§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Lord Byers rose to move, That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to reconsider the instructions given by them to the BBC to impose cuts in its external and transcription services.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, the External Services of the BBC have a well-deserved reputation for being able to put into a few minutes the maximum of information, opinion and comment. It is remarkable what they manage to include in a five minute spot and the impact which they achieve on their listeners. I think it is important that tonight we should try to have a representative vote on these Motions. We shall only achieve that if we can finish early. I would therefore hope noble Lords might be as brief as possible. I shall try to do the same.
§ I should like to start by saying that in my view there is no argument about the amount of money involved. The Government are convinced that they are giving more money to the BBC; and, in a sense—and in present-day values—they are doing so marginally. In real terms, they are at the best restoring the 1979 cuts in the capital expenditure programme; and, even then, half the capital that they have promised for improving audibility is not theirs to commit because it is expenditure planned for 1985 onwards. And, if r may say so, I think it is questionable whether this Government are likely to be available to deliver the goods in 1985. Even if the whole of the £102 million which has been promised were to become available, this only really covers the replacement of equipment which is long overdue. Compared with what I might 807 call the "1979 promises", I am told that the increase in capital provided by the Government amounts to about £4 million.
§ And after all this, what shall we have and what will be missing? We shall have the improved audibility which was promised in the 1979 audibility package, but we shall not have the East African relay in the Seychelles, which I believe is vital when one thinks of what is happening in Africa. Also, we shall not have before 1985 the now relay station we urgently need in the Far East for China, Japan and possibly Korea.
§ So much for the capital side of the argument. As a corollary of this, the Government say "We must have cuts in current expenditure of about £3 million a year". They propose to do that by eliminating seven of the existing External Services. I may say that £3 million is a fraction of the normal financial error in any major Government estimate. This is false thinking of a high order, I believe. It is just as if British Rail had ordered £100 million of rolling stock and then eliminated all the services between Glasgow, Edinburgh and London in order to help to meet the bill. It is almost as if a man running an export business decides to improve his equipment to boost his sales and then to pay for it he gets rid of his overseas sales force. It is illogical.
§ The capital and current programmes, I submit, must be treated separately. The ultimate logic of the Government's case would be to provide the finest and widest audibility coverage possible by doubling the expenditure on transmitters and then to announce that to meet this expenditure, unfortunately, they are forced to eliminate all the External Services except perhaps for two or three. I do not intend to refer in detail to the seven services which are to be eliminated because I am quite sure that other noble Lords will do so. However, I would point out that they have one thing in common, namely, that the cost of them is extremely small but that their value, as the authentic voice of Britain, is very great indeed; and that, in my view, goes also for the transcription services.
§ The BBC External Services are renowned for their objectivity. They have a following worldwide which is larger than any other international broadcasting organisation; and once an audience is lost it is extremely difficult to recapture it or to preserve the frequency on which it was operating. Moreover, an audience lost to the BBC will often turn to Russia instead for news and comment. This, surely, must be a short-sighted policy.
§ If this country adopts a policy of discontinuing services in one area and then reacting to critical situations by instituting a new service or trying to restore one which has been given up, it risks being charged with operating propaganda rather than providing the objective service for which the BBC External Services have a high reputation.
§ The effect of the Government's decision will be not only to save £3 million per annum but to reduce BBC manpower by about 200—and all this when over the last 10 years the External Services have already shed 356 jobs, or 11 per cent. of their manning, which is the sort of figure the Government are aiming at in the Civil Service.
In another place the Government have defended their decision with some unconvincing arguments, largely based on the assertions, first, that "the decision must
be taken on foreign policy grounds"—namely, the foreign policy interests of the United Kingdom; and, secondly, that stimulation of trade in areas like Brazil has nothing to do with British foreign policy. They even said that Japan did an excellent export performance without international external broadcasting. So they do; but, my Lords, we in this country need all the help we can get to advance our exports. I think we should contrast this attitude with the views expressed in the Fourth Report of the Foreign Affairs Committee in another place, which was issued at the beginning of this month. They said, first:
We came to the conclusion that the capital programme has been cut too often and by tee much and that the time has now come to spend more money on it".
Secondly, the committee, unlike the Government, stress the need for external broadcasts in areas where there is potentially a great market for British exports. Thirdly, they said:
Your committee is of the opinion that influencing the population of countries and their leaders is very important for the United Kingdom".
They were referring specifically to Hong Kong, China and Korea but the principle is the same for other areas too. Fourthly, the Committee pronounced on how the capital sum should be provided. They said this:
Diverting funds from other projects in the capital expenditure programme, all of which are essential, is not feasible and would be self-defeating".
They went on:
Nor is it realistic to suggest cuts in other activities of the FCO or the BBC to find a sum of this magnitude. Accordingly, we have concluded that the money should rightly come from the Contingency Reserve ".
The relevant sentence appears on page 6 of Command Paper 8175 of March 1981. I quote:
Decisions to incur additional expenditure which cannot be accommodated within existing programmes will be contained within the reserve.
We strongly recommend that the FCO and the BBC should now initiate action to obtain the additional money from the Contingency Reserve"—
which I believe at the moment is something like £1.2 billion. The Committee concluded thus:
Whilst the role of Great Britain in world affairs has changed a good deal in the last 25 years, we possess two valuable assets whose significance has, if anything, increased rather than decreased over that period, namely: we are the home of the English language and have a broadcasting organisation, the BBC, which is universally admired and respected throughout the world. We feel that these advantages may not yet have been sufficiently used or understood by previous Governments".
When the late President Kennedy, who was then Senator Kennedy, was asked to address the American-Jewish Congress in 1957, he said this:
Our immigration policy is not just an immigration policy. It is as important as our economic policy or our foreign aid policy. Indeed, it is a part of our foreign policy itself, for it is the face we present to the world".
The same might be said of our overseas broadcast services. The reason why they are answerable to the Foreign Office and not to the Home Secretary is that all Governments since the birth of broadcasting have recognised that our overseas services are not just broadcast services but a part of our foreign policy itself, for they represent the face that we present to the world day after day and year after year.
§ I claim that this is no time to reduce our United 809 Kingdom impact on world opinion, nor to diminish our opportunities for communicating the British view to people overseas who want to hear it. I hope the Government, in the light of this debate and the support which I hope to get, and the report from the committee to which I have referred, will reconsider their decision to do precisely what the committee said they should not do; namely, to cut the services in order to help to finance capital expenditure on audibility. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to reconsider the instructions given by them to the BBC to impose cuts on its external and transcription services.—(Lord Byers.)
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Lord Strabolgi
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Byers, I shall be brief. I should like to suggest, with all deference, that noble Lords are also as brief as possible, as the debate has attracted a great many speakers, which I think is a tribute to its importance. I know, also, that the House is looking forward to the speech of the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary, whose participation in this debate I greatly welcome, and also to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway.
The Government claim that they are giving just over£100 million to the BBC for a capital investment programme. In fact, over half this amount relates to expenditure after March 1985, which will fall in the next Parliament. Actually, the amount to which the Government are committing themselves, and, indeed, to which the Government are able to commit themselves, is under half this sum—about £49½ million—which does little more than restore in part, and two years late, the capital expenditure which the present Government so rashly cut in 1979, and in circumstances that cannot even achieve the original plan.
The BBC is being required, in return, to make a contribution of some £2½ million a year towards this restoration, which the Government have told the corporation it must find by cutting the External Services. The seven foreign language services selected for the chopper have been chosen not by the BBC, but by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and, it appears, chosen in a rather haphazard way, for reasons that are not clear. The small total saving seems out of all proportion to the great amount of harm that will be done to Britain's image overseas.
There appears to be no consistent view and no long-term consideration in the Government's policy. The Turkish service was to have been cut in 1979, if plans had gone ahead, yet a year later the Government went to the BBC and asked them to increase the service by 50 per cent. due to the changed political situation in Turkey. Who can say that the political situation in some of the countries where it is proposed to cut may not also change during the next few years?
Then there is the question of audibility over which the Government have made much play. In fact, closing down the seven language services will do little to improve audibility. It is not true that the BBC cannot be heard abroad; indeed, it has a larger listening audience than any other external service in the world. The problem is one of audibility in several years' 810 time. It is certain that other national broadcasting organisations will not allow the BBC to dispose of the frequencies vacated as the corporation might wish. The likely result will be that the frequencies will be lost to the BBC, which could mean increased interference from foreign sources over which we shall have no control.
In France and Belgium alone the BBC has a total audience of 2¼ million people, with over 500,000 adults listening regularly. Doubt has been cast on these figures, but I can confirm that the source is a leading French market research organisation with quite a large sample of over 4,000. Listeners tune into the BBC to hear broadcasts for three hours a day about Britain, about Anglo-French relations, about community relations and about the rest of the world as seen from London. The BBC has more listeners in France, many of them young listeners, than any other foreign station. The FCO consider, I understand, that the French listeners should, in future, tune into the BBC's World Service in English.
We tend to think that all foreigners understand English and, if they do not, then they should. I believe it is true to say, and it is certainly my experience, that apart from certain diplomatic, academic and leading business sections of the community, the majority of French people do not understand conversational English any more than the majority of people in this country are at home in conversational French. These facts are borne out by a recent survey in an interesting article in a Sunday newspaper last Sunday. The BBC's French service is thus the only mass medium available throughout France to put over the British viewpoint.
This is most important to balance some of the critical comments about law and order in Britain, for example, and the situation in Northern Ireland that have been apearing recently in French national newspapers. The service costs only £295,000 a year, but its influence in maintaining friendship and understanding between Britain and France must be worth every penny of this. This amount is put forward as a saving, based on scrapping the European part of the French service, but the BBC service to francophone Africa is, rightly to be allowed to continue. The two sections, of course, operate as a whole. Material designed for Europe, which is also suitable for Africa, can be broadcast to Africa at no extra cost and vice versa. Thus the French-African service will cost more in future and the real saving overall will be less in proportion.
The London Tourist Board tell me that they strongly support this French language tourist service, which gives listeners up-to-date information on the tourist calendar in Britain. The service has also been of great help in spreading the load by extending the tourist season. I may say that all those who are closely involved with fostering Franco-British relations are much concerned at the decision to cut the French vernacular programme. It seems to be at variance, indeed, with a successful meeting that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary himself had with President Mitterrand yesterday, which we welcome as a further step forward in forging closer contacts and relations with France.
The political situation in Italy, which has the largest 811 Communist Party in Europe, is somewhat volatile, as we know. It is surely important that broadcasts from eastern Europe should be balanced by the voice of democracy, yet this is another service which is to be cut in order to save the paltry sum of £200,000. The Foreign Secretary claims, if he is reported correctly, that,only a few enthusiastic sleepwalkers can be listening to the BBC broadcasts in Italian".The BBC Italian programme is heard from 2200 to 2300 hours, Italian time, and a little later in summer. These are good times for Italians, who tend to go to bed late, like other Mediterranean peoples. The last survey in Italy gave a total audience of over 1 million listeners, of whom 500,000 are regular listeners.
Turning to Spain, the BBC Spanish service transmissions are rebroadcast every day by Radio Gibraltar, which can be heard on the adjacent Spanish mainland. Unhappily, in future, only the Spanish viewpoint on Gibraltar will be heard in Spain by the great majority of Spaniards who cannot speak English. The Horn of Africa is a sensitive area which for the last 20 years has been unsettled. The Somalis rely on the radio as their one source of news, as they are a nomadic people. The BBC Somali section has a good reputation for unbiased news reporting about major events in both Africa and elsewhere. This decision will, no doubt, delight Moscow and her satellites.
In Brazil, out of a total of 115 million people, only about 4 million read the newspapers. The mass media are radio and television. The total audience of the BBC in Portuguese in the cities of Brazil alone, is about 865,000 adults of whom 180,000 are regular listeners. Very few can speak or understand English, and it is naive in the extreme for the Government to suppose that the World Service in English will be an adequate substitute when the Portuguese service is closed down.
The decision to cut these services for such a small annual saving seems to many of us, and not only to those on this side of the House, to be almost incomprehensible. It has been roundly condemned by people all over the world. We must ensure that Britain's voice continues to be heard in these countries in the vernacular in future, and we urge the Government to think again.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Lord Carrington)
My Lords, first let me congratulate the two noble Lords on the shortness of their speeches and the moderate way in which the noble Lord, Lord Byers, introduced his and the moderately moderate way in which the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, introduced his.
Let me begin on a note upon which there will be no disagreement in any quarter of the House: that is, the support and admiration of all of us—and of course I include Her Majesty's Government—for the work of the External Services of the BBC. There is nobody who does not recognise the excellence of what they do. Certainly so far as I am concerned, I believe them to be an important arm of Government foreign policy. Indeed, I think we have got to look at the whole of our defence and foreign policy as one, and external broadcasting has a most important part to play in the influence that Britain can exert throughout the world. So I 812 hope we shall not hear during this debate any suggestion that the Government do not understand this or that they do not appreciate the quality of the External Services. Dare I hope that those few sentences may shorten some of the 35 of your Lordships' speeches which otherwise may be devoted to a proposition upon which we can all agree before anybody says anything about it?
There is another proposition upon which all of us can agree: that the BBC have a remarkable capacity for organising a lobby. The tom-toms of the BBC are powerful indeed. I see in your Lordships' House, sitting on the Cross-Benches, one of the former conductors of the tom-toms, ready, I imagine, to rally to the colours once more. The number of speakers in this debate and the publicity over the Government's proposals are a tribute to the power of that lobby. No doubt much of the material in your Lordships' speeches will derive from the material which has been put out by the BBC. Of course, they are quite entitled to do this. I make no complaint about it.
Perhaps, however, I ought to point out one other fact. The External Services of the BBC are financed entirely by the Government and by the taxpayer. Though the Foreign and Commonwealth Office do not of course exercise any editorial authority over the content of the programmes, it is I think reasonable to suggest that the Foreign Office, the Government and Parliament—I repeat, and Parliament—should make decisions as to the priorities and importance of the various aspects of external broadcasting, a proposition which did not seem to find favour with the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi.
It is for us to decide, within the amount of money that the Government can afford, what the spending priorities should be. It is not for the BBC to decide how best the money we give them should be allocated between the different External Services and between current and capital expenditure. The debate this afternoon centres precisely round these questions.
I must confess that I think the documents which I have seen circulated, entitled The Threat to Broadcasting and Britain's Dwindling Voice, are not perhaps the best examples of the balanced approach which we had been led to expect. Nor by reading the documents could one perhaps have realised that more money is being devoted in real terms to the External Services than hitherto. I shall come later to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Byers.
I must tell your Lordships what the Government's priorities are with regard to external broadcasting. First, we believe that the World Service of the BBC is by far and away the most important. The English language, despite the misgivings of the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, is a worldwide language. It is becoming almost the worldwide language. More and more people are speaking it every year.
It is the World Service in English upon which the reputation of the BBC largely depends. A good many of the letters which I have received appear to think that this service is being cut. Indeed, there is a leading article in the Evening Standard this evening, which says that your Lordships should ram home, even to an obstinate Foreign Office, the profound unwisdom of cutting back the BBC's World Service. But that is precisely what we are not doing. So far from cutting it, 813 we are going to make it possible for many more millions of people to hear it, for the second priority of the Government is to increase the audibility of all the External Services worldwide.
Dare I say it? However excellent the service may be, there is little point in it unless it can be heard. Since I consider myself to have had some experience in the last two or three years of trying to hear the BBC World Service abroad, I must tell your Lordships that I find it very difficult to do so. The reception in many parts of the world is far inferior to that of our principal competitors and much inferior to that of the Voice of America. Indeed, on occasions recently I have found it impossible to get the BBC at all and on numbers of others the reception has been so bad that listening was both difficult and fairly painful. I think therefore that we must, above all, make it possible for the World Service and the vernacular services to be heard.
It would be all too easy to take a decision which would do exactly the opposite and which would not cause the excitement which has been caused by the decision to cut some vernaculars. It would be a decision to go on as we are. Nobody much would know about; because all the vernaculars would still go on and the World Service would still go on. But that would be the wrong decision if you believe, as I believe, that there is no point whatever in broadcasting material which is imperfectly heard, or not heard at all. As the years go on, the World Service of the BBC is going to become increasingly vital, for if English is widely spoken now it is going to be the first or the second language of the free world.
We are, therefore, proposing a programme of capital expenditure, the major purpose of which is to improve audibility. The total cost over the next 10 years, at 1981 survey prices, will be just over £100 million, of which the BBC are being asked to find less than one-quarter by savings, with about half the balance being met by new Government money. The Government, following the advice of the Foreign Affairs Committee in another place, are increasing capital audibility. The only real difference is that the East Africa and Far East relay stations must start later than the committee would like. Priority must be given, alas! to a 500 per cent. increase in expenditure on the modernisation of Bush House, because there has been discovered there blue asbestos, and obviously we cannot allow that to continue.
In his very fair speech, the noble Lord, Lord Byers, called into doubt some of the figures. May I remind him that in 1979 the capital programme for the four years up to 1983–84 was £28.7 million, at 1979 survey prices? At present survey prices, the figure is £52.7 million. Even allowing for the difference of 33 per cent. or thereabouts, between the 1979 and the 1981 survey prices, the noble Lord will, I know, agree that that is a considerably larger figure.
§ Lord Byers
The noble Lord said, my Lords, that the only difference between the Government and the report of the Foreign Affairs Committee was on the rate of capital expenditure and the timing. May I ask him whether that is true? What they said was that you should not cut services in order to pay for capital expenditure.
§ Lord Carrington
I am coming to that, my Lords. I apologise to the noble Lord—I have not finished yet.
This programme, by its very nature, will have to extend beyond the current PESC period. The Government recognise this and the need for the BBC to have confidence in the future. But I see no difference between this and the other big capital expenditure programmes which take a period of some years to finish—for example, some of the Central Electricity Generating Board's programmes—and certainly we hope that the BBC and your Lordships will be reassured that this programme will go forward. We have looked on this as a major capital programme rather than as a string of individual spending decisions over the years, and it is approved subject only to the requirement that savings be found from current expenditure.
Let me repeat once more that the real danger to the BBC, the real dwindling voice to which the BBC pamphlet refers, is the threat that it will be pushed so far down the league in terms of audibility that the hours it broadcasts and what it broadcasts become academic. As it is, we intend that it should be heard, and heard clearly, throughout the world in 33 languages including all the major languages of the world, and that it should remain, as it is now, fifth in place in terms of hours of broadcast. If we can increase those hours when we have more money, so much the better.
I come now to the vernaculars and the transcription services. I do not happen to think that it is possible for the External Services or the Foreign Office or the British Council or any of the things that I particularly care about to have an unlimited budget to do everything that they want. I believe it is the duty of the Government, as I said earlier, to assess the correct priorities.
The Government are proposing to spend more money on the External Services, but, even so, we have to look for savings if we are both to improve audibility and to accommodate the introduction of new vernaculars and increases in others which may be desirable in response to changes in the world. We need flexibility. But of course if you look for savings anywhere everyone can always think of reasons why the particular savings that you have in mind are the wrong ones.
I have looked, and shall look, at this very carefully. But first let me take the question of the transcription services. There is no question whatever of the Government seeking to end the transcription services. What we are doing is cutting the subsidies which at present involve the taxpayer in paying up to 70 per cent. of their cost. It is true that there is some educational and scientific matter, but the bulk of the transcription services is the export of music and drama and light entertainment.
I believe that these services are popular, certainly with the broadcasting stations which use them, because they pay so much less than the market rate. I think there must be a real effort on the part of the BBC to sell what they have without subsidies from the Government, particularly in the field of light entertainment. I believe that the BBC can do this, and I am quite sure that the BBC will be prepared to do it. For there is no real reason why light entertainment should be subsidised for other people by the British taxpayer. It seems to me to be a fairly low priority in terms of what we are seeking to do. A 70 per cent. subsidy on some of our other exports would certainly 815 be pretty popular, but I doubt whether it would be justified. I am sure, too, that other organisations could help to finance these services.
As for the choice of the vernaculars, in order to allow the BBC to operate within the increased budget with which it is being provided, we have decided on those that are most suitable for cutting. I would remind your Lordships that in the last two years we have started a service in Pushtu for Afghanistan and increased services in Russian, in Farsi for Pakistan and in Turkish. Nobody seems to have noticed that or to have realised that it costs money.
There must be a continuing adjustment between the various languages in which we broadcast to take account of changing priorities and political considerations. We do not have unlimited resources and we have to behave sensibly. I confess that I have seen some fairly odd letters about our proposals among the 300 or so letters which the Foreign and Commonwealth office have received. For example, I was astonished to read that the BBC think that the Maltese service—which your Lordships may recollect has 35 minutes a week compared to the 24 hours a day of the World Service—is somehow relevant to the forthcoming Maltese election. Nor, I think, can I accept some of the audience figures which are quoted. Even if one assumes the samples to be reliable, it remains an admitted fact that the figures for "total audiences" include people who have listened only once or twice a year to the BBC.
There are other misunderstandings. For example, some thought that we were ending all Portuguese and French services, which of course we are not. Another said that the BBC was "up for grabs". I had one letter from a friend of mine who, to my astonishment (supported by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi), suggested that, if we did not broadcast to the French in French, the British tourist industry would suffer greatly.
I suggest that we really must keep a sense of proportion. I do not, for example, believe that the broadcasting of the BBC in French, Italian and Spanish is required (as some of my correspondents have said and as the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has said) to stabilise the democratic systems in those countries. The noble Lord said that about Italy and, if I may say so, I find it rather an impertinent suggestion. How should we feel if the French Parliament thought it necessary to broadcast to us in our own language in order to bolster up our democratic institutions?
I think that on the whole we have chosen the right vernaculars, but I must confess to being rather sad about Somali—even though one of our correspondents has produced audience figures which suggest rather larger than a 100 per cent. following among the target population!
So I sum up and ask your Lordships to reflect carefully before you support the proposal before the House. The Government are proposing to spend more money on the External Services of the BBC. The grant in aid has gone up each year since this Government took office. It will continue to do so. From 1983–84 onwards, thanks to the new proposals, the increase will be very substantial—an average of about £6 million increase per year in real terms. I stress, in 816 real terms. The Government have had a good look at the way in which that increased money should be spent.
It is the strength of the BBC that they enjoy editorial freedom. The Government pay the piper but they do not seek to call the tune. On the other hand, they have a responsibility written into the charter of the BBC to prescribe the audience. That is a matter of foreign policy, not of editorial policy, and I have no doubt whatever in my mind that the priorities that I have sought to put before your Lordships this evening are the right ones. They are the World Service of the BBC in English, the audibility of all BBC programmes and as many vernaculars as we can afford—and more particularly those which are in the opinion of the Government most likely to further British interests in the world.
We have, alas! had to make some painful cuts in all the sectors of our national life: in the arts, in education, in our diplomatic representation abroad, which is also an arm of our foreign policy. I had feared that there would have to be net cuts in the provision for the External Services. Instead, we have provided a large amount of new money which we propose to spend in the way which in my judgment is the most sensible. When we can spend more, then let us extend. But let us keep some sense of reality about what has been happening and about what the Government are proposing for the BBC External Services. I suppose you could fairly say that the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Byers is fairly innocuous. He asks the Government to reconsider. My Lords, the Government have considered very carefully. And what actually in practice is the noble Lord asking? He is asking for more money. He is not asking for reassessment of priorities, he is asking for more money. I do not believe that, in the current situation, we can at this moment afford even more money: I must ask your Lordships to be realistic and to reject the proposition.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Guildford
My Lords, many testimonies have already been offered in this House about the high reputation enjoyed by the BBC across the world. I would like, from personal experience in Africa and the Middle East, to share in that tribute. The BBC broadcasts have a standard of integrity and independence which make them deeply valued by audiences all across the world, and never more so than in times of crisis, danger and uncertainty. The noble Lord the Foreign Secretary has shown that he knows that as well as, if not better than, any other Member of this House.
I do not wish to say much about the proposed cuts in the vernacular language broadcasts of the BBC's External Services. I share the concern of many noble Lords about them, and in particular that proposed in the Somali service. The Horn of Africa is an area both of great strategic importance and also of intense and diverse nationalism. It is, therefore, an area of Africa which has in the past attracted the attention of neighbouring countries and of imperial powers, and it still does today. It would be a great pity at this time to lose a vernacular audience, and vernacular audience made up of those who hold the key to the 817 stability of that area, and thereby lose an opportunity to speak for moderation. I imagine that similar considerations apply in respect of the other vernacular services.
I wish to speak mainly about the transcription services, from which the Government propose to withdraw their grant-in-aid of some £1 million per year. I appreciate the need to cut out waste in Government spending, but I hope very much that the Government may be persuaded by this debate today to think again about this particular proposal. First, I would wish the House to appreciate the wide range of influence which the transcription services enjoy. The aggregate figures are well known; during 1980 43,000 programmes representing 35,000 hours of British radio programmes were sold in 99 countries. But I should like to break that down, if I may, into some detail. Its true significance, I suggest, can only be appreciated when it is seen in the context of individual countries, many of which are some of the smaller countries without regular sources for their own broadcasting services.
Swaziland, for example, used the transcriptions for 75 per cent. of their English output, and in St. Helena they are the main source both of information and entertainment broadcasting and for the schools service as well. Hong Kong uses 1,000 hours of material each year for its English language audience; they form 1 per cent. of the population and are often from influential groups in Hong Kong. Radio New Zealand—I would wish to stress this—uses 1,700 hours each year, and when it was reported in New Zealand that the use of the transcription services might be curtailed, 4,500 letters of protest were received in one week by the New Zealand broadcasting services.
In emphasising this wide spread of influence, my Lords, I would also wish to stress that such broadcasts through the transcription services have a much wider spread than do our embassies or the British Council centres. These institutions are, of course, of great importance in talking to Governments or in exercising some influence in major cities, but, to borrow words from a well known liquor advertisement, radio reaches where embassies and cultural centres do not. The noble Lord the Foreign Secretary emphasised the need to see every aspect of our defence and foreign policy as a whole. I venture to suggest that that is an argument for the importance of the transcription services as presenting a picture of Britain in some of the smaller countries across the world. Radio is heard in the privacy of a peasant's but as much as in the villa of a businessman or a diplomat, and it is very important that the voice of our country should be heard in the rural areas, in the village schools, and in parts that are remote from capital cities, where cultural centres and British Council centres exist.
Secondly, I want to emphasise how valuable the transcription services are from a technical point of view and from the point of view of audibility, which was rightly stressed in this House by the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary a few moments ago, as it was emphasised in another place by the Prime Minister. The transcription services provided the most audible of all our means of communication, because they are broadcast on local radio stations which are built and designed each with its own particular constituency in 818 mind; they are broadcast also at the times which are most appropriate for their particular audiences. Moreover, they are broadcast from within the country concerned and thus they come to their listeners with local support and an appropriate introduction. There could not be a more efficient way, technically, of handling radio material.
The Government insist that the transcription services should become cost-effective, and that therefore their grant-in-aid of £1 million should be terminated. We should realise that at the moment the BBC transcription service is the only international service of this kind to make any charge at all, and this provides about a quarter of its total cost. If the BBC's transcription service were to increase its charges it would make that service less competitive than it is already, and there would be a very real risk that the smaller and developing countries would turn to other sources which would be available to them free.
It may be true that the charges could be put up for richer countries, but of course it is the Government's subvention which makes it possible to facilitate the sharing of this material with countries which do not have resources either to pay high prices for them or to develop their own radio. I would suggest that in this modest subvention needed to make the transcription services available our country receives very good value indeed. It is an investment which pays handsome dividends in goodwill, in a growing familiarity with English and British culture, in the privilege of sharing the wealth of our cultural heritage and the clear thinking of some of the best minds in Britain with people across the world. The noble Lord the Foreign Secretary has emphasised the role which English may well play in the international community in years to come.
§ The Lord Bishop of Guildford
My Lords, I thank my noble friend. May I suggest that that is perhaps an argument for making as available as possible the transcription services, which, through their playing of cultural material, enables people to learn English the more quickly; and testimony is borne to this by the Japanese radio services.
I should like, in closing, to emphasise that we should see the transcription services as a whole and not differentiate too sharply between the main catalogue of cultural, scientific and educational programmes and the Topical Tapes concerned with more immediate matters and the reporting of them. It may well be, as the Foreign Secretary has said, that greater selectivity could be exercised in the selection of material for the transscription services, but we assess the value of individuals by the total impact that they make upon us. I believe myself that the transcription services in their cultural and educational aspects supplement the Topical Tapes of more immediate reporting. They belong to each other and supplement each other.
One of the Old Testament prophets dreamt of a time when war would cease and nation speak peace unto nation. In our troubled world it is very important that we should do that talking as fully and as freely as we can as a contribution to the building up of world community to the mutual understanding of the nations. 819 We spend millions upon armaments and defence. Is not the sum that we put as a nation into the transcription service itself, with its wide ramifications of winning goodwill for our country, a very modest investment compared with the investments that we put into defence and into armaments?
I believe that the BBC does the talking of peace supremely well and I should like to end by quoting, with permission, the words of the Director of Programmes of Radio Netherlands Transcription Service which your Lordships might think is one of our competitors. He says:If the BBC Transcription Services disappear a gap will be left which none of us can possibly fill. This proposal is bad for broadcasting standards, which will inevitably decline if the leader in the field drops out. It is bad for the atmosphere of the currently vital dialogue on programme exchange and, by extension, bad for international co-operation".He concludes with the following words:We shall all be the losers".Those are the words of the programmes director of the transcription service of another country. I beg the Government to consider whether we shall not be losers also if they withdraw their subvention from the transcription services.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Lord Young of Dartington
My Lords, encouraged by what the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary said about being sad about the Somali service, and by what the right reverend prelate the Bishop of Guildford said at the beginning of his speech, I propose to concentrate on the proposed abolition of this particular vernacular service. It is a small service; it is necessarily in Somali because very few people in the Horn of Africa speak English even in what was formerly British Somaliland. It costs about £180,000 a year; it has a staff of eight and a weekly output of seven hours. Though small it is highly effective. Each one of its Somali newsreaders is known personally throughout the length and breadth of the country. Yesterday, our wedding day was, in Somalia, as throughout the Somali-speaking world, known as "BBC Day". All Wednesdays are known as "BBC Day" because of the extra coverage that is given to them. Its first transmission today, a few hours before this debate began, was listened to, as on other days, by groups of 50 to 100 people gathered around a radio set in the city of Mogadishu, in the towns of the country, by the nomads in the desert and, above all, by the refugees in the 33 refugee camps in that country. Refugees have been forced to flee across the border from Ethiopia by what the Ethiopian Army has done in the Ogaden and other provinces of Ethiopia, backed, as that army is, by Russian advisers and Cuban troops.
I have had experience myself on many occasions of the value of group listening which is so common in Africa and other continents. Some years ago I was engaged in trying to establish an open university in Northern Nigeria based on the ordinary university of Ahmadu Bello, and had occasion frequently to see what the response was to the Hausa service of the BBC in small and, as many people would think, insignificant villages throughout Northern Nigeria. It was not uncommon at all for as many as 300 people—the entire adult population of a village—to desert 820 whatever else they were doing and gather around, say, the 10 sets that they had in the village so that they could all listen to what was the most respected and popular service in the country—the only one which had the reputation for truthfulness. At present I am trying to establish a refugee college in Somalia which will also be based on radio.
The BBC service, I maintain, matters certainly as much in Somalia as it does in Northern Nigeria, mainly because, as the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, said earlier, the Horn of Africa is in the utmost turmoil, suffering from extreme instability, with people waiting with foreboding for the next move by the Soviet Union. In 1977, when Russia pulled out of Somalia and switched to backing Ethiopia instead, it introduced into Ethiopia some 15,000 Cuban troops who are now just across the border from Somalia. The country has Russians and Cubans on the one side, and facing it across the sea, other Russian satellite states in South Yemen and Aden where our own British naval base was immediately taken over by the Russians when we scuttled out of there in an act of unilateral disarmament some years ago, just as the Russians would take over the BBC spot in the evening before nightly prayers at 5.30 if we now scuttle our Somali service.
No one, of course, knows what will happen next in this troubled region. Perhaps there will be another Afghanistan? But if that happens, will we be able to do with effect what we have already done since the invasion of Afghanistan in another part of the world? Two years ago it was proposed by the Government that the Turkish service should be cut. Luckily, they had second thoughts on that, and as a result it has been possible, based on an existing experienced personnel, to step up Turkish broadcasts and, as the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary said, to add Pushtu services.
No doubt we would want to do the same if there were a similar turn of events in the Horn of Africa. But would we be able to do so? The team of Somali speakers, extremely difficult to put together and mobilise, just up the road from here in Bush House would be disbanded and their like could not easily be found again. We should lose our audience—some to the Russians and perhaps some to the Americans if they decide, in view of the naval base that they have at Berbera in Somalia, that they could not allow the present Italian radio service to be the only voice of the West to reach Somali-speaking people.
In view of that, and in view of the fact that the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary has now returned to his place, I should like to ask him—and this may be a subject to refer to in the winding up of the debate—whether his staff have had discussions with the State Department about their views on the proposed abandonment of the Somali service. Above all, if we scuttled on this we should lose our sources of information within Somalia; the news-gathering network that we have could not be reassembled if, at some later date, it became urgently necessary.
This service is not only valuable in the area and not only highly popular because Somali Radio used to be under Soviet influence and lost some of its credibility, not only because when so many people are jittery they particularly need a credible, truthful, reliable source of news about what is really going on; it is because of the sheer quality of the Somali pro- 821 grammes —not the martial music which is the staple fare of radios in military states, but Somali folk music and Somali oral poetry, which is extremely popular and belongs to a long and honourable tradition in that country.
The BBC's weekly missing persons' programme—important when so many people have been lost track of in the great upheavals—is avidly listened to wherever Somalis gather, not only in Somalia but in coffee shops in Aden, Rhiyad, Abu Dhabi, Nairobi, Iraq, Egypt and throughout the Middle East, as well, incidentally, as by Somali students in communist countries. The BBC knows how effective this service is because it receives so much correspondence from people who have been reunited as a result of its operations. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that there have been many objections from inside the country at the closure of the service.
When the cuts were announced a presidential delegation from Somalia was in Nairobi to attend the OAU summit and expressed its shock at what was proposed. I understand that very recently some influential Somali citizens approached the British ambassador to say the same thing. In view of this, I hope that the Government will be able to tell us that they are at least willing to consult the British ambassador again before making their decision irrevocable.
My final words go wider than the Somali service, which I am using simply for purposes of illustration. Seven times in the past eight years Labour or Conservative Governments have cut, or tried to cut, BBC overseas broadcasts. From this Social Democratic Bench I cannot say that whether, in the future, there is a Government of a different political colour, we shall reverse this decision and restore and maintain the Somali service and other services under threat, because it will never be possible to restore them in full once they are disbanded.
Of course, it is necessary to improve audibility. All that the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary said on that subject must command agreement in this House. However, as we see it from these Benches, that is no reason why it should be necessary to cut the vernacular services as well and also the transcription services. Therefore, my appeal must be to the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary to draw back before it is too late. We lost an Empire; we do not need to lose the BBC services as well. We are no longer, in general a major power, but we are a great power in the world of broadcasting. We are still a great power, with a voice that speaks of the values of civilisation. I appeal to the Government not to silence that precious voice, even in these particular services that are now under threat.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, I should like to invite your Lordships to consider another context within which your Lordships might be prepared to entertain this Motion. The Motion before your Lordships and the Motion which follows, although different in form and different in substance, both call in question the proposal to discontinue certain services—services which are concerned with the projection of our cultural image overseas; and the emphasis on the word "cultural" I gratefully borrow from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford.
822 Could there be an overlap with the activities of the British Council?—and here I declare an interest as a serving member of the Council's law advisory panel. Is it possible that wireless telegraphy can compete against television in this sphere? As a maker or breaker of images—in particular your Lordships may think cultural images—wireless telegraphy has already given way to television, by far the more potent medium. It is, of course, a matter for your Lordships whether the services which it is proposed to discontinue fall within the orbit of that eclipse. The world now judges us as it sees us. We live in the window of the world, where the spoken word is ever subservient to the spectacle and where the cost of dressing that window, even if it were politic to seek to do so, is far beyond our present resources by TV satellite channel coverage.
However, this area of overlap or eclipse has perhaps no impact on the main, essential surfaces of the External Services of the BBC, those being concerned with the promotion of our exports—and I believe that 10 per cent. of air time is spent on that alone—the promotion of our tourist industry and the furthering of our diplomacy and of our defence interests. As for the transcription services, as I understand it we are retaining the news service tapes—I do not quite know the proper name—at a cost of some £350,000 a year. What it is, in effect, proposed to discontinue are subsidies of the order of some 70 per cent. for music, drama and light entertainment tapes, which I gather we supply to some 100 countries throughout the world at a loss to us, the taxpayer, of about £1 million a year. Sad as it may be to think that the Fiji Islanders will be deprived of the Goons, or the inhabitants of the Caribbean of Shakespeare, or India of the Proms, no one could seriously suggest that our important interests would be put at hazard. What your Lordships may think is more worrying is the loss of jobs for some 3,000 artistes and writers.
As to the vernacular services, it appears that the savings involved would be of the order of £2 million a year. Is there a case for retaining French, Spanish and Italian services to Europe? The other services are services to Malta, Brazil, Burma and Somalia. As regards the European services, your Lordships may think that one treats the problem generically. It would not be of assistance to deal with that aspect further. But as regards the other services, it surely must be borne in mind that to retain these other services means further equipment and further expense in order to make them audible—a factor which your Lordships may think is of some consequence.
There may be a special case for Somalia, and, of course, I could not match the eloquence of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Dartington, on that aspect. But surely if and when the situation arises that special diplomatic or defence considerations are involved, no Government would be slow to take appropriate action.
Earlier this month my right honourable and noble friend the Foreign Secretary explained to your Lordships' House that there was a large capital expenditure programme of the order of £100 million over nine years which involved tying up, or linking up, the existing relay stations with satellites by 1985, 14 new short-wave transmitters, very substantial and long overdue plant replacement and modernisation of 823 Bush House, and new relay stations to cover East Africa and the Far East which, as I understood the fears of the right reverend Prelate about that part of the world, would go quite a long way to allay such fears. It would appear therefore that there is in fact beyond contention a substantial extension of the BBC External Services of which we are all so justly proud, because after all it is one of our great success stories both in wartime and in peace.
Trying to find material for this speech to your Lordships, it in fact seems that there must have been some reconsideration already by the Government, because earlier this month the figures were two-thirds to one third; two-thirds of the £100 million to be found from the Government and one-third to be provided by savings from the proposed discontinuance of services. Now the figure is three-quarters to one-quarter. Therefore, there would appear on the face of the report to have been a measure of reconsideration. Of course it is a matter of concern to everyone on both sides of this House that services which give pleasure to people abroad and employment to people here at home should be discontinued, but does the form in which the Motion is put tend to obscure rather than to clarify the substance? Is the de minimis argument—that is, about £3 million out of a budget of £62 million—an argument which only on consideration has meretricious appeal as disregarding certain fundamental considerations such as the area of overlap and how, within the area of cultural image, television is the more potent medium? The factor concerned with the cost of retention of these services does not end there as a fact but brings in its trail two other facts—the fact that further capital expenditure would be involved in order to retain audibility for some of these services, and the fact that it would deprive the general programme of what I understand is now one quarter of its finance. With respect, it is not a de minimis £3 million a year; it is £25 million out of £100 million over nine years.
Finally, the common ground—and I understand it is common ground—is that this capital expenditure programme is to be implemented, ought to be implemented and must be implemented. If the programme as such is not called in question, then the object would appear to be to ensure that the external services are broadcast by the BBC to the peoples of the world, and that the peoples of the world shall hear them. It is a matter for your Lordships that perhaps the proposal could not be seen merely as a reduction of services without giving fair weight to its object and its expansionist attributes.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Lord Crowther-Hunt
My Lords, when following a noble Lord's maiden speech it is the tradition of this House—an extraordinarily valuable tradition—to congratulate the noble Lord for also following the traditions of this House in making a non-controversial maiden speech. Well may I, on this occasion, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, for behaving with such skill and reminding me so much of the Irish judge, who always strove to follow the narrow path between partiality and impartiality, and in that spirit may I offer the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, the congratulations and hope that he will 824 follow that narrow path between partiality and impartiality in the years to come.
I am sure that we are all immensely grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Byers and Lord Strabolgi, for putting down these important Motions for debate. I am sure we are grateful, too, to the Government for finding time for this debate, and in particular to the Foreign Secretary, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, for his influence here. Because so many noble Lords are outraged at what the Government are proposing for the BBC's External Services I want to address the problem pretty well head on, and briefly. Before doing so I must declare an interest. For a number of years now, as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, knows, I have done a certain amount of regular broadcasting in the BBC World Service, which happily is not to be cut, though its credibility may be damaged by what the Government are proposing to do.
I mention this because over the years one inevitably rubs shoulders with those dedicated public servants at Bush House who have built up a professional broadcasting service unsurpassed in the whole world for its quality of output of news, current affairs and culture. Knowing as I do these men and women who run our External Services, I think it is true to say that I have never seen them quite so angry or frustrated as they have been since the Government's proposed changes in the BBC were announced to Parliament on 25th June.
This frustration and anger have really nothing to do with the threats to jobs at Bush House which, in a sense, are minimal; perhaps some 200 or so, though important obviously to those who might be losing those jobs. But the frustration and anger is the product of a belief that the Government are striking yet another body blow at a service which still manages to keep Britain in the top league of world broadcasting powers, and thus makes a major contribution to serving the purpose of international democracy. If because of this anger the BBC have been organising a lobby, then that is what democratic government and politics are all about. They have a perfect right to do so. They would be falling down on their duties if they did not do so. They have just as much right to do this as the Government and the Foreign Office have in organising their counter-lobby.
I do not want to get into a detailed argument about whether the Government are, or are not, cutting the External Services. What they are actually doing is crucial, and it is on that that we should be focussing; and what they are actually doing must be set against what the BBC and its External Services should be doing. The BBC, as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, pointed out, has complete editorial freedom in what is broadcast, and it is because of that that the BBC has established such a distinguished reputation round the world for the accurate and unbiased nature of its news and current affairs coverage.
Nevertheless, as the noble Lord also emphasised, it is for the Government to determine the languages in which the BBC shall broadcast and the nature of and balance between its capital and current expenditure. As the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, put it, there is a sense in which the Government pays the piper and the BBC calls the tune. And in paying the piper and determining this balance of the languages in which the 825 BBC shall broadcast, as the noble Lord also said, foreign policy considerations must dominate those decisions.
Without challenging the basic view that foreign policy considerations determine those basic decisions, in the decisions which the Government are about to impose on the BBC, I believe they are suggesting, as it were, that just as war is too important a question to be left to the generals, so foreign policy is too important a question to be left just to the Foreign Office, and even to such a distinguished Foreign Secretary as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, because in this respect I think they have it wrong.
If foreign policy considerations are to determine the thrust, direction and languages in which the BBC External Services are to be broadcast, what should we be doing? Over the years there have been some conflicting views about this. It is no secret that in 1974–75 the BBC was under great pressure from the Government of the day—and presumably the Foreign Office—to cut back on their broadcasts to South and South-East Asia; that at a time when the war in Vietnam was still being fought and shortly before Mrs. Gandhi was to assume emergency powers. Fortunately, the BBC resisted that pressure.
Prior to that, the Duncan Report had advised that the only audiences worth worrying about were those of Britain's rich friends, what was known as the inner circle—the Common Market countries, the white Commonwealth and Japan, those who had the money to buy things from Britain—as though the BBC's primary foreign policy purpose was simply to be the spearhead of our export drive. It was the arrival of the Think Tank Report in 1976 which advised yet another change of direction; that the major target for our External Service efforts should be directed to the poor who were unable in the third world to provide accurate information services for themselves. A later gloss to that—which has been added by the present Government—was that the targets should be mainly communist countries and audiences living in closed and hostile societies.
I have the greatest sympathy with this latest view, but I suggest it is a little naive and could be counterproductive. If we single out particular countries which we want to penetrate with British ideas of democracy and the accurate presentation of news, what is presented will inevitably become suspect. What we should be aiming for is an effective and accurate presentation of world and British views to friend and foe alike, and not to direct it at those whom we think are most in need of influence. Anything less than a coverage of a broad and comprehensive type will simply lose us credibility and, broadly speaking, the BBC's External Services over the years have sought to maintain that broad credibility by the extensive nature of their coverage, and not to direct things specifically here or there.
It is against that background that we come to the question whether the Government are or are not cutting expenditure so far as the BBC is concerned; and here the starting point must be what the BBC and Foreign Office agreed in 1976 in the light of the Think Tank's Report; what was the sort of capital expenditure needed in the 10 years from 1977 to 1987 if the BBC was 826 to continue successfully to compete in the world league of international broadcasting. That was an investment programme then agreed of £40 million at 1976 survey prices. But successive cuts by successive Governments have meant that most of that did not happen and, as a result, in the last 15 years it has been broadly true to say that the rate of renewal of capital plant has barely been sufficient to keep pace with the rate of obsolescence. So now, if we are to go back to that modest 1976 target of £40 million, what the BBC needs to give effect to that and to the plans agreed at that time over the next 10 years is not £102 million but more like £130 million, so that against that 1976 programme we certainly have a cut.
All that has been happening at a time when the Soviet Union has been carrying out a vast investment programme and has brought into service a large number of high-powered transmitters. The Soviet Union now has an effective worldwide coverage, broadcasting externally in over 80 languages for over 2,000 hours a week; yet the Government want to cut ours to a miserable 33 languages and a total broadcasting time of about 700 hours a week. Thus, we certainly have a cut, coupled with the fact—this too has been commented on—that this Government's promise of £102 million goes far beyond the present period, with almost £53 million relating to expenditure after 1985; so it is very much pie in the sky and, with luck, this Government might not be there to implement that part of it.
The Government are behaving in an incredibly shortsighted way, and I end with a specific example of where the Government clearly have in my view not done the right sort of cost-benefit analysis in what they are doing in this general area. On 17th July in this House I asked the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, in a supplementary question to confirm that by cutting out the Spanish service completely, the Government would save a mere £180,000 a year, while the staff costs of the 24 United Kingdom-based diplomats in the British Embassy in Madrid—when I was talking about staff costs I was referring to their pay and allowances—amounted to between £1¼ and £1½ million a year. I put it to the noble Lord at that time that a mere 2 per cent. saving on those staff costs at the British Embassy in Madrid would make it unnecessary to cut the Spanish service at all. I suggested that on a cost-benefit basis, no one would miss a 2 per cent. cut in staff costs at the British Embassy in Madrid, compared with the cutting out of the whole Spanish service, which had a regular audience of half a million and a total audience, listening regularly or occasionally, of close on 1 million.
On that occasion the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, with great dexterity, glanced my supplementary with a rather irrelevant stroke to the fine leg boundary; he pointed out that in the Diplomatic Service as a whole there had been very significant reductions since 1st April 1979. What he did not say was whether since that date there had been any reduction at all in the number of United Kingdom-based diplomats in Madrid. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, will give the figures on that when he replies to the debate. He may also be able to indicate the number of staff in Madrid who would have to be dispensed with to save the £180,000 a year needed to save the BBC's Spanish service.
When democracy in Spain is so finely balanced, and 827 when the Soviet Union contributes 21 hours a week to the 80 hours a week broadcast in Spanish every week by Eastern bloc countries, then, when a minimal saving in staff costs would make it possible for us to continue, I cannot believe it is the policy of Her Majesty's Government to abandon Spain completely to Russian and Eastern bloc countries, which certainly think it is worth broadcasting in the vernacular. I plead with the Government to think again on a purely cost-benefit basis on the Spanish front.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Lord Hill of Luton
My Lords, the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary has argued that it is the Government's prerogative which of the BBC's External Services they wish to cut or increase. May I say at the outset that I unreservedly accept that position. The Government do have that authority, but I am bound to say at the same time, as someone ignorant of the diplomatic niceties, that I hope we are not going to have another Turkey in Somalia; when, by our protests, we saved our Government from the folly of cutting the Turkey service despite the fact that within a year the Government wanted that service increased. I hope the Government are confident that in the Horn of Africa it will not be necessary to re-establish that service because if that happens it is likely that the skilled personnel would no longer be available. I hope, too, that there is not too much resentment in Brazil at the fact that Brazil has been denied broadcasts in her own language while Spanish continues to be broadcast in the vast countries which are its neighbours. We can only hope.
The Foreign Secretary, in an unusually vigorous speech which suggested to me the weakness of his arguments, referred—with a glance in my direction—to those who were going to beat the tom-tom—
§ Lord Carrington
My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, but I was actually looking at the noble Lord, Lord Swann.
§ Lord Hill of Luton
Fine, my Lords, but I can speak with some experience of broadcasting as such, having spent 40 years as a broadcaster and administrator and having been for four years responsible for the coordination of our overseas information services. It is in that capacity that I make my brief submission to your Lordships' House. I know from my own experience of the tremendous importance of the External Services; the acceptance of their integrity, their capacity to tell the truth, even in awkward circumstances. I will not proceed with what I intended to say, in the interests of brevity, and also because all this seems to be generally accepted in this House.
This unique service has been cut six times in eight years; seven cuts have been attempted but the actual number of cuts is six in eight years. One cannot speak in superlative terms about the greatness, the importance and the magnificence of the External Services and then cut them six times in eight years. It is really no answer to speak of the proposal for capital expenditure. In terms of capital expenditure, this service has been run down over many years. As the noble Lord, Lord Byers, said when he opened this debate, no Government can give an undertaking or a promise 828 for nine years, but what do these proposals for the restoration of the capital structure really mean, if one examines them on that basis?
It depends on which years you choose for comparison. If one takes 1978–79, what is promised is an increase for this purpose of £4.3 million—not £102 million. No doubt some clever statistician worked out the figure of £102 million. If one compares the figure for 1980–81 it is an increase of £17.2 million, and £9 million has been knocked off capital expenditure over the past three years. I am glad to see this expenditure. No one could argue that inaudibility is a virtue. This capital development is long overdue, and it is no argument in favour or against particular changes in items of the broadcasting services. It sounds so beautiful but the two are not related. One needs to be done, is long overdue, and should be done. And as I have said, the amount of money is far less than the figure of £102 million which has been advertised. Of course, broadcasts must be heard.
In recent years Bush House has had to consume its allotted capital to stay in the business of broadcasting with clarity and audibility. This nine-year expenditure is no more than a catching-up exercise which should have been done in any case and which is in no way related to the economies under other headings.
I want to speak particularly of one economy—that affecting the transcription service. This has nothing to do with audibility, as the right reverend Prelate pointed out. Some 200,000 programmes—some of them recordings of British broadcasts and others made ad hoc at Bush House—go out to 100 broadcasting stations throughout the world. The cost is £1½ million. The charges bring in £½ million, and so the cost of this widespread promotion of the culture, the science, the civilisation and the democracy of this country is £1 million a year. That is to be saved with a great air. Bless my soul! I expect British Leyland spend more than that on blotting paper every year. It is really ridiculous to cut this very valuable service: a voice which is heard throughout the world with the minimum of effort and the minimum of cost. Why in Heaven's name should this economy take place? The answer has nothing to do with capital expenditure over the next three years or nine years.
Pursuing the brevity which I recognise is very important today, I want to assert that that £1 million is peanuts and to make this cut would be a silly but damaging blow to this country's appearance, as it were, overseas. Why have there been six cuts in eight years? I know from my own experience at the time of Suez how much the Foreign Office resented the autonomy of the BBC in terms of its broadcasts; how much it resented broadcasts of Mr. Gaitskell's speeches in addition to those made by Mr. Anthony Eden. But surely, all these years later, that has gone.
I find it very difficult to understand the frequency of these attempted assaults on the External Services. If a service is cut, the staff goes, the audience goes, and we have to start again to rebuild it. If a service is cut, it is likely that someone else—probably Russia—will step into the gap in the ether, and so one cannot get back again. Broadcasting cannot be turned on or off like a tap. It has to be built up patiently and persistently. Yes, of course it has to be reviewed 829 from time to time to see whether the emphasis should be shifted. But there have been six cuts in eight years. We still speak, bursting with pride, of this great and valuable service which stands us in such good stead throughout the world; yet we cut it six times in eight years.
Do not let us forget the staff in this matter. I was glad that the noble Lord who opened the debate referred to what has happened regarding the staff. Already 356 jobs have gone in the last 10 years, a decrease of over 11 per cent. I should have thought that that was enough. There is a dangerous point at which morale begins to be damaged. The uncertainty arising from six cuts in eight years is now in great danger of damaging the morale of the remarkably able and devoted people at Bush House. They do not know the glamour of broadcasting that is enjoyed by so many others. It is quiet, thorough and conscientious work. They are conscious of the quality of the service that they give, of the service that this country gives throughout the world. But there comes a moment when morale declines, and I suspect that that moment is not far off.
To millions of people overseas the BBC External Services mean something special, and we do not have so many special things to present to the world today that we can afford to cut six times in eight years, to tinker with, these services, even on the most profound diplomatic advice within the Foreign Office. It is time that we stopped all the nonsense of this. I speak for myself, not for the BBC, based on what I have seen of the service. It is time that we stopped this nonsense of six cuts in eight years and of a huge pretence that vast sums are to be spent on rejigging and refitting the services, when in fact it is merely a catching-up on improvements that have been far too long delayed over the years.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ Lord Caradon
My Lords, I cannot claim to speak with the intense knowledge of the noble Lord to whom we have just listened, and certainly I wish to observe the general instruction to be brief. I expect that it will be the common belief of every Member of the House that the External Services of the BBC are something of which this country can be proud, and which can be of benefit to the world. It is unnecessary to go over that ground, and we must start with that understanding and that agreement. I must refer to the remarkable speeches that we have heard this evening, in particular the maiden speech that we listened to a little while ago.
Surely, as has been so powerfully put to us, we must seek to separate the necessity for improving the method and the machinery of communication from the substance of what we are trying to convey by the overseas services. We are told that over a period of about 10 years—the latter part of which will be a responsibility of another Government—a certain amount of money must be found, and that therefore it is necessary to restrict the number of people who can benefit from the overseas service of which we are all proud. In particular I should like our Foreign Secretary, if it is possible, to forget the argument that we must cut down the services because we have to improve the machinery 830 which has fallen into disrepair over a number of years and which will require a decade to put right. That work is necessary and should be carried out, most certainly, but we should reject it as an argument for reducing the services on which so many peoples in the world have come to depend. To make the Somalis, for instance, suffer because we have allowed the machinery of communication to fall into disrepair is an argument that we should reject. We have heard it before. I think we should reject it now, and if we do, the whole question becomes much simpler.
If we agree that it is unnecessary to restrict the External Services because certain mechanical improvements must be undertaken in the coming decade, then we can look at the merits of the actual case before us. I should like to suggest to noble Lords that this is not a question of seeking to improve trade or to encourage tourists. We have in this country over a period of many years built up an international service. We have not sought some narrow national interest, but rather we have sought to provide an international service which is of the greatest benefit to the world. I cannot think that we have done more in any other field, be it military or diplomatic, than we have done in creating a service which is so widely respected thoughout the world.
We should not be deflected from examining the powerful arguments which have been put to us by those who know Africa, Somalia, the Far East, the near East. We should not be deflected from looking at the damage now about to be done by considerations of cost, when we bear in mind that the cost of a single bomb, a single bomber, could provide the savings sufficient to meet all the needs of the overseas services for another decade or more.
This is a service of which we can in this country be extremely proud. It must be encouraged, and must not be deflated or disorganised. I was reading only yesterday or the day before of praise from the United States for the overseas broadcasting services of this country. We have seen (have we not?) evidence that from all over the world people have been reporting the high opinion which they have of the service. What if it were possible to see the dispatches received from our representatives, our ambassadors, all over the world? I have a fairly clear picture of what they have to say about the decisions now being put before us.
We have an international obligation to maintain worldwide service which is one of the greatest contributions from this country to the world in these days. I greatly hope that there will be a readiness to look again at these problems, to listen to the arguments which have been put forward, and not to confuse the question of the costs of the mechanics with the texts of the communication that we have been seeking to put to the world. What we do here tonight is extremely important. In the other House in 1979, following a debate, a decision on Turkey was reversed. I greatly hope that we may look back on tonight's debate in our House as an occasion on which we made a contribution which led to reconsideration, not in any spirit of animosity but in a readiness to admit that a major mistake has been made in a matter of the greatest consequence to the world.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Lord Dacre of Glanton
My Lords, as the first to follow him from these Benches, I should like to begin by congratulating my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway on his elegant, interesting and well-balanced maiden speech. I am sure I speak for the whole House in saying that we look forward to hearing him speak here often, and perhaps more particularly when he is released from those constraints of judicial impartiality which are imposed on those who make their maiden speeches.
My Lords, there are many noble Lords down to speak, some of them much better qualified than I, and I shall be very brief. I shall go straight to what I conceive to be the central point. The Government propose a necessary, indeed an overdue, modernisation of the BBC overseas service, which of course entails capital expense, and they propose to raise a part of that capital by imposing a cut of £3 million on the operations of the service. The central question therefore is: Which is more important in the present posture of our affairs—to save that £3 million or to continue those services?
We all agree, I hope, that a sound economy is the essential basis of a stable society; but to save a relatively small sum at the expense of a major service, which, when once broken, will only with difficulty be resumed, is surely an inversion of priorities. Those who attack the Government for their monetarism maintain that this is precisely what they are doing. Those who defend them argue, I am sure rightly, that economic solvency, though an essential stage, is not an end in itself; it is a means to an end. And it is not only the stability—because there can be such a thing as a torpid stability—but the vitality of our society at which we aim.
In the past decade we have watched enemies of our society, both within and without it, seeking to undermine it. They tell us that our institutions and traditions are dead machinery and fossil relics in which we ourselves no longer believe, and that we should recognise that fact and register our own lack of confidence by drawing in our horns, subsiding into an introverted, cynical, defeatist, materialist small power without pride in our past or much hope for its future. This view, long preached by a vocal minority, is now, I am glad to say, becoming unfashionable. Those who watched the events of yesterday know that the great mass of our people have a healthy belief in our traditions and institutions, and the freedoms which they generate and preserve.
I welcome this reassertion of our self-confidence. But a society which believes in itself has a right and a duty to express its beliefs, especially when they are challenged throughout the world by those who seek to undermine it. For we are at present engaged—all the West is engaged—in a battle of ideas; a battle which I believe that we can win; and if we can win it no other battle will be necessary. Indeed, I believe that any other battle will be disastrous. The vast and dangerous expense of nuclear deterrence may be avoided if we persevere in our duty of projecting our ideas throughout the world. Other nations know this. The enemies of our society know it; our friends know it. How admirably have the French preserved their confidence in their mission civilisatrice throughout the 832 years when we seem to have abdicated from ours—cutting down the British Council and other British cultural activities abroad. Now that we are at last recovering our national confidence, I hope that we shall not allow our voice overseas, on which our future may depend, to be silenced by accountants and statisticians who think £3 million too much to contemplate and 7 million Somalis too few to bother about.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Lord Greenhill of Harrow
My Lords, I think it is appropriate at this time to congratulate the BBC television programmes on their coverage of the Royal Wedding yesterday. It reminded us what an excellent and professional organisation the BBC is. But it is no reflection on the BBC External Services, I think, to say that probably the television programmes yesterday achieved in one day more than even the dedicated efforts of the External Services could do in many months. That bears out what Lord Campbell of Alloway said in his maiden speech, that vision is much more effective than radio in convincing people of what is going on, and that the future lies more—
§ Lord Young of Dartington
My Lords, would the noble Lord permit me to ask him a question? In putting forward that view, which is perfectly understandable, has he taken account of the fact that in many parts of the world, particularly the poorer parts of the world—almost the whole of Africa, for instance—there is no television service, and the only way in which there can be communication is via the radio?
§ Lord Greenhill of Harrow
My Lords, I am perfectly aware of that, and I took it into consideration when I said what I did. I still think I am right in the proposition I made, which was that as far as attitudes to this country are concerned it achieved more in one programme than the External Services could do over a period of time.
My Lords, I have been persuaded to intervene in this debate on the basis of my experience, first, at the Foreign Office and then, subsequently, as a governor of the BBC. My work also carries me now a good deal round the world on commercial and industrial business. I think, therefore, that I have been on both sides of the barricades, and when I speak tonight I shall try to take a non-partisan view in this important issue.
Personally, I found Lord Carrington's speech characteristically clear and lucid, and I find myself in agreement with him. The Government's proposals, when the facts are examined, are not, in my opinion, unreasonable in the present economic circumstances. But if in order to release extra funds for the External Services it is necessary to reduce the number of language services, then, of course, there will be endless argument about the value of these services. We have heard special pleading this evening on behalf of each threatened service. All these services will certainly have given pleasure, provided accurate information and made many friends for this country. But so often the supporters of these services talk in vastly exaggerated terms. I saw that the chairman of the governors of the BBC, Mr. George Howard, was reported the other day as having said that the discontinuance of 833 these language services would put the economic future of this country at hazard. I do not know whether he said that, but if he did I think he is manifestly in error.
The power of the French service has, with respect, I think, been greatly exaggerated by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi. I have not noticed over the last 10 years, say, that the policy of the French Government has shown any ready response to the BBC's French service. Nor do I believe that if you multiplied the Spanish service many times it would change the attitude of the Spanish Government towards Gibraltar. When one is talking about these vernacular services one should try to keep the exaggeration down and deal with the facts. They are undoubtedly useful but they do not accomplish many of the things which their very sincere supporters claim. It is reasonable to rely on the judgment of the Foreign Secretary who has the knowledge at his disposal and the responsibility for the policy.
The BBC claim that they were not consulted on the final choice of the language services to be discontinued. If this is indeed true, could one of the reasons be the scale and content of the public lobbying by them on this matter? Of course, they are perfectly entitled, as the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, said, to conduct a lobby. If they do so they must expect that people will judge them by the content of their lobbying.
Even the Guardian this week has remarked that the BBC are not above stretching a point. That I regard as a considerable understatement. I cannot help wondering whether some of the energy, ingenuity and money might not be more properly applied to the programmes than in creating misunderstanding in the public mind and squabbling with Government departments. Their presentation, as the Foreign Secretary rightly said, of the present controversy on their own programmes has, any fair-minded person will agree, fallen far short of their normal standards. This blemish does not hide the fact that the External Services are in general a first-class operation, as everyone will readily recognise. Nobody sees this more clearly than their competitors, and the Russian imitation of our World Service is an undoubted compliment and an indication of their fear of its influence.
The purpose of the grant in aid which the External Services receives—and it is a very large sum—is to further directly and indirectly British interests in the broadest sense. The BBC do not use the word "propaganda" but that is what it is—propaganda of a peculiarly subtle and peculiarly British style, and the head of the External Services, I know, agrees with this view.
But the influence of this country in the world does not depend merely on the reception of a BBC signal. It depends much more on the success of this country in organising its own political and economic affairs. The substance of the news from this country is what affects opinion overseas. It is not the BBC's fault if the news is bad and it is their responsibility to report it truthfully. The responsibility of us all is to try to ensure that the news that they have to report truthfully is of such a character that it enhances the reputation of this country abroad and so facilitates and assists 834 our diplomatic and commercial efforts. During the war we gained great kudos by candidly reporting our setbacks. But of course we were in the end victorious.
Nowadays we continue truthfully to report our setbacks but let us hope that eventually the news is going to justify our present candour. In this context, the BBC often makes much of its commercial value. I wonder how true this is. If you take the past decade, I would venture that the influence the reporting of the melancholy news of our economic problems—which of course are not the BBC's fault—has overall in fact been detrimental to our trading position. Let me be absolutely clear that I am not advocating that the BBC should abandon its present policy. But let us not kid ourselves that the dissemination worldwide of our failures in some way helps this country, just because it is carried on the BBC's External Services.
Of course, there is another highly important and positive side to their work. The BBC External Service conveys worldwide accurate, up-to-the-minute, international news. This is a great contribution to the conduct of international relations. The BBC can and do, of course, exercise great influence by their careful interpretation of world events, which is skilfully and convincingly done by their own correspondents and by the outside contributors to their programmes. Many of their broadcasters are household names over a very wide area. One has only to think of Anatol Goldberg with his observations on the Soviet scene. And there are, of course, others whose views carry great influence. I wish the BBC could find a commentator on events in this country up to the standard of Alistair Cooke's "Letter from America". There are one or two who attempt this, sometimes with success, like Mr. Steedman, but I know no single figure who has established a world position.
I imagine that some of your Lordships' judgments on the content of the BBC services are based on your own listening experience of the World Service in English. With occasional lapses, that service serves its purpose well. I do not imagine that many Members of the House do or can closely follow the many vernacular services. There are, of course, from time to time inherent difficulties with vernacular services, such as were experienced a few years ago on the BBC Portuguese service, which the BBC promptly corrected; but I think the Government are right in assuming that the most effective instrument is the World Service in English, and that an expansion of that audience outweighs the value of much vernacular broadcasting. Some of the BBC's audience figures for the vernacular services should be treated with great reserve, for obvious reasons. The BBC often find it difficult to agree with ITV the audience figures in this country, so I suggest that some of the figures for overseas listeners which are being used should be looked at very closely.
I am sure the Government are right to accord priority to the problem of audibility. Without proper audibility the external services are a waste of resources. The present situation, as I know from my own experience, and as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has said, is by no means satisfactory in important areas of the world—for example, in East Africa and in China and in Eastern Europe. Who was responsible for allowing us to fall behind may be a matter of argument. 835 My own recollection is that the Foreign Office were keener on audibility and the BBC more anxious to retain the number of services whether they were clearly heard or not. What is essential is that the matter should be put right as far as possible.
When one talks of audibility one must mean easy audibility for the casual listener with a normal simple receiver. In the war people were ready to crouch over their sets, twiddling the controls to capture and hold the signal. Now it is very different and the listener wants to get the signal and hold it without difficulty. Just as we have dropped behind in certain military weapons in face of superior resources, so we have dropped behind in the power and range of transmitters which wealthy, potentially hostile countries can comfortably finance. I should like to be satisfied that the Government's and the BBC's forward look in this area is reassuring in the light of anticipated technological advances in this decade. Can we keep up on our own or is there a possibility in future years that we shall have to work with our allies in the provision of accurate means of communication?
In summary, I do not believe it is a bad bargain to sacrifice a limited number of foreign language services in order to assist the provision of greater audibility for the remaining services, and, if we strip away the emotion and exaggeration, it will be seen to make sense.
I feel less certain about the proposal for the transscription services but, with great respect to the right reverend Prelate, the major recipients of the transscription services are the United States, Australia and New Zealand. They are not minor, poor countries but countries that can well afford to pay for them. So I think one must consider the right reverend Prelate's remarks against that observation. On the whole, given the facts of the case, I think that the Government have worked out a solution that we should all accept.
§ 8.11 p.m.
My Lords, there are many who believe that the main art of government is the ordering of priorities; others believe that it is the only art of government. I believe that this proposal to emasculate the vernacular services of the External Services of the BBC is perhaps the most unsubtle demonstration of that art we have seen for some time.
In another place during the debate on this subject only one week ago, the Minister put it in this way—and I would ask your Lordships to listen very carefully because the language he used is a superb example of what I think of as pure "government speak". He said this, at col. 622, in another place on 23rd July:Rightly or wrongly, the Foreign Office and Foreign Office Ministers are the people in the position to get the facts in deciding the priorities both because of reports to our embassies throughout the world and because of our knowledge of our priorities and what we are seeking to do".What I am suggesting that that statement really says—and it is a statement much loved by all Governments anywhere throughout the world and also throughout history—is, "Nanny knows best. We are the only judge and we must know best".
In another part of the same Minister's speech, at col. 618, we had an astonishing answer to a question 836 which had been put to the Minister. The question was:Does not the Minister agree that it is in our foreign policy interests that we have close links with what is still an emerging democracy in Spain and what is still an emerging State from the Communist orbit in Somalia, a country which the Minister has not mentioned?I am sure your Lordships must be as astonished as I was to learn that the Minister's reply was:I do not, because I have already said that I do not believe that those are high priority services in British foreign policy interests".My Lords, this is absolutely essential. The Government have stated on many occasions that they wholly support Spain's entry into the EEC and that they wish Spain to become a member of NATO. And yet another part of the Foreign Office at another time in another place have said, by cutting out their service, in effect: "Spain, you do not matter to us". To other peoples in France and in Italy they also say: "You do not matter to us". And they say to Somalia also: "You do no longer matter to us"; and to Brazil: "You matter not". Of course, they have not said that, but that is the way the peoples of Spain, of France, of Italy and of Brazil will be thinking—"We no longer matter".
The truth is that the BBC External Services very much live up to their motto of the BBC, namely, "Nation shall speak unto nation"; and the one thing that Governments cannot stand—Governments of whatever colour be they in London or Moscow—is people speaking unto people. They do not like it because they firmly believe that the only people who should speak to each other are Governments. I believe this is quite wrong. Your Lordships will have read in The Times a most eloquent and erudite letter written by the famous author, John Le Carré. As a result of his letter he was vigorously attacked in the English language service of Radio Moscow, and his response was:If the Foreign Office and the Kremlin are both convinced that something must go, we may be reasonably sure that it should stay.What really annoys the Russians about BBC foreign broadcasts is that they distribute the unadorned truth".I have a suspicion that it is precisely the same reason why Her Majesty's Government have cavalierly disregarded the express will of Parliament by this—
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, I feel I must intevene to ask my noble friend this. Is he actually saying that the Government embarked on this programme of changes because the BBC's External Services were broadcasting the truth? That is what I think he said.
The will of Parliament was expressed very clearly in the summer and autumn of 1979 when a similar proposal was shelved. I will not go into the qualitative argument in any way, but Members of both Houses in effect said: "If there is such a thing as a sacred cow, then the BBC External Services are that sacred cow".
When I suggested in your Lordships' House in a question last week that it was a cavalier disregard of 837 the will of Parliament, I was concerned about the use of that word because I felt it might be too rich for the stomach of Her Majesty's Government. When it elicited the response it did from my noble friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs I realised that it was indeed the correct word. I am very sad to say that, because he said in response to that suggestion that the will of Parliament is renewable. What we must do tonight is to renew the will of Parliament as it was expressed 18 months ago and as it is now being expressed in your Lordships' House.
In response to the same question, my noble friend Lord Carrington, in his charming lighthanded manner, raised the cynical irrelevance of party politics by suggesting that from a political point of view he had ceased to be my noble friend. Your Lordships will know as well as I do that this has nothing whatever to do with party politics. We are talking solely about the image of this country abroad: nothing more and nothing less.
When we consider that the sales manager of United Kingdom Limited, in other words the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (and I am not thinking solely in the narrow terms of exports) is being run by the accountants' office, by our holy mother, the Treasury, I find it astonishing that a great department of state should have its decisions taken by another department of state which necessarily takes a narrower and shorter view. Indeed, we can see that the Treasury has got even into the heart and soul of the Foreign Secretary. When he spoke of reducing the grant in aid for the transcription services he referred all the time to "taxpayers' money" and when he referred to the increase, soi-disant, in the capital programme, what did he call it? He called it "Government money". There is no such thing as Government money; there is only taxpayers' money. It is for Parliament to suggest to Government the order of priorities, and not for the Executive to suggest to Parliament what the order of priorities is going to be.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Viscount Norwich
My Lords, since I am, I believe, the first Member from these Benches to speak since the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, it is my great pleasure and privilege to congratulate him on behalf of my fellows on these Benches, and to say what a pleasure it was to hear him and how much we hope to hear more from him in future.
I have heard one or two other speeches this evening with a somewhat lesser degree of satisfaction, merely because it seems to me that there are two or three old hares that keep being trotted out again and again and, however much they are trotted out, they are no more true than they were the first time around. The first one is this idea that, in order to increase audibility, we have to decrease the vernacular services. There is absolutely no direct connection at all with this. You might just as well say that in order to increase audibility we have to do away with a stretch of motorway. The two need not be, and certainly should not be, at all connected.
The other hare that ought to be scotched, except that it will not seem to lie down, is the theory that 838 television has now taken over from radio and that nobody need bother about radio any more. Of course, it is true that, in certain circumstances such as the royal wedding, television wins hand over fist. But how often do we have royal weddings such as we had yesterday? How often do people in South-East Asia and Africa have royal weddings such as yesterday? They do not have any television sets at all. Even people in Europe, in lovely, progressive, civilised, rich, over-developed countries like ours, listen to the radio quite a lot in their motor cars, while they are cooking and, perhaps, even only subliminally while they are sewing or doing the housework. People listen to radio a very great deal and it has a great effect on them. When they do not have television, the effect is very much greater still.
As regards the BBC External Services, I want to speak very briefly about one, the Italian service, because it is the only one that I know anything at all about. It is perfectly true that it is a very small service. It costs very little money indeed—I think, under £250,000—and broadcasts for only seven hours a week, late at night when there is no television, which obviously makes it very much more important. But what one does not necessarily remember is that the BBC Italian service is not the only outlet for the Bush House transmissions. That is because Bush House gets a lot of its Italian programmes broadcast by the Italian state television organisation.
So it is much more than seven hours a week that is going out from the BBC to Italy, and those transmissions are reaching well over 1 million people, of whom a relatively large proportion are the people who count—the intellectuals, the journalists, the businessmen and the thinking people whom we need to reach. If we give up that service, the effect on Italy will not only be that they will think it is yet another proof that this country is going down the drain, is getting more and more hopelessly impotent and is continuing to decline. It will be something else as well. As the noble Lord, Lord Morris, has just said, there will be a feeling that, "Britain does not care about us any more".
Let us remember that Italy has a far larger Communist Party than any other country in Western Europe. Among my relatively few Italian friends there are 20, if not more, who listen more or less regularly to the BBC and they always compliment me on it. I have absolutely no doubt that this service, minute as it may seem, is having an effect which is far greater than either the number of hours that it broadcasts or the amount of money that it costs would suggest.
The other subject on which I should like to speak very briefly is the BBC transcription service. Here I have to declare a slight interest, because I contribute to, or participate in, one or two of the radio programmes which are regularly distributed on the BBC transcription service. I therefore receive an extremely small, but none the less extremely welcome, stream of royalties from time to time. But I assure your Lordships that that is not why I am on my feet this evening.
If we are talking about cost-effectiveness—which is, as always, enormously difficult to assess, because, whatever the Government may think, it is not just a question of the figure that is at the bottom right-hand side of the statement of accounts; nothing is ever as 839 easy as that, least of all in foreign broadcasting—the BBC transcription service gets more value for money than any other branch of the BBC's activities, for what that is worth. I am not saying that it is worth an enormous amount, but, if we are talking about cost-effectiveness, let us be absolutely clear. All right, we sell our programmes and, in some cases, we sell them for less than their value. But, in every business in the world, everybody knows the value of giving away. Publishers send any number of free books to critics and influential people with the idea of priming the pump. That is an understood business practice.
The point is that by giving people quite a lot of programmes, which are not of any great political or cultural import, you keep those doors open. You stop rivals, such as the Russians, the Albanians and the Chinese, from coming in, and they will come in like a shot if you open the door even a chink. You not only keep them out, but you keep the presence of Britain in all those countries We keep ourselves remembered and that is quite enough, even if one cannot necessarily go on banging away all the time about the things which really matter.
But, none the less, the point is that we are banging away about the things that really matter and, at the moment, we have a great deal to bang away about. There has never been a time in this century or before when this country has been so widely misunderstood as it is now. With hunger strikes in Northern Ireland and riots in Brixton and Toxteth, we have a lot of explaining to do. People believe the BBC when it tries to explain, and they are ready to be persuaded. For Heaven's sake! my Lords, is this the moment to throw away the one cheap and quite astoundingly effective weapon which, for the last 50 years or more, we have worked so hard to build up?
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ Lord Ferrier
My Lords, my first task is to give you a message from the noble Lord, Lord Willis, who has sent me a note asking me to apologise to the House for his absence. He says:I believe that the preservation of the BBC transmission service is more valuable than Concorde, because tonight I have to fly to Australia and Hong Kong where the BBC is highly regarded. I should be grateful if you would convey my apologies to the House".I have listened to the debate so far with great interest and have been enabled, in consequence, to cut down my speech a good deal. On the subject of tom-toms, what I am going to say does not arise from the tom-toms to which my noble friend Lord Carrington referred. They reached me only this afternoon. So what I have to say is in no way the result of these papers. I confirm what the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, said—that the BBC, if only on behalf of their staff, who have been so properly defended by the noble Lord, Lord Hill, are entitled to send out messages of this kind, although I have explained to your Lordships that in my particular circumstances I have not read them. In other words, the tom-toms did not reach Scotland.
Be that as it may, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, will confirm that for many years I have been a thorn in the side of "Auntie", if that is not an indelicate thing to say. Nevertheless, I yield to none in my admiration for the BBC, especially after the 840 superb treatment of the almost fairytale experience of yesterday. I yield, as I say, to none in my admiration for them, except as regards one important subject to which I shall not refer as it does not affect this issue. The fact that the BBC exercise their own censorship in some ways is one thing.
I, as a Scotsman, would single out one item, Burma. Your Lordships should know that these broadcasts to Burma are very important from the point of view of the traditional trade of supplying marine engines to Burma. I support the combined Motions which are now before the House and urge their adoption. Yesterday I had the opportunity to discuss this subject with a Scottish Member of the European Parliament who confirmed the general concern which has already been so fully expressed in this debate, a concern which exists especially among whose who have overseas experience and who maintain external contacts. I shall not repeat the points of general criticism which have already been made, with most of which I agree. However, there are three points which have not been mentioned and which I think are worth making.
My informant compared the proposed annual savings on overseas broadcasts to "peanuts", a word which the noble Lord, Lord Hill, used in a reference to blotting paper. He suggested that these savings are not only fractional as against the provisions for defence expenditure, of which this should form a part, but that the yearly savings are commensurate with the financial support given by the state before lunch every day to British Leyland.
I have studied what has been said in this House during the last few weeks, going back to the Written Answer of the Foreign Secretary on 29th June to the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi. With respect, I cannot agree with the contentions of my noble friend the Foreign Secretary. I wonder whether the Government's decision is influenced in any way by doubts that the vernacular broadcasts in their present form do not set out the British point of view in a proper way. May I ask the noble Lord who is to reply to say whether he is satisfied that the vernacular broadcasts to certain areas which are to cease are intrinsically satisfactory, and whether our diplomatic personnel, either overseas or at home, monitor them carefully and report on them favourably or unfavourably? If there is no doubt in his mind about this point—I imagine there is none because I have never heard a critical voice about the promotion of the British way of life in the vernacular service—then the more do I regret the Government's decision which we are debating tonight.
A comparison has been drawn between the cost-effectiveness of these services as against the cost of our diplomats and our consular representation. We are in the European Economic Community and we propose to remain there, despite the silly noises being made by the Labour Party. This affects the whole issue. Does not this fact indicate that the time is coming when the whole question of diplomatic representation will be overhauled? In many places EEC representation will replace the present multiplicity of consular and ambassadorial establishments. As time goes on, this will mean that the BBC's overseas broadcasts will assume an even more important and individual function than they do today. If that is so, this is not the time to draw in our broadcasting horns. What I 841 mean by "diplomatic representation" differs from the British Council's work, to which I shall not refer but which deserves much more financial support than it receives.
I am one of those who could sacrifice a large measure of "Top of the Pops" if that would provide funds to support overseas broadcasts. I imagine a number of your Lordships feel as I do. As my noble friend Lord Carrington said, it is for Parliament to decide. I support every word that the noble Lord, Lord Morris, said. The noble Lord, Lord Byers, is not asking for more money. Both he and this House are asking for a reconsideration of the matter in the light of this debate. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Morris, said, and beg the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, not to be too cavalier in his reply to the debate which amounts, particularly from the speech by the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, to a serious clamour from all sides of the House and, I beg to suggest, from all sides of the country.
§ Lord Greenhill of Harrow
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him to clarify one point? If he is in favour of unifying the embassies of the EEC, would it not follow logically that the overseas broadcasting services of the EEC countries should be unified? Is that what he is advocating? Or would each country have its own broadcasting service, although only one embassy represented all the members of the Community?
§ Lord Ferrier
My Lords, I take the noble Lord's point. I foresee—though perhaps I am wrong—a crystallisation of the diplomatic services. This seems to me and to my consultant from the European Parliament to be an inevitable consequence of the EEC's development. It will produce a difference in function between ambassadorial representation and broadcasts by the BBC.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Lord Weidenfeld
My Lords, first may I pay a tribute to the maiden speaker, Lord Campbell of Alloway. I particularly congratulate him upon his ability to be both forceful and moderate and, above all, very constructive.
When Professor Arnold Toynbee's monumental Study of History first appeared after the war, a Continental critic remarked, not without a modicum of malice, that a passionate belief in the superiority of the English public school system might perhaps be inadequate equipment for a world historian claiming a universal outlook on mankind. This remark flashed through my mind when reading Mr. Nicholas Ridley's recent Written Answer in defence of the cuts, and above all his pivotal argument that although seven vernacular services would be discontinued, the world services in English will in all cases not only continue but be heard more clearly. Anyone who studies world broadcasting and multilingual communication techniques will know that there is no real substitute for vernacular broadcasting, and that English, although 842 a world language, is still not mastered, or certainly not well enough understood, by millions and millions of the very people in countries near and far whom we wish to reach.
The BBC, world broadcasting's greatest pioneer, learned this truth and taught it to others. The Soviets, certainly, know better than Mr. Ridley. In a Soviet manual on broadcasting published recently, a Soviet broadcasting authority said:Practice has shown that an increase in the volume of programmes to Africa and South-East Asia in English or French does not guarantee a high level of effectiveness".He continues, that only broadcasts in local national languages are regarded by listeners as a sign of respect for their country and lead to a significant increase in the size of the audience.
I think there are three dangerous assumptions implicit in the Government's decision to choose so-called "friendly languages" for elimination. One, that the state of tranquillity in inter-state relations may be pretty permanent, and that friends need not explain each other's problems. During the Portuguese revolution the BBC's broadcasts were of fundamental importance. In France today both the French media and public take a passionate interest in our handling of Northern Ireland and the voice of Britain is needed to explain our policies and postures. Who is to say that we may not need our wavelengths to explain ourselves to Spanish listeners?
As for the Italian language service, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, that whoever in the Foreign Office briefed the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary to say to a reporter from the Corriere della Sera that:only a few enthusiastic sleep walkers can be listening to broadcasts in Italian",has done a disservice to a great diplomat. In fact the Italian service is exceptionally distinguished. Building on its remarkable war-time fame it has now for almost two generations retained a reputation for quality and a devoted audience.
Another error of judgment is that by deeming services to obviously friendly countries expendable you imply that the countries to which you continue to broadcast are either held to be crisis areas—"flash points" in world affairs—or possibly in an adversary position to ourselves. The Government seem to feel that one can cut corners by, for instance, beaming Latin-American Spanish to Spain, metropolitan Portuguese to Brazil and African French to France. Once again, the practitioners in the art of international communications will tell you that Latin-American Spanish is not acceptable to Spain any more than, say, a newsreader from Tennessee would be welcomed in Tyneside. Portuguese and Brazilian pronunciation of the same language differ vastly, and I defy any programme organiser, however resourceful, to beam compatible programme material to the Ivory Coast and Cameroon and to metropolitan France.
A few days ago Mr. Ridley said something to the effect that, looking back, it was no great disaster that the BBC no longer broadcasts in Dutch, Hebrew and Danish. With all due respect, I would strongly disagree, although unfortunately this is no longer an issue for debate, and while I do not wish to open old wounds with regard to the demise of the Hebrew 843 service, few could argue against the vital relevance of such a transmission were it still in existence today.
I wish to turn briefly to one other point on which I declare my professional interest and can speak with some experience. That is the enormous contribution to the export of British books which the BBC, and especially its transcription service, has made in the past and is increasingly making in the present. Of the 500 hours of programmes added every year to the impressive transcription services catalogue, about one-third consist of readings, transcriptions or adaptations of pubished works or documentary programmes dealing with English literature. In 1980 and 1981 alone the transcription services paid out approximately £30,000 for copyright in published works, but the much greater benefit arose in the interest created by these broadcasts and their impact on resultant book sales. Co-operation between the BBC External and Transcription Services and British publishers is on the increase, and in view of the present economic world recession, which hits British book exports as much as, or probably more than, most commodities, the removal of such a valuable capability is well-nigh self-destructive.
On the French service for Europe new books, whether they be novels or history or paperbacks, are featured in a regular 15-minute programme every week. The BBC's Italian transmission has an outstanding book programme which is often reprinted in its entirety by the leading literary journals. The same applies to the BBC services to Brazil, where the reputation of British books and British authors is very high and where the opinion-forming educated Brazilians have a regard for British literature which is a great source of envy to our American friends, who are spending an enormous amount of money and great effort to boost American literature and scholarship.
I hope that across the party boundaries of this House this call will go out to the Government: reconsider your decision, desist from false economies through self-deception—or, to put it emblematically, do not make the BBC shed from its portals the lion and the unicorn in favour of the church mouse and the ostrich.
§ Lord Young of Dartington
My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether he will accept that one unique characteristic of the BBC transcription service of which he has spoken is that there is a charge for it? I think there is no other service in the world that would charge for transcription, and my question is—
§ Several noble Lords: Order!
§ Lord Sandys
My Lords, it is a custom in this House that if a noble Lord wishes to intervene in a debate and to speak after another noble Lord it must be in the form of a question and not adding further to the speech.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Lord Swann
My Lords, so many noble Lords have made so many valid points that I think I can easily be brief, as the noble Lord, Lord Byers, hoped we all would be and as indeed we all have been. However, I must fleetingly point out one or two things. The 844 noble Lord, Lord Carrington, is not here, but earlier he suggested that in my unregenerate days in the BBC I was a great raiser of lobbies and beater of tom-toms. It is of course an antique Foreign Office and Civil Service myth that the BBC has more tom-toms than it has television licences and is very good at raising a lobby. The truth of the matter, of course, is that it does not have to raise a lobby. Indeed I am surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, does not remember—because he was a governor at the time—that in 1979 we were sufficiently embarrassed by the strength of the unasked-for lobby to take active steps to tone it down.
I have also been fascinated by what would appear to be a new line in Foreign Office thinking, namely that foreign nationals should pay for what they get from the BBC. I wonder whether the same line of thinking extends to food and drink as dished out in embassies? If it does, then I do not think the BBC can object, but I would suggest that to provide one form of hospitality of a physical sort for free and to charge for Shakespeare seems a curious reversal of priorities.
A little has been said by a number of noble Lords about the role of the External Services. They have been seen by many speakers—and necessarily so, but it always makes me a little uneasy when it is stated quite so frankly—as being one of the extensions of British foreign policy. Yes, of course, Governments have to decide which countries shall be broadcast to, and wherein Government—or should I say taxpayers'—money is best spent. On the other hand, the BBC do not like it to be thought that their primary function is helping foreign policy, helping sales abroad, helping all the other things that have been mentioned at one time or another. If those things happen as a spin-off of the primary purpose of the BBC External Services—and I want to say a little about that—then, fine. But I think it is getting one's priorities wrong to see those kinds of short-term political considerations elevated beyond what I believe should be their status.
An enormous number of speakers have, as I knew they would, paid tribute to the excellence of the BBC External Services, and the last point I want to make will perhaps seem to your Lordships either unimportant and philosophical or perhaps paradoxical; I do not know which. I want to examine briefly why the External Services are so widely respected and so widely listened to—more so indeed that than any other external service of any other country in the world. It is certainly not the audibility; we have heard how poor that is, and it is poor, of course, because of decades of absurd neglect and endless cuts, implemented, sometimes reimplemented, reinstated. One never knew where one was from one minute to the next.
In passing, on that point, the noble Lord, Lord Hill, referred to, was it, six cuts in seven years? I wonder whether the House would be interested to hear some figures I got together back in 1978, when we were once before under threat, that time I think in terms of the Think Tank; they show on how many occasions there have been Government reviews of the External Services of the BBC, usually leading to cuts or to some reversal of priorities. There were reviews by: Drogheda, 1952–4; Hill, 1958–9; Vosper, 1961–2; Rapp, 1964–5; Beeley, 1967; Duncan, 1968–9, to which the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt referred; 845 the Civil Service Department, 1974; then an internal Foreign Office review, subsequently overtaken by the Think Tank review from 1975–77. Whether there has been something since, I have rather lost track of. In short, never are the External Services not either being cut or looked into.
Then it is not audibility; it is not lavishness of support, nor the lavishness of the buildings; anyone who has been in Bush House knows that it is a very modest operation and much more cost-effective than any other broadcasting organisation. It is not the hours they broadcast, because they are relatively low in the international league table. It is not the number of languages, which again is relatively low in the international league table. And excellent as the technical journalistic quality of what is produced is, it is not that on its own.
I am in no doubt at all that the External Services are held in unique respect because they speak with a single voice to everybody. They do not seek to ingratiate themselves with any particular country, and occasionally indeed get into trouble with governments for not doing so. They do not seek to deploy one set of facts and comments to friendly countries, another set to flash-point countries, yet another set to adversary or hostile countries. They endeavour to tell uncomfortable truths, whether uncomfortable for Britain or uncomfortable for the Government, so that comfortable truths may more readily be believed. This is an ethos, I think, that has grown up from the very earliest days of the BBC and the wise Royal Charter with which it was endowed, and, of course, as regards the External Services, given a very special push during the war. But the point is that the BBC do attempt to speak with the same voice to friend and foe. That is testable by any government or indeed any individual who cares to twiddle the knobs on a short-wave radio.
This brings me to the point I want to make that your Lordships may find paradoxical. I do not myself feel that the Government are necessarily and wholly wrong to wish to make cuts in the External Services. I regret it, and I think there are better ways in which they could make cuts. Nevertheless if they feel they must make cuts, that is their prerogative. I would question the general distribution of the cuts they are making, because what they are doing—it was attempted in 1979 and headed off at that time, and it has been attempted on a number of other occasions—is pushing the BBC in the direction of most of the other external services of the world, which tend to broadcast not to their friends but to their foes, or to the flash-points—the countries, in short, that they wish to influence.
That may not seem to matter very much. It matters, I believe, for two reasons. One is that, if we go very far along that road—and I fear that broadcasting to Western Europe looks like being on the way out, and if it were not for the obstinacy of electro-magnetic waves that cannot be deflected over Western Germany to hit only East Germany, I daresay the broadcasts to West Germany would have gone too—we shall, if these proposals go through, be getting to a position where the BBC will be set on the road to not broadcasting in the vernacular to its friends. That, I think, is a dangerous situation. There is, whatever one may 846 say—I must be very discreet—pressure from time to time on broadcasters to conform to Governments' views, very naturally perhaps. That is something that would be more difficult to resist, I suspect, if all one's broadcasting was either to countries that were hostile or to countries that the Government were wishing to influence. It also matters because, of course, foreign countries are much more suspicious of you if you are only bothering to broadcast to, as it were, the hostile countries. They are well aware of what you are doing.
Finally, I think the cuts, if necessary—and I do not actually believe they are—are not necessarily rightly disposed in the long-term interest of credibility for the BBC External Services. In the short-term political interest, perhaps the right decisions have been made. In the long term, I am sure they have not.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, I should like to underline briefly what the noble Lord, Lord Swann, has said, with particular reference to the BBC transcription services. My earliest personal experience of those services was back in 1946 when, for a short period of time, I was seconded to the Government of Burma and faute de mieux became head of English programmes at Rangoon Radio. We took over from the No. 1 psychological warfare broadcasting unit and converted it into a Forces station and in less than a year we handed it over to the Burmans. In that period of time, the BBC transcription services were utterly invaluable; the job could not have been done without them. It is my belief, from the experience I have had in different parts of the world since, that the value of the BBC transcription service is still greatly underestimated. The fact that it is underestimated is illustrated by the Government's attitude towards it. I am rather inclined to doubt whether this attitude is in fact the policy of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. I am sorry he is not here, because he might wish to jump up and deny what I am saying. But to me it carries the hallmarks of something which has been imposed upon the Minister of State in another place and the noble Lord probably finds himself lumbered with it.
It seems to me that the Minister of State has a very wrong idea about what are the characteristics, what are the considerations, which ought to affect this kind of issue. He said, for example, in another place:The views of the BBC's staff are not an appropriate consideration".They may not be a governing consideration, but to say that they are not an appropriate consideration seems to me to be very questionable. Surely at least the views of the people engaged in the service should be among the considerations taken on board before the final decision is made. It seems to me that those views have been brushed aside in an extremely cavalier fashion.
There is something else which the Minister said which betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of what broadcasting and what influence in the world is really about. He said, in a letter on this occasion, when referring to the transcription service:Much of the material covered is of low priority in foreign policy terms (e.g. sports, drama, quizzes, music and other items of light entertainment) and, being in English, has only limited value outside the English-speaking world".847 I question that argument. I brush aside that apparently the Minister of State thinks that music is expressed in the English language. But with that on one side, the idea that only direct propaganda is of value in terms of foreign policy is a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of broadcasting. In fact, I would say that the reverse is probably the case. In my view, the more indirect the output is, probably the more effective it is. It is probably true to say that the massive Russian output is much less effective than it might otherwise be precisely because it is direct propaganda, and that the BBC's lesser output is probably more effective for the simple reason that a good deal of it—not all of it—is not straightforward propaganda. Therefore, the idea that the transcription service is not valuable in foreign policy terms I think betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of what this is all about.
I personally have some reservations about all the panoply that accompanies royalty, but everybody must realise that what took place yesterday had a tremendous British impact upon the world precisely because it was indirect—it did not attempt to argue anything but simply said, "Here we are. This is what we are. This is the type of country that we are". We have many blots upon our escutcheon. There are in our society things that none of us is proud of, but people can say when they experience it, "There is something good about this society". We accomplish that not by arguing our case or making a point but by presenting ourselves.
That is why the Minister of State has got it wrong. When he says that sports, drama, quizzes, music and other items of light entertainment have only a limited value outside the English speaking world, he has got it fundamentally and hopelessly wrong. That is why the Government must think again about this matter. Having regard to the influential arguments which have been put to them from all sides of the House, they must recognise that acting, perhaps under pressure from another department, from the Treasury, they have made a mistake and that particularly in relation to the transcription service it is time that they changed their minds. I think that this House has a duty tonight to try to persuade them to do just that.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Lord Buxton of Alsa
My Lords, I need not keep your Lordships more than a couple of moments because I have spoken at great length of this subject previously. As Chairman of ITN I find it rather bizarre, but not unacceptable, to be described as a tom-tom beater for the BBC's External Services. However, I must tell my noble friend Lord Carrington that I have been beating it for over two years and have not been in the least bit influenced by the information which has been very helpfully served out to everybody recently, because I have not yet read it.
In the summer of 1979 when initiating a debate on an Unstarred Question I spoke at great length on the whole aspect of BBC External Services. I did exactly the same in the summer of last year. The fact that I think that the whole effort was totally ignored has resulted, possibly, in this very important debate to which so many of your Lordships have contributed today.
I only want to say that I now wonder, following 848 what my noble friend Lord Hill of Luton said, what is the true explanation of this whole, long, year-in and year-out twisting of the screw and the tightening of the vice on the BBC External Services. Your Lordships may remember that the noble Lord said that this has been going on for eight years. There have been seven cuts—or was it six? In any event it has been going on for eight years. Therefore, I am left reminding myself that, of course, all Governments are responsible for the policies and the decisions which they make, but this Government cannot be responsible for the initiation and motivation of this eight year campaign, and nor was the Callaghan Government responsible for its initiation and motivation. It has been going on for eight years, year-in and year-out and, therefore, we need to look for the cause and where the initiation and the motivation lie. I would, therefore, ask the Government—which on other issues I support—and my noble friend Lord Trefgarne to ponder about this matter and perhaps answer the point.
I am not being lighthearted when I say that I cannot help wondering whether we have yet found all the moles. The Government's only ally, if they sabotage the External Services in this way, is the Soviet Union and perhaps a few other satellite dictatorships. Therefore, who is it that wants to help the Soviet Union? If that is an absurd suggestion, there must be another one. If it is true, as Lord Hill suggested, that the Foreign Office dislikes BBC external broadcasts, then we ought to know about it.
I have travelled a very great deal—I think as much as my noble friend Lord Carrington—not on whistle stop tours but on quite extended visits to different parts of the world, especially the third world. I have noticed that there are embassies and consulates where the BBC External Services are not all that welcome. Therefore, I need only remind your Lordships—and I need not speak any more—that what I want to know is why this goes on; why it has been going on for eight years; and why this Government feel that they have to support it.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ Lord Hooson
My Lords, I wish to make a brief comment or two about the speech of the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary which, with great respect to him, I found singularly unconvincing. When he made his attack on the BBC—and it was a very scathing attack—referring to them beating their tom-toms, I am bound to say that I reflected to myself that the Foreign Office know very well that somebody would be here beating the big drum for them and not the tom-toms. So it happened this evening.
The noble Lord the Foreign Secretary said today that defence was an extension of foreign policy and he accepted that in this country the BBC's External Services were, therefore, an essential tool of foreign policy. Accepting that, what are three of the great issues before the world today and in which our country is deeply involved? We are involved in an enormous ideological conflict between, on the one hand, the western democracies and, on the other, a huge communist bloc dominated by the Soviet Union. It is basically a battle for the hearts and minds of men. I ask myself, what contribution to winning that essential battle 849 does the abolition of this service make to, for example, Burma, or the largest country in South America, Brazil, or to Somalia on the Horn of Africa?
The second great issue is that of NATO. In the West we are afraid that before the battle for the minds and hearts of men is won our opponents may, as it were, lose patience and try to overcome us by sheer military force. The issue of the future of NATO is very important to us. With a large communist party in Italy, a very considerable one in France, and with Spain in an uncertain state having a new kind of democracy, what kind of contribution are we making to the ideological battle by abolishing our broadcasts to those countries?
The third great issue is that of the EEC. We are trying to build up an effective Economic Community in Europe and we have very distinct differences and viewpoints from those of our allies in this important venture. What kind of contribution do we make to this battle? How can we get across the British point of view on, for example, the lamb trade, the fishing dispute and the future of EEC policy towards industry and agriculture, when our points of view are not reflected in the news services of the host countries, if you like—France and so on? It is the wrong time to do it.
The issue is not one of audibility. This is a red herring if ever there was one, because no one has suggested that the services that we are proposing to cut are inaudible. Many people outside this House think that the services that the Government propose to cut are inaudible. But that is not the argument at all. If we accepted the BBC propaganda and yet diminished its audiences by half, these services would still be of vital importance to this country.
The real issue for us this evening—with which, with the greatest respect to the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary, he did not deal—is to evaluate, on the one side, the value of these broadcast services to those particular countries and, on the other side, to say, "We are in economic difficulties in this country and if we abolish those services we would save £3 million", and that particular £3 million per annum would not have to be found for the capital investment proposed. Is it in the long-term interests of this country to do the one or to sustain the other?
I am a great believer in NATO and in the defence of the West, and £3 million would buy three tanks without the sophisticated equipment necessary to go with them. I suppose that if we slimmed down an embassy or two and reduced the status of one or two, that would produce £3 million per annum. If I had to choose between those policy provisions or sustaining the present services of the BBC to those countries, I should unhesitatingly choose the latter because I think that the greatest contribution that this country can make to the great ideological battle in the world is to help win the minds and hearts of people. That is what we are undermining by cutting these services.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Lord Ardwick
My Lords, once more unto the breach! Sometimes I feel as though I have been defending the External Services from brutal governmental assault for most of my adult life, and certainly since 1952 which was long before I came here and when I was in full-time 850 journalism. If ever a Government have got through their life in the past 20 years or so without contemplating a cut in these services, it has escaped my knowledge. This service is tempting bait because it has no armour against the Government's knife except its own virtues. A Government might bring the entire service to an end and not lose a vote, except those votes wielded by displaced employees.
The cuts now contemplated will lead to no urban riot or demonstration; to nothing more intimidating than a lobby led by girls in sloganised tee shirts, which to some noble Lords might be more of a treat than a threat. No, the only cost to the Government is the scorn that will be felt in those places where the service will no longer be heard; scorn and amazement that a British Government should have so little regard for the BBC, the one British institution at this moment that is without peer in the world and an institution which is still the envy of civilised nations.
I have sometimes thought that there must be a conspiracy in Whitehall, carried from Government to Government—perhaps a rapacious Treasury and an indifferent Foreign Office; a conspiracy to get rid of the External Services by a thousand cuts inflicted every other year. Is the Foreign Office jealous of it? It chooses of course the countries which are to receive the services and the languages in which they are broadcast. But the Foreign Office have no say in content. Does it irk them? One felt that there have been signs of it in the speech of the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary tonight. Does it embarrass them sometimes by presenting to the world our differing points of view in Britain rather than being the simple voice of the Foreign Office?
Yet that is the strength of the service: this ability to speak for the whole of Britain. That is its pride, and that is its prestige. Regular listeners know in times of crisis that the BBC will be doing its best to give them the truth, whether the subject is Gibraltar, Ireland, fishing rights or farm prices, riots or royal weddings. Yesterday, as the noble Lord pointed out, the whole world had a picture of an ancient and civilised nation demonstrating its essential patriotic unity. There was no better counter to the partial truth of the riot scenes of recent weeks than the sight that the world saw yesterday of those happy young people outside the gates of Buckingham Palace, and the genial relations between the crowds, the people, and the police. But what television did in this very big way for a few hours yesterday the BBC does modestly but constantly day after day, year after year, and has been doing so for half a century through its External Services.
The BBC External Service, like the domestic service, is built upon the rock of Reith, that uncompromising man who charged it to seek the truth as far as it lies within the power of fallible human beings. The Government cannot have been surprised to find their miserable cuts condemned by every newspaper, criticised by members of every party, and stimulating this long list of speakers even after the hard day's night of yesterday and on the eve of the Recess. The Government cannot have been surprised because it has all happened before. It is not a question of a lobby; it is a question of the experience of Members of this House who go about the world and hear nothing but praise of the BBC. Practi- 851 cally the only criticism one ever hears is the difficulty of audibility. Perhaps the Government thought they could get away with it this time because they have spent the last two years elevating parsimony into a moral principle. They might feel that themselves, but we do not share it.
I was glad to hear some words of the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary—I thought I detected a note of hope in them—about the transcription service, when he suggested, as I was trying to suggest in a Question the other day, that possibly the transcription service could be encouraged to find a way of living, not without subsidy but with a diminishing subsidy. One would like to know when the noble Lord replies to this debate whether the intention is to give the transcription service a chance to reduce its costs and increase its fees. That cannot be done in one year, it needs a period; but it needs to be given a fair trial.
I am hoping that the noble Lord will tell us that that is the Government's intention, and that the idea that was put up the other day of the British Council, an impoverished body itself, contributing to these services, would be dropped. I have spoken for just five minutes, so did my predecessors, and may I hope that everybody who follows us in this debate will keep their speeches brief so that every point of view might be heard before this debate is brought to a close.
§ 9.18 p.m.
§ Lord Digby
My Lords, in the last year we have suffered great damage to our reputation in the world. The IRA propaganda, followed by riot news, has for the first time made some of our friends wonder for the stability of this country. Yesterday's wedding showed a completely different face of Britain, and I suggest a much truer face. The BBC can show this face precisely because it has never used propaganda but uses objective truth.
My noble friend Lord Carrington has dismissed the transcription service—which is the one point I want to make tonight—as a purveyor of music and pop which should be paid for by the recipients. But, my Lords, this service gets to a different public. The number of people who listen on short wave, while very important, must be limited, but the transcription service goes out on local radio all over the world. Therefore, we are getting at the transistor audience. If we can take the British way of life to this public we will begin to show how our stability still exists. It may be that we are showing the Albert Hall and classical music; it may be that we are showing pop music; but it is showing what we can achieve in Britain.
This service is going out to people who would never listen on short wave to the rest of the BBC's services. This matter should be looked at again. After all, we are talking about a possible £1 million. Perhaps a little more economy could be achieved by selling for higher prices—I would not know about that—but certainly we shall lose a lot if we lose this service.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Lord Allen of Fallowfield
My Lords, those who have immediately preceded me have been commendably brief. I am very conscious of that and shall try to emulate their brevity. At the outset I must, in speaking 852 in support of both Motions, declare an interest, in that I am a governor of the BBC, but I do not intend tonight to attempt to deal with all or some of the waterfront that has already been covered by earlier speakers.
For me, three things have emerged from this debate and I believe they are significant. One is—and this is the only commendation I can think to make to the Government—that having declared their intention, they have provoked the two Motions and as a result we are having a very interesting debate. The second is that the debate will undoubtedly bring to the notice of all concerned what the transcription services of the BBC are and the effect of the vernacular services, particularly those the Government intend to cut. That is significant, and the third point is that, in the capacity in which I speak, I am obliged to say that up to this time I have never previously witnessed, either in this House or outside, an occasion when there has been so much almost universal support for the BBC and so little support for the Government.
I believe, as other noble Lords have said in different words, that the Government's intentions—if one had time one would give statistical evidence to justify this—amount to being penny-wise and pound-foolish. We are to lose, according to the Government's intentions—which I sincerely hope they will reconsider, as the Motion asks them to do—seven language services, with an intention to disband the BBC transcription service, though we are told in other forms that the intent is not to disband the transcription service but merely to cut its subsidy. This would be one of the most untimely occasions in the history of this country to cut the subsidy of that service, with its prevalence and relationships overseas.
Some of the Government's intentions, on all counts, cause a large question mark and serious doubts to be raised in the minds of the British public as to whether this miserable policy intention is the right way to win friends overseas and influence people. It also demoralises those who have had a long professional association with the External Services and transcription service of the BBC, and whose working standards have been eulogised consistently by previous speakers. The Government's intentions will seriously retard the effectiveness of the External Services.
What a time to be taking such action, when on Wednesday Britain was a window to the world, as others have pointed out! If the Government's present intention is to say that we should lower our standards in conveying to the overseas friends of Britain the kind of exercise which we have been conveying through the External Services and the transcription service, then I think it is very difficult to understand the logic of that. There is no doubt that there is mounting concern from many quarters about the Government's intentions. That concern has been manifest here tonight. I have not for a long time listened to a more one-sided debate, and it is not because of the BBC lobby—although I believe the BBC have as much right to lobby as do the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; it is because the argument stands out in all logic that this is not the right thing to do and that this is the wrong time to contemplate doing it. From all that one has heard, the standards of both the services involved are perhaps summed up by a quotation from an article which appeared recently in The Economist: 853The BBC's Overseas Service is listened to all over the world. It is just about the calmest and fairest service of international information there is, yet Bush House, which once led the world, now struggles to hold on to its existing standards of service while other countries improve theirs. Everywhere, voices grow louder".Those voices have been heard here in this House tonight.
Reference has been made to the transcription service, and I just want to make one or two comments about that aspect. The indictment in respect of the transcription service that the Government, in their intention to disband the service, are being "penny-wise, pound-foolish" is most fitting, in my considered view. This service supplies the best of British radio to more than 100 countries. Some 36,000 hours of the best of British radio are heard each year on the domestic airwaves of overseas countries, by millions of foreign listeners. That is not an exaggeration. We have heard references here tonight to exaggerated figures but the figures I have just quoted are fact. The BBC are the largest and most successful international distributor of radio programmes in the world. I understand that the same service issued 785 hours of new programmes last year. Moreover, well in excess of 5,000 British artistes and their work found a worldwide audience through these 2,070 programmes.
We also hear a great deal today, and rightly so, about the need to increase productivity in the interests of this great nation of ours—but here we are presented with an intention that is going to cut down productivity in seven selected places. What a senseless policy to pursue to disband a service, or, if the Government prefer it another way, substantially to cut the subsidy of a service which has always led the world in radio production. I must ask, why disband a service which has a proven track record in contributing to Britain's invisible exports and to payments made by overseas broadcasters to British copyright-holders when BBC programmes are broadcast overseas?
Finally, I want to sum up how I feel about the debate. First and foremost, I believe that the Government's intentions are lacking in foresight. They are untimely. Secondly, they will be capable of, and guilty of, creating grave misunderstanding among British friends overseas. Thirdly, the vacuum created by withdrawal from seven language services will be filled in no uncertain manner by the Eastern bloc. Let me as an aside say this. The USSR contributes 21 hours of the 80 hours broadcast in Spanish by the Eastern bloc every week, and is about to increase it, so one is told. Other communist countries also recognise Spain's importance. Albania provides 24 hours a week, Yugoslavia 10 hours, China 14 and Cuba 43. Against that backcloth I think it is most surprising that a proposition of this kind should emanate from the British Foreign Office.
Fourthly, I have already said that this policy is a penny-wise and pound-foolish one. I am most unrepentant about that because that is how I see it. Fifthly, it will erode the effectiveness of both the services which are under review. Sixthly, it is not correct to gain the impression from what has been said on behalf of the Government that a cut in these services means more listeners for the remaining 854 services. There is no evidence which suggests that that is the case.
Seventhly, this means a loss of an effective and audible voice in the Somali Republic and Brazil. I shall not go into that aspect, it has already been touched on tonight, but it is extremely important. I suppose that if there has been any saving grace in this matter it was to hear the words from the mouth of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, the Foreign Secretary, when he said that he was sad about Somalia. So are many other people, and I think again it is most untimely and ill-conceived. Eighthly, what is proposed by the Government is the largest single net loss of services in the 49-year history of the External Services—some record to be proud of.
Finally, the constitutional position as to the duty of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to prescribe the hours, and the languages in which, the BBC is to broadcast is not in question. The constitutional position between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the BBC has already been acknowledged in this House, but given that, it is equally clear that the BBC obligation is to broadcast in the national interest in support of the things that it believes to be right. So I plead with the noble Lord who is to reply for the Government to give some evidence of preparedness on their part to take very much to heart the text of the Motion, which is asking the Government to reconsider their position.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ Viscount Montgomery of Alamein
My Lords, all the major points of principle have been made by distinguished speakers from all parts of the House, and therefore I shall confine my remarks to Brazil. It would be superfluous to remind your Lordships that my infrequent interventions in this House have nearly always been confined to matters which impinge on Britain's relations in Latin America. In this context it behoves us to look a little at the Brazilian service, which has been in existence continuously since 1938. The BBC service to Brazil speaks to a vast population in a huge territory and is very widely respected.
Whatever the statistics may say, it has been suggested this evening—and, indeed, in another place—that Spanish is understood in Brazil, and that therefore this will suffice. This really is a little absurd. Brazil is a nation with a very definite identity. Nor is English widely understood. To speak to Brazil, Portuguese must be used; and to suggest anything else is to fall into the old fallacy of the British colonial administrator who thought that by raising his voice the natives would comprehend.
In Latin America we compete, as has been suggested, with Havana, with Russia, with the People's Republic of China and now, more recently, even with Albania. We must maintain this air-space to put across the British way of life which has been referred to, and if nothing else to put across the systems and principles of freedom and justice in which we believe.
Broadcasting (or propaganda, as Lord Greenhill of Harrow so aptly put it) is an instrument of foreign policy. Of course it is, and therefore it must come under the firm direction of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. In those circumstances, I cannot support 855 in the Lobby the Motions as written, although your Lordships might think from what I have said that that is my view. But I want to make a few brief suggestions to my noble friend who opened this debate. First, Lord Carrington went last year to Brazil. Indeed, I was privileged to accompany him as a member of the business group. He was the first Foreign Secretary ever to visit Brazil, and the visit was a great success. Therefore, this seems to be a rather poor follow-up to that endeavour.
Whereas I welcome very much the decision of the Government to improve audibility—and this is indeed most commendable and welcome—it must be of little avail if the results of that audibility are not fully understood. However, if the expenditure which is going to take place on the new facilities can be seen as a vehicle for a subsequently improved vernacular service—in this case, Portuguese to Brazil—then good will follow the move, and the Latin American and Portuguese-Brazilian service will re-emerge like Phoenix from the ashes.
The purpose of my short intervention is to question the wisdom of cutting broadcasts to the largest and most important nation in the fastest developing continent in the world; that is, Brazil in Latin America. We have worked hard as a nation to strengthen trade with Brazil and to maintain the closest links. To eliminate the Portuguese broadcasting to Brazil must be a negative factor in these endeavours.
§ 9.39 p.m.
The Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair
My Lords, I speak as somebody who worked on the staff of the BBC for 33 years; that is to say, one year for every language service if the proposed cuts are carried through. I did not work in the external broadcasting services but I was very closely associated with them and I know a great deal about their operations and how they carry them through. I started in the monitoring service and worked in the central secretariat, the domestic radio talks and documentary departments, and always there was a continual traffic to and fro between these different units. I think it is fair to observe that sensible people—managers, programme staff, administrators, the organisers of schedules and the operational staff in the studios—know jolly well whether they are getting more resources year by year in the way of capital improvements, or less. There is no doubt at all, as both the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, and the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, pointed out with much greater force than I can, that the danger of the cuts and the delays in capital resources being employed are very damaging to the morale of the staff, and this is not the way to get quality of programmes.
How are these decisions really arrived at by the Government? The Foreign Secretary said on considerations of foreign policy, so did Mr. Nicholas Ridley in another place. Mr. Ridley—and this refers to what the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, was saying—implied that promoting British industry and exports to Brazil in the broadcasts in Portuguese was not a good argument. But the BBC broadcasts programmes about industry and exports in many of its language services and I am told that the Foreign Office 856 is very pleased with them. But supposing the BBC said that they could not any longer afford these programmes? Do the Government put on no pressure? Do they say nothing? Do they not beat a tiny little tom-tom? No, of course they do not because that would be editorial interference, would it not? Is there really never a dialogue about such matters? If there is, why should there not be a dialogue about the extent of the language service and how many hours they should be broadcast?
I know that the BBC are accused of arrogance. I have lived with that for a very long time indeed. But do they in these matters really have to take orders without consent and, as has been alleged, without even dialogue? I come back to this point of morale. A very long time ago I was working in domestic radio, where I spent a quarter of a century trying to make a friendly relationship between politicians and broadcasters—I being a broadcaster, of course. I asked one of my most senior colleagues why some of his senior colleagues had no taste for politics and did not like them. He said: "That is all right; you cannot expect everybody to have a taste for politics. Only the more narrowly focused of them go on to make a fatal mistake from that to despising politicians". I know that the present hierarchy of the BBC certainly does not despise politicians and a great many of them have in part made their careers with them. But if this situation continues, then that attitude could reassert itself.
In the debate in another place recently I was very impressed by what Sir Anthony Kershaw had to say. He said that you cannot have quality without quantity. We know what he was referring to, and many noble Lords have referred to the cuts in language services. I go further and say that you cannot have efficient quality without continuity. Chopping and changing from time to time makes a hopeless task for those who have to organise and control in the matter of, for instance, language supervision which I believe still has to be a carried out by British subjects. If you disband the service and then suddenly start up again, or start up a new service in conditions of political crisis, it is very difficult to arrange these matters and to achieve quality.
Reference has been made to cancelling the services to France and maintaining those to francophone Africa, using in part the Ascension Island relay. Is that really going to help to release capital for the East African relay, the Far Eastern relays and the Orfordness short wave stations?
I notice, too, that many of the cuts made in the past which have been referred to, have come in times of economic difficulty. But is it not really the Treasury and the Government's attitude to public spending in general that dictate these variations and postponements of the resources available to the BBC? It is the crude principle of percentage cuts across the board, and I should have thought that, with all the brilliant minds at our disposal across the country and the wonderful machinery we have, a more subtle way of deciding what public services should be cut and what should be maintained and increased ought by now to have become a reality. I was very glad to hear the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary saying that Bush House needs doing up. It does, very badly, and I beg the Government not to do Bush House down.
§ 9.46 p.m.
§ Lord Kilmarnock
My Lords, one of the advantages of speaking late in a long debate like this is that one can pick up some of the loose ends and misconceptions. Your Lordships will be relieved to hear that I have cut my speech to ribbons. First, this concept of English as a universal language which the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary congratulated us on: that may be true in the drawing rooms of Madrid but if any of your Lordships had knocked about Spain as much as I have—and I shall talk mainly about Spain—I should like to suggest that barely 5 per cent. of the adult population have more than a rudimentary knowledge of the language. In fact, I would hazard a guess that the Spaniards are about on a par with us as linguists, and that means pretty low down in the league.
The next point on which I would take issue with the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary concerns the great play he made about the BBC's lobbying. It is, of course, quite possible that the lobbying might have been slightly overdone and as a result it might have been slightly counter-productive. But there is another sort of reaction to these cuts which cannot possibly be accused of having been orchestrated in any sort of self-regarding way. That is the question of what the consumers feel about the services which they are about to lose or are threatened with losing. Here, for example, are some individual listeners in Spain—a brief selection. A listener from Leon:Your station is the most serious, unbiased and complete and I consider it a bible of radio stations".A listener from San Sebastian says:this business about cutting transmissions to Spain amongst others—will our young democracy be able to withstand so many blows?Strong stuff here: the BBC is a "bible" and "democracy is threatened". Here is another listener:I do not form an opinion until I have listened to the BBC. It will be a lamentable error to suppress these services which bring honour to Britain and give her a name for excellence in the field of information".There are also of course political reactions. The last time the service was threatened in 1979, I think it was, Felipe Gonzalez, who was leader of the long-established socialist party which could provide the only serious alternative Spanish Government said:If this service were to disappear not only would grave harm be done to the cause of free information in the Spanish-speaking world, especially Spain, but also I believe the prestige of this great British institution would be irreparably damaged".There is another question which I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, to comment upon briefly when he comes to reply. Something like 450 journalists, I understand—and it seems to be attested here by the telex which I hold in my hand—sent the
noble Lord the Foreign Secretary a petition stating their view that closure of the service would be—and I quote:an irreparable blow to the free flow of information between our two countries",and calling on the British Government to reconsider the position. Believe it or not, they took this petition to the embassy. The ambassador was unable to see 858 the presenter personally, which might be understandable, but no other member of the embassy staff was prepared to receive this petition signed by 450 of the most eminent journalists in the whole of that peninsula, and the sheaf of documents had simply to be left on the embassy reception desk.
Is that not an extraordinary way to react to the interest shown by another country in these proposed cuts? One might seek an explanation in the suggestion made by, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, that the embassy ought to begin cutting its staff. Possibly, they had got wind of this and were unable, or unwilling, to receive this petition from the journalists. That was most extraordinary handling of that matter.
There have been many further expressions of Spanish opinion—what I have called consumer reaction. But I should like, very briefly, to turn to the question of Gibraltar. As I am sure your Lordships are aware, the Spanish service is rebroadcast on a daily basis by Radio Gibraltar. I know that region very well and can testify to the fact that, with rebroad-casting, the audibility is extremely good, while the World Service in that area can be heard only very poorly in the mountains of Southern Andalucia and in the hills behind Valencia.
When Sir Joshua Hassan was interviewed recently, he came down very firmly against the cuts. He said,Certainly we don't like it and I've told the Foreign Secretary so".Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, can tell us what the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary said to Sir Joshua Hassan on that occasion. Since then, there has been the diplomatic fracas over the Royal honeymoon. Whatever the rights and wrongs of this, it is surely one more reason for keeping open this link with Spain.
There is one other point on which I should like to take brief issue with the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary. Looming over all these questions of Gibraltar, Spanish entry to the EEC, Spanish potential membership of NATO and so on, there is the overriding question of the survival of Spanish democracy. The Foreign Secretary said that this is none of our business. If that is so, why on earth are we supporting Spain's application to enter the EEC precisely on the grounds that it will help to stabilise democracy in Spain? Why is it our business in that context, if it is not our business in this one? It is a matter of concern not only for the Spaniards, but for Europe and the whole of the Western alliance. There is possibly a certain parallel with Turkey, which has already been mentioned. It was proposed to cut the BBC's service 18 months ago, but who would now contemplate cutting the Turkish service? If the coup attempted in Spain in February had been successful, should we be thinking of cutting the Spanish service today?
What is the cost of the Spanish service? Is it a vast bureaucracy? It is nothing of the sort, my Lords. It employs 10 devoted people at a total of £180,000 a year, which is the price of a semi-detached family house in Hampstead, and not in one of the best positions next to the heath at that. Even at this late hour, I cannot believe that we are seriously contemplating giving up something which is literally invaluable 859 for such a paltry saving to public funds, and that applies to all those other services whose fate we have been debating this evening.
§ 9.54 p.m.
§ Baroness Trumpington
My Lords, when the subject of cuts in the BBC External Service was mooted in 1979, I was at the United Nations in New York. The word spread fast, and I well remember the dismay and the number of anxious inquiries that I received from delegates from numerous countries. The importance which they attached to the BBC's broadcasts supports to me, at least, the BBC's claim that the External Service is not a propaganda machine, but lives on its reputation for telling the truth. That is why I attach the greatest importance to the BBC's continuing to use frequencies which would otherwise be taken over by rivals.
If the BBC is not a propaganda machine, what then do we term broadcasting, as used by the Eastern bloc? And it is certainly that Eastern bloc which is not only increasing its hours of broadcasting to the free and not so free world, but will be rejoicing in any diminution of the BBC's external broadcasting service. People, women in particular I believe, have a reputation in the broadcasting world for never changing the station on their radios because they fear that they will never find it again. I am absolutely convinced that people who are used to listening to the BBC External Service on a particular frequency will, once they lose contact with the BBC on that particular frequency, be lost for good and all.
Despite the assurances of financial aid for an increase in the capital programme for the future, which I certainly hope will come about, and the evidence of poor audibility in certain parts of the world, I would beg the Government to listen to the many eloquent and learned speeches which we have heard this evening in favour of the Motion, in the hope that we can thus safeguard the frequencies used by the BBC at this time. If the savings are considered to be part of across the board cuts, I would ask: could the external broadcasts be seen as overseas aid? There is a case to be made for external broadcasting to be seen as a very fine form of overseas aid. The very fact that broadcasting in Pushti and Turkish have been introduced surely shows the need for broadcasting to the many, many people throughout the world who do not speak English and who need to know the truth about world affairs.
You cannot readily take your television into the fields or into most factories or, indeed, your bicycle or car. You can of course listen to your radio, wherever you are. This applies throughout the world. Prehaps tomorrow morning, when I am in my bath, I shall hear on my usual Channel 4 that the board of governors of the BBC have resigned, not as a threat but as a matter of conviction over any possible cuts to their External Service. That, my Lords, would be news indeed.
§ 9.58 p.m.
§ Lord Avebury
My Lords, the tom-toms of the 860 Foreign Secretary were not successful in summoning very many braves to his support. In the whole of this debate, with 31 speakers, only one from behind the Foreign Secretary spoke in favour of the Government's position—the notable maiden that we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, which did not make up for the absence of any other speakers on the whole of the Government Back-Benches for the cuts which we are now debating.
I went and spoke to the people who make certain of the BBC's Somali and Brazilian broadcasts and was very impressed. I should like to take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill of Harrow, who says that the BBC's figures of the audiences that these programmes gather should be treated with great reserve. He echoed what was said by Mr. Nicholas Ridley who, speaking of the Somali service, said that the "Indications are that the number of regular listeners is quite small". President Siyad Barre of Somalia and President Hassan Guled of Djibuti have both given exclusive interviews to the BBC, so that underlines the importance that they attach to the service.
The BBC receives 500 letters a month from listeners, which is a huge number when one bears in mind the large proportion of the population of Somalia and its neighbouring countries who are illiterate. Several writers have offered to take up financial collections to hale the BBC out of its financial difficulties and keep the Somali service on the air. The people who travel in this region, going round the villages and the towns, say that everybody gathers round the sets at dusk to listen to the BBC's broadcasts. I spoke this afternoon to Professor Richard Greenfield who has been to Somalia seven times in the last three years. He said to me, "You find large groups listening round one speaker. It is a ritual. Everything stops in the villages when the BBC comes on the air". This echoes the sentiments that were expressed by Professor Andrzejewski of the School of Oriental and African Studies and Professor Lewis of the LSE in their letter to The Times on 20th July that our Somali broadcasts enjoy unparalleled prestige.
But there is support for the Government's position from one quarter for the axeing of the Somali service, and that is Radio Kulmis—a Somali language station broadcasting Libyan and Soviet propaganda from Addis Ababa. That is one of the Government's biggest fans, even if the club is not a very large one; and in their broadcast of 26th June they had this to say:Today we say …: Well done! The BBC Somali section has been closed down and we congratulate and commend the British Government and its parliament for their action. To the Somali people who used to listen to the BBC Somali Section, we say: 'We have a better alternative with better programmes, so listen to us and join the listeners of Radio Kulmis'".The puppets of Radio Kulmis and their manipulators in the Kremlin have every reason to be delighted at the decision that has been taken.
I want now to say one word about the Brazilian services, because unquestionably—and I do not think even the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, would dispute this—they are the foreign services with the highest listening audience in the country. The source for that is a Brazilian newspaper and not the BBC. As the 861 noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, said, Brazil has the largest population in Latin America, it has the biggest land area, it has the highest and fastest growing GNP and it is the greatest future potential market in Latin America. Admittedly, we have not done anything like as well there as the Germans and the French, but as the Financial Times said in a notice of a new publication on trade and investment in South America:Europe can ill afford to ignore either the trading and investment opportunities offered by South America or the potential political importance of a region which contains many essential mineral supplies".Yet we are proposing to abandon an audience of well over 5 million people in the most important country in this huge market, Brazil.
The reaction in Brazil has been one of incredulity and dismay. I had a letter from a friend of mine in Sao Paulo and I heard that the Brazilian Association for the Advancement of Science has sent a 200-signature petition to the Foreign Secretary; 100 writers, journalists, priests and politicians signed a motion of protest in Recife. The union of journalists in Sao Paulo passed a resolution for transmission to the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary. Editorials, statements by politicians, motions, protests and petitions are pouring in from all quarters to the Foreign Office and the BBC.
While this is happening, other nations—and particularly the communists—are increasing their transmissions to Brazil, because they appreciate the importance of that country. I cannot believe that we are really going to turn our backs on so many friends and that we would do it, as I believe, against the wishes of people in our own country. It would be an act of cultural and political vandalism unparalleled in this century. But, if this House means anything at all, it must occasionally raise its voice to prevent Governments committing acts of such prodigious folly. Let this be one of those occasions.
§ 10.4 p.m.
§ Lord Chalfont
My Lords, I apologise; I would have inscribed myself to speak in this debate had I known for certain that I could come here. I shall, therefore, speak very briefly. I want not to join in any disobliging comments about the Foreign Office, or even about the Government on this occasion. I simply want to say from a personal point of view why I feel so strongly in support of the two Motions that have been placed before the House tonight.
Like some others in your Lordships' House, I have spent a great deal of time in foreign countries—living there and not just visiting—and I know that when internal crisis strikes or oppression descends the first crisis is information. The first thing that people are deprived of is news, objective truth, and I have been in countries where the prison door has slammed and the lights have gone out, and I have seen the people turn at once to the BBC. They turn to the news on the BBC in their own language—and I do wish we could get away from this curious word "vernacular". To 862 the Spaniards, Spanish is not a vernacular; it is their own language and, when they listen to the BBC in their own language, they get the news, the truth, the information which they are seeking.
I am not going to speak any longer tonight because I have spoken at great length on this subject before. I am reluctant to believe that, as the noble Lord, Lord Buxton of Alsa, has suggested, there is some malignant and clandestine influence behind this, directing the Foreign Office along this apparently imprudent course. But something is wrong here, and I beg the Government to believe even at this late stage that there is something wrong. I beg them to contemplate the possibility as unpalatable as it may be, and astonishing as it may be to some Governments, that on this occasion they may be profoundly mistaken.
§ 10.5 p.m.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his timely intervention, as the first speaker below the line, as it were, otherwise your Lordships might have had to listen to two speeches from the Liberal Bench in quick succession, which I am quite sure is more than some flesh and blood in your Lordships' House could bear. I shall be very brief indeed. Almost every speech that has been made today—and some very interesting and highly well informed speeches have been made—has been critical of the Government's present proposals. I was going to say "the Foreign Office's", but I think perhaps it would be more appropriate to say the Treasury's present proposals. But every speech has been critical and I do not think I need say more about that.
Had the Foreign Secretary still been here—and I make no complaint that he is not; I understand the pressures under which he acts—I would have had one or two things to say to him. The last time I intervened on this subject his reply was that he was quite sure I had not heard any of the things which he had said before. I would have told the Foreign Secretary that not only had I heard him but I had actually understood him. It is true that he presented us with a series of abstruse mathematical abstractions about capital expenditure in the days after March 1985, but at the end of the day they all added up to cuts in the BBC's External Services, and cuts not for the first time, as the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, reminded your Lordships. It was Lewis Carroll in The Hunting of the Snark who said, "What I say three times is true". Well, what the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, tells us six times, that the BBC has been subjected to cuts six times in eight years, is doubly true.
A word about radio. Noble Lords have said we now live in a world of television. That may be, but radio differs in my view, in that radio and listening to radio involves a much greater degree of audience participation, an act of listening, an act of forming visions. I therefore think that even in those areas where people can both watch television and listen to radio, radio exerts more influence on people's thinking than does television.
We live in a country in which it is much easier to stop things than to start them. Therefore, I say these 863 cuts cannot be temporary. As noble Lords have already said, the frequencies will have gone, the people who do the work, those who speak Somalian, will have gone; and, most important of all, the audiences will have gone. It is very hard indeed to build up large loyal audiences, but having built them up, if once you lose them you never get them back. These are not temporary cuts; they are cuts forever.
How much shall we be saving? A mere fraction of what the Soviet Union now spends on jamming these broadcasts. Looking at the figures we were given, the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, in an admirable maiden speech, both referred to the Government making more money available. What are the facts? The facts are that the Government are only committed to an extra £4 million in capital up to 1985, and for that—for £4 million—the BBC External Services are being asked to absorb the biggest cuts of services in their entire history.
Where do these cuts fall? First, on the vernacular broadcasts. The Foreign Secretary tells us that the BBC worldwide reputation depends on the World Service in English. Well, for all the merits of that service, the vernacular broadcasts of the BBC attract twice as many regular listeners—60 million as against 25 million. If the seven language services are cut perhaps 6 million or 7 million regular BBC listeners will have to look elsewhere. All the evidence suggests that they will turn not to the English language broadcasts of the BBC, but to rival vernacular broadcasters mainly of the Soviet Union.
What about the transcription services? The noble Lord the Foreign Secretary told us that they should charge the market rate for their excellent wares. The market rate is zero. All the transcription services' competitors in fact provide their programmes free. I merely repeat that this cannot be temporary. If these cuts are actually made they will never be restored. Noble Lords in almost all parts of the House are in agreement that these are unwise steps which we are contemplating; they could be very damaging to Britain and to democracy and are now unwise in many ways.
One of my fears is as follows. The noble Lord the Foreign Secretary is held in very great esteem in all parts of your Lordships' House and his advice is heeded on many matters. I think I can say there are many noble Lords on this side of the House who have believed very often that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has been right when some of us have feared that perhaps some of his colleagues might not be quite right. He certainly has been right on one, two or three major issues and as a result he has rightly developed a position in which he has immense influence on noble Lords in all parts of the House.
However, the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has been right three times or four times does not necessarily mean that he is right now. Nobody is always right. All I would say is that on this occasion I genuinely believe that the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary is wrong, and dangerously wrong. I hope that 864 your Lordships' House tonight will make that loud and clear so that there will be an opportunity to reverse what could, indeed, be a very damaging decision not only for Britain but for democracy, and also, in the long run, I think, for the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary himself.
§ 10.12 p.m.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, I hope that the House will agree with me that, although this has been a long debate, it has been much needed and well worth while. We have had the opportunity of listening to many noble Lords with a close relationship with, and some with a very good expertise in, broadcasting, and others with close knowledge of the countries affected by these cuts. It is notable that, with only one or two exceptions, all of them were critical of the Government's proposals. I can almost say that it is a non-party view or an all-party view that has been expressed today.
The Secretary of State has emphasised that the World Service is the priority and that, with English being the worldwide language, that is the programme that matters. As the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, said, surely it is not being suggested that the great majority of people in the seven countries which will have their programmes cut, speak our language; or is it being suggested that it is only those who speak our language who are the important ones about whom we need worry? I am certain that that will not be the view accepted by your Lordships. Therefore, I must ask: is that genuinely the view of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office?—because, if so, I believe we must ask questions about it. Why do other countries find it necessary and worthwhile to broadcast to the seven countries far more hours than we do, with the one exception of Malta, where we are the sole people broadcasting?
The noble Lord, Lord Greenhill of Harrow, seemed to question the number of listeners to the vernacular programmes. I must ask the Minister who is to reply whether the Government—because echoes have been made on this in another place—also question the value of the BBC surveys on the number of persons who do listen to the various programmes. The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, says that he has doubts. I hope that, if that is to be expressed tonight, there will be the closest examination with the BBC, and a check on this before the Government jump to conclusions. I have the gravest doubt as to whether the Government's facts on this are correct. I was pleased that the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, jumped in to say that not everyone has a television set. I understand that in the last quarter of a century the world's total of radios has jumped from about 240 million to nearly 1,300 million. Therefore, radio still plays a very important role in our contact with overseas countries.
The noble Lord the Secretary of State has stressed that the decision on these seven programmes has been taken on foreign policy grounds. We all accept that the Government must decide on the matter of the programmes, but I think the House would want to know the criteria for selecting the services to be cut, 865 because we have not heard about those tonight. In a Written Answer in another place, the Minister of State said:We have chosen one from each continent".I hope he did not mean it that way, but it sounds as though it was almost like the way in which we select the football pools, by sticking the pin in.
Therefore, I must ask, what is the foreign policy consideration for determining that basis of one per continent? Is it being suggested that there is no foreign policy consideration for Brazil? Is there no foreign policy consideration involved in Burma or in the Somali service? Is there no problem over foreign policy for the Horn of Africa and no problem at all for Spain? Those are just four countries. What are the foreign policy considerations which determine that those four programmes should be cut?
Other noble Lords have stressed that if at a later date it may be intended to restart any of these programmes, the problem will be in getting together the staff with expertise, getting continuity and also trying to win back the audiences, which may be lost for ever, because others will jump in as soon as we go out.
The other important question is: will the frequencies not possibly be lost for ever? This is especially important if we ever intend to restart some of these programmes. I hope that it will be accepted by your Lordships that we must not start a programme only when there are difficulties; that we should not wait for a flash-point. We ought to have programmes and contacts wherever it is possible for Britain's view on our general way of life and foreign policy to be put forward.
In the other place it was stressed—in fact, a statement was quite clearly made in reply to a question from one Member—that the question of, for instance, Brazil's position and its extensive resources had nothing to do with Britain's foreign policy and was not an intelligent way to look at the matter. The point was also raised that, although the dissemination of our music, drama, sport, entertainment and British personalities was very helpful, it was not essential to our foreign policy. Is it now being suggested that the whole question of trade promotion and cultural relationships has nothing to do with our foreign policy? If so, why is there a trade relations and export department of the FCO? Why is there a cultural relations department of the FCO?—because, if these departments do nothing, perhaps that is where we could save the £3 million. However, I presume that they do do something and, therefore, that the interests that are given out by these various programmes must also affect foreign relations.
I intended to say a great deal on the transcription service, but I shall not. A number of other noble Lords have stressed this. I think that it is generally recognised that this service is pre-eminent in the world. It is the largest and most successful distributor of radio programmes in the world. It maintains the largest library of programmes for distribution in the world. The daily notes and the weekly topical tapes have been widely distributed and a number of them are specially aimed at third world countries. The transcription service has to compete—and it competes very successfully—with programmes provided by other countries, 866 the United Nations agencies and other international bodies. It does this despite the fact that all these other bodies provide their programmes free of cost.
That leads me to just one or two questions. The Secretary of State said that it is not the intention that the transcription service shall cease; it is merely that the grant in aid will cease. The net cost of this is £1 million annually. Therefore, certain questions have to be asked. A proposal was made by the Minister of State in the other place that if developing countries wish to acquire the programme material they may use aid funds. Never before have any Government suggested that the distribution of our programmes should be set against aid funds. I should like to ask the Minister: Is it the definite view of the Government that this should be paid for by these countries—whom we wish to have our programmes—from aid funds? Remember, we want them to have our programmes because we want them to know more about Britain and our general way of life.
The other suggestion that has been made, and repeated by the Secretary of State, is that the BBC could possibly recover more of the costs of supplying the programmes. Again, I would emphasise that we want these countries to have our programmes, and we have to compete with other countries who offer their programmes without any charge at all. Some of these countries are third world countries with not too wealthy radio broadcasting organisations. If we put up the charges we are likely to find that they will not be able to meet our costs and they will go elsewhere. So once again we are throwing ourselves to other countries.
There is a lot more that could be said, but your Lordships have heard so much criticism, which has been echoed almost universally in the British press. Expressions of concern have been received from overseas broadcasting authorities, the overseas press, and listeners throughout the world, and what we are talking about is £3 million. It is going to be a tragedy if this House, this country, says that all the good that is coming from our External Services has to be imperilled for the sake of £3 million. I am certain that is not the wish of your Lordships, and I hope the Motion before the House will be supported.
§ 10.22 p.m.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, may I start by echoing the words of, I think, almost every noble Lord who has spoken in referring to the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway. It was, as we had expected, a splendid maiden speech. I very much hope that we shall hear my noble friend again soon, and thereafter often in your Lordships' House.
Not for the first time your Lordships have expressed your strong views on this matter. It is clearly something to which your Lordships attach great importance—and rightly so. But perhaps I may start by making some general observations. The Government of course accept—as my noble friend explained at the beginning of the debate—that the External Services are a national asset of the highest importance. As many noble Lords have rightly said, they play an important, even vital, role in projecting our national views and ideas around the world and, above all, by 867 offering a factual and unvarnished account of world events through the news service. It is clearly therefore important that the various services offered should be heard by as many people as possible, particularly in those countries where access to unbiased news coverage is restricted, or even non-existent.
My noble friend Lord Carrington has already referred on more than one occasion to the cuts in expenditure which have been made at the Foreign Office and the effect of these cuts on manpower, the number of posts which have been closed or downgraded, et cetera. Your Lordships will be aware of the severe restraints we are applying to Government expenditure in other areas. All this is made necessary by our determination to relate our planned expenditure more closely to the resources available, rather than by borrowing or printing as had happened in former times.
It is a measure of the importance that we attach to the BBC External Services that, despite these financial stringencies, we have suggested a capital programme to the BBC which is greater in real terms than any since the Second World War. As the Government have already explained, we propose that £102 million, no less, at 1981 prices should be spent over the next nine years which will inter alia provide new transmitters, modernised studios and other facilities. As my noble friend said earlier, the service has as its single most important task the maintenance of the World Service in English on a 24-hour basis. We must, therefore, look to some savings on vernacular services of relatively low priority. Ideally, we should like to keep them all, but the remaining 32 vernaculars represent the world's major languages, and their audibility, too, will be increased.
Audience claims should be treated with suspicion. In developing countries, surveys are seldom feasible. In others, the samples are small: only 3,000 in the case of Spain and 4,000 each in the cases of Italy and France. Most of the statistics that have been advanced deal with what the BBC call "total" audiences. This does not mean, as some may assume, listenership at any given time, but all those who have listened at least once during the last year. Even the so-called "regular" audiences include those who have listened only once during the past week. Surely we should be basing ourselves on daily figures. In the 1979 Survey in France, only eight of the 4,000 asked said they listened "nearly every day". On the other hand, the BBC's documentation is strangely silent about a 1976 survey in Brazil, which showed that as many listened to the English as to the Portuguese service in Sao Paulo and Rio, the country's two largest cities.
I would stress that the package which we are offering the BBC is generous. We are prepared to contribute roughly twice as much in new Government money to finance the capital programme as we are asking from them by way of savings in current operations. It would be a considerable disservice to the External Services generally if a slavish adherence to each and every vernacular were to prejudice the audibility programme.
I shall deal with as many as I can of the points that have been raised in the debate, dealing first with the 868 matter of the transcription service, which is referred to in the Motion and was raised by many noble Lords. The Foreign Office's main contribution to Britain's cultural effort overseas comes from the £34 million annual grant-in-aid to the British Council. We are examining the possibility of distributing some of the strictly cultural output of the transcription services within the framework of the cultural agreements we have with overseas Governments. If developing countries or territories wish to continue to receive transcription services of an educational character, it is open to them to propose using aid funds for that purpose.
It may be possible for private foundations, or indeed for the BBC domestic services, to help finance the transcription services. It may also be possible for those who benefit most from the taxpayers' subsidy to the transcription services—namely, the artists and the other contributors whose work receives publicity overseas—to contribute by requiring lower fees from the BBC; and I hope that does not disappoint the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, too much. Our proposals may affect the new output of the transcription services, but will not much affect the 30,000 hours already held in the BBC's library. Almost all the output is confined to English and we are not ending the £340,000 per annum subsidy to the overseas regional services project which produces topical tapes; and there is no evidence, as one noble Lord suggested, that 3,000 jobs will be lost.
I come to the particular matter of the Somali service, a subject raised by the noble Lords, Lord Avebury and Lord Young of Dartington, and others. The service is in fact only five and one quarter hours a week, or three-quarters of an hour a day, not seven hours, as one noble Lord suggested and as indeed the BBC documentation suggests. Professor Lewis of the London School of Economics said in his book A Modern History of Somalia, which was referred to by one noble Lord, that there are 4,700,000 Somali-speaking people in Somalia and neighbouring countries as well as some traders in Africa and the Arabian peninsula and also, I understand, people in places such as Cardiff. Certainly the total number of Somalis is rather below the figure which has been suggested by a number of sources. The United States do not broadcast to Somalia—the noble Lord, Lord Young of Dartington, asked me that point in particular—and we have certainly not discussed that language with them.
§ Lord Young of Dartington
My Lords, would Lord Trefgarne be prepared to accept that in the other place the Minister gave the figure of 7 million as being the number of Somali speakers in the Middle East and elsewhere?
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, I do not have the reference to which the noble Lord refers but I do have the figure of 4.7 million in front of me, which relates to the number of Somali speakers in Somalia and neighbouring countries, and also in some of the surrounding areas as well.
I turn now to the position with regard to some of the changes which are being made to the European services. We believe that it is reasonable to end services to friendly, neighbouring countries where the 869 media are free and where we have other opportunities to make our voice heard. France does not broadcast to us in English, and Italy does so for only a few hours. The United States does not broadcast in these languages. Less than 1 per cent. of the adult population of France listens regularly to BBC vernacular services and almost as many listen to the World Service in English and indeed to the BBC home services. Press reaction to our proposals was negligible in France and Spain, and the BBC press conference in Italy was reported only on the inside pages. The Maltese broadcast only 35 minutes a week to a population of 320,000, who mainly speak English.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, may I just check a figure which has been given? Less than 1 per cent. of the population of France is still a figure of around 500,000, I believe? Did I hear right?
§ Lord Trefgarne
Yes, my Lords, that is correct; less than 1 per cent.—and I believe that the noble Lord's arithmetic is correct. But that is not to say that 500,000 people are listening all the time; that is the number of people who listen occasionally.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, the noble Lords, Lord Caradon and Lord Hooson, and my noble friend Lord Morris and others, referred to the size of the cuts which are being made. They were complaining in particular that the "modest" £3 million could have been recovered by, for example, saving the cost of two tanks or half a day of subsidy to British Leyland.
§ Lord Trefgarne
The fact is that the same money will buy three transmitters and it is important to switch the resources in that direction. The noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, asked why we could not find savings from the rest of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Vote—and I believe this point was echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson. The cut announced in 1979 and 1980 affected the diplomatic service and overseas aid more than the BBC's grant in aid. Since 1st April 1979 the number of diplomatic service staff has declined by 7.3 per cent. Fifteen posts have been closed and eight posts have been reduced. Staff at the 10 largest posts have been reduced by 10 per cent. Since 1969 half the consulates which we had abroad have been closed. In the same period diplomatic service staff have been reduced by 23.2 per cent. From 1970 to 1980 the BBC's External Services' staff, which has comparable numbers, suffered a reduction of only 11 per cent.
§ Lord Crowther-Hunt
My Lords, can the noble Lord answer the precise question I put and not just try to brush us off with the figures which were introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, when I asked a supplementary question some weeks ago? If the noble Lord is not able to do so now then perhaps he 870 will be able to write and let us know precisely the number of United Kingdom-based diplomatic staff at the British embassy in Madrid which have actually been cut during the period in question.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, I shall certainly be willing to write to the noble Lord with the specific information about the Madrid embassy, but, if I may, I should like also to deal with the constitutional point which the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, and I think at least one other noble Lord raised. Under Clause 13(5) of the Licence Agreement annexed to the BBC's Royal Charter it is stated:The Corporation shall send programmes to such countries in such languages and at such times as after consultation with the Corporation may from time to time be prescribed with the approval of the Secretary of State and the Treasury by such departments of Her Majesty's Government as may be specified by the Secretary of State".All that means, I understand, that it is for my noble friend the Foreign Secretary to determine to which counties External Services shall be directed.
The noble Lords, Lord Young of Dartington, Lord Hill of Litton, Lord Caradon, and, I think, other noble Lords complained that this was, as they said, the seventh cut in eight years. It is in fact hardly a cut when we are prepared to contribute far more new money than the BBC is being asked to contribute. Indeed most of these so-called cuts were small, or were reductions in expected increases, and in fact there have also been increases during the time.
I turn now to the question of the Spanish services raised by a number of noble Lords. It was said, both outside your Lordships' House and here tonight, that during the attempted coup in Spain in February many Spaniards were able to rely only on the BBC Spanish service for news. I suggest that is a rather flattering view which is difficult to prove. The Spanish service broadcasts for only one hour a day, and it is likely that many Spaniards turned to the BBC's 24-hour World Service in English.
The noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, also asked me about conversations between Sir Joshua Hassan and my noble friend the Foreign Secretary. Naturally, these conversations are private, and I am not able to enlighten the noble Lord on them. The noble Lord also referred to the petition from Spanish journalists. The petition has not yet been received in London. We have no report of how it was delivered to the embassy in Madrid, but very few major Spanish newspapers reported the Government's plans, and one commented that in any event the BBC had not kept up with Spanish media since Franco died.
§ Lord Kilmarnock
My Lords, will the noble Lord give way for a minute? Will the noble Lord, having said that, undertake to follow up the question of what happened to the petition? It was certainly delivered to the embassy in Madrid.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, I shall make inquiries, and if I have anything to tell the noble Lord, I shall write to him.
The noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, again, suggested that cuts in Western Europe would reduce 871 the BBC to a propaganda machine. Naturally, we should continue all services to Eastern Europe where the media are not free. But broadcasts to all the world will continue in English and 32 other languages, as I have already said. That is more than all the other international broadcasters, except four, and indeed includes all the main world languages.
A number of noble Lords also asked me about the certainty of the capital programme. I would reply to them in this way. Where a nationalised industry, for example, is building, say, an electricity generating station, authorisation is given for the capital programme and certain projects within that on a rolling basis. The BBC can place some reliance on the capital programme in the same way as can the Electricity Generating Board. It is the Government's firm intention that the capital programme shall be implemented in full.
The noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, and my noble friend Lord Ferrier asked about Government satisfaction with the standard of BBC reporting. I would refer the noble Lord and my noble friend to what my noble friend the Foreign Secretary said earlier this afternoon, when he expressed the hope that we could all agree that the Government fully appreciate the excellence and the quality of the External Services.
The noble Lord, Lord Swann, said that the BBC External Services were relatively low in the international league table in terms of hours and languages. In fact the BBC is fifth in both the number of hours and the number of languages, and indeed will remain so. It broadcasts five times as many hours as France and two and a half times as many as Japan. The BBC is judged more by quality than quantity, I suggest, but in fact since 1975 the United States, China and Egypt have all reduced their hours, although the Soviet Union has increased slightly and the BBC has remained about steady. Of course, as a result of these audibility improvements the BBC's overall audience will increase, particularly in China.
My noble friend Lady Trumpington—and I think the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, referred to this as well—mentioned the possible loss of frequencies by the BBC in withdrawing from some of these vernacular services. We shall now need slightly fewer frequencies, since the aim is to broadcast louder for slightly fewer hours. But the best frequencies given up by the vernaculars could be used by the World Service, or indeed could be transferred to other vernacular services.
My Lords, may I finally turn to the question of the Portuguese service to Brazil? That service enjoyed less than 200,000 regular (that is to say, once a week) listeners in the seven main cities. The Spanish service goes to 18 countries, and is in fact, despite what noble Lords said, understood by some in Brazil. The combined Portuguese service to Europe and Africa continues, and may be audible to some people in Brazil. In any event, our exports to Brazil are in fact lower than they are even to Austria. The BBC's last survey, in 1976, revealed that when listeners in Brazil were asked what was their main source of news, 49 per cent. said television, 30 per cent. said newspapers, 15 per cent. said Brazilian radio and 1 per cent. said foreign radio.
872 I know your Lordships will accept that the Government are just as determined as every noble Lord who has spoken tonight to maintain the strength and impact of our overseas broadcasting services. We have proposed a major programme of capital expenditure which stands out in stark contrast to the economies and restraint we have been obliged to apply elsewhere. Surely we are right to concentrate upon enhancing the audibility of the World Service and the 32 remaining vernaculars, which can be demonstrated as being of major benefit, not only to their listeners but also to our own interests. It is really not possible to sustain the argument that in these difficult times each and every one of the vernacular services must be maintained when some of those services, however excellent, reach a dwindling audience, and then only for a short period each week. But that is what we are being asked to do. It does not bear examination.
§ 10.43 p.m.
§ Lord Byers
My Lords, I should like to thank all those noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, and particularly those who have supported the Motion. I think we can claim that we certainly had the weight of numbers on our side, and the weight of argument as well. I must say I am disappointed with the Government's reply and the weakness of their case. No one has ever claimed, I think, that the Government should surrender decisions on the External Services to the BBC. All that has been claimed is that the Government's decision is an error of judgment because they are confusing capital expenditure on re-equipment for audibility with current expenditure on the services, and we believe that those should be kept absolutely separate. We believe that the latter should not be cut in order to help to pay the capital bills.
I think the Government have not answered the proposal which was made in the Select Committee's report, that the money should be taken out of the Contingency Reserve. That has never been mentioned by either the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary or Lord Trefgarne. As the Government are not inclined to reconsider their decision, I should like to ask for the full support of every noble Lord who will come into the Lobby with me.
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Motion shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 82; Not-Contents, 45.873
|Aberdeen and Temair, M.||Byers, L.|
|Abinger, L.||Caradon, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Chalfont, L.|
|Allen of Fallowfieid, L.||Collison, L.|
|Amherst, E.||Cork and Orrery, E.|
|Ardwick, L.||Craigavon, V.|
|Avebury, L.||Crathorne, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Crowther-Hunt, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Dacre of Glanton, L.|
|Birk, B.||Digby, L.|
|Bishopston, L.||Elwyn-Jones, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Ewart-Biggs, B.|
|Buxton of Alsa, L.||Ferrier, L.|
|Galpern, L.||Morris, L.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Moyne, L.|
|Gormanston, V.||Nathan, L.|
|Guildford, Bp.||Norwich, V.|
|Hampton, L.||Ogmore, L.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Oram, L.|
|Hatch of Lusby, L.||Peart, L.|
|Henderson, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Hill of Luton, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Hooson, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Seear, B.|
|Jeger, B.||Serota, B.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L.||Shackleton, L.|
|John-Mackie, L.||Simon, V.|
|Kearton, L.||Stamp, L.|
|Kennet, L.||Stone, L.|
|Kilmarnock, L.||Strabolgi, L. [Teller.]|
|Kirkhill, L.||Swann, L.|
|Lawrence, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Trumpington, B.|
|Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.||Tweeddale, M.|
|McCarthy, L.||Underhill, L.|
|McGregor of Durris, L.||Walston, L.|
|Mackie of Benshie, L.||Weidenfeld, L.|
|Mayhew, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Milner of Leeds, L.||Wigoder, L. [Teller.]|
|Molloy, L.||Winstanley, L.|
|Monson, L.||Young of Darlington, L.|
|Avon, E.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Lyell, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||McFadzean, L.|
|Boardman, L.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Marshall of Leed, L.|
|Carrington, L.||Montgomery of Alamein, V.|
|Cockfield, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Orkney, E.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Penrhyn, L.|
|Eccles, V.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Elton, L.||Rochdale, V.|
|Ferrers, E.||Sandys, L. [Teller.]|
|Gainford, L.||Sharples, B.|
|Gisborough, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Greenhill of Harrow, L.||Soames, L.|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.||Stradbroke, E.|
|Henley, L.||Trenchard, V.|
|Home of the Hirsel, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Hornsby-Smith, B.||Ward of Witley, V.|
|Long, V.||Young, B.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly.
§ 10.53 p.m.
The following Motion, in the name of the Lord Strabolgi, was not moved:
That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to note the general concern, both in this country and overseas, resulting from their decision to require the BBC to cut the vernacular broadcast services to France, Spain, Italy, Malta, Brazil, Burma and Somalia.