Skip to main content

Bbc Overseas Services

Volume 497: debated on Wednesday 5 March 1952

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

18.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what decision he has reached on the subject of making a special grant, outside the fixed grant-in-aid from the Exchequer to the British Broadcasting Corporation to cover the current cost of the measures which are being taken, and might have to be extended in the future, to counter the jamming of the British Broadcasting Corporation's East European and Central European transmissions by the Cominform countries.

I would refer my hon. Friend to the reply given to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Major Beamish) on 3rd March.

As that answer did not really reply to the Question now on the Order Paper, may I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman whether he is virtually going to allow the Cominform to restrict our overseas services, owing to the fact that we have to pay for the counter-jamming, which is enormously expensive and has to come out of the ordinary Budget?

The answer to which I referred my hon. Friend stated that no final decision had yet been reached as to meeting the cost of the measures necessary to counter jamming.

Before a final decision is reached, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman look up what his right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Foreign Secretary said a year ago about the unwisdom of cutting our foreign broadcast services?

Will my right hon. and learned Friend bear in mind that there is a considerable body of opinion that is very uneasy on what looks like being an economy that might be needed from the strictly financial point of view, but which is really penny wise and pound foolish?

That is certainly a matter which will be borne in mind when the final decision is being arrived at.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend bear in mind the fact that if anything is calculated to encourage the Russians to undertake further jamming, it will be the knowledge that jamming does result in a reduction of the programmes sent out?

19.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is aware that a number of British Broadcasting Corporation's transmissions which are listened to in Eastern Europe and which are not jammed at present, for instance, in English, French and German, will have to be cut because of lack of funds; and if Her Majesty's Government will make available additional funds for the British Broadcasting Corporation's Overseas Services.

My right hon. Friend is aware that there is a limited audience in Eastern Europe for broadcasts in English, French and German. But the cuts in these services will be relatively small. In any case, no additional funds can be made available.

Has the attention of the right hon and learned Gentleman been called to the official statement of the B.B.C. of 9th February, in which they deplore the fact that they have to cut their broadcasts in English, French and German? Is he not aware that that is an extremely serious matter, because once we lose listeners we shall not get them back?

The difficulty about this matter is that it is necessary to make certain cuts, and, in making these cuts, decisions have been arrived at which, in our view, are calculated to interfere to the least possible extent with these valuable services.

May I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to recall that the Government which he serves seems to be quite ready to change its mind, even as to the date of the Budget?

Are not these economies entirely due to the mishandling of our affairs by the previous Government?

26.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what steps he is taking to prevent other countries from using wavelengths hitherto used by Britain during the hours of the day when overseas programmes previously transmitted by the British Broadcasting Corporation are discontinued as a result of the reduction in broadcasting hours announced recently.

None. The permanent use of a wavelength can only be ensured by constant transmission on it. The British Broadcasting Corporation will naturally make every effort to maintain in operation the most effective wavelengths at the best listening times.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that by instituting these cuts this year it may very well be impossible to restore them in any subsequent year? Could he make representations to his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who so strongly criticised similar cuts last year, with a view to getting the decision altered?

There is no question of giving up any wavelengths. With regard to ensuring that a wavelength which is not in permanent use is not taken over by somebody else, that is no new problem, because few of these wavelengths have been used all the time.

Does not the Minister realise that there is a sort of squatters' right in the air on this matter and that if one stops using channels they are permanently lost? Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman say how many we are in danger of losing in this way as a result of the cuts?

The answer is none. The amount of the cut is extremely small. As I said, the problem of ensuring that people do not squat on a wavelength which is no longer being used is not a new problem.

27.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to which European countries no indigenous language broadcasts will be directed and which European countries will suffer a curtailment of such services as a result of the proposed reductions.

As certain languages are indigenous to more than one country in Europe, I will, if I may, answer this Question in terms of language services instead of countries. The weekly broadcasts in the Luxembourg dialect and special supplementary service to Belgium will be discontinued. These are at present broadcast for a quarter of an hour per week and half a hour per day respectively. The French and Dutch language services will continue to be available to listeners in Belgium. Language services to Europe which are being curtailed are Danish, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Norwegian and Portuguese.

Does the Minister realise that the net saving on these drastic reductions is only £68,000 and that to reduce the services so drastically for so niggling a saving is not worth while?

Although these reductions are not very great, would not my right hon. and learned Friend agree that as our foreign policy and our rearmament policy are primarily directed to avoiding another war, it is equally important for us to maintain our psychological striking force as it is to maintain our military striking force?

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that it is most important that we should keep in touch with Eastern Germany, because the loss of Eastern Germany from the point of view of loyalty to democracy might eventually cost us far more in military preparations than any relatively trifling sums that would be saved by stopping the German broadcasts to these people?

Will the Minister take steps to assure himself that these cuts are all necessitated by the comparatively small and most justifiable reduction in expenditure?

I would again emphasise that it is quite untrue to describe these as drastic cuts. They are comparatively small cuts, and, in our view, they have been made in the best possible way.

Does the Minister consider that the reduction of 32 hours a week in the projection of Britain abroad over the B.B.C. is not a drastic cut?

28.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs which of the British Broadcasting Corporation's foreign services are now being jammed; and what action is being taken to counter such jamming.

The British Broadcasting Corporation's Russian, Polish and Finnish services are now being jammed, and special schedules have been introduced involving the use of multiple transmission by batteries of transmitters. There is also some evidence of partial jamming of other B.B.C. programmes to Eastern Europe. This is being watched, with a view to suitable action in case of need.

In view of the extension of this jamming, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman press upon his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to meet the cost of these counter measures? Does he realise that there is a dual victory for the U.S.S.R. in the propaganda war, in that if they succeed in jamming our broadcasts they not only jam our broadcasts to Eastern Europe but, on the present basis, compel us to cut down our broadcasts to Western Europe?

No final decision has been made on the cost of jamming and, of course, the effect of losing services through jamming will be certainly borne in mind.

When can we have a final decision? The B.B.C. are in a difficulty at the present moment about the services they must cut in order to counter jamming.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend be very careful that the impression does not go out that his motto is "Always jam today."

Cannot the right hon. and learned Gentleman see that the entire House is against the Government in this matter and that the Government are hopelessly insensitive to the feeling of the whole country?

The difficulty with economy is that nobody wants to make the economy. In this instance we are accepting a cut on expenditure on this service, or rather we are avoiding an increase in our expenditure on this service. And we are doing our best to give the best service within our financial limitations.

Who is in fact paying for counter-action against jamming at the moment until the final decision is taken?