HL Deb 16 July 1985 vol 466 cc607-10

2.49 p.m.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make representations to the BBC concerning the screening of the film "The War Game" on the occasion of the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Glenarthur)

My Lords, it is for the BBC to decide what programmes to broadcast and it would be contrary to the practice endorsed by successive Governments for Ministers to seek to influence its decisions.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, while I thank the Minister for that predictable Answer, may I ask him whether he is aware that it will come as a great disappointment to many hundreds of thousands of ex-servicemen who fought in the Far East and who now see the end of the war in which they fought being marked by our national broadcasting organisation with a piece of tendentious, unilateralist propaganda?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I note the concern of the noble Lord. But this decision will of course have been taken at the highest level and I should expect the Board of Governors to have been fully consulted about it.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, if he looks at the programme when it is transmitted on 6th August, he will find that the description of it by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, is the tendentious thing about it? Also, will he congratulate the BBC on screening this important film at a very appropriate time?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I am not sure that the noble Lord has the right date. But what I can say is that the surest way of preventing the sort of horrors which the film depicts is by a policy of deterrence and I am not sure that, if we had adopted the noble Lord's posture, we should have had 20 years or so since this film was made in the way that he would wish.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, that is not what I asked. Will the noble Lord now answer my question?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I think that I have answered the question. I am not prepared to get into a discussion with the noble Lord about somebody else's question, which is the one to which he is referring.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, could the Government, in any case, make representations to the BBC respecting their, as I think, totally inadequate, and indeed misleading, presentation of "Star Wars" in "Panorama" last night, which consisted largely of bangs, fireworks and rather bogus predictions, serious arguments for and against being reduced to bald statements, mostly in favour of President Reagan's appalling plan, the real opponents of the scheme, whether Labour or Alliance, being restricted to a couple of sentences uttered by Dr. Owen and Mr. Healey respectively right at the end of the programme?

Lord Glenarthur

With respect, my Lords, that is an entirely different question.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that it is not peculiar to the BBC to have these emotive propaganda films and that Independent Television, for example, screened an emotive film on the very evening before the CND Greenham women's mass demonstration on 11th December 1983? Is it not most unhelpful to the country to have these propaganda films screened by these public television companies?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, my noble friend might feel that, but, on the other hand, it is a matter for the authorities who broadcast to decide for themselves what is right or wrong to broadcast at the end of the day.

Lord Renton

My Lords, while accepting that, is my noble friend aware that the BBC and Independent Television give far more coverage and publicity to the CND and to nuclear-free zones than they do to those who are trying to advance a rational, all-hazards approach to the defence of our country? Has not the time perhaps come, while not interfering with the BBC's freedom under their charter, for the occasional hint to be dropped to them that their charter requires them to be balanced in their presentation?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I cannot help feeling that the chairman and the board of governors of the BBC and the IBA note the sort of exchanges which take place in your Lordships' House, of which my noble friend's has been one.

Lord Stewart of Fulham

My Lords, are not Hiroshima and Nagasaki grim examples of what can happen to a country that gets involved in a conflict with a nuclear power and has itself no power of retaliation?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I should have thought the important point to draw from Nagasaki was the horror of where not adopting the sort of posture that we have adopted since the last war might lead us.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, speaking as a former BBC producer, is the noble Lord aware that we were invariably attacked from both left and right equally?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I think that what the noble Lord says is probably true.

Lord Parry

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that tomorrow's meeting of the General Advisory Council of the BBC in London will probably reflect all the concerns on all sides of the political issues expressed in this House, and that he is quite right to say that this is a matter for the BBC?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord. Yes, I am sure they will note it if they are meeting tomorrow, and I am grateful for that.

Lord Somers

My Lords, the noble Lord has said that it is for the broadcasting authorities to decide what is coming over on their programmes. In that case, can he tell me just why we are sitting in this place?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, there is nothing to prevent your Lordships or anybody else from commenting on what the broadcasting authorities produce. But at the end of the day the decision is theirs as to whether or not it is right to produce it.

Lord Morris

My Lords, may I ask how many times this film or any similar film has been broadcast by Moscow television?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I certainly cannot answer that, but it has not been shown here yet.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the most dangerous thing would be to accept the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and to have hints dropped behind the scenes to the BBC and the IBA? Does he further agree that, if anything is to be said about the content of the programmes, it should be said openly by the Government or by any other critics?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, quite a lot has been said openly this afternoon.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, may I, as this was originally a Question in my name on the Order Paper, ask the Government, if they cannot influence the BBC in these matters, whether they will at least make it clear to the hundreds of thousands of people who are distressed by the appalling timing of the showing of this film, which is 20 years old and which it was decided should be released for publication over a year ago, that the Government do not share the smug, complacent arrogance of the BBC in this matter?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I am sure that the chairman and governors will note the noble Lord's remarks. But as I understand it, the showing of this film is part of a special week of current affairs documentaries and I am sure—and I repeat it—that they will note the concern which the noble Lord expresses.

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