HL Deb 06 July 1972 vol 332 cc1520-53

3.46 p.m.

LORD FERRIER rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are still satisfied that the B.B.C.-Time/Life contract concerning "The British Empire" series of programmes complies with Clause 12 of the Corporation's "Licence and Agreement" and recognise the widespread public disquiet about the content of a series to entitled. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Unstarred Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper. The Question, as your Lordships can see, is in two parts; and for the convenience of those noble Lords who may not have seen the programmes at all or of some who saw them and switched off—and there are many of those—or of others who saw only the repeat programmes, I believe it may be best to take the second part of my, Question first and outline briefly how the disquiet to which I refer came about.

The "British Empire" series of 13 television programmes was launched by the B.B.C. in collaboration with the U.S. International Time-Life organisation in January last. It was heralded by substantial and elaborate advertising in the Press and on broadcasting and a large audience looked forward to it with keen anticipation, as I did myself. In the event, the series turned out to be so shallow, so trivial and in some respects so sadistic that to those with a real knowledge and respect for the Empire it appeared to be definitely misleading—and more specially so in its omissions, which seemed more striking to me than its errors.

Besides this, and certainly in the original series, there was a slant in presentation which, marked though it was, is very difficult to define. I refer to the effect of a turn of phrase or a tone of voice, perhaps only in respect of one word, and the bearing that that may have in colouring a broadcast without being traceable from the script. I have various words in mind, words such as "adventurer", "profit", even "polo", which can be said in various ways which can lead to different interpretations. Having served and worked for many years in India, as did my father before me, I became chiefly concerned with the three Indian programmes, having been quite disgusted by the one on the West Indies which was shown earlier. I felt that I owed it to my forebears, to my old colleagues and my old comrades, both British and Indian, to monitor these Indian programmes.

The first, entitled "Remember Cawnpore", caused me to address a letter to the Editor of The Times which was published in a prominent position on January 28. A brief paragraph of two sentences in that letter read as follows: It was so unbalanced"— I was referring to the programme "Remember Cawnpore"— as to be a misleading travesty of a great partnership story. As a result I am greatly disturbed, as many others who knew and loved India must be, to think that by some commercial tie-up it is likely to be shown in the U.S.A. as a quasi-documentary film. One could elaborate at length but it is not necessary to do so; nor do I propose to proceed with such a task more than to protest at such macabre scenes as the blowing to pieces of a mutineer from a gun-barrel, the blood bespattering the colonel's lady and her horse; the flogging of slaves in the West Indies or convicts in Australia. "The Red-coats at it again" was the implication of the piece. Admittedly, the B.B.C. were in some difficulty over their Indian material because they had been warned off by the Indian Government for some previous misdemeanour, the details of which I am not aware. But why in the programmes on the West Indies did they include material from Dutch Guiana? As for India, I cannot recall any emphasis on the fact that long before the mutiny Britain had declared her intention to enable the Indians to govern themselves. There was no mention of great names such as Macauley, John Lawrence, John Nicholson, Dalhousie, Cornwallis and a host of great and generous administrators. As for the East India Company, in one copy of the Radio Times that great chartered company, dating back to Cromwell and indeed beyond, was described as "a city firm"—quite misleading.

Much of what I have just said is taken from the considerable correspondence in the columns of The Times, most of it bitterly critical—and expressions of opinion in other newspapers were not dissimilar. On February 14, in a Press statement, the B.B.C. rejected the massive criticism, saying that the series was attracting 9 million viewers a week and had cost half a million pounds to prepare. On February 23 my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing introduced a short debate in your Lordships' House suggesting a Broadcasting Council. He has written to me to say how sorry he is that he is unable to take part in this debate. I have also a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Annan, whose name is on the list of speakers but who may be unable to be present. In any case he will arrive late, which is disappointing to me as I was looking forward to hearing what he had to say in this matter. In Lord Orr-Ewing's debate, the series was mentioned and anxiety expressed that it was to be repeated on 13 Sunday afternoons, "so that the children could see it." In the event, the B.B.C. yielded to pressure—much of which may well have been internal—to cut the violence. I speak of the India programmes. Their whole tenor was substantially and sen[...]sibly modified; indeed the repeats on India were not unacceptable. But what has happened to the original film?

Other noble Lords have put down their names to speak to-day and I should like to thank them now as I shall have no opportunity to do so later, having no right of reply. They will express certain views and I would only mention the plea of a headmaster published in the Radio Times in the middle of February. He said that he was perplexed and worried at the effects of the programmes on his pupils. Among the published letters in The Times is one from Sir Bernard Fergusson about references to New Zealand. This was on March 30. Sir Bernard concluded his letter with the following words: I cannot conceive what the purpose behind this series can be, unless it is to make us ashamed, and our children, of what is not an inglorious past. It is the perquisite of the propagandist, not of the historian, to select and perpetuate only the shadiest pages of the record. I am looking forward to Sir Bernard's presence among us.

In the numerous letters which I have received—not published ones—one writer said, "This is 'Lord Haw-Haw' over again." In a "Talkback" programme on the B.B.C. on March 29, the audience illustrated the disquiet to which I refer. Perhaps an article by Louis Heren in The Times is a fair and restrained comment; and also about that time Peregrine Worsthorne had some trenchant things to say in the Sunday Telegraph. My question is: Do Government recognise the widespread nature of the disquiet which existed then, even if it has been allayed not only by the passage of time but by the modified nature of the Sunday showings? Are the original programmes being shown abroad? A noble Lord I met in an aeroplane yesterday told me that he had heard from his daughter in the U.S.A. that excerpts from these programmes are already on show on American television.

This brings me to the first part of my question about Clause 12 of the Licence and Agreement. My Lords, the clause, which is very short, reads as follows: The Corporation shall not without the consent in writing of the Postmaster Generai receive money or any valuable consideration from any person in respect of the sending or emitting, or the refraining from sending or emitting of any matter whatsoever by means of the stations or any of them, and shall not send or emit by means thereof any sponsored programme. On March 9, in reply to a Question for Written Answer the noble Lord, Lord Denham, wrote: The Government are satisfied that the B.B.C. is right to say that it did not … receive any money or valuable consideration in respect of the sending of the programme …".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9/3/72; col. 302.] Since then, however, it has become evident that certain financial transactions must have taken place. The Daily Telegraph said in a report in which they were referring to one of many exchanges which have taken place in the other House: But it is admitted that the B.B.C. will receive 1 per cent. of the profits from the part work and Mr. Chataway added: 'I think there is a feeling on the part of a number of M.Ps. that there are aspects of the Time-Life arrangement about which the B.B.C. ought to think further.' From a Minister who is considerably more understanding about B.B.C. problems than most politicians this amounts almost to a public rebuke. The implication of the remark was that although the B.B.C. had not offended against the letter of its Charter it had infringed its spirit. Now, later, I see that Mr. Marsland Gander, one of the television correspondents of the Daily Telegraph reported: Though disappointing, certain sales have taken place.

My Lords, what exactly is the position? Has the B.B.C. received the relevant consent in writing? In this strain I add my voice to those who have in the past regretted that the Addison Rules preclude the chairmen of corporations from contributing to Parliamentary debates. Why should Parliament be denied the other side of the coin?—and there may well be one. The Minister who is to reply is, I feel, in a very difficult position. My Lords, the B.B.C. are always ready to tell the general public that it, the general public, knows nothing about broadcasting. But do we not, indeed? We know a good deal about it from the listener's end of the stick. Also they pontificate about censorship, and everybody holds up their hands in horror at the thought. In fact I think, with respect, that some of your Lordships were somewhat hard on my noble friend Lord Gridley the other day during Lord Orr-Ewing's debate. Censorship exists to-day; we must admit that: internal censorship within the Corporation. Does the Corporation deserve the monopoly so to censor?

I often feel that the Corporation are not sufficiently eclectic in the sources they tap for some of their current affairs material. By all means let there be no official censor; but why decry or silence people with experience who may have been up against the powers of darkness in the raw and sincerely feel that some things have got to be said? My Lords, the remedy lies in the hands of the General Advisory Council and, above all, with the Board of Governors. Is the advice of the former sufficiently sought? Do the Governors govern as strictly as they might? It is curious that one of the letters in The Times came from a member of the Advisory Council, Mr. Philip Mason, historian of the Indian Civil Service, who wrote on February 7, and at the end of his letter said: I understand that the B.B.C. are hoping to sell this series all round the world. Neither in the interest of historical understanding nor of our good name does this seem desirable.

This brings me to refer to the last two words of my Question—"so entitled". After all, the British Broadcasting Corporation carrying a "British Empire" series bears the imprimatur of the British Empire. Should they not regard themselves as the custodians of the nation's heritage? This Question is not intended to be an exercise in "B.B.C.-bashing", because I am far too jealous of the importance of the place held by the Corporation in our body politic for that. There is nothing like it in the world. It is incomparable. Indeed, it is that very jealousy which has made me impose upon your Lordships' time this afternoon. I am haunted by the fear that my idol may be undermined and found to have feet of clay.

Let us recognise that there is widespread talk of the infiltration through the ranks of the B.B.C. of elements dedicated—and here I quote from one of my private letters—to knock the police, the Army, the Church, the Common Market, to encourage the permissive society, pop music and drugs and the spread of Marxism in education". The public are beginning to stir in their anxieties about the future of the B.B.C. and the form which the new licence is to take in 1976. Happy as most of us are with almost all the operations of the Corporation, if a series like this, with its international connotations, can so disturb so many sensible people, and the Chairman himself has said in an address in May: Things move so speedily in this swiftly-developing medium that since I became Chairman even less than five years ago the whole face of radio and television broadcasting has altered radically"— if that is the case, and it is, are we not justified in crying out "Beware! What is the shape of the B.B.C. to be in 1976?".

4.3 p.m.


My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for introducing this Motion to-day. It is a subject very close to my heart. Before I deal with aspects affecting me personally, I should like to say that I do understand some of the difficulties of the B.B.C. in an ever-changing world. It is against that background that I want to be as considerate as possible in my remarks. This debate gives me an opportunity to refer to my experience as a regular listener to the B.B.C. while overseas for over 27 years. I suppose that during the time I was overseas there was probably not one evening (except for the time of my incarceration during the war when I was not allowed to listen to broadcasts) that I did not listen to the Overseas Broadcasts of the B.B.C. I should like to give my great praise for everything which the B.B.C. did for us during that period in the circumstances in which I found myself in the Service. The quality of the broadcasts was certainly of the highest calibre. Indeed, there was absolute fairness and objectivity in all the programmes to which I listened.

I wanted to say something about that period because I now want to compare it with the change which has happened in this country during the period from post-1955 up to this year, 1972. I feel that a most unfortunate impression of the Commonwealth and Empire has been created in the televised pictures put out in the "British Empire" series which has just been produced by the B.B.C. A particularly unfortunate and erroneous impression of the Empire would be given if these pictures were shown overseas, especially in America. During what might be called the great period of the B.B.C. in the 1930s, there was the "Birth of the Empire" programme, followed by the Overseas Service, when the B.B.C. exercised so much power which was to the benefit—and I would emphasise this—of all races. In those programmes the B.B.C. objectively mirrored all that was good in this country and in its public and Parliamentary life. That did not mean that it did not criticise—it did; but everything was done in the most objective fashion. Above all else, it would be true to say that during that period the B.B.C. was an inspiration. It inspired men of all races, as I know.

I remember a particular occasion when I was 12,000 miles away from England. This was during the time when the late King George V drove to Parliament to receive the congratulations of Parliament at the end of a very long and tiring reign. I happened to be with a young Malay and Chinese in the jungle and the broadcast was coming through. These people turned to me and said that they had the feeling that this man had done something good with his life and that it was an inspiration for them to try to do something better with theirs. That was the inspiration and that was the effect of those broadcasts. It was not an isolated instance. I could give the House many other examples of the good which was done by the B.B.C.

There was something mystical and perhaps even something spiritual about the Empire, the Commonwealth and the conception of an independent nationhood. Nothing of that came through in the recent televised "British Empire" series. There was no great theme, or any sense of the sweep of history. It was, taken as a whole, an offensive and unflattering picture of the Empire; and The Times said as much in a leader published on April 29. When I remember those who died because they believed there was some great idea beyond themselves, this "British Empire" series, on that score alone, is doubly offensive to me. In Changi gaol in Singapore I saw men die happily and at peace because they believed that all would come right in the end. They believed they had not served false gods. Could it not be said, my Lords, that in the "British Empire" series we in the Colonial Service were depicted as following false gods?

It is to-day that I particularly miss the participation in this debate of a great man, a man of noble character, who could have made a valuable contribution to your Lordships' debate—a man who was in the next cell to mine in Changi gaol. Regrettably, he is no longer with us. He was unspeakably tortured. I speak, of course, of the late right reverend Prelate Dr. Wilson, a former Bishop of Singapore and a former Member of your Lordships' House. I am sure that Bishop Wilson would have presented a better picture to your Lordships than I, in all humility, have been able to do this afternoon. But he would have spoken about something else, and would have confirmed, I think—because he was involved in this aspect though he hardly ever spoke about it—that the so-called "oppressed races", who are so often depicted as such by writers of our Colonial history, risked their lives and indeed gave their lives to get food and medicines through to us in that gaol. Where was any of this in the "British Empire" series?

I hardly know how to end my speech. I hope that the noble Earl who replies to the debate will give us an assurance that "The British Empire" programme will not be shown on any wide scale overseas. I am sorry that it has been shown in Britain. If it is shown overseas, I cannot believe that it will do us any good. In any case, apart from the rather emotional way in which I feel about it, the programme is full of shortcomings and paints a wholly misleading picture of our Commonwealth and former Empire. I am quite sure that every noble Lord in your Lordships' House hopes that our relationships with our overseas friends will not deteriorate, but will grow in the years that lie ahead of us.

4.11 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Ferrier has done a sterling service to your Lordships' House in raising this matter to-day. In all the 13 years that I have been in this House I have seldom found it more difficult to speak constructively. The only reason why I speak is that I was one of those invited, in the early part of January this year, to the opening reception, along with those noble Lords and others whose ancestors helped to found the Commonwealth. It has always been a golden rule when one is invited to dinner, to lunch or any other function to be courteous to and about one's hosts, and I wish to be so to-day. But I am bound to say to your Lordships that when I first entered the reception room I had forebodings, because there was nobody to receive us, and the whole thing seemed to me to be ominously reminiscent of a scene where those who were our hosts did not quite know what they were supposed to do. There was, however, an interesting speech from the noble Earl, Lord Mountbatten, who has done a great deal for the Commonwealth, and we were all presented with a complimentary copy of the booklet on the television series.

Obviously, I watched not only the first but a number of the following programmes. I would not go so far as to say that all the programmes were bad; and I think that particularly the one on Canada was constructively presented. The programme to which I looked forward most was the one on New Zealand, because it is the only Commonwealth country that I have visited, and one of my ancestors who was Governor General of India later went to New Zealand where a city, which my wife and I visited last year, was named after him. But I was rather appalled at the few moments given to New Zealand. There were presented some rather indifferent pictures of the city of Rotorua, but very little about the achievements of either the New Zealanders themselves or of that great race the Maoris. My noble friend (as he will soon be) Lord Ferguson wrote a critical letter to The Times on this score. When I was in New Zealand I visited the war museum in Auckland and saw the names of at least 5,000 New Zealanders who fell in the Second World War. So far as I am aware, no mention was made of that in this series.

I think the problem here arises from what Time/Life and the B.B.C. set out to do. I am sure that it was done with the best of motives. I like to think that there was no ulterior motive in presenting this series. But to try to present the British Empire in whatever way in 13 programmes is a gargantuan task. I believe that, to put the whole thing with proper impartiality, India alone would probably have needed 13 programmes. I think this is the nub of the problem: the whole programme was too condensed. I do not know—and perhaps my noble friend will give the House some information on this—the details leading up to the arrangement for this series. It is questionable whether the partnership of Time/Life with the B.B.C.—and I have the greatest admiration for both organisations—was the right one to present a series on the British Empire.

Then there arises the question: to whom was the programme primarily directed? There is a tendency these days, not only for the young, but for others, to "knock" the British Empire as being something which is defunct, moribund and as something which does not matter. I think this is dangerous. I am reminded of the words of Mr. Harold Macmillan when he was talking about the emerging countries of the Commonwealth. He said (I paraphrase his words very roughly) that it took this country several centuries to solve its problems before the emerging countries of the Commonwealth had had an opportunity of solving theirs. There are bound to be problems here.

Of course there have been examples in the old Commonwealth countries of where British rule and other forms of colonial rule have not been all that they might have been. But I think it is regrettable that in this series there is all too little, if any, mention made of some of the great leaders of the Commonwealth. My noble friend Lord Ferrier mentioned some of them.

I did not see the programme on Australia; but some Australian friends of mine, who are certainly not old, hide-bound colonials, were, to say the least, very disappointed with what they saw. Indeed, the countries of the Antipodes are not barren outlands as this programme, from what I understand, and having read the pamphlet on it, tended to suggest: they are countries where there has been a great deal of investment and rebuilding, not only by our own forebears, but by the current population.

As to the more legalistic parts of the Question, it may well be impossible at the present time to stop this programme from going out overseas. Decisions have no doubt been made. I think it is only fair to say that people all over the world these days are sophisticated: they are getting more and more so, and they will make up their own minds. I hope that, whatever mistakes may have been made in this series—and my noble friend Lord Ferrier very fairly made this point—this will not be made out to be B.B.C. bashing. We have heard that the B.B.C. favours the Left. The B.B.C. may favour the I.R.A. or may favour the Protestant movement in Northern Ireland. It is difficult for a corporation of this

kind to be completely impartial. I think the criticism levelled against the B.B.C. in this series has been largely fair. From some of the letters that have appeared in the newspapers I believe there has been a tendency to put the whole blame on the B.B.C. for every badly presented programme. I hope that in due course the B.B.C. will present another programme on the Commonwealth. I hope that they will do it off their own bat—they are quite capable of doing this.

One of the problems of this past series is that there was all too little research carried out. From the programmes that I saw it appeared that the series was made up from rather curious still shots in some cases and, at times, badly fabricated action shots, interspersed with a good deal of sound common sense. The common sense was sadly lacking in many respects. I am worried in some respects about the effect that these programmes will have on the young. I speak, as many noble Lords do, as the parent of a family. Young families have a great deal of intelligence and their views on the Empire and the Commonwealth—and, indeed, on the Common Market and international affairs—are a good deal more sophisticated and a good deal better thought out than many of our own views. This is chiefly because many of them have visited these countries. While I agree with much of the criticism that has been levelled against this series, and while I share the concern at the fact that the series has gone out world-wide—if this is the case—I hope that the B.B.C. or, indeed, some other television channel, will broadcast a future series on the British Empire, because I believe that in the years to come the British Empire as a whole, both old and new, will be found to be something to which we owe a very great deal.

4.22 p.m.


My Lords, I am glad that my noble friend Lord Auckland emphasised the importance of taking into consideration the effects of television on children. I came to this House today looking forward to hearing my noble friend Lord Ferrier and his presentation of his case. I decided that I would wait until I had heard his speech before making up my mind whether or not I should participate in this debate. But, having heard his remarks, I feel with greater emphasis that I want to take this opportunity of contributing one or two thoughts on the subject.

My noble friend has dealt with the technical angles which justify his raising this debate. I am no authority on media, particularly television, but I know that in a subject like this my noble friend Lord Ferrier, with his military and civilian record, a long life in India and then a new life taking up civilian activities, speaks on this subject with particular effect. Because of what he has said I feel that there is little more to emphasise on technical matters. But I have heard, and I am sure that most other Members of this House will have heard, a severe indictment of many of the programmes on the B.B.C. and, in particular, this incorrect presentation of what the British Empire is and has been. And may I, for the purposes of this debate, have the indulgence of the House and use the word, "Empire" and not the more modern term "Commonwealth", because the series dealt with the Empire?

One of the main complaints about the series was with regard to the association of the B.B.C. with Time/Life, and it is natural that any production put out under that aegis would be slanted against imperialism. The advantages of imperialism are one of the things which the United States has consistently, and I would say questionably, opposed. The series seems to have invoked a good deal of criticism for presenting the Empire in an improper form. I feel particularly motivated to speak because I was brought up in the Victorian era, when discipline, patriotism and the Establishment were all respected. To-day, apparently, they are dirty words which shows that there is insufficient recognition of the pride in our past.

I am going to make no apologies, as some would do, for the way in which the Empire was built up. It seems now that this tradition of the past is receiving less respect than it should. I well remember watching Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee procession, at the zenith of British power, and the pride with which one saw her procession. There was the power, the force and evidence of good, of education, of civilisation, and science which benefited the peoples who lived throughout the Empire. I also remember subsequently, while in the 2nd Bucks. Militia, lining the route to Windsor Castle as the coffin of Queen Victoria passed to her funeral. One saw then reigning monarchs of the world walking in sections, such was the pride and admiration which they had for Queen Victoria. There was a void when her death was announced; one felt that the bottom had dropped out of the world. It was hard to understand a world without Victoria as the Queen. I hope that presents a picture of what the Empire really is and what it has been.

The series showed that in the 1914 war contingents from all the territories of the Empire sprang to the defence of the Allied cause. In the, series there was much talk of bloodshed and disorder, but very little relating to praise about what Britain had done. There seemed to be too much deploring of our former role and apology for what we had done. Surely the bequest, which Britain made on her withdrawal from India, with which my noble friend Lord Ferrier is well acquainted, has shown by its carry-on what was left behind and what contribution had been made. On the subjects of impartial justice, uncorrupt officialdom, selfless dedication by many whose lives had been spent in the services of the Empire the series was strangely muted. Let us hope that some future producer will produce another series that will show what Britain did in the development of her Empire for the benefit of humanity through the centuries, and what happened on her withdrawal from many places.

4.32 p.m.


My Lords, I must apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, as I have already done by letter, for not being in my place when he opened the debate, but I had a statutory meeting which I could not get out of. I came here as fast as I could and I am sorry to have missed his speech. Indeed, I question the propriety of my speaking since I did not hear how he introduced the debate. We owe a great debt to him, because I am sure that when there is a controversy about the B.B.C., or of any performance on television, it is in fact of great public value that the matter should be aired. If it is not debated, if we do not allow noble Lords to express their views freely on this matter, we should be doing the B.B.C. itself a disservice. It is only because we feel com- pletely free to say what we will in praise or in blame of that Corporation that in fact it preserves its freedom; so we are in Lord Ferrier's debt this afternoon.

I take it that there are two points which he has raised, the first of which is the propriety of an association between the B.B.C. and Time/Life. On that point, I would simply say this. It was perhaps a little unwise of the B.B.C. actually to be linked with the publication side of Time/Life on a series of this kind But, as I understand it, the B.B.C., recognising that this perhaps was not the most sensible way of handling an arrangement of this kind, has altered its procedures and is now in a different contractual relationship with Time/Life, one which could not possibly be open to this kind of criticism. It is an association, so I am told, which is a great profit to this country in terms of dollar-earning. I would hope that the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, when he comes to reply, can give us some details on this point, because I think it is one on which the House needs reassurance. The charter of the B.B.C. is very strict on the matter that it must not be engaged in commercial enterprise of any kind, and if the noble Earl could oblige us in this way I for one should be very grateful.

May I now turn to the ideological issue? This is of extreme interest, not merely because of whether the programme was slanted in this way or in that, but to me as an historian to ask myself, "Can one ever put history on television and can one do it in the form of a soap opera?" With seventeen programmes spaced out over a long time, how is it possible for an audience to remember what was in the last one and to make adjustments between programme No. 4 and programme No. 7; still more, between programme No. 4 and programme No. 16? These are problems of presentation which again as a result of this series I am sure the B.B.C. would be wise to reflect upon. Yet when I ask myself the question whether such a programme is worth while putting on, when I weigh the issue, my answer is "Yes, it is worth putting on". As an historian, far less well-equipped than the noble Lord, Lord Blake, to speak on this topic, I have to ask myself, "Was this good history?" and I get the answer, "No, it was not very good history". I get that answer partly because I do not believe it is possible to put across the complexities of history and the compassion that one must have for men in a previous age, compassion which comes from the understanding of the difficulties which they faced, of the situation in which they found themselves, a situation which is always different from our own and yet one with which they had to cope. That did not come across in the programme except in certain notable exceptions.

I was very interested when the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, talked about Canada. I thought that was an excellent number in the series. The difficulty which one faces when one puts history on the screen is that one cannot get its complexity across and one then has to ask oneself if one can give a balanced account. We should be careful about this. The greatest historians in the world have never given balanced accounts. Within the framework of their own individuality they have tried to present the truth as they see it, but inevitably the history that Macaulay writes—and how well he wrote, incidentally, about India—is always going to be different from the history von Ranke writes on approximately the same generation. It is going to be different because they are going to see the problem from different angles and they are going to start with different assumptions. It is not because they argue about the facts. Even if they were established they will interpret them in a different way. Again, this is difficult to get across on television.

It is inevitable that a series is bound to have the imprint of its maker, the producer. Here again the B.B.C. is open to criticism, although I think it is the kind of criticism that we ought to remember can come from bad luck. Anyone who has ever tried to produce a film, let alone a television programme, knows that luck plays a tremendous part in the production of this particular form of art. I do not know whether noble Lords will remember a highly amusing book written by that brilliant Irish actor Michéal MacLiammóir called; Nobody Ordered Wolves. It was an account of a production by a great American producer of Othello and it started in various ways and ended by a pack of wolves appearing on the set. Nobody knew why they were there but once having been there they formed an essential part of the balance-sheet and therefore could never be got rid of.

This is the kind of ludicrous situation in which film makers find themselves. I am not suggesting that there were wolves on the set at the B.B.C. But what happens when a production team starts working and one of the producers does not see eye to eye with the other and retires? What happens when the producer who is left feels he must parcel out the work to a number of hands? These are problems of editorial control. It might be said that at some point the B.B.C. should have got the rushes of the films and the whole series should have been stopped. Yet would that have been justified, even if they had thought that the series was not coming out quite as they had hoped it would? This is one of the difficulties in production: that one is always being faced with the fact that one cannot suddenly change the whole thing; one is dealing with a mobile situation.

I myself think that a number of the films as they came out were shallow in their interpretation. Yet I would still defend the decision, which must have been taken by someone in the B.B.C., to continue with the series even though there may have been disquiet about how it was coming out. Because in the end the interest it engendered was worth the criticisms which have been levelled against the series. It is a great mistake to believe that people accept passively what is put over to them. My experience of students is that the one way to guarantee that the views which you express will not be accepted by them is to express them clearly, forcibly and passionately and so that it is clear that you believe in them. This will immediately incite them to suspect that you are "putting something across". I very much wonder whether the millions who saw this programme really formed at the end of it some depressed view of the British Empire. I ask for that question to be taken into consideration by those who believe that it has done damage to our traditions and our past.

Then I would, if I may, raise this point. The series obviously disappointed many of those who had memories, like the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, of our Imperial past at the height of its glory. But to those who think that that should have been the sole theme of the series, I would add that of course there is another view of Empire which can be held with perfect sincerity; that is that, in bringing law and order and the many benefits which British rule brought, there were also exploitation, greed and misunderstanding of the peoples whom the British at that time were governing. We should remember how difficult it is for anyone to be an Imperial Power. The American people, who only thirty or so years ago criticised the British Empire, must to-day recognise how difficult it is to sustain those obligations. And there is another country which no doubt feels that: the U.S.S.R., whose imperial manifestations can be criticised in exactly the same way as people to-day criticise the American manifestations of imperial power.

So when I try to sum up in my mind: Was it worth while? Should it have been done? Should it have been stopped?—I come to the conclusion that it should not have been stopped and that, on the whole, this series, though to my mind lacking in many ways, was not really damaging; nor should it be regarded in any way as completely contravening the B.B.C.'s deserved reputation for presenting programmes, which may not be impartial, but are nevertheless not outrageous in their distortion of the past. I wish we could have had a more balanced series; but if we recognise that we should criticise vigorously whenever we feel the need to do so, but while uttering that criticism we should also be absolutely determined to stress in public the need for the B.B.C. to feel free to put across views, however contentious and in some ways however disquieting, we shall be doing justice to the whole problem of public broadcasting. Let us remember, my Lords, that this debate is the true answer to those who argue that we should have greater restraint of broadcasting. Life would be very much—not merely less entertaining, but less intelligent, unless we had the cut and thrust of debate on intellectual matters, on ideological matters, and on political matters of this kind.

4.46 p.m.


My Lords, in rising to take part in this debate I intend to take a different outlook and a dif- ferent point of view from that of the noble Lord, Lord Annan, who has just addressed your Lordships. I am not going to enter into a controversy about my point of view and his, but I think that in the course of what I say it will be fairly clear. Something I should like to stress at the beginning is that one must not forget that the British Empire is at an end, and the question arises: would one, from this series, get any conception of what the Empire meant, and still means, in the world—in other words, the good which it has done and which still remains? I am in complete agreement with what the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, says.

I do not want to take up too much of your Lordships' time, but I speak, if I may be allowed to mention it, with forty years' experience. I served the British Government in the capacity of representing them in these matters in every part of the world. I served in those days in the Colonial Service, and we were the trusted agents and servants of the British Government. If anyone really could claim to understand the policy of the British Government and what they were trying to do, surely we were in that position. The aims and intentions of that Government must surely be known, or must have been known, to their trusted agents. Our major aim was to bring order and justice into the affairs of backward races and countries all over the world. We worked with them, and for them, to help them in progress of every kind: political, social, industrial, and in every sort of way. We tried, too—it was one of our major obligations—to teach them the value of probity in high places, and, in short, to help them to accelerate the time when they would have trained men and women of their own race to accept the responsibility of good government which rested temporarily with us. We were proud to do this service and to serve such a policy, whose aim was to qualify citizens all over the world to manage their own affairs and to be free, in the end, when the suitable time came, of our temporary tutelage. We emphasised at every turn the temporary nature of that tutelage as being fully a part of our aim and policy.

My Lords, we have been speaking to-day of probably the noblest. Empire the world has ever seen, and the denigra- tion of its aims and objects is more than regrettable. It is for this reason that I deplore the publication that we are discussing to-day. I can only express surprise that the B.B.C. should have seen fit to support, with its powerful partnership, so ignoble an attempt to smear the record of the British Empire with implied charges of being inspired solely by a desire to exploit and to profit by the weakness of backward races. There is not a word of truth in that. I am not accusing the American author of deliberate malice; I am merely regretting that his complete ignorance of the subject, and of the facts of the subject, led him so far astray. No doubt there was no malicious thought in it; I am not making any accusation of that kind. I am only stating what is obvious, and that is that his ignorance was profound. That only makes the partnership of the B.B.C. in such a venture so inexplicable and so difficult to understand or forgive.

Some time ago, when the first two volumes had been printed, the B.B.C. communicated with me and asked me whether I would take part in a television talk. I told them at once what my views were and that having read the first two volumes of this publication I had destroyed them and counter-ordered any further copies as I had no wish to see anything more like that. They then asked me whether I would take part in a discussion on television with somebody who held views that were not quite the same as mine. My answer to that was that I would have no part in any attempt to give any more publicity to what I regarded as a regrettable publication. I said that I was dealing with facts; not things which could be argued but the facts of a situation, and they were not to be altered by anybody; they were merely to be ascertained and accepted.

My Lords, we should never forget what the British Empire did. Will anybody deny that this world to-day is a better place than it would have been if there had been no British Empire? That, my Lords, is the way I should like to conclude my contribution to this debate.

4.54 p.m.


My Lords, as an avowed Commonwealth man, may I be allowed to interject two sentences from the Cross Benches at this stage? We are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, for introducing this debate, and all I want to say—and I say it with all the moderation at my command—is that I accept the validity of most of the criticisms which have been made. Many of the programmes were trivial. There was an excess of violence—I thought it was a piece of extraordinary ingenuity to show for such a long time fighting in the middle of Australia. There were historical inaccuracies, frequently by omission rather than commission; there were wrong slants, again often by innuendo rather than by direct statements. Then there is the association with Time/Life, about which I personally do not wish to say more.

But I have no real desire to cast more stones at the B.B.C. than they deserve on this occasion. What really happened here, it seems to me, is that the B.B.C. made an extremely interesting experiment. Quite frankly, in many respects it turned out to have some unfortunate results, and, as I understand it, the B.B.C. have fully accepted that themselves. But—and this is the only point on which I would differ at all from some noble Lords who have spoken from the Government Benches—if, as I believe it to be, the Commonwealth is still the reality that we accept, then I think it should be strong enough to survive even the slurs in an ephemeral programme of this kind, just as indeed it has survived other and stronger attacks down the ages.

My Lords, we all make mistakes. As I have said, I think that in many respects the B.B.C. have recognised that some mistakes were made here. I trust that by the comments that have been made, not least in your Lordships' House to-day, they will learn from those mistakes and take them very much to heart in the future. But I still think that, above all, we should accept that the B.B.C. have, throughout the years, performed an enormous service to the Commonwealth and Empire, which was the subject of this very programme, and that in the end what is really important is that the B.B.C., maintaining their own standards, should have freedom of expression and should be able to carry on that sort of work.

5.57 p.m.


My Lords, as an Australian-born Member of your Lordships' House I should like to make just one point, and it is of course about that particular programme. Those of your Lordships who know Australia and Australians know very well what they are proud of, and to my mind the lack of emphasis on that, and the emphasis on outback Philistinic beer-swilling morons which was given in the programme is nothing more than going out of the way to insult a people who are friendly. It was that feeling, repeated to me by Australians I had staying with me at the time when the programme was first shown, that made me, when next I came to your Lordships' House, seek out the noble Earl, Lord Buckinghamshire, who has spent all his working life in Australia and in the ranks of the R.A.A.F. in the last war, and I found him feeling extremely distressed by it.

He wrote to the chairman of the B.B.C., and the reply he received was to the effect that that part of the programme had an Australian sub-producer—or words to that effect. All I can say is that if the B.B.C. take on one or two of the Australian long-haired layabouts from King's Cross I do not think the result of their work should be allowed to go out to the rest of the world as being the truth about Australia. My only point in saying a few words to your Lordships this evening is to protest against what I call the insult to the Australian people by portraying them as what only a small minority of them are. What they are proud of is their voluntary service to this much run-down Empire in the three main wars that we have fought together—the Boer War, the Great War and the Hitler War. They are no more proud than I presume anyone else is of the beer-swilling business that was portrayed in the programme. The same circumstances apply here, and one wonders why it is necessary to portray in such a series people of this nature. It is just a gratuitous insult to do so. It is on this one point that I presume to interrupt your Lordships' proceedings this afternoon.

5.0 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, for raising this Question to-day. Like the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, I was not at all sure what course the debate would take, and so I did not prepare a reply, as one might normally do when speaking from the Front Bench, which was perhaps a good thing because the debate has ranged over many different subjects, including from the noble Lord, Lord Annan, a dissertation on the proper presentation of history and what a producer should do if he finds a pack of wolves on his hands. With the wolves, it looks as if noble Lords opposite would do the traditional thing—first, throw the body of the producer of the series to them; secondly, throw the Director-General of the B.B.C. to them; and, thirdly, throw them the noble Lord, Lord Hill.

Leaving aside the wolves, this has been a very serious debate in two ways. First, there is on all sides of the House very real feeling about the content of the programme. I happened to see the series. Rarely is it possible for those of us who work hard in this House to see much television, but I am sure that we all agree that it was a major disappointment. To those who have spent their lives in the service of the Empire and Commonwealth and to those of us who have taken a special interest in these matters, it was shallow, sadistic and disappointing in every sense. If I may say so, I do not think in all the years I have been here I have heard so moving a speech as that made by the noble Lord, Lord Gridley.

Of course, our Commonwealth and national history arouses the deepest emotions in all of us, and I am sure that the B.B.C. themselves—indeed, they have said this—felt that it was far from a perfect programme. I am equally sure that in their contract with Time/Life over this they must have regretted the trailers which advertised the series and which bore a strong resemblance to those which appeared on Independent Television advertising the publication. Knowing the responsible attitude of the B.B.C., I am sure that they will themselves have taken note and have learned a lesson from this.

What, in a sense, are we discussing? It is both unfair and yet is the highest compliment we can pay, to say that this country expects the B.B.C. always to be above reproach. We believe in the B.B.C., in their responsibility, their fairness and their accuracy. That is why this programme outraged the feelings of so many inside and outside this House and in the Commonwealth, and particularly of those who really know about the subject. That is really a compliment to the B.B.C. I hope that what noble Lords have said this afternoon will be taken by the B.B.C. as a compliment but that they will also reflect very carefully indeed before they enter into anything like this sort of contract again. I was glad to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Annan, that he believes that the next contract—I was distressed to hear that the B.B.C. had entered into another one—was of a different kind, and we look forward to that being confirmed by the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, when he replies; the noble Lord, Lord Annan, sought that confirmation.

I am quite sure that the Time/Life contract did not exercise an influence on the content of the series. I am also quite sure that the B.B.C. were genuinely free from any taint of that kind. Nevertheless, it was particularly unfortunate that it should have been an American publication combine. Those of us who have been interested for many years in the Commonwealth can recall over the years being lectured by Americans about our wicked imperialist past—indeed, about our wicked imperialist present—and then find them trying to involve us politically in things which we consider to be immoral. On top of that, to have this series going out to America, emphasising the sadistic and exploitation sides of the Empire is, to say the least, unfortunate.

All this raises questions which are really far more important than the series itself. There are questions which are basic to the whole role of government, sponsorship, censorship and freedom in broadcasting as a whole. I think that everybody knows that American money has gone into other series as well as this one—some of them very good, too. Programmes like "The Search for the Nine" and "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" could not have been made in the way they were without American money, so that American money in itself is not an evil. Nevertheless, we must look at this whole question of sponsorship. I appreciate that to many it is an ugly word, but we must consider it very carefully. For example, a recent report by the Sports Council said: The Working Party have the impression … that the T.V. authorities are compelled to bend the rules for sports with strong T.V. appeal—or run the risk of losing the event. In other words, we must consider whether the B.B.C. are providing cheap advertising for tobacco, brewing interests and the rest, inadvertently, as it were. We all watch these events and see the huge advertisements. For example, as we view motor racing we see advertisements for the big commercial firms. This whole issue must be thought about very seriously indeed, especially as Members of the Government Party in another place have actually raised the question whether the B.B.C. should not have spaces for which these commercial firms can pay to display their advertisements.

Then there is the whole question of censorship. The noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, has spoken many times most movingly of his involvement with Ulster, through his family and through his contacts with the Army. We have heard about the thorny question of how to deal with news in Ulster. The question of censorship also arises in connection with the Industrial Relations Bill. For example, there was the interview with Sir Sydney Greene in which the interviewer had to cut out all his questions and give only the answers, because to do otherwise would have infringed certain laws. That is the fault of the Government and not the B.B.C., but it raises various questions which are absolutely basic. The one thing that I particularly regretted about the spirit behind the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, if I may put it in this way, was the fact that in his second letter to The Times he wrote that the B.B.C. appeared to be unable to realise that the series has a bearing upon the continuance after 1976 of the B.B.C.'s Charter in its present form. We must be very careful about this matter. We in this country have one of the very best forms of broadcasting in the world. There is no question but that all the new technical advances and so on that have arisen—for example, the fact that within a decade there will be cassette television by which people can choose for themselves any programme they want to see—lead to the inescapable conclusion that the Government must have a proper commission of inquiry, and that a short nine-month, one-year period is not enough; that it is not good enough to commence the inquiry in 1975 when the B.B.C. and I.T.V. Charters come up for review. We all know that this was our view when we were in Government. I beg the Government to realise now, that precisely because this series has raised such basic issues is proof that we must have a real review of the whole broadcasting situation, technically, morally and politically. May I just add this: somebody once said that the most adventurous and the least afraid television organisation in the world was the B.B.C. My Lords, let us never do anything to make them otherwise.

5.11 p.m.


My Lords, in congratulating my noble friend on puting this Question to your Lordships' House I must first say that it seems to me to be one of the occasions in which the House comes into its own. Amid the pressures and controversy of this summer, my noble friend has reminded me that the House of Lords has a job to do debating cultural matters as well as political ones; and as I think your Lordships can by now tell, cultural matters are no less important, no less contentious, than the latter; and no easier, perhaps, for the apprentice Government spokesman to negotiate. But an Unstarred Question is an Unstarred Question, and where its direct answer is concerned my noble friend knows what I have to say. The Government do not have views on the content of individual programmes put out by the B.B.C., or by other television companies. Their collective eye remains glassy and unmoved.

If I may be personal for a moment, I would say that this is a position which I find unfamiliar and a little uncomfortable, as one of my own dearest pleasures is to indulge in discussion—vocal sometimes to the point of roofraising—about the merits and demerits of things one sees on television. It is slightly easier for me to restrain myself on this occasion, because I did not myself follow the series on "The British Empire", which is perhaps just as well. I have, however, heard it discussed outside your Lordships' House as well as here to-day. I particularly relished for its phraseology, if not for its accuracy, the comment of one of my friends who said that the series should have been re-christened. "Monty Python's Flying Empire".

I have also noted that the Director General himself has made it clear that the B.B.C. are not uncritical of some aspects of the series. Other noble Lords have pointed this out in their speeches this afternoon. The B.B.C. may find some comfort in the fact that, like them, the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, found it something of a curate's egg—good in parts, or, as he put it, bad in parts. But I feel that I need hardly remind your Lordships that by a long-established custom, so consistently followed as by now to be accepted as a constitutional convention, the Government recognise that the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. are responsible, as trustees for the public, for the day-to-day management of broadcasting, including all matters of programme content. This recognition has been put with sincerity and with grace by my noble friend Lord Denham. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, on June 27, my noble friend said: For Her Majesty's Government to express a view"— whether or not in defence of the B.B.C.— would not be so much improper as incompatible with maintaining the B.B.C.'s independence".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27/6/72, col. 794]. My Lords, having said this, I should like to repeat that the Government acknowledge that it is not only in the mind of my noble friend that these programmes have aroused misgivings. My noble friend has of course played a special part in the controversy, and I must say that he has every reason to feel qualified to let his views be publicly known. His knowledge of the workings of the Empire—of India in particular—and indeed his services to commerce and banking in that country, both before and after Independence, are well known, as are the services of the noble Lord, Lord Milverton. My noble friend speaks from deep personal experience and from deep feeling. With such a background, it is very natural that he should feel particularly sensitive to any aspects of a television programme that might seem to him to denigrate or belittle our Imperial history. We have seen the same sensitivity voiced very movingly, if I may say so, echoing the noble Baroness, by the noble Lords, Lord Gridley and Lord Auckland.

My noble friend Lord Ferrier has spoken before on this topic, during the interesting debate on February 23 introduced by my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing, who could not be with us to-day. My noble friend is aware that there have been long exchanges of correspondence in the Press—in the Daily Telegraph and The Times, for instance. In some of these my noble friend has played the same pithy and informed part to which he has treated us to-day. I believe that in response to my noble friend, and in response to public and private voices up and down the land, the B.B.C. have themselves gone a long way to accept some considerable measure of criticism on this series. The same sentiment was taken up by the noble Lord, Lord Garner, another extremely experienced and distinguished Commonwealth servant. The criticisms the B.B.C. accept are, as I understand their view, not so much that there was distortion as such, as that in the interests of making a programme attractive to about 7¼ million people, there were trivialisations and superficialities of treatment of a subject that deserved far better.

My Lords, the question may be asked: if the B.B.C. put on an elaborate and expensive programme and if one allows, for the sake of argument, that there are important deficiencies in it, can it really be said that the Governors are doing their job of governing if such things were allowed to happen? This seems to me to be the pith of the question put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier. The answer is two-fold: first, the B.B.C. broadcast over 6,000 hours of television every year. Were the Governors to exert such discipline that no mistakes were ever made, it would be a safe bet also that little worthwhile would ever be broadcast. This would be entertainment-instruction by committee, and I do not think that we would want it.

Secondly, it is widely accepted that the primary function of the Board of Governors is to act as trustees for the public, with responsibility for the broadcasting services. It is arguable from this that they should not be too closely linked with the functions of executive control if they are truly to be able to stand aside and make objective judgments unimpaired by special loyalty to the Corporation themselves. But I can give my noble friend, and all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, the following assurance. It is one of the functions of the governing body to observe carefully public reactions to individual programmes and to relay their observations to the Director General. There is evidence that they have fulfilled their function in this case. I can also assure your Lordships that they will attend carefully to this debate.

My Lords, many have complained that the Empire series contained distortions and superficialities. My noble friend and other noble Lords have seen in that fact, as they felt it to be, a connection with the B.B.C.'s contractual tie-up with the Time/Life organisation. My right honourable friend Mr. Chataway, then the Minister concerned, acknowledged in another place that there was a feeling on the part of a number of Members there that there were aspects of the Time/Life arrangement about which the B.B.C. ought to think further. Certainly it is true that much of the criticism of the series has been related to the collaboration of the B.B.C. with Time Life. The argument runs that this collaboration might induce the B.B.C. to tailor the programmes to the needs of the export market. I can only pass on the B.B.C.'s assurances that they have not done so. There is no special reason, it seems to me, to doubt the B.B.C.'s recognition that they exist to broadcast programmes for this country nor for us to think that programmes which look American would be more readily saleable abroad. And I must emphasise that the B.B.C. have total editorial control over the programmes. In answer to my noble friend Lord Ferrier (as he will, of course, be aware) my noble friend Lord Denham again pointed out on March 9 that the Government were satisfied that the B.B.C. were operating within Clause 12 of the Licence and Agreement and that they did not, in the words of Clause 12, receive any money or valuable consideration in respect of the sending of the programme.

My noble friend also pointed out that any decision to publish the terms of the contract between the B.B.C. and Time/Life would be one for the parties themselves, and he acknowledged that the B.B.C. had given assurances to the Government as to their retention of full editorial control. I of course accept the assurance, and I hope that noble Lords will also, that the B.B.C. in fact did have full editorial control. I do not think that the noble Lord who referred to the question of an American author was quite right. But the concomitant of this control is, of course, that they must also assume full editorial responsibility. I think that the B.B.C. will be very interested to learn of your Lordships' views of their exercise of responsibility in this case. But I must ask the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, once more to be indulgent towards me, and to accept that this editorial responsibility is of course a B.B.C. responsibility and not in any way a responsibility of the Government.

I come now to the point which was raised by the noble Baroness about the question of a Committee of Inquiry. As your Lordships will probably know, the Royal Charter and the Licence and Agreement will each cease to have effect, as will also the independent broadcasting legislation, on July 31, 1976. By the time that that happens there will have to be new instruments, presumably of the same or a similar kind, in order to enable broadcasting to continue. As the noble Baroness has told us, in the past it has generally been the practice to precede the formulation of such instruments by establishing an independent inquiry to recommend to the Government the pattern of broadcasting for the future. I do not think that anyone would deny that the Committee of Inquiry procedure has many useful facets, but it also has some disadvantages. Among other things it tends to lead attention away from the business in hand of broadcasting and to concentrate on inquisition and examination. Therefore, in the Government's view it is not a foregone conclusion that an independent inquiry is an essential precursor of the renewal of the broadcasting franchises. However, I would say to the noble Baroness that the Government have not yet decided on the mechanics or methods of organising the preparation for 1976. My right honourable friend recognises the pressure for a decision and he has told me that he will look very carefully at what has been said in the debate this afternoon.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Earl? I am very grateful for that semi-assurance from the noble Earl. Could I urge upon him the fact that time passes and that whatever decisions are taken, the B.B.C. and I.T.V. have to make their plans, and they cannot do that at the last minute. They need at least two years to make their plans consequent upon whatever kind of Committee of Inquiry the Government set up.


My Lords, I have said that my right honourable friend recognises the pressure for a decision. I think it was the noble Baroness herself who pointed out the complex world of the mixed media and the new types of broadcasting that we are about to move into, and I hope that she will want considered decisions rather than more casual ones. I could also say that my right honourable friend hopes—and he has told me this personally; it is not simply a matter of the brief, because I asked him—that it will be possible to make a statement fairly soon.

Were I, as the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, told us in a moving speech, speaking in Queen Victoria's time in your Lordships' House I could, I believe, after five o'clock, say that the hour was late. But we have got used to other practices recently, so I should like to take up one or two more minutes and deal with individual questions which have been asked of me and individual points which have come out of the debate. My noble friend Lord Ferrier was upset, I think, that the Chairman of the General Advisory Council of the B.B.C. could not, in his view, appear in this debate, or could not let his views be heard. This is not in fact the case. It is possible for any noble Lord to speak under the Addison Rules, and the position is that noble Lords themselves decide not to speak, and no doubt they have their own good reasons for doing so.


My Lords, the noble Earl must have misunderstood me. In fact the Chairman of the General Advisory Council took part in Lord Orr-Ewing's debate.


My Lords, I am grateful for that correction but, as I understood it, the noble Lord was upset that he was not here this afternoon, or taking part this afternoon.


My Lords, I think that the noble Earl misheard he.


My Lords, I am glad that that has been cleared up. The noble Lord also—and others have echoed this—asked what the position was vis-à-vis any further contracts, or vis-à-vis written contracts. I must point out that in terms of Clause 12 the Government would only be involved if the B.B.C. were to receive payment in respect of the sending—that is to say, the transmission—of material. In view of the excellent record of the B.B.C. as a major exporter, I think it would be quite improper for the Government to interfere with its day-to-day business.

This leads naturally to something raised by my noble friend Lord Gridley, who said very firmly that in his view the programme ought not to be shown abroad. Whatever interest the Government have in broadcasting by the B.B.C., the export business, I repeat, is a piece of enterprise which we have no right to control, any more than we would have a right to control the export of what noble Lords might feel was an undesirable book, an ugly piece of music on a gramophone record, or some such article as that. The noble Lord, Lord Annan, has given me the heady delight of being able gently to correct an ex-employer. He said that the Charter is very strict that the B.B.C. shall not engage in commerce of any kind. In fact, this is not correct. Indeed, on the contrary, the B.B.C. does sell publications, copyrights, television reels, and does international matters of business, and it has an excellent record in this respect. I do not believe that it would be proper for me to undertake to get assurances, as I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and also by the noble Baroness, Lady Llewelyn-Davies, about the content of any future contract. In this context we have mentioned the Board of Governors. One must either trust the Governors or get rid of them. It would seem to be wrong to supervise them in the day-to-day exercise of their affairs.


My Lords, if the noble Earl will forgive me for interrupting, I think that the House is in great difficulty here. By the Addison Rules it it forbidden to hear from anyone who is connected with the B.B.C. what the situation is, and yet the Government seem to be prevented from asking the Governors of the B.B.C. what those contracts are. I was only asking the noble Earl whether he could pass on information from the Government. It may be that he is precluded from doing so, but it leaves the House in a great difficulty if this is the case.


My Lords, as I understand it—and I am very open to correction here—it is not for me to pronounce on contractual matters between the B.B.C. and their clients. If the noble Lord feels that this is not in fact the case, I will look into it and try to find out what the position is. But that is what my information is.


My Lords, I would not for a moment have the noble Earl pronounce on it; I only hoped that he would be able to announce it.


My Lords, I will see what I can do and that is the best I can say. In concluding, I am sensible that my Answer does not deliver to my noble friend the pound of flesh which he would like. Like Portia, I must ask for the quality of mercy. I hope that he may find it easier to grant it if I say that the Government take note of the very real controversies and the very deep feelings which this series of television programmes has occasioned. I believe that my noble friend has done service to the memory if not the cause of the British Empire.

My noble friend mentioned forebears, so perhaps I may be allowed to do so. I am myself conscious that had it not been for Empire I should not now have the pleasure of taking part in this debate—since my grandfather, who brought me up and whose centenary is tomorrow, received his Earldom for service in Australia. I personally believe that the Empire was the result of one of the most extraordinary explosions of human energy that the world has known. I believe that our presence around the world set standards and ambitions which, however hard they may be to live up to, however hard we ourselves find them to live up to, nevertheless still remain as standards for more than half of humanity.

We must be vigilant on behalf of these standards. It is because we must be vigilant that I congratulate my noble friend on putting this Question to your Lord-ships' House. Like the noble Lord, Lord Annan, I also congratulate him upon the timeliness of relating the subject of Empire to the subject of broadcasting. Almost always a debate on broadcasting is rewarding—and I believe that this one has been very rewarding—because it is only by such debate and controversy that an interplay between public and broadcasters takes place. It is essential that this interplay takes place if the broadcasting authorities are to fulfil the great trust reposed in them.