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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 Stratton Mills Mr Stratton Mills , Belfast North 12:00 am, 13th May 1965

While I do not wish to closely follow the remarks of the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop), I believe that he somewhat misrepresented the view of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Epsom (Sir P. Rawlinson). My hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt) gave as an example the possibility of war breaking out in Malaysia. That is relevant to the situation to which my right hon. and learned Friend referred.

I will give another example. Would the B.B.C. have been justified during, say, the 1939–45 war, particularly at the time of Dunkirk, in giving time in its external services for the expression of the views of the very small Fascist minority in Britain, particularly since the people comprising that minority were at the time interned? In a national emergency we must consider these matters in very special terms. I will not pursue the matter further, because I wish to be brief.

The debate has been much concerned with the question of standards. The Independent Television Authority, by exercising the rôle of policeman, has had a considerable effect on keeping up standards in independent television. The main concern now is over the standards of the B.B.C., which are, perhaps, not as acceptable to all sections of the community as they might be.

Donald Baverstock was recently pushed out of a leading job in the B.B.C. and many people feel, rightly or wrongly, that he was to some extent made a scapegoat for the criticism which was going on in the B.B.C. His removal from a leading post at a young age caused a good deal of offence and concern to many other people of his generation working in television. While I do not expect a reply from the Government on this point, I have made these remarks so that they will be on the record.

Many people wonder whether Sir Hugh Greene, the Director-General of the B.B.C., is the right person for the job. I have no doubt that Sir Hugh is a man of very many qualities, but I have considerable doubts about whether both his judgment and general standards are, as head of this great organisation, altogether suitable. I am not convinced that Sir Hugh is fully in touch with what ordinary people are thinking or that he is properly interpreting the rôle which the Director-General of the B.B.C. should take.

The B.B.C. has built up its position in Britain to a tremendous extent due to the work of Lord Reith. If at the beginning of its life the B.B.C. had not had someone of the stature of Lord Reith in command it would not have become as broadly accepted in the community as it has. I doubt whether it would have attained its present position had it started off with Sir Hugh Greene as its first Director-General.

The question of standards in the B.B.C. is not an easy matter and I agree that it would be undesirable if the Postmaster-General or any politician acted as general policeman. The case has been strongly made, and the Postmaster-General several times hinted that there is a case for some kind of overall broadcasting authority for the Independent Television Authority, the B.B.C., and local sound radio, when it comes.

I have grave doubts as to the general value of the advisory committee structure of the B.B.C. which has recently been extending to the Independent Television Authority. I believe that an advisory committee is not suitable for the kind of general supervision which is required. The Postmaster-General might consider having a Select Committee composed of members from both sides of the House, to which complaints about standards could be put. As hon. Members have the advantage of being, perhaps, more closely in touch with public opinion than has the advisory committee type of organisation, they might be able to help in this way. A case has in my view definitely been made out for some new form of advisory procedure.

The Postmaster-General referred briefly to the overseas broadcasting service. Apart from one slightly contentious matter that has come into the debate, I think that we can agree, that, broadly speaking, this is a most useful service. It is, of course, very hard in any particular case to assess its value, but I am sure that hon. Members who have travelled abroad or who have taken part in it will know that it is greatly welcomed and highly regarded abroad. While it is difficult to judge it in hard terms, I am sure that it plays a very useful rôle.

The right hon. Gentleman gave a five-year projection of what the B.B.C.'s potential deficit would have been if the licence fee had stayed as it was when he took office. He put the total deficit at, I think, £121 million, but when I intervened he took great care not necessarily to accept those figures himself. He repeated that those were the figures that had been given to him by the B.B.C., and he neither accepted them fully nor rejected them.