§ Debate resumed.
§ 4.43 p.m.
My Lords, I am sure that we are all deeply grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Willis, for giving us a first bite at this very palatable cherry. 917 Most of us, I am sure, have greatly enjoyed his words and his work on many occasions, but it seems to me that today he has entertained us to one of his best and most interesting scripts, which is hardly surprising. He has a long and distinguished career in broadcasting, so I think that we would all do well to heed what he has said. Of course, many Members of your Lordships' House have vast experience in this field, and I am delighted to know that we are to hear from some of them during this debate. Indeed, it has been very refreshing to me, in my short time in your Lordships' House, to note how often when noble Lords speak they really seem to know quite a lot about what is being discussed, which is hardly always the case in various other places. Perhaps I should add that this is a subject on which, like education and, perhaps, religion, we are all our own experts and we are all entitled to have our views considered. So that with that in mind, I will merely try now to focus attention on those aspects of an enormous subject which I personally regard as crucial.
Of course, I must begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and his colleagues for giving us a highly readable, thought-provoking and highly perceptive analysis of a vital subject. It is many years since I heard a former Postmaster-General in another place, now a Member of your Lordships' House, the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, say that, sooner or later, we would have to take a long cool look at the whole business of broadcasting. That is exactly what Lord Annan and his colleagues have done, and I am sure that we are very grateful. Perhaps Lord Annan will forgive me for saying that his report has been found to be absorbing and interesting by so many, not only because it is refreshingly readable—which it most certainly is—but also because it deals with a subject in which we are all intimately involved.
I must now turn to immediate practical matters, on which we must decide whether and how to act, here and now, or at least very soon. First, in that connection, I should like to say just a few words about violence, which the noble Lord, Lord Willis, mentioned very briefly, not because I put this at the top of the list, but because it is a subject which is bound to occupy 918 much attention during this debate, and during many others on this subject. In this connection, we really must beware of setting out along a path which could end up with a situation in which the only violence we ever see on television is real violence in real programmes, such as news programmes, current affairs programes and documentary programmes, whereas in fictional programmes we see an idealised and wholly different form of life. That, I am sure, would be a very dangerous paradox indeed, and I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and his colleagues have rejected any rigid form of control of that kind.
It is a difficult subject. When we realise that our children have to study "Hamlet", the "Duchess of Malfi" and the tragedies of Euripides, plays in which the stage is literally dripping with blood—and they do that regularly—it makes one realise how difficult it is to separate the part from the whole, when we are considering violence. One has to look at the whole effort, the whole play, the whole programme and the whole context in which violence appears.
Let me say at once that I do not like violence. I object to it, and I do not like it on television. By it, I am either bored or repelled and I do not watch programmes in which there is a gratuitous inclusion of violence as an unnecessary kind of additive. I really believe that if more did as I do and merely switched off, that might have more effect on the programme makers than a positive army of Mrs. Whitehouses, admirable though has been the redoubtable stand taken by that lady on this subject. So I hope that we do not take too many formal steps, and introduce too many rules and regulations, and that we are content to leave as much as possible to the integrity and judgment of the people concerned—under, of course, the watchful eyes of Parliament and the viewing public.
I now come to the question of the fourth channel. Do we want a fourth channel? Do we need a fourth channel? If we do want one and need one, how can we possibly get one? I am convinced that it would be an advantage to have a fourth channel. I believe that there is a wealth of creative talent waiting for expression, and finding it difficult to get expression. Broadcasting organisations 919 have now grown so large that the chain of command is very long indeed and, with creative people often discussing programme slots in 1981, the position is not enormously encouraging. I believe that a fourth channel would give more real choice. I am not talking about the kind of choice one might get in New York, where at any one time there is a choice between any one of 13 different old films. I am talking about real choice, and we must get that with a greater number of creative people having a greater number of opportunities. So I believe that there would be advantages, giving us greater choice and greater representation of different shades of opinion, by having another channel.
But how are we to get one? Here I must underline the words of the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Willis. It seems to me that, in the present economic situation, it is inconceivable that we could get a fourth channel on the air within the reasonably foreseeable future, unless we give it to independent television. Why not give it to independent television? The Annan Report said, over and over again, how well independent television has done. It has grown up, it has taken its time and it is said that it has served us well; and, of course, if it is given the fourth channel it must be given it with proper terms of reference, with appropriate restraints. But as has been said by the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Willis, ITV's own proposals were very similar indeed to the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Annan, for the open channel, and it seems to me that that is what we should do.
Here I must say just a little word about the argument which crops up in various situations as between the BBC on one side, and independent television on the other, as if we were talking about two totally different animals. My Lords, they are not. Generally speaking, they are the same people who travel around the country broadcasting professionally, as I do and have done for many years, and as has the noble Lord, Lord Willis. Over and over again, one will meet the same people.
In the BBC you hear people sometimes say, "Oh, are you here?" "Yes." "Jolly good. Where were you last?" "Anglia." "And where are you next?" 920 "Rediffusion". These people circulate—and why not? We are speaking about individual, creative people who are working in a medium to which they are wedded and for which they are trained. They serve their own professional integrity and their own professional consciences but they are not very conscious about who happens to own the station. Therefore when we are speaking about broadcasting in the true sense, we are speaking about broadcasters. The broadcasters, the writers, the producers and the directors are, very largely, the same people. Look at how many of them have changed camps. Of course, we have the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, who has had both feet very firmly in both camps at different times. And why not? This goes on in broadcasting at all levels, so do not let us fear that these are two totally different things—that one is a commercial outlet, commercially motivated, while the other is non-commercial and motivated entirely towards public service. I believe that that is not an over-simplification but a dangerous mistake.
May I now say a few words about regionalism. I agree with those who said that they do not like the idea of demoting the IBA and suddenly calling it a regional authority. If we have any grounds for misgivings in terms of regionalism, in my experience they arise not so much from Independent Television as from the BBC. I admire immensely the work which the BBC has done and the reputation it has rightly built up among all nations and all people. However, if criticisms are to be levelled against the BBC, probably some of them should be about its comparative failure, at one time at least, over regionalism. I remember the days when, going to regional television studios, I found a lost attitude. The people who were there felt that the fact that they were there meant they had failed and that the only badge of success in the BBC was a single ticket to London. Over the years the BBC has been a little too over-centralised and a little too Metropolitan.
Perhaps I may tell your Lordships of an experience of mine years ago at the time of the document called Broadcasting in the Seventies, which was published in 1970. Many noble Lords will remember that it threatened the shutting down of the Northern Dance Orchestra and of many of the regional orchestras. Many people 921 were concerned about this. I was, and so was my Parliamentary colleague, Mr. Alfred Morris. We wrote to the then Postmaster General because we were very concerned about the Northern region which was stationed in Manchester. He said that we should discuss these matters with the Northern Regional Controller, Mr. Robert Stead, who would arrange a meeting with us. He arranged that meeting, and on the appointed day Alfred Morris and I travelled on the same train with Bob Stead, the Northern Regional Controller, from Manchester to London in order to have a meeting in Broadcasting House about regional broadcasting. Then we travelled back to Manchester again on the same train. At that time it seemed never to have occurred to the BBC that the people who were really interested in regional broadcasting lived in the regions.
What is regional broadcasting about? It is not parochial broadcasting. It does not mean that every programme which emanates from the North-West should he about the cotton trade. It means that the different regions in this country have different qualities and characteristics which ought to find some kind of expression on the air. I do not say that the regions are better than London. I am sure they are not. I do say, however, that they are different and that, with the recruitment of regional people, a region can give a regional flavour both to national and international events and to universal themes. Opera, comedy, or whatever you like, that is produced in Edinburgh is different, but it is not necessarily better than the same productions in London. Perhaps we ought to look at this question in a little more depth; and if anybody is to look at it the BBC ought to do so rather than the independent organisations.
Let me move on from there and say a word about the multiplicity of authorities and whether we should create another. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and the noble Lord, Lord Willis, are entirely right in saying that we cannot have a new broadcasting commission—another layer of bureaucracy on top of all the others. It was Mr. Benn's brainchild many years ago and I doubt very much whether even he wants it now. Occasionally Parliament has to resist the constant temptation to improve and reorganise everything. It is not very long 922 since we tried to reorganise and improve local government, and look where that got us! I take the view that the broadcasting authorities which we have at the moment are unique, highly efficient and highly sophisticated. They have developed in that way over the years, but it has taken time for them to develop. Now we have achieved a system of control of broadcasting which is the envy of the world and which cannot be equalled anywhere else in the world. Therefore, I say, leave it alone; do not tear it all up and go back to square one by creating new authorities which have to start learning all over again, because it has been a learning process.
I remember that in my very early days of broadcasting for Independent Television the Television Act was interpreted very narrowly, particularly in relation to its requirements for balance and balanced opinions. The authority insisted then that there should be a balance within the individual programme. That requirement was taken to such lengths that once I found myself not permitted to do a broadcast on Granada Television in Manchester about atmospheric pollution in smokeless zones unless I could find and drag along the reluctant representative of a backwood local authority who did not happen to believe in smokeless zones. However, that policy changed, and I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, who was largely responsible for changing it and seeing to it that that part of the Act was interpreted in a much more flexible way, with a requirement for overall balance rather than a specific balance at any particular moment.
I mention all that because it has taken time for the Independent Broadcasting Authority, the old ITA, to reach its present degree of expertise and sophistication. It has taken the BBC a long time to develop into the body which it now is, although I happen to believe that it developed rather more rapidly once Independent Television came on the scene. However, be that as it may, it has developed, and any going back would be regrettable. The new authorities would have to go through the same kind of growing up period. That would certainly apply to the new Open Broadcasting Authority, if ever we were to have one. Therefore do not let us have a multiplicity of authorities. Let us carry on with the 923 excellent authorities which we now have and allow them to go on doing the same kind of jobs.
May I say a brief word about local radio. Here I must declare an interest as a director of the Greater Manchester Independent Radio, Radio Piccadilly. I believe that we are slowly arriving at an acceptable formula. BBC local radio and commercial radio have developed slowly, each in their own different ways, alongside each other—not entirely in competition but often complementary to one another. That growth has been slow. Therefore, I do not agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that we should now wipe out BBC local radio. I believe that it fulfils a very different kind of service from commercial radio. I should like the two forms to continue and be allowed to grow and expand under the present system of control, which I believe has hitherto worked extremely successfully.
The principles involved mean, first, that we have to think about how we are to finance broadcasting. That question has not yet been answered. Certainly Annan has not answered it for all time, although we have to keep an open mind. I was particularly glad that the Annan Committee had a kind word of sorts to say about cable TV. The noble Lord, Lord Willis, said that they did not say enough kind words about it, and I agree with him. I believe that the technological possibilities of cable TV are immense. The time may well come when we can dial whatever programme we want. We can do it already in part. We do not always want to watch "Match of the Day", although most of the time we do. Therefore, it is very nice to have modern, sophisticated machinery on which we can record one programme while watching another. Then we can watch the recorded programme at a time to suit ourselves. The technological possibilities with pay television and things of that kind are immense. So we should be very wise indeed not to establish a structure which is so rigid that somehow it must endure for all time. Advertising is a source of revenue and it will have to continue. The licence fee is also a source of revenue which will have to continue, but in the future there may very well be other sources of revenue, and we must 924 think about them. The other principle that we have to bear in mind is, how do we preserve the independence of broadcasting from Government and from local government, too?
So, my Lords, what do we want to see in the end? My view is that, in the end—and I think the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and his colleagues want this, too—we want to see the maximum range of variety and choice in programmes; the maximum opportunity for a wide range of different tastes, opinions and attitudes to find expression in the different broadcasting channels; and I think we must achieve those aims with a minimum risk of official interference but with the highest possible degree of responsibility to the public interest. I believe that means spreading autonomy in programme making among a large number of different and differing creative people with a minimum of control from the top.
I also believe that at the moment it means leaving the institutions which we have evolved to carry on with the job, and it means keeping the situation flexible so that we may take advantage of new developments as and when they occur. Let independent television grow, as it has already grown, by giving it a second channel with, of course, appropriate restrictions. Let the BBC and independent local radio continue to develop and expand side by side in their different ways under the authorities which have present control. In short, let us not unscramble the whole egg structurally. Let us leave the institutions which time, patience and hard work have evolved, to continue to evolve under the watchful eyes of Parliament and the viewing public.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, let me begin with a point on which I can establish some degree of agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley; namely, that it has been particularly appropriate that the debate today should have been introduced by my noble friend Lord Willis, whose knowledge and experience in the broadcasting field is known to all of us, as indeed is the experience, though of a different character, of the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley. I always 925 think that one of the good things about going to the North-West is the pleasure one has from time to time of seeing the noble Lord on television there.
We are certainly grateful to my noble friend for affording us this opportunity of discussing the whole question of the future of broadcasting in the light of the report of the Committee presided over by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and indeed for the vigorous manner in which he put his case to us this afternoon. This is the first occasion on which the Government have been able to express their thanks publicly for the notable public service which the Committee on the Future of Broadcasting has rendered and, of course, to its chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Annan. Everybody who has had experience of committees of this kind will realise, when they read the report, the outstanding contribution which the noble Lord himself has made to the work of the Committee, and I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington; that is, that it is an exceptionally well written document and I am quite sure that this owes a great deal to the work of its chairman.
I should like to take issue on one point with my noble friend Lord Willis. He seemed to be a little uncertain as to whether the Committee were altogether right to be so self-congratulatory about having two members on the Committee who had first-hand experience of television. I think he implied that the Committee might have done a rather better job if they had had even more people with first-hand experience of television as makers of programmes. I wonder whether that is true? I wonder whether the public would have been reassured by the report of a committee consisting largely of people who are professionals in the industry? I doubt it. I think it was important for the Committee to have expertise on that Committee—and they did have—but also they had to represent the broader public interest, which I think they did well.
§ Lord WILLIS
My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me to intervene, that was not the point I was making. I agree with him in thinking that the public would rightly be suspicious if the Committee had been dominated by people from television. I merely pointed out that the phrase that struck me as unique was the one that said it was the first time we had 926 had a committee which included some experts. I made the general point that Governments appear to me to appoint committees generally which do not have sufficient expert knowledge.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, as I understand it, my noble friend is quite rightly making a fierce criticism of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and his colleagues for the appointments they made to the Pilkington Committee, and I certainly would not wish to stand between my noble friend and the noble Lord in that. Frankly, I think this was a much better balanced Committee and as a result it was a much better balanced report. On at least two occasions, once in a BBC Radio 4 programme in which the noble Lord, Lord Annan, participated with the Chairman of the BBC and the Chairman of the IBA, and again in the Fleming Memorial Lecture at the Royal Institution, the noble Lord, Lord Annan, proclaimed that he was extinct. Therefore, I think it is particularly happy that he is with us today. This is reassuring for any future chairmen of committees of this kind, and certainly his own reports of his extinction appear to have been slightly exaggerated.
The debate on which we have embarked this afternoon will form, with the debate which is to be held in another place on Monday, the centrepiece of the wider public discussion of the Annan Report which my right honourable friend the Home Secretary said, when the report was published, the Government hoped would take place. As the House will be aware, we have written to all the organisations and individuals listed in the report as having given evidence to the Committee to invite their comments, but we are anxious to receive comments from everyone, both inside and outside Parliament, who feel that they have a view to express. We shall certainly consider those views before we formulate our final decisions, but, if I may say so, although I did not necessarily accept all the conclusions of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, I thought it was an admirably balanced speech. He went through the arguments so far as the Local Broadcasting Authority was concerned; he came down against it. He looked at the argument, so far as the Local Broadcasting Authority is concerned, and he found it difficult to come to a definite conclusion on the matter.
927 I think it is right that we should adopt that kind of attitude in dealing with arguments of this degree of complexity, but I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, will certainly forgive me, as he quoted from a speech made in this House during an earlier debate 25 years ago, if I myself make a quotation. I am not sure whether he will be altogether successful in tracing the source of this quotation, so perhaps I will identify the source straight away. It is from The Times newspaper of 21st March of this year and I will read briefly the contents. The report reads:The main proposal of the Annan Report on the future of broadcasting, that the hegemony of the BBC and IBA be broken by the setting up of an Open Broadcasting Authority to run a fourth television channel, was criticised yesterday by the Conservative Party's media committee. It called the report 'a dog's breakfast'.… Mr. Julian Critchley, M.P. for Aldershot and the Conservative committee's chairman, said that the proposed authority would offer the public minority broadcasting, which they would not watch but which they would have to pay for".That was published three days before the Annan Committee's report was published, so I think we all welcome the rather different note struck by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and we very much hope that that note will be echoed both in the debate which we have today and in the debate in another place on Monday.
I think it is clear that we shall have to take decisions within the next few months —certainly within the next 12 months—which will affect the whole future of broadcasting for the rest of this century. Therefore, it would be an act of folly if we were to take quick decisions on a matter as important as this, which will have such fundamental consequences as those which I have set out. Having said that, I think it would be right to say how glad we are to find a number of organisations, including the Royal Television Society and the Granada Group, arranging lectures, conferences, seminars and discussions on the future of broadcasting, in the light of the Annan Report. These will be especially valuable and we shall certainly take note of their deliberations and of any conclusions which they may reach, along with any other comments which we may receive. So far the Home Office has received some 600 letters from individuals and organisations, and the House may be interested to 928 learn that about 60 per cent. of that total have related to the Committee's recommendations for the future of local radio.
It follows from what I have said about the process of consultation that I could not this afternoon indicate what conclusions the Government might reach on the various recommendations in the report. I can, however, give some indication of the perspective in which the Government are looking at the report. Part of this perspective is that not everything in the report is a matter for Government. A good many of the Committee's recommendations are directed to the authorities and to the broadcasters and relate to matters such as programme content and internal organisation, in which, traditionally, the Government have not interfered.
As we see it, the function of Government is primarily to provide the right institutional framework for broadcasting. In his Fleming Memorial Lecture the noble Lord, Lord Annan, made it clear that the report represented an endorsement of the concept of the broadcasting authority—an endorsement of the idea that responsibility for broadcasting should he vested in independent bodies acting as trustees for the national interest. This, I believe, is an absolutely fundamental point. It is one which the Government accept entirely and about which they believe there will be a substantial measure of agreement in the country.
The report is also, though this may not be immediately apparent from some of the criticisms they have made, a substantial tribute to the existing broadcasting authorities, the BBC and the IBA. I entirely agree with the point made by my noble friend Lord Willis, and indeed by most other noble Lords who have spoken, about the quality of broadcasting in this country. We may, of course, from time to time comment about individual programmes and what might from time to time be seen as trends within broadcasting, but nevertheless I believe that those of us who have spent a fair amount of time watching television outside this country recognise how good is a great deal of the television we have, and indeed so much better than it is in many other countries with similar cultural patterns to our own.
929 The report has a great deal to say about the significant achievements of the broadcasting authorities. Of course, as I have said, the report certainly contains a number of criticisms, and I think it is right that the broadcasters should give these very careful attention. But it must not be forgotten that the criticisms have arisen very largely because the Committee have applied, I think rightly, to the BBC and the IBA only the most exacting standards, and this of itself represents a considerable tribute to them.
As I have said, the main task which faces us is to ensure that we achieve the right institutional framework for broadcasting in the future. To do this we need some idea of the possibilities which the future may hold. The Annan Committee suggested some of the ways in which broadcasting, and the demands made of broadcasting, might change over the next decade or so. They saw on the horizon the possibility of increasing use being made of teletext, in which this country leads the world; they saw the possibilities of a wider use of video-recording; the possibilities of cable; the possibility of a fifth television channel and of additional local and national radio services; and the possibility of additional services with national coverage by satellite.
Of course, the question which hangs over all of these possibilities is not so much whether but when. As the Committee pointed out, it would not be the lack of imagination of the engineer which would impede the exploitation of present inventions and the development of new possibilities as the extent to which we as a nation could afford them and would be prepared to give priority to them. From this view of what the future might hold the Committee derived two important requirements, which the Government accept and about which they believe there will be little disagreement. The first is that the structure of broadcasting should be flexible enough to accommodate these changes and developments; and the second is that the structure must reflect, permit and encourage diversity. Nevertheless the structural changes recommended by the Committee are, of course, not the only options available to achieve them. There are other possibilities, many of them discussed in the report, and the Government will want to consider all of them in the light of the report.
930 The requirements of flexibility and diversity emerged largely from a look into the future. The other two requirements identified by the Committee, on the other hand, those of editorial independence and public accountability, have their origins in the earliest days of broadcasting. They are both quite fundamental to broadcasting in this country; they have been accepted and reaffirmed by successive Governments, including the present one. But it must not be assumed that lip-service, however frequent and however solemn it may be, will secure these principles from erosion.
Indeed, the Annan Committee felt that there was room for strengthening editorial independence, although their concern here was largely about the relationship between the broadcasters and the broadcasting authorities. On public accountability, however, they were rather more concerned. In paragraph 4.10 they said:The greatest volume of criticism about the present structure has come to us from those who believe that the broadcasters have been insensitive in the past ten years to the views expressed by large sections of the public, and are insufficiently accountable to them".However, they emphatically rejected the idea that all broadcasting should be controlled by a single authority or a single commission; and they also rejected the idea that a new organisation should be established to police the existing and proposed authorities. Instead they affirmed their confidence in the concept of a broadcasting authority. Again I quote, from paragraph 4.31:This pragmatic solution to a complex problem has stood the test of fifty years' operation, and we consider should be maintained in its essentials".They went on to say:At the same time, we want to make the broadcasting organisations more responsive to the opinions of"—the public. I believe that that view expressed by the Committee is widely shared.
Nevertheless, although I believe that there is a substantial measure of agreement about all four of the objectives as set out in the report, there is much less agreement about whether changes in the structure of broadcasting are necessary to achieve them satisfactorily, and, if so, what those changes should be. The two single most important questions which we shall have 931 to consider are the future structure of local radio and the allocation of the fourth television channel, and these were two of the central points in the speech of the noble Lora, Lord Carrington.
If I may, I should like to deal with local radio first. There are at present 20 BBC and 19 independent local radio stations. Many areas are without local radio of any sort at all. Others have more than one: some have two, and London, of course, has three. In some places in the Midlands several local stations can be received. I believe that there are three options which are available for the future structure of local radio. First, we could permit both the BBC and the IBA to develop their own forms of local radio. Second, we could give local radio over to one or other of the existing authorities. And, third, we could create a new authority; and with some dissent, some fairly minor dissent, the Committee came down in favour of the third option, of creating a new Local Broadcasting Authority. They reached this view not because they felt it was the only solution to the existing "mess ", as they describe it, but because they saw local radio as a different animal needing an altogether different keeper.
I do not believe that we can reach a decision about the keeper—or keepers—until we are much clearer about the character of the animal. First, we need to have a view about what we mean by "local" radio itself. Do we mean a station covering perhaps one local authority area, or do we mean something much more substantial? A few weeks ago I went to a BBC local radio station that covered quite a substantial proportion of the South coast of England. It is described as a local radio station and I should in no way wish to criticise it. It had high-quality people working for it but it was altogether different in character from many other local radio stations. Therefore, first, we must be clear about what we mean by "local" radio and about the kind of service which should be provided, bearing in mind the need for the configuration of local radio stations to make sense in financial and, of course, frequency terms.
In proposing a Local Broadcasting Authority the Annan Committee said:The intention is to move from regulated competition to regulated plurality and diversity.932 It is a fair question to ask what role competition should have in local broadcasting. The noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, touched on that in his speech. But it is, perhaps, misleading to assume that the choice between one Authority and more than one Authority in charge of local radio is a choice between competition and no competition. Local radio is, and will remain, in competition with the national radio services of the BBC. The question that we must consider is how far it is necessary or desirable, bearing in mind the resource and financial implications, for there to be competition between local radio stations in the same area, in particular with regard to that part of their output which is distinctly local.
Of course, the geography of some areas of the country would lead to relatively high costs for transmission facilities and this could rule out two competing local stations and also have implications for the service provided, as even a single commercial station might find the going exceptionally hard in financial terms. I believe that the decision about the future structure and financing of local radio hinges on the answers that we can give to the questions which I have outlined. I am sure that the debate in this House and next week's debate in another place, together with the discussion outside Parliament, will throw up views on what these answers should be.
I should like to turn to the most ambitious of the Committee's proposals; that is, that an Open Broadcasting Authority should be established to run the fourth television channel, acting as the publisher of programmes produced from a variety of sources. The Committee envisage the fourth channel being used for programmes which:…say something new in new ways".They had in mind educational programmes, programmes provided by the ITV companies and programmes provided by independent producers. Both the IBA and the Independent Television Companies Association see the need for the fourth channel to provide a wider range of programmes from a wider variety of sources, but, as they have made clear, they consider that a service of this kind could be provided if the fourth channel were turned over to ITV2. In particular 933 the Independent Television Companies Association proposed the setting up of an Independent Programmes Board which would allocate time on ITV 2 to a television foundation. The role that it envisaged for this foundation was similar in many respects—and my noble friend Lord Willis pointed this out—to that which the Committee had in mind for the Open Broadcasting Authority. But the Annan Committee felt that this proposal was far too close to ITV 2 for comfort and it took the same view of another option which was canvassed that the Open Broadcasting Authority might lease a certain amount of time on the fourth channel to the IBA or to the ITV companies direct.
It would be right if I were to touch on the question of the viability of the various options. I must make it quite clear at the outset that the proposals of the Independent Broadcasting Authority and the Independent Television Companies Association could not be implemented without cost to the country. The Committee observed:In fact a second ITV channel would, to a large extent, be paid for by the taxpayer, in the shape of a decrease in the sums paid in levy. The payment would be indirect but the taxpayer would in fact be paying".The Committee recognised that their proposals for the Open Broadcasting Authority would also involve a cost to the country, and they made it clear that they did not see the establishment of this new Authority until the country's economy would permit the kind of service that they had in mind. But doubts have been expressed, not so much about the cost of the Open Broadcasting Authority proposals, but about their financial viability. I am bound to say that I do not find the report wholly reassuring on that aspect. That said, the Committee's proposals are bold and they deserve—and I believe they will receive—the most careful consideration.
I should not leave this question of the fourth channel without saying something about the situation in Wales. As the House will be aware, the Government have reaffirmed their commitment to the project for a fourth channel in Wales, in the Welsh language. Your Lordships will appreciate that in the present economic climate provision cannot he made for the necessary expenditure, but officials in the Home Office and the Welsh Office are about to 934 begin discussions with the broadcasting authorities on how progress might be made, so that when the necessary funds are available an immediate start can be made.
I have hitherto concentrated on the main proposals in the report which derive from the Committee's views on the need for flexibility and diversity. I should like now to say something about the main proposals in the area of public accountability. As I have said, I believe that there is clearly room for improvement here and I think that that view is widely shared outside this House. The Committee discovered widespread dissatisfaction with the existing arrangements for dealing-with complaints and also a general feeling that the broadcasters are insufficiently accountable to the general public. The remedies which they proposed were the establishment of a Broadcasting Complaints Commission and a Public Inquiry Board for Broadcasting. They drew—I think, rightly—a sharp distinction between complaints about misrepresentation and unfair treatment in specific programmes and complaints about programme content more generally. They reflected this distinction in the institutions which they proposed. The Complaints Commission would deal only with misrepresentation and unfair treatment, but would be able to require broadcasters to publish its adjudications in a programme journal and, where appropriate, to broadcast an apology. I think that there is much to be said for an independent complaints machinery of this kind; first, because it would be independent of the authorities and, secondly, because it would be in a position to apply common standards.
I recognise that there will certainly be those who argue not only for the establishment of such a body but for an extension of its remit into the area of complaints about programme content generally. There is some difficulty in this approach because, as the Committee has pointed out, complaints about misrepresentation, unfairness and programme content are altogether different in kind. The former are susceptible to quasi-judicial treatment, whereas such an approach with regard to the latter would fundamentally undermine the responsibilities of the broadcasting authorities. We should certainly not in any way weaken that.
935 The Annan Committee themselves felt, however, that the broadcasting authorities should be more open to complaints about programme content generally. They judged that:the broadcasters have failed to consider seriously enough the objections raised to certain programmes".The Committee saw their proposals for a Public Inquiry Board for Broadcasting as a means of enabling members of the public to communicate their views about programme standards and content—and about other matters—to the broadcasters. Whether a Public Inquiry Board is the only way of achieving greater accountability as regards programme content remains to be seen. But I believe that the concern which many people have expressed about this problem cannot be in any way ignored.
It was not only the issue of programme content that the Committee thought should be covered by the work of the Public Inquiry Board. They saw the Board with three functions: first to conduct septennial public hearings about the performance of the authorities generally; second, to conduct hearings on some particular matter such as violence on television (about which I know there is a fairly substantial degree of concern), perhaps at the request of one of the authorities or indeed of the Government; and third, to conduct hearings on proposals for new broadcasting services, such as the use of the fifth television channel or satellite broadcasting services.
I think that it would be a mistake to consider the Public Inquiry Board proposals in isolation from the Committee's recommendations for the use of public hearings by the broadcasting authorities themselves. Here they had in mind periodic hearings conducted by each authority on the service it provides and also, in the case of an authority which has responsibility for allocating broadcasting franchises, as part of the normal procedure for considering applications for franchises.
The Government look forward to listening to comments on these proposals. The public hearing as a means of making the broadcasters more accountable has significant attractions, but one is bound to ask, particularly since the creation of a new public body would be involved, whether the scale and the elaborateness 936 of the public hearing system envisaged by the Committee is appropriate; or whether some modification of this interesting proposal might be desirable.
My Lords, this afternoon I have attempted primarily to point to those parts of the Committee's report which deal with the institutional arrangements for broadcasting in the future and to give some indication of our approach to these issues, and the kinds of questions which we think will have to be answered before policy decisions can be taken. I know that this House is well aware of the importance of good broadcasting in our society, but I would conclude with the reminder that the decisions which will have to be taken quite soon in the light of this report and of the public debate on the Committee's recommendations w ill determine the shape of broadcasting possibly to the end of this century. We must therefore get it right.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Lord ANNAN
My Lords, I must begin by thanking noble Lords who have spoken in this debate for the very kind things they have said about our Committee and about our report. I should like to stress that word "our". It was the Committee's report, not mine. It is true that I framed the sentences in the report. But our secretary, a civil servant, Miss Goose, assembled the skeleton of the report and marshalled the evidence, and it was my colleagues who supplied the philosophy and the brightest thoughts in our report. I was a very lucky man to have four such vivacious women and 11 such stimulating men as members of our enterprise. If there is anything on the credit side I owe it to them. But I would particularly like to thank noble Lords for the way in which they have paid tribute to the work of my colleagues, and particularly I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, for his most kind words. As I expected from your Lordships' House, the debate has already risen above the level of the public discussion which has, understandably enough, been led by the BBC and the IBA and the television companies in voicing their disappointments. Your Lordships today will undoubtedly be going to consider the more important matter of the governance of broadcasting and its relations to Government.
937 When we began to sit, this matter was one which exercised the minds of a lot of those who sent us evidence. They feared the power of the broadcasters, and maintained that they had become too irresponsible. But none who sent evidence wanted more interference by Government itself, and we endorsed that view. Indeed as a further safeguard we have recommended that the members of authorities should not be dismissed on policy grounds unless there has been an Affirmative Resolution here and in another place.
I shall not weary the House with more debate about whether we should have had a Broadcasting Council or a Broadcasting Commission. What we recommended was that we should in fact have a body which should hear complaints—and this I have heard no one yet criticize—which are made by individual members of the public or from organisations if they think they have been traduced. May I point out here that there may be some slight diminution of bureacracy in that you have one body, whereas at the moment you have two.
Then we did, I fully admit, suggest a new body because we thought that this country had something to learn from Canada. Save us by all means from the Canadian Radio and Television Commission, which is already embroiled on two fronts with the broadcasters and with the Canadian Government. That is essentially a broadcasting commission. But we did wonder whether there was not something to be said for their practice of enabling, through public hearings, the complaints of the public about the general service which the broadcasters provide being brought into the open.
Let me assure your Lordships there is need for a safety valve. You mistake, I think greatly, if you do not provide one. People are sick and tired of being fobbed off in Parliament, as they must be when the Minister argues, as he must argue, that he cannot intervene, and when the authorities issue bland statements. At Question Time today in your Lordships' House I did not think that the noble Lord, Lord Monson, got much change when he asked his Questions.
The public want a forum, and it would do good I think for some broadcasters to 938 listen and take it on the chin at such public hearings. It would also be good for some of the pressure groups who criticise broadcasters to listen to their replies. We want a safety valve which can emit if necessary a piercing whistle when the head of steam builds up too high. But we do not want a second system for applying the brakes to broadcasting.
We came down against any tribunal of taste. Here I should like to say that I have very considerable respect for Mrs. Mary Whitehouse. It is common, among both the intelligentsia and the broadcasters, to sneer at her. Let no one forget that on the evidence which our Committee received she speaks for millions, and the force for which she speaks is matched by her personal modesty and absence of rancour. Our Committee judged that she, and others of course, had made out a case which the broadcasters had not answered. But we did not agree with Mrs. Whitehouse that a new body should be set up. We thought that the right people to judge these matters were the authorities. They are the bodies which Parliament has appointed to deal with these matters.
I will say no more at this point about the governance of broadcasting. In our report we set out four principles on which we thought the future of broadcasting should be based. Editorial independence, balanced by public accountability: that I have just spoken about. The other two principles were diversity and flexibility, about which I should now like to speak.
One cannot get diversity and flexibility if one insists on trying to cram all new services—and during the next 15 years there will be new services—into the duopoly of the BBC and the IBA. Our Committee has been accused of setting up monstrous new bureaucracies and recommending that new authorities which would gobble up large quantities of public money should be set up. I would say that small bureaucracies are better than large bureaucracies and I believe that if one looks at the organisation of the BBC today one will find some evidence that that is true.
If one agrees with us that the BBC is over-manned at the top, consider, then, 939 whether one may not come to agree that new authorities would in fact reduce the number of those employed in bureaucratic tasks. Indeed, one could form one of these authorities—this was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich—by amalgamating and reducing the numbers employed by the BBC and the IBA in the regulation of local radio. That would be a positive saving. I think it would also be a saving for the BBC, for the brutal truth is that the BBC is over-stretched and needs desperately to economise.
Your Lordships will not want the BBC to cut their External Services or their World Service, for the BBC speak for this country to the world. Nor, I hope, will your Lordships want to insist on yet more repeats and the mutilation of the national television and radio services which has already begun because of the economies which the BBC has been forced to make. We suggested that it would be wise therefore in this situation for the BBC to economise on local radio when a commercial service can provide that service, and this is a point which must be borne in mind despite the Minority Report of Mr. Jackson to which the noble Lord, Lord Willis, referred.
It is very easy for noble Lords to recommend that the licence fee should be increased. It is far more difficult for Members of another place, who each week go to their constituencies and are faced by people who ask them in "surgery", "Why is the cost of living still going up?" It is very difficult for them to make an easy reply and I am sure that we shall be faced in the next succeeding years with the fact that Governments of whatever side or complexion will be reluctant to put up the licence fee as much as the BBC would like it put up if they are to provide this new service.
It is also a question of principle. I hope noble Lords will consider whether it is right that a local service should be paid for from a national licence fee. We accept, I should have thought unhesitatingly, that the Exchequer does not provide local swimming baths. These are things which we expect local authorities to provide. I think this is a point which has not yet been taken: nobody doubts that the BBC local radio stations give excellent service and nobody doubts the 940 morale, ingenuity and expertise of those who work in those stations.
I sometimes wonder whether they are giving as local a service as the commercial stations, in that two things leap to my attention. The first is that it is rare that a BBC local station gives a programme which is local all day long; often they opt into the national radio services. Secondly, often the producers in those stations travel all over the country getting interviews, almost providing a rival service to BBC 4 and BBC 2. I do not want to criticise their output in this way because they provide a fine service. Nevertheless, the BBC should ask themselves whether they should go on singing the song that Ethel Merman made famous, "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better".
How on earth, I would ask, do the BBC justify creating 46 new stations and none of them in Scotland or Wales? They say that their Scottish and Welsh Councils have recommended that the BBC funds should be concentrated on providing a national service in Scotland and Wales. Our Committee did not think that the BBC got very good or representative advice from some of their councils, and I am not disposed at the moment to change my mind on that point.
The BBC claim that by adding only 60p to the licence fee they could provide another 65 stations. According to their last annual report there were just under 17,800,000 licences. I calculate that, at 60p, that would bring in £10 million revenue. Are they really saying that they could provide 65 stations for £10 million? I rather doubt whether that number of stations could operate for very long on that amount of money.
Moving on to the next great contentious issue, nor do I believe that if one wants diversity in broadcasting one should give a fourth channel to the IBA. Practically every expert in broadcasting, outside the commercial network, thinks that to do so would drive many good shows off ITV 1 and that ITV 2 would be used, as Lord Willis roundly admitted, as a weapon in the battle for the ratings. Many experts think that the war of the ratings is already far too intense. Not only experts, but members of the public, think that when they complain about the output, whether or not they know they are complaining about scheduling.
941 If one wants experiment in different forms of financing broadcasting, I suggest that one should have a new authority. That does not mean, as the Report makes it perfectly clear, expelling the commercial companies; no fourth channel could possibly operate without them. But it means treating them in a new way. In all the comments which the IBA have made, naturally critical of this recommendation, I have never once heard them say—I think this is the nub of the whole matter—that if they were to be given the fourth channel they, the Authority, would schedule the output of the fourth channel instead of letting the companies do the scheduling, as they at present do on ITV 1. That is the crux of this complicated technical matter; if one let the companies schedule ITV 2, then one says goodbye to diversity in broadcasting.
§ Lord WILLIS
My Lords, has the noble Lord seen the recommendation of the IBA companies about what they would put on the second channel? Does he think that, given that we want it to be more like BBC 2 than ITV 1, it would be beyond the powers of the IBA to impose sufficient controls on the companies? Is he suggesting that they cannot control the companies now?
§ Lord ANNAN
The noble Lord is really asking me whether I read the evidence which was submitted to our Committee, my Lords.
§ Lord ANNAN
Of course we read the evidence, my Lords, and of course we took it very seriously into account. The fact is that when the Committee discussed that evidence it came to a different view; it came to the view that it would be more likely, for the kind of service which the Committee hoped would appear on a fourth channel, that that service would be better able to be given by an Open Broadcasting Authority; and of course there are other interests to be considered than the commercial companies. Those interests, for example, are the Open University and further education of different kinds. There are a large number of matters which we spell out in our report which we think there is a very 942 good case to be made out for having on a fourth channel. The noble Lord will naturally accept my assurance that we never thought the companies were deliberately trying to pull the wool over our eyes. Naturally they were giving an honest opinion and we treated it as such.
I am not one of those who think that everything depends on structures in broadcasting. However, I believe that if one wants diversity of programmes one must have plurality of outlets, and that is exactly the same argument, if I may remind noble Lords opposite, which prevailed when commercial television itself was set up.
I have one last point that I should like to make about the fourth channel; it relates to the timing. People have said that it is an ill time at the moment to introduce this subject in terms of the national economy. That was why we suggested that this was not an immediate priority when we had to consider all the other needs in broadcasting. I feel that this is a point that ought to be taken by your Lordships because it is integral to the troubles of finance that the country is facing as a whole. The BBC and the IBA and the companies are now perfectly properly lobbying and agitating to get the Government to ignore those parts of the report which they consider are wrong.
I realise that many noble Lords will this evening dissent from our recommendations, but when they voice their disagreement, I hope that they will not speak for the BBC or for the commercial system, both of which, as we have said, provide excellent programmes. I hope that they will speak for the interests of the nation, because that was what our Committee were trying to do while paying due regard to what the broadcasting organisations have so magnificently achieved. The people of this country are far more important than any sectional interest. It is their interests that we are discussing, the interests of those dozens of minorities which go to make up the vast majority audiences. Therefore, I hope that we shall speak for England and, as I am a Scot by ancestry, that some noble Lords will speak out for Scotland and Northern Ireland. I do not have to fear that the Welsh will remain silent and I am sure that noble Lords need not be members of the Plaid to agree with our Committee 943 that the Welsh language must be succoured so that its glory does not fade.
Here, I should like to interpolate two other points. What is happening now is that the Government are inviting submissions from people who wish to write about our report. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, has told us that 600 submissions have been received. I hope that he will realise that the people who will write will be the pressure groups. As I said, it is right that they should write, but the voice of the public is something different from the representations which will be received from those with special interests. Again, there are obviously points in our report which stimulate those who have special interests to speak up about them. I was fascinated by the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Willis, seized on a small point that we made when we said that the BBC should have freedom to redeploy the orchestras under its control. As I understood the noble Lord, he was against any orchestra ever being altered in any form whatsoever, yet we know that the BBC wants not so much to reduce the number of musicians as to alter the structure of its orchestras to give more baroque music.
§ Lord WILLIS
My Lords, the noble Lord is misquoting me. I said that I was against disbanding orchestras, not changing them.
§ Lord ANNAN
My Lords, I do not know how one avoids disbanding an orchestra if one is going to change it. It seems to me that one has to disband in order to have a new kind of orchestra. Again, if I may put another point to the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, he said that we needed to think much more about pay television and cable. I recognise that other noble Lords like the noble Earl. Lord De La Warr, will be making this point. Can I just ask the noble Lord whether he is not trying to have it both ways by saying that he wants this kind of development? Under what authority is that to go if we do not have a Local Broadcasting Authority? It could hardly go under the BBC. Could it go under the IBA or would the Independent Television companies not feel that this was a rather unfriendly act? I should have thought that this was in direct competition with the television companies.
944 I should like to conclude with this statement: I shall be very happy indeed if noble Lords draw one conclusion from our report—that it is a massive vote of confidence in the British way of regulating broadcasting. At the end of our labours, we had no doubt that British broadcasting was the best in the world and it is the object of our report to try to keep it that way. It is the best because I believe that we in this country have discovered the secret of how to regulate it through independent authorities and yet to preserve editorial independence. I go all the way with the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, for example, in his contempt for that deplorable series, "The British Empire", on the BBC. Many is the time that I have nodded in sympathy when some programme or other has been the subject of violent criticism in your Lordships' House. But British broadcasting will remain good only if those who make the programmes are free to experiment. It is by the vigilance but not by the interference of Parliament that the Authorities are made aware if the broadcasters have strayed across to the wrong side of a frontier. It is by the torrent of letters, the criticism of the public and the activities of the pressure groups within and without broadcasting that the dialogue of "What next in broadcasting?" is carried on. In the last analysis, our report was an attempt to say to Parliament, "Keep the basic principles of broadcasting in the United Kingdom as they are, but please look to the future and provide new outlets, new chances, new initiatives if you want to keep the standard as high as it is now".
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ Lord WINDLESHAM
My Lords, the House has enjoyed the speech just made by the noble Lord, Lord Annan. He speaks with authority, having spent two and a half years reviewing broadcasting in this country, and of course he speaks with independence as well. In the debate this afternoon there are some who will be speaking on the basis of special interest. Both the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, and the noble Lord, Lord Willis, have declared their interest and I shall do the same in a moment. The former chairmen of both Broadcasting Authorities are to follow.
945 I believe it would be wrong to leave uncorrected the passage in which Lord Annan suggested that special interests should not legitimately be presented and put forward in Parliamentary debates. That is what Parliament is for. Interests should be declared, evaluated and judged. What is more, they should be set against a background of what is in the national interest.
The speech today of the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and, indeed, this whole debate forms part of a pattern of activity which has followed the publication of the report just before Easter. Since then, the noble Lord has been indefatigable in his advocacy. Lectures, speeches, conferences and broadcasts have followed one after the other, and more are to come in the months ahead. If the noble Lord is regarded as "extinct"—a phrase used by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich—he is only extinct in terms of his chairmanship of a committee that has finished its task. He is very far from being extinct as a missionary. Seldom, if ever, can I recall a chairman of a Royal Commission or Committee of Inquiry who has shown such determination in seeking to persuade public opinion of the merits of the recommendations put forward. Seldom, if ever, can a chairman have been so frank in public about the differences of opinion that lie behind various recommendations. Whether or not the industry of the noble Lord will be rewarded in the event remains to be seen.
In some ways, as I believe he will accept, it is a conservative report. It acknowledges the merits of the British system of radio and television broadcasting (incomprehensible as they are to explain to people from overseas) and the standards of the programmes that have resulted. Many of the more radical suggestions put to the Committee have been rejected. The BBC is not to be dismembered. There is to be no central superbody imposed on top of the BBC and the IBA. Sources of finance—the licence fee for the BBC, commercial advertising for ITV—will, in the main, continue unchanged; and perhaps most important of all, the independence of the broadcasters from political control, direct or indirect, is upheld. The noble Lord, Lord Annan, has reiterated that in his own speech this afternoon. And yet, there has been a 946 strong volume of criticism—much of it, it must be said, originating from interested parties on the recommendations contained in the report.
At this point I must declare my own personal interest. For the last 20 years, with a break in Government between 1970 to 74, I have earned my living in television. Besides my work for my own company, I am currently the chairman of the Independent Television Companies Association, which is the representative body for the programme companies. As such, I should like to put on record the appreciation of the companies collectively for the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Annan, approached his task. As he said in his speech just now, not everything in the report has been welcomed by the companies, but all of them admire the very thorough and conscientious way in which the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and his colleagues have conducted their inquiry over a period of more than two years. Each company was visited at its own studio centre, and representatives of Independent Television had ample opportunity, which we recognise, to submit evidence to the committee, orally and in writing. The report shows that this evidence was carefully considered and was weighed up.
If this afternoon I speak only about television, and Independent Television at that, it is not that other parts of the report to not require equal scrutiny and comment. It is just that, as I have made clear, my own interests lie with ITV, and I think I can best serve the purposes of this debate by sticking to that aspect. In the report Independent Television gets a fairly clean bill of health. I quote:At a time when the art of governance in Britain—the reconciliation of public interest with initiative, productivity and satisfaction in one's job—has fallen into some disrepute, the achievement and success of the British system of organising commercial broadcasting ought not to go unrecorded".That extract is from Chapter 13, paragraph 46. There is a further quotation:In our view the network does a good job in providing entertainment and excitement. What is more, the TV companies now produce programmes which in prestige and intrinsic worth in a particular range are the equal of the BBC's output".That is to be found in Chapter 11 of the report, paragraph 7.
947 It is true that the report does not always seem very sure in its grasp of the essentials of Independent Television, to which the noble Lord, Lord Willis, referred in his opening speech; namely, that it is a highly popular service which succeeds in catering for the leisure enjoyment of millions of people. Indeed TV is by far the most popular medium of leisure activity in contemporary society. Independent Television, of course, is financed by advertising, rather than by way of revenue raised from broadcast receiving licences or by direct subvention from public funds. But the amount and the content of the advertising, as of the programmes themselves, are strictly controlled by a public body, the Independent Broadcasting Authority, which can, and does, lay down standards and has the powers to see that they are met.
I would argue, and argue strongly, that the system which results can claim to be a public service; just as the BBC can claim to be a public service. This point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, in his speech earlier this afternoon. There is a difference, of course, but it is one of background, of belief, and of attitude.
If the BBC in some ways appears in the mantle of the established church of broadcasting, ITV represents the broader appeal of populism, even at times of showmanship. For most of the 22 years of its existence, ITV has been the favourite channel of most of the population, and over that period, as the report itself acknowledges, programme standards have risen. It is heartening to all who work in television, and who care about the standards of its programmes that this should be so. It is all the more discouraging, therefore, to find that the case for ITV 2 has been rejected. This is mainly, it would appear, on the grounds that the Committee believe that a second commercial channel would perpetuate something called the "straitjacket of duopoly".
My Lords, why competition between BBC and ITV, which the Committee itself accepts has led to a raising of programme standards in the past, should be cited as a reason against allocating, the available —and at present entirely unutilized—fourth channel to ITV, is hard to see. 948 For the first time a reception facility in the home exists in advance of a transmission facility. No one needs to go out and buy a new television set, or to adapt an existing set which is capable of receiving UHF transmissions, whether in colour or in black and white. The ITV 2 button is already there on television sets manufactured over the last five years or more. All that is needed is a decision by Government to authorise the service to be supplied. It is only with the start of ITV 2 that the programme companies can widen the choice of programmes broadcast to the public. It is only with the start of ITV 2 that they can make full use of the existing production facilities. It is only with the start of ITV2 that they can enjoy the freedom of scheduling which is currently at the disposal of the BBC alone.
An infusion of new blood is needed in all institutions from time to time, if they are to remain vital, and an infusion of new blood and new ideas at this time would greatly strengthen Independent Television. Indeed, it would help to inject a new dynamism into television broadcasting in this country as a whole. ITV 2 would offer increased opportunities for writers, producers and directors; to actors and musicians; as well as to engineers and craftsmen and technicians. Moreover, the additional capital expenditure in terms of studio buildings and electronic equipment would be kept to a minimum. A new service would attract new advertisers, and it would not be long, I believe, before ITV 2 was paying for itself. Initially there would probably be a reduction in the amount received by the Treasury in levy payments, but after the new service established itself and became profitable (as would be the intention that it should) there should be more, rather than less, return to the public purse from the increased level of advertising revenue.
Nor need newspapers suffer. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has referred to the debates in the mid 1950s which led to the Television Act in 1954. At that time fears were expressed— and strongly expressed—that the advent of independent television would harm the Press, since both media would be competing for the same advertising expenditure. In practice, although newspapers have been in decline for other reasons, this did not happen. For 20 years there has been competition 949 between Fleet Street and Independent Television, and let me offer some statistics. They may be surprising to some, but they are accurate and they bear their own message. In 1954, national newspapers—that is, Fleet Street—took as a share of total advertisement revenue 17.2 per cent; a sum of £27 million. In 1974, 20 years later, it was 17.9 per cent.—a stable percentage, although with inflation that percentage represented a sum of £161 million. It is a fact of life that, as new media open up, if they are successful, they attract new advertising. Where it comes from is a matter of much debate, and few people will agree. But the evidence does not suggest that newspapers inevitably suffer a loss of advertisement revenue.
There is one other matter I want to refer to before I sit down. It is the curious proposal to re-christen the Independent Broadcasting Authority as the Regional Television Authority. The noble Lord, Lord Willis, in his opening, has already commented on this point. It is not a proposal that is argued at any length; it is more or less thrown out in a short passage on page 202. Nor are there any discernible changes in function for the renamed body. Of course, it is the case that ITV has a diverse structure with firm regional roots. Each company provides a service of news and current affairs on a daily basis in its own region, and this is one of the strengths of the ITV system. But at the same time all of the more popular entertainment and drama programmes are networked; that is, shown simultaneously, or nearly simultaneously, by all of the ITV companies, irrespective of the part of the country in which they are based. So is "News at Ten", which is singled out for praise in the report; so are "This Week" and "World in Action". All these are the components of a national service, and, indeed, one which is well-known internationally through the export of many of its most successful programmes. To change the title of Independent Television, without significantly altering its federal structure and the present combination of national and regional functions, seems pointless. Indeed, even if it was not the Committee's intention—and I do not believe it was—the proposal nevertheless carries some connotations of demotion to the second division.
950 In his speech the noble Lord, Lord Annan, placed emphasis on two principles, diversity and flexibility, and he spoke of these as lying at the heart of any healthy broadcasting system. I would not argue with him. But I would put forward another relationship as being of even greater importance. It is a relationship found particularly in broadcasting, in newspapers, in the cinema and in the theatre. It is the relationship between organisation and creativity. A delicate balance has to be achieved between the two, and without this balance, as the noble Lord, Lord Willis, knows so well, you will never find any work of quality. Too much emphasis on organisation and finance will stultify the best creative work. Too little, however, can lead to frustration and, ultimately, to chaos. It has been one of the enduring achievements of British broadcasting over the last quarter-century, that an environment has emerged, which has been a healthy one, in which writers and artists, producers and directors, and others, have been able to develop their skills and to flourish. Of course, everything has not been rosy in the garden all of the time; but, on the whole, the balance struck between creativity and control has been about right. Many observers in different parts of the world regard this as being so, and would give much to see our system, untidy and curious as it is in many ways, translated into their own countries.
My own feeling—and I make this point in no partisan spirit—is that the report before us today leans too far towards, and puts too much faith in, organisation (I use that word deliberately, rather than the more provocative term "bureaucracy"). It is apparent that the language of the report is fashionably judged; much of it, in fact, is couched in the style of the skilled media man. In a sense, it is a child of its time. But, if implemented, the proposals for several additional bodies, mostly superimposed on top of or alongside those which already exist, could lead to more restrictions in practice. There is a justification in each case, of course, for the report is persuasively written. But if the cumulative result of setting up an Open Broadcasting Authority, a Local Broadcasting Authority, a Public Enquiry Board and a Broadcasting Complaints Commission was to make more difficult the creation of programmes of excellence, 951 then I would regard the Committee as having failed to live up to the high aims to which they rightly aspired.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Baroness BURTON of COVENTRY
My Lords, this will be the first time in 25 years in both Houses of Parliament that I shall have left before the end of a debate in which I had taken part. I hope the House will excuse me, but I have a public engagement and there was nothing whatever I could do about it. Anyway, I shall be brief; there are only one or two points I should like to make. First, in common with everyone else, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Willis, both for his good fortune in securing this debate and, if I may say so, for the excellent speech with which he introduced it. It is always a joy to hear a real professional make a speech, and I think we all learned a great deal from what he said. I shall be returning to some of his remarks later.
I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Annan, for his report, and to come straight away to two remarks that he has made today. The first is that I certainly do not speak either for the BBC or for ITV, but, I hope, for the millions of viewers everywhere. The second point I should like to make to him—and I am sure the House will understand—is that my heart went out to him when he talked about complaints and a safety valve. I do not propose to deal with the subject of complaints this afternoon, but when the noble Lord, Lord Annan, spoke of people (and I think I got him down correctly) as being sick and tired of being fobbed off in Parliament, I claim an experience there much greater than that of Lord Annan. I only hope that his suggestions will bear fruit in another field, and perhaps they will come back to us.
My Lords, I was a member of the Independent Television Authority for five years from 1964 to 1969. I have not requested any briefing from ITV, but I did ask how they would finance an ITV2. From the figures given to me, and obviously given to the Annan Committee, it appears evident that Independent Television could meet the cost of a second channel. I believe that the Independent Broadcasting Authority could be self-supporting; that costs would be met out of revenue. I have the figures here, but 952 obviously no argument arises on this decision because, as Annan declares (and "Annan" refers to the Annan Report, I would hasten to say) on page 241:What could have been easier in the short term and cheaper in terms of public expenditure than to have recommended that the fourth channel should be allocated to the IBA for a second ITV service?Indeed, my Lords, the report goes further when stating that it is not lack of confidence in ITV to deliver the goods which has led to the conclusion that the second channel should not go to them. Obviously, that poses a question. It poses a question, I think, to the most simple of souls: What has been the dominant reason for this conclusion if it be neither finance nor ability?
I quote from page 241 once more:It is simply that in our belief an ITV 2 will result in worse television services than we now have because the BBC and ITV will engage in a self-destructive battle for the ratings".But, I ask with great temerity, where has the Annan Committee been? There has been such a battle for the ratings going on for years. It is not new. We have had to live with it up to now. Going back to 1964–1969, it has always seemed to me that the viewer came off badly as a result of these battles; and I have said so many times. I am one of millions of people who enjoy television. I think we have the best service in the world and I personally derive much pleasure and considerable education from it. But, surely, it is hard on the viewer that, when either the BBC or ITV have captured a large audience because of some outstanding programme, the other organisation promptly puts on something which it hopes will be an equally attractive one—to tempt the viewers away. One can call that scheduling. But the viewer wants to see something on both channels. Frequently I find that many people have to miss something they very much want to see because of this type of competition.
On this aspect of policy, today and in the past, I quarrel much more with the BBC than with ITV, simply because the BBC is not dependent on ratings. I know it wants a good audience, but it is not dependent on ratings. ITV is. We pay no licence fee for ITV programmes; advertising provides the finance and ratings influence advertising.
953 In this context I find a comment in Annan which I should have thought endorsed what I am trying to say. It comes on page 94, in paragraph 8.44, and I want to quote only two sentences:The main objective of BBC television should not be to gain and hold 50 per cent. of the audience: it should be to provide interesting and entertaining programmes which will amuse and enrich the experience of large numbers of people.…The television audience is, we think, becoming more selective, and the BBC will not serve the public best by trying at all costs to keep them pinned in front of their television sets".That is how I have always viewed the BBC whose programmes, I think, so often are magnificent—and I do not feel that "magnificent" is too strong a word. But I think that on this matter of ratings, the BBC has been in danger of forgetting that BBC1 and BBC2 exist to serve the public; and I think that noble Lords will see that really Annan says the same, in effect, on page 94.
This brings me back to the reason for turning down ITV2. I have felt for a long time, long before 1977, that a second channel for ITV would provide the programme companies with an opportunity to cater for conflicting needs and interests simultaneously—as can the BBC. It seems to me that ITV could then offer much earlier in the evening, at peak time in fact, many of the programmes put on, in my view anyway, much too late at night. Some of these programmes are just as magnificent as any produced by the BBC. That is why I believe the viewing public should be offered ITV2.
My Lords, why should it be assumed that ITV would bring in poor, "cheap", material and I use the word "cheap", in a non-financial sense. I have seen on both BBC and ITV first-class programmes—and terrible ones. Some "poor" in every sense of the word. I should think that that is the experience of noble Lords.
My Lords, I have hesitated as to whether or not to say what I am going to say now. It is something that I feel deep down inside of me and I cannot get rid of it. I do not know if one can have a bias and not he unfair. I do not even know that "bias" is the right word. My noble friend Lord Willis talked about a "high table attitude"; but I am not an authority on high tables and I would stick to my "bias". I do not wish to accuse the 954 Annan Committee of being unfair, but I feel—and "feel" is the right word—that this report, in spite of the many compliments paid to ITV, has a bias against it. It may be conscious; it may be unconscious. For example, we have what I have just been talking about: ITV have the ability, they have the money, to finance a second channel. But they are not to have it.
Then we have Recommendation 47 which has been referred to: that the IBA should be re-named the Regional Television Authority. Nobody has had a good word to say for that, and I was glad that my noble friend Lord Willis said what he said. I should like to repeat what the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, has said: that ITV is a national as well as a regional service and why on earth should it be re-named? I hope that this will be resisted. Every noble Lord who has referred to this resolution—obviously, not using my word "bias" or the phrase "high table"—talked about "demotion". I regard the suggestion as a downgrading of ITV. I think, whatever the rights or wrongs of it, that it was, perhaps unconsciously, not a very sensitive suggestion to make. I will leave it there. But that is really what I have been trying to get at all along.
My Lords, the fourth channel is the main point that I want to make tonight; but briefly there are four subsidiary ones. First, I would be against sponsorship in any form whatsoever. Secondly, it seems to me that blocks of advertising would be acceptable neither to advertisers nor to viewers—except, perhaps, for the latter to make a cup of tea, if they can afford it after next Monday. Thirdly, the amount of violence and bad language I do deplore. Sometimes it seems to me that both are used just for the sake of it. Perhaps that is being old-fashioned; but I do not think that one lives in an ivory tower if one finds such excess showing offensive. Quite honestly, I hear that discussions are going on and that research is being conducted into this; but I do not think that either detailed research or discussion is necessary here. But I believe that what is seen on television affects the behaviour and outlook of many viewers of all ages. I do not think you need research to discover it—and whatever the research discovers, if it is contrary to my belief, I shall not accept it.
955 The fourth and final point concerns sport. I should think that we would all agree that the coverage of sport on both channels is quite excellent. But I feel also for those people who do not like sport quite as much as I do. It seems wrong for both channels to saturate their screens with the same national events at the same time.
Going back to my membership of the ITA—and I am looking at someone who was the chairman when I was a member; and another is behind me; and I nearly said "to my right"—it seemed to me then that the BBC were the worst offenders in that they were most unwilling to cooperate over coverage: the reason being that they thought they were better. That is all very well; but viewers come into the matter and the viewers may not agree.
In the report we are discussing today, the subject of "duplication" is dealt with on page 345. Apparently the BBC is still on the same theme. Indeed, as Annan says:The BBC argued a difficult case persuasively.But to my mind he settled the argument conclusively when he went on to say:The BBC's arguments are striking, but ultimately they ring false.As the report says, the broadcasting organisations are required to compete for the sake of, not at the expense of, the public's interest.
My Lords, I apologise for my enforced departure. I hope majority opinion will be in favour of giving a second channel to ITV so that viewers may have a wider choice, without expense, at a much earlier date than would otherwise be possible.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Lord HILL of LUTON
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Annan, invited those proposing to take part in this debate not to speak for ITV, not to speak for the BBC, but to speak for England. Let me say at once that I do not speak for Independent Television; I do not speak for the BBC; and I do not speak for England, either. I am going to offer some remarks based on 10 years' experience in the two chairs of the two broadcasting authorities. I must say at the outset what will be said again and again 956 in this debate. This really is a masterly report in manner and in matter. Naturally we enjoy the readable document, and this is the most readable official report that I have ever read.
But it does more than that: it gives the to and fro of the argument; it gives the balance of opposing views; and, no less important, quite apart from the issues on which it expresses firm views, it raises a large number of other issues—programme matters and others—for discussion within the broadcasting professions. It really is a remarkable document. The noble Lord's statement of modesty does not deceive us for one moment as to the part that he played in the preparation of this document.
I am not going to attempt to cover the whole field, for it is 10 years since I left Independent Television and 41 years since I left the BBC, and I have now reached that stage in life when it is easier to record one's experience of the past than to contemplate with any clarity the possible developments of the future. I think that perhaps the most important part—and in his speech the noble Lord, Lord Annan, said this—of this report is that it endorses the conception of the broadcasting authorities as we have them today. It deals with the arguments for the Broadcasting Commission; it deals with the arguments for change and, by a majority in many cases, it demolishes those arguments. I for one am immensely grateful to Annan for so firmly endorsing the main features of the present structure with all the reassurance it gives to those who will have to resist pressures, political and other.
We talk a lot about political pressures; in my 10 years I had precious little political pressure. The Parties are fully entitled to complain; politicians are fully entitled to complain; but, in my experience, apart from one or two incidents, there was no real attempt to persuade improperly or to influence by other than argument or complaint.
I want to make one or two remarks under the heading of administration and refer to that "bureaucratic fog"—that delightful phrase! We are all tempted to abuse bureaucracies today: the Civil Service, local government, all administrations get called bureaucracies, and all 957 bureaucrats get assaulted. As one who spent many years in different kinds of administration, I suggest that we overdo it. But it does us good, and even this great report does not resist the temptation of a lovely phrase or two like the one I have just quoted: "bureaucratic fog".
Of course bigness has its administrative problems, inevitably. Bigness is right for the BBC. I am glad that there is no recommendation that it be broken up, because bigness is part of its very considerable capacity to resist improper influence upon it. I would hesitate to see the External Services broken off from the main body, for I hesitate to think what would be the pressures, skilled, gentle, erudite, that would be applied by the Foreign Office to the day-to-day work of the External Services. Nevertheless, bigness has its very real problems. Although I am now referring to 10 or more years ago in one case, and I am out of date and I have no doubt that things have changed since then, I suspect that there could be fewer administrative layers at the BBC; one has recently gone. I have no doubt that there could be better internal communications; but do not let that lead anybody to think that there is no discussion within the BBC. No discussion! Bless my soul! This mass of brilliant, articulate people means that every decision, if you are not careful, leads to a prolonged, if not an interminable, discussion.
There is a great deal of talk, a great deal of discussion, and it does not always mean that there is consultation in the sense of Annan. Two points have to be borne in mind: until relatively few years ago the BBC's income came flowing in by virtue of the increased number of licence-holders. Now that saturation point is being approached, and it is only those who translate from black and white to colour television who make an additional contribution, the BBC has found it very necessary to introduce a strict financial control; and the financial controller in any organisation is in danger of being regarded as a bureaucratic nuisance by those to whom he applies such restraints.
There is one other element in this. With creative people—it is not unknown in universities—not only does every speech that has not been delivered gain in brilliance as it rests in a person's pocket, just as it is true that every line that is 958 struck out of a script, article or piece becomes the most brilliant line of all, it is also true that these creative people, for whom I gained an immense admiration, are apt to regard any kind of restraint, justified or otherwise, as being interference by an administrative blockhead. I do not know whether anyone, any junior lecturer in University College, has ever said that about the head of its administration. If he has, then he is lying, for there may be administrative pressure but it is not by a blockhead in the case of the Provost of University College. But there is always this element in such an organisation.
I am very grateful to Annan for something else it does, relatively briefly but, I think, importantly. It clarifies the relationship, in the case of the BBC, between the governors and the management. There may not be a bureaucratic fog in that area, but there is a little persistent mist, to say the least of it. I am out of date and all may have changed now—I must impress that upon your Lordships. When I was there, certainly in the early days, the worst thing that governors could do would be to reach a decision, for that immediately became wrong. It was years before I learned the only way to go about it is, somehow or other, to persuade management —innocently or otherwise—to bring up the proposition to the board of governors.
I remember that when a governor proposed—for the second time, too—that cigarette advertising should be abolished in the Radio Times, management said that would involve a tremendous loss of income. It was said to be something we should not do but, in my innocence, I put it to the vote and it was carried by five votes to four. I was told by the DG that that was the worst day's work for a long time, and I was told by the present DG that it was democratic but wrong! But, of course, the real complaint was that it was the governors who had decided that and not management. Of course, I could give other examples, but only to illustrate a trend. As I say, I am certain that things are different now.
I should like to say a word, because I think it is probably the most important part of the report, about the relationship with the public. That is a very difficult 959 matter but I think Annan has made a great contribution here. It is true that one discerns from the inside that there is always a danger that a creative man or woman is tempted to regard the approbation of the fellow professional as more important than the approval of the public and that Montreux is more important than Manchester. As I say, there is always a danger of that.
The second thing that has to be said is that in general advisory committees are no good: I stress, in general. They become, as we all know from experience, if one is not very careful, bodies not to advise the parent body but to protect the parent body. They become advocates rather than critics. That applies to all such committees. I thought that the General Advisory Council of the BBC—absolutely starred with men of high intellectual and other eminence—was not really successful in gathering the views of the viewing public. I remember that at my first meeting I was told with awe of the distinction of the Committee—and it was distinguished—and I was told that the noble Lord, Lord Butler, was a member. In my years at the BBC he was, and he came once—and snoozed throughout the whole meeting. It does not really work, except if there is a separate secretariat, if it is physically external to the body it is advising. I suspect that the advisory body of Independent Television probably works better, for at its foundation it went for people in all levels of the public service and, to the best of my recollection, after a spell with a member of the Authority in the chair, the advisory body proceeded to elect its own chairman. Nevertheless, it is not satisfactory, in order to bring public opinion to the authority.
I suppose these new methods—and here I feel rather fuddy-duddy in this matter—will succeed. For example, at a public meeting you have to decide to whom to give the independent contracts for London: "London Weekday" and "London Weekend". You are going to have an awful lot of meetings if you are going to cover the territory. I suppose the Albert Hall would do for one part of this great constituency. I say this in good faith: I do not know whether such meetings are going to resemble public inquiries into new arterial roads; I do not know whether they are going to be occasions for all the 960 committed and the cracked to come. But I admit that is being old-fashioned. No doubt it is worth trying. I just have some doubts.
§ Lord ANNAN
My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to speak for one moment on a point of fact? The Independent Broadcasting Authority holds public hearings for local radio stations.
§ Lord HILL of LUTON
Yes, my Lords; but I would want to know how effective those public meetings are before I withdrew the statement of doubt of their efficacy.
There is a very valuable part of this report regarding a matter which particularly concerns this House, and that is the section of news and current affairs. I think it was a very valuable section, raising issues that should be discussed within broadcasting organisations. It draws a useful distinction between impartiality and balance. That is a very difficult area. After all, we all view as beautifully impartial an argument which is in line with what we think. Bias is so much in the eye of the beholder that I think it is very important to have it analysed.
I am not sure about the Committee's verdict. I wonder why they put in the verdict comparing "News at Ten" with the "Nine o'clock News" and so on. I think the Committee lost sight of the fact that the very appointment of Annan led to some heartsearching and the very preparation of the evidence for it no doubt moved some people. For myself, for many years I regarded "News at Ten" as the best news of the evening. My opinion is of no more value than anybody else's. I now think that advantage has gone. I now think that the "Nine o'clock News" and "Panorama", and that refreshing little programme called "Newsday" on BBC 2 at half-past seven, are of a high standard. These things come and go.
I like the Committee's assertions that impartiality is not just a matter of the stop-watch; that it is not a question of mathematical balance; and that broadcasters must share the assumptions of the democracy they live in and cannot give equal weight to those who would destroy that democracy. But my doubts began 961 to come when reference was made to "committed programmes"—I will in fact use the phrase "committed public affairs programmes", which I believe are the words of the report—that there should be groups of programme makers, working for the broadcasting organisations whose commitments are well-known. These are programme makers within the organisation, they are not contributors from outside—and it is suggested that they should make programmes expressing their own commitments.
I am a little worried by this. As to those who make programmes, those who can physically be seen to be part of the BBC or the ITV—I do not want to know their own personal views, and I do not want this great publicity apparatus to be used by them, who have not been selected because of the wisdom of their views, to express their own views. I think that needs looking at with very considerable care. I am warmly in favour of more vigorous controversy and of more reporting and less sterile studio discussions. Yes, more vigorous controversy: but I pause a little at accepting, even with a label of recognition, the "commitment" of the programme makers as something which is allowed to intervene in their work.
Sex and language: I really rather expected this to get rather more vigorous treatment, because in previous discussions it always has. There is, of course, a need for reality in what appears on the screen; otherwise, credibility is lost. There is a need, too, for a proportion of new and unconventional plays which indeed may shock. It is true that there are certain kinds of violence that the viewer does not take seriously. "Cowboys do not bleed" is the old expression. They look as if they are getting rather more cochineal today. Nevertheless, there are certain accepted forms of violence.
But I am bound to say this. I am not interested in, and I am not waiting in my mind for, the results of research. I am satisfied that there is often a level of violence, and a mode of depicting that violence, which is quite unacceptable to public standards. The noble Lord, Lord Annan, said that it is a moral question, and I would rather accept it on that basis than rely on research. The ITA, as it then was, spent £250,000 and a university 962 team set out to study the impact of television, including violence. Of course, they could not do it. Of course, they could not separate the individual. They were studying from the control that was subject to other influences, but not television. It was a waste of money.
In any case, I do not think the main issue is whether television leads people, by imitation, to do things which they otherwise would not do. I do not think the main issue is even whether some abnormal children may be adversely affected. Proof or not under those headings would not affect my point of view. I believe that there is too much, and it is growing too fast, and I hope that others who can express this consideration in those scientific and research terms, which please some people, will get to it. For myself, it is just unacceptable. Even though some of the language used is that which one uses oneself on occasions, it is being thrown into the home. I say no more on that subject.
I want to come to my main objection to Annan, and that is the separation of local radio from the existing bodies. Whatever ideas Annan may have about financing, this will be a commercial service financed by commerce, or it will fail. I proceed from that assumption. There will be all the different kinds of advertisement, with hope of great contributions from trusts and so on. Local radio went through this. You cannot run a service, afford the security of employment and meet the cost of programme-making on that basis. It would be a commercial service. I think that this is a dreadful proposal, and I will say why. One of the big dangers for the BBC is that it is too metropolitan—the world ends, if not at Hampstead, at Watford. I can assure your Lordships that that is a very real danger in a body where so much is done in London. Local radio, whatever else its qualities have proved to be, has done a good deal to remind the BBC of its duty to the country as a whole, as well as providing it with items of news which are non-metropolitan.
What is it proposed to do, faced with that danger? It is proposed to chop it off. I was not surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, suggest that the BBC local services might be ended. Bless my soul!, one of the first things that a 963 Conservative Minister of Posts and Telecommunications said to me, when he was appointed in 1970, was that he would stop those BBC local radio services and hand them all over to commercial organisations. To be frank about it, we managed to talk him out of it. The argument that was most effective was to take him to see some BBC local radio stations and eventually, although he put the stopper on development, he changed his mind. That is my basic objection, but I also have this objection.
I do not want local radio to be exclusively a commercial exercise. There are many examples of local radio in the world, and I know that in other countries it is often the only service. There are many examples of local radio being wholly commercial, and they are mostly dreadful examples. I do not see why, having demonstrated, as speaker after speaker has said today, that the competition between a public service and a commercial service has proved enormously successful, and for many unexpectedly successful, we should throw it over when we come to local radio. What is more, I ask your Lordships to face this fact. If local radio is wholly commercial, then Heaven help those in the small thinly populated areas! It will not pay there. Only a public service could ever provide for the nonpaying rural areas. I believe this to be wrong.
One of the reasons against, which Annan uses, is that they take little bits of Radios 2, 3 and 4 and include them in the local programme. Of course they do. You cannot run local news for 12, 14 or 16 hours a day. The services that do that become all "pap" and "pop". What is more people do not want to keep switching the knob to other stations. It is sensible that the four, five, six or even eight hours of local news should be supported by items chosen by the local manager from the national services. I do not know much about the mathematics of the noble Lord, Lord Annan, but the present cost of 20-odd local radio stations of the BBC is 35p out of the licence fee. It is dreadful, but there it is. What would happen if there were 65 stations? It would cost another 25p per annum out of the licence fee. So do not let us pretend that this issue is essentially one of money.
964 For my part, I would leave the present system as it is. Although the growth of the BBC in local radio will necessarily be slow, because of the shortage of money and because of inflation, I certainly would not damage the BBC—and I believe it would—by taking away this important local element in their work, and I certainly would not create a situation in which all local radio was on a commercial basis. As has been said: why change the name of the ITA? However did that get in? The immediate effect is that of downgrading. Bless my soul!, to the viewer seated at home, choosing between independent television and the BBC, it is absurd to say that one is a regional programme. Yes, my Lords, the structure is regional in origin, but through the networking procedure it is a national programme.
I think that the proposal for the Complaints Commission is absolutely right. The report is a little coy on the subject of who appoints the Complaints Commission. We had this problem when it was set up, and we decided that, in order to get going quickly, we would invite an ex-Speaker of the House of Commons, an ex-Lord Chief Justice and an ex-Ombudsman to give us the virtue that we needed. But it would be wise to see whether there can be evolved a method of external appointments. Incidentally, I ought perhaps to say that the BBC invited the ITA to participate in the Complaints Commission, but they preferred to go their own way.
As it stands, I think that it is absolutely right. I would certainly end that requirement that a complainant must give up his legal right before being permitted to proceed to the Complaints Commission. As regards a governors' secretariat, I say, No. The governors need as a secretary someone who is trusted within the organisation, as well as trusted by the governors. It would be dangerous to run any risk that he should be regarded as being in a separate compartment, responsible only to the Governors. Why should there be a reduced number of Governors? The chairman, vice-chairman and the chairmen of the three regional bodies would take up five places and a trade unionist the sixth, while a man experienced in foreign affairs would take up the seventh. Then there are five 965 places left for people from the community generally. I see no point in it. I agree that there should be a common research organisation. The public are bemused by the present situation, and this is a very welcome recommendation.
I must say a very brief word—it is going to be no more than that—about the fourth channel. I find that this is a very difficult issue. I have wavered on it. I believe that the greatest single need is for educational television. I recognise that unless there are two sets it can never be satisfactory, but I believe that instead of having to find its way into the normal programming of BBC 2 at peak times, the need for an educational service, or for a share in an educational service, is very real. The Welsh suggestion is good. It may well be good, too, to give independent programme makers their chance.
I still cannot quite accept that a minority service will remain a truly minority service if it has to be financed by advertising. The service must have a future, whether the income from advertising is good or bad and whether the times are good or bad. That is the nagging doubt in my mind and it goes right to the heart of the proposal. One may seek to get other sums of money and for a while one may, but in the end it will be an advertising-sustained service. I may be quite alone and quite wrong, but I cannot bring myself to believe that it will last as a minority service if it has to depend upon advertising income.
I am sorry for having delayed the debate for so long. I want to make just two more points and then I am done. I am very grateful to Annan for not raising the old bogey about the high proportion of entertainment services. All too often a very superior look has been directed at the broadcasting preferences of ordinary people. When I was at the ITA I remember that an inquiry was held into the 10 most popular programmes of people in the different economic and social groups A, B, C and D. They were aked what were their 10 favourite programmes. The result was that the same favourites were enjoyed by groups A, B, C and D. The only difference was that they were enjoyed with a greater sense of guilt by groups A and B than by groups C and D.
Lastly, we say things that do us good—that this is the best service in the world. 966 During my 10 years I saw a good many other services and met the people working in them. I have no doubt whatever that British broadcasting is well ahead of all the services in the world in terms of its range and competence. I am convinced that one of the elements in that success is the structure which Annan proposes should be continued—the structure that ensures not only freedom but also professional excellence. On this occasion, therefore, do not let us forget that we are speaking no more than the truth when, having studied Annan from beginning to end, having weighed up all the criticisms and the bonuses of encouragement, we say that the result must be the one which coincides with the experience not only of people in this country but of people throughout the world. It is the best.
Let me end as I began. The television profession should be immensely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Annan, for the scope, character and, thank God! readability of his report. Of itself it will do a great deal to focus attention on what matters even if, now and again, some of his recommendations are rejected.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Lord AYLESTONE
My Lords, it gives me a great deal of pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, who preceded me as chairman of the ITA, as it then was, in 1967. I do not think that the tremendous amount of work that he did in 1966 and 1967 in cancelling programme contracts, setting up new programme companies, persuading companies to marry and form new companies, is generally known. The noble Lord did all of this and when he left the chair in 1967 I inherited the problems arising from it. But I hold nothing against the noble Lord for that! Like him, I am unable to find adequate words to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and his colleagues for this very full and detailed report. I found it very good reading. I have taken it to bed to read at night. On occasions I admit that it prevented me from taking a sleeping tablet, but usually I went on reading.
The Committee took masses of evidence from organisations with knowledge of the broadcasting industry. Also, it took 967 evidence, as was to be expected, from organisations which had special axes to grind, and I think that the Committee recognised this. The task which the Committee undertook was formidable. The point has been made that the majority of the 16 members of the Committee had little or no knowledge of the subject. In fact, two or three of them did. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Annan, will be grateful that he did not have 16 experts on the Committee, for then it may have been a very different committee, and I am sure that he would not yet have been able to report.
I should like to deal briefly with one or two minor points. In doing so, may I applaud the Committee on its rejection of the idea of a supra-body above the BBC Governors and the IBA. This argument has been around for a very long time. It was a pre-Annan argument and I have always wondered whether it was a Government idea to set up a supra-body above the two authorities and then to put another body above the supra-body to supervise it—and so on ad infinitum. However, the Committee rejected this idea, and I am very glad of it. Equally, I am very glad that the Committee rejected any idea of political interference or pressure group interference. When one holds the office which the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, has held, one knows that there is pressure group interference on occasions.
I fully support the current situation: that the members of both the BBC and the IBA should be appointed by Ministers and that their dismissal, if necessary, should be by Ministers and not, as suggested in the Annan Committee report, by a decision of both Houses of Parliament. May I ask noble Lords to imagine the political difficulties which would arise if both Houses of Parliament had to decide whether or not Mr. A or Mrs. B should be dismissed from the BBC board of governors or from the IBA. It is a proposal which I cannot understand at all. The decision must be left to Ministers.
I quite like the idea of a 15-year lease of life for the broadcasting authorities. It gives to the employees and contractors in Independent Television and the employees of the BBC a decent period of 968 existence without too much worry. It would still give the IBA a chance to use sanctions if they felt that a programme contractor was not behaving as he should. Sometimes we fail to remember—and it is important to continue to point this out—that the Independent Broadcasting Authority is a nationalised industry which controls, I think successfully, 15 private enterprise companies. Also, it has to be remembered that television probably has more impact on our lives than anything else that I can think of at the moment.
Television is seen in something like 19 million homes and much of it is now in colour. I think the broadcasting authorities—and Annan makes this point —should press on within the limits of their finances in taking a television signal into villages and hamlets of perhaps 500 people (I am thinking of the Western Isles, and so on) where they are still without a television signal. There are arguments, of course, from people who may say that they are lucky not to have television, but that is not a view that I take.
I think, too, the proposed septennial review of broadcasting under a private inquiry board is worthy of further thought. I am not completely "sold" on it, but I am anxious that we should not do what we have been doing for some years; namely, pull up the plant to see whether it is growing. That must certainly not be done. In my period of just about seven and a half years as Chairman of the ITA and then the IBA I served under six different Ministers and gave evidence to three different bodies. All this means a great deal of work and very much of it, so far as the evidence is concerned, unnecessary work. Let us hope that when the Government decide what is to happen as a result of the Annan Committee's proposals at least there can be peace within the industry and quietness for a period of time.
The Annan Report makes the point that programme competition from the IBA has generally improved programme content. I think it has; I think programme competition is good. Equally I think that co-operation on the technical side between the BBC and the IBA has been good. In programming the duopoly has proved to be better than the previous monopoly. I assume, as I think some others do, that the public are sometimes right and 969 they like a pretty wide range of coverage. The single channel IBA has competed pretty fairly with the two channel BBC and, let us face the fact that it is competition with two channels. BBC 2, getting about 7 per cent. of the audience, is not a completely cultural channel. If you are looking for a Western and you do not find it on BBC 1 you will probably get it on BBC 2. So it is in fact competition and let us not call it anything else. So the viewing audience, who like general coverage, can in fact get some coverage of that description within the three channels.
That is not an argument for saying that they should not have greater coverage, if they so wish, of certain programmes, but I dislike intensely those people and those organisations—and there are many of them—who from time to time, for one reason or another, try to tell people what programmes they should like and what programmes they should look at. Our likes and our dislikes are very different, but the Acts of Parliament governing both of us, in one case the Royal Warrant for the BBC and in the other case the IBA Act, laid down very clearly that the purpose is to educate, to inform and to entertain; and on occasions it is difficult to separate the three.
There are criticisms about the lack of alternation (as we call it) within the industry whereby both the BBC and the IBA at the same time are broadcasting a current affairs programme or a documentary. In my day they were knocking at an open door. We were always prepared—rather more than the BBC—to alternate the programmes. I cannot quite understand the reason why, because they could always switch to BBC2.
Criticisms are made, too, that there are too many repeat programmes. Here again I do not think it is generally realised that repeat programmes are expensive; repeat fees are not unknown among people in the acting profession and repeat fees have to be paid. Criticisms are made about the amount of foreign material. There was a Question in the House a short time ago on that subject.
So far as the IBA is concerned the foreign material is limited to about 14 per cent. but what must be remembered is that the sale of either BBC or IBA programmes overseas vastly exceeds the 970 programmes that are sold to this country and are shown on our own screens. I think my figures are right when I say that, between us—I say "us" as though I am still Chairman of the IBA!—the BBC and the IBA export something like £21 million worth of programmes in a year, of which £8 million or £9 million is from the BBC and £12 million from the IBA. That is something to be taken into consideration when people complain about foreign programmes because in fact we see very few foreign programmes. I would go further and say that often extremely good programmes are produced in Europe, for example in France and in Italy, which ought to be shown and are well worth seeing.
The Annan Committee is somewhat critical of the IBA's tighter control of programme content. Here again, personally I would favour pre-viewing, if necessary amending a programme or postponing a programme, before transmission, rather than the BBC's idea of a post facto consideration of the programme content. I object to what is sometimes called "trial by television" and this is a point we always had very much in mind when we were considering programmes.
There is always a risk with investigational programmes as with investigative journalism. On balance I think it is a risk that one must take and, as the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, has said, despite some suggestions to the contrary, I had no interference whatever from a Government of either side during the seven and a half years that I was in office. There was no "hot line" between No. 10 Downing Street and my office in Brompton Road. I feel that on the whole programme content can be safely left to the knowledge and the integrity of the broadcasting authorities and their programme producers.
I would make the point here that programme killers—the one type of programme that destroys every other, with an inheritance factor for the programme that comes after it and so on—are the "Party politicals". I hope both Parties will realise this, although I do not think they will ever stop asking for "Party politicals". But with the audience they get for them one could get the same Party political programme, for whatever Party it may be, 971 on the three channels at the same time and it would make people switch off—and I hope they switch on again afterwards if they want to view.
I will now turn to the finances of the two existing authorities because not very much has been said on the financial side. The BBC is, of course, financed entirely from the licence fee, but here again the Post Office makes rather an excessive charge for its collection. It is an excessive charge, and the point has been made on a number of occasions. If the BBC could have the amount of money that is charged for its collection it would be a great help to them. It is true that the BBC receive some money from the Government for special programmes, such as the University of the Air and for their overseas broadcasts.
It is not within the remit of the Annan Committee to deal with Outside Broadcasts of the BBC, but I should like to make the point here that politically I speak now as a former Secretary of State for the Commonwealth. Very often overseas programmes are the most important things that the BBC do politically and any cut in finance by any Government in the money that is used to take BBC programmes abroad is not only a waste, but it is a waste politically. I think that that is generally realised.
In dealing with BBC finances I should like to say a word about licence evasion, which is still very considerable and amounts to millions of pounds. I do not know how much more can be done about it. What I cannot understand is why Annan should feel that the IBA should pay a contribution to the collection of the BBC licence fee. He may have a perfectly good reason, but it is something I missed in reading through the report. The BBC need additional money. I do not know what one cigarette costs because I do not smoke, but the BBC colour licence at the moment costs almost exactly five pence a day, in my language four toffees a day; for BBC programmes in colour £18 is an insignificant amount in a year. I would urge that something be done—Annan does not recommend this—to help those people who are retired and unable to meet the fee. But it is a very small amount to pay indeed.
972 On the financial side, still, the IBA and the programme companies get their revenue from spot advertising, which is limited to six minutes in an hour, usually three two-minute periods. The independent companies pay a rental to the Authority for transmission, for control of scheduling, control of advertising and so on. But, in addition to this, the contracting companies, the programme companies, pay above normal, or you may call it abnormal, taxation, a special levy above a certain threshold of profit, to the Government. This may not seem very much, but when I tell you that in the current year this figure will reach—I will hazard a guess—between £25 million and £30 million, you will realise what additional taxation there is on independent television as a result of it. Much of that money could be used on the technical side for the fourth channel and so on. But having received the money the Government are not likely to give it up easily.
The IBA also, should they decide to put some money to reserve each year, have to apply to the Treasury to retain this sum of money in reserve for technical development and so on, and in my knowledge over £12 million has been taken from their reserves by Government. So do not let us for one moment get the idea that the old licence to print money era still exists, if it really existed at all. During my period of office two of the 15 companies were facing an immediate close-down and had to be rescued.
May I turn to the subject of the fourth channel which has been discussed. It is available for work now; it could start if the Government so decided. In fact, some money has already been spent on it. I cannot accept or understand for one minute the Annan proposal for a delay and the creation of a new Authority to run and control the fourth channel some time in the future. Why, one asks, a new Authority with the delay that all this involves? The point has been made that most television receivers have a fourth button, on some sets labelled "ITV 2"; transmission sites are available, masts have been erected in some parts of the country. Cost seems to be the only argument against. It is a valid one, if the Government had to provide a great deal of additional money to go ahead and meet the capital costs involved.
973 The IBA in their own proposals to the Annan Committee set out proposals, not unlike Annan, for programme scheduling. The point was made earlier on that scheduling of programmes is not controlled by the IBA, but in fact it is; programme schedules have to be approved by the IBA before they are sent out. So there is no fear on that side. There is an opportunity for experimenting with the fourth channel. Money could be made available, mainly the money from the levy. The existing companies could carry out the job; it could be done in a very different way. If the Government and the IBA so decided, that fourth channel could go ahead now. I like the idea of the multi-type of programming suggested by the Annan Committee, but paying for it is a different matter. One must realise that the capital costs of the new Outside Broadcasting Authority taking over de novo could be in the region of £50 million. Is this to be met by Government loan? The revenue costs, we are told, would be met from advertising; it could be spot advertising, it could be sponsored advertising, it could be block advertising.
On the question of sponsored advertising, I understand that the Annan Committee had not in mind the type of sponsored advertising with which we associate the arguments that went on some 20 years ago in this Chamber and in another place. It is suggested that the Outside Broadcasting Authority should not produce programmes, and that the IBA should undertake the transmission. But they must have realised that another source for advertisers does not necessarily attract new advertising, or much new advertising, or double the advertising because there are two channels. It certainly does not do that.
The fourth channel for ITV complementary to ITV 1 stands a very good chance, because they would share overheads for this type of different programme. But can anyone really expect large national advertisers to spend as much money in advertising on a fourth channel which, while having some programmes of general appeal, would have large slabs of programme which have a very minority appeal. I speak as a Welshman, and I am sure from our own experience that if we had six or 12 hours of programmes in the Welsh language on a fourth channel we would not get very much advertising 974 revenue in and around that. No advertiser will pay for time for advertising when the choice of programme is between advanced mathematics and Greek tragedy in Greek. It has to be diverse and has to be changed. Many of us in both Houses of Parliament 20 or so years ago, including myself, voted against independent television because we were afraid of the American type of sponsored programme, but I am glad to hear that this is not the kind of thing they have in mind.
May I now briefly look at local radio. I know of the very mixed feelings at the time the Independent Television Authority had when I was Chairman about taking on this job of independent local radio. We were divided about it. But, on balance, we thought we would undertake the job of 16 new independent local radio stations, provided that it was the same sort of job we were doing for television; that is, appointing the contractors, doing the transmission, and so on. Those early days of independent local radio were full of interest, but they had some teats as well. We interviewed more than 60 consortia to find the successful 19, and of course all 19 are now on the air sharing some 13 million listeners. The criticism that these stations are all "pop" could be made only by those people who have not heard them, because they are certainly not. Great credit is due to the successful groups who secured the franchises, in launching out into something quite new in this country. In the first few months their funds, their capital, disappeared almost overnight, and their advertising revenue was not very much more than a hope. One or two were a financial success from the beginning, it is true, but most struggled on with a great deal of commendable courage.
There is no doubt that, at first, the individual companies who put their money into independent local radio—newspaper groups, trade unions, co-operative societies, who backed the new venture—had considerable and understandable worries and fears. The IBA, as it was then called—it has since changed its name—had the first two London stations on the air by stringing a clothes line type of aerial between two masts and two tall chimneys. It is in that sort of context that one congratulates those who put their money into it and stood by it. It was decided at that time to set up some very 975 small stations as well as the big ones, and not to cater only for large populations. So we had Radio Orwell at Ipswich, Radio Thames Valley at Reading and Radio Swansea Sound, which were all small companies.
The IBA was not permitted to use television reserve money to start a local radio station but was allowed to borrow a very small amount of money from the Government at a rate of interest. So the whole of the new independent local radio exercise of getting 19 stations on the air was handled quickly and successfully by the IBA engineering section plus a mere handful of administrators under a newly-appointed director of radio. However, now—presumably on the mistaken premise that the IBA has too much to do—the Annan Committee propose a new body, to be known as the Local Broadcasting Authority, to do precisely the same job. The Committee believe that local radio should be extended—that is commendable and I agree with it. While acknowledging that the IBA has done a very good job with the first 19 stations, the Committee now suggests that all local radio should come under the proposed new Authority. However, here—unlike the proposal for the fourth television channel where transmission remains with the IBA—it is suggested that the Local Broadcasting Authority should undertake transmission and thus take it away from the IBA. One asks why. I cannot think of any possible reason. It will involve additional Government expenditure and at the very best will provide an equivalent service.
In closing—and I have gone on far too long—I should like to acknowledge the great deal of thought that has gone into the Annan Report, although there is much of it with which I disagree. After something like 23 successful years, if the Government accept the Annan proposals the IBA will not get the fourth television channel, will lose independent local radio and, in fact, will lose its name as well. It is proposed that what is left should be known as the Regional Broadcasting Authority.
If the Government accept the idea of a Broadcasting Complaints Commission—and as the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, has said, it has some merit—I would urge that it should be used only as a 976 backstop where a complainant is not satisfied with the BBC or IBA explanation. Otherwise we shall need to set up another body as large as a Government Department. In my view neither the Outside Broadcasting Authority nor the Local Broadcasting Authority are necessary. Both have to be appointed, staffed, paid for and housed to do a job which is already being successfully done. In a sense this is sheer empire-building. However, I like and agree with the expression used by the Annan Committee in their massive document where they say:Pennies and pounds should be put into programmes, not into policing them".Then why set up several more purely policing bodies?
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Lord PLOWDEN
My Lords, first I should declare an interest. It is a vicarious interest because my wife is Chairman of the IBA and for four years before that, she was Vice-Chairman of the BBC under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton. Speaking after so many experts in the broadcasting field I must make it quite clear that I speak as an industrialist with some experience of Government committees of inquiry, management and administration in Whitehall, nationalised and private industries. This excellent report is—as one would expect from a Committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Annan—lucid and, above all, well-written. It sets out a powerful analysis of the strengths, weaknesses and problems of the industry past, present and future. I believe that it will remain as a work of reference for many years.
I welcome the proposals for better and constructive coverage of industrial and commercial affairs. As the report points out, the attitude of some—even many—producers is too negative. I know that that is a subject which occupies a great deal of the attention of the Chairmen of both the BBC and the IBA. The BBC has set up its consultative committee on business and the IBA recently had a most successful conference at Selsdon Park—absit omen—of industrialists, trade unionists and people from the media. I know from friends—industrialists and trade unionists—who were there that it was most successful.
977 The importance of this subject is very aptly illustrated by a speech made by Mr. David Logan, the TUC education officer, which was reported yesterday in The Times. He said:Schoolchildren are so biased against industry by what they read and see in the media and so ignorant about it that it is impossible to talk to them".I know that in this area the CBI, and I hope the TUC, will do everything they can to help the two Authorities to put over a better understanding of industry.
I should like to deal with the two main recommendations of the report, the first being that local radio broadcasting should be the responsibility of a new authority. Today when all of us, both nationally but particularly in industry, are being pressed for more devolution in industry so as to make large organisations more sensitive to the feelings of local groups and individuals, surely—as the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, said—it is most unwise deliberately to cut off large and central organisations, such as the BBC and the IBA, from local influences. I cannot think that that is anything but a retrograde step.
The decisions to refuse the fourth channel to the IBA and to set up a whole new organisation are, of course, the most controversial aspects of the report. The Committee's attitude to the IBA seems to me to be contradictory. It alternately praises and denigrates it. I want to read out three comments the Committee make in Chapter 13:Is the IBA a sound or a too officious guardian of the public interest? On the main issue we support the IBA in its vigilance".The Committee go on to say:The IBA — has developed a philosophy of commercial broadcasting which is impressive, and an addition to the theory of public service broadcasting".Lastly, they say:At a time when the art of the governance, in Britain — has fallen into some disrepute, the achievement and success of the British system of organising commercial broadcasting ought not to go unrecorded".Then at Chapter 15 comes the denigration:We considered whether their [the IBA's] proposals, could be altered to give a greater role to educational and minority programming but leaving the IBA responsible for the new service … If the new service were the respon- 978 sibility of the IBA, how could the IBA resist pressure from the television companies to allow them a considerable share of peak programming time on the new channel?Finally, and perhaps most surprisingly, the Committee say:It is not lack of confidence in ITV to deliver the goods which has led us to this conclusion … It is simply that in our belief an ITV 2 will result in worse television services than we have now because the BBC and ITV will engage in a self-destructive battle for the ratings".There is much more of the same—both praise and condemnation—and I quoted those things because I think it shows that there must have been considerable doubt in the minds of the Committee about the proposition they were putting forward—certainly enough doubt to reinforce the doubts in the minds of critics, and certainly in my mind.
Why should the Governors of the BBC be able to control two channels to the satisfaction of the Committee but not the Governors of the IBA? After all, they are the same kind of public-spirited people, and indeed sometimes the same people. Did the noble Lord, Lord Hill, become whiter than white when he left the grubby world of detergent advertising and entered the rarified atmosphere of the BBC? And was my wife debilitated and unable to exercise her statutory duties of control on making the reverse journey? I find myself in agreement with the noble Baroness, Lady Burton, when she says that she thought there was a deliberate bias against the IBA. I wondered why this was so, because I felt the same. I believe it is probably due to a dislike of the intrusion of profits and private enterprise into broadcasting which seems to be instinctive in so many intellectuals. But this is really an old-fashioned point of view. I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, confessed that in the 1950s he had a bias against commercial broadcasting and had now changed his view. I had exactly the same bias in those years. It is a pity that it should have lingered on.
It is suggested that the OBA should act as a publisher when broadcasting material provided by bodies such as the Open University, and should have no responsibility for the content of the programmes. But I am sure that noble Lords must be aware of the criticism that the BBC has had levelled against it about the content 979 of some of the Open University programmes. Surely very quickly public opinion would force the OBA to apply the same kind of regulations as do the BBC and IBA now. As a simple businessman, it seems to me that with the BBC controlling two channels and the IBA and the OBA one each, the BBC would be in a position, if it wished—and how could it resist it?—to swamp the other two, forcing the IBA into the trivial programmes which the Committee apparently fears, and the OBA to follow suit in order to survive financially. The report makes various suggestions for financing the OBA so that it can carry out the things that the Committee wants it to do.
While I would not go quite so far as to call it "pie in the sky", as I believe the Chairman of the BBC did, as a businessman I would be extremely dubious that anything like the necessary sums of money would be forthcoming from the sources suggested. I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Hill, expressing the same fears. Block advertising would, I believe, be quite uninviting to advertisers. Anyone who has tried to raise money for educational projects, as I have, knows how hard it is and how little they are likely to have to spare for sponsored programmes.
On the other hand, as the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, pointed out, the ITV companies say that they can finance a second channel now. They admit that in the early years the launching costs of the service might result in a reduction in the amount of levy received by the Treasury. But they claim that by the third year the levy would be the same as it is now, and thereafter the Treasury would start to make money. The sums suggested for the startup are, I believe, £60 million, which the companies say they can find from their own resources. If I were still a Treasury official, I know which one I would back as likely to cause the least trouble to the Estimates.
I come to my final point. The Committee offers us four new statutory bodies: OBA; the Public Inquiry Board; the Local Radio Authority; and the Broadcasting Complaints Commission. I accept that there may be grounds for having the Broadcasting Complaints Commission because there is a pressure from the public 980 to complain about services, and as the Chairman of the newly started Police Complaints Board I accept that that is something that exists and probably has to be met.
But surely it must be wrong, at a time when people are crying out for less regulation and less Government, not more, to want to set up more regulative bodies. Have we so soon forgotten the reorganisation of the local authorities and the National Health Service, and the dislocation that that caused? That is only to mention two and not any of the others that have subsequently been put up. Some noble Lord, I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, said, "At all costs do not let us make change just for the sake of making change, because change causes great dislocation". Of the four Committees of Inquiry that I have chaired, at the beginning of every one I can truthfully say that I said, "We are not going to make recommendations for changes just for things that are desirable, but only for things that are really necessary". I think that that is something that perhaps the Committee did not think about when they made so many recommendations for change.
I hope that the Government will reject the creation of the OBA, leave local broadcasting where they are and allocate the fourth channel to the IBA. But I hope that they will urge the BBC and the IBA to follow and carry out the many other constructive proposals that are in the Committee's report. I was pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Harris, say that he hoped that this would really lead to a national discussion on the whole subject before reaching a final decision, because in a matter of this importance it is essential that the whole country should be brought in to decide what it is they really want and what would be the best. I hope that the Government will apply this principle of wide discussion to other matters of this kind.
§ 7.49 p.m.
Earl DE LA WARR
My Lords, I have an interest to declare, because I want to speak about the uses of cable and pay television, and this is a field in which I have worked for many years. In fact, my company is the largest of the cable 981 operators. The Annan Committee had terms of reference which were quite brief. They began as follows:To consider the future of the broadcasting services in the United Kingdom, including the dissemination by wire of broadcast and other programmes and of television for public showing …".I will only comment at this stage that we were a little surprised to find that out of 500 pages, only seven were devoted to these subjects.
Not everybody knows too much about cable. This is not surprising, because unless one lives in an urban area that is cabled one will not have experienced it. I will therefore explain briefly how cable began, what it is and what it does now. It began in 1928 in Clacton, and there 200 households took from a master aerial outside the town the relay of one broadcast programme. From then on broadcast sound programmes delivered by cable developed all over the country and gradually the number of programmes increased from one to four. It was really in the early 'fifties that the breakthrough happened, because it was found that not only sound but pictures as well could be sent down the cable, still, I emphasise, on the same principle; a distribution point outside the town equipped with a powerful receiving aerial and bringing a picture by cable to householders' television sets, sets which would otherwise be working off an aerial. In those early days of BBC1 and, later, of ITA, broadcast transmissions over the air gave limited coverage and in many parts of England reception was either non-existent or extremely bad, and it was on that basis that the cable industry built up.
Cable television spread fast during that period, and today there are about 2½ million households who take their programmes by cable. I also have to say that today, with the arrival of UHF, there is a complex of brilliantly engineered transmitters, so that reception is nearly perfect all over the country, and it therefore has to be said in order to be fair that cable, when working as a relay-only tool, has ceased to grow. However, there are now new avenues open to cable and new services that, because of shortage of space on the air, can be provided only by cable. I will deal with only one of them, and that is pay television.
982 Let us be quite clear technically what we are talking about. First of all, it is the use of the cable not merely to pick up and relay programmes broadcast off the air but also to send down the same cable programmes which have not come off the air. That is the way pay television arrives—by cable, so that it would never require the use of scarce broadcast channels nor interfere in any way with them. It would be an extra channel offered by cable operators who would risk their own money in the expectation that their customers would want the service and, by definition, be prepared to lose if if they, the operators, turned out to be wrong. A bold venture, one may say, and certainly it is, but it is one we would take if we were given the chance by the Government.
Programmes that are paid for can of course be of a number of different subjects, any subject for which there is a viable demand, However, we believe—and this is the experience in the United States—that what customers would want and would pay for are feature films, say six or eight each month with two dropping out and two new ones coming in regularly so that there would be a constant variety. They would be shown a number of times daily so as to give householders the maximum opportunity of seeing them. Sporting events could, and in my opinion should—though probably with rather more severe safeguards—also be part of the programming offered.
The Annan Committee have rejected the proposals that have come from the Cable Association and other sources and probably much of their evidence was taken in the United States. I am sure that that was extremely sensible, because pay television is to be found today only in the United States, where it is a lusty and growing child. The report says:From what we saw in America we did not conclude that the more channels a viewer could switch to the greater his choice. A number of channels were showing the identical programme and many were showing similar programmes.I rather question whether those are valid arguments. Can one really equate the identical with the similar? I do not think I have ever seen identical programmes at the same time on BBC and ITA, though I have seen similar programmes more than once in the same time slot. Remember, 983 too, that we are talking here about one or two extra channels and not 12 or 20 as they have in America. The report also says:We were not persuaded that pay television of itself generated new programme material. What it did was to distribute material from broadcasting organisations, feature films and some live sport. It was, therefore, a ravenous parasite'—it lived off those who produced television and films".Appart from that somewhat intemperate, if not horrific, description, I suggest that the argument is short on logic and long on bias. Is a bookseller a parasite because he distributes books but does not write them? Pay television, in the same way as the cinema, would generate income which would find its way to the producers of films and hence help to finance films which as everyone knows, are in a bad way. This point was strongly made in the report of the Working Party on the Film Industry appointed by Sir Harold Wilson when he was Prime Minister and was also made by the film producers in their evidence. But all this appears—I say "appears"; it may well have been thought about—to have been ignored by the Annan Committee.
Lord Annan was also worried that pay television might be able to afford to buy the exclusive rights in some events which are now broadcast generally and that There would be a real danger that the range of programming available to the public would be reduced. If there is felt to be a danger, let us define it. Safeguards we can understand. If the risk is real, let us protect broadcasting where it needs to be protected. But for goodness' sake, let us do it in the viewers' interests! I submit that the total prohibition of pay television because of a faint sense of danger is not in the interests of the viewer.
I have dwelt on the arguments used by Annan to denigrate if not totally to dismiss the case for pay television—and I say that because it is clear from the text of the report that the Committee were far from unanimous on this point. Before I finish, I should like briefly to ask your Lordships to consider for a moment what a television set is. It is a box, inside which is a cathode ray tube surrounded by some peripheral equipment. Electronic pulses come into the set, producing a picture at the blunt end of 984 the tube where we see it. For some time, these picture-producing pulses came largely over the air from broadcasting transmitters, but that is certainly not the case today. We have long known that the set could receive these pulses from cable, but there are other sources—the video cassette machine is one and there are hundreds of thousands of these in use today. The video disc machine is another. This will come on to the market next year, backed by some very large international companies which are spending fortunes on its development and marketing. Briefly, it produces sound and pictures on the set by the use of an attachment rather like a gramophone on which one puts a disc that gives not only sound but pictures on the screen.
I have dealt very briefly with that aspect of the matter, and it is my earnest belief that, gradually, the television set will move away from being an appendage of the transmitter. Of course the transmitter will play an enormous part in the foreseeable future, but I have to say in conclusion that, in 1977, to produce a report which virtually disregards every picture that does not come to the screen over the air seems to me—and I say this with some reluctance—a most remarkably short-sighted achievement.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Lord TAYLOR of GRYFE
My Lords, like other noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, I have to declare an interest. I am a director of Scottish Television and I am encouraged to intervene at this late stage in the debate only by the appeal of the noble Lord, Lord Annan, who invited someone to speak up for Scotland. I must say that, while I shall speak largely from my experience as a director of a Scottish television company, the views that I shall express are necessarily my own; they are based on the knowledge and the experience which I have gained.
As is the case with many noble Lords who have spoken today, I am a convert to commercial television and I am delighted that our worst fears at the inception of commercial television have not been realised. But the great debate at that time and the fears that were expressed enabled us to build up within the rules of IBA safeguarding functions which protected the balance of programmes. 985 These restrictions were desirable and, as a result of this, the Annan Report now acknowledges thatthe achievements and successes of the British system of organising commercial broadcasting ought not to go unrecorded.There is one area in the television industry which has been completely neglected by the report. I am sorry to see that the noble Lord, Lord Annan, is not in his place, for I refer to the fact that there is hardly a mention in the entire report of the place of directors of television companies, nor is there much mention of the rights and interests of shareholders in the companies. A good deal is written about the rights of staff and trade unions and of the general public, but little mention of the people who sit on the boards of television companies and who try not only to calculate the advertising revenue but to monitor the programme content and to ensure that their company discharges its social obligations as well as its commercial duty to its shareholders.
I take my own board for example. Much has been said about relations with the public and how the public should express itself in the development of programmes. My board consists of two respectable and energetic businessmen, one head of a major university, the head of the National Trust, the High Commissioner to the Church of Scotland, a noted journalist, the sponsor of Scottish Opera and a former director of the BBC. That is not a bad spread of Scottish opinion. Our board helps our management in developing the kind of programmes that are expected of them. We study programme content without interfering in detail. Indeed, we spend more time on programme content than on advertising revenue. However, we realise that we have a commitment to the shareholders.
There is almost an assumption in the Annan Report that television companies inevitably make a great deal of money. That is not always the case. In fact, it is the present climate in which the distribution of profits is restricted and where there are tight controls on margins that makes possible for companies to spend large sums on advertising because advertising expenditure is an allowable expense. It could be that the present economic and political constraints are conducive to a situation in commercial 986 television that may not always exist. We, as a company, paid no dividend to our shareholders for three years but, because we were committed to our contract, we continued to make programmes, to make contributions to the arts and to pay our advertising revenue to the Government. Indeed, my chief executive has told me that of every £5 earned in our station £4 is paid to the Exchequer. So it is not true that commercial television is simply a device for printing money and distributing large profits to shareholders.
I have to acknowledge to the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and his Committee one debt that we owe them; that is, that the Committee recommends that the directors of television companies should now be permitted to appear on television on matters of public controversy. I was the President of a large commercial organisation in Scotland, and when we celebrated our centenary a television programme was made because it was an important organisation. A half hour feature programme was made but, though I was the President, at the last moment they had to eliminate my contribution because it would have been an offence against the Television Act for me to appear. Now, I am delighted to say that directors of television companies will be permitted to engage in public controversy on television provided that they do not discuss matters related strictly to television. I think that that is an important move.
In connection with the franchise, the noble Lord, Lord Hill, has already commented on the physical difficulties of holding these discussions in public. I agree that seven years is a reasonable period in which to judge the operation of a company. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, that I am not sure whether it will be more difficult for someone to appear before a large gathering than it was for me to appear before the noble Lord six years ago when I sought to secure the franchise for one of the competitors of Scottish Television; but I believe that public hearings are desirable. At the same time, I am not sure whether the decisions of the body hearing these submissions should be given in public. It would be quite wrong to identify members of a corporate body with this or that club or company. So, while I 987 would give some support to public hearings, I would not necessarily expose the deliberations of the authority to public gaze and public debate.
I should like to say a few words about the responsibilities and the role of regional companies. I subscribe to the view that to place ITV in the second division, by calling it a regional company, instead of a national company, is in my view quite childish. If anything, the name which could be justified for commercial television might be the National Broadcasting Service, or the Free Television Service, because it is not supported by any fee paying or by any Government subvention. In fact, it is the other way round—we subsidise the Government. And I hope that the Government will not pursue the suggestion made about this.
Very often the obligations of regional companies are not fully understood. For example, if a national network company produces a programme of national interest it simply makes the programme and allocates costs. In the case of the regional companies, where it has to cover specifically regional affairs, the position is different. For example, the Queen is visiting Scotland this week. This requires the regional company to do a very considerable amount of outside broadcasting—which is fairly expensive—and carry it entirely regionally. The same is true of the Scottish Cup Final and many other local events, whereas the English Cup Final will necessarily be networked and the cost spread throughout the whole of the United Kingdom, or through all the stations that take it, home and abroad. So the regional companies very often have to shoulder a substantial regional responsibility.
I am not sure about the suggestion in Annan that one of the regional companies might be upgraded to the top table to become one of the network companies—the distribution at the moment is five network, 10 regional—because it would be very difficult for some of the regional companies to finance network programmes on the basis of the advertising revenue which they can attract. For example, central Scotland has 4 million people. Yorkshire, the smallest of the network companies, has 7 million; and to assume the responsibilities of a network company may be far 988 too big a burden for a regional company. At the same time, the network must be sensitive to the acceptance of a greater number of regional programmes.
I believe in the unity of the United Kingdom, and I believe that it would be a political and social disaster if Scotland felt isolated from the general activities of the United Kingdom; and I am glad that that has been expressed very forcibly in the last few days from somewhat unorthodox sources. Nevertheless, I believe that the isolation of Scotland would be a misfortune to the United Kingdom. I believe that Scotland is not only a region, it is a nation, with its traditions and with something to feed in to the whole pattern of national culture. It would be wise if the network companies were to recognise that obligation and that responsibility.
At the same time, it would be an error for Scots, or any other regional company, to demand so many hours on the national network. Programmes on television must be justified by their quality, and not by their regional origin. So I believe that the regional companies should accept that obligation and responsibility at the same time as the network companies should also be sensitive to being truly national.
I should like to refer to one or two matters in the Report which are very desirable. There is, for instance, the question of relations with the BBC, and while the noble Lord, Lord Annan, has invited someone to speak up for Scotland, I confess that with my STV affiliations I am hardly in a position to speak up for the BBC in Scotland. But I applaud the idea that there should be a minimum of duplication of programmes between BBC and ITV—covering major sporting events and so on. The BBC, if I may say so, should be more receptive in that direction. It costs both sides a great deal of money to pursue that duplication for no advantage to the viewer, and at a time when the BBC is complaining about its financial difficulties it should really accept this as a necessary financial discipline.
The other idea that I would strongly support is that there should be joint audience research. I think that this nonsense of the JICTAR ratings for ITV 989 and some other form of ratings for the BBC—and the non-acceptance of a common rating assessment—is foolish; and it would benefit both of us if there were to be a common standard of rating measurement.
Having said all those nice things about the Annan Report, I should like to add one point about the fourth channel. As has been expressed today, the independent television companies support a fourth channel for Independent Television, and there is considerable logic in that argument. But I hope that we will be in no hurry to establish a fourth channel. When one considers all the information and programmes and diversions that are directed to all of us as consumers and as citizens —local radio, Radio 1, 2, 3 and 4, BBC1 and BBC2, ITV—I think that there is no need to hurry abut this. The fact that the economic situation of this country is difficult means that this is in no sense a priority. If there has to be a fourth channel, I could argue strongly for ITV being the appropriate authority, rather than having a new one.
I want, as objectively and as briefly as I can, to say a few words in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Annan, about criticisms made of the particular company of which I am a director. They were pretty sharp—for example, we… detected a widespread feeling that programme quality was mediocre …Then:… directed the IBA's attention to tackle the Scottish problem of poor programmes …and so on. I must say that I think that the Annan Committee was influenced by a situation which existed some time ago, when the famous "licence to print money" appeared to be the slogan of the dominant shareholder of the company. This is no longer so, and the company in the past three years has doubled the expenditure on programme making, to no apparent advantage of the shareholders; nevertheless we regarded that as our responsibility.
It would be unwise at this late hour to dwell on some of the other criticisms that were made, but these will be answered in an appropriate manner. I should add simply that the IBA, which is the watchdog of programme quality and programme content, has expressed no such alarm as is 990 contained in the Annan Report. I have one final remark to make. The impact of the regional companies is important, not only in providing a television service; it is important because of its local social impact. I think it could be said that one of the greatest things that has happened in Scotland in the past few years has been the establishment of Scottish Opera. It has brought a new vitality and a new interest, and has raised the whole standard of people's interest to opera, music and so on in Scotland. This was sorely needed in a town which is a grey town, like Glasgow.
That would not have been possible but for the support of Scottish television. Before the opera began, before it was launched—and these are not high-rating programmes—we ran a series of opera-appreciation programmes spread over a number of weeks, so that we could stimulate and build up interest in opera. We sponsored a number of operas. We sold the theatre to the company at a very low price to encourage opera. We have been equally helpful to the Scottish National Orchestra. We have made an impact because, particularly in the arts, directors in Scottish television believe that they have a social responsibility. In one of the opening chapters of the Annan Report which I found extremely interesting they discuss the whole philosophy and purpose of television and broadcasting, and I think they quote Huw Wheldon in a very short phrase in which he said something like:The purpose of broadcasting is to create delight and to improve insight,".May I assure the noble Lord, Lord Annan, that he has helped all of us to recognise these objectives, particularly those of us who have the responsibility, the very big responsibility, of running television companies.
§ Lord FERRIER
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, he said that there should be no hurry about the fourth channel. Would he not agree that Recommendation 96 says:The forth channel shall not be allocated until the nation's economy will permit the kind of service we have outlined?
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Lord RITCHIE-CALDER
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Annan, asked for some reaction from the nations. We are now in the national bloc. I am preceded by my noble friend Lord Taylor of Gryfe, I am followed by the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, and up behind us are the Welsh. So we are here, even though we do not necessarily speak positively in national or regional terms. I really genuinely welcome what my noble friend Lord Taylor of Gryfe has been saying, because we in Scotland now—that is an inflexion, a highly pejorative inflexion—appreciate what the STV has done for so many years to encourage, and also to stress by their own actions, what in fact are the professed limitations of the Scottish BBC at the moment—financially and otherwise; I am not criticising content.
My Lords, I do not want to prolong this debate unnecessarily by my intervention, but I want to take up something which my noble friend Lord Willis said about the fourth channel. I pick up where both the previous speaker and the intervener left off. I do not think it is a matter of urgency, but I do think it is of paramount importance what we do with the fourth channel. I think it is a test case, really, as to whether we are going to have ITV or independent broadcasting taking over the fourth channel and taking in lodgers, as it were, while maintaining it on a commercial basis, or whether we are going to have something more enterprising. As to where I am at this moment in my thinking, Lord Hill and I share the same difficulty: we have not cleared our minds as to what should be the real, ultimate role of the fourth channel; but it is of paramount importance, because what we are doing in allocating the fourth channel is indeed saying what we think British broadcasting is about.
You can take BBC1 and BBC2 and say that they are marvellous. Having been an opponent of Independent Television, I can say that British Independent Television is marvellous by comparison with anything else I meet anywhere else. That is genuinely and generally true. But we are now at the next stage, in my opinion, and that is that we are saying: Where do we go from here? What is the future experimental role of British television? 992 We cannot afford to lose the credit and the validity of our reputation, which is enormous, I assure your Lordships, though I do not need to assure your Lordships because you all know it. But the thing is that we have got to decide, and in that decision when it comes, and when the situation allows it to come, we have got to say very clearly what we see as the meaning and purpose of the British continuing experiment in television. We were the pioneers of so many things. We have established levels of values that very few companies or organisations overseas have been able to maintain, even while they have tried to emulate us. I can tell your Lordships—why should I tell your Lordships; you know it—that British commercial television programmes overseas have at least the acclaim and the quality now of the BBC, which was taken as the hallmark of what should in fact be the standards.
All I am saying, my Lords, is this. We are looking at the fourth channel. Let us ask ourselves what we can do with it; and, indeed, the Annan Committee has done that very effectively. If we call it a public broadcasting authority, that is OK by me; but what I want to know and be assured is that, whatever it is, it reserves to itself the capacity to expand, initiate and experiment. I am afraid I am getting on to my hobbyhorse in this House, which is the Open University and that kind of thing. But the Open University demonstrates a great experiment coming from the other side, from the educational side, into the broadcasting side and finding, as we did, a complete marriage of total interests between the BBC and the Open University. We had no difficulties. If it had been America, we should have been buying time. We were not buying time for the Open University; we were buying the involvement of the BBC, with all its quality and all its expertise. We were acquiring the great experimental force of the BBC in the Open University experiment.
Take that as an illustration. The Open University is now setting up its own studios, and so forth, at Milton Keynes. We are going into production. We spend at the moment (what is it?) £2 million or £2½ million buying time. That is a crude and meaningless term, because we are buying much more than time on the BBC; but presently we shall 993 be experimenting. The Open University—and I declare my interest here as a member of the General Council—will be experimenting. Where do we go to carry out and fulfil our experimental purposes? As the Open University, in its evidence to the Annan Committee, pointed out, we do not have to be constrained by association with the BBC. We can go into ITV or, hopefully, we can go into another great expansion of interest and purpose, which could be the fourth channel. We could be the anchor, as it were. I am talking about the Open University. My Lords, £2½ million is not a lot of money, but whatever that represents as our certain commitment, that could be the anchor for a whole lot of other purposes which we could demonstrate.
We had a debate last week on further education. I think that anyone could demonstrate that there is this enormous hunger, this genuine and complete hunger, for knowledge, for widening visions, or whatever you would call it. This is not at the moment being satisfied. If we call it education, that gives it a hard, tart, ring; but we are talking about opening windows. That is what we have been doing—and demonstrating that we can do it very effectively. The BBC has done it, ITV has done it. We have demonstrated in the British scale and purpose that we can do it.
All that I am saying is that we must safeguard that. I do not want necessarily to say that ITV or the IBA could not administer the fourth channel. I am saying that I look at the way they would finance it—but we are all looking at all the ways that anyone can finance it. I should like to keep it, at least to this extent for some time to come, at the point where you can say that we are not committing this to commercial advertising in the ITV sense of commercial advertising; that we are not permitting this to a commercial enterprise. But we are saying that this organisation, this whatever it is—the fourth channel perhaps, which I regard as a very precious thing—we can see being used for all kinds of purposes—"Pay as you go"; or however we can get it.
In America public broadcasting goes to the big multinational companies like Mobil, et cetera. They get what is supposed to be decontaminated money 994 put into public broadcasting—and that is a sign of virtue. But this is not product advertising; this is not the commercials, the interrupting commercials, every two minutes. This is when they give the money to public broadcasting and say, "Put on a good programme". I can tell your Lordships, and this is an experience which some of us should appreciate, that this is not without its traps; that is, they are not asking you in this case to "plug", advertising-wise, a company which is doing this generous act. They are saying: "Is this programme fit for the American public?" Fit for the American public or fit for the British public, is a discreet level of censorship. They do not say: "We will not back it". They just do not. It is like that. You do not get the support. This does not apply to people or to attitudes. It applies to subjects.
This is where we get into trouble, if, in fact, we think of a sort of block, disingenuous, support from industrial sources. But, on the other hand, there is no reason why this should be so. We were, in fact, in this country the great developers of the documentary movement. Nothing stands higher in the documentary movement than, for example. Shell Films. You can have a complete and total contribution towards the advancement and enlightenment of people without necessarily getting down to—I was going to say, the vulgarity of commercials but I should not say that here. We are now in a situation where we can look, as the Annan Committee has looked to see what are the alternatives and possibilities. All I say is that at this moment in time, as we say in the Watergate, you do not close your options. Let us go ahead and see what are the possibilities in using the fourth channel to advance the frontiers of British television and broadcasting which is—as everyone has said; and nobody can quarrel with it; for this is not self-glorification: it is true—the best in the world.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Lord FERRIER
My Lords, the wide range of this report is evidence in itself of the magnitude of the task which was set to the Committee and to the energy with which they examined the complexities which bear on the whole problem of the 995 future of broadcasting. It has been to me quite fascinating to hear the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Annan, every word of which I listened to with the greatest attention: particularly as he was good enough to ask me to submit evidence to his Committee—which I did.
In his speech he movingly declared that his Committee's concern was the ultimate welfare of the nation. It therefore seems like carping to be as critical as I am of one particular aspect of the report. Nevertheless, it stems from some of the evidence that I submitted. If the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, has been on his hobby-horse, I am now getting on to mine. I refer to the absence of any examination in depth of the part that broadcasting may have to play in the future of reporting Parliament to the people. In saying this may I emphasise that I am not—and I repeat, not—referring to televising of Parliament which is an entirely secondary issue and something which in any case is for the other place to decide. I refer to the broad principle of the relationship between the broadcast and Parliament.
One cannot forget the extraordinary vision of Sir John Reith, how he sought to mould the entirely new machine of radio so that it could best enrich the life of the nation. It was he who started what is now "Today in Parliament" before ever there was any obligation such as is contained in the current licensing agreement in Clause 13(2) which reads, as your Lordships are probably aware:The Corporation shall broadcast an impartial account day by day, prepared by professional reporters, of the proceedings in both Houses of Parliament".From this stems a programme which has been broadcast over the years, new every day, thousands and thousands of times—reflecting credit, as it does, upon generations of professionals and their technical expertise, journalistic competence and skill; a record, I believe, without parallel.
My Lords, as soon as I got my copy of "Annan", as it is being called, I turned to the recommendations on pages 474–490. I was a little surprised that in Recommendation 13 there was no specific reference to the obligations of Clause 13(2) in the licensing agreement to which I have just referred. Indeed, paragraphs 5.8 to 996 16 of the main report refer only to Clause 13(3) and Clause 13(4) of the licensing agreement. Perhaps Recommendations 93 to 95 regarding an open broadcasting Authority may include some idea of the sort of future task of the fourth channel, if and when it is established.
Then I turned to Chapter 2, and was again surprised that the survey of the past made no reference to what, as I have said in referring to "Today in Parliament", must be the longest running programme of all time. I can find no reference to it in all the 500 pages. So, my Lords, I turned to Chapter 3. Again perhaps the Committee in assessing the strategy of the future do not include the regular broadcasting of Parliamentary affairs as an essential part of the role of some branch of broadcasting. I repeat, I am not referring to the televising of Parliament but to the broad principle.
I think of the debate on the Motion of my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing last week. If the present deterioration of the Press is maintained or increased, the broadcast is bound to carry the essential burden of keeping Parliamentary democracy alive. How else? Having brought Fleet Street to its knees, the trade unions now have Parliament by the throat. Why are not our Minutes printed? Where is the House of Commons Hansard? Are these not pointers to justify my contention?
We all await with interest the initiation of the service of broadcasting from edited tapes in the light of the experiment with an extended "Today in Parliament" programme which took place some months ago; and, in connection with that, may I plead that if they do it again the programme comes before "A Book at Bedtime" and not afterwards. On a lighter note, before I leave the recommendations, may I loudly proclaim my support for Recommendation No. 147 about dubbed applause. It drove me completely off "Dad's Army" and it interferes with the charming contributions of Miss Pam Ayres when she is reciting "Me Poems".
However, to resume, I have made my point which is that somehow or other it looks as if there may have been a grave omission in the report. This is so unlikely that there must be some good reason, or has the Committee failed to see the wood for the trees? I, for one, should like to 997 know. Perhaps I am alone in taking this view, which is in line, as your Lordships may remember, with views that I have expressed many times in your Lordships' House. I shall always remember the only time that I had a really long talk with Lord Reith, as he had then become. We were both wearing Sappers' ties. Were we both mad, married or Methodist? Married, yes. If not Methodist, certainly non-conformist. Mad? Perhaps I am; but he was not.
There is more that I can say especially about the value to civilisation, as we know it, of the BBC's External Services, but I concentrate on the single point that I have made and continue to make. Perhaps the White Paper, when it appears, will solve my problem and the Government will face up to the possibility that a franchise somewhat similar to Clause 13(2) of the Licensing Agreement might properly apply to all channels. The paucity of even the present coverage contributes perhaps to the success of the Scottish National Party in beguiling some of the people of Scotland by virtue of the fact that they are kept so largely in ignorance of affairs in Parliament. One broadcast I remember—"Yesterday in Parliament"—gave a long report of our debates on the Criminal Law Bill which did not apply to Scotland at all.
I also resist the temptation to range into any reference to the BBC Scotland, as the noble Lord, Lord Annan, hoped someone would. It is too late to go on with that, and the present organisation of the BBC Scotland nevertheless is open to considerable criticism, but that can wait. On the other hand, I would reinforce what the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, said about Lord Taylor of Gryfe's speech, and say how strongly I agree with his support of Lord Taylor's case, and how much in Scotland we appreciate the services which that service renders to the nation.
I always remember a powerful television panel on broadcasting in which the chairman of the Columbia Broadcasting Corporation, Mr. Fred Friendly, took part. I do not know if you remember him, but the noble Lord, Lord Willis, described him to me yesterday as one of the greatest broadcasting experts. He was a tremendous character. He roundly declared that the USA had made a great mistake in that when they first issued 998 broadcast franchises they had failed to include an obligatory condition similar to that contained in Clause 13(2) of the BBC licence to which I have referred. I should like to see such a clause in every future British franchise, both radio and television. in saying this, I must give the greatest credit to the efforts of the IBA, who are endeavouring to ensure that local broadcasting carries adequate news about current Parliamentary affairs with the local connection to which other noble Lords have referred. Well done!More strength to their elbow!
Violence has been mentioned and, in passing, I would say that one of the annoying things about it is the trailers of "coming shortly". They always seem to pick out the violent crisis of the coming film and show it for 40 seconds, doubling up the violence which is going to come in the ensuing programme anyway. I agree very strongly with the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, in contending that the BBC should not worry about ratings. Their income is not dependent on ratings and they should bear that in mind.
I have made, for me, a long speech and I make no apology, so confident am I in the strength of my case. I thank your Lordships for listening so patiently and especially the noble Lord, Lord Willis, for giving me this opportunity, metaphorically speaking, to nail my Parliamentary colours to the wireless mast. I would only add that, like the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, I have a train to catch, and if this debate goes on very much longer I shall have to beg to be excused from waiting until the end.
§ 8.49 p.m.
§ Lord PARRY
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this debate. Having had to be absent from the Chamber for a part of it, I made my apologies to its principals and I trust your Lordships will accept amends. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak because I have had the advantage of serving for some nine years on two advisory committees of the Independent Broadcasting Authority. For five years I was a member of the Advisory Council for Wales, and for four years I was a member of the General Advisory Council. This gave me the opportunity to gain 999 some insight into the workings of the Independent Broadcasting Association. Like other Peers, I was not enthusiastic for it in the early days of its proposed creation. Now I understand more about it and its workings, and I wish to speak particularly from the basis of that knowledge and about one other item to which I have almost been invited to speak, as were other Peers from the nations rather than the regions by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, the author of this report.
Your Lordships may know by now that Wales is my native country. Some of you may even know that I come from that part of it—Pembrokeshire—which is perhaps wrongly known as, "Little England beyond Wales". I submit that it is in fact "Little Wales beyond Wales" and that in the South of it, in the lowland plateau, we have a linguistic tradition which associates more with the Southern coasts of Britain and the development of a pattern which, although it owes a great deal to the native language, has had incursions into it, from time to time, that have enriched it and made it a particular and peculiar part of the culture of Wales. In addition, not too far away in the North of my county there is a Welsh spoken which is as rich in value and tradition as any spoken anywhere in Wales, and so your Lordships will accept my correction. I hope, of that historical analogy when I say that Pembrokeshire is "Little Wales beyond Wales".
It is in that setting that I, as a non-Welsh speaker, choose to speak to the linguistic problem which is implicit in this debate and which is a part of the Annan Report. Although I classify myself as a non-Welsh speaker, I have a great affection for my mother tongue. There is in Wales, as in Britain, this affection, this well-disposed attitude to the Welsh language; and many of us who have little Welsh deeply regret it and those who have none would wish to support its continuance.
Before I elaborate on this theme—and I shall not push it too far—I should like to make one or two general observations about this massive report, the sixth report in the short history of broadcasting. You have already been told that it has 752 pages and 174 recommendations. I have been as impressed 1000 as others by the work of the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and the members of his Committee, in preparing this document. It is full of ideas, suggestions and recommendations: it has even been said in this debate that there are too many recommendations and too many ideas. It is a readable document, as we have already been told, and I would add, not simply out of courtesy but out of deep respect, my own congratulations to those already expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Annan, for the thorough way in which he and his Committee have performed their difficult task.
My noble friend Lord Willis, in what I thought was a superbly provocative speech, launched the debate with comments, criticisms and praise. As one might expect, there have been sharp reactions to some of the recommendations from vested interests. They were to be expected. W. C. Field once said that anybody who hates children can't be all bad ". I think that probably the greatest tribute to the Annan Report is that it has succeeded in annoying in places all the vested interests and has made them look to their laurels and defend themselves. These defences were to be expected, but no doubt they will all he carefully considered when the Government come to make up their minds on what to do about the recommendations.
Both the BBC and the IBA accept much of what the Committee has said. They have been complimentary about the basic philosophy expressed; namely, that they, the broadcasters, were committed to good broadcasting and wanted to see an increased range of choice in viewing and listening, greater diversity in the provision of programmes and encouragement of creative effort. These are most laudable objectives, with which we have all in part already agreed. I think even the Independent Broadcasting Authority will agree with about two-thirds of the 150 recommendations, and 150 out of 174 is probably more than the score expected by the noble Lord, Lord Annan. My impression is that this would be the balance of the support expressed in this debate.
In my experience, as a member of the Authority's Welsh Committee and later of its General Advisory Council, I found that such ideals were prominent in the minds of the IBA staff and of the members of 1001 these committees. I must be fair—your Lordships might not expect it—and say that I found it also in the minds of those contracting independent companies. I was also impressed by the degree of cooperation and understanding between those in the Authority, representing the public service element, and in the commercial companies, whose concern was not only to be financially viable and ensure a reasonable return for their shareholders—and here I would take up the point of my noble friend—but they were committed to providing as good a television service as possible for their particular areas. There can be no doubt in my mind of the remarkable success of this plural, regionalised, diversified structure, master-minded with consummate skill in the 1950s by Sir Robert Fraser, the chief architect of the Independent Television Service.
I should like now to come to the main concern, which is the situation in Wales. Your Lordships will be aware that one of the most important recommendations, so far as Wales is concerned, was the emphatic endorsement of the Crawford recommendations that the fourth UHF channel be pre-empted for the special linguistic needs of the Principality. Most people in the United Kingdom are by now aware that there are two languages in Wales, although many do not, I think, fully appreciate the complexities flowing from this. This House, of course, has notable exceptions to that. There was a time not so long ago when the vast majority of the inhabitants of the Principality were Welsh speaking. Even as late as 1881, half the population spoke Welsh despite heavy immigration. Even in 1914, just before the outbreak of the First World War, there were about 1 million Welsh speakers in a population of just 2½million.
Since then we have suffered a catastrophic decline. Today there are fewer than half a million Welsh speakers in a population of 2.7 million: a true proportion of less than one in five. As the noble Lord, Lord Annan, points out on page 412 of his Report, this ancient language, derived from one of the Celtic tongues and spoken long before the English language was ever heard, is fighting for survival. The reasons for its decline are many and complex and I do not propose to go into them. But it is generally accepted 1002 that broadcasting and, in particular, television has done more to erode the language than any other single factor in the past two or three decades. The danger was foreseen years ago and institutions and individuals in the Principality have been campaigning continuously for a television structure which will provide a reasonable service in the Welsh language for those whose mother tongue is Welsh. Much evidence on this matter was submitted to the Pilkington Committee and later to the committee chaired by Sir Stewart Crawford, and again to the Annan Committee.
The Crawford Committee recommended that the fourth channel should be allocated to a separate service in which Welsh language programmes would be given priority and that this service should be introduced as soon as possible without waiting for a decision on the use of the fourth channel in the rest of the United Kingdom.
Two years ago, the Government accepted this recommendation in principle and set up a working party under the chairmanship of Mr. J. W. M. Siberry to consider how this could best be done. Now the Annan Committee, in turn, has endorsed this recommendation in these terms. This is Recommendation 101, on page 483:The proposals of the Siberry working party for establishing a fourth television channel in Wales broadcasting in the Welsh language should be implemented as soon as the Government can find the necessary finance. It should be operated jointly by the BBC and IBA at least until the new (Open Broadcasting) Authority is established".That was very much in line with what was recommended by the Welsh Committee of the Authority. Their submission was made public at the beginning of 1975. It is my own view, except that I see no need for an Open Broadcasting Authority.
Here I support the contention so strongly put by the noble Lord, Lord Willis. My plea today—and I stand behind the Government—is that they should now take urgent action. The hour is late, and if there is much more delay the effort to establish a viable television service for Wales, in which the Welsh language is given a chance to survive, may be too late to be effective. I would go so far as to suggest that the fourth channel be allocated to Wales, almost as a feasibility study for the general allocation.
1003 The noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, reminded us of the financialcaveat—I have quoted it again—about the fourth channel recommendations, and we are all aware of the country's financial problems. But we are now faced in Wales with the possibility of the extinction of an ancient language. Ten, 15, 20 years have gone by and many voices have been raised. There have been excuses all along the line to delay what many in Wales consider to be a reasonable request. I think we have heard in this debate reservations expressed that might well delay it further beyond the next two years or so. What people are asking for is the provision of a service in which about 24 or 25 hours are available in the Welsh language, without limiting the chances for non-Welsh speakers to follow favoured programmes in English.
As I understand it, there is some misconception about the amount of Welsh language. The proposed fourth channel service, jointly operated by ITV and the BBC, will contain as much, if not more, programming in English as in Welsh and that service will be a bilingual one. If the proposal is implemented, it will, of course, mean that the six or more hours provided by BBC Wales, and the same amount by H TV—the old Harlech Television—would be transferred to this fourth channel; some 12 to 13 hours in all. This would solve two problems. It would appease those in Wales who do not understand the language, and who find it irritating when programmes appear which they cannot understand; on the other hand, it would go some way to meet the demands of Welsh speakers—some way, because we cannot go all the way—and would allow room for expansion on the total output in the language from the present 12 to 13 hours to the figure suggested by the Crawford Report of 24 to 25 hours a week. In the words that Sir Stewart Crawford used:The cost would represent an investment in domestic, cultural and social harmony in the United Kingdom; the money spent would, in effect, be aimed at supporting within the home the other central and local government expenditure which is being incurred to satisfy Welsh aspirations".We will not satisfy them all, as I have said.
An old friend of mine Professor Jac L. Williams, a political nationalist, has a 1004 different view. He challenges the view in the Annan Report. He says that the channels now existing should continue to carry their share of the Welsh language, because he fears the dismissal—the Annan Report talks about this—into a kind of ghetto station for the Welsh language, where programmes would be followed by a diminishing number of Welshmen and, in fact, the language would be impaired. He would like to see broadcasting in Welsh on Radio Wales BBC, with a little less Welsh on BBC TV and on HTV Wales, and he claims that there should be a little less Welsh on BBC 2 and an hour a day in Welsh on the fourth channel. That would not be a popular view in Wales, but it is a view and I have tried to express a broad one.
Perhaps your Lordships will allow me two minutes only on local radio. The report holds out hope for further local radio stations. Cardiff and Newport are listed as possible areas within Wales that might have them. It acknowledges the real successes of local radio stations. Swansea Sound, one of the three smallest in Britain, is seen as one of the major successes. This leads me to two further points. One is the consolidation of success in local radio, and the other is making good radio and television reception available in those areas still deprived of them. This brings me to the point made by the noble Earl about piped radio, and I give some support for piped radio and television services.
I should like, in closing, to use Swansea Sound as an example. I would argue that successful stations should have, where technically possible, their areas of reception extended sufficiently to give them a wider audience without weakening their unique local value. I am advised that boosting the signal strength could cause difficulties, and that a better way would be to establish a booster sub-station or sub-stations, working on a different band to complete coverage of the logical area. In this way, the Swansea Sound station could happily cater for the South-West Wales peninsula as far as Aberystwyth in the North, and all places lying within the are West of Aberavon in the South.
I come to the end—and your Lordships will be glad of that—of what I have to say. I want to say that the Home Secretary having now set up a Working Party to look 1005 further into the practical problems of the Crawford, Siberry, Annan recommendations should now follow through and set aside the necessary funds to allow a start to be made. I do not know that the one in Wales would cost a great deal. No doubt my noble friend will be able to correct me, and say how much. But I have no doubt that it will be less than is regularly spent on less worthy pursuits. Certainly, it would be a popular move in Wales. I conclude with an observation of Professor George Steiner in a television programme "The Tongues of Men "transmitted by the BBC some weeks ago that:languages need protection as much as rare species or threatened environments".My mother tongue, although I failed to learn it from the tongue of my mother, is not just part of the heritage of Wales. It is part of the heritage of these islands of Great Britain, and I think as much your Lordships' concern—as you have shown—as mine.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Lord REDCLIFFE-MAUD
My Lords, I have no special qualification to intervene at this stage, and I shall try to be very brief. I have a profound interest to declare, and that is that we should sustain and enhance the astonishing reputation which broadcasters and Britain over the last 50 years have built up, and in everything I say I shall be trying to observe what the noble Lord, Lord Annan, so rightly advised us all, not, as it were, to speak for or against the BBC or independent television or anything else, but simply to consider what will be, in the short and long runs, in the best interests of the public of this country.
I must pay my tribute to the chairman of the Committee. Having tried at times to be chairman of other committees, I can speak only with envy of the skill with which the chairman has combined conciliation of different interests of the various members of his Committee, with a lucidity in the Report which does not mask the points on which, quite rightly at each stage, one or two members of the Committee had their reservations. It seems to me, in that and many other respects, a model Report and we are all most grateful for it, both to the chairman and to his colleagues.
1006 We must not at this stage take time noting what I regard as perhaps the most important things in the Report, which are just the assertions of simple facts which the Government have already, thank God !indicated that they agree with, about the importance of maintaining the independence of television from political interference, from commercial interests and from any other interests than those of the public of this country. In particular, I salute the recognition that the present and peculiar system under which the BBC is financed of receiving the licence fee has been proclaimed as the right one, and at least as a symbol of the independence that the Government wish the British Broadcasting Corporation to have.
I should have liked the committee to advise the Government on the criteria by which to judge whether to meet a request for a rise in the licence fee by the BBC. My feeling is that, at times like this, the Government have been wise and statesmanlike. As an example, they permitted an increase in the grant to the Arts Council of Great Britain to take account of the effects of inflation. The Government should also take note of the fact that the British Broadcasting Corporation in particular—I say this in no way intending to disparage Independent Television but simply because this applies only to the BBC and its licence fee—have done a very good job. In my opinion, they must continue to do that job in order to enhance the quality of life and promote the fine arts in this country.
At this time nothing is more important than that the livelihood of artists should be sustained. I think I am right in saying that in 1976 the BBC spent rather more than the Arts Council grant on music, drama, literature and poetry. It seems to me to be totally in the interests of us all that a small part of the licence fee should deliberately and openly be applied not so much to patronage of the arts as to the impresario function which the BBC so rightly performs.
There is, however, one recommendation which, if I were the Government, I could not accept. It concerns local radio. I will be brief because the subject has already been adequately covered by many of the previous speakers. I must declare a special interest. I have been involved in local government for many years, and I feel that 1007 local radio is one of the instruments by which the gap between the local governors and the local community can best be bridged. In recent years, one of the failings not only of the BBC but also of Independent Television has been their apparent ignorance of what local government is about, and how important it is. They appear to be ignorant of the art of inducing listeners to believe that local government is not the most boring subject of all, at mention of which the set should be switched off. I am particularly anxious that local radio, which has made a very good start on both independent radio and on BBC local radio, should not be curtailed in the way which Annan suggests.
Turning to finance, the noble Lord, Lord Annan, mentioned that the local community pays for swimming baths and suggested that it is not suitable for a contribution to be made towards local radio from the national licence fee. However, the noble Lord forgets that two-thirds of all expenditure by local authorities comes out of taxpayer's pockets, although it is the local authority which decides how to spend that money. Only one third of all local authority expenditure comes out of the local ratepayers' pockets. Therefore, there is no ground for doubting that part of the licence fee should be spent on local radio. What is more important, for the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, and the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, organisations of the size of the IBA and the BBC must look to their local roots in order to find out whether or not they are being monopolised by the Metropolis. For this reason alone there is everything to be said, unless there are overwhelming reasons to the contrary, for leaving local radio where it is. It should become neither a purely commercial nor a purely public service in the technical sense. Least of all should it be handed over to a new authority.
This brings me to the most important and most difficult of the questions before us today: whether the Annan Committee is right or wrong in what it says about the fourth channel and, in particular, about the creation of an Open Broadcasting Authority.
I have very much the same views as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, expressed in what I thought was a most 1008 helpful speech; that is, that this is something that neither the Government nor any of us ought to have jumped into too quickly. If we can deal with the problem of the Principality without holding them up, then of course we should all be delighted and the argument is an extremely tempting one, which was so ably put by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, that the whole thing is ready, the buttons only need twisting, so why go to the trouble of trying even to think about setting up a new authority and how to finance it. That is a very tempting proposal, particularly when it is put as ably as it has been in the House today. However, I implore noble Lords and the Government to resist the temptation to take a too quick decision, because I believe that on this depends something of very great importance, not only to my children, but to my grandchildren and their children, because it will be exceedingly difficult to go back on whatever decision is now taken.
Supposing we yield, as the Annan Committee has refused to yield, to the argument that the second channel should go to ITV. If we yield to that, we may be wrong in thinking, as I know the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, and other people who have spoken, think, perfectly honestly, that the IBA is capable of so controlling without interference the work of the programme companies, that we can have the best of both worlds; that we can have the same extension of quality television that has undoubtedly followed in the BBC's work through their having BBC 2, that we can have through the IBA such controls that the same will follow if we have ITV 1 and ITV 2.
Despite that fact, which has nothing to do with prejudice about profits or about what some of us thought 20 or 30 years ago when the original dispute arose about independent television, if you are financed by advertising there is, at least, a powerful motive for seeing that the programmes reach as wide a viewing public as possible, so that you, as a programme company—as IBA or whoever it may be—can persuade still larger numbers of advertisers to put still larger amounts of their shareholders' and their own money into advertising through your channel. There is no sin in this. This is part of the inherent reason for having independent television and financing anything by advertising; but it means that you are 1009 asking one hell of a lot of a programme company if they are to do as the BBC does, and as the BBC has every inducement to do because it is not financed in this way—to see that young writers of plays are discovered, encouraged, given their chance with their play produced, as every week a new radio play is put on by the BBC. The same thing happens with new music. For example, Benjamin Britten before the war and before anybody had heard of him was given work by the drama department of the BBC, simply because they were looking out for talent and they wanted to give an unknown person the chance of being heard.
All these considerations—which apply, on the positive side, to the BBC when they are trying to lead the public on to enjoy things that they might not expect to enjoy but which, when they have heard or seen, they do enjoy—seem to me, when one is considering a programme company, to be competing with the other consideration that they want the wider audience.
§ Lord PLOWDEN
My Lords, when the noble Lord refers to the proposal by the Committee that the OBA should be financed in large part by advertising, in fact by advertising or grants from an independent body, is he really suggesting that it should be a third programme for the 1313C, or is he suggesting that it should be something financed by Government funds?
§ Lord REDCLIFFE-MAUD
My Lords, I am so glad that the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, has followed my argument because that is precisely what I was coming to. It has been said that, in fact, as the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, so eloquently said, the Annan Committee is not wise in suggesting that the OBA could finance itself except by advertising and, therefore, if one gave this channel to the OBA as articulated in the Annan Report, in fact one would be relying on these commercial considerations to see that these essentially minority programmes —these exciting new programmes—are put on.
The noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, I thought made a devastating case for not feeling at all happy that the objects of the Annan Committee in establishing the OBA would be achieved if they were financed in the way that at any rate the 1010 Annan Committee has suggested and others have interpreted; and let us be careful in assuming that any of us are right in knowing exactly what would follow from the adoption of the proposals in the Annan Committee for financing the OBA. This is my problem, and this is why I cannot myself go along this evening as I should like to, with this alternative to the commercial alternative and plead with the Government that they should as quickly as possible say that they will set up the Open Broadcasting Authority.
I cannot do this, because at the moment the case has not been made. I plead, therefore, that we should all hold our horses, and should not be led, either by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham or the noble Lord, Lord Willis, or any of those who, with infinitely more knowledge of the finance and of the considerations that I have dared to touch on than I have, do plead with the Government. Before taking a quick decision and going ahead with that, I say let us wait and satisfy ourselves that whatever we do, whether it is ITV 2 or whether it is OBA or something different, the decision on the fourth channel is likely in five or ten years' time to have resulted in the kind of improvement in the quality of television over the whole spectrum both BBC and ITV that has, on the whole, followed over the last 50 years, and which, very naturally, the IBA has said will follow if only they have the same opportunity that the BBC have of a second channel. I find it a very powerful argument from the IBA, and they have made it to me when I was recently inquiring on behalf of the Gulbenkian Foundation.
However, I cannot overlook the basic economic fact, which seems to me difficult to get over; namely, that any organisation relying on advertising, compared with one relying on licence fee or something of that kind, cannot resist the pressure of the instantly popular or the quite soon popular, which all through history has not proved to be the encouragement to new artists, to new forms of art, which in the old days the patrons, like the Church, the rich, the aristocrats and the city States gave, and which in this age must very largely be given by our broadcasting authorities.
§ Lord WINDLESHAM
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down—he 1011 referred to me in his very attractive speech and I hesitated to interrupt—does he not feel that the argument he has just put forward is exactly that which was put forward against commercial broadcasting at all in 1954, and yet Lord Annan and his Committee have said in their Report that they believe that over the period they were reviewing, since Pilkington, the quality both of Independent Television programmes and of the BBC has improved?
§ Lord REDCLIFFE-MAUD
My Lords, if I may add just a word on that, No. The answer is that the same does not apply. Where those of us who were highly suspicious, as I frankly was, of commercial television when it was first being discussed were wrong was in not realising the tremendous advantage from the performers' and artists' point of view of having competition. When you have established that, you can find advantage, though I think that it is a very great tribute to the BBC that they have not let their standards go down in consequence of the competition of the ratings, which of course they have, quite rightly, had to observe. When you come to the question of giving the fourth channel to the ITV, all you can do is to do as Lord Carrington did and suggest that we might have the best of both worlds; in other words, that we might give it to the ITV, but in such a way that we could be confident that the IBA would be able to see satisfied such conditions as would produce the same kind of result for which the Annan Committee were asking.
§ Lord WILLIS
My Lords, is the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, not aware that the point he has just made is exactly that which the ITV companies have put forward as a suggestion; namely, that they can run the fourth channel on exactly the same lines, or very similar lines, to those which the Annan Committee laid down, but can do it at very little financial cost and financial risk to the country?
§ Lord REDCLIFFE-MAUD
My Lords, I am very well aware that that is what they have said, and what I am sure they believe. It is exactly that which I am not prepared to accept.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ Lord BOSTON of FAVERSHAM
My Lords, although very tempted to do so, I shall resist the temptation to become further involved in this very interesting part of the debate which has developed over the last few minutes. I should like to join other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lord Willis for initiating this debate in a contribution which met the highest broadcasting requirements—it was educational, enlightening and entertaining.
I have no actual declaration of interest to make, but I used to work for the BBC and until 1964 I helped in producing current affairs programmes. I should also like to join in the congratulations offered to the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and the other members of his Committee on the superb job that they have done in producing this report. It would be astonishing if we all found ourselves in agreement with all the findings and recommendations of that report. However, whether we do so or not, I am sure that we can say without reservation that the report is the result of immense hard work. It is gripping and will become—whatever one's views may be on particular recommendations—an invaluable work of reference both in the formative period immediately ahead and beyond.
I emphasise all that because I do not want these general remarks to be diminished by what I have to say on one particular aspect. Indeed, I find myself in broad agreement with much of the tenor of the report. It is impossible to deal with everything, especially at this time of night. If one is to make a tangible contribution now, it is almost inevitable that one must dwell upon one or two proposals with which one disagrees.
I want to deal with the proposals for local sound broadcasting. At page 205 the report says: "…local radio is in a mess". That is about as total a condemnation as one could get. I fully expected such a flat finding of guilt to be followed by a detailed analysis of the 1013 operations of the local stations. I imagined that all the evidence necessary to sustain such a finding would be adduced. What does one find? Chapter 8 deals with BBC local radio in four paragraphs; Chapter 11 deals with IBA local radio in 13 paragraphs. There is also, of course, a separate chapter, Chapter 14, on the proposal for a Local Broadcasting Authority, and that takes up 24 pages. Incidentally, much of that is taken up with cab1,2 services—a rather odd annexation in this context despite the attempted justification. There is not really a great deal more analysing of this subject elsewhere in the report. I do not doubt for a moment that the intentions of the Committee—and I bear in mind that Mr. Tom Jackson and Miss Marghanita Laski had notes of dissent—in putting forward their recommendations were good, but good intentions do not always produce sound results, if that is the right phrase to use in this context.
Of course, as we have heard, the basic proposal is to remove local sound broadcasting from both the BBC and the IBA, and set up a local broadcasting authority, and not to have competing stations in particular places and have diversity of management and financing. It seems to me that if—and I do not accept this—local broadcasting is in a mess now it would, I fear, be in even more of a mess if these proposals went ahead. One of the bases—and I know this is a subject which has been touched upon but perhaps not sufficiently thoroughly in one or two particular aspects—of the Committee's decision on this matter was its view that there were not enough frequencies to enable local radio to compete and expand satisfactorily under the present system of BBC and IBA stations, and the matter of frequencies has not been debated today.
What in fact is the position? The facts are that there are enough medium wave frequencies for 85 BBC stations and 60 IBA ones, if that was to be the division, to provide 94 per cent. daytime coverage on medium wave frequencies. Or with, say, another 45 to 50 VHF stations there could be 85 per cent. to 90 per cent. coverage for 24 hours a day. Therefore, in my submission the Annan Committee was quite wrong on frequencies. I wonder 1014 whether the fact that this particular line of argument has not been recently pressed and pursued means that if the Committee were still sitting today it would be having second thoughts upon this particular subject. Whether that means that it is now accepted that the report is wrong in its conclusions on this I do not know, but even if the Committee were now to acknowledge its mistake, or misapprehension, that would not be enough. For to have been wrong on so fundamental a point to have based its case in part on such a major misapprehension is to undermine the very foundations upon which the whole edifice of the local broadcasting authority concept has been built.
What about the financing of local stations! I am not going to dwell upon that in detail tonight; it would take far to long to do so. But I will mention, in addition to those points that have been made, one or two extra points. One reason for the Committee's decision to recommend the removal of local radio from the BBC is the Committee's view that it is unfair on people in remote and other places not served by local stations that part of their licence fee should be paid to provide others with local radio. But let us pause to get it in perspective. In the first place, the frequencies position that I have mentioned would allow the expansion that I have suggested. Secondly, the cost of the 45 stations, if that were to be pursued, would be 25p from the existing licence fee. For Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland another 20 stations are planned, envisaged, by the BBC. That would cost another 12p out of the licence fee.
Taking the picture overall briefly, so far as the present 20 BBC stations are concerned they cost £4 million to £5 million a year out of a total licence revenue of some £220 million to £230 million. I hope that that perhaps helps to place this somewhat more in perspective. In any case, whatever view one takes of those matters, it is a little odd that the Committee should make, or seek to make, so much of its argument that it is unfair for people in areas not covered by BBC local radio to subsidise those in areas which are, and then to contemplate without question the financing of local radio by advertising.
One wonders whether it did not occur to the Committee that those who live in 1015 areas not served by local commercial stations and who buy nationally marketed products which are advertised on local radio stations are helping to pay for those very stations—are in fact helping to subsidise those who are in areas covered by such stations. It is remarkable that such a simple point should not have been grasped. I cannot believe that it was so, but it seems that the Committee, or at any rate part of it, has been the victim of the sort of sleight of hand that goes on in the mind, if the metaphors are not too mixed; the belief that when we buy a licence we are paying for something but that when we buy goods we are not also paying for the advertising of those goods.
There is another illogicality in the Committee's approach. The report argues that the BBC is often—this has been said by several noble Lords, including Lord Willis—too metropolitan in outlook. Yet here is the Committee, or a majority of it, proposing to take away one of the very elements that keeps the BBC in touch with local matters, and of course the traffic is two ways. The BBC's national network radio uses material from its local stations. I understand that every month the network uses up to 200 inserts from local stations and that the centre often tips off local stations about national news that is likely to have some local implications.
Moreover, I understand that the BBC is planning to exploit still further this network use of its local braodcasting system. As part of its plans for coverage of the next General Election—remembering, of course, the mammoth Election night results programme—the BBC has already told the Press Association that, for the first time, it will no longer use its coverage but instead, because of its own local news coverage, the BBC will rely on its own sources for all information on television and radio.
The Annan Report would stop that sort of development. Indeed, its proposals would make the BBC more likely to become more metropolitan, not less. Incidentally, I believe that BBC Radio 4 missed an excellent opportunity at the recent county council elections when it failed to provide us with a late night running results and analysis service, coupled with the support it could have 1016 got from its local broadcasting stations. I was astonished when I found that it was not going to provide that service. It is perhaps not for someone on these Benches to want greater publicity for the recent elections, but they were important and there was considerable interest in them. I hope that whoever was responsible for that failure will see that we are not deprived again, when the situation may well be rather different so far as the results are concerned.
Thus, there is this productive interchange between the local stations and the network, with extensive use of local radio for news and reporting on the network includine the external services which make use of them. Apart from that, individual local stations have made some outstanding achievements in serving their local communities. BBC Radio Leeds was one of the pioneers of the "Walk in and Talk concept, as it came to be called, and others have followed. Minority groups and a wide range of interests are being catered for. The noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, mentioned that delightful lady Pam Ayres, and it is worth reflecting that she was broadcasting on BBC Radio Oxford for about two years before she emerged on the national scene so successfully.
Local commercial radio stations, too, are making excellent contributions, such as that of LBC, to which I am a frequent listener. It is extraordinary that the Committee should have decided to cast aside the experience and expertise, enthusiasm and achievements built up by the local radio system since it began experimentally 10 years ago, and that it should apparently have contemplated casting this aside without the most thorough research.
One asks, what of the career prospects of those who would work in the multiplicity of, for all practical purposes, unconnected stations? What sort of career structure would they have? Where would they go when they wanted to gain wider or different broadcasting expertise and how would they set about it? How would the BBC network man or woman have the chance to take a turn in local broadcasting without cutting himself or herself off from the chance to return to other spheres? One wonders how an effective system of training could be set 1017 up. How could it keep in touch with wider developments? How would it work? Where would its people come from? Where would they get the necessary expertise? And where would they go if they felt the need for experience elsewhere, either for a spell or for longer? The existing system can and does cope with these various problems.
Superficially—and I am sorry to use that word in the context of a report that has so many merits and such scholarship —it may seem attractive to say, "Some things are wrong so let's devise an alternative system". But these proposals on local broadcasting really will not do. I hope that they will be rejected and that the BBC and the IBA will be allowed to proceed.
§ 9.42 p.m.
Earl ALEXANDER of TUNIS
My Lords, as have the previous speakers, should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Willis, for initiating this debate. I believe that we are all familiar with his great knowledge and experience of broadcasting. I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and his Committee for the mammoth task that they undertook despite the breadth of their terms of reference which, I understand, concerned everything to do with broadcasting except the overseas services. It was a beautifully compiled and very readable report.
Because of the lateness of the hour, I shall abandon some of the points that I had intended to raise. They have been well covered by previous speakers and with more clarity and authority than I could have brought to hear. I shall confine myself to the question of the fourth channel. Not long ago, a radical proposal was outlined by the broadcaster Robin Ray in a Radio Times article which was never published. It suggested that there a joint Authority should be formed consisting of the IBA and the BBC and mainly devoted to sport. I should like that to be expanded to include current affairs and matters of general interest.
In the United States, more people watch sports programmes than all other types of programme combined. I believe that a joint Authority of the nature that I have just mentioned might satisfy the increasing interest in sports and similar 1018 activities. Very briefly, I believe that the joint IBA/BBC Authority would be a classic cost-cutting exercise. It is suggested that the staff, the facilities and the costs would be shared. This would be a radical departure and contrary to the noble Lord's recommendations. It is suggested that the revenue would be raised through advertising, but that is not so outrageous as it may seem. After all, advertisements already appear on racecourses, football stadiums, racing cars and so on, and I cannot believe that they are for the spectators at the site; they are obviously for the millions of television viewers who watch the sport on the BBC. believe that this proposal will at least protect the viewer from further licence increases, and yet allow the BBC, together with the IBA, to enjoy a substantial income without necessarily changing their functions; in other words, the IBA would still handle the advertising, the contracts, and so on, and the BBC would remain separate from such a structure. I cannot believe that it would be contentious.
The other advantage would be the quality of the reporting—that would improve. I believe that a concentration of expertise would be drawn to this new Authority, which would attract the creative and the commercial skills. Further, a duplication of camera teams and back-up equipment, which is essential for outside broadcasting, would no longer be necessary. Of course this is not noticed by the viewer, but it would be part of a major cost-cutting exercise. Whether channel four would be devoted entirely to sport or such interest it is not for me to say, but one can obviously appreciate that a channel which is devoted mainly to sport would allow people to watch a complete tennis match, as opposed to being lobbed from Wimbledon to Wembley, and back again.
Very briefly, I believe that such an authority will extend the present range and variety of programmes, and will not be a further burden on the viewer's pocket. I believe that such an authority should be considered in the light of my remarks, and I think that it would be cheap in the long run and would not once again demand from the viewer, who has no come-back, a further increase in his licence.
§ 9.47 p.m.
§ Lord WIGG
My Lords, as I get older I realise that I have lost my speed, but I have come to the conclusion, after seven hours, that I am losing my stamina. However, I am determined to stay on and say what I want to say, not because I think it would influence the Government —those hopes have long departed from me—or indeed that it would influence anyone, but I feel that a future Gibbon, when he comes to write the last volume on the fall of the British Empire (or what is left of it) might be interested to read the debate that is taking place in this House today, and the debate which will take place in another place next week, as well as subsequent discussions.
I should like to start what I have to say by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Willis, for giving me at least the opportunity of saying what I want to say, and I can join with complete sincerity in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Annan, for what I regard as a very remarkable report. It reeks of midnight oil, and diligence, and, if I may say so, wisdom. I do not agree with every word of it. Indeed, the noble Lord would not be complimented if I said that I did, because he would then begin to have grave doubts about himself, and he would be right. But it is, very truly, a remarkable report. The television industry, and the viewers of television and the listeners to radio, have a great debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and his colleagues.
First, I should like to turn to a remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, in his Fleming Lecture; and it seems to me to stem from a misconception to which I feel your Lordships should pay attention. He said:We went into orbit for two and a half years. We re-entered earth's atmosphere"—and he said that he was now extinct. But he went on to say:During our existence, we could call on the BBC and IBA and on any broadcasting company for facts and figures, we could demand information, we could summon them to meetings and insist exactly on how those meetings should be conducted".Stuff and nonsense£ His Lordship and his Committee had no powers of any kind whatever. This was a departmental committee set up by the Secretary of 1020 State, based upon the formula common to all weak Ministers and strong civil servants, by which they have inquiries which look utterly respectable but which, at the end of the day, make absolutely sure that from the very word "Go" the mandarins in Whitehall have complete control.
But Lord Annan was not the only person to make that mistake. We had Mr. Robin Day, on the BBC "Talk-in". After all, Mr. Robin Day is a great authority on public affairs. He has had the training of being a Liberal candidate; and if one looks at his examination in those proceedings on behalf of the BBC one sees that he knew every trick in the trade. His first statement was slightly tendentious; just a scratch, just enough to draw a speck of blood from Sir Michael Swann. Sir Michael Swann said, "That's not quite fair", and from that moment onwards Mr. Robin Day was taking jolly good care that he was defending the BBC at every point. But he had not been going very long when he turned to Lord Annan and commented on something that he had said—and perhaps he was envious of the facility with which Lord Annan expressed himself. He said,That's journalism, not chairman…",and then there is "dot, dot, dot"; the next words are missed out. As I always like to check my facts, I got somebody to listen to the recording. There was a clear recording of what happened, and the words the BBC had taken out were these. This is how is should read:That's journalism, not chairman of the Royal Commission".So we have the fact that Lord Annan thought that he had absolute powers, and the BBC, led by Mr. Robin Day, had the clear impression that it was a Royal Commission.
Again, it was not a Royal Commission, and it was not a Select Committee. May I say in parenthesis, I am opposed to Royal Commissions. As Lord Harris knows, I opposed the setting up of the Royal Commission on Gambling. I believe they are a product of a bygone age. The Royal Commission existed and did a job in a day when there was a social class in this country which was well educated, economically independent and yet sufficiently conscious of their public 1021 duty to give their time, experience and wisdom in the public service. That class no longer exists. The overwhelming majority of our fellow countrymen who can stand on two feet have to earn their living, and indeed want to. They have not got the time to sit on Royal Commissions. That is why, if you appoint a Royal Commission, heaven only knows when it is going to report£ I favour the Select Committee.
I want to turn for a moment or two to what the Home Office were at when they set up this Committee, because I think that Lord Annan, although he does not say so, was handicapped from the very word "Go". The terms of reference—and I assume he may well have been consulted about the terms of reference — confined his inquiries on the future of broadcasting to this country. This is to accentuate the fact that we are an island, and that broadcasting, be it television or be it radio, is here in Great Britain.
May I invite your Lordships' attention to a revolution which took place in the world —to Vietnam? Here, the power of the greatest Power on earth was stopped in its tracks by television. And it was not Vietnamese television which did the trick; it was American television. As soon as the American public came to realise, through the exercise of their eyes, by television run by commercial television companies, what their lads were going through and what their lads were being asked to do, they stopped it.
Just as I draw attention to that fact, I make another point. I do not believe that the First World War would have gone on beyond Christmas 1914 if television had existed. I do not believe that the fathers, mothers and wives of Scottish sons and Scottish husbands would have stood it for five minutes had they been able to visualise what happened on that Sunday afternoon at Loos on 25th September, 1917. Or that 60,000, the flower of the country's young men, would die in three hours on the Somme on 1st July, 1916, or if they had seen Jutland, which scuttled the idea of the supremacy of the British Fleet.
I draw attention to another failing, a current failing, of television in this country. It is in its handling of the problem in Northern Ireland. In that connection, I assert this: that the British Army in 1022 Northern Ireland have not had a square deal in the reporting of their duty and the way they have performed it. I go further. I thought that all problems were solvable if you spent enough time and energy on them and devoted yourself to them. I no longer believe that. I believe that some problems are unsolvable. The roots of the conflict are so deep over the centuries that only time can throw up the possibility of a solution. In the ultimate, in Northern Ireland, both sides, both sets of extremists, will have to talk to each other at some stage; and I believe that this great instrument for the educating of public opinion ought to play its part—and it has not.
My Lords, that brings me to the next lesson that I have learned. I was one of those who went into the Lobby in the early 1950s against the idea of television being based on advertising. As a Socialist, I am very conscious about monopolies. I have always believed that the tendency of capitalism was to become monopolist. That is one reason why I am a Socialist. But I have come to see that there is danger in monopoly, whatever form it takes. I am converted to the support of the independent television idea because it brings competition into a field in which it is essential. I should have liked to bandy a few words with the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud. I see that he returns. It is an appropriate moment: almost as if we had rehearsed it. I should have liked to do that because I think that if we want to apply the test of the BBC versus ITV then do not let us go much further than the handling of the news. I am absolutely certain that, when he introduced ITN, Sir Geoffrey Cox did so in the face of considerable opposition and doubt inside independent television itself. But he carried it through and this country owes a great deal to him. I think that the BBC thought that ITV were torpedoing themselves.
If you make a comparison of the handling of the news in depth between "Panorama", on the one hand, and its handling by ITN under Sir Geoffrey Cox on the other, there is no doubt who will win. I agree with Lord Hill that ITN today is not quite what it used to be; but you cannot throw up a Geoffrey Cox every five minutes. Even today in comparing ITN with "Panorama" I find it difficult to conceal the feeling of shame I 1023 had when that BBC whippersnapper still in his knickerbockers was haranguing President Carter. Here, again, is an example of political immaturity which reflects on all of us; because if public opinion could be brought to bear, then "Panorama" would go—as a lot of other things should go inside BBC.
My Lords, I think that the BBC has got to the point when, in fact, it is suffering from "monopolitis". Therefore, while it is heresy to say it, in many ways if a chunk were knocked off BBC and they were given reasons to think, it would be a good thing for the BBC. I do not want to take up too much time, but I want to turn to another aspect of Lord Annan's report. I was a little disturbed. On page 19, paragraph 3.2., he made this remark:It links people, gives the mass audience common topics of conversation, makes them realise that, in experiencing similar emotions, they all belong to the same nation".How very kind£ How very patronising£ The patriotism of the class from which I come does not depend on the sharing of similar emotions with the person next door. It comes because we are heirs to the same heritage, a common culture. One of the things that this report wreaks of—and it was present in the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud—is the kind of belief that culture is stratified.
I reject that concept completely. Culture is not a choice between Pavlova and Pele. Pavlova will appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Radcliffe-Maud; Pete appeals to me. If we both stop to think together for a second, would the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, tell me what is the difference between the disciplines of Pavlova and Pele? They both depend upon iron discipline; they both depend on the physical development of their limbs. They both depend on the control of their minds over their limbs. Both of them are expressing an art.
The difference of course is this: this is really at the base of elitism. I am sure that this is one of the reasons why it appealed to Mr. Jenkins, when he was Home Secretary. The difference is that Pavlova is for the few, and Pele is for the many. It is not a question of emotion at all. May I put it another way: the culture of these islands stems from the 1024 fact that we are an island; it is just small enough for us to share a common heritage and be conscious of it. Whether we live in John O'Groats, Land's End, Liverpool or Lowestoft, if we go and buy fish and chips it is the same fish and the same chips. When we order them we use the same words. When we eat them, the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, will use a knife and fork. For me, the paper—preferably, I presume, the Morning Star—and lots of vinegar. But it is fish and chips and we eat them. We are heirs to the same tradition.
It is not a question of my being emotionally linked to this concept while of course the noble Lord, Lord RedcliffeMaud, goes along and claps his hands at Pavlova. May I say I, too, have seen Pavlova. I do not pretent to understand it but I applaud it. I went more than once and I could ill-afford to pay the price of the ticket. I appreciated it. I appreciate music; I do not understand it. It arouses in me the same emotion as it does in a dog: I want to bark. But still, there it is, my Lords. The BBC tenders to my taste, as indeed it should.
I welcome the continuance of the present set-up. I fear with intense surprise that the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and his colleagues want to alter the name of Independent Television. May I borrow an expression which used to be used in educational circles: parity of esteem. If you are going to have the BBC treated as a national organisation—and the noble Lord, Lord Annan, says on page 25 of his Fleming Lecture that both organisations must be national organisations—why leave one with the title BBC, and treat it as a national organisation. and the other as a regional organisation? There is no longer parity of esteem. As the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, said, it would have taken them out of the first division and put them into the second. And that just will not do.
I should like to turn to another aspect of this problem which has not been looked at. The proposition has been put by almost every speaker and tribute has rightly been paid to the noble Lord. Lord Annan, and his colleagues. But there is something else: almost to a man they have said that British television is the best in the world. How often have I heard that about everything that is 1025 British? The issue is not concerned with its being the best in the world. We are posing the wrong question. Can we afford to have the kind of television that we have got? Can we afford to increase the cost? What is the direct economic cost of television as a whole? What, if I may ask, is the spin-off?
Let us stop for a moment and look at Independent Television. Does anyone suggest for a moment that it does not add to the cost of living? Of course it does. What form does its advertising take?— universally something to eat, something to drink, something to make you smell nice, something to make you look nice, something for the dog, something for the cat and somewhere to go for a holiday—but never, never is there an advertisement saying: "Take your coat off, work a bit harder and keep more regular time", or, "Go to evening classes to improve your standard of technical qualification".
It is all stimulating demand; but it does something else. I need not tell a member of the medical profession that I am not a psychiatrist, but there is another spin-off. It arouses envy; it creates a picture of how I should like my kitchen to look. All the time it is increasing demand in a society which can no longer afford it, and our future Gibbon will note that. We have long since passed the zenith of the standard of life in this country. It can only decline unless there is a major change in the policies of all the political Parties. There is bound to be a continuing fall in the standard of living.
What the cost of television is directly, I do not know. Somebody has said between £300 million and £400 million; but that is not the end of the story. There is no free television. Every television programme has to be paid for by somebody, and if we took the indirect cost and added it on—I do not know what the figure is—even that would not be the whole story, for the reasons I have given. These facts ought to be taken into account. We are not concerned with whether we have the best television in the world: the question is whether we can afford to have the kind of television we have got and whether on a cost-effective basis, it is doing the job that this country needs.
I entirely agree with what underlines a great deal of what the noble Lord, Lord 1026 Annan, said. This is an instrument of infinite power. At the beginning of my remarks—and I shall not keep your Lordships for more than two minutes—I mentioned what happened in Vietnam. I mentioned what I think could have happened with the power of this instrument in 1940—it would have stopped the 1940 war just like that. If it was used directly, it could make a great contribution. That is not all. We do not understand the power of this instrument and I assert my belief—and this is my gift to the future Gibbon—that the impact of broadcasting in all its aspects has a more direct bearing on the future of mankind than has nuclear power. The power of this is infinite. We have only begun to scratch it, and we have seen it—God help us £—in terms of how it amuses us and how we can use it to kill time. And we talk about being civilised people£ This is an instrument God given, another point at which we touch the hem of God's garment. We can use it to enlighten ourselves. We can use it to destroy ourselves. The debate today is, I hope, the first step towards the understanding of that problem.
§ 10.10 p.m.
§ Lord LOVELL-DAVIS
My Lords, everyone has more or less vehemently held views on broadcasting, which we all seem anxious to share with each other this afternoon and evening. For we have 24 speakers in the debate—which is one reason why at this hour I shall restrict myself almost entirely to one specific part of the very broad field covered by the Report. My general view of the report is that it is a very good working paper, which will stimulate thought and make a valuable contribution towards the decisions that have to be made if we are to get the best service that is possible from the forms of broadcasting available to us.
In the case of the much discussed fourth television channel, for instance, one can appreciate that the ITV contractors want it to be ITV 2. They advance their case, stand on their record and present an image which is scarcely any longer that of the robber barons of the medium. But, as other speakers have said, since the story of broadcasting in Britain is one not only of high quality but of innovation, too (perhaps the latest example of which is the use that has been made 1027 of it for the Open University), the Committee's proposal for an Open Broadcasting Authority is an intriguing one that merits serious consideration. Possibly, here is a new chance for experimentation and for extending the use of the medium. And if the principal argument against the idea is that it is financially not viable, then I would suggest that a feasibility study be undertaken to assess if such is the case. We should not assume that a decision must be made hastily, because there is an urgent need for a fourth channel. If it is said that there is a great public demand for another channel, then I, for one, can only say that I am not aware of it. There is a much more pressing need to improve the existing services.
I also agree wholeheartedly with the Committee's recommendations that there should be closer and more effective communication between the broadcasting authorities and the public they serve. I have never cared much for head-counting as an alternative for really finding out people's views on, and demands of, the media. On the other hand, I am not entirely taken with the prospect of elitist groups laying down the law on the kind of broadcasting we should have. Last week, I was one of a fairly large number of people interested in broadcasting who took part in a 13I3C 2 television discussion on the Annan Report, to which my noble friend has just referred. With respect to those involved, it was rather depressing to find that all the familiar faces were there and, by and large, these were the only ones invited to speak. The result was two hours of somewhat boring, anodyne, strait-jacketed chat, which represented to me the very antithesis of the kind of discussion that should go on about broadcasting, and that the Committee's suggestions could create.
During a wide-ranging debate such as this, the many recommendations contained in the report have, of course, been well-aired. I wish, however, to draw your Lordships' attention to radio and, in particular, local radio. This may seem less glamorous as a subject for consideration than the fourth television channel—and, certainly, it received scant attention during the BBC 2 debate I have mentioned—but I conceive it to be a more 1028 immediately important matter and, in my view, the service that local radio provides can be so valuable at the local community level that its coverage should be extended as a matter of priority. The role of radio has changed dramatically during the past 20 years or so, and it is the advance of television that has brought about that change. Before the 1950s, radio was—I was about to say the chief source of entertainment in the home, but perhaps I should rephrase that and say instead almost the sole broadcasting medium, and, as such, had to cover; a whole range of different services—entertainment, news, information, music and so on. But, as television went into more and more homes, radio became less attractive.
Fewer and fewer people were listening at what had formerly been peak listening hours in the evening. In countries such as the United States, the effect on radio stations, dependent, as most were, upon advertising revenue, was disastrous. Sound broadcasting found itself in a highly embarrassing situation; wherever television was available, it captured the home audience. This forced radio people to get down to first principles to find out how they could stay in business —and exactly what purpose radio should serve in the television age. A thorough research programme was started, and in due course it provided some startling facts and pointed the way to the sort of radio that people really wanted, even though they had television.
The first and most important fact was that people no longer looked to radio for entertainment. They turned the radio on for news and other information services, and for music. On looking more closely into the big demand for popular music, they discovered that people switched their attention on and off and that, for most of the time, although they had the radio on they were not concentrating their attention on it but were using it as a companion. Radio had become a companion and service medium rather than a medium of entertainment. It was clear, too, that "peak listening" hours had changed and, while listening figures were still huge during the breakfast-preparing-for-work period, they declined steeply for the rest of the day and fell away almost completely during the evening. In fact, 1029 people were listening at the only time of the day when radio was putting out the greatest amount of news and when they could spare neither the time nor the attention for television.
Once the statistics had been gathered and evaluated a new pattern of sound broadcasting emerged. It could be referred to as the "music and news" pattern, overlaid with a great deal of additional local information: a type of programming designed to meet the public need for news, information and other services, while providing constant companionship for people in and out of the home. This is precisely the pattern that has been followed over here, except that at the time—and for many years afterwards—there were no local radio stations providing services such as local news, traffic reports and other local community services. Listening figures for the national services provided by the BBC simply declined as people found radio a less satisfying or useful medium.
In 1960, when it was thought that the then Government intended to introduce local radio, I visited a number of countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia and so on, to see how local radio worked. It was then that I became aware of the changing pattern of radio. I can only assume that the BBC were, or could easily have become aware, too, of the new role that radio had to play to meet the public need. However, neither then nor for some years did they make any attempt to press for local radio. Indeed, it is my belief that only the threat from the pirate radio stations and the possible eventual introduction of local commercial radio encouraged the BBC to take any real interest in local radio. Even then they appeared to think at first that pop music was all that people wanted, since the companionship appeal of radio was shown by the pirates broadcasting a stream of pop music and very successfully stealing the BBC's listeners. As a result, we were given Radio 1, which was no answer at all to the essential problem, which was to find out what people really wanted from radio.
I have much respect for the role the BBC has played in the development of broadcasting and for the standards it has upheld, but I believe it has failed, possibly for the bureaucratic reasons that so often 1030 stifle enterprise both public and private, to respond to the clear need for a new approach to radio in the television age. Speaking of bureaucracy and the Committee's view about staffing at the top level, I hope that there will be stringent examination into whether or not there is significant waste and overstaffing throughout the Corporation before we accept the case for a steeply increased licence fee. I also believe that the BBC has approached local radio in a half-hearted and penny-pinching way, preserving above all the superiority of the "Big Beeb"—the national services—at the expense of the local stations. There is, of course, an important place for the national services, though we might look carefully at what they are providing as individual services. I am thinking in particular of Radios 1 and 2. But the most important role that radio can play today is that of a supplier of services at local community level: news, traffic, local activities—all those services which feed and develop the sense of community—and through music and its on-air personalities.
The latter, the disc jockey, is often treated with contempt, and some may richly deserve it, but at best he or she is an attractive, intelligent conversationalist, with a serious interest in local affairs, yet with a sense of humour and an ability to communicate with all sorts of people with widely varying interests and points of view. It is, and should be, an exacting job, demanding good taste and judgment, too.
It has been all too easy against a Reithian background, but not at all helpful, to knock the concept of local radio. That may be the reason why the BBC stations have in my view been less dynamic in their approach to local sound broadcasting than the independents. The report states, rather baldly perhaps, thatAt present local radio is in a mess".I should say, rather, that in many respects it has not been thought out carefully enough and, as there has not yet been enough time and money to devote to planning, it is badly structured. And, of course, to some extent, broadcasting generally has been waiting for Annan.
I have never understood why it was decided to stop awarding franchises to independent radio after the first 19 1031 stations, when we could have had many more at virtually little or no charge on the revenue. There are 20 BBC local stations. So, rather absurdly, while there is coverage by both in some areas, there are many cities and towns with no service of local radio of their own at all—to say nothing of the totally deprived rural areas. At one time, much was made of the shortage of available frequencies for local radio. I hope that canard has now been laid to rest: there is plenty of space for a considerable number of local stations using both medium wave and VHF.
I agree wholly with the Committee's conclusions that the more local in character the local radio station is the better it can fulfil what has become one of the principal roles of radio today—to serve and draw together the local community; to meet its specific needs. The national service still has an important role to play—but it is a vastly different role.
BBC local radio is something of a "dog's dinner". As the report says, it is like a mixture of the old Home and Light programmes. Undoubtedly, it broadcasts too much of the national network (usually Radios 1 and 4); it is not allowed to stay on the air when BBC Radio 2 closes down or to put out VHF transmissions in stereo. By contrast, the independent stations are much more dynamic and forward-looking and I am inclined to believe that the Committee were correct in their suspicion that they have a much wider audience than the BBC stations. There is much to be said for the proposal for a new Local Broadcasting Authority which could concentrate its undivided attention on local radio. We should then have a more rational overall situation, with the BBC responsible for its own television services and the national radio network, the IBA for commercial/independent television and the LBA for local radio.
In my view, local radio is a far more important and valuable broadcast medium than I think most people in this country have ever realised. It has been consistently looked down upon as the least important end of the broadcast media. I believe it has a greater role to play than national radio. With some reservations, I think that the report has got it more or less right so far as local radio is concerned and, since as it says "local radio is a 1032 relatively cheap service", I hope that before long we shall see a much greater number of independent local radio stations serving a broad spectrum of communities in this country, and breaking new ground in broadcasting as they do so. I believe the Committee's report can help in laying the foundation for an exciting, innovative and valuable future for this form of broadcasting.
§ 10.25 p.m.
§ Lord GORE-BOOTH
My Lords, every so often in our history a committee is set up for some important purpose, and very occasionally the report of that committee becomes not only a competent and efficient piece of practical literature but something that one could read with pleasure when it comes out and return to read again with pleasure at its style, should one be interested in the subject. I think we can all agree that the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and his Committee have produced a report of exactly that quality and we are very grateful to them on all counts. May I take this opportunity to thank the noble Lord and his Committee very much for the courtesy and patience with which they were kind enough to receive me when I had the privilege of visiting them to give evidence.
Obviously, my Lords, during the course of this afternoon I have scrapped several speeches, but none the less there are certain remarks that I will not deny myself making and I will try to say them with the greatest possible speed. May I start by welcoming the extremely, I think I would say, vital way in which the noble Lord, Lord Willis, introduced this debate. He was extremely enjoyable to listen to, and I think he cleared away in the first speech of the debate a certain amount of rubbish. We could well have had a very long debate about superbodies in the radio and television field had he not at once taken a very strong position against the idea of superbodies. The only point where I felt he was not quite fair was when, in suggesting that perhaps the Committee had left too many bodies lying around, he rather gave the impression that they had done nothing about eliminating superfluous ones. I think one of the great merits of the report is that it reasons out the whole case very carefully against superbodies; in other words, bodies set up over and above the 1033 two main network authorities. In a sense any suggestion of superbodies can now disappear from the debate altogether.
What is left from the argument are some of the smaller bodies which obviously will have to be debated further. There is also left, with, as I understand it, general agreement, the idea of a complaints committee. It has always puzzled me why the radio and television people seem to have been so scared of this in the past. My recommendation, therefore, to the Government would be that we lose no time in setting up the complaints committee and that they let the idea of the inquiry committee stay in suspense for a little time until we see whether it is really necessary. I suggest this on two counts: the first, the general protest in your Lordships' House against bureaucracy where we possibly do not need it; and, secondly, that we have a bit of a mania at the moment for setting up bodies to see why other people have done everything wrong. I think we would prefer not to have this body, unless it is absolutely necessary, which, of course, it may turn out to be.
May I just contest one point which the noble Lord made. He seemed to have something of an obsession about what he called the academic approach. I see what he means, but I must offer a little protest because he made it sound to me as though he was against intelligence being applied to this question, and that, surely, is a doubtful doctrine. The other point is that I should like to help him in a personal matter. He seems to have difficulty in meeting the Chairman of the Independent Broadcasting Authority. May I depart from the stiff protocol which apparently prevails in higher television circles, and suggest that the next time there is a party of television people he should walk up to the Chairman and say "My name is Willis" or "Ted", whichever he employs; he will make the acquaintance of an extremely charming and responsive lady of great public spirit, whose company he will greatly enjoy, and the problem will be solved.
My Lords, to go on to what I propose to say in the rest of my time, I will say a little on organisation. I should like, however, to refer very briefly to one or two points on programme content, to which there has been very little reference 1034 so far. Perhaps they are largely directed straight at the broadcasting organisations, but that seems to be in order judging from the speeches made by other noble Lords.
I turn first to organisation. On the matter of local radio, may I contribute my American experience of a technique of local broadcasting which perhaps will serve as a stop-gap between the differences of opinion until we reach a national solution in a more prosperous age. I drove around America a good deal and when I saw a local radio station I used to walk in and make myself at home. Very often the technique there --and it is no doubt used here—was one of dividing the broadcast between the local broadcast and selected pieces from the national broadcast. That seemed to be a very sensible compromise in a very small place where people wanted to know what was happening nationally but also took a very deep interest—as the noble Lord, Lord Lovell-Davis, has just said—in their own affairs. That may be only a transitional state, but it has something constructive about it and makes the best of both admittedly temporary worlds.
Perhaps I may turn to the controversial matter of ITV2. At the risk of provoking further controversy—although I do not think that it is a great risk—I shall associate myself with the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, in this case. The debate has shown that more thought needs to be devoted to this matter. We have all been impressed by the case made by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham. However, it has not been possible to prove that under the techniques of financing and producing programmes, which must be adopted by independent television, it would be possible to produce different programmes so that ITV2 would really differ from ITV1. I believe that the assurances that the IBA has received from the programme companies need further examination as to whether they really will work before the Government commit themselves either way.
I should like to turn briefly to one or two points which seem to be extremely important in the matter of programme content. First, although I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, on 1035 practically everything, I still have the feeling that the ITN News has the edge on that of the BBC. That gives me the opportunity to make a point which I have stated in your Lordships' House before, without repercussions at Broadcasting House. One of the reasons for that is that the ITN have a man in reserve who comas along—as Tom Barman and Christopher Serpell used to do in the BBC—and says, "The perspective of this is so and so". The BBC seems to have given up that habit; the ITN very wisely preserves it in the person of Mr. Peter Snow. I present that to the noble Lord, Lord Hill, and to the BBC as my repeated and unchanging thought.
There is another matter which I believe to be very serious. Here again, I look to the future. Your Lordships will recall that we had some very important debates over a year ago about freedom of expression. The Annan Report refers to that and makes it very clear that the burden of preserving the freedom of expression over the air lies with the two authorities. I am not alone in feeling—and I was not alone in feeling at the time when Lord Goodman spoke very seriously to us about freedom—that the radio and television networks were curiously absent from the battle field. I also know a little about why they were absent, but I feel bound to say that that is not good enough.
If the great broadcasting networks are intent on preserving freedom of expression, as they should be and as I am sure they are, then despite all the rules of impartiality on practically everything they cannot stay out of that battle. If one listened to the very perfunctory way that in "Today in Parliament" this important debate in your Lordships' House was dismissed, then I cannot think that the broadcasting authorities were really doing their work in support of a fundamental principle. I should like to leave that thought with them, because it is my conviction that the broadcasting authorities should think this matter over again in case there should be a more serious threat to freedom of expression than we have had hitherto.
Here again I am thinking in the spirit of the future. There is some extremely wise language in the report about news reporting allied with the question of 1036 impartiality. I do not need to go into that. I simply commend to any of your Lordships who may not have studied it the whole of Chapter 17 on this matter. I should like to suggest to your Lordships and the broadcasting authorities that the audience for news and particularly television news has grown in sophistication and people do not simply want to know what happened; they begin to want to know why it happened.
I had this feeling strongly in the broadcasts from the Lebanon which were enormously exciting in the pictures, but you kept on saying to yourself, "But why has that happened?" Admittedly—and again the report takes cognisance of this—news camera work and news reporting is done in a great hurry, and one cannot blame correspondents if they are allowed perhaps two minutes on a programme and they have to say what is happening. They just say, "This has happened." This is no longer enough. There is much more demand than there has been before into the question why did it happen and what is the real meaning of what is happening.
With this in mind, I associate myself strongly with the comments in, I think, Chapter 17.17 about the extremely inadequate reporting of industrial relations. We are always being told that the men at siding X, Y, Z, are growing in anger, and so on, but this does not tell you anything. This is just noise, and this is a serious and sensitive part of our national life. For that reason information is not always easy to obtain. We need not long explanations but a few remarks to the point that "this arose because", or, "this is difficult to solve because." I would extend that to most matters with which the networks deal. The Committee were right in drawing attention to the importance of a better understanding through the media of what goes on inside as opposed to outside industrial relations.
The noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, made a rather sad allusion to the whole question of violence, and sex, and so on. I sympathise with him in his feeling that there is not very much you can do about this. One simply has to leave this to the good sense and public spirit of the BBC and the IBA. Possibly they underrate the amount of dislike for this kind of material possibly they do not; I do not 1037 know. But this is a matter we have to be patient about. We cannot censor it; we must just hope that, as a community, we grow up.
One other point which is of very great importance and which particularly appeals to me is the short chapter which the Committee have written about religious broadcasting. This has not been referred to today—perhaps your Lordships had enough religion yesterday. There is an important and encouraging sentence in Chapter 20.2.We do not belong to a country where all the springs of religious life have dried up".I profoundly agree with that. I also profoundly believe that the broadcasting machinery should have that constantly in mind. If any of your Lordships should feel, as you may, that it does not matter very much, I would put a serious thought into your minds. Suppose you tried to think of the British heritage and the British people minus the Lord's Prayer; I think you would agree that it would be a bleak society in which we were living.
I hope very serious notice will be taken of the encouragement which the report gives to a wise handling of religious broadcasting, and I would only express the wish not that every denomination should clamber to get on to an advisory committee—the report rightly deprecates that—but that there should always be a relaxed and frank relationship between all denominations and the broadcasting authorities. In practice this probably exists, but it is extremely important to the spiritual health of our nation.
There has been a certain amount of competitiveness about who has the best broadcasting in the world. I would not attempt, because I do not know enough foreign languages, to compare our domestic broadcasting with that of other countries; different broadcasts no doubt suit different countries. However, I would be prepared to bet from such listening as I have done—and I have done quite a lot of listening abroad—that, from the point of view of external problems, we are in the lead.
There are two reasons for this and the first is perhaps a small detail. I give the BBC full marks for something that is very important in broadcasting, and that is to inform one what it was one missed 1038 as one was coming through the door and did not hear the beginning of a news broadcast. It causes one great agony when all our foreign friends do not adopt that system. The second reason is the serious one, which is that the BBC's World Service is a spendid digest of the services here, with the triviality discarded but with the popular element present. One can hear the best of music, from Monteverdi to Britten, from Irving Berlin to rock bottom rock. The service goes right across the board and one can hear the best of everything. I close my remarks with that tribute to the great service which the BBC provides for us all. I agree with the noble Lord who said, in effect, "For goodness' sake, let us leave it alone to go on doing the great job it does!"
§ 10.43 p.m.
My Lords, I endorse the view of all that the weary Lord Annan and his colleagues are to be congratulated on their refreshingly lucid, sensible and stimulating report. It should be noted that, as a result of this excellent report, consisting of over 500 pages and some 170 specific recommendations, only four or five major contentious points have been raised in this debate. That must be, indeed is, a remarkable achievement which deserves all the praise one can muster.
The Committee rightly praises Independent Television's contribution, as was eloquently pointed out by my noble friend Lord Windlesham. Independent Television is judged to have done well, but not as well as it might, because it is confined to a single channel. Nevertheless, the argument runs that a second Independent Television channel must be rejected because it would lead to further competition with the BBC for audiences, which is deemed bad, and would lead to further competition with the BBC in programme-making, which is deemed good.
Moreover, in dismissing Independent Television's proposals for a fourth channel which could, as we have heard, be in operation at an early date and favouring instead one that will not provide a service in the foreseeable future, the Committee claims to be helping broadcasting, "to evolve rather than ossify". This is surely a rather strange description of a recom- 1039 mendation whose effect is to stunt the growth and indefinitely to deprive viewers and broadcasters of a better service. In the summary of the recommendations, the report states,The fourth channel should not be allowed until the nation's economy will permit the kind of service that we outline".That sounds to me like a recommendation to postpone action indefinitely.
In the early 1950s, the cast of mind that now sees virtue in plurality was ardent in defence of monopoly. What is common to this irreconcilable stance is a dislike, seldom openly expressed, of the commercial element in television. Yet commercial television does not plunder the public purse. On the contrary, the Committee has failed to point out that more than £4 out of every £5 of profit goes to the Treasury by way of corporation tax and levy.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, has pointed out, the BBC is not dependent on ratings. One of the effects of this is, and must be, a disincentive to being cost effective. Allow me to give your Lordships one short example of comparative costs as between the BBC and Independent Television. It would be invidious to name the people or programmes involved. However, not long ago, the producer of a highly successful Independent Television series was seduced by the subtle attractions of Auntie BBC and asked to produce a series similar in style and content for the BBC. He was horrified to learn that the one-hour production budget was £65,000 as opposed to £30,000 for his Independent Television production; preparation, rehearsal and video tape recording were budgeted for six weeks as opposed to four weeks, and post production dubbing and editing for 10 days as opposed to one day. Yet it is estimated that, as a result of the lack of screening time and, above all, because of their cost effectiveness, Independent Television production staffs are underutilised by 40 per cent.
Despite suggestions to the contrary, ITV 2 would not be paid for by the taxpayer, like the Open Broadcasting Authority. Quite the reverse. In evidence to the Committee, the Independent Television Companies Association made no secret of its belief that ITV 2 would be a 1040 financial as well as a creative success. Today, through taxation, the Government are partners in ITV and every success in profit-earning means a higher contribution.
In brief, the difference between ITV 2 and the Committee's fourth channel is not one of programme philosophy but of control, finance and practicability. It seems unreasonable to withhold control of the fourth channel from the Independent Broadcasting Authority, which is an experienced and responsible public body which has effectively controlled the quality of broadcasting on ITV 1.
The IBA would also be deprived of independent local radio which it has launched so very successfully. As for the television production companies, the Committee have accepted their assurances elsewhere in its report:We thought the ITCA were not spinning a public relations tale when they told us that the companies' first concern is to ensure commercial viability but equally they measure their company's success in terms of programmes'.In paragraph 13.46, the Annan Report states:We were impressed by the senior management of some of the ITV companies, and we have no doubt that much of the achievement in reconciling the companies' conflicting responsibilities is due to them".I believe that in its rejection of ITV 2 the Committee has made a serious misjudgment. I regard it as incontestable that ITV 2 will mean a better service and more choice for viewers, more scope for programme-makers and more jobs in the industry. The case remains substantially that as stated by the independent television companies in their submission in 1973 to the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, and developed in supplementary evidence to the Annan Committee. Taking into account the many constructive suggestions made by the Committee, particularly those about fresh streams of programming, I believe in principle that the fourth channel must be complementary to ITV 1, and that only independent television can finance it and bring it alive in the foreseeable future.
§ 10.51 p.m.
§ Lord VAIZEY
My Lords, a quarter of a century ago, before the beginning of this debate, I used to go to Mill Lane Lecture Rooms in Cambridge at 9 o'clock 1041 on a Saturday morning to hear the then Mr. Annan lecture on political and moral philosophy. His bow tie askew, shaving cream on the lobe of one ear, he performed, and we sat mesmerised, as evidently did his Committee. The Report is a tour de force, superbly well written, very seriously argued, about a topic of very great importance to our society. The noble Lord, Lord Annan, is not only a man of the highest intelligence and diplomatic skill; he is also a man of energy and of moral power. The Annan Report is indeed shot through with moral principles and a concern for excellence, and this concern for excellence has, deservedly I think, given the BBC and ITV a high reputation. We must all be concerned to preserve that high reputation, as the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, has argued.
As some replies that were given by the Government to some Questions put down by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, recently showed, British television is a large net earner of foreign currency, and the BBC World Service performs a great role in getting our message, a message of freedom and democracy, across. My first point that I want to raise tonight is how do we keep this excellence going for the next 10 or, as my noble friend on the Front Bench pointed out, the next 20 years?
The Committee provide several answers to this fundamental question. Ultimately, they all rest upon the integrity and high calibre of the professionals in broadcasting —and by the professionals I mean the producers who are, so far as I know, in this country uniquely highly qualified, and uniquely respected in our broadcasting system compared with that in other countries. That is really what the basis of our excellence, so far as we can claim it, rests upon. We all know the presenters, because we see or hear them every night: Robin Day, John Tusa, Douglas Stuart, Peter Jay, and so on. But the key people are their producers, the people who actually put the programmes together. In the BBC they have always been the key people for 50 years, and because ITV, in many respects, is set up on the basis of the BBC, so to a considerable degree the producers are the key figures in commercial television, too. Take, for instance, a distinguished man like Jeremy Isaacs. He is a high executive in Thames Television.
1042 His reputation in the industry rests ultimately on his performance as a producer—he produced, for example, "The World at War".
It seems to me that the producers are always threatened—and I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Annan, would agree with this. They are threatened because they are bound to take risks. They are the creative people, and creative people are bound to take risks. The reason why we create bureaucracies, whether it is the bureaucracy of the IBA supervising companies, or the bureaucracy inside the BBC supervising the producers, is that we do not like it when the risks go wrong, and they produce things which are damaging to individuals or to society at large. It is a delicate balance—this matter between the risk of the creative producer and the control of the producer.
Obviously, we know why this bureaucracy is created; and I want now to speak particularly about the BBC, as I have a very great regard for the BBC, and I want to say certain things that I think the report should have said in stronger terms. I have a very high regard for the BBC, as I am sure most of us do. But in my view the balance against the producer has gone a little too far, and that is the real reason why there is, I think, a legitimate complaint by a great many producers of the extraordinary degree of bureaucracy which stands between them and the governors at the present time. There is too much bureaucracy in the BBC. What is rather frightening—and I say this advisedly—is that I think a great many producers, particularly in radio, dare not say so at the present time because they have nowhere else to go in serious radio; and their broadcasters—the presenters, and so on—who are casual labour, dare not say so, either, because they fear they will be henceforth banned from the air. That is rather a strong phrase to use, my Lords, but I think it is a fear which is genuinely present among a group of people, the producers and the people whom they use, upon whom ultimately rests this excellence which all your Lordships have praised so lavishly in today's debate.
I do not know how you deal with this issue of a proper freedom for the producer and the proper guarantees for society. I think the report is far too soft in this 1043 respect about bureaucracy and the BBC. The desire to split the BBC into two corporations was a desire to make it a little less monolithic in this respect, and to let people speak their minds more than they apparently feel able to do at the moment. I am puzzled how you can actually make the BBC a place where the producers may speak their minds; and, quite frankly, I do not think the report tells us. I think the Government have an extremely serious responsibility in this particular respect, and I would hope very much that they would wish to take it under their immediate concern.
My Lords, I am quite convinced that the report was right in recommending the abolition of BBC local radio. As my noble friend Lord Lovell-Davis has so extraordinarily clearly, and on the basis of vast experience, argued, it is not, quite candidly, of high quality. A great many amiable compliments have been paid to BBC local radio today, but, quite candidly, I do not think it measures up to them. Certainly the audience is not there. The audience figures are not published, so far as I know; and the cost per listener must be very high. It seems to me that local radio should be truly local community radio. The idea of Radio London is a preposterous notion. Radio Chelsea makes sense, or Radio Battersea or Radio Hampstead—but Radio London! London is a much bigger place than most of the members of the United Nations. It seems to me that, like local newspapers, local radio should carry a lot of local advertising. People enjoy it, and they want to hear local advertising. I am quite sure that most of your Lordships read the local papers as much to find out what is for sale as to read the reports of the debates of your local district council, important though the reports of those debates may be. It seems to me that to put local radio under local control, supervised by a separate authority, is a wise suggestion; and, above all, it is a concrete suggestion of a way to reduce the expense and the bureaucracy of the BBC. I think that is very sensible, and I hope very much that my noble friend on the Front Bench and his colleagues in the Government will listen to what I think is a very well argued section of the report, strongly supported by Lord Lovell-Davis, who has very great experience in this field.
§ Lord DAVIES of LEEK
My Lords, I apologise for interrupting—it is so late—but I will be only half a minute. Does the noble Lord realise that there is quite a lot of local advertising within the local community—wanting to swap a perambulator for a walking stick; a "swap shop"? Local radio is very important in this respect. It is local advertising that appeals to the heart of the community, as opposed to the mighty, international, trans-continental adverts for which they pay half a million.
§ Lord VAIZEY
My Lords, I completely agree with my noble friend. That is one of the reasons why I should like to see this made more and more local. There is a community radio, for example, which has just opened up in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, Australia, which is running on a budget of 6,000 Australian dollars a year, which is about £4,000 a year. That is true local radio, and I do not believe that that is a thing which can be done by the BBC, which is concerned with national standards and which is the outstanding international broadcasting service of the world.
Having said how much I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and his Committee in one respect—that is, local radio—I must say that I disagree with the report in certain other respects, and I hope he will forgive me for speaking of them now. I do it reluctantly, because clearly the issue is one on which he and his colleagues on the Committee thought most carefully, and I would guess it took them most time of all the issues with which they dealt. Obviously, it is the fourth channel, and, if I may, despite the lateness of the hour I should like to take a little time to give my thoughts on this issue to your Lordships.
In the first place, we are all agreed that no money is available for vast public expenditure on the fourth channel. Already BBC2 is only on the air for a few hours a day. The money must come from elsewhere than the public purse. The report argues that it should not be principally commercial companies, although they might contribute programmes, but rather a new kind of channel, a sort of "half-open door", if I may call it so.
The more I reflect on this proposal and the more I go back to the report and read 1045 it, the less practical it seems to me. I do not see how it is to be run or who is to finance it. Of course, I can read English and I have read the report many times, but I do not understand the practicalities of the issue. Therefore I ask myself: Why not give Channel 4 to ITV? The reason why it could be given to ITV is that, first, there is no problem about the money. The money is there. People are longing to come into commercial television. There is no shortage of producing talent to produce new programmes. The three existing channels could recruit as many people as they like of equal calibre to those who work for them now. There is a "talent bulge" of people in their mid-thirties. They are hardly recruiting any new people at all.
The argument in the report, so far as I understand it, is that a second commercial channel would lower standards. These are not technical standards; there would be no worse picture on your screen. It must mean artistic and moral standards. What will happen, it is argued, is keen competition for ratings because the two ITV channels would require a big audience to get advertising revenue. In the process, it is argued, ITV companies would compete with each other for the mass market; whereas now the commercial companies are competing with two BBC channels which are not primarily oriented towards earning money. Therefore, competition is, so to speak, upwards in artistic standards. That must be the drift of the argument in the report.
I do not think I can follow this argument. If the fourth channel is to be full of minority interests, as is suggested—chess, for example, and programmes for racial minorities—then, by definition, people will not watch it in large numbers. But if four channels are catering for a mass audience, surely they will all be driven to some programming for minorities—and as the report rightly pointed out, and as Lord Annan pointed out in his brilliant lecture, minorities often number several millions. It does not seem to me that the argument, as it appears in the report for this, is entirely convincing. Above all, I believe in the sheer ability of our producers in the BBC and in the commercial companies. I think they are of such high quality that they will produce high-quality programmes under almost any auspices.
1046 Personally, I am now in favour of giving the fourth channel to the independent television system, and of not creating another bureaucracy.
I am fortified in this view by the proposal in the report for public hearings for the contending contractors. I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, about the difficulty of filling the Albert Hall with people competing for contracts, but I think it is a good idea to have more open competition in public, and for people to put their case forward. I think that, so far, the experience of commercial television and commercial radio has been, on the whole, good by moral and artistic standards.
In fact—and here is the thing by which I might lose the noble Lord's friendship for life and perhaps I ought not to call him "my noble friend" for he sits across the chasm which divides us—I see in the report the residuum of the old, Left-wing bien-passant fear of commerce and profits which, in fact, the noble Lord was denouncing the other day in our debate on industry and the universities. Either you basically trust business people, or you do not. By and large, I do trust business people. To take the field I am particularly engaged in, education, the greatest educational scandal of our time, the William Tyndale School, took place in a local authority school and not in some private enterprise school. "Yesterday's Men" I thought was the most outrageous piece of SemiFacist propaganda against democracy I have ever seen on television and was made, so far as I recall, by the BBC. So there is no monopoly of goodness and truth in public authorities. Based on past experience, I personally, on moral grounds, would not particularly fear giving the fourth channel to commercial television.
There is one other reason. I agree strongly with the report that the so-called technological revolution in communications—being able to dial an order for meat from the local butcher through a neighbourhood computer, and so on—all this technological gadgetary that we were promised in the 1960s, is a fairly long way off. There are parts of the report which still hark back to the 1960s which show a naïve enthusiasm for the so-called technological revolution in education; a naive enthusiasm I had in the late 1047 1950s and 1960s. It was a revolution that never arrived.
I noted the other day that the ILEA has more or less wound up its ludicrously expensive and hopelessly bad television service. My own view is that the gadgetry revolution is not nearly as big as was expected, when the Committee were appointed, and the Committee were extremely wise in their report to he very cautious about this. What they have under-rated, quite candidly, is not a technological revolution but a commercial change which has affected our way of life. They have under-rated the home entertainment revolution. I recently heard an interesting speech by Sir John Read, the chairman of EMI—a man for whom we all have a high admiration—and he talked about one of the big changes taking place before our very eyes being the revolution in home entertainment with portable television sets, cassettes, transistors and so on, in the typical home. I am not talking about the prosperous, middle-class home. The typical home is becoming a rather powerful centre of home entertainment of which the television is only a part.
Frankly, this home entertainment revolution is due in a large part to the activities of commercial firms. I cannot see why commercial firms should suddenly become dirty words when they are applied to television transmission, when they are not dirty words when they are making the tapes, gramophone records and all the other things which are part of this home revolution. There is a residuum in the report—if I may say so without offence—of a kind of distrust of commerce which is probably rather out of date and smacks of the 1960s.
My Lords, I have gone on for too long, but for those of us who broadcast, listen and watch with enthusiasm, this is a fascinating topic. As always, we are deeply grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Annan.
§ 11.8 p.m.
§ Lord REDESDALE
My Lords, we are all very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Willis, for giving us the opportunity of debating this important report tonight. It was a very professional speech by a real professional: and I want to come to 1048 that point later because there seems to be some view as to the merits of the professional. However, one point about professionals is that tonight we have had a long debate which is of a very high standard. We may not have the greatest audience, but we certainly have had a debate of great importance. The reason why it was such a good debate was that so many noble Lords declared an interest: they had broadcast, they had been involved. This is the importance of the professional. I will end on that point later.
Talking of being professional, the Annan Report could not have been more professional: beautifully written, very comprehensive and one of the great reports that I have read. I found it was one of the easiest reports to read for some time. Having given that small praise, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Annan, will appreciate that when I say that if I do not go along with Annan the whole way—and later I may sound a little biting over points—it is in no way derogatory of him or the way his report was produced. There are sections of it which made me slightly unhappy.
Television is a great boon. Having got home extremely tired, I felt that because T was taking part in this debate tonight I must watch the noble Lord making one of the many spirited defences of his report; and there I lay in bed on an electric blanket and watched Annan on Annan. The hour is late and—it is an old phrase—perhaps one should refer to this business called "The Late, Late Show". Perhaps we are in danger of becoming, in the phrase used in that debate, "Annan-fodder".
As I said, there are certain things in this report that we do not like, but it is so large it would be impossible not to raise some points. I am sure the noble Lord will anticipate some of the points I do not like well in advance. Not surprisingly, I support what my noble Leader has said earlier this evening—and I am afraid he could not stay (like a number of other noble Lords) because of an engagement which was fixed some time in advance. I supported him; I felt that, as he referred to it, lie wore his white sheet well in putting over his conversion to IBA. I must confess that I am also glad that my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham 1049 is not beside me because I might be in danger from that waving stick—because he has certainly not been converted.
One of the most important points about the Annan Report is that it largely leaves the BBC and the IBA alone and rejects the concept of a broadcasting commission. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, in his speech, which covered all the options, if I may say so, had me a little nervous at times as I felt, rather like Sylvester the cat, he was tiptoeing ever so gently towards a broadcasting commission. I hope he will be able to allay our fears, perhaps at the end of this debate, or perhaps not.
There are other aspects of the Annan Report which we welcome. All the evidence we have seen indicates that we have the best radio and television in the world. What I have seen confirms this. In America last week, it came up time and time again. So the BBC and the IBA do a great job. I have to confess that I take issue with the noble Lord on the question of the OBA. I do not find it, along with a number of other noble Lords, a practical proposition at all. I have Talked about professionals and, frankly, this sounds awfully like "amateur night" to me. Also, I believe it is a needless proliferation of bureaucracy. We believe that a fourth channel should be given to the IBA as this is the best way that greater choice could be given to the viewer. That has been echoed by noble Lords on all sides of the House.
I had a number of points to raise, but I will not go through them since it is late. However, I should like to raise one specific point. It has been said in the past: "There's nothing on telly tonight. "Really, as one television authority said to me, what it means is, "There is nothing really enthralling or amusing." At the end of the day it comes on to the other aspect of: what is it all about? I would take issue here again with the noble Lord, Lord Annan. I found some parts of the Report a little "grandfatherly", as some of the remarks made here this evening have been —perhaps not surprisingly, as there are many grandfathers! I also found it marginally Cromwellian in its attitude—perhaps giving the viewer what is best for him rather than what he wants: or perhaps we should say that the Annan Report tells the viewer what he should want. Perhaps I am being impertinent to the noble Lord, but 1050 it did sway from side to side in the way it was written, so that at one point you might be incensed by feeling and then in another paragraph you felt quite reassured again.
On the question of local broadcasting—and, obviously, I must press on and I take the hint of my noble friend on the other side that the hour is late—I think that the figures are quite clear. They indicate the acceptance of independent radio. Miss Laski, in her note of dissent, talked of the mix of bread and circuses. I am afraid that the hair on the back of my head went up then, and I found it rather condescending. The noble Lord, Lord Willis, found it even more irritating. I have said that the Report was a little grandfatherly, and it talked about what is right for the children. I am all in favour of that, but what I felt it tended not to appreciate is the size of audience in terms of age, and I do not think any other noble Lord raised this point tonight. There are enormous economic gaps, but there are age gaps and they tend to he the same.
I had the feeling—and I am perhaps being unfair to the report and to the noble Lord—that it failed to come across that it appreciated the tastes of the young, who make up a large part of the audience. For instance, Miss Laski asked once during a Committee interview "What is a local top 40?" Perhaps in this Chamber one would not get many people who would know what a local top 40 is, but it is very important to those youngsters who are interested in the regional differences of the top 40, because that boils down to what the top 30 is and what the top 20 is on a national basis. All right, you ask a question to get an answer, but you may not be in a position to judge when you have to ask that question right at the start.
I am afraid that I must slightly criticise the BBC over one aspect. I do not feel that they have taken much interest in local broadcasting, and it is only now when something is being taken away from them that they tend to scream a little. That is human nature. I feel that they are a little late in the day on this one. But on that, let me sway as I said that the Annan Report swayed, and say that on the other side they produce a fantastic national service, which they are so good at doing, and they look after the young. "Wonderful BBC1" is just what they want, and it is done very well indeed.
1051 Criticisms are laid against too much needle time, but it must be remembered that there are a large number of people who do not want to listen to people talking at them all the time. They have enough of it as it is and, if driving, the requirement often is to have background music interspersed with traffic information. I hope that the developments that can he implemented in this field, which bring in local traffic news, will be introduced in the not too distant future, because it is a great boon to motorists who make up a large proportion of the listening audience. Perhaps the noble Lord will not mind if I pull his leg slightly over the fact that there are important daytime audiences, such as for the "Jimmy Young Show", and I beleive that the first time he heard it was when he was on it. This is rather like Annan on Annan.
§ Lord ANNAN
My Lords, I must take up the noble Lord on that point. There were some admirable members of my Committee who were in a position to listen to the "Jimmy Young Show", and did so many times.
§ Lord REDESDALE
My Lords, I always stand or sit to be corrected by the noble Lord, for whom I have the greatest admiration. I missed what the noble Lord the Leader of the House said.
§ Lord REDESDALE
My Lords, in which case may I say, "Thank you" to the noble Lord the Leader of the House? Yes, I agree that he did, and he was listened to, as well, which is the point. Therefore, from these Benches we believe that the IBA would do a rather better job in handling local radio. However, we are prepared to consider the idea of the LBA. It must he remembered that it would take at least two years to set up, and in the meantime the momentum has been lost for the development of local radio, particularly with regard to career opportunities with the freezing of openings.
§ Lord HILL of LUTON
My Lords, would the noble Lord permit me to intervene? He spoke of the BBC showing little enthusiasm for local radio. Does 1052 he not appreciate that it was a Conservative Government which clamped down on the BBC's local radio, anxious as they were to hand it all over to commercial television? In the circumstances, is it not grossly unfair to say what he did?
§ Lord REDESDALE
No, my Lords. I was not going to raise the matter, because I do not agree with the noble Lord, but they did not hand it over to local television, which is what the noble Lord said; they handed it over to the IBA. The number is frozen at 19. It is a question of quality. The noble Lord may be prepared to delude himself, but the rating figures do not. I cannot accept the noble Lord's point; it is just not on. It is not realistic to believe that money can be obtained from other sources, such as local authorities, to support stations in small areas where there would be insufficient advertising to pay for them. However, in an IBA situation a levy could be raised and money diverted so that the smaller stations could be made financially viable.
As the Annan Report says, local broadcasting is in a mess. Before I am interrupted again by the noble Lord, may I say that it is in a mess not because of the people but because of the situation. I take the noble Lord's point that it is meddling by successive Governments which has brought about that situation. However, we are now looking to the future. This is an important point and one which the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, raised. If, therefore, we consider that the commercial stations can do a better job—and I believe that they can—then we should let them have a go at it. It is not easy for them to operate at the moment. There are only 19 stations which are having to pay for the very expensive Independent Radio News. Let us, therefore, hope that the report can be implemented fairly soon so that a better radio news service can be provided from the revenue.
The report also criticised separately Capital Radio. I believe, as do a number of others, that this criticism is unwarranted. In Chapter 11, paragraph 33, or perhaps more appropriately I should say verse 33, the report quotes Plato and his maxim which enjoins us first to acquire wealth and then to practise virtue. All 1053 I ask is that now that Capital Radio have acquired wealth they should be given time to practise virtue. That is only fair.
We welcome the setting up of a Complaints Commission. This is a very important point. The BBC tends to believe that it is good—it is, and I am the first to say it—but it takes it too far and believes that it can do no wrong. I should like a completely independent body to be set up. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, that it is quite wrong that anybody who complains has to give up his legal rights. This is autocratic whitewashing. You cannot answer back once you have gone to them; all you can do is to sue. I should welcome the setting up of a totally independent Complaints Commission.
If I may turn to the very vexed question of sex and violence, one can do nothing in terms of research. You judge by moral standards. The problem is how to prevent children from watching programmes of this kind. It is very sad that parents should allow their children to sit up until a very late hour. It means that the simple way of filtering out sex and violence by programming does not work. "Starsky and Hutch" came in for a fair amount of criticism, which I thought was a little unfair. "Starsky and Hutch" has been handled fairly well. The story is exciting and it is not one of the most violent programmes. This fact was accepted by Annan and is, perhaps, another example of the way in which Annan sways. The point really is that it is gratuitous violence which is harmful, and the gratuitous use of four-letter words.
I should like now to come to the other aspect; that is, that one can swing too far the other way. It has been said, I believe, in this House that "Tom and Jerry" was too violent, but I believe that is going too far. Children of all ages who never grow up enjoy "Tom and Jerry" and I do not think they are harmed by it. Coming to the subject of the treatment of current affairs, I am extremely worried by the view held by a number of people that there should be more one-sided programmes. Television has an air of authority and it gives credibility to the views of even the most biased, and if they are not answered, that authority sticks. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, said about Northern Ireland and the 1054 troops. The "Open Door" programme on the BBC, on the Divis fiats, described how awful the conditions are and referred to the many other problems that exist, but it omitted to say that British troops had constantly come under heavy fire from the roofs of those flats, which provided ideal snipers' nests.
Again, I should like to give credit to the BBC for what they are doing with the programmes and for the fact that they have already reacted very swiftly to the Annan Report. They have appointed Brian Cowgill as the Director of News and Current Affairs. His style should really bring a wind of change through those corridors, which have led in the past but have become a little stagnant lately.
Finally, there is the question of accountability. We have covered the question of complaints. The PEB I am a little worried about. It is a nice thought of the village hall, but how much time has the producer got to get out there? If they are professional producers, I am sure they are very much in touch with what their audience is thinking and wants. The question of accountability arises again. Both the BBC Charter and the IBA Act allow for Parliament to discuss it. I do not think that Parliament has taken the opportunity of discussing it as fully as it might. There is the question of increases in licence fees and various other matters which could be debated very much more fully. In the past the Prime Minister has become almost paranoic about bias—political bias—but when an independent view was sought on this and it was analysed it was found that there was no bias. Therefore, I feel that Parliament does itself and the country a service by staying at arm's length from the media. It is tempting for people to say that it is too important to leave it to the professionals. I think that is quite wrong, and I made this point earlier. Let us give the professionals the means of doing this job, which they are doing very well, and intervene only when we have to, since there is a big difference between constructive criticism and damaging meddling.
§ Lord REDESDALE
My Lords, in my haste to rush on I jumped through that section of my speech. I am sure it will be no surprise to the noble Lord to hear that I believe the fourth channel should be given to the independent and the commercial stations, because I think that in that way we shall get the choice we want.
§ 11.29 p.m.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, with the leave of the House I will reply to the debate. I was going to say that I will do so briefly, but I regret to say that in one or two cases noble Lords have given an assurance at the beginning of their speeches that they were going to speak briefly and that expectation has not been wholly realised. Therefore, I will try to avoid using that term, but nevertheless I shall try to bring my remarks to a conclusion as speedily as possible.
I think all who have participated in this debate will agree that it has been a remarkable occasion. It has been the first debate that has taken place in either House of Parliament on the Report of the Annan Committee and it has been of a remarkably high standard, for a number of reasons. One of the principal reasons was undoubtedly the substantial degree of experience of the industry on the part of many of those taking part in the debate. We have had contributions from two former chairmen of the IBA, a former chairman of the BBC, and the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, who very properly disclosed his interest in relation to the chairmanship of the IBA.
Inevitably, the debate has covered a very wide area, and discussion has been focused on two of the principal recommendations of the Annan Committee, those relating to the local broadcasting authority and to the OBA. It will not surprise the House, given the fact that I made this point earlier, that I am not in a position today to disclose the Government's final judgment in this matter. This must await the process of discussion which the Government will begin as soon as the period for representations has come to an end, and that will be at the beginning of July.
Nevertheless, I should like to touch on two particular points relating to these proposals. So far as the OBA is concerned, my noble friend Lord Aylestone 1056 and a number of others, including Lord Vaizey, but people on both sides of the House, made the argument which is essentially this, that as Channel 4 is available now, if the Government were to make a decision in favour of Independent Television there would be no significant cost implications so far as public funds are concerned. I did point out earlier that that is not so; the Annan Committee pointed out that it was not so, and the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, accepted that it was not so. Of course, the effect of giving ITV the fourth channel now would be a quite significant, perhaps short-term, effect as far as television levy is concerned; there would be a significant cutback in receipts to the Government from the television levy, and that would be quite inescapable in such a decision. Therefore, I think it would be foolish for us to persuade ourselves that by making a decision in favour of ITV at this moment there would be no public expenditure implications. There would be, and we must recognise that.
The second point I want to deal with is the situation regarding the Local Broadcasting Authority. My noble friend Lord Lovell-Davis asked the question, perfectly reasonably, as to why it was that we stopped at the figure of 19 local radio stations. When the Government came into office I think 13 were in operation and one of our earliest decisions was to increase the number to 19. We stopped at the figure of 19 for one very obvious reason: that those 19 would all be in operation at the time the Annan Committee was sitting. If we had gone beyond that, a number of stations would probably have opened after the Committee had concluded their deliberations, and given the fact that obviously the Committee were going to make a number of important recommendations in this area we thought it right to give the Committee the opportunity of making a judgment on the output of all these stations where we had agreed to award franchise in a particular direction.
Having had the opportunity since I took on my present job of visiting a number of these stations, both BBC and commercial, I must say that the thing which strikes one is the enormous degree of enthusiasm among the people responsible for producing programmes. It is rather, 1057 I suspect, like the early days of television so far as the BBC was concerned before the last war and immediately after the war, and probably rather similar to the early days of commercial television. There is an enormous degree of enthusiasm by people in both BBC and IBA, and I think it is very encouraging to see these very bright and talented young men and women who are doing very interesting and important work, and to see the very high morale they have.
Quite apart from these two issues which are obviously going to dominate the debate in the country in the next few months—local broadcasting and the allocation of the fourth channel—a number of other issues have emerged in the debate, and I will deal with some of these fairly briefly. First, the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, gave us a fascinating account of the relations between the Governors and the management of the BBC. I particularly enjoyed his story of the decision whether to put cigarette advertising in the Radio Times. It never occurred to me that the BBC's Board of Governors would be associated with anything quite so vulgar as a vote, but nevertheless, I note the fact that votes do take place in such august gatherings of people.
Certainly I agreed with him on one other point: namely, the question of violence on television. That was dealt with by quite a number of noble Lords today. It is right to recognise that there is widespread public anxiety on this matter. It was dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and by a very high proportion of those who spoke in the debate. I can recall the only occasion when, as a member of the public, I wrote a letter of complaint. It was when the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, was Chairman of the IBA, and was about a programme on independent television in which I believe that the degree of violence which had taken place was altogether unacceptable. The noble Lord will be reassured to discover that he wrote me an extremely courteous letter, although I am bound to tell him that it was not a totally satisfactory one from the point of view of the complainant. Nevertheless, it registered his concern with the matter, which he expressed on that occasion as he did today. Certainly it 1058 is a matter which all broadcasters take increasingly seriously at present.
The noble Lord, Lord Hill, was a little sceptical about the desirability of public hearings, which was one of the recommendations of the Annan Report. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Annan, pointed out, and as the noble Lord. Lord Hill, accepted, some of these hearings take place—and have taken place—under the aegis of the Independent Broadcasting Authority when it has been allocating franchises for local commercial radio stations. All I can say to him and to others who have expressed scepticism is, that when talking to people who have been involved—both those on the side of the radio station and those in the local communities who have been affected by these hearings—there is a fairly significant ground-swell of opinion that these hearings have been of considerable value.
Obviously I am in no way committing the Government to this; I am doing no more than thinking aloud on this matter. It is not unreasonable to say this. Where one is talking about awarding what may well be a monopoly franchise as regards local broadcasting, it is not at all unreasonable to have hearings of this sort where questions can be asked and where those responsible are obliged to answer. That is not an unreasonable expectation in any way.
My noble friend Lord Parry asked me a question about the fourth channel in Wales and the costs. The situation at present is that the capital cost of this service is, at 1976 prices, now £11 million, and the operating cost to public funds, again at 1976 prices, is now £7 million a year. The noble Lord, Lord Annan, touched on the position of Ministers in relation to complaints about programmes on television. Certainly I am very conscious of this particular issue because whenever a controversial programme appears on either the BBC or independent television and constituents write to their Members of Parliament, those Members, not unreasonably, send quite a high proportion of the letters on to me. The reply which I give—which in my view is entirely proper and which is, no doubt, fairly similar to the letters sent by my predecessor in the former Administration—is that Governments do not 1059 become involved in day-to-day questions of programme standards. I think that is absolutely right, because the day on which politicians of any Party start becoming involved in questions of this sort will be a very dangerous day indeed for British democracy.
My noble friend Lord Aylestone raised a technical but by no means unimportant question—because I know there is some concern on this matter—about the licence servicing charge which has to be paid by the BBC. This is not an unimportant question because of the discussion which is taking place at the moment about the prospect of an increase in the size of the licence fee for the BBC. The situation so far as this is concerned is that the total expenses for 1975–76 were £20 million. That was the total cost. It was made up of a number of items. First, £2 million of this was for interference investigation: a very important part of the service. Then £1 million for the expenses of agencies other than the Post Office; that includes the Central Office of Information, the Stationery Office and the Home Office, and various other items of that sort.
Then there was the major balancing item of £17 million, which represented the charge so far as the Post Office itself was concerned. That was divided up between £13¼ million for enforcement and £3¾ million for licence issue. That represents a formidably large item. I would not in any way want to pretend that it was anything other than that. Nevertheless, I do not believe that there should be a subsidy element so far as this is concerned. The real charge should be passed on. There is, as I suspect my noble friend is aware, a Working Party where the Home Office provide the chairman and where both the BBC and the Post Office are represented, and where there are constant discussions on this particular point. Indeed, it was dealt with in the Annan Report in Chapter 10.33, where it is recommended that we should continue to simplify the enforcement procedures, and those which it was decided to continue we should ensure were cost effective. That is a perfectly reasonable recommendation.
My noble friend Lord Aylestone raised a matter which was touched on by him, and I am not sure by many others in this 1060 debate, but it is a matter which preoccupies Members of another place, and that is the possibility of introducing some either totally free licence or some less than cost licence for old-age pensioners, the disabled, and people in that particular category. The Government studied this question I think towards the end of 1975, and we came to two conclusions. First, that it would not then be right to make such a decision because it has profound implications—and I will come to that in a moment. Secondly, we had set up the Annan Committee.
I should just tell my noble friend what the implications would be were we to make a concession of this sort, and he will recognise the substantial policy issues involved in doing something of that kind. The figures are given in Chapter 10.36 of the Annan Report that broadly the cost of providing a free monochrome licence to all households including a pensioner would be somewhere in the region of £44 million. There would be some additional costs as a result of the need to introduce rather more sophisticated and complicated systems of enforcement. That would represent somewhere between £2 or £3 additional per colour and monochrome licence for other people.
One would also have to make all sorts of other difficult judgments. Would it be only for old-age pensioners? 'Would you bring in the disabled? What other disadvantaged groups should be brought in? All I would say, without making any final commitment so far as Government policy on this is concerned, is that the sums involved are substantial and there are also very difficult administrative problems involved in introducing any system of this sort. It would make the enforcement system very complicated, and a great deal more costly.
As I said at the beginning of the debate, the period for consultation ends at the end of July and we shall then take stock of all that is said in the report in formulating proposals for the future structure of broadcasting, which we will then put to Parliament in the form of a White Paper. Legislation will be necessary to deal with the future structure and, as noble Lords will be aware, the IBA Act under which the Authority is constituted, and indeed the BBC's Charter, expire in July 1979.
1061 In terms of the immediate future, there was an interesting exchange earlier in the debate between the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, and the noble Lord, Lord Annan, on the position of the special interest groups. This is a matter of some importance. Lord Annan urged us not to be over-influenced by them; that was a proper point to have made and I hope we will not be over-influenced by them. Nevertheless, it would obviously be foolish to go to the other extreme and say we will ignore totally what the interest groups have to say because they represent all the expertise in broadcasting in this country, and I am sure that the noble Lord would not for a moment suggest that we should. In the last resort, having taken account of what the interest groups have said and what the general public opinion has indicated is its view, at that stage it is for the Government to define the national interest as they see it, and that is what we propose to do.
§ 11.47 p.m.
§ Lord WILLIS
My Lords, I wish at the outset to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate and especially those who have remained till the end. I particularly commend the noble Lord, Lord Annan, who for the last nine hours or so has remained in his place having questions and speeches banged at his head, but he has sat there smiling with exemplary patience. Despite the warning of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, I make so bold as to say that I will not keep noble Lords long from their good night Scotch, from the loving arms of their wives or the screams of their grandchildren. There are, however, a few points I must make because they rather worry me and I am anxious to get them on the record.
In his earlier speech, Lord Harris said we had to make the broadcasting authorities more responsive to public reaction. That is the big theme of the report and it has been a big theme of some of today's speeches. I wish to point out that we must be careful not to make this too formalised because there is a great danger here. As I said in my opening speech, it is the antennae, the feeling, which gives one the response. If one tries to set up machinery to get reactions, one does not get them. For example, Mrs. Whitehouse would think one was being responsive if one gave in to her views and 1062 imposed a great deal more censorship on producers. One must, therefore, be careful in this area.
I was rather worried by something Lord Annan said about Mrs. Whitehouse, when he said what a wonderful, exemplary, honest, forthright, marvellous woman she was. I have no doubt that she is many of those things. I also know that she has done a superb con job on much of the public, the television companies and the BBC in the last few years. She represents a so-called organisation named the National Listeners and Viewers Association, about which I have never been able to get any information, except that it has one annual meeting a year. Nobody seems to know how the committee is elected, how Mrs. Whitehouse is elected, from where its funds come, exactly how many people it represents and how many people are members of that organisation.
It may be true that she represents a current of feeling, quite apart from that organisation, and she has done a great PR job in putting herself forward, but the members and the people behind that organisation are reactionary in the extreme. They are the floggers, the bring-back-the-censorship people. They are the worst kind of people, and Mrs. Whitehouse was clever enough in her PR to see that this would not wash with the public and the television companies, so she appears to be all sweetness, light and reason when one goes to discuss questions with her. My opinion is that she is a dangerous woman and that she needs watching. I am surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Annan, was so easily conned.
I should like to say, too, how much I appreciated the speech of my noble friend Lord Parry about Wales. I agree with him about the Welsh language. If we put up as much fuss about the Welsh language as we do about Mentmore we might get little further. I am rather glad, too, that the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, rose to my bait about the academic Mafia. He gave himself away because he equated academics with intelligence, which is of course absolutely wrong.
§ Lord WILLIS
I was, of course, teasing, my Lords. I believe that we owe a great 1063 deal to many academics, not least the noble Lord, Lord Annan, for what he has done on this report. I just say, let us have fewer of them.
I owe an apology because it appears that my remarks about the noble Baroness, Lady Plowden, were misunderstood. I was using her as an example of the fact that there is not the kind of consultation from the top that one would expect. It really does not answer the point that I should go up to her at a party and say, "Hello, I'm Ted, who are you?" The point that I was really trying to make was that the heads of these big organisations should consult. Here am I representing the writers of Great Britain, the people who put the stuff on the screen. One would think that they would go out of their way to have consultations from time to time. One would think they might say, "Come round and chat about violence, come round and talk about this or that". On the contrary, they keep one at arm's length in this way. It does not bother me because I am rather busy, but it seems an unfortunate way of maintaining contact.
I was very impressed with the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Vaizey and Lord Lovell-Davis, on local radio. In fact, they began to shake my views on this. I still believe in the competition between the BBC and commercial local radio. I do not know what local radio they listen to which leads them to talk about the poverty of the BBC stations. I get Radio Medway, which is a BBC station, regularly and I can tell your Lordships that it is superb. It is really a first-rate little radio station. So perhaps we listen to different stations. However, I certainly agree absolutely with what the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, said about Radio London. It is ridiculous to have a local radio station for a great metropolis like this.
I hope that the Government will take note of the weight of opinion expressed in this debate. I am sure that they will. I feel that the basic message was, with certain exceptions, "Don't let's have change for the sake of change. Let's trust the organisations which have been built up so delicately and carefully over the last few years to do this extensive new job that we want done and, where we do have to have new machinery, let's have 1064 it with the minimum bureaucracy and the maximum flexibility." I thank your Lordships. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.