Broadcasting

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 13th May 1965.

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Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East 12:00 am, 13th May 1965

I think that I have said enough to show that this is a sensitive area. It is exactly this sort of problem to which we would have to turn our minds in great detail if we were to accept the idea of any sort of political interference, because many of the programmes that we hear are also broadcast abroad, and it would immediately begin to have implications for the sort of things that we could hear. If committing our troops abroad meant that only the Government's view could he heard abroad, the same might apply at home.

This is a real problem, and I have done the best I can, in discussing it with the chairmen of the B.B.C. and the I.T.V., to see that criticisms made in the House of the two broadcasting authorities are brought to the attention of the boards of governors. I think that I have made some progress, because I have received an assurance that HANSARD is on the agenda of meetings of the Governors of the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. I have tried to clarify the position with regard to the supply of scripts, to satisfy myself that they are made available. I have inquired to see whether the general Advisory Councils, which help both the B.B.C. and the I.T.A., could be used for independent appeals of this kind, but I am told that this would not be acceptable to either the B.B.C. or the I.T.A.

This problem remains, and if, as I hope, broadcasting development proceeds, with a multiplicity of new channels and new stations, the problem of some form of real public accountability will arise, and it may well be necessary to create new institutions and authorities to meet this need. The Government have an open mind on the question whether some other machinery might be desirable in the future.

I turn now to the central problem of B.B.C. finance as it was presented to us on taking office. I was astonished to hear the right hon. and learned Gentleman deal with B.B.C. finance in the way that he did, for the simple truth is that within a matter of hours almost of coming into office urgent representations were made by the B.B.C. to see me to present to me the full nature of the financial crisis which the previous Government had left the Corporation.

What did this amount to? It amounted to this, that, following the Pilkington Report, the party opposite, which then formed the Government, asked the B.B.C. to undertake a whole host of new functions, such as B.B.C. 2, to which reference has been made, independent television programmes for Scotland and Wales, more adult education, colour programmes, longer hours of broadcasting, and so on, with a pledge to provide the money. That pledge simply was not honoured.

The B.B.C. gave me the figures showing how the situation would develop. By 31st March of this year, there would have been a deficit of £10 million, but this was reduced to £5 million because of the repayment of money dealing with Income Tax. By 31st March, 1966, there would have been an accumulated deficit of £25 million. By 31st March, 1967, there would have been a deficit of £52 million. By 31st March, 1968, the deficit would have been £87 million, and at the end of the five year period there would have been a deficit of about £120 million.

The situation was extremely serious. The B.B.C. was handed over, as it were, to the incoming Administration with a deficit running at about £40,000 a day. In the light of what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, I think there was no doubt whatever that it was necessary for us to take serious action, and this is what we have done.