§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Lord WILLIS rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will set up a commission of inquiry to investigate and report on the beneficial effects of television and radio. My Lords, I wish at the outset to thank noble Lords who have put their names down to speak in this short debate and particularly to welcome to the list of speakers the noble Lord, Lord Crathorne, and the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, who will be making their maiden speeches, which I am sure the House will listen to with enormous interest.
§ I have an interest to declare. I am a director of a commercial radio company 1405 and I also happen to be a television writer. Recently I have not been writing so many television series but have been concentrating on books. However, I have thought recently that I might try to get back into television and perhaps even star your Lordships' House. While I have been sitting waiting for this debate to begin I have been pondering on a few possible titles, such as Longford of the Lords, Harris of the Home Office, Peart of the Peers or, perhaps most sensational of all, Lady Llewelyn-Davies, Gentleman-at-Arms.
§ I have tabled this Question to try to redress the balance a little, because what upsets me as a professional working in television—I know it upsets many splendid professionals working in TV—is the fact that, whenever it is mentioned, it seems that the only word used in connection with it is "violence" and that when an inquiry is set up its only brief seems to be to study the relationship between television and the increasing violence in our society.
§ I wonder whether noble Lords could even guess at the number of research studies that have been undertaken into this theme—20, 30, 40 or even 50? If one includes the cinema, there have been no fewer than 360 studies in the last 45 years into the relationship between the screen and violence, all of them attempting to answer the question whether violence seen on the screen leads directly to violent actions by the viewer. Any wonder that the professionals in television sometimes think that the more positive aspects of their contributions to society are being overlooked?
§ I am not protesting that there is no problem. Nor am I saying there should not be inquiries. I am not even suggesting that everything is sweetness and light from the point of view of television. But I hope to show that there is a great deal of sweetness and light and that it appears to be overlooked. However, it is certain—this is the purpose of my Question—that there has not been one study directed to the proposition that perhaps there maybe a shade of a shadow of a chance that all the television we see may have increased the sum of human happiness, may have made many people more aware of themselves, may have increased the potential of a great number of people and made them happier. I have not heard of one report 1406 of this description, although there were aspects of the Annan Report which touched on the subject.
§ One other point on this aspect, because I think violence has had its innings. A Home Office research study which carried out an analysis of the 360 other studies I have mentioned on the subject found they all led up the same road and to the same conclusion. That was that the possibility that violent actions seen on the screen will initiate violent action by the viewer is remote and, apart from very young children, is limited to a few unusual individuals. That was a summary of 360 separate studies into this subject.
§ As I said, I am not suggesting that television and radio have clean hands and that there should be no check on standards, but having said that, I have this proposition to put to the House: if it is said that television can affect the viewer in undesirable ways, may not the converse also be true? Is it not possible that it may also influence others towards positive good? And if there is no truth in that proposition, all I can say is that the many religious advisers who work for the media must be wasting their time because presumably they prepare their programmes in the very hope that they may influence people towards their idea of good.
§ I believe it goes a little further than that and that the people who focus only on the more sensational aspects of television—those who see only the dustbins and not the whole view—are doing a positive disservice, for to blame television for the increase in violence in our society and for the supposed decline in standards is far too easy because that diverts us from the task of tackling the evils of our society. We need to attack the real source of our problem and not build a scapegoat in the shape of a cathode ray tube or a transistor radio. Do I have to point out seriously to all the critics that the springs of violence flow from different sources, sources which have little or nothing to do with the television screen?
§ Television is not responsible for the decay of our inner cities, nor creates either the mentality or the property developers that have savaged our community. Television did not create the conditions which have led to the formation of such bodies as the National Front or the Provisional IRA. Television cannot be blamed for the 1407 existence of racial and religious prejudice. Television did not create 1½ million unemployed and inflation. Television did not create the sense of frustration and boredom which affects so many among the deprived majority of our young people and which drives a small minority of that majority to the extremes of hooliganism, vandalism and gang warfare. Television may reflect these things, but it did not create them and it should not be blamed for them.
§ We can solve these and other problems only by social action and by creating the social will to do so; by rebuilding the moral muscle of our people, and in this task television and radio should not be seen as the villain but as the ally and partner because it not only can play a vital and leading role; it is in fact doing so. It is doing an enormous amount to combat the kind of evils I have mentioned. I have collected evidence from all the television companies, not only in my lifetime but in the last week or so in preparation for this debate; and the mass of evidence has bowled even me over.
§ I will mention just one issue to your Lordships—that of unemployment. There is hardly a television or a local radio station which has not done magnificent work in this area. I can give your Lordships only a few examples in the time available. Capital Radio runs a programme called " Job Spot", which has helped thousands of youngsters in their search for employment. It has an enormous audience. Young people ring in, and they can go into the foyer of the Capital Radio studios. Thousands of them have been fixed up with work.
§ Westward Television has an even more impressive scheme, called "Just the Job", which is linked with the National Extension College at Cambridge. One thousand eight hundred people responded to Westward Television's programme. Fifty counsellors were appointed to advise the people who applied. Job hunting kits were issued to explain to young people, and to others, how to dress, how to apply for a job, how to speak up at an interview, and so forth. The result in terms of success exceeded even Westward Television's hopes.
§ Anglia Television staged a remarkable initiative with a programme called "Enterprise". 1408 There was the problem of Corby New Town, which is basically a steel town with massive unemployment and very little chance of further development. In association with the Corby Development Corporation, Anglia Television ran a competition to find small businessmen in the entire region who would go to Corby and open up small businesses to give employment. Hundreds of entries were received. It was an astounding depth of response. The matter was discussed in depth on television, and the prizewinner was given a free factory by Corby Development Corporation. Dozens of other small businesses are going into Corby as a result of that marvellous initiative. That same company, following a discussion on television, took four small businessmen abroad to test their export potential, and those four businessmen returned absolutely elated because they had captured a quarter of a million pounds-worth of export orders. That is the kind of thing that television is doing, and which it can do much more of, if we focus a little more on its positive advantages. When I say television I am using shorthand for television and radio.
§ In particular, regional television and local radio have a splendid record in the field of social help, and they have achieved a marvellous sense of identification with their communities. I have already mentioned Capital Radio. It has a scheme called " Help Line", which is open 24 hours a day, manned by six people. People ring up in the middle of the night saying that they are going to commit suicide, and they are held on the 'phone long enough to get the police around to them, or to talk them out of it. People come on the line with dozens and dozens of different social problems, and the girls taking the calls give them all the help and advice they need and direct them towards the various organisations.
§ BBC Radio Medway has given the freedom of the air to dozens of local associations, ranging from the social services to the chamber of commerce. It runs a regular Citizens' Advice Bureau of the Air, and a special Lost Pets Service. Radio Nottingham looked for, and found, illegal child minders. Radio Cleveland brought in, in one half hour, 150 volunteers to fight a moorland fire. Radio Cumbria found ewes for 400 orphaned lambs last spring.1409
§ The list goes on and on. It is real community service which is provided by television and radio. Only lack of time prevents me from extending what is an enormously impressive list. But I must mention one further initiative. This is the volunteer centre sponsored by the Home Office, which has a direct link with such programmes as " Reports Action", on Granada and " Respond", on Ulster Television. This is the first community action series to go out in Northern Ireland.
§ The BBC is also running series which focus on social issues, such as mentally handicapped children, and there is that marvellous series "Moving On", on the subject of illiteracy. I believe that this programme has recruited a quarter of a million former illiterates and put them in the way of learning how to read and write. These are marvellous programmes which stimulate people to voluntary action, and positively help the less fortunate. Thousands of people have come forward and been recruited into the voluntary organisations as a result of these programmes.
§ I should like to give your Lordships just one other statistic on another subject—crime. I refer here to a report from the Metropolitan Police. In 1975, 339 cases of actual crime were shown on television in "Police 5". In 152 cases (slightly under half), viewers came forward with evidence which was of positive value to the police—and that was according to the police. In 117 cases (about one-third) the police say that arrests came as a direct result of the help of the television viewers.
§ That is just a sample of the direct social action that can be stimulated by television and radio. But there is, of course, a deeper effect. On one level, the sheer entertainment and relaxation provided by television and radio is something which we all need, but which particularly benefits the lonely and the old, giving them a window on the world. I remember, in particular, what television meant to my mother in her last years. It brought her enormous comfort and pleasure, which she would have been denied 20 or 30 years previously. I am sure that we all know of thousands and thousands of people in similar circumstances who get sheer pleasure out of television. I am sure that all your Lordships, like myself, have moods in which 1410 you return home after a very hard day and do not want to do anything serious. You just want to lie back in an armchair and, in a way, let the television wash over you, and entertain you. In that respect, it is marvellous.
Television is a theatre, a concert hall, an art gallery, a music hall, a lecture room, a cinema, a sports stadium, a newspaper, a popular magazine. The effect that this fantastic medium has had on widening horizons can hardly be measured, but it must be of enormous significance. I should like to quote the Annan Report on this matter. It says:
Arts programmes are not unique in evoking something more than the normal response when we sit down to look or listen to television or radio. Nature programmes, such as those made by the BBC's National Natural History Unit at Bristol, can enrich people's conception of life: as can BBC Television's 'The World about Us' and Granada's Disappearing World '. So, indeed, can programmes of men's lives and their work in the countryside, such as John Betjeman exploring East Anglian churches—and railways. Our response to life can be deepened by all sorts of programmes, such as the BBC television film 'Marek', which told the story of an unsuccessful hole-in-the-heart operation on a young boy; by some religious programmes … or programmes which give our knowledge of the world a new dimension, such as … Dr. Jacob Bronowski's ' Ascent of Man '…".
The Annan Report speaks also about the growth of natural history, and how this has enormously extended people's horizons and given them an opportunity to think about subjects which perhaps would not have come their way in any other way.
§ Let me talk for a moment about television and radio as a theatre. I mention particularly the BBC, but everything I say in this area applies equally to ITV. The BBC, for example, broadcasts about 500 hours of drama each year, including serious serials and single plays. About 140 hours of music programmes are also televised, including concerts, and some are broadcast simultaneously with BBC Radio 3. That is an enormous output.
§ Let me give your Lordships one example involving Scottish Television, which has done much to support Scottish Opera. Not only has it been responsible for establishing the Scottish Opera Company but it has now set it up in its own opera house. Southern Television has done much to support Glyndebourne, and indeed it has brought Glyndebourne before millions of people, instead of it remaining an entertainment only for the élite. It 1411 was estimated that it would have taken 1,088 completely crowded nights at Covent Garden to have reached the same audience as Southern Television did with one transmission from Glyndebourne of the Marriage of Figaro. AT V's "Edward VII" showed us something of the history of our country, and many other serials have explained our background and our past in a way in which other media sometimes cannot.
§ I am nipping through this because I realise that it is getting late. I could go on and on with some of the facts and figures that I have here. But I shall skip a little and turn briefly to children's programmes, because here, I think, lies the strongest criticism about television—that it makes children, or some children, violent. In fact, there is ample evidence to show that it also plays a very positive role with children. One characteristic of all the programmes that are being made by both channels for children today is that they set out to encourage individual thought and action on the part of the audience. About half the items in "Blue Peter" or "Jackanory" are actually suggested by the children themselves, who write in about 4,000 letters a week. When they are invited to join in helping others less fortunate than themselves, the response is overwhelming; and competitions to design a train of the future, to compose limericks, to make models or to design new clothes bring a large response. One competition for a " Keep Britain Tidy " poster drew 150,000 entries. It is not only entertainment for children, either. There is a great deal, as your Lordships know, in terms of education in programmes like "Search", where children are encouraged to investigate such subjects as old age, space exploration, the environment, adventure training and so forth.
§ In another area, all television and radio companies have a tremendous record of patronage of the arts. Here, the figures are quite staggering. The BBC has 11 permanent orchestras which employ 553 musicians; that is to say, it employs something like 30 per cent. of the full-time professional orchestral players in this country. This is a commitment greater than is required for the needs of broadcasting, but for various reasons the BBC do it, and all honour to them. There are no permanent light orchestras in this 1412 country other than those maintained by the BBC, so if the BBC did not exist there would be no equivalent to the Concert Orchestras, the Radio Orchestra, the Northern Radio Orchestra, the Midland Radio Orchestra and so on. In this way and through its support of the Proms, and so on, it has made an enormous contribution to our musical life.
§ As your Lordships can see, I am flipping through my notes because I realise that I am taking rather a lot of time, but I think I have said enough to show that there is a really positive side to the work done by television and radio. I think that what I have said shows that there is a need for a balanced inquiry into its work; not a one-legged, one-eyed inquiry which focuses on only one aspect, such as the relationship between television and radio and violence. I am proud to have worked in television for 30 years, and I am proud to have had this opportunity to speak for my fellow professionals on this matter, who, I can assure your Lordships, feel very strongly. I hope that the Government will consent to inquire into this matter, but, even if they do not, I hope that the record that I have read out will at least inspire them to do something which is urgently necessary; that is, seriously to consider giving the BBC an increased licence fee, and giving it for a longer period of years, so that they can plan ahead and one of our greatest institutions can continue to carry on with the splendid work that it is doing.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Lord REDESDALE
My Lords, to follow the noble Lord, Lord Willis, is a frightening prospect. In fact, he encompassed so much in what I thought would be a brief but what turned out to be a prolonged and very vivid flash of his blue lamp that I think we have all been blinded by what he has had to say. It was so encompassing that, with regret. I could see that I was going to have to strike out some of the statistics which I thought were particularly effective, so my speech will be even more brief than it would otherwise have been. I think that perhaps that is rather a good thing, because we have a number of speakers tonight; and I, too, should like to say how much I am looking forward to hearing our two maiden speakers.
We must all thank the noble Lord for giving us this opportunity to debate the 1413 benefits of broadcasting. In fact, it gives us the opportunity to emphasise those very real benefits. I am not sure, I am afraid, that I can agree that we should have a commission of inquiry. I think we should take every opportunity to discuss these benefits, and I think we should go on taking every opportunity so that we can emphasise them to Her Majesty's Government and to all those people who, I am afraid, get me very annoyed—the " knockers". They " knock " anything they can get their hands on. In this connection I was glad to hear the noble Lord raise the question of violence, which I want to come on to a little later, because to some extent that is a bandwagon.
My Lords, my job takes me through Europe and to the United States of America, and I have seen the extremes of television. On the one hand, you have the absolute, utter, dreary drabness of the heavy-handed propaganda in Communist bloc countries, where there is no mixture. There may occasionally be the good thing that comes on but, overall, they are fed a diet. On the other hand, in the United States you have the extraordinary situation that, because it is so big, so much of it is so had. Furthermore, despite the fact that it is so big, you have to watch these bad programmes with a terrible picture as well, which ends up almost giving you a headache. So if I say that from my own experience we have the best broadcasting in the world, I think there are other noble Lords who would agree with me. I do not think I am being chauvinistic; I think this is a fairly reasonable assumption to make. It has certainly been said to me by friends in other countries, both in Europe and in America.
My Lords, I believe that we have the best, despite all the "knockers", for a number of reasons. We have the best because we have a mixture. A mixture does not mean that everybody is happy with everything. After the debate we had the other day, 1 suppose it could be said that if we had a fourth channel more people would be happy for more of the time, but I rather doubt it. I think we get a very good service; and although, perhaps, I do not like football as much as I like, say, motor-racing—and I certainly would not be watching that much football—I know that the majority of people do. This goes for cultural programmes. Some people want to watch 1414 them and some do not; but when it comes to cultural programmes overall, the mixture is there and a number of people benefit from it.
As I understand it, my Lords, the objectives of broadcasting as a whole are to entertain and to educate, and to give a general service. I think this is being done very adequately. The noble Lord referred to his mother and to when she was ill. I can refer to what a tremendous service it does for the lonely, as well as the sick. To old people it means everything in the world to have their television set. It is a companion, and I believe it is a companion which speaks to them, often in their own language; although sometimes, unfortunately, they are not quite aware of what it is and certainly do not agree with it. But that is one of the facts that we have to live with, especially with age.
I mentioned the shrill voices of criticism, and I am afraid that these were heard even among the members of the Annan Committee. I remember the noble Lord, Lord Willis, mentioning this when we had our debate the other day. I do not like that heavy-handed, Cromwellian attitude of some critics who say that you have got to give the people what they need as opposed to what they think they need. I think that you give them what they want, at the same time helping them, educating them and giving them benefits. I think that at the moment this is the case, and the longer and louder we say that the more important it is. I also take exception to the attitude, which has been mentioned, that television or radio, or what-have-you, is too important to leave to the experts. This is a high-handed, arrogant attitude; and if we did not have such jolly good experts as we do, we would not have the good broadcasting service that we have today. So I would hope that other noble Lords will dispose of that particular line of argument.
My Lords, the criticism of the service that comes over masks many of the achievements, and, to put it into perspective—I will not bore your Lordships with instances because the noble Lord, Lord Willis, covered these matters quite adequately—from my point of view one of the areas is the general awareness that, even though you may be living in the remotest part of the country, you are up 1415 to the minute on the news of what is happening in the Middle East. People who live in tiny villages, where the news used to take ages to reach them, are now as up to date as we are in Westminster. Also, it has increased the overall area of literacy, I believe; and it has done a tremendous service with current affairs programmes. Everybody now has the opportunity of being up to date.
On the cultural side, the noble Lord quoted some figures on musicians. I should like to highlight the incredible thing which the BBC have done with the "Promenade Concerts" which have done so very much for us here and which are listened to throughout the world. On the television side, I think that one ought to put the situation in perspective. As the noble Lord has said, one showing can outnumber so many performances. It has been shown that the Royal Shakespeare Company's Antony and Cleopatra performance on 28th July 1974 was seen by 1.7 million people as against all the performances throughout the period which would have reached only 0.8 million people. One showing can do so much. The same applies to the Merchant of Venice. It was seen by 2.7 million people compared with the combined figures for 1976–77 of only 0.83 million people. It does so much at one go. There is a high content of these cultural programmes which are put over in such a way that people do not switch off to something else; they actually watch.
I will not bore your Lordships with other figures but they are all here. You can see how much it has done for ordinary people to appreciate opera, ballet and everything they would not have had the opportunity to see; for it is an effort to come up to London and, perhaps, to Covent Garden, even if you can afford the price of the tickets which is astronomical. Broadcasting brings it within the reach of everybody.
Finally, I want to come on to one aspect about which all the "knockers" jumped on the bandwagon. It is the subject of violence. Probably violence can do harm. I am not saying that there is not a need for research, but I believe that people can read too much into a report—that of William Belsen—when only the conclusions were put out. I 1416 should say that I have been involved in research and I certainly should be too nervous to draw conclusions before I saw all the figures. It is, surely, a bit premature that everybody should scream about this before the full report is out. The full report will not be published until 1978. Let us keep it in perspective and see at the end of the day what it is and how the methodology runs. Not everybody agrees that the methodology is right.
Probably what I am about to say now will push Lord Willis's eyebrows into his hairline. I believe there is a need for further research. But I should like to say that I am not advocating 361-onwards of studies into violence; but I think that, rather than having a commission of inquiry, Her Majesty's Government should instigate, or assist in the instigation of, further research programmes which evaluate the overall effects of television—and I mean definitive studies; not small ones, not ones with questionable methodology, but studies which everybody concerned with research agrees would provide overall the sort of figures on which conclusions can be drawn. It may not come up the first time; it may require more refining before we get to a research which can give a true picture, but I believe that we ought to do this. The need is to get people's attitudes and the in-depth reasons for those attitudes and what are all the effects. It is not to be done just as research, which so often gives merely a surface reason. It is the in-depth reasons that we must all know about. It is in those areas, I believe, that we can start to take decisions about the future.
I hope that when the White Paper comes out as a result of the Annan Report we do not go rushing off to talk about commissions on broadcasting and all the rest. We have a good service. When you have a good thing you do not tinker with it. It is like a television set. The more you tinker with it, the more it will go wrong. We have something which is good. Let us just be careful about improving it instead of kicking it. Let us try to get some fine tuning so that it gets even better. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, when he replies, will give us some views as to whether Her Majesty's Government may take some action in terms of instigating some in-depth definitive research. I believe, with due 1417 respect to the noble Lord, that this will be of much more use than a commission of inquiry.
§ 6.6 p.m.
My Lords, I, too, will endeavour to be brief. This is a subject on which everybody is an expert. Even people who never watch any television are expert about it. People who say they have not got it, do not like it, will go on telling you for hours about programmes that they do not like. It is that kind of subject, on which each and everybody could say a great deal, and would like to. But we have to discipline ourselves a little. At the start, like the noble Lord, Lord Willis, I declare an interest. I have spent much of my life professionally engaged in broadcasting; in one way or another and, as some noble Lords know, for eight years I have written and presented a regular, almost daily, programme—an information service, a kind of Citizens' Advice Bureau of the air, for Granada Television in the Granada area. In addition, like the noble Lord, Lord Willis, I am a director of an independent broadcasting company and I therefore declare an interest.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Willis, for giving us the opportunity to look at this subject, but I am quite sure that he will not mind if I say to him at once that I am not going far with him in asking for any new commissions of inquiry. We have had enough commissions. It also seems to me that we do not need a commission of inquiry in order to demonstrate what surely is self-evident. It goes without saying that broadcasting, radio or television, over the years has given an enormous number of people a great deal of pleasure. To return to the words of the noble Lord's Unstarred Question, it refers to "the beneficial effects of television and radio". Let me assert at once, lest there are too many puritans present here, that I personally regard pleasure as beneficial. I do not think that many noble Lords here will suggest that television and radio have not given a great deal of pleasure to a great many people—and if they have done that, they have done something beneficial indeed.
I will try to be brief, and I will therefore restrict my words to two particular areas. 1418 I should like to talk about two areas in which broadcasting has been particularly helpful, and to underline what it has done in those two areas from my own personal experience and involvement. First of all, I want to say a word about what television and radio have done for the elderly. As a general practitioner, I have visited old people in their homes. I have done so for many years and I can say without fear of contradiction that the lives of many of these old people living alone have been utterly transformed by television. The days when all the lights were put out at nine o'clock and nothing else happened have gone. Many of these old people sit—they may not be learning much; I am not very bothered about that—and enjoy themselves watching television programmes until the last flicker of light disappears from the television screen; and then they go off to bed.
These are people who now feel involved in life again, in a way in which they were not. I know that they could read, that many went out and joined societies, did this or that, but there is no doubt that broadcasting, and, in particular, television, has changed in the most dramatic way the lives of many elderly people. The proof of that is to see the extent to which these people are utterly bereaved if and when there is a strike or an industrial dispute or something else deprives them of their television for so much as a day or two. Let us remember this is something which broadcasting has done for the elderly in our society—a valuable service to which we all should pay tribute.
I want to talk about television and radio as an important and crucial source of information in a country in which life is becoming ever more complex and confusing. This also concerns the elderly. When I talk about elderly people it is a fact that the complicated and elaborate network of machinery designed to give assistance to people in difficulties is something which the people who are in most need find the greatest difficulty in penetrating. It has been my experience, looking at the Welfare State over many years, that the people who get absolutely everything to which they could be conceivably entitled are very rarely the people who are in the greatest need. The people who are in the greatest need are those who have the greatest difficulty in finding out 1419 what is available to help them, where they can get it, and how to go about it.
We know that Ministers in the Department of Health and Social Security are worried about the take-up of benefits. One Minister in the Department said recently that in his area they had £300 million worth of benefits which were waiting to be claimed by the people for whom they were intended. It is not charity; very often this is money which they themselves have provided in the past through taxation and in other ways. It is not going out to them because they do not know about it. Nothing can remedy that kind of situation more than radio and television, particularly if done properly in an intimate and direct way to the people concerned so that they can be among those who understand what is going on and find out what to do about it.
I do not wish to criticise the Civil Service or the enormous range of leaflets which the Department of Health and Social Security put out, but they are not the most readable documents that one can find, nor are they easily understood by the people for whom they are intended. Perhaps that cannot be helped because the documents have to be correct. Television and radio can put these things over to people in an immediate and understandable way which can totally change the lack of take-up about which Ministers are complaining.
If I may underline my own experience, when I was involved in a series of television programmes explaining the role of the rent tribunal office—what the rent officer could do, who did what, and so on, and how to go to the rent tribunal officer with certain problems—on the day following one programme the rent tribunal office in Manchester had more callers than they had had in their whole history of 3½ years of existence. As they stated later, every single one of those people had a problem which he or she could have brought forward before. They had not done so because they did not know about the tribunals. There were leaflets but they had not seen them. There were organisations and bodies like the Citizens' Advice Bureaux to help them. But nothing can help people in those difficulties more than broadcasting. It is immensely encouraging to me to see the extent to which broadcasting stations up and down the country are beginning to 1420 turn their attention to social involvement of that kind and to being a genuine information service in the truest sense.
The noble Lord, Lord Willis, has given many examples about this. I could give many more, both in television and radio companies. I am glad that he paid tribute to commercial radio companies because they have undertaken a social service in a very significant way. There are facts and figures to back this up and to show that they are getting home to an enormous number of people information which would otherwise pass them by. I underline those two elements of the benefits of broadcasting: the striking, dramatic benefits to the elderly in transforming their lives, widening their horizons, bringing them back into a kind of involvement with life which in the past without broadcasting they lost; secondly, a potent and important source of information.
I hope that in future discussions we will not preoccupy ourselves utterly with television to the exclusion of radio. Radio has a continuing role which must be fostered carefully. It has one significant and outstanding advantage over television. Television has the difficulty that it has to compete for the attention of the viewer with the viewer's ordinary home surroundings, with children's homework or with the jobs which ought to be done, the washing up, or whatever it is. Therefore it has constantly to make an immediate impact in order to get hold of a person's attention. This limits the way in which we can do certain things.
The noble Lord, Lord Willis, referred to drama. Many great plays have started with a slow, explanatory first act. They have later built up towards a climax in the final act. As the noble Lord knows well, you cannot do that on television. If you have a slow, explanatory first act, the viewers will switch to the other channel. Television, because it requires immediacy, has certain limitations. In addition, it does not have the kind of audience participation that radio broadcasting has. To listen to radio one has to visualise and take part. We should do all we can do to encourage radio and make the radio companies and BBC sound radio understand that they are not just the poor relations which gradually will be allowed to die off because they have been superseded. This is wrong. They have not 1421 been superseded. Radio broadcasting brings an element of audience participation which television broadcasting does not always bring. I hope that whatever we do for the BBC about licence fees or for the independent companies, independent radio or local radio, we remember that radio has a real place. It must be cherished, fostered and preserved. It must not be regarded as a somehow inferior and superseded communication which has been replaced by something better.
I have spoken for longer than I intended, but I hope the House will agree with me wholeheartedly that broadcasting in all its forms has brought about immense benefits. We must continue to allow it to do so. So far as violence is concerned, do as I do—switch off. Whether it does harm or good, I do not like it and therefore I do not watch it. If everybody else took the same attitude, we should have much less of it.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Lord CRATHORNE
My Lords, the generous way in which your Lordships welcome maiden speeches has given me the courage to rise to my feet today. I can only hope that the ordeal is worse for me than it will be for your Lordships. Since I took my seat in your Lordships' House, I have been moved by the kind things that noble Lords on both sides of the House have had to say to me about my father; and the thought of attempting to follow in his footsteps is a daunting prospect. I will not take up much time this evening for two reasons: one is that I have agreed with everything that has been said so far; secondly, one of your Lordships recently explained that if a maiden speaker spoke for too long he ceased to be a maiden while still in the act of making his speech. I want to avoid that fate, whatever it may be.
Turning to the debate, I must first declare an interest as I am a director of a local commercial radio company in the North-East. I anticipated that there would be much talk of television today and I shall talk purely about local radio. I have been a firm believer in local radio ever since I spent some time in America, where there are an extraordinary number of radio stations covering an enormous variety of tastes and topics, and offering 1422 the listener an amazingly wide choice. I was delighted when local radio became a reality in this country and I quickly became involved in it.
The 19 independent commercial radio stations are proving extremely popular in this country, as your Lordships know. All I can say is that one hopes that the 18 million people who cannot yet receive local radio will be able to do so before too long. I hope that the question of extending the independent local radio stations will not be a difficult decision for the Government to take, as independent local radio is a real instance of public service without public expense. There are already 13½ million adults listening to local radio for an average of 12.4 hours a week or, to put it another way, adults in ILR areas spend more than 167 million hours a week listening.
I should like just to pinpoint some of the benefits which have resulted from local radio stations. We have heard some examples already, and I have chosen rather similar examples which emphasise the point. Radio is a marvellous companion: perhaps it has an advantage over television in that it goes with you in your car or when you do the housework; it has been of immense benefit to the old or to people with weak vision, to the ill, to the young. Indeed, virtually everyone uses and enjoys radio. It is a wonderfully intimate medium, with a sort of one-to-one relationship.
There are very practical examples of how local radio has acted not only as a companion and friend but as a life-saver. That has been touched on already, and perhaps I can give your Lordships a detailed example. In Newcastle, Metro Radio has been providing a service of help to listeners with personal problems. One day, a young woman telephoned the station to say that because she felt she could not face life as a single parent, with responsibility for a child only a few months old, she had decided to end her life. She asked Metro to look after the child—quite an interesting fact in itself. The director of the programme kept the young woman talking and managed to get her telephone number. The station immediately contacted the woman's doctor, who was then able to save her life, following an overdose of sleeping pills.
1423 Local radio has given a real sense of community, especially in such an area as mine in the North-East, which has been torn apart by successive local government reorganisations. Local appeals have been most successful. For example, in Manchester, Piccadilly Radio's Easter Appeal for disadvantaged children living in Greater Manchester brought in 8,000 toys. A programme designed to help Stockport District Council to fight vandalism resulted in 600 teenagers giving their support to the campaign.
From the outset, every ILR station has gone out of its way to involve itself deeply in the community. Just to give your Lordships some examples from my area, Radio Tees has supported and sponsored concerts and has helped the Durham Area Health Authority over campaigns on smoking, diet and food care, which led the Authority to review its policies on those matters. When there was a case of polio in Middlesbrough and a major vaccination campaign was required, Radio Tees invited listeners to obtain full details of vaccination centres and times, by phoning the station's phone-in number. Over a period of 48 hours, a Post Office recorder logged a total of 14,000 calls. An interesting combination of advertising and public service took place when ICI bought advertising in our area. That was to promote industrial safety, and they said it had resulted in a marked drop in the number of industrial accidents in ICI factories.
Turning to Swansea, Swansea Sound has established such a good relationship with steel workers in South Wales that during a steel industry dispute on at least one occasion the unions refused to start a news conference until the presence of the Swansea Sound man had been established. In Edinburgh, Radio Forth has actively helped the Employment Services Agency in running a job week particularly to help the disabled and school-leavers. Employers spoke about their requirements and job seekers talked about their hopes and needs. Afterwards, the Secretary of State for Scotland said that Radio Forth was entitled to blow its own trumpet over the success of the project, and the managers of job centres in Edinburgh were extremely pleased with the results.
Another unique facility of radio which has also been touched on is the fact that it 1424 can react instantaneously to any event. At Radio Tees, I am told that over 95 per cent. of the output is live 18 hours a day, seven days a week. This gives amazing flexibility. It is clearly very helpful for people to know about up-to-date traffic conditions and about the local news which may affect them and, indeed, also to know about special offers in the local shops which are advertised on local radio.
I could cite many other examples of the way in which local radio benefits each community but, for the reasons mentioned earlier, I shall not trespass further on your Lordships' time. I should like to end simply by saying that I hope it will not be long before there are more local radio stations in operation to serve those parts of the community which are not lucky enough to have them yet.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Lord AYLESTONE
My Lords, I am not usually lucky in raffles or ballots, but today I consider myself especially fortunate in that I have been drawn on the list in a position which enables me to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Crathorne, on his maiden speech. Like many others in this House, I served with his distinguished father in another place for many years where, as the noble Lord will know, his father was liked and respected by everyone on both sides of the House. I am very pleased to follow the noble Lord also because he has covered a theme in which I am especially interested. I had some responsibility in choosing the lucky 19 out of 64 applicants—it is probably true to say that the remaining 45 were very disappointed. However, if I may say so, he omitted just one thing: may I put it in for him. I hope that when the 20th is announced it will be Cardiff, which is in fact the only capital city without an independent local radio station. I am sure that the House has been delighted to hear what the noble Lord had to say and would like to hear him again as often as he wishes to address us.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Willis for initiating this debate, but I would hardly think it necessary to draw attention to the benefits of television and radio which, as all the speakers have proved so far, are generally accepted and understood. Nevertheless, in view of the 1425 oft-repeated comments which seem to attribute many of the world's troubles and ills to this section of the media, I think it is necessary on occasions to say something in defence of television and radio. The Acts and the Charter governing television require the broadcasting authorities to entertain, to educate and to inform. It is sometimes a little difficult to draw a line between them as to where one begins and the other ends, because some programmes encompass the whole thing.
In the area of entertainment, there is surely something for everyone: sport, drama, light entertainment, comedy and so on. I know from my own experiences that viewers often complain about too much sport, and I read in the paper today that, there is a possibility of television coverage from Australia of what I call "Packer's Pets". All I hope is that it does not coincide with some football; otherwise we shall have some more trouble. I hope that it will be fitted in at some other point. In addition to sport, of course, critics frequently complain about the drama and about the comedy. The allegation made with regard to sport is that it is biased. It is said that the drama is too permissive and, as the noble Lord, Lord Willis, has mentioned, that there is violence running through the whole thing.
The Acts require that the broadcasting authorities should have in mind programmes which "are not offensive to public feeling." That really is a formidable requirement, for one asks oneself: what is public feeling, or what is public taste? I know what I as an individual believe is public taste, but I am quite sure that in any gathering there will be as many interpretations of good taste as there are individuals trying to define it. However, I must make the point that one can choose the theatre which one goes to, and the play which one sees. One can also choose the book which one reads. But television programmes are in the home without very much choice, other than the three programmes and the on/off switch. I have frequently been told that one can use the on/off switch but I should think that nothing is calculated to cause more disharmony in any home than the use of the on/off switch, especially when some other members of the family want to look at a certain programme.
1426 The requirement to determine public taste, and what is or is not offensive to public feeling, is extremely difficult. Do we really want to return to the morality and the sociological conditions of a century or more ago? I know that some will certainly say, "Yes". Perhaps those days were very moral on the surface, but there were appalling conditions underneath—gin shops, abject poverty and every kind of depravity, such as child prostitution and the like. Those were the good old days of 100 or more years ago. They were certainly not more moral, in the true sense of "morality", than are the present days.
How frequently do we hear in this Chamber—in fact, I think I heard it last week—that television is a considerable contributory factor to the current wave of violence in Northern Ireland? Unfortunately, many people sincerely believe this to be the case; but there is very little proof that television or radio is a contributory factor to violence at all. Research has been mentioned and I know that the Independent Broadcasting Authority, as it now is, has spent over the years more than £350,000 on such research, most of it academic research in one university or another. But one asks oneself: What other research is there that can assure objectivity and lack of bias? In, I think, the University of Leicester there is a department which has done a considerable amount of work in this direction, but the end result of all the research mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Willis, is at best inconclusive.
I remember reading one report—I have forgotten which, and I have read most of them—which said that it is clear that television affects a child who is subnormal. I do not think it needed a great deal of expense and research to come to that conclusion, because if the poor child starts off subnormal he is likely to be much more affected than the average child. What worries me is that if, without any definite knowledge and simply by voicing personal opinions, one attributes to the young people of today violent and permissive behaviour, then, unfortunately, many people will believe that to be true. I hope that no one in this House would classify the majority of young people today in that field of permissiveness or violence.
1427 In the same field, one should also ask oneself: Is not all drama offensive to someone? Is not King Lear, and other parts of Shakespeare's work, offensive to many people? Is not all news coverage objectionable to someone? Are not documentary and information programmes offensive to someone? Of course they are; but one has to strike a balance and, with the best will in the world, whether it be through academic study or some kind of gallup poll, psychologists and sociologists cannot come up with any definitive answer to the question: What is the effect of television and radio on young people?
In fact, plays are edited and amended. It is strange, but it is a fact which I admit, that if I saw a play in 1967—at that time I was chairman of one of the broadcasting authorities—and felt that something should come out, we took it out. But I am fairly sure that if I saw the same play today I would not hold the same view about it. Have I changed? Probably I have, and I think that most of us have. Therefore, I would emphasise that the broadcasting authorities, the programme directors, the writers and the producers are not evil people with way-out views, endeavouring to corrupt our own young folk. They are all genuinely trying to do a reasonable job, which I believe they succeed in doing. Standards have changed over the years, many would say for the worse; others, equally vociferously, would say for the better. I am sure that in this field every man and every woman is an island.
Still on the question of violence, may I respectfully suggest that if there are noble Lords—and I believe that there are some—who feel that television and radio is a contributory factor, they should read some of the nursery rhymes from their childhood days, Hans Andersen and the Brothers Grimm, or attend a pantomime at Christmas time, when the principal boy puts the question to the children in the audience: "What shall we do with the bad man?" She will be told in no uncertain way: "Cut off his head", "Boil him in oil", and so on. Of course this has gone on through the ages. It is not something which started with television and radio.
May I quote from a speech by a former Home Secretary, who said:I have lately obtained the opinion of a number of chief constables, who declare with 1428 almost complete unanimity that the recent great increase in juvenile delinquency is, to a considerable extent, due to the demoralising cinematograph films, and there has been evidence with respect to films of other objectionable types which leads to the conclusion that the present censorship arrangements are really not quite adequate".The former Home Secretary was Mr. Herbert Samuel, in the year 1916. We have not discovered anything when we attribute some of the ills to television and radio. If we care to go back, were not the first cheap newspapers, when they became available to everyone who could afford them, equally blamed for everything that was happening in those days; and so, too, with comic papers and so on? One could go on, but perhaps I should get back to the subject of the beneficial effects of television and radio, having taken what I hope is defensive action.
§ The Earl of LONGFORD
My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether he is arguing that television simply does not have any effect on the morals of the country? I am not asking whether it has a good or a bad effect. He obviously thinks that it has a good one, but is he saying that it does not have any effect?
§ Lord AYLESTONE
My Lords, I am certainly not saying that it does not have any effect. What I am saying is that the general view that television programmes make a contribution to violence, permissiveness and so on, is not true. It has an effect; it is bound to do so. Otherwise, why would people advertise on television? But it does not have what is generally thought to be an ill effect.
On the subject of beneficial television, I have said a word or two about entertainment and I would now draw the attention of the House to documentary programmes and investigational journalism. That is something else which is occasionally criticised as being quite wrong. Some of the documentaries are acclaimed throughout the world as excellent. They have already been mentioned by the noble Lord opposite, but one could mention a good many others—for example, the wild life series "Survival", or David Attenborough's "Journeys", or Wynford Vaughan Thomas's "Castles of Wales". One could go on and on. These documentaries are excellent. Occasionally, however, one encounters the criticism that the programmes in the field of 1429 investigational journalism, as they are generally called, are biased and lack balance. In the first place, usually they are excellently produced. I am convinced that they have uncovered many sociological and industrial ills, but they certainly do not please everyone, especially those who are being investigated. Nevertheless, I agree that this type of programme must be most carefully researched and balanced before transmission. In the last resort, there are always the laws of libel to handle the position.
In the realm of news coverage, one buys the newspaper that contains the views which generally coincide with one's own—or, in these days, the pictures one wishes to see. However, one recognises that, in the main, a newspaper has a political slant of one kind or another. On the other hand, television and radio coverage is required to be fair and unbiased, and generally it is. One hears very few criticisms about news coverage on television.
My Lords, I have spoken for too long. However, as I said at the beginning of my speech, the beneficial effects of radio and television are there for millions of our population to see and to hear. There are some people and organisations which do not accept that there are any such benefits. One knows, regretfully, that there are many people—I hope not too many—who have not moved very far away from the burning of books era of some 20 years ago. I am thankful to my noble friend for introducing this debate. However, like the noble Lord who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench, while I feel that additional research is necessary I implore my noble friend not to proceed in the direction of another commission of inquiry, because the television and radio industry has suffered enough.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Lord SWINFEN
My Lords, may I beg the indulgence of the House on the first occasion that I rise to address it. I do so with considerable diffidence because over the past few months it has been obvious that everybody here knows far more than I do about every subject. The same is true tonight. I agree with everything that has been said so far, particularly regarding the educational 1430 programmes on television and radio. I must admit, however, that I have understood this Unstarred Question to have a much wider meaning, for it contains the words:report on the beneficial effects of television and radio".If we did not have radio and television today, I believe that Heathrow Airport would come to a grinding halt. Without television and radio, the communications which are necessary to keep large aircraft flying around the world would stop; so to a very large extent would trade. Television can be used as a teaching aid in our universities, hospitals and technical colleges, particularly in situations where the machinery for scientific experiments and carrying out medical operations allows only a limited number of people to see what is happening. The use of television means that very many more students can see what is happening at the time, and when it is combined with videotape the same operation or experiment can be shown to other students at other times. In medicine, where rare, difficult and particularly dangerous operations take place, I should have thought that this was of considerable advantage.
In addition, television systems can be used by the Metropolitan Police for monitoring the road traffic throughout London and for preventing the jams which used to occur in years gone by. These systems have also been used very effectively in Northern Ireland for bomb disposal and have saved a large number of lives. This is because the officers, who so bravely deal with these bombs, can have a good look at them in a number of cases without approaching them. Without television, far more men would be killed.
Apart from dealing with dangerous explosives situations, underwater cameras can be used on the seabed when underwater engineering is taking place, in order to make life easier for engineers and divers. In conjunction with radio, engineering experts on the surface, who are not trained to work underwater, can guide divers about what to do, thus making then job very much more safe and satisfactory. With that slight digression from the broadcasting aspects of radio and television, I should like to thank noble Lords for listening to me.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ Baroness PHILLIPS
My Lords, the pleasure falls to me to congratulate the noble Lord who has just spoken, particularly since he has drawn our attention—and I suspect he will be the only noble Lord to do so—to the far wider implications of broadcasting and telecommunications. I congratulate the noble Lord for bringing to our notice the wider use of the marvellous medium of broadcasting. His knowledge came through even during so short but so brilliant a speech. I hope that the House will have the pleasure of hearing him on many occasions.
May I also offer my congratulations to the other noble Lord who made his maiden speech today. He mentioned that radio is an intimate medium and referred to the car. My son-in-law, who is a doctor, once said to me that when he turns on the radio in his car other people get music but he gets his mother-in-law. I told him that he was lucky!
May I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Willis, for giving us the opportunity to speak on his Unstarred Question. It was introduced, as usual, in wonderful style. I was only sorry that he cut out a great deal of his speech, because I am quite sure that we should have been happy to hear all of it. I was very glad to hear that a number of ewes appear to be listening to broadcasts and are adopting orphaned lambs. It is heartening to know that our dumb friends also enjoy broadcasting. The prospect of several sheep wearing earphones is delightful. I am delighted to be able to endorse all that the noble Lord, Lord Willis, has said.
All methods of communication suffer constantly from "knocking". Newspapers are very rarely mentioned in this House, except when people wish to criticise them. At present I am involved in a campaign to try to prevent theft, and it has brought me into even closer contact with local radio and television centres. One cannot fail to work closely with them without one's admiration increasing. So far as I can see, there is no attempt to cut the message we wish to put over. Indeed, they urge you by questions and further interrogation to expand on any particular points. Working as I have been with both independent companies and the BBC I find they are very open-minded, if you have 1432 any other suggestions to make, particularly on documentary journalism, and one can only have for them the highest praise for the responsible way in which they try to carry out their difficult task.
However, as several noble Lords have said, it is impossible to please everyone. My own mother looks at television or listens to radio all day long and sometimes complains that she can find nothing new. As I pointed out to her, it is unlikely that anybody could constantly devise something new for 24 hours of every day. As the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, has said, radio and television have opened doors to those who are housebound and to those unable to communicate in other ways, and if it were for that alone we should be eternally grateful. I am glad I live in this century, particularly as a middle-aged woman—and I intend to remain middle-aged until I die; it is much more convenient.
I should like particularly in this debate to emphasise local radio, whether independent or controlled by the BBC. They have a particular role which I would ally to the local paper. Local papers and local communication media generally always promote great loyalty and people listen and look much more carefully to the things which are of immediate concern to them than to matters considered to be of general interest. I wonder why our politicians think that, if you go canvassing, people will talk about devolution or direct elections in Europe. I find that most people will talk to you about their children, their homes, their jobs and what is happening in their area. People who send messages through the radio and television are often much more in tune with what ordinary people want than some of the people who should know. I find that the national networks do not evoke the same response as local radio. As the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, has said, if you have a phone-in on local radio you get a complete follow-up, whereas if you have it on the national network you may or you may not get a reaction.
Regarding religious broadcasts, I remember once taking part in a religious phone-in programme very late at night when you wonder if people are looking. I was somewhat amazed on the following morning to discover the number of people who seemed to have been avidly 1433 watching the screen and listening to the message I was putting over. This rather cheered me because I thought that some kind of a Christian revival was taking place, until my brother informed me that he had seen me. When I said, "I had no idea you looked at religious broadcasts" he replied that he did not but it came at the end of an international soccer match. So it seemed to me that juxtaposition of programmes was something that might be looked at.
I have a very small point on which I should like to ask the help of the Minister. I have not given him notice but this seemed to me a good opportunity to introduce it. When I went to a local broadcasting station recently, I received rather more attention than one normally gets. The red carpet was out; drinks were provided and I was received with great ceremony. In the course of conversation it became obvious why this was so. This particular broadcasting station thought I was a member of the Independent Broadcasting Authority. Having assured them that they had the wrong Baroness, I decided that perhaps I could help them after all. They brought to my notice a point which, though small, affects a number of broadcasting stations, namely, the working of the independent Broadcasting Authority Act in relation to the fact that broadcasting must not be used by one side or another in an industrial dispute. Of course we would not question this; this is quite proper, but companies, while being entitled to send a return to work message where a strike is ended, and obviously there is no industrial dispute, are not able to send out a message while an industrial dispute is in progress.
For example, a very large car concern, which shall be nameless, recently wanted an announcement to go out covering a works meeting to endorse the terms agreed by the management and shop stewards. The station had to refuse this because of the Act. This situation can be duplicated on many occasions, and I would suggest that this is a very narrow interpretation of the section of the Code which reads:No advertising may have any relation to any industrial dispute".I am sure we would not question it, but equally we all want to see our means of communication used by the greatest number for the greatest good, and we all want to see that strikes are brought to a 1434 successful conclusion at the earliest possible moment. In my view, communication must be made as available as possible and used in its widest sense, and I would hope that the Minister would use his very wide powers. By merely changing the wording of a Schedule he can, by regulation, make it possible for this to be done.
While repeating again that we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Willis, for introducing this Question, I would add that if a commission could be set up which would not cost money I am sure that many people would cheerfully give their services. For a change, let us have a little glamour attached to the "goodies" rather than to the "baddies".
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Viscount CRAIGAVON
My Lords, I shall try to be brief at this hour. I was partly stimulated to make my last contribution to your Lordships' House following a programme on London Weekend Television in which the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, took part. Whether any benefit was derived from my contribution is another matter. May I also add my congratulations to the two noble Lords on their excellent and accomplished maiden speeches. They have obviously done a lot of research on the subject. May I advise them to keep the literature which they may have acquired because I am sure that in 20 years' time, if we are all still here, we will be having similar debates on broadcasting. If they want to follow any example in addressing your Lordships' House they can do no better than listen to the noble Lord, Lord Willis, who today, as always, was a pleasure to listen to as well as being very persuasive. The catalogue of programmes which he and many other noble Lords have mentioned made me wish—contrary to usual wisdom—that there were not the various restrictions on repeats. It is certainly worth reminding ourselves of the high standards against which we judge broadcasting, and in particular the BBC. It is worth repeating the opening sentence of the Annan Report's chapters on the BBC:The BBC is arguably the single most important cultural organisation in the nation".When we are told of the extent to which children watch television, the formative cultural influence on them which it provides is incalculable.
1435 I want to talk mainly about the Katz Report, but first I should like briefly to mention violence, which hardly features in that report. As Lord Willis and others have shown, the argument about violence is a very difficult one. As has been said, research has not come up with any definitive answers and we are forced to rely largely on intuitive reactions, which must differ even on some of our most central beliefs. It is not just in broadcasting. After many centuries we still do not really know what is the effect of witnessing the violence in King Lear for example, nor can we really assess the large effects of watching Tom and Jerry, or of the delightful but extraordinary goings-on of Kermit the Frog. I know there may be plenty of queries on all this but very much less agreement. It seems to me that there are large areas where we shall always be relying on intuitive judgments and where controversy would seem to be inevitable. That is not a defeatist point; I am merely suggesting that we should be modestly realistic in what is attempted in research.
I should now like to turn more directly to the Question on the Order Paper and talk about the problems of investigating the beneficial effects of broadcasting. Can I say that I have had some training in social psychology and that one of the first and most salutary lessons one learns is the sheer difficulty in establishing significant causal connections in even the most simple experiments. Thus I am not too optimistic that any of the more general benefits (or disadvantages) of broadcasting can in principle be quantified precisely. As I have said, it is difficult enough to agree on the effects of an isolated factor like violence alone.
The Katz Report, which was published by the BBC at the beginning of this year (to give it its full title it is called Social Research on Broadcasting: Proposals for Further Development), seemed to me to be an excellent and honest initial step in a direction which at this stage one can only hope will be fruitful. The aim of the BBC in proposing a broadcasting research trust, with the support and encouragement of the IBA, is to carry out some of the projects suggested in the Katz Report. Establishing the credibility of the trust, and both general and academic acceptance of its results, will be a difficult 1436 task. The BBC intend a certain distancing from themselves, to ensure the trust an independent research policy. I hope they err on the side of too much independence, and that independence is firmly declared and seen to exist right from the start.
To that end, and also to increase its financial strength, I understand that attempts are being made to international-lise the trust; if that is successful, the enterprise will be less susceptible to passing fashion and economies. Having said all that about how I hope it is launched ultimately the trust will be judged by the results it produces, and rightly so. I hope it will be successful, but I think one of the most difficult tasks will be the formulating of the right questions. My experience in social psychology—although I know that that is only one aspect of media sociology—makes me sceptical whether some of the most interesting questions about broadcasting are susceptible to the sort of answers we would like. Academic talk of more sophisticated methodologies and sharpening of analytical tools can only take one so far.
Finally, one step that is particularly urgent, following the establishment of the trust, is for all broadcasting authorities to agree on the Annan recommendation about a single combined method of basic audience measurement. The organisations' research creditiblity is regularly damaged when, for example, it seems that both BBC and ITV claim over 50 or 60 per cent. loyalty from the same audience over Christmas, or similar logically impossible conflicts over sporting events. I think the noble Lord, Lord Annan, recommended that this bit of common sense should be implemented at once, and I hope that "at once" in broadcasting will be quicker than it is in politics.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Lord FERRIER
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to be able at once to refer to the two maiden speeches which we have heard; their lucidity and their knowledge-able background to the subject of this debate seem to me to be the most remarkable evidence at this juncture of the value of the hereditary system. I hope we shall hear both speakers again; I am sure we shall, and we shall listen to them with the care with which we have listened to them today.
1437 Everybody has thanked the noble Lord, Lord Willis, as I do, for introducing this debate, though what in fact he meant by his Question defeated me. It was not until he unfolded his speech—and as Lady Phillips said it was a pity he had to leave out some parts—that I saw he was using this very useful procedure we have in this House, the Unstarred Question, to introduce a matter of real importance at fairly short notice, in a way which enables it to be approached from many angles.
I am inclined to agree with my noble friend Lord Redesdale. I cannot really see at this moment the object of a Commission, certainly until we have had a White Paper based on the Annan Report; indeed, Lord Willis said, "Even if we do not have that, let us give the whole thing a lot of thought". I am going to go further than that. I came with no prepared speech because, as I said, I could not understand what he was getting at, but now I know and it is thrilling. The "box" seems to me to be taking the place of the "auld fireside". It seems to be the focal centre of so many households today. It is so absolutely wonderful. I suppose I am quite the oldest Member of your Lordships' House taking part in this debate. I remember my father, who died when I was 14, with his zest for living, his zest for information and for knowledge. I find myself in my old age, over and over again, when I see some magnificent programme—particularly a travelogue or an explanation of some engineering problem or the like—saying to myself, "By Jove, if my father could only have seen this he would not have believed it". I remember buying my first radio in India in the middle 'twenties. When I first went out to India in 1920 we still had to rely for our news and the like on the mail once a week, or the telegraph. The air-mail did not begin until about the same time as the wireless. Now we take so much of this extraordinary development for granted that we seem to overlook the sheer wonder of the thing. This has been very well brought out by the noble Lord who introduced the Question.
I am smiling because if there is ever bickering between myself and my wife it is because I say, "My dear, you have missed the weather". Nobody has mentioned the weather; I do not think 1438 Lord Willis did. It is a wonderful service for a gardener, sportsman, fisherman, traveller, motorist. It is one of the most remarkable things that occur. However, let us leave it at that; I do not want to take long.
I have a specific plan. I am not going to refer to violence or to permissiveness. I think there is too much violence. I think the violence sometimes is sadistic and need not be. On the other hand, sometimes it is not really true to life, in that there is not the awful mess and horror of the real thing. So I will leave that and turn to the radio, to which the noble Lord, Lord Crathorne, referred. It is a wonderful thing, as Lord Winstanley said. I confess to your Lordships that one of my favourite programmes is "Scottish Country Dancing" at 6.15 on Saturdays. I set aside the following three-quarters of an hour for cleaning my boots and my leatherwork and the like, while I picture myself dancing in my kilt.
I am not altogether sure that we do not want a Commission. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, will remember that I have for years been on about the question of reporting Parliament to the people. I go on and on about it to such an extent that I sometimes think that I must be barmy. However, if, as I have said, the box is the focal centre of the home and if, as I believe, Parliament and its proceedings are very important to everybody, am I quite barmy if I say that, taking all the benefits which radio and television provide—remembering that their function is to inform as well as to entertain—they also have a social function in connection with Parliamentary Government and Parliamentary democracy, the way in which we live and the way in which we build our Parliamentary work? In my view it is necessary for someone to consider this aspect.
If any Commission is to be produced at all, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, will consider—although I do not suppose it is a possibility—whether some wiser heads than mine could be put together to see whether I am barmy, or whether there is a deep-seated problem with all this entertainment, information and everything else flowing from these wonderful machines. Ought 1439 there not to be a provision in every franchise to every broadcaster—I do not include the local people because the local radios do very well as regards keeping people informed about local municipal and political affairs—to deal with this matter?
On the broader issues, I believe that Clause 13(2) of the Licence and Agreement, which lays down the obligation as regards BBC radio for independent journalists to report the proceedings of both Houses day by day, should apply to every franchise: BBC television, BBC radio and the IBA. I say that because, if it is not an obligation upon commercial radio, then how can it recover the money? Every minute means money. In order, when Parliament is sitting, to provide "X" minutes per day on this service, it means so much advertising time lost. That is a factor which requires to be looked into.
This has been a fascinating debate and I look forward to hearing the other speeches which are to be made. If anything has come out of this debate, I seriously believe that the authorities and people generally should consider whether, if we do not provide for information about Parliament on this universal medium, we can blame people if they sneer at politics. Of course, noble Lords can say: "They only have to look at us to realise that we are hopeless". However, it does not really work out like that. I believe that something of this nature would be wise and prudent. Not to have it might find us very much the losers in the years to come when we realise that, thanks to all this wonder, the day may come when people will hardly be able to read or write.
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ Lord VAIZEY
My Lords, I should like to join with other Members of the House in congratulating the two noble Lords who have made their maiden speeches today. I agreed with every word that the noble Lord, Lord Crathorne, said about local radio. We need far more of it and I very much hope that my noble friend who will answer for the Government will give some indication that we shall get some more. The noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, brought a great and wide knowledge to the debate for which we thank him.
1440 It gives me great pleasure to support my noble friend Lord Willis in the line of argument which he has presented to the House this afternoon. In the field of professional writing my noble friend is a statesman of the first rank and his voice is listened to with great respect by everybody who appreciates honesty, directness and experience. I speak on behalf of all the professionals who deeply appreciate what he is doing for us. Our country is unduly restrictive in its attitude to the arts and to entertainment. I want to support my noble friend Lord Willis in his efforts on their behalf.
I should like to say in parenthesis that it is a very great disappointment that the Government have not yet seen fit to accept the Public Lending Right Bill of my noble friend Lord Willis—a measure of justice for writers associated with my noble friend Lord Willis and above all the admirable Mrs. Brophy and Miss Duffy. The members of the trade union of which my noble friend is the president are gravely disappointed by the Government's attitude to this matter.
I turn now to the matter immediately under discussion, but which is closely related to my previous point, because it concerns the incomes of the professionals who are engaged in the field of entertainment and the arts. I am referring to the beneficial effects of their work. We must remember that in discussing this matter we are discussing the standard of life and work of the thousands of people engaged in this industry: writers, actors, journalists, producers, administrators and technicians. Moreover, our policy as a nation in the provision of radio and television has been deeply restrictive and, in being so deeply restrictive, it has seriously restricted the employment possibilities and the earnings of the professionals in this area. When writers realise that they will not get public lending rights either, I think that they are justified in becoming a little bitter.
The attitude to entertainment seems to me to be a paradox. Radio and television are a major growth industry in which it is widely said we lead the world. It is, for one thing, a very large export industry, as the advertisements of the noble Lord, Lord Grade, have recently reminded us. Our economy is not yet in such good shape that we can afford to handicap a growth industry unnecessarily. How do we handicap this industry? We do it by limiting the 1441 hours of transmission. Why do we limit the hours of transmission? In my view, it is because as a nation we take an excessively authoritarian attitude to what listeners should hear and what viewers should see. This is usually called a concern for high standards. Of course, we are all concerned with high standards. We are all keen on good things.
I do not necessarily share all the self-congratulatory views that have found so much expression in the debate. How does the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, possibly prove the proposition that our radio and television are the best in the world? Does he speak Swedish, Swizza Deutsch or Dutch? He may speak all those languages, but I think it unlikely. However, we shall take the will for the deed. We shall assume that ours is a fairly good service if not necessarily the best in the world. I am prepared to defend the proposition so often argued that our standards are high, but I am inclined to wonder whether we have not become excessively defensive for fear of lowering the standards, and thus have restricted ourselves to an ever-dwindling cycle of transmission which unnecessarily restricts this industry, which is, after all, only 50 years old.
Lowering standards is another way of giving people what they want. I spend a great deal of time at the Covent Garden Opera House, as does the noble Lord, Lord Annan, who is chairman of the important committee which has recently reported. I do not see why, however, because I like going to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, I should stop others from going to the Palladium. My submission is that the beneficial consequences of radio and television, even when they are lowering standards, far outweigh the disadvantages. The beneficial consequences may be very briefly listed, and I shall list them briefly because ether noble Lords have listed them at some length and with great force, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley.
The first, of course, is simply sheer enjoyment. People like watching and listening to entertainment, sport, panel games, classical music, the news and current affairs. There are few, if any, reasons why they should not have their wishes respected to have as much as they want of these benefits. There have been attempts to show that standards in all these 1442 fields of enjoyment have risen. I should have thought that the evidence is strong that standards have, indeed, risen during the past 50 years. However, I would submit that for purposes of the argument it is not necessary to show that they have risen. On ordinary utilitarian principles it is sufficient to show that people are enjoying themselves, as the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, pointed out. I see no adequate reason to question their judgment, provided, of course, that there are not superior principles at stake—for example, the avoidance of pornography and unnecessary violence.
§ The Earl of LONGFORD
My Lords, the noble Lord seems to be involving himself in a series of contradictions. At one moment he said that he did not mind if the standards were lowered. Presumably he meant moral and aesthetic standards. At another moment he said that he would not want pornography, violence or such-like. Perhaps he would clarify the position.
§ Lord VAIZEY
My Lords, I should be delighted to clarify it. My position is perfectly simple. Aesthetic standards and broad moral standards are matters of individual judgment and I do not particularly mind what those standards are. I know what my own standards are and I am concerned about them. It seems to me that there are certain absolute moral standards in the areas of pornography and violence to which the whole nation must adhere. However, I respectfully submit to the noble Earl that those standards are fairly limited and that we should be extremely careful before we become too authoritarian in laying down what our fellow citizens should or should not enjoy. As Bernard Shaw once pointed out, different people have different tastes.
That brings me to my major and final point. In striving to raise standards, the period and scope of transmissions of broadcasts have been limited to a quite extraordinary extent in this country compared to the situation existing in other countries. Of course, this limitation has its origins in the financial difficulties of the BBC, to which my noble friend Lord Willis most eloquently drew attention. The BBC has an enormous range of television and radio networks—almost all 1443 of them now being curtailed through shortage of finance. I share my noble friend's very strong hope that this shortage of finance will shortly be remedied in the proper fashion.
However, in order to preserve the BBC's position, the hours of transmission by other authorities have been limited. Much as I admire and am grateful to the BBC, I wonder whether this restriction on the other authorities is wise or, in fact, is in the public interest, which I have loosely defined on ordinary utilitarian principles as the enjoyment of the great majority of our fellow citizens.
In the first place, the restriction on hours limits the enjoyment of people. Why should elderly people have to go to bed at 11.30 just because the television broadcast closes down? Why should it not go on later? Why should London be the only major capital in the English-speaking world without an all-night classical music station? Why cannot we have all-night movies?— as they do in the major cities of the United States. The limitation on people's choice seems to me to be indefensible.
The argument which is presented for this limitation in the report of the noble Lord, Lord Annan, is one to which my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich referred in the debate on the Annan Report. He said that the expansion of television and radio, even if it is done by commercial stations, entails public expenditure and that therefore, in the present economic circumstances, it is deleterious. That argument is mistaken. I happen to know—because I started this particular hare in a speech that I gave to the Royal Television Society in September 1975 at Cambridge—that it rests on a false assumption, of which I have only recently thought; namely, of a constant real national income, which I am sure the Chancellor of the Exchequer would agree is a defeatist and unacceptable proposition. Therefore, that argument is false and falls.
The restriction on hours of transmission also limits quite unnecessarily the earnings of professionals in the broadcasting professions. Further—and this is very important—the limitations on freedom of expression are potentially and actually extremely dangerous. With our limited 1444 range of hours and networks and the fact that virtually all serious radio is in the hands of the BBC, a handful of bureaucrats in the BBC and the major network companies in fact have far too great power to limit who shall broadcast on what. I say no more than that. I think it is very dangerous in a society where constitutional democracy is under threat. I am convinced that the positive contribution of radio and television to our culture has been and is enormous, and I plead with my noble friend on the Front Bench to open up the air-waves, to increase the licence fee and to set commercial radio and television free from their limitation on hours and the number of their stations.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, let me begin, as did my noble friend Lord Vaizey, by expressing my own congratulations and, indeed, the congratulations of the entire House to the noble Lords, Lord Swinfen and Lord Crathorne, who today made their maiden speeches in this debate. We regarded those speeches as being of outstanding merit and we very much look forward to having the opportunity of hearing the noble Lords address us again. It is with particular pleasure that I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Crathorne, who is the son of a most distinguished father and who also, if I may say so, raised a number of issues to which I should like to refer at the outset.
One was the position of local radio. I shall return to that in a moment. But certainly since I have had at the Home Office the responsibility for broadcasting policy, it has struck me when visiting local radio stations—both independent and BBC stations—what a tremendous amount of enthusiasm there is by journalists and those working at those stations. My background is in the Press, and I have been struck by the fact that there is this degree of enthusiasm and that there is nothing of the slightly jaded atmosphere one is bound to admit one sometimes finds in newspaper offices. It is a testimony not only to the type of people who now work there, but also to the quality of the product which is produced in many local radio stations in this country.
Having said that by way of introduction, I certainly join with other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lord Willis for 1445 having tabled this Question today and given us the opportunity of rehearsing perhaps the debates which we shall have when the Government produce their White Paper on the Annan Report. I hope that that will be done in the early part of next year, but until then I am afraid that I am unable to deal with some of the detailed questions raised today.
I shall take just one example. The noble Lord, Lord Crathorne, asked a question about the possible expansion of the number of local radio stations. Obviously that is very much bound up in the whole question of what the Government's response should be to the report of the committee headed by the noble Lord, Lord Annan. That being so, clearly I am not in a position to answer his question today. However, I certainly think that it was useful to have this opportunity to consider the undoubtedly invaluable role that is played in our society by the public broadcasting services of both radio and television.
In the debate which we had in this House in May on the Annan Report we concentrated principally on the overall policy relating to broadcasting and its institutions. Today we have been invited by my noble friend, and indeed by other noble Lords who have contributed in the debate, to focus our attention on the positive contribution which broadcasting can make. I am bound to say that I think broadcasting has come out of it pretty well. Indeed, I find it fairly remarkable that it has come out quite as well as it has. It was said by my noble friend Lord Willis that it was necessary to have this debate in order to redress the balance. A number of other noble Lords said that on occasion all one heard were the "knockers". Sometimes I suppose that that may appear to be true. It is, I think, a risk that if anybody finds something disagreeable in our society he will find an opportunity to complain about the quality of radio or television broadcasting. Therefore, as a result of that, when we experience such disagreeable manifestations, it is possible that on some occasions, indeed on many occasions, television in particular is found to be a convenient scapegoat.
I must say, again as a former journalist, that I find it remarkable that in a debate lasting well over two hours there has been 1446 virtually no significant criticism made of broadcasting, be it of radio or television. I find it hard to believe that, if we had had a debate of two hours on the state of the British Press, there would have been quite such unrelieved praise being heaped upon the working journalists of this country. I say that in no sense of bitterness, as I hope the House would recognise. But I find it nevertheless interesting that this should be so, and that in fact although it was regarded as desirable to have a Royal Commission on the Press soon after the end of the last war, the situation at the moment is that no comparable organisation exists so far as television or radio are concerned in this country; although it is right to say that this particular issue was dealt with in the report of the noble Lord, Lord Annan, who recommended that some such arrangements should be made for both television and radio. That recommendation, with the others, is now being studied by the Government.
It is clear that television in particular is an especially powerful medium. No fewer than 96 per cent. of the population of this country have a television set in their homes. There are at the moment somewhere around 18,100,000 current licences for monochrome and colour reception in a population of somewhere around 54 million people. Given the power of television it is absolutely right, in my view—and I have said this on a number of previous occasions—that the Government should in no way become involved in the content of programmes or in the very difficult question of what constitutes good or bad taste. These are clearly matters for the BBC and the Independent Broadcasting Authority, who have a clear statutory responsibility in this matter. I must say quite clearly to the House, and particularly to some of those who have raised questions of this character in the past, that it seems to me highly undesirable for Governments to become involved in day-to-day questions of this sort so far as broadcasting is concerned. It may sometimes appear to be tempting, but in my view it is very undesirable indeed.
The situation which I have described is of course the framework within which the broadcasters carry on their work. It is a framework that in my view affords ample opportunity to the programme makers to render a valuable service to the whole 1447 community. Certainly the Annan Committee made a judgment on the quality of that service, and I think that, by and large, the judgment was favourable. I noted that the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, referred again to "knockers". On this occasion, it was apparently a group of "knockers" some of whom were on the Annan Committee. Although undoubtedly there were criticisms—and we can make our own decision as to whether we consider those particular criticisms to have been justified or not—by and large, the industry, both BBC and commercial, emerged from the inquiry with very considerable credit.
I suspect that having raised the debate, as he has done today, my noble friend hardly expects me to announce that the Government are going to announce a new inquiry into broadcasting—all the more so as on this particular occasion he has already decided on the conclusions of such an inquiry, and I think that the inquiry itself might perhaps be slightly superfluous. However, on an occasion like this, and following the speech which he made, I would certainly join with him in testifying to the beneficial effects of both radio and television.
In his speech in the Annan debate in May my noble friend Lord Willis said many complimentary things, as he did indeed today, about both. On that occasion he referred to some of the compliments which were being paid in the Annan Report itself. He referred to the importance of the BBC as a cultural organisation. Undoubtedly that is absolutely true. Certainly we all know of the valuable work which is done by broadcasting in keeping the public informed about current affairs; the useful role, as I have indicated, that local radio fulfils in binding together communities and promoting community spirit and, in summary, the good record of our broadcasting system as a whole which, as the Committee headed by Lord Annan said:… needs really no defence … and is the envy of others throughout the world".In all these points my noble friend endorsed the views of the Annan Committee, and I am happy to join with him on that.
Of course there were aspects of the Annan Report where it was considered 1448 that some improvements might be made. In their responses to the invitation of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary to comment on the report, the broadcasting organisations have indicated their willingness to consider the Committee's criticisms and their proposals. For example—and this has been touched on by a number of those who have spoken in the debate today—in the light of the two recent research reports, one by the Home Office and the other by Dr. Belson about the effects of screen and television violence, the BBC and the IBA are now reconsidering their programme arrangements and the codes of practice that apply to programmes in this particular category. Certainly we all look forward with interest to learning their conclusions in due course, as this is a subject that very many people now regard as being of fundamental importance to our society. It is not just a debate which is taking place in this country. As I know from the visit which I have just paid to the United States, where I had the opportunity of talking about this matter both to the FCC and to some of the programme makers, there is just as meaningful a debate taking place in the United States on this question of violence on television.
It is one of the paradoxes of broadcasting that although it is a large part of all our lives, no one really knows what its effects on us are; be they benign or malign. We just do not know for certain whether the simulation of violence on the screen leads, in the case of the susceptible viewer, and particularly some young people, to violent acts. This is a very difficult matter indeed on which to make judgments. But I consider—and I must make this absolutely clear in the light of some observations which have been made in this debate—that the onus is on the broadcasters. Until it can be established that programmes involving a high degree of violence do no harm, in my view they should err on the side of caution. I suspect that it would be the overwhelming view of most people, certainly outside the industry, and a great many inside it, that that should be so.
It also follows from what I have just said that the broadcasters should use all the available techniques that research offers to try to assess the effects of their own service. I should like to say just two things about that. First, I was very glad 1449 to learn of the progress that is being made by the BBC with discussions on some form of trust to initiate research. The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, and my noble friend Lord Aylestone both dealt with this particular question. I think it is the case that research into the effects of broadcasting is now being developed in many countries—here, the United States, and many other countries. It seems to me extremely sensible, that being so, that the broadcasters should pool their knowledge and their experience in this particular area.
Secondly—this point was touched on by the noble Viscount, Lord Craigavon—I hope the broadcasters in this country can get together to agree some common method of audience measurement. To discover what people are watching and listening to may seem a very simple matter but, as the noble Viscount rightly said, there have been substantial areas of disagreement over this. I think it is basic to wider and more fundamental research that we should get this right. As the noble Viscount pointed out, the Annan Committee drew attention to the desirability of the broadcasters themselves devising a single method rather than having two entirely separate exercises, one for the BBC and the other for ITV. This matter is now being discussed and we all hope for, and indeed I think we all have a right to expect, a successful outcome to those discussions.
A number of other questions have been raised and I come to a particular point raised by my noble friend Lady Phillips relating to advertisements which might appear during the course of an industrial dispute. I will gladly look into the point she raised because, as far as I am aware, it has not been raised with me before. I must tell her that one of the difficulties is that Schedule 2 to the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act 1973 lays down the requirements on the Authority in these terms:No advertisement shall be permitted which is inserted by or on behalf of any body the objects whereof are wholly or mainly of a religious or political nature and no advertisement shall be permitted which is directed towards any religious or political end "—and then come the words which are significant—or has any relation to any industrial dispute".That is of course the language of the Act. The question my noble friend 1450 raised was what would be a reasonable interpretation of the Act. All I can say is that I will gladly go into that point to try to establish what the situation is on that matter.
My noble friend Lord Vaizey, in a typically boisterous and vigorous speech, raised a point of considerable importance, namely the hours of broadcasting. He asked why the hours of television should be limited in the way they are. The answer is that they are not, not as far as the Government are concerned. There is undoubtedly a power in this matter, and that is Section 21 of the 1973 Act from which I quoted. However, in 1972 the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications announced that he would no longer exercise those powers and, as a result of that—notwithstanding the fact that the language of the Act is one year later than that—no longer do the broadcasting authorities have to notify the Government of the precise times during the day when their services will be broadcast. I think the only time in recent years when this residual power was used was in 1974 during the economic crisis and industrial problems at the beginning of that year when we were in a three-day week situation, when our predecessors took the decision to limit television hours. Apart from that, there is no limitation so so far as the Government are concerned. I suspect that the principal reason for such limitation of hours as there is is the simple question of cost.
My noble friend Lord Willis asked an important question about the Government's position on the EEC licence fee. My noble friend will be aware that yesterday the BBC announced that they would like to have a substantial increase in the licence fee some time next year. The situation is that the BBC have not yet approached us about an increase in their fees—no doubt they will do so—and it is only right that I should add that I do not think it would have been at all reasonable for the BBC to have approached us, given the fact that there was an increase in the licence fee announced by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary on 29th July of this year. He then made it absolutely clear that the increase which he was announcing on that occasion must last for at least one year. That remains the position of the Government, though of course if the BBC wish to 1451 approach us on this matter some time next year we shall be perfectly prepared to listen to what they have to say.
I will, after what has arguably already been an overlong speech, sum up. I would repeat that we are glad to have had this opportunity—I speak for myself and, I am sure, for all who have participated in the debate—to pay tribute to the valuable work which broadcasters undoubtedly play in our society. When I was recently in the United States I was struck by the very high esteem with which programmes from this country were regarded. These programmes, from both the BBC and Independent Television, are finding their way on to the networks and public broadcasting stations in the United States. Both the BBC and Independent Television have offices in the United States selling British programmes and in 1976 the total volume of overseas sales for the BBC and IBA was over £18 million, and despite the undoubted fact that a substantial amount of foreign material is shown on British television, we still have a quite significant surplus on our balance of payments as far as television is concerned, which is a quite remarkable tribute to both the BBC and Independent Television.
In the light of what my noble friend Lord Vaizey said, I shall avoid the temptation to say we have the best television in the world. My Swedish is extremely poor, my German is non-existent and I am a little rusty even in my Norwegian, so I would certainly not make that claim. Nevertheless, choosing rather more neutral language, I would say that our programmes stand comparison with those made anywhere else in the world. That is not to say that we should be pleased with everything that is produced. To be blunt, that would be an absurdly complacent view. Inevitably, there will be cases from time to time where it is believed that there have been lapses in taste and sometimes in sensitivity, but it is for the broadcasting authorities, not the Government, to deal with those. A few such alleged lapses have been mentioned this afternoon and we have had them more than touched on in the Press in recent months. Nevertheless, we recognise how essential is the function that the BBC and the Independent Broadcasting Authority perform at relatively modest cost to the community.
1452 There are many general benefits available to all listeners and viewers, a point mentioned by many noble Lords in the debate. Apart from the dissemination of news and information, the encouragement of the arts and the promotion of education in all its forms, there are, as the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, said, the special and particular benefits conferred on the aged, the infirm and the lonely, for whom life without the broadcasting services would indeed be a miserable existence. In the Government's view, no formal inquiry is needed to ensure that proper recognition is given to the valuable work done by our broadcasters. Nevertheless, this short debate has at least enabled some of the more positive achievements of the industry to secure wider recognition.
§ Lord FERRIER
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I should like to point out that I was looking forward to hearing the Government's view on my point about the broadcasting of information about Parliament.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, despite what has been, as I have already indicated, an overlong speech, it has been impossible to deal with every point raised, but certainly what the noble Lord refers to is an important matter, and I will ensure that it is taken into account during our discussion of the Annan Report.