom of the barrel, unhonoured and unsung, but which does a tremendous job. They are the last people to be thought of, because no one in this country hears of them. They do not win votes, they do not win popularity, they do not really bring very much credit in a direct sense. But they bring enormous world credit, and it is time that we stopped these stupid economies in regard to the Overseas Service, and gave them more money to get on with what is, in many ways, a much more fundamental job than that which is being done by many other sections of the B.B.C.
433 I want to speak mainly to-day about independent television, and some of the problems that I see opening up in the next few years for independent television itself. We all know that when it was first introduced into this country 15 or 16 years ago, it was met with great hostility by certain sections of Parliament and the public. There is a streak of perverse and narrow-minded Puritanism in the British people, which was very much in evidence in the attitude towards I.T.V., and in some circumstances it is still very much in evidence. There was a feeling that to introduce advertising on television would corrupt and deprave and lower the moral standards of the British nation. In the event, as we know, Parliament was able to work out a sensible working method for I.T.V. We avoided the worst mistakes of American television, where sponsorship has reduced television to what has become known as the "videot box", and the fears of our Puritans have not really been realised. I.T.V., after a rather indifferent and muddled beginning, which was natural, has grown in stature and has achieved what I think we would all agree is a very high consistent level of quality.
One of the chief horrors which was held up to frighten us off commercial television was that it would play to the lowest common denominator in the audience and debase public taste. In fact, I.T.V. now produces—in proportion to the total output—as many serious and good programmes as the B.B.C. Last week, just to take one week at random, there were two tremendously effective documentary programmes on commercial television; and on Monday evening of this week there was a play which would not have disgraced a distinguished theatre in the West End. A measure of the quality of I.T.V. programmes is shown in the fact that they are now sold all over the world, and are in great demand. As a side benefit, we ought to remember, as the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, said, that some companies have made a very significant contribution to the export drive, earning millions of pounds in dollars and other foreign exchange.
Before moving on, I should like at this stage to pay a tribute to a man who may be leaving I.T.V. within the next year, a man who to some extent was 434 its early architect, who has been with it since the beginning, and who has been a very wise and statesmanlike leader under various Chairmen—Sir Robert Fraser.
§ LORD WILLIS
He has done a very distinguished job in very difficult circumstances, and I think that the British people and Parliament owe him a great debt of gratitude for what he has done. So I think we can draw the conclusion that I.T.V. has made mistakes but on the whole, has worked well. That is not to say that it could not work better.
I do not want to speak too much about the programmes, but about what I feel are certain weaknesses in the actual structure of the I.T.A. and its associated companies. At the beginning, I.T.V. was established on a regional basis. There have been minor changes, but this concept remains. It is a worthy idea, but in my view it has remained more or less an idea. Regionalism is not really very much in evidence with regard to the I.T.V. companies. The geographic dispersal of the various companies is not—with odd exceptions—reflected in the programmes we see. You would have to look a very long time at Thames Television to realise that this is particularl a London company; and Noll would have to look a very long tine at many of the other programmes that are put out to realise that they are in fact based on a particular region.
It was quite obvious at the very beginning that the individual companies could not undertake all the production required to fill the time in their areas. They had to get together and form the national I.T.V. network where, by a kind of shopping between each of the companies, programmes are exchanged and we have, in fact, a national service. But inevitably that network has come to be dominated by four or five major companies, and that remains true to-day. Five big companies command the network to-day and can call the tune. The medium-sized companies rarely get a lock in; they try to, but they rarely succeed in doing so. The smaller companies are little more than relay stations for the network. They put out local news and magazine programmes, cheaply produced, and occasionally the odd quiz or sports programme, but by and large they take 435 what is given to them by the Big Five, or purchase and put on cheap repeats.
We can see now that this was inevitable. The smaller companies do not have the audience and, therefore, do not get the revenue or resources to compete. I think that the next review of independent television should face up candidly and boldly to this fact. There is no real reason for the existence of the small satellite companies. Their independence is a myth, and their contribution is negligible. Also, the present arrangement creates bad feeling in the medium-sized companies, who feel that their throats are being cut by the Big Five, and that they cannot get time on the network.
It would be better, in my view, to create a new national structure and to divide the country into eight or nine big companies, all of them with guaranteed access to the network, supervised by the Independent Television Authority. I think that this alone will give us some guarantee of more regionalism. This is more than just a simple reorganisation. It would mean that I.T.V., instead of having only five major sources for programmes, would have more. It would force more ideas into the network; it would help to Five greater opportunities to more people; and it would end what, after all, is a fairly narrow domination.
The other point for which I should like to plead in any reorganisation or review of I.T.V. is that of longer contracts. At the moment, contracts are issued for six years to various I.T.V. companies. This may be all right from the Government's point of view, and it gives us an opportunity to debate the matter every six years. But have your Lordships any idea of the terrible uncertainty that this gives to the staff, the creative people in television, who have to make the programmes? By the time a company has been on the air for a year or so, in the first honeymoon of its contract, it is already beginning to think, "We may lose it in a few years' time". And what do they do? Some of them try to improve their programmes and put up a worthy image, in the hope that they are going to have their contract renewed. But others, as we well know, took millions of pounds out of television and diversified into other forms of business, instead of improving the quality of the medium and of their programmes, as a hedge 436 against what might happen when their licence came up for renewal. Therefore, in the interests of the staff and the creative people who really make the programmes, I think we ought to consider abolishing this kind of six-year interval and go in for something like ten years with greater guarantees for the companies.
At the same time, I also think that the I.T.A. might look more closely at the nature of the companies which make the applications. In tie past, the need for some kind of regional character has led to some pretty cynical window-dressing. We have had boards stuffed and groaning with local big-wigs who know nothing about T.V., have no real interest in it, but who have been recruited quite deliberately by the companies and consortiums to give a veneer of truth to the claim of regionalism. But as soon as the companies have their contracts these people are put on the main board, and an executive board moves in and does the real work. We have far too many passengers of this kind in television, and the I.T.A. should not encourage it. They should not allow themselves to be bedazzled by consortiums which boast the support of world-famous film stars and others, people who have neither the time nor the inclination, nor the interest, to do anything substantial or worthwhile for British television. We had examples of that in the last reshuffle, and we ought to be warned for the future. The important thing, my Lords, surely is to insist that the Boards be better balanced; that there may be some laymen on these Boards and some people from the regions; but that the people who run T.V. and make the programmes should also have proper representation.
While we are at it, may I beg the Government to consider that both the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. should make room on their Boards of Governors for one or two professionals? It seems to me quite extraordinary that when consideration is given to appointing a Governor for the B.B.C. or a Governor on the I.T.A., almost the last person who is thought of is somebody in television who knows something about the business. 'This is "an extraordinary way to run a railway". I am all for the cool and unbiased advice of laymen, and I understand why they are necessary on these, Boards, but I cannot 437 understand why the professionals are so wholly excluded.
My Lords, I should like now to turn to the question of the levy which the Government have imposed on the advertising revenue of the I.T.V. companies. There was, perhaps, some justification for the earlier levy, in view of the large profits which were then being made, but think it is wrong in principle to tax on income and not on profits; and the most recent addition of a further £3 million is a body-blow which can have disastrous long-term consequences to I.T.V.—and I mean disastrous. We are all floating around in the euphoric atmosphere which was created by that sad and unfortunate remark by Lord Thomson of Fleet some years ago, in which he indicated that to get a licence to run I.T.V. was to get a licence to print money. My Lords, it is time that that was buried. It is not true any longer. The fact is that I.T.V. is now reaching a reasonable and normal profit level in comparison with other forms of industry, when it is borne in mind that it is a risk industry, where one can spend £750,000 on a television film series and lose every penny—because there is not a showman in the world who can make a television programme or a television series or film and guarantee that it will "go", whereas with his commodity a sausage-maker can. So in a risk industry one is entitled to have some compensation for the great margin of losses that one may make. Therefore, let us end, once and for all, this talk about a licence to print money, and let us look at it from a new point of view, the realistic point of view of to-day.
I find this new imposition of £3 million, and in particular the timing, incredible. The Government are now asking the companies to invest millions of pounds in equipment which will be necessary to put out the new colour programmes, and at this particular moment they hit them with this. If I was right when I spoke at the beginning about the Puritan conscience of the nation attacking the idea of commercial television, let me say now that that Puritan conscience has exacted a terrible revenge on I.T.V. and is tearing it to pieces with a kind of Freudian savagery. I can tell your Lordships what the effect of this latest £3 million swingeing cut is going to be. There 438 will be a cutback in the costs of production, with a consequent loss of quality. As somebody working inside television, I saw it happen the last time such a levy was imposed. It was not the shareholders who suffered: it was the directors, it was the writers, it was the actors, and in the ultimate it was the viewers—and it will happen again.
Secondly, there will be more and more repeats of old programmes. Thirdly, I.T.V. will be penalised in relation to the B.B.C. At the very beginning of I.T.V. the consideration in the mind of the Government—and it was accepted by all sides—was that I.T.V. would develop in parallel with the B.B.C. That is no longer happening, and it will not happen, because I.T.A. will not have the resources to keep pace with the B.B.C. in the development of colour. Let me give your Lordships one simple example. Quite apart from the levy, each year the Government exact from the I.T.A., the main Board, some of what they are pleased to call its surplus revenue. At least two or three years ago I.T.A. told the Government that if it was to develop all the transmitters that it needed for colour, and all the resources, it would need £12 million to keep pace with the B.E.C., and that it was keeping that £12 million. My Lords, the Exchequer has taken money year by year from I.T.A., so hat at the moment I.T.A. are faced with a situation where they have only £6 million with which to try to compete—and I tell your Lordships, they cannot de it.
The result will be that the B.B.C. will forge ahead in colour, and will have all the political advantage of so doing. It will cat into the audience, which means a further decline in I.T.V. revenue; and I.T.V. will be endeavouring to catch up. If that is intended, well and good: let the Government tell us that it is intended. But the fact is that we shall have a situation next year and the year after in which I.T.V. will be in very considerable difficulty—and I should like to tell the Government that now. A few years ago, when the profits were growing so rapidly, the audience was also growing rapidly. The audience throughout the country had still not been covered. But now there is no possibility, or very little, of an increase in audience. It might be increased by 1 per cent. which would 439 have no perceptible effect on the revenue. Therefore, what is happening in effect is that I.T.V. now has to run in order to stand still; and that is a rather serious situation. Because we are here supposed to be running a company in the interests of the nation and in the interests of the viewers, and we have as much responsibility to I.T.V., whatever we may think of the advertisements, as we have to the B.B.C.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend, but he used the word "we", though I imagine not quite in the sense that the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, used it when he said. "We are running a company". I am not sure whether my noble friend is talking about a particular contractor or "across the board"; and I am also rather interested to know what the actual figures behind his statements are—what he regards as the level below which the profits are falling, which makes it impossible to do the necessary development work.
§ LORD WILLIS
My Lords, the figures that I gave about the amount of capital that was needed referred directly to I.T.A., and I was generally speaking "across the board". They need £12 million to develop: they have £6 million. The rest has been taken by the Exchequer. So far as the profitability of companies is concerned, it is estimated that the profitability will fall to a return of about 8 per cent. next year and the Year after, which, in commercial terms, in a risk business like the entertainment business and television, is a very low return. Therefore you will not have people willing to put money in: you will have people wanting to pull their money out. That is rather a serious situation, and I think the Government should be aware that if they continue to milk commercial television as they are doing at the moment, it can have very serious consequences on the livelihood of a large number of people employed in the business, which is what I am primarily concerned with, and also a great effect on the quality of the programmes that are being put out.
I would suggest that the Government should consider urgently two steps. First, they should consider a variation in the levy in the following way: they should 440 agree with each of the companies, through the I.T.A., on a certain level of production costs, and the levy should not operate until those production costs had been paid, so that in fact the quality of programmes did not suffer. The levy, it may be, could operate after. Otherwise, with this new, additional levy, programme costs will be cut back and we shall suffer. I think that what I have suggested would be a way of putting quality back on to the screens.
My Lords, I should like to say just one quick word about commercial radio. Here again, I am afraid, the same Puritan attitude exists, and it is to some extent fostered, I am afraid, by the B.B.C., who of course have a vested interest in retaining their monopoly of sound radio. There is no evidence that, properly controlled, commercial radio would be a threat to the community. Of course we must insist on adequate safeguards. We do not want stations which provide only audible wallpaper. We want stations which will be civic stations, which will play a role in neighbourhood situations. But advertising can and ought to be used to develop and pay for stations of this kind; and if we have the same controls on these commercial radio stations as we have at present on commercial television stations there is no reason why local commercial radio stations could not play a vital part in the life of the local communities, without the necessity of putting a penny on rates or a penny on national taxes.
We have heard a great deal about the problems of local newspapers. Admittedly, some of them might be in difficulties with the development of commercial radio, but I think that a solution could be found. For the rest, there are some newspapers, local newspapers, which enjoy a monopoly situation and are "doing very nicely, thank you"; and it would not hurt if they had a little competition on their doorstep from commercial radio. We ought to bear that in mind, too. By and large. I believe that commercial radio would, if properly controlled, provide an adequate competition to the B.B.C. and be rather important in stimulating the B.B.C. to take a greater interest in the development of sound.
The final comment that I want to make—and a number of noble Lords referred 441 to it—is on the subject of violence. I want to say, as somebody who has written and been involved in television and films for many years, that I am concerned very much more than I was a few years ago about the influence of television on our national life in relation to violence. It is not the individual acts of violence as shown but the cumulative effects of the continued showing of such violent acts—the sort of thing to which my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder referred. I am a little tired of people saying that more research is needed; that we do not know how it operates, and so on. We have been talking about research into this ever since television was introduced: and every time that we have a debate of this kind someone says that we need more research.
I can tell your Lordships without any research one thing that I am absolutely positive about—and I agree with my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder on this. We are creating a climate in which violence may become a norm of human behaviour: where children accept it, not as something exceptional but as part of everyday life. I believe that to be true, and I do not think that you need any learned body of researchers to work that out. It is not part of everyday life for one man to "put the boot" into another, for two men to beat each other to pulp, for men and women to use the karate chop on each other. That does not happen every day. But when this is seen day after day and night after night and above all—and this is the important point—when it is seen to be done by the hero, the hero-figure that the viewer is supposed to admire, then I think it becomes dangerous.
§ LORD BYERS
My Lords, the noble Lord is giving the impression that he is against any further research on this matter. I hope that this is not the impression he means to give. I am with him on the rest.
§ LORD WILLIS
My Lords, I apologise; I did not mean to give that impression. We need further research; but I think that even before that research happens we ought to recognise that we are running into a dangerous situation. I am not talking in particular about such programmes as the one called "Big Breadwinner Hog with its particular violence which was shown on our net 442 work the other day; that was, is my view, an act of criminal irresponsibility and t cannot understand why it was not stopped earlier. I am not talking about that, but the continued idea you see in programme after programme that it is quite a reasonable thing to knock a man out, to "put the boot in" or to beat him up.
We are creating an atmosphere in which, when serious social problems arise—it is all right when the community is peaceful and there are no serious social problems—violence is then seen, because you are conditioned to it, as an acceptable way of solving those problems.
We ought to look in this connection at the lessons of America. For twenty years in America. television has fed its people on a diet of pap. trivia and violence on an ascending scale. It may be, I believe it is, that the social problems of America have been the root cause of the terrible and violent eruptions in their society. But can American television, as an example, wash its hands and say that it has done nothing towards it, that it has no responsibility? I do not think so. At best, it has done nothing to influence people away from violence; at worst it has taught them how to use violence and it has taught them that violence is par of everyday life and that it is a manly and herioc thing to shoot, maim, punch and kick your enemy. The decent people in America—and, thank God, they are still in the vast majority—are appalled by what has happened and is happening. and there is a great move to drain: he violence out of television programmes and films.
But although we are infinitely better off than they are, we should not he smug about it. It could happen here. It could happen, if our social problems take on a more violent turn, that we shall see a new kind of violence in this country that we have not realised before. In my view we have seen the beginnings of it in the last year, the idea that you will solve problems not by talking but by "putting the boot in". I do not think the answer lies in censorship or in the creation of more watchdogs. I think it lies basically in the philosophy of the broadcasters, in the attitude of the professionals. We have to ask of them, as a Parliament and as a Government, that 443 they must take a more positive responsibility not to the ratings but to the public. They must reflect life, yes—but they must also contribute to its improvement. It is not enough to be a piece of blotting-paper, to spread yourself over life and merely take a pattern from it. You must select what you show and you must so organise what you show that you behave as a responsible corporation which is aware of the country's social problems and needs. Looked at in that light, Granada would never have produced, or even thought of producing, "Big Breadwinner Hog" with its great thuggish young hero (whom I am sure was worshipped by every young man who looked into the programme) who taught us that you get your way by the open razor and the bottle of acid.
I do not think the broadcasters or the Boards could have a better philosophy than that given by Sir Kenneth Clark at the conclusion of his marvellous series on civilisation which so many noble Lords have mentioned tonight. He said last week—it is my philosophy; and I think it ought to be printed up large in the office of every executive, every writer, every director and every producer in television—I believe that order is better than chaos, creating better than destruction. I prefer gentleness to violence. On the whole, I think that knowledge is preferable to ignorance: and I am sure that human sympathy is more valuable than ideology.
§ 8.39 p.m.
§ LORD GRIMSTON OF WESTBURY
My Lords, in adding my tribute to those already paid to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, I must confess that I had not originally intended to intervene in this debate. I shall be very brief. I was tempted to intervene when the noble Baroness, Lady Llewelyn-Davies, said that the points brought out in this debate would be useful when the future of broadcasting came to he considered. There is one point only to which I wish to draw attention: that is the future use of the fourth channel in relation to monopoly.
My mind goes back to the 1950s when I and a number of others were engaged in the struggle then taking place to break the monopoly of the B.B.C. We felt strongly at that time that this medium 444 could not be left in the hands of a State monopoly. But it was a tremendous struggle and I must confess that it took place chiefly within the Conservative Party. When the decision was at last taken to break the monopoly on television. I remember the late Walter Elliot making the comment that the Government had been pushed, kicking and squealing, into breaking the monopoly. I think that was quite a fair description of what actually happened. Anyway, my Lords, it was done. But at that time of course there were only two channels, one for the B.B.C. and one for I.T.V. The result was that on the I.T.V. side a monopoly condition was set up; the companies who got the licences virtually enjoyed a monopoly. Perhaps that had something to do with the coining of the phrase that it was "a licence to print money."
At that time many of us said that, the big log having been split, the next thing to do when a further channel became available was to break the monopoly on the commercial side. But that was not done. As a result of the Report of the Pilkington Committee the decision was taken that the extra channel then available should be devoted to B.B.C.2. Now a fourth channel has become available, and my only plea on this occasion is that when a decision comes to be taken about what is to be done with this fourth channel (I know that Lord Pilkington has already suggested that it should go to the I.T.V.) the question of dealing with the monopoly situation on the I.T.V. side should play a large part in the consideration of the future use of that channel. That, my Lords, is the only point I wish to make.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ LORD DONOVAN
My Lords, I know that it is somewhat unusual for a Law Lord to intervene in a debate of this character, but this is an opportunity which I cannot lose to protest as strongly as I can against the re-trial of criminal cases on television. I have in mind a programme dealing with the case of The Queen v. Hanratty, broadcast not so long ago. This suggested that his conviction and execution were a miscarriage of justice, and the suggestion was based largely upon the assertion of a newsvendor that he had seen Hanratty at the time in a Welsh town, which would have made it 445 impossible for him to have been at the scene of the murder when it was committed. The newsvendor in question later retracted what he had said to the B.B.C. investigator, saying, in effect, that the words had been put into his mouth.
My Lords, I recollect no sort of apology or amende being, made by the B.B.C. If one knows, as any judge does, the immense care which is taken to sift and evaluate the evidence given in any criminal case as a step in pronouncing a just verdict, it is shameful and a public disservice that a national institution like the B.B.C. should seek, on the basis of a shallow investigation of the facts, to lead the public to believe that an innocent man has been convicted and executed. It is not merely shameful but downright dishonest, when the principal witness for this implied assertion goes back on his evidence, to remain dumb about his recantation.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, first I would echo the remarks of other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Byers, upon introducing a Motion giving rise to such an interesting debate, and one that has crossed Party boundaries. We found some strange bedfellows. There were my noble friend Lord Willis and the noble Lord, Lord Grimston of Westbury, both well-known liberals in these matters, in the same Lobby; and I rather suspect that the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, and I are closer together than usual. I may say that I too get some satisfaction from that fact.
Perhaps one of the most striking aspects of this debate is that it has been one of those rare occasions when we have carried out a debate on a subject of major importance in front of the two people most concerned. They were listening and, having regard to what we had to say, no doubt suffering great frustration at not being able to give us the benefit of their advice. I should like to pay my tributes to the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, and the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, not only for their self-control on this occasion but for the unquestionably great public services they render. The noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, has been a friend of mine for many years.
I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton (he may not recall it) that I 446 was critical of his original appointment as Chairman of the I.T.A. Although I am critical of the I.T.A. and the B B.C., I must confess that at that time my judgment was wrong. I think that the B B.C., as was the I.T.A., are fortunate enough to have him as their Chairman; but on this occasion he cannot even stand up and say, "Thank you". Well, my Lords, he could do that, but I think that here I must say a word about the Addison Rules. I heard several noble Lords say, "Hear, hear!" when an expression of regret was uttered and some implication made that we were wrong; and some of them looked rather reproachfully at me, as the Leader of the House, as if I were responsible for the Addison Rules. Since I discovered, when discussing the matter recently with some of my colleagues, that they had never heard of the Addison Rules, I should like to refer them to pages 63 and 64 of the Companion where the reasons for the restraint are set out clearly.
My Lords, we have discussed this question at length in the past, and I think that it could have been difficult for the two noble Lords concerned had they taken part in this debate, especially in the light of some of the things which have been said. It would have been tempting for them to criticise, and to defend their position. But if they are to retain the independence which Parliament has seen fit to grant to the I.T.A. and the B.B.C., I think it essential that they should keep out of the day-to-day controversy within Parliament itself.
I ask again that noble Lords should look up the discussions we had on this subject, many years before I came to the House. There are difficult borderline cases. It so happens that recently, with a number of noble Lords, I have had occasion to discuss this very issue through the usual channels. Since questions of interest are also beginning to arise in another place it may be that we must look at the Rules again. But every time I look at the Addison Rules I find it very difficult to think how one could be more precise or give clearer guidance. Since it appears that we may once again be approaching the season of controversy in this area I am quite sure that noble Lords—and I make absolutely clear that there I make no imputations—would be well advised to declare their interest when 447 we come to discussing these matters. Let me say that I am in no way getting at my noble friend Lord Willis. We all know that he works impartially for all the radio programmes and he gives us a great deal of pleasure through his work.
My Lords, many interesting matters were raised and, as always, one takes copious notes. But I must apologise to certain noble Lords whose speeches I did not hear. Unfortunately, I had to be away from the Chamber for an hour, which is a thing I have never done before during a debate. But my noble friend Lady Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, and my other colleagues, kept very full notes and I will try to answer the points that were raised. The only other thing I wish to do in this preface to my speech (which will not be long) is something with which noble Lords will agree. It is to congratulate my noble friend Lady Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe. This was her first main speech from the Front Bench and she discharged it with brilliance, with charm and with knowledge.
So much that is controversial has been said that I slightly regret to-night that I am a member of the Government and that it would be inappropriate for me to join in on the side of the B.B.C. or on the side of the I.T.A. The noble Lord, Lord Grimston of Westbury, and other noble Lords reminded us of the controversies of the past, and I shall have something to say about local sound broadcasting. We heard a number of interesting paints. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol gave us some wise advice. The noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, made a number of interesting points, but I am afraid that, in the interests of time, I shall not be able to answer them beyond saying that it is possible that anyone could be threatened by a strike. I see no very obvious solution to this at the moment, but when we come to debate industrial relations this is clearly an issue at which we shall have to look.
I think that enough has been said about the Open University. It has been extremely interesting to hear the views of noble Lords, like my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder, who have studied this subject. The noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, intervened, unfortunately 448 while I was not in the Chamber, to correct the position with regard to his own Party in this matter; and we have of course taken careful note of this. The Open University strikes me as something of an act of faith. It is difficult to say with any certainty that it will achieve the results we hope for it, but if it does the prospects and the widening opportunities that it gives are so splendid, even though some people may regard it as speculative and say that the money could more conveniently and sensibly be invested in something else, that I believe that it is an exciting venture. I hope very much that this Government, and any Government which may or may not succeed us, will give it a run, will give it time to experiment and learn what it is seeking to do in this new and important field, and will not curtail it too early, just because it is inconvenient to a particular Chancellor of the Exchequer at a particular time.
My only regret is that the talk about the Open University has tended to mask the important work that is being done in educational broadcasting. The noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, referred to the work on I.T.A., and I am sure he will acknowledge, though there is a little touch of competition here—after all, that is what the I.T.A. was meant to achieve—the work of the B.B.C. With my well-known prejudice, I give my preference to the B.B.C. Perhaps I should declare an interest here, because I was at one time a radio producer and worked on the overseas services and home services of the B.B.C.
I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, that I listened carefully to what he said. It is a fact that more money than ever before is being provided for the external services of the B.B.C. and there are more hours of broadcasting than ever before, and particularly since last year, hours of broadcasting to Eastern Europe. But, having said what seems to me a good straight-forward piece and an entirely truthful one, I may add that that does not alter the fact that one is bound to feel a great deal of concern about this matter. It is a very important area, and once again we are back in this agonising position of having to choose between one urgent demand and another. But the noble Lord need not assume that his remarks 449 will pass unnoticed. It may well be that in this area circumstances may demand further increases. I am sure that noble Lords like my noble friend Lord Soper, who are interested in peace, recognise that this is an important contribution to peace-keeping, this preservation of the standards of tolerance and truthfulness in reporting, in which we believe the British have a special contribution to make and for which the B.B.C. have created such a tremendous reputation.
Conscious as I am all the time of (I was going to say) the baleful presence of my noble friend the Chief Whip, who always seeks that winding-up speeches will not be too long, I am going to throw away most of my remarks, but there are certain things that call for an answer. The noble Lord, Lord Denham, and other noble Lords, asked that I should say something to reassure the independent television companies. My noble friend Lord Willis suggested, on important grounds which I acknowledge, that contracts should be for longer periods. I think that here it is inevitable that we cannot arrive easily at a perfect answer. It is a fact that the Television Act, passed in the time of the previous Government, expires in July, 1976. After exhaustive debate, Parliament set a term to the certain life which the companies can expect. No one can guarantee them a longer time and no Government can commit their successors.
I think that there will be a Committee of Inquiry. I confess to being an irreconcilable Pilkingtonian in my approach, and therefore I listened carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, said, but I think we are bound to follow the pattern of the past. It is disturbing to pull up the roots to look at them, and perhaps every institution is getting a surfeit of examination. Of course, some of them, on second examination, do flourish rather more None the less, it can be a burden, and I know that the B.B.C. has suffered in this respect. Perhaps it is for this reason that I think Parliament has to exercise a certain amount of self-control, so that the amount of scrutiny carried out by Select Committees and other bodies is kept within bounds, for fear that those who are trying to get on with the job are hindered from doing so.
450 I have not been able to give the noble Lord, Lord Denham, a clear-cut assurance, but I can say that I know of no reason to suppose that the existing pattern is likely to be changed by the present Government. What may emerge from the subsequent inquiry it is impossible to say; but if I may hazard a personal opinion (and I imagine that most noble Lords will agree with this) I think it very unlikely that there will be any major change in the television pattern. Critical as I have been of the I.T.A., and opposed as I have been to the whole concept in which the noble Lord, Lord Grimston, and others have been so interested, I have always preferred wider choice to wider competition.
But the fact is that we have moved on. The I.T.A. has been set up, and it would be absurd to think that it has not become a major and an established part of our national institutions. Therefore, I think my own attitude of mind, speaking as a Member of the Government, should give some comfort to the noble Lord, Lord Denham. It is a fact that everybody gets anxious at one time or another. People are always afraid that somebody is going to do something to them—and lightning does sometimes strike some people. However, I should be surprised if it struck in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Denham, fears.
I should like to touch, quite briefly, on the question of the levy. Let me, in fairness, first of all point out that the B.B.C. have to pay S.E.T.; and they are liable to tax on their investments and on the profits of their trading activities. For a long time, of course, they even used to pay income tax on any surplus in respect of broadcasting activities. It was not until the Court of Appeal decided in their favour that the enormous sums of money that previous Governments had taken, really unknown to the licence payer, not merely in terms of the particular segment of the licence that was allowed to them but the bits of the licence due to the B.B.C. which the B.B.C. at that time were unable to spend, were made available.
I have listened carefully to what noble Lords have said about the levy. It is true that this was charged on advertising receipts, and this was decided by the previous Government. Indeed, the then 451 Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Maudling, and the Postmaster General, Mr. Bevins, rejected the idea that it should be charged on profits. I will not give reasons for this, but to me they were unanswerable. They were quite decisive, and since we have debated this matter at some length in the past, and there may be further opportunities in the future, I do not think I need say more than that I believe the levy is right.
I am concerned, however, if my noble friend Lord Willis's contentions (I am sure he is convinced they are factually correct) should prove to be the true position. I would agree that 8 per cent. in this particular field is not a satisfactory figure. But this, of course, is not the information that I have. In each of the last three years the overall rate of return on capital for the companies has been 40 per cent.; and in the period since the imposition of the levy, it is now 20 per cent., which is considerably more than the agreed rate of return allowed to Government contractors, dealing with the Government in other areas.
§ LORD WILLIS
My Lords, I should like to get this point clear. Is my noble friend saying that in fact, with the additional £3 million that is being taken, there would still be a return on capital of 5 per cent.?
§ LORD BYERS
My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether this is before tax or after tax? If it is before tax, you can get better than that by going to a local government and lending your money to them.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
I think this is fascinating, but I will not give way, otherwise I may be asked a really awkward question. Very well, I will give way.
THE EARL OF BESSBOROUGH
I merely want to ask a question. Am I not right in thinking that when the new levy is paid the return will be only about 452 8 per cent.? I think that might be the case.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
I think the noble Earl has done enough, and he is getting into a dangerous situation. I can only say that we will examine these figures. I know that my noble friend Lord Willis is an experienced businessman, as well as a creative writer. But from my information, my heart does not at this moment need to bleed for the contractors, or indeed for the I.T.A. But obviously we shall study what noble Lords have said. I do not doubt that they have not been slow to make representations to the Chancellor; but I am certain that if there is one thing a Chancellor is anxious to avoid it is killing the goose that lays the golden egg. If this is really happening, I think it would be a most dangerous situation which I am sure the Chancellor would want to think about.
I do not doubt the sincerity of my noble friend in this matter, but I am not convinced on my information that the situation is as bad as he fears. I said 20 per cent. but I think perhaps I ought to correct this. I have a later note which says 18 per cent. It is of the same order. As I say, I am sorry that this "licence to print money" is unable to produce pound notes and can produce only a few shillings at a time.
I should like to say something, quite briefly, about the restructuring of the B.B.C. sound services. It is interesting to note just how popular sound radio still is, and how many people listen to radio every day. This is one of the great areas of choice; this is where the real range of choice is achieved. There is concern about the possible existence of some proposal—and I know of none—to curtail some services. The B.B.C. will be considering what is right in regard to future music programmes and others. But I am bound to say that if a small proportion of those who evade paying their licences were to pay up, there would be no problem. The B.B.C. would have another £7½ million a year to play with. 453 This particular form of dishonesty, which is so widely practised, is something that I believe we ought very actively to condemn. The individuals who are doing it are depriving themselves, and their fellow citizens, of the better services that they could have for, compared with other countries, an extraordinarily moderate fee.
I should like to make just one other point with regard to the B.B.C. There has also been some discussion as to whether the B.B.C. might finance its radio programmes anyway by taking advertising. Although the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, is denied the opportunity to say this in this House, he has made a notable speech quite recently on the subject of local radio—and I shall say a little bit more about that in a minute, all but briefly. I notice that the B.B.C. have again firmly rejected the idea of advertising as a means of financing itself. As the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton said:I see no reason today why the B.B.C. should change its mind. The country needs an independent public service, and I venture to say that the B.B.C. is one of the highest quality which should be retained undiluted by advertising".Let me say, for those noble Lords who are advertisers (and I know there are some: and some of my best friends are advertisers), that my remarks relate to sound radio.
I would conclude on one main point. I find it disturbing to see once again the growth of a commercial lobby determined to extend this whole business of advertising and commerce into the sound broadcasting field. Even if we grant what has been achieved by I.T.A., I feel that the arguments against this remain overwhelming. I must say to noble Lords opposite that I do not know what Conservative Party policy is in this matter, and I do not know whether or not Mr. Bryan's speech to the Monday Club represents Conservative Party policy. I can only say to noble Lords, if we are to be confronted with a fight on this, that those who are opposed to the extension of advertising into this field resent the accusation of being Puritans as much as the noble Lord, Lord Willis, would resent any suggestion that what he is advocating he is doing for personal profit. I think we might avoid in the discussions we shall have on this some of 454 the rather sillier sort of slanging that went on. The noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, if I may say so, was notably free from it in his speech. The noble Lord, Lord Willis, repeatedly used two phrases: "put the boot in" and "Puritan"; he used both those phrases about four or five times. I also have a feeling that he used the word Freudian, and there may be some connection there, also.
I would just draw attention to the main arguments on this. I do not believe that the commercial radio lobby are going to be interested in creating the sort of local sound broadcasting that the B.B.C. are producing. There is nut the money in it for them. There is not going to be a "licence to print money", and that is what some of them want. We know some did, in fact, successfully print money. I acknowledge that the noble Lord, Lord Grimston, took a view on this on principle. I happen not to agree with his principle, but this was not the view of all those who were advocating this. The technical arguments which have been put forward—and they were put forward particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington—are overwhelming. The "needle time" they would want would not be available; local commercial radio stations would not genuinely be able to provide the sort of service that the B.B.C. can do. It is worth noting also, that it would be a good deal more expensive—and this is in terms of national resources. The ratio of administrative to programme costs in commercial services is five to one, whereas on the public service networks, for about the same volume of expenditure, the ratio is two to one.
My Lords, I could go on, but noble Lords will not wish me to go or any longer. There is a large body of opinion which would be critical of local commercial radio stations, not only within the Labour party but within the Conservative party also. There are many quotations, based on publications sponsored by the C.B.I., and there is also an article in to-day's Financial Times, all of which I commend to your attention. May I say one thing on the intervention of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donovan? Anything that he says is something that we shall take note of. There are powerful arguments behind what he has to say, and I would echo 455 his criticism of the particular programme to which he has referred. I have had occasion to be critical of both the B.B.C. and the I.T.A., and more recently of the B.B.C. on the presentation of news programmes on occasion. But this is one of the prices, regretfully, that we have to pay for the independence and freedom which we believe is necessary. It carries grave disadvantages, and some of the disadvantages can themselves appear to be somewhat threatening to our democratic institutions. We hope that there will be again the sense of responsibility among broadcasters and others that will keep it with in bounds.
The noble Lord, Lord Byers, has done us all a service. Television and radio, we all agree, are vital to our lives. I think that this has been a timely debate, and I do not doubt that many of the controversial aspects will come up again in the future. But I would end by expressing our appreciation to the broadcasters for the dedication that many of them, particularly producers, as well as all the others, including the technicians who put on the programmes, show. I think we can agree, my Lords, that, for all the faults of the services, there is no country better served by its broadcasting than this.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ LORD BYERS
My Lords, I should like fully to endorse those last remarks of the noble Lord the Leader of the House. It only remains for me to express my gratitude very sincerely indeed to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. The content of this debate has done full justice to the importance of the subject, and it has been enhanced by the very eloquent and graceful speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, on her first occasion at the Dispatch Box. She has one up on me there, but no doubt there will be an occasion when I shall be able to emulate her position by speaking from the Dispatch Box.
This debate has provided a forum for the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, to make what I think will be regarded as a very important speech at the present stage in our deliberations on the future of broadcasting. As the noble Lord the Leader of the House has said, it was 456 a speech which has underlined the irony of the way in which the Addison Rules are now being interpreted. We can hear the rapporteur but we are not allowed to hear the views of the chief of operations of the B.B.C. and the I.T.V. If I may say so, I should like to thank very much indeed the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, and the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, for the patience with which they have sat through this debate, because it has been a very great encouragement to us to know that we are not really making these speeches at second hand but that they are listening and taking note. What they do with the notes is their business, but it is very nice of them indeed to have been here for practically the whole of this debate.
I think that the Addison Rules are now being interpreted far too restrictively. I agree with the noble Lord the Leader of the House that we have had discussions on this matter, and it is a fantastic thing that the first thing you do to a person who has been put in charge of a very important public corporation is to make him a Member of this House, and as soon as he gets in here he is inhibited from speaking on his own subject. I think we ought to have a debate on the Addison Rules themselves, in which we should hear the noble Lord, Lord Robens of Woldingham, the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, and others giving their views. And let us give our views as to what we feel. I think it might make a very good debate. We might even take a vote at the end of it to see whether we cannot change the Rules.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, I must say that it makes me rather doubtful about discussions through the usual channels when the noble Lord, Lord Byers, makes a statement so contrary to what he said in the usual channels.
§ LORD BYERS
My Lords, I hope I have not misinterpreted. I certainly was not trying to breach any confidentiality. I was only saying that we had discussed this matter. I did not say that we had come to any conclusion on it.
I should, if I may, like to conclude by apologising to our Hansard team of Official Reporters, for whom we all have so much respect, because in opening this 457 debate I referred to the statement by the Chairman of Committees concerning the shorthand writers' union and suggested that if they went on strike we probably should not have any reports of our debate. But of course the Official Shorthand Writer deals only with Select Committees and other such matters, and should not be confused with the Hansard staff and the Official Reporters. I am therefore very sorry, my Lords, if a jocular remark on my part should have caused any offence, but I have the consolation that if anybody can put right the official Record it will be our Hansard reporters and our official staff. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.