HL Deb 29 April 1980 vol 408 cc1210-39

6.47 p.m.

Lord ROSS of MARNOCK rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what action they propose to take to prevent the destruction of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I welcome the opportunity—though I am saddened by the need—to raise the question of the brutal proposal of the BBC to kill off the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. I am the first to declare and praise the efforts of the BBC over its long lifetime as a patron of music. I think that anything I know about music came from the old Reithian days of listening on a Sunday to Bach, and Handel and to what they appreciated as the appropriate kind of programme for a Sunday.

However, when we consider what is now happening and this particular proposal—and remember that it concerns only one of five orchestras that are to be axed; in fact, I think it is a cut of about 34 per cent.—we can understand how appalled informed opinion in Scotland and elsewhere has been at the decision of the BBC.

There has been little or no consultation even with the BBC's own advisory committees on music—the Scottish Advisory Committee or the central one. I was fascinated by the reason given by an official of the BBC, who said that they did not consult them because they knew what the answer would be. So, evidently they only consult when they get the kind of answer they like. People may appear cynical now, people who are wholehearted supporters of the BBC—and I think that a petition with 70,000 signatures has gone to the BBC—as to whether the BBC, with its proud record, is departing from its traditional position of being a patron of serious art and is being tilted away to pop, most of whose listeners, by the way, never pay for a licence. All the young people running around with these little sets do not pay for a licence.

I have the feeling that the BBC must change its decision in respect of this matter. There is confusion in the letters which we receive from them. My noble friend will remember a letter that he received saying that there must be across-the-board cuts. He will remember that that was continued with an annex giving the apologia of the BBC, saying that they rejected across-the-board cuts. Indeed, when we look at what they have done, we see that there is unfairness in respect of certain aspects. They talk about a modest cut of 10 per cent, on educational programmes; this is after a cut in London of 3 per cent, as regards television. Radio main networks are to have a cut of 5 per cent.; news, 3 per cent.; but the national regions, in which Scotland is included, are to have cuts of between 7 per cent, and 9 per cent.

However, undoubtedly, the biggest cut in Scotland is the proposed disbandment of the Scottish Symphony Orchestra, although why they put it in the Scottish Region I do not know, because 70 per cent, of the output of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra is networked; only 30 per cent, is purely for Scottish ears. So this is something very different, and concerns the whole question of fairness, with which the Government are involved.

Let us remember the BBC's reasons for making the cuts at all. They are, first, inflation—for which the Government have responsibility; secondly, high interest rates—for which the Government have responsibility; and, thirdly, competition, although I always thought that that led to improvement in standards and a reduction in costs. Evidently, it is conducted in such a way in the broadcasting sphere that I cannot say whether or not it leads to an increase in quality. I can remember all the debates we had when we set up ITV. But, certainly, if there is competition and leap-frogging in respect of wages and the showbiz costs involved, it is very serious for the country.

But there has been a complete misunderstanding and misappreciation by the BBC, although I hope not by the Government, of the fundamental importance of this orchestra. It is more than just another orchestra. It has an international reputation for excellence, for innovation, for adventure and for programming. It was Sir Thomas Beecham himself who said that he would hire anyone who had spent two years in the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Therefore, let us not be put off by any suggestion that it has somehow or other been declining. There is to be a gala concert in Glasgow on Sunday night, 4th May. Four distinguished conductors will be present, racing in, trying to do their bit to save the orchestra: Sir Alexander Gibson, James Lughran, Simon Rattle, who has written a very interesting letter to The Times today, and Christopher Seaman. There are other such men as these who had their first chance in this orchestra. There are soloists who would not have had a chance except for the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. There are composers who were first heard here. When that is taken away, the effect it has on the whole musical life and future of Scotland is very serious indeed.

I hope noble Lords appreciate that 17 members of this orchestra are part-time teachers at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music in Glasgow. They also do work in schools. They cannot stay there if there is no orchestra; as usual, they will gravitate to the South. The loss in training and in recruitment to that college and the long-term effect of that is very grave indeed for Scotland. No wonder there has been an outpouring of protests. They come from the Philharmonic Orchestras of Vienna, Los Angeles and Berlin. They cannot understand what we are doing.

What are the reasons? Inflation—but that is to be ended; high interest rates—that is only temporary; and competition—that will be helpful. Therefore, for temporary reasons we are going to make a permanent impoverishment of the culture of Scotland. That is very serious indeed. It was the Minister for the Arts who said that cuts should not discriminate against particular sections. I think that I have proved that the discrimination is against music, and certainly in Scotland. I do not know why. I do not know who advised it. Was it the Scottish Broadcasting Council? It never consulted anyone—musicians or organisations. I have a feeling that it felt that its share of the cut could be met simply by cutting out the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. That is an easy way out, but a very dangerous way out from the point of view of the real wealth of the community.

I have a long memory. Some people in the BBC have a 10-year itch as regards the Scottish Symphony Orchestra. They tried to disband it in 1960 and in 1970; they must not be allowed to succeed in 1980. The effect upon festivals of music and choral societies is very important indeed. There has been a flourishing musical development in Scotland over the last two decades and this orchestra has played its very considerable part. It has taken 45 years to reach the international reputation which it has, but it is to be killed by just one decision. The BBC have made the suggestion that they consider this the best way forward in the interests of the listening public and the musical profession. They never asked the listening public or the musical profession. They say that they will open up the possibility of enhancing orchestras when resources become less scarce. When the resources are available there will be no orchestra, By this decision we shall kill this orchestra, and we must not allow that to happen.

There are other options. I have heard what the BBC is paying for certain films; £2 million in the case of one film and £500,000 for another. But they are old films which everyone has seen before they have appeared on the BBC. Of course, they are imports. The Government could be very much more flexible in relation to the financing of the BBC. This arises because they say that there is to be no increase in the licence fee for two years, and no change in relation to the monies made available to the BBC.

There is very considerable duplication, not just on radio but in the BBC's output, both within the BBC and between the BBC and ITV. We have all seen the duplications in respect of sporting facilities, and very expensive sporting facilities. Money could be saved there. Despite all the BBC says, I am convinced that there are administrative savings to be made. The bureaucracy of the BBC is probably tied with more red, blue, white or any other coloured tape than one can think of. One has only to go to a party conference to see how many vans are there representing the BBC and how many are represen- ting the other side. One finds that in many cases there is far too lush a representation where money could be saved.

If the Government want to save some money, do we need a fourth channel, and do we need it just now? There are times when I think that we suffer from too much bad television. It has been bad enough with "Death of a Princess", but this is not the time to discuss that. I am more concerned about the death of an orchestra. I have been heartened by the response in Scotland to efforts to save the orchestra. Money has come in from private sources. But the future of the orchestra and the importance of it lies as a broadcasting orchestra.

I am more than slightly worried because there has been private generosity in respect of the Scottish National Orchestra. One of the great stories of Scottish generosity and quick response was that of the building up of the Scottish Opera. The other side of television and communications have played their part in that as well. This is a distinctive orchestra with a special role and special importance, and the Government must intervene in this case at the last minute to try to save this splendid orchestra.

7.1 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, has really said practically all there is to say about this subject. He is certainly voicing the feelings of the people of Scotland. I would lean rather more heavily on the Government, because I can understand very well the BBC's problem. They do not get a special subvention to be patron of the arts. They are rather miserably treated. It will not do any harm, although no doubt everyone here knows them, to get on the record their place in the licence fees charged in various countries. As at present on colour television, for example, the United Kingdom licence fee is £25; Switzerland, £34; Sweden, £53; Denmark, £68; Belgium, £53; Austria, £49. These figures are repeated in other licence figures.

Surely in Britain, with the service we are meant to provide, the BBC cannot really be expected to be a major patron of the arts on this sort of money if they can in fact, as we all know, pay fees for the broadcasting of records much more cheaply than they can produce with the excellent orchestras they support in various parts of the country. The Scottish Orchestra is a special case, because in the whole of Scotland we have only two major orchestras. As the noble Lord, Lord Ross, said, there has been a major development of music in Scotland; the Scottish Opera and the Scottish ballet are examples which are internationally acclaimed. It has a great deal to do, first, with the Scottish National Orchestra which performs prodigious feats of peripatetic music, if that is the right expression, and has done a terrific amount all over Scotland to promote interest in serious music. But it is backed, and backed ably, by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

I do not think that the Government can stand back. They must do something about it. There are all sorts of schemes afoot. I have heard of committees being set up to fund the Scottish Orchestra from industry. The BBC have said that they will support, and they have contacted the STV and the independent television companies. But this is not enough. The Scottish National Orchestra is funded in this way, and it might be that you would pare the support by general industry and the public from the Scottish National Orchestra if you set up two entirely similarly financed bodies.

For this reason, it is up to the Government to find a solution, or back a solution. They clearly cannot say, "It has nothing to do with us". The Government are doing too much of this, saying, "We provide the money. We make the cuts, and do what you like". You cannot do that in this case because the BBC have a sound financial case for saying, "We are not put there to act as a patron of the arts if it is not essential to our broadcasting function". They can demonstrate this. For this reason, I have enormous pleasure in backing the noble Lord, Lord Ross, in his Question, and asking the Government to take a much more positive attitude.

7.5 p.m.


My Lords, any consideration of the problems which face the BBC today soon reveals a complex situation. On the one hand there is the historical principle that central Government decide the BBC's total cash resources, through exercise of their ultimate statutory power to fix the level of the annual TV licence fee, after which the BBC have to make the best disposition of the resources they can afford from this to meet their objectives. This method of funding well pleases the governors, who say in their 1980 Handbook: It is well understood on all sides that the editorial independence which distinguishes the BBC's work from that of most other broadcasters round the world is intimately related to the financial strength conferred by a healthy licence fee system, and that editorial independence and programme quality are also inseparable". Interestingly, they also are moved to add: … there seems to be a strong desire among both Ministers and their officials to put the BBC's finances on a secure footing again. If by "a secure footing", they simply mean that the books balance and the accounting is done correctly, then well I enough; but if, as I would believe most of us would expect, there is a strong implication of "a secure footing" being an adequate footing, the observation would seem to be idiosyncratic, especially as the comment comes in the same paragraph as one stating that, on 25th November 1978, they had got a colour licence fee of £25 after asking for £30, and also bearing in mind the reasons why we are here this evening.

I would not wish to argue with the licence fee system of funding, however. Canada and Australia gave up licences and regretted it. But while I believe this method to be the most equitable, and the most likely to produce politically free radio, it does not of course follow that Governments get their sums right. I should like to return to this later.

As an alternative to simply distributing the licence fee, there is the degree to which the BBC may be expected to be also an entrepreneurial fund-raising body, rather on the basis of the BBC being expected to use imagination and skill to "top-up" the product of the licence fee. Perhaps somewhere between these two positions is a final resolution of affordable activities mix which pays some heed to the strength of public reaction to initial proposals, a testing of the temperature of the water rather analogous to the system of temporary withdrawal of a licence to export a work of art from this country, whereby, as this applies to the BBC by analogy, initiatives which would not otherwise be taken might result from enthusiasms expressed by the public.

These initiatives might come, for example, from leading industrial and commercial organisations who, seeing an identified popular demand, would be encouraged to come in with support. The present public outcry—for it is no less—stems from the fixing of the colour licence fee of £34 in the teeth of a request for £40 made clearly known in plenty of time by the BBC. As the writer of an article, "Face the Music", in the Economist said last month: A penurious patron is an absurdity". In January last year the same journal compared the annual colour TV licence fees of nine of our principal neighbours. They were, in descending order: Denmark, £70; Austria, £63; Italy, £47; Sweden, £46; Ireland, £38; France, £36; West Germany, £33; Holland, £29; and Britain, £25. Relative incomes, exchange rates and costs of living complicate comparisons, but it is surely interesting to note that the Italian Government, whose people are probably the least prosperous among Western European countries, asked for nearly twice as much money from their viewers as their British counterpart.

In Britain, the black and white licence fee represented over 3 per cent, of the old age pension until 1960, while by the late 1970s the colour licence fee had fallen to only 2.5 per cent. The difference, 0.5 per cent., may not sound much expressed as a decimal percentage, but, when multiplied by the annual value of the old age pension, it would more than meet the figure of £40 per year asked for by the BBC for 1980 and 1981, and the poorest sector of the community would still be paying a smaller proportion of their pensions for colour TV now than for black and white in the 1960s.

Other interpretations of the licence fee may be made. The difference between £40 and £34 per year is 2p per household per day, about one-fifth of the cost of the Sun or Daily Mirror newspapers. Taking 1970 as a base, over the last 10 years a retail price index increase multiple would indicate £40, not £34, now, and an average earnings index increase multiple gives £46 now as the figure. The ability and willingness of old age pensioners to pay for colour television is reflected in the fact that the proportion of all black and white TV licence holders in Britain who are old age pensioners, is less, at one-fifth, than that represented by the AB socio-economic group. To enrich our lives, can we really not afford 11p a day rather than the 9p decided on?

In summary, when we shall be paying the least in Western Europe, a lower proportion of the old age pension than 20 years ago, and much less than parities with increases in the retail price and average earnings indices would justify, I fear I cannot agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, who in this House on 12th March on a Starred Question observed that he thought the sum of £34 for a licence was high enough for the time being. I have tried to collect factual arguments to show the factual position.

The BBC does, however, seem to have been using its revenues in recent years to support too many orchestras—11 house orchestras including four of symphony scale, amounting, at 551, to one-third of all salaried orchestra jobs in Britain—and I can only conclude that the BBC has tried to hold on to too many orchestras for too long. These 11 orchestras are almost never used on television, as has been said, and the light orchestras are said to sound out of date, even to the conservative Radio 2 public; and Radio 3 would gain by the amalgamation perhaps of three regional orchestras into one chamber ensemble.

The nub of the proposed cuts is quality. The four orchestras the BBC proposes to cut are of variable quality. It has been said that in trying to conserve funds by disbanding all regional orchestras, the Corporation deliberately sought to avoid the odium of having to make a choice. The Scottish Symphony Orchestra has a unique record among the four of promoting new works, new conductors and new soloists—for example, Colin Davis, Alexander Gibson and Simon Rattle, now its chief guest conductor—and of travelling outside its region, together with a wider repertoire than its other Scottish counterpart, the Scottish National Orchestra. Last year it gave 40 public concerts in Scotland, and 70 of its last 95 concerts were nationally networked. In the last five years it has played 168 works by living British composers or, on average, one every 10 days.

Its great misfortune is that it is only now, in its moment of crisis, receiving from many the credit due to it, and this is because in order to do its work it has performed largely in the studio or, as a writer in The Times aptly put it last month, in the public ear, not in the public eye. The advice of the Advisory Music Committee of the Broadcasting Council of Scotland was apparently not taken in instituting the cuts, and it is therefore quite possible that the purpose and special achievements of the Scottish Symphony Orchestra were not then fully appreciated by the council.

Indeed, instead of disbanding the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the contrary belief is held by many who feel that its tours of Britain should be extended after strengthening its present membership of 69 so that it may take on the new character, if not name, of the BBC's extra-metropolitan symphony orchestra. Since these concerts could also be broadcast, this would be consistent with the view that, since its foundation in the 1920s, a main reason for the existence of the BBC has been accepted as the provision of live broadcasts of music, particularly classical music. All this is neatly summarised in timely fashion in the 1980 BBC Handbook in which, on page 186, it is stated: Most of the BBC's 'serious' music is broadcast on Radio 3. This category of output represents a huge cumulative investment over the years of the BBC's existence, having from the start been one of its principal commitments as a public service broadcasting system. The BBC's policy has remained constant and it is based upon the aims of excellence of performance, enterprise in presentation, and variety of content". Today we are discussing the projected demise of one of the principal instruments of that worthy policy.

I mentioned earlier the possibility that the BBC is expected to make some entrepreneurial effort to top up the funds allocated to it by the licence. Overall, it seems that there will soon be a second ITV channel in competition with BBC TV and that BBC radio is bearing a larger share of the cuts than TV, with the orchestras in the forefront. This may have clinched the appropriate action at the right time for some of the orchestras, but not for the Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

So what can the BBC do to top up its revenue from the licence fee? First, it might itself take advertising, starting with its own pop music Radio 1. This might be extended to BBC TV, as is the practice in Austria, Italy, France, Ireland, West Germany and Holland, but—and I speak for myself—on a selective and restricted basis only, please.

Secondly, commercial radio sources must devote to live music an increasing sum from their growing revenues—£ 43 million in 1979—and this could be used for the Scottish Symphony Orchestra in particular.

Thirdly, the Government, through the Arts Council, might make a second subsidy, additional to the £450,000 its Scottish Council gives the Scottish National Orchestra, although it does not seem clear how that could be done while the Scottish Symphony Orchestra is part of the BBC. Neither, incidentally, would amalgamation of the two orchestras appear to be the key, since this would save only about 25 Scottish Symphony Orchestra jobs, and change the character of the orchestra and probably expand it to a size where it could play only in the Usher Hall in Edinburgh and not in Glasgow, its present home.

Fourthly, the commercial potential of the orchestra might be increased by, for example, sponsorship of musical events by commercial organisations, as is the case with cricket, where the BBC make the programmes, retaining editorial control over which matches to broadcast, with what commentators, and for how long.

I referred earlier to the consequences of restrictive financial measures being used to test the level of public esteem and emotion and the fact that, from this, alternative action might result. In this case public esteem for the Scottish Symphony Orchestra has been incontrovertibly proved to be at least national, perhaps beyond the wildest imaginations of its Scottish supporters, and also international, earning high tributes from internationally renowned foreign conductors, such as Eugen Jochum and Carlo Maria Giulini, who have no financial dependence on the orchestra.

Perhaps this is the moment to float the orchestra as an independent entity. There is already great competition for funds. Would the Government give a lead in the form of an outright grant, annual and perhaps decreasing subsidies, or a loan at beneficial rates? You cannot easily apply cost-effectiveness to artistic patronage, but such a lead and show of confidence might well persuade others to follow, even to scramble. After all, the Scottish Symphony Orchestra has been up for auction for such a short period that the true depth of public feeling—and its pocket—is still emerging. That, after all, is why we are here this evening.

The Government are firm in their view of the level of licence fee for 1980-81 and right in giving freedom to the BBC to decide how to use the money it produces. But as an analogy, while we here are all free to do as we choose with the contents of our bank account, we would, in stringent times, be not unmindful of constructive and friendly advice from our bank manager. And it is surely in this capacity that the Government uniquely can talk to the BBC.

Although this is an Unstarred Question, I hope that in the reply that the Government traditionally make we may hear something practical at this time of last resort. After all, we were directed to this mode of questioning by the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, in his reply to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, on 12th of March, when he said, as reported at column 1072 of the Official Report, … but, as a former Minister of the Arts, I hope he will not think it impertinent if I tell him that these very detailed matters are much better raised in the form of an Unstarred Question. In the Government reply I look for the sound of sweet music, and not the note of the broken reed.

7.23 p.m.


My Lords, my only excuse for intervening in the debate is that I suppose that I have had a longer experience of broadcasting, on radio and television, than anyone else in your Lordships' House. It seems to me that the issue raised by the Question of my noble friend Lord Ross of Marnock is a perfectly simple one: should there, or should there not, be some Government control over broadcasting on radio and television? That is the simple issue.

At present the Government have no control at all. So it is no use asking the noble Lord on the Treasury Bench what the Government can do, or will do, to prevent this or that. They cannot do anything. They have no power of any kind. So tonight I should like, if I may, to confine myself to this issue. With all respect to the noble Lord, Lord Broad-bridge, it has nothing at all to do with licence fees. It is a question of should there, or should there not, be Government control. At present there is none. In the light of what the broadcasting companies have done, should we now have some; or will perhaps—and here the noble Lord might be able to exercise some influence—the broadcasting companies reform themselves?

I think that I can claim to be impartial because I was once at the receiving end from the politicians. Many years ago, before most of your Lordships were born, the BBC launched a weekly programme called "In the News". I was a regular member of a team which discussed current events. We had an occasional guest. I remember that Lady Astor was one of them, and that she threw a glass of wine over me at dinner before the programme one night when I said that I loved alcohol.

The programme was a great success. Then both the major political parties stepped in. Emissaries from the Conservative Central Office and Transport House, then under the direction of Lord Woolton and Herbert Morrison, advanced on Broadcasting House.

These chaps"— they said— say exactly what they think. That "— replied Sir William Haley— is the whole object of the exercise. But the political pressure continued, and eventually the BBC succumbed. They agreed to have two members of the team from the Conservative and Labour parties, briefed by their respective central offices, to put the official party point of view on every topic. My Lords, that killed the programme stone dead in three weeks.

With great courage Mr. Norman Collins revived it for ITV. It was then called "Free Speech", and, with the joint, became part of the Sunday lunch in many homes in this country. Then the political pressure was resumed, and in the end we went down. But we had a good run for our money—10 years; I make no complaint. The only point that I am trying to make is that for those 10 years I was fighting hard for the freedom of the television authorities from any kind of political interference; and I thought that I was fighting on the right side. Well, they got it—they got clear of political intervention—and on the whole with very satisfactory results.

But recently there have been at least two very disquieting events, and the similarity between them is so great that I believe the comparison must be drawn, and I propose to draw it. My noble friend Lord Ross of Marnock said he was not going to mention "Death of a Princess" because it was not relevant to the debate; but in my submission it is totally relevant. The comparison here is so exact that one can say that there is only one difference: on the whole "Death of a Princess" was worse.

The death of an orchestra at the hands of the BBC and the "Death of a Princess" at the hands of ITV raise questions of very great importance to this country and for the future. I do not name any company, because those decisions were approved, in one case by the BBC, and in the other by the Independent Television Authority. What have they in common? First—destruction. Secondly, I think, irresponsibility. Thirdly, they have outraged, in the first place, the musical world—and I really mean the musical world—and, secondly, the Islamic World. Why?—because of money; in the first case to save it, and in the second case to make it, whatever the cost in human values.

There is little that I need to add to what my noble friend Lord Ross and the noble Lord, Lord Broadbridge, have said about the Scottish Symphony Orchestra. However, I should like to say that Scotland is still a nation and I think—I have always thought—a remarkable one. I believe that it will remain a very remarkable nation. Therefore, with all due respect to Birmingham, I do not think that one can put the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra on a par with, say, the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. That is not to say that one or the other is the better; although I believe that in the musical world it is generally admitted that the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra has a very rare quality, and is acknowledged to be one of the great orchestras of the world, capable of holding its own with any others.

Furthermore, it is, and has been for years, a training ground, not only for musicians but for conductors. It is almost inconceivable that the BBC should go out to smash all this up. It has evoked a chorus of disapproval, as I have said, from the entire musical world. Giulini, writing from Los Angeles; Menuhin, writing from abroad. I could name many more; those letters appeared in The Times. Not the faintest attention was paid to them by the BBC.

When I first entered public life over 50 years ago the musical life for the vast majority of the Scottish people consisted very largely of folk-lore and Harry Lauder. That is about what it added up to. Today, Scotland is an intensely musical nation, and everybody, all over the world, knows it. For this the BBC is largely responsible. Why should they undo their handiwork at this juncture? The Edinburgh Festival, which my mother helped to bring into being—she was on the original committee—is now established internationally as one of the great musical festivals of the year; and, in my old constituency of Aberdeenshire, there is a musical centre, under the inspired direction of Lady Aberdeen at Haddo House, which has had a profound effect, not only upon the North of Scotland but upon the whole of Scotland. My Lords, gramophone records have helped, but they are not, in the end, a substitute for live performances, and never can be.

I turn now—not for long, but for a moment—to the other death, "Death of a Princess". I say—and I think this ought to be said—that this is an affront to the ruling family of Saudi Arabia; and it was perpetrated by the ITV, not the BBC. We sometimes forget, I think, that when we were the head of a great British Empire we helped to put Ibn Saud in power in Saudi Arabia; and we certainly should not forget the fact, of which Mr. Nixon reminded us last night on television, that today, at this moment, the West depends on Saudi Arabia for its existence—no less; that is true. This was not rapportage: it was fictional drama. I think this ought to be said in Parliament, and I am going to say it without any equivocation. The action of the ITV in showing this film at this time of crisis was recklessly irresponsible, and should have been stopped. They diced with death for money, and there is no excuse for that. The next day I read in one of the evening papers the headline: Carrington under Fire". I read on, and when I had finished reading I said to myself, "The headline should have been, not 'Carrington' but 'Grade under under fire'". Why was he under fire? It was because he had expressed regret on behalf of the British Government for what I think was a monstrous thing to do. My Lords, this is no time for the West to attack Islam, and the sooner our Israeli friends realise this the better. I believe they will. In conclusion, I want to say just this. For the BBC to murder their Scottish Symphony Orchestra without consulting the Minister for the Arts was intolerable. For the ITV to show "Death of a Princess" without consulting the Foreign Secretary, and indeed in defiance of his known views, was equally intolerable. For my part, I owe a great deal to the BBC and ITV. For much of my life I have earned my living from them, very happily, and I am the last to belittle their achievements. Their coverage of news, often at great risk to the camera crews—programmes which ought to be seen and are seen all over the world—is almost certainly the best in the world, and is acknowledged to be. Programmes such as "Weekend World", "The World About Us", the "World at One", "Panorama" and "Parkinson" remain without parallel anywhere else; and we can look back with pride on John Freeman's "Face to Face" and Lord Clark's "Civilisation", which have never since been paralleled.

The history and record of the BBC is no less good in music. Only the other day they bought and produced a production of Manon Lescaut from the Metropolitan Orchestra in New York, which is the best opera performance I have ever seen on television, and which must have come as a revelation to millions of people in this country. They deserve enormous credit for a great deal that they have done.

Why are they showing signs of wrecking it all at this moment? My Lords, the late Lord Reith was a Scotsman. He was also a Presbyterian, like my noble friend Lord Ferrier, who I see in his place. Their views do not command very much support in the modern world, but I would say that they do command great respect. The standard set by Lord Reith for the BBC was perhaps too high, but it was once the envy of the world. I do not say that it could have been maintained. I do say that the deterioration which we now see in certain instances need not be so great.

I have given two glaring examples. Let me add a third. There is surely enough violence and bloodshed in the world, which has to be reported, and should be, without adding to it another nightly fictional dose of horror, which is what we now get on both channels. The other night I watched two men fighting. It was not a boxing match. Two men were bashing each other's head against the wall and against the floor, for no apparent reason, covered with blood. What was the object of this? It was, I suppose, just to titillate the savage, primaeval instincts which we all know exist in all of us but which, if we do not curb them, will bring about the self-destruction of the human race. There is far too much gratuitous violence and bloodshed, which breeds violence and bloodshed, on television today, and I think it is a grave reflection on them.

De Gaulle imposed a control over French television, which still exists. I remember having an argument with his Minister of Culture, M. Malraux, about this, and saying how wicked I thought it was. Nobody, by the wildest stretch of the imagination, can ever say that M. Malraux was an uncultured or an uncivilised man. Among other things, he restored Paris, and gave us the beautiful city that we know today. But he maintained that de Gaulle was quite right. He said: Television is potentially so powerful a medium that some form of Government control is absolutely essential. Sometimes, especially when I see things being done like the destruction of the Scottish Symphony Orchestra or "Death of a Princess", I begin to think that de Gaulle and Malraux were right.

I would end by saying this. If the BBC and ITV do not now mend their ways, and say that they are going to mend their ways, they are asking for Government control of some kind. They will get it, and they will deserve it.

7.40 p.m.


My Lords, I shall not follow my good friend Lord Boothby into the question of Government control. I am going to follow on Government example. What we are talking about now, as has been pointed out by my noble friend Lord Ross, is the result of the general practices and precepts now being adopted by the Government. This is a cut across the board, the sort of thing which is utterly and totally meaningless. This is something which has been forced upon the BBC—or, they say it has been forced upon the BBC—by the necessity for economy. As has been said, the economies are imposed on the Corporation (and here I am defending the Corporation) by the fact that inflation has made the scale and costs of their productions more expensive.

With deference to the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, the Government have a method of control. They control not by control of taste but by controlling the capacity of the BBC to be culturally instructive and artistically imaginative. They do it by and through the licence. Tf the BBC cannot get an adequate licence fee—and they have not got an adequate licence fee—it is obvious that there will be an impairment of what we have all come to expect and, like the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, and myself, have been wanting to improve and advance in the way of television and broadcasting. But we cannot do it if the Corporation have not got the means.

It has been pointed out that what we pay in this country for colour television is absurd. As Sir Michael Swann has pointed out, we are getting something which has a great range of options and opportunities and includes the very expensive programmes to which Lord Boothby referred; and we have been getting that for 10p a day. Ten pence a day is the price of the Sun newspaper. I do not think anyone wants to swap the BBC for the Sun; but, as has been pointed out, for another 2p we should still have the Scottish Orchestra and would be able to go on having the Scottish Orchestra. Two pence is half the price of a cigarette.

My Lords, we must get this in proportion. I am going to be critical—and everyone is entitled to be, and should be, critical—of the way this is being done. All that I am saying in defence of the BBC is that, if we are going to get, and insist upon, quality and proper standards then the BBC must have the resources; and that, in the end, becomes a question of Government. I am not asking (as has been asked) for a subsidy from the Government, or for a special option for the Scottish Symphony Orchestra. What I am asking for is, first, to have in Scotland the means and resources to find the expression which, I assure you is real, genuine and complete in Scotland. The noble Lord, Lord Boothby, pointed out that at one time we were regarded as people who played the pipes and the fiddle and produced Harry Lauder. Today, there is an enormous, genuine, complete resurgence of culture in Scotland, in the arts and particularly in music. I would say that this evening one would find it extremely difficult to find any hall in Scotland which is not being used. Most of this use is for performance with active participation.

Where are we to derive inspiration for this kind of thing? For one thing, it comes, I assure you, from institutions like the BBC Scottish Orchestra, which has set and established standards over long years. What we are doing now is to ape the blind Samson pulling down the temple about his ears. It is absurd. We have acquired standards which are recognised throughout the world. Look at all the protests from every direction from great musicians and others who say "This must not happen". The BBC Scottish Orchestra is not merely what one hears; it is what it is; it is what it consists of. It consists of musicians who are, in fact, the teachers, the people who are able to pass on culture to the younger generation because they have as a base, as a starting position, the prestige of the Scottish Symphony Orchestra. They are, too, the support for the choral societies and everything else. And they go outside the country to demonstrate their quality. Also, they have produced great conductors and have given us the range of performances which has been mentioned here tonight.

My Lords, what is this nonsense? How can we do a thing like this? It is not just a matter of so many musicians out of work. First of all, I would say without any Scottish nationalist inflection that it is an insult to Scotland, a deliberate and serious insult to Scotland, which has been condoned by the Scottish Council of the BBC. This is something we should not tolerate. Something must be done and done very quickly, because the collapse of the orchestra would be irreparable. When I said that I was going to criticise the Government and criticise the example that they set, this is what we have seen in everything-like the threatened disbandment of the World Service of the BBC, the curtailment of the work of the British Council and the withdrawal of options for overseas students. This is not pruning. This is cutting the roots. How are we ever going to recover our self-respect?

7.49 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to make a short intervention. I apologise for not having put my name on the list of speakers until this morning. I should like to support every word that the noble Lord, Lord Ross, has said. He made a first-class speech; he said exactly what we all feel in Scotland about this issue. I hope that the Government will realise that this is something which transcends all party political views; it is something about which we feel deeply. Above all, in not intervening to stop the BBC from doing this they are going to do irreparable damage to music not only in Scotland but in the United Kingdom and all over the world. The noble Lord, Lord Ross, spoke of the great influence of the Scottish Symphony Orchestra and pointed out the enormous ramifications of this great orchestra. I will not add to that, except to say that I agree with everything he has said about it. He put it better than anybody else could have done.

I am a great radio listener—far more than I am a television viewer. There are many programmes on radio which, in my opinion, are very much inferior to the great musical programmes presented by the Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the other great orchestras. Why must we economise on the excellent in order to pay for the much less good and sometimes second-rate? That seems entirely wrong.

Regarding the increase of the licence fees, I had not realised until the noble Lord, Lord Broadbridge, mentioned the list how much lower our licence fees are than in any other country in Europe. Yet we have the finest broadcasting company in Europe—in the world, in fact. Everybody acknowledges it. We pay very, very little for it. Do not let us exaggerate; do not let us say it would make an enormous difference to the listening public if they paid another £5 per year. Look at the way the price of petrol has gone up! Are there any fewer motor cars on the road? On the contrary. I wish there were, but it has not made the slightest difference to those people who drive motor cars that they have to pay three times the amount for petrol that they did five or six years ago. I am perfectly certain nobody would give up a television licence if they had to pay another £3 or £4 a year. If, as Lord Broadbridge told us, our television licences are so much cheaper than anywhere in Europe, that is something the Government could look at because of the enormous importance of this service to the whole country.

I have a vivid recollection of the beginning of the war when the great orchestras were endangered because of not being able to give so many concerts. The London Philharmonic, the Liverpool, the Manchester—all the great orchestras—were in difficulties. It takes years and years to build up a great orchestra and they were afraid that they would have to close down when the war came. They appealed to the trusts such as the Pilgrim Trust and the Carnegie Trust. I can remember giving money in order to enable these great orchestras to continue. We knew perfectly well that if they collapsed it would be years and years before they could build up again. Orchestras are not made in a night; they are not made in a week. They are built up over many, many years. It would be the greatest tragedy if the BBC were allowed to cut all these orchestras, but particularly the one with which we are concerned today.

I agree with everyone who has said how much the BBC has done for music in this country. I can remember many years ago when there was only the Covent Garden Opera Company and the D'Oyly Carte. Today we have the magnificent opera companies; but that has been achieved largely by subsidies which we have all willingly paid. I would much rather pay for music than for a lot of other things that we pay for in our taxation. These companies have been built up over the years. We have the Scottish opera company, the Welsh opera company, the English opera company and of course Covent Garden. These are unique, and people come from all over the world to listen to our operas and orchestras. Also, we send our orchestras all over the world.

The destruction of the orchestra would be a tragedy and I pray that the Government realise what it will mean if this happens. It will be destroying one of the great assets of this country, an asset which can go on for ever if we can keep up the standards. We cannot keep up the standards if we allow the players to disperse. It is hopeless. The noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, said that the Scottish Symphony Orchestra is a great training ground. The conductors who come from the orchestra are famous all the world over. Their value is far greater than just a few pounds of taxation every year.

I beg the Government—and I am speaking with terrific feeling—to look at this orchestra as something of a great national asset. It is something which we want at this time when we are all rather depressed and the world is in a very bad state. Here is something that everybody agrees we need. As the noble Lord, Lord Ross, has said, people have signed petitions. I and thousands of others have done so. It represents something. If the petition had been put to people in the whole of the United Kingdom, they would have signed it too. The Scottish Symphony Orchestra really represents something. I beg the Government to look at this matter and see whether something so foolish as has been suggested cannot be stopped before it is too late.

7.56 p.m.


My Lords, as the noble Baroness has just said, my noble friend put his case superbly. I am not going to attempt to add to it. It has all been said and said very well. I want to make a few comments of a very disagreeable kind, I hope, about the Government at whose feet this ill-kicked home goal honestly lies. It is a grievous example of this Government's most disagreeable failing—by which I mean their readiness to ignore completely the consequences of their action.

The licensing system is a very good system of raising money, providing both sides play ball. I had to do this when I was in office in a number of places. This is always done by the spending body putting forward its needs, by the department that has to grant the money discussing these issues very carefully, looking at them with a fine tooth comb, getting the costs down as low as it can and then supporting the figure which is finally agreed upon to the Treasury. In my day—having Treasury Ministers a good deal less philistine than my poor opposite number has—we usually achieved within reason what we asked for because we had looked carefully into the needs.

One has something which is in many ways the glory of this country. We curse it often enough, but the BBC is probably the most individual, independent and uncommercial concern that one could have anywhere and has done for music something which is almost unbelievable. I was interested tonight to hear from so many people from North of the Border who said exactly what has happened in Scotland, which is not my personal experience. My grandfather went to Australia in 1850 and so my right to call myself a Scot is rather reduced. My knowledge is of this country and there is no question whatever but that the BBC has made music here—and not only in London but Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol and Norwich. All over the place in the England that I know, as opposed to North of the Border, music is flourishing, very largely as a result of the BBC. The Annan Report said: The BBC has been a great patron of the Arts. More than any other single influence the BBC has transformed Britain from a 'Land without Music' to a great centre of music-making; and the orchestras which the BBC supports have improved the quality of music in the regions. London is unquestionably the musical capital of the world and much of the credit for that goes to the BBC. When the noble Lord, Lord Grade, said he thought that there ought to be an Unstarred Question on this because it is very complicated, what he had in mind, I think, was the possibility that there are more orchestras about the country—North, South, East and West—than the country can really support. That may be so. It is something which needs the most careful consideration, and when I was a Minister I got, through the Arts Council, a very careful examination done of the London orchestras. The advice was, "Leave it alone." That may or may not have been right, but that was the advice we took. There was a feeling in the Arts Council that if one could suppress one London orchestra one could get a better one elsewhere. I think that was probably wrong; but certainly this is a difficult question. It is not a question which any Government have the right to put on to the organisation concerned to make it their duty to solve by not giving them enough money to keep up their standards. This is the disgraceful thing.

I know that my own Government were not beyond criticism. We did not give enough, but our shortfall was nothing like the shortfall we have here, which is £34 to £41, which I make about 30 per cent, although my mathematics are not absolutely certain. Anyway, it is a big shortfall. When you add to that a continuing 20 per cent, inflation—and before the noble Lord writes down a correction, the result of the decrease in licence fee and inflation means a shortfall of 30 per cent.—this is to force the BBC to do something which they might have done over the next five years in a gentle way; that is, to make some changes. They had 11 orchestras. It may well be that they had more than was absolutely necessary. I do not think anyone has ever suggested until this moment that the Scottish Symphony Orchestra was one of them. I think that if the thing had been properly done there could have been some changes made.

I blame the Government totally for this. For if you have a gem in your escutcheon, which the BBC undoubtedly is musically—one speaker tonight (I think, the noble Lord, Lord Boothby) said that the record of the BBC in music is no less good than it is in political reporting, but it is twice as good and not "no less good"; let there be no mistake, it has been brilliant—and it tells you what money it wants to maintain its standards and you give it something which with inflation means a shortfall of 30 per cent., you are deliberately half-killing it. It then has to see where it can most conveniently find the money. I know a bit about this, because I have had to deal with other non-musical things which some of your Lordships may remember—though I will not remind you—where cuts are imposed on bodies which can only be made in a way that suits the body best and suits the nation least.

That is what the BBC have done and they can be criticised for it, I think, in that they have chosen an easy way to abolish an orchestra here, an orchestra there, and another there. It is easier for them to do that than to make other kinds of cuts, such as administrative cuts and so on. The noble Lord, Lord Boothby, said, "Stop the duplication of sport and the rest of it". You can blame the BBC for it, but only at second-hand. The fault is the original failure to supply the money to do what everybody in this country, both North and South of the Border, wants them to do.

Just a word about Northern Ireland: I very much admired the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra when I was there. I do not think it is quite as tragic as is the case for Scotland, but it is a very bad thing indeed. The population is small and they have a very decent orchestra in the Ulster Orchestra which I understand Ulster TV are supporting. Still, the loss of the Northern Ireland Orchestra means a loss of a number of jobs to people where musical jobs are very few.

I should like, before I finish, to say just a word about what this means in the way of manpower. In the report by the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, on training musicians, reference is made to something like 4,000 jobs, or 3,750, for the top class of musicians of all kinds. Of course, about half that number will be chamber music players, soloists, freelances and the rest. So the BBC was supporting well over a quarter of all the top-class musical jobs and now has reduced that by some 160 positions, which is, I think, a third or a quarter—I cannot do it in my head, but it is quite big.

At the same time, the Government are spending money—and they cannot suddenly stop doing this, though they have made one or two attempts to do so—on training these musicians in the most expensive way up to the highest level of performance. What will now happen is that the people who are studying all over the country—and it has already been said that 17 musicians in the Scottish Symphony Orchestra are teachers at the Academy there—and who are being trained in this way are not going to be able to find work. The 150-odd musicians whom the BBC are now going to sack will find it very difficult to get other work and the new ones coming on will find it extremely difficult to find work.

What will they do? I will tell you. They will go and play pop music and they will go and play for the cinema and TV, for those little scraps of things. I have a friend who is a top-class 'cellist, who now has a Strad 'cello and a Rolls-Royce and he has not played a serious piece of music for eight years. The Government are pushing these keen, musically talented students away from what matters into what does not matter. That is what I cannot forgive them for.

One last word: I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, that the question of censorship is relevant here. It is a very relevant question and it ought to be discussed, but I do not think it applies to this debate because it is a question not of censorship but of money. If the Government had given the BBC within a couple of pounds of what it had asked for, it would of course have discussed how things should be done and none of this would have happened. Therefore, I cannot accept that as an excuse. I am very sorry for the noble Lord, Lord Belstead. He and I constantly cross swords here, but I have very seldom had such an easy wicket, or he such a difficult one.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him one question? Has he any good reason for supposing that if the increase in the television licence fee had been made the BBC would have restored the Scottish Symphony Orchestra?


My Lords, obviously I cannot say anything about that, but I certainly would not increase it unless they said they would,

8.9 p.m.


My Lords, if I may say so, I was impressed by the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock. He spoke with obvious feeling and put the case very clearly. Indeed, the other speeches made by your Lordships in the debate this evening have followed the noble Lord in those respects. But I think that the case that has been made has disregarded to some extent three important points: the first is the nature of the relationship between the Government and the BBC; the second is the scale of the last licence increase; and the third point relates to the statements made by the BBC governors for alternative support for music in Scotland.

The home services of the BBC are funded mainly by the licence revenue. It is wholly a matter for the BBC governors to decide how the licence income is employed, but one implication of the Question which the noble Lord, Lord Ross, was asking this evening is that the Government ought to influence the BBC in deciding how to use its available resources.

As the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, has said—and mentioned again just now in his last intervention—that would be contrary to the arrangements governing broadcasting in this country, whereby the BBC is responsible for the day-to-day running of its affairs.

A further implication of Lord Ross's Question is that the Government should simply put up the licence fee again. I must say I am surprised to hear this view expressed from that side of the House. That enthusiasm comes a little strangely from noble Lords opposite, for the previous Government decided in 1979—soon after the 1978 licence increase—not to raise the licence fee again but to increase the borrowing powers of the BBC instead, so that the Corporation fell considerably into deficit. I will not make any further criticism of that because I think at the beginning of 1979 the then Home Secretary was faced with a difficult situation but I criticise, if he will forgive me for doing so, the words of the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, so far as the attitude of the present Government is concerned, because in a great part of his speech he ignored the policy of the party for which he was speaking.

It is the policy of the party opposite, as I understand it, to remove the licence fee entirely so far as retirement pensioners are concerned. Highly desirable though it would be to assist older people to enjoy television, which plays such a large part in their lives, a move of that kind would create a need immediately for a £50 colour television licence. It is no good the noble Lord and other noble Lords putting the case this evening and not mentioning that the party opposite is committed to a 50 per cent, higher licence anyway. That is to leave out of the debate a factor that would have to be met if the party opposite were arranging affairs, but which has not been mentioned in the debate this evening.

What have the present Government done? The new fees that were announced by my right honourable friend last November represented the largest increases in the history of the television licence. Over £1,000 million will be provided for the BBC in the two-year period 1980 to 1982, which represents a considerable increase over the corporation's previous expenditure levels. Again, if your Lordships will forgive me for saying so, one would not have gathered that from the debate which has taken place this evening.

In announcing these increases, which amount to some 36 per cent, for the colour licence and 20 per cent, for the monochrome licence, my right honourable friend made it clear that the increases must last for at least two years, and that they took account of the need for the BBC to pay off its deficit on current account, to increase its capital expenditure, and for an increase in BBC Welsh language broadcasts by the autumn of 1982. Even so—and I openly admit this—the increases were less than the corporation had hoped for; their plans would have involved a colour licence some £7 higher, to be set at £41; but my right honourable friend had to decide what would be fair both to the BBC and to the licence-payer. The economies which the BBC has announced are, as I have said, a matter for it.

The noble Lord, Lord Ross, has complained that Scotland is being discriminated against and he produced percentage figures to support that case. I followed the noble Lord, and I understand his reasoning, but I do not think that his case is really completely tenable if one studies the BBC Press release of 18th April. The reader of that Press release will notice that, although cuts in planned expenditure are to be made in a variety of the BBC's functions, the corporation obviously has reached its decisions with very great care.

If I may give one example of what I mean, the Press release on that date told us that in Scotland and Northern Ireland plans to replace inadequate and obsolescent studios that had originally been cut had been restored to the budget as a result of representations made. Again, that is not consonant with the charge that the BBC has turned a deaf ear to things that have been said to it.

However, among the economies which the governors have decided upon is the disbandment of five of the BBC's 11 orchestras. In his recent lecture to the Royal Television Society the chairman of the BBC, Sir Michael Swann, said that whereas in the early days the corporation could only put out all the music it needed by setting up its own orchestras, this encouraged musical appreciation so that other orchestras grew and multiplied. The noble Lord, Lord Ross, was more than fair in paying tribute to the BBC's patronage of music over the years. The result today, Sir Michael Swann continued in that lecture, was that the BBC's orchestras were not as well supported as the governors would like and provided more music than needed for broadcasting if the BBC was to do justice to all of the other admirable orchestras which the corporation had helped to create.

The governors have proposed cuts amounting to £2.6 million in the corporation's Scottish services. In view of that, the governors have decided that there is no alternative to the disbanding of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and that will involve a loss of 69 posts.

I come to what I asserted was the third point, which I think has been disregarded during the debate this evening, for the BBC has made it clear, again in its Press release, that these losses will be partly balanced by the creation of the BBC Scottish music fund, with the object of enabling more use to be made of freelance musicians in Scotland. In addition, the governors have indicated their willingness to encourage any efforts which may develop to find additional money for orchestral music. I am sure from the speech she has made that the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, will be glad to hear that. The governors have also indicated that the BBC will participate in urgent discussions to review orchestral music in Scotland as a whole. I really think that it is in that context that the suggestions made by the noble Lord, Lord Broadbridge, should be examined.

Therefore, the licence fee increases I say are fair to the BBC and to the licence-payer, and the Government have inescapably to take account of both of those interests. They will not detract from the BBC remaining the major force in public service broadcasting. The governors have not suggested that they are unable to carry out their public duty and their economies are a matter for their decision. The governors have approached the need to make economies with responsibility and have indicated their willingness to continue discussions. These are the reasons for the decision about which the noble Lord, Lord Ross, is asking this Question this evening, and I am glad to have had the opportunity to clarify these reasons.