On the terms of the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English), I am satisfied that the proposed application by the Authority of up to a total sum of £10 million from the current surplus on any of its television services branch reserves to meet any expenditure does not and cannot have the effect of contravening section 29(1) of the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act 1973.
On the general point made by my hon. Friend, he will have received a letter from my right hon. Friend explaining the position on delay. My right hon. Friend has recently acknowledged to the chairman of the Authority that the delays in publishing in 1977–78 accounts were to a large extent due to factors beyond the Authority's control, but he is sure that in future publication in the autumn must be the aim.
The organisation is small in numbers of people and in terms of money. Why must it take so much longer to produce its accounts than great multinational companies that normally consolidate their accounts from subsidiaries all over the world and publish them within three months? The delay may be caused by the Home Office, but why must we be so inefficient in Government?
I beg to move amendment No. 5, in page 3, line 13, at end add—
'(8) All expenditures of money under this Act shall be subject to audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General'.
Hon. Members will understand my concern and that of the Expenditure and Procedure Committees of the House about the audit of public money. We have had experiences such as those with the Crown Agents that show that our system of audit is not wholly satisfactory. In the 1940s there was a long argument whether nationalised industries should be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General and his exchequer and audit departments or by private auditors. It was then decided that nationalised industries should have private auditors.
The IBA, however, is not a nationalised industry in that sense. Independent television is not a nationalised industry and the IBA is in modern terms a quango. It is a fairly small licensing and supervisory body, and is not to any great extent in the market economy. There is no need for it to be excluded from the purview of the public system of audit. That system needs revision, and that is being studied by the Treasury, but there is no need to exclude quangos. I can see an argument why British Rail or the Central Electricity Generating Board should be excluded, but not a small licensing and supervisory body of this character.
In the last debate I quoted from the statement of the auditor that was appended to the accounts. It mentioned the historic cost convention. I said that that was a qualification. The director of finance of the IBA asked me to point out that qualification in its technical sense is not what I meant. What I meant—and what is not pointed out in his letter—is the present argument between these bodies, their accountants and the Treasury on how to provide for the depreciation of assets.
Prosperous organisations such as the British Gas Corporation wish to make more provision than less prosperous organisations. It puzzles me that the IBA, which one would think is in the prosperous sector, is on the side of depreciating by historic costs. The auditors singled out historic costs although I believe the IBA may make other provision as well. In the light of recent discussions between nationalised industries, quangos and the Treasury, it is puzzling why the IBA should wish to act as if it were a poor authority rather than a rich one. I wonder if the Minister could answer both those points.
On my hon. Friend's second point concerning quangos, I do not want to go into their definition, but it would not seem appropriate for a broadcasting authority any more than for a nationalised industry such as British Rail. Broadcasting authorities are there to provide services. The BBC provides such services itself, whereas the IBA does so by entering into contracts with individual television and radio companies. Both carry out their duties in accordance with the terms of their covering instruments. For the most part they carry out their functions quite independently of the Home Secretary.
A further point that is particularly relevant in the context of this amendment is that the IBA is financed not by the Government but by the rentals that it is empowered to raise from ITV and independent local radio companies.
I cannot accept my hon. Friend's amendment for the purposes of auditing. It appears to distinguish between one part of the IBA's accounts and the remainder.
The effect of the amendment would be to make the IBA accounts referable to expenditure under this Bill subject to the Comptroller and Auditor General's audit, with the remaining accounts being audited by an appointed private firm.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is always kind and courteous in these matters, but she must be aware that I had to phrase my amendments within the scope of the Bill as she had approved it. If she is saying that she will lay an amendment widening the scope of the Bill, I will willingly widen my amendment to ensure that the Comptroller and Auditor General audits all the IBA's accounts.
Obviously this will be considered when the major Bill comes forward. We see no reason now for interfering with the present process by which the Authority's accounts are audited by an independent firm of auditors. A review of the Exchequer and Audit Acts is currently being undertaken and this will consider the general question of the Comptroller and Auditor General's powers. It would be inappropriate at this stage to consider any departure from current practices.
I intervene briefly to ask just one question. On Second Reading we did not have the accounts of the Authority available. They came the day after. I observe that in this clause and in the principal Act, money is being lent by the Treasury at a rate of interest agreed by the Treasury. I take it that that is a higher rate of interest than that at which the Treasury can borrow. My point in asking this is that I trust the Treasury is not subsidising the IBA. On certain previous occasions the IBA has incurred a deficit—in setting up local radio stations, for example.
One can imagine public subsidies to certain types of organisation. Most railways throughout the world are subsidised by the public. It has been the policy of this Government to ensure that nationalised industries and others are not subsidised by the taxpayer where this is not necessary. The previous Government went to the extent of forcing nationalised industries to run into debt so that they were, in effect, subsidised by the taxpayer. Can my hon. Friend assure me that it is not the intention to have a public subsidy to a private industry? The IBA's charges are primarily provided for by the rentals that they charge the various private companies. Some of those companies are small, but some are very large and profitable. There is no real reason why the taxpayer should subsidise them. Will the Minister assure us that there will be no such subsidy, even a concealed one, by way of a cheap rate of interest?
I take up the Minister's last point in which she said
the normal one for any Government loan.
But the Government are a more creditworthy borrower than many people. Does she mean by the "normal rate of interest" one that is just sufficient to cover the Treasury's costs in borrowing, or does she mean a rate of interest that is equivalent to the market rate for a private sector organisation?
I beg to move,
That this House takes note of the White Paper on Broadcasting (Command Paper No. 7294).
I am grateful that we are able to consider with this the other motion:
That the Supplemental Licence and Agreement between the Secretary of State for the Home Department and the British Broadcasting Corporation, dated 8 March 1979, a copy of which was laid before this House on 19 March, be approved.
The report of the Annan committee on the future of broadcasting ranged over the whole field of broadcasting and gave everybody—the Government, the broadcasters, those with a professional concern with broadcasting, and the listening and viewing public—a great deal to think about.
The Government received many comments on the report and had discussions with the main organisations and groups involved. The White Paper, which forms the subject of the debate today, was written in the light of those comments and discussions. Last July, when the White Paper was published, I outlined to the House the main proposals which it contained. I said that there would be discussions with the broadcasting organisations and I invited comments from anyone who wished to make them. We have now had those discussions and received many comments.
Given the events of last night, obviously there will be no Bill, but the Government remain committed to the basic strategy set out in the White Paper and in the new Session we aim to introduce a Bill. There are so few Members in the House at present that it is not appropriate to argue who will win or lose the election, but we all have our opinions.
We dealt first in the White Paper with the philosophy of broadcasting in this country. The principle that the broadcasting services should continue to be provided as public services by public authorities underlies all the rest of our proposals. We also endorsed the Annan committee's analysis of the four requisites for good broadcasting—flexibility, diversity, editorial independence and public accountability.
The need for flexibility, diversity, independence and accountability is particularly important when considering the new service which will be available to us in the next few years—the fourth television channel.
I want here and now to place on record that the Government remain convinced that the fourth television channel should be run by an Open Broadcasting Authority, as proposed in the White Paper, and the legislation we shall introduce in the new Parliament will contain provisions o that effect.
It is clear that there is widspread support for the kind of programme strategy which was envisaged by the White Paper—following, of course, on the lead of the Annan committee. I remind the House that the fourth channel should give priority to educational programmes, to programmes catering for tastes and interests which are not adequately catered for on the existing three services, and to programmes produced outside the existing broadcasting organisations. This does not mean a dull channel but one which will set out to provide something new and different.
There is no doubt that the channel will need Government assistance, at any rate in the early years. But I see no reason to qualify the view in the White Paper that, as it becomes an established part of broadcasting in this country and gains a regular following among viewers, the Government will expect the OBA to look to advertising revenue of various kinds to provide, directly and indirectly, an important and increasing source of its finance.
I do not think that an initial reliance on Government financial support will in any way compromise the independence of the OBA. The new authority will be free to acquire its programmes from whatever sources and in whatever ways it judges best, within, naturally, the limits of its overall financial resources, and subject to the same common obligations as lie on the other two broadcasting authorities with the exception, given the very nature of the service, of the requirement to provide a proper balance of programmes.
The costs of programmes may be met, either wholly or in part, by sponsorship or revenue from the sale of advertising time, but the OBA will also be enabled to allocate a certain amount of air time to the ITV companies, in consultation with the IBA, against payment of a rental. Those who rent time in this way will be able to sell advertising during it on their own behalf. This offers interesting and challenging possibilities to the ITV companies, to which I hope they will respond.
I do not propose to say much about the fourth channel in Wales. There are no hon. Members representing Welsh constituencies present, nor are there many others. I understand that this matter has already been dealt with. However, I reiterate our commitment on the question of the use of the fourth channel in Wales.
I turn now to the BBC. I shall ask the House to approve the draft supplemental licence and agreement. First I should like to say something about the BBC's Royal charter and the draft supplemental charter, which is also before the House this evening.
This is an important matter, although the House is sparsely attended. If there is not much interest in the Annan discussions, that is understandable. However, I think I should use my time to discuss the White Paper.
The principal charter sets up the BBC as a corporate body, defines its objectives, prescribes its constitution, makes provision for the appointment of advisory councils and contains other financial provisions. It was granted in March 1964 and in July 1976 was extended by a supplemental charter to 31 July this year.
The proposed supplemental charter, when approved, will amend the BBC's principal charter in three main respects. First, it will provide for the continuation of the BBC for a further period until 31 July 1981. Second, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State announced to the House on 29 January, it will increase the BBC's borrowing limit from the present £30 million to £100 million but, following discussions that I have had with the Corporation, subject to my specific approval for any borrowing in excess of £75 million. Third, it will enable the Corporation to pay a pension to the chairman of the BBC governors.
Hon. Members will recall that the White Paper on the future of broadcasting proposed that the BBC should continue as a broadcasting authority providing broadcasting services of information, education and entertainment and that it should continue to enjoy its present status as a charter body. I do not think there is any dissent from that proposition.
However, the future of the BBC must be seen in the context of the major broadcasting legislation which will be necessary to implement the other proposals in the White Paper. That legislation cannot now be proceeded with in this Session and we have taken this into account in deciding on a two-year extension for the BBC. The Broadcasting Bill, when it comes, will include provision to enable the Independent Broadcasting Authority to carry out its duties and functions in relation to the programme contractors for independent television after 1 January 1982. The Government intend, once that legislation has been enacted—this is the relevance of referring to the IBA—to apply for the grant of a new Royal charter extending the life of the BBC for a similar period to that which the House decides for the IBA.
The BBC's principal licence and agreement is, in part, a licence granted by me under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949 authorising the Corporation to operate wireless telegraphy stations subject to certain conditions, and in part an agreement between the BBC and myself. On this agreement depend not only the detailed arrangements for the financing of the BBC's domestic and external services but also many important matters relating to BBC services and programme standards. The life of the licence and agreement, which was made initially between the BBC and the Postmaster-General in 1969, was extended by a supplemental deed in April 1976, which is also due to expire in July this year.
The new supplemental licence and agreement is intended to provide for the life of the principal licence and agreement to continue until 31 July 1981. It also provides for an adjustment in the annual fee payable by the BBC in respect of the licence.
It may be of assistance at this point if I explain briefly to hon. Members why it is the licence and agreement that is the subject of the formal motion before the House. As I have said, the agreement deals, among other things, with the financing of the BBC's external services. This means, to use the formal phrase, that it creates a public charge entered into for the purpose of telegraphic communications beyond sea. This brings it within the terms of Standing Order No. 96, which requires anything creating such a charge to be approved by a motion of this House before it can have binding effect.
I return now to the charter and to the two changes which are now being made to it. The increases in the borrowing limits have been necessitated by the increased demands placed on the BBC's finances by the recent Central Arbitration Committee pay award of 16½ per cent. to BBC staff. The cost of this could have been met by a further increase in the television licence fee, but I am sure all hon. Members would agree that it would have been unacceptable to have had two increases in the fees within three or four months. The BBC has acknowledged this, and has accepted the increase in the borrowing powers, although it hopes that it will only be necessary to invoke them to provide a temporary breathing space.
In my discussions with the Corporation it agreed that borrowing power above £75 million should be subject to my approval. The present borrowing limit of £30 million was established in 1964 when, much to my surprise, the BBC's expenditure was just over £50 million a year. As a proportion of its expenditure, therefore, the BBC's new borrowing limit will be lower than it was in 1964. That is the basis of the motion.
Perhaps I could deal with one or two other points. I am happy to go on at greater length but it would be appropriate if I summarised them.
I should like to say something about the IBA. As someone who was not in the House at the time when this body had different initials, I disapproved of what happened. One may only admit to being wrong. It was a good idea. It has worked extremely well. It has taken its place alongside the BBC over the past quarter of a century. We discussed a number of matters in our debates on the Bill to enable the Authority to engineer the fourth channel. At this point I should like to mention a few general matters concerning the Authority's future that were dealt with in the White Paper.
First, the forthcoming legislation will extend the life of the IBA beyond its expiry date of 31 December 1981. There can be no question, whatever the Government of the day, but that the IBA, which has done so much, should continue in being with the assurance of a settled future. Secondly, it remains our intention to extend the IBA's responsibilities to include the supervision of the distribution of television and radio services over cable. This will include any local community services which may be set up, hospital and university broadcasting services and pilot schemes of pay television. At present all those matters are the responsibility of the Home Office. We believe it is right that supervision of this type of programme service should lie with an independent authority which is already accustomed to such a role.
I turn briefly—not because I regard it as unimportant—to local radio. It has been one of the great developments of recent years. I know from my experience of my own area in the North what an important part Radio Leeds plays there. It is much more difficult—I leave it like that—in the London area, where there is not the same locality on which to focus. Local radio in London tends to have a different role. Although this subject was not within my responsibility before I became the Home Secretary, I may say that London local radio is conscious of its local role but is operating in a different area.
Our announcements last year that the development of local radio was to be resumed and that the BBC and the IBA would be permitted to expand their local radio services were welcomed. However, in some areas it would be neither practical nor sensible to provide more than one service. It will be interesting to see what happens as the years go on. Remarkable changes are taking place on the technical side. We shall have to see.
Will my right hon. Friend say whether any representatives of the groups calling for more community radio have been appointed to the working party set up to look at the future development of local radio?
I do not think that the answer is "Yes". It is not that I believe that that is unimportant. I think that they should put their case. It is most important that they should. I did not know that my hon. Friend was present. It is not just a matter of the technical changes that are taking place. It is most important that different sorts of companies and groups of people should be able to get together in this respect. I am sure that there will be interesting and valuable changes in this over the years.
As I said a moment ago, the working party—under the chairmanship of the Home Office—on which both the BBC and the IBA are represented, has completed its first task of preparing proposals for an immediate initial expansion of local radio. Those are the 18 stations, and I leave it at that.
Where there is to be an extension of the independent local radio franchise, public meetings will form part of the normal procedure by which the IBA decides to which applicant to award the contract. Not all aspects of the proposals would be appropriate for public discussion, but the House will be interested to know that the BBC has indicated that it, too, intends to hold public meetings to assist the Corporation in deciding and determining finally the programme service to be provided in an area. The working party is now proceeding with the second part of its task, relating to local radio stations in all other parts of the country.
With regard to broadcasting and advisory bodies, it may be that the House, with this sort of attendance, will look at the problem in a different way from when I talked about it last year. I had no desire to set up so-called quangos, but I was very surprised to see the number of bodies that exist. We have got to consider this, but the parrot cry of "Quango" does not get us very far. Most people serving on quangos do not get much out of it. They perform a very valuable public service, and we ought all to look at the question in that context.
The White Paper made clear that the Government approached the whole question of establishing new organisations in the field of broadcasting. Annan recommended an Open Broadcasting Authority, a Local Broadcasting Authority, a Public Enquiry Board for Broadcasting, a Broadcasting Complaints Commission, and a Telecommunications Advisory Committee. Our view was that new bodies should not be set up unless there is a clear need. After some of the happenings—not on the Home Office side—in setting up new organisations and in reorganising which have taken place in the last 10 years, my first instinct is to say "No" to any reorganisation. Goodness knows where it leads sometimes, so that one has a certain suspicion about it.
We considered that there was a clear need for an OBA and for a Broadcasting Complaints Commission. We also considered it right to propose service management boards for the BBC. I do not want to get involved in inside BBC matters, but these are changes in the structure of an existing organisation. We accepted the need for a Broadcasting Technical Advisory Committee, with a more limited remit than Annan's Telecommunications Advisory Committee. We did not consider it necessary to set up and have not proposed the establishment of a Local Broadcasting Authority or a Public Enquiry Board. This was not simply because of the fear of having yet another organisation, or any concern about that. I thought that, coming to it from the outside, it would be much better to let the BBC and the IBA keep their local broadcasting, which gives them roots in an area. It is very valuable because it feeds back.
The changes that we have proposed will entail an increase in ministerial appointments. It is to a large extent inevitable. It is difficult to see who but the Government could appoint the OBA or the Complaints Commission. The need is not perhaps quite so obvious in the case of the service management boards, to which I shall come in a moment, or the BBC's national advisory councils for Scotland and Wales, and the IBA's advisory committees for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. They are all there already.
I think that perhaps in many ways Northern Ireland is different. Over the years it has been dealt with in a different way. Perhaps it is better to leave it in this way until some of the political matters there are settled, but is certainly a point that I noticed when I was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
The BBC councils and the IBA committees have an important part to play in the development of broadcasting which really serves the needs of the distinct parts of the United Kingdom for which they respectively have responsibilities. Our proposals for their reconstitution are intended to reflect their importance. It is not part of our policy or intention that these changes should lead to Government interference in the traditional freedom of broadcasters.
The appointments will be made only after consultation with the Secretaries of State for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as appropriate, and with the chairman of the governors in the case of the BBC or the chairman of the Authority in the case of the IBA. I have not had to make many appointments in this field. They do not come up with great regularity. We have appointed some very fine people, but the matter of appointment is not the easiest of tasks. Does one keep a long list of people? How does one set about it? This ought to be considered at some time.
Concerning the service management boards, we had in mind the criticisms which had been made of the BBC as an organisation, and which to some extent have been endorsed by Annan—that while its overall performance was good, it had become too monolithic and bureaucratic. It was said, in particular, that confusion had developed between the two functions of the governors of the BBC—on the one hand, their role as supervisors, in the public interest, of the BBC as a public broadcasting service, and, on the other hand, their overall responsibility for the management of the broadcasting services of the BBC, with the result that the former had sometimes been subordinated to the latter.
One cannot compare the two authorities exactly, because they have different roles, but the supervisory side of the IBA is much more clearcut. When we looked at this, I felt that there was confusion about the role of the governors of the BBC. What are we asking the governors to do? Are they concerned with the public interest or have they a management role? A good deal of thought was given to this. Our view was that the governors should be distanced from detailed management so that they could concentrate on their supervisory and regulatory functions. We proposed that three service management boards should be set up, for television, radio and the external services, each of which would be responsible to the governors as a whole for supervising the programme strategy and management of its service.
The BBC has accepted the force of the criticisms that have been levelled at it—amid, I emphasise, a very great deal of praise. The governors, while opposing the introduction of the boards, have accepted the aims which lie behind them and have recently, as some hon. Members will know, made certain organisational changes on their own account. We shall watch the progress of these new arrangements with interest. Nevertheless, the Government's proposals remain as stated in the White Paper, and we could proceed with these in the new charter for the BBC, which will follow the main broadcasting legislation, with any modifications which might seem desirable.
Before closing, I should like to say a word about the more general question of the financing of the BBC. The Government accepted the Annan committee's recommendation that the BBC should continue to be financed principally from the revenue of the broadcast receiving licence. The Government recognise that there are arguments both for and against the licensing system. We are, however, conscious of the difficulty of adding to the planned levels of public expenditure, and we do not think it practicable to increase them by sums which are now of the order of £350 million a year. Nevertheless, we are looking at several aspects of the licensing system. It does not necessarily mean that we shall want to make any changes.
We acknowledged last year the problems which a one-year increase in the licence fees caused for the BBC's future financial planning, and we are now conducting discussions with the BBC about its future financial requirement and about the basis on which it could be enabled to carry forward its longer-term planning. I have set up a study to examine the question of free television licences or concessionary arrangements for retirement pensioners and other groups. We all know that this sort of thing causes a good deal of argument or feeling sometimes between those who get benefit under such arrangements and those who do not. The standing working party on the administration of the television licensing system is examining the possibilities of improving methods of payment under the existing licensing system.
I hope that the reports of these studies will be published, probably together, about the middle of the year. They will set out facts without commitment and in an orderly way, for the information of Parliament and the public. These reports will be published to aid public discussion of the relevant issues, including alternative methods of financing the BBC.
I have not been able to cover every aspect. However, I or my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will be happy, as the debate goes on, to deal with any points that arise.
There is one last point that I should like to make. The legislation that is introduced next Session—whoever has to do it—will set up the structure of broadcasting for virtually the rest of this century. We are used to thinking of broadcasting in terms of television and radio as we know them today, but we must not provide a structure that does not allow for the technological developments which are bound to come.
We can already see the development of teletex systems by means of which information can be displayed on the screens of individual viewers. There are new possibilities for the use of cable networks which will become particularly important as the need diminishes for cable relay to supply regular BBC and ITV services when they cannot receive off air.
We need to retain a flexibility to respond to change. I believe that our proposals will do that. When we discuss these proposals, in whatever fashion, I believe that this is something that the House should take into account.
I conclude by reiterating the Government's commitment to the strategy set out in the White Paper, and I look forward to bringing the necessary legislation before the House next Session.
We are as weary as metaphors such as "The morning after the night before" and "The morning after the Lord Mayor's Show" suggest. After waiting for this debate for so very long—it has been postponed so often—there is a certain irony in the fact that we should at last be debating this matter on the day following the defeat of the Government—as it were, in limbo. The very fact that the Home Secretary and I are standing face to face is proof, if it were needed, of life after death.
What can I say about the Home Secretary's speech? As Rossini once said of Wagner:
Some of his minutes were good, but his quarter hours were not so good.
That joke would have been better had the Home Secretary's speech been longer and the audience larger.
There are some things in the White Paper that we like. For instance, we support the concept of the Complaints Commission and we welcome the apparent extension of local radio—especially independent local radio—and we are committed, as a party, to raising the ceiling to 60 stations. However, there is more in the White Paper which we dislike and which we shall strongly oppose.
We dislike very much indeed the proposal for a service management board for the BBC, whereby ministerial appointees are thrust into the BBC to help run radio, television and the external services. We now know how this strange suggestion was conceived. The right hon. Member for Stockton (Mr. Rodgers) made the proposal in the Cabinet committee in order to ward off the attacks on the BBC that were threatened by some of his more radical colleagues. Is this the road to hell? No doubt the Hungarian service of the BBC has already made the point that, if one has the right hon. Member for Stockton as a friend, one has no need of enemies.
This proposal is without a friend. Leaving aside the point that one does not make an allegedly bureaucratic organisation less heavy by introducing a new layer of administration, we believe that it would be an error to complicate the running of the BBC by adding ministerial appointees to those already appointed by the Crown.
Who will these Government nominees be? According to the White Paper, that other abortion, the OBA, is to be staffed by people with original ideas and the ability to put them into practice. Would that we had more of them in this place. However, where does that proposal leave the BBC? Does it leave it with the superannuated barons of the TUC, the elderly party hacks, the sociologists from redbrick universities or Mr. Russell Harty? Even if the Home Secretary was free to call upon the Apostles, the idea is a bad one and we shall have none of it.
The Government's appetite is insatiable. Not only do they want to place their men at the heart of the Corporation—men who would owe loyalty to two masters—but they also wish to assume the appointment of the members to the IBA's advisory committees in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as the members of the BBC's national broadcasting councils in Scotland and Wales. Somehow Northern Ireland seems to have escaped.
All these proposals are as silly as they are sinister. They suggest that some Government, of whatever party, might one day, in the heat of a row with the broadcasting authorities—and we all remember yesterday's men—be able to lean more effectively upon the broadcasting authorities.
The heart of our objection to the White Paper is that, were its proposals with regard to service management boards and the OBA to be implemented, the result would be to weaken the authorities that govern broadcasting to the advantage of Government. To that process we are strongly opposed. The White Paper proposes Government intervention in broadcasting on a scale previously unknown in Britain and far exceeding anything that would be considered reasonable were it applied to the press.
Let us examine the proposal for an OBA more closely. We know that it was foisted, in humiliating circumstances, upon an unwilling Home Secretary who, in this House in 1977, expressed his wonder about its financial viability—as indeed he might. The proposals do not carry conviction either financially or editorially and, even more important, some of the proposals constitute a grave threat to the independence of not only the OBA—if it were ever to come into being—but also the IBA and the BBC. I shall ask four questions of the House. What will we see on the OBA fourth channel if it is set up? Who will watch it? Who will pay for it? Who is to work for it?
The programmes that the Government would like us to see are mainly of the educational and improving kind—such as programmes that are produced outside existing broadcasting organisations. But all these have a place on the draft schedule of the second ITV channel, though not to the exclusion of all else.
Unlike the supporters of an OBA, we believe that all programmes should be watched and that a sensible and balanced programme policy can be achieved only by complementary scheduling. In short, the relationship between ITV1 and ITV2 would be the same as the relationship between BB1 and BB2. Yet the Government want the fourth channel to be run by an oligarchy remote from the making of programmes.
Who is to pay for it? The answer is that we shall all pay for it out of taxation. The Conservatives are against the OBA for two reasons. First, it would mean a third authority, but an authority in name only. Secondly, we do not favour any solution that would cost the Revenue money. The Revenue would be obliged to pay its whack. To add to this uncomfortable fact of life, the Government have now come up with three further ways of raising money—sponsorship, advertising en bloc and spot advertising.
Let me first deal with sponsorship. It is possible that the Ford Motor Company, for example, could be persuaded to sponsor a series of programmes, such as four plays all filmed on location with well-known stars. It would cost not far short of £1 million. We would get four hours of television for £1 million—only four hours out of the OBA's week would be filled, and there are another 36 hours to be paid for.
I do not think that many sponsors would be willing to do that more than once a year, especially on a channel which would be likely to attract fewer viewers than does the second channel on the BBC at present.
Advertising en bloc went out years ago with the awful magazine programmes, while spot advertising—were that to be successful—would start the battle of the ratings between the BBC, ITV and the OBA. Would that raise the standard of programmes, or make room for the sensible "minority" programmes we all want?
There would also be a major objection to working in or for the OBA. That is because it would be an authority in name only. Unlike the BBC, which has its income from the licence fee, and the IBA which has its income from advertising, the OBA would in large part be dependent on Government money; and he who pays the piper calls the tune.
An OBA, therefore, would be a step in the wrong direction, a step in favour of control of broadcasting on the part of the Government. We Conservatives stand for the freedom of broadcasting, which is not the same thing as the freedom of those who broadcast. We will support and strengthen the existing institutions. We will support them against the power of Governments and, just as important, we will support them when they are obliged to carry out their obligations to fairness and moderation—obligations which come under fire from some who work within broadcasting itself. There are those who believe in extended notions of freedom and who are hostile to all control on the part of the broadcasting authorities. We refuse to emancipate them.
We all want so-called "minority programmes"—educated programmes for literate people. There are not enough of them on television, but that is what the fourth channel is all about. However, why should it be that new institutions are always necessary? It does not follow that standards can be improved only by an OBA. The "idealogues" are in search of monuments to themselves. The hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead), the father of the OBA, is a romantic; and romantics are always attracted to the media. Yet he is not a figure of fun and frolic. If he had his way, he would be happily revealing—and at inordinate length—the evils of our society. God save us from those with a sense of mission.
ITV2 would cost the Revenue nothing. Indeed, it would gain. It would give scope for the regional and smaller television companies. On its programme planning board, to be overseen by the IBA, would sit representatives of the independent producers—all three of them—and the educational interests.
The major companies, which at present contribute more than half the programmes on ITV1, would be responsible for a smaller proportion on the second channel. The regional companies should contribute at least half as much again. Eventually up to 15 per cent. of ITV2 would be devoted to educational programmes, and there would be plenty of room for the independents.
When we form the Government, ITV2 will, therefore, be run by the existing companies, subject, of course, to any changes in the franchises which may take place between now and 1982. The companies have already invested in men and studios, and have the skill that would enable them to produce the necessary programmes. Two ITV channels will enable independent television to compete with the BBC on equal terms, and by so doing will give the viewer a wider range of better programmes. That will take care of the fourth channel. As a Government, we shall then have to start thinking about the fifth and sixth channels.
Because the order of business has been changed, so that the extension of the BBC's charter is included in this one debate, I should like to make one or two brief references to that part of the debate before I sit down.
Of course, this is the second instalment of the hand-to-mouth attitude of a dying Government to broadcasting matters. The supplemental licence extends the life of the BBC for a further two years, but it also increases the borrowing powers of the BBC from £30 million to £100 million. This is in part due to the 16½ per cent. pay rise awarded just before Christmas to the staff of the BBC. On the one hand the Government have not allowed the BBC to increase the licence fee to the extent it wanted, and on the other they have taken the easy way out by forcing the Corporation into debt.
This must mean that the next time the BBC comes to a Government for an increase in the licence fee that fee will have to be even larger than it would otherwise be. For example, in an answer to a question tabled by myself on 8 February this year, the Home Secretary indicated that, if the BBC were to draw on one half of its additional powers, the interest charges would eventually require an additional 50p on the licence fee. Were the BBC to use the lot, an additional 80p would be required on the licence fee. This is, of course, the rake's progress, but without the benefit of Rex Harrison.
The Government have treated the BBC badly. The Annan committee decided that the licence fee was the best method of financing the BBC, and that a separate source of income has underwritten its independence. That independence has been threatened by the Government's meanness, and that meanness has been induced by the imminence of an election that has influenced their action and obliged them to say "No" to what was a perfectly legitimate increase that was asked for by the BBC.
It is quite wrong that the BBC has been obliged to hold out a begging bowl. It is not an instrument of Government policy at one remove, as is the Arts Council or the Film Institute. It is part of an independent estate, and should be funded adequately as of right. The health of British broadcasting depends upon a BBC that has financial resources roughly equal to those of ITV.
The Conservative Party will retain the licence fee system, but perhaps in Government we might consider setting up a committee of three wise men to make an independent assessment of the BBC's needs and to relieve us of the embarrassment which has clearly overcome the Government.
Inevitably, this is my swan song in this House. It is a rather sad day for me. Before coming to the main theme of my speech, I should like to put on record my thanks and appreciation to right hon. and hon. Members for the abiding courtesy and consideration they have shown to me, even when they disagreed with the opinions that I have expressed. My memory of this House is something that I shall treasure for the future, and I shall also remember and miss the comradeship that I have known. I wish all right hon. and hon. Members well for the future.
I shall confine my remarks to that part of the White Paper which deals with the portrayal of violence and related questions in paragraphs 103 to 106 on pages 39 to 41. As the House will appreciate, I am again riding my hobby-horse. For a long time I have been concerned about the effect which television violence has, especially on young people. An early-day motion stands in my name, which has been sponsored by right hon. and hon. Members of all parties, except the Welsh. It is to the effect that this House is strongly of the opinion that films which cannot be shown to persons under 18 in cinemas should not be shown on television. At present, that motion is signed by 136 right hon. and hon. Members.
I am, therefore, concerned that X-certificate films, which cannot be seen in a cinema by people under 18, can be viewed by youngsters of any age in their homes. I have had considerable correspondence with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary of State on this matter, and also with my noble Friend Lord Boston of Faversham, the Minister of State, Home Office.
In a recent letter to me, Lord Boston points out that
films which carry an X-certificate for cinemas are often edited before being shown on television".
My noble Friend added:
this often has the effect of changing the categorisation—for example when the film Soldier Blue appeared on TV the effect of cuts made to it was to change its X-certificate to the equivalent of AA.
I appreciate that, and I have revised my opinion about X-certificate films. I have other proposals to make, which I shall elaborate a little later, but first of all let me turn to page 40 of the White Paper, where it is stated:
The effects of television programmes on viewers are of their nature difficult to determine.
I disagree with that and I shall show later that the research work has disagreed as well. The White Paper goes on:
However, the Government is in no doubt that the only safe course is for the broadcasting authorities to assume undesirable effects unless convincing evidence to the contrary emerges.
With all due respect to the BBC and the IBA, I do not think that they do assume undesirable effects. In fact, when the effects are most undesirable they seem to shut their eyes to it.
The White Paper states that the BBC and the IBA are alert to the dangers, but I doubt whether this is so. Let me give examples of two films. One appeared on 20 December 1978 at about 9 o'clock to 9.15 in the evening, and was called "Charlie Varrick". It was described by the headmaster of a school as a black comedy—that overworked phrase to attempt to justify that which cannot be justified.
The story was about a raid on a small bank in New Mexico by Charlie Varrick and others. In the end Charlie Varrick got the better of his pursuers. First—and we must remember that childen and teenagers of under 17 are seeing this, but particularly children—there is the bad language:
Young doesn't have the balls for a thing like that.
That is one sentence. Here is another
You don't have the balls of a bull canary bird.
There was a third statement, repeated twice:
No chicken-shit son of a bitch had better try and stop me.
I am asking the Government to try to appreciate the effect which that has on children. Then there are violent expressions:
They'll strip you naked and go to work on you with a pair of pliers and a blow torch.
The film shows masked men breaking into a bank and considerable gunfire. One man is shot in the bank and two policemen are shot outside. The car then drives off at high speed and deliberately crashes into the police car. The driver, Varrick's wife, is shot during the raid. She dies. Varrick and his partner take her to a lonely place where gunpowder and explosives are scattered about. They make their getaway and the car explodes with his wife in it, while Varrick is questioned by the police.
The Mafia investigator is very sadistic. He is shown punching and knocking a black man to the ground. He pushes a gun-shop owner, who is a cripple in a wheelchair, backwards in his chair against a wall to elicit information. They gain entrance to Varrick's caravan and they violently punch Varrick's colleague in the face and stomach and throw him back against the wall. He is then shown with his face bleeding. As he crawls across the caravan the investigator kicks him, then kicks him again on the leg. He pulls his head downwards by the hair and takes out a penknife. Then, when Varrick's colleague is dead, they show him as having been subjected clearly to more violence, and he is covered in blood.
The investigator goes to a photographer, and she makes a pass at him. He strikes her across the face and then goes along to her bedroom with her. Another man there drives his car violently at his chief and kills him. Then Varrick makes a deal with the Mafia man. He tells him where the money is. The Mafia man opens the car boot, finds Varrick's dead accomplice, and the car explodes. The Mafia man's dead body is shown straddled across the car and Varrick gets away scot free. That film was shown at 9 o'clock in the evening.
I might also mention "The French Connection", where viewers see a man shot in the face. This was shown on BBC1 on 26 December 1978 at 9 o'clock. A man is shot in the face at point blank range in an alleyway and there is a brief shot of the effect on his face. He is pursued to a piece of waste ground and savagely beaten up and repeatedly kicked while on the ground. The same man, with his face covered in blood, is cornered by pursuers and violently threatened for information. A woman pushing a pram is shot and killed. A man boards a train and shoots a guard at point blank range and threatens the driver with a gun. A second man is shot on the train and his wounds are shown. There is gunfire during a police assault on a derelict building and one man is shot and killed.
Bad language also features here:
Are you both shitting me?
Shove it up your arse.
The headmaster says:
This is an American film shot on the streets of Brooklyn about an attempt to break a drug ring. An extremely violent film with a fair admixture of foul language … It was hard at times to distinguish the villains from the police, whose methods of pursuing the crime were, to say the least, unorthodox especially the violent car chase to beat the train …
Does this kind of thing have an effect on young people? I do not know whether the BBC and the Government realise this, but it does have an effect, and a very bad one. I was looking at a book
yesterday called "Sex, Violence and the Media" which was written in 1978 by Eysenck and Nias. They have done considerable and very deep research on this matter and they find that the evidence is unanimous that aggressive acts can be evoked by the viewing of violent scenes portrayed on film, television or in the theatre. They say that there is ample evidence that media violence increases viewer aggression.
Let me give two examples of things that happened not very long ago, which show the truth of this assertion. Three girls of about 17 made a sexual attack upon a little girl of 11 with a milk bottle. The effect on that girl, which she will feel for the rest of her life, cannot be gauged. When they were asked why they did it, they said they had seen the same thing on television in a film called "Born Innocent". This shows that the TV film had a direct effect on their actions.
Then, six months or a year ago, a young boy of 15 saw a hanging on television and said to his friends that he was going to see what it was like. He jumped into a noose and before his friends could cut him down he was dead.
Children are affected by what they see. The recommendation made by Eysenck and Nias is that makers of films, theatre and television programmes concerned with the portrayal of violence should show more responsibility than they have done so far.
The conclusion they reach is that this means that some form of censorship may be essential. I say "some form". I do not mean censorship of all sex and violence. They say that some form of censorship may be essential both as regards violence and as regards perverted sexual behaviour—again, not all violence or all sex. They suggest setting up a research team on some permanent basis to carry out research into problems raised by the possible antisocial effects of sex and violence on the media. The test which they give, and I agree with this, is whether the portrayal of pornography and violence has effects on many people which cause them to interfere with the lives, health and happiness of other people. In other words, the enjoyment which some people get out of these films must be weighed against the injury to or even the death of others. I agree with that, and I ask my hon. Friend the Undersecretary of State seriously to consider the recommendations which are made in that book.
In the light of these recommendations, it is somewhat strange to read paragraph 105 of the White Paper. Paragraph 104 reads as follows:
The Government also endorses the spirit of the Annan Committee's recommendation that the broadcasting authorities should monitor the amount of violence in their programmes and should publish regularly their findings, and report thereon.
I agree with that entirely but, with all due respect, the Government are burying their heads in the sand when they go on to say in paragraph 105:
However, the Government endorses the Annan Committee's recommendation that the BBC and the IBA should continue to operate a policy of not showing before 9 p.m. television programmes which may be unsuitable for children".
It is well known that children today do not go to bed at 9 p.m. They do not obey their parents when they tell them to go to bed. Neither do teenagers under 18 go to bed at 9 p.m. The Government appear to appreciate that, because immediately preceding the sentence I have just read is this sentence:
There is evidence that many children spend a great deal of time watching television and that their choice of programme is not always supervised by their parents. It is known, moreover, that there is no time of the evening when there are not some children viewing, perhaps even in quite substantial numbers".
What on earth, therefore, is the use of saying that unsuitable films will not be broadcast before 9 p.m.? If substantial numbers of children watch television at all times in the evening, we must take action to prevent their seeing unsuitable films at any time. That is where the suggested research team comes in.
The research team I suggest is this. An independent board should be set up with the function of viewing films which it is proposed to show on television. There could be one board for both the IBA and the BBC, or there could be one for each. If the board considers that a film would be injurious to youngsters or teenagers under the age of 18, the broadcasting authority concerned should be prohibited from showing it. I therefore disagree with the White Paper when it states in paragraph 105:
It would not be reasonable to require the broadcasters to ensure that no material that might be considered unsuitable for children was broadcast at any time.
I am of the opposite opinion. If a film is unsuitable for children, it should not be broadcast. After all, we have not always had television. Before television came in, when parents wanted to see a film which was unsuitable for children, they used to go to the cinema to see it, and they can do that today. I do no see why children should be allowed to view films which may have a grave effect upon them. We must seriously consider the grave consequences that flow from youngsters seeing unsuitable films. Since the advent of television there has been a great increase in violence among children and young persons, and this must be stopped.
The board which I propose should have a changing membership. If the membership is static, the same people are watching the films year after year and become desensitised. Therefore, the membership should be changed every year or every two years.
I ask my hon. Friend to consider the representations I have made in an effort to protect our children and our society from the very serious effects from which they now suffer.
The hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Tuck) made a characteristically sincere and moving contribution to our debate, as he has on so many occasions in the past. We were all touched by the expression he gave to the feeling of loss of comradeship which he expects to experience when the time comes, as it will soon, for him to leave the House. May I say in turn how very much we shall miss him?
I am tempted to follow in detail the comments that the hon. Member made about violence. I shall make a few comments, but I shall not go into the detail that his observations deserve because there are other matters I should like to touch on, and I hope there will be an occasion when we can return to this controversial subject to which there are deep feelings on either side of the argument.
No one I have ever come across in the BBC or in the IBA thinks that violence should be let loose. On the contrary, all the people I have met understand that programme makers bear a great responsibility to ensure that the young are not corrupted, as we believe can happen on occasion, by gratuitous scenes of violence which are introduced into some films for sadistic and thoroughly unworthy reasons.
In case those who read the debate feel that this matter is not taken seriously, it is worth saying that the question of violence has occupied the attention of both the IBA and the BBC considerably for a great many years, more especially during the past 18 months, no doubt in response to the growing public concern that has been voiced so intensely by the hon. Member for Watford.
I am a member of the joint advisory council of the Independent Broadcasting Authority. That Authority set up in May 1978 a working party to look into its own code of violence. I was a member of that committee. We recommended that in general the code, which was first published by the Authority in 1964 and revised in 1971, continued to be a useful statement of the principles to be followed by directors and schedulers. The code is fairly explicit, easy to follow and not lengthy. It has a powerful introduction which begins with these words:
All concerned in the making of programmes for Independent Television have to act within a series of constraints. They must take into account the degree of public concern about particular issues, the boundaries of public taste, the limits of the law and any available information from research about the short or longer term social consequences of their actions. How should constraints like these affect their judgment about the presentation of scenes of violence on television?
The code is then outlined, and those responsible for planning, production and scheduling of television programmes must keep it in mind when they are going about their respective duties.
There is a policy of the ITV companies and the BBC known as a family viewing policy which has a watershed of nine o'clock. As the hon. Member for Watford said, this is the witching hour when family viewing time ends, but many teenagers and younger children stay up past nine o'clock.
That is why my hon. Friend looks so well.
I believe that the conclusion drawn by the hon. Member for Watford is draconian, very drastic. It means that no film that we thought might have a harmful effect on a child could be shown. That, I presume, would be a film which contains specific examples of violence. That would lead us into very dangerous waters. Many people have different views about what is harmful to children, let alone adults. The play "Julius Caesar" contains a most gruesome death but is the set-piece for A-level students this year. A specific scene of violence might upset some children. Some people might argue that it would be harmful. I would not.
The hon. Gentleman's board of censorship would run immediately into the most terrible conflicts of advice tendered by different experts arguing that neither the young nor any section of the population can be insulated from violence. It is a tradition in plays and drama. It is part of natural life. To appoint a group of people to arbitrate in the manner suggested by the hon. Gentleman would defeat the purpose.
The hon. Gentleman forgets that this system operates already in the cinema. There are X-certificate films to which no one under 18 years of age is allowed entry and U-films which those under 18 can see. Surely, a system can be introduced into television whereby films would be prohibited and parents would need to go to the cinema to see them.
Many films have a certificate attached to them indicating that they are not suitable for young children. The hon. Gentleman is suggesting that no such film should be shown at any time on British television screens. That is too draconian a proposal and would be self-defeating.
Those who seek a radical solution of the kind the hon. Gentleman proposed, or others that I have heard, to the problems of violence on television, and with it an end, I suspect, to many of society's ills, are asking for the impossible. That is not to say that we should not try or that we cannot do better. The BBC has recently published a document that goes into some detail on the principles that should guide its own programme makers. Out of respect to the hon. Gentleman, the document suggests that, in view of the large number of children known to be viewing on Friday and Saturday evenings beyond the witching hour of nine o'clock, special care is needed in assessing the context and style of programmes placed after that time on those days. As a consequence of the present situation, many films have not been shown or have had explicit scenes of sadism or violence taken out.
One respect in which both the ITV companies and the BBC have moved towards the hon. Gentleman's argument is the increase in the amount of information available to viewers when they are deciding what to view. That is why the IBA has welcomed the decision of TV Times to carry regular statements of ITV's system of film classification, based on the times at which films are considered suitable for showing. The IBA proposes to discuss with the programme companies how more information can be provided. A similar system is employed by the BBC.
A proposal that might be considered is to encourage the IBA and the BBC to come together on these matters to see if they can produce a joint document. This might advance the sensitivity of those responsible for programmes and perhaps increase the confidence of the public in this controversial area of television.
I am glad that the Home Secretary has returned. I am also delighted that there will be an election. Unlike him, I believe that he will not be a member of the next Administration. It will be for right hon. and hon. Friends of mine to bury the wretched proposal for the OBA and other proposals such as that to pose management boards between the officials of the BBC and the programme makers. Both those proposals are warmly endorsed by the Home Secretary. But they would only set back the development of broadcasting in this country and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) said, raise the sinister inference that there would be increased opportunities for Government interference.
In a more personal way, we shall regret the passing of the right hon. Gentleman from his role. All hon. Members on both sides of the House and people in the broadcasting world have appreciated the careful attention he has given to the problems of broadcasting. He has approached these problems not only with geniality but also extreme sensitivity. Bearing in mind the many and arduous responsibilities he has borne as Home Secretary, we have been fortunate that such careful attention has been paid to these problems.
I strongly believe that the approach, outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot, to the development of the fourth channel is on the right lines. I regret that there has been polarisation of the debate. This polarisation has led people to suppose that there is one group in the House for ITV 2—the proposal that existing commercial companies should be given the right to put on any programme they want on a separate channel. It has been suggested that this is because the party to which I belong represents deep, dark, vested interests and that the alternative is to support some new worthy, highly moral and exciting venture which would develop the dimensions of broadcasting through an Open Broadcasting Authority. The way that the debate has been polarised has been superficial and unhelpful.
The resources for a fourth channel are already available in the existing ITV companies. These companies should not be denied their right and proper place in a fourth channel. It need not be a dominant place. It is feasible for the companies to be restricted to 40 per cent. of the contribution to the amount of viewing time made available.
Positive and detailed proposals have been made by the Independent Broadcasting Authority on the basis of complementarity. That is the right way to help ensure that the service can be cross-financed from the first commercial service. It is worth underlining this point by quoting Lady Plowden, chairman of the Independent Broadcasting Authority, who is widely respected on both sides of the House for her sensitive and responsible approach to television. She told the Women's Advertising Club of London last year:
The resources needed for fourth channel programmes are already available in the ITV companies. The companies should therefore have their place—and their pride—in what appears on the fourth channel. It does not have to be a dominating place. But do not
ask them to hand money and facilities over to a competitor who will fight them for revenue and for kudos: that would not produce better television.
It might produce, on the contrary, the sort of situation so often criticised by members of the Annan committee and the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead), namely, the chasing of the ratings that exists in the United States. I would have thought that the approach that I have outlined deserves close attention by the next Government. I believe it will receive that attention.
I would like to say a few words about the BBC. The Government record on this issue has been less than happy. The BBC has no more prescriptive right than has any other organisation to evade the consequences of inflation. It must, as I believe it has, developed restraint in its expenditure. It must learn to live within its own income. We know that its income is decided by the Government. Looking back over the past few years, I do not think that the Government have been fair to the BBC, for two reasons. By any independent yardstick, it has justified its expenditure in terms of productivity and quality and has shown that it is not wasteful. It would be wrong to deny it a reasonable increase bearing some relation to inflation.
In January 1968 a colour licence was £10. In November 1978 it was £25. That was an increase of 150 per cent. From January 1968 to November 1978 there was an increase in the RPI of 219 per cent. I am not suggesting that the licence fee should have increased by that percentage, or that the increase in the RPI may rightly be compared with the increase in the licence fee, but I do not believe that the BBC has had a fair crack of the whip.
Secondly, increases should not have been granted one year at a time. To grant annual increases is not encouraging BBC officials to behave responsibly. For example, there was an increase in July 1977 and another in November 1978. The BBC has found itself caught up in an inevitably expensive payroll increase. It was not wise to ask the BBC to finance current costs from increased financial borrowing powers.
It is little wonder that the BBC has suffered. Its morale has suffered, and some of the quality of its programming has suffered as a consequence. I am not saying that the BBC has a right to anything that it wants, but I hope that the next Government will be able to give it a better base and a stronger financial future.
The last topic to which I refer has not been mentioned so far, although it has been the subject of some correspondence between myself and the Home Office. I emphasise that I have no commercial vested interest save in application as I am a member of a company that is involved at Brands Hatch. In that capacity I take the view that the introduction of citizens band radio and the technology applied to it could help the sporting world. It is in that respect alone that I have what might be described as an indirect interest. I have no financial interest.
Citizens band radio has saved lives in the United States, where it is widely used. We are yet to get the figures from Australia, where it has recently been introduced. It has created new jobs, helped to sustain the electronics industry and helped sports. In an article in The Economist it was said that citizens band radio is fun. Broadcasting, although it has serious purposes, is part of the fun. It should be fun. It is part of new technology. It has provided a great deal of fun, as does amateur radio, for many people of different walks of life. That is why I was especially pleased that the National Electronics Council recommended—I quote from a letter that I received from the Secretary of State—
a form of high quality citizens band radio".
The National Electronics Council has seven representatives from Government Departments and representatives of the electronics industry.
I understand that the council's proposal was opposed by the Home Office. The correspondence that I have clearly indicates that that was the response. Set out in the correspondence are the grounds on which the Home Office opposed the introduction of citizens band radio. It is also opposed by the Post Office, which is a monopoly. Naturally the Post Office does not wish its monopoly to be broken, although it should be.
The correspondence that I have indicates that the Home Office has felt over a period that there are strong technical reasons for objecting to the introduction of citizens band radio. I shall not go into the details. However, we find that one technical argument after another may be rejected. The National Electronics Council recommended that we should introduce citizens band radio on a frequency higher than 27 megahertz. We know that considerable problems would be caused for those operating valuable services—for example, ambulances—if it were to operate on 27 mhz.
One of the main reasons that have led the Government to object to the introduction of citizens band radio is that they feel that it would not be used for serious purposes. I shall quote from a letter written to me by the Secretary of State dated 30 August 1978. It states:
The experience of other countries is significant; this has shown that the predominant use of citizens band radio is for non-serious purposes and that the socially useful purposes to which it has been put have been more than counter-balanced by anti-social abuse of the facility.
The Government should not be concerned to the extent that the right hon. Gentleman is about citizens band radio being used for serious or non-serious purposes any more than they should be concerned about publications being published on the ground that they are too frivolous.
There are problems associated with the public having unrestricted access to citizens band radio. It is interesting to consider how they have been dealt with in the United States. There is little doubt from the evidence that we have from the United States that it has performed useful purposes. According to an article that appeared in The Economist, about 500 lives a year are saved in the state of Ohio by the use of citizens band radio.
I quote from a letter to The Times from Dr. Alex Comfort, who requests the GPO to think again about citizens band radio. He wrote that he operates for an organisation called React. He explained that it is
one of the volunteer groups who monitor the American emergency channel. In the last month of very sporadic monitoring I called in 40 requests for assistance from cars, ships and the general public, and I am one of about 30 operators for React in this area.
The combination of mobile car-borne and base radios has halved the time it takes to get breakdown assistance and effectively multiplied police road patrols by five. Drivers have constant local fore-and-aft contact and warning of accidents and weather hazards.
If, in Britain, the police were to monitor the emergency channel directly, help could be available faster still.
I think if the Wild West can behave itself on the air, Britain could do so. I am not looking forward to the Ml in fog without it.
Those last words have a direct relationship to the extent that it may be feared that the use of citizens band radio will not always be as serious as Dr. Comfort describes, or that naughty words may get across.
I attended a private meeting held with the Minister for Telecommunications in Australia. I do not consider it indiscreet to reveal what the Minister said. Those in Australia were subjected to the usual arguments that citizens band radio would be difficult to monitor and control. As time passed it developed and became more and more uncontrollable. There was nothing very much that the authorities could do to stop that. Eventually they decided to embrace it and to bring it within regulatory control. The Minister's advice was "Do it. You will find that people will respond much more effectively than you think, and it will provide useful social purposes as well as providing a lot of fun for a lot of people."
I am arguing, as many of us have had to in the past, for more freedom in broadcasting. The right hon. Gentleman said earlier that he recognised that new technologies were coming forward. He said that he hoped that whoever formed the next Government would help to create a framework that would make it possible for the new technologies to be applied to a wider freedom of expression and to widen people's enjoyment of the technology that they have done so much to innovate in this country. And so do I.
I take up the remarks of the hon. Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Johnson Smith), at least in his graceful valedictories of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for introducing the debate and for his care of broadcasting over the years, and of my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Tuck). We wish my hon. Friend well after many years in this place. The House has been with him in his triumphs in not only the 1970 election, when he came within an ace of being defeated, but in the serious illnesses that he has surmounted with great courage and with 100 per cent. success. He will be much missed in the House.
We are grateful for the fact that we are having the debate, although we are having it in a tomb-like atmosphere following the no-confidence debate. As the years have passed since the Annan committee reported, I have had nightmares of a perpetual debate, a sort of rerun of Sartre's "Huis Clos", in which the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) and myself, with the occasional presence of my hon. Friend the Undersecretary of State, are locked in an awful radiophonic workshop in the sky debating the Annan report and never getting anywhere with it. Lo and behold, as happens in all the best nightmares, I have woken up and found it to be true.
We shall not make any progress in this Parliament. All that we can do tonight is to go through the motions of saying that the White Paper should be and will be the precursor of legislation in the first Session of the next Labour Government. A great opportunity will have been missed if we do not take that road. It is a road which points to the kind of future which I believe broadcasting most needs for healthy development.
I had a spasm of encouragement a moment or two ago when I saw that there had been, in all the rushing to and fro on the Conservative Front Bench, an apparent purge and that the hon. Member for Aldershot, with his well-known weary cynicism in these matters, had been replaced by the Opposition spokesman on small businesses, the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen). I do not know what he was doing here, but for a dizzy moment I thought that pluralism had taken over and that there had been a putsch in the ranks of the crypto-monopolists who have, I am afraid, set about polarising this debate by their criticisms of the Annan proposals for plurality almost before the ink was dry on the Annan report.
If such attitudes could be removed and we had more of the healthy attitudes of the small entrepreneur, which are manifest among the independent producers who have been so despised, and who were again derided by the hon. Member for Aldershot, more sense would perhaps be talked in this debate by the Conservatives. The argument that should be deployed for the reform of broadcasting is neither Left wing nor Right wing. It is essentially about how much plurality is thought to be a good thing. In other areas where there is no interest, financial or otherwise, the Tories are prepared to take that line. We have just heard it deployed in the case of the citizens band radio. They will not take that line, however, when they are allied with existing interests.
I believe that the White Paper was right to endorse the Annan principle of flexibility, diversity, editorial independence and public accountability. After a struggle, those appear as leitmotiv of the White Paper. However, the White Paper is more than one document. The archivists, as well as the archaeologists, of broadcasting will need to examine that. I say that because looking through the document I can see the mark of the earlier White Paper which was drafted for the Home Secretary but never saw the light of day in its original form, I am happy to say. The further I go into the White Paper, the more I see the traces of that earlier draft. It was changed and some of the key areas of the White Paper were changed, considerably for the better. Even so, they retained within them curious jumbles and mixtures, and we are not quite sure of the particular level of civilisation being excavated when we look at the ruins.
There is a considerable advance in the commitment made by the White Paper to at least a little more diversity. There is not as much as we should have liked and not as much as Annan recommended. Annan was so widely drawn from the population that any agreement secured there, painfully bought as it was, would have been guaranteed to convey a measure of consensual bliss to public opinion. Unhappily that has not been the case and the parties have become divided on many of our main findings.
I do not believe that the principle of plurality has gone far enough. We thought that local radio, this exciting and comparatively cheap and flexible medium, should be in other hands so as to facilitate its change into a different kind of broadcasting animal. We thought that that would best come about if it was run and administered by people who were responsive to the need for broadcasting to grow out of the community rather than be imposed upon it.
We did not think that that would come from continuing with all the local radio stations linked with the existing duopoly of the BBC and the IBA. That was a great opportunity missed. The White Paper acknowledges that some of the existing stations do not have
'local' radio services which can be called genuinely local in all the areas in which they can be received.
That is the understatement of the century. Of course they do not because they are not aiming at the principle of locality for which I would argue.
Many people have shared the disappointment of the majority of the Annan committee that we could not go further with local radio. The communications group better known as "Comcon" said in a comparatively mild criticism of the White Paper that it would like to see whether we could not have a local broadcasting authority—a third force community broadcasting agency—to administer small locally owned stations which could be financed like the OBA from a multiplicity of sources. The White Paper envisages an LBA in miniature in the Home Office working party which has been set up to look at local broadcasting. In view of the composition of that working party and seeing how little effort has so far been made to involve community groups, I am not too sanguine about that line of approach.
More and more people plead the cause of real local community broadcasting. I have spoken to groups from Cardiff, Coventry and East London who have said that they want to run something different. They want to run a service rooted in, and owned by, the community. It would not be the conventional model of a capitalist company, on the one hand, and a BBC colonial station, on the other. They visualise a much smaller enterprise much more responsive to, as well as being owned by, the local community. I hope that my hon. Friend will say, and that the Government will continue to say, before and after the general election, that that is the line that the IBA should pursue.
It is a step forward that there will be open hearings. In such hearings the challenge of the local community to the pretensions behind the lath and plaster-work of local worthies, which will no doubt be the facade for many of the potential franchise holders, would be to make their case for more community involvement.
The BBC has emerged from this White Paper absolutely unscathed. Not a single blotting pad or drawing pin has been taken away from it. None of the local radio station has been touched. Everything is left except the money to run the show. That is the problem. We cannot organise and operate the BBC, if we accept the principle of the licence fee, without conveying that measure of independence which is the whole reason for the existence of the licence fee.
Once we reach the principle of annual review, that independence has gone. Once the BBC has to come back, cap in hand, to Parliament and to Governments, who are frequently perhaps a minority in the House, facing a general election or going through a period of unpopularity which for some reason or another affect Governments from time to time, we shall not have a rational estimate of what the BBC needs, taking inflation into account, over the medium to long haul. That is a problem which the Government have not faced in the past. This Government or the next must do that.
I do not believe that, having accepted the case for proper, secure and relatively independent financing of the BBC, we can say that all is well with the Corporation. The White Paper clearly does not. It suggests changes. My contention is that the White Paper has got that wrong. The suggested changes address themselves in the wrong way to the problem of how the BBC can be decentralised without dividing it. Political opinion in the House does not wish that to happen. How can the BBC governors be strengthened as guardians of the public interest and yet distanced from the apparat of the BBC? These are questions which have been in everyone's mind for a long time.
The Government have come up with the idea of separate service management boards for television, radio and external services, each chaired by a governor and including the Director General, and otherwise comprising half BBC professionals and half appointees of the Home Secretary.
That idea has no parentage in the Annan report. We were given much evidence by business men and others of the way in which boards of management run in nationalised industries. The BBC is not a nationalised industry in that sense. It is a different type of organisation. We should not pursue the idea in the way in which it has been formulated.
Characteristically, the BBC has suggested an alternative which is suitable to it and which will carry some of the extra bureaucratisation which is implicit in the proposal but without what the BBC sees as the antibody of the Home Office appointees.
What would happen if there were Home Office appointees? The BBC would grow a protective tissue. The appointees would be lunched to death. They would be taken from one gathering to another. They would be given endless minutes and meetings with advisory boards. In no time they would be indisposed. They would not affect the nature of the Corporation, but they might be seen as a sinister introduction because of the origin of their appointments. Certainly, they would not guarantee the freedom to innovate and to operate in accordance with the real imperatives of the service which we wish to see in the BBC and elsewhere in broadcasting.
Some of the criticisms should not apply only to the proposed new service boards. They could apply equally to some of the members of advisory councils and boards of governors that have operated in broadcasting in the past. In error Sir Hugh Greene described the boards as being the brainchild of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy. He called them
nice new quangos for retired trade unionists and those who spent their lives implementing the policy of the government of the day.
That is a fine phrase, but it often applies to those who are already appointed to such jobs. We should look for a wider range of public opinion to be appointed to boards, advisory councils and so on.
We must examine how the problem of the BBC's size should be tackled. The problem is not disputed, although the Government have recoiled from the drastic remedy of separating the one organisation into two or three parts.
Much has been made recently of the staff troubles at the BBC. To some extent they relate to the inflexibility which is common in large organisations, where the chain of command is stretched, where the people at the top understand less and less the problems of those in the lower echelons and where the lower echelons themselves proliferate. In a status-conscious organisation that is inevitable.
I have received a letter from a member of the BBC staff who has now left. He is a Mr. Cox who is now working elsewhere. He said:
The majority of BBC staff are more interested in Job Satisfaction than in money, provided that they can survive.
He had problems because he wanted to transfer from one side of the country to another and because he wanted to take leave at an. awkward time. He had a fairly distinguished record with the BBC, but he found that life became impossible. He said:
I can certainly confirm, from conversations with people who are working in my own (Video-tape) department, and who have since resigned from the BBC, that a number of them at least, made the decision to seek other work not as, a result of the level of pay, but specifically because of the management attitudes and the treatment of staff in the BBC … For my part,] have not heard any comment of an unfavourable nature made about my work (which has included the design of a new piece of equipment which the BBC has not previously had available) and my last two annual reports have been spotless.
That man left, as have many others. I cannot comment on some of the cases because they are sub judice, but this suggests that all is not well.
I do not attach blame to one side or the other. I do not attach blame to management or unions or to a particular level or department. If I compare today's situation with what it was when I worked with the BBC, it seems that there are real management problems which will become worse if they are left alone. The management service board proposal would not touch this problem.
I turn to the question of the ITV companies and whether there should be an ITV 2, as is suggested predictably by the Opposition. My views are well known. I do not believe that the introduction of an ITV 2 would provide the additional range of choices which we require. It would enrich those who for 20 years or more have been enriched because of the existing companies.
Opposition Members may shake their heads, but 25 years ago when there was argument about breaking the BBC's monopoly many of them said that that monopoly was terrible. They criticised the BBC, saying that it was not in the best position to judge. They advocated healthy competition. They said that the new people might not be expert and might be new to the business but that they should be given the chance to try. That is the argument that we are using for the OBA.
We shook our heads not because we did not believe that the independent companies have not made money—thank God that they have—but because we thought that the hon. Member's speech was falling below the high level that it once achieved.
I leave it to the profession and public opinion to decide whether the hon. Member for Aldershot is an adequate judge of what is a high or low level of speech in broadcasting. Some people would argue about the hon. Gentleman's qualifications as a judge in these matters. In his speech the hon. Member said that he had four questions to ask about the OBA. He asked who would run it, who would watch it, who would pay for it and who would work for it. I shall answer those questions in reverse order.
The hon. Member asked who would work for the OBA. The people who would work for the OBA are those who, over the last few years, have come to see a constriction within the broadcasting duopoly on innovation and on the types of programming in which they would like to be involved but which they see snuffed out by the imperatives of the existing service. They include many professionals in the service who have a high reputation and with a diversity of political and cultural views. The principal body campaigning is the Fourth Channel Group. Its membership includes those who are involved in making party political broadcasts for the Conservative Party and those who share my own modest views.
Within that group are an enormous number of people who say that we have not seen more diversity and the development of more independent production companies in television because they have been stifled. They could not offer outlets. They could not say that they had a slot in television time when they went to their financial backers to try to start in the business. That has meant that many of the best and brightest people in television who have attempted to launch independent companies have failed. It has not been because of the quality of their products or projects but because the duopoly of outlets, which exists in television as it does in the cinema, has stifled initiative and new enterprise. It has also stifled new jobs and all of the other things which are supposed to be at the wisdom of the Conservative Party.
Will the hon. Member address himself to the IBA proposals? Why does he think that those proposals will stifle the creativity of the many excellent people who belong to the Fourth Channel Group and who are independent producers? After all, the IBA proposals are specifically designed to help that creativity which yearns to have expression.
Simply because the IBA proposals and the ITV proposals envisage channels which are run together. That would mean giving the lion's share of the programming and influence to the companies. The hon. Member for Aldershot gave the game away when he said of independent representation on the ITV2 that it would include "the independent programme writers, all three of them ". There is a feeling that that attitude is a sop to that wide body of opinion in the country which wants independent programme making to be given a far better guaranteed space than would otherwise be the case. There is no way in which an ITV 2, as it would be organised in practice, woud give the independent companies the kind of chance that the OBA would.
Most of the independent producers are much happier working for the big companies. They go immediately on to schedule D, they are paid far more than the employees of the programme companies and they probably pay their tax 18 months after everybody else has done so. They are the majority of the so-called independent producers. The hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) has not distinguished between the independent producers and the independent makers of programmes, who are quite different.
How characteristic it is that the hon. Member for Aldershot sees incentives in terms of when and how late tax can be paid. A great many people working in broadcasting at all levels—whether they wish to come together as a group in a production company or whether they wish to work individually as freelances for a particular independent project—would be happier with the OBA solution. That is what they say. When they are given a voice and can make themselevs heard over the clamour of the vested interests in the business, that is what, time after time, the Association of Directors and Producers have said.
Many people in the freelance shop of the ACTT say that also—even with a union which appears in many ways to be in league with the companies. So do the people who gave evidence to Lord Annan on that point, as do the people who—as the hon. Member for Aldershot knows—came to the conference that we recently attended about the fourth channel.
It is not right to dismiss the proposals of the IBA, which were spearheaded by Lady Plow-den, as a sop. To say that it is a con game and that producers are being conned by the big programme companies is not right. It is laid down that there would be a new planning body. That would schedule the services—in which the major companies would not have a majority. It is a sincere proposal and has every reason to be considered seriously in the context of trying to provide a more flexible response to the widening needs of the British public.
I accept that the proposals are put forward sincerely. Lady Plowden must plead her cause. The hon. Member for East Grinstead pleads it for her in this place. However, the difficulty is that the IBA's good intentions—if good intentions they are—will have to be seen against the imperatives of the scheduling and planning of the commercial operation. If the commercial companies were to be given a second channel, that would enable the IBA to clear the first channel, the better to have competition in the ratings. The hon. Member for East Grin-stead does not seem to think that competition exists in this country. It exists all too much between BBC1 and ITV.
There would be a two-by-two competition which would have serious consequences for BBC2—which we should all like to see continue—as well as for the fourth channel. That dynamic would take over quickly from all the alleged guarantors of minority programming, independent producer slots and so on and they would add up eventually to one-fifth or one-seventh of the programming time.
I shall not weary the House by continuing this old argument. It is an argument which has to be put to the test at the polls along with many other matters. I believe that the people of the country will see it as a modest way of increasing the number of outlets, voices and ways in which opinions reach them.
When we look at the way that broadcasting develops in this country, we can see the need for it. I am glad to see that my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Stoddart) is present. Swindon Viewpoint, the small cable company, has survived the cutting off of finance from its backers and many other attempts to do away with it. It is a lesson to us all in what a small community service can do and it shows that in the undergrowth of broadcasting there are those who want to develop in a way that could be inconvenient to the large companies—the duopoly of the BBC and the IBA.
I am not happy about the ambiguity in the White Paper concerning the relationship between the OBA and the IBA. There is a suggestion that the commercial companies should have the right to bring their advertising with them in exchange for a rental and that the IBA should be consulted about the possibility of complementary schedules. It seems that a bridge is being built to earlier schemes which may have existed in an earlier draft of the White Paper for a form of ITV2—ITV2 by the back door. It is the essence of the OBA that neither should it be scheduled complementarity with ITV nor should the companies be allowed to dictate their terms of entry. Once that is done, the central importance of the OBA scheme is lost.
The hon. Member for Aldershot asked who would watch the channel and who would pay for it. The channel would be watched by a very small audience of between 5 per cent. and 10 per cent. of the total viewing audience. The potential revenue raising from such an audience is not the same as that of ITV1 and it might be smaller than that of ITV2. However, the channel would reach different kinds of audiences and would cater for different needs, because it would be planned in a different way. I see that the hon. Member for Aldershot is shaking his head, but there are many who have argued more eloquently than I have on the matter.
It is a matter of some embarrassment to the Opposition that the advertisers have already said that they will be very interested in a channel of this sort. The chairman of the media circle, Mr. Terry Wheeler, said that
small specialist audiences could be of interest to specialist advertisers who, currently, cannot afford the mass-audience orientated prices of ITV. The Agency media buyer wants, therefore, programmes on the Fourth Channel which give definable, reasonably predictable but not necessarily huge audiences … This is a perfectly acceptable objective given the structure of the three existing channels and its achievement could provide programmes and audiences of interest to advertisers.
The advertisers want spot and not block advertising. It is possible that Annan is wrong about the matter. To say that they have turned the whole project down out of hand, that they do not think that it will work or could not be financed in large part from the honest toil of their industry is a misjudgment. The sponsors—those who have so far surfaced and given tongue on the matter—have argued that they could put a considerable amount of money into the OBA from the beginning.
Mr. Len Castle of CDC Promotions said recently:
There is no doubt that the sponsors I represent are very interested in the possibilities offered by an OBA-run Fourth Channel. I would then anticipate spending something in the order of £8,500,000 in the first year of operation".
Therefore, we are not talking about peanuts. We are talking of a significant contribution from the commercial sector to an independently-run OBA from its beginning. The rest of the money would
have to come initially—either directly or indirectly—from public sources. I see nothing wrong in that. Most of the great initiatives in broadcasting, as in education, in this country have come about with an element of public funding, at least at the outset. I see no reason to run away from that in the case of the OBA. I certainly see no reason to run away from that if, by introducing it, we are able to alter the whole working environment of broadcasting.
Even in the slightly morgue-like atmosphere of the debate, when we know that nothing can be done in this Parliament, we should affirm our faith that in the next Parliament we shall get pluralism on the way, whether the Opposition like it or not.
I suppose that I must start by saying that I am the next undertaker in the debate. There is an odd atmosphere in the House.
I am not being directly critical of the Home Office, but we must recognise that the media have had a raw deal in the handling of their problems by Parliament. I am a member of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries. We examined the IBA recently. The previous report on broadcasting in 1972 recommended that there should be a review of all broadcasting before Parliament made its final decision on matters such as the fourth channel. Our Select Committee found it difficult to understand why six years should have passed before that decision was taken. We now face another postponement and an inevitable review later.
The final discussion and decision must be given high priority in the next Session of Parliament when, I trust, my right hon. Friends will be able to determine the business of the House. The IBA's charter has been extended to 1982, and that already runs us into injury time in the way in which any allocation of new franchises should be properly planned for broadcasting on the television channel that is available.
We must recognise that we have not served the media well in postponing the decision on this crucial matter. I accept that that is partly because it is a matter of controversy and considerable difference of opinion, not only in the approach of the Annan committee and its voluminous report, but in subsequent interpretations.
We must try to draw together the threads of agreement. I was delighted to hear the Home Secretary's generous tribute in the first area of agreement, namely, that the IBA has come of age, and has become a totally effective and efficient and reliable organisation and is here to stay.
The Select Committee recommended that one of the first things to be done by the House—if it ever has the good fortune to debate our report—should be to give the IBA permanent and statutory life. We felt it wrong that its life should be continually extended for relatively short periods and be subject to review. The current extension expires in 1982, which is a very short time away in terms of broadcasting technology. I hope that the next Government will decide to take that matter out of discussion and to give the IBA permanent, statutory life.
Our discussion is inevitably focused on a single television channel. The Select Committee's report discussed the possibility of other channels being available if there were room for them. Referring to the future allocation of vhf bands and the decisions that may be taken at the World Administrative Radio Conference in 1979 to transfer the use of those bands in Europe from broadcasting to mobile services or to divide them between those services and broadcasting, the Select Committee said:
if they remain assigned to broadcasting in the United Kingdom they could provide a fifth and sixth television channel, or be engineered to give regional coverage. Another option would be the use of band III for additional radio services using new modulation techniques. Decisions on these matters should be reached within the next two years if use is to be made of the released frequencies by 1983.
Perhaps the Minister who is to reply will tell us what are the prospects of the WARC agreeing to that change in the use of frequencies, which might allow us to consider not just the allocation of a single channel but the availability of several channels. If that were a possibility, much of the agonising about the allocation of what is seen to be the last channel of our television network would disappear.
The hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) has a profound knowledge of these matters. He always complains that on the existing narrow system—he keeps referring to it as a duopoly—there is inadequate room for the great creative talent that knocks on his door but seems not to knock successfully on the doors of companies and organisations involved in broadcasting.
The Select Committee took evidence in a survey that was, admittedly, primarily designed for local radio, but a number of organisations, including Comcon, appeared before us. We were impressed by the genuineness, enthusiasm and novelty of the way that they sought to use the radio medium.
However, while the Committee concluded that many of those organisations had ideas and initiatives, we had to ask whether it was correct for the State, with taxpayers' money, to back them or whether their initiative was not such as to attract audiences of a sufficient size to justify commercial investment. Those decisions have to be taken. It is not just a question of saying that we have available independent producers with talent that cannot be satisfied. If that talent is of the order that the hon. Member for Derby, North believes it to be, it should have satisfied a commercial objective a long time ago.
Another area of agreement is that independent local radio and BBC local radio are important developments. I was delighted that one of the Select Committee's recommendations was fairly rapidly acted on by the Government in the allocation of additional radio stations. I am sure, however, that my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) was right to say that we should move with rapidity to the 60 or so stations to which we are committed. If it is possible to deal with a wider network of local radio, that should be done.
Members of the Select Committee were fortunate to be able to travel in this country and overseas looking at local radio stations. My profound conviction is that this, of all media, is the best expression of the community at work and at home. I found encouraging the way in which, for example, Radio Clyde became a Scottish institution within a matter of months. Admittedly, Glasgow is a vast city and a fruitful territory in which to operate, but there was a clear dedication and enthusiasm there—just as there was in the smaller stations such as Radio Orwell and Radio Victory.
There are clear demonstrations that a relatively small organisation—and all commercial radio stations are small—can provide a viable service to the community at modest cost, can be self-financing and can provide a substantial outlet for local talent.
Those are some of the areas of agreement between us. Inevitably, however, we have to take views that differ from some of the proposals in the White Paper. As my colleagues have also made clear, I do not favour the OBA. I have to declare an interest. I have been and still am involved with a company that is a substantial advertiser. I am also a consultant to an advertising agency and am undoubtedly tarnished with the advertising brush. That may be regarded as a disadvantage, but I do not think that it is.
Commercial involvement in television, with the importance that it inevitably attaches to ratings, has provided an enormous stimulus for economic development, jobs, growth and industry. That must be accepted. The advertising burden carried by television and local radio provides an important contribution to the national selling effort. I make no apology for saying that I regard the national selling effort as one of our more important investments in talent. There is, however, no inconsistency in saying that commercial television and radio through the mere mechanism of advertising money have somehow sullied the face of the nation and should therefore not be allowed their natural expansion.
A substantial lack of competition has sullied the commercial element in radio and television. Through the unwise statements of the late Lord Thompson it initially created an impression that the television franchise for a commercial station was a licence to print money. After years of enormous losses it undoubtedly produced enormous profits that caught the eye of the Government of the day and resulted in special tax arrangements that still exist. There was additionally for a time television advertisement duty. Other duties were also levied on operating independent television, because much monopoly characteristic was at stake, with little competition to keep prices and costs lower.
The argument for the expansion or ITV into ITV2 must in large measure be one of competition, that two competing channels within the same general franchise of the Independent Broadcasting Authority would bring greater opportunity for competition. It might allow greater opportunity for advertisers to use the channel, for minority audiences and for lower ratings, but it is ostensibly to prevent a large monopoly from continuing.
Most of those who have been involved in companies as opposed to advertising agencies or within the ITV network would agree that there is a monopoly-aspect to independent television that is not healthy. That is why I am not impressed with the argument that existing ITV companies should in the ideal world be allocated their spot on ITV?.. If there is a real world and an opportunity for development of commercial television, I suspect that there could be new companies available with the new talent, which the hon. Member for Derby, North says is available, to provide more jobs in an industry that has already provided substantial talent of an international calibre. That is how I should like to look at ITV2.
When we come to the suggestion in the White Paper and the Annan recommendation on the OBA, we see a creature of a different kind, which could have been invented only by a committee. It provides a number of inbuilt inconsistencies. I understand fully the view that the hon. Member for Derby, North expresses, that Annan was seeking a different creature, not a BBC or an ITV type. The OBA is designed to be just that. Having taken a decision in principle to create something different, the great problem of the OBA is that it has to rely on simlar strains and inputs to make it work. The suggestion, for example, is put down in the White Paper on page 10:
It is also desirable that the fourth channel—
which is of course under the OBA in these proposals—
should develop a distinctive news service, althougth news gathering is an expensive operation and the Government recognises that at any rate in the shorter term the channel will need to look at existing sources for its news service.
It is nice to have four different versions of the same fact, but if news were to become a matter where, because it was different, a greater degre of fiction was perhaps acceptable, that is a pretty poor recommendation for an important part of a new television channel.
It may have to rely on existing news services, otherwise there is a completely repetitive performance. It is also unlikely that the programmes bought by the OBA will come in large measure from the existing independent television companies. There is much talent and some unused studio space available in some companies, but if it is suggested that an independent television company will devote its own production resources and skills to provide a programme that is to be sold to a network that would compete with it for the revenue of the same advertising sector, that is stretching the imagination beyond the point of boggle. It is most unlikely that ITV companies will want to underpin the development of what they would see as a competitor for advertising revenue by using their resources.
The hon. Member for Derby, North made a fair point in saying that the advertiser will place his money anywhere that he can find an audience suited to his marketing needs. With my experience of operating a company, I would find it extremely valuable to be able to reach small sectors of our community who are at present disenfranchised from television.
The argument here, however, is better looked at in terms of extending hours. There have been many attempts to do that. Certain existing television companies have attempted to run breakfast time programmes, programming in the early morning, and so on, to try to provide an extension of hours where small numbers of the community were available. That was given reasonable advertising support. The possibility of extending hours to widen the audience available and provide differing programmes for minority groups is an area that is underdeveloped within the existing ITV franchise. That question has not been fully exposed, and should be developed before one looks elsewhere.
The other problem with the OBA is that if it is to seek financing initially from the State and is hopeful—I use the word deliberately—of obtaining some of its programming from the existing ITV companies, it will be a long time before it becomes viable. It has been recognised in the Government's White Paper and the Annan report originally that it could be a long haul before the OBA established itself as an entirely viable operator in such a competitive and expensive environment. It is difficult to think that this House would regard that as an undertaking that could be easily absorbed. It could be expensive and absorb a great deal of investment in a project that, unless underpinned, has a dicey future.
In the BBC we have the other great problem child, in terms of financing. It would be a grave error to saddle the House with a second problem child. In fact, we should try to determine and decide the correct way of financing the BBC first, before we undertake to extend the latitude that we give ourselves on behalf of the taxpayer to invest in and sustain another broadcasting authority for quite different although related purposes.
The debate tonight indicates how very difficult it is to solve the BBC's financing problem. I suspect that there may be an area of agreement in principle that somehow or other we should find a licensing system that we can make permanent with perhaps an inflation-proof element. If the licence fee rose each year, this would mean that the Corporation would not be kept on a shoestring, having to come back cap in hand at the end of each year. Clearly that is most debilitating. But there are few hon. Members who would willingly raise their hands in favour of a perpetual escalating figure to be allocated to the BBC by means of the licence fee.
More and more there is debate in this House about obtaining a different kind of value for that licence—the kind of value that pensioners seek which is already given to those living in wardened accommodation, or the kind of value which the majority of viewers do not physically obtain because the majority tend to be ITV viewers and the independent companies are financed from outside. However, we would be wise to tackle that problem and to find the correct solution before we tackle the OBA.
I summarise my views. First, on behalf of thet Select Committee, I would welcome any Government—but preferably a Conservative one—that would take this next stage of giving the IBA its permanent statutory life. We would welcome a Government saying once and for all that the IBA fully deserves that degree of confidence.
Secondly, I urge the Under-Secretary to comment on the World Administrative Radio Conference 1979 negotiations. Might there be a chance of other television channels being made available? Thirdly, I believe that it is wrong to accept the proposals in the White Paper on the OBA. It is most unlikely that ITV companies will finance the productions on which it depends. I do not see that it can be easily financed other than at substantial cost for a considerable time.
The hon. Member has not said how he would organise the fourth channel. His argument appears to be that there should be a separate programme company or companies, thus breaking the monopoly of the sale of advertising revenue.
Yes, I believe that additional companies would come forward to offer themselves for a second ITV channel if that was available. Personally, I would favour a second ITV channel of that kind.
One other possibility that I would not rule out is that existing television companies could be allowed to make then-franchise applications for areas in which they do not compete at present. For example, London Weekend could compete for Scottish franchises if it wished to do so. Then we would get a real degree of competition with the minimum amount of additional capital investment, and with possibly greater and quicker service to the public. I accept the inevitable reservation of adding to the ease with which an ITV company can make additional profits. But do not let us demerit that. The ITV companies went through some very difficult times before they emerged as viable operators.
I am quite clear in my mind that the fourth channel, if it be only the fourth, should as of right be allocated to an authority which has demonstrated that it can produce so much good television for so many viewers. I have no particular comment to make about the techniques by which it should be controlled. I think that the idea of a Complaints Commission for example, is very sound. There can be discussions about its width of remit. It is more likely that it should deal with complaints about programme content rather than how the Authority or the individual company runs itself. I prefer that kind of remit to be handled by the hearings of companies as they come up for renewal of their franchises.
I welcome the White Paper's emphasis on public hearings and this kind of discussion. In the Select Committee we felt that this was a proper way for companies to proceed, in both radio and television. All in all, although this debate has not a great future before it, I think that we all recognise that television broadcasting certainly has. We wish it well, and the sooner the better.
I will not follow closely the speech of the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw) except on one point—the financing of the BBC. Clearly we must find a different way of providing that organisation with sufficient finance to run its affairs properly in the interests of the nation.
Undoubtedly at present the BBC is the poor relation. It has an annual revenue that is £80 million less than that of the ITV companies. With this revenue the Corporation has to run not only BBC1 and BBC2 but its radio programmes. Inevitably, in these circumstances its equipment, staff and every aspect of the organisation is bound to suffer. We really must give this matter considerable attention in the future.
I am well aware that the BBC is very concerned about losing its financial independence. It believes that the existing licensing system gives it that independence. I think that the Corporation is wrong. Under the licensing system, it is at the mercy of the Government and, in the last analysis, at the mercy of the House of Commons as well. I do not believe that the BBC should be at anybody's mercy. We must find another method of financing the BBC in a manner that would dynamise its income in accordance with rises in the cost of living. Undoubtedly inflation has damaged the BBC in a way that it has not damaged many other public organisations.
The BBC has been unable to put up its prices and licence fees. It is not within the control of the BBC to meet its undoubted heavy, additional costs. I shall not suggest how that should be done. The BBC and the House should give this matter deep thought. The BBC is a national institution. Often I disagree with its views. Sometimes I think that it is biased against my party. Nevertheless, it is a great national organisation, which should not be starved of funds. It should be able to do its job properly without looking to see from where the next penny will come.
The hon. Gentleman will know that within the OBA proposal there is room for advertising investment as there is for taxation investment. Does he think that the BBC should seriously consider the possibility of advertising revenue? The BBC, through the Radio Times, earns about 35 per cent. of its revenue from advertising. The Guardian obtains about 60 per cent. of its necessary revenue from advertising. I do not believe that its editorial ability is thereby impaired one whit.
If the hon. Gentleman draws me on that point we shall have a much wider debate, as my views on advertising generally must then be aired.
Although the BBC must consider this problem, I should like to see the Corporation continue as it is, with no advertising revenue. In this pure form it gives a service which a good many people, including myself, welcome.
I am no expert in broadcasting, unlike other right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken in the debate. My first point relates to access to television. I have no doubt that access to television screen time is limited. Access is dependent upon the companies, the BBC and the people who run the services for those organisations. Often some of us have the feeling that we see the same old faces and hear the same old voices time after time. There is little that is new in the programmes. That aspect needs consideration.
I was pleased to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) refer to Swindon Viewpoint. In his absence, I thank him for his support over a long period for that project. This is a Swindon project. It is the only such project left in the country. It started in a blaze of glory. The then Minister of Posts and Telecommunications—he was to be the last—opened Swindon Viewpoint. The people who backed it came down and put on a good show. It started in a blaze of glory. Eventually the cable companies were unable and unwilling to continue to finance it. It looked very much as though Swindon Viewpoint must die. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office listened to my representations with every sympathy and, indeed, did more, by arranging for a grant of £5,000. Nevertheless, the organisation costs about £60,000 a year to run. That is no mean sum.
Swindon Viewpoint is still running, as the result of its own efforts and the support of the people of Swindon. Everybody in Swindon has access to the service. If an organisation in the town wishes to make a programme, it has access to the programme. Those concerned may borrow cameras, receive instruction in their use, and receive assistance from the experts. They may then make their own programmes and show them to a limited but nevertheless integrated audience in Swindon and district. That experiment met with a good measure of success. I am sorry that it has not been followed up more closely by other organisations and, indeed, by the Home Department. That experiment could show the way towards better local services and better access for the public.
My second point concerns the issue of violence on television. I am glad that the White Paper refers to this matter. I am pleased that the BBC responded by means of the report by Miss Monica Sims and her committee. The BBC was good enough to note my interest in the subject and sent me a copy of the report, which I have read but not completely assimilated. It is altogether good that the BBC has responded. It has dealt with a difficult subject in a sensitive way. The report is well worth reading and I sincerely hope that it will have the effect that the committee obviously desired.
It is clear that many ordinary folk—certainly many hon. Members—feel that the amount of gratuitous violence shown on television can do nothing but harm to society, and particularly to young people. I have felt that over a long time. I have discussed it in the past with the IBA and the BBC, but always I have been told that they have had lots of committees looking into this and that violence shown on television does not really make any difference. But now, fortunately, they are coming to the conclusion to which people of common sense came a very long time ago—that gratuitous violence and the continual showing of violence on the screen is bound to have a desensitising effect on the public generally, and a very serious and perhaps imitative effect on children and adolescents.
In its report the BBC has recognised this, and I am glad that it has done so. What is more, recognising that there are subjects and programmes in which violence must feature, it has not issued a list of do's and don'ts. The BBC realises that this cannot be done but, at the same time, it has issued guidance to its producers which, if followed, will, I believe, assist in reducing the amount of violence shown on BBC programmes.
As far as I know, there has been no response from the IBA. Perhaps it is coming. I hope that it will come soon. But, of course, the IBA has an ideal opportunity, between now and 1982, to ensure that, when the new licences are granted, the amount of violence shown on ITV programmes is considerably reduced. The IBA has the power now to lay down in contracts that the programme makers and the programme companies shall reduce the amount of violence shown. It has the power to make it a condition of the contract if violence is increased, or if gratuitous violence is shown, that the contract will be broken.
I hope that the IBA will look at this aspect and take a tough line when it is awarding the contracts to operate from 1982. It has this opportunity, and it is an opportunity that it ought to take. If it does so, it will be doing a service to the viewing public. Indeed, I believe that the IBA and the BBC would thereby contribute to a lessening of the undesirable and growing violence in our society today.
I apologise to the House for having been absent during the early part of the debate. I was broadcasting, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was taking part in a Welsh language party political programme. I am sure that the House would have wished me to take part in that programme, for, had I not been there, the programme would not have been balanced.
The hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Stoddart) made a number of very interesting points. He raised the question of the BBC and its future finances, and there is no doubt that there is a problem in connection with the licence fee. When he was tempted by my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw) to agree to advertising as a form of revenue for the BBC, he seemed reluctant to accept that suggestion, but there is considerable validity in the point that already quite a considerable amount of the BBC's revenue comes from its various publications.
I did not go into that, merely because I felt that it was something that the BBC should consider itself. If I considered it, I would ban advertising not only on the BBC but on ITV. I was trying not to become involved in my own prejudices in the matter.
Perhaps at this stage we can at least agree that it is easier to raise advertising revenue than it is to raise licence fees.
The hon. Member for Swindon also mentioned Swindon Viewpoint, which I agree is a most interesting experiment in access to television. I wish that programme all success. I have seen some of its recorded programmes, and I was certainly impressed. While on the subject of access, perhaps the Minister can say something about citizens band radio. This is a system whereby radio is made accessible to the individual. I am told that many countries have citizens band radio, and certainly I have been deluged recently with representations on behalf of the Citizen Band Association.
One of the central points of this debate is the Government proposal to establish the Open Broadcasting Authority. I made several criticisms of this concept in the debate on the Annan report in May 1977. I said then that a third authority would hot up the battle for viewers to the point of cut-throat competition. I referred to the world of sport, and to what might happen if, in addition to the BBC and ITV, there was a third contender for the right to televise sporting events. The bidding would rocket to galactic heights.
In the White Paper the Government sought to guard themselves and the OBA by stressing the obligation on the OBA
to provide programmes which cater for minority tastes and interests.
I believe that poses difficulties. I remember a time when wrestling and show jumping were minority tastes, but they are hardly that now. The problem with minority interests is that they can become majority interests almost overnight after exposure on television.
If we accept the Government's view on the OBA in relation to minority interests, we must reconcile ourselves to the fact that this "abortion"—as my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) called it—will be a perpetual drain on the Exchequer. It will not attract sponsors, for either block or spot advertising, sufficient to sustain the service. This is a major defect of the Government sheme. I fear that the OBA will be the ailing old Daily Herald of the air. Perhaps that is what the Government want.
The great attraction of our alternative—the allocation of the fourth channel to the IBA—is that the IBA positively wants the channel for complementary and minority interest programmes. It is in the best interests of the IBA to meet that requirement and to maintain the channel on that basis. Furthermore, an allocation of the channel to the IBA does not involve additional money from the taxpayer or the creation of a new bureaucratic authority, although clearly some additional staff will be called for.
Earlier, I talked about the relationship of a second IBA service with a Welsh language service, which is so close to our hearts in Wales. I see no reason to expatiate on that subject again. I welcome the remarks in the White Paper about local radio, and I totally agree with the idea of affiliated stations. I am a member of one of the applicant groups for the Cardiff station, not only because of my abiding interest in radio, and because I share Mr. Speaker's love of our capital city, but because of my interest in the spread of independent local radio to other parts of Wales. I believe that there are certain other parts of Wales which could easily bear a small radio station.
However, I am wary of the Government's proposals to change the governing instruments of the BBC and to reconstitute the Welsh National Broadcasting Council so that it contains more people nominated by the Home Secretary. This would seem to thicken the wedge of potential government interference, already inserted by the proposal to inflict management boards on the Corporation.
I appreciate that the board of governors may have divided loyalties, but what is good for the Corporation should be good for the country and what is good for the country should be good for the Corporation. If it has not been so on occasion in the past, it is because the board has failed in its duty, usually to the public interest.
Even though the management boards are appointed, the dichotomy will persist, for the ultimate responsibility still lies with the board of governors. That is what makes the Government's proposal so sinister.
We live in stirring times. It is quite clear to me why the Government will not be able to introduce a broadcasting Bill either in this Parliament or the next. However, this debate has given us a chance to place our markers, as it were, and that must be a good thing.
With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I first say how much we shall miss the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Tuck), and how interesting we found his speech. Violence, bad language and sex on television is a serious matter about which our constituents are extremely interested. A formidable lady in Hampshire recently asked me "What are your views on sex and violence?" I said that I was in favour of one but against the other.
I do not believe that violence should be shown on television as being a reward for itself. One must avoid that with very great care. On the other hand, sex on television is relatively unimportant. It is the expression of violence, to which the hon. Member for Watford drew such eloquent attention, which ought to give us more cause for concern than perhaps sex.
As to bad language, it is extremely difficult for those who run television to know at any given moment what is acceptable and what is not. Quite clearly, whether we like it or not, fashions change. The best example of that is that when George Bernard Shaw originally wrote "Pygmalion" the phrase "Not bloody likely" was used to shock the upper class of the day. But when in 1960 the film was remade, that phrase was translated into "Move your bloody arse". The mind absolutely boggles at the thought of what it would be like if ever there were a remake in the 1980s or 1990s.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Johnson Smith), who very wisely has gone home to a good dinner, knows as much about broadcasting as, if not more than, anybody else on our side of the House. He referred to a dinner party that we attended at which the other guest was the Australian Minister for Broadcasting, who made a couple of points which I thought were very good. He said, first, "Whatever you do in this country you must not scrap the licence for the BBC, because in Australia we have got ourselves into all sorts of difficulties."
The second point the Australian Minister made was "Citizens band radio is going to happen; legalise for it first and you will find yourselves spared a great deal of trouble."
The hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead), who has returned from a cold supper, is an articulate spokesman with a special interest, and there is nothing to be ashamed of in that. Politics is a conflict of interests, and the hon. Member for Derby, North has represented his particular interest admirably and with skill. He sits, alas, for a marginal seat, but as an old friend and sparring partner I very much hope that he gets back. If he does not, he will at least have the consolation of yet another job in telly. I am told the starting salary for a producer in commercial television now is £18,000 a year. That, when compared with the meagre sum with which Members of Parliament are rewarded—which I am told is equivalent to the pay of a Ford car assembly worker with overtime before the last increase—means that there is some consolation for failing to be elected to this House.
The debate has gone on long enough in arduous circumstances; as I said earlier, in conditions of life after death. All I would say in conclusion is that the Conservative Party's policy on broadcasting is distinctly different from that of the present Government. Were we to be elected on 3 May, we would introduce ITV2 as opposed to the OBA for the fourth channel. Having done that, I think we would then be under an obligation to think hard and long about what should be done about the fifth and sixth channels, and when we start to do that many of the views that have been put forward so admirably and consistently by the hon. Member for Derby, North may at last come into their own.
This debate, as has been said, has come at last, and most of the people who have taken part have a sustained interest in and knowledge of the subject. Therefore, this debate has been extremely useful. Whatever the outcome of the election, it will have been for the Government that follows a useful debate on these very important matters of broadcasting in a free and democratic society.
I want to reaffirm, first, the Government's commitment to the White Paper proposals and in particular to the plans set out for the fourth television channel. We intend to introduce legislation as early as possible next Session to implement these proposals. I say to the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley), who has repeated his suggestion that there are differences between one Minister and another and between Ministers and civil servants, that I repeat that the Government are, as my right hon. Friend has already made clear, firmly committed to the setting up of an OBA, and anything else that he may see in it is pure speculation.
Secondly, although we have in mind a number of changes affecting both the BBC and IBA, it is our view, as it was that of the Annan committee, that there is more to be praised than criticised in the performance of both organisations. Those changes which we have proposed are intended in the main to put greater emphasis on the accountability of the broadcasting organisations to the public on whose behalf they provide the television and radio services.
The Bill which we discussed earlier today will enable the Independent Broadcasting Authority to finance and undertake the construction of the fourth channel throughout the country. This means augmenting all existing uhf stations which currently provide BBC1, BBC2 and ITV with a fourth transmitter and allied equipment. With relatively few exceptions, a group of four frequency channels has been allocated to each uhf station in use and the stations have been planned from the outset to accommodate the equipment needed to broadcast a fourth television service. There are about 380 uhf stations currently in operation, and the Authority tells me that it would take about three years, to March 1982, to achieve 80 per cent. population coverage of the country, with a further 18 months—that is, to the end of 1983—to achieve about 86 per cent. coverage throughout the country. We believe that to give the fourth channel a fair start it must be available to this sort of proportion of the population in each region.
At the same time, once the main broadcasting legislation is on the statute book, which I hope will be the middle of next year, we shall also need to find and appoint the members of the OBA, and they in turn will need to find their staff and set up the necessary administrative organisation. Then, of course, work will start on acquiring the programmes and putting them together to make a service. Taking both the engineering work and the setting up of the OBA into account, it is likely to be 1983 at the earliest before actual broadcasting can start. But we should avoid the temptation to rush the fourth channel on the air with a limited or poorly thought out service.
The hon. Member for Aldershot and several other hon. Members mentioned the financing of the OBA. We think it right to allow block advertising and sponsorship, as recommended by the Annan committee, on the fourth channel. I assure hon. Members that there will have to be careful controls for sponsorship. These two forms of advertising are unlikely, however, to generate anywhere near enough money to finance the fourth channel. As my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) said, there is an evident demand for more spot advertising time on television, and we decided that the OBA should be able to derive revenue from this source as well.
While in the longer term we are aiming for a largely self-financing channel, in the shorter term we accept that some Government financial assistance may be necessary, particularly to launch the channel. Contrary to what the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) said, it is clear that there is a good deal of interest on the part of both advertisers and sponsors in the channel and there seems no reason why it should not derive substantial amounts of revenue from these sources.
It is difficult at this stage to estimate with accuracy either the likely revenues or the likely costs of the new service, particularly given the flexibility which we intend that the OBA should have in its operation. Much will depend, for example, on the proportion of time that is rented out to contractors and on the sources from which programmes are acquired. It remains our view that the OBA has the capability to become financially, as well as qualitatively, viable.
On the question of the licence fee of the BBC, which many hon. Members have mentioned, views in the House appear to differ, as they do outside, on how best to finance the BBC. Everyone appreciates that it is a problem. As the White Paper notes, the Annan committee made a thorough study of the licence fee and of possible alternatives to it. It specifically rejected proposals for financing the Corporation from direct Government grant. It also rejected other alternatives, such as advertising.
The Government believe that the BBC should continue to be financed primarily from the licence fee. We are conscious, however, that, with about 60 per cent. of licence holders holding colour licences and with this proportion increasing by about 10 per cent. a year, we must anticipate the end of the inherent buoyancy of the licence fee revenue. This will be a problem, and we shall continue to keep the matter under review. My right hon. Friend has already mentioned the studies that we are carrying out in this area.
Many hon. Members have raised the subject of violence on television. I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Tuck), whose last speech was a typically eloquent one. I wish him every happiness in the future even if he is not to become a television producer when he leaves this House.
I know that the portrayal of violence on television is a subject of concern not only in this House but outside. The Government acknowledge, as many hon. Members have said, that the effects of television programmes on viewers are, of their nature, difficult to determine. We believe that the only safe course is for the broadcasting authorities to assume undesirable effects unless convincing evidence to the contrary emerges. I think that most hon. Members would prefer that attitude.
The authorities must be cautious in broadcasting programmes, particularly programmes in which violence is portrayed, if these might have effects on susceptible people, especially young people and children. I do not think that anyone in the House wants the Government to censor the content of any programme. But the Government White Paper called on the BBC and the IBA to review their codes and guidance on the portrayal of violence and, in due course, to publish them and then to keep them under regular review. It also called for a system to be devised of monitoring the amount of violence.
I am glad to be able to tell the House that both the BBC and the IBA have responded to this cal. The BBC last week published the report of a working party on the portrayal of violence in television programmes which contained a number of recommendations and was accompanied by guidelines for producers. The IBA also set up a working party, or rather reconvened the existing one, on the portrayal of violence in programmes. Its task was to consider the desirability of amending the ITV code, last revised in 1971. The IBA working party's report, made in the middle of last year, expressed general satisfaction with the code's principles and was followed by a special meeting, arranged by the Authority. A number of specialists in the subject participated. The views of the IBA's general advisory council were also considered.
Right hon. and hon. Members will have seen the coverage given last week to the contents of the BBC report. The report concluded that the portrayal of violence on television could be justified in appropriate contexts only if all gratuitous violence is carefully avoided; that different considerations should apply to several kinds of programmes, such as news bulletins, current affairs programmes and fictional programmes; and, moreover, that the 9 p.m. watershed, which several hon. Members have mentioned, might be varied to a later time, especially at weekends when more children and teenagers are likely to be viewing at a later hour.
The IBA, in its conclusion on its review of its own practices, also considered that the contents of programmes shown before nine o'clock need careful scrutiny but did not reach a final decision on the need to make adjustments in its existing code. Both authorities have in mind the desirability of reaching a common approach to the problem of televised violence, and this the Government would welcome. A voluntary common approach should be the aim. I hope that shortly after Easter a joint discussion between the BBC and the IBA can be arranged. Progress is being made in the matter. I am sure that both the BBC and the IBA will have noted the strong feeling that exists on both sides of the House about this matter.
I would have thought that it was for the IBA to comment on that. My hon. Friend has given a view about what the IBA should do. The Government do not dictate to these companies what they should do. We can certainly bring strong views to their attention, as this House is doing tonight. My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North is not here, so I shall leave the point that he raised, as several hon. Members have stayed for my winding-up speech.
The hon. Members for East Grinstead (Mr. Johnson Smith) and for Conway mentioned citizens band radio. The Government do not deny that there would he benefits from its introduction. But, on the evidence at present available, we retain the view that the advantages of introducing such a service would be outweighed by the disadvantages. The disadvantages have been mentioned during the debate. We are aware of the useful purposes to which citizens band radio could be put. The experience of other countries is still that the serious purposes for which it could be used are outweighed by non-serious purposes. We are not sanguine, as are the proponents of citizens band radio, about the social effects of the introduction of the facility, which has been subject to widespread anti-social abuse in some instances in other countries. That is a fact that the Government must take seriously into account.
On balance, we would not at present agree to the introduction of citizens band radio. No doubt the argument and the discussion will continue.
I note that my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North has rejoined us. He referred to the working party on local radio. The party has sought the views of about 50 representative bodies known to be interested in local radio. Comcon is among the bodies consulted. It has submitted its views and these will be considered by the working party. The party's future reports and proposals will be published in a way that will offer interested parties an opportunity to comment on such matters as the total coverage of local radio, proposals for particular local radio areas and the allocation to the BBC and IBA of those areas in which only one or other sort of local radio service may be provided.
The Government will reach decisions on the working party's further proposals in the light of the comments that are received and after such further consultation with the BBC and IBA that may be necessary.
The hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw) is no longer in the Chamber, but he was interested in the World Administrative Radio Conference. The United Kingdom's firm proposals for the forthcoming conference, which will start on 24 September 1979, are now nearly complete and will be published shortly.
I think that I have dealt with the main points raised in this most interesting and useful debate.