HL Deb 27 April 1972 vol 330 cc476-554

3.41 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Before I go any further I had better take the rather unusual step for one who speaks from this Box and clear a very recently defunct financial interest. For about twelve years I have been very much involved in independent television with one of the programme contractors and I can only ask your Lordships to accept my assurance that, as from last Friday, I have done my best to acquire the due and proper impartiality necessary for me to make this speech on this subject. Anyway, I have tried, and your Lordships will be able to judge whether I have succeeded.

This is a Bill in which the Government are fulfilling yet another of their Manifesto and Election pledges. We undertook to introduce an alternative to the B.B.C. monopoly in radio, and in this Bill we are doing it. On May 19 last year there was a debate on the White Paper which was published for discussion. For reasons which I hope your Lordships will think were cogently argued by my noble friends Lord Eccles and Lord Denham, we showed that the Government are convinced that local radio in competition with the B.B.C. will be a very worth-while new service to the community.

The Bill now before the House is in essence a measure to put into the hands of the Independent Television Authority as it now is—and I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, in his place to listen to the debate—the responsibility for a radio service the programmes for which will be supplied by programme contractors, following very closely the analogy of Independent Television which is now familiar to us all. One can criticise everything and anything, and that includes Independent Television, and many noble Lords and members of the community outside have done so. But I think most noble Lords will agree that the Authority has gained very much in stature over the 17 years during which it has been developing the science, art, finesse, or whatever it is, of controlling the programme companies. In the process, the Authority has not been universally popular. I can now smile benignly at the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, although my stance in 1967 might not have been quite the same. It was then that the Authority's surgery on the programme companies caused considerable disquiet, and not only among the companies themselves. But, speaking from the background that I have acquired over the years, I think that nobody would deny that the Authority is a formidable body to contend with and is very much in control of the situation.

The basis of this Bill, that it shall be the same body—the Authority suitably renamed—that is to have responsibility for the new local radio service, is therefore eminently appropriate, and that is the reason for the form of the Bill. I should remind your Lordships that this Bill is to be read together with the Television Act 1964, so there is a good deal of cross-referencing and one does not find all the necessary powers in the Bill because one has to look at the 1964 Act as well. It is important to remember this.

There are some differences, as noble Lords would expect, bearing in mind the different aims of the two media and the different scale of their functions. In this way the additional payments levy on advertisement revenue which applies to television will not apply to sound radio. Instead the Minister will have some powers, which I will refer to again when I come to Clause 5, for absorbing excessive profits through a system of revenue targets. The difference in the two media has necessitated a fresh look at the activities which would be inconsistent with the functions of a programme contractor and which therefore create disqualifications. Clause 6 adds to the categories already in the Television Act. Be cause most radio companies will be relatively small—certainly smaller than many of the television companies—it would not be beyond the bounds of possibility that an individual or company, or group of companies, could acquire for themselves an unhealthily large interest in the system as a whole. Clause 7 imposes a new duty on the Authority not to allow that to happen. The Government recognise the case for giving special consideration to the local Press. That was fully debated and is in the White Paper. So there are special provisions to provide that the proprietors of the local newspapers most affected will be able to buy a shareholding in the local radio programme contractor.

I have some other general things to say as we go through the Bill; but perhaps I could now turn briefly to the clauses—and of course this is in amplification of the Explanatory Memorandum on the front of the Bill. I do not think that Clause 1 needs much explanation since it renames the Authority of the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone. Clause 2—and here we are on important ground, remembering that the Acts have to be read as one—confers on the Authority duties in relation to the sound broadcasting services similar to those in the Television Act applying to television. Specifically in subsection (2) of Clause 2 it provides that, subject to the differences in the Bill, the provisions of the Television Act will apply to the new services. Broadly speaking, the position of sound radio programme contractors will be similar to that of the television programme contractors, but not quite the same because of differences in the functions of the new service, some of which I have explained, and essentially because the new service is aimed at providing broadcasting in relatively small communities as compared with the more regional and, in some cases, national functions of Independent Television. So the making of programmes, for instance, for the network, though, no doubt, it will have an important part to play, will not, as with television, be quite the main function of some of the companies.

The Authority will be put under a new duty the aim of which is to assure, so far as possible, that the new services will be local sound broadcasting services. These new local services will have a totally different character. They will be aimed primarily not a the large national audience at leisure, but at the housewives, people driving in their cars, and workers of one sort or another going about their daily business who are able to listen to the wireless at the same time, though one can also hope that local radio will have its part to play as a leisure-time diversion. As competitors the commercial stations will have the whole range of the national B.B.C. programmes and, in some places, the Corporation's local programmes as well, so they will have the necessary competition and variety. In the nature of things they will not be able to do for "pop", light or classical music as much individually as BBC Radio 1, 2 or 3 can do. The nature of the competition will probably be different, the audience will be different and the kinds of resources available will be different, too. I suggest, therefore, that no one who thinks about the subject can believe that the programmes will cover the same range.

But that does not mean—and this is what is so important—that the quality of the programmes will be any poorer, or that the new renamed Authority's responsibility for ensuring the observance of criteria is in any way diminished. Those criteria, as the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, knows well, are balance, impartiality, decency and good taste. The criteria will be just the same, but because the media are different we think that the Authority will face different problems and no doubt will have at first to find its way towards a solution of those problems; but we have every confidence that it will be able to do so with great success.

I should perhaps mention subsection (3) of Clause 2. It defines "local sound broadcasting services" as services broadcast in effect from stations limited in range characteristics — "propagation characteristics", is I think the technical term—so as to reach only the communities they are intended to serve. This is a technical, legal definition. It does not really say anything about the programmes. But there is a provision in Schedule 1, on page 16, under "Section 3" where we add a new paragraph, (dd), to part of the 1964 Act. That imposes on the Authority a duty to ensure that programmes are not identical or similar to an extent inconsistent with the local character of the services. They must be kept individual and local. Clearly, not all the programmes can be local in character. For one thing, there might not be enough material available. Far more important, the Government are anxious to ensure that the services of national and international news will be of such a calibre as to present a credible alternative to the news services of the BBC—one remembers the success of ITN in this field. It means that some of the news programmes will probably originate from a central point.

Probably some, perhaps all, of the companies will produce programmes suitable for sale to other companies, and there may be some large companies which specialise in work of that kind; but that does not by any means imply that the service will not be essentially local. Not only will that new paragraph added to the Authority's duties apply, but there is also Section 3(1)(d) of the existing Act which requires the Authority to see that programmes appeal specially to the tastes and outlook of persons served by the station; and that will imply a formal requirement for a considerable part of broadcasting time to be taken up with local material. The keynote in this must be flexibility. The Authority's job will not simply be to comply with the formal provisions of the Statute, but to ensure that the service is consistent generally with its functions, including its duties to maintain a high general standard in all respects—a job with which the Authority is very familiar already. No doubt, the pattern of programmes will vary from station to station, and the larger ones will be able to permit themselves a greater degree of sophistication than one can hope for with the smaller ones. But the principle will be that the stations shall serve their local communities and so provide what we think is a new dimension in broadcasting.

In Clause 3 there are created special advisory committees to reflect the range and tastes and interests of the localities of the broadcasting stations. It will be for the Authority, and not for the Government, to appoint the committees, and there is a discretion whether to appoint a separate committee for each station or a joint one for several stations. Selection of members of these committees will, subject to the rights of the local authorities which I will mention in a minute, be the responsibility of the Authority; and we feel sure that it will do its best to see that the members of these committees are such as can contribute over a wide range of interests and consist of people prepared to involve themselves thoroughly in their advisory role. However, as the Government undertook in the White Paper that was discussed last May, local authorities are being given an opportunity to play their part. So under Clause 3(3) they are to be invited to nominate people from whom the Authority is to select one-third of the members of the advisory committees—and as to "local authorities", it will be seen in the proper definition clause that a very wide range of local authorities is involved. We have tried to do the same in Wales and Scotland and Northern Ireland as in the case in England and include even the small local authorities, at any rate so long as they last under local government reorganisation.

Clause 4 provides that for financial purposes the television broadcasting and the sound broadcasting services provided by the new Authority shall be treated as separate branches of the Authority's undertaking; and the Authority is required to see that each branch becomes at the earliest possible date self-supporting and goes on being so. The reason is fairly clear. I.T.V. and independent sound broadcasting will to some extent, though perhaps not to a very great extent, be in competition with each other, both as public services competing for audiences and in the services they offer to advertisers. It therefore seems undesirable that the television funds of the Authority, which derive from payments made to the Authority by the television programme companies, should be used as a source of finance for the sound programme contractors, or the other way round.

In Clause 5 there is an attempt to tackle, if it arises, a situation where commercial radio as a whole turns out to be making excessive profits—a situation which some people, at any rate, thought may have arisen at one stage in independent television. But I say that I am tempting a new Party partiality, as noble Lords will remember—


My Lords, I was remembering that the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, was in the Chamber.


My Lords, I had noticed that the noble Lord was down to speak as well, and I phrased my words, I hope, with care. But in this particular field I do not think many people with the relevant experience think that there will be excessive profits overall between now and 1976 when this Bill and the Television Act come to an end. Stations in the big cities probably will earn far more money than they need, but they will have to pay much the larger part of the costs of the Authority and the rental payments. As happened in Independent Television, smaller stations will pay much less. Nevertheless, one cannot exclude the possibility of excess profits, and if my right honourable friend the Minister judges they have occurred, under Clause 5 he will be able to set the Authority a financial target. This will consist of an extra sum it must collect from its radio contractors and pay into the Consolidated Fund. And if, contrary to what we expect, the power is used, the Minister's Order setting out the target has to come in draft to both Houses of Parliament, and this House, like another place, will have a chance to discuss whether he has got it right.

I have mentioned Clause 6 already. It identifies some extra classes of people and companies disqualified from being programme contractors, including television contractors operating in the same locality as the radio station, and vice versa; record manufacturers, music publishers and their agents, and talent agents; and these are set out in the clause. This catalogue is not supposed to be exhaustive. It would be a great mistake to make it so. The Authority may, for all we know, wish to exclude others because of incompatible interests. But the danger of making a complete list is that it would make it all the more difficult for the Authority to exercise its proper discretion and discrimination in individual cases against someone not on the list whom they still did not want in as part of the programme contractor or his team.

Clause 7 was inserted in the Bill after it had been to Standing Committee in another place. It requires the Authority not to enter into a programme contract with the contractor if it seems to the Authority that a person, the applicant or an associate of his, might thereby get on aggregate an interest of such order as to prejudice performance by the Authority of its duties under this Bill. The kind of danger envisaged is that so much power might through a group, or something of that sort, accummulate in one pair of hands; the Authority might find it difficult to enforce its will and fulfill its duties under the Act in the face of some sort of determined opposition. So there it has the power to prevent that from happening.

I should like to say a word about the position of newspapers under Clauses 8 and 9. During the Report stage in another place it was represented by a number of honourable Members to my right honourable friend—at that stage there was an outgoing and incoming Minister of Posts and Telecommunications—that a special situation would exist in London where, besides there being a general purpose station, there would also be a station concerned only with news and with providing news for the service in other parts of the country. Behind the misgivings that were expressed were, I think, really two facets. First, if two stations were serving one locality, as they will be in London, there was the question whether anyone ought to be allowed to acquire a substantial interest in both of them. Such an interest might for instance militate against the desire of the stations to compete with each other. For newspaper proprietors this consideration might be particularly significant because they might gain shareholdings from the operation of Clause 8 which would give them preferential treatment; and, failing provisions to the contrary, they might find themselves entitled to shareholdings in both stations—that is what was thought.

The other facet is that the London news station not only will serve the Metropolis but, as I have said, will also provide a news gathering and distribution service for other stations outside London. If a London newspaper, particularly one belonging to a group of national dailies, for instance, were able to buy itself into the London station, that, too, might seem inconsistent with the independence of the news service from the influences of such a newspaper. I think those were the misgivings—or the background to the misgivings—which were expressed in another place. My right honourable friend undertook to re-examine this position before the Bill came to your Lordships' House, and this, I promise your Lordships, has been done most carefully. But the conclusion has been reached that no amendment is necessary. I will now try to explain why. We think that the Authority and my right honourable friend have between them adequate safeguards to prevent those contingencies that we fear from arising.

I will just list very briefly what the safeguards are, for your Lordships to consider. First, under Clause 9(1) the Authority will not apply the special provisions entitling newspaper proprietors to a first interest in shareholdings if it thinks that to do so would be contrary to the public interest, and it has to get the concurrence of my right honourable friend on that. That is the first safeguard and that, I confess, is only in the initial stage when the programme contracts are first being let. Then there are two continuing sections in the Television Act which also apply. First, under Section 12 of the Television Act 1964, if the Authority thinks that a newspaper shareholding has led, or is leading, to results against the public interest—and again if my right honourable friend agrees—the Authority must suspend or determine the contract. If it does not take the initiative my right honourable friend has default powers.

Then there are also the much more general provisions in Section 11(4) of the 1964 Act which do not apply only to newspapers but apply generally. The sanction is there to suspend or determine contracts, but the truth of the matter in practice has always been in the past that those concerned know that the Authority has these powers behind the scenes and some sort of satisfactory compromise is worked out, so that the suspension and determination never in fact takes place. It gives real teeth to the Authority in dealing with the day-to-day situation, but I emphasise that those two sections in the Television Act are continuing and do not apply only at the initiation stage of the contract. We therefore think that it will always be open to the Authority, because it has enough powers, to see that the public interest plays an overriding part.

More generally, these two clauses reflect the advice that the Government have had about the likely impact of local radio stations on the revenues of local newspapers, and this is all spelt out in the White Paper. Some advertisers will try radio and perhaps change to it in preference to local Press advertisements, though the extent of the diversion may not in general be greater than the local Press can bear, and in some ways the local Press could even gain from a growth of public interest in local affairs, because the public might want to see more details in the local newspaper. It would be entirely contrary to Government policy if local radio stations were able to create for themselves a new kind of monopoly by destroying contemporary and competitive local newspapers. That is why these two clauses are in the Bill giving special preferential treatment.

Clause 8 defines the duties of the Authority in relation to local newspapers, and its salient principles are, I think, that it describes the conditions which are to obtain before the Authority enters into a contract with the programme contractor in a locality. The programme contractor will not he asked to buy a pig in a poke and he will know what part of his equity he must make available to the newspapers at an early stage. It will be for the Authority to decide whether the newspaper circulation represents a substantial part of the population (in the words of the Bill) and, if not, whether, all the same, the local newspaper is one on which the local radio will have an adverse effect. If the conditions are fulfilled, the Authority will, subject to the safeguards that I have already mentioned, be under a duty to ensure that the newspaper concerned is able, if it wishes—and of course only if it wishes—to acquire a shareholding of the size and description determined by the Authority. The fact that the Authority will not, in a particular instance, be under a duty to ensure that a shareholding as of right is awarded, does not mean to say that the Authority may not insist upon some other newspaper being allowed to participate if that seems a just and equitable course. Clause 9 has more provisions about this, which I hope will satisfy your Lordships in this matter.

I must say a word about Clause 10. It is intended to satisfy as far as possible the general desire that the process of selection and the formal relationship between the Authority and the programme contractor should be open to public scrutiny. It is about the disclosure of the documents on which a programme contract is finally issued. The Government have accepted the principle underlying the arguments advanced in the Standing Committee in another place. There is a case for revealing in retrospect—not, of course, at the time when they are all being considered—evidence which will help the public to gauge whether the performance of the programme contractor is living up to its promise; whether the contractor is in fact complying with the terms on which he was appointed. Because of this the Government expect that the applicants for contracts will think very carefully indeed about what they put into their applications. There has never been any lack of careful thought on what is put into the documents seeking a programme contract from the I.T.A., but perhaps this will make people even more careful, and we hope that the new I.B.A. will find its authority strengthened when it needs to take action against a programme contractor who has not lived up to his promises. Disclosure to the public does not denote any departure from the principle that the Authority, and the Authority alone, will be responsible for the programmes. There is no intention of transferring any of those responsibilities to the opinion of the market place; but the fact that the public will have some opportunity to scrutinise the performance of the company as it compares with its promises—and, I suppose, also to scrutinise the performance of the I.B.A. in the performance of its duties—should, we think, strengthen the Authority's hand by giving it backing against a recalcitrant contractor, if one should turn up.

Clause 11 deals with money and I am afraid it does not concern your Lordships, but it provides the necessary finance for the Authority to carry out the new service. In Clauses 12 and 13 we have the incorporation of the Schedules. They are normal clauses which are probably not of great interest to the House. Clause 13 does, however, extend the Bill to Northern Ireland, and it will be for the Authority to decide whether or not it wants a station there. There will also be power by Order in Council to extend the Act to the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. Perhaps that will be desired, but we shall have to see whether an application for an Order in Council is made.

So, my Lords, there is the Bill. As we see it, we are building on the experience we have gained on independent television and the authorities controlling it. I was reading the other day, in a book by Mr. Peter Black, about the birth and travails of independent television before and since it came into existence. Criticisms notwithstanding, we think it is right and safe to make commercial local radio an alternative to the existing B.B.C. and make it available, subject to the same general powers of control and supervision which have been shown to work in the case of independent television. Guidelines are needed: they are there in the Bill. We have confidence that the I.B.A. will be able to deal with them, and I think it has been given the proper directions—not too much but equally, we think, not too little—for it to be able to use its discretion to clothe these bare and rather basic rules and to turn out a new service, properly equipped and dressed in a style which we think will appeal to a great number of people in this country. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Colville of Culross.)

4.9 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to start by thanking the noble Viscount for the very agreeable and lucid way in which he has explained this Bill to your Lordships' House this afternoon. We shall read with very great care the contents of his speech, because I think that will help in some respects. I only hope that the noble Lord, Lord Denham, will not continue the example of another place, where the speech in winding up tended to blur the issues of the earlier speech on behalf of the Government. I hope that some ways may be found of putting into the Bill the intentions that the Government have in mind—the end effect of this Bill, if it is passed—as a sort of guideline to the Authority when it sets up and administers this new system. We need to consider this carefully.

May I join with my noble friend Lord Gardiner in congratulating the noble Viscount on his appointment as a Minister; we have always had a great admiration and affection for him. If I may say so, when the noble Viscount sat on this side of the House and dealt with legal matters I as a layman understood them infinitely better than I have when listening to some of his seniors. I am sure the House can congratulate itself that on this very complex Bill we shall have the noble Viscount to take us through particular points. We of course accept the disclaimer of interest by the noble Viscount. I hope that he will recognise his duties as a Minister and, having been a poacher, is quite ready to turn gamekeeper. Knowing the noble Viscount's rather radical views, which sometimes I find strange coming from one sitting on those Benches, I also cannot help feeling that he would much have preferred to introduce a Bill of greater social consequence than this. We on this side of the House regard it as rather a squalid and horrid measure, but that matter we will deal with later.

Much has been said about the principle of commercial radio and television. We on this side of the House were not alone in opposing commercial television. I remember that the fight was fought from the Benches just across the way. It is true that the public have found commercial television popular. I do not know whether it is due to the advertisements or to the particular slant of the programmes, but there is no doubt at all that commercial television is popular, and whatever one may feel about the principle involved I do not believe that anyone would now suggest the abolition of commercial television. We need to thank the Authority a great deal for the maintenance of standards and the removal of many of the fears that were felt. The former Minister, Mr. Chataway, said that of course radio is very different from television. Certainly it will be harder to control, since much of the production on radio is live. So, while we may not in principle accept commercial television or commercial radio, certainly on Second Reading we do not intend to oppose the Bill.

I would seek to set out our view as follows. Certainly we are not opposed to competition within the media. I think that a degree of competition is good, provided that the frequencies and the wavelengths are available. Certainly we could not be opposed to the widest possible choice of programme. Certainly we should welcome an extension of news and comment. On revenue, I personally prefer the licence system. I find the advertising break in the middle of a film or programme absolutely infuriating. But it may be that a licence is not the only means by which these programmes can be financed. Therefore, I would not oppose in principle the question of advertising as a source of revenue. We also particularly welcome the development of local interests. This is a matter we should look at with the greatest care.

I think I must say that we are opposed to the proposed extension into sound radio, where frequencies are short, of commercial aspects alone. We are opposed to short national assets being parcelled out to a privileged few whose sole object in that involvement is to seek profit and personal gain. I and many of my colleagues, and I think many others in all parts of the House, share that objection. But we are opposed to the Bill on other grounds. First, there is the question of the timing of the Bill. Secondly, we are not quite clear whether we are considering local sound radio or regional sound radio. I am not certain about the new privileged position of newspapers. I follow the case that the noble Viscount has made, and will deal with it in a moment. I also feel opposition because the proposals clearly put a limit on any extension to the growth of the B.B.C. in this very important service; and I feel a general dissatisfaction at the policy of leaving to the entire discretion of the Authority the end product that will emerge, despite our recognition of the qualities of the Authority.

On the question of timing, why is this Bill being given such a high priority? There are certainly a large number of social Bills, no doubt in the noble Viscount's own Department, that must wait in the Parliamentary timetable, yet priority is being given to a Bill for which, although it may have been referred to in the Election Address, there is very little public demand. Certainly one does not hear it in any vocal sense among the general population. There is very little information as to the effect of this Bill on local newspapers. The noble Viscount drew our attention to this aspect, but the White Paper rather brushed it aside. There is an area of doubt here: there is a high degree of doubt as to the profitability of these new stations. A great deal will depend upon what size of catchment area the Authority decides to permit a contractor to operate. I agree with the noble Viscount that there is no certainty of profitability in this service.

The B.B.C. Charter and the I.T.A. Act come to an end on July 31, 1976. I think the House will agree that Parliament is an unsuitable forum for any real thought and decision as to what new services should be provided. We are too close to the news and comment area. I have no doubt at all, therefore, that a Government, if it is wise, will set up a Royal Commission of men who will be well respected. If such a Commission were set up, it would clearly be right that its Report should be available to Parliament for consideration well in advance of legislation. Since legislation will need to be passed before July 31, 1976, the Report of the Royal Commission will have to be made by the end of 1975, at the very latest. Considering the scope of the inquiry, I should have thought such a Royal Commission would have to be set up some time in 1973. It would have to undertake a major review both of television and radio, since both of these have a central position in our national life. It would need to consider the scarce resources, the changing tastes and requirements of the British public, and also the new technological changes that have emerged in this industry. So it would need to consider (would it not?) whether the present form of radio and television broadcasting would meet the needs of the next ten or fifteen years.

The Commission would certainly need to consider the question of the number of authorities—whether two is the right number, or whether there should be separate authorities for B.B.C. television and I.T.A. television, and separate authorities for B.B.C. sound radio and, perhaps, if it came into being, commercial sound radio. It would need to consider very carefully the merits of the licensing system and the question of advertising revenue, or whether for the B.B.C. there should not be a blend of both licensing and advertising. It would have to consider whether there should be four channels of television, and how each channel should be used. It would have to consider the future relationship of the I.T.A. with the contractors. It would have to consider whether the B.B.C. and I.T.A. have satisfactorily exercised all their controls, and whether local needs have been met; and, in the case of sound radio, whether the scarce radio frequencies available are being used to the best advantage. In the technological field we have the question of T.V. cassettes. I believe that we are very close to being able to have a print-off of our morning newspaper delivered through our television receiver. We have advanced to that stage. This, of course, could make a tremendous impact; and certainly a Royal Commission would need to consider what sort of control would be needed if this development were to be brought into being. Clearly there would have to be a very formidable review.

Whatever our views may be on commercial radio, this is a major change of policy, and there are no doubt many questions and doubts. So, my Lords, why are we acting now? Why are the Government going against what they usually say to Private Members when they introduce social legislation?—that "There is a Report on the way. We intend to set up a Commission; we beg the House not to pass this Bill until that Report becomes available?" We all know that this review will have to be undertaken, so why the hurry? In fact, why, having decided for very good reasons to put off television channel four until the review, proceed in this new, unknown, uncharted area of broadcasting?


My Lords, will the noble Lord forgive me for interrupting? Does he not think, or has he dropped the idea, that something included in the Manifesto of a successful Party ought to be brought into legislation during the lifetime of the Parliament that is elected?


My Lords, that is quite true; but we are only in the second year of this Parliament, are we not? The Election pledge was made, but I believe that pledges were given elsewhere, and that is why I come back to ask: why the hurry? I suspect that the Government bowed to many commercial pressures for commercial sound radio, as they did in the case of commercial television, and that they feel they must honour that pledge, and must preclude the Royal Commission, when it is set up, from considering this matter in isolation. It will be required to consider commercial sound radio after Parliament has legislated for it. In a matter of a year or so the companies will have been set up and considerable monies will have been invested and expended. Therefore, I believe that the Government have sought deliberately to close the options of the Royal Commission in considering this very important development.

We on this side of the House do not intend to vote against the Second Reading of the Bill. What we shall seek to do in Committee is to move an Amendment so that the Bill will not be implemented prior to the coming to an end of the existing legislation and the Charter of the B.B.C. Whether we succeed or fail in this matter, it is our intention to take a very constructive approach to see whether we can improve the Bill. The noble Viscount said that this is a very technical Bill; that it needs to be compared very carefully with the previous parent legislation, and I have suggested to my noble friend my Chief Whip that we should have a few more days before Committee in order that Amendments can be carefully drafted. At the moment, it is a fairly short period of time. This is a matter which can be discussed through the usual channels. However, here I am responding to the noble Viscount as to the technical and difficult nature of this Bill

I mentioned the question of local and regional programme contractors. As I understand it, there are going to be 60 commercial and 20 B.B.C. stations. In the first stages these new stations will be in the major conurbations. In the end, as I said earlier, their profitability and success will depend upon the number of listeners, because on that depends what the advertiser pays for his advertisements. When we saw the White Paper we believed that we were going to get true local broadcasting. However, I have a strong feeling that in practice we are going to get broadcasting for regional areas. Therefore, I should like to pose this question to the noble Lord, Lord Denham. I have given him Notice of this question, and the noble Viscount himself referred specifically to London. Is the power to be used to give coverage for the G.L.C. area, the Metropolitan area, or, as I have heard on very good authority, will it be sufficient, and is it intended to be sufficient, to cover the outlying towns of Dover, Guildford, Luton and Southend? Further, in the case of Birmingham, will the power give cover to Wolverhampton and Coventry? It is very important that we get an answer from the noble Lord, Lord Denham, because much will hinge upon this when we consider the question of newspapers.

I should like now to say something about news coverage. I am unhappy at the thought of news and comment being produced by a contractor who will depend for his revenue on how he is able to sell his products. I have felt in recent years, particularly on television, that the producers tend to over-dramatise the news. I think there are cases when one could say that they have in fact created news out of something that hardly existed at all. I think there is a real risk that a contractor who is selling a product will seek, or will be forced to seek, this over-dramatising of news to give it (shall we say?) some sex appeal, some interest to the public. I think that this is highly dangerous in the national interest. I myself would much prefer to see a system similar to the I.T.N. which in my view has provided, if I may express a personal view, a service of impartiality and of general approach superior to the B.B.C. News Service on television. On the other hand, I find a particularly high standard of quality on B.B.C. radio, especially the "World at One" and the "World This Week-end". I hope that the House will look at this aspect with some care. I recognise some of the economic difficulties of making such a service viable and that one should not compel contractors by Statute, but I should like to see whether one can get impartiality of news, and news which is clearly seen to be impartial, into this service.

I now come to the question of the Evening News and the Evening Standard I know that we shall need to debate this matter during the Committee stage. The noble Viscount went into it in some detail and I shall read very carefully the report of what he said. But it seems to me that under the Bill both the Evening News and the Evening Standard will have a prescriptive right of shareholding. The noble Viscount was quite right when he drew our attention to the parent Act, which depends on the use of the words "public interest". I suspect that those words will give the Authority great difficulty in precluding the Evening News and the Evening Standard from participating in this service. I think this ought to be made more precise, and it is something which we shall need to consider very carefully indeed.


My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord will not overlook Clause 9, which is important in this context.


Certainly, my Lords. But, as I said, this is a matter which we must look at in the light of the noble Viscount's speech. I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Denham, these questions. First, provided that it meets the conditions, a newspaper will have a statutory right to a shareholding in a commercial sound broadcasting station. If that newspaper, like other organisations from time to time, runs short of money, is it right that it should he able to sell those shares at a profit, in view of the fact that it obtained them due to its privileged position under Statute?

Secondly, let us suppose that as a consequence of Clauses 8 and 9 a newspaper acquired a shareholding of some 30 or 35 per cent., which was later increased by further purchase to 49 per cent. As I see it, if the Authority became dissatisfied with a contractor, took away its licence and appointed a new contractor, the local newspaper would have a right to hold shares in the new contractor. The noble Viscount may say that public interest enters into this but it seems to me that there is an area of doubt here and it is a matter which we shall look into during the Committee stage. I am not very happy at the idea of the three-year licence of a contractor rolling forward. On the face of it it is very attractive, but I have the feeling that, in the end, this will create a permanent position for a contractor. I do not know at what stage a competitor could go to the Authority and say, "We should like to be considered as a contractor for this station on the rolling forward principle". It would be wrong if a contractor should ever get into a permanent position in his area.

I turn very briefly to the B.B.C. Undoubtedly, the B.B.C. has been restricted to twenty stations whereas the I.B.A. has been allocated sixty stations. Will the BBC be given the right frequencies to enable it to achieve the same coverage as the I.B.A., as forecast in the White Paper? If not, what effect will the allocation of frequencies have on the B.B.C.'s costs? This is very important because, as I understand it, the B.B.C. may not get the frequencies which are most suitable in order for them to achieve the coverage outlined in the White Paper. They could achieve what is wanted at very considerable capital expenditure, but we should like to know the effect of this.


My Lords, is the noble Lord talking about the medium wave back-up for B.B.C. local stations?


Yes, my Lords. There is much more in this Bill which we shall need to consider in Committee, and I hope that we shall be given time to consider very carefully not only the noble Viscount's speech but the parent Act. We on this side of the House would like an opportunity to consult lawyers, because I fear that we shall need lawyers in drafting our Amendments. We do not like this Bill. We do not think it is necessary and we do not think there is any public clamour for it. Many of us feel that commercial sound radio may well create a situation which could bring about a debasement of the very high standard of the BBC sound radio programmes, of which we in this country can well be proud. But if the House wishes to proceed with this Bill, then we on this side will seek to improve those to us obviously bad features.

4.38 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, should like to join in congratulating the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, on his appointment and to wish him as happy a time as your Lordships' House always gives to Ministers who are as fair-minded and patient as I am sure he will prove himself to be. I should like to thank him for the careful way in which he took us through the Bill, and to apologise to your Lordships if I do not follow him or the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, in going through the clauses. But I and my colleagues think that this is a very bad Bill indeed, and I wish to comment once again on the principle, although I know that we had an opportunity to do so when we discussed the White Paper. At best, it appears to be a surrender to an ideology of extreme narrowness; at worst, a "carve-up for the boys". In neither case can it be said to be in any way centred on a respect for broadcasting as an art, as an entertainment or as a medium for communication. It has been pointed out often enough that many of the most distinguished and responsible members of the present Government have been against the principle of commercial sound broadcasting. I shall not embarrass them by naming them, but I see that very proper embarrassment has kept some of the most notable ones off the Government Benches to-day. I deeply sympathise with them.

As a result of this Bill we shall have sound broadcasting with commercial advertisements. The first question I think we must ask is whether commercial advertisements add anything to sound broadcasting as such. I do not believe they do. It was asserted in another place by one Member that he had never come across anyone who preferred broadcasting with advertisements to the same broadcasting without; and I think there can be very few people who do. The evidence from such surveys as there are—and there have been several—is that, on the whole, people do not like the commercials. It is true, as one member of the Government said in another place, that the volume of complaints about the obtrusiveness of advertising is very small when we remember that there was a period when this was not so. He of course was talking about television. All that proves, my Lords, is that people will get used to anything, to any kind of pollution—and that is something which we already know. Will commercial radio be better radio than other kinds of local radio? Although the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, put up a good case, I have as yet heard very little argument that it is likely to be better as broadcasting than the present B.B.C. local radio. It would certainly be hard put to it to be better than some of the B.B.C. local stations. Perhaps the argument is that it will produce more broadcasting of the kind that the man in the street wants. I doubt whether commercial radio will do that, except that it may produce more "pop" than other forms of local radio will—and there is a limit, my Lords, to the number of "pop" programmes one can listen to at one time, however good they may be.

What are the justifications, then? I think there are two matters which begin to be justifications. One is that competition is good for the B.B.C. I grant that to a certain extent this is so. I grant that the "pirate" radios did prod the B.B.C. into producing a real service, which was wanted, in Radio 1. But I think that this competition is marginal and that it could be produced by forms of local broadcasting other than commercial broadcasting. It seems to me that the nature of competition which does good is the existence of a number of stations which really produce such outstanding broadcasting and such good new ideas that they force the B.B.C. to get out of ruts which they may have got into. For that, my Lords, you do not need 60 stations; for that you do not need to limit the number of B.B.C. local stations to 20, which I regard as one of the most unfortunate parts of this whole plan. Incidentally, it is very odd, with all this talk of competition, that one of the results of the Bill should be to create local monopolies of the media between newspapers and broadcasting stations—although, given the situation that the Government Bill gets us into, I think that this is probably finely a better solution than the alternative.

The second justification is that it is an easy way to pay for local radio. Money from commercial advertising will come more painlessly than money from licences. I know that this is so, but I think that this is very much an argument of expediency. In the end, the money comes from the community; and I am not to be persuaded that the addition of radio advertising to all the other advertising that we have will be such that it will add to the usual justification of advertising, that it enables long runs to lower unit costs and therefore cheapens the price of goods. That is not going to happen. The money is to come out of the ordinary shopper's pocket in exactly the same way as it would come from the ordinary holder of a wireless licence, if there were to be a licence. I am all for a licence system. We do not pay as much for our television licences as they do in a number of other countries, let alone collect the money at all efficiently.

It has been said that there is no logical reason to oppose commercial broadcasting once you have accepted commercial television. There is a certain "zany" logic about that: that if you have made one mistake you should continue to make several more. We may have made a mistake which too many people seem to think is completely irreversible, though for the life of me I cannot see why. There is absolutely no reason to go on with this in the case of sound broadcasting. The kind of broadcasting pattern which I and many of my colleagues would like to see would be truly local: a large number of stations, if it could possibly technically be done (and I believe it could) doing really local programmes; not what we all very much fear—I know that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, also fears this: a kind of sub-original semi-"pop" factory.

My Lords, I am not mounting an attack on advertising as such. I think there could well be a case for advertising magazines of a truly local kind at particular times of the day, when the housewife or even the house-husband would particularly tune in to hear what was locally available, what the local bargains were. I see no reason why this revenue should not help. It is the wider spreading of advertising—national advertising, too—over the whole of the day which I fear (in fact, I know) we are going to get. There were plenty of alternatives to this Bill which could have been provided. We could have had a pattern with more B.B.C. stations, as I should have liked, and with some stations produced by local universities or local communities, paid for out of a certain amount of advertising of the kind I have mentioned and also out of licence fees. But, instead, we have this Bill, which I think the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, was absolutely right in describing as "a squalid and horrid Bill." In fact, this Bill is what it was called, not by a Member of the Opposition but by a Conservative Back-Bencher in another place when he said it was "a massive vulgarity". My Lords, I do not think that this Bill is very amendable. That is the reason why I have not gone through it clause by clause. I want no part of it.

4.43 p.m.


My Lords, I am very fortunate to follow the noble Lord from the Liberal Benches. I had thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Lee of Asheridge, was going to be in her place, but she has obviously been detained elsewhere. It seems to me a sad day for the Liberal Party that a slight enlargement in the freedom of people to choose their own programmes and a slight enlargement in the opportunity for entertainers to hire their services to a new outlet should be deplored from the Liberal Benches. I am only glad to say that the Liberal leader, Joe Grimond, strongly supported the breaking of the monopoly of the B.B.C. on television, and I am sorry that his successors have not followed that example.

May I declare that I have no interest in any radio company, or any prospective radio company, or in any I.T.A. company? I have one interest, and that is the interest of a democrat who wishes to see the enlargement of opportunities to entertain people and who wishes to see an enlargement of all means of communication at a time when our newspapers are very sorely pressed, for financial and other reasons. I look on this Bill as the first step in an effort to break the B.B.C. sound monopoly, which has existed for nearly fifty years. This is a long time; and we are almost the only democratic country in the world which has a monopoly of sound broadcasting of this sort. In fact, I know of no other. This does not in any way undermine my faith and affection for the B.B.C. for which I worked for many years. One has always a special affection for one's alma mater.

The Conservative Government took the first step to break the broadcasting monopoly in 1954. For the sake of the historical record, and because the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has re-stated a terminological inexactitude (I almost said "an untruth", but that would be wrong), I hope that the House will excuse me if I put this matter right; because it has been published in many papers and books and once a myth is published it gets repeated again and again, as has been done from the Labour Front Benches today. Joan Bakewell, in the book that she, with Nicholas Garnham, wrote, repeated it again. It says on page 7 of the Introduction to that book: There was absolutely no call at all for the B.B.C. monopoly to be broken—apart from the insistent lobbying of a group of Tory backbenchers including a number connected with advertising agencies My Lords, it so happened that I came into the House of Commons, still in my thirties, in October, 1950. I was therefore well placed to see just how it was that this breaking of the first half of the monopoly came about. I think that this myth was invented by Professor Wilson, an American who came over here dedicated to producing a book which he called Pressure Group, and which started the idea that this was forced on to the House of Commons and the nation by commercially interested lobbies. On February 26, 1951, I received an invitation from the then Chief Whip, now Lord Hailes, to join a group which the then Mr. Winston Churchill set up. Our terms of reference were quite clear: to consider and make recommendations with regard to the Party's policy on broadcasting services.

Your Lordships will remember that this was shortly after the Beveridge Committee's very fundamental investigation and Report in 1949. I have only to list the names of that group (which I think has not been published before) to show their stature and lack of commercial advertising interests. The chairman of that committee was then Sir Ralph Assheton, then a recent Chairman of the Conservative Party and now a well-respected Member of your Lordships' House, Lord Clitheroe. There was also Mr. Brendan Bracken who had been the Minister of Information in the Coalition Government and later became Lord Bracken. Then there was Lord Dunglass who is now Sir Alec Douglas-Home an ex-Prime Minister and the present Foreign Secretary. Then there was Selwyn Lloyd—and I am missing none of them—a man who has held nearly every senior Cabinet rank in Tory Governments and who is now Speaker of the House of Commons. There was also Mr. Duncan Sandys who has been a Minister in successive Cabinets. He, too, was a member. Geoffrey Lloyd, who has held Ministerial appointments before and since the war, and who was a Governor of the B.B.C. from 1946 to 1949 was a member, as was Mr. Jack Profumo, who was later Secretary of State for War.

There were only two who had just come into the House who were asked to join. One was Mr. John Rodgers, the Member for Sevenoaks and who had been on the B.B.C. General Advisory Council from 1946 and therefore took a special interest in broadcasting and who was later a Minister at the Board of Trade. It is true that he did work for Messrs. J. Walter Thompson, and it is true that he was the one person who had advertising connections; but surely it is desirable in any balanced committee to have one person who knows the advertising side since this was important to break the monopoly. Then there was myself. I was selected, I think, because I had worked for B.B.C. T.V. from 1937 until the outbreak of the war and after the war until just before the General Election in 1950. It is equally true that I did work at that stage for a firm making television sets, but that firm, A. C. Cossor, never had any interest in a programme company and from our point of view did not care who provided the programmes, the B.B.C. or the I.T.A., so long as they were good programmes. We had no interest in breaking the monopoly.


My Lords, may I intervene? I accept what the noble Lord has said about himself and about the Committee. Would he not agree—and this is what I referred to—that there existed outside Parliament very great commercial pressure groups for commercial television and it is they who still exist and who are seeking now to establish commercial radio?


My Lords, I would say that it is difficult to say who came first, the chicken or the egg. It would take up too much of your Lordships' time if I wanted to do so; but there was Mr. Christopher Mayhew's National Television Association and then the Popular Television Society which was formed as a counter to that; and then you began to get people coming in on both sides, not least the films who were very much against this and who loaned their chief publicity officer to Mr. Christopher Mayhew's lobby in support of the B.B.C.

I go back to the Committee to which I referred which was set up by Sir Winston Churchill. It reported to the Shadow Cabinet of the day and all these views were subsequently endorsed by Party committees and by the 1922 Committee. If I and John Rodgers, who by any stretch of the imagination had slight connections, were able to persuade people of that seniority and rank to our point of view, then these staggering talents of ours have been overlooked in both cases during 21 years of Parliamentary life. In fact, it was not so. That committee found it desirable and in accordance with Tory philosophy—and because wavelengths were becoming available—to break the monopoly on both television and in sound broadcasting.

I am sorry that the Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has said, seems to me to be shaped towards regional broadcasting rather than local broadcasting. In the first instance there are to be 10 stations; in the second phase, another 10. Later on, probably after the Royal Commission, another 40. Of the first five probably two will be in the London area, one in Manchester, one in Glasgow and one in Birmingham. These five alone cover 15 million people. By no process of imagination can this be a small undertaking. The second five (in order of size) will cover over 1¼ million people each. Initially, we shall be setting up not local broadcasting stations, not cheap stations employing perhaps 15 people as is done on the Isle of Man station which was founded with £15,000 of capital equipment and which caters for local advertising and local interests. These seem to be regional stations on a gargantuan scale and thus they will rule out the opportunity for local advertising and for local shops' advertising or local theatres or repertory companies or sports interests, all of which I believe are entitled to have a small place on the local air.

This Bill seems to me also to encourage a tendency which I deplore equally and which has happened in I.T.A.; that is, "Londonisation". I see no good reason why London should provide a central news agency station because this is bound to accentuate the tendency towards networking. My noble friend who opened this debate reiterated this point. He said that there would be "opportunities and occasions when programmes would be networked". This networking inevitably mainly from London, is a further encouragement towards centralisation, a further tendency towards Londonisation. I think this is wholly undesirable in this context. The quotation, if I have it right, from the noble Viscount is this. He said that programmes will come from central points. I do not think they will be central points. I think they will be from London.

I hope that the I.B.A., who are to administer, will bear in mind the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill because that describes it as "local sound broadcasting". I hope that within their terms of reference and within the text of the Bill they will use their discretion so far as possible to stop networking and to work towards a local talent, local interest and local broadcasting. Because these stations are so large and cover such a large population, they will tend to attract national advertisers.

I turn now to the clause about excess profit levies. I cannot help saying to the noble Viscount on the Front Bench that this is not at all a Tory attitude. To start with, if profits are excessive—and they will have to be proved to be so—40 per cent. will go straight away in corporation tax. A very large percentage of the earnings of everyone who works for these stations and of every artiste who appears will also be taken in tax. But the classical Conservative recipe for this is competition which will reduce any excess profits and make it unnecessary for the State to syphon them off. Why cannot we have competition? I am coming to this point because it is the nub of the question. In America you have competition. We say that under this Bill we cannot have more than two stations in London. In Boston, a town of moderate size, there are seven stations. I know it is said that they are on V.H.F. or U.H.F. and which has not prospered and spread in this country as the B.B.C. and others had hoped. I still think we should keep the option open to have more stations and more choice and be able to cater for the areas of our towns or, alternatively, different types of programmes for different types of stations.

My Lords, it is said that there is a lack of wavelengths. This is the classical excuse and has been for centuries—well, not centuries but for fifty years. I would recommend noble Lords—I was not able to get a copy of the book from the Library—to read R. H. Coase's book The Monopoly of Broadcasting. It contains a classic quotation from the Post Office of the day shortly after the experimental broadcasts were started from 2MT in Writtle. It was started on the initiative of the Marconi Company and the G.P.O. came out with a phrase which I will paraphrase: The use of valuable wavelengths for entertainment and music, while ships and aircraft may thereby be endangered, is deplorable. In fact, had it not been for Radio Paris and Hilversum, I doubt whether we should ever have had broadcasting in this country at all. Incidentally, my Lords, this was exactly the same excuse—it must have come out of the same pigeonhole—that was advanced when the pirate ships were broadcasting so successfully a few years ago. Out came the same excuse—that they were endangering communications with shipping. If we cannot find wavelengths by ingenuity in these days we are not the ingenious nation which I believe us to be. How is it that other nations can find a solution to this problem? I believe there is a vested interest in finding no solution.

I wish to ask some questions on this issue. The last international agreement was, I believe, the Copenhagen Plan, in, I think, 1948. This agreement is tremendously out of date to-day. Large numbers of national stations broadcasting on medium waves have thrown it overboard and by agreement, bilateral agreements, they have made other arrangements. Are we going to allow these stations to broadcast on the medium wave on wavelengths allocated to us under that Plan? If not, what wavelengths are they going to use? Secondly, what power are they to be allowed to use? In the medium waves they may be able to use up to five kilowatts during the day with no interference to Europe. But the moment nightfall comes you will get a chatter of interference and whistles which will make the broadcast intolerable to listen to; and, incidentally, it will make us highly unpopular with our neighbours in Europe and our E.E.C. partners. So I would ask: is there to be a power regulation? I hope that it will not be too high. Again, this will encourage the regional aspect of it rather than the local. Further, is this power on medium waves going to be reduced between day and night?

Now I come to another very important point, on which noble Lords have touched: the Press. Like, I think, every noble Lord except two, I believe that in a democracy it is vitally important to keep our Press and our alternative newspapers going and to make them viable. I feel that they would have more sympathy—certainly in my heart—if the labour restrictive practices in the newspaper world were a little less binding than they are. But I do not depart from the natural belief that newspapers are an essential part of a democracy. Newspapers are making such minor profits now that even a minor diversion of advertising revenue could make the difference between economic viability and bankruptcy. Therefore I accept the principle that they should be allowed the opportunity to buy shares.

Like others in another place, as well as in your Lordships' House, I am worried about what will happen in the London area, because there we have two evening newspapers, the Evening News and the Evening Standard with an enormous coverage area, who could have an exercise to buy into almost every station in the Home Counties when we have 60 stations transmitting. And if (I hope that it does not happen) these two newspapers were to merge—Associated Newspapers and the Beaverbrook Press—they would have an even more dominant position. If in industry you have a 10 per cent. shareholding you have to declare it. If you have a 30 per cent. shareholding it is often recognised that you may have de facto control. I think that we must all be disturbed that when we are trying to protect the interest of the Press, with which we all have sympathy, we may be putting them in such a privileged position that not only will they have a shareholding but they will also be the fount of all Press comment coming through these stations. This cannot be good in the long term.

I would point out to your Lordships that some newspapers have television interests, too. Are we going to have a holding back of the news on sound until their television stations have processed the film and have had an opportunity to broadcast it. This could happen. I would remind your Lordships that it happened at one time in the B.B.C. Because the B.B.C. did not want to upset the evening papers, until I.T.A. arrived the horseracing results were never broadcast on sound until after 6.15 p.m. They had to come after the 6 o'clock news. Some people would say, "Why?" The answer is that it was to give the newspapers a chance, with their Stop Press, of selling their papers to the many people interested in horseracing. So it has happened in the past, and I believe that there is a danger of the newspaper interests, who also have television interests, perhaps timing the news to suit those television interests. There are many other problems that arise and, like the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, I feel that these ought to be probed at a greater depth, and that we should have an explanation from the Government Front Bench.

My Lords, I welcome this Bill because it was in our 1970 Manifesto. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, I believe that it is equally part of democracy that a Party elected to power should do its damnedest to carry out what it put before the nation and on which it was elected. I believe that the Bill gives an extra choice where that is possible. I believe that it gives extra freedom to those people who may not be television stars but who are excellent broadcasters. I think that is highly desirable in a democracy, and I hope that your Lordships will welcome this Bill.

5.8 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that I may make some contribution to this Second Reading debate on the Sound Broadcasting Bill. In doing so I will declare my own interest, and I must apologise now for the fact that I shall be unable to remain until the conclusion of the debate. I have reached the time of life when I go home in the late afternoon and sleep for an hour before I have dinner; so I propose to leave shortly after the next speaker concludes. I hope that your Lordships will excuse me.

As your Lordships probably know, I own a few newspapers in this country, and the local managers in several cities intend to apply to participate in the new local radio stations as they become available. We think that we have expertise and editorial service to offer. As the House will know, I have said on other occasions, including to your Lordships in this Chamber, that I do not dictate policy to my editors. They all stand on their own and they propose to make these applications.

My Lords, I welcome the Government's decision to introduce local radio. I have had extensive experience of it in Canada, where my Canadian company operates a number of local stations to this day. Indeed, my very first entry into the world of communications was via a small local radio station that I started in Northern Ontario 45 years At the start of the station I operated from one room in a local cinema with a staff of five, of which I was one. Even to-day, stations in small towns in Canada operate with a staff of only 10 or 15. Local radio is a much-respected part of community life throughout Canada to-day, and many towns of only 15,000 or 20,000 people have their own stations. Local radio does not cheapen life in any way. It has its own integrity. Many of the programmes would not rate nationally, but they are of great interest locally, just as are the contents of local newspapers.

Times are changing in Britain. We have been a country dominated in many ways by our capital, London. This has been as true of broadcasting and television as of anything else. But in the regions of Britain there is an increasing demand among the people to make their own voices heard and to develop their own way of life. We have seen an astonishing growth in the regional arts associations and in the local amenity groups under the Civic Trust, determined to preserve what is best in their environment. Of course, with my background I believe that the English picked up the idea from the Scots. But it is there, and local radio can help to meet and sustain the heightened sense of local community. It will give a great life to local activities: choirs, drama societies, poetry readings, visits to local museums, help to local charities—very importantly—local sports and so on. It will make local government more democratic and more accessible. In Toronto, in Canada, the City's Mayor talks every Sunday about the city's affairs, explaining to the public the whys and wherefors of city development. Nearly every station has hot-line radio programmes where local officials and local and visiting personalities answer questions telephoned by listeners, much along the line of the programme that was recently introduced by the B.B.C.

The B.B.C. have made a pioneering start with their 20 V.H.F. stations; and during the recent power and rail troubles, local communities have had cause to be grateful to them for their stream of late information on public services. But because at the moment the local stations of the B.B.C. are on V.H.F. it is impossible to receive their broadcasts on ordinary car radios, so the audience is more limited than it will be with local daytime medium-wave stations. I also believe that the B.B.C. should face competition, just as I believe that local newspapers must be prepared to face competition in news and current affairs. The more the public are informed, the better for the local media to serve their needs; and of course the better for the public. So I welcome this Sound Broadcasting Bill for what it will be able to do to make local democracy more real and local life more vivid.

Now I offer my comments on the Bill itself. Originally the Minister had certain definite conceptions in mind. While some of these are still reasonably spelt out, my criticism is that in some respects the policies to be followed are not totally clear—and one or two noble Lords have already made this point. Certain things are vague and are apparently left to the discretion of the new Independent Broadcasting Authority. While I have confidence in the judgments that the Authority will form, I believe that the Bill should be more explicit on some of the basic directions which the I.B.A. must follow. Perhaps it is intended that there shall be directives from time to time from the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications to the I.B.A. giving it clearer guidance.

First, I do not believe that the London news station, which is designed to broadcast only news and current affairs, should be too restricted. While I am sure that it will place the maximum importance on news and current affairs, it may not attract enough revenue to make it viable if it is too confined to one area of programme material. There are four periods of the day—and in the evening, too—when the audience may be very small indeed for news, news and still more news. The technical problem of making local news available to motor car drivers at night has not yet been solved. This is an important source of listening in America and in Canada. I strongly suggest that at the outset the London news station should be given some elbow room; perhaps it might be permitted to operate on the medium wave in the evening, so that it can be received on all sets. We all want this great innovation to be a success, but it could collapse for lack of revenue, or just because a restricted news diet will not carry the whole programme content of a station.

Perhaps I might say, in regard to some observations already made about whether the service will be a local or a regional service, that it is going to be both. It must be remembered that in a city like London there are many dead spots, and if there is to be universal coverage in that city there must be considerable power in the station. This inevitably means that in some directions it will reach out a long way into the country. I believe—though I may have been misinformed about this—that the power that is in mind for the London station would enable it to reach as far as Birmingham. This is perhaps inevitable, because, as I say, reception in dead areas of London must be catered for, which means that there must be substantial power.

As I understand it, the main reason for the Government's plan to introduce local radio was to challenge the B.B.C.'s radio monopoly, just as Independent Television so successfully challenged and consequently so greatly improved B.B.C. Television. Independent Television News has clearly livened up B.B.C. Television News. Indeed, the creation of the I.T.N.'s News At Ten, which my colleague, James Coltart, when Chairman of I.T.N., with Sir Geoffrey Cox, almost forced through against much opposition, has become a great feature of British life. If that is the case, every attempt must be made to see that adequate finance and news services are available so that the London news station is a winner on its merits from the day of its opening.

It would be ridiculous for a London news station to send its own reporters all over the world to gather news; it could not afford to do so. This is where the London newspapers and our great British newsagency, Reuter's, can help. The London newspapers have over 100 permanent representatives all over the world. Reuter's have bureaux everywhere, including Peking. This mass of world news coverage costs many millions of pounds a year, and it would of course be impossible for any independent news service in this country or in any other country, to attempt to duplicate it. Reuter's have for some time been providing voice cast services for North American radio stations on an increasing scale. They could do that here, and it will be necessary in order to provide a good news service.

One or two noble Lords have suggested that newspaper influence would result in "slanting" the news—this was the inference. This is not true. Decent newspapers—and I rate my newspaper in that class—do not "slant" news to suit their own purpose: they give honest factual news, and are under instructions to do so. Good editors would not do it even if told to do so.


Can the noble Lord confirm that Lord Beaverbrook did not use his influence on the news policy and programme of the Daily Express?


Please do not ask me to speak for anybody else; I want to speak for myself. I think that there are other papers like mine that do not allow that. Certainly anything I was connected with, I can assure the noble Lord, would not be used for an improper purpose. I hope he will feel that about my newspapers. I believe that the national newspapers, Reuter's and the Press Association, for British news, and "Extel" for certain specialist services, can contribute to the success of the station, especially by keeping the reporting costs down but the quality, efficiency and variety high.

I do not, however, envy the task of the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, and his Independent Broadcasting Authority in their job of selecting the consortium to run the London news station. Many London newspapers are interested, especially those who maintain tremendously expensive news-gathering operations around the world like The Times and The Sunday Times, which together spend hundreds of thousands of pounds overseas each year. It may be possible for us to help Lord Aylestone by seeing whether all the major London newspapers will join together to form a major unit in one consortium to make the choice easier. Otherwise the I.B.A., I fear, will be conducting some shotgun marriages in the vestry! This is only a suggestion—I have not consulted my fellow proprietors—but it would seem to me to be a good idea. It will, of course, be vital to appoint a very experienced editor-in-chief to run the news service of this station and to protect his independence. I am not saying that the London news station should concentrate on international news or even on national news. It will have to give much of its time to local news and local events, though it is possible that its signal will be so strong that it will cease to be a local station in the true sense of the word as I know it. But the main thing is that the country at large could have proper bulletins at least once an hour. At present one can go two to three hours during some parts of the day without a full radio news bulletin. In times of emergency I personally have ranged all over the dial, trying to find a station which is giving the latest developments.

We then come to the problem of where the local stations other than London will get their news. Obviously they should be able, without compulsion, to buy national and international news from the London news station; but, on the other hand, they should be totally free to run these stations in their own way and put out the news at the time and length at their discretion. The less centralisation of programmes and advertising from London, the better. An important programme for all local stations will of course be their local news, and there should be no direction—this is very important—to them as to how this news is gathered. I think that many stations are going to have a difficult time to operate viably, and there should not be any requirements whereby they have to set up elaborate news departments of their own and gather news independently of other local news sources, particularly local newspapers. They should have the same freedom as any local newspaper to gather the news themselves, to make arrangements with local news-gathering sources or tie up with local newspapers. I hope that this instruction will be made clear to the I.B.A.; otherwise you will find stations, in their enthusiasm, building up elaborate news departments at great cost, which they will not be able to sustain and which will be very detrimental to the eventual financial success of the stations.

In Canada, practically all radio stations subscribe to the services of the Canadian press subsidiary, Broadcast News. It provides a "rip and read" teletype service into the station newsroom. This service is up-dated every hour, and important "flashes" are inserted at all times. I am sure that the British news organisations, such as Reuter's and the Press Association, could set up such a service and feed it by wire into the local station newsroom. They would be in a preferred position to contact important figures by telephone, obtain personal interviews and insert them in their own voice into the newscasts—and of course a very attractive feature of a newscast is to have a person speaking right in the middle of it and conveying his ideas direct at that point.

May I say with the utmost sincerity that I do not believe any large profit is going to be made out of local radio. Contrary to some expectations, this is not going to be a licence to print your own money!

Now I come to the matter of newspaper participation. Despite my pessimism over the extent of profits which local radio will earn, there is no doubt at all that a great deal of its advertising will be diverted from newspapers. No-one who knows the situation could intelligently argue to the contrary. I have had that experience time and time again: the advertising has to come from somewhere, and the most obvious place is from the newspapers. It would be an odd result if our belief in the need for local radio harmed or killed any local newspaper whatever its ownership. Therefore I agree with the Minister's original conception that Local newspapers with a circulation which is significant in relation to the population of a local station's transmission area will have the right to acquire an interest in it. I am using the exact words of the original White Paper.

As to the suggestion that a London newspaper could claim the right to participate in stations in the Home Counties and as far as Southend, this is just not right, because no London newspaper has any circulation comparable to the local daily papers which I established in Luton, Watford, Reading and Slough, together with another company which was established in Southend. So if one talks about having a "significant circulation" in that area, it just is not so. The London newspapers would be confined to London and the suburbs where there are no daily papers. Certainly there must be safeguards against monopoly; but how much monopoly is involved if the several newspaper groupings have only a minority interest in a station where one of their newspapers is located? Just how much monopoly is involved in a situation of that kind? Every one of these papers will suffer financially, and I do not believe there is anyone at all in Parliament who wishes the position of the local Press, whatever the ownership may be, to be weakened. The local Press of this country is enormously important to our form of democracy. Local newspapers act as watchdogs of the public interest and as local marketplaces for advertising, large and small. They help their readers in all sorts of ways; they are not frightened of competition. My Lords, with the qualifications I have stated, I welcome this Bill most warmly.

5.28 p.m.


My Lords, as an Opposition Back-Bencher, may I too be permitted to extend my warm congratulations to the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross? We all know that he will be a very able advocate of the Government's case, even when it happens to be a bad one, and we also know that he will extend to all sections of the House the same courtesy as his predecessor.

I am opposed to the Bill before your Lordships' House for four main reasons. My first objection concerns a matter of principle, with which most certainly the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, will not agree. I believe that in certain areas competition based on the profit motive is undesirable. It is very often against the public interest and, in my opinion, this is certainly true of broadcasting, which I regard as a public service. I said, "competition based on the profit motive". The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, has already said that there are many alternative forms of competition applicable to radio broadcasting. I have long believed that the profit motive in this field is not conducive to quality, high standards and balanced coverage. When profit is in command, as it must be in commercial radio, the main aim is obviously to maximise audiences so far as advertisers arc concerned. Audience figures speak louder than the quality or content of the programmes. That means that there is a strong tendency—which no amount of realistic control by the proposed Independent Broadcasting Authority can neutralise—to put the main stress on programmes with the greatest possible appeal which means that, as a result, important minority interests and educational considerations are liable to be neglected.

I also oppose this Bill because its supporters, whether in your Lordships' House or in the other place, have failed to prove that there is any need for a commercial sound broadcasting service. The onus of proving the need for commercial radio is squarely and fairly on those who support it.


My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to interrupt him? Surely when you have an opportunity of enlarging the area of freedom in a democracy, you should always do so. You do not have to argue the case for increased freedom of choice.


My Lords, a little earlier I referred to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, and made it quite clear that there are other forms of freedom than the case of radio based on the profit motive. I accept that a widening of choice is a good thing.

As I was saying, the onus is on the supporters of the Bill to prove that there is need. Unless this need is clearly and convincingly established, in my view the Bill should not be proceeded with. Indeed, viewed against the absence of any evidence that it is wanted by the public, the attempt to set up commercial radio must be regarded as a waste of resources, a waste of Parliament's time and a waste of civil servants' time as well as a waste of money. In fact, in view of the many urgent and major national problems that we are faced with, it is a frivolously irrelevant Bill. Its only merit is that it illustrates this Government's perverted sense of priorities. Why in the name of reason have the Government decided to bring in this petty little Bill? In my view, the answer is quite clear. The answer was given by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross: it is an Election promise that was forced on the Conservatives by powerful vested interests, and nobody really believes that that is not so. It is also a promise that is easier to fulfil than those promises on which the Government were elected, such as price stability; the reduction of unemployment, and the promotion of industrial peace and harmony. And even if this Bill did not fail on these grounds, I should still oppose it because it is vague and badly drafted. In this context, it is revealing that during the debates in the other place even those who were firmly in favour of commercial radio as such had grave reservations about the Governments proposals.

In my view, the Bill does not provide for sufficient control over the programme contractors and over the amount of advertising. It gives far too much discretion to the proposed Independent Broadcasting Authority. Furthermore, as has been already pointed out this afternoon, there is no clear definition of locality; it is not clear, and the Government do not seem to know whether the result will be a truly local or regional broadcasting service. It is also unsatisfactory and confusing on the question of local newspaper participation. In fact, what we are asked to do is to approve a Bill which fails to give even some broad indications on how the proposed commercial radio will operate.

Filially, as has been well pointed out by my noble friend Lord Shepherd, the timing of this petty little measure seems foolish in the extreme. As we all know—it has been repeatedly stated—the Charters of the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. expire in 1976. It seems inconceivable that these will be renewed without a major and far-reaching Inquiry into the future of broadcasting in this country. In view of this, is not the only sensible course, as my noble friend Lord Shepherd pointed out, before coming to any major decisions and before introducing commercial radio, to wait on the Report of a Royal Commission or Inquiry? Why anticipate the findings of such an Inquiry? Is the reason that the Government fear that once the facts are examined objectively, the case for commercial radio will disappear? What will the Government do, if they are still in power, if an Inquiry finds that there is no need for a commercial broadcasting service? Will they go against its findings, or will they drop their scheme for commercial radio after having wasted precious resources?

5.38 p.m.


My Lords, I am in close agreement with almost everything that my noble friend Lord Sainsbury has said. First, I am in agreement with the congratulations which he offered to the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, on the lucidity with which he explained to us the complications of this Bill; complications which are multiform, manifold and menacing—and the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, added one or two more. I am also in agreement with regard to the motivation of this Bill. One point that the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, did not make clear to us was from whence comes the demand for this Bill. Who wants it? We all know that political Parties are subject to financial pressures. The Party to which I belong was, to my regret, unduly subject to the very powerful trade union pressure. The present Government have appeared able—though it may have been clone more tactfully—to resist that particular pressure, but they seem less resistant to a gaggle of small sectional pressures such as the gambling interests, the Carlisle brewers, the advertisers and the commercial radio lobby. I am not sure that I would not rather be bitten by a tiger than gnawed by rats. Anyway, there it is.

We know that there was on the part of the youth of this country a great demand for the kind of programmes that were offered to it by the pirate radio stations. That demand the B.B.C. has to the best of its ability, within the limit set by the Musicians' Union, attempted to meet, and has to a large extent met, on Radio 1 and part of Radio 2. One has only to listen to the music that proceeds from the transistor sets that are carried by young men at seaside resorts, or turned on during their working hours, to know that that demand is at the moment very well met. I do not think there lies there any great demand for this particular Bill. In addition, of course, as the noble Viscount pointed out, what is proposed will be expensive. I do not think he mentioned the sum, but your Lordships will find it in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum on the financial effects of the Bill which allows for borrowing up to £2 million. It adds: How soon these advances will he repaid cannot be estimated. Indeed, it cannot, my Lords. It also involves an extension of personnel engaged in the business of administering radio. Furthermore, in the last paragraph of the Explanatory Memorandum the suggestion is that an extra requirement will build up to about 150 more posts than the present staff of the Independent Television Authority. So this Bill, in addition to being really undemanded, will also be expensive.

It is also misnamed. As Sir Robert Lusty pointed out in a letter to The Times a short while ago, we speak about "independent" radio. Independent of what? We know that the B.B.C. is independent of the Government—some politicians think too independent; but certainly its independence of the Government has given it the prestige which it enjoys to-day in the world at large. And long may it continue to do so! What is proposed in this Bill is commercial radio, not independent radio. I am not using the word "commercial" here as a term of abuse. Many commercial ventures end in the provision for the public of valuable services and useful products. But it is as well to describe this measure for what it is: commercial radio, not independent radio. And, finally, it is likely to lead, as the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, has pointed out, to regional radio; and there is no doubt whatever that the commercial radio lobby intends it to end in national commercial radio.

5.44 p.m.


My Lords, I have had an opportunity of addressing your Lordships before on the question of radio, but this time I must declare an interest because I am involved in a consortium which may be applying for one of the areas when they are defined. I confess, however, that 10 or 15 years ago I should have been much opposed to this Bill. Indeed, although I was in favour of commercial television, I felt that the B.B.C. were doing such a wonderful job 15 years ago that the introduction of commercial radio in this country would have been a mistake, particularly having heard of it from overseas. But, with considerable heart-searching, I think it is now right to support this Bill and indeed involve myself personally in it.

The reasons are that I think over the last 15 years there has been such a dramatic change in the role of sound broadcasting. The old B.B.C. was everything to all men: it provided news, entertainment, all music and information, and it needed only the introduction of the Third Programme to fill the only gap it had. But this television age in which we now live has brought a tremendous revolution in the whole of broadcasting in this country. Television has now taken over, largely, all entertainment and made large incursions into territory hitherto the monopoly of radio, be it in news or educational information. Therefore, believing that radio still has an important part to play in the life of the community I think it is essential that this new role should be defined and devised in a way which will be acceptable to the broad mass of the people. I believe that such a role can be effective only by broadening the base and allowing many more and competing radio stations to emerge. I therefore welcome this Bill.

We have heard much this afternoon about whether there is a public demand for commercial radio. The fact is that one never can tell whether there is going to be a public demand for anything until it happens. I well remember that the Labour Party was detrimentally opposed to commercial television, and in fact gave a pledge that it would abolish it when it came to power. But of course it became far too popular for it to dare to do this. I am second to no one in admiration for the noble Baroness, Lady Stocks, but of course she has made a great name for herself with the B.B.C. and therefore one would have expected her to be supporting a continuation of their monopoly.

I believe, however, that the success of the pirate radios showed that the mass of the people in this country want some alternative to the B.B.C. It certainly has been shown in the United States how very important is the part local radio plays in community life. It is important for the Government to make clear as soon as possible their programme for allotting the areas. To be successful, a tremendous amount of planning and research must be done; and at the moment no consortia can possibly make any plans, on which the future success of the stations is going to depend, when they are working in the dark. We hear that about 60 stations are going to be allotted; and I agree with former speakers that this obviously will be done on a regional basis. Clearly, no small area will be viable. However, it is a pity not to look a little further ahead, because the time may come when commercial radio will be successful enough for a smaller area to become viable. It may be that two towns which at the moment will be allotted one station will each require its own radio. So it is important for the Government to make provision for several transmitters in one area, in order that at certain times of the day the news and information broadcast can be of a very much more local character even in a bigger region or area.

We now turn to the question of newspapers. Clearly, there is no denying—we have heard the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, say—that the newspapers are going to be affected. But I believe that in some ways this Bill has leant backwards too far to protect newspaper interests. Let us just take the situation of a newspaper competing on equal terms with a new radio station. The newspapers are in a very strong position. They have years of experience in selling advertising; they have years of experience of gathering news. All the best local correspondents have been attached to a newspaper for years. In addition to this, they now have a further protection because they have been exempted from value-added tax, whereas local radio advertising is going to carry it. Therefore, I can hardly think that local radio is going to start as an equal competitor. It will be more like a novice boxer in the ring against a very experienced one, the novice having one hand tied behind his back.

Now we come to the question of how many newspapers in an area are going to be allowed an interest in the local radio station. I know the principle is that naturally they should be allowed some stake. But a large region may have 15 or 20 local papers. How are the I.B.A. going to allot the interest of these papers so that, added up, they do not have control? I am not altogether clear what the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, said at the beginning of the debate about the interests of television in an area. Are they going to be allowed to have a stake in the local radio station, or is it that they are just not going to be allowed to have control? So many newspapers and television companies have such strong associations, not necessarily in shareholding, that a control situation could very soon arise. After all, in many areas newspapers have a monopoly. It is one of the things that have grown up over the years. The competitors have died out and in many areas a newspaper already has a complete monopoly. Therefore, if stations are to be truly local it is important that organisations which at the moment control the media should not stifle these new radio stations. In short, I welcome this Bill, which I believe will open a new era in broadcasting and will prove to be as successful as commercial television, and will certainly not be a licence to print money.

5.50 p.m.


My Lords, I also have to declare an interest, in the sense that I am associated with a consortium that proposes to apply for one of the stations, and for that obvious reason, if for no other, I want to give a warm welcome, though in certain respects a qualified one, to this Bill. I make no apologies to my noble friends on this side of the House for doing so. I hope that the sound of minds closing sharply this afternoon will not reverberate all the way through the Committee stage in this House. This is a very different measure from the one which was originally put forward in another place, and for this we have to thank the Members of another place on both sides. Mr. Ivor Richard, the spokesman for the Opposition on these matters, estimated that in the debate they took from November 25 of last year to March 7 of this year, with 34 sittings, 84 hours of discussion; and he reckoned that they had in fact spoken two-thirds of the length of War and Peace. I have read all the debates, and I can assure your Lordships that they were not quite as interesting as War and Peace. Nevertheless, it has a value and an interest all its own, which I think is important. The measure was greatly improved, though perhaps not enough.

Some of your Lordships who are critical of this Bill really cannot have it both ways. This afternoon we have heard several noble Lords mention on the one hand that it is likely that commercial radio will not be viable; on the other hand, and almost in the same breath, they say that it is the product of some greedy lobby which is anxious to get its chin into the gravy bowl. If there is a greedy lobby I have never been approached by it and I have never met it. Maybe it does exist; maybe I am innocent in these matters.

In some respects I think the deliberations in another place have helped the Bill but in many other respects I think they have worsened it, not so much by what was put into the Bill as by some interpretations of its wording. It seems to me that there is so great a fear that the lucky contractor will be on a bonanza that there is a grave danger of hedging him around with so many restrictions, and cribbing and confining him so much, that there will be little initiative left; and initiative is what can make commercial radio different and important. I will return to this point later. What was unique about the debates in another place was that though there were many differences of opinion about method, basically there were none on principles—and rightly so, because all, or certainly most, of the fears that existed about the commercialisation of the air 15 or 20 years ago have been dispersed by the success of commercial television. We have discovered that it does not mean that the public has a diet of pop and pap continuously. We have found a way of using advertising to finance the television network without sacrificing civilised standards; and it is because I believe that the same thing can be done in radio that I support this measure.

My Lords, it is time for a change in radio. The B.B.C. is not some graven image before which we have to bend down and worship and imagine that it is all perfect and all powerful. This is one area of communication in which monopoly has been retained, and I think it has been retained to the detriment of many listeners. I agree with many of the speakers who have said that the record of the B.B.C. is a good one. I would go beyond that and say that it is marvellous and unique. The B.B.C has been, and will remain, an institution which has made a contribution to the cultural life of this country which is second to none. At its highest and at its best it has captured the moving spirit of the entire nation, as during the War, for example, when the B.B.C. was not just equipment and speakers and air waves but took on a personality, and people tuned in to it as to a friend—a friend with authority who built up an enormous fund of trust and goodwill. That, my Lords, was community radio at its best, although in that instance the community was the entire nation at war.

The B.B.C. has made many mistakes, but I cannot recall any time when it has consciously lied or cheated its listeners or deliberately pandered to the lowest common denominator in its audiences. It has a remarkable record. It is remarkable, too, that the B.B.C. has been able to produce among its senior leaders two or three men who can rank as major cultural influences in this country, notably Lord Reith and Sir Hugh Greene. But this Bill poses no threat to the B.B.C. and its achievements. On the contrary, if it did that I should be against it, but in my view it provides a stimulus for the B.B.C., for to support the introduction of commercial radio is in my view to help the B.B.C. It is to face up to the needs of the 'seventies. What was right and perhaps even bold fifty years ago, to give a monopoly to the B.B.C. in terms of radio, may not be right now and may not be bold now. In my view it is not right.

There is a general feeling, particularly among young people, that there is too much centralisation, too many conglomerates; that bigness may be more economical (though not always) but it is not always more efficient, and certainly loses something in terms of humanity, warmth and direct contact with people. This is as true in entertainment as it is in industry. It is true in the world of ideas and communications. I worried when I read in the paper to-day that we are going to amalgamate a number of boroughs and create fewer of them, because I believe that this kind of bigness tends sometimes—although it may be more efficient—to lose the common touch a little. But in publishing, in broadcasting and in newspapers, immense power and influence remain in a few hands. Inevitably this restricts access to the medium and keeps out some, though not all, new thinking.

We saw this when Independent Television came in. There were great forecasts of woe by some of the Puritans and some of the closed minds, but the influence of the B.B.C. has been remarkable. Up to that point the B.B.C. had been virtually monolithic and immovable; what they said was right and nobody argued with them. But the revolution in the collection and presentation of news by I.T.A. was considerable. We can see the results to-day, and it was commercial television that led the way there. It has percolated through to drama and series. It was the I.T.A., with its Armchair Theatre series, which pioneered the way in drama in such a manner that the head of that particular series was brought over by the B.B.C. to help to transform B.B.C. television drama. There has been a vast improvement in standards in television as a result of competition. The quality is more uneven, but it goes over a wider range and nobody can doubt its objective. Comparing 1955 and 1956 with to-day and allowing for the improvement in technical standards, nobody could deny that there has been this particular improvement.

Radio felt some of the effects of this, but not much, because there has been no competition in radio. We do not know what radio can do in this country as yet, because it has not had the opportunity or the stimulus of competition, and in my view it is wrong that this important channel of communication should be dominated by one organisation, however benevolent, however fair-minded or even efficient it may be. It is wrong that broadcasting, which is the most competitive medium that we have, should be locked up inside a small number of huge institutions. Radio gives a unique opportunity to the small organisations—to the independents. Vast fortunes are not required to run a successful radio station. You can go in with very small resources and there is the opportunity to attract a great spread of talent in this way. Local radio, which is what this Bill is about (although one could wish that it was more about local radio than the regional concept that has percolated through), gives this chance to many people, and particularly young people, the "whizz kids" that one sees in B.B.C. radio, who are longing for opportunities but feel themselves confined. It would give them the opportunity to extend their contact, their access and their participation to this medium.

Having said that, I must voice some doubts and hesitations which we may return to in more detail at the Committee stage. I have already mentioned the fears that have perhaps led to too much power and discretion being given to the governing body, the I.B.A. as it will be called. I was glad that the former Minister, Mr. Chataway, insisted that there must be the maximum freedom of initiative for the operators. There may be a fear that if the operators were dishonest or cheap and greedy they would depart from the highest standards. This cannot happen, because of the provisions and safeguards written into the Bill, as they were into the 1964 Act. What I want to see is the maximum opportunity for freedom and initiative given in radio to the young people who have such a tremendous contribution to make, and whose world it really is, not ours.

For radio is nothing if it is not immediate; immediacy is its life blood. You cannot control radio from a distance and ask that everything should be organised and arranged days and weeks ahead, so that some body can control and decide what you are putting out and censor what you are putting out. It has to be immediate, and you therefore must have confidence in your operators. Destroy that immediacy and you have destroyed the backbone of local radio. So I hope that the I.B.A. will interpret its powers in such a way that there is a minimum of interference, laying down the broad channels of policy, leaving the young operators to get on with running the radio, and if they stray too far calling them in and reading them the Riot Act, for which the Bill provides.

I welcome the idea that there should be advisory committees, but I am a little concerned about one or two of the functions of these advisory committees. The applications for facilities in the last round, when the franchises for the television companies were being offered, contained a great deal of window dressing. They tended to dress up the Boards of the various television companies with well-known show business names, with Lord Lieutenants and ex-Lord Lieutenants and so on, in order to give them an aura of great respectability. I do not say that this was the case with Granada; I saw the noble Lord, Lord Bernstein, glaring at me. But I can name one or two companies that did do this. I do not know that it went down too well with the I.T.A. Nevertheless, it was window dressing. I think that sort of thing is rubbish, and I hope that the I.B.A. will not take any notice of it. In fact, the idea of having these advisory committees will to a great extent obviate the need for that kind of window dressing.

However, the functions need to be clarified, because according to the Bill these advisory committees will report to and advise the I.B.A. But any local radio station really doing its job will need to have close contact in some form or other with all the organisations in the particular town, with the people in key positions in that town. In other words, it will need to form its own particular advisory committee once it has the facilities to broadcast. Therefore, I should like to see the Bill so amended that these advisory committees face both ways; in other words, so that they can advise the programme contractors as well as advise the I.B.A. Otherwise, the situation will be such that you get everything secondhand. You are running a local radio station; there are some complaints about the way you are doing it or suggestions as to how to improve it, and you do not get to hear of them; the I.B.A. gets to hear of them through the advisory committee, and the matter percolates back to you in that fashion. I think that is wrong, and that to set up too many committees would be wrong. Therefore, I hope that some way can be devised whereby these advisory committees have regular meetings with the contractors and not just with the I.B.A.

I am more worried about the clause regarding newspapers. I can understand the anxiety to protect small local papers, but with the present Bill and the arrangements it proposes it is hardly likely that the smaller local newspapers will be affected. What we are going to have is in many respects regional radio rather than local radio. For example, in London it is hardly likely that the very small papers which cater for a particular borough will lose much advertising, if any. As for the great evening papers in an area like London or Glasgow, it is in the evening that radio has its minimum audience, losing out to television, and so again it is unlikely that these large evening papers will lose much revenue in terms of advertising. So why do we have this fantastic solicitude for the Press? We saw this solicitude in operation when the I.T.A. was formed, and again in the last round of negotiations for the franchises for television. In an area like Yorkshire, the Yorkshire Post was in fact freely cut in by the I.T.A. and the successful candidates were instructed to put the Yorkshire Post on their company and give them a shareholding. Are they going to have it again? Are they going to have another piece, or what? There is a danger in putting the Press in any position on these companies, or certainly in giving them a prescriptive right to go on these companies. One sees it in Australia where the Press have a dominating position in television, in several television stations; you get a situation in which they are very reluctant even to review the products of a rival station in their newspapers, and certainly do not criticise their own products with any degree of depth or reality.

So I should like to ask these questions. Will the newspapers be asked to pay their share of the initial risk capital put up by some of these consortia? I know, for example, of one group that is hoping to get a station in one of the big conurbations—what a horrible word that is! They have been working for some time, and their investment in preparing information, developing programme schedules, working out where they are going to buy the machinery and so on, runs into a considerable amount of money, and it will be even more by the time the franchise is declared. If they do not get the franchise, that money is lost. But if they do get it, and if they are instructed to cut in local newspapers, are the local newspapers going to be asked to pay a share of that risk money or are we going to give them that without payment? If after two or three years it is shown that local radio has not adversely affected the circulation or the advertisement revenue, would the local newspaper be asked to leave? And if, as is quite possible, their circulation and advertising revenue is increased, will commercial radio be given a share of that increase? If a new newspaper is started up in a locality where there is already commercial radio, will the commercial radio—because this is a new competitor—be invited to join the board of the newspaper? This right to buy in worries me, because now the newspapers can stand back and wait without any risk. Never in history has this happened. This seems to be a new system of capitalism, one I have never heard of before.

I should like to see this clause deleted, or amended, so that first of all newspapers take their proper share in financing and supporting whatever consortia they choose and think is likely to get a station, with their share being cut down to a minority one so that they cannot have control. Secondly, if that fails, after a reasonable period of time if the newspaper can prove that the operation of the local radio has affected circulation and advertisement revenue, it would have the right to go to the I.B.A. and buy in; but it should not have this prescriptive right to come in on something when it has not taken a penny piece of risk.

On the financial side there is some concern for the smaller stations; some people are so concerned to prevent the bonanza I have spoken about that they have tended to go the other way. I have seen reliable figures which set the cost of running a station in an area of 200,000 people at about £136,000 a year. The revenue estimated from selling half the advertising time available would be about £102,000, leaving a loss of about £34,000 a year for an area of 200,000 people. They are figures that have been pretty thoroughly researched by experts, and I should like to have the Government's comments on them. If that is true, then if you are going to set up local radio in an area of 200,000 people you should ask the local newspapers to subsidise them and not the other way round. The situation has dangers because it could lead to this position, that if you have a number of ailing commercial radio stations in the small areas the bigger ones will be asked to protect and help, and this leads to the establishment of a network and some kind of monopoly.

The estimates I have seen indicate that there is no jackpot around this time, and all the people I have met who are interested in commercial radio are not the hard-faced pirates that my noble friends sometimes conjure up out of the woodwork, but seem to me to be enthusiastic, bright young people who really want to make some contribution. It is wrong to go to the other extreme and suggest that they are saints who are only there to serve the nation, but I have been enthused and intrigued by their concept of what true local radio can do. I think it is a tremendous chance to bring broadcasting into the 'seventies, and to release a flood of new talent and initiative. I would beg those people, particularly on these Benches, who are opposed to the idea, not to close their minds to it, and not to imagine that the B.B.C., as we know it to-day, and wonderful as it is, is the acme of perfection in radio, because it is not. I can only repeat what I said earlier: we have not yet seen what true local radio can do in this country, and I think that this Bill may give us an opportunity to see just that.

6.12 p.m.


My Lords, in no spirit of formality I should like to add my congratulations to those of other noble Lords to the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross. He and I first ran across each other in a rather different atmosphere from this—in the field of the unmarried mother and child. I noticed his care and solicitude in that field, and I expect that we shall have every reason to thank him for a similar attitude of conciliation and generosity in this House.

As I have listened to this debate I have been somewhat encouraged in my own firm belief that this is a bad Bill. I was a little set back when listening to my noble friend who has just sat down, who I think has confused a good deal of dogma with a lack of argument. At the same time, I feel that I ought to declare an interest. It is not a financial interest, but an ecclesiastical and professional one. I want to see this Bill killed because I do not like it. I think it is a very had Bill, and though that is perhaps a forlorn hope, if not a Christian hope, at least I shall have a go at determining for myself, and passing on to your Lordships, what has at least closed my own mind, with what the noble Lord who has just sat down heard was with a click as I turned the key; and he is largely responsible for that ultimate process.

When this Bill was introduced by Mr. Chataway in another place he gave as a very short declaration of principle one of the most casuistic statements that it has been my melancholy misfortune to read for a very long time. He said: Throughout a whole day's debate here "— referring to the other place— and a day's debate in another place nobody was able to think of any reason why commercial radio was wrong in principle if commercial television was right."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 11/11/1971; col. 1251.] Well, God bless him! that is perfectly true. But it is just as true to say that there is similarly no reason to think that commercial radio is right if commercial television is wrong. I have held the belief for long enough (though I was unable to take part in the debate in your Lordships' House) that the principle underlying commercial television or commercial radio is, for a Socialist and for a great many other people, wrong. Therefore I attach to the same arguments that prevail in the realm of radio what I would have said, and have said in other places, about commercial television. I believe that it does not provide a service, on the basis that philanthropy and 5 per cent. are mutually incompatible. I am sure that it does not regard the true interest of minorities because it has to maximise the area and financial viability of its product rather than seek to serve a community at the point at which the interests of that community are most involved. It is for that reason that I am as intemperate, if you like, in my opposition to this particular Bill as I have been to commercial television itself.

If it be argued that we have done pretty well, may I beg to remind your Lordships that we know what we have done only because there has been an absence of comparison with other things that we might have done. This is a very important consideration when one takes into account the second of the objections which I would list, which is the Government's pledge to break the monopoly that is now enjoyed in radio by the B.B.C. I would not be antipathetic to such a proposition. I think healthy competition between various organisations can produce beneficial results. But it is not necessary, in order to provide that competition, to embark on the processes of commercial radio. There are other and viable options which could have been taken up. Only had they been taken up should we have been in a position to say what has been the optimum or best results from a variety of choices which might have been made.

In fact, we do not know what would have been the benefits if, for instance, there had been an alternate and secondary public corporation, or indeed the proposition made in another place of four public bodies, including a certain measure of advertisement but having no distribution of dividends and no private shareholders. In other words, if it be argued, as has been eloquently argued this afternoon, that we have not done so badly with the present system of competition between B.B.C. Television and Independent—so-called—Television, what we do not know is how much better it might have been if we had earlier on taken on those options which are still viable and which I still think are preferable to the projects listed in this Bill.

As to the matter of public demand, I ventured to communicate to a large open-air crowd yesterday afternoon this fact of commercial broadcasting. They had never heard of it, professed very little interest in it and thought that it was a frivolous interjection of unimportant matters on the part of a Government which ought to be employed on much more serious business. I think that there is a very great deal to be said for that attitude. If there is no demand—and I cannot, in all honesty, find evidence of that demand—surely it is frivolous to suggest that it would be an increase of liberty if we were to provide what is not in fact generally desirable and, under the principles of commercial broadcasting, would, in my judgment, limit that freedom rather than enhance it. A great deal has been said this afternoon about the suitability of commercial radio for the provision of local broadcasting. I entirely agree with noble Lords who have suggested that if we proceed with this Bill we shall be embarking on a process of regional broadcasting, because the net effect of commercial broadcasting will be to maximise the catchment area, rather than to isolate and identify the community area. It is highly unlikely that the viable and normal limits of what are still called communities in this country will be properly served by an institution which will necessarily have to cover as large an area as possible in order to provide the necessary finances by which to make its business suitably rewarding.

There are two main objections which I think have been only vaguely listed—and at least one of them has not been mentioned at all. In principle, I do not believe it a good thing to increase the encouragement to listen to the radio, as distinct from reading the newspapers. After all, radio is inert, instantaneous and irrecoverable. But some effort is needed to read. You can re-read what you have once read, in order to provide yourself with a better understanding of what you have read. A newspaper can lie on the table for other people to read, and it can be preserved, as some newspapers are, for an unconscionably long time. I do not believe that it is a good thing that we should encourage the kind of inert, audible "wallpaper" attitude which radio still preserves, I think, in the minds of many of these gay and splendid young people who have been somewhat euphorically described by my noble friend (and he is a personal friend of mine), who has just sat down.

There is one other reason which has been deployed eloquently by my noble friend Lord Shepherd. If we are to make a reasonable assessment before 1976 of the suitability of the various channels and opportunities of broadcasting, both in television and in radio, then it seems to me foolish that we should embark on a project which at best can give only perhaps a year and a half of experience, and will be half-baked, incomplete, and will offer no sensible and no suitable evidence as to the suitability in principle of that which is now called independent radio. Surely it is better that we should not embark upon such a project until, as my noble friend has suggested, we can at least see what are the long-term pieces of evidence to be culled from the processes which hitherto have been undertaken in television and broadcasting. This is no time, as I see it, for an experiment which could not fructify before the time when the whole matter would be under review.

But let us suppose that the Bill finds its way on to the Statute Book. Let me reassume my cassock and speak more or less representatively. I have to confess that when, very largely, we in the Christian Churches opposed commercial television we were left naked, if not ashamed, when commercial television appeared on the scene. We had been so busy opposing it that we were not prepared to make the best of what we regarded as a bad job. If that is a compromise, then I am not prepared to die in a ditch for a matter such as commercial broadcasting, but I am prepared to accept the responsibility of trying to make something out of a bad principle, which can redeem it to a certain extent. It is in that field that I believe the Christian Churches—and I suppose I can speak representatively for them in this regard—have taken some care to look into the future, and to ask themselves what contribution they can make, if and when this Bill becomes an Act of Parliament and commercial radio is undertaken.

I have here—though I shall not of course attempt to read it—a document which has been produced by the Churches' Television Centre in co-operation with the Roman Catholic Television Centre, which will be presented, among other places, to a very important body, the Methodist Conference, in a month or so. I heartily support some of the propositions which it includes and some of the measures which it envisages. I believe that there must be a wider catchment area for the advisory councils and, somewhat modifying what I have previously said, I heartily agreed with my noble friend Lord Willis in his observations about the character and nature of these advisory councils. I hope that as this Television Centre document claims, there may be a 75 per cent. proportion of material which is strictly local, and that a certain amount of money will be set aside, clearly and unmistakably, for the provision of what are obviously local interests.

I also hope very much that the Christian Churches will be invited, in their new ecumenical enthusiasms, to take a larger part not only in expressing their coming together, but in stimulating it. Above all, I believe that there is a challenge, which I very much hope Christians of various denominations will accept, of seeking to make their contribution, effectively and efficiently, to a field where—once again I agree with my noble friend Lord Willis—there is a great opportunity. But that opportunity can as well be served, as it seems to me, within the framework of the existing local stations of the B.B.C. as it can within commercial radio; in fact, I think better.

It is the claim of this Government that they are redeeming a pledge. Would that they had redeemed other pledges of much greater significance! There is no particular virtue in carrying out an undertaking to do something which is wrong, and it would be much more suitable for the Government not to redeem a pledge of this description if it can be found, as I suggest it can be found, that they are embarking upon the wrong course. There were some people long ago who tithed mint and anise and cummin, and that was a work of moral supererogation. They were under no obligation to do it at all. The point is that they forgot or neglected to serve the weightier matters of the law. There are innumerable pledges which I believe this Government ought to redeem in other fields. I think at the moment it is a work of supererogation and it is a frivolity to provide what is not required, what is suspect, what is, in my judgment, effectively impossible within the framework of this clumsy Bill. It is for that reason that I oppose it and I expect that I shall vote against it.

6.25 p.m.


My Lords, I find myself in a somewhat odd situation. I do not agree wholeheartedly with any body who has spoken in the debate this afternoon. I disagree with something which every speaker has said and I find, to my regret, that I disagree almost totally with everything which my noble friend Lord Willis has said, although he and I are both approaching the subject from a professional standpoint. First of all, may I say that I have a possible interest in the outcome of this Bill, as indeed every journalist must, but I hope that it does not affect my judgment on it. My view remains that commercial radio is something which we have lived happily without, and I do not think that it will add substantially to the gaiety of life, as Lord Willis thinks, or conspicuously deepen our culture, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, perhaps suggested. But if we are to have commercial radio, as certainly we are, then we have to try to make it as good as it can be.

I have been most impressed by the criticism which has been expressed this afternoon by my noble friend and by the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, about the kind of creeping regionalism which seems to have got into local television, and I think we shall have to look very seriously into that in Committee. Of course, although it is perfectly possible for my noble friend Lord Soper to disagree with commercial television on moral grounds, it is not possible for my Party, as a Party, to do so, because we have kept commercial television in being throughout two Governments. When you allow your elder daughter for years to earn her living in a way of which you originally disapproved, you cannot argue with your younger daughter when she wants to go out dancing. That, I think, is the situation we are in to-day.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord to say that, ethically, that is one of the most disastrous comments I have ever heard him make?


My Lords, it may be ethically disastrous, but I think it is a very well-established fact of life. I fear that local commercial radio must always be limited in its scope and in its aspirations. We really know nothing about the contractors who will be awarded these stations, but we know a little about the aspirants. I would not describe any of those that I know as being stern disciples of the late Lord Reith. They are going into commercial broadcasting for profit, but that is perhaps a less dangerous motive than going into it for power. There is some truth in what Dr. Johnson said: that a man is seldom so innocently employed as when he is making money. He may be innocently employed, but of course he may not be constructively employed.

But where disagree with my noble friend Lord Willis is that I do not expect commercial radio to extend the frontiers of the medium. It is essentially a low-cost operation. There will always be a possibility that a young woman or a young man who is given the job of filling a period of off-peak time in an economical way may show a touch of genius; and there is always the possibility that local broadcasting, commercial or otherwise, will do something to stimulate the dismally low level of participation in local government affairs. But these will be byproducts. The object of the stations will be to make money, and the object of the Authority must be to see that they make it in a respectable and even worthwhile way. It will be up to the Authority to see that the public service element is not lost sight of, even in commercial radio; and it is a pity that there is not some statement of guiding principle in the Bill. I should like the noble Lord, when he replies, to assure me that all those moral objectives, those demands for quality and those demands for accuracy and adequacy of news which are in Sections 1 and 3 of the Television Act will apply equally to commercial radio.

In fact, of course, the Bill looks very thin without those clauses dealing with the objectives. It provides merely the framework within which commercial radio will have to operate. It is a low-key Bill for a low-key operation. It is not, however, wholly without common sense; and, differing from many noble Lords here, I think that the Minister has been right to leave almost everything to the discretion of the Authority. This is, after all, an experimental situation. Nobody knows how it is going to work out. It is impossible to lay down in advance a formula saying how this must be done. In fact, more than one formula will be neces sary, since stations will differ in size and the sociological nature of their audiences will also differ profoundly. There is nothing for it, I believe, but to put our trust—such trust as we may have—in the Authority and hope that, after its years of experience and sometimes disillusionment in commercial television, it can scent out the naive optimism of some would-be contractors and the concealed cynicism of others. One of the safeguards is that programme material in radio is very cheap, and if a contractor is getting disappointing results he will not have involved himself in a costly flop. He can do something different to-morrow, and he can keep on doing something different until he achieves the balance that he needs to win his audience, to make his profit, to satisfy the Authority and to satisfy local opinion as expressed by the local advisory committee.

I am extremely interested in these committees. Advisory committees have played a useful, if not a powerful, part in the development of broadcasting, and I have often thought that they would be a useful guide to newspapers. They could well play a bigger part in local broadcasting—perhaps a bigger part than they could ever play in national broadcasting. I hope that the Authority and the local government bodies who appoint these advisory committees will take great care to construct good ones. There must surely be, for once, an adequate proportion of women. There should be at least a 50 per cent. representation of women, since I am quite sure that more than 50 per cent. of the listening audience of commercial radio at any one time will be a feminine audience. I believe that even 50 per cent., which I do not think would ever have happened on any public body before, would not be an overrepresentation for women; and, of course, there must be a blend of youth and of experience, too.

There is one aspect of the new system with which I am professionally concerned. The Authority is going to bring into being something which resembles, in part, fifty-nine local newspapers and one national one, the London All-News Service. The problem of the supply and the editing of news is difficult, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, said, speaking with his expertise this afternoon, cannot easily be cheaply resolved. But the publication of news is a serious business, and a commercial station, no matter how small, will be publishing news, day and night. Sometimes it is going to be confronted with very big news—a break-in in its own area, a plane crash, a train crash, a riot. Ideally, there should be editorial supervision for all the hours the station is broadcasting, which would be a very costly provision; but news, even with a rip-off service, could not, in my opinion, be left to disc jockeys or even to studio managers. I would suggest, as I have suggested once before, that although you cannot turn studio managers into experienced journalists, you can turn experienced journalists into studio managers and into other types of executive. Commercial radio must not be run entirely by show-business people and by accountants. I hope that the Authority will take note of my remarks and will seek the best expert advice it can get on the news problems for local commercial stations. The solution must be economical, but it must also provide high and efficient standards.

I think the provisions to enable newspapers to participate in the profits, if any, are broadly acceptable. If this were a golden age for newspapers, if it were merely a question of siphoning off their excessive profits to a new medium such as commercial radio, there would not be much of a case; but life is not like that, after all, for most newspapers. Even some local newspapers to-day are only marginally profitable, and a modest reduction of their profits, such as might occur through commercial radio, might put them in jeopardy. Indeed, the problem throughout the whole of Europe is to ensure the survival of an adequate variety of newspapers. In some countries, in fact, they are wondering whether they can reconcile the freedom of the Press with some form of public subsidy, without which they will not be able to preserve the variety of newspapers they need. We have not quite come to that in this country; nevertheless, anything which tends to reduce the present number of newspapers and variety of newspapers is something to be looked at very seriously indeed.

Even if a newspaper has a stake in commercial radio, it could still lose more than it gains. Indeed, I think that com mercial radio is going to have to fight hard for its existence. The B.B.C. is a most formidable competitor. Two and a half years ago, when it reorganised its programmes to give each of them a unique character, it was, among other things, preparing to do battle with commercial radio on the local or on the national front. It has since then established habits of listening and has created loyalties to programmes which it is going to be very hard to shake. In fact, I suspect that commercial radio will have the success it hopes for only if it can increase the total size of the radio audience, and that is going to require some lively and well-publicised broadcasting. A simple "all-pop" formula will be neither possible nor adequate. Meanwhile, I hope that your Lordships will look very closely at this Bill in Committee to see whether some constructive Amendments can be agreed upon. It would be wrong to put commercial radio in a straitjacket, but it would be right, surely, to indicate more precisely than we do in this particular Bill the direction in which commercial radio should travel.

6.38 p.m.


My Lords, may I have the leave of the House to utter I think five sentences expressive of the deep perplexities which have been raised in my mind, listening with an open mind to the speeches which have been made this afternoon? I think it is incontestable that the word "commercial" has been used again and again in a strongly pejorative sense. Indeed, when the noble Lord, Lord Soper, uttered the word I was reminded of the behaviour of St. Peter, who said, when offered a miscellaneous meal, "Lord, I have never touched the unclean thing". Yet at the same time the speakers concerned have expressed anxiety on behalf of the Press. Indeed, Lord Soper, greatly to my surprise, expressed approbation of reading the printed word from time to time. I ask your Lordships: what is the esoteric difference which makes the word "commercial" a dirty word when applied to one kind of communication and at least tolerable when applied to the Press?

6.39 p.m.


My Lords, may I, literally for two sentences, intervene in this debate on behalf of the underprivileged listeners and viewers who live in the "sound shadow" areas of Great Britain? They must view this Bill with a certain amount of cynicism when, in many parts of the Highlands of Scotland, they can get two only out of four of the "steam radio" channels and can get only one out of two television channels. When we are told that it is not possible to get a better service to us, and when we are told in the same voice that it is essential that people should have a choice, then we think that you must be breeding people down here with four sets of ears and four sets of eyes if they are to make use of the choices which already exist—while we in the Highlands have only two channels to listen to and one to look at that are provided by the B.B.C. and one channel of commercial television. I appreciate that the Government are here redeeming a pledge, but I wish that they would make some useful pledges. One useful pledge to those people in the areas of Britain to which I have referred would be a pledge to improve the existing services, services which other people are already able to get, before they move on to providing other and, from my point of view, entirely superfluous services.

I should like to add one other word. It is entirely unnecessary for the Lord Provost or the Lord Mayor to put out his "state of the nation" statement to the accompaniment of a sales talk for a soap or cornflakes advertisement; because there is already a perfectly good channel provided by the B.B.C. V.H.F., on which any Lord Provost or Lord Mayor can put out his "state of the nation" or town statement whenever he wishes to do so. I am sure that they would be only too glad to get a contribution from the local authorities to he used on the existing local channels. So I should like to add to this debate the feeling of disgust with which people in the "sound shadow" areas will view the cynical way in which this Bill is being foisted on us.

6.42 p.m.


My Lords, bearing in mind what Lord Robbins has said, I shall try not to use the word "commercial". In the debate on the White Paper entitled An Alternative Service of Radio Broadcasting, a debate which was introduced in this House by my noble friend Lady Llewelyn-Davies, who would have been speaking on this subject to-day had she been well enough to do so, the Minister replying referred to the "communication industry". That is what we are discussing in this Bill. That is what we are concerned with. The people who control the mass media in a society like ours have great responsibilities and great power—far greater, I was going to say, than any of us in this House; but I have realised since the beginning of the debate that a number of your Lordships do have just this power, including that Member of your Lordships' House who has just gone home to have a rest. This applies also to the other place, although these are the elected representatives of the people.

If we look at the terms used in the Bill we sec exactly what it seeks to do: to give opportunities for programmes to be transmitted through channels controlled by contractors. The Memorandum uses these words in reference to contractors: who in consideration of payments made by them to the Authority will have the right and duty of supplying the programmes, including the advertisements…". Like so many speakers to-day, I am not "agin" advertising. How can you sell your goods in the marketplace unless you have a means of advertising them? But I am concerned about the possibilities of giving more power to those who—to quote the 76 Group, an association of young people within the broadcasting professions—might (I put it no higher) put commerce before communication and profits before programmes. Several noble Lords have referred to the fact that the actual drafting of the Bill seems to raise many questions; and it has clauses which seem rather impossible to operate. But in a Second Reading debate in this House, we concern ourselves much more with the broad principles.

Several noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Shepherd, have asked whether there is a demand from listeners for an alternative broadcasting system, from whatever source. I have listened carefully to the noble Viscount who introduced the Bill and I have read the speech of the Minister in the other place, but I cannot see where they have justified what I call the consumer case. I do not doubt there has been a demand for private enterprise radio by those who will be trying to make us buy more of things we do not want in order to make more profits for them; but the needs of the buyer must be considered as well as those of the seller. It is only half the story if the Government take a narrow view on this. I see this Bill as a narrow Bill.

I am intrigued by the reference to freedom. I am reminded of the old slogan in the Labour Party, "The Ritz is free to anyone who has enough money to pay the bill." There are freedoms and freedoms. Looking at what some members of the Press have said, I like particularly the paragraph from the Guardian which reads: The B.B.C. already provide a range of alternatives on radio that the commercial stations"— I am sorry to use the word— will not even try to match. They will be in it for the money as everybody knows. In the carve up between God and mammon, the responsibility for God will be left with the B.B.C. One of the most popular arguments that have been advanced (and it has been advanced even in this House) has been that of competition giving an alternative choice. One evening of television viewing would disprove that. If B.B.C.1 is offering a "pop" concert, often some canned music product, you can rest assured that I.T.V. is also offering a "pop" concert. If I.T.V. are showing a Western film, you turn to B.B.C.1 and you will find another Western film. The only true alternative seems to be provided by B.B.C.2 which does try to offer a choice. But as we have already heard from one noble Lord—and I am now speaking about television some areas of the country do not even have this kind of choice. Yet we are considering introducing a further service for those areas which are already more than well supplied.

The question arises: Just how local will local stations be? The Minister made the point when speaking in the other place that people are interested in the affairs of their own locality. This was one of the reasons he gave for introducing the Bill. This is true. A local paper, I should have thought, was read more thoroughly than a national daily. But as I understand it, when this Bill is passed, if it is passed, some 60 stations will be set up. A station of this kind can be placed only where there are both revenue and listeners to support it. If a station is to serve a large conurbation, which is the only way it can be provided with the revenue and the listeners, it will have to attract national advertising to gain sufficient revenue. So I cannot see the justification for the claim (a claim which was made particularly in the original White Paper) that we are going to combine popular programmes with fostering greater public awareness of local affairs and the involvement of the local community. This is a false claim. This is an impossible task to place on any station. Broadcasters to a large area are not going to be interested in the affairs of the small village. The commercial elements in our society are much more forthright, as one may judge when reading in Campaign, the advertising journal, statements like: If the people want 'pap', commercial radio may have to provide it. One prospective "tycoon"—we are now told that that description is not true and that they are not going to be tycoons—was supposed to have described local radio as, "mostly the sound of music interspersed with a little news". Indeed, I understand that the experts describe the catchment area of radio as embracing those who travel to and from work in their cars, or housewives preparing meals or doing housework. This suggests to me that it is light "pop" music which will be broadcast to them rather than discussions on the affairs of the community. When he was in general practice, my son-in-law used to tell the story that when he turned on the radio in the car while other people got music he got his mother-in-law. Pilkington spelt out very clearly what "local" means: 'Local' means that material broadcast by a local station would be for a sufficient part of the day of particular interest to the locality served by that station. My Lords, I suggest that this cannot be done by regional stations covering vast areas of the size envisaged in this Bill.

I was rather intrigued when listening to the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, for whose talents and capacity I have the greatest admiration, to note that he seemed to be able to justify areas of the Bill which seem to my simple soul incredibly naïve. With the present complicated ramifications and with companies that are linked with one another and selling completely different products, is it really possible to disqualify record manufacturers, music publishers, et cetera from being awarded a contract? The other day I was talking to people connected with a large concern which seems to deal with records, travel agencies, a sports store and catering. I am sure that there must be some way of disentangling that, but it would be interesting to know exactly how the Authority is going to achieve it.

Regarding the reference to excessive profits for the programme contractors, how do we determine when profits are excessive? I gather that we have a target, but in relation to what? Who decides what is excessive? This seems to me to be placing a very unreasonable burden on this Authority. I see that the programmes and advertisements are to have standards, but where is the question of the timing of the advertisements dealt with? Perhaps I have overlooked it. If it is not there, I foresee that we may have thirty minutes of some programme with thirty minutes of advertisements.

My Lords, this has been a long debate and, so far as I can discover, the Committee stage will be even longer. Recently, I saw a brilliant film, "W.U.S.A.", which showed the takeover of a local station by an unscrupulous man who used his communication media to put over a message which was reactionary and Fascist in character. It was rather interesting to note that the newscaster, when asked what he did, said, I broadcast news on the hour, every hour, always bad." Your Lordships will say that this film presented a grossly exaggerated picture, and that it could not happen here. I will say only this: if you can sell millions of pounds worth of soap powder by skilful advertising, I strongly suspect that you can sell almost anything. I believe that already there is enough of our mass communication media in the hands of a few individuals. I am not satisfied that we are going to get a large number of small, independent and thoroughly dedicated operators for these small stations operating in small places. I believe that we shall have large regional concerns. It is rather significant, my Lords, that only two speakers from the Government Benches seem to support the Bill—and I believe that one of them declared an interest. I would say, though he is not in the Chamber now, that I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu was curiously ungenerous to my noble friend Lady Stocks. If she owes something to the B.B.C., I would say that equally the B.B.C. owes something to my noble friend. I would agree wholeheartedly with my noble friend Lord Shepherd, who asked why this indecent haste? Why are we forced into approving a Bill, for which there is no apparent demand, in order to fulfil an Election pledge? There are far more important matters which should have come first.

6.55 p.m.


My Lords, we have had a very stimulating debate. Indeed, broadcasting is a subject of such general importance and interest that your Lordships never fail to rise to the occasion when it is debated—some noble Lords rise a little further than others, perhaps. Noble Lords used to advocate out and out rejection on the principle, apparently, that commercially motivated competition was evil in itself. Unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, I do not undertake not to use the word "commercial" during the course of my speech and I am very sorry that she did not keep her undertaking. I am even more sorry that she did not answer the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Robbins. I should have been interested to hear the answer.


My Lords, if I may intervene, may I say that I do not think it is for me to take sides with the newspapers. I have no shares in any newspaper.


The question put by the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, was: Why is it all right for newspapers to be commercial, whereas it is not all right for radio to be commercial? This was the —


My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive me, I was on the point of getting up, before the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, sat down, to deal with that question. Then came an unexpected intervention from these Benches and I gave way, thinking that the particular point was going to be put. I think the simple answer is that although all newspapers must make a profit in order to live, profit is not the first motive of many newspapers, including some of those with which he is associated. I do not think that the same may be said to be true of what is vulgarly known as "commercial radio."


My Lords, may I also add a reply to that? I read newspapers regularly, and I never read the advertisements. If you turn on a radio set to listen to something serious and it is interrupted by "soap" you cannot get away from it. That is a totally different thing.


Well, my Lords, I probably brought all those interventions on myself. The attitude that the commercial principle was wrong was very easy to understand before the days of I.T.V. But very few of your Lordships, with the possible exception of the noble Lord, Lord Soper, would now like to abolish I.T.V. To-day, we have perhaps seen a shift in opinion. I think I detect some recognition of the disadvantages of leaving the B.B.C. as the sole incumbent of a monopoly in radio, with no alternative outlet for talent and no alternative for listeners to the idiom of the B.B.C. That is not to impugn the achievements of the B.B.C. radio service. But if there is the possibility of an alternative choice, why should it not be made available? I think that is all I need say about the general principles of independent broadcasting. There is a good deal more I might have said, but it was put infinitely better than I could ever hope to do in what I thought was a quite outstanding speech by the noble Lord, Lord Willis; and I must say that it was very nice to hear support coming from a rather unexpected quarter.

If I may, I will now deal with one or two points which have arisen during the debate. I think your Lordships will appreciate that it would be quite impossible for me to reply to every speech in detail, but I will try to answer as many of the specific questions and points as I can. I think we were all rather saddened by the plea of the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso—I think I have heard it before from him—who, as I understand, feels very deeply about this matter. The point is that serving sparsely populated or mountainous areas with television and providing radio for towns are not alternatives. The first is an extremely expensive and technically impracticable thing to do and the second is neither expensive nor impracticable.


My Lords, I did point out that we lack two out of four channels on radio. We should very much like to have those, and it is easy to provide them.


My Lords, I have no doubt that the B.B.C. will read with great interest what the noble Viscount has said.

Several noble Lords opposite have asked why there should be such high legislative priority for what they called a "small, frivolous and squalid Bill". If this argument is always going to be used and carried to its logical conclusion, there will always be matters of great importance to be carried out. Some can be done quickly, and some not so quickly. If you are always going to say, when there are great things to be done, that some of the smaller things which can be slipped in quite easily can never be done, then such things will never get on to the Statute Book. There was no reason to wait before introducing this Bill: the sooner the stations come into being, the better. A decision had to be taken fairly soon on whether to allow the B.B.C. to have more local stations. Once more local stations had been authorised for the B.B.C., once one had got beyond a certain point, it might have been too late to introduce independent local radio. Perhaps some noble Lords on the other side would not have regretted that, but this is a matter on which different sides have different opinions.

The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, urged the setting up of a Royal Commission to inquire into broadcasting, and he wondered why we could not wait until this had been done before introducing this Bill. No decision has been made on the possibility of having a Royal Commission, although Her Majesty's Government decided not to go on with the Broadcasting Committee under the noble Lord, Lord Annan, which had been proposed by the previous Government. If a Commission were set up, it would never be the right time to introduce any thing new like this. The Government consider that it would be wrong to freeze all developments by setting up such a vast Inquiry immediately. But the Government recognise that decisions about the future of broadcasting in general will have to be made in good time before 1976. If your Lordships pass this Bill, it will be possible for decisions to be made in the light of experience of independent local radio and not just wondering what it might be.

The noble Lord, Lord Soper, and I believe the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, said that there is no demand for the I.B.A. This argument leaves out of account the fact that the public have no real experience of independent local radio. There was no great demand for the I.T.A., but I think that very few people in the country would want to see it abolished now.

The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, says that he approves of competition for the B.B.C. in local radio, but he thinks that this Bill is wrong. He does not quite explain where he wants this competition to come from.


My Lords, perhaps I did not put it clearly, in which case I apologise to the noble Lord. I explained that there were all kinds of experiments which could be made by turning over local television to universities and to local communities, which would provide competition, and still raise the money from licences.


My Lords, it is quite easy to suggest a number of ways in which things can be carried on, but it is a different matter to say how they are going to be paid for. That is what I was waiting to hear the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, say.


By licences.


Licences, yes. But is the present licence fee to be increased to pay for it? Are people to be compelled to buy a second licence? Is there a demand for an increase in the licence fee? The noble Lord, Lord Soper, had an idea that one might get the best of both worlds: by having advertisements but at the same time having a national service—a sort of nationalised independent local radio, if that is not a contradiction in terms. But this is a matter where possibly the noble Lord, Lord Soper, and Her Majesty's Government, however much we argue, will not agree.

The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, wanted more B.B.C. local radio. But I would tell him that on V.H.F. the 20 B.B.C. local stations have slightly more coverage of population than the 60 local independent stations will have, and about the same on the medium frequency. I think that it was my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing who asked about frequency allocations for the B.B.C. and I.T.A.: and the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, asked whether there will be enough medium frequencies given to the B.B.C. to carry out the undertaking given in the White Paper. It is intended that the B.B.C. shall be given medium frequencies sufficient to cover 60 per cent. of the population of England by day, so giving effect to the White Paper.


My Lords, I did not ask whether there would be enough. I asked whether they would be the right ones, which would mean that the stations would not be involved in heavy capital expenditure.


I think I had better write to the noble Lord on that point.

I have been asked various other questions. My noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing asked what power would be permitted to stations on the medium frequency. Will it be different between day and night? So far as possible, the medium frequency transmitters will operate at the power necessary to match by day the performance of the V.H.F. transmitters. It is possible that eventually there will be stations which have to reduce power or switch off at night. But we are planning to avoid this. My noble friend also asked whether the medium wave frequencies would be those allocated to the United Kingdom in the Copenhagen plan, or whether they will be bilaterally negotiated. The answer is "Both". Some of the frequencies used will not be those assigned for use by the United Kingdom; but we shall comply with the internationally agreed procedures before using any such frequency.

The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, suggested putting into the Bill guidelines so that certain of the principles which my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross gave in his opening speech could be set out in black and white for everyone to see. I am advised that it would not be feasible to spell out exactly in the Statute Book what the Authority must do. The opinion of Her Majesty's Government on this is that, having appointed the right people to the Authority, we must leave them to get on with the job.


My Lords, I accept that there is a problem in putting in something that is exact. Guidelines are very rarely exact. If the noble Lord will look at the Industrial Relations Act he will see that the first clauses of the Bill were set out for that purpose of giving guidelines. Perhaps the noble Lord will look at this and see whether it is possible to have some sort of guidelines.


I will certainly look at it to see whether it is possible, and if the noble Lord at a later stage has any suggestions to make, of course the Government will consider them and advise your Lordships on them.

My noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing suggested that there was too much networking and "Londonisation", particularly of the news. Of course it is right that there should he a central service of news. But local stations will not be forced to subscribe to it: they will be able to provide their own news service if in the opinion of the Authority they can produce a first-class service of national and international news.


Will the noble Lord allow me to intervene? Why do we have to force a local station to produce a first-class international news service? Is this not exactly what the public service broadcasting organisation was set up to provide out of its licence funds?


My Lords, it is also policy to provide a news service which should also be a good news service. It is up to the Authority to decide whether the station produces a news service up to that standard.

The noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, asked me to give an undertaking that the whole of Clauses 1 and 3 of the Television Act which lay down standards of quality and morality will apply automatically to commercial radio. I certainly can give that undertaking: this is so. Several noble Lords—among them the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd—asked whether these services were to be regional or local. I can tell noble Lords categorically that they are going to be local. The local areas will obviously vary slightly in size, and naturally they will also vary in coverage in places of denser population. There may be some difficulties on technical points because in certain places—and I believe this was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet—coverage might be a little more in some cases than in others. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, was particularly interested in the coverage for London.




My Lords, the exact area to be covered has not yet been decided. All I can say at the moment is that the noble Lord's suggestion that Dover and Guildford will be covered is an exaggeration. The frequency has not yet been determined.


My Lords, could the noble Lord say how far it is an exaggeration?


No, my Lords, I am afraid I cannot at the moment. My noble friend, Lord Orr-Ewing, suggested that television interests might hold back radio if they were allowed to own the station. Clause 6 ensures that a television contractor may not own a radio station in his own area. The noble Lord, Lord Willis, suggested that advisory committees should be able to look both ways and to advise contractors as well as the I.B.A. Since the I.B.A. is going to be responsible to Parliament and to the public, it follows that the advisory committees must owe their first duties to the Authority; but there is no reason whatever why the advisory committees should not, provided this does not cut across their duties to the I.B.A., also advise the contractors.

The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, among others of your Lordships, asked about Press ownership. The question was asked whether the Evening News and the Evening Standard would have a prescriptive right to be in both London companies. The answer is Yes, subject to safeguards that are in both the Bill and the parent Act. The noble Lord also asked whether it was right that a newspaper should get shares by right under the Bill and then be able to sell them for profit. The aim is to give the newspaper an asset in recognition of the fact that commercial radio could possibly have some harmful effect upon it. The noble Lord asked whether it was right that the newspaper should be free to sell. It should be able to sell its assets if it wishes to do so. If a newspaper thought of selling a substantial shareholding to somebody unsuitable, the Authority could use the safeguard in Section 11(4) of the principal Act. However, if the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, is concerned purely with the fact of the newspaper making a profit, I would remark that there is every possibility—and I think the noble Lord, Lord Willis, pointed this out—that the newspaper could also make a loss if it had to sell its shares.

The other point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, was whether, if a newspaper has a large interest in a contracting company which has its licence taken away, it has a right to obtain an interest in the replacement company. My Lords, the answer to that is, No.




Because, my Lords, under Clause 9(3) its right is limited to the first time round.

My noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, suggested that the Bill bent over backwards too far to help the newspapers. It will be for the I.B.A. to determine what is an appropriate shareholding. The aim will riot be to compensate the newspapers in full. Similarly, it will be the I.B.A.'s job to see that a large number of newspapers in an area between them do not gain control. The noble Lord, Lord Willis, raised a number of points concerning newspapers. We will look at his suggestions, and at the arguments behind them, very carefully, and perhaps we can discuss them further on Committee stage.


My Lords, may I just go back to something which the noble Lord has said? In reply to a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, he said just now that both the Evening News and the Evening Standard would have a prescriptive right to buy into both London stations. My reading of the situation, both from the Bill itself and from the debate in another place, is that this is not so and that they would have to prove that they were going to make a loss, or at least would be adversely affected, and that, because of the danger that they might dominate another news medium in London, they would not necessarily have the right to buy into both stations. This particularly referred to the London news stations. Would the noble Lord be good enough to look at that again, because I am not sure that his answer was entirely in keeping with that given in another place?


My Lords, all this is subject to Clause 9, which is the safeguard for the public interest. I think I have answered a large number of your Lordships' questions, and I hope that I have dealt with most of the arguments which have been advanced. I have no doubt that we shall be looking at the Bill more fully at a later stage. Whatever your Lordships may feel about this Bill—and the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, suggested that it was squalid and horrid—it can hardly be said that it has been considered with undue haste. The time devoted to it in another place may not be a record, but it is certainly impressive.


My Lords, the noble Lord has attributed to me a complaint which I did not make. All I was seeking was time given in your Lordships' House between Second Reading and Committee stage for the drafting of difficult and complex Amendments. I was making no criticism of—indeed, I made no comment at all on—what had taken place in another place.


My Lords, I am sorry: I expressed myself badly. I did not mean to take up the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, but was merely indicating that this Bill had received a great deal of consideration. I was not referring to his point about the interval between Second Reading and Committee stage. That will no doubt be looked at through the usual channels. Her Majesty's Government cannot, in the nature of things, hope to satisfy everybody with a measure of this sort but they cannot be accused of being unreceptive of suggestions. Noble Lords who followed the proceedings of the Bill in another place will be aware of the very considerable modification which the Government accepted at the instance of others. Inevitably the new service, if it is to thrive, will have its impact on other commercial interests. Indeed, it is rather like a plant or animal—one cannot introduce it into the environment without causing some changes in the total ecology, but it is extremely difficult to predict with confidence precisely where the changes will occur or how great they will be. It seemed to the Government, however, that most obviously the impact will be felt by local newspapers, because in their case the nexus between the new medium and the existing one is close. So

7.28 p.m.


My Lords, as it appears that fewer than 30 noble Lords have voted, in accordance with Standing Order No. 55 I declare the Question not decided and that the debate thereon stands adjourned.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Second Reading debate be adjourned until first Business on Monday.

Moved, that the debate be adjourned until first Business on Monday.—(Earl St. Aldwyn.)


May I ask the Government why on Monday? Will there be time to give people notice so that the Government can get a few of their supporters here? Are they going to rely on the postal services, or will the noble Earl put out a special announcement on the radio—the sound radio, though I hope not commercial sound radio?


My Lords, I have confidence that noble Lords will be here in sufficient numbers at 2.30 p.m. on Monday.

On Question, Motion agreed to. for them the Bill contains special provisions of a somewhat novel kind. These provisions do not aim at any perfection. There are good reasons for having them, but to have them is to create some risks. What is being attempted is to temper the wind to the shorn lamb; not to say that no wind shall ever blow upon it, or that no lamb shall ever be allowed to shiver. I hope that your Lordships will now be prepared to give the Bill a Second Reading.

7.20 p.m.

On Question, Whether the Bill shall be now read 2a?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 3; Not-Contents, 4.

St. Aldwyn, E.[Teller.] Denham, L. [Teller.] Derwent, L
Beaumont of Whitley, L [Teller.] Tanlaw, L [Teller.] Thurso,V.
Somers, L.